Recently in Homeownership Tips Category

May 2, 2011

Not Even Bail Bond Agents Want Houses as Collateral!

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Planning to commit a crime? Wait, that's not a very good way to start a blog entry.

But let's just say you were -- and that you'd foreseen the possibility of getting caught and having a judge set an amount of bail that you'd need to post in order to get yourself out of jail while awaiting trial. (Actually, real criminals never seem to have that much foresight.)

Okay, let's cut to the chase here: A bail bond agent (the one who fronts you the cash to pay your bail) might accept your jewelry, laptop, or boat as collateral, but is likely to turn up his or her nose at your offer of your house. That's according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, "Bail Bond Agents Feel Pain of Housing Crash," by Dawn Wotapka.

Not a real good sign for the housing market, is it?

February 4, 2011

Tax Benefits for Homeowners: Don't Forget the 14 Free Days of Rental Income

Thanks to Stephen Fishman and his column with Inman News for reminding us that the tax benefits of homeownership include not only the often-discussed mortgage interest deduction and capital gains tax exclusion upon sale, but the ability to rent your house to someone else (perhaps a vacationer?) for up to 14 days a year without paying tax on the income. Get the full story and details in his article, "The tax benefits of homeownership."
December 20, 2010

Renting Out a Room Helps Defray Costs of Homeownership

Hmm, rents are high, home sales prices are low, and money is tight. What better time to rent out a room in your home, as a way of defraying the costs of ownership until you someday sell?

If you've never experienced a shared living arrangement, you might wonder whether you'll end up either running a commune, living with a dangerous wacko, or simply losing all your privacy. Having rented out many a room in other people's houses myself -- both as a student and as an adult -- I can attest to the fact that it's not as scary as all that. (Though I did refuse to rent from some rather scary homeowners.)

But the key is to set expectations in advance, with a written agreement that actually goes beyond what the average lease does, spelling out things like, "You can't use that closet," and "No overnight guests -- or at least not without my permission." 

If you live in California, you're in luck: Nolo offers a kit for renting out a room in your home, complete with more advice and an agreement form, available at
December 14, 2010

Grace Your New Home With a Holiday Wreath?

IMG_3181.JPGIs it just me, or is everyone obsessed with holiday wreaths, in all their variety, this year? And, I've just noticed that the former owners of my new house left a conveniently placed nail on the front door!

So, in order to feed that obsession (because you know, it only gets worse if you deny it), below are some fun online places to research how to buy or make a wreath that will welcome you back home in style.

While we're on the topic, if you happen to be putting your house on the market soon, a wreath is a non-sectarian way to add appeal to your entryway.
  • Article from This Old House magazine--don't miss the wreath made of antique tools
  • Lots of ideas from Sunset magazine--start collecting those eucalyptus pods now!
  • Purportedly eco-friendly wreaths from Good Housekeeping--though I'm not sure how fake, plastic apples got to be defined as eco-friendly

By the way, if anyone's looking for a present for me -- perhaps knowing all too well that those branches and berries piling up on my desk may never amount to anything -- I'm entranced with these succulent wreaths, made in Phoenix, Arizona.

November 8, 2010

Homeowner Tip: Prune Trees Now, When No Birds Are Nesting

I know someone who left the tree pruning business because of his horror, one day, at watching a nest of baby birds fall from a tree after he'd unwittingly cut the branch. Birds are clever at hiding their nests, so even though he and other arborists are watchful, tree pruning done during the nesting months, particularly spring, summer, and in some areas early autumn, is risky.

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Late fall and winter, when trees are dormant, is the safest time to prune trees and large shrubs -- in many cases, for the tree's sake as well as the birds'. Then you can enjoy watching bird families make use of your trees next spring!

October 7, 2010

Rahm Emmanuel's Travails as a Landlord

Renting out your home after you've moved for a new job can be a great strategy, both as an income-producer (though not always) and as a way to delay selling while the market is down. But, as the recent situation with Rahm Emmanuel illustrates, you'll have to get used to the idea that, while your tenant is protected by a lease, the house isn't yours to do with as you please.

Recent news reports describe how Emmanuel, having left his position as White House Chief of Staff and become interested in running for mayor of Chicago, is hoping to move back into his old house there. But there's an "oops:" He had recently signed a one-year lease with his tenant, who so far isn't willing to budge.

I asked Janet Portman, author of Every Landlord's Legal Guide, to comment on the situation:

"A deal is a deal, and there's no legal reason why Rahm's tenant should move," said Portman. "Emanuel is doing what any sophisticated owner would do -- offering to buy out the lease -- but he may find that he'll have to sweeten the deal a lot before his tenant agrees to move. He should consider looking for a replacement home for his tenant, making sure it's within the same school district -- and offering to pay for movers and all related moving costs."

Something to consider before you accept that White House position . . . .
October 4, 2010

Is the Right to Raise Chickens Part of Homeownership?

Raising backyard chickens is just one of the many home projects that would have given your landlord fits -- but may make for a satisfying use of your newly bought home. The catch is, raising chickens isn't legal everywhere.

Thanks to the good folks at, however, (and to This Old House magazine for mentioning this), you can find out your local chicken rules and regs.

Let's see, around me, both chickens and roosters are okay in Berkeley, but Oaklanders had better find a new home for that rooster. I had friends, in fact, who faced this very scenario -- apparently, telling the hens-to-be from the roosters-to-be when they're still fluffy little yellow puffballs is no easy task. The good news is, the hens will keep laying without a rooster. The eggs just won't be fertilized.

And that ends today's law lecture and biology lesson. Maybe next time I'll find a site dealing with backyard goats. 
September 7, 2010

Homeowners: Lower Interest Rates With a Cash-In Refinance

If by chance you've come into a bit of money lately, and are wondering where to invest it, Jack Guttentag offers a suggestion: a home refinance where you pay down a chunk of the loan balance and then reap the rewards of your lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratio in the form of a lower interest rate on your new mortgage.

Get the details here. Guttentag also provides a calculator letting you figure out your rate of return -- perhaps even leading you to decide that it's worth transferring funds out of other underperforming investments for this virtually no-risk strategy.
August 25, 2010

Condo Owners' Rights When the Neighbors Smoke?

This is one of those issues you'd think would have been settled by now: Does a condo owner have a right to expect that his or her unit will be free of secondhand smoke from nearby units? And if so, can the owner demand a remedy, perhaps that the condo association pay to seal off their unit (which may be impossible) or that the neighbors simply stop smoking in their home?

Given the wide range of other things that condo associations typically govern, from the size of owners' dogs to the color of their house paint, you might even expect that smoking rules would be written into the typical Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs; the government document for homeowner associations).

Apparently not. In fact, as described in the article, "Battle Over Smoking in Condos Catches Fire in Florida," by I.M. Stackel of the Daily Business Review , the issue is just making its way to the forefront of public attention -- mostly via the court system.

Until it's resolved, both condo buyers and sellers need to put it high on their list of issues to address before the sale is finalized. Buyers who want to either avoid neighbors' smoke or have the right to smoke themselves should carefully read the CC&Rs, ask questions of the sellers, and talk to the neighbors' about others' experiences there.

Sellers who know that their unit is subject to the entry of secondhand smoke will want to disclose this to buyers. Yes, it might turn some buyers off, but as we explain in detail in Selling Your House in a Tough Market, that's better than facing a lawsuit later.
August 22, 2010

Home Repairs: Deal With Before You Move In, or After?

Like many homebuyers, we discovered during the course of the inspections that our new home-to-be wasn't entirely perfect -- in fact, it really needed a whole new foundation if we wanted a decent chance of surviving the next earthquake. (Not too surprising for a house that's nearly 100 years old.)

That led us to the same question many others have dealt with: Do the work right away, in the midst of all the craziness of moving, or wait a bit?

Of course, for some people, there's no choice, because their mortgage lender insists that the work be done before funding the loan. But our lender wasn't requiring this. So for us, the pros and cons looked something like this:

1) Our lives were already in chaos, why not add a little more?
2) Once the work was done, we'd be able to settle in, hang paintings, and repaint if we wanted to, without having to undo it all and repaint over new cracks in the walls after the foundation work was done.
3) We could avoid buying earthquake insurance (which many homeowners with solid new foundations forgo)

1) The weather. It was one of the rainiest winters in my memory, which would have made it nearly impossible to store things outside that would have, but for the foundation work, normally been in the basement.
2) We didn't know anyone who'd need a house-sitter in January -- whereas, by waiting, we could house-sit for friends on summer vacations if the noise and chaos of construction got to be too much.
3) We'd have a chance to regroup, cash-wise. We moved into our new house before selling the old, which was already a financial challenge. We didn't want to be down to our last dollar when the inevitable new costs arose ("Hey, how about we replace your old, cracking floor slab while we're at it?")

So, three against three -- and we decided to wait. Mostly glad we did. We keep looking at the surrounding chaos, with a trench all around the house, deep holes underneath, and dirt piles in our back yard, and saying, "Can you imagine doing this in the rain?" fdn.JPG 

But it does sometimes feel like we're moving all over again. And we did end up house-sitting for friends. (Thanks, guys.)

A foundation removal is a big deal -- there was dust pouring through cracks in the house we didn't know existed. It was shooting up behind the mantel! And the downstairs plumbing had to be disconnected for nearly a week.

Does this lead me to any advice for others? Nope, I'm afraid there no universal answer. Wait, there's a better way to put that: There's no wrong answer. Do what feels more comfortable, and expect some chaos either way!