(Almost) Every House is Unique

Cat video. You’re welcome.

Recently, I have found myself consulting with a number of different people about future moves that are not necessarily imminent. I think this time spent together with potential clients is rewarding! Every situation is different and every house is unique in that it is situated in a particular place in the city, in a neighborhood, of a certain age, amount of updating, and is experiencing street changes, or street stability, according to what’s happening in the market.

After asking lots of questions about goals, future desired location, amount of support- family, and otherwise- financial strengths and weaknesses, and determining which emotions are most at play, I put together a suggested plan for tackling all the issues, including prepping the house, for that future move.

Before our meeting, I drive the neighborhood carefully, even if I already know the area well, looking for signs of change, looking for clues to what’s happening. If I see on the MLS that an older home that is mostly in original condition has recently sold, I’ll check from the curb to see what it looks like now. If it is in an area where older houses are being torn down to make way for new ones, I want to know if this particular older home has met that fate, or if it is still being used as a home. Toys and playthings in the front yard six months after the sale are a pretty good indication that this home isn’t being replaced this year.

In advance of my neighborhood drive, I study the MLS and all the properties that have sold in the past six months, or year, depending on the area, searching for sold prices, condition of homes, location in neighborhood, etc. I study the photos that the listing agents put up on the MLS to see the condition of the interiors. I look for homes that might be comparable to the home I am scheduled to visit. I make graphs and charts of market activity in that neighborhood or that feeder district to a particular high school, depending on which parameters I think are most relevant to that house in that location.

When I show up at the door, I already know a lot about the situation, and I bring my graphs, information on comparable homes, a Seller’s Disclosure that the owner will have to fill out sooner or later, and other useful papers. After we sit down and talk about the personal situation, I walk through the house, taking snapshots and noting things that need to be repaired and/or updated.

Depending on the house and the micro-market it inhabits, I use one or more sets of these eyes to examine the property: the flipper-investor eyes, the buy-and-hold investor eyes, the move-up buyer eyes, the downsize buyer eyes, the coming-from-a-different-state eyes, the moving-out-of-the-city eyes, the second-home eyes. The recommendations I make to prepare the house for sale are usually based on the least amount of stuff the homeowner can do to make the house desirable. Of course, price of the home and price of updating and repair is a big factor, too.

Some homes merit new faucets, new flooring, new paint, etc., because through these improvements the homeowner is likely to make a quicker sale, or sell at the higher end of a reasonable price range. Some homes will be purchased by a flipper and price is the only thing that will matter to those folks. Even within my written recommendations, I make two tiers- one is “must do” and the other is “would be nice to do, if possible”.

Here are three short samples from some write-ups I’ve done recently:

The two most important points at which we must capture a buyer’s imagination are from the street and then again just outside and just inside the front door. Those are our ‘hooks’. People have no clue when looking at your neighborhood from the street that there is an amazing view behind the privacy fences, so we have to pull them up and in until they arrive where we want them to be.

The goal of any effort put into your home between now and putting it on the market is to transform it from your ‘home’ into a ‘house’. In other words, it will become a commodity when it hits the market. Your best chance for getting the highest price the market will offer is to get as many buyers aware of its existence as possible (that’s my job) and to pull them from the curb and into the front door (your job and my job). What I am describing now is changes you can make to the real estate to help pull those people in. Staging, our last effort before taking pictures and putting it on the market, will come later.

Because you are looking at a limited time for owning and enjoying the house (5 years is your general estimate, but it could be much less), you will only make changes which, if not made, will result in more days on market to sell your house, or will make the price lower than it needs to be. The changes you elect to make to upgrade the house in the eyes of future buyers must be changes you would enjoy, too, for the length of time you own the house.

Now… why the cat video?  Today I met with a friend and fellow agent who has recently marketed and sold a house that was home to an elderly couple with dozens of rescued cats! What a feat! (It took a village.)  Our rescues in the video? There are only 11 and they are well-loved and cared for. But, I hope we don’t have to move anytime soon!

Live in Austin? You’ll Need to Do An Energy Audit

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Newsflash for you who have lived in your Austin home since the Year One: before you put that home on the market, you must get an energy audit done by an energy professional.

Yes, it’s true, the City of Austin has an Energy Conservation and Disclosure ordinance. If you are an Austin Energy customer, you live in the Austin city limits, and your house is more than 10 years old, you must get an audit done. They check heating/cooling efficiency, amount of air escaping your home, the insulation level, and the window efficiency, all of which require specialized equipment.

This will cost you several hundred dollars, based on the size of your home. Be sure to get quotes from several energy professionals, and get a recommendation from someone who has used an auditor, if possible, before hiring one.

Just like any other aspect of home improvement, you can wait until you decide to put your house on the market before you take action. OR, you can choose to take action early and enjoy the fruits while you are still living in the home. You might go ahead and get an energy audit and get yourself some beautiful new windows. Or, you might decide to upgrade to a more efficient HVAC system and enjoy the savings on your utility bills.

In any case, the city does not require you to make upgrades based on the energy audit. It just requires you to pay for the audit so that potential buyers will understand what might be involved in owning the home in the condition it’s in.

The New Home and Garden Show

Right here, in Dripping Springs, home to thousands of new homes in the next few years- The First Annual Home and Garden Show today and tomorrow. March 25-26, 10-7 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday at the Dripping Springs Ranch Park on Ranch Road 12.

Sponsored by Rotary Club of Dripping Springs, Harvest Rain, and Hill Country View, there is also a kid entertainment zone provided by Costco. They advertise builders, contractors, materials, decks, pools, spas, entertainment systems, storage, plants, landscape displays/materials, and kitchenware information and products on display. With plenty of parking, this sounds like a great day to me!

“What’s in it for ME?”

The Secret Underground

Although the title could be referring to a book review of Dante’s Inferno, or a report on intrigue in wartime, it doesn’t. Today, we’re going to get the scoop on septic systems. How ’bout THAT?

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Using flushable kitty litter BEFORE we lived with an on-site septic system

This post is for all those folks who never lived in the country. And for those looking longingly at moving out of town and into the hills. And for those who have not experienced septic system technology in the past 15 years.

Living in terrain that is not amenable to pumping sewage vast distances to be treated at a central location means that either you personally, or your new subdivision, will have a small sewage treatment plant on the property. I know a little bit about the single-owner kind because I grew up with a traditional drain-field system at my childhood home, and now we have two dwellings and two advanced systems on our property. Texas A&M Extension Service has the best website for explaining on-site sewage facilities.

You will be surprised to know that I compare the maintenance of a healthy septic system to baking yeast bread. Before I lose you entirely, let me explain:

  1. The principle behind baking great bread is to keep your yeast, a living organism, very happy.
  2. The principle behind maintaining a functional septic system is to keep your beneficial bacteria, a living organism, very happy.

That’s it!

The septic system takes effluent from the house and drains it into a tank where the solids settle out, and the liquid is either treated and partially sanitized in compartments then sprayed out onto the landscape, or it goes from the tank into underground drain fields through horizontal tubes arranged in the pattern of tree branches, to be treated and sanitized by the soil organisms. In both cases, bacteria are the heroes that break down the nasty sludge and the effluent water into soil nutrients plus clean water. We ♥love♥ our bacteria!

Here is what to consider when you are using a septic system to treat your effluent: what will make the bacteria very sad? What will make the bacteria sick? What will make the bacteria die? Avoid these!

  1. Too much water running through the system (a deluge!) at once flushes through the tank way too fast and doesn’t allow solids to settle out. This clogs your pumps or your filters. Yuck! Choose the low-water-use front-loading washer and don’t do all your loads in the same day.
  2. Installing the underground tank where rainwater runoff will enter it quickly creates the same deluge problem.
  3. Antibiotics- whether medicines flushed, antibiotic soap and cleaners used, or other chemicals (bleach! phosphates!) poured down the drain- you’re gonna kill off some, or all, of your bacteria and THEN you’ll be sorry!
  4. It takes ⇐time⇒ for the solids to be decomposed by the bacteria, and if you put more through your system in a short period of time than it is rated for, you are going to create clogs, either in the pump, the filter, or in the drain or sprayer lines. Forget the food scraps and the disposal- too much unprocessed solid material at once. No kitty litter (even flushable), no sanitary products, no wipes (even flushable), no nothing that isn’t natural and mushy! Just figure out a different disposal method, or you will be spending thousands of dollars replacing your system early.

On-site sewage facilities, when properly cared-for, are environmentally-friendly and efficient. You can admire them and how well they do their job without causing collateral damage to ground, air, and water. Yay for the little guys!!! Bacteria are awesome!

Your county is going to require a permit in order for you to create a septic system. This is because the specialists want to look at your plans to make sure the idea in your head isn’t going to come out into the world in a way that will pollute a nearby waterway, well, or adjoining property. Also, your county is going to require you to have on file a maintenance contract with an approved contractor that will periodically inspect your system and keep it functioning. No polluted groundwater, please!

My next post will be my favorite yeast bread recipe. Don’t say I don’t have a sense of humor.

Wardship Wednesday- Air on the Cautious Side

wardship n. care, custody, guardianship. This is such a Dickensian word to me; it conjures orphans in orphanages, a  bachelor uncle suddenly being left with a deceased sister’s growing children, and gaols (jails) watched over by men with large skeleton keys strapped about their hips. But, realistically, we are all wardens of quite a spread- home, land, possessions, not to mention growing children of our deceased sisters, and the animals who cross our paths in this world. That’s what Wednesdays are about at this blog- taking care of home and land. A little bit about the pets. Not much about the children; THAT you will have to study elsewhere.

HVAC filters. Now there’s a scintillating topic! But, most everybody in central Texas has ’em. And they must be taken into account if we want to preserve our investment of thousands of dollars in our heating and cooling systems.

Animal fur that will clog up an air filter in the future.

You have your basic throw-away flat filter that traps hair, clumps of dust, and other larger stuff that might otherwise clog up the system. You have your pleated filters that have a greater surface area and also trap a bunch of stuff that would otherwise clog up the system. You have your super-fine HEPA filters that grab even tiny particles out of the air passing through the intake of the HVAC. And, you have your re-usable, washable filters that use a static charge to nab particles passing through the filter on their way toward the HVAC system. (I have links at the bottom of the post so that you can read up on different opinions about which filters to use where.)

The biggest point for a homeowner to remember is this:

(Are you ready?)

  1. Change your filters regularly!!!

Dirty filters do no more good at protecting your HVAC system from harm than washing a cut with a dirty cloth does to protect your wound from bacteria.  Ewwwww. Is that convincing? Once your filter is clogged with junk, it is increasingly harder for the air to get through, making the system work harder to pull the air through, wearing out the parts faster, and shortening the life of your system. Do you really, really want to spend $8- 10,000 every few years to keep your air cooled/warmed inside your house????? Better to maintain your clean filter regime!

How are you going to do this? Well, at our house, we use scheduled reminders on our computers. There is an annoying ding and a message on the screen when it is time to change the filter. Maybe this will work for you, too, especially if it is in an app like ToDoist, which allows you to check off the task when it is completed. (Some people are highly motivated by checking tasks off a list.) Perhaps you could write ‘change air filter’ on the first day of the month in a calendar that you look at each day. Perhaps you could link your once-a-month filter change task to another task you already do once a month, like pay a particular bill. Pay-the-Visa-change-the-filter. Maybe you could link it with the phases of the moon- each time you see the full moon, you go change your furnace filter. Whatever it takes, just DO it!

Here are the promised links:

What’s the best air filter…

What you might not know…

Helping customers select adequate…

Read and compare; they don’t all agree.

 

Wardship Wednesday- The Spring Maintenance Short List

Wardship n. protectorship, guardianship, management.

Wednesdays will be about your home and garden- tips, tricks, advice. Today’s post is a reminder to care for your most expensive investment.

You can Google ‘spring home maintenance list’, as I did, and come up with plenty of ideas. At the end of this post, I include links to several lists I think are worthwhile reading. But, look, I’m not gonna lie… I have met only a handful of people in my whole life who have the perseverance to follow a maintenance checklist and get it all done each year.

Here’s a principle you can rely on: water and sun, along with their friends, bugs and fire and wind, are constantly trying to destroy your home, so do what it takes to prevent that from happening.

  1. Paint protects stuff from sun.
  2. Roofing material, physical overlapping, caulk and sealant, gutters, and slope away from the foundation all protect stuff from water.
  3. Bonus: Uncluttered spaces; intact doors and walls; and furnace, air-conditioner, and dryer vent inspections guard against fire.
  4. Bonus: Trees trimmed away from the roof prevents mechanical damage, and plant material not touching the walls and foundation provides little access for bugs.

There, that’s it. Just look up on your roof (binoculars and a drone help), walk around your house and use your eyes, use your nose, whatever you have, to observe what is important to fix. Call a handyman company, call an HVAC company, WHATEVER, and don’t let nature take out your investment, if you can help it!

Here are a few useful lists to read:

https://www.todayshomeowner.com/spring-home-maintenance-to-do-list/3/

https://www.mrhandyman.com/blog/2013/march/spring-home-maintenance-checklist-inspection-list/

https://www.bobvila.com/articles/2355-spring-home-maintenance-checklist/#.WMCP0

ultimate spring home maintenance checklist

 

 

 

 

Fire Only Where You Want It

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Don’t do what I do. Do what I say. We have lived in this house for over two years now and today we finally had a visit from the chimney sweep/dryer vent cleaning crew. Please, please, please have these people visit your previously-owned home immediately after you buy it.

Yes, we had a serious fire hazard situation with our dryer vent. Yes, it was preventable. Yes, we are lucky we didn’t burn down the house.

The vent for the dryer that travels through the wall, through the attic, and outside the rooftop vent pipe was packed, PACKED with lint. Extremely flammable stuff, lint is. The vent is clean now, and I expect it will take a much shorter time to dry that load of towels. My cleaning company says the dryer vent should be cleaned once a year. And they give us a discount if we make that next appointment in a timely fashion.

We have only built two fires in the fireplace since we’ve lived here; once, when a gang of bees audibly took up residence in the chimney. Smoked ’em right out, we did. The second fire was in December when we thought we’d do our S’mores indoors, rather than out. The rest of the time, I was waaaay too skeptical about the condition of the flue, chimney, and firebox to use it much until we had it inspected and cleaned.

Turns out, the fire system wasn’t bad. However, our grate is too low to the bricks on the bottom of the firebox- too low to get proper ventilation underneath to feed oxygen to the fire. Also, found out that, with our fireplace construction, nothing is supporting the bricks at the back of the firebox, so we can’t let logs fall and hit that wall, lest we crack the mortar and provide an avenue for fire to escape into the wall. So, need a new grate. And we know to be careful of the back wall.

Patty and Sam were extremely efficient, tidy, educational, well-mannered, and good natured (and Patty is a ‘cat person’!). Below is a photo of their family-run business card.

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