Surprising homeowners at the holidays

#571 in a series of true experiences in real estate
December 2008, Hills Newspapers

It’s the season to make gift suggestions. Appearing in print are lists of newly published books and CD’s, garden equipment, gadgets for every taste and interest.

I’d like to suggest gifts for homeowners, especially those who recently bought their first house, but also for anyone, owner or not, who cares about the building in which he lives.

Hand tools are a good place to start. Almost everyone, even those who are not handy with tools, needs them. Useful, if only just to hang a picture or a curtain rod, are a hammer, screwdrivers and an assortment of nails. Sliding joint pliers, tin snips and needle nose pliers may also be appreciated. There simply is not any substitute for the appropriate tool.

Once we were talking to a repairman who told us about cordless screwdrivers. He was so enthusiastic that within an hour of that conversation, we had bought one of our own. A number of companies make a rechargeable screwdriver priced at around $25. We keep ours plugged in and ready, and we love it. It is particularly useful for quickly removing hardware prior to painting a room. Zip! And the heat registers, drapery hardware, and switch plates are off.

A woman client called us all exited one day. She wanted to tell us of the wonders of a combination cordless drill and screwdriver which she bought for less than $150. She says she has found many uses for this tool; she couldn’t have installed her own foundation bolts without it.

A caulking gun is a great gift which can be had (including a tube of caulk) for around $15. Paintable siliconized caulk is used well for many sealing needs. Anyone who has ever been through a physical inspection prior to buying a house knows the myriad uses for caulk which are mentioned again and again by house inspectors.

“Keep water away,” advise the inspectors. “Caulk siding and stucco cracks, tubs and showers; caulk around windows.” Caulking is a skill every homeowner would do well to develop.

Many people do not know about a terrific product, painter’s blue masking tape, costing about $8 a roll. For anyone who plans to paint even one room, this tape is a tremendous boon. It goes on smoothly and, more importantly, removes easily and completely, leaving no sticky residue.

And if latex paint is spilled or splattered on the wood floors or carpets, a great product called “Goof Off” is invaluable for removing it. Available at any hardware or paint store, no home should be without it. It will even dissolve paint, years after having been dripped, from wood, and other, floors without harming the finish on the floors. Buy the original formula, not the water-base.

For the more ambitious, or for those who took on a fixer-upper and now expect to fix it, a level and a square, a nail puller and a wrecking bar, crescent wrench and all sorts of power tools may be put to good use.

It’s probably a good idea to ask what plans the homeowner has. One will reel off a long list of planned accomplishments, while another who perhaps doesn’t intend to do anything, may simply respond with a blank look. Even for these people, ladders are good. Sturdy things on which to climb make excellent gifts: a kitchen stool-type ladder, a six-foot aluminum ladder (if only for changing light bulbs), a taller one for reaching the rain gutters.

For the grounds, certainly a hose is needed. (Unfortunately, I’ve found that it doesn’t seem to matter what price you pay for a hose; even the $30 ones kink so you might as well buy the $20 hose.) I love my watering wand for watering pots on my patio. The type with an on/off switch is best.

A good shovel or fork costs around $50, expensive to most new homeowners or renters. Electric hedge clippers are a possibility, also well-made hand pruners, or a gift certificate for plants from a nursery. One of my most beloved garden implements is a small bamboo rake. The rake tines are perhaps 12 inches across, the ideal size for raking between plants and along narrow paths. Hida Tool on San Pablo in Berkeley carries the little rakes as well as all sorts of hand tools for the garden.

The list goes on and on: Outdoor thermometer, doormat, low voltage lamps to light a path. Many people will appreciate a visit from a locksmith to change all the locks in the house and key them to a single key. Or you might hire someone to clean the gutters or the chimney.

If the sky is the limit, how about a large appliance? Perhaps an energy efficient refrigerator, a clothes washer or dryer, or a new, quality dishwasher that operates almost silently. Other ideas include a new fence, a fully installed automatic garage door opener, or an electrician’s time to bring new electrical service ( perhaps more convenience outlets, too) to the house.

There are many gardening, home decorating and home remodel magazines. Subscriptions usually cost $20 to $30 a year. “Old House Journal” is a good one for remodelers; “Home” is one of my favorites for interior ideas; “Fine Gardening” and “Garden Design” are both excellent.

If none of these suggestions seems right, here’s a gift that will work for everyone on your list: a credit on their gas and electric bill. Arrange to send $50 or $100, or whatever, to Pacific Gas & Electric, and when that next bill comes in January, the recipient will love you to pieces.

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