If you own a home, chances are this repair and maintenance safety net could come in handy.
First-time homeowners may be in for a shock when their water heater breaks on a cold winter morning, or their dishwasher starts to leak all over the new hardwood floors in the kitchen. The instinctive call to the landlord won’t work this time around. Welcome to the joys of homeownership. So, when this happens, what do you do?
Many homeowners aren’t equipped to perform even small repairs, particularly when they come at inopportune times. For some, a handy family member nearby could do the trick. Or a new home buyer may know a plumber or an electrician — but they likely won’t have a lot of time to get bids and figure out the cause of the problem, much less get it repaired.
What’s the next best thing to a landlord for a new homeowner? A home warranty.
What is a home warranty?
Much like insurance or the extended warranty you buy for your smartphone or flat screen television, a home warranty covers the costs of repairing or replacing almost any malfunctioning system in your home. It typically costs between $300 and $900 a year.
If you had a home warranty, you wouldn’t have to call around to get estimates for repairs when a problem occurs. You wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to get the problem fixed or have equipment replaced, either.
Instead, you would just call your home warranty provider or submit a ticket online. The warranty company would call the appropriate tradespeople with whom it has made arrangements, and send someone to fix the problem, if possible, or replace the malfunctioning appliance with a brand new one. Your home warranty premium will cover the costs — though you’d probably be responsible for a co-pay of about $50 per incident.
Who should buy a home warranty?
Home warranties are particularly great for first-time Gen X/Y and Millennial home buyers who’ve been renters until now. They’re used to calling the landlord whenever there’s a problem, and a home warranty company takes over that role.
These homeowners are often working long hours, and might not have the time or energy to call around to find a plumber or an electrician to get quotes or bids, let alone wait through the noon-to-4 p.m. window for the repair person to show up.
Sometimes, it takes just one costly and unexpected system repair — and the drama associated with it — to realize the savings of a one-year home warranty.
But home warranties aren’t limited to Gen X, Gen Y or other first-time home buyers. Any owners of any age home can purchase a home warranty at any time.
If you had your home inspected, you’ll know the condition and life expectancy of many of your systems. If some systems are on the outs, you will welcome the home warranty. Many appliances and systems start to break down after 15 or 20 years, and you don’t want to deal with multiple systems falling apart at the same time.
Real estate agents often purchase a home warranty for their clients as a closing gift. If not, you can buy one on your own. Be sure to shop around to compare premiums and coverage. The older the home, the more coverage you will want.
Home warranties are also great for investors or “accidental landlords,” who don’t necessarily want to be in the business of fielding repair calls from their tenants. If you’re not an experienced real estate investor and don’t have a network of repair folks, it might be easier to pay for the home warranty. The last thing you want is a tenant without hot water calling you all day long. If you have a home warranty, you can cut right to the chase, keep tenants happy, and minimize stress.
Home warranties can save home buyers a lot of time and money — particularly in the first year of ownership, when they are short on both.
Find a school that makes the grade — all it takes is a little homework.
If you’re a parent, buying or renting a new home isn’t just about where you’ll tuck the kids into bed at night — it’s also about where you’ll send them off to school in the morning.
So, how can you be sure your dream house feeds into your child’s dream school? You’re going to have to do some homework.
1. Go beyond the numbers
Every state’s education department publishes an online “report card” for each district and school. But just as you wouldn’t buy a house based solely on square footage or listing photos, you shouldn’t select a school just for its test scores and teacher-to-student ratios.
Dr. Steve McCammon, chief operating officer at Schlechty Center, a nonprofit that helps school districts improve student engagement and learning, cautions that most reported test scores are for English and math. They don’t provide insight into arts or music programs or how well a school teaches critical thinking skills.
The right school isn’t something you can determine based on any statistics, numbers or even reputation, says Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and writer for the Eduwonk blog.
“Don’t go where the highest test scores are or where everybody else says you should go,” he says. “Different kids want different things. Go to the school that fits your kid.”
Adds Rotherham: “The most important things are what does your kid need and what does the school do to meet those needs. Whether you’re talking public, private or charter, you can find excellence and mediocrity in all of those sectors.”
2. Take a school tour
Just as you’d look around potential homes before signing a contract, you’ll want to do the same with potential schools. Call and arrange to tour the school and observe.
“Be suspicious of any school that isn’t into letting you visit,” says Rotherham. Some schools may say visitors are too disruptive, but he calls that a cop-out. “With some fairly basic norms, you can have parents and other visitors around without disrupting learning.”
Sit in on a class or two and take notes. You want to see students who are genuinely engaged, not wasting time or bored. It’s OK for a classroom to have lots of talk and movement if it’s all directed toward a learning goal.
Schools should be relatively noisy places. McCammon says, “If you go into a middle school, and you hear no noises, I would be concerned that the principal is more interested in keeping order than in making sure kids are learning.”
Observe how teachers and administrators interact with the students and vice versa. Do they display mutual respect? “You don’t need to be an education expert,” says Rotherham.
See if student work is on display. “A good school is a school where, regardless of grade level, student work is everywhere,” McCammon says. “It means that place is about kids and their work.”
Talk to kids, too — they’re the subject matter experts on their school. And if you have friends with kids in schools you’re considering, ask them what they like and don’t like about their schools. Kids won’t try to feed you a line. “They’re pretty unfiltered,” Rotherham says.
Check out the physical space, suggests National PTA President Jim Accomando. However, don’t get caught up on the building’s age and overlook the quality of the programs going on inside.
Look for signs that the school community takes pride in the facility. It might not be pristine, but trash on the floors or signs of rampant vandalism are red flags. If you see something that seems off or odd, ask if there’s a plan to address it.
3. Check out the community
Go to a school board meeting for clues about the district. Are parents there because their children are being honored or their work is being showcased? Or are they there because of a problem? Likewise, attend a PTA or PTO meeting, and chat with the parents there. They are likely the most involved “outsiders” and can share school challenges and successes.
Another consideration: the makeup of the students. Chances are, if you opt for a neighborhood school, you’ll find a certain similarity between your kids and their classmates, because there are probably a lot of similarities between you and your neighbors. But a school that has a diverse student body offers a big benefit.
“We live in a diverse society,” Rotherham says. “If you want to prepare your kids for what their lives are going to be like in this country going forward, it’s important for them to have experience with diverse groups.”
Even if your child’s school isn’t particularly diverse, avenues like sports and music give them a chance to interact with students from different backgrounds.
4. Think long term
Today’s first-grader will be heading to middle school before you know it. Unless you plan on moving relatively soon, be aware of the middle and high schools in your district.
“If you pick a house because you love the elementary school, you’d better be psyched by the middle school and high school,” Rotherham says. “Or have some kind of a plan” for post-elementary years.
Of course, there is such a thing as planning too far ahead. The music prodigy wowing your friends at her third-grade recorder performance may decide she hates band and wants to focus on soccer by the time she hits middle school. Rest assured: If upper-level schools in your prospective district are about kids doing great work, they’ll likely be a good fit.
5. Watch for boundary issues
Pay attention to the boundaries of prospective school districts. The houses across the cul-de-sac could be in a different school service area or even a different school district. And boundaries often change. To be sure, call the school district and give them the specific address you’re interested in.
Don’t assume you can fudge an address or get a waiver to enroll your children in a school or a district that doesn’t match your address. Things that were allowed last year may not be this year. If an individual school or district is at capacity, they will get very picky about enrollment outside of the school assigned to your home, which can lead to heartbreak if you find yourself on the wrong side of that boundary line.
6. Look for a place where you feel welcome
Whatever involvement you put into your child’s school will pay off, says Accomando. “If you can be engaged at school, you will understand the pulse of what’s happening there.”
He also says that doesn’t mean getting sucked into a huge commitment. “You can read in your child’s first-grade class. You can hand out water at a fun run or contribute something for a teacher appreciation party at the high school. And when you do, walk the halls and see what’s happening.”
McCammon says good schools should welcome parents as volunteers and visitors. “Look for evidence of parents feeling comfortable and engaging with the school,” he says. The principal should be someone you feel comfortable talking with if there’s a problem.
No matter how welcoming the school, it’s natural to have some butterflies on the first day in a new school. Just as it takes time for a new house to feel like home, it takes time for kids to settle into a new school.
Once they’ve found their way to the restroom without asking directions, made some friends and gotten to know their teacher, they’ll be comfortable with their new learning home. And your research will have been well worth the effort.
Mind your party petiquette — don't leave your furry friends hanging.
Whether you throw a housewarming party or a backyard barbecue, it’s important to understand that your pets may not share your enthusiasm for entertaining.
Despite the term “party animals,” many dogs and cats don’t like raucous gatherings with strangers invading their space. Some pets get really spooked by unusual activity in the home — even moving furniture around can upset them.
Try these tips for keeping your pets calm, cool and collected come party time.
Prevent great escapes
Party guests often leave front doors and outside gates open and unsupervised, which means that pets can slip out and run away. And by the time you notice their absence, several hours may have passed. This can happen during party setup too — especially if you have caterers or delivery people coming in and out.
Both cats and dogs, even if they are microchipped, should wear a collar with an up-to-date ID tag on it. And before the party, check that your pet is wearing its collar. Often the collar comes off for a bath or a grooming session, so double-check to be safe.
Give pets a private “party”
Many pets will be much happier and safer if you sequester them in a designated room or portion of your house, away from your guests. It’s a good idea to do this during setup too.
Give them their own “party” with lots of distraction toys and treat puzzles in the area where you’ve decided to confine them. Include food and water — and a litter box if you have a cat. Take your dog for a long walk beforehand so it can have a potty break.
Once they’re settled in their playroom, put a note on the door telling guests not to open it because there are pets inside.
Tricks to reduce stress
If your pets are particularly anxious around noise and people, it may be a good idea to use a pheromone plug-in to help them relax.
Pheromones are a substance that mother dogs and cats produce to calm their young. They help alleviate stress-induced behaviors, such as inappropriate marking, chewing and barking. Plug-ins need time to allow the pheromones to circulate in the room, so do this a couple of days in advance. They usually last a month.
Another alternative is to consider a ThunderShirt for your dog or cat. They come in all sizes, not to mention some fun patterns and colors too. They work by the swaddling principle that mothers use to calm babies and small children, and many animal behaviorists recommend them.
“Please DON’T feed me!”
If you’re entertaining on a small scale and don’t need to keep pets contained, make sure they don’t eat any food you may have put out in advance.
It’s OK to politely ask your friends not to feed your pets at the table or outside — even if your four-legged pal begs. Some foods, such as onions and grapes, are toxic to cats and dogs. And it’s not cute to give your pet a glass of beer. It can make them really sick.
When you’re barbecuing, watch those bones and corncobs. They’re choking hazards for pets.
Hazards of post-party cleanup
Don’t let your guard down once your guests leave and you let your pets back out — they might clean up too! Make sure they don’t get into the kitchen when your back is turned and help themselves to leftovers or raid the trash. Or, even worse, get into that box of chocolates a guest brought as a gift.
Speaking of gifts, if you’re planning to entertain, it’s a really good idea to give your pet a new toy. The novelty of something new will keep your dog or cat engaged while you’re with your friends.
Taking proper precautions helps ensure that everyone enjoys the party, including your pets.
Even if you think they’ve already started to freeze.
New homeowners may have heard that winterization is important, but in the hubbub of your first year living in a home you own (finally!), it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare for the cold weather ahead. After all, it’s just not something renters deal with; prepping pipes for winter is often the landlord’s job.
Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.
#1 Turn On Your Faucets
If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.
#2 Open Cabinet Doors
During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.
#3 Wrap Your Pipes
If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.
#4 Pull Out Your Hair dryer
A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.
#5 Shut Off The Water if Pipes Are Frozen
Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)
Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.
A LIST OF ALL THE THINGS YOU SHOULD DO BEFORE MOVING INTO YOUR NEW HOME.
Let's face it: With all the excitement of new digs, it's easy to forget some important tasks. Plus, certain things are best done while the house is still vacant, long before your boxes and furniture are parked in the place. Put these things off, and it becomes all the harder to tackle them later.