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Posts Tagged ‘home maintenance’

Managing the post-storm insurance claims process

Florida, Georgia and North Carolina residents affected by Hurricane Matthew will begin surveying damages to their property and belongings.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier put together the following tips to help Floridians begin the process of filing insurance claims for damaged property and belongings and this may prove useful to residents in other states as well:

Tip 1: Locate all applicable insurance policies. This may include a homeowners’ policy, flood policy (flood coverage is not covered under a typical homeowners’ policy and is separate coverage), and an automobile policy (may cover damage to your car from flooding).

Tip 2: Document all damaged property and belongings. Take photos or shoot video footage before attempting any temporary repairs. When you file an insurance claim, you may be asked for visual documentation of damages.

A photographic home inventory is a handy resource for this situation. A free smartphone app developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners called “MyHome Scr.APP.book” can help you take and store a room-by-room log of photos.

Tip 3: Contact your insurance company or insurance agent as soon as possible to report damages.Insurance policies require prompt reporting of claims, so it is important to act as soon as possible.

Tip 4: Cover damaged areas exposed to the elements to prevent further damage. Your insurance company may reimburse the expense of these temporary repairs, so keep all receipts.

Do not dispose of any damaged personal property until your insurance company adjuster has had an opportunity to survey it.

Florida consumers who have questions about their insurance coverage are encouraged to call CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services’ Insurance Helpline. Helpline experts can be reached by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1- 877-693-5236), or online at: myfloridacfo.com/hurricanematthew.

How to Assess the Cost of a Real “Fixer-Upper” 

When you buy a fixer-upper residence for either personal or investment reasons, you need to have a thorough understanding of all of the potential related additional costs to determine if it is a worthwhile investment.

The following analysis in introspection will assist you in determining much you can afford, how much to offer, and whether a fixer-upper house is right for you.

Decide what you can do or want to do yourself

TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult renovation job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results.

Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.

Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?

Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an offer

If you are using a professional get several estimates on the work you want done by licensed and insured contractors.

If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies.

Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that WILL arise when you start to open walls, remove windows, install electric and plumbing, etc.

Check permit costs

Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home.  Also check to ensure that there was no other non-permitted work done to the home.  If you get permits that chance that this work will be found and cited is likely.

Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit.

Factor the time,costs, and additional requirements of permits into your plans.

Double check pricing on structural work

If your renovation plans include major structural work, hire a structural engineer  to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full scope of the work required.

Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.

Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:

You’re getting it at a steep discount

You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem

You know the problem can be fixed

Check the cost of financing

Be sure you have enough money for a down payment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings.

If you are planning to fund the repairs with a home equity or home improvement loan:

Get yourself pre-approved for both loans before you make an offer.

Make the deal contingent on getting both the purchase money loan and the renovation money loan, so you’re not forced to close the sale when you have no loan to fix the    house.

Include inspection contingencies in your offer

Don’t rely on your friends or your contractor to eyeball your fixer-upper house. Hire pros to do common inspections such as whole home inspection, radon, mold, lead-based paint, chinese drywall, septic, well and pest.

Lastly, don’t pay more than fair-market value

Have your EXCLUSIVE BUYER AGENT develop an comparative market analysis that makes adjustments for all of the issues involving the property, location, condition, time value of money, et. al.  A transactional broker or listing agent is interested in selling the property for the highest price and is not working in a buyer’s best interest.  Always use an EBA when purchasing real estate. 

 

You Are Under Contract…What’s Next?

You searched for homes over the course of months or even years. You endured a series of offers and counter offers, property disclosures, inspections and reports. Finally, after so much excitement, stress and anxiety, the house hunt has come to an end.
But the story isn’t over yet. Here are some next steps to consider before you actually move in.
Plan any work well in advance:
Rarely does a buyer get a place that is truly in “move-in” condition. By the time you’ve signed a contract, you have lots of ideas about how you’ll live in this home, how you’ll customize it to suit you and your family,  and what work needs to be done.
If the place needs work, don’t wait until you’ve closed to engage a painter, a floor re-finisher, or a general contractor. Either at your final walk-through or during a private appointment after you’ve removed your contingencies get the proper contractors in the house. Start getting bids for necessary work. If possible, have floor sanding, painting, demolition,  or small fix-it work done before you move in. Real estate agents work with all kinds of tradespeople, so they’re often a great resource recommendations.

Set up the utilities:
Some people assume the utilities will work once they walk in on day one. While many utility companies have grace periods (the days between when the seller cancels service and the new owner calls), you can’t always assume this will be the case. If you have an out-of-town seller, they may have cancelled services the day they knew all contingencies were removed. In this instance, the grace period likely lapsed, and you may be stuck dealing with the electric company, waiting for an appointment or just being without power when you really want to start painting, fixing or cleaning.

The best plan is to call the utility companies and get service set up well before closing. If they haven’t received cancellation notice from the seller, let the seller know to take care of that.

Got the keys? Great, now change the locks:
Assume that every one and his brother has a set of keys to your new home. The seller’s real estate agent likely gave copies to his or her assistant, a painter, stager or even another agent at some point during the marketing period. That’s why the first person you should call after getting the keys is a locksmith.Spend the money to get all the locks changed right away. You’ll sleep better at night.

Hire a cleaning crew:
The Seller has an obligation to leave the property “broom clean”, but this in no way assures that the carpets have been cleaned, the floors mopped and the insides of the cabinets and drawers have been wiped down/  There’s nothing worse than showing up with the movers, dozens of boxes and your personal belongings only to discover the seller hadn’t had the place cleaned thoroughly.
Assume the worst and get a professional cleaning crew in there the minute after the closing. Even if the seller did clean, they may have done a poor job. You want to start life in your new home with a clean slate. The movers might make a mess while moving in. But the bones of the place will be sparkling clean and you won’t be scrambling to get cleaners in while the home is in a state of disarray as you unpack.

Have a handyman, small contractor or designer on call:
Moving in can take days, if not weeks, and is made up of the kind of stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Things like aligning your framed artwork, centering the couch in the living room or getting the large rug set up in the master bedroom can drive you crazy. Nailed multiple holes in the wall in an attempt to get your family photos lined up on the staircase? Not all of us are cut out to do this kind of stuff.

While it may seem like a luxury, investing a few hundred dollars in hiring someone to take orders, help with setting up and take over some of these mindless tasks will save time and potentially relieve you of a giant headache.

Thinking ahead is the way to go:
The journey to home buying could have been anything from fun to stressful and emotional. When the closing date draws near, you’re probably exhausted. But taking a little extra time to plan ahead will save you time, money and a lot of hassle. And it will make the move into your new home so much more satisfying.

What You Should Do After Closing

You searched for homes over the course of months or even years. You endured a series of offers and counter offers, property disclosures, inspections, loan applications, due diligence, and packing. Finally, after so much excitement, stress and anxiety, the house hunt has come to an end. But the story isn’t over yet. Here are some next steps to consider before you actually move in.

Make Copies of your Closing Documents.
The first stop you make after closing should be your local copy shop. While all the documents are still together and in order, make at least one copy of everything. Put one set in your folder for tax filing and one set in a file for house records.
Get a Safe Deposit Box and Put the Original Documents In It.
Keep your photocopies on hand at the house in case you need them in a pinch, but store the originals of your mortgage loan docs and your title certificate in a secure, off-site location. That means a safe deposit box at the bank, or on file with your attorney.
Got the keys? Great, now change the locks.
Assume that every one and his brother has a set of keys to your new home. The seller’s real estate agent likely gave copies to his or her assistant, a stager, handyman, or even another agent at some point during the marketing period. That does not even take into consideration the spare keys that the Seller’s gave the neighbors, their family, cleaning lady, and babysitter. That’s why the first person you should call after getting the keys is a locksmith. Spend the money to get all the locks changed or re-keyed right away. Don’t forget to reset any key code combinations that can be used to gain entry to the house as well including the garage door opener, garage keypads and alarm combinations should be changed.
Hire a cleaning crew.
There’s nothing worse than showing up with the movers, dozens of boxes and your personal belongings only to discover the seller hadn’t had the place cleaned as thoroughly as you would have liked.

Assume the worst and get a professional cleaning crew and painters in there the minute after the closing along with carpet cleaners. You want to start life in your new home with a clean slate. The movers might make a mess while moving in. But the bones of the place will be sparkling clean and you will have freshly painted closets and walls before the furniture and clothing gets in place.
Have a handyman, small contractor or designer on call.
Moving in can take days, if not weeks, and is made up of the kind of stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Things like aligning your framed artwork, centering the couch in the living room or getting the large rug set up in the master bedroom can drive you crazy. Nailed multiple holes in the wall in an attempt to get your family photos lined up on the staircase? Not all of us are cut out to do this kind of stuff. While it may seem like a luxury, investing a few hundred dollars in hiring someone to take orders, help with setting up and take over some of these mindless tasks will save time and potentially relieve you of a giant headache.
Play “what went off”:
Turn all of the lights on, plug radios, lamps, etc., into as many outlets as possible, then turn circuits off one at a time; make a list of which breaker controls what, and post it near or on the inside of the panel(s). Make sure you know where the main water shutoff is, and test it to see if it works. If you have a water filter, check it or replace it.
Check the furnace filters/replace if not new looking. Check gutters and leaders for blockage; clean if necessary. If you have a fireplace, have the flue inspected by a professional. Check/change batteries in smoke detectors.
If you control your own hot water, you’ll want to check the temperature pretty early on during your first day in the house. Developers of new homes have a bad habit of turning water heaters to “vacation” mode just before closing. This saves their utility bills but will result in a cold surprise when you go to take a shower. The temperature dial on your water heater should have a tick mark at the best setting. You don’t have to turn it all the way to the hottest point unless you need near-boiling water at all times.
 Put your Name on the Mailbox & Buzzer. If you’re living in a multi-unit complex, like a condo building, you’ll want to get your name on the mailbox as quickly as possible, since the post office won’t deliver to nameless boxes. People are of mixed opinions on whether you should also label your intercom buzzer. It can compromise your privacy, but if you’re expecting a lot of guests or deliveries it will make things easier.
Cover the Windows.
The residents of your new neighborhood are about to watch you parade all your belongings into the house. Don’t let them figure out what you’ve done with them so easily. Make sure you’ve got something in the windows of each room – it can be towels, shower curtains, cardboard – doesn’t matter what for now. Just make sure your privacy is safeguarded so your windows don’t become a walking advertisement for burglars and peeping toms.
Photograph everything. 
You’ll eventually want to take an inventory of everything you move into your house, but before you do so it’s a good idea to take pictures of your house in its native state. Once furniture is in place it will be difficult to remember where outlets are and what your home looked like when it was brand new. In the event of a catastrophic loss, you’ll need to refer back to those pictures in order to restore your home, so make sure you store them offsite, email them to yourself at a webmail address, or upload them to a cloud-based server.
Meet your new neighbors.
Getting to know your new neighbors and trading phone numbers can be very beneficial in case of emergencies. There is always value in having a good neighbor.
Make sure your first weeks and months of homeownership are safe and pleasant.

Plan first. Party later.

New Water Heater Regulations

 

If you’ve been thinking about replacing your water heater soon, you will want to read up on how the new water heater efficiency standards, effective April 16, 2015, will affect your options.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently mandated sweeping changes in the energy efficiency standards of this water-heating appliance. The new standards call for much higher Energy Factor (EF) ratings on all water heaters manufactured with larger than 55 gallons in capacity.

New water heater regulations mean huge changes in how larger capacity water heaters are manufactured, distributed and installed.

While the new mandates will add up to long term energy savings for all, the initial cost of replacing your old water heater may quickly become significantly more expensive.

For example, the average cost of conventional minimum-efficiency 60-gallon gas and electric water heaters is approximately $675 to $1,500 a unit. While in comparison, the new units manufactured after April 16 will cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,450 each.

That’s not all. Water heaters manufactured after the new energy efficiency standards go live will require a different heat-pump design and will take up more space than your model now.

This means that if your current water heater is located in close quarters, like a 3 foot x 3 foot water closet or attic, you may be looking at a small home remodel to accommodate the larger units as well.

Water heaters contribute to a significant part of your monthly electric or gas bill. When replacing a water heater you should consider a tankless unit. These space saving units heat water on demand, only when you need it. The tankless technology offers endless hot water – you’ll never take a cold shower again! Because the water is only heated when it is being used, tankless water heaters are a great energy efficient solution for heating the water in your home. You’ll enjoy energy savings, better performance, extended life, fresh water, space savings and more capacity than traditional “tanked” water heaters.

If you are planning on purchasing a home or investment property that will need a new hot water heater, you should figure in these higher cost estimates in addition to the cost of retrofitting the space, if needed.