Understanding the Role of the Real Estate Agent

Not sure you need an agent to help with your real estate transaction? Here are seven ways they bring value you might be missing out on.

The road to homeownership can be bumpy, and it’s often filled with unexpected turns and detours. That’s why it makes sense to have a real estate pro help guide the way.

While real estate websites and mobile apps can help you identify houses you may be interested in, an experienced agent does much more, including:

1. Guide. Before you tour your first home, your agent will take time to learn more about your wants, needs, preferences, budget and motivation. A good real estate agent will help you narrow your search and identify your priorities.

2. Educate. You should expect your agent to provide data on the local home market and comparable sales. The home-buying process can be complicated. A good agent will explain the steps involved – in a manner that makes them understandable – and provide counsel along the way.

3. Network. An agent who is familiar with your target neighborhoods will often know about homes that are for sale – even before they’re officially listed. Experienced agents tend to know other agents in the area and have good working relationships with them; this can lead to smooth transactions. Your agent may also be able to refer you to trusted professionals including lenders, home inspectors and contractors.

4. Advocate. When you work with a buyer’s agent, their fiduciary responsibility is to you. That means you have an expert who is looking out for your best financial interests, an expert who’s contractually bound to do everything in their power to protect you. If you find yourself in a situation where the same agent represents both the buyer and seller, things can get trickier, advises Scottsdale, Arizona-based real estate agent Dru Bloomfield.

“A lot of people think they’ll get a lower price by going straight to the listing agent, but that’s always not true,” she says. “If I was representing both the buyer and seller, I’d be hard-pressed to take a low-ball offer to the seller. But, as a buyer’s agent I’d do it, because I have no emotional ties or fiduciary responsibility to the seller. Buyers should work with an agent who can fully represent them.”

5. Negotiate. Your agent will handle the details of the negotiation process, including the preparation of all necessary offer and counteroffer forms. Once your inspection is done, the agent can also help you negotiate for repairs. Even the most reasonable consumers can become distraught when battling over repair requests; an agent can do “the ask” without becoming overly emotional.

6. Manage minutia. The paperwork that goes along with a real estate transaction can be exhaustive. If you forget to initial a clause or check a box, all those documents will need to be resubmitted. A good real estate agent understands the associated deadlines and details and can help you navigate these complex documents.

7. Look out. Any number of pitfalls can kill a deal as it inches toward closing; perhaps the title of the house isn’t clear, the lender hasn’t met the financing deadline or the seller has failed to disclose a plumbing problem. An experienced real estate agent knows to watch for trouble before it’s too late, and can skillfully deal with challenges as they arise.

Professional real estate agents do so much more than drive clients around to look at homes. Find an agent you trust and with whom you feel comfortable working; you’re sure to benefit from their experience, knowledge of the local market and negotiation skills.

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Originally published July 21, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

6 Home-Shopping Red Flags Even an Inspector Could Miss

The home inspection should catch any deal breakers, right? Not so fast.

Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), has been inspecting homes for the past 20 years. But he says some home headaches simply don’t reveal themselves during a standard inspection — and some are outside an inspector’s scope.

“There are things homeowners think we can do, but we can’t,” he explained. “And honestly, most people don’t want to pay for [a specialist].”

To get the most value from your home inspection, it’s important to know a few things even professionals might miss.

1. Partially blocked or damaged sewer lines

Some house problems don’t show up overnight, and a partially blocked or damaged sewer line often falls in this camp.

“We’ll run water through the fixtures, but we’re there for a limited time,” Loden explained. “Two to four hours might not be long enough for the problem to reveal itself.”

Inspectors will likely determine the type of drain pipe used and estimate its age. They may also look for trees or stumps near the sewer pipe that could cause damage. However, sewer-pipe scoping (sending a camera down the line) isn’t typically included in a standard inspection.

2. Failing HVAC equipment

Similar to damaged sewer lines, HVAC equipment can be fine one day and stop working the next.

“If I check an air conditioner when temperatures are moderate, it can seem fine,” Loden explained. “But under stress, when temperatures shoot up, it can fail.”

Loden says inspectors can bring an HVAC contractor with them for the inspection, but typically it’s not worth the investment when you compare the cost of buying a new unit.

“It will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 [to hire a contractor] and could take two to three days to complete,” he said.

3. Cracked heat exchanger

An area where you may want to pay for an HVAC contractor: an old furnace.

“In my area in Alabama, we have a lot of package units [furnace/air conditioner combined] that sit outside. It’s not part of the standard inspection to examine the heat exchanger, but a lot of them develop cracks that can allow the indoor air to mix with combustion air that has carbon monoxide,” he explained. “You don’t want that in the house.”

Loden recommends having an HVAC contractor examine the heat exchanger if a furnace is more than 10 years old.

“If the HVAC contractor does find such a crack, by law they have to replace it before the furnace can be used again,” he said.

4. Electrical problems

Loden says the best way to think about a standard home inspection is a “visual inspection,” because when it comes to electrical issues, inspectors can’t always determine the problem’s source.

“If I find a receptacle that doesn’t have ground, I know it’s disconnected somewhere, but I don’t know where,” he said. “You’re going to have to have an electrician find the disconnect in the system.”

5. Structural issues

Is the roof sagging, or is it part of your new home’s architectural style? Luckily, a home inspector should be able to tell.

“All roofs — at least wood roofs — have some inconsistencies. A home inspector knows what’s normal and what’s not,” Loden said.

However, when it comes to identifying how bad a problem is or how much it’s going to cost to repair, an inspector isn’t the right person to ask.

“Because we’re not licensed structural engineers, we’ll refer homeowners to one,” Loden said.

6. Leaks

Leaks may not be there one day and show up the next. For this reason, inspectors might not initially detect them.

“A lot of times we go into vacated homes,” Loden explained. “With the plumbing system not being used on a daily basis, any leaks may have dried up. And it may take a couple days after the water is turned on for the leaks to make themselves visible.”

Loden recalls his own home inspection when it was pouring rain. “The roof was not leaking when I moved in, but six weeks later it was,” he said. “A home inspection is not a guarantee that the house won’t have problems in the future.”

He says that the best thing you can do is carefully check the drains in cabinets before and during your move.

“A lot of times homeowners place belongings under there. Sometimes they’ll pack them up after the inspection and bump the drain traps, causing them to start leaking. The same thing can happen when you move in.”

At the end of the day, the key is to take precautions and make sure you find a certified inspector who has been inspecting in your area for a long time.

“They learn where failures are likely to occur,” Loden said.

Top featured image from Shutterstock.

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Originally published September 5, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

How To Start Your Financial Life Midlife

For some, the realization that financial responsibility is important doesn’t kick in until midlife. You wake up one day, realize you’re in your 40s, and you have no idea where you’re going. It’s time to get started.

For others, a midlife calamity can completely reset the financial game. Issues like divorce, a career failure, a business failure or medical bankruptcy can put you in a position where you’re starting from a financial clean slate at midlife.

The most important thing to do is to never dwell on the past. Thinking about what could have been is not going to help you build a financial future. Keep your eyes on the present, as that’s where you can control your behavior, and on the future, because the future is what you can actually change.

Here are the key financial steps you should take if you’re starting from scratch financially at midlife.

In this article

Live lean, but smart

In terms of day-to-day spending, you need to live lean but smart. Spend time really reflecting on what spending is important to you and what isn’t, and cut the spending that isn’t important down to the bone.

One great way to do this is to go through your bank and credit card statements from the last few months. For each expense, ask yourself honestly whether this purchase was really worthwhile. Do you feel like it created lasting value? If you can’t even remember what the purchase was, or barely remember it, or it gives you no positive feelings, it’s something you should cut going forward.

Why is this so important? The less you spend, the more of your paycheck you’ll have left over to stabilize your financial future. With each passing month and year, stabilizing your future becomes more and more important, because there is a day in the future when you won’t be able to work or won’t have the desire to do so, and when that day arrives, you’re going to want to have the resources to step out of the workplace.

Find work

For many people in this situation, a good job isn’t a given. You may be changing careers or re-entering the workforce after a long break.

As you re-enter the workforce, you need to highly prioritize finding work and getting started. When you have 40 or 50 years until retirement, holding out for a better gig might make sense. When you have half that much time on the clock, finding a job is a lot more urgent.

While you may not have youth on your side, you do have life experience. You have many years of experience dealing with people, building relationships, and getting things done. Rely on that.

The biggest part of success at most entry-level positions is simply showing up and doing the work well with as little fuss as possible. Pay attention and be reliable and you’ll be in a position for raises and promotions, and most people at midlife already have tons of experience in those things.

If you need to jump into a fresh career path, find an entry-level job with lots of promotion and raise potential. Take any opportunity you get and run with it.

Get control over your debt

Starting your financial life at midlife is like starting a game halfway through. Every second counts, as you have ground to make up. Nowhere is this more true than with debt. The longer you allow debt to sit around, even if you make minimum payments on it, the more you’ll pay in the long run and the more years you’ll have to deal with payments. The truth is, if you’re starting your financial life over, you don’t have as many years as you once did. You have to face it now.

This is even more important with high interest debt. You need to address any debts with double-digit interest quickly and efficiently, because high interest debt will grow rapidly and stick around for a very long time, even with minimum payments.

What’s the plan? Make minimum payments on all of your debts each month, but make the biggest extra payment you can on your highest interest debt as long as that debt is over 10% annual interest. Keep repeating this until all of your high interest debts are paid off. This is a simple debt repayment plan.

Build an emergency fund

When a financial emergency strikes a younger person, it can be difficult to overcome, but they have time. If an emergency causes them to rack up debt, they have a lot of years to deal with it. For people restarting at midlife, time is of the essence. You can’t afford to get into debt.

The most effective way of avoiding high interest debt is to have an emergency fund, which is simply a pool of cash set aside for emergencies. The easiest way to do it is to open a savings account at a new bank, then set up an automatic small weekly transfer from your checking account. Then, forget about that savings account entirely until an emergency happens, at which point you tap the savings to take care of it. Here’s a thorough guide to emergency funds if you need more details.

Remember, an emergency fund’s main benefit is to keep you from going into high interest debt, so the “credit card” plan isn’t a good one. That just generates high interest debt, which you then have to pay off, and there are many emergencies that a credit card won’t handle anyway.

Save for retirement, but aim a little later

Many retirement guides assume that you’re going to retire at 65. If you’re starting over at midlife, you should really slide that age back to 70 for a few reasons. One, it gives you five more years to accumulate savings. Two, it gives you five more years for compound interest to work in your favor. Three, it maximizes your Social Security and other retirement benefits. Plus, if you’re midlife without much in the way of retirement savings, you’ll have to save a lot each year to retire well on time.

At age 40, you still have 30 years to go before hitting 70. You still have plenty of years to invest aggressively without really risking the money you’re going to have to live on. A good simple rule to follow is to be very careful with any money you’ll need to live on in the next 10 years and very aggressive with any other savings. At age 40, you won’t be at a point where you need any of that money for 20 years, so you can be super aggressive with your investments until age 60. That’s a lot of years for growth.

If you’re not sure how to get started with retirement savings, our retirement guide can help. In short, if your workplace offers a retirement plan, jump on it, particularly if they match your contributions. You should sign up and contribute as much as you possibly can. If your workplace doesn’t offer a retirement plan, you should sign up for a Roth IRA if you’re a relatively low income earner, or a traditional IRA if you’re a higher income earner and contribute straight from your checking account.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Source: thesimpledollar.com

The Hidden Costs of Moving: 11 Extra Fees to Watch For

While some extra services are optional, other charges are out of your control. Know what to expect when you get the final bill.

Besides shipping your household items, most moving companies offer additional services for an extra charge. But it’s not always a matter of choice. Often, the circumstances of your move will necessitate a specific service, such as carrying your belongings upstairs if you move to a building without an elevator.

Each moving company specifies the extra services it offers and sets the rates. While shopping around for movers, see which companies offer additional services that meet your needs and budget. When you receive a moving estimate, make sure it includes all the requested services, and double-check the conditions and charges before making any decisions.

Packing and unpacking

Packing is not only the most time-consuming task in the relocation process but also one of the most crucial aspects of the moving preparations. If you don’t wrap and pack your cherished possessions properly, you risk damaging them during transit.

If you can’t dedicate enough time, or if you just don’t have proper packing and padding materials, find a moving company that will pack for you. The movers will complete the task quickly and efficiently, and they’ll be liable for any damage.

For delicate pieces of art or other valuable and oddly shaped possessions, consider investing in crating — a packing service that places your items in custom-built wooden crates or cardboard boxes cut apart and form-fitted around each piece for better protection.

Unpacking services are available upon request at an additional fee, usually calculated on an hourly basis. If you want the moving company to collect the packing materials and dispose of them, you will pay a disposal fee as well.

Furniture disassembly and reassembly

Your movers can dismantle your larger furniture, but you’ll have to pay for the service. However, if you aren’t sure how to properly disassemble a valuable piece, don’t risk ruining it while trying to separate the detachable parts. Your movers will have the required equipment and knowledge to do it without damaging anything.

Once you reach your final destination, the movers can reassemble the furniture. You’ll have to pay for the service, of course, but it will allow you to jump in and start unpacking.

Handling special items

Movers are not responsible for disconnecting or connecting electrical appliances. If you want them to take your devices to their rightful places and set them up, you’ll have to pay an extra appliance servicing fee.

And many movers charge an extra fee if they need to handle extremely heavy and bulky items that require special packing and treatment, such as pianos, hot tubs, safes and pool tables.

Long carry

If the movers must park more than 50 to 75 feet from your new home’s entrance, the movers are not required to take the shipment inside unless you pay an extra fee. They will just unload the truck and leave, and you’ll have to find a way to move it all inside.

If you want the moving crew to perform this service for you, you’ll have to pay an additional long-carry fee, which is based on the distance the movers need to carry your shipment from the moving truck to the residence.

To avoid this extra fee, reserve a parking space directly in front of your new property for the delivery’s duration.

Climbing stairs

Many movers assess an additional flight charge for taking your household items up the stairs. The cost is calculated either per step or per flight of stairs.

An elevator will partially solve the problem, but movers usually charge an extra fee if they have to wait for it. So, if possible, reserve an elevator in the building for the time when your belongings will be unloaded from the truck and moved to your new place.

Lowering or hoisting (rigging)

If your furniture doesn’t fit through the doors or along narrow staircases and hallways, your movers may set up a rope-and-pulley system to take it through a window. This service comes at an additional price, and it’s only offered if the moving company has the specific equipment and skills required to perform it safely.

Exclusive use of the moving vehicle

Your household items may be loaded on the same truck with a couple of other shipments transported along the same route — especially when you’re moving across the country. Consolidating shipments helps moving companies deliver goods more efficiently and keep your final moving costs down.

However, you may have to wait longer to receive your items, and there will be no guaranteed delivery day. If you don’t want your household goods to be consolidated with other shipments, you may need to pay for the exclusive use of the moving truck.

Shuttle services

If a larger moving truck cannot access your property due to its size, the movers may use smaller vehicles to transport your items — but you’ll be charged extra for the service.

Split pickup and delivery

If your items must be picked up from several different locations, or if you need some of your belongings delivered at your final destination and others someplace else (such as a storage unit or temporary housing), you’ll have to pay an additional fee for split pickup or delivery services.

Waiting time and re-delivery

If you can’t meet the moving truck at your new property on the agreed date, the movers may charge a fee for waiting, or they may store your belongings at your expense.

Storage and warehouse handling

Storage-in-transit may be required if unexpected problems arise. The moving company will charge an extra fee, and the longer your belongings stay in storage, the more you will have to pay.

Remember that any specialty services provided by third-party companies are not included in the standard relocation services, so they’ll incur additional charges.

Additional services and their rates vary from one company to the next. Research all your options carefully, and make sure all the services you request and the charges your movers require are explicitly set in the mover’s paperwork.

All photos from Offset.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published June 12, 2015.

Source: zillow.com

Understanding Fee Simple vs Leasehold Ownership

Leasehold ownership only applies in a few states, but if you’re buying property in one of them, you’ll want to read this.

Most people only know of one type of real estate ownership: fee simple, also known as freehold. But a handful of states have another form of ownership, known as leasehold.
The difference in these two types of land tenure is very different and affects the value of the real estate.  It is important to know the difference, especially if you’re buying real estate in a leasehold state (i.e., Hawaii, New York, Florida).

What is the difference between leasehold and fee simple?

  • Fee simple ownership. Fee simple ownership is probably the form of ownership most residential real estate buyers are familiar with. Depending on where you are from, you may not know of any other way to own real estate. Fee simple is sometimes called fee simple absolute because it is the most complete form of ownership.  A fee simple buyer is given title (ownership) of the property, which includes the land and any improvements to the land in perpetuity. Aside from a few exceptions, no one can legally take that real estate from an owner with fee simple title. The fee simple owner has the right to possess, use the land and dispose of the land as he wishes — sell it, give it away, trade it for other things, lease it to others, or pass it to others upon death.
  • Leasehold ownership. A leasehold interest is created when a fee simple land-owner (Lessor) enters into an agreement or contract called a ground lease with a person or entity (Lessee). A Lessee gives compensation to the Lessor for the rights of use and enjoyment of the land much as one buys fee simple rights; however, the leasehold interest differs from the fee simple interest in several important respects. First, the buyer of leasehold real estate does not own the land; they only have a right to use the land for a pre-determined amount of time. Second, if leasehold real estate is transferred to a new owner, use of the land is limited to the remaining years covered by the original lease. At the end of the pre-determined period, the land reverts back to the Lessor, and is called reversion. Depending on the provisions of any surrender clause in the lease, the buildings and other improvements on the land may also revert to the lessor. Finally, the use, maintenance, and alteration of the leased premises are subject to any restrictions contained in the lease.

Important leasehold terms to know:

  • Lease Term – The length of the lease period (usually 55 years or more)
  • Lease Rent – The amount of rent paid to the Lessor for use of the land
  • Fixed Period – The period in which the lease rent amount is fixed
  • Renegotiation Date – Date after the fixed period that the lease rent is renegotiated
  • Expiration Date – The date that the lease ends
  • Reversion – The act of giving back the property to the Lessor
  • Surrender – Terms of the reversion
  • Leased Fee Interest – An amount a Lessor will accept to convey fee simple ownership

Related:

Source: zillow.com

Bodnar of MMG: Heightened Inflation Fears Fading

PMG360 is committed to protecting the privacy of the personal data we collect from our subscribers/agents/customers/exhibitors and sponsors. On May 25th, the European’s GDPR policy will be enforced. Nothing is changing about your current settings or how your information is processed, however, we have made a few changes. We have updated our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy to make it easier for you to understand what information we collect, how and why we collect it.

Source: themortgageleader.com

10 Money Books for Children and Teens

Reading is one of the most valuable skills children learn. Not only does reading enable us to navigate the modern world, it provides an endless source of learning and entertainment.

I am incredibly thankful that all of my children are avid readers who love nothing more than to have a fresh new book in their hands, but over the years, I’ve learned that you can’t just toss any book at them and expect them to read it. They’re engaged by compelling stories and by things that match up well with their interests in the moment. They’re not immediately going to gravitate to a book about money unless it speaks to them in some way.

Why worry about it at all? The reality is that financial education is a big part of modern parenting. Many schools provide very little in terms of practical financial education, leaving it up to parents to prepare their children for this aspect of adult life, and it can be a real challenge.

There’s an abundance of great financial books for adults, but it’s harder to find great options for children that really hit the sweet spot of being age-relevant and interesting to them. Here are 10 options that manage to balance these two goals.

In this article

The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money by Stan and Jan Berenstain is a wonderful picture book for read aloud time or for early independent readers. It tells a relatable story from the perspective of the two younger Berenstain Bears about the challenge of having limited amounts of money. Children are going to be familiar with the idea of not having enough money to buy the things that they want, but what do they do in that situation? This book handles it with care.

Another good financially minded book choice for preschool children is Curious George Saves His Pennies by H.A. Rey. It focuses on the challenge of having enough patience to save for a large goal without getting distracted, balanced with George’s colorful adventures and distractions.

Brock, Rock, and the Savings Shock by Sheila Bair and Barry Gott takes the idea of compound interest and makes it into an accessible children’s book with a lot of clever rhyming and beautiful illustrations. The book focuses on twin brothers, one of whom chooses to spend on momentary impulses while the other saves his money, leading to the end when the saving brother has a lot of money built up thanks to the compounding.

Another great choice for early elementary children is The Squirrel Manifesto by Ric and Jean Edelman and illustrated by Dave Zaboski. It’s a beautifully illustrated book that brings to mind the fable of the grasshopper and the ant, focusing on a parable involving a squirrel saving resources for the winter to come.

For upper elementary kids: Lunch Money

Lunch Money by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Brian Selznick tells a great story of a rivalry between two entrepreneurially minded children, but within the rollicking tale comes a lot of good ideas about working to earn money, the value of cooperation, investing in yourself, and putting aside money for the long haul. These ideas are really effortlessly weaved into the story.

An alternative choice is How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000 by James McKenna, Jeannine Glista and Matt Fontaine. While this isn’t story-oriented like many of the other selections here, the provocative title and the perfect approach for older elementary-age children who are beginning to have somewhat more expensive tastes make this a great choice for adolescents.

Money Hungry by Sharon Flake tells a very memorable story about a 13-year-old girl who seems obsessed with money, finding all sorts of ways to earn a dollar here and a dollar there. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that she’s driven by a fear of poverty and some painful memories of not having enough when she was younger. This book has spurned some wonderful conversations in our home about money, needs and how different people see those things differently.

Another really great option for middle schoolers is Katie Bell and the Wishing Well by Nephi and Elizabeth Zufelt, which takes something of an opposite approach to Money Hungry. Here, the titular character finds all of her financial wishes easily granted, but finds that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and that much of what we think of as a wealthy life comes from other things, like relationships.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen is a beautiful story about a teenager with a summer job who is using that opportunity to both earn money and escape from some difficult life issues, particularly the death of a parent. The book intertwines money issues with the multitude of concerns and difficulties teens often face, resulting in a wonderful story with a great conclusion.

A completely different type of financial book that might just click with your high schooler is I Want More Pizza by Steve Burkholder and editors Rebecca Maizel and David Aretha. This is a nonfiction book, but it’s extremely applicable to and targets almost perfectly the financial concerns of high schoolers. Should they get a job? Should they be saving for college or for a car? It does a great job of addressing the exact questions I often hear from the high schooler in my home.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Source: thesimpledollar.com

What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Contractors

When you’re building or renovating a home, having the right team on your side makes all the difference.

Building or renovating a home is a complex project with plenty of moving parts. Even if you’re planning to take a DIY approach, it’s likely you’ll need some help from contractors along the way. Here’s a guide to the types of contractors you might enlist to help you complete your dream home.

General contractors

If you think of a general contractor like a general in the military, you have the basic idea of what a general contractor does. Like a general leading a military campaign, a general contractor organizes the strategy of a building or remodeling project. The general contractor decides when to bring in the plumbers, electricians, and roofers; makes sure they do their jobs correctly; and checks details, like ensuring that the carpenters install the porch handrails according to code.

Especially if there is no architect involved, the general contractor ensures that the building permits are in order and that the project is legal — meaning that it is being done to city or country building codes. (If it isn’t, your city’s building inspectors will make you redo it. Ouch!) Like a military general who is ultimately responsible for the success of a campaign, the general contractor is responsible for the outcome of remodeling project.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are specialists who work under the direction of the general contractor. Subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, tile setters, carpenters, framers, roofers, painters and cabinetmakers, among others.

Ideally, they show up at your construction or remodeling project when they are needed. If the subcontractors are reliable and efficient, the pace of your project continues to move steadily along, and it is finished when it is supposed to be. If all that happens, it is usually because a good general contractor has been overseeing their work.

Owner as general contractor

Homeowners who are skilled at organizing multimillion-dollar sales campaigns at their office or at running three local volunteer organizations in their spare time sometimes like to act as their own general contractors. There is no law that says you can’t. As a rule of thumb, general contractors charge about 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job, so acting as your own general contractor can save money.

But before you leap into the general contractor role, consider whether you really have the time, expertise, and patience to run a remodeling project, especially a complicated one. How much time can you spend on site? Can you take phone calls at unexpected times of the day?

The one thing you can count on with any remodel is that something will go wrong at some point. It may not be a big deal, but it will mean making new arrangements, often on short notice, and rearranging schedules for subcontractors and suppliers.

This could mean dozens of phone calls in a single afternoon. It could mean running around hunting down some piece of hardware or building material that is needed on site right now. If this sounds like fun, you may have what it takes to act as your own general contractor.

Design/build firms

An alternative to hiring a general contractor or acting as your own is to hire a design/build firm. Design/build firms are companies that offer start-to-finish building and remodeling services. They employ architects or designers as well as the skilled builders.

A design/build firm essentially offers the services of architect, general contractor, and subcontractors. The obvious advantage to using these firms is that the entire project should be a fairly smooth operation, since the firm takes responsibility for everything.

While general contractors, subs, and independent architects can, in the worst scenarios, blame each other for mishaps and toss the responsibility for correcting the mishaps back and forth, design/build firms know the buck stops with them. They have to make it right.

Carpenters

If your home improvement project really is as straightforward as installing a wall of built-in bookshelves in your living room, your best bet is probably to find a good carpenter or cabinetmaker.

People who bill themselves as handymen may be fine at installing new light switches or doing minor carpentry, but, as always, ask to see some of their work. If you want your new bookshelves to look like elegant additions to your living room, find an expert in cabinetry.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

Fintech Startup Plaid Launches Income Verification Tool

PMG360 is committed to protecting the privacy of the personal data we collect from our subscribers/agents/customers/exhibitors and sponsors. On May 25th, the European’s GDPR policy will be enforced. Nothing is changing about your current settings or how your information is processed, however, we have made a few changes. We have updated our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy to make it easier for you to understand what information we collect, how and why we collect it.

Source: themortgageleader.com

Keeping Pets Safe Around Plants

Many plants represent a threat to Fido and Fluffy. Protect them with these tips from our gardening expert.

Gardens are wonderful places for pets. They provide entertainment, room to exercise and cool shade in the afternoon. However, many of the most common and seemingly innocuous garden plants are also poisonous to your furry friends.

The apples and oranges we humans enjoy, almost all flowering bulbs and some of the most popular houseplants all share one thing in common: They are dangerously toxic to cats and dogs.

toxic combo
Irises, bottlebrush and daylilies all pose a threat to pets.

Plants ranked ninth on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA’s) list of top pet toxins in 2017. Roughly 5 percent of calls made to the organization’s Animal Poison Control Center involved landscaping plants, houseplants and bouquets.

Before we even cover the poisonous plants, let’s focus on the biggest dangers. Insecticides ranked seventh on the ASPCA list, and lawn and garden products came in 10th. Keep all chemicals out of reach, and if you’re getting your lawn sprayed, allow at least a day before letting your pet on the grass.

Problem plants for pets

Many plants are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to pets, but luckily there are many more that are completely safe. Here are some toxic plants to avoid, followed by safe alternatives. This list is just an introduction and is by no means exhaustive, so refer to the ASPCA website to search for the plant in question.

Plant type Toxic Nontoxic
Bulbs Caladium, calla lily, tulip, daffodil, iris, narcissus, crinum, amaryllis,  dahlia, lily of  the valley, crocus Canna, muscari, Scarborough lily, ginger
 Annuals and
perennials
Arum, elephant ear, begonia, sweet pea, coleus, bird of paradise, cyclamen,  hellebore, hosta, lantana, chrysanthemum, morning glory, asparagus fern, geranium. Lilies and daylilies are toxic to cats but nontoxic to dogs. Aster, fern, marigold, gerber daisy, snapdragon, hollyhock, ornamental grasses, nasturtium, nerve plant, petunia, sunflower
 Trees
and shrubs
Holly, rhododendron, azalea, oleander, sago palm, citrus (lemons, oranges, etc.), apple, apricot, peach, cherry, yucca, black walnut, yew, gardenia, nandina, wisteria Crepe myrtle, bottlebrush, aralia, hawthorn, pittosporum, mulberry, magnolia, mahonia, rose, hickory, bamboo, banana
 Vegetables Tomato, garlic, leek, onion, shallot, grape Cucumber, squash, melon, okra, zucchini
 Houseplants Dieffenbachia, Swiss cheese plant, Chinese evergreen, dracaena, pothos, ficus, anthurium, aloe, desert rose, kalanchoe, snake plant, euphorbia, asparagus fern, schefflera Calathea, areca palm, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, spider plant, episcia, false aralia, orchid, bromeliad, peperomia, echeveria, haworthia, sempervivum, gynura, plectranthus

If you’re unsure of the toxicity of a certain plant in your garden, refer to the ASPCA website to find out.

Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.
Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.

Safety steps

While you needn’t tear apart your garden to keep poisonous plants off your dog’s menu, you should definitely educate yourself so you can make your own informed decisions.

Remove risky plants, transplant them to pet-free areas of the garden or, if the plant is too big (or special) to easily remove, make it inaccessible to your pet with fencing.

Just remember that even fallen leaves or seedpods are also often poisonous, so acquaint yourself with the symptoms your pet might experience following ingestion so you know what to tell the vet.

You might not need to go out and remove a foundation planting of azaleas tomorrow, but it isn’t that big of a deal to replace your toxic aloe plant with a nontoxic (and more attractive) haworthia.

If your pet shows any worrying symptoms, don’t waste time looking at lists like these. Call your vet or visit the ASPCA poison control hotline website immediately.

Top photo from Offset.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Originally published June 25, 2015.

Source: zillow.com