One Step Over The Line: Property Line Disputes And You

One Step Over The Line: Property Line Disputes And You

When you moved into your new house, the neighbors were so friendly. You almost felt bad about putting up a fence, but you promised your dog he’d have plenty of room to frolick when you finally owned your own little piece of land. So you did, and now those same neighbors are giving you the cold shoulder, along with a letter from their attorney.

What in the world caused them to turn from the nicest people you’d ever meet to ice-in-their-veins cold? According to their lawyer (they’re not speaking to you anymore), you’ve encroached on their property with your fence.

Property Line Disputes: The Basics
Please note: the laws that revolve around property line disputes vary wildly from state to state, so this topic can only be addressed in broad strokes. We’ll give you a good place to start to understand why your neighbors are so angry, though.

All you wanted to do was build a fence. You thought the place you stuck it looked right — it was kinda along the middle of the space between the two houses. You kind of figured that if you were off by a foot or two, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. As it turns out, people get really touchy about a foot of land these days.

What’s happened here is that you’ve accidentally taken the first step to adverse possession of the neighbor in question’s land. This threatens to decrease their property value, since you could, in theory, become the legal owner of that land given enough time and effort. Of course, you didn’t mean to do it, but they can’t see that right now. Right now they’re just angry.

What is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession, as defined legally, is when a random person occupies your property in an open, hostile and continuous way. Breaking it down:

The open: The occupant made no secret of being there. They’re not hiding or trying to be sneaky.

The hostile: You didn’t tell this person it was ok to hang out, they didn’t seek your permission anyway, maybe they thought it was theirs or maybe they just didn’t care who owned the place.

The continuous: The usurper is there for a long time without stop. In some states, this can be as little as about five years, in others it might be 20. It’s important for affected owners to act fast if they don’t know which category their state is in.

By not having your property surveyed before putting up your fence, you’ve done all of these things, though obviously not intentionally. But now that you know, it’s time to do something to clear the air.

Some Solutions to Boundary Woes
In this scenario, you’re the accidental assailant, but it could just as easily happen in reverse, where you’re the one whose new neighbor built a fence that you weren’t happy about. Either way, the approach is similar.

Step 1. Talk to the neighbor. If you did the encroaching, apologize profusely and throw yourself on the mercy of your neighbor. Explain that you didn’t realize you needed a survey or that you thought you were putting the fence in the right spot. Often people will surprise you with their ability to forgive if you’re willing to meet them part of the way.

Step 2. Figure out your options. With the neighbors warmed up again, it’s time to figure out how to solve the problem. You could simply have a survey, dig up the fence and move it to the proper location. But, let’s say that’s currently cost-prohibitive, what with the recent house purchase and fence erection both taking up a lot of your free cash. To protect your neighbor’s rights, start with one of the following:

* A notarized letter granting you permission to use the land. This way, you’re openly declaring that your intentions are not hostile and the owner is giving you permission to be on their land. You can leave your fence in place — at least for now.
* A rental agreement. By agreeing to a small rental fee (even as low as a few bucks a month), you immediately acknowledge that your fence is on the neighbor’s property. Should they want to sell their home, they could simply terminate the rental agreement and you’d have to move the fence. It might be a good idea to stipulate a deadline for moving the fence just to protect everyone.

Whatever you choose, make sure to file a copy with your county recorder so that it becomes a public agreement. This will help your neighbor by creating a permanent record that any appraiser or title researcher could pull up later should the fence problem threaten to cloud their title.

What If You Can’t Come to Terms?
If you’re in the situation where the shoe’s on the other foot — your neighbor built his fence on your lot and you sent the letter from the attorney, then you’re the one that’s angry and frustrated at such ruthless behavior. Remember that it could have been a simple oversight, but definitely try to work it out with minimal bloodshed initially.

If, on the other hand, you went to chat with the neighbor and he told you he liked your lot and wanted to keep it for himself like some sort of real estate pirate, well, you can’t just leave it like that. You may have to take him to court to settle the issue (if you live in a planned neighborhood with an active HOA, they may have a mediation process in place to handle these problems).

In the weeks leading up to court, you may be given any or all of these options by the neighbor’s attorney as a settlement: sell your property, split the difference or give up and let the pirate win. Likely end results of these choices include:

Sell: You lose a piece of property that could affect your real estate values. If it’s a few inches, maybe it’s not a big thing, but if it’s several feet all the way down your 200 foot long lot line, it could be an issue. Consult with a Realtor or appraiser for more on the value impact, as well as how much compensation to seek.

Split the difference: You’re not admitting defeat, but it’s still not the outcome you’d hoped for. You still lose something, though not as much as you would have if you hadn’t gone to court. If the neighbor will pay you something for your loss, consider it.

Give up: Don’t do this. It’s just like selling, except you don’t get any compensation for the property you’ve lost.

Always consult with your lawyer before making a final decision on how to handle a property line dispute.

It Might Not Be Too Late to Avoid Trouble…
If that fence hasn’t gone up yet, it’s not too late to avoid all this hassle by hiring a surveyor. They’ll locate the pins planted at the corners of your lot and mark the line clearly, so both you and the neighbor know exactly where the boundary is located.

Don’t know a surveyor? That’s ok, your HomeKeepr family has you covered! Just log in today and your Realtor can recommend a surveyor (and a fence builder!) that can come by and ensure that you’re not going to have to have an unpleasant conversation down the road.

Tips For Better Deck Building

Tips For Better Deck Building

Every summer, you find yourself saying the same thing month after month: “Boy, it’d be nice to have a big deck…” So far, one hasn’t spontaneously manifested in your backyard, no one has shown up offering to trade a deck for some magic beans, nothing like that. It’s high time you get out there and put your dreams into motion!

Building a deck can be an intimidating project for any homeowner, but if you’re going to attempt it, you might as well be completely prepared for the job. Attention to detail and careful craftsmanship are the most important skills needed for deck building, it’s definitely a project you can nail (see what we did there?) if you have the time to spend.

Your First Steps Toward Deck Ownership
One of the very best things about building your own deck is that you’ll be intimately familiar with every fastener and board in the structure. You’ll also know if you cut corners, so don’t do that. Building a deck is a process that can’t be rushed if you dare to hope it’ll stand and remain in decent shape for the long run.

Every deck is unique due to a combination of your needs, the geological profile of your soil, the size of your house, overhanging trees and the local climate. You’ll need to be prepared for surprises along the way, so leave a bit of slack in the budget for those just in case moments. If you don’t need to spend it, well, you were wanting a new grill anyway, right?

Building a Better Deck: Tips to Keep in Mind
There’s no single way to build a deck, but there are lots of things that can help you build a better deck anywhere. Here are a few tips to get you started!

Take advantage of pre-cut deck parts. You can make most of what you need for your deck from scratch, but if you’re only building the one deck, why? Check out your local home improvement store or lumberyard to see what they offer in pre-cut items like stair stringers and spindles. These convenience building supplies will save you huge headaches and speed your project up tremendously.

Choosy deck builders choose their lumber carefully. Even though most decks today are built with pressure-treated lumber, yours doesn’t have to follow the crowd. If you have the budget, composite decking is often under warranty for 20 years or more. It costs more than pressure-treated lumber, but if you’re not looking to sell your home any time soon you’ll get a lot of years of virtually maintenance free deck ownership using composites.

Keep your posts out of the dirt. Sure, lots of decks have been built with the posts encased in concrete, or even just backfilled with rocks and soil, but time has proven that this is a really bad practice. Instead, pour a level concrete pad for the post to sit on, then seal the post end and use post bases to prevent moisture wicking.

Beg, borrow or rent the right tools for the job. A basic homeowner’s toolkit with a circular saw, table saw, power drill or nail gun (or hammer, but it’s slow going) and line level can get you started, but if you need to fasten your deck to concrete or have any sort of interesting problems crop up, you’re going to need more. For concrete installations, for example, an impact driver is really required equipment and easy to rent for the day.

Don’t neglect flashing! Sandwiching boards on boards is super basic, but if you want to protect the structure next to your deck flashing is a requirement. Just like with a valley in a roof, flashing redirects water so it goes where it should, rather than creating a rotten mess between the deck and the structure you’ve attached it to. Use ledger flashing all across the top of boards that are in direct contact with any sort of building, then apply flashing tape over it such that about half of the width overlaps the flashing and half overlaps the structure.

Seal the invisible bits. It’s easy to forget that the hidden parts of your deck will need longer term protection. After all, once you’ve covered them with lumber it’s kind of an out of sight, out of mind situation. Instead of opening your deck’s structure to rot and other moisture related problems, seal the joist tops with flexible flashing (a lot like what you’re using for the ledger that’s against your house). There’s a peel and stick version that makes it really easy to get the job done.

More of a Deck User Than a Deck Builder?
If you’re more about sitting on your deck with a cool drink than building it from scratch and taking a nap, ask your Realtor to recommend a great carpenter from your HomeKeepr family. Only the best home pros are invited to be members of the community, you can be sure that not only will your deck go up fast, but that it’s built to the highest standards.

Don't Fence Me In: You Can Buy Land With A Mortgage

Don't Fence Me In: You Can Buy Land With A Mortgage

Sure, owning a house is pretty cool, but sometimes you feel like you could do better. Take your hall closet, for example. It’s small, there’s no place to put linens and barely enough room for heavy winter coats. What’s it even good for? Your house has served you well, but you had no idea how awkward the little (and almost impossible to fix) things, like that closet, could be.

Maybe it’s time to consider buying some land and starting over.

Borrowing Money for a Land Purchase
Strictly speaking, buying land is rarely done with a traditional mortgage. Instead, a commercial loan, in one of many forms, is utilized. From where you’re sitting, though, the two will look nearly identical. It all depends on what kind of land you’re buying and what it is that you intend to do with it. The kind of land that homeowners tend to choose will likely fall into one of these categories:

Raw land, that is, land without any major improvements like electricity, water, sewer or gas lines, is the most difficult to borrow against. The reason is simple: it’s generally pretty easy to walk away from this kind of property if you get tired of making payments or suddenly develop a serious allergy to oak trees. The bank’s left with a parcel of land that may take years to resell. It’s a big bummer for them.

Improved land has many or most of those above-listed improvements already installed on it. There may even be a potential building site already prepped and ready to go. It’s important to note that land that has a mobile home without a permanent foundation is also considered “improved.” Because mobile homes are considered personal property, that specific land configuration is still just a land transaction.

Home on an acreage. A permanent, safe and liveable home on an acreage is treated like a home sale, so you could theoretically buy a reasonable sized home on a small acreage using an FHA loan or a mansion on a hundred acres with a jumbo. It’s basically just a house with a really big yard. This is only the case for private homes, not for farms. That’s a whole other blog.

Examples of Loans Based on Land Usage
Again, the type of loan you may be able to secure depends heavily on the type of land and what you plan to do with it. Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1. You’re an avid bird watcher and want to buy an extremely rural, 40ish acre parcel to turn into your own personal campground and bird paradise. You don’t plan to add any utilities to the raw land.

This is the hardest of situations, which is why we started with it. Because an undeveloped piece of land like this is likely to have a smaller purchase point, your local bank may be willing to write a 10 or 15 year portfolio loan for for the buy, with the land as at least part of the collateral. You may need to bring as much as 50 percent down, however, to mitigate the risk you represent. Qualifying won’t be a cake walk, but if you have ample income and seem like a good risk, a local bank will loan to you at their own discretion. Same song applies to a credit union you may belong to.

Other options for financing your bird paradise include asking the owner to finance it (you’ll still need a downpayment, usually 10 percent is plenty) or borrowing against something else you have that has enough value. This might mean you’re taking out a home equity loan or borrowing against your retirement plan.

Example 2. That hall closet has finally driven you far enough out of your mind that you’re hatching a plan to build your own home, with the help of a professional contractor. As soon as the land is acquired, you’re going to start on the construction phase of your life.

This is the kind of land transaction that lenders like. Using the plans for that future home, the value of homes like it nearby and detailed information about the materials you want to use, your bank can determine a reasonable final value for your construction project. This is where they start when determining how much to loan out.

Usually, you have to bring 10 to 20 percent to the table at closing, but these types of land loans are considerably easier to get than a raw land loan. This type of loan usually starts out as a construction loan that you or your contractor can treat like a credit line, taking out money for specific parts of the project as you go. When it comes time to lay the tile in the house, you or the contractor need only request the funds that it takes to cover supplies and the bank will cut you a check.

Once the house is totally done and a certificate of occupancy (where applicable) is issued, your bank will convert the loan into a true mortgage, per the terms you discussed when you applied for it in the first place. You won’t see most of this stuff happening, but it’s definitely going on in the background. With a loan of this sort, it’s good to understand what’s happening when that much money is at stake.

Do You Know a General Contractor…?
If you’ve decided to build a house, the relationship you have with your general contractor is really important. You don’t want someone that’s hard to get along with or can’t be counted on to complete work on time. That’s why your HomeKeepr community only recommends the best of the best.

Did you know you can find both a building contractor and a loan officer within the HomeKeepr system? It’s true! Your Realtor has really set you up for success with their recommendations — maybe you should send them a muffin basket…

Mortgage Brokers VS Mortgage Bankers

Mortgage Brokers VS Mortgage Bankers

You’re just swinging in your hammock on a sunny summer day when an ad pops up on YouTube for home equity loans. It sounds like a pretty good deal and you have been wanting to put a pool in for years, but it’s a bank you’ve never heard of, and a quick message to your group chat reveals that no one you know has, either.

What you might have witnessed was an advertisement for a mortgage broker. Like a mortgage banker, a mortgage broker can find a mortgage loan for your situation, but that’s where the two start to diverge.

Brokers and Bankers and Mortgages, Oh My!
Let’s start with some simple explanations just so we’re all on the same page.

Mortgage Bankers are people who work for a specific bank, like Main Street Bank USA, and help customers of the bank (and potential customers) apply for mortgages that Main Street Bank USA funds. They only write loans for their employer, except in a few special cases. They’re typically paid a salary by the bank they work for, whether your loan is $50k or $500k.

Mortgage Brokers, on the other hand, have permission to sell loans from a portfolio of wholesale investing clients. These may be traditional banks like Big Bank USA (these are fake banks, just so we’re clear), or they may be investment groups like In It For The Interest, LLC. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but because a broker makes their money solely on commission, unscrupulous ones may be tempted to put their own interests above yours. Always vet any type of lender, for peace of mind, if nothing else.

How Mortgage Bankers Work
Mortgage bankers may have a more limited product line they can use to finance your home-related loan, but they have a great deal more control over them because all the underwriting is done within the bank itself. Your local branch might not originate loans, but there’s someone nearby that your banker can call to check status and collaborate with to solve problems like a loan that you’re all by a hair’s width from being able to qualify for.

When a banker takes your application, they may literally forward it to the next room, where local people get to work to verify your income, length of employment and so forth. If you have your checking account with the same bank, you can often skip the tedious submission of income document after income document, since they can pull a lot of information from that checking account.

When the underwriter is comfortable that you’re able to qualify for the loan you’re seeking, they call the title company that you (or you and the seller, in the case of a purchase) agreed to use. They probably already have a relationship with this company since it’s nearby. When they send documents over, the title company doesn’t wonder what to expect from your closing.

How Mortgage Brokers Work
Mortgage Brokers take your application up front, then shop their lenders to see who can make you the best loan based on your credit history, income and desired loan amount. Often, brokers can do things that bankers can’t, even though a banker knows the loan originator by their first name. For example, helping people with troublesome credit is sometimes an area of specialization for brokers. They have access to all sorts of unusual loans that can turn a hopeful into a homeowner, or at least a pool owner.

This is both bad and good. On one hand, you got a loan — woohoo! — but on the other, you’re going to pay for it. These kinds of loans are rarely cheap because the broker’s fees have to be figured into the equation somewhere. Remember, they get paid on commission, not on salary. A normal broker fee can be as much as two percent of your loan amount.

When a mortgage broker pulls off a miracle you were really counting on, though, that two percent seems pretty cheap. Really, it’s all relative to your needs and what’s realistic for your financial situation. Before you choose a broker, make sure that you’ve really vetted them because each company and broker can be as wildly varied as the portfolios they have to sell. Ask around, check online reviews, ask your Realtor their opinion. Chances are good that someone knows a reputable broker that they can set you up with rather than letting you jump in blind.

Which to Choose… and Where to Find Them?
If you’ve decided that you’re absolutely committed to putting in that pool this summer, you’ll need a reputable lender to help you finance all the cement and whatnot. Luckily, both mortgage bankers and mortgage brokers are members of the HomeKeepr community! Log in to see who your Realtor recommends and then give them a call. You’ll save time in lender meet and greets, letting you trade that hammock in for a pizza slice shaped raft sooner.

Is Your Home Warranty For You?

Is Your Home Warranty For You?

Whether you’ve recently purchased a home or are considering renewing the home warranty that came with your home, chances are good that you’ve got questions. Big ones. You’ve probably heard a lot of different things about home warranty programs, ranging from really awful to crazy and near lifesaving. Like anything that remotely resembles an insurance program, there’s a lot of nuance behind individual experiences.

What is a Home Warranty?
You can think of your home warranty as a type of insurance if that makes it easier to understand. It’s technically a service agreement, kind of like what you’d get with a new car. Individual warranty programs have contracts with individual service providers who will come out and diagnose your problem, arrange for parts and then return ready to fix it. The quality of any single home warranty program, then, is only as good as the contracts that the company has with its service providers.

The yearly costs involved range widely, with very basic plans with limited coverage starting around $300 and comprehensive plans that include things like pool repair pushing the $1,000 mark. There’s also typically a service call charge and there can be an upper limit on the costs the warranty will cover.

Depending on the age, size and complexity of your home, that $1,000 plan still may look pretty good next to actually making needed repairs out of pocket. It’s all a matter of perspective.

How Does a Home Warranty Work?
It cannot be stressed hard enough that you should read the entire document before agreeing to a particular home warranty. Although they may seem the same, what one company will cover may be completely excluded by another. Your Realtor should be able to guide you toward a product that they have had a good experience with and consistently delivers good results. If they can’t, call the Better Business Bureau and read reviews online to be certain the company you choose will deliver the goods.

Working with a reputable warranty company is a simple process. It goes something like this:

You notice that the sink is backed up unexpectedly. Running the disposal doesn’t help and you’re not a plumber. You don’t even play one on TV.
You call the number to your warranty company.
An operator answers and asks for identifying information, along with a brief description of the problem.
You explain that your sink is full of water and you’re worried you may soon drown if someone doesn’t come to help.
Your operator collects all the necessary information, triages the case as either emergency or not, and does one of two things: gives you the number to a service provider OR promises to contact one on your behalf.
No more than a day later (depending on your urgency level), the provider calls you to arrange an appointment.
The appointment is set, the service provider comes out and figures out what the problem is. If it’s an easy fix, they may deal with it right then. If it’s a costly repair, they’ll need to go back to the warranty company and try to figure out how much is your responsibility and how much the company will cover.
You authorize a costly repair, it’s made, you pay your part and go on with your life. Or you decline it, kick the dirt and call the warranty company back for a second opinion, then go through the steps above again.
Warranty programs can be hit and miss, there’s no doubt about it. Sometimes the things they cover versus the things they don’t seem completely arbitrary. But, there’s plenty of competition in this arena that will allow you to get into a program you can afford and will be able to use if need be.

The Biggest Warranty Program Con
This has already been touched on, but bears repeating. The biggest drawback to a home warranty is the very thing that leads some people to believe that they’re cons: they don’t cover everything. Again, this is highly dependent on the program and service level you select, but you have to remember that a home warranty is not the same as homeowner’s insurance.

Acts of Nature, shifting foundations, broken sewer lines and broken windows are among the biggest pain points for home warranty users. These items are often not included because of the massive expense they represent, as well as the fact that many are already covered under your homeowner’s policy.

There’s absolutely every reason to read your warranty paperwork thoroughly so you know what will be and won’t be covered. That way you’ll be armed to fight a refusal to pay thoughtfully and efficiently should it occur in error.

Intangible Benefits Come With Warranties
There are a few people who end up winning the lottery with their home warranties. They move in and everything they touch just starts breaking. These are items that showed no sign of serious wear and were installed correctly, their breakdowns were wholly unexpected. But suddenly, that homeowner has a new furnace and air conditioner, the pool pump’s been replaced and so on. This really does happen, and even at $800 a year and $75 a piece for service calls, it represents an incredible savings.

However, most people don’t get that lucky and if they use their warranty at all, they only need it once or twice during their ownership. This is why it’s important to consider the intangibles with these programs. Sure, your breaker box seems fine today, but would you know what to do if it started malfunctioning? That’s where the home warranty really provides a powerful value.

People don’t buy home warranties to save money on home repairs. They do it to control their repair costs over the long term. Usually, they will spend a lot more on the home warranty than they would just hiring their own contractors, but these same people admittedly don’t know who to call or how to vet a potential service provider.

Service provider vetting is a service that the warranty company provides with their yearly fee. Peace of mind, at a cost, is the thing that many home warranty buyers end up choosing. For the highly risk averse, it’s a total win — these people can go on with life and not have to give home repair another thought.

What If You Could Find Vetted Service Providers and Still Save Money?
If you’d rather have a relationship with your plumber, roofer or other service provider rather than have one with a call center, a home warranty might not be right for you. Instead, you should connect with a referral community like HomeKeepr where you can get to know your people on a personal level, thanks to your Realtor’s recommendations.

There’s just something about telling your friends that “my electrician Greg came right over and fixed the faulty wiring,” rather than “I called the warranty company and some guy showed up” that can give you a huge feeling of security in homeownership, whether these are your first steps or you’re well on your way to your next address.

12 Point Pool Maintenance  Checklist

12 Point Pool Maintenance Checklist

When the sun is high in the sky and the wind feels like a blow dryer on your face, there’s nothing like the blessed cool blue of your private pool. If you’ve only just recently become a pool owner, you may be weighing your options: should you hire someone to juggle your pool chores or can you do this one yourself? Taking care of a pool isn’t hard, provided you’ve got a checklist to follow (just so you don’t miss a step).

Your Pool Maintenance Attack Plan
Most pools don’t require a lot of care, but if you don’t keep up with a regular maintenance schedule those tiny jobs can easily snowball into a giant one — or a big pile of broken pool equipment. Neither one is an awesome future prospect.

Instead of a looming disaster, you can look forward to plenty of happy years floating without a care in the world while drinking pink lemonade on your unicorn raft with a simple checklist that looks like this:

Daily Chores
Scoop out floating debris. Grab that long-handled glorified fish net and scoop out anything that’s floating in your pool without authorization. That may include leaves, tree bark, insects or your neighbor’s menacing little YorkiPoo.
Check water level. Pool water isn’t special, it evaporates in the heat just like other water. If it’s been raining a lot your water level might be too high for your equipment to run properly. Either way, a quick visual can help you tell if the water’s in the right place. Adjust as needed.
Clean out the basket. You can’t just sweep all the pool debris into the basket and hope no one notices. When the basket is full, your water circulation is limited, just like when a filter is dirty. So, grab it, shake it out, spray it clean, stick it back in. Bada-boom, bada-bing.

Weekly Chores
Vacuum the pool bottom. Remember that debris you were supposed to scoop out most every day (and may have neglected a bit)? Well, you get one more chance at it today. Pick one day a week to really clean your pool with the pool vacuum. It’ll help prevent staining and keep your water cleaner.
Swab the deck. The grime and dirt on your pool deck isn’t magic dust that just stays on land. Oh no, it’ll end up in your pool, in your pool filter and in your fruity drinks if it’s just left to its own devices. Keep your deck clean!
Check pool chemistries. Your pool is a complicated stew of H, O and lots of impurities. Some of these are not awesome for you and your health, others are just really not great for your equipment. Regular chemistries can tell you the situation when it comes to pH, total chlorine, alkalinity, calcium and cyanuric acid. Don’t forget to figure in the saturation index (or grab an app that can do it for you).
Shock the pool. Just like Peter Gabriel had to Shock the Monkey, you need to shock your pool water on the regular. Since it’s not an actual free-flowing water source like a stream or even a lake, it’s easy for algae, bacteria and other microscopic critters to grow. Raising the chlorine level to 5 or 10 ppm will kill off what ails you. A DPD test kit can help detect levels of combined chlorine — you can break it up by shocking the water to a level 10 times the tested level when combined chlorine exceeds 0.3 ppm.

Monthly Chores
Look for tears in the liner. A torn liner is not a great time for a pool owner. You’ll be leaking water if you don’t fix it up straight away. Vinyl pools can be a great option for many homeowners, but they come with a hidden cost — the effort it takes to patch them and keep ahead of any holes that may appear.
Clean your filter. This may need to be done more often than once a month, but cleaning that pool filter is everything. When your pressure gauge is 5 to 10 psi higher than normal, it’s time to improve the water flow by getting all the debris out of the filter. How you clean it will depend on the type of filter you have.
Clean the pump room. Your pump room is where all the real action takes place. Whether it’s part of a pool house, a kitchy cabana or under a plain little cover, keep it clean and free of debris in case you have to take the pump or other equipment apart in a hurry.
Clean your skimmer. Using a scrubbing sponge and soap, clean the scum and dirt out of the skimmer’s throat and well. Keeping the skimmer sparkling clean means your pool’s water line will stay cleaner, too.
Check all pump seals and safety equipment. Your pump, filter and safety equipment like ladders and railings all need to be in good working order all the time. Check each item, tightening bolts or replacing parts when wear begins to show. While you’re at it, make sure your pool gate latches properly to avoid potential future issues.

Would You Rather Be Using the Pool or Cleaning It?
Some people are cleaners and some people are floating around in the pool-ers. If you’ve tried to keep up with pool maintenance and simply can’t, or just don’t want to use your limited leisure time scooping dead bugs out of your glistening waters, stop by for a visit with your HomeKeepr community. Your Realtor knows a pool guy — and he’s awesome! All you have to do is let him know you need a hand.

5 Secrets To Success With Your First Rental

5 Secrets To Success With Your First Rental

You’ve been a homeowner for a while now and overall, everything’s gone pretty well. Your home is a comforting, safe place that has given more than it has taken — you’re pretty happy with how that purchase has gone, really.

That’s why when your friend was talking about the frightening amount of rent he’s paying for his place, the wheels started to turn. Owning a rental or two just might be a great way to bring in some extra income without having to really work for it. Plus, there’s all the equity you’ll gain as those renters pay down your note. What could be better?

The Road to Rental Success is Paved With Good Intentions
There’s nothing ethically wrong with being a landlord and there’s nothing wrong with not being a landlord, but either way, you should go in with your eyes totally open. Rentals are hard work, even if you only have one or two single family homes. Before you buy your first rental, take some time to ponder these finer points of landlordship:

1. New tenants should always be considered carefully. Even your closest pal might have some really negative feelings about how a rental and the landlord attached deserve to be treated. You’re obviously not going to make a million bucks on your one house, but it would be good to cash flow. Always do a background check and ask probing questions to learn more about the people who will be living in your house. Bad renters can be enough to sink your entire rental empire before it’s really taken off. If you have to gut the house and start over between tenants, there’s no way you’re going to win at landlording.

2. Think about rent collection now. How do you plan to actually get your money? Now is the time to think about this, before you have a tenant that can’t or won’t comply with your wishes. In this day and age, it’s not unusual for a landlord to require electronic payments. They’re simple to set up using one of many systems available online, depending on just how large you hope your rental empire becomes, and easy for tenants to use. When it’s electronic, there’s no question about that check that’s in the mail. One click and it’s done.

3. Get comfy with the legal stuff. Do you know what your obligation is to your tenants were your rental to be made uninhabitable through no fault of their own? Does your state allow them to withhold rent with no penalty if you don’t get that property fixed up fast enough? Can they crash in a hotel and charge it all to you during said repairs? There’s a lot of legal stuff to cover, it definitely helps to have a real estate attorney in your corner. Real estate attorneys can also help you draft a rental agreement that protects both you and your renter.

4. Planning repairs and upgrades. Repairs and upgrades are best made before anyone moves in, that way you have full access to the property and can move a lot faster not having to remove furniture and personal objects. Repairs of a rented unit sometimes can’t be helped, so have a plan for how to handle them. Calling a home pro in can speed up the service and ensure the problem is fixed right the first time. Always check that your pros offer 24 hour service, in case of an emergency — otherwise you’ll be the one called in at 2 am to fix that busted pipe.

Upgrades also require plenty of forethought. Choose materials that are going to be easy to take care of and durable, even if they cost a little more. If you keep this rental house over the long term, making those choices early will mean not having to replace things like carpet every time a tenant moves out. Unlike your personal home, this house is an investment, so set it up in such a way that you get the most for your money across your entire anticipated ownership.

5. Dealing with eviction. This is a worst-case scenario scenario, but have you considered what you’d do if a renter stopped paying rent? Do you allow one missed payment, then start the eviction process? More importantly, can you stomach the idea of eviction? Even the best renter can turn into a financial drain when there’s been a death in the family, they’ve gotten laid off or new debt is making it harder for them to make ends meet. If you can’t see yourself evicting a family whose breadwinner died, making it too hard to keep up with the rental payments, rentals might not be for you. A workable compromise could be to immediately hire a property manager to deal with the dirty details.

Ready to Become a Landlord?
Being a landlord has its ups and downs and it requires a lot of general knowledge that’s hard for any one person to really maintain. That’s why HomeKeepr is such a handy community for new landlords like yourself. You can meet home pros with every kind of skill you might need, from legal to property management. Just log in and you’ll be given a list of recommended pros in your area that are ready to help!

4 Mortgage Programs For Homebuyers

4 Mortgage Programs For Homebuyers

Whether you’re thinking about buying your first home or you’ve been contemplating an upgrade, you probably already know that there are several different kinds of home mortgages, some that seem pretty much alike at face value. FHA, VA, USDA — what does it all mean?! We’re about to take all the stress out of choosing the mortgage that’s right for you and your family (even if that family is just you and Spot the cat).

Mortgage Basics in a Nutshell
There are a few different elements of a mortgage that are important to understand before we move forward in this process. You already know stuff like interest rates and what your payment and interest payments are, but there are other things that might not be quite so well settled in your mind. Most homeowners have questions about the following mortgage related definitions:

Loan features. When you get a mortgage, it often has other stuff that comes with it. After all, this isn’t the same as borrowing money from your mom, banks have fancy lawyers who make sure they earn their keep. You may notice features like “assumability” and “prepayment penalty” listed on your initial loan form.

Assumable loans are loans that you can literally transfer to another person when they buy your house. This is useful when interest rates are climbing, sometimes people will pay more for a lower interest rate mortgage they can take over.

Prepayment penalties are very bad and you don’t want this. Basically, you’re punished for paying your loan off early. Typically, they’re part of subprime lending, but you never know when one might pop up elsewhere. Since “prepayment” includes the payoff from selling your home, there’s no winning with this one.

Mortgage insurance. There’s been a lot of talk about mortgage insurance, both for better and worse. To put it simply, mortgage insurance makes it possible for you to bring a downpayment as little as about three percent to closing with FHA or conventional type mortgages. It’s a type of insurance that you pay for in case you were to default on the loan. If you do, the insurance company pays out your coverage to your bank, reducing the amount you may be responsible for if the house can’t bring enough at the foreclosure sale to cover your remaining note.

Down payment. Down payments are your initial investment in your home. Many times, home buyers are surprised to see that they have to bring both closing costs and a down payment, having assumed the two were the same. The down payment goes to the bank as proof of your commitment. We’ll get to closing costs.

Closing costs. Closing costs are the bane of buyers everywhere. They can seriously mount as things like appraisals, title insurance, fees to the bank (separate from your down payment) and prepaid items like taxes and homeowner’s insurance add up. Some programs will allow you to ask the seller to pay these on your behalf, but the amount you can ask for is limited to a percentage of the sales price and based on the program you’re using. For many homeowners, closing costs will be similar in price to their down payment, which is where the confusion typically starts.

Pick Your Poison: The Four Basic Home Mortgage Types
Understand that these are not the only mortgages out there, but they are the ones that you’re most likely to use in order to buy a home. Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, which we’ll discuss briefly.

Conventional Conforming
If you’ve heard of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you know the family of conventional loans. These loans are written by a wide range of banks, from your hometown locally owned to the fanciest mortgage broker. “Conforming” loans meet Fannie and Freddie’s high requirements, including maximum sales price.

Pros: Generally, you’ll get a better deal on mortgage insurance that automatically drops off (meaning you no longer have to pay it) once your home reaches a 78 percent loan to value ratio. Also, you’ll pay less in closing costs and your debt to income ratio can be somewhat flexible as long as look really good on paper.

Cons: These are generally the hardest loans to qualify for. Even though there are now three to five percent down payment options, your credit score will need to be around 700 (better is better) and your other ducks should be lined up nice and straight. Consistent employment, savings that can be designated as “reserve funds” and few to no scabs on your credit report are helpful.

Federal Housing Authority
The FHA started insuring loans after the Great Depression as a way of helping people get back into owned property. It basically created the 30 year fixed interest mortgage and continues to carefully oversee which homes can and cannot be purchased in its name.

Pros: Good option for first time buyers because of low down payment and credit requirements. FHA will accept “soft” credit lines for people who haven’t established credit yet or have very little, so keep that utility bill paid on time. The program allows up to six percent of your closing costs to be financed into your loan, as “seller paid items,” which can help reduce the actual cash you need to close.

Cons: FHA requires a lot more in closing costs because of the additional upfront mortgage insurance deposit. In addition, if you have less than a 10 percent down payment, under the current programs you’ll be forced to keep paying mortgage insurance for the life of the loan, giving you no options but to refinance or sell down the line if you want rid of it (it’s costly, you want rid of it). Not every banker wants to deal with FHA loans because they can be time consuming to write, so you may have to shop a bit to find a good bank.

Veterans Administration
As part of the benefits that active military members and veterans receive from the government, VA loans are built on a merit-based system. Career military and those honorably discharged early are generally eligible, but short-term members or Reserves may have to meet additional requirements. Anyone who can get this loan will need to bring a Certificate of Eligibility in order to get the ball rolling with an approved lender.

Pros: Favorable interest rates, extremely flexible guidelines and absolutely nothing required as a downpayment (often little to nothing required at closing!) There’s no mortgage insurance, just a one time “funding fee” that varies with your service type, downpayment and times you’ve used your Eligibility.

Cons: Really, there aren’t any. You can’t get this if you’re not military, though, so that could be a con if you really wanted this most excellent loan type.

US Department of Agriculture
In rural areas, the US Department of Agriculture will offer mortgage lending as a way of helping to keep the local economy flowing. Homes don’t have to be on an acreage, but they do need to be located in communities with under 35,000 inhabitants.

Pros: Like VA, USDA are fairly easy to qualify for as the buyer. They can also be zero down loans, though the more you can bring to closing the better. Payment assistance and other types of help are sometimes available for very low income borrowers.

Cons: The house you’re buying will undergo significant scrutiny in order to be approved for the program. In all loan programs, your house has to qualify, but the hurdles USDA puts in front of the building are much larger than most other programs. This is good for you, because it means you’re getting a great house, but it makes the process take a lot longer and can be scary for sellers. In addition, there’s a cap on income for potential borrowers.

Need a Mortgage? Who Ya Gonna Call?
HomeKeepr! Wait, that’s a different thing. But, seriously, whether you’re looking for more answers to your burning lending questions, need a plumber to fix your leaky faucet or a party planner to celebrate your finally closing on that loan, your HomeKeepr community has contact information for them all. Just log in and check out all the specialties your HomeKeepr family has to offer — they’re recommended by your Realtor, so you know you can count on these experts.

Deciding you’re ready to buy a house is a big moment in your life, whether it’s a first time purchase or you’re snatching up yet another investment property. The home buying process is fraught with dangers, both real and imagined, as well as very real financial risks.

That’s why there are so many pieces of advice about when to buy a house. The truth is that there’s no one answer for anyone. Because market conditions can vary dramatically, there’s no way to safely predict if or when the neighborhood you’re looking at will be ripe for the picking. These are the times when having a really knowledgeable Realtor comes in handy.

Today’s Real Estate Market: An Overview
You should have some idea of what you’re walking into before you jump in the real estate market. Sometimes, there’s way too much supply (too many houses for sale) and not enough buyers — this is a “buyer’s market,” and that’s who has the upper hand in negotiations. Sometimes there are too many buyers and not enough supply — a “seller’s market.” Often, there are roughly balanced parts supply and buyers, which makes for a very healthy and predictable market.

We’re not in a healthy and predictable market at the national level. There are currently way too many buyers who want to buy at any price and not nearly enough new homes being built, nor are there enough existing homes to meet demand. Generally, this would push prices up. However, since interest rates are increasing, some buyers are starting to get squeezed out of the market entirely, which should be pushing prices back down, but doesn’t seem to be.

What we seem to have right now, as of the writing of this blog, is a market that’s sort of stalling. Normally, the summer is the craziest time of the year for Realtors — no one wants to pull their kid out of school mid-year to move across the city. And although many Realtors are reporting that they have plenty of potential, well-qualified buyers, they’re fighting over scraps as the supply continues to shrink.

Should You Be Trying to Buy Right Now?
Depending on who you are and where you are in your life journey, the competitive, weirdly stalled market we have this year may be as good a time as any for you to buy. Below is a brief breakdown of major buyer types and how the market could affect them if they were to buy today:

First time homebuyers. Jumping into the real estate market as a first timer is always a little terrifying, but the current market may give you a serious complex. If you’re buying a house to live in, not one that you expect will make you a bundle down the road, and your life is fairly settled, there’s no time like the present to go down the home purchase road. Just bear in mind that you will probably have to write several offers before you land that starter home — give yourself plenty of time for houses that will get away.

Maturing family. When you’re looking for that last house, the one you’re going to send your kids away to college from, the most important thing is finding a house that’s suitable for your family. There’s no time that’s better or worse for this purchase, especially if your plan is to hold it indefinitely. Sure, you may end up paying a little bit more now than you would have a couple of years ago, but the value you get from living in the house, as well as natural appreciation, generally ensure you come out a little bit ahead. It beats renting, anyway.

Empty nester. Aging in place is the thing these days, and for good reason. That just creates one big problem: not enough inventory that will accommodate mobility equipment like walkers and wheelchairs that you may ultimately need. Housing starts are really rising, though, so you might as well visit a few Open Houses to see if there’s a builder out there that you can picture building the home where you’ll retire. Although existing homes can work for your needs, new construction gives you the option to create an age in place friendly universal design from the foundation up.

Investor. Investors! You are literally the only group on this list that should be seriously concerned about the timing of your purchases. Since owner-occupied homes tend to be held for the long term, the risk to those buyers is minimal, but you’re looking to buy and almost immediately start making money.

Finding a good price on a listed home may be tricky right now, but switching gears to the building of new homes will introduce a lot of competition. Buying and holding properties as rentals could pay off, but only if you really buy them right. Now may not be a great time for you to buy if you have investments that are already paying for themselves. It would, however, be a pretty good time to unload properties that you’ve fully depreciated or those that just really don’t fit in with your portfolio.

When it comes down to it, the biggest factor you should be considering when purchasing real estate that you intend to occupy is whether or not you’re really ready for homeownership. A close second, of course, is whether or not you can really afford a house, but your Realtor and mortgage lender will help you with that part.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if today is a good day to buy, there’s no way to know what the market will look like in five to 10 years when you may want to buy again.

Let Your Realtor Be Your Guide…
Just like the HomeKeepr community helps you find home pros that can fix just about any problem you might have related to your current or future home, your Realtor is the best person to go to when it comes to the question of timing your real estate purchase. If they tell you to punch it, then all systems go.

Don’t forget your HomeKeepr family as you move through the various buying stages, from securing your mortgage to having your home inspected and appraised. Finding the experts you need is as simple as logging in to HomeKeepr!

Your new house has an awesome outdoor kitchen, or maybe you just had one installed, either way you’re all set to grill outside all summer (and maybe into the fall and winter, too). Have you stopped to consider all the things that it takes to keep an outdoor kitchen running smoothly? Remember there’s live electricity, gas lines, appliances and other things that are going to require regular effort.

An outdoor kitchen can be the best investment you’ve ever made, but you definitely should be considering how an outdoor kitchen is different from an indoor kitchen.

Outdoor Versus Indoor Kitchens: The Big Differences
There’s nothing wrong with an outdoor kitchen, they’re not inherently dangerous or troublesome, they’re just different than an indoor kitchen. Heck, some of the early pioneers had outdoor kitchens before it was cool. At the end of the day, though, the two are fairly different, so let’s take a look at the biggest stuff.

Exposure to the Elements

Your indoor kitchen is around 72 degrees Fahrenheit or so all the time, day in and day out. Depending on where you live, your outdoor kitchen could be exposed to some really extreme weather, swinging from below freezing in the winter to above 100 degrees F in the summer. It’s a lot for gaskets, plumbing and wiring to bear.

Maintenance and regular health checks are vital for your outdoor kitchen, otherwise you could have catastrophic failures without warning. In addition, ensure that all your outdoor kitchen components are approved for outdoor usage — if anything is not, replace it right away or plan for it to have a shortened lifespan.

Levels of Cleanliness

Look, no one is judging you here, but your outdoor kitchen is a lot dirtier than your indoor one. It’s partially because your indoor kitchen is inside, protected from blowing pollen, dust and the various types of insects and animals that happen to run around at night in your backyard. But, there’s also the fact that you neglect to clean your grill as often as you should and you leave the grease catch full.

You can’t keep an outdoor kitchen squeaky clean, but you should always, always, always clean that grill from top to bottom. Not only does grease left in the catcher underneath attract mammals that you’d not normally invite into your kitchen, but the dirtier the grill is, the worse it will perform when it’s time to cook.

Counters and Floors

Inside kitchens are pretty easy to maintain. You clean the tile, vinyl or hardwoods with a regular household floor cleaner and wipe the counters with a wet sponge. No problem! Your outside kitchen, as you may have guessed, is a bit more complicated. So many outside kitchens use stone like granite for counters because of this material’s ability to withstand heat and, of course, because they look amazing next to the pool. The “floor” of that kitchen is often concrete or stone. Not exactly the kind of thing you just mop and go with.

First, make sure your granite counters are sealed every three to five years to protect them from the worst the sun can deal out. Next, make sure you always sweep your patio clear of grass clippings, blown dirt and other plant materials to prevent weeds from popping up where they can find footing. Lastly, make sure to power wash that patio at least once a year to remove stains, grease and mildew.

Winterizing
Obviously, your indoor kitchen should need little to no winterizing since it’s both serviced by a modern heating system and protected from the cold by at least one wall and the insulation therein. Even in a very old house, the most you might need to do is turn on heat tape that’s wrapped around plumbing to prevent frozen pipes. Your outdoor kitchen, though, will need a lot of care ahead of the cold.

Remember to disconnect all your appliances from their various services. Turn the gas off to the grill, empty and disconnect the fridge, drain and winterize the water lines running to the sink. Cover your patio furniture or bring it inside. Cover the grill and other appliances, too, if your outdoor kitchen lacks a permanent roof (a sail or solar cloth isn’t the same thing). If you’re lucky enough to live in a place that only freezes once in a while, you can wait to disconnect everything until just before the storm comes, provided you’re still using the kitchen regularly.

Having an Outdoor Kitchen is Amazing…
…until something breaks or is severely damaged because of a lack of maintenance, that is. Keeping these items in mind can help extend your period of trouble-free enjoyment, but even the best kitchen will need to have a thorough professional inspection every now and again to remain reliable.

When that time comes, just log into your HomeKeepr community. Plumbers, electricians, patio-builders and even pest control experts are at your fingertips, just waiting for a call from their HomeKeepr family. Your Realtor recommended them, so you know you can trust that they know their stuff.

Now that you’ve bought a home of your own, you might be thinking that you’re kind of good at handywork and you want to give flipping a go. It’s certainly one way to make money in today’s somewhat volatile market, provided you know what to look for in an optimally flippable property. Of course, the house that flips best in downtown Newark probably won’t be the same one that flips amazingly in Dallas, but there are some general things you can look for in a fantastically flippable house.

Five Focal Features of a Flippable Find

Buying a flip should be a numbers game. You’re not buying your own place to make memories, you don’t have to live there, so the house that you have in mind for your first flip should be one that’s not needing too much repair work, but is seriously undervalued.

This happens frequently when an older person goes into a medical facility long-term or they pass away. It’s much more common for children that inherit a property to want to move it as quickly as they can, rather than fight over who gets to live in mom’s house. That’s why you’ll often see several promising properties in neighborhoods that are more than 30 years old — many of those owners bought when they were early to mid-career, all at the same time, and, well, time makes fools of us all.

Your ideal flip looks something like this:

It’s structurally sound. Unless you are absolutely stealing this property, there’s no substitution for structural soundness. You can’t flip a house that’s on a crumbling foundation. You can do a preliminary assessment yourself by carefully looking at the roofline. If it’s straight and sharp, the chances are good that the rest is, too, but don’t skip a professional structural inspection. If the roofline is wavy, the roof itself is cupped or it’s doing anything except being a good and proper roof, keep on looking.

The systems are solid. You can drop some serious money on updating or replacing electrical, HVAC, plumbing and roofing, so make sure that your flip has most of these in good, working order with long life expectancies. Your home inspector can give you an idea about how much time each should have remaining. Most flips can absorb one of these items, so don’t pass on a great deal just because it needs an electrical update — unless, of course, there are other big issues.

The house just doesn’t look like much. Even when the market is highly competitive, small changes can make all the difference. The plain little house tucked behind that bushy tree is not going to be on anybody’s short list, unless they’re looking to flip. Get a tree crew in there to groom or remove that monster, add some shutters in a contrasting color, dress up the landscaping with perennials and bam! Instant (almost) curb appeal.

There are a lot of memorable cosmetic items. If you look at a house and your brain keeps trying to sort out what it is that you’re seeing, you might be in a fantastically flippable property. Bright green carpet, fuschia backsplashes, mirrors on the bathroom walls? Nailed it! These are often the real gems, provided that the cosmetic stuff is what’s scaring buyers away. That cosmetic stuff is a serious turn-off for so many people who can’t see beyond the ugly to that potential house under the surface. Obviously, that homeowner cared about their place or they’d not have added so many personal touches, so chances are good that you’ll find most everything that costs a lot to be in good working order.

It’s a fine representative of the overall neighborhood. Ok, so the walnut paneling and the bright orange carpet have to go, but in terms of the architectural style, size, age and general upkeep, a good flip is the one that looks like it fits into the neighborhood. Not too big, not too small, not too weird. Especially not too weird.

Ready to Start Flipping Houses? You’re Gonna Need Some Pros…

Even the best flippers — especially the best flippers — have a team of experts at their disposal. Whether you’re acting as a general contractor or just directing the person who is, your main role is to pick out materials and coordinate the repairs to come. But don’t worry, you already have access to the best network of home pros in your area in your HomeKeepr community. Connect with the experts you need, any time, and make your first flip a total success.

It’s the little things that really matter sometimes. The cherry on top of a sundae, the light scent of gardenia on a warm spring breeze and a mortgage that’s assumable are each all about the details, and are sometimes overlooked by people who are in a hurry to get from Point A to Point B. But that assumable mortgage may make your home more competitive if you’re a seller or save you a bundle if you’re a buyer.

What is an Assumable Mortgage?

All mortgages are structured uniquely, such that the majority of any payment made before about halfway through the loan is interest (depending on your down payment and rate), so it would naturally follow that some people would want to shortcut this early period and get on to paying on the meat of the loan. The buyer would then take over the payments from the seller, without the loan changing terms at all. This is, in essence, how an assumable mortgage works. The buyer will also have to bring some amount of money to closing, either in the form of cash or a secondary mortgage loan, to compensate the seller for the remaining value not covered by the assumed loan.

Assumable mortgages can be of any variety, depending on the age of the loan, but the ones you’re most likely to see today are FHA, USDA or VA-type mortgages. To qualify, a buyer still has to meet all the same requirements that the seller had to meet in order to get their mortgage. This wasn’t always the case, but is today.

And although rates are still fairly low right now, in the 4.5 to 5 percent rage, over the next few years several rate increases are anticipated. That means that your mortgage terms themselves might be worth something when you go to sell your home. Provided your buyer can qualify for your loan and come up with the cash it takes to make the total meet your home’s value at the point of sale, you could find yourself with a more than full price offer, or even multiples, just by making it known that your loan is assumable and you’re ok with letting someone take advantage of this feature.

Why Would a Buyer Want an Assumption?

This is a bit of a trickier question, which will require a chart. Let’s say that your mortgage rate is 3 percent on a 30 year fixed note. You’ve had this loan for five years, but it’s time to move on to a bigger home, you had no idea you were going to have triplets when you chose this house! A buyer comes along when rates are at 4.75 percent and wants to assume your mortgage and pay you a total of $250,000 for your place. So far, so good.

This is what the picture looks like for the buyer:



Assuming the buyer’s first payment on the assumed note is number 61, they’ll immediately pay almost $500 of the principle down. If they had taken out their own note, totally ignoring the additional mortgage insurance and upfront mortgage insurance that an FHA would require, they’d only pay down about $400 at this same point (which is five years down the road, remember). They’d also pay almost $350 more in interest.

Keep in mind that the payment at 4.75 percent interest is also higher, but when the higher payment is paying less of the note off each month, there’s nothing about that that makes it a good financial move. If the buyer did manage to pay their note all the way off, they’ll find that they paid $68,552.79 more in interest alone by choosing to get a new loan.

Provided the additional funding required to secure this home wasn’t cost prohibitive, it just makes good sense for a buyer to want to assume a loan. Beyond the savings mapped out above, their closing fees will be considerably smaller, making the net gain even larger.

Of course, both buyer and seller should discuss this with your lender or financial planner to be sure that it’s the right decision for them and their financial pictures.

The Seller’s Side of the Assumption Equation

For a seller, the picture is a little different. Although it doesn’t cost you anything to start the assumption process, it can get ugly if a seller doesn’t know to protect themselves and a buyer ends up defaulting on their assumed loan. You must make certain that you’ve signed and received back a fully executed (all parties have signed it) copy of a release from liability form. Remember, the bank has to also agree to these terms.

Beyond that, it can be a good deal for you as the seller, too. You’ll get a big chunk of cash, you’ll be free of your mortgage so you can buy something a bit roomier or closer to work. Assumptions can be tricky to close, but the more that are closed in the coming years (and there are likely to be a few), the easier they’ll get because everyone will be on the same page.

Note: If you’re a veteran with a VA note that you’re trying to sell to a buyer who wants to assume, the mortgage will retain your entitlement. This is why it’s important to only sell with an assumption to another veteran. With another vet in the equation, the bank can exchange your entitlement for that of the new borrower, allowing you to buy again using a VA loan.

Assuming I Want to Assume, Who Do I Call?

If you’re interested in talking more about assumable loans, as a buyer or a seller, just log into your HomeKeepr community. The lenders and financial planners in our little family come highly recommended by your Realtor and they know their assumptions.

The Truth About Zillow Zesitmates

The Truth About Zillow Zesitmates

Do you know how much your home is worth? No, really, do you?

Homeowners and buyers across the country often answer this question by turning to a figure known as a Zestimate, produced by Zillow.com. Zillow’s intention is to create an accurate value estimate for the over 100 million homes indexed by the site. Although it won’t give you a figure that’s right on the nose, it can provide a price range to start with during your real estate negotiation.

Wait, What’s a Zestimate?

A Zestimate is Zillow’s attempt to use algorithms and publicly available data points that influence housing prices to estimate a home’s value at any given time. While this is a good idea, in concept, it’s important for buyers and sellers to realize that there’s a bit more to predicting prices than the cold, hard facts.

Often, real estate becomes a very personal and emotional buy. Two houses with the same floor plan, but different shades of brick or different trees in the front yard can have different values to the person doing the buying. That’s really what matters. Ultimately, a home is only worth what the market will bear and what a buyer will give.

The Perception Versus the Reality of Zestimates

Zestimates became popular because outside of an appraisal or comparative market analysis generated by an experienced Realtor, it can be really hard to judge whether your home is gaining or losing value. After all, no one wants to bet on a losing horse, even if they live inside that horse and it provides them with shelter from the elements and a place to make memories (must be a Trojan horse).

Unfortunately, the Zestimate has been responsible for a great deal of confusion since Zillow started using the original algorithm in 2006. Even though the algorithm has been upgraded several times since its inception, it’s not perfect. Unfortunately, people deeply enveloped in the stressful process that is buying a house sometimes become ultra focused on the numbers that Zestimates provide, treating them more as an absolute than a flexible guide.

Because most people don’t really know what goes into valuing a home, this issue of getting married to a valuation that’s not quite on the dot isn’t new. Even before Zillow, many homeowners believed that their home was worth so many dollars due to tax assessments that were often based on outdated information, collected during the initial construction of their home and updated based on average inflation.

Why Have a Zestimate, Then?

Zestimates aren’t the most accurate way to assess the value of a home because they aren’t able to pick up on the harder to quantify items that go into determining the value of a home. They can’t tell a freshly remodeled 1960’s ranch home from one that’s still got the original shag carpet, for example. They aren’t appraisals. For many homes, though, a Zestimate will get you in the ballpark.

Zestimates work best in areas of high turnover, in neighborhoods with fairly similar homes. Because a Zestimate relies on public data like tax assessments and homeowner corrections of the basics, including the number of bathrooms and bedrooms, it can make a fine starting point for the potential home buyer or seller.

Since you don’t buy and sell real estate constantly, having an overview of the neighborhood’s stats is helpful when you do–but you have to allow for wiggle room. Just because a listed house on Maple Drive has a Zestimate of $203,000 and it’s almost identical to your house next door, it doesn’t mean you won’t get more (or less) when you go to sell.

Taking Your Zestimate to the Next Level

Zestimates can give you a very general idea about the value of your home or a home you’re considering buying, but they aren’t appraisals. The only way to know what a home’s actual value is in the moment (because this can change rapidly in some markets) is to reach out to a home pro for their formal opinion.

If you’ve reached that point where you’re ready to buy or sell a home and want a highly accurate price point to start from, contact your Realtor for a comparative market analysis. Once you have a contract in hand, a professional appraiser will take it from there and give you an exact dollar figure based on hundreds of factors that are a bit too nebulous for the technology we currently have available to reliably assess.

And hey, if you need help finding an appraiser or any other home pro that can speed your real estate transaction along, just ask your HomeKeepr family for a recommendation!

5 Better House Painting Hacks

5 Better House Painting Hacks

Owning a house can be a mixed blessing. On one hand, you have a place to sleep and eat and collect weird knick-knacks you bought off of eBay. On the other, you sometimes have to take on projects that are simple, but overwhelming. Repainting your house, for example, is a big, messy job, though the techniques don’t necessarily require years to master.

House Painting Hacks
The word “hack” is kind of loaded. To some, it means cheating your way to success, to others it can be code for “low quality work or unadvisable actions.” Since you don’t really need either of those things to have really good results from your paint job, replace the word “hack” in your head with “tip.” After all, you should listen to tips, they’re helpful.

Without further ado, five tips for your big paint job this summer:

Prepwork: The Biggest Hack of All

“But wait, prepping isn’t painting,” you just shouted at the screen. It’s true that your prep isn’t actual painting, but the fact is that prep work is everything. Without good prep, you might as well not bother with the painting because the lack of prep work will show. Depending on which area of your house you’re painting, here are a few prep items to get you started:

Outside
* Go over all the painted areas, even on windows, with a metal putty knife or 5-in-1 tool to get rid of all loose paint chips. If you’re dealing with lots of layers and they’re flaking randomly, use a pressure washer set around 2,500 PSI to blast the paint away.
* Remove and repair any rotted window sills or siding now, before you paint. Make sure to apply a coat of primer to them once they’ve been put in place.
* Paint stripper can be useful to get paint off of finely detailed trim pieces that you risk damaging by power washing.

Inside
* Paint a test area on popcorn ceilings before doing a whole room. Sometimes, they’ll slough off, leaving you with a mess–better to know before you’re in elbow deep.
* It’s not enough to just patch holes, you also must sand them. If drywall seams are bothering you, the same rule applies after you’ve skim coated them with additional joint compound.
* Clean walls thoroughly. A once-over with a broom followed up by a pass with an electrostatic cloth mop will grab all the dirt, helping you create the perfect paint job.

Painting on the Dark Side

Painting your house is important maintenance, but it can also be a difficult one in the summertime. When you’re ready to paint, really ready, start on the dark side of the house. As the sun shifts, so should you. This will give you the most time to work with wet paint, helping you to avoid dried-on drips and visible brush strokes. Treat your primer just like your paint and circle the house with the sun when applying.

Improve Trim Appearance By Reducing Strokes

Painting trim should be a challenge to see just how little you can touch it. The end result will be a smoother finish with fewer brush strokes. Work in small sections, no more than about 18 inches long. Start your paint work by loading the brush on the heavy side, then wipe as much paint onto the trim as possible. Level the blob with just one or two strokes that fill into the previously painted section.

Paint Brush Storage

Whether you’re going to lunch or just taking a break to heed Nature’s call, there are going to be times that you really don’t want to bother to clean your brush just to stick it back in the same color paint again. Desperate times call for desperate measures. There are various tricks for this, these are our favorites:

* When you paint, wear disposable gloves. If you need to pause, just grab the brush bristles with one hand and turn the glove inside out until it covers. A quick knot will keep that brush ready to go again.
* Ziptop bags are great for taking a lunch, but they can also be used to keep brushes wet. Just snip one corner open to the width of the handle, slip the brush in, burp the bag and zip it up. Problem solved.
* Between coats, you can drop brushes into water that reaches to the handles or higher (don’t mix colors, that’ll make a mess). When you’re ready for the next round of painting, swish the brush around in the water to get most of the thin, wet paint out and then use a paint brush and roller spinner to spin out the water. Do the spinning outside or deep in a tall bucket to avoid getting paint water everywhere.

Catalog Those Paints!

Hey, this may not sound like a useful thing, but will you really remember the color you used on the trim work on your house in five years? Be honest here. Cataloging the paint you’re using, including manufacturer, formula, name and a photo of what the finished result looked like fresh will help you immensely should you need to touch the paint up before the next big repainting job. If you used the paint in more than one place, note what areas were painted, as well.

Some pro painters make custom labels for the can they leave behind for touch-ups that contains excess paint. These labels includes detailed information about the paint color, sheen and so forth. You have a computer, you could do the same if you really want to keep it organized.

Ready To Paint?
When you’re ready to get on that painting project, be safe and have fun. Even a bad paint job is better than a day at work, isn’t that how the saying goes? If you find that the prospect of painting your house on your own is just too much to handle, set that stress aside and log in to HomeKeepr. The marriage of tools, tech and the best pros in their field make it easy to get the painter you need on the job fast.

Garage Door Care What Goes Up Should Come Down

Garage Door Care What Goes Up Should Come Down

You pull into and out of your garage hundreds of time a year, ever expecting your door to reliably open and close at your whim. Going up and down so much can be pretty taxing, which is why after being neglected for months or years, garage doors rightfully start to complain loudly.

If your door sounds more like a train’s “clack-clack” as it runs down the track, you’ve definitely let things go way too far. Fortunately, garage doors tend to be pretty foolproof and tolerate neglect more than other important parts in your home. But you’re not going to be neglectful, you’re going to do regular inspections and maintenance so it’ll last even longer, right?

Parts of a Garage Door

This may come as some surprise, but a garage door is more than a door. It’s a system of moving parts that we conveniently label as a “door.” Modern garage door systems include important pieces like:

* Opener. You know this one, it’s that big box in the center of the garage ceiling. The opener is designed with a shuttle that moved the door up and down with the help of a chain, screw or belt-driven motor. You can even get Smart Garage door openers now.
* Springs and cables. Your door might feel light if you manually lift it while it’s hung, but this is because of a highly tensioned giant spring (or two) mounted above your door and the cables that are attached. Always treat these with the respect required, they can be very dangerous to work on directly (call a pro!).
* Sensors. If you look closely near the bottom of each garage door track, you’ll see sensors that resemble tiny cameras. As a team they maintain an almost invisible laser beam that causes the door to reverse if something suddenly breaks it during door decent.

Of course, there are other bits and pieces we could talk about, but this is about taking care of your door, not examining its anatomy. We’ll do that another time. Just understand that these three systems are vital to the door’s function and without all of them in working order, the door becomes very unsafe and unreliable

Taking Care of Your Home’s Biggest Front Door

If you can’t remember the last time you did anything with your garage door, now is the time to get on this. The weather’s perfect and you could stand to get outside anyway. There are a few tasks that you should absolutely not attempt without help or considerable experience, like replacing a broken spring, but for the most part, garage door maintenance is a snap.

Run down this checklist and your door will be ready to roll again!

* Tighten all screws and bolts. That rattling sound isn’t just for ambience, your garage door vibrates as it moves up and down, slowly backing screws and bolts out. Start at the bottom and work your way up, tightening all fasteners and replacing any that seem to be missing or broken. Don’t forget to check the hinges between door panels!

* Pull the manual garage door release. With the garage door closed, pull that handle hanging down from your opener. With the opener’s shuttle unlocked, check your door’s balance by opening the door about half way. If it stays where you put it, you’re gold. If not, call a pro to help — rebalancing a door can be difficult and dangerous. Don’t forget to push the door open all the way to re-engage the opener’s shuttle.

* Check the safety reversal system. Grab a scrap 2×4, cement block or something of similar size and shape and place it directly in the path of the garage door. Make sure that the object isn’t breaking the beam, since this is testing a different part of your system. Now, shut the door using the garage door opener.

If the door stops as soon as contact is made, your safety reversal system is set properly. If not, you’ll need to find your manual and look up which knob or button is used to decrease the force required to stop the door. This is one of those things you’ll test way more often than you’ll have to adjust.

* Break the beam. Check that the indicator lights on your infrared sensors are showing that the eyes are adjusted properly. Once they’re looking deeply into each other’s eye, close the garage door. Before it reaches the ground, pass a broom between the sensors. The door should stop, otherwise your sensors may need to be cleaned or replaced.

* Grease some squeaky wheels. You’ve tightened hardware, tested the door’s safety features and you’re ready to go nap in your hammock. But wait! There’s one more thing. It’s time to lube the beast. You won’t actually be lubricating a lot of the system, you’ll be cleaning it, but it’ll run more smoothly and that’s the point.

Start with the track itself, cleaning it with carburetor or brake cleaner and a cloth. Next, using a silicone based garage door lubricant, spray between the pin and wheel on each roller, wiping off any excess (lubricant doesn’t belong on the track). If your rollers are nylon, take extra special care because they slip easily.

You can also use the same lubricant to coat the outside of your torsion spring (the one above the door itself). Again watch for drips.

Are You Feeling a Bit More TGIF Than DIY?

Not everyone wants to take their garage door into their own hands. Even people who do sometimes hit problems that they simply don’t have the expertise to handle. That’s ok, that’s why the HomeKeepr community is such a thriving resource — everyone you could ever need to call is participating! Just log in and check out the overhead door experts that your Realtor has already recommended. They can come out and give your door a quick one-over, then set up inexpensive regular maintenance, saving you thousands of dollars in major repairs.

6 Tips For Better Concrete Painting

6 Tips For Better Concrete Painting

Concrete has been used by humans for thousands of years, with some of the oldest examples of wells and houses made with the stuff dating back to 6500 BC. Although the ingredients have been refined over time, it’s still basically the same material that those ancient people valued so highly.

Even though concrete’s a really useful substance, it’s not particularly interesting. The endless gray of any random basement or garage is almost enough to make a person go mad. That’s probably why so many homeowners try to paint their concrete floors without considering how concrete is different from other types of building materials. Too often, they end up with the wrong materials or improper preparation, guaranteeing the coating will fail miserably.

Painting Concrete Isn’t Like Painting Your House

Concrete is a tricky substance. Unlike wood that is relatively non-porous, concrete literally breathes and wicks water constantly. This is why you’ll see older homes with miserable paint jobs on their patios, in the basement, or anywhere there’s a lot of concrete. That paint didn’t stand a chance of bonding to the concrete without a lot of help.

But your paint job will be different, that’s why you’re here! Removing old paint from a concrete slab can be a challenging job, but the end result is a glorious floor that twinkles in the sunlight. How about some tips for doing the job right?

#1. Choose concrete stain or dye. One of the main reasons that house paint peels off of concrete is because it doesn’t breathe like the concrete surface. This leads to moisture build-up below the paint, causing adherence to be lost entirely. Concrete stains and concrete dyes are different — they breathe just like the concrete. Stains are made of a blend of acrylic polymers and pigments that react chemically with the concrete surface; dyes, on the other hand, are nonreactive and color the cement when the very small particles penetrate into the surface.

#2. Epoxy garage floor paint is another option. Although it’s much more challenging to apply correctly, if you really want to “paint” the floor, an epoxy-based garage floor paint can be applied to your cleaned and prepped concrete surface. Bear in mind that epoxy takes time to dry and then has to have an additional curing period to harden properly. If you’re dealing with an interior space, you’ll also need lots of ventilation, otherwise the fumes could be your downfall.

#3. Take the time to prep the floor right. This may mean removing old paint with chemical paint remover, power washing the surface or even renting a grinder and roughing up the floor while eliminating old paint. When you’re prepping a concrete floor for painting, it should be just slightly rough, similar in texture to 120 grit sandpaper. Take your time and don’t settle for “good enough.”

#4. Always wash the bared floor thoroughly. With all that old paint gone and traces of various chemicals left behind, it’s definitely time to wash the concrete. Not only does this remove any stray material that might have been missed, you’ll ensure that no unplanned chemical reactions occur (you’re not going to blow up the house, but your paint may fail to adhere). Let it dry thoroughly, for days if possible.

#5. Test for moisture penetration. You’ve cleaned your concrete slab and you’re ready to paint! Except you’re not. You still need to check out the level of moisture penetration coming through the slab. Remember how you can’t use wall paint on concrete floors because it needs to breathe? It’s still breathing. The question now is just how much.

You can test this by covering a three foot by three foot area of the floor with heavy clear plastic sheeting. Tape it down completely and just walk away. Check in with it in a couple of days. If there’s no moisture collecting under the plastic, you’re golden. If there is, you may need to apply a masonry sealer first and retest before applying the final color (ask your paint monger what solution works best in your area).

#6. Priming is vital to success. You’ve probably painted walls and other things without applying a proper primer and it worked just fine, but we’re comparing apples to space ships here. Concrete not only is expected to take a lot harder beating than any random wall, it has all that complicated breathing going on. Skip the primer and you might as well just not do the project at all because you’ll just have to redo it in a few weeks or months.

Concrete Painting Giving You the Jitters?

It’s ok, if you’re not ready for a project like this you certainly don’t have to go it alone. Just log into your friendly HomeKeepr community and you’ll have no trouble finding a concrete contractor who can create the cement floor you’ve been dreaming about. Since they’re been recommended by your Realtor, you know they’re experienced and can be trusted. You dream up the concrete floors you want, HomeKeepr’s home pros will bring them to life.

Native Plants in the Low-Care Landscape

Native Plants in the Low-Care Landscape

Every morning when you look out of the window of your breakfast nook into your front yard, you’re met with the same green carpet, devoid of anything remotely interesting or different. It’s not that you hate plants, it’s just that they can be a huge maintenance headache and, frankly, you don’t have time to pamper them to keep them alive just so you have something new to look at while you drink your coffee.

There’s another option. Native plants are not only trendy, they require little maintenance once established and they’re great for the environment.

What’s the Difference Between Native Plants and Weeds?
Although native plants can sometimes get a little hairy, they’re not weeds by definition. The last word on this matter, the United States Department of Agriculture, says that weeds are “any plant that poses a major threat to agriculture and/or natural ecosystems within the United States.” The USDA also defines another class of weed, the noxious weed. These are the worst of the worst weeds, almost like the FBI’s Most Wanted, but for plants.

Native plants are something entirely different. Some are a little wild and funky, but that’s also part of their charm. Native plants are plants that have evolved in a particular location and ecosystem over hundreds or thousands of years. For a plant to be considered native by the USDA, it must have been growing in the ecosystem before European settlers came to the Americas.

How to Care for Native Plants

If you want an ornamental garden without all the fuss, native plants are for you. Caring for them is simple once they’re established (usually after the first year for perennials and shrubs), but not much more difficult when they’re just starting out. Your particular area may have native plants that need different conditions, so be sure to ask nursery personnel before committing. Below you’ll find recommended care for native plants in general:

Light. The amount of light your plants will need is dependent on where they come from. Woodland edge plants like violets prefer part sun to part shade, where desert favorites like barrel cactus prefer full sun.
Soil. Your plants are native to your area. In a perfect world, this means that they like the soil that you happen to have around. If you’ve got a low spot where water tends to gather in an area that’s otherwise pretty dry, you need to check the plant’s ability to tolerate the moisture in that small area before planting. If it’s not water-tolerant, you can amend the soil with organic material like peat to increase the rate at which it drains.
Water. For the first year or so, you will need to water your baby plants. Summer is generally when these little guys dry out and die, so take a walk through the landscape in the morning and give them all a good hosing. You can also set up drip irrigation to continue your low maintenance theme.
Mulch. Every plant that you don’t want to turn in a weedy mess needs mulch. Dress your natives with two to four inches of organic mulch, but do not install a geotextile. Garden fabric will prevent the plants from spreading.
Feeding. If your natives are truly well-suited to your yard, you won’t need to feed them much at all. In fact, feeding them could kill them. Always soil test before feeding natives — with these plants, a little dab of nutrition will do it.
Other Care. Yearly, add more mulch. You can also deadhead flowers that have dried up to make the plants look nicer. Otherwise, if the plants you choose are good matches for your conditions, you can expect high disease and insect tolerance and low input on your part.

Other Advantages to Native Plants

Besides being super easy to care for, native plants offer a slew of other benefits. Most importantly, they’re native, filling a unique spot in the local ecosystem. That means birds, butterflies and wildlife may take shelter under your bigger natives or use them as a food source. Since your landscape will accept the water that nature provides, you’ll also not need to water as much, or at all. That’s a huge savings in both cash and resources.

Oh, and your native plant garden may help to keep other native plant populations going, especially if your neighbors also get on the native plant bandwagon. Your plants could literally be seeding the next generation down the street with the help of some bee or passing moth. It’s the circle of life.

But most importantly, when you’re looking out over your coffee cup in the morning, you’ll be greeted by a living painting that changes with the seasons and you didn’t have to do much to make happen. That’s really the ultimate reason to plant natives.

Digging Natives, But Not Ready to Dig In?

If you’re ready to paint the lawn yellow, white, orange and red but don’t think you have the time or ability to do it yourself, you’re in luck! Your HomeKeepr community has personally recommended landscapers and gardeners that can help you turn your vision into a reality. From building new beds to really set those plants off to caring for them until they’re ready to go out on their own, you’ll find the ideal candidate for the job inside.

Creating Easy Care Landscaping

Creating Easy Care Landscaping

Is your landscaping full of weeds? Are you finding yourself driving by neighbors’ homes, envying their perfect, weed-free plantings? If so, you may be in need of some easy-care landscaping. Many of the problems you see in your own yard and others are due to outdated landscaping practices or general neglect of installations that were assumed to be “one and done.” The good news is that you can have a low-care landscape, even if the upfront labor means giving up a few weekends.

What’s Going Wrong in the Landscaping?

It’s not hard to guess what’s gone wrong with your beds if weeds are popping up where they should never be or your mulch looks like it’s turning to dust. There’s something keeping that mulch from mixing with the soil and that something is probably a geotextile or plastic mulch.

Geotextiles are woven fabrics that allow water to pass through into the soil, but prevent evaporation. They can be good deterrents for weed seeds that are in the soil, but once an organic mulch like wood chips or pine needles is placed on top, they prevent the breaking-down mulch from mixing with the dirt below. Instead, that mulch powder creates a medium for new weed seeds to take root, eventually poking holes through the fabric below with their roots.

This is not awesome, as you might have guessed.

The best solution for this situation is to take out the old landscape fabric or plastic (if it’s plastic, you have a huge job ahead of you, as it tends to tear aggressively after only a few years in use) and rethink the whole situation. This is a demolition job that takes a lot of elbow grease, but no particular expertise. Just try to get most of the powdered mulch onto the bed below so it can finish breaking down.

The Pros and Cons of Geotextiles

As previously mentioned, geotextiles allow the soil below to absorb and retain water, but they don’t let nutrients from above mix in. They’re frequently used on landscape installations and overhyped as “maintenance free” barriers. What a typical homeowner hears is “I’ll never have to do anything with this again.” What the typical installer means is “you’re gonna get some good years of ignoring this, but wait too long and you’ll pay in backbreaking labor.”

Geotextiles are not a permanent solution, for a lot of reasons. We now know that they discourage insects and earthworms, since there’s not direct access to the surface of the soil. Since those creatures are needed to help aerate the various layers under your plants, soil compaction can become an issue. Then there’s the matter of that broken down mulch up above: it has nowhere to go. It can only clog the geotextile at worst and hang around to grow weeds at the best.

If you’re prepared to completely remove all your mulch when it starts to break down, or want to use inorganic mulches like stones, then a geotextile may be a fine solution. A careful installation of professional grade fabric, reserved for plants that have a central stem or that are already mature, is ideal. Keep in mind that spreading plants can’t function properly under any sort of weed fabric, as it stifles their growth, too.

Another Option: Mulch and Lots of It

For homeowners who are less interested in interacting with the landscape and more interested in just looking at it, organic mulch without a weed barrier is the best solution. You’ll need to replace broken down mulch yearly, but a few pre-emergent herbicide sprays throughout the season should be all you really need to keep the beds healthy.

Organic mulches like bark, shredded wood, pine needles and cotton seed hull break down, eventually feeding the plants below. They also allow you to plant whatever you want, since anything from single trunked trees to spreading rhizomes like Iris can move through and above the soil with equal ease when necessary.

If you’re installing a mulch-only cover, remember to use a four to six inch metal retainer so the mulch won’t slide away during heavy rains or winds. There are several on the market that you essentially just pound into the soil around your beds, they’re a snap to install.

With that skirting installed, you’ll want to fill your bed with two to four inches of fresh mulch, depending on local weather conditions and the size of your plantings. Just make sure that the mulch doesn’t touch any trunks or stems. Create a little donut-shaped moat around each plant for best results.

It may be less expensive to buy mulch by the truckload if you have a lot of beds, make sure to check with your local municipality about free or low-cost mulch created from limb and yard waste from your area. This isn’t the most attractive mulch sometimes, but it can help lower the costs of a whole yard makeover. Just top with about an inch of nicer mulch for a gorgeous, inexpensive mulch job.

What If I’m Not the Landscaping Type?

Don’t worry, your friendly local landscapers can come by and renew your plantings for you. As members of the HomeKeepr community, they’ve already been recommended by your Realtor and are ready to take your job seriously, with the commitment and eye of true professionals. Before you know it, your shrubs, perennials and trees will be gorgeous again and you can sit inside, admiring them over coffee while you watch the sprinklers spray.

So You Wanna Build A Fence...

So You Wanna Build A Fence...

Humans have been enclosing things in fences since there were fences and things to enclose. It’s natural that you’d want to build one eventually. After all, with a good fence you could better defend your property from wiley raccoons and urban foxes or maybe to keep your squirrely goat herd from wandering into the neighbor’s yard. It’s your fence, you have your reasons.

But, building a fence isn’t just a matter of nailing a few boards together. Even though it’s a good project for new homeowners, there are a few things to keep in mind before taking the plunge.

The Before You Build Boogie

If you’ve read any of these blogs, you know that the planning and prep are keys to success with any sort of project, whether that’s repainting your house, sealing your driveway or, in this case, building a fence. The legwork involved in fence building is nearly as involved as the actual fence building, but doing it right means a fence that will last and last.

Do these things before you even start to think about digging the first post hole:

Find Your Neighborhood’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions

The Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions dictate what can and cannot be done to property belonging to a particular homeowners’ association. If you have HOA fees or commonly owned property (playgrounds, pools, etc) in your neighborhood, you probably have a CC&R somewhere that you need to read.

Understand that you are legally obligated to this agreement since you signed what amounts to a contract to abide by the rules at closing. They can literally dictate anything, from how tall the fence can be to what type of materials are allowed (or required). If you can’t find your copy in your closing documents, call your closing company, they can get you a new copy.

Go Visit Planning and Zoning

Your city’s Planning & Zoning department makes lots of rules about things you’d never imagine there needed to be a rule made about. Things like sign setbacks, minimum sizes for new homes and minimum required green space per residential lot are a few that drive real estate pros up the wall.

The P&Z rules that will get you are going to be related to the height of your fencing, how far it has to be off of the road and, like in your CC&R, the materials the fence is made of. In areas with high winds or other regularly destructive forces, there may be specific requirements for construction style in order to minimize the chances your fence becomes a weapon in the next big disaster.

Get Your Permit!

Not every municipality will require that you have a permit to build a fence, especially if you’re just replacing an existing fence with a new one, but some do. This is not something to take a chance on, just go to the city and apply for one. The chances are great that you’ll be granted an approval, but an inspector will still come by to make sure your fence is sturdy and sound. This is good in the longer term, don’t be confused. If you built the fence wrong, you’re really just wasting your money on a structure that won’t last.

Invite a Surveyor Over

Surveyors have a tough job. They know where the property lines are supposed to be, and too often, they’re forced to have to tell a homeowner that the lines aren’t exactly where they thought they should be. Breaking the bad news is basically their job, so along with having great working knowledge of surveying, they also have to be good at telling people they’ve been wrong all this time.

Now, this may not be the case for you, but before you even think about putting in a fence, have a survey. You don’t want your neighbor to sue you because the fence was put in the wrong place, forcing you to do it all over again, or buy them out of the land that should have not been fenced in.

Actual, Factual Fence Construction
Now that you’ve managed the details, you can start thinking about your fence. It’s ok. Do it. You know what materials are allowed and which aren’t, plus the heights and setback requirements. You are a fully loaded fence-building machine now.

When you choose those fencing materials, you’ll have a few important choices to make. It’s important at this stage of the game to figure out the purpose for your fence. Do you like having company over and don’t want to disturb the neighbors? Are you putting in a pool? Does your dog need a place to romp?

Although all three can be serviced by a fairly generic fence type, there might be more specific advantages to particular fence styles whether you’re trying to keep the noise level down or want to make sure neighborhood kids don’t sneak into your pool at night. The pool is better protected by a sturdy wooden fence or tall metal fence, where your noisy parties can be dampened with a lower maintenance PVC or vinyl fence. Focusing on your intent makes it easier to narrow the huge field of fencing materials and styles.

Once you know what you’re going to use to make that fence, the rest is a piece of cake. It goes something like this:

1. Plan your post positions ahead of time so you don’t end up with some weird little section of fence at the end. Recommended spacing of posts will depend on your fence style, height and materials.

2. With the posts planned, it’s time to dig. Depending on your location, holes as deep as 30 inches are recommended. You’ll want to backfill the hole with cement or crushed angular gravel until it’s tightly packed. Leave the posts a day or two for your material of choice to set and settle in place.

3. Run your horizontal rails across the fence posts, either on your side of the fence (so you have the nice side of the fence facing you) or on your neighbor’s side (so the nice side is facing them). Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have wooden fence pickets face an area you will always have access to in case any need to be replaced or treated.

4. Once you’ve chosen a side and installed the rails, you can put on the pickets. At this point, you’re done, save sealing wooden fences. You should wait a few days after installation for sealing.

Fences are Time Consuming Projects

Now that you know the basics of building a fence, you may be rethinking your plan for isolation. Don’t panic, there are plenty of experts in the HomeKeepr community that can help you turn your backyard into an island of solitude.

Maybe fence building isn’t your thing, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up having a glorious fence of your very own. Just reach out to a pro that your Realtor has already given the thumbs up to and you’re ready for breezy evening entertaining or long games of fetch with Fido’s favorite ball.

Easy Ways To Keep Cool This Summer!

Easy Ways To Keep Cool This Summer!

Summer’s almost upon us. That means more ice cream, fewer snowball fights and, of course, the battle to keep your house cool as the heat bears down. As it turns out, you don’t have to build your own ice cave to keep cool until fall. There are plenty of easy changes you can put into action to get a lot more out of your air conditioning budget this year.

How Air Conditioners Work

To really get to the heart of the matter, it’s important that you understand how an air conditioner works. This way, you can strategically plan ways to help it work better, rather than doing things that are counter to its function.

Room air is cooled by an air conditioning unit (or heat pump) in three basic steps:

1. The fan located inside your indoor air handler or furnace kicks on, sucking room air in through your cold air returns. The air passes through your filter, so make sure it’s clean!

2. The warm room air then moves over a set of coils that contain a refrigerant, which cools the indoor air and causes it to release water. The water drops into a pan and is removed via the condensation line. At the same time, the liquid refrigerant inside the coils absorbs the heat, changing into a warm vapor, which is then pushed outside to the condenser coil in your outdoor unit, where it releases the heat from your home.

3. Since the fan is still running on your air handler, cold air comes out the vents and more warm air is sucked across the evaporator coil (also known as the a-coil because of the inverted v shape). Meanwhile, the fan in the outdoor unit is cooling the refrigerant down until it turns back into a liquid and moves back into your home toward the evaporator coil where this whole cycle started.

It’s the cycle of life for refrigerant. That sounds more epic than it is, but hey, air conditioning is pretty great when it’s hot enough to cook an egg in your hammock.

Help Your Air Conditioner Out

Though your A/C unit is absolutely doing the best it can, it could probably do a lot better if you’d lend it a hand. As a homeowner, this benefits you in two ways: first, your house is cheaper to cool and secondly, not pushing your condenser unit as hard as it possibly can go can help prolong its life. Some of the things that can make a big impact should really be performed by a pro, but there are lots of little ways you can contribute to the health and happiness of your entire household. Try these out:

Start with the outside unit. Your condenser unit should always be free of weeds and debris, no matter what time of year it is, but it’s doubly important in the summer. The more garbage that’s plugging up the fins on the coil, the less air movement — and more effort required — for cooling the refrigerant down.

You can also help your unit by giving it a bath at least once a month. Just take a regular garden hose with a trigger sprayer and go all the way around the unit, spraying between the fins, until the water runs clear. Lots of dirt and sand could be hiding up in there, reducing your unit’s efficiency. A fin comb can also help straighten bent fins.

While you’re at it, make sure that unit has plenty of shade. Plant a tree, erect a sunshade, build a little roof over it (but allow at least two feet all around and on top for adequate air flow). The heat from the sun is yet another enemy of the refrigerant in the coil. Keep it as cool as you can with what you have to work with.

Take advantage of those ceiling fans. As the days get warmer, make it a point to set your ceiling fans to rotate in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing air down. You do double duty with this one. The proper rotation creates a chilling effect that allows the average homeowner to keep their thermostat as much as four degrees Fahrenheit higher than they would without the fans blowing. It also helps keep the cold air more evenly distributed, assuming you have ceiling fans in all or most of your rooms.

Cover the windows. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how good your windows are when the worst of the summer’s heat is beating down on them, there’s going to be a noticeable warming coming from that direction. This is when having heavy curtains, thick blinds or other heavy-duty window coverings comes in handy. During the part of the day when the sun hits your windows the hardest, cover them up to reduce heat radiating into your cool spaces. Another option for places where it stays hot a lot of the year is to add awnings over windows that are chronic sources of radiant heat.

Do hot stuff at night. Meaning your cooking, your drying, your extra hot baths — whatever produces heat that’s not really tied to any specific point in the day should be moved to the night shift. If you absolutely need to do these things during the day, keep the cooking limited to the small appliances, dry your laundry outside in the smouldering heat and maybe try a warmish shower. Remember, the more heat you add to the house, the more heat your air conditioner has to move out of your house. Don’t make it an unwinnable battle.

What About the Bigger Stuff?

There are other improvements to your home that can help keep the heat out — they should be performed by a professional installer. Most of this takes place in the attic or on the roof, including installing radiant barriers to reflect the sun’s heat, attic fans that can push the super hot air out and suck in relatively cooler outside air and verifying that you have adequate attic ventilation and insulation.

There are plenty of pros in your HomeKeepr community who can help you get on the road to a totally chill summer this year. Your Realtor has already recommended them and they’re ready to get to work!

Top Tools For Homeowners

Top Tools For Homeowners

Buying a house is a little like taking up a new hobby. There are lots of things you don’t know yet that you’ll learn as you go along, you’re also gonna need some specialized equipment to get very far. Whether you hope to become a top level home remodeler or simply want to put some new slats on your privacy fence, it takes the right tools to do the job.

The Right Tool for the Job

First, it’s important to note that you need the tool you need on any given job. Trying to improvise can result in connections that don’t connect quite fully, excessive and unnecessary damage to your home or damage to fasteners that will make them hard to back out later. Always use the right tool. If you don’t know which tool is the right tool, ask someone at the hardware or home improvement store — they’re usually pretty friendly and ready to help.

Without further ado, here are our picks for the top tools all homeowners need:

7. Stud finder. When you need to hang something heavy, you really should hang it on a stud. Although people with really good hearing can use the tap test on sheetrock, it’s always better to be certain that you’re hitting a stud, rather than tapping and hoping.

6. Hammers. Yes, it’s a broad category, but you really need one of each of these:

* 10 oz. hammer. This tiny hammer, otherwise known as the “tack hammer” is handy beyond imagination. Not only is it great for projects that require finesse (you can’t take a big whack at anything with this baby hammer), it’s also dainty enough to use to pull delicate trim work or tiles off the wall.

* Rubber mallet. It gets the award for best rubbery-headed hammer for its ability to pound things without leaving a dent. If you decide to put down certain kinds of laminate floors, for example, this guy is a must-have.

* Standard claw hammer. Everybody needs a standard hammer. They’re general purpose tools that can put nails in and take nails out. Claw hammers also double as pry bars in a lot of situations.

5. Pliers. Another combo group. It wouldn’t be fair to break the family up, after all. Plus, these pliers all do different jobs. Check them out:

* Locking pliers. These adjustable pliers also have a clamping feature, making them a multi-purpose wonder. You can clamp, you can hold, you can adjust! If you buy only one pair of pliers, choose a mid-sized pair of locking pliers. They’ll do everything regular pliers can do, plus some things groove joint pliers can.

* Groove joint pliers. This iconic plumbing tool is good for other stuff, too. The grooves allow you to expand the plier opening across a wider range of sizes than your locking pliers, but you have to hold them closed yourself. They are incredibly handy at 3 am when the plumbing’s sprung a leak.

* Needle nose pliers. In a totally different class, needle nose pliers are helpful when you’re trying to wire anything or fish out tiny things when you drop them in weird spaces. Primarily, though, wiring things in your home. Always turn the power off before wiring anything, even a new smart thermostat.

4. Utility knife. If you don’t have one of these, it’s high time you got one. Or six. Skip the disposables and go for the heavy metal options, you will not regret it. A good utility knife is perfect for cutting through boxes, carpet and vinyl flooring.

3. Level. Everybody’s seen those pictures on your wall, but they’re afraid to say anything about how badly leveled they are. Is it because you didn’t own a level when you hung them? The level on your phone is all fine and good for an estimate, but things like cases change how well they can work. An old fashioned level will never steer you wrong. Ideally, you’ll want a set, including one that’s about six inches long, another that’s two foot long and a third that’s four feet long if you intend to do any construction work in your home.

2. Tape measure. Look, I know you know exactly how long your shoe is and that you never vary in your strides, but for the sake of appearances, pick up a good tape measure. The wider models with 25 feet of tape are really flexible choices. Guess what? You can also use a tape to level if you didn’t pick up a level. Just choose either the ceiling or floor to level with, then measure from either point to the place where your shelf or picture is going to go. Make a mark, then go to the other side and repeat, making sure your tape isn’t slacking. Set as many points as you need between the two ends, being sure to mark at the same height each time.

1. Screwdrivers. You’re not going to get very far in your homeownership without interacting with a screw. That’s why you need screwdrivers. But instead of keeping track of a pile of screwdrivers, choose a really good model with magnetic bits. The longer the bit shaft, the better for the really tough jobs. You can also get kits that contain sockets, as well as hex and torx bits. This will be your favorite screwdriver — and your only screwdriver. Ratcheting screwdrivers can be more trouble than they’re worth, but well-made models do significantly cut down on wrist strain.

If you have a little extra cash rattling around, you should seriously consider a battery powered tool set that contains, at minimum, a drill and small circular saw. These two tools can get almost any job done, though you may have to buy different bits or blades. Eighteen volt models are much better at being tools than the lower voltage units, many are designed for professional work, they’re that tough.

No Interest in a Tool Shopping Spree?

If you’re really not the handy type or simply want to live a much simpler existence, forget the tool buying mania and instead connect to the home pro in the HomeKeepr community that can help you best. They’re already recommended by your Realtor, saving you the worry that your leaky faucet might just get a bit leakier.

3 Ways Networking Can Help Your Business Today and Tomorrow

3 Ways Networking Can Help Your Business Today and Tomorrow

Running a small business can be a lonely deed, especially if your particular skill set requires that you work alone for long stretches of time. At the end of the day, you’ve spent too much time staring at numbers, running wires or doing any amount of solitary duties -- you did a job for someone, but you’re not really building momentum in a long term sort of way. This particular client might be good for another project or two, or for a few years at most.

There has to be a better way to build long-term lead streams so you’re not having to constantly spend money in order to bring in new customers who only need a few small jobs completed. The good news is that there is, the challenge is that it’s going to require you to step outside of your regular work schedule and make some new friends.

Networking 101

You can think of networking, good and proper networking, as making new friends for your business. That’s really all it is. Just like you’d help your small child make friends at the playground, your small business can ally with companies that are both similar and very different in order to achieve your goals. You can do this by attending trade shows, spending more time at industry luncheons, going to trainings and so forth. Anywhere complementary businesses might be is the perfect place to look for opportunities!

3 Ways Networking Works Long Term

Networking expands what you can do with your business and your in-house talent, it can even influence how happy your customers will be. It can be a little bit slow to get started, but in the long run, networking just works, by giving you the chance to:

Get the creative juices flowing. Hey, sometimes it takes another great mind to push that almost focused idea of yours into reality. When you’re networking, you’re also making friends of a sort. Some of these people will be the type you immediately click with and who stimulate your most creative self. Take advantage of it! Discuss marketing, employee management or anything else your business is struggling with among your long-trusted network, a fresh perspective can yield so much fruit.

Collaborate on projects. Depending on your niche and that of the network member that you want to collaborate with, you might just make a perfect match. Sometimes, what you can’t do alone is easy to accomplish with the support of a company with different strengths than your own. For example, if you’re a general contractor and you’re trying to find ways to sell more homes, you might collaborate with a banker who can help you create flyers and advertisements that give customers solid numbers they can work with when considering new homes that work with their budgets.

Give and get trusted referrals. Perhaps the most praised part of a good network are the referrals that go both ways. You need a plumber today? Call Joe, he’s a great plumber. Joe’s customer needs a Realtor in six months? He’ll send them straight to you. It’s a vote of confidence for both of you and it makes the customer really feel like you care about their well-being, so everybody wins all over the place.

Build Your Networks, Build Your Business

When you have great networks in place, you’re not just relying on your own advertisements to bring your customers to you. Instead, you can count on professional referrals, paid for by someone else’s ad dollars, to help bulk up your lead streams. The best leads are the ones that are free, after all.

How To Choose And Plant A Tree

How To Choose And Plant A Tree

Being a homeowner means more than just cleaning, decorating and maintaining your house. It’s also your responsibility to take care of whatever land is yours. For a lot of people, this means putting their own mark with landscaping like perennials, shrubs and trees. Unfortunately for those trees, many are planted in the wrong place and end up being cut down in their prime. It’s a great loss to the neighborhood and to your yard. Next time you plant a tree, you’ll need to be more careful about where you put it.

Tree Things to Know About Trees (Get It?)

Planting a tree is a commitment, don’t ever think otherwise. You’re placing a sapling that has the potential to spread to enormous heights, overshadowing your house, your neighbor’s cars, and maybe even getting tangled in power lines or uprooting sidewalks. This is why it’s vital that you choose the right tree and put it in the right place the first time. So let’s talk about trees!

If you choose a tree from a nursery or home improvement center, it’s a good bet that the tree will succeed in your climate. After all, they’re not going to stock trees that will die over the summer or winter (though certainly ask if you’re not entirely confident). There are other things to pay extremely close attention to, though, like:

Size. Trees get big, even the little ones. You can expect even the smallest ornamentals, known as understory trees, to grow to be 15 to 25 feet high when they’re fully mature. In the forest, these trees are found growing on the edge of groupings of taller trees. Those bigger trees can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall and just as wide, depending on the tree’s natural shape. Ultimately, there’s a lot of difference between the space required for a dogwood than a white oak.

Water needs. Just because a tree can theoretically survive in your area doesn’t mean that it can do it alone. During establishment (the baby years), that tree will need a lot of regular waterings to keep it going, no matter the species. Obviously, you won’t need to water on days that it’s raining, but as it starts to warm up and during the heat of the summer definitely plan to be on watering duty. Keep the tag around because you’ll need to know how to care for the tree as it ages. If it needs more water than naturally occurs, you’ll want to set up a sprinkler, drip irrigation system or get fancy and redirect gray water to it to keep it alive.

Spacing. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or rather, where the tree roots get under the sidewalk and your foundation and start breaking stuff. It says right on the tag how far to place your tree from anything else. When there’s a range, like 10 to 15 feet, go as far away as you can. This is the hardest part of tree planting, honestly, because other elements in the yard have to be considered. It’s 10 feet from the house, but only seven from the mailbox and not quite 11 from the sidewalk (weird yard, I know). Best to choose your tree, then check spacing requirements and stand out in your yard with a tape measure to ensure that tree will work where you want to put it. It’ll look a little sparse the first year or two, but you’ll be glad you took the time when it’s bigger.

Tree Roots and You

Some of the most serious issues a house or cement pad can experience are caused by tree roots. Big, glorious trees are amazing to have in your yard, they provide shade and protection for wildlife, but it comes at a cost. This is why spacing matters.

Many trees will put out roots that are as far across as their canopies. A tree with a 25 foot wide canopy has the potential to send roots out 12 ½ feet from the trunk. A tree with a 60 foot canopy is often surrounded by a 30 foot root zone.

Besides considering the above ground elements, you need to know where your gas, water and sewer lines run. Deep rooted trees can get into sewer lines, causing the line to fail or wrap around utility lines, slowly shifting them out of place. But deep roots aren’t the only issue, shallow rooted trees create a nightmare when you’re mowing, since you have to somehow deal with them as you go along. Landscaping is a good option here, but also keep in mind that a good stiff breeze may cause that shallow rooted tree to uproot.

Choosing trees is tricky, but that’s why you ask a lot of questions before you leave with your new baby. The very best trees for your home are trees that are native to the area (so they can handle the climate without extra care), grow relatively quickly to let you can start reaping the benefits of a nice tree in your yard sooner and fit in the space properly, keeping all those roots away from anything they can break.

Planting Your Tree the Easy Way

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to do all the legwork it takes to pick a tree, you could call a professional landscaper or arborist for their opinion and services. They will be able to tell you exactly where your tree should go and even plant it for you. It just happens that there are a few of these knowledgeable people in the HomeKeepr community, waiting for you to connect with them!