Countertop care

I have multi surface types in my home which I noticed are getting somewhat dull.  Because I’m not sure I remember how to clean each one properly, the following research came in handy for me… and it may also for you.

These cleaning tips for quartz, travertine, porcelain, engineered stone, granite, marble, and soapstone (and even butcherblock) will help keep your countertops looking spotless

You’ve invested in your kitchen, bath or whole house remodel. Now the tough part of maintaining the new and sleek appearance of your home begins. Kitchen and bath designer Kayron Brewer shares an important reminder to everyone: Take care of your investment by using the proper cleaning methods and materials from day one. If you have a cleaning person to help you, “review your cleaning products and methods with them,” she says. “Don’t assume that they know the right cleaning method or product for a particular surface.”

Natural Quartz:   Quartz is one of the hardest minerals found in nature, so it’s a fitting material for the busiest space in the home: the kitchen. Quartz countertops are made from crushed pure natural quartz combined with a small amount of pigment and resin. This combination of materials allows quartz to be a dense, nonporous stone that is both scratch and stain resistant with no sealing required.

However, says kitchen and bath designer Gary Lichlyter, “you really can’t tell the difference [in terms of surface gloss and sheen] between a sealed and nonsealed quartz countertop. [However] Sealing takes just a few minutes but can really help protect your quartz surface for long-term use, so I highly recommend it.” *

The most-simple maintenance regimen:  Wash the surface with a soft cotton cloth and warm water with a mild dish soap. According to the company website, “Cambria is durable and more resistant to surface damage than other stone. However, all stone can be damaged by force and no stone is chip-proof. Objects hitting edges particularly at sinks or dishwashers may cause chips.”

Natural stone surfaces like quartz can also be damaged by sudden and rapid changes of temperature as well as direct contact with hot pots and pans. Always use a potholder to protect the natural quartz surface.

For tough stains: Quartz countertops are meant to be stain free, as the surface does not absorb liquids.
Stay away from: Bleach and abrasive products.

See below for more information on the care of quartz.

Travertine:   The biggest issue people have with cleaning and maintaining a travertine shower is soap scum. Soap scum can damage tiles and ruin the look of a travertine shower. Also, hard water deposits can also start to accumulate in a travertine shower.

“A travertine-tiled shower is a constantly wet surface, so upon installation, I strongly urge people to apply the best sealer that money can buy to protect their travertine shower,” says Lichlyter.

For tough stains: Lichlyter recommends zero-pH cleaners, which are readily available in home improvement stores.

Stay away from: “Commercial cleaners that smell good but have petroleum in the ingredients,” says Lichlyter. “Petroleum sits on tile grout and causes residue and a dirty-looking appearance.” Also avoid acidic substances like vinegar as well as abrasive cleaners and dish soap containing citrus oil.

Porcelain Sinks:   Kitchen and bath designer Angie Keyes‘ cleaning regimen for porcelain sinks is simple: She uses a Magic Eraser or a disinfecting bathroom cleaner like Comet, which comes in a nonabrasive, bleach-free liquid solution made for porcelain and ceramic surfaces.

Lichlyter adds, “Tried and tested brands like American Standard and Kohler have porcelain surfaces that can handle all kinds of cleansers.”

For tough stains: Lichlyter recommends applying a bit of powder cleanser on the scuff marks and letting it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing the powder off with a scrub brush. Blogger Desireé swears by soft cleanser Bar Keepers Friend, which works without having to use bleach on the surface. “Apply a small amount [of Bar Keepers Friend] directly on the areas where you see stains. … You’ll see the stains disappear before your eyes.”

Stay away from: Bleach, which will eventually eat through the enamel seal on the porcelain.

Engineered Stone:   Engineered stone countertops are made of 93 percent natural stone and 7 percent polymers and are highly resistant to scratches and stains. “Engineered stone countertops are highly resilient, but high temperatures will damage the polymers and can also damage your counters,” says Lichlyter. Use a hot-pot pad when placing heated objects on engineered stone surfaces.

For countertops with a smooth and matte look, use a mild soap and water solution to clean and polish the surface.

For tough stains: Multipurpose cleaners and detergents applied to scouring pads should take care of tough stains by transferring the dirt from the surface to the pad; the rough pad will not damage your countertop surface.

Stay away from: “Avoid using harsh chemicals like bleach or ammonia,” says Whitsunday Marble & Granite. “To clean engineered stone we recommend water and a mild detergent. Engineered stone is tough, but not indestructible.”

Slate:   For natural stone like slate, it’s advisable to apply a penetrating sealer to countertops and slate floors every two years to prevent deep stains.

Clean slate tiles with a few drops of dishwashing liquid and warm water applied to the slate surface with a soft cleaning tool, like a mop, sponge or soft cloth.

For tough stains: Clean soap scum with a half-cup of ammonia per 1 gallon of water.

Stay away from: Abrasive cleaners, vinegar and citrus cleaners.

Granite:   A surprising number of people still clean their granite countertops with a combination of vinegar and warm water. Houzz user Poorgirl said it best: “I would not recommend you use vinegar on your stone; it’s acidic and will eat your polished finish in time.” Natural stones like granite will require sealing upon installation, so it’s important to talk to your professional installer regarding their suggested sealer brands.

Designer Kayron Brewer adds, “Once the surface has been sealed, daily cleaning is as simple as mopping with straight warm water.”

For tough stains: For dirt and spills, use a stone-care cleanser that’s the correct pH with water. Don’t forget to read the cleanser label for the correct dilution ratios.

Stay away from: Bleach and acidic cleansers.

Soapstone:   For a surface that’s soft and nonporous, soapstone is durable, won’t show stains because of its dark appearance, and is beloved by people who cook because the surface is an excellent heat insulator. According to AJD Interiors, soapstone, although more expensive, makes for a beautiful surface alternative to granite due to its silky look and appearance.

Soapstone upkeep is simple: Just wipe the surface with a soft sponge or cloth and a few drops of dishwashing liquid or all-purpose cleanser and warm water. During the first year of installation, it’s recommended that you rub the soapstone surface with mineral oil every couple of weeks to help the stone oxidize (darken) evenly; oil can be applied every two months after that for maintenance.

For tough stains: Soapstone resists water, chemicals and acids, so staining isn’t as problematic as scratches. Soapstone scratches and nicks can be removed with fine sandpaper.

Stay away from: Scouring and abrasive cleansers, because they will scratch the soapstone surface, and alkaline cleaners not specifically formulated for stone.

Marble:   One of the most popular kitchen counter materials on Houzz is marble (particularly Carrera marble), but as interior designer Anne DeCocco says, marble is not for everybody. “[Marble] is a softer stone than granite, and it scratches and stains easily because of its porous nature. … But frankly, I like materials that age and show wear. If you don’t, then you are not a candidate for marble counters.”

Marble surfaces take some care and sealing, making them a challenge in homes with kids; acidic stains from breakfast staples like coffee and orange juice will be difficult to clean if not blotted up as soon as the spill occurs. Blot the spill or stain with a soft cloth or sponge and use water to rinse away any remaining spilled liquid. Rinse the soft cloth or sponge with hot water and wring it out thoroughly to remove most of the excess water, which can also seep through the porous marble and cause a permanent stain. Wipe the surface dry with a chamois; don’t allow it to air dry.

For tough stains: For any marble stain, it’s important to wipe the surface as soon as the spill happens. Ask your marble installer or home improvement specialist for a recommended marble poultice.

Stay away from: Abrasive cleansers, vinegar and citrus cleansers.

Ceramic:   Before cleaning ceramic tiles, pick up loose dirt particles by sweeping or vacuuming prior to mopping. Use a soft bristle brush or vacuum floor attachment without a beater bar so the floor surface isn’t scratched by the wrong attachment.

After you remove the loose particles, the floor can be mopped with warm water.  For tougher dirt and spills, mop with a neutral-pH cleaning solution. Many grout and sealant manufacturers have neutral-pH cleaning solutions made specifically for ceramic tile cleaning. Rinse the surface with warm water after cleaning.

For tough stains: Use a scraper to remove stubborn debris. A nylon scrubbing pad dampened with dishwashing liquid can be used to remove grout stains; apply grout sealer twice a year to prevent stains.

Stay away from: Bleach and other acidic cleansers, which discolor or fade grout joints over time. Also avoid oil soaps and ammonia, which will yellow grout, and vinegar, which will damage it.d warm water applied to the slate surface with a soft cleaning tool, like a mop, sponge or soft cloth.

For tough stains: Clean soap scum with a half-cup of ammonia per 1 gallon of water.

Stay away from: Abrasive cleaners, vinegar and citrus cleaners.Granite

Butcher block countertops are typically made of maple or oak and come in wide plank or narrow strips in terms of style. The wide plank style is more apt to warp.

eclectic kitchen DIY Life project      Be sure to use only food-grade mineral oil to prevent the wood from warping and drying out. Avoid vegetable or olive oils for your butcherblock countertop — these oils can turn rancid.

Reapply mineral oil whenever the wood looks dry. You’ll want to use a generous amount of mineral oil — continue reapplying until you see the wood is no longer accepting any more oil.

Comments from readers:    ‘Bar Keeper’s Friend’ is surface gentle and powerful on stains, soap scum, etc. I love it. It’s a great stainless steel and glass polish as well.

How to Seal Granite Countertops

  1. Perform the paper towel test to determine whether your granite needs to be sealed. Some types of granite never need sealing and adding sealer to these types will just make a mess.  [so, ask your designer/installer]

Soak a paper towel (without printing) or a white cotton towel. Place the water-soaked towel on the counter and wait about 5 minutes.

Is the area under the paper towel dark from the water soaking into the granite? If it is discolored, your granite needs to be sealed.

2    Spray the whole surface evenly with a spray cleaner. Wipe it down with a paper towel and wait a couple of minutes. The surface should be completely dry.

3    Uniformly apply the sealer to your counter top. This should be done using a spray bottle, but a clean white rag or a brush is also acceptable.

4    Let the sealer absorb into the stone for approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

5    When the sealer is almost dry, apply a little more sealer on your granite and then rub it in with a dry, clean rag.

6    Wait at least two hours and then apply a second application. The wait time depends on your specific brand of sealer.

Watch this How-to video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vhaF7NVISkA#!

How to Care for Quartz Countertops

Pass on sealing your quartz countertop. Because quartz is non-porous, it doesn’t need to be sealed or protected like granite or other natural stone countertops. It comes with a polished surface that acts a protective barrier.

Use hot pads or trivets when placing hot containers on a quartz countertop. While the countertops can handle moderate heat, prolonged heat can cause damage.

Clean the countertops with a non-abrasive kitchen cleaner. A vinegar and water solution or hot soapy water works best. If you’re looking for a more thorough cleaning, most cleaners sold on the shelves of supermarkets will work fine, but stay away from cleaners containing bleach. Always wipe off the countertops with a soft sponge or washcloth.

Prevent scratching the countertops by always using a cutting board when using a knife. Also, place glasses and bottles or cans of beverages on coasters. Another way to prevent scratching is to place all accessories or hairstyling equipment, bottles or lotions on a holding tray or shelf if you have quartz countertops in bathrooms.

Tips & Warnings:  Quartz countertops are not as flexible as manufactured laminate. Prevent cracking or chipping by not allowing anyone to sit or stand on the countertops.

Thanks to:  Houzz, EHow, WikiHow

Financial Health: Recovering from Bankruptcy

Buying a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make, so use our tips to make savvy financial decisions before you buy – and maintain your home’s value once you sign on the dotted line.  The following is PART 1 of an excellent guide from FrontDoor:

PART 1:  Financial Health and Recovery

The housing crisis has tightened up credit markets, so it’s more important than ever to have a clean credit report. Use our tips to shore up your credit score before you buy, or restore your credit after a major financial blow.

A.  Recovering From Bankruptcy

What you can expect in the first 2 years after bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy should not be a financial monsoon that sweeps away your credit freedom for the rest of your life.

Bankruptcy can offer a fresh start to individuals with overwhelming debt who are seeking ways to brighten their financial horizon. But, improving your credit standing, like diminishing your credit standing, happens over a period of time.

While bankruptcy remains on credit reports for years, if you maintain a good credit history after filing for bankruptcy some lenders oftentimes extend credit for auto and home loans 18 to 24 months after a bankruptcy discharge.

In 2008, more than 1.1 million Americans filed for bankruptcy, a 32 percent increase from the year before, according to the Automated Access to Court Electronic Records. As the U.S. attempts to recover from an economic recession, a credit crunch has created a few hiccups as lenders tighten up credit standards for loan applicants across the board.

The turbulent markets could make the road to credit redemption a little longer, but don’t fret — instead focus on long-term financial freedom.

Know that every application for credit is judged on an individual basis, so the length of time it takes to repair your credit will vary.

What might your recovery period look like?

The First 6 Months

The most damage to your credit will be immediately after you file, says Candy Wright, group manager of counseling at GreenPath Debt Solutions (www.greenpath.com), a non-profit consumer-counseling service. “If you have accounts that you’re not including, like a mortgage, that will actually help your credit over time if you keep your account current.”

First, you should find an experienced and trustworthy lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy, or seek low-cost legal aid services.

Take the time to learn the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy and which works best for you. Under Chapter 7, also referred to as “liquidation bankruptcy,” you pay nothing to unsecured creditors, but may be required to liquidate non-exempt assets (like a house or car worth more than a certain amount). Chapter 13, often called a “wage-earner’s plan,” means you pay back a portion of your debts over a period of time and are not required to liquidate assets.

Next, be prepared to spend up to six months awaiting bankruptcy discharge, which releases the debtor from personal liability for some or all of his or her debts. During this time, creditors are notified and given time to respond to your bankruptcy claim. You should not pursue any new credit during this period.

6 Months to a Year

Your credit history won’t clear up immediately — even if you’re current on your bills, it will take several months for your credit to improve on paper.

“After six months to a year, if you’re in good standing, then you will establish a track record of turning yourself around that will be reflected in your score,” says Director of Consumer Education Steve Katz of TrueCredit (www.truecredit.com), a credit monitoring agency. “Keep in mind the impact of bankruptcy is a lot of late payments, and if you have a foreclosure you might still be accountable for that mortgage and those things can linger on for quite awhile.”

If you re-affirm debt, or agree to repay a portion of a debt, the positive effects of repayment will begin to show up on your credit report. If not, rental payments or other types of credit that are reported to credit bureaus may have a positive impact as you re-establish your credit.

The First Year

Request your credit report from all three credit bureaus after bankruptcy the first year and each subsequent year. As you begin to rebuild your credit, it’s important to track your credit history and remain in good standing.

“It’s kind of like your report card from school, so you want to try to always improve your score,” says Ralph R. Roberts, a bankruptcy and foreclosure expert and creator of KeepMyHouse.com. The way to improve: Pay on time, every time.

The Second Year and Beyond

Each year after the first has less of an impact on your credit history. However, bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years. For that period of time, any lender viewing your credit report will see an indication that you filed for bankruptcy and may take that into consideration before extending a line of credit. If you become more financially healthy in the seventh year, for example, it will have less of an impact than the 1st or 3rd year of bankruptcy.

Your credit requires a lifetime of maintenance, and while bankruptcy is a major roadblock, worry less about a timetable and more about weathering the financial storm by relying less on credit cards and survive by living a debt-free lifestyle.

NEXT:  Part 1, Item B:  7 Ways to Improve your Credit Score

 

How, when, why to take a reverse mortgage – Pt 1

[“Reverse Mortgage” AKA “Home Equity Conversion Mortgages” HECMs]

  Photo from Shutterstock

FHA-insured reverse mortgages, also called home equity conversion 
mortgages, or HECMs, allow seniors to withdraw cash from their 
home while retaining the right to live there indefinitely. 
They are a potentially powerful tool for helping seniors live 
better lives during their retirement years, and new HECM options 
enlarge the possibilities.

However, the benefits can also be frittered away, with little lasting benefit to the senior, and all too many seniors are doing just that. About two-thirds of all HECM borrowers today withdraw the maximum amount of cash possible at closing, which leaves the senior with no borrowing power for the future. While some seniors have compelling reasons for withdrawing the maximum amount of cash at the outset, many are making a mistake.

HECMs are complicated

Underlying the mistakes that seniors make is the complexity of HECMs and the fact that few seniors understand them. The new options increase the complexity. While there is no way to make HECMs simpler, or to raise the IQs of senior borrowers, the likelihood of bad decisions can be reduced by improving the quality of advice that they receive, and the quality of the information to which they have access.

The role of counselors

Every HECM borrower must be counseled by a Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved HECM counselor, but counselors are not preventing borrowers from making serious mistakes. Even if counselors were financial planners qualified to advise seniors on how a HECM fits into a retirement plan, which most are not, under HUD rules, counselors are not supposed to recommend one HECM option over another. Many HECM borrowers, furthermore, turn off their hearing aids during their counseling session.

Lender incentives

HUD limits the origination fees that borrowers can be charged to 2 percent of the first $200,000 of property value, plus 1 percent of the amount above $200,000 but with a cap of $6,000. In addition, lenders collect a premium paid by the wholesalers to whom they sell the HECMs. On the day in July that I checked, these premiums were 7.625 percent on fixed-rate standard HECMs, and 4.875 percent on standard adjustable-rate HECMs. Premiums are paid on the initial loan balance only.

Thus, a senior of 72 with a $400,000 home will generate premium income for the lender amounting to $20,600 if he draws maximum cash on a fixed-rate mortgage; $13,200 if he draws maximum cash on an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM); and $600 if he elects an annuity on an ARM. In the last case, the initial loan upon which the premium is based consists only of the financed settlement costs. Note: The reasons for this enormous spread in originator income will be discussed in another article.

The bottom line is that lenders have a strong incentive to encourage borrowers to withdraw cash upfront. Unfortunately, in many cases, borrowers don’t need much if any encouragement.

Borrower bias against ARMs

Most senior homeowners had one or more forward mortgages during their life, from which experience many emerged with a bias against ARMs. They may not have had one, but they heard about them and knew that they were risky. So when offered a choice of fixed- or adjustable-rate HECMs, they opt for the fixed, which requires that the full value of the HECM be taken in cash.

Borrower bias against ARMs combined with lender financial interest in maximum cash withdrawals make for a perfect marriage. But not one made in heaven.

Borrower bias against HECM ARMs is misconceived. On forward mortgages, borrowers are exposed to the risk that a future interest rate increase will make the monthly payment unaffordable, but there is no such risk on a HECM because borrowers have no mortgage payment to make.

A future increase in the rate on a HECM does result in a more rapid increase in the senior’s loan balance, but this hurts only borrowers who use all or most of their borrowing power by drawing cash at the outset. To the extent that the senior reserves some part of his HECM borrowing power as an unused credit line, future ARM rate increases work to his benefit because the line grows at that rate.

The upshot is that seniors with needs best met by an annuity payment, and/or by husbanding a credit line for future use — which is most of them — should not shrink from taking an ARM.

Information available to borrowers

While HECMs are complicated, we live in an information age replete with sophisticated tools for expositing complicated ideas. Lucid exposition of the full implications of each possible course of action can overcome a borrower’s preconceived bias and the entreaties of interested loan originators.

The tools available to HECM borrowers, however, are a sorry lot. The existing calculators focus entirely on how much the borrower can draw, without any supporting information on the future consequences of a given selection. So I decided to develop my own. [end of Part 1]

By Jack Guttentag, Inman News®

Get Out of Debt

debt   6 steps to take:

by MMarquit

One of the most important financial lessons that you can learn is that debt is prison. Indeed, when you are paying interest on your debt, that money is going straight into someone else’s bank account — and you receive nothing in return. Plus, paying that interest makes it harder to pay down the principal and to reduce your debt. Even though it might be difficult to get out of debt, it is doable. Here are the steps you can take to get out of debt.

1. Really Decide that You are Committed to Getting Out of Debt

The first thing you have to do is decide that you are really committed to getting out of debt. You need to truly want to change the way you do things, and get serious about paying down your debt and getting on the path to financial freedom. Without the commitment to get out of debt, you are likely to give up.

2. Stop Adding to Your Debt

Take a look at your budget, and figure out how you can better live within your means. Before you can effective tackle your debt problems, you need to stop making purchases with debt. Look at your spending, and cut back on the unnecessary items so that you are living within your means.

3. List all of Your Debts

Next, list all of your debts. List the balances, minimum payments and interest rates. Decide on an order to pay them off. Many people like the “debt snowball” method. You take that lowest balance debt, and concentrate on that first. This method is psychologically rewarding, since you see success faster, and are encouraged to keep going. Others, though, prefer to start with the debt with the highest interest rate, since it will save more money in the long run, since you will get rid of the most expensive debt faster.

4. Decide How Much You can Put Toward Debt Pay Down

Now that you have prioritized your debt list, it’s time to figure out how much money you can put toward your debt pay down. Honestly evaluate your spending, and look for places to cut back. You should be able to find waste in your spending, and, instead of spending it on frivolities, put it toward paying off your debt. Pay the current minimum on all of your debts, except the one at the top of your list. Put your debt pay down amount toward that debt. The more you can put toward it, the better.

5. Look for Ways to Earn More to Speed Up the Process

If you want to speed up your debt repayment process, you can look for ways to earn more money. Start a side hustle. Get a part-time job. It’s only for a little while. If you can put your debt repayment efforts into overdrive, you can be free that much sooner — and you will reap the benefits.

6. Acknowledge Your Successes

You can stay motivated when you acknowledge your successes and take time to reward yourself. Don’t go big though — you want to stay out of debt. But you can hold a little celebration, or you can retire each debt in a creative way. Buy a small treat, or cook your favorite dinner at home. Be sure to mark each milestone, and get excited about your next step toward success.

Traveling long term? Rent or Sell?

Rent or Sell? The Optimal Decision for Homeowners Turned Vagabonds

This post was written for the homeowner faced with the prospect of long-term travel who is struggling with the decision to rent or to sell. We’re considering the options. And while we haven’t reached a decision, it’s certainly raised a lot of questions. That being said, we’re unlikely, at this time, to sell.

We believe that the short-term cost of renting out our primary residence, or even leaving it unrented for six months or a year, might pay off in the end. What we mean is that the cost of selling or renting a house may not be simply monetary.  But there will be a costs.

The home we bought just a few years ago has appreciated (we’ve been lucky through this downturn as we live in a desirable area). Selling now will lock in some good gains and free us for travel; however, upon our return, and ready to buy again, we could be priced out of the market.

Here are some important factors that are worthy of consideration:

  • Do you have adequate funds? Are all options open to you? Can your cash flow sustain renting, selling or leaving your home vacant?
  • How will your choice affect your cash position?
  • How willing and able you are to manage a rental property? [especially from a distance-SA]

Balancing the pros and cons of renting, selling or leaving your home vacant, one guiding principle remains. You can rarely realize both cost savings and a high level of security—without paying for it.

Whatever your motivation, it’s important to have a healthy grasp of the financial issues [and implications-SA] when weighing this decision. Though not a comprehensive list, here are some things to consider.

Costs associated with selling

Selling your home can be an expensive proposition.  If you list your home with a realtor, expect to pay around 6% of the home’s sale price. Transfer taxes, property taxes and legal fees associated with the closing of the sale will comprise ~2–4% of the sale price. Further, the remaining principal balance on your current mortgage will have to be paid upon closing. If there’s a prepayment penalty, you’ll need to deduct that from your sale price. Even with these simple back-of-the envelope calculations, you can see how the costs of selling a home can quickly mount.

Costs associated with renting

Consider the total cost of maintaining your place while you are abroad. This includes mortgage payments, utilities, maintenance, yard work, repairs and any professional services which might be required—these could potentially include property management, accounting help and lawyer fees. If, like us, you’re considering renting out your primary residence, you’ll also have to decide whether to rent it furnished or unfurnished. If you leave furniture, be prepared for it to be damaged or, at the minimum, show some wear. If you are planning to rent it unfurnished, you’ll have to consider the costs of a paid storage facility.

Cost of leaving a home vacant

While we had initially dismissed the idea as unfeasible, we’re quickly warming up to the idea of neither selling nor renting. While the costs of leaving a home vacant aren’t negligible, there are many benefits to consider. You can avoid the expenses related to selling and the complications arising from renting.

Furthermore, a low interest-rate mortgage makes holding onto a house a decent way to build wealth.  Low mortgage rates mean that paying off your mortgage is a guaranteed, risk-free return on your investment. Of course, you can invest in safer investments like bonds and dividend paying stocks, but rarely will you earn a higher return on these types of investments than the interest rate you pay on your mortgage.

Of course, there is some downside.  For instance, an unattended home is a prime target for burglars or vandals and most household insurance policies offer only limited coverage if your home is not checked regularly while you are away. Luckily, there are a number of property management services that can help.

Consider hiring a management company

Regardless of whether you decide to rent or to sell, when you add up the responsibilities, there’s much to be said for hiring a professional. This will cost about 8–10% of the rent you collect (or the mortgage you pay). Depending on your agreement with your property manager, they could take care of everything related to the property—from putting it on the market and screening your tenants to collecting rent, maintaining the property and even taking care of your mortgage.

Conclusion

Weighing the choices:  We are concerned with the prospect of selling our house outright. If we were to sell the house, we would be unable to refinance or borrow against the equity in it for the purchase of a new one [sometimes done when a buyer finds the next house before the existing one has sold, i.e., a “bridge” loan-SA]. Moreover, securing a mortgage might prove difficult based on unemployment (or underemployment) caused by travelling. We intend to return to the same area in the future, when we face the risk of being priced out of the market if we were to sell at that time.

It would therefore make sense to rent our home. However, we’re concerned with the upkeep of the property, the screening of prospective tenants and moving our belongings into storage.

Weighing the total expected costs against the total expected benefits of each of these decisions, we’re warming up to the idea of finding somebody to stay at our house and to take care of everything while we’re gone. The challenge now is finding someone to trust. Friends?  We feel uncomfortable asking our friends to shoulder such a burden. Relatives? That option might not be available to us. We’re also considering trying to locate a reliable housesitter.

At issue of course, is how our choice will affect our cash position while travelling. We’ll consider the cost of carrying our residence as an incremental loss while we are away.

RESPONSE  Posted on August 27, 2012 by pppm

Before you decide to rent out your home instead of continuing to try to sell, you must consider a few things:

  1. Run the numbers.  Is renting feasible?   Research the current market to see what your house could rent for. Look at all the monthly bills, current repairs needed, and possible vacancy times to see if it is worth your time and effort.
  2. Contact a tax expert.   The laws vary depending on how long you lived in your home before renting and how long you rent it before selling.  [There could be large tax implications = find out!-SA]
  3. Know the laws.   Know the laws of renting real estate. Learn the legal rights and responsibilities for landlords and tenants, i.e., what you can do if the rent is not paid, what you can ask during interviews, how to handle security deposits.  Check HUD.gov to see links for tenant rights, laws, and protection.

Are you ready to take on that risk and responsibility of being a landlord? Managing your own property is like having a part-time job. You must take care of repairs, interview tenants, collect rent, do bookkeeping, etc.  Being a landlord can be tiring and costly.

Hiring a property manager is a huge relief for owners. A management company will take care of everything for you including screening and finding a tenant, collecting rent, taking care of maintenance issues, and much more. As an absentee owner, hiring a property management company is a must.

Thanks to:  Two Go Round The World Blog

Look for additional posts on Homeowners: To Sell or Rent?

The Next Decade for House Prices

BY THE NUMBERS      AUGUST 28, 2012

IS IT TIME TO BUY?

Ignore the bulls, bears and brokers, and get out your calculator.

U.S. home prices rose in June from a year earlier for the first time in nearly two years, according to data released Tuesday. Is this the start of a bounce back for housing, or is it just a cheerful blip in the numbers before prices resume their fall?

Bet on neither.  Instead, assume for planning purposes that U.S. house prices will rise by an average of 2.3% a year over the next decade.   Here’s why: House pricest end to track the rate of inflation over long time periods (see chart). After all, inflation is the gradual rise in the cost of ordinary goods and services, and houses are boxes made from ordinary goods and services — lumber, copper, carpentry and so on.

If house prices either outpaced or lagged behind the inflation rate over long time periods, houseswould become either infinitely unaffordable or cheap. Of course, that doesn’t happen. Booms and busts tend to offset each other, leaving house prices in sync with other prices. That’s what has happened over the past dozen years or so.

Predicting the inflation rate is difficult, but the work is already done. That’s because of a special kind of bond called Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS. These give investors both a stated interest rate and an ongoing principal adjustment based on the consumer price index, the main measure of inflation. Regular Treasurys give investors only the stated yield.

The difference between TIPS yields and regular Treasury yields, then, is equal to investors’ collective bet on the rate of inflation. Right now, that spread is 2.3 percentage points on 10-year issues. Investors should assume that rate for the next 10 years of annual inflation — and house price gains.

Housing bears will point out that the recent year-over-year price gain is just 0.5%. All of it may be due to a recent drop in mortgage rates luring buyers, which isn’t likely to repeat. And last year made for an easy price comparison, because prices dropped following the expiration of housing stimulus programs. Indeed, house prices may already be falling again. The latest Case-Shiller reading is for June, and really, it reflects purchases that were inked a few months prior.

Housing bulls counter that mortgage delinquencies are down, new home sales are up and affordability has been restored.

They each make good points — and their views are already reflected in market prices for houses, which is why prospective buyers should ignore them. They should also ignore broker claims about a particular area being an up-and-coming one or a deep value. Those sentiments are priced in too.

Buyers should instead use their 2.3% house gain forecast in one of those renting-versus-buying calculators available. Good ones typically ask the user to plug in forecasts for their annual rent increases, annual house price increases and the rate of inflation. Use the same number for each (2.3% or whatever the current spread between TIPS and regular Treasury yields suggests).

Of course, house prices may not exactly track inflation over the next 10 years. They could rise more or less, and history suggests price gains will vary sharply by market. Even in the same market, some buyers will get better deals than others. But the point of the forecast is to base housing decisions on a sober look at likely outcomes rather than hope or hype.

Homeownership still looks like a good deal in most markets, but that has little to do with June’s price rise or the possibility of timing the market.

Thanks to:  JACK HOUGH, SmartMoney.com

What Is A HERS Score?

What Is A HERS Score? photo   With an increasing focus on green home building there is also a greater interest in knowing just how energy efficient an already-built home is. The HERS score is a way of quantifying that information.

Like it or not HERS scores will be entering our mainstream home sales market and you will start seeing more and more of them, but just what is a HERS score? The Home Energy Rating System or HERS, is a numerical value for the efficiency of a home.  A HERS score takes into account the home’s insulation levels, orientation (with North-South exposure being more efficient), the number and kind of windows, the efficiency of the HVAC unit(s), leaks in the home envelope (your home’s barriers to outside elements), leaks in ducts, and electricity generation such as solar panels.

A RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network)-certified professional uses performance testing such as a blower door test in addition to energy-modeling software to give you a numeric score. The lower the score the better.

A new home built to standard 2006 international codes would have a score of about 100. ENERGY STAR homes have HERS scores of 85 or lower, meaning they are built 15% more efficiently than required by code. Average existing homes may be around 130, though some homes score well over 200.

Net-zero energy homes score zero or lower. A Habitat for Humanity “Legacy Home” in 2010, had a -16 HERS because the home produced more energy than it used.

What Is A HERS Score? photo    The rating shown here is from a 1954 block-construction home, renovated in 2005. Apparently, the previous owners did a pretty good job when retrofitting and didn’t skimp on insulation. This this rating was done, the owner has installed PV solar panels.

HERS scores may be required to be posted in future home sales as a good indicator of how much it may cost to operate the home. The cost to conduct a HERS rating varies, so it’s important to shop around. Quotes may run between $250-$450. Qualified professionals can be found at: resnet.us/trade/find-raters-auditors.

Thanks to:   

Realtor Melisa Camp, Phoenix, AZ