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Beware of online real estate scams

Source: Courant Homfinder

Technology has made a lot of things easier and faster, but not always better or safer – beware of fraudulent real estate listings that reuse photos and property information available online.

When a seller lists his property for sale with a real estate company, the broker submits the listing information to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  The upside to this technology is that the information is immediately available to every other agent who is a member of that MLS.

 

Another elegant aspect of today’s  technology is that someone in Idaho, Nebraska or China, for example, can search for properties in Connecticut or any other state by looking at online real estate websites such as Realtor.com and Zillow.com.  The information is available because many MLSs have agreements with these sites to feed them listings since sellers want maximum exposure for their properties.

Fast and easy is good, but there is a downside to real estate listings being broadcast all over the planet – listings agents have no control over the information once it has left the MLS.  Those folks who are not real estate licensees, but who are technologically adept (and have bad intentions) can take listing information and modify it so that a property listed for sale on one site can become a property for rent on another.

A homeowner in northwestern Connecticut who had recently listed his property for sale with a real estate broker answered a knock at his door and found a couple asking to tour his home.  They had seen his house online and were interested in it.  The owner let them in, and as the couple was leaving,  they made an offer to rent his property. “Rent?”  The owner responded by saying that his property was not for rent, it was for sale.  The couple said they had seen the property somewhere online for rent. Apparently, a skillful hacker had taken the “for sale” listing and refashioned it as “for rent”.

Technology has also created a dilemma for real estate agents in that they have no control over who is looking at the listing once it’s “out there”.  Many listings include interior pictures or a video tout of the home that shows not only the floor plan, but the silver candlesticks, artwork and children’s names on their bedroom walls.  The possibility exists that some people viewing the listing may not be bona fide purchasers, so while internet exposure can be good, limited personal information is wise.

The technological downside doesn’t affect just sellers, it can also impact tenants.  Here’s a recent story:  A couple wanting to rent a shoreline property contacted the listing agent in an online posting.  The couple paid the agent the first month’s rent and security deposit in cash.  They went to “their” property only to find that the home had a family living in it and that it never had been listed for rent or sale.  The “listing agent” had gathered information on this home from online sources, created an ad and posted as the listing agent.  By the time the couple realized they had been scammed,, the “agent” was nowhere to be found.  In this case, technology made this transaction fast and east for the crook, but not better or safe for the tenant.

Judith I. Johansen is Assistant Counsel for the Connecticut Association of Realtors®, Inc..

 

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Conditions prime for home buying in 2012

Source: Courant HomeFinder Digest

With the housing market and mortgage industry gearing up for their peak season in home buying activity, a number of indications from both sectors could mean the most successful season in years.

Mortgage application activity on the rise

According to a recent report from the Mortgage Bankers Association, home loan activity rose 1.4 percent during the week ending May 4.  This overall increase was spurred by an upswing of purchase requests, as the refinancing share of the index declined.

Refinancing requests fell marginally to 72.1 percent from 72.6 percent a week earlier, the report found.  In addition, government initiatives such as the Home Affordable Refinance Program and Home Affordable requests from distressed borrowers as the Government Refinance Index fell 2.3 percent from the previous week.

These trends of rising purchase applications and decreasing refinance activity could be an indicator that the housing market is growing stronger.  The fact that the refinance share of mortgage application activity has trended lower during recent weeks could be a result of more current homeowners choosing to keep their home loans under the same structure as they gear up to sell their properties.

Home loan delinquencies declining

The mortgage delinquency rate of borrowers who were more than 60 days late on their home loan payments was down during the first quarter this year to a rate of just 5.78 percent.  This marks both an  annual and month-over-month decline, according to a report from TransUnion.  This is the lowest the rate has been since the beginning of 2009.  As a potential result, this could give lenders the confidence they need to extend more lines of credit to prospective borrowers in the coming months.

“To see that quarter-over-quarter, and year-over-year, more homeowners were able to make their mortgage payments is certainly welcome news, “said TransUnion U.S. housing financial services business unit Vice President Tim Martin.  “Before this, we saw two quarters of delinquency increases and while we are still about three times above the pre-recession norm, this should mark the start of consistent improvement each quarter.”

Prior to this decline, the delinquency rate had fallen for six straight quarters until climbing during the final six months of 2011.

Housing affordability reaches 40-year high

Due to recent changes in mortgage rates, median housing incomes and property values, a report from Fisery and Care-Shiller found that housing affordability is currently at the highest level seen in nearly four decades.  Home prices have fallen by as much as 35 percent since the housing market’s peak, according to the report.  Property values are now at the same level they were in 1998.

“The precipitous drop in home prices was an immediate cause of the last recession and the financial crises.  Falling home equity has cut into household consumption and has further constrained the economic recovery,” said Fisery Chief Economist David Stiff.

Nowadays, at the current median household income, the average American family that purchases a home will only need to allocate 12 percent of their annual income to the investment.  Typically, experts advise not pulling more than 30 percent of annual income toward housing, which makes 12 percent a real bargain.

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FHA Amy Ease Rules For Mortgages on Condos

Source:  Ken Harney

Home and Real Estate

www.Courant.com

Thousands of condo unit owners and buyers around the country could soon be in the line for some welcoming news on mortgage financing.  Though officials are mum on specifics, the Federal Housing Administration is readying changes to its controversial condominium rules that have rendered large numbers of units ineligible for low down-payment insured mortgages.

The revisions could remove at least some of the obstacles that have dissuaded condominium homeowner associations’ boards from seeking FHA approvals or recertification of their buildings for FHA loans during the past 18 months. Under the agency’s regulations, individual condo units in a building cannot be sold to buyers using FHA insured mortgages unless the property as a whole has been approved for financing.

According to condominium experts, realty agents, lenders and builders, FHA’s rules have become overly strict and have cut off unit buyers from their best source of low-cost mortgage money, thereby frustrating the real estate recovery that the Obama administration says it advocates.

Christopher L. Gardner, managing member of FHA ProsLLC, a national consulting firm based in Northbridge, Calif., that assists condo boards to obtain FHA approvals, said barely 25 percent of all condo projects that are potentially eligible for FHA financing are now approved.  That is despite the fact, says Gardner, that FHA financing is the No. 1 mortgage choice for half of all condo buyers and is crucial to first –time and minority purchasers.

Moe Veissi, president of the National Association of Realtors and a broker in Miami, says FHA’s strict rules “have had an enormous impact on individuals” across the country especially residents of condo projects who suddenly find they are unable to sell their units because their condo board has not sought to obtained approval from FHA as the results of objections to the agency’s strict criteria.  This, in turn, depresses the prices unit owners can obtain and ultimately, said Veissi, harms their equity holdings and financial futures.

FHA officials defend their requirements as prudent and necessary to requirements as prudent and necessary to avoid insurance fund losses, but have expressed a willingness to reconsider some of the issues that have upset condo owners and the real estate industry.  Among the biggest areas of criticism of FHA’s rules are its limitations on:

  • Non-owner occupancy.   The agency requires that no more than 50 percent of the units in a project or building be non-owner-occupied.  This rule alone has made large numbers of condominiums in hard-hit markets ineligible for FHA financing, where investors have purchased units for cash to turn into rentals.
  • Delinquent condo association fee payments.  FHA refuses to approve a project where more than 15 percent of the units are 30 days or more behind on payments of condo fees to the association.  Given the state of the economy, this has been a problem for thousands of associations, even in relatively prosperous markets.  Steve Stamets, a loan officer with Apex Home Loans in Rockville, Md., says some unit sellers and buyers have been so frustrated by the rule that they have offered to pay the amount of delinquent fees needed to bring the overall project into compliance “just to get the deal done. This is a ridiculous situation,” said Stamets, who added:  “When somebody calls up now and says they want to buy a condo with an FHA loan I cringe.”
  • Nonresidential space usage.  FHA has set a cap of 25 percent of the total floor space in a project for commercial use. Critics say this is too low and unrealistic for condo projects in urban areas, where retail and office revenues can be important to overall financial feasibility.

The agency has imposed a long list of other requirements on insurance and reserves, plus a highly controversial rule that associations interpret as creating sever legal liabilities for condo board officers if applications for FHA approvals contain inaccuracies.  Andrew Fortin, vice  president for government and public affairs at Dallas-based Associa, one of the country’s largest homeowner association management firms, say that many boards, facing the prospect of up to 30 years in prison and heavy financial penalties, have refused to apply solely because of this personal liability requirement.

FHA is expected to clarify and make other modifications in its forthcoming rules.  Whether the changes will be enough to convince condo boards to apply for approvals in large numbers is uncertain, but industry experts say they – and condo unit owners – are likely to welcome whatever loosening of the current restrictions FHA can offer.

For any questions relating to buying a home, Call Alan Barberino Real Estate, LLC 203-269-0284 x110

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U.S. Home Sales Up

Source: Record Journal

WASHINGTON (AP)Americans are buying more homes in every region of the country, the latest indication that the housing market could be on the mend.

An increasing portion of those sales are from first-time buyers, who are critical to a housing recovery.  Sales of previously occupied rose 3.4 percent in April from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.  That nearly matches January’s pace of 4.63 million – the best in two years.  It is still well below the nearly 6 million that most economists equate with healthy markets.

A pickup in hiring and cheaper mortgages, combined with lower home prices in most markets, has made home buying more attractive.  While many economists acknowledge that the market has a long way to go, most said the April sales report was encouraging.

“The trend in sales is upward, and we think it has a good deal further to go over the next months as payrolls pick up further and mortgage availability improved,”, said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics.

Sales rose last month from March in all regions of the country.  They increased 5.1 percent rise in the Northeast, 3.5 percent in the South, 4.4 percent in the West and 1 percent in the Midwest.

And more first-time buyers entered the market.  In April, they made up 35 percent of sales.  That’s up from 32 percent in March.

“First-time homebuyers are slowly making their way back,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.  “That is still below the 40 percent-to45 percent range during healthy times, but the highest measures completed sales.  A sale typically closes a month or two after a buyer signs a contract to buy a home.  But a growing number of buyers in recent months have been investors who pay cash, which speeds up the process.

For questions, concerns, assistance in Connecticut Real Estate and Homes for sale or Condominium Property Management, visit www.BarberinoRealEstate.com or call 203-269-0284 x 110

In The Swim – Decisions you need to make when considering a pool for your home

Source: William Hageman – Tribune Newspapers

A swimming pool can be the crown jewel of your property, capable of turning a bland yard into an outdoor oasis.  But before you take the plunge, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons of various pools.  Here are sone things to consider:

Categories:  Aboveground and in-ground are the two main types of pools.  Above ground pools are  less expensive, less permanent and come in a choice of sidings (resin, aluminum, steel).  There are also inflatable varieties.  These are typically do-it-yourself projects.

In-ground pools – more costly, larger and permanent – come in four basic types; vinyl liner (a linter is attached to a frame built in the excavation), aluminum (a cheaper material but not as sturdy), fiberglass (a large factory into an excavation by crane) and concrete (construction on-site to your specs and available in these, professional installation is the norm.

Is it worth your while?  A key consideration – before size, depth, shape or cost is whether you are planning to stay in your home for a while.  If confronted with a foreclosure, layoff or job transfer, there are few alternatives for relocating the pool.

“An aboveground pool is not meant to be moved, but they can be,” said Dan Harrison, president of online pool and spa retailer poolandspa.com. “They have to be taken apart carefully, boxed up and moved.  With an in-ground, you’re making a very big commitment.  If you’d asked me 10, 15 years ago, those word wouldn’t have come out of my mouth, but that’s a very big concern these days.”

Design.  Harrison said have a pool design in mind before visiting and installer.  He suggested checking out pool websites or doing an online search of pool images.

“Look at 500 images, then print out five of them that you like,” he said. “Then when you’re going to the pool store, you can tell them; this is kind of what I like.  What is so important to one person might not even be on the radar of someone else.”

The design or shape of the pool will also depend on intended use.  If you want to swim laps all day, rectangular is the way to go.  If you want to host neighborhood or family gatherings with games and splashing, consider other shapes and depths.  (Above ground pools don’t provide deep and shallow ends.)

Cost.  A soft-sided, above ground pool from a big box store can cost $200 to $800.  Harrison said.  “If you took those same types of dimensions and decided on steel or aluminum sides, you’re probably talking $2,000 to $6,000 or $7,000, depending on the quality, the pattern of the lining, things like that.”

Go in-ground and the sky’s the limit.  Custom concrete can be built to any design or shape.  “You can have bar stools in it, an island, a waterfall, all that stuff”, Harrison said.  “On in-grounds you can go $15,000 to $200,000.”

Beware of additional costs such as a deck and fence. “Somebody comes to us and said they want a $30,000 pool, they have to realize you’ll have to double that for the walkway and rock and all that, “Harrison said.  “When you’re considering and aboveground, it’s the price of the pool, put it up and there you go.  An in-ground, you’re paying tens of thousands for somebody to come in and dig up the yard.  Then you need brick work, landscaping, and the deck.  You have to think of it as a total yard make-over.  There are a lot more elements to in-ground pools.  Fencing kind of gives people a heart attack.  They figure they call the fence guy because they have an acre and a half, and he tells them it’s another $12,000.”

 

Construction.  An above ground pool can be set up in a few hours if youo have capable help and have done the necessary preparation.  Tome frames for in-ground pool can vary from one to three weeks (vinyl-lined), to two weeks (fiberglass) to up to we weeks (concrete).

Life  expectenancy.  Above ground pools can last 10 or 15 years or more; their liners will need replacement in 6 to 10 years, depending on use, care and climate.  In-ground pools have longer life spans.  A vinyl liner mat have to be replaces in 10 years; a concrete pool is durable and can last for decades.  If you live in an earthquake-prone area, fiberglass may be a better choice because it has some give.

Safety.  This is one area people overlook.  Above-ground pools, protected by gates and locks are safer when it comes to children.  In-ground pools can be made safer through technology – infrared sensors, gate alarms, locks, video cameras, etc.  But homeowners are often lax.

“If you’re in the house and there are kids and there’s a pool, you have to think every second that a kids can get in that pool,” Harrison said.  “Do most people think that way?  No, but that’s the truth.”

 

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New Federal Timelines May Speed Short Sales

 By:  Kenneth Harney; kenharney@earthlink.net

If you’re one of the estimated 11 million homeowners burdened with an underwater mortgage, a new federal policy could be good news starting in June when you want to do a short sale to shed your mortgage debt load and avoid foreclosure, you may not have to wait for months to hear back from your bank when you submit an offer from a potential purchaser.  Instead, if your loan is owned or securitized by either of the dominant conventional mortgage market players – Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac – you can expect a response within 30 business days, with a final decision no later than 60 days.  If you don’t hear back during the first 30 days, the bank will be required to send you weekly update telling you precisely where the holdups are and when they are likely to be resolved.  None of this is typical of short-sale procedures today.  Banks and servicers who don’t comply will face monetary and other penalties.

The mandatory timelines, which real estate and mortgage industry experts say should help speed up what traditionally has been a glacial process, are being imposed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulatory overseer of Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship.  Short sales represent and important alternative to foreclosure, and involve the lender or loan servicer agreeing to accept less than the full amount owed by the borrower.

Though they can be complex and messy, and can take anywhere from several months to more than a year to complete, short sales are turning into a mainstay of the real estate market.  According to a report from the foreclosure data firm RealtyTrac, short sales jumped by 33 percent in January compared with the same month the year before.  In 12 states – including California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New York and New Jersey – there were more shorts sales recorded during January than sales of foreclosed properties.

This trend is welcome, say regulators, but the total time required to complete short sales is still far too long,.  The 30-day and 60-day mandates address just one of the key points of delay in the process, but regulators promise a series of additional steps during the coming months designed to speed transactions.  They include clearer guidelines on borrower eligibility, property valuations, compensation for lenders holding second liens, and mortgage insurance issues.  All of these are points of friction that can delay short0sales agreement for weeks or months.

Realty agents who specialize in short sales say setting mandatory timelines is a step in the right direction, but won’t solve all the problems.  The new rules and promises of more “are great if they really happen,” said broker Erik Berry of Erik Berry and Associates in Sacramento, Calif.  Short sales that his firm handles take an average of “about six months” from start to finish on Fannie-Freddie loans.  But FHA transactions – which will not be affected by the new regulations – average much longer, and sometimes drag on for a year.

Berry also is skeptical that banks and servicers will be able to reform their staffing practices quickly enough to meet the compressed timelines – even if penalties are imposed, In some cases, he said in an interview, banks switch personnel and negotiators five or six times over the course of a short sale. “You’re dealing with one person one day and they say, don’t worry, everything’s fine, then suddenly they’re gone and you never hear from them again,” leaving the deal stalled for weeks.

Matt Battiata, whose Battiata Real Estate Group in Del Mar, Calif., handles hundreds of short sales a year, said a reliable, 60-day decision deadline for responses to offers will be helpful – 30 days better than the 90-day average he now sees from banks – but the whole process will still take longer than traditional sales.  For clients seeking to do short sales today, Battiata estimates five to six months from offer to closing.  After June, assuming the new federal rules and penalties work, the estimate might only be cut by a month.

On top of this, some of the complications inherent in short sales are beyond the control of regulators or banks, he pointed out.  For instance, buyers put in offers to purchase but then change their minds, forcing the sellers and brokers to come up with replacement offers, and the bank to reset the clock to analyze the new package.

The takeway for potential short sales:  Be aware of the new moves afoot to streamline the process but don’t expect miracles

For questions and answers on Connecticut Real Estate, Homes for sale, Leases and Condo Property Management, feel free to visit us on the web at www.BarberinoRealEstate.com or call Alan Barberino at 203-265-7534

The Board/Management Relationship – A Joint Effort

The Board/Management Relationship – A Joint Effort.

The Board/Management Relationship – A Joint Effort

Source: By Hannah Fons, Manning Krull, Article Options www.NewEnglandCondo.com

ImageUnless they’re self-managed, most urban residential buildings employ

professional property managers to handle their books, bid out repair

jobs, hire contractors and deal with the day-to-day administrative

functions that few unit owners or trustees have the time (or desire) to

handle themselves. The property manager is a key player in a condo

building or HOA’s day-to-day functioning.

So how do managers and boards of trustees work together for the benefit of their building communities? As with most such relationships, it depends on the manager, the building and the expectations each has for the other. By clearly communicating roles, concerns and expectations, the management /trustee relationship can be a rewarding, functional partnership.

Put It in Writing

Every building community is different—and while certain aspects of running them are similar, there are bound to be points at which buildings differ. A good manager will adapt his or her approach to each building in his or her portfolio and find out exactly how that community wants to do things.

“Some boards like to be told every little thing,” says Mark Weisman, president of Boston’s Brownstone Real Estate, “and some don’t. Sometimes, a board will say, ‘Don’t call us unless the bill is over $500.’ Some don’t want to do anything themselves. They may not even want to take their trash out—they want us to pay the bills and keep the place clean and just send them a bill every month.”

Whatever your building’s preferences and expectations, it’s impossible for anybody to carry them out if they don’t know what those preferences and expectations are in the first place. To ensure that everybody’s on the same page, it’s wise to articulate expectations clearly and then commit them to print. In other words, put it in writing.

For example, if your trustees feel that the manager should be on-site at least one day a week to deal with building business, meet with residents and staff, and inspect the property, while the manager feels that one day every other week is adequate, clearly there will be friction unless a compromise is met. By clearly stating your expectations to your manager, then allowing them to explain their own obligations and concerns to you, working through to a mutually agreeable solution and then putting that solution in writing, the potential for misunderstanding is greatly reduced.

It’s also important to have things in writing for the benefit of non-trustee residents. If a tear sheet or informational memo is available outlining exactly when management will be on-site, whom to contact in case of an emergency and the schedules for things like trash collection and snow removal, residents will more likely adhere to house rules and regulations. Better still, they may be less likely to complain about lack of communication from trustees/management.

Another benefit of spelling out roles and expectations is that your trustees will have a ready-made checklist against which to compare your management company’s performance. Should your building ever opt to change companies, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel with the new managers. You can simply present them with a copy, so everyone understands what’s expected and there are no surprises for either party.

Reaching a joint agreement about what your building wants in a manager—and what your property manager can reasonably provide—is one of the most important elements of the trustee/manager relationship. With clearly defined expectations, both sides of the relationship can know where they stand and have a good idea of whether or not the relationship itself is working.

Your Manager Works for You

It’s sometimes easy for a group of trustees to forget that their building’s manager is really their employee—and that they, the board, are the ones charged with making the final decisions about how to run the building. Given that most trustees are volunteers, and not professionals in the real estate industry, informed input from the management is vital—but it’s just that: input. The trustees have the final word in the decisions that affect the building community.

To that end, boards and managers must both commit to an agenda for meetings—and an action plan for afterwards—and to do their part to carry out that action plan once the meeting adjourns. That means establishing deadlines for specific tasks, delegating responsibilities fairly and practically and following up to make sure everything that needs doing has been done.

When it comes to handling problems and complaints within the building, trustees and managers must determine who will receive complaints and how they will then be acted upon. Whether it’s a complaint committee, a phone hotline, or simply a designated go-to person for managing hot-button issues, the important thing is to establish a system and adhere to it consistently.

“I like to get an e-mail list going,” says Weisman, “so I can get in touch with everybody all at once. I know who the owners are, the tenants, the mortgagees.”

“You need to be on top of everything,” agrees Ed Lyon, owner of Preservation Properties in Newton. “As a manager, you need to set the pace for the agenda. You need to be one or two steps ahead of the trustees, the tenants and the boards.”

A good manager with years of experience can be invaluable when it comes to this part of building administration by divvying up assignments and helping individual trustees take on only as much as they can reasonably accomplish in the given span of time. It’s also up to the manager to check in periodically with committee members and other trustees to make sure the projects and initiatives decided upon at the meeting are coming along on schedule. While managers are working for their boards and buildings, it’s their experience and cumulative wisdom that enables even the greenest trustees to hit the ground running and conduct their community business smoothly.

For questions, quotes, information about Condominium Property Management in Connecticut, feel free to call

 Alan Barberino Real Estate, LLC at 203-265-7534 or visit our web site at www.BarberinoRealEstate.com

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Deck it Out – The Importance of Keeping Your Deck Safe and Secure

   By Keith Loria

When you consider all the different exterior components that a condo association  has to deal with, decks are sort of like the Rodney Dangerfield of the list—they rarely get any respect.

“Decks are definitely something that people don’t pay enough attention to,” says Robert J. Burns, president of Burns Associates-Engineers in Portsmouth,  New Hampshire, which provides reserve studies and consulting engineering  services to the condominiums of New England. “They need to be cleaned, stained and they can be potential hazards if not  monitored closely.”

Many of New England’s condominium decks were built 10 to 20 years ago, and are now nearing the end  of their useful life—especially if they haven’t been maintained properly over the years. This is especially true in New  England coastal towns, where salty sea air can wreak havoc on wood.

Attractive, well-maintained deck surfaces—whether attached to individual units or part of your condo’s common areas—add to the visual and practical appeal of your building or HOA community.  Keeping those surfaces functional and safe is just as important as any other  exterior concern. There are a number of simple things your board can do to  extend the life of your association’s decks, and new materials and methods that  can help.

“It’s vital that you have a proper preventative maintenance program for any deck,” says Ed Lenzi, owner of Lenzi Construction & Remodeling, LLC, which does business in New Hampshire. “Upkeep is necessary and a smart condo association will make sure that it’s not something they only look at when there is a problem.”

Out With the Old

These days, most condos aren’t thinking about making changes to their decks, especially if nothing is visibly  wrong with them.

“In this economy, it’s rare to see an upgrade in decks unless there is no other option,” Burns says. “Most condo documents imply ‘replace in kind, treating all unit owners equally’—so upgrading some decks and not others would probably invite unhappiness of  those who were not upgraded. Plus, associations are having enough trouble  paying for what they have without upgrading.”

Even with a steady maintenance program, the best cared for decks eventually grow  old and may need to be replaced. Luckily, a host of new technologies are  available to make deck construction and future maintenance a bit easier.

Composite products such as Trex, which are made of pressure-treated softwoods or  low-end woods with preservatives on them, are heavily in demand.

Unlike traditional woods, composite decks are constructed with screw-type sink  fasteners or with blind fasteners, which are hidden pieces into which the  composite boards are attached with clips. These decks are finished off with  railings that can be coated in nearly any color, and imprinted with textures  that closely resemble the appearance of wood.

“They are variations of wood fiber recycled material combined with ground-up  wood,” Burns says. “When boards select a replacement, they usually go with Trex. While most of the  raw materials used in making Trex are recycled, these materials are carefully  processed to ensure the highest level of quality and performance.”

Treatment Time

Pressure-treated lumber needs to be allowed to dry for several months before  sealing or staining. In most cases the maintenance depends on the weather.

“If the deck is located in direct sunlight for extended periods of time or most  of the day, then the deck will dry out and crack or take a toll on the stain  and sealer,” Lenzi says. “In this case, if the deck has been stained, then you might have to re-stain it  every year and at least every two. Sealer is easier and if it is wearing off,  then you will not have chipping and flaking as you would with stain. Therefore,  you can get away with not re-sealing as often and aesthetically, you will be  okay.”

Most composites that have been installed over the past 10 years require  maintenance only once or twice a year to remove accumulated oils, pollen,  grease and mold.

“These composites require power washing and or scrubbing in the spring and fall,  especially if there is not a lot of sun exposure to the deck,” Lenzi says. “In the past two years, composites have become much better. There are now ‘capped’ composites made by Fiberon Decking, Trex and others who are quickly jumping on  board and are the best products to protect your decking from staining and  fading.”

Inspect and Report

A smart way to maintain a deck is to create rules and regulations that all must  follow.

“The association board needs to regulate what people do on the decks and what  they put out there,” Burns says. “You can get in some hazardous situations with grills getting too close to the  building.”

In the wake of several well-publicized tragedies involving deck collapses,  building codes are getting tougher—and deck inspections are now something every condo administrator needs to have  on their radar.

The North American Deck and Railing Association is dedicated to increasing  public awareness of the necessity for regular inspection and maintenance of  existing decks and proper installation of new decks.

“A professional inspection will examine every inch of your deck, provide  information on your deck’s capacity limits, identify any dangerous problem areas and give you a map of  what to keep your eye on in the future,” says Mike Beaudry, executive vice president for NADRA. “If your deck is older, this might include a regular deck inspection schedule.”

The inspection includes key areas such as ledger connections, posts and  footings, post-to-beam connections, joists and joist connections, stairs, deck  boards, handrail assemblies and guards.

“Ledgers are the number one mode of failure for decks due to inadequate fastening  to building structures by face nailing vs. lag screws and bolting, and the  connection is hidden from view,” Burns says. “Failure is sudden and typically catastrophic. Prevention is back-up lag screws  or bolts and annual inspection for signs of water entry and rot.”

Warning Signs

Some flaws to look out for include rot and structural issues. Especially in  older buildings, layers of paint or stain on a deck may be hiding water damage  or rot, making the problem worse over time. Without the right protection and  sealants, moisture and salt can do a lot to lessen the life span of a wooden  deck.

Other important things that need to be looked for include cracking, splitting,  splintering, loose nails, loose railings, twisted posts and broken balusters.

The largest causes of deck failures are construction methods used on the deck  frame. Lenzi says that many decks were constructed without using a proper post  and beam system, lags into the sill or frame of house, joist hangers, proper  cement footings and with staircases not being secured correctly.

“Our largest issue that we see that causes deck failures is (decks that are) not  properly flashed against the house,” Lenzi says. “Years ago, everyone used aluminum flashing, as this was the code. We have  learned that water is one of the most powerful and most dangerous things to our  homes. Today we use ice and water shield (a rubber membrane that used to be  solely used on roofs for ice dams) for decks and this has proven to be the best  line of defense and almost impossible to penetrate through.”

When these failures take place, the water rots out the plywood and frame of the  structure that the deck is attached to. The deck is now failing and becoming  extremely dangerous with a great potential to fall off and cause injury or even  death.

“It’s important to understand who is responsible for the maintenance of the deck or  balcony,” says Jason Brudnick, chairman of Global Insurance Network in Needham,  Massachusetts. “Once determined, make sure that either the unit owner or the condo association  is keeping the deck well maintained in order to minimize the chance of collapse  occurring.”

Insurance Issues

Deck collapses, although generally not as major as balcony collapses on mid- or  high-rise buildings, can cause injury to people and possible damage to the  building the deck is attached to.

“There is no special insurance to cover the collapse of a balcony or deck,” says Brudnick. “I can also assure you if there was a lawsuit as a result of a collapse, the  plaintiff’s attorney would name the condo as well as the unit owner.”

There are two pieces to the insurance puzzle. First is the physical structure  that collapsed. It would need to be replaced. That would be covered under the  condominium’s property coverage. Second would be any injury or third-party property damage  as a result of the collapse. That would be covered under the condominium’s general liability policy.

“If the injury or property damage went beyond the limits of the general liability  policy, there could be additional coverage under the umbrella policy,” Brudnick says. “In this scenario there is also the issue of whose responsibility it is to  maintain the deck itself, whether it is the condo’s or the unit owner’s.”

Depending on the situation and how the condo outlines the responsibilities for  the care and maintenance of the decks, the unit owners themselves could be held  responsible.

A scheduled program of inspection, maintenance and repair can prevent damage to  people, property, and the association’s finances. Those decks, do, after all, deserve some respect.

Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England  Condominium.

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City to extend meter hours to 9 p.m.

Source:  New Haven Register – William Keampffer  www.nhregister.com

New Haven – Starting next month, drivers will have to “feed the meter” until 9 p.m. – instead of 7, but not until midnight – in what is being cast as a compromise.

The compromise was made to accommodate the complicated and, at times competing interests of consumers, workers, business and residents.  The change will add two hours of enforced parking in the evening Monday through Saturday – but not the additional five the city proposed last year.

James Travers, director of the city’s Transportation, Parking and Traffic Department, said the city is adopting “a model that has some proven success” that will both increase revenue, but also take into account concerns expressed by downtown businesses.

Dynamic parking jargon aside, what does it all mean?  Starting next month, motorist parking at meters, which mainly are downtown and in the adjacent areas, will be required to pay until 9 p.m. instead of 7.  It will be free after that.

At the same time, as the downtown transitions from daytime consumers to nightlife consumers, all meters will be reprogrammed to eliminate time limits in the evenings.  That means after 5 p.m., people parked in, say, a 30 or 60 minute spot won’t have to leave between appetizers and entrees or during an intermission at the Shubert Theater to drop in more quarters.

Starting at 5, any meter will take up to four hours worth of coins.  Most downtown meters also take credit cards.  Fees will remain at $1.50 per hour.

Win Davis, a deputy director of the Town Green Special Services District, which promotes all things downtown, described it as a reasonable compromise in the “balancing act” of accommodating a bustling downtown neighborhood and the needs of “numerous difference constituencies.”

Consider this: During the day, retailers clamor for readily available a space, which is achieved by time limits that promote turnover.  But, in the evening, when the bar, restaurant and club nightlife takes over, the goal to stay longer.

At night, though, many of the spaces are snatched all night by employees of nightspots looking for cheap parking.  The trick, Davis said, is to strike the right balance with on-street parking policies to serve the needs of both business models and the growing downtown apartment market.

In that regard, New Haven has a good, albeit frustrating, problem that meter parking remains at a premium. “It’s better that the alternative.  It’s us trying to stay on that tight rope because the constant  refrain is the suburbs have free parking,” Davis said.  “Most downtowns are really fighting for people to use those spots.”

Last year, the proposal of a new policy to expand enforcement hours until midnight drew push back from businesses, consumers and lower-wage restaurant employees who said they depend on more affordable on-street parking as an alternative to the $10.00 flat fees, charged by many lots and garages. And that, from the city‘s perspective, was also part of the issue, that on-street parking was being filled all night by nightlife employees instead of people who fill the tills.

Travers met with many downtown businesses and ultimately decided to cut back the enforcement period until 9 p.m., but also expand it to all city meters and not just those downtown.  The city plans to implement the changes in mid-May.

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