Whether you’re a snowbird heading south for winter, a family with a summer home by the ocean, or the owner of a camp that loses its charm in the dead of winter, you’re going to want to prepare your vacant home to fend for itself through the winter months. Here are some tips on how to best prepare your empty home to withstand the colder weather while you’re not around to make sure everything is running as it should.
- Turn off the water supply. This can prevent your pipes from freezing and potentially bursting on very cold days. If you’re leaving a home in an area where freezing pipes can be a problem, drain all waterlines including toilets, the water heater, and the expansion tank.
- Unplug all appliances. Not only can this protect against potential electrical shortages, but it will also save you money as your unused appliances will not be using any phantom energy.
- Turn off your gas line. This will help to prevent gas leaks or other related incidents.
- Guard against unwanted guests. Clean out your fridge, your freezer, and your pantry, leaving only dry, nonperishable foods in air-tight containers. Also be sure to put away any soaps, sponges, or candles, take out any trash, and clean kitchen areas thoroughly.
- Close your damper or flue. That way no snow, rain, or animals can find a way into your home.
- Turn down the thermostat. You’ll want to keep the inside temperature above freezing and at a level where everything will stay dry. Somewhere between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended temperature.
- Bundle the house up tight! You want your home to look like the little boy from A Christmas Story, especially if it’s in an area prone to snow storms. Install storm windows and doors, close the shudders, store all your outdoor furniture and decorations, and make sure you leave everything closed and locked tight.
- Clean your gutters. Otherwise water might not be able to pass through them and they could freeze over and break during the winter.
The season is a-changing in most of the U.S. right now (well, perhaps not in parts of the Southwest or Florida, where the only preparation they do is to prepare to receive winter tourists escaping the cold). For many, it’s a time of green (or brown) grass adorned with crimson, gold and tangerine-colored leaves, cooling temperatures, and the promise of holidays is ahead. It’s also time to get ready for whatever kind of winter you usually experience.
Those piles of leaves are not just there for kids to play in, although they are a big attraction even for adults. Did you know that if you left the leaves there, they decompose and make it harder for your grass to grow in the spring? So, grab a rake.
No matter where you live, along with leaves the gutters of your home receive junk, whether from trees, flying debris, or the powder left behind by roof tiles (split shingle, concrete or composite), clogging them so rainwater can’t flow through. Then they spill over. This overflow can damage your home’s siding, foundation, and leave huge ruts in your landscaping. Get a ladder out and take a survey of them before they have a chance to build up.
While you’re at it, check your roof shingles, which may have begun to warp, age or shed and if repairs are in order, do them before the rains hit. The summer sun can be brutal on them.
Even in the Southwest and along the west coast, stucco and concrete can crack and expand. Take a stroll around the exterior of your home, looking for damage along the pathways and cracks in stucco that could lead to water intrusion, especially around windows. Those cracks and gaps around windows and doors can rob you of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. They also can harbor critters who have made your home their own.
Patios need attention in the fall. Those cushions we lay around on in outdoor living areas can mold and discolor in the rain and should be stored away. Even in hot areas where rain is more infrequent, however, wicker and teak outdoor furniture can receive some brutal treatment. Might be a good time to check around for damage and take stock of what needs to be replaced.
Many fireplaces still burn wood. If yours does, schedule a time to have your chimney and heating system cleaned and maintained, including swapping old filters for new ones. It’s important that everything is in good working condition to decrease the likelihood of house fires. Speaking of fires, your dryer vent can get a lint build-up and now is a good time to clean it. Cooler weather means more static electricity, meaning lint can ignite more easily.
Source: ZillowPorchlight, TBWS
It seems like a no-brainer. You’re a handy person, and you’re simply building a little screened porch onto your family room area. None of your neighbors can see it, and it’s not going to have anything more inside except for a few electrical outlets and a ceiling fan. Plus, maybe some vinyl planking, walls, and windows. Even the roof is just corrugated metal. You’re following the instructions on a YouTube DIY video, and it’s going great so far.
But what happens if you get caught without a building permit? Can you get in trouble for this very straight-forward and unobtrusive project? Why do building permits exist in the first place? Changes to your home go on the record because it’s important that homeowners do things correctly, following the current safety codes for electrical, plumbing, and structure. Doing it wrong could mean exposed wires, short-circuiting, and extensive repairs that could translate into thousands of dollars in damage. Worse yet, potential damage to your neighbors’ property as well.
Failing to follow the rules and get signed off on some projects may mean having to rip it all out and start again when selling your home after an inspection is done, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars. Even if you have an inspector enter your home to sign off on a permitted project, they may notice something else amiss with another part of your house. You may or may not have been the person who did the work, but that doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is the structure. If they research and discover non-permitted work was done, there may be consequences. Trying to sell a home with non-permitted rooms or work may also find you have to reduce the price of your home significantly. Realtors may not include non-permitted bedrooms and baths (or the correlating square footage) in their listings and must disclose the anomalies in the listing description in most states. In some areas, even removing the closet in a given room to make it into an office means you’ve automatically lost a bedroom in the count.
The general rule of thumb is that structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical work will require a permit, but here is a breakdown:
Installing fencing or repairing it is something you would not think requires a permit. But there are height restrictions in many locales. Especially if you have neighborhood rules about aesthetics. Installing a fence that does not match those around it, you might be forced to take it down and start again. Check with a local fencing contractor, even if you are doing the work yourself.
If you are installing windows that are larger than the current opening, a permit is required. Even a retrofit for newer windows may require one. You won’t know unless you call your local building permit office. Same for skylights and new doors. There are several reasons for this, including energy calculations for how much glass exposure your house is permitted without having to upgrade your HVAC system.
As for plumbing and electrical work, you’ll need permits when installing or replacing wiring for an outlet, a ceiling fan or overhead lighting — especially recessed or can lights. Smaller projects like repairs and light fixture switch-outs probably won’t require it. As for plumbing, codes often change, which means you usually can’t just replace pipes and fittings with the same kinds that have been in your house for decades. A plumber can tell you what is being used now.
Structural changes are without a doubt the most noticeable renovations you can make to your home — things like changes to any load-bearing walls, adding or repairing balconies, decks, porches, roofs or foundation flooring. Additions, new construction, remodels, repairs, replacements, and upgrades totaling $5,000 or more will require a permit, including detached structures like garages, sheds, and platforms. Exceptions to this rule include construction less than 200 square feet.
As for heating and cooling, the person you hire to replace your water cooler will get a permit for you, as will the contractor making changes to your heating and air conditioning. Changes to the ventilation system, gas and wood fireplaces and ducts will also require a permit. This does not include filter changes, motor lubrication or equipment cleaning.
So, what can you do WITHOUT a permit? Plenty. Replacing flooring, doing minor electrical repairs, installing new countertops, replacing bathroom fixtures (faucets, showerheads, painting and wallpapering, as well as landscaping work, are all exempt from permit requirements.
The best rule of thumb is to with check with or hire a professional, who will have the experience to determine if your project requires an inspector to check for any red flags afterward. Professionals are always under strict scrutiny by the areas in which they do their work and will usually be the ones to procure the permits. They understand the bureaucracy, know the personnel at city hall, can do the paperwork in their sleep, and will no doubt take less time to get the job done.
Source: Redfin, Smileyfirm, TBWS
Ah, yes! It’s an exciting time. You’ve finally closed on that new house and now you get to move in. However, packing and unpacking aren’t the only things you need to think about during this transition period.
Watch our short video here highlighting ten things you can do during the move in process that will save you some potential trouble later on.
We've all seen it. For weeks or months, we glance over as a real estate agent's "for sale" sign stands at attention outside a house in our neighborhood. Balloons fly over the mailbox on weekends, when open houses take place. Then we see a "sale pending" sign go up. A deal must have been struck. Weeks go by, and we expect that sign to go from pending status to that word that makes all Realtors want to hoist a few — "sold." Instead, we see the pending sign come down. What happened?
Not sure how the term got coined, but that house "fell out of escrow." It's as if bad news dropped onto everyone's heads because one party or the other in a transaction didn't perform or a discovery was made that made it impossible for the sale to close. If you are the buyer, how do you protect your purchase and make sure you get to the finish line?
First, prepare yourself for the inspection, especially if the home is nowhere near new. Unless the home had been fully renovated recently, there WILL be some surprises in the inspection report. No matter how gorgeous the kitchen, how well kept the home, or how the sellers reassured their agent that all was well with the house, people don't know what they don't know. Even the owners. So, go into the process with a realistic understanding that the condition of the home may reflect its age, especially behind the walls.
Just because the inspection uncovered a few troubling discoveries, don't think it's over 'til it's over. While the defects and recommended repairs end up on inspection reports can be a lot to digest, you have every right to expect a renegotiation for anything major. Your Realtor should be able to guide how much seller cooperation is reasonable, so it doesn't put your home purchase at risk.
Think of your purchase as a photo, where the photographer tells everyone to smile and pose, but not move. That's how you should think of your pre-approved loan status (all cash buyers need not worry about this, of course). Your pre-approval should be a snapshot that is frozen in time, with no movement taking place until you are handed the keys to the city. Hold off the "happy purchases," on credit like a new car, a bunch of new appliances you are dying to install, or a house full of new furniture. Even if you pay cash for those items, it has the potential to affect the very funds the lender used to show that you have additional savings beyond your down payment monies. Your pre-approval is based on your credit score and your debt-to-loan ratio and any noticeable change to those figures during escrow, and you could find yourself with no financing. This is all scrutinized one last time at the close of escrow, along with verifying the appraisal matches the sales price. Financing issues are a huge reason the "sale pending" sign can come down.
Lastly, don't get caught with your proverbial pants down when you go to sign on the dotted line. The last thing you want is to get to your closing and realize you forgot one of the documents you need. Take your driver's license, passport, or some other government-issued photo ID, proof of your homeowner's insurance, a copy of your sales contract for your own reference, any and all home inspection reports, paperwork the bank used for loan approval (your lender will tell you what to take), a notarized document giving you power of attorney if your spouse is on title and not at the closing, and a bank check or wire transfer for the full amount of your closing costs (another figure your lender will supply and you should have studied for accuracy before closing.) You may not need all of it, but if the escrow officer needs any of it and it's not readily available, your closing can drag on until it is provided. And if you've already got your moving van arranged, that can ruin the party. Of course, double-checking with your loan officer is always a good idea.