Your home: 5 things your first home teaches you

As I write this, I am celebrating ten years of marriage to my wonderful wife and business partners, Leah. More than once this week we have discussed how time has flown by, and how we have changed through the years and, most importantly, what we have learned from the last ten years. While discussing our early married life, our first home in Prairie Village has come up several times.

We loved that house. We put a ton of sweat equity into that home, as do most first time home owners. That house taught us a lot as well. Leah and I like to say that, “Your first home is like your first major relationship. It teaches you what you like and what you want to do differently next time around.”

Here are five things that our first home taught us:

  • 1. Home improvement projects will take twice as long as you thought. And in most cases, they will be more expensive. It is easy to underestimate the time it takes to complete almost any project. Err on the side of caution, and at least estimate 1.5 times what that you originally thought should be set aside for completion.
  • 2. A home requires maintenance at all times. Period. There will never be a time when something in your home does not require attention. Whether it is a repair or simple deferred maintenance like cleaning your gutters or trimming your trees seasonally.
  • 3. You learn where you spend most of your time while at home. For some, a living room or a family room is the most important. Or perhaps a spacious master bedroom. For our family, the most important room is the kitchen. Leah and I cook a lot and our first home taught us that we need a highly functional kitchen. Our current home has an older kitchen, but it is a very efficient space.
  • 4. Location, location, location. Our first home was in PV right across from the Prairie Village pool and the police station. This was a great location for us one Cinco de Mayo when a former neighbor of ours drove his car into our front yard and within 30 seconds there were seven police cars there to assist us. Yet as the years went by, it became increasingly clear to us that we wanted to be within walking distance to our elementary school. I grew up walking to school and I wanted that for my boys. It might surprise you, but many home buyers look for a home either conciously or subconciously like the home or neighborhood in which they were raised. It all comes full circle it seems.
  • 5. It’s not a house, it’s a home. This is why I love my job. We get the opportunity to see our clients move into perhaps their first home, or maybe their second or third. Whichever it may be, we get to hand them the key to start a new chapter in their lives, and it is very personal. And we don’t take this honor for granted. It is a big deal to them and us.

I don’t look back on my first home and think about the windows that we changed out, or all of the hours that Leah and I spend painting every single square inch of the interior of that home (although I still sound a little bitter.) Instead, I think about how proud we were when we closed on our first home. Or how terrrified I was as I drove home from the hospital with our first son, Ben. Or how for some reason I installed about twenty smoke detectors in our home before he was born. I must have been nesting. I often think about our early Christmases in the house with both boys. They were magical to say the least.

We can learn a lot from our first home, and the second and third for that matter. Our home becomes a part of our story through the years and is constantly teaching us something. I am fortunate that I am reminded of this fact as I drive down Mission Road every day of the week and I glance over east of Mission at 77th St and see good ole 7701 Howe Drive. That home was a good teacher for nine years of my life and for that I am grateful.

Your home: I’ve got water in my basement!

water on windshieldWhether it is your first experience with water in your basement or not, the discovery is never fun. No one wants water in their basement. It is a royal pain.

That being said, I am confident that over half of the homes that I have encountered in our area have had water in the basement at some point. I used to know an inspector who would say, “There are two types of basements in Kansas City: those that have had water in them and those that will.” I don’t necessarily believe that to be true, yet the point is not lost on me.

Homes are a moving, shifting, and settling organism. They are constantly keeping you guessing. This is why homes that have never had a problem with water intrusion can all of a sudden have a water issue. Not only is your home in a constant state of change, more importantly the soil around it is as well. Here in lies our biggest regional challenge: expansive soil.

Expansive soil does just what it sounds like it would: it expands when water is added and it contracts when water is removed. The soil around your home can create opportunities for water intrusion, cause your foundation to shift and crack, and yet is completely manageable.

By manageable, I am speaking of the grading of the soil around your foundation. Proper grading should slope the soil around your home away from the home to carry ground water away from your foundation walls. This simple process is a must to maintain a dry basement. You should also monitor the soil right up against your foundation. During extremely dry seasons, the expansive soil in our region will contract and pull away from the foundation walls. You might have seen this around your home a couple of years ago. Essentially this contraction leaves a gap around your foundation. This gap then becomes a funnel during the first big Spring rain. And because water will always seek the path of least resistance, water will fill this gap (or funnel) and then find any little crack in your foundation to gain entrance to your home.

In most cases, homes that have water issues usually have a grading issue, a gutter and downspout issue, or a combination of the two.

Proper gutter cleaning and maintenance is just a way of life here in KC and is probably one of the most neglected projects that I see. Almost every home inspection that I have attended has mentioned either a buildup of leaves and debris in the gutters or that the downspouts dispense water right next to the foundation walls. Either way you are asking for trouble.

When gutters fill up with debris, you can experience the “water fall effect” when your gutters spill over with water creating a lovely waterfall look all around your home. This waterfall is allowing water to fall right next to your foundation walls instead of being carried away from the home as it is intended. Thus facilitating an opportunity for water intrusion.

When it comes to downspouts, most inspectors and drainage companies recommend that your downspouts be extended eight to ten feet away from your home before they dispense. You can also look at burying your downspouts as well and running them underground and away from your home. Usually the solution depends on the slope of your yard.

If you have suffered from a wet basement over the last couple of weeks, I would certainly start with evaluating your grading, gutters and downspouts. There are companies that specialize in drainage who could be good source of information as well.

One last thought: Please be careful when getting bids to water proof your basement. I say this because I have encountered numerous clients who have been sold a dry basement product (which cost thousands of dollars) and yet the cause of the water problem outside of the home was never addressed. I am not a foundation specialist. I have never claimed to be one. However, in my experience, a water problem solution is usually more simple than it appears and the solution should address the cause, not the symptom.

If you would like a referral for a drainage specialist or a foundation company, please feel free to email us. We are here to help.

Photo credit:
Andrew Basterfield on Flickr.com

Your home: 5 preventative maintenance tips for fall

Fall-Leaves

Well it is that time of the year again. And I am pumped. I let our new puppy, Trip, out to go potty this morning and the crisp air was very welcoming. It was also a reminder that it is time for me to do some preventative maintenance on my own home. There have been times in the past when I have waited too late to address some of these items, so please learn from my mistakes. Here are some of suggestions to prepare for the beautiful Fall weather.

1. Service your HVAC. To ensure that your heating and cooling system has a long life, you should service both the heating and cooling annually. Most major HVAC companies offer a package deal where you schedule both cleanings in advance. I would strongly suggest this method. If you have older mechanicals, it is also imperative that a licensed professional keep you abreast of the overall health of your system. Old furnace heat exchangers can develop cracks in them which will in turn release carbon monoxide into your home. For this reason, a carbon monoxide detector is never a bad idea.

2. Clean your gutters. Several years ago, I was out on a step ladder in a sleet/freezing rain storm dumping hot water onto my gutters to melt the ice that had formed around huge clumps of leaves. I do believe that I received an “I told you so” for that one from Leah. Because most water infiltration in a homes basement is caused by poorly maintained gutters and downspouts, it is imperative to keep them clean throughout the Fall. Clean gutters can also help to prevent ice dams during our snowy months. We typically refer Noonshine Windows and Doors for gutter cleaning. I like to schedule them every 30 days for gutter cleaning starting in September.

3. Check your sump pump. If you have a sump pump, double check the battery back up (if applicable) and double check the floater valve to ensure that it will operate when we receive heavy fall rains. After a really dry summer, sump pumps can fail do to inactivity. And the soil around your home may have pulled away a little due to the dry weather as well allowing water to get right next to the foundation walls.

4. Schedule your sprinkler system winterization. Pretty self explanatory here. You really don’t want any of your sprinkler system to freeze up in the winter. Most companies get really booked up for this service, so schedule it way ahead of time.

5. Trim your trees. If you have mature trees in your yard, it is a best practice to have them trimmed every year. Some homeowners due it less often due to cost, however, it only takes on big fallen limb to hit your home to teach you that being proactive with your trees is the way to go. Make sure whoever you hire has an arborist on staff to ensure that your trees will be trimmed back properly. Again, learn from my mistakes. At my first house, the previous owners had all the trees trimmed back and because they hired someone on the cheap, all of our trees died and we had to have them all cut down. A heart breaker for sure. It is worth investing the money in a reputable company. Trust me.
If you have any other questions about home maintenance, feel free to reach out to our team via email. We are here to help.​

Photo credit: http://www.pvpost.com

Your home: Ice dams be damned!

Ice_DamesPlease read this column if you still have snow on your roof. It could save you a lot of money.

I really do love winter. I moved to Kansas from Arkansas in 1998 and immediately fell in love with the fact that we have four distinct seasons. It is really spectacular. And now that I have two boys, Ben (6) and Harry (3), I love the snow even more. Just last week we were over at Westwood Park at 47th and State Line Road sledding like we thought we were at the Winter Olympics. What a great day that was!

However, as a Realtor the snow has a dark side. I don’t mean to sound so ominous, but it really does. Snow can appear to be so picturesque, especially when it is coupled with a trimming of icicles.

Homeowners beware! This is where the trouble starts. I am talking about ice dams. We have seen them in years past and as the snow continues to melt and re-freeze on our roofs, the potential is there. And although icicles are beautiful, they are the tell tale sign of an ice dam.

Ice dams are formed when heat escapes from your home and into your attic. As the attic warms, the snow on your roof begins to melt. The water from the melted snow then travels down your roof to the eaves. The eaves are typically a cold spot; therefore, the water refreezes causing an ice dam. The melted snow behind the ice dam then accumulates and begins to find its way under your roof shingles causing potential rotting of the decking and eventually leaks into your attic. Most homeowners don’t know of an ice dam until the water has caused staining on the ceiling of a room inside the home and at that point you may have a big problem.

So what is the quick fix? Let’s start with what NOT to do. Don’t go outside and whack away at all of the icicles. Although this could be a great way to relieve stress, it could also cause damage to your gutters and your roof. Additionally, if you have never been dive bombed by a falling icicle (unfortunately I have) you don’t want this year to be your first.

The best solution for an ice dam is to purchase a snow rake. It is specifically designed for removing the excess snow from your roof while you remain safely on the ground. Also, if you do have a slight leak under your roof, one tip I read was to place a box fan under the leak with hopes to circulate colder air from the eaves and refreeze the leak. Of course, this solution is just temporary.

If you do develop a problem with an ice dam and need to contact a professional, our clients have been thrilled with the service and professionalism that Ryan Horstmann with Christian Brothers Roofing has provided. Here is a link to their website.

Personally, I will be excited to watch the snow melt this weekend. Come on spring!

Your home: Home maintenance ‘must dos’ as winter approaches

I cannot tell you how excited I am that fall is here! This is my time of year.  As a Realtor, you might think I would prefer the spring or summer when the market is really cranking. Please don’t get me wrong: I like it then, too. I am just a holiday guy at heart.  From Halloween, right on through to Thanksgiving and Christmas (and Hanukah and Kwanza).

But let’s not get too caught up in the holidays yet. As we prepare for family to visit and great memories to be made, let us also prepare our home for the changing of the seasons. So much of the repairs that I negotiate when a home sells are preventable. A little deferred maintenance goes a long way.

Before the temperatures plummet, contact a licensed HVAC company to clean and service your furnace and humidifier/humidistat. Not only will they insure that it is operating properly, they should also check to make sure that is sealed properly and not leaking any carbon dioxide into your home. CO2 can cause illness or, God forbid, death — so please service your furnace annually. Most companies will offer a package deal if you sign up for and A/C and furnace plan, FYI. Home buyers will almost always request that corroded furnaces be cleaned and repaired when called out on a property inspection.

Clogged gutters are almost always the culprit when water intrusion takes place in a home’s basement. When gutters or downspouts are clogged, the water just over flows and falls right next to the foundation wall. If proper grading or sloping of the ground cover around the home does not exist, typically the water will find its way into the home.

Gutter cleaning can be a messy job yet is much easier than cleaning water out of your basement. It only takes a few hours, a ladder and a hose — or you can hire it out. Whatever your strategy, please do not avoid this very necessary job. I speak from experience. One winter, while living in my first home, it started raining and then quickly transitioned to sleet and freezing rain. Little did I know (because I didn’t inspect them every other week like I should) that my gutters were packed with leaves. As my wife Leah and I were sitting by the fire, we started to hear water splashing on our front porch.  I looked out the window and saw water pouring over my gutters. Long story short, I stood on a ladder in the rain pouring bucket’s full of hot water into my gutters for about an hour until I got them thawed enough to pull out the leaves. Lesson learned the hard way.

I mentioned a fire earlier which brings me to my final suggestion. Regularly scheduled chimney cleanings and inspections. How often you ask? It depends on how you use your fireplace and how often. If you are a die-hard wood fire burner, you should have your chimney cleaned every year for sure and probably inspected by a licensed chimney sweep. If you live in an older home and have not had your chimney lined with a metal liner yet, you should certainly have your chimney inspected. Most of the older homes were built with a brick chimney containing an internal clay tile flue. Over the years, due to moisture, settling, and usage, these clay tiles develop gaps in between the tiles where the mortar has deteriorated. These gaps allow for gases to escape back into the home or for creosote and soot to build up which can cause a flue fire. Even if you only burn gas logs, the gases that I mentioned earlier can cause problems if allowed to re-enter your home through voids in the tiles. Kind of like forest fires, “Only you can prevent flue fires.”

We have partnered with some great service providers who are offering a discount to our clients for some of these preventative services — check out the video below for more:

NP Heating & Cooling
913-963-7194
Offering $79.95 Furnace Clean and Tune-up

Shain Carpet Cleaning
816-589-3197
Offering 10% off Carpet Cleaning

Beerman Lawn & Landspace
816-305-9651
Offering 10% off Leaf Clean-Up AND
1/2 off your first mow when you sign up for 4 consecutive mow services

Noonshine Windows
816-363-6661
Offering $99.00 for 200 lineal feet of gutter cleaning