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Home Safe Home

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

Home is a place you should feel safe and secure. Sometimes, we take it for granted and unfortunately, we do need to remain vigilant about things we do that could compromise our safety. Here are a few tips to consider:Home Safe Home.png

  • Everyone loves an inviting home including burglars. Make sure it looks occupied and is difficult to break in.
    • Always lock outside doors and windows even if you’re only gone for a brief time.
    • Lock gates and fences.
    • Leave lights on when you leave; consider timers to automatically control the lights.
    • Keep your garage door closed even when you’re home; don’t tempt thieves with what you have in your garage.
    • Suspend your mail and newspaper delivery when you’re out of town or get a neighbor to pick it up for you.
  • Posting that you’re out of town or away from home on social networks is like advertising your home is unprotected.
  • Equally dangerous could be allowing certain social network sites to track your location.
  • Don’t leave keys under doormats, in flowerpots or the plastic rocks; thieves know about those hiding places and even more than you can think.
  • Trim the shrubs from around your home; don’t give criminals a place to hide.
  • Use exterior motion detectors and yard lighting.
  • Have an alarm system and use it when you leave home and go to bed.
  • Put 3 ½” deck screws in door plates and door hinges.
  • Have good deadbolts on all exterior doors.
  • Exterior doors should be solid core.

Real Estate and Investing

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

Consider the goal of funding a child’s college education in the future. If “other people’s money” in the form of a scholarship is not a possibility, there still may be another way to use some “other people’s money.”26458431-250.jpg

A $25,000 investment into a mutual fund paying 5% would earn $1,250 in the first year. Alternatively, the $25,000 as a 20% down payment to purchase a $125,000 rental home appreciating 3% a year would have gone up by $3,750 or three times that of the mutual fund in the first year.

The mutual fund’s growth depends on the value of the money invested. Rental real estate benefits because a 20% down payment controls a much larger asset because you’re using “other people’s money.” Leverage allows the investor to profit not only from the amount of cash invested but from the value of the investment.

With a 20% down payment and current interest rates, a typical rental would have a positive cash flow. In ten years, the equity could be $75,000. On the other hand, the $25,000 initial investment in a mutual fund earning 5% annually would only grow to about $40,000 in the same 10 years. It would require an additional $2,700 each year to reach the same $75,000 value.

Leverage is just one of the many benefits that make rental real estate the IDEAL investment. Whether you are saving for higher education, retirement or wealth accumulation, consider rental real estate. Using single-family homes as investments are attractive because homeowners have a better understanding than many other investments and self-management is a possibility.

You Could Be Wrecking Your Home — And Not Know It (Yet)

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

You haven’t felt like this since you were a teenager. You have a crush on your new house. (You’re officially a home buyer — wait — owner!)

It’s soooooo great. You love its quirks. It’s your very first home, and you want to do everything right.

The feeling is fun, but also scary: You remember too well how badly you screwed up that first crush as a teenager (so embarrassing. Don’t ask).

Could you screw this up too? 

No need to freak out. You can make this love a lasting one. For now, keep an eye out for these common no-nos that can result from good intentions.

#1 Using Bleach as a Cure-All

If bleach is your chicken soup for whatever ails your home, proceed with caution.

Bleach can:

  • Eat through the sealant on stone surfaces like granite
  • Discolor laminate and colored grout
  • Fade enamel and acrylic tubs
  • Dissolve vinyl and linseed-based flooring like linoleum
  • Corrode seals within the disposal

In addition, bleach kills mold on non-porous surfaces, but can feed future mold growth on absorbent and porous materials, like grout. Yep, whitening grout with bleach creates a mold feeding ground. Whoops.

Better options? Water and vinegar are all you need for most cleaning jobs. If you’ve got a heftier mold or mildew issue, apply a commercial anti-fungal product.

And to clean your disposal, just dump cold water and ice cubes down the hatch.

Related: Popular Tips (Like Using Lemon in Your Disposal) That Cause More Harm Than Good

Gray home exterior and tree-filled yard

#2 Training Ivy to Climb Your House

You’ve dreamed of living in an ivy-covered English cottage since childhood. Well, sorry for this, then:

“Anything that climbs on the house will damage it,” says Marianne Binetti, a speaker and author who leads garden tours around the world.

The horticulture expert made the mistake herself.

“It looked cool for a while, but it dug into the siding so even when we pulled it off, it left damage. And it climbed up the drain pipe and tore the gutter off the house,” she says.

By sending roots beneath siding and shingles, ivy enlarges tiny cracks in brick and wood, introducing entrances for moisture and insects, says Jay Markanich, a certified home inspector based in Bristow, Va.

#3 Relying on Chemical Drain Cleaners

Clogged sink! Again! Pay a plumber more than $100, or grab a $10 product at the store? You can totally handle this one yourself, right?

Possibly. But the most common active ingredients in these solutions, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, can erode your pipes.

Even the old baking-soda-and-vinegar medley can result in cracked pipes, as the reaction causes a build-up of pressure.

Old-fashioned “mechanical” methods — your plunger, a drain snake, or a handy $2 gadget called the Zip-It — are safer and more effective, according to “Consumer Reports.” 

And if that fails, that call to the plumber doesn’t sound so bad compared to an eroded or busted pipe, no?

#4 Using Glass Cleaners on Mirrors

Your newfound house crush has you scrubbing and spritzing everything. Look at you being so lovingly domestic!

But be cautious with your mirrors. Spraying can lead to what’s ominously called “black edge” — created when a liquid seeps beneath the reflective backing and lifts it.

Instead, clean mirrors with a lint-free microfiber cloth, dampened with warm water — especially mirrors in expensive, installed items like vanities and closet doors. 

Avoid the edges and dry immediately with a second cloth.

#5 Planting Trees ThisClose to Anything

Kind of like adopting an adorable, tiny piglet on a whim, you’ve got to remember how a baby tree is going to grow, and what it’s going to require at maturity.

You probably don’t want a 70-pound pig digging up your daisies, and you definitely don’t want a tree root pushing through your driveway, sidewalk or — so much worse! — your foundation.

And watch out for evergreens. If planted too close to the house, they cast too much shade, encouraging mold growth, Binetti says.

Position trees according to its maximum height, crown size, and root spread. For perspective, even a small tree reaching less than 30 feet tall needs at least 6 feet of clearance from any exterior wall, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

#6 Using the Wrong Caulk

As a dutiful homeowner, when you see failing caulk, you fix it. But the term “caulk” is as broad as the word “glue.”

There’s kitchen and bath caulk, concrete caulk, gutter caulk, mortar caulk — and that’s just the tip of the caulk-berg. And just like you’d never fix broken pottery with a glue stick, you don’t want to pick the wrong caulk either.

Markanich sees plenty of damage done when the wrong caulk is used. Such as using silicone caulk (totally great on non-porous surfaces like bathtubs) on concrete or brick or other porous surfaces. It won’t adhere, and moisture can seep in, compromising the bond and the structure.

Before heading to the store, check an online buying guide to find the right match for the project you’re doing. Odds are there’s a specific caulk just for it.

#7 Over-Sealing Countertops

Take care of your countertop, but don’t smother the darn thing.

Applying sealant too frequently can create a cloudy or streaky appearance on surfaces like natural stone, concrete, butcher block, and glass, which typically only require occasional resealing to resist stains. (Quartz, laminates, and solid surfaces like Corian are best left sans-sealer.)

How to know it’s time to reseal? Drip some water on a high-use area of the countertop. If the water doesn’t remain beaded after 15 minutes, consider resealing. 

But always defer to your manufacturer’s recommendations. Different materials can have different needs.

#8 Over-Mulching

Nothing feels closer to giving your home a hug than being elbow deep in a landscaping project. But when it comes to mulch (which is so great, for so many reasons), it turns out elbow deep is a little too much love.

A layer thicker than 3 inches can suffocate plants and prevent water from reaching roots, so spread thoughtfully.

#9 Piling Firewood Next to Your Exterior Wall

Your fireplace is the highlight of your home. You love it. That’s why you keep your firewood right outside the back door, for easy access.

Oops. Storing firewood against your home’s exterior walls is akin to opening a B&B for termites.

In fact, “anything that creates a dark, climate-controlled area near the house will invite termites” and other pests into your home, Markanich says.

In one of the worst termite cases he’s seen, he found an enormous termite colony on an exterior wall in a bathroom, which got its foothold in a pile of bricks outside.

Twenty feet is a safe distance from home for firewood — and still not too far to go to fuel your awesome fireplace.

Which Way Should Your Ceiling Fan Turn in Summer?

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

Most fans are reversible: One direction pushes air down, creating a nice summer breeze; the other direction sucks air up, helping you distribute heat in winter. There’s normally a switch on the motor to change the fan’s direction.

Is your fan turning in the right direction for summer?

  • Stand beneath the running fan, and if you feel a cooling breeze, it’s turning correctly.
  • If not, change directions, usually by flicking a switch on the fan’s base.

Typically, it’s counterclockwise or left for summer and clockwise for winter, but the best method is to follow the steps above.

Funny note: We read on Yahoo! that one clever person used bubbles to see which direction his fan was blowing.

FHA and VA

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

In the late 80’s, both FHA and VA began requiring buyers to qualify to assume their mortgages. The main reason there haven’t been many assumptions in the past 25 years is that interest rates have been steadily going down and if a person has to qualify, they might as well do it on a new loan and get a lower interest rate.

Based on projections by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the MBA and NAR, rates for the second half of 2017 and 2018 are expected to be higher. When interest rates on new mortgages are higher than the rates of assumable FHA and VA mortgages in the recent past, it becomes more advantageous to assume the existing mortgages.

FHA and VA loans originated with lower than current interest rates have great advantages for buyers and sellers.

  1. Interest rate won't change for the qualified buyer
  2. Lower interest rate means lower payments
  3. Lower closing costs than originating a new mortgage
  4. Easier to qualify for an assumption than a new loan
  5. Lower interest rate loans amortize faster than higher ones
  6. Equity grows faster because loan is further along the amortization schedule
  7. Assumable mortgage could make the home more marketable

An Assumption Comparison can help determine the savings and financial benefits of an assumable mortgage with a lower rate.

IRS Loan Requirements

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

Anytime a lender and borrower can agree on rates and terms, it can be a good match but IRS has specific rules that govern the transaction especially when the parties are family or friends.26614035-250.jpg

The loan must be done in a business-like manner with a written note specifying the loan amount, interest rate, term and collateral. IRS requires that the mortgage be a recorded lien to allow the interest deduction.

Sometimes, a friends and family situation might have a less than normal interest rate on the mortgage. However, the rate charged in the note is regulated by the minimum applicable federal rate which is published monthly by IRS based on current Treasury securities. For July 2017, the rate is 2.57% for terms over nine years.

The seller must report the interest paid to them along with the name, address and Social Security number on schedule B when the buyer uses the property as their principal residence.  A mortgage between family and friends can be good for both parties. It may allow the borrower a slightly lower rate without the expenses of a traditional lender while giving the note holder a higher rate than they can earn in available investments.

Your tax professional can guide the transaction whether you’re a buyer or a seller and your real estate professional can help arrange to have the documents drawn and filed.

The Most Annoying Things About Summer — And What to Do About Them

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

Summer should be the stuff dreams are made of: long, sunny days and warm nights filled with important questions like, “Ice cream on the porch, or another pint on the patio?”

Summer also comes with bugs, heat, humidity, and other annoyances around the house. So this year, eradicate 13 of the worst irritations of summer before they crush your summer buzz. Here’s how:

#1 Mosquitoes

These ubiquitous party crashers can suck the fun out of any outdoor fiesta.

What to do:

Clean your gutters. “That’s often a main, and neglected, breeding site for mosquitoes,” says Chris Enroth, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension office in Macomb.

Plug in a fan. Or install a ceiling fan. “Mosquitoes don’t like flying in high wind,” Enroth says. Cheers for cool breezes sans bug bites!

Related: Is Your Ceiling Fan Turning the Right Way for Summer?

Modern kitchen with wood floors

#2 Doors That Stick

Wooden doors can swell, outgrowing their jambs (what holds doors steady as you open and close them) on humid days, causing an annoyingly sticky situation.

What to do:

Tighten the hinge screws. There’s a chance your door’s just slipped out of alignment.

Scale back the weather stripping. If you installed it in the winter to keep out drafts, it could be too thick come summer.

Shave down the door. As a last resort, use a planer or sander to trim down the door ever so slightly, concentrating on the area with a visibly worn finish. Seal the newly exposed edge with paint or wood sealant to block out future humidity.

#3 Carpenter Ants and Carpenter Bees

Although named for a helpful trade, both carpenter ants and carpenter bees often make their nests by burrowing into your home’s wood, which can cause some really pricey damage on top of their annoying presence.

What to do:

Keep all exposed wood sealed or painted. Don’t forget the bottoms of window sills!

Direct water away from wood.Gutters and flashing will help keep wood dry, says Bob Boucher, owner of a handyman company in Concord, N.H.

Evict existing colonies. Look for sawdust trails to find the entrance, then use a rinsed squeezable ketchup bottle to blow an insecticide dust or boric acid powder into the hole.

#4 AC That Causes You to Freeze in One Room and Sweat in Another

Moving from your first-floor kitchen to a second-floor bedroom shouldn’t require a wardrobe change.

What to do:

Check your ductwork. Look for unsealed joints or hire a pro to make sure your ducts are properly sized. Both can affect your system’s ability to deliver conditioned air to each room.

Set your whole-house fan to “on.” This continuous circulation will mix the air so no space is too hot or too cold.

Direct more cool air upstairs. Look for ductwork dampers in the basement to open during the summer months.

#5 Fruit Flies

Because fruit flies lay their eggs on decaying organic material (yeah, yuck), summer’s bounty of fresh fruits and veggies can invite these disgusting freeloaders into your home. There’s a ton of solutions on the Internet, but preventative measures work best.

What to do:

Keep sinks, drains, and disposals clean. Even dirty dishes can harbor fruit flies.

Freeze food waste. Place rotting fruit, meat scraps, etc. in a bag in your freezer until garbage day.

Pitch overripe fruit. And until you eradicate the flies, keep all other produce in the fridge or a sealed container.

Pour bleach or boiling water down the drain. This will kill any eggs or remaining adult flies.

#6 Weeds in Patio Cracks

Besides ruining a well-manicured view, resilient weeds can crack or shift your pavement. Again, prevention’s best.

What to do:

Block new growth. Fill the weed-free cracks with asphalt or cement crack filler, sand, or corn gluten meal, which prevents future germination. If you’re too late, you need to…

Pull ‘em. Especially if you don’t want to use an herbicide, which can spread and damage desirable plants. Sorry!

#7 Faded Furnishings from Harsh Sun

You want to throw open the shades and revel in that summer sunshine, but your furnishings and flooring are sensitive to the fading and drying effects of UV rays.

What to do:

Add transparent window film. It shuts out 99% of UVA and UVB rays without blocking sunlight or a welcome view. Today’s films are undetectable when properly installed and won’t tint the light coming into your home.

Spray furnishings with a protectant. Spritz upholstery, curtains, and rugs with a UV-blocking fabric protector and treat wood with a varnish — which provides better sun protection than other types of sealant.

#8 Splinters on the Deck

As long as the decking is in otherwise good shape, your bare feet don’t have to suffer through a gauntlet of splinters again this summer.

What to do:

Resurface it. Apply one of the newer deck restoration products that essentially gives your deck a coating that will prevent splinters. This works best for small splinters, before they’ve gotten too bad.

Sand it.Best if splinters are deep and big. Then apply a water-repelling, UV-resistant sealer.

#9 Dust Mites

Dust mite populations peak in summer’s heat and humidity, inflicting stuffy noses, sneezing, and coughing upon those who are allergic.

What to do:

Make your home inhospitable. Clean more frequently and use your AC to keep indoor humidity to 50% or less.

Get a new pillow. If your pillow is older than three years and has not been washed (experts recommend it twice a year), toss it: It’s likely loaded with dust mites.

#10 Slamming Screen Doors

Slam. Slam. Slam. Annoying, right? Beyond rattling your bliss, this sound of summer can damage the hinges of your screen door.

What to do:

Adjust your door closer. If your door has a closer, find the perfect bang-free tension by simply turning the screw on pneumatic models or rotating the body on hydraulic styles.

Add a closer. It costs just $10 to $20 to retrofit an older screen door.

Apply felt pads to the door frame. How’s that for a low-cost option?

#11 A Patio or Deck That Burns Your Feet

Hot dogs and burgers should be the only things you risk burning on your patio this summer.

What to do:

Throw some shade. Position an umbrella or pergola over frequently used areas.

Add an outdoor rug. Choose a lighter color that won’t absorb as much heat. Plastic styles, in particular, are touted for keeping their cool.

Refinish the surface. Again, choose a lighter color. Resurfacing products and overlays are available for all types of patio and deck surfaces.

#12 Ugly, Dried-Out Brown Grass

Widespread browning, rather than patches of brown grass, has two common causes: lawn care oversights and a cool-season grass going dormant.

What to do:

Sharpen or replace your mower blades. This could be all that’s needed if just the tips of your grass are brown and jagged.

Set the blade height to 3 inches. When you take less off the top, it helps grass absorb water before it evaporates.

Water less frequently, for longer periods of time. This helps grass develop deeper, drought- and disease-resistant roots. Aim for 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week, and even a cool-season grass can keep its green during the summer.

#13 A Smelly Basement

When humid air meets cool surfaces in an unconditioned basement, condensation occurs — setting the stage for mold and mildew, and that noxious, nose-wrinkling smell.

What to do:

Check for other sources of humidity. Leaking floors and walls, improperly vented clothes dryers and bathrooms, poorly graded landscaping, and ill-positioned downspouts all can direct water into the basement.

Buy a dehumidifier sized for your needs. Use the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers’ “Directory of Verified Dehumidifiers” to find your match.

Set the dehumidifier to “auto” (i.e. running only when needed). Running continuously, even a small model could cost $20 a month.

increasing difficulty for first-time home buyers to save for their down payment

by Terry Sullivan - Lyons-Sullivan Realty

There is increasing difficulty for first-time home buyers to save for their down payment as indicated in the graph.  Several factors that contribute to this trend include rising rents, rising home prices, student loan debt and flat wages.down payment graph.png

Some would-be buyers feel they cannot buy a home today but a large part of those decisions may be based on inaccurate assumptions.

Nine out of ten non-owners believe they need ten percent or more for a down payment. The typical down payment for first-time buyers is six percent. VA has 100% loan programs as well as USDA for certain qualifying areas and buyers. FHA is known for 3.5% down payments. And FNMA and Freddie Mac have down payments as low as 3% and 5%.

There are gift provisions available for buyers who have an “angel” who would like to help them with their down payment.

There are ways to borrow against a person’s qualified retirement program for a down payment. It isn’t necessarily limited to the buyer but could include a relative. Interestingly, a son or daughter can borrow against their retirement to benefit their parents.

In some respects, having good credit and sufficient income is more important than the down payment. Don’t rely on “common knowledge.” Get expert advice and counsel to see if there is a way to advance your dream of owning a home.

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