Keeping Your Major Investment Safe, Secure–And In Good Shape
A home is the single largest investment that most people will ever make. So it’s just good sense to know how to protect it. Here’s a basic guide to some of the obvious—and not so obvious—things that can make a difference.
The Importance of a Property Survey
A survey assures the lender and the buyer that the land and the information on the deed are the same. Yes, a piece of property—the land itself—is a constant. But the things on it—like structures, fences, and so forth—can change. Plus, legalities like codes, easements, rights of way, and restrictions can alter over time. That’s why you need a survey prior to buying a house. In most real estate transactions, having the property surveyed will be the seller’s responsibility. But if, as a buyer, you’re planning to make any changes or additions (particularly a fence), you will want to get another survey done in order to make sure that everything’s in proper order. You should also check to see that the survey is done by a Registered Professional Land Surveyor (R.P.L.S.). Never assume that the company that is doing the installation or construction has done a survey; generally, they don’t. And that’s one reason why there are so many court cases involving Neighbor vs. Neighbor over property encroachment. And more than one house-buying/selling transaction has had to be stopped in midstream because a property line is in dispute; mortgage lenders don’t want to be liable if there is ever a foreclosure on the property in the future.
Don’t make the common mistake of assuming that a survey and an appraisal are the same thing; they’re not. While both are required by law, and both are reviews of the land, that’s where the similarity ends. An appraisal is used to determine the fair market value of the property. A survey shows the precise legal boundaries of a piece of property with its improvements, rights of way, easements, and encroachments. A survey will also show if there are any restrictions or covenants on the property. It will also include any flood plain information that is impacted by new road construction, etc.
Why a Home Inspection Is a Smart Move
When you’re making a major financial commitment and investment, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into. A home inspection is part of that critical process. It summarizes the condition of a property by analyzing the important elements like heating and central air conditioning systems, the electrical system, interior plumbing, roof, attic, any visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors, the foundation, and other visible structures. It doesn’t matter whether the house you’re interested in is brand new or an older home. Don’t let anyone convince you that you don’t need one—you do. And even if you’re totally in love with a house, and you feel the need to hurry and snap it up before somebody else does, stop. Think. And don’t go any farther until you get that inspection. If you don’t, you’re not only putting your investment at risk, you might be putting your own personal safety (and that of your family) at risk. And besides that, if anything negative is found during the inspection, the seller might decide to sweeten the deal by adjusting the price downwards, re-thinking the terms of the contract, or paying to fix the problem. Another thing: make sure you get an experienced inspector who’s a current member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
It really doesn’t pay to try to save a few bucks by having a friend with building experience walk through the home. You want the most knowledgeable professional you can get; someone who is totally objective and doesn’t care whether you buy the home or not. Someone who knows exactly what to look for and knows how to classify any problem and write it up in a report in technically correct language. By the way, you should make a big effort to accompany the inspector while he’s in the house; it’s a great time to ask questions and get information and detailed explanations about what’s right and what’s wrong. If you’d like to “experience” a typical home inspection, you can go on a virtual tour on ASHI’s website. Go to www.ashi.org and take the Virtual Home Inspection.
Homeowners Insurance —an Absolute Essential
Insurance companies offer different types of policies. If you’re looking for discounts and ways to make homeowners insurance more affordable, here are some things to consider:
• If you have all your insurance policies (life, home, health, auto) with one company, ask them about a discount.
• The higher the deductible, the lower the premium you will have.
• Certain safety devices inside the house may qualify you for a discount. Ask about smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, burglar alarms, and automatic sprinkler systems.
A Home Service (Warranty) Contract Is Definitely a Wise Idea
Buyers see it as a sort of security blanket protection. Buying a new home can be a nerve-wracking experience, so a little peace of mind is really nice. Sellers see it as an effective sales tool: it makes the home much more attractive to potential buyers. And realtors like it because it lessens the likelihood of problems after the sale and the risk of litigation.
Basic home service warranty contracts typically cover breakdowns in a home’s mechanical systems and appliances—problems caused by normal wear and tear.
Regular Home Maintenance Is a Smart Investment in Your Investment
It doesn’t take much time, money, or hassle to maintain your home if you take care of things on a regular schedule. That’s what keeps little problems from becoming big, expensive-to-fix problems.
Here’s a list of simple-but-important things even the least “handy” person can do:
Air-Conditioner/Heater: Change the filters every three months. Keep the vents clean. Keep the outside unit free of any debris. And schedule your certified technician to come at least twice a year (spring and autumn) to check and clean your system.
Chimney/Fireplace: Call in a professional for an inspection and cleaning annually.
Clothes Dryer: Clean the lint from the filter after every load. Check the outside vent and clean out any build-up there. Cleaning the filter and vent not only makes the dryer more efficient, it also reduces the risk of overheating and fire.
Garage Door Opener: Oil the rollers and pulleys once a year, or have a technician do it. Leave any special adjustments and an annual tune-up to a trained technician.
Garbage Disposal: Always run the water when operating. And to keep the blades sharp, periodically place several cubes of ice in the disposal and run cold water through it while it is turned on.
Roof: Either check the roof yourself—or have someone else do this—every few years. Look for nails popping out of the shingles, any soft spots, and see if the flashings and vents are still stable. It’s especially important to do this after a hail storm. Inside the home, check the ceiling near the walls for any water stains or discolorations. Fix any problems immediately—or you might end up with a ruined wall.
Pest Control: Insects and rodents can be destructive, and they can create health and safety hazards, as well. Consult a professional service to stop and prevent problems.
Deck, Swimming Pool, Spa: Construction materials and maintenance recommendations vary widely, so consult owner handbooks and/or dealers to find out how to keep them in peak condition.
For most people, a home has become much more than shelter or a lifestyle. It is truly a major investment. So treat it like one. Because, ultimately, a home that has been well-cared for is more valuable. Not to mention a much nicer place in which to live!