Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

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ISSUE #1276

 

FEATURE REPORT

Protecting Your Home From Disasters flood

Emergencies can strike at any moment - fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes - occurring without warning. While ensuring the safety of your loved ones and property is paramount, it is equally crucial to protect yourself from the financial repercussions of such disasters. A sudden catastrophe can cause extensive property damage, force temporary relocations, disrupt income streams, and jeopardize valuable financial records.

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Also This Month...

Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly

While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.

More...

Choosing the Right Contractor for Your Home Improvement Project

When it comes to home improvements, selecting the right contractor is crucial for ensuring a successful outcome. To assist you in this vital decision-making process, we've compiled a list of essential considerations to keep in mind.

More...

Protecting Your Home From Disasters

Emergencies can strike at any moment - fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes - occurring without warning. While ensuring the safety of your loved ones and property is paramount, it is equally crucial to protect yourself from the financial repercussions of such disasters. A sudden catastrophe can cause extensive property damage, force temporary relocations, disrupt income streams, and jeopardize valuable financial records.

Here are practical steps to safeguard your home and finances. Remember to involve family or friends in the decision-making and planning process, and consider seeking advice from professionals like Certified Financial Planners or insurance agents. The key is to start your preparations now, preventing the unexpected from becoming a harsh reality.

Safeguard Your Property

Identify potential disasters in your area, such as fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes. Take proactive steps to minimize physical damage to your property in the event of a disaster. Not only does this enhance safety, but it can also lead to reduced insurance costs. For instance, install smoke detectors for early fire warnings, elevate utilities to upper floors or attics to avoid flood damage, and clear vegetation around your property to protect against wildfires. Additionally, anchor your home to its foundation, secure the roof to the main frame, and secure objects that could fall and cause harm during an earthquake. Install hurricane shutters for windows and prepare covers for glass doors. Move possessions to safer locations or cover windows in advance of hurricanes or floods. If your property is in a high-risk flood area, near a fault line, or susceptible to coastal erosion, consider relocating. Have your house inspected by experts to identify structural enhancements that could mitigate disaster damage.

For further guidance, reach out to local authorities like fire departments or utility companies, especially in earthquake-prone areas, to learn safety practices and procedures.

Create a Household Inventory

Document all your possessions by creating a comprehensive list. In the event of a disaster, this inventory can serve multiple purposes: it can validate the value of damaged or destroyed possessions, expedite insurance claims for losses, and support tax deductions for losses incurred. To conduct a thorough inventory, keep originals of crucial financial and family documents secure, including birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills, insurance policies, and financial records. Make a detailed record of possessions, including descriptions, purchase dates, and costs. Use photographs or videos to supplement written descriptions and note model and serial numbers. Account for items in attics, basements, and garages, and photograph the exterior of your home and its landscaping. Make copies of receipts and important documents, obtain professional appraisals for high-value items, and update your inventory annually.

Consider using software designed for this purpose, available at local computer stores. Store a copy of your inventory list in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box, or with relatives or friends.

Secure Appropriate Insurance

Even with ample preparation, unavoidable damage can occur. Homeowners or renters insurance can provide significant assistance during these times. Ensure you're adequately covered. For homeowners, purchase full replacement or replacement cost coverage at a minimum, explore guaranteed replacement cost policies where available, and regularly appraise your home to adjust coverage for actual replacement costs. Update policies to encompass home improvements, ensure your policy covers the replacement cost of possessions, not just actual cash value, and understand policy coverage and deductibles. If needed, explore government-operated insurance pools and align your policy coverage with your household inventory.

For renters, consider renting in areas with low disaster risk, acquire renter's insurance to protect personal property, investigate special coverage like flood insurance, and clarify policy coverage, including temporary living expenses and sewer backup damage. Shop around for comprehensive and affordable policies, possibly bundling with existing policies. For buyers, choose homes in low-risk areas and prioritize comprehensive insurance coverage.

In addition to standard coverage, inquire about extra coverage for floods, earthquakes, home offices, business equipment, building code changes after a disaster, underground mines, mudslides, and valuables like jewelry, collectibles, or artwork.

Prepare Your Finances

In the aftermath of a disaster, having access to funds is crucial. Consider these financial steps: keep a small amount of cash at home for immediate needs during evacuations, establish an emergency fund for financial stability during unforeseen events, and maintain emergency funds in easily accessible accounts. Diversify your emergency funds across locations for added security and keep credit cards up to date and paid off.

Craft an Evacuation Box

Create a secure and accessible "evacuation box" for emergencies. This box should contain essential items like cash and traveler's checks, emergency contacts, important prescriptions, insurance policies and records, other significant financial and family documents, backups of computerized records, and a safe deposit box key.

Rent a Safe Deposit Box

Safe deposit boxes are ideal for preserving important documents. Store items like ownership records for property, birth certificates and legal papers, valuables and investment documents, trust agreements and wills (excluding originals), and insurance policies (copies). Consider renting a safe deposit box in a distant location to safeguard against localized disasters.

Home Safes and Fire Boxes

While home safes and fire boxes are convenient, they might not withstand extreme disasters. For ultimate protection, keep original documents in a safe deposit box or away from your home.

Plan Ahead if Time Allows

When there's sufficient warning, take the following steps: prioritize essential items for evacuation, secure irreplaceable heirlooms and photos, and leave replaceable items behind. Maintain a battery-powered radio for updates and gather critical papers for a home business. While it might seem overwhelming, even implementing a portion of these suggestions can significantly enhance your financial preparedness for disasters. Your proactive efforts now can go a long way in mitigating the impact of unexpected events.

Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly


"...you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings..."


While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.

There are two factors at play here. On the one hand, you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings. This is really unfair because it can set homeowners up for disappointment and failure.

On the other hand, you have homes that are priced correctly, but are marketed ineffectively. Without a proper marketing program in place to ensure a home is exposed to the highest number of qualified buyers, many homesellers feel forced to accept a lower offer.

There's nothing worse to a homeseller than to have their home sit unsold for many months because of improper pricing and/or marketing techniques. Needless to say, either of these situations is highly frustrating to any homeseller. But more than that, it can be financially crushing if you're counting on the full proceeds of the sale of your home to fulfill some other obligation.

To prevent this scenario when selling your home here are some points to consider before choosing the agent you want to represent you.

Deciding Upon an Agent

A good agent knows the market and has information on past sales, current listings, a marketing plan, and will provide their background and references. Evaluate each candidate carefully on the basis of their experience and qualifications.

Are they pricing your home correctly?

Home prices are determined by the marketplace not by your emotional attachment or by what you feel your home is worth. You should work closely with an agent who will suggest establishing a realistic price for your home. They will help you to objectively compare the price, features and condition of all similar homes in both your neighborhood and other similar ones which have sold in recent months. It is also important to be familiar with the terms of each potential sale. Terms are often as important as price in today's market.

Do they set themselves apart from the others by offering innovative marketing plans to sell your home fast and for top dollar?

Will they set up an aggressive marketing program to ensure your home is exposed to hundreds of qualified buyers? How much money does this agent spend in advertising the homes s/he lists versus other agents. In what media do they advertise, (newspaper, magazine, TV. etc.) Do they use a 24 hour hotline, "For Sale" signs, lock boxes, a Tour of Homes program, and Talking House signs and transmitters? What does this agent know about the effectiveness of one medium over the other?

Choosing the Right Contractor for Your Home Improvement Project

When it comes to home improvements, choosing the right contractor is crucial for ensuring a successful outcome. To help you navigate this important decision, we've compiled essential considerations to keep in mind.

Start by gathering recommendations and references from trusted sources such as friends, family, and individuals who have previously worked with the contractor. Personal insights can provide valuable guidance in assessing the contractor's credibility and expertise.

Next, obtain written estimates from at least three contractors who have visited your home to evaluate the work needed. Ensuring that the estimates are based on the same scope of work allows for meaningful comparisons and helps you make an informed decision.

Checking for proper licensing and registration is essential. Ensure that the contractor meets the necessary requirements set by your local consumer agency. Some areas have stringent criteria, including competency tests and financial solvency assessments. Verify whether the contractor's licensing includes necessary insurance coverage for liability, property damage, and worker's compensation.

It's also crucial to review the contractor's complaint records with organizations like the Better Business Bureau. This step offers insights into the contractor's track record and reliability. When reviewing proposals, scrutinize the provided contracts thoroughly. Ensure that the contract outlines all aspects of the project, including work details, materials quality, subcontractor information, project timeline, total cost, and payment schedule.

We've compiled a checklist of considerations for selecting a contractor:

Consult friends, family, and acquaintances who have undergone similar projects for contractor suggestions. Hearing about firsthand experiences can be invaluable.

Request written estimates from at least three contractors who have assessed the work on-site. Ensure that the estimates are based on the same scope of work for accurate comparisons.

Confirm that the contractor adheres to your local consumer agency's licensing and registration criteria. Some regions require competency testing and financial vetting, with provisions for covering financial losses from contractor issues.

Familiarize yourself with local laws regarding the permissible difference between the estimate and the final bill. Any increase beyond this should require your prior approval.

Research the contractor's history of complaints with agencies like the Better Business Bureau or similar organizations.

Obtain supplier references and inquire about the contractor's payment timeliness.

Contact your local building inspection department to verify permit and inspection prerequisites. Be cautious if the contractor insists on you obtaining the permit, as this could signal a lack of proper licensing.

Ensure the contractor possesses essential insurance coverage, including personal liability, property damage, and worker's compensation. Verify your own insurance coverage for potential injuries or damages.

Demand a detailed written contract that outlines the work scope, materials quality, warranties, subcontractor details, project timeline, total cost, and payment schedule.

Understand the local regulation on down payments and avoid excessive upfront payments.

Compare financing options between contractor-provided loans and your own financing. Evaluate the costs associated with each.

Do not make the final payment or sign a release affidavit until you are content with the completed work and have confirmed the payment to subcontractors and suppliers.

Opt for credit card payments when possible. This can offer you leverage to withhold payment until issues are resolved.

Be vigilant regarding contractors who approach you unsolicited or through door-to-door visits, claim to have extra materials from previous jobs, suggest your project as a demonstration, offer discounts for referring other customers, provide significantly higher or lower quotes compared to other estimates, pressure you for an immediate decision, promise exceptionally lengthy guarantees, can only be reached through an answering service, drive an unmarked vehicle or use out-of-area license plates, or request full payment upfront.

By taking these steps and staying vigilant, you can enhance your chances of selecting a reliable and competent contractor for your home improvement project.


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