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Jennifer Ratcliff's Blog

By Jennifer Ratcliff | Agent in Knoxville, TN
  • Myth busters: Why vinyl siding is America's hottest home design feature

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 29, 2013 11:25 AM  |  954 views  |  No comments

    (BPT) - Chances are, you've seen and heard a lot about vinyl siding on home renovation television shows, in magazines and in your neighborhood. Once seen as a drab and boring alternative to aluminum siding, vinyl siding is now driving new design trends, effortlessly adapting to any architectural home style.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, vinyl siding is a hot home exterior material, appearing on nearly one third of all new homes built in 2012, more than any other cladding material. Still unsure about vinyl siding? Consider these myth-busting facts:

    Myth: Vinyl siding is boring and looks cheap

    Vinyl siding has come a long way since it was introduced in the 1950s and manufacturers have made strides in research and development efforts for design and performance. Nearly 350 vinyl siding colors have been certified for color retention, according to the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI). The variety offers homeowners a virtually endless palette of fade-resistant colors, combined with complementary trim, accents and accessories. Additionally, the texture and attention to detail on the siding panels make high-end vinyl siding nearly indistinguishable from wood clapboard, cedar shake shingles or other traditional materials. -

    Thanks to these advancements in color and technology, top designers on shows like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "George to the Rescue" have recently made vinyl siding a focal point of their renovation and new-build home designs. And many historical societies across the U.S. have turned to vinyl siding for historic home renovations because of the wide selection of period colors, architectural details and low-maintenance benefits.

    "After the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011, we built seven houses in seven days using vinyl siding exteriors," says Kim Lewis, architectural designer of Kim Lewis Designs and former lead designer for ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. "At first I was skeptical, but we were able to bring forward character-driven design on each of the home's exteriors with vibrant colors and architectural elements. After spending some time with the material, I have a more positive outlook on vinyl siding."

    Myth: Vinyl trim doesn't have the authentic look of wood

    A common misconception about vinyl siding is that trim options don't offer a high-end look like authentic wood. Though in recent years, siding manufacturers such as Ply Gem have made significant strides in the design of low maintenance, holistic finishing solutions for windows, doors, eaves, gables, columns and more, introducing trim and mouldings made from cellular PVC.

    These trim packages are designed to look and function like real wood, accentuating the best features of any architectural home style, but eliminating the need to clean, replace or stain in years to come. With today's trim options, even the most discerning homeowners will find there's no need to compromise beauty to get low-maintenance curb appeal.

    Myth: Vinyl siding isn't durable

    Don't let the light weight of the product fool you. Products like Mastic Home Exteriors by Ply Gem vinyl siding are manufactured with technologies tested to resist wind speeds of more than 200 mph. These products have been put to the test and withstood the elements in recent storms such as Superstorm Sandy.

    In addition to holding its own against Mother Nature, vinyl siding puts up a pretty good fight against Father Time. The product has tremendous longevity, in many cases lasting 30 years or more with very little maintenance and low cost of ownership. Vinyl siding does not need to be painted and it can be cleaned with simple soap and water.

    If you believed the myths above, don't be discouraged. One thing that is undeniably true is that vinyl siding will continue to lead the way in exterior home design. For links to more facts and studies on vinyl siding, visit www.plygem.com. Manufacturer sites like these are also a great resource for homeowners who want to experiment with vinyl siding colors and options before committing to a new build or renovation, offering exterior design tools for photo-realistic virtual makeovers on a variety of architectural home styles.

  • Renovation loans give homebuyers an edge in a competitive market

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 29, 2013 11:23 AM  |  948 views  |  2 comments

     

    (BPT) - Just a year ago homebuyers could choose from a bounty of properties on the market. Today things are starkly different. In many locations throughout the United States, inventory of homes for sale is at historic lows, creating a seller's market where multiple buyers get into bidding wars over move-in-ready homes.

    "Move-in-ready homes may be selling like hotcakes, but older homes or damaged properties are often passed over," says Margaret Kelly, CEO with RE/MAX. "This is a big opportunity for smart buyers who are willing to overlook cosmetic or other imperfections."

    If buyers can look beyond aesthetic characteristics like paint color, hardware and floor coverings, they may discover a diamond in the rough, especially if the home is in the neighborhood where they prefer to live. For example, if they like the overall design of a particular home, but the kitchen is straight out of the '70s and the deck needs major repairs, a renovation loan can help them purchase the property while upgrading the kitchen and outdoor space exactly how they want them.

    "Many homebuyers are surprised you don't need a ton of money in the bank to fund improvements," explains Kelly. "A special type of loan called a renovation loan is ideal for these types of homes because it covers both the cost of the mortgage and repairs."

    Renovation loans can also help buyers who want to purchase in a particular neighborhood where most home prices exceed their budget. Properties that need work are typically listed at a lower cost and often go unsold, creating an opportunity for people willing to make improvements. Buyers can use a renovation loan to get into the neighborhood of their dreams, quickly build equity and customize a home to their personal preferences.

    Several variations of renovation loans are available. FHA renovation loans are called 203(k) loans. How much money you want to borrow and the kinds of improvements you plan to make will determine which of the two 203(k) types you need. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have their own specific types of renovation loans.

    Requirements for the borrower, the amount you can borrow, and the overall structure of the loan are different for each program. Typically, the loan is based on the estimated home value after improvements, and buyers will need to get bids from licensed contractors to help determine the total loan amount as well as a timeline for the work to be completed.

    Because finding a home and getting approval of a renovation loan can be complicated, it's wise for buyers to work with a real estate specialist who has experience in these types of sales. For example, RE/MAX agents lead the industry in professional designations and many have experience working with buyers who want a renovation loan. Visit www.remax.com to find an agent in your area.

    "A renovation loan really does give homebuyers an edge in today's competitive market," says Kelly. "It's definitely something to research and determine whether it's right for you.

  • Easier mortgage processes, positive attitudes inspire renters to buy

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 29, 2013 11:20 AM  |  948 views  |  No comments

     

    (BPT) - Owning a home has been an integral element of the American Dream for generations. But is ownership right for you? And if it is, how do you know if it's the right time in your life to purchase a home?

    Thirty-two percent of American households are renters, according to the National Multi Housing Council. Generally, more people younger than 30 occupy rentals, while the percentage of people who own their home increases with age, NMHC statistics indicate. People decide to buy a home for many reasons, but the recent real estate market downturn caused many Americans to rethink their assumptions about renting and owning.

    Even with many real estate experts predicting the market will continue to improve, it pays to carefully evaluate how home ownership does - or doesn't - figure into your long-term financial goals. If you've been renting and wondering if it's time to apply for a mortgage and buy your own home, consider these points:

    1. Renting isn't always the cheaper option, and comparing your monthly rent payment directly to a mortgage payment won't give you a clear picture of the financial impact of either option. Online calculators, like Guaranteed Rate's rent vs. buy online calculator, can give you a better understanding of the comparison. With mortgage rates consistently low and rental markets competitive across the country, real estate experts agree that in most major metropolitan areas it will still be cheaper in the long run to buy than continue to rent.

    2. While the days of zero-money-down mortgages are essentially over, it's a misconception that you need a huge amount of money to buy a house. Yes, you'll almost certainly need a down payment, but different lenders will require different percentages. Research your mortgage options before you begin house hunting so you'll know how much you'll need to save in order to secure a mortgage - and the home of your dreams.

    3. Although the mortgage application process is detailed, it doesn't have to be drawn out and tedious. Many lenders now allow you to initiate the process online, and Guaranteed Rate has recently overhauled its website to allow borrowers to apply for a loan, track the approval process and receive their home loans all online. The eighth-largest retail mortgage company in the U.S. allows customers to choose and customize their loans, submit an application and receive an official approval letter all at www.guaranteedrate.com. Automating the application process compresses the traditional time frame from days - sometimes, even weeks - into minutes. As part of the process, applicants also receive the credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.

    4. Buying a home affords you the opportunity to really grow your roots, but the flipside is that in order to get the most out of your investment, you need to stay put for a while. If you anticipate being in your current job and living in your current town for at least five years, the long-term investment of buying a house will make more sense for you. If you anticipate a job change or a move within a few years, you may want to hold off on buying a house. The good news is, doing so gives you more time to save toward a down payment so you'll look even more appealing to lenders when you are ready to buy.

    While only you can decide if homeownership is right for you and your family - and if now is the right time to buy - keep in mind a few statistics from Trulia.com: 42 percent of renters say they regret not having bought a home, and 31 percent say they want to buy a home in the next two years.

  • A clean HVAC system is a breath of fresh air for allergy sufferers

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 8, 2013 10:10 AM  |  1,121 views  |  No comments
     
     

    (BPT) - Gesundheit! If allergy season has you sneezing and sniffling, you might believe you're better protected inside your house than outside in the fresh air. Think again. In a typical six-room house, everyday living creates up to 40 pounds of dust every year, according to NADCA: The HVAC Inspection, Maintenance and Restoration Association. What's more, your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system pulls in a sizeable amount of contaminants, and may re-circulate those irritants five to seven times a day.

    Your heating and cooling system can be considered the heart and lungs of your home, taking in air and breathing it out. Generally, the cleaner the lungs, the cleaner the air in your home - and the fewer allergy triggers circulating in the air. While dirty ducts don't necessarily mean unhealthy air in your home, they may be contributing to larger health issues or harboring contaminants that could cause serious problems for people with respiratory health conditions or some environmental allergies. That's why it's important to get a quality HVAC cleaning done on a regular basis.

    Having your HVAC system cleaned by a professional could actually save you money in the long run. That's because contaminants in your home's heating and cooling system cause it to work harder and shorten the life of your system. Even though you use filters, the HVAC system still gets dirty through normal use. When the system is clean, however, it doesn't have to work as hard to maintain the temperature you want, and will use less energy - saving you money.

    Once you've decided to have your HVAC system cleaned, how do you choose a professional? NADCA urges you to resist those fliers you might get from fly-by-night companies. Firms offering "$99 whole house specials" and similar gimmicks may do work that's not up to industry standards or try to squeeze more money from you by using scare tactics. Here are other suggestions from NADCA:

    * Look for a company that's certified by NADCA to perform HVAC system cleaning and is a member in good standing of NADCA. The organization has a list of member companies; visit www.nadca.com. NADCA members carry general liability insurance, have at least one person on staff trained and certified as an Air Systems Cleaning Specialist, and clean and restore heating and cooling systems following the organization's guidelines.

    * Ask at least two contractors to inspect your system and give you time estimates for their work. This will give you a general idea of how long the job should take.

    * Not every house needs an HVAC cleaning. A quality company will do a visual inspection first and recommend a complete cleaning only if necessary. The professional should be able to point out debris buildup that is visible to the human eye, such as by removing a floor register and taking a picture with a digital camera.

    * Has the company been in business long enough to have adequate experience? Ask if the company has done work in homes similar to yours. Get and check references.

    * Ask for proof that the company is properly licensed and adequately insured.

    * The company may use one of two main types of vacuum collection systems - either one mounted on a truck or a portable unit. All vacuum units should be attached to collection devices for safe containment prior to disposal. Any device that exhausts indoors must be HEPA filtered.

    * A vacuum collection device alone won't get your HVAC system clean. The professional should also use tools designed to actually clean debris off the components, such as brushes.

    * Run through a checklist of what needs to be done with the professional before and after the job, to ensure it's done properly. You can find a thorough checklist at www.nadca.com.

    Keeping allergies at bay can be a multi-faceted job. But having clean air ducts in your home will go a long way toward everyone breathing more easily.

  • Making the choice between weathering and finishing a deck

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 8, 2013 10:09 AM  |  1,074 views  |  No comments

    Making the choice between weathering and finishing a deck
     

    (BPT) - A backyard refresh or upgrade can bring comfort, energy, fun and relaxation into the space for the family to enjoy. But before you start work or purchase materials, you need to consider the maintenance and upkeep of the project for years down the road. Sure, you will enjoy the project tremendously the first year it's completed. But if staining or sanding aren't something you're willing to do to keep the deck looking sharp, you need to carefully consider your choice of deck material.

    Many homeowners choose to install a deck in their backyard as an outdoor living space. Decks are extremely versatile: they can be an outdoor living room, a kitchen, a spa with hot tub or a gathering area for friends and family. There are a variety of material options for decks, and these materials all differ in the upkeep they require.

    Synthetic or composite deck materials do not require finishing, which leaves homeowners without the option to change the look of the deck over time to match a new house color, new outdoor furniture, landscaping or just to give the deck a fresh look. A composite deck - like any material - will need cleaning to help control mold and remove dirt.

    Decks made from wood products, however, give homeowners flexibility to match the deck to the area surrounding it. Wood species like Western Red Cedar have natural preservative oils that preserve the wood, even in extreme weather. Cedar also gives homeowners a choice to let the wood weather naturally turning a soft, silver-gray color. And if the mood strikes, homeowners can change the color of the deck by sanding and refinishing. Western Red Cedar Lumber Association has information and advice about weathering or finishing cedar decks at www.wrcla.org.

    Finishing wood decks is another option, and gives homeowners just about any choice in color they want. Scott Gibson, from Professional Deck Builder Magazine has a few tips for homeowners who want to finish their wood deck.

    * On a new deck that is to be stained, apply the stain to all sides of the deck boards before installation. This step helps prevent moisture penetration into the wood, which could compromise any finish.

    * Make certain the deck is clean, completely dry and free from mold or mildew. A mild, oxygen bleach solution is recommended for treating mold and mildew. Do not increase the recommended strength of this solution, and it needs to be left on the deck surface for about 30 minutes to be effective.

    * Use a wood brightener to prep it. "No step is skipped more than this one," Gibson says. "It's by far the easiest step to do, and it will have a dramatic effect on the final result."

    * Choose a stain. Most builders and experts recommend semi-transparent stains, because they contain pigments that help block sunlight and protect the wood surface. They also last longer than transparent stains. Many products also contain water repellents, mildew-fighting properties and fungicides. Latex stains should be avoided as they usually form a film, which can flake over time.

    * Transparent stains or water-repellant stains are perfect for homeowners wanting to keep the natural look. They contain a UV blocker or absorber to help reduce damage from sunlight. They are also good for newly manufactured or restored cedar decks. Homeowners should note that transparent stains don't last a long time, especially when exposed to a lot of sun.

    Whether you choose to let your deck weather naturally, or finish it to the exact look to match your home, it's important to take into consideration the future maintenance and color flexibility provided by decking materials before you begin the project. And with your deck complete, in no time at all everyone in the family will be enjoying the new outdoor space, and the aura it brings to the backyard.

  • Easy ways to add digital fun to your outdoor living space

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 8, 2013 9:53 AM  |  1,085 views  |  No comments
     
     

    (BPT) - It's always been possible to watch the big game or your favorite movie from your deck or patio. But until the arrival of wireless technology, you would have needed a really long extension cord and a super-long cable connection (or rabbit ears) to do it. And rain would have ruined your fun in more ways than one.

    Now, wireless technology and a host of advances in how digital devices are manufactured and function have made it much easier to enjoy electronic entertainment in the great outdoors. Versatile technology could be part of what's driving the growth in outdoor digital entertainment. Installations of outdoor entertainment systems doubled from 2010 to 2011 (the most recent numbers available), and the average project cost nearly $8,000, according to the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA).

    Adding sound and audio systems is a great way to liven up outdoor kitchens and living spaces, patios and even screened porches. If you're looking to outfit your outdoor spaces with the latest in digital fun, here are a few ideas to get you started:

    * Adding high quality sound to your deck or patio is as easy as upgrading your home audio system. Modern systems allow you to wirelessly transmit sound (either music or audio from the TV) throughout your home. Bringing that sound outside requires a wireless setup and incorporating outdoor-ready speakers into your existing sound system. Sensitive system parts, like the radio tuner or CD player reside safely indoors and the wireless function transmits the sound outside to weather-resistant speakers.

    * No more super-long extension cords and wheeling the TV in and out of the house. Wireless technology allows you to mount a TV outdoors and access content from your digital cable, satellite TV feed, DVD player or even indoor game console. Be sure to safely mount your television using a mount made for outdoor use, like the Sanus HDpro Series VXF220. The all-weather wall mount can support TVs 42 to 84 inches, and features a rust-resistant coating and stainless steel hardware to stand up to the elements. A cable channel inside the mount conceals and protects power and connection cables, but never inhibits the movement of the mount so you can tilt it for the perfect viewing angle.

    * When choosing a TV for outdoor use, keep in mind positioning and concerns like sun glare. If you want to go with a plasma TV, it will be important to protect the set from sun and rain, and you'll need to mount it in the shade. A weatherproof LCD can be a better option if you won't be able to avoid sun glare and exposure to the elements. LCD images are less likely to look washed out in the sun.

    * Keep in mind that where you position electronics will affect your enjoyment of them. Just as you arrange seating indoors to provide the best view of your TV, you'll need to arrange outdoor furnishings to ensure your electronics are both visible and protected - and have easy access to an outdoor power source.

    * Water and electronics are notoriously bad together, so even if your outdoor electronics are weather resistant, it pays to protect them from the elements as much as possible. Consider adding an awning to your outdoor living space and outfitting it with an automatic rain sensor. Motorized retractable awnings that have these sensors will open to shield your outdoor living space when it begins to rain - even if you're not home at the time.

    Thanks to new technologies, it's easier than ever to enjoy the great outdoors and your favorite digital entertainment at the same time.

  • Surprise: New garage door tops list of high-impact, affordable home improvements

    Posted Under: General Area in Knoxville  |  July 8, 2013 9:47 AM  |  293 views  |  No comments


    (BPT) - You've finally scraped together some money to improve the looks of your house.

    Problem: Every project costs too much or produces a minor improvement.

    Solution: A stunning new garage door. A front-facing garage door packs a big punch and dramatically improves the curb appeal of the entire home.

    That's one of the big revelations from the 2012-2013 Cost vs. Value Report by Remodeling Magazine. In the report, a garage door replacement again ranked in the top three in "cost recouped" on a list of 35 common home remodeling projects.

    Siding replacement and a deck addition also ranked at the top, but they can cost $10,000 to $15,000. An upscale garage door often costs less than $3,000.

    The project that pays for itself

    "No other exterior home project transforms such a large space at such minimal cost and time," says Tom Wadsworth, long-time editor of a garage door trade magazine. Since a home's garage doors can take up more than a third of the front elevation of the home, a new garage door can make a big difference.

    And a stylish new garage door can actually pay for itself, according to a Stratamark Research survey. When nationwide real estate agents were shown before and after photos of houses with new upscale garage doors, they increased the list price of the home anywhere from 1 to 4 percent. That means a $2,000 garage door investment could increase the sale value of your home by as much as $8,000 if you're selling a $200,000 home.

    Making a difference

    Brad and Jenny Considine recently moved from the Midwest to a nice home outside Baltimore. They had a budget for making improvements, but they had a tough time prioritizing which job should come first. They were glad they chose the garage doors because "the change was dramatic," says Brad.

    After his new wood carriage-style garage doors were installed earlier this year replacing two standard-issue builder-grade garage doors, he was ecstatic. "The doors went from being an embarrassing part of the home to having neighbors coming over and asking me about them. I was amazed at how much they improved the entire house."

    Maximizing design

    The Considines' new carriage-style doors had windows that matched the style of windows on the house. That's a key design tip when buying a new garage door.

    "The most stunning doors integrate with the design of the home," says Wadsworth. "Look for colors, lines and shapes that match other exterior components."

    The styles of today's garage doors have advanced far beyond the all-too-common rows of rectangles. New doors also feature appealing designs, striking colors, rich finishes and decorative window options that can flatter any home.

    To get a taste of the latest innovations, Wadsworth urges homeowners to go to GarageWowNow.com , a non-commercial website developed by the garage door industry. The site includes before and after photos and displays many styles introduced in recent years.

    Not a DIY project

    One word of caution. Don't try to install a garage door yourself. "Your garage door system is under high tension that can cause severe injury or even death if improperly installed," says Wadsworth. Plus, an experienced installer knows how to install the door for correct balance, maximum energy efficiency, smooth operation, low noise and longest life.

    GarageWowNow.com's ZIP code search function can also point you to qualified professionals in your area.


    The windows of the new garage doors blend well with the windows on the Considines’ home. Plus, the long vertical panels on the bottom of the garage doors complement the shapes of the shutters and the overall shape of the windows.


    The rows of rectangles on the Considines’ old garage doors didn’t match any other exterior feature on the home. This stale garage door design has been common on American homes for more than 30 years.


     

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