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Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

ISSUE #1171
FEATURE REPORT

Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment
Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community.




Also This Month...
Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly
While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.


 
 

Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
The best thermostat for you will depend on your life style and comfort level in varying house temperatures. While automatic and programmable thermostats save energy, a manual unit can be equally effective if you diligently regulate its settings.



Quick Links
Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment
Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly
Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
 

 

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Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment

Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community. 

If You Do It Yourself 

If you are handy with tools and have the experience, you can save money by doing many jobs yourself. But unless you are skilled in wiring, plumbing, installing heat systems, and cutting through walls, you should rely on professionals for such work. 

When you buy the required materials, it pays not to skimp. Good materials are not necessarily the most expensive. What you need are products that look good, are easy to maintain, and last a long time. Buy only from reliable dealers. 

If You Use a Contractor 

If you plan to use the services of a dealer or contractor, take care to choose one with a reputation for honesty and good workmanship. There are several ways to check on a contractor: 

  • Consult your local Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, or Local Consumer Protection Agency.
  • Talk with people for whom he has done work. 
  • Ask your lender about him, if you plan to finance the project with a loan. 
  • Check his place of business to see that he is not a fly-by-night operator. 
  • Find out, if you can, how he rates with known building-product distributors and wholesale suppliers. 
  • Ask friends and relatives for names of firms that they could recommend. 
Compare Contractor Offers 

Before deciding on a contractor, you may want to get bids from two or three different firms. Make sure that each bid is based on the same specifications and the same grade of materials. If these bids vary widely, find out why. 

Many contractors offer package plans that cover the whole transaction. Under such a plan the contractor provides all materials used, takes care of all work involved, and arranges for your loan. 

Your contractor can make the loan application for you, but you are the one who must repay the loan, so you should see that the work is done correctly. 

Understand What You Sign 

The contract that both you and the contractor sign should state clearly the type and extent of improvements to be made and the materials to be used. Before you sign, get the contractor to spell out for you in exact terms: 

  • How much the entire job will cost you. 
  • How much interest you will pay on the loan. 
  • How much you will pay in service charges. 
  • How many payments you must make to pay off the loan, and how much each of these payments will be. 

After the entire job is finished in the manner set forth in your contract, you sign a completion certificate. By signing this paper you certify that you approve the work and materials and you authorize the lender to pay the contractor the money you borrowed. 

Beware of Fraud 

Most dealers and contractors conscientiously try to give their customers service equivalent to the full value of their money. Unfortunately, home improvement rackets do exist. Here are a few common sense rules to follow: 

  • Read and understand every word of any contract or other paper before you sign it. 
  • Never sign a contract with anyone who makes fantastic promises. Reputable dealers are not running give-away businesses. 
  • Avoid wild bargains. The best bargain is a good job. 
  • Never consolidate existing loans through a home improvement contractor. 
  • Do not let salespeople high-pressure you into signing up to buy their materials or services. 
  • Be wary of salespeople who try to scare you into signing for repairs that they say are urgent. Seek the advice of an expert as to how urgent such repairs are. High-pressure and scare tactics are often the mark of a phony deal. 
  • Avoid salespeople who offer you trial purchases or some form of bonus, such as cash, for allowing them to use your house as a model for any purpose. Such offers are well-known gimmicks of swindlers. 
  • Never sign a completion certificate until all the work called for in the contract has been completed to your satisfaction. Be careful not to sign a completion certificate along with a sales order. 
  • Proceed cautiously when the lender or contractor demands a lien on your property.

 

 

 

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Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly


"...you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings..."


While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.

There are two factors at play here. On the one hand, you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings. This is really unfair because it can set homeowners up for disappointment and failure.

On the other hand, you have homes that are priced correctly, but are marketed ineffectively. Without a proper marketing program in place to ensure a home is exposed to the highest number of qualified buyers, many homesellers feel forced to accept a lower offer.

There's nothing worse to a homeseller than to have their home sit unsold for many months because of improper pricing and/or marketing techniques. Needless to say, either of these situations is highly frustrating to any homeseller. But more than that, it can be financially crushing if you're counting on the full proceeds of the sale of your home to fulfill some other obligation.

To prevent this scenario when selling your home here are some points to consider before choosing the agent you want to represent you.

Deciding Upon an Agent

A good agent knows the market and has information on past sales, current listings, a marketing plan, and will provide their background and references. Evaluate each candidate carefully on the basis of their experience and qualifications.

Are they pricing your home correctly?

Home prices are determined by the marketplace not by your emotional attachment or by what you feel your home is worth. You should work closely with an agent who will suggest establishing a realistic price for your home. They will help you to objectively compare the price, features and condition of all similar homes in both your neighborhood and other similar ones which have sold in recent months. It is also important to be familiar with the terms of each potential sale. Terms are often as important as price in today's market.

Do they set themselves apart from the others by offering innovative marketing plans to sell your home fast and for top dollar?

Will they set up an aggressive marketing program to ensure your home is exposed to hundreds of qualified buyers? How much money does this agent spend in advertising the homes s/he lists versus other agents. In what media do they advertise, (newspaper, magazine, TV. etc.) Do they use a 24 hour hotline, "For Sale" signs, lock boxes, a Tour of Homes program, and Talking House signs and transmitters? What does this agent know about the effectiveness of one medium over the other?

 


 

 

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Automatic and Programmable Thermostats

In our modern, high tech society, we don't think much about some of the electronic gadgets in our homes. Take, for example, the ever present thermostat--a staple of North American households for decades. It usually takes the shape of an unassuming box on the wall, but that modest device controls the comfort of your family on the coldest day in January and the hottest day in July.

What Is a Thermostat?

It is a temperature sensitive switch that controls a space conditioning unit or system, such as a furnace, air conditioner, or both. When the indoor temperature drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the switch moves to the "on" position, and your furnace or air conditioner runs to warm or cool the house air to the setting you selected for your family's comfort. A thermostat, in its simplest form, must be manually adjusted to change the indoor air temperature.

General Thermostat Operation

You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68F (20C) when you're at home and awake, and lowering it when you're asleep or away. This strategy is effective and inexpensive if you are willing to adjust the thermostat by hand and wake up in a chilly house. In the summer, you can follow the same strategy with central air conditioning, too, by keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away, and lowering the thermostat setting to 78F (26C) only when you are at home and need cooling.

A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.

Another misconception is that the higher you raise a thermostat, the more heat the furnace will put out, or that the house will warm up faster if the thermostat is raised higher. Furnaces put out the same amount of heat no matter how high the thermostat is set--the variable is how long it must stay on to reach the set temperature.

In the winter, significant savings can be obtained by manually or automatically reducing your thermostat's temperature setting for as little as four hours per day. These savings can be attributed to a building's heat loss in the winter, which depends greatly on the difference between the inside and outside temperatures. For example, if you set the temperature back on your thermostat for an entire night, your energy savings will be substantial. By turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 for 8 hours, you can save about 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill--a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates. In the summer, you can achieve similar savings by keeping the indoor temperature a bit higher when you're away than you do when you're at home.

But there is a certain amount of inconvenience that results from manually controlling the temperature on your thermostat. This includes waking up in a cooler than normal house in the winter and possibly forgetting to adjust the thermostat (during any season) when you leave the house or go to bed.

Thermostats with Automatic Temperature Adjustment

To maximize your energy savings without sacrificing comfort, you can install an automatic setback or programmable thermostat. They adjust the temperature setting for you. While you might forget to turn down the heat before you leave for work in the morning, a programmable thermostat won't! By maintaining the highest or lowest required temperatures for four or five hours a day instead of 24 hours, a programmable thermostat can pay for itself in energy saved within four years.

Programmable thermostats have features with which you may be unfamiliar. The newest generation of residential thermostat technologies is based on microprocessors and thermostat sensors. Most of these programmable thermostats perform one or more of the following energy control functions:

  • They store and repeat multiple daily settings, which you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.
  • They store six or more temperature settings a day.
  • They adjust heating or air conditioning turn on times as the outside temperature changes.
A Note for Heat Pump Owners

When a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back a conventional heat pump thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby cancelling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting. Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost effective practice. Recently, however, some companies have begun selling specially designed setback thermostats for heat pumps, which make setting back the thermostat cost effective. In its cooling mode, the heat pump operates like an air conditioner; therefore, manually turning up the thermostat will save you money.

Types of Automatic and Programmable Thermostats

There are five basic types of automatic and programmable thermostats:

  • electromechanical
  • digital
  • hybrid
  • occupancy
  • light sensing

Most range in price from $30 to $100, except for occupancy and light sensing thermostats, which cost around $200.

Electromechanical (EM) thermostats, usually the easiest devices to operate, typically have manual controls such as movable tabs to set a rotary timer and sliding levers for night and day temperature settings. These thermostats work with most conventional heating and cooling systems, except heat pumps. EM controls have limited flexibility and can store only the same settings for each day, although at least one manufacturer has a model with separate settings for each day of the week. EM thermostats are best suited for people with regular schedules.

Digital thermostats are identified by their LED or LCD digital readout and data entry pads or buttons. They offer the widest range of features and flexibility, and digital thermostats can be used with most heating and cooling systems. They provide precise temperature control, and they permit custom scheduling. Programming some models can be fairly complicated; make sure you are comfortable with the functions and operation of the thermostat you choose. Remember-- you won't save energy if you don't set the controls or you set them incorrectly. Hybrid systems combine the technology of digital controls with manual slides and knobs to simplify use and maintain flexibility. Hybrid models are available for most systems, including heat pumps.

Occupancy thermostats maintain the setback temperature until someone presses a button to call for heating or cooling. They do not rely on the time of day. The ensuing preset "comfort period" lasts from 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on how you've set the thermostat. Then, the temperature returns to the setback level. These units offer the ultimate in simplicity, but lack flexibility. Occupancy thermostats are best suited for spaces that remain unoccupied for long periods of time.

Light sensing heat thermostats rely on the lighting level preset by the owner to activate heating systems. When lighting is reduced, a photocell inside the thermostat senses unoccupied conditions and allows space temperatures to fall 10 below the occupied temperature setting. When lighting levels increase to normal, temperatures automatically adjust to comfort conditions. These units do not require batteries or programming and reset themselves after power failures. Light sensing thermostats are designed primarily for stores and offices where occupancy determines lighting requirements, and therefore heating requirements.

Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

Because programmable thermostats are a relatively new technology, you should learn as much as you can before selecting a unit. When shopping for a thermostat, bring information with you about your current unit, including the brand and model number. Also, ask these questions before buying a thermostat:

  1. Does the unit's clock draw its power from the heating system's low voltage electrical control circuit instead of a battery? If so, is the clock disrupted when the furnace cycles on and off? Battery operated backup thermostats are preferred by many homeowners. Is the thermostat compatible with the electrical wiring found in your current unit?
  2. Are you able to install it yourself, or should you hire an electrician or a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor?
  3. How precise is the thermostat?
  4. Are the programming instructions easy to understand and remember? Some thermostats have the instructions printed on the cover or inside the housing box. Otherwise, will you have to consult the instruction booklet every time you want to change the setback times?

Most automatic and programmable thermostats completely replace existing units. These are preferred by many homeowners. However, some devices can be placed over existing thermostats and are mechanically controlled to permit automatic setbacks. These units are usually powered by batteries, which eliminates the need for electrical wiring. They tend to be easy to program, and because they run on batteries, the clocks do not lose time during power outages.

Before you buy a programmable thermostat, chart your weekly habits including wake up and departure times, return home times, and bedtimes, and the temperatures that are comfortable during those times. This will help you decide what type of thermostat will best serve your needs.

Other Considerations

The location of your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency. Read the manufacturer's installation instructions to prevent "ghost readings" or unnecessary furnace or air conditioner cycling. Place thermostats away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, and windows. Also make sure your thermostat is conveniently located for programming.

Some modern heating and cooling systems require special controls. Heat pumps are the most common and usually require special setback thermostats. These thermostats typically use special algorithms to minimize the use of backup electric resistance heat systems. Electric resistance systems, such as electric baseboard heating, also require thermostats capable of directly controlling 120 volt or 240 volt line voltage circuits. Only a few companies manufacture line voltage setback thermostats.

A Simpler Way to Control Your Environment

The best thermostat for you will depend on your life style and comfort level in varying house temperatures. While automatic and programmable thermostats save energy, a manual unit can be equally effective if you diligently regulate its setting--and if you don't mind a chilly house on winter mornings. If you decide to choose an automatic thermostat, you can set it to raise the temperature before you wake up and spare you some discomfort. It will also perform consistently and dependably to keep your house at comfortable temperatures during the summer heat, as well.

 

 

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The Marc Austin Highfill Team
Exit First Realty
11207 Nuckols Rd, Suite E Glen Allen, VA 23059
Phone: 804-527-3948 Fax: 804--527-1999 Toll Free: 888-437-4728800-804-6765
Marc@MarcsHomes.com