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  • Septic or Sewer: What's the Difference? Mar. 21st 2019
    Septic systems or sewer systems: what's better? What's the difference? Homeowners flush their toilets, run their sinks and take showers without putting a second thought into the sewer systems that allow for this luxury. All of these functions rely on one of two things: 1. Sewer system 2. Septic system Sewer systems are different than a septic system because one relies on the local government, while the other relies on the homeowner. Why Many Homeowners Rely on Sewer Systems A sewer system requires no maintenance, but you'll need to pay monthly fees for using the system. Local governments allow the homeowner to hook up the local sewer system, which will ensure all of your waste is gone forever. You'll pay monthly, but you never have to worry about septic system costs and repairs. Sewers can become clogged and they may backup over-time. This happens when neighbors and others in the community are flushing wet wipes or pouring grease down their drains. When major blockages occur, everyone is impacted. You may not pay for the unclogging upfront, but your fees may rise to cover the expenditures. Why Homeowners are Moving Back to Septic Systems A septic system is your own system, and this is a tank system that's often able to hold 1,000 gallons of water. The three-layer system connects to the home, and the system is placed in the ground on the home's property. Often seen as an eco-friendly option, you won't pay monthly fees to use your septic system. Clogging of the system is also your fault. If the system becomes clogged, this is due to your actions: i.e. you're flushing items that cannot breakdown in the system. Septic systems can be costly to install, and all of the maintenance and repair fees must be paid by the homeowner. But "sewer betterment" fees are often imposed on homeowners, with some fees being in the $10,000+ range. This may include fees for installation and repairs. When these fees are considered, this is often higher than the cost to install a septic system on the land. Septic systems do need to be pumped, and this can cost $200 - $300 every 3 – 5 years. Concrete tanks can last 40 years with proper maintenance, while steel tanks have a lifespan of 15 – 20 years. "Septic systems should be inspected and pumped a minimum of once every three to four years. You may not be experiencing any problems now, but a full septic tank may allow unwanted solids to flow into the drain field, which is the part of the system that consists of a distribution box and a series of connected pipe," explains Apollo Drain. Septic systems also offer the benefit of being able to build a home in a remote area, which may not have a sewer system connection close by. But when sewer systems are close to the home, they're often chosen because they can handle large amounts of waste at a time. During storm periods where heavy rains occur, sewer systems are able to handle the water with much greater ease than a septic system.  

  • How to DIY Abstract Art Mar. 21st 2019
    Some of us are DIYers and some of us need to smash our thumb with a hammer a few times or fall off a ladder and sprain our ankle to realize that we’re…just…not. But just because we clearly shouldn’t try to take down a wall or install a floor or even put together a bookcase by ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t have some personal influence over our space. Let’s start with the walls. Yes, you can scour the internet for abstract art in every color, shape, and size, and you’ll pay a pretty penny for a lot of it. Or, you can D-I-Y your A-R-T. It’s easier than you think to create something that looks like you dropped some serious cash to dress up your walls, and you might even have a good time while you’re at it. Here are a few ideas to get your juices flowing. Create dimension Ever see those abstract paintings that have texture and dimension and wonder how they got such a layered look? This tutorial uses a clever trick to approximate the look of “elevated brush (or painting-knife) strokes”: tissue paper! Who ever thought an item you use to blow your nose could be so beautifully useful. Get the right tools You’ll need a canvas, some paint, and at least one paintbrush, obviously, to make your art. But incorporating some other tools can give it a unique, professional look. Drywall spatulas give this painting  its textural flair without the brush strokes. Varying the usage and pressure of the spatulas and paint brush allow you to create as much—or as little—texture as you want. Pass the alcohol The alcohol inks, to be exact. If you haven’t heard of this before, it’s about to become your favorite craft item. “Alcohol inks are an acid-free, highly-pigmented, and fast drying medium to be used on non-porous surfaces,” said Create for Less. While the finished product of this abstract art looks complicated, it’s actually a simply process, and one that creates cool-looking art that can be done and hung in a matter of minutes. Watch the tutorial to see how easy it is, but beware: You’re dealing with fire here, so, if you’re accident prone, you might want a chaperone. And more alcohol Using rubbing alcohol to blur the lines helps create the “splash effect” on this painting. It looks like fluffy clouds to us. One thing is for sure: No one will ever know you did this yourself! Go all Jackson Pollock Your masterpiece may not end up in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), but it’ll sure become the centerpiece of your space! Get your splatter on and create a piece you’ll love. This tutorial shows you how. (It also shows you how to create your own canvas, but, unless you’re super keen on this part of the DIY experience, you can save yourself some time and hassle, and maybe even an injury, by picking up a finished, framed canvas at a store like JOANNs, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby.) Don't restrict yourself to just paint Can’t find the perfect shade for your art? Tint it yourself! This dreamy abstract painting is part paint, part food coloring! Think outside the lines Animal print is the inspiration for this spotted art. Black and gray paint on a white background keeps it neutral, and the gold-sprayed framed provide a pop. Do like the artist and use watercolors to “vary the depth of the spots to make it look more natural.” Make it fancy A little touch of metallic takes this art to the next level. This cool painting uses golf leaf, but you can also experiment with metallic paint if you’d rather.

  • Kitchen Cabinets: Paint ‘em Yourself or Pay the Big Bucks? Mar. 20th 2019
    Thinking of painting your own kitchen cabinets? You can find dozens—hundreds even—of tutorials and tip lists to show you how. They’ll list out the supplies needed and show you the proper techniques for the best outcome. And many of them even get real about just how intensive and interminable the process can be. Preparation is key when painting your cabinets, and the number of steps you’ll need to follow to achieve a quality finish can seem impossible. You’ll want to remove the doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. Fill in any holes and smooth out any gouges. Degrease, sand, vacuum, wipe, sand some more, vacuum some more, wipe some more. And maybe then you’ll finally be ready for priming—but not painting on the actual color, because that comes after priming. Frankly, every step is important, and if you miss one, you could end up with a result you’re unhappy with, or a finish that doesn’t hold up. If you’re the type who isn’t likely to finish what you’ve started, perhaps you shouldn’t embark on this paint-your-own adventure. Your old, dated cabinets are still better than half-old-and-dated, half-done cabinets. But if you still want to go for it, at least be prepared for a few realities: You’re never going to get a look as good as the professionals You may come close, and you may fool your friends, but there’s a reason you pay professionals a couple to several thousand dollars for something verging on perfection. Your arms will hate you Which is not such a bad thing, really. You can skip a few “arm days” at the gym if you really put your effort into it. You’ll never want to look at another piece of sandpaper again Get ready for hand cramps. That’s how you know you’re doing it right. Sanding is critical to achieving the look you want and making sure the paint sticks. “Sand all surfaces with the grain using 100-grit paper. To make sure no bits of dust mar the finish, vacuum the cabinets inside and out, then rub them down with a tack cloth to catch any debris that the vacuum misses,” said painting contractor John Dee on This Old House. “Hand sanding is the best technique on oak because you can push the paper into the open grain, which a power sander or sanding block will miss." The dust is NEVER-ENDING Refer back to all that sanding. Seriously. This is not a job for any old vacuum. You can rent an industrial vacuum at Home Depot, and it’s a good idea to also have a smaller vacuum with crevice tools and more rags for wiping and cleanup than you ever imagined needing for anything. You need a system for keeping track of every door, drawer, and piece of hardware Sounds easy, but one mistake and you’re in a world of hurt. If you don’t label every single door and drawer correctly, they’ll get mixed up and they won’t fit correctly. While you’re at it, don’t forget to label your hinges and handles, too. “I read a dozen blogs that said to label my hinges so that they would all go back in the same places,” said Cori George of Hey, Let’s Make Stuff. “But I figured all the hinges were the same, so why spend the time? Huge mistake. The hinges had worn in specific ways in the last two decades and a half, so that after they were painted and I was putting the bathroom back together, none of the hinges worked quite right. I ended up sort of forcing everything into place, and while the doors work, they don’t work as well as they would have if I’d labeled them.” There will be smudges. And maybe even an errant hair. Yeah, it happens. Just remember to breathe as you’re redoing the same cabinet door for the fourth time. The fumes are horrible Speaking of breathing…it won’t be easy, depending on what kind of product you use. When someone else is doing your cabinets, you can escape the fumes by gathering the family in a different part of the house for the couple of days of painting, or, even better, check into a hotel and take a little staycation. The DIY version means you’re all up in those fumes for however long it takes to get your cabinets done, which is likely longer than what the pros can accomplish. The degreaser you’ll likely need to use to get your cabinets cleaned up before applying any primer or paint is stinky, and certain kinds of paint are no better. “In truth, oil primer and paint adhere the best and give the longest-lasting results on cabinets, but because of VOCs, oil is outlawed in many states,” said Albert Ridge of Ridge Painting in NYC on Remodelista. “A good alternative is water-soluble waterborne paint, such as Benjamin Moore’s Advance, which is something like a latex-oil combo. But note that it dries quickly, so it’s wise to add an extender that allows you to the time to get a nice finish without brush marks. And if you’re painting something plasticky or otherwise hard to paint, Stix is a good primer to know about.” The good tools are a worthwhile splurge Professional painters typically want to spray cabinets because the finish comes out so smooth, although some do prefer the control a brush can bring. No matter which option you go with, you want the best tools you can afford. Paint Sprayer magazine tested a number of options, and the top-ranked sprayer is only $129—a small price to pay for a smooth finish. You do want to make sure you practice ahead of time if you’re going this route. Poor spraying technique could result in an uneven finish or lots of drips.

  • Alarm Bells Sound as HELOC Loans Increase in Canada Mar. 20th 2019
    With home equity lines of credit now accounting for 11.3 per cent of total household credit, there’s fear that consumers are taking on too much debt and are overly optimistic about being able to repay the loans. A recent survey found that many consumers don’t understand how home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) work and are at risk of over borrowing. The survey, by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, says most survey respondents scored less than 50 per cent on a knowledge test of HELOCs, and that more than 25 per cent of those who have the loans made interest-only payments on them. Although 62 per cent of these people said they intend to pay off their loans within five years, FCAC says that’s overly optimistic. More than three million Canadians have a HELOC and owe an average amount of $65,000. “These results point to a pressing need for financial institutions and FCAC to help Canadians realize that not using HELOCs responsibly can have serious repercussions on their financial well-being,” says Lucie Tedesco, commissioner of FCAC. “Without a repayment plan, consumers may carry debt longer than anticipated and slip into patterns of behaviors that trap them on a treadmill of debt.” HELOCs are loans that are secured by the borrower’s residential property. Financial institutions sell products that combine HELOCs with traditional mortgages, called a “readvanceable mortgage”. DBRS Limited reports that since 2017, HELOC balances have been growing at a faster rate than mortgages. HELOCs are the largest type of non-mortgage debt, more than double that of car loans or credit cards. Used responsibly, HELOCs can save consumers thousands of dollars compared to other kinds of loans. Most of them are tied to a bank’s prime lending rate, which is currently below five per cent. Compare that to credit cards, which can be 25 per cent or more. HELOCs are flexible ñ you can borrow as much as you want up to your credit limit and pay it back any time you wish with no prepayment penalty. FCAC says most HELOCs are used for home renovations, but 22 per cent of borrowers used them to pay down other debt such as high-interest credit-card balances. Most consumers don’t have much money available in case of an emergency and HELOCs can be used for a quick, short-term loan if the need arises. Some have used the loans to put toward other financial investments and purchasing property. “HELOCs provide borrowers with flexibility, as they make it easy to borrow and do not have a fixed schedule of principal payments,” says DBRS in a report. “However, this flexibility also permits borrowers to leverage up easily. It also allows households to carry this debt for prolonged periods of time without having to make a principal payment as these loans, unlike mortgages, are non-amortizing.” If you have a HELOC tied to your mortgage but want to switch the mortgage to a different lender, you will have to pay off the HELOC completely. If you miss payments on your HELOC, the lender could take possession of your home. As with all loans, interest rates can go up and your lender may reduce your credit limit. It can also ask you to repay the loan at any time. FCAC says if you are applying for a HELOC, ask your lender are what’s required to qualify, what’s the best interest rate they can give you, how much notice you will get before an interest rate increase kicks in and what fees apply. So far most Canadians have been handling their household debt well, but some figures just released by Equifax Canada are worrisome. It found that the 90-day mortgage delinquency rate for mortgages rose by 7.2 per cent for seniors in the fourth quarter of 2018. Overall the rate rose by 1.5 per cent during the quarter, to a rate of 0.18 per cent. The non-mortgage rate was up 0.4 per cent to 1.07 per cent. While the numbers are still small, Equifax Canada’s vice president Bill Johnston says, “The worm is turning in the Canadian credit market. Bankruptcies are up 15 per cent in the last half of 2018 and the small increase in delinquency rates mask some underlying weakness. Rising delinquency is likely to become the norm in 2019.” DBRS worries that since consumers can use HELOCs to consolidate debt, “lenders may not observe the initial phases of a borrower’s financial distress, if borrowers use their HELOC to make regular payments on other loans.” In addition, “In a rising interest rate environment, the interest-only payments for borrowers are also set to rise, which may result in a further burden to borrowers who are carrying a large amount outstanding on their HELOCs. Should interest rates rise faster than anticipated, this could result in an amplified shock to a highly leveraged consumer despite these loans being non-amortizing.” FCAC says that while most HELOC borrowers in the survey said they used their loans as intended, some borrowed more than expected. An argument can be made that money spent on home renovations is helping to increase the value of your home and your overall financial picture, but as with all loans, you must be realistic about your ability to repay. “Borrowers would benefit from more upfront information about HELOCs and should take steps to learn about them,” says FCAC. Repayment plans that include making regular principal payments can help HELOC borrowers mitigate the risk of over-borrowing, debt persistence and wealth erosion.”

  • Nightmare Neighbor: Disturbing Marijuana Mar. 19th 2019
    Question: I live in a high-rise condo I purchased a few years ago. A month after I moved in, I learned why the former owner was eager to sell and took my first (low) offer. The neighbor with whom I share a common wall smokes marijuana. Every time he lights up, he fills my unit and the common hallway with the pungent smell. The first year I lived here it only happened once or twice a month. But about two years ago his use increased to a few times a week. I covered all vents and ducts and purchased two very expensive air purifiers - which had very little effect. At that point I knocked on my neighbor's door and tried to have a conversation with him about it, explaining that his marijuana stench seeps into my unit, as well as the common hallway. He became irate, called me names, swore at me and told me to mind my own business. To emphasize his point he took a hit from a bong and blew the smoke in my face. The past year it's increased to almost daily. Needless to say my condo constantly reeks of marijuana. My childhood asthma returned - I hadn't had an attack in 20 years, and started having them weekly. I had to get a prescription inhaler. I started getting headaches and eye irritations. I started staying with friends to avoid the health issues. When I wasn't in my condo, the health issues stopped. I complained to security, they gave him a written warning and submitted it to the Condo Association. The board issued a nuisance fine. My neighbor paid it and continued to smoke marijuana - usually daily/nightly. I contacted my Condo Association board again, they told me they did all they could, we do not have a non-smoking rule, and since it's illegal activity I needed to call the police. Instead I called my real estate agent to put my condo on the market. I knew I'd sell at a loss but I just wanted to get away from the stench. The day my real estate agent came to assess my condo and talk about putting it on the market, the stench in the common hallway and in my unit was so strong (even with air purifiers blasting and windows open) that he said there was no way he would consider bringing prospective buyers to view my condo. He too, suggested that I call the police, thinking a visit from the police and a fine would curtail my neighbor's marijuana use. So I decided to call the police. Surprisingly, they showed up quickly, issued a ticket and left. It had zero effect on my neighbor, in fact it seems like he's smoking even more because the marijuana stench is now almost constant. Occasionally he burns incense or cooks fish or bacon in an attempt to cover the sent, which leaves a smell of incense, fish or bacon mixed with marijuana. Another neighbor finally had enough, too, and called the police. They showed up, again, issued another ticket and left. As long as the guy pays the fine and isn't selling/dealing drugs, there's nothing further the police will do. I am desperate to sell so I contacted two other real estate agents. They both left almost immediately upon entering my condo and refused to list my unit because of the obvious drug use next door. Friends and coworkers occasionally tell me my clothes smell like marijuana (my closet is in the direct line of stench fire) so I starting storing my clothes in airtight tubs in another part of my condo. My marijuana-smoking neighbor is in his 50's, he does not work and is the son of the condo owner. The father, who owns the condo, is elderly and lives in another state. I also learned the pot smoking son doesn't work and doesn't have any financial assets; he is completely financially dependent on his father. I do not want to drag his innocent elderly father into this. Do I have any legal recourse? Is my only solution foreclosure? - KC. : K.C. No, there are avenues you can take and foreclosure is not one of them. I am confident that somewhere in your association’s legal documents (usually the Bylaws) there is a provision that a unit owner cannot create a nuisance. And that’s exactly what your “neighbor” is creating: a clear nuisance. You should go back to the Board and tell them that they have to get an injunction against the owner as well as his son, demanding that he either stop smoking in the apartment or sell and move out. If the Board is unwilling to do that, I suggest you contact a local real estate attorney who can follow up on my suggestion. Two other avenues: you can file a lawsuit against that “neighbor” claiming a private nuisance. You have to discuss this with your local counsel, to make sure what the elements of such a claim are in your state. And if the Board is unwilling to take action, you can sue the Board directly, claiming that by failing to follow the Bylaws there are breaching their fiduciary duty to you. It is helpful that you have another owner who is upset with the situation. The more owners who will support you, the stronger your ability to persuade the Board to take action. And finally, I don’t know why you are hesitant to contact the father; he is the owner, and should know what is going on. Perhaps if the father feels threatened somehow, he may be able to get his son to move out. Your question raises yet another issue: as more and more states are allowing marijuana use – whether in general or just for medicinal purposes -- I suspect that your problem will be duplicated throughout the nation. Boards of Directors of community associations should start thinking about imposing smoking restrictions – and this should only be done by a bylaw amendment and not merely by rule adopted by the Board.

  • It’s a Beautiful Day in the Gayborhood Mar. 19th 2019
    A new study from took a look at the state of homeownership in the LGBTQ community. The “LGBT Real Estate Report 2018-19: A View of LGBT Homeownership Trends and Economic Impact,” shows that, “significantly more LGBT clients are expecting to increase their real estate holdings either by moving into bigger homes or purchasing a second home (41% and 27% respectively), compared to only 20% expecting to downsize in the near future.” The survey curated responses from nearly 500 real estate and mortgage professionals. The survey also focused on housing discrimination among the LGBTQ community, noting that, “Federal law and the Fair Housing Act do not yet include protections for LGBTQ clients.” Although, “According to the Human Rights Campaign, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, with a further one state prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity.” Members of the LGBTQ community are driven by many of the same factors as anyone else when looking to buy a home—price, value, amenities, convenience. But, given the history of discrimination against this segment of the population and present-day issues, there is also a desire among many gay homebuyers to purchase in an area with an LGBTQ population, or one that is at least considered gay-friendly. That’s where the “gayborhood” comes in. defines gayborhood as, “an area of a city or town characterized as being inhabited or frequented by gay people.” Despite a proclamation in 2017 by the New York Times that the gayborhood was dead, having “straightened” over the years, “There are more of them than you think,” counters Mashable. Their recent take centers around the idea that “gayborhoods are shifting, not dying.” The piece is based on research from Amin Ghaziani, assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia. “In his recently published piece, ‘Cultural Archipelagos: New Directions in the Study of Sexuality and Space,’ Ghaziani analyzes new research to make a bold hypothesis: The gayborhood hasn't died, and it isn't being diluted out of existence,” they said. “Instead, gayborhoods are multiplying and diversifying.” Ghaziani takes the definition of gayborhood beyond the more rudimentary description, identifying four main factors: “It's a geographical center of LGBTQ people (including queer tourists), it has a high density of LGBTQ residents, it's a commercial center of businesses catering to the queer and trans community, and it's a cultural concentration of power.” So where are today’s gayborhoods? You have your usual suspects: The Castro in San Francisco, The West Village in New York City, Boystown in Chicago. A look at the “U.S. cities with the highest rate of same-sex married couples” from NBC News is also illuminating. According to federal tax data from the year gay marriage was legalized, the cities with “the largest share of same-sex married couples” are: 1. San Francisco, CA2. Santa Rosa, CA—also a top 20 retirement spot for LGBT seniors3. Seattle, WA4. Boston, MA—the first state to legalize same-sex marriage5. Portland, OR6. Miami, FL—also named the "greatest gay destination in America" by Thrillist7. Albuquerque, NM—also a SeniorAdvice most LGBTQ-friendly retirement spot8. San Diego, CA9. New York, NY—Home to “the largest number of same-sex marriages”10. Portland, ME

  • 5 Overlooked Factors That Can Affect Your Home’s Insurance Rates Mar. 18th 2019
    Insurance rates—how are they even calculated? It can be complicated, but it all comes down to an algorithm that takes many variables into account. If keeping your rates as low possible is your number one concern, you need to know about these five factors that can affect your bottom line. 1. The age and condition of your house. This is one of the most obvious factors and also one of the biggest. The age of your house and the wiring, pipes, roof, lumber, square footage, and even how many corners it has all play a role in the price of your insurance. It comes down to the risk associated with the house and the costs that come with repair or replacement. For example, if your home was built in 1920, it may have old pipes and wiring that aren’t up to code. These materials come with a much higher risk of damage or fire, so the insurance companies will charge more to insure it. 2. In a flood zone? It can cost you. Again, if the risk of destruction is high, your insurance will reflect it. If you have a beachfront home on the Gulf Coast, you can expect to pay more than if you’re in an area of the country where flooding is typically not a concern, such as the Midwest. If you’re in any sort of flood zone and you have a mortgage on your home, your lender will probably require a separate flood insurance policy—and that costs money. Even if you aren’t in a flood zone, your mortgage company may still require coverage, so be sure to look into your lender’s requirements when you begin shopping around. 3. Some dog breeds can take a big bite out of your wallet. In some cases, your family dog can bump up your premiums. Certain breeds, such as pit bulls and “bully” breeds, have a reputation of being more dangerous than others and historically come with larger liability concerns to your insurer, resulting in a higher rate. Three things can happen if your dog is considered a “dangerous” dog breed: you could be charged a higher rate from your carrier, your provider may cover you but exclude any liability associated with the dog, or the carrier could decide not to insure you at all. 4. Your pool can put your rates in the deep end. Pools, trampolines, and even backyard construction projects are in a category called attractive nuisances, which are recreational amenities added to a home that can raise liability concerns (and your rates) on behalf of an insurer. If there is something in your yard that can attract the attention of a minor and pose any level of danger, it will probably affect your insurance policy. 5. Proximity to the fire department affects your premiums. If your house were to catch fire, how long would it take for the local fire department to get there? The faster they can get there and handle the situation, the better chance they have of minimizing the damage. Every homeowner’s policy requires what’s called a Public Protection Class (PPC) rating. A PPC is rated between 1-10 (one being the best) and takes factors like proximity to the fire department, proximity and number of fire hydrants, municipal water towers, and even railroad tracks into account. In some cases, you may be able to make some changes to help lower your rates, but never lie or intentionally exclude key information on your application—this could result in your coverage or renewal getting denied. Be honest with your agent, and they will help you find the right coverage and rate that works for your needs.   Paul Martin, CPCU, is an insurance professional for Trusted Choice with over 30 years’ experience in the field. Throughout his career, his mission has been to advance the insurance industry through education to be better equipped to serve the public.

  • Ask the HOA Expert: Gutters That Work Mar. 18th 2019
    Rain gutters are an inconspicuous but necessary building component that homeowner associations deal with. Their need to perform consistently triggers ongoing maintenance and repair to themselves, exterior paint, siding, roofs and trees. Failure to keep the gutter system running smoothly causes overflows, water intrusion, interior damage, structural dryrot and enormously expensive repairs. There is a lot riding on this often ignored building component. Until the late 19th century virtually all rain gutters were made of wood. With the advent of metal roll forming machines around 1900, the ability to create metal gutters became possible. The roll forming process shapes long coils of flat metal into long, formed sections of gutters in a variety of designs. Up until the 1970s, most rain gutter was produced on stationary roll forming machines weighing up to several tons. Then, lighter portable roll formers on trailers became available. With portable roll formers, contractors measure and form gutters onsite. The three most common metal gutter systems are made of aluminum, steel and copper. The first two have the advantage of being custom painted while copper (unless properly clear coated) will weather and change color over time. All metal gutter options have a 20+ year life or more as long as they are not damaged. Aluminum is the lightest weight metal option and most easily damaged. Downspouts should be located away from areas where damaging forces are likely (vehicle, pedestrian, etc.) or properly protected with landscaping or posts that prevent contact. One of the most important functions of rain gutters is to prevent foundation movement due to water. Once rainwater has made it to downspouts, the downspouts need to direct the water away from the foundation, either in subterranean rain drains which lead to a french drain (a cistern like system that allows the water to be gradually reabsorbed into surrounding soil), run off to an above ground ponding facility that also allows gradual absorption into the soil or connection to a grid of storm water drains that carry to water back to streams and rivers. Some states and jurisdictions have restricted hard surface (roof, street, parking lot) storm water run-off to onsite collection facilities to avoid contamination of streams and rivers. Splash blocks are a low tech alternative that move water away from the foundation. A splash block is a rectangular wedge about a foot wide and two feet long that is placed under the downspout outlet. Rainwater hits the block and is diverted away from the building and works well as long as there is positive drainage. However, in areas with high volumes of rain, splash block drainage may create additional problems with boggy areas in the landscaping or flooding downstream neighbors. In these areas, more sophisticated drainage systems are in order. An ongoing maintenance issue with gutters is the accumulation of tree and roof debris that block or slow water drainage. This is particularly burdensome in areas of heavy deciduous tree cover. In those areas, ongoing tree pruning and selected tree removal is necessary to reduce the problem and related costs. Gutters typically should be cleaned at least twice a year. Heavy tree cover will trigger “hotspots” where more frequent cleaning is necessary. The HOA should identify these hotspots and do regular preventive maintenance to minimize damage caused by overflows. Airborne dirt and roofing granules wash into the gutters and accumulate in gutters and create a hindrance to water flow. Removal of this sludge requires hand work by scooping, flushing with high pressure water hose or blowing out with a leaf blower. The last two can be create additional mess to the landscaping, walkways and building but are quicker and cheaper to accomplish. There are quite a few options for gutter covers that claim to eliminate the need for gutter cleaning. They come in many different designs and price points and do reduce the need and frequency of cleaning but none can prevent the accumulation of sludge that finds its way passed even the best gutter cover systems. Since these systems are expensive, part of the selection criteria should be ease of removal to flushthe sludge. Gutters and downspouts are a wonderful piece of engineering when properly installed and maintained. While “in the gutter” is a description for someone that is “down and out”, rain gutters are indispensable for getting rainwater down and out to where it does no damage. For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

  • 8 Easy Ways To Improve Your Home's Curb Appeal Mar. 17th 2019
    Whether you plan to stay in your home for years or put it on the market soon, there are dozens of ways to increase your home's value. Upgrading the kitchen, adding decks, and making the living area more spacious add to the value of your home by thousands and bring enjoyment for you at the same time. For example, imagine having your own inground pool. If you haven't checked inground pool pricing, you may be surprised to find you can afford it.There are other smaller ways to increase your home's value. One important way is by increasing curb appeal. What does your home look like to a passerby? Following are 10 ideas for increasing your home's curb appeal. 1. Spruce Up the Front Door Your home's front door is like a welcoming smile. Make sure yours is bright and attractive. If it's in terrible condition, consider replacing it. Otherwise, a fresh coat of paint in a color that compliments your home will do. Polish or replace the doorknob and hardware. A metal kick plate at the bottom will do wonders to cover pet scratches and other damage.   2. Install Outdoor Lighting Use low-voltage lighting to accent landscaping, the house, or sidewalk. This will also add to safety and security. Don't worry if you can't use lights that require wiring. Solar fixtures are available that will do the job.   3. Rejuvenate Your Lawn Bald spots and weeds on your lawn are an eyesore for your entire property. Make an investment in getting yours up to par. Make sure your grass type is appropriate for where you live. Learn when and how to fertilize, water, and weed it properly. Keep your lawn mowed, raked and edged. If you live in a dry area consider drought-tolerant landscaping.   4. Container Gardens and Flower Beds Flower beds and container gardens are a wonderful way to brighten curb appeal. If you already have flower beds, get them in shape by pulling weeds, pruning, and mulching. Buy your container gardens ready-made or create your own. Be sure to use plants that will thrive where you live, and consider the amount of sun or shade they will get.   5. Mailbox Makeover A mailbox makeover is a quick and affordable way to add curb appeal. Choose a hanging dropbox that compliments your home's trim work. If it sits on a post, give the box and the post a fresh coat of paint. Purchase attractive and visible lettering for the name and street number. Consider surrounding the mailbox with a flower bed.   6. Add Shutters and Accent Trim Shutters and trim add a touch of subtle beauty to your home's exterior. If you already have shutters, make sure they don't have peeling paint. A color change for shutters and trim can revive a tired-looking exterior. If you are adding new shutters, look for shutters made of durable material such as PVC resins or polyurethane. Use durable, low-maintenance trim details.   7. Replace Gutters and Downspouts Nothing shouts neglect more than an old rusting gutter system. Newer systems are available made of snap-fit vinyl that can be put together easily with simple tools. Another option is to invest some money into a copper system for really dynamite curb appeal.   8. Upgrade the Driveway and Walkway Cracks in concrete driveways and walkways with vegetation growing through can ruin your home's curb appeal. Fortunately, this problem is easily fixed with crack refill and driveway sealant. Stained concrete can be cleaned and repainted. If you have a dirt driveway, holes and washouts are unsightly and inconvenient. A load of fresh gravel will keep your driveway looking neat for a long time.

  • Cautious, Realistic Approach Needed When Buying A Time-Sharing Unit Mar. 17th 2019
    Question. Recently, we have received a number of promotional letters indicating that we can win anything from a sizable amount of cash to a color television if we schedule an appointment to consider the purchase of a time-sharing condominium unit. While we are willing to spend the time to see this presentation and maybe win a prize, we do not know enough about the time-sharing concept. What advice can you give us? Answer. If you have the time -- and perhaps the patience -- to put up with the sales presentation, it certainly pays to make the appointment. However, you should look long and hard before you commit yourself to purchasing any kind of time-sharing condominium unit. If you do want to buy into a time-sharing arrangement, you should do so cautiously and with no expectation of profit. Oversimplified, time-sharing is a way of making money for developers. Instead of selling a condominium outright, the developer is selling ownership of the same unit for parts of the year and is making a lot more money in the process. Many time-share operators permit a buyer to purchase a week or more, or even a season, such as the spring or summer. You own that time period, and other purchasers will own subsequent periods. Usually, these condominiums are fully furnished. In effect, you are moving into a hotel for the period that you purchased. My concern with time shares is that people do not fully understand what they are buying. The documents are vague, written in complex legalese and often high-pressure sales techniques are used In fact, from my personal experience, they won't let you take the proposed contract to your lawyer before you sign it. In fairness to the industry, however, it has taken steps to change its reputation, primarily because of legislation that has been enacted in many states throughout the country. If you are considering a time-share unit, do not jump in without giving the matter serious thought. Don't be convinced by the sales rhetoric that you must buy now or the deal is off. As you know from receiving all of those sales brochures, there will always be another time-share unit and another sales representative if you remain interested. Here are some questions to ask before signing up to purchase: What kind of title will you receive? Are you getting fee-simple ownership of your time interval or are you merely getting a long-term lease? What kind of mortgage financing is available and how much will you have to pay? Don't forget you will have to make your mortgage payments every month throughout the year, even though you may have the use of your apartment for only one or two weeks. Who controls the condominium or homeowner's association? Do you have a vote in the association, or are you delegating all of your responsibilities to the developer, who in reality now becomes the new property manager? What are the costs over and above the mortgage payments? Often, you will have to pay for such items as condominium maintenance, weekly cleaning, use of the swimming pool and other amenities, and these fees may continue on a monthly basis. Are there any tax benefits for you? Are the real estate taxes allocated, and are you entitled to treat this property as your second home, or is it an investment property for tax purposes? Discuss this important question with your tax advisers. You must ask these questions of the real estate agent and make sure any representations by the agent are put in writing. One of the interesting developments of time-share operations is the exchange program. Under this system, you are permitted to swap all over the world. But what restrictions are there? What fee is charged to participate? Are you eligible to participate in only one such program or can you join others? I know of one couple who swapped a Christmas week with another couple who were only able to swap for a February week in Canada. In the final analysis, the decision to purchase a time-share unit depends on your lifestyle. Many people want to take a vacation at the same place every year; others like to travel around. If you decide you like a location, can afford the monthly payments, but recognize that it is most likely not a profit-making investment, then perhaps a time-share arrangement is right for you. And getting out of the time-share may be impossible. I constantly get calls -- and complaints -- that owners cannot sell. I once represented an elderly couple who could not travel anymore to their time share and wanted out. We finally were able to convince the developer to take it back, but only on the condition that my clients paid two full years of mortgage and maintenance charges. Incidentally, look on the back of the sales promotional letters. It should contain a statement of the odds of winning that color television, the cash or some piece of cheap jewelry. I know one person who thought he was very lucky when he won a power boat. When he went to collect his prize, it turned out to be a 10-inch, battery-operated child's toy. And the latest scam -- in my opinion -- are the robotic telephone calls we are getting telling us we just won a free cruise. Good luck with that!