What Considerations Should Be Made When Adding a Skylight to Your Home?

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Nothing beats natural light. A dark and dingy room can easily be light-filled by installing a skylight, if the space permits. Skylights offer a unique way to introduce more natural light into a home and bring the outdoors in. In fact, they can let in over three times as much natural light compared to conventional vertical windows of the same size, and distribute it more evenly.

Even when the sun isn’t shining, skylights can help illuminate an interior space with little or no artificial lighting needed. Many skylights can even be opened for ventilation.

It’s no secret that your home can benefit from having a skylight, but what considerations should you make first before installing one?

Take Time to Plan Properly

In order to get the best results, careful planning is essential. Installing a skylight isn’t as simple as picking a random spot and cutting a hole in the ceiling. Skylights have very different effects compared to windows, especially in places like the kitchen or bathroom where task lighting is essential. While skylights certainly bring in a ton of natural light, they can’t be used interchangeably with windows in certain circumstances.

Depending on the direction of the skylight, there may either be an abundance of bright light or just a more diffuse light. In the case of the former, direct sunlight can wreak havoc on kitchen cabinetry and bathroom vanities, bleaching their finishes.

Shading Options

Based on the last point made, there are options to have the glass tinted in order to provide a certain amount of shade and limit any possibilities of the sun damaging the finishes in a room. Built-in blinds or horizontal curtains can also be installed that can help regulate the amount of sunlight coming in. Glazing is also typically added to provide insulation and avoid the build up of heat, especially during warmer months of the year.

Consider the Roof’s Slope and Position of the Skylight

The sun rises and sets every day, and moves as the day progresses. Because it doesn’t sit in one spot all day long, it’s important to consider how its movement will affect the kind of light that will shine though a skylight. For instance, skylights in sloping roofs that face south can easily overheat rooms. On the other hand, skylights that face north will let in a much softer light all day long. Additionally, a skylight placed on a slow slope will allow more solar heat in compared to a steeper slope.

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Don’t Skimp on Size

The size of the skylight also matters. Many homeowners may be afraid of dedicating so much of their roof to a skylight. Or perhaps they’re concerned with that the costs associated with a larger skylight will be exponentially higher. Yet going too small will do little to yield the amount of natural light you can get, especially when you consider the effort required to install a skylight.

As far as price is concerned, there’s little difference when it comes to smaller versus larger skylights since the majority of the cost of skylights is in the installation. As such, it shouldn’t be that much more expensive to add more size to the skylight from a financial standpoint.

Fixed or Vented?

A fixed skylight is one that doesn’t open, and as such, it is virtually leak-proof because it’s sealed during manufacturing. Any leaks that occur from a fixed skylight are likely the result of faulty installation and poor flashing techniques as opposed to the skylight itself.

Vented skylights, on the other hand, can actually open up to allow ventilation. These are more likely to leak because they aren’t sealed shut, though vast improvements have been made over the years in the manufacturing of these types of skylights specifically to prevent potential leaks. Vented skylights may be particularly useful in places with high levels of moisture, such as bathrooms and kitchens. There are even models available that automatically close when they sense the start of a rainfall.

Tempered or Laminated Glass?

Skylights are typically made out of either tempered or laminated glass rather than ordinary glass in order to prevent damage or injury should the glass break as a result of impact from an object, such as a fallen tree branch. Tempered glass is a lot stronger than regular glass, and if it does shatter, the pieces are smooth and not likely to cause any bodily harm. Laminated glass is also an option for skylights and is coated in a film. If the glass is ever shattered, the film will keep the broken pieces from breaking into sharp glass shards.

The Bottom Line

The benefits of having a skylight or two in your home are pretty clear. Between all the natural light, the reduced need to depend on artificial light, and the wonderful ambiance created, skylights can completely transform the look and feel of a home. But there are factors that require careful consideration before making a hole in your roof. Get yourself some professional advice and installation services from a trusted expert in your area to ensure that you enjoy your skylight for years to come.

What is an Exclusive Right to Sell Listing?

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There are different types of listing agreements that sellers can choose from when it comes time to sell their homes. But the most popular type of listing by far is the “exclusive right to sell” listing. In fact, it’s not very often that another type of listing contract is used in real estate.

An exclusive right to sell listing essentially gives the seller’s agent total control over the transaction and receives the commission no matter where the buyer comes from. Regardless of whether the listing agent, the seller, or a cooperating agent finds a qualified buyer, the listing agent will still earn the commission. If another cooperating real estate agent is involved in the transaction by bringing a buyer to the table, the commission is usually split between the agents. How the commission is split will depend on the exact details of the contract.

Most of the time, exclusive right to sell listings expire after anywhere between 90 to 120 days during which time the seller gives the listing agent an opportunity to market the home and attract a buyer. The seller has the option of renewing the listing after it expires if the home doesn’t sell within that time frame.

What’s the Difference Between an Exclusive Right to Sell and Exclusive Agency?

It’s important to differentiate between an “exclusive right to sell” listing versus an “exclusive agency” listing. With the latter, a real estate agent is contracted to sell the home. If that agent is able to find a qualified buyer that leads to a successful sale, then the agent will receive the agreed-upon commission from the seller.

However, if the seller finds a buyer on his own, no sales commission is owed to the agent. Unlike an exclusive right to sell listing, an exclusive agency listing does not give control to the seller’s agent over the final outcome of the transaction, regardless of how much work was put into marketing the property.

What About Open Listings?

An open listing differs from an exclusive right to sell listing in that no single real estate agent has a right to get paid commission. Having said that, no single broker has the responsibility to act on the seller’s behalf in terms of marketing or negotiating. A seller can have an open listing with a number of agents who will all have the right to market the property and find a qualified buyer. The agent who finds a buyer and closes the deal is the one who will be paid commission.

What Terms Should Be Included in Your Listing?

If you’ve determined that an exclusive right to sell listing is right for you, the terms that are included can be customized and negotiated. Typically, the following terms are included in these types of contracts:

  • Listing price
  • Listing type
  • Terms of sale
  • Expiry date of the contract
  • Personal property that’s included
  • Fixtures that are not included
  • Amount of commission to be paid
  • When commission will be paid
  • Whether your property will be listed with the MLS
  • Specific responsibilities of the agent
  • Specific times and days the property will be available for showings

Be sure to carefully review the details of each term included in the listing. If there’s anything you’re unclear about, make sure you inquire with your agent before you sign the contract. 

The Bottom Line

Considering the various listing agreements and how each affects both sellers and their agents alike, it would be wise to gain an understanding of what they are before signing the contract. Having said that, the “exclusive right to sell” listing is by far the most common listing agreement signed by sellers and agents. Just make sure that you take the time to go through each clause in the agreement and ask questions where applicable. Your agent will be happy to clear up any confusions you may have.

How Prorations Are Handled in Real Estate Transactions

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It’s not uncommon for real estate contracts to include prorations for both buyers and sellers. Prorations exist to reasonably divide any expenses related to the property, including property taxes, HOA dues, mortgage interest, utilities, and so forth so that both parties are not stuck paying for more than their fair portion.

Many times buyers are charged for the prorations in a real estate contract, but sellers can often be on the hook for these expenses too. The cost associated with these fees will be included as a debit to one party and a credit to the other on the respective closing statements.

So, how exactly do prorations work in real estate contracts? To get a better idea, it’s helpful to look at each type of proration individually, as each is calculated in its own way.

Property Tax Prorations

If you own property, you’ll be on the hook to pay property taxes. The amount you have to pay will depend on a number of factors, including your exact location. Each state calculates its property taxes based on its own unique calendar year. In California, the calendar year for the purpose of calculating property taxes is from July 1st to June 30th.

Taxes are typically paid in two installments rather than in one lump sum at the end of the calendar year. In California, these dates are November 1st and February 1st. A 10% penalty is charged for delinquent payments.

You will need to determine whether the taxes have been prepaid or are not yet due and are to be paid at a later date. If the taxes have already been prepaid, sellers will receive a credit proration and buyers will receive a debit proration. On the other hand, if the taxes haven’t been paid yet, sellers will receive a debit and buyers will receive a credit proration.

If the seller’s last payment towards property taxes covered a time period after the closing date, the proration will be made from the date of closing to the date that the taxes are paid up to. In this case, the proration will be a credit to the seller and a debit to the buyer.

For instance, if the closing date on the deal is October 20th, 2017 and the seller paid the first installment that covers up to February 1st, 2018, the seller will be credited and the buyer will be debited between these two dates. The purpose of this proration is to reimburse the seller for this time period that the property no longer has the seller’s name on title.

If the closing date arrives after the date that the property taxes are due, the proration is calculated from the first day of the tax installment to the closing date.

For example, if the closing date is February 15th, 2018, and the seller has not yet paid the second installment that was due February 1st, the seller will be debited and the buyer will be credited from February 1st, 2018 to February 15th, 2018. This will reimburse the buyer for the time period that the seller owned the property within that tax period.

Sometimes property tax prorations are paid out from the seller’s proceeds, and the unused portion will be credited to the seller and charged to the buyer if the closing date is nearing the due date for property taxes to be paid. Make sure you read your contract closely to find out whether or not you will be credited or debited for any property taxes associated with the property in question.

Mortgage Insurance Prorations

Every mortgage payment made covers the interest paid the month before. For example, a mortgage payment that’s made on June 1st pays the interest from May. Lenders typically collect mortgage interest up to 30 days before the first mortgage payment needs to be made when a new home loan is taken out. Sellers will owe interest to buyers up to or through the closing date. The buyer will then be responsible for paying the interest on the following mortgage payment after closing of escrow.

For instance, if a deal closes on April 15th, the first mortgage payment will be due June 1st which will cover the interest for May. Buyers will be charged interest from April 15th to May 1st on their closing statement.

In order to calculate the interest proration, the number of days of interest that the seller owes to the buyer will need to be established. The amount of interest per day is then multiplied by the number of days of owed interest in order to come up with the total amount owed.

HOA Fee Prorations

If the subject property is governed by a homeowner’s association (HOA), then monthly dues will be charged to cover expenses related to maintenance and management of the overall property. Buyers and sellers must divide this fee by the amount of time each party will be in the home for the current month.

Let’s say closing is on May 15th and the HOA fees are $200 per month. If the seller has not yet paid the dues for May, they will be paid from the seller’s proceeds for the time period between May 1st and 15th. If the seller has already paid for May’s HOA fees, the buyer will be responsible for covering this time period.

Utility Prorations

Utilities aren’t often the subject of prorations on real estate contracts, but they are sometimes applicable in some jurisdictions. For instance, in certain municipalities, if the seller does not pay the city or county utilities, then they’ll be rolled over to the tax assessments and deducted from the tax bill for prorations.

The Bottom Line

No one wants to have to pay any more than they have to in a real estate deal, regardless of how little the amount may be. Proration calculations make everything fair and square in terms of paying for only what each party is responsible for. These can be intricate calculations, which should be carefully looked over when both buyers and sellers receive a copy of their closing statements in order to ensure the divisions have been calculated fairly and accurately.

Should You Purchase Extra Coverage on Mover’s Insurance?

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Relocating can be stressful, especially when you consider the idea that total strangers are handling many of your delicate, valuable belongings. While movers are professionals in their particular trade and are well skilled and experienced in transporting goods during moves, anything can happen.

If you’ve hired a moving company to help you relocate your belongings, what types of guarantees do they offer in the event that any of your items are damaged or lost during the moving process? Is their coverage enough? Would it be worth the extra money to purchase extra moving insurance? To answer these questions, you need to first understand exactly what will be covered by your moving company as well as your personal homeowner’s insurance.

Your Property Insurance Policy Might Provide Extra Coverage

If you have homeowner’s insurance – which you should – you might already have a certain amount of protection for your personal belongings should something happen during the move. Typical policies include coverage for items while in transit or in storage. However, you’ll need to verify the terms and conditions in the contract that this clause is subject to.

Ask your insurance company about the specific coverage that they offer during a move to find out if everything you want protected will be adequately covered. The company may even offer what’s known as a “Trip Transit Policy” which insures your belongings for any damage incurred during a specific trip, such as a move. However, while this policy would typically cover your personal items during a move, it might not necessarily provide coverage for damage caused by the movers.

It should also be noted that a new homeowner policy on your new home will typically only provide coverage for the goods after they’ve been moved in. That means it might not provide coverage for goods that are in transit.

If it’s discovered that the current policy you have doesn’t provide adequate coverage for certain belongings, additional insurance might be warranted.

Find Out Precisely What Type of Coverage Your Moving Company Offers

In addition to double-checking your own homeowner’s insurance policy, you should also take the time to read the fine print about the type of coverage that’s offered through your moving company’s insurance policy. It’s in your best interests to read over your moving contract with a fine-tooth comb to identify exactly what’s covered, and for how much.

All moving companies are liable for a certain amount of value of the goods that they transport according to federal government regulations, which means they can’t say that they are not responsible if any of your items are damaged during the move. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into any type of guarantee for you. The basic liability that moving companies are obligated to offer is considered “valuation” coverage, which is not the same as insurance.

In particular, look for any of the following types of valuation coverage from your moving company’s insurance policy:

Complete Value Protection – Any personal property that is lost, damaged, or totally destroyed will be covered under this all-encompassing form of protection, as well as the costs associated with repairs or replacement. You’ll have to pay extra for this type of coverage, so make sure you find out how what the minimum coverage amount is, as well as the deductible. The moving company will then be on the hook to repair or replace the damaged or lost items.

Assessed Value Protection – This type of coverage is better suited for valuables that are not too large or heavy, such as jewelry, and is based on cost instead of weight. The higher the protection amount, the more this coverage will cost.

Declared Value Protection Based on Weight – With this type of coverage, the moving company will take the total weight of your belongings and multiply it by a certain amount per pound. This is the amount that the moving company would be liable for if they are responsible for any damage or destruction of your personal property. While this does not add any extra cost to your move, it can dramatically lower how much your moving company needs to pay should anything be damaged or lost. Typically, a rate of 60 cents per pound would be offered, which means that if a 40-pound chair is damaged or lost, for instance, you would only be compensated $24.

If you do decide to purchase additional insurance from your mover, make sure to ask for a full run-down of all the various options they offer. Inquire about how the value of damaged or lost goods is determined, and how you would be compensated. When you’re going over the moving contract, make sure what is outlined coincides with what you’ve estimated the value of all your goods to be.

Be Wary of the Fine Print in Many Moving Company Contracts

Although moving companies typically offer some form of insurance, there is often a loophole in the contract that they can tap into should anything happen. For instance, it’s not uncommon for contracts to stipulate that the moving company is not liable for any damages that happen while the items are in transit.

Things such as shifting of the boxes, improperly packed boxes, or falling of items onto other adjacent boxes would typically not be considered the liability of the mover if stated so in the contract. In addition, contracts will often stipulate that the movers will not be liable for any damage to goods if they were packed by the homeowner and not the movers themselves.

Buying Additional Insurance Coverage Outside of What the Movers Offer

If you’ve decided that additional coverage is warranted but you don’t want to go through your mover, you can always go with something that your current insurance provider offers, or even shop around with a third-party service. Give your current homeowner’s insurance company a call to see what types of additional coverage policies they offer that you can purchase outside of what you’re already getting with your current policy. Some providers offer add-on moving coverage to existing policies for a small fee.

If your current insurance provider doesn’t have an insurance policy product for moves, you can always shop around with a reputable third-party insurance provider. The costs for different policies will vary a great deal depending on how much coverage you need and the overall assessed value of your belongings that you want covered. There will also be a deductible that you will be responsible for paying should you ever have to file a claim. Be sure to inquire about exactly how much that will be.

The Bottom Line

Don’t make any assumptions about what moving companies or regular homeowner’s insurance policies will cover should any of your things get damaged or lost during the moving process. Do your due diligence and read through the policies offered, and consider adding a rider or purchasing additional coverage should you feel that what is currently being offered is not sufficient.

Solar Panels: Should You Lease or Buy?

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Solar panel systems can offer a great way to scale back your utility bills while helping the environment at the same time. But their upfront costs can be pretty pricey: a typical four-kilowatt system for an average-size home in California can cost anywhere between $15,000 to $35,000. However, there are some rebates that you might be eligible for that can offset these costs.

Luckily, you don’t have to come up with a lump sum of money to starting reaping the rewards of a more energy-efficient home and smaller utility bills. You can always finance or lease your solar panel system. The question is, which one of the two options should you choose?

The obvious difference between buying and leasing a solar panel system is in ownership. If you buy it, you own it. If you lease the system, a third party owns it. Making the decision to either buy/finance or lease comes down to looking at several factors, such as the cost, terms of the agreement, maintenance, and savings/returns on your investment.

Leasing Solar Panel Systems

The possibility of leasing solar panel systems made it feasible for many American households to be able to have them installed in their homes without having to pay upfront or be approved for a loan. With $0 down options, leasing has made solar panel systems affordable for many.   

Leasing a solar panel system might be the best route to go if you want to avoid having to maintain or repair it when the need arises. These programs leave those tasks to the supplier, which means homeowners don’t have to worry about adding that chore to their list of obligations.

Leases are generally for 20 to 25 years, after which you may choose to either renew the agreement or buy the system.

Tax credits are available to help cut down on the cost of buying a solar panel system, but not everyone is eligible to take advantage of them. Leasing is more attractive to those who don’t meet the income requirements to benefit from federal or state investment tax credits.

The downfall of a lease program is that homeowners would have to assume a 20- to 25-year obligation, which would then have to be transferred over to a buyer if they sell their home.

Buying/Financing Solar Panel Systems

While leasing is still a popular option, taking out a loan to buy these systems is becoming increasingly common. Finance offerings from various lenders in the residential solar market are growing, especially over the recent past.

One of the reasons that loans are becoming more popular is because they are cost-effective compared to leasing. As the price of solar panel systems continues to gradually decrease, the cost is becoming more and more affordable for homeowners.

Another reason why financing is catching up to leasing is because loan programs for these systems are becoming more widely available from different sources outside of the solar panel suppliers themselves. Even as recently as a few years ago, financing was only available from the solar panel system suppliers, and not from banks. Back then, banks and lenders weren’t experienced in structuring these types of loans, especially for borrowers who may not have been eligible to utilize any tax credits to save money on their utility bills.

Loans for solar panel systems are typically available for 10- to 20-year terms, with interest rates that run anywhere between 3% to 8% for those with a decent credit score.

Buying your solar panel system can help you realize significantly more savings on your monthly utility bills compared to leasing. In fact, you can save between 40% and 70% on the cost of electricity over the lifetime of the system and take advantage of what is essentially free electricity for as long as the system lasts (which is typically up to 30 years). Leasing, on the other hand, will save you between 10% to 30% off of electricity costs, depending on your home’s construction and any incentives you receive from the state.

Of course, one of the obvious downfalls of an owned system is that you are the one who’s responsible for maintaining and/or repairing it. Having said that, today’s solar equipment is quite robust and comes with warranties which can help to take some of the load off of you should any repairs need to be made.

Tax Credits to Cover Part of the Cost of Solar Panel Systems

In 2008, solar tax credits were executed as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which included billions of dollars in incentives for the use of renewable energy technologies such as solar panel systems. In late 2015, legislation renewed these tax credits for five years. As long as homeowners have a federal tax liability, they’ll be able to take advantage of this one-time solar investment tax credit, which offers a 30% rebate on the entire cost of the system.

How Does Leasing Versus Buying Count at Resale?

When it comes down to deciding which route to take, you might also want to consider the resale value of your home if you ever happen to sell at some point in the future. It’s been estimated that host-owned solar systems can add approximately $15,000 to the value of a home, while leased systems make homes more difficult to sell.

A home that comes with an owned solar panel system is viewed as more valuable since the property comes with this additional asset. Not only that, it can even be rolled into the mortgage if necessary. On the other hand, a home with a leased solar panel system comes with an added monthly bill that can last 20 years. Typically, buyers look more favorably on a home with an owned system as opposed to one that comes with added monthly payments associated with a leased system.

The Bottom Line

The choice between buying versus leasing your solar panel system will depend on your particular situation. If the cost to borrow is low and your income makes you eligible for solar tax benefits, perhaps buying might be the best option. You’ll gain a valuable asset for your home and you can take full advantage of the cost savings of the system.

On the other hand, if your income isn’t high enough to offset the tax credits, then leasing might be the best route for you. It will still save you money, and it won’t cost you a dime upfront. At the end of the day, knowing what each option offers is key to helping you make the best decision.

What is Considered a Fixture in Real Estate?

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The issue of what constitutes a ‘fixture’ in a home and what doesn’t has been the source of many conflicts in real estate. What the buyer might believe is a fixture and should come with the house might not be considered a fixture by the seller.

It’s important that both buyers and sellers are very clear on the things are considered to be fixtures and what aren’t in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises and disappointments.

So, what exactly can be classified as a fixture in the world of real estate?

The general rule of thumb in real estate is that if an item is fastened or attached to the property, it’s considered a fixture. In essence, fixtures are part of the property and should come with it when the buyer takes possession. If the seller absolutely wants to take the fixture, it should be removed before any buyers come to take a look at the place. If necessary, the fixture should be replaced.

For instance, if a refrigerator is removed and taken with the seller, it should be replaced with another fridge that matches the rest of the appliances in the kitchen. Selling a home with a big empty space where a fridge is supposed to go will do little to make the home appealing to prospective buyers.

If the seller doesn’t remove it before a buyer sees the home and puts in an offer, the seller should insert a clause in the contract stating that the fixture will be removed before the buyer takes possession. Of course, the buyer can always refuse to accept that clause and cross it out before signing off on the deal. This is something that will have to be negotiated between both parties. 

How Can You Be Sure That Specific Items Are Considered Fixtures?

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There are certain criteria that you can look at to help you determine whether or not personal property should be classified as a fixture:

How the item is attached. For starters, identify how the item is fastened to the property. If it’s permanently attached to the wall, floor, or ceiling with nails, screws, glue, cement, or anything else along these lines, it’s likely a fixture, regardless of whether or not you can easily remove it. Examples include light fixtures, ceiling fans, wall sconces, TV mounts, shelving units, and so forth.

Adaptability of the item to be used with the property. If the item was specifically built and permanently installed in the home to be used with the property, it’s a fixture. It’s a part of the property and should generally not be removed by the seller. Examples include built-in electronics, wall-to-wall carpeting, or laminate floor planks. Items like these are part of the property, and are therefore considered fixtures.

Homeowner’s intention when the item was installed. If the seller’s original intention when the item was initially installed was to make it a permanent part of the property, then it should be considered a fixture. Built-in bookshelves or a screwed-in mailbox are good examples of such a scenario.

Agreement between the buyer and seller. Ideally, the purchase agreement will specifically detail what is defined as a fixture and therefore included in the sale, and what is not. This is the most important criteria that will lower the odds of any disagreements and subsequent disputes. As long as everyone is in agreement about what can be taken and what will be left behind, there should be no issues.

Relationship of the parties. Unfortunately, disputes can and do arise when it comes to fixtures, and can sometimes wind up in court to be ironed out. However, the courts will usually favor a specific party over the other. For instance, those who are more likely to win a dispute are buyers over sellers and tenants over landlords.

Always Make Sure Your Contract is Detailed About Specific Fixtures

Even though real estate law clearly defines what is and is not a fixture, it’s still critical to make sure that the contract specifies which items will be staying with the property and which ones will be taken with the seller. This is particularly important if there is even a shadow of a doubt about the fixtures. Items that are commonly detailed in real estate contracts include appliances, shelving units, and portable water fountains. Items such as these – as well as many others – should be classified in the purchase agreement as either being included or excluded in the sale.

There’s nothing wrong with being overly detailed, especially if there is even the slightest possibility that one party may be confused about what constitutes a fixture or not. Your real estate agent will have in-depth knowledge about fixtures and the law that surrounds them. Be sure to tap into the knowledge of your real estate professional if you have any questions about which items should stay, and which can go.