12 Causes and Cures for Common Home Maintenance Problems

Many sensory clues give you early warning of home maintenance problems—if you can decode the symptoms.


1. Peeling exterior paint

Cause: Moisture is probably getting underneath the paint, perhaps from a leaking gutter overhead or from a steamy bathroom on the other side of the wall.

Cure: If you catch the problem right away, you might just need to address the moisture issue and then scrape off the loose paint, prime bare spots, and repaint that wall, for a total of a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Delay too long and the siding might rot.Patching and repainting the whole house might cost $10,000. 

To prevent a chronically steamy bathroom, consider installing a new ventilation fan with a humidity-sensing switch that automatically exhausts moisture-laden air. Cost is about $250.

2. Flickering lights

Cause: If only a single bulb flickers, it might be loose in its socket or in need of replacement. If lights always dim when the refrigerator or other appliance turns on, the circuit might be overloaded. If groups of lights flicker, connections at the electrical panel or elsewhere might be loose, causing power to arc—or jump—over the gaps. Arcing is a serious problem; it starts fires.

Cure: Anyone can tighten a bulb. Handy homeowners can shut off circuits and tighten loose connections within switch boxes. If you’re not comfortable doing that, or if you suspect an overloaded circuit or loose connection at the panel box, call in a licensed electrician. You’ll pay $150 to $250 for a new circuit, and $500 to $700 for a new electrical panel--way less than what you’d spend to recover from a fire.

3. Rustling in a wall

Cause: Sure, termites usually signal their presence by building pencil-thick mud tubes up from the ground or by swarming from pinholes in floors or walls. But did you know it’s also possible to detect them by sound? Tap on a wall and then press an ear against it. See if you hear rustling that matches recordings of Formosan or other termites. A sound like crinkling cellophane could mean carpenter ants.

Cure: Call a pest-control professional. Cost is $65 to $100 for an inspection.

4. Loud knocking

Cause: If the knocking occurs when you turn off water, you have “water hammer,” caused when fast-moving water comes to a sudden stop and there is no air chamber (a short, specially designed piece of pipe) to cushion the shock wave. If knocking occurs when your furnace switches on or off, metal ducts are expanding or contracting as temperature changes.

Cure: If water pipes are the issue and there is an air chamber near the faucet, it may be filled with water and needs to be drained. You might be able to do this yourself. If you’re not confident of tackling that or if there is no chamber, call a plumber ($65 an hour) to add one. Those snapping ducts? Just get used to them.

5. A toilet tank that refills all on its own

Cause: Worn interior parts may be causing water to trickle through the toilet constantly, causing the water level in the tank to lower and eventually triggering the refill mechanism. A leaky toilet potentially wastes 1,500 gallons a month.

Cure: Untangle or loosen the chain—it may be too tight and preventing the flapper from seating fully, letting water leak out the flush valve. Or, try bending the tube connected to the float ball. If those don’t work, replace the valve and flapper inside the toilet tank (under $25 if you do it yourself, and a little more if you upgrade to a water-saving dual-flush valve).

6. Creaks and groans

Cause: All houses creak and groan a little as parts expand and contract with temperature fluctuations and with changes in levels of humidity.

Cure: None--it's normal for house to make a few snaps and pops. But don't ignore really loud groans when there's been an unusual amount of snow or rain, especially if your house has a flat roof. There may be an excessive or even dangerous amount of weight on your roof. If you suspect that may be the case, be prudent: Get everyone out of the house and call in a professional to check the roof.

7. Musty odors

Cause: Mildew, a fungus, is growing because indoor air is humid enough to allow condensation to form on cold surfaces. Basements are favorite haunts for mildew.

Cure: Keep surfaces dry by one or more strategies: increase air movement with a $20 fan, keep relative humidity below 50% in summer or 40% in winter with a $175 dehumidifier, or make surfaces warmer by adding insulation.

8. Rotten-egg smell when you run water

Cause: Bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide gas (the scientific name for “rotten egg smell”) are in your plumbing, or there is a problem with your water heater. Fill a glass with hot water, step away from the sink, and take a whiff; if you detect no sulfur smell, they’re in the drain.

Cure: Disinfect the drain by pouring in a $1 bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, sold at drug stores. A sulfur smell in only hot water points to the water heater as the problem; call a plumber to disinfect the system or replace the tank’s magnesium anode. If hot and cold water both smell, call your water supplier (or health department if you have a well).

9. Strange-tasting tap water

Cause: Mineral content of drinking water varies, so taste does too. But if the water tastes metallic, iron or copper may be leaching from pipes. If you taste chlorine, your water supplier may have overdosed on disinfectant, or a correct level could be interacting with organic material within your plumbing system.

Cure: If chlorine seems high at all taps, or if you taste metals, call your water supplier or have your well water tested. If only one tap has water with high chlorine or if the taste goes away after you run water for a few minutes, flush your system or call a plumber.

An under-the-counter water purifier with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants. In addition, it removes odors and bad tastes. Expect to pay $150 to $200 for a purifier with a replaceable cartridge.

10. Sour milk

Cause: With today’s hyper-pasteurized dairy products, milk doesn’t sour easily. So if it or other refrigerated food spoils unusually fast, the temperature in your refrigerator could be too high.

Cure: Get an $8 refrigerator thermometer and adjust the control so on each shelf stays below 40 degrees. If you can’t achieve this, consider buying a new Energy Star-rated refrigerator. Fridges are pricey, $450 to $2,000 or more, but you’ll save energy as well as food and might qualify for rebates.

11. Trembling floors

Cause: If items on tables and shelve jiggle and shimmy when you walk past, or if your floor feels like it gives under your weight, the floor joists might not be sturdy enough or past remodeling might have removed a support wall.

Cure: Have a structural engineer or experienced contractor see whether you can add more joists, bolster existing ones with an additional layer of plywood subflooring, or add a post to support the floor better. You’ll pay up to $500 for a structural engineer to evaluate your problem.

12. Mysterious breezes

Cause: If a ground-floor room seems drafty, air may be seeping in along the foundation or through an improperly sealed window or door. A drafty attic can make things worse, as warm air currents will rise naturally and exit through any gaps in the attic, pulling colder air in through lower-level cracks.
Cure: Starting in the attic and working your way down, seal all gaps. 

6 Tips for Buying a Home in a Short Sale

By preparing for a real estate short sale, you can emerge with a great home at a favorable price.


1. Get help from a short sale expert

A real estate agent experienced in short sales can identify which homes are being offered as short sales, help you determine a purchase price, and advise you on what to include in your offer to make the lender view it favorably. Ask agents how many buyers they've represented in short sales and, of those, how many successfully closed the transaction.

2. Build a team

Ask agents to recommend real estate attorneys knowledgeable in short sales and title experts. A title officer can do a title search to identify all the liens attached to a property you’re interested in. Because each lienholder must consent to a short sale, a property with multiple liens, like first and second mortgages, mechanic’s and condominium liens, or homeowners association liens, will be harder to purchase.

A title search may cost $250 to $300 up front, but it can help weed out less desirable properties requiring multiple approvals.

3. Know the home’s fair market value

By agreeing to a short sale, lenders are consenting to lose money on the loan they made to the sellers to purchase the home. Their goal is to keep those losses as low as possible. If your offer is dramatically less than the home’s fair market value, it may be rejected. Your agent can help you identify the price that’s good for you. The lender will determine whether approval is in its best interest.

4. Expect delays

There are two stages to a short sale. First, the sellers must consent to your purchase offer. Then they must submit it to their lender, along with documentation to convince the lender to agree to the sale.

The lender approval process can take weeks or months, even longer if the lender counteroffers. Expect bigger delays if several lienholders are involved; each can make a counteroffer or reject your offer.

5. Firm up your financing

Lenders will weigh your ability to close the transaction. If you're preapproved for a mortgage, have a large downpayment, and can close at any time, they’ll consider your offer stronger than that of a buyer whose financing is less secure.

6. Avoid contingencies

If you must sell your current home before you can close on the short-sale property, or you need to close by a firm deadline, your offer may present too many moving parts for a lender to approve it.

Also, consider ordering an inspection so you’re fully informed about the home. Keep in mind that lenders are unlikely to approve an offer seeking repairs or credits for such work. You’ll probably have to purchase the home “as is,” which means in its present condition.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn't intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Great Open House

I had a great open house over the weekend on my $2 million Gascoigne Bluff listing. We had about 45 people come through and I think I may have got some great leads. Sure, we had a few lookers, but I think for the most part, we had some people who are actually interested in buying (assuming they can find the right place).

When I was talking with another agent that had stopped by with a client of theirs, we spoke about the activty that we are seeing in the market. I have been seeing many properties with multiple offers, which is good. I say that it is good because sellers are starting to price their properties well so they will actually move. As more properties sell, then we will get back to the point where property values will at least go back to what they are worth. And once we get there, then we can work on increasing property values. I guess that's one good thing about Real Estate in the Hilton Head Island area, is that so many people want to own property here that we will recover nicely.

Thanks again for stopping by!


Busier days in the Hilton Head Island Real Estate Market

Well, I got another offer yesterday. Things are actually going pretty well in the local Real Estate market. I now have 9 transactions pending. Now we do the whole trying-to-get-them-to-actually-close thing. I guess this is what it feels like to actually be in real estate. Just as an example, here are some issues with my current real estate sales that are posing issues:

On one deal, after losing out on two different homes, my buyers finally find a great house that has been almost completely remodeled. We get the inspection done and what is the 1 major issue we have???? Roof issues! Are you kidding me?? Luckily for us, we have good sellers on the other side. Let's hope that we can get this issue resolved. I think we will.

We have had a few other issues with some properties such as many being short sales, so we have to wait about 6 to 9 weeks just to get a response. Another issue is high humidity in a villa (I think the buyers forgot that they are buying in Hilton Head!). The buyers had a humidy test done on a day when the humidity was 94% with the doors of the villa open. Yes, I think the levels might be a little high when checked under those conditions.

Overall though, based on my speaking with other realtors and seeing the activity that I have both with buyers and sellers, I think that the market is doing pretty well.

Thanks for stopping by,




Social Media

I get asked all of the time about why I spend so much time on Facebook. Well, to tell you the truth, it makes me money! I know a lot of people doubt that and are confused about how a free social networking site where college students upload their pictures of them doing shots at last nights frat party is going to help a realtor make money by selling real estate in Hilton Head Island. I guess the answer is because I am doing it right.

I didn't just create an account and wait for the Real Estate buyers to fall into place. That would just be ridiculous. If you think about it, there are a lot of great reasons to be on facebook professionally. As the number 1 NETWORKING site in the world, it probably makes sense if you are looking to network.

Still don't understand? check out this video and watch it from a business persons view. It has some great info in there.

But getting back to what do I do differently than other agents? I join groups that are of interest to me and become fans of pages that I have an interest in. For example, I love living in Hilton Head Island, SC so I became a fan of the page "Hilton Head Island." I am a fan of Bluffton, so I became a fan of the Bluffton page, and so on, and so on, and... well, you get the idea.

I have also become "friends" with people I have never met (and still haven't actually spoken to). I posted a comment that I am a Buffalo Bills fan on the Bluffton, SC page and a girl who lives in Bluffton, and is a Bills fan from Buffalo, requested to be my friend.

In the business of selling real estate, and especially in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton areas, the more people you know personally, the better of a chance you have to sell them real estate. Around the lowcountry, everybody knows somebody in Real Estate. And for the most part, they probably know somebody who is a great Realtor. So now my job becomes knowing the most people, and getting those people to trust my expertise. I want to be one of those few Realtors that everybody knows and everybody has a positive opinion of. My goal is to be the Realtor that when someone asks a friend... "I want to buy a house, do you know anyone I should call?" that the answer be..."You NEED to call Neil Castellane! He is the best around!"

And one of the ways that I do this is by being active in the Social Networking Community of Facebook. Stop by my page and leave a comment for me. Just go to www.Facebook.com/HHIRealtor.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!


First day of Blogging

Well, I have never blogged before and never really been much of a "writer." I do however love living in the lowcountry and I also love selling real estate in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton areas. I am hoping to touch on many different topics and also address different aspects of my job.

Every now and then, I may post some pictures of events that are going on or videos that I see that I think are important (or just entertaining). My goal will be to keep it short and to the point.

Well, I guess that's it for the first blog. That seemed pretty painless. The question is... am I going to be able to find something to write about tomorrow? Only one way to find out.

Thanks for stopping by and please let me know your thoughts as I go.