By Sheba R. Wheeler
The Denver Post
April 25, 2008
Real estate expert Sid Davis says maintenance crises, financial demands and renovation disasters can become overwhelming to inexperienced property owners. "They were renters before, so whenever they had a problem, the landlord or supervisor would come by and fix things," says Davis, who wrote "The First-Time Homeowner's Survival Guide" ($16, Amacom, 2007). "Now they are on their own."
Davis, real estate inspectors and other property experts were interviewed to glean the following 10 tips for new homeowners.
1. Act now to save later
Pull out the home-inspection report and reread it. Use the report as a handy maintenance checklist.
Most inspections take place during a stressful time when the buyer's main concern is closing the deal, Davis says. "A lot of small problems tend to be overlooked and dismissed," he says, "but in time they grow to bigger problems that can max out your credit card."
One of Davis' real estate clients watched for three months as a water stain crept across his ceiling. Then one night while the man was eating supper, the entire ceiling collapsed. The lesson: Be proactive. Take care of issues as soon as or before they arise.
2. Know thy enemy
"Water is 90 percent of a homeowner's problems," Davis says. A home's basement, foundation and roof are the most susceptible to costly water damage.
Inspect bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens regularly for water leaks. The fix can be as simple as tightening a nut. Caulk around doors and windows to prevent water from seeping into the walls. Outside, keep water routed at least 5 feet from the foundation.
Maintaining a home's gutter system is a major line of defense against water damage. Leaves, dust and dirt from shingles can result in a clog that forces water out and down into the foundation. Use a ladder and a water hose to clean out the gutters regularly, and make sure they drain properly.
Wade Williamson, owner of Axium Inspections in Denver, says many homes he sees have missing downspout extensions. Inspectors suggest checking a new home's landscaping to make sure the slope of soil and sod doesn't push water toward the house. Always turn sprinkler heads away from the house.
3. Heads up
Roofs should be next on the maintenance checklist. If a roof is more than 12 years old, get it professionally inspected, experts say.
A homeowner should avoid climbing on the roof. Shingles can break, or a person can get hurt. Instead, use binoculars to check for broken shingles and spots where the mineral coating has worn off, curled up or is getting brittle. To avoid leaks, make sure that flashings are intact and not getting flaky or deteriorated.
4. Circuit party
Map out the home's electrical system by determining which outlets serve which circuits and then labeling the breakers. Don't trust that the previous homeowner labeled the circuits properly.
A tripped circuit is a red flag for an overloaded breaker. Read appliance labels to figure out how many amps (electrical current) each one draws.
Many household circuits can have only 15 amps. Update electrical wiring in homes 10 years or older.
Make sure GFCI outlets (ground fault circuit interrupters) are installed near sinks -- both bathroom and kitchen -- in the laundry room and garage, and on exterior outlets. This inexpensive fix -- you'll need an electrician -- helps prevent electrocutions and fires.
Also, tighten screws on wall outlet receptacle covers and replace missing ones. Never use extension cords in place of permanent wiring.
5. Current affairs
Know where the home's main shut-offs are.
The electrical shut-off should be a switch either at the main breaker panel or outside near a service entrance. The water shut-off valve will be on a wall of the house facing the street.
6. Leak police
Inspect all plumbing and fixtures. Make sure the shut-off valves on toilets and sinks turn easily and are not rusted shut. If they are corroded, replace them. If the faucet is leaking, then it needs a washer. Take the faucet, washer or stem along to the hardware store to match it.
If a toilet runs all the time, a flapper valve needs replacing. Have slow drains looked at immediately to prevent costly backups.
7. Warranty wisdom
Sid Davis warns homeowners that warranties can be just as pricey as actually replacing faulty appliances. However, real estate coach Jason Hanson, author of "How to Build a Real Estate Empire" ($25, Foundations of Wealth), says warranties can provide peace of mind. When appliances break down, Hanson says, homeowners can use the warranty instead of searching for reputable repair companies.
8. Insurance assurance
Get "replacement coverage" to cover property damage. Make sure the policy outlines in writing exactly what will be covered in case of a catastrophe. Videotape or photograph all valuables, keep a list of serial numbers and write down the date an item was purchased for possible reimbursement proof.
Also, track all home improvements by saving receipts and records to help avoid capital gains taxes when you sell the home.
9. Before the flood
Get flood insurance even if your home isn't near a flood zone. Forty percent of flood claims are made by homeowners in nonflood areas, according to Davis. A rainstorm, improper drainage and runoff from subdivision construction can funnel water into the home.
10. Do your homework
Compare property taxes with similar homes' taxes in the neighborhood. If all things are equal in multiple listing service documents, protest your rate increase with the assessor's office.