Rich wood flooring can spell instant warmth and patina in a home. Here’s an overview that can help buyers and sellers evaluate wood floors.
Ramp up your curb appeal with cool landscaping projects you can easily pull off in a weekend.
Use a charged garden hose to lay out a smooth curve.
Tip: A “charged” garden hose full of water makes for a smoother, kink-free curve; charge up by turning on the spigot but leaving the sprayer off.
With the hose as your guide, use a lawn edger or spade to cut away excess sod and make an incision for the edging. Tap in the edging with a rubber mallet and add the stakes. Trim the edging with a hacksaw, using a speed square to mark for cuts.
Specs and cost: Steel -- $1.25 per lineal foot; aluminum -- $2.25 plf; rigid plastic or fiberglass -- $1.65 plf.
Tools: Garden hose, flour or powdered chalk, lawn edger or spade, shovel, speed square, hacksaw, rubber mallet, hammer.
Time: 1 day to edge a typical yard.
Read on for more easy landscaping projects:
Add an Earth Berm
Build a Wall for a Raised Bed
Install a Flagstone Path
Add a Brick Tree Surround
The setup: Create an eye-catching front yard feature by shaping a few cubic yards of topsoil into an undulating berm. Topped off with mulch, groundcover, and bushes, a berm adds interest and buffers street noise.
Use a charged hose to outline the berm. Remove sod a couple of feet in from the perimeter. Add a few mounds, but max out at 3 feet high.
Specs and cost: Three cubic yards of soil is enough for a good-sized berm. Expect to pay $15-$20 per cubic yard and $15–$60 for delivery -- a total of $60-$120.
Tip: Don’t be tempted by those bags of topsoil at the home center: At $2.50 per cubic foot, a cubic yard (27 cubic feet) will end up costing you $67.50.
Have a cubic yard of mulch dropped off as well ($15–$20). A dozen periwinkle starts, plus a few boxwood bushes and evergreens, will set you back another $140.
Total for an 18-foot-long berm: $215–$280.
Tools: Wheelbarrow, spade, shovel, garden rake, trowel.
Time: A day to form the berm, another half-day for planting and mulching.
The setup: A stacked flagstone wall for your raised
beds has an old-world look that mellows any landscape. Best of all, you
don’t have to be stonemason to build one.
Begin by laying out the wall with stakes and mason’s line. Tamp a level bed of sand for the first course. As you add courses, stagger joints at least 3 inches. Set each course back ¼-inch so the wall leans backward slightly. Once finished, back the wall with landscaping fabric before filling with topsoil.
Specs and cost: Choose a stone of consistent thickness. Flagstone might be limestone, sandstone, shale -- any rock that splits into slabs. A ton of 2-inch-thick stone is enough for a wall 10 feet long and 12 inches high.
Cost: About $300 for stones and sand.
Tip: Permanent retaining walls should be backed by pea gravel for drainage. In some locations, walls taller than 3 feet high require a building permit.
Tools: Stakes and mason’s line, spade, shovel, a 2-by-4 that’s 8 feet long, a 4-foot level, garden rake, tamper.
Time: 1 day for a 10-foot-long wall that’s 12 inches high.
The setup: For a welcoming addition to your yard,
add a flagstone pathway. Use a charged garden hose to mark a meandering
path about 3 feet wide. Arrange flagstones within the path so they are
2–4 inches apart and mark their location with sprinkled flour.
Tip: Sprinkling flour over the stones creates a “shadow” outline on the ground. When you remove the stones, you’ll have perfect outlines for cutting away the sod.
Cut away 3–4 inches of sod beneath each stone, add a layer of sand, and level the flagstones as you place them.
Specs and cost: For a 40-foot path about 3 feet wide, plan on 2 tons of flagstones and about a cubic yard of coarse sand. Cost: About $550.
Tools: Garden hose, flour, spade, trowel, level.
Time: 1 day for a 40-foot path.
The setup: Installing a masonry surround for a tree
eases mowing and looks great. All it takes is digging a circular trench,
adding some sand, and installing brick or stone.
Tip: To create a nice, even circle around the base of your tree, tie a big loop of rope around your tree. Adjust the length of the loop so when you pull it taut, the free end is right where you’d like the outer edge of the surround to be. Set your spade inside the loop with the handle plumb — straight up and down. Now, as you move around the tree, the loop of rope keeps the spade exactly the same distance from the base of the tree, creating a nice circle.
Use the spade to cut into the sod all the way around the tree. Remove the rope, and dig out a circular trench about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide. Add a layer of sand. Set bricks at an angle for a pleasing saw-tooth effect or lay them end-to-end. Fill the surround with 2–4 inches of mulch.
Curious what trees to plant? Our popular slideshow tells you which trees you should never plant in your yard.
Specs and cost: This is an instance where buying small quantities of materials at the home center makes sense. Brick pavers cost $.50-$1 each — figure about 20 per tree. A bag of mulch, enough for one tree, costs $2.50.
Tools: Rope, spade, trowel.
Time: 3 hours per tree.
To get an idea of a neighborhood's prospects, ask local brokers if cash-only offers dominate.
Real estate has finally started to bounce back across the country -- even roar back in some places.
Low mortgage rates and pent-up demand have coaxed buyers back into the market, and homeowners who list their houses are seeing more traffic. That quaint relic of the bubble, the bidding war, has even started to reemerge in some cities.
Consider the mounting evidence that the long national real estate nightmare is over: During the past year, home prices increased in 92 of the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to data provider CoreLogic, with prices rising as high as 23% in Phoenix and 17% in San Francisco. Sales volume rose in 69 of the top 100 markets, and 35 of those showed double-digit gains.
Yet while most economists agree that the bottom is behind us and the five-year outlook for housing is on solid footing, the shorter term is shakier. "Two thousand thirteen and 2014 are going to be transition years," says Mark Fleming, CoreLogic's chief economist. "The market's improving, but it's not totally healed."
Thinking about buying a home? For the first time in more than half a decade, the economics of the market are working against you in most places.
Inventory is tight, and bidding wars are back in some parts of the country. To snag your dream home, you'll have to pay up and contend with continuing strict loan requirements. The bright side: Despite rising prices and mortgage rates that are edging upward, buying a home is still cheaper than renting in the majority of the top 100 markets.
Don't waste time with a low-ball offer.
Yes, home prices are still way down from their highs, but the days when you could scoop up a house for 20% less than the list price are long gone. The typical home sells for pretty close to what the owners asked for, and even in shaky markets, sellers have gotten more realistic about pricing.
The median sales-to-list-price ratio in Detroit, for example, is 98%; the national number is 97%. (To find the figure for your market, go to zillow.com/local-info and click on "More metrics.")
Here's how to figure out how much to offer initially: In places where homes are still selling below list price but deals are being made in less than two months, come in no more than 2% to 3% below the asking price, says Michael Murphree, a realtor in Birmingham, Ala. Where homes are selling above the listing price, make your first offer the asking price.
Be the winner in a bidding war.
In January and February, 73% of agents with broker Redfin said their clients' offers faced rival bids, up from 56% who said so in the fall of 2011.
You win bidding wars, of course, by raising your price; it also helps to have few contingencies and to move quickly, since today's sellers don't want multiple go-rounds. "You have to give your best offer," says Dallas real estate agent Mary Beth Harrison. "Step up to the plate or walk away."
Be flexible about closing too: Quick deals -- the median time on the market for homes is 71 days, down from 99 a year ago -- have left many sellers scrambling for alternative housing. Leave the closing date blank on your contract for the seller to fill in, or negotiate a leaseback if the seller needs to stay put for a while.
Outsmart the pros who bring cash.
Thinking about investing in a rental property in a downtrodden market before prices there really start to take off?
To beat out the professional investors who have scooped up houses in these areas by offering all-cash deals, lead with your best offer; investors count on nabbing properties at a big discount and are unlikely to boost their bid by more than 5% to 10%. "They'll just move on to another house," Harrison says. Also include a bank prequalification letter or statement of funds to show that your money is as reliable as investors' cash.
Assess the risk in your local market.
Though prices have revived in most areas of the country, they don't all have the same staying power. In markets that bounced back last year merely because prices had fallen so far, you can't assume a continued streak; once investors clear out, demand will die down.
"In rebounding markets, recent price gains might not last," says Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko. Some near-term value setbacks may not be a problem if you plan to stick around for a long time, but a short time horizon calls for greater caution.
To get an idea of a neighborhood's prospects, start with the foreclosure rate heat map at RealtyTrac.com (click on "Stats & Trends" at the top). The deeper the color you see, the weaker the market's fundamentals. A broker should also be able to tell you whether cash-only offers dominate -- a sure sign of an investor-driven market.
Play bankers off one another.
While it's old news that credit unions and small banks tend to offer lower rates, they also can be less rigid about their underwriting, says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. To obtain your best deal, says Cecala, get a good-faith estimate from one lender (you'll have to shell out for a credit check). Then show the offer to other lenders and ask if they'll beat it.
Tactics like this
will work, he says, because market conditions have changed: "Some
lenders want to build up market share and are willing to offer more
aggressive pricing than their competitors." In the past two months, he
says, a few have sliced their profit margins on loans.
|Biggest five-year gainers|
|Worst five-year performers|
The Life of Riley was a TV show from the 50’s starring William Bendix but the title’s origin came from an expression meaning that a person was living the “good life.” Most people envision themselves living the good life by retirement but don’t really have a plan to get there.
There’s a rough rule of thumb used to estimate how much net worth a person would need by the time they retire to generate a certain income. The target annual income is divided by a safe, conservative yield to determine the investable assets needed.
A person who wanted $100,000 annual income generated from a 5% investment would need investable assets of $2,000,000. If a person had $500,000 now, they would need to accumulate $1.5 million more by the time they retire. If it was estimated to be 15 years away, they would need to save about $100,000 a year, each year until retirement.
It is a sobering example that could be depressing without a plan. It
might be easy to say, “I should have started sooner” which may be true
but there is still hope.
Gradually, over the next several years, accumulate rental property and allow the tenant to retire the debt for you. The equity in each property will grow from the amortization of the loan each time a payment is made. It also grows as the property increases in value due to appreciation.
Single family homes as rentals offer the investor an opportunity to meet their retirement and financial goals for the following reasons:
Just as with ties and hem lengths, wood flooring styles change. Colors get darker or lighter; planks get narrower or wider; woods with more or less grain show swings in popularity; softer or harder species gain or lose fans; and the wood itself may be older, newer, or even pre-engineered with a top layer or veneer-glued to a substrate to decrease expansion and contraction from moisture.
Here are key categories for consideration:
This is what some refer to as “real” wood because the wood usually ranges from three-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in total thickness to permit refinishing and sanding. Thicker floors have a thicker wear layer to allow for more frequent refinishing and sanding, so they can withstand decades of use, says architect Julie Hacker of Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker Architects. It also can be stained, come from different species of tree, and be sold in numerous widths and lengths:
Also referred to as prefabricated wood, this genre has become popular because the top layer or veneer is glued to wood beneath to reduce expansion and contraction that happens with solid boards due to climatic effects, says Sy, whose firm sells both types. He recommends engineered, depending on the amount of humidity. If home owners go with a prefabricated floor, he advises a veneer of at least one-quarter inch. “If it’s too thin, you won’t have enough surface to sand,” he says. And he suggests a thick enough substrate for a stable underlayment that won’t move as moisture levels in a home shift.
His company’s offerings include an 11-ply marine-grade birch. The myth that engineered boards only come prestained is untrue. “They can be bought unfinished,” he says. Engineered boards are also a good choice for home owners planning to age in place, since there are fewer gaps between boards for a stable surface, says Aaron D. Murphy, an architect with ADM Architecture Inc. and a certified Aging in Place specialist with the National Association of Home Builders.
Typically defined as recycled wood — perhaps from an old barn or factory — reclaimed wood has gained fans because of its aged, imperfect patina and sustainability; you’re reusing something rather than cutting down more trees. Though less plentiful and more expensive because of the time required to locate and renew samples, it offers a solid surface underfoot since it’s from old-growth trees, says Lynn. Some companies have come to specialize in rescuing logs that have been underwater for decades, even a century. West Branch Heritage Timber,for instance, removes “forgotten” native pine and spruce from swamps, cuts them to desired widths and lengths, and lays them atop ½-inch birch to combine the best of engineered and reclaimed. “The advantage is that it can be resanded after wear since it’s thicker than most prefabricated floors, can be laid atop radiant mats, and doesn’t include toxins,” Managing Partner Tom Shafer says. A downside is a higher price of about $12 to $17 a square foot.
A new competitor that closely resembles wood, Gurowitz says porcelain wood offers advantages: indestructibility, varied colors, “graining” that mimics old wood, wide and long lengths, quickness in installation, and no maintenance. “You can spill red wine on it and nothing happens; if there’s a leak in an apartment above, it won’t be destroyed,” he says. Average prices run an affordable $3.50 to $8 a square foot. The biggest downside? It doesn’t feel like wood since it’s colder to the touch, Lynn says.
When home owners are making a choice or comparing floors, Sy suggests they ask these questions:
1. Do you want engineered or solid-based floors, depending on your home’s conditions?
2. Do you want a floor with more natural character, or less?
3. What board width do you want?
4. How critical is length to you in reducing the overall number of seams?
5. What color range do you want — light, medium, or dark?
6. Do you want more aggressive graining like oak or a mellower grain like walnut?
7. Do you want flooring prefinished or unfinished?
8. How thick is the wear layer in the floor you’re considering, which will affect your ability to refinish it over time?
9. What type of finish are you going to use? Can it be refinished and, if so, how?
10. For wider planks that provide greater stability: Where is the wood coming from, how is it dried, what is its moisture content, and what type of substrate is used in the engineered platform?
Who doesn’t love a deal? I loved this article at Realty Times, which recently revealed the best time of year to buy certain household items in order to score the biggest bargains, based on research from AARP and LifeHacker.
January: Furniture, new flooring, and bedding and linens
February: Air conditioners and older model televisions that will soon be moving out for newer models
March: Gardening tools, china, and flatware
April: Vacuum cleaners
May: Barbecue equipment, patio furniture, and home office furniture
July: Kitchen appliances, such as refrigerators and ranges
August: Linens and storage containers
September: Grills and lawn mowers
October: Appliances and clearance patio furniture and outdoor items
November: Electronics, appliances, and tools
December: Televisions, electronics, and small appliances like toasters and blenders
Homeowner and licensed architect Brian Lucas of Bloc architecture also has seen increased inquiries over the past year for renovations and new custom homes. He's remodeling the inside of this home in Orlando and adding an addition to the ground-floor kitchen and family room. The covered lanai (the roofed structure perpendicular to the house) will be for a screened-in eating area as well as a summer kitchen adjacent to a new pool.
Some of his recent projects stem from foreclosed homes that have been purchased by empty nesters looking to downsize and young families with resources to remodel. Often the house “is either in desperate need of an update or has been so neglected that only a major renovation will solve all the problems,” he says.
He meets monthly with a group of 20 architects and designers with the American Institute of Architects chapter CRAN (Custom Residential Architects Network) in Orlando, Florida; they discuss the industry trends. “There is a general overall consensus that mirrors the [Houzz] report and the AIA ABI [Architecture Billings Index],” he says. The signs are positive, though Lucas says the market is still far from the pre-2008 peak.
General contractor Michael Graves, owner of Construction Zone in Phoenix, which does projects nationwide, says he's seen a steady increase in both small and large home design projects throughout the country. He has more projects on the books this year compared to last year and is "cautiously optimistic," he says. "You have to [be] in today's economy."
Here's more from the Houzz survey:
While improving the look and feel of a space is still the key driver for recently completed home design projects (83 percent said so), the number of homeowners who have or will make improvements to increase their home's value rose 7 percent, to 54 percent, up from 47 percent in last year's Houzz survey.
The survey covers completed and planned projects, the motivations behind these projects and the impact of the economy on home building, renovation and decorating plans among Houzz users across the U.S. and around the world. The survey responses this year span 184 countries, despite the fact that the survey questions were offered only in English.
Even those in war-torn regions took the time to take this survey (20 people in Syria completed the survey), as well as those in the world's smallest country, Nauru.
Meanwhile, 84 percent plan to redecorate their homes and 40 percent plan to build an addition or remodel in the next two years.
Houzz users are more likely to cut back in other areas, such as vacations and other big-ticket purchases, than delay or decrease their budget for home plans. The number who say they will delay projects has dropped 7 percent, to 45 percent from 52 percent in 2012.
Over the past two years, architect Demerly has seen a lot of people give up spaces too, forgoing formal dining and family rooms for open living spaces. “People aren’t able to borrow as much,” he says. “They're younger or empty nesters who aren’t worried about formality or resale."
This chart shows the top markets for homeowners who plan to remodel, build an addition or build a custom home in the next two years.
And where will the money go? The most popular areas where homeowners undertake projects year after year are bathrooms and kitchens. During the past five years, U.S. Houzz users spent an average of $28,030 on kitchen remodels.
This chart shows the average amount spent on various remodels, from low budget to high end.
Meanwhile, homeowners spent $10,422 on average on bathroom renovations.
One change Demerly has seen in the master bathroom is with tubs. "They're gone," he says. "People don't want to spend the money on them if they're not going to use them. Before you had put one in for resale value."
As for sticking to budgets, consider that 41 percent of those surveyed said they went over their remodel budget, compared to 23 percent who went over their redecorating budget. That means the 83 percent of Houzz users who plan to redecorate in the next two years have about an 80 percent chance of staying on budget.
The projects with the highest average costs in the U.S. are custom-built homes ($609,000), complete home remodels or redesigns ($200,000), and pool additions or replacements ($40,000).
Budget matters were only the third most challenging aspect of a remodel project. “Defining my style” was number two, while “Finding the right product” ranked as the top challenge.
Most homeowners don’t plan to tackle home design projects alone. Among those planning projects in the next two years, 58 percent are planning to hire professional help.
General contractors are the most in-demand professionals, with 58 percent of renovating homeowners planning to hire one for their project. Meanwhile, 35 percent plan to hire a carpet and flooring pro, 35 percent a kitchen and bath professional, 21 percent a landscape architect or designer, 20 percent an architect and 20 percent an interior designer.
Tell us: Do you plan to remodel this year? Please share details below!
Selling your home? In most parts of the country, you have finally regained the upper hand.
To get your best price, though, you need to finesse your timing, list competitively and match your marketing strategy to local conditions.
Lower your sights to make more money.
Rising prices breed rising hopes: In a recent poll, brokers complained that 75% of homeowners think their agent's recommended listing price is too low. Pricing your property above recent sales to cash in on the momentum may slow down deals, and sitting on the market too long can stigmatize a house.
Catch buyers' attention -- and get multiple offers -- by pricing your home in line with comparable sales, says Rick Turley, president of Coldwell Banker San Francisco: "Then let the market take it higher."
Trading up? Move fast. Downsizing? Go slow.
It's tempting to postpone selling to hold out for a better price. But if you want to move to a larger place, act sooner rather than later. True, higher-end homes aren't rising as quickly, but the gap is small. So while you'll be able to sell your home for more if you wait, the appreciation on the trade-up home will be greater.
When you're downsizing, the math works the other way, so it pays to wait.
The case for these strategies should strengthen as gains slow for cheaper homes. "Investors are driving the lower end of the market, and there is a point when the investor opportunity becomes less attractive," says Richard Green, director of the University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate.
Smooth out your home's rough patches.
Repair that leaky roof and address other obvious structural problems, or you'll have to subtract the cost of doing so from your price. "In today's economy, many buyers don't have as much savings left over after their down payment for improvements," says Teri Herrera, a broker in Bellevue, Wash.
Smaller fixes that pay off the most, according to a HomeGain poll of real estate professionals and consumers: cleaning and decluttering, brightening (adding lamps and clearing window obstructions), and solving electrical and plumbing problems.
Get ready for your home's close-up.
Sellers who stage their homes -- rearranging or replacing furniture to bolster appearance -- usually do so just before an open house. The better time to glamorize: right before you post your listing online, where 90% of buyers look first. Says Realtor.com president Errol Samuelson: "Web appeal is the new curb appeal."
Use a professional photographer and get tight shots of fixtures and other details. The cost: $200 to $500 for a gallery of 30 to 40 photos. Homes between $300,000 and $400,000, shot professionally, sold for about $3,000 more than those with amateur images, Redfin found recently.
Guard against low appraisals.
While rapidly rising prices may attract more buyers, the upswing can make it harder to close a deal. One-third of realtors polled in December reported setbacks from low appraisals, including delays in closing, lowered prices, and cancellations.
The problem: Appraisals can come in low because they're based on transactions as old as six months -- out of date, perhaps, in today's market.
Solution: Have your agent personally oversee the process, accompanying the appraiser to point out improvements and supplying data about the latest comparable sales.
Help investors find what they're looking for.
Investors amounted to one-fifth of all homebuyers in January, but are a much larger share of some markets; 38% of deals in Sacramento and 45% in Orlando, for example, involved absentee buyers. Signs of an investor market: a steady stream of resales of foreclosed homes (you can find that info at zillow.com/local-info) and the conversion of many homes in your neighborhood into rentals.
If your area fits the bill, choose an agent experienced in investor sales; she should create a flier that highlights how easy it is to attract tenants, the rents that nearby homes command, and other pertinent bottom-line info. Says Charlotte Sears, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Atlanta: "All investors want to know is what their margins look like."
The benefits of regularly changing the heating and air-conditioning filters are obvious to homeowners; the real challenge is creating a system to make sure it gets done.
A reasonable schedule would be to replace it with a new one-inch pleated filter every 60-90 days. Households with shedding pets should consider replacing them every month. Some people change their filters every month when they pay their electric bills. A simple system would be to set a recurring appointment on your calendar like Outlook or Google.
Filters trap dust, mold and bacteria which can directly affect the air quality and play havoc with your allergies. When a filter is dirty, it prevents proper airflow and allows dust, dirt and allergens to blow through your home. Changing your filter regularly helps to avoid maintenance, improves equipment life and produces increased energy savings.
When shopping for filters, it’s understandable to look for the best bargain but the cheapest price may not be the best choice. When purchasing, recognize that HEPA-rated and HEPA-type filters are not the same thing. HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. A HEPA filter meets or exceeds standards for efficiency set by the U.S. Department of Energy. Most HVAC contractors recommend HEPA filters.
Some filters need to be changed monthly and other types have manufacturer recommendations of every three months. An alternative to disposable filters are the permanent, washable types. These will cost more initially but because you can clean them and re-use them, eventually, you’ll recapture the cost and realize savings
1. Use one long bench for multiple seating areas. Make the most of your space by using a built-in bench long enough to span several seating areas. Vary the height of your bench so you can position an outdoor dining table at one end and make a lounge area at the other end.
2. Tuck a bench between planters for built-in shade. If you could use more shade in your patio, consider installing a bench nestled between a pair of big planters filled with trees. Check with your local garden center to choose a variety that does well in a pot and works with your climate.
3. Make a statement with a big swoop. Have a steep hillside that's impossible to plant? Use it to your advantage by building in a unique curved bench.
See the rest of this house
4. Maximize a small space with a custom fit. A small space filled with lots of small furniture just feels cluttered — you can actually seat more people and increase the sense of space with a built-in bench that fits perfectly.
6. Cozy wood benches up around the fire. If a fire bowl is the centerpiece of your patio, chunky wood benches are a natural choice. Try a pair filling out one corner, as shown here, or use curved wooden benches all around, campfire-style.
9. Welcome friends with a curved border. Sharp, modern lines look crisp, but they are not for everyone. If you crave a softer look, try introducing a round shape to your patio with a gently curved bench made from stone or wood.
10. Channel elements of your dream getaway. Love the Italian Riviera? A built-in stone seat with an architectural backrest and striped cushions, plus café chairs and a big umbrella nearby, will bring the look home. Even if you can't jet off to Italy, you can enjoy a pretty fabulous staycation in your own yard.
Tell us: Describe your dream patio — what would you include? Which style are you most drawn to? Favorite features? Join the discussion!