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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

Famous Haunted Homes

Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall?

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Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it is a great marketing ploy for bed and breakfast inns and historical societies? Or maybe people are comforted or enjoy the idea of hauntings? Okay, so not all of us believe in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as unique as their "spiritual" residents. For a little fun and change of pace, we have compiled a short list of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back and enjoy a little Halloween-flavored fun and learn a little history too!

*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail!

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay, CA

The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there right? Anyway, Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963 the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live in which prisoners were there to be shut away rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.

The Haunting: This place was creating ghost stories before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something wants out... There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.

How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use different ferry system to the island. 

Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX

The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.

The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.

How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering. 

The History: Hannes Tiedemann built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that lead to jealousy and ultimately, to murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of misery from her insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.

The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps out in the corridor. There is also claim that the tower room where the "woman in black" can be heard choking. Lights also swing around and some objects have been moved or thrown.

How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored at one time they would eventually start tours to the building, however, nothing is posted on their website about this yet.

Heceta House - Yachats, OR

The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century.

The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house!

How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. 

Hickory Hill House - Equality, IL

The History: This house was built in 1842 by John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. It is also said that he would kidnap free blacks and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves where kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.

The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 and many claimed to hear the rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The home had the reputation that no one could spend the night. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.

How to see it: Currently the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and closed to the public. A grant was received in late spring 2006, hopefully it will be able to reopen soon!

Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO

The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history of tales also leads to the idea of more ghosts. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.

How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. 

Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA

The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to here recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one!

The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want...

How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! To find out more,click here.

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA

The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation.

The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim that there is a woman but she is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.

How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. 

Villisca Ax Murder House - Villisca, IA

The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly and lamps won't stay lit regardless that there is no breeze in the home.

How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.

Waverly Hills Sanitarium - Louisville, KY

The History: Okay, not a house, but since it has such a grand reputation of being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time and most of the patients who entered would die there. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred, some were beneficial and some were more brutal leading to tales of mistreatment and abuse. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.

The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and allowed into disrepair. Transients, vandals and kids would break in. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was not power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish activities. One specific spot, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.

How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.

Whaley House - San Diego, CA

The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school and polling center. It was also the site where criminals were hanged before the house was built. Once built, it also had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!

How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days. Their website has more details about times and price;

White House - Washington D.C.

The History: The White House became the home to our presidents in 1800 with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home and some have decided not to leave...

The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents that like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies that have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat which has been said to be seen before national tragedies such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

How to see it: Of course you can still visit the White House today.  Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA

The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces and various oddities such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.

The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. However, some skeptics in the ghost hunting world believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground. Guess you'll just have to go to find out for yourself!

How to see it: The mansion is open to tours today. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details or you can also do a behind the scenes tour to see how the house functioned. 

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 6

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 5 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home.

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring. Every Spring-Part A

APPLIANCES:

  • Vacuum coils under or behind refrigerators and freezers.

 AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Central Air Conditioning

  • Make sure the condensing unit located outside is not covered up with leaves, newspaper, etc.
  • Change or clean the filters regularly.
  • Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place.
  • Set the thermostat in the cooling mode.
  • Run your air conditioner for a few minutes now, before you need it.
  • Schedule a maintenance call before it gets hot to have a technician check the following items:
  1. Check for proper refrigerant (Freon) levels. A low level indicates a leak, to be found and repaired before adding Freon.
  2. Check all electrical components and controls.
  3. Clean evaporator and condenser coils, as needed.
  4. Oil motors as needed.
  5. Calibrate thermostat.
  6. Check condenser for cracks.
  7. Check filters.

AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Evaporative Air Conditioning

  • Clean unit; check belt tension and adjust if necessary; replace cracked or worn belt.
  • Clean or replace air filter; clean condenser or evaporator coils and condensate drain; remove debris from outdoor portion of unit. AIR

CONDITIONING UNITS:  Wall and Window Air Conditioning

  • Have your unit checked out to make sure it is working properly before you need it.
  • Clean dirt, insects and debris from the grills and cooling fins.
  • Replace dirty filters.

ATTIC:

  • Make sure all your gable, soffit, and ridge vents are open to allow proper ventilation.
  • Make sure insulation covers the entire attic floor; look into hiring a professional to add more to meet recently updated building codes and reduce future cooling and heating costs.
  • Check to make sure your attic and/or whole house fans are working properly; consider installing attic or whole house fans.

CARBON MONOXIDE AND SMOKE DETECTORS:

  • Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.

CAULKING AND GROUT:

  • Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers and sinks; considering replacing if necessary.

CLEAN CARPETING:

  • Have your carpets cleaned regularly to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.

DOOR SILLS, WINDOW SILLS, AND THRESHOLDS:

Fill cracks, caulk edges, repaint; replace if necessary.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEMS:

  • Flush out system.

HEAT PUMP:

  • Lubricate blower motor.
  • If you didn’t have an annual check-up done last fall, schedule one now to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts (replace if needed), and oil the moving parts.

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM:

  • Lubricate circulating pump and motor.

PEST CONTROL:

  • Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of property damage before the homeowner even realizes they have an infestation and other pests can threaten your family members and pets with bites and diseases
  • Contact a pest control specialist for a free inspection and evaluation of your risk; and for hiring a regular service to keep your home free of all pests; including insects and rodents.

SCREENS FOR WINDOWS AND DOORS:

  • Clean screening and repair or replace if necessary; tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary, replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate hinges and closers.

WATER HEATER:

  • Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment.
  • Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

ANTENNA:

  • Check antenna and satellite dish supports for possible leak source.

BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION:

  • Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall. Inspect for cracks and moisture and repair if necessary.

DECKS, PORCHES AND EXTERIOR WOOD STRUCTURES:

  • Check all decks, patios, porches, stairs and railing for loose members and deterioration, such as cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat wood, set nails and repair or replace rotted boards, as needed.
  • If professionally cleaned, sealed and maintained, it should only be necessary to refinish and/or stain your wooden decks every two or three years.
  • It is also necessary that surfaces be thoroughly cleaned and dried before adding another coat of stain or protective finish.
  • Remove mold and mildew, fungus, tree sap, grease and bird droppings with the appropriate commercial deck cleaners (or homemade mixtures) and a stiff brushed broom.
  • Clean mildew and fungus by mixing one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water; scrub and rinse well. Sodium bicarbonate works well to remove dirt, mildew and the weathered gray residue from sunlight degradation.
  • Oxalic acid will remove metal stains around nails and dark tannin stains often found on redwood, cedar and oak.
  • Use care and follow manufacturers’ directions when using these products, wear eye protection, long pants, long sleeves and gloves; cover surrounding vegetation with plastic and rinse well.

DRIVEWAY CRACKS:

  • For asphalt, remove dirt and weed debris from cracks, spray with a high-pressure hose sprayer; treat with weed killer and patch with a special patching product.
  • For concrete, the only alternative for cracked driveways and garage floors used to be removal and replacement, but these days there are overlayments that may be professionally applied to cover surface cracks as long as the concrete is still structurally sound.

Join me next month for Part 7 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Winter Driving

Safety, Tips and the Law

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A little groundhog has told us to expect another six weeks of winter! Already a tough season, many of us experienced firsthand or saw news coverage of winter storms bringing cities and counties to a virtual standstill. Whether you live in a winter weather state or are just visiting, snow and other winter weather can drastically effect your ability to get around and keep to your plans. Learning some basic driving safety measures and coping tips can help alleviate some of the aggravation. Also, although varying by state, understanding winter related laws or ways laws are interpreted to include winter conditions is vital to enjoying a safe winter. Below is some safety information we hope you find useful and keeps you safe and warm this winter.

Winter Driving Safety & Tips

Winter Inspection: Prepare you car ahead of time for winter road conditions. Check the levels of antifreeze, oil and wiper fluid. Examine your windshield wipers for wear and replace them if necessary.

Got Wheels? Review your tire tread. If you get snow tires or studs, get your appointment scheduled before the tire stores are inundated. If you are in a state where you may use chains or cables, inspect these when you pull them out of storage. Take time to review how to put them on before the snow comes.

Journey Prep: Before driving out into a winter wonderland, make sure you are prepared. Clear you car of any snow and ice so you can see clearly - this includes any snow around your headlights and break lights. How much gas is in the tank? If you are getting low, plan your route to make this your first stop. Stop and consider your physical condition, are you awake and alert?

WEK: Don't be weak - have an Winter Emergency Kit! Some items to include in your kit are:

  • First Aid Kit T
  • Travel Tool Kit
  • Blanket(s)
  • Gloves, Hat, Scarf, Sweatshirt, etc.
  • Jumper Cables
  • Flashlight and Spare Batteries
  • Road Flares
  • Matches
  • Sand and/or Salt
  • Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
  • Small Shovel
  • Water
  • Energy Bars or Other High Calorie Foods (Nonperishable)
  • Cell Phone and Charger

Dress for Success: As we hop from one heated building to the next, we don't often consider how we are dressed for the winter weather. Adjust your wardrobe for unexpected winter weather. If you insist on traveling in the car in flip flops because the are comfy, make sure you pack thick socks and hiking boots in the back seat in case your car does break down. Dress in layers and have spare gloves, a hat, and a scarf in the car.

Know before you go! Check for road condition updates and possible closures. Before driving in winter weather make certain to check the local forecast. Some of the key weather words are:

S-L-O-W: Everything slows down: accelerate slower, brake slowly, turn slowly, and travel at slower speeds. Enter the time warp willingly and keep your patience and wits about you. Trying to rush through anything during poor winter weather is the number one reason people slide off roads or skid into other cars.

Personal Bubble: Allow those around you plenty of space. Do not crowd other cars and increase the car lengths between you and the next car.

It's Ice Ice Baby! If there is ice rain the best option is not to be on the road period. But there are other patches of ice and black ice that may pop up when you consider the roads drivable again. Keep in mind that ice forms quickest on bridges and overpasses. Also, as the temperatures begin to rise the thawing ice will be much slicker as it melts. If you see the ice ahead of time keep your speed slow. DO NOT hit the breaks! If you suddenly can't hear the road, often the case if you hit black ice, continue forward and take your foot off the accelerator. DO NOT hit the breaks!

Look Up! Many times the winter weather makes us concentrate on the road in front of us so much that we forget to look ahead. During this weather is exactly when you should be looking up and ahead; look farther then you may normally. This will give you more time to react to possible sliding cars or hazards in front of you.

Keep it on Main Street: Plan your routes on main roads. These will be traveled more and are the first to be cleared and sanded.

Share the Road: Give plows and sanders plenty of space. Three car lengths is the standard suggestion. Be patient, many will get over to let traffic pass. Always pass with extreme caution and never pass them on the right as that is where all the sludge is going!

Double Your Time: As a general rule, double your travel time for all your commutes and usual destinations.

Tell Your Peeps: Let others know of your travel plans - especially for long distances or during a weather event. Let either family or friends know where your are going and the route you expect to take.

No Cruising: As you shouldn't in heavy rain, do not use cruise control on winter roads. If you begin to slide you may not be able to get out of cruise control quickly. Also, depending on the slide/skid, tapping the break may be the last thing you should do!

Find Your Pack: Have a commute group for severe weather. You can alternate drivers as you battle the extra stress and fatigue of driving in bad weather. Encourage it in your community and this can help keep more cars off the road.

Think Outside Your Car: Consider other modes of transportation altogether. If available, consider the bus or train. Get really inventive - do you like to cross country ski? Just stay on the sidewalk!

Flex Time: Check to see if you employer will let you change your hours or work from home. Wait until the plows have had a chance to move through the neighborhood and go in late. Or plug in the computer and work in your PJs and fuzzy slippers.

The Great Melt: Still be cautious after the snow begins to melt away. Puddles can easily be hiding monster potholes that grew under the ice during the storm. Not only jarring these can do some real damage to your car. Besides potholes, be careful of hydroplaning as well. As the water melts it may be caught between mounds of slush leaving the perfect amount of water to send your tires for a little ride.

If the Worst Happens: "If a blizzard traps you in your car, pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window. Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there. Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket. In extreme cold use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering--anything to provide additional insulation and warmth. Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down. In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes. Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction." (Tips provided by FEMA)

Legal Concerns

The Car Snowball: When your car is covered with snow it makes for safer driving if you clear all the snow off - but are you required to legally? Technically, in most states, there is not a "snow on the car" law. Instead, other laws may be interpreted to include snow. Be safe and get your car uncovered completely so you can clearly see around you and don't inadvertently cause hazards.

  • In many states you can be cited if your windshield, rear window and windows are obstructed so you cannot see the road. This is often interpreted to include snow, ice and fog that disrupt the drivers view.
  • How about the snow on your roof or hood that you left there? In many states you will not be cited for this alone, however, if this snow flies off and damages another car (i.e. smacks into and cracks the windshield of the car behind you) then you are liable for any damages. Some states are clever and cite snow falling from your car as littering! 
  • While you are at it, make sure to clear any snow from your headlights and break lights. This not only helps you light your path, but no doing so may be a citation waiting to happen in some states.

Snow tires, studs, and chains, oh my!

NOW TIRES: Standard in many snowy states usually there are not penalties for having these tires on past a certain date. Check with your local tire stores as they will often store your summer tires during the winter season and vice versa. STUDDED TIRES: States that allow these tires for winter travel often have a set timeline when they may be used (i.e. In Alaska they may be on by September 15th and are due off by May 1st - most states in the lower 48 will have a shorter time allotment). This information can be found at your state Department of Transportation website (see list to the right) CHAINS: Especially if traveling in mountainous states, learn if chains are often required, make sure you have them and learn how to put them on before you go. Some flat states also allow chains under certain conditions. Check with your state Department of Transportation for specific requirements or limitations. The following YouTube video illustrates how to put on cable style chains. It is sponsored by the Oregon Department of Transportation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8RVbDuyOcY):

New Home Warranty

Make sure you fully understand terms and conditions.

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Q. About six months ago we bought a new home and the builder provided a one year home warranty. Recently we discovered a defect, but when we contacted the builder, he said that because we did not discover the defect during the final walk-through that it would not be covered under the warranty. Is this common practice?

A. No, this is definitely not common practice. Most builders will repair defects that are found at any time during the warranty period, provided that they are covered by the terms of the warranty, and are obviously the fault of the builder. Read your warranty contract carefully to see if you are indeed bound by the condition your builder is citing. He may be counting on the fact that you have not thoroughly read the contract. In any event, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney. When inspecting a new home, I always advise my clients to discuss the terms of the home warranty with the builder before closing, and to make sure that they fully understand those terms and conditions.

Becoming a Landlord

How to be a Good Landlord

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Perhaps you inherited property or purchased property as a new investment and now you are contemplating becoming a landlord. If you decide to rent an extra piece of property, you should know some ground rules. In this months article, 'How to be a Good Landlord,' we will discuss some of the basics that every landlord should know. We will discuss what it takes to be a landlord, what makes a good rental property, what are your responsibilities as a landlord, how to advertise your property, how to avoid legal pitfalls and how to evict a tenant if the relationship deteriorates. Overall, this is a short list, hopefully it will help you start with a little more direction and know-how.

Do you have what it takes to be a landlord?

The decision to become a landlord should not be taken lightly. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the type of job where you just sit back and watch the cash flow in. Regardless of the challenges, more than half of landlords are self-employed. Doing it yourself will mean you take on the responsibilities of a small business owner. You need to have great communication skills. You will be working with all types of people; sometimes even the difficult ones. Being an effective communicator in person and in writing is vital. You are an accountant. This includes everything from rent payments and deposits to repair and maintenance costs. You are a manager. You may have staff to train and watch over. Their professional behavior reflects upon you and your property. If they are inconsistent with your policies they can damage your business or even get you into legal trouble. You may also need to contract repair or maintenance jobs you cannot complete on your own. You will need to project manage these items through to completion. You are a marketing director. Getting your place advertised and your units filled is an ongoing challenge. Advertising also includes many legal regulations that you should know (more on this below). Your knowledge of this business should also include legal knowledge. Consulting a lawyer is recommended for anyone starting as a landlord, especially since every state has specialized landlord/tenant laws. But in addition to this, you will be responsible in making sure any staff or contractors you use also know the laws when working with tenants. You should be dedicated and patient. Being a landlord is a tough road to start. You should be prepared for hard work with a slow, trickle-in type of income, especially at the beginning. On average, a landlord should only expect about a 10% profit annually. The rest of the monies will be recycled into items such as mortgage payments, taxes, repairs, management costs, insurance, advertising and a rainy day fund (to name a few). There are tax breaks available to landlords, however, these are not enough to turn your profit margins sky-high. These qualities listed above will help you become a great landlord.

Perhaps there is a trait above that gives you pause. "I really don't want to manage all the accounting." or "I don't want to live onsite or nearby." All is not lost. You can hire a property manager. Doing so will cost you about 10%/month of any monies the property takes in. However, it can be a wonderful way to manage your business. When looking for a project manager, treat it like any other contracted service. Perform rigorous interviews, check references and make sure you have the same ideas about responsibilities of each party. Find out if they are insured, if they already have working contracts with maintenance and repair companies, and if they charge any extra fees for these contacts. Once you decide on a property manager, be certain to create a detailed contract covering all responsibilities. As with any of your other endeavors with your rental property, keep all your records and agreements in writing! Other professionals you may use to help manage your property include accountants, maintenance specialists, marketing directors and lawyers. Of course all of these will eat into your profit, but be honest with yourself and utilize these people when you need them. You can save yourself headaches down the road if you strengthen any weaknesses at the beginning.

What makes a good rental property?

When purchasing a rental property, there are some important questions to ask:

Do you have a enough for a down payment? Because rental property is viewed by lenders as a higher risk, you may be asked to put as much as 25-40% down on the property. Lenders calculate about 75% of your mortgage payment will come from renters. This leaves you with 25% to make up and even more if you cannot rent all the units. They may give you the option for a lower down payment at a higher interest rate. However, the higher interest rate may defeat any benefits.

Could you live on the property? If you use one of the units as your own residence this will help lower the risk factor for lenders. Lenders can offer a lower down payment and you can learn the ropes of being a landlord without being far from your investment.

Can you get the rent you need for the mortgage? Take a look at the neighborhood and compare the rental costs. Your rental rate needed to cover mortgage should not be too far above the market or you will lose your ability to rent units. - If you inherited or already own the property, you should consider if you can meet current mortgage payments. It may be more beneficial to sell the owned/inherited property and reinvest in another neighborhood.

Is the building up to code? Make sure to hire a home/building inspector before purchasing the property. Make sure the inspector is aware that you hope to rent the place as this may change some safety and code requirements. Take time to make yourself familiar with codes for your locality. This will help you ask better questions and understand any improvements you may need to make.

Is the property maintained? At first you may think it won't be a problem to repaint, re-roof, update the wiring and plumbing, etc. until your list becomes too long for the investment to be worthwhile. Again, hire a home inspector and make certain you know what needs repair and the estimated cost of repairs before you buy.

Is the property secure? Review reports on neighborhood safety. Check for ample lighting, especially at entrances and in parking areas. Make sure windows and doors are solid. Consider the cost to change all the locks and add window locks. Think about the security of your tenants in the property.

What are the responsibilities of a landlord?

Let's assume you are going to take on most of the business yourself and have found a wonderful property to rent. Now, what are some of the responsibilities you have as a landlord?

Tenant Screening: Your first interaction with possible tenants will be the background check that includes a financial review and calling references. Overall, you must perform background checks fairly. You should not do the check on one person and not on the other as this favoritism, or "trusting your gut feeling," is a disservice to all involved. You owe it to yourself, possible tenants and current tenants to perform fair background checks. For yourself, you can avoid headaches with tenants that don't pay the rent or have caused problems, such as costly repairs, in the past. For possible tenants, you may be providing that reality check - can they really afford your rental? For your current tenants, consistent background checks let them know you are looking after your investment giving them a sense of security. On average, working with an agency, this will cost you about $20 per check; an investment well worth the cost.

Clear, Consistent Communication: To avoid any misunderstandings, make sure all your interactions with tenants are clear.

  • HAVE A CONTRACT! Make sure you supply the tenant with a copy of the contract so they may reference it if any questions arise. Review the contract with a renewing tenant and discuss any questions they may have over the language or meaning.
  • Collect rent on a schedule. Keeping consistency with your tenants is imperative. If you are too lax one month, you may have a hard time collecting rent the next month. Or, if you are lax with one renter and not another you can create tension or even a legal issue.
  • Always provide written notice before entering a tenants space. This varies from state to state. However, for good business practice and common curtsey, let the tenant know when you need to enter the property they call home.
  • Use signs, flyers or other WRITTEN communication to inform tenants of policies and policy changes. Provide all tenants with copies and/or make clear postings around the complex.
  • Serve notices and warnings in writing. Verbal notices will not protect you if a situation deteriorates. Make certain to give your notices in writing and make yourself available for questions or discussion. Serving a notice and then disappearing from sight does not offer clear communication and can aggravate a situation!

Provide a Safe and Maintained Environment: Every landlord should offer tenants a living space that is up to code, safe for habitation and in working order. Even if you decide to contract out maintenance services, you should provide your tenants with repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Make good relationships with contractors that understand the nature of the work and are willing to come out after normal working hours. Save money for a rainy day so you can pay for emergency repairs when they arise. Maintaining the property will encourage tenants to take pride in their home and maintain their surroundings. Also, strive to make your tenants safe. You cannot control all conditions. However, changing locks, providing ample lighting for parking and having emergency procedures written and distributed are a few of the ways you can keep your tenants safe.

How do you advertise a rental property?

Advertising a rental property is important for getting units filled. Today you can use everything from word of mouth to online sites to advertise your property. In larger cities, you may even use "finding agencies" or real estate agents/brokers to advertise. When advertising your property, keep a clear list of amenities and useful services in the neighborhood. When composing your advertisement you must watch your wording as you cannot exclude any demographic. There are many federal laws/protections that regulate how you advertise your rental. The fair housing laws make it illegal "To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination." (Source: U.S. Code Collection - Cornell University Law School). In addition to this clause, many states and cities may also prohibit discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. Most landlords have good intentions to rent to all qualified tenants. However, there are certain ways of wording advertisements which may be perceived as discriminatory. For this reason, you should carefully choose your wording when advertising your rental property. Avoid words and phrases such as: prefer, suitable for, ideal for, ethnic neighborhood [or other cultural identifiers]. For a good list, take a look at the Pennsylvanian Human Relations Commission's Reading Between the Lines: A guide for housing and commercial property advertisements as they include a list of terms to avoid. Another resource for examples is the Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under §804(c) of the Fair Housing Act by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Keep in mind this good rule of thumb: always describe property, never describe people.

What are some legal pitfalls to avoid?

There are a lot of legal concerns when renting out property. As we have seen, the law influences advertisements of rentals. In addition to this, you create a contract agreement with your tenants every time you rent. Therefore, it is important to have sound legal advice as a landlord. Establish a relationship with a lawyer who you may hire for any contract questions or possible representation. No one ever wants anything to get as far as a lawsuit. So here are some ways to avoid legal pitfalls in the first place:

  • Always perform background checks with every possible tenant.
  • Call tenant references.
  • Treat every tenant the same in process; never cut a corner for one tenant because of a "gut feeling" or personal relationship.
  • Keep all notices in writing. 
  • Keep all due dates consistent from month to month and from tenant to tenant. 
  • Always perform background checks on any staff.
  • Make certain all staff are trained. They should know what they can and cannot do for tenants. If they are handling rental paperwork or advertising, they should know fair housing laws.
  • If you contract out maintenance work, make certain they treat your tenants professionally. Although they don't work for you full time, they do represent you since you hired them.
  • Keep housing up to code and safe for living.
  • Investigate any complaints against your staff immediately.
  • If a situation arises, consult a lawyer. Know how to legally proceed before taking any action.

How do you evict a tenant?

Evicting a tenant is one thing all landlords would rather avoid. However, sometimes circumstances deteriorate and eviction is the only feasible solution. If you have tried open communication but cannot get the tenant to pay rent or obey rules of the property it may be time to start the eviction process. The rules behind evicting a tenant vary from state to state. It is therefore imperative you discuss your options with a lawyer. Indeed, for the best security, you may want to do the whole eviction process through your lawyer. Regardless of the ups and downs involved with evicting a tenant, make certain to always maintain a professional decorum. Do not allow personal emotions to collide as this can only lead to further legal issues. Keep all of you requests in writing. The first step to any eviction is to send a written notice for them to pay back rent, fix problem behavior or move out. For example, in some states you may send a Demand for Rent or Notice to Quit form to a tenant who is behind rent payments. Or you may send a Notice to Cure Breach of Lease to inform the tenant that they must fix behavior that is contrary to your rental agreement. A Notice Regarding Termination of Lease may be used in some states when there is no chance for reconciliation. For example, the tenant is involved in illegal activity on the premises such as drug trafficking. If problems have not be rectified after notices have been given, then a suit is filed against the tenant. Upon winning this, it is law enforcement personnel who deliver written notice when the tenant may remove their items from the premises. You should never remove a tenant's items yourself. Using the police will ensure that you cannot be accused of taking or damaging any of the tenant's property. Essentially, make certain to obtain legal advice, serve warning notices required by your state, keep all notices and communication in writing and use local law enforcement to help keep you protected from any accusations of unfairness.

None of the above is a substitute for legal advice. An attorney should be consulted.

FREE Rental Agreement Forms

In cooperation with our partners at Lawchek® and Lawsonline™, Homecheck is pleased to provide a sample Rental Agreement Forms for FREE. 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.

  • Blank Rental Agreement Form Example Rental Agreement Form
  • Blank Apartment Lease
  • Blank Notice to Quit "

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 © 2008 by LAWCHEK, LTD."

Resourceful Links

Fair Housing by CivilRights.org
www.fairhousinglaw.org 
The Fair Housing National Multimedia Campaign is designed to increase public awareness of the Fair Housing Act and its protections, encourage the reporting of fair housing discrimination to the appropriate agencies, and provide information and resources to help communities and institutions support individuals and families who exercise their fair housing rights.

Landlord.com
www.landlord.com
In early 1998 the decision was made to spin Landlord.com off as a separate entity, dedicated to providing services to landlords and other real estate professionals on-line.

National Fair Housing Advocate Online
www.fairhousing.com
The National Fair Housing Advocate Online is a resource designed to serve both the fair housing advocacy community and the general public with timely news and information regarding the issues of housing discrimination. Find local organizations to help with any Fair Housing questions: http://www.fairhousing.com/index.cfm?method=agency.search

National Fair Housing Alliance
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing.

US Department of Housing - Home & Communities
www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) administers and enforces federal laws and establishes policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice. We can help you with your housing discrimination problem. If you feel your rights have been violated, let us know.

US Department of Justice - Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of: race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.