Open House in Inclement Weather

Open House in Inclement Weather

“To cancel or not to cancel … that is the question.”

When selling your home in the fall, and as the weather becomes decidedly more winterish, you may question if having that open house is a good idea after all.

Here are some things to consider before cancelling your open house.

  • Buyers that venture out in the rain are more likely to be serious buyers and not simply curious lookers.
  • Buyers will know that your home is warm and cozy in bad weathers.
  • Your property’s solid structure will come shining through
  • If you cancel, buyers might be concerned that your home has leaks in windows, roofs or basement areas or that your drainage is less than optimal
  • And, if you cancel after someone made all the effort to come out in the rain to see your house, it might deter them from trying to see it another time

So what do you do to compensate for the weather?

Be prepared to make the experience as pleasant as possible:

  • Turn on all the lights. You want your home to be as bright as possible so that potentials buyers sense your home is warm and inviting.
  • Open up all the drapes, shutters and blinds.
  • Make sure your gutters are clear of debris and that water is flowing freely from gutter to downspout and diverted away from sidewalks
  • Provide doormats for people to wipe their feet and towels to dry off with
  • Provide an umbrella stand so that their wet umbrellas have a home
  • Recognize that odors may seem stronger on damp days, remove pet beds to the garage and use lightly-scented fabric refreshing sprays like Febreze to eliminate odors in carpets, drapes or furniture

In addition, you might have coffee and to-go cups on hand so your real estate professional can send them on their way with a warm cup of brew.

When a large number of real estate professionals were polled about cancelling an open house because of rain, a large number claimed they had sold several homes on rainy days.

If you have questions about having an open house during the late fall and winter months, consult your real estate professionals. They know your market, and they know the kinds of people that will take the time — rain or shine — to visit their potential new home.

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Honoring our Veterans

Honoring our Veterans

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
— George Washington

Appreciation

During the Veterans Day celebrations we want to let those who served know how much we appreciate them by sharing some good news: According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, the number of VA loans guaranteed under the G.I. Bill by its Loan Guaranty Program is now 630,000. This means that more than 300% more veterans are purchasing home with their V.A. loans since the housing downturn.

V.A. Loans are sitting between three and four percent and allow for up to 100% financing of your home loan. Translated that means … NO DOWN PAYMENT. This no-money down feature allows military borrowers to buy instead of rent without having to save up that large chunk of money first.

In addition, unlike other government guaranteed loans, the V.A. loan does not require mortgage insurance (also known as PMI or Private Mortgage Insurance), which reduces your monthly outgo.

You can use your V.A. loan to purchase your primary residents (the home you live in for most of the year). So, if you plan to spend more than six months in the warmer southern states, you can use your V.A. loan to purchase the home you plan to retire to.

There’s good news for Reservists too!

Those Reservists or men and women in the National Guard having completed six years of service are eligible for this benefit. In fact, if you served on active duty during wartime, your eligibility might be even shorter … as few as 90 days. This means that many more veterans might be able to get into a home sooner than they think.

Reduce your interest rates

If you’ve already used your Veterans Affairs Home Loan benefits, you might be eligible for a reduction in your interest rates. Check out the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (also available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to see if refinancing your loan might be useful to you. Some special features of the IRRRL are that it doesn’t require an appraisal or credit underwriting package and the fees and other costs of the loan can be absorbed into the loan or by accepting a high enough interest rate to allow the lender to take care of the costs.

Another advantage of the IRRRL is that you do not need to be living in the home now. You only need to certify that you lived in the home previously (when you obtained the original V.A. loan on the home). That means that if you’ve turned it into a rental or are allowing your children to live in it, you can still refinance it with this loan.

If you have questions about buying a home or need information about a lender that handles V.A. loans, your real estate professional can help. Just give us a call.

“On this Veterans Day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free.”
—Dan Lipinski

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When Interest Rates Go Up

shutterstock_279166220The Feds have been pretty indecisive about moving interest rates up, but the down-low is that they plan to make the move upwards in December.

No matter where you are in the market, whether you’re buying or selling, or just saving up a downpayment, interest rates can inversely affect your transactions.

Here are some ways to prepare for a potential rate hike:

Buyers

Get Pre-Approved – If you’re in the market for a home now, DO NOT HESITATE … get pre-approved by your lender. Different from “Pre-Qualified” (which just means that you have the potential to be approved if there are no hidden skeletons in your credit closed), a pre-approval means that a lender has investigated your background and credit history and is willing to loan you money. At the end of the pre-approval process, the lender will give you a Pre-Approval Letter indicating the amount they are willing to loan you and the most likely interest rate in current conditions.

What this does for you – Having a pre-approval letter means that you know what price home you can afford. It allows you to shop for homes at that price or lower. It also gives you bargaining power with an anxious seller. He may be willing to reduce his price for a sure thing rather than wait for a better offer and miss his chance.

When you have a pre-approval letter, your real estate agent knows you are serious about buying now and might be able to negotiate some extras for you in the transaction, too.

If you wait for interest rates to go up, you may have to settle for less house for the same payments.

Sellers

Require Pre-Approval to Accept an Offer – After you go through all the effort to negotiate and meet the requests and demands of the buyer, you don’t want the transaction to fall through just because the buyer couldn’t get financing. Many real estate professionals will advise you not to accept an offer, or even entertain one, without a pre-approval. The challenge for sellers is that once you accept an offer, you can’t reject it in favor of a better offer that might come along. It just makes sense to protect yourself from offers falling through from lack of funding.

Not Great for Current Sales– Prepare yourself for the rate hike by knowing how much you can adjust your asking price to compensate for a higher rate. Discuss these variables with your real estate professional and have a plan of action in place.

Terrific for Future Sales – If you plan to sell your home in the future, the rate increases will be in your favor because home prices will begin to rise and you can ask more for your property than you can today. The Feds resist raising rates until they think the overall economy is improving.

Savers

Good News – Higher interest rates are good news for savers because over time the compounded interest will give you more money for that down-payment. Just make sure to keep investing in your savings plan because rate hikes typically signify that prices in all areas of the economy will rise, so you’ll need a bigger downpayment for the same house.

If you need advice on buying, selling or saving for a home, let your local real estate professional guide you.

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Your House and Elections

Your House and ElectionsWith the national elections ramping up, many voters already have voter fatigue (also called voter apathy). That is, we’re already so tired of hearing about the elections that we don’t bother to vote at all. In fact, voter apathy is quite high in the United States: Somewhere between a third to a half of eligible voters do not vote in national elections and even fewer vote in local elections.

But, “the likelihood that a homeowner will vote in a local election is 65%, compared to 54% for renters” and they are 3% more likely to vote in national elections than renters.

Here’s why not voting is a bad idea:

Local elections can affect the marketability of your home

The value of your home is determined by a variety of factors, one of which is the rating of the local schools and another is the infrastructure of the community (the age and condition of the bridges, roads, drainage, street lights and other municipal projects). When a municipal bond issue comes up for vote, the outcome can affect both your bottom line through property and sales taxes, and the community desirability via new roads, better schools and protection from flooding (for example).

National elections can affect home prices

The affect on home sales prices is not because of the specific outcome of the elections, but because consumers become more nervous about the economy during election years. When larger blocks of homeowners vote, they are placing their trust in the economy and the expectation that home values will rise.

Direct effect on property taxes

Some propositions have direct effect on your property taxes and the sharing or distribution of municipal expenses. For instance, in an upcoming election in Texas, directly changes the amount that a homeowner is able to exempt from property taxes (the homestead exemption) and makes that change a constitutional amendment … meaning that it takes another vote of the State’s entire electorate to change it. You might think that this would raise marketability to non-child families and lower marketability to families with children, but proponents believe that instead, it will increase home values across the board, thereby increasing tax revenue to schools.

One aspect of participating in local elections is that the homeowner gets to know what is important to other people in their community. Being part of a community is one of the benefits of homeownership. Connecting with your neighbors to improve your schools, streets and bridges can bring a sense of civic pride and camaraderie to your neighborhood.

Your local real estate professional can indicate which areas in your neighborhood adversely affect the market value of your home. If you can help improve those things now, you should, so that when you’re ready to sell, your home’s value is at its highest.

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Spooky or Spectacular?

Spooky or Spectacular? Best neighborhoods to liveSometimes, a neighborhood appears awesome…but might be hiding some spooky, ghostly elements!

You can’t know, for instance, how welcoming some neighborhoods are to families with small children unless you see small children there.

If you’ve only visited the neighborhood during the workday, you won’t know if the streets fill with bicycles and skateboards at 3:00 PM when school lets out. If you’ve never been there on a Saturday, you don’t know if neighbors chat while doing outdoor chores, or if they hide indoors and hire landscapers to take care of their yard work. Your dream neighborhood might look like Mayberry RFD, but looks can be deceptive.

Before you say Boo!

Take the time to check out potential new neighborhoods at times when children might be visible before you buy that house!

In fact, Halloween is the perfect time to visit a potential new neighborhood!

Here’s what to look for in kid-friendly communities:

  • Decorations: Drive through the streets of your potential new neighborhood and check out the number of homes sporting Halloween decorations. These can range from giant blow-up black cats to “spider-webs” covering hedges and fences. Note that straw and pumpkin decorations do not necessarily indicate a child-friendly area since these decorative elements also might be in honor of “harvest” and “fall” rather than just Halloween.
  • Signage: Okay, some neighborhoods have signs all the time that indicate the presence of children. These include playground signs, slower speed limit signs, images of children crossing streets or playing, and even random speed bumps. Some neighborhoods, however, anticipate additional children in the area by posting temporary speed limits for Halloween. Others, knowing that their neighborhood might be inundated with extra children during Trick-or-Treating will post special parking rules during that time.
  • Community Activities: Some child-friendly communities offer more protective activities in the common areas, especially for smaller children, during the afternoon and up through early evening. The goal with these programs is to keep smaller children off the street and out of danger while still enjoying trick-or-treating activities.

If the neighborhood is older and laid out in regular grid streets, you might not find a common area for holiday activities. That doesn’t mean that neighborhood is not kid-friendly, it just means you need to look for other clues. Of course, you’ll always be able to see decorations on individual homes and in private yards, but if these are just hit-or-miss, you’ll want to do more thorough investigating.

One way to do that is to drive through the neighborhood on Halloween. (Note: For investigative purposes, you probably don’t want your children along because they may be disappointed.) Look for homes with porch lights ON. The traditional indication of a home participating in Halloween trick-or-treating is to have the porch light on. Of course, some homes have automatic exterior lights, so also look for the presence of someone in the home … lights visible through window coverings, too.

Observe the number and age of children moving through the neighborhood from home to home.

If there are few lights, little-to-no decorations and only small numbers of children, that may not be the neighborhood for you if you’re wanting lots of family activity.

Also, check the community pages for fun-and-friendly neighborhoods. Many municipalities list the best neighborhoods for trick-or-treating with kids of various ages.

Your real estate professional can help you determine the suitability of a neighborhood for your family’s needs and help you find the home of your dreams.

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Keeping It In Balance: Knowing Your Credit-to-Debt Ratio

shutterstock_183978059Many potential new homebuyers find themselves unable to secure a loan, confined to a smaller home ? or at least to a smaller loan ? because they don’t understand the ins and outs of their credit score.

First of all, your FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) credit score does not tell you how much you can afford, how much you have saved for a downpayment, how well you budget or the balance of any of your bank accounts.

What it does tell you (and your lender) is how you handled credit over time. Although the algorithm FICO uses to determine your score is a closely-guarded industry secret, the primary factors negatively affecting your credit score are late payments and your debt-to-credit ratio.

You know what to do about late payments. Pay. On. Time.

If you have late payments in your payment history, the best thing you can do about them is to not have any more late payments. The older the late payments are, the more your on-time payments can offset them.

Debt-to-Credit Ratio

Your debt-to-credit ratio is entirely different. You are in control of this aspect of your credit score, so you need to know what it’s all about.

On your credit report you’ll see a category called “amounts owed” that, rather than actually reflecting the amount of money you owe, speaks to the relationship between how much you owe to the total of your available credit. That is, the credit limit of your credit cards. Also called your credit utilization, your debt-to-credit ratio can raise or lower your FICO credit score.

That means that — all other things being equal — while both you and your twin brother may OWE $2000 on credit cards, your brother’s credit score could be lower or higher than yours based on the ratio between what you owe and the amount you have available.

Say you have a credit card with $5000 available credit and you owe $2000 on that card. You are using two-fifths of the available credit or a .40 ratio (40% utilization). Your twin has a card with $3500 available credit. He also owes $2000. He has utilized four-sevenths or .57 ration (57% utilization) so his credit score will be lower than yours even though you both owe $2000.

The higher the ratio of utilization, the greater the possibility of a red flag on your credit report that you may be overextended financially. Although your twin may well be able to afford the payments he has, should an emergency occur, he do not have as much margin available and could slip into difficulty in meeting financial obligations.

The amounts owed category also reflects:

  • how many accounts you have open,
  • how recently they were opened,
  • how many of those have maxed out balances,
  • other loans you may have (such as a car payment), and
  • the relationship of how much you currently owe to the original amount.

What’s the goal amount?

Most financial planners suggest keeping your utilization no higher than 30% at any given time among all your credit accounts.

There are a couple things you can do about your ratio:

  • Do not close old accounts.

When you’re trying to reduce your debt-to-credit ratio, you may be tempted to close old accounts that you have paid down to zero. If you do, however, that credit is no longer counted in the “available” category. In the scenario above, say that the $2000 you owe is spread between two credit cards: card one with a limit of $1000 at 100% utilization ($1000) and one with a limit of $4000 at 25% utilization ($1000). If you paid off the $1000 limit card brining that credit card to zero, but leaving it open, would give you a credit ratio of .20 (or 20%). If you close the account, your available credit drops to $4000 so your utilization bumps up to 25% or a debt-to-credit ratio of .25.

  • Pay down as much as you can

When you are seeking a mortgage, do more than just pay the minimums. Try to pay as much down on your credit accounts as possible, as soon as possible ahead of applying for a mortgage loan.

  • Be careful opening new accounts

It might seem logical to open more credit accounts to increase your available credit and lower the ratio, but another factor in your FICO score is how recent new accounts are relative to your loan application. Since the exact impact this can have on your score is not available, err on the side of caution.

If you have questions about how to improve your credit score, your real estate professional may be able to direct you to more resources.

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Counting Chickens

Counting Chickens

If your house has been on the market for any length of time, or if you need to sell because of an out-of-town job change, you may be tempted to accept a contingency offer on your home, or anticipate the completion of the sale.

You’ve already picked out the new house, planned the move, chosen paint colors in your head and mentally decorated for the holidays.

This is when that old saying, “Don’t count your chicken’s before they hatch” holds true.

No one wants to accept an offer on their current home and then be disappointed that the sale falls through. You want it to be a solid deal from the get go.

Before you jump at an offer, take the time to consider and anticipate why a sale may fall apart and take steps to mitigate your exposure. Your real estate professional is prepared for this, so listen to their advice when making decisions on accepting offers.

Here are some areas to watch for, any one of which can become a deal-breaker:

  1. Disappointing appraisals: 

    Sometimes, the appraisal can come in lower than expected. If it is lower than the list price it can delay the sale. A buyer’s lender will only lend up to the property’s value, so unless the buyer is willing to make up the difference in cash, or you’re willing to lower your price, the deal may fall through. To protect yourself from a low appraisal, have your real estate professional give you a fair market value (FMV) quote that anticipates differences in the local market.If there is considerable difference between your FMV and the buyer’s appraisal, you can request that the buyer get a second appraisal. Sometimes appraisers just miss stuff. But, sometime we believe our property is worth more that the market actually will bear.

  2. Lower than expected comparable home sales: 

    It is possible that your home is an exception. That means that there are no truly comparable homes within a specified distance of your home. In particular, this may be true of homes in rural developments, larger estates or completely remodeled and upgraded homes in older neighborhoods.In this case, ask for comparable home sales to include homes further away or with more similar upgrades and amenities.

  3. Documentation errors: 

    Misspelled names, transposed address numbers and a host of other potential errors can derail closing documents. Take the time to review each and every document as you see it the first time. Request corrections immediately and then review the new documents.

  4. Title insurance glitches: 

    If you inherited your home, have suffered a divorce, or bought the home through less than conventional means—a wrap-around loan or lease-option, for example—the title of your home may not correctly reflect your ownership.From the moment you begin considering selling your home, take the time to check on your title and any other paperwork, past loans, former liens, other possible glitches to a clear title. Be proactive so that you aren’t surprised on closing day.

  5. Buyer financing problems: 

    It all comes down to money. As much as a buyer may love your home and want to buy it, if they don’t have the financial means, they can’t do it.Before agreeing to an offer, make sure the buyer is pre-qualified and pre-approved for the loan in the amount required to buy your home. You don’t want to learn at the last minute that they buyer’s loan is for $10,000 less than you’re asking. If you’ve already made an offer or bought another home, you’ll be tempted to take the lower amount, potentially losing thousands of dollars.

  6. Contingency offers: 

    When a buyer also has a home to sell, no amount of preparation on your part can save the sale of your home from imploding if the buyer’s contingency falls through.If you need to sell your home quickly, DO NOT accept a contingency offer. On the other hand, if you have plenty of time to sell your home, locking in a buyer with a contingency might be the right call (if prices might appear to be falling, for example). Work with your real estate professional to determine if a contingency offer is right for your situation.

  7. Last-minute lender requests: 

    Sometimes it comes down to paperwork and sometimes it comes down to the lender wanting just one more piece of reassurance that the buyer can handle the mortgage. This may particularly be true of FHA, USDA and other government backed loans. Since the real estate bubble and banking collapse, the rules for certain loans have tightened.Refer back to #6. Make sure your buyer is pre-qualified and pre-approved, has the downpayment in the bank and is prepared to close in a timely manner. Let your agent work with their agent to make certain everything is in place before locking in that offer.

Your real estate advisor can help you navigate the process and inform you of possible pitfalls in accepting an offer with the potential to fall through.

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It's Elemental: New Homeowner's Basic Maintenance Guide

It's Elemental: New Homeowner's Basic Maintenance Guide

Buying a home is an exciting experience. You save up your downpayment, wade through thousands of listings, find and hire a buyer’s agent, search for the perfect home, make and offer, get accepted and take the plunge. Now, you’ve moved in, repainted walls, arranged furniture, hung window coverings and settled in for the fall season.

Except, you’ve never checked a furnace filter, dealt with a leaky faucet, cleaned gutters or mulched your trees. If you’ve never owned a home before, you may be unprepared for the realities of home ownership.

What to do?

Remember the four elements:

  • Earth
  • Air
  • Fire
  • Water

Earth: While the temperatures remain warm enough, take care of any landscaping issues you may have. Rake and properly dispose of leaves, remove dead branches, give your lawn a final mowing and prepare it for winter, mulch flowerbeds and trees, cover any exposed dirt to protect it from erosion and check rock walls for loose stones.

Inspect your foundation for cracks that may need professional repair.

While you’re at it, put away outdoor furniture, toys and tools so that they’re protected from harsh winter weather and ready for Spring.

Air: One of the most important elements in your home, air, can be a friend or an enemy. Seal windows and add weather-stripping to doors for leakage. Check the attic insulation for the appropriate depth for your region. Inspect your attic fans, gable vents and other air-flow methods for proper ventilation.

Winterize your AC. Remove or winterize your window air conditioners. Wash off the condenser housing of your central AC and remove any buildup of leaves, dust, insect nests, weeds or grass clippings. Have a professional check your central air-conditioning system for leaks.

Fire: Your HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) keeps your home comfortable in all temperatures, so take care of it well. Make sure filters are clean and free of damage. Have your furnace inspected by a certified HVAC technician. Check your ducts check for buildup and have the professionally cleaned if necessary.

Make sure the fireplace damper works correctly so that you can avoid losing warmth through the flue and check the chimney for debris from insects, birds or prior use.

Check smoke and gas detectors to make certain the batteries are new and the  alarms work.

Water: This element causes hidden damage in homes and requires vigilance to keep from having massive problems and expensive repairs due to mildew, mold, rot and other water damages. Outdoors, inspect your gutters and downspouts for leaves and debris. Make sure the downspouts are directed away from your foundation. Have your roof inspected to make certain you don’t have potential leaks. This is particularly true after a major weather event such has hail or heavy wind. A professional roof inspector can also advise you on weather your home might be subject to ice damage from dams and buildup.

Check your faucets for drips and your drains for leaks. Make sure pipes hidden in cupboards do not leak or create condensation. If you have condensation inside cabinets from water pipes you may need to install ventilation into the cabinets. Check toilets for leaking, running or flow problems and have them fixed immediately.

When to do it?

Check out this list scheduled by seasons to see the best times to take care of your home maintenance issues.

Contact your real estate professional for information on home inspections before you buy so that you’re prepared for the upkeep to your new investment.

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Lighten Up Dark Spaces Naturally

Lighten Up Dark Spaces NaturallyYou saved up your money and survived the rigors of mortgage underwriting, packed up your apartment, loaded the truck and moved into your new home. After several urgent days of unpacking, rearranging furniture and filling cupboards, you settle into your new place, ready to enjoy the pleasures of home-ownership.

You wake up on about day ten to the realization that your new home is a cave—literally! There is no light coming into your house. You know you have more space, but it feels like less.

Now what do you do?

Many older homes, especially those built in warmer climates, do not have the expanses of glass that newer homes boast. Some just have tall, narrow windows and other have small windows up near the ceiling. In times past, these smaller windows acted as a conservation measure. Less light into the home means a cooler home and therefore, a lower air conditioning bill. In winter climates, smaller windows translate into less heat loss and lower winter heating bills.

While your long-term plans may include enlarging window openings and installing high-efficiency windows, in the meantime, you need to lighten up your home so that you can enjoy it now.

Use a light hand when decorating

When the goal is to bring more light into a dark space, reflective surfaces are your friends.

  • Lighten up your paint.

Interior paint colors come rated by light reflective value (LRV). The LRV scale goes from zero percent—no reflective value— to 100%, which translates to a completely reflective “white” value. In the real world, neither zero percent (black), or one hundred percent (white) reflectivity exists, but other colors fall in the spectrum between the two extremes. For example, an average black (think chalkboard paint) may range about five percent while basic very white wall paint is nearer to 85 percent. Dominantly yellow colors may fall into the higher ranges as well.

You may find the LRV code on the back of a paint swatch, or in the “fanbook” that your paint retailer should have. The higher the code value, the more light the color reflects and the brighter your room will seem.

When choosing paint with light reflection in mind, you can maximize the daylight entering your smaller windows with a ceiling paint with a higher LRV, and complementary wall colors with slightly lower values to visually warm up your room.

  • Add reflective surfaces.

Use mirrors, glass and metallic surfaces to bounce the existing light around the room. Setting mirrors on opposing walls allows light to reflect into infinity. A mirror at the end of a narrow entryway allows it to appear more spacious and open. Use mirrors to balance walls with off-centered or asymmetric windows.

Adding metallic or glass tiles to a backsplash or shower increases the reflected light in a room. Or, simply add reflective touches to your décor such as silver or shiny brass sconces, metallic frames or crystal vases.

  • Avoid dark surfaces.

Dark window coverings, furnishings and area rugs absorb light too. When choosing Venetian blinds, pick white or anther light color rather than wood-grain or faux-wood styles. Blinds tilted toward the ceiling reflect light upwards, offering both light and privacy. You may achieve a similar effect with Panama shutters, but remember that the shutter frame may reduce the window opening, therefore diminishing the reflected light.

After you’ve saved up for renovations, consider skylights and solar tubes to increase your interior light without changing the historic design of your home.

Your real estate professional can direct you toward contractors to help you achieve the home of your dreams.

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Fall Filter Fixes

Fall Filter FixesOkay, some home maintenance items just don’t make the urgent list.

Changing your furnace filter doesn’t often make the cut. As we head into autumn, take a moment to check your furnace filter to get it ready for a winter workout.

Why your filter is important

A filter protects the blower on your furnace from dirt and debris. Its basic function is to keep the dirt from the air out of your furnace, but specialty filters can reduce airborne dust, remove allergens and pet hair, and improve air quality.

The filter’s location at the air in-take means that particle removal happens before air is heated and forced through your home’s vents. Since the air from your vents is clean, you may not notice that your furnace isn’t running efficiently, but a clogged it can lessen the life of your furnace. The extra wear and tear that pulling air through a dirty filter causes may lead to inadequate airflow, overheating and even complete shutdown of the system.

Ideally, you should check your filter once a month. If your system involves just a furnace, then check the filter monthly during the cold season and again in the fall just prior to cool weather returning. If you have a complete HVAC system, the filter affects your air conditioner as well. A dirty filter in the warm season can cause the air conditioner’s cooling coils to freeze up, stressing the AC system.

Here’s what to do

Experts suggest checking the filter every month and changing it at least every three. Check your owner’s manual for information on the filter’s location and the best size and type of filter to use. Determine if you have a disposable filter or a reusable filter. A disposable filter typically has a cardboard frame while a reusable one is made of plastic or metal.

  • Disposable:
    —Turn off the furnace system. This means shutting it off at the fuse box, the circuit breaker or a furnace cutoff switch.
    —Remove the cover from the filter holder.
    —Remove the filter from it’s housing either inside the furnace or at the return air vent. The existing filter probably has a marker indicating the correct position to install the filter so that the airflow goes toward the furnace. Make a note of this so you can correctly install the new filter.
    —On the new filter, look for the markings that indicate the airflow direction and match them up to the correct flow direction toward your furnace.
    —Replace the cover.
  • Reusable:
    —Turn off the furnace system. This means shutting it off at the fuse box, the circuit breaker or a furnace cutoff switch.
    —Remove the blower door or locate the filter in the return air vent.
    —Use either your regular vacuum or a wet/dry vacuum to remove dust from the filter. Vacuum the area around where the filter goes as well.
    —Wash the filter. You can do this outdoors using a garden hose or indoors in the bathtub or shower (although this is messier). Be sure to spray the water in the reverse direction of the airflow at the end to make certain no dust particles are left on the inside of the filter.
    —Allow the filter to dry completely before you reinstall it.
    —Check the filter for indicators of which direction should face the furnace and reinstall the filter, insuring that loops or clips are in their proper position.

If this seems like a lot to do, or if your furnace filter location is awkward, consider hiring a certified HVAC service to check, change or clean your filters for you.

If you’re planning to sell your home, keeping your furnace in great working condition contributes to its resale value.

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