Monthly Archives: January 2014

Do You Really Need a Home Inspection? … Absolutely!!

Do You Really Need a Home Inspection? … Absolutely!!

It may seem simple, but there are a lot of buyers/sellers who don’t know what rights they have as consumers regarding the types of home inspections they can conduct. Below are explanations of the various types of home inspections and their implications to you.

What is involved in a Home Inspection, and why is it done?

Once you have found a house you like and have agreed on a price with the seller, you have the right to have the house inspected by a licensed home inspector.

Your offer to purchase will specify the time period in which you can have the inspection done, called the “home inspection contingency clause”. In all cases, you pay the inspector and the inspection report is your property, not the sellers’.

The purpose of a home inspection is to identify major problem areas and significant defects or safety issues in the house that are not obvious to you during your showings with your realtor, such as with the roof or heating system.

It should not be used as a “laundry list” for the seller to address every item that comes up – every house that is not new and has been lived in will have minor items of note.

If there are areas of concern to you, you have to notify the seller in writing prior to the expiration of your “home inspection contingency clause” in the offer. Once this is done, your agent will help you negotiate with the seller to address them. Most sellers are willing to work with you on this.

The results of this negotiation may be: a change in the house price; the seller having repairs made prior to closing; or a credit to you at closing for you to have the repairs made with your own vendors. In extreme cases, you may decide to cancel your offer and withdraw from the contract to purchase the home.

How do I find a good home inspector?

The Massachusetts Board of Registration maintains a website of Home Inspectors whose qualifications have been evaluated and granted licensure. The board publishes the list of licensed home inspectors on their website.

This link should take you there. If not, copy and paste it into your browser and hit enter.

Click Here for Information About Home Inspectors

You should contact friends and relatives for personal references and check them against the list.

Can you recommend a good home inspector?

If I’m representing you as a seller’s or buyer’s agent you can call me for recommendations.

I have several with whom I have no business affiliation but from personal experience would recommend for their proven commitment to excellence.

Call me at 978-580-1069

Lead Paint Testing & Certification

Especially important if the property was built before 1978

How do I know if a house has lead paint?

Lead paint disclosures are required to be provided to all buyers and sellers of property constructed prior to 1978. The property transfer notification certification form discloses property condition regarding lead poisoning hazards; requires signatures of the seller, agents and prospective buyers before signing a purchase and sale agreement.

Where can I find out about lead paint inspectors?

The lists of Massachusetts lead paint inspectors and private risk assessors are published by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

This link should take you there. If not, copy and paste it into your browser and hit enter.

Click here for Info on the Lead Paint Law

Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Massachusetts Licensed Lead Inspectors (PDF)

Mold and Real Estate

Common in the environment but it can harm you

What is mold (fungi)?

Molds, yeasts and other certain related forms constitute the organisms known as fungi. We have all seen fungi growing on rotten fruit, bread and damp leather. They may by green, black or white and may appear to be fuzzy or sooty.

Fungi are plant-like & many consist of two parts – hyphae, which are fungal filaments that form the body – and spores, which are seed-like structures than can be used for reproduction. Some spores contain mycotoxins and have been termed “toxic mold”.

Fungi must subsist on organic matter such as wood or paper products. In order for fungi to thrive, the following conditions are necessary: An ambient temperature range of 40-100 degrees F; a humid rich environment, generally greater than 60% humidity though usually greater than 70%.

Mold is ubiquitous in nature, making up approximately 25% of the earth’s biomass, and thrives in many outdoor environments.

Why is mold in real estate a potential concern?

Mold (microbial agents) may cause four main types of illnesses in humans: allergies; irritation; infectious disease; & toxic effects. Microbial agents may serve as irritants to the respiratory tract causing an increase in mucus flow and other types of symptoms. These agents may cause infections in two manners: pathogenic infection – this can develop in a relatively healthy individual with a normally functioning immune system; and opportunistic infection – this can develop in an individual with a compromised immune system or those with or on chemotherapy, diabetics, asthma or antibiotics, HIV or AIDS, physical or mental conditions affecting the immune system. Some factors responsible for the concerns are the ability of the agent becoming airborne in sufficient concentrations and the ability of the agent to be respired by the susceptible host.

Are there any buildings more vulnerable to mold growth?

Any dwelling with a history of current water infiltration problems as well as those structures with consistently high indoor humidity levels or those with poorly designed components such as inadequately vented attics and crawl spaces, as well as poorly designed or maintained HVAC systems.

How do I know if mold is present within a dwelling?

Mold growth should be suspected when surfaces are discolored i.e. “mildew” or if damp mildew odor is present which can represent mold by-products such as – microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC’s). This is especially true on organic surfaces.

If mold growth is suspected what should be done?

A trained indoor environmentalist or certified industrial hygienist should be consulted to determine the presence of mold, its cause and cure.

Are there any threshold limits in which mold is a concern?

Because all individuals have varying degrees of sensitivity to mold there are currently no threshold limit values.

What is toxic mold?

Toxic mold refers to certain mold species that have spores that contain mycotoxins such as stachybotrys. Mycotoxins are opportunistic pathogens and may be a greater health concern for certain individuals.

If mold growth is confirmed within the indoor environment what should be done?

Depending on the amount and depth of the mold growth, the solutions may range from removing surface mold via HEPA vacuuming and washing. To the extreme of removing and replacing all effected material, it is strongly suggested that only those with specific training and experience conduct any mold remediation work.

How can mold growth be prevented?

Mold requires several conditions to thrive. An organic material (wood or paper), oxygen, appropriate ambient temperature, a high moisture content and/or a high ambient relative humidity of 60% or greater. The most controllable factor of these conditions is the moisture content, which is usually controlled by removing moisture sources (water infiltration) and reducing and maintaining the indoor ambient humidity level to below 60%. Long story short … ventilation, ventilation and ventilation.

Need an expert?

Call me, I can recommend several.

Radon Testing & Certification

Common in the environment but it can harm you

What do I need to know about radon in the air in my basement?

Radon gas in the air is of concern to any homeowner. It tends to collect in basement areas, and if you have a finished basement where you spend a lot of time you should have the air tested.

Should your house test at or above 4.0 picoCuries per Liter there are excellent, relatively inexpensive mitigation systems that can be installed to permanently keep the level below that threshold.

The link below takes you to one of the most comprehensive sites I’ve found and should answer all your questions.

Click Here for Info on Radon in Air

What do I need to know about radon in my well?

Radon gas in the water is of concern only to homeowners with drinking water supplied by on-site (i.e. private) wells.

The threshold varies widely from state to state, and the EPA has proposed (for community water supplies only) a “Maximum Contaminant Level” of 300 picoCuries per Liter, and a more achievable “Alternate Maximum Contaminant level” of 4,000 picoCuries per Liter.

Should your well test at or above 20,000 picoCuries per Liter (the standards are vague, but this is a commonly suggested threshold) there are excellent mitigation systems that can be installed to permanently keep the level below that threshold. The systems are quite expensive and noisy.

The link below takes you to one of the most comprehensive sites I’ve found and should answer all your questions.

Click Here for Info on Radon in Water

Certificate of Compliance, Massachusetts Title 5  Private Sewerage Systems

Protecting our water supplies when properties are sold, modified or change uses

What is Title 5 and what does it mean to me?

On-site disposal systems, including septic tanks and cesspools, provide an effective means of treating household sewage. However, older, poorly designed systems, inadequate maintenance and many other conditions can affect the performance of such systems. Ineffective treatment of sewage can threaten the environment by polluting local wetlands and groundwater supplies; moreover, failing systems can harm public health by exposing residents to harmful microorganisms carried in wastewater.

For these reasons the Commonwealth of Massachusetts health division implemented a comprehensive septic management program known as Title 5.

Whenever a home is sold, or if there is a change in use, (i.e., a single family residence is converted to a multi-family or to a business) or a building is added onto or substantially modified, an inspection is necessary to ensure that the system is adequate for the new use and that that no part of the system will be covered by a change in the building’s footprint.

If the house has public sewers do I need Title 5?

Title 5 is only of concern to buyers and sellers of property serviced by private sewage disposal systems.

Does the Board of Health do Title 5 Inspections for homeowners?

No. All subsurface disposal systems must be inspected by a State-licensed inspector whenever real estate is sold to ensure that the system is functioning properly. Individual homeowners must hire their own inspector.

What happens if my waste disposal system fails inspection?

If the subsurface disposal system fails an inspection, the owner normally has up to two years in which to correct the problem.

However, the Board of Health may require that the owner address the problem within a shorter period should the failing system present a threat to the public health and the environment.

If the property is sold within this time period without correcting the problem, the new owner assumes responsibility for the failed septic system.

If my system fails, am I required to connect to sewers or replace it?

Title 5 requires that owners of septic systems meet the standard of “maximum feasible compliance” with the requirements of the State Code. The level of compliance that may be met–that is, whether the system is simply repaired, replaced, or the home connected to the sewer–will depend on the characteristics of the property involved. If town sewer is not available near the home, the homeowner must apply to the Board of Health for approval of a design for a new system that meets the requirements of Title 5.

How do I know the system has passed?

The inspection reports are submitted to the town Board of Health where they are reviewed, approved & filed and a Certificate of Compliance is issued. You should request a copy of this from the sellers via their agent after your offer has been accepted.

Does the system have to be pumped in order to pass a Title 5 inspection?

The law does not require that the system be pumped for inspection. However, unless the inspection is conducted by the company that regularly services the system and checks it annually during standard pumping, any results that do not include pumping may be suspect. As part of your home inspection rights, you can have your own title 5 inspection at your cost during the inspection period if you are concerned about the seller’s inspection.

Where can I find more information on Title 5?

The best source for information on this topic is the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. They have available on their website certain informational materials explaining Title V regulations.

This link should take you there. If not, copy and paste it into your browser and hit enter.

Click Here for Information about Title 5

11 Must-Haves When Selling Your Home

11 Must-Haves When Selling Your Home

Below are my 11 must-haves when selling your house faster/for more money in the current market.

1. Make your house easy to show. Accompanied showings or 24 hours notice are will discourage most of your potential buyers who will view other houses they can see easily when it is convenient for them.

2. Price it right. This may sound counter intuitive, but a house priced fairly will sell for more money than an overpriced home. You may think, “We’ll aim high and negotiate down if we need to,” but this does not happen. In reality buyers don’t even bid on an overpriced house. After changing the price a time or two to what it should have been, your house is “stale” and your largest pool of buyers have already looked at it and ruled it out. More times than not, when you finally do sell, it will be for below what your original “fair price” would have been.

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Top 10 Home Buying Actions

Top 10 Home Buying Actions

There are a few things that you can do to help make the process go as smoothly as possible

Check your credit

Before you apply for a home loan, regardless of your credit, it’s a smart idea to obtain a copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus and review the information. If there are errors or things that need to be addressed, it’s easier to address them before you have found a house, than after you have found a house and are trying to close your loan. If you know that there are a few blemishes on your credit, let your lender know what they are, why they are there, and why you are a still good credit risk. Lenders look at your credit to determine how likely you will pay back the loan. If you had extenuating circumstances – like a loss of a job or medical bills – let them know so that they understand that it is not likely to happen again in the future.

Get approved before you buy

An approval means that a lender has reviewed your credit history, verified your assets and employment, and has approved your loan before you have found a home to purchase. As long as the home appraises for at least the purchase price, the loan should close. Getting approved also gives you an advantage over other buyers. Your firm approval makes it easier for you to negotiate on the price of a home, than a person who is not approved or is pre-qualified. While getting pre-qualified may sound official, it is really just getting an idea of what you can afford. Its having a person plug in a few numbers that you give them – your monthly income and your monthly debt – and getting an approximate payment calculated. From the payment, the calculator can approximate the house price range that you can afford. No information is verified. Because your assets, income or credit is not verified, a pre-qualification has little value when purchasing a home.

Sell first … then buy

If you have a house to sell, sell it before you select a house to buy.  I’ve rarely seen a contingent sale work in the last few years, unless it’s with a new home builder who has other houses to sell and can afford to put one on a contingency.  Imagine this scenario. We go house hunting, find the perfect house, and make an offer to the seller. You want the seller to reduce the price and wait until you sell your house.  The seller figures that’s a risky deal (if he’s willing to consider it even at all), since he might pass up a buyer who doesn’t have to sell a house while he’s waiting for you. So he says ok, he’ll do the contingency but it has to be a full price offer!  So you see, you paid more for the house than you could have because of the contingency. And to add insult to injury, you have to sell your existing house in a hurry and maybe take an offer that’s lower than you could get. Otherwise you lose your dream house.   Here’s the cold, cruel reality … buying before selling might cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Find a great buyer’s agent

Traditionally real estate agents represented the sellers in a transaction. If you are not working with a buyer’s agent, the seller’s agent is less likely to negotiate the best price or contingencies for you. A buyer’s agent’s job and fiduciary responsibility (meaning legal duty) is to you, the buyer. Before working with an agent, establish if they are a buyer’s agent or a seller’s agent. After spending a lot of time with a Realtor, it’s natural to feel like you’re a team. But if they are not negotiating for or representing you (a buyer’s agent),  then they are not on your team. You want a skilled realtor, but you also have to feel some level of comfort and connection with them. If you’re not comfortable with your agent, seek out another.

Make a list and stick to it

Before house hunting, make a list of the several things you want in the new place. Then make a list of the several things you don’t want. I’ll be glad to make copies of the list and we can use this list as a scorecard to rate and evaluate each property that we see. The one with the biggest score wins!  Many buyers do this informally, but I like the scorecards because they help avoid confusion and keep things in perspective when you’re comparing dozens of homes.

Separate the “Skin” from the “Bones”

When house hunting, I want you to keep in mind the difference between “skin and bones”. The “bones” are things that cannot be changed such as the location, view, size of lot, noise in the area, school district, floor plan, etc. The “skin” represents easily changed surface finishes like carpet, wallpaper, color, counter tops, and window coverings. Buy the house with good bones, because the skin can always be changed to match your tastes.

Shop until you think you’ve seen enough

I will show you everything available that meets your requirements. In doing so, I highly recommend that you don’t make a decision on a house until you feel that you’ve seen enough to pick the best one. The average for my most recent sales has been about two dozen homes.  And before you ask, you can’t really effectively see more than seven homes in a day. Even if you take good notes and the listing agents provide detailed property sheets, your memory will play tricks on you if you try to get an encyclopedic overview of the entire local market in a day.  By the way, if you have kids under six to bring along, that number drops to about three homes before their distraction may cause you to miss key features.

Learn about the neighborhood

Often times the house you find may be in a neighborhood that you’re not familiar with, which is ok. It just means that you’ll have to do a little more research. If you find a house that you like, ask for a list of the neighborhood properties that sold in the last year. How does your home rank? Is it at the top of the price range? If so, it might be hard to resell. Is it average or on the low end? If so, great – as the other home prices go up in value, they will pull your home’s value up as well. Check out the schools – are they sought after? A good school district means your neighborhood will always be valued by families which is a great reassurance to purchase, not to mention the value-add if you have school-age children. Next, contact the police station and obtain crime statistics? Are they acceptable to you? Sometimes, if they won’t give them to you, it could be a cause for alarm. Talk to the neighbors. The more people you talk to, the better sense you will get of who makes up the neighborhood and how they will effect your time spent in it. Check out the location of the shopping, police and fire stations, schools, and air traffic overhead. These are all things that might affect your property value or quality of your life.

Don’t by a home that you’ll have trouble selling when you eventually move

Sometimes a house has some very unique features or a setting that many buyers might find undesirable, so the seller sets a “bargain” price. Although it may be a good deal now, that bargain may be your headache in a few years.

“Caveat Emptor”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and investigate the neighborhood around the house you’re looking at. You want to know if there’s a kennel on the block behind your backyard that you can’t see, but you’ll surely hear all summer. Having a Buyer’s Agent helps tremendously with this, since our priority is to help you rather than working for the seller.

Don’t buy the most expensive home on the street

You want a house on a street where many of the houses are fairly comparable.

Protect Yourself

Ask your Realtor for a copy of the documents you will be asked to sign if you decide to buy the house. Read them ahead of time so that you’ll understand the questions that you will be asked, the things you need to know, and the decisions you will need to make.

Have reasonable expectations

There is a lot of money at stake. No house is perfect. Understanding and remembering these two statements will help diffuse the negotiation stage, the inspection stage and the closing stage. Emotions are high for both buyers and sellers. – The seller may have loving memories and years of sweat equity in the house. Maybe they are being relocated and don’t want to go. Understanding their motivations for selling will help you appreciate their situation and predicament during these emotional times.

There is a lot of money at stake for all the parties involved (and that includes the realtors) …

Just remember that market value (the value of a home) is the price that a willing buyer and a willing seller can agree to. If you can not agree on a price, ask yourself: Is there something you missed? Are there comparables that support the price that they want? Are there motivations that might factor into the price they are demanding? In the end, does it matter? What is the house worth to you today and what do you think you can reasonably sell it for based on the amount of time you plan to spend in it? Think about the answers to those questions before you make your move.

When you find a house you love, put in a reasonable first offer

In the late 1980’s, homes were selling quickly, usually a few days after listing. In that kind of market, we always advised our clients to make an offer on the spot if they liked the house. That was good advice at the time. Today, in spite of what the listing agent will tell you, there isn’t always this urgency, and unless a home is kissy perfect, under priced, rare or has extremely desirable “bones” you have some time to think things over and compare with your lists of “wants” and “don’t wants”. If it’s one of those truly rare offerings, you’ll know it (you know what I’m talking about) and I’ll tell you not to wait and you’ll believe me.

Don’t wait too long to make an offer when you find a house you love

While you don’t want to be impulsive, being overly cautious can cause you to miss out on the house you want. Also, remember that there’s no law saying that the right house for you can’t be one of the first ones you see.

No house is perfect – Always get an inspection

It might be a few hundred dollars, but it’s worth it. It’s the inspector’s job to find any problems with the house that could cost you thousands to repair down the road. This is your only opportunity to have an expert point out any structural, mechanical or environmental problems before you buy your house. Some inspectors have a tendency to over play the importance of their role and the items that they find. Get objective opinions that you trust before making a decision on an inspection report. Likewise, if an inspector says a foundation is cracked but its nothing to worry about – get a second opinion. Ask a handyman for an idea of how much repairs will cost and how complicated they are.

The home buying process is an emotional, complex and time-consuming process, but it is worth it. Nothing compares to owning your own home in a neighborhood you love.

 

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