Tag Archives: home improvement

Appraisals 101: What’s in an Appraisal

An appraisal is a dense multi-paged, document; usually on a form acceptable to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae (their endorsement(s) are on the bottom of the page.) The appraisal is around 13 legal size pages, but the last five pages are boilerplate in which the appraiser certifies his methods, and outlines the limiting conditions of the appraisal. Only the first two pages of an appraisal contain really relevant information although subsequent pages have pictures and maps that augment the text.

The first section of the appraisal identifies the “Subject” both actually and legally: street address, lot or plot, section, subdivision, type (Fee Simple, condo, PUD), and other identifying information such as census tract, and map reference. The appraiser also gives the most recent property tax amount and any special assessments levied by the town or the parish. If a purchase rather than a refinance is involved, there are also a few details of the pending sale.

Section two describes the neighborhood, its boundaries, and general amenities and does the same for the municipality or parish. This is a free-style description and the appraiser may note local economic factors such as major employers, describe the climate, or local attractions such as beaches, state parks, or recreation opportunities. Appraisers probably recycle this prose every time they produce a report in a given area.

Section four contains a description of the site – lot size, topography, shape, landscaping, availability of utilities and amenities such as street lights, paved streets, sidewalks, whether the property is located in a flood zone, and any apparent easements. An appraiser should not be expected to examine the title for easements – he is only reporting on apparent ones such as indicated by light poles or telephone equipment on the property, nor should an appraisal be relied on for flood zone status.

Next are home improvements – that is the house itself. The subject house in our example is described as a 1 unit, 1 story, detached single-family ranch, 38 years old with an effective age of (i.e. has been maintained so as to appear) 20 years old. The house has a slab foundation, brick and vinyl exterior, a composite shingle roof, no basement. The appraiser noted no dampness, unusual settlement, or pest infestation. The form is set up so as to list the rooms and the total square footage on each level of a house – basement, level 1, and level 2, etc. Since this is a one story home, the appraiser noted a living and dining room, three bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen, a total of 1845 sq. ft on level 1. Porches, patios, garages, or any outbuildings are not relevant to this section.

The appraiser is expected to note such interior features as floor coverings, walls (sheetrock, paneling, plaster), bathroom walls and floors (vinyl, ceramic tile), doors (solid or hollow core?), heating and air conditioning (existence and fuel source), kitchen appliances, insulation, existence of and access to an attic, car storage (attached, detached, garage, carport?) and amenities such as fences, porches, swimming pool, deck, and fireplaces, and to evaluate their appearance or condition. The words “average” and “typical” are appraisers’ best friends. Do not expect anything creative or lyrical here.

In the final section of Page 1, the appraiser describes “additional features,” notes the condition of the improvements and any adverse environmental conditions such as hazardous waste.

If you would like a referral for an appraiser in your area give us a call at 225-368-3237 or email us at sold@artofhomeselling.com.

Appraisal 101 – 4 Part Series on Appraisals and What is Inside Them

Appraisal is probably a word that was brought up when you were buying your home or refinancing. You dug into your pocket and paid $300 or $400 but you probably have never seen your home appraisal. You paid for it, you own it, you have a right to a copy of your home appraisal, but to get a copy, a homeowner usually must request it from the mortgage company – in writing. Between the goings on of day to day life, someone is not likely to place a written appraisal request high on their priority list.

Most homeowners really don’t care about the appraisal. As long as the conclusion was the house was worth enough to justify the mortgage, homeowners are happy and, by the time the ink is dry on the closing documents, have forgotten they were ever required to spend the money.

Still, an appraisal is interesting and, in the future, might help you track your home appreciation in light of other sales in your neighborhood. Make the effort, you can probably request a copy by email, read it, then save it for future reference.

In the next week we will cover the basics of appraisals such as what goes into a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA), what is a Broker’s Price Opinion (BPO), and how an appraiser estimates your home’s value. Stay tuned! And for more information on appraisals or to get a referral for an appraiser in your area give us a call at 225-368-3237

15 Best Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Reposted from freshome

The value that you have in your home is the single most important reason why you own instead of rent a home. In the this recent economy of falling house values and unstable housing market statistics, every home owner should know how to put more value back into their homes. Although making home improvements is not a sure-fire way to increase the value, it will at the very least make you more competitive against your competition.  Use these tips to increase the value of your home and enjoy the rewards when it is time to sell your home.

1.) Update kitchen appliances: The most sought after room in your home is the kitchen. It is worth the most per square foot and will make the difference of your home appealing to buyers or not.  If your appliances are more than 3-5 years old consider updating them to the comfortability of your wallet. A newer model, a more designer finish, or more features will help home buyers take a second glance at your kitchen.  For top of the line appliances consider stainless steel and professional series lines.

2.) Kitchen cabinetry makes the look: When you walk into a kitchen the first thing you notice is the cabinets. Cabinetry is at the top of the percentage of kitchen costs, but also shows the most return.  Opt for wood over laminate surfaces and add custom features like crown molding, wine racks, glazing, and custom woodworking to set your kitchen apart from your competition. Reface cabinets and add door and drawer hardware for less expensive updating.

3.) Add value by upgrading your countertops: Any room you have countertops – kitchen, bathroom, bars, or utility rooms the more money you can spend into a higher end countertop the better. Plastic laminate countertops are considered the lower end grade, solid surfacing, concrete and granite is considered to be the higher end grade. Consider overlay countertops that are made from composite granite/resin combination for the look of granite at a fraction of the cost.

4.) Flooring is a forgotten upgrade: The rule of thumb for flooring is the more resilient and long lasting, the higher the upgrade is, but the higher return is on investment (ROI). Vinyl flooring and low end carpet is at the bottom of the upgrade spectrum.  Consider wood, tile, and natural stone for flooring options to add value to your home.

5.) Upgrade plumbing fixtures in kitchen and bathrooms: If your plumbing fixtures are more than 10 years old, consider upgrading them. If you have standard grade fixtures, such as chrome finish, opt for higher end finishes and materials. Brushed nickel, antique copper and brass fixtures are relatively inexpensive to replace.  At kitchen sinks choose plumbing fixture collections that offer matching faucet, control, and sink sprayer.  Similarly in bathrooms, choose bathtub/shower/and sink controls that coordinate for a unified look throughout your home.

6.) Master bedrooms should feel like a retreat: The master bedroom or suite as some like to refer to it is a high commodity for home buyers.  Upgrade flat ceilings to raised tray ceilings and allow for several lighting options.  Recessed lighting with dimmers, lighting wall sconces help create an ambiance that has a high value in appeal and for the value of your home.

7.) Upgrade master bathroom with spa-like features: Part of the master bedroom is the master bathroom.  Buyers want to have spa features from the shower to the over-sized garden tub.  Similarly to the kitchen, put upgrades where you can most afford it.  Upgraded tiled floors and showers will add value over pre manufactured units.  Jetted soaking tubs, multisprayer showers and large square footage will also add value to your overall home.

8.) State of art audio and sound: Consider adding surround sound systems in your living areas as well as master bedroom area for a notch above your competition.  If you are selling electronics with your home, plasma and flat screen televisions are a plus and media rooms are now becoming well sought after. Add seating areas for multiple screen viewing and add theater sound if considering a media room. These upgrades will be an amenity that adds value and buyer appeal.

9.) Eco-friendly homes bring in a higher value: In this green modern age, eco conscious upgrades have a big return on investment. From water saving plumbing fixtures to tankless hot water heaters, investing in the earth can add value to your home.  Choose rapidly renewable resources for finishes like bamboo flooring and opt for systems that save on energy costs.  Regardless of the method, green living upgrades are always worth the investment.

10.) A fully usable garage is an asset: A garage can add usable storage space for the home buyer as well as dry, clean area for parking cars. All homes don’t have garages and therefore can add value on to your home. If your home is on the market, spend time cleaning and organizing your garage so it can be shown.  Install garage wall or ceiling organizing shelves to fully take advantage of vertical storage and space.

11.) Invest in curb appeal: To be able to meet the demands of the average home buyer you will need to create curb appeal. A well manicured lawn, trimmed landscaping and clean drive and sidewalks will help bring greater buyer appeal, and in turn will add value on to your home.  Keep your flower beds free of weeds and full of thriving and colorful plants.  Nothing says ‘buy me’ like a front yard that has quality upkeep behind it.

12.) Have fully functioning irrigation system: The more ways you can add convenience of time and energy to a home buyer, the greater appeal is created for your home.  An irrigation system that works properly and covers the full yard can add value.  Consider having a maintenance check by an irrigation professional that can service and recommend the proper maintenance of your irrigation system.

13.) The more closets the better: At the top of buyers’ lists is always storage.  The more you can provide the more value you add on to your home price.  Make sure closets are fully functioning and are not being used to hold so many belongings that a home buyer can’t see how much space the closet offers.  When choosing how to upgrade your home, storage is one of the easiest and often overlooked suggestions.

14.) A quality roof is a plus: The roof of your home protects and beautifies the structure beneath.  A quality roof will add value to your home and reduce the risk of damage in the near future.  For roofs older than 15 years, consider having a roofer inspect and possibly replace. Upgrade from asphalt shingles to clay tiles, copper, slate or standing metal seam to add durability and value.

15.) Windows are for more than viewing: Your windows are the source for your light, but also the source for conditioned air gain and loss.  Upgrade to windows with higher R values to resist heat and cold transfer from the outdoors. Double paned windows, windows with integral window treatments and insulated varieties all equate to saving energy and therefore will add more value to your home.

Spend the money now to invest in your home.  The value that you create now will increase in time. Even if you don’t plan to sell your home soon, you will enjoy the upgrades that are made and in turn will add value to your own life.  Use these 15 tips to increase the value of your home and enjoy the process.

Fall & Winter Seasonal Maintenance Guide

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for the South in fall and winter.

Fall and winter conditions in the South vary dramatically from the northern part of the region to the southern coastline. But basic maintenance tips apply no matter where you live.

Key maintenance tasks to perform

Get your heating system in order. Heating systems in the South vary—there are generally more gas furnaces in the northern areas, and more electric heat pump systems toward the coastal South. Programmable thermostats are important for both kinds of heating systems, as they can help save around $180 a year on your energy bills.

If you have a heat pump, make sure you install a programmable thermostat especially designed for heat pumps, says home inspector Bill Loden of Insight Home Inspection in Madison, Ala. Programmable thermostats for heat pumps are specially designed to keep these systems working at peak efficiency.

Schedule your fall HVAC checkup promptly; you can expect to pay $50 to $100 for a heating tune-up. Make sure your HVAC professional checks all electrical connections, lubricates any moving parts if necessary, and inspects the condensate drain and trap. If you have a gas furnace, make sure he also checks gas connections and pressure, burner combustion, and the heat exchanger.

Inspect your furnace filters monthly and change them whenever they are dirty. Inspect floor grates and return ducts regularly and clean them out with a vacuum cleaner brush.

Clean your gutters. In the South, you’re less likely to have ice form in your gutters than in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, debris in your gutters can easily divert water onto the roof or siding, setting the stage for mold and rot and dramatically shortening the lifespan of shingles and paint. Inspect and clean your gutters in the late fall after leaves have dropped.

Put away lawn and garden equipment. Pick up anything in the yard that could be damaged by cold or snow, such as garden tools, hoses and nozzles, and patio furniture and accessories. Run your lawn mower until it’s out of gas, if possible; if you leave gas in the tank over the winter, it can degrade and lose some of its combustion ability. Worse, gas can react with the air in the tank and oxidize, forming deposits that affect the machine’s performance; worse still, moisture can condense inside the tank and cause rust that blocks the fuel lines.

If you know you’re going to leave gas in the tank over the winter, add a stabilizer to the last gallon of gas you put in (mix it in the gas can, not the mower tank, so that you get the mixing ratio correct).

Trim back vegetation. In some areas of the South plants grow year-round, so it’s important to keep an eye on whether they’re encroaching on the roof and walls. Trim trees so that branches don’t hang over the roof, and keep heavy, dense growth away from siding. A good rule of thumb is to trim back bushes and shrubs so that there’s enough room to walk easily between plantings and your house.

Pick up a paintbrush. Fall is a great time to paint your house’s exterior if necessary, sealing all surfaces before winter’s moisture has a chance to do damage. It’s possible to touch up small areas only, but note two things: 1) odds are you’ll end up with a slightly different color than the rest of the house, so don’t do it in a prominent spot; and 2) if you have a small area that’s consistently peeling or losing paint, you likely have a moisture issue that needs to be addressed first. Look for signs of leaky gutters, crumbling caulk, and loose siding that can trap moisture underneath.

Check weatherstripping and caulk. Open all your exterior doors and check the weatherstripping; if yours is crumbly or has gaps, replace it. Remove the old weatherstripping with a utility knife and clean the surface with household cleaner, getting as much of the old debris and adhesive off as possible. When the surface is dry, apply peel-and-stick foam weatherstripping. Start at the top of the door frame and work your way down, being careful not to stretch the foam strip, which can weaken the adhesive.

Inspect windows and doors for any gaps between the trim and the exterior siding that allow air to penetrate from the outside; these gaps should be caulked. Be sure to scrape out any crumbling old caulk or paint — applying new caulk over old is fine, but first get rid of loose chunks and remove any grit with household cleaner.

Spending a few hours here and there on home maintenance tasks helps you spot developing problems quickly and prevent costly repairs.

Heating: An Alternative Treatment for Bedbug Infestations

Don’t let the bed bugs bite. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, bedbugs were a common household nuisance, but the widespread use of DDT in the 1940s and 1950s pretty much eradicated them. But… now they’re back, and more resistant than ever. The traditional treatment is a barrage of chemical sprays and dusting performed by a professional exterminator. But there is another option that is gaining popularity for its effectiveness and non-toxic cred: heating!

How does heating work? Well, while bedbugs may be ubiquitous little creatures, they’re very sensitive to heat and die rapidly when exposed to temperatures over 113 degrees.

For more on how this heat treatment works, check out these resources:

Thermal Remediation Pest Control
Bringing The Heat To Battle Bedbugs
ThermaPure Heat Pest Service
Thermal Remediation from Preferred Pest Control

Quick Tips for Boosting Curb Appeal

Many homebuyers will drive through a neighborhood to catch a glimpse of a home for sale and decide on the spot whether it’s worth touring. This “curb appeal,” or first impression, is very important to attracting qualified buyers who are more interested in what they see now as opposed to the home’s potential.

It is important to attract as many qualified buyers as possible. One way to do this is by boosting the curb appeal. In preparing your home for sale, it is necessary to envision your home through the buyers’ eyes. There are many ways to freshen up the appearance of your home that doesn’t require remodeling the kitchen or finishing the basement. Below are some helpful suggestions that can make a big difference in how your home is presented to qualified buyers.

  • Mow the lawn; trim trees and shrubs away from the house.
  • Clean and repair all gutters and downspouts.
  • Take out window screens and wash all windows.
  • Remove dead plants, flowers and shrubs.
  • Clean or repaint outdoor furniture.
  • Put away tools, garbage cans, hoses, toys and building materials.
  • Keep patios and decks clear of planters, flower pots, charcoal and barbecues.
  • Power wash the home’s siding or brick to remove any excess debris.
  • Repaint or refinish trim around windows and doors.
  • Check for broken roof shingles.
  • Seal or resurface driveway.
  • Clean or repaint the mailbox.
  • Dress up front yard shrubs & flower beds with fresh mulch.

10 Things to Check Before You Buy a Home

Reposted from ApartmentTherapy.com – 10 Things to Check Before You Buy a Home

We’ve learned the hard way that there’s some very important things that should be checked before signing the papers to buy a new home. Sure you can have someone do an inspection and look over the place to make sure you’re termite and flood damage free, but these things fall into a different category — the immediate honey-do list!

Even though there will always be cosmetic changes to make to a new home, trying to avoid costly repairs upon first moving in is always a bonus. Being able to save that money for the dining table of your dreams, or even just for gas and groceries can be extra beneficial. Here’s a few things we suggest checking before you sign the papers and inherit all of the previous tenants past problems.

1. Check The Drains: This might sound silly, but we’ve had two homes with the same issues in the last several years. Somewhere between the house and the sewer line, there’s a backup. Usually tree branches or a collapsed pipe, but either way, it’s hard to spot unless you run a load of laundry, fill up the tub and sinks and let them all attempt to drain at the same time.

2. Open All The Windows: Replacing windows isn’t fun and it isn’t cheap either. Open them all to find out if they stick, are stuck or just plain old won’t open.

3. Turn On All The Faucets: Although changing out faucets isn’t exactly rocket science it’s always a pain to lay under a cabinet and reach for the sky with funny tools to get things removed. Just check to make sure they all work before buying to eliminate the back ache.

4. Light A Fire In The Fireplace: Even though chimneys are usually installed by professionals, that doesn’t mean they’re always in pristine shape. Cleaning them is as simple as a phone call to a local chimney sweep, but finding out if all the fireplaces in the home draft correctly is another.

5. Taste The Water: This lesson is always learned the hard way. Even if your city has great water, your pipes might be old enough that they’ll send a little extra something out of the tap and into your glass. Knowing up front if you’ll need to install a whole house filter or invest in a few Brita pitchers is always helpful.

6. Flush The Toilets: Knowing that all the toilets in the home can handle toilet paper is a bonus. Although they’re easy enough to replace or fix, finding ones that flush well are a bonus. If you’re dissatisfied they could issue you money back to make the replacement in order to get you to sign on the dotted line!

7. Open The Electrical Panel: A clean and labeled panel is a happy panel. Something that looks like squirrels got up inside can signal trouble. Look for loose wires or ones that simply don’t connect to anything. It could signal that there’s live wires inside the walls!

8. Turn On The Heat/Air: Knowing that both of these things work prior to actually needing them can be a serious bonus. Check to make sure they blow their respective temperatures in addition to just turning on.

9. Pull The Carpet Back: Before you move in, you’ll want to find out if there’s hardwood floors and also any mold or mildew under the carpets. Look for the lowest side of the room and if possible pull a corner back. Many homeowners will have a section of carpet removed in a closet to allow you to see the condition of the floors below.

10. Moisture: Although most home inspectors will sniff this one out for you, look for signs of dampness. Even if the walls aren’t apparently wet, look for things like dehumidifiers, bucks of silica or other things that grab moisture from the air and keep it at bay. If the home owners are smart enough to move these things, look for places near outlets that look clean (or leave a dust ring) where something like this might have sat.

Do you have one to add to the list? Share your tip (and story behind it) in the comments below!

6 Tips to Keep Cool While Upgrading Your Home

Since we have been posting so many articles about updating your home, this post is here to remind you to take proper precautions to keep your health (and your sanity) intact. In this blistering summer heat, it is very important to be cautious and avoid heat stroke and dehydration. Here’s 5 tips to keep your cool when the work must go on!

1. Hydrate Before, During & After: Before you begin your work, make sure you’ve downed adequate fluids. We’re talking the night before, the morning of and during any project you’ll be undertaking. Your body sweats to cool off and if you’re dehydrated it can make things even toastier! Don’t forget to keep drinking after the job is done, preferably more water than alcohol.

2. Wear Breathable Clothing: Yes you can bust out the sleeveless shirts, but make sure you actually wear one. Your clothing helps wick the sweat away from your body, allowing the air to blow through it and keep you cool. By forgoing clothing you’re actually doing yourself a disservice, even if it means you’ll have a funny tan line later.

3. Fans & Ice: Even if you don’t have the ability to turn on the air conditioning or an attic fan, moving any air can make a difference (even if it’s not cool). Try buying blocks of ice and setting them in front of your fan in a plastic tray or serving dish and let the fan blow over the top. It won’t make your space a meat locker, but it will turn things down by 5 degrees, usually.

4. Take Breaks: Although it can feel like you’re prolonging to time spent being sweaty, taking a few breaks to have a snack or refreshing beverage can help keep your body out of the danger zone before you spontaneously combust!

5. Change of Clothes: Even though we mentioned above that clothes play an important role in keeping your cool, once they’re fully soaked, they don’t hold the ability to continue wicking water. They might to some small degree, but not as efficiently as you need them to. A quick change will do you good and prevent chafing (gross, but true!).

6. Work Early & Late: Try working early, before the sun is in full force and take a nap during the hottest hours of the afternoon heat. Once you’ve rested and the sun has gone done, you can resume work. It’s easier to work ridiculously early or late if given the chance to help keep the temperatures down.

Do you have a heat-busting tip? Let us know below!

Upgrading Your Home on A Shoestring Budget

From REALTOR.com’s Daily Real Estate News
Homeowners who want to sell but don’t have a lot of cash to spruce up their properties might consider these tips from Bankrate.com for upgrading a property without spending a fortune.

  • Polish up the kitchen. Add new cabinet door handles, replace lighting and update the faucet set. Unless the cabinets are mica, give them a fresh coat of paint. Order new doors for kitchen appliances.
  • Tidy up the bath. Replace the toilet seat. Clean up the floor with vinyl tiles or sheet vinyl applied over the old floor. Re-grout the tub and, if the tub is dingy, add a new prefabricated tub and shower surround.
  • Paint the walls.
  • Add closet systems to all the bedrooms, pantry, and entry closets.
  • Hire a plumber and an electrician to fix anything that is loose or that leaks.
  • Clean the carpets or, if they are worn, cover them with area rugs.
  • Replace ceiling lights with inexpensive but attractive fixtures.
  • Refinish or repaint the front door and replace the hardware.
  • Mow the lawn, edge the sidewalks, mulch all the beds and put two big planters at either side of the front door.

For more information on how to fix up your home, go to our Media section and Download our Home Seller’s Handbook.

Preparing to Show Your Home on a Moment's Notice

As much as we would love every potential buyer to provide plenty of advanced notice before scheduling a showing, that is not always the case. Follow these quick tips to ready your home for its best showing when you have 30 or fewer minutes’ notice.

Start where the potential buyers will start:

• Make sure that the front door presents well. Sweep steps, if needed.
• Pick up any out-of-place objects and store them away quickly.

Head inside:
• Open window treatments and turn on lights.
• Put any dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
• Make the beds.
• Put any dirty laundry inside the washing machine.

If you still have time:

• Run a quick vacuum to give carpets and floors a fresh look.
• Wipe down counters and tabletops.
• Warm some vanilla on the stove to give the house a welcoming scent.

While we would all like to have our houses in showroom condition 24 hours a day, we also acknowledge that we live in them. Do your best to present your house in its best light and make sure that every potential buyer has an opportunity to view it—accommodate all showings possible.