Skip to main content
home check map image

Search such categories as , , ,

searchPage

, ,

searchPage

, , , ,

searchPage
Featured Articles

Understanding Homeowners Insurance

Many of us obtain our homeowners insurance when we purchase our home.

Article Thumbnail Small

Many of us obtain our homeowners insurance when we purchase our home. After this initial purchase, we do not give this insurance another thought. It is not until the roof is damaged during a violent thunderstorm, a major appliance fails and floods our basement, or the neighbor's kid slips and fractures their wrist in our living room that we dust off the policy and ask ourselves, "Am I covered for this?" Don't wait until damage or an accident happens to discover what your insurance policy covers. Instead, you should have a good idea of what you are covered for and what is not included. Every year you should assess if your coverage should increase or if there is any optional coverage you may want to add. The purpose of this article is to point out some general characteristics of homeowners insurance and help in determining if you have the right coverage. Obviously this cannot substitute for a consultation with your insurance provider, but it will give you a better idea of what questions to ask. Image of home, crutches and turning road sign.

There are five popular topics concerning homeowners insurance that we will discuss below: types of damage covered, determining replacement cost, determining personal property value, understanding liability coverage, and ways to save money on your policy.

Homeowner insurance policies typically cover damages such as: fire and smoke damage, storm damage (i.e. lightening, wind, hail, ice and snow), water damage (other than flooding as this is separate), explosion, vandalism, theft (some companies are now offering an identity theft coverage option as well), civil unrest, and damage by aircraft and vehicles. You should discuss with your insurance provider any additional hazards you may face in your location such as earthquakes or floods. There may also be hazards you are not immediately aware of that could effect your insurance cost such as your neighborhood crime rate or if you own a Flood damage is not covered by homeowner insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between FEMA and isnurance companies that offers coverage. Click here for more.pet that is considered to be a high liability risk (i.e. certain breeds of dogs). Depending on the probability of need, you may be required to get additional coverage for these hazards by your insurance carrier and/or mortgage lender. To find out about special hazards in your area, talk with your insurance provider or contact your state insurance commissioner. If you run a home business, you will need to get separate insurance to cover business items such as computers and liability, i.e. if you run a daycare, your standard homeowners will not cover any accidents. Other items that are not covered by your homeowners insurance but may be covered by additional or alternate policies are: tenants, multiple family dwellings, land, theft by those covered in your insurance policy (i.e. recently separated spouses), and cars. Take a look at your policy and review your coverage. Consider how you use your home or where your home is located. Do you need additional or special coverage? This is a question you should review every year.

When choosing a policy, it is important that you consider the replacement cost of your home. The replacement cost is the amount it would take to replace your home. Replacement cost is not the same as the market value of your home as the market value includes the property it stands on and the current housing market. Because of this, it may not be equal to your outstanding mortgage. You can get estimates for replacement cost from appraisers, your local builder/craftsmen association or your insurance agent. Once you have determined how much your home replacement cost should be, you should review it and make any needed adjustments every Condos usually have a Master Policy that covers liability and property for common grounds. Individual policies then supplement personal property, liability and immediate structure.year. Most insurance companies will include an increase of coverage every year to match inflation. However, other items may also require you to adjust your replacement cost. Major remodels to your kitchen or bathroom or room additions can drastically effect the replacement cost of your home. If you use special materials or there is a housing boom making building materials scarce in your area, these too may affect your replacement cost. Another item that may effect your replacement cost is the change in building codes since when the house was built. Even with partial damage, it may be necessary to take the whole area/structure down to bring it up to code. If you own an older home, you should definitely discuss this with your agent. You may also get an extended replacement policy that will help you if your replacement coverage is below what you need. However, it is more economical if you take the time to review your policy and change your replacement cost coverage each year. Finally, keep in mind your policy should also include coverage for living expenses while the home is rebuilt or repaired. With the structure insured for major repairs, you can now consider your possessions.

Determining the personal property value depends on how much time the homeowner wants to invest in itemizing their property. Traditionally, most homeowners are covered at 50% of their home's value to cover personal property. Some pay a bit extra and get 75% of the homes value. Replacement costs like this cover like items, not necessarily the same make and model. You can also make an itemized actual cash value list that will cover items' actual cost minus depreciation. Many opt for percentage replacement coverage and then add a "floater" that will cover individual inventoried items. Major items should be inventoried with make, model, original cost, and documentation by picture or video. Items like jewelry and antiques should also have an appraisal. The documentation of these items should be kept in a secure location like a safe deposit box or a fireproof safe. Even if you opt for the general 50% coverage, you should have a list of your most valued possessions in case theft as this may help in tracking the items down (see more in our Home Security article).

Liability coverage protects you, your family, house guests and pets if they should accidentally hurt someone on your property or hurt someone or damage property elsewhere. On average, liability insurance usually covers up to $100,000 per incident. However, with lawyer and medical costs high these days, many homeowners also add an umbrella which allows for greater coverage at reasonable rates. Although most think of medical coverage as part of their liability coverage, it is actually categorized separate from liability because it pays for minor injuries that do not need to prove fault or negligence to be covered. An example would be someone twisting their ankle at your home. Liability is an important coverage that you will want to discuss with your agent.

Finally, there are a few things you may do to ease the cost of homeowners insurance. One way to lower your overall insurance cost is if you know you can take a higher deductible. If you can pay $500-1000 instead of $300 for each instance, this will lower your premium. Some decide to do this as the probability is that they will not claim or use the insurance very often. In addition to this, you may also pay your premium in larger and fewer payments. Another method to lower costs is to itemize your insurance to only the hazards you think most probable to happen. However, this option may not be available if you still owe a mortgage as the mortgage company may want more inclusive coverage. Also, you may check and see if there are any improvements you make to the home that may reduce your premium. Installing a home security system for example. Finally, combining policies with one carrier will also help you get lower premiums. If you combine your home, auto and life insurance policies, many companies will give you a preferred rate. Talk with your agent for further ways you may able to save money but maintain sound coverage on your home.

Conclusion
     There are a lot of options for your homeowner's insurance policy.  When setting up a policy, shop around and talk to different insurance companies to find one that works well with you.  Find out if they have a good reputation with the state insurance commissioner and consumer reports.  Find one that is fast, offers great service and handles claims fairly (you don't want to end up with a company that argues every claim).  Hopefully this overview has helped equip you with a better idea of the coverage you may need for your home.  You should have a better idea what to look for in a policy when you contact an agent to set up your homeowner's insurance.

More Resources

Household Checklist

There are a number of checklists available online; many are available from individual insurance providers. We found the following booklet from the University of Illinois to be the most comprehensive. www.ag.uiuc.edu/%7Evista/abstracts/ahouseinv.html

Household Papers/Records:
Taken from our earlier article about Home Security, here again is a checklist of important papers you should safeguard and how long you should keep 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.

Useful Links

National Association of Insurance Commissioners
www.naic.org FEMA: Homeowners and Renters www.fema.gov/individual/home.shtm

Bathroom Remodeling Homecheck

Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day.

Article Thumbnail Small

Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day. From a nice hot shower to an at home spa, the bathroom is an important room in every home and to our daily lives. However, it can be the room most overlooked when it comes to decoration and/or remodeling. It shouldn't be. According to Contractors.com, remodeling your bathroom can yield an 80-90% return in the value of your home. Adding a new bathroom can also easily give you a 90% return in the value of your home. Improving this room can, therefore, be a savvy investment in your property. But it can be more than just a wise investment. Updating your bathroom can make this at home retreat more inviting and invigorating. Take the time to make a bright, friendly room to jump start your busy work day, and a calm, peaceful room to help you wind down in your own do-it-yourself spa retreat. Below, we provide some hints and tips for your bathroom makeover. Whether just changing a few decorations or completing a major remodel, we hope you will find something beneficial for your bathroom remodeling project.

Part I: Decoration Makeover & Small Remodel - This decoration makeover includes simple, do-it-yourself solutions for a quick update. Many of these changes could be done in one to two days. Some of these remodel items may take longer.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any decoration makeover or remodel is to set out a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Both will help determine what you can do. You may need to consider doing the project in stages or altering your original ideas. Planning ahead will help make certain you do not end up with an unusable bathroom for weeks or even months!
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the toilet to the outdated wallpaper on the walls.
  • What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are you limited to painting the walls and changing hardware? If some of your ideas seem over your head, you may want to consider hiring a contractor, plumber or electrician. For more information about a major remodel projects, see below.
  • Finally, if you want a change but are drawing a blank with ideas, consider hiring an interior designer. Some people are hesitant about hiring an interior designer because they think they have to use them all the way through. But indeed you can work with them to make a project plan and project manage the remodel yourself. Or you can also hire them to follow the entire project from start to finish.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Changing a mirror to a medicine cabinet can help add space above your sink.
  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. There are many styles of cabinets available.
  • You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space. You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer an updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom. **You may wan to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Walls - Is the paint or old wallpaper making the room too dark, out of date, or showing damage or spots from mildew?

  • Determine your new color scheme or theme for the room before painting or wallpaper goes up.
  • Give a fresh coat of paint on the walls! Wash the walls down first and check for mildew. Any light mildew will need sanding and bleaching. Then clean the entire surface to be painted with TSP solution. Although a bit shiner, you may want to consider a satin or even semi-gloss paint as these will make your walls easier to clean and more resistant to constant cleaning. Just keep in mind, the more glossy paint will show imperfections in the wall itself.
  • If you decide to wallpaper a bathroom, keep in mind the moisture content of the room. Also consider how often you may be cleaning certain walls near a sink or bathtub.
  • Consider combining a new coat of paint with a wallpapered trim!

Lighting - Again, how bright is the space? Is it too dark or too bright and harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider two light switch options for the room: one to soft light for general use and the other to brighter light for applying makeup, etc.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when coming up with your redesign plan.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. Or you may want to add additional windows or change the style to bring in more natural light. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Does the window give enough privacy? You may want to consider updating blinds, curtains or frosting the window to provide more privacy to your bathroom.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one to the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.

Shower Curtain or Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing your shower curtain or door.

  • Replacing an older shower curtain is a cheap way to help update the decor of your bathroom.
  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.

Hardware - Changing out your old hardware can be one of the easiest updates to the bathroom.

  • Add a new towel rack or completely change the set to start a new color scheme with a brushed nickel, bronze etc.
  • You can add a spa feel to your bathroom by adding little upgrades like heated towel racks!

Faucet - Updating your sink faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out. If uncertain, take a class at a hardware store or hire a professional.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub can be a littler trickier. However, again a class or professional can help with this change.
  • If you have a showerhead, this can also be changed out to complete your new look and perhaps add a more spa like feel to the room.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Mirrors - A mirror is an essential item to every bathroom.

  • Consider updating your mirror if crackled or out of style.
  • How do you use your mirror? You may want to consider mirrors that hinge out to provide angles or depth when needed or one that offers different strengths of magnification.
  • Mirrors can also be decorative items! Mirrored sconces or tiles on the wall can help to give a dark corner light or a narrow space depth.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • You can refinish your own tub, but you will need a respirator, spray gun, sander, chemical cleaners and will need to also purchase an acrylic top coat. The actual refinishing product can be purchased as a kit. Keep in mind that there will be a 30-60 minute wait between about three coats of acrylic and a 24 hour set time. Needless to say, this will be a time consuming project that will take patience, clear ventilation, patience, time, and patience. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. This is a task you can do by yourself with some careful planning and a few extra helping hands. There are also many dealers offering liners and installation for reasonable rates. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Tiling - Does your tiling need replacing? If you have the time and skill, this can be a great update to any bathroom.

  • Again, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on a task of this magnitude. Consider a deep clean. Giving your tile a good clean can help breathe new life into them. Some also find it beneficial to selectively replace specific tiles and re-grout lines rather than replacing the whole wall.
  • Consider this option if you are on a tight budget.
  • Make arrangements to be without your bathtub for a while if you plan to retile this area. Although the tiles and grout may set at specific times, you may need longer to work it out if taking it on as a do-it-yourself project.
  • If tiling/retiling a floor, consider how you are going to move the toilet and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Be patient with any tiling project, take it slow as this is something that should last a long time.

Vinyl Flooring - If tile flooring is not for you, you may want to consider replacing your existing vinyl flooring with an updated vinyl.

  • As with tile flooring, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on this task.
  • Consider how you are going to move the toilet, and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Again, consider taking a class at a local hardware store or hiring a professional if uncomfortable with this kind of work.

Part II: Major Remodel - This makeover includes major structural changes and updates. You may be more likely to need professional help. Also, this type of remodel may include obtaining specific building permits from your city or county.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any major remodel is to create a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Planning ahead will prevent unforeseen expenses and help you obtain better estimates from professionals you may need to hire for the project.
  • You may need to get a building permit for some of your changes, especially if you are making major structural changes to the room.
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the plumbing to the sink fixtures. What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are there some aspects of this remodel that you are confident you can complete on your own? Perhaps you don't want to install the sink but have no problem putting in the tile backsplash. Mixing contracted work with do-it-yourself work can be a great way to save money if you have the time.
  • You may want to consult with an interior designer for a major remodel project. They could bring up considerations for the space you may not have thought about.
  • What kind of professional help will you need? Will you need a general contractor, electrician or plumber? Often times even a general contractor may hire out certain tasks (i.e. electrical work) under their supervision. If you know what tasks will need to be done then you will have a better idea of who will need to be hired on to help.

Hire a Contractor - With a major remodel you will very likely need professional help.

  • Interview several contractors and get estimates from each. Ask questions and be bold enough to ask why estimate are different - i.e. if they are using different materials, this is good to know in advance!
  • Many contractors will help obtain the necessary permits for your project. Check and see if any you are interviewing will help with this process. Avoid any contractors who say this or that permit, "isn't really needed."
  • Check to see if the contractor will be sub-contracting certain aspects of your project such as plumbing, electrical, tiling, etc.
  • Find out what they expect from you in getting sub-contractors access to work site, etc. For even more information, please see our article How to Hire a Contractor: Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project.

Permits - Many overhaul projects that effect the structure of your home will need permits from the city or county.

  • If you are removing or adding any walls this may be affected by local or state building codes.
  • You may not be aware of all the aspects in your project that may need a permit. Check with your contractor or if you are doing it alone, check with your local government for guidance.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. With a major remodel you may have the opportunity to include built-in wall cabinets/closets in your new bathroom. Otherwise, there are many styles of cabinets available. You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space.
  • You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer a updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom.

Walls - Do you have room to expand your space?

  • Taking down a wall to add space can do wonders for a small bathroom.
  • Think outside the box. Replace a dividing wall with glass blocks to allow more light throughout the bathroom. Insert small alcoves within the walls to add little retreats for mirrors, candles and other decorative items to make the space more inviting. Some redesigns are using tiles on the walls as a protective "wainscoting" design. Other designs include half walls to offer definition of space without enclosing it. The possibilities can be endless.

Lighting - How bright is the space? Is it too dark or too harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider getting an electrician to add light switches. Add one for soft, every day light and another for brighter, utilitarian light for applying makeup, etc.
  • With the help of an electrician you can add recessed lighting, track lighting, or other design lighting updates.

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when planning your redesign.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. You can add a special feature like stained or frosted glass. Or consider built in blinds for a combo of extra privacy and easy cleaning. You may also consider making the window larger or adding an additional window to the room.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one in the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.
  • Consider working with an electrician to get a more powerful fan with more options and better ability to clear moisture from the room.

Shower Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing to a shower door.

  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.
  • Another alternative to a shower door is using glass blocks or a tiled wall to separate the shower from the larger room. This adds a decorative feature and more light for the room overall.

Faucet - Updating your faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub and the showerhead can help complete a new look for you bathroom.
  • If remodeling an older home, a major remodel may be a good time to consider reviewing the pipes and improving water pressure and usage. There are many water saving devices available now that can still offer a good amount of water pressure.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • Refinishing your tub is an alternative to replacing or lining it. This process will need at least a 24 hour set time. This should be considered if working with more than one professional as work will have to be suspended as the acrylic is applied and sets.
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. Many companies offer the liner and installation for a reasonable cost.

Tiling - Finish your spa retreat with professional tiling.

A major remodel is a great time to get the bathtub, shower, floor and even walls all done at once.

If you want to keep the old tiling, consider this a time to get damaged tiles replaced and grout redone.

New Big Items - A major remodel may also include getting a new bathtub, toilet, sink or custom made shower.

  • If you are doing a different style design you may want to consider changing some or all of your big items.
  • If you are updating an older home, this would be a great time to get a more efficient toilet or better fixtures to aid with water pressure.
  • This is your own spa, maybe it is time to replace that old bathtub with a jetted one!
  • A custom built shower can offer a neat new design and multiple shower spray option for a more spa-like experience.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are considering a small or large remodel, the short list above makes it obvious the possibilities are endless. In both cases, make certain to plan ahead and really consider how you want your new bathroom to function and feel. Have fun, get carried away, and then look at what you can turn into a reality. Get help from the professionals whether it be an interior designer or a general contractor. Or get in your hours at your local home improvement store's classes and put your patience and creativity to the test. Either way, the best part of a bathroom remodel is that once it is done, you can reap your rewards by enjoying your mini spa retreat everyday!

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 7

This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

Article Thumbnail Small

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

Every Spring-Part B

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  • Inspect caulking and replace if deteriorating.

FLASHING:

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

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

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

LANDSCAPING:

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

ROOFS:

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

SIDING:

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

SPRINKLERS:

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

WATER WELL:

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

Pet Friendly Home by Homecheck

For many, welcoming a pet into the home is as joyous and significant as bringing home a new baby from the hospital.

Article Thumbnail Small

For many, welcoming a pet into the home is as joyous and significant as bringing home a new baby from the hospital. Pets easily find their way into our hearts with their playful antics and friendly companionship. When you decide you are ready for the responsibility of caring for a pet, it is imperative that you are willing to make adjustments to your living space. Preparing your home, pantry, and yard for your new pet is important to their well being and your ease of mind. This article offers pointers to those who are considering adopting a companion animal, or those who already have pets. Although the article focuses primarily on cats and dogs, many of the tips will work for most four legged friends. The tips may seem like common sense, but it may slip your mind to check for commonplace hazards when a new pet is underfoot exploring its' new surroundings. Many times we take for granted that things are safe or would be of no interest to animals. However, that adorable puppy running down the hall with toilet paper streaming behind him would beg to differ!

Part I: Preparing Your Home

When bringing a new pet 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, your 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 yourself in the unfortunate situation of losing possessions to a pet who has never had boundaries set up in the 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 verra, 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!)

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 Pantry

Your kitchen is not only the place where you prepare your family's meals and sometimes serve them, but it is also the most widely used area in the home chosen by pet owners to feed their pets. U.S. consumers spend more than $11 billion a year on cat and dog food, according to the Pet Food Institute. And pet food manufacturers compete for these dollars by trying to make their products stand out among the many types of dry, moist, and semi-moist foods available. Pet food packaging carries such descriptive words as "senior," "premium," "super-premium," "gourmet," and "natural." These terms, however, have no standard definition or regulatory meaning. But other terms do have specific meanings, and pet foods, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), must carry certain information on their labels. Consumers can be confident that their pets are eating a nutritionally sound food if they understand the full significance of these labels.

Pet Food Safety
When determining your pets diet, be sure to verify that all foods have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Food & Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine
http://www.fda.gov/cvm/default.html

Menu Foods Pet Food Recall
http://www.menufoods.com/recall/

Pet Food Recall Frequently Asked Questions
http://www.fda.gov/cvm/MenuFoodRecallFAQ.htm

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

Part III: Preparing Your Yard 

Your yard should be a fun and safe place for your pet to enjoy the outdoors, and maintaining it to prevent hazards is relatively easy. Although the outdoors may not be suitable for some pets, such as birds, mice, and rabbits, and those who stay in pens or restricted kennels/runs may not be able to enjoy your yard to its fullest extent, the tips below will address pets that have more freedom. These pets roam a fenced backyard or prowl around the perimeter of your house (i.e. small dogs & cats). 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. C
  • 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 prepare your home, pantry, and yard will make both of your lives a lot easier. It may seem like a daunting task at first, however, your pet will soon learn the house rules. You may even be able to reclaim certain areas of the house as your own once your pet matures and understands not to destroy your possessions. You, too, will learn a thing or two and will begin to naturally watch out for potential pet hazards. Eventually you won't even realize your new habits. It is simply part of the lifestyle change that happens when you adjust your life to accommodate animals in your home. Just remember to be pro-active, and you'll have far fewer headaches in the long run, with great company and lots of fun! Useful Links! | Adopt a Pet | Animal Care | Dangerous Foods | Find a Vet | | Pet Insurance | Poisonous Plants | Selecting Food | | Just for Fun | Adopt a Pet AdoptAPet.com www.adoptapet.com Millions of young, healthy, beautiful companion animals are euthanized needlessly each year because there are too many pets and not enough homes or people interested in providing food, water, shelter, medical care and LOVE to these animals. Use these resources to unite animals with loving homes. American Kennel Club www.akc.org The American Kennel Club, a not-for-profit organization established in 1884, maintains a purebred dog registry, sanctions dog events and promotes responsible dog ownership. Petfinder.com www.petfinder.org Search 193,550+ adoptable pets with our advanced search or our Quick Search. Locate shelters and rescue groups currently caring for adoptable pets. Browse our resource library and learn more about how to care for your pet. Post classified ads for lost or found pets, pets wanted, and pets needing homes. Sign up to be a volunteer to help your local shelter or rescue group. Animal Care Doctors Foster & Smith Pet Care www.drsfostersmith.com At Drs. Foster & Smith we care about the health & safety of your pet. That's why we've developed this resource for pet owners like you. Healthy Pet www.healthypet.com The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is an international association of more than 33,000 veterinary care providers who treat companion animals. Established in 1933, AAHA is well known among veterinarians and pet owners for its standards for hospitals and pet health care. PetEducation.com www.peteducation.com Fulfilling their commitment to provide pet owners with trustworthy pet care information, every Drs. Foster & Smith catalog contains up to 30 articles written by the doctors about the health and care of pets. Veterinary Partner www.veterinarypartner.com VeterinaryPartner.com is here to support your veterinarian and you in the care of your companion animals by providing reliable, up-to-date animal health information from the veterinarians and experts of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), the world's first and largest online veterinary database and community. Dangerous Foods PetEducation.com www.peteducation.com - Dogs, Cats Some foods which are edible for humans, and even other species of animals, can pose hazards for dogs because of their different metabolism. PetPlace.com http://petplace.netscape.com/ Americans spend over $10 billion dollars on pet food for our pets. Despite buying the best food available, some pets would rather eat what we eat. However, certain foods can be dangerous to your pet causing varying degrees of illness. Some food is toxic due to ingredients and some by improper cooking, storage or poor hygiene. Find a Vet Healthy Pet www.healthypet.com Use Healthypet's Hospital Locator to find a veterinary hospital near you or nearly anywhere you want to go! VetLocater http://vetlocator.petplace.com/ Access to over 26,000 veterinary clinics in the United States and 2,400 veterinary clinics in Canada. Pet Insurance Pet Assure www.petassure.com Pet Assure, headquartered in Lakewood, New Jersey, is the nation's premier pet health care organization with thousands of veterinarians in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Conceived in 1996, the company mandate is to enable pet owners to obtain quality care for their extended family members, at an affordable price. PetCare Pet Insurance www.petcareinsurance.com PetCare Pet Insurance Programs start at under $10/month. It's a small investment that will help you prepare for a secure and happy life for both you and your pet VPI Pet Insurance www.petinsurance.com From unexpected illnesses and accidents to routine care for your dog or cat, we recommend the VPI Superior Plan and Vaccination & Routine Care Coverage. For those who want minimum coverage we also offer the VPI Standard Plan. Poisonous Plants American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) http://www.aspca.org Please note that the information contained in our plant lists is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather a compilation of the most frequently encountered plants. For general information on plants not included on either list, please feel free to contact us at napcc@aspca.org. Cornell University www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/ This is a growing reference that includes plant images, pictures of affected animals and presentations concerning the botany, chemistry, toxicology, diagnosis and prevention of poisoning of animals by plants and other natural flora (fungi, etc.). Cyber Canine www.cybercanine.com/toxicplants.htm Here are some of the toxic plants you should keep away from your pets. If you suspect that your dog might have eaten any plant that might be toxic, contact his/her vet immediately. Many common house and garden plants can be toxic to animals if swallowed. The symptoms can be diarrhea, nausea, or skin allergies. Veterinary Medicine Library www.library.uiuc.edu/vex/toxic/intro.htm This database was created by Mitsuko Williams (Veterinary Medicine Librarian, 1983-2003) in order to assist the University of Illinois veterinary students in identifying common plants that are toxic to animals. This database brings together information available in library books, plants grown in the Poisonous Plant Garden, mounted specimens of plants, and the reference notes for a toxicology course (VB320) which is taught during the fall semester each year. Selecting Food Animal Protection Institute www.api4animals.org/689.htm Commercial pet food is a great convenience for busy caregivers. You want the best for your companion animals, but with a bewildering array of foods and claims to choose from, how do you decide what's best for your animals? US Drug & Food Administration www.fda.gov U.S. consumers spend more than $11 billion a year on cat and dog food, according to the Pet Food Institute. And pet food manufacturers compete for these dollars by trying to make their products stand out among the many types of dry, moist, and semi-moist foods available. Pet food packaging carries such descriptive words as "senior," "premium," "super-premium," "gourmet," and "natural." These terms, however, have no standard definition or regulatory meaning. But other terms do have specific meanings, and pet foods, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), must carry certain information on their labels. Consumers can be confident that their pets are eating a nutritionally sound food if they understand the full significance of these labels. Just for Fun Neopets www.neopets.com Neopets® is the greatest Virtual Pet Site on the Internet. With your help, we have built a community of over 70 million virtual pet owners across the world! Neopets has many things to offer including over 160 games, trading, auctions, greetings, messaging, and much much more. Best of all, it's completely FREE!

Bankruptcy Law 101

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write.

Article Thumbnail Small

As of December 2007, bankruptcy filings are up 28% from last year and are expected to increase in 2008 due to the combined factors of high household debt and rising mortgage costs. American Bankruptcy Institute

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write. The word 'bankruptcy' is weighed down by such doomsday words as failure, defeat, impoverishment...well, you're getting the depressing idea. However, it is not 'the end of the world' to declare bankruptcy. Instead of running away from this topic, it is time to demystify bankruptcy with a little 'Bankruptcy 101.'

What is bankruptcy?

For most people, bankruptcy is a way to get a fresh start after acquiring too much debt. Most individuals who file for bankruptcy will file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Depending on which is filed, one may get most of their debt erased or work out a workable solution with lenders to pay off existing debt.

Are bankruptcy laws determined by Federal or State government?

Bankruptcy laws are made by the Federal government. States can pass laws that protect the "lender and debtor relationship" but they cannot regulate how a bankruptcy is processed or if it is to be granted.

Can all debts be erased?

No. Whichever type of bankruptcy is filed, there are certain debts that cannot be erased at all. These include alimony, child support, most student loans and legal judgments against fraud or criminal negligence such as a drunk driving accident. Some taxes may be erased, but not all. In fact, taxes have their own set of bankruptcy rules.

Do I need a lawyer?

When filing for bankruptcy it is important to find a bankruptcy lawyer who can help you navigate the process. Bankruptcy lawyers specialize in this area of law and are familiar with the distinct differences and effects of the process; they can be your greatest ally in a tough, seemingly bureaucratic system.

How long will bankruptcy effect my credit?

Bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years. There are ways to improve your credit rating and make yourself more appealing to lenders. For more information on this, check out this useful website: www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com. It is not an easy road back and those filing for bankruptcy should have a realistic expectation to work hard at their future spending practices.

Do I have to do debt counseling?

Yes. Under the new bankruptcy act passed in October 2005, it is now required that all persons applying for bankruptcy meet with a government qualified debt counselor first. After one has successfully filed for bankruptcy, the debtor must again meet with a counselor before the bankruptcy file will be closed.

What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as a "liquidation of debt." A person can file for Chapter 7 every 8 years. This usually involves the liquidation of property to pay back debts. An appointed trustee sells all secured, non-exempt property for the debtor and distributes money raised among the lenders. Unsecured debts, such as credit card bills and most medical bills can be erased. This may mean the loss of secure debts such as a home. However, most states do have protections for debtors in place to insure they may keep life necessities such as clothing and some furniture. Retirement funds such as IRA's are also protected and debtors may keep these as well. After the changes to bankruptcy law in October 2005, many debtors may not get approved for Chapter 7 and be required instead to apply for Chapter 13. In short, if you still have an income and make more than the median for a household of your size in your state you may have to file for Chapter 13. To find out if you should be filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you can use a mean calculator like the one at legalconsumer.com. Again, this is where consulting a lawyer becomes very important.

What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as a "reorganization of debt" or the "wage earners' plan." One can file for Chapter 13 more often as long as any previous filings are already closed. This is the bankruptcy for those trying to a find a way to get out of debt but still expect to pay off some of their debt. Generally speaking, if you still have a source of income and could make payments, just not the high ones you have now, you can be restructured into a debt payment plan under Chapter 13. This is the most likely to be used to try to stop a mortgage foreclosure. In this scenario, you can keep the house, car and more than you could under Chapter 7. There are limits to the amount of debt that can be restructured. If one is above those limits they would file under Chapter 11, however, the average American Joe/Jane is not in this category.

More Resources
US Department of Justice - US Trustee Program
www.usdoj.gov/ust/
A complete listing of approved credit counseling agencies is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
A complete listing of approved providers of financial management instructional courses is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/de_approved.htm

American Bankruptcy Institute
www.abiworld.org
The American Bankruptcy Institute is the largest multi-disciplinary, non-partisan organization dedicated to research and education on matters related to insolvency. ABI was founded in 1982 to provide Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues.

Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005
www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-256

Bankruptcy Action
www.bankruptcyaction.com
The objective of this website is to provide the person, thinking about filing bankruptcy, the information he or she needs to make an informed decision.

Lawyers Listings
www.lawyerslistings.com/about.shtm
Our mission is to present to the Internet community an easy-to-use site in which to search for law firms and individual lawyers.

Life After Bankruptcy
www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com
On this website you'll discover everything I did to recover so quickly...and many other bankruptcy recovery and credit repair strategies you'll find nowhere else.

NOLO Bankruptcy Library
www.nolo.com
Nolo is your legal companion, empowering you and saving you money whenever the law touches your work, life or finances.

US Courts - Bankruptcy Basics
www.uscourts.gov/bankruptcycourts/bankruptcybasics.html 
Bankruptcy Basics provides basic information to debtors, creditors, court personnel, the media, and the general public on different aspects of the federal bankruptcy laws.

What can you do to prevent Bankruptcy?

  1. Continue to take care of essential bills first: mortgage/rent, taxes, child support, and utility bills.
  2. Eliminate frivolous expenditures. No more department store credit cards, cable TV, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, etc. Be honest about what you can live without with for a while. 
  3. If you own your home, consider a home equity loan to get rid of high rate debts such as credit cards.
  4. Watch your credit report. Close unused accounts, check for errors and resolve any questions with lenders immediately.
  5. Know the warning signs: -Are you using credit cards to pay off bills or credit cards? -Are you borrowing against unprotected debt? i.e. Are you borrowing from a credit card to pay the mortgage? When you see you are bouncing debt around and not making any headway, it is a good time to look at credit counseling.
  6. Warning about credit counseling: If you choose to do debt consolidation recognize that it will effect your credit score. Also, make sure you understand how the payments will work and if you can really make the payment - sometimes they are set too high!
  7. Avoid aggressive lenders. If you begin to get offers for loans that sound too good to be true - they are! There has been a big push to penalize aggressive lenders who only help people acquire more debt. However, they are still out there and you should be a careful shopper of any loans you take.

Decorating on a Budget

A few ideas for decorating without a lot of money.

Article Thumbnail Small

For some of us, there comes a point in our lives when we look around our dwelling and realize the college student look has to go. Others of us look around and see an eclectic mix of sad and worn hand-me-down furniture. And a few of us are just, well, bored with the décor we have had for the last five years.

To redecorate your home, you don't need to spend a whole lot of cash. Granted, a major remodel, such as a kitchen or bathroom, will be a whole different story (and an article to come later this year). However, any space in your home can be given a fresh look with easy do-it-yourself projects at minimal cost.

 

Décor Ideas for Any Room:

Use What Ya Got - Many times we become so accustomed to seeing things in the same place we don't consider their potential in another area or room of the home. Rearranging furniture and décor can give any space a new look.

  • Consider how you use the space first, do you find some rooms are used all the time and others hardly at all? Frequently used spaces can easily become cluttered. Perhaps there is something you can move to a less used space to bring new purpose to that area. Convert a scarcely used nook to a game table or move a small bookshelf and add a lamp next to that comfy chair no one ever seems to sit in. Think outside the "box" of your previous layout.
  • Similar to the point above, consider some of your larger pieces of furniture. Moving a piece out of the room into another may help free up space in one and redefine another.
  • What is the flow of your rooms? Do pathways from one doorway to the next make sense? Perhaps everyone seems to be ducking in front of the couch to get by the TV when there is room to move the couch away from the wall. Contrary to popular belief, the couch does not need to go against the wall!
  • Take established pieces and reinvent them. No, the modular sofa does not have to be one formal island in the center of the room. Break it up and add lights, or end tables to help recharge the room.
  • Besides furniture, consider what you have hanging on the wall as well. Do you have old paintings that no longer appeal to you or the space? Do you have new photos that you can't seem to find a place for? If you are rearranging furniture, take pictures off the wall first, you don't want to be boxed in with idea to leave wall space for this or that. Afterwards, look at the new blank walls and consider the possibilities. If you are not rearranging furniture, still take the pictures down. Leave them down for a couple days and come back to look at the room as fresh as possible - what do you really miss being up there, what would you like to add, or perhaps, do you prefer a more blank, uncluttered wall?

Color Me New - A splash of paint can go a long way! Repainting walls can be a lot of fun and the best part is that if you don't like it you can just paint over it! Of course today there are great programs at the do-it-yourself stores that help you customize colors and paint styles before you begin. And painting doesn't have to stop at the walls!

  • Repainting the ceiling can help to brighten a room considerably.
  • If you have old painted trim, you may want to consider splashing on a fresh coat of paint or changing the color altogether.
  • Painting old furniture can reinvent it and is something kids can get involved with if redecorating their own room.
  • There are paint sets out there to help repaint anything with a surface. You can give any end table, lamp or bookshelf a new antiqued look. For example, we had some white metal dining room chandeliers that clashed with our house, it was easy to dismantle them and paint them with a rusted look and this saved us buying chandeliers that would otherwise have cost $200 a piece! I admit, we did this with the thought that we would replace them "down the road," but since their makeover they have stopped being an eyesore and we have even received compliments on them - most didn't realize they were painted until we said something!

It's ALIVE! - Plants can do wonders for the home. Some believe that you should have a plant in every room. Large potted plants can help give life to blank corners or help set up the outline of a nice path throughout a room. Smaller potted plants can add color to the window or shelf. It must be admitted that although nice idea, not all of us have a green thumb and lack of light may doom some of our green friends from the beginning. Many of the silk plants these days look very real, however, they are not for everyone. Another alternative is fresh cut flowers. Get enough small vases and one bunch can be used throughout the home and greet you everywhere from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Instant Relatives - "Instant relatives" is a phrase my friend uses for the photos of people in the new frames you buy. If you bought a frame 6 months to a year ago and still have those "instant relatives" you don't know staring at you, then you have just found one of the easiest home décor projects! If you don’t have new frames, they are an inexpensive way to help any room. And remember, all the frames on one wall don't always have to match; sometimes the mix match look of your décor is what can give it personality! Once you have some frames you like, fill them with memories or art you enjoy having around you. Today it is easy to enlarge photographs and add effects to them. Enlarge one of your favorite photos of Scotland or collage your last family vacation. Fill the frames with photos of family, friends, vacation scenery, art prints, artwork by the kids, favorite postcards or cards, the list can be endless if you let your imagination run with it; make it fun!

Facelift Under $20 - Many times just adding a few small pieces can help a space. At many department stores you can find: candles, sconces, mirrors, frames, framed art, plaque art, photo holders, statues, ornate boxes, pillows, table runners, etc. Any of these smaller items can be combined to add a unique design to your space. Also, many department stores package themed art (southwest, modern, Victorian, African, etc.) to help you create the design for the space you want. These series often go on sale as one design set makes way for another, leaving you a chance to find some great decorations with a little planning and patience.

Oh Just Hang It! - The softness of fabric in a room can make a major mood change. Drapes are one of the easiest ways to change the look of a space. You can get drapes relatively cheap these days. I have both purchased and made my own drapes and consider it a draw. I was able to get better fabric quality when making my own, but the time and headache (I'm not a sewing expert) did cancel out some of the ease of just buying them. Others have been smarter than me and buy a fabric they want, simply seem the edges and then hang them freely over the curtain rods. Another consideration would be bamboo or roman blinds, some find these a more colorful and cheaper alternative to standard blinds.

Camouflage the Old - Covering up what you already have can be a great alternative to buying new furniture. Covers for sofas, tables and chairs can help you bring new colors and patterns into your room. Again, you can make these items yourself or purchase them in the store. Unless you a proficient with the sewing machine, it may be easier to purchase some of these items. Sometimes even cushions and pillows can help cover up worn spots or add color to a drab space. While we are covering things up, you may also consider to use rugs to cover up and change the pattern/color or old floors. Especially for older hard wood floors or pergo, this can be a great way to spiff up your room.

The Finer Details - Another detail that can be changed on a small scale but effect a room on a large scale is your hardware and fixtures. Changing the hardware on cabinets can reinvent your kitchen or bathroom. You can also replace fixtures such as light casings, towel holders, toiletry and soap holders, etc. Changing these items can help change the room from modern to antique or vice versa (just for example). Many department stores sell fixture sets that can be a quick and easy facelift to any bathroom.

Just Say No to Clutter - Finally, one of the most effective ways to redecorate your home is to get rid of clutter. This doesn't just mean picking up bits of paper. This can also mean getting items to help you organize. Many stores offer beautiful baskets, tins or other containers that can be used to organize your madness. Adding a bit of shelving, a chest, a large basket or an ottoman that opens up for storage are just a few ways you can change the look of the room and give yourself storage space. Changing a room from cluttered to organized can have a dramatic effect on the décor and overall feel of the space.

Conclusion

Redecorating your home on a low budget can include inventive use of what you already have to inexpensive updates to your room such as paints or wall hangings. Obviously we have only touched a few methods here. Hopefully this list helps you think outside the box and consider other ways you may utilize the spaces in your home. Still want to see more? Check out a few of our suggested links on the right. Happy decorating!

Further Reading

About.com

If you long for a beautiful home, you have come to the right place! Learn about home decorating, get tips for projects, find directions for how-to's, and advice from About Guide to Interior Decorating, Coral Nafie. Take a look!

Behr.com

Get interior design ideas from dozens of articles and hundreds of images.

BHG.com

Join us for truly inspiring decorating ideas, easy projects, step-by-step how-tos, practical home improvement tips, remodeling ideas, and home plans -- from Better Homes and Gardens family of magazines.

CountryLiving.com

Home decorating ideas, craft projects, home accents, renovation tips and more country style from Country Living magazine.

Do-It-Yourself.com

Decorating and painting is a key ingredient to a beautiful home. Before you begin decorating or re-decorating your home, learn more about painting techniques and preparation, selecting paint colors and finishes, decorating and designing trends, and interior décor, accents and furnishings. Home decorating has never been easier!

HGTV.com

Learn more about decorating and interior design ideas, projects and how-to from videos on Home & Garden Television.

KatieBrownHomeWorkshop.com

This is the official website for Katie Brown and the Katie Brown Workshop. It is the place to shop and buy Katie Brown books and provides information regarding lifestyle and domestic guru, Katie Brown and answers any questions you have about Katie Brown’s books, products, columns, Podcasts, or her televisions shows including the Katie Brown Workshop on Public Television.

MarthaStewart.com

Different ideas from her show and magazines.

RealSimple.com

Magazine and TV show about simplifying your life. Includes home solutions, meals, special features.