Electing a full sale or a property management situation is a life-changing decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In choosing whether or not becoming a landlord is right for you, there are a number of factors to consider, but primarily they fall into the following three categories: financial analysis, risk, and goals.
The financial analysis is probably the easiest of the three to perform. You will need to assess if you can afford to rent your house. If you consider the likely rental rate, vacancy rate, maintenance, advertising, and management costs, you can arrive at a budget. It is important to both be detailed in your projections and to have enough reserves to cover cash-flow needs if you’re wrong. The vacancy rate will be determined by the price at which you market the property. Price too high and you’re liable to be left vacant. Should you have applicants, they’ll often be a group that for some reason couldn’t compete for more competitively priced homes. Price too low and you don’t achieve the revenue you should. If you want to try for the higher end of an expected range, understand that the cost may be a vacant month. Any way you slice it, it’s difficult to make up for a vacant month.
Consider the other costs renting out your property could accrue. If you have a landscaped or large yard, you will likely need to hire a yard crew to manage the grounds. Other costs could increase when you rent your home, such as homeowner’s insurance and taxes on your property. Depending on tenant turn-over, you may need to paint and deal with maintenance issues more regularly. Renting your home is a decision you need to make with all the financial information in front of you.
If your analysis points to some negative cash-flow, that doesn’t necessarily mean renting is the wrong option. That answer needs to be weighed against the pros and cons of alternatives. For instance, how does that compare to marketing the property at the price that would actually sell? Moreover, you’ll need to perform additional economic guesswork about what the future holds in terms of appreciation, inflation, etc. to arrive at an expectation of how long the cash drain would exist.
Risk is a bit harder to assess. It’s crucial to understand that if you decide to lease out a home, you are going into business, and every business venture has risks. One of the most obvious ways of mitigating the risk is to hire a management company. By hiring professionals, you decrease your risk and time spent managing the property (and tenants) yourself. However, this increases the cost. As you reduce your risk of litigation, you increase your risk of negative cash-flow, and vice versa… it’s a balancing act, and the risk cannot be eliminated; just managed and minimized.
In considering goals, what do you hope to achieve by renting your property? Are you planning on moving back to your home after a period of time? Will your property investment be a part of your long-term financial planning? Are you relocating or just hoping to wait to sell? These are all great reasons to consider renting your home.
Keep in mind that renting your family home can be emotional. Many homeowners love the unique feel of their homes. It is where their children were raised, and they care more about preserving that feel than maximizing revenue. That’s ok, but it needs to be acknowledged and considered when establishing a correct price and preparing a cash flow analysis. Some owners are so attached to their homes that it may be better for them to “tear off the band-aid quickly” and sell. The alternative of slowly watching over the years as the property becomes an investment instead of a home to them may prove to be more painful than any financial benefit can offset.
Before reaching a conclusion, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the landlord-tenant-law specific to your state (and in some cases, separate relevant ordinances in the city and/or county that your property lies within) and to do some market research (i.e. tour other available similar rentals to see if your financial assumptions are in line with the reality of the competition across the street). If you are overwhelmed by this process, or will be living out of the region, seek counsel with a property management professional. Gaining experience the hard way can be costly. With proper preparation, however, the rewards will be worth it.
The nation’s largest home-building company, Lennar, now integrates Amazon’s “Alexa” smart speaker system as a function in new homes they construct. In the United States alone there are reportedly at least 39 million privately owned smart speakers, and the growth seems likely to only continue. With an eye to the future, we decided to shine a light on a few other “smart” products that can help enhance your home.
- While the iconic heavy door-knocker of 19thcentury Victorian may hold its appeal, high-tech doorbells are an increasingly popular option.
- The Amazon-owned Ring Doorbell is the pace-setter for this rapidly growing industry, allowing for remote monitoring of your home via video, two-way talking functionality, and WiFi-connectivity to allow homeowners to keep tabs on their property no matter how far they roam.
- If you’d like to go elsewhere, the market is flush with alternate options. SkyBell’s ringer allows for free cloud storage of video, while the Zmodo Greet Smart model allows for easy installation using your previous doorbell’s hardware, and comes at a price over $100 under most of the notable options.
- Much has been said of the lamentations regarding the loss in popularity of the family dinner around the table. If your family is drawn to their phones when it’s time to get meals going, a smart refrigerator may be the trick to centering things around the kitchen and dining room again.
- The brands may be familiar but the appliances are all-new. GE, Kenmore, Samsung, and Whirlpool are just a few household names involved in the exciting world of smart appliances.
- The options are wide-ranging in functionality – from Alexa-connected Kenmore smart fridges to Samsung’s full home command center, you can control temperatures in the fridge and in your home, play music and videos, and even pull up recipes on-screen to help your tech-savvy family follow along step-by-step.
Smart Energy Monitors
- Most people like doing things that are energy-efficient, but when it’s financially challenging it’s tough to make that choice. The best products, then, are those that check both boxes.
- Energy monitors like those from Sense, CURB, and Neurio offer the ability to connect into your appliances and circuit board, monitoring energy usage from your smartphone.
- How often are you likely to check your appliances unless they suddenly break down? With these monitors, not only can you maintain appropriate energy usage, you can identify issues before they become disasters.
Investing in real estate is one of the world’s most venerable pathways to building wealth. When properly managed, income from renting or real estate investment trusts can provide you with the financial security to plan out the rest of your life. The conclusion is easy to envision, but knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, particularly for anyone who has never previously owned a home.
At Windermere our goal is always to improve and support our communities, so we’ve put together a few key things to keep in mind as you enter the world of real estate investment.
Know the right type of investment for you
Investing in real estate needn’t commit you to being a landlord. A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a low-maintenance way to get involved in real estate with next to none of the day-to-day monitoring required of direct property management. REITs are trusts that typically own multiple properties, and investors may purchase shares within the REIT. Typically, as the value of the property rises, so too do the values of your shares. If you’d like to dip a toe into real estate investing before diving in fully, a REIT is a great place to start.
Start with your own home
Owning the roof over your head is a basic step towards investing success. Even better, when you plan to live in the home you’re buying (rather than renting it out), you will likely benefit from lower mortgage rates and a cheaper down payment. The reasoning is straightforward – lenders see a loan to people purchasing the home they live in as an investment in people highly committed to the property.
Once you’ve owned your own house for a few years, you can look to purchase a new home to move into. By purchasing the new home with the intent to move in, you’ll be eligible to receive more favorable financing once again. After you’ve secured your new home, your first home is primed to be transformed into a rental property, and you can continue to see a return on your investment. If you’re seeking further support with buying a first, second, or third home, our website and our agents are full of information.
Cast a wide net
The best investment opportunity isn’t always going to be right underneath your nose. While there are logistical benefits to focusing locally with your investment, you may miss more profitable opportunities in another burgeoning market. Real estate is a long game, and patience tends to be rewarded. There’s no cause to rush a decision of this magnitude, so investigating other states and regions to find the property that best fits your situation is a process worth considering.
The following analysis of the Metro Denver & Northern Colorado real estate market (which now includes Clear Creek, Gilpin, and Park Counties) is provided by Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. We hope that this information may assist you with making better-informed real estate decisions. For further information about the housing market in your area, please don’t hesitate to contact your Windermere agent.
The Colorado economy continues to grow, adding 69,100 new non-agricultural jobs over the past 12 months, which represents a solid growth rate of 2.6%. That said, we are continuing to see a modest slowdown in employment gains, but that is to be expected at this stage of the business cycle. My latest forecast suggests that Colorado will add a total of 65,000 new jobs in 2019, representing a growth rate of 2.3%.
In November, the state unemployment rate was 3.3%, up from 3% a year ago. The increase is essentially due to an increase in the labor force, which rose by 77,279 people. On an un-seasonally adjusted basis, unemployment rates in all the markets contained in this report dropped between November 2017 and November 2018. The highest rate was in Grand Junction, but that was still a very respectable 4%. Fort Collins and Boulder had the lowest unemployment rate of 2.9%. All the regions contained in this report are essentially at full employment.
HOME SALES ACTIVITY
- In the fourth quarter of 2018, 12,911 homes sold — a drop of 13.8% compared to the last quarter of 2017 and down 22% from the third quarter.
- The only market that saw growth in sales was Clear Creek, which rose by 3.8%. This is a small market, however, and is prone to rapid swings in price as well as sales. There was a significant drop in sales in the Denver market. I will be watching closely to see if this is an anomaly or a longer-term trend. At this time, I believe the former to be true.
- Interestingly, this decline in sales in Denver came as inventory levels rose by 37%. For now, I attribute this to seasonality and expect to see sales growth return in the spring.
- Inventory growth continues to give buyers more choice, allowing them to be far more selective — and patient — before making an offer on a home. That said, well-positioned and well-priced homes are selling relatively quickly.
- Despite the rapid rise in listings and slowing home sales, prices continue to trend higher, though the rate of growth is slowing. The average home price in the region rose 6% year-over-year to $454,903. Home prices were 2% higher than in the third quarter.
- In all, the data was not very surprising. As with many markets across the country, affordability is starting to become an issue. However, the recent drop in interest rates likely stimulated buyers at the end of 2018 and I expect to see good price growth in the first quarter of 2019.
- Appreciation was strongest in Park County, where prices rose 28.2%. We can attribute this rapid increase to it being a small market. Only Gilpin County saw a drop in average home price. Though this, too, is due to it being a very small market, making it more prone to significant swings.
- As mentioned, affordability is becoming an issue in many Colorado markets and I anticipate that we will see some cooling in home price appreciation as we move through late 2019.
DAYS ON MARKET
- The average number of days it took to sell a home in Colorado rose by one day compared to the final quarter of 2017.
- The amount of time it took to sell a home dropped in four counties: Boulder, Larimer, Gilpin, and Park. The rest of the counties in this report saw days on market rise relatively modestly with the exception of the small Clear Creek market, which rose by 20 days.
- In the fourth quarter of 2018, it took an average of 38 days to sell a home in the region, but it took less than a month to sell a home in five of the eleven counties contained in this report.
- Housing demand is still there, but buyers appear to have taken a little breather. I anticipate, however, that the spring will bring more activity and rising sales.
The speedometer reflects the state of the region’s real estate market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors.
For the fourth quarter of 2018, I continue the trend I started last summer and have moved the needle a little more in favor of buyers. I will be closely watching listing activity in the spring to see if we get any major bumps above the traditional increase because that may further slow home price growth — something that would-be buyers appear to be waiting for.
As Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, Matthew Gardner is responsible for analyzing and interpreting economic data and its impact on the real estate market on both a local and national level. Matthew has over 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.
In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Matthew sits on the Washington State Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors; chairs the Board of Trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington; and is an Advisory Board Member at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington where he also lectures in real estate economics.
Memorial Day traditionally represents the kick-off of summer. Kids are getting out of school, families are making summer vacation plans, and backyard barbeques are on everyone’s minds. This is also a great time of the year to get your house in order and ready for the summer season. The following is a handful of ideas and tips to help you with this process.
Gardening– It’s not too late to start your garden! This weekend I will be planting an herb garden; I planted summer vegetables a few weeks ago. If you’re thinking of doing the same, just make sure you use starts because many summer harvest vegetables won’t start from seed this late in the season.
Outdoor living– My home has an outdoor space with great potential, including a partially covered patio perfect for entertaining. This weekend I plan to upgrade the space with small touches to make it summer party ready. This includes finding outdoor lighting options, updating the seating and cleaning up the barbeque.
BBQ- Make sure your grill is ready to go this season by making sure everything is clean and in working order before you fire it up. In the northwest that includes making sure the fuel lines are spider-web-free. Also, make sure you have propane or charcoal on hand for impromptu dinners.
Clean Windows- Now is a great time to clean your windows, inside and out. Sun shows more dirt and smudges.
Lawn care- Prepare your lawn for the months ahead. Depending on where you live this means different things. Check your sprinkler system to make sure it wasn’t damaged over the winter; upgrade your lawn care to ensure fuller greens, check for and remove moss to prevent dead patches and start your weeding regimen.
Pool prep- If you have an outdoor pool get this ready for a summer season of fun in the sun, (unless you are lucky enough to enjoy your pool year-round). Same goes for hot-tubs. Make sure your equipment has been serviced, chemicals are available and your pool is clean and ready to use. OR, head to the local hardware store and buy your kiddie pool now before they run out, as I learned one particularly hot July!
De-winterize- I once was doused head to toe when we were turning the water back on to our exterior pipes because the pipe had split in the winter- so make sure all your pipes survived the cold, check your winterized projects and prepare your house for summer. This is also a good time to look around the exterior, checking roof, gutters and siding.
Summerize- Check or replace AC filters, window screens, and household fans to make sure these are all functioning and will help provide maximum circulation in your house. Consider installing an attic fan or vent to help pull heat out of your home all winter long. Pack away excess cold weather items such as heavy blankets, jackets and other items so they aren’t in your way. Same goes for any sundry items you only use during fall and winter.
Lighten the Space- Though I likely won’t spend much time inside once the mercury rises, I want to keep the house as light and cool as possible. I have found that replacing the curtains with a lighter shade lets the light in, but also keeps the rooms from overheating from sun exposure. Summer always makes me want to lighten up with the accessories- lighter colors, more whites, bright accents and less clutter.
Rearrange – Freshen up spaces by rearranging some of your wall art. If you don’t have enough wall pieces to rearrange regularly it may be time to add to your collection. You can find inexpensive original art online at stores such as Etsy or in person at local galleries. You can always play with other items like framed images from books, vintage posters or record albums. Here are some terrific ideas for using what you have to add interest to a room.
Air it out- Open all the windows, shake out the rugs and update home fragrances to fit summer moods (citrus, freesia, clean linen, coconut, melon, fruits and tropical, etc.). You can create your own diffuser with essential oils to distribute fragrance. This may be more symbolic than practical but it always makes me feel ready for summer.
Paint- If you have a room you really want to refresh, a three-day weekend is a good time to take on a project of scale, so you have plenty of time to prep, paint, dry, and clean up. Painting is one of the least expensive ways to really transform how a room feels. Need help picking colors and paint type? Here is some good advice.
Garage or Basement- Tackle a big space that makes a big difference. Our garages and basements often become year-long dumping grounds for seasonal decorations and clothing, items that don’t fit in cabinets, memorabilia and maintenance tools. Go through your items and sort by keep, throw out and donate/sell and then group your keeps by function. Make sure your tools are accessible for easy gardening and entertaining by making sure your tools are accounted for, ready to go, and easy to reach. Here is a useful video on garage organization.
Yard/Garage Sale- If you have overflow at your house, plan a yard/garage sale to get rid of items you no longer need or want. Just make sure to pack everything up and donate it at the end of the sale otherwise you are just letting the clutter back in!
Plan a party- Once your space is all cleaned up and redecorated you will want to show it off! Plan a summer BBQ, dinner party, pool party, picnic or any other gathering.
What are your planning for Memorial Day weekend?
It can sometimes be tough to hear an agent asking you to hide your prize possessions when preparing your home for sale. I overheard two agents giving each other advice about how to politely help their sellers relocate their pink flamingo display and car collection off the front yard before putting the homes on the market.
Studies indicate that buyers decide if they’re interested within the first 30 seconds of entering a home. You get one chance to make a first impression.
Make sure your house looks attractive, well maintained and move-in ready at a glance. Before you put out your “for sale” sign, put these tasks on your to do list.
• Get your yard in shape—Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, haul away debris, sweep the walk, porches and patio, and consider adding some potted plants or hanging baskets for a touch of color.
• Keep it clean—Make sure your house can pass the white-glove test. Polish windows and scrub bathrooms, appliances, counters and floors until they gleam. Vacuum carpets, rugs, drapes and upholstery. Dust shelves, floorboards and molding.
• Give it a fresh coat—Paint the front door, walls leading to entrances, ceiling stains, cracks, chipped or damaged areas. A little paint goes a long way to improve the look of your home.
• Just fix it—Repair anything that needs it, including broken doorbells, torn screens, leaky faucets, broken deck railings or banisters, damaged floor tiles or doors that don’t close properly.
• Lose the chaos—Organize your rooms, closets and basement—anywhere a prospective buyer is likely to look. And don’t forget to remove pets and litter boxes.
• Set the stage—Help prospective buyers imagine life in your house. Remove excess furniture and rearrange what remains so that rooms look spacious and welcoming. Light scented candles, play soft music, add flowers here and there, you might even bake cookies.
• Hire a pro—Don’t have time to get your house ready to show? Turn to a realtor with an ASP® (Accredited Staging Professional) designation to stage your house professionally.
As a seller today you are faced with a challenge when it comes to selling your home for a fair price and getting it done in a reasonable amount of time. Even though inventory is lower than it was five months ago, we are still looking at about 9 months of inventory in many areas. This large amount of inventory indicates there is a lot of competition out there to attract the right buyer.
We all know there are more than five steps involved when it comes to selling your home. We asked a few of our Windermere agents what advice they would give a seller today if selling your home came down to just five key things.
Top five by Liz Talley Windermere Ballard
- Refresh the garden.
- Clear the entry and front porch.
- Minimalize & depersonalize.
- Price it a wee bit under the competition so that it pulls in buyers.
As always, market presence, professional photos, etc. all make an enormous difference but these five steps are the key right now.
Top five by Jamie Johnson Windermere Camano Island
- Price. Listen to your real estate expert and don’t try to “start high.”
- Clean and stage. You are competing with other great deals out there. Yours needs to stand out and shine.
- Follow a marketing plan. Drop your price 3% every 30 days.
- Ask yourself – what is your goal? Most sellers have a dream of making a lot of money off the sale of their home. If your goal is to purchase another home, you will make up for your loss” there. It’s all relative.
- Hire a local expert. Interview at least three agents. Do your research. A good agent will do all that for you.
“Staying Put” by architect and writer Duo Dickinson is not your typical architect’s book about design. There’s no obscure language nor design-for-design’s-sake ideas. It is a practical, down-to-earth guide that walks anyone through the rational process of how to remodel your house to get the home you want, from how to think about your house and overcoming hurdles to a list of “Duo’s Do’s and Don’ts” for the homeowner. Along the way, there’s plenty of nice before-and-after photos to help explain the points. Do read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
Read on for eight of Dickinson’s brightest suggestions:
Consider the compass points. The tips and illustrated examples are wonderfully straightforward. For example, we see a house that gets overheated, the siding degrades and the front door bakes in the sun because it all faces south.
Dickinson’s common-sense advice: Rework the front of the house with a new wide porch that shades the front door and some smaller, yet well-sized windows to create a lot more curb appeal while reducing maintenance and energy consumption. It’s a triple win: more beauty and comfort with less cost.
Avoid gutters. Statements such as “gutters and leaders are devout to be avoided” may sound like heresy to many, but certainly are the truth. Proving his point, Dickinson illustrates how a properly-built roof overhang can shed all the water it must without the complications, such as ice dams, caused by gutters.
Embrace small moves. Dickinson provides a wealth of simple solutions illustrated with before-and-after photos. He shows how to use small moves for big dividends, such as taking out a wall between a kitchen and a hallway to make room for more kitchen storage.
Enhance curb appeal. The book offers solutions to common problems with a particular style, such as how to improve and enhance an entrance into a split-level home.
Open up to the outside. Dickinson provides some excellent examples of how we can use modern windows and doors to strengthen the connection between inside and outside. Our homes, says Dickinson, no longer need be “later-day caves.”
Find your home. Learning more about the style of the house you have will help you avoid obstacles in remodeling and recognize the best opportunities for improving your particular home.
Open up the inside. Snippets of advice sprinkled throughout the book are like refreshing raindrops that clear the cobwebs away. One such snippet: “If you walk through a room to get to a room, something is wrong.” You know — it’s when that new great room gets added onto a modest house, and the result is some kind of dyslexic creature that’s really two houses rather than one.
So rather than even building an addition, Dickinson suggests you make the most of what you already have. In this example, widening the opening between rooms strengthens this room’s connection with the rest of the home, increasing its utility and spaciousness.
Work with what you’ve got (before): Keeping the kitchen size the same while vaulting the ceiling dramatically increases the overall spaciousness of the room, as you’ll see in the next photo.
Work with what you’ve got (after): Walls, doors, appliances, and even the skylight and kitchen sink were all left where they were. This all avoided costly plumbing, electrical and mechanical work and rework.
Working with what you’ve got (plans): Dickinson has included before-and-after floor plans for many of the examples. These plans help provide that much more context, allowing the reader to better understand what they may be able to do with the home they already have.
By Bud Dietrich AIA
There comes a time in life where gifts take different forms during the holidays. Toys are replaced by tools and appliances. Games are supplanted by gift cards and gear for grander hobbies. Clothing ranges from stylish to functional, but typically reflects real-life necessities over fantastical dresses or costumes. But for many, books remain a timeless gift, offering windows into worlds we know well or have yet to discover. Approaching the new year is a wonderful time for any lucky recipient to reorganize their collection and make a statement.
Start with a blank canvas. Take everything off your shelves before you decide to start putting your books back on.
Mix it up. Don’t have all of the books vertical or horizontal (but never stack anything on top of vertical stacks). Layer them on top of each other in different ways on all of the various shelves. Bigger books on the bottom of stacks, smaller ones on top. Place your most attractive books at eye level.
Accessorize. Add items in between, in front, and on top of books. This can mean collectibles, candles, small plants, pictures, you name it. You can use a variety of shapes and sizes, but try to keep all non-book items to the same theme/color.
Leave Space. Adding just a little bit of space between items gives space for the eye to breathe and helps your book and collectibles to stand out.
Little details. Don’t follow the same pattern on each shelf otherwise, it could end up looking too stiff. Try to zig-zag your way down (or up).
Add color. If you’re ready for a full-fledged redo, paint the back of the bookshelves to add dimension and character before styling. If you don’t want to permanently color your bookcases, try fabric or wallpaper. For example, if you have glossy accessories, choose a metallic wallpaper to turn your bookshelf into a shimmering showpiece.
Have too many books or don’t feel like accessorizing? No problem. Color code your books ROYGBIV style to make a bold and fun statement in your room.
Constructing or remodeling a home is a complex, expensive endeavor. Ideally, everything goes as planned, and when the dust clears, the homeowner can settle in and enjoy the new home — and never think about the building process again.
But what happens when, nine months after the owner moves in, the floor develops a crack, the dishwasher begins to leak or the shower water won’t run hot? Or when these things happen three years later? It’s time to refer to an all-important piece of the contract: the warranty.
What Is a Warranty?
The purpose of a warranty is to protect both the homeowner and the builder — homeowners from shoddy work with no recourse; builders from being liable for projects for the rest of their lives.
A warranty may be included in a contract, or it may not be since it’s not required. There is no standard length of time for one. Rather, a warranty is a negotiable portion of the overall agreement (contract) between a homeowner and a contractor.
The laws that relate to warranties are somewhat vague and vary by state, so the advantage of having one as part of the contract is that everything can be clearly spelled out. However, by agreeing to a particular warranty without understanding its finer points, owners may inadvertently limit the protections they would have otherwise had under the law.
“A warranty describes the problems and remedies for which the builder will be responsible after completion of the project, as well as the duration of the warranty and the mechanism for addressing disputes,” says David Jaffe, vice president of legal advocacy at the National Association of Home Builders.
At least in the ideal case.
The Law Governing Warranties
Before homeowners agree to a particular warranty as part of their contract, it’s important to understand what protections they already have under the law. In the U.S., we have a legal concept of an implied warranty — which is a warranty that does not have to be spelled out in the contract but is simply understood to exist thanks to the law. There are two important implied warranties when it comes to home construction.
The first is the implied warranty of good workmanship, which is the reasonable expectation that a home will be built in a workmanlike manner. The second is the implied warranty of habitability, which is the reasonable expectation that the home will be safe to inhabit.
The implied warranties, however, have limits in the form of statutes of limitation and statutes of repose, which essentially are time clocks that determine for how long a homeowner may sue a contractor.
Statutes of limitation in each state dictate how long an owner can invoke various types of legal claims — for example, a breach of contract claim.
Statutes of repose apply specifically to construction projects and set the time for which builders and designers are liable for their product. These also vary by state. In California, the statute of repose is four years for most defects, but 10 years for latent defects (those that aren’t observable right away, such as a faulty foundation). In Georgia, the statute of repose is eight years for all claims related to the design or construction of the building.
Finally, most states also have a right to repair law, which means that before homeowners can sue a contractor, they need to notify the contractor of the problem and give him or her a chance to come to see it and repair it.
To find out what the laws are in your state, simply do an online search for “statute of repose” and “right to repair” in your state.
The One-Year Warranty
The key thing to understand about warranties is that many builders offer their own warranty in lieu of the implied warranty. Additionally, many contracts specify that homeowners are giving up their rights to the implied warranty by agreeing to the builder’s express warranty. Also, builders will “often try to shorten statutes of limitation and statutes of repose. Some states allow you to do that. Others don’t,” says Anthony Lehman, an Atlanta attorney who advises homeowners.
Though there is no industry-wide standard, many residential contractors have adopted a one-year warranty for their contracts. The practice likely trickled down from commercial construction, where a callback warranty is typical. A callback warranty means that within one year, a building owner has the right to call back the contractor and expect him or her to repair work, Lehman says.
The downside for homeowners who agree to a one-year warranty is that they likely trade away their right to the implied warranty, and they may also agree to limit the time they have to discover a defect and sue. Obviously, this is a plus for builders because it limits their risk.
But there is no real reason a homeowner has to accept a one-year warranty simply because that’s the builder’s first offer. “It’s a negotiated point, and people can negotiate warranties that are broader — and they often do,” says Robert C. Procter, outside general counsel for the Wisconsin Builders Association. “If you don’t ask for more, you won’t get more.”
Pros and Cons of a Builder’s Warranty
Though a one-year warranty may seem like a poor deal for a homeowner, a contract with details spelled out does provide an upside: some degree of clarity in the process. Ideally, a warranty includes not only the time period that the warranty covers, but also the standards by which various materials will be evaluated, and the steps to follow when a problem arises.
In a minority of states, the legislature has codified what a warranty is and how long it lasts for a variety of materials, Jaffe says. They are California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. If you live in one of these states, you can refer to the state-set standards.
If you do not, one option is to refer to the NAHB’s publication Residential Construction Performance Guidelines. “It’s broken down by categories within the home: foundations, exterior, interior, roofing, plumbing,” Jaffe says. “If there’s an issue that comes up, you look in this publication, and it tells you what the observation is — what’s the problem.” The guide then spells out what the corrective measure — if any — should be.
If you decide to use this guide as the standards by which problems will be judged, be sure you read it first and are comfortable with its terms. Sometimes having the terms spelled out is simpler than relying on the implied warranty because the implied warranty is so vague.
“The implied warranty doesn’t have a fixed time; it’s a reasonable period of time,” says Jaffe, of the NAHB. “If you’re a homeowner, and you call your builder up in year five and say, ‘There’s a crack here, and I think you should come out and fix it because it’s a defect,’ well, at that point, it may or may not be related to something that the builder did or didn’t do. Is it a defect? Who is going to make that determination? What is the fix? Who is responsible for it?”
Relying on the implied warranty means that these sorts of questions would need to be resolved in court if the parties aren’t willing to, or can’t, come to an agreement on their own. Open for debate is whether an item is a warranty item, and for how long it’s covered. Having these issues determined in court can be an expensive, time-consuming headache for everyone involved.
Still, some attorneys say owners might be better off with the implied warranty than giving up their rights for a limited one provided by the builder. “You build a house, and you expect it to be there for a long time. The buildings in Europe have been there a long time. The pyramids have been there a long time. The question is how long is it reasonable for you to expect it to last,” says Susan Linden McGreevy, an attorney in Kansas City, Kansas, who specializes in commercial real estate work. “If it has to get before a jury, the contractor has lost already. What I mean is, the jury will always find in favor of a homeowner — unless they’re a real flake.”
Going Beyond Warranties
Despite all this talk of legalities, there is an important caveat: Many good builders will continue to be helpful even after their express warranty has passed. Anne Higuera, co-owner of Ventana Construction in Seattle, provides a one-year warranty to her clients. Nonetheless, Ventana has made repairs and fixes even years after the one-year warranty expired. Higuera says the company does so because the builders want good relationships with their customers, and because they feel as though it’s the right thing to do. “Warranty issues come up very rarely if you do things well in the first place,” Higuera says. “Just finding a contractor who does the right thing on the front end helps you avoid issues with warranty.”
More Ways to Protect Yourself
So what should homeowners do if a builder is offering only a one-year warranty? One option is to negotiate for a longer period of time. “You might want to say, ‘I’ll take a one-year warranty for everything except latent defects,’” McGreevey says. (Reminder: Those are the kind that take a long time to discover, such as foundation problems.)
Another option owners have is to ask builders about insurance products. Many builders offer products with an extended warranty — as long as 10 years — that is backed by insurance companies. These are typically paid for by the builder, with the cost passed on to the homeowner.
Third, homeowners would be wise to consult an attorney to make sure that they’re not giving up rights unknowingly. Given that owners are spending thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars on construction, paying for five to 10 hours of an attorney’s time (at $300 per hour, $1,500 to $3,000) to ensure that the contract is sound is probably a good investment. “Would you buy a car for $50,000 and not read any of the financing information?” says Lehman, the Atlanta attorney. “And then people do that for a home construction project.”
Finally, the most important thing is for both contractors and owners to screen each other carefully. “Ninety-eight percent of the homeowner-builder relationships, when there’s a disagreement, most parties reach a reasonable conclusion, even if they’re not 100 percent happy,” says Procter, the Wisconsin attorney. “The contracts matter more when someone is not being reasonable.”
By Erin Carlyle, Houzz.com