Sunny split two bedroom, two bathroom home in Lincoln Park! [Read more…]
Published: May 13, 2011
Home improvement trends embrace energy efficiency, low maintenance exteriors, and double-duty space.
Today’s home improvement trends show that we like our houses to work harder and smarter for the money we spend maintaining and improving their value.
- We no longer want bigger; instead, we want space that’s flexible, efficient, and brings order to chaos.
- We’re watching our wattage with monitors and meters, and guarding our weekends with maintenance-free exteriors.
Here’s a look at seven hot home improvement trends that improve the way we live with our homes.
Trend #1: Maintenance-free siding
We continue to choose maintenance-free siding that lives as long as we do, but with a lot less upkeep. But more and more we’re opting for fiber-cement siding, one of the fastest-growing segments of the siding market. It’s a combination of cement, sand, and cellulosic fibers that looks like wood but won’t rot, combust, or succumb to termites and other wood-boring insects.
At $5 to $11 per sq. ft., installed, fiber-cement siding is more expensive than paint-grade wood, vinyl, and aluminum siding. Still, it’s a solid investment. If you should decide to sell your house, you’ll recover 79% of the project cost, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
Maintenance is limited to a cleaning and some caulking each spring. Repaint every seven to 15 years. Wood requires repainting every four to seven years.
Trend #2: Convertible spaces
Forget “museum rooms” we use twice a year (dining rooms and living rooms) and embrace convertible spaces that change with our whims.
Foldaway walls turn a private study into an easy-flow party space. Walls can consist of fancy, glass panels ($600 to $1,600 per linear ft., depending on the system); or they can be simple vinyl-covered accordions ($1,230 for 7 ft. by 10 ft.). PortablePartions.com sells walls on wheels ($775 for approximately 7 ft. by 7 ft.).
A Murphy bed pulls down from an armoire-looking wall unit and turns any room into a guest room. Prices, including installation and cabinetry, range from $2,000 (twin with main cabinet) to more than $5,000 (California king with main and side units). Just search online for sellers.
And don’t forget area rugs that easily define, and redefine, open spaces.
Trend #3: A laundry room of your own
Humankind advanced when the laundry room arose from the basement to a louvered closet on the second floor where clothes live. Now, we’re taking another step forward by granting washday a room of its own.
If you’re thinking of remodeling, turn a mudroom or extra bedroom into a dedicated laundry room big enough to house the washer and dryer, hang hand-washables, and store bulk boxes of detergent.
Look for spaces that already have plumbing hookups or are adjacent to rooms with running water to save on plumbing costs.
Trend #4: Souped-up kitchens
Although houses are trending smaller, kitchens are getting bigger, according to the American Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey.
Kitchen remodels open the space, perhaps incorporating lonely dining rooms, and feature recycling centers, large pantries, and recharging stations.
Oversized and high-priced commercial appliances — did we ever fire up six burners at once? — are yielding to family-sized, mid-range models that recover at least one cabinet for storage.
Since the entire family now helps prepare dinner (in your dreams), double prep sinks have evolved into dual-prep islands with lots of counter space and pull-out drawers.
Trend #5: Energy diets
We’re wrestling with an energy disorder: We’re binging on electronics — cell phones, iPads, Blackberries, laptops — then crash dieting by installing LED fixtures and turning the thermostat to 68 degrees.
Are we ahead of the energy game? Only the energy monitors and meters know for sure.
These new tracking devices can gauge electricity usage of individual electronics ($20 to $30) or monitor whole house energy ($100 to $250). The TED 5000 Energy Monitor ($240) supplies real-time feedback that you can view remotely and graph by the second, minute, hour, day, and month.
Trend #6: Love that storage
As we bow to the new god of declutter, storage has become the holy grail.
We’re not talking about more baskets we can trip over in the night; we’re imagining and discovering built-in storage in unlikely spaces– under stairs, over doors, beneath floors.
Under-appreciated nooks that once displayed antique desks are growing into built-ins for books and collections. Slap on some doors, and you can hide office supplies and buckets of Legos.
Giant master suites, with floor space to land a 747, are being divided to conquer clutter with more walk-in closets.
Trend #7: Home offices come out of the closet
Flexible work schedules, mobile communications, and entrepreneurial zeal are relocating us from the office downtown to home.
Laptops and wireless connections let us telecommute from anywhere in the house, but we still want a dedicated space (preferably with a door) for files, supplies, and printers.
Spare bedrooms are becoming home offices and family room niches are morphing into working nooks. After a weekend of de-cluttering, basements and attics are reborn as work centers.
Follow us: @HouseLogic on Twitter | HouseLogic on Facebook
Navigating the home buying and selling process can be challenging. When you are moving from one state to another, there is an added layer. State laws, lingo, customary timelines and costs vary from state to state. In Contract to Closing Checklist I offer a sequence as it generally occurs in Illinois. I’m happy to help you or a friend moving to Chicago, or just looking for a new neighborhood!
By knowing how much mortgage you can handle, you can ensure that homeownership will fit in your budget.
Homeownership should make you feel safe and secure, and that includes financially. Be sure you can afford your home by calculating how much of a mortgage you can safely fit into your budget.
Why not just take out the biggest mortgage a lender says you can have? Because your lender bases that number on a formula that doesn’t consider your current and future financial and personal goals.
Think ahead to major life events and consider how those might influence your budget. Do you want to return to school for an advanced degree? Will a new child add day care to your monthly expenses? Does a relative plan to eventually live with you and contribute to the mortgage?
Consider those lifestyle issues as you check out these four methods for estimating the amount of mortgage you can afford.
1. Prepare a detailed budget.
The oldest rule of thumb says you can typically afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. So, if you earn $100,000, you can typically afford a home between $200,000 and $300,000.
But that’s not the best method because it doesn’t take into account your monthly expenses and debts. Those costs greatly influence how much you can afford. Let’s say you earn $100,000 a year but have $1,000 in monthly payments for student debt, car loans, and credit card minimum payments. You don’t have as much money to pay your mortgage as someone earning the same income with no debts.
Better option: Prepare a family budget that tallies your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.
See what’s left over to spend on homeownership costs, like your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.
2. Factor in your downpayment.
How much money do you have for a downpayment? The higher your downpayment, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.
The lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.
But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.
3. Consider your overall debt.
Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.
Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a homebuyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:
1. Your gross annual income is $100,000.
2. Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.
3. Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.
4. All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.
You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it. Evidence from studies of mortgage loans suggest that borrowers who go over the limit are more likely to run into trouble making monthly payments, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns.
4. Use your rent as a mortgage guide.
The tax benefits of homeownership generally allow you to afford a mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — of about one-third more than your current rent payment without changing your lifestyle. So you can multiply your current rent by 1.33 to arrive at a rough estimate of a mortgage payment.
Here’s an example: If you currently pay $1,500 per month in rent, you should be able to comfortably afford a $2,000 monthly mortgage payment after factoring in the tax benefits of homeownership.
However, if you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for homeownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.
Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.
Related: More on Mortgages from HouseLogic
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s owned her own home for more than 20 years. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.
Published: May 4, 2010
Don’t neglect to budget time and money for opening and closing a vacation home before the season starts and after it ends.
A big reason for owning a vacation home is rest and relaxation, but it’s not all fun and games. Opening and closing a vacation home takes time and money. Plan to spend a day before the season starts to open your vacation home, and another day at season’s end to close it down.
Specific tasks, such as draining off pipes or turning on utilities, will depend on climate, as well as when and how the vacation home is used. A beach cottage has different requirements than a mountain cabin. If you don’t live nearby or don’t want to do the work yourself, be sure to budget for a property manager or local caretaker.
Opening a vacation home
When it’s time to visit your vacation home for the first time, or start renting it out for the season, you’ll need to get it ready. A ski chalet might require you to shovel snow and chop firewood, while a summer retreat by the shore might call for cleaning patio furniture and staining the deck.
Much depends on how well the house is maintained throughout the year. Opening your vacation home could be as easy as stocking the pantry, or if the house was neglected in the offseason, you could have multiple repairs on your hands.
A well-maintained vacation home shouldn’t take more than a day to get in shape for the season, assuming no major repairs are needed. Here are some typical opening chores:
- Turn on utilities
- Clean and stock kitchen and bathrooms
- Look for evidence of plumbing and roof leaks
- Cut lawn and trim shrubs/trees
- Clear walkways and driveway
- Set up outdoor furniture
- Change light bulbs and smoke detector batteries
- Replace furnace filters
- Check for signs of pest infestation
Closing a vacation home
Closing a vacation home also takes about a day to complete. The emphasis should be on safeguarding your home against the elements as well as fire risks. Here are some common closing tasks:
- Turn off nonessential utilities
- Secure all windows and doors
- Turn on alarm system
- Close storm shutters
- Dispose of trash and perishable foods
- Adjust furnace settings for climate
- Bring in outdoor furniture
- Unplug appliances and electronics
- Drain water lines to prevent freezing (in cold climates)
- Request mail-forwarding service
To deter vandalism and theft, consider installing a home security system. You can also put in automatic indoor lights that turn on at dusk or outside flood lights that are motion-activated.
If the house is only going to be vacant for a couple of months, call your utility providers to see if discounted “vacation rates” are available. It might be cheaper than turning off services and paying a reconnection fee a few weeks later.
Property manager vs. caretaker
It’s costly to hire a property management company to maintain your vacation home, including opening it and closing it. If you plan to rent out your vacation home, a property manager typically gets 20% to 60% of the rental income, according to Christine Karpinski of HomeAway, a vacation rental website.
A less expensive alternative is hiring a local housecleaner or handyman to open and close your vacation home, and keep an eye on the property during the offseason. A good rule of thumb for calculating cleaning fees is to budget $20 for each bedroom and bathroom, so a 3-bed/2-bath home would cost $100 to clean.
If you live far from your vacation home, you may have little choice but to hire local help. Ask owners of nearby vacation homes for referrals. Look for a property manager or caretaker with good references who has been in business locally for an extended period of time. And no matter who you end up hiring, be sure that anyone coming onto your property to do work is bonded and insured.
What you need to know about rates & down payments…
A person “can get a conforming, conventional mortgage with a down payment of as little as 5 % (sometimes with as little as 3 % coming out of their own pockets)”.
Freddie Mac’s purchase of mortgages with down payments under 10 % more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2013.
More than one in five borrowers who took out conforming, conventional mortgages in 2014 put down 10 % or less.
The money experts at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the Mortgage Bankers Association as well at the National Association of Realtors all expect mortgage rates to climb up to one point over the next year. [Read more…]
End unit DePaul townhouse that lives like a single family home in the Oscar Mayer school district! [Read more…]
If you live in the Midwest, here are maintenance jobs you should complete in spring and summer to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in top condition.
Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. What maintenance tasks are most important for the Midwest in spring and summer? Here are the major issues you should be aware of and critical tasks you should complete. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do lists to the right of this article.
When spring arrives in the Midwest, it’s time to clean up your home and yard from the ravages of winter. As the weather warms, you can also accomplish some routine maintenance tasks that are much more agreeable when the sun is shining.
Key maintenance tasks to perform
• Check your gutters and downspouts. “Stuff accumulates even after your fall gutter cleaning,” says Frank Lesh, president of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Indian Head Park, Ill. “Pine needles especially, which fall all year long and are difficult to remove.” Children’s toys, he says, also find their way into gutters between cleanings, as well as nails and other debris from the roof. Look for any signs of wind or ice damage—has the gutter pulled away from the house, or bent so that there are depressions where water can stand? You can usually repair damage yourself for under $50 by adjusting or reattaching brackets and gently hammering out bent areas.
Lesh also recommends examining your downspouts for blockages. “You can’t see inside them,” he says, “so tap them with a screwdriver handle to see if they sound hollow.” If the ends run underground, where animals can build nests or winter debris can become trapped, your best bet is to put a garden hose in the gutter and see where the water discharges. If you have a blockage, you’ll have to disassemble or dig up part of the downspout until you locate it.
• Inspect your roof for winter damage. This is best done from a ladder, but if you’re allergic to ladders, use a pair of binoculars to check your roof from your yard. Look for loose and missing shingles. If anything looks unusual, investigate further yourself or call a roofing contractor.
• Take a close look at your chimney. “Do this even if the winter was mild,” Lesh says. “High winds, rain, and snow can damage a chimney. Look for cracks, missing mortar, loose bricks or boards, and signs of rot.” If any of those things are present, call a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America for a repair estimate. If the metal flashing and the cap on a chimney are galvanized, Lesh says, check to see if they look brownish, which means they’re rusting and should be replaced. Also, make sure the cap is still present but hasn’t collapsed and covered the flue opening, which could cause a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup inside the house. Expect chimney repairs to start around $200.
• Examine your drainage. Make sure soil slopes away from your foundation at least 6 vertical inches in the first 10 feet on all sides of the house and that there are no areas of standing water. If you have properly sloped foundation drainage but still have areas of standing water, consider a landscaping solution, such as a swales (contoured drainage depressions), berms (raised banks of earth), terraces, or French drains (a shallow, gravel-filled trench that diverts water away from the house).
• Take a look at your siding. Has any of it come loose or begun to rot? Repair any damaged sections before moisture has a chance to set in. No matter what your siding is made of (wood, vinyl, brick), it may need a spring cleaning. The best DIY method for any kind of siding is a bucket of soapy water and a long-handled brush. A power washer is not recommended and should only be handled by a professional cleaning contractor. If you choose to have your siding professionally cleaned, expect to pay $300–$500 depending on the size of your home.
• Schedule your biannual HVAC appointment. Get ready for the air conditioning season with your spring tune-up. If your system wasn’t running well last season, be sure to tell your contractor, and make sure he performs actual repairs if necessary rather than simply adding refrigerant. “He shouldn’t just charge it up,” Lesh says. “That will work for a while, but it won’t last. Freon lasts forever—if your system is low, there’s a leak somewhere, and he should tell you specifically what he’s going to check to fix it.” Expect to pay $50–$100.
Your contractor’s maintenance checklist should include checking thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating any moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Duct cleaning, while it probably won’t hurt anything, is not necessary; be wary of contractors who want to coat the inside of the ducts with antimicrobial agents, as research has not proven the effectiveness of this method and any chemicals used in your ducts will likely become airborne.
On your own, make sure your filters are changed and vacuum out all your floor registers.
• Check your GFCIs. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you do this once a month, and it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your spring maintenance routine. GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are electrical outlets that protect you from deadly electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a minimal disturbance in current is detected. They feature two buttons (“test” and “reset”), and should be present anywhere water and electricity can mix: kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house.
To test your GFCIs, plug a small appliance (a nightlight, for example) into each GFCI. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the nightlight. The reset button should also pop out when you press the test button; when you press reset, the nightlight should come back on.
If the nightlight doesn’t go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI has failed and should be replaced, or the wiring is faulty should be inspected. If the reset button doesn’t pop out, or if pressing it doesn’t restore power to the nightlight, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is—neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don’t have ample experience with electrical repair.
Spending a weekend or two on maintenance can prevent expensive repairs and alert you to developing problems before they become serious. Be sure to check out the comprehensive seasonal to-do list following this article, and visit the links below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs yourself.
Lobbying for change in your homeowners association’s rules requires procedure, compromise, and perhaps joining the board.
If you live in a newer suburban community or planned unit development, you — like some 63 million other Americans, according to the Community Associations Institute — are probably a member of a homeowners association. It’s also a good bet that you haven’t given your HOA much thought until you have a problem.
Since HOAs make and enforce the community rules, it’s smart to understand what you can do if you can’t or don’t want to follow them.
Each HOA, a volunteer group of neighbors who manage common areas and community property, creates its own covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). These CC&Rs cover:
- Resident behavior (no glass containers around the pool)
- Architecture (no fences higher than 8 feet)
- Common responsibilities (fee schedules and fines for non-compliance)
Average annual dues for a homeowners association is $396, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And there’s value in the fee. A 2005 study, which appeared in the Cato Institute’s “Regulation” magazine, compared a group of Washington, D.C., area HOA properties with similar homes without community benefits — a total of about 12,000 homes. The HOA house values were found to be 0.54% higher. That’s $969 on the average U.S. home value of $179,500.
When You Don’t Like the Rules
Some boards can impose what some homeowners believe are invasive, silly, or elitist rules. In 2014, a Myrtle Beach association decided homeowners could have only two pets. A couple who’d had three dogs for the past 14 years were threatened with a $100 a day fine unless they got rid of one of their dogs.
There’s even an older story some years back, reported in news outlets, about a homeowner in an upscale gated community in Frisco, Texas, who was threatened with fines for parking his new Ford F-150 series truck in his driveway overnight. The board made exceptions for several luxury brands, but his mid-range truck was ruled “not classy enough.”
Related: The 7 Craziest Local Laws and HOA Rules
Even if you disagree with the rules, keep paying your dues. HOAs have broad legal powers to collect fines and fees and regulate activities. If you don’t respond to letters from the board, property manager, or a collection agency, the HOA can and will turn to small claims court or file a lien against your property.
You can handle some issues with a phone call. For example, adding recycling to the garbage collection route is a budget, not a rules, issue. Call the board member who oversees trash collection to find out if there’s leeway in the budget. If you want to do something that’s against the rules — like flying the American flag in your yard — start by:
- Making a written request for variance, using the appropriate HOA form in your CC&R documents. A variance gives you permission to be the exception to the rule. Submit your request to the board and property management company.
- Seeking a compromise: That you’d like to fly the American flag, but only on national holidays.
Don’t Expect a Quick Solution
Some HOA boards meet as little as twice a year. If the board decides the issue is worth pursuing, it may require a community vote. If it passes a majority, the board will adopt it. Board members also may consult the HOA attorney to see if there’s a legal liability if they rule against you.
If you don’t get a timely response, request a hearing and resubmit your request for variance with as much support for your cause as possible.
If the board rules against you without a community vote, you can appeal the ruling with a petition signed by a majority of other homeowners.
But if you fly your flag without permission, expect to get fined. Fines can range from a nominal $25 to a painful $100 or more depending on the issue. Your CC&Rs will indicate the fine schedule — per day, per incident, etc. Interest for nonpayment can accrue, and the HOA can sue you in small claims court.
If you feel the ruling or the fines are unjust, the last resort is to hire an attorney and sue the HOA, as a flag-flying couple did in 1999. They battled their HOA in court for nine years before the case was settled in their favor.
Become the Rule-Maker
If you don’t like the rules, the best way to change them is to become part of the process.
1. Know your CC&Rs, annual budget, and employee contracts. Do you see areas where expenses can be cut? Are service providers doing their jobs?
2. Volunteer for a committee or task. If the board needs to enforce parking rules, for instance, you can volunteer to gather license plate numbers of residents’ vehicles. In addition, put your professional expertise to work: Assist the board with data entry, accounting, or website design.
3. Stand for election to the board. When a position becomes open, the board notifies the members, and you can put your name forward. New board members are elected at the annual meeting by member majority vote. Many boards are three to nine members large, with terms of one to two years.
As a board member, be prepared to spend two to four hours a month:
- Reviewing property management reports
- Monitoring budgets
- Talking to other board members and residents
Most boards meet quarterly; small boards only meet twice a year for a couple of hours.
Accept that you might become less popular if homeowners don’t like your decisions. In the worst case, you could be sued, along with the rest of the association.
But there are rewards. You’ll feel more in control of your community’s fate. You may find that some rules you didn’t support have merit after all. But most of all, you’ll know you’re doing all you can to protect your quality of life and your home’s value.
Related:Can You HOA Tell You Not to Post Political Signs?