Home own tips

Storm Preparation on Cape Cod

With the 2018 hurricane season in full swing, preparing for a storm should be front of everyone's mind.  And while late summer and fall hurricanes do pose serious concerns for the Cape, winter Nor'easters are often just as damaging with the additional possibility of freezing temperatures.  To make sure you and your house are prepared to weather any storm here are some specific recommendations to consider.  

Landscaping

  Trees are a major threat to structures, cars, and people in storms.  In particular Cape Cod has a lot of pitch pines that tend to snap off large limbs or drop the entire top in large wind events.  If you have them, make sure they are far away from your house so that, if they do fall, they won't land on anything important (see right.  This was the 'Freaky Friday' storm in December 2005.  Luckily no one was hurt but the driver had only returned home ten minutes before).  Obviously it is important to take a good look at any tree that is close to a structure, not just pines.  Additionally limbs that overhang the roof cause more lichen to grow, shortening its life, and leaves and needles clog up gutters adding to drainage issues in heavy rains.

Make a prep bag

  We are big fans of self reliance.  To that end preparing for the worst is a good way to make the best of a bad situation.  Have a grab bag ready in case you lose power for several days.  Here is the FEMA website with good instructions too. Crank flashlights and radios are great since they don't need batteries, also make sure you have some way to eat.  Your gas may work in a storm but your electric sparker won't so don't forget matches.  Also have enough canned food in the pantry for a few days in case cooking isn't an option.  Also if you don't want to live rugged at home without power, your bag should include what you need at a shelter, bedding, toiletries, medications and some personal items (games and books!) will make smart additions to a prep bag.  During major storms emergency services are already stretched to the max so make sure to get to a shelter before travel gets dangerous or you become an emergency yourself.  In winter this becomes a serious decision since power loss often means loss of heat as well.  If you have a working fireplace or wood stove stock up on plenty of good dry wood.  And get out all those ugly old wool sweaters and down comforters!  

Prepare your house

If you are planning on being out of town or leaving your home for a shelter, turn off the water.  This is true even in the summer but especially in the winter.  We can't stress this enough.  With no heat in your house there is nothing keeping your pipes from freezing and turning your house into a skating rink.  Even if your pipes do burst, with the water off, there is a limited amount of damage that can be done.  Boarding up windows is a good idea for people who leave for long periods of time.  We see it less and less these days since windows are more durable, but it won't hurt.  If you aren't boarding up and high winds are expected, consider taping your windows or drape sheets against the inside to reduce broken glass damage.  Mind you, those sheets will blow away if a window breaks but they'll also help keep the glass contained.  Here is a fun anecdote.  Off the coast of Maine, where many small private islands exist with seasonal cottages, many people intentionally leave their door unlocked.  Why you may ask?  This not-so-secret secret is well known among the fishing and maritime community as a means of survival.  Homeowners leave food and blankets on the kitchen table in case a stranded fisherman (or a wrecked one) needs some help.  Our favorite part of this story, no one betrays this trust and loots - ever.  The lesson here is don't forget to help your neighbors.

We hope you found these tips helpful.  If you need recommendations for good local landscapers or tree professionals please contact us

 

Ask Agnes: Selling and Buying on Cape Cod - Part 3

In this series we examine the process of selling on Cape Cod - and don't worry, we'll get to the buying soon.  This installment includes getting from negotiation to closing.

"Hey Agnes, I finally have a good offer?  What now?"

"Congratulations!  You have been putting up with the inconveniences of showings and open houses and it has finally paid off (for an idea of the process up to this point, check out part 1 and part 2).  Now is when we work with both parties to agree on a contract for the sale.  The truth is that price is only part of what can be negotiated when selling a home.  Other items that we frequently see involved in negotiations are deferred repairs (like aging roofs, windows etc...), septics, and personal property."

"Wait, a buyer can ask me to repair my roof before they buy my house?"

Well they can certainly ask - but the outcome is negotiable.  Let me use an example: your house is on the market for $350,000 and has an aging roof.  A buyer offers $350,000 if a new roof is installed.  After some back and forth both parties agree to $340,000 without a new roof.  In this case the cost of the roof is the negotiating point and the seller will not need to install a new roof before the sale.  We can imagine that this negotiation may have started with a buyer offer of $335,000 (from a quote of $15,000 for a new roof) but the savvy seller found another quote for only $5,000.  The two parties decided to split the difference.  A main point to keep in mind as the seller is how your pricing strategy reflects the 'listing price'.  If your home has a lot of wear and tear, an aging roof, and old windows, but it was priced accordingly, then items like the roof may not be negotiated at all.  You may have seen this in homes listed in 'As Is' condition, meaning the seller isn't willing to negotiate on items related to the condition of the home.  Employing a qualified real estate agent is a great way to worry less about the details of the negotiation (that's our job).  If you are interested in a home that doesn't need anything except to put your feet up and enjoy the water view, check out this property at 13 Beachwood Rd, South Yarmouth."

"That sounds great, but what do you mean 'personal property'"

"Well, often homes are sold empty, but sometimes they are sold furnished or a few items (pianos, pool tables and kids play areas are good examples), can be a part of the negotiation and sale as well.  Negotiations that don't involve furniture or other items of personal property are often smoother.  Believe it or not negotiating several $200 items in a $350,000 sale can literally make a deal fall apart, so it helps to keep the big picture in mind. This is always a sticky situation and we recommend to our clients that the family heirloom french armoire be explicitly excluded from a sale in the listing descriptions."

"OK, we finished negotiating and agreed on terms, what next?"

"Well done.  Negotiating to this point is a challenge, but there is still a lot that needs to happen.  The most important thing to a seller is the home inspection contingency.  In this case the buyer is allowed supervised access to the home where they can have a knowledgeable professional(s) look the house over from joist to rafter.  Sometimes, buyers will pull out of a transaction based on this assessment, or they will attempt to negotiate repairs or a lower price.  Having a real estate agent on your side can help with further negotiation or identify if a contract should be terminated."

"And that's it?"

 "Not yet.  Buyers will often require financing (a mortgage) to buy a home which can take a long time to acquire (45 days or more).  Also appraisals may need to be done, along with inspections, final bills and certificates of compliance from a variety of governmental agencies.  On the seller side most of this time is spent setting up your own move while your agent works to keep everything plugging along smoothly. Finally the house will 'close' when paperwork is signed and the deed is recorded at the registry of deeds."

Thank you Agnes.  As usual we rely on your years of expertise and insight.  Our next installment will involve getting from negotiation to closing.  Feel free to contact us with questions.

5 Things to Consider When Hiring a Contractor

Fall is a great time to consider more significant home improvements including bathroom and kitchen remodeling, exterior residing and shingling, and landscaping upgrades and improvements.  With the holidays still months away many projects can be completed before guests, turkeys, and trees begin occupying your time.  If your project is a more significant undertaking, you can at least begin a conversation so that improvements can be done next year.  With this in mind here are our top five considerations when hiring a contractor.

1. ASK AROUND

The most significant way to spare yourself a headache down the road is to ask your friends and neighbors about their experiences.  If you notice quality craftsmanship at a dinner party, ask about the responsible contractor; if exterior repairs and painting look stunning, check for signs in the yard; if landscaping is exquisite... well, you get the idea.  If someone comes highly recommended they more than likely do a great job.  The trim pictured at left should raise a red flag if newer construction; in this case, this is 30 years old and in an outdoor shower, we figure we'll cut the builder some slack.

2. GET REFERENCES AND EXAMPLES OF WORK

A good contractor will stand by their work so ask to see examples (particularly of older work to determine longevity).  If a contractor does a dynamite paint job that in two years is chipping away, consider going elsewhere; also be aware that interior work is difficult to see in occupied homes but you can always ask the contractor - as should be obvious, inviting yourself onto others' property is inappropriate.  If you don't like the work they do, don't use them.  We love the custom tile work at 9 Osborn Snow Drive in East Dennis, pictured at right, as well as so much more in this luxury home.

3. EXPECT A WRITTEN CONTRACT

While operating on a handshake is doable, writing down your specific agreement insures both you and the contractor know what is expected.  Written contracts can easily be appended in the event of changes so don't think they lock you into an immutable arrangement (also four months is a long time to remember whether the painter was responsible for trim on the dog house or not).  Our advice - make sure 'clean-up' is well defined and a part of any agreement.

4. GET MULTIPLE BIDS

Too often people go with the first offer without considering other bids - this is a mistake.  Furthermore asking for bids from multiple contractors informs one of the most important things about them, their timeliness.  Frequently we make four or five calls for a job and receive only two calls back.  No matter how highly recommended someone is they don't win points by being hard to reach, late with offers, or otherwise discourteous in any way.

5. BE REASONABLE AND PATIENT

Even excellent contractors can't make every deadline and there are plenty of legitimate reasons why something may not go as expected.  Good contractors are busy and may not be able to work with you for months, or even years.  In addition, when you are working with someone don't expect that they will be able to do everything today, be understanding with reasonable delays, and be kind.  If things aren't going as expected then you can always refer to your written contract about how to end the work.  In fact, the land at 196 Baxter Street, South Dennis - pictured at left - has been on a contractors docket for nearly 15 years, but we are constantly reassured a house will be built any day now (just kidding of course.  But give us a call if you are interested in this land...it is a lot to love.)

 

If you have any questions about how home improvements affect your property in the market feel free to contact us today, we are always happy to answer any questions you may have.

Add value to your home through exterior improvements

  As the days get shorter and the prospect of fall becomes ever more apparent, outdoor landscaping improvements seem less daunting.  Cooler weather makes outdoor projects more enjoyable and undertaking even simple jobs can add significantly to the curb appeal of your home.  The National Association of Realtors published a report relating to the benefits of outdoor remodeling projects that you can find here and while many of their suggestions are valid in the national market we pulled out the one we find most pertinent to Cape Cod.

LAWN CARE AND MAINTENANCE is by far the most important and cost effective thing you can do to add value to your home. We can not stress enough the importance of keeping your landscaping neat.  You needn't spend a fortune to re-sod your lawn, install irrigation, repave your driveway and invest in mature plantings in order to reap gains on the sale price of your home.  For the cost of a used lawn mower (often free) and an hour once or twice a week you can add value to your property and enjoy a more pleasing atmosphere in the mean time. One of the most important aspects of cost-effective landscape care is matching it to the condition of your home.  On Cape Cod a lot of small cottages have 'Cape Cod lawns' - which is a nice way of saying mostly pine needles and some tenacious tufts of grass here and there - and, if paired with a clean, weed-free shell driveway and well pruned shrubs, requires minimum  investment in landscaping improvement.  However, newer homes with poorly maintained landscaping (spots on the lawn, overgrowth, rotting fences) significantly detract from the curb appeal and, ultimately, sale price of your home.  If it is in the budget, having trusted and professional landscapers on a yearly maintenance schedule is a great way to be sure your landscaping looks its best as they can take care of fall cleanup, spring planting, regular pruning, trimming and mowing and much more.  Let's see a few examples:

429 Bragg's Lane in Barnstable, is an updated home with appropriately matched and maintained landscaping.  The plantings in front are below the windows and the lawn is well maintained, which is appropriate for the condition of the home.   Also shown is a cute patio in the backyard.  While not always needed or fitting, adding tasteful exterior living space can definitely add value to your home, and this simple patio is a great example of that.  Unfortunately this home just sold for $480K but if you are interested in other Barnstable homes check this out.

5 Sebastian Way in South Yarmouth, is an example of a house with appropriate and simple landscaping.  The minimal plantings in front are still growing into their spaces , the hydrangeas are well pruned and blooming, and the lawn (a good example of a Cape Cod lawn), is trimmed with the flower beds neatly mulched and ringed in front.  As a cute summer getaway or year-round residence, this home also benefits from a simple fire-pit ringed with bricks.  Well matched and well maintained beats neglected every time.  Yarmouth is a beautiful town and there are plenty of other Yarmouth listing to be seen here.

As a final point regarding soft-scaping, the late summer and early fall is a great time to reseed your lawn on Cape Cod.  The ground is warm and yet the scorching summer sun is in the past so seedlings have a chance to get established before the winter.  Believe it or not, many grasses will survive a winter covered in snow more easily than a summer baked in sun - so time to reseed ladies and gentlemen.

If you need help contacting trusted local landscapers or have questions about buying or selling a home please give us a call today.

Homeownership on Cape Cod Part III

We have just introduced a new informational page on the website, 'Homeownership on Cape Cod'.  We will be adding more information to it in the future, but for now here is the third part of that page with some useful information regarding basements, sump pumps and dirt roads.  As always contact us for information about both buying and selling on Cape Cod.

 

Basements and Sump Pumps

   Cape Cod's proximity to the ocean is part of what makes it such a treasured and wonderful place to live.  The water that makes up our aquifer floats on the saltwater and, when the groundwater is high, can be seen in basements.  When the Cape was first settled basements were dug by hand and, as a result, often were shallow or limited to root cellars under only a portion of the house and many antiques on Cape Cod still feature these stonewalled and circular cellars close to kitchens.  As development progressed and heating requirements changed from hearths to furnaces, the 'Cape Cod Basement' was born.  In these instances a small section of the basement is accessible from an exterior bulkhead and is often deep enough to stand in.  These smaller areas sometimes feature furnaces, water heaters, oil tanks, washing machines or dryers - whereas the rest of the basement is frequently an earthen floor and only small enough in which to crawl, affectionately known as a 'crawl space'.  Another commonly seen aspect of basements on Cape Cod are sump pumps which act to keep the groundwater below the floor of the basement.  Like any appliance these should be maintained and specifically checked after significant rain storms and during the spring.  

 

Dirt Roads and Wooden Bridges

    The Cape’s rural past still has other remnants including dirt roads, wooden bridges and low bridges.  Picturesque examples of wooden bridges can be seen crossing Bell’s Neck Road and North Road (the walking bridge pictured at right) in Harwich, and the bridge to Lieutenant’s Island in Welfleet.  

   

    Living on a dirt road comes with the advantages that the traffic is limited generally to locals and the poetic benefit of being able to say ‘turn down the dirt road’ when inviting friends to dinner.  

 

Homeownership on Cape Cod Part II

We have just introduced a new informational page on the website, 'Homeownership on Cape Cod'.  We will be adding more information to it in the future, but for now here is the second part of that page with some useful information on septic systems, building norms and utilities.  As always contact us for information about both buying and selling on Cape Cod.

 

Cape Cod Homeownership

Septic Systems

    One very common and sometimes befuddling aspect of local homeownership on Cape Cod relates to septic systems.  Put simply these are systems that collect wastewater from the home, separate solids from liquids, and leech the liquids back through a natural soil filter into the ground.  For more information on septic systems please check out some of these useful links

Local Building and Construction in Brief

    Regarding construction on Cape Cod, the traditional 'Cape' style house (pictured with red painted clapboards) stems from a New England style of utter utilitarianism.  The fairly high pitched roof prevented the crushing weight of heavy snowfall from collapsing the building and the upstairs bedrooms meant the heat would rise upstairs to make sleeping more comfortable.  You can find 'Half Capes' and full Capes all over, though many have seen additions or dormers added to increase usable space.  Most construction on Cape Cod is wooden framed with cedar shingles or clapboards for siding and pitched asphalt roofs.  Some homes also have red cedar shingling on the roof.  We have a graphic here, that does a phenomenal job of illustrating the elements of homes.  

Utilities

    A fact of life on Cape Cod (as with anywhere) is the occasional power outage.  Cape Cod, being a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean, receives a number of storms during the year, particularly during the winter.  Affectionately known as Nor'easters from the direction of the wind, these storms can cause some damage to the unprepared house.

Homeownership on Cape Cod Part I

We have just introduced a new informational page on the website, 'Homeownership on Cape Cod'.  We will be adding more information to it in the future, but for now here is the first part of that page with some useful town and county information.  As always contact us for information about both buying and selling on Cape Cod.

 

Cape Cod has so much to offer residents.  Our guide to homeownership in this beautiful region provides information for current residents and prospective homeowners.  An excellent place to begin is the Barnstable County government website that includes numerous resources and services for residents and property owners.  To highlight a few:

  • Cape Cod Commission: "The Cape Cod Commission (CCC) is the regional land use planning, economic development, and regulatory agency created in 1990 to serve the citizens and 15 towns of Barnstable County, Massachusetts."
  • Cape Cod Cooperative Extension: The education department for Barnstable County including excellent resources for planting and maintaining local plants, tick mitigation and much more.
Barnstable County Taxes 2017

Assessed Values

Chamber of Commerce School District
Barnstable (town) $9.54 Assessor Town, Hyannis  Barnstable
Bourne $10.30 Assessor Cape Cod Canal Bourne
Brewster $8.39 Assessor Town Nauset
Chatham $5.03 Assessor Town Monomoy
Dennis $6.15 Assessor Town D-Y
Eastham $7.90 Assessor Town Nauset
Falmouth $8.53 Assessor Town Falmouth
Harwich $8.97 Assessor Town Monomoy
Mashpee $9.08 Assessor Town Mashpee
Orleans $6.33 Assessor Town Nauset
Provincetown $7.71 Assessor Town Elementary, HS
Sandwich $14.93 Assessor Cape Cod Canal Sandwich
Truro $6.98 Assessor Town Nauset
Wellfleet $6.78 Assessor Town Nauset
Yarmouth $10.02 Assessor Town D-Y

 

Town & County Specific Information

    Each town on Cape Cod hosts a website with a variety of information ranging from beach and transfer station sticker information, to events and town committee agendas. We pulled out the county's and each town's website, taxes, assessed values and field cards, local chambers of commerce, and school districts.

Barnstable County houses a registry of deeds, in the town of Barnstable, on route 6A.  Here you can discover much about the ownership record, title history and liens on properties as well as much more.  Don't be discouraged by the nuanced interface, the county employees are helpful in person and over the phone.  As an interesting side note, the first ninety-four volumes recorded at the registry were lost in a catastrophic fire in 1827.  As a result, some of the property history is still in land court if instruments could not be re-recorded.  So don't be discouraged if you can't find what you are looking for, just check in 'land court' instead of the 'recorded land'.