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Back to School Basics

Tips and Tricks to Save $$

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In our area, the made-up snow days at the end of the school year made this past year seem long. Therefore, it's a bit jarring to be thinking about back to school supplies already. However, planning ahead can help prevent a lot of the headache in back to school shopping. Many times the quest for new supplies and clothes can seem like an endless scavenger hunt that quickly eats through money in the bank! Below we have compiled a few tips on how to keep the costs low, as well as things to consider when deciding on which supplies will best fit your student's needs. We have also taken a look at a few of the activities you can still be doing the final days of summer to keep your child's mind sharp and ready to jump into the next grade. Students on average lose a month of learning during summer vacation and can lose over two months of learning for harder subjects.* Luckily, there are ways to battle the summer brain drain while still having fun! *"Summer Vacation Slide" by Barbara Pytel

Back to School Supplies Armed with a supply list provided by the school, it is time to begin the scavenger hunt. As you look for supplies for your children, below are a couple items to keep in mind.

  • Waste Not, Want Not Take a look through left over supplies from last school year. Did older children leave something the younger ones can use? Where certain supplies never used or still have some life left in them? Do some supplies just need new batteries, lead, erases or other refills? Also, check older items that may be spruced up a bit with stickers, photos, etc. - it makes for a fun project for the younger kids and can help get them excited about going back for the next year.
  • School Supply Closet If you don't already have one, set up a supply closet/space where you can keep old and new supplies all year round. Here you can keep packets of pencils and stacks of paper or notebooks that you know will be used throughout the year. Buy commonly used items in bulk and you will save in the long run.
  • Collect Year Round Now that you have a School Supply Closet set up in your home, you can more easily take advantage of deals as they arise during the year. With a place to neatly keep school items you will have a better idea of what you need more of as you shop. Although Back to School sales can be good, you may find even greater bargains at the end of the season or during clearance sales.
  • "Ouch! My back!" Backpacks are often overloaded with school supplies and can cause back pain and muscle soreness for students of all ages. A backpack should only be 10-20% of the student's weight. If a smaller student is expected to carry a lot, then you may consider getting a rolling backpack.
  • "But everyone else has one..." The plaintive cry of so many children around the country. But be strong - get only what your child really needs for school. Get supplies that are basic and therefore timeless. Fancy cartoon or pop-icon covered supplies are short lived. If you do get them, only get a few that you are certain your child will use before they become "unfashionable."
  • Quality is still #1 You can shop cheap without going so generic all you get is poor quality. You don't want to buy supplies that will break, leak, rip, or fall apart before the end of the first week. (I still remember a black glued notebook I had in high school that literally just fell apart at the seems with paper scattered about the floor - not fun!) Make sure there is some quality in the products you buy. Keep in mind how roughly binders may be handled, how pens may be shoved at the bottom of a backpack and how that same backpack will be tossed, dropped, kicked, lugged, shoved and zipped/unzipped more times than worth counting.
  • Batteries not Included Avoid gimmicky and flashy supplies that twirl and light up. Teachers find these are very distracting in the classroom. If you do get a fun item like this, keep it at home where it can make the homework blahs a bit more fun.
  • Accounting 101 As your children get older, include them in the budget planning. Working together on budgeting for supplies will teach your students how to prepare and why all the flashy supplies may not be worth it. You will soon find your child will learn to appreciate the cheaper supplies so they may budget for one or two more fancy items.
  • Organization 101 Along the same lines as Accounting 101, sit down with your older children and take the time to recall what worked or didn't work last year for their learning. Did they find note cards useful and need more this year? Did color coding subjects help or would an all in one binder be more useful? Are they still struggling and need to try something new?
  • Munch a Lunch Increasingly, online access allows parents not only to review the menu but to check their child's account and upload more funds when necessary. Many schools are also adopting healthier menus. If you don't have a picky eater, this may be the most convenient option. However, if you do have a picky eater in the house or if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then packing a lunch is the better way to go. Buying food and snacks in bulk has decreased the grocery bills of many households. With a bit of pre-planning, you may actually save money if packing lunches with items you know your children will eat. For growing teenagers with insatiable appetites, giving them as many snacks as possible can help curb the fast food purchases and the extra expense of impulse hunger-buys. Packing Get a good, strong lunch bag. Brown paper bags don't hold up well and are not environmentally friendly. A good lunch bag will protect other items from spills and with a small ice pack can keep food at a safe temperature until eaten. Free Tupperware is good (i.e. sandwich meat containers) however they only have so long to live after being tossed around in a lunch bag. Good containers is a worthwhile investment as they will be used 5 days a week to pack a healthy and full meal! Munchies Include your children in planning lunches for the week. Do this on a regular basis as they may have been all about bananas the last two weeks but are now sick and want a different fruit or veggie. Find out if lunches are satisfying - are they still hungry or brining extra home? If they are brining a lot home, find out if they are preferring a food/snack served in the cafeteria. If you are trying to save money by buying in bulk, you may be able to buy this favorite to pack in their lunch or find a healthier alternative instead.
  • Free Shipping Shopping for school supplies online is not out of the ordinary anymore. Many office supply stores and their competitors are allowing parents to shop from the computer. Compare shipping rates - you might even get free shipping with purchases at a specified total.

Back to School Clothes Most kids grow out of their clothes and shoes at an amazing rate. Keep their closets full with basics and not the trendy fashion of the day. Keep clothes practical and you won't break the bank!

  • Basics, Basics, Basics Keep the clothes to the basics as much as possible. Going for trends and fads will only hurt the checkbook when your child refuses to wear them again. This doesn't mean you can't get trendy clothes if it fits your budget. One way to make this easier is to get your child involved in the budget process. Let them know how much is budgeted for the season and then shop together for some basic items while saving for a few "gotta have" fun items.
  • Playground Attire (At Every Age) Can you run, jump, play and have fun in those clothes? Make sure your kids try moving around in the clothes they want to buy. Oddly cut pants are no fun for young kids to play in and skinny jeans will not be as appealing to that middle school student once they try to sit in a chair hour after hour of class. Make sure your children on aware of the functionality of their clothing choices. Finally, make sure you check out what is allowed at the school. Funky, trendy, or skimpy may not be practical and they may get your child sent home too! Take care to read slogans on t-shirts, ambiguous language or even blatant references to questionable or illegal subjects (i.e. drugs/alcohol) may not be allowed as well.
  • Hand-Me-Downs (Even with the Neighbors!) If you have more then one kid, hand-me-downs can be great. Especially if you stay with the basic and timeless classics, it will be easier for the younger kids to use what their older siblings can no longer wear. With how quickly they grow through clothes, most of the clothes will be in great condition and you can't beat the price! If you don't have older siblings, consider roving the local garage sales. Or talk with parents at the school, some parents plan exchange nights where they all bring clothes their kids can no longer wear and exchange with each other - again, you can't beat the price of a good barter in kind!
  • Consignment & Charitable Stores Both consignment and charitable stores can offer a great way to fill your kids closet. Get your children involved. At the consignment store they can make their "own" money by turning in old clothes for cash or store credit. Going to charitable stores, children can learn early how to stretch their dollar. Especially when shopping for items they know they will not be using often - so they need a white dress shirt for choir but will only wear it one season - a charitable or consignment store is a great fit. For the really creative kids, this can be a great way to mix and match and create their own style for cheap.
  • Shop In and Out of Season Without a doubt the department stores and outlet stores will run great deals and back to school sales. But also keep a look out for seasonal closeouts. Items you may not use this year might be used the next - just be aware you may have to do some good guessing on future sizes! Again, when shopping seasonal or end of the year sales, make certain to go for basic and timeless styles - the trendy may be a good bargain, but may not be worn by a stubborn teen next year.

Back to School Learning As mentioned in the intro above, research has shown that children lose about a months worth of knowledge over a 3 month summer vacation. For more difficult subjects this loss may be even more. There are ways to keep your kids mind sharp and even learn new things over the summer while keeping it fun and relaxed.

  • Homework Hour Okay, I know we just said to keep it fun and relaxed...it still can be with a scheduled time at night for quiet "study" time. Try to leave an hour open twice a week (or more) for a homework hour where you and your kids play a challenging game, watch a documentary, quietly read, or they can play an educational computer game - there are many online covering everything from dinosaurs to foreign languages. It will help keep you child's mind sharp and attuned to concentrating on one task like they will have to when real homework starts again in the fall. Of course this is generally for the older student, younger kids wouldn't need to do a whole hour - something more comparable to what they do in a school activity. The idea is not to sit them down with a chart to fill in or tables to review. Instead, get them to apply some of their learned knowledge in an activity.
  • Summer Reading If not done during homework hour, summer reading can be done daily. Read to the younger kids, read along with the older ones and read quietly next to the tweens and teens. The idea is to again make the environment conducive to some reading time. Take a trip to the library once every two weeks to stock up on books. Perhaps an older kid might be interested in entering one of the many reading contests that happen every summer. Read the same book as a family and compare opinions. Read books related to an upcoming summer vacation. Read books with a movie fast approaching and compare them to each other. Read non-fiction books as well. Simply put - read!
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know Consider making national pastimes a chance to learn - How do fireworks work? What creates a thunderstorm? Why do we celebrate July 4th? Which constellation is that? How does a camera work - perhaps put it on manual and figure what different apertures and shutter speeds can do. Or turn a family road trip into a chance to learn a bit more - stop at a national park or try a different cuisine from what you get around home. Challenge yourself to look at items we take for granted as possibilities for learning and experimenting.
  • Did we say Experiments? What better time then summer to make a mess in the backyard. Make a homemade volcano, your own play dough, or put together a model car/airplane/ship/dollhouse. Get your kids involved in projects - perhaps you are doing a home improvement, although you child may be too young to help with the tools, they might be able to help you figure the square footage as you plan your project. Need help in the garden? Don't make them the "weed puller" - instead let them help you tend soil, plants, discover bugs, create a sculpture or taste some ripe berries off the vine.

So, who's afraid of the big, bad Home Inspection?

No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or “termite” inspection.

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No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or “termite” inspection. But why, all that it entails is basically a visual inspection of the home and a short written report, right? So, who’s afraid of the big, bad home inspection? Everyone it seems!

Let me start by making an obvious observation. For most all of us, the single biggest investment we will make in our lifetime is the purchase of our own home. Not only is it an investment that we can’t have go sour, but we must make a comfortable, safe place out of the dwelling to protect and grow our families that we can live in happily and call “home”. And when we’ve outgrown or want a new/different home, we need to realize the equity we have built up in the property to help us purchase our next “home”. “OK”, you say, “I know all of this. What has this got to do with being afraid of home inspections?” Everything, actually, because it is well known that buying or selling a home is probably the second biggest stress we will encounter in our life. All the uncertainty and suspicions begin to “bubble to the surface” as the home sale process grinds on which skews our thinking, and sometimes our common sense. So, let’s look logically at what a home inspection has to offer for each participant in the home sale process. I want to start with the home owner who is thinking about moving and about to list his/her property for sale, because usually they are the ones that think they have nothing to gain from, and everything to loose from a home inspection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No matter what “shape” the owner feels his/her property is in (good, bad or in between), the smartest thing they can do is spend the few dollars necessary for an accurate home inspection and “termite” inspection. Spending these few dollars in the beginning will save you major dollars and stress in the end. Possessing this information prior to listing your home for sale not only enables you to plan, but to price your property accurately. The information gleaned from the reports allows you to take care of any repairs that you feel you want to on your time schedule, and to obtain bids from various contractors for repairs you don’t want to tackle yourself, which could save you a lot of money in the process. When you do list your property for sale, you do so empowered with the knowledge that you know of, or have taken care of any repairs, and, you can go into negotiations with the buyer straight on because you have a “heads-up” on what the condition of your home is. This negotiating strength will allow you to realize as much of your equity as possible to be used to purchase your new home. Most real estate agents will appreciate this situation also because it takes most all the uncertainty and stress out of the equation, because, normally the inspection results are revealed shortly before escrow is to close and there is no time for obtaining bids or alternative actions, which can result in a “blown” deal with everyone unhappy.

Most everyone thinks that a home inspection and “termite” inspection are only for the “protection” of the buyer. That is only partly true. Sure the inspections are ordered to reveal any unknown/undisclosed issues. But, the buyer didn’t order and pay for the inspections to make the property out as garbage! The buyer likes and wants to spend and invest their hard earned money on the property and want to make it their “home”. As a prospective purchaser of a home and property, you want the inspection(s) to validate your decision to purchase that piece of property. You want to know what you are buying. You, of course, want to know what the big issues are, if any, but you also want to know the little things that will be an irritation or money drain before you sign the contract of sale. You want to make up your own mind as to what is acceptable as is, and what is not and needs to be negotiated with the seller. And just about as important, the home inspection is actually your first in depth “get acquainted” look at your new home because it covers information on so many of the homes’ components, systems, utilities and their locations. But even that is not all, if your home inspector is like most concerned inspectors’, he is your source for information you can turn to long after the close of escrow when everyone else involved in the deal has disappeared.

OK, I’m to the real estate agent and what the home inspection and “termite” inspection has to offer them. How about peace of mind? How about the good feeling inside that you have put together a home sale in which both the buyer and seller are happy and there is not going to be a bad case of “buyers remorse” now that escrow is closed? How about the fact that you are looked up to as an agent that demands full disclosure and still can close the deal BECAUSE EVERY BODY KNOWS WHERE THEY STAND AND WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT OUT OF THE DEAL! In the years I have been involved in inspecting homes, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen buyers follow through and close a sale of a home with major issues because they not only like the home, but because they are fully aware of its’ short comings and are mentally prepared to take it on. With truth and knowledge everyone comes out ahead. As I’ve been preaching for years, your buyer today is your seller tomorrow.

So in closing, there is absolutely nothing to fear from a home inspection or “termite” inspection except fear itself. These are “tools” to be used in a positive way to bring about a positive home sale experience, if you choose to use them in that way.
Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 43 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 7

This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

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

Every Spring-Part B

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  • Inspect caulking and replace if deteriorating.

FLASHING:

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

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

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

LANDSCAPING:

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

ROOFS:

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

SIDING:

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

SPRINKLERS:

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

WATER WELL:

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

How to Hire a Contractor

Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project

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You have a great idea of what you want to do but you just don't have the skills to implement it. Whether remodeling the kitchen, a spare room or adding on, some projects are better handled by professional contractors. However, make sure you do not get into an agreement with a contractor on impulse. Instead, picking a contractor should be a selective process that is well researched and prepared. This is not only a financial investment; this person (and their team) will be in your home and working with you on a project that may take days or, more likely, weeks to finish. A sound partnership is important. Below are some suggestions for planning out your partnership with a contractor. Also included are a checklist guide and contract example forms from our partner Lawchek®. All are helpful suggestions and tools before hiring any contractor.

Part I: Overview

The following points may help you in the process of hiring and working with a professional contractor.

Plan out your project.

Whether a full kitchen remodel or a new back patio, make sure to plan out your project in advance. You should know what materials you would like to use and what the end project will look like. If you are uncertain about various options, then consult an interior designer, landscape architect or architect. They can help take the ideas you have imagined and tell you how they can logically work. They can also help you create detailed plans of the project and a list of materials for its completion. Many times they will continue to work with you as the project is being completed as well. Having this type of plan in place before hiring a contractor is essential to ensure clear communication. If you start a project unsure of the final outcome you may cause delays and extra expense if you keep changing your mind. To have a large project planned in advance will help you to remain focused.

Determine the kind of contractor you need.

Will a general contractor be able to complete the whole project or will you need cabinet installer, plumber, electrician, etc.? Preplanning your project should help you answer some of these questions. You can be ready to interview contractors knowing that they either need experience in or will need to sub-contract certain aspects of your job. If they cannot do part of the project, will they expect you to hire a specialist (i.e. electrician) or do they have a partnership with one already established? Consider if they have previous experience with your type of project. Ask if they familiar with the architecture and age-specific concerns of your type of home. How have they met the challenges in the past?

Research any permits that may be necessary. With a plan from your architect or landscape architect in place you will now have an idea of how much you will be changing your home. You may ask these professionals as you work out your plan if the project will need building permits. You may also ask this to your contractor as well. However, keep in mind that although some contractors will handle the building permit process themselves as part of their contract, others may leave it up to the home owner. Some argue that only the contractor should handle building permits as this ensures they follow all codes. If you get the permit and the contractor does not follow the codes you may have a harder time seeking corrections by the contractor afterwards. As a first step, it will be very helpful to know whether you need a permit before even contacting a contractor. This is also key to avoiding any fraud. If you already know that your project requires a building permit but your contractor tells you not to worry about it, you have clear warning that this contractor may not follow local and state building codes, get someone else!

Consider the professionalism of your contractor.

This is the first basic step when looking at different contractors. Check and see how long they have been in business, if they are easy to talk to and if they are able to meet with your timetable expectations. Determine if all of their contact information is current. Also, look for a contractor that is easy to reach; if you are playing phone tag to obtain a quote it is a pretty good indication of what it will be like trying to contact them once your project is started! Find out if they are a member of any trade associations and stay current in their training. As an extra precaution, you may also want to research with the county if they have been named in any past law suits. Contact the Better Business Bureau, Attorney Generals Office, and local consumer protection agency to check on any past complaints.

Verify insurance and licence information.

Insurance: Always make sure the contractor is properly insured. You should receive a certificate of insurance from the insurance agency listing you as the co-insured. It should be original and not a photocopy. The types of insurance you are looking for: General/Personal Liability which will protect your property; Workman's Compensation which will cover the contractor(s) if they are injured while working on your property; and Automobile which will protect you against any claims if they damage another vehicle/object while on your property. All these will protect you from having your homeowner's insurance responsible for any mishaps or accidents that may happen. License: Not all contractors need a license in every state. Also, the cost of a project can sometimes determine if a contractor needs a license or not. In most states the more expensive the project, the more likely they need a license. A good online reference to find out about license requirements in your state may be found at Contractor's License Reference Site. If your state does require a license, make sure it is current.

Ask for references and call them! 

Ask potential contractors for references. Do not do any further business with contractors that refuse to supply references. The references should span both recent and older projects that are all similar to yours. If you are getting a kitchen remodel it doesn't make a lot of sense to talk to someone who had a new deck built. Once you have the contact information, do the most important step - call them! You may even see if they are willing to let you see the project first hand with the contractor or if they have photographs of its progress; your contractor may also have photographs available. Below are some sample questions to ask references:

  • Are you pleased with the project result? When talking to references for older projects ask them how the craftsmanship has handled everyday wear and tear.
  • Did the contractor stay on or close to schedule?
  • Did the contractor stay on budget?
  • Did the contractor follow the written contract? In hindsight, is there anything you would add to the contract?
  • Was the contractor easy to talk to or reach when you had questions or concerns? Did the contractor stay on site to supervise his/her team?
  • Did you get along with the contractor's team? The sub-contractors they used?
  • Where you happy with how the contractor and his/her team treated your home and property? Any messes, etc.?
  • If there were any corrections, was the contractor willing to make changes or did you have to place a formal request or hire someone else?
  • Would you use this contractor again and/or recommend him to someone else?

Review estimates for differences and find out why.

Once you have three or more estimates begin to look at the differences. Why are some contractors lower or higher than others? Ask them to explain their estimate. For example, is an estimate lower because of different materials used and does this translate to difference in quality? Does one contractor have a larger team or expect to hire more sub-contractors? Is a contractor "saving you money" by cutting corners on safety, local regulations, etc.?

Create the contract.

Finally, the written contract you create with your contractor is extremely important. So much so that we have listed factors that should be considered for the contract in a separate section below. To review that section now, click here.

Part II: Checklist

The partnership with your contractor can be very rewarding experience if you make sure to plan ahead. With the items mentioned above in mind, we have compiled an easy to use checklist that will help you when reviewing various contractors for your job. We have listed the items below but you may also print out a PDF checklist by clicking here.

Hiring a Contractor Checklist:

  • Where did I find the contractor? (Phonebook, Online, Friend/Family, Other)
  • The contractor is licensed (if required) and registered as a business in this state.
  • Contractor has all necessary insurance to complete the job safely. Including: Worker's Compensation, General/Personal Liability and Automotive.
  • I researched any complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General’s Office and other local consumer protections agencies.
  • This contractor does not have too many jobs and can fit my project within my time schedule.
  • I obtained at least 3 references (from each contractor).
  • I have called every reference and asked thorough questions.
  • I reviewed at least one project site from the reference list in person.
  • I have a detailed bid from this contractor. Including: describes all parts of project to be completed, estimated material cost, estimated labor cost, estimated time needed for completion.
  • I understand everything in the bid and what that project will entail. I have asked for clarification on anything I do not understand.
  • I understand the pricing.
  • The contractor clearly lists the types of materials he expects to use.
  • The contractor offers warranties on materials and craftsmanship.
  • This contractor will obtain all necessary building permits.
  • This contractor has provided a sample written contract of a previous project. I understand the wording of the contract and can easily see how to adopt a similar one for my project.
  • This contractor is easy to talk to and has been easy to get a hold of for follow up questions.

Part III:

The Contract The written contract between you and your contractor should be taken very seriously as this will be the roadmap that both parties will use to ensure that everyone is kept on task and happy. The following items are highly suggested to be included into the contract. You may add and remove items as they pertain to your particular project or situation.

  1. The contract should specify exactly what is expected to be done. Besides the project, any clean up, where materials will be unloaded, etc., should also be included.
  2. Specify the dates for commencing and ending the project. It is also a good idea to detail what is expected if delays occur due to weather, material delays, etc.
  3. Detail the materials to be used for the project and their cost; this includes brand names and other identification to make certain there is no confusion. Not recommended, but at the very least, detail an allowance specifically for materials with strict parameters.
  4. The contract should detail the contractor's insurance clarifying that coverage is expected through his/her carrier.
  5. It should be clear who is responsible for obtaining permits and what permits are required for completion of the job. Ideally permits will be obtained by the contractor.
  6. Method of payment and payment schedule should be clear. Never pay for the entire job in advance! Depending on your state there may be a limit to your initial down payment. Usually it is enough to cover any special material costs and initial start of the project. There is usually an agreement to pay by interval as different stages of the project are reached. Again, detail this in the contract. Once written, make certain you both understand the payment terms before either of you sign.
  7. Any warranties provided by the contractor should be detailed in the contract. Identify if they are full or limited warranties and describe exactly what they will and will not cover. If warranties include manufactures, make sure all of their contact information is included in the contract as well.
  8. Finally, a method for dispute resolution should be included in your contract. This should detail how each party should be notified of any grievances. The best means would be mediation or arbitration as this can save you both money. However, if a problem does arise make certain every notice of a problem(s) is done in writing so you have record of your attempts at solving the problem.

As a general rule, be as detailed about the project and all expectations as possible. We have included some sample contracts from our partner site Lawchek®. These are only samples and should be reviewed and changed to fit individual project needs.

  • Subcontractor Performance Agreement for Residential Construction
  • Deadline Extension Amendment

This reference should answer basic questions. The questions recited on these pages are the more commonly asked questions of attorneys when a client first makes contact for the purpose of a better understanding of real estate legal matters. This is not a substitute for legal advice. It is never recommended that an individual undertake his or her own representation in such matters as real estate law, even though most states do permit such activity. Any individual who is serious about proper real estate transactions would want to have capable legal assistance. An attorney must be consulted. "This work is protected under the copyright laws of the United States. No reproduction, use, or disclosure of this work shall be permitted without the prior express written authorization of the copyright owner. Copyright © 2006 byLAWCHEK, LTD."

Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Tips

Every day people are looking for ways that they can make a difference.

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With all of the environmental problems our world is facing today, every day people are looking for ways that they can make a difference. Earth conscious individuals everywhere are recycling their paper, plastic and glass, purchasing hybrid and electric cars but what more can people do in their day-to-day lives to make a difference? When it comes to earth-friendly home improvement measures, you'd be surprised at the amount of "small stuff" you can do that really adds up in a big way. Here are a few of my favorite eco-friendly home improvement tips.

1.) Change a Light Bulb, Change the World: One of the smallest things you can do with one of the biggest potential impacts is changing one, single light bulb in your home from an incandescent to a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if every American home replaced just one bulb, we could save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year. That translates into savings of over $600 million in annual energy costs. Additionally, by changing just one light bulb, we could prevent the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to emissions of over 800,000 cars! That's incredible! While CFLs do cost a bit more up front, they last up to 10 times longer and produce about 75% less heat. The best part is, you don't need to buy all new lighting! CFLs can be used in most standard light fixtures. While the impact of every American switching one light bulb to a CFL is staggering, why not change a couple? It's recommended that a CFL be installed into any fixture that is used for more than 15 minutes at a time, including fixtures in the living room, bedroom and kitchen.

2.) Paint The Town Green: If you have a painting project on your list of "to-dos," consider using low or no VOC paints. VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) are low level toxic emissions that are released into the air during the painting process and sometimes, for years afterward. While zero VOC paints are ideal, these can cost on average, about $30 a gallon. If you are on a budget, low VOC paints are a suitable option, costing about the same as a regular gallon of paint. Many of these low and zero VOC paints are also odor free, which is a plus. You can also purchase low and no VOC stains and varnishes for your woodworking projects.

3.) If You Build It Green, They Will Come: When it comes to purchasing furniture for your home or apartment, it’s a good idea to be thorough when shopping around. I'm not just talking about shopping for the best price - I'm talking about shopping for the "greenest" manufacturer! Take bedroom furniture manufacturer, Lifestyle Solutions, for example. Lifestyle Solutions has its manufacturing process certified for compliance by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) guidelines for sustainable management of tropical forests. Every single product they produce is constructed from plantation-grown imported hardwood to help ensure a sustainable use of timber. Bedroom furniture manufacturer Vaughan-Bassett on the other hand, employs a One For Program, in which the company replaces every tree used in the manufacturing process, with a new one. By shopping with a more earth-friendly company, you feel especially good about your investment - and let’s face it, good furniture is definitely an investment.

4.) Clean Living: When you clean, have you ever stopped to look at the bevy of chemicals found in most household cleaning solutions? I always go by the mantra of "if you can't pronounce it, it can't be good." By using natural cleaning products, you eliminate both direct contact with your skin and you help the environment at the same time. Since most conventional dish and laundry detergents are petroleum based (non-renewable resource), with fragrance that contain phthalates (potentially harmful chemicals), you should try and use "fragrance-free" products and cleaning products with a citrus-oil base. Home-made concoctions are also great ways to clean a more eco-friendly way. Remove stains by soaking fabrics in water mixed with borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, washing soda or white vinegar. Baking soda can be used in place of traditional cleanser for cleaning countertops and stovetops. Try adding one-quarter cup of white vinegar or a tablespoon of lemon juice to a spray water bottle and clean your windows. By taking a pot of boiling water and flushing it down your drains, you help prevent drains from clogging. If your drain is already clogged, try a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Sprinkle one fourth cup of baking soda into the offending drain and then pour a cup of vinegar, letting it sit for 15 minutes. Flush it out with boiling water and repeat as necessary. When it comes to the day to day tasks and basic home improvement, there are plenty of eco-friendly ways that you can make a difference. While some of these things might take some extra time and cost a little more money, it's probably worth it in the long run. More information at: http://www.BedroomFurniture.com

Don't break the bank!

Recession survival tips for the household budget

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Now is the time of New Year's resolutions and an artificial restart for many of us.  This is a time taken to reflect on what goals we may want to achieve in the year ahead.  In many cases, financial security will be a primary objective for individual households as the recession continues through 2010.  Many people are grateful for the beginning of a gradual stabilization and cautiously hopeful for the recovery of the economy.  Although the majority of us do not have direct influence on the big companies and banks, we do control how we run our individual households, and many of us will be tightening our spending budgets and looking for ways to save.  Below we have provided some online resources for everything from keeping a balanced budget to finding ways to shop a bit smarter.

Know your budget: Before you can adjust your household budget to save, pay off debt or get ahead in your payments, you have to have a realistic look at what you owe and what you earn.

  • Bankrate: This site offers numerous online calculators from home budgets to which saving options will give the best returns. You can also begin to look at whether a home equity line of credit would be a good way to get rid of your debts or if now would be a good time to refinance under a lower mortgage rate. http://www.bankrate.com/brm/rate/calc_home.asp
  • BBB Develop a Working Budget: A printable worksheet that comes with other details to consider when calculating and understanding your budget. http://www.bbb.org/alerts/article.asp?id=709
  • Kiplinger.com Budget: An online budget form that will help you get started figuring out where you stand for the current month. http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/budget/
  • Microsoft Budget Templates: If you already use Microsoft Office, consider downloading one of their free budget templates. One of these Excel worksheets can help you keep track of your monthly expenses and be altered to fit your specific needs. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101172321033.aspx

Revisit your grocery list: Reconsider how you buy groceries and what you buy.

  • Always shop with a list - Some suggest a list for any shopping trip you take. Always have a clear idea of what you need. This will help you find the best deals and not get distracted by impulse buys.
  • Buy generic brands - When you compare ingredient labels you may be surprised how similar or exact the name brands are with the generic. Try a couple taste tests, not everything generic will be ideal for your pallet, but some may surprise you, and savings could sweeten their flavor all the more!
  • Buy in bulk - Many stores now offer you the option to save by buying in bulk. Never use enough of it in time? Consider teaming up with family or neighbors and splitting your purchases. Maybe you don't need 10lbs of chicken, but 5lbs at $2 less per pound is savings to the bank.
  • Pack more snacks - When shopping, look for items you can easily put in the car, at the office or anywhere you might get the munchies. This way you can curb you hunger before you decide to hit the fast food on the way home.
  • Home Ec 101: Bake and Cook - Take on the personal challenge to become a better chef. Don't have the time? The internet is full of quick and easy casseroles, muffins, and other recipes that can help you get through your day. You will save money in the 15 minutes it takes to make these meals and you may find them more satisfying than microwave dinners.
  • Home brewed coffee - If you are addicted to your caffeine, then it is time to invest in a coffee pot with a clock and timer. You can still grab the coffee on the way out the door without being slowed down. Need it at work? Consider a French press where you can brew coffee conveniently at your desk without any machines, filters or mess.
  • Find your green thumb - If you have the property consider making a garden with your favorite greens. Fresh tasting rewards combined with natural stress relief. Don't have the property? Consider a container garden (or even an indoor container like the Aero Garden) for some of your basics. Maybe get to know you neighbors and join in a community plot.

Coupons, discounts and closeouts: Many sites online now offer ways to compare the best deals by product or store. Whether looking for new electronics or ready to head to the grocery store, check out these sites before you buy. Also take time to review the forums with customer input and reviews. A bit rough around the edges, the customer reviews on these sites are often short and to the point.

  • The Bargainist: This site lists both sales and coupons. Easy to use search - just type in the product you are looking for and it will check for any deals currently available. http://www.bargainist.com/
  • Cool Savings.com: A membership is required. If you don't mind printing your own coupons, this site is ideal for the busy shopper who knows what they want but does not want to sift through mailers, the newspaper and magazines to find a good deal. http://www.coolsavings.com/
  • Coupon Mom: A list of coupons, free offers and much more. A great way to search out grocery coupons. There is a membership but as with similar sites, this is free. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Deal Catcher: Coupons, sales and rebates galore. Review sales by stores as well as by item rather than brand. http://www.dealcatcher.com/
  • Fat Wallet: The savings here can be found in the online forums. Savvy consumers share information and special deals. There is also the plethora of coupons and discounts listed by store or category. http://www.fatwallet.com/
  • RetailMeNot: A twist to the coupon frenzy, this site offers the coupons for online retailers. Many online retailers or stores with online shopping offer discounts or special deals with certain coupon codes or key words. RetailMeNot searches for these codes for you so you can use them on your next purchase. http://www.retailmenot.com/
  • SlickDeals.net: Mostly user driven, this site helps to create a community where bargain hunters can congregate and share what they have found. The latest deals page can be fun to review but you can also search for products by name. http://slickdeals.net/  

Be an educated consumer: Be more particular about the products you buy. Taking time to read reviews and learn the pros and cons others have experienced before you buy will help you choose better products that will last longer.

  • Buzzillions.com: After compiling reviews from customers that are sent to major retailers in response to the products they sell, Buzzillions then puts all those reviews together into an easy to read snapshot with an overall rating. You can then read the individual reviews from other consumers like you. http://www.buzzillions.com/
  • Epinions: This site is user driven with opinions on everything from products to entertainment. Perhaps you want to know more about a book, video game, movie or iPod? Most likely someone has given their two cents about it here. http://www0.epinions.com/
  • PriceGrabber.com: This site helps the consumer compare prices between online retailers. Many popular products also come with reviews and ratings. The price comparison also includes some of the used markets such as Amazon Marketplace. http://www.pricegrabber.com/

Rack up rewards: There are many programs out there to reward shoppers. Take the time research them and find one that works for your shopping style. If you shop online there are shopping portals that offer rewards. If you shop a little bit everywhere, consider a credit card with flexible reward points. If you shop at one store the most, get a rewards card with them. *A thing to remember with reward credit cards is that they usually come with a higher APR. It is better if you can charge and then pay immediately and not rollover this debt. That way you can get the rewards without the extra interest.

  • CreditCards.com: If you use credit wisely, then you might consider a credit card rewards program. This site offers an easy glance through some of the programs available. Also consider looking at individual card company sites. http://www.creditcards.com/reward.php
  • Ebates: An online shopping portal that received favorable reviews from some bigwigs like Good Housekeeping and CNN. Not only do you get a discount when shopping, but you can get bonuses as well. http://www.ebates.com/

Buy and barter used: Flea markets and garage sales can be great if you have the time and the weather to get one going. Maybe you don't have either? Then how about trying the same bartering and selling online? Besides the already popular eBay, you may be surprised at how many sites there are that will allow you to exchange, sell and buy cheap!

  • BarterBee.com: A site specifically geared towards recycling CDs, DVDs and computer or consol games between households. Once you sign up for a membership you list your used items for sale. Sell items to get points. You can then use those points to buy other CDs, DVDs or games that you want to try out. Of course you wouldn't use this site to make cash - points are used for like items. http://www.barterbee.com/
  • Craigslist: An online mismatch of services, used goods and announcements by city location. Here you may be able to find used items cheap. It can be the ordinary like used furniture to the not so common. For example, I once found someone who had new pavers left over from a patio project that they are willing to sell at a discount just to get them off their lawn. You may also be able to find cheap services such as yard work. However, users beware, there are no regulations on this site and you should take precautions when working with anyone on this list. This site definitely has a mixed history of great successes and terrible wrongs. Be careful. http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites
  • eBAY: One of the most popular and well known online auction stops, eBay has been around since 1995. Users have the ability to rank other users for the ease of trade transactions. Probably the biggest garage sale on the internet. http://www.ebay.com/
  • SwapThing: This site allows for consumers to trade and barter items or services. There is also the option to do flat out sales. Unlike an auction site, you can barter privately and do not have to list items for auction. You enter what you want and it will match you with others who have it available. http://www.swapthing.com/home/index.jsp

Get it FREE: There are some sites that will help you sift through the spam to get free items. Be warned that some of the free items still come with many "free" emails.

  • Coupon Mom: Already mentioned above, this site also lists ways to get free samples of many products. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Free Shipping.org: This site lists all the free shipping deals and codes. If a site offers a free shipping offer, they have it listed. If you need a code to get free shipping, they have most of those too. http://www.freeshipping.org/
  • Hey, It's Free: This blog website run by Goob works to find out the real freebies on the internet. Goob goes out there and finds out if a site is just spamming or if there really is something for free at the end of all the forms. That wisdom is then passed on to the readers of this sarcastic but informative blog. http://www.heyitsfree.net/

Compare Insurance Carriers: It is true, if you have been accident/incident free for a while you may be able to save by switching to another insurance carrier. Every company may offer something different in incentives, but take a look and see if a switch can't save you some money this year.

  • InsWeb: Recognized by sites like Kiplinger and Forbes, this online insurance comparison site will help you by getting quotes from agents after you supply your information. http://www.insweb.com/
  • NetQuote: An insurance comparison website. You fill in the information and the agents work out your rate with their company. http://www.netquote.com/

Be your own travel agent: Consider your vacation plans carefully in advance. When shopping for tickets, shop around to more than one vendor. It is not unusual for some airlines to give better deals then the online travel agencies. If you are a spur of the moment type of traveler, you might consider researching a couple major cities before tempted by last minute weekend travel deals. Like consumer reports, travel blogs are a great way to get more information before you go. Did you know you could see an opera in Vienna for $5? Well, now you do…

  • Budget Travel: In print and online magazine from Frommer's Travel, the site also offers free articles on featured destinations, trip ideas and advice from other travelers. http://www.budgettravel.com/
  • Kayak.com: This travel search engine is different in that it does not sell you the deals, it just works to find them for you. This is one of the easiest ways to search online travel agencies (i.e. Expedia) and the travel companies (i.e. airlines). http://www.kayak.com/
  • Lonely Planet: Supplementary to the printed books, this website offers information about popular travel destinations as well as tips from other like-minded travelers. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
  • USA.gov: Want to stay close to home but still get away? Check out the official state travel sites for the 50 United States and U.S. territories. http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel_Tourism/State_Tourism.shtml