Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Cats and Dogs, Architects and Builders

By Warren O’Shea

It could be said that architects and builders have had a tenuous relationship ever since there have been architects and builders. Architects can feel that builders don’t fully grasp the importance of the aspects of thoughtful design, and builders can feel that the architects should spend time in the field of construction to understand that what looks good on paper, simply can’t be produced in the physical world. Anyone who has seen the works of M.C. Escher knows what I mean.

Hiring an architect should be based on multiple factors. Is the project a new construction or a remodel? Does the architect produce designs that are in step with your aesthetic? Are they familiar with the way that your home is built? Do they understand that you don’t just “move a wall” without knowing if it is load bearing or what utilities may be hidden inside?

Architects are essential for new construction designs; they will have all the details accounted for once the design goes through a multitude of renderings before it’s eventually completed and approved. Note however, that the architect will likely not be putting any cost figures on the design. When choosing an architect, you would also want to look at the body of their work and the style of their portfolio. The Portland architect may have very modern, angular, industrial projects while the Cape Elizabeth architect will have a coastal, cozy, beachfront feel.

Remodelers are essential for remodeling designs of older homes. If you listen to the house, it will tell you what it wants; if you fight the house, it will cost more money. I have experienced several situations where the homeowner hired an architect for a considerable amount of money for their residential remodel and the overall cost to build/remodel as designed was hugely outside of the homeowner’s construction budget.

Moreover, the final value of the home, if it was built, would have exceeded the median home values for the neighborhood by, in this case, about $350,000. It would have been the only $700,000 home in a neighborhood of $350,000 homes.

They would not have been able to sell it for what they had invested; they couldn’t rent part of it out because it wasn’t two separate units and if it were, the rent wouldn’t have covered the monthly payments on the construction loan. The two bathrooms would have been placed in the farthest possible point away from the sewer line. The existing staircase would have been torn out and moved over four feet to allow for a 2nd floor laundry/ wash-dry closet. It would have maxed out the usable and most enjoyable part of the private back yard.

It would not have made the kitchen more spacious or functional, given them a mud room or give them a second covered spot for off-street parking. The windows were specified to be Anderson’s most expensive line, where the existing windows in the main house were good quality but didn’t match the newly proposed windows. You may have guessed by now, the architect got paid and the remodel never happened. What you may not have guessed was the backlash I received from the homeowner. Sure, no one wants to hear that they needlessly spent a lot of money, but I’d rather rain on their parade now than be the captain of a sinking ship later.

Much like the parameters for finding an architect, the same should be taken into consideration when finding a builder/remodeler. Do they have a body of work which represents the type of build you are looking for? Are they experienced in 100-, 200-, or 300-year-old homes. Do they only do remodeling? Do they do a mix of residential and commercial or is it all one or the other? Do they have a team of subcontractors that are familiar with, and willing to, get their hands dirty in these old buildings? Truth be told, I have had some very professional and accomplished subcontracted tradesmen and employees stop doing remodels with us because new construction is easier and cleaner.

As with any construction endeavors, make sure the business and its subcontractors are insured and their workman’s comp policy is up to date. Certificates of Insurance should come directly from their insurance provider, not from their personal docs, as info and dates on their declarations page can be changed.

As per the Maine Attorney General’s guidelines for construction and home repair, always get a contract in writing, always speak with more than one contractor, and don’t pay more than one third of the total cost of the contracted project up front. <

Warren O'Shea is the owner of O’Shea Builders LLC, Maine’s most award-winning remodeling contractor. He has 35-plus years of residential remodeling experience. He is a certified home inspector and has been featured on HGTV, Food Network, and Maine Cabin Masters. He is a recipient of the Portland Police Department’s “Citizen Award,” and is a staunch consumer advocate. Warren has, and continues to, co-author articles for nationally distributed trade magazines.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Real Estate: Carbon Monoxide Safety

By Nicole Foster, Broker/ REALTOR

November is National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month and is a time to promote safety awareness surrounding the increased risks to Maine residents during the cold weather months.

Each year between one to three people in Maine die from carbon monoxide poisoning, and approximately 150 people visit the emergency room to receive treatment for it. 

The overwhelming majority of these incidents take place between the months of November through March. Carbon Monoxide, or “CO,” is an odorless, colorless gas that is found in fumes which are created any time you burn fuel. You are burning fuel every time your oil or gas fired boiler and furnace kicks on, or when your gas fireplace, gas stove or other gas operated appliances are used. CO can also be found in the exhaust fumes from kerosene space heaters, generators, and vehicles while in use.

When CO builds up indoors it poisons the people and animals who breathe it, making them sick or killing them. Everyone can be affected by CO poisoning but those with chronic heart disease, anemia, respiratory issues, the elderly, and infants are most likely to be impacted. CO poisoning symptoms can be described as “flu-like” but it often occurs when people are sleeping, and no symptoms are displayed.

If you have purchased a single or multifamily property after October 31, 2009, then you may recall having seen a form at the closing that the buyers were required to sign and date stating if the property does not currently have CO detectors installed then the new owners will be sure to do so within 30 days of the closing date or prior to taking occupancy. It also requires that the CO detectors be installed in each area within or giving access to bedrooms and they must be powered both by the electrical service in the dwelling or building and by battery.

This statute was enacted after a state study was conducted looking for the causes for the epidemic of CO poisoning related deaths following the ice storm in January 1998, when many Maine residents were improperly using generators to keep their homes and families warm and were killed as a result.

Now is the time to think about prolonged power outages during cold weather, and to begin making a solid plan. Consider how you will keep your property warm enough to prevent the pipes from freezing if you do not have electricity for a week or possibly longer. If you need to use a portable generator as a part of your plan, identify the place you will put it in the open air (not inside an enclosed area where fumes can accumulate) while keeping it protected from sleet, snow, and ice. Never use a generator in a garage or a basement. Be sure to dry your hands to prevent shock before touching a generator in wet conditions and always place it at least 20 feet away from any windows, doors, and vents.

If you run a kerosene heater indoors it is important to crack windows and leave doors open to other rooms to prevent CO from building up. Follow the instructions for setting the height for the wick and use only crystal-clear K-1 grade fuel.

When burning decorative logs for heat keep the flue open in your chimney and crack windows for ventilation. It is unsafe to heat your home using a gas range or oven. Do not use an outdoor gas or charcoal grill indoors for heating or cooking.

Do not skip out on the annual maintenance of your gas, oil, coal, or wood burning heating systems and be sure to use a qualified service technician. To prevent creosote blockage from letting CO build up indoors have your chimney swept annually before winter use. Make sure that all your gas appliances are vented properly. You should not run a vehicle inside a garage which is attached to a house, even with the garage door open.

When you set the clocks back in the fall and ahead in the spring, be sure to check your smoke and CO detectors are in good working order and have fresh batteries twice each year. Most stores carry combination smoke and CO detectors. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled Kidde brand hard-wired smoke and combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms from 2014 because the alarms could fail following a power outage with 1.2 million sold in the US. If you have this model (Model i12010S) you should replace it. Look for the UL mark with the "Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm" statement when purchasing a new one. <

Nicole Foster is a real estate Broker since 2005 and is a Windham resident and parent. Visit or Insta @207nicolefoster.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Under Contract: Knowing your Options

By Tia Morell

In the world of real estate, navigating the complexities of buying a home can be a daunting task. From finding the perfect property to negotiating the price and closing the deal, there are numerous critical decisions to be made. 

Among these, understanding the concept of earnest money, exploring mortgage options, and having a well-prepared real estate agent are paramount. In this article, we will delve into the importance of knowing your options when under contract, the significance of earnest money, and the benefits of exploring different mortgage programs, particularly the differences between 3 percent conventional loans and 3.5 percent FHA loans.

The significance of earnest money

First and foremost, it's crucial to understand what earnest money is and why it's important in a real estate transaction. Earnest money is a sum of money, typically a percentage of the purchase price, that a buyer provides as a show of good faith when making an offer on a property. This deposit demonstrates the buyer's commitment to the deal and reassures the seller that they are serious about the purchase.

Earnest money is held in an escrow account during the course of the transaction and serves as a guarantee of the buyer's intention to proceed with the purchase. If the deal falls through due to the fault of the buyer, the seller may be entitled to retain the earnest money as compensation for time and expenses incurred. However, if the deal collapses for reasons outside the buyer's control, the earnest money is typically returned to them.

Situations where a buyer can receive earnest money back

There are various situations where a buyer can expect to receive their earnest money back.

These include:

1. Contingency Clauses: Most real estate contracts include contingency clauses that allow the buyer to withdraw from the deal and receive their earnest money back if certain conditions are not met. For example, if a home inspection reveals significant issues or the buyer cannot secure financing as specified in the contract, they are entitled to a refund of their earnest money.

2. Seller Defaults: If the seller fails to fulfill their obligations outlined in the contract, the buyer can usually demand the return of their earnest money.

3. Failure to Appraise: In cases where the property's appraised value is lower than the agreed-upon purchase price, the buyer may be able to withdraw from the deal and have their earnest money returned.

Situations where the seller is owed earnest money

On the other hand, there are situations where the seller may be entitled to the earnest money. These include:

1. Buyer Defaults: If the buyer fails to fulfill their obligations as outlined in the contract and the deal collapses due to their actions, the seller may retain the earnest money as compensation.

2. Termination Outside of Contingencies: If the buyer decides to terminate the contract for reasons not covered by contingency clauses and the seller can demonstrate that they suffered financial losses as a result, they may be entitled to the earnest money.

Mortgage options and the importance of exploring them

When it comes to purchasing a home, financing plays a crucial role. Buyers should explore different mortgage options to find the one that best suits their financial situation and long-term goals. In today's market, where interest rates can fluctuate, it's essential to be well-informed about your mortgage choices.

Two popular mortgage options are conventional loans with a 3 percent down payment and FHA loans with a 3.5 percent down payment. Understanding the differences between these options is vital.

Conventional Loans vs. FHA Loans

Conventional Loans (3 percent Down Payment)

• Conventional loans are not backed by the government.

• They typically require a minimum down payment of 3 percent.

• Borrowers with higher credit scores may qualify for more favorable interest rates.

• Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is required if the down payment is less than 20 percent.

• These loans are suited for buyers with strong credit histories and stable financial situations.

FHA Loans (3.5 percent Down Payment)

• FHA loans are backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

• They require a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent.

• Borrowers with lower credit scores may qualify for these loans.

• FHA loans typically have more lenient qualification criteria.

• Mortgage insurance is required for the entire loan term.

• Given the current scenario of an 8 percent interest rate on loans, the choice between these two options becomes even more critical. A higher down payment can reduce your monthly mortgage payment and the overall interest you'll pay over the life of the loan. So, while a 3 percent down payment may seem enticing, a 3.5 percent FHA loan might be a more feasible option for those with lower credit scores or who don't have the financial means for a larger down payment.

The role of a knowledgeable real estate agent

To navigate these complex waters successfully, it's essential to have a knowledgeable real estate agent on your side. A competent agent not only guides you through the process but also ensures you're fully aware of your options and the potential consequences of your decisions.

• Your agent should be well-versed in various financing programs, have a deep understanding of earnest money, and be skilled in negotiations. They should explore multiple strategies to ensure that the deal is structured in a way that aligns with your best interests. With their expertise, they can help you make informed choices that will increase your chances of closing the deal.

• In conclusion, knowing your options when you're under contract in real estate is of paramount importance. Earnest money serves as a symbol of commitment in a real estate transaction, but it's essential to understand when it can be returned to the buyer and when the seller may be entitled to it. Additionally, exploring different mortgage programs, such as conventional loans with a 3 percent down payment and FHA loans with a 3.5 percent down payment, can make a significant difference, especially in a high-interest rate environment. Finally, having a dedicated and knowledgeable real estate agent by your side is crucial to ensure that you make the right decisions and have clear expectations as you navigate the intricate world of real estate transactions. With the right information, strategy, and support, you can increase your chances of a successful and smooth closing on your dream home. <

Tia Morrell is a REALTOR for Landing Real Estate in Windham. Call her at 207-317-1833 or send her an email at

Friday, November 3, 2023

Real Estate: What is indoor air pollution and what can you do about it?

By Tricia Zwirner

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor pollution levels can be two to five times greater than outdoor levels.

Given that the average American spends up to 90 percent of their time inside, indoor air quality is a public health concern.

What Affects Indoor Air Quality?

Elliott Horner, PhD, principal scientist at UL Environment explain indoor pollutants can be grouped into three different categories: gaseous, particulate, and biological." And, Horner adds, each category has its own risks.

Breaking Down Those Three Types of Pollutants

1. Gaseous Indoor Pollutants

Pollutants produce dangerous side effects in the gaseous state. Minor ailments can include headaches and eye irritations; however, they can also trigger much more serious consequences, such as cancer and even death.

The most worrisome gaseous pollutants include:

• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - Building materials and other household goods emit these chemicals, such as formaldehyde.

Common sources are wood, drywall, adhesives, paint, cleaning products, furniture, and even home electronics.

• Radon gas - Occurring naturally in the soil, radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and it’s responsible for between 15K & 22K deaths a year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

• Carbon monoxide gas - A clear and odorless gas that is both naturally occurring and a byproduct of man-made combustion.

2. Particulate Indoor Pollutants

Ultra-fine liquid or solid particles in the air can get deep into the lungs. They are associated with an increased risk of allergies and asthma attacks. Common particulates are:

• pollen

• dust

• dust mites

• animal dander

• diesel exhaust particles that seep in from outdoors

• secondhand smoke

3. Biological Indoor Pollutants

'Biological pollutants almost always involve dampness or water damage,' Horner says. Humidity, water-line breaks, and flooding are frequent sources. They can cause infections and worsen allergies and asthma, and often produce less-toxic VOCs that still are a cause for concern. Biological pollutants include:

• mold

• mildew

• bacteria - mostly occupant related

• viruses - all occupant related

Detecting a Problem

You can see many particulate pollutants, such as dust, but detecting the other types requires testing. 'There are several analytical sciences to detect issues in air quality, but they are very expensive,' says Horner. "However, there are some clues that the average person can pick up on, too." Horner suggests paying attention to foul or musty odors or eye, skin, or respiratory irritations among family members.

Commercially available test kits can help you identify potential problems. If you suspect you're dealing with a bigger problem, contact an environmental consultant or your local or state health department for assistance.

Nine Tips for Better Indoor Air Quality

1. Open windows - Most heating and cooling systems recirculate inside air. When weather permits, give your system a break and let in fresh air. Open windows and place fans strategically to help direct fresh air through.

2. Run exhaust fans - Turn on the kitchen fan to vent cooking pollutants, and the bathroom fan to curb mold-promoting wetness and fumes from cleaning products. Leave the fan running for about 45 minutes.

3. Use doormats - They help prevent dirt and other outdoor pollutants from making it inside. Get two natural-fiber mats, one for inside and the other for outside your main entrance. Keep a shoe-free home too.

4. Test for radon - DIY test kits, available online and at your local home improvement store, are inexpensive and easy to use.

5. Don't mask odors - Scented candles and sprays can irritate lungs. Find the source of the smell, get rid of it, then ventilate well until it's gone.

6. Use a dehumidifier - Stay under 50% humidity to keep mold growth at bay. Clean your dehumidifier regularly so it doesn't switch from humidity-reducing friend to mold-harboring foe.

7. Vacuum regularly - You'll reduce the amount of dust and other pollutants released when you walk around. Invest in a quality vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, especially good at trapping even tiny bits of dust and dirt.

8. Take it outside - Painting, sanding, gluing - anything that generates particles, gases or other pollutants - should be done outside. If outside isn't an option, open a nearby window and add a fan blowing air out. Clean up after your project quickly and well.

9. Monitor your air quality - Devices can monitor temperature and humidity to help you understand how your home might affect your health. <

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 and text at 207-892-2864 or via email at