Skip to main content
home check map image

Search such categories as , , ,

searchPage

, ,

searchPage

, , , ,

searchPage
Featured Articles

Homecheck Autumn Harvest

Fall is traditionally associated with harvesting and stocking up for the winter ahead.

Article Thumbnail Small

Fall is traditionally associated with harvesting and stocking up for the winter ahead. However, many locations in the U.S., even those accustomed to getting heavy snow in the winter, may embrace the fall as a great time to extend their garden harvest and continue to play with their landscape. Gardeners may continue to plant a regular 'salad mix' and root vegetables through November. Fall is also a great time to plant bulbs and other plants for the following spring. Landscapers who think ahead may already have some great flower varieties showing off their colors in the fall. Finally, fall is a great time to take advantage of mild temperatures to prepare the plants and soil for the winter ahead. There are many projects for the fall garden to keep all green-thumbs happy!

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." ~ William Cullen Bryant

Part I: The Garden

• There are many quick growing vegetables that enjoy the milder fall temperatures. There are also some longer growing vegetables that don't mind a little frost and may be planted early fall for a harvest in November/December. Some of those that can help keep your green thumb busy are: Arugula - Beets - Broccoli - Cabbage - Carrots - Cauliflower - Leeks - Mustard - Radish - Scallions - Spinach - Turnips - Winter Squash (click on each for more information)

• As you enjoy your fall vegetable garden, keep some of these tasks in mind to prep the soil for your spring planting.

  1. Remove dead plants. If you keep them there they may become a hiding place for pests. Instead, collect healthy remains and place them in a compost bin or discard completely. Also remove old stakes and twine, this will just get messy over the winter and become more of a headache to clear out come spring.
  2. You may till some dead leaves and compost into the soil to add nutrients over the winter. However, be careful not to have too much as you do not want to mat the surface. Tilling your soil in the fall can also expose any pest larvae to freeze in the winter. Finally, take a soil sample; fall is a great time to add lime or sulfur to adjust the soil pH for spring.
  3. If you have a mild enough winter, you may want to consider cover crops such as clover and rye grass (ask your local garden store for localized suggestions).
  4. Do not fertilize as this will wash away before your spring planting - save your money!
  5. Use time in the fall and winter to sketch out next years garden. Doing this early will help you decide if you should make any adjustments or amend soil in certain areas now.

Part II: The Landscape

• Looking for a little color around your house in fall? try some of these plants to add color to your home with their vibrant fall colors and blooms: American Cranberry Bush - Chrysanthemum - Burning Bush - Iris (re-blooming) - Kale - Pansies (click on each for more information) 

• Or perhaps you are considering your spring flowerbeds. These plants can be planted in the fall to make sure they are established for a spring awakening: Allium - Crocus - Daffodil - Hyacinth - Iris - Tulip (click on each for more information)

• Fall is also a great time to introduce new plants to your landscape. Many of your large plants such as trees and shrubs do best when planted in the spring or fall. Planting in the fall allows them milder temperatures to get established before the winter.

• Now is also a good time to relocate plants that may not be happy in their current location. Also, perennials such as Daylilies, Geraniums, Irises, Lambs Ears, and Peonies may be divided and spread in your landscape for a new bloom next year. Now is the time to clean up your landscape and prep your plants for the winter ahead.

  1. Water all your plants - it may be wet, but they will appreciate a good drink before the ground freezes.
  2. Cut away - cut back perennials and add to the compost bin. If you have any question about the health of the plant, discard the cuts instead. Also cut back any evergreens and shrubs; at this point you are mainly cutting out dead or diseased stems on the plant.
  3. Clear debris such as leaves and pine needles from the base of your plants. Crushed dried leaves can be used to make mulch or compost. Some gardeners may also use pine needles for mulch, however, pine needles can make a more acidic soil.
  4. Dig up the annuals - they have had their moment of glory, add them to your compost bin.
  5. Lawn care - continue to mow your lawn until it stops growing. Make sure to rake leaves to prevent molding and dead spots. You will also want to fertilize the lawn once in the early fall and again after it stops growing.

ONIONS

Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing.

Article Thumbnail Small

Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing. What is interesting is how these conditions are addressed in the various states. Some states allow Home Inspectors to identify and report on these issues if the inspector is properly certified/licensed. Meanwhile, other states (California is one) do not allow Home Inspectors to identify wood destroying organisms unless that inspector is also licensed as a Structural Pest Inspector, of which there are very few. But, if the inspector is properly licensed, then the reporting will be done on a report form mandated by the Structural Pest Control Board located in Sacramento, and the reporting process falls under a whole slew of regulations administered by the Structural Pest Control Board. In California, a Home Inspector can only mention a “wood pest” or “white growth” condition and note it in his or her report, and then, can only refer/defer to a licensed Structural Pest Inspector/Company for further details, proper identification of the wood pests involved, and, recommendations necessary to correct/repair the issues present.

This practice is unfortunate as that process breeds (in California anyway) a huge conflict of interest situation that revolves around the home sale/purchase activity. In California, the Structural Pest Companies perform the “termite” inspections (the term commonly used to describe a Structural Pest Inspection) for little or no money with the intent of getting their “foot in the door” to do the chemical treatments and repair jobs, which can be very expensive. So, lets peel off the first layer of the onion. The scenario goes: The inspector/company you call to make the inspection is the same person/company who provides you with a report that outlines the repairs and chemical treatments that he/she says are needed, which is the same person/company shoving a pen and a work contract into your hands to sign, which is the same person/company that sends out their repair crew to perform the work, which is the same person/company that “inspects” the completed work and then issues a Notice of Completion and certifies the property “free and clear.” I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, that is a big conflict of interest.

But wait, lets take it one more step further. Lets peel off the next layer of the onion. How about the fact that many of the “termite” companies pay their inspectors straight commission on WORK PERFORMED/COMPLETED! Might that smack of a little conflict of interest? How comfortable would you feel having your home inspected under those conditions? How objective and impartial do you feel the outcome of the “termite” report will be, knowing that the “termite” company/inspector lost money the moment the tailgate of the inspectors’ truck went through the shop gate on the way to the inspection and now they need to recoup?

Time to peel the next layer off of the onion (are your eyes watering yet?). Now lets throw the real estate agent into the mix. The agent calls the “termite” company for his client (purchaser) and orders the inspection. All fine and good unless this agent happens to be one of those who has a predetermined idea as to what the outcome of the inspection should be in order to close the deal quickly and with no hassles even though the inspection report may have no basis of reality as to the conditions present. This is why, on occasions too numerous to count, two inspections of the same home are worlds apart. The rule is: both/all reports of the same home should contain the same findings, but the recommendations to repair may differ as inspectors may have different methods to correct the conditions found. It is very disturbing when comparing two reports of the same home, that, the diagram, as well as the findings, are as if the two inspectors looked at two different homes. But, this occurs all too often because of the pressure applied by the agents by “black balling” inspectors that are perceived to be “deal busters” because they actually do their job and accurately report conditions present.

Please don’t feel that this discussion is saying that all real estate agents or termite inspectors/companies are “shady.” More are good than bad, but the questionable still exist and you need to be aware and "do your home work” so you don’t end up in a situation for which you didn’t bargain.

So, lets peel another layer off of that onion, but in a positive way this time. ALWAYS, I REPEAT, ALWAYS interview the real estate agent before engaging them. Just because the agent meets you at the door of the office doesn’t mean you are “stuck” with him/her. If the agent is the listing agent of the property, be especially wary. They will not legally be working for you or have your best interest at heart. That is where the questionable termite inspector/company may suddenly appear. You want to ask the hard questions and get the proper answers! You want to know names and phone numbers---- not of sellers, but of purchasers of property handled by the agent so you can find out how their (the purchaser) experience was. Of course, this is a good time to find out how satisfied they were with the pest work that was performed. You would be surprised by how many buyers are very unhappy with the quality/completeness of the pest repair work but don’t have the stamina to “fight the system.”

In closing, referrals from qualified sources are your best way to find the inspector and real estate agent that will best serve you. Remember, the ones charging the least are most likely the ones to give you the least. A home purchase is probably the single largest investment any of us will make in our lifetime, so don’t shortchange yourself by falling into the age-old trap of the “cheapest.” Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 43 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

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

Home Security

Keeping your family and possessions safe.

Article Thumbnail Small

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.

Pet Friendly Home

Making your Home and Yard Perfect for your Pet!

Article Thumbnail Small

For many, bringing a pet home is the same as bringing home new family. Pets easily find their way in our hearts with their playful antics and friendly companionship. When you first bring a new pet into your home it is imperative that you are willing to make some adjustments to your living space. This article is aimed at giving hints for all who have pets or will have pets in their home. Preparing your home and yard for your new pet is important to their well being and your ease of mind. The focus will be discussing animals that are out most of the time, like cats and dogs, that are more likely to get into some mischievous fun. However, many of these tips and hints will work for most of the four legged friends we bring into our home. Most of the tips will seem like common sense, however, when the new pet is roaming around it may slip our mind to check for common place hazards. Many times we take for granted that things are safe or wouldn't interest animals. However the puppy running down the hall with a roll of toilet paper would beg to differ!

So let's get your home and yard ready so it is safe for your pets (and also not a free going playground waiting for destruction and mayhem)!

Part I: Preparing Your Home

When bringing a new pet to the home the last thing anyone wants to think about is cleaning and proofing their home. However, taking a little time to do so will prevent headaches and possible heartaches. It will keep your pet, prized possessions and your sanity intact. This is true whether you are bringing home a new pet or adjusting an older one to a new home. Or, perhaps, you find your self in the unfortunate situation of losing possessions to a pet who has never had boundaries set up in your home. Whatever your reason, these tips will help proof your home for the new, old and mischievous pets in your life.

Think Below the Knees 
Get down on all fours and look around at the same level as your pet. There is a whole other world down at their viewpoint!

  • Think low! Remove objects on low shelves, coffee tables, and anywhere else that is easy access. Anything destructible, such as paper, books, anything made of cloth (i.e. laundry). It is much easier to 'chew train' a pet if they do not learn a bad habit of "where to look" for destructible goodies when you aren't looking.
  • Also think about food and snacks. Don't leave pop cans, candy wrappers, crumbs or anything else on a low counter. Leaving out these delicious tidbits can easily lead to "counter surfing".
  • Since kittens and ferrets may actually have the ability to walk on your counters, make certain to keep an eye on them when cooking. You may have food on the counter and the stove burners on - both can be dangerous. If you are a messy chef you may have a very happy kitty, but it could be dangerous if you don't keep an eye on them!
  • Speaking of food and snacks, make sure if you have smaller pets, like mice, that they are out of reach to your new puppy or kitten. Don't forget your fish - sometimes the idea that the aquarium is invincible can be tested.
  • Smokers - do not leave cigarette butts where pets may reach them. If eaten it can lead to nicotine poisoning and the filters aren't good on the digestive system.
  • Children's toys can be great fun for pets too! Make sure your kids realize they may loose their toy if it is left out and unattended. Also many toys may have small parts or can be easily broken into small parts by your pet which can be dangerous.
  • Overall keep you place picked up of daily messes. For example: Newspaper whether read or not is still fun to shred and eat. (Same goes for the mail!) Just got home from shopping? Put away the bags! Plastic bags can be either chewed and swallowed (pups) or can suffocate some pets accidentally (kittens & ferrets).
  • Sometimes pets will eat something that will require surgery to remove. Small objects to watch out for include rubber bands, balloons, beads, buttons, Q-tips, sewing needles, thread, staples, string, pantyhose and coins - to name a few!
  • Medication should never be left around the house. Make sure it is secure - just like with children!
  • Keep heating vents covered. Many pets love to snuggle up to these and you don't want your pet falling in.
  • Smaller pets like ferrets should be blocked off from holes and other hideaways - you don't want them to find a comfy spot and not come out! Also be certain to check under recliners before moving them as your pet may find it a nice place to hide out.
  • Plants should be moved to higher ground or blocked. Watch out for vine plants that your pet might grab and bring the whole thing down. * Some household plants are poisonous to pets. Here are a few: aloe vera, amaryllis, caladium, holly berries, lilies, mistletoe, mums, and poinsettias. For a complete listing check out the Poisonous Plants resource links.

Playtime!
Unless they are sleeping, or eating, they are playing!! Some tips to make this non-stop action fun and safe for both of you!

  • Keep an eye on your pet at play with certain toys. Some toys don't hold up to your pets hunting prowess and become shredded in no time. Toys with squeakers are fun but many pets will work hard to remove them if your not watching. Just keep in mind if you are in the other room, you may never see them devour their cut up prey! A solution would be have toys for when you can see them and more durable toys for when they are in the yard, other room, or you are not at home.
  • Also watch older toys. If they don't fall apart they may actually be warn into sharp edges, don't let your pet play with damaged toys, they can cut themselves easily. Look before you step when playing with all our small pets. Try this pattern "Turn, Look, Step"
  • Some small animals such as rabbits are chewers and it normal to give them various chew toys such as: Cardboard boxes, empty oatmeal containers, bird toys, cardboard paper towel rolls, things to shred. Try to keep them away from your wooden furniture - they love wood! Instead wood sticks are available at pet stores.

Road Blocks
If they can't reach it, they can't eat it, scratch it, or all out destroy it!

  • Don't forget the garbage! Take the garbage outside or make sure you can close it away in a closet/room where pets cannot reach it. Not only will they make a mess rifling through all the goodies they can also hurt themselves if there are any rough objects they rifle through.
  • Keep some rooms closed. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be certain rooms that pets may not visit unless supervised. One obvious choice would be the bathroom (remember that puppy running down the hall with toilet paper - cute - but after the 20th time said pup turns from cutie to lil'-demon). If you don't have a door to a particular area look into getting a child gate or blocking it off with other materials. If you have a mixture of pets you may not want them to be able to access certain areas of each others space. A prime example is keeping kitty litter from dogs, some seem to find the "deposits" tasty snacks. In this instance you can set up a roadblock for the dog that the cat can still easily climb over.
  • If your pet is especially good with its nose or paws you may want to get childproof latches. They will work well to keep them out of lower cabinets in your home.
  • Keep the lid down on the toilet, especially if you use strong cleaners. Small, curious pets may fall in and pets taking a drink can be poisoned by cleaners - some of them even contain anti-freeze!
  • Speaking of cleaners, here are some examples of cleaners that are really dangerous to your pets (to name a few!): ammonia, bleach, disinfectants, drain cleaner, oven cleaner, paint, rat/bug poison.
  • Keep electric cords out of reach or secure them to baseboards. When first home keep an eye on where your pet is at all times. Some may try chewing on the cords. You can deter this with a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple", a mix of vinegar and water, or hot sauce. Or even better, block access to them altogether.
  • Speaking of cords, watch those drapery cords as well. Tie them up so all your window treatments aren't pulled to the ground.
  • Many animals are attracted to fire. The light of a candle or the heat of a fireplace will peak their interest. Make sure candles are never left unattended. For the fireplace make sure Fluffy knows just how close they are allowed to get for a good snooze - warm is good, singed is bad.
  • Keep the upstairs windows and any cellar doors shut. Young pets are just like children with their curiosity but can easily misstep and fall.
  • Be careful when working in the garage. It is best to keep them out and make sure you clean up thoroughly! Such toxins like anti-freeze are very lethal to pets - a drop the size of a dime can be lethal! (You hear a lot about anti-freeze, not only is a small amount incredibly lethal, anti-freeze is also sweet smelling and tasting to pets - they will seek it out!!)
  • Watch our for open dresser drawers, closets and other nice dark places, kittens are especially curious and many are drawn to these make-shift dens. Have you heard about the kitten jumping in the dryer? Its not a urban legend, be alert and check before you shut the door.
  • Another warm place kittens like to snuggle is on a car engine. If your kitten has access to your car (or the neighborhood cat for that matter) it may help pound on the hood of your car and honk you horn. If you don't want to do this every day try to limit access to your car.
  • One of my favorite words of advice when watching out for the sleeping kitten: "Locate your kitten before you sit down on the sofa or use the recliner." (Of course, depending on your house rules, that may go for your other pets too!)

Table Manners
Don't feed table scraps to your pets. Many times people don't realize that some foods okay for us can be toxic or hard on the system for animals.

Some foods to be aware of: Alcohol, Chicken & Turkey Bones, Nutmeg, Apples (stems & seeds), Chocolate, Onion Apricots (seeds), Coffee (grinds & beans), Peaches (seeds),  Avocados, Dairy Products (large amounts), Pears, Baking Powder, Fatty Foods, Plums,  Baking Soda, Garlic, Potatoes (peelings & green,) Broccoli (large amounts, )Grapes, Raisins, Cherries (stems & seeds), Macadamia Nuts, Yeast, **Tobacco, although not a food, ingestion can be poisonous

Holiday Playground
The holidays are fun for everyone - including your pets!

  • Decorations should be up high or in rooms that pets have limited access.
  • Any holiday lights should be treated the same as other electrical cords. Get it out of the way or secured so your pets don't accidentally trip over them. Also keep a lookout and make sure they do not chew on them; again a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple" will work.
  • Other holiday items to keep from you pets include: metal ornament hooks, popcorn strands, tinsel, angel hair (it is spun glass), and decorative artificial snow or tree flocking - to name a few.
  • Don't forget that holiday plants like holly berries, mistletoe, and poinsettias are poisonous!
  • Fourth of July fireworks are fun for us but many pets find all the racket frightening. One suggestion is to have treats nearby and give them treats whenever there is "Boom!" so they associate the noise with happier things (mostly used for dogs). Another thing to keep in mind if you are leaving for the festivities, don't leave pets alone out in the backyard. They may panic and do things they normally wouldn't do like digging their way out!
  • Many holidays include house guests that are not familiar with your pet or household rules. After introducing your guest to your pet, make certain you let your guests know not to leave doors open, feed table scraps or any other important household rules. If there are a lot of guests you may want to arrange a quiet place for your pet to retreat.

Home Alone
What do they do when you leave the home? Preferably it doesn't involve eating the couch!

  • Before you leave for a long day at work it is important your pet is calm. For dogs a good walk in the morning may be necessary. For cats a little play time will help with bonus energy. Teach your pet tricks and have them perform for you before you head out. Our pets sleep more then we do and getting rid of morning energy will help them settle for a nap while your out earning money to spend on them.
  • If you have a really active breed you may want to look into a dog daycare or walking service for a couple days out of the week. Taking your dog to a pet daycare is like taking them to camp. They get to romp with other dogs and usually come home tired and ready for a good night sleep. Many find that a few days out of the week is enough to hold them over on the days in-between.
  • Crates can be lifesaver when you are gone. If you have pet that is still undergoing training and is not sure of all the rules, a crate or restricted room is a must.

Cautionary tale on the restricted room - we placed one of our pups in a room in our house as we went out to get a bite to eat. There was no furniture in the room except for her crate with her toys. When we came back she had climbed the crate and chewed the metal blinds on the window and also proceeded to dig up part of the carpet!

Part II: Preparing

Your yard is fun place for you and your pet to enjoy the outdoors. Maintaining your yard for your pet is relatively easy. There are some hazards that you will want to watch for and prevent. Not all of your pets may enjoy your yard to its fullest, some may stay in pens or restricted kennel/runs. The tips below address pets that have more freedom. These pets roam a fenced backyard or around the perimeter of your house (i.e. Dogs & Cats). In addition to proofing tips we offer some ideas about making your yard more enjoyable. Sometimes you may have a small space or areas you really don't want Fido to excavate. Read on for a checklist of ways to make your yard safe and entertaining for your pets.

Yard Maintenance
When maintaining your yard you want to keep your pets in mind.

  • When working on the yard keep pets indoors. Our dogs like to chase the lawnmower - bad idea - so they now watch from inside. Some pets may be just the opposite and try either to attack the mower or try to escape in a panic - equally bad idea. Besides the lawnmowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, and other loud tools should not be used when pets are around.
  • Be careful with other tools such as shovels, rakes, spades, etc. Some pets may try to "help" you do the yard work and can inadvertently be struck by these items.
  • Review the chemicals you use on your yard. Weed killers, bug killers/bait and other chemicals can be poisonous to your pets as well. Some you may still be able to use, however, you may need to let the yard sit for x amount of hours before letting your pets back out. Symptoms of poisoning usually include: vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes convulsions or unconsciousness.
  • Keep your yard clean of waste. Especially with puppies, they can get in the habit of eating their waste. Besides, you will both enjoy your yard much better if it is not covered in poo mines! For cats you should have an outdoor litter box. This will be easier to clean and prevent the cat from laying waste to your (or your neighbor's) flowerbeds.
  • Remove any ladders, tools or stacked piles (i.e. wood), etc. that young pets may try to climb or knock over. If you do keep the stacks in your yard, check that they are secure and cannot roll onto your pet. Consider carefully what you plant in your yard. Plants that can cause complications include: Rhododendron, Japanese Yew, Lilly of the Valley, Peach and Cherry Trees (pits) to name a few. See our links to Poisonous Plants for more details.
  • You may want to try to keep your yard clear of the bee family by getting rid of nests on your property. Your dog cannot escape bees flying through the yard, but cutting down their numbers may help. All dogs are naturally allergic to bee stings. Depending on the location of the sting they may have to visit the vet for medication. If it is on the mouth/head it can lead to swelling and difficulty breathing.

The Kingdom 
Your pets will make your yard into their own domain. Make sure their kingdom is safe and enjoyable. 

  • Check the fence of the yard for holes or gaps that may be an easy escape. Make sure your gates are locked and secured and guests and children know to do so as well.
  • It is best not to have any young pets around water unattended. If you have a pool or pond make sure to watch them around this area carefully. Some trainers even suggest teaching pets how to get out of the pool or pond early on, sort of a "Swimming 101" for the pet in case they get into trouble when your back is turned. If your pet does get into a pool, make sure they get a bath so none of the harsh chemicals can effect their skin and coat.
  • Most pets are sun lovers. If your pet likes to "sunbathe" keep an eye that they don't get too hot. Signs of heat exhaustion include: restlessness, panting excessively and drooling. The worst case scenario is the pet collapsing and eventually falling into a coma. To counter it, wrap them in a damp cool (not cold) towel and go to your vet or animal hospital. In hot weather keep plenty of water. Refresh and refill it often. If you keep food outside as well make sure it does not sit too long. The heat may cause it to spoil and flies may contaminate it.
  • Make sure you have shade in your yard. You may even want to add a structure such as a doghouse for your pup to rest
  • Ask your vet to recommend a flea & tick prevention plan right for your pet. Depending on how much your pet is outside, where it goes, etc. you may need more preventive tools. It is imperative you ask your vet as many medicinal solutions are measured by your pets size, weight, age, etc.
  • Your pet may like to make or find a burrow to rest in. Block off crawl spaces under sheds or decks. You don't want them to get trapped or hurt by any debris you cannot see underneath.

Ideas for your Pet Friendly
Yard Below are just a few ideas of things you may do to improve your yard for your pet.

  • Placing markers around your yard for your dog to potty on or for your cat to scratch on can help save some of your other trees. Start by blocking the trees you want to save and place toys or treats by the markers you want them to use. Eventually you can train you pet to have a habitual like for that particular log(s)!
  • Prepare digging spots for your pets. For your dog it can be a small area of dirt and sand where you keep toys to encourage him to be there. For cats you can have one container/pot with catnip or another enticement. By keeping them interested in their designated digging spot they will learn to have fun there and leave the rest of your yard alone (most of the time!).
  • If you don't want your dog in your flower bed try a wooden or stone fence. Some dogs will learn to stay out of the area due to the road block, however you may need to supplement the roadblocks with additional training.
  • Dogs are going to do their rounds around "their" territory. This will leave worn paths in the grass. You may want to lay a nice stone path on their route to beautify it.
  • Continuing with a dogs tendency to make paths, for smaller yards you can make a maze path for them. Using placing flowerbeds and other structures you can create a winding route for them for their territorial routine.

Conclusion

Pets are a wonderful addition to the family and home. Taking time to proof your house and yard will make both of your lives a lot easier. It may seem daunting at first that there are so many things to do for or keep away from your pets. However, after a while your pets will learn the house rules. You may even be able to reclaim certain areas of the house as your pet matures and understands not to destroy your things. For example, our dogs don't touch the laundry anymore and we can leave books on low shelves without them getting even a sniff of interest. You will find many of the hazards you watch for you will begin to do so naturally. Eventually you won't even realize your new habits. It is simply part of the lifestyle change that happens as it is always an adjustment to bring animals into our home. Just know that you can be pro-active, you'll have far fewer headaches in the long run and in the end you will have great company and lots of fun!

New Home Warranty

Make sure you fully understand terms and conditions.

Article Thumbnail Small

Q. About six months ago we bought a new home and the builder provided a one year home warranty. Recently we discovered a defect, but when we contacted the builder, he said that because we did not discover the defect during the final walk-through that it would not be covered under the warranty. Is this common practice?

A. No, this is definitely not common practice. Most builders will repair defects that are found at any time during the warranty period, provided that they are covered by the terms of the warranty, and are obviously the fault of the builder. Read your warranty contract carefully to see if you are indeed bound by the condition your builder is citing. He may be counting on the fact that you have not thoroughly read the contract. In any event, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney. When inspecting a new home, I always advise my clients to discuss the terms of the home warranty with the builder before closing, and to make sure that they fully understand those terms and conditions.