Posted by admin on February 28, 2013
Headlines regularly tell people that Vancouver is among the least affordable cities in the world. But often they don’t tell the full story — that while the city of Vancouver is a pricey place to be a homeowner, the suburbs still have home prices that are affordable to most families.
Today, The Vancouver Sun introduces the UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index, a new way to look at housing prices that provides a clearer, more specific picture of affordability across Metro Vancouver. The index was developed by a partnership of The Sun, the Urban Development Institute and Urban Analytics Inc. over the past three months.
Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, said she thinks it may dispel some of the “myths and hysteria” that are sometimes heard about housing.
“It gived us a different read and drills down a bit more to have a better understanding of what affordability is really like in the region,” said McMullin. “There’s no doubt that there are issues of affordability in certain areas. But I think, as a region, the numbers aren’t bad.”
The UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index will be reported by The Vancouver Sun every quarter.
“This is the first one. It will be interesting to see how it goes every quarter and to compare on an annual basis,” said McMullin, whose non-profit institute represents B.C. residential, commercial, industrial and institutional developers.
The UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index breaks Metro Vancouver into three areas — the city of Vancouver, Inner Metro (West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, Delta, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam) and Outer Metro (Surrey, Langley, North Delta, White Rock, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge). Urban Analytics calculated the numbers using average prices for new homes and median prices for resale homes.
“I often think when we talk about affordability, we say Vancouver meaning the whole region. But there are differences within the region. We tend to lump it all into one,” McMullin said.
“This takes out the really high-end, which is just really just a small number of people on the west side of Vancouver or on the West Vancouver waterfront, and looks more at the median prices rather than averaging the high, high prices with the relatively low prices.
“This study, unlike others, brings in not just income and house prices, but also factors in interest rates and amortization and looks at how that affects affordability,” McMullin said. “I think this gives a more accurate gauge of affordability in the region.”
The index shows that the majority of households in outer Metro can afford the payments on all types of homes, both new and resale. It found that as many as 82.9 per cent of households in outer Metro could make the payments on a re-sale wood-frame condo, while 80.4 per cent could afford a re-sale concrete condo.
For inner Metro, the index found that while 64.5 per cent of working households can afford a re-sale wood-frame condo, just 51.7 per cent of working households can afford a new concrete condo. For single-family homes in inner Metro, less than 40.9 per cent of households could afford to make the mortgage payments.
In Vancouver proper, housing is affordable for a far smaller percentage of the population — the UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index shows that fewer than 32 per cent of households can afford payments on a single-family home, a new or re-sale townhouse or a new concrete condominium. The numbers are a bit more encouraging for other types of housing: 34.7 per cent of households make the $66,017 required to make the payments on a new wood-frame condominium, 35.4 per cent of households make the $65,129 needed for a resale concrete condo, and 49 per cent make the $48,455 required for a $356,000 resale wood-frame condo.
The index defines “affordable” as the percentage of households living in a region who would qualify for the mortgage required to own the property. Typically, a bank wants to see no more than 32 per cent of income going to housing before it provides a person with a mortgage.
Certified financial planner Michael Thorne said the 32 per cent debt-service ratio is a good guideline.
“In most circumstances, about 30 per cent is what I recommend a family target to spend on housing,” Thorne said. “When you start getting up to 40 or 50 per cent of your income, that’s when there are problems.”
Adrian Mastracci, portfolio manager at KCM Wealth Management, said 32 per cent is a reasonable amount for a family to spend on housing, but that it would be tough to do that in Vancouver, with its lofty prices.
Mastracci said most people have to start with a small condo and whittle down their mortgage to build up equity. “Plow any extra money you have against your mortgage and really go to town,” Mastracci suggested. “That is a risk-free investment you can make.”
The UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index treats first-time buyers differently, as most have less money for a downpayment and thus need an insured mortgage. For such buyers, the index assumed a 10-per-cent down payment and a 25-year mortgage amortization (the maximum allowed for an insured mortgage).
Using those assumptions, the index shows that 63.3 per cent of working households in outer Metro earn the $46,384 annual salary required to buy the average new wood-frame, 836-square-foot condominium, while 48.8 per cent are above the required income of $59,760 to buy a similar condo in inner Metro, and less than 32 per cent earn the required $82,649 to afford a similar type of condominium in Vancouver proper. For resales, the percentages were higher; 76.9 in outer Metro, 54 in inner Metro and 37.9 in Vancouver proper.
By: Tracy Sherlock
Posted by admin on August 17, 2012
You keep a pretty clean home. Sure, sometimes your rigid cleaning schedule has to bend here and there to accommodate life, but your house/apartment/condo stays pretty darn tidy.
You’re not bragging or anything, but you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of. You clean all the usual suspects: kitchen sinks, counters and floors. Bathroom countertop, toilets, showers. You vacuum the carpets, dust the furniture, and maybe even hit the blinds and curtains now and then.
Good to go? Maybe, maybe not. There’s a whole host of everyday objects and high-use home appliances that may often go overlooked during cleaning jags. And failure to be a completist when it comes to cleaning may not have that many obvious repercussions, but it can cost you in terms of appliance and electronic performance, allergy attacks and general hygiene.
So go ahead. Grab a bucket, a can of compressed air and a little extra bleach. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to expand that household chore list by a couple of items this weekend.
Difficulty: Minimal. Some grossness factor, though.
You religiously clean your toilet, because, y’know, ewww. But do you make sure to clean the mechanism that cleans the toilet?
“Your toilet brush should be cleaned every time you use it,” cautions Shana Cowart, area district customer service trainer with Bed Bath & Beyond. “Rinse it after every use and replace the head when needed.”
Not doing so could mean growing a little Petri dish of germs in the corner of your bathroom.
Cowart doesn’t recommend doing anything extreme. “Just rinse it after every use. If you feel like it’s still not clean, pour some bleach on it.”
If the brush has replacement heads, all the better. Replace periodically when it’s showing a bit of wear and tear, she said. And if it doesn’t have replacement heads, consider going with a new brush whenever ol’ reliable starts looking a little tattered.
Ceiling and attic fans
Difficulty: Varies, from rather simple to a little bit complex.
Fans pose a little bit more of a challenge than toilet brushes because they’re quite a bit less accessible.
That being said, “if you stay on top of keeping ceiling and attic fans clean, it’s a pretty easy process,” says Bryan Dunning, assistant store manager of the Lowe’s in Gladstone, Mo.
Ceiling fans are rather simple, though you may need a long duster or stepladder to really get the job done (“with a vaulted ceiling, it may not be as feasible,” Dunning said).
The key is dedication. Hit the ceiling fan blades with disposable dusting pads every couple of weeks, and you should be fine. Naturally, if you wait significant stretches between cleanings, expect a lot of dust falloff when you finally do get around to it. For $3 a pack, you could also invest in a filter that sits on top of the blade, but cleaning is still recommended, Dunning said.
Attic fans are a bit trickier.
“Step 1 is to definitely make sure you have your breaker turned off. Since the switch is usually below the fan, you don’t want to be near one when someone turns it on,” Dunning said. “They can put out a lot of power.”
Cleaning attic fans is fairly similar to ceiling units.
“You can use a mild cleaning solution and wipe off the metal blades,” Dunning said. “And with the motor, you can use a can of compressed air to clean out any dust and dirt in the motor.”
Dunning suggests syncing attic fan cleaning with your furnace filter changing schedule.
Cleaning both kinds of fans gives the same benefit: less debris in the air and a longer appliance life span. Dunning also notes that dirty and dusty motors run hotter, meaning less efficient cooling.
“If you work these things into your cleaning routine, you should be fine,” he said. “It’s like preventative medicine. It heads off problems down the road.”
Home audio speakers
Difficulty: Simple. And a light touch is definitely preferred.
Fans aren’t the only household staple where dust may affect performance. Consider your home theater and stereo speakers.
Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, says that if noticeable dust is building up on the exterior of your speakers, it’s time to clean them.
It’s not just for aesthetics. “Keeping your speakers clean will help keep the sound quality in tip top shape,” she says.
Gentleness is the key.
“Remember not to spray the speaker case or grill directly and especially avoid using harsh chemicals,” she cautions. “A dry or water-damp cloth is the ideal cleaning method.”
If you actually have to go under the grill to get at dust buildup, do not use anything abrasive. Braniff-Harmon recommends a feather duster.
Difficulty: Varies based on use and your fine motor skills.
Speakers, of course, come in all shapes and sizes — from floor-filling subwoofers to the ubiquitous earbud. And just because your headphones aren’t typically subject to public scrutiny doesn’t mean they don’t need the occasional once-over.
“Earwax can interfere with the sound quality of your earbuds, so I recommend cleaning them whenever you see the buildup,” said Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad. “If you are able to remove the plastic bud, you can get a more complete clean inside the ‘canal’ with a cotton swab where the buildup can really affect sound quality.”
If the gunk is particularly resistant to cleaning efforts the detached buds — not the actual speakers — can be given a soak in a light mix of water and dish soap, she added.
Naturally, if you’re a workout warrior who can’t exercise without your iPod, you may find your earbuds picking up dirt and sweat at a higher rate. If they’re dying out at an alarming rate, Braniff-Harmon recommends tracking down a set specifically designed with exercise in mind. Several manufacturers, including Yurbuds and Phillips, offer such models.
Keyboard and mouse
Difficulty: More time-consuming than you might think, especially if you eat near your computer.
A quick rule of thumb from Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, when it comes to cleaning tech equipment: “You don’t have to overspend on cleaning products, as most devices can be cleaned with common household ingredients. Eyeglass cleaning wipes are cheap and contain rubbing alcohol for sanitizing, making them my favorite for cellphone, keyboard, headphone and monitor cleaning.”
And the computer keyboard (and sometimes mouse) “are some of the dirtiest gadgets in your tech lineup.”
Braniff-Harmon recommends sanitizing after any illness or at least every three months. If you eat near your keyboard and it’s growing fairly crumby, take care of it sooner. Crumbs in the keyboard can cause damage.
Before attempting any cleaning, turn the computer off.
“Then you can take one of the eyeglass cleaning wipes that are great for cleaning gadgets to wipe down the keyboard. Cotton swabs with a little rubbing alcohol diluted in water are perfect for getting those stubborn stickies and upping the germ killing,” she said.
Those eyeglass cleaning wipes are also a good solution for your computer mice.
What about the computer itself? It’s important to keep it relatively free of dust.
Feel free to dust off the exterior, but exercise caution inside the tower. “Do not vacuum inside your computer,” Braniff-Harmon said. “Static electricity caused by vacuuming does not like your computer parts and can cause serious damage.”
Go with compressed air instead.
Refrigerator ice maker
Difficulty: Involved. Varies with model.
Dust isn’t likely to be a significant issue with your refrigerator ice maker, but other concerns may arise.
“If you look at your ice, and it’s getting discolored, that’s a sign that it’s a good idea to clean your ice maker,” Lowe’s Dunning said.
First, check your owner’s manual for step-by-step guides.
Typically, Dunning said, it will involve turning off the ice maker and shutting off the water to the water line. You’ll probably have to let the water run through, then use a mild detergent to clean the line. A mild detergent solution can also be used on the various parts of the ice maker.
“A lot of units now have a filter with the ice maker. These filters can last for different times, and some will give you an indication when they need to be changed,” he said.
By: John Shultz
Posted by admin on
Q: I am in the process of buying an older single-family home and found one I like. I wanted to have my contract contingent on obtaining a favorable home inspection, but my real estate agent has been discouraging me. She claims that I may lose the house if I insist on the inspection. What do you think?
A: You are about to engage in what may be the biggest purchase of your life. You kick the tires when you buy a car. You should get an inspection, and if the seller does not allow this, walk away as fast as you can.
Inspections help buyers and sellers. The buyer gets an independent assessment of the condition of the house, from inside and outside, and top to bottom. There is a hidden benefit to an inspection, namely that if you buy the house, you will know where things are such as turning off the main water in case of a leak.
But the seller benefits also. I have represented many sellers whose buyer (after taking title) threatened to (and actually did) sue the seller, claiming multiple problems in the house.
My defense, which generally works, is, “Hey, you had an inspector and had an opportunity to walk away if you found problems.”
So, submit your contract with the inspection contingency. If the seller rejects it, he may be trying to hide known defects.
Also, many states require sellers to disclose all known problems in a house to potential buyers. If your state has this requirement, show the disclosure statement to your inspector.
The bottom line: There are two important contingencies that must be included in every real estate offer being made to sellers. First, a contingency on financing (assuming you need to obtain a mortgage and are not paying all cash). Second, obtaining a home inspection report from an independent inspector selected by you, to your satisfaction.
Don’t be pressured to sign a contract without these two provisions. In law school, we are taught that real estate is unique. In my many years of practicing law, however, I have learned that it “ain’t necessarily so.”
By: Benny Kass
Posted by admin on August 4, 2012
Time to change the inefficient top-loading washer and dryer that run up the utility bill and bang together when you wash a quilt? Last year about 15 million new machines were installed — because the old ones gave out, and because new models offer practical upgrades and greatly increased efficiency.
Front-loading design is the reason. It means the washers hold 30 percent more clothes (there’s no central agitator), tumble clothes cleaner, use less water, reduce water-heating costs, and spin much faster than top-loaders (more than 1,000 rpm), which removes more water and cuts time in the dryer. They’re more efficient on so many levels that you don’t see anything but front-loaders in commercial laundromats.
My washer and dryer were ready to go as part of a garage-laundry-utility room renovation, the main attraction being new Energy Star-rated Kenmore Elite machines. The 4.3 cubic-foot washer (that translates to 47 T-shirts in one load) uses about 70 percent less water and 60 percent less energy than most pre-2004 models. Kenmore says typical savings are $172 a year and $1,639 over the appliance life span.
If you’re replacing existing machines and staying in the same locations, the old hookups should work. To provide hookups in a new location, I downloaded install specs and ran new mechanicals where the machines would be. On the plumbing side you need hot and cold water pipes to a standard cutoff valve that accepts screw-on hose connections, a drain with a standpipe for the washer discharge, and a metal exhaust pipe for the dryer. Most codes specify a ratio of dryer duct length modified by the number of bends in the line — and don’t allow flexible plastic to snake past obstructions. The ideal is a vertical run of metal duct to one elbow that turns through floor framing to an exterior vent.
The electrics are a 120-volt line for the washer and a 220-volt line for the dryer. It’s wise to leave the 220 line to a licensed electrician. It requires a different setup at the service panel and carries so much power you can’t afford to make a mistake. For the new dryer, I downloaded specs for the power supply that included a description (plus pictures) of the two acceptable 220 connections.
They’re an extra, but with two major benefits. First, the pullout drawers provide a lot of storage, for the Kenmore Elites about 6.5 cubic feet each — combined, about the size of four microwave ovens. Second, the additional 13-inch elevation puts the front-load doors and controls at a convenient working level- and eye level. Unless you have empty shelves in the laundry, opt for pedestals.
You could install them yourself, hire a contractor, or use in-store service. An increasingly large share of business at big-box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sears is installing the products you buy there — shingles, windows, flooring, and appliances. Installations can be complicated and expensive where a lot of prep work or alterations are needed. But for washers and dryers, as long as your mechanicals are correct, in-store installs are straightforward — and a bargain. Sears’ fee for delivery, plus installation and removing the old machines was $69. (Periodically it’s offered free.) Home Depot provides free delivery and hookup but keeps any available rebates. Lowe’s provides free delivery, hookup and carting. Check your local store to be sure, there are exceptions, and expect a fee for a gas hookup.
Large appliances are difficult to get rid of. One day a year your town may offer bulk pickup — a good deal if you don’t mind storing the machines till the day arrives. Some landfills and recycling centers won’t take them, even if you can get them there. Mine were shredded. GE Appliances, Home Depot and Sears, among others, are partners in the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal Program. Since 2006 the voluntary program has reduced environmental problems by recovering refrigerants and foams, and grinding the metal and plastic in washers and dryers for recycling.
Whether you or your contractor install the mechanicals, take note of two common errors. First, if you’re adding pedestals, standard appliance height of about 36 inches is so ingrained that outlets (and water lines on washers) are often set too low — minus that extra foot or so of height for the pedestal storage units. You can still hook up and use the appliances, but might have to move them to gain access to cutoffs and plugs. Second, due to recent code changes, standard electric range outlets on the 220-volt dryer line are not approved and won’t accept code-rated plugs.
Posted by admin on July 16, 2012
New mortgage rules went into effect Monday, July 9th, 2012 in Canada, but a recent survey suggests many people are unfamiliar with the changes.
Starting Monday, borrowers refinancing their mortgages are limited to 80 per cent to the value of the home, down from 85 per cent.
And the maximum amortization period dropped to 25 years from 30 years for government insured mortgages – giving borrowers less time to repay the debt in full.
Yet a poll conducted by Pollara for Bank of Montreal found only about half of those surveyed were familiar with the changes brought in by the federal government. And only 45 per cent of those surveyed June 29 to July 4 were aware that the maximum amortization period has been shortened by five years.
What’s more, in Quebec, there was no recent reported spike in applicants looking to buy or refinance homes under the old rules, real estate and mortgage agencies said.
“There wasn’t a huge rise,” said Denis Doucet, a regional director at Quebec’s Multi Prêts mortgage agency, which operates as Mortgage Alliance Company of Canada Inc. in the rest of the country, “Maybe we had a bit more demand, but nothing significant.”
Unlike previous changes in the mortgage rules for buyers of CMHC-insured homes, the duration between the time when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the changes on June 21 – and their implementation this week – was simply too short, Doucet and others said.
“They did it so suddenly this time,” said Dominic St-Pierre, director of real estate services at Royal LePage, Quebec. “The last time they did it (change the amortization period from 35 to 30 years in January 2011), it was announced months in advance.”
But Kelvin Mangaroo, president of RateSupermarket.ca, a national rate comparison website for personal finance products including mortgages, did notice a rise in activity “as the July 9 date approached.”
The federal government also tightened the standards lenders must apply before granting a mortgage.
Other changes by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions reduced the limit for home equity lines of credit to 65 per cent of a property’s value, down from 80 per cent.
Despite analysts initial welcoming of the changes, a recent drop in sales in Canada’s hot Vancouver and Toronto markets has sparked questions over whether this latest round went too far.
“I think the Canadian government reacted too harshly,” St-Pierre said. “Inventory is creeping up. Montreal is on the verge of becoming a buyer’s market. This is just going to compound the slowdown we see already”.
Posted by admin on July 5, 2012
If anyone needs to stay cool right now, it’s Shane and Jennifer Schick. The Scarborough parents of toddlers aged 2 and 4 are expecting their third child in about two weeks.
The couple also recently moved to an apartment in a fourplex after renting in the Mount Pleasant Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. area for several years. That means they are making many adjustments to living in their new home as they unpacked during the recent heat wave. When you have two kids and one on the way and no air conditioning, finding relief in 30C and high humidity can be difficult.
To top it off, the Schicks learned after moving into their new apartment that the owner of the building did not want them to install a window air conditioner because he had just replaced all the windows.
“We’re using table fans right now and it doesn’t really do the job,” says Shane. “We used to live in a main-floor apartment and we’re finding that the heat seems to travel upstairs to the second floor. It’s been really challenging. I’ve even slept in the basement on a few nights.”
The alternatives aren’t that appealing, either.
“The floor model air conditioners take up a lot of space (and can be expensive) and look like a small washer or dryer,” he says. “This is probably the last year we will rent so I’m not sure we want to make an investment in something like that.”
There’s also the cost consideration of running air conditioning units if you pay your own hydro.
According to a recent survey conducted by Direct Energy, 77 per cent of Ontarians use air conditioning to escape the summer heat and 69 per cent are concerned about what the cost will be to keep a steady temperature.
Any AC units 12 to 15 years old may not be energy efficient. Most units older than 12 years operate at around 10 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating), which means they are a lot less efficient than newer models.
“The age of the equipment can impact not just the cost, but the overall effect and comfort level of the equipment as well,” says Dave Walton, director of home ideas with Direct Energy.
So if you rent and your landlord doesn’t offer central air or window air conditioners, what are your options?
If the home you’re renting has a programmable thermostat use it, or ask your landlord to install one. By raising the temperature by 5C at night and when no one is home, you can save as much as 10 per cent on an energy bill.
“Set it to keep the home just a little bit warmer during the day and have it start to cool down around 4:30 or 5 p.m. as you’re heading home,” says Walton.
Other tips include closing all the blinds and curtains on a hot day before leaving the house. “You can leave a few windows open, but especially on the south and west facing windows, keeping window coverings closed is quite an effective way of keeping the house cool,” says Walton.
When the sun goes down, open the windows. Opening selective windows so that cooler night air is blowing in throughout the evening can make a big difference, especially when combined with a good fan. Leaving all the interior doors open can help as well. Be sure to get up and close the windows and blinds as soon as the sunlight hits.
Avoid using heat sources in your living spaces, such as the stove, if you can avoid it. Eat cold meals, or use the microwave. Some light bulbs can also create heat, so switch to compact fluorescents. Turn off your lamps and computer when you’re not using them. The TV can give off a lot of heat, as well as some plug-in power adapters.
If you can use a window air conditioner in your unit, know that they have their limitations. “They typically can only cool so much of the room or home, can be noisy and not as energy efficient as a central air conditioning unit is, and they can also pose a few headaches like dripping water and rattling window frames,” says Walton.
Window units also need to be taken out in the fall and put back in the spring.
Like any new technology, efficiencies are improving and new units operate better than ones that are 10 years old. “A new window air conditioner does work a lot better than an old one,” he says.
If you’re in the market for a new window unit, Hydro One is having a saveONenergy exchange event Saturday and Sunday at participating Canadian Tire stores.
Take your old window unit and/or portable dehumidifier (in working condition and a minimum age of 10 years old) to the store and receive a $50 coupon towards a new model. Go to hydroone.com for more information.
By replacing your old, inefficient appliances with an Energy Star model, you’ll save energy and help the environment.
According to Hydro One, the savings amount to about $50 a year when you replace an older dehumidifier with an Energy Star model and about $14 a year when you exchange an older room A/C with an Energy Star model.
For now, the Schicks say they plan to investigate some of the newer, more expensive fans offering better air circulation, such as the Dyson air multiplier — and perhaps there will be more sleepovers in the basement.
By: Jennifer Brown
Posted by admin on June 14, 2012
You might not be the only one looking forward to your summer vacation.
July and August are the most popular months for home burglaries, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade organization.
And being away from home for an extended period can also lead to problems of the noncriminal variety — water leaks and storm damage, for example.
Jim Gustin, a senior property specialist with Travelers Risk Control, said that many of the precautions people need to take are pretty obvious. “But in the rush of trying to get out of town people are so anxious, they forget about what are fairly common-sense things,” he said.
One of those common-sense safeguards is adjusting the thermostat.
“We wouldn’t encourage people to shut off their air conditioner, because your home will increase in humidity, and that’s not good for furniture and other things,” he said. “But raise the temperature setting so you’re not paying for cooling when you’re not home.”
Keeping the air conditioner running can also be a deterrent to crime. A silent air conditioner on a hot day is an indication no one is home.
Gustin also suggested turning off your water while you’re gone — or at least check the water connections to appliances.
“We have a lot of losses from flex hoses to washers, ice makers. Obviously it’d be best to turn the water off, but if you can’t, check for damaged hoses.”
He cited several areas that should be checked outdoors.
Put away the patio furniture. That keeps it from being blown around during a storm and causing damage, or being swiped.
Swimming pools and trampolines are “attractive nuisances,” Gustin said. “You can’t put the pool away, but you can make sure the fence is in good shape and the gate is locked. A trampoline, put it away. You don’t want someone using it while you’re not home. Certainly it’s an attraction for kids when you’re not there.”
Check the roof to make sure there are no damaged or missing shingles that could lead to roof leaks while you’re gone.
Gustin had a few other suggestions, as did State Farm Insurance and the Florida attorney general’s office:
Set timers for interior and exterior lights, as well as TVs and radios. Vary the off-on settings.
Prevent power surges: Disconnect computers, TVs, stereos and other electronic devices, or make sure they’re plugged into surge protectors.
Don’t broadcast your vacation plans via Facebook or Twitter. And don’t leave a “we are on vacation” message on your answering machine.
Let immediate neighbors know you won’t be home, and ask them to keep an eye on your place. Give them your contact information, maybe even that of your insurance agent, in case something happens. You might even have a neighbor park his or her car in your driveway on occasion to make it appear somebody is home. If they’re really good neighbors, they might cut your grass and take in the mail (if they’re not, stop newspaper and mail delivery and hire a landscaper). “Have them … possibly even put out trash cans or collecting trash cans,” Gustin said. “Nothing says I’m away from home like a trash can sitting out at the curb four or five days after the trash has been collected.”
Give a set of spare keys to a trusted neighbor in case of emergency. Don’t leave keys in obvious hiding places — under the mat, beneath a flower pot, over a doorway. If they’re obvious to you, they’re obvious to a burglar.
Lock the garage. A burglar with easy access to an attached garage can work on getting into the house without fear of being seen. And even if the unlocked garage is detached, it’s probably full of items that can be stolen.
Make sure all windows and doors are locked. Sounds simple, but in the rush to start your vacation, it’s something that can be overlooked. According to a 2010 Department of Justice/FBI report, 32.6 percent of burglaries involved entries without force.
Invest in a safe-deposit box for jewelry and other valuables. Doing so also ensures that you don’t leave anything of value out in the open, where a burglar could spot it through a window.
Keep shades up and blinds and curtains open to make it appear you’re home.
By William Hageman
Posted by admin on June 4, 2012
When it comes to the little things that sellers do to make their homes stand out from the competition, a new splash of paint is usually at the top of the list. Sprucing up the front yard and removing the clutter you have learned to live with over the years also rank high.
But the No. 1 step you can take, according to a recent survey of realestate agents, is cleaning the place from top to bottom. Spending a few hundred bucks for cleaning supplies, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work will pay huge dividends, dollar for dollar, according to nearly all the 500 agents who participated in the HomeGain poll.
Actually, cleaning has ranked as the top home improvement suggested by realty professionals ever since HomeGain began asking the question in 2003. In the latest survey, the agents said spending $400 on cleaning is likely to gain sellers $2,000 more at closing. That’s a 400 percent return on investment.
Of course, there is clean and then there is really clean. Here are some tips gleaned mainly from the folks at The Maids, a residential cleaning service with about 150 franchises in 40 states, with suggestions from professional house cleaner Mary Findley (also known as Mary Moppins) thrown in for good measure:
You may not look up when you walk around your house, but would-be buyers do. They look everywhere, so knock down any cobwebs, clean the blades on the ceiling fans and remove the dust that has built up on the top of window and door frames, as well as other places it tends to accumulate.
Now look down and clean your baseboards.
You’ll want to shower your place with light to show it off, especially at night, so remove the bugs that have accumulated in your light fixtures and clean the glass. Replace the bulbs with new ones. That way, Findley says, you won’t have a burnout during a showing.
Walls and ceilings should be dusted. For textured surfaces and rough wood, slip three lint roller tubes over a paint roller and roll.
Wipe down front and back doors, including screens. Remove oil spots from garage floor and driveway. Polish doorknobs, hinges and drawer handles, and clean your trash cans.
Wash the windows, inside and out. Findley cleans windows with a 32-ounce spray bottle filled with 1/3 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol and the rest distilled water.
For best results, wash on a cloudy day. Sunlight dries the glass quickly, causing streaks.
Window treatments tend to trap dust and odors. Dry-clean or at least vacuum drapes. Roll up blinds to remove them. Then loosen and wash in a tub of warm, soapy water with a cup of white vinegar. Rinse and lay flat on a towel outside to dry.
Alternatively, hang the blinds outside with the slats facing down. Spray from bottom to top with foaming tub and tile cleaner, a Findley favorite. Sponge off with water, then flip them over, turn the slats in the other direction and repeat. “Sparkling blinds in 15 minutes,” Findley says.
Clean the stove and oven. If you have burner drip trays, replace them. The cost is minimal, and they will make the range sparkle. As an alternative, Findley suggests placing dirty drip pans in a plastic bag with a 50/50 mixture of water and ammonia. Let sit for a day, then scour and rinse.
Don’t overlook the range hood — not just the top, but also underneath where grease tends to accumulate. Spray foaming tile and tub cleaner, wait a few minutes and wipe.
Eliminate lingering odors in the dishwasher by running it with a couple tablespoons of Tang, the powdered breakfast drink.
Decluttering goes along with cleaning. Since lookers will peer in your kitchen cabinets and drawers, take everything out, pack away what you’re not using and neatly restack what’s left — but not before wiping the shelves and drawers clean.
Cabinet doors don’t need to be replaced or resurfaced, just cleaned, Findley says. Start with a wood cleaner to deep-clean the doors, then apply a wood restorer to replenish the finish.
Shampoo carpets and then vacuum daily. “Nothing screams clean like visible carpet pile lines,” according to The Maids.
Wood and tile floors should be mopped. Clean the grout too. If your linoleum floor no longer holds a shine, strip it with a janitorial-grade wax remover and redo with janitorial non-yellowing wax, which Findley says holds up longer than most store waxes. That way, if it takes longer than expected to sell, at least you won’t have to rewax.
In the bathroom, clean showers, sinks and tubs. Remove hard-water spots and soap scum by spraying them with undiluted, heated white vinegar. Let soak 15 minutes before scrubbing.
Alternatively, Findley suggests applying a concentrated orange-based cleaner full-strength. Give it at least an hour to dissolve soap residue. Then use a white scrub pad — only white; any other color will scratch the surface — to remove the buildup.
To get rid of water rings in the toilet bowl, drain the bowl and saturate several heavy-duty shop paper towels with orange cleaner or white vinegar. Plaster the sides of the bowl with the towels and let sit for several hours. For a quicker solution, try the stuff you use to clean tile grout.
Wash shower curtains and liners. Wash glass doors as you would showers and tubs above.
Hit mildew with straight hydrogen peroxide as opposed to bleach, the fumes of which can be overpowering in small spaces.
By Lew Sichelman
Posted by admin on May 1, 2012
The gig: Ed Kushins, 65, is the founder and president of HomeExchange.com, based in Hermosa Beach. It is one of the nation’s largest members-only home exchange businesses.
What is a home exchange? With 43,000 members, HomeExchange helps participants reach agreements to swap their homes for vacations or business trips. The deal provides each with a house or apartment, and it eliminates the need to pay for hotel rooms. Members pay about $120 per year for access to the company’s member database.
How does it work? A member in Southern California looking to visit Florida, for example, finds homes of Florida members and exchanges photos and emails, asking if any of the Florida homes are available on the desired dates. If two parties agree, they arrange the trade. HomeExchange facilitates the meeting but does not perform background checks or referee the transaction.
His background: Kushins worked as an airline marketing director until 1978, when he took over his father’s scrap-metal business in Los Angeles. He is married and has two children from a previous marriage.
An idea is born: In the early 1990s Kushins vacationed in Washington, D.C., with his children, staying at a home he found through a Europe-based home exchange program. “It was perfect,” he recalled. “Instead of staying at a little hotel room and coming back after a full day of sightseeing, we had a big house in Washington. We had seven days there. They had a swimming pool, and everyone had their own room and their own TV.” Impressed, he decided to launch his own home exchange business in the U.S.
Power of the Internet: Kushins founded the company in 1992 and mailed the last paper directory to members a few years later. “When the Internet started to become widely available and popular, it totally changed this from being a hobby to being a business because in one fell swoop it eliminated all my production costs,” he said. And instead of having to send letters to one another, members can use email to communicate instantly.
Hobby no more: What began as a hobby with about 125 members and a printed directory sent by mail has become a bustling enterprise. With five full-time workers and 42 contract workers, the business now operates around the globe, is offered in 15 languages and draws $5.5 million in annual revenue.
Not to worry: The exchange idea may sound scary at first, but it isn’t, Kushins said. “First of all, nobody ever does an exchange with a stranger,” he said. “The whole process serves to eliminate that fear and to make sure that you feel so totally comfortable with these people coming into your house and that you are going to have a comfortable experience in their house. By the time you do your exchange, it’s not even a factor.”
Insurance? Most potential problems should be addressed in discussions ahead of time. But if there is some damage in a home swap, HomeExchange officials say, most homeowners insurance policies typically cover such mishaps. Many policies treat HomeExchange members like any other invited guest, such as a messy, clumsy brother-in-law.
Hey, wasn’t this in a movie? The company benefited from the 2006 film “The Holiday,” starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, about two women who exchange homes and in the process meet the men of their dreams. Before filming began, producers called Kushins for permission to mention his company in the movie. He agreed.
“We really took advantage of the movie by capitalizing on a lot of PR that came subsequent to the movie,” he said. “The killer was 10 days after. The ‘Today’ show came to my house and did a five-minute interview with me about the home exchange business.” The movie was released in December 2006; HomeExchange’s membership jumped from 9,000 in 2006 to 14,000 in 2007.
The biggest disputes: The most common complaint among people who exchange homes is that other members did not leave their homes as neat and tidy as they found them. But Kushins said such problems are “so rare that it statistically doesn’t show up.”
The latest feature: HomeExchange recently added a “Gold” membership for those who want to exchange high-end, luxury properties such as ski-in villas, penthouse apartments or beach-side mansions. The membership fee is $500 per year, and the company has about 1,000 such members.
Who would want to stay in my tiny, cramped home? Members negotiate a home swap and decide what is a fair exchange. They can agree, for example, to trade three days in a tiny shack for one day in a mansion, Kushins said. “I’ve exchanged for a tiny loft in Greenwich Village for my relatively larger place in Hermosa Beach, and I’ve exchanged for a 10,000-square-foot home in Dublin.”
By: Hugo Martín
Posted by admin on
Who hasn’t dreamt of building their own house? Of finding that perfect little plot of land, coming up with a design and then seeing it through to completion.
It’s a powerful idea, and it might be part of the solution to Britain’s housing shortfall, which some estimates suggest will reach 750,000 homes by 2025.
Perhaps the answer is for house-hunters to take control of the situation themselves. A report by the National Self Build Association predicts a 141 per cent increase in the number of mortgages available for those building their own homes. Now the Government has backed a package of measures to help would-be home builders to get their grand designs off the ground.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” says the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps. “At any moment, two million people in Britain are investigating the idea of building their own houses. But too many of these projects are halted before they can get started.”
The product of a joint initiative between the Government and the self-build housing industry, a new interactive website, selfbuildportal.org.uk, contains information on everything from finance to double-glazing. A postcode calculator allows you to work out how much, on average, a self-build will cost in your area.
Pricing is a key point. Television property programmes often feature multi-million-pound fantasy homes, but Shapps is keen to stress that building your own place needn’t be for the wealthy few. “The average cost of a ready-made home is now more than £232,000, but a budget of £150,000 is usually adequate to build a three to four-bedroom house. Fourteen thousand self-build homes were constructed in the UK last year, just one in 10 new homes, a figure which lags behind the rest of Europe.”
Shapps’s aim is to double the size of the UK self-build sector. He has enlisted the support of some of the biggest names in British property, including the “Restoration Man”, George Clarke, the BBC architectural historian Dan Cruickshank and Kevin McCloud.
McCloud knows better than most about Britain’s self-build frustrations. As presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, he has spent more than 13 years helping people to realise their dreams, and to deal with the myriad frustrations they encounter.
“Often people think of self-build as long, difficult and self-sacrificing,” he says. “But with the right planning, help and support it can be an enjoyable process.”
As well as individual self-builders, the portal aims to encourage community projects, where a group takes charge of a local scheme. This means that self-builders can buy a “base unit”, a plot where the foundations are laid and utilities connected.
“What we’ve seen from Grand Designs is that 90 per cent of the hard work is breaking the surface: laying foundations, connecting to utilities, that sort of thing,” McCloud explains. “One solution might be for people to buy a base unit and then put their own designs on top of that. It’s good news for home builders, and also good for the landscape because people will have more architectural input.
“Self-build homes are often more ecologically sound, so it could also be beneficial for the environment.”
One of the controversies around the Government’s new legislation to free up planning laws has been the fear that the countryside will become swamped with low-quality homes.
Restoring ownership, by having a greater number building their own properties, could help ensure that new properties are both attractive and precisely suited to people’s needs.
“It would be great if we could become a nation of self-builders,” adds McCloud. “Like the Dutch, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Swedish – the list goes on – we have lagged behind so far, but there’s no reason why we can’t catch up.
“Self-build is a dream that can stay with you through your whole life.”
By: Ed Cumming