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9 Architecture Projects That Stand Out

by Daily Real Estate News | January 12, 2009

The American Institute of Architects has selected nine projects for the 2009 AIA Institute Honor Awards for Architecture.

The types of projects range from cathedrals to trend-setting residential projects, but all of them have a tremendous impact on the social and physical fabric of the communities they serve, AIA says.

Here’s a list of the 2009 winners:

Project: Basilica of the Assumption, Baltimore
Architecture Firm:
John G. Waite Associates, Architects PLLC
Details: Restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption (also known as the Baltimore Cathedral), a major architectural landmark and masterpiece of the Federal style, removes a century and a half of obscuring alterations to bring back Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s concept of luminosity and spatial configuration. The now fully functioning cathedral again serves the people of Baltimore while reclaiming one of America’s most brilliant architectural designs, by its first professional architect; one that greatly influenced the development of the country’s architecture.

Project: Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, Calif.
Architecture Firm:
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Details: The Cathedral of Christ the Light resonates as a place of worship and conveys an inclusive statement of welcome and openness as the community’s symbolic soul. The glass, wood, and concrete structure ennobles and inspires through the use of light, material, and form.

Project: Charles Hostler Student Center, Beirut, Lebanon
Architecture Firm:
Details: The Hostler Center integrates social gathering spaces for students and faculty with sports facilities, a theater, and underground parking. Challenging the idea of a single large-scale building and similarly scaled open plaza, the project instead proposes multiple building volumes interconnected into a continuous field of habitable space by its gardens and green roofs.

Project: The Gary Comer Youth Center, Chicago
Architecture Firm:
John Ronan Architects
Details: This 74,000-square-foot youth center, located in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, demonstrates a commitment to social progress in providing a constructive environment for area youths to spend their after-school hours. The center provides support for the programs of a 300-member drill team/performance group for children of ages 8 to 18 and provides space for various youth educational and recreational programs for disadvantaged children to better their chances of success in life.

Project: Horno³: Museo del Acero, Monterey, Mexico
Architecture Firm:
Grimshaw Architects
Details: Horno3: Museo Del Acero comprises a full restoration of a once-derelict 1960s blast furnace. The abandoned furnace structure and cast hall are the centerpiece of the museum, housing an interactive exhibit that brings the old furnace to life, allowing visitors the unique experience of touring inside this piece of industrial history.

Project: The Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life, New Orleans
Architecture Firm:
Details: The challenge was to transform a rigidly compartmentalized and environmentally inefficient building into a dynamic, sustainable new university center. Only the existing concrete structure was retained, saving roughly $8 million in construction cost. The project was successfully completed for $189/SF, 14 months after Hurricane Katrina. Many of the sustainable design strategies used (canopies, shutters, balconies, and fans) were adapted from climate-responsive architecture traditional to New Orleans.

Project: The New York Times Building, New York City
Architecture Firm:
Renzo Piano Building Workshop and FXFowle Architects
Details: The New York Times Building incorporates many transcendental themes in good architecture—volume, views, light, respect for context, relationship to the street—with a design that is open and inviting, providing its occupants with a sense of the city around them.

Project: Plaza Apartments, San Francisco
Architecture Firm:
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Details: Located on a prominent corner in an improving San Francisco redevelopment area, this new, mixed-use project provides permanent housing for the chronically homeless as a pilot project of Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Dept. of Public Health’s “Housing First” program, which is a cornerstone of the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. The sustainably designed 9-story building provides 106 highly efficient studio apartments with on-site mental and physical health services for the residents.

Project: Salt Point House, Salt Point, New York
Architecture Firm:
Thomas Phifer and Partners
Details: Constructed of elegantly efficient and economical materials, this 2,200-square-foot house in New York’s Hudson Valley is sited on a meadow with views to a small private lake. The house is carefully sited to take advantage of the prevailing summer breezes. Strategically placed operable windows and ventilating skylights allow the breeze to flow through the home.

Overwhelmed by kitchen floor options?


The floor in your kitchen has to wear a lot of hats. It has to be able to withstand the rigors of lots of foot traffic. It needs to be water-resistant and be able to stand up to repeated cleanings. It has to be able to withstand grease, spills, drips and other indignities -- and it has to look good doing it!

When you're ready to shop for a kitchen floor that can handle all those demands, you'll find that you have several choices. There's probably no single "perfect" flooring material, but by doing a little homework, you're sure to find one that will work beautifully in your kitchen.

Here are some great choices to consider, along with some of the pros and cons of each:

Sheet Vinyl: Sheet vinyl flooring is one of the most common choices for a kitchen floor. Sheet vinyl is very resistant to spills, grease and dirt, is very water resistant, and is also very easy to clean. There are hundreds if not thousands of patterns, styles and colors to choose from, as well as different weights and thicknesses. Vinyl sheets are available in 6-foot and 12-foot-wide rolls, so it's possible to complete most kitchens with few or no seams. It's also one of the less expensive flooring options, so it's easier on your wallet and also makes it a little easier to change if you redecorate.

On the down side, vinyl flooring is prone to wear and scratching over time, especially with the lower-end materials. And from a resale value, it may lack the appeal of some of the more expensive floors.

Vinyl Tiles: Vinyl tiles have some of the virtues of sheet vinyl, such as water resistance, ease of cleaning and low cost. Because these are individual tiles, they are the easiest of all the flooring products for the do-it-yourselfer to install. Another advantage is that if damage occurs, you can easily take up and replace the individual damaged tiles, without having to incur the cost of replacing the entire floor.

There is a very definite downside with vinyl tiles, however, and that is the dozens of dirt-catching seams you end up with. Vinyl tiles also have probably the lowest overall appeal from a resale standpoint.

Ceramic Tiles: Ceramic tile is one of the best overall choices for a kitchen floor. These hard, durable tiles will stand up to all sorts of abuse, from spills to heavy appliances, and the tile is completely waterproof as well. Ceramic tile is hard to beat from a decorating standpoint, as there are thousands of size, color and pattern choices available. You can also mix different types or colors of tile to form patterns, borders or even pictures. A quality ceramic tile floor, especially some of the new travertines in large squares, are currently very popular and will add to a home's resale value.

The downsides of ceramic tile seem to be a matter of personal preference. For one thing, tile is the hardest and coldest of the floors underfoot, with none of the resiliency of vinyl or wood. This can be offset to some degree through the addition of small, non-skid area rugs, and if you want to really warm up the floor, you can have radiant heat cables installed underneath the tiles during installation. The other issue that some people have with tile are the grout lines, which are a little harder to clean than the tiles themselves. Again, this problem can be minimized by using larger tiles with small grout spaces between them, and by making sure that the grout is sealed after installation.

Laminate Floors: Laminate flooring has become increasingly popular in the kitchen. There are dozens of patterns and colors now available, some of which mimic the look of real wood quite well. The laminate can be chosen to blend or contrast with the wood in the cabinets, and you can mix in some darker strips to create accents and borders if desired. Laminate floors have some "spring" to them, making them one of the softer and more comfortable floors to stand on. They can also be a very good do-it-yourself project, and a well-selected and well-installed laminate floor will also add resale value.

If you have a kitchen that sees a lot of use, especially if chairs or bar stools are present, the laminate can be prone to scratching. Laminate also requires specific cleaning products for best results and longest life, and may not stand up to a lot of water over time.

Hardwood Floors: Hardwood floors have long been a classic and desirable feature in living rooms and other areas of the house, but it was only through relatively recent advances in the quality of polyurethane finishes that wood has found its way into the kitchen as well. Hardwood is beautiful, durable, compliments virtually any style of kitchen, and typically adds to the resale value, although some people are still a little leery of it in the kitchen.

Hardwood flooring is not a very good do-it-yourself project, and requires proper sanding and finishing to look good and to hold up in the kitchen. It also has some of the same drawbacks as laminate, requiring special cleaners as opposed to simple damp mopping, and is prone to scratching and damage from excessive water.

10 Tips for Generating Buyer Interest

by MSN Money, Laura T. Coffey (01/06/2009)

Distraught sellers who need to generate more interest in house that has been languishing on the market for months should consider 10 steps from MSNBC financial guru Laura T. Coffey

  • Can the clutter. Pack up knickknacks, pictures, piles of paper and furniture that makes the place look crowded.
  • Let the light in. Take down any heavy drapes.
  • Scrub-a-dub-dub. Shampoo soiled carpets, Scrub the front door. Repaint scuffed walls. Tidy up the lawn and trim the shrubs.
  • Get moving on the "honey do" list. Fix everything that is in need of repair.
  • Enhance the view. Erect a fence or plant shrubbery to improve or obscure the view of unattractive nearby properties or streets.
  • Try weeknights. Holding an open house on Wednesday may attract a different crowd.
  • Ask for criticism. Consult with buyers’ agents for their feedback.
  • Send the owners away. Ask them to vacate when potential buyers come around so they can talk freely.
  • Rent to own. Give a potential buyer a little credit .Becoming a landlord may keep you from having to shoulder two mortgages.
  • Drop the asking price. And figure out the lowest amount you're willing or able to accept.

Five Ways to Cut Heating Costs


  If you're thinking it's time to do something about your cold house and your high heating bills, here are five win-win suggestions that will help you do both.

A clogged filter makes your furnace work harder to deliver the same amount of heat, which wastes energy by keeping the furnace on for a longer period in order to bring the house up to the requested temperature.

If you have a central heating system (used for heat only), replace the filter once a year, at the start of the heating season. If you have a heat pump or a furnace with central air conditioning, replace it twice a year, at the start of the heating season and at the start of the cooling season. While replacing the filter, always use a shop vacuum to clean up as much dust and debris within the filter cavity as you can reach.

Programmable thermostats work a whole lot better than your memory. They give you the ability to have a lot more control over your heating and cooling systems, and they will add both convenience and energy savings by raising and lowering the heat at preset times so you don't have to remember to do it.

A programmable thermostat will bring the system on and shut it off based not only on temperature, but on time as well. For example, the thermostat can be programmed to turn on the heat to a certain level at 6 a.m. when you get up, and turn it down again at 8 a.m. when you leave for work. It can also be set for different cycles on different days of the week, and can be overridden with the touch of a single button to temporarily raise or lower the heat.

Since the ducts are running through an unheated space, whether in your attic, crawlspace, basement or garage, duct insulation is a huge part of the system's ability to retain heated air within the ducts until it gets delivered into the house. All of the ducts in unheated spaces should be completely wrapped without any gaps, and the insulation should be of sufficient thickness to provide good insulating value -- typically around R-8, which is approximately 2 1/2 inches of fiberglass.

As with a central furnace, it's very important that wall heaters and baseboard heaters be cleaned at the start of every heating season. Before cleaning, however, first try to minimize the potential for dust buildup in the heaters. This might be done by rearranging furniture, increasing fresh air in the room, or increasing air flow in front of the heaters.

To clean baseboard heaters, first shut off the circuit breaker that supplies power to the heater. To be certain you have the correct breaker, turn the thermostat up to high for 30 seconds or so and make sure that the heater does not come on. Remove the front cover and use a vacuum to clean out the inside of the heater, being careful not to damage the aluminum fins inside the heater. If you notice that the fins are bent, you can use a fin comb, available through many heating contractors and other retailers of heating equipment, to straighten them out again.

For wall heaters, shut off the circuit breaker for the heater, and verify that it's off as described above. Remove the screws that hold the grill in place, and remove the grill. Wash the grill in hot soapy water, dry it, and set it aside. You can then clean the inside of the heater using a vacuum, taking care not to touch the heating elements, or you can blow out dust using the blower side of your shop vacuum.

Note: Be sure to refer to the instruction book that came with the heater, or check with the manufacturer's Web site for specific cleaning instructions and safety precautions.

If you have a room air conditioner that sits in a window or mounts into an opening in the exterior wall, they have the potential to leak a lot of air. If the air conditioner is in a window and is easy to remove, your best bet is to remove it, clean it and then store it for next summer.

If it's not easily removed, then examine the unit carefully to see if there is any daylight coming in around it. You can use foam tape, expandable spray foam or other weatherstripping materials to close up the gaps around the case. Finally, buy or build a cover that will slip over the unit from the outside and prevent cold air from coming through it and into the house.

Home Buyer Tax Credit: How It Works

by Chicago Tribune, Mary Umberger (12/28/2008)

Home Buyer Tax Credit: How It Works
First-time homebuyers in 2008 can take an income-tax credit on their purchase, thanks to passage in Congress earlier this year of the first-time home buyer tax credit.

The definition of first-time homebuyer is generous. To get the credit, the homebuyer cannot have owned a home in the previous three years. The home must be a principal residence and purchased between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009.

The credit is equal to 10 percent of the purchase price, up to $7,500. Single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income up to $75,000 and couples with MAGI up to $150,000 will qualify for full credit. Singles with MAGI up to $95,000 and couples with MAGI up to $170,000 will get a reduced amount. Those with higher incomes don’t qualify.

If the amount of tax a homebuyer owes is less than the amount of the credit, they get to keep the difference in the form of an IRS refund.

The homebuyer must begin to repay the credit in two years in increments of about $500 a year over a 15-year period for those who received the full credit

Homebuyers who sell their home before the credit is repaid must pay off the loan with any profits. If they sell the home at a loss, the loan is forgiven.

Editor's Note: The credit is set to expire in mid-2009, although industry groups, including the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, are encouraging Congress to extend it. NAR is also encouraging Congress to make the credit available to all buyers and to eliminate the repayment requirement.

Mortgage Applications Steady in Latest Week

by Mortgage Bankers Association (12/31/2008)

The number of mortgage applications filed last week was essentially unchanged from the week before – at least on a seasonally adjusted basis.

This week’s index stood at 1245.7, compared to 1245.4 the previous week, adjusted for the Christmas holiday. On an unadjusted basis, the index decreased 40 percent compared with the previous week and was up 155 percent compared with the same week a year ago.

The refinance shore of mortgage activity declined to 82.3 percent of total applications, down from 82.9 the previous week.

Mortgage rates declined slightly:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 5.03 percent from 5.04 percent
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.79 percent from 4.91 percent
  • One-year ARMs decreased to 6.15 percent from 6.36 percent

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