12 Simple Home Repair Jobs to Lift You Out of Winter’s Funk

 

Winter’s doldrums got you down? Grab a screwdriver and a hammer and fight back with easy home repairs that’ll raise spirits and get your house ready for spring.
Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter. For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

What to look (and listen) for
In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving. Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely suspects:
1. Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.
2. Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.
3. Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.
4. Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.
5. Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.
6. Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.
Safety items
You know those routine safety checks you keep meaning to do but never have the time? Now’s the time.
7. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.
8. Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You’re supposed to test them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!
9. Exhaust filter for the kitchen stove. By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.
10. Clothes dryer vent. Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.
11. Drain hoses. Inspect your clothes washer, the dishwashers, and the icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.
12. Electrical cords. Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

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How to choose the right house for the right reasons

 

February Buying Advice: See what homebuyers put on their ‘must-have’ lists — and which features they realized they didn’t need.

By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

Just as most of us have a list of traits that are non-negotiable in a spouse, every house hunter has a list of things he or she wants in a house. Of course, these features and amenities won’t necessarily ensure a match that stands the test of time.

We asked our readers to tell us what they love most about their current home and what, in hindsight, was clearly just a passing fancy. In this month’s Buying Advice, we’ll look at the real-estate love letters they wrote and compare them with what buyers are shopping for today.

We’ll also check in with the latest home-sales data that hint at a bottoming market and answer a question that many first-time homebuyers have: "Where do I start?"

Finding the perfect house
It doesn’t take a mansion to satisfy most of our readers over the long haul. Indeed, for many of those responding to last month’s query, it was the small conveniences — a laundry area near the bedrooms or a spacious closet — that helped ensure long-term love.

However, the one thing that seemed to bring the most satisfaction was a bright open space, no matter the square footage:

"Of all the houses that I have built/purchased/leased, the one issue that stands paramount is openness — large windows and an open-concept interior home plan," said reader Alan Sadler via email. "There is nothing more depressing than walls, walls and more walls."

Jane Curkendall agreed, putting at the top of her list for her next home an "open floor plan" where the kitchen and family room are together, "lots and lots of light" and "lots and lots of windows." Maybe that’s because she wound up spending so much time in her current home’s sunroom addition. "This is where our office is, and where we hang out," she said in her email.

Large windows with a nice view can make up for a home’s shortcomings, readers said.

"Our home is flooded with warm light for most of the day," said reader Ralph Banks from New York, via email. "We also still enjoy the water views out of some of the windows of our home after living here for 27 years."

Carrie Douglas, a buyer, said she is looking for "pleasant outdoor vistas visible from the windows" in her next home, as long as it also includes an up-to-date kitchen and plenty of storage space.

Also high on our readers’ lists were comfort-adding features such as central air conditioning and heat.

"Of all the improvements we have made to our house throughout the nine years in it, this has been by FAR the best investment," said Carmen Munoz, a reader from the New York area. "Our home is always at comfortable temperatures and there is so much less maintenance involved with this system than with our old … gas boiler/window A/C."

Also high on our readers’ lists of must-haves were generous kitchen cabinet storage, large closets, good-sized bedrooms and a level backyard that’s easily accessible for entertaining.

One thing Munoz said was a mistake in retrospect was the mother-in-law suite she was determined to have when she bought her home. "It has created strife within our family because people think it is OK to come stay there for extended periods of time," she said. This rarely used space has raised her heating and cooling bill, she said.

Housing-market snapshot: Sales continue to rise; prices continue to dip. But is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Existing-home sales continued to rise in December, swelling 3.6% to 4.61 million, from a downwardly revised 4.39 million in December 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median existing-home price dipped 2.5% from the previous year to $164,500.

While that may not sound that encouraging, economists see a glimmer of hope in the numbers. December marked the third straight month of sales increases and a 5% uptick from November.

"The pattern of home sales in recent months demonstrates a market in recovery," said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist. "Record low mortgage interest rates, job growth and bargain home prices are giving more consumers the confidence they need to enter the market."

The total housing inventory at the end of December dropped 9.2% from November to 2.38 million homes for sale — a 6.2-month supply at the current pace — down from a 7.2-month supply in November.

Economists such as Mark Fleming from CoreLogic are now saying that 2012 should be the year the housing market starts to turn the corner as the prices for nondistressed homes begin to stabilize.

Housing sales could see a further boost this year, analysts say, as homeownership begins to look better than renting. A recent report from Capital Economics shows that the median monthly mortgage payment of about $700 is close to even with the median monthly rent, making the move to homeownership much more attractive — especially in the face of rising rental rates.

However, at least one market watcher says talk of a recovery is still premature. Lance Roberts, CEO of StreetTalk Advisors, said he doesn’t believe the market correction is over, given the high levels of debt that some consumers are still struggling with; the high number of owners who have negative equity in their homes and therefore have little ability to move; and the combination of unemployment and underemployment that is making it impossible for many to save for a down payment or qualify for a loan.

"The bottom line is that until we see a substantial REAL recovery in employment … there will be no recovery in housing," Roberts said in his X-Factor Report.