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Tax Breaks For Accessibility Remodeling

For those of you preparing your Virginia state tax returns, or planning remodeling and looking to maximize tax credits for next year – – here’s how to get up to $5,000 back if you do accessibility remodeling to accommodate aging in place or other physical challenges. Sadly, the federal bill referenced in this blog, originally posted last September, died before coming to a vote. But, Virginians, you’re good.

Read on . . .

With advances in medical care and increased awareness and implementation of healthy lifestyle choices, aging is a lot more fun than it used to be. Here’s another advantage for 21st-century seniors: tax breaks for fixing up your home so you can stay comfortably as you age.

Virginia offers homeowners a Livable Home Tax Credit equal to 50% of what they spend to retrofit a home to add accessibility features (like ramps, grab bars, and widened doorways), with a $5000 cap.

Alternatively, Virginia homeowners can receive as much as $5000 in credits if they purchase or build a home with accessibility features.

While there is no age limit on who can use the tax credit in Virginia, seniors wanting to make their homes aging-in-place-friendly are one of the largest groups that will find this credit useful.

Maryland considered an accessibility tax credit this year but it was ultimately rejected.

A proposal for a similar credit for federal income tax payers is wending its way through Congress now. House Ways & Means is considering a bipartisan-sponsored bill – – H.R. 5254, The Senior Accessible Housing Act – – to provide up to a $30,000 tax credit over a senior’s lifetime for expenses incurred in making aging in place modifications.  Unlike Virginia’s tax credit, the proposed federal credit would be limited to persons 60 years and older. The federal bill is in the early stages but, if it passes, it could be a real boost to the home improvement industry and a great help to seniors.

For more information about state tax credits for accessibility modifications, see this August 24, 2016, article by Jenni Bergal for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For details about the federal Senior Accessible Housing Act, see this Sept. 20, 2016, article from National Review.

Wise homeowners consider all financial consequences before remodeling or relocating. Now, go forth and age frugally – – in place if you want to!

Image courtesy of “hywards” at freedigitalphotos.net

Tax Breaks For Accessibility Remodeling

With advances in medical care and increased awareness and implementation of healthy lifestyle choices, aging is a lot more fun than it used to be. Here’s another advantage for 21st-century seniors: tax breaks for fixing up your home so you can stay comfortably as you age.

Virginia offers homeowners a Livable Home Tax Credit equal to 50% of what they spend to retrofit a home to add accessibility features (like ramps, grab bars, and widened doorways), with a $5000 cap.

Alternatively, Virginia homeowners can receive as much as $5000 in credits if they purchase or build a home with accessibility features.

While there is no age limit on who can use the tax credit in Virginia, seniors wanting to make their homes aging-in-place-friendly are one of the largest groups that will find this credit useful.

Maryland considered an accessibility tax credit this year but it was ultimately rejected.

A proposal for a similar credit for federal income tax payers is wending its way through Congress now. House Ways & Means is considering a bipartisan-sponsored bill – – H.R. 5254, The Senior Accessible Housing Act – – to provide up to a $30,000 tax credit over a senior’s lifetime for expenses incurred in making aging in place modifications.  Unlike Virginia’s tax credit, the proposed federal credit would be limited to persons 60 years and older. The federal bill is in the early stages but, if it passes, it could be a real boost to the home improvement industry and a great help to seniors.

For more information about state tax credits for accessibility modifications, see this August 24, 2016, article by Jenni Bergal for the Pew Charitable Trusts: http://bit.ly/2bEAnlc.

For details about the federal Senior Accessible Housing Act, see this Sept. 20, 2016, article from National Review: http://bit.ly/2cwXOOc

Wise homeowners consider all financial consequences before remodeling or relocating. Now, go forth and age frugally – – in place if you want to!

Image courtesy of “hywards” at freedigitalphotos.net

Three Home Improvement Projects to Have Done While You’re Vacationing

There are some home improvement projects you just don’t want to live through.

Why not have them done while you’re out of town?

First, a few precautions:

  • Make sure, of course, that you are working with a licensed, insured, well-established, highly reputable contractor so your home and personal property will be safe. (You know that’s the only kind of contractor HomeWise recommends, right?)
  • Consider having a neighbor let the contractor in and lock up after them at the end of the day so you don’t have to give the contractor a key.
  • Move valuables (jewelry and electronics for instance) to an off-site, secure location (like a safe deposit box or trusted friend’s or relative’s home.)

Now, here are three projects you’ll want to “get outta Dodge” for:

(1) Hardwood Floor Refinishing. You really shouldn’t walk on your floors for at least a couple days after they’re finished, longer if the finish is oil-based. Even if you have a house where you can jump from non-wood floor to non-wood floor, avoiding the affected rooms, it’s just too difficult to live that way. Clear out, enjoy the beach, and come home to beautiful new hardwoods.

(2) Major Drywall Repair. If you have more than a small area of patching to be done, you can count on lots and lots of dust. A good contractor will have it all cleaned up by project’s end, but the process prior to that can be a dust storm. Avoid having to breathe all of that powder and just have it done while you’re out of town.

(3) Additions and Major Remodels. These may take longer than your average vacation will last, but the principle is the same. They’re just too hard to live through. Loss of kitchen or bathrooms, entire exterior walls missing, openings in the roof, etc.  Your home can feel like a disaster area before the beautiful finished product is revealed. You can tough it out in your basement with a hot plate, but you’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you just include in your renovation budget a stay elsewhere, even if it is only for a couple of weeks during the worst part of the installation or construction.

Wise homeowners reduce inconvenience and stress during the home improvement process. Now, go forth and vacation strategically!

Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Three Home Tips from Eagles’ Nests

I’ve spent hours over the past week peering into the nest of two bald eagles named Mr. President and First Lady. I’ve seen two eaglets hatch. I’ve watched feedings, seen the little guys peck at each other (playfully, I hope), and wondered at how the parents can sit on top of the eaglets for hours without hurting them.

But the most fascinating thing has been the domesticity of it all. Based on my observations, and a (very) little research, here are three tips for our homes that we humans can take from our white-headed, feathered friends:

(1) Location, Location, Location. Eagles are very selective about where they build their nests. Ideally, they want to be close to water, where they can find fish for meals. We humans should be mindful of our community as well. Shopping, activities, schools, parks – – all add to your home’s value and your quality of life. You can read more about the importance of location in Houses Stand Alone; Homes Exist in Communities.

(2) Build Together. Both the male and female eagles work on the nest. Likewise, if you’re sharing your home with others, you’ll want their buy-in on major decorating and remodeling decisions. This is so important that many remodeling contractors won’t meet with just one member of a couple. Experience tells them things are likely to fall apart, or at best they’re in for a difficult experience, when the person who didn’t participate in the planning sees something during construction they don’t like.  Get everyone’s input in the planning stages, before that first hammer is swung.

(3) Never Stop Improving. This week, once the babies were hatched, I noticed First Lady constantly fussing with the nest in between feedings. She’d rearrange the soft straw layer around herself, probably for warmth. Legend has it that eagles build the outer layer of the nest with pointy sticks oriented inward, then line it with softer material. As the eaglets grow, the parents gradually remove the softer layers, so that the nest is eventually uncomfortable and the eaglets want to leave.  Lessons for us? Keep your home current and comfortable, but consider turning Junior’s bedroom into your sitting room or library if he’s approaching 30 and still living at home!

You can watch Mr. President, First Lady, and their two eaglets on the 24/7 National Arboretum live eaglecam.

Now, go forth and feather your nest!

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Tips to Avoid the “Groundhog Day “ Time Loop at Your House

Remember the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray plays TV weatherman Phil Connors who is sent to Punxsutawney, PA one February 2nd to report on whether that town’s famous forecasting critter sees its shadow?

Phil considers the assignment beneath him, so he is doubly irked the next morning to find that it is Groundhog Day again. This happens every morning for what the director has said is 10 years, with everyone around Phil believing they are experiencing the day for the “first time” and only Phil understanding that he is living on repeat. Hilarity ensues, as Phil starts out behaving recklessly, figuring he’ll get a clean slate when the day repeats. Gradually, however, Phil loses the inflated ego and realizes he can use his daily  “do-over” to make positive changes in his life and in the lives of others. To see whether Phil eventually escapes the time-loop, rent the movie; you’ll get no spoilers here.

What about you? Are you waking up every 24 hours in your own personal “Groundhog Day” rut, living with the same home improvement issues you still haven’t tackled? Here are two tips to help you escape:

(1) Move From Reckless to Responsible

Are you recklessly ignoring areas of needed repair, like an old roof that could leak in the next storm, figuring “there’s always tomorrow” to get things fixed? Learn from Phil. Avoid, or stop, the reckless phase and get right to the conscientious, improving-your-life phase. If it seems overwhelming, try the steps laid out here.

(2) Get Over Yourself

Yes. Your home is your castle . . . figuratively. You know it’s not actually a castle, right?  Don’t behave as if it is. Putting the latest or highest-end products in a small or older home might just look ridiculous. If you’re not sure, consult a designer (we can put you in touch with great ones!).  And don’t be so eager to keep up with the Joneses that you overspend. Remember, all appearances to the contrary, the Joneses might be broke. You can find a list of some things worth splurging on, and others where you can save, here.

Wise homeowners don’t live on repeat. Now get out there and move forward!

Image courtesy of chrisroll at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why You Shouldn’t “Go It Alone” When Choosing Home Improvement Contractors

You know a lot of people. Some of them may even be contractors. You’ve been feeding and clothing yourself, making adult decisions, and communicating with businesspeople for years now.

Why do you need a referral service to help with home improvement projects?

The easy answer is, “Why not?” It doesn’t cost you a thing. Plus, we’ll provide personal consultation to understand what you need, you’ll only be put in touch with properly-credentialed contractors who are terrific at what they do (so you don’t waste your time culling through the yahoos), and we’ll follow up to help as the project progresses.

However, there’s more to the “personal consultation” and “following up” parts than meet the eye.

Here are examples from recent matters we handled that illustrate only three reasons (there are more) why the personal touch of a local referral service, including life-cycle-of-your-project follow up, can be so important:

  1. It Helps Fill In What You Don’t Know (Especially When You Don’t Know You Don’t Know It): John and Meghan called to ask for a basement water proofer. We have terrific ones, and would have been happy to recommend them. But, upon talking with Meghan, we learned that the moisture coming into their basement was on one side only and the ground outside that wall sloped toward the house. We suggested that a landscaper might be able to grade the ground so that water would drain away from the home. It turned out that was all that was needed and John and Meghan saved several thousands of dollars over what they’d have paid a waterproofing company.
  1. It Gives You Leverage You’d Not Have On Your Own. Rob and Cindy just bought their first home and contacted us because they wanted to remodel their bathroom. We put them in touch with three bath remodelers, they chose one, and work got underway. Toward the end of the project, we called to check in and Cindy reported, “We’re new to this, and I don’t want to make a big deal out of something, but the bathtub they installed gives a little when you lean on it.” We told her that was, in fact, a big deal and immediately contacted our referred contractor. The company owner promptly visited the project and personally secured the bathtub properly. Without our help, these “newbies” to the home ownership scene might have been too timid to say anything, and, if they had, they may not have gotten the ear of the owner of some company they’d found on their own. Our network contractors, on the other hand, are very responsive to concerns we raise because they want to continue to receive the terrific leads we send them.
  1. It saves you time and frustration. Jim and Hope will close on the sale of their home at the end of this month and, from there, be off to an exciting new job out of state. Their real estate agent suggested they contact us to take care of a long list of items the home inspector discovered, and their buyers are requiring them to fix. Just like pulling a string on a sweater, only to have the whole thing unravel, it seems like every time I talk with Hope, one of the “fixes” has revealed yet another problem (just one example: the roof repair led to discovery of a clogged furnace chimney). Add to this a brand new baby and a husband on frequent business travel, and poor Hope is at her wit’s end. Much of the time, we’ve been a sounding board, to talk over the latest-discovered problem and suggest ways to fix it. Sometimes, we’ve needed to encourage our recommended contractors to move Jim’s and Hope’s project higher on their priority list to accommodate the looming closing date. Hope has indicated how helpful it’s been to have someone to consult as they move toward this deadline.

In short, don’t go it alone. Whatever your project, chances are your local referral service has helped dozens of folks with something similar, whereas this may be only the first or second such project you’ve every undertaken.  Just be sure you are working with a referral service that doesn’t charge you, is located in your area, is happy to talk on the phone if you want or need, and will stick with you until things are completed to your satisfaction.

 

Home Improvement Issues Unique to Seniors

Seniors deal with two issues unique to their population when undertaking home improvement or repair. Here’s what they are, and how to deal with them.

THE ISSUES:

(1) Seniors are targeted by scammers in larger numbers than other populations.

(2) Seniors are often healthy enough to stay in their homes with modifications for mobility, ease of day-to-day life, and safety. Examples include wider doorways to accommodate wheel chairs and walkers, a caregiver suite, or grab bars near the tub. These projects need to be done correctly to ensure safety and maximum utility (no one wants that grab bar to fall out of the wall when they really need it!) (more…)

Timelines for Typical Home Improvement Projects

While we’re fresh off 2013’s holiday busy-ness, let’s do what we can to make 2014’s celebrations as hassle-free as possible.

Part of that is early planning. For most medium to large home improvement projects, you’ll want to build in time not only for the work to be done but also for the planning/design, measuring, ordering of products, and waiting for the products to come in (could be six weeks or more for things like cabinetry and some appliances).

To ensure you get what you need by the time you need it, start now with a list of home improvement projects you’d like to accomplish this year. Then, consider the timelines for each from start to finish (I’ll provide some below). (more…)

You Might Need a Contractor If…

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, right? For instance, if you need someone to play piano, or balance your checkbook, I’m your gal (I’m pretty good at both those things.) But, I am absolutely the last person you should contact if you want a dress hemmed or your hair braided (on this last one, just ask my daughters.)

Recognizing when you need help, therefore, is important. In the case of home improvement, getting it wrong could be, at least, expensive and, at most, dangerous.

So, in the interest of making sure we all make wise choices about our home maintenance and repairs, here is a list of situations in which you’re better off hiring a contractor than trying to do the work yourself:

  1. Electrical Work. Pretty much “any and all”. Yeah, I know. People routinely switch out their own light fixtures. But did you know that homes older than about 30 years may be wired such that, if you replace a hanging or mounted fixture that is not flush-mounted with one that is flush-mounted, you create a fire hazard? Likewise, were you aware that installing the wrong type of canister lights in a space with insulation in the ceiling may lead to overheating and fire? Yeah, I didn’t know either until I nearly burned the house down a couple of times. But, do you know who does know that stuff? Licensed electricians.  Bottom line: don’t mess with electricity. Let the experts handle it. The money you think you’re saving by doing it yourself will, quite literally, go up in smoke if you make a mistake because you don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Anything having to do with gas appliances. Examples: gas water heaters, gas dryers, gas stoves, gas fireplaces, gas furnaces. Here, the reasoning is pretty much the same as with the electrical work. Leaking gas lines can kill you. Period. If what you plan to do includes a step that looks anything like this – “Then, you turn off the gas feed” . . . common sense needs to prevail. Let a licensed gasfitter take care of that for you. It’s called a “master license” for a reason.
  3. Anything structural. As tempting as it may be to take a sledge hammer to that wall that blocks your view from kitchen to the family room – – DON’T DO IT!!! You probably can’t tell whether it is load bearing and there may be electrical, plumbing or ductwork running through it that you do not want to smash. Similarly, resist the temptation to do any project where you think you might have to cut into trusses or joists (found in attics holding up the roof and in basements holding up the floor above.) Even a small cut can compromise integrity and lead to sinking floors, weak spots in the roof or worse.
  4. Work on gutters and roofs. There are really two issues here. The first is safety. Working at heights is dangerous. If you live alone, are old enough to be on AARP’s mailing list (I’m very nearly there myself), are pregnant, or have issues with balance or vertigo, be safe and hire someone to clean your gutters or inspect your roof. The second issue is one of expertise, just like in numbers 1 – 3 above. Power washing the green slime off your roof is not only dangerous (green slime = slippery), but you can do structural damage if you spray too hard. Likewise, any repairs you do to roofs and gutters, especially if you’re swinging a hammer, need to be accomplished with the right sorts of nails and other products to make sure you don’t get moisture in the holes later.
  5. Any project you’ve been “meaning to do” for six months or more.  Face it: you’re not going to do it. What’s the cost of a good handyman or carpenter compared to the daily buildup of stress caused by having to trip over the same warped floorboard, or look at that cracked and peeling trim paint, for another year?

I’m certain this list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives you enough information to see the issues.  Any project that requires expertise, puts you or your home in danger of injury, or isn’t something you’re likely to get to (your spouse’s nagging notwithstanding), needs an expert.

Now, go forth and be wise!

Debbie Farson is the owner/operator of HomeWise Referrals, Inc., a FREE service to Northern Virginia, DC and MD homeowners connecting them with licensed, dependable contractors for every home repair, home improvement or remodeling project. She can be reached through the company website, www.homewisereferrals.com, by email at debbie@homewisereferrals.com or by phone, 703-360-8222.