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Featured Articles

Got Attic Mold? How to Diagnose Common Sources.

It happens to countless homeowners around the end of the year – you make the annual visit to your attic to collect the holiday decorations and what do you find?

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Got Attic Mold? How to Diagnose Common Sources.
By Mark D. Tyrol, P.E./Battic Door Energy Conservation Products

It happens to countless homeowners around the end of the year – you make the annual visit to your attic to collect the holiday decorations and what do you find? Spots and blotches covering the bottom of the roof sheathing. Worse yet – it turns out to be attic mold! What does energy conservation have to do with mold in the attic? Well if you take a step back and consider how the house behaves as system, they are often directly related. Building science experts have long been using the “house as a system” approach to diagnose the cause and origin of building defects. For example, ice dams. These are often caused by warm air seeping into the attic which causes the snow and ice on the roof to melt. The water drains to the edge of the roof (which is colder than the rest of the roof because it is an overhang and not warmed by the attic), freezes and creates an ice dam. As this process is repeated daily, the ice dam grows larger. Eventually water is forced under a shingle where it can seep into the house. Understanding how the house behaves as a system and the various causes and effects is necessary to diagnose most building related problems. But how about that attic mold? How did it get there? Mold requires chronic moisture to form and to thrive, so source(s) of moisture must be present. Possibly the moisture came from outdoors. The roof is newer and a quick check of the roof shows no obvious damage or leaks. Possibly the moisture came from indoors. During the heating season, the interior of the house frequently has high moisture levels, especially bathrooms and kitchens. A quick check shows that all bathroom fans, kitchen vents, etc. are properly ducted completely outdoors and not into the attic. The amount of insulation looks good and the attic is well ventilated. Don’t give up – you are almost there! Remember the house as a system? You know that warm, moist air is in the house, but how is it getting into the attic? By air leaks! Air leaks are the leading source of energy loss in most houses, and a frequent source of chronic moisture that can cause attic mold. Most homeowners are well aware of air leaks around windows and doors (especially old ones), but many overlook the numerous gaps leading directly into the attic! Have a look around the attic and you may find large gaps around recessed lights and fans, holes where wires or pipes are installed, even large gaps around the chimney. And don’t overlook the whole house fan and especially the folding attic stair - a big, uninsulated hole in your ceiling that is often overlooked! These gaps can add up to a large hole that allows warm, moist air from the house to flow right into the cold attic. The warm moist air condenses on the cold roof sheathing, creating chronically damp conditions that can lead to attic mold growth. And the energy loss – it can be like leaving a window open all winter long! Seal these air leaks and you stop a significant moisture source. And just think of all the energy you can save and the cold drafts you can stop! Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover and a fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit www.batticdoor.com

Clothes dryer venting. Do’s and Don’ts

Many years ago when I was doing maintenance work for a large property management company, I got a call to look at a clothes dryer that was not working properly.

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Many years ago when I was doing maintenance work for a large property management company, I got a call to look at a clothes dryer that was not working properly. The tenant said that her clothes were just not getting dry no matter how long she ran the dryer. What I found was that the dryer lacked a lint screen, and the flexible vent hose under the house was sagging considerably and had been trapping moisture and lint for a very long time. The more moisture that became trapped in the hose, the more it sagged. The result was that the hose had become completely blocked by an oatmeal-like mixture of lint and moisture. No air could pass through this blockage, and the dryer could not do it’s job. In this case, replacement and proper routing of the vent hose solved the problem. When the proper flow of air is blocked, the clothes dryer has to work harder to dry your clothes, and this could lead to premature failure of the appliance, and in some cases could cause a fire. Whenever you have a home inspection, be sure to ask the inspector to look at the dryer vent hose, and it’s also a good idea to check it at least once a year.

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.

Interior Design

What to Look for in Interior Design Schools

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The interior design industry is growing and is expected to grow 17% by 2014.* Those interested in this career should have strengths in interpersonal communication and project management. Interior designers work on a regular basis with business and home owners, architects and various trades professionals from carpenters to electricians. Planning these projects will take good communication and the ability to plan around various schedules. Interior designers should also have an artistic and creative mind. Many times they will need to "think outside the box" to make a space work with both function and aesthetic design. Most interior designers work through the following steps: assess the needs of the client, make a plan for review, calculate the estimated cost, select materials to be used on the project, contact architects and other trade professionals if needed, set a timeline, and coordinate all materials and labor for the project thru to completion. It is quite a list, but many enjoy the challenge all the same. Does interior design sound like something you would enjoy? Then time to sign up for classes! This month we look at interior design schools, what to look for in the school and where they are located in your state. Perhaps it is time to begin that new career.

Part I: What to Look for in Interior Design Schools

The recommendation is that those interested in interior design get a postsecondary degree for most entry level positions. Besides a school education, many interior designers also do anywhere from 1-3 years of apprenticeship in the field. Gaining this "real-world" experience can be just as important as the school education. Therefore, consider schools that help prepare you for work inside and outside the classroom.

  • Here are some items you should consider when choosing an interior design school:
  • Take a look at class size and curriculum. The school should offer both theory and hands-on experience in labs, internships or other projects.
  • Set up an interview with faculty and/or students along with a visit to the school. Some schools may let you sit in on a beginning level class for the day to get a feel for the school's culture and program style.
  • Consider the area of interior design you want to specialize in when choosing a school. Some schools may have more experience or strengths in different specializations. Areas of specializations vary: Commercial Design, Residential Design, Hospitality Design, Healthcare Design, Green Design and so on.
  • Get to know the faculty members via online bios or in-person interviews. Does their experience and expertise fit in with the type of interior design you wish to pursue?
  • If required in your state, the school should help you prepare for the state interior design certification/competency exam.
  • Check to see if the school you selected did the voluntary accreditation with the Council for Interior Design Accreditation or the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
  • Find out what type of apprenticeships are available or if students must arrange their own outside "real-world" experience.
  • What kind of employment opportunities are available to graduates? The school should offer data about employment rates and a list of they types of employers their graduates work for.
  • Does the school offer continuing education classes that you may take after graduation? You may need access to these types of classes to learn about innovations in the field or keep an active professional certification or license in your state.

Useful Interior Design Sites

American Society of Interior Designers
www.asid.org
ASID is a community of people—designers, industry representatives, educators and students—committed to interior design. Through education, knowledge sharing, advocacy, community building and outreach, the Society strives to advance the interior design profession and, in the process, to demonstrate and celebrate the power of design to positively change people’s lives.

ASID: List of Registration Laws
Currently, 25 states and jurisdictions have licensing requirements for interior design practitioners. In many of these states, you cannot even call yourself an interior designer unless you meet or exceed a certain level of accredited education and in some cases pass the qualifying exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. Regulation of interior design practice continues to become increasingly wide spread.

Careers in Interior Design
This website has been created by professional organizations as a service to individuals pursuing a career in Interior Design.

Council for Interior Design Accreditation
ww.accredit-id.org
The Council for Interior Design Accreditation is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for interior design education programs at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Interior Design Educators Council, Inc.
www.idec.org
The Interior Design Educators Council, Inc. (IDEC) was founded in 1963 and is dedicated to the advancement of education and research in interior design. IDEC fosters exchange of information, improvement of educational standards, and development of the body of knowledge relative to the quality of life and human performance in the interior environment.

The Interior Design Society
www.interiordesignsociety.org
The Interior Design Society (IDS) was founded in 1973, and is the largest design organization exclusively dedicated to serving the residential interior design industry.

International Interior Design Association
www.iida.org
The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) is a professional networking and educational association of more than 10,000 Members in 8 specialty Forums, 9 Regions, and more than 30 Chapters around the world committed to enhancing the quality of life through excellence in interior design and advancing interior design through knowledge.

The Library of Congress: Architecture and Interior Design
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/gottscho/
The Gottscho-Schleisner Collection is comprised of over 29,000 images primarily of architectural subjects, including interiors and exteriors of homes, stores, offices, factories, historic buildings, and other structures.

US Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics
ww.bls.gov/oco/ocos293.htm
Statistics and review of the Interior Design profession.

Fogging of insulated windows.

Our home inspector reported that three windows in our 9 year old house had fogging insulated panes, and he suggested that we contact the builder or manufacturer for warranty information.

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Q Our home inspector reported that three windows in our 9 year old house had fogging insulated panes, and he suggested that we contact the builder or manufacturer for warranty information. We contacted the manufacturer who sent a man out, but he said that only two of the windows were fogged. When we called the inspector, he said that insulated windows will fog only under certain conditions, and that we look at the windows at the same time of day that they were inspected. Is our inspector a bit foggy in the head?

A It has been my experience that insulated window panes, when the seal is broken, will fog only under certain conditions. The two pieces of glass in a double-pane window have an inert gas between them which is held in place by a seal. This thin space of gas is what allows the windows to slow down the transmission of heat or cold. When this seal is compromised, ordinary air is allowed to enter, and moisture may condense on the inside surfaces of the glass. These types of windows are most likely to fog on a winter morning a short time after the sun hits them. The outside of the window has been cold overnight, and the inside has been warm. When the sun hits the cold outer glass, moisture condenses and the foggy appearance occurs. A few hours later, as the temperatures stabilize, the fog may disappear altogether. In this case, the inspector was correct to suggest that the windows be inspected under the same conditions. In the case of your 9 year old house, your windows may still be under warranty. The earlier versions of insulated windows were somewhat prone to failure, but technology has steadily improved, and today’s windows are much more reliable. Warranties have gotten much better as well, so it you have foggy windows, check with the manufacturer to see if you can have them replaced under warranty.

Home Appraisal

What to Expect & How to Prepare

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The Appraisal Foundation - USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) defines an appraisal as "The act or process of developing an opinion of value." This valuation is a determination of your property's market value - what it will likely sell for on the open market. So how is this "valuation" determined? Why does the idea of getting an "opinion of value" create so much apprehension about the process? What can you do to make your home appraise better, if anything?

What do you do if your home doesn't appraise well?
elow are commonly asked questions that hopefully will give some clarity about home appraisals. What is a home appraisal? A home appraisal is a survey of a home by a professional for their opinion of the property market value. In most cases an appraisal is done for a bank when a home is being approved for a loan for the home buyer. The home appraisal is a detailed report that looks at such items as the condition of the home, the neighborhood, what similar homes are selling for, and how quickly similar homes sell (to name a few). The appraisal may be a sales comparison or a cost/replacement opinion of value. There is also an income appraisal, but this is done primarily with commercial properties. The sales comparison will look at other properties in your neighborhood and what they are selling for and then figure how they compare to your home. With a cost/replacement opinion of value the appraiser is looking at what it would cost to replace the home if destroyed; this is more commonly used for new homes.
Important Note: An appraisal is not a home inspection! Appraisers only look for major concerns, they do not examine the home's full condition (i.e. examine the roof, appliances, etc.). For this reason a home inspection should still be requested by the home buyer before purchasing the home.

Who is an appraiser?
Appraisers are licensed by individual states and are held to strict ethical standards. Appraisers are the third party whose purpose is to give their opinion of the market value of a home. Ideally the appraiser should not be connected with anyone involved with the home transaction.

Who picks the appraiser?
When an offer is made on the house the appraiser will normally be determined by the lender. The lender may have their own appraiser or contract with an independent party. Sometimes the bank will allow the seller to choose an appraiser, but only when that appraiser is already well known to them.

Can the seller get their own appraisal done?
Yes. The home seller may commission their own appraisal before selling the property to determine cost. However, this will cost anywhere from $300-500 and the bank most likely will not accept this appraisal but request another to be done by their own contact.

If not by appraisal, how do I set the price for my home?
Home sellers can set the price of their home with the help of a REALTOR(r) using a comparative market analysis (CMA); the CMA is not a substitute for an appraisal but will give a good idea on setting an asking price (usually 5-10% more than the market price for your area).

How can you prepare your home for appraisal?
Prepare for your home appraisal like you would for a home sale. You are in essence re-selling your home. Make sure all the maintenance you can do is done; this includes clearing and trimming the yard to painting the house - hopefully most of this was already done for the sale and should at most need only a minor touch up. Be polite to the appraiser and give them full access to your home; work with them not against. Inform the appraiser of your home improvements. Let them know about the new windows, new floors, the finished basement, etc. And finally, don't be caught off guard. Do your homework! Know what similar homes are selling for in your neighborhood. This is something that should be done before setting your selling price. But in case your home has been on the market for a month or two, keep your research current. Let the appraiser know about similar homes and what they have sold for, especially if you know why a particular home that is like yours sold for less, let them know why your house is different.

What if the appraisal is low?
An appraisal that comes in lower then the asking price can jeopardize the loan and ultimately the sale. The lender will generally only loan up to 80% of the appraisers opinion of the home's value. The most common result is that the seller can lower their asking price. Or the seller and buyer can negotiate and meet at a price in-between. If the buyer still wants the home badly enough, they may put more money down; but this may still not guarantee their loan as the lender will still view it as negative equity. The final option is to dispute the appraisal. Before disputing with an appraisal, do your homework. Look at the homes in your community that have sold in the last 6 months and see what the differences are that may make your home more valuable. Perhaps there is a sale that the appraiser missed, perhaps other homes do not have the renovations and improvements you have done, perhaps the appraiser is not familiar with your type of home or neighborhood, etc. Building this case may be a good idea even before the appraisal. This will prevent you from getting rushed by the timeline after the appraisal is done. This is something you can ask for your REALTOR(r) to help with as they usually have a vast knowledge of your market area. Once you have the case, present it to the lender. They will likely get a new appraiser or request the same appraiser to reconsider it. If you do not want the same appraiser, make sure to specify this and ask for a second opinion.

What other aspects of the appraisal can hurt the loan?
By in far, the appraisers opinion of the home's value being lower than the asking price is the most detrimental. However, other factors may cause the lender to refuse the loan or require further contract negotiations. These concerns would result from property conditions that may require the home buyer to do more investing in the property to keep it valuable, such as upkeep on a private road. Your REALTOR(r) can help you with these types of objections and altering the contract to meet the lenders concerns.

The above is an introduction to answer some basic questions about the appraisal process. Please look at the links to the left for more detailed information. Now, if you are interested in what your home may be worth, check out Zillow for fun! This online program uses Google Maps to show what homes in your neighborhood are selling for or may be worth. Of course, I would suggest caution as the opinion of value given for most homes is rather high: http://zillow.com/ Happy appraising!