Winterizing Your Home

 

What a difference two weeks can make. When I wrote this column, our valley hadn’t burned, so let me begin by sending my condolences to all those who’ve lost so much.

For those of us in the fortunate position of still having a house that is standing, now is the time to prepare it for winter. These tips will keep the structure in good condition and its inhabitants safe and comfortable.

Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Alarms – Be sure to test your alarms each fall, and change the batteries before they wake you in the middle of the night, or worse, don’t wake you at all. Newer models have 10-year batteries that do not require changing, so you may opt to replace your alarms rather than just switching out the batteries this year.

Fire Extinguishers – If you have a fire extinguisher (and you should), make sure it is still pressurized (check that the little indicator points to green), and put it next to an exterior door (not in the garage behind several boxes).

Lint Trap – In your clothes dryer, you should remove the lint from the trap after every single load. Lint loves to catch fire. While you’re at it make sure the vent from the dryer to the outside is clear of lint as well.

Extension Cords – If you are foolish enough to have extension cords in traffic areas (like I do), consider moving them or make sure they are well secured. If the cords look damaged, replace them.

Railings, Walkways, and Steps – Secure railings and loose boards and fix tripping hazards.

Roof – A 30-year roof doesn’t mean you should ignore it for 30 years. Repair loose shingles and check flashing, eaves, and soffits. If your flashing needs new mastic (sealant), apply it.

Chimney – Before you fire up your fireplace, have a chimney sweep repair cracks and clean the flue.

Gutters, Downspouts and Drainage – Clear debris and be sure the splash block at the bottom of the gutter directs water away from your house. While you’re at it, confirm that the soil around your home directs water away from your house, too.

Outside Faucets – It only takes one freezing night to burst an uninsulated pipe. Adding insulation is cheap and easy, and it helps avoid a potentially expensive repair. This is also a good time to store hoses for the winter.

Windows and Doors – Add caulking and weather stripping as needed.

Redwood Decks – Re-stain decks and hammer any nails that need attention.

Shrubs and Trees – Cut back any shrubs that grow right next to the house. It’ll save the paint and prevent critters (two-legged and four-legged) from hiding where they shouldn’t. Trim trees up six-feet from the ground.

Leaks – After the first rain, walk around and check for signs of water, including inside closets and attics. While you’re in the attic, make sure you have ample insulation and that it’s in decent condition.

Tile, Tubs and Showers – Repair grout and caulking before problems get worse.

Refrigerator – Vacuum and clean the coils to keep your fridge from working harder than it needs to. Dust works as an insulator on the coils, making it harder to cool the air.

Heating/Air Conditioning – Replace the filter every few months, and if it’s been a few years since you last had the unit serviced, consider an inspection.

Water Heater – Flush your water heater and it will last longer. The particulates in water sink to the bottom of your tank, creating an insulation barrier and causing tanks to rust faster and work less efficiently.

It’s easy to put off routine maintenance, but if you take care of your house on a schedule, it typically saves time and money in the long run.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business in Ukiah for more than 40 years.

 

 

 

 

 

Dumb Reasons People Don’t Buy the House They Want

When you decide you’re in the market to buy a house, you can: 1. Do this the smart way, and maximize the likelihood that you’ll end up with a house you like and can afford; or 2. Do this the dumb way, and rush headlong into a complicated process without the support or information you need to be successful.

It always amazes me how many people opt for #2.

Most people don’t buy and sell houses very often, so it’s understandable that they don’t know much about the process, but if you’re going to make one of the biggest purchases of your life, it seems as though a little homework and some help from experts would be a good idea, right?

Mistake #1: Not Selecting a Realtor

The first mistake some people make is to try to save money by opting to go without a Realtor. A good Realtor can save you time and money. They walk you through the process, preparing your for each step so you have as few setbacks and surprises as possible. (Is it self-serving for me to say this? Yes. But is it true, anyway? Yes.)

Mistake #2: Not Getting Qualified for a Loan Up Front

The second mistake people make is to start looking at houses before they know what they can afford. This wastes time and can be very disheartening. It’s far better to schedule an appointment with a loan broker to get “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” for a loan. Pre-qualified consists of sitting down with your Realtor to figure out roughly how much income you have and how much debt you carry (car payments, insurance payments, tuition payments, etc.), as well as whether you have any savings for a down payment. Being pre-qualified is much better than not being pre-qualified, but it’s not as good as being pre-approved.

To become “pre-approved” is more involved, but it can dramatically increase the chances of getting the property you want. Pre-approval requires a thorough review of all your assets, liabilities, tax returns, W-2s, credit history, and any other relevant financial information to begin the process of applying for a loan. Basically, the only difference between being pre-approved and applying for a loan is that when you’re pre-approved, you haven’t found your property yet.

Getting pre-approved increases the chances of having your offer accepted, and it puts you ahead of your competition, if you have any.

Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Loan Broker

Working with an out-of-town or online loan broker can be a risky business. Real estate loans are complicated, so ask your Realtor for a referral so you know you have a loan broker you can trust, one who will walk you through the process—and look out for your interests.

Mistake #4: Putting in a Low-Ball Offer

In a seller’s market, sometimes it’s wise to put in a full-price offer. Sound crazy? It’s not. It’s fine to negotiate in a buyer’s market, but don’t lose your dream house because you thought you were supposed to play hardball.

Mistake #5: Messing Up Your Financing With a Big Purchase

Once you’re in escrow, don’t buy a car with $500-a-month lease payments (or make other, similarly expensive purchases), because big purchases can change whether you still qualify for your loan.

Mistake #6: Running Out of Cash

In addition to a down payment, you’ll need cash for several other expenses when you buy a house. You may have to pay a premium for private mortgage insurance, fund a lender’s escrow account, or pay upcoming property tax and insurance bills. Plan accordingly (your Realtor can help you with this).

Sometimes escrows fall through, but you can reduce the chances of a failed escrow by avoiding these unnecessary mistakes.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Time to Buy, Thanks to a Loosening of Loan Restrictions

If you’ve been waiting for home prices to fall before you jump into the market, you might have a long wait. It still costs less to buy a house than it does to build one, and with recent changes to rules covering many conventional loan programs, now could be a great time to embark on the adventure that is home ownership.

The two biggest government-sponsored buyers of residential real estate loans are the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), commonly known as Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC), known as Freddie Mac. As of July, they’ve loosened restrictions, making it easier for people to get home loans.

First, they decided to eliminate derogatory credit remarks on some credit reports, which will improve some people’s credit scores and help them qualify for a larger loan amount, or perhaps a lower interest rate. Second, they increased the debt-to-income ratio from 45 to 50 percent. If your combined monthly income is $6,000, the 45 percent debt-to-income ratio would only allow you to put $2,700/month toward monthly debt. Now, with that same income, you can put $3,000/month toward debt. Debt includes things like your mortgage payment, any car payments, revolving credit card debt, and student loans. If your situation allows you to put the additional $300/month toward a mortgage payment, that enables you to spend almost $60,000 more on a house at today’s rates, potentially moving you from a two-bedroom, one-bath house with a single-car carport to a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage.

This change is important because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own a huge percentage of mortgage loans, and influence even more. Banks underwrite to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards so they can sell to them.

So, if you want to buy a house, you may be able to get a larger loan with the same income. I understand that there are benefits to renting over buying—like having a landlord who is responsible for the structural repair and upkeep of your home, but there are many great perks to owning your own home as well.

First, real estate is one of the best long-term investments you can make. Although home prices may rise and fall in the short term, the trend during the last 40 years is clearly upward. Ask your parents what they spent on their first house and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Another benefit to owning over renting is that much of your new monthly housing cost is tax deductible. Interest rates remain near historic lows. In fact, in my 40 years in the real estate business, the lowest interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage I recall was 3 percent, and it was only that low for about a day. Today, rates range from about 4 to 4½ percent. Compare that to the peak interest rates in the 1980s, when they were above 14 percent, and you’ll understand why I’m so enthusiastic about today’s rates.

Finally, there are benefits to home ownership that you can’t put a price on. It feels empowering when you don’t need anyone’s permission to change the landscaping, replace the carpet, or paint your dining room lavender.

All in all, these changes from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow more buyers to qualify and at higher prices than they would have in the past. But remember, just because you can qualify for more, doesn’t mean you should. Review your personal finances and consider the fact that your mortgage payment won’t be your only house-related expense; you’ll need to budget for repairs and upkeep, too.

If your situation supports it, now could be the perfect time to venture into the world of home ownership.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

10 Inexpensive Improvements That Make Your Home More Valuable

When it comes time to sell your house, you want to get top dollar. With some simple, inexpensive updates, you can significantly improve how people perceive your home’s value.

  1. Wash Siding
    If your exterior paint is in good condition, washing the exterior can almost make it seem like you’ve just repainted your house. You can rent a commercial power washer to make the job quick and easy; but be careful, you can inadvertently blow a hole in the side of your house if you’re not careful.
  2. Paint Inside and Out
    If your paint is chipped or wearing out, go directly to the paint store (or in my case, call professional painters). A new coat of paint revitalizes a property, making it clean and bright.
  3. Update Landscaping
    While I love bright, pretty flowers, they are hard to maintain and rarely drought-resistant. I recommend low-maintenance, native plants that can stand up to our brutal summers and chilly winters.
  4. Replace Kitchen Cabinet Doors
    If your cabinets are in fine shape but outdated, consider replacing their doors. Old oak cabinets will last forever, but you may not want the style of those cabinets to remind potential buyers that your house was built 50 years ago. With updated glass-paneled doors, for example, they’ll just see your beautiful kitchen.
  5. Add a Hot Water Dispenser
    You can install an after-market hot water dispensers next to your kitchen faucet for instant tea, hot cocoa, or a head start when you put water on the stove to boil. This is an inexpensive luxury feature you can pick up at a hardware store for less than $300. Just don’t do what I did, and sweep your hands under that scalding water. It’s just shy of boiling hot.
  6. Replace Door Handles
    Choosing new door handles can add a little pizzazz as you enter each room. Just be sure not to put stainless steel levers in a Victorian-style home or old-fashioned class knobs in a contemporary home.
  7. Showcase a Unique Fixture or Piece of Furniture
    Before you go buy a new piece of furniture, remember: it’s best if you remove a third of your belongings before you put your house on the market. Your house will seem roomier when it’s not cluttered. Now, if you have a piece of furniture or an interesting fixture that will make your property memorable (in a good way), go ahead and bring it in.
    I have a table that belonged to my mother. It has a big oval marble top, and while it is a little more ornate than my other furnishings, I absolutely love it and it sets off the room perfectly. If you are a crafty do-it-yourselfer, you might be able to find a gem at a garage sale or thrift shop. Sometimes old pieces just need a little refinishing to become stunning works of art. If it were me, I’d head down to the Furniture Design Center in Ukiah. I’m not really the crafty type.
  8. New Window Treatments
    Replacing worn curtains or broken shades can really update the look of a house and give the impression that it’s newer than it is.
  9. Build a Window Seat
    Assuming you have space and the right location, a window seat can be an attractive addition, providing a charming little spot to read or enjoy a cup of coffee.
  10. Add Storage
    I don’t think you can ever have too much storage. Adding shelving and plastic storage bins in a garage or basement pulls unnecessary items out of closets, making the house seem spacious. You can also add an inexpensive shed, so people know they’ll have a place to store things when they move in.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business in Ukiah for more than 40 years.

Ukiah Will Finally Get Its Costco

I’ve been promising my children we’d do our Christmas shopping at Costco in Ukiah since about 2013, so when I tell them Costco plans to open in April, I can hardly blame them if they don’t rush to put it on their calendars. However, this time, it’s the real deal. Escrow is scheduled to close in September, and Costco plans to break ground shortly thereafter.

When a company like Costco decides to build a store in a new location, it’s generally the result of long hours of negotiation to determine who will pay for what. Costco needs infrastructure to support its new store, and local government needs to be sure the tax revenues and other benefits outweigh the costs.

Now that negotiations are done, we can expect construction to begin. While Costco works on building its store and gas station, local contractors will begin several infrastructure projects: reconstructing Airport Boulevard, adding a second left-hand turn lane from westbound Talmage Road onto Airport Boulevard, as well as creating a two-lane off-ramp from southbound Highway 101 at Talmage Road with censors connected to the traffic light at the Talmage and Airport intersection. They will also add a left-hand turn lane from Hastings Avenue on to State Street   and a traffic light at Hastings Avenue and Commerce Drive.

I don’t have a lot of details, but I am told Ghilotti Construction has been awarded a $4.6 million contract for much of the construction (not including the off ramp).

The half-cent sales tax recently approved by Ukiah voters via Measure Y will fund the rebuilding of Airport Boulevard. Additional funding will come from a gas tax and a capital improvement fund. Contributors to the capital improvement fund include businesses currently located in the Redwood Business Park (that’s the official name for the Airport Boulevard shopping area).

I know we still have people against Costco coming to town, but it’s here so let’s embrace the benefits, of which there are many. When Costco opens, it will provide a place with more goods at lower prices, and its presence will likely lead to lower prices on goods throughout our community (thanks to the laws of supply and demand). Gas prices should also drop. Lower prices make everyone’s paycheck go further. Most of the jobs at Costco will pay enough to allow their employees to afford Ukiah-area rents, and I expect many employees will be able to afford to buy homes.

People will not go to Santa Rosa to shop as often, saving gas and keeping more sales tax revenue here. Having a Costco in town will also reduce online shopping. Many locals say they would shop in Ukiah if they could find what they’re looking for. While Costco may not be a local mom-and-pop business, shopping there will certainly support the local employees who work there, and it will increase sales tax revenues to pay for things like public safety and other services many of us appreciate.

Ukiah’s 8.375 percent sales tax gets distributed to city, county and state governments. The city gets approximately 2 percent. The state gets approximately 5 percent, and the county gets the rest (including 0.125 percent for the library). Costco will also pay property taxes to the tune of about 1 percent of the finished value of the land and improvements.

Thanks to City Manager Sage Sangiacomo and City Councilmember Doug Crane for providing timely information about costs and revenue on this project. The city’s fiscal analysis for Costco conservatively estimates net annual sales tax revenue to the City of Ukiah will be about $800,000. The estimated assessed valuation for the Costco development is about $27,000,0000, so property tax revenue should be approximately $270,000 of which the city will get about $25,000. Most of the other $245,000 gets distributed to other local agencies. Overall, this is a good deal for Ukiah.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.