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SELLING YOUR HOME? USE THESE TIPS!

Increase The Curb Appeal Of Any House.

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Clean up the outside.

  • Curb appeal is the first impression of your house. Keeping the grass cut and the area tidy will help make a great first impression.
  • Paint or wash the exterior of the house (including window casings, shutters, and doors).
  • Wash the windows inside and out.
  • Check the gutters and chimney.

Increase The Curb Appeal Of Any House. Simple, low-cost curb appeal and house makeover improvements that anyone can do in a weekend. Or, there are many landscaping companies that can help with the job if time is an issue.

Touch up the interior.

  • Put a fresh coat of paint in the most used areas of the home. This will clean as well as brighten up the rooms.
  • Wash the walls where paint is not appropriate (i.e. wall paper, paneling).
  • Wash all floors and bathroom tiles.
  • Shampoo dirty carpets.
  • Get rid of clutter. Clean out your closets, garage, basement, and attic. Use shelf storage if necessary.
  • Replace air filters to help keep the dust down.

Replace bathroom and kitchen fixtures that are worn or leaking.

  • People will notice a leaking or worn-out faucet. By replacing these items, you will give a new look to the room.
  • Clean under the sinks. If there are any leaks, fix them. Then clean up the damage using contact paper or paint.

Home Improvement Contractor. Find and research local contractors, and get free no obligation quotes on your home improvement projects.

Get rid of any bad smells in your home.

  • Pay attention to pet or cigarette odors.
  • Place scented potpourri around the house.
  • On the day you're expecting a potential buyer, pop a batch of frozen cinnamon rolls, home-made bread, or an apple pie into the oven for a great aroma.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 4

This month’s we will discuss tips for once year maintenance.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 3 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home when we recommended maintenance tips to use every 6 months. This month’s we will discuss tips for once year maintenance. Every Year SHUT-OFF VALVES: Review the location of all of the shut-off valves in your home with all your family members so you will be prepared for emergencies. Whole-house water shut-off valve: The main shut-off valve should be beside the meter if you are on City water. If you use a well, the shut-off valve will be on the house side of the pressure tank. You should also cut power to the tank. Whole-house hot water shut-off valve: There should be a valve on the hot water outlet of the water heater, which controls all of the hot water to the house. Toilet shut-off valve: Show your entire family how to shut off the toilet by turning the ribbed oval handle under the tank if it ever starts to overflow. Sink shut-off valve: You should have handles beneath the sinks or within the cabinets; the one on the left is usually for hot water, the one on the right for cold water. Dishwasher shut-off valve: Look under the kitchen sink for a reducer coupling and shut-off valve leading to the dishwasher on the ½ inch hot water sink supply line. It could also be between ceiling joists just below the appliance if you have a basement. Washing machine: Valves are usually where the washer hoses meet the house supply lines. However, washer hoses are notoriously weak, so consider changing them routinely every year or at least close the valves when leaving home for an extended period of time. Gas hut-off valve: Identify location and show entire family how to shut off. Electrical Panel/Breaker box: Identify location and show entire family how to shut off main breaker in an emergency, or flip any circuits back on after an overload. GAS-FIRED, FORCED-AIR CENTRAL HEATING SYSTEMS: Inspect the thermostat, electrical components and controls. Check the heat exchanger, flue, ducts, airflow and air fuel mixture. Adjust the burner and oil the motor and circulation fan. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. 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. OIL-FIRED BOILERS: Schedule an annual service call for 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. FIREPLACES AND CHIMNEYS: 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. CLEAN CARPETING, UPHOLSTERY AND DRAPERIES: 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. APPLIANCES: Inspect appliance hoses and ventilation according to the owners’ manuals. Replace if necessary. Vacuum the coils behind your refrigerator and freezer (found behind or under the appliance) to increase energy efficiency. GARAGE DOORS: Clean and lubricate hinges, rollers, and tracks; tighten screws. Join me next month for Part 5 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. We will be discussing tips for every 2 years. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Flood!

How to prepare for, respond to and recover from a flood.

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Experience is sometimes an unforgiving instructor. At Homecheck we learned devastation caused by flood waters first hand when Cedar Rapids, IA was hit by a massive flood this past June (6/13/2008). Homecheck is parented by the company enlighten technologies™ which includes many other businesses in our family such as Lawchek®, LawyersListings, and HouseList, to name a few. Our headquarters on 1st Avenue in downtown Cedar Rapids was inundated with water after the Cedar River crested at 31.1 feet (19.1 feet over flood stage) to overtake 1,300 blocks of the city.* The first floor was completely lost and the second as well when water reached 4 feet on the upper level. A slow road to recovery, we have learned first hand the destructive power of flood waters. Reflecting on this experience and the items we have learned, we determined to write an article this month about what to do if a flood hits your home or business. We hope many of our readers never have to use the practical advice in this article.

*Specifics taken from articles: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/floods/2008-06-15-cedar-rapids-cleanup_N.htm; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/us/13flood.html?fta=y; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_levee_failures_in_Greater_New_Orleans **Weather data: http://ia.water.usgs.gov/flood/flood.html

Before the Flood
It is not always possible to know when a flood will happen. It may be caused by an inundation of rain fall. Cities in Iowa were affected in this way when the Cedar and Iowa Rivers swelled with over 10 inches of rain in only one week.** This can then be compounded when man-made structures give way. This was seen in New Orleans when 50 levees broke during Hurricane Katrina.* So what can you do to protect your business or home before a flood happens?

• Find out about the land your structure is on. Does it sit on a flood plain? What is the threat level? Geologists or your county planning department will list these areas by the probability of a flood. For instance, Cedar Rapids has areas designated as 100 or 500 year flood plains. The flood in June was a 500 year flood. FEMA Offers flood maps detailing current flood risk. Simply type in your address and you can look at it online. You also have the option to buy a map, but as long as you are looking online, the service is free. http://msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/FemaWelcomeView?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1

• Now that you know where your home or business stands, what kind of insurance is available? Talk to your insurance agent first. If you want to now more about insurance options, especially in higher risk areas, also check out the National Flood Insurance Program at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/.

• Whether a household or a business, you should have an evacuation plan in place. Let family members and employees know what evacuation route to take if water is rising swiftly and an evacuation is ordered. For households you should include a place for everyone to meet whether it is a local shelter or a relative’s/friend’s house. Also, families should have an out of state contact that everyone may call to locate each other in case they are separated.

• Create an emergency kit to be ready at any time. Depending on the needs (home or business) some items to consider are:

  • Clean water (enough for at least 3 days for every person and animal – generally 5 gallons per person)
  • Nonperishable food for 3 days (don’t forget a can opener!)
  • Suitcase with an extra pair of clothes and extra blankets or sleeping bags
  • Baby Kit - Baby food, diapers and other supplies
  • Pet food, leashes, vaccination info for your pet – you may have to leave your pet at a local pet shelter if you are evacuated as emergency shelters do not allow pets 
  • First Aid Kit – try to include some extra prescription medications (not expired!) or details about any prescriptions so you can refill them if lost in the flood
  • Personal Hygiene Kit – sanitary wipes or gel, soap, toothpaste, feminine supplies, deodorant, etc.
  • Flashlights, radio or small TV, and batteries – you may also consider crank flashlights and radios
  • Some items to have on hand particular to a flood threat: insect repellent, rubber boots and gloves, and thick shoes

• Back up your documents! If you are evacuated due to a flood there are certain documents you will need for claims and getting back on your feet. Keep a copy of these documents with your emergency kit, at a safe location other than your home or both. At the very least these documents should include: insurance information, social security number, and medical records including any active prescriptions. It would also be a good idea to make a list of emergency contact information including family and friends as well as local and state numbers you may need.

• Prepare your business or home to resist flood damage. Suggestions include: install sump pumps with a back-up source of power, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent sewage entering the home, and make sure any fuel or propane tanks are securely and properly installed.

During the Flood

• Once a flood watch or warning is given call local authorities and let them know of anyone who may have special needs and cannot leave the flood area easily. It is extremely helpful for authorities to know who needs help evacuating if an evacuation becomes necessary. Ideally, have a friend or family member who will try to get this person out first if it is still safe to do so. This way there is less chance of separation.

• Get your emergency kit and keep it at hand in case of an evacuation. If you have some prep time before, fill up the gas tank to make sure you can go at a moments notice. If an evacuation is ordered there may be heavy traffic and you may need to go some distance to a shelter.

• Secure any items outside that might become hazards in water such as garbage cans, lawn furniture, grills, etc.

• If an evacuation is imminent: turn off the power and gas. If an evacuation is ordered, evacuate immediately. Use the route the authorities have given and make certain not to drive through flooded roads.

• If you are not ordered to evacuate, stay home and listen to any future announcements. Unless helping a family member or friend for a specific purpose, stay off the roads and out of the way of emergency crews. Going to watch is not helpful and can be potentially very dangerous.

After the Flood

• First you will want to contact your insurance company. Even if you are not covered for a flood, you will need to contact your agent. This is why it is important to keep documentation with your emergency kit. You need to know your company, agent (if applicable) and your policy number. In the case of evacuation, make certain to specify the address and phone of where you can be reached now. This may also be a friend or relative who can act as a point of contact if you are not immediately near a dedicated phone. They will set up an appointment to meet with you and discuss your losses.If they do not get back in a few days be persistent and call again, just keep in mind they may be overwhelmed with claims.

• Work with authorities about your return. Although this part can be extremely frustrating, in the case of major floods they will want to assess the safety of your return before you may enter any neighborhood or structure. Choose representatives, as in the case of Cedar Rapids the first look at the property was restricted to 1-3 people depending on location. The authorities may have also set up a grade system for the status of your structure. In Cedar Rapids there were green, yellow and red signs letting owners know whether a structure was safe to enter, enter only with caution or too dangerous and deemed a total loss.

• Once it has been deemed safe by the authorities for you to return, start the process of sorting your property. Do not throw out all items as you will need your insurance agent to see these. However, if the items are considered too toxic to keep around, get pictures and samples of the items before disposing of them. Make sure to take all precautions necessary before entering a flood damaged building! Click here for more details.

• Take many pictures of the inside and outside of your structure before cleanup. Photograph any standing water, items that have to be disposed of immediately and general survey pictures of each room. Also, take pictures of the items that will have to torn out such as the walls, floors, etc.

• Make a list of all damaged and lost items. This will help when you work with your insurance agent to process your claim. With your agent you will make a Proof of Loss. This statement is your testimony to the damages suffered. It should be filed within 60 days unless circumstances have allotted more time. Once this is filed with your insurance company your claim will be processed, however, it may take some time if the area was hit especially hard.

After the Flood: Home and Family Recovery – Working with FEMA

• FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As they state on their website they define their type of disaster assistance as “money or direct assistance to individuals, families and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is meant to help you with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. This assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster.” In essence they are there to help those who could not or did not get flood insurance.

• Items FEMA will cover are: temporary housing in the instance of evacuation or unlivable conditions, repair for what the insurance company will not cover (this is just until the home is safe, not necessarily with the same materials as before), and permanent housing construction. This last is only available to those who cannot get flood insurance at all due to location.

• FEMA can help with recovery costs that are not directly related to the home. These additional expenses can only be claimed if you live in a disaster area as designated by the President, you have already filed with your insurance company and find you are not covered, and you have serious needs directly related to the disaster. Some of these costs listed on the FEMA website include:

  • Disaster-related medical and dental costs.
  • Disaster-related funeral and burial cost.
  • Clothing; household items (room furnishings, appliances); tools (specialized or protective clothing and equipment) required for your job; necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies).
  • Fuels for primary heat source (heating oil, gas).
  • Clean-up items (wet/dry vacuum, dehumidifier).
  • Disaster damaged vehicle.
  • Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster (moving and storing property to avoid additional disaster damage while disaster-related repairs are being made to the home).
  • Other necessary expenses or serious needs as determined by FEMA.
  • Other expenses that are authorized by law. http://www.fema.gov/assistance/process/assistance.shtm

• You can reach FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585

• When making any claim, you should have the following at hand: your social security number, current and damaged address, current phone contact, insurance information, household annual income, routing number to your bank to receive funds, and a detailed description of the losses.

• You may be referred by FEMA to SBA which offers low-interest disaster loans. “Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 for disaster related home repairs. Homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace disaster-damaged personal property including vehicles.” However, you can not receive duplicated aid already received from FEMA.

• To find currently approved disaster areas you can go online: http://www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema

After the Flood: Business Recovery – Working with SBA

• SBA stands for the Small Business Administration which has a specific branch for disasters the Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA) that offers federal low-interest, long term loans for “homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses.” An Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is available to small businesses specifically geared towards helping with day to day expenses so a business may continue to operate.

• SBA can release disaster loans if one or more of the following conditions are met: Presidential Disaster Declaration, • • Agency Physical Disaster Declaration (based on a minimum amount lost), Governor Certification Declaration, Secretary of Agriculture Declaration, Secretary of Commerce Declaration, or Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (for businesses that lose key personnel who are called to active duty).

• For Physical Disaster Loans which help replace an uninsured or under-insured property, an inspection team from SBA’s ODA will review the site and claims.

• Applicants do have to show some reasonable ability to pay back the loans. However, since they are low-interest and can be as long as 30 years, they are easier to qualify for than standard loans.

• Especially with real estate, the SBA’s ODA will continue contact with the borrower to make certain construction is on schedule and funds are being used appropriately.

• You can reach SBA by calling 1-800-659-2955 8am-9pm EDT. Or email them at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

More Information

FEMA and the American Red Cross have made a pamphlet entitled Repairing Your Flooded Home which is available as a PDF. A great resource, page 55 has a very useful emergency contact list as well.

  • Click here for Repairing Your Flooded Home by FEMA and the American Red Cross (PDF)

Additional pointers from Homecheck:

  • Cleaning Up after a Flood (HTML)
  • Battling Mold after a Flood (HTML)

Some Ways to Help Our Neighbors

Downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, June 15, 2008 after the waters have started to recede.

Aidmatrix Network - Iowa
The Safeguard Iowa Partnership and the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council have partnered to provide the Aidmatrix Network, an easy way to make monetary and product donations to the nonprofit organizations that are assisting in the response and recovery efforts following recent disaster events in Iowa.

Cedar Rapids Czech & Slovak Museum
www.ncsml.org
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library staff and board continue to work through the challenges of flood recovery. Our five museum buildings are cleaned out and secure. Visitors from across the country have been calling to plan summer visits. Some have already made their way here and are shocked and dismayed to find a sight they never expected - boarded up buildings, sandbars in the garden, and piles of debris. We are assuring them we will survive and be back in business, but it will take time. To us it's surprising there's still a world out there that doesn't know about the flood!

Cedar Rapids Public Library
Our public library lost all of the first floor which included books and magazines for adults.The children's book section was mostly recovered. They are currently looking for temporary space: "07 July 2008 - Librarians are compiling a list of books and other materials that the CRPL’s book distributor will hold until the library has a place to put them. The books will arrive pre-processed, which means that staff will be able to shelve them immediately, saving an enormous amount of time. Once the list is compiled, individuals will have an opportunity to select a book from the list to donate. “Many of our patrons and supporters have been asking what they can do. This will be a way to help rebuild our library,” says Glise. “By fall, we hope to have a wish list available.”

Corridor Recovery
Corridor Recovery is a not-for-profit partnership between government, civic, business and faith-based organizations, created to respond to the Flood of 2008. As the flood waters peaked, Corridor Recovery quickly became the primary resource for materials and information for Linn County and Cedar Rapids. We provide resources for local governments and agencies to distribute flood-recovery information to the public in a critical time of need, and to coordinate volunteer efforts in the clean-up and recovery process.

Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
www.gcrcf.org
The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation opened the Flood 2008 Fund on June 15. The Flood 2008 Fund is for flood relief and recovery donations. One-hundred percent of financial donations to the fund will support response, recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the Cedar Rapids-metro and surrounding communities. The first priority will be to work with local nonprofit organizations to support individuals and families affected by the floods. The GCRCF is committed to helping individuals, families and the nonprofit community recover and rebuild from the catastrophic flood.

Embrace Iowa 2008 Disaster Fund
Embrace Iowa is a program of statewide outreach by the Des Moines Register. Since it already has an established logo, identity, and donation tracking mechanism, the Iowa Disaster Collaborative is using the Embrace Iowa website as one way for donors to make a donation and learn more about the 2008 Iowa Disaster Fund.

Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service
If you are interested in helping in a particular area of the state, please use this section of our Web site to get in touch with local officials, who are collecting a list of where and when volunteers are most needed.

University of Iowa Foundation
For those wishing to support the University as it struggles to recover from flood-related damage not covered by insurance or other resources, we encourage contributions to the UI Flood Relief Fund.

Sources for this article which include even more detailed information:

Center for Disease Control
CDC.gov (www.cdc.gov) is your online source for credible health information and is the official Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC is committed to achieving true improvements in people’s health. CDC applies research and findings to improve people’s daily lives and responds to health emergencies—something that distinguishes CDC from its peer agencies. Working with states and other partners, CDC provides a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. CDC also guards against international disease transmission, with personnel stationed in more than 25 foreign countries

FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency
http://www.fema.gov/
FEMA has more than 2,600 full time employees. They work at FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., at regional and area offices across the country, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, and the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. FEMA also has nearly 4,000 standby disaster assistance employees who are available for deployment after disasters. Often FEMA works in partnership with other organizations that are part of the nation's emergency management system. These partners include state and local emergency management agencies, 27 federal agencies and the American Red Cross.

National Flood Insurance Program
http://www.floodsmart.gov/
Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to address both the need for flood insurance and the need to lessen the devastating consequences of flooding. The goals of the program are twofold: to protect communities from potential flood damage through floodplain management, and to provide people with flood insurance.

SBA – Small Business Administration 
http://www.sba.gov/
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. We recognize that small business is critical to our economic recovery and strength, to building America's future, and to helping the United States compete in today's global marketplace.

Home Security

Keeping your family and possessions safe.

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According to the FBI, burglaries occur every 15.4 seconds in the United States (Crime Doctor). Home security is important as not only is our home one of our biggest investments but having good home security provides peace of mind about protecting our family and possessions. As the popular show on the Discovery Channel, It Takes a Thief, illustrates, many of us take our security for granted. Many times the families on the show believe their current security is all they need. There is a belief that burglaries happen to "someone else." Or, if one is robbed, it is just the result of "chance" and there is little that can be done about it. This show provides an entertaining wakeup call about home security. The threat to our inner sanctum and lifetime of possessions is very real. This article will take a look at the ways you can protect your home. We should note that one of the most common answers is a security system. A standard security system comes with a control panel (with panic button), 3-4 sensor zones, a siren and 24 hour monitoring. These systems can be hardwired (usually when the home is being constructed) or wireless. Some of these systems are so advanced you can even monitor your home when on vacation through the internet! The cost and amount of "bells and whistles" you get will depend on the size of your home, neighborhood, entry points and other varying factors. For a real idea of a professional security system that is right for you, check with professionals in your area. For this article we will be concentrating on some of the common sense and easy to add options you can do to protect your home. Some professional security providers are listed in the links that follow the article but will play a relatively small role in the article itself. Before we begin to look at what measures we can take, let us look at some statistics from the FBI about home burglary:

  • Burglary is the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft. A person can be convicted of burglary even if nothing was actually stolen.
  • A burglary occurs approximately every 15 seconds in the United States.
  • On average, a burglary results in a dollar loss of about $1,600.
  • About 30 percent of all burglaries are classified as "unlawful entry," meaning the burglar was able to gain entry without using force — often through an unlocked door or window.
  • Nearly 66 percent of all burglaries are residential, and of those, 62 percent occur during the daytime. Most burglaries occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., when no one is likely to be at home.
  • Renters are more likely to be the victims of property crime than homeowners.
  • Only 13 percent of reported burglaries are solved, or "cleared," by the police.
  • Only about 15 percent of property stolen in burglaries is recovered by the police.
  • Nearly 85 percent of all burglaries occur in large metropolitan areas.
  • Almost half of the nation's reported burglaries occur in the South: 45 percent, as opposed to the Northeast's 11, the Midwest's 20 and the West's 24.
  • The highest percentage of burglaries occur during the summer months of July and August, when many people are away from their homes on vacation, or have left windows open for ventilation.
  • Arrest records reported to the FBI indicate that approximately 70 percent of all burglary arrestees are white and 86 percent are male.
  • About 30 percent of private homes have security systems. Homes without security systems are two to three times more likely to be broken into.

Summarized by It Takes a Thief Site (more recent summary at FBI site http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/documents/CIUS2004.pdf)

Now that we have your attention, let's look at some ways you can improve your home security; let's start by examining the exterior of the home.

Part I: The Exterior

There is a beautiful home sitting at the end of a long drive. There is only one front light on. All appears quiet and unoccupied. Large bushes cover the view of the side of the home from the road. The neighbor's house behind is equally dark and barely viewed between the fence, bushes and trees. I think you are getting the idea. This example house almost provides a written invitation to would be burglars. The exterior of your home can tell a potential thief a lot. Many times, just by observing from the outside, they can see if the home is occupied, find weak entry points and determine if they can use hidden nooks to work unnoticed. Sometimes our desire for privacy creates little pockets like this for the thief to work. There are many things you can do to the exterior of your home to make it more foreboding and hard to crack for would be burglars. Make certain the exterior of your home is well lit and consider monitoring it by video or surveillance. One of the most vulnerable homes, is the dark ones. An easy and inexpensive deterrent is to add motion sensor lights to your driveway and doors. Keep all entrances well lit, both front and back. You may want to keep the back on a sensor light, which is a fine alternative to having a light on all night. As lighting should be considered for any exit from your home, this includes the garage. Make sure your garage light switch is on the inside of the house. You never want to have to enter a dark garage to turn a light on! After you have the lighting arranged you may also want to consider extra video surveillance. This is especially the case if you have a large property, very private property or are gone often. Make sure the central recording device is locked up so thieves cannot take it with them! Many of the surveillance systems these days will let you view the outside of your home easily so you may also use them to see who is at the door when you are at home. You may also choose to have sound notification of someone approaching your home. A wireless annunciator notifies you whenever someone comes within up to 50 feet of your driveway or entranceway. This additional light and surveillance will help keep the perimeter of your home safer.

Make sure your home is not helpful to the burglar either as many times our conveniences can also be theirs. Unsecured tools such as ladders can help burglars break into your home! Your garage should be secure and tools locked. This means deadbolts on any garage doorways. The garage is a favorite entry point so you should consider keeping your car locked with the alarm on, even when in the garage. And if you park your car outside of your garage, never leave the garage door opener in the car! Again, our desire for privacy may also create hidden nooks for burglars to hide and work. Make sure to trim plants so they do not completely cover windows and doors. In fact you may even want to consider planting really thorny and prickly plants next to windows as they can act as an additional deterrent. Any signs/plaques you put on your home should also be considered. It is a great idea to have reflective numbers on your home for easy spotting during an emergency. However, do not have your name displayed as it is helpful for a burglar to look you up in the directory and call your house to see if anyone is home. Also, don't give burglars an idea of what is in your home. Whenever you make a large purchase don't advertise it to the neighborhood. For example if you buy a new computer don't leave the empty boxes on the curbside for disposal. Instead break the boxes down to keep what was inside a mystery. You should also use window treatments or keep expensive items out of view from the window. You don't want to have curtains closed all the time as this only gives the impression of the home being unoccupied (and not to mention downright dreary). But curtain sheers and strategic placement of objects in the room can minimize what people can see from the outside. Finally, never leave keys in hidden places around the house as this is just an easy invitation to burglars. Either leave a spare key with a neighbor or purchase a combination lock that holds your key safely for you. Combination keyless entry locks are also becoming more popular; if you forget your keys a lot, forget to lock the door, or have so many family members/roommates going in and out, this may be a great solution. These are just a few ways to help prevent easy access to your home.

So now Mr. Burglar has dodged your motion cameras and surveillance and brought his own nifty tools - what can you do? You should have strong doors and windows that will continue to work against the burglar. Make sure your exterior doors are solid-core. If you have glass doors they should be double paned with heavy duty laminate. If you do not have a double pane, a security grill will help. Locks are important, you should have locks on all the windows and double locks on all entry doors. Deadbolts (with removable key for fire) are a must. You can also have a chain lock added if you don't have a peep hole. However, these are not fullproof and a peephole is a much better investment. You may also use wooden dowels in glass sliding doors and windows that have broken locks. This should only be a temporary fix - replace these locks or install locks as soon as your able. Also, always keep your doors locked, even when you are home. Do not keep the back patio or balcony doors unlocked and open. This is a favorite entry point for would be thieves! Make sure your windows are secure and replace any broken windows as soon as possible. You should have security bars placed over basement windows as these are easily kicked in. Also place bars over removable air conditioning units setting outside of your windows as these can be weak points as well. Another possible cheap help for your windows is window film. It makes windows more shatter resistant and can prevent easy "window shopping" by burglars. Finally, when purchasing a new home or renting a new place replace the locks or request that the locks are replaced. It is not that the previous owners are bad people. You just can't be sure if they ever lost a key, lent it to someone and never got it back, etc. In these ways you can make all your entry points, both doors and windows, difficult to open. These are just some of the many ways you can help protect your home. Installing exterior lights and surveillance will help deter burglars from approaching. Making sure you do not leave helpful tools, hiding places, personal information, easy view of possessions or spare keys lying around will make life for the burglar more difficult. And if you make sure all your doors and window are in good repair and locked he may just give up and walk further down the street. But what happens if they do get in your home? There are many more security measures you can take for the interior of your home as well.

Part II: The Interior

Once a burglar has entered your home they usually have the privacy to search for and take what they want. They will still want to be in and out of your house as quick as possible, so the more secure your valuables are, the more likely they will leave them and move on. Remember, they have breached into the inner sanctum of your home and everything you leave out and accessible is theirs for the taking! What follows are some more ways to deter burglars and prevent them from walking off with all of your possessions. There various interior alarm systems that may still help to scare the burglar off. A wireless or hardwired alarm system can be a great way to alert a monitor if a doorway is breached or a window opened. Many systems can also detect if someone over a certain weight is moving about the home when the system is on. Turning on the alarm system is the greatest problem for most users. But once it becomes a habit the security it provides is priceless. To invest in a home alarm system in this way can be very beneficial but should not be taken lightly as these are often extended contracts. If you do decide on contracting with a security company, make sure to do your research. Some items you should know are: how long they have been around; are they licensed, bonded and insured; do they do background checks on their employees; where do they monitor the house from - is it local; is the equipment leased or purchased outright; what is the warranty and coverage; what are the monthly monitoring costs and are they at a fixed rate? Finally, dogs are a "natural alarm" whose gruff bark can scare off some would be thieves, but they are not full proof. Many dogs become nervous in the event of a break in and may not respond the way they would if you were at home. Guard dog training is usually available in your area, but these programs stress, and we must stress, that the training should be a major commitment - your dog needs to listen to you and only be aggressive on command! If they get past the security system then you want to be sure your possessions are safe. Keeping your possessions safe can be easily done with the use of secured safes and lock boxes. Homes should have a safe or you should have a safety deposit box to keep important documents safe. Any safe should be bolted down to the floor and have a fire resistant rating equivalent to the heat of a fire expected for a home your size (Examples of UL (Underwriters Laboratories) ratings are: Class C will keep paper documents safe up to 1 hour up to 1700°F, Class B will keep them safe up to 2 hours at 1850°F and Class A will keep them safe up to 4 hours at 2000°F). Do make certain your safe is bolted to the structure of your home. Otherwise burglars will just take the whole thing with them to break into later. What should the safe contain? Keep all important documents such as birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, legal papers, receipts for large purchases, loans, investment documents, deeds and titles, to name a few. You should also keep unused credit cards locked away. This should include statement information so a thief does not try to open a new account with a stolen statement. Finally, any jewelry, watches or small expensive items should be locked away. Now that you have everything in the safe do not forget to lock it! Surprisingly many people who own safes will leave them open for easy access - this rather defeats the purpose if your home is burglarized! Finally consider a small wall safe for your car and spare house keys. If you leave your spare keys lying around the house, don't be supervised if the burglar takes your car as well! Keep anything that would be difficult or impossible to replace locked up.

Finally, give some consideration as to what to do if, after your best efforts, possessions are taken from your home. Large items such as stereos and TVs can be marked by you for identification purposes. However, never engrave you SSN in expensive items. Instead, engrave these possessions with your Driver's Licence Number or consider marking them with an invisible pen. In the event of a burglary (or fire) you should have a clear idea of what was lost. Keep a compiled list of your possessions in a lock box or fire proof safe. It will make the list even stronger if you supplement it with photos, videos and serial numbers of the possessions. Any family heirlooms should be appraised, photographed and included on this list. Make sure the insurance company is aware of everything on this list so you are covered for the full worth of your loss. The FDIC recommends updating a detailed list of possessions in each room once every 6 months. Understand that once items are stolen, it may not be possible for the police to recover them, even if the burglars are caught. So make every effort to keep these items locked up! Once a burglar is inside your home you want to make sure they do not have an easy time taking away your possessions. Having a monitored alarm system of some type will help deter the burglars from staying. Dogs might even help convince intruders to leave. Make sure your possessions are locked up. This is everything from jewelry and car keys to important documents. If items are taken make sure you have a detailed list of what you owned so insurance can cover the financial lost. Also this will give you a better chance of tracking down the stolen items. Marking large items may help with this as well. Overall, make sure you secure what you cannot replace!

Conclusion

Everyone thinks burglary will not happen to them, or it is only determined by chance or one's neighborhood. But that is not the case and taking time to review your home's security is a good investment. There are many great ways you can protect your home and property from burglars. Tactics from installing exterior lights and surveillance to making sure you do not leave helpful tools, hiding places, etc. will make life for the burglar more difficult. Keep your doors and windows locked and alarm system armed. If they do get in your home make sure you have your valuables locked in a safe or lock box. Keep a list of your valuables and mark them if you can so you may have a better chance of getting items returned. Below are additional links for information on the web about home security and general home safety.

Do not wait for it to happen, take some time today to take a few small steps to better home security. Quick checklist of items to check around the home.

Emergency Preparedness:

Update your emergency contact lists. Numbers change! Make sure to have an out of state contact set up in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. - Review emergency plans with everyone in your home. Make sure everyone knows what to do if there is a fire, break in, earthquake, major storm or other emergency. If you do not have emergency plans make it your New Year's resolution to make them! - Examine your emergency kits. Make sure first aid products are still good and stocked. Check extra stores of food and water for replacement. If you do not have emergency kits, make a point to create or buy them.

Household Papers/Records: 
Update your protected files. You'll be doing taxes anyway, so it is a good time to review which documents you are keeping and which need to be shredded. Here are some suggested documents to keep and how long to keept them: 
- Keep in Safe Deposit Box/Fireproof Safe: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce legal papers, adoption papers, citizenship records, and other documents that are government or court related. A copy of a will, although your attorney will keep the original. Investment and business papers, government bonds, deeds, titles and copyrights to name a few more. General rule is, "Put it in if you can't replace it or if it would be costly or troublesome to replace." 
- Taxes: IRS can audit up to 6 years back. However, you can get rid of pay stubs if you have your W2. Cancelled checks you will want to keep if they are related to anything you claimed on your tax return. - Medical Bills: Keep at least 3 years. - Household Inventory: You should have a comprehensive list for each room and what of importance is in there. This will help you claim losses in event of burglary or fire. The details of this list should be shared with your insurance carrier to make sure of coverage. It is recommended that you review this list once every 6 months. - Deposit, ATM, Credit Card and Debit Card Receipts: Save them until the transaction appears on your statement and you've verified that the information is accurate. Then they may be shredded. - Credit Card Statements: If there are not purchases related to taxes you may shred them once every year. However, if you have larger purchases on the card you may want to keep hold of these older statements. Special Note: Credit Card Agreements should be kept as long as the card is active! - Loan Agreements: Keep as long as the loan is active. - Documentation of Stocks, Bonds nd Other Investments: Keep while you own the investment and then 7 years after that. Household Health & Safety: - Determine if homes built at the same time or are in the same condition as yours are susceptible to lead, radon, asbestos, mold or carbon monoxide problems. If so consider it a New Year's resolution to get your home tested. - Review your medications and vitamins/supplements. Properly dispose of any expired items. Many of these items have such a long shelf life that we often forget to throw them away when we should! Also, make sure they are properly stored and out of reach of children. House Maintenance: - Change the batteries in your fire alarm and CO alarms. Test both. (In reality they should be tested once a month!) If you don't have a CO alarm, now is the time to get one; there should be one in a central location outside each sleeping area. - Check all outdoor lighting. Get bulbs replaced - we all can forget about the garage sidelight. - If you are in a snow area you should be checking your dryer, furnace, stove and fireplaces to make sure any vents are clear of snow. - Check inspection dates. Do you know the last time your furnace, water heater, fireplace or other major appliance was inspected? - Take inventory of any major appliances that are not working properly or at all. It is time to look ahead at the year and budget for their repair or take them to the dump. For example, that extra freezer that doesn't work - it's a safety hazard! Get it fixed or look at paying for it to be properly disposed. - Review your garage for hazardous materials such as paints, oils and gasoline. Make sure these items are properly stored. If they are old or the cans are damaged look into getting them disposed of properly. A lot of times items we used for spring, summer and fall projects get forgotten in the winter months. If they weren't put away properly they can become potential hazards. - Check for leaky faucets and get them fixed if needed. You don't want a small leak to become a BIG problem. Once the spring thaw begins make sure to check outside faucets for leaks as well. - Unclog gutters - if the weather permits. Otherwise add this to a list of spring cleaning to be done as soon as possible. - Clean off the roof (or get someone to do it) if weather permits. Another item to add to spring cleaning if it cannot be done.

Famous Haunted Homes

Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall?

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Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it is a great marketing ploy for bed and breakfast inns and historical societies? Or maybe people are comforted or enjoy the idea of hauntings? Okay, so not all of us believe in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as unique as their "spiritual" residents. For a little fun and change of pace, we have compiled a short list of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back and enjoy a little Halloween-flavored fun and learn a little history too!

*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail!

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay, CA

The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there right? Anyway, Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963 the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live in which prisoners were there to be shut away rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.

The Haunting: This place was creating ghost stories before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something wants out... There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.

How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use different ferry system to the island. 

Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX

The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.

The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.

How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering. 

The History: Hannes Tiedemann built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that lead to jealousy and ultimately, to murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of misery from her insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.

The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps out in the corridor. There is also claim that the tower room where the "woman in black" can be heard choking. Lights also swing around and some objects have been moved or thrown.

How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored at one time they would eventually start tours to the building, however, nothing is posted on their website about this yet.

Heceta House - Yachats, OR

The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century.

The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house!

How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. 

Hickory Hill House - Equality, IL

The History: This house was built in 1842 by John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. It is also said that he would kidnap free blacks and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves where kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.

The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 and many claimed to hear the rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The home had the reputation that no one could spend the night. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.

How to see it: Currently the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and closed to the public. A grant was received in late spring 2006, hopefully it will be able to reopen soon!

Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO

The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history of tales also leads to the idea of more ghosts. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.

How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. 

Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA

The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to here recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one!

The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want...

How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! To find out more,click here.

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA

The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation.

The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim that there is a woman but she is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.

How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. 

Villisca Ax Murder House - Villisca, IA

The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly and lamps won't stay lit regardless that there is no breeze in the home.

How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.

Waverly Hills Sanitarium - Louisville, KY

The History: Okay, not a house, but since it has such a grand reputation of being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time and most of the patients who entered would die there. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred, some were beneficial and some were more brutal leading to tales of mistreatment and abuse. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.

The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and allowed into disrepair. Transients, vandals and kids would break in. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was not power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish activities. One specific spot, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.

How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.

Whaley House - San Diego, CA

The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school and polling center. It was also the site where criminals were hanged before the house was built. Once built, it also had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!

How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days. Their website has more details about times and price;

White House - Washington D.C.

The History: The White House became the home to our presidents in 1800 with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home and some have decided not to leave...

The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents that like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies that have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat which has been said to be seen before national tragedies such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

How to see it: Of course you can still visit the White House today.  Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA

The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces and various oddities such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.

The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. However, some skeptics in the ghost hunting world believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground. Guess you'll just have to go to find out for yourself!

How to see it: The mansion is open to tours today. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details or you can also do a behind the scenes tour to see how the house functioned. 

Setting Your Budget

Your next step is to create a project budget.

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You have evaluated the neighborhood and find that your improvement is consistent with general aesthetic and size parameters. You plan to remain in the house for some time. You find that a second mortgage payment will not strain your current monthly budget. You feel you can devote a certain amount of time towards planning the project. And finally, you are really sick of waiting in line to go to the bathroom in your own house!

Your next step is to create a project budget. Decide how long you plan on staying in your home. The length of time you intend to stay in a home will affect how much money you should invest in it. If you are going to stay in the home for more than ten years, you should spend as much as you are able to create the home of your dreams. Make a list of all your debts. You should include any debts you pay on a monthly basis, such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and any other items with a fixed monthly payment. This list should not include payments for groceries, utilities, telephone services, or other general expenses. Call this list your monthly expenses. Determine your total gross monthly income. Include all sources of income that you would list on a loan application.

You are ready to determine a project budget. Use the following steps for this process; I have plugged numbers into the formulas to demonstrate how each works.

STEP 1
Lenders use a simple Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio to determine if a homeowner can afford the additional debt of a remodeling project. DTI Enter Your Total Monthly Expenses $2,860.00 Add the Estimated Monthly Payment for the Project +$775.67 Total $3,635.67 Divide the Total by Your Gross Monthly Income $7,950.00 DTI = 45.7% Each lender will approve loans at a specific DTI percentage (most lenders will tell you what their set DTI ratio is, if you ask). In this example, let us assume that the lender accepts DTI ratios of 45 percent. You are right at the cusp of qualifying. Provided your credit rating is good and you have plenty of equity in your home you will most likely be approved for this loan.

STEP 2
The next step is to determine the maximum monthly payment you can afford for remodeling. Multiply your monthly gross income amount by the lender's maximum DTI allowance, and subtract your current total monthly expenses, excluding the estimated remodeling payment. Gross Monthly Income $7,950.00 Lender's DTI ratio x.45 Subtotal $3,577.50 Less Total Monthly Expenses -$2,860.00 Maximum Affordable Payment = $717.50 Use this figure to determine the maximum available to you to borrow. In this case we assume that the home improvement loan is a fifteen year note at seven percent. The maximum you can borrow is forty-seven thousand dollars for your project given this monthly payment. There are many different options you can explore with your lender during this process. These options can sometimes increase the amount you can borrow; it is best to discuss this thoroughly with lenders. We discuss financing in more detail in the next section.

STEP 3
The final consideration for your budget is if there is any available cash to supplement what you borrow for the project. These are funds not being set aside for future financial obligations such as retirement, college, or other major purchases (like a new car). They are not required for monthly or general expenses as well. In this example let us assume that you have three thousand dollars in excess funds available for the project. This brings your maximum project budget to fifty thousand dollars. The budget now becomes the overriding parameter that drives the project. Every decision from this point forward is made according to the limits set by the budget. The next thing to consider is the percentage of the budget necessary for contingencies. Contingencies are unexpected items that present themselves during the course of the project. The guideline is to set aside between five and twenty percent of your budget for contingencies. The actual percentage depends upon the complexity of the project. For instance, a new roof generally does not require other ancillary items be repaired or altered in order to install the roof. Therefore the minimum contingency of five percent is usually sufficient. On the other hand, a large addition to your home involves many more trades and materials that likely require the maximum contingency of twenty percent. As a rule if any portion of your existing walls, floors, or ceilings must be demolished or opened up in order to install the new materials you need a contingency towards the maximum. Although a professional architect and/or contractor have vast knowledge of the construction process he or she does not have X-ray vision. Often times there are situations that complicate construction contained within these areas that cannot possibly be known about until the area is opened. For our example we will assume you are putting on a small kitchen addition (referred to as a “bump-out”). Since you will have to open up an existing wall but the work area is concentrated to a small portion of the house a contingency of fifteen percent should suffice.

This means that the budget for actual construction that you present to the architect is forty-two thousand five hundred dollars. This is the parameter you want your design professional to use. You hold the seven thousand five hundred dollars in reserve to address any unforeseen expenses that occur once the project begins. You protect yourself from scrambling for extra funds in the middle of the upgrade; if you do not use all of the contingency, and there is no rule that says you have to, then you complete your project under budget (heretofore an unheard of occurrence in remodeling)!