Tips for winterizing your home

With the temps cooling off a bit this weekend in the Chicagoland area, it made me realize that summer is officially over.  And fall (or winter, I’m sure) is headed in.  We might be turning on the heat sooner than we think.  And with that, it’s important to go over some tips to save you money this winter and prevent any major problems from happening.

1. Check your furnace filter.  Your furnace has to work a lot harder to produce heat (costing you more money) if you have a clogged or dirty filter.  A new filter will cost you nothing compared to the money you’d be spending on your heating bill.  And go to the store and replace it yourself.  You’ll save even more than having a handyman do it.  A good estimation is to check it monthly.  If your furnace hasn’t been cleaned in a while, it’s best to contact an HVAC technician to look things over prior to it being used.

2. I know we’re not even close to being done with leaves falling.  And if your trees are higher than your roof, you can guarantee that those leaves end up in your gutters.  Make sure to clean the gutters out to prevent water from building up and freezing.  If it’s frozen in your gutters, it can end up dripping and leaking into the house.

3. Check the caulking around windows and doors to keep cold air out.  You might also want to buy one of those do-it-yourself plastic sheeting kits to add an extra barrier of protection from the cold air.  Those cover windows and glass doors.  You can even use them on window wells in the basement.

4. Invest in a programmable thermostat.  Even if you’re not home, you’ll want to keep the heat on at least 65 degrees.  This will prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting.  The programmable thermostat can save a lot of money by setting it in advance to turn down when you’re gone and back up right before you get home.

5. If you have a fireplace, make sure to close the damper when you’re not using it.  If the damper doesn’t close well, you can put some insulation in to close it off.  But please remember to remove it before starting a fire!

All these tips should help keep you warmer, save you money, and even save some energy.  More great tips can be found here and here. You can also visit me online.

The recession is over? Try again.

I’m sure a lot of you have either received information or heard that a group of economists determined that the recession actually ended over a year ago, in June 2009.  I received a CNN Breaking News report in my e-mail, opened it up, read it, and my jaw dropped.  I’m thinking, “Are you kidding?”  If that’s the case, why is unemployment rates still on the rise, foreclosure signs up everywhere, and people struggling to make ends meet?

So after the reports that the recession was over (ha!), even stocks jumped up.  The Dow closed up 122 points yesterday.  Anybody else notice short sale and foreclosure signs popping up everywhere in neighborhoods?  Me, too.  People are abandoning ship because of an inability to cover monthly expenses, whether related to a job loss, debt to cover basic living expenses, or other reasons.  I know one family that’s unsure of what to do because they applied for a loan modification with their lender, were denied, and now owe $8000 plus in unpaid principal to be current on their loan.

Dan North, chief U.S. economist with Euler Hermes, a leading credit insurer in Owings Mills, Md., said, “The economy and housing market may have bottomed out but that doesn’t mean things are good.  Foreclosures and underwater mortgages are still a big problem because of the absence of meaningful price appreciation.”

Home values are still way down compared to a few years ago.  Inventory is up, with a lot of it being bank-owned homes with decreased values, thereby pushing the rest of the home values down.  And in an almost Catch 22, why is inventory up?  Because banks are reluctant to loan money to borrowers unless they have a high down payment and excellent credit scores.  Just because you qualified for a loan 2 years ago doesn’t mean you will in today’s market.  And even if you have the money and the credit score to go with it, if you’re focused on other debts to tackle, do you want to take on a huge additional expense like a house?

I just picture a lot of unhappy people throwing things at the TV when they heard this news.  They’re thinking the same thing I was.  “Are you kidding?  I’m still unemployed with thousands upon thousands in debt about to lose my house and you think the recession is over?”  And not JUST over.  Over a year ago over.

I think Americans could use some positive news.  Some good news: mortgage interest rates are down.  The amount of home sales went up in July.  (We’ll hear how August fared later this week.)  However, I think we still have a while to go before the majority of people believe the recession’s over, especially in the housing market.

What do you think?  Am I totally off base?  Leave me a comment or visit me online.

When to get the best deal on everything

If you’re anything like me, you’re trying to figure out any way to save a penny.  With the market being the way it is, unemployment on the rise, and plunging housing prices, you want to get the best deal.  Whether you need a new appliance or are looking for cheap ways to brighten up your landscaping, here’s a quick guide for finding the best deal on what you need for your home.

Fall is actually the best time to purchase shrubbery, trees, and other yard items that are meant for the summer season.  Stores want to get rid of their extra inventory and make room for what’s needed for winter.  You can also find great deals on lawnmowers, sprinklers, grills, weed trimmers, and patio furniture.  March and April are other great months to shop for lawnmowers.

If you’re looking to replace a broken appliance, such as a dishwasher or washing machine, you’re at exactly the right time.  September and October is typically when the new models come out, so it’s a great time to find deals on last year’s selection at remarkable prices.  If you can’t afford it right now, be sure to watch the circulars for other great sales around the holidays, especially 4th of July, Memorial Day.  Those are great weekends to save some money.

Linens, towels, and sheets can be gotten for the cheapest prices in January.  That’s when most stores offer their “white sales.”

Right before the holidays, most people decide is when they want to do a vast amount of home improvement.  So right after the holiday season is when stores lower prices on carpet and flooring, like hardwood and ceramic tile.  So wait until January to do any shopping for flooring.

Just like appliances, furniture stores tend to have their biggest sales around the holidays, 4th of July, Memorial Day, even Mother’s and Father’s Day.  Other stores do it twice a year, in January and July, since new furniture is entering their inventory in February and August.

If you need power tools, you’ll notice that the biggest sales are during Father’s Day and Christmas.  They figure that is when gift giving for men is at its highest.  Check the circulars to find the best deal.  And don’t just rely on Home Depot.  Be sure to look at stores like Sears, too.

More information on other household items and when it’s best to grocery shop, use energy, and get gas can be found here, here, and here. Be sure to visit me online for any real estate needs or questions.

Can you handle being a FSBO?

Everyone is trying to save money.  You’ve probably seen a lot of people offering their homes For Sale by Owner to avoid paying a Realtor’s commission.  While this tactic works for some, it doesn’t work for everyone.  The spokesperson for ForSalebyOwner.com even had this to say, “It’s more work to sell your home without a broker.”   AOL Real Estate posted a great article on questions to ask yourself before you attempt to sell FSBO. Before attempting this, you need to be able to answer yes. I wanted to go over some of the main ones.

1.  Can you price it competitively?  People will skip right past a showing of your home if the house is priced too high.  Even if you spent thousands of dollars renovating over the past couple years, it’s hard to recoup that in this market.  Make sure you’re priced competitively based on other comparable sales in the area with similar features to your home.  You might need to have a Realtor pull information for you from the Multiple Listing Service.

2. Can you market it?  How are you advertising your home?  Besides the red and white sign in the front yard, how will people know it’s for sale?  More than 90% of buyers search for their home on the Internet.  You need a licensed Realtor to have it listed in the Multiple Listing Service and Realtor.com.  So make sure your home is getting the exposure it needs for people to contact you.  You need to be comfortable getting out there and spreading the word.  It’s like being your home’s own salesperson.

3. Can you be available?  If you’re gone all day at work and aren’t available to handle showings very often, going FSBO is probably not the best solution.  Many buyers still view homes during the day.  You won’t want to throw on a lockbox and give out the combination to complete strangers.  When Realtors do this, they verify the agent is licensed prior to providing that information.  You’ll want to be there to let all potential buyers in.  If this doesn’t work for your schedule, definitely consider hiring a Realtor.

4. Can you negotiate the forms?  A real estate lawyer can definitely (and should) help you with this.  You’ll also want to learn about how the process works beforehand, especially if you’ve never sold a home before.  You need to know about the different contingency periods, home inspections, and how long a buyer has to secure financing.  Before signing anything, consult with an attorney.

These questions should help you determine whether you’re capable of handling this on your own.  If you have any questions on the process or need to speak to someone, please visit me online.