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10 Tips to Safely Deck the Halls this Holiday Season

Dec 22 2014

Christmas tree fires are not all that common but they do happen and can spread quickly. An average of 230 home structure blazes resulting from Christmas tree fires are reported to U.S. fire departments each year. Electrical problems cause one of every three Christmas tree fires, and one in every five is the result of the tree being too close to a heat source.

Here’s a telling video shows how quickly a dry tree can go up in flames − the tree on the left is dry compared to the tree on the right that has been properly hydrated.

Other decorations and carelessness in decking the halls can contribute to holiday fires and potentially create a total loss for the property.

Ed Wolff, President of LeasingDesk Insurance, says the holidays are a time when residents should be more mindful of practicing safety to protect their own belongings as well as the property owners’ assets. Being sensible and turning off indoor holiday lights when leaving the home or thoroughly inspecting decorations with electrical components before putting them up are just a couple of examples.

“Residents should take extra precautions during the holidays and be aware of the potential dangers,” he said. “People tend to be festive and in the holiday spirit, and forget about those things. They can’t afford to do so.”

A number of resources for holiday safety are available from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), National Fire Protection Association, and the U.S. Fire Administration.

Here are some that property owners and third party managers can use to educate residents about how to enjoy the holidays safely:

10 Tips to Safely Enjoy the Holidays

  1. Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
  2.  Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
  3.  Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. (If the bulb lights are becoming too much hassle, check out the new LED strands. They come in a variety of colors and styles, and because they burn cooler, your electric bill won’t take a hit.)
  4.  Artificial trees should be labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
  5.  Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  6.  Never use candles to decorate the tree. Artificial candles are an available and safer alternative.
  7.  After the holidays, get rid of live decorations. Dried-out trees, wreaths, and garlands are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home, garage, storage building, or placed outside on the property.
  8.  Make sure the tree and other holiday decorations are not blocking an exit, and that they are at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.
  9.  Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  10.  Have an operable fire extinguisher readily available.

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If you’ve ever considered investing in a few rental properties in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA now might be a good time. Prices are still low in Philadelphia, but have been on the upswing. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home in a US metropolitan area grew 13.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the latest in a 17-month streak of year-over-year price increases. 

New landlords can choose from properties that are likely to appreciate and a large pool of potential renters.Licensed realtor Pat Mueller cites a few reasons for this trend: “Many families have lost their homes to foreclosure and are entering the rentals market for the first time in years. Mortgages are also harder to get now, so fewer people are qualifying for a new one.”The more skills you bring to the table to get into Houses for Rent in Philadelphia Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA and the more time you have to devote to your properties, the faster you can make a return on your investment. 

But investing in rentals can also be disastrous (or too stressful to be worthwhile) without expertise. Here are three professionals you may consult about your new rental properties, and what you can do to mitigate how much they cost you:Handyman:  You may need to hire a specialist for some work on your rental. If you need new outlets or new pipes, for example, hire an electrician, plumber or licensed contractor. Handymen usually tackle smaller, more manageable tasks, like:

  • Painting and paint removal
  • Drywall repair
  • Minor appliance repairs (fixing a leaky toilet or faucet, among others)
  • Installing tiling or flooring, moldings, windows, doors
  • Refinishing decks, cabinets and other wood items

When You Could Skip It: You could do any (or all) of these projects yourself if you have the time and interest in learning. Of course, this only works if you live relatively close to your rentals and are flexible enough to service them on short notice. And if you’re willing to respond to the occasional 5 AM basement flooding.

Average Savings: Any base rates or costs-per-hour vary from location to location in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA , but nationally, you can expect to spend an average of $60 to $85 per hour for repair costs. It general costs less to hire an individual handyman than a handyman employed by a company. Expect an additional charge if your job requires a trip to the store for materials.

Resident Property Manager As the owner of a handful of rental properties, you may be able to manage them yourself, but if you want help, a single resident manager would probably be more cost efficient than a property management company. Resident managers may:

  • Serve as a handyman
  • Advertise vacancies in your units
  • Show apartments to prospective tenants
  • Review rental applications
  • Collect rents

When You Could Skip It: Again, the closer you live to your properties and the more spare time you have, the less likely you are to need a manager. The obligations of being a boss will also cut into the time you save on maintenance.

Average Savings: The national median wage for residential managers is just over $25 per hour. Research the wages in your community and adjust according to how much responsibility your manager will take on. 

Real Estate Agent: Once you’ve gotten your financials in order and done your own research on the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, you might contact a realtor to show you potential properties. You can also arrange for a realtor in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA to show rentals once they’re ready to rent.

When You Could Skip It: It depends. Even if you’re a local, or have thoroughly researched the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, a realtor is a great resource for a first-time rental buyer. Realtors have access to data and statistics not necessarily available to the general public and first-time buyers may not know all the right questions to ask. Using a realtor to fill your Houses for Rent vacancies is less of a no-brainer, depending on your other time commitments or whether you plan to hire a resident manager who could do the same thing.

Average Savings: As a buyer of rental properties, as when buying your own home, sellers typically pay most, if not all, of the buyer’s realtor fees. In this case, Mueller points out there’s little reason not to work with a realtor. For help in filling your units in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA, the services of a realtor would set you back between 10-20% of the unit’s rent per month.  Mueller recommends interviewing with several brokers before making your final decision to invest into Houses for Rent .

The Bottom Line: As a new landlord, you can’t necessarily control the flexibility of your schedule or the amount (and cost) of unexpected repairs to your properties. Rentals are a long-term investment. However, to maximize profits from your Houses for Rent, new rentals, you can buy close to home and start small. It is best to begin with just one or two properties. This will allow you to maximize the time you spend on your properties’ needs, and minimize the amount you’ll have to pay anyone else.

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