How to Hire a Chimney Sweep

The weather is getting colder and you may be thinking about firing up the wood stove or stoking up the fireplace. Before you do that you want to make sure your chimney is in good working order. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends hiring a certified, professional chimney sweep to inspect your chimney.

The CSIA has a list of questions you should ask your chimney sweep before hiring them:

1. How long has the chimney sweeping company been in business?
2. Does the company offer current references?
3. Does the company have unresolved complaints filed within the city or state consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau?
4. Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
5. Does the company ensure that a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep will be on the job site?

It is important to get your chimney professionally inspected annually. The proper care and maintenance of a chimney can help protect people from unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide poisonings.

How to Tackle Open Houses as a Buyer

The housing market has been heating up and lately there seems to be more buyers than homes. So where do you start when house hunting? Many buyers like to start at Open Houses to get a feel for the market. It is always best to try to find a real estate agent to help guide you through the buying process , however, if you want to try to get your feet wet first an Open House might be your best bet.

There are some things you will want to know about how to tackle an Open House:

1. How do you find Open Houses?

Your best bet is to find a real estate professional that represents buyers and have them help you find Open Houses that are right for you. Agents are familiar with the inventory and could save you an unnecessary trip to a house that isn’t right for you. Most open houses take place on Saturday or Sunday, so Thursday is a good day to start your search.

2. Be prepared

Plan your route, make sure you have the right directions and have plenty of gas to get where you are going. Take along a pen and paper to make notes on properties.

3. Get to know the area

The house may be great; but how is the area? Take the time to drive around the surrounding neighborhoods of homes you like and get to know the area. A real estate professional is a great resource for community information.

4. Check for agency

Most agents at an Open House represent the seller. You will want to work with an agent that is able to represent you as the buyer. If you like the agent at the Open House, and have not yet contracted with an agent, make sure to discuss agency and representation.

5. Take notes

Take notes and write down a list of quick pros and cons after you have viewed a home. This will help you remember the houses you have viewed.

Viewing Open Houses can help you get a sense for what’s out there in the marketplace. It will help you determine if the house you want and your finances match up with the houses that are on the market. It is always best to find a real estate professional to help you find the home of your dreams. Buying a home is no small matter.

Now is a Great Time to Invest in a Rental Property

It is a great time to be a real-estate investor. If you are looking to jump in the investor market low home prices and low interest rates make this a great time. According to Zillow.com. the real-estate market is starting to recover: U.S. houses lost $489 billion in value during the first 11 months of 2009, but that was significantly lower than the $3.6 trillion lost during 2008 and things only continue to look up.

While the timing may be right, you will need to have all your ducks in a row. An investment purchase is different than your typical purchase.

Consider your options.

Have a strategy and know what kind of investor you would like to be. Ask yourself if you want to be a landlord, or are you planning on flipping or restoring and reselling properties. What types of properties are you interested in? There are many choices from land, to apartment buildings, residential housing and other commercial real estate.

Partner with experience.

Real estate agents experienced in investment property deals know what to look for in a deal. You may also want to consider asking a more experienced real-estate investor for advice. If you plan on becoming a landlord make sure to familiarize yourself with the local laws regarding being a landlord.

Location, location, location.

If you buy a property with hopes of renting it out, location is key. Homes in high-rent or highly populated areas are ideal; stay away from rural areas where there are fewer people and a small pool of potential renters. Also, look for homes with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms in neighborhoods that have a low crime rate. Also think about potential selling points for your property. If it’s near public transportation, shopping malls or other amenities, it will attract renters, as well as potential buyers if you decide to sell later. The more you have to offer, the more likely you are to please potential renters.

Have capital lined up.

Speak to potential lenders or a financial planner about what you will need for assets and cash flow. You will need to have enough assets to handle the ups and downs that could come with investing. Most experts suggest a fallback of about six months of mortgage payments for landlords. You will need this in case or vacancy or repairs. If you’re planning to fix up a home and sell it, you will need reserves to cover the costs to maintain the home while it is on the market.

Becoming a real-estate investor is much different than being a residential homebuyer. A buying decision is a business decision not one based on emotions.

What You Need to Know: Septic Systems

Are you thinking of buying a home with a septic system? Septic systems are common in the suburbs and more rural areas where municipal sewers are not available.

So what is a septic system? It is a self-contained, underground waste water treatment system. It consists of a septic tank and a drainage system.

The septic tank is a large, watertight container. It can be made of concrete, steel, fiberglass, or polyethylene. The septic tank is connected to your home’s sewer line and collects all water and the waste in it.

The drainage system has several parts; an outflow pipe, a distribution box, a network of perforated pipes, and a leach field. When liquids inside the septic tank get high enough, they flow out of the tank into the outflow pipe. The outflow pipe leads to the distribution box which then channels waste water into the perforated pipes. The waste water is then distributed into the leach field.

There is usually no cause to worry when buying a home with a septic system. It is prudent to have the septic system inspected or ask for proof of inspection during the purchase process.  If maintained properly, a septic system can last between 25 to 35 years.

What You Need to Know: The Good Faith Estimate

Buying a home can be very confusing and not to mention the new terms you need to know. This is especially true when it comes to navigating the mortgage process. One important term to understand is the Good Faith Estimate.

The Good Faith Estimate or GFE is a government-mandated form mortgage brokers and lenders are required to give prospective borrowers within three days of a loan application. The GFE summarizes the terms of the loan. It can be used to compare loan offers from the same or different lenders. An approximation of the final figure of the loan costs are on the GFE and must be as accurate as possible, it is important to note that some GFE can have a 10 percent tolerance.

The top two sections on Page 1 provide a summary of the loan terms and estimated settlement charges. There is also a section the covers when the GFE expires and whether the interest rate is locked or floating.

You will want to go over the GFE closely; it will disclose the initial loan amount, interest rate, monthly payment and loan terms. Remember that the payment includes principal, interest and mortgage insurance, if any, but not property taxes or homeowners insurance.

You can find a Guide To The Good Faith Estimate by clicking here.

Navigating Senior Housing

There is a lot to know when it comes to senior housing. Thinking about future housing arrangements can be a stressful topic for both you and your family. There are so many options, types of housing and so much to know. In order to find the best fit you will have to learn about the different types of senior housing available, which choices may be best for you, and how to navigate the terminology.

A great resource SeniorHousingNet has created a glossary of commonly used terms and the different senior housing and care choices available. You can find it here.