8 Tips to Fireproofing Your Home

fireproofmainHome fires in the US cost an estimated $11.6 billion in damaged property in 2014. in the US. What’s worse, they were responsible for the death of over 3,200 people and the injury of nearly 16,000 more.

Keeping your home and family safe from fire is of paramount importance – for obvious reasons – which is why it’s worth the time, effort, and money to do whatever you can to fireproof your home to avoid becoming a statistic. And the good news is, most fires can be prevented with a few key steps.

Here are 8 ways you can protect your home – and those within it – from falling prey to a house fire.

1. Install Smoke Alarms

One of the most important features that your home should have are functioning smoke alarms. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 940 deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms every year, and another 510 deaths happen in fires where smoke alarms are installed but fail to function.

Scary stuff, and totally preventable too. Not only should every floor in your home have a smoke alarm installed, each of them should be checked on a regular basis to make sure they work.

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2. Check For Faulty Electrical Wiring

Electrical wiring is one of the main culprits behind home structure fires in the US. Whether you live in an old home, or are considering buying one, it’s always a good idea to hire a licensed electrician to inspect all the wiring to make sure the previous technician didn’t do a shoddy job, or that no wires are damaged from rodents. If any faulty wiring is detected, it should be fixed right away. 

3. Don’t Overload the Electrical Sockets

Electrical fires aren’t entirely restricted to wiring that’s on the other side of the drywall. Many electrical fires start because of electrical sockets that are overloaded with plug-ins. In fact, most electrical fires are the result of electrical appliances.

Don’t overload your electrical sockets, especially with appliances that use a ton of electricity to operate. And unplug them when they’re not in use, whether it’s before you go to bed at night or leave for holidays. 

4. Mind the Candles

Candles create a cozy ambience, but if you don’t tend to them, they’re nothing more than a major fire hazard. This is especially true if you’ve got young kids or pets running around the house, who can easily knock them over.

If you do light up a candle or two, make sure you blow them out before you leave the room, even if you’re just going to be gone for a couple of minutes. All it takes is a second for the candle’s flame to make contact with a surface and ignite a dangerous house fire.

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5. Keep the Dryer’s Lint Trap Clear

That seemingly harmless little piece of mesh in your dryer can actually be a fire hazard if you don’t clean it out. You’d be amazed at how much lint collects in the trap after every load is dried. In fact, you’ll swear that’s where your missing socks are when you see the pile-up of lint on this filter.

A clogged trap can cause the dryer to overheat, and thereby start a fire. So get into the habit of cleaning the lint trap out after every load of laundry to drastically reduce the odds of setting the house aflame.

6. Stock Your Home With Fire Extinguishers

If a fire does ensue, your first line of defense is a fire extinguisher. But it won’t do much good if you’ve got only one in the house, and you can’t remember where you put it. Make sure you outfit your home with at least two or three (preferably one on each floor), and put them in easy-to-access spots where you can quickly grab them when they’re needed.

Just make sure that one of them is in the kitchen, which tends to be the spot where they’re most frequently required. And be sure to make a note of their expiration dates so they can be replaced as necessary.

7. Never Leave the Stove Unattended

Whether or not you’ve got a toddler roaming about the home, it’s still a good idea to keep a close watch on whatever it is you’ve got cooking on the stovetop. If the pan or pot catches fire, you’ll be there to deal with it.

But rather than throwing water on it (which is a bad idea), put some baking soda or a damp cloth over top if the fire is not out of control. You should also try to shut the heat source off and remove the pan from the burner safely using an oven mitt.

If these solutions aren’t possible, grab that fire extinguisher to put the fire out before it has a chance to spread.

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8. Use Fire-Resistant Carpets

There are so many things in your home that can cause a fire to spread really quickly, including your carpets. This is especially true for wall-to-wall carpeting, considering how much area they cover. The major culprits are those that are made with wool and synthetic fibers. If you insist on having carpeting in your home, go for fire-resistant versions to slow the spread of a fire should one occur.

Fireproofing your home is pretty easy when you think about it. Considering the valuables that you’re protecting, it’s worth every second and every penny. And as if that wasn’t reason enough, fireproofing measures can even shave a few bucks off of your home insurance premiums.

Rules of Etiquette You Should Know Before Buying a Home

rulesofetiquetteIf a good deal is what you’re looking for when it comes to buying a house, the last people you want to put off are the sellers.

The truth is, there’s a certain etiquette that buyers should follow throughout the home-buying process, and failure to follow it could actually cost you a lot of money.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to being courteous and having some common sense. Even if you mean no harm, you could inadvertently turn the sellers off with a certain gesture or comment that could potentially sabotage your negotiating power.

Stick to the following rules of home-buying etiquette to make sure the experience is a good one.

Stick With Reasonable Viewing Times

Use common sense when it comes to the days and times that you want to go see a listed home. Generally acceptable viewing times are typically between 10am and 8pm throughout the week. Asking to booking a showing at 10pm on a Tuesday night or 7am on Sunday morning isn’t going to cut it. Agents will likely get shut down if they ask the sellers for a showing at any one of these unreasonable times.

Don’t Demand Last-Minute Appointments

While your agent is working diligently to find you the right home, he or she is not at your beck-and-call. While many times agents and sellers can accommodate an immediate showing, many times they cannot.

While it doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s a last-minute time slot available, don’t demand it. The typical protocol is to book showings at least 24 hours in advance to allow the seller to make arrangements to not be home during the showing, and to have the home adequately prepped to be viewed. It also helps agents ensure that there is free time in their schedules to accommodate an appointment.

Skip the Unauthorized Photography

When you’re at a viewing, don’t whip out your smartphone and start snapping photos of the interior and exterior of the home unless you’ve been given direct permission to do so. That’s just rude and inconsiderate. After all, it’s not a public place – it’s still the sellers’ home, and it’s private property.

Don’t Deal With Any Other Agent if You’ve Already Signed With One

If you’ve already signed a contract with an agent, don’t call the listing agent of a home you’re interested in seeing. Actually, don’t call any other agent at all except your own. Even if your agent is away on holidays, proper etiquette would entail speaking with the agent who is covering for yours while they’re away. Not only is it discourteous to your agent and the other, it could even cost you money considering you’re under contract.

Be Honest With Your Agent About How Serious You Are About Buying

Don’t waste your agent’s time, nor the time of sellers with showings if your immediate intentions are not to buy anytime soon. Agents and sellers are busy enough without entertaining people who are just curious about seeing how other people live.

And even if you are serious about buying, don’t ask your agent to show you 10 houses in one afternoon. Viewing homes takes a lot of time, and taking up your agent’s entire afternoon is expensive for them. Not only that, but seeing too many homes at once will actually cloud your judgment and make it difficult to remember what you saw in which house. Stick to a maximum of only 3 or 4 home listings for each round of showings.

Make Sure You Can Afford the Place

If you’re looking at a home that’s listed for $600,000, but you can only realistically afford one for no more than $300,000, you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own. Maybe you really do think you can afford the place, and are just naive to the whole home buying process.

That’s where a mortgage pre-approval can come in handy. This will give the lender a chance to analyze your income and current debt to see what you can realistically and comfortably afford. That way, you can focus only on the homes that fit your budget.

Many real estate agents actually require their clients to be pre-approved, and many sellers prefer to see an offer come in from prospective buyers who already have a pre-approval letter from their lender.

Be Polite and On-Time at Showings

This one goes without saying, but it’s still worth mentioning. Be polite to your agent, and to the sellers if they happen to be present. And don’t go sifting through clothes drawers or ransacking the storage closet. Looting around during a showing is definitely not polite.

In addition, make sure you’re on time for the showings. These appointments are usually only for a half hour to an hour, so you want to use each minute to your advantage to get a good sense of the home. Not only that, but it doesn’t show much respect to your agent to make them wait around forever for you to show up. They’ve likely got better things to do. 

Don’t Directly Contact the Homeowner

If a home is listed through an agent, then it’s protocol for any communications to take place between your agent and the seller’s. Under no circumstance is it acceptable to contact the homeowner directly. Not only will you seem overly aggressive, you’ll likely upset the homeowner.

Don’t Act Like the Home is Yours Until it Actually is

Even if you’ve fallen madly in love with a house, and have gone so far as to put an offer on it, the house isn’t yours until the keys are physically in your hands. Don’t show up to the home unannounced and start taking measurements for the sunroom addition you’ve got planned, or where you want the pool to go. Wait until the deal is formally done before you start making any plans.

Don’t Make Comments About the House When the Seller is Around

If the seller happens to be present when you’re viewing the home with your agent, reserve your comments until you’ve left. The homeowner might not appreciate hearing your thoughts on the outdated paint colors or the unattractive living room furniture. You’ll only hurt their feelings, as well as your negotiating power.

The Bottom Line

These tips aren’t hard to follow. In fact, they can be applied to any aspect of life. Use some common sense, be courteous, and be open and honest so that everyone’s happy.

What to Do When You Find Your Dream Home . . . But It’s Not For Sale

dreamhomeforsaleDepending on where you’re looking to buy, there could very well be a major supply shortage.

But don’t let slim pickings in your local housing market stand in the way of you snatching up your dream home. If the listings are limited in your area, consider sending letters to homeowners expressing your interest in buying.

The worst case scenario is that you’ll get a simple “not interested.” But you’ll never know the answer if you don’t ask!

Plenty of buyers across the country are now living comfortably in their homes by taking this leap of faith. But how homeowners are approached is important, which is why you’d be better off having a real estate agent act as a buffer in this interaction.

Many homeowners might find it a bit odd to get an unsolicited offer on their homes. Many might even think it’s nothing but a scam. But if the approach is dignified – and the price is attractive enough – they just might take the bait.

Sure, the odds are stacked against you in this solicitation – only 1 out of 10 homeowners will actually agree to the offer. But that means that the rest – about 10% – actually do agree to sell after a prospective buyer approaches them with an attractive offer.

The point is that there’s still a chance of landing the home simply by asking.

In fact, you may be surprised at how many homeowners have contemplated selling, but simply never got around to it. Sometimes all it takes is making the first move.

In fact, this tactic is not entirely out of the ordinary in markets with sought-after properties, like San Francisco or Seattle. It’s actually pretty common in markets like these where the local market is very active.

Many homeowners of properties that have desirable features won’t completely take the idea of selling off the table. If the right offer comes along, they just might be open enough to taking it.

Name the price, and some homeowners just might accept. 

Of course, if you decide to offer to buy a home that’s not listed for sale, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s the seller who’s in the driver’s seat when it comes to the negotiating table. They can basically name their price.

Obviously, you don’t have to pay it, but you do have the power to choose what price you’ll consider. If you’ve been in the market for a long time and are growing tired of looking, you might not mind paying a slightly higher price.

Just be careful that you don’t pay much more than what the home is really worth according to current market values, or you’ll start running into problems with your lender or with the amount of equity that you’ll be left with in the home.

So how do you go about offering to buy a home that’s not currently for sale?

For starters, have your real estate agent set up alerts on specific property addresses of homes that tickle your fancy, even if they’re not listed for sale at the present moment. If any action happens on these properties, you’ll get an email alerting you.

Foreclosure listings are also an option. And pre-foreclosure listings offer even more possibilities. If a current homeowner is in default on the mortgage, but the bank has yet to take any action, you might have the opportunity to swoop in and take the home off their hands before foreclosure actually finalizes.

Your real estate agent can also pull a report of listings that have expired over the past couple of years or so. Many times these listings simply got stale after not getting any bites. Or perhaps the owners were able to get over some of the perceived negatives about the home and decided to stay put – for the time being, anyway.

Sometimes the owners might still have the thought of selling in the back of their minds. Maybe the situation is more favorable to sell today, compared to what it was back when they first listed their homes.

Whatever the case may be, offering to buy a home that’s not currently listed is a strategy you might want to consider in a market where demand outweighs supply.

Have a friendly note drafted up, and express your admiration for the home, which most sellers will likely appreciate and consider a compliment.

If they’re not ready to sell, perhaps you can come up with an arrangement that will soften the experience and ease into the transition, such as coming up with a rent-to-own agreement at first.

It should be noted that it’s illegal to put anything in another homeowner’s mailbox. So make sure you either leave the letter at their door, or send it via the postal service addressed to the “resident.”

Even if the homeowners don’t seem interested in selling right now, they’ll have your number handy in case they change their mind in the near future.

The lesson here is that when looking for a home to buy, you don’t always have to rely solely on “For Sale” signs. Think outside the box, and you just might wind up with the house of your dreams.

How to Make Sure the Transition From ‘Renter’ to ‘Owner’ is a Smooth One

rentinlineWith rent prices increasing all over the country, now may a good time to make the leap from ‘renter’ status to ‘owner’.

After all, why not put that monthly check towards your own equity rather than someone else’s? And the prices that landlords are charging these days for rent are often higher than a typical mortgage payment!

But once you’ve made the decision to forego renting in favor of buying, you’ve got to do things properly from the get-go. A home purchase is a major decision, so you want to be sure that you’ve considered every angle to make sure the choice is the right one for you.

Understand the Issue of Mobility

If there’s one benefit of renting, it’s the mobility and flexibility that typically comes along with it. Once your term date has come and gone on your rental agreement, you can literally pick up and move to a new location much faster if you rent instead of own.

On the other hand, if you’ve got to sell, there will be a lot more on your plate in terms of all the legalities and financials that you have to deal with. While this isn’t usually a problem for many, it’s something that you need to understand before you make the transition.

Consider the Long-Term Benefits of Owning

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of owning property is the long-term equity and wealth that it can help you accumulate. In fact, this is probably THE biggest advantage from a financial standpoint.

Every month that you make a rental payment, who’s pockets are you filling?

Not yours.

But if you’re paying a mortgage on your own property, the principal portion of every mortgage payment you make goes directly towards building equity in your home. And not only do you build equity by directly feeding into it with your money, you’re also building it with appreciation over time.

Of course, the exact amount that your home will be worth at any given point in the future will depend on that current housing market and the condition of your mortgage. But if you’ve been making regular payments without excessive leveraging to obtain financing, and the market is in decent condition, you can be looking at considerable gains.

Team up with a real estate agent, do some homework, crunch the numbers, and be practical about the prospective future value of your property.

Get Your Credit in Order

Don’t start pounding the pavement looking for a house just yet until you’ve looked into the state of your credit. Lenders aren’t going to hand out a mortgage to just anyone, including those who have a poor credit score on their records.

Basically, the higher your credit score, the better the odds of getting approved for a mortgage, and the lower the interest rate you’ll likely be offered. Usually, anything above 680 is what lenders are looking for.

But you’re not going to know what your credit score is until you pull your credit report. If your score isn’t as high as you’d like to to be, scan the report with a fine-tooth comb to check for any errors that could be bringing your score down. If you spot any, make sure you report these to the credit bureau right away to be investigated.

There are plenty of things you can do to improve your credit score, which should be done sooner rather than later. Don’t make any large purchases on credit, and don’t apply for any new credit cards. Make sure any loan payments you are currently responsible for are paid on time and in full every month so you don’t cause any further damage.

Within a few months of practicing these efforts, you should see an uptick on your credit score which will put you in a more favorable position to get a decent mortgage package.

Sort Out Your Finances and Get Pre-Approved For a Mortgage

How much debt are you currently drowning under? How much money are you actually taking home in income? Before you start dreaming of home ownership, you need to get a handle on your finances and identify exactly what financial position you’re in first. Lots of first-time homebuyers make the mistake of house-hunting without understanding whether or not their current finances can support this purchase.

It’s always a good idea to meet with a mortgage broker before checking out any listings to see what mortgages and interest rates you can realistically and comfortably afford. That’s where a mortgage pre-approval can come in really handy.

A pre-approval will give your mortgage specialist an opportunity to check out your credit history and determine whether or not you’d be a candidate for a home loan. Sure, you’ll have to fill out applications and submit a bunch of forms. But by the end of the process, you’ll know whether or not you’d be able to get a mortgage, and how much a lender would be willing to loan you.

This, in turn, will give you a clear idea of the price range of homes that you’ll be able to afford. There’s no sense looking for homes in the $500,000 range when you can only afford those in the $300,000 price bracket.

Shop Within Your Budget So You Don’t End Up ‘House Poor’

The last thing you want to do is dump a big chunk of your paycheck into your house. Financial experts recommend that homeowners shouldn’t be putting any more than 30% of their monthly income towards their mortgages in order to live comfortably and enjoy other aspects of life without drowning in loan payments.

Consider what percentage of your income you’d be comfortable putting towards your mortgage, and don’t go over that number.

Factor in Costs Aside From the Purchase Price

Once you buy a house, you’re no longer just responsible for the rent. The closing of the house purchase itself will come with added costs, such as home inspections, appraisals, commission fees, moving costs, and title insurance. And once you get the keys, you’ll now be paying for things like utilities, property taxes, insurance, and any fees related to repairs and maintenance.

The Bottom Line

These tidbits of info aren’t meant to scare you. Instead, they’re meant to adequately prepare you for the responsibilities of homeownership. Get your credit in check, and get your finances in order. Put a team together that includes a profession real estate agent and experienced mortgage broker who can help you get ready for your new role as homeowner. Lean on their expertise to help you put your best foot forward in the world of homeownership.

How Will Rock-Bottom Oil Prices Affect the Housing Market?

oilpricesmainIt sure is nice to fill up the gas tank and pay a fraction of what you paid only a few months ago, isn’t it?

But while your dollar might take you further on the road, what are these falling oil prices we’ve been seeing lately doing to the housing market in the US?

It’s expected that US housing prices will increase by about 3.5% in 2016, but some states will likely experience much smaller gains, and possibly even a flatline. In energy-producing states where a good chunk of the job market and economy is heavily dependent on the oil industry, a drop in oil prices can realistically lead to unemployment and a sharp decline in spending power.

In turn, there would eventually be much less of a demand for local housing which would lead to a softening of the real estate market.

Asking prices across the country on active listings were up 0.5% month-over-month in December 2015, which was slower than the increases in the previous three months. Asking prices increased 7.7% year-over-year, which is down from the previous 9.5% year-over-year rise in 2013.

Cheap Oil Prices Don’t Have the Same Effect in All States

Housing prices typically follow oil prices, but with a slight delay in oil-producing markets. That’s why we can attribute a lag in housing prices in states that depend on oil production and higher oil prices to keep the housing market vibrant.

Not surprisingly, North Dakota is slated to be the hardest hit in terms of falling real estate prices. While the past few years have seen a rapid growth in housing as a rush of people flocked to this oil-rich state during its energy boom, this land of opportunity could be fizzling out in the housing realm. As jobs decrease, residents look elsewhere for employment and eventually resettle out of the area. And with fewer people looking for homes comes a shortage of demand, and an eventual drop in housing prices right along with it.

Other states that could face a similar fate include Wyoming, West Virginia, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska, as they are all energy-producing states that depend on oil for jobs and a healthy housing market. 

On the other hand, housing and oil prices tend to move in opposite directions in many other markets, which means certain states can actually benefit from a drop in oil prices.

With a decline in the price of oil comes a reduction in the cost associated with driving, utilities, and other expenses, which can effectively drive up these local economies. It boosts demand for automobiles and subsequently jobs associated with the automotive industry. As we’ve already explained, a strong labor market supports an equally strong housing market.

But don’t expect a plummet in housing prices to happen right away. Despite the association between oil and housing prices, it typically takes between a year or two for the real estate market to react to a drawn-out reduction in the oil market.

The one saving grace that could prevent housing prices from dropping too much and too fast is the limited supply across the country. As housing inventory remains tight, prices shouldn’t necessarily drop as much or as quickly as they otherwise might.

And more good news for the housing market: the lull in home prices will likely be much less drastic compared to what the US went through in the 1980s after the massive oil price decline. Rather than nosediving, housing prices might just experience slower- and smaller-than-usual increases than they would have if a decline in the oil industry hadn’t hit the US.

The key distinction between what happened in the 80s and what’s happening today is the fact that housing prices continued to fall for eight straight years back then, and by a much larger amount compared to today’s situation. And because the states mentioned above – among others – are not as dependent on the oil industry for jobs as they were 30 years ago, the impact on these local job markets won’t be nearly as severe.

No one knows for certain how long oil prices are going to be pressed down. But they’ll really only affect a handful of states – and not as harshly as they might have back in the 1980s – while actually benefitting others.

What Will California’s Housing Market Look Like in 2016?

California’s real estate market will continue its growth streak into 2016, according to the California Association of Realtors (CAR) 2016 Housing Market Forecast.

Yet that anticipated increase in sales will likely be somewhat hampered by limited inventory and continued high prices for properties.

Last year was a pretty good one for the Golden State, which ended off on a high note with a 9.6% increase in sales of single-family homes from November to December. That’s the biggest month-over-month increase in volume that California has seen in five years.

The average home in California finished 2015 at a median price of $489,310, an increase of 2.6% from November, and a jump of 8% from the end of 2014.

Perhaps the real winner in the California real estate market were condos and townhomes, which experienced a hike in sales of 25.1% from November, and a 10.2% increase from the same time in 2014.

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Sales were healthy in 2015, but what will the California housing market do this year?

Experts anticipate sales volume in the state to pick up over the first few months of 2016 thanks to a healthier job market and a boost in consumer sentiment. Couple that with the recently-introduced TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule that offers a lot more transparency to borrowers when applying for mortgages.

Things aren’t exactly expected to change significantly, but the changes that do happen will have a direct effect on the housing market and the buyers and sellers who will be dipping their toes in it.

CAR is predicting that California’s existing home sales are on pace to experience an increase of 6.3% in 2016, which translates into 433,000 single-family dwellings.

In a nutshell, the real estate market is still on the up-and-up in California, regardless of what speed the pace is at.

What’s driving strong home sales in California into 2016?

Healthy sales in the state can be attributed to a number of factors. For starters, the US gross domestic product is expected to increase by 3.1% in 2016, and the unemployment rate is anticipated to decline from 6.3% in 2015 to 5.5% this year.

Interest rates also play a role in strong home sales statewide. With the Fed recently announcing an increase in interest rates, mortgage rates will steadily increase in 2016 and into 2017.

Yet while the average 30-year fixed mortgage interest rate is forecasted to increase from 3.9% in 2015 to 4.5% in 2016, the rate is still hovering over historical lows, keeping mortgages affordable for state residents.

californiamarketShortage of inventory continues to plague the market in California

While the above factors are certainly positive signs, one thing that continues to be a thorn in the side is the lack of inventory across the state. Between the summer of 2014 to the same time in 2015, single-family homes in California dropped from 4 months’ worth of inventory to 3.6 months.

The high-demand/low-supply scenario is largely due fewer properties in foreclosure, more investors renting rather than flipping, and a shortage of new home construction.

The matter of housing affordability is causing concern among members of CAR. But hopefully this issue will be short-lived, especially when it seems as though the rate of home price increase is slowing down.

While the median price of a single-family dwelling in the state is expected to increase by 3.2% this year to $491,300, it’s the slowest price increase rate that California has experienced in five years.

It could very well be that we may be seeing a plateau in the price appreciation department in California, making it possible for an increasing number of state residents to jump into the real estate market in the coming months.