All posts in Homeowners

The gutters and downspouts on your home are intended to channel rainwater away from your home and its foundation.  When they’re blocked and not functioning properly they can lead to the gutters coming loose, wood rot and mildew, staining of painted surfaces, and even worse, foundation issues or water penetration into the interior of the home.

Most experts recommend cleaning the gutters at least once a year.  More often might be necessary depending on the proximity of leaves and other debris that could collect.

If this is a task that you feel comfortable about tackling yourself, there are few things to consider.  If the debris is dry, it will be easier to clean the gutters.  Safety is important, and precautions should be taken such as using a sturdy ladder and possibly, having someone hold it while you’re on the ladder.

Other useful tools will be a five-gallon plastic bucket to hook on the ladder to hold the debris; work gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges of the gutters; a trowel or scoop and a garden hose with a nozzle.

?         Start by placing the ladder near a downspout for the section of gutter to be cleaned.

?         Remove large debris and put it into the empty bucket. Work away from the downspout toward the other end.

?         When you’re at the end of the gutter, using the water hose and nozzle, spray out the gutter so it will drain to the downspout.

?         If the water doesn’t drain easily, the downspout could be blocked.  Accessing the spout from the bottom with either the hose with nozzle or a plumber’s snake, try to dislodge the blockage.

?         Reattach or tighten any pieces that were removed or loosened while working on the downspout.

?         Flush the gutters a final time, working from the opposite end, as before, toward the downspout.

There are specialized tools at the home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot that can make this job easier.  Check out their websites and search for “gutter cleaning”.

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Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010 in response to the mortgage crisis that led to America’s Great Recession.  The two parts that apply closely to homebuyers are the Ability-to-Repay (ATR) and Qualified Mortgages (QM).

A Qualified Mortgage is a category of loans that have certain, more stable features that help make it more likely that borrowers will be able to afford their loan.  These loans do not allow certain risky features like an interest-only period when no money is applied to reduce the principal; negative amortization that would allow the mortgage balance to increase; and, “balloon payments” at the end of the loan that are larger than the normal periodic payments.

A debt-to-income ratio of less than or equal to 43% has been established to provide a limit on how much of a borrower’s income can go toward total debt including the mortgage and all other monthly debt payments.  However, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau believes these loans should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and in some cases, can exceed 43%.

There is a limit for up-front points and fees the lender can charge.

By showing that the lender made an effort to be certain that the borrower has the ability to repay the loan, the lender in turn, receives certain legal protections.  Underwriting factors considered by the lender include:

  1. current or reasonably expected income or assets
  2. current employment status
  3. the monthly payment on the covered transaction
  4. the monthly payment on any simultaneous loan
  5. the monthly payment for mortgage-related obligations
  6. current debt obligations, alimony, and child support
  7. the monthly debt-to-income ratio or residual income
  8. credit history

For more information, see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fact sheet … protecting consumers from irresponsible mortgage lending.

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No one wants to waste water or money.  For that reason, take a few minutes every other month to do the following inspections:

  1. Check to see if cutoff valves on sinks and toilets are working properly.

    Many times, builders will put individual cutoffs on supply lines to sinks and toilets.  It is reasonable to expect them to work but after some time, they can corrode which prevents opening and closing.  It is a good idea to test them occasionally before you need them in an emergency.

  2.  Fill each sink with a few inches of water to see if they drain in what you feel is a normal time.

    A slow-draining sink can be an indication of a clog that builds up around the insides of the pipe.  Common causes are food, grease, hair and soap scum.  Plunging can take care of some slow-running sinks.  After partially filling the sink with water, seal the plunger over the drain and pump it up and down a few times.

  3.   Inspect each toilet to see if they are leaking water from the tank into the bowl.

    Toilets that continue to run after being flushed can use a large amount of water in a month’s time.  Generally, the problem comes from a flapper that doesn’t seat properly.  Sometimes, the chain is keeping it from closing properly or the flapper itself may need to be replaced.

    Another issue could be that the flush valve needs to be replaced.  These can be purchased at Lowe’s or Home Depot for about $20.00 and are relatively easy to change out.  There are lots of instructional videos on the internet and it can save money if you give it a try.

 

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There is much more than a lower rate and payment to determine whether to refinance a mortgage.  Lenders try to make refinancing as attractive as possible by rolling the closing costs into the new mortgage so there isn’t any out of pocket cash required.

The closing costs associated with a new loan could add several thousand dollars to your mortgage balance.  The following suggestions may help you to reduce the expense to refinance.

·         Tell the lender up-front that you want to have the loan quoted with minimal closing costs.

·         Check with your existing lender to see if the rate and closing costs might be cheaper.

·         Shop around with other lenders and compare rate and closing costs.

·         If you’re refinancing an FHA or VA loan, consider the streamline refinance.

·         Credit unions may have lower closing costs because they are generally loaning deposits and their cost of funds is less.

·         Reducing the loan-to-value so mortgage insurance is not required will reduce expenses and lower the payment.

·         Ask if the lender can use an AVM, automated valuation model, instead of an appraisal.

·         You may not need a new survey if no changes have been made.

·         There may be a discount on the mortgagee’s title policy available on a refinance.

·         Points on refinancing, unlike a purchase, are ratably deductible over the life of the loan ($3,000 in points on a 30-year loan would result in a $100 tax deduction each year.)

·         Consider a 15-year loan.  If you can afford the higher payments, you can expect a lower interest rate than a 30-year loan and obviously, it will build equity faster and pay off in half the time.

A lender must provide you a list of the fees involved with making the loan within 3 days of making a loan application in the form of a Loan Estimate and a Closing Disclosure Form.  Every dollar counts, and they belong to you.

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It’s understandable; you’re excited; you’ve found the right home, negotiated a contract, made a loan application and inspections.  Closing is not that far away, and you are making plans to move and put personal touches on your new home.

Even if you have an initial approval on your mortgage, little things can derail the process which isn’t over until the papers are signed at settlement and funds distributed to the seller.  The verifications are usually done again just prior to the closing to determine if there have been any material changes to the borrower’s credit or income that might disqualify them.

Most lending and real estate professionals recommend NOT to:

  • Make any new major purchases that could affect your debt-to-income ratio
  • Buy things for your new home until after you close
  • Apply, co-sign or add any new credit
  • Close or consolidate credit card accounts without advice from your lender
  • Quit your job or change jobs
  • Change banks
  • Talk to the seller without your agent

Your real estate professional and lender are working together to get you into your new home.  It’s understandable to be excited and feel you need to be getting ready for the move.

Planning is fine but don’t do anything that would affect your credit or income while you’re waiting to sign the final papers at settlement.

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If it’s not broken, why would a homeowner consider replacing something as expensive as a toilet when there may be other things in the home to replace that provide more aesthetic appeal. Don’t be too quick to ignore the functionality and the reliability of this basic convenience.

The first rationalization might take place at the economic level. A water-saving model could easily pay for itself in a few years and then, there is the good feeling of participating in the conservation of our natural resources.

Having to plunge a toilet more than once a week could motivate a homeowner to spend money on a replacement especially, if having made repairs to the flapper and fill valve didn’t solve the issue.

Maybe your existing toilet has ugly scratches that make it difficult to clean. Maybe there are cracks in the tank or bowl that you’re concerned will develop into a leak at the worst possible time.

The average cost to replace a toilet is around $400 with models ranging more and less based on the features and brands. Round toilet bowls tend to take up less room, are less expensive and better suited for children. Elongated bowls generally take more room, have more powerful flushing action, more comfortable, more stylish and cost more.

Replacing the shut-off valve for the toilet could be a good thing to do while you’re replacing the toilet. Generally, it is as old as the toilet and having a reliable valve that works could be very convenient in a future repair or emergency.

There are a variety of videos on YouTube that could give you the confidence to do it yourself or simply, to have a better understanding of the scope of the project

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Along with all the planning of what you’re going to do and where you’re going to stay, consider this checklist to make you feel more comfortable while you’re away from home. 

  • Ask a trusted friend to pick up your mail, newspaper and keep yard picked up to avoid an appearance of not being at home.
  • Stop your mail (USPS Hold Mail Service) and your newspaper.
  • Don’t post about your trip on Facebook and other social media until you return; some burglars look for this type of announcement to schedule their activities.
  • Do notify police or neighborhood watch – especially if you’re going to be gone for more than just a few days. Let your monitoring service know when you’ll be gone and if someone will be checking on your home for you.
  • Light timers make it look like someone is home. Set multiple timers for various times to better simulate someone at home. There are plug-in modules for lights and appliances that would allow you to control them from your phone while your out of town.
  • Do unplug certain appliances – TV, computers, toaster ovens that use electricity even when they’re off and to protect them from power surges.
  • Don’t hide a key; burglars know exactly where to look for your key and it only takes them a moment to check under the mat, above the door, in the flower pot or in a fake rock.

These easy-to-handle suggestions may protect your belongings while you’re gone while adding a level of serenity to your trip.

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Acquisition Debt is the amount of money borrowed used to buy, build or improve a principal residence or second home. Under the new tax law, mortgages taken after 12/14/17 are limited to a combination of $750,000 on the first and second homes. The mortgage interest on this debt is tax deductible when itemizing deductions.

It is a dynamic number that is reduced with each payment as the unpaid balance goes down. The only way to increase acquisition debt is to borrow money to make capital improvements.

Prior to the new law, homeowners could additionally borrow up to $100,000 of home equity debt for any purpose and deduct the interest when itemizing deductions. Mortgage interest on home equity debt is no longer deductible unless it is for capital improvements.

Acquisition debt cannot be increased by refinancing. Some confusion occurs because mortgage lenders are concerned in making home loans that will be repaid according the terms of the note and using the home as collateral. That does not include making a tax-deductible mortgage.

Another thing that adds confusion to the issue is that the lenders will annually report how much interest was paid in a year but only the amount that is attributable to acquisition debt is deductible.

Even if the interest on the cash-out refinance is not deductible, it may be advantageous to pay off higher interest debt such as credit card debt and replacing it with lower mortgage debt.

It is the responsibility of the taxpayer to know what part of their mortgage debt is deductible. The challenge becomes more difficult after a cash-out refinance. Homeowners should keep records of all financing and capital improvements and consult with their tax professional.

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It’s common for Sellers to consider offering a home warranty or protection plan to make their home more marketable. A growing number of homeowners are now purchasing this type of protection for themselves to limit the unexpected expenses of repairs and replacements. 

A home protection plan is a renewable service contract that covers the repair or replacement of many of the components in a home. Some homeowners especially like the convenience that it organizes a qualified service provider as well as the cost of the repairs or replacements.

There are a variety of companies that offer home warranties and the coverage may differ but the majority of things will include heating, air conditioning, most built-in and some free-standing appliances, as well as other specific items. Additional specific coverage may be available for other items like pool and spa equipment.

Some investors are even placing this coverage on their rental properties to limit the amount of repairs during the year. It is a viable way to manage the financial risk and the stress dealing with unexpected expenses.

Call me at (320) 762-7106 if you’d like a recommendation of available programs.

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A home that isn’t being maintained like others in the neighborhood can negatively affect your visual sense of appeal and in some extreme cases, even affect property values. It might be an overgrown yard, a fence in need of repair, excessive noise, unruly pets, paint peeling on the home or even a car or boat parked in front of the home that hasn’t moved in weeks.

Most people want to be good neighbors and may be willing to correct an issue once it is brought to their attention. A practical but possibly, confrontational solution is to contact the responsible person and describe your perception of the issue. However, they may not always agree with the same urgency and it might be necessary to seek other remedies.

An owner-occupant may be more sympathetic to the neighbors and willing to correct the issue. If you think the home might a rental property, check with the county tax records to identify the owner. They may be unaware of the situation and welcome the notification to protect their investment.

Another alternative might be to notify the homeowner’s association, if there is one. One of the benefits of a HOA is to enforce community appearance standards as set in the covenants or bylaws that specify how properties must be maintained. This could be a less personal method of reaching a beneficial outcome.

If the source of the problem is a code or housing violation, the city may be the ultimate authority. Most cities have a separate code and neighborhood services division and some cities have 311 for non-emergency assistance.

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