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Monday, March 31 2014

  6 Staging Techniques That Buyers Hate
Virginia Mcguire | Source:

StagingTechniquesBuyersHate0327Staging will determine how easily you can sell your home, and luckily it’s one of the few factors you have some control over. We’re not talking about major renovations here–just deep-cleaning, decluttering, and maybe a fresh coat of paint. The point of staging is to remove anything that will distract a buyer from all the great things your home has to offer. But it’s easy to go overboard if you’re not careful.

Here are a few of the biggest pitfalls we’ve seen when sellers over-stage a home.

1. Don’t be dull

Are you selling a hotel room? No? Then don’t make your home look like a hotel. The purpose of staging is not to make your home perfect and bland. You want the buyer to feel that your home looks this nice all the time, so it should feel like real people live there. It’s okay to let your decor keep some of its personality. A few spots of bright color photograph well, and will stand out in listing photos. Even simple touches add personality, like a red throw pillow or a turquoise fruit bowl.

2. Selling with smell

Of course you don’t want your home to smell like last night’s beef stroganoff when a potential buyer arrives. But many sellers overcompensate with potpourri and air fresheners. Beware of overwhelming a serious buyer with strong scents. Some ambitious sellers have even gone so far as to bake cookies or bread before a showing, to give the house a homey smell. We’ll leave that up to you, but keep the competing smells to a minimum.

3. The sound of music

Leaving mood music playing during a showing is likely to backfire. You won’t be able to guess the buyer’s musical tastes, and you risk making them feel like you’re manipulating them.

4. The elephant graveyard

Sometimes it’s necessary to out before the house sells. But too many sellers take their best furniture and possessions with them to their new home, leaving only the most run-down furniture behind. In a sparsely furnished house, it’s even more important that the pieces left behind are tasteful and add to the ambiance of the home. The old sectional sofa you trash picked in college, sitting forlornly in an empty living room, will just make the house feel abandoned. The house should be well furnished or completely empty. Not somewhere in between.

5. Wasting money on the wrong renovations

Many sellers undertake huge projects right before they sell. Perhaps the bathroom is outdated, and you’ve always wanted to fix it up. But it’s hard to guess which renovations will provide the greatest return on your investment. Small touches like new cabinet hardware or new light fixtures might go a long way toward making the home feel up to date, without doing a major renovation costing tens of thousands of dollars. A savvy agent can help you figure out how much updating is needed so your home will sell easily in the current market.

6. Remove clutter, don’t just move it around

We can’t overemphasize the value of decluttering. It makes the listing photos more attractive, which translates to more showings, and it makes the house feel open and airy. But it rarely works to try to hide the clutter. A serious buyer will want to look under the hood, kick the tires a little. That means they’ll explore the basement, open up your closets, and even look under your sink. So it’s important to get rid of your extra belongings completely. Get rid of junk, move some of your treasures to your new home, or even rent a storage unit. It might seem like a lot of work, but it will make it easier to move out once you get the offer you’ve been waiting for.

Virginia Mcguire
Virginia Mcguire
I write about gardening, real estate, architecture, and cities.
Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 01:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, March 29 2014

3 Reasons the Housing Market Should Thrive in 2014


threeRecently, HousingWire asked David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide, for his opinion on the near-term future of housing. Below are what Mr. Berson believes to be the three things you need to know about housing in 2014. We have included a quote from the article and a small comment from KCM for all three points.

Number 1: 2014 should prove to be the strongest year for housing activity since before the Great Recession

“Most economists expect an improved job market in 2014, with employment growth accelerating and the unemployment rate continuing to decline. That jobless rate drop will reflect more of a pickup in employment than further declines in the labor force participation rate. This will be the key factor improving housing demand this year, even if mortgage rates rise and affordability declines. While the housing market tends to do especially well when the job market improves and mortgage rates decline simultaneously, that combination of events occurs only rarely…People buy homes when their job and income prospects improve – even if it’s more expensive to do so – rather than buy when it is inexpensive to do so but they’re worried about keeping their jobs.”

KCM Comment:

We agree that the job market will continue to improve and that rising interest rates will not be a detriment to the market in 2014. As Doug Duncan, SVP and chief economist atFannie Mae, recently revealed:

“Consumers have taken the interest rate rise in stride. Expectations for continued improvement in housing persist, and sentiment toward the current buying and selling environment is back on track.”

Number 2: Demographics should start to favor housing activity

“If the economy expands at a faster pace this year, bringing a more rapid rate of job creation, that should translate into more households, raising housing demand. We won’t see all three million missing households return to the housing market at once. (That wouldn’t be a good thing for the housing market anyway, since that would be on top of the 1.2 million households that normally would develop this year; such a surge would swamp the existing housing supply). Beginning in 2014, the pace of household formations should accelerate to an above-trend pace for several years, pushing up housing demand.”

KCM Comment:

The Urban Land Institute recently released a report, Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014, projecting that 4.48 million new households will be formed over the next three years. Millennials will make up a large portion of these new households. With the economy improving, we believe they will finally be moving out of their parents’ homes and, after they compare renting versus buying, many will choose homeownership.

Number 3: Mortgage availability shouldn’t worsen and may improve

“The rise in mortgage rates already has reduced mortgage origination volumes as refinance activity declines. If mortgage rates rise further this year, as expected, then refinance activity will fall still more. In response, mortgage lenders probably will ease lending standards to the extent possible under the QM rules to boost lending activity by increasing purchase originations. As a result, the increase in new households expected to be created this year, spurred by a stronger job market, should find that qualifying for a mortgage loan will be somewhat easier in 2014 than in prior years.”

KCM Comment:

We also believe that, as the refinancing market begins to dry up, mortgage entities will be more aggressive in the purchase money market (mortgages necessary to purchase a home). There even seems to be recent evidence that lending standards are actually loosening.

Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 10:41 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, March 26 2014

Money Magazine: Buy Now Not Later

We have often suggested that potential home buyers consider rising interest rates when thinking about the true cost of a home. photo

Remember, cost is not determined by price alone but by price and mortgage rate. The longer a buyer waits, the higher the mortgage payment will be if rates continue to increase (as is projected by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the National Association of Realtors and the Mortgage Bankers Association).

Money Magazine, in its latest issue, agreed with our analysis as they also warned their readership of the same ramification if they waited to buy a home.

Here is what they said:

"BE MINDFUL OF RATES. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed loan is predicted to climb from the current 4.4% to 5.3% by the 2015 spring buying season, according to Freddie Mac. For a $250,000 loan, that means that a borrower who waits would pay $136 more per month and an additional $49,090 in interest over the life of the loan. Will you need a big loan? Better to act soon before rates tick up."

And the monthly increase Money mentioned did not take into consideration that prices are also projected to increase over the next year. Here is what the additional cost would be if prices rise by the 4.5% projected by the latest Home Price Expectation Survey and interest rates go to 5.3%.

3.24 Blog Visual2

Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 08:50 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, March 23 2014

  3 Tactics and Trade-Offs for Finding ‘The One’
  Source: | By: 
Brandi Newell

When starting the house hunting process, most buyers are starry-eyed optimists convinced they’ll find the perfect home for their family at a reasonable price.  With any luck, it’ll even come with a self-cleaning pool, a two-story walk-in closet, and a magical mirror that erases inches from their waistline. Then reality hits.

Compromises are as much a part of the home buying journey as getting the keys.  Here at Trulia HQ, we’ve heard stories from hundreds of users about every difficult real estate decision you can imagine. We’ve compiled a few of the most common home buying hang-ups, the trade-offs they often entail, and some tactics for how to get through them:

The Hang-Up: Walking in to an open house and wanting to turn right around and walk back out. Did you see that shag carpet? Deal breaker.

The Trade-Off: Modern design or good bones?

The Tactic: This piece of advice is so often repeated that it’s almost cliché, but it’sreally important, so we’ll say it again: Focus on the aspects of the home that are permanent – the layout, the location, the exposure to natural light – and ignore the cosmetic issues that are easily swapped out – the carpet, the wallpaper, and that strange smell.  These problems are only skin deep, and if you’re being too superficial, you’re likely to miss out on ‘the one.’


The Hang-Up: Finding an incredible house with everything you want… in the exact wrong location.

The Trade-Off: Tricked-out house or safe, convenient neighborhood?

The Tactic: Do your homework. Calculate how much time (and money) you’d lose to a daily commute, look into the actual crime rate for the area, and think about how the neighborhood will affect your home’s resale value—is this area undergoing a renaissance, or are you likely to continue to be the nicest house on the block?  Location is a huge deal worthy of your attention because you don’t just marry the house, you marry the neighborhood.


The Hang-up: Falling fast and hard in love with a big, beautiful house, only to realize that it’s out of your price range. There’s no such thing as a free lunch square foot.

The Trade-Off: Bigger space or smaller mortgage?

The Tactic: Ask yourself the hard questions. That formal dining room is divine and it would be great to have an extra bedroom, but how many dinner and house guests did you really have last year? What could you do with that extra money? What would you miss out on if you went over budget? You may decide that your family could legitimately use the extra square footage—you can’t put the new baby in the pantry, after all. But remember folks, bigger is not always better.

What hang-ups and trade-offs did you face in your home buying journey? Tell us in the comments below.

Did you like the ‘Homebuying Moment’ illustrations? Check out more here.

Brandi Newell
Brandi Newell
Brandi is part of Trulia's engagement marketing team, working to bring clarity, simplicity, and fun to the process of buying and selling homes.
Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 07:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, March 22 2014

6 DIY Bathroom Storage Tricks

By Joe Provey

My wife and I have a very small bathroom. The tub, toilet, and sink are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along one wall. An in-swinging door assaults anyone foolish enough to linger in front of the mirror.

And, this particular bathroom is the smallest in a long line of small bathrooms I’ve owned. For that reason, it may be that I’m the world’s leading expert on finding ways to increase bathroom storage.

Here are my top ways to find storage in a small bathroom:

1. Install a big medicine cabinet

For much of the last century, medicine cabinets were small, because a) people knew how to get by with a lot less stuff, and b) they were typically set into the wall between studs (typically only 14-1/2 inches apart). If you’re not into the asceticism of the past, rip out the old unit and install a large wall-mounted cabinet. Yes, it will encroach a bit into the room, but your compensation is thousands of cubic inches of usable storage.

2. Go with a vanity over a pedestal sink

The temptation with a small bathroom is to install a pedestal sink. The idea is that it will make you bathroom “feel” bigger. And, it will. But if storage is what you need, install a vanity and set your sink into it, or on top of it — vessel sinks are a nice compromise between pedestal sinks and vanities.

Vanities with deep drawers are much more convenient than ones with doors — no bending to search in dark recesses for what you need. Sure, it may take some clever plumbing work to keep pipes clear of the drawers, but it can be done. If you’re stuck with a door-style vanity, consider retrofitting a pullout shelf. They’re available as kits that come with slides and preassembled wooden trays.

3. Use the space over the toilet

Shelves or cabinets (which aren’t too deep) are great ways to use this underused space. Just leave enough room between the bottom shelf and the top of the toilet tank, so you can easily access the flush mechanism to make repairs. There are hundreds of over-the-toilet organizers available. Some mount to the wall, while others have legs that straddle the toilet tank and rest on the floor.

4. Hang hooks behind the door

There are all sorts of racks designed to take advantage of the space behind the bathroom door. Some racks install over the door top; others hang on the hinge pins. Keep in mind that towel bars are better for hanging wet towels, but hooks are great for robes and clothing. In a pinch, use a classic back-of-door shoe bag and fill the compartments with extra soap bars, shampoos, bandages, combs and so on.

5. Hang stuff in the shower area

I don’t like hanging organizers from the showerhead. Who likes staring at toiletries? A better way is to hang your organizer near the back of the shower area. Doing so may require that you install a hook in tile, but that’s easier than it sounds. Use a punch to nick the tile and bore an anchor hole with a masonry bit. While you’re at it, install a few extra hooks for hanging brushes, shower caps, washcloths, etc.

6. Use less stuff

The first rule of organization is to get rid of stuff. Clear out hair and skin products you tried once and never used again. Do the same with old medicines (but check with your municipality for properdisposal). Turn old towels you rarely use into rags. And limit your stock of bathroom cleaning agents — you’d be surprised how versatile a big bottle of white vinegar and a jar of baking soda are.


Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.


Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 07:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, March 20 2014

Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 03:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, March 18 2014

3 Next-Gen House Hunting Tips for Singles
Tara-Nicholle Nelson

The American household has changed – big time. More and more, people get married later in life, if at all. Many even go from married to single and back multiple times throughout their lives. This all means that more and more people are buying homes while single. Many unmarried folks are buying homes to live in on their own, while others are looking for homes to live in with their children, parents or other partners – past, present and future.

If you’re embarking upon the process of buying a home on your own, here are a few things to factor into your thought process and your action plan:

1. Solo doesn’t necessarily mean condo. A decade or two ago, many single house hunters were automatically directed toward low-maintenance condos and townhomes. And truthfully, some singles still enjoy the tax and financial advantages of ownership without the responsibilities of caring for lawns, roofs and other so-called “single family home” features they have no use for.

That said, the descriptor of a detached, standalone property as a “single family home” is woefully out of date. Many single people are electing to purchase detached homes for a number of reasons. Chief among them include:

  • Needing the square footage to allow their household to expand to include future partners, future children, adult children, or even elderly parents
  • Needing extra rooms (or even extra apartments!) to rent out, do hobbies in or run a home business from, and
  • Having the outdoor space for dogs, cats, horses and vegetable gardens, oh my!

If you are dreaming of a life in more of a home than your friends and family members think you can handle and you can well afford the home of your dreams, don’t be daunted. Reach out to other people in your circle of friends who are single and own either single family homes or condos and townhomes to get a sense for their experience. If you decide to go with a condo, make sure you read the HOA disclosures thoroughly and that you understand what you’re getting for your HOA dollars. (Hint: HOA dues often cover expenses you would pay out of pocket otherwise, like waste management fees, landscaping, building insurance and even roof and window maintenance.)

But if you do decide to go the single family home route, make sure you ask your circle (and your agent) for referrals to the contractors, gardeners and handyfolk who can make home maintenance on your own much more doable. It takes a village to maintain a home over the long run. So get a village!

2. Pay extra close attention to home inspections and home warranty provisions. Much of what’s scary about solo home ownership are the seeming risks around things that could go wrong. The most common such fear is a valid one: What happens if something goes wrong with the house? With just one income, it can be frightening to think of how rapidly a lemon of a house could rock your entire financial world.

There are a couple of tools you can build into your transaction that can massively mitigate just this risk. First, your home inspections. Most people think of home inspections as almost pass-fail: if they reveal devastatingly expensive issues, they back out of the deal. But if they don’t surface any fatal flaws, the deal is on.

Single home buyers should view their home inspections as the opportunity to spend a few more hours in the home, discovering its warts and all, before they move forward with the deal. Take special care to attend your inspections in person, ask the inspector to show you the issues they find while they’re on site. Read the reports and get any follow-up inspections or repair bids before your contingency period runs out. That way, you’ll have a concrete idea of the financial exposure to repairs that are needed right now while you can still either (a) negotiate to get the seller to chip in or (b) back out of the deal without penalty, if you need to.

The second tool is a largely underrated one: your home warranty plan. Most buyers get one, and often sellers pay for it. But what many buyers don’t realize is that (a) they can pay to upgrade the plan so that the warranty company will cover a wide assortment of future home repairs, and (b) they can and should renew their home warranty plan annually, in the future. Having the ability to ring up the home warranty company and spend $50 for a service call when your water heater, furnace, or plumbing goes on the fritz can dramatically reduce the fear factor of solo home ownership.

3. Consult with legal and financial pros before you buy with a relative, friend or partner. Buying a home with a friend, a parent, a sibling or even a life partner can seem like the cure for what ails a single person’s home buying situation. Namely, it injects additional financial resources, allows you to buy a pricier (read: larger, nicer, better located) property than you could on your own, and even positions you to have help making hard house hunt decisions and maintaining the place going forward.

Co-buying has big benefits, but it also poses some serious questions – questions that a lawyer, tax advisor or financial planner can help you anticipate and resolve, in advance, to avoid conflicts later. If you decide to go the co-buying route, make the investment of time and money up front to get some professional advice about how to structure the transaction and the financial relationship. Doing so, and reducing the agreement to a clear, professionally-drafted written contract that is recognized by and filed on record with the relevant state and local governments can go a very long way toward helping you avoid later damage to the interpersonal relationship with your co-buyer.

BUYERS: Did your status as single or married factor into your house hunting decisions? If so, how? If not, why?

ALL: You should follow Trulia and Tara on Facebook.

Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 09:57 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, March 16 2014

  10 Quick And Budget-Friendly Projects To
   Remake Your Space This Spring
By: Michael Corbett


Most of the country is digging out from underneath snow and ice brought on by the tail end of winter, but no matter what climate you live in, your thoughts are likely turning to Spring!  The first tastes of warmer weather also brings thoughts of spring cleaning and freshening up your home.

If you don’t have the time or money to do a lot of significant upgrades, but you want to give your home a fast and inexpensive face lift, here are 10 things you can do in one day or one weekend for under $200 dollars!

Save it, Sell It, Chuck it!
This is my first step to give a home fast face lift. Decluttering is free and will only cost you time. Taking a close, hard look at what needs to really be in a room and what can go will change the entire look of a space. Less “stuff” will open up your existing space and give a “lift” faster than you can say “yard sale!”  Yes, you might even MAKE money if any items you discard have resale value!

Tackle The Closets
Fling open the doors to those stuffed clothes closets – and get organized. Start by getting rid of your mis-matched hangers. Stop by a place like Bed, Bath & Beyond or Home Goods and buy 100 matching hangers for cheap.  They’ll look nicer and save you space, and you will be able to toss old unwanted fashions as your rehang each item.  An inexpensive way to breathe new life into your closet and wardrobe.

Paint It Over
An accent color wall or an interior room repaint will liven up a home. With little money and just a day or a weekend, your house can have new a new look and a new life. Be adventurous – it is the easiest renovation to “do-over” if you don’t like it!

Deep Clean Those Carpets
If you have wall-to-wall carpet or large area rugs spread throughout your home, rent a carpet cleaner and give those carpets a deep clean.  You can rent these at most local grocery or hardware stores. I invested the money up front and bought a good carpet shampooer for about $200, and I use it once a month – it is shocking how much extra dirt that machine pulls up each time.  And if you have pets …this is one spring facelift you can’t live without!

Throw In Some Color
Throw pillows are no brainers when it comes to creating a fresh new look on the cheap.  Bring your living with you into the new season by throwing in some bright colors, and put the old pillows away for later. Store your other pillows away, and then swap them out whenever there is a change of season.

A Hotel Right in Your Own Home
I’ll let you in on a luxury hotel secret: they dress their beds with white sheets, white pillow cases and crisp white duvet covers.  It’s a standard for a reason – it’s fresh and light, and looks very high-end.  You might cringe at the thought of how dirty all white can get, but it’s actually much easier to clean – throw it all in the wash with your other whites and some bleach and your are ready for a mini ‘five-star’ vacation in your own home.

Turn Down the Heat
During this past season of wild temperature swings, your thermostat has been one of the most utilized devices in you home. It is time to give it a lift and an upgrade at the same time.  The new breed of “smart” thermostats are fantastic.Venstar and Nest are two I love. They are easily programmable from both the control panel and directly from your mobile device too. Bonus – they look stylish and they save you money, too!

A Brand New Faucet
Something new, shiny and functional will reinvigorate a tired kitchen counter! And it will add in some functionality as well.  Those great goose neck or sprayers look fantastic and will cost you under $200.

Front Entrance Makeover
A new bright color for the front door in a high gloss paint, a shiny kick-plate, new house numbers, new doormat –  it will all make a big impression on the outside!

Outdoor Pop
What spring face lift would be complete without some new spring flowers? Freshen up your curb appeal by planting pops of color and seasonally appropriate flowers that will look great for months to come.

HOMEOWNERS & RENTERS: What are the things you are doing to your house or apartment this Spring?


Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 11:09 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, March 13 2014

Buying a Home Less Expensive than Renting – by 38%!

Trulia released their Rent vs. Buy Report last week. The report explained that homeownership remains cheaper than renting in all of the 100 largest metro areas by an average of 38%!

The other interesting findings in the report include:

  • Even though prices increased sharply in many markets over the past year, low mortgage rates have kept homeownership from becoming more expensive than renting.
  • Some markets might tip in favor of renting this year as prices continue to rise faster than rents and if – as most economists expect – mortgage rates rise, due both to the strengthening economy and Fed tapering.
  • Nationally, rates would have to rise to 10.6% for renting to be cheaper than buying – and rates haven’t been that high since 1989.

Buying a home now makes sense. You can lock in a mortgage payment before home prices and mortgage rates rise as experts expect they will. If you rent, your housing expense will only continue to increase.

Posted by: Michael Ardolino AT 10:51 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, March 12 2014

Is Your Home a Ticking Time Bomb?

Source: Shutterstock

There are some maintenance and repair issues that homeowners just hate to deal with — either because they take time, cost money or just don’t seem, well, urgent. But, some of these problems can become ticking time bombs, poised to explode if they’re not defused early, when they are more like firecrackers than bombs.

Here are some of the top structural and mechanical time bombs in your home that experts say have the potential to blow up and are worth squelching now — before the big boom.

The foundation

Why it’s explosive: Houses settle. But not all settling is the same. “A lot of times people will ignore the cracks in the brick veneer on the outside of the house, even when they get to be a half-inch or more,” says Bill Loden, incoming president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Even though that brick is often just the “skin” of the house, a crack that large can signal much deeper problems with a moving foundation, Loden says. Caught early, a repair might cost a few thousand dollars. Caught too late, the tab could run $20,000 to $50,000.

Snuff the fuse: Some cracks in your house are essentially cosmetic — the result of natural settling. When is a crack something more? “If you see a crack big enough to put a No. 2 pencil in, you’re looking at a problem,” says Loden, who also owns Huntsville, AL-based Insight Building Inspection. Other signs of trouble: a tilting chimney or windows and doors that stick or jam, which can be caused by a moving foundation that is twisting their frames. If you suspect foundation issues, hire a structural engineer to evaluate your house, he says.

The roof

Why it’s explosive: ”Most people don’t pay any attention to their roof until they see water coming through the ceiling!” says Bill Jacques, outgoing president of ASHI and owner of American Inspection Service in Charleston, SC. But if you see drips in your living room, the problem is already far gone. A new roof could cost you “probably $8,000 to $10,000,” according to Jacques.

Snuff the fuse: “Some people say, ‘I’ve got a 20-year shingle. It’s gonna last 20 years.’ Well, no it’s not,” he says. “I would just recommend that about every five years they have the roof inspected.” One of the telltale signs of a wearing roof is coarse sand pooling at the base of gutter downspouts; the sand is most likely caused from granules of the shingles washing off. If you see a lot of it, then it’s a good idea to have someone climb higher. If you can safely get on the roof (be careful!) and the surface feels slippery, that’s another sign that the shingle material is coming off, Jacques says.

You can find evidence of additional problems under the roof. Water will usually enter the attic first. Hire an inspector, or look for stains around the chimney and the stack vents, or around other venting pipes that exit the house. Those are places where the metal flashing can fail, says Jacques. Also, look around the attic for wet and/or damaged insulation. Discovering issues early could mean the difference between repair and replacement — or a few hundred dollars rather than thousands.

The septic system

Why it’s explosive: Homeowners who have septic tanks don’t always like to think about them, Loden says. That’s a mistake. “A septic tank is gonna work until the day it quits,” he quips.

Generally speaking, a septic system breaks down the solids and liquefies them. The liquid then goes out into lines and is dispersed into the surrounding ground. But other materials also reach the septic tank — from sanitary napkins and cigarette butts to foodstuffs such as coffee grounds and grease (particularly if you have a garbage disposal). Over time, the baffles that stop the larger solids from going into the lines can get blocked. If that happens, the system can back up into your house. “That’s not a ‘check engine’ light; that’s an ‘engine failure’ light,” Loden says. “That’s when you end up with a backhoe in your yard.”

Snuff the fuse: If you have a septic tank, have the tank pumped every five years. “And, if you have a garbage disposal, you might want to have it done every three years,” Loden says. In his area of the South, the cost is “between $300 and $500,” he says. “It’s really relatively inexpensive to have it pumped. A lot of those guys will pump it and inspect it at the same time.” It’s particularly cheap when compared with the cost of digging up your yard to repair your system, which can run thousands of dollars.

Old electrical systems

Why it’s explosive: Homes built after World War II, as well as homes built earlier, “didn’t have the same requirements for power that we do now,” Loden says. Homes built today can’t have more than 12 linear feet of space between electrical outlets. This stipulation was intended to minimize the use of extension cords, which can cause fires. The electrical systems of older homes, particularly those outfitted with lots of appliances and amenities, just can’t handle modern electrical demands. Sockets can actually wear out, and switches, too. Breakers become less reliable as they age. The upshot can be a fire.

Snuff the fuse: “Probably every 20 years,” a home should have a thorough inspection of its electrical system, Loden says. Homes built prior to 1980 should definitely be looked at, “and another break point in my region — the Deep South — is 1965. There were a lot of improvements in the 1960s,” he says. You could call an electrician, although Loden cautions that “an electrician may see it as a sales call. Like any trade, they’re there to fix things.” An alternative: Consider calling an experienced home inspector.

The crawl space

Why it’s explosive: Few homeowners ever pay attention to their crawl space — that often dank, dirt-floored area beneath many homes. “And why would they?” says Jacques, of ASHI. But you should, because the crawl space is sort of a window into the belly of your home and all of its inner workings, he says. It could reveal all sorts of problems before they get bigger:

  • “You might have a leak in the bathroom under the commode or in a supply line that could be weakening the floor,” Jacques says, and you’d never know it until the day a sag appears in the floor and you need major repairs.
  • Termite damage can usually be seen there before it appears elsewhere.
  • Many crawl spaces carry the heating and air-conditioning ductwork that runs throughout a house. But when repairmen clamber about in this cramped space, over time “they might cause some damage to the insulation or to the ductwork. So you could be pumping your nice cold air into the crawl space itself,” Jacques says.

Snuff the fuse: Jacques recommends homeowners periodically spend a few minutes with a flashlight looking inside the crawl space as a precautionary measure.

He also recommends occasionally hiring a home inspector to do a more thorough examination of the space. An inspector can look for leaks in plumbing and find faulty or damaged ductwork and worrisome wiring. As well, while often not licensed to inspect for termites, an inspector usually knows enough to point out suspected trouble and recommend treatment or repair. (Find an ASHI-certified home inspector in your area here.)

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Sunday, March 02 2014

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Michael Ardolino
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