5 Big Myths About Your Homeowners Insurance Coverage

By John Voket Until it happens, most homeowners think of disasters as something that won’t happen to them. Disasters can be as minor as a tree branch falling and breaking a few windows, or as concentrated as a pinhole roof leak slowly dripping water into a residence—causing mold or other ripple effects. Sadly, too many people who experience disaster on a large or small scale may find the trauma continues when it’s time to file an insurance claim. Paul K. Improta of Underwriters, Inc. offers the following myths involving typical homeowners coverage that could minimize re-traumatizing already shaken homeowners when it’s time to file a claim. Myth 1: Wear and Tear Is Covered Fact: Coverage typically includes damage from fire, weather and theft, not damage due to general wear and tear or neglect. As a policyholder, Improta says it’s up to you to maintain your home, including making routine repairs and protecting your home from pests. Myth 2: You’re Safe in Case of Flood Damage  Fact: Although some weather-related damage is generally covered, such as from hail, Improta says other natural disasters may not be. – Floods require specific flood insurance. – Earthquakes might be covered, but sometimes they require additional insurance. Myth 3: All Personal Belongings Are Fully Covered Fact: Homeowners insurance typically covers furniture, clothing and other personal items, but more valuable items like jewelry and artwork may require an add-on policy. Improta advises homeowners to routinely inventory belongings to determine if policy limits meet their coverage needs. Myth 4: You Have Protection Against Any Injuries That Happen at Home   Fact: Your policy’s liability coverage protects you...

How-To Better Invest in Your Home

Many Americans own homes that need a little work. Whether you need to revamp a few fixtures or totally renovate, you want to make sure you’re making the smartest decision for your style, and wallet. To help, HGTV host and real estate expert Egypt Sherrod offers the following home improvement insights, in partnership with LightStream. Good bones add the most value. While personalization is important in creating your dream home, don’t overlook the less glamorous—but essential—elements. You may not get as excited about upgrading your HVAC units as you do about making over a bathroom. However, tending to projects that improve the functionality and systems in your house often lead to a higher ROI compared to aesthetic-focused ones. Choose “timeless” over “trendy”. It’s easy to be tempted into the latest trends during home renovations, like shiplap walls and waterfall countertops. They may be hot right now, but could become dated very quickly. Remember how cool wood paneling and shag carpets used to be? Choose timeless, classic styles and easily updatable accessories that won’t cost a fortune to replace down the road. Invest in your nest…without depleting your nest egg. Home improvements can be a smart investment that dramatically improve your quality of life.  The key, however, is to stay within a budget that doesn’t become a financial burden. Many homeowners mistakenly use their entire savings to pay for a renovation, which can leave them without a financial emergency safety net. Consider your financing options. Homeowners may opt to use credit cards for their projects, which can become expensive quickly, as balances with high-interest rates carry over from month to month. ...

When Selling Your Home (or Just Enjoying It), Lawns Matter

According to recent research from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), 81 percent of all Americans have a lawn, and a majority—79 percent—say that a lawn is an important feature when renting or buying a home. Respondents to the NALP survey ranked a nice size yard second behind a renovated kitchen when asked to prioritize home features. And for millennials, a good-sized lawn was actually the No. 1 priority, with 82 percent reporting that having a lawn is important when renting or buying a home (compared to 81 percent of Gen Xers and 77 percent of baby boomers). Apparently, respondents value lawns for good reason: they use them regularly. According to the survey: – 47 percent report entertaining in their yards at least once a month – 57 percent use their yards for recreation at least monthly – 77 percent report relaxing in their yards at least once a month – 32 percent garden in their yards multiple times a week But Americans’ love affair with green spaces doesn’t stop at their garden gates. In fact, they are also enjoying grass and green spaces beyond their doorsteps. The NALP research also found that Americans visit public parks and playgrounds more often than movie theaters, pools and beaches, bowling alleys and museums. Whether you plan to list your home soon or just want to maximize the enjoyment of your yard, the NALP recommends the following lawn maintenance best practices: Practice “grass cycling.” Allowing grass clippings to remain on the lawn helps return nitrogen and nutrients to the soil. Water wisely. Provide your lawn a deep watering every few days, not daily....

Renter’s Insurance: Why You Need It

You may think having insurance for the roof over your head and the belongings underneath it is only necessary once you become a homeowner…or if you’re lucky enough to own some valuable antiques or expensive jewelry. But the reality it, all renters should have insurance, no matter how small your place is or seemingly insignificant your possessions are. Here’s why. Renter’s insurance provides an important level of coverage for items not covered by your landlord’s insurance. For example, while your landlord is responsible for taking care of expenses related to fixing structural problems – such as a leaking roof or faulty wiring – he or she is not responsible for repairing or replacing items damaged by those problems, like your television or sofa. Your landlord is also not responsible for expenses incurred should you have to live elsewhere while repair work is taking place in your apartment. Renter’s insurance, however, will take care of expenses related to such scenarios and many more, such as water damage, fire and theft, as well as an array of random costs that can arise, such as running over your neighbor’s weed wacker or fixing the chandelier your son broke. What is and isn’t covered all depends on the type of renter’s insurance you choose to buy. Generally speaking, there are three types: Personal property coverage: Will cover the cost to repair or replace any damaged or stolen clothing, furniture, valuables, electronics, etc. Renter’s liability insurance: Helps cover the costs of repairing damages you make to someone else’s property, or if someone blames you for injuries sustained while at your place. Additional living expenses: This will cover...

Home Sellers: 7 Ways to Make Your Landscape Pop This Spring

By Katie Kuchta Homes with great curb appeal typically have a well-maintained yard. Taking the time and energy to create a beautiful garden is one of the best ways to bring the best offer. Draw potential buyers through the door by creating an enticing landscape. Consider these seven ways to make your landscape pop this spring: Plant a Tree It may seem silly to plant a young tree in your yard given the fact that it won’t provide much immediate shade, but homebuyers will see the potential that new trees have. This can help create an idea of what the home will look like years after they purchase it. Trees are also beneficial because they grow deep root systems which help keep water from running off the soil. Add New Color An easy way to make your landscape pop is to plant new colors in your garden. Choose a bloom that will be in season while your home is on the market. Plant larger flowers, but also include some smaller blooms in pots near the entryway or walkway. Adding reds and yellows can help create interest in the home. Tend to the Lawn Dead spots in the lawn can be an eyesore and may deter buyers. Be sure to keep your yard maintained by cutting and watering it often. Feed your lawn with a quick-release fertilizer that’ll provide hardy growth and reseed any visible bare spots. Also, if you don’t have time to maintain the lawn, consider hiring a landscaping company that can bring your yard back to life quickly. Spread Some Mulch Mulch is one of those landscaping elements that...

Sellers: Get the Most From Home Upgrades

Whether you plan to sell in the summer, spring, or winter, you likely know of the few staple “to-dos” to get your space market-ready: cleaning, painting, decluttering, landscaping, and stripping your home of super personal belongings like family photos. But should you be doing more? Probably. According to Zillow, sellers average 2.2 renovations or improvements to prepare to sell their home, with 79 percent making at least one. And for good reason – nearly a quarter of sellers who make improvements sell above list price, compared with 16 percent of sellers who don’t. But what improvements should you focus on?  Zillow suggests a good rule of thumb: A smaller, inexpensive upgrade typically brings a bigger reward than a more involved and time-consuming one. Here are a few items on Zillow’s “Do” list for sellers looking to pocket the biggest payoff: Dive into the “curb appeal” projects first, and do them smartly. New paint inside and out and basic landscaping and yard care typically runs about $3,000, according to recent research by Zillow and Thumbtack, and are typically the most common and necessary improvements. And choosing the right eye-catching colors can increase a home’s value far beyond just the appeal of new paint. A recent Zillow analysis found that yellow homes sell for nearly $3,500 less than expected, while the right color door can lead to an extra $6,000 in a seller’s pocket. Upgrade the bathrooms (but not too much). A mid-range bathroom remodel – replacing the toilet, tub and light fixtures, adding a double sink, tiling the floor and hanging some wallpaper – typically results in a $1.71 increase in home...

Becoming a Home Maintenance Pro: Tips for New Homeowners

By Dixie Somers Congratulations on your new home! You survived the paperwork. You got all of your belongings moved in and everything unpacked. You even got a lawnmower, some power tools and a massive tool chest. Now what? Many new homeowners don’t even think about home maintenance until something breaks, but that’s not the best way to take care of your new home. Here are three tips to help you protect your investment and keep your property in good shape for years to come: Create and Follow a Home Maintenance Schedule A good place to start is by following a home maintenance schedule. Just as your car needs to have an oil change and get its components checked and maintained regularly, your home and yard will need some regular maintenance, as well. If you bought new appliances, make sure you send in your warranties and keep all your owner’s manuals that came with them. If you bought an older home, the previous owners may have left those documents in a kitchen drawer for you to reference. Some of these appliances will have recommendations for repairs and maintenance. You’ll need to mow your lawn, trim your bushes and perhaps even top your trees from time to time. For pest control, you may need to spray or have ground treatment performed a few times per year, too. Don’t be afraid to do some research and speak with professionals about maintenance specific to your location. Have All of Your Home Systems Checked Regularly It’s important to get your electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems checked annually to keep them in good shape. Some of...

Selling a Home? Check Your Plumbing

If you’re selling your home, you’re to-do list is likely stacked: find a REALTOR®, get an inspection, make needed improvements, up your curb appeal, and the list goes on. Another important facet to keep in mind before listing is to make sure your plumbing is up-to-date. “When selling a home, you’re going to find each buyer’s home inspector will examine some of the same items,” says Max Rose, owner of Four Seasons Plumbing. “It can be a worthwhile investment to make some repairs to strengthen a home’s appeal to potential buyers and give sellers more negotiating power.” Rose recommends sellers evaluate the state of the following items: Water heater – The water heater is one of the more common big-ticket repairs that can arise from a home inspection. If the water heater is on the older side, a buyer may request it be serviced and flushed, if not replaced entirely, as a condition of going through with the home purchase. Water pressure regulator – One point of a home inspection is to check the water pressure. If the pressure comes back high, that can be indicative of a larger (and costlier) problem. Leaking pipes – If the home has a crawl space, it can be relatively easy to check for leaky plumbing. If there are leaky pipes, that could be a red flag for the seller. Depending on the age and material of the pipes, fixes may range from a patch to whole replacement. Type of piping used – Some older homes are plumbed with piping and/or fittings that have been recalled or had class-action lawsuits filed against the manufacturer. If your home...

Put Your Home Equity to Good Use

With home values enjoying a steady rise over the past several years, most Americans have witnessed a return of home equity, and many are leveraging that equity toward other important financial goals. A recent study by LendingTree, which assessed home equity loan requests since the start of 2018, tracked six uses for home equity loans: home improvement; debt consolidation; retirement income; investment property; emergency funds; and other uses. The research revealed some interesting findings about how homeowners are using their equity: Home improvement is the No. 1 reason for taking a home equity loan. According to the study, 43 percent of respondents reported requesting a home equity loan for home improvement purposes. Real estate investors borrow the largest amount. Borrowers who were looking to invest in another property had the highest property values and requested loan amounts. For property investments, borrowers requested an average of $103,625. For non-property investments, which likely include small businesses, borrowers requested $80,241. Just over 1 percent of requests were to fund retirement. This group had the highest average age of 63, 12 years above the next highest average age. A small share accessed their home equity for emergency expenses. This group had the lowest loan amount requested of $35,747 and kept their (loan to value) LTV low at 51 percent. Debt consolidators push the limits on LTV. Borrowers looking to consolidate debt had the highest LTV of 74 percent. If you’re looking to take advantage of your home equity, talk to a local real estate professional to find out the current value of your home. You may find it’s the right time to put your home on the market...

Adding an Outdoor Family Room Can Increase Your Home’s Value

Whether you’re looking to sell your home, or are just interested in making improvements that offer ROI, an outdoor living space is a great investment. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) shares the top four ways family yards and other living landscapes add value to a property and extend the usefulness of the home. Curb appeal. As you know, curb appeal is an important factor in determining overall property value. After all, the first impression on a home is made before buyers even walk through the door! According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2016 Remodeling Impact: Outdoor Features study, 99 percent of REALTORS® have suggested that sellers improve their curb appeal before putting their home on the market, and 98 percent think curb appeal is important to potential buyers. That’s good advice. Studies show that improving overall curb appeal, which includes a beautiful lawn and landscape, can boost property values by as much as 17 percent (source: Texas Tech University). Win with trees. Mature trees are often an indicator of an established neighborhood, which can be a positive for buyers looking for an older, classic home. But the value of trees goes beyond perception and preference and right into your pocketbook. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, each front yard tree adds 1 percent to a homeowner’s sale price, while large specimen trees can add as much as 10 percent to property values. Green. Potential buyers often ask about the energy efficiency of a home, and it turns out that living landscapes impact the monthly electric bill. According to the Urban Forest Coalition, 100 million mature trees around U.S....

Creating Appeal: 8 Home Staging Tips That Work

By Barbara Pronin First impressions count – and experienced real estate professionals know that a clean, attractively organized home will pique buyer interest and sell more quickly than its neighbors. “Clients tend to focus not on what the house could potentially become, but on how it looks on their first walk-through,” said Kathy Murphy, a top-performing agent with in Royal Oak, Mich. “If the front door is peeling, or the kitchen is a mess, that’s the way they will remember it.” Staging a home to show at its best can make a remarkable difference. That’s why most agents work with their sellers to help create maximum appeal. Effective home staging can be accomplished without excessive effort or expense. The work should begin before the listing photos are taken, so that buyers are intrigued when they view the home online. Listing agents can broaden their staging know-how with these tips from home staging experts: Start at the street – Curb appeal is more than a catchphrase. Advise your sellers to be sure the lawn is mowed, flowerbeds are neat, bikes and trash cans are stashed away. Paint, replace, or clean the front door as needed, and set off a drab entry area with a potted plant or two. Freshen the entryway – The second most important impression begins just inside the front door. Lights should be on, the area neat, and a vase of fresh flowers on a foyer table is a nice touch. Get rid of clutter – Most homes have too much furniture and far too many accessories. Suggest your seller rearrange the furniture to create better traffic flow, and consider...

Hiring a Contractor? Do This First

Nothing is more exciting than embarking on a home renovation project! Hire the wrong contractor, however, and your dream remodel can quickly turn into a nightmare. That’s why it’s essential to do your due diligence when hiring a contractor, such as getting multiple estimates before signing a contract. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), when you get multiple bids, you can learn a great deal about the proposed project, such as what type of work is needed, the quality of the building materials, how long the job may take and the total cost. The BBB offers these other tips to help find the best, most ethical contractor to work with and ensure a successful home renovation: – First, check bbb.org – BBB’s business profiles can tell you how long the contractor has been in business, as well as provide contact information, verified customer reviews, complaint details and how the business responded. – Be wary of ‘today-only’ sales pitches – This is a sales tactic designed to get you to sign a contract or put down a deposit, without giving you the opportunity to do your research. Watch out for these and other ‘bargains’ that rush you into a deal. – Get references from recent customers – Speak with other property owners who had work done recently, and ask what they did or did not like about a particular contractor. A reputable contractor will be happy to provide client references. – Get everything in writing – Make sure all verbal promises end up in the written contract as well as a detailed description of the work, the cost of materials and start and...

Selling Your Home? Attack Issues Head-on

You’ve finally made the decision to put your home on the market – now comes the tough part: making sure it’s ready for prospective buyers. According to Buddy Stark, director of operations for HomeTeam Inspection Service, there are several steps home sellers should take before beginning the selling process and having a home inspection. Here’s what he recommends: Clean the house. This may seem like an obvious one, but you must keep your home at a heightened level of clean on an ongoing basis in anticipation of a showing. An ultra-clean home will convey that it’s been well cared for and that the house is less susceptible to any issues caused by neglect. Check all windows. Take a quick inventory of your windows to make sure they’re in good working order. Replace windows that are cracked or broken before the inspection to save time during the selling process. Finish the “honey-do” list. You might not think that certain areas of your home have anything to do with your home’s appeal, but they will come up as safety concerns on a home inspection report. Replace burnt-out lightbulbs, test smoke detectors, replace air filters and unclog drains. These little things are easy to forget in day-to-day life, but taking care of them is a relatively easy task that will help potential buyers focus on the important systems of the home. Check all outlets. A sampling of electrical outlets will be tested as part of the home inspection to make sure they’re in good working order. Take note of which outlets are not functioning in the home and replace them. Or consider hiring an...

5 Ways to Get Ready to Sell Your Home This Spring

Spring has long been one of the best seasons for selling a home. If you’re ready to put your home on the market, follow these steps to make sure you’re in prime showing shape once spring hits. Find a real estate agent. Use this time to interview several agents and make the right selection. Choose an agent with excellent local market expertise, technology savvy, and negotiating skills. The relationship you have with your agent is important, so be sure to select someone you connect with and communicate well with. Make necessary repairs. If your agent advises that certain repairs be done prior to listing your home, use the remaining weeks of winter to get them done, as they will likely affect the price at which you can list your home. Have a painting party. There’s likely more than one room in your home that will need to be painted before it hits the market. Stick to neutral colors and spend the next few weekends accomplishing the task. Pack up. Now is the perfect time to start packing up unnecessary items. Not only will this give you a head start on your eventual move, it will declutter your home for optimal showing purposes. Plan a photo shoot. Once the essential cosmetic changes have been made, talk to your agent about the best time to photograph and film your house. Make sure your surrounding property is camera-ready, too, and if snow is masking some of your yard’s best features, gather photos of your garden in full bloom and your pool or patio under the bright summer sun so that your agent can add them to the...

5 Quick Ways to Jazz up Your Home’s Curb Appeal

By Barbara Pronin Curb appeal, a phrase often used by real estate professionals, describes the pleasing first impression viewers have at their first glimpse of a home. It could mean, ‘neat and clean.’ It could mean, ‘welcoming’ or ‘stately.’ It could be all of these and more. In essence, a home with great curb appeal says ‘a caring homeowner lives here’ – and what homeowner wouldn’t want to be identified as such? The best part, say the home design experts at Better Homes & Gardens.com, is that jazzing up your home’s curb appeal doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Here are just a few of the ideas they suggest for upping any home’s appeal: Dress up the front door – Give it a burst of color; say a coat of red or marine blue paint to contrast a grey or white exterior. Polish up the door’s hardware, especially around the knob. Create an instant garden – Container gardens can add a warm and welcoming feel when attractively grouped on or around the porch or front steps. Affordable, ready-made containers of plants and flowers available at most home centers can make this an easy, pleasing upgrade. Do a mailbox makeover – Your curbside mailbox should complement your home. Dress it up by painting the box and/or the  post to match your home’s exterior – and surround it at the base with a neat patch of plants or flowers. Install a window box – Take a page from the French or British with a colorful window box or two to set off your home’s front windows. Choose boxes made from iron or copper for...