Just bought your first home? Here’s what to do next.

You’ve changed the locks, unpacked the boxes and found a spot for your favorite armchair, but the work of moving into your first home is far from over. Homeownership is a big commitment that requires planning for the unforeseeable, such as a storm that floods your home, and the unappealing, such as cleaning your gutters. This doesn’t have to be a herculean task, but it’s worth creating a game plan that’s right for you. Let’s start with the basics. Take stock of what you own. You’d be crushed if that new couch were lost in a fire or other accident, so why not take a picture and catalogue that sweet sectional? The homeowners insurance you signed up for before purchasing the house should have adequate replacement coverage. Creating a spreadsheet of your valuables will make it easier to recover those things in the event of an accident. Update the file as you unpack and buy big-ticket items for your new home, and keep a copy of the document at work or in the cloud just in case your computer is among those valuables lost. Map out a maintenance plan. Your home needs upkeep. The last thing you want to do is put off routine maintenance that could prevent problems down the line, said Karen Hoskins, acting vice president of homeownership programs and lending at NeighborWorks America. [Home maintenance is expensive, time-consuming and hard. This makes it easier.] “The home you just purchased is an investment that has to be protected, so don’t defer maintenance,” she said. “Just making a schedule to remind you to change filters every three months or so would be good.” If spreadsheets aren’t your thing, apps can do the work of reminding you to change those filters and clean those gutters. The BrightNest app helps you build a list of chores tailored to the features of your home. It also sends tips for things like mowing your lawn and making your own cleaning products. An inspection report is another Continue Reading

What not to miss in the final walk-through of your new home

It's an exciting moment, walking into your brand-new home after it's finally completed. But don't let the excitement distract you from the importance of this final walk-through with the builder a few days before closing on a home. This is your chance to inspect the home, learn about the mechanics and systems, and note any areas of concern or defect. The day of your walk-through inspection, arrive on time and in comfortable shoes – and make sure your calendar is cleared so you are free of distractions and obligations during your appointment. Be sure to bring a notebook to make a checklist, and have your smartphone handy to take photos of the items that need to be repaired, as you and your builder representative create the "punch list" of items that need attention. Point out anything you find that needs to be addressed, because after you move in you won't be able to prove that that scratch on the kitchen countertop wasn't caused during the move-in. Once you have a list of repairs, your builder representative (usually a customer service professional) will go over the list and have you approve it, making sure that all your items of concern are noted. Then he or she will go about alerting the correct trade contractor to come back in and correct the work. If that's after you have moved in, you will be contacted with the day and time the work will be attended to. Once the repairs or corrections are completed, you will need to sign off that the work was done satisfactorily. Here are some things to look for during your walk-through: – Examine all surfaces, including cabinets, counters, fixtures, floors, windows, ceilings, and walls, inside and out. Paint touchups are among the most frequently noted items. – Turn all the faucets on and off and flush the toilets to inspect for leaks. – Open and close windows and doors to make sure they lock and seal properly. – Check to see whether all appliances operate, that they are the correct model and that Continue Reading

2017 Hurricane Season: How to protect your documents, home, boat

Longtime Floridians know the drill. Each year, as the heat and humidity build, forecasters begin their warnings: Hurricane season is upon us, and you'd better take it seriously. Sure, it was easy to tune out the advice when, year after year, storms skirted past Florida. The Tampa Bay area hasn't had a direct strike in almost a century. Let the 2016 storm season serve as a warning: Destructive hurricanes lashed both Florida coasts. The bay area also endured flooding, especially in Pasco County. What's at stake in a storm is just about everything you own — your irreplaceable wedding photos, your pets, your windows and watercrafts. And when a hurricane is bearing down, you won't have much time to make sure they're protected. Here are some specifics to guide you through the critical process of keeping your home, your boat and your belongings safe this hurricane season. Protect your home • Act fast: Everybody else will flood the same hardware stores to buy storm supplies. • If you're boarding your windows with plywood, don't drill directly into the frame. That lets water inside. Instead, apply bolts, nails or screws to concrete or wood about every 6 inches. • If you're in a rush, don't waste time taping your windows. Experts say it doesn't keep them from shattering (though it may make cleanup easier afterward). • Need to brace your garage door? You can buy a kit from a home-improvement store. Experts recommend using wooden 2 by 4s to brace the door horizontally and vertically. • French doors and double doors are additional vulnerable spots that need to be reinforced. Add extra locks or slide bolts, and pay extra attention to doors that swing inward. • Give your roof and eaves a close look. The impact of a storm will likely accelerate any damage. Same goes for broken trusses or beams. Make repairs before a storm is bearing down. • Secure any loose items on your lawn. Hurricane-force winds will take old tree limbs, sports Continue Reading

Far fewer Americans are paying for flood insurance in coastal areas where storms pose serious threat

Amanda Spartz nearly did not renew her home’s flood insurance policy after her first year in Florida. Two hurricanes came close to the Fort Lauderdale suburbs last year, but they didn’t hit and her home isn’t in a high-risk flood zone. She figured she could put the $450 annual premium, due next week, to another use. Then Harvey hit Houston, its historic rains causing massive floods even in low-risk neighborhoods. Spartz, a business analyst, paid the bill this week. If Spartz had dropped her policy, she would not have been alone. Far fewer Americans compared with five years ago are paying for flood insurance in coastal areas of the United States where hurricanes, storms and tidal surges pose a serious threat, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. The center for the problem is South Florida, where Spartz lives. The top U.S. official overseeing the National Flood Insurance Program told AP that he wants to double the number of Americans who buy flood insurance. “I was talking to my husband and I said that if something like Harvey happens here, I don’t want to be on the hook,” said Spartz, who relocated from Cincinnati. “It isn’t a lot of money to save yourself the heartache if it does happen.” What’s driving the drop in policies? Congress approved a price hike, making premiums more expensive, and maps of some high-risk areas were redrawn. Banks became lax at enforcing the requirement that any home with a federally insured mortgage in a high-risk area be covered. Memories of New Orleans underwater in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina have faded. Without flood insurance, storm victims would have to draw on savings or go into debt — or perhaps be forced to sell. The number of policies in force today has fallen in 43 of the 50 states since 2012, dropping from almost 5.5 million to just under 5 million, a decrease of 10 percent, AP’s analysis found. In low-lying Continue Reading

As Texans return to flood-hit homes, many say ‘Our house is history’

By Erwin Seba and Adrees Latif HOUSTON (Reuters) - As flood waters recede from Hurricane Harvey, thousands are set to return to their homes on Sunday to survey damage from unprecedented flooding that devastated densely populated areas of Texas, as worries mount about health risks. Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in 50 years, is expected to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, having displaced more than 1 million people and leaving wreckage in an area stretching for more than 300 miles (480 kms) which officials said would take years to repair. Thirteen Superfund sites, heavily contaminated former industrial zones, in Texas were flooded or damaged by Hurricane Harvey, but the full impact on surrounding areas was not immediately clear, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Saturday. The announcement came amid rising concern about the health risks posed by Harvey's record floodwaters, which contain a toxic soup of chemicals, oil and bacteria from Houston's notoriously leaky sewer system. The city of Houston ordered a mandatory evacuation on Sunday for about 4,600 residences in the western section, where several hundred people have not left their homes and flooding is expected to last for another two weeks. "Put your own personal safety above your property," Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding residents should consider the safety of first responders who would have to handle any emergencies. The evacuations, put in force by shutting off of power, were set to take effect at 7 a.m. CDT. Damage from the storm is also posing an economic and humanitarian challenge for U.S. President Donald Trump, who visited Houston on Saturday and met some of the thousands of people in evacuation shelters and rescue workers who have helped shuttle survivors to safety. The visit gave Trump an opportunity to show an empathetic side, after some criticized him for staying clear of the Continue Reading

Sen. Schumer joins fight against new flood insurance premiums

The federal government must delay skyrocketing increases on flood insurance premiums, lawmakers demanded Thursday. Sen. Chuck Schumer joined other pols in calling for Congress to delay parts of the Biggert-Water Flood Insurance Reform Act, which ends federal flood insurance subsidies and, opponents fear, will send property values crashing. Most residents of waterfront areas are required to have flood insurance to prop up their mortgages in the event of disaster. But the cost of that insurance could go rise to $30,000 a year once the federal government draws new flood zone maps — and Schumer wants to figure out a way to do something about it. “I’m actively conferring with many of my colleagues in search of a legislative solution ... to keep flood insurance premiums affordable,” he said in a statement. Homeowner groups said the hikes could severely affect their communities. “It’s going to be a tremendous hardship,” said Hank Iori, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, which represents families in the Rockaway peninsula community. “All the homeowners are addressing repairs and trying to get back to where they were [before Sandy],” he said. “But in a year or a year and a half, you could end up opening a letter that says your flood insurance increased $10,000 [or] $15,000. The new premiums are expected to lead to a steep drop in property values, said “The exorbitant rise in flood insurance premiums is going to have a massive negative impact on the housing market,” said George Kasimos, founder of Stop FEMA Now, which is trying to halt the rate jump. “It is going to make the 2007 housing bubble look like a walk in the park.” Once the new maps are drawn, about 9,500 Queens homeowners are expected to be placed in a flood zone for the first time. And about 23,500 borough families are expected to be affected by the higher premiums. Continue Reading

Meet the heroes of the Louisiana flood

Floodwater that claimed ten lives and damaged more than 40,000 homes in south Louisiana rose seemingly overnight.But disaster response from good Samaritans — in Louisiana and beyond — has been just as swift.Here are the stories of just a few volunteers and first responders reaching out to those in need.Two men drove a semi truck filled with 1,600 gallons of water weighing 13,000 pounds to Youngsville Tuesday for people affected by record flooding.Foster Reeves and Scott Banta work for Bonnie Plants, a greenhouse company out of Alabama with an operation in Donaldsonville. The devastating rain mostly missed them, but they knew other places were hit hard.Donaldsonville received some rain last week, but "nothing like Lafayette or Baton Rouge," Reeves said."I can't complain," he said.When he heard that Lafayette was taking on so much water, Reeves said he did a Google search for newspapers in the area and found coverage from The Daily Advertiser. He clicked a link, found a number and was connected through the paper to the needs in Youngsville.He wanted to help."I've been in Louisiana working for this company for three years," he said. "The people down here are extremely nice. It reminded me of home (Troy, Alabama). You see people hurting, it makes you want to do something."Reeves got in touch with corporate officials in Alabama, and they felt the same way. The company, which grows vegetables and wholesales them across Louisiana, has delivery trucks ready to go.They decided to trade out the vegetables in one truck for 400 four-gallon jugs of water.Finding clean water during an emergency is always a high priority, so that's how they decided to help."(Water) was the No. 1 thing on my mind," Reeves said.They loaded up the truck Monday night and hit the road at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Two hours later they were at the Youngsville Lions Club & Knights of Columbus Hall."The Continue Reading

Storm swamps Phoenix: Mesa flooding a ‘slow-moving disaster’

Valley emergency crews, workers and homeowners toiled on Monday to reopen roads and mop up the effects of the morning's record-breaking storm — a fallout that orphaned vehicles on Valley freeways, crippled businesses, flooded up to 200 homes and prompted more than a dozen water rescues.Monday's rainfall levels shattered the previous one-day, calendar-day record of 2.9 inches, set on Sept. 4, 1939, according to the National Weather Service. It also topped the previous Sept. 8 record of 1.33 inches set in 1933.The day holds a second-place position for highest 24-hour period of rainfall, set at 4.98 inches on July 2, 1911.While most of the heavy rain had passed by late afternoon, flooding continued to threaten some areas of the Valley. Flooding affected up to 200 homes in Mesa on Monday. A troubled Mayor Alex Finter said in the evening that Mesa was "planning for this to be a week-long, two-week or one-month event," calling the flooding a "slow-moving disaster."Water had begun rushing into neighborhoods from Harris to Stapley drives and from Southern Avenue to the U.S. 60 on Monday afternoon after retention basins and canals overflowed.Usually, if a retention basin gets too full, Mesa can turn to nearby Arizona Department of Transportation canals, and vice versa. This time, every part of the area's system was at or over capacity."The system is designed to hold a massive amount of water, and we got it – and more," Finter said. "All day, we've been watching this large volume of water move through the city, and it finally hit a stopping point at Stapley and the freeway (U.S. 60.) This is the worst I've ever seen, and I've been in the community since the '60s."The city had pumps standing ready in neighborhoods through much of the day, waiting for parts of the water-retention system to regain capacity so flood water could be removed. Late Monday evening, the city still hadn't been able to fire up the pumps but expected to do so overnight.Finter said ADOT and Continue Reading

News roundup: After the flood

When it rains, it floods. Monday's 3.29-inch rainfall (on average across the Valley) broke more than records, it flooded homes, schools, parks, freeways and cars. Though the weather cleared out by midday, the devastating effects linger, and Arizona residents are left mopping up the mess. Here's a news roundup with tips for after the flood. FLOODWATER TURNS PARKS INTO SWAMPSAll those little ponds forming in the divots, ruts, drainage ditches, parks and water basins are a natural breeding ground for all kinds of nastiness including mosquitoes, which can carry the West Nile virus. Think twice before letting kids play in the deep puddles as the murky waters can hide sharp objects and carry germs such as tetanus, E. coli and staphylococcus (staph infection).For more information, read "Floodwater carries risk of disease, injury." LEAKY ROOFS? THERE'S AN APP FOR THATOK not really, but a sharp pencil might be the difference between a costly ceiling cave-in and a small repair. If your wall or ceiling is bubbling, you're better off popping a few holes in it and letting the water leak out. Once it dries, call a roofing company.For more information, read "Have a leaking roof? Try the Pencil Trick." CEILING DAMAGE AND MUDDY POOLSFor homeowners, the nightmare has only just begun. Fixing a house after a flood can be costly and time consuming. Lori Clark, owner of Right Way Roofing in Mesa, recommends homeowners get an estimate from a roofer before talking to insurance companies. Bill Moore, owner of Moore's Pool Service, said homeowners should turn off their pool pump and motor if it's in standing water. With mud in the pool, just let it settle, he said. If there's a lot of debris, it might need to be drained, Moore said.For more information, read "Tips to deal with leaky roofs, muddy pools in Phoenix." INS AND OUTS OF FLOOD INSURANCEIt's probably too late to find out if you're covered for flood insurance, but that shouldn't keep homeowners from dusting off the ol' policy. Continue Reading

Shore left out of flooding retreat

KEANSBURG – Jennifer Hamilton likes to watch the birds nesting along Waackaack Creek, but her view is partially obscured by decaying homes abandoned years ago.Hamilton, 41, and Keansburg officials hoped that the two empty homes in this Creek Road neighborhood – homes situated amid that balance pylons and a shrinking stretch of marsh – would be torn down and transformed into protected parkland.But a state program designed to help buy up such flood-prone properties, New Jersey's $300 million Blue Acres Buyout Program, has yet to be used in Monmouth or Ocean counties despite its success in other parts of the state.“I wish Blue Acres was interested in those pieces of property,” Keansburg Mayor George Hoff said. “They kind of turned us down.”Such inaction has implications beyond Keansburg.Blue Acres’s mission, driven in part by the imperatives of rising sea levels, is to move homeowners out of the state's most flood-prone neighborhoods, potentially saving lives and taxpayer money— funds that would otherwise be used to rebuild houses likely to be ravaged again and again.So far, however, the Department of Environmental Protection has been unable to make the program work in Monmouth or Ocean counties — despite predictions of more frequent and more violent storms.Instead, all the millions of dollars in Blue Acres money spent so far have gone toward purchasing properties in other parts of the state: Sayreville, Newark, Old Bridge, Manville, Linden, East Brunswick, Rahway, South River, Woodbridge, among others. In these communities, the Department of Environmental Protection has paid pre-Sandy prices, giving homeowners the means to buy new homes in safer neighborhoods.“I think the Blue Acres program is a tremendous success," said Mayor Continue Reading