Be careful of the fall financial home follies

Autumn is your last chance to review, repair and remediate home issues that may break the bank account after winter arrives. Here are some expensive mistakes some homeowners make every fall – don’t be one of them. Set aside time (and a little cash) to clean up your household act.

Here’s a rundown of fall financial home follies:

1. Neglecting gutters. Both gutters and downspouts should be cleaned of last year’s debris (if you haven’t done it yet) and this year’s autumn leaves, before the snow and rains arrive. Gutters clogged by leaves can lead to water invading your roof and exterior walls. Downspouts should lead away from the house, as water that isn’t diverted can become a source of cracked driveways and ruined foundations (foundation repair could cost up to $11,200). In cold climates, gutters and downspouts can lead to ice dams, which can cause costly water damage to a home’s interior. As well, loose gutters can tear free due to the weight of snow and ice.

2. Overlooking windows. Homeowners in the know check out door and window frames for damage or leaky air gaps, while taking down window screens and putting up storm windows, which can cut heating costs. Heat gain and heat loss through windows take up 25%–30% of residential heating and cooling energy use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Consider adding weather stripping, double-paned or Energy Star-approved windows, caulking, or heavy curtains to prevent heated air from escaping, and increasing energy costs and decreasing comfort. Caulking should be done before freezing temperatures set in, says Tom Kraeutler, host of syndicated radio show The Money Pit.

3. Ignoring the chimney. Before kindling a cozy autumn fire, have your chimney examined and repaired, if necessary—or you may deal with home-destroying fires, chimney collapses or carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Tom Kraeutler. However, hiring the wrong chimney sweep can also be an autumn financial disaster, he points out, so research reviews and reputations.

4. Not reviewing the roof. Smart homeowners ensure the flashing (which covers gaps near chimneys and on roofs) is solid and won’t permit water intrusion. As well, are roof shingles missing? Now is the time to check — not after your upstairs bedroom becomes a waterlogged mess, or a leaky roof ruins your drywall. According to Homeadvisor.com, the cost of repairing water damage could run up to $8,000, while roof repairs only top out at $4,000 in extreme cases.

5. Skipping sealing. Autumn is the perfect time to seal your driveway and repair it – before freezing temps hit, after which sealants may not work well. Winter will bring additional exposure from de-icing agents like salt, which are “corrosive on your driveway,” Kraeutler says, and could lead to further cracking and deterioration. He points out that driveway sealing is often a DIY job.

6. Hesitating on the HVAC. Preventative maintenance or energy-efficient upgrades will lower your heating bills, spare you expensive emergency calls, and increase your heating system’s lifespan. If you’re considering selling your house in fall or winter, you’ll want to show off a functional heating system to buyers.

7. Procrastinating on purchases. Sure, you can pretend winter isn’t going to happen – if you live in sunny Southern California – but most of us need shovels, salt for deicing the sidewalk (and avoiding costly lawsuits) ice scrapers, and possibly even a snowblower. If you have a snowblower, check out these tips from Consumer Reports on how to make it winter-ready, before the first snow.

8. Putting off sale prep ’til spring. According to Consumer Reports, a host of issues can kill an upcoming home sale, including cracks in the foundation and hidden water damage. Don’t let problems start or worsen in the next six months – instead, address potential concerns proactively now, while there’s time.

9. Falling for fall scams. Your financial security may be at risk if you open your wallet for a scam targeting homeowners, such as lending “deals” a contractor might offer for making autumn upgrades. If you need to pay for home maintenance, remodeling or repairs, consider instead leveraging the equity in your home with a Cash-Out Refinance.

By avoiding these autumn money mistakes, you’ll save money, so you’ll have more dough for the upcoming holidays, or perhaps even for a trip in the new year.

Everything a first-time homebuyer needs to know to seal the deal

A recent news story from Bloomberg claimed starter homes are pricier than they were at pre-recession levels and the typical first-time home buyer now needs nearly 23 percent of their income to afford the typical entry-level home, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

Even as prices gradually decrease and inventory rebounds, modest cooling in the housing market really only helped high-end markets.

The high barrier of entry, however, has presented real estate agents with a great opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge of specific markets.

In San Francisco, where prices have soared, Sabrina Gee-Shin, a Realtor with Zephyr Real Estate, takes a three-pronged approach to dealing with first-time buyers. “You have to sit down and talk about what’s really important to the client – assess how bad they want it and their capacity [to buy],” she said.

“A huge part is educating clients about the reality of this current market,” she added. “I’m not into clients spending time going to open houses. That’s not a great use of their time to be in this dreamy dreamy land versus asking, ‘can I do it,’ ‘can I do it a year from now,’ ‘maybe I can if I ask my mom for a gift.’”

“From there, talk to lenders and a get a real sense of, is it possible?”

From there, once the client understands their reality better, then they strategize. A big part of that, especially in San Francisco, is introducing clients to neighborhoods and areas with which they may not be familiar.

Brandon Doyle, an agent with the Doyle Real Estate Team at Re/Max in Minnesota, also believes it’s important for first-time buyers to understand their lending options prior to starting the house hunt.

“Buyer’s should get pre-approved with a lender prior to going out looking at homes,” Doyle said. “That way they have a better idea of what they can afford with a payment they’re comfortable with.”

Doyle added that agents should help customers look for local down payment assistance – like the deferred payment loan program offered by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. “Depending on where they’re buying and income restrictions they may qualify for assistance,” Doyle added.

As for housing hunting, Doyle tells consumers to be prepared to act fast – with limited inventory, oftentimes buyers are competing against multiple parties, he said. Doyle also helps them understand the market, and how it changes depending on the season.

“You may not be able to get everything you want in your first home,” Doyle said. “It is important to have realistic expectations. Certain markets such as Minnesota are very seasonal, purchasing a home in the “off season” when the market has cooled down may give you a better chance to compete.”

Karen Daily Ekofo, a settlement attorney at Ekko Title in Virgina, echoed those sentiments.

“Having a good lender who understands the programs offered to first-time homebuyers is a huge plus,” said Efoko. “They can talk to the first-time homebuyers about all options.”

In Virginia, for example, Efoko said you’re eligible for homebuying assistance from first-time buyer programs if you haven’t owned a home in the prior three years and qualify under income requirements.

Efoko offered another good piece of advice for consumers or the agents they hire: find a person who is really good at helping repair credit scores.

Kristin McFeely, a Philadelphia-based real estate salesperson with Compass, similarly expressed the importance of consumers securing financing.

“One of the first things is to get their financing squared away so that if they see a property they want to move on, they are prepared and have a pre-approval on hand,” she said. “The lender the buyer selects often plays as important a role as the type of financing they are getting. I always recommend a local lender.”

In a tight market, agents also need to inform buyers of their financing options, whether it be through a large deposit, a quick close or waived or shortened contingency periods. McFeely said agents should also understand the terms of an escalation clause – a contact where the buyer agrees to raise their offer incrementally depending on competing offers – before an offer is submitted.

“Prep work is so important in this tight market,” McFeely added.

Email Patrick Kearns