By: John Riha Published: January 30, 2013
Today’s kitchen is a quick-change artist that adores families and loves simplicity.
If you’re looking to remodel your kitchen, we’ve got good news and bad news.
First, the good stuff. According to trend experts Lita Dirks and Dominick Tringali, you don’t have to shell out major cash to add space. Instead, look to expand what you already have. Vault your ceiling, add windows, squeeze in clever storage ideas. Make the space work harder, not bigger.
Plus, relax. Casual kitchens are trending, with doo-dads and gee-gaws (think elaborate trim and vent hoods that look like medieval castles) going away, and simpler, sleeker designs coming on strong.
Speaking on kitchen trends at the 2013 International Builder’s Show in Las Vegas, interior designer Dirks and architect Tringali teamed up to describe the new American kitchen as one piece of a larger, open floor plan.
It’s all part of a new kitchen gestalt that Dirks describes as the “prep-eat-play” triangle, with flexibility and casual living as key ingredients. The notion tosses the kitchen into a design blender along with living, dining, and family rooms, and frappes everything into communal happiness.
Example: You can eat at a comfy banquette, or in front of the TV (don’t tell your child-development counselor), or in the breakfast nook, or you can belly up to the island. No rules!
The bad news (OK, it’s not that bad) is that we’ve heard some of this before. Open floor plans have been around since the moon landing and yes, we like them. A lot. What we really have here is affirmation — and freedom to create kitchens that are less ornate and yet have more personality.
Just like you.
Of course, Dirks and Trengali definitely have the pulse of today’s home owner and offer some great takeaways. We’ve combined their goodies with our own kitchen trendspotting for 2013. If you’re planning a kitchen redo, here’s what you need to know:
Contemporary kitchens are In. Specifically, they’re getting simpler and more modern, with less elaborate detail and trim. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association reports that in its annual survey of kitchen designers, “transitional” design — meaning a simple, more modern aesthetic — has surpassed “traditional” as the preferred design for the first time in the association’s history.
Kitchen cabinets are dark, or white. Darker, furniture-like finishes are popular, but so is pure white. The middle ground — think natural oak — is going away. Dark finishes help the kitchen integrate into the overall scheme; pure white is the ultimate accent color that readily complements the rest of the living area.
Islands rule. Kitchen islands are becoming more multi-dimensional, serving as food-prep areas, snack stations, wine storage, and display cabinets for objets d’art. Also, they’re essential for directing traffic flow within an open floor plan, channeling guests toward comfy seating areas, for example. Small kitchen? Go with a rolling cart that’s there when you need it.
Countertop revolution. Say hi to porcelain and ceramic slabs that look like stone, wood, and fabric, says Jamie Gold, a California designer. The product is made from clay, quartz, and feldspar that’s subjected to high heat — just like regular tile. Unlike other engineered countertops, this product doesn’t use cements or resin binders. It’s not readily available in the U.S. yet.
Appliances are disappearing. In the past, we loved our commercial-style kitchen appliances that made us look like we really knew how to cook. Now, appliances are hiding behind wood panels and faux veneers so they integrate better with the overall living space. New finishes, such as GE’s slate and Whirlpool’s Ice White, are bucking the stainless steel trend, but don’t bet on stainless going away anytime soon — it’s still hot.
Espresso yourself. An eye-catching extra gives a kitchen a blast of personality. Cool sinks and high-tech faucets are au courant. Other possibilities include:
Glass finishes. Glistening glass is popping up everywhere in the kitchen, especially glass tiles installed as backsplashes. Applying clear glass panels over walls painted soft colors gives a deep sheen that harmonizes with today’s contemporary looks. Bonus: It’s easy to clean.
Grab some fresh air. Outdoor kitchens and entertaining areas are hot. Your indoor kitchen should have an outdoor doppelganger close by, available through wide glass doors.
By: G. M. Filisko Published: March 19, 2010
While you’d like to get the best price for your home, consider our six reasons to reduce your home price.
These six signs may be telling you it’s time to lower your price.
You get the most interest in your home right after you put it on the market because buyers want to catch a great new home before anybody else takes it. If your real estate agent reports there have been fewer buyers calling about and asking to tour your home than there have been for other homes in your area, that may be a sign buyers think it’s overpriced and are waiting for the price to fall before viewing it.
If you’ve had 30 sets of potential buyers come through your home and not a single one has made an offer, something is off. What are other agents telling your agent about your home? An overly high price may be discouraging buyers from making an offer.
Ask your real estate agent about the average number of days it takes to sell a home in your market. If the answer is 30 and you’re pushing 45, your price may be affecting buyer interest. When a home sits on the market, buyers can begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with it, which can delay a sale even further. At least consider lowering your asking price.
If you’ve got to sell soon because of a job transfer or you’ve already purchased another home, it may be necessary to generate buyer interest by dropping your price so your home is a little lower priced than comparable homes in your area. Remember: It’s not how much money you need that determines the sale price of your home, it’s how much money a buyer is willing to spend.
Maybe you’re plum out of cash and don’t have the funds to put fresh paint on the walls, clean the carpets, and add curb appeal. But the feedback your agent is reporting from buyers is that your home isn’t as well-appointed as similarly priced homes. When your home has been on the market longer than comparable homes in better condition, it’s time to accept that buyers expect to pay less for a home that doesn’t show as well as others.
If weeks go by with no offers, continue to check out the competition. What have comparable homes sold for and what’s still on the market? What new listings have been added since you listed your home for sale? If comparable home sales or new listings show your price is too steep, consider a price reduction.
How to ready your home for sale at little cost
How to review offers on your home
More on setting the right price
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who made strategic price reductions that led to the sale of a Wisconsin property. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.
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By: Jeanne Huber Published: August 28, 2009
Finding drainage problems when they’re smaller and easier to fix can save you thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches down the line.
But many drainage problems aren’t so obvious. Here’s how the pros read some of the more subtle signs of bad drainage, and why you’ll save big bucks if you tackle these problems now instead of later.
A mini Niagara over the edge of your gutter means dead leaves and debris are blocking the flow. But you don’t need a live gusher to tell you you’ve got problems: Vertical streaks of dirt on the outside of gutters, mud spattered on siding, or paint peeling off the house in vertical strips are other sure signs. If you don’t take action, overflowing gutters can rot siding, ruin paint jobs, and cause structural damage.
Best case: Leaves are clogging the downspout, and you just need to clear them out or hire a pro to do it (about $75).
Worst case: Gutters are undersized or improperly pitched and need to be replaced or reinstalled. That could run a few thousand dollars, but it’s still cheaper than new siding.
Each inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of a roof produces more than 600 gallons of runoff–enough to fill 10 bathtubs to the brim. Dumping that much water too close to the foundation can send it right into the basement, where it can ruin furnishings, flooring, and all the stuff you swore you’d put on shelves one day.
Best case: You can add gutter extensions (about $10 for a 10-foot length) to carry the water at least 5 feet away from the house.
Worst case: Too-short downspouts continually dump buckets of water around your foundation. The water seeps deep into the soil and puts pressure on your foundation walls, eventually cracking them. A foundation contractor comes out and gives you an estimate of $30,000 to excavate around your foundation and fix everything. You begin to cry, dumping buckets of water into the soil around your foundation.
Depending on where a stain shows up, you can tell if the problem is caused by surface water, which can be easy to deal with, or water traveling underground, a potentially bigger headache.
Best case: You see stains high on your foundation wall, meaning that water is coming from an overflowing gutter, or that surface runoff backed up against your house because the soil around your foundation doesn’t slope adequately (6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet is best).
Worst case: The stain extends in a line around the basement. If that’s the case, you may be looking at a high-water mark caused by a fluctuating water table. Or, your basement floor lies below the level of municipal storm drains that back up during heavy rains. In either case, an interior drain system and sump pump (around $3,000) will pump any seepage out of our basement, keeping your old bowling trophies dry.
Foundations often have small cracks that appear as houses settle over time. Most are harmless, but bigger cracks bear watching. Keep an eagle eye on cracks larger than 1/8-inch wide by marking the ends with an erasable pencil line. Measure the width and jot it down. If you notice the cracks are growing, you’ve got potential problems.
Best case: A crack appears where the builders finished installing one load of concrete and began pouring the next. Such cracks usually don’t penetrate all the way through. And even if they do, as long as they’re stable you can patch them with hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk for less than $20.
Worst case: Cracks are continuing to widen, indicating that a drainage problem may be ruining the foundation. Call a structural engineer (not a contractor or waterproofing expert) to diagnose the problem, assess the risk, and suggest a repair. Expect to shell out $300 for a structural engineer’s diagnosis.
If you see areas of white or gray crust on the basement walls, that’s efflorescence–mineral deposits left behind by evaporating water. Or the wall may be flaking off in big patches, a condition called spalling.
Best case: The efflorescence points to a place where moisture is condensing. It doesn’t cause structural problems, but you may want to check out your gutters, downspouts, and the grading of the soils around your foundation. Scrape off the crust if it looks ugly.
Worst case: The wall is spalling because water is getting inside the masonry. Spalling can be just superficial, but if it’s deeper than ½-inch and widespread, it may be a sign of improper drainage that threatens the integrity of your foundation.
Sure, the attic might be a strange place to look for drainage problems, but mildew on the underside of the roof can be a tipoff to serious trouble at the ground level.
Best case: Bathroom fans are spewing hot air directly into the attic, where it condenses on the cold back side of the roof and causes mildew. Venting the fan through an outside wall or the roof (about $200) solves the problem.
Worst case: Moisture from the basement or crawl space is rising through the house and condensing on the underside of the roof. In that case, you’ve got to find and stop the source of the dampness under the house. If you don’t act, you’ll end up replacing roof sheathing and shingles, a job that runs $6,000 to $9,000 for the typical house.
When soil doesn’t drain properly, rain runs off in sheets, carving gulleys in the landscape, dumping silt on pathways, and carrying piles of mulch or wood chips where they don’t belong.
Best case: For a few hundred dollars, you can hire a landscaper to create a simple berm (a soil mound) or swale (a wide, shallow ditch) to redirect the water flow away from the house.
Worst case: Your concrete patio cracks and paving stones start popping up because the gravel or sand base material has washed away. After redirecting the water, you’ll need to excavate the patio and start again.
Office: (419)874 7958
Congratulations to Laneta Goings for being named a Jefferson Award recipient. The American Institute for Public Service has awarded the Jefferson Awards for Public Service nationally, since 1972. Dubbed the “Nobel Prize” for community service, the Jefferson Awards honors and recognizes volunteerism and public service.
The four winners were selected from 14 finalists, who were selected from 61 nominees. The nomination packets for the winners will be sent to a national committee to be judged and then one will be chosen to represent the region in the national competition. The national competition will take place in Washington later this year.
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Published: December 17, 2012
Paint has remodeling power when you use it to emphasize a room’s best features or play down the flaws.
“Paint is a powerful tool that can enhance the architectural character and intent of space,” says Minneapolis architect Petra Schwartze of TEA2 Architects. “As you choose your paint, think about what the experience in the room should be.”
More Schwartze advice:
How to enlarge space with color
Painting walls white, cream, pastels, or cool colors (tinged with blue or green) creates the illusion of more space by reflecting light. Paint trim similar to walls (or use white on trim) to ensure a seamless appearance that visually expands space.
White or light colors lift a ceiling; darker shades can have a similar effect if you select a high-gloss paint sheen, which reflects light and enhances space.
Employ a monochromatic scheme to amplify the dimensions of a room. Select furnishings in one color and paint walls and trim to match. Lack of contrast makes a room seem more spacious.
Make walls appear taller by extending wall color onto the ceiling. Create a 6- to 12-inch-wide border of wall color on the entire ceiling perimeter, or wherever walls meet the ceiling.
Vertical and horizontal stripes of alternating color can make a room grand. While vertical stripes enhance room height by drawing the eye upward, horizontal stripes lure your gaze around the perimeter, making walls seem further away. Use similar light colors for low-contrast stripes, and your room will look even larger.
When a space feels cavernous, draw walls inward and make it cozy with warm colors (red-tinged) because darker hues absorb light. Similarly, a dark or warm color overhead (in a flat finish) helps make rooms with high or vaulted ceilings less voluminous.
Give peace a chance
The right paint choice can lend tranquility to a bathroom, master suite, or other quiet, personal space. A palette of soft, understated color or muted tones help you instill a calming atmosphere. Some good choices include pale lavenders, light grays or greens, and wispy blues.
Define your assets
Call out notable features in a room with paint. Dress crown mouldings and other trims in white to make them pop against walls with color. Make a fireplace or other feature a focal point by painting it a color that contrasts with walls.
“Using a higher sheen of paint on woodwork, such as baseboards and door or window casings,” says Schwartze, “creates a crisp edge and clear transition from the wall to the trim.”
Not everything should stand out in a space. Using a low-contrast palette is a good way to hide unappealing elements or flaws. Conduit, radiators, and other components painted the same color as the wall will seem to disappear.
Selecting low-sheen or flat paint colors also helps hide flaws. Unless walls are smooth, avoid using high-gloss paint because it reflects light and calls attention to an uneven surface.
What’s the cost?
As a DIY job, painting a 12-by-12-ft. space costs about $150, including paint, primer, brushes, drop cloths, and other painting tools and supplies. A professionally painted room using high-quality, brand-name paint costs $200-$400.
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You’re ready to remodel but you want to make sure you get the best contractor for the job. Here’s what to ask the candidates before you decide.
1. Would you please itemize your bid?
Many contractors prefer to give you a single, bottom-line price for your project, but this puts you in the dark about what they’re charging for each aspect of the job. For example, let’s say the original plan calls for beadboard wainscot in your bathroom, but you decide not to install it after all. How much should you be credited for eliminating that work? With a single bottom-line price, you have no way to know.
On the other hand, if you get an itemized bid, it’ll show the costs for all of the various elements of the job—demolition, framing, plumbing, electrical, tile, fixtures, and so forth. That makes it easier to compare different contractors’ prices and see where the discrepancies are. If you need to cut the project costs, you can easily assess your options. Plus, an itemized bid becomes valuable documentation about the exact scope of the project, which may eliminate disputes later.
The contractor shouldn’t give you a hard time about itemizing his bid. He has to figure out his total price line by line anyway, so you’re not asking him to do more work, only to share the details. If he resists, it means he wants to withhold important information about his bid—a red flag for sure.
2. Is your bid an estimate or a fixed price?
Homeowners generally assume that the bid they’re seeing is a fixed price, but some contractors treat their proposals as estimates, meaning bills could wind up being higher in the end. If he calls it an estimate, request a fixed price bid instead. If he says he can’t offer a fixed price because there are too many unknowns about the job, then eliminate the unknowns.
“Have him open up a wall to check the structure he’s unsure about or go back to your architect and solidify the design plans,” says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association’s Forum on the Construction Industry. If you simply cannot resolve the unknowns he’s concerned about, have the project specs describe what he expects to do—and if he needs to do additional work later, you can do a change order (a written mini-bid for new work).
3. How long have you been doing business in this town?
A contractor who’s been plying his trade locally for 5 or 10 years has an established network of subcontractors and suppliers in the area and a local reputation to uphold. That makes him a safer bet than a contractor who’s either new to the business or new to the area—or who’s planning to commute to your job from 50 miles away.
You want to see a nearby address (not a PO box) on his business card—and should ask him to include one or two of his earliest clients on your list of references. This will help you verify that he hasn’t just recently hung his shingle—and will give you perspective from a homeowner who has lived with the contractor’s work for years. After all, the test of a quality job, whether it’s a bluestone patio or a family room addition, is how well it stands the test of time.
4. Who are your main suppliers?
You’ve found a few potential contractors, you’ve talked to the happy former clients on each of their reference lists, now it’s time for one additional bit of homework: talking to their primary suppliers. There’s no better reference for a tile setter, for example, than his preferred tile shop; for a general contractor than his favorite lumberyard or home center pro desk; for a plumber than the kitchen and bath showroom where he’s on a first name basis.
The proprietors of these shops know a contractor’s professional reputation, whether he has left a trail of unhappy customers in his wake, if he’s reliable about paying his bills—and whether he’s someone you’ll want to hire. The contractor should have absolutely no qualms about telling you where he gets his materials, as long as he’s an upstanding customer.
5. I’d like to meet the job foreman—can you take me to a project he’s running?
Many contractors don’t actually swing hammers. They spend their days bidding new work and managing their various jobs and workers. In some cases, the contractor you hire may not visit the jobsite every day—or may not even show himself again after you’ve signed the contract. So the job foreman—the one who’s working on your project every day—is actually the most important member of your team.
Meeting him in person and seeing a job that he’s running should give you a feel for whether he’s someone you want managing your project. Plus, it gives the general contractor an incentive to assign you one of his better crews since you’re more likely to hire him if you see his A Team. If the contractor says he’ll be running the job himself, ask whether he’ll be there every day. Again, he’ll want to give you a positive response—something you can hold him to later on.
The subtleties of how to hire a contractor
It’s not only the answers to these questions that will help you judge potential contractors—it’s the way they answer them. Were they easy to talk to and forthcoming with details or did they hem and haw and make you ask more than once? Difficulty communicating now means difficulty communicating on the job later. But clear, timely and thoughtful responses—combined with terrific references, great completed work that you’ve seen, and a smart take on your project—may mean you’ve found the right pro for your job.
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By: Richard Koreto
Published: December 21, 2012
Deducting mortgage interest, as well as interest on home equity loans and HELOCs, can save money on taxes.
Know your loan limits
A good place to check out what you can deduct before you borrow is the chart on page 3 of IRS Publication 936. It’ll walk you through the requirements you must meet to deduct all of your home loan interest. It’s an hour well spent.
The first hurdle you’ll run into is the total amount of your loan or loans. In general, individuals and couples filing jointly can deduct the interest on up to $1 million ($500,000 if you’re married and filing separately) in combined home loans, as long as the money was used for acquisition costs, that is the cost to buy, build, or substantially improve a home, explains Scott O’Sullivan, a certified public accountant with Margolin, Winer & Evens in Garden City, N.Y. Any interest paid on loan amounts above the $1 million threshold isn’t deductible.
The same $1 million limit applies whether you have one home or two. Buying a vacation home doesn’t double your loan limits. And two homes is the max; you can’t deduct a mortgage for a third home. If you have a mortgage you took out before Oct. 13, 1987, you
have fewer restrictions on claiming a full deduction. The calculations for “grandfathered debt” can get complex, so get help from a tax professional or refer to IRS Publication 936.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that you can also deduct the points and fees associated with a first or second mortgage when you initially buy your home, says Jeff Rattiner, a CPA with JR Financial Group in Centennial, Colo. If you refinance the same house, you have to deduct those costs over the entire term of the loan. If you refinance again, you can deduct all the costs from the earlier refi in the year you take out the new loan.
Spend loan proceeds wisely
The other limitation on how much you can borrow and still get your deduction comes into play when you take out a home equity loan or HELOC that you don’t use to buy, build, or improve your home. In that case, you can deduct the interest you pay only on the first $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately). This loan limit also applies in a so-called cash-out refi, in which you refinance and take out part of the equity you’ve built up as cash, says John R. Lieberman, a CPA with Perelson Weiner in New York City.
That means if you decide to take out a $115,000 home equity loan to buy that Porsche, you can deduct the interest on the first $100,000 but not on the $15,000 that exceeds the limit. Use the same $115,000 to add a new bedroom, however, and the full amount is allowable under the $1 million cap. Keep in mind, though, that the $115,000 gets added into the pot of whatever else you owe on your other home loans. In many cases, points and loan origination costs for HELOCs are deductible.
Consider this simplified scenario: You borrow $250,000 against your home at 8% interest. That means you’ll pay $20,000 in interest the first year. Spend the $250,000 on home improvements, and all of the interest is deductible. Spend $150,000 on improvements and $100,000 on your kids’ college tuition, and all the interest is still deductible.
But spend $100,000 on improvements and $150,000 on tuition, and the improvement outlays are deductible, though $50,000 of the tuition expense isn’t. That’ll cost you $4,000 in interest deductions. Preserve the $4,000 deduction by coming up with the extra money for tuition from another source, perhaps a low-interest student loan or by borrowing from a retirement plan. For someone in a 25% bracket, a $4,000 deduction lowers taxes by $1,000, plus applicable state income taxes.
Beware the dreaded AMT
Even if you’ve followed all the loan limit rules, you can still get stuck paying tax on mortgage interest. How come? It’s all thanks to the Alternative Minimum Tax. Congress created the AMT, which limits or eliminates many deductions, as a way to keep the wealthy from dodging their fair share of taxes.
Calculating the AMT can be complex, but if you make more than $75,000 and have several kids or other deductions, you might well be subject to it. Problem is, if you fall into the AMT group, you may not be able to deduct interest on a home equity loan, even if the loan falls within the $1 million/$100,000 limit. If you’re subject to the AMT and borrow money against the value of your home, you’ll have to use it to buy, build, or improve your place, or you may not have a chance to deduct the interest, says Rattiner, the Colorado CPA.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.
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By: Christina Hoffmann Published: January 24, 2013
Now that the housing market is back, home improvements are, too. And they’re paying off better than in years past.
2013 is shaping up pretty sweetly for home owners.
First, there were the home owner-centric tax benefits (energy tax credits, PMI deduction, mortgage debt forgiveness) that Congress and the President extended through 2013; and now, we’re seeing that our home improvement dollars are working harder.
After several bruising years, spending on remodeling projects is up and so too is your return on your remodeling dollars. The national average percentage recoup on all 35 projects in Remodeling Magazine’s 2013 Cost vs. Value Report rose since last year.
What a different story from 2012, when the ROI dropped in all but three categories.
The annual report is based on a survey that asks REALTORS® around the country to estimate what specific projects, from adding an attic bedroom to installing new windows, would recoup in their market at resale under current conditions.
Of course, what you recoup depends on the specifics of your project, your market, and when you sell. But the report offers a great bird’s-eye view of project costs and returns.
So which projects offer the best value for the money?
Exterior projects like siding, window, and garage door replacements took seven of the top 10 spots in this year’s list.
See a slideshow with the cost-vs-value details on exterior remodels.
Makes sense since REALTORS® always say curb appeal is half the battle when you’re trying to sell.
Although it’s not in the top 10, I was gratified to see that the backup generator project is up about 5 percentage points since 2012. One of our bloggers, Lisa Kaplan Gordon, invested in a portable generator last year after one too many storms and power outages, and despite the learning curve, she was glad she did. She had power when a lot of her neighbors didn’t; she even shared power.
Indoors, the top-10 projects include a minor kitchen remodel (involving cabinet refacing and new countertops and appliances), which recouped 75.4% nationally.
Kitchen redo aside, replacement projects, such as installing an entry door or new siding, tend to have a higher cost-to-value ratio than remodeling projects. But now that housing has turned a corner, home owners are stepping up their remodeling plans.
Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies saw 9% growth in remodeling in 2012 and predicts that trend will continue as more and more distressed properties are bought and rehabbed.
The housing group says interest in energy-efficiency updates will keep on trucking, too. It’s the one area where spending on remodeling projects rose during the recession.
I’m betting the revived energy tax credit will add fuel to that trend.
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