Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Six Tips to Consider When Investing in Home Improvement

Homeowners are opening their wallets. A rebound in the housing market has made them more willing to invest in renovations that could boost the value of their homes even more in a rising market.
Spending on home remodeling has picked up over the past 18 months and is expected to rise nearly 20 percent to $151 billion by the fourth quarter, according to a recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Many homeowners decide to make upgrades with the idea that the bigger kitchen or finished basement will make their home more enjoyable. But those looking to sell should know that not all home improvement projects will boost the value of a home.

Here are six tips when considering investing in home improvement projects:

1. Consider all buyers

The classic example here is installing a swimming pool.

A pool could make your home a tougher sell, and it's unlikely you will recover your expenses, says Richard Borges, president of the Appraisal Institute, a professional association of real estate appraisers.

It may be a deal-killer for buyers who might not want to take on maintenance costs or safety risks for small children. "It's not going to contribute a full measure of its cost of installation because its utility is so limited," Borges says.

The principle holds true for other large projects that can alter the structure of the property, such as adding a second garage. In some neighborhoods, they may be a common feature that becomes a selling point. But if it's not common, it could discourage buyers who don't have a need for it.

2. Don't 'overimprove'

Some home improvements can help lift a home's resale value, especially updates to features like cabinets and appliances that are clearly dated.

The key is to select finishes and appliances that don't go well beyond what a buyer might find in similarly priced homes in the area. The term appraisers have for that is "overimprovement."

Consider a homeowner in a neighborhood with modest homes who splurges on pricey countertop finishes like quartz or marble. They're not likely to recoup the cost when appraisers look at recent sales of comparable homes that may not have such lavishly appointed kitchens.

3. Expand wisely

One of the home improvement projects that's least likely to produce a return on the investment is a room addition that expands the size of a home beyond its original floor plan, says Borges.

Projects that require tearing down an exterior wall often involve moving doors, windows and other features, which can drive the costs higher than, say, converting an attic into a bedroom, which uses existing space in the home.

The more expensive the project, the harder it can be to recover one's costs.

Also, making major changes to the original structure, even when permitted by the city, runs other risks.

"When you become the oddball, the only home in the neighborhood with four bedrooms, probably the fourth bedroom is not going to be that desirable," Borges says.


4. Estimate cost-to-value

 One way to gauge whether a home improvement project is worthwhile is to estimate how much of what you spend will be recovered at resale.
For example, if you spend $1,000 on siding and it only adds $500 to the resale value of your home, that upgrade is giving you a 50 percent return on your investment.
Remodeling magazine's latest cost-value study, which is based on surveys of real estate agents, can help provide a ballpark reference. You can find it at go.madison.com/remodelindex.
That said, when home prices are rising fast enough, like during the last housing boom, it's easier to recover costs spent on home improvements, regardless of the upgrade. The alternative scenario also holds true.

5. Prioritize curb appeal

Making the master bedroom bigger or converting a downstairs closet into a half-bath might seem like good investments, but not if you need to upgrade your roof or fix window seals.

Those fixes may not be aesthetic upgrades, but often make a home easier to sell.

Replacing your front door might cost you $1,500, but it's the type of upgrade that can make a home attractive to buyers, says Sal Alfano, editorial director of Remodeling magazine.

The magazine says replacing the front entry with a 20-gauge steel door is the upgrade from which homeowners can expect to recoup the most money among renovations that cost less than $5,000. The magazine estimates a recovery of 85.6 percent of the cost.

6. Consult an expert

Before moving forward on a home improvement project, consult with a real estate agent or an appraiser who knows your market.

They should be able to gauge how the upgrade could affect the sales price of your home. That can help you determine how much of your investment you're likely to recoup.

Almost all appraisers are independent and set their own fees. A consultation could cost between $500 and $1,000. Real estate agents might be willing to offer their assessment for free, perhaps with the understanding that they might earn your business when it comes time to sell.

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*article from heraldextra.com

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Remodels You Can Have Done Before Thanksgiving!

Great article from Service Alley's blog!

5 + 1 Easy Kitchen Remodels That You Can Have Ready Before Thanksgiving


So it may be a little early to start talking about Thanksgiving. I, personally, think it is (I’m still sweating from my commute to work this morning), but one thing is undeniable: we tend to start thinking about fall holidays when summer’s over. Maybe it’s the fact that, after Labor Day, we don’t get any more days off until then. Regardless, in the coming weeks, you’ll likely start dreaming of snow, evergreens, lazy Sundays, and family-fist-fights.

Want to stun your holiday visitors into submission this year?  Doing just a bit of remodeling can reinvent your kitchen, your cooking and your reputation as a host. My wife and I did it last year and, instead of Dad’s usual ‘pleasantries’, he and Mom couldn’t get over one thing: how did you do this in such a short time?

It’s true, my parents make two yearly visits to our home: one during the beginning of August (for reasons that completely escape me) and one for Thanksgiving. And in the short period of time between visits, for relatively little money, we’d completely reinvented our kitchen. Now, when I say reinvented, I don’t mean we knocked out walls, bought pricey new appliances, or put in new windows. No. I mean, c’mon, I’m a blogger. Instead, we did these five things that completely changed our space. Some we contracted out, some we did ourselves (I mean, you’ve got to know your limits, right?), but they were simple, relatively painless (except when I fell off the ladder painting cabinets) and surprisingly affordable.

The plus one (which stands out like a sore thumb because, c’mon, six) is one I’m undertaking this fall.

Thanksgiving is less than 90 days away! Here we go:

1. Chalkboard Wall:

I know this is super-popular now, but I like to think my wife and I did it before it became so (we didn’t; I’m just being wishful). And it’s popular for good reason. It’s cheap, versatile, and instantly modernizes (to some degree) any space that it’s in. Simply pick a wall, go to a store that sells paint, buy a can of chalkboard paint (it’s usually somewhere around the spray paint), and paint on two coats. We didn’t use primer (you can), but two coats is typically necessary and really renders the primer kind of unnecessary.  After you let it dry, the sky’s the limit on what you can actually do with it: meal plans, reminders, inspirational poems (I recommend “Western Wind”), drawings. Really, whatever you need it for. And it can change if, say, your kid needs an impromptu math lesson or you’ve always wanted to have a fancy menu for your Thanksgiving feast. Here’s your chance to show everyone the writing on the wall. The best part is that, when you out-grow it (like that could ever happen), you just paint over it.

2. Replace Your Countertop:

I know this seems like a hassle. Surely, your laminate counter-top can hang out for another year, collecting stains and wear. I thought mine could. My wife, however, told me otherwise. And after doing a bit of research, it started to seem pretty feasible. We elected to go with a quartz top, but the one that we really, really lusted after was actually made of concrete. The cool thing about concrete is that it can be poured in any shape, and any design details you want can be set directly into it. Now, deciding between the two is really just a matter of taste; if your home style is more traditional, you might go with quartz. However, if you find yourself favoring that modern/industrial look, concrete might be your best bet. Both of these are nearly comparable in strength and price, require little maintenance, and can easily be purchased and installed by the holiday (as long as you get on it like now). While, obviously, I can’t quote you exact prices, I can tell you that quartz runs about $3-4K (depending on quality) and concrete runs $3.5-5K. At first I thought I’ll save us on installation and do it myself. That was stupid. Really stupid. Unless you or someone you know someone does this professionally, do yourself a favor and hire a contractor. Really, the installation itself costs about $300 max. It’s worth it. I almost destroyed the countertop and was nearly crushed to death in the process.

3. Paint Your Tile Backsplash:

In my last apartment, there was this completely gruesome backsplash. It must have been installed in 1981 when Norman Rockwell-style fruit basket sketches were a thing one might want to look at every morning.  It drove me insane. The deal my wife made with me was, as long I didn’t complain about it EVERY DAY, when we got a home of our own, it would never have anything like that in it. Fast-forward to us finding our dream starter home last year, complete with IDENTICAL backsplash. I thought this was a dark, cosmic joke, that someone out there was really living it up at my expense, that I was doomed to be followed by ugly flowers against a nicotine-yellow tile… and then I read that you can paint a backsplash to look however you like. So I did that. It’s really a fairly simple process:
      1. Buy some oil-based, semi-gloss paint of your preference and a gallon of Adhesion Primer (do not omit this)
      2. Scuff the backsplash with sand-paper. Do this a lot, until it’s no longer smooth
      3. Apply two coats of Adhesion Primer (again, DO NOT OMIT THIS)
      4. Let primer dry and then roll on two coats of that oil-based, semi-gloss paint you bought.
      5. Enjoy your new backsplash.

4. Change out your hardware:

This is honestly something that wasn’t even remotely on my radar until I met my wife. It never occurred to me that all those cabinet and dresser knobs were actually screwed into the furniture and could be removed/changed out. The first time I took one off, I showed her proudly while she gave me that look that only a smart person who loves an idiot can give. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty excited to change hardware since then. Mostly because it’s easy, cheap, and can be a real game-changer. If you’re looking for micro-design details to accentuate the larger-scale stuff you’ve already done, this is your calling. Depending on your budget, you can get hardware at a variety of places (stores like Home Depot or Lowes, specialty stores with home sections like Anthropologie, or online from sites like Knobs N Pulls) and, if you look enough, you’re guaranteed to find one that fits your home. And, I mean, even if the one’s you select don’t have the same measurements as your current ones, simply drilling new holes/widening current ones will get the job done. If you accidentally drill a hole in the wrong spot on your cabinet (guilty), or just have a handle-to-hole mismatch, you can find wood filler at a local hardware store that matches the wood tone of your cabinet, or that you can stain to match it in just a few minutes.

5. Spruce up your cabinets (or replace them entirely):

At this point in my career, I’m a sprucer. Now, some of you may be replacers, and more power to you; please know that I envy you from the bottom of my everything. If you’re a replacer, you’ll need to get started on this now. While it’s totally feasible to have your cabinets replaced by Thanksgiving, the process can take some time, so the sooner you get started, the better. Now if you’re a sprucer, boy do I have some good news for you (not really). Cabinet painting can be a pretty involved process, but is very approachable. You’ll need to remove all doors and hardware, sand everything, and get plenty of the paint you want before you get started. There really isn’t a secret to painting things—sand surface, apply paint, allow to dry, reapply paint, allow to dry—but, if you’re an advanced sprucer (or just one who really hates paint-brushes), you can apply a spray-on finish instead. I don’t know a whole lot about that, but here is a very solid how-to. Either way, taking time to do this process carefully and correctly will leave you with stunning, inexpensive results (but you’ll be really tired). Also, from my experience, if you can’t quite reach the corner of a cabinet from the ladder you’re standing on, get down and move the ladder. Otherwise, you could become much more intimate with the fridge, then the ladder rung, then the floor than you might otherwise care to be.

If you complete these things before Thanksgiving (I did, but, I was otherwise only sporadically employed at the time), two things will happen: 1) you will feel like a champion, a real Sean Connery or Lucy Lawless and 2) your kitchen will look completely different, brand new. If you don’t have the time to do all of them, don’t worry. Pick and choose what’s going to work best for you. Pair them, if you like. Anything will help (though any of the painting tasks will make more dramatic differences than if you, say, change your hardware.) What’s most important is that you get your space back, really make it yours, and maybe stifle some holiday drama in the meantime…


I’m sure you thought I forgot. I mean, really, I’ve already concluded, and this seems almost unnecessary. But I’m so excited about doing it that I just can’t resist. This year, I’m going to build AN OUTDOOR FIRE PIT! Both my and my wife’s parents had these when we were kids, and we’re both so really looking forward to carrying on some of those memories. On holidays, my family would gather around, drink mulled wine, and talk. My wife’s family would cook a whole animal over theirs (they’re obviously from a much more exciting culture than I am). So this fall, you’ll be able to find me in the backyard following this DIY tutorial. I’ll probably let you know how it goes unless I fail hard. Or if I undercook the turkey out there (because of course I’m cooking our turkey there.)

To order your copy of Remodeling Hell, CLICK HERE
For more information about Remodeling Hell, CLICK HERE
To order a copy of my book Murder on Kilimanjaro, CLICK HERE
For more information about the Summit Murder Mystery series, CLICK HERE
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*article from servicealley.com blog