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Home Office on a Budget


A better place to work
Home Office on a Budget

Turn your home office into a more productive and comfortable place with these simple enhancements.

Practically everyone in the real estate business has some sort of home office ideally, a quiet place to make phone calls, jump on the Internet, and access client files.

For the space-crunched, home offices could simply be a hutch with a fold-away desktop in a living room. Others may carve out a corner of the guest bedroom, and the luckiest have an entire room of their house to devote to professional endeavors. Regardless of where you fall in the home-office spectrum, you could benefit from some easy improvements.

The best part is that you don't have to spend a lot of cash to do it. Experts in home office design and organization offer their tips to boosting productivity and comfort in your home office.

Scout out the Best Spot

Think about where your home office is located, says organizing guru Sally Allen, founder of A Place for Everything LLC in Golden, Colo. There may be a better place.

Offices are often shoved into "leftover" spaces rather than located in rooms with desirable lighting and layout, she says. When choosing a location for your home office, ask yourself: “Will I be easily distracted here? Is there ample lighting? Will I have enough room for all my equipment and files? Are there enough electrical outlets?”

The best rooms have a closet for your office supplies and enough space to comfortably fit a desk, cabinets, and any other essential equipment. If you don't have the luxury of relocating to a new room, try rearranging your furniture. Testing different layouts until you find one that feels right and allows you to move around efficiently.

Let There Be Light, Color

“Almost every home office has lousy lighting,” says design consultant Terrence Schlesinger of in Kauai, Hawaii. To make your office an exception, choose a space with a window or skylight.

You’ll definitely want an overhead light or floor lamp that illuminates the entire room and a bright desk lamp. Schlesinger prefers a halogen desk lamp with an adjustable arm so light can be placed optimally for each task. Don’t forget to position your computer so the monitor is free from glare.

Another mood booster: bright paint colors. “It’s not just paint; it’s energy," says Schlesinger, who specializes in helping clients choose paint colors. "I recommend that you get away from anything traditional. Pick your favorite colors — not just one or two, but many.”

He suggests painting each wall a different shade, although he recognizes that not everyone is ready for such an adventurous approach. "I like to change colors every 90 degrees," he says. "And don’t forget about the door."

Not sure you trust your inner decorator? Luckily, there are plenty of Web sites that allow you to test out color combinations in virtual rooms. Some sites to try:, and

Get Comfy

Whatever you do, don't overlook the one thing that our experts agreed is a critical component of any effective office: your chair.

“Anything is better than a chair from the kitchen table or dining room,” says Lisa Kanarek, founder of Dallas-based HomeOfficeLife. “I cringe when I see that — a good office chair doesn’t have to be expensive.”

Function matters more than appearance, she says. Look for an ergonomically correct chair that forms to your body, with adjustable seat height, tilt, and arm rests. Find deals online, but try out the chair in a store before you buy. For more guidance, check out

Relaxing or invigorating music can increase your comfort level, too, as it drowns out background noise and helps you get more done. You can install a sound system and speakers on your walls, or simply use a discreet radio. Keep a selection of your favorite CDs in an organized container next to the CD player, or hook up your iPod or MP3 player to speakers.

Organize, Organize, Organize

To get the most out of your time in the office, organization is critical. Your client files, office supplies, and personal items must be easy to find, Allen says.

Keep stationery and other office supplies neat in a closet, on shelves, or in drawers. Save money by buying in bulk, but buy only what you have room to store, Allen says. Group supplies by type so that you have only one place to look for what you need. For example, keep all the forms you use for buyers together or group all the components of your listing presentation in one drawer.

Allen says she likes to use the tops and bottoms of check-book boxes to organize her smaller office supplies on open shelving and in her top desk drawer.

If you're lacking in closet space, add a bookcase, Kanarek says. "It can organize a room so quickly.” Store office supplies in small baskets; organize professional magazines and journals that are stacked on the floor; and display "treasures" such as fancy paperweights and pen stands that clutter up your desk.

“If you feel that you must keep them, put your treasures on the bookshelf,” Allen says. Bookcases are also a great place to display awards and designations, especially important if clients visit your home office.

When it comes to filing, an effective paperflow system is far more important than fancy filing cabinets. "You want to be able to file a document or retrieve it in 30 seconds or less," Allen says. "Otherwise, papers can pile up."

Use hanging folders with tabs for your main filing categories, and use interior manila folders for individual topics. Go through your files periodically and toss papers or relocate what you no longer need at hand. You can make your files easier to use by color-coding folders by topic area or for all the files pertaining to one transaction.

On the Tech Front

If a big share of your work and communication is done online — as it is for most real estate professionals — then it’s essential to have a reliable Internet connection, Kanarek says.

You’ll save time and frustration by investing in the quickest connection available, most likely DSL, broadband, or wireless. Compare rates of local providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. You may be able to save a few bucks by using the same company for your phone service, Internet, and cable.

Equally important is your phone messaging system, Kanarak says. When prospects and clients call your home office expect the same prompt and professional response they’d receive calling the brokerage.

Consider forwarding your business line to your cell phone so you don’t miss important calls. A remote call-forwarding service usually costs less than $40 per month. If you prefer an answering machine or voice mail on your office phone, be sure it allows you to call in for messages.

Also check your phone greeting after you record it to make sure you sound clear and there are no background noises.

Decorative Touches

Liven up your office space with a small tree, a window garden, or a collection of plants. “Plants provide many benefits, including health benefits,” Allen says. “They soften the walls, add ambience, and absorbs pollutants.” Unless you have a green thumb, choose plants that will be happy in lower light and will survive irregular watering. Pothos and philodendrons are two good choices. Or opt for artificial.

For offices with wood or tile floors, a rug will help to absorb sound and warm up the room. “You work there, and you want the space to feel comfortable,” Kanarek says. A rug also is a good way to brighten up a room and tie in the décor.

Although rugs can be very pricey, they don’t have to be. Look for deals at retailers such as Ikea, home improvement stores like Home Depot, and discounters like Wal-Mart. Add a rug pad to absorb more noise, prevent slips, and reduce the wear and tear on the rug.

Minimize Distractions

A mini-refrigerator stocked with water and healthy snacks will keep you from making trips to the kitchen, where you can be easily distracted. Mini-fridges are available in a wide price range, with many models sold for under $100. However, keeping nearby drinks and snacks may not be the best idea for procrastinators, who will choose snack time over work time, Allen warns. Also avoid having too many snacks near at hand if you’re watching your weight. It’s too easy to just grab and gulp.

Maintaining a professional office environment in a busy home isn’t easy, but it can be done if you set some ground rules. Have a meeting with your family, and explain that you need certain uninterrupted times to work at home.

“Don’t force rules on them; you have to get their buy-in for the rules to work,” Allen says. Consider setting office hours, requiring family to knock before entering, and limiting when nearby televisions or radios can be turned on.

“There’s nothing more unprofessional than being on the phone with clutter in the background — voices, television, the washer and dryer,” Allen says.

Own Your Own Private Getaway on 45 Acres

by Desi Sowers


Rockin' Chair View

Panoramic scenes are the norm from every living space of this charming home.

Own your own mountain of 45 acres conveniently located just 10 miles to downtown Blacksburg or 20 miles to Roanoke.

Home has recently been totally renovated and boasts beautiful flooring, skylights and walls of windows to take in the views of Catawba Valley.

Enjoy relaxing on the gorgeous covered porch, hiking, mountain biking or 4 wheeling - this home will be your private retreat from the hustle and bustle!

Mortgage Rates Drop Sharply for the Week

by Desi Sowers

Mortgage rates dropped sharply last week, possibly improving the purchasing power of many home buyers.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, the most popular choice among buyers, averaged 4.39 percent this week, its lowest average for 2011, Freddie Mac reported in its weekly mortgage market survey. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage and the 5-year adjustable rate-mortgage also both reached new historical record lows.

Rates mostly dropped across the board amid signs of a weakening economy, Freddie Mac says. "Treasury bond yields fell markedly after signs the economy was weaker than what markets had previously thought allowing fixed mortgage rates to follow this week with the 15-year fixed and 5-year ARM setting new historical lows,” says Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac.

Nothaft also noted some improvement in the housing market, however. "There were indications that the housing market is firming,” he says. 

Here’s a closer look at rates for the week ending Aug. 4:

30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.39 percent, down from last week’s 4.55 percent average. A year ago at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.49 percent.

15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.54 percent, dropping from last week’s 3.66 percent average.Last year at this time, 15-year rates averaged 3.95 percent.

5-year adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 3.18 percent this week, falling from last week’s 3.25 percent average. Last year at this time, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.63 percent.

1-year adjustable-rate mortgages: were the only ones on the rise last week, averaging 3.02 percent this week, which is up from last week’s 2.95 percent average. Last year at the time, 1-year ARMs averaged 3.55 percent.

I'm happy to put you in touch was a local mortgage lender if you would like to discuss interest rates and how they will effect your buying power.

The "Big Six" Home Selling Factors

by Desi Sowers

Although they can be stated in different ways there are only six factors that affect the sale of a home.

It is important for you, as the seller, to understand who or what has control over them and how they impact on each other.

  • You control 3 of the 6
  • The Market controls 2 of the 6
  • Your REALTOR® controls 1 of the 6

YOU Control

1. Price - You determine list price for your home. However, a list price above the market for homes similar to yours will impact negatively on buyer interest in making an offer. Your REALTOR® will review price history with you to assist you in making a list price determination.

2. Terms - Buyers have requirements just as sellers do. Your willingness to respect them and be willing to negotiate which terms will be acceptable to both parties can have a very positive impact. Price and Terms will usually be negotiated at the same time.

3. Condition - How well you have maintained the home will influence both your price and length of time to sell. The pool of buyers who are willing to make major repairs is much smaller than the pool of buyers who want a home that has been well maintained.

4. Timing - Economic conditions operate independently of price, terms and property condition. Similarly, seasons and weather factors can affect the time it takes to sell a home.

5. Competition - The number of homes on the market most certainly bears heavily on your ability to sell your home on a timely basis.


6. Promotion - From entry into the Multiple Listing System, to internet marketing and any other programs your agent will have an impact on your home sale.

No one of the six factors alone controls the timely sale of your home. Your agent should provide you with
  • Feedback from prospects who have visited your home
  • Changes in market conditions

Your willingness or ability to make adjustments in price, terms or condition based on the information provided will be the final determinant as to how quickly your home will sell.

Written by: Karen Kruschka, Remax Olympic Realty

New Listing - One Level Living in Christiansburg

by Desi Sowers

Pride of ownership is evident in this one owner home quietly situated on 1.33 acres.

Enjoy the quality brick construction and hardwood floors throughout the easy living, one-level floor plan.

Informal dining room welcomes guests and opens to the charming living room with fireplace and door to access the tiered decking.

The efficient kitchen boasts a charming breakfast nook and a bar area for kitchen stools. Beautiful windows, tray ceilings, double garage and full basement - 3BR, 2BA, 1964sqft.  Come See!

Home Prices Rise Second Month in Row, Will Uptick Continue?

Home prices in major U.S. cities increased in May for the second consecutive month, according to a closely watched index, although experts dismissed the uptick as seasonal while separate reports provided fresh evidence of a weak housing market.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas rose 1 percent from April to May when left unadjusted for seasonal variations.

Prices often rise in spring because of changes in the types of homes selling: Foreclosures make up a higher proportion of sales during the winter as families take a break from home shopping and cash-rich investors dominate the market. Higher sales volumes also push up prices.

But compared with May 2010, home prices slid 4.5 percent, according to the index released Tuesday.

“Year-over-year, prices continue to deteriorate, although there has been a seasonal uptick over recent months,” says Stuart Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at the University of California-Los Angeles. “This reflects a market that continues to be in search of a bottom.”

Chris G. Christopher Jr., an economist with consulting firm IHS Global Insight, said in a research note that the seasonal kick in prices will probably fade by October.

“Things do not look very favorable on the housing front since the employment situation has taken a turn for the worse in May and June,” he wrote. “The unemployment rate now stands at 9.2 percent, and consumer confidence is at depressed levels. Going forward, the Case-Shiller indexes are likely to post increases during the home-buying season, and then turn down again.”

One factor keeping housing weak is the high number of homes in foreclosure or headed into the foreclosure process. Then there’s the stalled jobs market, weak consumer confidence in the economy’s direction and the significant number of people saddled with mortgage debt that exceeds the value of their homes.

A separate report released Tuesday by Santa Ana, Calif., research firm CoreLogic indicated that the nation’s housing market is hampering the broader U.S. economic recovery. The report said that while several temporary factors have contributed to a slowing recovery, including high gas prices, U.S. floods and fading stimulus programs, “fundamentally, the recent slower economic growth illustrates that as the housing market goes, so does the economy.”

Housing influences the economy directly through residential construction, which typically gives a recovery a key boost. But with stiff competition from foreclosures, sales of new homes have been very weak for more than a year.

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