Cramped cooking space? No big deal. Put these smart and functional tricks to the test.Rethink everything-including the sink–to keep this central space beautiful and functional. These kitchen decorating tricks can help any apartment renter or homeowner.
Hey, Up There
A cabinet hung high in a corner commands attention and draws the eye toward the ceiling. Going with bold wallpaper and art also distract from the size of the room.
An elegant, theatrical color, like this bright pink, gets plenty of attention, and the cheap cupboards almost fade away. Genius!
Out in the Open
These monochromatic shelves show off a tightly edited collection of plates and glasses, all within easy reach.
From the Corner
A bright color puts an exclamation point on a small kitchen and distinguishes it as a separate zone.
A see-through acrylic shelf lightens a confined space and makes an artful collection of dishes appear to float. Less attractive pieces are relegated to the cupboards above.
A scaled-down pedestal table plus comfy stools that stay out of the way turn even a bite-sized kitchen into an eat-in one.
Open shelves of gleaming highballs, a shiny glass-tile backsplash, and stainless-steel countertops create a glowing, mirror-like effect in a streamlined kitchen with an ingratiated two-burner stove and small sink.
Just like on a sweater, broad horizontal stripes make everything seem wider. This black-and-white flooring creates the appearance of space in a narrow galley kitchen.
If you’re looking to sell your home quickly and for top dollar, there are some lesser-known words that match the importance of the famous real estate phrase “location, location, location.” Those all-important words? Curb appeal.
As the saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” When people drive up and first see your house, you want them to think of it immediately as a home that has been maintained and well cared for.
“It’s you putting your best foot forward,” says Christy Biberich, owner of Christy B. Design in Los Angeles who appears on the HGTV show “Brother Vs. Brother.” “We do judge a book by its cover.”
While curb appeal gets buyers in the door, sellers who want to move their homes quickly need to take other steps. The strategy varies by neighborhood and market conditions, but staging a house to appeal to the maximum number of buyers can make difference in how fast the home sells.
“Every property is completely different,” says Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty in San Diego, a company that helps sellers make improvements designed to get them top dollar. “The little things that get people through the front door matter first.”
Obviously you don’t want to spend money that you won’t get back. Christian advises seeing what improvements house flippers are making in your neighborhood. Comparing the sales prices of, say, homes with older kitchens to homes with kitchens that have been updated is also a good idea. If you see about a $50,000 difference, a $25,000 remodel is likely a smart investment. If homes with original kitchens are fetching close to the same price as those with renovated ones, save your money, since sometimes “it also depends on how hot the market is,” Christian says.
You should also spend time scoping out the competition by viewing listings and photos of similar homes for sale and attending open houses in your neighborhood.
Once prospective buyers are inside your home, you want to make sure the entire house puts its best foot forward. That starts with cleaning and decluttering, two improvements that cost little money and provide a big return.
Next, focus on low-cost “transformative improvements,” Biberich says. “The No. 1 thing you can do is paint.” She advises using neutral tones, but that doesn’t have to mean just white and beige, as brown and cream are also safe choices.
Since every dollar counts, hold off on pet projects and only devote your time and money to renovations that’ll bring you a return. “If you’re looking to sell, do not do the improvements that you’ve always wanted to do,” Christian says.
Identity thieves have increased their presence in the housing and rental markets making it even more important for potential homebuyers and renters to do due their diligence and know the warning signs of a scam.
The housing bubble caused many homes to be pushed into foreclosure and the owners into the rental market, and scammers are using a myriad of ways to steal personal information and money from unsuspecting victims. According to Raul Vargas, fraud operations manager for Identity Theft 911, many of the scams are occurring online.
Vargas explains that many of the scams involve an online post about an available property to rent and when someone is interested, the scammer sends a rental or lease agreement that requires a plethora of personal information like birth date, Social Security number and current address. Some even ask for bank account information to verify eligibility. The unsuspecting renter ends up giving up the information hoping
Some scammers post bogus properties online and target renters moving from another city or state. “Everyone renting looks online to find a great price,” and the scammers know that, says Steve Weisman, a college professor at Bentley University and author of 50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age. Typically the fraudster will list a rental online with a market price far lower than others in the area. The listing will have a real address and photographs and the renter will be asked to either wire a deposit or send a money order to hold the rental. “The renter doesn’t get to see the place and the next thing they know they don’t have a place,” says Weisman. “It’s very easy to copy a listing and put up a phony one.”
Scam go both ways: People with a property to rent can also become victims. Weisman cites a popular scam that involves someone living outside the country agreeing to move into a rental unit sight unseen. The “renter” will even send a deposit of six months rent to ease any fear. A few weeks later, the scammer will call to back out of the agreement and tell the landlord to keep two months of the rent for the trouble and send the rest back. The landlord cashes the check, sends the money back and a week later the check bounces. “Even though you waited a few days for the check to clear the bank doesn’t tell you that it’s only provisional credit. The bank takes back the money when the check truly does bounce,” says Weisman.
While scammers have become more sophisticated, renters and landlords can stay one step ahead. Being aware of some red flags will prevent them from losing any money or sacrifice personal. According to Vargas, if the person asks for personal information via the Internet and/or asks you to send money via a money order or a wire transfer ,which isn’t easily traceable, should all serve as red flags. He also recommends never sharing personal information without meeting someone and checking their credentials.
Experts suggest out-of-town movers to work with a licensed agent to find a place to live. To verify if an online posting is legitimate, Weisman recommends searching the address and if it turns up on multiple sites with different names, there’s a strong change the listing is a scam listing. The tax assessor’s office can provide the homeowner’s name of the particular property and many of the offices have websites making it easier for renters to check public information. “Be wary if the place is dramatically priced less than others and always check out who the real owner is,” says Weisman.
Homeowners in West Columbia could see their insurance costs decrease after an improved rating for the city’s fire department.
City officials announced Tuesday that the Insurance Services Office updated West Columbia’s Public Protection Classification to Class 3 for fire suppression, better than the previous rating of Class 4.
The Insurance Services Office is an independent company that provides property and casualty insurance risk data to insurance companies, insurance regulators and communities. Fire suppression ratings are given out based upon a comprehensive analysis of a city’s fire department and its capabilities.
West Columbia Fire Chief Wyatt Coleman said “the ISO’s Public Protection Classification Program plays an important role in the underwriting process at insurance companies … (and) West Columbia’s new ISO rating may mean lower premiums for homeowner’s insurance.”
The updated rating goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.
Coleman said the lower rating is the result of the city’s new aid agreement with Lexington County Fire Services and his “department’s commitment to excellence through cooperative training and improved access to state-of-the-art equipment.”
Factors taken into account by the office’s Public Protection Classification Program include water supply availability from hydrants, water flow, emergency communications and the level of a fire department’s preparedness. Officials look at a city’s equipment, staffing, training opportunities and geographic distribution of fire units when determining an Insurance Services Office rating.
Fall is just around the corner: Time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead. Although autumn can be one of the busiest seasons for homeowners preparing for winter, it’s also the best time to take advantage of the moderate weather to repair any damages before the first frost sets in. Here are some home maintenance ideas that will keep your home running in peak condition all winter long.
Check the foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping. “Caulking and sealing openings is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs,” says Michael Hydeck, Hydeck Design Build, Inc., Telford, PA, and national president, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). “Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold buildup,” he says. “Regardless of whether you live in a cold or warm climate, winter can bring very harsh conditions resulting in water or ice damage. A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.”
Install storm windows and doors and remove screens. Before storing, clean and repair screens, spray with a protective coating and place in a dry area of the basement or garage.
Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings. According to Carl Minchew, director, Benjamin Moore Paints, “Peeling paint is a sign that the existing paint film is failing and can no longer protect the siding of the building. Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.”
Make sure the roof is in good shape. Inspect for missing and loose shingles. “Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs,” says Jay Butch, director, contractor programs for CertainTeed Roofing. “Your roof is your first defense in protecting your home. Without it functioning properly, water damage can occur. This causes deterioration to insulation, wood and drywall, making electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems vulnerable. It’s better to proactively deal with repairs in the fall than to discover a leaky roof during a snowstorm. For safety’s sake, have a licensed, certified roofing professional check the condition of your roof.”
To read the complete article, as published on Zillow.com on Sept. 13th, 2012, please click here.
Landscape lighting can turn a visitor from feeling wary to welcome. It can change the rest of the yard from “Nightmare on Elm Street” to “Some Enchanted Evening,” all with the flip of a switch.
The first step in this transformation is to educate yourself about the possibilities. Because photos rarely do justice illustrating the amazing possibilities of landscape lighting, keep an eye out for good examples when you’re out for an evening stroll or drive.
The strong lights typically used for entrances and to illuminate large areas, such as driveways and decks, are powered by a 120-volt current. A qualified electrician must wire them directly to your circuit box and the cables, held within a protective conduit, must be buried at least 18 inches below ground. If you have these fixtures, make sure they are UL-listed and approved for outdoor use. The 120-v outdoor lights are also preferred for security applications, especially when combined with motion detection.
When less light is sufficient, low-voltage fixtures (12- to 15-v) are the norm. These include accent lights, path lights, and small floodlights. The fixtures are smaller and less obtrusive, use less energy, and are far less worrisome when in wet locations. They can also be plugged into an outdoor receptacle, making them ideal for do-it-yourself installations. The wiring does not require tools, and the cables do not need to be buried.
Solar-powered outdoor lights, a third option, are of course dependent upon exposure to the sun, and are variable with regard to output and when they turn on. They are best used to light paths where they are exposed to full sun throughout the day. Don’t put them in the shade!
Planning for outdoor lighting
Plot out your ideas on graph paper. Draw the footprint of your house to an 1/8-inch scale and sketch in all major landscape elements, including fences, decks, tree, paths, driveways and garden beds. Include the location of any existing or proposed outdoor receptacles as well.
Make notes about what you’d like to illuminate and then decide which fixtures will do the job best. Try to use a variety of lighting techniques. Avoid overly bright and dark areas, and avoid glare for both visitors and your neighbors. Do not place path lights too closely together to avoid the “runway” look. You’ll also have to decide about fixture style, of which there are many!
Types of outdoor lighting fixtures
Entry lanterns or sconces: 120-v fixtures that mount beside doors. They should be either frosted glass or shielded to prevent glare. Their size should be proportional to the height and width of the entry area (often defined by a portico).
Recessed lights: 120-v fixtures typically installed in eaves over decks and garage doors. They provide large pools of light but are mostly hidden. Small, low-voltage recessed lights can be used to light stairs, railings, posts, and built-in deck furniture.
Floodlights: 120-v or low-voltage fixtures used to light wide expanses and large interesting objects, such as driveways, stonework and trees.
Path lights: Usually low-voltage fixtures that illuminate paths by casting small pools of light on the ground. Sometimes, perforations in the light shield allow the lights themselves to be used as guides.
Spot light: Similar to floodlights but with a narrower beam for highlighting a specific object, such as a shrub or statuary.
In-ground light: 120v or low-voltage fixtures that are buried in the ground and covered with a gasketed lens. The beam can be angled slightly to illuminate a wall, tree or fence.
Hanging or pendant lighting: 120-v fixtures that are frequently used for entry or porch lighting. Low-voltage hanging lights strung in trees, arbors and pergolas have become popular as decorative accents.
Tip: You can simulate the effect of many of these lights with a strong flashlight. For an uplighting effect, hold the flashlight below the object or surface you wish to light. For a downlight effect, hold it above. Hold a reflector, such as a piece of white cardboard over the flashlight, and place it beside a path to simulate a path light. If the effects you want to achieve are sophisticated, consider discussing them with a landscape lighting designer.
Are you thinking of buying a home or refinancing the one you own, but unsure if you can handle the costs? Well, good news: There may be some relatively easy savings that you’re missing out on. We tracked down five such savings opportunities. Take a look to see if you can catch a much-needed break.
Tax Deductions for Paying Points
First, let’s define points. This is simply a way for you to “buy” yourself a better interest rate from the lender by giving the lender money up front when you get your mortgage or refinance.
Each point is equal to one percent of the mortgage amount. So, if you borrow $300,000, one point will cost you $3,000.
And what will it get you? Each point you pay will lower your interest rate about an eighth of a percent on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, says Jim Duffy, a senior loan officer with Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc.
But in addition to saving you on the interest rate, that point will save you come tax time. “Points are prepaid interest and may be deductible as home mortgage interest. If you itemize your deductions, you can deduct the interest paid that year for your mortgage,” says Doug Lebda, founder and CEO of LendingTree, an online source for competitive loan offers.
There are some restrictions, such as the home must be your primary residence, and others, which are outlined in the IRS’s Publication 936, a document that outlines the rules for deducting home mortgage interest, says Lebda. But if you’re the average homebuyer, you’ll likely meet the restrictions.
Do you put out fires? Or teach elementary school? Well, you might be entitled to some sweet savings when it comes time to buy a home.
For instance, there are both public and private organizations that offer benefits such as lower fees, better interest rates, less-stringent credit requirements, and more for those serving as firefighters, teachers, police officers, government workers, health care workers, and other professions, says Timothy Manni, the managing editor of HSN.com, an online mortgage resource.
One example is Ohio’s Housing Finance Agency’s Heroes Product, which, among other benefits, offers fire fighters, paramedics, police officers, health care workers, and teachers, interest rates up to a quarter percent lower for first-time buyers.
Another example is Mortgages for Heroes, a private organization that has partnered with local unions to offer similar benefits, including help with less-than-perfect credit, to workers in the same fields as well as municipal employees and veterans.
With such opportunities available, you should make sure you research whether you qualify for special benefits because of your past or present career, says Manni. It could not only help qualify you for a mortgage, but also get you a pretty good deal.
Refinancing to a Lower Interest Rate
If you think the days of refinancing are over because interest rates have inched up, you’re wrong. In fact, rising interest rates could be the very reason you might want to look into refinancing if you already own a home, says Duffy.
Why? Well, most analysts believe that interest rates will rise for the foreseeable future, says Duffy. That means that your ability to lower your interest rate will only lessen or disappear over time if you have a rate higher than today’s average rate, which is 4.10 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage as of August 21, 2014 according to Freddie Mac.
Now for the tricky part. How much do you need to lower your rate by to save money? After all, refinancing does come with a cost, usually around 2 to 3 percent of the refinanced amount, says Duffy. He says that if you can lower your interest rate by 1 percent or more, you should definitely look into refinancing.
However, he is quick to add that every situation is different. For instance, if you plan to sell your home within a few years, you may not have time to recoup the cost of refinancing through a lower monthly payment.
Improving Your Credit
If you’re considering applying for a mortgage or refinancing the one you have, your credit rating is a very important factor. It can determine not only whether or not you get a mortgage, but how low your interest rate will be. So the higher credit rating you have, the lower your rate will be, if all other factors are the same.
Here’s a chart from FICO, a commonly used credit rating agency, that illustrates how your credit score could affect the cost of a $300,000 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.
FICO Score APR Monthly Payment
760-850 3.774% $1,393
700-759 3.996% $1,432
680-699 4.173% $1,462
660-679 4.387% $1,500
640-659 4.816% $1,577
620-639 5.362% $1,677
The chart illustrates the point that credit plays a huge role in what kind of rate you receive as a borrower. But, Lebda explains, “There are some things consumers can do before shopping around to improve credit scores, like paying down credit card debt or consolidating and making payments on time for several months.”
More specifically, if you want to bump up your credit score by as much as 10 points almost overnight, pay down your credit cards to a third of their credit limits, says Ken Lin, CEO of CreditKarma.com, a site where consumers can access their free credit reports.
Here is a simple example of what he means. Say you have two credit cards, each with $5,000 limits and your outstanding balance on each is $2,000. Your total available credit would be $10,000 and your total outstanding balance would be $4,000, or 40 percent of your available credit.
If you paid down your total debt on those cards by $700, bringing your outstanding balance to $3,300, or approximately 33 percent of your available credit, it could raise your credit score. And according to the FICO chart above, that could save you a lot of money over the life of your mortgage.
While home sellers hope to get top dollar for their property – and some have an inflated idea of what to expect – establishing a home’s value can be a complex, multifaceted process. Do home renovations really pay off? And which is more valuable: a three-bedroom or a four-bedroom with the same square footage? We talked to real estate insiders to find out.
1. Location. The classic real estate refrain says, “location, location, location.” Location includes factors such as the price of recent nearby transactions, the quality of local schools and whether the area has a strong sense of community. “Buyers increasingly value community in the community where they’re buying,” says Amy Anderson, an agent with Davidson Realty, Inc. in St. Augustine, Florida. “They come to me not looking for a house for four years, but focusing much more on the community, the activities and the school district.”
As Americans scale back their dependence on automobiles, some homebuyers seek out communities that don’t require cars to get around. One resource is WalkScore.com, which rates neighborhoods throughout the U.S. based on access to public transit and proximity to grocery stores, parks and more.” I think walkability has become more important in many markets, especially amongst millennials,” says Ken Wilson, president of the Appraisal Institute, a professional association for real estate appraisers, and founder of Wilson Realty Advisors in Dallas. “You’re also finding empty nesters that are looking into properties that have walkability.”
But as Zillow.com chief economist Stan Humphries points out, location encompasses many other considerations. “Does it have a view? Is it a waterfront home?” he asks. “What’s it next to? Is it near retail establishments? Or a highway?”
2. Size and layout. While homebuyers used to swoon over ample square footage, many have fallen out of love with the McMansion. “I think people realize when they buy a 3,300-square-foot house, they’re not getting what they thought they were,” Anderson says. “There’s more upkeep and a lot more involved with taking care of these huge houses.”
Layout is a key factor because an open-concept design can look much more spacious than a boxy space of the same size. The number of bedrooms also influences a home’s value, so think twice before putting up a wall and subdividing one room into two. “Adding a bedroom will take away value,” Humphries says. “Fewer but larger bedrooms tend to boost value.”
3. Age and condition. Historic homes (assuming they’re livable and well-maintained) and new homes are typically more valuable than homes built somewhere in the middle. “Generally, as a home gets older, it becomes less valuable,” Humphries says. “Then there’s a U-shape where, at some point, homes become so old that they have historical significance. A home that’s built in 1910 is probably more valuable than one built in 1970.”
Age aside, condition matters too. “Someone will pay $15,000 more for a well-kept house that’s move-in ready than they will for a house that needs $5,000 worth of work,” Anderson says.
4. Upgrades. Renovations play into a home’s value, but if your home is considered “over improved” compared with other properties in the neighborhood, it can actually hurt the property’s value. “You want it to be common for the neighborhood or subdivision,” Wilson says. “It wouldn’t hurt to visit neighbors’ homes or visit a home via an open house to see what people are marketing [before undertaking big improvements].” You could also hire an appraiser to prepare a feasibility analysis that will help you determine the impact of renovations on your home’s value.
Unless you live in an area where granite countertops and built-in wine fridges are the norm, Humphries says you might be better off saving the money and choosing more basic finishes. “It’s harder to recoup [your investment] if you guild the lily, if you will, on granite this and chrome that in your kitchen,” he says. “You’re spending a lot of money on something that might have a lot of personal taste attached to it.”
However, you should keep records of repairs and upgrades to show potential buyers that the home has been well-maintained.
5. Negative events. If your property has issues like mold or experienced a fire or was the site of a violent crime, it could be a harder sell – and command a lower price. “Nowadays, people are very concerned if there was a fire, prior mold damage or even if there were some sort of death or crime at the property,” Wilson says. Federal law requires the disclosure of all known lead-based paints, but state laws vary in whether the seller must disclose issues related to natural disasters or crimes committed on the property.
Staging pro Sharon Brown with Homescapes by Design in Roseville, Minn., offers her clients a checklist before they list their home for sale. The point of the checklist is to make sure the home is show-ready before the for-sale sign goes up and the first potential buyer walks through the door, and even before photos are snapped for the MLS.
The following are the changes Brown most recommends to her clients in getting a home ready to list:
Baby boomers who plan to move for retirement are looking for smaller, affordable homes that are easily accessible to medical care and near their family, finds a new poll of more than 1,000 adults born between 1946 and 1964 conducted by Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com.
Baby boomers who make more than $100,000 a year are the most likely to say they plan to buy a new home during retirement. For boomers who plan to purchase a new home, the most Read more