Smooth Move: Tips for a Less Stressful Relocation

Whether your new home is just down the street, in a nearby town or across the country, moving can be stressful. There’s a lot of work to be done before that final box is unpacked, and it’s easy to overlook everything that needs to be done before your departure.

First, we’d hate to see you go if you’re leaving the HOA community, but we hope you enjoyed your home here. Before you head out, here are some important tips to help make this huge transition smoother:

Shipping Notes: If you’re shipping items, keep the shipment registration number with you. You may need this number when calling your mover and when tracking your shipments.

Bed Ready: Consider placing your sheets, blankets and towels in an easy-to-access place like a dresser drawer so you don’t have to go searching for them your first night in your new home.

Freshen the Fridge: If you’re bringing your refrigerator, thoroughly clean and dry the inside before passing it on to the movers. Be sure to put a handful of fresh coffee, baking soda or charcoal in a sock inside to keep it smelling fresh.

Pack Wisely: Don’t make the job harder than it needs to be – heavy items go in small boxes; lighter items go in larger boxes.

Safe Memories: Keep items that are significant to you, like pictures in your car. If something is irreplaceable, you don’t want to regret potentially losing it later. To keep items like framed photos or art safe, place sheets or blankets between them.

Protect Plates: Plates should be packed on end vertically, rather than flat and stacked.

Bare Necessities: Cell phones, chargers, toilet paper, toiletries, snacks, drinks, soap, flashlights, screwdrivers, pliers, can openers, paper plates, cups, utensils, some pans, paper towels and cleaning supplies are some of the essentials you may need upon arrival. Pack a box with these items, label it clearly and load it last.

Bulb Basics: Remove light bulbs from your lamps and pack them separately.

Involve the Kids: To keep them busy, ask your children to write their names and new address on the boxes for their room. Repetition like this will help them remember their new address.

Pet Care: On moving day, ask a friend or neighbor to watch your pet at their house. This will keep your pet calm, safe and out of the way.

Plant Care: Try not to let foliage rest against car windows; the leaves could burn due to glass intensifying sun rays.

Take the time to implement these tips to properly prepare for the move—it may seem like more work upfront, but ultimately it can save you lots of stress in the long run. Good luck, and don’t forget to say goodbye!

Food Safety During a Power Outage

Power failures can be one of the most annoying—and disabling—occurrences in a community like ours. Whether caused by summer storms, power lines crippled by winter ice, equipment failure, an overloaded regional grid or an animal disrupting a power line, electrical outages can be costly, uncomfortable—and without forethought—sometimes even dangerous.

Residents can face many hazards when a power failure occurs—usually without any warning—including losing refrigerated and frozen foods. Some food items can be saved if you’re prepared.

In anticipation of a power failure:

  • Have at least one or two coolers on hand, and at least one spare 5-pound bag of ice in the freezer.
  • Know where to get bag, block or dry ice quickly when you need it, particularly if you anticipate a long-term outage. (Caution: Dry ice is made from carbon dioxide, so it requires safe handling. Never breathe in its vapors or touch it with your bare hands.) According to the Food Safety Branch of Kentucky’s Department of Health, a 50-pound block of dry ice will keep a tightly packed, 18-cubic-foot freezer cool for up to two days, which is typically enough time to get the power in our homeowners association community up and running again.
  • Have an instant food thermometer or appliance thermometer available to ensure your freezers, refrigerators and coolers are staying cool enough store food safely.
  • Arrange the refrigerator and freezer efficiently. Frozen food will last longer in a full freezer—up to 48 hours if tightly packed—and refrigerated food will last longer—up to four hours—if there is room for air to circulate around items.

When the electricity goes off:

  • Avoid opening and closing the refrigerator unless absolutely necessary.
  • Cook and use perishable food before using canned food.
  • Check the temperature of refrigerated foods if the power is out for more than a few hours. Discard any food item that has been at 40° F or warmer for two or more hours. Exceptions include butter and margarine; hard cheeses like parmesan and Romano; some condiments like mustard, peanut butter, soy sauce, olives and vinegar-based salad dressing; and fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables.
  • Check the temperature of frozen foods as well. While tightly packed freezer foods will stay frozen for many hours, some items that may have thawed can be refrozen if they still retain ice crystals or have remained at a temperature lower than 40°. Fruit and vegetable juices; breads, rolls and pie crusts; flour, cornmeal and nuts; meat and chicken; and prepared foods and casseroles can be refrozen safely if they have not been at 40° F or warmer for more than two hours.
  • After the power comes back on, you may need to deodorize the refrigerator and freezer by washing surfaces with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda dissolved in a quart of warm water. Place an open box of baking soda inside the refrigerator to absorb any lingering odors.

Since the appearance and odor of a food item isn’t an accurate indication of its safety after a power outage, use the 40° rule-of-thumb. And when in doubt, discard the food.

While a power can go out any time, most power failures occur between mid-July and late September. But no matter when your community experiences an outage—and it inevitably will—knowing how to handle frozen and refrigerated foods can help keep your food supplies safe until the lights come back on.

Are HOA Rules Reasonable?

Homeowners associations have a number of rules and regulations that they ask you to observe so everyone can all maintain property values and quality of life in the community. If you believe a rule fails the “reasonable” test, let your board know at the next meeting for consideration or explanation.

  • Ÿ All rules are based on proper authority—either governing documents or state or local law.
  • Ÿ Enforcement of the rules is intended to be uniform, taking into account the consequences.
  • Ÿ Rules are not in place to punish you or limit your activities. Rather, rules are to ensure that each resident can enjoy the community free from the disruptive or harmful behavior of others.

Assessments as Important as Mortgages and Taxes

When you sit down to pay your bills each month, do you consider your association assessment to be a low priority? If so, think again.

According to the National Consumer Law Center’s (NCLC) Guide to Surviving Debt, “Condo fees…should be considered a high priority.” In fact, NCLC considers community association assessments in the same category as mortgage payments and real estate taxes—a category ranked second only to feeding your family—according to the Guide’s “Sixteen Rules about Which Debts to Pay First.”

Assessments pay for services like building maintenance, snow removal and cleaning that you would have to pay no matter where you live—either as direct out-of-pocket expenses or indirectly in a higher rent payment. The association has collective buying power, so when all services and utilities for everyone in the community are passed to you as a monthly assessment, you’re actually getting a bargain.

So, next time you get out your checkbook, remember to put your assessment near the top of that stack of bills. You’ll be glad you did.

Keeping your Community Safe

Everyone wants a safe place to call home, and homeowners associations strive to make all residents feel secure. While the community association is diligent in their efforts to reduce possible dangers in the community, your assistance is needed. It’s up to everyone to pitch in to keep crime rates down. Thankfully, taking a few simple steps can go a long way in keeping theft, vandalism and other felonies and misdemeanors out of the HOA.

 

Know Your Neighbors. Not only the neighbors on your block, but also the neighbors from all parts of the community association. At the very least, you’ll get a better idea of who actually lives (and in turn, who belongs) here. Talking with your neighbors will also give you the chance to find out if they have noticed any crimes or suspicious activity in the community association recently, so that you can be on the lookout as well. Consider creating and distributing a list with everyone’s contact information so that you and your neighbors can alert each other of any problems that arise. Of course, be sure to get your neighbors’ permission before adding their information to the list.

Leave The Light On. A good way to deter felons from breaking into your home is to make sure your front porch light stays on all night, even when you’re out of town. Not only does it signal that someone’s home, it also makes it harder for vandals to hide among the shadows. If you’re worried that you’ll either forget to turn the light on at night or off in the morning, you can purchase an inexpensive timer that will automatically do that for you every day. Also, if you see any street lights around the community association that are burnt out, please let the HOA board know as soon as possible so that they can replaced for everyone’s safety.

Lock Up. If you want to keep unwanted guests out, don’t make your home inviting. Even when you’re around, it’s best to keep all gates, doors and garages locked at all times. It’s also a good idea to keep your windows closed and locked when possible, especially if they’re on the ground floor.

Put On Your Walking Shoes. Taking as stroll around the community association isn’t just good exercise. You can casually patrol the HOA community for anything suspicious or usual, as well as swap notes about criminal activity in the area with other neighbors who are out and about. Also, when more residents regularly walk around the community association, it can help scare off hooligans who are afraid of getting caught in the act.

Clean It Up. Picking up litter, removing graffiti and keeping trees, bushes and lawns trimmed not only makes the community association look better, but also sends the message that the residents are diligent about keeping the neighborhood a respectable place to live. This can help discourage troublemakers from hanging around the community and encourage responsible and involved people to move to the HOA.

See Something, Say Something. If you notice a crime or a suspicious activity, regardless of how small the incident may seem, notify association security and the police immediately. Of course, call 911 if it is an emergency; otherwise, contact the police on their non-emergency line.

 

Avoiding Bee Stings

For most people, a bee sting is an uncomfortable experience, but not a life-threatening event. For approximately 3 percent of adults and 0.5 percent of children, however, a sting by a bee, wasp, hornet or yellow jacket can result in a whole-body allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)—a true medical emergency.

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid being stung. Generally, insects such as bees and wasps aren’t aggressive and only sting as a self-defense mechanism. If a few bees are flying around you, calmly and slowly walk away from the area—swatting at an insect may cause it to sting you. When a bee stings, it releases a chemical that attracts other bees, so if a bee or wasp stings you or if many insects start to fly around you, cover your mouth and nose and quickly leave the area. Try to get into a building or a closed vehicle.

The following are some additional tips so you can remain sting-free:

  • Use caution when working around bushes, shrubs, trees and trashcans.
  • Have hives and nests near your home removed by a professional.
  • Always wear shoes when walking outside, particularly on grass.
  • Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, close-toed shoes and socks when working outdoors.
  • Avoid very loose-fitting clothing that can trap insects.
  • Avoid eating any type of sweet foods outside.
  • Don’t wear brightly colored clothing or flowery prints because it could attract insects. Avoid using perfumes or other scented products for this reason as well.
  • Cover food containers and trash cans tightly.
  • Always check food and drinks before consuming, especially open cans of soda or drinks with straws at pools and picnics.
  • Serve beverages in wide, open cups, since they easily allow you to see what’s inside.
  • Clear away garbage, fallen fruit and animal feces (flies can attract wasps).
  • Keep the windows rolled up when driving or riding in a car.

Be Prepared for Disasters

If you think hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and floods won’t happen to you or you don’t need to insure against these disasters, you’re among the nearly half of U.S. homeowners and renters who lack the insurance coverage to deal with potential losses, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Having insurance against the elements is especially important in the South.

In a NAIC national survey, about 48 percent of homeowners and renters said they did not have an inventory of their possessions. Of those who reported having a checklist, 32 percent had not taken any pictures and 58 percent had no receipts validating the cost of their possessions. In addition, 44 percent of respondents acknowledged they had not stored their inventory in a separate location.

Here are some easy tips to follow from the NAIC to help you prepare for disasters:

  • Take an inventory of your valuables and belongings. This should include taking photographs or a video of each room. This documentation will provide your insurance company with proof of your belongings and help to process claims more quickly in the event of disaster.
  • To enable filing claims more quickly, keep sales receipts and canceled checks. Also note the model and serial numbers of the items in your home inventory.
  • As you acquire more valuables such as jewelry or antiques, consider purchasing an additional floater or rider to your policy to cover these special items. These types of items typically are not covered by a basic homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.
  • Don’t forget to include those items you rarely use such as holiday decorations in your home inventory.
  • Store copies of all your insurance policies in a safe location away from your home that is easily accessible in case of disaster. You may want to store your policies and inventory in a waterproof, fireproof box or in a safe location such as a bank safe deposit box.
  • Consider leaving a copy of your inventory with relatives, a trustworthy friend or your insurance provider and store digital pictures in your e-mail or on a website for easy retrieval.
  • Know what is and is not covered by your insurance policy. Depending where you live, you might need additional protection. Make sure your policies are up to date. Contact your insurance provider annually to review and update your insurance policy.
  • Keep a readily available list of 24-hour contact information for each of your insurance providers.
  • Find out if your possessions are insured for the actual cash value or the replacement cost. Actual cash value is the amount it would take to repair or replace your home and possessions after depreciation, while replacement cost is the amount it would take to repair or replace your home or possessions without deducting for depreciation. Speak with your insurance provider to determine whether purchasing replacement coverage is worth the cost.
  • Speak with your insurance provider to find out if your policy covers additional living expenses for a temporary residence if you are unable to live in your home due to damage from a disaster.
  • Appraise your home periodically to make sure your insurance policy reflects home improvements or renovations. Contact your insurance provider to update your policy.
Buyer Beware Home Inspections

Buyer Beware: Home Inspections

A home is typically the most expensive purchase a person will ever make, and because of this, it’s imperative to have it inspected before moving forward. Your homeowners association recommends that you have your potential home inspected before finalizing the deal and becoming your own property manager. An inspection gives you an idea of the home’s physical condition, including the central heating and air system, plumbing and electrical systems, the roof, attic and visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, foundation, basement and structural components.

A home inspection addresses what needs to be repaired now and anything that might require future repair. If you have a property inspected before signing a contract, you might be able to negotiate a lower price that reflects the inspection’s findings. Simply because a house needs repairs doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it. The buyer must decide how much to spend and how much work he or she is willing to do after the purchase.

Home inspections don’t cover everything. Inspectors aren’t required to identify conditions that are hidden or could be considered latent defects. They don’t have to move personal property, plants, snow or debris to inspect an item and they aren’t liable if they miss something. Inspectors also don’t have to evaluate systems that aren’t easily accessible and they are not obligated to note whether termites, mold, hazardous plants or animals are present.

It’s not possible to know everything about a property before your purchase, but a thorough inspection should provide you with a decent idea of its condition. While the cost of a home inspection is typically based on the size, complexity and number of systems in the property, an inspection can cost as little as a few hundred dollars and has the potential to save much more. Some inspection fees are based on a percentage of the asking price. When calculating the time for lab results, inspections on average take approximately three weeks to finalize. Ultimately, the initial investment of money and time could mean fewer negotiations and surprises, a lower sales price, a decrease in the likelihood of litigation for improper disclosure and an increased chance of closing the deal.

Beware Boxwood Blight

Beware Boxwood Blight

Boxwoods are ornamental shrubs found throughout the U.S. including South Carolina. They’re popular because they stay green year round and don’t appeal to deer. Alarmingly, a new species of boxwood blight (the fungus Cylindrocladium buxicola) was discovered in the U.S., and several other countries in late 2011. Indistinguishable from two other types of benign boxwood blight, this third species is aggressive and deadly to all boxwoods not protected. Here is some helping advice provided by your community homeowners association.

The only known solution for Cylindrocladium fungus is extreme daily temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The US Department of Agriculture has allocated more than $500,000 for research to cure boxwood blight. Until a remedy is found, homeowners can slow the spread of the disease by detecting it early and using proper eradication procedures. Early detection is especially important since the fungus life cycle can be as swift as seven days from infection to propagating new spores.

Early signs of Cylindrocladium infection are round, brown spots on leaves or lesions on the leaf tip. In advanced stages, leaves drop off and the bare branches show black cankers.

If you have boxwoods on your property, inspect them at least once a week during the growing season. If your boxwoods show any signs of distress, you should take the following steps:

  • Contact the county agricultural extension center for testing. Testing is important since all boxwood blight species look alike. If tests confirm that Cylindrocladium is the culprit, begin removing diseased plants immediately and notify the community association company or a HOA board member as soon as possible.
  • Always wear gloves when handling diseased plants, fallen leaves and plant debris. Be careful not to touch healthy boxwoods or parts of garden tools that may come in contact with them. Wash the gloves and tools thoroughly or use disposable gloves.
  • Remove infected plants and dead leaves carefully and thoroughly. Fungus on fallen leaves can survive for as long as five years, so removing all debris is essential. Seal and double bag all debris or, if, burn or bury diseased plants and debris. Do not combine infected plant debris with other yard waste for pickup or disposal, and do not use it in compost systems.
  • After removing infected plants, vacuum porches, decks, walkways, flagstones and other hard surfaces adjacent to diseased boxwoods.
  • Replace your diseased boxwoods with alternative plants for the five years following a Cylindrocladium infection. Ask your landscaper or nursery staff for substitutes that are not in the boxwood family. If you opt for new boxwoods, plant them as far from the infected areas as possible.
Calling-all-homeowners

Calling all Homeowners

Homeowners association board meetings are open for the community to attend. Residents are encouraged to go to meetings and read the approved minutes. At the beginning of each HOA board meeting there should be a homeowner forum where residents are welcome to discuss concerns with the board.

Here are few tips for participating:

  1. Put it in writing. You will get the best response if you put your question or opinions in writing prior to the meeting. This isn’t mandatory, but it helps you and the board to have more time to look over it. Some issues may require a little research by the community manager, if your association has one. By having more time, the board will be able to better address your concern.
  1. Call ahead. As a courtesy, the HOA would appreciate it if you called and let the association manager or board president know that you wish to address the board. This also allows the board to notify you if a meeting is cancelled or rescheduled for any reason.
  1. Plan your remarks to last no longer than five minutes. Board members enjoy visiting with residents; however, the meeting agenda is always very full, and a timed limit ensures that all business gets conducted. It also ensures that all residents who wish to address the board have the opportunity. That being said, this doesn’t mean that the board will not hear a more time consuming problem. If your concern requires additional time, please use your allotted time to summarize your statement or question and the board will add it to the agenda for the next meeting.
  1. Don’t expect an immediate response. Board members don’t act independently. All issues require discussion and sometimes a vote. Sometimes an immediate answer is possible, but it’s just as likely that you won’t get a response until after the meeting when the board has had ample time to discuss your problem.
  1. If you need information, call your association manager. The purpose of the homeowner forum is for residents to share opinions and concerns with the board. If you are seeking general information – like a status report on a project or the board’s position on an issue – you can get a more immediate answer from the community manager.

If your neighborhood would like to see other benefits of having a paid association management firm please feel free to contact us at Southern Community Services.