Springtime Maintenance

As April showers make way for May flowers, it’s time to start tackling annual upkeep to keep your home in prime condition.

You can start by grabbing a pad and pencil, and walking around your house to note all the miscellaneous maintenance needed in the coming months: the board in your deck that’s begun to lift out of place (the toe-stubber), gutters that need cleaning, debris on the roof that needs removing, a tree with roots encroaching on your home’s foundation, and anything else that grabs your attention.

Sadly, I just had to remove an oak tree that was growing up through my deck. The tree died, so it was a fire hazard, a visual blight, and its branches could’ve dropped on unsuspecting family members at any time. While it can be expensive to take care of some maintenance, the cost of not doing so can be far more costly.

As you walk around, be sure to check the eaves for birds’ nests or hornets’ nests. To eliminate hornets’ nests, there’s a nifty product on the market with a directional nozzle that allows you to spray a nest from 20 feet away—giving you an excellent head start before a swarm of angry buzzing comes your way.

If you have a wood-burning stove, spring is the perfect time to buy wood. Buying it now gives the wood all summer to dry out, and plenty of time for your teenagers to stack it. Do not stack the wood against the house—that’s a recipe for a termite or powder post beetle disaster.

Many of us don’t think about termites or other pests after we purchase our homes unless we see clear evidence of their work. However, pests do a lot of damage before you know they’re there. Each spring, you should put on your overalls and grubby shoes and crawl under your house to look for anything out of the ordinary—moisture, a loose or broken heating/air conditioning duct, and any evidence of pests.

I once had to crawl under a house to re-route a dryer vent. The space was so tight I had to slide on my back, pulling myself along using the joists. As I pulled myself deep into the space, I came nose-to-nose with a black widow nest teeming with baby spiders. It’s amazing how quickly you can move in a tight space with proper motivation. Hopefully your crawl space experience will be less exciting than mine.

As you inspect your crawl space, pay special attention to moisture, either standing water or damp earth, because hot weather will cause that moisture to evaporate and condense on the subfloor, which can lead to dry rot and termite infestations, according to Matt Miller of Mendo-Lake Termite. If you find termite mud tubes (Google this if you don’t know what they look like), black widow spiders, or other unwelcome creepy crawlies, my advice is to call Matt Miller immediately.

The solution to moisture under the house is almost always more ventilation. It may not solve the problem completely, but it will help. Matt says, “I’ve never seen a house with too much ventilation in the crawl space.” Just make sure you cover the vents with screens to keep out the unfriendlies: raccoons, squirrels, skunks, and the neighbor’s cat.

Once your crawl space under the house has been attended to, head up to the attic to make sure nothing is amiss there—no leaks causing fungus or dry rot, and no critters. If you don’t have an attic fan, consider getting one. In Ukiah, attics can get up to 160 degrees, taking years off the life of your roof and wasting electricity because your air conditioner is working harder than it has to.

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.

 

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst — Prevent Wildfire Damage

With summer right around the corner, now is a good time to prepare your property for the threat of wildfires. Most fires start small. If you are ready, you may be able to stop a fire from spreading. Be sure you know where the closest fire hydrant is, as well as your garden hoses and hose bibs. If you have a well that produces at least two gallons per minute, consider filling a 2000-gallon storage tank so it’s ready if you need it.

Clear flammable brush 100 feet from your home and trim trees 10 feet off the ground. Make sure tree limbs do not hang over your roof and clear any debris off your roof. If you have aboveground utilities in your neighborhood, keep an eye on electrical lines that go through trees—make sure there’s plenty of clearance. A good tip from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department is to locate woodpiles and other fuel sources at least 30 feet from all structures and maintain a 10-foot clear area around them.

Unfortunately, even with all this preparation, your home can go up in flames. Just ask the families who returned to find ash where their houses used to be in Lake County in recent years. For insurance purposes, you should create a photo or video log of all your possessions. While tedious, it’ll be time well spent if you need an insurance company to pay a claim.

It’s important to know what your homeowners insurance covers, especially in light of a new clause included in some policies, called the brush warranty. The brush warranty says your insurance company won’t cover your home for wildfire damage if your home is within 100 or 200 feet (depending on policy) of brush vegetation, even if the brush is on someone else’s property. With the Valley Fire in 2015 and the Clayton Fire in 2016, insurance companies are doing their best to reduce the risk of huge payouts. If your policy is up for renewal, be sure to read the whole thing before signing it. As I’ve said before, “The big print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

Most renters hear the term “homeowners insurance” and assume it isn’t for them. They’re wrong. While they may not own the structure they’re living in, they have a home where everything except the structure can be covered by a homeowners policy. Much to some people’s surprise, homeowners insurance can cover everything from fire damage to the mailman slipping on your driveway.

When it comes time to buy insurance, I strongly urge you to go with a local agent who can walk you through the various options. When you buy an online policy, no one explains the details. The “deal” you think you’re getting may include a 200-foot brush warranty, for example. As I said, insurance companies are taking a hard look at rural Northern California. Certain areas in Mendocino County have “brush hazard scores” above 80 (on a 100-point scale). Anyone with property with a score in the mid-80s or higher is going to have a hard time finding affordable insurance.

While homeowners insurance is helpful after a disaster, it’s best to be prepared, because some items cannot be replaced. In addition to food, water, and medications for you and your pets, you’ll need clothing and, depending on the situation, you may need your own shelter for a while. You may also need fuel for your vehicle.

If you have time to pack more than the essentials, I recommend grabbing the irreplaceables: photo albums, family heirlooms and keepsakes, important documents, and if you can, your computer. For more information about disaster preparedness, go to www.ready.gov.  They have a wildfire safety toolkit, as well as many other resources.

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.

 

All Properties are Sold “As-Is” Unless You’re Paying Attention – Part II

As I said last week, when you buy a property in California, you’re buying it “as-is” unless you negotiate an agreement pertaining to a specific item. Without that special agreement, you’re accepting the property in its current condition.

This is why it’s worth investing in several inspections. Once you’ve had the inspections pertaining to structures, land, and features (reviewed in last week’s column), it’s time to get the inspections pertaining to ownership, property definition, and natural hazards.

Title insurance takes care of ownership and property definition issues. Without title insurance, you cannot be sure that your claim on the property has priority over someone else’s. With title insurance you’re really paying for the research—which is why I’m including it with other inspections. With most insurance, your premium is based problems happening in the future. With title insurance, you’re paying to see if a problem has already occurred.

In addition, title insurance provides a legal definition of the property, including its shape and location. I know this sounds crazy, but people have actually purchased the wrong property before. I know a contractor who built a house to sell on the lot he thought was his. Sadly, it wasn’t. (Surveys aren’t included with the title insurance, so if you want precise location measurements, talk to your Realtor about hiring a surveyor.)

Long story short, you definitely want title insurance so you can be sure of what you’re buying, and so you don’t buy a property only to discover there are back taxes or recorded liens which weren’t paid; or worse yet, that the deed you were given was not signed by the true owner of the property and therefore worthless to you.

Moving on to natural hazard disclosures (NHDs), the inspection for NHDs includes a review of public records to see whether your property is in a flood zone, on an earthquake fault line, near an old dump site, or any number of other hazards. Depending on the findings and your intended use of the property, you may decide to do an environmental inspection.

A Phase I environmental inspection is a public records search for suspected contamination: did there used to be a gas station at this location? A Phase II environmental inspection is an on-site inspection to see whether any concerns from Phase I appear grounded in fact. A Phase III environmental inspection basically requires the world to come to a screeching halt. You dig big holes to remove toxic material. It’s called “remediation.” It’s not fun, it’s not cheap, and it’s not quick, but hopefully it will make the property usable.

As important as inspections are, they are no replacement for walking the property yourself. And, regardless of what the inspections uncover, the seller and Realtors involved in the transaction must disclose anything they know (or should reasonably be expected to know) about the property.

Any inspection is limited to what can be seen without destructive testing. In other words, if an inspector has to cut a hole in the wall to see a problem, that problem won’t be included in the findings.

Remember, it’s always better to check things before you close escrow, when fixing the problem may be a joint effort of the buyer and seller, rather than afterwards when the responsibility is yours alone.

As an aside, property boundaries are based on surveyors’ monument points. In Mendocino County, we use the Mt. Diablo base meridian to the south and a landmark in Humboldt County to the north. Surveyors have put “pins” in the ground between those two landmarks to precisely identify distances from those landmarks so people can more easily determine boundary lines. This works well unless someone makes a mistake, which they did years ago. A surveyor’s point near Boonville Road has caused many of those properties to be misidentified by about three feet.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. 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.

 

All Properties are Sold “As-Is” Unless You’re Paying Attention

When you buy a property in California, you’re buying it “as-is” unless you negotiate a different agreement pertaining to a specific item with the seller. Without that special agreement, you’re accepting the property in its current condition.

This is not to suggest that sellers can announce they are selling their property as-is, and then skip required disclosures. Regardless of whether they intend to address problems with the property, sellers are legally obligated to share known material facts and defects with buyers.

However, to protect yourself as a buyer, it is imperative to get as many inspections as you can. First and foremost, you’ll want to inspect the structure. The first inspection is often the pest and fungus inspection, which discloses any problems related to dry rot, termites, powder post beetles, earth-to-wood contact, or other issues related to pests and fungus. It is an inspection of all that’s visible, so any problems that exist inside the walls or under the tile in the subfloor will not be identified.

The next inspection is often the home inspection, which reveals structural issues resulting from substandard workmanship or deferred maintenance, as well as any safety hazards, including faulty electrical connections caused by an inexperienced electrician or old technology/building standards. A roof inspection is sometimes included as part of the home inspection, but not usually—and it’s really important, as is the heating and air conditioning inspection. The inspection that evaluates the condition of heating and air conditioning equipment can save your life. If a heater has a cracked heat exchanger, for example, it can pump deadly carbon monoxide into your house.

The last thing to consider with respect to the structure is whether it is standing on solid ground. When a house is located near a cliff, most people can see it’s worth an inspection to make sure the land won’t slide out from under the house. However, when a structure is sitting on a flat lot, problems can still arise.

In years past, building requirements for testing soil were quite different. Depending on the type of soil (and what’s buried in it), the weight of a house can cause the earth to compress, leading to cracks in a house’s foundation. If you’re considering a property on a hillside, hire an engineer to inspect the integrity of the land. If you’re interested in buying a house on a flat lot, you probably don’t need to hire an engineer unless you see red flags like damage to a foundation, floors, or walls—specifically, cracks that seem to indicate the house is settling more than it should. As with all inspections, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Sure, inspections can be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as purchasing a property that slides down a hill or becomes an unstable mess.

In addition to structural inspections, you’ll want to evaluate specific functions like a pool, well, or septic system. Some problems are obvious; others are not. A pool inspection will not only note the crack in the bottom of the pool, but also the condition of the pumps, filters, heater, and piping. Well and septic system inspections are important because they can identify problems that the current use may not have triggered. A well or septic system may work beautifully for a retired couple, but when you and your spouse and your four kids and your in-laws move in, the well and/or septic system may not be equipped to handle the volume. Be sure to test the well for both quantity and quality of water.

Next week, I’ll review inspections done for natural hazard disclosures and title insurance, so you’re sure you are, in fact, buying the property you intend to buy—and no one else can lay claim to that property.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. 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.