Tuesday, June 27, 2017

8 Tips for Finding a Good Contractor

how to find a contractor
Choosing the right contractor for your renovation or building project is one of the most important construction decisions you will make. A good contractor can ensure quality work and a smooth renovation, while the wrong one can trigger nightmares. Here are eight tips to help you make the right choice when hiring a contractor:

1. Have plans ready

Know exactly what you want in terms of plans and building materials before interviewing contractors. The more details you can provide, the more accurate their bid will be.

2. Get recommendations

Get recommendations from family and friends, local builders’ associations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and your local Master Builders Association and from sites including Angie’s List. Although building inspectors may not give recommendations, they may tell you whether particular companies’ work generally passes initial inspections.

3. Interview candidates

Ensure candidates routinely build projects of the type and size you are proposing. Talk with three or four contractors about your project, expectations and timeframe. Learn how many projects they work on simultaneously, and get references and a list of recent projects. Also, ask how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors. Contractors should be willing to provide financial references from suppliers or banks.

4. Check licensing

Expect to see candidates’ state contractor’s license and certificate of insurance. Most states require contractors to have workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability insurance. Check with the Better Business Bureau or your state consumer protection agency to learn whether contractors on your list have liens against them from former clients, suppliers or workers. An Internet search also may reveal valuable intelligence.

5. Visit job sites

Assess their crews’ work ethics for yourself, including how they treat others’ property. Do they minimize construction debris and dirt? Do they start work quickly or spend undue time on breaks?

6. Get bids

Have your top two or three candidates provide written bids for your project, based on the same specifications. Insist they categorize costs for materials, labor, profit and any other expenses. Common bid items are time and materials, fixed price and costs plus fixed fee. Expect materials to account for about 40% of the overall costs and profit to account for 15% to 20%. The lowest bid isn’t necessarily the best. If it’s significantly lower, that contractor may cut corners. If bids are comparable, choose the contractor with whom you best communicate.

7. Set a payment schedule

Payment plans vary according to project size. Expect to pay 10% of the estimated cost when the contract is signed and three payments of 25% evenly spaced throughout the project. The final payment should be made only after you are satisfied with the completed work.

8. Put the contract in writing

Incorporate every project detail in the contract. That includes: payment schedule, proof of liability insurance, workers’ compensation, start and finish dates, materials to be used, a lien release in case the contractor fails to pay suppliers or subcontractors and how changes will be handled.
If your top choice isn’t available, it might be a good sign. Usually the best contractors are busy, so be patient and be prepared to wait to start your project, with the right contractor.
Be sure to contact your Nationwide Insurance agent before you begin work and after your project is complete to ensure your homeowners policy will cover your project and any improvements you’ve made.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pet Safe Summer: 3 Ways to Beat the Heat

heat stroke in dogs
Do you know how to keep your pet safe when the weather heats up? Like most people, you’re likely careful to never leave pets in vehicles when it’s hot outside. But there’s more to know when it comes to keeping pets cool, comfortable, and out of danger.
Dogs are generally at highest risk. When it’s hot, cats prefer to chill. Your dog, on the other hand, will try to go for a run or play fetch no matter the temperature. That means you must avoid hazardous situations and know what to do if your pet overheats. Some tips:
  • Keep the most at-risk pets inside and keep the air conditioning on for them. Older pets as well as kittens or puppies don’t handle weather extremes as well as healthy adult pets. In addition, dogs or cats of breeds known as “brachycephalic” – short-nosed pets such as bulldogs, pugs or Persian cats – have a greater difficulty keeping themselves from overheating. These high-risk pets should be kept inside where it’s cool, and any outings should be short – potty runs only.
  • Exercise your dog during cooler parts of the day. While short-nosed pets should be kept inside where it’s cool, other pets can enjoy supervised outdoor time early mornings or late in the day. Walks are good for both dogs and people, and you don’t have to skip them, just time them better. One rule of thumb: Put your hand on the sidewalk, and if it’s too hot to leave it there, it’s too hot for your pet’s paws.
  • Know the signs of overheating – and what to do if a pet gets too hot. Just as important as keeping pets out of heat danger is knowing what to do if a pet overheats. The signs in dogs – the most likely victims — are rapid, even frantic panting, very red gums, and a glassy look to their eyes. An overheated dog is in a life-threatening situation: Apply cool water – not icy cold, and not ice – to the groin area and get your pet to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital right away.
Whatever your summer activities, make sure there’s plenty of cool, fresh water available for your pets. When you’re out and about, take water with you and don’t let pets drink from pools, standing water or oceans. There are handy devices you can buy from pet product retailers to make it easy to bring water along. Products that have flip-down cups or nozzles mean you don’t have to carry a bowl with you.
Was the warning on leaving pets in vehicles is a new one for you? If so, you need to know this is a dangerous practice even on days that are merely warm, not hot. Even with the windows of your car cracked open, the temperature inside can build to a deadly level within minutes. If you’ll have to park your car for any length of time, leave your pet at home.
It doesn’t take much to keep your pets safe in the summer. Knowing how to protect your pet will allow you both to enjoy the warm summer days. In addition, the right pet insurance coverage can help you in the event of the unexpected.
To help keep your pet out of harm’s way, make sure you know these 20 common foods that can be dangerous for dogs and cats.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

7 Tips to Prepare Your Home for a Storm

Preparing for a storm
While summer typically means warmer weather, it can also bring a variety of harsh weather conditions, sometimes leading to severe storms.
Homeowners can take preventative measures to help reduce damage if and when a severe storm hits. Ken Enscoe, senior director of Catastrophe Operations at Nationwide, shared some tips on how to help prepare your home:
  1. Clear limbs and trim trees: During a storm, dead tree limbs can get loose and cause damage to a home’s exterior or even puncture a window. Heavy rain can also cause trees with shallow root systems to pull out of the ground.
  2. Secure fences: Ensure that your fences are properly secured so to help prevent them from being lifted up and thrown against the house by heavy winds.
  3. Secure furniture: Heavy winds can cause items like patio furniture and large toys to damage the exterior of your home. It’s a good idea to anchor outdoor furniture or bring it indoors before a storm hits. You should also move anything in your yard that can become flying debris inside your house or garage.
  4. Check gutters: Help prevent damage inside your house by having downspouts drain away from your home and clear your gutters of any debris.
  5. Protect the critical areas: Wind is a major threat to your roof, windows, doors and garage doors. Either you or a building contractor can build and install temporary protection, such as approved wind shutters or plywood on windows and coverings for patio and entry doors, strengthen and stiffen garage doors, and install heavy-duty door hardware.
  6. Protect your valuables: Protect mementos in waterproof containers and/or take the items with you if you evacuate. Inventory valuables and contents in the home with pictures or video. Note the approximate value of each item and the date of purchase. You can also send an inventory to a family member outside your region for safekeeping. Also, make sure important documents, such as an insurance policy or mortgage papers, are stored in a safe deposit or fire safe box.
  7. Know your policy: It’s critical to read and understand your insurance policy. Then, examine your property to ensure there are no physical or liability hazards.
For more on how to prepare for a variety of severe weather situations, you can also visit the Insurance Institute for Better Homes & Safety website. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

You truly could be saving $400 a year on car insurance

By Jerry Edgerton - feature MoneyWatch June 13, 2017, 9:00 AM

From the GEICO gecko to Progressive's Flo, TV ads for car insurance constantly nag you about saving by comparing rates. But more than one-third of car owners apparently aren't listening, according to a new study by personal finance site NerdWallet.

A survey shows that 17 percent of car owners with insurance have never compared rates, and 21 percent haven't done so for at least the past three years. If you're among that 38 percent, you could be missing out on an average of $417 a year in savings, NerdWallet calculated.

The online survey of 2,072 people also showed that more than a quarter (28 percent) of respondents think they pay too much for their insurance. Among millennials (age 18 to 34), that number rose to 33 percent.

To find out if you're overpaying, go to this NerdWallet calculator. Put in your state, and it will show you how much savings you may be missing out on. It calculates the difference between what you're paying and the lowest rate in your area. (The analysts' calculations are for drivers without tickets or violations, so if you have any on your record, they  may be affecting your rate.)

Remember, today's auto insurance rates are set by a complicated mix of your driving history, what car you drive, where you live and your credit rating. So over time you may be able to cut your insurance rates by, say, improving your credit rating.

In the meantime, compare rates for your current situation. "It's good to price-check your car insurance regularly because rates change all the time," said Amy Danise, insurance analyst at NerdWallet. "The insurer who gave you a good deal three or four years ago may no longer be among the cheapest options." She suggested comparing rates in these cases:

When your policy is renewed, often annually. Insurers typically raise rates upon renewal.
When you add another vehicle to your policy or another driver. If that driver is a teenager, your rates are sure to go up. That makes it especially useful to shop around.
If you have a major life change. That is, if you get married, switch jobs, retire or move to a different ZIP code.
In another part of the survey, 10 percent of respondents admitted that they had intentionally lied to insurers about their personal or vehicle information when buying a new policy. That included reporting lower mileage than the car actually has, leaving a driver off the policy or saying the car was garaged when it's really parked on the street.

In this digital age, insurers can discover almost any detail about your life. As NerdWallet cautions: "Misleading insurers can backfire. If you get into an accident, and your insurer discovers your application had false information, the company could deny your claim."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

8 Tips for Finding the Best Rental Home

Homeownership rates have been falling for the past eight years, according to a report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. That means more people are renting, making it harder to find a rental home.
The secret, real estate brokers say, is to plan ahead. Often renters will wait until the last minute to look for another apartment. However, when renters are in a hurry they tend to take apartments they don’t really want, says Lance Macon, co-founder of Metro Home Managers, a Washington, D.C.-based, full-service rental property management firm.
Here are eight tips for finding the best rental homes and apartments in your area.

1. Start your search early in the month

The best rentals, in terms of price, location and amenities, go earlier in the month, so don’t wait until midmonth to look for a new place to live, Macon says. It’s best to start searching 60 days before you need to move, especially if you are looking for a rental property where there isn’t as much available.
The second and third weekends of the month tend to be the busiest. If you start your search the first weekend of the month, there will be less competition and the best properties will still be available.

2. Begin online but don’t rely on it

About 90% of renters will start their apartment search on Craigslist or Zillow, Macon says. Looking online is a good way to start your search. You can get a sense of pricing and apartment amenities. However, if you’re moving to a new city, looking online won’t tell you enough about neighborhoods and the local amenities of each, such as public transportation or grocery stores.

3. Use a professional

In most cases, real estate brokers are available to help renters find properties free of charge. The key is to find a broker who specializes in rental properties, not home sales.
If you’re looking in areas where there is generally tight competition for apartments, you’ll want to talk with a number of real estate agents before committing to one because different agents have different relationships with different buildings. Make sure you are talking with an agent who has access to the apartment buildings in neighborhoods where you want to rent.

4. Don’t be fooled by scams

Be aware of online scams, particularly ads on Craigslist that require you to provide your credit card to pay a deposit fee to be shown the apartment. No one should require a deposit to show you an apartment.
Also, be careful if you are renting an apartment directly from a private person because you will be giving a total stranger your Social Security number and your bank account information, and they will likely run a credit check on you. It’s safer to work with a licensed and bonded real estate broker.

5. Know your roommates

If you’re considering sharing an apartment, make sure you know who your roommates will be and consider asking the landlord for separate leases. If you have a joint lease and the rent is $2,000 a month, you are liable for the entire amount if your roommates don’t pay their share, Macon says. But if you have a separate lease, you’re liable only for your portion of the rent.
Don’t be afraid to ask for references if you don’t know your roommates. You can also use social media – LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook – to find out more about them.

6. Offer to take a 13-month lease

If you’re in a competitive marketplace, one way to get a landlord’s attention is to offer to sign a 13- or 14-month lease, says Todd Lee, co-founder with Macon of Metro Home Managers. This is particularly helpful if a traditional 12-month lease would expire in November or December because it is often difficult to rent properties in those months.

7. Consider a smaller building

Generally, an apartment in a 300-unit managed building with a swimming pool, 24-hour front desk, computer lounge and weight room will cost significantly more than the same size apartment in a six- to eight-unit building. If you’re paying for amenities, Lee says, make sure you will use them.

8. Use social media

Don’t be shy about posting on Facebook that you’re looking for an apartment. Let people know you are searching for a new place to live.
Once you find the perfect apartment or home, you’ll want to consider renters insurance. A landlord’s insurance doesn’t cover your belongings, so when the unexpected happens you want to be covered.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

8 Signs it’s Time to Paint Your House

how often should you paint your house
Painting your home can be inconvenient and time consuming, but it’s easier than it seems. It’s a good investment that extends the integrity and good looks of what, for most people, is their single greatest asset.
Paint is your house’s first defense against the elements and the first impression guests and potential buyers receive. When paint fades, chips or peels, it’s obviously time to repaint. But there are other telltale signs.

1. Flaking, bubbling or cracking paint

These signs often signal dry rot, wet rot or mold caused by failed weatherproofing. Strong sunlight, harsh winters, extreme humidity, storms, blowing sand and ocean breezes can contribute to the damage.

2. Hardened caulk

Most caulks are designed to expand and contract along with your house. As your home is exposed to more extreme weather cycles (think sunny days and freezing nights) caulking will lose its elasticity. If the beads are hard and resistant when you press down, it’s probably time to call an expert to re-caulk and check for damage.

3. Fading paint

Sun bleaching is common, and dark hues tend to fade faster than paler shades. Fading on shady sides of the house, however, indicates problems with the vapor barrier or with water intrusion. Look for seemingly mysterious stains dripping downward on the paint. If water-soluble materials designed for home interiors end up outside the house, it’s a sign of water leaks. If you can’t pinpoint the source, call an expert.

4. Patching stucco

To minimize costs without re-stuccoing the entire house, patch stucco cracks and repaint the whole house. Otherwise, homeowners will be left with streaks or a patchwork from paint that doesn’t quite match.

5. Because the paint color morphed

UV rays cause the paint to fade and, sometimes, transform to an undesired shade after painting. Beige can transform to pink in a matter of weeks. To prevent that, make sure the paint is an exterior grade that can withstand UV effects.

6. To boost curb appeal

If the house looks faded, the trim no longer stands out or there is nothing to make the house ‘pop’ against its surroundings, a fresh coat of paint usually will do the trick, making it look fresh and allowing the value of the home to increase.

7. If your house is new

Typically, contractors spray one coat of paint over pre-primed wood. That primer minimizes warpage at the lumber yard but generally is insufficient to prevent swelling or shrinkage. If possible, prime the wood before it is installed. Then plan on painting a new home within five years to ensure a good layer of protective paint, before much damage has occurred.

8. Before paint chips or peels

Don’t wait until paint chips are visible from the street to repaint. Painting your house early minimizes damage to the exterior of the home and also minimizes the need for preparatory work, like scraping flaking paint, caulking seals or replacing wood. Minimizing the need for prep work lowers painting costs.
Most homes need to be painted every seven to 10 years, but the actual timeframe varies by material and region. For example, cement fiberboard siding needs repainting every 10 to 15 years, but more traditional cladding needs painting more often. In areas with intense sunlight, stucco, vinyl or aluminum siding should be painted about every five years. Wood siding may need to be painted every three to seven years. In regions where sunlight is less intense, paint should last four to 10 years on wood and 20 years on vinyl or aluminum siding.
If you’re interested in other home renovation projects, find out what you can do yourself and what you need a contractor for with this helpful guide.