Love it or list it?

Move-Up Or Remodel? How Do You Decide?

Huffington Post | May 15, 2013 | link

The signs have been there for a while. You walk in the house and a flood of toys clutters your path or your kids are wedged like sardines into a single bedroom. Your home office is more like a home closet. At odd moments, you catch yourself dreaming wistfully of another bathroom or find yourself watching marathons of “Love It or List It.” Maybe it’s time to move, but you aren’t sure if it is time to leap.

With all the talk of a seller’s market many people are considering listing their homes. March data from realtor.com showed that many of the 146 markets monitored have experienced an increase in list price year over year. Spring homebuying season is in full swing and while getting a loan is still a challenge, there are some signs that banks are easing their requirements just a bit. The New York Times reported that some credit unions are offering 100 percent financing in areas where home values have stabilized or are rising and overall those with an average or even slightly below average credit situation have a better shot than they have in years.

Things are also changing on the remodeling side. People are far more prudent today than they were during the housing bubble where extravagant renovations were more the norm. Today’s remodel is a different from the luxury remodels of a few years ago. Homeowners still want to renovate but they are often smarter about it with an eye toward finding a balance between livability and resale value. A recent Marketwatch story on the rise in remodeling projects noted that owners are often choosing more simple projects, doing mini-remodels rather than expensive total renovations.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider the remodel or move conundrum.

1) Do you love your neighborhood?
It’s important to think about your house frustrations and your neighborhood as two separate things. Take the house out of the equation for a moment. How do you feel about the neighborhood? Is it convenient to your job and places you like to go? If you have kids do they love their school, do they have a lot of friends nearby? Do you have lots of ties to this particular neighborhood? How long have you lived here? Are you ready for a change? If you remodel your house it should be a decision based on the fact that you plan to spend a lot more time in the home rather than planning to move soon.

2) What needs to be changed?
How drastic a remodel would it take for you to be happy in your home? Is there room to add on or to reutilize existing space such as finishing a basement, attic, or screened-in porch? If you are looking at adding on a room that is generally a significant expense and one that may not be worth it in the long run. In Remodeling Magazine‘s Cost vs. Value report for 2013, an attic bedroom costs an average of $47,919 and has a 72.9 percent return on investment whereas a master suite addition costs $101,873 and offers only a 63.2 percent return on investment. A bathroom addition with an average cost of $37,501 only brings $20,569 in returns.

3) Will you need even more space soon?
Are you planning to expand your family? Is it your dream to work from home? Is a family member taking up a hobby that needs a lot of room? It’s impossible to predict the future but if you think you may need even more space in a year or two it may be time to start looking for something that will accommodate your upcoming needs rather than attempting a remodel. This is a good conversation to have with the whole family.

4) How’s the market in your area?

If you were to sell now would you be able to make money that you could put toward the purchase of another home? How much equity do you have in the home? One reason that many people are facing this decision currently is that interest rates are still low making now a good time to buy a home. You may want to bring in a realtor to do a market analysis. The realtor can tell you what your home should be listed for and can let you know about other homes on the market in the area. Right now some markets are experiencing low inventory so it can be a good time to list.

Low inventory also means that good homes that list at a fair price are snapped up quickly so if you decide to list you need to be aware that your home might sell quickly and that as a buyer you could be facing potential multiple offer situations. You can use the realtor.com data portal to check out what the median price, total listings, and age of inventory in 146 markets. This can give you an idea of what you might be facing if you put your home on the market.

Making this decision requires a lot of number-crunching. Bringing in a contractor to advise you on the cost of your potential remodel and working with a realtor on a potential sale will give you the data you need to decide whether it’s time to stay or go.

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Remodel 101: We’re on your side

Builder Confidence Improves in May

RIS Media | May 15, 2013 | link

contractor on construction site [1]Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes improved three points to a 44 reading on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) for May, released recently. This gain, from a downwardly revised 41 in April, reflected improvement in all three index components – current sales conditions, sales expectations and traffic of prospective buyers.

“Builders are noting an increased sense of urgency among potential buyers as a result of thinning inventories of homes for sale, continuing affordable mortgage rates and strengthening local economies,” notes National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. “This is definitely an encouraging sign even amidst rising challenges with regard to the cost and availability of building materials, lots and labor.”

“While industry supply chains will take time to re-establish themselves following recession-related cutbacks, builders’ views of current sales conditions have improved and expectations for the future remain quite strong as consumers head back to the market in force,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 25 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

All three HMI components posted gains in May. The index gauging current sales conditions increased four points to 48, while the index gauging expectations for future sales edged up a single point to 53 – its highest level since February of 2007. The index gauging traffic of prospective buyers gained three points to 33.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, no movement was recorded in the Northeast, Midwest or South, which held unchanged at 37, 45 and 42, respectively. Only the West recorded a decline, of six points to 49 in May.

Remodel 101: Take it from the pros

Remodeling? Avoid These Costly Mistakes

Vera Gibbons | Zillow | May 27, 2013 | link

Hammer on cashWhile many Americans are ready to take on remodeling/renovation projects this spring, doing it the wrong way can be costly. Some errors to avoid:

Not knowing exactly what you want

If you don’t know exactly what you want or specify what you want, you’re going to get what the contractor thinks you want. And it could end up costing you dearly! For home remodeling design ideas, inspiration and a whole lot more (including cost estimates), check out Zillow Digs (free on the iPad or the Web). You can search by style, cost or room. And what’s really cool is that you can search by specific elements within a room, such as quartz or granite countertops, for example. Share your boards with your contractor so that you’re clear on your objectives.

Hiring the first contractor who comes along

Sure, he may seem nice, and he may seem competent, but have you checked him out? What do your friends say about him? Have you contacted his references? Seen his work? Are there any complaints lodged against him? (P.S.: The Better Business Bureau just released its top 10 list of inquiries from consumers, and half relate to home improvement.) What do subcontractors and suppliers have to say about their dealings with him? Is he licensed and insured? As excited as you may be about taking on this new project, you need to do a fair amount of due diligence.

Jumping at the lowest bid

Get at least three bids, and throw out the lowest one so as to avoid the inevitable consequence: cheap materials, shoddy installation, etc. Don’t invite trouble in! Rather, hire someone who not only comes in within target, price-wise, but is someone you feel personally comfortable with.

Not insisting on a written contract

Every detail about your project should be included in a contract, from the start date to the approximate completion date, right down to the brand of fixtures to the number of coats of paint. Be as specific as possible! Also important: setting a time limit for fixing defects so that if a dispute arises, it’s not endless.

Not setting a payment schedule

How you pay a contractor is almost as important as how much. Spell out the payment schedule in the contract, beginning with the amount to be paid upfront (which should be no more than 30 percent).  Periodic payments after the work starts should correspond to completed segments of the project. And the best way to ensure that work gets done when and how you want it? Leave a significant sum (at least 10 percent) to be paid only when the job is completed to your satisfaction.

So over stainless steel?

Can Stainless Be Dethroned as King of the Kitchen?

Mary Boone | Zillow | December 26, 2012 | link

The kitchen in a Phoenix home for sale.

Not so long ago, a repairman could tell the age of an appliance by the color of its finish. If it was avocado or harvest gold, it had to be from the 1970s or early ’80s. Poppy red meant the appliance was made in the 1970s, and harvest wheat, coffee or almond meant your oven or fridge was new in the early 1980s.

Stainless appliances first burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, and they’ve had a remarkable run. But there are those in the industry who sense “stainless fatigue” among homeowners.

It should come as no surprise, then, that major manufacturers have their own ideas about the next hot appliance finishes:

Slate could be great  

In September, GE introduced a new finish called “Slate” across its line of appliances.

The company’s news release about the launch details how its industrial designers spent countless hours conducting consumer research and reviewing design trends in the kitchen, home furnishings, home entertainment products, and automotive interiors and exteriors.

The result was Slate, a warm, gray metallic with a low-gloss finish that is a natural complement to the wide spectrum of wall colors, countertop materials and floor/cabinetry finishes found in today’s homes.

“As people transition their kitchen appliances over time, it was important to us to find a finish from a palette that is timeless and harmonious, yet distinctive,” said Lou Lenzi, whose team of designers created the new finish. “Slate is a universal, neutral finish that will suit consumers who want a premium finish that can complement or even replace stainless steel.”

Ice may be nice

Whirlpool Corp. introduced its “Ice Collection” of appliances in July, including a glossy white finish for dishwashers, microwave ovens, ranges and refrigerators.

“White is the new stainless,” the company’s news release said. The collection also includes a sleek Black Ice finish.

Patrick Schiavone, Whirlpool’s vice president of global consumer design, has said he “is over” stainless steel and set out to update the style and appearance of black and white appliances. The collection is defined by silver accents, elegant lines, sleek handles and streamlined controls.

Is black back?  

When high-end cooking appliances manufacturer Wolf introduced its newest model in early 2012, its news release boldly proclaimed: “Black is the New Stainless Steel.”

The company’s Black Glass model comes adorned with a black glass tubular handle and cobalt blue interior. In addition to the oven, Wolf is also offering black glass trim kits for its warming drawers and convection and standard microwaves.

“Our commitment to design has always been on par with Wolf’s dedication to innovation and quality,” Michele Bedard, vice president of marketing for Sub-Zero and Wolf, said in a news release. “Introducing a new finish elevates the line and opens a whole new realm of design possibilities for designers and consumers alike.”

Can color triumph?  

Viking Range Corp. offers 23 color alternatives to stainless steel in its high-end open-burner range; the company most recently expanded its palette of finishes to include Cinnamon, Dijon, Kettle Black and Wasabi.

All those choices, yet stainless steel reigns supreme.

“I’d say 80 percent of our sales are still stainless steel,” says Brent Bailey, design director at Viking Range. “I could add another 100 colors, and the percentage wouldn’t change much.”

Treat yourself like a chef…

Create a Pro-Style Kitchen in Your Home

 Mary Boone | Zillow | May 6, 2013 | link

Homeowners who regularly cook and entertain need kitchen spaces that are functional, efficient and beautiful. Even if your culinary creations are more often inspired by Chef Boyardee than Chef Gordon Ramsey, the right layout, surfaces, sinks, storage and appliances can make your kitchen a star.

The terms “chef’s kitchen” and “gourmet kitchen” are tossed around a lot these days. Within the real estate world, they generally indicate high-quality finishes and professional-grade appliances. In a broader sense, they indicate the use of features — such as open storage and easy-clean surfaces — that chefs use in their professional kitchens. Incorporating some of these professional-style amenities will go a long way toward making your new or remodeled kitchen a place where culinary magic happens.

Sink sensations

Kitchen faucet

A restaurant-style sprayer adds a professional element to this custom kitchen by designer Amy Troute.

Want to speed through prep and cooking without spreading germs throughout the kitchen? Touchless faucets have sensors that allow you to turn them on or off with a wave of your hand. A number of manufacturers offer these high-tech faucets; check out Kohler’s Sensate or Moen’s MotionSense to see a sampling of what’s available.

If you’re serious about cleanup, you might want to install a restaurant-style sprayer. These faucets, priced between $600 and $1,200, generally have a high-arc spout with a high-pressure pullout nozzle to blast food off plates. Traditional commercial faucets are too large for most residential situations, but some manufacturers, such as Blanco have created smaller versions of these pro-style sprayers for use in home kitchens.

Of course, you’ll need a pro-style sink to go with your pro-style faucet. Deep, wide bowls with flat sides and slightly curved corners provide maximum usable space and easy cleanup.

Let there be light

LIghting

Recessed lights, pendants, under-cabinet task lighting and a skylight provide plenty of options in this kitchen by Details a Design Firm.

“From recessed to accent and under-cabinet lighting, LED is hot,” said John Petrie, 2013 National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) president-elect. “At our industry trade show, one of our cabinet manufacturer members had integrated LED lighting into the cabinet that turned on and off as the cabinet was accessed. This was a show stopper and very popular.”

The best kitchens have layers of light: Task lighting is essential over prep areas and the cooktop, stylish pendants over the eating space put meals in the best light, while recessed ceiling lights provide overall lighting and ensure there are no dark spots.

Open floor plans

Entertaining kitchen

Two sinks and a massive center island make this kitchen by Mitch Wise Design the perfect space for two chefs to work and entertain.

People who love to cook often love to entertain — or at least interact with the family while they’re cooking. Kitchens that physically flow into family or living spaces make that connectivity possible.

Additionally, many home chefs enjoy the company of others who are passionate about food, so it should be no surprise that there’s increasing demand for gourmet kitchens that can accommodate multiple chefs. Of course, size alone won’t make a kitchen attractive to foodies: The space has to flow efficiently. Consider installing dual sinks, dishwashers and even refrigerators, as well as an island or peninsula that allows for multiple prep areas.

Pro-grade appliances  

Pro Appliances

A pro-grade refrigerator and range up the wow factor in this kitchen by Shuler Architecture.

Professional-grade appliances often take up more space than their standard counterparts, but they can provide extras that — if you really love cooking — make them worthwhile. A pro-grade refrigerator, for instance, allows you to keep plenty of fresh produce and cold beverages on hand. Most models also give you the ability to set separate temperatures for their various compartments.

Drawer-style dishwashers, especially when you install two, can make cleanup more efficient. Similarly, many home chefs have begun to install multiple ovens in their homes; having standard, convection and microwave ovens ensures you’ll always have the right tool for any task. Many of the most well-appointed kitchens feature built-in, integrated appliances.

“While stainless steel finishes remain popular, especially in high-end professional-style appliances, the ability to integrate, or ‘hide,’ your appliances is very popular,” Petrie noted.

Surfaces matter

Countertops

Durable and heat-resistant, soapstone countertops are a sleek addition to this kitchen by Brigid Wethington.

Counter surfaces that can’t have hot pots placed on them will be burned, those that can’t be cut on will be scratched, and those that stain will eventually be discolored. It’s just a matter of fact. If you really use your kitchen, you’ll want to choose the most durable (i.e., heat-resistant, scratch-proof, stain-resistant) surface that fits within your budget.

Petrie says he tries to arm clients with information that allows them to select products that work for them. “For instance, I would discuss their desire for a white marble countertop,” he said. “While the look is fantastic, the attention required to maintain it is much greater than the same look and feel they will get with a manufactured stone product.”

Make it convenient

Open shelving

Chefs can grab pots and pans with ease in this modern kitchen by Todd Davis Architecture.

Most commercial kitchens store dishes, bowls, utensils — everything — on open shelving. Professional chefs, after all, don’t have time to dig through drawers to find whisks or measuring cups. Restaurant-inspired stainless steel shelving may be a little too industrial for many home kitchens. You can soften the look by using wood or painted shelving.

Or, you may decide to forgo open shelving and rely instead on features hidden away inside cabinets, such as roll-out shelves, pull-out spice racks and lazy susans.

Does real really make a difference?

Do artificial lawns impact home values?

Realtor.com | April 12, 2013 | link

We were recently asked whether artificial lawns impact residential home values, and, based on our research, there have been no studies published in trade or academic journals that offer a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

From a review of articles and reports on this topic, some homeowners and buyers may have stigmas against artificial lawns, but there is actually quite a bit of positive literature out there—though no reliable studies specifically discuss return-on-investment or impact on property values.

Some of the results of our literature search on this topic are found below, along with a list of pros and cons of using artificial lawns, summarized from all the sources we reviewed.

Pros:

  • Many articles discuss the “green” or “eco” perspective of artificial lawns, due to water conservation concerns and regulations in many cities
  • Eliminates need for lawn chemicals and pesticides
  • Low maintenance
  • Color stays green year-round
  • Major improvements in artificial turf look over the last several years

Cons:

  • Heat (Lawn temperatures can be much higher than the air temperature)
  • Some concern that artificial turf can contain lead or other harmful chemicals, though the CPSC and EPA have both conducted studies on artificial turf and found no cause for concern
  • Stigma that artificial lawns are “tacky”
  • Some homeowner associations have bans on artificial lawns
  • Increased risk of injury is commonly discussed in cases where artificial turf is used in sports stadiums

Spend smart!

7 smart ways to spend your tax refund

Erin Peterson | Bankrate.com | link

You’ve paid your debt to Uncle Sam all year, so if you get a little cash back as a tax refund, be sure to make the most of it.

In 2009, the average tax refund rose to $2,683 from $2,371 in 2008, according to IRS reports. If recent trends continue, that number could go even higher this year. That kind of money can help give you a serious jump-start on securing your financial future.

Average tax refunds 2005-2009

Source: IRS

Before you buy that new living room couch or book that trip to Disneyland, consider spending your tax refund on things that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Here are seven smart ways to spend your tax refund.

1. Bulk up your emergency fund. Living paycheck to paycheck may have been fine when employment was low and getting credit was easy, but these days, building a financial emergency fund is critical.

“A three-month emergency reserve of all your fixed expenses — mortgage, utilities, food — is ideal,” says Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast in West Palm Beach, Fla. “But even if you only put $1,000 into a savings account, you’ll be better off than a lot of people.”

2. Lighten your debt load. The minimum payment you make on your credit card may seem like no big deal. But over time, the money you spend financing your debt, especially if you have an interest rate of 15 percent or higher, can double or even triple the cost of every item you buy on plastic.

“Your tax refund is an opportunity to make headway on your credit card debt,” says Jerry Love, president and chief executive of Davis Kinard & Co., an accounting and audit firm in Abilene, Texas. “Do you really want to be paying for yesterday’s lunch for the next 18 years?”

3. Invest in your career. Getting a big promotion or shifting to a higher-paying career often requires developing new skills. Spend money on continuing education courses, a weekend conference or an online class to learn a new skill.

“Many continuing education courses start at just a couple of hundred dollars,” says Steven Katz, spokesman for Chicago-based TransUnion’s financial management Web site zendough.com. “Invest in your education and you’ll have more earning power in the future.”

4. Get a home energy audit. Home energy audits can cost anywhere from $25 to several hundred dollars, but the information you get can help you save far more over the long run, says Kip Kiebke, chief executive officer of New Financial You, a credit counseling service in Hartford, Conn. The audit can show you where to seal up leaks and add insulation.

 “With the energy saving measures, utility expenses can be reduced for years, thus saving the homeowner money,” Kiebke says.

5. Add to your retirement account. You have plenty of options for stashing money away for your retirement years, but in general you’ll want to first max out any account that includes an employer match. The free money is just one of the benefits, says Cecere. “Most of the time, that money will come straight from your paycheck so you won’t even see it,” she says.