Lessons in staying sane when buying, selling, or renting your home

articles about “Remodeling

Five Upgrades That Won’t Add Enough Value to Your Home

Paula Pant
August 15, 2014

upgrades-blogMyth: All upgrades will add net value to your home.

Fact: You’ll never recoup the full cost of many types of upgrades.

You’re welcome to make any upgrade to your own home, for the sake of your own enjoyment. But that doesn’t mean you’ll profit from it.

If you’re looking to make improvements that will increase your home’s value (above-and-beyond the cost of the upgrade itself), you should know that some upgrades that seem valuable to you won’t necessarily seem as valuable to potential buyers.

Here are five of the most common upgrades that actually add less value to your home than the cost of the labor and materials:

1. Putting In a Pool

Pools can be hit-or-miss when it comes to value added. You may see some return for this renovation, but often not enough to pay for the pool itself.

Adding a pool to your home could actually be a major turnoff to some buyers. Buyers with small children may be concerned over the safety risk. Buyers looking for a low-maintenance yard won’t want to deal with the hassle and upkeep of cleaning a pool. And buyers who are on a tight budget won’t want to deal with the expenses that are incumbent with pool ownership.

If you’re in a warm-weather climate where people are inclined to use a pool year-round, you’re more likely to get a favorable response from buyers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll profit from a pool installation.

Besides, let’s not forget — if you own the house for a number of years, you’ll need to operate and maintain the pool yourself, and this comes with an enormous extra cost. Your likelihood of recouping the money that you spent on maintenance, in addition to the installation costs, is pretty low.

2. Highly Custom Design Decisions

Your idea of a dream kitchen isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream kitchen. Unless you plan on staying in your house for many years to come, think twice about renovations that are too personalized.

If you install a kitchen backsplash, you might recoup the cost, because the difference between “no backsplash” and “backsplash” is noticeable. But the specific type of tile might not matter as much to buyers as you think it will.

Let’s assume, for example, that you opt for a gorgeous 2×8 gauged slate tile instead of the standard, builder-grade porcelain or ceramic. While you might think of slate as an “upgrade,” relative to less-expensive tile options like ceramic, it’s not likely to raise an eyebrow among buyers.

Similarly, choosing a beveled countertop edge that’s complex and ornate, rather than a basic beveled edge, can turn off buyers whose tastes don’t run as fancy as yours. Or it might get overlooked by buyers who don’t have an eye for detail.

In fact, these custom features may wind up costing you, come listing time, as many buyers will factor in the money they’ll need to spend to change the house to suit their own personal tastes.

If you’re going to upgrade your kitchen (for the sake of selling), stick with neutral, builder-grade design decisions.

3. Room Conversions

Buyers will be looking for certain basic staples when they tour your home — such as three bedrooms, or two baths, or a garage. Getting rid of these expected spaces (or altering them into something unusual) may harm your resale value.

Every bedroom, for instance, is coveted space that can bump your listing up into the next bracket. Buyers are looking for a 2-bedroom, 3-bedroom or 4-or-more-bedroom home.

You might not “need” that extra room, and you’d prefer to knock down the wall to create a giant walk-in closet. Or perhaps you’d prefer to cover the walls with soundproof foam, and convert it into a recording studio.

But most buyers aren’t going to share your interests. Most of them would prefer the extra bedroom for their children or guests.

4. Incremental Square Footage Gains

Sizeable square footage gains (like finishing your dingy basement so it becomes an additional livable extra floor) can be a boon in buyers’ minds. But tiny, incremental changes may not give you a return proportional to their cost.

For instance, building a small sunroom is a “nice” touch, but it’s not likely to drastically increase your home’s overall value. Similarly, a second family room is cute, but if you already have a living room and family room, buyers might not clamor to pay extra for the additional family room.

Adding square footage in a way that doesn’t flow well with the floor plan can also backfire. Sure, a half-bath on the first floor would be useful, but if buyers have to pass through the kitchen to get to it, the half-bath loses some of its appeal.

5. Over-Improving

No one wants to buy a mega-mansion on a block full of split-levels. When your upgrades feel overboard for your neighborhood, you’ll alienate buyers on two fronts: buyers who are drawn to your neighborhood won’t be able to afford your home, and buyers who can afford a home of your caliber will prefer to be in a ritzier area.

Keep the “base level” of your neighborhood in mind. Tour some Open Houses on your block to see how their kitchens look, before you invest a fortune in granite countertops and high-end fixtures. Being a little nicer than the other houses around you can be a selling point, but being vastly more luxurious is not.

Conclusion

If you still want to pursue these upgrades for the sake of your own enjoyment, by all means, go for it. But don’t trick yourself into believing that you’ll more-than-recoup the cost of the improvement in the form of additional home value.

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13 Ways to Prevent Getting Screwed When Hiring a Contractor

July 8, 2014

HousingMarket0331Summer is here— and if you’re like many Americans, you may have some home renovations on your to-do list before the new school year starts. According to U.S. Census data, Americans spent $130 billion on remodeling projects last year, and that figure is expected to rise in 2014.

Maybe you’re finally ready to upgrade your kitchen or master bath. Maybe it’s time to convert that attic space or basement into a home office or den. Or maybe you have some upgrades to complete before you put your home up for sale. Whatever the project is, the process for selecting the right contractor is the same.

Here are the 13 ways to prevent being ‘screwed’ by your contractor:

1. Third Time’s The Charm – You should interview at least three contractors and get three bids before making a final decision. Don’t automatically go with the guy your sister used for a completely different project. Angie’s List is a great resource to find contractors, if you don’t have any ‘word-of-mouth’ references.

2. Compare Apples To Apples – One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make when getting estimates from contractors is lack of consistency. Make sure you request a bid on the exact same work for each of the contractors. Don’t add things to different bids; it gets too confusing and you’ll never make a fair comparison.

3. Callback Turnaround – If you don’t hear back within 48 hours, forget them. You want someone who is responsive. If they don’t return a call promptly now, you can pretty much assume they’ll behave the same way when you’re mid-demolition. Not a pretty picture. Set up interviews. If one doesn’t show, cross them off your list. Contractors and handymen are notoriously over-booked. If they can’t make the interview, you can image how they will be on your job.

4. Know Their Specialization – Find out what his or her specialties are. Residential rehab, commercial buildings, new construction, and kitchen renovations are all very different projects. You want your potential contractor’s expertise to match your job.

5. Get The Skinny On The Crew – How big is their staff or main crew? How many men work for them full time? Does he or she run an entire company, or are they an individual contractor?

6. Is Sub-Out In His Vocabulary? – Whichjobs does he “sub out”?Does he hire a subcontractor for the plumbing or electrical? Which jobs does he do with his “in-house” crew? It’s good to know which are which. If he is subbing out for all the big jobs, you may want to hire some of the subcontractors yourself to save on his commission.

7. Busy Body – Howmany jobs does he or she have going at the moment? This is very important. Especially if your potential contractor is a small company, you want to make sure they are doing no more than four jobs at any given time.

8. Ask For (and Call!) References – This can be harder than it seems! People can be a little funny about actually asking for references. I used to feel as if I was insulting the potential contractor, but I had to get over that insecurity, as this is a ‘must-do.’ If a contractor stalls with getting references, there may be a reason.

9. Check Out The Work – Goto a current job. A prospect should be proud to show off his work in progress. Ask to look at other examples of his work. In this day and age, a contractor worth his salt will have before and after digital photos of his best jobs.

10. How Close Are They? – Look for contractors that are geographically desirable, i.e., close to your job site. The closer they are, the more likely they will be there each day, and on time.

11. Experience Counts – Interview only contractors who have been in business at least five years – under one name. For example, if Joe’s Contracting Service had problems, it may resurface a year later as Joe’s AAA Contracting Service. That’s a major red flag and one you don’t want to deal with.

12. Insurance – Ask about both the general liability and workman’s comp certificates from each prospective contractor. Then call the insurance company to make sure the coverage is current.

13. If The City Permits – Go to the city building department and see if there are any complaints against him. It’s an extra piece of legwork for you, but you’ll sleep soundly at night, knowing the person working on your home sweet home is the best in the biz.

ALL: Have you learned any valuable lessons when hiring a contractor? Share in the comments!

ALL: You can get more information on my books here, follow me on Twitter@1MichaelCorbett and like me on Facebook!

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Style Your Vacation Home With Insider Tips From Homepolish

Homepolish
June 20, 2014

Homepolish01So you have a vacation home and it’s in a great location. You and your friends and family are thrilled to spend your off-season here, relaxing and letting the stress of regular life dissipate. The house is beautiful, clean, has great light, and a nice layout, but your mother-in-law just called and wants to know what kind of mattress she’ll be sleeping on. “Mattress?!” you think and drop the phone. You don’t have any furniture! A vacation house isn’t relaxing if the inside is decorated with outdoor furniture and badly mismatched wicker side tables. You need the decor to reflect the serene dream of a rejuvenating vacation. Never fear vacation homeowner, we have some brilliant decorating tips for you.

1. Be playful, not cheesy. If you have a lake house, work with some tasteful nautical accents, textures, or finishes – but skip the “At The Beach” or “Gone Swimmin’” sign. Please.

 2. Reference the outdoors If your home is in a beautiful area (we hope it is!), bring in some of the colors you see outdoors; and maybe even include some of the materials! For instance, if it’s in the mountains, source some furnishings that use stone or wood accents.

bedroom13. Skip the plants Unless you have someone to take care of your plants year round, vacation homes usually do well without the greenery. Make up for the lack of leafy atmosphere with art and accessories to give the space some life.

4. Build in the fun Add accessories that reference the outdoor activities available in the area. For example: pool toys for a house in Palm Springs or walking sticks and hiking gear for a Hudson Valley cabin.

5. Stock up on hosting essentials Most people keep a sparse amount of dishware and utensils at their vacation homes when, in fact, they host more while on vacation than in daily life. Stock up on wine glasses, serving trays, and more to make your vacation celebrations more enjoyable. Keep them on a bar cart for extra design points.

Vanessa026. Source art and furnishings from local makers Your vacation should feel different than your life at home so source from new artists and decorate with unusual, conversation-starting pieces that excite you and bring out your vacation-self! Buying from local artisans gives back to the community and adds distinct character.

Photo Credits: Tessa Neustadt, Stephen Busken, Erika Bierman

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Can Buying an Older Home Ruin Your Marriage?

June 10, 2014

picture-uh=c2c6276df6c8b1977fb104dc5c356b7-ps=be172bb582faf4a4d9aa7e518e99315-5108-Chatham-Vly-Toledo-OH-43615Ah…the charm, the detail, the attention to architectural style that you’ll find in a ’20s Craftsman,’40s cottage,’50s postwar,’60s ranch style, ’70s split level, and my personal favorite, the midcentury modern. They each have their own unique elements that add to their charm, and they’re abundant across the United States. Older homes — which are defined as any home or condo that has been “lived in”—constitute the largest category of home sales in the United States.

There are many advantages to purchasing an older home. However, there are some potential hazards to consider before signing up for the house that will need some serious TLC, including the strain it can put on your relationship. In fact, according to a survey by Houzz, 12% of couples admitted to considering a separation or divorce mid-remodel.

But before you decide – let’s look at ALL the pros and cons.

The Pros

  • They’ve got more charm. The older a home is, the more likely it is to have architectural details and decorative elements that give it personality that you rarely find in new construction.
  • There’s more selection. There are more of these homes than in any of the other categories of homes. More to choose from means more opportunities to find what you want, and better bargaining power for the buyer!
  • They’re often less expensive than their new construction counterparts. More often than not, an existing home is more affordable. Some stats even suggest new homes are 20% more than an existing home – and that’s a big price to pay for brand spanking new. In Trulia’s latest survey, just 46% of the people who strongly prefer a new home are actually willing to pay the 20% premium that new homes typically cost.
  • They’re spacious. Many older homes have room for life to happen, since they’re a bit more spacious than today’s cookie-cutter new construction.
  • Some land of your own. An older home usually sits on a larger piece of land. Most new construction sits on a developed sub-division or new community, and often, there’s not much open space in the back or the front of the home.
  • Where everybody knows your name. An older home is usually located in a more developed and established community. I grew up, for example, in the small town of Collingswood, New Jersey. You could walk or ride your bike to the main street with lots of shops and stores.
  • Upgrade and add value. You have the opportunity to add value to your home with renovation.
  • Make it your own. Upgrades allow for a degree of personal satisfaction, and you can tailor the home to your specific taste.

Older/Existing/Fixer Homes—the Cons

  • Press the brakes on that moving van. These homes may not always be move-in ready. Most have varying degrees of repairs, upgrades, and renovations that need to be completed prior to even moving in.
  • Show me the money. Older homes can sometimes require lots of renovations, which, of course, require lots of money.
  • Rather not DIY? To be fair to those of you who aren’t handy, willing to get your hands dirty, or face the demands of fixing up a property, this might not be your best option.
  • Down payment PLUS more. For first-time buyers, dishing out the down payment is enough to break the bank. Coming up with the extra cash to fix up the house to your standards can be extremely difficult.
  • Upkeep can bring you down. As opposed to new construction homes, you will be faced with more maintenance issues sooner than later. Older homes generally have older systems. Heating, air plumbing and electrical, and even the roof may need to be replaced at some point in the near future.
  • A messy predicament. Your house will be messy, and perhaps even unlivable for an uncertain amount of time.
  • What’s the real cost? You never really know how much it will all end up costing. My rule of renovation is that it will always cost you 20% more than you planned.
  • Shut out of an open floor plan. The desirable open floor plan is going to be harder to find, because that home design didn’t come into popularity until the ‘60s, so many older homes have more rooms and less open flow.
  • Going green is going to cost you more green! Older homes may not be as energy efficient as some of the new homes with new, more efferent building materials and appliances that cost less to operate on a monthly and yearly basis.

shutterstock_165286319 2

Thus, trying to navigate the move, significant repairs, renovations, your relationship, and the family, may be a lot to juggle all at once. However, the purchase price savings, the more established neighborhood, and all the wonderful charm of an older home may outweigh all the possible downsides. But in the end, it’s up to you to decide!

Even with all the pros and cons considered, with patience and lots of communication, there’s nothing more rewarding and  bonding than transforming an older house into your very own home.

BUYERS: Do you prefer a new or older home? Why?

ALL: You can get more information on my books here, follow me on Twitter@1MichaelCorbett and like me on Facebook!

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10 Tips To Avoid Getting Burned By Kitchen Remodels

May 29, 2014

shutterstock_163900268When it comes to making magic happen during a kitchen remodel, there is a lot that can be cooked up – there are oodles of options. There’s also a lot that can go wrong.

Here are my 10 key tips to avoid getting burned on a kitchen remodel:

  1. Don’t Overspend

    Before you start planning, consider the market and decide whether a low-, medium-, or high-end kitchen remodel makes the most sense. Costs can run the gamut from $2,000 for a simple paint-and-hardware upgrade to $50,000 if you’re installing expensive countertops and luxury appliances. Knowing your neighborhood will help keep from overspending – you may not get your investment back installing travertine in your tiny starter – or worse, underspending. Let’s face it, you’ll never see Formica in a high-end home, and in fact, it may become a barrier to your sale.

  2. Avoid An Identity Crisis

    Don’t try to remodel a 50’s ranch-style kitchen into a contemporary cook space.  All homes, however humble, are built in a certain architectural style. Work with it, not against it. You’ll be spending too much money and time on complete overhaul, and you’ll end up with a kitchen that looks like it belongs in someone else’s home.

  3. Don’t Lose Track Of Trends

    There’s always something new in the world of kitchen improvement. By staying on top of the latest technological trends and improvements, you may be able to find less expensive, more eco-friendly versions of the hottest looks.

  4. Keep The Plumbing Where It Is 

    Moving water and gas lines to accommodate the reconfiguration of sinks, ovens, stoves, or dishwashers is extremely costly, especially in older homes. Keep any pipe-connected elements where they are, and keep some extra cash in your pocket.

  5. Watch For The Wrong Floor Plan

    If you do have the budget to rearrange appliances, make sure to keep your floor plan in mind. Does it follow the natural triangular traffic pattern between the refrigerator, stove, and oven? Is the dishwasher next to the sink? It should be, because otherwise, you create a mess every time you walk across the room with a dripping dish in your hand. To save money, I once put a dishwasher in the counter opposite the sink – and as a result, I cleaned up drips on the floor for years.

  6. Don’t Trash Existing Cabinets

    If they’re quality wood and still in good working order, you’re in luck. This is one of the first things I check when sizing up a pre-remodel kitchen, since cabinet frames are the most expensive component of the entire space.  It’s quite simple to give salvageable cabinets a face lift. Three common ways to repurpose and save thousands include: adding new doors and drawer fronts, re-laminating fronts and sides, or repainting – which leads us to……Don’t Just Paint – Spray Paint. Have all the cabinets cleaned and lightly sanded, then have a painter come in to spray them. Don’t try to DIY this one; a couple of cans of spray paint from the hardware store just won’t do the trick. A professional spray job can make ugly cabinets look factory-new. And you can’t get the same look by painting or rolling the cabinets yourself.

  7. Don’t Scrimp On New Hardware 

    Home remodeling superstores carry a great selection of door hardware.  Choose knobs and pulls that complement your architectural style, and don’t cut corners. This is what I call a brooch – an added touch that makes the whole room work! Also, remove and replace any old painted-over hinges with shiny new ones. It is time consuming, but very inexpensive. And it makes a huge difference.

  8. Take Advantage Of Free Advice

    Check out the larger home improvement centers for free, computer-based design services for help laying out your kitchen. Their professionals are at the leading edge of today’s decorating trends, and their services include one-on-one client assistance as well as in-home consultations, complete project management, and installation services.

  9. Don’t Mismatch Appliances 

    When buying new fridges, ranges, and dishwashers, stick with the same brand. Fortunately appliance manufactures have begun to create good-looking, low-priced lines that include matching sets. With a little research and some smart shopping, you can find affordable appliances that look very high-end – and when they all match, you get a designer look for much less.

  10. Don’t Forget To Budget For Sinks And Fixtures 

    Get the best possible faucet, one with a pull out spray attachment or a gooseneck with detachable head. It’s a necessity AND a brooch – and the difference between good and great is only $50 -$75. Stick to one consistent fixture finish since mixed finishes can look like patch work.

ALL: What’s the one thing you’ve done in a kitchen (past or present) that really gave it that ‘wow’ factor?

ALL: You can get more information on my books here, follow me on Twitter@1MichaelCorbett and like me on Facebook!

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