Are You Sure You Own Your Fence?

As Robert Frost (somewhat facetiously) said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” While many people have much better relationships with their neighbors than the saying implies, there is something to be said for a good fence on your property. Not only can fences add some visual appeal to the property, but they can also be functional.

Fences are often a godsend if you own animals and don’t want to keep them chained up outside, and a fence around your backyard can afford you some privacy with your family or friends as well.

Sometimes, though, fences need to be updated, removed or replaced. At these times, homeowners have found themselves in conflict with their good neighbors over the question of who actually owns the fence between their properties. While this might seem like an odd question, if the fence was already there when you moved in, are you completely sure that it belongs to you? Just whose side of the property line does it really fall on?

Figuring Out Ownership

Before you start tearing down an existing fence, it’s important to figure out if you actually have legal ownership of the fence itself. Friendly neighbors can become bitter enemies pretty quickly if you start tearing down a fence that belongs to the people living next door. You can also cause some hurt feelings if you start taking the fence down and accidentally tear up gardens or other plants that grow next to or on the fence. This is why it’s essential to determine ownership before you make any move on the fence. Not clearing things beforehand can not only cause hurt feelings and ruin a neighborly relationship, but in some cases a neighbor might even get the police or lawyers involved.

A Neighborly Conversation

One of the first things that you should do if there’s any question about the ownership of the fence is go over and have a chat with your neighbor. Explain that you want to replace the fence, provide your reasoning on why the fence has to go, and ask if they know whose property the fence falls on. If the fence is on your property, the neighbor should tell you; if it’s on theirs, then you can open up a larger conversation about replacing it. This also gives you an opportunity to talk about any plants or other features that might be disturbed during the process and make accommodations for pets or other animals that gaps in the fence might put at risk. Be sure to approach the topic casually and with a friendly tone; if you come across as too aggressive or seem defensive about the question then it can cause the conversation to head south pretty quickly.

Checking That Property Line

Unless your conversation with your neighbor sorts things out neatly, it’s a good idea to get a survey done to settle the matter of where the fence lies. A surveyor will ensure that the property line is clearly marked so you can see exactly where the fence lies on the property line. In some cases, it will clear the matter up readily, since the fence will obviously fall on one property or the other. In other cases, you might find that the fence actually straddles the line or moves from one property to the other. In this case you may need to discuss the issue more with your neighbor or consult the property deed or other official description of the property to see whether the fence is mentioned. Regardless, knowing where the property line falls gives you a lot of leverage in solving the issue.

Solving Your Fencing Woes

Whether you’re in need of a surveyor to help you figure out ownership or a contractor to replace the fence, we are here to help. We can connect you with professionals in your area that will assist you in getting your fencing issues cleared up in no time.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Renovation Investors and You

Let’s take a closer look at how renovation investors operate and understand how that benefits both home buyers and sellers.

Depending on the condition of the house, renovation can be a major expense. However, this can also present real estate investors with significant opportunities. For those with the right know-how and a good eye for investment properties, homes in need of renovation can be reworked and then flipped for a profit. Some investors actually make a very good living doing just that.

So how can these investors help you? Part of that depends on exactly what it is you’re looking for, and whether you’re a potential buyer or you’re looking to sell a property that’s in need of repairs. Let’s take a closer look at how renovation investors work and how that benefits both buyers and sellers to see how this matches your needs.

Renovation Investors

Investors who specialize in renovations seek to buy properties at a discount because of issues the property has or repairs that it may need, in order to be habitable. Depending on the state of the property, the renovations may be extensive before it’s time to sell. The end goal is to get the property in good enough condition that the investor can sell it for more than was spent buying the property and performing the renovations.

In some cases, the investors themselves are the ones doing the renovations. Some investors work with contractors and have them perform the renovations instead. Regardless of who does the work and how involved the investor is in the process, any labor costs are included in the amount that the investor seeks to recoup when the property is finally sold.

Renovation Sellers

If you have a property that you want to sell that’s in need of repairs, a renovation investor might be able to cut you a good deal on the property. While you won’t make as much from the sale as you would if the property had already been repaired, this can be a viable option if you aren’t sure of how much repairs will cost or if you’re afraid of a “money pit” situation where the cost of repairs might balloon out of control.

While most renovation investors want to purchase properties at as low a price point as they can to maximize their eventual profits, there should be room for negotiation to help ensure that you get a fair deal on the property when its current state of repair is taken into account. If you speak with a renovator who simply refuses to work with you to find a fair price for the property, you always have the option of looking for different buyers or undertaking some repairs yourself to bring up the overall value of the property before it goes to market.

Renovation Buyers

If you’re in the market to buy a home, renovation investors can help you get into a nice house at a good price. In most cases, the homes are slightly older – but the repairs that were done by the investor should have the property in much better shape than similar homes of the same age. You may even find renovated homes that are as nice or possibly even better than houses that are newer than the one that was renovated.

Of course, when buying a renovated home, it’s important to find out what repairs were done and whether there are any repairs that still need to be made. Local ordinances may require the renovator to have made at least a minimum level of repairs before the property can be sold. When you have an inspection performed, the home inspector should be able to point out any potential issues that might cause a conflict with these legal requirements.

Finding a Renovator

Investors interested in renovating and selling properties come from several different sectors of the real estate and finance industry. We can help you find renovators from just about any of them.

Tips for Lowering your Mortgage Insurance Payment

Mortgage insurance can be a pain, though in many cases it’s a necessary evil. Without mortgage insurance you may not be able to qualify for certain loan programs, including loans serviced through the FHA. Depending on the circumstances of your loan and the insurance you buy, this can be a considerable expense. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce this expense; in some cases, you may even be able to get rid of mortgage insurance altogether!

Be sure to keep in mind that like many things loan-related, there are a lot of factors that go into determining your mortgage insurance costs. While these tips may help you to lower that payment, their effectiveness will vary from person to person.

Build Your Credit

As with loan interest rates, mortgage insurance costs can be affected by your credit score. Mortgage insurance is designed to provide additional safety for the lender that extends the loan. As such, the better your credit score is, the less risk there is that you’ll default on the loan. If you can improve your credit, you’ll have a much stronger case for negotiating a lower mortgage insurance payment.

Pay Down Your Loan

Mortgage insurance is typically required when your down payment is under 20 percent of the value of your home. As such, you can usually renegotiate it or have it removed entirely as you build equity. If you can afford it, make additional payments against your loan to pay it down and build equity faster; this will get you in a position to renegotiate your mortgage insurance sooner than you would otherwise be able to.

Refinance Your Mortgage

Provided that you can get a good deal on your new loan, refinancing is a great way to reduce the cost of mortgage insurance. Because you’re taking out a new loan to pay off the previous one, any mortgage insurance that’s required will be based on the new loan amount in comparison to your home’s value. If you refinance with a loan that’s for 80 percent or less than the total value of your home, then you likely won’t have to take out mortgage insurance for the new loan at all. Likewise, if you can refinance with some government-backed loans such as those offered through the Department of Veteran Affairs or the Department of Agriculture, then you should be able to skip the mortgage insurance as well.

Increase Your Home’s Value

Another option for reducing or eliminating your mortgage insurance payment is increasing the value of your home. In some cases, this is simply a matter of having the property appraised again; there are a number of external factors that can affect property value, and if your property sees a value increase then you can use this to renegotiate your mortgage insurance rate. If that isn’t an option, consider home improvements or similar actions that will increase the value of your property so that you can get out from under that insurance umbrella.

Talk to Your Lender

If you aren’t sure what to do, talk to your lender and see which options are best in your situation. They may look at your mortgage payment history and other factors to help you find a way to reduce that insurance cost. They can also help you calculate your equity and see exactly how much more you’ll need to significantly reduce (or completely eliminate) your mortgage insurance obligations. If you’ve already built over 20 percent equity then you may be able to simply ask for the insurance to be cancelled in your first contact with the lender.

Ask the Experts

Since mortgage insurance costs can vary from person to person, it’s always a good idea to find a professional to advise you about your specific loan situation. Fortunately, we can connect you with mortgage experts who can help you evaluate your personal situation and find the best way to reduce or eliminate your mortgage insurance costs.

Should You Rent Your Home Decor?

It might seem like kind of an odd concept, but there are a number of companies that let you rent your home décor these days. Companies hitting the market allow you to lease your furniture and other décor for a limited period or until you decide to buy it outright. Even some older rent-to-own companies have options to change furnishings after completing a portion of your lease. The big question is, how viable is this as a way to decorate your home?

Renting vs. Buying

With just about any situation where you have the option to rent or buy something, there will be proponents on both sides extolling why that option is the better deal. People will discuss markets when talking about renting or buying a home, or depreciation rates when discussing automotive lease options versus outright purchase. With furniture, however, the discussions have long been fairly one-sided due to the excessive cost associated with many rent-to-own furniture options. Unless you had another other choice, buying your furniture was the only way to avoid paying nearly twice as much in some cases.

The difference here is that these new options are intended as a way to provide flexibility in your décor instead of simply providing a path to purchase. While you do have an option to purchase, you also have the option to change your furniture options as your needs and tastes change. Because services like Feather are focused more on providing an actual service than simply selling furniture with installment plans, they have a larger focus on benefits than what you would get from a standard rent-to-own purchase.

Is It a Viable Option?

There are two questions to ask when trying to decide if renting home décor in this fashion is a viable option for you. The first concern is the cost: is it really worth it to you to have the sort of flexibility these services provide, versus owning your furniture outright? Feather, for example, has a $19/month service charge in addition to the monthly furniture payments for members on annual contracts. If you don’t plan on taking advantage of all the services that Feather offers, it might not be worth paying this extra cost in your case. On the other hand, if you’re the sort that would like to be able to reinvent your living space on a regular basis, then the discounts and annual free change that membership provides might be more than worth that added monthly fee.

The second thing to consider is how viable these companies are in the long term. If there’s no market for this sort of a service, then you might find yourself without a service to use a few years down the road. This may not be a concern, however; the market has supported multiple more traditional rent-to-own services over the years, but companies like Feather aren’t really competing with those. Instead, they’re taking an updated version of their model and targeting a slightly higher income bracket. With reasonable pricing, some great style and a solid service model in place, these early movers into this new bracket could have significant staying power.

Nailing Your Décor

Regardless of whether you plan to rent or buy, it’s a good idea to plan out your décor before you start decorating. This is especially important if you’re using an online service where you’ll be doing your planning and shopping online. This is where it can help to have a professional interior designer to assist you in choosing the pieces that will work best together. We can help you with that.

High Traffic Flooring Options

A nice deep pile carpet can look great in your home, but if you have a lot of foot traffic then it’s just asking for trouble. Not only will you have to work harder to keep it clean, but you’ll also have to replace it sooner than you’d like because all those feet and shoes will leave their mark over time. If you want nice-looking floors without worrying about your own personal parade wearing them down before their time, you need to find a flooring option that’s better suited for high-traffic areas.

Laminate Flooring

An increasingly popular option in homes, laminate flooring uses laminated wood slats with images applied to them to create the look of a premium flooring option without the premium price. Laminate is available in a wide range of sizes and types; choose thicker 12mm or 15mm laminates to help ensure that they won’t wear down due to excessive foot traffic. If you want something a bit different than standard laminates, some companies are also now making vinyl flooring that functions similarly to laminate floors but with the water resistance and other benefits of using vinyl.

Natural Stone

If you really want something that can stand up against some foot traffic, consider going with natural stone. These stone tiles add a touch of beauty and class while giving you the wear protection that only stone can provide. Depending on the option you choose, this may run a bit more expensive than other options, but there is very little out there that can match the look of stone in the end.

Concrete Flooring

Though this may sound unappealing when you first think of it, there’s a lot that can be done with concrete flooring. You can add color, stains, etchings, stamps and even embedded features such as stones or tiles to really bring the floor to life. Best of all, you already know that concrete can stand up to a lot of traffic and use without showing any wear, so you won’t have to worry about your floors showing their age for quite some time.

Hardwood

Another option, which can be a bit pricey depending on the wood you go with, is hardwood. There is very little that can beat a hardwood floor when it comes to beauty and wear resistance. You have several woods to choose from, each giving the floor its own touch of color and personality. The maintenance of hardwood is a little higher than some other options if you want to keep it looking its best, but the little bit of extra time you spend keeping up your floor is more than worth it.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

There are a lot of benefits to using ceramic tile in your high-traffic areas. Tile is versatile, comes in a wide range of colors and styles, creates a classic look, and is relatively easy to repair and replace if individual tiles get broken. Don’t worry that the look of ceramic tile is dated, either; while you might think that tile will give you the generic “tile floor” look of decades past, modern ceramic tile is truly a sight to behold.

Traffic-Resistant Carpet

Yes, carpet isn’t always the best flooring option for high-traffic areas. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t carpeting options available for rooms that see a lot of use, however. Not only are there low-pile carpets and other options designed with higher-traffic use in mind, but you can also get carpet tiles and other carpet options that are both easy to maintain and easy to repair if parts of them start showing a bit too much wear.

Finding the Right Flooring Option

Obviously, there are a few options available to keep your floors looking nice despite the amount of traffic they see. If you aren’t sure which is the best option for your specific situation, we can help.

Things to Look for in a Home Deal

When you’re shopping for a new home, it’s not uncommon to face a little bit of sticker shock when it comes to price. This often leads to buyers trying to find a good balance between what they want and what they can afford. However, if you’re smart (and maybe a little lucky), you may be able to find some really great deals if you know what to look for.

One of the keys to finding a good deal is to look for properties that have qualities that might seem unappealing at first but that can be corrected fairly easily. Some of these things can drive prices down significantly but won’t require a major renovation to fix. If you’re hoping to find a bargain, here are a few things to look out for.

Ugly Paint

Even though there’s a lot of damage that can make your paint look ugly, sometimes the paint is just ugly because someone chose to bring together colors that should never coexist. It could be awful colors, it could be cheap paint that’s faded over time or it could even be an amateur paint job that never got touched up. Regardless of the reason for the ugly paint job, it can drive the price of the property down by thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. It doesn’t even have to be the entire house; one ugly room can give you an opportunity to find a home deal on an otherwise nice property.

Landscaping Issues

A property’s yard is one of the first things that potential buyers see. If it’s obviously been neglected or has bald patches and overgrown flower beds, this can make a negative first impression because it suggests that the house itself might not have been taken care of either. That isn’t always the case, though. Even if the house is in good condition, a yard that needs some TLC can usually shave some money off the asking price and help you to net a great home deal.

Fixtures and Accents

There are a lot of cosmetic elements in houses that can start looking rough over time. Handles and knobs can come loose or become tarnished, shutters can get loose, bathroom tiles can become cracked… the list goes on. While updating these issues won’t break the bank, many sellers will drop their asking price quite a bit due to how these little things make the house look.

Bathroom Concerns

A lot of buyers shy away from houses that have obvious bathroom problems, causing those sellers to bring the price down significantly in many cases. Depending on the extent of the issues in the bathroom, though, there could be a real opportunity here. If the problem with the bathroom is mostly cosmetic, then you may be able to fix it on the relatively cheap side and save a lot of money in the process. Just be sure to keep an eye out for signs of water damage or mold, since that could indicate problems that would be much more expensive to fix.

Previous Foreclosure

One other strategy for finding a deal is to look for bank-owned properties that were previous foreclosures. These properties are often sold at a discount because the bank isn’t necessarily trying to sell the house at market value, it’s simply trying to recoup the money it lost when it had to foreclose. The amount you can save will depend on both the bank and the amount of equity that was in the home when it was foreclosed, but you may luck into a great deal on a nice house this way. Just be aware that while there are legitimate programs that can help you find a foreclosed property, there are also some scammy ones out there as well.

Things to Know About Solar

Home solar may be the energy solution of the future. Offering up clean, reliable energy without having to depend on power companies and high energy rates. With new financing options from some companies, getting solar could soon be easier than ever before. If you like the thought of energy-independence, then picturing your home with its own solar panels might make you giddy. Before you get too excited, though, there are a few things that it’s important you know about solar energy first.

Solar Is Expensive

If you want a full solar array capable of powering your home, there could be a significant expense. Depending on the size of your home and the extent of your energy needs, your solar setup will cost $30,000 to $45,000 or more. You may be able to finance the panels and installation, but it’s still a major expense. Tax credits or other incentive programs can offset the cost. The availability of these programs and what’s required to qualify will vary year to year or by locale.

Recouping Your Investment

The money you save on your electric bill should eventually be more than what you pay to have solar panels installed, but it may take a while for you to save more than you spent. Depending on the size of your solar panels, where your property is located and how much of an effect the panels have on your electric bill, it could take 10 years or longer for you to recoup your initial solar investment.

Solar Mounting Concerns

Not all homes are ideal for solar. If your property has a lot of tall trees or you otherwise experience a lot of shade on your house, this can have a negative effect on how well your solar panels function. Also, if you’ve had issues with your roof in the past you may have a hard time installing a roof-mounted solar array given the weight of the equipment. If you opt for an off-the-roof array to take advantage of the best lighting on your property, there will be added expense involved since you’ll have to put in a concrete slab and use different mounting equipment as well.

Do You Have a Battery?

Many people think of solar as being a way to keep power no matter what’s going on with the grid, but that isn’t always the case. Many solar arrays are designed to back-feed power into the grid itself, essentially selling the power that you generate to the electric company and reducing your bill that way. If there’s a blackout or other problems with the grid, though, you’ll still be affected because that power isn’t being stored locally. If you want local power storage, you’ll need batteries… and that can be even more expensive, depending on your home energy usage and whether you want the batteries to supply some or all of your power needs.

Cleaning and Maintenance

One thing that’s left out of a lot of solar conversations is the ongoing cleaning and maintenance requirements that solar panels have. The effectiveness of solar panels can be affected by dust and dirt buildup, so your panels will have to be cleaned as part of your normal spring or fall cleaning routines. Damage to panels and dead cells can also affect them and will require an installer to come out and fix. If you have batteries as part of your unit, these may have to be replaced after several years as well as they can start holding less of a charge over time.

Home Valuation Effects

Having a functional solar installation can positively effect on your home’s value, especially as energy costs continue to rise. It can reduce the number of interested buyers since solar is still uncommon for homes. While some buyers will be excited about the idea of buying a home with solar, others may wonder how trustworthy it is or worry about future maintenance costs. While you’ll be able to get more for your property if you decide to sell, it could take you longer to find a buyer.

Care and Maintenance of Your Home’s Roof

While the roof is one of the most important parts of your home, it’s also one of the most neglected. The average homeowner gives little thought to the condition or maintenance needs of their roof until it starts to leak, at which point it’s usually too late. With a little bit of care and planning, you can add years to the life of your roof. Even better, you can also improve both the look and overall condition of the rest of your home in the process.

Roof Safety First

Before you start any plans to take care of your roof, be sure that you know how to safely access the roof and work on it. Ensure that you have a ladder in good condition that you can secure in place, with a spotter there to keep an eye on you and hold the ladder stable. If possible, connect a rope or safety harness to a solid surface on the roof in case of accidental slips or falls. Wear slip-resistant shoes or work boots and walk carefully with each step to test for weak spots before putting your whole weight down. A fall from a roof can be very dangerous, so don’t skimp on the safety procedures when you’re leaving the ground.

Check It Out Annually

Don’t wait for there to be problems with your roof before you decide to do anything about it. At a bare minimum, you should inspect your roof once a year, ideally in the fall, before freezing temperatures set in. This lets you take care of any problems before ice, snow and other winter issues can make them worse. While this works as a minimum amount of attention, your roof will maintain its good condition longer if you also check it in the spring or early summer as well.

Clean the Debris

There is more on your roof than just a frisbee. The limbs, dirt and other debris can take a toll on your roof material over time. Wash the debris off your roof or climb up and remove it with a broom, being sure to follow good safety habits if you decide to go up yourself. If you’re unable to remove some of the debris safely, leave it and call a professional.

Look for Overhanging Branches

Trees near your home can provide good shade during the summer, but as winter sets in they can become a hazard. Limbs and branches that hang over your roof can not only drop seeds, leaves and pollen that can make a mess, but as temperatures drop and everything starts icing over those same limbs can gain a lot of weight. Trimming back the limbs or other hazards can go a long way toward preventing damage to your roof over the course of the winter.

Keep Your Gutters Clean

Most people clean their gutters to keep the water from falling over the side, but there are other reasons to keep them clean. If your gutters are clogged, all of that organic material holds moisture and keeps it right next to the edge of your roof. Over time, this can cause the wood in the roof edge to soften and rot. This can, in turn, lead to your gutters pulling free and possibly even part of your roof collapsing.

Look for Signs of Damage

Even quick visual inspections throughout the year can make a big difference in keeping your roof healthy. Areas that seem damp even when everything else looks dry, shingles or flashing that is visibly damaged or pulled up, mold growth on certain spots, damp spots in the attic and other signs of distress are all good ways of telling that there’s some problem with your roof that needs to be handled.

Top Home Gifts

Figuring out what to buy with that holiday cash? Fortunately, there are a few things that you can get for around the home that you might never buy for themselves. Here are a few suggestions for things you might not only appreciate, but actually USE.

Digital Assistants

Both Google Home and Amazon’s Echo smart speaker with Alexa are pretty common these days, and both platforms are adding new features frequently. Not only can you use one of these digital assistants to play music or find out the weather forecast, but you can also have them tell you jokes, cast video to smart TVs, look up recipes and even set timers or access your calendar. Companion apps for smartphones will even let you take your assistant with you when you’re away from the house as well.

Smart Thermostats

Heating and cooling costs are a major expense. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of options out there for smart thermostats that adjust temperatures automatically to help keep costs low. These thermostats can not only make changes based on their programming, but some can even make adjustments on their own when they sense that no one is in the house. Connecting them to smartphone apps would even allow your recipient to control the temperature while away from home so that everything’s just perfect when you get back.

Home Automation Accessories

Digital assistants and smart thermostats aren’t the only home automation options out there. Smart lighting, smart locks, window sensors, leak sensors and even smart smoke detectors are all available to give you new ways to interact with your home. Best of all, most of these devices can be configured to work together to achieve effects like automatically turning on lights when the door is unlocked.

Alternative Appliances

The modern homeowner deserves so much more than an oven and a microwave can give them. Fortunately, there are a number of options out there that offer up new culinary options while also being extremely giftable. Instant Pot cookers, sous vide cookers and even air fryers offer new options for fixing meals that you might never have considered. Many of them are programmable as well and can even be monitored or controlled remotely via dedicated apps.

High-Quality Streaming

More people are “cutting the cord” and moving away from traditional cable television than ever before. In addition to Netflix, consumers looking for quality digital content have options with Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, CBS All Access and more, and the forthcoming HBO Max streaming service will be here next year. This could be a great time to get yourself ready for all of this content with a Roku or other streaming device capable of handling HD or 4K streams without buffering or losing picture quality in the process. Pair it with a sound bar or other sound solution to really take the entertainment experience up a notch.

Clearing the Air

There are a number of common pollutants that can foul the air we breathe. Breathe a sigh of relief with an ionizing air filter or other air purifier to cut out a lot of these unwanted smells and irritants. This will help to keep the air breathable and odor free, and the units themselves are easy to clean so it won’t add a significant new chore to your daily routine.