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Home-maintenance duties rise as spring approaches

Question: Our concrete driveway has developed several cracks. Is there a way to fix this problem instead of spending a lot of money to rip all the concrete out and pour new cement?

Answer: Yes. It’s easy to fill the cracks with the relatively inexpensive concrete fillers or silicone caulks sold at most home-improvement or hardware stores. Perform the task on a sunny and dry day, let the material harden, power-wash the entire driveway and then seal it with an acrylic-based resin or similar coating.

Filling your driveway’s cracks should be near the top of the list of your maintenance duties when spring begins on March 20. You also should check for loose or leaky gutters, because poor drainage can result in water flowing into a basement or crawlspace. Make sure that your downspouts drain away from the foundation and are free from leaves and other debris that may have been gathering since last fall.

Use a screwdriver or long nail to probe the frames around windows, doors and any other wood that’s exposed to Mother Nature. If the wood is soft or rotting, you’ll need to make repairs before the spring rain causes further damage.

Stand outside of your home and, preferably using binoculars, check to see if any shingles or tiles were lost or damaged during winter storms. Consider hiring a professional roofer to make any needed repairs: While up there, the inspector will check the flashing around any vents, chimneys or skylights to make sure that they’re watertight, too.

If you have a fireplace, check the chimney’s exterior for cracks or other damage. A chimney sweep should visit once a year, the National Fire Protection Association advises, to make sure that all of its components are clean and working properly.

Also consider having your home’s heating and cooling systems serviced by a pro. An annual checkup will extend their lives and keep them operating at peak efficiency.

Fortunately, you don’t need a professional to check your outdoor faucets for freeze damage or leaks. Simply unscrew the hose, turn the water on, and put your thumb over each spigot’s opening. If the water keeps splashing, the pipes are likely working well. But if the modest amount of pressure you apply is enough to stop the flow, it may be an indication that there’s a leak that needs to be fixed.

Real estate trivia: With St. Patrick’s Day neigh, it’s worth noting that global real estate giant Knight Frank reports that home prices across Ireland jumped 15 percent last year -- the fastest growth rate of any nation in the world. Prices in the U.S. were up about 6 percent.

Q: When our real estate agent informed us that our proposed purchase fell apart because the appraisal came in too low, he referred to its failure as “jumping the shark.” We asked him where that phrase came from, but he didn’t know. Do you?

A: The colorful phrase originated in the entertainment business, but has slowly crept into the real estate industry and other fields as well.

The idiom was popularized by radio personality Jon Hein. It initially referred to an episode of the popular 1970s TV show “Happy Days,” when ultra-cool motorcyclist Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler) jumped over a shark on his water skis. The much-hyped event was supposed to boost the comedy’s flagging audience, but it flopped instead, and the series was later canceled.

Realty agents now sometimes use “jumped the shark” to describe a deal that falls through for any number of reasons, from a low-ball appraisal to a buyer who develops cold feet.

Q: Is it true that unpaid traffic tickets will appear on your credit record and drive down your credit score?

A: Until recently, yes. But under a deal reached earlier this month by the nation’s big three credit-reporting agencies and New York’s attorney general, the bureaus will no longer include tickets, fines or other debts that don’t arise from a formal contract or other agreement that the owner has signed.

Another key element of the pact requires the three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to streamline their dispute-resolution process for consumers who can prove that they were the victims of identity theft or fraud. You can find details of the agreement at the New York state attorney general’s website, www.ag.ny.gov.

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