Redoing Your Tile Grout for Best Results

Redoing Your Tile Grout for Best Results

Another one of those neglected household maintenance items that many of us have put off time and time again is grout touch up. This can be grout between tile in your shower, on your bathroom counters, kitchen counters, or of course your floor tile as well. Not only is old, cracked grout an eyesore, but it also collects dirt and can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Some simple periodic maintenance will rapidly transform ugly grout to a like-new appearance.

  1. Using either a small power tool like a Dremel or a hand tool, remove the old, cracked grout carefully. Check with your local home improvement store for the best applicable tool for your needs and surface, but be prepared for a little bit of a labor intensive process.
  2. Once the grout is removed, it’s much easier to regrout. Simply mix your grout powder with the specified quantity of water based on the manufacturer’s directions in a bucket.
  3. Apply the grout with a plastic trowel or similar tool.
  4. Then use a grout float to press the mortar deeply into the joints which will help avoid future pitting. Typically it’s best to maintain approximately a 45 degree angle with the grout float during this process.
  5. Next, take the grout float at a nearly perpendicular angle of about 80 degrees to remove excess grout.
  6. Last, use a wet sponge to mop up any remaining grout or haze.

After letting the grout harden for 36 hours you’ll love the result!

Home Maintenance – Wrapping Your Exterior Plumbing

Wrapped PipesWith winter almost at our doorstep we’d like to remind everyone to prepare your homes for our occasional cold Tucson nights. Even though we are blessed with many days of sunshine, our evening temperatures can pose a hazard several times a year to our home’s plumbing systems. Protect your home by either temporarily wrapping your exposed pipes with blankets/towels or ideally installing insulation on them. There are a variety of insulation products at your local home improvement store which can really save you money when compared with repairing a broken water pipe, not to mention a lot of inconvenience. Another helpful tip is to keep a slow drip coming from your faucets on very cold evenings to further protect against frozen or burst pipes. Installing foam or other insulated products on your exposed water pipes is a very easy do-it-yourself job for most owners. Depending upon the insulating materials you bought, it may also be a good idea to wrap them with some electrical tape or duct tape to keep them in place year-round. While we haven’t had any very cold mornings yet, don’t wait until it’s too late!

Creating A Compost Pile

Compost Soil PictureComposting is the process of taking organic material that is generated around households and turning it into usable, nutrient rich soil that can boost the performance of soil in your garden. Another benefit of composting is keeping these organic materials, which comprise approximately 20 to 30 percent of what is typically thrown away in households, out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Compost DescriptionThere are countless resources available to help you start a compost pile at home but here are some basics. Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin (which are available at home improvement stores). Composts consist of brown materials (branches, shredded newspaper) which are the lower layer of materials, and green material such as fruit scraps, vegetable waste, and grass clippings. Tending to the compost is as simple as managing the moisture level and turning it with a pitchfork or similar every week or two to create air movement. A general rule of thumb for the moisture level is for your compost pile to resemble a sponge that has been wrung out. Keep up with your compost pile and in time you’ll have nutrient rich soil!

Home Maintenance - Caulking Windows

Caulk Needed PicturePart of maintaining an energy efficient home is ensuring your windows are properly sealed. Eliminating air leaks can help you save money on utility bills and prevents the intrusion of moisture as well. Over time the caulking around windows can crack or chip away, as seen in the picture to the right. Periodic maintenance is required to properly maintain your home. However, this is an easy DIY project and is relatively inexpensive as well.

Caulking ImageFirst, identify the windows that need to be caulked to gauge how much caulk you’ll need to purchase. Visit any home improvement store to purchase your materials and utilize their expertise to identify the right type of caulk for your specific application, but typically avoid an acrylic latex as it’s not as responsive to temperature changes that an exterior caulk will be exposed to, and isn’t very durable to moisture. Make sure to get a caulking gun if you don’t already have one. Select a moderate temperature day for application, remove old caulking, then lay down a continuous bead thick enough to fill the gap, and smooth over. Wait 24 hours to dry fully and paint if necessary.

Oro Valley AquaHawk Alerting

Oro Valley Water Utility clients can now sign up for the FREE AquaHawk Alerting service. Once registered this program allows you to monitor your household water usage & receive alerts via email, text, or phone if your use exceeds your self-identified threshold. The benefits include:

Receive Timely Leak Alerts – You specify how you want to be contacted: email, text, or telephone. When your usage indicates a leak, they’ll contact you. AquaHawk helps prevent costly property damage from unrepaired leaks and gives you peace of mind when you’re away from home. This program is therefore especially ideal for seasonal residents.

Monitor Water Usage – See how much water you’re using and an estimate of your bill anytime during the billing cycle.

Manage Water Expenses – With Threshold Billing, you specify an amount of money (in dollars) or water (in gallons) you don’t want to surpass each month. If your usage is trending to exceed that value, we’ll send you an email alert. This function of the program provides excellent fiscal household management.

Learn Ways to Save – Get a better understanding of how you’re using water by performing useful comparisons online. See how you compare to similar households. Then learn effective ways to redue water usage and save money every month!

I have personally signed up for this program and have found it very user friendly. Take advantage of this FREE program and sign up now at https://orov.aquahawk.us/login.

New Closing Guidelines Simplified - TILA/RESPA

The coming changes to the real estate closing process for financed transactions have been trumpeted by some as ominous or potentially disastrous for the real estate market. Exaggerations and misunderstandings have led to this sense of impending doom, but the reality is that these changes are beneficial for consumers and won’t markedly delay the vast majority of transactions. What this will require is even better communication between all those involved in a transaction. This will include all real estate agents, the lender, title company, and escrow officer. All the more reason to employ premier caliber agents like Team Woodall (shameless plug indeed) who can efficiently communicate and navigate the closing process. Now, this summary below isn’t meant to cover the minutiae of the new guidelines but rather provide an overview of the key points.

These new TILA-RESPA requirements take effect October 3rd, 2015.

Loan Estimate
Previously lenders were required to provide borrowers with a Good Faith Estimate and Truth-in-Lending disclosures after receiving their loan application. These documents are being replaced by the new Loan Estimate form which also must be sent to the borrower within three days of receiving the completed loan application. A sample of this new document can be viewed at this link. One of the goals of the new Loan Estimate was to make information provided to the consumer much easier to understand and view. A simplification of the information is hoped to create more informed consumers.

Page one of the new Loan Estimate contains general information about the borrower, property, and loan type. Below that are three distinct sections regarding the loan terms, projected payments, and costs at closing. Page two of the loan estimate provides those closing cost details. This includes the costs associated with the loan itself on the left column which are further broken into categories of origination charges, services you cannot shop for (appraisal fee, credit report, etc.), services you can shop for (pest inspection fee, title policies, etc.), and then it tallies those total loan costs. The right column shows other closing costs that are put into the categories of taxes and government fees, prepaids (homeowner’s insurance, mortgage insurance, prepaid interest, and property taxes), initial escrow payment at closing, other fees, and then a total amount of all these costs. The very last part of that page is a breakdown of the cash needed to close. The final page allows for easy comparisons from lender to lender and other considerations like whether the loan is assumable, late payment charges, and if the loan originator will service the loan or sell it.

Closing Disclosure
Now, the Closing Disclosure and its timeline is where most the “nervousness” arises with these new requirements. A sample of this new Closing Disclosure document can be viewed at this link. The information on the Closing Disclosure mirrors much of what was on the Loan Estimate. This is done purposefully so buyers can directly compare what was quoted to them and the final charges at closing. One change with this form though is that it’s going to be prepared more by the lender than the title/escrow company as has been the custom previously.

The biggest change with the new Closing Disclosure is that lenders must provide this Closing Disclosure at least three business days before the consummation of the loan. Previously some transactions had lenders sending over documents the day of closing to the escrow company and buyers scrambling to get in and sign to close the transaction. This will no longer be the reality and lenders will have to be much more proactive. Additionally, there are triggers which can cause a new three-day review period for the buyer. These events are:

1. The APR (annual percentage rate) increases by more than 1/8 of a percent for regular loans (most fixed-rate loans) or 1/4 of a percent for irregular loans (most adjustable loans). It’s noteworthy that a decrease in the APR does not necessitate a new three-day review if it’s because of a change to the interest rate or other fees. Lenders have been required to provide this review for APR changes since 2009 actually.
2. A prepayment penalty is added – as this would make it more expensive to refinance or sell.
3. The basic loan product changes. This would be a switch from a fixed-rate loan to an adjustable for instance.

As you can see above there aren’t too many usual circumstances that would cause an additional 3-day review that could delay a transaction from closing as scheduled. Overall it’s going to be more common to see 45-day closings rather than the more typical 30-day closings that occur here in Arizona with frequency. This will allow for more time that the lender can use to ensure the Closing Disclosure gets out to the buyer with three business days time. Better to under promise and over deliver than the opposite. The takeaway is that while there will be some additional requirements and new forms associated with TRID it’s not going to have a huge impact on most sales. Contact Team Woodall if you have any questions about these new requirements that are just about to take effect.

Refinancing: When Does It Make Sense?

Interest rates have been extremely low for many years now, and quite a few homeowners with mortgages have refinanced. However, many people feel uncomfortable with refinancing as they aren’t sure if it’s in their best interests. So when does it make sense to refinance? The answer is: it depends. Not quite the easy answer most people might want to hear.  Your personal circumstances play a huge role in this decision. Let’s take a look at some of the most important factors to see if it’s right for you.


Find-Your-BreakEven-Point

How much longer do you expect to be in the property?

Circumstances beyond your control can obviously influence this issue and change your situation very quickly without any warning, but how long do you really expect to be in the home? If the answer is only a couple of years, then refinancing won’t likely be your most prudent choice. The costs associated with a refinance are often several thousand dollars or more, so it may not save you money if you have plans to move to a different house soon. Figure out how much you’ll save each month with a new mortgage, and compare that with the costs associated with the refinance. This will determine your break even point in the number of months before the cost of the refinance makes sense in that regard. In looking at refinancing one of my properties recently, my break even point was only a very low 5 months.


How large of a difference will a refinance make in your monthly payment?

lower-paymentsWhile it’s worthwhile to calculate your savings per month to determine how long the costs will take to recoup, the other important factor is will refinancing make a significant difference in you being able to afford the monthly payment? Perhaps a relatively minor savings of $75 per month really will make the difference between you being able to timely pay the mortgage or falling behind on the payments. Those with less regular salaries might take additional comfort knowing a slow month or two won’t jeopardize them making payments. In that case it might be worthwhile to consider a refinance even if the break even point is 3-4 years.

 


How much equity do you have in the home?

There are two main reasons this matters significantly. First, if you don’t have any equity in the property (“underwater” – meaning the value of the property is less than the current mortgage amount) then it’s quite possible the appraisal value won’t allow you to proceed without a government assistance program like the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). Second, if you don’t currently have mortgage insurance on your loan and you believe an appraisal will show you have less than 20% equity you could be required to obtain mortgage insurance for the new loan, which would be an additional monthly premium tacked onto your mortgage amount.


Do you want to start over the amortization of your loan?Amortization

If you’re 10 years into a 30-year conventional loan, then refinancing essentially throws away the last 10 years of your interest and you will start with a new amortization, often a new 30-year loan. While this new amortization of the existing balance almost guarantees an improvement in your monthly payment amount by repaying the existing loan amount over a longer stretch of time, it also means you’ll restart paying a higher percentage of your payment towards interest rather than principal. Of course it also means rather than paying off a mortgage say in the year 2035, you’ll now have a mortgage all the way through 2045.

This issue could become even more crucial depending upon your age and retirement goals. You could also consider getting a mortgage for a shorter term, but most people looking to refinance are doing so to lower their monthly payments which most often doesn’t happen in this scenario. Personally, in my situation the new amortization still meant I’d pay less money over the remaining life of the loan when compared with existing one. This means that not only would I see a fairly substantial monthly savings, but I’d also end up paying less money total. Don’t overlook this factor when considering a refinance as many people don’t realize the impact of a new amortization schedule.


Do you have sufficient cash assets to pay the refinancing costs?

While very often it’s feasible to roll most of the closing costs into the new loan, thereby coming out of pocket without any or little money, this adds to your overall principal balance. Typically it isn’t wise to add additional money to your loan unless the benefits of a refinance are vastly worth adding onto your principal. However, if you have sizable cash assets to pay for the refinancing costs and it won’t take long to make this money back in monthly savings, then it’s likely a refinance will fit your needs.


While there are some other details worth consideration these main points should get you started on the path to determining whether a refinance makes sense for your particular situation. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have about refinancing. If there are any questions I can’t answer, I also know many loan officers who can provide additional loan program details.

Six Things to Do Around Tucson in April 2015

April is just one of many fantastic months to get outdoors and experience all that Tucson has to offer.  The weather is ideal for running, hiking, biking, and general outdoorsiness.  In fact, April is Bike Fest presented by the Living Streets Alliance, and there are activities and events going on across town throughout the month.  Below you’ll find six of my favorite Tucson events in April, ending with what I consider the highlight of Bike Fest. Continue reading Six Things to Do Around Tucson in April

Detecting and Fixing a Leaky Toilet

Detecting and Fixing a Leaky Toilet

Water leaking from a toilet is not only a drain on the pocketbook but can also lead to premature wear of your toilet’s internals.

To check to see if your toilet might be leaking:

  1. Open the top of the tank and add some red food coloring to the water.
  2. Come back an hour later and open the toilet seat to see if the water in the bowl has a pink/red tinge. If it does, then you’ll need to replace the flapper in your tank.

Replace the flapper in your tank:Detecting and Fixing a Leaky Toilet

  1. Shut off the water valve into the toilet.
  2. Take off the tank lid.
  3. Flush the toilet to drain the water from the tank
  4. Soak up any excess water as necessary.
  5. Disconnect the flush chain from the lever and slide the old flapper up and out over the overflow tube.
  6. Replace it with a new flapper.
  7. Reconnect the lever.
  8. Turn the water back on.

Some toilet internals differ slightly.

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Tucson Named #1 Best City to Buy a Home

Forbes recently named Tucson as the #1 Best City To Buy A Home and it’s likely to make an impact in continuing our recovery. That’s quite an honor to receive although not too surprising with our great weather and excellent buying conditions. Among the statistics cited by Forbes were the Median List Price ($170,000), Inventory Level (6,600), Median Days on Market (86), Price Drop From Peak (45.1%), and Unemployment Rate (7.8%). Any positive news and publicity for the area in general is a positive sign and especially from such a high profile publication like Forbes. Here’s the link to the article: The Best Cities To Buy A Home Right Now.