How to get your home ready for winter

Colorful leaves
Maple leaves

A first time home buyer asked me what she needs to do to get her house ready for winter. There are a couple of generic things that most homeowners will need to do:

  1. Get the furnace or boiler serviced.
  2. Turn off water to outdoor spigots.

Even if the furnace or boiler is new you should have it checked out by a professional. In the metro area expect to pay between $90 and $200 dollars for the service. I have found that the companies that charge the least are also the companies with the most inexperienced technicians and they like to sell furnaces and boilers.

As for the water, there should be a turn off valve in the basement or crawl space. Turn the water off inside the house, and then go outside and turn the water off. Disconnect the hose and put it away for the winter.

Leaving the water on can damage faucets or cause pipes to burst inside the house or both.

There is a lot more that can be done to help winterize your house like caulking around windows if needed and sealing up any openings where mice can get it.

For older windows sometimes using window insulation kits (plastic)  will stop drafts and improve efficiency.

I like to put the garden tools away and get out the snow shovels. . . there is more but I think I have covered the basics.

Winter projects

I live in an old house. This time of year I create a “to do” list for the winter.  I have more free time in the winter, business is a little slower and there are a few days when I won’t leave the house unless I have to.

Last winter I spent some time getting rid of stuff and reorganizing what we have and I did some work on the woodwork in the dining room. The winter before that I repainted the kitchen and replaced the hardware on the cupboards.

My plans for this winter include cleaning out and painting and upstairs closet. I want to kind of redesign it and make it more efficient. Right now I am rounding up my materials and supplies so they are ready. I’ll also be painting and patching a wall that was damaged during the great ice dam melt of early 2019. Lucky for us the damage was minimal. I’ll need some paint to match what is already on the walls and I’ll use the leftovers for the closet project.

For me, the secret to actually getting the projects done is having everything I need ready so that when I am snowed in or when I have some extra time I can get to work right away. Each trip to the hardware store can mean a serious delay especially.

If you have winter projects to do around the house start planning now.

snow
Winter Wonderland St. Paul, MN 2019

 

Reality TV has made my job more challenging

I can tell when I am working with a home buyer who watches those reality TV shows about flipping, fixing, remodeling, buying or selling real estate.

The shows do not match up to the reality of the average Minnesota home buyer or seller. The good news is there usually isn’t a lot of drama in real estate, the bad news is buying and selling real estate isn’t as fun as it looks on TV.

Remodeling and renovating a home is actually more expensive and complicated than it looks on reality television. Things go wrong and sometimes by the time the project is complete the owner of the property owes more on the home than it can be sold for.

The number of houses a home buyer has to look at before they find the right one varies a lot. There is no magic number but most home buyers know it when they see it.

It would be nice if life worked like those real estate shows but it doesn’t. Be prepared to have an open mind and expect the unexpected.

Saving up for a downpayment

Experts generally agree that being able to put a little money aside or save it is important. There are people who earn above-average incomes but who have no money.

Skipping the fancy coffee is’t going to add up to enough savings for a down payment on a house, it is going to take more than that.

Knowing where your money is being spent can help. Often it is the smaller monthly expenses that really add up.

A cell phone bill here and a streaming service there and some magazine subscriptions and maybe a membership that rarely gets used.

Go through monthly expenses at least once a year and see if any of the bills can be lowered or eliminated. Look for free trials that ended up being monthly bills.

It is possible to make savings a monthly expense by using auto-pay to transfer money from checking to savings each month before it all gets spent. Based on the idea of paying yourself first.

The word budget sounds boring but it is easier than ever thanks to electronic banking. I like to categorize expenses so I can easily see how much is being spent on utilities or restaurants.

Cooking at home can save a lot of money. When my daughter was a starving graduate student she used to do most of her cooking for the week on Sunday afternoons because she didn’t always have time to cook.

Bringing lunch to work can be a significant saving over dining out each day.

Buying a house does not require a 20% downpayment but in most cases, homebuyers will need cash. For those who already own a home sometimes things break.

People who want to buy a house in 2021 should start saving today.

A bad rehab is worse than no rehab

I wrote this a few years ago but lately, I have been seeing some poorly “rehabbed’ houses. They will work out for home buyers for the short term but will be expensive to maintain in the long term.

Some houses are painted with all the trendy colors and staged just so but they have little insulation, bad wiring, old roofs, and ancient plumbing. The houses sometimes sell for top dollar and the people who buy them can not always afford all the repairs that will soon be needed.


Dear house flipper,

I think it is wonderful the way you bought up some old houses and fixed them all nice and pretty.  You painted each room with the most popular decorator colors and put fancy countertops and cute cabinet hardware in the kitchen.  You put those retro faucets in the bathroom and you have impeccable taste in floor tile and you made excellent hardware choices.

Shame on you for leaving the old rusty water heater in the basement and for not even having the old boiler serviced and inspected.

You know from experience that the young buyers are going to be attracted by the hardwood floors and the shiny new kitchen appliances.  They just don’t know any better but I do and so does their home inspector.

Please make sure that the house you flip has a decent roof, electrical system, plumbing, furnace and water heater.  I know from my own experience as a homeowner these items are not cheap but I also know they are </span>essential and a basic part of what makes a house a home. </span>

Thanks,

Me

busy open houses

milkweed
honey bee and milkweed – happy July!

A house that is for sale gets the most attention the first day and week it is on the market. If a house is priced right and by right I don’t mean underpriced it will sell with multiple offers in a weekend. with or without an open house.

If the house is listed as “coming soon” and there is an open house the day the house becomes an active listing the open house is likely to be well attended. That is part of the point of having a home for sale “coming soon”.

Do not judge a house by how many people attend the first open house. Try not to pay too much attention to what others who are attending the open house are saying.

If at all possible ask your REALTOR for a private showing instead of attending an open house. Often it is easier to look a house when it isn’t full of people.

I could write a whole post about the people who are not planning on buying a house who go through open houses. They include neighbors and mothers who wish their children would buy a house in the neighborhood.

The demand for houses in St. Paul remains strong and they do sell quickly. The inventory of homes on the market is at historic lows but slowly increasing.