A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

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A Little HOPE in Houston while Going Green

This past week the Houston Association Realtors announced its initiative to help Houston’s HOPE program by listing those homes for sale on the MLS. I know many Realtors have been involved with this program, but it is nice to see this renewed commitment by the real estate community in helping to improve our neighborhoods. HOPE focuses on rebuilding neglected neighborhoods while helping families into homes. The program is open to first time and low income home buyers, and there are additional incentives for teachers, fire fighters, and police officers. When you couple the money you could receive through HOPE and the tax credit for home buyers, this turns out to be an extraordinarily fantastic deal. One of my favorite aspects of the program is that it teams up with builders to produce green homes for these families. These are not homes where the builder slaps on the green label to make them attractive to buyers; the homes meet Houston’s Green Building Initiative, which follows the guide lines established for building a green home as laid out in the ANSI 700 and the International Residential code. If you wish to read my thoughts on the program in further detail, you can see what I have written about Houston’s Hope program, which will provide you with more information about taking advantage of it. I have been writing a bit about converting an existing home to include green features. I have seen where my posts on this topic inspired others to take my ideas to discuss on their own. I think that this is great. If you are not buying a home, you should consider how you can add green features; hopefully this past Earth Day may have inspired you. Yesterday, I posted an article that looks at the solar lights that can be used to brighten spots around your home at night. This post has already been read by quite a few people, so you may want to check it out. If you are interested in finding some of those lights, CSN Lighting has a good selection, with great customer service from my experience. Soon I will be buying the solar light that can be turned on and off for my garage. (I was working on taking some solar light panels apart to see if I could make my own, then I found one there, which will serve my needs in the garage and shed). Have a little HOPE in Houston, and go green in your home.

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Announcing My New Blog

Just a quick little post to announce my new blog site : Inspected Thoughts. I wanted a way to make the information on my website more accessible, and the blog format seemed ideal. I decided to include my best posts from various sites in one spot, so I am working on putting all of that together this week.

Following A Trashcan Lady: Creating Savings with your Home Repairs 

You may see this too; I see it every day: cars racing by with sudden bursts of speed. Yesterday I watched two vehicles that I thought were destined to crash before me. Each were gunning down the street, attempting to be first. They both were weaving in front of the other in order to reach the corner which leads to the freeway, so they could go even faster, and the only thing floating around in my brain is how much money in gas did they just spend in gas to race their way to a complete stop. Even with our rising gas prices, our competitive streak wins out.

I bide my time to reach the day care for my daughter, so I can head off to my home inspection for the day. Each trash day, I see the same elderly woman scouring through the receptacles to find a hidden treasure in other people’s trash. I wrote about my ideas for trashcan economics on another site, so I need not further develop this idea. However, I was wondering what she might be seeking. I slowed down to peer into a the shopping cart, where she collects her finds. I was surprised to see some lumber and a window poking out from under a sheet.

As I head home for the day, I spot that a homeowner not far from my home has been remodeling his home, as have I. He has thrown out a great deal of lumber, and my mind thinks of a kid’s fort. I do see a door that could be refinished, and it would look quite nice. Is it so much easier to replace than repair? I always thought that it would be cheaper to repair (and it would prevent good from being tossed into the dump- helping the environment).

I am helping these homeowners prepare their home for sale. I am asked if to find some wood veneer for a contractor to make a window sill look better. I find this veneer to discover that it is over $30 per roll, most of which would be needed for the job. I point out to my clients that a new piece of wood is cheaper. I help them out by taking the old sill off. This is not so difficult. You may have to remove some of the window trim underneath the sill. I used a long flat head screwdriver, since it is thinner than my crowbar. I slipped it into the space under the sill and above the trim, to gently pry the board up. You cannot go all the way up, because other trim pieces will prevent this. You can then begin to pull the board towards you. Eventually it will come out.

I found that the underside of the board was not in such bad shape. I sanded it down, and I stained it. It looked good back in place. I did have to use some woodfiller colored with the stain to make it all look cleaner. I did my good dead for the planet, while saving money too. You may find that you can repair and reuse parts of your home before throwing them out. It just my require a little elbow grease.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Live for Today, So Spend that Rebate Check Today

I was listening to my favorite economist this week, but I had to disagree with him. A favorite economist, you say. Well yes, I may not be able to fathom all of the complexities of the markets, but I have enjoyed the writings of Tim Harford and his commentary on NPR. He has a new book out that I will have to find. I think his work, The Undercover Economist, should be essential reading for the business community or anyone interested in this field.

To save or not to save; oh, that is the question! I have been an advocate for saving on my posts here, but Mr. Harford offers a different view. If you do not have the money, should you save money? No according to this intelligent advisor. He gave this example: saving money when your funds are tight is the setting money aside for your future self. Your future self will be wealthier than your current self anyway, because of improvements in your earnings, so you are setting money aside for when you are going to be wealthier anyway. He likened debt to borrowing money from your future self. This argument speaks to a core belief in many people: I cannot save because I have too many expenses now. Harford’s argument allows you to enjoy this money now.

Why would I disagree with this idea? I imagine in a more in depth format that Harford’s position may be more nuanced, and he may not dismiss my thoughts on the matter. Firstly, there is retirement planning. In the United States, we have been saving far less than needed for our retirement. In the past, with good pension plans, we were going to see a comfortable retirement without having to save on our own. My pension from another job will only offer me $360 per month (if it still is there). Secondly, in this time of uncertainty with your job (will you have one next month, or will you have the income that you need), an emergency fund can be a way to easily handle tough times. Maybe you will not lose your income, but a large expense can put you into financial stress, which frequently leads to a downward spiral in your personal life. I have mentioned having a $5000 savings for home expenses, and financial advisors have suggested having at least three months worth of salary to weather income loss. Studies show that many of us do not have these funds, so I think it is wise to advocate saving toward this goal.

When your money is tight, you need to find ways to cut back on expenses. We generally react to increase prices by cutting back in other areas. Rising food costs lead us to skip going out for a meal. Rising fuel costs cause us to cut down on day trips. We are still spending the same amount of money, but we have changed how we are spending it. I
think that it is in our interest to find ways to reduce our expenses , so we can have those extra funds when needed.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Welcome

Hello,

I hope you will find this blog useful. I will be going over issues with home inspections, new technologies for the home, and comments about the real estate industry in Houston. Thank you for visiting, Frank