Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Month in Real Estate

Plano Home Tips : This Month in Real Estate

Here is another great video from the This Month in Real Estate series

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What to look for in your home inspection

Plano Home Tips : What to look for in your home inspection

So you have gone under contract on a new home and your inspection is coming up. What do you need to know before you meet the inspector?? We have put together a great checklist of what you should be looking for and asking about on your inspection.


check the existing condition of all systems and equipment
look for unusual features that may increase or decrease appeal of the home
examine the general quality and condition of the structure
inspect routine repair and maintenance items
bring a powerful flashlight to use in basements and crawl spaces
bring a stepladder to check attic, underside of the roof, and light fixtures


make sure that all doorways, stairs, and walkways are free of obstructions
all stepping stones should be firm
railings should be steady
check external doors for good weather-stripping and thresholds
make sure doors are level, easy to open and close, with good hardware


make sure that spouts drain away from house
yard should slope away from the house to draw water away
earth should be at least 6-8 inches below top of concrete foundation
make sure gutters are well-attached and in good condition
look for a wet basement or crawl space


check for crumbling mortar around brickwork
look at stability of chimney
check for obstructions
make sure flue is lined with terra cotta (brick is in violation of most codes)
check to see if there is a working damper in the fireplace


check for water damage, especially around plumbing fixtures
test for soft spots in floor
check under house for water-damaged floorboards and supports
check the condition of the floors or carpet
check for moisture damage to parquet floors


check for cracks, shifting or settling
see if house is bolted to foundation (earthquake safety)
make sure mudsill is in good condition and dry
check if foundation has been retrofitted
look for structural problems like cracks in the basement floor


make sure furnace thermostat is operational
check the furnace venting
find out the ages of the heating and cooling equipment
ask about any problems the occupants may have had with the systems
run both the furnace and air conditioning to check output
check for attic insulation -- walls probably will be insulated too


find out if the owners have remodeled or made improvements to the house
inquire about the competence of the company who provided the service
check the licensure and credentials of the builder, owner, or technician


check that kitchen appliances and faucet are operational
check for asbestos, radon gas, and lead
check for cracking or peeling paint
check for attic ventilation (1 sq. ft. for each 150 sq. ft. of floor space)


look for termite and beetle holes in wooden supports and under house
check attic vents for hornet or wasp nests
check for rodent droppings in cupboards and under house
look for chew holes in roof, eaves, and wiring from squirrels


check for leaks around pipes and fixtures
test water pressure (turn on more than one faucet at once)
test hot water pressure (same method)
check walls around shower and for water damage
look for rust or leaking around hot water heater
make sure water heater is up to code
check the water pressure and see if there is enough hot water
find out the age of the water heater
ask whether the hot water system has been updated in any way


check for leaks or conditions that might lead to leaks
make sure no trees touching or overhanging the roof
look for dry rot or other problems around overhangs
check condition of shingles
find out the age of the existing roof


make sure cleaning and filtering system works properly
test thermostat
check for leaks or cracks


check the condition of drywall walls and ceilings
pay particular attention to the condition of taped joints
look for waves or cracks in the walls or ceilings
look for water spots from leaks in the roof
look for settlement cracks in walls


check for dry rot on panes, sills and frames
check for cracks in glass
make sure windows open properly
check that windows seal tightly and check caulking
check for moisture damage inside
see if bedroom windows are large enough to escape through in case of fire
open the windows to ensure that they are not painted shut
check casement window to see if the hardware is working properly
see whether double-hung windows have broken sash cords


test outlets, light sockets and switches to ensure they work properly
check to see if system is updated -- 3-prong outlets, circuit breakers, etc.
look for GFI (Ground Fault Interrupt) outlets in bathroom and kitchen
look for broken or loose outlets
test light fixtures
check blown fuses, overloaded circuits, broken outlets, or flickering lights

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tips for driving on ice

Plano Home Tips : How to drive on ice

There is no better advice to give about driving on ice than this; DO NOT DRIVE ON ICE!!!! However; sometimes a situation will arise in which you absolutely must venture out onto icy roads. If that is the case being prepared and following some simple safety guidelines will hopefully ensure you arrive at your destination in one piece. I found these great safety tips on Weather.com

Driving safely on icy roads

Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
Keep your lights and windshield clean.
Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
If your rear wheels skid...

Take your foot off the accelerator.
Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid...

Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
If you get stuck...

Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
More Tips
Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services

Friday, December 2, 2011

Traveling this holiday season?? Here are some great tips to keep you moving along safely

The holidays can be a season of joy and gratitude for many of us. However, if you have ever beeen stranded on the side of the road because your car broke down on the way to grandma's, the holidays can be anything but joyful. The good men and women of the University of Oklahoma Police Department have done a great service by putting together this comprehensive list of travel safety tips for over the holidays. Hopefully by following these tips and using a little common sense everyone will arrive safe and sound through the rivers and woods and make it to grandmas safe and sound! Happy Holidays!!!!!

To see the entire article from the University of Oklahoma Police CLICK HERE

When you travel, plan ahead!
If traveling by vehicle, know where you are going and how to get there and back. Obtain a map or download the latest available GPS data.Check for construction detours; for longer trips, get a weather forecast.

If traveling out-of-state, most states and/or state law enforcement agencies provide road-and-highway information either on-line or at a 1-800 number; check to see what conditions they report before leaving. Visit the Federal Highway Administration's related webpage...

"National Traffic and Road Closure Information"

...for national, regional, and state-by-state links regarding traffic, closures, and other conditions.

Inform a family member where you will be and when to expect you back; give them your route if they don't know it.

Travel and conduct your business during daylight hours if possible.

To the extent practical, select well-traveled and lighted thoroughfares. Bear in mind that routes which are congested during rush hour may be very lightly traveled at other hours. Use freeways and arterial streets and avoid less-traveled roads as much as possible, especially when driving at night or in unfamiliar locations.

If you have access to a cellular telephone, carry or take it (but don't use it while driving; this is now unlawful in many states).

If possible, know the emergency cell codes for the area you're in. For example, in Oklahoma, remember that
*55 = OHP
(Oklahoma Highway Patrol)

Click here for a state-by-state listing of
highway-related cellphone codes.

When driving, keep doors locked and windows rolled up at all times. Maintain at least half a tank of fuel, and keep vehicle in good repair.

If planning a "road trip" over the holidays, have your vehicle serviced and checked out sufficiently far ahead to allow for repairs if needed. Don’t forget to have the mechanic check your spare tire and all fluid levels along with the other preventive maintenance procedures.

Consider keeping spare fuses and a "breakdown kit" in your vehicle at all times. Breakdown kits may be purchased from a variety of sources, or you can assemble your own at any auto parts or hardware store using a commercial version as a guideline.

Minimally, a "breakdown kit" should include:
a thermal blanket/bag and a gallon of water
a "HELP" sign/flag and flares/reflectors
a flashlight (check batteries semi-annually)
duct tape

Also consider carrying:
a set of jumper cables, a tire gauge, and work gloves
a few hand tools (pliers, screwdrivers, Allen wrenches)
some rope and at least one bungee cord
towels and a roll of toilet paper (in a plastic bag)
a small 12-volt tire-inflator
an empty (new, never used) one-gallon gas can
change for a payphone and a pair of comfortable shoes
a cheap/disposable rain coat/suit/poncho

All these items can fit in a small or medium size gym/duffle bag or a box and kept in your vehicle's trunk, back-seat floorboard, or other storage area in the vehicle. Keep it updated, but never remove it from your vehicle.

In addition to your basic "breakdown kit" you should also have a basic first aid kit in your vehicle at all times.

Also consider purchasing and mounting a small ABC-rated portable fire extinguisher in your vehicle. Buy one with a "mount" designed for use in vehicles. Portable fire extinguishers should be securely "mounted" in the vehicle to prevent rolling and damage. The extinguisher should be visible and easy to reach. Mount the bracket on a strong, stable surface. It can be mounted in any sloping, vertical or horizontal position.

Know how to access your spare tire and jack. Vehicle owners should also consider obtaining towing insurance, either as a rider on their automobile insurance policy (such riders are usually very inexpensive for excellent coverage) or by joining an automobile club or other provider. Be prepared!

Follow the timeless, savvy advice of OUPD Sergeant M. Wayne Smith (Ret), "It doesn't cost any more to keep the top quarter of your tank filled than it does to keep the bottom quarter filled." Even if you're pressed for time, take the few minutes needed to fill up the tank. Making a habit of checking your fuel gauge whenever you start driving, and routinely "topping off" your tank, can prevent unexpected, untimely and dangerous roadside emergency situations.

The single-most essential safety tip:
Devote your full time and attention to driving!

Resist distraction. If you feel yourself getting tired, pull over and take a break (at a safe location where there are other people and light).

Develop the habit of scanning for situational awareness. Use your mirrors frequently to check behind and to your sides. Look ahead, as far down the road as possible, to anticipate slow-downs, stops, snarls, crashes, emergencies, or other events which will affect traffic flow. Avoid the "tunnel vision" which often occurs during monotonous highway driving as you focus only immediately ahead or where your headlights reach.

If you experience a breakdown, pull as far onto the shoulder as possible and turn your emergency flashers on. If you have a cellular phone, summon assistance from a reputable source or call for law enforcement response. Otherwise, raise your hood or tie a streamer to your antenna, and await assistance inside your locked vehicle.

If a stranger stops, speak to them through a partially rolled-down window, and ask them to go to a phone and call police or a tow service; do not exit your vehicle until a law enforcement officer or tow operator are on scene. On longer trips, be sure you have water, food, and blankets in the vehicle.

Should you observe anyone pulled off the roadway and apparently stranded or in need of assistance, extend them the courtesy of reporting your observation to the police at your earliest opportunity.

NEVER pick up hitchhikers (your parents were right!)

If involved in a property-damage collision in an unfamiliar or potentially unsafe location, do not open or exit your vehicle. If you have a cellular telephone, summon law enforcement. If not, acknowledge the accident by hand signal, and motion the other driver to proceed with you to a safe location (where there are other people and light) to exchange information. If unable to proceed, honk the horn to attract attention and ask a passer-by to summon police.

Criminals sometimes deliberately cause minor car crashes in order to rob the occupants or steal the vehicle (so-called "bump-and-rob" or carjacking). If you are involved in a collision which seems suspicious, remain in your vehicle. Get as far off the roadway as possible, and turn on your emergency flashers. Do NOT get out to inspect for damage or to exchange information.

Summon a law enforcement officer or signal the other driver to follow you to a location where you can safely do so. If necessary, sound the horn to attract attention and await help while secure in your vehicle.

If the driver of another vehicle tries to force you off the road, do not stop. Slow to a safe speed, and proceed to a safe location. Try to obtain the license plate number and a description of the other vehicle and its driver and any occupants. Report the occurrence to the police at your earliest opportunity.

Keep your car in gear while stopped at traffic signals or signs. If approached in a threatening manner, honk the horn to attract attention and drive away (as you can do so safely).

Consider car-pooling or ride sharing only IF you have a dependable means of assuring that the other participants are legitimate and safe. Some jurisdictions maintain a central coordinating office for such services; check your telephone directory or on-line. Ride sharing for long trips is NOT recommended unless you are personally acquainted with the other party and fully trust them and have confidence in their driving ability and common sense. Remember; you life is literally in their hands while they’re behind the wheel.

Before your trip — Consider leaving a copy of your travel itinerary with a trusted family friend or relative (plus a driving route map or flight/bus/train trip info).

Also handy when you're "away" from home: You can download/print our "Lost/Stolen Wallet Inventory & Emergency Checklist" to record key information for a house-sitter, friend/neighbor, or relative.

If signaled to stop by any vehicle other than a clearly marked law enforcement unit, acknowledge the signal, and wave the driver to follow you to a safe location (where there are other people and light). Drive within the speed limit and take the shortest possible route to the nearest safe place. If you have a cellular phone, dial 9-1-1, tell the call-taker you are being followed by an unmarked vehicle attempting to stop you, and ask them to send a marked law enforcement vehicle to your location.

When parking...
roll up the windows, lock the vehicle, take the keys, and insure your valuables are concealed (preferably in the trunk). During hours of darkness, park and walk in lighted areas to the extent possible.

While carrying large amounts of cash should be avoided, you should have enough small bills and change to cover on-the-road purchases, including fuel should you run low while in an area where stations don’t accept the cards you carry. Enough for a half-tank fillup, taxi or bus fare, snacks and drinks or a phone call should be sufficient. Traveler’s checks are safer, but are not universally accepted. Keep your wallet, purse, and any other valuables on your person or otherwise out of sight, NOT on the seat next to you.

If you must leave valuable items in your car while out and about, place items out of sight before reaching your destination or move them inconspicuously. This includes packages, backpacks, gym bags, GPS units, MP3 players, and so forth. Someone may be watching when you put items under/behind a seat or throw something over them. An opportunistic thief is on the lookout for "trunk-packing", and can break into your car the minute you're out of sight.

One reason SUVs and pickups are common auto-burglary targets is because they don't have a "trunk" to hold valuables — the driver/passenger generally just "hides" their valuables "out of sight". The thieves know this, and do check glove compartments, behind seats, and under seats. It only takes a few seconds to check all the "usual" hiding places.

Unobtrusively locking everything valuable "in the trunk" (if you have one) may be difficult when you're combining errands at multiple destinations. Certainly avoid leaving packages or shopping bags visible in your car — lock them in the trunk out of sight if you have to leave packages in your car unattended.

Plan your shopping/errands so that you don't load your trunk until you are ready to drive to another destination. Load your trunk when you leave a location — never open a trunk, fill it full of valuables, close it, and then just walk away to do more shopping or other errands.

For more vehicle-related tips see our Auto-Burglary Prevention Tips webpage.

When returning to your vehicle, carry your keys in your hand and be ready to unlock the door and enter as quickly as possible. As you approach your vehicle, scan the area, glance underneath the vehicle, and take a quick look inside before entering.

While out and about, present an alert appearance.
Be aware of your surroundings; scan the area from time to time. Avoid concentrating so hard on shopping that you fail to keep track of your surroundings, others near you, or your personal property.
Wear conservative, comfortable clothing.
Grip carried items firmly and avoid leaving them unattended.
Carry minimal cash and valuables, wear minimal jewelry.

Shop with friends or relatives if possible; there IS safety in numbers. As you shop, be alert in crowded places. Among pickpockets' favorites are revolving doors, jammed aisles, elevators, and public transportation stops and vehicles, especially at rush hour. Carry the day's most expensive purchases closest to your body, and don't carry so much you lose the ability to react quickly.

If possible, leave your children with a baby-sitter while you are shopping. For holiday shopping, consider making arrangements with family or friends/neighbors, and take turns baby-sitting. If you take your children with you, keep a close eye on them while shopping.

Teach your children to go to a store clerk or security guard if they ever get separated from you in a store/mall, and be sure they know their first and last name so they can tell someone who they are. It's best to keep children under four (4) in a stroller. Children in shopping carts should be properly belted and seated in the child carrier area at all times —never let your child stand in or push a shopping cart.

Return to your vehicle periodically to check on it and reduce the amount you are carrying and must keep track of. Store packages in the trunk or, if your vehicle doesn't have one, out of plain view (on the floorboard, under a blanket or clothes, etc). When possible, have purchases delivered instead of taking them with you; many businesses offer free delivery during the holiday shopping season. Ask for an escort to your car if you feel nervous.

Return to the mall or store for assistance if you spot suspicious activity near your vehicle. Stay alert while loading items into or out of the vehicle or arranging cargo stowage. If someone approaches, and you feel threatened, get in and lock up until they leave the area; if they loiter, drive away.

Using debit or credit cards is much safer than carrying a lot of cash. If the vendors you will visit don't take cards, consider obtaining traveler's checks which, unlike cash, can be replaced if lost or stolen. Visit ATM's only at well-lighted and populated locations; visit during daylight hours if possible.

Using the drive-up is usually safer than walking up or into a banking facility. Remember to scan around you as you make your withdrawal. Many ATMs now have "fisheye" mirrors mounted above the keyboard to enable you to view the entire surrounding area while conducting business; try to patronize ATMs so-equipped, and use the mirror!

If anyone is loitering, or you don't like their looks, go to another ATM. Stand such that those behind you cannot see your PIN as you enter it; your PIN should NEVER be written down on or carried with your ATM card.

Be observant. Avoid dark areas, short-cuts, cul-de-sacs, and suspicious persons. Stay near light and people.

Be prepared to flee potential problems. If apprehensive about any location for any reason, leave. Consider carrying a whistle. Weapons are not recommended, and may be unlawful.

If followed —
On Foot:

Cross the street

Vary your pace

Change direction

By Vehicle

Execute several right turns to verify

Get and stay on arterial streets

Note and record:

license plate number

description of vehicle and occupant(s)

If followed by a vehicle while you are on foot, turn and walk the "wrong way" onto a One-Way Street, if possible. If follower persists, go to an occupied and lighted location (convenience store, fire station, police station) and summon police.

Confine your charitable giving to reputable established organizations, preferably those with a local branch.

If solicited by an individual for personal charity, don't give cash; offer to buy the individual food or drink or refer them to local assistance resources.

If solicited for an unfamiliar organized charity, ask for literature so you can make an informed decision about giving; any reputable organization will be glad to provide material or a website address where you can check them out.

To avoid telephone solicitation to the extent possible, sign up for the "National Do-Not Call List". If solicited by telephone despite being on the list, simply hang up — it's your phone. If you choose to speak to the solicitor, do not give out credit card numbers or personal information not listed in the telephone directory, and don't allow the organization to come to your home until you are certain of their reliability. Instead, ask them to send you information so you can make an informed decision and mail in your donation.

With the exception of local organizations, door-to-door sales are often fraudulent, and should be viewed with skepticism. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Under consumer protection laws, you have a right to written information about any offer, and the right to cancel any order within three days should you reconsider your decision.

Make sure you obtain enough information to enable you to re-contact the vendor or his/her office in the event you have questions or change your mind. If you don't want to be bothered by door-to-door solicitors, most locations have a law that solicitors must avoid homes which display a "NO SOLICITORS" sign; bear in mind this usually doesn't apply to religious proselytizing, charitable organizations or political workers.

For further information about consumer protection laws, contact your State Attorney General's Office. Also, visit our nationally acclaimed safety presentation on Identity Theft and Fraud which has a wealth of information on shopping safety, both online and off.

Promptly report suspicious persons, vehicles, and crimes to the local law enforcement agency.

Traveling by air?

—Visit the Transportation Security Administration's website and check out these pages...

"Air Travel — For Travelers..."
Prohibited Items
Airport/Date/Time-Specific Security Checkpoint Wait Times

Did you know? —

Locking Your Checked Baggage: In some cases screeners will have to open your baggage as part of the screening process.

If your bag is unlocked then Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners will simply open and screen the baggage.

However, if you decide to lock your checked baggage, and TSA cannot open your checked baggage through other means, then the locks may have to be broken.

TSA is not liable for damage caused to locked bags that must be opened for security purposes.

TSA suggests that you help prevent the need to break your locks by using a TSA recognized locking mechanism. These "special" locks can be opened by TSA using tools provided by the luggage industry.

For more information, see the TSA webpage, "TSA Recognized Baggage Locks".

And, from the
FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center,
Current Flight Delay Infromation
(This page/infomration automatically refreshes every 60 seconds)

from the Department of Transportation's
"Aviation Consumer Protection Division"—
Travel Tips & Publications

Forewarned is forewarned: Know the SCAMS

There are many criminals that specifically target "travelers". Visit Wikitravel (http://wikitravel.org/en/Common_scams) for a listing of many common scams.

Also see the FTC's travel fraud webpage. (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/reporter/travel.shtm)

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