Hiring a contractor

Hiring a Contractor – Q & A
Q: What are some guidelines to follow when trying to find a contractor?
A: While hiring contractors recommended by friends is usually a safe route, never hire a construction professional without first checking him or her out first. If your state has a licensing board for contractors, call to find out if there are any outstanding complaints against that license holder. Also, call your local Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints on file.
If you are satisfied with the answers you find there, interview the contractor candidates. Ask what kind of worker’s compensation insurance they carry and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If they are not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury incurred during the project. Also be sure that the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.

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If they pass the insurance hurdle, next check some of their references. A good contractor will be happy to provide as many as you want.

Finally, don’t let yourself be rushed into making a decision no matter how competitive the market may seem. Also, never pay a deposit to a contractor at the first meeting. You may end up losing your money.

Q: Where do I get information on remodeling?
A: Try these sources:
* National Association of the Remodeling Industry, 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 310,Arlington, VA 22203; (703) 575-1100.
* “Rehab a Home With HUD?s 203(K),” published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 7th and D St., S.W., Washington, DC 20410.
* “Cost vs. Value Report,” by Remodeling magazine, 1 Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005. $8.95 per copy; call (202) 736-3447 for credit card orders.
* “The Do-able Renewable Home,” by the Coordination and Development Department, American Association of Retired Persons, 601 E St., N.W., Washington, DC 20049.

Q: How do I find a home inspector?
A: In order to find a home inspector, Dian Hymer, author of “Buying and Selling a Home A Complete Guide,” Chronicle Books, San Francisco; 1994, advises looking for someone with demonstrable qualifications. “Ideally, the general inspector you select should be either an engineer, an architect, or a contractor. When possible, hire an inspector who belongs to one of the home inspection trade organizations.”
The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) has developed formal inspection guidelines and a professional code of ethics for its members. Membership to ASHI is not automatic; proven field experience and technical knowledge of structures and their various systems and appliances are a prerequisite.

One can usually find an inspector by looking in the phone book or by inquiring at a real estate office or sometimes at an area Realtor association.

Rates for the service vary greatly. Many inspectors charge about $400, but costs go up with the scope of the inspection.

Building Permits and Zoning

Building Permits & Zoning – Q & A
Q: How do building codes work?
A: Building codes are established by local authorities to set out minimum public-safety standards for building design, construction, quality, use and occupancy, location and maintenance. There are specialized codes for plumbing, electrical and fire, which usually involve separate inspections and inspectors.
All buildings must be issued a building permit and a certificate of occupancy before it can be used. During construction, housing inspectors must make checks at key points. Codes are usually enforced by denying permits, occupancy certificates and by imposing fines.

Building codes also cover most remodeling projects. If you are buying a house that has been significantly remodeled, ask for proof of the permits involved before you purchase to avoid future liability for fines.

Resources:
* “The Ultimate Language of Real Estate,” John Reilly, Dearborn Financial Publishing, Chicago; 1993.

Q: Where do I get information on remodeling?
A: Try these sources:
* National Association of the Remodeling Industry, 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 310,Arlington, VA 22203; (703) 575-1100.
* “Rehab a Home With HUD?s 203(K),” published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 7th and D St., S.W., Washington, DC 20410.
* “Cost vs. Value Report,” by Remodeling magazine, 1 Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005. $8.95 per copy; call (202) 736-3447 for credit card orders.
* “The Do-able Renewable Home,” by the Coordination and Development Department, American Association of Retired Persons, 601 E St., N.W., Washington, DC 20049.

Q: When are building permits needed?
A: Building codes are established by local authorities to set out minimum public-safety standards for building design, construction, quality, use and occupancy, location and maintenance. There are specialized codes for plumbing, electrical and fire, which usually involve separate inspections and inspectors.
All buildings must be issued a building permit and a certificate of occupancy before it can be used. During construction, housing inspectors must make checks at key points. Codes are usually enforced by denying permits, occupancy certificates and by imposing fines.

Building codes also cover most remodeling projects. If you are buying a house that has been significantly remodeled, ask for proof of the permits involved before you purchase to avoid future liability for fines.

Resources:
* “The Ultimate Language of Real Estate,” John Reilly, Dearborn Financial Publishing, Chicago; 1993.

Home Owner Associations

Homeowner Associations – Q & A
Q: Do condos have to be made accessible to the disabled?
A: The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act does not require strictly residential apartments and single-family homes to be made accessible. But all new construction of public accommodations or commercial projects (such as a government building or a shopping mall) must be accessible. New multi-family construction also falls into this category.
In all states, the Federal Fair Housing Act provides protection against discrimination for people with physical or mental disabilities. Discrimination includes the refusal to make reasonable modifications to buildings that aren’t accessible to the disabled.

Two educational brochures, “Housing Rights” and “Discrimination is Against the Law,” are available through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing by calling (800) 884-1684.

Q: Can condos ban smoking?
A: A homeowners association’s board of directors can restrict smoking if it applies to indoor common spaces such as hallways or recreation rooms. Outdoor spaces are a different story, say legal experts. Any restriction would probably hinge on local laws (i.e. if a city banned smoking outdoors, a homeowners association probably could restrict smoking in its outdoor spaces).
Typical covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs;), which govern condo associations, give the board authority to make and enforce reasonable rules for the use of common property. But that would not apply to interior spaces owned by smokers themselves. Resources:
* Common-interest development brochure available free from California Department of Real Estate, Book Orders, P.O. Box 187006, Sacramento, CA 95818-7006; (916) 227-0938.
* Various Internet sites specializing in common-interest developments, such as those operated by the Community Associations Institute and CIDNetworks.

Q: Can a condo association ban nudity?
A: Could you sunbathe in the nude on your own balcony? Not necessarily. In a condominium development, a balcony is not considered private property but common property assigned to your exclusive use but a common area nontheless.
Covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs;) usually spell out what activities can and cannot be conducted on common property. Some associations prevent people from barbecuing on their balconies or hanging large plants from the railings. However, the larger issue of regulating personal conduct is not so clear-cut. It literally depends on what side of the fence you’re on.

If the sunbather can be seen from a public vantage point — not by someone who must climb a tree or peer through binoculars — then the rule probably would be considered reasonable, say legal experts.

Incidentally, there are places where nudity is tolerated but again, only out of public view.

Q: Are condos a good investment?
A: Condominiums have held their value as an investment despite economic downturns and problems with some associations. In fact, condos have appreciated more in the last few years than when they first came on the scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, experts say.
While there are lots of reports about homeowners association disputes and construction-defect problems, the industry has worked hard to turn its image around. Elected volunteers who serve on association boards are better trained at handling complex budget and legal issues, for example, while many boards go to great lengths to avoid the kind of protracted and expensive litigation that has hurt resale value in the past.

Meanwhile, changing demographics are making condominiums more attractive investments for single home buyers, empty nesters and first-time buyers in expensive markets.

Q: What’s a house worth?
A: A home is worth what someone will pay for it. Everything else is an estimate of value. To determine a property’s value, most people turn to either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis.
An appraisal is a certified appraiser’s estimate amenities, energy efficiency, the quality of the of the value of a home at a given point in time. To make their determination, appraisers consider square footage, construction quality, design, floor plan, neighborhood and availability of transportation, shopping and schools. Appraisers also take lot size, topography, view and landscaping into account.

A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value, based on comparable sales in the neighborhood, performed by a real estate agent or broker. You can do your own cost comparison by looking up recent sales of comparable properties in public records. These records are available at local recorder’s or assessor’s offices, through private companies or on the Internet.

Home Price Appreciation

Home Price Appreciation – Q & A
Q: What is the difference between market value and appraised value?
A: Appraised value is a certified appraiser’s opinion of the worth of a home at a given point in time. Lenders require appraisals as part of the loan application process; fees range from $200 to $300.
Market value is what price the house will bring at a given point in time. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value, based on sales of comparable properties, performed by a real estate agent or broker.

Q: How do you increase the value of your property?
A: The biggest factor outside of a homeowner’s control is market conditions. But other issues — including the condition of the property, specific home improvements and neighborhood stability and safety — can influence property values.
The greatest rise in home prices occurs when the economy is strong and the number of home sales is increasing.

Though markets vary, that has occurred twice in recent history — in the early 1970s and the late 1980s. However, single-family homes appreciated much more than condominiums. While overall market conditions are out of the homeowner’s control, other factors are not.

For example, specific home improvements can increase the value above the cost of the improvements. According to Remodeling magazine, which publishes an annual “Cost vs. Value” remodeling report, a remodeled bathroom returns 81percent to the owner, a bathroom addition, 89 percent and a master bedroom suite, 82 percent.

Remember, quality pays. Well-planned and well-executed remodeling jobs are a good investment while bad work seldom enhances value or livability.

If you live in a high-crime area, an organized community watch program not only will lower the crime rate but also have been known to enhance property values.

Q: What are the standard ways of finding out what a house is valued at?
A: A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the standard ways consumers, lenders and realty agents deterimined what a home is worth.
Your real estate agent will be happy to provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on comparable sales in the neighborhood. You also can research “the comps” yourself by checking on recent sales in public records. Be sure that you are researching properties that are similar in size, construction and location.

This information is not only available at your local recorder’s or assessor’s office but also through private companies and on the Internet.

An appraisal, which generally cost $200 to $300 to perform, is a certified appraiser’s opinion of the value of a home at any given time. Appraisers review numerous factors including recent comparable sales, location, square footage and construction quality.

Q: How can I improve the value of my property?
A: The biggest factor outside of a homeowner?s control is market conditions. But other issues — including the condition of the property, specific home improvements and neighborhood stability and safety — can influence property values.
The greatest rise in home prices occurs when the economy is strong and the number of home sales is increasing. Though markets vary, that has occurred twice in recent history — in the early 1970s and the late 1980s.

Specific home improvements can increase the value above the cost of the improvements. According to Remodeling magazine, which publishes an annual “Cost vs. Value” remodeling report, a remodeled bathroom returns 81percent to the owner, a bathroom addition, 89 percent and a master bedroom suite, 82 percent. Remember, quality pays. Well-planned and well-executed remodeling jobs are a good investment while bad work seldom enhances value or livability.

The safety and security of a neighborhood can affect property values, too. If you live in a high-crime area, an organized community watch program not only will lower the crime rate but give home values a boost, too.

Q: Should I add on or buy a bigger home?
A: Consider these questions before making a choice between adding on to an existing home or moving up in the market to a bigger house:
* How much money is available, either from cash reserves or through a home improvement loan, to remodel the current house?
* How much additional space is required? Would the foundation support a second floor or does the lot have room to expand on the ground level?
* What do local zoning and building ordinances permit?
* How much equity already exists in the property?
* Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy housing needs?
Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual needs, the extent of work involved and what will add the most value.

Q: What kind of return is there on remodeling jobs?
A: Remodeling magazine produces an annual “Cost vs. Value Report” that answers just that question. The most important point to remember is that remodeling a home not only improves its livability for you but its curb appeal with a potential buyer down the road.
Most recently, the highest remodeling paybacks have come from updating kitchens and baths, home-office additions and extra amenities in older homes. While home offices are a relatively new remodeling trend, for example, you could expect to recoup 58 percent of the cost of adding a home office, according to the survey.

Improving your real estate

Improving Your Real Estate – Q & A
Q: How do you increase the value of your property?
A: The biggest factor outside of a homeowner’s control is market conditions. But other issues — including the condition of the property, specific home improvements and neighborhood stability and safety — can influence property values.
The greatest rise in home prices occurs when the economy is strong and the number of home sales is increasing.

Though markets vary, that has occurred twice in recent history — in the early 1970s and the late 1980s. However, single-family homes appreciated much more than condominiums. While overall market conditions are out of the homeowner’s control, other factors are not.

For example, specific home improvements can increase the value above the cost of the improvements. According to Remodeling magazine, which publishes an annual “Cost vs. Value” remodeling report, a remodeled bathroom returns 81percent to the owner, a bathroom addition, 89 percent and a master bedroom suite, 82 percent.

Remember, quality pays. Well-planned and well-executed remodeling jobs are a good investment while bad work seldom enhances value or livability.

If you live in a high-crime area, an organized community watch program not only will lower the crime rate but also have been known to enhance property values.

Q: How can I improve the value of my property?
A: The biggest factor outside of a homeowner?s control is market conditions. But other issues — including the condition of the property, specific home improvements and neighborhood stability and safety — can influence property values.
The greatest rise in home prices occurs when the economy is strong and the number of home sales is increasing. Though markets vary, that has occurred twice in recent history — in the early 1970s and the late 1980s.

Specific home improvements can increase the value above the cost of the improvements. According to Remodeling magazine, which publishes an annual “Cost vs. Value” remodeling report, a remodeled bathroom returns 81percent to the owner, a bathroom addition, 89 percent and a master bedroom suite, 82 percent. Remember, quality pays. Well-planned and well-executed remodeling jobs are a good investment while bad work seldom enhances value or livability.

The safety and security of a neighborhood can affect property values, too. If you live in a high-crime area, an organized community watch program not only will lower the crime rate but give home values a boost, too.

Q: Should I add on or buy a bigger home?
A: Consider these questions before making a choice between adding on to an existing home or moving up in the market to a bigger house:
* How much money is available, either from cash reserves or through a home improvement loan, to remodel the current house?
* How much additional space is required? Would the foundation support a second floor or does the lot have room to expand on the ground level?
* What do local zoning and building ordinances permit?
* How much equity already exists in the property?
* Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy housing needs?
Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual needs, the extent of work involved and what will add the most value.

Q: What kind of return is there on remodeling jobs?
A: Remodeling magazine produces an annual “Cost vs. Value Report” that answers just that question. The most important point to remember is that remodeling a home not only improves its livability for you but its curb appeal with a potential buyer down the road.
Most recently, the highest remodeling paybacks have come from updating kitchens and baths, home-office additions and extra amenities in older homes. While home offices are a relatively new remodeling trend, for example, you could expect to recoup 58 percent of the cost of adding a home office, according to the survey.

Q: Are there gov’t programs for rehab?
A: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 203 (K) rehabilitation loan program is designed to facilitate major structural rehabilitation of houses with one to four units that are more than one year old. Condominiums are not eligible.
The 203(K) loan is usually done as a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper property “as is” and rehabilitate it, or to refinance a temporary loan to buy the property and do the rehabilitation. It can also be done as a rehabilitation-only loan.

Plans and specifications for the proposed work must be submitted for architectural review and cost estimation. Mortgage proceeds are advanced periodically during the rehabilitation period to finance the construction costs.

For a list of participating lenders, call HUD at (202) 708-2720.

If you are a veteran, loans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also can be used to buy a home, build a home, improve a home or to refinance an existing loan. VA loans frequently offer lower interest rates than ordinarily available with other kinds of loans. To qualify for a loan, the first step is to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility.

Another program is the Fedeal Housing Administration’s Title 1 FHA loan program.

Resources:
* “Rehab a Home With HUD’s 203(K)” brochure, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 7th and D streets S.W., Washington, DC 20410.

Q: Can you deduct the cost of home improvements?
A: What you spend on permanent home improvements, such as new windows, can be added into your home’s cost basis, or amount of money invested in a home, which reduces capital gains when it comes time to sell. Capital gains are determined by the difference in price from the time a home is purchased and the time it is sold, minus the cost of any permanent improvements.
However, the 1997 tax changes virtually eliminates the capital gains tax for most homeowners (the exemption is $250,000 for single homeowners and $500,000 for married homeowners.).

Still, it is worthwhile to save all receipts for permanent home improvements just in case. They also can be useful documentation when it comes to marketing your home when you sell.

Q: How do building codes work?
A: Building codes are established by local authorities to set out minimum public-safety standards for building design, construction, quality, use and occupancy, location and maintenance. There are specialized codes for plumbing, electrical and fire, which usually involve separate inspections and inspectors.
All buildings must be issued a building permit and a certificate of occupancy before it can be used. During construction, housing inspectors must make checks at key points. Codes are usually enforced by denying permits, occupancy certificates and by imposing fines.

Building codes also cover most remodeling projects. If you are buying a house that has been significantly remodeled, ask for proof of the permits involved before you purchase to avoid future liability for fines.

Resources:
* “The Ultimate Language of Real Estate,” John Reilly, Dearborn Financial Publishing, Chicago; 1993.

Q: What are some resources for info on home improvements?
A: If you’re getting ready to embark on a home improvement project involving contracting help, “Ready, Set, Build: A Consumer’s Guide to Home Improvement Planning Contracts” lays out a road map for selecting the right contractor, obtaining competitive bids up to what to include in a contract. There also is information on consumer rights, liens and financing.
The book is available for $9.95 through Consumer Press and Women’s Publications, Inc., Dept. SR01, 13326 Southwest 28th St., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33330-1102; (954) 370-9153.

Resources:
* Profiting From Real Estate Rehab, Sandra M. Brassfield, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York; 1992.
* Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report”, available for a nominal fee from the magazine; call (202) 736-3447 to order a copy.

Q: Will a neighbor problem reduce the value of my property?
A: While it may not reduce the actual value, a cluttered landscape can detract from the positive aspects of your home. Review your local laws, which should be on file at the public library, county law library or City Hall.
A typical “junk vehicle” ordinance, for example, requires any disabled car to either be enclosed or placed behind a fence. And most cities prohibit parking any vehicle on a city street too long.

It also may be worthwhile to check into local zoning ordinances. An operator of a home-based business usually is required to obtain a variance or permanent zoning change in residential areas.

In addition, if a neighbor’s repair work produces loud noises, he may be breaking local noise-control ordinances, which are enforced by the police department.

Before bringing in the authorities, you may want to make a copy of the pertinent ordinance and give it to your neighbor to give them a chance to correct the problem.

Resources:
* “Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries and Noise,” Cora Jordan, Nolo Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 1991.

Q: What are the pros and cons of adding on or buying new?
A: Before making a choice between adding on to an existing home or buying a larger one, consider these questions:
* How much money is available, either from cash reserves or through a home improvement loan, to remodel the current house?
* How much additional space is required? Would the foundation support a second floor or does the lot have room to expand on the ground level?
* What do local zoning and building ordinances permit?
* How much equity already exists in the property?
* Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy housing needs?

Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual needs, the extent of work involved and what will add the most value. According to Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report,” remodeling a home not only improves its livability but its curb appeal with potential buyers. The highest paybacks come from updating kitchens and baths and, most recently, adding on a home office, according to the survey.

For more information, check out “The Do-able Renewable Home,” a free booklet available from the American Association of Retired Persons, Fulfillment Department, 601 E St., N.W., Washington, DC 20049; (202) 434-2277.

Q: What are some guidelines to follow when trying to find a contractor?
A: While hiring contractors recommended by friends is usually a safe route, never hire a construction professional without first checking him or her out first. If your state has a licensing board for contractors, call to find out if there are any outstanding complaints against that license holder. Also, call your local Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints on file.
If you are satisfied with the answers you find there, interview the contractor candidates. Ask what kind of worker’s compensation insurance they carry and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If they are not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury incurred during the project. Also be sure that the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.

If they pass the insurance hurdle, next check some of their references. A good contractor will be happy to provide as many as you want.

Finally, don’t let yourself be rushed into making a decision no matter how competitive the market may seem. Also, never pay a deposit to a contractor at the first meeting. You may end up losing your money.

Q: How much will I spend on maintenance expenses?
A: Experts generally agree that you can plan on annually spend 1 percent of the purchase price of your house on repairing gutters, caulking windows, sealing your driveway and the myriad other maintenance chores that come with the privilege of homeownership. Newer homes will cost less to maintain than older homes. It also depends on how well the house has been maintained over the years.
Q: Where can I get a list of architects?
A: For information on architects, contact the following: American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Avenue, N.W.; Washington, DC 20006 or call (202) 626-7300.
Q: Where do I get information on remodeling?
A: Try these sources:
* National Association of the Remodeling Industry, 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 310,Arlington, VA 22203; (703) 575-1100.
* “Rehab a Home With HUD?s 203(K),” published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 7th and D St., S.W., Washington, DC 20410.
* “Cost vs. Value Report,” by Remodeling magazine, 1 Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005. $8.95 per copy; call (202) 736-3447 for credit card orders.
* “The Do-able Renewable Home,” by the Coordination and Development Department, American Association of Retired Persons, 601 E St., N.W., Washington, DC 20049.

Q: What repairs should the seller make?
A: Most sellers like to make all minor repairs before going on the market in order to seek a higher sales price. In addition, nearly all purchase contracts include a buyer contingency “inspection clause,” which allows a buyer to back out if numerous defects are found. Once the problems are noted, buyers can attempt to negotiate repairs or a lower price.

Insurance

Insurance – Q & A
Q: What kind of home insurance should I get?
A: A standard homeowners policy protects against fire, lightning, wind, storms, hail, explosions, riots, aircraft wrecks, vehicle crashes, smoke, vandalism, theft, breaking glass, falling objects, weight of snow or sleet, collapsing buildings, freezing of plumbing fixtures, electrical damage and water damage from plumbing, heating or air conditioning systems, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group for the insurance industry.
Such policies are “all-risk” policies, which cover everything except earthquakes, floods, war and nuclear accidents.

A basic policy can be expanded to include additional coverage, such as for floods and earthquakes and even workers’ compensation for servants or contractors. Home-based business-coverage, an increasingly popular rider, does not cover liability associated with the business.

Insurance experts recommend that homeowners obtain insurance equal to the full replacement value of the home. On a 2,000-square-foot home,for example, if the replacement cost is $80 per square foot, the house should be insured for at least $160,000.

For personal items, homeowners can increase their coverage beyond the depreciated value of items such as televisions or furniture by purchasing a “replacement-cost endorsement” on personal property.

Some experts recommend an inflation rider, which increases coverage as the home increases in value.

Condos and Townhouses

Condominiums & Townhomes – Q & A
Q: How do you choose between condos and single-family homes?
A: Using appreciation as a measure, condominiums in some areas have been as profitable an investment as single-family homes in the last five years. And in some markets, condos appreciated even more, according to some experts.
While single-family homes have been the preferred investment by home buyers, changing demographics are helping make condos more popular, especially among single home buyers, empty nesters and first-time buyers in high-priced markets.

Also, the condominium community has worked hard in the last few years to overcome image problems brought on by homeowners association and developer disputes as well as all too frequent construction-defect litigation.

Q: Are condominiums risky to buy?
A: While condos never had the kind of appreciation experienced by single-family homes in the go-go 1980s, most ultimately have not lost value, say some experts. And with high prices in many urban markets and more single home buyers in the market than ever before, the market for condos is strong.
As with any home purchase, you should do your homework about the neighborhood or development before you buy. In the case of condominiums, it is important to read the past six months of homeowners association minutes to see how effective the board is and to learn about any possibly detracting issues (such as protracted litigation with the developer).

The condominium community has worked hard in the last few years to overcome image problems brought on by disputes and lawsuits. Associations are becoming more sophisticated about property management and taking steps to prevent legal problems and disputes.

Other resources:
* Community Associations Institute, 1630 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314; (703) 548-8600.
* “The Condominium Bluebook,” Branden E. Bickel, B&B; Publications, San Francisco, CA; 1993.

Q: Do condos have to be made accessible to the disabled?
A: The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act does not require strictly residential apartments and single-family homes to be made accessible. But all new construction of public accommodations or commercial projects (such as a government building or a shopping mall) must be accessible. New multi-family construction also falls into this category.
In all states, the Federal Fair Housing Act provides protection against discrimination for people with physical or mental disabilities. Discrimination includes the refusal to make reasonable modifications to buildings that aren’t accessible to the disabled.

Two educational brochures, “Housing Rights” and “Discrimination is Against the Law,” are available through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing by calling (800) 884-1684.

Q: Can condos ban smoking?
A: A homeowners association’s board of directors can restrict smoking if it applies to indoor common spaces such as hallways or recreation rooms. Outdoor spaces are a different story, say legal experts. Any restriction would probably hinge on local laws (i.e. if a city banned smoking outdoors, a homeowners association probably could restrict smoking in its outdoor spaces).
Typical covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs;), which govern condo associations, give the board authority to make and enforce reasonable rules for the use of common property. But that would not apply to interior spaces owned by smokers themselves. Resources:
* Common-interest development brochure available free from California Department of Real Estate, Book Orders, P.O. Box 187006, Sacramento, CA 95818-7006; (916) 227-0938.
* Various Internet sites specializing in common-interest developments, such as those operated by the Community Associations Institute and CIDNetworks.

Q: Can a condo association ban nudity?
A: Could you sunbathe in the nude on your own balcony? Not necessarily. In a condominium development, a balcony is not considered private property but common property assigned to your exclusive use but a common area nontheless.
Covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs;) usually spell out what activities can and cannot be conducted on common property. Some associations prevent people from barbecuing on their balconies or hanging large plants from the railings. However, the larger issue of regulating personal conduct is not so clear-cut. It literally depends on what side of the fence you’re on.

If the sunbather can be seen from a public vantage point — not by someone who must climb a tree or peer through binoculars — then the rule probably would be considered reasonable, say legal experts.

Incidentally, there are places where nudity is tolerated but again, only out of public view.

Q: Are condos a good investment?
A: Condominiums have held their value as an investment despite economic downturns and problems with some associations. In fact, condos have appreciated more in the last few years than when they first came on the scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, experts say.
While there are lots of reports about homeowners association disputes and construction-defect problems, the industry has worked hard to turn its image around. Elected volunteers who serve on association boards are better trained at handling complex budget and legal issues, for example, while many boards go to great lengths to avoid the kind of protracted and expensive litigation that has hurt resale value in the past.

Meanwhile, changing demographics are making condominiums more attractive investments for single home buyers, empty nesters and first-time buyers in expensive markets.

Q: Where do I get information on condo association laws?
A: Resources:
* “The Condominium Bluebook” by Branden E. Bickel, B&B; Publications, San Francisco, CA; 1994; call (415) 433-1233).
* Community Associations Institute, Alexandria, VA; (703) 548-8600.
Q: Where do I get information on condos?
A: The major interest group for condominium projects and other so-called common-intereset developments is the nonprofit Community Associations Institute,1630 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314; (703) 548-8600. Also, check the Internet where CAI operates an informative site as does CIDNetworks.
Q: Are one-bedroom condominiums a good investment?
A: One-bedroom condominiums historically have not been considered as good an investment as condos with two bedrooms or more. But in high-cost markets, such as Manhattan or the San Francisco Bay Area, one-bedroom condos have proven to be equally good investments. Helping that along are changing demographic trends. With more single home buyers in the market today than at any time in history, there is more demand for one-bedroom condos.
Q: How do I figure out the homeowners association?
A: Learn everything you can about the homeowners association before you buy into a development governed by one. The association’s financial, political and legal conditions are very important to your investment and quality of life.
When run properly, homeowners associations maintain the common grounds and keep civility in the complex. If you follow the rules, the association should not intrude on your privacy or cost you too much in association dues.

Poorly managed associations can drag down property values and make living there difficult for residents. Start by studying the association?s covenants, codes and restrictions, or CC&Rs;, and find out if you can live by them. For example, if the rules prohibit loud music after a certain hour and you like to play your CDs late at night, this may not be the place for you. Don’t move in thinking you can get away with violating the rules or change them later because you may find yourself in turmoil with determined neighbors firmly in control of the association board.

Find out all you can about the association’s finances. Beyond reviewing the budget, talk to the association treasurer and find out if dues are expected to increase and if any special assessments are planned. Ask if special inspections have revealed problems with roofs or plumbing that may cause a dues hike or special assessment later on.

Call and meet with the association president. If you are the type of person who despises intrusions into your private life and the president seems more interested in gossip about the residents than maintaining the property, this may not be the right condo complex for you.

Speak with residents to get their views on the association’s finances, its property manager, how it operates and any politics. Associations are volunteer organizations with elected boards, like a mini-government, so politics can enter the picture and spoil a good thing.

Lastly, take some time to understand how homeowners associations are organized and how they conduct business. Like all real estate investments, the more you know the better off you are.

Home furnishings when selling

 

Q:  Who gets the furnishings when a home is sold?
A:  Fixtures, any kind of personal property that is permanently attached to a house (such as drapery rods, built-in bookcases, tacked-down carpeting or a furnace), automatically stay with the house unless specified otherwise in the sales contract. But you can consider anything that is not nailed down negotiable. This most often involves appliances that are not built in (washer, dryer, refrigerator, for example), although some sellers will be interested in negotiating for other items, such as a piano.

Lease Options

Lease Options – Q & A


Q:  What is a lease option?
A:  When a renter signs a lease with an option to purchase the property for a specific price within a certain time frame, that is called a lease option. In most lease-option situations, a portion of the rent is applied to a future down payment.Lease options are most popular among buyers who don’t have enough funds for a down payment and closing costs.

Q:  How do lease options work and what are the benefits?
A:  Most lease-option agreements specify that a portion of the rent on the property in question is applied toward the purchase if the option is exercised. This is referred to as rent credit. Institutional lenders accept rent credits as part of the down payment if rental payments exceed the market rent and if a valid lease-purchase agreement is in effect, a copy of which must be attached to the loan application.For sellers, lease options give them several advantages, especially in a slow market. These include a monthly rent higher than market rent, top-market value for the property and tax-free use of the option consideration until the option expires or is exercised. Also, the renter is more likely to treat the property like an owner, tax-free use of option consideration until the option expires or is exercised.

Lease-options should be read carefully for details on transferring the option and other important concerns.

Fixer Uppers

Fixer-Uppers – Q & A


Q:  Where are fixer-uppers found?
A:  You can find distressed properties or fixer-uppers in most communities, even wealthier neighborhoods. A distressed property is one that has been poorly maintained and has a lower market value than other houses in the immediate area.Ascertaining whether the property you’re interested in is a wise investment takes some work. You need to figure what the average house in a given area sells for, as well as what the most desirable houses in that area are like and what they cost.

Some experts suggest that buyers who take this route try to find a “cosmetic fixer” that can be completely refurbished with paint, wallpaper, new floor and window coverings, landscaping and new appliances. You should avoid run-down houses that need major structural repairs. A house price that looks too good to be true probably is. A smart buyer will find out why before buying it.

The basic strategy for a fixer is to find the least desirable house in the most desirable neighborhood, and then decide if the expenses needed to bring the value of that property up to its full potential market value are within one’s rehab budget.


Q:  Are there programs for fixer-uppers?
A:  If you need home loan to buy a “fixer-upper” and remodel it, look at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 203(K) loan program. The program is designed to facilitate major structural rehabilitation of houses with one to four units that are more than one year old. Condominiums are not eligible.A 203(K) loan is usually done as a combination loan to purchase a “fixer-upper” property “as is” and rehabilitate it, or to refinance a temporary loan to buy the property and do the rehabilitation. It can also be done as a rehabilitation-only loan.

Investors must put 15 percent down while owner-occupants are required to come up with only 3 to 5 percent. HUD requires that a minimum of $5,000 be spent on improvements.

Two appraisals are required. Plans and specifications for the proposed work must be submitted for architectural review and cost estimation. Mortgage proceeds are advanced periodically during the rehabilitation period to finance the construction costs.


Q:  What kind of return is there on remodeling jobs?
A:  Remodeling magazine produces an annual “Cost vs. Value Report” that answers just that question. The most important point to remember is that remodeling a home not only improves its livability for you but its curb appeal with a potential buyer down the road.Most recently, the highest remodeling paybacks have come from updating kitchens and baths, home-office additions and extra amenities in older homes. While home offices are a relatively new remodeling trend, for example, you could expect to recoup 58 percent of the cost of adding a home office, according to the survey.

Q:  Are there gov’t programs for rehab?
A:  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 203 (K) rehabilitation loan program is designed to facilitate major structural rehabilitation of houses with one to four units that are more than one year old. Condominiums are not eligible.The 203(K) loan is usually done as a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper property “as is” and rehabilitate it, or to refinance a temporary loan to buy the property and do the rehabilitation. It can also be done as a rehabilitation-only loan.

Plans and specifications for the proposed work must be submitted for architectural review and cost estimation. Mortgage proceeds are advanced periodically during the rehabilitation period to finance the construction costs.

For a list of participating lenders, call HUD at (202) 708-2720.

If you are a veteran, loans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also can be used to buy a home, build a home, improve a home or to refinance an existing loan. VA loans frequently offer lower interest rates than ordinarily available with other kinds of loans. To qualify for a loan, the first step is to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility.

Another program is the Fedeal Housing Administration’s Title 1 FHA loan program.

Resources:
* “Rehab a Home With HUD’s 203(K)” brochure, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 7th and D streets S.W., Washington, DC 20410.


Q:  What are some resources for info on home improvements?
A:  If you’re getting ready to embark on a home improvement project involving contracting help, “Ready, Set, Build: A Consumer’s Guide to Home Improvement Planning Contracts” lays out a road map for selecting the right contractor, obtaining competitive bids up to what to include in a contract. There also is information on consumer rights, liens and financing.The book is available for $9.95 through Consumer Press and Women’s Publications, Inc., Dept. SR01, 13326 Southwest 28th St., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33330-1102; (954) 370-9153.

Resources:
* Profiting From Real Estate Rehab, Sandra M. Brassfield, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York; 1992.
* Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report”, available for a nominal fee from the magazine; call (202) 736-3447 to order a copy.


Q:  Are there any special tax breaks for historic rehab?
A:  Qualified rehabilitated buildings and certified historic structures currently enjoy a 20 percent investment tax credit for qualified rehabilitation expenses. A historic structure is one listed in the National Register of Historic Places or so designated by an appropriate state or local historic district also certified by the government.The tax code does not allow deductions for the demolition or significant alternation of a historic structure.

Resources:
* National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.; (202) 588-6000.


Q:  What are some guidelines to follow when trying to find a contractor?
A:  While hiring contractors recommended by friends is usually a safe route, never hire a construction professional without first checking him or her out first. If your state has a licensing board for contractors, call to find out if there are any outstanding complaints against that license holder. Also, call your local Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints on file.If you are satisfied with the answers you find there, interview the contractor candidates. Ask what kind of worker’s compensation insurance they carry and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If they are not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury incurred during the project. Also be sure that the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.

If they pass the insurance hurdle, next check some of their references. A good contractor will be happy to provide as many as you want.

Finally, don’t let yourself be rushed into making a decision no matter how competitive the market may seem. Also, never pay a deposit to a contractor at the first meeting. You may end up losing your money.


Q:  Are fixers a good idea in bad areas?
A:  Distressed properties or fixer-uppers are everywhere, even in wealthier neighborhoods. Such properties are poorly maintained and have a lower market value than other houses in the neighborhood.Many experts recommend that buyers find the least desirable house in the best neighborhood and then decide if the expenses needed to bring the value of that property up to its full potential market value are within one’s budget. Most experts say inexperienced buyers should avoid run-down houses that need major structural repairs and instead look for properties that only require cosmetic fixes.