Thursday 28 November 2019

The importance of using reputable contractors, part 2

As discussed yesterday in [part 1], it's important to do a little research on the reputation of a contractor before jumping into a project with them.  Some further thoughts:

Impact on resale value

If you're looking at selling the property and find yourself with poorly done renovations you can afford or don't have the time to fix, these issues could block a sale or cost you in the sale price as buyers compensate for the costs they expect to pay to fix it.  You don't want to risk using a contractor who's not fully invested in their business, who could significantly slow your plans for selling or impact your bottom line.

How quickly will they and get it done?

And speaking of slow.  As I said before, there are 'weekend warrior' handy-persons out there who are great.  But sometimes the part-timer will take longer than expected, simply because they have less time committed to the business.  They may also be slower because of inexperience, no helpers, or a lack of specialized tools of the trade.  I've heard horror stories like a roofing job taking months to complete because of scheduling issues.  Not to mention times when they just stopped showing up mid-renovation.

Just how reliable is that warranty?

Many of these part-time contractors won't give a warranty on the work.  But even if they do, it's only as good as their word. If they don't honour it, then your only recourse is a lawsuit, which is an expensive time-consuming headache even if you win.  And I've seen situations where the contractor was non-responsive to calls and messages, and was impossible to track down with zero web presence or business contact information available.


Get multiple quotes on a job.  But don't be easily tempted to just take the cheapest, especially if it is significantly cheaper.  If you're not getting a solid referral from someone you trust AND who has actually used their service ("I've never used him but my neighbour does that" is barely better than a random choice from the classified ads), then look into them first and really take a critical look at their reputation.  If they're not easily searchable online or don't have positive reviews, I'd think twice about using them.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The importance of using reputable contractors, part 1

When you're considering renovations to the home, it can be tempting to just choose the cheapest bid available.  But like mentioned in the post [Don't get scammed], even if they're not a 'scam' per se, it's worth considering their reputation before diving into a business relationship with them. A personal referral from someone - who has ideally actually done business with them - is one of the best sources of information.

Here are some of my thoughts on why their reputation is important.

Do they care about their visibility and reputation?

Do a little online research into them to see if they are easy to find contact and location information for.  Do they have a website or social media presence?  Do they have business listings in usual place?  Are there any reviews of their service and how good or bad are they?

Basically, you want to find out how invested they are into their business' reputation.  While there might be some good folks out there working part-time "on the side", many of these types of handy-persons just don't have the same interest in preserving their reputation that a full-time business does.  With no supervision and no concern for long-term effects on business, this can lead to cutting corners on materials or work quality.

Safety concerns

Obviously, cutting corners is not a good thing.  Poor work can become a potential risk for electrical fires and structural issues.  Unfortunately, most of us aren't handy enough to look over their shoulder and know if they're doing something wrong.  And if you're not getting inspections done on the work along the way, this is a bit of a red flag.  Sure it saves you money, but how do you know it's done right?

What's the real cost?

Besides safety concerns, if something isn't done right or well you may find yourself re-doing the renovations and spending much more to correct the poor work than you would have to just have it done well in the first place.  Less experienced contractors may also overlook something, creating problems mid-renovation and making the project bigger than they initially suggested.

A few more thoughts next time..

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Don't get scammed

"Don't get scammed".. I know you might be tempted to file that advice under "OBVIOUS" or "No Kidding", but I've been in the real estate business long enough to be able to tell you that the scammers are out there.  And they wouldn't be if they didn't think they could get away with it. 

Not all "scams" are illegal either - there are plenty of things I have seen which I feel are morally questionable but would never result in criminal charges.

Now, just to be clear, I'm not talking real estate agents.  I know the public perception of our profession is sometimes not good and there certainly are bad apples just like in any business, but licensed real estate professionals really are often your best option. 

For one thing, licensed agents are held to higher standards legally - we're expected to know more than the average Joe and we're expected to maintain stricter ethics when it comes to disclosure and advising our clients. 

Professionals also invest a great deal of time and money in their business on an ongoing basis, and the long term rewards usually far outweigh the risk of cutting corners for a little short term profit that could lose you your license. 

I can't tell you that you absolutely won't get scammed if there is a REALTOR(r) involved with the deal.  Even the best of us don't have crystal balls or magical lie detectors, and sometimes sellers and buyers can pull a fast one on us too.  But the chances are drastically reduced.

On the other hand, as soon as you start getting involved with unlicensed or un-certified sellers and service providers of any kind, whether it is a renovating-and-flipping company, a rent-to-own seller, untrained home inspectors, or people providing private mortgages, you have no guarantees about their standards.  Some of them can be quite good, both ethically and technically, but there is no standardized qualification, so it's impossible to know. 

If you're looking at any opportunity in real estate and licensed professionals are not involved, whether buying or investing (or "investing" in quotation marks), my advice would be to do everything you can to make sure they're legitimate. Obviously, word of mouth referral from someone you know AND who has actually done business with them is ideal. 

Failing that, at least make sure you are doing your research on the internet, checking for both the individual's name and the company name.  There still won't be any guarantees, but you'll be better off doing something than nothing.

And if your gut ever tells you something isn't right, consider listening to it.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Avoid surprises - tell your real estate professional everything

Surprises can be fun when it’s a toy jack-in-the-box, but not so pleasant when you’re trying to sell real estate.

When you sign a listing agreement with a full-service professional real estate agent, they are working for you under the same agency rules as a lawyer - including fiduciary duties of confidentiality and working for your best interests. Sound advice from a good agent will be well worth their commission, but only if they know all the facts. A multi-thousand dollar transaction is not a good time to keep secrets from them.

One very important piece of advice I would like to offer is, make sure you tell your agent everything – it is a lot easier to deal with and work through problems when they are known. If there are physical issues with the property such as a leaky basement, your agent may recommend getting quotes from contractors. And if there are other legal or financial concerns, it is usually better to consult your lawyer or other appropriate professional ahead of time rather than in the middle of offer negotiations.

So, again, make sure you tell your real estate agent everything you know about the property so they can give you the appropriate advice. If you’re holding back because you don’t trust the agent, then you have to ask yourself if you’re using the right agent. Make sure at the beginning you are choosing a professional you trust to protect your best interests, and then be open and honest with them.

Friday 4 October 2019

Fridge, Stove, Washer, Dryer.. and the cat?!?

When you are making an offer on a house, you don't have to adhere strictly to the appliances included as per the listing.  If you would like to include the fridge, stove, washer, and dryer, go ahead and ask for them.  They may say no, or they may agree, particularly if your offer is acceptable otherwise.  The joke I have always used in discussing this situation is that you could ask for their pet poodle Fifi and if they agree, then Fifi is included.

And then along comes [this article about a situation down in Australia] where someone has actually included a pet cat in a purchase agreement.  And not only included the cat, but also paid quite a hefty $140,000 premium over asking price with the added inclusion.  You have to wonder how well that sits with the bank or mortgage company if they are financing the purchase - what value do you assign to a cat?  Certainly not $140,000?

So totally setting aside judgement and comments about their sanity or good sense, it does provide a great real life illustration of my exaggerated (although not so make-believe now) example of Fifi as an inclusion.  The main point being that everything is negotiable in a real estate deal, so keep Tiffany the Cat in mind when making an offer and looking at the list of inclusions.

Thursday 5 September 2019

RAHB REALTORS® release August 2019 statistics

The REALTORS® Association of Hamilton-Burlington (RAHB) reported 1,067 sales of residential properties located within the RAHB market area were processed through the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) System in August 2019. August sales are down from July and June of this year, as well as August of 2018; however, the 2019 year-to-date number of sales is up 10.2 per cent over 2018. The average price for residential properties increased by 6.4 per cent from August 2018 to $599,589.

[Click here to read the full news release (PDF)]

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Hamilton House Prices Dip While Condo Prices Show Robust Gains

HAMILTON, ON, July 10, 2019 /CNW/ - According to the Royal LePage House Price Survey1 released today, the aggregate price of a home in Hamilton decreased slightly by 0.9 per cent in the second quarter of 2019 to $540,899.

The median price of a two-storey home decreased 2.2 per cent year-over-year to $561,558 and the median price of a bungalow increased 2.4 per cent year-over-year to $511,897. During the same quarter the median price of a condominium rose a significant 9.4 per cent to $369,257, compared to the same period last year.

"Condominiums remain a popular option for first-time home buyers looking to enter the market," said a local Royal LePage spokesperson. "You can still get a good property for under $500,000 in the Hamilton area."

The spokesperson also notes that the addition of a second GO Train station in the area, the province's green-light for the LRT, and the addition of a film production facility in Hamilton's West Harbour are signs of a thriving economy. A recent study commissioned by McMaster conducted by KPMG2 further reflects the city's economic conditions, showing the university contributes 14,000 full-time jobs and $3.9 billion to the local GDP.

The Royal LePage National House Price Composite, compiled from proprietary property data in 63 of the nation's largest real estate markets, showed that the price of a home in Canada increased 1.1 per cent year-over-year to $621,696 in the second quarter of 2019. When broken out by housing type, the median price of a two-storey home rose 1.0 per cent year-over-year to $727,165, while the median price of a bungalow dipped 0.4 per cent year-over-year to $516,048. Condominiums remained the fastest growing housing type on a national basis, with its median price rising 3.8 per cent year-over-year to $452,451.

"We now have evidence of a sustained market recovery in the nation's largest market, and signs of a price floor in other regions hit hard by the eighteen month-old housing correction," said Phil Soper, president and CEO, Royal LePage. "Only in the West do we see a significant number of home buyers remaining on the sidelines, depressing sales volumes and causing prices to sag. Buoyed by supportive economic conditions, many stubborn homeowners in B.C. and Alberta remain unwilling to let their precious real estate go for less than what they perceive as fair value, which has gone a long way to protecting existing home values."

Royal LePage expects national home prices to see a modest uptick by the end of the year, rising 0.4 per cent compared to the end of 2018.

About the Royal LePage House Price Survey

The Royal LePage House Price Survey provides information on the three most common types of housing in Canada, in 63 of the nation's largest real estate markets. Housing values in the Royal LePage House Price Survey are based on the Royal LePage Canadian Real Estate Market Composite, produced quarterly through the use of company data in addition to data and analytics from its sister company, RPS Real Property Solutions, the trusted source for residential real estate intelligence and analytics in Canada. Commentary on housing and forecast values are provided by Royal LePage residential real estate experts, based on their opinions and market knowledge.

About Royal LePage

Serving Canadians since 1913, Royal LePage is the country's leading provider of services to real estate brokerages, with a network of over 18,000 real estate professionals in over 600 locations nationwide. Royal LePage is the only Canadian real estate company to have its own charitable foundation, the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, dedicated to supporting women's and children's shelters and educational programs aimed at ending domestic violence. Royal LePage is a Brookfield Real Estate Services Inc. company, a TSX-listed corporation trading under the symbol TSX:BRE. For more information, please visit

Aggregate prices are calculated using a weighted average of the median values of all housing types collected. Data is provided by RPS Real Property Solutions.
The McMaster Economic Impact study, Daily News, April 2019. The study commissioned from KPMG in December 2017 estimated the quantifiable economic impact of the university's expenditures and other endeavours at a local, provincial, and national level.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Take your first offer seriously, whether you accept it or not

When your house is up for sale, it doesn't matter whether you have been listed one day or one year. You should always take even your first offer seriously, especially if it is in the range your real estate agent has told you to expect.  Even if you are going to decide to send a counter-offer, you should never discount the offer as unimportant just because you are newly listed.

It is too easy to give in to the temptation to hold firm because there is no sense of urgency, particularly when the offer is coming in very soon after listing.  But there is never any guarantee in the real estate market that you will get another offer soon, or ever get a better offer than the first one.  I've seen this play out myself, from both buyer and seller side.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Like if you're listed at a price your agent feels good about and the first offer comes in 20% or more below.   Still, the buyer and the agent have time invested already, so it is generally worth at least trying a counter-offer even in this scenario, unless there is some indication that an offer may be coming from another buyer.  But it is risky, too, to count on an indication of an offer which may or may not materialize.

Discuss the options with your real estate professional and weigh your options carefully.  But always take even the first offer seriously.  It just might be the only one you get.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Scam alert: rental scams involving professionally listed properties

Here a scam, there a scam, everywhere a scam scam...

Unfortunately, it seems that dishonest people are always finding new ways to exploit good folks and prey upon ignorance and desperation.  Recently, the local real estate association has been posting [warnings for real estate professionals] to keep an eye on sites like Kijiji for their properties being posted as rentals.

It seems scammers are scooping the pictures and information and posting them, but directing people not to contact the agent or knock on the door because the owners are not home.  The goal is to get a first and last month deposit without the potential renter even seeing the property. 

While it seems unfeasible that someone would fall for this, a tough rental market can lead to desperation as well as some people just not knowing how things work (elderly, immigrants, first-time renters), and wanting to get a foot in the door before someone else "steals it out from under them"..

If you or someone you know are looking for a rental, keep an eye open for these situations. You should never deliver money to a landlord without meeting them and seeing the property. 

And if you see something you suspect might be a scam like this, it might not be a bad idea to contact police and let them know.

Monday 10 June 2019

Long vacations and your home insurance

Summer's coming and with it vacation season.  There's a lot to think about when planning your vacation - flights and hotels, what to pack, maybe making arrangements for pets while you're away, stopping mail and newspaper delivery.  And it's not a bad idea to get travel insurance in case you get sick or injured on the trip.

But there's another insurance consideration many may not think about, and that is making sure everything is square with your home insurance.

Home insurance policies generally assume the property will be lived in on an ongoing basis.  Insurers don't like homes being vacant for long periods of time because it increases risk.  For one thing, when no one is in the home there can be an increased chance of burglary.  And even if nothing so nefarious happens, if the roof starts leaking or a pipe bursts or something else goes wrong in the home, there's no one around to see it and do anything about it.  This means the problem could potentially cause a lot more damage than it would if someone were home and catching it immediately. 

These are ongoing concerns for vacant properties like estates or unoccupied rentals, but it also comes into play with owner-occupied homes if you are away for an extended time.  If you're just going for a 3-4 day camping trip, then it's probably nothing to worry about. But if you're going away for a long vacation, especially something like a month or two, then it's almost certain the insurance company will want some steps taken to help keep the home secure.

What they want will vary, but may include practical things like making sure the main water supply is shut off and that someone checks on the property periodically to make sure everything is okay.

Home insurance policies will also vary on how long a home can be vacant before it becomes an insurance issue...  So if you're going away, it's not a bad idea to touch base with your insurer or broker to find out what obligations and steps are necessary on your end.  As with all things insurance related, it's "better safe than sorry".

Tuesday 4 June 2019

They offered what?!

You've just gotten an offer and it's so low, you'd think they were only looking to buy the bedrock under the house.  What are they thinking?

Well, first let's consider value in the open marketplace. At its basic definition, value is what buyers are willing to pay.  There is no value to anything except what buyers are willing to pay.

So if someone has made a low offer - or worse, you've had more than one low offer - there is a possibility that your list price is too high.  This can be a rough reality to accept, but it is something to give real consideration to.
BUT it could just be that you are in a tough segment of the market, whether it's location or some characteristic of the house. For example, one or two bedroom houses and houses without basements can be difficult to sell, with a more limited number of buyers finding this acceptable. 

In one situation, I was helping someone sell a townhouse in an area where not many townhouses have sold in recent years.  Bad enough without a lot of comparisons, but to make matters worse, the most recent sale of a similar property sold quite a bit lower than they should have because of financial pressures and the bank threatening to take the house away.  Of course, we knew that because my clients were neighbours and had heard the back story.  But buyers' agents hadn't heard that (until I told them) and we got some low offers based on that one lower-than-it-should-have-been sale.  Fortunately, we explained the situation, held to our expectations, and were able to get one of the buyers to come up enough to make the deal acceptable.

You won't always have something so identifiable as a cause for low offers, so I would suggest you discuss the situation with your agent.  And WAY before that happens, make sure you're choosing an agent you trust for both competence and character.

Thursday 23 May 2019

Inspections.. more than meets the eye

Anyone who knows me as a real estate agent, or has worked with me, will not be surprised to hear that I think home inspections are an important part of the home-buying process. 

When it comes to [what makes a good inspector], one of the most important traits is their ability to explain things and put them in context. I've seen purchases killed by an inspector who didn't fully explain something or what it takes to correct it.  Every inspection will find flaws (that's their purpose), so it's important to also get an idea of how serious they are.

Of course, that's not to say that knowledge and thoroughness are not important.  One of the challenges with a home inspection is that we are limited to what can be observed.  But a professional inspector knows there can be 'more than meets the eye', similar to a huge iceberg with only a small part showing at the top.  Inspectors are trained to see things most of us won't.. little hints and clue that there might be something more serious hiding. 

A [good home inspector] will also come with a complete tool kit to help them explore a bit further than the naked eye allows.  A couple of tools whose value shouldn't be underestimated are the moisture meter and a thermal camera.

The moisture meter is a handy little tool that can help to identify potential leaks in foundation, plumbing or roof.  You place it against a surface and it will give a moisture reading.  What a 'normal' reading is will depend on the material (drywall, plaster, wood panel, etc), and knowing what is typical allows the inspector to interpret the reading and know whether there is a potential issue.  However, the moisture meter is limited in that you have to touch the right spot to find a problem. It's possible to use one and still miss something because you just didn't happen to get the right spot.

Enter the thermal camera.  I love this gadget.  Without getting too technical, a thermal camera reads surface temperature and presents a visual reading showing the temperature ranges on a digital screen. A good one is sensitive enough that it will show your hand print if you touch a wall for a few moments, because your hand leaves behind some heat.  Using the thermal camera, an inspector can do a quick and easy visual sweep of walls and ceilings to identify missing/flawed insulation, air leaks, and even moisture problems - all of which can result in a variation in temperature.

And I can say from personal experience that these tools come in handy.. I've recently been on an inspection that went fairly well.  But then near the end, between the thermal camera and moisture meter, the inspector identified a likely plumbing leak hidden behind the dining room ceiling.  In this case, the buyer proceeded with the purchase but they were able to do so as an informed decision... that issue can be fixed in a timely fashion rather than coming up as a surprise when a piece of the ceiling falls off.

Saturday 4 May 2019

How important is preparing your property for sale?

So you're thinking of putting your house on the real estate market soon. But how important is it, really, to do some preparation work first?

Somewhere between pretty important and essential.

In a hot sellers' market, you want to make the best first impression with the potential buyers coming through.

But on the other hand, in a slower buyers' market, you have more competition for fewer buyers.
Either way, if you want to sell quickly and for top dollar, you will need to give some serious thought to what is needed to prepare your property.

And a half-way job won't do either. There's no point in de-cluttering if you're not going to keep the property clean for showings, and even the cleanest property can take longer to sell if small repair jobs are left as eyesores. And I have personally seen a property that was completely prepared on the inside flounder on the market because the seller left a major curb appeal issue un-resolved.

If you're not sure what to do, my best advice is... get advice.

Ask a professional real estate agent (I'm happy to help with this) or hire a professional stager. Get that honest outside evaluation and make a list of stuff that needs to be done before listing for sale. Then make like Nike and just do it.

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Is it worth it to try a really low offer on a property?

There is nothing wrong with trying a real low-ball as long as you are reasonable in your expectations. 

For one thing, you certainly shouldn't be surprised if they are not willing to accept it.  For that matter, you should be prepared for them to be offended and simply choose not to even send back a counter-offer. 

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about a normal offer coming in below list price to leave room for negotiation.  Nobody wants to pay full price if they can help it and a little bit of haggling is to be expected, but no seller wants to sell below fair market value either.

Properties typically sell within 5% of list price at the time of the offer.  (Obviously, competing offers changes the situation completely)  So if you're 20% below the list price, it's most likely going to be a tough sell.  Even if you honestly think the property is only worth your lower price, the seller obviously has different thoughts on the matter.  You can still try, nonetheless, if you have an agent who is willing to do it.

If you're looking for an investment property, it might be what you need to do in order to make the deal work for your long term goals.  I always advise investor clients to keep emotion out of it and offer only what they are comfortable with for their purposes.

A low offer is a bit riskier if you're looking for a personal home and the house you're offering on is "the one", since you might well offend them to the point where they simply won't be very cooperative with you, even if you bring in an offer closer to what they are looking for.  And as a side note, if you can't afford the house without the much lower price, you might want to re-visit your needs and wants to bring them in line with your buying power.

In any case, talk to your real estate agent and get their opinion.  Sometimes really low offers will work out.  And often they won't, so it's just a matter of managing expectations.

Sunday 10 March 2019

Watch out for electrical 'vampires' in the home

Almost every modern house has them.. the vampire load, also known as a ghost load or phantom load.

Insert a scary ghost noise here... ooOOooOo..

Of course, the term sounds scarier than it is, but it isn't something to ignore either.  A less colourful name for it is 'standby power draw'.

To put it in simple terms, a vampire load is any draw on electricity by an appliance or device even while it is not in use. The draws are usually fairy small where the device is in a low-power sleep or 'standby' mode.  The first culprit to come to mind is likely the computer in sleep mode, but many other items might not come to mind.  The LED-light switch on a power bar. The mobile device left on charge after the battery is full.  Or bigger appliances like the TV that has to keep a small power draw on so that the system is ready to respond to a signal from the remote control to turn on.

There are [lots of other little draws] constantly going on in the house. And while small power draws are not horrible on their own, they can add up pretty quickly. If you click the link just above you'll see that some items draw more than others, making them a higher priority to deal with.

Fortunately, there's no stinky garlic required for getting rid of these little vampires.  Some of them are actually pretty easy to eliminate: plug items like TVs, cable boxes and game consoles into a power bar and turn the power bar off when the items are not in use. You'll need to turn the bar back on when you want to use them, but that is not a particularly onerous task in trade for savings on the electrical bill.

Hydro One has some [other tips and suggestions on their site], as well. But essentially it comes down to unplugging or "unpowering" items when not in use or actively charging, whenever possible.

Sunday 13 January 2019

New Year Resolutions for your home: slamming doors

Did your mom ever get on your case for slamming doors when you were a kid?  Maybe not everyone did, but I think a lot of us can relate.

As it turns out, mom was right - it's not a good habit.

Slamming doors on a regular basis, whether out of anger or just force of habit, is not good for them. Over time it can push the door jamb out of line, which can affect the weather sealing on an exterior door and allow heat loss and increase your home energy bills.

It can also damage or loosen hinges and closing hardware - not usually an expensive repair but still an inconvenience compared to taking the little extra bit of time to close doors properly.

Thursday 10 January 2019

New Year Resolutions for your home: smoke detectors

Smoke detectors are an important safety feature in our homes.  They sit there silently (except maybe when we burn toast in the kitchen and such) and it can be easy to take them for granted.  But it's important to think about them every now and then.

For one thing, you should have one on every level of the home.  Besides the fact that [the law requires this], it improves their effectiveness.  Although a second floor smoke detector will eventually pick up smoke from a fire in the basement, there will be a delay until the smoke reaches the top floor.  This can vary in speed depending on barriers to the smoke from basement doors being closed to bulkheads and walls creating a damming effect on the smoke's flow.  This can allow the fire to spread more before you are alerted on the second floor, and with how quickly fire can spread even a few minutes can mean a difference between life and death.  So, if you don't already have one on every level, it would be a good thing to take care of right away.

Second, changing their batteries on a regular basis is a good idea.  Everyone has their own preference about when to do it, but many do it either at the beginning of the year (good time to start now if you haven't done them recently) or at one (or both) of the DST time changes.  At least once a year is a good idea to be safe.  Most smoke detectors have a low-battery warning where it will intermittently chirp to indicate the battery is getting low.  Certainly changing the battery in this situation is a good idea, but it's better not to rely on it - it wouldn't be the first time a battery died quickly and you may miss any warning while out of the house.  And when it comes to the smoke detectors, "better safe than sorry" is no weak platitude.

Finally, it's also a good idea to change the smoke detectors themselves every now and then.  Every manufacturer and model will have their own guidelines so check them out.  If you can't find information on your smoke detector or don't know how old it is, it might be a good idea to install new ones to be safe.

More information on maintaining your smoke detectors is available on Ontario's [Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services site].

Tuesday 8 January 2019

New Year Resolutions for your home: regularly changing the furnace filter

We're one week into 2019.  Have you forgotten your New Year Resolutions yet?  I hope not, but if you have you can always start again.

On the topic of changes of habits, though, let's look at some over the next few posts for your home.

When was the last time you changed your furnace filter?  Are you keeping track of when you change it?  It's not horrible if you let it go a little longer than you should but severe neglect can cause the furnace to work harder than it has to, adding to wear and tear.

A furnace filter should typically be changed every 90 days or so, and it's a good habit to put a new one in for the start of each usage season (ie. first time using heat in the cold months and first time using A/C in the warm months). 

[How often you should change it can depend on a few factors though]..

For one thing, there is a difference in quality of filters.  Really cheap filters would be better replaced more frequently, as much as every 30 days.

But even with a better quality filter that is good for 90 days, if you add some pets into the household, it's advised you change the more often.  Every 60 days with one cat or dog, or as frequently as every 20-45 days with more than one. 

Allergies in the home will also affect how often you want to change it, but you'll probably be able to tell when that is becoming an issue.  A better quality filter can also be helpful with this.