Friday, September 30, 2022

Real Estate: Preventing frozen pipes

By Tricia Zwirner

What’s worse than a major home maintenance disaster? How about several at once? For the quarter-million families who have their homes ruined and their lives disrupted each winter because of frozen water pipes, frigid nights can very quickly turn to ongoing, inconvenient, extremely expensive ordeals.

Pipes freeze for a combination of three central reasons: quick drops in temperature, poor insulation, and thermostats set too low. Both plastic and copper pipes can burst when they freeze and recovering from frozen pipes is not as simple as calling a plumber. A 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day, causing flooding, serious structural damage, and the immediate potential for mold.

In the United States, frozen pipes cause a huge amount of damage each year and they’re largely preventable. You’ll help save yourself the mess, money, and aggravation frozen pipes cause.

Before the Cold. There are a number of preventative steps you can take now to keep your pipes from freezing. Things like:

· Insulate pipes in your home's crawl space, attic, and outer walls. Use foam or rubber insulation on exposed pipes since they are the most susceptible to freezing.

· Use heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturers' installation and operation instructions.

· Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes, and use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.

· Disconnect garden hoses and, if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.

· Make sure everyone in your family knows where the main water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.

When The Mercury Drops. Even if you’ve taken the right preventative steps, extreme weather conditions can still harm your pipes. Here are a few more steps you can take:

· Set your thermostat no lower than 55°F (12°C).

· Let hot and cold water trickle at night from a faucet on an outside wall, preferably the one farthest away from where the water enters your home.

· Open cabinet doors to allow more heat to get to uninsulated pipes under a sink or appliance near an outer wall.

· Keep garage doors closed, especially if there are water supply lines in the garage.

Planning to travel?
Travelling in the winter months might be good for the soul, but don’t forget to think about your pipes before you leave. What can you do?

· Before leaving, be sure that your thermostat is set no lower than 55°F.

· Replace the thermostat’s batteries. Fresh is best.

· Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing

· Drain/shut off the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.

If Your Pipes Do Freeze. What do you do if your pipes still freeze, despite your best preventative measures? First step: don’t panic. Just because they’re frozen doesn’t mean they’ve already burst. 

Here’s what you can do:

· If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.

· Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water: you could be electrocuted.

· Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame because it could cause a fire hazard. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house!

· You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.

· If your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on.

Frozen pipes can be prevented and/or damage mitigated by taking the right steps- before, during and after. <

Tricia Zwirner is a State Farm agent celebrating her 21st year in Windham. She and her team would love to hear from you and can be reached via phone & text at 207.892.2864 or via email at tricia@TRICIAZWIRNER.com.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Real Estate market holding steady

By Matthew Trudel

The current real estate market is still strong, and inventory is still low. While interest rates still seem to be fluctuating up and down around the 5 percent to 5.5 percent range, buyers are overall not discouraged at this point. 

Several buyers may be disappointed that they missed the 3 percent interest rates, but 5 percent is still a good rate and often buying is a much better option than renting. Rentals are at an all-time high in price and all time low in availability. What does this mean for current buyers and sellers and how might it affect those thinking of buying or selling in the next six months?

Trying to purchase a home right now is still very challenging for buyers. We are still seeing homes receiving multiple offers and many of those offers are over the asking price. 

 It is very common for buyers to waive inspections hoping to make their offer more enticing to the seller. These are very different times for both buyers and sellers. Buyers are taking more risks in trying to outbid other competitive offers. 

Sellers are really in the driver’s seat on most occasions. It is still very much a seller’s market, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Buyers who are actively trying to purchase a home must be on top of their game and they had better be working with an experienced real estate broker. The broker had better be on top of their game as well. As a buyer’s agent the broker should have a very clear idea of what their buyer is looking for in a home. 

 They should also know immediately when a home hits the market that fits their client’s needs. On top of all that, they should also know about homes that are about to hit the market that might fit their client’s needs as well. All of this can help give a buyer a clear edge in getting their offer in first and in front of the seller before other competing buyers have a chance to get their offers in.

If you are thinking about selling in the near future, there are a few things you might want to consider. Interest rates are probably going to continue creeping up and certainly are not going down. How does this affect someone who is selling a house you might be wondering? Higher interest rates limit a majority of buyer’s purchasing power which directly correlates to housing prices and what buyers are willing to potentially pay. 

 It also means fewer buyers that will be able to purchase your home and that means the competition between buyers might not be as competitive as it currently is today. If it were me thinking of selling or giving someone else advice, it would be to get the house on the market the sooner the better while things are still going well.

Thinking of purchasing a home but pondering the idea of waiting until next spring to pull the trigger? I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you what the market will be doing and where interest rates might be at in six months. It is always a guessing game when trying to predict what might happen in the future. I feel confident that interests will be a little higher than they are now. I also don’t see housing prices dropping a lot over the next six months.

I do see the rental market continuing to rise. All that being said, I would suggest at the very least you


find an experienced realtor to work with and talk about planning for your home purchase. There is a lot you can do now so you are prepared to move forward when you are ready, and the right home comes on the market. 

Getting your finances in order and getting prequalified are just a few of the things to get done ahead of time. Purchasing a home in the winter offers a different set of challenges which I have written about before. Most important is finding the right Realtor and getting yourself prepared ahead of time. <

This article was written by Matthew Trudel, Owner of Five Star Realty, Windham, 207-939-6971.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Real Estate: Is the real estate market going back to 2008 times?

By Richie Vraux

I think the answer is NO!

I think we can all say, the real estate market has shown to have been a wild ride since COVID hit and way before that. It has certainly been a great time for sellers to sell, and it still is. I think we may see a shift, in the housing market but real estate is still strong, and buyers are still looking for the right home for them and their loved ones.

Mortgage lenders are following much tighter protocols since 2008 set forth by the Banking Commission so hopefully we will never have to experience the foreclosures and short sales repeating history like it was in years past.

Since long before this sellers’ market, 5.0 to 5.5 percent interest was, and still is, considered an acceptable interest rate. August’s single family housing report still shows gains in the market, up 21.76 percent, according to the Greater Portland Board of Realtors, but homes are sitting on the market weeks longer, but are still selling. We still have very low inventory of homes to sell but hard-core buyers are finding the homes they want.

Instead of getting 15 to 20 offers on properties, sellers’ agents are only getting maybe three to four offers and getting pretty close to the asking price. Relocation buyers still need to move to their next job or assignment, and they are finding the right properties for them and their family. Homes are still moving if they are appropriately priced. 

Renting, on the other hand maybe gives you an answer to the housing crunch, but how does it help you? Prices of rentals have, in some circumstances exceeded what your mortgage payment will be. Rents are at or way above where they were, let’s say, a year ago. Besides, in rental units you have rules and regulations: No loud music, noise, parking (if you are privileged to have a vehicle space) can cost as much as a rent payment.

So consider where you want to live and check the crime rate. One important question is how the new school system places amongst others in the state.

Of course, you want your children to get the best education possible. You can get this information from the State of Maine’s Department of Education. They will be glad to share this information with you.

When setting the price to sell your home, will you know how to price out your property to get the highest and best price. An experienced agent will know your neighborhood and know where to place your home to yield the highest price. When an agent writes up the disclosures on your home, he lists all your systems, the condition of every system and lists any improvements and any deficiencies you will need to expose. He/ she knows what should be mentioned to keep you out of court. Do you know if your garage or shed is actually on your property or is it encroaching on your neighbor’s property?

If you thought that you might have saved yourself a boat load of money by selling it yourself, if the buyers take you to court because you didn’t share all the deficiencies that you knew were wrong but didn’t disclose it, you just might be paying out way more than you made by selling it yourself.

Another risk is knowing who you allow into your home. A realtor will have already met up with them. Because of the news you hear of today, with questionable people coming into your home, you might want to have an agent there.

A Real Estate Agent will only work in your best interest when selling your home. There are lots of reasons to have an agent sell your home, but the biggest reason is your piece of mind and knowing your agent best represented you and your interests.

There is no doubt real estate is showing signs of change, but the market is still strong, maybe prices are leveling off some, but it is still a great time to move real estate. If you are considering selling your home and want the advice of a seasoned Real Estate Broker, call Richie!! <

Richie Vraux is a Broker at Better Homes and Gardens -The Masiello Group, 76 Tandberg Trail, Windham, Maine 04062. Reach him by calling 207-317-1297 or by email at richardjvraux@gmail.com

Friday, September 9, 2022

Real Estate: The importance of obtaining a permit prior to starting a home project

By Katie Kinney

We have all witnessed the increase in the number of property owners who are taking on home renovations, additions or rehabs over the past few years all throughout the state of Maine. One of the most important factors to consider when thinking about any home renovation is, do you need any type of building permit issued by your local code enforcement department? In most situations, the common answer is usually always yes.

According to the state of Maine, no property owner, agent or representative of the owner may construct, alter or change the use of any structure without first obtaining a permit.

The most common argument you hear when a homeowner did not gather the proper permits is, “I don’t need a permit to work on my own house.” This statement is completely false. In most towns and cities in Maine a permit is required for creating new/additional living space, electrical work, concrete foundation/excavation work, plumbing work, installing a deck, any hvac or duct work, and installing a pool.

In addition to the permit, you are required to have a licensed electrician, plumber or hvac technician perform the work. Part of the process also requires town specific code enforcement officers to come inspect and sign off on the work completed at different stages of the project. 

This information/documentation all stays at the code enforcement office. Towns keep property specific records of all documentation and inspections relating to building permits, house plans, ownership history, septic designs, and certificate of occupancy.

The typical thought process for not obtaining a permit is to not have to pay for one. The problem with this situation is that it will end up costing you more in the long run.

During many real estate transactions, I see sellers having to rush around to obtain an after the fact permit. An after-the-fact permit is exactly what it sounds like, a homeowner must go to the town code enforcement office and apply and pay for a building permit (usually costing double than what the original permit would have cost).

Once a homeowner applies for the after the fact permit, a code enforcement officer will go inspect the work that was done, if they have any safety concerns or it was not up to current building standards, the town can request that you remove any and all work that was completed. Imagine having to rip out a brand new kitchen because the plumbing wasn’t up to code, or start over on a bathroom remodel because you didn’t hire a licensed electrician?

My advice is to spend a small fee on the permit up front and save yourself a huge headache, a lot of money and time later on.

How to determine if you need a permit/what permit or permits you need? Most towns and cities in Maine have documents with specific directions on their websites that are easy to follow while researching the permitting process.

Many of the websites also have the permit applications both in printable forms and direct fill in forms through the websites. If you are contemplating a home project of any size, I would highly recommend going online to your town’s website and doing a little bit of research into what specific permits your town requires.

You can also simply call or stop by your town’s code enforcement office to speak with a code enforcement officer. The safest practice is to have the mindset that you most likely need a building permit and to obtain one before any construction work takes place. <

This article was written by Katie Kinney, Broker/Head Agent Advisor with Landing Real Estate.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Real Estate: Fall home maintenance tips to save you money

Submitted by Jonathan Priest

Owning a home can be a major financial commitment and to protect your investment, here are a few home maintenance tips that can be accomplished now that the weather is going to be somewhat cooler in the months ahead.

Roof and Exterior

A visual inspection of a home, from the chimney to the foundation, can help reveal vulnerabilities that lead to trouble when wind, freezing temperatures, snow or winter rains rule. Use a drone or binoculars to look for debris, which will need to be cleaned up, and missing or loose shingles, which should be fixed or replaced before they lead to leaks. Overhanging tree limbs should be trimmed, so they can’t come down, potentially puncturing the roof and causing leaks, water damage and mold.

Fall and winter are also prime time for rodents to come indoors for warmth, so it’s important to seal up even the smallest holes and gaps in the foundation, attic or crawl spaces. Firewood should not be stored against the house because it can cause a beetle and/or termite infestation.

Gutters

To keep gutters running well, check them monthly for twigs, leaves and other debris. Plan bigger cleanings — including running water down all the downspouts — both before autumn leaves fall and again after trees are bare, to be sure fall and winter rain and snowmelt can flow down and away from the house — instead of into the walls, which can cause rot and mold and invite insects.

Clogged gutters, along with poorly ventilated roofs and under-insulated attics are also a common culprit for damaging ice dams. Ice dams form when rooftop snow melts and refreezes, building up thick layers of ice that eventually push into joints and cracks in the roof and cause leaks.

Landscaping

Some experts note that grass will fare better if it is fertilized after the hottest days of summer are over, when the fertilizer can encourage blade growth and strengthen the root system for winter. Rake off all leaves and give the lawn a final mowing once it stops growing. (A local garden center can guide you on fertilizer formulas suited to your climate and lawn.)

Fall is also a good time to cut dead branches off trees, according to the Arbor Day Foundation, but pruning for shape and size should wait for late winter or early spring.

Outdoor pipes and water sources

Frozen water can burst pipes and hoses. Garden hoses should be detached and drained. Outdoor faucets can be left on to drain after water to the outside is shut off. Irrigation systems should be blown out using an air compressor or risk freezing — and having to replace irrigation lines come spring.

Deck

Sealing a deck can help prevent damage from rain and snow. That means repairing or replacing loose or cracked boards, washing off dirt and mildew, vacuuming and applying a wood sealer. If a path through the snow on a deck is needed, consider using a shovel with a plastic or rubber blade to avoid damaging the wood.

Outdoor furniture

Umbrellas and furniture that could be blown over can be brought inside or stacked and weighted down, to reduce the risk of damage. Grills should be moved indoors and outdoor appliances such as mini fridges should be unplugged.

Doors, windows and other drafty spots

To keep houses warm without sending heating bills through the roof, and to save energy, the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends sealing spots where cold air can sneak in, focusing on the attic, foundation and around windows and doors. Caulking, weather stripping and door draft guards can be inexpensive DIY fixes.

For single-pane windows, adding plastic film or storm windows reduces heat escape and cold penetration. Replacing them with insulating double-paned windows is a more expensive option.

Thermostat

Using a programmable thermostat or adjusting a manual thermostat before leaving the house or going to bed, can cut the heating bill by as much as 30 percent while still keeping a home cozy, according to the EPA. Consumers can find Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, which can be managed remotely via smart phone, for about $100 to $300.

Of course, the big payoff is savings on repairs — and your peace of mind. <

This article was brought to you courtesy of Farmers Insurance agent, Jonathan Priest, with an office at 57 Tandberg Trail, Suite 7, Windham. Call him at 207-893-8184 or send him an email at jpriest1@farmersagent.com

Friday, August 26, 2022

Real Estate: The Benefits of Downsizing

By Carrie Colby  

It is rewarding to watch your children grow up, begin careers and families, and settle into their own homes. But when there are only one or two people left in a large family sized house, you can be left with equally large mortgages, taxes, other monthly bills, and home maintenance projects. Downsizing your home is an excellent way to get relief from these burdens. In fact, it can be a rewarding change that makes your life easier (and a lot more fun). 

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Here are some of the many benefits of downsizing:

Downsizing lowers the cost of upkeep, insurance, mortgage bills and utility bills. Smaller homes and properties have smaller roofs to repair, less landscaping to maintain, and lower home insurance rates, as well as lower heating and cooling bills. This means that in addition to your new home costing less overall, you’ll also have lower monthly bills for many of the things that come with home ownership.

Downsizing boosts your retirement income with property sale profits. One of the biggest retirement downsizing benefits is that you may be able to profit significantly from selling your home and purchasing a smaller one. Alternatively, you can use the proceeds toward a smaller home or condo.

Downsizing reduces your property taxes. Smaller homes generally come with smaller property tax bills. Depending on the current tax rates in your state or the state you’re moving to, you could save considerable amounts of money by joining a smaller property tax bracket. 

Downsizing removes the stress of maintaining your home. Moving into a smaller home on a smaller plot of land can make upkeep much easier and less worrisome.

No matter what your age, you have to ensure that your home is cleaned, maintained and paid for – whether you do the work yourself or pay someone else to do it. Fixing broken shingles on a roof and making sure a large yard is constantly mowed can be exhausting. If you’ve reached the stage where you feel overwhelmed or just think you could better use your time or money, it’s time to go smaller.

You will enjoy more free time when you don’t have to spend hours cleaning, mowing the lawn and maintaining your home.

Bigger is not always better. If you can’t remember the last time that you walked into your guest bedroom except to dust, then you should consider downsizing. If these spare rooms do nothing but collect dust, they may be a waste. Unused rooms still end up costing money not only in property taxes and eventual maintenance (leaky roofs, peeling paint, etc.) but also in that they must be heated and cooled, using up unnecessary electricity, gas or oil.

Before you make the decision to downsize it would be a good idea to take a look at what the real estate market is doing in your area. Consult with a Realtor that specializes in your area. One that can give you a market analysis on what your current home is worth.

Start looking at homes for sale in the area you desire to move to. You should do some calculations and research first. It would also be a good idea to meet with your CPA to see if the decision to downsize is financially sound.

Realtors are a great resource, and most are more than happy to give advice or refer you to someone to help make decisions on which changes, repairs and upgrades to make. Take some photos and send them to someone you have worked with and trust and ask them what they think you could do to improve your home.

Your time in your home is always very productive and satisfying whether you decide to stay or sell. <

Carrie Colby is a Broker with Allied Real Estate, 909 Roosevelt Trail in Windham. She can be reached at 207-232-5497.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Real Estate: Owning a well during a drought

By Nicole Foster, Broker/REALTOR 

A report released by The Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)’s Drought Task Force in early August is advising homeowners with a private well to monitor their water supply and conserve water usage whenever possible in your daily routine. All 16 counties in Maine have reports of wells running dry ranging from dug wells, drilled wells and natural springs and one public water company has issued a mandatory water conservation notice.

A well is said to have run dry when the water level inside the well drops below the level of the well pump intake. This does not necessarily mean that the aquifer which supplies water to your well has gone dry. Some of the signs that a well may be starting to run dry include: a decrease in the water pressure, your water supply taking longer to recover after use, a noticeable change in appearance or smell, your well pump seems to be running constantly or your faucets begin to sputter with air.

Just over half of Maine homes are served by a public water supply, with the remainder having a private water supply. A well may supply water for more than one home and can be point driven, artesian meaning free flowing, or more common in our area a bedrock well which may be dug, drilled or hydrofracked.

Most of the single-family homes in Windham and Raymond have a private water supply. Knowing what the safe yield of your well is including flow rate in gallons per minute and the recovery rate, well depth, how much casing your well has and the depth of your well pump is information that you will want to save in the event you must address issues surrounding water quantity at your home.

It often comes as a surprise to the buyers of brand-new homes to learn that one of the very last steps of the construction process is to have the well drilling company drill the well. Make sure that the driller is licensed and in good standing with the Maine Well Drillers Commission. 

The location of your well depends on a number of factors including setbacks from property lines, septic system placement, soils and more. Once the well drilling begins the amount of 6-inch steel casing which will be needed as well as the depth of your well and pump can be determined. In Maine at least 10 feet of 6-inch steel casing driven into bedrock is recommended and the depth of the well can range from 100 to 500 feet typically. The steel casing will be extended beyond the surface enough to prevent groundwater from entering and a cap installed where you can sometimes find details about the well. Mark the location of your well head and protect it from being damaged.

Consider this past winter our precipitation in the form of snow was below the normal range followed by an early spring thaw combined with little rain this summer, particularly in the month of July. We often see things begin to dry out and see lawns start to get crunchy in July, but things tend to improve in the fall which is anticipated this year.

Looking forward, selecting drought-tolerant ground cover and landscaping will prove to be the most sustainable for homeowners. Kentucky Bluegrass or ryegrass seed will not fare as well as Tall or preferably Fine Fescue grass seed in periods of prolonged drought. Do not run your well dry watering your lawn.

Having an awareness to the limit of your home’s water supply and local weather conditions and patterns will be helpful when shaping your daily routines. You can direct your homes already existing daily water output from systems like heat pumps, cooling units or dehumidifiers into a targeted purpose like watering dry plants. Space out running your dishwasher and washing machine and limit the use of your outdoor water spigots in general.

Should your well begin to no longer meet the demands of your daily usage or actually run dry, you will need to contact a well drilling company to discuss what options are available. Qualifying homeowners may be eligible for assistance through Maine State Housing’s Home Repair Program or USDA Single Family Housing Loans or Grants.

Homeowners should not attempt to have their dry well filled by an outside source such as fire department or pool company as foreign toxins can be introduced into the well and the water will not stay in the well and will just run into the fissures and cracks. If you are experiencing a well going dry the Maine Emergency Management Agency urges you to call 2-1-1 or complete their Dry Well Survey to track how widespread it is taking place. <

Nicole Foster is a Broker with Locations Real Estate and a Windham parent and resident who loves people and real estate.