Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring and Summer Maintenance Checklist

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for Spring and Summer. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do list at the end of this article.
Take advantage of the weather, get outside, and check for any damage that may have occurred from winter rains or freezes.

Key tasks to perform for Spring:

• Schedule HVAC maintenance. Spring is a good time to make sure your air conditioning unit is ready to handle the intense summer heat. It’s smart (although not required) to purchase a service contract with a local HVAC professional to ensure your system is regularly maintained, and to have someone on call if anything goes wrong. An annual maintenance agreement runs from $150-$250; a single tune-up generally runs $50-$100.
Ask your HVAC professional about the maintenance checklist he uses; it should include checking thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating any moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Duct cleaning, while it probably won’t hurt anything, is not necessary. Some contractors may offer to coat the inside of the ducts with antimicrobial agents, but be aware that research has not proven the effectiveness of this method and any chemicals used in your ducts will likely become airborne.
It’s your responsibility to make sure your furnace filters are changed, and to inspect and vacuum out all your floor registers regularly.

• Inspect roof and chimney for winter damage. Look for any loose, missing, or damaged shingles or rotten roof decking. Examine where your plumbing pipes vent to the roof; the sealing agent should not have any gaps or cracks. Look for loose chimney bricks and mortar, rotting boards if you have a wooden chimney box, and rust if you have a chimney with metal parts and flashing.
Anything that looks amiss merits a call to your roofing contractor or home inspector, says Max Curtis, owner of MaxInspect in Livermore, Calif. Even if your chimney doesn’t require repair, spring is a good time to have it swept (cleaned) in order to prevent fires and carbon monoxide buildup. Expect to pay $75-$200 for a chimney sweep; look for a contractor certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

• Check your gutters. Even if you cleaned them in fall, check them again for additional debris and winter damage. Be attentive not just to obvious cracks or sections that have detached from the roof, but to slight twisting or bending that may allow water to stand in areas it didn’t before. You can usually repair damage yourself at minimal cost (under $50) by adjusting or reattaching brackets, gently hammering out bent areas, or replacing the affected section of gutter if necessary.

• Inspect your siding. No matter what type of siding you have, check it for damage it may have sustained over the winter, including rotting boards, loose bricks, missing mortar, or loose panels of vinyl. If siding is dingy, clean it with soapy water, a stiff brush, and a garden hose.

• Flush your water heater. Especially in areas with hard water, sediment can build up in the bottom of the water heater and make it difficult for the heater to do its job. Once a year, flush your water heater by attaching a garden or heater hose to the valve at the bottom of the tank (if you have a gas heater, be sure to turn the burner to the “pilot” setting first). Run the hose to the floor drain or outside the house and open the valve. Keep water running through the heater until it runs clear.
Curtis says that while some people refer to this as “draining” your water heater, it’s really a “flush,” because you’re running water continuously through the sediment until it’s all carried away, not simply emptying the water heater. “Don’t turn the water off at the source,” he says. “Just keep running the water out until it runs clear. If you do this once a year, your water heater will last twice as long.”
Home inspector Bill Richardson of Responsive Inspections in Albuquerque, New Mexico, adds that if you don’t perform this task regularly, it can be difficult to shut the valve off after you’re finished. “In that case, you’ll have to call a plumber,” he says. “So don’t try it on Sunday!”

• Check your GFCIs. Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) protect you from harmful electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a slight disturbance in current is detected. They’re the electrical outlets with two buttons in the middle (“test” and “reset”) that should be present anywhere water meets electricity: kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends monthly testing, so incorporate it into your spring maintenance routine to keep it top of mind.

To test a GFCI, plug a small appliance (say, a radio) into the GFCI receptacle. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the radio. The reset button should pop out; when you press reset, the radio should come back on.

If the radio doesn’t go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI itself has failed (and should be replaced) or the outlet is wired incorrectly (and should be rewired). If the reset button doesn’t pop out, or if pressing it doesn’t restore power to the radio, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is-neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don’t have ample experience with electrical repair.
A little prevention in the form of home maintenance tasks goes a long way in recognizing developing problems and preventing costly repairs. The to-do list following this article contains all the above tasks plus others you should complete this season for maximum impact. Visit the links listed below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs.

Karin Beuerlein has covered home improvement and green living topics extensively for,, and In more than a decade of freelancing, she’s also written for dozens of national and regional publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, The History Channel Magazine, Eating Well, and Chicago Tribune. She and her husband started married life by remodeling the house they were living in. They still have both the marriage and the house, no small feat.

Make sure everything is in working order this Spring using this checklist:

Read more:

Which Are the Top Schools?

Wondering which school to send your child to? Choosing a school can be a long, complicated, and exhausting process. is a website that will help you get a great idea of which school might be best for your kids. Compare K-12 school ratings nationwide to find the best schools. View parent ratings, reviews and test scores and choose the right public, private, pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school for your child! Add your own reviews too!

Here is also 5280's list of Top Schools in and around Denver, using the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Colorado Growth Model. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Best of Tudor in Denver - a $1,000,000 Restoration

Yes, this is for sale. And yes, you can buy it for only $3.5 million (they may very well accept a lower offer). Bringing back the best of Tudor, this is a spectacular work of restored and updated original architecture and interior design in the Historic Denver Country Club. Over 6,600 finished square feet, it is flooded with light having full southern exposure. This grand home has incredible paneled walls, beamed and plaster ceilings, and a breathtaking carved limestone archway between the foyer and living room. The light bright kitchen is new with Viking Appliances and inset doors with nickel hardware. The beautiful street presence and setting is enhanced by an extra deep (165') lot giving added privacy.

Call me if you're interested. This is what $1 million in renovations can do to a home. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

5 Home Loan & Foreclosure Myths for Buyers and Home Owners

In a mortgage market that changes as quickly as this one, today’s fact is tomorrow’s fiction.  For buyers, misinformation can be the difference between qualifying for a home loan or not. Sellers and owners, knowledge is foreclosure-preventing, smart decision-making power! Without further ado, let’s correct some common mortgage misconceptions.

1.       Myth: Buyers with bad credit can’t qualify for home loans. Obviously, mortgage guidelines have tightened up, big time, since the housing bubble burst, and they seem likely to tighten even further over the long-term. But just this moment, they have relaxed a bit.  In the last couple of weeks, two of the nation’s largest lenders of FHA loans announced that they’ve dropped the minimum FICO score guideline from 620 (which allows for some credit imperfections) to 580, which is actually a fairly low score. 

At a FICO score of 620, buyers can qualify for FHA loans at many lenders with only 3.5 percent down. With a score of 580, the lenders are looking for more like 5 to 10 percent down – they want to see you put more of your own skin in the game, and the higher down payment lowers the risk that you’ll default.  However, if your credit has taken a recessionary hit, like that of so many Americans, this might create a glimmer of hope that you’ll be able to take advantage of low prices and interest rates without needing years of credit repair.

2.     Myth: The Mortgage Interest Deduction isn’t long for this world.  Homeowners saved over $85 billion in 2008 by deducting their mortgage interest on their income tax returns. A few months ago, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform caused a massive wave of fear to ripple throughout the world of real estate consumers and professionals when they recommended Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID) reform, which would dramatically reduce the size of the deduction.

Fact is, the Commission made a sweeping set of deficit-busting recommendations to Congress, a few of which are likely to be adopted.  Fortunately for buyers and sellers, MID reform is not one of them.  Very powerful industry groups and economists have been working with Congress to plead the case that MID reform any time in the near future would only handicap the housing recovery.  Congress-folk aren’t interested in stopping the stabilization of the real estate market.  As such, the MID is nearly universally thought of as safe – even by those who disagree that it should be.

3.       Myth:  It’s just a matter of time before loan guidelines loosen up. 
 The US Treasury Department recently recommended the elimination of mortgage industry giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I won’t get into the eye-glazing details of it here, but the long and the short is that (a) this is highly likely to happen, and (b) it will make mortgage loans much harder and costlier to get, for both buyers and homeowners.   It’s possible that loans are as easy to get as they’re going to get.  So don’t expect that if you hold out, zero-down mortgages will come back into vogue anytime soon. Fortunately, Fannie and Freddie aren't likely to disappear for another 5-7 years, so you have a little time to pull your down payment and credit together. If you want to get into the market, the time to get yourself ready is now!

4.       Myth: If you don’t have equity, you can’t refi. Much ado is being made about how stuck so many people are in their bad loans, because they don’t have the equity to refinance their way out of them.  If you’re severely upside down (meaning you own much, much more than your home is worth), stuck may be the situation. But there are actually a couple of ways homeowners can refi their underwater home loans.  If your loan is held by Fannie or Freddie (which you can find out, here), they will actually refinance it up to 125% of its current value, assuming you otherwise qualify for the loan.  That means, if your home is worth $100,000, you could refinance a loan up to $125,000, despite the fact that your home can’t secure the full amount of the loan.

If your loan is not owned by Fannie or Freddie, you might be a candidate for the FHA “Short Refi” program. While most mortgage workout plans are only available to people who are behind on their loans, the Short Refi program is only available to homeowners who are current on their mortgages and need to refinance up to 115 percent of their homes’ value.  So, if you owe $250,000 on your home, you can refinance via an FHA Short Refi even if your home’s value is as low as $217,000. If you think you’re a good candidate for a short refi, contact your mortgage broker, stat – there are some in Congress who think that this program is so underutilized (only 245 applications have been submitted since it rolled out in September – no typo!) that its funding should be diverted to other needy programs.

5.       Myth: 
 If you’ve lost your job and can’t make your mortgage payment, you might as well mail your keys in.  Until recently, this was essentially true – virtually every loan modification and refinancing opportunity required that your economic hardship be over before you could qualify. And documenting income has always been high on the requirements checklist. But there are some new funds available in the states with the hardest hit housing and job markets, which have been designated specifically for out-of-work homeowners.

The US Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit Fund allocated $7.6 billion to the states listed below – all of which are now using some portion of these funds to offer up to $3,000 per month for up to 36 months in mortgage payment assistance to help unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosure.  Contact the state agency listed below if you need this sort of help:

Source - Trulia