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4 Ways to Stage Your Home and Create a Well-Rounded First Impression

by posted by Desi Sowers

home_securityRISMEDIA, October 29, 2009—Feeling good about a home and a neighborhood is part and parcel of making the decision to buy, so staging a home should involve more than just raising the charm factor. Look for ways to also make the house say “safe and secure” to ensure a more well-rounded first impression. 

In the course of my adult life, I’ve lived in 14 different residences, six of which have been single-family homes that I bought. Like most people, each time I had my list of must-haves in terms of living space, floor plan flow, structure, amenities, etc. But as I was also new to the area for half of those decisions, I was also interested in knowing more about the neighborhood and surrounding environment and would always envision myself coming home after dark. Even the most charming tree-lined street takes on a different character when the sun goes down. 

Home as a sanctuary has moved from cultural trend to the essence of what makes a house a home. The term “sanctuary” covers everything from the basic need of shelter, a place of refuge, security, as well as a home that fits the lifestyle of the family living there. Gone are the days when showing a house with a home security system or solid deadbolts might signal the buyer to think the neighborhood was unsafe. Today, a home properly equipped to address general security issues is expected and has become the norm. Making a home more secure doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. 

Here are some options for sellers to consider: 

1. Hedging your bet-Trimming the bushes at the front entry and near the windows of the home adds curb appeal and opens sight lines around entrances.
2. Security with style- Choose attractive storm doors and entry doors with more secure locking options.
3. Light it up- Motion-activated lighting, timer controls and dusk-to-dawn options paired with path lighting and landscape lighting means the curb appeal of the home doesn’t go down with the sun.
4. High-tech peace of mind-Easy-to-install, whole-home wireless security systems and monitoring means you can control locks, lights and cameras from a computer or cell phone. 

A buyer in the market for a new home today has more options than ever, and each has his or her own list of must-haves. Leverage the opportunity to show a home’s strength by marrying curb appeal and charm with a few upgrades that deliver on peace of mind.

Written by Melissa Birdsong who is vice president for Trend, Design & Brand, Lowe’s Companies, Inc. 



5 Worst Home Updates

by posted by Desi Sowers

Before you splurge on that pricey remodeling project, beware: It may not pay you back when it's time to sell.

Considering all the blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) it takes to make your dream renovation a reality, you'd expect to be handsomely rewarded with a boost in your home's value. Unfortunately, not every remodeling project will bring a handsome return on investment -- and some might even repel future buyers. You might want to think twice about springing for these so-called upgrades.

Over-the-top improvements.
When it comes to renovations, bigger isn't always better. While bringing your post-war bathroom into the 21st century will increase your home's market value, installing a steam shower and carved marble tub probably won't pay off. Before your minor upgrade turns into a home-improvement bender, ask yourself whether potential buyers in your area are likely to pony up for posh upgrades. "People should be careful about over-improving for their
neighborhood," advises Stephanie Singer, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors. "If you're in a neighborhood with traditional kitchens, and you put in a Viking stove and granite countertops, that's fine. But keep in mind that buyers probably aren't going to value that to the extent that you do." To get the best return on your investment, scour local listings to see what's standard in your area, and then bring your decor up to speed -- but don't leave the Joneses in the dust.

Home office overhauls.
If you work from home, a designated workspace is a must-have (and a potential tax deduction). But according to a report from Remodeling magazine, overhauling your office won't pay off when you
sell your home -- especially if you borrow usable space from a bedroom, living room or garage. Treat yourself to that mahogany desk and built-in bookcase if you'd like, but keep in mind that you'll only earn back about 50 percent of the job cost.

Swimming pools.
Is there anything better than lounging by the pool with a book in one hand and a margarita in the other? Well, it depends on who you ask. "Some people see a swimming pool as a major enhancement. Others might see it as a major headache," Singer says. Your backyard oasis could actually deter those buyers who don't want to deal with skimming, filtering, PH-balancing, heating, repairing and winterizing this high-maintenance amenity. Unless you live in a Southern state where pools are the norm, don't expect to recoup the money -- anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 -- that you've spent on the big dig.

New roofing.
Cedar shakes, clay tile or architectural shingles can instantly transform your house, but they probably won't have the same effect on your sale price. After all, buyers think of a roof as a bare necessity -- not a luxury that will inspire them to shell out extra cash. Still, don't put off a much-needed roof repair just because you're worried about the return on investment. If buyers notice a leaky roof or cracked shingles during their home inspection, they're likely to demand a concession for the repairs -- so you may as well fix it now and enjoy it 'til you sell.

Specialized spaces.
Maybe your recent trip to Tuscany inspired you to convert your basement into a wine cellar. Or you've always dreamed of replacing your boring front door with a working drawbridge. Or your kids convinced you to install a fireman's pole between floors. Whatever your pet project may be, don't expect every potential buyer to share your enthusiasm. "There's a limited audience for that kind of thing," Singer explains. "People just don't see the utility." Quirky renovations can personalize your home (and maybe earn you some bragging rights!) but buyers probably won't be willing to pay a premium for them.

Of course, even if a project won't drive up your home's resale value, that doesn't mean it's a waste of money. "Remodeling a home is a personal decision anyway, so sometimes there are projects you just want to do for yourself," Singer says. "You do have to live in the home; you're not always thinking about resale. Is it a worthwhile project for you? Is it going to increase your enjoyment of the house?" If you're not planning to sell anytime soon, and a new koi pond just screams "home sweet home" to you, go ahead and break out the toolbox.

Written by Kara Wahlgren

How Full Is The Glass Anyway?

by posted by Desi Sowers

How Full Is The Glass Anyway?

We all know the economy will get even better and that we'll all look back at this time in history with a whole new perspective. In fact it's already improved from just a year ago! What keeps us strong and keeps a nation from failing is hope fueld by optimisism.

"The optimist proclaims we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." - James Cabell, American novelist and journalist (1879-1958)

What is optimism? It is a belief that things in our past were good for us and taught us lessons even if they were hard. It is also the belief that things will be better in the future.

Contrasts between optimism and pessimism: Optimism breathes life into you each day. Pessimism drains you. Optimism helps you to take needed risks. Pessimism plays it safe and never accomplishes much. Optimism empowers those around you. Pessimism drags them down. Optimism inspires people to greater heights. Pessimism deflates people to new lows. The only way that optimism and pessimism are the same is that they are both self-fulfilled. We choose to look at the world the way we want. Have you ever met a successful pessimist? Become an optimist and see your world change before your eyes. Remember, the glass is always half full -- we're halfway there!

"What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway." - Kent M. Keith

Low-Cost Fix-Ups

by posted by Desi Sowers

Home Improvements that Make Sense 

It's a strange time to be a homeowner. You've managed to hold on to your house during these tough economic times, but figuring out what to do next may be the trickiest part of all. If selling isn't part of the plan, could this be the right time to make some improvements to your home? I think it is, but with one condition. The improvements will have to make sense.

The Nuts and Bolts of It All
Making improvements to your home is never a quick and easy decision. Given today's economic climate, the decision becomes even more difficult. With so many aspects to consider, we decided to simplify things and concentrate on two – cost and the potential for adding value to your home.

Affordability is always relative to the individual. What one person can comfortably pay for may break the budget of another. For this reason we have decided to concentrate on improvements we consider to be fairly low in cost.

In addition, I thought it was necessary for the improvement to have a positive effect on your home's overall cachet. By concentrating on certain types of upgrades you'll not only create a more comfortable living space for yourself, but you'll make it more sellable if and when the time arises.

The Front Door
Repainting or replacing the front door will dramatically improve the exterior appearance of your home. It will enhance an area that everyone sees, no matter if they're driving by or walking up. Upgrading the hardware on the door is also a nice touch.

Plant the Seed
Foliage on the outside of the home carries many benefits. Among them are the addition of color and vitality to the landscaping. If the weather in your area isn't conducive for gardening at the present time, concentrate instead on acquiring potted plants for your porch or walkway. As the weather warms up, think about potential projects for the front and back yards.

Paint the Walls
The weather may not be right for painting the exterior of your home, but it's a fine time for painting the inside. Just remember that you don't have to paint every single room. Prioritize and proceed according to your budget and schedule. Think about sticking to lighter, more standardized colors. These types of colors will not only brighten the space, they'll make it look bigger.

Lighting is Everything
The ambience inside the home, especially at night, is highly dependant on lighting. Great looking lighting fixtures are a plus, but they can be expensive and don't always translate into putting out optimal light. The installation of dimmer switches is far less expensive and it allows for tremendous flexibility when it comes to lighting for mood.

Fix the Fixtures
While upgrading bathrooms is a sound investment in terms of increasing your home's value, a remodel may not be part of this year's budget. That said, don't ignore your bathrooms altogether. Fixtures such as faucets, towel racks, lights and showerheads have the ability to spruce up both the look and functionality. Throw in newly painted walls and some decorative accents and your bathroom will feel brand new.

Fawn Over Your Flooring
New flooring is major "bang for your buck" when it comes to increasing a home's value. But, once again, is there money in the budget to do it? If the answer is no, opt instead for having your carpets and hardwood floors professionally cleaned by a quality and reputable company, preferably one that's been referred by either a mortgage or real estate professional.

No Cottage Cheese
Since acoustic ceilings are no longer en vogue, removing them is a great way to improve the look of your home. You can do this project yourself, but beware. It is not only a messy endeavor, but some acoustic ceilings contain asbestos. We suggest hiring a qualified and recommended painter to do the job for you. If budget is an issue, you can always do one or two rooms at a time, as opposed to the whole house.

Windows to the World
Windows are your portals to the outside world, so it makes a lot of sense to give them a facelift. New windows not only improve your view from inside, they may just save you some money on your energy bill. While you're at it, you may also want to consider adding interior trim to your new windows, or replacing any outdated window treatments. You may be a bit surprised at how affordable these types of improvements have become. Once again, however, you can do this project one room at a time.

Rearrange for Change
One of the least expensive upgrades is a simple rearranging of your furniture and decor. It costs nothing and it might actually result in either selling or donating items you no longer like or want. Proceeds can be put toward the purchase of new items. If you need help in rearranging your home's interior, we suggest the book, Decorating for Good: A Step-by-Step Guide to Rearranging What You Already Own, by Carole Talbott.

Don't Forget the Garage
The garage is a part of the home that is often neglected. If this sounds familiar, you may want to think about organizing the interior. Any items that are no longer in use can be sold in a true "garage sale". These proceeds can go toward either repainting or replacing the garage door. Don't laugh. It's an inexpensive yet effective way to spruce up your garage's exterior.

Ihope you found these suggestions useful. Even more useful is the idea that improving and updating your home does not have to be an expensive proposition. I wish you luck and encourage you to create the brightest and most comfortable space possible.

Want to know the approximate market value of your home?  Please visit www.HomeValuesNRV.com for a free Market Analysis emailed to your inbox!

 

Sizing Up Remodeling Returns

by posted by Desi Sowers

Siding and window replacements and wood decks had among the highest return of project costs upon resale, according to a report prepared by research company Hanley Wood LLC in cooperation with the National Association of Realtors' Realtor Magazine.

The 2008 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report found that the average upscale fiber-cement siding replacement project cost about $13,177 and recouped about $11,424 of that cost -- or 86.7 percent -- upon resale.

Wood deck additions, which cost an average of $10,601 per project, recovered an average $8,676, or 81.8 percent of the cost upon resale, the report found.

Midrange vinyl siding replacement projects returned about 80.7 percent of project cost, followed by upscale foam-backed vinyl siding replacement at 80.4 percent, minor kitchen remodels at 79.5 percent and upscale vinyl-sided window replacements at 79.2 percent of project costs. Wood and vinyl window replacements and major kitchen remodels followed on the list of projects

NAR noted that it was the second year in a row that exterior projects recouped the highest percentage of project costs.

The report compares construction costs with resale values for 30 midrange and upscale remodeling projects -- including additions, remodels and replacements -- in 79 markets across the country, NAR reported.

The least profitable remodeling projects in terms of recouped costs include home-office remodels, sunroom additions and backup power generators, according to the report, which return from 54.4 percent to 57.1 percent of project costs, on average, according to the report.

In some cities, homeowners can recover all of their costs on projects, the report found -- some projects in Charlotte, N.C., as an example, can net more than they cost at resale, and Seattle, Jackson (Miss.) and Billings (Mont.) also topped the list of cities with a high rate of return.

The Pacific region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington); the West South Central region (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas); the East South Central region (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee); and the South Atlantic region (Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia) generally had higher recouped costs for projects than other regions in the U.S.

 

Overwhelmed by kitchen floor options?

by PAUL BIANCHINA

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

by PAUL BIANCHINA

  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.

1. REPLACE YOUR FURNACE FILTER
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.

2. INSTALL A PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT
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.

3. INSULATE DUCTWORK
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.

4. CLEAN WALL AND BASEBOARD HEATERS
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.

5. COVER AND WEATHERSTRIP ROOM AIR CONDITIONERS
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.

Say Hello to Digital TV

by Desi Sowers

 Effective Feb. 17, 2009, televisions stations in the U.S. will stop broadcasting in analog and convert to100 percent digital broadcasting. For millions of Americans who are already hooked up to cable or satellite, or who have televisions with built-in digital tuners, the transition should be relatively smooth. But homeowners who still receive analog signals through a rooftop antenna or "rabbit ears" may need to purchase additional equipment or services to keep their televisions operating properly.

 

www.dtv2009.gov, or call 1-888-DTV-2009.

Homeowners with analog TVs can either 1) connect to a converter box; 2) sign up for cable or satellite service; or 3) purchase a TV with a built-in digital tuner.

Through a program backed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, households can get two $40 coupons to help defray the cost of the converter boxes, which cost between $50 and $70 each.

Congress approved the switch to digital broadcasting to help free up channels for police, fire and emergency personnel. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the nation’s airwaves, says the digital transition also will open the door to new wireless services for consumers, improve TV picture and sound quality, and enable TV stations to broadcast several programs at the same time.

For more information or to order coupons online, visit

Sizing Up Remodeling Returns

by By Inman News, Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Siding and window replacements and wood decks had among the highest return of project costs upon resale, according to a report prepared by research company Hanley Wood LLC in cooperation with the National Association of Realtors' Realtor Magazine.

The 2008 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report found that the average upscale fiber-cement siding replacement project cost about $13,177 and recouped about $11,424 of that cost -- or 86.7 percent -- upon resale.

Wood deck additions, which cost an average of $10,601 per project, recovered an average $8,676, or 81.8 percent of the cost upon resale, the report found.

Midrange vinyl siding replacement projects returned about 80.7 percent of project cost, followed by upscale foam-backed vinyl siding replacement at 80.4 percent, minor kitchen remodels at 79.5 percent and upscale vinyl-sided window replacements at 79.2 percent of project costs. Wood and vinyl window replacements and major kitchen remodels followed on the list of projects

NAR noted that it was the second year in a row that exterior projects recouped the highest percentage of project costs.

The report compares construction costs with resale values for 30 midrange and upscale remodeling projects -- including additions, remodels and replacements -- in 79 markets across the country, NAR reported.

The least profitable remodeling projects in terms of recouped costs include home-office remodels, sunroom additions and backup power generators, according to the report, which return from 54.4 percent to 57.1 percent of project costs, on average, according to the report.

In some cities, homeowners can recover all of their costs on projects, the report found -- some projects in Charlotte, N.C., as an example, can net more than they cost at resale, and Seattle, Jackson (Miss.) and Billings (Mont.) also topped the list of cities with a high rate of return.

The Pacific region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington); the West South Central region (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas); the East South Central region (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee); and the South Atlantic region (Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia) generally had higher recouped costs for projects than other regions in the U.S.

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