Apr 16


Home improvement projects across the board are giving home owners a greater return on their investment when it comes time to sell. Find out which projects “open the door” to buyers and where remodeling dollars stretch the furthest.


As existing-home sales and home prices make remarkable strides upward nationwide, remodeling projects are also continuing to make a comeback in a big way.

This is the second year in a row that all 35 projects inRemodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report saw more home improvement dollars recouped upon resale of a home than the previous year.

Existing-home sales reached 5.02 million in 2013, a 9.1 percent increase from 2012, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Home prices also rose in 2013: Existing homes commanded a median price of $197,100, up 11.5 percent from the 2012 median price of $176,800. This is the largest price gain since 2005.

Also for 2013, the cost-value ratio of remodeling projects nationwide averaged 66.1 percent, up 5.5 points over the previous year — which is, like median price, the largest increase since 2005.

Remodels That Payoff

The fan favorite in the 16th annual Cost vs. Value Report, which was released this month, was again the steel door entryway. Topping the list last year as well, this project is ideal for clients considering a quick update to the curb appeal of a home. The survey shows that a new steel door, with an average cost of $1,162, will recoup 96.6 percent of the remodeling cost at resale.

Making the biggest gain in percentage of recouped costs was the addition of a backup power generator. This project, averaging $11,742, jumped 28 percent in estimated resale value, recouping 67.5 percent of its cost in 2013. Usually at the bottom of the list, this project now ranks 25th out of the 35 projects. The increase is attributed in the report to 2013’s “unpredictable weather and multiple large storms.”

Regional Trends

The report also shows where remodeling dollars go the furthest.

Topping the list for remodeling costs recouped upon resale were Honolulu and San Francisco, at 110.8 percent and 109.4 percent, respectively. San Jose, Calif., came in third, with just shy of 100 percent of remodeling costs recouped on average. San Diego came in fourth, with 89.8 percent of costs recouped at resale; and fifth was Bridgeport, Conn., bringing in 85.9 percent of remodel costs at resale.

Also signifying distinct improvements over last year, seven of the country’s nine regions outperformed the nationwide cost-value average of 66.1 percent.  

Holding onto their positions as the top two regions for recouping remodeling costs were the Pacific (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington), with an 88 percent cost-value ratio, and West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas), with a 76.4 percent cost-value ratio.

The award for most improved region could go to New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), which moved from sixth to third this year with an overall cost-value ratio of 74.6 percent.

The two regions that held lower cost-value ratios than the national average were the Middle Atlantic (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and West North Central (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota), with cost-value ratios of 63.2 percent and 57.3 percent, respectively.

Top Projects

If your clients are considering a home improvement project to boost the quality and appeal of their home, pass on this list of top 10 midrange and upscale projects from the 2013-14 Cost vs. Value Report:

Top 10 Midrange Projects

1. Entry Door Replacement (steel)
Job Cost: $1,162
Resale Value: $1,122
Cost Recouped: 96.6%

2. Deck Addition (wood)
Job Cost: $9,539
Resale Value: $8,334
Cost Recouped: 87.4%

3. Attic Bedroom
Job Cost: $49,438
Resale Value: $41,656
Cost Recouped: 84.3%

4. Garage Door Replacement
Job Cost: $1,534
Resale Value: $1,283
Cost Recouped: 83.7%

5. Minor Kitchen Remodel
Job Cost: $18,856
Resale Value: $15,585
Cost Recouped: 82.7%

6. Window Replacement (wood)
Job Cost: $10,926
Resale Value: $8,662
Cost Recouped: 79.3%

7. Window Replacement (vinyl)
Job Cost: $9,978
Resale Value: $7,857
Cost Recouped: 78.7%

8. Siding Replacement (vinyl)
Job Cost: $11,475
Resale Value: $8,975
Cost Recouped: 78.2%

9. Basement Remodel
Job Cost: $62,834
Resale Value: $48,777
Cost Recouped: 77.6%

10. Deck Addition (composite)
Job Cost: $15,437
Resale Value: $11,476
Cost Recouped: 74.3%

Top 10 Upscale Projects

1. Siding Replacement (fiber-cement)
Job Cost: $13,378
Resale Value: $11,645
Cost Recouped: 87.0%

2. Garage Door Replacement
Job Cost: $2,791
Resale Value: $2,315
Cost Recouped: 82.9%

3. Siding Replacement (foam-backed vinyl)
Job Cost: $14,236
Resale Value: $11,124
Cost Recouped: 78.1%

4. Window Replacement (vinyl)
Job Cost: $13,385
Resale Value: $10,252
Cost Recouped: 76.6%

5. Window Replacement (wood)
Job Cost: $16,798
Resale Value: $12,438
Cost Recouped: 74.0%

6. Grand Entrance (fiberglass)
Job Cost: $7,305
Resale Value: $5,163
Cost Recouped: 70.7%

7. Deck Addition (composite)
Job Cost: $35,158
Resale Value: $22,881
Cost Recouped: 65.1%

8. (tie) Bathroom Remodel
Job Cost: $51,374
Resale Value: $32,660
Cost Recouped: 63.6%

(tie) Major Kitchen Remodel
Job Cost: $109,935
Resale Value: $69,973
Cost Recouped: 63.6%

9. Roofing Replacement
Job Cost: $34,495
Resale Value: $21,731
Cost Recouped: 63.0%

10. Bathroom Addition
Job Cost: $72,538
Resale Value: $43,936
Cost Recouped: 60.6%

The data used in the Cost vs. Value Report was collected with the help of REALTOR® Magazine in an online survey between August and October 2013. More than 4,500 NAR members participated from 101 U.S. cities, up from 81 cities included in last year’s survey.

Visit www.costvsvalue.com to find information from the 101 cities included in the survey and download free PDFs that include specific metro-area market data. (Site registration is required.) Also visit HouseLogic.com for a slide show of the report’s results.

Construction cost estimates were generated by RemodelMAX. Cost vs. Value is a registered trademark of Hanley Wood, LLC.





Apr 15

Keep Water at Bay

Here are 5 tips for protecting a home from water hazards.



There’s no need yet to acquire an ark, but water certainly has become a bigger menace in many parts of the country. Even storms that don’t escalate into the next Katrina or Sandy can still destroy basements, foundations, roofs, and interiors that once seemed immune to heavy rains.

To prevent damage and avoid large out-of-pocket expenses, home owners should stay on top of maintenance and repair needs. The average water damage insurance claim between 2008 and 2012 for a worst-case flood totaled more than $38,000, according to National Flood Insurance Program data.

These are key steps home owners should consider to protect their property from the ravages of water.

  1. Block Water From Entry Points:
    • Roof shingles that are missing or damaged need to be replaced. Curling shingles can allow water to leak in, and rusty nails or cupping shingles may indicate damage.
    • Gutters and downspouts that are too narrow, aren’t cleaned periodically, or aren’t pitched properly may permit water to come too close to a house, seep in, and damage the foundation, according to Wayne Owczarzak, owner of Mr. Handyman in Wheaton, Ill.
    • Windows and doors with broken glazing will likely allow in water and should be repaired or replaced.
    • Foundations, basement floors, and walls with cracks are additional sources of water entering from the ground, says Owczarzak. White haze, baseboard warping, and paint cracking are all warning signs.
  2. Put in a Second Line of Defense:
    • Sump pumps collect water and send it away. Because they operate electrically, a home owner may want to consider purchasing a generator in case power goes out during a storm. Pumps need to be cleaned periodically so silt from yard waste doesn’t settle, says Randon Gregory withRam Jack, a foundation repair company in Ada, Okla.
    • French drains collect water along the perimeter of a home and direct it to a sump pump. Exterior waterproofing offers even more protection.
    • Interior drain tiles direct water that gets in to a drainage system under the floor, which pumps it out.
    • Boilers and furnaces should be elevated to keep from being flooded, says builder Jeffrey Collé of East Hampton, N.Y.
    • Window wells should drain properly and be accessible for debris removal. Precut plywood to cover window glazing is useful for hurricane-prone areas.
    • Alarm systems in your home can connect to a computer, the Internet, or a mobile device to warn you of impending disaster. ConnectSense, for example, makes sensors that monitor water and temperature extremes.
  3. Buy the Right Insurance:
    • While home owners in high-risk zones must carry flood insurance, it might be wise for others who live near water, whether a creek or an ocean, to do so as well. “Many claims come from low-risk areas,” says Lisa S. Jones, owner of Carolina Flood Solutions LLC. Advise your clients to buy a policy that covers all possibilities, including “sudden water damage.” Condo owners also need coverage. Take inventory, photograph valuables, and save receipts of significant purchases for possible insurance claims.
  4. Act Fast if Water Pours in:
    • Water damage should be dealt with immediately to avoid more costly problems, says Will Southcombe with PuroClean, a property damage restoration franchise. “Time is your greatest enemy. Bacteria can become activated, resulting in sour smells and contamination. The cost [of waiting] can be five times greater,” he says.
    • Turn off pipes once water starts flowing.
    • Call in a damage restoration company—it can determine where water has gone and where it’s headed. Pros will help stop the flow, remove damaged property, dry the interior, decontaminate to avoid mold, and demolish unsalvageable materials.
    • Prioritize people and pets. If water comes in fast and furiously, get everyone out, says Southcombe. Never touch wires that could shock you. Lives matter more than a house and its contents.
  5. Protect Your Pipes:
    • Insulated pipes won’t freeze and burst in cold weather. Master water valves should be turned off in vacant homes, or if home owners in a cold climate leave for a while.
    • Open cabinet doors to allow in warmer air and let faucets drip, both help avoid freezing when temperatures plummet.



Apr 12

2014 housing outlook: Home prices head higher.

After a surge in home values in most cities in the past year, prices will increase more slowly in 2014.

By Pat Mertz Esswein 

2014 housing outlook (© Image Source/Getty Images)


Home prices will rise in 2014 but at a slower, more steady pace compared with historical trends.

The housing recovery has pushed up home prices nearly everywhere. In the past year, home prices rose in 225 of the 276 cities tracked by Clear Capital, a provider of real estate data and analysis. (See how home prices are shifting in 276 metro areas.) Prices nationwide increased  by 10.9 percent, pushing the median price for existing homes up by $30,000, to $215,000. For people who have waited to sell their home or refinance their mortgage, that’s good news. 

Rising home prices in Seattle enabled Mike and Kristin Litke to refinance their first mortgage last summer and pay off a second mortgage that had an 8.2 percent interest rate. The Litkes, who bought their three-bedroom, 1.5-bath home for $512,500 in 2007 at the peak of Seattle’s housing market, had used the second mortgage to avoid paying private mortgage insurance. In 2010, just as home prices in the area hit a trough, they refinanced their first mortgage to a 30-year fixed rate of 4.375 percent but were stuck with the second mortgage because they didn’t have enough equity to do a “cash-out” refi.

This time, however, their home appraised for $521,000, allowing them to refinance into one 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage of $416,800 at 4.25 percent. They have reduced their monthly payment by $360, giving them some wiggle room in their budget and providing an infusion of college-savings funds for their kids: Stephen, 3½, and Stella, 10 months.

What’s ahead
In 2013, a sense of urgency drove traditional buyers hoping to take advantage of still-affordable home prices and historically low mortgage rates. Buyers found selection limited and were often forced into bidding wars with investors and other buyers who paid cash. Sellers reaped the rewards in terms of quick sales, often above the asking price.

Almost half of the cities tracked by Clear Capital experienced double-digit increases in home prices, led by Las Vegas, with a gain of 32 percent. Such spikes reflected a continuing “correction to the overcorrection,” says Alex Villacorta, vice-president of research and analytics for Clear Capital. Buyers and investors rushed in to snap up homes with prices that had fallen too far. Homes continue to be affordable, despite recent run-ups — on average, prices are still 31.5 percent below their 2006 peak. The percentage of monthly family income consumed by a mortgage payment (assuming a mortgage rate of 4.1 percent) is just 15.6 percent, on average, compared with 23.5 percent in mid 2006.

“Houses are very cheap,” says David Stiff, principal economist at CoreLogic, a property and mortgage-data analytics company.

Market observers agree that home prices will rise in 2014, but at a slower, more steady pace compared with historical trends. Clear Capital forecasts that home prices nationally will rise by 3 percent to 5 percent in 2014, about the historical average. Kiplinger expects an increase of 4 percent.

“The most notable thing about 2014 will be how un-notable 2014 is,” Villacorta says.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board, a nonprofit association of businesses, found that the percentage of consumers who intend to buy a home in the next six months was the highest since 2000. Adding to the push: pent-up demand among young people who, hampered by lack of jobs or insufficient income, have been living in their parents’ basements or sharing apartments with roommates. Celia Chen, a housing analyst with Moody’s Analytics, says Moody’s expects the economy to expand enough in the coming year to enable young people to begin moving out. They’ll probably rent first, but low vacancy rates and higher rents will prompt some renters to move on to homeownership.

As home prices continue to rise, more owners who had been underwater — meaning that they owed more on their mortgage than their home was worth — will emerge from the sidelines and start selling and buying homes. CoreLogic reports that almost 3.5 million homeowners were lifted out of negative equity between the end of 2012 and mid 2013. Nevada, Florida, Arizona, Michigan and Georgia have the highest shares of underwater homeowners.

A sellers market
In the past year, sales of existing homes and condos rose by 11 percent, to 5.29 million — almost the highest level in four years. The National Association of Realtors expects sales to remain about the same in 2014. Sales nationally have increased across all regions and in all but one price category, signaling a broad-based recovery.

Although sales of entry-level homes (priced at $100,000 or less) have fallen by almost half in the past year in the West, they’re still rising in the Northeast, where the job recovery has lagged behind other regions. Sales of homes priced between $750,000 and $1 million have risen the most.

“A consistent stock market recovery for a prolonged period has opened up the wallets of upper-income homeowners,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

Nationally, the supply of homes for sale stands at five months’ worth. (Months’ supply is a measurement of how long it would take to sell everything at the current pace of sales. A market balanced between buyers and sellers has about six months’ supply of homes.) The current level slightly favors sellers, but in many cities inventory is much tighter. For example, the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Montgomery County, Md., and Northern Virginia had about two months’ supply in September. Yun says the housing market has moved toward a shortage that will persist through 2014.

Why is inventory low?
In some cities, institutional investors have been scooping up properties to rent out. Plus, builders cut way back on new-home construction during the bust, and homeowners who bought at the top of the market are still reluctant to sell until they can recoup more of their investment. Some are still underwater, unable to pay off their mortgage with what they’d get for their home.


In Oakland County, Mich., in suburban Detroit, agent Melanie Bishop says home prices fell so far during the economic downturn that even longtime homeowners reaped little or no profit when they sold. But with the housing market’s rebound, sellers’ prospects have improved. She recently helped Corey and Suzy MacDonald sell the four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in West Bloomfield that they bought in late 2006 for $272,000.

In the spring of 2012, Corey MacDonald became self-employed, and the couple decided to relocate to Florida. They listed their home for sale at $265,000, just enough to pay off their mortgage and expenses. The best offer they received was $245,000, so they decided to postpone their move and try again later. Last summer, they listed the home for sale at $289,900. On the first day, they received an offer of $310,000. “It was a perfect deal,” MacDonald says. He ultimately took a job in Atlanta, and the couple used the proceeds from their Michigan sale to put down 20 percent on their next home.

The influence of investors will wane as the low-hanging fruit (including foreclosures) disappears in 2014. Once, whole cities were ripe for the picking — such as Cape Coral, Fla., and Phoenix in 2012, as well as Las Vegas and Atlanta in 2013 — but investors must now dig deeper at the neighborhood level, says Villacorta. That’s a job probably best suited to smaller numbers of local investors who know their markets best.

Where will new supply come from?
Most people who list their homes for sale expect to buy another one, so it’s a wash in terms of net inventory. According to the National Association of Home Builders, whose members retrenched during the bust, just less than half as many homes were started this year as in a normal market. NAHB forecasts that a normal pace of housing starts won’t resume until late 2015. Tight credit, land and labor, as well as rising costs for materials, are constraining builders.

Distressed properties are still adding to the supply of homes nationally, but foreclosure filings are falling. Fewer homeowners are losing their homes as the economy improves, home prices (and home equity) rise, and lenders agree to more short sales (homes sold for less than their owners owe on their mortgages).

“We’re in the home stretch of getting through the foreclosure crisis,” says Daren Blomquist, vice-president at RealtyTrac, which monitors the foreclosure market. “But we won’t cross the finish line, with filings back to pre-crisis level, until early 2015.”



Apr 11

This Weekend in Connecticut, April 11-13, 2014: April Foolish!

April 11-13, 2014

April Foolish

The spirit of April Fools Day lives on; catch a performance of the musical comedy “Damn Yankees” – The Red Sox Version at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam (Friday-Sunday). Hunt for hundreds of Dino Eggs left by Monty the dinosaur, win prizes and have fun at The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village in Montville (Saturday). Have the whole family participate in the 5k Run – 2 mile walk – and kid’s race at the Strong Farm Chicken Run starting at the Strong Family Farm in Vernon (Sunday).

Experience more family foolishness with the Grand Prix Stay & Play package at La Quinta Inn & Suites, Danbury. Grand Prix New York / Spins Bowl is home to indoor go kart racing, bowling, new arcade, racing simulator room, huge bouncy castles and award winning Fuel Restaurant / Bar. The package includes: deluxe room accommodations, free Bright Side breakfast, and a $50.00 entertainment voucher; rates from $129.

More tomfoolery:

“Teacher from the Black Lagoon” - Garde Arts Center, New London (860) 444-7373
Bring the kids for an exciting new musical revue based on favorite contemporary children’s books (Friday).

Springtime Farm Tour - Graywall Farms, Lebanon (866) 355-2697
See where The Farmer’s Cow milk comes from with a tour at Graywall Farms in Lebanon. Enjoy a wagon ride to see the farmers at work preparing to plant crops that will feed the cows. After the tour, everyone can sample a variety of The Farmer’s Cow fresh local products including milk, ice cream, coffee and the fresh crop of Summer Beverages (Saturday).

April Fools Tea - Celebrations Tea Room, Pomfret Center (860) 928-5492
Enjoy afternoon themed teas that are multi-course, multi-dimensional occasions that feature assorted savories and tea sandwiches as well as Celebrations’ delectable scones plus a variety of sweets. The perfect freshly brewed specialty tea complements the theme and menu (Saturday).

“Come Party with the Playhouse” – Season Kick-Off Block Party - Westport Country Playhouse, Westport (203) 227-4177
Participate in a fun, party-like atmosphere with food trucks, games and activities for adults and children, prizes, special ticket offers, and a look at the Playhouse’s “backstage experience” (Saturday).

“Scooby Doo Live! Musical Mysteries” – Palace Theatre, Waterbury (203) 346-2000
Help solve an epic mystery in Waterbury with SCOOBY-DOO and the Mystery Inc. Gang. Filled with wacky new characters, fantastic songs and outrageous antics, SCOOBY-DOO LIVE! MUSICAL MYSTERIES will have audiences on the edge of their seats in traditional Scooby-Doo fashion. See if this time the gang is in over its head (Sunday).

These highlights represent just a sampling of the many exciting events taking place across Connecticut this weekend. For more information about these and other entertaining activities, use the Events Quick Search on the right side of the page.


This Weekend in Connecticut
April 11-13, 2014

April 13 - UConn Men’s & Women’s Basketball Victory Parade & Rally
 - Downtown Hartford. Time: 4 p.m. To celebrate the dual UConn Basketball National Championship victories. The parade will begin at the State Capitol, travel north on Trinity Street, take a right on Jewell Street, bear left at Gold Street, right on Main Street, then make a right onto Capitol Avenue before returning to the State Capitol, where the rally will be held.

April 12 - Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass - The Palace Danbury, 165 Main St., Danbury, 06810. Time: 8 p.m. Get ready for some bluegrass music with Danny Paisley and The Southern Grass. This award winning ensemble plays traditional, American roots music on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, bass and banjo. Their distinctive brand of hard-driving bluegrass music combines soulful and powerful harmony singing with exciting instrumental playing. Admission: $25/$30. (203) 794-9944

April 12 - Springtime Sunset & Moonlight Walk - Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Rd., Greenwich, 06831. Time: 7:45 p.m.-9:15 p.m. Seek out the sights, sounds and smells of a spring evening while visiting a field, pond, forest and lake in search of wildlife. Also, listen overhead and look at the moon in search of silhouettes of night-flying springtime bird migrants. Space limited, reservations required. Admission: Adults $5, seniors and children $3. (203) 869-5272

April 12 - T.S. Monk Quintet Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London, 06320. Time: 8 p.m. Enjoy a drummer, bandleader, composer, and vocalist, as he returns to the Garde’s Oasis Room. Admission: Call for ticket information (860) 444-7373

April 12 - Sara’s Silo Spring Holiday Dinner - Silo Cooking School at Hunt Hill Farm, 44 Upland Rd., New Milford, 06776. Time: 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Chef Sara Moulton will share some of her favorite memories, cooking tips and recipes inspired by the years she spent working closely with Julia Child. She now hosts her own television series Sara’s Weeknight Meals.  She will keep you entertained as she recounts personal stories of her experiences and prepares her recipes right before your eyes. And yes, dinner will be served. Reservations required. Admission: $100. (860) 355-0300

April 12 - Nutmeg Depression All-American Glass Show & Sale - Southington High School, 720 Pleasant St., Southington, 06489. Time: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.  Come participate in the Antique show featuring Depression-era glass and pottery on display and sale, with a free glass and pottery identification service. Each admission includes a chance on winning a prize. Admission: $6 (860) 432-2686

April 12 - Taste of Wethersfield™ - Keeney Memorial Cultural Center, 200 Main St., Wethersfield, 06109. Time: 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Enjoy the best in culinary delights. Enjoy live music as you plunge your gastronomical senses into some of the best culinary delights from the most popular restaurants in the Greater Hartford community. Admission: $30 in advance, $35 at the door, $50 patron tickets. (860) 529-7656

April 13 – Enough! A Race to End Violence - Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley St., New Britain, 06050. Time:  Come run for a cause. Race begins 10 a.m. 5K course that starts and finishes at Central Connecticut State University. Admission: Free for spectators. Race registration at www.hartfordmarathon.com(860) 652-8866




Apr 09

Taking Root: New Garden Trends in 2014

Create a backyard oasis for low-maintenance entertaining and calming tranquility that’s sure to catch buyers’ eyes.


While winter still casts its chill, blankets snow, and layers ice in many parts of the country, landscape experts are busy studying garden catalogs, nursery websites, and interior design trends that can work outdoors.

Improving a home’s landscaping offers a win-win-win: greater enjoyment, increased home values, and enhanced curb appeal that may help attract buyers.

To gain the biggest bang for their dollars, home owners should understand their site’s topography, orientation, climate, and economy, as well as their own budget. What’s popular in one city experiencing growth may not appeal where the economy is stagnant, says landscape architect Stephen Wlodarczyk of Botanical Decorators in Olney, Md.

Here are popular trends reported from around the country and tips you can pass on to your clients:

Low maintenance. Busy home owners want to enjoy yards that don’t require a lot of time and effort to maintain. This trend is translating into more low-maintenance, carefree choices for outdoor spaces, such materials for decks, patios, and columns that don’t require repainting or replacing, furnishings that can be left outdoors throughout the year and won’t fade, and plant materials that don’t have to be constantly watered, fertilized, or pruned.

This, in turn, is leading to greater use of perennials instead of annuals in gardens, since annuals require yearly replacement. To compensate for the color advantage of annuals, landscape specialists suggest that color come from accessories such as pillows, placemats, and dishes.

Wildflowers, too, are less labor-intensive than cottage and cutting garden choices, and also less pricey.

Simpler in design and care, yet still pleasing, are gardens that incorporate five to seven varieties of flowers rather than dozens, says Daniel Richards, general manager of design at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, N.Y. “You can go with one big bank of roses in one color rather than 20 different kinds in multiple colors,” he says.

Container gardens also pare down maintenance, and pots can winter indoors. But the downside is that they need to be watered more frequently since water in smaller containers will evaporate faster than it will in the ground.

Although water features remain popular, these, too, are beginning to reflect the desire for less intense care. More home owners install pools with salt water to decrease the need for chlorination, and some go with natural pools where rocks and plantings cleanse water. Still others opt for small fountains for the soothing sight and sound of trickling water. And if they want a more lavish water wall or cascade, they ask for water to be recirculated for conservation, says Chris Cipriano, owner ofCipriano Landscape Design in Mahway, N.J. The size of pipes can also reduce evaporation, with oversized designs slowing the velocity and loss, he adds.

When it comes to grass, “Grassology’s” grass-like product requires less water and feeding since its roots go deeper than ordinary grass to find water and nutrients instead of depending on traditional methods. The “grass” also doesn’t grow as high, so less mowing is needed.

Entertaining outdoors. Today’s home owners want an outdoor entertainment space, so more are adding patios, decks, or terraces large enough to accommodate comfortable seating; often the finished result resembles an indoor room.

The furnishings selected for outdoor entertainment areas are also sturdier — sometimes indistinguishable in quality and look from what home owners use indoors — and upholstery is more fade-resistant.

Bells and whistles make outdoor living even more pleasurable, whether it’s surround sound, weatherproof TVs, or well-equipped kitchens. While some home owners still find a good grill sufficient, especially if their indoor kitchen is close by, others are ramping up their cooking zones with appliances specifically designed for outdoor use — sinks, refrigerators, beer taps, pizza ovens, and rotisseries. Storage and countertops are also more frost-proof.

To shade those who lounge or dine, pergolas continue to flourish, matched stylistically to a home’s design or favorite vacation paradise — perhaps Tuscany or the South Seas. To shade better, many are planted with flowering vines.

For those who aren’t as focused on saving dollars, water features are ever more lavish and resort-like. Vanishing-edge pools, where water seems to spill over indefinitely, are increasing popular, says Cipriano. “Home owners want to feel they’re going to their own five-star hotel,” he says.

Sustainably savvy. Native vegetation choices have caught on in landscaping because they don’t require frequent watering or as much feeding, fertilizing, and pruning, and these plants know how to survive in their region. They also offer the plus of attracting more native wild life, bees, butterflies, and bugs.

Green gardening also means less lawn for many, and more hardscape that’s permeable such as gravel or brick, so water can seep through and be reused. But be sure home owners understand that all hardscape isn’t the goal either, since some greenness is key to a home looking residential and inviting, says Sacramento, Calif., landscape designer Michael Glassman, whose state has experienced a terrible drought.

If home owners insist on lawn and plants, they should consider going with a choices that can be left more natural to resemble a meadow or prairie, or they might consider synthetic turf, which now looks much more realistic.

Many home owners are also planting vegetable and herb beds to grow more of their own food, which inspired Elizabeth Robinson Edwards and her husband Williams recently to launch their Edwards Yards business to help home owners learn how to amend poor soil and grow food sustainably.

Drip irrigation systems help conserve water better than sprays, which often throw into the air haphazardly, says Jim Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studio in Cedarburg, Wisc. For home owners eager to lower water use, they should consider installing rain barrels and other collection methods.

More home owners also want to incorporate local, recycled, and renewable materials, such as stone quarried nearby and reclaimed lumber, says landscape designer Laurie Van Zandt, whose firm, The Ardent Gardener is based in Huntsville, Utah.

Extended use. Better lighting and warmth are key for extending backyard enjoyment into the night and for a greater part of the year (even in colder climates).

For illumination, LEDs are replacing halogen bulbs because of their greater energy efficiency, particularly as their prices come down. These lights are being used not just for eating and sitting, but also to accent specimen trees, garden furnishings, and artwork. Richards says make sure the lighting effect is visible while concealing the source of the light.

Adding a fire pit or fireplace also encourages home owners to use their outdoors as the weather becomes nippier. Fire pits are a more affordable option, but if home owners are planning to stay in their home for a long time, a permanent outdoor fireplace can bring many years of beauty and enjoyment.

Before home owners install either, they should know their community’s regulations regarding having a fire outdoors and how far the structure must be from the house.

A fire bowl offers a less intense flame, but still provides the effect, and several can be placed around the perimeter of a terrace or by a pool, says Glassman.

For those homeowners who prefer going barefoot, he also suggests radiant heat installed under wood boards, in the same manner as indoors kitchens and bathrooms.

All the senses. Attracting bees, birds, and other animals can add pleasant outdoor sounds. And an array of smells from plants, flowers, and herbs also can enhance home owners’ pleasure, says Van Zandt, but try not to have too many that may overpower one another.

Bolder colors outdoors rank high on wish lists, as they do inside, from periwinkle blue to zesty orange, but know that classic white and blue rarely loses its cachet. The Perennial Plant Association named Panicum virgatum, “Northwind,” the 2014 plant of the year with its vertical ornamental grass with blue green foliage forming a clump 4 to 5 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide, Wlodarczyk says.

More personalized curb appeal. A front yard can become more appealing through a host of features beyond a lawn and decorative walk, says Van Zandt.

Suggest to home owners they use textured plantings, different height materials, some variation in color throughout the year, a piece of garden art or interesting furniture such as an antique bench, maybe a small water feature, and even a painted wall that coordinates with their home’s façade and architectural elements.

And whatever choices home owners consider, advise them to keep costs to no more than 5 to 10 percent of their home’s value, so they don’t overimprove.



Apr 08

Clean, Declutter, Discard: Make a House Shine for Resale

Purging belongings can be an arduous task for sellers. Share these 13 decluttering tips with your clients to help them prepare their home for sale.


Sentimentality can be a powerful disincentive to declutter. How could a loving daughter sell her family silver, even though she dislikes the pattern? How could parents ever discard a painting by their young budding Picasso, even though he’s now 30 and hasn’t picked up a paint brush in 20 years?

Most home owners avoid those tough decisions and schlep possessions from house-to-house. But it’s far smarter to shed before moving. Not only does it clear out space to make a listing look its best, it also saves on moving costs to transport less stuff.

Are your sellers clinging to keepsakes? Share with clients these 13 steps to help make the task of decluttering less daunting.

Tip: Taking photos may help your clients look objectively at their house, suggests Amy Trager, certified professional organizer and president of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

1. Study the entire house. Sellers shouldn’t tackle every room in one fell swoop. Advise them to go room-by-room, starting at the front door. Sellers should pretend they’re seeing each room for the first time, says Kammie Lisenby, CEO of The Organizing Experts in Seattle. The goal is to make rooms resemble those in a hotel, says professional organizer Katrina Teeple, owner ofOperation Organization in Los Angeles.

2. Make piles. Sellers should organize piles as they clear each room — for example, stack items to keep, give to family or friends, donate to a charity, sell online, get hauled away, and consign. They should bear in mind the size of the home they’re moving to, their degree of sentimental attachment, and the financial value of each item. It’s best to put highly personal items aside in the keep pile, such as family photos they don’t want buyers to see during showings, says Lisenby.

Tip: Sellers could offer a buyers’ allowance to do their own decorating, says Barry Izsak, owner of Arranging It Allin Austin, Texas, and former NAPO president.

3. Create a spreadsheet. A master list of what rooms will require organizing tasks can be helpful. This will also aid in prioritizing expenses, such as home improvements, paint, and staging elements. To play it safe with finicky buyers, sellers should go neutral in paint and decor, says Teeple.

4. Empty closets. Often becoming a graveyard for all the belongings home owners don’t know what to do with, clean, spacious closets are a coveted feature among buyers. Izsak suggests eliminating anything not worn or used in the last two years. Aim to dispose of 50 percent of wardrobes since most people only wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time, he says. The remaining items should be stored on uniform rods, or in labeled, see-through bins, says Teeple.

5. Clear off counters and bookcases. Get rid of books that won’t be reread, particularly now that so many people read online. Add a few home decor items for sparkle. When in doubt, follow the “rule of three,” a mantra among home stagers, by clustering items into threes to create visual appeal. The final effect should reflect a neutral style.

6. Inspect the home’s exterior. Depending on the time of year, sellers may need to hire a professional to clear leaves, snow, or ice, so that they don’t hide a home’s features. Messiness and wear and tear on the outside indicates to buyers that the inside hasn’t been cared for well.

7. Check curb appeal all around. While the front yard is key to making a good first impression, more home owners spend time out back, so sellers should be sure lawns, shrubs, trees, and amenities like a fence and air conditioning condensers are maintained.

8. Spruce up the kitchen. This is the home’s most popular gathering spot and another place where everything gets dumped—backpacks, car keys, cell phones, etc. The rule of three applies here, too. Tell sellers not to stuff anything into a pantry or cabinets; get rid of it if it hasn’t been used in a few years. Also, clean out the refrigerator and freezer.

9. Make bathrooms spotless. Not every seller has a spa bathroom to unwind in, but clean grout, tiles, shower door, and vanity can make a big difference in an average bathroom. Clear out the prime real estate of a medicine cabinet, add crisp white or other neutral towels, fresh soaps, and a plant, Teeple suggests.

10. Purge basements, attics, and garages. These are a home’s purgatories—where stuff goes to never see the bright light of day, says Izsak. Anything that’s been moved at least twice and not opened needs to be reassessed, says Chris Seman, president of Caring Transitions in Cincinnati, a relocation service. Separate the items to be stored in see-through bins to reveal their contents; do so by categories, such as holiday decorations; and be sure bins are labeled clearly and have lids to keep out pests.

11. Professionalize an office. With more home owners working from home, a separate room or corner for an office can boost sales appeal. Have sellers clear up paper piles and file documents—but remember, most home owners only reference 5 percent of their files, says Seman. The work area should include good illumination, a comfortable chair, and clean equipment, says Izsak.

12. Get rid of belongings. Now it’s time for your sellers to rethink what to do with everything in piles. Here are some upsides and downsides to these decisions:

  • Sell or auction through an online vendor like Craigslist or eBay or at a flea market. Downside: It may take time to get the desired price.
  • Leave at a consignment shop to get stuff out of a house now. Downside: Proceeds get shared, and it may take a while to sell.
  • Give away to family, friends, or a nonprofit such as freecycle.org. Some communities let residents leave stuff outside their house with a sign, “Take it!” Upside: It gets rid of things fast.
  • Have a group haul it away such as 1-800-Got-Junk? Upside: This avoids driving it to a dumpster.
  • Donate to a charity. Upside: It gets out of a house, helps someone in need, and provides a deduction. Fill out IRS Form 8283 if total exceeds $500.
  • Organize a yard sale. If time is of the essence, the seller could hire a professional who sets up tables, takes money, and gets rid of what doesn’t sell. Downside: Proceeds get shared.

13. Don’t repeat collector mania. Once sellers move into their new home with fewer possessions, advise them to purchase carefully. Sending organization ideas and decluttering tips is a great way to keep in touch with past clients. Check out HouseLogic’s REALTOR® Content Resource for helpful home staging, maintenance, and organizing articles you can use in your newsletter or blog, or share them on your social networks for free.



Apr 07

Think Color in 2014

Gray is the new black; reclaimed wood and porcelain floors are made for walkin’; and wireless is controlling sound, window shades, TV, and more. This is a look at the 10 hottest home design trends anticipated for the new year.


Whether it’s based on fashion, the economy, new technologies, or the overall mood of the country, home design trends come and go — sometimes slowly and sometimes lickety-split. But as with apparel, some trends become classics and remain strong — a Barcelona chair, for instance — while others go out the window (think avocado and harvest gold kitchen appliances).

The best advice you can give recent buyers or soon-to-be sellers is not to copy any trend blindly, especially if it doesn’t work with their budget, decor, personal preference, or lifestyle. It’s smart for your clients to be more cautious with expensive, permanent parts of their home environment, but more daring with easy-to-switch dishes, wall paint, and pillows.

Here are 10 trends that are coming on big in 2014:

1. Wider, reclaimed wood and wood-like porcelain floors. Wood floorboards are getting wider—often up to 5 and 6 inches, stained warm gray, and cut from several tree species, says designer Jennifer Adams, principal of Jennifer Adams Design Group in Portland, Ore. Adams is also seeing less of the hand-scraped look, which was costly to produce. Yet, boards can be personalized in other ways. Bole Floor uses a technique that gives floorboards a natural-looking curve, which also allows for more boards from each tree. Other companies like Maine Heritage Timber recycle logs from older trees, which adds warm patina. Architect Elissa Morgante of Morgante-Wilson Architects in Chicago, has found that these reclaimed boards can look smashing whether in traditional or contemporary settings. Porcelain flooring has become more popular, too, because it’s indestructible and available in unlimited styles, sizes, and colors, says designer Steven Gurowitz of Interiors by Steven G.

2. Simpler cabinets, bigger drawers. A major shift is occurring in kitchen cabinets: Warmer gray tones are replacing oranges and browns for a more authentic look, says Andy Wells, vice president of product design at MasterBrand Cabinets. Styles also have shifted from traditional and detailed to more transitional and mid-century modern, since cleaner designs tend to give a kitchen a more timeless look. To fit these styles, hardware is less visible, more modern, and sometimes integrated into the doors. Instead of lower cabinets, big drawers are favored because they’re easier to access and can be fitted with removable storage receptacles.

3. Paint palettes. After years of beiges and whites grabbing all the attention as a way to appeal to potential buyers, many home owners now opting for more varied colors. Color forecasters agree that gray, especially a warmer hue, is the “it” gal in home design for 2014. Mary Lawlor, manager of color marketing for Kelly-Moore Paints, says overall look is lighter, fresher soft corals, shell colors, sea greens, lavenders, and misty blues — sometimes mixed with more potent purples and metallics. She also sees a decrease in Tuscan palettes. Sara McClean, who works with Dunn-Edwards, projects neon brights fading or being mellowed, and expects blues to be everywhere. Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, says four color palettes are emerging: black, white, and gray layered with textures and warm woods; soft flesh tones, beiges, grays, and off-whites; deeper romantic hues, like purple, teal, red, and some oxided golds and coppers; and globally inspired, ethnic brights balanced by neutrals.

4. Indoor-outdoor living. The trend for indoor and outdoor spaces to blend seamlessly continues with more rooms having multiple sets of French doors that open to the outside, as well as big windows that bring in the outdoors visually. Solariums with screens for fresh air in summer, and screened or covered porches that link a house with patio and pool are also coveted home features, says Jeffrey Colle, whose firm designs and builds homes throughout the Hamptons. Even freestanding outdoor structures are being spiffed up. Pool houses may feature more than changing rooms and bathrooms; some owners are adding cooking equipment, fireplaces, and terraces with living room-style seating, wireless sound systems, and weather-protected TVs. Also expect more pizza ovens, fireplaces, fire pits, and propane heaters to extend use.

5. Kitchen color, energy efficiency, and new materials. Several trends are changing up the look of the kitchen, the room where everyone still wants to hang out:

  • After years of playing it safe in color in appliances, some home owners are willing to go boldBertazzoni is manufacturing its professional-style ranges in “vitamin” colors of red, yellow, and an orange it calls Arancio.
  • Bertazzoni, Thermador, and other companies are making their ranges eco-friendly, energy efficient, and more about healthy cooking with new steam oven models.
  • Smaller is in when home owners downsize. Bertazzoni’s range is available in a 30-inch version.
  • Instead of giving up valuable space for a desk, home owners are shifting more toward smaller work areas that allow them to recharge phones, tablets, and other portable devices, as well as a place to leave their mail and keys, says designer Jennifer Gilmer.
  • New materials are replacing standard-bearers. One example: After years of seeing granite top so many counters, metals are coming on strong, such as hot rolled steel, says Gilmer.
  • The mismatched, unfitted look is disappearing, replaced by cabinets that fit together more like a jigsaw puzzle and reflect a cleaner, tidier look, says Morgante.

6. Bathroom kudos. Bathrooms continue to become more luxurious, says Deb Dumel, showroom manager of the Frank Webb Bath Center in Boston. She sees several trends coming on stronger in 2014:

  • TVs integrated into medicine cabinets to avoid having a separate TV visible all the time, such as a sleek one from Robern.
  • Bigger steam showers—sometimes 7 feet by 4 feet—equipped with built-in speakers, an iPad docking station, Bluetooth connectivity, and aromatherapy. Gone are the panoply of jets and sprays that made some showers resemble a human car wash, Dumel says. In their place may be dual controls for two to shower at once with different temperatures. Also popular are rain heads that provide a softer, but still drenching, spray rather than the sharp needle effect. Infinity drains that run the length of a shower floor eliminate curb designs.
  • For men who don’t want to worry about fogging up a mirror when shaving, there are more antifogging devices available.
  • Washlets can now introduce greater comfort and cleanliness with an integrated, self-cleaning nozzle that releases a warm, soothing stream of aerated water; many also have a heating device and deodorizer.
  • Though many do without a tub or a whirlpool, others want the option if there’s room and funds in the budget. Freestanding models are favored.


7. Technology wow. As you can see with all aspects of home design, technology systems are being integrated more and more, at all price ranges and complexities. From heat to lighting, security to sound and entertainment, and windows and window treatments to doors, technology is a home owner’s friend whether they are home or away. Spurring this trend is less costly wireless technology, sometimes one-and-a-half times less than hard wiring, says Eric Thies, founder and director of marketing for VIA International. At the high end, he sees home owners adding digital backsplashes with displays to watch TV or cycle through digital files of kids’ artwork or family photos. Many home owners are beefing up their networks to business-grade levels. To be extra safe, Morgante says those who have wireless may want hard wiring to ensure sure they don’t lose connections.

8. Global style. The shrinking world means more ethnic fabrics and handcrafted artworks mixed into traditional, transitional, and modern spaces. African and Asian pieces will be particularly popular, along with more embroidered fabrics, says designer Heidi Rawson, based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Kimba Hills, owner of Rumba Style in Santa Monica, Calif., is using Turkish rugs overdyed with bright and subdued tones. “The rugs bring great color and warmth. They’re more contemporary and edgier than their traditional counterparts,” Hills says.

9. Personalized quality. After years of tight budgets, there’s a return to quality as consumers spend more on choice pieces. Designer Claudia Juestel of Adeeni Design Group in San Francisco searches for artisans who fashion bespoke pieces to create one-of-a-kind interiors. The designs she and others favor incorporate craftsmanship and time-honored materials while utilizing modern technology, too. Some examples of her favorite artisans: Paul Benson for metal furnishings and accessories; Kyle Bunting for decorative hide rugs; Michael Coffey for sculptural furnishings; and The Alpha Workshops for a wide variety of unique products.

10. Accent chairs. While big comfortable sofas are always the go-to seating in most rooms, accent chairs for an extra perch and pop of color are coming on strong, says Kristen Pawlak, with Decorating Den in Louisville, Ky. “They’re small, affordable, and a way to add an accent for little cost. They also can introduce a new style to a room. Just be sure to keep it in the same scale as other furnishings,” Pawlak says.



Apr 06

Best Bets for Adding Value to Your Home in 2014

America’s remodeling dollars are flowing again. If you’re looking to upgrade, Remodeling magazine’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report tabs these projects as offering the best return on your investment.

Steel Entry Door

The perennial champ when it comes to giving a return on your investment, an entry door replacement featuring a modestly priced steel door upgrades both energy efficiency and curb appeal. Steel doors come in many colors and can be painted to fit your exterior scheme.

National average cost: $1,162
ROI: 96.6%


Wood Deck

What better way to enjoy outdoor living than on your backyard deck? At a cost of about $30/sq. ft., a wood deck provides generous amounts of living area at a fraction of the price of an enclosed addition — and it satisfies our all-American appetite for al fresco dining, relaxing, and entertaining.

National average cost: $9,539
ROI: 87.4%


Attic Conversion

Need another bedroom? An attic conversion lets you add valuable living area without altering the footprint of your house. Soundproof rooms below by adding insulation between attic floor joists, or by installing a rubber acoustic barrier under flooring.

National average cost: $49,438
ROI: 84.3%


Garage Door Replacement

Nothing upgrades the look of your house like a new garage door. Manufacturers offer terrific styles and choices, from plain steel panel doors to energy-efficient, insulated models with glass windows and panels that look like painted wood.

National average cost, midrange steel: $1,534
ROI: 83.7%

National average cost, upscale insulated steel: $2,791
ROI: 82.9%


Fiber-Cement Siding

The royalty of siding, fiber-cement offers longevity and resistance to termites, moisture, rot, and fire. It’s stable and doesn’t flex, so repainting is less frequent — saving money over time. Fiber-cement has marketable cache as an upscale, high-quality product.

National average cost: $13,378
ROI: 87%


Replacement Windows

New energy-efficient windows look great and help you save money. Options, such as low-E coatings and argon gas insulation, help maximize savings, depending on your local climate and the orientation of your house to the sun.

National average cost, 10 midrange vinyl replacement windows: $9,978
ROI: 78.7%

National average cost, 10 upscale wood replacement windows: $16,798
ROI: 74%


Vinyl Siding

Known for being light weight, low maintenance, and relatively inexpensive, vinyl siding continues to be the most popular choice for siding replacement. Color-fast formulas and seamless installations help vinyl look better than ever. Insulated vinyl adds to your wall’s thermal resistance, helping cut energy costs.

National average cost, midrange vinyl: $11,475
ROI: 78.2%

National average cost, insulated vinyl: $14,236
ROI: 78.1%


Kitchen Update

A minor kitchen remodel that includes new cabinet doors and drawer fronts, along with new appliances, countertop, and flooring, has one of the highest average returns in the Cost vs. Value Report over the past 10 years.

National average cost: $18,856
ROI: 82.7%



Apr 05

Kitchen Remodeling Decisions You’ll Never Regret!

Afraid your kitchen remodeling choices will look so 2013-ish in a few years? Relax, we know how to make your kitchen timelessly gorgeous and functional.

Fiesta ware displayed on open shelves in kitchen

We see lots of kitchen trends at HouseLogic, so we know it’s easy to get swept along with what’s in vogue, only to get bummed out by your faddish design choices a few years later. Thank you — and damn you — Pinterest.

But chances are you’re only going to remodel your current kitchen once. After all, the annual Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine pegs the average price of a major kitchen remodel at about $55,000. With that much on the line, you want to make all the right moves. If you do, you could recoup nearly 74% of your investment if you sell.

So we’re here to future-proof you from angst by naming the seven definitive kitchen features that will retain their beauty, marketability, and value — all while giving you lasting enjoyment.

#1: White is the Dominant Color 

Bottom line: White is the most marketable color. You’ll always find it atop the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s annual survey of most popular kitchen colors. It simply doesn’t go out of style.

White’s mojo:

  • Throughout history, it’s been associated with happiness, purity (think Snow White), and new beginnings.
  • It’s a bright color that reflects light and makes even small kitchens feel larger.
  • It’s a neatnik’s dream — dirt has no place to hide.

Even better, it’s uber-tolerant of both your budget and taste: A standard color for any manufacturer, you’ll find white cabinets, tile, counters, faucets, sinks, and appliances at any price point.

Vintage stove

And with a white backdrop, you can be as conservative or expressive as you want. After all, it’s about your enjoyment, not just dollars and cents. For example:

  • Add your personal touch with colored glass knobs and pulls.

Glass knobs

  • Show off antique Fiesta ware on open shelves or in upper cabinets with glass fronts.
  • Paint walls the color du jour — even off-white!

Paint walls

Heck, with a white palette, you can change your mind about paint color on a whim. Those all-white basics will make any hue you choose look fresh and contemporary.
#2: Hardwood for Flooring

Wood floor

It’s been our foot fetish for years. That’s especially true ever since hardwood flooring was mass-produced during the Industrial Revolution, making beautiful flooring readily available at a reasonable cost.

Today, more than half of home buyers who purchased a home without hardwood floors say they would have paid an extra $2,080 for them, according to the 2013 Home Features Survey from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. And among buyers of any age, upwards of 80% say hardwood floors are “somewhat” or “very important.”

“It’s the one feature men and women agree on,” says Debe Robinson, NKBA treasurer and owner of Kitchen Expressions Inc. in Sheffield, Ala., who’s also worked in the flooring industry.

Why? The love of wood is in our genes. Our nesting instincts know that hardwood has warmth, personality, and makes our homes cozy and inviting. That’s why this clever chameleon pairs well with any kitchen style — from casual cottage and sleek contemporary to the most chi-chi Park Avenue traditional.

More reasons why wood flooring is the goof-proof option:

  • Perfect for open floor plans. It flows beautifully from the kitchen into adjoining rooms.
  • It’s tough. Hardwoods such as oak, ash, and maple will shrug off your kitchen’s high-traffic punishment for years. Solid hardwood flooring can be refinished 10 to 12 times during it’s typical 100-year lifespan.

#3: Shaker Style for Cabinets

Shaker cabinets

Thank heaven for the Shakers. While they were busy reducing life to its essentials, they made cabinets with clean, simple lines that will forever be in style.

Shaker cabinets are an enduring legacy of American style and, like wood flooring, have the knack for looking good in any setting. Their simple frame-and-panel design helps reduce the amount of busyness in a kitchen, making it a soothing, friendly place to be.

“In a kitchen with a timeless look, you want the cabinets to be part of the backdrop,” says Alan Zielinski, a former president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “You don’t want to be overpowered. You’re looking for plain, simple, clean lines.”

Those plain, simple, clean lines are a perfect fit for transitional style — a beautiful combo of traditional and contemporary styles. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association says that after creeping up on traditional for years, transitional is now the most popular kitchen style.

As our families grow more diverse, transitional style will only get more popular. It lets us personalize and blend cultural influences — Latin, Asian, Mideastern — into our homes; it’s the perfect balance of old and new, just like Shaker-style cabinets.
#4: Carrara Marble for Countertops

Carrara marble

Carrara marble is a timeless classic that’s been used in homes for thousands of years. (Michelangelo’s “David” was carved from Carrara.) It’ll look as good in the next millennium as it does now.

Here’s why:

  • Carrara’s lacy graining and subtle white colors look terrific in a white kitchen (or any kitchen, for that matter).
  • It has a whiteness you won’t find in other natural stones.
  • It’s readily available, making it less expensive than other high-end choices, such as quartz.
  • It’ll last for generations.

If you Google it, you’ll find a lot of debate about it (and marble in general) because it stains easily. But if you want something truly timeless, Carrara is the answer. And with today’s sealants, the problem of staining is almost moot if you reseal once or twice a year.

Still not sold? Or don’t have the budget? Laminate countertops are relatively inexpensive and can be upgraded to stone when you do have the budget.

#5: Subway Tile for the Backsplash

Subway tile

Subway tile goes back to the early 1900s, when it was used to line New York’s first subway tunnels. Classic subway tiles are white, 3-by-6-inch rectangles — a look that became popular in American kitchens and baths, and has stuck around ever since. Now it’s an iconic part of the American design vernacular, destined never to go out of style.

In the kitchen, ceramic tile excels as a backsplash, where it guards against moisture, is a snap to clean, lasts forever, and always looks classy.

Sure, a backsplash can be an opportunity for a blast of color and pattern, but neutrals will always be current and blend with any look. Plus, a subway tile backsplash and a marble countertop make a dashing couple that will stand the test of time.

To make it even more enduring, keep it achromatic and camouflage dirt with gray or beige grout.
#6: Ergonomic Design

Adaptability and universal design features mean easy living at any age. A recent survey on kitchens from the American Institute of Architects points to the growing popularity of smart ergonomic design, a sign that kitchen adaptability will stay in vogue.

Smart ergonomics simply mean convenience — for young or old, party people or homebodies — a key factor when remodeling a kitchen that will function well, retain its value, and always feel right.

No matter you or your buyer’s current or future needs, everyone wins with these approaches:

  • Create different countertop heights. Standard height is 36 inches, but you can raise or lower sections of cabinets by altering the height of the base. Add color-match shim strips to the bases of countertops that don’t include sinks or appliances. You (or a new owner) can easily remove them or add to them to adjust the height.
  • Swap a standard range for a wall oven and a cooktop. Ranges have fixed heights. There’s no getting around the fact you have to bend to access the oven. But a wall oven conveniently installs about waist-high.
  • Add pull-out shelves to base cabinets. Lower cabinets with doors mean having to twist like a pretzel to see what’s inside. Pull-out shelves put everything at your fingertips.

Smart storage

  • Keep wide clearances. Kitchens attract people, and with open floor plans, you’re apt to have folks hunting for snacks, helping you cook, or just hanging out while you prep meals. Keep traffic flowing with a minimum of 42 inches between counters and islands.


#7: Smart Storage

Today’s families store about 47% of their kitchen stuff outside the kitchen — in laundry rooms, basements, even sheds — according to data released at the 2013 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.

We blame it on the fact that kitchens have evolved from a tucked-away place at the back of the house into a multiple-chef, multi-tasking space that’s the hub of family life. Plus, our love of open kitchens and stocking up at warehouse stores means less wall space and more stuff, kitchen design expert Robinson says.

The solution: smart storage. Cabinet manufacturers have you covered with nearly unlimited storage options — shelves and compartments that unfold, turn, extend, and slide.

But it’s not just about having storage, it’s about designing it smartly. Follow these guidelines to make your storage timeless:

Create a primary storage zone. This is an area 30-60 inches high and within two feet on either side of your body. Store your most-used items here — your favorite work knives, measuring cups, salt and pepper for cooking, your trusty pots and pans. With one easy motion, you can grab what you use all the time.

Plan for the unknown. A truly timeless kitchen anticipates and adapts to future needs, such as:

  • A space that can easily convert to an office, wine storage, or a closet.
  • Lower cabinet spaces that can accommodate a wine cooler, under-counter refrigerator, a second dishwasher, or new must-have kitchen appliances on the horizon. (Remember when microwaves didn’t exist?)
  • An open space that fits a freestanding desk or favorite antique that can personalize the kitchen — no matter who owns the home.



Apr 04

Good news, homebuyers: More homes to choose from

Things are looking better for the housing market thanks to rising inventory, according to Realtor.com.

By Melinda Fulmer 

Good news, homebuyers: More homes to choose from (© Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The number of homes for sale is finally beginning to rise — good news for spring buyers — as prices continued their upward march in most housing markets.

For-sale inventory in the United States climbed 4.1% to 1.75 million units in April from the previous month, according to MSN Real Estate’s listings partner Realtor.com. The average list price of $194,900 was 2.6% higher than in March. (Realtor.com does not provide data on sale prices.)

This price recovery was widespread, with 109 of 146 markets posting gains in April. Some of that was because of shortage-related price run-ups, but it also reflected a growing demand for more moderate- and higher-priced homes, as the economy and consumer confidence regained some ground.

“We’re seeing a real revitalization of the market,” says Curt Beardsley, vice president of Realtor.com.

While a shortage of inventory continues to be a problem in many areas, it appears the problem is now starting to correct, Beardsley says, with more sellers listing homes and moving up. It’s a trend he expects to continue through the fall.

Of course, the April uptick in inventory by no means covers the shortfall that existed in some markets. The number of U.S. homes for sale was down 13.5% in April from the previous year.

The inventory shortage means that once a for-sale sign goes up, it doesn’t stay there long. The average time a home spent on the market in April slid 11% from April 2012 to 81 days. Only four of the 146 markets Realtor.com surveyed did not report a year-over-year decline in inventory and 15 reported declines of 30% or more.

Hot spots

In certain markets, inventory is disappearing rapidly. In Oakland, Calif., for instance, the average home spent just 15 days on the market, helping drive prices up 47% from April 2012. Outside of the Bay Area, markets where homes moved quickly include Denver; Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.; Orange County, Calif.; and Anchorage, Alaska. In all of these markets, the median age of inventory was 32 days, down 40% from last year. And not surprisingly, many markets recorded some of the largest price gains in the past year.

Other big gainers include Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, Calif., with a gain of a whopping 45%; as well as Sacramento, Calif.; Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.; and Detroit.

However, it was Dallas that Realtor.com pegged as the strongest, most sustainable real-estate market in the country. The average list price in Dallas climbed 9.5% in the past year to $219,000 – 1.9% between March and April alone. Homes in the “Big D” stayed on the market an average of 47 days, a decrease of 23% from April 2012.

“It’s a little crazy right now,” says Jennifer Friedman Ackerman of Virginia Cook Realtors in Dallas. “The market has definitely turned, and our inventory is at an all-time low.”

That’s good news for sellers in terms of price but can make things difficult for them when they’re looking for their next home. “I have some clients in temporary housing because their homes sold so quickly,” Friedman Ackerman says. “Some things are selling before they even hit the market.”

Biggest laggards
Of course, not every U.S. housing market has recovered fully from the housing bust. Of the 146 markets surveyed, 37 continued to experience a decline in list prices from last year, albeit smaller losses than in previous months.

Springfield, Ill., for example, which Realtor.com identified as the least healthy market in the country, posted an 8.1% decline in list price in the past year to an average of $118,450 in April. Prices were down nearly half a percentage point from March as agents sold off a greater share of distressed properties than in other cities. In this city three hours south of Chicago, many homeowners are still underwater, and unemployment is above the national average.

“It’s still struggling,” Beardsley says.

However, real-estate agents here are optimistic. Matt Holcomb, with the Real Estate Group in Springfield, says much of the problem lies with the cheapest housing stock, as hundreds of foreclosures have hit the market in the past year from a failed rent-to-own scheme operated by JSP Investments. Homes priced $200,000 and up are again moving in this city with three universities, but prices aren’t swelling like they are in other areas.

“In the good times, Springfield only appreciated 1% to 2% a year,” Holcomb says. “We’re doing OK.”

The outlook
Overall, Beardsley says, agents are optimistic, even in markets across the Midwest and Northeast that have yet to see price gains. “They see that the market is rebuilding,” Beardsley says, even in boom-and-bust areas such as Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Indeed, in Western markets such as California, talk of a housing bubble has resurfaced, though Beardsley says he thinks the market’s momentum will be sustained. “I think that more inventory will go on the market,” he says, “and as we head toward fall, I would not be surprised to see market times begin to creep back up.”

Right now, however, Beardsley says, buyers have an incentive to move a little quicker. “There’s a lot of competition out there.”



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