The Basics of Home Inspection

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Prior to buying a property, you’ll want to ensure that you hire a reputable, qualified inspector to examine the home’s overall condition. No house is perfect, but you should know what you’re getting into if you want to avoid unforeseen problems later down the road.

Home inspections can also be helpful for homeowners who wish to proactively examine their existing property, or sellers who want to learn of any problems before listing their property.

Generally, it’s recommended that your inspector be ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) certified. It is a highly respected non-profit organization that promotes excellence in home inspection.

What Do They Inspect?

A typical home inspection covers a handful of basic areas:

  • Exterior. The inspector will examine roofing and flashing materials, decks and chimneys, drainage conditions, etc.
  • Interior. Plumbing, electric, windows, doors, HVAC systems will all be inspected to insure they were installed correctly and are still in working order. This part of the inspection is extremely important because it could raise red flags that weren’t noticed by an untrained eye.
  • Attics and Basements. No part of the home goes unseen. The inspector will look in every accessible crawl space and floor level to examine insulation, ventilation, and ensure that everything is in working order.

Inspectors know that a home might be lived in when they come to look at it. However, it’s in your best interest to ensure that the inspector can easily navigate through the home to give the most accurate report possible.

Should I Be At the Inspection?

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For the rest of this article, please see my full version on my personal blog

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How Crime Rates Affect the Real Estate Market

Many factors affect a potential homeowner’s decision to buy a house, but one of the most important is safety. Neighborhoods with low crime rate are much more attractive than those with a higher tendency for crime.

Crime and the Real Estate Market

Because housing markets fluctuate due to a plethora of different factors, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact role of crime rate in the overall health of a market. However, there is one common thread that was discovered in a 2010 study by researchers at Florida State University. They found that robbery and aggravated assault most highly influenced housing values across different neighborhoods. Another study from the University of Troy found that an area’s home prices fell 0.25% for every 1% increase in violent crime.

Another interesting trend is that sometimes crime rate in one city can affect the real estate prices in another. For example, if City A slashes their police force in half and crime rates rise, neighboring City B may experience a spike in home prices because of people moving to that city. This happened in California back in 2008.

Potential Homeowners

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It’s not uncommon for homeowners to research an area’s crime rate before house hunting in that region. They would rather know in advance than be surprised after they move in. A history of high or rising crime rates may also take these areas off a homeowner’s option list entirely. When this becomes a pattern, it leads to the overall decrease in an area’s property value.

Pittsburgh Crime Rates

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh has one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates across all communities. In the entire state of Pennsylvania, you have a 1 in 316 chance of being a victim of a violent crime. In Pittsburgh, your chances jump to 1 in 126. Pittsburgh residents also have a 1 in 30 chance of becoming the victim of a property crime, such as burglary, theft or motor vehicle theft.

Crime Prevention Methods

When the residents of an area understand how crime affects their property values and other aspects of the community (such as business, school quality, etc.), they’re more invested in finding effective methods for crime prevention. Two common examples are neighborhood watch programs and after school programs to teach good habits from a young age. If you’re concerned about your neighborhood’s safety, get involved with the community to find solutions.

Tips for Building Your Perfect Privacy Fence

If you have a yard but live in close proximity to your neighbors, a privacy fence could give your outdoor space the peace and seclusion you’re looking for. Any chain link fence would keep your pets safe and give them a place to roam free, but a privacy fence adds a level of sophistication. The right privacy fence could give your yard the backdrop for an outdoor sanctuary of your dreams.

Primary Materials

There are numerous options for your privacy fence, but it boils down a handful of options for your primary material. These are wood, vinyl, masonry, composite or vegetation. Each has their own pros and cons based on cost, maintenance and aesthetic appeal.

Wood

Wooden fences are a classic option for privacy fences. They’re generally affordable for most homeowners. The cost varies depending on the quality level of the wood you purchase, but good sealant and proper installation is key regardless of what wood you purchase. Because of the nature of wood, you can paint or stain the wood any shade you choose. For a uniform look and quicker installation, you could purchase wood panels so your fence is partially pre-assembled upon arrival. Or, you could buy your own wood to create your own personalized fence with some design flexibility.

The biggest drawback of a wooden fence is that it requires yearly maintenance. It will need to be re-stained or refinished with sealant that protects from UV rays and water damage. Otherwise, the wood could rot, warp or fall victim to fungus. If you’re buying the wood or panels from a hardware store, you should also sort through to ensure you’re buying the best of the bunch. Look for pieces that are already warped or misshapen and avoid picking them for your project.

One pro tip for the craftier of homeowners: use recycled wood! If you can find pallets, mismatched wood, and other materials at a cheap price, you could use your creativity to turn it into a unique masterpiece. With poor craftsmanship, it could turn into a mess. However, when these fences are done properly, they create an artsy, rustic space that is perfect for some homeowners’ styles. Pinterest has some great inspiration for creative privacy fences.

Vinyl

Vinyl fences are an alternative to the look of standard wood. The fences are usually white, gray or cream-colored, providing a neutral backdrop for your outdoor area. They’re resilient to termite damage, fungus and dry rot. Cleaning is a breeze because they can easily be sprayed off to remove dirt and grime. Installation is also reportedly very easy. The biggest disadvantage is the cost. The initial investment is higher than that of a wooden fence. The material can also become distorted with extreme temperatures or wind.

Vegetation

If you live in an area with the proper climate, a living vegetation fence could be a great option for privacy. A wall of columnar evergreens at the edge of your property adds life to the space while providing a visual barrier to passersby. Tall hedges are another great option. These fences are also usually unrestricted by local bylaws and building codes that limit the height of a fence on residential property. If the upkeep of natural vegetation is too time-consuming for your lifestyle, you might also consider artificial hedge paneling for your fencing needs.

Composite

Composite fences are visually similar to wood fences, but require less maintenance and hold up better over time. The only downside is that they are far more costly.

Bamboo

Bamboo is another great alternative because it is tough, grows quickly and can withstand most temperatures and treatments. For environmentally-friendly homeowners, these fences are a great option. If you frame the bamboo sections with black metal, it adds a sophistication to your yard that is hard to replicate with other materials.

Stone, Brick or Concrete

For homeowners who want a unique design with maximum privacy and security, they may consider a fence made of stone, brick or concrete. Concrete is the cheapest of the three options, but stone and brick fences look more natural in some landscapes. With a high enough fence, it is nearly impossible for intruders or unwanted animal guests to break into your private space. These fences are also extremely durable and require little maintenance.

Additional Considerations

Before you start your fencing project, be sure that you’re confident about your property line. If you build your fence on a neighbor’s property, it could result in a tedious legal battle and ultimately removal of your fence.

If you’re not confident in your ability to build a fence on your own, consult a local contractor or landscaper. They will be familiar with your area’s building codes and have the raw skills needed to get the job done right.

Carefully consider all your options before jumping into the project. With all the fence materials available, you can pick one or combine them to create a unique border for your space. Shop around for the best price and materials. If you’re choosing to outsource the job, consider the reputation of the workers you’re hiring.

A nice privacy fence is a big investment. In some cases, is better to save up for an end result you’ll be happy with instead of rushing for the quickest fix. If you need a barrier while saving for your dream fence, invest in a chain link fence for temporary use. They are cheap and easy to install in comparison to other fence types. They also sell slats for your chain link fence that would give you some additional privacy. This option isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the other options mentioned above, but it is a great choice for homeowners on a budget who want some privacy in their yard.

Best of luck with your new fence! If you have any additional tips, tell me in the comments or connect with me on social media.

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Jason Cohen (Pittsburgh) originally posted this content at JasonCohenPittsburgh.org.

jason cohen pittsburgh - rent or buy

Should You Rent or Buy? Pros and Cons

Owning a home has long stood as a milestone for success. Real estate agents and individuals alike encourage young families and individuals to take on the challenge of finding and buying a home as a way to mark their entry into professional and social maturity. Renting, in contrast, seems like a stopgap housing measure: suitable enough for now, but certainly not a permanent option. But while young adults (i.e., those under 35 years of age) remain the most likely demographic to rent, our homeowner-goal culture has taken a hit over the past decade. According to a Pew Research data analysis conducted in 2017, rental rates among both the under-35 and 35-44 demographics have risen significantly in the course of the last couple years. Currently, more households are led by renters than have been reported since 1965. Renting can’t be considered merely as a stopgap measure for younger households anymore – but should you turn away from home ownership entirely?  Here, Jason Cohen Pittsburgh considers the pros and cons of renting a home.

PROS

Flexibility

Renting can be great for those who can’t or don’t like to be tied down. Students, temporary workers, and those with jobs that require them to move are better-suited to renting because they only need to be in a certain town or city for a short period of time. After their leases end, they can easily pack up and take off for their next opportunity – and leave the landlord to find a new tenant. Renting also provides greater flexibility to those who want to live in neighborhoods outside of their purchase price range.

Simplicity

Renters don’t have to worry about the nagging details of property management. When a problem with the hot water heater or electrical system arises, all they need to do is reach out to the landlord and wait for her to solve the issue at hand. Homeowners, in contrast, need to arrange for trash removal, sewer, water, and insurance costs on their own time and dime.

CONS

Limitations

Don’t like an apartment’s lime-green walls? Want to adopt a dog? You might be out of luck on both fronts. Tenants have limited control over what they can do with the property without the owner’s express permission. Before you sign a lease, make sure to read it thoroughly to understand a landlord’s restrictions. Otherwise, you may find yourself facing a hefty fine – or even an eviction notice.

Instability

A landlord can choose to sell their property at any time they please, leaving their unsuspected tenants in the lurch. Unlike homeowners, renters don’t have the security of knowing that they have a place to live months or even years down the line – or that they’ll continue paying what they are if they choose to stay. Even well-behaved tenants have no guarantee that the housing market won’t demand a rent hike or that their lease will be renewed.

Ultimately, the choice between renting and buying will come down to individual circumstance. Figure out what your situation and budget allows before making a decision!

*Originally posted on JasonCohenPittsburgh.net