Skip to main content
home check map image

Search such categories as , , ,

searchPage

, ,

searchPage

, , , ,

searchPage
Featured Articles

Some Myths and Realities about Real Estate Appraisals and Appraisers

Assessed value should equate to market value.

Article Thumbnail Small

Myth: Assessed value should equate to market value.
Reality: While most states support the concept that assessed value approximate estimated market value, this often is not the case. Examples include when interior remodeling has occurred and the assessor is unaware of the improvements, or when properties in the vicinity have not been reassessed for an extended period.

Myth: The appraised value of a property will vary, depending upon whether the appraisal is conducted for the buyer or the seller.
Reality: The appraiser has no vested interest in the outcome of the appraisal and should render services with independence, objectivity and impartiality - no matter for whom the appraisal is conducted.

Myth: Market value should approximate replacement cost.
Reality: Market value is based on what a willing buyer likely would pay a willing seller for a particular property, with neither being under pressure to buy or sell. Replacement cost is the dollar amount required to reconstruct a property in-kind.

Myth: Appraisers use a formula, such as a specific price per square foot, to figure out the value of a home.
Reality: Appraisers make a detailed analysis of all factors pertaining to the value of a home including its location, condition, size, proximity to facilities and recent sale prices of comparable properties.

Myth: In a robust economy - when the sales prices of homes in a given area are reported to be rising by a particular percentage - the value of individual properties in the area can be expected to appreciate by that same percentage.
Reality: Value appreciation of a specific property must be determined on an individualized basis, factoring in data on comparable properties and other relevant considerations. This is true in good times as well as bad.

Myth: You generally can tell what a property is worth simply by looking at the outside.
Reality: Property value is determined by a number of factors, including location, condition, improvements, amenities, and market trends.

Myth: Because consumers pay for appraisals when applying for loans to purchase or refinance real estate, they own their appraisal.
Reality: The appraisal is, in fact, legally owned by the lender - unless the lender "releases its interest" in the document. However, consumers must be given a copy of the appraisal report, upon written request, under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Myth: Consumers need not be concerned with what is in the appraisal document so long as it satisfies the needs of their lending institution.
Reality: Only if consumers read a copy of their appraisal can they double-check its accuracy and question the result. Also, it makes a valuable record for future reference, containing useful and often-revealing information - including the legal and physical description of the property, square footage measurements, list of comparable properties in the neighborhood, neighborhood description and a narrative of current real-estate activity and/or market trends in the vicinity.

Myth: Appraisers are hired only to estimate real estate property values in property sales involving mortgage-lending transactions.
Reality: Depending upon their qualifications and designations, appraisers can and do provide a variety of services, including advice for estate planning, dispute resolution, zoning and tax assessment review and cost/benefit analysis.

Myth: An Appraisal is the same as a home inspection.
Reality: An Appraisal does not serve the same purpose as an inspection. The Appraiser forms an opinion of value in the Appraisal process and resulting report. A home inspector determines the condition of the home and its major components and reports these findings.

J. Myers & Associates Inc. 5098 28th Avenue South West Naples, FL 34116 Phone: 239-793-3430 Fax: 239-793-3430 E-mail: JasonMyers@embarqmail.com E-mail: JasonMyers@embarqmail.com

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 8

We will conclude this series with tips for the fall.

Article Thumbnail Small

Every Fall

SMOKE AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS:

  • Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.
  • Also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector if you don’t have any.

CLEAN CARPETING, UPHOLSTERY, DRAPERIES AND AIR DUCTS:  

  • Have your carpets, upholstery and draperies cleaned regularly, once every 12 to 18 months, to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.
  • Consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if family members suffer excessively from respiratory infections, asthma or allergies; if there is visible mold growth inside ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system, the ducts are infested with insects or rodents. Excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEM:

Flush out system. HEATING:

Forced Warm Air Heating System

Before turning on your unit, make sure nothing flammable has been stored next to the furnace over the summer. Also, change the filters regularly. Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place. Be sure the thermostat is set in the heating mode. Run your heater for a few minutes to burn off the dust that usually collects on the heat exchanger over the summer (don’t worry, that smell is normal) and to make sure it is in working order before you need it. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. Consider hiring a pro to perform a furnace maintenance check-up, including these steps:

1. Inspect thermostat for proper operation.
2. Inspect filter and change or clean as needed.
3. Check all electrical components and controls.
4. Oil motors as needed.
5. Inspect heat exchanger for possible cracks, which would introduce carbon monoxide into the living space.
6. Check airflow. If diminished, it may be necessary to clean the evaporator coil and ductwork.
7. Check air fuel mixture, where appropriate.

Gas Burner 

  •  Clean burners and ports, or have them professionally cleaned.

Oil Burner 

  •  Have your oil burner professionally serviced; lubricate fan and motor bearings.

Thermostat

  •  Clean heat sensor, contact points, and contacts; check accuracy.

Heat Pump

· Schedule an annual service call to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts and replace if needed, and oil the moving parts. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments.

Hot Water Heating System

  •  For steam heating, check shutoff valve for leaks and drain lower water cut-off per manufacturers’ instructions. Lubricate pump and motor; bleed air from radiators or convectors.
  •  Oil-fired Boilers
  • Hire a professional for annual maintenance including flue cleaning, a fuel-filter change, cleaning and adjustment of the jets. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments.

DOORS AND WINDOW WEATHERSTRIPPING:

  • Check the weather-stripping around all doors and windows and replace it if necessary to reduce drafts. And the loss of heated air.
  •  Make sure the weather-stripping on the door between your garage and home is intact to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

FIREPLACE AND CHIMNEYS:

  •  The most important maintenance to do regularly is to have a pro clean your flue liners in order to prevent the build up of creosote.
  •  Have your wood burning fireplaces and stoves inspected annually and cleaned and repaired as required to prevent chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and mortar and flashing failure.
  •  Water leaks can also cause your mortar to deteriorate prematurely.
  •  Consider installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from water, debris and critters.

STORM WINDOWS AND DOORS:

  •  Inspect all windows and doors-replace any cracked or broken glass, tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary; replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate door hinges and closers; check for broken or missing glazing.
  •  Consider installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from water, debris and critters.

GARAGE DOORS:

  •  Clean and lubricate hinges, rollers, and tracks; tighten screws.
  •  If serious repair is required, consider replacing.

PEST CONTROL:

  •  Remember, insects and other critters would naturally prefer to come indoors out of the rain and cold, if possible, as winter sets in.
  •  Make sure all vents and other openings are covered and spray for insects along perimeter of house. ·

WATER HEATER:

  •  Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment.
  •  Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  •  Inspect caulking around exterior doors and windows, replace if necessary.

BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION:

  •  Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall.
  •  Inspect for cracks and moisture repair if needed.

DECKS AND OTHER EXTERIOR WOOD:

  •  Inspect exterior wood for cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat and repair as needed.
  •  Keep decks clean, removing wet leaves and debris that can cause staining or encourage wood decay, mold and mildew growth.
  •  Having your deck professionally cleaned and sealed can add years to its life.
  •  Repair hinges and latches on your gates.

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

  •   Clear/install/repair gutters and downspouts and make sure the runoff is directed away from your home so it can not erode the soil around the foundation or run into your basement or crawl space.
  •  Install gutter accessories to divert water, channel underground drain lines into existing yard drainage or storm sewers, or consider installing a dry well at the end of the drainpipe to slowly distribute the water to surrounding soil.

LANDSCAPING: 

  • Cut back any trees or shrubs that are touching the exterior. 
  •  Check with a local gardening service or your county extension agent for information about appropriate measures in your area for fertilizing, thatching, aerating and reseeding lawn and controlling disease and insects in all your landscaping

PIPES: 

  • Check your pipes for rust or white lime deposits that may indicate a leak is starting, replace if necessary. 
  • Check for leaking around the outside hose bibs.
  •  Install insulation around outdoor water pipes to protect from freezing.

ROOF: 

  • Check for warping, aging, moss, and cracking making sure that shingles, shakes or tiles are sound; repair or replace as needed.
  •  Inspect the flashing around chimneys, skylights and vents.
  •  Seal cracks or openings where water could penetrate. ·
  • If you see significant damage or wear, consider contacting a roofing specialist to give you a bid on a roof replacement. · Do NOT cover air vents or turbines.

SIDING: 

  • Inspect siding (especially on the south and storm sides of the house) for evidence of deterioration, including cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; clean, treat and repair as needed.

o Brick and stone: check joints between wood and masonry. Waterproof or repaint if necessary.
o Wood: look for lifting or peeling paint, splitting wood or areas where the wood grain is separating. This is evidence that water is getting into the siding.
o Stucco: a chalky residue that rubs off on your hand is evidence of oxidation, a deterioration of paint or color coat that reduces stuccos’ insulating value. If the stucco is cracked, this allows water to get in around windows and doors.
o Trim: look for peeling paint on the fascia boards, windowsills and sashes that could allow water in to form mildew and fungus on the interior of your home behind curtains, blinds and window coverings.

This concludes our 8 part series on Preventive Maintenance Tips. I hope that you have enjoyed this series and that these tips will make for a more enjoyable home. Join us next time on “Hiring A Contractor.” Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 7

This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

Article Thumbnail Small

Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 6(a 2 part Spring) of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

Every Spring-Part B

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  • Inspect caulking and replace if deteriorating.

FLASHING:

  • Check flashings around all surface projections and sidewalls; replace if necessary.

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

  • Clear/install/repair gutters and downspouts and make sure the runoff is directed away from your home so it can’t erode the soil around the foundation or run into your basement or crawl space.
  • Install gutter accessories to divert water, channel underground drain lines into existing yard drainage or storm sewers, or consider installing a dry well at the end of the drainpipe to slowly distribute the water to surrounding soil.

LANDSCAPING:

  • Clean out the flowerbeds, removing fallen leaves and blossoms to avoid potential fungus and molds.
  • Cut back and trim all vegetation and overgrown bushes from structures.
  • Trim non-fruit trees before they start to grow and both fruit trees and Rose bushes before they start to bud to improve their production.
  • Consider a lawn renovation to eliminate the brown spots and crab grass left over from last summer and reseed bare spots. Contact a county extension service or gardening service for advice about proper lawn and garden care for your area.
  • For all of the above items, a prescreened pro may be your best bet. PIPES: Remove insulation around outdoor water pipes. Check for leaking around the outside hose bibs and evidence of rust or a white line deposit that may indicate a leak is starting.

ROOFS:

  • Inspect roof surface for warping, aging, moss, and cracking, making sure that shingles, shakes or tiles are sound; repair or replace as needed.
  • Inspect the flashing around chimneys, skylights and vents.
  • Seal cracks or openings where water could penetrate.
  • If you see significant damage or wear, contact a roofing specialist to give you a bid on a roof replacement.
  • Check eaves, and soffit for signs of water damage or deteriorating paint.
  • Repair, repaint or consider wrapping with maintenance-free vinyl or aluminum soffit and fascia.

SIDING:

  • Inspect siding (especially on the south and storm sides of the house) for evidence of deterioration, including cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; clean, treat and repair as needed.
  • Remember, paint protects wood and stucco surfaces; postponing necessary painting will require more extensive and expensive preparation (scraping, sanding, and priming) and repairs before repainting in the future.
  1. Brick and stone: check joints between wood and masonry. Waterproof, repair or repaint if necessary.
  2.  Wood: look for lifting or peeling paint, splitting wood or areas where the wood grain is separating or “checking” because water is getting into the siding.
  3.  Stucco: a chalky residue that rubs off on your hand is evidence of oxidation, a deterioration of paint or color coat that reduces stucco’s insulating value. If the stucco is cracked, this allows water to get in around windows and doors. If this is the case, have your stucco professionally repaired.
  4. Trim: look for peeling paint on the fascia boards, window sills and sashes that could allow water in to form mildew and fungus on the interior of your home behind curtains, blinds and window coverings. Consider installing maintenance-free vinyl or aluminum trim.

SPRINKLERS:

  • Check lawn sprinkler system for broken heads, leaky valves and exposed lines and contact a sprinkler service if necessary.

WATER WELL:

  • Consider having well water tested for safety. Join me next month for our final Part of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Kitchen Remodel

Hints and Tips

Article Thumbnail Small

Remodeling your kitchen is a major event. You may be without the room entirely for most of the remodel process. There will be many different contractors and specialists coming in and out of your home. And changes in timelines may happen due to product availability or other unforeseen circumstances. All said, it is a major project that takes careful planning and attention to detail for a satisfactory outcome. Take your time to plan carefully and enlist professional help if you hit a brick wall and don't know how to make certain items or features work. We have given you the short list of some things you will need to consider before and during a kitchen remodel.

The Kitchen Remodel List

Sink with money going down drain

The Dreaming Stage: Evaluate your needs. What do you want to change about the existing layout, appliances, utility, storage, lighting, flooring, ascetics, etc. Consider how you use your kitchen - where do you prepare meals, cook meals and clean up. How can these used spaces be improved. What will make your ideal kitchen in the space you have available? Do you want to go as far as to restructure walls? Review the three basic layouts for kitchens: U-Shaped, L-Shaped and Galley. Which of these works with your kitchen use? You may also consider the "work triangle" which places the refrigerator, sink and stove in an easily accessible triangle to help optimize your kitchen tasks. Of course with the inclusion of other useful appliances and innovative cabinetry/counter space, you may think outside the triangle. Picture your ideal kitchen and write down the elements it includes.

The Reality Stage: Figure out your budget. How much can you afford to spend/finance to make your dream kitchen happen. Do this before any purchases are made or contracts signed. Knowing your budget limitations is a must so you don't get in over your head!

Your Timeline: Consider how much time you can be without a kitchen. You may want to plan ahead and have the remodel done when the kids are at college or you are certain not to have house guests, etc. Because of the scope of the remodel, knowing a timeline is essential to preventing some of the headaches involved with not having access to part of your home for weeks or even a month or two!

The Design: Now that you have your ideas, budget and timeline, you can contact an interior designer (some are now specialized as kitchen designers) to begin hacking out the reality. Now is when you determine which of these formats will best fit your ideal use of the space. The designer can help you determine how to make all your ideas work with the products available to you at your budget.

The Material Breakdown - There are many different types of materials for you cabinets, countertops, floors, etc.

  • Types of Cabinets: Cabinets either come with a framed or frameless design. You can get 'Flat Pack' or the do-it-yourself assembly-required variety, 'Stock' which are limited in size but are fully assembled, 'Built-to-Order' which are made at the factory and shipped and finally 'Custom' that usually include some factory pre-build and more fine tuning on installation. The cabinets can be stained, painted, laminated, and sometimes even made of material other than wood like metal. There are plenty of options to get carried away with. Review the options for the drawers, slide outs and other extras for the interior of you cabinets as well. Determine your style and use of your cabinets and you will still be overwhelmed by the choices!
  • Types of Countertops: Countertops can be natural stone such as granite or marble, sealed surfaces such as laminate or ceramic tiling, or manufactured surface material such as Corian. Laminate and ceramic tiles may offer a project for the do-it-yourselfer, but any of the other products will have to made to order and usually need professional installation to keep the warranty valid.
  • Types of Flooring: Just like any other room in your home, flooring options are endless. However this would not be a room for carpeting! Installing hardwood floors, Pergo flooring, vinyl, or tiles can be a do-it-yourself project or another one you hire out.

The Appliance Breakdown - The choices for appliances are abundant. When designing your new kitchen you will want to consider the size and layout of these major items. The layout of everything else in the room will be effected by the appliances you choose. You may decide to include appliances built into the cabinetry or countertop or keep them freestanding. Overall, you are considering your refrigerator, freezer, dish washer, microwave, stove top and oven.

The Kitchen Sink - The kitchen sink stands alone as a major item to consider. You may have a double sink, typical for hand washing dishes. You may have more than one sink including one on a workspace island or countertop. You may get a deep sink, shallow sink or a combination of both.

Permits: It is very likely a major kitchen remodel will need permits from your city or county government. Research these to get a good idea of what permits you will need. Your interior designer may be able to help with this. More likely, the contractor(s) that you work with will either do the permits themselves or be able to help you determine what permits you may need. Steer clear of a contractor who tells you that you can "get by" without getting a permit; it may sound like they are saving you money but in the long run they could cost you much more!

Hiring your Contractor(s): With a major kitchen remodel you may be using several different professionals. You may start with a general contractor, however, they may hire or you may need to hire specialists such as plumbers, electricians or tilers. Talk to several contractors and get estimates and references from each. Call the references and make sure to ask questions about estimate variations - some may substitute materials to cut costs. Discuss the timeline in detail with the contractor you choose.

Determine how they will work with any sub-contractors. For example, when does the electrician and plumber need to come in or when will you be ready for the tiler? What time of day will they begin work and what days of the week? What will the contractor do if there is a delay due to materials or labor? For even more information about hiring and making a contract with a contractor, please see our previous article How to Hire a Contractor: Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project.

Demolition: Once you have removed all the dishes and other small items, the big demolition will begin. Even if you are just replacing a small section or part, there may be demolition involved. Usually appliances are removed first, then sinks, then fixtures, then countertops, then cabinets and finally flooring.

The Remodel: After everything is taken out the first couple items that will be done will be any reframing, plumbing changes and electrical wiring. Any plumbing and electrical work will need to be inspected before they can be sealed back up. You may only have portions of wall removed for this type of work. Once the inspection is done and the walls are in place, the cabinets will usually be the first item installed. After the cabinets are in place, your new countertops will be installed. After the countertop and any backsplash is done, the flooring will be installed. The final items to be done will be all the finishing work such as installing light switches and fixtures, installing the sink and faucet, and finally, installing the appliances from the garbage disposal to the refrigerator. Keep in mind, if any of the appliances are built-in, they may be installed earlier. Extra care should be taken to make sure they are not damaged while other work continues!

If Things Go Wrong: Stay calm! Delays may happen. The worst case scenario is if there are any miscommunications between you and any of the professionals working on your home. This can be anything from timing to cost. Make sure to get all details in writing before any work begins!

  • You should have a section in your contract that states what is expected if there is a delay due to material delays, staffing delays, etc.
  • Stay involved in the process and don't be shy - get progress reports daily!
  • If a problem does arise, contact the contractor immediately, a good contractor will respond quickly and appreciate you speaking with them directly. If there is any question about the quality of work, you may consider having an inspection done early to ensure everything is on track.
  • Never pay for the job fully in advance. Many contracts work out a payment plan that will include paying a certain portion as various stages of the project are completed.
  • If there are disputes, make sure to write your concerns down and keep records that you have communicated all of these concerns with the contractor.
  • You will save yourself from a headache if you make sure to: Get it in writing, get the work described in detail and leave no questions unanswered.
  • Again see our article How to Hire a Contractor: Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project for more details about hiring contractors and sample contracts.

Finally - It's Done!: With a major remodel there may be another building inspection of the site on completion. Once that is done you are ready to clean up and move back in! Enjoy your new kitchen. Take pictures and keep a record of all your new appliance, cabinet and other big item warranties.

Conclusion

One of the most major remodels of the home is the kitchen. Take time to plan it out carefully, store a lot of patience, and get ready for one of the most intense but rewarding remodels to your home! It can be done, there are many people out there to help you get it all organized. We hope you find the above short list of things to consider for a kitchen remodel helpful. To the right of the article are some additional sites that will help get your creative ideas going. Enjoy! 

Other Useful Sites

Do It Yourself.com
ww.doityourself.com/scat/kitchenc
tchen remodeling will increase the design, function and resale value of a home. This section provides information about building kitchen cabinets, re-facing kitchen cabinets, selecting a kitchen cabinet style, selecting a kitchen countertop style, and planning a kitchen design that will look great and maximize the amount of available storage space.

HGTV
http://design.hgtv.com/kitchen/
HGTV KitchenDesign is your ultimate online destination for all things related to kitchens: design and decor, renovation and remodeling, appliances and products. Utilizing original video content as well as the rich television libraries of HGTV, Food Network, DIY and Fine Living, we show you everything you'll ever want to know about your kitchen.

Improve.net
www.improvenet.com
Welcome to ImproveNet's Kitchen Remodeling Center. In these and supporting pages, you'll find information and ideas for kitchen remodeling, from kitchen cabinets to kitchen countertops and everything in-between. Our goal is to inform you, give you kitchen remodeling ideas and direction and show you some examples of kitchen designs to get you started. For their kitchen cost estimator click here.

Kitchen Remodel Ideas
ww.kitchenremodelideas.com
itchenRemodelideas.com is a guide to new products for your kitchen.

Kitchens.com
ww.kitchens.com
Kitchens.com is the Web’s most comprehensive consumer resource on kitchen design. We invite you to: Be inspired by our Featured Kitchens and Photo Gallery. Learn the basics of Design and Products & Materials. Check out the latest New Product News and Trends. Follow the Kitchen Diaries for the homeowner perspective of the remodeling experience. Get started on your own kitchen project at Budget & Planning or our Professional Locator

National Kitchen & Bath Association
www.nkba.org
National Kitchen & Bath Association has created the NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook. This workbook will take you through every stage of creating that perfect space, whether it's new construction or a remodeling project. From selecting a designer, to collecting ideas and establishing a budget, this workbook will help turn your dreams into a reality.

Renovation Experts
www.renovationexperts.com/green-kitchen.asp
Whatever the reasons and goals are, there are more options available today for Greening your kitchen. Green kitchen design can be eco-friendly with out losing luxury and style.

This Old House
ww.thisoldhouse.com/toh/knowhow/kitchens/pk
Kitchen Know How - Cabinetry, Countertops, Kitchen Sinks, Backsplash, Appliances, Wet Bars, Design and Outdoor Kitchens.

Charity 101

How to choose the best & avoid scams.

Article Thumbnail Small

Giving to others in need seems to be a natural impulse the world over. Many of us enjoy giving to causes, programs or research that we agree with and believe in; however, sometimes we are caught unaware and are asked to give by volunteers. We may love the idea of the cause but know little about the organization. Or we may like the idea, but prefer it were handled differently. So where do you go to find the best fitting charity and how do you determine if they are legitimate? Below we have compiled some things to consider when choosing a charity, such as when to give, how to avoid scams, and other ways to give to the community rather than a cash donation.

Before you Give

What Touches You? - It may sound simple (and it is) but one of the best gauges for which charity to choose should be what you are passionate about. What causes mean the most to you? What charities benefit research, education or programs you believe in? This should be your first consideration when choosing a charity. It will help narrow your choices and there is nothing better than having pride about the organization you choose. Who knows, that initial donation could lead to volunteering and becoming actively involved in something you really care about.

Take Control - Be proactive about the charities you choose to support. Don't wait for someone to come knocking at your door or spend money on reminders in the mail. Instead, take the first step by actively searching for charities that give to the causes you believe in. To begin your search, check out some of these sites: Charity Navigator | Guide Star | IRS Search

Money 101 - Find out where your donation goes and how it is spent. Most organizations offer easy charts and/or percentages detailing how much money goes to the cause, administration, events, publications, etc. Although you may like the ideas behind an organization, you may not agree with how they choose to spend the money. The only way to know is to check them out and if you can't find the information, practice our next point and ask questions!

Ask Questions - Don't be afraid to ask questions! Perhaps how they spend money on fundraising events is worded ambiguously to you. Or you are not certain if the funds will stay local or move nationally. Any questions you have are okay to ask. Sometimes people don't want to ask as they think they are pestering the volunteers and wasting their time - that is not the case! By thoroughly answering your questions, volunteers know they are ensuring your continued loyalty, confidence and support for their organization. If they don't want to answer, then consider someone else - there are plenty of charities to choose from.

Reputation - Find out about the charity's reputation. Have there been complaints about your charity? Are there accolades for your charity? Take some time to see what others are saying about the charity of your choice. Better Business Bureau | Charity Navigator

The Quick List - If you don't want to spend the time researching the charities out there, take a look at some of these lists to see how they are already ranked by organizations. American Institute of Philanthropy | Charity Navigator

When You Give

Dust Off the Checkbook - It is best to donate by check rather than cash or credit card. This way you can specify the money only goes to the organization. Always write the check - don't give any information directly to your bank account. Credit card is okay online if you really know the source is reliable. But be very cautious!

Guard Your Information - As with your bank account information, keep most of your information private. As you will read in the 'Signs of a Scam' section below, caution is unfortunately the best practice when donating money.

Ask if Your Gift is Tax Deductable - Not all charities actually count as a tax deductable donation. Although we realize this is not usually the impetuous behind giving to a charity, it is something to keep in mind if you do plan to claim it on your taxes - especially if it is a sizable donation. The charities won't be offended, just ask.

Get a Receipt - Even if your donation is not tax deductable, get a receipt. This will help you track your records and if you are ever unfortunately caught in a scam, it might help in developing a case against the criminal.

Think Ahead - Consider giving to the charities of your choice once a year or up to a certain amount every year. This will make it easier to choose a charity that you know rather than off the cuff impulse. Also, it will make it that much easier to say no to those who solicit your donations if you know you have already given as much as you want/can for the year.

Signs of a Scam

Appearance is Not Enough - Charity scams can be everything from a person with a jar asking for a particular cause to elaborate schemes that include personnel, office space, logos and image branding - all the signals of a legitimate operation. Thus, we say it again, it is important to do your homework before you give.

Know the Name - Many charity scams are set up using names very similar to bigger and better moderated charities. Be careful and take the time to double check that the organization you are donating to is the one you are really thinking of.

The Copycat - Unfortunately, even knowing the correct name of the charity may not be enough. Some scammers (especially in person) will claim to be from an organization they are not. The best option is to check with the charity to see if they are running a drive in your area before you donate.

Opportunity Knocks - The primary means for charity scams to get your money is by approaching you in person (i.e. at the grocery stores or going door to door), spam emails, and even telemarketing. To be safe, take the information about the charity down but wait to give until you have had a chance to check them out. If they turn on the high pressure "sale" when you mention researching them more, simply walk away. Instead, a legitimate charity will be happy to give you the information about their organization and where to find out more. As for emails, donating to unsolicited emails is never a good idea. Email is only a good option if it is from an organization with which you already have a relationship (usually a reminder to come donate again) or someone you personally know (i.e. participant fundraising for a benefit walk/run/etc.).

Too Much Pressure - Yes we just wrote it above, but it is worth mentioning again - high pressure "sales" from charities is a huge no-no. If they turn up the sob story, guilt trip, or state the need is now or never - be wary and just walk away. Most legitimate charities avoid high pressure tactics and have guidelines for volunteers against such tactics as they are just as glad to have raised the awareness if not always the cash.

Registration Please - It is good practice to ask a charity if it is registered and has a registration number. You can then use this number to look it up with the Better Business Bureau.

Misery Loves Company - Be very careful when giving after a large natural disaster or another event which rocks the community. At these times it is usually best to give through charities that have a standing reputation for helping. But again, make sure to check the name is not a quasi copycat. Be careful how you give the money - even when memorial charities are set up for a local family, you can donate through a bank with an established trust. Try not to let the headlines in the news sway you to give to the wrong person!

Allocation of Funds - Although this is not necessarily a scam item, some donators feel scammed when they find out so little of their money actually goes to the cause of their choice. To avoid this, research the charity to see how they allocate their funds. As we stated above, every charity is different in how it will choose allocate the funds raised. Some charities have high administrative costs and use fundraising to pay staff salaries. Others spend a great deal on advertising campaigns. Although neither is illegal, you may want to see if you agree with the amounts spent. You can find details on the individual charity websites or directories, such as Charity Navigator and Guide Star.

And the Winner Is - Another scam to look out for is the offer of a entry for a prize with your donation. This can usually be related to a scam, but also some legitimate organizations use this tactic. In this instance you may want to consider how much of your donation is going to fundraising gimmicks rather than to the cause at hand.

Other Ways to Give

Your Time is Worth Money - Don't have a lot of cash to give? A little of your time can help just as much or even more for some charities. Many organizations need voluntary workers to make their goals a reality. Most Americans consider donating around November and December when the image of helping out the local soup kitchen is etched in our minds. However, many organizations need help the rest of the year. Contact the charity you are passionate about and ask when you can be the most helpful. Have time but don't know where to participate? Try some sites like these to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Many of these sites let you search by interest - if volunteers get to share the love of one of their hobbies they are more likely to enjoy the experience and spend more time helping. www.idealist.org | www.volunteermatch.org | www.1-800-volunteer.org | www.getinvolved.gov

Take a Volunteer Vacation - Some college students have made headlines by taking volunteer vacations during spring break instead of heading to a party hot spot. But these vacations are not just for college students! Many seasoned travelers find these vacations a great way to learn more intimately about other cultures and give a little back in the process. Whether your passion is people, the environment, culture, language, or all the above, this might be the next vacation for you. www.globalvolunteers.org | www.volunteerabroad.com | www.globeaware.org | www.earthwatch.org

Play on the Web - Some online stores and searches will donate to charities if you use their interface. So why not take them up on the free offer? Do Great Good | The Hunger, Breast Cancer, Child Health, Literacy, Rainforest & Animal Rescue Sites | www.searchkindly.org

Consider Giving a Loan - A different way of 'giving' may be to actually lend capitol to the working poor. A new idea in micro financing gives funds to poor families who need a small loan to make their business ideas work. Loans can be as low as $25 and are actually paid back (unlike email schemes). The forerunner in this area is Kiva.org who started in 2005 primarily connecting lenders with 3rd world entrepreneurs. To find out more, visit their website www.kiva.org. This year, Kiva partnered with ACCION USA and the Opportunity Fund to offer micro loans here in the United States as well. For more on this option, please visit www.accionusa.org or www.opportunityfund.org.

How to Hire a Contractor

Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project

Article Thumbnail Small

You have a great idea of what you want to do but you just don't have the skills to implement it. Whether remodeling the kitchen, a spare room or adding on, some projects are better handled by professional contractors. However, make sure you do not get into an agreement with a contractor on impulse. Instead, picking a contractor should be a selective process that is well researched and prepared. This is not only a financial investment; this person (and their team) will be in your home and working with you on a project that may take days or, more likely, weeks to finish. A sound partnership is important. Below are some suggestions for planning out your partnership with a contractor. Also included are a checklist guide and contract example forms from our partner Lawchek®. All are helpful suggestions and tools before hiring any contractor.

Part I: Overview

The following points may help you in the process of hiring and working with a professional contractor.

Plan out your project.

Whether a full kitchen remodel or a new back patio, make sure to plan out your project in advance. You should know what materials you would like to use and what the end project will look like. If you are uncertain about various options, then consult an interior designer, landscape architect or architect. They can help take the ideas you have imagined and tell you how they can logically work. They can also help you create detailed plans of the project and a list of materials for its completion. Many times they will continue to work with you as the project is being completed as well. Having this type of plan in place before hiring a contractor is essential to ensure clear communication. If you start a project unsure of the final outcome you may cause delays and extra expense if you keep changing your mind. To have a large project planned in advance will help you to remain focused.

Determine the kind of contractor you need.

Will a general contractor be able to complete the whole project or will you need cabinet installer, plumber, electrician, etc.? Preplanning your project should help you answer some of these questions. You can be ready to interview contractors knowing that they either need experience in or will need to sub-contract certain aspects of your job. If they cannot do part of the project, will they expect you to hire a specialist (i.e. electrician) or do they have a partnership with one already established? Consider if they have previous experience with your type of project. Ask if they familiar with the architecture and age-specific concerns of your type of home. How have they met the challenges in the past?

Research any permits that may be necessary. With a plan from your architect or landscape architect in place you will now have an idea of how much you will be changing your home. You may ask these professionals as you work out your plan if the project will need building permits. You may also ask this to your contractor as well. However, keep in mind that although some contractors will handle the building permit process themselves as part of their contract, others may leave it up to the home owner. Some argue that only the contractor should handle building permits as this ensures they follow all codes. If you get the permit and the contractor does not follow the codes you may have a harder time seeking corrections by the contractor afterwards. As a first step, it will be very helpful to know whether you need a permit before even contacting a contractor. This is also key to avoiding any fraud. If you already know that your project requires a building permit but your contractor tells you not to worry about it, you have clear warning that this contractor may not follow local and state building codes, get someone else!

Consider the professionalism of your contractor.

This is the first basic step when looking at different contractors. Check and see how long they have been in business, if they are easy to talk to and if they are able to meet with your timetable expectations. Determine if all of their contact information is current. Also, look for a contractor that is easy to reach; if you are playing phone tag to obtain a quote it is a pretty good indication of what it will be like trying to contact them once your project is started! Find out if they are a member of any trade associations and stay current in their training. As an extra precaution, you may also want to research with the county if they have been named in any past law suits. Contact the Better Business Bureau, Attorney Generals Office, and local consumer protection agency to check on any past complaints.

Verify insurance and licence information.

Insurance: Always make sure the contractor is properly insured. You should receive a certificate of insurance from the insurance agency listing you as the co-insured. It should be original and not a photocopy. The types of insurance you are looking for: General/Personal Liability which will protect your property; Workman's Compensation which will cover the contractor(s) if they are injured while working on your property; and Automobile which will protect you against any claims if they damage another vehicle/object while on your property. All these will protect you from having your homeowner's insurance responsible for any mishaps or accidents that may happen. License: Not all contractors need a license in every state. Also, the cost of a project can sometimes determine if a contractor needs a license or not. In most states the more expensive the project, the more likely they need a license. A good online reference to find out about license requirements in your state may be found at Contractor's License Reference Site. If your state does require a license, make sure it is current.

Ask for references and call them! 

Ask potential contractors for references. Do not do any further business with contractors that refuse to supply references. The references should span both recent and older projects that are all similar to yours. If you are getting a kitchen remodel it doesn't make a lot of sense to talk to someone who had a new deck built. Once you have the contact information, do the most important step - call them! You may even see if they are willing to let you see the project first hand with the contractor or if they have photographs of its progress; your contractor may also have photographs available. Below are some sample questions to ask references:

  • Are you pleased with the project result? When talking to references for older projects ask them how the craftsmanship has handled everyday wear and tear.
  • Did the contractor stay on or close to schedule?
  • Did the contractor stay on budget?
  • Did the contractor follow the written contract? In hindsight, is there anything you would add to the contract?
  • Was the contractor easy to talk to or reach when you had questions or concerns? Did the contractor stay on site to supervise his/her team?
  • Did you get along with the contractor's team? The sub-contractors they used?
  • Where you happy with how the contractor and his/her team treated your home and property? Any messes, etc.?
  • If there were any corrections, was the contractor willing to make changes or did you have to place a formal request or hire someone else?
  • Would you use this contractor again and/or recommend him to someone else?

Review estimates for differences and find out why.

Once you have three or more estimates begin to look at the differences. Why are some contractors lower or higher than others? Ask them to explain their estimate. For example, is an estimate lower because of different materials used and does this translate to difference in quality? Does one contractor have a larger team or expect to hire more sub-contractors? Is a contractor "saving you money" by cutting corners on safety, local regulations, etc.?

Create the contract.

Finally, the written contract you create with your contractor is extremely important. So much so that we have listed factors that should be considered for the contract in a separate section below. To review that section now, click here.

Part II: Checklist

The partnership with your contractor can be very rewarding experience if you make sure to plan ahead. With the items mentioned above in mind, we have compiled an easy to use checklist that will help you when reviewing various contractors for your job. We have listed the items below but you may also print out a PDF checklist by clicking here.

Hiring a Contractor Checklist:

  • Where did I find the contractor? (Phonebook, Online, Friend/Family, Other)
  • The contractor is licensed (if required) and registered as a business in this state.
  • Contractor has all necessary insurance to complete the job safely. Including: Worker's Compensation, General/Personal Liability and Automotive.
  • I researched any complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General’s Office and other local consumer protections agencies.
  • This contractor does not have too many jobs and can fit my project within my time schedule.
  • I obtained at least 3 references (from each contractor).
  • I have called every reference and asked thorough questions.
  • I reviewed at least one project site from the reference list in person.
  • I have a detailed bid from this contractor. Including: describes all parts of project to be completed, estimated material cost, estimated labor cost, estimated time needed for completion.
  • I understand everything in the bid and what that project will entail. I have asked for clarification on anything I do not understand.
  • I understand the pricing.
  • The contractor clearly lists the types of materials he expects to use.
  • The contractor offers warranties on materials and craftsmanship.
  • This contractor will obtain all necessary building permits.
  • This contractor has provided a sample written contract of a previous project. I understand the wording of the contract and can easily see how to adopt a similar one for my project.
  • This contractor is easy to talk to and has been easy to get a hold of for follow up questions.

Part III:

The Contract The written contract between you and your contractor should be taken very seriously as this will be the roadmap that both parties will use to ensure that everyone is kept on task and happy. The following items are highly suggested to be included into the contract. You may add and remove items as they pertain to your particular project or situation.

  1. The contract should specify exactly what is expected to be done. Besides the project, any clean up, where materials will be unloaded, etc., should also be included.
  2. Specify the dates for commencing and ending the project. It is also a good idea to detail what is expected if delays occur due to weather, material delays, etc.
  3. Detail the materials to be used for the project and their cost; this includes brand names and other identification to make certain there is no confusion. Not recommended, but at the very least, detail an allowance specifically for materials with strict parameters.
  4. The contract should detail the contractor's insurance clarifying that coverage is expected through his/her carrier.
  5. It should be clear who is responsible for obtaining permits and what permits are required for completion of the job. Ideally permits will be obtained by the contractor.
  6. Method of payment and payment schedule should be clear. Never pay for the entire job in advance! Depending on your state there may be a limit to your initial down payment. Usually it is enough to cover any special material costs and initial start of the project. There is usually an agreement to pay by interval as different stages of the project are reached. Again, detail this in the contract. Once written, make certain you both understand the payment terms before either of you sign.
  7. Any warranties provided by the contractor should be detailed in the contract. Identify if they are full or limited warranties and describe exactly what they will and will not cover. If warranties include manufactures, make sure all of their contact information is included in the contract as well.
  8. Finally, a method for dispute resolution should be included in your contract. This should detail how each party should be notified of any grievances. The best means would be mediation or arbitration as this can save you both money. However, if a problem does arise make certain every notice of a problem(s) is done in writing so you have record of your attempts at solving the problem.

As a general rule, be as detailed about the project and all expectations as possible. We have included some sample contracts from our partner site Lawchek®. These are only samples and should be reviewed and changed to fit individual project needs.

  • Subcontractor Performance Agreement for Residential Construction
  • Deadline Extension Amendment

This reference should answer basic questions. The questions recited on these pages are the more commonly asked questions of attorneys when a client first makes contact for the purpose of a better understanding of real estate legal matters. This is not a substitute for legal advice. It is never recommended that an individual undertake his or her own representation in such matters as real estate law, even though most states do permit such activity. Any individual who is serious about proper real estate transactions would want to have capable legal assistance. An attorney must be consulted. "This work is protected under the copyright laws of the United States. No reproduction, use, or disclosure of this work shall be permitted without the prior express written authorization of the copyright owner. Copyright © 2006 byLAWCHEK, LTD."