What You Need to Know about Ventless Fireplaces

Ventless fireplaces provide a convenient, low-cost alternative to traditional fireplace options, but they are not trouble free.  Ventless fireplaces, which don't include a flue or chimney, have been sold in the U.S. since 1980. They're powered by natural gas, propane, alcohol-based gels, and electricity. Although less expensive and easier to install than a traditional fireplace, ventless fireplaces suffer from a reputation of being unsafe, unhealthy, and cheap alternatives to "the real thing."  However, modern ventless fireplace models are strictly regulated by federal agencies and standards groups for safe operation in your home, making them a viable, low-cost, supplemental heating option compared to more expensive fireplaces. If you're considering the installation of a fireplace in your home, here's what you need to know about ventless options.

Types of ventless fireplaces

Ventless fireplaces are typically freestanding units that don't require or feature a flue or chimney to exhaust combustion air to the outdoors, making them relatively easy to install in any room.  Those fueled by natural gas or propane can be positioned anywhere that a supply line can be installed-usually against a wall or inside an existing masonry fireplace. The latest models also feature automatic ignition, a function that eliminates the need for an outside electrical circuit to spark the pilot light-a handy feature should the electricity ever go out.  Gel-fueled units are even more versatile, as they're completely self-contained (not tethered to a supply line) and light with a match. Electric units need only a 120-volt outlet nearby, and a dedicated circuit isn't necessary.

What does "ventless" mean?

Ventless fireplaces fueled by gas or propane rely on indoor air for combustion, and they exhaust a low level of their combustion gases into the room in which they're located. A chimney or flue isn't necessary.  The risk to your health is a long-standing and on-going debate. Proponents suggest that any emissions are negligible, and well within indoor air quality guidelines as set by various regulatory agencies.  Essentially, these products must meet the general requirements for all combustible heating appliances established in the 2002 version of the National Fire Protection Association's  (http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/ROP/211-F2002-rop.pdf) standards that require ventless fireplaces to have factory-installed carbon monoxide monitors and oxygen detection safety devices (ODS). These safety devices automatically shut off the fireplace if the carbon monoxide level in the room rises above 25 parts per million, and/or the oxygen level falls below 18%–levels for indoor air quality (http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html) suggested (but not standardized or regulated) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Critics, however, claim that such monitors are unreliable and imprecise, allowing oxygen and carbon monoxide levels to fluctuate out of range before the units shut down, resulting in potential health hazards. The state of California completely bans these products, citing concern for occupant safety and health. 

Ventless fireplaces that use gel canisters or electricity, meanwhile, are above that fray, as they don't emit anything other than a low amount of heat.  Any ventless fireplace is generally suggested for supplemental space heating and perhaps aesthetics alone. Those with automatic ignition or that use gel fuel can supply a low level of room heat for short spans of time and during power outages, when electricity isn't available.

Installation and maintenance

Ventless fireplaces that are connected to a gas or propane line require professional installation by a gas or plumbing contractor, and shouldn't have a heating capacity that exceeds the appropriate room size recommended by the manufacturer.  Despite their relative ease of installation, and regardless of fuel source, ventless fireplaces aren't a turn-them-on-and-forget option. All units require at least annual cleaning of the log set and other exposed components, while gas and propane products should also have their oxygen and carbon monoxide monitors checked and adjusted annually for optimum performance.  Although suppliers may tout the integrity of factory-installed carbon monoxide monitors, installing a hard-wired, independent carbon monoxide monitor in the room in which the fireplace is located is a smart second tier of safety. Expect to pay $100-$200 for an hour of an electrician's time and the monitor.

Costs

Gas- or propane-connected ventless fireplaces usually include a factory-finished enclosure and/or mantle. With professional installation, they cost $2,000-$6,000. Installation may not require a building permit, but check with your local building department to confirm if there are any regulations or limits on the use of a ventless fireplace.  Gel-powered ventless fireplaces generally cost less, $300-$700, and don't require professional installation and associated costs. Some assembly by the purchaser may be required, including the placement of factory-supplied logs in front of the gel canisters. The fuel comes in 13-ounce canisters that cost about $3 and last about 2.5 hours each. They are sold in cases of 24 for about $80 or $110 for a dozen, 30-ounce refill bottles.  Electric fireplaces also are standalone, self-contained, and factory-finished, requiring no installation other than removing them from the box and plugging them into a wall socket. They cost about $1,000 and up, depending on the sophistication of the mantel and surround. Suppliers claim these products produce a realistic flame effect created by randomly filtered lighting, but judge for yourself at a retailer before you buy.

Choosing the correct size

It's important to size a ventless fireplace for the size of its room. A large, open space, such as a great room, should handle a ventless gas/propane fireplace with a 25,000 BTU or higher output, akin to the heat output from a sealed and vented gas fireplace. 

For smaller rooms, such as a bedroom or bathroom, ventless gas- or propane-fueled fireplaces can be sized down to 5,000 BTUs. For optimum control over heat output, these units can be regulated by a wall thermostat or remote control.  Gel-powered units can output up to 9,000 BTUs. Electric fireplaces, like space heaters, provide very localized output-at most, 4,500 BTUs-but will remain working as long as they are plugged in and switched on.  Regardless, ventless fireplaces of any kind and size are nearly 100% efficient, as very little of the heat they emit escapes the room. By contrast, an open-faced, wood-burning fireplace with a chimney may lose 85% or more of its heat output through the flue.

Rich Binsacca has been writing about housing and home improvement since 1987. He's the author of 12 books on various home-related topics, is currently a contributing editor for Builder and EcoHome magazines, and has written articles for such magazines as Remodeling, Home, and Architectural Record. He intermittently uses the wood-burning fireplace and the gas-fueled freestanding stove that came with his current home.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Buying and Storing Fireplace Fuel

Knowing how to evaluate buy, and store firewood is the key is the key to efficient, safe operation of your fireplace, fireplace insert, or wood stove.  Whether you burn fires as a supplemental heat source for your home or strictly for ambiance and pleasure, it's important to know how to properly buy and store firewood. For homeowners looking to fuel a traditional masonry fireplace, fireplace insert, or wood stove, the goal should be the same: to get the best quality firewood for the best possible price.

Before picking up the phone, it's important to know exactly what you want to purchase so that you can clearly express that to the wood seller, says Matt Galambos, a Maine arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. This includes determining the quantity, species, and condition of the firewood, all of which affect its price.

How much to buy

Homeowners who intend to heat their homes through the use of a wood stove naturally will require more firewood than those who burn only the occasional fire for pleasure. A person living in the Northeastern U.S. who burns firewood as his or her primary heat source, for example, may require up to five cords of wood to get them through the season. In contrast, a weekend-only fire builder can likely get by on as little as a half-cord. Galambos estimates that for the casual but steady fire builder, one cord of wood should easily last through winter.

Measuring a cord of wood

A cord of wood is defined as a stack of cut firewood that measures 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, or any other arrangement that equals 128 cubic feet. The individual pieces must be stacked side by side rather than the looser crisscross style. Other measurement terms, such as ricks, racks, face cords and piles, have no legal meaning and are often banned by state weights and measurements agencies. Regardless what the load is called, says Galambos, it should always be converted to cords or fractions thereof so that homeowners can determine if they are getting a fair price.

Seasoning the wood

Freshly cut wood is composed largely of water. Not only is this "green" wood difficult to ignite, but burning it can lead to a dangerous build-up of creosote, the cause of chimney fires (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/chimney-maintenance-warmth-and-safety/). Properly "seasoned" firewood is wood that has been cut to length, split, and allowed to air dry for at least six months until the moisture content dips to around 20%. Dry wood will appear grayish in color and the pieces will begin to exhibit splits and cracks on the ends. Compared to freshly cut wood, seasoned wood feels light for its size.

Though seasoned firewood is the only choice for immediate use, green wood shouldn't be completely ignored, says Galambos. "If you have the room to store it and the time to dry it, buying green firewood can save you up to 25% compared with seasoned wood," he says.

Hardwood vs. softwood

It's a common misconception that burning soft woods, such as pine and cedar, leads to dangerous creosote build-up. As long as the firewood is properly seasoned, it can safely be burned in a fireplace or stove regardless of species, says Dr. John Ball, Professor of Forestry at South Dakota State University. But that doesn't mean that all wood is created equal.

"Tree species differ widely in the amount of heat they produce when burned," says Ball. Hardwoods like oak, and maple, produce almost twice the heat compared with softer woods, such as spruce, pine, and basswood. Fires built with hardwood not only burn hotter, they last longer, meaning the wood pile won't get depleted as fast. Homeowners can expect to pay a premium for 100% hardwood, but Ball cautions against purchasing cheaper "mixed-wood" loads that may contain little actual hardwood.

Storing firewood

Homeowners should consider storage long before the firewood delivery truck appears in the driveway, cautions Galambos. A cord of wood takes up a significant amount of space, and if not properly stored your investment will quickly begin to rot. Firewood that is not stowed in a protected space like a garage or shed needs to be six inches off the ground. Firewood racks or simple pallets work well. If exposed to the elements, the wood pile should be at least partially covered with a waterproof tarp. Experts caution against storing the wood too close to the house for fear of inviting pests.

Average prices

Homeowners can expect to pay $150 for a half-cord and between $250 and $350 for a cord of hardwood delivered and stacked. To save some money, a person with a large truck may elect to pick up his or her own load at the wood lot.

To verify the quantity, species, and condition of the firewood, it's wise to arrange the delivery for a time when you're home. Experts say, inspect the wood for type and condition before it's unloaded, though quantity can only be accurately measured after it's stacked.

Maximize your fireplace efficiency

It's true that a traditional wood fireplace (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/5-questions-and-answers-about-adding-fireplace/) can never rival the energy efficiency of a wood stove (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/add-wood-stove-energy-efficiency/) or even a fireplace insert (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/add-a-fireplace-insert-for-warmth-and-savings/), but there are ways a homeowner can trim heat loss. Fire-resistant glass doors not only reduce the volume of heated home air that escapes up the chimney, they help radiate heat back into the room. Similarly, a thick cast-iron fireback is an old-fashioned device that absorbs and emits energy in the form of radiant heat. Check the fireplace damper for leaks and always tightly seal it when the fireplace is idle.

Note about invasive pests

Forestry experts like Dr. John Ball strongly encourage homeowners to buy only local wood (wood from within a one- or two-county range) to prevent the spread of pests like the Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer.

Douglas Trattner has written extensively about home improvement topics for HGTV.com, DIYNetworks, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. During the 10-year stewardship of his 1925 Colonial, he estimates that he burned through 15 cords of wood. Most, he promises, was properly seasoned hardwood.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman

http://www.carolinajoe.com
Article from HouseLogic.com

5 Questions (and Answers) About Adding a Fireplace

If you want to add a fireplace to your existing home, ask yourself what value it brings to you and your property.  About half of the 40 million homes constructed in the U.S. since 1973 were built without a fireplace, and yet consumer study after homebuyer survey indicate that the majority of people want one and are willing to pay extra to have it. For homeowners considering adding a fireplace to their existing home, here are answers to the key questions you need to ask to determine if a fireplace is right for you.

1. Is it possible?

With the variety of fireplace options available today, from traditional wood-burning masonry to wall-mounted ventless units, it would be difficult to imagine a situation in which it would be entirely impossible to add a fireplace of some sort.  That being said, local interpretations and enforcement of building codes may dictate details such as the chimney height, the construction of the firebox and flue, minimum clearances around vent pipes, and limits on fireplace emissions–all of which narrows your choices. You'll need to check with your city or county building department, many of which have current code information online. You also can check state and local building codes at ww.statelocalgov.net (http://www.statelocalgov.net) .  There's also the question of fuel: If you've got the space to safely store stacks of wood (not against the house–a fire hazard–but within convenient proximity) or an existing source of natural gas or propane, then you'll increase your options.

2. How much will it cost?

Costs for materials and labor to add a new fireplace can run the gamut from several hundred dollars to $20,000 or more. Among the most popular options, a factory-built gas/propane fireplace unit runs about $2,000 for a basic materials package; add to that at least another $5,000 for the cost to hire professional tradespeople to cut a hole in an exterior wall, frame and build a chimney, install the fireplace, and add a surround and mantle.  Figure on spending about half that or less for a fireplace that vents horizontally through the wall–called a direct-vent fireplace-which eliminates the costs of building a vertical flue and chimney extension, and for simpler finishes around the fireplace opening.

An EPA-qualified wood-burning fireplace (http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/fireplacelist.html), which features doors with air-sealing gaskets to regulate how much indoor air it uses for combustion, therefore saving energy and reducing emissions, may cost upwards of $4,000 per unit. The installation and finishing costs of such units, however, is about the same as the natural gas fireplace. A traditional, open-hearth, wood-burning fireplace–like the ones you see in mountain resort hotels–requires a skilled, professional mason and a budget approaching (and often exceeding) $20,000.

The lower end of the cost spectrum includes so-called "ventless (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-you-need-know-about-ventless-fireplaces/)" gas or gel fireplaces, and those powered by electricity. Expect to spend about $400, plus another $1,000 to have a professional install and finish those that require a dedicated gas or propane line.

When considering costs, factor in on-going expenses for fuel and maintenance, purchase price and installation costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (http://www.energy.gov/), natural gas is the least expensive utility-supplied heating fuel at a national average of $1.42 per therm (a measure of heating value), followed by heating oil and propane; electricity, meanwhile, is nearly twice the average cost per therm of natural gas. Utility rates vary by geographic region, so check with your local suppliers to accurately gauge those costs; your use of the fireplace will impact ongoing fuel expenses as well.

If you have a readily available (and thus cheap) source of wood (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/buying-and-storing-fireplace-fuel/), ideally on your own property, it probably trumps the cost of any utility-supplied source. Wood and natural gas are by far the most popular fireplace fuels, combining for 83% of the market, according to the National Association of Homebuilders Research Center.

An annual service contract with a professional fireplace or chimney inspector, around $150, is a relatively inexpensive way to maintain your fireplace with confidence.

3. Will I recoup my up-front costs?

A fireplace generally isn't calculated separately in a professional home appraisal, though real estate salespeople often consider it to be a hot button among potential buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors(r)' 2007 Profile of Buyers' Home Feature Preferences, 46% of homebuyers said they would pay extra (a median of $1,220) for a house with at least one fireplace, the most popular "desired feature" in the survey.

Still, says certified appraiser and real estate industry author Mark Rattermann, "Probably the best gauge is to look at the number of newly built homes with fireplaces" to measure whether homebuyers want and are willing to pay for them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/const/C25Ann/sftotalfireplaces.pdf), 53% of new homes built in 2008 included at least one fireplace. That's down from a peak of 66% in 1990, though that drop-off may say more about builders trying to reduce costs than changes in consumer demand, as the latest NAHB consumer preferences survey (http://www.nahb.org/reference_list.aspx?sectionID=137) found that 77% of homebuyers want a fireplace.

Rattermann also suggests homeowners consider a new fireplace in the context of their home's overall value when trying to estimate its payback potential. "A $10,000 fireplace in a $1 million home is well supported in most markets," he says, because it's an expected feature in upscale homes. "But a $10,000 fireplace in a $100,000 home probably isn't valued as much," in the context of other spending priorities at that price point.

4. Where will it go?

If you're thinking payback, put the new fireplace in the most-used room in the house (besides the kitchen). That's usually the family room or great room. But if your goal is personal enjoyment or perhaps the more practical goal of space heating, the best place is where the unit best serves those purposes: to enhance the sitting area of the master bedroom, to heat an office or guest room at the far end of the forced-air system's duct run, or for holiday ambiance in the lesser-used living room.

And don't forget the backyard: About 3 million outdoor fireplaces are installed every year, according to the Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association (http://www.hpba.org/), as part of an overall trend toward more extensive outdoor living spaces. Expect to pay about the same for an outdoor unit, installed, as you would a comparable indoor fireplace, though don't expect the outside unit to be an efficient heating source; rather, more so for ambiance.

5. Is a fireplace energy-efficient?

It's true that a traditional, wood-burning fireplace in a big, open room–while romantic and impressive to guests–is an energy hog by continually sucking conditioned indoor air for combustion and losing most of its heat up the chimney. But sealed units (including those that burn wood) have the mechanics, controls, and venting systems to use outdoor air for combustion, reduce thermal loss, and effectively supplement the home's primary heating system. A fireplace used for "zoned" or small-area space heating can lessen the energy demand on the furnace and reduce utility bills by allowing you to turn down your thermostat when the fire is going.

Theoretically, a series of well-placed and right-sized fireplaces might completely replace an existing home heating system. "A direct-vent gas fireplace is much more efficient as a per-room space-heating option than a traditional central forced-air system (using a furnace)," says Steve Frederickson, a fireplace installation expert and lecturer for Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Education Foundation. "It's very wasteful keeping your whole house at 70 degrees all the time. If everyone used one of these fireplaces to heat just the rooms they use, when they use them, it would cut the residential heating load by 20%-25%."

Rich Binsacca has been writing about housing and home improvement since 1987. He is the author of 12 books on various home-related topics, is currently a contributing editor for Builder and EcoHome magazines, and has written articles to such magazines as Remodeling, Home, and Architectural Record, among several others. He intermittently uses the wood-burning fireplace and the gas-fueled freestanding stove that came with his current home.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Remodeling a Bathroom the Green Way

If you want to make sure your bathroom remodeling project is as green as possible, here's how to save energy, conserve resources, and protect your budget.
 
You care about the environment. You also happen to have a bathroom badly in need of remodeling. How do you get the job done with minimal impact on both our fragile planet and your precious budget? Thankfully, the growth of the green building movement has given rise to many eco-responsible products and resources that allow you to create the water-conserving, healthy, energy-wise bath you've always wanted-all without busting your bottom line. Here's what you need to know. 

It's all about the water

Thinking about greening your bathroom means considering how you use water in terms of consumption and energy. According to the American Water Works Association (http://www.awwa.org), your humble toilets are the thirstiest water users in the house, accounting for 27% of consumption. This fact inspired conservation schemes like placing something hefty in the toilet tank to reduce flushing capacity, and those low-flow toilets that too often didn't flush what needed flushing.

A more successful approach is the dual-flush toilet. It has two flush buttons, one for light work, one for heavy. Long a mainstay in Europe, dual-flush toilets are available in the U.S. for $250-$400, a price in line with top-quality conventional toilets. A dual flush toilet can save 17,000 gallons of water a year-about $50 off your water bill. If you wish to keep your old toilet (a very green decision), you can retrofit it with a dual flush mechanism costing only $70.

The shower is another squanderer of water. Showers use 16% to 20% of a home's water, most of it heated. The flow rate of a typical shower head is 2.5 gallons per minute. Switching it out with a low-flow head of 1.5 to 2 gallons per minute still offers adequate cleansing power with a substantial savings in water usage. (If you cherish a really forceful blast of hot water, consider a full-flow shower head with a lever that lets you shut it off while you lather.)

In addition to conserving water, you'll want to take a close look at the way your water is heated. Second only to the kitchen, the bathroom is your home's most intensive energy user, with most of that energy going towards those nice hot showers and baths. Curbing wasted energy can be as simple as adding an insulating blanket to your tank-type heater (reducing energy use by 4% to 9%) and insulating all accessible hot water pipes. In addition, most water heaters are set to 140 degrees; you can turn down the water heater temperature setting to a still-toasty 120 degrees and save up to $60 per year on energy costs.

If your old water heater is nearing the end of its 15-year life cycle and you're considering investing in a new water heater, you can achieve some handsome energy savings. One smart option is a condensing storage water heater. Using technology similar to that of high-efficiency furnaces, the condensing heater puts nearly every possible BTU into the water instead of sending it up the flue. Currently, a 50-gallon gas unit costs $1,700 (versus $380 for a standard tank-type heater), a price that is expected to drop as demand takes hold. Installation costs are around $400, slightly higher than that of standard units. Those higher costs are offset by a $300 tax credit and an EPA estimated annual fuel savings of more than $100.

A tankless water heater heats water only as it is needed, avoiding the heat loss that occurs with a conventional tank. A unit costs about $2,000 installed, and your annual energy savings will be $70 a year. Be aware that these units take some getting used to; expect a shot of cold water before the hot kicks in.

Move that air

A bathroom remodel is an excellent time to consider installing a new exhaust ventilator fan to remove odors, moisture, and mold spores. Many bathroom fans only vent to the space between ceiling joists, creating an environment for mold and dampness that can damage walls and ceilings. Make sure your new fan vents completely to the outside of your house.

Unfortunately, even properly installed fans that push the moist outdoors can carry away a lot of heated air as well. A clever solution to this problem is a heat-exchange ventilator that uses outgoing air to warm the cold incoming air. Such units cost about $250 uninstalled, twice the price of a standard fan. Whatever fan you have, avoid an on-off switch; it's too easy to forget to turn it off. Replace it with a timer switch or, better yet, buy a new fan unit with a motion- or humidity-sensing switch.

Selecting green materials

A green bathroom remodel need not stint on style. Classic ceramic tile comes in limitless colors and patterns, and is a green choice due to its low maintenance, durability, and low toxicological impact. Some tiles have high recycled content; recycled glass tiles are a lovely way to do the right ecological thing. Not buying something new can be good green idea too. Consider refinishing your old tub or sink. Use the pros for the best results. Expect to pay $500 for a tub, $300 for a sink. You'll save as much on installation costs.

LED illumination now produces pleasing light quality in fixtures that sip only 2 to 15 watts, emit little heat, and have a life span of 15-20 years. They cost about three times as much as conventional fixtures but use so little electricity that the payback can be as short as a year.

Paint and vinyl coverings often come loaded with VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that threaten indoor air quality. Look for building materials with Green Seal (http://www.greenseal.org) certification. Green Seal is a non-profit, independent organization that certifies products claiming to be environmentally friendly. Low-VOC options in paints and adhesives can be found at your local home center.

Waste not

Much of our landfill (estimates range from 22% to 40%) comes from construction debris. Any steps that reduce landfill potentially reduce the chance of ground water pollution, the odor and unsightliness of a local landfill, and in some cases the high cost of shipping waste elsewhere. Much of the debris that comes from a remodeling tear-out is not salvageable, but old toilets, sinks, light fixtures, medicine cabinets, and vanities can be donated to an organization like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore (http://www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx). In fact, it may be just what someone is seeking for their own green remodeling.

Dave Toht has written or edited more than 60 books on home repair and remodeling, including titles for The Home Depot, Lowe's, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunset, and Reader's Digest. A former contractor with decades of hands-on experience, Dave was editor of Remodeling Ideas magazine and continues to contribute to numerous how-to publications. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a green addition to his Olympia, Wash., home.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

What Your Remodeling Contract Should Say

Review your remodeling contract carefully and adjust it to make sure it protects you in terms of payments, work schedules, and project specifications.

Even if you never intend to pick up a hammer for your remodeling project, there's one tool that's absolutely essential-a solid contract. But just having one often isn't enough. That's because the document a contractor gives you is designed to protect him. It's up to you to add in some basic protections for yourself. Here's what you need to know to make sure the remodeling contract you sign includes solid legal protection for you and your home. 

Hiring a lawyer to review and make changes to a contract is a safe bet, especially since each state has its own construction-contract statutes. But not many homeowners are willing to shell out $500 for an attorney review, plus $1,000 to $1,500 additional fees to make wholesale revisions to a flawed contract. However, you can hand-write changes and additions in plain English and make sure both you and the contractor initial each change to the document, says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry. Here's what you want to add (and subtract).

Project specs

Start by reviewing your contract, a process that should take several hours. The most important element of a contract is a thorough and complete description of the project, and the materials and the products that will be used. "It should say that the contractor will secure all necessary permits and approvals as well as what walls are being moved where, what type of countertops are going in, what type of sink, what type of faucet, and so forth," says Meyer. "You can't rely on everyone's memory because if there's a problem later, people may remember different things." The contract needn't contain these specs on its pages, it can simply refer to the contractor's attached itemized bid. Avoid allowances (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/), which are pools of money set aside for work to be determined later, and which often lead to cost overruns.

Payment schedule

The contract (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/) should also state the total price for the job, and that it's a fixed price-not an estimate. It should provide a schedule of how the payments will be made by linking them to milestones in the work-such as when the foundation, rough plumbing, and electricity will be completed-so you're paying for work only after it's done. "You should always have enough money left to hire someone else to finish the work if need be," says Meyer. In general, the first payment should be no more than 10% of the total job and the final payment should be at least a few thousand dollars to ensure that it's a big enough incentive to get the contractor back for the final niggling details. If you're unsure whether the payment schedule is proportional to the milestones your contractor suggests, ask a friend who's familiar with construction process or consult a construction attorney.

Start and end dates

A contractor's boilerplate contract rarely includes dates for when he will begin work and when he will complete the job, so make sure those details are included. It's not that he'll be penalized if it runs late, only that if you ever have a major problem and need to sue him-or defend yourself from a suit he brings-showing that the contractor is, say, two months behind schedule will help you make your case. The dates needn't be too exacting. If he says it's a six to eight week job, eight or even nine weeks is fine for the contract, says Meyer.

Statement about change orders

Make sure the contract contains a line stating that any changes that will affect the cost of the job must be priced in writing and countersigned by both the contractor and homeowner before that work commences. That ensures that an offhand discussion about a possible change to the project won't result in a huge unforeseen additional cost (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/). It also helps you, as the homeowner, keep track of exactly how much you've added to the bottom line, so you can avoid the very common urge to keep expanding the job.

Binding arbitration

Many contractors include a line that says that rather than going through the courts, disputes will be resolved by an arbitrator. Some legal experts feel that this is a quicker and lower-cost solution to problems, so a binding arbitration clause isn't necessarily a problem. What can be trouble is if the contract requires a specific arbitrator. "There are some big, national, well-respected arbitrators, like the American Arbitration Association (http://www.adr.org)," says Meyer. "And there are other questionable arbitrators that always side with the contractor. If a particular arbitrator is specified, I'd do some internet research about the agency to make sure it's legit."

Warranty

Having the contractor's warranty in the contract seems like a good thing, right? Well including it is often actually a technique for limiting how much liability the contractor has. "It's usually loaded up with exclusions and time limits," says Meyer, "and you're actually better off with no mention of warranty at all because then the only limits on his warranty are what's in the state statutes." In other words, keeping the contractor's warranty language in the contract will likely mean you're agreeing to less than what state law provides. For example, state law may specify a longer warranty term than what the contractor's warranty offers. So, unless you're having a lawyer review the contract, strike the warranty clause.

Technicalities

There are numerous state-by-state requirements for construction contracts. He may have to include his contractor's license number, for example, and he may have to include a clause saying you have the right to rescind the contract within a certain time period after signing. And unless you and the contractor sign the document, it doesn't matter what it says-it's not a valid contract.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Make Your Case for a Property Tax Reduction

To successfully challenge a real estate assessment and lower your property tax bill, you need to do a bit of sleuthing first.
 
Owning a home is an expensive proposition. There's maintenance, landscaping, utilities, renovations, and, of course, taxes. It's your civic duty to pay the latter, but it's also your right not to yield a penny more than your fair share.  To successfully challenge a real estate assessment and lower your property tax bill, you need to do a bit of sleuthing first.

It's possible to trim your property taxes by challenging the assessed value of your home. But making a convincing case against your real estate assessment, the basis for your property tax, requires doing a bit of homework first. Initial research can be done online or by phone over two or three days, but the process can stretch out for months if you're forced to file a formal appeal.

Read your assessment letter

A real estate assessment is conducted periodically by the local government to assign a value to your home for taxation purposes. An assessment isn't the same as a private appraisal, and the assessed value of your home isn't necessarily how much you could sell it for today. Real estate assessment letters are mailed to homeowners annually, or perhaps every two to three years, depending where you live.

The letter will include some information about your property, such as lot size or a legal description, as well as the assessed value of your house and land. Additional details-number of bedrooms, for example, or date of construction-can often be found in the property listing on your local government's website. Your property tax bill will usually be calculated by multiplying your home's assessed value by the local tax rate, which can vary from town to town.

If you think your home's assessment is higher than it should be, challenge it immediately. The clock starts ticking as soon as the letter goes out. You generally have less than 30 days to respond, though the time frame varies not just between states, but within each state. Procedures are often outlined on the back of the letter.

Gather evidence

Start by making sure the assessment letter doesn't contain any mistakes. Is the number of bathrooms accurate? Number of fireplaces? How about the size of the lot? There's a big difference between "0.3 acres" and "3.0 acres." If any facts are wrong, then you may have a quick and easy challenge on your hands.

Next, research your home's value. Ask a real estate agent to find three to five comparable properties-"comps" in real estate jargon-that have sold recently. Alternatively, check a website like Zillow.com (http://www.zillow.com/) to find approximate values of comparable properties. The key is identifying properties that are very similar to your own in terms of size, style, condition, and location. If you're willing to shell out between $350 and $600, you can hire a private appraiser to do the heavy lifting.

Once you identify comps, check the assessments on those properties. Most local governments maintain public databases. If yours doesn't, seek help from an agent or ask neighbors to share tax information. If the assessments on your comps are lower, you can argue yours is too high. Even if the assessments are similar, if you can show that the "comparable" properties aren't truly comparable, you may have a case for relief based on equity. Maybe your neighbor added an addition while you were still struggling to clean up storm damage. In that case, the properties are no longer equitable.

Present your case

Once you're armed with your research, call your local assessor's office. Most assessors are willing to discuss your assessment informally by phone. If not, or if you aren't satisfied with the explanation, request a formal review. Pay attention to deadlines and procedures. There's probably a form to fill out and specific instructions for supporting evidence. A typical review, which usually doesn't require you to appear in person, can take anywhere from one to three months. Expect to receive a decision in writing.

If the review is unsuccessful, you can usually appeal the decision to an independent board, with or without the help of a lawyer. You may have to pay a modest filing fee, perhaps $10 to $25. If you end up before an appeals board, your challenge could stretch as long as a year, especially in large jurisdictions that have a high number of appeals. But homeowners do triumph. According to Guy Griscom, Assistant Chief Appraiser of the Harris County (Texas) Central Appraisal District, of the 288,800 protests filed in his Houston-area district in 2008, about 58% received reduced assessments.

How much effort you decide to put into a challenge depends on the stakes. The annual U.S. median property tax (http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/1888.html) paid in 2008 was $1,897, or 0.96% of the median home value of $197,600. Lowering that assessed value by 15% would net savings of about $285. In some parts of New York and Texas, for example, where tax rates can approach 3% of a home's value, potential savings are greater. Ditto for communities with home prices well above the U.S. median.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you weigh an appeal. The board can only lower your real estate assessment, not the rate at which you're taxed. There's also a chance, albeit slight, that your assessment could be raised, thus increasing your property taxes. A reduction in your assessment right before you put your house on the market could hurt the sale price. An easier route to savings might lie in determining if you qualify for property tax exemptions (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/common-property-tax-exemptions/) based on age, disability, military service, or other factors.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Barbara Eisner Bayer has written about mortgages and personal finance for the past 15 years for Motley Fool, the Daily Plan-It, and Nurse Village, and is the former Managing Editor of Mortgageloan.com and Credit-land.com. She has successfully challenged her real estate assessment.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Getting the Best Work from Your Contractor

Working with a contractor takes effort and know-how in order to keep your project on time and on budget.
 
You've chosen a great contractor, you have a clear and well-designed project plan, and now you're ready to sit back and watch your dreams become a reality. Unfortunately, the hardest part of your job has yet to begin. No matter whom you've hired to construct your home improvement project, you're going to have to actively manage the process in order to keep it on target, on time, and on budget.  Get apathetic or lose your focus for even a single day and you may pay for it-quite literally. Here's what you need to know to stay organized and maintain strong communications with your contractor and construction team.

Avoid allowances

An allowance is a line item in the contractor's bid for something that's yet to be determined. Let's say you haven't chosen your plumbing hardware for your new master bathroom or the decking you'll use for your new three-season porch. The contractor will put a number in the budget as a placeholder. But with such a wide range of price points for these products, his guess may be far lower than what you wind up spending, which can lead to cost overruns. Try to eliminate allowances by sorting out all of your material and product selections before the contractor gives you an itemized bid (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/five-essential-questions-ask-before-hiring-contractor/) for the job. Otherwise, at least do enough shopping to give the contractor an accurate ballpark price for the materials you're considering.

Establish a communication routine

Ask the contractor how he prefers to communicate with you. Depending on the size of the job and how his team operates, he may say that he'll be on site to talk with you every morning before you leave for work. He may give you his cell phone number and say, "call me anytime," or tell you that his foreman can handle whatever comes up. In any case, try to meet with the project leader at least once a day. This is an opportunity for you to hear progress reports and find out what work is scheduled over the coming days-and to ask your questions and voice any concerns you have.

Keep a project journal

Part scrapbook, part diary, part to-do list, a project journal will help you stay organized. Use a notebook to record progress, note things you want to ask your contractor, jot down ideas, record product order numbers, and anything else that comes along. It'll help you keep things on track, communicate with the team, and provide a record of exactly who said what when-which could help you iron out disagreements later on.

Track all changes in writing

No matter how thorough your planning is, your home improvement job will inevitably evolve as it moves along. You may encounter unforeseen structural issues, or you may decide to include additional work as you see the project take shape. Any good contractor can handle these changes-just make sure that he bids them in writing first. Tell the contractor at the outset (and put in the contract (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-remodeling-contract-should-say/) ) that you want to sign off on written change orders for anything that's going to add to the bottom line of the job. That means he has to give you a bid (a description of the change and a fixed price for what it will cost) and you both have to sign it before the work is done. This eliminates the risk of expensive changes happening without clear communication about how much more you're spending, and it helps you keep track your bottom line from one change to the next.

Check their work

It's much easier to nip problems in the bud than to undo mistakes after the fact, so try to be proactive about checking your contractor's work. As fixtures arrive on site, compare the model numbers on the boxes against your receipts, invoices, and the contractor's bid to ensure that the right product was delivered. As walls get framed, check their locations and the locations of window and door openings against the blueprints. To the extent that it's possible, conduct these investigations after hours or during lunch breaks so you don't seem like you're looking over the workers' shoulders (even though you are).

Pay only for completed work

Money is power. As soon as you've paid the contractor, you no longer have the upper hand, so it's crucial that you keep the payment schedule in line with the work schedule. The contract (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-remodeling-contract-should-say/) should establish a series of payments to be made when certain aspects of the job are completed. For example, your contract could stipulate that you'll pay in three equal installments, with the last payment to be made after the project is complete, and after you and your contractor agree the work is satisfactory. Never put down more than 10% upfront; that's too much cash to hand over before any work is complete. Your contractor should be able to get any necessary supplies on credit.

Be a good customer

One of the best ways to get quality work out of a construction crew is to make them enjoy working for you. That means being decisive with the contractor-and giving him a check promptly at the agreed-to points in the project. It also means being friendly and accommodating of the workers in your house: designating a bathroom that they can use, greeting them by name each morning, and perhaps serving them cold lemonade on a hot day. Complimenting their work (as long as you feel it's worthy of praise) can be a great way to motivate them to do their best for you.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.
As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

You're ready to remodel but you want to make sure you get the best contractor for the job.  Here’s what to ask the candidates before you decide.
  
For all of the excitement of choosing plumbing fixtures, cabinets, and tiles for a remodeling project, the most important decision you make won't involve color swatches or glossy brochures. It's the contractor you pick that makes or breaks the job. That choice will determine the quality of the craftsmanship, the timeliness of the work, and the amount of emotional and financial stress the process puts on you. To make sure you're getting the best contractor for the job, here are five questions to ask the candidates.

You're ready to remodel but you want to make sure you get the best contractor for the job.  Here’s what to ask the candidates before you decide.

1. Would you please itemize your bid?

Many contractors prefer to give you a single, bottom-line price for your project, but this puts you in the dark about what they're charging for each aspect of the job. For example, let's say the original plan calls for beadboard wainscot in your bathroom, but you decide not to install it after all. How much should you be credited for eliminating that work? With a single bottom-line price, you have no way to know.

On the other hand, if you get an itemized bid, it'll show the costs for all of the various elements of the job-demolition, framing, plumbing, electrical, tile, fixtures, and so forth. That makes it easier to compare different contractors' prices and see where the discrepancies are. If you need to cut the project costs, you can easily assess your options. Plus, an itemized bid becomes valuable documentation about the exact scope of the project, which may eliminate disputes later.

The contractor shouldn't give you a hard time about itemizing his bid. He has to figure out his total price line by line anyway, so you're not asking him to do more work, only to share the details. If he resists, it means he wants to withhold important information about his bid-a red flag for sure.

2. Is your bid an estimate or a fixed price?

Homeowners generally assume that the bid they're seeing is a fixed price, but some contractors treat their proposals as estimates, meaning bills could wind up being higher in the end. If he calls it an estimate, request a fixed price bid instead. If he says he can't offer a fixed price because there are too many unknowns about the job, then eliminate the unknowns.

"Have him open up a wall to check the structure he's unsure about or go back to your architect and solidify the design plans," says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry. If you simply cannot resolve the unknowns he's concerned about, have the project specs describe what he expects to do-and if he needs to do additional work later, you can do a change order (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-remodeling-contract-should-say/) (a written mini-bid for new work).

3. How long have you been doing business in this town?

A contractor who's been plying his trade locally for 5 or 10 years has an established network of subcontractors and suppliers in the area and a local reputation to uphold. That makes him a safer bet than a contractor who's either new to the business or new to the area-or who's planning to commute to your job from 50 miles away.

You want to see a nearby address (not a PO box) on his business card-and should ask him to include one or two of his earliest clients on your list of references. This will help you verify that he hasn't just recently hung his shingle-and will give you perspective from a homeowner who has lived with the contractor's work for years. After all, the test of a quality job, whether it's a bluestone patio or a family room addition, is how well it stands the test of time.

4. Who are your main suppliers?

You've found a few potential contractors, you've talked to the happy former clients on each of their reference lists, now it's time for one additional bit of homework: talking to their primary suppliers. There's no better reference for a tile setter, for example, than his preferred tile shop; for a general contractor than his favorite lumberyard or home center pro desk; for a plumber than the kitchen and bath showroom where he's on a first name basis.

The proprietors of these shops know a contractor's professional reputation, whether he has left a trail of unhappy customers in his wake, if he's reliable about paying his bills-and whether he's someone you'll want to hire. The contractor should have absolutely no qualms about telling you where he gets his materials, as long as he's an upstanding customer.

5. I'd like to meet the job foreman-can you take me to a project he's running?

Many contractors don't actually swing hammers. They spend their days bidding new work and managing their various jobs and workers. In some cases, the contractor you hire may not visit the jobsite every day-or may not even show himself again after you've signed the contract. So the job foreman-the one who's working on your project every day-is actually the most important member of your team.

Meeting him in person and seeing a job that he's running should give you a feel for whether he's someone you want managing your project. Plus, it gives the general contractor an incentive to assign you one of his better crews since you're more likely to hire him if you see his A Team. If the contractor says he'll be running the job himself, ask whether he'll be there every day. Again, he'll want to give you a positive response-something you can hold him to later on.

It's not only the answers to these questions that will help you judge potential contractors-it's the way they answer them. Were they easy to talk to and forthcoming with details or did they hem and haw and make you ask more than once? Difficulty communicating now means difficulty communicating on the job later. But clear, timely and thoughtful responses-combined with terrific references, great completed work that you've seen, and a smart take on your project-may mean you've found the right pro for your job.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

A Financial Plan for Your Home

Create a financial plan that takes into account repairs, upgrades, mortgages, insurance and taxes.
 
You probably already have a financial plan for yourself in place. Most likely you sat down with an advisor at some point to set up a budget and diversify your investments. Or maybe you did it yourself online or at the dining room table. Either way, is a smart move. A house is probably the biggest investment you'll ever make. But what about your home specifically, probably the biggest investment you'll ever make in your life? Did you really take everything into account: repairs and upgrades, the mortgage, insurance, and taxes? Probably not.

Your house requires a financial plan of its own. Spend a weekend creating one. Once you have a handle on your home's expenses you can devise a long-term strategy that'll let you live there for years with maximum enjoyment and minimum anxiety. These are the four central elements you need to address.

The mortgage: Paying it-and then some

Yes, you already shell out a lot for your mortgage, but can you pay more? Even a little extra each month can add up. Let's say you have $200,000 outstanding principal and a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%. Your monthly payment is $1,319.91. But if you can manage to pay another $100 a month, you'll save $14,887 in interest. Run the numbers (http://realestate-calc.com/Mortgage_Calculators/Mortgage_Calculator_Input_Add_Payment.asp) for yourself.

Alan D. Kahn, a financial planner in Syosset, N.Y., likes the idea of early payoff because lowering debt leaves you free to spend money elsewhere later on. There's an emotional benefit as well. It can feel awfully good to own your house outright as soon as possible. And don't fret too much about losing the mortgage interest deduction come tax time. Toward the tail end of the life of a loan most of your payment is going to the principal, not the interest.
 

Nevertheless, the same extra $100 might also go into a retirement plan every month, or be put aside for the inevitable home repairs (more on those later). Michael Kay, a financial planner in Livingston, N.J., says while a debt-free life may be enormously important to your peace of mind, an extra $1,200 toward your child's college fund every year may feel even better. It's about what's ultimately important to you, both emotionally and financially.

Insurance: Protecting your property

You'll want homeowners insurance with full replacement coverage

(http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homeowners-insurance-time-for-an-annual-check-up/) in case your house is burned to the ground. This sounds simple, but be careful on the calculation. Remember that you own a house as well as the land on which it sits. So even though you bought your home for $300,000, it may cost only $100,000 to rebuild it. Your policy limits should reflect this.

The differences are regional. Where land is at a premium, like much of Southern California, a higher percentage of the purchase cost is for the property rather than the structure. Where land is cheap, like much of North Dakota, most of the value of a new house is the house itself. Don't be deceived by shifts in market values. You may have bought a $1.2 million townhouse in Florida during the boom that now may only sell for $600,000. But the replacement cost of the townhouse hasn't changed much, so you can't cut insurance costs that way.

Do, however, try to cut costs by asking your insurance agent about discounts. Making structural improvements, such as adding storm shutters, can lead to lower rates. Membership is certain groups, such as AARP or veterans' organizations, entitles some policyholders to breaks on premiums as well.

Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity

Throughout the life of your house, you'll be making two kinds of changes. The first is the fun kind, like a marble floor for the living room. The second is the essential, behind-the-scenes change: a new water heater. You don't have a choice about when you'll do the latter, but you can prepare for it financially.
It's a good idea to have a rainy-day fund. Start with the inspection report you received when you bought the house. Did the inspector indicate that you would need a new roof in five years? Need a new furnace in 10 years? Get estimates on what these repairs will cost and start saving. Consider ongoing non-emergency maintenance too. Do you live in New England? Price a snow blower and get bids from plow services. Resist the temptation to take care of everything with home equity loans (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/a-guide-to-equity-loan-options/), which defeat efforts to pay off the mortgage early.

As for the discretionary upgrades, act prudently. Matthew P. Havens, a financial planner in Hingham, Mass., has seen too many people rationalizing lavish upgrades as an investment when they really were lifestyle decisions. According to Remodeling magazine (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2009/costvsvalue/national.aspx), an upscale major kitchen upgrade, for example, could cost nearly $112,000, but only about 63% of that will be recouped in the home's resale value. This isn't to say you shouldn't upgrade. If you can afford to redo your bathrooms, go ahead. Just don't confuse your necessary repairs (new oil furnace-about $4,000) with your discretionary upgrades (Viking range-$6,000 and up).

Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

Taxes are an essential part of your home's financial plan. The bank that holds your mortgage may already handle your real estate taxes with an escrow account. If so the expense is built into your monthly mortgage payment. Check your statements or call the lender. Otherwise create a dedicated fund for property taxes, which can run into the thousands of dollars annually.

You may be able to reduce your tax burden by getting a reassessment. Do your homework first. Are comparable houses taxed less than yours? Ask the local assessor what formula is used to set tax rates. Kay, the New Jersey financial planner, researched and then challenged the assessed value (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/make-your-case-property-tax-reduction/) of his own home and got a 15% rollback.

If you're in a special group, you might get some help from state or local programs. Check around to see what's available in your area. New York State, for example, has its Star Program (http://www.orps.state.ny.us/star/index.cfm) for giving senior citizens some relief from school-related property taxes.

Richard J. Koreto is a freelance writer. He has been editor of several professional financial magazines and is the author of "Run It Like a Business," a practice management book for financial planners. He and his wife own a pre-Civil War house in Rockland County, N.Y.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Your CLUE Insurance Report Matters

Your homeowners claims don't disappear after your insurer cuts a check because CLUE reports keep them alive for seven years–and that could cost you.
 
A tree falls on the roof of your house. You file an insurance claim with your agent, collect a settlement from the insurer, and fix your roof. End of story, right? Not quite. Every claim you make on your homeowners insurance is recorded in a widely used insurance industry database called CLUE, short for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange.  Almost all insurance companies use CLUE to check on the claims history of prospective policyholders. The CLUE report also includes insurance claims made on your home before you even bought it. A-PLUS is another company that maintains a loss-history database. What's inside these reports can affect your insurance premiums, or even prevent you from getting coverage.

Your claims history lives on in CLUE
The CLUE Personal Property report, which pertains to homeowners insurance, is divided into two parts: your personal record of claims ("Claims for the Subject") and the claims on your home ("Claims History for Risk"). The number of claims in either section will affect whether you can get insurance for your home, how much coverage you can get, and how much you'll pay in premiums. If you're turned down for homeowners insurance because of information in your CLUE report, your insurance company is required to let you know why you were rejected.
Since the database is used by most insurance companies, your claims history follows you from one insurer to another. Actual claims, as opposed to inquiries, remain in the CLUE database for seven years from the date you filed them. Both ChoicePoint, the owner of CLUE, and A-PLUS advise insurance carriers not to report loss information just because you called to ask a question about whether your policy will cover a particular loss. Individual insurance companies may keep a record of inquires, though.

How insurers use CLUE
Insurance companies rely on CLUE reports because statistics show that if you've filed a claim in the past, you're more likely to file one in the future, says Dick Luedke, a spokesperson for State Farm Insurance. The amount of a claim is less important than how often you've filed, he says. "We aren't trying to make up for past losses, but to predict the risk of future claims."

Each insurance company has its own formula for calculating how much a claim will affect your premium, according to the Insurance Information Institute (http://www.iii.org/), a trade group that provides information to consumers. Suffice it to say the fewer the claims the less you'll likely be charged. State Farm gives a 5% discount if you haven't filed a claim in the last five years, says Luedke. That's $40 off an average annual premium (http://www.iii.org/media/facts/statsbyissue/homeowners/) of $804. Ask your agent if a claim-free discount is available.

Claims aren't all that count
Knowing what's on your CLUE report will give you a sense of whether you'll need to pay extra for homeowners insurance, or even if you run the risk of rejection. Unfortunately, even a pristine report doesn't mean you can be sure of getting homeowners insurance at a great price. That's because the claims on your CLUE report aren't the only things that affect your overall insurance risk.
Insurance companies also consider your credit score, which is based on such things as how much debt you carry, whether you pay your bills on time, and so forth. According to the Insurance Information Institute, studies show that how people manage their finances is a good indicator of whether they'll file an insurance claim. The more likely you are to file a claim, the bigger risk you are to the insurance company. And more risk means a higher premium or denial of coverage. Other factors insurers consider include the location of your home and its type of construction.

How to review your CLUE report
If you do decide to check you CLUE Personal Property report, it's a relatively easy process. Under federal law, you get one free CLUE report a year. You can contact ChoicePoint by telephone at 800-456-6004. You can also register online (http://WWW.CHOICETRUST.COM) to gain access to an electronic copy of your report for 30 days. Request a form to receive a Property Loss report from A-PLUS by calling 800-709-8842. There's a charge of $9 to have the report mailed to you, according to the company's website.

Your CLUE report will have:
 •Your name, home address, birth date, and Social Security number;
 •The number assigned to the report;
 •The name of your insurance company;
 •The type and number of the insurance policy;
 •The type of loss-fire, water, etc.-for each claim and the claim number;
 •The date of the loss and the amount of each claim;
 •The status of each claim: closed, pending, etc.

The report also tells you how to dispute any errors (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/how-to-correct-your-clue-insurance-report/) you find. Because risk calculations vary by insurance company, it's impossible to say exactly how a claim on your CLUE report will affect your premium. That makes it tough to decide just how much value checking your CLUE yields. Still, taking less than an hour once a year to order and review your report could pay off, especially if you find an error.
Mariwyn Evans has spent 25 years writing about commercial and residential real estate. She's the author of several books, including "Opportunities in Real Estate Careers," as well as too many magazine articles to count.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Homeowners Insurance: Time for an Annual Check-Up

An annual check-up on your homeowners insurance can result in a healthier policy and a healthier pocketbook.
It's time for your annual check-up. The good news is that for this one, you won't have to don one of those revealing hospital gowns-and you may walk away with a healthier pocketbook. We're talking about a homeowners insurance check-up, a task you should complete once a year, ideally around renewal time. This will ensure your policy still provides the right level of coverage for your family, and your premium isn't costing you more than it should. 
Remember, homeowners insurance is essential. The coverage is designed to protect your home and its contents, as well as shield you from liability for accidents and such on your property. Block out an hour of your time, call an insurance agent, and get answers to these three important questions.

What type of coverage do I have?

The most effective type of coverage is known as "replacement cost," which covers, up to your policy limits, what it would take today to rebuild your house and restore your belongings, says Jerry Oshinsky, a partner at Jenner & Block in Los Angeles who has represented homeowners in litigation against insurers.

"Extended" replacement cost coverage provides protection to your policy limit, say $500,000, and then perhaps another 20% of the cost after that. Percentages vary, but in this example you could recoup up to $600,000 on a $500,000 policy, assuming your losses reach that high. Extended coverage can compensate for any unanticipated expenses like spikes in construction costs between policy renewals. Now harder to find due to the industry shift toward extended replacement coverage, "full" or "guaranteed" replacement coverage covers an entire claim regardless of policy limits.

A less attractive alternative is "actual cash value" coverage that usually takes into account depreciation, the decrease in value due to age and wear. With this type of policy, the $2,000 flat-screen TV you bought two years ago will be worth hundreds of dollars less today in the eyes of your claims adjuster. Kevin Foley, an independent insurance broker in Milltown, N.J., favors replacement cost coverage unless you can save at least 25% on the premium for going with actual cash value coverage instead.

Even if you have replacement cost protection for your dwelling and personal property, don't assume everything is covered. Structures other than your home on your property-such as a detached garage or swimming pool-require separate coverage. So too do luxury items like jewelry, watches, and furs if you want full replacement cost because reimbursement for those items is typically capped.

How much coverage do I really need?

OK, now that you're clear on what type of policy you have, you need to figure out how much policy (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homeowners-insurance-are-you-over-or-underinsured/) you truly require in dollar terms. Let's say you purchased your home five years ago and insured it for $200,000. Today, it's worth $225,000. Simply increasing your coverage to $225,000 may nonetheless leave you underinsured. Here's why.
The key to determining how much dwelling coverage you need isn't the value of your home but the money you'd have to pay to rebuild it from scratch, says Carlos Aguirre, an agent for Liberty Mutual Insurance in Arlington, Texas. Call your local contractors' or homebuilders' association and inquire about the average per-square-foot construction cost in your area. If it's $150 and your home is 2,000 square feet, then you should be insured for $300,000.
There's no rule of thumb for how much your homeowners insurance should cost. Insurers use numerous factors-age, education level, creditworthiness-to determine pricing, so the same policy could run you more than your neighbor. In recent years the average annual premium (http://www.iii.org/media/facts/statsbyissue/homeowners/) was $804. Oshinsky advises against scrimping on insurance because big increases in coverage probably cost less than you'd think. He recently purchased a liability policy that cost $250 for the first $1 million in coverage. Adding another $1 million increased his premiums only $12.50 more.

How can I lower my premiums?

The higher your deductible, the amount you pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in, the lower your premium. Landing on the appropriate deductible level requires remembering that insurance should cover major calamities (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homeowners-insurance-to-claim-or-not-to-claim/), not minor incidents, says Foley, the independent insurance broker. Most homeowners should be able to absorb modest losses like a broken window pane or a hole in the drywall without filing claims. If you can, then you're wasting money with a $250 deductible.
Foley's rule: If you're a first-time homeowner and don't have a lot of savings, moving up to a $500 deductible will probably stretch your budget. However, if you live in a ritzy home and drive an expensive car, then you should be able to afford a $1,000 deductible. In Milltown, N.J., for example, the premium for a $200,000 home with a $500 deductible would be $736, according to Foley; moving up to a $1,000 deductible drops the annual premium to $672. That's $64 in savings.

 Every major insurer offers discounts to various groups, such as university employees or firefighters. Figure about 5%. Ask which affiliations would entitle you to a discount and how much. If an AARP membership would result in a $50 savings, pay the $16 dues and pocket the $36 difference. Many insurers also offer discounts ranging from 1% to 10% or more for installing protective devices like alarms and deadbolt locks, for going claim-free for an extended period, or for insuring both your car and your home with the same carrier.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has been involved in insurance litigation. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Consumers Digest, Bankrate.com, REALTOR(R) Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman

http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Let’s learn a Little about Ravenel and Hollywood, South Carolina

Ravenel and Hollywood are small towns in Charleston County located about 10 and 20 minutes respectively south of Charleston along Highway 17.  The area is largely rural with some very nice subdivisions scattered about the area.  Hollywood and Ravenel are primarily residential communities for those who work in Charleston. 

Points of interest are Champney’s U-Pick Blueberry Farm, the Charleston County Caw Caw Interpretative Center, and the Plantation at Stono Ferry which includes beautiful homes, golfing and equestrian center.  The nearby ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge Area. 

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com
 

Let’s learn a Little about McClellanville, SC

McClellanville is a small picturesque village, established in the mid -1800's on Jeremy Creek.  It is situated on the Atlantic coast surrounded by the Francis Marion National Forest among the tall pines, palmettos, and live oaks that line this tidal creek which opens onto a great sweep of salt marsh and flows into the intracostal waterway.  McClellanville has traditionally derived its livelihood from the Atlantic Ocean and coastal marshes by fishing, shrimping and oystering.

The land on which the village was built was formerly two tracts, that of A.J. McClellan and Mr. Matthews.  The Matthews tract was bought by R. T. Morrison, whose main residence was Laurel Hill plantation, four miles to the south.  Both men soon sold lots on the creek to planters of the South Santee region and the village soon emerged.
McClellanville today is a self-sufficient community of schools, homes, churches, shops, and docking facilities with an economy largely dependant upon the sea.  It has undergone a massive renovation since Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989.

Points of interest include the Francis Marion National Forest, Hampton Plantation State Historic site, and the annual Lowcounrty Shrimp Festival held in May.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ .

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at  http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com
 

Economists' Commentary: Forecast for 2010

In all, 4.4 million Americans look to take advantage of the home buyer tax credit before it expires by the middle of next year. From the enactment in February of this year through October, NAR estimates 1.8 million households would have qualified to claim the first-time home buyer tax credit. Now with the tax credit deadline extended till the end of June 2010 (for closings, with contracts signed by the end of April, 2010) and also available to many move-up buyers, an additional 2.6 million families would likely claim the home buyer tax credit.

The expected boost to existing home sales by more than 20 percent in the first half of 2010 from comparable period one year before will sufficiently trim away inventory such that home values will begin to show increases by the middle of next year in many parts of the country. The median existing home price could rise by 2 to 4 percent in 2010. New home sales could jump by nearly 50 percent, though from very depressed levels to figures that would be less than half the pace as during the peak sales year in 2005.

One assumption underlying the home sales forecast is that the mortgage rates will continue to remain at near historically low around 5 percent and not more than 5.5 percent. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is projected to stay high at slightly above 10 percent through the first half of next year, before steadily inching down. Another assumption is that the economy as measured by the GDP continues to expand at nearly 3 percent, thereby laying the foundation for eventual consistent net job gains sometime in the spring of next year.

There was indeed good news on the job front. In November, payroll jobs were reduced by only 11,000. Of course, job cuts are bad, but the momentum of fewer layoffs with each passing month is clearly positive news. Consider this: job cuts averaged 688,000 per month in the first quarter, 512,000 per month in the second quarter, 288,000 per month in the third quarter, and 111,000 in October. In the construction sector, the job loss in November was 27,000, but the pace of cuts has also been diminishing.

The average hours worked by an employee rose in November as well, implying more full-time hours over part-time. Moreover, employment information from households and not from established companies suggests a net job addition. A total of 227,000 jobs were added when based on household survey, thereby nudging the unemployment rate lower to 10.0 percent in November from 10.2 percent in the prior month. Usually, many start-up companies and consultancy jobs are not counted in the company survey data, which explains for the differences between household and company surveys on jobs. So as long as the job momentum moves for the better, the housing market forecast of 20 percent higher sales and stabilizing home values should hold up. An improving housing market and the very important development of home values and housing wealth stabilization will in turn better stimulate economic recovery.

Not all markets are equal, however. Detroit is hemorrhaging with 17 percent unemployment rate. The Washington D.C. area is buffered from so much government spending with the jobless rate at only 6 percent. Even if a bridge is built in Alaska, somehow jobs get created in D.C. Something right is being done in North Dakota with labor shortages and a state budget surplus. Bismark and Fargo have exceptionally low unemployment rates of only 3 percent.

On interest rates, the borrowing rate for a home purchase and refinance on a primary home has never been lower than it is now. The average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.8 percent in early December. The rates will not move lower than this in 2010. All indications in fact point toward higher rates next year. The Federal Reserve could end the purchase of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in March as currently scheduled, though my guess is that MBS purchases will continue for a bit further, though less aggressively. Even in the absence of the Fed's MBS purchase, mortgage rates will not suddenly rise to alarming levels. At most, mortgage rates will rise to the high fives (5.6 to 5.8 percent). Given global financial market inter-linkages, we need to be mindful that the Australian central bank has already begun to raise its rates and Canada is looking to do the same very soon. The European central bank, though not planning on raising interest rates anytime soon, indicated it is looking to stop its quantitative easing policy and possibly move in reverse very soon. That means that, rather than the central bank buying government and private market bonds out of newly printed money, it plans to mop up excessive cash floating in the system to assure inflation does not suddenly pop out of the bottle. With these developments, the U.S. Federal Reserve will surely have to raise its fed funds rate sometime in the second half of 2010 and stop the purchase of private bonds, including MBSs. Otherwise, the dollar will lose its ground to other currencies and steadily cut into our standard of living here at home.

The very high federal budget deficits could also do us in. After an all-time high of $1.4 trillion in budget deficit in the fiscal year 2009, another trillion dollar deficit is on the card for 2010 and near trillion in 2011 and 2012. A big factor in lessening the deficit is how the economy grows. If the economy expands and leads to robust job creation, then the deficit will be lower than projected. If the economy hits many speed bumps along the way then the deficit will get quite ugly. Therefore, a way to get out of the deficit jam is to promote policies leading to economic growth. But unfortunately, the high deficit could also put focus on ways to raise more tax revenue by chipping away at mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction, and capital gains tax exclusion on primary residence. This discussion could come alive in 2010 and if it does surface NAR will vigorously defend homeownership policies that have been the very foundation of stable middle-class based democracy, civic participation, and long-term middle class wealth accumulation. Any housing policy leading to unsuccessful homeownership (such as the ones associated with the recent housing bust and foreclosures) should be dropped. But policies that promote responsible and sustainable homeownership have incalculable societal benefits and must be defended. In addition, given that homeowners already pay nearly 90 percent of all federal income taxes, trying to extract more out of homeowners will in the end be counter-productive economically and politically.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

By Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist
Copyright National Association of REALTORS®, Reprinted with permission
 

"Carolina Joe" Just Sold Another One!!!

"CAROLINA JOE", YOUR REALTOR TO KNOW!

16 CAROLINA ST CHARLESTON, SC 29403 LP: $125,000

MLS#: 2901260pd – RES – SFA Status: Sold
Area: (52) CHS-Peninsula Chas. outside of crosstown
Municipality: (11) CITY OF CHARLESTON
Bedrooms: 5 Apx SqFt: 2,592
Bths Ful/Hlf: 3/0 Tax Map#: 460-04-03-111
Stories: 2 Story Apx YrBlt: 1930
Address: 16 CAROLINA ST
City: CHARLESTON Zip: 29403
Lot Size:   Acres: 0.00
Subdiv: NORTH CENTRAL Subsec:  
Grade Sch: MITCHELL Middle Sch: BURKE
High Sch: BURKE
Possessn: At Closing New/Owned: Pre-owned
Legal Desc: Lot 18, Block F
Style: Triplex-1U Fireplace:   Special: Estate Sale
Roof: Metal Foundation: Crawl Space Floors: W/w Carpet, Wood
Cooling: Window Unit Heat: Forced Air Utilities: SCEandG, Chas Water Sys
Parking: 3 Car Garage        
        SqFt Source: Tax Records   $/Sqft: $28.26
Auction: N Auction Type:   Reserve Amt:  
Lot Desc: High
Exterior: Aluminum Siding
Master BR: Ceiling Fan
Other Rms: Eat-in Kitch, Frmal Living
Misc. Int: Smooth Ceil
Misc. Extt: Full Fr Prch
Wat/Sew: Public Water, Public Sewer
Amenities: Play Park, Bus Line
Appliances: Ceiling Fan
Green Features:
Sold Price: $73,250 DOM/CDOM/DUC: 196/196 / 140 NewMortType: CASH
Close Date: 12/11/2009 CntrctDate: 07/24/2009 PrjClsDate:  
Sell Off: (1836) AGENTOWNED CHAS. GROUP
Phone: (843) 769-5100
Sell Agent: (12460) JOE IDLEMAN
Phone: (843) 557-9203
Sell Co-Off: () Seller Concessions: N Sell Co-Agent: ()

Click on Photo to Enlarge

Holiday Fire Safety Tips

To keep your household from becoming a holiday fire statistic, here are some safety tips to follow. 

Residential fires during the holiday season are more frequent, more costly, and more deadly than at any other time of the year. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports more than double the number of open-flame fires on Christmas Day than on an average day, and about twice as many on New Year's Day. And when those fires occur, they do more damage: Property loss during a holiday fire is 34% greater than in an average fire, and the number of fatalities per thousand fires is nearly 70% higher. When the source of the fire is a highly flammable Christmas tree, the toll in property and lives is even greater.  The holiday season is one of the most dangerous times of the year for household fires, so take these tips to reduce your risk.

Cooking

Cooking is the top cause of holiday fires, according to the USFA. The most common culprit is food that's left unattended. It's easy to get distracted; take a pot holder with you when you leave the kitchen as a reminder that you have something on the stove. Make sure to keep a kitchen fire extinguisher that's rated for all types of fires, and check that smoke detectors are working.  If you're planning to deep-fry your holiday turkey, do it outside, on a flat, level surface at least 10 feet from the house.

Candles

The incidence of candle fires is four times higher during December than during other months. According to the National Fire Protection Association (http://www.NFPA.ORG), four of the five most dangerous days of the year for residential candle fires are Christmas/Christmas Eve and New Year's/New Year's Eve. (The fifth is Halloween.) 
To reduce the danger, maintain about a foot of space between the candle and anything that can burn. Set candles on sturdy bases or cover with hurricane globes. Never leave flames unattended. Before bed, walk through each room to make sure candles are blown out. For atmosphere without worry, consider flameless LED candles.

Christmas trees

It takes less than 30 seconds for a dry tree to engulf a room in flames, according to the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (http://www.NIST.GOV). "They make turpentine out of pine trees," notes Tom Olshanski, spokesman for the U.S. Fire Administration (http://www.USFA.DHS.GOV). "A Christmas tree is almost explosive when it goes."  To minimize risk, buy a fresh tree with intact needles, get a fresh cut on the trunk, and water it every day. A well-watered tree is almost impossible to ignite. Keep the tree away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator, and out of traffic patterns. If you're using live garlands and other greenery, keep them at least three feet away from heating sources.  No matter how well the tree is watered, it will start to dry out after about four weeks, Olshanski says, so take it down after the holidays. Artificial trees don't pose much of a fire hazard; just make sure yours is flame-retardant.

Decorative lights

Inspect light strings (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/holiday-lighting-checklist/), and throw out any with frayed or cracked wires or broken sockets. When decorating, don't run more than three strings of lights end to end. "Stacking the plugs is much safer when you're using a large quantity of lights," explains Brian L. Vogt, director of education for holiday lighting firm Christmas Décor. Extension cords should be in good condition and UL-rated for indoor or outdoor use. Check outdoor receptacles to make sure the ground fault interrupters don't trip. If they trip repeatedly, Vogt says, that's a sign that they need to be replaced.  When hanging lights outside, avoid using nails or staples, which can damage the wiring and increase the risk of a fire. Instead, use UL-rated clips or hangers. And take lights down within 90 days, says John Drengenberg, director of consumer safety for Underwriters Laboratories. "If you leave them up all year round, squirrels chew on them and they get damaged by weather."

Kids playing with matches

The number of blazes–and, tragically, the number of deaths–caused by children playing with fire goes up significantly during the holidays. From January through March, 13% of fire deaths are the result of children playing with fire, the USFA reports; in December, that percentage doubles. So keep matches and lighters out of kids' reach. "We tend to underestimate the power of these tools," says Meri-K Appy, president of the nonprofit Home Safety Council (http://www.HOMESAFETYCOUNCIL.ORG). "A match or lighter could be more deadly than a loaded gun in the hands of a small child."

Fireplaces

Soot can harden on chimney walls as flammable creosote, so before the fireplace season begins, have your chimney inspected to see if it needs cleaning. Screen the fireplace to prevent embers from popping out onto the floor or carpet, and never use flammable liquids to start a fire in the fireplace. Only burn seasoned wood–no wrapping paper.  When cleaning out the fireplace put embers in a metal container and set them outside to cool for 24 hours before disposal.
 
Pat Curry is a former senior editor at BUILDER, the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Start a Christmas Tree Recycling Program

More than 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. This holiday season don't toss yours in the dumpster. Instead, consider organizing a recycling program in your community.  Although some community groups raise money by asking for a donation when they pick up trees for recycling, the big payoff of "treecycling" is keeping discarded trees from taking up landfill space.

There are more than 4,000 treecycling programs throughout the United States, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (http://www.christmastree.org). If your community doesn't have one, starting one isn't as difficult as you might think, especially if you partner with local and state recycling programs and organizations such as Earth911 (http://earth911.com/).

The community volunteers who run the treecycling program at The New Hope Borough Recycling Committee (http://www.newhopeborough.org/waste.htm) in Pennsylvania spent about 20 hours each helping to organize and promote the activity. A landscape contractor donates time and equipment to pick up about 100 trees curbside and turn them into chips for mulch.

How to start a treecycle program

If you want to start a treecycling program in your area, begin by finding neighbors, small businesses, and members of local environmental groups who'd like to join your cause.

Starting a program without any community support or resources would be costly and time-consuming, and far more effort than most people would be willing to undertake, so secure support and partners first before embarking on this project.

Once you've located partners, get everyone together for a meeting to decide how you want to recycle your trees.

Evaluate recycling options

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, trees can be reused and recycled (http://www.christmastree.org/recycle.cfm) in many different ways, from being turned into mulch to being left whole and used as nesting habitats for herons and egrets.  The most common recycling method is chipping, which requires special equipment as well as a qualified operator with liability insurance. Renting the equipment and getting licensed can be time consuming and expensive, so partnering with a local department of parks and recreation, private landscaping business, or tree service company is your best bet if you want to mulch the trees.  An alternative to chipping is to donate whole Christmas trees to a variety of conservation efforts such as wildlife restoration and dune and wetland rebuilding.  Once you have a tree recycling partner, your biggest investment will be the time spent organizing volunteers and partners, which will take about 40 hours over the course of a few weeks.

Assign a volunteer to outline and execute a plan to promote your program starting at least a month in advance. Have the volunteer come up with marketing materials such as a press release and fliers explaining the program.  The volunteers doing major tasks such as promotion or working with a landscape company should expect to spend roughly 20 hours on the program. Volunteers who staff the drop off location could spend 10 to 15 hours doing shifts over the course of a week. The person in charge of the event could spend up to 40 hours overseeing the volunteers and troubleshooting.

Schedule tree collection

After you've decided how the trees will be recycled, you'll need to determine how and when to collect them. According to Earth911 (http://earth911.com/christmas-trees/how-to-start-a-christmas-tree-recycling-program-part-one/), options include short-term drop off, long-term drop off, and curbside pick up.  If you elect to do drop off, you'll need to find a location to store the trees until they're recycled. If you do a pick-up program, you'll need trucks and crews to collect the trees.  The best collection times range from the day after Christmas to the middle of January. If you are doing a short-term drop-off, the week after New Year's is best. Be sure to put tree requirements on promotional materials so that trees are free of ornaments, lights, tinsel, and tree stands before they're dropped off or collected.

Starting a Christmas tree recycling program in your community is a great way to begin the New Year a little greener. Just make sure that you have community support and recycling resources to help make your program a success.
Sacha Cohen is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and founder of DCGoingGreen.net and grassfed media (http://www.grassfedmediadc.com). She has written about sustainable travel, green buildings, and green communities for such outlets as The Washington Post and Planet Green.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Source:  www.HouseLogic.com
 

Holiday Lighting Checklist

Before you plug in and light up for the holidays, run your decorations through this quick safety check.  Lights, inside and out, are a beautiful part of the holiday season. But as with all electrical devices, you need to take special precautions. Before you deck the halls, run through this checklist to keep your holidays merry and bright. 

 Inspect light strings. Discard any that are damaged. Frayed or cracked electrical cords or broken sockets are leading fire hazards.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for connecting multiple strings. The general limit is three strings. Light strings with stacked plugs can usually accommodate greater lengths than end-to-end connections.

Replace burned-out bulbs promptly. Empty sockets can cause the entire string to overheat.

Make sure outdoor lighting is UL-rated for exterior use. Exterior lights, unlike those used inside the house, need to be weather-resistant. The same goes for any extension cords used outdoors.

Don't use outdoor lights indoors. They're too hot for interior use. For the coolest bulbs and greatest energy efficiency, try LED lights, which come in a wide range of styles and colors.

Don't attach light strings with nails or staples. They can cut through the wire insulation and create a fire hazard. Only use UL-approved hangers.

Take exterior lights down within 90 days. The longer they stay up, the more likely they are to suffer damage from weather and critters chewing on them.

Store lights safely. Tangled lights can lead to damaged cords and broken sockets. After the holidays, coil each string loosely around a stiff piece of cardboard, wrap it in paper or fabric to protect the bulbs, and store in a sturdy container until next year.

Pat Curry is a former senior editor at BUILDER, the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.
As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article From HouseLogic.com
 

Charleston-Area Residential Real Estate Sales Soar in November

Charleston County Home Sales Double Over 2008 Levels, Leads Regional Recovery

The Charleston-area residential real estate market continues to show signs of a strong recovery.  Led by incredibly strong sales in Charleston County, preliminary data from the Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS® showed 783 closed transactions in November, with a median sale price of $173,000.

As of December 10, 2008, 435 properties were sold at a median price of $185,503.  This month’s numbers reflect an unprecedented 80% increase in sales and the third consecutive month of increases.

This type of activity is uncharacteristic for November, and likely attributable to the passing of the original homebuyer tax credit deadline, which was November 30.  The tax credit deadline has been extended to April 30, 2010 and expanded to include provisions for existing homeowners inventory sits at this year’s lowest level, with 9,429 properties listed as “active” with the Charleston Trident Multiple Listing Service, as of November 30, 2009.

To learn more about the tax credit check out this article in my blog:  http://www.carolinajoe.com/blog/index.cfm/2009/11/12/HOMEBUYER-TAX-CREDIT-SUMMARY

BERKELEY COUNTY

Home sales in Berkeley County were up 65% in November, with 196 sales at a median price of $154,700, compared to November 2008’s 119 sales at $170,000.

CHARLESTON COUNTY

Charleston County showed the greatest gains in the region during the month.  Sales doubled over last year, and median prices are within 1%of 2008 levels.  361 properties changed hands in November at a median price of $225,000, in stark contrast to 2008’s 170 sales at a median price of $227,738.

DORCHESTER COUNTY

Sales continued to be strong in Dorchester County, up 42% year-over-year.  199 properties sold at a median price of $150,000 this month, compared to 140 properties at a median price of $169,995 in 2008.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

 

Making Home Affordable: The Modification Option

Making Home Affordable, the federal program aimed at aiding struggling homeowners, offers two options: refinancing and loan modification. A homeowner who is behind on mortgage payments and at risk of foreclosure could benefit from the modification option, which pays lenders to re-work loan terms and lower monthly payments.

Don't expect to breeze through the Making Home Affordable qualifying process. You'll need a lot of documentation and patience. With so many homeowners looking for help, lenders are scrambling to keep up with demand. To speed up the loan process, have your paperwork in order before applying for a loan modification.

Qualifying for a loan modification

Making Home Affordable modification option

(http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/modification_eligibility.html) is known as the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. It's designed for homeowners who are likely to lose their homes because they can't keep up with mortgage payments. Even if you aren't behind on payments yet, you can qualify for help if you can demonstrate that you will fall behind soon.

To qualify for HAMP, the home must be your primary residence and you must owe $729,750 or less on a first mortgage that was originated on or before Jan. 1, 2009. Your monthly payment on your first mortgage must be greater than 31% of your monthly gross income. Second mortgages and home equity lines of credit don't count. You must also demonstrate financial hardship such as a jump in mortgage payments or a drop in income.

A loan modification makes sense if you can't afford your current mortgage payment but could manage to stay current if that monthly payment is lowered. Second homes, which include vacation homes and rentals, don't qualify for the program. Homes of up to four units are eligible, with higher loan limits, as long as you occupy one of the units. HAMP is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.

How to get started

HAMP begins with a trial phase. Contact your lender to initiate the process, or call 1-888-995-HOPE to get free assistance from a housing counsellor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The lender will calculate a lower monthly payment, which you must make on time for at least three months. After successfully completing the trial phase, your lender should make the loan modification permanent.

While lenders may accept some undocumented information up front to begin the process, eventually you'll need to file detailed paperwork to earn a permanent modification. It's better to get your documentation in order in advance. HAMP administrators say the leading reason trial modifications fail to be made permanent is missing paperwork.

First gather information on your income (pay stubs), expenses (mortgage statements, tax and insurance bills, debt balances), and assets (bank and non-retirement savings statements). You'll need that information to fill out the Request for Modification and Affidavit (http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/docs/RMA%20Interactive%20-%20Updated%2011.10.09.pdf). Also complete IRS form 4506T-EZ (http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506tez.pdf), which allows your lender to review your income tax returns. File a Hardship Affidavit (http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/docs/hamphardshipaffidavit.pdf) as well. If possible, send all of the documents at once by certified mail to your lender to lessen the likelihood of lost paperwork and delays, says Nicole Hall, editor of LendingTree.com.

Lowering your monthly payments

A lender can modify a mortgage in several ways: lower your interest rate, reduce your principal, or extend the term of the loan. The basic goal is to use one or more of these approaches to get your monthly mortgage payment, including real estate taxes and homeowners insurance premiums, down to a more affordable 31% or less of gross (pre-tax) income. Lenders are allowed to cut your interest rate to as low as 2%, if necessary. The average HAMP modification has reduced monthly payments by $640.

To get a ballpark figure of how much a modification might lower you monthly payment, run the numbers (http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/payment_reduction_estimator.html) for yourself. If, for example, your current mortgage payment is $2,000 and your monthly gross income is $4,000, then you're paying 50% of your pre-tax income toward the home loan. A typical modification to bring that figure down to 31% would reduce the payment to $1,240, a savings of $760 a month.

Alternatives to foreclosure

Even if you're facing foreclosure, HAMP is worth a shot. The foreclosure process is suspended while you're in the trial phase of the modification. Foreclosure can be avoided altogether if you can demonstrate the ability to keep up with the new, lower payment and graduate to a permanent modification. Keep in mind that the foreclosure process can resume if you miss payments during the trial phase or fail to get approved for a permanent modification.

Some owners won't be able to stay in their homes, even with a mortgage modification. To avoid foreclosure, look into the federal Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (https://www.hmpadmin.com/portal/docs/news/hampupdate113009.pdf) program. HAFA offers lenders financial incentives to opt for a short sale or deed-in-lieu rather than a foreclosure. Although the program doesn't officially go into effect until April 5, 2010, some lenders may initiate it early.
In a short sale, a borrower sells a home for less than the outstanding mortgage, and the lender takes the proceeds and considers the debt paid off. In a deed-in-lieu, the homeowner turns over the home to the lender, and the mortgage is closed. Although neither option is ideal, either can make sense if a loan modification isn't attainable or sufficient.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman

http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Let’s learn a Little about Edisto Island and Edisto Beach, South Carolina

Edisto Island is situated in both Charleston and Colleton counties, with Edisto Beach being entirely in Colleton County.  For the purposes of this article I will refer to both as Edisto Island.

Edisto Island's historical legacy began with the imprint of the Edistow Indians, its first known occupants. The Spanish arrived in the 1500's, followed by English settlers in the 1600's. The English remained, first living off the sea, then cultivating money crops of rice and indigo. By 1790, planters turned to a long staple cotton, known as Sea Island cotton-one of the finest cottons ever produced. It was this crop that brought the great wealth to Edisto Islanders. Many of the elegant houses and plantations remaining today are reminders of that affluent age. These sites are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These private homes are put on tour once a year by the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society.

Edisto Island may be one of South Carolina’s best-kept secrets. Edisto is the ultimate family oriented vacation destination. Come rent a beach cottage, or stay in a Bed and Breakfast.  You can throw a cast net for shrimp, dip your toes in the surf, or build a sandcastle or eat at a fine restaurant. Experience the perfect combination of oceanfront beaches, saltwater marshes and Lowcountry oaks draped in Spanish moss.

Points of interest include many Bed and Breakfasts homes, Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Island Serpentarium, Edisto Beach public beach, Edisto Island Museum, and the nearby ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge Area.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com
 

How Baby Boomers are Reigniting the Housing Market

The battered housing market is getting some help from an unlikely source: retirees. Baby boomers on the cusp of collecting Social Security are bringing some much-needed vitality to the real-estate sector as they capitalize on reduced prices and low mortgage rates by lining up their next homes a few years early.

Before the crash, older home-buyers were already big players in the real-estate market, and now their influence is growing. According to the National Association of Realtors, people over 55 bought 21 percent of the homes that were sold in 2008, up from 13 percent in 2001. Now, roughly one out of every four baby boomers owns either a vacation home, land, or a rental property in addition to the home that they live in. And some shoppers are looking for transitional homes that they can vacation in now and settle into when they are ready to retire.

"That's a trend that will continue," says NAR's Walter Molony. While many repeat buyers took a breather to rebuild the savings and home equity they lost over the past couple of years, Molony expects retirees to buy their way back into the market as the economy recovers. "This can be a terrific time to buy that retirement home, but buyers have to have the resources to float [multiple homes] for a while," says Rich Arzaga, a San Ramon, Calif., financial planner. He points out that the carrying costs of holding two properties can be unexpectedly high, and include the costs of finding tenants, making repairs, and managing the property.

Baby-boom retirees and pre-retirees who are in the market seem to be considering the effort and expense involved in managing a property. They are looking for something different their second and third time around. They want single-story houses, smaller floor plans, and some amenities aimed at older home purchasers, such as nonslip floors, larger medicine cabinets, and lower kitchen cabinets, according to recent surveys by the National Association of Home Builders and the MetLife Mature Market Institute. They don't seem to care as much as builders for much-hyped universal design features like lever-handle doorknobs and wider doors and hallways, perhaps because they are concerned about costs, or in typical baby-boomer fashion, they are resistant to seeing themselves as aged or infirm. That may also be why today's newest retirees also seem less likely to prefer age-restricted communities than their already-retired predecessors.

Pre-retirees looking at the housing market face more challenges in financing their purchases than they did a few years ago. Then, many buyers bought second homes with cash-out refinances of their primary homes. Now, with less equity available in their primary homes, they are seeking mortgages for their second homes. Second-home mortgages are more broadly available than they were a decade ago, but do require high credit scores and down payments as high as 20 percent.

People with significant assets in their individual retirement accounts can tap that cash to invest in a retirement home, but there are many complexities involved. They have to establish a self-directed IRA with an independent trust company such as Pensco Trust and the Entrust Group. They have to treat the home as an investment, so they can't use it as a vacation home or rent it out at below-market rates to friends and relatives. When it is time to retire and they want to start using the home, they have to pull it out of the IRA, and if it's been held in a tax-deductible IRA that would force them to pay income taxes on the entire value of the house. That makes it far preferable to use a Roth IRA (from which withdrawals will not be taxed) to buy real estate.

Older investors who have been buying into the market may turn into net sellers once they actually retire, as it can eat up a lot of that monthly Social Security check to run two homes. Arzaga tells his clients that once they've made the decision to move, they should put their older homes on the market and not wait for better prices that could be years down the road. Selling sooner rather than later could protect their cash flow and provide better housing deals that could pull a younger generation of buyers into the market.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Source: Linda Stern | Newsweek Web Exclusive
 

Government Announces Short Sales Guidelines

The U.S. Treasury Department announced new guidelines this week designed to make short sales go more smoothly.

To qualify under these new guidelines:

1.  The property must be the home owner’s principal residence.

2.  The home owner must be delinquent on the mortgage or close to defaulting.

3.  The loan must have been made before Jan. 1, 2009, and be for less than $729,750.
 
4.  The borrowers’ total monthly mortgage payment must exceed 31 percentof their before-tax income.

Under the plan, borrowers will receive $1,500 from the government for selling homes for less than the amount of their mortgages. Mortgage-servicing companies will get $1,000 for each completed short sale. Second-mortgage holders can receive up to $3,000 of the sales proceeds in exchange for releasing their liens. Investors who hold the first mortgage can collect up to $1,000 from the government for allowing the payments.

Borrowers who complete a short sale under the program must be "fully released" from future liability for the debt, according to the guidelines.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ .

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Source: Associated Press, J.W. Elphinstone (11/01/2009) and The Wall Street Journal, Ruth Simon (11/01/2009)
 

"Carolina Joe" Just Listed another One!!!

"CAROLINA JOE", YOUR REALTOR TO KNOW!

5803 BEVERLY DR HANAHAN, SC 29410 LP: $159,900

MLS#: 2930857pvd – RES – SFD Status: Active
Area: (71) BER-Hanahan Area
Municipality: (31) HANAHAN
Bedrooms: 5 Apx SqFt: 2,762
Bths Ful/Hlf: 3/1 Tax Map#: 265-16-08-043
Stories: 1 Story Apx YrBlt: 1967
Address: 5803 BEVERLY DR
City: HANAHAN Zip: 29410
Lot Size: 84.96 X 102.61 X 80.40 X 102.2 Acres: 0.19
Subdiv: HANAHAN Subsec:  
Grade Sch: HANAHAN ELEMENTARY Middle Sch: HANAHAN
High Sch: HANAHAN
Possessn: At Closing New/Owned: Pre-owned
Legal Desc: LOT 5C BLOCK 17 CHARLESTON FARMS
Style: Ranch Fireplace: Great Rm Special:  
Roof: Asphalt Shng Foundation: Slab, Crawl Space Floors: W/w Carpet, Ceramic Tile
Cooling: Central, Window Unit Heat: Heat Pump Utilities: SCEandG, BCWandSA
Parking: 2+ Car/port        
        SqFt Source: Previous Listing   $/Sqft: $57.89
Auction:   Auction Type:   Reserve Amt:  
Lot Desc: Level, Corner
Exterior: Brick – veneer
Master BR: Dual Masters, Downstairs, Ceiling Fan
Other Rms: Eat-in Kitch, Frmal Living, Family, Great Room, Laundry, M-in-law Ste, Other
Misc. Int:  
Misc. Extt: Strg/outbldg, Deck, Patio, Gutters
Wat/Sew: Public Water, Public Sewer
Amenities: Cable Available, Trash Pickup
Appliances: Elec Range, Refrigerator, Dishwasher, Washer Conn, Dryer Conn, Ceiling Fan
Green Features:

Click on Photo to Enlarge

"Carolina Joe" Just Listed Another One!!!

"CAROLINA JOE", YOUR REALTOR TO KNOW!

16 DEWEY ST CHARLESTON, SC 29403-4121 LP: $99,999

MLS#: 2930880md – RES – SFD Status: Active
Area: (52) CHS-Peninsula Chas. outside of crosstown
Municipality: (11) CITY OF CHARLESTON
Bedrooms: 3 Apx SqFt: 1,172
Bths Ful/Hlf: 1/0 Tax Map#: 460-03-02-127
Stories: 1 Story Apx YrBlt: 1941
Address: 16 DEWEY ST
City: CHARLESTON Zip: 29403-4121
Lot Size: 35X75 Acres: 0.00
Subdiv: NORTH CENTRAL Subsec:  
Grade Sch: JAMES SIMONS Middle Sch: BURKE
High Sch: BURKE
Possessn: At Closing New/Owned: Pre-owned
Legal Desc: LT 32
Style: Chassngl Fireplace: Living Rm, Bedroom, Three Special:  
Roof: Metal Foundation: Crawl Space Floors: Wood, Vinyl
Cooling:   Heat: Gas Utilities:  
Parking: Off-st Prkng        
        SqFt Source: Tax Records   $/Sqft: $85.32
Auction: N Auction Type:   Reserve Amt:  
Lot Desc:  
Exterior: Wood Siding
Master BR:  
Other Rms: Eat-in Kitch, Sep Dining, Laundry, Utility
Misc. Int:  
Misc. Extt: Enclosed Wood Fence, Part'l Fence
Wat/Sew: Public Water, Public Sewer
Amenities: Cable Available, Trash Pickup
Appliances: Gas Range, Washer Conn

Click on Photo to Enlarge