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      Buying: Learn the Basics and Beyond about Buying Real Estate

      Selling : Steps and Strategies for Selling Real Estate


      Financing:

      Explore Your Options


      Moving and Relocation:

      Tips and Tools for a Smooth Move


      Owning a Home:

      Helpful Hints for Maintaining and Improving Your Home


      Local Area:

      Learn more about the Seascoast Area and Greater New Hampshire


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      Schools and Education

      greatschools.net
      Ratings and reviews from parents nationwide, research and comparision tools, and more

      New Hampshire Department of Education

      NH Schools and Academies Listed by District Number
      Address, telephone and other contact information, as well as an admisitrative contact's name and email

      Alphabetical Listing of New Hampshire Schools

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      Spring & Summer Seasonal Maintenance Guide -- Northeast

      Article From HouseLogic.com

      By: Karin Beuerlein
      Published: November 13, 2009

      If you live in the Northeast, here are maintenance jobs you should complete in spring and summer to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in top condition.

      Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home's systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for the Northeast in spring and summer. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do lists at the end of this article.

      After a long, cold Northeastern winter, spring is an excellent time to get outside and perform a fresh inspection of the whole house, says Steve Gladstone of Stonehollow Home Inspections in Stamford, Conn. Give all your major exterior systems-roof, siding, gutters, drainage-a close examination to make sure they're working properly and are in good shape.

      Key maintenance tasks to perform

      * Monitor your gutters and drainage. If debris has accumulated over the winter, you'll find out when the snow melts and spring rains arrive. Remove any blockages and look for signs of bending, damage, and areas where water has been diverted onto the roof or siding. You can usually make minor gutter repairs yourself for under $50 by adjusting or reattaching brackets, gently hammering out bent areas, and replacing damaged sections of gutter if necessary.

      This is also a good time to walk around the house and make sure the soil slopes away from the foundation at a rate of at least 6 vertical inches over the first 10 feet. If you have standing water or mushy areas, consider re- grading, adding berms (raised areas), swales (contoured drainage ditches), or installing a French drain (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/ french-drains-when-you-need-them/) (a shallow trench that diverts water

      away from the house). Try to identify whether your problem is improper sloping or gutter overflow. A home inspector can help you if you're stumped; inspection services run about $80-$100 per hour.

      * Inspect your roof and chimney for winter damage. Shingles may need repair after a rough winter. Look for loose chimney bricks and mortar, rotting boards if you have a wooden chimney box, or rust if you have a chimney with metal parts and flashing. Inside the house, check your skylights to make sure there are no stains that indicate water leakage. If you suspect a problem, call a roofing contractor or a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America for an estimate for repairs. Minor roof repairs run from $100 to $350.

      * Examine siding for signs of winter damage. Check for loose or rotting boards and replace; inspect the areas where siding meets windows and doors and caulk any gaps. Give your siding an annual cleaning (http:// www.houselogic.com/articles/clean-and-care-siding/) using soap and water, a brush, and a garden hose. Also, make sure your house number hasn't been damaged or obscured by dirt and is easily visible to emergency personnel.

      * Schedule your spring air conditioning service. Get ready for the air conditioning season with your spring tune-up. If your system wasn't running well last season, be sure to tell your contractor, and make sure he performs actual repairs if necessary rather than simply adding refrigerant. Follow your contractor as he works to get an idea of the maintenance checklist he uses and ask questions about what he's doing. Your contractor's checklist should include inspecting thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Expect to pay $50-$100 for a tune-up. Meanwhile, make sure your air filters are changed and vacuum out your floor registers.

      If duct cleaning is part of your scheduled service, make sure you aren't

      charged extra for it. Some contractors may try to convince you to let them apply antifungal/antibacterial chemicals to the interior surfaces of the ducts; this isn't usually necessary and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov) says research has not yet confirmed its effectiveness or potential to be harmful. Any chemicals you add to your ducts will likely become airborne, so exercise caution.

      * Check kids' outdoor play areas. "Swingsets tend to get funky over the winter," Gladstone says. "Tighten bolts and make sure things are still properly put together and safe to use." Make sure no sharp edges or splinters are sticking up, and clean off any mold growth with a household- strength 1:9 solution of bleach and water.

      * Check your GFCIs. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protects you from deadly electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a minimal disturbance in current is detected. They're the electrical outlets with two buttons in the middle ("test" and "reset") that should be present anywhere water and electricity can mix: kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov) recommends monthly testing, which you're likely to remember if you incorporate it into your spring routine.

      To test a GFCI, plug a small appliance (a radio, for example) into each of your GFCIs. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the radio. The reset button should pop out; when you press reset, the radio should come back on.

      If the radio doesn't go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI itself has failed and should be replaced, or the outlet is wired incorrectly and should be repaired. If the reset button doesn't pop out, or if pressing it doesn't restore power to the radio, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is-neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don't have ample experience with electrical repair.

      * Pay a visit to the attic. During a spring rain, check for visible leaks, water stains, discolored insulation, and rotting or moldy joists and roof decking. If detected, call a handyman or roofing contractor for an estimate for repairs. If you have areas of rot or mold exceeding 10 sq. ft., call an indoor air quality inspector or mold remediation company for advice. If you have an attic fan, make sure it's running properly and that the protective screen hasn't been blocked by bird nests or debris.

      * Clean dirty windows. This is a good task for the end of summer, when it's still nice outside. Clean windows allow more solar energy into the house in the cooler months to come, which will help you save on your heating bill. For streak-free glass, use an eco-friendly solution of one part vinegar to eight parts water, with a few squirts of dish soap; apply to window with a sponge or soft mitt, scrubbing any tough spots. Rinse with clean water and then squeegee the surface dry.

      Along with these important maintenance tasks, be sure to check out the others cited in the to-do lists following this article. Spending a weekend or two on maintenance can prevent costly repairs and alert you to developing problems. Visit the links listed below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs.

      Karin Beuerlein has covered home improvement and green living topics extensively for HGTV.com, FineLiving.com, and FrontDoor.com. In more than a decade of freelancing, she's also written for dozens of national and regional publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, The History Channel Magazine, Eating Well, and Chicago Tribune. She and her husband started married life by remodeling the house they were living in. They still have both the marriage and the house, no small feat.

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      Wondering how to save money in your new home?

      Tips on What's Worth Upgrading - From a Custom Home Builder

      Smart home building tips for the Kitchen
      This questionnaire will help you determine where to spend your money in the kitchen as you build - and what you can do differently, later.

      1. Where do you spend your time in the kitchen? Factor in ease-of-use and functionality.
      2. Who hangs there with you? Do you need an island, breakfast bar, or conversation corner? Do the countertops need to incorporate extra width or arches, or will something simple do?

      3. How important is the overall look and feel - layout, cabinets,
      countertops, flooring, lighting, cooking, sink capacity?
      4. How much traffic flow through capability is necessary?
      5. How much usage will the room get? Do you need the strength of granite, or will a laminate be sufficient? 6. What's a reasonable cabinetry package for your budget? Do you need a higher-end wood like cherry or exotics, or will a maple or oak package with lots of extra storage options be better for you?

      7. Cooking for a crowd? Need two ovens, deep freeze, heavy duty dishwasher? Some things are more costly than others to change later.
      Here's what to focus on:

      Layout
      The layout is extremely expensive to do all over again. Expanding the kitchen to gain more space involves major renovations that can cost three times more later than during initial construction.

      Adding an island or moving major appliances
      Another costly renovation; unless your kitchen has a lot of extra space, an island added later can actually reduce your ability to maneuver.
      Deciding the oven would be better in another area means rewiring and restructuring, plus changes to cabinetry (which may not match the originals).
      Major structural changes to a kitchen can be the most costly change in the house.

      Adding windows
      The ability to add windows or sky lights later can depend on the construction of your home. It's not always possible to put it where you want it, once the home has been completed, due to structural issues. This is one of the things you'll want to get right, the first time. Not sure? Talk to your builder about "pre-framing" a future window.

      Adding lighting
      If you're going to want a lot of lights in the ceiling, under the cabinets, or in special areas, this
      is something you'll pay a lot less for if you have it wired when the house is under construction. Doing it later can involve a lot more time and complexity.
      However, you don't need to spend a lot of money up front on the latest designer lighting fixtures. If the pre- wire is in place, you can add many of the fixtures later. Start simple, with basic lighting.

      Putting in a bigger pantry
      If you want a big, walk-in pantry, you're going to pay a whole lot less to start right out with that. Unless you're willing to knock out some walls and lose some space later in the adjoining family room, dining room or hallway, there's just no way to add another room in the middle of the house without a lot more work than you're going to want to adjust to.

      Cabinets
      If you decide on inexpensive cabinets, don't be under the mistaken impression they can be changed out easily later on.

      The process can involve much more than the cupboards - including removal of countertops, flooring, trimwork and appliances. Ask your builder how to choose a quality cabinetry that you'll be happy with, without breaking the bank - and start with these tips:

      Type of Wood - Consider oak or maple as an alternative to more expensive hickory or cherry choices. A well- made cabinet can be just as appealing in a variety of different species, at varying costs.
      Glazes and Special Finishes - a glaze can add 15-35% or more to your total cabinetry package. Consider accent pieces as an alternative if you're on a tight budget. A pair of glass doors or a contrasting accent door hardware can spark up the decor at a lower cost.

      Storage Solutions - Have your builder tell you whether that built-in recycle center or wine rack involves an extra charge. It may be just what you want - but find out what it's costing, just in case.

      Countertops
      The difference in cost can be huge depending on what kind of countertop you use. Recycled glass countertops may sound economical, but can cost three times as much as granite. Your builder can walk you through the choices, benefits and costs of every option out there, so you know just what you're getting - and paying.

      Countertop questions to ask your builder:
      What kinds of countertops are best for each room?
      What would it take to change countertops in a few years? What are my best ways to save money on countertops? Will a few changes in design save some money on countertops?

      Flooring
      Starting with a laminate floor won't break the budget later if you decide to go tile or hardwood. The floor is one of the easier things in the kitchen to change later - and many kinds of flooring can be done with some "do it yourself" skills.

      Appliances
      As long as you don't want two ovens instead of one, or a bigger appliance than what you're starting with, changing out appliances is not going to involve ripping apart the entire kitchen. But before you decide to start with the most economical brands available, determine other cost factors such as energy saving and estimated life cycle.
      Ask your builder if you can supply your own appliances - then shop around for the very best pricing.

      Keeping Upgrades in Line
      Talk to your builder about your lifestyle, and let him help guide your choices, from layout through amenities. Ask your builder if they'll let you take a second look at all your choices before making a final decision - sometimes it's easier to decide when you can sit down with the price tag for each feature.

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      7 Smart Strategies for Bathroom Remodeling

      Article From HouseLogic.com

      By: John Riha
      Published: September 08, 2009

      Ideas to help you get the bathroom remodel of your dreams while keeping costs under control.

      Most homeowners dream about getting a bathroom that's high on comfort and personal style but are concerned about making the right decisions on materials, fixtures, and amenities that will have lasting value. Fortunately, there's good news.

      A bathroom remodel is a solid investment, according to Remodeling Magazine's annual Cost vs. Value Report (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/ 2008/costvsvalue/national.aspx). A $15,000 bath remodel will recoup almost 75% of those costs when it's time to sell your home, and a more extensive $50,000 job returns 70%. In addition, you can maximize the value of your investment by using smart strategies to help you to get the bathroom of your dreams while keeping costs under control.

      1. Create a plan, and stick to it

      "The biggest issue in a bathroom remodel is adequate planning, no question," says Jeani Lee, a certified kitchen and bath designer and president of the Iowa chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (http://www.nkba.org) (NKBA). "You need to thoroughly evaluate how you plan to use the space, what kinds of materials and fixtures you want, and how much you're willing to spend. Don't begin your project until have answers to every aspect of your plan."

      In fact, the NKBA recommends spending up to six months evaluating and planning before beginning the actual work. That way, you can be confident of your priorities and won't make decisions under duress. Once work has begun-a process that averages 2-3 months-refrain from changing your mind. Work stoppages and alterations add costs. Some contractors include clauses in their contracts that specify premium prices for changes to

      original plans.

      If planning isn't your strong suit, consider hiring a designer. In addition to helping establish style and effective use of space, a professional designer makes sure all aspects of a project are harmonious so that contractors and installers are sequenced in an orderly fashion. A pro charges $100 to $200 per hour, and spends 10 to 30 hours on a bathroom project.

      2. Keep the same footprint

      No matter the size and scope of your planned bathroom, you can save major expense by not rearranging walls, and by locating any new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes. You'll not only save on the demolition and reconstruction that moving walls and pipes require, you'll greatly reduce the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

      3. Make lighting a priority

      When it comes to adding creature comforts, your first thoughts might be multiple shower heads and radiant-heat floors. But few items make a bathroom more satisfying than lighting designed for everyday grooming. You can install lighting for a fraction of the cost of pricier amenities.

      Well-designed bathroom task lighting surrounds vanity mirrors and serves to eliminate shadows on faces. The scheme includes two ceiling- or soffit- mounted fixtures with 60-75 watts each, and side-fixtures or sconces providing at least 150 watts each distributed vertically across 24 inches (to account for people of various heights). Four-bulb lighting fixtures work well for side lighting.

      4. Clear the air

      Because bathroom ventilation systems are basically hidden, they usually don't appear on a must-have list. Nevertheless, bathroom ventilation is essential for removing excess humidity that fogs mirrors, makes bathroom floors slippery, and contributes to the growth of mildew and mold. Controlling mold and humidity is especially important for maintaining healthy indoor air quality and protecting the value of your home-mold remediation is expensive, and excess humidity can damage cabinets and

      painted finishes.

      A bathroom vent should exhaust air to the outside-not simply to the space between ceiling joists. Better models have whisper-quiet exhaust fans and humidity-controlled switches that activate when a sensor detects excess humidity.

      5. Think storage

      "Adding storage to the bath is a challenge, and should be a top consideration in the planning stages," says Linda Eggerss, editor of Kitchen and Bath Ideas magazine (http://www.kitchenbathideas.com). To add storage:

      * Think vertically. Often, upper wall space in a bathroom is underused. Freestanding, multi-tiered shelf units designed to fit over toilet tanks turn unused wall area into storage. Spaces between wall studs can be used to create niches for holding soaps and toiletries. Install shelves over towel bars to use blank wall space.

      * Think moveable. Inexpensive woven baskets set on the floor are stylish ways to hold towels. A floor-stand coat rack can be used to hang drying towels, bath robes, or clothes.

      * Think utility. Adding a slide-out tray to vanity cabinet compartments gives you full access to stored items and prevents lesser-used items from being lost or forgotten.

      6. Contribute a little sweat equity

      You can shave labor costs by doing some of the work yourself. Again, discuss this with your contractor; the agreement you both sign should specify what projects you'll assume responsibility for. Some easy DIY projects:

      * Install window & baseboard trim; save $250
      * Paint walls and trim, 200 s.f.; save $200
      * Install toilet; save $150
      * Install towel bars and shelves; save $20 each

      7. Use low-cost design for high visual impact

      If you'd like to add visual zest to your bathroom but are concerned about going too far or creating a one-of-a-kind look that might put off a future buyer, try a soft scheme. A soft scheme employs neutral colors for permanent fixtures and surfaces, then adds pizzazz in items that are easily changed, such as shower curtains, window treatments, towels, throw rugs, and wall colors. These relatively low-cost decorative touches provide tons of personality but are easy to redo whenever you want.

      With good planning and budget-savvy strategies, your new bathroom will provide years of satisfaction.

      John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He's been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

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      5 Tips for Inspecting and Maintaining Your Garage

      Article From HouseLogic.com

      By: G. M. Filisko Published: March 15, 2010

      Routine maintenance will help your garage retain its value and keep it trouble-free for decades.

      If you're like many homeowners, you cruise in and out of your garage without giving the space much thought. While your garage is low- maintenance, it's not a no-maintenance part of your home. Here are five tips for preserving your home's value by keeping your garage in top shape.

      1. Keep your garage door running smoothly

      Most newer garage doors (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/garage- doors-guide-options/) come self-lubricated or with plastic parts that need no oil, according to builder Fred Cann, owner of JRS Solutions in Melville, N.Y. You'll need to annually oil older doors with metal rollers, hinges, and tracks. "Use a leaf blower to blast all the grit, grime, dust, cobwebs, and dead bugs from the door's parts," advises Mark Secord, brand manager for PremierGarage in Mobile, Ala.

      Occasionally check the rubber seal on the bottom of your garage door. It can harden or chip away from wear and tear, allowing the elements to seep under your door. Replacing the seal costs less than $100. Your door may be hitting the ground too forcefully and jarring all the parts, crushing the rubber seal, or allowing light to peek through at the bottom when the door is at rest. To correct those problems, says Secord, use a screwdriver to alter the travel limit adjustment located on the door opener's control box.

      Regularly test the garage door's sensors to be sure they still prevent it from closing if something-like your child or pet-is in the way.

      2. Clean your garage floor

      Hose down your garage floor annually to prevent slip hazards, stains, and

      pockmarks caused by road salt and auto fluids, recommends Secord. You may notice hairline cracks in your concrete slab, but those are generally no cause for concern, says Paul Fisher, owner of Danley's Garage World in Chicago.

      If there's a serious trip hazard because of concrete that's crumbled or separated ¼-inch or more, take action. You can try a do-it-yourself patch with a $5 concrete mix from your local hardware store. But patched concrete often doesn't adhere to the original slab, says Fisher, especially if a car regularly passes over the patched area. If necessary, ask a licensed concrete contractor for an estimate on replacing your slab, which typically costs about $5 per square foot.

      Experts disagree on whether to treat a garage slab with a sealant. "Sealants don't protect the slab at all; they're just for aesthetics," says Cann, who worked as an engineer for the city of New York for 10 years. "We had more problems after we sealed and painted garage slabs. The paint would chip, discolor, or become slippery. I'd leave concrete alone."

      Secord, however, sells garage floor sealants and says they protect the concrete, prevent discoloration, and are easier to clean than bare concrete. Do-it-yourself sealants for an average two-car garage cost about $800 to $1,200 and need reapplication every three to five years. One-time, professional applications cost $1,500 to $2,000, says Secord.

      3. Monitor your garage walls and foundation

      Inspect interior and exterior walls and the foundation twice a year for moisture and cracks. If you see discoloration or mold, moisture is seeping in from the roof or the walls. Call a building or roofing contractor for an inspection and repair estimates.

      Wall and foundation cracks smaller than ¼-inch wide that aren't causing water damage are typically harmless. "Anything larger than a hairline crack is something to be concerned about," says Cann. "If one side of your ceiling appears a little lower than the other, the foundation or

      footing has settled." That's sometimes hard to evaluate with a visual inspection; if necessary, get out your level.

      Structural concerns (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/understanding- foundation-problems/) require an expert evaluation. Cann suggests hiring a structural engineer, who will charge $200 to $300 per hour but won't hype potential problems to secure the repair work.

      4. Clean interior doors and gutters

      Once a year, clean and inspect the interior door. Make sure the door is properly weatherstripped and that the threshold seal fits snugly against the bottom of the door.

      Most building codes require the door allowing entry to your home to be fire-rated and self-closing. If the door is damaged or the self-closing mechanism has failed, repair or replace it. You'll pay $250 to $300 for a new fire-rated door, plus $25 to $75 for installation.

      If your garage has gutters (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/fast-fixes- common-gutter-problems/), clean them every spring and fall and inspect them for damage. While you're at it, check your roof for damaged or missing shingles or tiles.

      5. Watch for pest invasions

      Insects like termites and carpenter ants can furtively damage your garage walls. Inspect dark, cool, and moist spots, especially where garage walls meet the foundation, for borings from carpenter ants or termites. "Termites digest the lumber, but carpenter ants tunnel it," says Cann. "If you see trails of sawdust, it's carpenter ants. If you see chewed wood, it'll likely be termites." Call in pest-control experts for an inspection and treatment.

      G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who oversaw the renovation of her condo association's five-space garage so a sixth space could be added-for her. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the

      American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

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      Inspecting and Maintaining Your Roof

      Article From HouseLogic.com Published: February 17, 2010

      Prevent expensive repairs and preserve the value of your property by inspecting and maintaining your roof.

      Because the roof on any house is exposed to driving rains, scorching sun, high winds, and punishing hail, regular inspection is essential. Earl Beahm, president of the Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, advises homeowners to give their roof an annual checkup that begins with a thorough examination of the roof with binoculars from a safe location.

      Basic inspection

      Warning signs include cracked caulk or rust spots on flashing; shingles that are buckling, curling, or blistering; and worn areas around chimneys, pipes, and skylights. If you find piles of colored grit from asphalt roof tiles in the gutters, that's a bad sign-those sand-like granules cover the surface of roof shingles and shield them from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that's decayed underneath.

      Any loose, damaged, or missing shingles should be replaced immediately. Check for popped nails that need to be hammered back in place. Metal flashing around chimneys, skylights and attic vents that has separated needs to be resealed with caulk.

      Plumbing vent pipes are often flashed with a simple rubber collar that can deteriorate in the hot sun. Check closely for cracks and gaps. Make sure a chimney cap is present and properly installed. "Caught early, these are easy repairs," says Beahm. "Left alone, they can turn into very costly problems."

      If you're comfortable working on a roof, then it's not too difficult to replace shingles and caulk flashing yourself. Cost: $24 for a bundle of shingles,

      $5.75 for roofing caulk. Allow a half-day to make a few repairs.

      Be alert to early signs of a roof leak

      Check the condition of your roof at least once a year, and plan in advance for necessary repairs. Early signs of trouble include dark areas on ceilings, peeling paint on the underside of roof overhangs, damp spots alongside fireplaces, and water stains on pipes venting the water heater or furnace.

      If you're inspecting on your own and find worrisome signs, especially if the roof is old or there's been a storm with heavy wind or hail, get a professional assessment. Some roofing companies do this for free; specialized roof inspectors, like those who work through the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association, charge about $175.

      Remove leaves from the roof

      If you have a simple peaked roof surrounded by low landscaping, your roof probably stays clear of leaves on its own. But if the roof has many intersecting surfaces and dormers, or if towering trees are nearby, piles of leaves probably collect in roof valleys or near chimneys. If you don't remove them, they'll trap moisture and gradually decompose, allowing wind-blown seeds to take root.

      If you have a low-slope roof and a one-story house, you may be able to pull the leaves down with a soft car-washing brush on a telescoping pole. Or, you can use a specialty tool like a roof leaf rake, which costs about $20. A leaf blower gets the job done too, especially on dry leaves, but you'll need to go up on the roof to use it. If leaves are too wet or too deep, you might need to wash them off with a garden hose. Don't use a pressure washer, which can force water up under the shingles.

      Trim overhanging branches

      A little prevention in the form of tree-trimming goes a long way toward keeping leaves and moss off your roof, and it can also keep squirrels and other rodents from gnawing into your roof or siding. To keep critters away, remove branches within 10 feet of the roof.

      If that's not possible, wrap a 2-foot-wide sheet-metal band around nearby tree trunks, 6 to 8 feet above the ground, so squirrels can't climb up. Trimming branches that hang over the roof is a job for a pro, though, or you might cause more damage than you prevent.

      Prevent ice dams

      If you're plagued by ice buildup on the roof, removing some or all of the snow between storms might forestall leaks into your house. Don't try to pry off ice that's already formed, since that could damage the roof. Use a roof rake to dislodge snow within 3 or 4 feet of the gutters. Get a telescoping pole and work from the ground, if possible.

      If you must be on a ladder, work at an angle so the falling snow doesn't push you over. Inadequate insulation and air leaks into your attic greatly increase the risk of ice dams, so once the storms pass, address those problems, too.

      An alternative is to hire a roofing company to remove the ice buildup. Technicians will steam away the ice and remove any remaining snow. Expect to pay around $500 and up for the service.

      Clean the gutters

      When leaves collect in the gutters, the rainwater-collection system becomes clogged and roof runoff spills over the side. That can damage your siding and cause basement flooding. Worse, the water can back up into the structure of your home, where it leads to rot, infestations of wood- destroying insects, and interior paint damage.

      Forget about the various screens and covers marketed to keep leaves out- they don't work and can actually worsen problems, says according to engineer Victor Popp, a home inspector in Hingham, Mass. Instead, just keep your gutters clean by reaching gloved hands into them and scooping out the muck-or hiring a gutter company to do the job (around $100 to $200). Clean gutters at least once each fall, plus once in the spring,

      depending on how leafy your property is.

      Clear the roof of moss

      "Neglecting moss can shorten the life of your roof by several years," warns Jim Katen, a home inspector with Associated Master Inspectors in Gaston, Ore. "Moss keeps the body of an asphalt shingle soaked so it tends to get more freeze-thaw damage in the winter." Added to that, it produces organic byproducts that make the shingles more brittle. Nor are shake roofs immune from moss damage. Moss holds moisture against the wood, speeding rot. Moss can even crack cement or ceramic tiles.

      Moss eradication should begin in the fall by applying a moss killer intended for roofs (granules for lawn use contain iron which will stain a roof). In the spring, use a broom to remove remaining dead moss. Spread moss killer along the ridge of the roof and on any remaining green patches. Cost: $20 for moss killer to treat 3,000 square feet of roof. Allow about 3 hours to sweep the roof, clear the gutters, and apply the granules.

      Replacing the roof

      If your asphalt roof is 15 years old or more, it may be due for replacement. The national average for a new asphalt shingle roof is $19,700, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2009-10 Cost vs. Value report (http:// www.remodeling.hw.net/2009/costvsvalue/national.aspx), of which you'll recoup $13,000 at resale (66.6%). For high-end materials, such as standing-seam metal, the cost jumps to as much as $37,000.

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      Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

      Article From BuyAndSell.HouseLogic.com

      By: G. M. Filisko
      Published: February 10, 2010

      Understand which mortgage loan is best for you so your budget is not stretched too thin.

      It's easier to settle happily into your new home if you're confident you can afford it. That requires that you understand your mortgage financing options and choose the loan that best suits your income and ability to tolerate risk.

      The basics of mortgage financing

      The most important features of your mortgage loan are its term and interest rate. Mortgages typically come in 15-, 20-, 30- or 40-year lengths. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payment. However, the tradeoff for a lower payment is that the longer the life of your loan, the more interest you'll pay.

      Mortgage interest rates generally come in two flavors: fixed and adjustable. A fixed rate allows you to lock in your interest rate for the entire mortgage term. That's attractive if you're risk-averse, on a fixed income, or when interest rates are low.

      The risks and rewards of ARMs

      An adjustable-rate mortgage does just what its name implies: Its interest rate adjusts at a future date listed in the loan documents. It moves up and down according to a particular financial market index, such as Treasury bills. A 3/1 ARM will have the same interest rate for three years and then adjust every year after that; likewise a 5/1 ARM remains unchanged until the five-year mark. Typically, ARMs include a cap on how much the interest rate can increase, such as 3% at each adjustment, or 5% over the life of the loan.

      Why agree to such uncertainty? ARMs can be a good choice if you expect

      your income to grow significantly in the coming years. The interest rate on some-but not all-ARMs can even drop if the benchmark to which they're tied also dips. ARMs also often offer a lower interest rate than fixed-rate mortgages during the first few years of the mortgage, which means big savings for you-even if there's only a half-point difference.

      But if rates go up, your ARM payment will jump dramatically, so before you choose an ARM, answer these questions:

      •How much can my monthly payments increase at each adjustment? •How soon and how often can increases occur?
      •Can I afford the maximum increase permitted?
      •Do I expect my income to increase or decrease?

      •Am I paying down my loan balance each month, or is it staying the same or even increasing?

      •Do I plan to own the home for longer than the initial low-interest-rate period, or do I plan to sell before the rate adjusts?

      •Will I have to pay a penalty if I refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or sell my house?

      •What's my goal in buying this property? Am I considering a riskier mortgage to buy a more expensive house than I can realistically afford?

      Consider a government-backed mortgage loan

      If you've saved less than the ideal downpayment of 20%, or your credit score isn't high enough for you to qualify for a fixed-rate or ARM with a

      conventional lender, consider a government-backed loan from the Federal Housing Administration (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm) or Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.homeloans.va.gov/ vap26-91-1.htm/).

      FHA offers adjustable and fixed-rate loans at reduced interest rates and with as little as 3.5% down and VA offers no-money-down loans. FHA and VA also let you use cash gifts from family members.

      Before you decide on any mortgage, remember that slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. To determine how much your monthly payment will be with various terms and loan amounts, try REALTOR.com's online mortgage calculators (http://www.realtor.com/home-finance/financial-calculators/ mortgage-payment-calculator.aspx).

      More from HouseLogic

      Evaluate Your Adjustable Rate Mortgage (http://www.houselogic.com/ articles/evaluate-your-adjustable-rate-mortgage/)

      Show Your Support for FHA (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/show- your-support-for-FHA/)

      Other web resources

      How much home can you afford? (http://www.ginniemae.gov/2_prequal/ intro_questions.asp?Section=YPTH)

      Why ask for an FHA loan? (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm)

      G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who's opted for both fixed and adjustable-rate mortgages. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

      >> Read More

      Make Your House FHA-Loan Friendly

      Article From BuyAndSell.HouseLogic.com

      By: Terry Sheridan Published: June 02, 2010

      Know the basics of FHA loan rules and you stand a better chance of selling your house or condo.

      Make your house FHA-friendly, and it will appeal to more homebuyers. Why? Because the Federal Housing Administration is insuring the mortgage loans used by about 30% of today's homebuyers.

      If your house passes the FHA rules, it will appeal to buyers who plan to use an FHA-insured mortgage. If your house doesn't qualify for an FHA loan, you're cutting out 30% of potential buyers.

      FHA is especially important to first-time homebuyers and those with small downpayments because it allows borrowers with good credit to make a downpayment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price.

      Here's how to make your home appealing to FHA borrowers:

      Know the FHA loan limits in your area

      Start by checking to see if your home's listed price falls within FHA lending limits for your area (https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/hicostlook.cfm). FHA mortgage limits vary a lot. In San Francisco, FHA will insure a mortgage of up to $729,750 on a single-family home. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the loan limit is $271,050.

      Home inspections

      Most buyers will ask for a home inspection, whether or not they're using an FHA loan to buy the home. You must give FHA buyers a form (http:// www.ncradon.org/docs/foryourprotection.pdf) explaining what home inspections can reveal, and how inspections differ from appraisals.

      How much do you have to repair?

      If the home inspection reveals problems, FHA will not give the okay to buy the home until you repair serious defects (http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/

      hudclips/letters/mortgagee/files/05-48ml.pdf) like roof leaks, mold, structural damage, and pre-1978 interior or exterior paint that could contain lead.

      Dealing with FHA appraisers

      Help the lender's appraiser by providing easy access to attics and crawl spaces, which usually must be photographed, says appraiser Frank Gregoire in St. Petersburg, Fla.

      Your buyer can hire his own appraiser to evaluate your home. But FHA only relies on reports by its approved appraisers. If the two appraisals conflict, the FHA appraisal preempts the buyer's appraisal.

      Help with FHA closing costs

      Most FHA buyers need help with closing costs, says mortgage banker Susan Herman of First Equity Mortgage Bankers in Miami. So a prime way to make your house FHA-friendly is to help with those costs.

      FHA currently allows sellers to pay up to 6% of the sales price to help cover closing costs, but is considering lowering that limit to 3% in the fall of 2010.

      If you're selling a condo

      FHA also has to approve your condo before a buyer uses an FHA loan to purchase your unit. Be sure your condo is FHA-approved for mortgages (https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/condlook.cfm). The list has been updated, so if your association was approved a year ago, check again to make sure it's still on the approved list.

      FHA generally won't insure loans in condo associations if more than 15% percent of the unit owners are late on association fees. Ask your property manager or board of directors for your association's delinquency rate.

      Other rules cover insurances, cash reserves and how many units are owner-occupied (http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/letters/ mortgagee/files/09-46aml.pdf) and the types of condos that can be purchased with an FHA mortgage (http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/

      hudclips/letters/mortgagee/files/09-46bml.pdf).

      FHA sometimes issues waivers for healthy condominiums that don't meet the regular rules. If your condo isn't FHA-approved, it doesn't necessarily have to meet every single rule to gain approval. Ask your REALTOR® to consult with local lenders about getting an FHA waiver for your condo if it doesn't meet all the requirements.

      FHA also limits its mortgage exposure in homeowners associations. With some limited exceptions, no more than 50% of the units in an association can be FHA-insured (http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/letters/ mortgagee/files/09-46aml.pdf).

      FHA loans for planned-unit developments

      FHA no longer requires lenders to review budgets and legal documents for planned-unit developments.

      More from HouseLogic

      Show Your Support for FHA (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/show- your-support-for-FHA/)

      Other web resources

      Why Ask for an FHA Loan? (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm)

      Find a State Program to Help Homebuyers Afford Your Home (http:// www.hud.gov/buying/localbuying.cfm)

      Terry Sheridan is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered real estate for 20 years, and has owned and sold three homes.

      >> Read More

      How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

      Article From BuyAndSell.HouseLogic.com

      By: Carl Vogel
      Published: August 05, 2010

      Before you put your home up for sale, use the right comparable sales to find the perfect price.

      How much can you sell your home for? Probably about as much as the neighbors got, as long as the neighbors sold their house in recent memory and their home was just like your home.

      Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

      What makes a good comparable sale?

      Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision-and it closed escrow last week. If you can't find that, here are other factors that count:

      Location: The closer to your house the better, but don't just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

      Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it's finished), finishes, and yard size.

      Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

      Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won't fly. Most buyers use government- guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

      Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

      Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights

      Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors'. Evaluating those differences-like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office-is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

      An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

      More ways to pick a home listing price

      If you're still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

      Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

      Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?

      If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short

      sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

      A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can't pay their mortgage can't afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

      Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they're divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

      How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

      So you have to rely on your REALTOR's® knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

      More from HouseLogic

      What You Must Know About Home Appraisals (http:// buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/what-you-must-know-home- appraisals/)

      6 Reasons to Reduce Your Home Price (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/ articles/6-Reasons-To-Reduce-Your-Home-Price/)

      Other web resources

      New York State: "How Estimates of Market Value are Determined for Residential Properties" (http://www.orps.state.ny.us/pamphlet/ mv_estimates.htm)

      What's the Value of a View? Research from Texas Christian University

      (http://www.sbuweb.tcu.edu/mrodriguez/research/viewppr.pdf)

      Carl Vogel, a freelance writer and former editor of The Neighborhood Works magazine, lives in a home in Chicago that is not typical of those nearby, so he appreciates a savvy comp.

      >> Read More

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