What Do I Need to Know About Mold

What Do I Need to Know About Mold?

There are few things that homeowners dread more than mold in the house. You’ve likely heard horror stories about people living with mold infestations that made them seriously ill. Is this just hype, or is there a real danger to having mold in your home? More importantly, what can you do if you find mold growing somewhere in the house?

What Is Mold?

Mold is a broad group of fungi, with thousands of species and subspecies around the world that typically prefer dark and damp habitats. Often fuzzy in appearance (though occasionally slimy or cottony), molds spread across materials and break them down to get the nutrients the mold needs to survive and thrive. Instead of seeds, molds release single-celled spores that in many cases are too small to see with the naked eye; these spores float through the air to land on a variety of surfaces, beginning growth once they find themselves in a suitable habitat. Though molds are made up of a number of individual stalks fibers, a connected clump of mold is considered to be a single living entity.

Types of Mold

There are several common types of mold that you might see around the house. While some of these may not be inherently dangerous, any mold can trigger reactions in anyone with an allergy or sensitivity. The five most common of these molds are:

  • Aspergillus: One of the most common indoor molds, it often appears green, blue-green or gray but can also appear white or even yellow.
  • Cladosporium: A black or green mold that has an appearance like ground pepper, it commonly grows on smooth surfaces like toilets and painted walls but can also grow in fabrics and rugs.
  • Ulocladium: A black mold that grows in wet areas, especially in cracks and corners; it is most common in homes with water damage and active leaks.
  • Aureobasidium: Varying in color from pink to brown or black, this mold most commonly grows behind wallpaper, on painted surfaces and on wood.
  • Stachybortrys: The infamous “black mold”, it features a slimy dark green or black color and thrives in areas that are damp and maintain high humidity for weeks.

Is Mold Actually Dangerous?

While many molds are allergens, most will not cause severe reactions unless you have a mold sensitivity or have other health problems that make you more prone to infection. However, some molds (such as black mold) actually are toxic and can make you very sick if you’re around them for too long. Symptoms of a mold allergy or toxic mold exposure can include a chronic cough, skin rashes, fatigue, difficulty focusing and even pain or infection in your sinuses, eyes and ears.

Mold Testing and Removal

If you suspect that you have mold problems, there are home tests available to help you identify the type of mold in your home. These should only be a first step, however, as they often aren’t enough to definitively show you the scope of your mold problem. Call in an expert to confirm the results of your test or take a scraping of the mold and have it analyzed. Be sure to wear a dust mask or other breathing protection if you aren’t sure what type of mold you’re dealing with until the problem is taken care of.

For many mold infestations, getting rid of leaks or other sources of humidity is a great way to slow or even stop mold growth. Mold can cause serious damage over time, however, so you may need professional mold removal and repair services if you can’t get the problem under control early.

Posted on July 11, 2019 at 8:53 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |


An evacuation plan is a necessity for every home, especially if you live in an area where fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, and other disasters are a possibility. Many homeowners create evacuation plans for their homes and practice them with their kids, but far fewer have considered one for their pets. Take these steps to add your pets to your evacuation plan.

Assign pet evacuation to an adult. Everyone should know how to act during an evacuation, and that includes assigning one parent or adult to the pets. This allows the other parent and the children to focus on their part of the evacuation plan, so there’s no confusion during a high-stress moment when time is of the essence.

Keep evacuation maps and pet carriers readily accessible. If you need to evacuate, you should know exactly where every important item is. If you pets require carriers, keep them in a place that you can access easily.

Practice your plan. Include your pets in your home evacuation drills. It’ll help you see how they will respond and make changes to your plan if necessary. Getting your dog out of a window may not be as simple as you think!

Be prepared in case you get separated from your pets. No matter how much you drill your evacuation plan, it’s possible that a dog or cat will run off while you’re focusing on keeping your family safe. A microchip or a GPS-compatible tag can help you find your pets once it’s safe to return to the area.

Posted on July 8, 2019 at 3:06 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

What Do You Know About Airflow? Choosing Air Filters 101

What Do You Know About Airflow? Choosing Air Filters 101

Air filtration is an important part of your home’s ventilation system. Without an air filter in place, dust and other airborne particles would be distributed throughout your ductwork. This could aggravate allergies, build up on your vents to reduce airflow and possibly even create bigger problems over time.

This doesn’t mean that you can just grab any air filter and slap it in place, of course. Choosing the right air filter for your home is important if you want to get the most life out of your heating and cooling system. Stop for a moment and think about your HVAC system; do you really know what sort of air filter you need to keep things running in top condition? If you don’t, here’s what you need to know.

Where Is My Air Filter?

The first thing that you need to know about your air filter is exactly where in your house it’s located. This may seem kind of obvious, but some air filters are difficult to find. While the most common air filter location is behind a grate on one of the walls, some of these grates are in odd locations or are designed to somewhat blend in with the look of the surrounding wall. Filters may also be placed in the air handler unit (AHU) or rooftop unit (RTU). Buildings with split ventilation systems may even have multiple intakes that each have their own air filter. Depending on how your system is designed, it may take a bit of hunting to locate your filter.

Choosing an Air Filter

Once you’ve located your filter, it’s important that you choose the right one for your needs. Part of this involves finding the right size filter; different HVAC units are designed for different filters, and if you get one that doesn’t fit then you’re going to have trouble getting it (or keeping it) in place. Measure the dimensions of the area where the filter is mounted or look at the old filter and find the dimensions listed on it. Choosing an air filter is about more than just finding the right size, however; one other big consideration is the MERV rating (which stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.)

The MERV is a number that tells how good of a filter you’re buying. A low MERV of around 6 provides you with 35 to 50 percent efficiency at capturing large particles like dust, mold and pet dander. A MERV of 8 increases this to over 70 percent efficiency, capturing those particles as well as slightly smaller particles like pollen and dust mites. A MERV of 11 captures large particles with a greater than 85 percent efficiency, as well as medium particles like those found in auto exhaust with 65 to 80 percent efficiency. You can even go higher than that, with a MERV of 13 capturing large and medium particles with over 90 percent efficiency and small particles like smoke, bacteria and even odors with up to 75 percent efficiency.

There are other options available as well, such as HEPA filters (which you might hear referred to as high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters or high-efficiency particular air filters) that have an even higher standard of particle removal. HEPA filters must remove either 99.95 percent (in Europe) or 99.97 percent (in the United States) of all particles of size “small” or larger. Depending on the filter, this translates to a MERV value of around 17 to 20.

Air Filter Maintenance

There’s more to keeping your system running well than just installing a filter, of course. Most air filters should be changed monthly, though some may have different recommended use periods that should be listed on the packaging. Periodic cleaning of grates and vents may also be required to keep the filters clean and the system running efficiently. Failing to change your filters can reduce airflow and system efficiency, and over time, it can even reduce the life of your unit.

Posted on June 26, 2019 at 10:26 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

5 Ways to Make Gardening Easier

5 Ways to Make Gardening Easier

If the idea of getting up early on Saturday morning to commune with your landscape is an idea that you cherish, but don’t dare pursue because of the high level of maintenance required, you may be surprised to find out that a perfect garden doesn’t always require backbreaking labor or gallons of water to keep it alive. In fact, there are lots of ways to make gardening easier and increase the time you have to spend glancing at your pert little petunias.

Gardening Doesn’t Have to Be Hard to Be Rewarding

Keeping a garden used to be a massive labor of love, with a huge emphasis on the labor part. But people have been keeping some kind of plant life semi-domesticated since the dawn of human evolution. And, since the dawn of evolution, we’ve been trying to make the process easier and more productive. Whether you’re growing fountain grass or exotic herbs, there’s something on this list that’ll improve your gardening experience:

Sprinklers. The old standby for greener lawns everywhere, sprinklers can be used in other situations, too. For example, if it’s a nice sunny day and the risk of water standing on leaves is small, use one to water your vegetable garden plot. You can also help young trees and shrubs get a good start by sprinkling them gently every warm, dry day.

Drip irrigation. Sprinklers are great for big areas, but what do you do when you just want to water a few specific plants? Drip irrigation is the answer you seek. You can use these systems with basic timers or upgrade to a much more sophisticated system that will let you slowly drip water at the base of plants that don’t like water on their leaves or otherwise need individual care.

Native plants. There’s no such thing as a plant that needs zero attention, but native plants come pretty close. Instead of having to fret over special care for plants that are delicate in your area, choose the ones that have spent generations evolving there. For prairie dwellers, native grasses are a great start; those in the desert can do some pretty incredible things with barrel cactus and dramatic succulents. Visit your local nursery or ask your landscaper what plants are native to your area.

Containers. From pots on the patio railing to gutters loaded down with strawberries, containers make gardening so much easier. You can start with the perfect soil mix, ensuring that drainage isn’t a problem, then add a little fertilizer and your favorite plants. Now you just have to water and watch those babies grow.

Vertical gardens. Plants in and on the ground tend to end up in a mess — especially if those plants are vines! Vertical gardening isn’t limited to these twining climbers, you can also hang levels of containers, allowing you lots of extra space for growing things. Like with any containers, you are totally in control of the environment, but vertical gardening minimizes bending and kneeling. Win-win.


Posted on June 3, 2019 at 9:35 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

Raising the Roof

Raising the Roof: Can You Lay New Shingles Over Old?

A house is more than just four walls and a roof. However, when your roof springs a leak, shingles start to blow away or age has just gotten the best of it, all you’re thinking about is that darn roof. You may ask yourself a few very serious questions, like “how am I going to pay for this?” and “what are my least expensive options?”

Pros and Cons of Re-roofing Your Home

First, a few terms to clarify any confusion. “Re-roofing” is a term that specifically applies to homes that have one or more layers of existing shingles and then have another one added to the pile. A roofing job that starts by removing all the old shingles is a “tear off.”

Homes are re-roofed every single day. There are plenty out there with several layers of shingles and the roof still functions more or less just fine. The houses underneath aren’t buckling, so it’s all good, right? Depends on the situation. This is a short list of pros and cons for choosing a re-roofing job:

  • Pro: Easier than a tear off. Re-roofing literally consists of climbing on the roof and putting new shingles on top of whatever is there. Instead of the ripping, tearing and banging lasting days, a re-roof is done in a fraction of the time because it’s so much less complicated.
  • Con: Re-roofing can cover up major roofing defects. Tear offs are more involved, it’s true, but by removing all the old shingles, your roofer can more easily locate defects and replace decking that’s been water damaged. This is also a good time to correct problems like incorrectly installed drip edge and to flash chimneys, exhaust vents and other vulnerable areas.
  • Pro: You can save a lot of money. Less labor generally means less cost, and it certainly applies to a re-roofing job. You won’t need to pay for removal and disposal of your old shingles because they’re not going anywhere and the lower number of man hours keeps cost way down.
  • Con: Your new shingles will likely not last as long as promised. Although some people claim that your roof will be just fine with an extra layer, the truth is that the only time that really applies is when the shingles below are perfectly flat, and even then they will likely have a shorter lifespan than shingles that are part of a tear off job. The extra layers of asphalt (that stuff they fill potholes with is also what the majority of shingles are made of) cause the roof to get hotter than it would with just one layer, breaking down both old and new shingles faster. Some roofers assert that layered shingles have life spans shortened by as much as 40 percent.

Subtle Issues to Complicate Things

When you need shingles for your roof, it’s best to get several quotes from different roofers. They’re going to give you the best idea about what is possible with the budget that you have. Because you can often lay other roof types over an intact asphalt shingle layer (for example, a metal roof over an asphalt one) without issue, it could be cheaper to go that route and avoid a tear-off entirely. But, this is only something your expert can tell you for sure.

Other things to consider when pondering the re-roofing issue include:

  • Resale potential. A house that has a lumpy roof is going to catch a lot of attention, even if that lumpy roof is brand new. It’s also going to show up on the inspection report, causing jittery buyers to run the other way. You might then be forced to settle for less for your home to simply be able to move on.
  • Local building codes. Many municipalities have building and fire codes that address shingles and the layers allowed. Generally two are permitted before a tear off is required. This isn’t because your local government is evil, it’s a safety issue for you and your home. Houses aren’t really built to support thousands upon thousands of pounds of shingles. Oh, and extra shingle layers can pose a serious hazard should a fire break out.
  • Glossing over serious damage. Re-roofing can sometimes turn into a bandage on an infected wound. There’s damage under the surface, but you can’t tell from all indicators. Even when roofers walk the roof looking for soft spots, they’re not stepping on each square inch, nor are they going to be able to tell that an area that still has some amount of integrity is badly damaged and will rot through in the near future. What you end up doing is covering up decking that could be bad or tar paper that’s shot (it helps protect your roof decking from water).

Posted on May 20, 2019 at 11:24 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

Water Filters and You!

Water Filters And You!

There’s something you should know about your water: it’s not as clean as you might think.

In fact, depending on where it comes from, you could be having that skinny half-caf latte with extra primordial soup. Lots of little living things are in your drinking water right now, right in this moment. There are also plenty of minerals and more complicated compounds floating around in it, maybe even agricultural waste, if you get the drift.

It’s a pretty unpleasant picture, there’s no doubt about it. But without water, we mere mortals won’t last long. Just how do you keep from drinking a slurry that would potentially give you superpowers if you were in a comic book?

Water Filters for the Masses

Anyone who has a well should understand the need for regular testing and heavy filtration to protect their families from the things that can concentrate in the water supply, but most people who are on municipal water don’t give it a second thought. And why should they? Water goes to a treatment plant and it comes back as pure and glistening as new fallen snow.

Except that’s not really true. There are always contaminates that can’t be filtered out, no matter how hard you try. The technology is getting better all the time, but until it’s perfect, you may want to take some of the work of cleaning your drinking water into your own hands.

What Can a Water Filter Do?

There are plenty of water filters on the market today, mostly because many can only cover a portion of the contamination spectrum. It’s a lot to ask of one filter, though. The way you capture protozoa and eliminate them is completely different from how you’d get rid of excess calcium.

Unfortunately, this isn’t made very clear by those filter manufacturers. What ends up happening in many cases is that homeowners buy a single filter and are disappointed that their water is still kind of dirty.

For most whole-home filtration systems, using more than one type of filter will get you the best results possible. You will not get water that is perfectly free of anything but a couple of Hs and an O, but it will be much better overall.

Types of Filters

As mentioned above, there are several types of filters out there, most of which only cover a limited range of impurities. Some remove biological contamination from your water, but will not remove chemicals. These include:

  • Ceramic
  • Mechanical
  • Ozone
  • Ultraviolet

Others are really good at getting the chemicals, but don’t do much for things like cysts and bacteria. A few popular filters and techniques on that list are:

  • Activated Carbon
  • Deionization
  • Distillation
  • Ion exchange

Then, you have reverse osmosis.

Reverse Osmosis for Household Water Filtration

This particular filter technology as it’s regularly deployed to homeowners is a multipart system that not only includes a semipermeable membrane that prevents water contaminants like arsenic, hexavalent chromium, nitrates and perchlorate from entering your faucets, a carbon filter comes along with most standard systems to catch chlorine and other materials.

Part of what makes a reverse osmosis system so effective at cleaning your water are the multiple filtration stages. Of course water’s going to be cleaner with several polishes rather than the single pass your Brita pitcher gets.

The typical reverse osmosis filtration system uses pre-filtration to eliminate sand, dirt, silt and other sediments, carbon filters to remove chlorine and organic compounds, as well as the reverse osmosis membrane. By installing a reverse osmosis system, you are really installing multiple water filters that work together to create very clean water.

The Flip Side of Reverse Osmosis

Mostly, reverse osmosis systems are really pretty amazing. They do a lot of work without complaining much and need minimal maintenance if they’re installed properly. However, nothing in this world is perfect and the reverse osmosis filtration systems do have a few drawbacks to consider:

  • Not all systems are the same. Just because many reverse osmosis systems include multiple pre-filters, it should not be assumed that the one you’re looking at on Amazon does. The quality of reverse osmosis systems varies dramatically, make sure you read the reviews and invest in a good system that will last.
  • You need decent water pressure. Because the water has to be forced through what is essentially a super fine mesh, you need decent water pressure for a reverse osmosis system to work. If you’ve had water pressure issues in the shower, it’s a good bet you need a plumber out to take a look before you spend the money on a reverse osmosis filtration system.
  • They use a lot of water. Many homeowners are surprised to see how much waste water their reverse osmosis system produces. How much discharge water is collected will vary based on local water conditions and the number and types of filters you use, but you can expect something like three to five gallons of discharge water per gallon of reverse osmosis purified water. The waste water, however, is totally useable for anything you’d use the purified water for, aside from consumption by humans or animals. Hook it up to your gray water discharge system and water your trees with it — it’s not wasted anymore!

Posted on April 25, 2019 at 8:51 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

What Can Smart Switches and Light Plugs Do For Your Home?

What Can Smart Switches and Light Plugs Do For Your Home?

“Siri, how much water did I drink today?”“Alexa, what’s on TV tonight?”

“Google, turn off the lights!”

You know the drill. We’re all starting to talk to ourselves under the guise of speaking to our smart speakers and voice assistants. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, but it’s a future no one could have conceived even a decade ago. Smart speakers were cool for creating grocery lists, but that’s just a fraction of what they’re capable of now.

Your computer friends can control your lights and outlets from anywhere now. How cool is that?

The Power of Smart Switches and Plugs

Smart switches and plugs are among the most underrated components of a smart home. In fact, they’re a cheap way to get into the smart home world if your home wasn’t built with this type of equipment in mind.

They’re simple to install and essentially disappear after a few days. After all, they’re just boring plugs and switches, right?

Well… that’s one way to look at it. But, then again, how long do you go in a day without interacting with an outlet or a switch? Are you using either right now?

Behold the Handy, Hidden Household Helpers

If you really think about it, you use outlets and switches all the time for a wide range of reasons. Smart switches and smart plugs are no different, they’re a frequent touch item in your home. But they’re so much more than power regulators. Smart switches and plugs can do things for your household like:

  • Making mornings tolerable. Most people have heard of the coffee pot that’s powered using a smart outlet. You fill it up at night, then your programmed smart outlet switches on in the morning and starts the coffee cycle. It’s a popular trope, but it’s also a real thing… so you have that to look forward to.
  • Proving peace of mind. Whether you’re across town or across the state, it’s not a great idea to advertise that you’re not home at night. Your smart switches and plugs can be programmed to flip on and off at different times to make it appear that you’re just hanging around the house.
  • Conserving resources. Believe it or not, a lot of homeowners find that they save a lot of energy with smart plugs. The better units have use reporting built in, all you have to do is check your app to see which ones are using up the most juice. Create a schedule for those plugs, then check your usage again in a few months. Adjust the whole thing as necessary.
  • Creating a safer indoor environment. Are you the kind of person who doesn’t like to walk into a dark house, even when it’s yours? Then smart switches and outlets should definitely be on your shopping list. You can turn all the lights in the house on when you pull into your subdivision or driveway, making it clear that you’re home, in case any ghouls (or burglars) happen to be lurking.
  • Assisting people with handicaps. You may not need the help now, but even a debilitating sports injury can be enough to make you want to scream when you forget to turn a light on or off and are already across the room. For people who are permanently disabled, that’s an every day event. Today with the help of Siri, Alexa and Google Home Assistant, all anyone needs to do is shout, “Siri, turn off the kitchen lights!” and it’s a done deal.

Those little almost-invisible switches and outlets are pretty busy, looks like. They’re also an inexpensive way to jumpstart your smart home transformation. For example, if you wanted a way to turn your bedroom’s ceiling fan light off at night, you would save a bundle to install a smart switch versus using smart light bulbs and the switch won’t burn out any time soon, so bonus!

Posted on April 22, 2019 at 11:17 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

Saying Goodbye to Your Family Home

Saying Goodbye to Your Family Home

It’s easy to tell yourself that your house is just a building made of walls and ceilings and light fixtures and flooring, but when it comes time to sell, you may start to feel the sting of grief.

After all, you don’t know if the new owners will take care of the rows and rows of brilliant iris that line the fence in the spring or if they’ll cut down the crepe myrtle because they don’t realize it waits for the first kiss of summer heat to spring back to life.

Will they paint your son’s former bedroom and cover up the mural he spent so much time creating? Will they take out the built-in desk and bookcases you made for your daughter?

Maybe saying goodbye isn’t the easy process you thought it would be.

Selling Your Family Home is a Type of Loss

When you’re selling your family home, it’s not just a building that you’re saying goodbye to. It’s all the memories you made there, the familiariarity and, maybe most importantly, the security of that one place you could always fall back to if life started kicking you too hard. This goes for the house that you raised your kids in as well as the house where you were raised — both are genuine losses.

“You’re dismantling something that was once precious, and you have to go through grief and mourning when this happens.” psychologist Dr. Arthur Kovacs explained in an interview with the Chicago Times.

Of course, that’s only part of the story. Another element that makes it so hard to quit a family home is the link between memory and physical space. When your memories are tangled in with your home, it can be hard to let go.

“We have memories and associations that are connected to all of those things that make houses so heavily connected to ourselves,” Duke University’s department of psychology and neuroscience chair, Dr. Scott Huettel, goes on to explain the phenomenon to the New York Times.

Easing Into Selling Your Family Home

Much of the time when you’re looking to sell a family home, it’s due to a big change in life. Maybe your kids have all left home and you’re planning to downsize or maybe your parents have died and you’re having to liquidate their estate. No matter the reason, it’s one of the hardest things you can do, even if you think you’re totally prepared.

How do you get ready for such a big sacrifice? It’s all about your mindset. Start to detach from the house by taking down and packing anything that’s personal. This includes photos, crafted decorations, paintings and so forth. As you take these things off the walls, the space starts to become more generic, less personal and it gets easier to consider selling the house.

If you’re still feeling the pain at this point, work on other parts of the house. Remember that crack in the wall from four years ago when the game controller flew from your daughter’s hand and hit the drywall at full force? Patch that up. Your buyer probably won’t even notice it, but you will. Sterilize your home until you can bear to sign the papers

When the Offer Comes Through

The day will come that you get an offer. Resist the urge to flat out reject it, no matter the price. This is where the rubber meets the road — it’s now grossly apparent that you’re selling the house you poured so much of yourself into rather than just thinking about it.

It’s time for a wake.

Maybe you’d be better to call it a “remembrance party” or something a little cheerier, but the whole point is to say goodbye in a big way so you can get the closure you need. Some people go room by room to have one last good walk down memory lane, others celebrate by doing something they hadn’t gotten around to doing, like hosting a luau.

Your goodbye will be best if you do it in a way that’s meaningful to you and your family. There aren’t really any shortcuts when it comes to grief, unfortunately. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s not “just a house.” That’s the building that sheltered and protected you year after year. That’s the stuff that attachment is made of.

Posted on April 9, 2019 at 4:45 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

Appealing Your Property Taxes, a Primer

Appealing Your Property Taxes, a Primer

Spring is here and that means it’s time to… well, it’s time to appeal your property taxes. Not everyone needs to do this, obviously, but there are plenty of people who should. Do you feel like your most recent tax assessment was pretty high? Alternatively, is your tax record (you can usually find these online through your county assessor’s office) stuffed with wrong information that could be affecting your tax bill?We’ll help you get it figured out. Welcome to your introduction to appealing your property taxes.

Is it Worth the Effort to Appeal My Taxes?

Everyone has their own idea as to what their labor is worth, so jumping through all the hoops to appeal your property tax is a decision that only you can make. But if you live in a high tax state like New Jersey, Illinois or Texas, the new tax laws may be really hurting you with deductible property tax now capped at just $10,000.

The process can be very time consuming, so a few hundred dollars might not be worth the fight, but a few thousand almost certainly are. You should ask a similar question before you hire a lawyer to handle a tax battle for you — will it be worth it in the end?

If you’re certain that you’re ready to dig in for a fight, then read on so we can help you lay the groundwork.

Challenging Small, But Significant Errors

One of the most common reasons that homes are improperly taxed is because their tax record is incorrect in some way. Common problems stem from the house being listed with more square footage, more bedrooms or more land than is actually there.

Older homes, especially, suffer from these problems because so many people have had their hands on these records over the years. Every time the government caught up to the latest tech, someone had to transfer all that information over again by hand. That makes it too easy to swap a three for a two, or transpose 2300 square feet into 3200 square feet.

To successfully fight your property taxes, no matter how you choose to do it, you’ll need to know what the tax assessor thinks about your place. If the assessor’s office believes you have an additional 900 square feet or an acre that you definitely don’t have, you should have very little trouble appealing your taxes.

Mind the Window, It’s Not Open Long

A really important item to keep in mind when you’re exploring this tax appeal is that the window for said effort isn’t open for very long. You can’t just appeal on a whim, so have everything ready as soon as you can or resolve to try next year. You’ll have to contact your county assessor’s office to find out just when the appeals window is because they can vary pretty wildly.

Just taking a quick stroll around the Internet reveals a huge range of deadlines to file those appeals, here are a few examples:

Make sure you make real contact with your tax assessor because they can keep you informed about any and all changes to the way they’re handling taxes this year, as well as the deadlines that you have to abide by to stand a shot at reducing your tax bill.

Exemptions to Keep in Mind

Certain people, through service or simple longevity, have earned the right to reduced property taxes. That doesn’t mean they’ll get them right out of the gate, though — sometimes you still have to take it to the tax man.

Here are a few ways that you may get a break in your county:

  • Homesteading. In many states, simply living in your own home is reason enough for an exemption. You may find that only part of your property’s value is taxed under a homesteading exemption, but check the rules carefully because some areas only allow this exemption if you meet specific criteria related to age and income.
  • Seniors and Disabled People. Many high tax areas have rules in place to help protect the property of people who are older or have become disabled. If either of these statuses apply to you, call your tax assessor’s office and ask for details. Typically you have to income qualify.
  • Military Vets. Vets who have served during wartime will often qualify for property tax exemptions, provided they were honorably discharged. Different states may tack on additional requirements, but many go the other way and will allow any military vet to receive the property tax exemption.
  • Remodeling. Plenty of areas are willing to let you work your way to a tax exemption. For example, you might fix up a property that’s at least 25 years old and has fallen into disrepair. In Bismarck, North Dakota, you can get a five year exemption from paying on the value you added to the property just by bringing it back to life.
  • Green Housing. Some states are greener than others, but the really green ones will happily exclude the value of your green improvements from your tax assessment. It makes it easier to go green when you know you don’t have to worry about paying taxes on those improvements right away, plus you may be able to claim additional tax credits on your tax return.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the property tax exemptions you may be able to claim in your county. Take a stroll down to your county assessor’s office or check them out online to see what exemptions are available in your county.

Supporting Documents for Tax Assessment Appeals

Beyond your exemptions and corrections due to incorrectly entered data about your home, you can further attempt to reduce your tax bill if you think it’s still unfair. You’ll need to come armed, though, because now the county will be putting up a fight.

The most important tools you can have in this war are an up-to-date appraisal, a comparative market analysis and documentation of any damage to the home since the last tax assessment (for example if the roof now leaks because a tree fell on it, that would certainly reduce its value).

Up-to-Date Appraisal

An appraisal is a time-sensitive document, since it only describes your home during a set point in time. Don’t rely on an old appraisal to get a tax assessment reduction, instead hire an appraiser to perform one that’s all brand new.

The catch is that you may spend more on the appraiser than you will save this year, but if you plan on staying in your home for a while, even the smallest dent in your taxes makes an appraisal a good long-term investment.

Comparative Market Analysis

When you can’t have an appraisal done, either because it’s not cost-effective or because you’re cutting your county’s submission deadline close, a CMA could save the day. Real estate agents are not appraisers, but they can provide a great deal of insight of their own. Since they have access to information on homes around yours that have sold, they can help you figure out what values are right now.

Unlike appraisers, who are generally deemed competent to judge the value of a property, real estate agents aren’t always given the same benefit of the doubt, even though comps (comparable properties) are pulled using very similar criteria. Ultimately, a CMA that helps establish your home’s value is an iffy approach, but it’s still an informed one.

Documentation of Damage

Serious damage to your home can reduce its value. So, for example, say you had a major storm and now half the siding is gone and the brick on the front sheared clear off below the windows. This is no small thing.

Photographs, letters from the neighborhood association, copies of fines your HOA is threatening to impose can help. The downside? Well, your house is broken and devaluing further every time it rains. Also, too much documented loss of value could make your lender nervous, to the point that they call in your note.

Presentation and Waiting… and Waiting…. and Waiting…..

Your supporting documentation is vital to the fight against your higher tax assessment, so make sure you have copies to spare. Once you’ve submitted or presented your case for a reduced tax burden, it could be several months before you get an answer. Keep those copies at least through the end of the appeals process because if any documents have gone missing, you’ll need to be able to replace them quickly.

If you end up still owing as much tax as you did at the beginning of the process, you can generally appeal one more time. You’ll want to bring more ammo with you, so if your first attempt at appealing your tax assessment included a CMA and not an appraisal, go the distance and have that appraisal performed, too.

Keep in mind that what you’re appealing isn’t your tax rate, but the assessed value of your home. The same tax rate applies, just to a much less valuable piece of property. This is both good and bad for you. It’s good because, hey, less tax. It’s bad because you could literally be undermining your efforts to sell or refinance your property.

You’ll have a much easier time appealing your tax bill if you have a legitimate exemption that you can claim or there are errors in your tax records. This is the easy road, compared to the harder route of trying to convince the assessor’s office that they overvalued your home by mistake..

Posted on April 5, 2019 at 4:43 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

Patio Planning 101

It’s finally spring! Time to break out the grill and the patio set and spend your evenings cooking out under the stars. Except, you don’t have a patio, you have a backyard that’s currently a soppy, muddy mess from spring rainstorms. You’d love to get outside, but it’s just so mucky and sticky out there.

This year, you’re resolved to install a patio once and for all. There’s a lot to consider when planning your shiny new patio, but don’t worry, we’re here to help make it simple.

Patio Planning: The Basics

If this is your first major home improvement project, you’ve picked one that should give you a real sense of satisfaction when it’s done. But you’ve also chosen to tackle a multi-part effort that’s not very cut and dry. Before you go out and rent a Skid Steer and hire three guys to pour cement, make sure you’ve checked these items off your pre-patio checklist:

  • Location, location, location. Although many patios are constructed as a transition from the house to the rest of the yard, there’s not a rule saying this has to be the case. Choose your favorite flat spot on your lot and try to imagine what it would be like having dinner there.
  • Materials. Many patios are poured concrete slabs, but there are also some fantastic stones and pavers out there that would make excellent patio surfaces. And don’t forget the brick. Patios are great because they can really stand the test of time when the right materials are chosen. Consider the weather in your area when you’re shopping.
  • Size and shape. Like there’s no required spot for your patio, there’s also not a standard size or a standard shape for them. You want a 10×16 rectangle? Poof! Done. What about a 15 foot long kidney shaped patio? No problem. Design the patio of your dreams, not the patio that other people think should be your dream.

Bringing It All Together

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what your patio will be made from and where you’re going to put it, it’s time to take the next step and put that pencil to paper. It can help to draw your entire lot on grid paper, adding buildings, plants and other noteworthy features in their correct spots (you’ll need to measure all of this for best results) will ensure that your patio plan doesn’t run into pesky problems from real life colliding with your perfect patio.

That handy drawing of your patio can become a map to something a little bit more impressive than a simple slab in your backyard. Consider drawing in (and including!) these user-friendly elements so you can make it do even more:

  • Pergolas. There’s nothing like a pergola to create a semi-shaded spot in your yard. If your patio is attached to the house, adding a pergola is just a natural step. If not, you can still anchor one in cement so it can be freestanding and won’t blow away. Pro tip: grow your favorite vines on that pergola and they’ll help shade you all summer long.
  • Built-in seating. Sure, you have a patio set, but sometimes it’s nice to have some extra benches in case you’re wanting to sit, but not at a table. Like deck builders put benches around the outside of decks, or use them to separate areas on a very large deck, you can do the same with benches made from the same materials as your patio.
  • Water features. Look, no one said you need a fountain or pond near your patio, but wouldn’t it be pretty cool? Small fountains add interest and ponds not only give you a place to keep impressively large koi, birds and other wildlife can use them for water.
  • Outdoor kitchen. This is the ultimate patio upgrade. Adding an outdoor kitchen, even if that’s just a built-in grill and a small sink, can make your home easier to sell down the line and possibly even increase your home’s value.


Posted on March 21, 2019 at 9:20 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |