Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cleaning Rain Gutters

Clean gutters to protect your siding and landscape plantings, and prevent thousands of dollars of damage to your foundation.

In a downpour, a clogged roof gutter ( sends a cascade of water down the side of your house, making canyons of your flowerbeds and saturating your foundation. Clean gutters of leaves and debris to help prevent damage to your landscaping and siding, and to head off expensive repairs to your foundation that may cost $10,000 or more.

How often to clean gutters
Clean gutters at least once a year-twice a year if you have overhanging trees. Also, clean clogged gutters after big storms. Clogs often occur where downspouts join the gutter system-check these areas closely.

How to clean gutters

  • Wear a shirt with long sleeves. Wear rubber gloves.

  • Have a good extendible ladder available. Standoff stabilizers (ladder "horns") are ideal to keep the ladder from damaging the gutter.

  • Use a small plastic scoop to remove gunk ( Buy a gutter scoop from the hardware store ($25) or try a child's sand shovel.

  • Spare your lawn by dumping the stuff onto a plastic tarp.

  • After you've cleared the muck, flush the gutters and downspouts with a garden hose-also a great way to spot any leaks.

Cost of a professional gutter cleaning
If climbing ladders is not your cup of tea, you can hire someone to do the job for you for between $50 and $250, depending on the size and height of your house.

Gutter covers
Interested in an ounce of prevention? You can slow clogging ( by installing gutter covers in the form of mesh screens, clip-on grates, or porous foam. However, the cost can be more than the gutters themselves and covers need regular maintenance to keep them clear. Expect to pay $6 to $8 per running foot for gutter covers, installed.

Remodeler, Pat Curry is a former senior editor at BUILDER, the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

Article From

By: Carl Vogel

Published: August 05, 2010

Before you put your home up for sale,
use the right comparable sales
to find the perfect price.

How much can you sell your home for? Probably about as much as the neighbors got, as long as the neighbors sold their house in recent memory and their home was just like your home.

Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

What makes a good comparable sale?
Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision-and it closed escrow last week. If you can't find that, here are other factors that count:

Location: The closer to your house the better, but don't just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

Home type:
  • Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it's finished), finishes, and yard size.

  • Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

  • Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won't fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

  • Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers down-payment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights
Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors'. Evaluating those differences-like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office-is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS & reg;, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

More ways to pick a home listing price
If you're still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?
If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can't pay their mortgage can't afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they're divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

So you have to rely on your REALTOR's® knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

Carl Vogel, a freelance writer and former editor of The Neighborhood Works magazine, lives in a home in Chicago that is not typical of those nearby, so he appreciates a savvy comp.

February 2011 Market Statistics

(Click on pages to enlarge view)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Contractor Dispute? Local Licensing Authorities are On Your Side

Article From

By: Gwen Moran

Published: February 24, 2011

When a contractor dispute erupts, state and local licensing authorities have the muscle to get you satisfaction.

When you can't resolve a contractor dispute ( on your own, you can access a powerful local ally: Many contractors are subject to various licensing requirements, and you can call upon the regulating authorities for help. It may save you time, money, and the hassle of an expensive lawsuit.

What does it mean to be licensed?
This varies from one location to another and one profession to another. Plumbers ( and electricians ( typically have strict and near-universal licensing requirements. General home contractors may face fewer licensing requirements.

If a contractor has a license, however, you can usually assume he has:

  • A certain level of education or training.

  • A minimum level of experience.

  • Passed an examination.

  • Kept up with changes in code.

There is no absolute guarantee-licensed professionals of all stripes face charges all the time. But with a licensed professional, you're far more likely to have your project turn out well, and a better chance of redress ( if it doesn't.

Note also that licenses usually refer to professional competence, not general business practices. For example, a licensed plumber may be in violation of his license if he improperly installs a pipe so that it floods your kitchen.

However, if all he's guilty of is taking a month to install a new bathroom when he promised it would be done in two weeks, that's probably not a violation of his license. In that case, you may have recourse with a lawsuit ( or a bond (

Who supervises the contractors?
With those caveats in mind, if you do face a case of actual contractor incompetence, you may be able to hit them where it hurts by reporting them to whichever agency regulates them.

You need to check your area-state, county, or town-to discover who, if anyone, is regulating ( the guy working on your home. Check your local government website to see which work your town or county licenses.

Unfortunately, regulators can't fight every scam ( or help with every contractor dispute.

Regulation is a patchwork affair, with no federal standards:
  • Plumbers and electricians almost always need state or local licenses, so they're the easiest to confront at this level.

  • Other firms may require licenses for all their work, certain kinds of work, or none at all.

  • Sometimes independent professional organizations set standards, even though local authorities enforce them.

  • What can licensing authorities do?
  • A lot!

You can contact the state or local licensing agency, and if your claim has merit, you can have your contractor disciplined, says Kia Ricchi, a Florida licensed building contractor and author of Avoiding the Con in Construction. Remedies may include:
  • Fines, on top of refunds for poorly done work.

  • Suspension or revocation of a professional license.

  • Loss of membership in a professional organization.

In short, these agencies can temporarily or even permanently take away their right to work.

In addition, some states also have recovery funds available to home owners who have suffered monetary losses to a licensed contractor. Again, this varies by state, and the amount available may be limited.

Of course, you can't get help unless your contractor is licensed, so check at the above site before your sign a contract to make sure the firm you're considering has all the relevant state and local licenses.

Registration-it ain't a license
Before you rev yourself up to settle a contractor dispute (, however, know your terms: In some areas, firms have to register with a local authority, but this is different from licensing, says Carmen Amabile, a Michigan residential maintenance and alteration contractor, and author of How to Hire, Manage, and Fire Your Contractor.

Registration is usually little more than a list. Almost anyone can easily register by providing name and address to a local authority and paying a fee. You'll get little traction in reporting a firm that merely had to "register."

Gwen Moran is a freelance business and finance writer from the Jersey shore. She's the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans and writes frequently about real estate.