Real Estate News

Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018

What Is Real And What Is Pure PR About The Tesla Solar Roof?

Tesla rocked the solar power world when it acquired Solar City for 2 billion. The entire industry waited with baited breath to see what grand machination Tesla CEO Elon Musk had cooked up. They were not disappointed when he announced the creation of the Tesla Solar Roof, a line of photovoltaic solar shingles designed to mirror standard roofing tiles.

While solar shingles were not a new concept, Tesla appeared to have improved upon its predecessors. Whereas previous solar shingles adhered to standard asphalt roof tiles, the Tesla Solar Roof would actually replace traditional roofing tiles and last forever.

While there is much to be excited about whenever a new advancement is made in the solar industry, its important to understand what is fact and what is fiction. So, what are the true facts behind the Tesla Solar Roof, and what is pure PR?


The Tesla Solar Roof is Visually Beautiful

Tesla has managed to overcome one of the most common obstacles the solar industry encounters when trying to convince homeowners to install a system. Many people find solar panels ugly. Its true that solar panels have a tendency to stick out and could visually displease individuals who prefer the >Tesla has answered these concerns by creating a solar system that seamlessly blends in. These shingles dont just sit on a roof, they are the roof. Whats more, these tiles are designed to mimic some >The Tesla Solar Roof is More Durable Than Standard Roofing Tiles

When Musk first presented the Tesla Solar Roof, he showed off its ability to stand up to harsh elemental threats. These new tiles were pelted with two-inch balls of hail traveling at 100 MPH. The same test was also given to standard roofing panels. The Solar Roof withstood this icy attack while the roofing panels shattered like glass.

The Tesla Solar Roof Is Guaranteed to Last Forever

Tesla is standing by this product in perpetuity. The Tesla Solar Roof comes with what the tech giant is calling an "infinite tile warranty."

Basically, this is a roof you will never have to replace. This is especially useful for home owners when you consider that the average roof lasts anywhere from 10 to 50 years, and the average cost of a roof replacement is in excess of 25,000.


Teslas Solar Roof Provides More Protection Than Solar Panels

There is no doubting Teslas claim that the Solar Roof is more durable than standard roofing tiles. The proof was right there in Musks initial video presentation. However, many people are under the mistaken impression that this new product is more adept at shielding a home against the elements than a traditional solar panel. This is not true.

Solar Panels are extremely efficient against the elements, standing up to hazards such as hail with durability similar to that of the Solar Roof. One of the key benefits of having solar installed on your home is its ability to act as a shield for your roof against harsh weather conditions.

The Solar Roof Will Save You More Money Than Solar Panels

Another common misconception regarding this product is that because it is newer than standard PV solar panels it must be more efficient at producing energy and saving you money on your monthly utility bills. That is also not true, especially when the enormous cost of Solar Roof installation is added to the equation.

PowerScout estimates that the Solar Roof is 70 more expensive than installing solar panels on a roof that doesnt need to be replaced. Whats more, it is 35 cheaper to replace your existing roof and install a solar system on it than it is to install a Solar Roof. More on Solar Costs at

When you consider the time that it takes to pay back your installation costs, a traditional solar panel system starts saving you money far quicker than Teslas new product.

The Solar Roof also tends to produce less energy than traditional panels. In fact, the Solar Action Alliance estimates that the Solar Roof produces only 70 of the power generated by a traditional panel system of equal size.

Energy Production Will Last Forever

Teslas infinite tile warranty covers the panels themselves and their ability to provide a stable roof. But Forbes estimates that their solar cells ability to create sustainable energy will be obsolete within 30 years.

So, while the Tesla Solar Roof is a sturdy roof that will last the lifespan of your home, it will not continue to generate sustainable power forever. Anyone wanting to continue reaping the benefits of its power generation capabilities would have to replace the tiles after 30 years.

What Matters to You?

When it comes to whether or not the Tesla Solar Roof is a wise investment, it really boils down to what youre looking for. If you want an aesthetically pleasing solar panel alternative, then the Tesla Solar Roof would be perfect for your needs. If youre looking to save the most on your utility bills and generate the highest amount of solar power, then a traditional solar panel system is still the way to go.
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Boost Your Property Value: 4 Smart Features Worth Adding

Your home may be your castle ndash; but what that means for each person can be very different. Some people prefer light colors, some dark. Some want a location that lets them walk everywhere, while other people want to live far away from the hustle and bustle. However, there is one point that many homebuyers do agree upon: smart home technology. Adding smart home technology solutions doesnt just make your home more covetable ndash; it can increase the demand for and value of your home when you sell it.

Smart Home Technology

Almost two-thirds of new homebuyers say that smart home technology makes home life better and safer too, according to a survey from Better Homes and Garden. They see these new technologies as the ldquo;new normrdquo; and that fact is reflected in their home-buying preferences. A recent Houzz survey found that 28 percent of homeowners would consider smart technology integration important in any home renovation, while some 35 percent of first-time buyers prioritize smart technology. Moreover, people of all ages are willing to pay more for properties that include smart home technology.

Adding smart home technology to your home can increase the interest and value of the property, especially amongst smartphone users. According to J.P. Endres, a realtor based in Westchester County, New York, homebuyers will pay as much as five percent more for certain high-tech amenities.

Here are four smart home additions worth getting to boost your homersquo;s property value:

Smart Thermostat

The first thing to put on your smart home technology list is a smart thermostat. Not only will it let you or a new buyer control the temperature from your smartphone but smart thermostats also learn from you. Over time, they can automatically adjust settings to reflect the way you live and when you are home. The features are convenient but they also help you save money on home heating and cooling costs.

Connected Lights

Smart home lighting allows you to turn lights on or off, dim lights, or even put them on a schedule ndash; all from your phone. Inc reports that adding smart home lighting and a connected thermostat could help you reduce your energy bills by half.

Smart Locks

Adding smart locks can help you keep your home safer. You can program your door to unlock when you or a guest comes close using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi on your Samsung Galaxy S7. Not only is this much more secure than a fake key under a plastic rock, it is also more convenient. No more making sure your neighbor has a key to water your plants or that you remember to give your dog-walking friend the key. You can unlock your home from wherever you are.


Having a home security system is a major burglar deterrent and a huge incentive for homebuyers of all ages. According to Redfin, roughly 9 out of 10 people say that home security is the primary reason they would choose a home with smart technology. If your home doesnrsquo;t have a security system, you could be limiting your homersquo;s demand and, by extension, its value.

Technology can have a profound effect on your daily life. Raise your property value and reduce your energy costs by adopting smart home technology in your home.

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Black Stainless Steel: Is It The Next Big Thing?

Stainless steel has ruled the appliance world for many years, with no serious contenders on its heels. But now, here comes black stainless steel, fighting for dominance in the kitchen.

Like any new finish, we wont know if it has true staying power until some time has passed. But if youre looking for the newest thing, if you know youre going to be in your home for a while, or if youre getting it ready to sell, black stainless is a great choice.

But first, what exactly is black stainless steel? "What major appliance manufacturers, such asnbsp;LG,nbsp;KitchenAidnbsp;andnbsp;Kenmore, are trumpeting as lsquo;black stainless is essentially traditional stainless steel coated in a sleek, dark finish," said the Washington Post. "The actual hue varies by brand."

If youre thinking about incorporating the look into your kitchen, here are a few things to consider.

Its sexy

Expect to hear some "oohs" and "ahhs" when people walk into your kitchen. Black stainless steel has that sleek look that gets attention, so if youre hoping to create a show stopping space, it may be an easy choice.

Its trending

But, in this case, that might not be a bad thing. While design experts warn clients against chasing trends, black stainless steel offers a way to be on the forefront of one.

"According to home improvement expertnbsp;Karl Champley, whose job includes traveling the world looking for the latest design trends, the move toward darker appliance finishes started in Europe and is slowly making its way westward," said the Washington Post. "Champley, winner of lsquo;Ellens Design Challenge and a spokesman for thenbsp;National Kitchen and Bath Association, says that although black stainless wont dethrone >

It gives off an inviting, high-end feel

Black stainless steel is an easy way to make your space look upscale while also creating a warmer feel. "Since black stainless steel appliancesnbsp;debuted several years ago, theyve been touted as a warmer alternative to the industrial look of regular stainless," said Consumer Reports.

It resists fingerprints

For many people, this is the No. 1 selling feature. Traditional stainless steel is great, but its always smudged in our house, anyway. "Manufacturers say that their black stainless steel appliances resistnbsp;smudges and fingerprints and that cleaning is easier," said Consumer Reports. Nancy Bock, senior vice president of education for the American Cleaning Institute, told them, "Black stainless doesnt require any special polishes to keep it looking good. Cleaning is generally simple and can be accomplished using warm water and a soft cloth."

The difference is a fingerprint-resistant finish that also resists water spots and streaking. But...

It scratches

No more and no less than how traditional stainless steel scratches, but still. Keep in mind that in busy households with kids and animals, it might be hard to keep a scratch-free surface forever.

Selection is still somewhat limited

As with any newer finish, manufacturers have not yet rolled out a ton of options - at least not when compared to traditional stainless steel. That being said, you will find options from Samsung, LG, KitchenAid, Kenmore, Frigidaire, and Bosch, which just introduced its first kitchen suite in black stainless.

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Renovation Reality: Actual Costs Of Four Popular Redos

So you want to redo your kitchen. Great Now you have to do is pick out your new appliances, countertops, backsplash material and other assorted finishes, figure out what to do with your cabinets, find a contractor, and get started. Phew Before you can do any of that, though, you have to set a budget. Yes, we said the "B word."

Lets face it: Budget is a bad word. Not just because it represents an amount of money you may not be enti>

If youre getting ready to do a remodel or make some updates, it behooves you to do the research before you get too excited about it. It just might turn out that what you think will be an easy and cheap little project isnt either. Weve broken down four of the most popular renovations by expected cost so that you can make a more informed decision.

Redoing kitchen cabinets

If youve never priced out renovations, you really have no point of reference. We personally experienced one of those perception-does-not-meet-reality situations recently when we started gathering information about the cost of painting our kitchen cabinets to take them from the traditional Cherry tone weve never liked to something a little more modern. True Story: We had laughingly agreed that we would pull the trigger if it was less than 1,000, only to come to find out that it was going to be triple that. So, never mind on that whole painting the kitchen cabinets thing, unless we decide its worth the hassle and stress and family strife of a DIY weekend.

When estimating the cost of your kitchen, contractors may calculate the cost per foot or by the number of cabinets you have, and your estimates may vary wildly due to a number of factors. Its important to beware of lowball estimates here. Repainting kitchen cabinets is no easy feat, and cutting corners can greatly impact the final product.

When comparing your estimates, look at what each includes; lower-cost jobs may not provide adequate protection for your floors, counters, and appliances, may not prep the cabinets properly, may not include the appropriate number of coats of paint, and may only include the outside of doors and drawers. Also pay attention to whether you are expected to provide paint and materials or if theyre included in the estimate.

Expected cost: 1,200 - 7,000

New flooring

The cost of having new flooring installed will also vary greatly depending on factors including the material chosen, the amount of square footage involved, and the condition of existing flooring. If youve never explored flooring options, you may not realize that installation is typically priced per square foot. Many contractors have set prices, while some adjust the price depending on the ease of the material being installed. There may also be geographical differences that affect the cost of installation. And dont forget to check with big box stores like Home Depot, who may have installation specials tied to specific flooring product purchases. In general, these are the going prices for professional installation:

Expected cost: 2 - 2.50 per square foot

Interior painting

Painting is one of those activities that can give you great bang for your buck, especially if you choose to do it yourself. But not all of us are great at finishing what weve started guilty or capable of painting challenging spaces, which makes outsourcing a smart move. Be sure to ask questions of potential contractors including whether or not they provide materials, any extra costs involved with taller ceilings, and steps they take to protect your home and furnishings - you dont want to end up with speckled everything. They should also be able to give you an estimate as to how many hours the job will take so there are no surprises at the end.

Expected cost: 24 - 45 per hour

New shower

Ever looked into redoing your shower? Would it surprise you to hear that a basic frameless shower door costs 1,500? Yes, what seems like a small job can quickly become a budget-buster, especially when you start to factor in the cost of materials. Get fancy with that tile, and youre really looking at an expensive renovation given the small amount of space involved.

But, if your shower is tired, not functional, or in need of a reno for other reasons, it can be well worth it. When comparing estimates, you want to look beyond the overall cost to examine what is involved. Is the contractor using the most modern and recommended materials behind the tile to ensure the area is water tight? Are there extra costs involved in installing the shower mechanisms and the drain? Are they updating the plumbing? Are they building out a tile floor or installing a shower pan?

Expect to pay: 1,200 - 2,500 for shower, 1,000 - 2,000 for frameless shower door
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Canadian Mortgages Under Scrutiny As Stress Test Kicks In

Canadas new mortgage stress test requires anyone who is getting a mortgage from a federally regulated financial institution to qualify at two percentage points above the Bank of Canada posted rate or the actual contracted rate. The new rule was implemented because of concern over rising household debt and overheated real estate markets in Southern Ontario and B.C.

It has focused attention on Canadian mortgages and prompted suggestions for how mortgage rules could be tweaked to better serve both home buyers and lenders.

Mortgage Brokers Canada, in a discussion paper authored by Will Dunning and Samuel Duncan, says the much-referenced "posted mortgage rate" from the Bank of Canada "misrepresents actual conditions and is potentially misinforming participants and policy makers.

"Publication of the date may be doing more harm than good," say the authors.

The paper argues that actual contracted mortgage rates are far less than the posted rates. Mortgage Brokers Canada tracked the difference over 10 years from 2006 to 2016, finding that the average gap was 1.38 points in the fall of 2006, rising to 1.94 points by 2016.

"If posted rates provided an indication of what actual rates might be in future, then the data would be useful to borrowers, so that they could calculate how their payments might change in future and they could assess their ability to afford their future costs," say the authors. "But, there is no evidence that actual contracted mortgage rates do tend to move towards the posted rates."

The stress test anticipates that in five years when most mortgages come due, interest rates will be two per cent higher. "However, at current interest rates, in five years approximately 15 per cent of principal will have been repaid, and more importantly income will have increased likely by 10 per cent," says the Mortgage Brokers Canada paper. "As designed now, the stress tests take neither of these events into consideration.

"By using the two-point increment today, the stress test is unduly restrictive and unnecessarily impairs the housing market and the broader economy."

Dunning and Duncan argue that using an interest rate that is 0.75 points higher than the actual mortgage interest rate would accomplish the stress goal and take repayment of principal and rising income into consideration.

"While this may be more complicated to communicate to the consumer, it is a market-based measure that can protect consumers in the wake of rising rates, while not unduly restricting mortgage financing to borrowers who are able to afford their initial obligation as well as their likely future obligations," say the authors.

Another discussion paper by Michael Feldman of the C.D. Howe Institute says the government should allow longer amortization rates for residential mortgages. He says it would give consumers more choice, while increasing competition in the mortgage market and removing some mortgage risk from the federal government.

Currently, most mortgages come with five-year terms and 25-year amortization periods. At the end of the term, homeowners still owe a large amount on the mortgage, known as a balloon payment. Feldman says there is a mismatch between mortgage term and amortization, which means homebuyers must refinance or renew the outstanding balloon payments every five years.

"This creates a risk to both investors in mortgages and borrowers, if the lender is unable to renew the loan at maturity and the borrower is unable to find a new lender," he says. "If the federal government could facilitate a shift to longer mortgage maturities, borrowers and investors would be better protected from mortgage lenders that become insolvent."

He proposes a mortgage product that matures when it is fully amortized. It would include an interest rate reset and penalty-free right of redemption at least every five years. "However, in the absence of agreement on an interest rate reset and the failure of the borrower to fully repay the mortgage at that time, the mortgage would become a floating rate mortgage until it matures or is repaid, or until a new rate is set by agreement," proposes Feldman.

Such a product would help develop the market for residential mortgage-backed securities for uninsured mortgages, where an institutional investor would invest directly in a pool of mortgages without any government backing for repayment, he suggests.

HSBC Canada says a recent global survey found that Canadians are among the least likely to shop around for a better mortgage. Only half of Canadian mortgage-holders reported they shopped around to get a better interest rate or terms, compared the global average of 61 per cent. The most likely homebuyers to shop for a mortgage are in France 79 per cent, Malaysia 74 per cent and China 69 per cent.

With mortgage rates beginning to climb in Canada after a long period of historically low rates, 78 per cent of Canadian mortgage holders said they had never seen a rate increase on their current mortgage. But "like vinyl records and barber shops, higher interest rates may be making a comeback," says HSBC.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. survey conducted in the fall found that 82 per cent of current homeowners say they feel confident that they have the tools and information they need to handle their debt load.
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No Such Thing As Real Estate Ethics?

A delightful little book by John Maxwell is provocatively titled, Theres No Such Thing as Business Ethics. Now some might simply think, "no kidding." But for the curious, or those inclined to disagree, Maxwells book makes an interesting argument. His point is not that all of business is unethical. Rather, he disagrees with the point of view that the operative ethical principles of business are somehow specialized and different from occasionally, contrary to the ethical principles that govern our everyday lives.

According to Maxwell, the test of what is ethically acceptable or unacceptable in the business context is exactly the same as that which applies in our everyday, non-work circumstances. For him, it is all summed up in one principle, The Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If you follow that, your behavior will be ethical; if you depart from it, it wont be. At work or at home, in the office or in the neighborhood.

I believe that Maxwell is correct that ethics in the context of business is simply an extension of ethics in general. There arent special exceptions for business. Its as wrong to lie to your competitor as it is to lie to your neighbor. All of us, of course, have encountered different attitudes. We have heard "But this is business" said as if it meant "Anything goes". Certainly, some people feel that way. People who would never cheat in a neighborhood card game can be perfectly content to deceive their customers or rip off their suppliers. But this doesnt show that such people are operating according to a special "business ethic"; rather, it simply reveals that, in the context of business, they have made the decision to be unethical.

If it is true that ethics in business and ethics in everyday life are the same, it is legitimate to ask, why are codes of professional ethics sometimes so complicated?

The National Association of REALTORSreg; is rightfully proud of its Code of Ethics, a document first formulated in 1913, and amended at more that 30 different national conventions since then. With 17 articles, supplemented by over 70 Standards of Practice and more than 140 official Case Interpretations, it presents a complex set of documents.

Nor is the NARreg; Code of Ethics a unique phenomenon. There are hundreds of professional and trade group codes of ethics. Physicians, lawyers, funeral directors, and wedding planners -- to name just a few -- all have professional codes of ethics. So also do many individual companies and corporations. They vary, of course, in range and complexity. How is it that professional codes can become so complicated? People need to understand that there are various purposes served by professional codes, although not every code serves them all.

1They bring to our attention and provide direction with respect to issues that might not otherwise even have been identified as matters for an ethical concern. While ethical principles may remain the same, frequently the circumstances encountered in business are quite different than anything we experience in the non-business world. A professional code can help us to decipher those situations.

2 In many situations they provide us with the wisdom and insight of those who have preceded us. Quite simply, they save us the trouble of reinventing the wheel.

3 Professional ethics codes sometimes also cover matters that are not so much ethical as they are issues of professional etiquette or proper procedure. They help to keep professionals "on the same page" when they are interacting with each other.

4 Professional ethical codes are also sometimes used for the purposes of "drawing lines" in order to remove any unclarity about what may be considered acceptable or unacceptable. They help to remove the "shades of grey" that can be found in so many situations.

Professional codes, such as that of the Realtors, are based on everyday ethical principles. Their value resides in the fact that they show us how those principles apply to specific business contexts that well may not be "everyday".
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Condominium Mailing Lists Are Public Documents

Question. I live in a large condominium complex. Many of the owners are becoming increasingly upset with the practices and the conduct of our Board of Directors. Our annual meeting is coming up in about three months, at which time we will be able to elect several new Board members. We have asked our management company for a copy of the mailing list of all unit owners, so we can send a position paper to everyone. However, we have just been informed that our Board has instructed management not to make this list available to anyone. What can we do?

Answer. Whenever a condominium owner has a legal question regarding the operations of the Association, you must first look to your basic legal documents. In most associations throughout the country, there are generally four sets of documents governing a condominium association, although in some states, they have different names.

The "Declaration" is the document that actually created declared the condominium. This document is recorded among the land records where the condominium is located. The Declaration, among lots of other things,defines what constitutes common and limited elements, as compared to units. The Declaration also spells out the percentage interests and voting rigohts that each unit owner holds within the Association.

The "Bylaws" of the condominium outline the basic operating procedures as to how the Association functions. In effect, it is the "bible" of the association. For example, Bylaws generally define such matters as the number and role of the Board of Directors, what constitutes a quorum for voting at annual or special meetings, and what unit owners can and cannot do within their specific unit.

The third set of documents are the "plats and plans" of the complex. If they were prepared properly and by a licensed architect, they are very valuable because the define and show -- right on the appropriate location on the plans -- what is a common element, and what is a limited common element. This is extremely important to give guidance as to whether ndash;for example -- the condo or the unit owner is responsible and has to pay for certain repairs, such as a pipe burst.

The last set of documents are the "Rules and Regulations" of the Association. These are promulgated by the Board of Directors, and should be circulated to all owners prior to final implementation. Usually, these Rules deal with such issues as trash collection, keeping pets, use of the swimming pool and health club, and similar housekeeping matters.

There is a legal heirarchy in connection with these legal condominium documents. Absolute priority must be given to the condominium law in your jurisdiction. Every state has a separate condominium law. Although most of the laws are substantially the same, there are some differences which must be carefully looked at when considering a legal issue.

The next level of priority goes to the Declaration. If there is something specifically spelled out in that document, it must be followed, unless the Condominium law states otherwise. It takes a very large majority of the owners to amend the Declaration.

The third level of priority is found in the Bylaws, which also requires amendment by a large majority, usually 66 2/3 of the percentage interests. Finally, we get to the lowest priority level -- namely the Rules and Regulations.

The specific answer to your question probably lies in your Bylaws. Of all of the various condominium documents which I have reviewed, I cannot recall a single condominium association that does not contain language permitting unit owners and their mortgage lenders access to the books and records of the Association. Clearly, the mailing list of unit owners falls within the category of "books and records."

The Board of Directors -- or the management company -- may charge you for copying this information. This is, in my opinion, fair and equitable, and you should be prepared to pay a reasonable copying fee. However, if the Board refuses to give you the current names and addresses of all the owners, you should bring this matter to the attention of the full membership at the next annual meeting.

You should also consult your attorney -- as well as contact the attorney for the Condominium Association. You have the legal right to this information, and the Courts will enforce this right if you ultimately have to bring a lawsuit against your Association.

There is, of course, a privacy issue involved. Clearly, unit owners do not want their names and addresses circulated for commercial or solicitation purposes. I do not think it appropriate for the mailing list to be used for such purposes. All too often, unit owners -- under the ruse of condominium business -- will obtain these mailing lists, only to use them for their own personal or professional reasons. Although living in a condominium subjects the unit owner to the concepts of democracy, the concept of privacy is -- or should be -- an important aspect of this democracy. Thus, if an owner does not wish to have his or her telephone number >

However, the name and address of each unit owner is a matter of public record in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds for the jurisdiction in which the property is situated. Since this is public information -- and since the law the highest priority as well as your legal documents allows each owner access to all books and records -- there is no excuse for not giving you this important information.

Often, however, in order to preserve privacy, on behalf of client association, I have negotiated with owners seeking the mailing list that if they submit in a closed envelope the information they want to circulate, and submit enough envelopes for all owners, and if they pay the mailing costs, the board ndash;through managementndash; will address the envelopes and mail them. I believe this is an appropriate solution.

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HOA Meetings By Design

Meetings are the venues wherein homeowner association business decisions are made. Since these meetings are usually infrequent, the importance of the decisions made cannot be understated. However, some HOAs are decision challenged because:

The meetings ra>

Discussions are endless and often inconclusive.

Issues decided at a previous meeting continue to be revisited.

Disagreements frequently turn ugly.

Meetings end when members are exhausted, not because they have completed the business at hand.

Many boards manage to conduct their business with a minimum of fuss and a measure of efficiency. These meetings dont happen by chance; they happen by design, and that design begins with an agenda.

If you dont have a destination in mind, any path will do. If a meeting lacks an agenda, it will go anywhere and everywhere and end up going nowhere. The agenda provides a road map for the meeting, identifying the issues to be discussed and establishing the order in which business will be transacted.

Knowing what is on the agenda allows board members to begin formulating their views before the meeting begins. It helps, of course, if board members actually review the agenda and any accompanying information in advance. But it takes more than advance preparation and an agenda to produce a successful meeting; boards also need a set of rules to guide their discussions.

Meetings dont have to be rigid or overly formal, but they do have to be orderly. Some boards use a simplified version of Roberts Rules of Order which includes such concepts like:

  • When a topic is brought up, a formal motion is required before it is discussed. This will ensure that more than one person thinks the issue is worth discussing.
  • Only one person is recognized to speak at a time by the chair.
  • Standards of civility no personal attacks or interrupting.

A time limit for the meeting and for each speaker on each issue. Otherwise, boards end up spending too much time on >

A reasonable agenda, advance preparation and rules of order provide the foundation for an effective meeting, like the tracks on which a train runs. But like a train, a meeting needs a steady hand on the throttle to keep it moving forward. Conducting both a train and a meeting require a certain amount of skill. The person in charge needs to control with a firm but not a heavy hand. In HOA meetings, this means giving all board members a chance to express their views, but also requiring them to stick to the topic and the time limits.

Some owners think they have an absolute right to participate in board meetings and some boards think it is best to hold their meetings behind closed doors. Both are wrong. Many states have specific requirements for most board meetings to be open to members to audit not participate. Some have exceptions for "executive session", or a closed door session, which may exclude members which include:

  • Employment issues
  • Contract negotiations
  • Consultation with counsel or review of information provided by counsel.
  • Constitutionally or legally protected topics such as medical records and attorney-client privileged information
  • Privacy issues
  • If a board discussion item does not fall under one of these exceptions, it must be discussed at an open board meeting.

    As far as member participation in board meetings, state laws vary. However, regardless of state statute, its good policy to set aside time for an open forum so members can ask questions and express their views.

    Homeowner associations are required to hold annual meetings, but many governing documents are silent on how often the board must meet. The board is generally free to meet as often as it chooses. The size and complexity of the community and the personal commitments of board members will typically dictate the meeting schedule. Another consideration is that managers typically charge for their time to attend board meetings. Since its important for the manager to be present at board meetings, the board needs to weigh the cost and benefit of more or fewer meetings.

    When properly organized, smaller HOAs can usually suffice with quarterly board meetings while larger ones may need bi-monthly or monthly meetings. The more the meetings, the more important it is to have those meeting organized and efficiently executed. Volunteer time can only be stretched so far.

    What happens after board meetings can be almost as important as what happens during the meetings. Some board members take votes against their proposals personally rather than of the suggestions they have made. They sometimes take their disappointment and anger outside of the meeting room, complaining publicly about the decision and even encouraging owners to overturn it. This behavior undermines the decision-making process, exacerbates tension, and erodes trust. As long as the board action is legal and in compliance with the governing documents, board members should accept that "majority rules" applies to votes they dont like as well as to those with which they agree.

    All board decisions wont be unanimous, nor should they be. Honest differences of opinion are healthy, encouraging an exchange of ideas that improves the decision-making process and contributes to the successful meetings boards want to have. While board meetings wont always produce good decisions, they will almost certainly reduce the number of bad ones. To produce the likelihood of more good decisions, design your meetings for success.

    Excerpts from an article by For more on effective meetings, see

    Full Story >

    How To Get The Most Out Of Your Media Room

    Most households have a room where the main activity is watching television. Were well beyond needing simply an electrical outlet and a pair of rabbit ears to entertain ourselves at home -- now, game consoles, cables, satellites, computer networks, streaming systems and stereo components can all communicate with your television. Be prepared for new devices incorporating cable management and methods of communication that will become "standard" in the future. Whether youre renovating your media space, building a new one or considering a quick upgrade, here are the elements to consider so you can make the most of your media room.

    Screen Space

    The more invisible the technology, the more able you are to immerse yourself in the media experience, but the beauty of a media room is that you dont have to hide the TV. So, splurge on the screen that suits your fancy and feel free to make it the centerpiece of the room in this case. On the other hand, if you would like to create a space thats a little more understated, yet visually dramatic when viewing media, consider a projector with a retractable screen. The screen hardware mounts to the ceiling, and the screen rolls up when youre not watching. Be sure to get a TV system that will handle all your media interests--Internet access, gaming, DVD or Blu-ray, and the components of your particular home theater set-up.

    Sounding It Out

    Most of our clients who build media rooms enjoy their screen time so much that we recommend they invest in audio equipment thats on par with their video equipment. Technology has thankfully advanced enough that you dont have to fill the room with tiny speakers for a surround sound effect. Install them flush to the ceiling or walls so you can keep your attention focused where you want it. If you want speakers to be truly invisible, you can go wi>

    Command Center

    Finally, you need to create a space where you can house all of the electronic components of your new media center. Hard drives, DVR and cable equipment, gaming consoles and stereo equipment need a space to live that wont clutter up the room. The best solution for cable management is to have a small cabinet installed in the most convenient space to your equipment, yet is easily accessible. Youll need ventilation, but can easily install a media cabinet with a panel door thats ventilated.

    Bringing It All Together

    Now that youve got all your technology worked out, its time to bring in your people Consider the other functions the room will serve. If the room will function as more than a media room, break up the space to accommodate your other pastimes. Will you need a simple game table with seating for four, or a pool table that converts to a ping pong table and crafting station? Create those spaces behind the seating in your home theater so the whole family can spend time together without everyone having to watch "Rambo" again or rock out to some "Guitar Hero."


    A sectional sofa is a versatile choice for a multipurpose space. They seat a lot of people comfortably, or just a few when folks want to sack out or snuggle up. If, however, your home theater is going to be dedicated solely to showing your favorite films, individual seating can really up the experience. Consider something that reclines -- recliners have come a long way in terms of attractive design. You can even get them with wi>

    Color and Texture

    For designers, this really is a case of saving the best for last. This space is your retreat from the world, and an indulgence youve earned. Make sure you love the way it looks. In terms of color, go deep and bold for the best cinematic effect. If you cant handle deep navy on all four walls, consider adding it as an accent color on the wall behind the screen for maximum viewing effect. Add some texture and theatrical flair with draperies that block the light and add to that sense of indulgence. If soundproofing is an issue, make those draperies wall to wall, and have some fun with the fabric. Remember, more than any other room in the house, this is room where you should feel free to make it your own.

    Now, hit the lights and pass that popcorn

    Full Story >

    12 Ways Buying New Construction Is Better, Worse, And Way Different From Other Homes

    Buying a new home isnt the same as buying an existing home. The more you know going in, the more prepared youll be to roll with the process - or run from the process.

    Everything all bright, shiny, and new

    No one elses taste, no one elses floorplan, no one elses germs. When you buy a brand - new home, its built for you and hasnt been lived in by anyone but you.

    Decisions, decision, decisions

    There are those who love the idea of selecting the flooring, the cabinets, the kitchen countertops, the finishes, and the myriad other choices that need to be made when building a new home - and then there are those who get the shakes just thinking about it. If youre the latter, perhaps an already - built home is a better option for you.

    What you see is not what you get

    Model homes are typically decked out with beautiful upgrades and multiple options, and those upgrades and options can cost big bucks. If you want your home to look like the model, be prepared to shell out far more money than what the base price of the house indicates.

    Youll have a warranty

    "Warranties for newly built homes generally offer limited coverage on workmanship and materials >

    The duration of coverage varies depending on the component of the house. Coverage is provided for workmanship and materials on most components during the first year. For example, most warranties on new construction cover siding and stucco, doors and trim, and drywall and paint during the first year. Coverage for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems is generally two years. Some builders provide coverage for up to 10 years for lsquo;major structural defects, sometimes defined as problems that make a home unsafe and put the owner in danger. For example, a roof that could collapse is a lsquo;major structural defect.

    Home warranties are typically extendable after that first year, although youll be responsible for the cost.

    You may have to buy sight unseen

    In some cases, model homes may not be built - or only a few of the floorplans will be featured as models - and you wont have an opportunity to walk through the homes to get a feel for how they live. You should have pictures and floorplans to view, and maybe even a virtual tour, but if youre the type that needs to be in it to get it, you may be disappointed.

    The noise - and the dust

    When considering which home to buy, the location of the lot is obviously important. But have you asked about how construction is going to roll out in the neighborhoods? It could be that your home is on a street that serves as a main artery for trucks and other construction traffic. Or perhaps youre in a location where construction is going to be going on all around you for months. Yes, the noise and dust will disappear - eventually. But how long are you willing to wait?

    Dont expect a price reduction

    You may be used to negotiating on the price of an existing home for sale, but new home prices arent typically negotiable. The builder or developer may be willing to throw in some upgrades as part of the negotiation, but, the hotter the community, the less likely you are to get anything for free.

    You can still work with your real estate agent

    Working with an agent who is savvy in new construction will help get you the home you want and any available extras. Keep in mind that many new - home communities today offer real estate agents a commission for bringing in a buyer, but they insist that the real estate agent register their buyer on the first visit. So dont show up alone to tour the community for the first time You could cost your agent money and then have to navigate the purchase on your own.

    It might behoove you to work with their in - house lender

    If youre already working with a lender, you obviously dont want to be disloyal. But, there may be financial benefits to working with the builder/developers in - house lender. Many times, they offer a lower rate overall, will buy down your rate, or will offer you a "teaser" rate that keeps your payments lower for the first year or first few years.

    Get familiar with this term: Standing inventory

    If builders have pre - built homes that are waiting to be sold, this is the one place you may have wiggle room room on price. Another advantage of standing inventory is there is no construction wait, and these homes are often nicely amenitized with upgrades.

    You might not be able to buy the lot you want

    New homes are typically >

    Amenities might not be available or built right away

    If a communitys amenities are a draw for you, be sure to ask about when they will be built. It could be that the pool and community park youre so excited about are years out from being realized.

    Full Story >

    How To Build A Career In Real Estate Development

    If youre looking to start a career as a real estate developer, there are all sorts of things that youll need to think about before you take the plunge and start out in this rewarding yet difficult industry. From deciding on the right college degree to maximize your chances of finding a job after graduating, to building the skill set needed to manage the problems and people youll come across once youre working, theres a lot to get sorted out. However, by doing your research and planning ahead, itll be easy to lay the groundwork and get your dream role lined up. Here are some top tips to follow to kick-start that real estate development career.

    Start in the right place

    As with any career, a working life in real estate requires you to begin in the correct place on the career ladder. Making a wrong choice as a young person starting out could haunt you for the rest of your life, so its a good idea to make it work from the outset. Remember, there are a whole host of things that youre going to need to learn about -- ranging from how mortgages work to how youll navigate the planning and development rules set out by local, state, and national governments. Getting a first job that teaches you these skills is vital, otherwise youll be at a lifelong disadvantage and may find that future employers consider your experience too specific.

    Get educated about the sector

    While historically it was common for real estate businesses to be family run and for people to learn on the job, its now increasingly more popular for young people entering the industry to get their degree in a >

    Leave the office and get talking

    In this business, its vital for people who want to make a success of themselves to ensure that they do all of the networking they need to find that dream job. There are all sorts of organizations and conferences across the country that are vital for you to attend if you want to advance quickly; these include national organizations such as the National Association of Home Builders, which is one of the USs largest trade organizations. If youre still in college, you may find that there are campus branches of >

    Find a role model

    Real estate is a complex business, and its likely that youre going to face some hurdles and challenges along the way while building your career. Thats why learning from those who have already been there and done it is a great move. Finding a role model doesnt have to be difficult; you could, for example, ask a tutor on your course if they know of anyone in the business willing to offer some practical help and advice. If that doesnt work, you could try speaking to local real estate development companies in your area. You never know, they may admire you for your courage, and even end up offering you a job somewhere down the line

    Dont give up

    From getting denied financing for your latest development to finding that the contractors you hired werent up to scratch, there are all sorts of problems that a career in real estate is going to throw at you. Giving up at the first hurdle will simply rule you out of the race to success -- but by carrying on and using your knowledge, problem-solving ability, and support network to find a way forward, youll soon find yourself back on track.

    Real estate development is a great career choice for those who are enterprising, tenacious, and savvy when it comes to money and investment. While there are various pitfalls to look out for, including unscrupulous colleagues and suppliers or not keeping up with the latest trends and knowledge, theres no reason why you cant build a fun and well-paid career in this booming and fast-growing sector.

    Full Story >

    Can You Pass The Flipping Personality Test?

    "Ummm, Im not sure about that countertop. Shouldnt they be hiring someone to do that? I would do such a better job on that flip."

    Who hasnt said that? When it comes to flipping, we all think wed be naturals, right? Or at least more skilled than the novices who are fumbling through it on TV. But it takes more than big dreams and good intentions to execute a successful flip, and with so much money at stake, you want to make sure you do it right. Actually, you want to make sure youre right for flipping in the first place before you put your financial future on the line.

    Take the house flip personality test to make sure youre a fit.

    Are you smart?

    No ones really going to answer, "No," to a question like this, but put it in the context of flipping. If you think its easy money and you arent really looking to put in the sweat equity or follow the basic rules of flipping, you might want to move along.

    "Dont believe those late-night infomercials that say you can get into house flipping with no money," said U.S. News amp; World Report. "Nobody is going to hand you a house for free, and you cant go to Home Depot and theyll give you your supplies for free. If you are using credit cards and have no money, you can get into trouble quickly."

    Are you savvy?

    Smart and savvy are not the same thing. Knowing where to save and where to spend is one of the most important factors when flipping.

    Are you geographically desirable?

    Buying a home just because its affordable and in need of renovation is not a great strategy. People actually have to want to live in the area where the home is located. Paying attention to hot areas can help you pinpoint the right spot.

    "The market with the biggest increase in flippers last year wasnbsp;Buffalo, NY,nbsp;which saw a 34 surge, according to a recent report from real estate data firm ATTOM Data Solutions," said The struggling upstate New York manufacturing town was followed bynbsp;New York City, at 29;nbsp;Dallas, at 23;nbsp;Louisville, KY,nbsp;at 22; andnbsp;Birmingham, AL, at 17."

    Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM, noted that, "These markets are not the primary markets that many people would think of [for] investing in real estate. "Theyre more off the beaten path, so theres less competition from other investors and theres more availability for deals."

    You also need to pay attention to the homes proximity to your home. Trying to manage a flip from afar is hard even for the most experienced investors.

    Do you make it personal?

    You may have the greatest personal >

    "Know whichnbsp;home improvements increase the homes value," said Money Crashers. "Focus on these projects first. Home improvements that increase the value of a home might include upgrading kitchen appliances, repainting the homes exteriors, installing additional closet storage space, upgrading the deck, and addingnbsp;green energy technologies. On the other hand, avoid home improvements that wont increase the selling price, like installing a pool, installing a whirlpool bath, or adding a sunroom to the house."

    Can you roll with the punches?

    Smart planning, extreme organization, and a great, trustworthy team are all crucial to a successful flip, obviously. But if youre the type that flips out literally if something changes, goes wrong, or looks like its all about to fall apart, this might not be for you. Flipping is a roller coaster, and there are going to be frustrations and setbacks along the way. Accept it, deal with it, and move on.

    What are your goals?

    Is this a get rich quick thing or are you thinking of flipping as a career? Are you interested in doing quality work or is it just about making the place look good and getting out? Being honest about your goals will help guide you throughout the process, but keep this in mind: cut corners and shoddy work may save you money upfront, but may impact your bottom line. And, if you plan to flip more than just one home, you dont want to earn a reputation for sketchy work.

    Do you play well with others?

    Even if youre the DIY King of North America, youre going to need help somewhere, at some time. The best flippers have a contractor they can count on and assorted other trusted professionals for plumbing and electrical, landscaping, appraisals, title insurance, and so on.

    Are you rich?

    Flipping is going to cost you, even if you find the magical lipstick on a pig house. And many people underestimate the potential costs, from the down payment to the carrying costs if it doesnt sell right away.

    "To get a conventional investor mortgage, you often need at least 25 percent down, though a good mortgage broker might find other options, including a lower down payment or a loan thatnbsp;provides some money for repairs," said U.S. News amp; World Report. "Hard-money lenders will lend to nearly anybody, but interest rates are high. Another major key to success as a flipper is accurately estimating both cost and timeline. That doesnt mean there wont be surprises, but you want to calculate the true cost of getting the property ready for sale. When you buy a home, you dont always know whats behind the walls: mold, asbestos, water damage, antiquated electrical lines, foundation issues or crumbling plumbing pipes."

    Full Story >

    Five Common Excuses HOA Members Use Who Pay Their Assessments Late

    Homeowner association members who pay their assessments late or not at all sometimes come up with some interesting excuses. Here are five common ones:

    Excuse 1: "I didnt get what I paid for so am withholding payment." Members have a right to require the board to perform its duties but withholding assessments is not the way to do it. The obligation to pay HOA fees has nothing to do with the HOAs obligations to provide maintenance and service. A member that withholds payment becomes delinquent and should incur all penalties provided for in the HOAs collection policy.

    Excuse 2: "You didnt bill me." The requirement to provide invoices is ra>

    Excuse 3: "The HOA has no right to make me pay for common area upkeep." Actually, the board not only has the right, it has a duty to collect assessments. This authority is established in the governing documents and state statutes. When people buy into a homeowner association, they agree to abide by those documents and that includes paying assessments.

    Excuse 4: "I never use the recreational facilities and shouldnt have to pay for them." Admittedly, recreational facilities are expensive to operate and for some HOAs represent a large part of the budget. Nevertheless, the obligation to pay for a common amenity has nothing to do with the level of usage. Many move into an HOA specifically for the recreational amenities. Theyre willing to pay for them because they take full advantage of the opportunities they provide. Even if youre not using some of the amenities, they make the HOA more desirable and the homes more valuable. Those that dont use the facilities should consider whether an HOA without amenities might work better. If so, it might be time to move.

    Excuse 5: "The HOA fees are too high." HOA fees reflect the cost of maintaining the common elements. All have to pay their fair share. If the HOA fees are too high, where can money be saved? The board should be open to ideas on reasonable ways to cut costs. But simply lowering fees because someone wants to pay less is not reasonable.

    Excuse excuses. Many try to cash them at the HOA Bank. Like a bum check, the HOA should refuse to accept them.

    For more innovative HOA management strategies, see

    Full Story >

    Sellers Have Closing Costs Also

    Question: I have recently become licensed as a Real Estate agent. The market is "hot", and many of my selling clients are asking what they will be charged for closing and settlement costs. Can you summarize these various costs?

    Answer: Thats a very good question. In my opinion, when a seller signs a listing agreement with a Real Estate Broker or agent, authorizing that person to sell the house, in addition to all the other forms which sellers receive, the seller should be given a estimated settlement statement. This statement will project the bottom line to the seller, based on the listing price. When an offer is later presented to the seller, the settlement statement should be updated, to reflect the actual terms of the proposed contract. And of course, the lender will also summarize all of the appropriate selling costs.

    I have analyzed a number of real estate transactions, and the following charges are generally made to the seller:

    Real estate commission: The seller should be informed of the dollar amount to be paid out of settlement for the commission. The broker should also make it clear that the commission is earned only if closing settlement or escrow takes place.

    Mortgage payoff: Most sellers have at least one mortgage outstanding on the property. The sellers lender will be able to assist you in obtaining an approximate payoff figure, if you give them a tentative settlement date. Dont forget to add a daily interest charge until the lender receives the full mortgage payout. You should also inquire whether there will be any prepayment penalty. Some older loans still require the borrower in this case the seller to pay a percentage of the loan if it is paid off in full prior to the full expiration of the mortgage term. In some instances, the prepayment penalty can be avoided, or waived by the lender, and you should inquire as to the policy of the particular lending institution.

    Points: This is perhaps one of the least understood areas of real estate financing. Sellers often question why they have to pay points to enable the buyer to get their loan. A point is one percent of the loan. For a number of years, no one paid points, especially since interest rates were very low. However, I have recently seen a revival of points being paid, either by buyer or seller or both.

    Some loans, such an FHA or VA, put limitations on the amount which the buyer can pay for closing costs. Many buyers who will be obtaining conventional financing also want the seller to pick up some of these settlement charges -- including points paid to the lender.

    Seller paid points are still deductible for tax purposes by the buyer, but the buyer must confirm this with his/her own attorney or financial advisor. Thus, while sellers want to get the most dollars from their house, there are often negotiation advantages if a seller offers to split points with the buyer. Such an arrangement may be the clue to closing the deal.

    Termite: Most buyers require that a termite inspection be performed, at the sellers expense. Normally, the fee for this service runs between 50 to 75. But I have seen too many instances where the seller is "hit" with a sizeable repair bill, due to termites and damage being discovered by the termite company.

    Ask the seller if they have a current contract with a termite company. If so, that company should be willing to give the required letter for no cost or at most a nominal charge. Finally, when you make arrangements with the termite company to do their inspection, make sure they will not do any repair work without informing you in advance. Since the seller is paying for these charges, the seller should have the option to shop around for another company.

    Water escrow: In Maryland and the District of Columbia, water is the only utility that creates a lien on the property. In order for the title attorney to give free and clear title to the buyer, all liens must be paid and satisfied. Thus, it is standard practice for the settlement attorney or company to escrow some money to cover the final water bill. Usually, the office conducting settlement will make arrangements to obtain a final water reading, pay the bill, and refund the balance of the escrowed funds, if any, to the seller.

    >: When the seller obtained mortgage financing, it usually was in the form of a deed of trust. This is similar to a mortgage, but the property is deeded "in trust" to independent trustees who are authorized to sell the property if a default occurs. When the mortgage is paid in full, the trustees are entitled to a nominal "trustees fee" and there is a small governmental charge to record the trustees >Other government charges: In the Washington metropolitan area, each jurisdiction imposes a tax called Grantors tax in Virginia, and Recordation and Transfer tax in Maryland and the District of Columbia. In Virginia, the seller customarily pays the Grantors tax. In the other jurisdictions, payment of this tax is negotiable between buyer and seller, although often the tax is split between the parties.

    Settlement charge: Some settlement offices will impose a nominal charge on the seller for "settlement."

    Many sellers are often surprised when they learn, for the first time at the settlement office, that they will not be getting as much from the sale of their house as they had anticipated. In my opinion, it is incumbent on you -- as the sellers agent -- to advise your principal as accurately as possible what all of these miscellaneous charges will be.
    Full Story >

    Everyone Can Lose When Theres No Contractors License

    Spring is almost upon us and many homeowners are eagerly awaiting a return to weather that will allow them to undertake construction projects ranging from repairing damage caused by winter storms to engaging in projects to remodel, enlarge, and otherwise improve.

    If the work is to be hired out, as opposed to being done by the homeowner, attention should be paid to determine whether or not the person doing the work is required to have a contractors license.

    California Business and Professions Code 7028a states, "It is a misdemeanor for any person to engage in the business or act in the capacity of a contractor within this state without having a license therefor, unless such person is particularly exempted from the provisions of this chapter. Note: All the references here are to California law; but many states have similar regulations. What exempts a person from the license requirement? The same code at section 7048a says, "This chapter does not apply to any work or operation on one undertaking or project by one or more contracts, the aggregate contract price which for labor, materials, and all other items is less than five hundred dollars 500..."[my emphasis]

    A project whose price totals less than 500 is considered " of casual, minor, or inconsequential nature," and can be performed by a non-licensed person, often referred to as a handyman.

    Good old American ingenuity being what it is, numerous schemes have been devised in attempts to skirt the 500 limit. Some will attempt to avoid the license requirement by breaking a jobs billing up into components, e.g. labor 300 and materials 300. This doesnt work because the legislation clearly states that the >Another ruse is to attempt to segregate the job into smaller components. "Ill do the north side of the roof for 450, the south side for 450, etc." This will not work either, as the code states that the exemption does not apply for a job, " which a division of the operation is made in contracts of amounts less than five hundred dollars 500 for the purpose of evasion of this chapter..."

    Even if the particular job e.g. tearing out a wall is less than 500, it is not exempt if it is, "part of a larger or major operation [e.g. remodeling the house], whether undertaken by the same or a different contractor" [my emphasis] Also, even if the job is less than 500, the exemption does not apply if the handyman has, through cards or advertising, held himself out to be a contractor.

    Hiring someone without a license to do a large job poses risks for the homeowner. If the handyman has hired others to work on the project, they may be considered employees of the homeowner. If the job results in damage to some third party, the homeowner may be liable. Moreover, a "contractor" without a license is not going to have workmans compensation. If a worker, hired by the unlicensed person, is injured, guess who will be held financially responsible?

    Moreover, the homeowner is not the only one at risk. Unlicensed "contractors" need to know that the homeowner cannot be compelled to pay them for their work. A recent ruling from the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court makes this crystal clear. People v. Michael Kerr Walker, BR 052772, November 16, 2016

    In March of 2013, Michael Walker, acting without a contractors license, entered into a written agreement with Sharon Curto for the painting of her house and installation of windows. By November 2013, although Curto had paid Walker over 61,000, he demanded another 7,768. She refused to pay and he filed a suit against her. She then hired an attorney to defend her and to countersue for the recovery of the monies previously paid.

    The Superior Court "determined it lacked authority to order restitution of monies paid by Curto unless the work performed by defendant was substandard or defective." Curto appealed and the Appellate court agreed with her. It is important to note here that the issue was not that the work done was substandard or defective in some way.

    Defendant Walker argued that "to the extent Curto benefitted from his unlicensed work in the form of labor and materials provided, she would be unjustly enriched and receive a windfall if he were ordered to reimburse the entire sum paid by Curto. In other contexts, it has been held that restitution may not be ordered when a windfall would be the result."

    But, the Appellate Court observed, "in cases involving an unlicensed contractor, the Legislature has determined that full recoupment of payment is required, even if a person who employs such a contractor is benefited or enriched thereby, and that such a rule is necessary to strongly deter unlicensed contracting work."

    Thus, even though the work was not defective, Walker was ordered to reimburse the homeowner the full 61,428, plus interest, plus attorney fees.

    An unlicensed contractor doing work for which a license is required? Not a good idea for either party.
    Full Story >

    Trends Cost Sellers Money

    Every new and widely-adopted trend changes whats considered "standard." When this happens in real estate mdash; inside or out mdash; a sellers non-trend or off-trend house or condominium unit may become "substandard" in buyers eyes.

    Sellers who expect top dollar for their property must ensure it makes an on-trend impression with homebuyers, especially millennials.

    In interior design, the trend toward ensuite bathrooms combined with the trend to "spa-like" bathrooms has put expensive-renovation pressure on sellers existing bathrooms. No matter how nice they are to use, if bathrooms dont have the magazine-look buyers lust after, their "this is a gut job" reaction means renovation cost and inconvenience to buyers and the home gets a "too dated to love" mark against it.

    To understand what buyers expect, sellers benefit from taking a long hard look at their main rooms after spending a few hours binging on home-renovation shows or pouring over home-decor magazines. Get it?

    If the resale house or condominium unit doesnt have spa-like bathrooms, an oasis->

    Buyers may dramatically under-value your house or condo or ignore it altogether. Ask local real estate professionals about the type of buyers who would be interested in the delayed gratification of paying for your "slightly dated" homes location and then undertaking extensive renovations themselves. Will they pay you top-dollar?

    Kitchens and bathrooms are the most expensive rooms to renovate, so its annoying to sellers that these are the only rooms that add value to a home. These key rooms may even decide whether a property sells at all.

    The last renovation may seem a recent memory to sellers, but they must check the calendar. If it was more than 5 or even 10 years ago, this time lag puts sellers out of phase with millennial buyers mdash; your home reminds them of their parents or grandparents place. Not a way to add value or evoke a "dream home" atmosphere.

    • If the last renovation was fairly recent, on-trend paint and other cosmetic staging touch-ups may be all thats necessary for great return on this investment.
    • If your home decor pays homage to the 20th Century, discuss 21st-Century renovations options with real estate, construction, and staging professionals.

    Hone down what needs to be done to an effective cosmetic minimum after any necessary repairs. Usually sellers aim for the best potential short-term return on decor investment, not on long-term construction returns.

    As well as kitchen overhauls, here are a few common "out dated" problems:

    • Paint color trends now change every year in sync with fashion. The "shades of grey" look is out and color is back. If you have older beige or pink-green color schemes, buyers may discount your homes value dramatically.
    • Wallpaper is in again, but if you dont have current wallpaper >
    • Stainless steel appliances and brushed nickle finishes were mandatory for years, but they are beginning to fade in popularity. Gold is the new hot metal color even though it hasnt made it to appliances yet. Buyers want new, matching, preferably high-end appliances. How do yours rate?
    • Floating bathroom vanities or at least vanities with slender, exposed legs are the new norm. Old chunky cabinets, especially those without double sinks, will generate expensive "gut job" reactions from buyers.
    • Solar panels and gas fireplaces have come down in price and so have increased in popularity in many locations. Skip these trends and your home may be considered "out dated" even though you have a new furnace and a >

    Staging can add cosmetic cleverness, but there still may be a few renovation projects necessary. Staging distracts from negatives and enhances positives with strategic furniture placement, scaled-down furniture, wanna-have pieces, and refreshing repaints. These elements can do a lot to enhance market value, but they cant overshadow a seriously out-of-date kitchen or a poorly-maintained exterior.

    A real estate professionals thorough evaluation of market value for your property should include a list of simple and more-complex up-dates that may add to your bottom line.

    Remember, sellers should concentrate on what target buyers want in their "dream home," not on what sellers have been comfortable living with for years.

    Full Story >

    How To Handle The Stress Of Selling Your Home

    Three things are certain in life: death, taxes ... and undue stress caused by moving. Whether or not you use the services of a REALTORreg; to help you wade through the uncertain waters of the buy-and-sell process, moving is stressful, period. And theres not much you can do to avoid it. And were not just talking about packing and paperwork. Moving is an emotional process. If youre not calming down your nervous children, youre trying to reassure yourself that youll meet people in your new neighborhood, that you bought the best house within your means, and that your kids new schools will measure up.

    Its easy to forget while were dealing with all of these jitters that moving actually can represent an exciting adventure, a growth opportunity and the prospect of new beginnings. Once the dust settles after your move, youre entering one of the most memorable times of your life. With any luck, youve recruited a REALTORreg; whos familiar with the obvious stresses as well as the insidious and subsequently more detrimental ones. Depending upon your >

    Its important to remember throughout the entire selling and buying process, however, to reserve time for yourself and your family. Its not a waste of time, but rather an insurance policy for your sanity and continued happiness. Stress is sneaky, as weve all discovered. It can eat away at us during what are supposed to be the happiest of times, because after all, any major change in life is stressful. If its supressed, it can wreak havoc both emotionally and physically and spread throughout the family. And theres nothing worse than moving a grumpy family across the country. For the sake of your continued family unity, keep in mind the following stress->

    First, remember that its perfect normal to feel unsure of your decision right now. Youve just made a major commitment, and all of us experience those last-second "What on earth did I just do" worries after signing contracts and making life-changing decisions. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with "what ifs" and dread, reframe this decision as a prime opportunity to begin your lives in a new environment. The old saying "When one door closes, another one opens" definitely applies here. Trust that your Realtor is looking out for your best interests, ask as many questions as you need to throughout the entire process thats part of what your Realtor is paid for, and look forward to the adventure that lies ahead of you.

    If you can, keep an emergency fund in case you run into any unexpected costs. One example: If your buyer comes forward after a home inspection is completed and requests a series of repairs prior to move-in, youll be prepared. Chances are good that you wont necessarily agree with the buyers requests, but at least you wont face the additional stress of being short the money for repairs if you plan ahead and save some extra cash no set amount -- just as much as you can handle. A goal you might try to shoot for would be in the range of 2,500. Its probably in your best interests not to try to guess what the buyer will want to repair, and then fix it ahead of time. Thats because buyers have a habit of isolating areas of your home that you never considered having repaired, and not even noticing the ones you expected them to pinpoint. So save yourself any expenses until youve determined their requests.

    And while were on the subject of finances, try to anticipate and prepare for the initial expenses youll face upon move-in. Resign yourself to the fact that during the moving process, youre going to feel as if youre holding your wallet upside down, and everyone -- movers, contractors, buyer, etc. -- is sitting underneath, catching the windfall and demanding a larger share. Keep in mind that this is an investment for the good of your family, and that these costs are a one-time inevitability.

    Remind yourself of why youre moving in the first place. A job transfer, or is it a voluntary choice? Obviously, whether or not you had some degree of control over the decision will affect your outlook. Regardless of your answer to that question, round up as much information as you can about your new hometown. What kinds of cultural offerings does the town/city offer? What are its landmarks and natural attractions? Research some possible day trips you might take with the family once youre settled. Is your new hometown near state borders, giving you the opportunity to explore different regions of the country without much effort?

    Envision your new home. Where will you place the furniture? Remind yourself of the homes primary selling points. Will you have more space? More closets? A large backyard and/or swimming pool? What does your new street look like? Do a lot of young families reside there? If so, your children are likely to be reassured by that knowledge. As often as possible, try to picture yourself and your family fully adapted to your new environment.

    Remember to have a little fun occasionally. Youre still allowed, even if you feel as if you dont have a penny left to your name. Take the family out to dinner, to a movie or a picnic -- anything that gets all of you out of the house and away from boxes, paperwork, emotions and all of those pre-move concerns. Keep a regular "date" to get out together -- for example, every Friday night leading up to the move. Take your mind off your stress for a few hours, and remind yourself that your family members are experiencing many of the same emotions. Like misery, stress often loves company, so enjoy your time together and remember that this stress wont last forever. Regardless of what youre feeling now, the move will happen and everything will eventually fall into place. Journeying into the unknown is what makes life rewarding, so trust in your Realtors expertise and in your familys resilience, and look forward to the journey ahead.

    Full Story >

    Merging the Gap Between Real Estate Agents and Social Responsibility, the Agent with Heart Program is Good for the Community and Great for Business

    While often associated exclusively with larger corporations, the importance of implementing some form of social responsibility extends well beyond that and is just as important, if not more so, for the success of smaller brands and businesses, including real estate agents. In fact, the research found that businesses that are not socially responsible may be jeopardizing their customer base, proving that a dedication to philanthropy is no longer simply considered a kind gesture, but has now become an expectation by the consumer.

    Hand in hand with positive philanthropic acts comes the good PR that follows and the ability to build a brand around that good will. For real estate agents, however, therersquo;s a very fine line between branding oneself as philanthropic within the community while also maintaining humility when publicizing it. Understanding the delicate nature of this situation, PinRaise, Inc. has developed their Agent with Hearttrade; program exclusively for real estate agents to not only make their mark in the realm of social responsibility, but to also be individually recognized for it.

    Through Agent with Heart, realtors donate a portion of their commission to their clientrsquo;s chosen nonprofit at the close of escrow. With each donation an agent makes, PinRaise launches a round of social media marketing across all major social sites in recognition of the donation. Donation amounts are always decided by the realtor and are never made public.

    The publicity that Agent with Heart offers their agents with each donation is key to the success of realtors seeking to make an impact within the community because it assists them in building a brand around being philanthropic, while also generating a buzz about their individual generosity online. Because much of the business realtors generate comes from referrals and recommendations, the positive PR that follows a donation is of the utmost importance.

    Additionally, a credible third party source like PinRaise sharing news of an agentrsquo;s philanthropic gestures across outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram not only assists in spreading the word about an agentrsquo;s good will, but also creates a ripple effect where those posts can now be shared by that agent, their followers, etc., further strengthening an agentrsquo;s brand. Being able to develop a reputation of giving back within the community leads to building a strong network of people who will speak highly of an agent because of their goodwill, helping them to stand out from the competition in a positive light, all while attracting new clients.

    The Agent with Heart program also gears its agent publicity toward capturing the eye of one social responsibility advocacy group in particular, millennials. According to the Cone Communications research, millennials cor>

    Through the Agent with Heart program, agents are able to uniquely appeal to the millennial generation of homebuyers by individually branding themselves as an agent willing to ldquo;pay it forwardrdquo; and give a donation to the local community. Agent with Heart also understands the research-driven tactics behind the purchasing decisions of millennials, and acknowledges the value in each individual donation promotion across all social platforms; the more visibility an agent receives for the generosity of their donations, the greater the appeal to the millennial market.

    In an ever-changing time when consumers are actively seeking businesses to do more for the community, itrsquo;s important for real estate agents to step up to this call to action. Branding oneself as an agent who makes a positive impact within the community isnrsquo;t just good for the community itself, itrsquo;s also good for business, and the Agent with Heart program has perfectly mastered the art of combining philanthropy with good PR.

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    What You Should Know Before Deciding To Buy A Condo

    Condos were once thought of as homes that attracted singles or couples, often without children. But today, condos are growing in popularity and attracting families of all sizes.

    Condos can be an excellent choice for the right buyers. Here are a few things that should be considered before purchasing a condo. Most buyers start with the condo itself. That may be a good place to begin but, before they buy, buyers should also consider other factors outside of the condo.

    Some developers are building condos that have a look and feel like single-family homes. These modern condos have great rooms and open, flowing floor plans that look and feel like a single-family home rather than an apartment or condo.

    One of the major attractions of condos is the low maintenance. The community area is maintained by an association funded by the dues that homeowners pay into it.

    Thats why buyers first consideration should be to explore the development and make sure they like the look and feel of the complex and surrounding community. There are codes and restrictions, often referred to as CCamp;Rs covenants, codes, and restrictions that buyers will have to abide by once they purchase a condo. Buyers should ask to review them before making an offer to purchase a condo. These regulations help ensure that the community maintains its general appearance and any necessary repairs of the external areas.

    Review the associations budget. It may be necessary to get the seller to provide this information because it may not be >

    Find out how many owners in the development are delinquent on their dues. A condo complex that has a high level of delinquencies can cause problems for buyers when it comes time to get a loan or sell the condo. Some loans are not approved if delinquency rates are higher than 15 percent.

    Review the minutes from the associations board meetings. They will reveal the day-to-day issues that occur each month and give an indication of how the development is run. For instance, lots of complaints and filings about noisy residents, loud parties, or dog droppings on the lawn reveal potential problems with neighbors. The minutes will also reveal if the development is engaged in any lawsuits.

    Understand what your responsibilities are for the upkeep of the condo. Find out what the association takes care of and what the homeowners have to maintain. Look at the associations property management team and see how many times the association has changed management companies. Find out why. This will may reveal how responsive the association will be should residents need its assistance.

    Ultimately, buyers need to ensure that when they purchase a condo theyre not buying into any legal battles the association is in the middle of and that they will be able to live in their condo the way they want. Study the CCamp;Rs and do due diligence before buying.

    Full Story >

    How To Make Your Small Kitchen More Appealing

    Many people complain about small kitchens but tiny spaces arent always to be dreaded. If youre selling your home and your kitchen is, well, compact, know that you can find ways to achieve big appeal with a little creativity.

    Bring in the light. Sometimes small kitchens can be dark, making them feel even smaller. But if you remove the curtains from any windows in your small kitchen, itll let light in and open up the area. Instead of curtains, you can use small blinds that are recessed inside the frame of the window. These are easy to clean and still provide some privacy even when the blinds are open.

    De-Clutter the counter tops and the walls. Most people have a tendency to let kitchen clutter build up on the counter tops and walls. Removing items from the counters, kitchen table, and even off the walls will make the space feel bigger. Yes, I know these items on the counters are useful but when youre selling your home, a little inconvenience may help you receive a higher offer and youll probably agree, thats worth it Take the appliances and either store them in the kitchen cabinets or, if there isnt enough room, pack them up. Youre moving soon, anyway.

    Clearing off photos and miscellaneous papers that are stuck on your refrigerator door or kitchen walls will also help make your kitchen look bigger. If youre tight for space, mounted storage units can be added to your kitchen walls to free up limited counter-top space. But again, too many storage units, even the decorative kind, will give people a feeling like the walls are closing in on them. The same goes for hanging pot racks from the ceiling. Be sure to leave some open wall space and to use storage units that arent completely solid. The open units, if the shelves arent stuffed, will give a less closed-in feeling.

    Photo by Big Girls Small Kitchen - Search transitional kitchen pictures

    Opt for lighter and brighter wall color. Going with lighter colors tends to open up a room. Light and bright colors are also very inviting and friendly, making them a perfect choice for the kitchen. You can use a darker accent trim to create some contrast. You can also use decorations including floral arrangements or even some colorful kitchen appliances to add spice to the kitchen.

    Wall-mounted appliances and reduced counter-top depth. Wall-mounted or under-the-cabinets-mounted appliances can save valuable kitchen counter-top space. You might even have a way to wall-mount your kitchen faucet. In one small home design, the faucet was mounted to the wall, creating a very distinctive look. The counter-top was a standard 24 inches deep but elsewhere the counter-top was reduced just slightly down to 21 inchesndash;very subtle and hardly noticeable but it allowed more floor space in a tiny kitchen.

    Small kitchens dont have to be an eyesore. Some even prefer less space because theres less to clean. If you know the audience youre marketing your home to, you can play up the homes best featuresndash;including, perhaps, a small, quaint, and simple kitchen.

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    Tips To Keep Your Home Show-Ready At All Times

    Once your home goes on the market, real estate agents may call to show your home anytime, day or evening. Keeping your home "showtime" ready can be challenging, especially if you have children and pets.

    What you need to stay organized is a handy checklist so you can be ready to show at any time. When you get the call that buyers are on their way, give everyone in the household a basket and assign them each to a room to pick up clutter quickly. Set a timer and tell everyone to grab up any toys on the floor, clear tabletops and countertops of junk, and quickly Swiffer-sweep the floors. Check for hazards like dog chews on the floor.

    Turn on all the lights, and get ready to skedaddle. You have to let buyers have privacy so they can assess your home honestly. Take the kids for an outing. Put pets in daycare, sleep cages or take them with you:

    Keep your home show-ready with these nine tips:

    Eliminate clutter: Not only is clutter unattractive, its time-consuming to sort through and expensive for you to move. If you have a lot of stuff, collections, and family mementoes, you would be better off renting a small storage unit for a few months.

    Keep, donate, throw away: Go through your belongings and put them into one of these three baskets. Youll receive more in tax benefits for your donations than pennies on the dollar at a garage sale. Its faster, more efficient and youll help more people.

    Remove temptations: Take valuable jewelry and collectibles to a safety deposit box, a safe, or store them in a secure location.

    Remove breakables: Figurines, china, crystal and other breakables should be packed and put away in the garage or storage.

    Be hospitable: You want your home to look like a home. Stage it to show the possibilities, perhaps set the table, or put a throw on the chair by the fireplace with a bookmarked book on the table.

    Have a family plan of action: Sometimes showings arent convenient. You can always refuse a showing, but do you really want to? If you have a showing with little notice, get the family engaged. Everyone has a basket and picks up glasses, plates, newspapers, or anything left lying about.

    Remove prescription medicines: Despite qualifying by the buyers agent, some buyers have other intentions than buying your home. Its also a good idea to lock your personal papers such as checkbooks away. Do not leave mail out on your desk.

    Get in the habit: Wash dishes immediately after meals. Clean off countertops. Make beds in the morning. Keep pet toys and beds washed and smelling fresh.

    Clean out the garage and attic: Buyers want to see what kind of storage there is.

    Full Story >

    5 Tips To Refresh Your Home For Spring Time

    It may still be snowing in some parts of the country, but spring is almost here. Before the flowers start budding outside, refresh the inside of your home to give your interior spaces that springtime glow.

    Bring the outdoors inside

    Adding fresh plants or flowers to an otherwise ho-hum space can spice things up in the blink of an eye. Even if you dont have a garden full of fresh flowers to choose from, greens make a lovely addition to your living room, or even an eye-catching centerpiece for your dining room table. Better Homes and Gardens suggests gathering a few fresh fern fronds for dramatic texture and rich color.

    Dont be afraid to add color

    One of the easiest ways to perk up your space is to invest in a gallon of paint, call in reinforcements to help you out, and go to town with brushes and rollers. If youre not incredibly adventurous when it comes to color choices but still want a pick-me-up, try going with a warmer, creamier version of the neutrals you already have; a creamy ba>

    You could even paint an accent wall a bold, fun color and use that space to showcase some of your favorite art or family portraits for your own personal art gallery. suggests incorporating bright colors in a breakfast nook or one of the smaller spaces of your home or apartment. Its less of a risk than painting your entire kitchen or living room, but still packs a punch.

    Reorganize your bookshelves

    If youve got a fantastic library, now is a great time to take everything off the shelves, blow the dust off the covers, and reorganize. You might even consider artfully stacking books in different directions, some horizontal and some upright. Apartment Therapy reports some pretty impressive results simply by arranging books by color for a uniquely eye-catching display.

    Photo by Craig Conley via Wikimedia Commons

    Update window treatments

    Spring is a great time to trade in your richly-textured drapes for lighter, breezier, more summery colors. If privacy isnt a huge issue in a space, try adding light, breezy sheer curtains on a thin, minimalist rod. Youll love how much the change automatically brightens your space. You might also consider substituting your ordinary blinds with Roman Shades. Theyre a >

    Make your entryway welcoming

    Upgrade or thoroughly clean your front-door mats and add a wreath to your front door. This could be a fun DIY project for the entire family. Make sure you have an efficient landing spot just inside your front door mdash; a place to drop keys and hang up a coat or jacket before coming inside. This is also a great place for a fun mirror and a flower arrangement. Your homes entryway often gives guests their very first impression of your home, so make it shine with your familys personality and a touch of >

    Photo by The McClouds via Wikimedia Commons

    Full Story >

    Want To Buy A House? Heres How To Save For A Down Payment

    Thinking about buying a house within the next 3 years? Or a bit farther down the road? Timing is everything and it turns out that simple question makes a difference.

    According to Zillow, the median home value in Diamond Bar is 697,000. So how much of that should you put down? Down payments vary depending on the loan type, but in general they are:

    0 for VA loans
    3.5 for FHA loans
    20 for conventional loans
    Or use this handy down payment calculator to help you.

    20 is the recommended down payment on a house.

    You may have heard this before, but well say it again. Try to put at least 20 down. Why? If you finance more than 80 of the home value, you will have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance PMI. But if you can take out a VA loan, PMI is not required.

    Even just 3.5 or 24,395 on a home in Diamond Bar, CA is a good chunk of money. And whether youre fighting the good fight as a small business owner, still paying back those student loans, or just trying to save a bit each month like all of us, its hard to know what to do with that money you have managed to save. Which brings us to hellip;

    When are you looking to purchase a home?

    1. I want to buy a home within 3 years.

    If youre looking to buy sooner rather than later, consider keeping your money in a cash account, like a savings account or something similar. Remember that savings accounts will yield greater interest than a regular checking account. You dont want to invest this money for such a short period because of market volatility. Just think:

    Imagine youve built up a decent amount for a down payment and you invested this money in the stock market. A recession comes and you take a 30 hit on your balance. That will likely prevent you from buying your home within your three-year goal.

    2. I want to wait at least 4 years before buying a home.

    If youre not in a big rush, investing in the market might be a better option for you. Should you invest, do so with caution and dont be too aggressive. Be smart, calculated, and balanced with your portfolio picks. Make sure you have a healthy mix of stocks and bonds. And keep in mind that youll want to rebalance your portfolio at least once a year. Why?

    Imagine that you have a portfolio of 10 different stock and bond ETFs, or Exchange-traded funds. Each ETF is invested at a fixed percentage of your overall portfolio. As the year goes on, the allocations will wander from their targets. Those doing well will become a larger part of your portfolio. Those not doing so well will become a smaller part of your portfolio. When you rebalance, you bring things back in line with your target percentages, so youre selling high and buying low.

    Also keep in mind dollar-cost averaging, or investing a certain fixed amount on a regular schedule. Basically, you buy a larger number of shares when the markets are down and everything is at a lower price, and fewer shares when prices are high. This is recommended over making large, infrequent, lump sum contributions because it will bring the average cost per share down over time.

    If these investing ideas are a bit daunting to you, youre not alone Speak with a financial planner to help you evaluate your options and navigate these uncertain waters. An advisor can be just the direction you need to reach your goal and buy a house.

    David Yu, CFPreg; is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERtrade; with over 10 years of industry experience helping people make smart, lasting financial decisions. Visit for more information.

    Full Story >

    No Perfect Home Exists: What You Should Know About Home Inspections

    For many first-time buyers, buying a home can be a scary experience. They know theyll be maintaining or improving a home with little to no maintenance experience, so the solution is to buy a home in perfect condition. So they hire a home inspector to point out all the flaws.

    The problem is -- no perfect home exists. Air conditioners break, plumbing pipes leak, and roof tiles blow off in the wind.

    If youre buying a home, start with a reasonable expectation of what home inspectors can do. Their job is to inform you about the integrity and condition of what youre buying, good and bad.

    A home inspection should take several hours, long enough to cover all built-in appliances, all mechanical, electrical, gas and plumbing systems, the roof, foundation, gutters, exterior skins, windows and doors.

    An inspector doesnt test for pests or sample the septic tank. For those, you need industry-specific inspectors.

    Heres what else you need to do.

    1. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed. The responsibilities of home inspectors vary according to state law and their areas of expertise.

    2. Ask what the inspection covers. Some inspection companies have extensive divisions that can provide environmental for radon and lead paint. Be prepared to hire and schedule several inspectors according to your lenders requirements and to pay several hundred dollars for each type of inspection.

    3. Some inspection reports only cover the main house, not other buildings on the property. For specialty inspections such as termites, make sure the inspection covers all buildings on the property including guest houses, detached garages, storage buildings, etc.

    4. Attend the inspection and follow along with the inspectors. Seeing problems for yourself will help you understand whats serious, what needs replacement now or later, and whats not important.

    5. Dont expect the seller to repair or replace every negative found on the report. If youre getting a VA or FHA-guaranteed loan, some items arent negotiable. The seller must address them, but otherwise, pick your battles with the seller carefully.

    A home inspection points out problems, they also point out whats working well. It can help you make your final decision about the home - to ask the seller to make repairs or to offer a little less, to buy as is or not to buy at all.

    Full Story >

    Open-House Directional Signs Are Covered By Various, Sometimes Conflicting Rules

    We have noted that neither cites, counties, nor homeowner associations may ban the display of real estate signs on private property altogether. These entities may place reasonable restrictions on such signs based on consideration of matters such as safety or aesthetics.

    Somewhat different issues arise regarding open house directional signs, which, most often, are not placed on private property. Most people have a fair tolerance for the display of real estate for sale or for rent signs, but open house signs sometimes evoke different, occasionally visceral, reactions. Some people get upset when prominent intersections sprout virtual forests of open-house signs on weekends; and others find themselves amused, if not annoyed, to see open-house signs displayed in the late evening or very early morning hours.

    "There ought to be a law", some think; and indeed, there is. More precisely, there are. There are lots of laws. Many cities have regulations concerning such signs. Most of them differ from each other, and more than a few conflict with the state law that governs directional signs to for-sale property.

    It is common for local ordinances to limit both the size and the design of open-house signs. Some cities specify a maximum number of open-house signs that can be displayed, whereas others are silent on that issue. Many jurisdictions require that open-house signs can only be posted during certain hours typically 8 AM -- dusk; and some cities even designate certain days as the only ones when such signs can be displayed.

    Some cities allow open-house signs to be placed in public right-of-way, such as parkways, but others dont. Many prohibit the placement of open-house signs in medians or street dividers.

    In some cities there are rules as to how many open-house directional signs can be placed in any one intersection. A typical rule in this regard is that there may be only one sign per direction. Suppose, for example, that such a rule were applied to a typical intersection where four streets come together at right angles to each other. No more than four signs could be displayed there. If a real estate agent arrives to place his sign and finds that another agent has already placed one pointing in the same direction as his sign would, then he may not place a sign there.

    It is understandable that confusion arises from the multiplicity and diversity of local rules governing open-house signs. Local Realtorreg; associations try to keep their members informed about local rules, and some of them post the regulations on their web sites. One of the difficulties involved is that, frequently, these regulations are based on "handshake agreements", rather than on actual ordinances. Whatever the case, all should know that REALTORreg; associations cannot and do not enforce such regulations. They are specifically prohibited from that kind of enforcement action In the matter of off-site directional signs, the main principle to keep in mind is that cities and counties may set rules -- including a total ban -- for the placement of signs on public property. But they cannot set special rules based on the content of the sign. That is, they cannot have one set of rules for real estate open house signs, and another set of rules for garage sales, or the directions to a birthday property, etc.
    Full Story >

    Ask the HOA Expert: Governing Documents

    Question: Our governing documents are vague about how to allocate expenses among the unit owners. The board decided to base it on unit square footage.

    Answer: If the governing documents dont specifically state otherwise, equal allocation of expenses is the default formula. The board has no authority to change the allocation formula. Only the members themselves have the power to change the allocation formula. And in some states, fees cannot be changed without a 100 agreement of the members and mortgagees so dont waste your time trying.

    Question: Can a board member bid on a project to clean the gutters or make small building repairs? We are having trouble finding qualified people to do the little things that need to be done. The present management company say that a board member can not be paid for work.

    Answer: Cleaning gutters is not the boards job so the issue of payment does not apply. What does apply is the issue of conflict of interest. If a board member wants to perform work for the HOA, he should be properly licensed and insured to do it. If the remaining directors agree that they want to hire this person, he should step off the board to avoid an obvious conflict of interest. Do one or the other but not both.

    Question: Im confused about what to include in meeting minutes. I always record motions and votes but am uncertain about including details of discussions.

    Answer: Details of discussions should not be included in the minutes. The minutes should only include details of reports and actions motions and votes. Discussions should be left out.

    Question: Do most homeowner associations allow window air conditioning units?

    Answer: While this varies from HOA to HOA, most dont or shouldnt allow them for a variety of reasons. They detract from curb appeal, give off heat, make noise and often leak causing structural dryrot. There are legitimate exceptions the board should make due to a documented health issue that requires air conditioning.

    For more Ask the HOA Expert, see
    Full Story >

    New B.C. Taxes Wont Help Housing Affordability, Critics Charge

    Home prices in British Columbia "didnt spike overnight, and our housing problems cant be fixed with a single budget," says Selina Robinson, minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for British Columbia, in the introduction to the governments new Homes for B.C. budget document. "It will take years of sustained action to bring housing affordability home. We are acting immediately by introducing a new speculation tax, increasing and expanding the foreign buyers tax and closing legal loopholes abused by speculators. And were working hard to build the right supply."

    But critics of the plan say it will make no dent in housing affordability and may make things worse by raising taxes for home buyers.

    The speculation tax, starting in the fall of 2018, targets foreign and domestic speculators who do not pay income tax in B.C. The tax rate will be 0.5 per cent of taxable assessed value for the 2018 tax year and two per cent after that. It applies to Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Capital and Nanaimo Regional Districts, Kelowna and West Kelowna.

    The foreign buyers tax is being increased to 20 per cent from 15 per cent. Previously confined to Metro Vancouver, it now also applies to the Fraser Valley, Nanaimo, Capital Regional District and Central Okanagan Regional District. Expanding the tax "to other communities ensures that speculation isnt pushed into neighbouring markets," says the government.

    Beginning in 2019, the school tax on homes assessed over 3 million will be increased, and the Property Transfer Tax rates for these homes will rise to five per cent from three per cent.

    The province is also taking steps to cut down on tax fraud and close loopholes that allow property owners to avoid paying taxes. It promises to work with the federal government to share information to combat money laundering and tax evasion.

    The budget includes a pledge to invest more than 6 billion in affordable housing. It plans to build more than 14,000 rental units for "the missing middle" -- individuals, working families and seniors.

    In a blog about the new budget, the Fraser Institute says the plan "focuses primarily on the demand side of the market while largely ignoring supply constraints, which help fuel higher home prices.

    "Not only is it unclear that taxing non-resident buyers has significantly impacted home prices, but its also not clear that demand-side policies can do much to limit cost increases in growing metropolitan areas, especially if the supply of new housing does not keep up with demand," says the Fraser Institute.

    Anne McMullin, president/CEO of the Urban Development Institute -- Pacific Region, says, "We are extremely concerned new and far-reaching housing tax increases will not have a positive impact on affordability." She says, "These half billion in alarming new real estate taxes also target buyers and homeowners. Unfortunately, todays budget did not address the real problem of getting new housing approved and built."

    She cited a recent study about home prices by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. that says the weak supply response in Vancouver is a critical driver of the housing affordability issue. "In many municipalities it can take four to five years to receive approvals and two to three years to construct new buildings -- that means we wont see any >The British Columbia Real Estate Association says, "The new tax measures introduced by the government to stabilize the housing market are unlikely to achieve the intended objective. Additional taxes, whether targeted at foreign buyers or speculators, do not reduce a gap between when a housing project starts and is available to purchase."

    The association says the taxes will have an immediate impact on transactions that are already underway and should have been introduced with transitional rules that grandfathered deals that are in the works.

    "Of additional concern, the speculation taxwill affect British Columbians who own or want to invest in those markets by buying a second home or recreational property."

    LandlordBC said the governments focus on affordable rental housing is laudable and says it is pleased to see a commitment to work with private sector rental developers. However, the organization is unhappy that purpose-built rental housing is included in the increased Property Transfer Tax measure.

    "It would not be a surprise to see some pullback of foreign investment in residential real estate, at least in the immediate term," says LandlordBC. "However, the reality is there are huge sums of money that continue to look for safe havens to invest in residential real estate, and British Columbia remains a highly desirable place to invest. The money will likely keep coming."

    Some people believe the taxes didnt go far enough.

    Vancouver City Council passed a motion asking the province for "a restriction on foreign purchasing of property; a speculators tax in the form of a property tax surcharge that targets absentee foreign owners not local owners who own property in Vancouver but do not pay appropriate income taxes here on world-wide income;" and "an additional flipping tax on capital gains when properties are flipped within a short period of time without reasonable cause."

    A report by TD Economics says the Homes for B.C. plan should provide long-term benefits for the housing market "given the proposed investment in infrastructure, alleviation of affordability pressures and prevention of the build-up of excessive risks in the housing market." In the short term, TD Economics expects a five to 10-per-cent decline in resale activity.

    "Some of the activity lost from B.C. may materialize elsewhere in the country, as investors seek real estate assets," says TD Economics. "Toronto and Montreal are the most likely beneficiaries of such moves."
    Full Story >

    9 Important Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Embark On A Renovation

    If youre getting ready to renovate, or just thinking about a few possibilities, youve got some decisions to make. Some of them may be easy like finally getting rid of that mustard yellow paint, perhaps. But some will require you to search within - and within your wallet

    Tile or wood

    If youre redoing your floors, youre probably in the middle of this debate. The growth of wood-look tile has only made the decision more difficult because you get an easy-care finish with the appearance you like. Keep in mind that wood is >Gray or beige

    The search for the perfect neutral is wrought with challenge. If you cant decide between the two because youre worried beige is "out" but youre not sure of grays staying power, do what an increasing number of people are doing: Go greige.

    "What if you could take the best of beige and gray, to create a neutral that can avoid the worst qualities of each? Greige has been wildly popular for several years, because it does bring the best of both worlds to life, as a neutral color," said The Spruce.

    Granite or quartz

    This ones easy. Quartz is todays go-to when it comes to kitchen countertops. After many years at the top, granite has been replaced. If you are still leaning toward granite, keep in mind that buyers may not respond as positively as you.

    Gas or electric

    When it comes to cooking, chefs swear by the performance of gas stoves, but electric does have its advantages - mostly from an easy-cleanup standpoint. "Each type has its devotees, and its detractors," said Bob Vila. "Burgeoning chefs may be swayed by the versatility and accuracy provided by the flame heating of gas stoves. Meanwhile, parents with young children may switch to an electric stove, seeing it as the safer of the two. Families also appreciate the easy-clean virtues of electric stoves. Strong as ones personal preference may be, economics play a role too: Depending on where you live, one or the other stove type might be cheaper to operate. If your current stove is scorching your sauces, burning the bacon, and ruining the roast, keep these considerations in mind as you choose between gas and electric."

    Chrome, nickel, brassor black

    Choosing your finishes today can be more challenging than ever because there isnt one must-have option. Some would say thats brass, which is enjoying a potent resurgence after years of being the butt of outdated dcor jokes. But if youre wary of going toward golden tones, youll be happy to hear that chrome and nickel are still current. The newest finish showing up in fashion-forward homes is black, so if you want to be an early adopter of the next best thing

    Kitchen or bathroom

    If you only have the funds to renovate one of them, how do you choose? Both are important, obviously. We would personally give the edge to kitchen, if budget allows, because it has the ability to make a bigger impact. And, because potential buyers are more likely to react negatively to a worn kitchen in need of what they perceive to be expensive updates.

    If youre weighing the two, consider these realities from The Spruce: A bathroom is probably cheaper, a kitchen reno is slightly less disruptive, and a bathroom takes less time. The most important factor: "According toConsumer Reports, 52 of real estate professionals consider the kitchen the most important room to influence a house sale versus 42 who consider the bathroom to be the most important room."

    Renovate or add on

    You could make an area of your home more fantastic and more functional or you could opt to add on space if youre feeling cramped. Which one is more advantageous? It all depends. If your space is just too small to accommodate your family or if you dont have enough bedrooms or bathrooms, for instance, you might not feel like you have a choice but to add on. Will it pay off? That also depends. The Cost vs Value report will give you an idea of what your return on investment will be before you set aside a bunch of money for something that may or may not pay your back.

    Do it yourself or hire a pro

    Do you have skills? How do you handle it when things go wrong? Are you the type to finish what you start or are you likely to give up along the way? Is what youre undertaking potentially dangerous? Ask yourself these questions, and answer them honestly. If youre not sure you can pull off the task yourself, you may want to start making some calls.

    Now or later

    Its quite common for people to wait until theyre ready to list their home in order to make updates. But this denies you the pleasure of enjoying those updates while you still live there If youve been putting off renovations for "someday," perhaps its time to rev up that timeline
    Full Story >

    Eight Must-Dos Before You List Your Home For Sale

    The Spring selling season is on, and if youre considering listing your house, its time to get it in tip-top shape. You may think your home is already listing ready right now, but a real estate agent may not agree. These eight activities will help you put your best house forward.

    Clean up that yard

    You cant underestimate the power of curb appeal. An unkempt yard, chipping paint, even a mailbox thats seen better days can turn off a potential buyer - or turn one into a bargain hunter. And you dont want either.

    "Your homes curb appeal is the first thing buyers see when they drive up to the property. Buyers immediately start assessing the exterior and landscaping, forming a knee-jerk first impression," said Professional Staging. "This initial reaction is very powerful. It instantly sets the tone of the tour and will have an effect on how buyers perceive the rest of the property. If their first impression is a negative one, then the rest of the home will suffer for it. The state of a homes exterior usually matches the interior. If the grass is long or patchy, the paint on the house is faded or peeling, and there are cracks in the driveway, then buyers are going to be very wary of what other kinds ofnbsp;maintenance issuesnbsp;could be awaiting them inside and in places that they cant see. These issues instantly translate to dollar signs and stress for home buyers, so its likely they will move on to the competition to avoid them both."

    Consider your door

    Chances are, you dont look much at your front door because you come in and out of the garage. A buyer approaching your house will notice if your door isnt pristine and may project the lack of pristine-ness onto the rest of the house. A fresh coat of paint is inexpensive but the impact is dramatic.


    A cluttered house can mask its best qualities and also make potential buyers feel like its not as spacious as they want it to be. "Resist the urge to roll your eyes at this one," said Family Handyman. "It is imperative that your home looks livable. Potential buyers may not be able to see past your clutter. Think of it this way - dont move things you no longer want or need. Make decisions now and your house will sell faster and your move will be easier. Take one room, or even part of one room, at a time and dive in. Recycle or shred paper. Donate books, toys, clothing and duplicate household items. If youre getting frustrated and you cant deal with one more stack of papers or shoebox of old photos, put them in a plastic tub, label the tub and stack it somewhere out of the way."


    You want your home to be memorable, but for the right reasons - not because of your wall full of crosses or bookcase overflowing with antique figurines. Pack them away to neutralize the space. "The next step on your declutter list? You want tonbsp;remove any distractions so the buyers can visualize themselves and their family living in the property," Kipton Cronkite, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in New York, told "He says that includes personal items and family photos, as well as bold artwork and furniture that might make your home less appealing to the general public. The goal is to create a blank canvasnbsp;on which house hunters can project their ownnbsp;visions of living there, and loving it."

    Light bulbs, handles, and hardware, oh my

    Burned-out bulbs, loose handles, and hardware thats worn, scratched, or rusted is easy to take care and can help your place look finished.

    Give everything a good dusting

    Look up Hows that ceiling fan? Youd be surprised how a little thing like a dusty fan can impact a buyer and turn them into a non-buyer. Get out that duster and hit all the corners and window sills you never notice. And then clean all those windows so when you open all the blinds and drapes to let the sun shine in, the light doesnt get blocked by smudges and fingerprints.

    Walk through your home like youre seeing it for the first time

    Come in through the front door and examine every inch of the house. Youve probably been ignoring little things that have just become part of the landscape. A scuffed baseboard here. A broken switchplate there. Even the pile of shoes in the front hall that you dont even notice anymore. Potential buyers will, and these little things could be enough to turn them off.

    "Once youve decided its time to sell your home, start to look at it with an objective eye," said Family Handyman. "If you were the potentialnbsp;buyer, what red flags would you see when you walked around your house and yard?

    Clean out your closets, your cabinets, and your pantry

    Dont fool yourself into thinking people wont open doors and drawers and look through everything Side tip: Hide your valuables before showings, just to be safe. You dont have to worry about being judged for your fashion sensemdash;although, you might want to pack away those lsquo;80s parachute pants You should be more worried about whether buyers will walk away because they think there isnt enough closet or storage space, or its not efficient space.

    You have to pack anyway since youre moving, so start early. Empty out closets, cabinets, and storage areas so the space looks sufficient and nicely organized. For closets, the idea is to make them look filled, but not overfilled. Create space between hangers and fold other items neatly on shelves. Make sure there is ample space for shoes because, lets face it, this could be a deal breaker for some people.

    Full Story >

    7 High-Tech Investments To Include In Your Next Home Improvement

    Are you planning to remodel your home? Do you want to make it more functional, comfortable, and add some more value to it? With these high-tech improvements, you can achieve all of those goals.

    These are investments that will significantly upgrade your home, your level of security and change your way of life, while decreasing your impact on the environment, saving energy and money at the same time.

    1. Solar Panels

    One of the best and useful high-tech investments when it comes to home improvements are solar panels. Their benefits are wide and numerous, so it shouldnt come as a surprise that they are becoming an increasingly common investment with many homeowners. Apart from their environmentally-friendly and sustainable characteristics, they also bring high energy-efficiency and significant savings to your household.

    Solar panels work on the basis of sunlight absorption and its conversion into electricity, and with them, you can cover the majority of your homes electricity demands. With the development of the industry and the market, panels are becoming more and more efficient and able to absorb sunlight.

    Solar storage batteries are also an important part of your solar system, complementing it to make your investment even more profitable and your home more energy-independent and efficient. They function as a safety net for cloudy weather and during the night. They will absorb and store the suns energy so that it can be used when there is no direct sunlight for the panels to absorb.

    2. Digital Lighting

    Digital lighting brings about comfort, convenience, but also efficiency and savings. With this home investment you can digitally and remotely manage the lights around your house. You dont have to get up to flick the light switch, or even go upstairs to turn off the light you accidentally left on. This way, apart from making your life more comfortable, digital lights also make it easier to save energy and money.

    he basis of this high-tech addition are LED bulbs. They can be any color you want, livening up your house, but more importantly, they are energy efficient. As opposed to the regular incandescent light bulbs, they convert much more electricity into light, which means they waste very little to no energy. They will last up to 25 times longer and therefore save you money on utility bills along the way.

    Image courtesy of Scott Lewis on Flickr, published under CC BY 2.0

    3. Smart Glass

    Smart glass or switchable glass is a highly innovative, modern and multifunctional technological development. If you are renovating your house, and especially if you are changing or upgrading your windows, this is something you should seriously consider. It eliminates your need for curtains, blinds or shutters of any kind while maintaining your privacy.

    Smart glass is an automated and programmable glass that prevents anyone from seeing inside, while still allowing the suns rays to shine in and keep you warm. The glass can be clear, translucent or completely dark and blocking the sun. This way it can keep your indoors cool during hot days. Additionally, and maybe most importantly, the glass has automatic sensors which can regulate the amount of light that comes in.

    Image courtesy of Shtiever on Wikimedia Commons, published under CC BY-SA 3.0

    4. Smart Thermostat

    A smart thermostat is an indispensable high-tech investment and should be incorporated in any home. It is a simple and affordable addition, yet a very significant one. It regulates and manages the heating and cooling in your household better and more efficiently.

    It can be programmed for the best performance and optimal temperature, as well as controlled remotely through smartphones, for example. When there is no one home, they will lower the temperature or turn off, turning back on when you enter the house. And here is another benefit of these smart devices. They can be connected to other smart gadgets around the house, such as smart locks, so that they turn on when the door unlocks.

    Image courtesy of Lindalnpijn on Wikimedia Commons, published under CC BY-SA 3.0

    5. Smart Locks

    With this intelligent addition, your house doors will automatically lock behind you, so you dont have to worry whether you forgot to lock them. Smart locks can also be operated remotely, so you can lock or unlock the door in case you want to let someone in when youre not home. These locks record all activity, and for added security, it will alert you whenever someone unlocks it.

    Image courtesy of Scott Lewis on Flickr, published under CC BY 2.0

    6. Surveillance Cameras

    Having a security surveillance camera is the best way to record any activity in or around your house. Whether it is to keep intruders away from your home, or to monitor the activity within your house, you cannot go wrong with this investment.

    Cameras, too, have developed and become smart, so now you can receive instant alerts to your phone of any suspicious activity, as well as monitor your household remotely, whether to keep an eye on your children, or to make sure everything is in order while youre away.

    Image courtesy of Sturm on Wikimedia Commons, published under CC BY 2.0

    7. Vacuum Baseboards

    This innovative addition to your home is also known as a central vacuum system, and it will upgrade the level of convenience as well as functionality in your household.

    Vacuuming is hardly anyones favorite chore, especially if you live in a big house with many rooms. It takes up a lot of your time, you have to plug it and unplug it constantly, while getting tangled up in cords and hunching too long over the vacuum. This innovative solution solves all of those problems.

    Vacuum baseboards, also known as vacuum units or sweep inlets, can be installed anywhere around your house, wherever you deem it convenient. They are then connected to the central vacuum system, which can also be installed in any place that is most suitable for you, such as the garage or under the stairs. When its time for cleaning, simply turn on the main switch and the central system will suck the dust and dirt through the inlets.

    Image courtesy of Travelarz on Wikimedia Commons, published under CC BY-SA 3.0

    Invest in Smart

    Whether you are planning a remodel or are in the process of it, including some or all of these smart, high-tech investments would be a simple but a significant improvement. Many of them will go a long way towards making your house energy-efficient, some will increase your security, and some will help you with your everyday routines, making both you and your house more functional.

    These investments are affordable, and will additionally save you money. Give them a try and you will see immediate change and long-term benefits.

    Matt James is a freelance writer specialized in home improvement, smart technology, architecture amp; design. He has a love of outdoors and spending time with his dog Cooper. You can reach him on Facebook and Instagram.

    Full Story >

    The Agent with Heart Program Continues to Benefit Local Nonprofits Thanks to Giving Realtors

    Craig Carr of Keller Williams in Chesterfield, MO has made a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Missouri on behalf of his client, Kyle Sexton, as well as an additional donation to the American Cancer Society ndash; St. Louis Hope Lodge on behalf of his clients, Dan and Cara Podor.

    Terri Repetto of Realty One Group in San Diego, CA has made a donation to The Marine Mammal Center on behalf of her clients, Robin and Jeff Holmes.

    Dana Roberts of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Irvine, CA has made a donation to St. Jude Childrenrsquo;s Research Hospital on behalf of her client, Lorraine Estrada, as well as two additional client-driven donations to the Jessie Rees Foundation.

    Brittany Howe of Realty One Group in Goodyear, AZ has made a donation to Youth Haven on behalf of her clients, Rosalie and David Lantz.

    Dawn Veronica Curry of Keller Williams in Fredericksburg, VA has made a donation to Leashes of Valor on behalf of her clients, Sean and Katherine Polanowski, as well as an additional donation made to the Culpeper County Humane Society, Inc., on behalf of her clients, Jeff and Tracy Donley.

    Tammy Dollar of Town amp; Country Realtors of East Tennessee, Inc. in Maryville, TN has made a donation to St. Jude Childrenrsquo;s Research Hospital on behalf of her clients, Jack and Marcie Graves, another donation to the Alzheimerrsquo;s and Dementia Services of Memphis, Inc. on behalf of her client, Ahsan Baig, and a final donation to All For Hope Cancer Foundation made on behalf of her clients, Dan and Ruth Kusiowski.

    ldquo;All of us at PinRaise are overjoyed to have such dedicated and generous real estate agents within our Agent with Heart Program,rdquo; says Mr. John Giaimo, President of PinRaise. ldquo;Our program was created with nonprofits in mind and the goal of being able to assist as many of them as possible in all parts of the country. This month alone we have six agents representing five different states and directing donations back to their own communities.rdquo;

    ldquo;Irsquo;d like to personally thank Craig, Terri, Dana, Brittany, Dawn and Tammy for not only their participation in our program, but for their shared commitment to giving back to their communities. Thanks to realtors like them, we are actively achieving our goal of assisting communities nation-wide. All of us at PinRaise are deeply appreciative of their dedication to paying it forward, and we thank each of them for joining us on our journey of making a difference one real estate transaction at a time,rdquo; concludes Mr. Giaimo.

    About the Agent with Heart Program: Through the PinRaise app, the Agent with Heart program connects homebuyers and sellers with local nonprofits who agree to donate a percentage or fixed dollar amount of their real estate commission to the nonprofit of their clientrsquo;s choice after closing. This provides needed revenue for the nonprofit and makes a real difference in their community. For more information, please visit

    To contact Craig Carr, please call 314-401-9286 or visit

    To contact Terri Repetto, please call 619-348-5122 or visit

    To contact Dana Roberts, please call 949-433-6694 or visit

    To contact Brittany Howe, please call 623-302-4542 or visit

    To contact Dawn Veronica Curry, please call 571-436-8321 or visit

    To contact Tammy Dollar, please call 865-982-5000 or visit

    Full Story >

    Use The Renovation Bible To Determine ROI Before You Swing That Hammer

    Every year we gear up to do some much-needed or long-desired renovations to our home, and every year we wait for the Cost vs Value Report to come out and tell us whether were going to see a decent return on those renos or whether theyre a waste of time - and money.

    The Cost vs Value report is a renovation bible of sorts in that it provides a guide for those of us who want to make sure we get some ROI with our updated kitchen, attic bedroom, new deck, or addition. "This site compares average cost for 21 popular remodeling projects in 149 markets with the value those projects retain at resale in 100 U.S. markets," they said. That means that not only can you get an idea of what the smartest renovations are nationwide, but also in specific geographic areas.

    In the 2018 report, "average return on investment ROI for home improvement projects dipped across the board, with lsquo;upscale projects taking the biggest hit," said RISMedia. Remodeling magazines editor-in-chief Craig Webb suggests this may be a side effect of a strong housing market.

    "Its not clear if this is a sign of nervousness among real estate pros in the face of a booming housing market or if nationwide affordability concerns are leading pros to question the value of renovations that would make a house even more expensive at resale - particularly with the new tax law regarding the deductibility of mortgage interest and state, local and property taxes," he said.

    2018 trends

    Highest returns

    The highest returns in this years report were focused on curb appeal projects. "In 2018, the three projects with the highest year-over-year increase in value are lsquo;curb appeal projectsmdash;work that can be seen from the street," said Hanley Wood, publisher of Remodeling magazine. "These are for garage door replacement up 18.6, wood deck additions up 17.7 and manufactured stone veneer installation up 15.7. In keeping with this trend, the projects showing the highest YoY decline in value were interior projects: master suite additions down 14.7 and major kitchen remodels down 10.9." Steel entry door replacements also continue to show among the most robust ROI, at 91.3.

    Geographic differences

    "The report continues to reveal tremendous regional variations in recouped value, with the highest returns on the Pacific Coast where the average payback is close to 64 cents on the dollar," said Builder magazine. "Markets in the Middle Atlantic region averaged a return of just over 51 cents. The cost differences are even greater when you compare individual markets. There was a 73.1 difference between the highest- and lowest-cost market for the Universal Design Bathroom project, a wider gap than any other job. The smallest difference was 28.5, for a vinyl window replacement. Depending on the project, the most expensive of the 149 markets to get remodeling work done for particular projects are thenbsp;New York Citynbsp;region,nbsp;San Francisco,nbsp;Los Angeles, and - perhaps surprisingly - Trenton, N.J."

    Kitchen and baths

    Renovation projects in these key areas showed better returns than additions, and mid-range projects rank higher than extensive overhauls. The highest-ranking kitchen project was a minor kitchen remodel, at an 81.1 return; while a major kitchen remodel had only a 59 ROI. The previously mentioned Universal Design bathroom renovation had a 70.6 ROI, but opt to add a bathroom instead, and you can expect only a 59 return.

    You can see more national info and also break down potential renovation projects in your geographic area here.

    Full Story >

    Best Renovations for Small Bathrooms

    Small bathrooms, or half-baths, present unique design challenges. You want functional storage without cramping an already tight space or a trendy design without being visually overwhelming. Whether your goal is to make your small bathroom more functional for everyday use, or just more aesthetically appealing, you have several options.

    Luxe Materials on a Small Budget

    With less square footage to cover, you can opt for those pricier materials. Go for a more expensive tile and give your bathroom a luxurious feel without breaking a budget. If youre feeling adventurous, take advantage of the lower cost and hop on the one material trend, making its comeback this year.

    You can also install high-quality countertops since material costs will be low. Quartz is a durable and trendy material that typically costs 70-100 per square foot. A typical vanity size in a small bathroom is 3.5 square feet, meaning you could install a quartz countertop for about 300.

    Maximizing Storage with Minimal Space

    Even small bathrooms are full of stuff. Makeup, lotions, toothbrushes, cotton balls, curling ironsmdash;the list goes on. Where can you put all your daily items that is accessible without adding to the clutter?

    • Floating shelves give you storage room, while taking up less visual space than cabinets. To make the space look better, put items in matching jars or containers. This will make the space look cleaner and keep items within reach.
    • Floating vanities are a big trend in 2018. Lifting the vanity from the floor gives visual space without sacrificing cabinet storage.
    • Corner/over-the-toilet shelving units make use of under-utilized space. Using baskets and jars to store your items vertically will keep your bathroom spacious and functional.

    Design and Functionality

    Before deciding on a design for your bathroom, consider its use. Is it the main bathroom that you use every day, a guest bathroom, a powder room? Understanding its main function will help you decide on a bathroom design that works best for your needs.

    • Dark vs. Light: A small room should use light or neutral colors to visually maximize space. While this often holds true, if your bathroom has a natural light source, you can opt for something more dramatic.
    • Pocket doors maximize floor space by sliding directly into the wall. This will leave you more space for much-needed storage units. If pocket doors arent in your budget, consider trendy interior barn doors, which are often more affordable than pocket doors while still upping resale value.
    • Glass shower doors can make your bathroom seem larger, because you can see the entire square footage of the room. Shower curtains create a visual wall, cutting down your already small space. If privacy is a concern, consider frosted glass as an alternative.

    Bright lighting is not only useful in a bathroom, it will make the space seem larger. Multiple light sources will help eliminate dramatic shadows, making your space seem more open and airy.

    DIY or Hire A Pro?

    Whether you go the DIY route or decide to hire a professional depends on the scale of your remodel.

    The average, national cost to remodel a small bathroom, according to a HomeAdvisor survey, is 6,500. A large-scale remodel involving plumbing or electrical work would require a pro and will cost more of your budget. However, if youre remodeling a powder room, the basic DIY cost falls to under 700. A mid-scale remodel of a guest and master bath costs an average of 150 per square foot and 250 per square foot, respectively.

    A small bathroom is the perfect place for creativity and playing with contemporary trends. Think about the rooms function, create storage and space solutions, and have fun designing your space

    Full Story >

    An Amicable Home Solution For A Silver Divorce

    Sam and Sara have been married for a number of years, and have made the difficult decision to get a divorce. They are both in their 70s, and jointly own their house with a value of 600,000.

    Sara wants to stay in the family home; Sam is agreeable but wants to be able to buy a small condominium. However, there is a 200,000 mortgage on the family home, and the current lender is not willing to >

    Sara does not have the financial ability to refinance the existing loan, and Sam is concerned that if he puts his name on the refinance for Sara, he will not be able to buy the other property.

    This is a very common problem throughout the country. With the divorce rate increasing among seniors the so-called "silver" divorce, too many couples seeking a divorce either have to sell the family home, or the spouse who will not remain in the property is unable to buy something else.

    One possible solution: use a reverse mortgage for both transactions, typically referred to as HECM or Home Equity Conversion Mortgage. The minimum age to obtain such a loan is 62. Lenders use the age of the youngest borrower since their life expectancy is theoretically longer, so both owners must be at least 62 years old. The down payment is calculated using the age of the borrower, but the price of the house and current mortgage interest rates are plugged into the calculation. From talking with lenders, the older the borrower, the less down payment is required. If you are interested in going this route, a reverse mortgage lender will be able to assist you in with all of the details and the financials.

    Sara opts for a reverse mortgage. Using a calculator that can be found on the web it appears that Sara can get approximately 286,000 from an authorized lender. The 200,000 mortgage will be paid off, and Sara will be able to live in the house without having to make any more monthly mortgage payments. She will, however, have to pay the real estate tax, maintain proper insurance coverage as well as keep the property in good condition.

    In our example, in addition to having the current mortgage paid off, Sara can also get a lump sum of 86,000. In consideration for Sam agreeing to transfer his interest to Sara, she can agree to give him those funds, which he can then use as a down payment on the condo he wants to buy. Sam would be using what is known as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage for Purchase, HECM for Purchase or simply H4P.

    Once again, every situation is different, but in general - and depending on Sams age at the time he makes the loan application - he will be able to get a reverse mortgage loan of between 47 and 52 percent of the purchase price of the new property. The older you are, the more money you are eligible to get.

    There are a few requirements: You must live in the new property; it must be your principal residence. You must go through consumer counseling; the lender - and the government - want to make sure you fully understand what you are pursuing. And you must prove you are financially able to pay the real estate taxes, insurance, general maintenance and upkeep and any applicable community association dues.

    If Sam and Sara both qualify for their HECM, Sara will stay in the family home, Sam will have his own condo, and neither will be obligated to pay any mortgage so long as they continue to reside in their respective properties.

    A reverse mortgage -- or in this case a double reverse -- is not for everyone. While it does solve a major problem many divorcing couples have, you must do your homework as soon as you have reached agreement to divorce. Sam and Sara must talk to their financial counselor and to their respective attorneys.

    There is a lot of information on the web about the HECM. Do not, however, >
    Full Story >

    Location, Location, Location: The First Step Toward a Greener Commute

    If you are moving to a new area and live an environmentally friendly life>

    Try following four steps to road and driving awareness in your new locale to see if helps you feel more at home and ready to find the greenest routes around:

    1. Research, Learn and Apply Your New States Driving Safety Laws

    Each state features its own driving safety laws that are important for you to learn. While you could visit your states Department of Motor Vehicles DMV website or give them a call to request information by mail, you may find more informative and interactive manuals and practice tests to learn about your new citys unique road rules. Practice DMV tests let you prepare for new your new state, covering the following:

    • Standard, non-commercial drivers practice tests for automobiles
    • Motorcyclists practice tests
    • CDL practice tests

    These practice tests can give you invaluable insights into the driving laws and atmosphere of your new city before you arrive.

    2. Explore Your New City to Get Better Acquainted

    Before you start trying to find the track down the best route featuring a carpool lane, give yourself a chance to get out there and explore the city for yourself. Let your green guard down for a few weeks to see the sights and pick up on the eco-consciousness of the city organically. Plot out a few destinations to help you get to know the region better, including spots like the following:

    • The local parks for yourself and for your dog.
    • The best cafeacute;s that feature friendly baristas and cozy spots to read.
    • The citys museum, aquarium or zoo.
    3. Check Message Boards and Social Media Groups

    Youve heard people talk about the culture mdash; or even >4. Ask Around for Local Driving Culture Advice

    Dont be afraid to ask your new co-workers, fellow gym members, kindred dog lovers at the dog park and anyone else you run into about the local car culture and the attitude toward green commuting. They can probably give you a pretty good idea of the citys overall attitude toward cars and driving, as opposed to focusing on public transportation or ride sharing. As a bonus, these interactions may lead to meeting fellow environmentalists or just making new friends.

    Hopefully, these ideas will help you find the most efficient routes to and from work, the best approach to finding carpool candidates or the safest bike routes so you can resume your ecological practices once settling into your new home.

    Full Story >

    Much More to Mortgages Than Interest Rates

    Theres a significant consumer misconception that mortgages are all about interest rates. Find the lowest rate and youve got a great mortgage.


    Yes, the sign-up interest rate can be important, but there is a lot more to consider. The many factors and decisions involved in mortgages determine what the mortgage loan will be like to live with now and in the years of home ownership ahead. Will you be house rich and cash poor? Will you have manageable monthly payments and low mortgage costs?

    The difference between these two extremes lies in how effectively borrowers select the type, features, and interest rate pattern when they arrange the mortgage loan.

    Question: Are you prepared to invest time to locate real estate and mortgage professionals with knowledge and track records that match your needs and financial situation?

    Real estate and mortgage professionals understand that details matter. Learn mortgage jargon and mechanics and youll catch on more quickly when your mortgage broker talks specifics about your mortgage fit. Accurately answer financial questions to enable professionals to zero in on >

    Mortgage decisions are best made with thought to your cash flow, pay days, employment security, other debt, credit pressures, and long-term financial goals. Check your credit score and determine how it can be improved to allow you to successfully launch into home buying and a mortgage loan application. Look beyond your credit score to clarify exactly how hard or easy it will be to make the required mortgage payments each month.

    Question: What, if anything, will you and your family have to give up to free-up cash for the mortgage payment each month?

    A mortgage loan involves a legal agreement between a lender and a borrower[mdash;]either a home buyer or the existing homeowner, depending on whether the property is changing hands or the existing mortgage is being renewed or replaced. Each mortgage is specific to the unique owner and property its created for.

    Mortgages are always spoken of in generalities until the specific financial situation of the borrower is blended with the lenders security requirements regarding the specific property involved. Keep this in mind when you read mortgage blogs or articles and listen to podcasts. Youre looking for facts or features to apply to your needs, but youll ra>

    Question: Who will help you understand the complexities and opportunities that could appear while arranging your mortgage loan?

    Mortgage Decisions Lie Ahead

    Here are two of the key decisions borrowers face:

    1. Interest Rate Reflected in Monthly Payments

    When the interest rate stays the same during the mortgage, even if it runs for 30 years, thats a fixed-rate mortgage. Since the mortgage interest rate is fixed, even when the market interest rate is rising, monthly payments stay the same.

    When the interest rate charged varies during the loan, the mortgage is known as an adjustable-rate mortgage. The benefit here is that, when the market interest rate declines,nbsp; the mortgage interest rate decreases in accordance with mortgage terms, and, therefore, monthly payments decline. When interest rates are on the rise, holders of these mortgages face increasing monthly payments. A mortgage can combine both a fixed and an adjustable period in a variety of combinations.

    Question: What do you think interest rates are going to do over the next few years?

    2. Amount of Down Payment Plus Assistance Programs

    The larger the down payment, the smaller the mortgage loan. Government-insured home loan programs reduce down-payment requirements, but costs may increase monthly payments. These programs offer lenders government guarantees against loss should borrowers default, for instance, for non-payment. The Federal Housing Administration FHA mortgage insurance program allows borrowers to make down

    payments as low as 3.5. The cost of mortgage insurance may increase monthly payments, so weigh your options carefully. The US Department of Veterans Affairs VA program enables eligible service members, veterans, and certain surviving spouses to buy without a down payment.

    In 2018, more than three thousand counties will see FHA loan-limits increase. The FHA is not a government department, but a private agency that provides ortgage

    insurance to FHA-approved lenders and education for consumers. For instance, FHA researchers compiled a state-based list of many of the Down Payment Assistance Programs for Homebuyers. The wide range of FHA content on topics >

    • How can I improve my credit rating?
    • How do I pre-qualify for an FHA loan?
    • Closing Costs
    • How Much Can I Afford? FHA Mortgage Calculator.

    Question: Where do your greatest real estate and mortgage advantages lie considering the down payment you have in hand and the programs you qualify for?

    Full Story >

    The Three Rs In Your Homeowners Association

    Readin, ritin and rithmatic used to cover what most needed to know, as long as they lived in the "holler". But homeowner associations have their own version of the Three Rs called Rules, Regulations and Resolutions. These are the policies and procedures that define HOA standards. They must comply with state and federal law. For example, the board cannot enact a rule that violates Fair Housing Act.

    Ra>Rules and Regulations are used to address rules of conduct. Appropriate topics include:

    • Quiet Hours
    • Pets
    • Parking
    • Noise
    • Restrictions use of clubhouse, pool rules
    • Limitations on guest use.

    When adopting new or revised rules, its wise for the board to solicit owner input for a greater degree of compliance. Any proposed rule or regulation must comply with the governing documents. For example, if the governing documents state that guest parking may only be used by guests, a board rule cannot change that. That requires an amendment voted upon by the members.

    Resolutions are the preferred method of establishing procedures for the homeowner association. Resolutions come in two types: policy and administrative.

    Policy Resolutions define acceptable community standards. An example of a policy resolution: Many governing documents are unclear with regard to homeowner association versus owner maintenance responsibilities. Who repairs a water supply line after it enters an owners unit? Who repairs damage from a flood originating in an upper unit? There are many variations on this theme that could be answered in a policy resolution that defines each item according to who is responsible. This particular resolution directly impacts homeowner insurance and owner responsibilities. Other significant policy resolutions deal with money collection, architectural guidelines and enforcement procedures.

    Administrative Resolutions define procedural guidelines, like how to run board and homeowner meetings.

    Mechanics of a Resolution. The resolution should first cite the >About amending the governing documents. The Three Rs can be enacted by the board but amending the governing documents must be approved by the members by the percentage indicated in the governing documents. Getting this vote is often difficult so amendments should not be undertaken lightly. However, if the documents are unwieldy or in violation of the law in some respect, amending may be prescribed. Always consult with an attorney knowledgeable in homeowner association law.

    Rules, regulations and resolutions help provide a clear and systematic way to deal with routine issues. Once enacted, they need to be enforced consistently and apply to all members, including the board.

    For sample Rules, Regulations and Resolutions, see
    Full Story >

    Pros And Cons Of Todays Flooring Trends

    If youre thinking about doing your floors, youve probably done countless hours of research online, visited several stores, and pored over colors, textures, sizes, and >

    Wide plank

    Wide-planks are the most predominant trend in flooring today, regardless of color and finish.

    Pro: The popularity of this type of flooring means there is a wide variety of options, from smooth engineered flooring to barn-like boards.

    Con: DIY installation can be trickier because youre working with such a large area.


    "The distressed floor >

    Pro: Because its already distressed, its a good choice for households with kids and/or dogs.

    Con: If/when smoother wood looks come back into >

    Luxury Vinyl

    This is another fast-growing segment of the flooring industry because todays vinyl planks can fool the eye, and, sometimes the foot and fingers, too. Luxury vinyl planks look like the real thing, but often at a much lower cost.

    Pro: Choose vinyl planks that "float" and you can go right over the top of existing flooring. That makes it an easy choice for those who dont want to do demo. Luxury vinyl is also extremely durable and easy to take care ofmdash;great for active households.

    Con: The best vinyl plank product will get close to the price of real wood unless you are lucky enough to catch a sale. Its not wood.

    Lighter floors

    "For years, lighter floors were viewed as outdated or inexpensive. That is no longer the case," said Flooring Inc. "As more homeowners embrace the light, airy feel in their home, you will see a huge resurgence in light wood floors. Blonde wood, in particular, can give you that light feel, while still feeling timeless. With blonde wood, your decorating possibilities are endless. You can go for a chic, contemporary feel or a rustic, homey vibe all without changing your floors."

    Pro: Depending on how light you go, you may be able to enjoy an added benefit of disguising dirt Also, "blonde wood makes any room feel largernbsp;and more open, especially if you use large planks."

    Con: If trend cycles hold, darker wood will come back at some point. Choose an excessively trendy look, like bleached-out floors, and you may further limit your "in->

    Gray finish

    "Gray wood floors are increasingly common and are a 2018 floor trend. They provide a unique, clean look that fits well in modern houses that need to brighten up," said Family Handyman.

    Pro: They look fresh and can make any home feel a little more current.

    Con: Will the pendulum swing back to brown? Eventuallyhellip;probably. Flooring that works in both brown and gray tones might help with the staying power. Also, gray can "lack the warmth of traditional natural-color wood flooring," they said.

    Bamboo Floors

    Those who lean green have loved bamboo floors for years because of the materials eco-friendliness. "Bamboo is considered as the fastest growing woody plant, reaching full maturity in five to six years," said Green Design Build.

    Pro: Bamboo is also known to be very strong and durable, and, whereas options used to be somewhat limited, a growing green trend means more looks for buyers interested in eco-friendly floors.

    Con: Bamboo can be pricier than many other options.

    Wood-look tile

    There is a huge trend toward going with tile that looks like wood instead of using real wood. "These are porcelain planks that are designed to mimic natural wood grains," said Family Handyman.nbsp;Porcelain planks tilesnbsp;are an attractive and durable floor trend."

    Pro: With 3D printing, the looks you can achieve are endless, and mimic the appearance of wood so closely that people may not even realize its not wood. Wood-look tile is also a great choice for areas like "the bathroom or other space prone to dampness" and is easy to clean and care for.

    Con: Its hard under foot. And its not wood.

    Full Story >

    Beach Access Case Is Appealed To The U.S. Supreme Court

    Question: When does the act of going out of business -- in this case: closing a gate and painting over a sign that advertises when the gate will be open and the price of admission -- require a development permit? Answer: For Californians who live anywhere near the Pacific Ocean, a development permit is required when the Coastal Commission says it is. More precisely, it is required when a court says that the permit is mandated by the California Coastal Act of 1976.

    Thus it is that last week an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was filed by the owners of Martins Beach in the case of Martins Beach 1, LLC and Martins Beach 2, LLC v. Surfrider Foundation California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, August 9, 2017.

    Martins Beach consists of 89 acres along the California coast in San Mateo County. For most of the last century, it was owned by a family known as the Denneys. The Denneys used it as a beach access business. According to the appeal, "After paying the fee set by the Denneys, patrons could use the private road to enter the Deeneys property, park in the parking lot the Denneys built and maintained, and use the beach and other amenities the Deeneys built and maintained" While the Denneys originally charged only 0.25 to access their beach, over time, they gradually increased the fee to 2 and ultimately 10. But, by the 2000s, their business was no longer profitable"

    In 2008, the Denneys sold the property to the present owners. Initially, the new owner continued the operation of the business, although the business operated at a considerable loss. Even while keeping the business open the new owner painted over the bill board, that the Denneys erected, which advertised the business.

    Again, quoting from the petition, "In February 2009, the first winter that petitioner [i.e. the present owner] owned the property, it followed the Deeneys practice of temporarily closing the property to the public until the weather improved, and posted a sign on the gate stating "Beach Temporarily Closed."

    "While that practice had never drawn any objection during the many decades the Deeneys followed it, this time it prompted an immediate Informational Warning Letter from San Mateo County. The County, which shares power with the California Coastal Commission to enforce the California Coastal Act maintained that any change in the publics ability to access the sho>The owner and the county went back and forth. Some months later, "The County advised [the owner] that it must either: 1 immediately allow public access on a year-round basis for a 2 fee; 2 provide evidence documenting that the specific times, hours, terms, and fees under which [owner] was operating the beach were the same as those in place in 1973 the year the CDP requirements took effect; or 3 apply for a CDP authorizing any changes in the times and terms of public use.

    Finally, in 2009, the owner initiated a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission; but the court dismissed the action. The owner then decided to close the business. Two years later, the Commission sent the owner a letter saying he had to apply for a development permit. Again, there was a lot of back and forth, but no determinative action.

    Then, in 2013, Surfrider Foundation initiated a new suit, claiming the owner had "engaged in unpermitted coastal development in violation of the Coastal Act when it, as the appeal puts it, "1 closed its own gate to its private road; 2 painted over its own sign advertising its private business to the public; and 3 stationed security guards on the property to deter trespassing."

    This time, the trial court ruled in favor of Surfrider. Its judicial order reads, "[Owner is] hereby ordered to cease preventing the public from accessing and using the water, beach, and coast at Martins Beach until resolution of [a Coastal Development Permit] application has been reached by San Mateo County and/or the Coastal Commission. The gate across Martins Beach Road must be unlocked and open to the same extent that it was unlocked and open at the time [owner] purchased the property."

    The owner appealed but the Appellate Court upheld the trial court. The owner had argued, "if the Coastal Act really does require a private property owner to seek a permit before it may exercise its fundamental right to exclude [others from the property], or even change the message on a sign inviting the public to use its private property, then the Act violates the Takings Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment." Also, the owner argued that "the injunction itself constitutes an unconstitutional taking, as it compels petitioner to keep its private property open to the public right now and provides no compensation for the government-mandated public easement."

    The Appellate Court reasoned that the action could not be considered a taking because it was not permanent. That is, it was still open to some kind of resolution through the permit process. Because it was temporary, the court said, no compensation was required.

    This issue appears to be the most likely reason for the Supreme Court to take the case. Lower courts have been divided on the question of whether or not a temporary taking requires compensation. Certainly, there have been temporary takings that required compensation -- think of the governments take-over of factories during World War II. But there are other cases where compensation was not required. It is the sort of stuff that Supreme Court cases are often about.

    We shall see what happens in the case of Martins Beach.
    Full Story >

    Dont Redo Your Shower Before Considering These Tips

    Bathroom updates can be cheap and easy - new faucets and lighting can give a space a whole new feel for a couple hundred dollars. But if youre looking to make a big impact with a new shower, be prepared to spend more - A LOT more. These tips will help you make the best decisions.

    On the floor

    You have a few options for the shower floor: a shower pan or tile. A shower pan is an easy install because it is a one-piece unit, but its not going to give you a personalized look. Depending on the size and configuration of your shower and the quality of the shower pan, it can run you anywhere from just over 100 to several hundred.

    Tile options for floors run the gamut from large-format tile to mosaics and everything in between. Cost can vary widely depending on what you choose; hit the clearance or closeout section and you can have your shower floor tile knocked out for the price of lunch. Splurge on imported marble tile and you could be up over 15 a square foot, just for materials.

    Troubleshooting: Regardless of what material you choose for the shower floor, there are a few things youll want to keep in mind.


    Protecting yourself against leaks and mold is obviously critical. Proper waterproofing is key, and out of our DIY-loving capabilities. If youre going for it, Pro Trade Craft has some great info.



    "The shower is a wet area in which youll be standing, so its imperative that the floor surface provide slip resistance for safety purposes," said Crossville. "Check the product information for details about recommended use to be sure the tile you love will perform properly. Likewise, slip resistance may differ from finish to finish, sondash;againndash;read product specifications thoroughly, and seek counsel from your sales rep or installer if you need clarification. You may love the look of a tile, but if it doesnt offer the slip resistance required, youll have to go with an alternative."

    Structural support

    As we embarked on our recent bathroom remodel, we discovered that there was nothing but dirt underneath our shower pan. While you ponder whether or not there may be recourse against the builder for what is clearly a shoddy building practice one that causes said shower pan to crack, kicking off our unintentional remodel, learn from our misfortune: make sure you have the proper structural support underneath before you lay anything down.


    Choosing your wall tile may launch you into an emotional spiral as you weigh endless options and try to choose between multiple color families, sizes, >

    Because budget will probably be a consideration as you narrow down options, think about this: You can get a high-end look without the high cost by going with a larger-format tile and using smaller, more expensive pieces as accents.

    Shower heads

    Are you good with a simple showerhead or do you envision a spa-type environment? When youre weighing form against function, it can be hard to choose which one is more important. While we have seriously thought about something like this, we opted to keep 1,700 of that 1,900 and spring for a simpler multi-head shower system. Plus, rainheads are overrated for anyone who doesnt want to get their hair wet every time they shower.

    Youll also have to consider your finishes - Chrome? Antique bronze? Black? - although this will be easier if youre matching existing finishes in the bathroom.nbsp; If youll be redoing your faucets and lighting, get ready for yet another decision.


    If youve never redone a shower, the price of shower doors may be a rude awakening. Frameless doors are the most current trend and provide a high-end look, and the price reflects it. Actual prices will depend on a number of factors - size and configuration of your shower, measurements of the doors, thickness and finish of the glass, type of hinge, etc. If you go frameless, dont be surprised to get an estimate with a two followed by a comma and three more numbers.

    Framed doors will cost you less, but, in some cases, the cost savings may not be worth it if youre looking for a streamlined look. As with many other home improvements, you can find significant saving if youre willing to make some compromises, do a ton of research, and do some or all of the work yourself.

    Full Story >

    Why Not To Convert The Garage When Remodeling Your Home

    One of the biggest reasons that people buy homes instead of continuing to rent is to have more space.

    But the cost of buying with little money down or to move up to a better neighborhood could mean a compromise on space.

    Many older homes, particularly those built before the 1990s, average less square footage than newer homes. One way homeowners get more space is by converting the garage.

    The average garage is approximately 20 by 20 feet. Converting it gives you approximately 400 more square feet of living area.

    The location of the garage is ideal. Its already under the roof and walled on three sides, making it >And thats where your plans can go wrong.

    Unless you remodel the garage from the outside, it will always look like a conversion. The driveway will lead to... a wall, so it will have to be remodeled, too.

    Youll have problems on the interior as well. The floor will be lower than the rest of the house because its a concrete slab. It isnt insulated like the rest of the house, so there will be a noticeable difference in sound absorption and temperature.

    Where youll encounter the most difficulty is in determining your homes value. When you purchased the home, you paid so much per square foot. Only living space is counted, which doesnt include the garage, porch or patio, even if they are under the roof.

    Youll get more living space for less per square foot, but when it comes time to sell your converted home, get ready for mixed reactions from buyers. Many will refuse to even look at your home. They want the security, storage, and utility of a garage.

    Others will consider your home but they will punish the lack of a garage with a low offer. Some will refuse to count the square footage of the garage as equal to the rest of the house. Others will deduct the cost of reconversion or building a new garage in their offer.

    No matter how you count it, square footage added at the cost of a garage isnt worth it.
    Full Story >

    Selling Your Home? A Kitchen Clean Up Pays Off

    When it comes to selling a home, a kitchen clean up pays. You dont have to do an expensive remodel to make your kitchen appealing to buyers. If youre starting with a good kitchen space, then making a few inexpensive modifications can help you get your home noticed and sell for more money.

    Here are a few things to start with. Some people like to leave every single appliance that theyve used in the last week out, but, to show good space,youre going to have to clear your counters. One of the major mistakes sellers make is leaving the kitchen, or their home, the everyday way they live in it. The way you sell and show a home is not usually the way you live in it. Yes, it may be an inconvenience but its worth the hassle if it brings in more money when your home sells.

    So, look around your kitchen and see what you can put away. The more empty the counter tops, the better. A few subtle decorations that bring your kitchen to life are perfect. Leave open space for buyers to imagine their own belongings in your kitchen.

    If you have any low-hanging pots and pans on racks from the walls or ceilings, consider removing them and patch the holes. Unless the rack is very necessary or really nice decor that doesnt block views or hang too low, removing it will help create a greater feeling of spaciousness.

    Wipe the counter tops thoroughly. Sounds so ridiculously simple and obvious. But many sellers forget to do this and the counter tops are left sticky or with stains on them. A little elbow grease could remove a wine stain or watermark and make the kitchen look much more cared-for.

    If you dont have an island in your kitchen but have some extra room, a rolling butcher block island works like a charm for adding convenient working space and a sophisticated look. You might also have some delicious-smelling freshly baked cookies out alongside your flyers for open houses.

    Get some light in the kitchen. If you have all recessed lighting, you might try adding a few pendant lights. They add a completely different look and can be quite attractive.

    Change your flooring if its very old, torn up, or outdated. Putting in some inexpensive flooring that gives an updated look will help. You dont have to spend lots of money and get the best flooring around; just make sure your flooring doesnt make your home look like its in a time warp.

    Add some plants and greenery to the kitchen. Using fresh herbs in simple containers is a great way to add some pretty decor plus their lovely aromatic odors help buyers think about the meals theyd cook in your kitchen.

    Clean up or replace old worn-down appliances. You can sell the home with appliances "as is" but a broken dishwasher, for instance, is a point of price negotiation. You can expect buyers to want some money off or for it to be replaced.

    The kitchen is one of the most important areas of a home for most buyers, even if they dont cook. Taking the time to enhance it before you list your home will help make sure your home sells for top dollar.

    Full Story >

    Backyard DIY Projects

    You dont have to pay through the nose to have the best backyard on the block. If you have a few simple DIY skills and know how to use a tape measure and level, you can easily upgrade and update your backyard all on your own.

    If youve ever dreamed of a lovely garden path, perennial garden or a privacy fence, but youve hesitated because of cost, now is the time to invest a little sweat equity to create the backyard of your dreams.

    Plant a Perennial Garden

    Tending perennials may seem daunting to inexperienced gardeners, but in reality, theyre some of the easiest flowers to grow. Best of all, plant them once and they return to bloom every year. Perennial gardens make lively backgrounds for your annual plantings. Use them along fences and border porches and decks to add color from early summer to late fall.

    To ensure the stability and livelihood of your perennial plants:

    • Keep the roots wet until you put them in the ground
    • Plant them in improved soil
    • Apply regular helpings of water and fertilizer
    • Place a 3-inch layer of mulch around, but not touching, the plants.

    Install a Privacy Fence

    Photo by tristanf via Flickr

    If you crave a secluded backyard oasis, consider installing a 6-foot or 8-foot section of privacy fence. Your local home improvement store sells this type of fencing in sections. All you have to do is level the terrain and dig the post holes. Use a quick-setting cement to anchor your fence posts, making sure everything is level and square before moving on to the next section.

    With a little tenacity, you can install a privacy fence in one weekend. Done properly, it adds privacy and enjoyment to your backyard and value to your home.

    Replace Your Pool Liner

    Photo by Creative Ignition via Flickr

    It sounds like a difficult challenge, but replacing your pool liner is quite simple when you start with the right tools and quality supplies. Visit webpages such as inground liner to find the materials you, as a DIYer, need to perform simple maintenance on your in-ground pool. Keep the following points in mind as you replace your pools liner:

    • Replace your liner during warm weather
    • Remove all water and debris from your pool
    • Avoid over-stretching your replacement liner
    • Utilize sandbags to secure the base seal
    • Have a comprehensive understanding of the process before starting.

    Hardscape Your Backyard

    Photo by ARNOLD Masonry and Concrete via Flickr

    The addition of pavers, retaining walls, fire pits and patios all add value and comfort to your backyard, but many homeowners dont realize they can easily complete these upgrades without the help of professional landscapers.

    Lay decorative pavers on a bed of tamped sand to make an easy patio that stands up to the elements, or layer simple bricks with or without mortar to make attractive and functional retaining walls. A meandering garden path guided by decorative cobblestones can lead to a simple water feature or wooden bench in your garden. Delight your backyard guests and yourself this summer by creating a simple hardscape that complements the design of your home.

    Full Story >

    How Much Home Can You Really Afford?

    So, youre getting ready to buy your first home, and you feel like youre at the mercy of the market. And your mortgage lender. In some ways, it might even feel like theyre working against each other - especially if youre in a really hot market in which you cant qualify for the amount youd need to buy what you want.

    When it comes to providing pre-approvals for would-be homebuyers, lenders today are more careful than they were in the years leading up to the market crash, and that means your financial picture will be more rigorously scrutinized to determine your credit-worthiness and develop your max approval amount. Trust us, thats a good thing. The last thing you want is to be house poor. Having a great place to live that you cant enjoy or furnish or even leave because you have no money left wont be fun.

    "Just because a lender says younbsp;cannbsp;afford a certain mortgage doesnt mean younbsp;should," said TIME: Money. "Consider your take-home pay - what actually goes into the bank after taxes, health insurance, and savings for retirement and college. Then add up all your monthly bills, not just debt but also things like utilities, phone, and groceries. You want to feel comfortable that you can cover all your household obligations while still meeting your other financial goalsnbsp;andnbsp;keeping six months of expenses in annbsp;emergency fund."

    Thats why its so important to consider all of your monthly expenses >

    Increased commuter costs

    Are you moving out to the lsquo;burbs? That hour-long commute each way is going to add to your bottom line. Of course youll be using more gas. Will you also incur tolls? Then there is the wear and tear on your car, which could mean additional costs. You can estimate your commuter costs here.

    Higher utility bills

    A larger place could mean higher utility bills. Then again, more energy-efficient appliances, windows and doors, and HVAC could potentially result in lower bills, which could be a reason to look for a newer home over something older. Its not out of line to inquire about utility bill costs from the existing owner through your Realtor is probably best. This information could be critical in helping to make the best decision when buying a new home.

    Homeowners association

    Your pre-approval amount is an all-in number, but that number only includes principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. If you are buying in a community that has a Homeowners Association, your fee will be a separate cost that needs to be considered. An HOA fee can range greatly depending on your location, the number of homes in the community, and the amenities and services included.

    Home improvements

    Youre likely going to have a mailbox full of credit card pre-approvals and offers from places like Home Depot and Lowes after you close escrow - and they can be tempting. Reeeaaallly tempting, especially if you need new appliances or countertops or flooring or all of the above. Ditto for furniture stores, because, like Lowes and Home Depot, those offers are often zero-interest deals. It may make sense to take advantage of one or more of them to make some necessary or wanted updates to your home - if you can swing the payments. They obviously add to your monthly obligations, even at no interest. And keep in mind that if you miss, or are late on, a payment, that zero interest is replaced with a much larger number, and that means youll face a much larger balance to pay.


    If youre coming from an apartment or a rental where the outside maintenance is taken care of by someone else, get ready to either: buy a lawnmower and an edger and spend your Saturday mornings in the yard, or pay someone else to take care of it.


    If youre buying a brand-new home, youll typically have a warranty provided by the builder or developer, often for one year. You have the option of extending that, or buying/extending an existing warranty on an older home, and all of those options will cost you.

    Full Story >

    HOA Board Elections

    Question: Our condo has an election coming up: eight applicants for four positions. Residents are sent packets with applicants resumes and proxy sheet to mail n if they are not able to attend the meeting to vote in person. Some residents ignore the entire event.

    Some applicants are going door to door asking residents to sign a proxy form for them. These applicants will then walk into the meeting with signed proxies - more or less rigging the voting process.

    This process just appears to me to be slightly unethical. Please send your opinion. - Bonnie

    Answer: Bonnie: Join the wonderful world of condominium living. Personally, I dont like the concept of a "proxy;" if you care enough about your association, come to the meetings. However, as a practical matter, proxies are usually needed to meet quorum requirements.

    I do not, however, consider what is occurring in your association unethical. Whats wrong with meeting with fellow owners and trying to get their vote. Thats the way politics works for national, state and local elections, so why is it wrong in your association?

    So long as all potential candidates have the same opportunity to solicit votes, that, in my opinion, is democracy.

    Question: When a condominium association needs to make a decision regarding a choice between an assessment versus increasing condominium fees, which is wiser? Our over-55 community has six sub-associations and unfortunately ours has depleted our reserve funds due to the repair of some extensive structural damage for which the builder is no longer responsible after almost 14 years.

    The property management company contends an assessment is less desirable and would result in a negative for the entire development. I feel that a seriously depleted reserve fund is more detrimental and should be addressed with an assessment immediately versus increasing the monthly fees. - Joan

    Answer: You asked a very good question, but unfortunately, there is no easy answer. This can not be answered in a vacuum; we have to look at all of the facts. And perhaps the most important fact is to analyze the makeup of the owners. Can they afford a large assessment? Will such an assessment trigger more defaults, which would make your financial situation even worse.

    What repairs are immediately needed? Has the board considered getting a bank loan, especially now that interest rates are low? Has the board considered a combination of assessment and increased monthly fees?

    Bottom line: The board - with the input of owners such as you - should carefully consider all of the facts and all of the various options before making a decision. There is no universal answer.

    Question: I have not seen or I have missed info in your column on reverse mortgages. Im 77 and have my own home. I have four adult children who own their homes and are not interested in mine. I still have a mortgage balance of 113,000. Would you please provide me with some information on reverse mortgages - the pros and cons or who I can get in touch with for info? Mary.

    Answer: Mary: Perhaps the best place to start learning about reverse mortgages is from the AARP. They have lots of helpful material which you can get online.

    Pro: Depending on the value of your house and the amount if any of your current mortgage, you can get a lump sum right now.

    Alternatively, you can receive a monthly payment for the rest of your life or until the house is sold. And this is true even if these payments ultimately exceed the value of your house.

    Con: You still have to pay the insurance and the real estate tax every year. You still have to maintain the house. And perhaps the most significant negative: You may have no equity left in the house to give to your children or your grandchildren.

    I cannot - in this short column - provide more information. In addition to AARP, there are a lot of helpful studies and articles on the web, which you can find just by searching "reverse mortgages." But beware of scammers. And dont >
    Full Story >

    Considering the Argument for Adding Individual Mortgages to Your Investment Portfolio

    Investing in mortgages should not be looked at with trepidation. As with other cash flow investments such as corporate bonds, government notes, or money market funds, mortgage investments can be looked at in the same vein. Mortgage investments have an attractive risk-return ratio in comparison to other income-producing investments. If you choose your investment intelligently, individual short-term mortgages which I define as first deeds of trust on real estate with 65 loan-to-value LTV ratios, maturing in two years or less are considered more risky than money market accounts or US Treasury bills, but they offer yields at the level of high yield corporate bonds, or even higher with potentially lesser risk.

    Chart 1 shows the general risk of short-term mortgages as compared to other income producing investments.

    Risk in terms of loss of principal taking into consideration opportunity costs if interest rates rise. Generally, individual mortgages do not trade in the open market; thus, the principal is not subject to market fluctuations as compared to Govt T-Notes, Govt Notes, and Corporate Bonds. In addition, mortgages that have a 65 LTV enjoy some protection if the underlying property declines in value. Govt Notes and Bonds have no collateral backing but are Govt backed and Corporate bonds usually have no specific collateral and are based upon the full faith and credit of the issuer.

    Chart 2 shows the general return of mortgage investments on a current rate of return as compared to other income producing investments.

    Chart 3 is a grid that shows the comparative advantage of mortgage investments over alternative income producing investments when considering opportunity risk/reward ratios by combing Charts 1 amp; 2.

    For purposes of this article, we have defined the following:

    Govt T-Bills -- 1 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
    Govt T-Notes -- 5-10 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
    Govt T-Bonds -- 15-30 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
    CDs -- 1 yr FDIC insured
    Money Mkt Funds -- liquid mutual funds maintaining a 1 share price
    Corporate Bonds -- 15-30 yr obligations guaranteed by a US corporation rated BBB or better
    Mortgage Investments -- 1st deeds of trust on real estate with 65 loan to value maturing in two years.

    Risks involved in mortgages vary from the other investments that financial advisors might be more familiar with and more due diligence is required. First of all, unlike CDs or US government obligations, mortgage investments are not FDIC-insured and have no government guarantee. Do not confuse these types of mortgage investments with past GNMAs, the pooled investments created by the quasi-governmental mortgage company Ginnie Mae and sold to the public. GNMAs are mortgage-type investments and have a quasi-government backing. By contrast, the mortgages used in the above examples are individual mortgages; thus, the principal is fixed and does not fluctuate unlike GNMAs, which return a portion of principal with each interest payment and trade in the open market and are thus subjected to market volatility. The mortgage investments backing is primarily going to be the underlying real estate on which the mortgage is recorded specific versus blind pool and almost all short-term mortgages will pay interest only, thus keeping the principal intact.

    However, all income-producing investments carry some risk -- and its often misunderstood, even by sophisticated financial advisors. For example, money market funds generally are only backed by the mutual funds integrity to honor the 1 share price because all they are holding are short-term obligations, both government and corporate. However, in the early 1990s, when many corporate bonds went sour, investors suddenly learned that their 1 share price was not guaranteed; they could actually lose principal. The mutual fund families that sponsored the money market funds paid out of pocket to subsidize the share prices, thereby preserving the sacred cow.

    Corporate bonds carry the risk of strength and integrity of the corporation that issued the bonds. Independent rating services such as Standard and Poors and Moodys have been shown to misjudge the security of many corporate bonds -- whether through conflicts-of-interest or simple mistakes. Even without misjudgments, the price of a corporate bond fluctuates based on the performance of the company, its industry, and the economy overall. In addition, as interest rates rise, the value of the bonds decrease.

    The risks that a mortgage investor faces primarily involve the borrower and the underlying real estate. An investor may choose to work with a borrower with less than perfect credit if there is sufficient equity in the property that it is worth the risk. Alternatively, a property may be marginal, but the borrower has excellent credit. These are the main factors determining the interest rate that an investor can expect on his mortgage investment.

    Another factor in determining the rate on a mortgage is the competition for these types of investments. In the past, they were considered one of the best kept secrets in investing. No longer. The competition for mortgage investments has heightened to where lenders are competing for loans. This, in turn, drives down the rates. Good for the borrowers; not so for the investors. On the positive side, what once was considered an illiquid investment has risen to a semi-liquid investment. Although there is not a trading market for mortgages as there is for stocks and bonds, new companies have come to the marketplace in search of purchasing existing loans; thus, a market has opened up providing liquidity to those holders of mortgages who want to sell their loans. Giving up yield for liquidity has been attractive to some investors. The yield may be upwards of 1 lower for this ability to sell, but many have decided it is worth it. An Internet search of purchasers of mortgage investments provides many companies willing to buy them.

    With the Great Recession now more than five years in the rear view mirror, many financial institutions have loosened some of their lending restrictions. This has also caused interest rates to remain competitive for borrowers. However, because of strict regulations with Dodd Frank and the ATR [Ability To Repay] requirements imposed upon both conventional and private lenders, many borrowers are facing difficulties obtaining the financing necessary to purchase owner occupied real estate used for their primary residence. Otherwise, >

    One of the major problems holders of long-term debt instruments be they government or corporate bonds encounter is not so much the risk of failure, but the opportunity cost during rising interest rates. As interest rates rise as we are slowly starting to see now, the investor is caught holding investments that are losing principal, albeit temporarily. Sure, these investors can hold on to lower-return investments until maturity, but the price they pay in the lack of opportunity to participate in higher yielding instruments usually outweighs the wait. Of course, in times of declining interest rates, one would be better served to be in the longest-term bond possible and to sell just as interest rates begin to rise. The question then becomes one of using a crystal ball in which way interest rates are headed.

    One solution for the risk-averse investor is to look to short-term mortgage investments no more than 5-year maturities for >

    Where do investors and their advisors find these short-term real estate mortgages? There are lenders called "private money real estate lenders" who provide private financing to borrowers who may not be able to obtain conventional loans for a variety of reasons. Advisors should primarily deal with lenders who have a good reputation and record the deed of trust. In some cases, investors may want to invest in a specific mortgage because they know exactly which property is securing their investment; however, the down side to this strategy is that there is now a lot of competition for these types of loan investments and one may be sitting on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity to invest. If the investors money sits too long [in a low interest, liquid account waiting to deploy funds for a new loan], the blended rate of return after the loan is found and invested in may be lower than if the investor invested in a Fund that holds mortgages. For example, if an investor allows his/her money to rest in a money market fund paying 1 and it takes six months to find an 8 note, after one year, the average rate of return for that year was only 4.5 as compared to a Fund that may pay 7. Something else to consider is that a Fund may allow for a reinvestment of monthly distributions thereby compounding the yield. With an individual mortgage, the lender has to take the monthly payments with no reinvestment allowed. In addition, a Fund allows for diversification because the Fund has many mortgages, similar to a mutual fund holding a variety of stocks. Because this type of investment is no longer a secret, many individual investors are competing for mortgages. When a broker presents a potential scenario to an investor, that broker usually also sends the same scenario to many other potential investors, as the broker wants to make sure that he can fund the loan in a timely fashion to the borrower. Many an investor has gotten upset when, after giving the broker the green light for the loan, the broker informs the investor that he was too late and some other investor snapped up the loan. This creates a frustrating situation for the investor and wastes his time. At some point, the investor may tell the broker to stop sending him deals, as he never knows if he will be allowed to invest in the specific loan [because another investor was faster in saying, "yes"].

    Many investors choose to invest in a Fund to avoid those disappointments. In addition, many Funds provide a liquidity feature, so the investor can withdraw his money if he needs to. Advisors should look for Funds that charge no load to get in or out and make sure the manager of the Funds interests are aligned. One way is for the Fund to participate in the points being charged to the borrower. This lends itself to make sure the manager does not charge a large amount of points [which the manager could retain] and a small interest rate [which is paid to the Fund].

    Although short-term mortgages and mortgage Funds are not the "end all" investment, they may play a prominent place in many investment portfolios looking to provide high yields for >

    Edward Brown is in the Investor >415-883-2150

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    Whats Driving Canadian Cities House Prices?

    It costs a lot more to buy a home in Toronto or Vancouver than it did in 2010. While some of the increase is >

    A new study by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. looked at the period from 2010 to 2016, during which prices in Vancouver rose by 48 per cent and in Toronto by 40 per cent. It determined that about 75 per cent of the increase in Vancouver could be attributed to conventional economic factors -- including mortgage interest rates that were near historic lows, higher disposable incomes and population growth. But in Toronto, those factors only accounted for 40 per cent of the increase, says the report.

    "We investigated the data for additional key factors that could explain the elevated activity levels," says the report. "We found that there had been a shift in the distribution of sales toward high-end homes, with almost all growth in prices for these properties coming from more expensive, single-detached units. This suggests that looking at different points in the income distribution is just as important as studying how income levels evolve across the distribution."

    The highest-paying jobs are in the largest cities. Toronto is the financial services capital of Canada and both Toronto and Vancouver have many well-paying jobs in the advanced technology and health care fields.

    "Businesses located their workforces where they can access pools of talent -- in major metropolitan centres. Consequently, disposal income among some groups is rising more rapidly in certain cities," says the CMHC report. "These trends reinforce the role of larger cities in attracting highly educated professionals from both other parts of Canada and abroad, thereby providing even a further boost to the demand for housing."

    How much did investor and speculative activity drive up prices? Perhaps not as much as many think, and investors are probably helping boost the supply of available homes, says the report.

    "If the number of housing starts is much higher than the rate of household formation, we argue that this difference was likely financed by investors," says the report. It says rising home prices attract small-scale rental investors, including individuals who rent out part of their homes to help them with their mortgage payments. "It is also possible that many of these investors have effectively generated demand for builders and developers to construct more housing. In this regard, investors could be effectively encouraging more supply rather than increasing demand."

    The controversial issue of foreign investment is "a persistent challenge" because of a lack of data, although Statistics Canada and CMHC have increased their efforts to track foreign buying activity. A recent report from Statistics Canada found that non-residents own 3.4 per cent of residential properties in Toronto and 4.9 per cent in Vancouver.

    "While official data on the stock and flow of foreign investment appear low, it is possible that upsurges of foreign investment at market peaks could alter expectations of domestic homebuyers on the price they should pay for housing, and encourage domestic speculators," says the report. A CMHC survey found that 52 per cent of recent homebuyers in Toronto and Vancouver believed that foreign buyers were having an influence on home prices.

    Both B.C. and Ontario have introduced taxes on non-resident real estate buyers.

    For years, the development and real estate industries have said that government policies that limit the supply of developable land, along with land-use policies and "not in my backyard" movements, have made it impossible for the industry to keep up with demand. That means that more affordable low-rise housing such as townhomes, semi-detached homes and multiplexes, are not being built.

    "We found that supply responses to price increases in Toronto and Vancouver were proportionately weaker than the response in other cities, which is consistent with corresponding regulation and geographic characteristics," says CMHC.

    The study says many Vancouver homes are demolished and replaced with more expensive ones that house the same number of people. "There also appears to be a sizable price gap when moving from two- to three-bedroom homes, suggesting there is a shortage of three-bedroom homes. We do not have data for Toronto on this issue, but we suspect this is happening there as well."

    The study calls for the densification of cities. "Densification, however, needs to increase the supply of all types of housing. Preserving enclaves of single-detached housing will likely only serve to increase wealth inequity and not meet the housing needs of a growing population. It is particularly imperative that the process of redeveloping land within the borders of Canadian cities occur efficiently and promote change in the form of local neighbourhoods. While many Canadians fear density, we found evidence that high-density communities can be made in low-rise structures through partnerships between developers and local communities and government."

    It cites examples such as the redevelopment of Humbertown shopping plaza in Toronto and the Oakridge Shopping Centre in Vancouver. In both cases, old 1950s->CMHC says there are several key "data and analytical gaps in housing that restrict our ability to predict housing market forces and anticipate changing needs." It has pledged to work with all levels of government to try to share more information and "better understand the underlying factors that limit housing supply in high-priced markets, and support more timely and flexible ways to respond to those challenges."
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    Avoid Contractor Estimation Errors; Hire A Contractor That Uses The Bluebook Pro Estimator

    There are many things to consider when it comes to remodeling or any other home improvements on a home. The pressure to get things done in the right way can at times be overwhelming. However, choosing the right residential construction contractor can help you >

    One of the must-have tools a homeowner should look for when choosing a residential contractor, is the Bluebook PRO Estimator. This cloud-based cost estimating solution enables contractors to build fair, accurate home improvement estimates for the homeowner. Below is a rundown of the benefits you can expect by hiring a contractor that uses the Bluebook PRO Estimator.


    When it comes to estimating the cost of a construction project, you cannot afford to be wrong. A wrong estimation can lead to wastage or even stalling of a project if you realize later that you cannot finance it. You, therefore, need a contractor with the most objective way of doing estimates. The Bluebook PRO Estimator is arguably the most accurate tool that residential contractors can use to estimate the cost, and even manage the actual project. Working with a contractor that uses the Bluebook Pro Estimator will significantly eliminate the chances of human error in estimation.


    Your home is probably the most valuable thing that you have. Thus, you want to make sure to leave its construction, repair, or renovation in the hands of qualified professionals. You need a contractor exhibiting the highest standards of professionalism. Although there are other things that you can consider to ascertain professionalism, the tools that they use can give a clue. The Bluebook PRO Estimator is a must-have tool for all residential contractors, giving you valuable, early insight into the tools they employ and the professionalism at all levels of their work.


    The best part of hiring a contractor that uses the Bluebook PRO Estimator is their ability to make accurate bids time and time again. This makes it possible for them to draw up accurate timeframes and put cost-cutting measures by looking at past projects and comparing the similar ones. Thus, by working with contractors who use Bluebook PRO Estimator, it will be possible for them to create realistic expectations on your project based on the past, ensuring you will not be frustrated in the end.

    Fair Pricing and Efficiency

    For you to get value from your project, it is imperative to ensure that you get a contractor that will deliver quality work at the fairest cost possible. This is what contractors that use Bluebook PRO Estimator are best known for. This tool enables them to work efficiently and provide you trusted pricing, which will go a long way in saving you time and money.

    The Takeaway

    Overall, it is apparent that Bluebook PRO Estimator is an essential tool for all residential contractors and one factor that homeowners should look for when making a decision on their home improvement project. This tool enables contractors to deliver estimated project costs with accuracy, professionalism, and efficiency. If you are looking for a contractor to build, repair or remodel your home, it is wise to ensure that they are using Bluebook PRO Estimator, the official recommended nationwide Cost Estimating tool of Realty Times.

    Ask your contractor; "Are you a Bluebook PRO Estimator?"

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    DIY Renovating Donts We Learned From Experience

    DIY always seems like such a good idea in the dream stage. Build in some equity with elbow grease. Get more for our money while learning some important skills. Create pretty spaces without having to deal with contractors. What could go wrong?

    Plenty, actually. If you dont already have a DIY horror story, or at least a tale of woe thats funny only in the rear-view mirror, youre probably overdue. But you can avoid the problems and the pain by learning from others mistakes.

    Dont start a project without educating yourself

    Putting up a backsplash. It seems like an easy enough task. One that you can involve your children in, even. And then you step back and take a look at your post-backsplash handiwork and realizeperhaps you should have consulted an expert. Or at least watched a YouTube video or two.

    The truth is that you can learn almost anything you want today just by Googling it. There are tons of tutorials out there that can teach you how to lay wood floor or replace a window or, yes, do your own backsplash. Or, build a house from scratch, if thats what youre into. They probably wont turn you into an expert overnight, and, in many cases, an abbreviated study isnt going to compare to the work of someone who has been honing their craft for many years. But for the persistent DIYer, getting in some good study before starting your project is essential to doing a job well.

    Dont paint your cabinets without prepping first

    Guilty. Yes, we knew sanding was necessary for a smooth finish. Yes, we did it anyway Weve since learned from our mistakes but still. If you want cabinets that chip and peel and generally look like crap, painting without prepping is definitely the way to go.

    Commit to finishing a project

    Anyone else paint half a room - the lower half that doesnt require standing on a ladder, perhaps - with the intention of finishing the other half in a day or two? Anyone else have one or more unpainted rooms? Sometimes, the DIY brain just wont rest, and its always looking ahead to the next project. That can lead to a house-full of projects in progress and a chaotic home. Of course, that could just be us.

    One way to combat this is by goal-setting with an actual deadline, whether its a weekend or a month. You abide by them at work, right? Make your projects a priority by setting realistic deadlines you can follow, and then commit to getting it all done before starting something new.

    Measure, measure, measure

    Weve all heard the saying. "Measure twice, cut once." But, honestly, sometimes measuring twice doesnt feel sufficient to us. If we can get it right three times in a two, we feel pretty confident weve got the right measurements.

    "One of the biggest fails you can make is also one of the most common, especially for do-it-yourselfers," said HomeAdvisor. "Measuring incorrectly can cost you a lot of money and cause a lot of headaches. Being off by an inch, a half-inch, or an even smaller fraction of an inch can have dire consequences when it comes to your home renovation project. Incorrect measurements can mean that you dont have enough space to install your appliances or you dont purchase enough materials to complete the project. To avoid making this mistake, measure multiple times. If youre working with someone, have him or her measure as well to ensure that the numbers are accurate."

    Dont rush your paint choice

    If it looks great in the store, itll look great in or on your place, right? Not always. Theres a reason paint stores have samples. Do yourself a favor and buy a couple. The light and shadows in your room could make the color look completely different in your home, turning what you thought was the perfect shade into something meh.

    Youll also want to make sure you try the paint in every room you plan to use it in. Perfect Greige is one of our favorite colors, and it looked great in our sunny office. Used in our dark-ish bathroom, however, it turned it into a muddy, cave-like space.

    Another important factor to remember is what type of paint to use. That same bathroom was extra challenging to make over because someone had slathered the walls in flat paint long before we got there. "Manufacturers make paint for every surface in your home and they are not all the same," said HomeAdvisor. "Flat paint does not have a shine, shows marks, and is not easy to clean. Use this type of paint on ceilings and on walls in low-traffic areas. Semi-gloss and gloss paints have a nice shine and are a better option for walls in bathrooms, kitchens, and other high-traffic rooms."

    Make a realistic budget

    When it comes to our home, we all want more than we want to or can pay for. But lowballing your reno budget just to get a project going typically wont work out so well in the end when the numbers start to add up and you dont have enough money to comfortably finish it. Planning out a project well and doing sufficient research to come up with legitimate numbers is key.

    "To calculate how much remodel you can afford, follow these four steps: Ballpark the cost, establish a spending limit, get quotes from contractors, and set your priorities," said houselogic. A fifth, very important step is this: Once you arrive at that magic number, add more money to it. "Add a 15 to 20 contingency for the unforeseen problems and changes that occur on every project. Is the total still within your ability to pay? If so, youre ready to get started. If not, its time to scale back your plans."

    Make sure your contractor is qualified

    There are times you just arent going to be able to DIY something or will find yourself overmatched by a task and in need of someone to pick it up and finish. It happens.

    The handyman down the street may be affordable and gung ho about redoing your bathroom, but is he qualified? Trying to save a buck can cost you big time in the end if the work is done incorrectly. Sometimes, it pays to go with a qualified contractor who may cost a bit more upfront but who you can be confident about.
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    California Broker-Owned Escrows Need To Submit Activity Reports

    It is time again -- but there is not much time left -- for affected California brokers to submit their annual Escrow Activity Report to the Bureau of Real Estate BRE. This applies to firms that operate a "broker-controlled escrow" that engaged in five or more transactions or whose escrow activities exceeded 1 million in the past calendar year.

    Not every California Broker has an escrow division. Many own escrow companies that operate under the Department of Business Oversight DBO. Many others simply have no ownership interest in any escrow operation. On the other hand, there are those who operate a "broker-controlled escrow", pursuant to their real estate brokers license. These escrows are restricted to transactions in which the >Broker-controlled escrows are significantly restricted as to their potential market when compared to the more common escrow company operating under the DBO. Nonetheless, broker escrows require less capitalization and can still bring a decent profit into a brokerage.

    In October of 2011, Senate Bill 53 Calderon was signed into law adding section 10141.6 to the Business and Professions Code. It set forth filing requirements for broker-controlled escrows. If such operations conduct escrow activities for five or more transactions in a calendar year, or whose activities equal or exceed one million dollars in a calendar year, it is required that a report be filed within sixty days following the completion of the calendar year. Except for leap years, the deadline is March 1.

    The report is submitted on the Bureaus form RE 890. It is neither particularly burdensome nor time-consuming to complete. In addition to asking about the number and dollar volume of escrow transactions, it requests the location of escrow offices and basic information regarding the escrow officers and escrow trust accounts. If anyone has difficulty with the form, they may contact the CalBRE Mortgage Loan Activities section at 916 263-8941.

    It has been a source of particular annoyance to the Bureau and its Commissioner that, so far, there appears to be a serious lack of compliance with Business and Professions Code 10141.6.

    In the first year the requirement went into effect, for calendar year 2013, 206 real estate brokers reported broker escrow activities totaling 8.63 billion. Since then, the number of reporting brokers has actually declined.

    The Bureau estimates that more than 700 brokerages should be submitting reports. Note that the number is an estimate. There is no special form or requirement for a broker to conduct escrow activity, so the Bureau has never been able to compile a data base of broker-controlled escrows. It would have such a data base if everyone affected by Business and Professions Code 10146.6 complied with the law. At least it would have a list of those who meet the reporting requirements described in paragraph one, above. But, because not everyone has complied, the Bureau doesnt even know who the non-compliant ones are.

    How then, you ask, does it know that there actually are non-compliant brokers with respect to escrow activities? Because it finds them when conducting audits. Some of those audits are random; others are the result of complaints, not necessarily >Last year, the Bureau conducted 632 audits, of which approximately 15 95 were >Fines for failing to submit a timely report can run up to 10,000. There can also be non-monetary penalties as well as the often-substantial cost of a BRE audit. The Bureaus Audit section is actively pursuing brokers to determine if they have met their reporting requirements, if any. Brokers who have escrows that meet the >Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtorsreg;. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is .
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    Tips For Negotiating With Sellers

    If you dread the negotiating process when buying a home, never fear. Your real estate agent is an experienced negotiator who helps keep the bargaining from becoming emotional and veering off track.

    Your agent must know your desires by heart and have quick access to you if a negotiation point needs to be made. Its important to stick to the strategy you and your agent have agreed upon -- showing the seller how strong your offer is.

    First, get preapproved for a mortgage loan. That means your mortgage lender has reviewed your credit history and assets, checked employment and income, examined your debt-to-income ratios, and has preapproved you for a certain amount, terms and interest rate so you know exactly how much you can spend.

    Being preapproved shows sellers that you are prepared and able to buy. Before you submit an offer, ask your agent to find out more what the seller wants as far as terms. The more your offer matches up with the sellers requests, such as a closing date, the more likely your offer will be accepted.

    Find out when the house will be vacated, if any repairs or improvements are planned, and if the seller has any pressure points such as a >Your agent must also find out if other offers are on the table. Your position is stronger if there are no other offers. The seller may be less likely to bend on price concessions or repairs if there are other offers.

    Have your agent pull up the most recent CMA comparable homes recently sold or on the market within a reasonable radius of the home, so you can sculpt your offer price. Be sure that you are comparing apples to apples in terms of updates, size of the home, amenities, location, schools districts, etc.

    Once these steps are made, you are ready to write an offer.

    Making the offer

    Make yourself think like the seller. It helps you anticipate what the seller will accept in price, terms, and other conditions. By considering the sellers position, you will likely create an offer that is either accepted or strongly considered.

    Your offer should be clear on the terms, closing dates, repair requests or other conditions the seller needs to meet and it should be accompanied by a letter from your lender that you are preapproved to buy the sellers home. Include a cover letter summarizing your strengths as a buyer in terms of creditworthiness, flexibility in closing, and the strength of the offer.

    Dont insult the seller with an offer thats too low or requires too many concessions. The seller may be nostalgic about his or her life in the house and may not like the idea that you want to remodel.

    The only thing a seller cant argue with is a strong set of comparables that show the home is overpriced or out of date. These are homes that have sold that are nearby within two blocks and similar in age, size and features. If you can show that a similar home has sold within the last two months for less than the seller is asking, thats good.

    Be sure all conditions, repairs, etc. are agreed to in writing. Some sellers may feel that a handshake covers a promise, but its essential to be clear on paper what is expected and when. A sellers promise to paint should be included as an addendum to the contract and include all details, such as primer, exact color and type of paint, how many coats, and when the work will be finished for inspection.

    Negotiating after inspections

    The offer is negotiated and accepted, the earnest money is at the escrow agents office. Now the inspections occur, and this is where the contract negotiations can break down.

    No home is perfect, not even brand-new construction. During the inspection process, the inspector is usually required to tell you about any condition of appliances, heating and cooling systems, roofs, electrical and plumbing systems, etc, and if your future home is up to current city codes.

    Sellers are usually not required to bring a house completely up to current local building codes. Negotiate a repair only when a system is unsafe or a major repair is needed to make the system operate effectively.

    As long as the seller has a reasonable explanation of what your position is and why, and communication remains open, the seller should have as much desire to make the contract work as you do.
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    Renovation Tips For A Classic, Not Trendy, Home

    Heres the dilemma. Youre getting ready to redo your kitchen and you want it to be stylish and modern but not trendy. After all, this is the only kitchen renovation you ever plan to do and you dont want it to be outdated before you are even finished with the final touches.

    If youre paralyzed because youre afraid of making the wrong decision, we get it. Were facing a similar dilemma here, FYI, with floors that need to be done and so many options from which to choose and no winner yet because its not yet clear if what is currently hot is just a flash in the floor pan or will stick around for a while.

    So how do you know how to choose? First, it depends on what your goals are. If youre just looking to update and then sell your house, choosing materials that are trending now may be a good call. If youre thinking, "I want to love this and have it still look good in 10 years," thats another story.

    "Youve probably taken on a renovation project because you want to update the >

    Go neutral

    Yes, neutral can be boring. Its true. It can also be super chic when done right. Making a bold choice with your kitchen countertops might feel like the right way to go right now, but you may turn around in a couple years and regret that choice, especially if youre going to try to sell your home. You can always bring in pops of color with accessories or items that are easier to replace or redo.

    For the last several years, grey has been the go-to color for homes. Prior to that, it was beige - a color that is currently seeing a resurgence even though grey is not gone - yet. Black and white is another currently hot option for color schemes, and, the bonus is, "black and white remains a >

    Just keep in mind that high ceilings and other architectural features may make a DIY situation un-DIY-able and may make a redo more expensive because you have to hire someone. Key in on walls that dont soar to a pitched ceiling or that can act as a focal wall for high-impact thats easy to accomplish yourself.

    Be smart about your kitchen

    You may have a desired look cemented in your head for your kitchen, but are you making smart choices? Shaker cabinets, farmhouse sinks, and marble countertops are a few good options if you want something that looks modern but "will stand the test of time and still look as beautiful twenty years from now as it does today," said Apartment Therapy.

    Go eclectic with your furniture

    An entire house full of mid-century modern furniture can begin to look like a showroom, and when the trend is over, it can be painful to replace it all. Creating a more eclectic look with an eye toward >

    Avoid hyper trends in larger items

    Drapery, rugs, and bedding can be easily changed out to accommodate your fickle design taste. But when it comes to the larger pieces in the home - a couch or a set of chairs, perhaps, avoiding trends will give you longevity. "Timeless decor means fabrics that will stand up to years of changing trends They transcend those changes," said Stone Gable. "Dont rush out and buy foundational furniture in the lsquo;color of the year Its only the lsquo;color of the year for one year Choose colors and patterns, especially when buying big ticket items, that will still look amazing when this years trends have come and gone. Add layers of accent decor like lamps, art, tableware, pillows, bedding, etc. in more updated colors and >
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    Nine Must-Haves For Your New Home, Valentines Day Edition

    Sure, the right number of bedrooms is important. And, of course, you wouldnt even consider a house in the wrong school district. But what are the other things that really matter when buying a home? You know, the things that make your life easier - or at least a little less chaotic - on a daily basis and that support your life>

    Whats true of >

    The right location

    If youve never had to sit in traffic for three hours a day, you probably dont know exactly how much it completely sucks. It may be worth it to you because a long commute is the only way youll be able to afford a home, but have a serious talk with yourself first.

    The right overall layout

    Sure, walls can be moved and floorplans reimagined, if thats what youre into. But some things you might not be able to change, perhaps because you lack budget or spacemdash;or both. If the idea of being on a different floor than your children stresses you out and you fear youll never be able to >

    Enough bathrooms

    Nothing kills the mood like having to squeeze your knees together while your honey is in the only or only functioning bathroom. If youve ever watched House Hunters and seen a couple buy an old home with one bathroom, which they justified because the place was "just so charming," let us set the record straight: Theres nothing charming about peeing your pants.

    Dual sinks

    So the house youre considering has an updated master bathroom, and what it lacks in space it makes up for in >

    A good family gathering space

    Whether or not you have kids or ever plan to, a good family room or living room is key to long-term enjoyment of a home. The amount of square footage is obviously important, but also pay attention to the key features of the room. Otherwise, youll end up with a space you hate being in because the west-facing windows make it too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter and the TV niche is shoved into the corner, making it hard to see unless youre sitting directly across from it. Or perhaps thats just us.

    Upstairs laundry

    Back to House Hunters for a moment. Who else cringes every time someone buys a house with a laundry room in a creaky old basement? Just the thought of having to carry laundry baskets down two flights of stairs is enough for us to say a hard "No" to that. Many basement-free homes have laundry rooms on the first floor, when all the bedrooms are upstairs. This may be an acceptable feature for most peoplemdash;and it may be all youve known to this pointmdash;but trust us: Once youve enjoyed the convenience of an upstairs laundry room, youll never want anything else.

    A sufficient garage

    Burning your butt on a hot car seat in the summer and having to run the engine for 10 minutes before you get into a freezing cold car in the winter might anger you every single time you do it.

    The right size backyard

    Taking the kids to the park instead of letting them loose in a backyard you dont have. Getting out of bed to walk the dog in the middle of the nightmdash;and in the rainmdash;because, again, no backyard. Not having a backyard at all, or a tiny patch of grass that doesnt give you space to move, might not be the kind of compromise you want to make. On the flip side, a large back yard that requires time and effort to maintain may take away from family time and create stress or anxiety.

    A kitchen you can work with

    Yes, you can replace a dishwasher or repaint your cabinets. Heck, you can rip the whole thing out and start over if you want, but most people arent looking to drop that kind of money on a brand-new kitchen. Is the kitchen workable as is? Are there small tweaks you can make that would create a space you want to cook in? Being honest with yourself about what you need, what you can handle, and what is realistic can help you make a good choice instead of one you may soon regret.

    Full Story >

    Design Tips for Upgrading Your Sunroom

    The bones of your sunroom are all there - windows, floors, ceiling and maybe even some >

    Big Changes for Big Effects

    Take a good look at your space. What do you see? The "bones" of your space set the tone for everything that goes in it: this includes flooring, wall color or wall finish, ceiling, and other architectural elements that give your room its distinctive atmosphere. Tile and stained concrete are both tempting options for sunroom floors since they lend a breezy, sophisticated atmosphere to a sunshiny space.

    Overhaul Your Floor with Tile

    If youre looking to make a big impact with your floor, tile is a fantastic choicemdash;its sophisticated, you can do it yourself with a bit of practice and know-how, and your options are endless. Opt for a cozy, rustic brick feel, or perhaps Moroccan elegance with colorful tiles boasting a cool, casual feel. This Old House offers step-by-step instructions to lay your own tile floor. Keep in mind that when youre laying your own tile, the simpler the pattern, the better.

    Treat Your Walls

    For a Tuscan feel, go with a light Tuscan plaster wall treatment, and offset the coziness of your wall color with breezy, cream-colored sheer curtains or other light window treatments. Coupled with sophisticated furniture, youll love your understated Italian-inspired getaway, but make sure you dont overdo the accessories and clutter up the look.

    Create an Atmosphere with Accessories Alone

    If you live in an apartment or a rental home that doesnt lend itself to major overhauls, you still have plenty of options for updating your sunrooms look. offers countless ideas for designing your rented space. Something as simple as new patio cushions, candlesticks, brightly-colored pillows, or wall art can make your space look like something out of a design magazine. The best part about this kind of design: Its easy to overhaul your look without repainting Just view your space as a blank canvas, and fill it with colors and textures representing the >

    Photo by Wickerfurniture via Flickr

    Patio Cushions and Curtains

    If youre handy with a needle and thread, sew your own patio cushions and curtains without paying the exorbitant prices that custom design firms charge. Check out SewMamaSew for step-by-step instructions to sew your own patio cushions.

    Centerpieces/Decorative Accents

    Paint is your friend here. The hardest part about this step is harnessing your creativity, so choose a palette and run with it. Try picking up some old candlesticks from an antique store or flea market, then update them with high-gloss paint. Going for a beachy feel? Print a few sepia-toned beach shots you took on your last vacation, then frame them in simple wooden frames youve painted to match your >

    Woodworking Projects

    Repurpose an old wood pallet into a coffee table that adds rustic >

    Photo by Wickerfurniture via Flickr

    Full Story >

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    Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018

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