Loggerhead Realty, Inc.
4416 Colette Drive, Ste. 100
Questions to Ask Before Building a New Home
Buying a new home can be a wonderful, creative experience, but it is not without pitfalls. Many preventable problems can arise, which can turn the process into a nightmare. The Orrico Team has had several homes built, and we have helped buyers build many new homes. Please feel free to consult us and let us help guide you the the process. Their is no cost to you for this service!
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
1. Who is the builder and what is their reputation? How long have they been building?
The abilities and experience of the builder will have a significant impact on the quality of the final product. You are spending a lot of money, so you deserve a well-built home. Ask around and talk to several different recent buyers, and maybe even a few other builders or related contractors in the area that will know the work of the builder you are considering. Understanding the builders reputation is one of the most important factors before committing to them.
An important tip when buying a new home:
Ask us about builders. We have been in the area many years, and we have worked with many of them. We won't steer you wrong.
2. What type of homes do they typically build?
Different builders specialize in various types of construction. It makes sense to choose a builder that has a proven ability to build the kind of home you want.
For example, if the builder typically builds economy homes and all of a sudden jumps into selling luxury homes, this is something you may want to think twice about. There is so much that goes into building a luxury home. Building an economy home vs a luxury property are night and day!
3. Do they have other projects going at the moment? If not can you give me some completed project addresses to go look at?
It can be helpful to visit homes they are currently building to see the process they use. At the very least, you should take a look at homes they have already completed to see what the final product looks like.
Checking out other existing projects gives you the opportunity to explore the builder’s craftsmanship. What type of products do they use? What is the level of detail? How neat do they keep their work sites? Does pride show in their work? These are good questions to get answered when building a new home.
4. Who will oversee the construction or my home and who can answer my questions once the building starts?
Just because the owner of the company is experienced and capable does not mean the employees working on your home will be equally capable. There is nothing wrong with asking a few questions about who will be in charge of the building of your home.
You also want to get his or her contact information so you can ask questions when you need to. Lots of builders, however, may not give you their phone number. You will be required to direct all the questions and issues through their real estate agent or building supervisor.
If the building company you are hiring is a large one, it is almost a certainty they will have someone overseeing the day to day operation of their building projects.
5. Are there any special financing incentives for the project?
Many times new home builders will offer special financing to entice buyers. But if you don’t ask about the specials, you may not learn about them. Some special financing packages are really worth looking into. For example, the builder might offer one of the following incentives:
A lower interest rate than the going rate you will find at other lenders.
An extended rate lock at no charge. When building a new home it can often take months to finish the construction, especially if you are custom building. Lenders typically will only lock a rate for 6-8 weeks before they will charge you significant additional fees. Having an extended rate lock when building a new home is a nice perk.
6. What are the standard features in the homes and what are the extras?
Every home builder includes a set of standard features in each home built while offering extras that cost more. Much like buying a car, you want to find out what is standard and what is extra. The scope of is included and what isn’t is one of the most important questions to ask when buying a new home.
The builder should have a detailed “specifications” sheet that details everything that comes standard with your new home. Often times the builder will also have a pre-determined upgrades list that allows you to pick and choose what you would like added to the home and at what cost.
7. Will I have the opportunity to make additional upgrades once the home has started?
Building a home takes time. There is a possibility that you will decide later that you want additional features. It can be helpful to know that you can request upgrades after the builder has started on the home. Some builders will not allow changes to be made after they start construction.
Having this information obviously will be very important. Builders that are flexible with upgrades is also an important consideration. Can you imagine building a custom home where you have decided to change the family room from carpet to hardwood and the builder says, "Sorry too late"?
8. How often and when will I be allowed to tour the home once construction has started?
You should be able to tour the home periodically during construction. However, you most likely won’t be able to wander the work site whenever you like. Talk with the builder to determine when and how often you can tour the home while it is being built.
There are some builders that will be very restrictive when it comes to site visits. You should ask the question up front on how often you will be able to visit your home. After all you are spending a lot of money and of course, are going to be excited to watch the progress.
9. How long will my home take to build and what happens if they don’t make the date?
The builder should have a good idea of how long it will take to build your home, and be willing to explain what will happen if that date is not met. As the buyer, you will need to be somewhat flexible – no one knows exactly what the weather will do in the months ahead – but you have the right to a clear estimate.
The builder’s policy on completion date is one of the most important questions you can ask when buying new construction. There are some builders who have a fantastic reputation for delivering their product on time and others who are downright awful!
You want to have a strong grasp of how closing date issues will work especially if you are buying and selling a home simultaneously. Missing delivery times is one of the biggest complaints against builders. Trust me if the builder doesn’t deliver on time you will be able to find out. The builder reputation will already be suffering for it.
10. Do you offer any energy saving features in your homes?
A new home that is well-built should include a number of different energy saving features. The various technologies related to energy saving materials and features in new homes have come a long way, and continue to improve year by year. Make sure you are getting features that will save you money and reduce your impact on the environment.
One of the hottest trends in building is making the home energy efficient. Look for energy star products supplied by the builder. More builders are building with 2×6 wall vs. 2×4 walls for the added benefit of additional insulation.
11. Are there any differences in cost for the lots?
You will probably have several different lot options. Keep in mind that different lots may have different price tags. You may want to save money with a less desirable lot or get a lot that costs a little more and puts you where you want to be in the neighborhood.
Make sure, however, that you look over the lot premium carefully. Quite often the lot premiums builders assign to their lots do not translate to the value when it comes time to sell. You want a good location but not at the expense of overpaying.
Some of the valid reasoning for charging a lot premium include:
A lot with a walk-out basement which is more valuable given you can have a beautiful living space with natural light.
A better location within the neighborhood.
A larger, flatter or more usable lot.
12. Is there a list of vendors I will need to meet with?
The home builder will use different vendors for different aspects of the home. If you need to meet them, it will be helpful to know about it. You should find out up-front who the vendors are and where their businesses are located.
These are the locations where you will be picking out your selections unless the builder has them on site.
13. When do extras have to be paid? Upfront or at closing?
Sometimes you have to pay for extras up front. Avoid the unpleasant surprise of an expensive bill early on by asking ahead of time. Sound financial planning entails asking the builder how he or she collects their monies for extras. Some will require all of it paid up front, some will allow you to pay at closing and others may ask for half payment.
14. How quickly will punch list items be completed after the final walk through?
You may discover on the final walk through that some things are missing from your home, either due to a mistake or other issues. You want to make sure that the builder will take care of the problems in a timely manner, so you can fully enjoy your new home as quickly as possible. You should make sure you get in writing the completion schedule of the builder.
If there is a major item that hasn’t been completed or is on back order, it makes sense to ask the builder for a holdback of funds to ensure these things will be finalized.
15. Does the home come with a builder’s warranty?
One of the most important questions you can ask when buying new construction is what kind of warranty is included. The warranty offered can vary quite a bit from builder to builder. A builders warranty provides peace of mind, particularly when it comes from the builder. If something breaks early on, you want to know it will be fixed. The typical length of many warranty contracts is a year for all the major components in the home.
16. Will I be able to have a home inspection when the building is completed?
You should be able to have the home inspected when it is completed. A builder, however, is not going to allow you to make your sale contingent on a home inspection. Doing so would be entirely unrealistic. The builder is not going to construct a custom built home only to allow you an escape clause the week of closing. The home inspection should be for informational purposes only.
Picking a professional home inspector, unaffiliated with the builder, will be able to verify that the home is built to current standards. Find your own inspector instead of using one recommended by the builder. We can help you find a dependable professional. Keep in mind that in all major cities and towns the home will need to be approved by all the various city inspectors.
More often than not a home inspection will be more for learning about the major components than anything else.
17. Are there any protective covenants for the neighborhood?
A neighborhood of new homes should have some protective covenants to preserve the value of the properties. You will need to know the covenants that will affect both you and your neighbors. For example, some of the more common protective covenants will be things like:
You can’t raise livestock on the property.
You will not be able to store commercial vehicles like a camper in your front yard.
You will not be able to dramatically alter the appearance of the home without prior approval. This might include the paint color.
You want to make sure you’re not buying into a neighborhood where you will not be able to do what you want to your home!
18. Will there be any homeowners association?
If you will be part of a homeowners association, you certainly want to know about it. The HOA will be responsible for enforcing the rules that are supposed to protect the value of your property and the quality of life in the neighborhood. The quality of your HOA is important because a bad HOA experience can make life much more challenging than it has to be.
19. Can I speak with some of your past clients?
Talking with past clients is important so you can get a clear picture of what it’s like to be a customer. Make sure you talk with at least two or three past clients before you commit to buying from the builder. Most people who have built a custom home with a particular builder will speak freely good or bad about their experience.
As you can see there are a ton of important questions to ask when buying a new home. Building a new home can be an exciting experience or your worst nightmare depending on the builder you choose. Take it from us. We've experienced it many times. Do your homework in advance and more than likely you’ll avoid most of the hassles found in new construction.
Whether You Rent or Buy: Either Way You’re Paying a Mortgage!
First Time Home Buyers, For Buyers, Move-Up Buyers
There are some renters who have not yet purchased a home because they are uncomfortable taking on the obligation of a mortgage. Everyone should realize that, unless you are living with your parents rent free, you are paying a mortgage - either yours or your landlord’s.
As an owner, your mortgage payment is a form of ‘forced savings’ that allows you to build equity in your home that you can tap into later in life. As a renter, you guarantee your landlord is the person with that equity.
Are you ready to put your housing cost to work for you?
Christina Boyle, Senior Vice President and Head of Single-Family Sales & Relationship Management at Freddie Mac, explains another benefit of securing a mortgage vs. paying rent:
“With a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, you’ll have the certainty & stability of knowing what your mortgage payment will be for the next 30 years – unlike rents which will continue to rise over the next three decades.”
Why not give yourself the gift of homeownership? Lock in your housing costs for the next 30 years and guarantee you are the one building wealth.
Our thanks to Joe Speakman for these words of wisdom.
28 Design Ideas Coming to Homes Near You in 2017
How Much It Costs to Keep Up with the Joneses
They’re making a pricey remodeling mistake. You don’t have to.
The more time you plan to live in your home, the less risk a remodel is.
Scroll to: Is This Your Forever Home?
Very few remodels are worth taking out a loan for.
Scroll to: Are You Tempted to Finance Your Project?
Enjoyment of your home can't be figured into a spreadsheet.
Scroll to: Will Your Remodel Bring You Joy?
Jealous of your neighbors’ new master bath? Who wouldn’t be? It’s got heated floors, a sauna, and a massive whirlpool tub. To be honest, your own bathroom looks like the shower station at the public pool in comparison. And you have been thinking about renovating it. Maybe a sauna isn’t such a bad idea after all. And how about one of those new tube lights? Yeah, that’d be cool.
Actually, doing the opposite — resisting the urge to keep up with the Joneses makes you the smarter neighbor.
Renovating your home into the nicest digs in the neighborhood comes with big risks. Best to think twice before replicating the Joneses’ extravagant additions, lest you end up with an over-renovated house that’s undervalued by the market.
Here are the questions to ask yourself before one-upping the neighbors:
Is This Your Forever Home?
It’s hard to believe, but the average American moves 11.4 times, and according to the data-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight, most 25-year-olds still have more than six moves (!) remaining. So, statistically speaking, you’re going to move.
And you’ll need to sell your house when you do. Which means you should think about how any project will affect your home’s value. It’s not as simple as you think. Just because you improve, doesn’t mean you recoup (more details on that coming up — just watch for the tables).
Some people just want to buy a house and turn it into a giant, English estate. That's your prerogative.
On the other hand, you may truly plan to stay put. Newer studies find that today’s first-time buyers want to stay in their first homes longer than previous generations. So if you’re one of the ones bucking tradition, then by all means, do what you want to do without regard to resale value.
Some people just want to buy a house, and live in it and turn it into a giant, English estate. That’s fine. That’s your prerogative. (Although you might want to look into any homeowner association rules.)
But if you’re planning a move anytime between now and eternity, let the Joneses keep a good lead on you in the renovation race. You’ll come out better financially. Guaranteed.
How Does Your Home Rate?
“You don’t want to be the best house in the neighborhood,” says Las Vegas-based Cristine Lefkowitz Jensen, a REALTOR® and former interior designer. Otherwise, literally every other house around you looks like a better deal. It’s only smart to keep up with the Joneses if everyone on your block does. Keep an eye on comparable properties nearby, and use those prices to know how much is too much to invest in upgrades.
“Don’t put in Carrara marble and $80,000 cabinets in a market that won’t bear that selling price” . It’s just not smart.
If the average home in your area sells for $500,000, and you purchase a fixer-upper for $400,000, don’t invest more than $100,000 — otherwise you’re wasting cash.
Are You Tempted to Finance Your Project?
As a general rule, taking out a loan for a renovation is a bad idea. Any large-scale upgrades that require begging the bank for cash should get an automatic “no” (sorry!). Even if you know for a fact that the Joneses financed their dream bathroom, that’s just all the more reason to march to your own home ownership drum.
Think about it: Even if the Joneses are increasing their home’s value a bit, they’re also paying interest, which eats into the benefit.
That said, don’t feel guilty about financing smaller, low-risk projects that are sure to increase your equity. For example, upgraded insulation may not be sexy, but according to the National Association of REALTORS’® “Remodeling Impact Report,” its median cost is just $2,100, and it recovers 95% of its value in a sale. So a small loan (that you can pay off quickly) might make sense, especially when you consider the energy savings.
Good bets include:
Project Median Cost/Recoup in $$
- New Roofing $7,600 $8,000
- Hardwood Flooring Refinish $2,500 $2,500
- Insulation Upgrade $2,100 $2,000
- New Wood Flooring $5,500 $5,000
- New Garage Door $2,300 $2,000
- New Vinyl Siding $12,000 $10,000
Have You Done Your Research?
Some projects — like refinishing your hardwood — are no-brainers because they’re relatively small and recoup most of their value in a sale.
Other, bigger investments, like updated kitchens, are a big draw for future buyers.
Old, dated kitchens are the number one killer of all deals. According to the “Report,” a typical kitchen remodel costs $30,000 and recovers $20,000 in equity. And no, that $10,000 difference isn’t wasted. You’ll love the upgrades while you live there, and get most of your money back when you move. (And enjoy a shorter selling time, too.)
Here are some popular projects and their typical costs. But a REALTOR® will know what’s ultimately best in your neighborhood.
Project Median Cost/Recoup in $$
- New Vinyl Windows $15,000/$12,000
- New Fiber Cement Siding $19,100/ $15,000
- New Steel Front Door $2,000/$1,500
- HVAC Replacement $7,000/$5,000
- Basement Conversion to Living Area $36,000/$25,000
- Kitchen Upgrade $30,000/$20,000
- Complete Kitchen Renovation $60,000/ $40,000
- Attic Conversion to Living Area $65,000/ $40,000
- New Fiberglass Front Door $2,500/$1,500
- Bathroom Renovation $26,000/$15,000
- New Wood Windows $26,000/$15,000
- Closet Renovation $3,500/$2,000
- New Master Suite $112,500/$60,000
- Add New Bathroom $50,000/$26,000
Another equity-rich option is creating an open floor plan. Not everyone eats dinner like Norman Rockwell, but that’s how the properties were designed at that time. Increase the home’s value by knocking down those walls and adding square footage.
Will Your Project Add Curb Appeal?
Improved curb appeal can increase the price of your home up to 17%, according to a Texas Tech University study, so don’t shirk away from jazzing up your front patio and lawn. So if the answer is “yes,” go with the Joneses on this one.
You only have one chance to make a first impression.
Get a sleek and modern exterior by replacing your crumbling wooden front door with a gorgeous steel model, which looks stunning and recoups 75% of its cost in a sale, according to the “Report.”
Adding trees and bushes brings dimension to your lawn. Even just maintaining your yard makes a big difference. Additional lighting along the walkway is a worthwhile investment, too — in addition to making your home safer.
Will Your Remodel Bring You Joy?
It’s your retreat, your place. It should bring you joy when you walk in the door. You can’t put a dollar figure on the value of that.
However, the “Report” does give some insight into what projects homeowners are happiest with, regardless of cost. REALTORS® asked some of their clients what renovations brought them the most satisfaction.
Here’s how some popular projects ranked, according to the Report’s Joy Score (with 10 being the highest score); and note that “joy” and “recoup” don’t always pair up like you think they would:
Project Joy Score Recoup in %
- New Fiber Cement Siding 10 79%
- Add New Bathroom 10 52%
- Complete Kitchen Renovation 9.8 67%
- New Roofing 9.7 105%
- New Master Suite 9.7 53%
- Hardwood Flooring Refinish 9.6 100%
- New Wood Flooring 9.6 91%
- New Steel & Fiberglass Front Door 9.6 68%
- New Garage Door 9.5 87%
- Kitchen Upgrade 9.5 67%
- New Vinyl & Wood Windows 9.4 69%
- Basement Conversion to Living Area 9.4 69%
- Attic Conversion to Living Area 9.4 61%
- Bathroom Renovation 9.3 58%
- Closet Renovation 9 57%
- New Vinyl Siding 8.9 83%
- Insulation Upgrade 8.7 95%
- HVAC Replacement 8.7 71%
Now you're armed with the facts. Remodel for fun and/or profit!
Thinking of a Major Remodel? Don't Miss This Article!
Dream to Done: How to Refine Your Renovation Vision to Fit Your Budget
Strategies to Make Remodeling a Breeze
Which stresses you out more? The mere thought of adding a bathroom (so many contractors, so many unknowns, and you’re too busy already!) or fighting for Monday-morning mirror time for all eternity?
If it feels like a toss-up, you’re not alone. Remodeling can be overwhelming. With so much going on in your life already, it just feels easier to deal with a home that’s not quite right than to get swamped with one more gargantuan thing, right?
Wrong! A remodel doesn’t have to be so all-consuming. With a few stress-sparing strategies, it’s totally doable — and totally worth it. Use these tips, and you’ll never have to step on your toddler’s rubber duckies while showering again.
1. Start By Making Sure Your Contractor Isn't Overwhelmed
Most homeowners choose summer to do a major remodel because they know freezing temps won’t be a problem. But that also means contractors are super swamped and stressed to the max during summer. Not a good combo for a remodel to come in on time and on budget (not to mention what it’ll do to your blood pressure).
“Working in the summer is a complete nightmare,” says Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn.”It’s so hot that sometimes there are only certain times of the day people can work.”
Try to schedule your remodel during a less hectic time for contractors. You’d be surprised how much can get done in an off-season. You could also save on costs — a great stress reliever. Woo hoo!
2. Discover Any Quirks That Will Drive You Nuts
We get it. With all the plates you’re currently spinning, skimming online contractor reviews is way more appealing than interviewing references. But this person is going to be inside your house. For days. Maybe weeks! What if his working style is dramatically different than yours? What if the crew drives you nuts? Talk about added stress.
“There might be a thing that’s a huge pet peeve of yours that means you’re not going to work well with that person,” says Flynn.
Ask contractors for references, and chat up the former customers about timeliness, personality, and working style. Does the crew listen to death metal at full volume? Are they all business, or will they pepper you with awkward chitchat? Finding a pro who does great work and is a good fit will take much of the crazy out of your remodel.
3. Look Beyond the Bottom Line of Bids
Just like reading online reviews, accepting your first decent bid may seem like a savvy shortcut, but there’s a reason you’ve heard about getting at least three. The key is to look beyond the bids’ bottom line. A higher estimate can cover solutions to worrisome construction problems like clean up, insurance to cover dented walls, or working at night to fit your schedule. Picking these amenities over a bargain can eliminate some big headaches.
Speaking of headaches, skimping on bid details can cause your temples to throb in another way. Sometimes they don’t include everything. Seriously. Flynn says hidden costs like drop cloths or the installation and removal of scaffolding can make projects go up to 20% or 30% over budget. Be sure to ask if you’ll be responsible for any costs not documented in your bid.
4. Opt for the Pampered Approach
Really want to treat yourself? Or need to, considering your schedule? Get an expert to be the boss instead of you. Overseeing the idiosyncrasies of a renovation can be maddening. Do you have time to educate yourself on the certifications and tests required by projects in rooms with plumbing? When your contractor has a question about a thermostatic valve issue, do you want her calling you for your advice?
“It’s smart to spend extra money to have a true professional project manager,” says Flynn. “If you just pay someone that extra money every week, you don’t have to worry about things you don’t understand.” (Median hourly wage is $46.)
Flynn recommends seeking out and vetting a project manager with experience in your type of project. A good one will save you guesswork that can hold up construction and make you want to pull your hair out.
5. Let the Contractor Handle Permits
Keeping tabs on permit deadlines and booking appointments with historical review boards can feel like a second job for even the most organized homeowner. In fact, it is a job; it just doesn’t have to be yours.
Chip Wade, a home improvement expert and consultant with Liberty Mutual Insurance, suggests skipping the homeowner self-work affidavit (which puts you, the homeowner, responsible for all the liability on the job) and letting your general contractor handle approvals and permits. The small added cost of your contractor’s time will literally take things off of your to-do list.
6. Stay on Schedule by Setting Benchmark Deadlines
Nothing makes for a low-stress remodel like staying on schedule. Your contractor should be willing to create benchmarks at the beginning of the project. Sticking to them? You’re going to want to keep an eye on that.
Typical benchmarks include demolition, framing, electrical, inspections and the like. Share a calendar with your contractor (a digital one like Google calendar is super convenient, but an old-fashioned paper one will work too) and check in as benchmarks creep up.
Why bother? Wade recommends intervening once two of these benchmarks are missed. One missed benchmark still allows contractors to make up time. Two is when the timetable (and budget) could derail — creating that sinking feeling you’ve worked so hard to avoid.
7. Control the Money
The more motivated your contractors are, the less harried you will be. Paying in small installments as work is done can discourage a strong finish and result in sloppy work.
The typical recommendation is to pay no more than 10% up front. But Wade recommends a 50/50 split with the contractor, assuming you’ve done your homework and your contractor is a reputable one — and it’s legal to do in your state (California, for example, has a law saying you can’t put down more than 10%). Fifty percent is more than a contractor typically gets for a down payment, which is a benefit to him. But have the contract specify that the remaining 50% will be paid upon completion, which is the benefit to you because it motivates him to finish the job to collect the rest of his money.
If that option isn’t open to you, another way is to offer bonuses, which is what Flynn’s project managers do. On tight schedules, pros who hit benchmarks before their due dates receive a bonus (the amount varies depending on scope and difficulty).
“They see an opportunity to make an extra few bucks, and it always works,” says Flynn. This can be the push your pros need when your guest bath needs to be ready before your in-laws arrive for a lengthy Thanksgiving weekend — without you spending your valuable time begging and pleading (and stressing) to make it happen.
Another, easier way to find a good contractor is to ask us for a referral.
You can call or text us, or click on the Home Maintenance button on the left side of our website Home Page and fill out an email form. We'll steer you to the right person.
Our thanks to Eliziabeth Lilly and Houselogic.com for this article.
Easy Fixes for That House You Want to Buy
Find out the common flaws that shouldn’t be deal-breakers — and a few that should give you pause. Based on a Houzz.com article.
From price and location to the physical structure itself, the list of things to keep in mind when shopping for a house can seem endless. But some problems you encounter don’t need to affect your final decision. Although easy is a relative term, accomplishing the 10 fixes that follow is generally pretty straightforward. We also point out some big-ticket fixes to watch out for. Happy house hunting!
1. Easy fix: Repaint or reface existing cabinetry. If the interior structure of the cabinetry is still sound, refinishing, repainting or refacing (replacing the cabinet fronts) can be a more cost-effective way to refresh a dated kitchen than completely replacing the cabinetry. If the cabinet doors are in poor condition or you want to change the style, consider refacing.
2. Easy fix: New appliances. Swapping out old appliances for shiny new models is one of the biggest-impact ways to make over your kitchen without getting bogged down in a full remodel. And because the cost of appliances and installation is pretty straightforward, it’s easier to plan and budget for this upgrade than projects that might expand beyond your original scope.
Not-so-easy fix: New kitchen layout. Replacing what’s already in your kitchen is one thing, but when you start to move the plumbing and electrical around, costs can rise quickly. If possible, go for a house with a kitchen that has a layout you’re happy with — you can always tweak the details.
3. Easy fix: Fresh carpeting. Stained, worn-out carpeting is a real bummer, and it can be hard to see past it when viewing a potential home. But ripping out old carpeting and putting in something new — especially something as fresh and fun as the colorful carpet tiles shown here — can make a huge difference in how a space looks and feels.
4. Easy fix: New paint color. It’s amazing the effect color can have on us — remind yourself of this fact the next time you tour an open house with some (ahem) unusual color choices. You can easily (and cheaply) replace any wall color with a beautiful hue, like the lovely silvery blue shown here.
5. Easy fix: Replace light fixtures. Swapping out dated light fixtures with new ones you love is a quick and easy fix an electrician or DIY-savvy homeowner can accomplish in relatively little time. From modern pendants (like the saucer version shown here) to Edison-bulb chandeliers, there’s a light for every style and taste.
Not-so-easy fix: Extensive electrical work. Exchanging one light fixture for another in the same spot is simple; updating old or unsafe systems is another matter entirely. Electrical work should definitely be left to the pros, and electrical repairs in an older home can cost a pretty penny, so be sure to get a thorough inspection and review it in detail.
6. Easy fix: Repurpose a room. Just because a room is shown as a messy kids’ room or workout space doesn’t mean that’s what will make the most sense for you. As you tour potential new homes, think creatively about the spaces you see and try to imagine your own furniture in them. One person’s overstuffed home office could be your perfect sun room.
Not-so-easy fix: Adding on. Remodeling costs get a whole lot bigger whenever you talk about changing the footprint of a home, so try not to be seduced by talk of how “easy” it would be to tack a room on to the back of the house. Although there are always exceptions, your best bet is usually to find a house with a footprint you can work with.
7. Easy fix: Remove or cover up popcorn ceilings. Not much dates a house like the lumpy, bumpy texture of a popcorn ceiling. Thankfully, fixing it isn’t too complicated, and you’ll soon have a nice, smooth ceiling. The most common method is simply scraping it off, but if there’s any chance that lead and-or asbestos might be present in the paint or the popcorn material itself, you’ll need to cover it up with drywall instead.
8. Easy fix: Add architectural interest. If you love the look of older homes with lots of original architectural details but haven’t been able to find the right one at the right price, it’s still possible to get some of the detail you crave, even in a newer build. Crown molding, baseboards, picture rails and even built-in features like bookcases and bench seating can be added by a carpenter to give a boxy new build added character. It’s an extra cost, but it’s not especially difficult, and it can make a big difference in how you experience a home.
9. Easy fix: Refinish floors. If you’re lucky enough to spot a house with real wood floors, don’t let a dull finish turn you off. While engineered hardwood can usually be refinished only a few times during its life (the number depends on how thick the veneer is) solid hardwoods can take a lot more, so you can have gorgeous, glossy floors (or artfully beat-up floors if you desire) for years to come.
10. Easy fix: Add landscaping. Yard looking a little bare? Adding landscaping, whether a simple DIY job or a landscaping pro’s design and installation, is something that can make a huge impact on curb appeal and, more important, how you feel when you come home each day.
Top 10 Trending Bathroom Photos
3 Ways to Buy Real Estate with a Small IRA
With the popularity of Real Estate IRAs gaining ground, it’s important to stay up to date on this topic. It can be an excellent wealth-builder for you, or it can dramatically improve your lifestyle. If you have a small (i.e, too small for the whole purchase) IRA, there are a few paths you can follow.
Here are the three most popular ways for a buyer with a small IRA to invest in real estate:
1. Partner the IRA
A self-directed IRA or Real Estate IRA can partner with other IRAs, investors’ money, and even personal funds. Sometimes partnering with one account, one investor, or only yourself, will not provide enough funding for the investment you are interested in. In this case, you can partner with a group. The IRA would own a fraction of the investment and share the profits and expenses with other investors in that same proportion.
2. Leverage the IRA
Yes, your IRA can take a loan. The regulations require a non-recourse loan if a loan is to complete a real estate transaction in a self-directed IRA. A non-recourse loan is a loan in which you, as the IRA holder, are not personally liable for repaying the loan. The IRA holder cannot personally guarantee the loan the IRA is acquiring. Once you locate a lender/bank, the lender will lend to your IRA, not to you as an individual. The lender will have no recourse against you or other assets in your IRA in the event of a default. The lender will only be able to recover the property and your equity in the property that has the loan.
3. Lend your IRA
You can passively invest in real estate by providing capital from your IRA for a real estate transaction. In many cases we see investors borrow from a third party’s IRA to close on a transaction. The IRA owner determines the rate and terms of the loan. The loan from the IRA is secured by the property.
Help leverage the wealth that lives in your IRA today. Consider a real estate IRA. Check with your tax advisor before doing so.
Our thanks to Jason Craig of the Entrust Group for this timely information.
How People Upgrade Their Main Bathrooms, and How Much They Spend
Frugal Ways to Help Your Bathroom Sell Your House
(excerpted from Houzz.com)
As with the kitchen, the bathroom is always a high priority for home buyers. Here’s how to showcase your bathroom so it looks its best
Buyers love the allure of a fresh, beautiful bathroom that reminds them of luxury hotels or soothing spas they have enjoyed. And, most important, buyers want to envision themselves enjoying this luxury every day in their new home.
However, the reality is that most of us do not have the perfect bathroom. And we know that, in most instances, it is not a wise investment to do a full, costly renovation just for a home sale. It simply doesn’t translate into profit.
A better strategy is to maximize what you already have, on a budget. You want to transform your real-life, everyday bathroom into a five-star hotel experience that prospective buyers will love, without overcapitalizing. Here are simple ways to create havens with a wow factor.
1. Clear off the counters to create a blank canvas. Remove all of your everyday toiletries and bathroom supplies. This includes soaps, toothbrushes, cotton balls — everything. (And don’t forget the products in the shower.) Buyers do not want to see your personal hygiene products. In fact, this can make them feel as though they are intruding on your personal space, which can be distracting and a little awkward.
2. Get rid of cleaning products. Remove all items that imply housework and maintenance, such as toilet brushes, wastepaper baskets, sponges, cleaning products, bath mats — even spare toilet rolls. These are a necessary part of everyday living, but they do not create a beautiful spa-like experience for your buyers.
Tip: Remove the bathroom scale, too. Remember, your buyers want a luxurious bathroom experience, not a reminder of those extra pounds they are trying to lose.
3. Maximize your storage. Storage space sells. Your buyers will be looking inside your bathroom cupboards to see how much space they offer. Make sure they are only half to two-thirds full and well organized. Store the little things you use every day (hair elastics, lip gloss) in a pretty box or basket with a lid to avoid a tidal wave of trinkets on the shelves.
Tip: If you’re running out of space to store your toiletries, keep the overflow in simple wicker baskets. When buyers are coming to inspect your home, just grab the baskets and stash them somewhere else.
4. Make minor upgrades. Rather than spending many thousands completely renovating your bathroom, it’s much smarter to spend your money only where it will show and to make small, inexpensive upgrades that will create a large impact. As a general rule, improvements that can’t easily be seen don’t translate into a higher sale price.
The best bang-for-your-buck bathroom upgrades are: repainting the walls, replacing leaking and worn taps, updating the cabinet hardware, installing new light fittings and updating towel bars.
Note: In some bathrooms it’s also worth considering changing the tiles (large white tiles always make a bathroom feel more spacious and contemporary), replacing shower screens and investing in new cabinetry and countertops. This is often warranted in a higher-priced property, where buyers are looking for (and expecting) a higher level of bathroom luxury.
5. Clean thoroughly. Clean everything to within an inch of its life. No, it’s certainly not exciting, but it’s super important. Buyers will pay a premium for new, so your aim is to create a new feel. Everything must be immaculate, as this creates the impression that your home has been well maintained and well loved.
6. Hang luxurious towels. Any bathroom can be instantly transformed by adding beautiful, soft towels. New is best (once towels have been washed, they never look quite the same). So it’s a great idea to keep your new towels just for display only. Pack them away between buyer inspections and reinstate them just before the prospective buyers arrive.
Tip: If there is a lot of extra counter space, you can also place a neatly folded pile of two or three matching towels on the vanity or side of the bath for extra luxury.
Thick, white, luxurious towels always work well, and there are some beautiful textured options. Funky, brightly colored towels are popular at the moment too; for a more dramatic effect, you could consider adding a splash of bold color.
7. Stick with neutrals. If you are going to repaint your walls, upgrade your tiles or invest in new cabinetry, it’s always a good idea to keep to a neutral palette for these larger elements, as it will appeal to more buyers. If you want to add some fresh color, use towels and accessories.
8. Beautify with accessories. Now that you have cleared away your personal bathroom products, bring in a few well-chosen accessories to add a layer of warmth, elegance and luxury. Think about creating a spa-like experience with accessories in tranquil, soft colors. Include fragrant soaps, bath oils, natural loofahs and candles.
It’s important to display these products as groupings rather than scattering them around the room; scattered products can look like clutter. Less is better. Think simplicity. You may want to consider using a wooden tray as a base and group items together in odd numbers. Vary the height of candles and jars, too.
9. Use flowers for impact. Fresh flowers and plants make any space come alive, and the bathroom is no exception. They make a dramatic impact, adding instant color and texture. Orchids are always a favorite in bathrooms; however, here’s no need to always buy huge bouquets. In a smaller room, a single stem of your favorite bloom, a small planter or even a branch with beautiful leaves placed in a jar will look understated and elegant.
10. Add a stool or an ottoman. To create the ultimate private-hotel-suite look for your buyers, add a beautiful decor piece that is functional as well. Put a stool beside the bathtub and add neatly folded face and hand towels, soap, a candle, potted plants or even a good book. You could also use other beautiful occasional pieces of furniture, such as a marble side table, a long ottoman stacked with fresh towels or a bamboo ladder, to add extra style and take your room to another level.
Check out a great video of the Jupiter Inlet area at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNdfhIq3dAo
Ownership Benefits Go Beyond ‘cheaper than renting’
PITTSBURGH – July 20, 2015 – Clinique Brundidge rented apartments in several cities over the past 13 years as she built her career as a material scientist. Like many young adults, the 31-year-old senior scientist at Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp. in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, didn't think much about the thousands of dollars she handed over to landlords.
Then she sat down one day two years ago and added it up.
"I'd spent $130,000 on rent during that time," Brundidge said. "It was sort of going into a black hole. … That was the turning point."
With rents rising faster than home prices in many cities, and interest rates at historic lows, many renters could buy a house and lower their monthly payments. But experts say that shouldn't be the only consideration in deciding whether to rent or buy.
"It's not just about whether that monthly payment is bigger or smaller," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.
How long you plan to live in the house, the downpayment and closing costs, and unexpected maintenance expenses are important to factor into the choice, which is often the biggest financial decision in someone's life.
Cost was a key consideration for Brundidge. The money she paid in rent over the years was roughly the same as the average price of a home in Allegheny County – $132,000. She also wanted to lower her monthly housing payments.
Brundidge closed on the purchase of a three-bedroom rowhouse in Pittsburgh's North Side last week for $240,000. But the mortgage payment is about the same as the $1,450 a month she paid in rent for an apartment in Monroeville, she said.
She gets a home of her own and will build equity, rather than help pay off someone else's mortgage.
Lou Stanasolovich, CEO of Legend Financial Advisors Inc., said young adults should consider financial priorities before jumping into homeownership, such as having an emergency fund and putting money into a retirement account.
"We encourage our clients to have a minimum of three months' expenses in reserve," Stanasolovich said. "That is simply, in a young person's case, to address the layoff possibility."
He suggests putting a minimum of 10 percent of gross income into a retirement fund. "Then we can start talking about a house and saving money for a downpayment."
Low-downpayment loans, at 3.5 percent of the purchase price, increasingly are common. But it's not the only money a homebuyer will need up front.
Closing costs – fees paid to the lender, agent and closing company, along with taxes and other charges – can range up to 5 percent of a home's purchase price.
With such large up-front costs, it's important to live in the home long enough to take advantage of the lower mortgage payments, Blomquist said. "If you're going to be in the home for less than five years, you may want to stick to renting."
It would take nearly eight years to recoup the $10,560 needed to buy an average-priced Pittsburgh home that's $113 a month less expensive than renting. Staying in the house longer would build equity as the mortgage is paid down, Blomquist said.
It doesn't matter how new and perfect the house is – things break. The furnace dies, pipes leak, and shingles get blown off roofs. Those repairs and maintenance can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, Stanasolovich said.
"All that is worth something in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $5,000 a year," he said.
New homeowners should have a few thousand dollars in savings at the time of purchase, Blomquist said. "At the closing table, you shouldn't be walking away with your bank account completely drained."
Brundidge said her home was recently renovated, including appliances, roof and furnace. She purposely chose a property with a small yard to reduce maintenance.
"I do plan on getting an extra savings account to put aside money … just in case something happens," she said.
HOW TO CLEAN HARDWOOD FLOORS
Gleaming wood floors are a thing of beauty. Here’s how to keep them that way.
Although installing hardwood flooring is usually more expensive than rolling out new carpet, it’s an investment worth considering, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Surveys show that 54 percent of home buyers are willing to pay more for a house with hardwood floors. The question now: What’s the best way to clean and care for that popular flooring and keep that natural beauty (and value) shining through? Here’s how.
It’s not the wood — oak, maple, mesquite, bamboo, engineered hardwood or something more exotic — that determines how the floors should be cleaned, but rather the finish.
Surface finishes, often referred to as urethanes or polyurethanes, are among the most popular treatments today and are usually applied to hardwood floors after installation to protect them and make them more durable and water resistant. These finishes create a protective barrier. There are four types of surface finishes, according to the American Hardwood Information Center: water based, oil based, acid cured and moisture cured.
Homes built before 1970, including historic residences, may have original wood floors that were sealed with varnish, wax or shellac. These require a different approach to cleaning. The American Hardwood Information Center says these types of finishes work by penetrating the wood to color the planks and form a protective shield. Using a wax coating after staining provides a barrier against wear and tear and gives the floor a beautiful low-gloss satin sheen. The classic look requires a little extra TLC, however, since water-based products and mopping can damage the finish.
HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR WOOD FLOOR FINISH
To figure out whether or not your wood floors are finished with a polyurethane, shellac, wax or varnish, or have a finish that has worn away and is no longer providing coverage, the American Hardwood Information Center suggests these tests:
- Run your hand over the wood. If you can feel the texture of the grain, the floor has a “penetrating” finish (usually a combination of a natural oil, such as linseed or tung oil, mixed with additives for drying) topped with wax.
- In an out-of-the-way spot, dab on a little paint remover. If the finish bubbles up, it is a surface finish, like polyurethane, which coats the floor in a protective layer.
- In an out-of-the-way area, place a few drops of water. If the water beads up and does not soak into the wood, the finish on the floor is intact. If the water is absorbed into the floor or leaves a dark spot, the wood is unfinished or the protective layer has worn away.
- If you sprinkle on a few drops of water and white spots form beneath the droplets after about 10 to 15 minutes, the floors are sealed with wax. To remove the white spots, use a piece of fine steel wool lightly dampened with wax and rub gently.
- If you suspect a varnish or shellac, take a coin and scratch the surface of the floor in an inconspicuous corner. If the floor has been sealed with one of the older finishing methods, it will flake off.
Not wearing shoes in the house is one of the best ways to significantly reduce dirt, scuffs and daily wear and tear, and lessen cleaning time.
The National Wood Floor Association, or NWFA, is more specific and warns against walking on wood floors with cleats, sports shoes and high heels. It also offers this cautionary example: A 125-pound woman walking in high heels has an impact of 2,000 pounds per square inch. Furthermore, an exposed heel nail can exert up to 8,000 pounds of force per square inch.
Whether you got out your calculator or not, the possibility of impact and denting appears to be undeniable. However, while you can’t always ask guests to shed shoes at the door, it might be a policy worth considering for family members.
No matter what type of wood flooring you have, the NWFA advises against using cleaning products meant for vinyl or tile flooring. Their take: Self-polishing acrylic waxes cause wood to become slippery and appear dull quickly.
Another no-no: wet-mopping wood floors, since standing water can dull the finish, damage the wood and leave a discoloring residue. Along the same lines, avoid overwaxing unfinished wood floors in an attempt to restore luster. If a waxed floor has become dull, try buffing the surface instead.
Cleaning floors with contemporary polyurethane wood finishes (for floors installed after 1970) starts with vacuuming, sweeping or dust-mopping the surface.
Vacuuming. Vacuum wood floors daily, or at least once a week with a vacuum fitted with an attachment for wood floors. For regular machines, the American Hardwood Information Center advises turning off interior rotating brushes or beater bars if possible.
Regular vacuuming helps remove dust and dirt particles that play a leading role in scratching and dulling the surface of the floor.
Sweeping. The American Hardwood Information Center says choosing a broom with “exploded tips,” also known as synthetic fiber ends, is step one.
Damp mopping. Damp mopping should be done with a simple solution of pH-neutral soap (like dishwashing soap) and water; or one capful of a mild cleanser such as Murphy Oil Soap in a bucket of water; or a solution using products specially formulated for wood floors, such as Bona, Eco Mist Colloid W, Dr. Bonner’s or Method.
In conscientious cleaning circles, controversy swirls around whether to use a mixture of vinegar and water for damp-mopping wood floors. Ultimately, everyone has to do what works best; however, within the past 10 years this method has lost favor, and popular belief now holds that the solution causes floors to dull more quickly and is not as effective as simple soap and water.
To begin mopping, dampen the mop in the prepared solution, wring it out completely, and mop in the direction of the wood grain. Repeat as necessary. As the water in the bucket becomes dirty, dump it out and refill. Many experts (including Martha Stewart) believe scrubbing wood floors with a damp cloth by hand is the ultimate cleaning strategy — unless abundant square footage or protesting knees prove problematic.
But avoid cloths or mops dripping with water. If your floors do get wet or worse, dry them immediately!
Another technique: After the floor has been swept or vacuumed, put your cleaning solution of choice in a spray bottle and mist the floor, then use a dry microfiber mop or cloth and mop in direction of the wood grain.
It’s important to note that just because a floor is clean doesn’t necessarily mean it will be shiny. If the floor has lost its luster, it may be time to have it refinished professionally. Whatever you do, don’t wax a polyurethaned finish.
UNFINISHED OR WAXED FLOORS
Unfinished or waxed floors, like those in older and historic homes, as well as floors in which the protective seal has worn away, should never be treated with water or liquid cleansers, which may penetrate, stain or warp the wood. Instead, according to cleaning experts, sweeping with a soft-bristled broom and vacuuming should be done as the primary line of defense. The NWFA says to step away from the mop: Never damp-mop a waxed floor.
Beyond basic care, buffing and waxing the floors once or twice a year should maintain the shine.
Old-fashioned shellacked floors are not common in most homes. However, if you find yourself the proud owner of this vintage flooring, regular care should include sweeping and vacuuming often. Avoid water and liquid cleansers.
ENGINEERED WOOD FLOORS
Engineered wood flooring is created with a thin veneer of hardwood fused atop a plywood base. The material is stronger and more durable than regular hardwoods, and as a result has become a popular choice.
The cleaning procedure for this type of wood is the same as for hardwood floors with urethane finishes. Keep clean on a daily basis by sweeping and vacuuming and use a slightly damp mop as needed.
PAINTED WOOD FLOORS
Painted wood floors make a strong style statement and are a clever way to disguise wood flooring in less than perfect shape. To clean them, sweep, vacuum or dust-mop regularly. Avoid scratching or damaging the painted surface by staying away from abrasive cleansers and opting for a simple soap and water solution for damp mopping. Experts suggest drying the surface immediately by hand to avoid streaking and unnecessary moisture.
"Knowledge is power" and "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Let these old axioms be your guide in treating your wood floors, and you will be rewarded with a lifetime of beauty!
Outdoor Staging Will Help to Sell Your Home
Some sellers go to great trouble and expense to stage the interior of their homes but neglect the exterior. That is a big mistake!
Here are seven inexpensive things that you can do your home's exterior to attract buyers:
1. Invite Buyers In
It’s no secret curb appeal matters to buyers, but too often, minor details are overlooked when setting the stage out front. To roll out the welcome for buyers, replace your worn welcome mat with a summery alternative, and install large house numbers in a prominent location that can be viewed from the street.
2. Shine Up Windows
Cleaning windows inside and out can be taxing, but it makes a noticeable difference. For the exterior sides of the windows, scrub off any accumulated film from tree pollen and polish until glistening. Buyers will be pleased to see not only a sparkling home outside, but a light-filled interior as well.
3. Showcase Small-Scale Color
In lieu of a costly exterior paint job, choose specific areas outside to add pops of color. Window boxes bursting with blooms are often well-received by buyers, as well as container plantings. If the exterior could use refreshing, consider re-painting the front door before recruiting a professional to do the entire home.
4. Spotlight for Safety
How to Get Your Kitchen Island Lighting Right
Make sure the outdoor spaces around your home, including the front entrance, deck, patio, and walkways, are appropriately lit. Updated light fixtures are not only aesthetically pleasing, but are an added safety feature to the home.
5. Maintain the Landscape
A well-kept home speaks volumes to buyers, and the exterior is no exception. Whether you hire a professional landscaper or DIY, trim the lawn and any hedges – the latter can be a trip hazard if left untouched.
6. Deck Out the Deck
Whether your home features a deck, patio, porch or other outdoor living area, take time to power wash the surface to remove any debris. If your outdoor furniture is lacking, consider purchasing a fresh set, complete with all-weather cushions and pillows in vibrant colors.
7. Make the Pool Picture-Perfect
Pools can be a make-or-break feature for buyers, so play it up as best you can. After having the pool cleaned by a professional, take care to skim the surface for any debris that accumulates between buyer visits. Be sure the pool cover, mechanized or otherwise, is free of damage and the filtering system is in proper working order.
Key Measurements for a Wine Cellar
Find out the best ways to store your stash and how much space you need for wine refrigerators, racks and other storage
“Once … in the wilds of Afghanistan, I lost my corkscrew, and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for days.” — W.C. Fields, My Little Chickadee (1940)
Whether you live in a tiny New York City apartment or have a mansion with enough space for a wine “cave,” there’s no reason not to preserve this precious resource. Many units are now available for properly stowing your favorite vintages. Even if you don’t drink wine yourself, you may wish to have a bottle properly preserved for guests. In this article we’ll look at self-contained refrigeration units, bottle dimensions and a few ways to store wine.
Whether you will be housing your wine in a compact refrigerator or a luxurious wine cellar, it all comes down to the size of a single bottle. While bottle shapes and styles vary slightly, wine and champagne are sold mostly in 750-milliliter bottles. Wine bottles typically measure 3 to 3.2 inches (7.62 to 8.12 centimeters) in diameter and are about 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) tall. Champagne comes in slightly larger containers that measure up to 3.5 inches (8.89 centimeters) in diameter and closer to 12.5 inches (31.75 centimeters) tall in 750-milliliter amounts.
Consider your personal requirements when planning bottle storage. Creating flexibility is wise, since you can also buy 350-milliliter and 1.5-liter amounts. Those bottle sizes are more difficult to predict. Having slots or shelves for a few odd sizes may take care of this dilemma. One 12-bottle case of wine will take up about 1 cubic foot (0.03 cubic meter) of space in a diamond-bin configuration in which they are stacked next to one another. Nine bottles per cubic foot is a more comfortable margin when planning spaces.
The most important consideration for wine storage is consistent temperature. At about 37 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 degrees Celsius), refrigerators that we use for our food storage are too cold for the proper preservation of fermented grapes. Wine should be stored at 55 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 to 14.4 degrees Celsius) with 60 to 80 percent humidity. These conditions are ideal, but going outside of these parameters by up to 5 percent should not harm anything.
A 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) wide fridge can stand alone or be placed under a standard 36-inch-high (92-centimeter-high) countertop. Manufactured units typically are a little less than 24 inches (61 centimeters) deep to fit within standard cabinetry.
This example will hold up to 19 bottles. You can find units with widths up to 24 inches (61 centimeters) in 3-inch (7.62-centimeter) increments. The Titan unit below is 15 inches (38 centimeters) wide and will hold up to 23 standard Burgundy bottles. Consider that one case of wine is 12 bottles. For those who collect cases at a time, as opposed to a bottle here and there, we’ll look at more generous storage solutions below.
Most wine on the market today should be consumed within a few years of being bottled. Long-term storage for maturing wines is a topic beyond the scope of this story. Wine connoisseurs follow more sophisticated serving temperature requirements for types of wine, as follows:
Sparkling wines and champagne: 40 to 47 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 to 8.3 degrees Celsius)
Rosés and whites: 46 to 56 degrees Fahrenheit (7.7 to 13.3 degrees Celsius)
Lighter reds: 54 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit (12.2 to 14.4 degrees Celsius)
Full-bodied reds: 58 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (14.4 to 18.3 degrees Celsius)
Another consideration is whether to store bottles horizontally or upright. Usually it’s only storing wine upright in extreme climates or for long periods of time that will give you problems. Corks have to dry out, crack or contract to disturb the wine, and other capping methods are becoming more common. That being said, storing wine bottles horizontally works best spatially. But if you need to place a case upright in the cabinet for a few weeks, it should be fine.
Though some live in places where wine can be kept at the proper temperature in a dark basement or another sheltered space, most need refrigeration or a mechanical system for cooling.
Another caution for wine storage is light. Wine is normally bottled in colored glass to inhibit light exposure. Sunlight and some artificial light can degrade wine over time and hasten unwanted aging. Consider glass-enclosed storage systems that block exposure to light and UV rays. If you drink the wine within a reasonable time — say, a few months — it should not make much difference.
Starting at 24 inches in width, undercounter units are built in 6-inch increments to be 24, 30, 36, 42 and 48 inches (61 to 122 centimeters) wide. Consider that you can place pairs of the same or different sizes to provide for your specific needs. For example, you could have two smaller wine refrigerators; one could hold your favorite Bordeaux at exactly 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.8 degrees Celsius) and the other could house your delicate chardonnays at a perfect 51 degrees Fahrenheit (10.5 degrees Celsius).
In this example, two 24-inch-wide (61-centimeter-wide) undercounter units are paired. Some people have older trash compactors that are often 18 inches (46 centimeters) wide and that they no longer use or want. These can easily be removed and an 18-inch-wide (46-centimeter-wide) wine refrigerator can be installed in that same place.
This pair of tall units is finished with cabinet-coordinating doors neatly and is beautifully integrated into the built-ins of this Chicago apartment. Consider having finishes coordinate with your decor when you shop for units, or have your architect specify them to your preference. Custom features like this must be carefully planned and coordinated with installation, with the dimensional parameters always considered.
The weight of your wine collection also should be considered. Each bottle of wine weighs about 3 pounds. If you amass a collection of 1,000 bottles, you are placing an additional ton and a half in your house. That’s equivalent to a small car. This is another reason wine cellars usually end up in the lowest levels of the house. Your basement probably would have no problem taking on the weight.
One British company, Spiral Cellars, has created an extraordinary wine cellar designed to sit within the foundation of a house. Its cylindrical design has an automated hatch opening and spiral stairs to access built-in wine racks holding an astonishing 1,360 bottles of wine in a compact arrangement. No power is needed to refrigerate the unit; a passive ventilation system maintains the wine at the proper temperature. Of course, this will only be appropriate in climates like that of the U.K. or someplace similar. The cellar measures 7.4 feet (2.2 meters) deep and 3.3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.
5 Remodels That Make Good Resale Value Sense — and 5 That Don’t
There is money well spent and money that’s not. Today we review which is which, prioritizing the return on your investment dollars
Repeat after me: I am the master of my remodel. Perhaps you should say it again, because sadly, it’s not always so. Remodels sometimes have a tendency to develop their own inertia, as decisions lead to new dilemmas, unintended consequences and surprising outcomes. In some cases, these flights of fancy are perfectly acceptable, provided the design and completed execution truly align with the vision and budget.
But if your budget is a concern, and the wise investment of limited home improvement dollars matters, then there are a few basic guidelines you should familiarize yourself with before planning your remodel. Today we review five remodels that typically make good financial sense, providing a nice return on the investment at the time of resale — and five that don’t.
FIVE THAT DO---
1. Kitchens. Updating a tired old kitchen is one of the wisest methods, and a tried and true one, of increasing the value of your home. When planning a kitchen remodel, and making design decisions and selections for plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinets and countertop materials, you should determine whether you are prioritizing your own design aesthetic or the return on your investment.
Either priority is perfectly acceptable, but you should understand which is your priority, or strike a balance between the two that you can feel good about.
For example, using the existing kitchen layout and affordable cosmetic materials is a sure way to keep the cost of your kitchen remodel manageable. When you start tearing out walls, bumping out the exterior home footprint to gain a few feet, and moving plumbing fixtures and appliances, the cost of the remodel will jump and your dollars will be less efficiently spent.
2. Adding living space. A straightforward addition of a new living room space is typically a very good investment.
Newly added square footage increases your home’s value. There are certain costs that will be associated with your addition regardless of the size. New square footage will require the demolition of existing exterior walls, a new foundation, a new roof, new exterior siding and probably new windows. If you are going to incur these expenses, it’s important to get some bang for your buck. It’s important that the added room is sized so that the space can be efficiently produced.
3. Curb appeal. You have heard not to judge a book by its cover, but smart money recognizes the cover’s value. Your front elevation is more than just a first impression. It’s the only impression available to just about all of your home’s potential buyers.
The good news is that there are a number of very affordable projects that can improve curb appeal, and some more extensive improvements that can likely pay off as well. Simply cleaning out overgrown brush and making a few new planting additions to your landscape can go a long way toward improving curb appeal at a very low cost.
Repainting is another low-cost, high-impact improvement. Costlier changes such as changing out old windows or an aged entry door are things that potential buyers will notice and value. Even more extensive front-elevation remodels, such as added dormers and front porches, can prove wise from an investment standpoint.
4. Master suites. Sorry, kids. Home buying decisions are in the hands of adults, and adults care about the environment where they sleep. Updating a master bedroom or remodeling and adding a new master suite is money well spent. The buyers will picture themselves living in their private space, and it’s of quantitative value when they like what they see.
5. Bathrooms. Home buyers notice bathrooms, and although all the bathrooms are important, a priority should be placed on the powder room and master bath, followed by a guest bathroom and any other secondary baths (the kids don’t need to know).
The same rules apply to a bathroom remodel as to the kitchen. Cosmetic changes are safer from an investment standpoint than modifications involving changed layouts or minor additions, which can result in inefficient expenses.
FIVE THAT DON'T---
1. Kids’ spaces. No, this is not straight from the Grinch himself. Yes, if your kids have a climbing wall, the fantastic addition will probably lead to hours of fun, increased strength and perhaps even a sense of accomplishment for your kids. It’s a fine idea, and like a pool slide, might even be a childhood dream come true.
But there is no assurance your home buyer will feel the same way. That rock climbing wall, which my own kids would flock to, might actually represent a negative value to a buyer who sees this space as his man cave. (The Grinch would assuredly remove the structure and replace it with a 70-inch flat-screen stolen from the home of Cindy Lou Who).
2. Pools. The National Swimming Pool Foundation estimates that there are more than 10 million swimming pools in the United States. Can 10 million pool owners possibly be wrong?
Backyard pools are loved by millions, and while this appreciation is well founded, they should be constructed for their many virtues that are not investment related. A pool might increase the value of your home but is unlikely to pay for itself, as some buyers will perceive the pool as a negative maintenance expense.
3. Wine rooms. Some of the coolest remodels are the least savvy from an investment perspective. See the wine room here? (Hello, can I come in?) The design is hip, original and flat-out awesome, and in a resale situation, the seller might very well get lucky and find a buyer who loves it as much as I do.
But the design wouldn’t appeal to someone who does not love wine. Original designs rarely appeal to everyone, so when adding spaces to a home you know you will sell, consider how personal it is and if others will feel as strongly as you do.
4. Removing features. Do not remove features for investment reasons. If you never use the fireplace in your basement, removing it might make perfect sense to you and your family. Just make sure you understand that the next homeowner might wish it were still there, and the money you spent demolishing the fireplace and reworking the space will not be reclaimed.
5. Minor additions. Adding a few square feet — say, to expand a bathroom or secondary bedroom — is rarely money well spent.
The reason is simple. If you bump out a bedroom wall by a few feet, you might make that bedroom much more comfortable. That benefit alone might make it worthwhile in your circumstance. But the cost of all the added elements, including foundation, roof, framing and drywall, will result in only a small gain in square footage.
This whole exercise is not intended to dissuade you from pursuing any specific remodel idea. Whether you plan to add a sunroom off the rear of your home or a little space for your cherished memorabilia collection, the decision is yours to make. Just be sure you make the decision in an informed manner, with a full understanding of the investment value for each dollar spent.
8 Cost-Effective Ways to Get a High-End Look
9 Common Real Estate Fallacies
We've all been fed—and have sometimes believed—more than a few old wives’ tales: Poinsettias are lethal, tomatoes are vegetables, and a pat of butter will soothe that nasty burn. But what about the popular myths in real estate?
Real estate myths are often passed around among buyers and sellers. Some of them have some truth; others are outright false; and still others depend on a variety of factors that are best discussed in depth. Be prepared to help educate your buyers and sellers, so they make the smartest choices, rather than just accept what they hear.
Myth #1: Always change bold paint colors to neutrals before selling.
Reality check: False
Bold doesn’t automatically mean bad, says Kim Grant, broker with John Greene Realty in Oswego, Ill. Sometimes, a room calls for a grand color in order to play up an architectural feature, divide a room in two visually, or add cheer when there’s little natural light. But even if a room sports a bold shade of paint, home owners don’t always have to grab a brush to change it up before listing. Sellers can tone down a strong color with a neutral counterpart, such as a calming rug or tranquil array of fresh greenery. If the room needs a change, Grant suggests sharing the name of a painter, getting a bid on the cost of repainting, and offering a handful of paint chips that demonstrate alternative color options that are more universally appealing. “It’s up to the salesperson to explain that another color can transform the space without much effort,” Grant says.
Myth #2: Never buy the biggest house on a street.
Reality check: Usually true
The largest house on a block or in a neighborhood often is the most expensive, which may affect its appraisal and make its price much higher than other homes in the same neighborhood on comparative analyses, says Michelle Shurtleff, salesperson with the Miami Real Estate Team in Key Biscayne, Fla. Most buyers today are concerned about value when making an investment in a home, so they’ll appreciate a caveat about limiting their pool of future buyers by pricing themselves out of or above the local market, she says.
Myth #3: Always avoid first-floor condos because of noise and safety concerns.
Reality check: False
A first-floor unit can be a terrific bargain and a wonderful place to live, says salesperson L.J. Ganser of Fenwick Keats Real Estate in New York, who has sold many in Manhattan. He has found they offer numerous advantages, and sometimes they just need a few tweaks to dampen possible sounds and make owners feel safer. Among the advantages: “You don’t have to wait for an elevator [or] climb stairs, and you can enjoy the changes in scenery from the ground level up,” he says. Suggest ways to soundproof the unit with a good-fitting door and sound-dampening acoustical panels on the interior side. Also, suggest window treatments that block noise and views such as “top down, bottom up blinds” that can be raised from the windowsill to a height that prevents pesky pedestrians from ogling the buyer’s home but still allow in light. For safety, suggest wrought iron bars, if the unit doesn’t have them, or an alarm system.
Myth #4: Sellers should expect to earn back everything they invested in remodeling projects at resale time.
Reality check: False, but…
A quick check of the annual “Cost vs. Value” survey will demonstrate to sellers that it’s nearly impossible to get 100 percent of the money they put into a redo back when they sell. A siding replacement of fiber-cement brought the highest return in the most recent survey in the upscale project category, and that percentage was 84.3 percent. Still, Roman Bruno, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles,has found that remodeled kitchens and bathrooms continue to be huge selling points to prospective buyers. “They make a home more attractive to potential buyers—and help them avoid doing the work,” he says. Paul Rosso, ABR, GRI, a salesperson with RE/MAX Properties Ltd. in Newtown, Penn., agrees that it pays to keep a house updated and in line with similarly priced homes in the community. The two times he cautions against upgrades are when a home owner plans to sell soon after making changes and when the market is flat or heading downward.
Myth #5: To sell quickly in this market, you must have the most popular features buyers are seeking.
Reality check: False, but…
It’s true that items such as master bedroom walk-in closets and first-floor master suites are all the rage now. But most homes in Los Angeles don’t have these features because they were built before these residential trends became widespread, says Bruno. “There is always a market for these homes, and someone with a vision may buy it just to update it,” he says. “Right now, we have little inventory and a lot of buyers — including absentee owners and investors — so we don’t see the need for redos as a problem.” Rosso agrees, but warns that the selling price usually reflects the absence of the feature: “Every home will sell, but at the right price. Price is the great equalizer.”
Myth #6: If buyers don’t like an exterior, they’ll never go inside.
Reality check: Often true
Without some curb appeal, most think, “Why waste the time,” says Grant. She suggests buyer’s agents prepare clients for the exterior ahead of time by asking buyers in advance what styles of houses they like and dislike, and even showing them images before checking out a place in person. If a house works otherwise—its layout, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and maybe a backyard—she says listing agents can find ways to remove or downplay features that may not appeal. Exterior changes may be as simple as adding landscaping that dresses up part of the offending façade, painting shutters and a door to focus attention, or upgrading a walkway with a nicer material.
Myth #7: Homes with swimming pools are always tougher to sell.
Reality check: False
While they bring with them high maintenance and utility costs, a lot of buyers look specifically for homes with pools, especially in warmer climates. Usually it’s just the seasoned investors and older home owners who shy away from homes with pools, says Bruno. To appeal to buyers not looking for a pool, he suggests sturdy canopies that can slide over the top to make a safe, walkable patio. But he never advises clients to remove a pool. “You don’t cater to a market that doesn’t want something. Instead, you use it as a tool to attract those who do,” he says.
Myth: #8: Green features automatically mean a higher listing price.
Reality check: Not always
Bruno says many buyers find added value in smart, environmentally friendly homes. “LEED certification has become a huge marketing feature, and it’s not just something for home owners living on either coast,” he says. Still, Rosso says many buyers shy away from these houses if they’re priced much higher than comparable non-green homes. “In my area, I haven’t seen buyers willing to pay a green premium. I view them as added value that can help with marketing a home,” he says.
Myth #9: Always remove holiday decorations before listing a home.
Reality check: False
If the decorations are tasteful, they’re fine, says Ganser. If it's Christmas, go green and minimal with a tree, some fresh boughs on the mantle, and a pretty wreath on the door. “There will be some Grinches who come and object to Christmas décor on principle. Perhaps Jacob Marley will pay them a visit that evening and convince them to lighten up,” he says. “But most people like the holidays, and if sellers can warm their spirits with a light, welcoming touch, I say do it. But don’t make potential buyers wonder what's going on with a corner that’s blocked by a 9-foot-high tree.” Follow the same rules for other holidays, he advises. At Halloween, fill a dish with candy corn; for Easter, bring on the jelly beans.
8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Meeting With Your Designer
5 Ways to Sell Your Home at the Most Profit
Want to learn the secrets to selling your house at the best price? Read the five profitable tips given below so you can discover how to make the most money out of your residential property!
1. Get a Home Inspector
The first thing you want to deal with is the condition of your house because you can’t get it sold at the highest price if it has many defects. So go ahead and hire a home inspector to check its overall health and be sure you get those flaws repaired, if ever there are some found. An inspection’s purpose is not only to detect problems; it also becomes an advantage for you because if you get a good evaluation, you can mention that fact to buyers and they will be more induced to bid on it.
Make Your Home Presentable and Appealing
After all the repairs are done, proceed to cleaning and making the house marketable. Take away about thirty percent of the furnishings so it won’t look too crowded; remove portraits, awards and other personal belongings as well. Make minor improvements if you think it will add to the property’s value, but be sure it’s nothing too expensive.
Conduct an Open House
One of the most effective ways to draw in attention is to hold an open house. This way, potential buyers will have the chance to view the entire home and make high bids if they find it interesting. That’s why it’s important that the property is impressive so that more and more buyers will want to purchase it.
Another way to get high-bidding buyers is to advertise your home effectively. Research on marketing techniques and develop a strategic plan that will help you catch the interests of home buyers. If you use the right methods well, many people will hear of your listed house and will want to check it out.
Hire a Realtor to Help You
In order for you to really make the most profits from your house, you need a real estate agent to market the property well. Remember that realtors are experts in property transactions so they know how to advertise your home, attract motivated buyers and help you choose the best bid. And the great thing is that they don’t just stop when your property gets sold, they’re also there to assist you throughout all the negotiations and finalization.
Buyers have ways to reduce closing costs
NEW YORK – Dec. 19, 2014 – Closing costs can add a lot to home buyers' final price, depending on which lender a buyer uses, which state they live in, the price of the home, and sometimes even the day of the month the closing occurs, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Borrowers can reduce their closing costs in several ways:
• Comparison shop. If buyers apply for a mortgage with more than one lender, they'll be able to compare the origination fees quoted in good-faith estimates, says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate.com. Federal law requires lenders to provide the statement within three days of a loan application. The origination fees cannot be changed, but lenders are given a 10 percent cushion in estimating third-party charges, such as for the appraisal, survey, inspection and title services, according to Peggy Lawlor, mortgage strategy executive with Bank of America.
• Watch the day of closing. The day of the month can even influence costs. "If you close on Nov. 5, you have to pay the per diem interest from the 5th to the 30th; but if you close on Nov. 28, it's only three days," says John Walsh, president of Total Mortgage, based in Milford, Conn.
• Seek relationship discounts. Sometimes lenders offer lower origination fees to loyal customers. For example, Bank of America offers a program called "Preferred Rewards." The program offers up to $600 in reduced rates on a mortgage depending on the customers' dollar amount of deposits at the bank.
• Lump closing costs into the loan. Buyers who can't afford to bring more money to closing may reduce their out-of-pocket expenditures by rolling the closing costs into the total loan amount. However, lenders will likely charge a slightly interest rate if they do, so buyers should carefully weigh the pros and cons.
• Look into title insurance discounts. The cost of title insurance can vary greatly among states and even by the type of home. Some states mandate the rate that title insurance providers charge. However, not all do.
Source: "How Home Buyers Can Lower Closing Costs," The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 10, 2014)
How to Decorate for the Holidays When Your Home Is for Sale
8 Little Remodeling Touches That Make a Big Difference
Tips for Buying Your First Condo
Buying a condo, which is short for condominium, is not the same as buying a single-family home. There are different considerations that need to be taken into account prior to purchasing! In many real estate markets, purchasing a condo can come at a much lower price than purchasing a single family residence.
A condo is typically a shared piece of property with individual owners of each “unit” or condo. In most cases, condominiums offer services such as, but not limited to, fitness centers, tennis courts, and pools. Many people purchase condos due to less maintenance and also the lifestyle of living in a condominium community.
When buying a condo, it’s important you know that every condominium community is different. It’s crucial to know each community will have their own community rules, association fees, management company, and amenities. Depending on the community, there may only be a handful of condo communities but there also could be hundreds, so do your research!
What tips do you need to know when buying your first condo? Here are 10 tips to use when buying your first condo!
Determine Whether a Condo is the “Right Fit”
It’s very important to ask yourself before buying your first condo, “Should I Buy a Condo?” As mentioned above, owning a condo is much different than owning a single family residence. Weighing the pro’s and con’s is a must!
One major difference between a condo and a single family residence is the proximity to your neighbors. It’s very possible you may have multiple neighbors condos attached to yours instead of your own, free-standing residence. Can you envision yourself living that close to your neighbors?
Another important consideration in determining whether a condo is the “right fit” or not, relates to the maintenance that is usually included in the association fees. If you enjoy cutting the grass and planting your own flowers, than likely a condo is not going to be the right fit. Most condo communities include the lawn maintenance, snow removal (if applicable), and exterior maintenance.
Hire a Real Estate Agent Who Has Experience Selling Condos
Selling a condo is much different than selling a single family, multi family, or vacant land! The purchase contract for a condo is not the same as it is for other types of residences. There are different contingencies than the common contingencies that are in a residential purchase and sale contract.
One main difference when purchasing a condo is that most communities will require a contract to be signed in addition to the typical sales contract prior to closing. The contract that a community will make you sign usually will state that you understand and agree to the association rules and regulations.
Due to these differences, it’s important you work with a real estate agent who has experience selling condos! A real estate agent who has experience selling condos, will know how to guide you through the process and ensure important documents are not overlooked.
Obtaining Financing Can Be Tricky When Buying a Condo
Financing of a condo is not the same as a single family residence. Just like purchasing a single family home it’s critical to get pre-approved prior to looking at condos as well as determining whether it is the “right fit.” Obtaining financing can be tricky when it comes to purchasing a condo, as many lenders and loan products do not allow condo purchases.
Condos are very often purchased with cash due to the regulations of lenders and programs. If you’re planning on obtaining a FHA (Federal Housing Administration) Loan, the first step is to make sure the condo community is on their approved community list. Normally FHA requires that 80% of the units in the building are owner-occupied, so make sure the community is on their approved list, before falling in love with a property!
A buyer still can obtain a private mortgage for a condo purchase. This often comes at a much higher cost, as many private lenders will require a minimum of 20% down on a condo purchase. Purchasing a condo may not be the best fit if you do not have a substantial amount of money saved for a down payment.
Know What the Condo Includes
This may sound like a silly tip, but it’s important to know exactly what the condo includes. When purchasing your first condo, make sure you find out if the condo includes a reserved parking spot or additional storage! Does the condo community offer additional parking for your guests who visit you? Is the parking spot in a covered garage?
During a recent condo sale, the seller rented her parking spot out to one of her fellow community residents. Fortunately, there was no long-term agreement between the seller and their neighbor! It’s important you know that the parking spaces and/or additional storage areas are going to be available at the time of closing before you purchase the condo! The last thing you want to find out is you have nowhere to park your car a week prior to closing.
Know What the Association Fees Are
In most condo communities, there is a monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, or annual fee that is required by each resident. The association fees are used to cover common expenses such as insurance and maintenance.
A well-run condo community will be happy to share their financial statements to a potential purchaser. It’s important to know when buying a condo that the community has a large amount of reserve funds in the event a major repair is required, such as a roof replacement. Ask the community how the association fees are divided and where they are distributed too.
Association fees can also impact whether a buyer can afford the condo or not. When approving a buyer, a lender is going to add the association fee into the monthly debts of the buyer. If a condo community has a very high monthly fee, it’s possible a buyer cannot afford it, due to the high fee!
Know What the Association Fees Include
How much the condo community association fees are is a very important piece of information to know when buying your first condo. Equally as important is knowing what the association fees include. As mentioned above, the fees generally include insurance and maintenance. Know exactly what the association fees include and what, if any exclusions apply.
In addition to the insurance and maintenance, association fees also commonly include lawn maintenance, landscaping, water, sewer services, road maintenance, and trash pickup. In some cases, the association fees can even include the heating and electric!
If a condo community has additional amenities such as pools, fitness centers, tennis courts, or a clubhouse, these are able to be kept up from a portion of the association fee. If these additional amenities are not something that interest you, than it is important to understand you are still paying for these amenities to be offered to other residents.
Review The Association Rules Before Buying a Condo!
Review Association Rules
Seeing as most condos are in close proximity to one another, the communities association will have rules and regulations. Due to this, many associations will have lots of different rules and regulations, in order to “keep the peace” in the community! It’s important to understand that unlike a single family home, you cannot make your own rules and do whatever you want. In many cases, buyers don’t care to review the association rules and have their attorney review on their behalf instead.
Many communities will restrict the type of pets or if any pets are allowed period. The last thing you want to find out is your animal is not allowed in the community! Other common rules in many condo communities relate to whether a unit can be rented or not or whether there are quiet hours. If you have ever had to deal with a bad neighbor in the past, you can understand why these rules are such an important part of a condo community!
Ask About Special Assessments
First it’s important to understand what a special assessment is. A special assessment is typically a large fee that is charged to cover a significant project within the community. An example of a significant project that would be considered a special assessment, is a structural repair to the condo.
Why is this an important tip for a first time condo buyer? If a special assessment is in the future plans, it’s possible that the association fees can raise for a specific period of time. For example, a condo with a monthly association fee of $400 could increase to $500 for a year to cover the expense of a roof replacement. Any planned special assessments should be provided to a potential purchaser with full disclosure.
Research Maintenance and Management Company
Knowing who maintains the property is extremely important! Who is in charge of cleaning the common areas? Is the work completed by an outside company or are the residents of the community encouraged to help with the upkeep? A condo community that is not well maintained can be very frustrating and can also effect the resale of the condo in the future!
Most condo communities have a management company. The management company is normally in charge of day-to-day operations. This can include enforcing the association rules and regulations, handling questions from residents, and handling the condos finances. When buying your first condo or tenth condo, if you have questions regarding the community rules, regulations, or fees, the management company is whom you should speak with. As you can see, the management company plays a vital part in whether a condo community is successful or not. If the management company is non-responsive or has a bad reputation, this is something that you should consider prior to purchasing!
Predict Your Future Plans
Predict the future? Foolish, I know! It’s impossible to know exactly what is going to occur in the future, but most people have a plan for their future. This should be no different when buying your first condo!
A condo's value typically will not appreciate as much as a single family residence. This is why it’s important to have a good idea what your future plans are. If you plan on remaining in the condo for ten years, then the rate of appreciation is not as important if you plan on moving in a year or two. Just like knowing what the future will hold for you, it’s impossible to know what will happen to market values in the coming years.
The above 10 tips for buying your first condo are all equally important considerations to make prior to closing! Buying your first condo can be a very exciting time and can be a relatively smooth process! By following the above 10 tips you will be very happy and comfortable in your condo, should you decide to go that route.
A Punch List for Party Decorating
Make your life easier while making your home nicer, with these design details you'll really appreciate
Here are eight little touches you won't know you can't live without until you live with them. 1. A built-in dish soap dispenser
. Because I don't care how nice the bottle is; it's just one more thing cluttering up your countertop. 2. Soft-close hinges.
It is impossible to slam a drawer or cabinet in a kitchen with them. Each closes with a small whisper. It's calming somehow. 3. Large kitchen drawers.
Looking down into a well-lit space is much better than looking deep into a dark cabinet. 4. Undercabinet lighting.
Very useful for task lighting and mood lighting. But spring for LEDs. They are worth the extra expense. 5. Dimmer switches.
Because there are a thousand stops between on and off. 6. A garage keypad.
You will never be locked out of your house again. 7. A motion-activated porch light.
You will never fumble in the dark for your keys again. 8. An automatic drip system.
It makes the yard nicer, the plants healthier and your life easier.7 Ways to Design Your Kitchen to Help You Lose Weight
In his new book, Slim by Design
, eating-behavior expert Brian Wansink shows us how to get our kitchens working better
Your kitchen might be the workhorse room in your home, but it also might be working against you and your waistline. That’s the scenario Brian Wansink — a professor at Cornell University and the director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, where he’s the leading expert in eating behavior — presents in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life
(September 23, 2014, HarperCollins, $26.99).
The book is divided into chapters on how the design of restaurants, supermarkets, lunchrooms and our home kitchens affects our mindless eating habits, those triggers that cause us to eat more, snack more and eventually gain weight.
Have an all-white kitchen? Do you keep cereal in view? Got a TV and big comfy chairs in your kitchen? Then you’ve got several booby traps that might cause you to eat more without even realizing it.
“Things aren’t determined by our tastebuds’ being fixed,” Wansink says. “It’s factors around us. Color, light, the size of our plates, a cereal box — knowing how these things influence us, we can reengineer our environments to mindlessly eat better and eat less instead of relying on willpower alone.”
Here are a few tips from the book:
1. Take all food off the counter unless it’s fruit. In what’s referred to as the Syracuse study, Wansink and his research team visited 240 homes and measured and photographed everything. They documented plate size, whether there were TVs in the kitchen, spice racks, radios, you name it.
After eight months of analyzing the photos and data, one of the things they found was that food on the counter is really bad. Women who had a box of cereal visible anywhere on average weighed 21 pounds more than a neighbor who didn’t.
In another study the team moved the candy dishes from on top of the desks of 40 administrative assistants to inside their desks. The average assistant ate 74 fewer calories each day. “The equivalent of not gaining 5 or 6 pounds over the next year,” Wansink writes. “The best thing you can do is not to have food sitting out in the kitchen, unless it rhymes with roots and wedgies.”
2. Get rid of the clutter. It’s not just food working against you, either. All those piles of mail and newspapers and gadgets aren’t doing you any good. Wansink has found that in cluttered environments, people eat 44 percent more snacks than those in a clutter-free environments.
3. Paint your kitchen anything but white. OK, this is a tough one. According to a Houzz survey, almost 75 percent of homeowners prefer a soft and neutral kitchen. But Wansink has found that white and bright spaces tend to stimulate eating.
But the opposite spaces are bad too. Really dark rooms with low lighting and soft music tend to slow people down, causing them to linger and eat for an average of nine minutes longer. “The darker the space, the longer you stick around and the more likely you are to break down and have another serving,” says Wansink, adding that an in-between color is best. His own kitchen is pumpkin colored. “It’s in between two evils,” he says. “Gold, green, blue, tan, earth tones — those are all good. Any color seems to work other than white or cream.”
Another trend is the decline of the dining room. Wansink says one of the best strategies is to eat in the dining room, because you’re farther from the food.
4. Make your kitchen less lounge friendly. This is another suggestion that goes against what many homeowners seem to want in their kitchens.
These days the kitchen is the hub of the home, where kids do homework, where messages get posted and, yes, even where TV watching occurs. But, according to Wansink, this all creates a pitfall when it comes to snacking. “The more you hang out in your kitchen, the more you’ll eat,” he writes.
When people removed things like TVs, iPads and comfortable chairs, they reported that they spent 18 fewer minutes in the kitchen each day. “That’s less munching on cereal, chips and Samoa cookies,” he writes.
5. Make it easier to cook. Wansink admits that the science isn’t as strong here, but it’s based on a few trends he and his team have observed about what people say they do.
Things like making it easy to prep food, especially vegetables, making sure your fridge door swings directly open to the sink and having bright halogen spotlights, music playing and a prep space for a helpful friend, spouse or kid — these things entice people to cook more fresh food at home.
(He notes that the direction of a fridge door can be switched for $40 unless it’s a side-by-side model.)
6. Rearrange your food. You’re three times more likely to eat the first food you see in the cupboard than the fifth one, Wansink has found. That means if the first thing you see is a bag of chips, look out. Instead, make sure the healthy foods are the first ones you see and toss the chips and cookies in the back.
After people moved their fruits and veggies from the crisper to the top shelf in the fridge and the less healthy foods into the crisper, they reported eating three times as many fruits and veggies.
Wansink sometimes even suggests moving the pantry to another room far away from the kitchen. (The pantry becomes the coatroom, say, and the coatroom becomes the pantry.) Or putting shelves or cabinets in a laundry room — or in a basement, which is what Wansink and his family did to make the pantry less browsable for snacks, and to give them a few more steps of exercise.
Why not just vanquish tempting foods? “First, it’s fine to have an occasional treat,” he writes. “Second, it’s not realistic if you have growing kids who constantly forage and bring friends over to feast.” For this try setting up a designated “kids’ cupboard that’s off-limits to you,” he recommends.
7. Reconsider your plate size. Most dinner plates are 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Since we subconsciously fill up our plates — and we tend to eat more than 90 percent of what’s on our plates — plate size can affect the amount of calories you’re eating. It works like this: “Two ounces of cooked pasta is about 1 cup, has around 300 calories and looks huge on a 10-inch plate,” Wansink writes. “The same 2 ounces on a 12-inch plate — the size most of us have — looks like a measly appetizer, so we serve ourselves another spoonful. If we do that just once a day, we’ll eat about 80 extra calories. If we eat off these plates for three meals a day, it quickly adds up.”
A small difference can make a big impact, though. A 9- to 10-inch plate will allow you to eat less. Wansink warns that if you go below 9 inches, you will likely realize you’re being fooled and will go back for more servings. If you use a larger serving bowl, you’ll end up dishing out 17 percent more. Use a large serving spoon, and you’ll take on 14 percent more calories. Glasses, too. You’ll pour more juice or wine into a bigger glass than a smaller one. You’ll pour more into a wider one than a narrow one. “When it comes to setting your dining room table, think small,” Wansink writes.
Wansink is the first to admit that nobody is perfect and that it’s impossible to do everything. He’s developed a 100-point checklist, featured in the book, that allows homeowners to gauge how well their kitchen is working for them. It contains phrases like, “There is a blender on the counter” and “A fruit bowl is visible.” Check fewer than 40, and your kitchen is working against you. Above 60 and it’s working for you. (I scored a 48. Wansink’s family got an 83.)
“People who don’t have a microwave or keep their microwave in a different room tend to weigh less,” he says. “They cook more from scratch and eat fewer pre-prepared foods. So you can move your microwave to another room. But not everyone is going to do that. That’s fine. There are 99 other things you can do too.”
And Wansink knows what you’re thinking: Now that you know all of this, you won’t snack so much, right? Wrong. “During the day’s chaos, our automatic behaviors lead us to make the same mindless eating mistakes we’ve always made,” he says. “We suffer — and so do our kids. It’s really difficult to become slim by willpower. It’s a lot easier to become slim by design. You change it once and forget about it.”
How to Pick the Right Kind of Paint
Choose a paint with some heft and a little sheen for walls and ceilings with long-lasting good looks. Here are some getting-started tips
Although there’s no such thing as an indestructible interior, there are steps you can take to make your home stand up better to kids and pets. One key element is the kind of paint you choose. The right blend, finish and color can make a difference in how the paint wears and resists grime and abuse.
Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice.
Not all paints are created equal. In the world of paint, price is usually a good determinant of quality, says Robin Daly, the president (aka “Paint Princess”) of Daly’s Paint & Decorating. So is weight. A good-quality paint contains less water, more solids and a finer quality of titanium oxide and resin. That means more of the color actually ends up on the wall, giving you a more durable surface. It will also maintain its looks longer.
Oil change. The most common types of paint are oil based and water borne. (You might know the latter as latex, but nowadays it’s typically an acrylic-based paint, which wears better.) While oil-based paint has traditionally been the tougher of the two, advances in water-borne paint have made it nearly as durable, and you don’t have to suffer through the painstaking cleanup, smell, yellowing and environmental hazard that you get with oil-based paints. (To reduce environmental impact even more, choose a low-VOC or no-VOC paint that produces fewer volatile organic compounds.)
There are times when oil based is better, Daly concedes. But in most applications, a water-borne paint should be your first choice.
The big finish. In high-traffic areas or rooms that will be used by children and pets, go for a paint with a little sheen, because it will be easier to clean. “With families and dogs, you want something durable, but you don’t want it to look like that first apartment you rented, with shiny walls,” says Daly. That’s why she recommends an eggshell finish, which has the least possible sheen but is easier to clean than flat paint, and has a smooth surface (unlike flat), so dirt has nothing to grab on to.
Satin, the paint with the next-higher level of shine, is also an option, although some consider the finish a little colder. The reflective finish also tends to make imperfections in walls easier to see.
Touch-ups. Despite your best efforts, kids will be kids, and the wall might get soiled, burnished or drawn upon. Daly’s first line of defense for cases like that is Krud Kutter, a nontoxic cleaner that removes almost anything you throw at it. (In fact, she gives it to newlyweds as a gift.)
If Krud Kutter doesn’t “kut” it, you may need to repaint the damaged area. That’s harder than it sounds, as it’s difficult to paint a small area without the patch showing. The new coating will affect the thickness of the paint and the density of the color, causing the area to reflect light differently.
You best bet is to repaint that whole section of wall. If you don’t want to do that, try feathering the edges of the patch into the surrounding area, using a disposable foam brush. The touch-up will be easier to hide on light- or medium-colored surfaces.
Alternative easels. Amy Luff of Viva Luxe Studios in Virginia likes to placate budding Picassos by giving them a place where it’s OK to draw on the walls. Cover a surface in their bedroom or the family room with chalkboard paint or dry-erase paint, and turn them loose — with the understanding that that’s the only place in the house where drawing on the walls is permitted.
And if all else fails, Daly says, “keep the Sharpies stored somewhere else.”
Color. Don’t feel like you have to go with a neutral just because you have kids who leave dirty fingerprints. “I wouldn’t get hung up on getting gray or beige to hide things,” says Sherri Blum of Jack and Jill Interiors, a Pennsylvania nursery design company. “If you want bright white, just do it — just get a really high-quality paint in a satin finish.”
If you want a color, you’ll have fewer problems if you avoid darker colors. A wall that’s red, for instance, will often get a shiny mark — called a burnish — if you rub against it. Pale colors and midtones are less susceptible to burnishing.
Don’t forget the ceiling. Bouncing balls and wads of Play-Doh have a habit of finding their way onto the ceiling, so minimize damage by using one of the new washable flat paints there. And, again, go with a good-quality paint if you can afford it, as it will provide better protection from abuse.
Protect Yourself When Buying a Fixer-Upper
Hidden hazards can derail your dream of scoring a great deal. Before you plunk down any cash, sit down with this
A fixer-upper can often seem like a first-time homebuyer’s dream: an older home with great bones that simply needs an update or perhaps a few tweaks to its layout.
Unfortunately, even seemingly straightforward projects can be fraught with hidden problems discovered once work begins. While disclosure laws seek to protect homebuyers, sellers can always claim ignorance to problems like lead paint, and disclosures on distressed and bank-owned properties are nowhere near as complete as they are for traditional sales.
But that doesn’t mean you have to risk getting stuck with a money pit. Here are five ways to project yourself when buying a fixer-upper.
1. Look out for lead paint. If you’re buying a home that was built before 1978, it may contain some lead paint. “You will often find lead in exterior siding; wood window frames and sills; old solid-core door frames, jambs and the doors themselves; and painted walls and ceilings in kitchens and bathrooms,” says Dan Ventura of Hawk Environmental Services.
While it’s mandatory for sellers to disclose whether they have knowledge of any lead paint present in their house, they are required to do so only when they’ve specifically tested for it, and the law does not require that a test be performed.
“Lead paint isn’t a hazard until it’s chipping, flaking or chalky,” Ventura says. Which is exactly what will happen if you disturb those surfaces during a remodel.
Fortunately, you can easily look for clues that lead paint may have been used in the home. If the house was recently remodeled, lead paint dust may be present, so request a lead-dust-wipe analysis as a contingency of sale. During this noninvasive test, an inspector will swipe a section of floor with a special wipe and test the dust it gathers for lead.
Another option is to request an XRF test, in which the inspector uses a special tool to search for lead. “This allows us to test all the surfaces in the home and produce a spreadsheet report of exact lead content and locations,” says Ventura.
This option is much more expensive than the first, though, costing anywhere between $650 and $1,000 for an average residence, as opposed to just $100 for a swipe test.
Ventura also recommends walking the perimeter of the home to look for paint chips. If you see some, request that the soil be tested for lead, as well.
It’s also smart to request soil tests for areas where you might be considering a vegetable garden or a child’s play area. “Those areas have different thresholds for what’s accepted,” says Ventura.
2. Check for asbestos. “Asbestos may be present in any building material that is not wood, metal or glass,” says Ventura. While we often look for asbestos in materials like popcorn ceilings or vinyl tiles, it can often lurk in unexpected places, like specialty textures, appliance components and insulation.
Ventura says one easy way to check for asbestos is to pull the metal caps from the heating registers and look inside. “Sometimes they’ll scrape the popcorn ceiling, and they won’t do it properly for asbestos,” says Ventura. “Guys that are doing a halfway job like that usually don’t cover up the registers, and you’ll find popcorn dust in the registers.”
Be aware that asbestos is still legal for use in certain building materials, like some roof patches, but it’s much more likely to be present in homes built or remodeled before 1981.
When you’re dealing with a house that predates that year, you might want to consider asbestos testing as a contingency, but you’ll need to get permission first, because testing is a destructive process that requires removing certain materials.
3. Hunt for mold. Notice a musty smell? Start looking for flood damage and mold. Telltale signs of water damage include wall stains and swollen baseboards. You should also look for signs of a cover-up.
“I like to look for sections of baseboard and trim that don’t match the rest of the room, pull toe-kick registers in kitchen cabinetry and look under them, and pull drawers out of kitchen cabinetry and look at the Sheetrock in back of the drawer,” says Ventura. “I also look at baseboards and sheet vinyl flooring around bathtubs and showers to make sure there’s no staining, discoloration or inflammation, as well as any unusual patches in walls.”
He also recommends checking trim flooring in and around any door leading to an outdoor space, and insisting that your home inspector get into every attic and crawl space to look for water damage there.
If you still can’t find the source of the smell, Ventura says you might not have to worry. Older carpets and furnishings — especially in basements — tend to hold humidity in benign ways, thus creating that musty smell.
4. Check for broken bones. Look closely at the roof. Is it sagging? This is a sign of weakened or faulty roof material, or that the structure is simply too weak to support the weight of the roof, both of which are expensive problems to fix.
Make sure the floors are level. Uneven floors can also be evidence of a structural problem or an issue with the soil the home is built on.
You should also take a peek inside the electrical box. If it’s a mess, that’s a good indication that you’re going to have to do some rewiring.
And if the home has ever been remodeled, make sure it’s properly ventilated. Ventura says he’s worked on many houses that had recently been flipped, and the flipper had tightened the building envelope without adding new heating or ventilation. As a result, the off-gassing from the new paint and carpeting made the new residents sick.
“Invariably, a lot of it leads back to ventilation,” he says.
5. Have a chat with the planning department. Bill Fry of Bill Fry Construction warns that skipping this simple step can cost many homeowners their dreams. For example, the water department may not allow you to add a bathroom. And then there’s the problem of additional square footage. “In many municipalities, adding on 500 square feet or more is a magic number where more requirements kick in, such as fire sprinklers, which need to be anticipated in your budget,” Fry says.
STAGING PITFALLS TO AVOID WHEN SELLING YOUR HOME
Here the six biggest pitfalls sellers often fall
prey to when they are staging their home.
1. Don’t Be Dull
Avoid the pitfall of “home hotel décor.” The purpose of staging is not to make the home boring and bland. The goal
of staging is to get the potential buyer to feel that the home looks nice all the time, so it should feel like real—but
incredibly neat!—people live there. Remember, a few spots of color photograph well and will stand out in listing
photos. Simple touches add interest, like a red throw pillow or a turquoise fruit bowl—just don’t go too wild.
2. Selling with Smell
When you’re selling a home while you’re still living there, sometimes it can be tough to keep a listing in tip-top
shape for spur of the moment showings. Of course, no one wants a home to smell like last night’s dinner when a
potential buyer arrives. But many sellers overcompensate with potpourri and air fresheners. Beware of
overwhelming a serious buyer with seriously strong scents. A home should smell fresh and clean, but not heavily
perfumed. A seller’s best bet is to invest in a deep clean to remove lingering smells and avoid cooking anything too
potent during the list time.
3. The Sound of Music
Leaving mood music playing during a showing is likely to backﬁre. You won’t be able to guess the buyer’s musical
tastes, and you risk making them feel like you’re manipulating them.
4. The Elephant Graveyard
Sometimes it’s necessary for the homeowners to move out before the house sells. But too many sellers take their
best furniture and possessions with them to their new home, leaving only the most run-down furniture behind. In
a sparsely furnished house, it’s even more important that the pieces left behind are tasteful and add to the
ambiance of the home. The old sectional sofa sitting forlornly in an empty living room will just make the house feel
abandoned. The house should be well furnished or completely empty. Not somewhere in between.
5. Wasting Money on the Wrong Renovations
Many sellers undertake huge projects right before they sell, but it’s hard to guess which renovations will provide
the greatest return on your investment. Small touches like new cabinet hardware or new light ﬁxtures might go a
long way toward making the home feel up to date, without doing a major renovation costing tens of thousands of
dollars. Sellers should depend on their agent to help determine how much updating is needed so the home will
sell easily in the current market.
6. Remove Clutter, Don’t Just Move it Around
When it comes to selling a home, less is more. An uncluttered home makes listing photos more attractive, which
translates to more showings, and it makes the house feel open and airy. But it rarely works to try to hide the
clutter. A serious buyer will want to look under the hood, kick the tires a little. That means they’ll explore the
basement, open up your closets, and even look under your sink. So it’s important to that get rid of or store extra
belongings. It might seem like a lot of work, but it will make it easier to move out once the you get the oﬀer you’ve
been waiting for.
Freshen Up On The 7 Financial Benefits of Home Ownership This Tax Season
The financial benefits of homeownership are evident year round, but particularly around tax time – they seem to jump off the page. Let’s examine how homeownership makes “cents” – from the tax benefits, to good old fashioned financial stability.
1. Homeownership Builds Wealth Over Time
We were always taught growing up that owning a home is a financially savvy move. Our parents knew it, and their parents knew it. But this past decade of real estate turbulence has shaken everyone’s confidence in homeownership. That is why it’s so important that we discuss this again now that we’re in a ‘new market.’ Homeownership can be a very savvy financial move – but only if people buy homes they can actually afford. In 2014, this idea of sticking to a home you can afford to gradually build wealth is a “rule” that just happens to be new and old at the same time.
2. You Build Equity Every Month
Your equity in your home is the amount of money you can sell it for minus what you still owe on it. Every month you make a mortgage payment, and every month a portion of what you pay reduces the amount you owe. That reduction of your mortgage every month increases your equity. That is especially true now with the elimination of risky mortgages like negative amortized and interest-only loans – thanks to the new “Qualified Mortgage” rules. The way mortgages work is that the principal portion of your payment increases slightly every month year after year. It’s lowest on your first payment and highest on your last payment. Thus, as the months and years go by, your equity grows!
3. You Reap Mortgage Tax Deduction Benefits
Mortgage deduction: The tax code allows homeowners to deduct the mortgage interest from their tax obligations. For many people this is a huge deduction, since interest payments can be the largest component of your mortgage payment in the early years of owning a home.
Some closing cost deductions: The first year you buy your home, you are able to claim the points (also called origination fees) on your loan, no matter whether they are paid by you or the seller. And because origination fees of 1 percent or more are common, the savings are considerable.
Property tax is deductible: Real estate property taxes paid on your primary residence and a vacation home are fully deductible for income tax purposes.
4. Tax Deductions on Home Equity Lines
In addition to your mortgage interest, you can deduct the interest you pay on a home equity loan (or line of credit). This allows you to shift your credit card debts to your home equity loan, pay a lower interest rate than the horrendously exorbitant credit card interest rates, and get a deduction on the interest as well.
5. You Get a Capital Gains Exclusion
If you buy a home to live in as your primary residence for more than two years then you will qualify. When you sell, you can keep profits up to $250,000 if you are single, or $500,000 if you are married, and not owe any capital gains taxes. Now, it may sound ridiculous that your house could be worth more than when you purchased it after these past several years of falling house prices. However, if you purchased your home anytime prior to 2003, chances are it has appreciated in value and this tax benefit will come in very handy.
6. A Mortgage Is Like a Forced Savings Plan
Paying that mortgage every month and reducing the amount of your principal is like a forced savings plan. Each month you are building up more valuable equity in your home. In a sense, you are being forced to save—and that’s a good thing.
7. Long Term, Buying Is Cheaper than Renting
In the first few years, it may be cheaper to rent. But over time, as the interest portion of your mortgage payment decreases, the interest that you pay will eventually be lower than the rent you would have been paying. But more importantly, you are not throwing away all that money on rent. You gotta live someplace, so instead of paying off your landlord’s home or building, pay off your own!