Five Multiple Offer Strategies

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Posted by Michael Sosnowski

Today we’re highlighting 5 of the best, most successful multiple offer strategies that really work in today’s real estate market, to ensure Maine Home Connection Buyers and Sellers end up with a purchase price that makes sense.

For would-be home buyers, competing against multiple offers to win the home of your dreams can be… more than a little stressful.  Our buyers, sellers, and friends are all curious about how best to navigate a multiple-offer real estate transaction. There’s no doubt it can be difficult if you are not prepared with the right strategies.

Southern Maine is experiencing a seller’s market. Home inventory levels are drastically low and there are not enough reasonably priced homes available to meet the demand.

This frequently leads to homes selling much quicker than normal and often well above asking. It all boils down to the basic economic principle of supply and demand. If demand is high and supply is low, prices go up.

Buying a home can be very emotional, especially when you’re competing against multiple offers. We use these strategies for our clients, and we trust they will be helpful to you, too.

1: Have Your Pre-Approval Letter Ready To Go!

Let’s start simply.  If you are looking at homes with a licensed Realtor® then you should already have a pre-approval letter in your back pocket.  When competing in a multiple offer market, it’s especially important to be prepared! The very first step in purchasing a new home is to meet with a lender, and it is best to use someone locally – and get pre-approved for a mortgage. This should be an amount that you are 100% comfortable with spending.  Too many home buyers that we meet with for the first time haven’t really given enough thought to financing.  This may seem surprising, but it is unfortunately true.

Your pre-approval amount sets the entire stage for your home search. Now you’re ready to get out there and do some serious home shopping, not just some serious home touring. The reason it’s so important to have that pre-approval letter when you do decide to write an offer (and particularly when dealing with multiple offers) is it demonstrates to a Seller that you are a serious, pre-approved buyer that actually has the financial means to buy their home. If an offer you’re competing with doesn’t have their pre-approval letter, you can see how your letter puts you in the stronger position.

Working with a LOCAL lender, especially in today’s real estate market, is more important than you might think.

2. Increase Your Earnest Money

Perhaps 80% of all Maine home buyers had no idea what earnest money was when it came time to write an offer. It’s one of those things that doesn’t get talked about all that often. The earnest money amount in an offer can be a very subtle but effective piece in the ‘multiple offer strategies’ puzzle. Typically, earnest money is between 1-2% of the overall purchase price. On a $250,000 purchase, earnest money would usually be somewhere between $2,500-$4,000 in a traditional real estate market. A Buyer pays the earnest money after their offer is accepted. If you back out or the deal falls through for a reason not covered by contingencies, the seller potentially gets to keep this money. This strategy works if you have the cash available to pay a little more earnest money to show the seller how serious you are about buying their home and winning the offer.

Ultimately, if you do end up buying the house, the Earnest Money will either be applied to your down payment or your closing costs; consider it a small down payment for your new home. Sometimes it literally comes down to just a couple thousand dollars to win the offer–especially when you are in a multiple offer scenario!

3. Be Flexible

This may sound a bit vague, so let’s expand on it.  One of the first hurdles in successfully winning a multiple offer scenario is getting the Seller to accept your offer, not the other buyer. Now that you’ve won and have the house under contract, the next few steps are the most critical in keeping the deal together and ultimately closing/purchasing the home. It’s important to remember that the seller had other options, so be as sensitive and flexible in your future negotiations as possible.

If your offer was contingent on inspection, be selective about what you ask the seller to pay for or repair. The seller is not going to be interested in spending thousands of dollars to fix a bunch of insignificant items that a buyer simply might not like or care for. In such a hot market, where the seller may have the opportunity for multiple offers, he or she may tell you to take a hike. Make sense? Respond quickly to any requests for information and be flexible if things like the closing date shift.

If you are aware of any stipulations that are of significant importance to the seller, try to accommodate them as much as possible. Remember, it’s the house you’re after, not the high efficiency washer/dryer combo or the awesome swing set in the backyard. If there are ways to accommodate the seller without giving too much, do so. And remember, don’t turn off the seller by being too demanding or overly critical of their home. It’s important to remember that, ultimately, the Buyer and Seller really have the same goal so why not be flexible with one another in an effort to reach that goal!

4. Offer More Than List Price

As the buyer, I’m sure you must be saying “There’s no way I’m paying over list price!” In the greater Portland area, as is the case in many other parts of the country, home buyers really don’t like paying the full asking price for a home; EVEN if it is perfect and EVEN if they are competing with multiple offers! The reality is, when you’re competing with multiple offers in a hot seller’s market, chances are whoever buys that house is going to pay over list price. So, if you really love the house then why not just go for it! Try not to get too caught up in the fact that you’re paying over list price. Sometimes Sellers will actually underprice a home in an effort to create a bidding war among buyers. That being said, it’s always important to remember your budget and a dollar amount you’re comfortable with spending. This is where the advice of a knowledgeable and professional Realtor® can be a tremendous asset! In a competitive market, a seller might scoff at being offered the list price for their home if comparable homes have been selling above list. Offer to pay what you think is a fair price based on the research you and your Realtor® have done.

There’s really no way of knowing what the other multiple offers are, so you have to focus on the fair market value of the home vs. a budget you’re comfortable with. We have worked with plenty of Maine home Buyers that actually decided to walk away from a home, knowing that it was in multiple offers, because they didn’t want to blow their budget out of the water. It’s easy to get caught up in “action” and forget that you have a budget. So stick to it and shop smart!

5. Include a Personal Letter with Your Offer

This is by far the MOST underutilized multiple offer strategy available.  Even if you’re not in a multiple offer situation, this is still a great strategy that might save you a little money on the front end and may make for a smoother transaction in general. Buying and/or selling a home is a very emotional process for everyone involved, and, as human beings, we all love that personal and human connection with one another. Just look at all the sharing of personal pictures and videos all over social media. So, why not embrace that connection and include a short letter introducing yourself and talking about why you love the home so much!

Chances are the person selling that home loved many of the same things you do. BOOM! …now you’ve got a connection. Often we see the “selling side” and “buying side” pit themselves against one another like they’re enemies. In every Maine Home Connection transaction, we do our best to bring buyers and sellers together – at the end of the day a Buyer and Seller really have the same goal so why not be flexible and work with one another in an effort to reach that goal? This can be especially important in a competitive, multiple offer scenario.

We hope these 5 tips will help you in the current real estate market both now and in the future. If we can assist you with buying or selling a home, please give our office a call at 207-517-3100. We look forward to connecting with you


Why Smart Homebuyers Hire Home Inspectors

Any good real estate agent will recommend you include a home inspection clause when you make an offer on a house. That usually means you’ll be paying for the inspection, so you need to know what you’re getting for your money.

The Value of a Home Inspector

A qualified home inspector combs a property’s visible and accessible areas to identify any health and safety problems, positive or negative conditions of the property and any conditions that need further specialized attention.

An inspection includes structural elements such as the roof, foundation, walls, windows, doors, insulation, basement or crawlspace and attic. Electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems are also part of a home inspection. It can even include examination of appliances and should also report any evidence of termites.

Once the inspection is complete, a home inspector provides a written, comprehensive report detailing any issues with the home.

Some important things to remember about home inspection reports:

—No home is perfect. It is not uncommon for a report to include 50 or more issues.

—This is not “pass” or “fail.” The inspection gives you the information you need to decide whether or not to buy the home “as is” or negotiate with the seller to either fix (some of) the problems or reduce the price.

—This is not a warranty. The report identifies issues found the day of inspection and cannot predict problems that may arise a few months or a few days down the road.

You Are Not A Home Inspector

Home inspection is another one of those jobs best left to professionals. Few of us have the expertise to identify electrical, plumbing and structural problems. Combine that with the emotional factors of buying a home, and it’s easy to see why potential buyers are not the ones who need to do the inspecting.

With that said, it’s a good idea to accompany your home inspector so you can ask questions and see the good and not-so-good for yourself.

How to Find a Good Inspector

Your real estate agent will probably be able to recommend a home inspector. If you’d rather choose your own, be aware that only about half the states have licensing or certification requirements. In either case, you want an inspector with plenty of experience. Check out the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors,, for more information on selecting an inspector.

Home inspection fees vary but are usually well under $1,000. Considering how much an inspection can save you by avoiding potential disasters, it’s money well spent.

2017 Greater Portland, Maine Industrial Market Snapshot

by Justin Lamontagne, CCIM, Partner | Broker, NAI The Dunham Group

A “healthy” market is a catchy and common term to describe the current state of the Greater Portland industrial sector. But our experience suggests that the market is only healthy for a select few, primarily landlords and sellers.

For the sixth consecutive year, vacancy rates have dropped. In fact, last year, I called the 3.38% vacancy rate “remarkably” low. Today, that number has dropped a full 100 basis points to 2.32%, which I would call simply “inhibiting”. Throughout the year, we worked with buyers and tenants who struggled to find suitable relocation and growth opportunities. Multiple offers and off-market sales became common, which further frustrated end-users. We coached clients to remain patient, flexible and communicative in this fluid and competitive market.

Accordingly, the limited inventory drastically increased both lease rates and sales pricing for industrial style space. Sale price trends, in particular, deserve a closer look. In 2011, at the tail end of the recession, Class A & B industrial buildings were selling in the $40/sf range. Sales were almost exclusively going to owner-user businesses who were bullish enough to bet the economy would turn. Today, those businesses are competing with a smaller inventory pool, and against investors looking to diversify their portfolios. Quality industrial buildings are now averaging in the high-$50/sf range and we have seen peak pricing at $70-80/sf.

The bright side, and a “healthy” sign of market conditions, is the recent resurgence in new construction, adding much needed inventory. And that trend will continue into 2017 as speculative industrial projects are being built and marketed in Saco, Gorham, Scarborough and South Portland. I expect that over 150,000 SF will be added to our inventory in 2017.  That means busy contractors, architects, engineers, brokers, attorneys, bankers, etc.

New projects do, of course, require higher lease rates, which the market is starting to support.  I predict lease rates will continue to climb for at least another year or two. And, the added inventory will finally slow our plummeting vacancy rates. An important caveat to this prediction is the still unknown impact of recreational cannabis cultivation and retail sales. Anecdotally, our industrial clients still prefer to buy existing buildings when possible. We have advised them to be ready to jump when opportunity arises and be willing to pay a premium in order to win a deal. Therefore, I predict sales price per square foot will again rise, and the gap between existing and new construction costs will continue to shrink.

So, is this a healthy market? It depends on who is asking! On behalf of all us at NAI The Dunham Group, thank you. I hope you find the data discussed herein helpful as it pertains to your particular real estate holdings and business goals.

Originally published as part of NAI The Dunham Group’s Greater Portland Industrial Market Survey, January 2017,

Westbrook, ME – Housing Crunch Creates Construction Boom


Housing crunch creates construction boom
WESTBROOK, Maine —While Portland officials address the city’s housing crisis, many people are looking to outlying areas to find a place to live.

In Westbrook, developers can’t build fast enough to keep up with demand.

Off Spring Street, they are building 53 homes and 150 apartments across from a golf course. Apartment buildings that aren’t even constructed are already slated to be fully occupied Sept. 1.

Single-family homes and apartments can’t be built fast enough during this construction boom.

“We have 52 house lots, all but one of which are spoken for,” said Rocco Risbara, a developer. “We have 150 apartment units and of the 150 apartments, we have completed the first 50 and will be fully occupied as of this weekend.”

Campbell Bennie, a recent college graduate, said he searched for an affordable apartment in the Portland area and landed in Westbrook with a one-bedroom unit for $1,250 a month.

“It also has a parking spot, and heat and hot water are included, and laundry,” Bennie said.

Kayla Keene searched in Portland and found it too expensive.

“A lot of the stuff was small for the price or not what I was looking for. I wanted a two-bedroom, so it was hard to find,” Keene said.

It really is a case of supply and pent-up demand.

“There’s been studies done in the Greater Portland market. We had a need for over 6,000 houses a few years ago, and the need has not been met. So we’re trying to meet that need,” Risbara said.

3 Seller Tips to Avoid Home Inspection Nightmares

By Joe Sesso, National Speaker for

3 Seller Tips to Avoid Home Inspection Nightmares

Selling a home can be a stressful experience for most homeowners. It’s your job as an agent to keep sellers calm and focused on the big picture; however, when it comes to home inspections, most homeowners aren’t used to having a stranger peer into their attic, open every cupboard and closet or test every appliance. For some, this stress can turn into a major nightmare.

While most sellers look at inspectors as the bearers of only bad news, there are some positive factors, as well. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, a “home inspection can give [sellers] the opportunity to make repairs that will put the house in better selling condition.” In addition to this, home inspections can ensure a smooth transaction and assist sellers in receiving the asking price. When the inspector finds major issues, though, some agents may be caught off guard and unsure of how to react. Since maintaining your cool is a must, here are three tips for navigating the home inspection process with your clients.

  1. Prepare them for the inevitable.

When the home inspector comes through and begins pointing out flaws, many homeowners take the comments personally. This is why it’s important to make sure that not only is your client’s house ready for inspection, but that your clients are, too. Before the inspection process, it can be helpful to do a walk-through of the home yourself and point out potential issues. However, keep in mind that there’s a way to engage with the seller to talk about repairs without being confrontational. For example, take a walk with your clients through the house, and if you see a stain from a leak or a faulty switch, say, “Huh.” They will likely ask, “Do you think I should fix that?” This is your opportunity to approach the topic of repairs by non-confrontationally stating, “I would.” If your clients are already aware of potential issues, it won’t come as a shock when the inspector points them out, and it will give them the opportunity to fix it preemptively.

  1. Be proactive.

Before the inspector arrives, talk with your sellers about whether they plan to be in the house during the inspection. If the buyers will also be attending the inspection, the best thing for both parties is to keep the sellers away and occupied for the duration. If the sellers are concerned that they won’t be able to answer questions or explain an issue with the home, let them know they can leave their contact information at the house and have the buyers or inspector call with any pressing questions. If the buyers will not be attending the inspection, it could be beneficial to have the sellers onsite. As the inspector surveys the house, you can calmly ask your clients about the mysterious stain on the ceiling or why they installed an appliance the way they did. This can help alleviate any tense or awkward moments by keeping your client’s attention focused on your conversation, rather than the inspector recording all the things that are wrong with their home.

  1. Keep the peace.

When the time comes for the actual inspection process, take a minute to remind your clients that the home inspector is simply doing his or her job. Emphasizing this fact can help keep sellers grounded, even when the inspector comments on the improper installation of their favorite fixture. If the buyers are present during the inspection and your clients insist on remaining in the home, tell them pointedly that a number of real estate deals fall through when buyers and sellers get tangled in tense situations. Let your clients know that you understand how important their home is to them, but that taking the emotion out of the situation can be beneficial to all parties. If the sellers do start to get worked up about the inspection or a comment made by a potential buyer, try to redirect their attention and remind them about why they’re selling their home in the first place. As much as possible, focus their attention on the bigger picture and their end goal: getting the best return on their investment and finding a new home.

Even if you prepare in every way possible, the best laid plans can go awry. The best thing you can do for yourself and your clients is try to keep everyone calm and focused. However, before you can show off your real estate skills, you need to make sure you’re able to connect with buyers and sellers in your area.’s Local Connect brings you property inquiries from active buyers and sellers right when they are ready to engage. If you’re looking for ways to connect with transaction-ready sellers in your local market, Local Connect positions you in front of active sellers in your target markets with branding that showcases your photo or logo, phone number and endorsements. Call us at 888-651-8956 or send an email to to learn more!

For more information, please visit

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark

Checklist for the first week in your new home


You just closed on the purchase of your new home and have the keys in your hand. The excitement has barely worn off, and you have already started your move. Other than arranging your move, here is a handy checklist of items that you will need to take care of during the first weeks in your new home.

to-do list

  1. Utility Accounts – You need to open new utility accounts in your name. Often the escrow company will pay the final utility balance for the sellers, but this does not open a new account for you. Depending on where you live (condo, rural, urban, etc), you will have to open utility accounts for your electricity, natural gas, water, sewer and garbage. When opening your accounts, you may be able to save a charge for meter reading if you take the meter reading yourself. You will also want to order any telephone, internet, cable TV or satellite services that you need. If the home has a security system that you want monitored, you will also have to contact the security company.
  2. Re-key Locks – There is no telling who may still have a key to your new home, so you will want to re-key your locks so only you have access. You can either have a locksmith visit the home, or you can remove the locks from your doors and take them to a locksmith, saving you a trip charge. Be sure to have the key available so they do not have to pick the locks. Have a few extra keys made and get yourself a keybox to hide on the property. The hidden keybox will save you the hassle of locking yourself out and can also help if you need to have friends or family access the house when you are away.
  3. Plan for Cleaning – Your idea of clean may not be the same as the seller’s. Sometimes sellers will leave a home in immaculate condition, but sometimes not. Plan to clean the home thoroughly before you move in. If you are planning to clean the carpets, do this immediately before you move in your furniture and allow some time for it to dry. It is far easier to clean carpets when a home is empty.
  4. Paint When Rooms are Empty – It is a lot easier to paint an empty room before you move in your bulky furniture.
  5. Change of Address – Start changing your billing address for all of your accounts such as bank accounts, credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc. Don’t forget to tell the Post Office where you live so they can forward your mail from your previous address. You can do it online here.
  6. HOA Information – If you live in a condominium or subdivision with a homeowners association, you will want to figure out where you will be sending your monthly dues. It is also helpful to figure out who to contact for maintenance issues and requests. Be sure to ask when the association meetings are scheduled if you are interested in participating in the decision-making process for your association.
  7. File Your Closing Documents – Home ownership will change your income tax situation in beneficial ways, but you will need your closing statement to figure out the correct tax basis for your property. File it away safely for your next tax return.
  8. Read Your Inspection Report – Remember the inspection report you paid for during the purchase process? It is usually filled with helpful maintenance tips and other projects that will need your attention. Use it as a sort of “owners manual” to systems in your new home.
  9. Window Coverings – If the home you bought lacks window coverings, it will take some time to select and order drapery and blinds. In the interim, you can purchase cheap paper accordion blinds to give you privacy until your chosen window coverings are installed.
  10. Time to Take Care of the Yard – If you are coming from apartment or condo living, you may not have any yard tools, but you now have a yard to care for. You’ll likely need to make a trip to the store for things like a lawnmower, garden tools, snow shovels, etc. Get the basics to get you started and add to your collection as you need it. Craigslist can be a great resource for used items.
  11. Don’t Make Major Changes Immediately – Everyone has grand plans for improvements and changes to their new house. Home updates are expensive and time-consuming. Before committing to costly remodeling projects, spend a few months living in the house to find out what actually annoys you and what you can live with for awhile. I guarantee that what is important to you at move-in will change once you have lived there for a few months.
  12. Keep Track of Major Home Expenditures – You can only deduct mortgage interest and property taxes from your income tax return. However, you will want to keep records of major investments that you make in the home, as these can be added to the tax basis of your home and have the potential to reduce capital gains taxes when you sell, depending on how much your home has increased in value.

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The New Homeowner’s Survival Guide

The New Homeowner’s Survival Guide

If you’ve recently taken the home-buying plunge, our survival guide is a must-read that will help you avoid common pitfalls, budget your time and money, and glide smoothly into the joys of owning your own home.

New Homeowner Tips


So you’ve bought your first house—congratulations! You’ve searched for and found a place that you love. You’ve secured a mortgage and successfully dealt with real estate brokers, lawyers, home inspectors, and insurance agents. You’ve learned about closing costs and the volumes of paperwork that must be signed, in triplicate, with a notary public as witness. No doubt, this has been an exciting time for you, and a very busy one. Believe it or not, there’s still more to do! So to help you through it all, we’ve prepared this handy guide.

We hope you’ll take away two essential things from this guide: an awareness of what you can expect in the first year of living in your new home, and some sound advice on being prepared for the most important aspects of being a new homeowner.


Homeowner’s Insurance
If you have a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance was probably required for the loan. But it’s smart to reassess your insurance needs within the first six months of owning your home. You may discover you have too much (or too little) coverage. Once the dust has settled, take a critical look at your policy and solicit a second round of quotes from insurers.

Most mortgage companies require your taxes and homeowner’s insurance to be escrowed, which means that the mortgage company totals those expenses, then charges you one-twelfth of the sum each month. (Some mortgage companies allow you to opt out of escrow, for a fee.) If you don’t have escrow, remember to budget for your tax and insurance expenses! If you do have escrow, take pains to make sure that the mortgage company is making all payments on your behalf in a timely manner; after all, it’s your house and your credit that are on the line. Also, double-check the accuracy of the estimate made by your lender’s escrow department. If there’s a shortfall, you can expect a bill for the difference at the end of the year. And if that estimate was way off, the bill you receive could be a real whopper.

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Stay Warm, Save Energy, and Lower Your Utility Bills This Winter

Originally posted in The Logan Daily News

by Nathaniel Sillin

Do you turn the thermostat a notch higher or put on an extra sweater when it gets cold? It’s a common household debate as family members try to maintain a balance between comfort and savings during the winter. It’s also a debate you may be able to put to rest by investing in energy-saving maintenance and upgrades.

You can start with a home energy audit, an inspection that focuses on finding areas where your home wastes energy. Professional auditors can cost $300 to $800 depending on the type of audit, but you could consider tackling an audit and some of the changes yourself. Doing so could make your home more comfortable, lower your ecological footprint and save energy and money.

See if you qualify for state-funded weatherization assistance. Look into state-based financial assistance programs before going at it alone. Contact your state’s weatherization agency to review eligibility guidelines, find a local service provider and start an application. If approved, you could receive a professional energy audit and improvements. On average, about $4,000 worth of energy saving-related work was completed over one or two days for the 2015 program year.

A DIY energy audit can help you identify ways to save money and stay warm. A thorough inspection of your home can uncover opportunities for improvement, and you be able to rent an infrared camera to help you spot trouble areas.

Look over the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s guide to conducting a DIY home energy audit, and create a log of your findings as you go. Keep in mind, where you live can impact what fixes you want to focus on, the type and amount of insulation you’ll need and even your heating system.

Typical trouble spots and simple solutions. The following are common trouble spots and potential improvement you might want to make.

• Keep the cold outside air out. The DOE estimates that you can save five to as much as 30 percent on your energy bill by just reducing drafts. Check for leaks around your doors, windows, plumbing, cabinets and other potential outlets.

Also look for dirty spots on your wall, ceiling and floors as that could indicate air or moisture is getting in. Use foam sealant to fill in large gaps you find and caulking or weather stripping for smaller leaks. Covering drafty windows and doorways with storm windows or doors could also be a worthwhile investment.

• Consider adding more insulation. The insulation in your walls and ceiling may not meet today’s recommendations. Reinsulating or supplementing what you have could help your home stay warm, or cool, and might not be as difficult as you imagine in easy-to-access attics or basements.

However, you may want to check with a professional who can recommend what type of insulation to use and warn you of potential ventilation, fire or moisture hazards during and after installation.

• Regularly inspect your heating systems. Heating systems can cost thousands of dollars to replace. While it may not be a DIY job, you may be able to prolong your system’s life by hiring a professional HVAC contractor to inspect and tune up your system before each winter.

Some utilities also offer free in-home inspections of gas appliances. A job you can take on is checking the air filter and replacing it to the manufacturer’s specifications or when it looks dirty. You could also check for, and seal, holes, leaks and poor connections in the ducts.

Weigh the costs and benefits before investing your time or money in a winterization project. Some of the items on your checklist could be no-brainers, but others might require more thought.

Bottom line: A home energy audit can help you identify ways to improve your energy efficiency and make your home more comfortable. Whether you hire professionals, apply for government assistance or do it yourself, preparing before winter hits means you can enjoy a warm home without stressing over the energy bill.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. Sillin writes a weekly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.

Date : 10/25/2016

A Closer Look: No shortage of design choices in planning outdoor space

By Rob Parker, Special to Postmedia Network

With the summer outdoor entertaining season upon us, you might be considering building a deck, porch, patio or landscaping to add to your outdoor living space. You should first assess and identify how you and your family and friends will use the newly created space and whether or not it will be a good fit with your existing exterior structures and landscaping.

When designing and determining the location of your outdoor space, here are some helpful tips:

  • When it comes to decks you should note that most municipalities require a building permit before the start of any construction:
  • Decks should never be built over air-conditioning units, vents for fireplaces, furnace, hot water heaters, or dryers as all have codes for required clearances/distances from the deck structure.
  • Deck stairs should have uniform step heights and tread depths to ensure people do not trip. Riser of each stair should be enclosed.
  • If your deck has 3 or more steps, a full railing and hand railings are required. Stairs should have handrails that are a comfortable size and shape for grasping. A circular shape 30 – 40 mm (1¼ – 1½ in.) in diameter is appropriate for most people. The height of handrails should be 860 – 920 mm (34 – 36 in.) and a second handrail at a height of 665 – 700 mm (26¼ – 27½ in.) is recommended if children will be using the stairs. Height of the railing around the deck varies depending on height of the deck from the ground. Your permit will state the proper railing height.
  • Wooden decks should be cleaned and sealed with either a stain or other water-proofing product at least once per year.
  • When constructing a deck or patio, ensure there is adequate manoeuvering space at landings for devices such as walkers, wheelchairs or scooters
  • When landscaping ensure the grade slopes away and that all downspouts are extended at least one meter from the foundation and that the soil is at least 10 centimetres below the top of the foundation. Same distances apply for basement windows unless protected by a window well with a drain.
  • For bushes you should have an air space between the exterior wall and the bush of at least 10 centimetres. Bushes should also be trimmed so they are at least one metre from air conditioning units to avoid airflow obstruction.
  • Trees should be planted far enough away from the exterior walls of the house so that in 20 years, branches are not hanging over the roof of the house or its root system is not interfering with the weeping bed of the drainage system. If in doubt, consult with experts at a nursery.

Decks are traditionally raised off the ground, and patios are generally at ground level. In the past, decks were built of wood. Now there are several products that look and feel like wood, such as wood-plastic composites, and plastic and rubber boards. Common patio building materials include poured concrete, interlocking stones, paving slabs, asphalt and rubberized surfaces. Ideally, patios, terraces and seating areas should be accessible by a pathway and incorporate an appropriate turning space.

When purchasing a home, you should also be aware that decks are included in a general home inspection therefore your inspector will be able to provide information concerning the deck’s condition at the time of the inspection; however, in most cases the inspector is limited to only reporting on the upper side of the deck as underneath has been closed in with a skirt or too low to the ground to view.

Design and choice of materials and finishes for your exterior living space is often based on esthetics, personal preference, environmental impact and cost with a vast array of choice of which is better suited to your needs than another.

Rob Parker is a registered home inspector (RHI) with the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, and an ASHI certified inspector (ACI) with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Rob can be reached at Thamespec Home Inspection Service (519) 857-7101, by email at or 

How to Maintain and Inspect Your Septic System

Septic Systems

Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual and small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state and local responsibility. The EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality. 
Information for Homeowners

If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you and your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

 Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly:
  1. Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
  2. Have your septic system inspected at least every three years. Hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in septic inspections.
  3. Pump your septic tank as needed (generally, every three to five years).
  4. Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
  5. Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
  6. Use water efficiently.
  7. Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield.
  8. Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
  9. Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
  10. Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.
How does it work?
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a  drainfield, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest and remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge), and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Micro-organisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

Your septic system is your responsibility!

Did you know that, as a homeowner, you’re responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn’t maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.
Pump frequently…
You should have your septic system inspected at least every three years by a professional, and have your tank pumped as necessary (generally every three to five years).
Use water efficiently…
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.
Flush responsibly…
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom waste can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, anti-freeze and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system, as well as contaminate surface waters and groundwater.
How do I maintain my septic system?
  • Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield.
  • Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, the tank or other septic system components.
  • Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater and surface water drainage systems away from the drainfield. Flooding the drainfield with excessive water slows down or stops treatment processes and can cause plumbing fixtures to back up.
Why should I maintain my septic system?
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every three years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every three to five years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property’s value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection and disease, and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen phosphorus, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquatic plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as “blue baby syndrome”) in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact, or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.
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