Be sure you’re walking away with all the money you’re entitled to from the sale of your home.
When you’re ready to close on the sale of your home and move to your new home, you may be so close to the finish line that you coast, thinking there’s nothing left for you to do. Not so fast. It’s easy to waste a few dollars here and for mistakes to creep into your closing documents there, all adding up to a bundle of lost profit. Spot money-losing problems with these seven tips.
1. Take services out of your name.
Avoid a dispute with the buyers after closing over things like fees for the cable service you forgot to discontinue. Contact every utility and service provider to end or transfer service to your new address as of the closing date.
If you’re on an automatic-fill schedule for heating oil or propane, don’t pay for a pre-closing refill that provides free fuel for the new owner. Contact your insurer to terminate coverage on your old home, get coverage on your new home, and ask whether you’re entitled to a refund of prepaid premium.
2. Spread the word on your change of address.
Provide the post office with your forwarding address two to four weeks before the closing. Also notify credit card companies, publication subscription departments, friends and family, and your financial institutions of your new address.
3. Manage the movers.
Scrutinize your moving company’s estimate. If you’re making a long-distance move, which is often billed according to weight, note the weight of your property and watch so the movers don’t use excessive padding to boost the weight. Also check with your homeowners insurer about coverage for your move. Usually movers cover only what they pack.
4. Do the settlement math.
Title company employees are only human, so they can make mistakes. The day before your closing, check the math on your HUD-1 Settlement Statement.
5. Review charges on your settlement statement.
Are all mortgages being paid off, and are the payoff amounts correct? If your real estate agent promised you extras — such as a discounted commission or a home warranty policy — make sure that’s included. Also check whether your real estate agent or title company added fees that weren’t disclosed earlier. If any party suggests leaving items off the settlement statement, consult a lawyer about whether that might expose you to legal risk.
6. Search for missing credits.
Be sure the settlement company properly credited you for prepaid expenses, such as property taxes and homeowners association fees, if applicable. If you’ve prepaid taxes for the year, you’re entitled to a credit for the time you no longer own the home. Have you been credited for heating oil or propane left in the tank?
7. Don’t leave money in escrow.
End your home sale closing with nothing unresolved. Make sure the title company releases money already held in escrow for you, and avoid leaving sales proceeds in a new escrow to be dickered over later.
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.
When your kids whine, “I’m borrrrrred” during school breaks, sign into plant and animal tracking websites and teach them about nature.
If you’re looking for something constructive for kids to do during school breaks and get them to help you with yardwork and gardening, turn them into junior environmental reporters by logging onto websites that track the comings and goings of plants and animals.
These tracking sites depend on participants to report when they see a particular bud blooming or hummingbird humming as a way to determine how environmental factors — temperature, rain, whatever — are changing established growing and migration patterns.
Your kids will learn how to identify creatures large and small, understand the growing stages of plants, and appreciate the inextricable link between man and nature. At the very least, you’ll recruit a grunt worker (think weeding!) and unglue them from their video games.
Here are some reporting sites to check out.
Project BudBurst: BudBurst is a national network of people who monitor plants as the seasons change and collect important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting — called “phenophases.” Scientists use the data to learn how individual plant species are responding to climate change. You can make single reports or keep a running log of what you see.
Hummingbirds.net: Hummingbirds are Nature’s sideshow — humming, darting, dive-bombing miniatures that are a riot to watch and feed. Your kid can help track of the Ruby-throated hummingbird’s migration by contributing to the site’s map, which indicates when the little darlings show up throughout the U.S. Hummingbirds.net also tracks hummingbird festivals around the U.S., a novel family vacation destination. More: Great projects for kids that attract birds to your backyard.
Journey North: This site — and mobile app — turns your child into a field biologist who can report sighting everything from monarch butterflies to singing frogs. Your child also can viewmaps that document other sightings. What better way to learn by doing?
Project FeederWatch: Thousands of FeederWatchers count the birds that arrive at their feeders from November through April, and report the information to the tracking project, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants receive the project’s annual summary publication, Winter Bird Highlights. Sign ups for the 2012-2013 season are underway now. A $12 to $15 donation is required to receive the data entry kit.
What home and garden projects have you enlisted your kids to do? How do you keep them busy during school vacations?
5 easy (really!) things you can do to put a dent in energy bills.
You know that 10 or 20 pounds that you just can’t seem to lose? You do the right thing — eat kale or log time on the StairMaster — but the weight clings. You feel powerless.
It’s like that with our energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us think we’re not using as much energy as we did five years ago, and almost one-half of us think our homes are energy efficient. But 59% also say our energy bills have gone up, according to consumer research by the Shelton Group, a marketing and advertising agency that specializes in energy-efficiency issues.
Call that the Snackwell’s effect, says Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton. Basically, we’re saying, “I bought these CFLs so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I bought a high-efficiency washer and dryer because I want to do more laundry without paying more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.”
Unfortunately, that disconnect has led to defeat. We feel victimized by our energy bills and powerless to the point where we’re making fewer energy-efficient improvements. In fact, Shelton’s research shows consumers made only 2.6 improvements in 2012 compared with 4.6 in 2010.
Until the day we all get energy dashboards in our home, we’re here to help you understandwhy your energy costs are where they are and how you can take back your energy bills.
Hint: You need to do four or five energy-efficient things to see a difference; one or two won’t cut it. But — good news! — they don’t cost much to do.
Why Do We Feel Victimized?
We don’t know what we’re buying. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis for which we have no idea how much we pay until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.
Energy costs are going up. Inflation is mainly to blame. Your bills are projected to rise on average 2% per year through 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the energy department. Expect about 3.4% per year if the economy gets sluggish.
Other trends pushing up our energy usage:
- A growing population means more homes.
- New homes are getting bigger, though our families are getting smaller, according to the Census Bureau.
- We’re plugging in more devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, X-boxes, plasma TVs) per household — and not unplugging them. (More on behavior later.)
In fact, for the first time, energy use for appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting accounts for more than heating and cooling, according to EIA.
Still, overall consumption is pretty flat through 2040, thanks in part to:
- Population migration to dryer, warmer climates in the South and West.
- People living in multifamily rather than single-family situations.
We make assumptions.
Assumption #1. Unless a home is old — more than 30 years — we figure it was built to code, which requires a certain amount of energy efficiency. But building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.
Assumption #2. We think utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government. But keep this mind: To get rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions. They’re also on the hook to pay for such things as:
- Infrastructure upgrades put off for years
- Equipment repairs after bouts of nutty weather
Another reason rates seem stuck is because utilities bundle fuel, service, and delivery fees together.
Assumption #3. Our expectations for energy savings are out of whack. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.
Sorry, unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. If you do all the right things (we’ll tell you about the best five later), you could expect a 20% to 30% reduction, Head says, particularly if you don’t succumb to the Snackwell’s effect.
What does 30% translate into? $660 in savings per year or $55 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,200 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Assumption #4. Many of us don’t know how to make the biggest impact on our homes. That’s why we sometimes replace our windows first, when that should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.
There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).
But if you spend $9,000 to $12,000 on windows and save 7% to 15% on your energy bill, according to DOE data, when you could have spent around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and saved 10% to 20% on your energy bill, you made the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs.
The real reasons for getting new windows are “emotional rather than financial,” Shelton says.
The 5 Things You Should Do to Show Your Bills Who’s Boss
1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend, sealing penetrations into your home from:
Savings: Up to $220 per year, says EPA
2. Hire an HVAC contractor to take a hard look at all your ductwork — are there any ducts leaking that need to be resealed? — and give you an HVAC tune-up.
Savings: Up to $330 per year, for duct sealing and tune up, says DOE
3. Program your thermostat. Shelton found that 40% of consumers in her survey admit to not programming their thermostat to energy-saving settings. She thinks it’s even higher.
Savings: Up to $180 per year, says EPA
4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs. We suggest LEDs, which have fewer issues than CFLs (namely, no mercury), and although expensive are coming down in price. We’ve even seen a $10 model.
Savings: $75 per year by replacing your five most frequently-used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models, says EPA.
5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Dropping 20 degrees could save 6% to 10% on your annual water heating costs, which are 14% to 18% of your utility bills. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.
Savings: $18 to $39 per year
Important note: Resist the urge to total these numbers for an annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.
But these practices can help you achieve the goal of shaving 20% to 30% of your annual bill ($440 to $660).
Energy Savings is Addictive. What Else Can We Do?
If you want to go further and spend more, especially if you’re not planning to sell your home soon:
- Add insulation. Anything you can do to shore up your building envelope is good.
- If major appliances like your HVAC and water heater are nearing the end of their useful life, research energy-efficient replacements and keep the info where you’ll remember. Otherwise, you’ll make a reactive purchase when the unit finally breaks.
- Contact your utility about rebates for investing in improvements. Or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.
A Final Word: Oh, Behave!
Remember the Snackwell’s effect? If your behavior — unplugging chargeable devices from the socket when they’re done charging; putting computers, TVs, and media on smart strips and turning them off at once; reprogramming your thermostat at daylight savings time — doesn’t support your improvements, you’re letting energy, an invisible product, win.