PhillyTalk: Ask the Writers and Experts

This is your forum for posing questions to our staff and certain professionals. As with all information on our sites, questions and answers are published for information and discussion purposes only. Such information is not a substitute for professional advice from an adviser familiar with your particular situation. We do not guarantee the accuracy, reliability or completeness of any information provided in our forum.
Ask Alan J. Heavens

Alan J. Heavens has been writing about  real estate and home improvement for 27 of his 36 years at the Inquirer and for most of his 49 years as a reporter.  Author of three books, he was "The Gadgeteer" on the Discovery Channel's Home Matters and president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Read Al Heavens' recent columns
Most Recent Questions & Answers
Questions:   1 - 10  of  16
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QHi Al, We've got aluminum capping around the opening for our garage doors that's been really dinged up over the years. Is this something I can replace myself? It seems like too small a job for a contractor to handle but I've got no idea how to do it myself.
mattg, Wallingford, PA  09/25/07

If you know the maker of your garage doors, that would be a start. Some vinyl siding contractors have been installing aluminum caps around windows; you might try a siding contractor. It is a small job but one of the contractor's employees might be willing to make a little money on the side. Small jobs get bigger when we try to do them ourselves and don't know how to start. I'd look into the siding contractor option first.

Alan J. Heavens
QHello Al. This is more of an investment question. Over two years ago, I renovated my 1850's building in Washington Square West with the intention of eventually converting them to condos. It was an active store on the first floor and vacant on the other two. I put in three "luxury" apartments which I have been renting since. Last week, I had a realtor come in to give me a rough appraisal of market value. (I want to keep the store for myself.) Now I have to make a decision whether to cash in and invest the money for my retirement (in about ten years) or continue to rent them until retirement, then do the conversion. I realize that this is a complicated question and I have already spoken to my accountant, but the way I look at it, I have to compare my return on the sale versus appreciation in the next ten years. (By the way, I am currently breaking even or a little ahead after mortgage, taxes, etc.) Any guidance? Thanks.
David, Philadelphia, PA  05/11/07
AI'd hang on to the rental properties for awhile longer. I'd look at your total financial picture to determine how long you could hang on without reducing the money available for retirement, but since you are breaking even mostly and your are in a viable neighborhood that will likely continue to appreciate, I'd wait.
Alan J. Heavens
Qhi Al,question:We live in a small rancher over in jersey.My wife wants to build an addition on to the back of the house. First, the florida room has to be taken down. The total cost is about 50,000.,to essentially add anothe rfamily room onto the existing room.Its just the two of us...what do you think?
chuck, maple shade, NJ  05/06/07
AI think you're wasting your money. You should try doing something with the Florida room.
Alan J. Heavens
QI would like to answer some of your questions about kitchens and baths. My husband and I are empty nesters with children and grandchildren who visit every weekend. I like things that are easy to care for. I like toilets that flush everything in one flush if you know what I mean. I would not change my fixtures unless they needed it. I would then go to something two tone. I like sinks that look like sinks and not bowls that would require cleaning in, under, around etc. I have learned my lesson to only get white tubs, toilets, sinks in the bathroom. Our gold ones look very 70's since that is when they were new. I would not get a square shower head. I like the shower head with a hose attached. It is good for rinsing the tub or a grandchild. Lots of shower heads would make a mess in our bathroom. We get enough water on the floor now. I hate shower doors, especially if you have to wash a kid or cat. You need to be able to reach in a grab. I think that pretty much covers bathrooms. I would love to have a solid surface counter top. My daughter put a hole in our last counter top the first week. I hate dish rails because they are dust collectors. Open shelves would also be a pain to keep clean. I like cabinets that go up to the ceiling, this way dust does not collect on top. Eco friendly appliances are only worth it if they do not cost an arm and a leg. My clothes are so old, I do not need a washer or dryer that is going to prolong their life. I do not drink coffee or wine, so anything related to them does not interest me. I do not have a garbage disposal so any would be nice. I stove that keeps things from boiling over would be nice. I do not need it to talk to me. A TV on the frig is crazy. I am almost 60, so I need things to be easier with large writing. We are looking to redo our 70's bathroom and 36 year old designer kitchen. We need to find someone we can trush at a fare price. I love high end cabinets, but do not want to pay high end prices. It is hard to think someone wants almost as much as our house cost us 31 years ago. I hope that this helped you. I am sure that someone who is younger would see things in a different light. 31 years ago, I loved the dish rail and colored appliances. Enjoy your show. Sherry
Sherry, Springfield, PA  05/05/07
AThanks for your comments
Alan J. Heavens
QMy son lives in a condo in Philly that has an association to deal with problems. Two years ago his roof on the top floor of the bldg. began to leak and has continued to the point that his ceiling is ruined and now torn down. He has a tarp to catch rain and snow. He has had the run around from the assoc. for months. Should he sue the association to get action?
Anonymous, 119 West Miner Street, PA  05/03/07
AI'd hire a lawyer to deal with the association
Alan J. Heavens
Qi am wondering if there is any way other than the sheriff's sale to purchase abandoned and or unwanted properties in philadelphia. i know that many of them have liens and back taxes owed and would like to know if it is possible to buy them before they go to the sheriff's sale. is it possible to work out a deal with a mortgage company to pay a percentage of the debt owed on a property in order to obtain ownership? thank you very much!
bill, philadelphia, PA  05/02/07

Have you checked out HUD properties? You might be able to make a deal with a mortgage company, but I doubt it.

Alan J. Heavens
QI am getting a noise in my house that sounds like an airplane. This noise starts suddenly and gets fairly loud for a minute or two then fades away. It sounds like a plane is flying over the house but no plane is around at the time. Any idea about possible causes?
Bob, Gibbsboro, NJ  04/27/07

It could be plumbing, but it's tough to make a ruling without any information.

Alan J. Heavens
QWhat is the deadline to replace doors and windows and still be able to receive credit against your income tax for energy efficiency?
Anonymous, Philadelphia, PA  04/23/07
AMost of the tax credits will be available through Dec. 31 of this year
Alan J. Heavens
QI have two sliding glass doors where the seal has been broken. Is it possible to get someone to just clean out the glass and reseal it or do I need to replace the whole door? If you think I can get it resealed, can you tell me what type of company/person I should look for? Also, do you think it would be worth it to reseal it or just replace it? Thank you.
Anonymous, Wilmington, DE  04/20/07
ADepending on the model and manufacturer, there are repair kits, but I'd make decision on repair based on the age of the doors and whether or not there are more energy efficient doors. The manufacturer might have a list of approved repair people
Alan J. Heavens
QHi Alan J. Heavens, We always enjoy your columns. This particular article on the infrared scanning was of great interest to us (11.19.06). November 2004 we purchased a new home in NJ. We have an exterior wall in the kitchen that lets in a notable breeze when it is cold and windy, and generally just makes the area chilly. We would like to pursue the issue with thermographic images. Is there any direction you can point me in as to contacting a company or person who does this. Any information you can pass my way, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for your time.
Anonymous, Chesterfield, NJ  04/20/07

There are energy auditing companies around; the vast majority are commercial. However, might have a list of auditors or at least contractors who handle insulation and other issues who might be able to help

Alan J. Heavens
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