Tag Archives: Realtor.com

Realtor.com: Cheap Flooring Ideas

Cheap Flooring Ideas: 4 Attractive and Inexpensive Alternatives to Hardwood

 | Jul 27, 2018

New floors do a lot for a home. They can brighten up the darkest of interiors and are all but guaranteed to add value to your property. Most homeowners consider installing new floors a huge renovation project that comes with a correspondingly huge price tag. But laying down new flooring doesn’t have to force you to break into your 401(k).

You can make a big impact on the design and worth of your home for a relatively small amount of cash. How? You need to think beyond standard (and standardly expensive). Instead, opt for a flooring material that is just as attractive—just without all those extra zeros.

Here are the four most popular inexpensive flooring ideas, including their advantages and disadvantages. Go ahead, pick your material!

1. Cork

Cork flooring is so much more than the stuff you see on your office bulletin board. In fact, it’s a very popular choice among homeowners looking for a soft flooring alternative to carpet.

Price: $2 to $4 a square foot

Pros: “Cork floors provide warmth and comfort underfoot,” says Mina Fies, founder and CEO of Washington, DC–based Synergy Design & Construction. “They’re also sustainable, since cork is a rapidly renewable resource that doesn’t harm trees when harvested.”

Cork also emits few volatile organic compounds, which means it won’t harm indoor air quality. Also, the softness of cork is good for your legs, back, and ears.

“Not only is it considered resilient flooring, but it also has acoustical properties that can help mitigate unwanted sound,” says Claire E. Tamburro, interior designer at Tamburro Interiors in Arlington, VA.

Designwise, Tamburro explains, cork floors can be charred to make unique patterns, and colored and finished in several ways. For example, you can create wide plank-style cork boards in gray or brown tones to resemble hardwood flooring.

Cons: Since cork is porous, it will need to be regularly sealed to maintain its clean finish, Tamburro says. The amount of foot traffic will determine the frequency of sealing.

“Cork is a bit fragile and will show wear patterns in heavy traffic areas,” she says.

Also, some cork floors are hard to clean and prone to fading. They can also stain easily, Fies says. Alas, cork is not so ideal for red-wine drinkers or families with young kids.

2. Bamboo

Photo by Mark English Architects, AIA

Bamboo floors are prized as an eco-friendly choice because bamboo grows at a much faster rate than wood.

Price: Approximately $4 a square foot

Pros: Like hardwood flooring, bamboo is long-lasting and sturdy.

“It’s a sustainable, eco-friendly hardwood alternative that’s easy to clean,” according to Matt Michael with Lowe’s in the St. Louis area.

Cons: While bamboo flooring is more water-resistant than hardwood flooring, you should still avoid placing it in high-humidity areas since it can warp. Also, the bamboo is not one of the hardest wood flooring options, so it can be more susceptible to scratches than, say, maple hardwood.

3. Concrete

Photo by bg architecture

Concrete moves indoors! You’ve seen how durable it is for your driveway, so why not take it for a spin in your kitchen, living room, or any space that gets a ton of foot traffic?

Price: $2 to $6 a square foot

Pros: One of the biggest advantages of concrete floors is—you guessed it—durability. It’s tough and low-maintenance.

And concrete floors make a strong aesthetic statement.

They “provide a modern, clean, urban feel to a room,” Fies says.

Cons: Concrete lacks the warmth of, say, honey-colored hardwood floors. It’s a very hard surface, which might be tough for families living with kids or elderly folks. It can be porous and susceptible to moisture if it’s not sealed properly.

Also, due to weight restrictions, Fies says installation is usually limited to the ground level. So if you want to avoid defects, you’ll need to hire someone who can provide expert workmanship.

4. Vinyl

Photo by All About Flooring

Vinyl flooring may have gotten a bad rap during the ’70s, but like many design trends from that era, it’s now making a comeback.

Price: 50 cents to $5 a square foot

Pros: Vinyl may be one of the cheapest flooring options out there, but that doesn’t mean it lacks style. Luxury vinyl tile is particularly impressive.

“LVT is long-lasting, hard-wearing, easy to clean, and gives a modern look to any space,” Fies says. “It can mimic wood effectively, even including texture and plank style.”

Vinyl is highly resistant to water, which makes it a great alternative to wood in a basement level, where moisture may be a concern.

“As a longtime interior designer, I was recently sourcing material for a client and accidentally picked up EVP thinking it was hardwood,” says Kristin Davidson, an interior designer at Kristin Davidson Interiors in Palm Beach, FL.

Cons: Vinyl floors may require waxing every couple of years to maintain their luster.

Terri Williams is a journalist who has written for USA Today, Yahoo, The Economist, U.S. News & World Report, and the Houston Chronicle.

5 Most Common Reasons for Closing Delays

RealtorMag has compiled information about the top reasons for delayed closings. This is why it’s important to not only work with a realtor you trust to navigate the local market for the best inspectors or title companies, but also to work with a lender that will actively help you ensure your financing comes through!


5 Most Common Reasons for Closing Delays

Seventy-three percent of home sales closed on time in October, but 25 percent of REALTORS® report a delay in getting to the settlement table, according to the latest REALTORS® Confidence Index, a survey based on responses from more than 3,500 real estate professionals. Only 2 percent say a contract was terminated completely.

What are the main problems encountered with delayed settlements? Real estate pros report the following:

  1. Issues related to obtaining financing: 32%
  2. Appraisal issues: 20%
  3. Home inspection/environmental issues: 16%
  4. Titling/deed issues: 11 percent
  5. Contingencies stated in the contract: 6%

Seventy-four percent of all contracts in October contained contingencies, most often for home inspections, appraisals, or financing.

Source: “REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey,” National Association of REALTORS® (October 2017)

A Mile-High Building Boom in Denver (Realtor.com)

As Denver market continues to grow so will ours here in Summit County. 


A Mile-High Building Boom in Denver 

 | Oct 13, 2017

A booming tech industry and strong job market have fueled an apartment-building frenzy in the midsize, mile-high city of Denver. Neighborhoods once filled with rundown 19th-century warehouses, modest apartment complexes and vacant lots have transformed into landscapes of glass, brick and steel, as new structures continue to climb.

Standing on the 12th-floor roof deck of the Alexan Uptown, a new 372-unit luxury apartment building, real-state agent Justin De La O counts about half a dozen cranes within a few blocks’ radius that mark where similar properties are rising.

Median rents in Denver grew to $1,184 in 2015, up from $777 in 2005—a 52% increase, according to data from rental website Apartment List, compared with 32% nationally. Construction of new units boomed during the same decade, but remained slower than the pace of new job creation, with 1.7 new jobs created for every new residential building permit. From 2010 to 2015, the ratio was particularly off-balance, with 2.9 jobs added for every building permit, according to census data analyzed by Apartment List.

Now, some local real-estate experts say the balance is shifting, with the supply of new housing matching or even exceeding demand. The result: Rental-price growth already shows signs of softening, with median rents down 0.4% over the past month, to $1,340, according to Apartment List’s October report. (The company says this may be due in part to a seasonal dip.)

“They have totally overbuilt the luxury apartment buildings,” says Christina Freyer Walker, the president of Colorado & Co. Real Estate. That’s good news for renters, as some buildings begin to offer incentives such as $500 signing bonuses, elaborate furnishing packages, gift cards and breaks on rent to attract tenants.

Tori Larson is the asset manager for the developer behind Decatur Point, a 203-unit rental building with an outdoor pool that opened in November 2016 and is now 88% rented. She says the building has tried a range of promotions to attract renters.

One recent deal was aimed at pet owners; it included a gift card for 10 visits to a doggy day care and six months of monthly on-site pet grooming. Another promotion featured a $500 Visa gift card, which she said was popular. “It’s a constant battle trying to figure out what’s going to work and what’s going to attract people,” she says. Studios in the building start at $1,485 a month; two-bedroom, two-bathroom units go up to $2,700.

Leeann Nicolo moved to Denver from New York in June. She looked at about 15 different places before choosing her 950-square-foot unit at the Alexan Uptown. At the time she signed her lease, she says the building was offering one-month free rent and waiving the building’s standard pet fee for a few months. The signing package for her $1,950-a-month, one-bedroom apartment also included several gift options. She chose one that came with a $300 Southwest Airlines gift card, a free membership to the Denver Zoo and a subscription a service that delivers free snacks from around the world once a month.

“In New York you have to argue for everything and you’re lucky if you even get an apartment,” says Ms. Nicolo, 27, who works in cybersecurity. The building’s more recent promotion included waived signing fees and discounts on certain units.

The rental-building boom was partly fueled by a slowdown in the building of for-sale luxury condos. Some developers say that under local construction-defect laws, condos are more vulnerable to lawsuits than rental buildings, making rentals seem like a safer bet. Others say that market conditions have been more favorable for rentals.

The low inventory of homes for sale has kept the sales market competitive. Denver homes and condos sell in under 30 days on average after listing, on par with hot markets like the San Francisco Bay Area, says Pam O’Connor, the CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.

David Zucker, the CEO of Zocalo Community Development, says the past year has given him pause about the high end of the rental market, though Denver’s growing global recognition makes him optimistic about the city overall. The company’s newest luxury rental building, Coda, in Cherry Creek, is about 70% rented a year after opening, which he says is slightly slower than expected but not surprising, considering the competition.

The building has free gigabyte high-speed internet for all residents, in addition to concierge service and a new ground-floor restaurant, Hedge Row, owned by Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal Musk. For future development, he says, he’s focusing on mixed-use buildings.

Some buildings are trying to stand out with increasingly luxurious amenities. At the Battery on Blake, a luxury apartment building across the street from Coors Field, there’s a sports lounge with an indoor bowling alley and billiards. Many buildings also include dog spas (where renters can wash their pets) as well as rooftop dog parks or dog runs. And then there are the types of amenities that are unique to Denver’s outdoorsy lifestyle, like ski-storage rooms, or kayaks that residents can borrow to use on nearby rivers.

The Confluence, a 35-story building under construction at the convergence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, has units that range from 658-square-foot studios to 2,500-square-foot penthouses. Amenities include bikes that residents can borrow to ride around town, as well as valet parking. A heated outdoor infinity pool, open year-round, has a cantilevered glass wall as well as several resort-style cabanas, each with its own fire pit. The gym has sliding glass doors that open to an outdoor yoga lawn.

One-bedrooms at the Confluence start around $2,400 a month and the largest penthouses could rent for more than $16,000 a month; prices are still being determined. With hand-scraped wood floors and 10- to 12-foot ceilings, the units are some of the priciest per square foot in Denver. Developers say there’s already a waitlist for penthouses, although they’re still under construction. They aren’t offering big promotions yet, though some non-penthouse units come with a $500 to $1,000 “construction” rebate while the building is still being completed.

Tara Nelson, a 32-year-old registered dietitian, moved to Denver from Barnstable, Mass., in May. She looked at seven or eight different luxury buildings before settling on Decatur Point in Jefferson Park. She liked the building’s gym, which has Peloton bikes with live video spin classes, and free yoga classes twice a week. Her 630-square-foot studio apartment has a patio where she can watch the sunset in the evenings.

Her rent is $1,700 a month, but with the building’s one-month free move-in incentive, which she spread out over the first year, she pays $1,595; she says her application fee was also waived.

Developers and real-estate agents say the next boom will likely happen in the suburbs. Adrienne Hill, a senior vice president with Simpson Property Group, has developed buildings like Sky House, a new 25-story, 354-unit downtown luxury apartment building in the Financial District with a rooftop pool and a gym that has a virtual training center. The building opened in October 2016 and is 64% occupied, which Ms. Hill says is in line with their expectations.

With the urban market nearly saturated, the company is looking to suburban areas like Littleton, about 20 miles south of Denver, for new development. “There’s a lot of opportunity in the suburbs and a lot of pent-up demand,” she says.

 

Flip, Rent, or Hold: The Best Investment Option (Realtor®Mag)

Realtor®Mag helps outline some of the pros and cons to flipping, renting or holding you home. (Source Realtor.com®) 


Flip, Rent, or Hold: The Best Investment Option

What are the pros and cons of each type of real estate investment, and which ones are the most profitable? “Over the generations, real estate has proven itself to be a pretty good, time-tested investment,” says Eric Tyson, co-author of Real Estate Investing for Dummies. “Like investing in the stock market, people who follow some basic principles and buy and hold over long periods of time should do fairly well. But, of course, there’s no guarantee.”

Realtor.com® analyzed the five most common real estate investments and broke down the typical returns investors have received over the past five years. Here’s an overview:

1. Home Flips

  • First half of 2017 gross returns: 48.6%
  • 2014 gross returns: 45.8%
  • 2012 gross returns: 44.8%

2. Rental Properties

  • 2017 gross returns: 13%
  • Three-year returns: 9.9%
  • Five-year returns: 11.67%

3. REITs

  • 2017 returns: 2.75%
  • Three-year returns: 8.39%
  • Five-year returns: 9.79%

4. Crowdfunding (pooling money to invest in apartment complexes, office buildings, or shopping centers)

  • Year-to-date annualized returns: 8.72%
  • Two-year returns: 8.89%

5. Home Appreciation

  • One-year appreciation: 10%
  • Three-year appreciation: 26.7%
  • Five-year appreciation: 44.8%

Source: “Flip, Rent, or Hold: What’s the Best Path to Real Estate Riches?” realtor.com® (Sept. 25, 2017)

6 Home Renovations That Pamper Pets Beyond Compare (Realtor.com)

Because I have such a soft-spot for my girl, Playa here’s some renovations meant specifically for our furry-friends….


6 Home Renovations That Pamper Pets Beyond Compare

 | Sep 5, 2017

You know your pets are genuine members of the family when you start to think about renovating your house specifically to accommodate their needs. Of course you want your cat, dog, or any critter under your roof to be happy, so why not add a couple of amenities built just for him? And when the time comes to sell, your home will be extra appealing to other pet lovers. Plus today’s pet renovations have gone way beyond the usual tiny swinging door. Here are six of the newest house-trained trends.

A pet nap nook under the stairs

Consider making the area below your stairs into a fab pet nook, suggests Anna Shiwlall, a designer at 27 Diamonds in Los Angeles. “It’s usually just dead space if it’s not a closet, so talk to your contractor about cutting out this spot to make a comfy nest for your pup. Add lighting and then paint the inside a fun color. “You could also put up some fun wall decor, like bones for dogs or paws for cats, and pictures of foods they like, too.” Choose a cute bed or dog chaise that looks like a normal chaise—but smaller. It’ll give your furry friend a cool chill-out pit, and you a great conversation piece.

Pet bed under the stairs

Spill-proof dishes

Along with tufts of animal fur, puppy kibble is the next biggest source of pet mess in most homes. The fix: a built-in feeding station that will store dishes out of the line of traffic and keep spills to a minimum. “You could also install concealed compartments in the kitchen to house your pet’s food bags and keep them from cluttering the pantry floor,” suggests Kathryn LaBarbera, president of Closet Factory. If you feed your pet in the mud room, add hooks over this spot for her leash, extra collar, and jackets. A cubby or shelf can hold pet meds, shampoo, and a jar of doggie treats. “Sliding wire baskets are also great for organizing toys, whether they’re in the mudroom or the living room,” says LaBarbera.

Pet food bowls in kitchen island

A doggy shower

Do you really want to share your tub with your Labradoodle? (Note: This is a rhetorical question.) If you have a dog that gets into the muck regularly, a specially designed canine shower will be invaluable. You might consider a walk-in shower or one that has a built-in step that your pup can mount; a shower nozzle with a long hose attachment makes for easy rinsing. Cabinets above the shower station can hold towels and a dog brush for after-bath beauty sessions.

Dog Friendly Shower

A kitchen island pet crate

It may seem cruel to put your pooch in a pen, but puppies can benefit from crate training, and older dogs often like the security of their own little space. But if an unsightly cage taking up space in your home does not appeal to you, consider having it built into a kitchen counter or island. This streamlined approach looks smart and can easily revert back to a plain island when needed (just have the wire doors removed).

Cage in kitchen island

Matching beds

Dogs need their own place to sleep, period, and a great-looking dog bed is the solution. If you’ve got the space in your bedroom, designate a corner for your dog, complete with his bed, pillows, and a basket for toys. If you love the matching look, choose bedspreads for the dog’s bed and yours in coordinating colors.

Matching pet and owner beds

Pet sanctuary

The hot thing right now in home renovation is to create multipurpose flex spaces, reports LaBarbera. And that trend can benefit your furred or taloned loved ones as well. “From home offices that transform into guest rooms, courtesy of a wall bed, to laundry rooms that double as pet sanctuaries, the key is to figure out how to double up on these spaces,” she explains. For example, if you only do laundry once a week, you might want to design a spot for your pet to sleep underneath the cabinets so he’s out of the way of regular foot traffic, but can still get some peace and quiet.

Let your pup snooze while you run a few loads
Let your pup snooze while you run a few loads.

Closet Factory

(From Realtor.com)

6 Things You Should Never Let Movers Touch

6 Things You Should Never Let Movers Touch

By
Angela Colley

Halfdark/iStock

So after years of DIY/friend-assisted moves, you’ve finally decided to hire movers. As a fellow lazy convenience-minded person, I salute you. The heavy-lifting, traffic-negotiating, stair-climbing nightmare parts of moving day are out of your hands.

But before you kick back and start daydreaming of sleeping in on the big day, I also have some bad news: There are some things you always want to move yourself.

Even if you’ve hired pros, you’re still probably going to be renting a truck or tucking a few things away in your car. Yes, I know—that completely bursts your nothing-to-do bubble. But you’ll want these things for their safe arrival.

1. Your pets

Obviously, you’re not going to pack Rover in a box with some air holes, but you still need to do some prep work.

Moving is stressful for pets. Add the potential danger of their busting free in the chaos of moving, and it could be a bad situation. Save yourself a headache later and pack them a travel bag now.

If you’re moving across town, plan to take water and food bowls, food, treats, an extra leash, a favorite toy, and a crate with you in the car.

If you’re moving out of state, your movers probably won’t transport your pets, but you can hire a pet-moving service.

2. Houseplants

Houseplants are a bigger moving-day hassle than you might realize.

First, your mover might not be able to take some of your plants, because local and interstate laws may forbid it.

“Before doing anything with houseplants, it’s good to check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure there aren’t any restrictions for moving that particular type of plant,” says Jonathan Deesing, a community specialist with imove.

If the plants are allowed on the truck, you’ll still have to worry about everything arriving safely.

“Only pack up plants that are hardy and can survive a bumpy ride,” he says. Fragile plants (we’re looking at you, orchids) may not survive in the back of the truck. So put them in an open box in your car with some padding to keep the pots from tipping over.

3. Firearms

If you’re packing, the movers probably aren’t.

Whether you’ve got an antique revolver just for display or a powerful hunting rifle, this one is a big no-no for obvious reasons.

“It’s best to move your guns on your own for safety reasons, and many moving services will not even consider moving guns for you anyway,” Deesing says.

If you’re moving your arsenal, don’t forget your safety lessons. Pack bullets and guns separately, and keep everything clearly marked and out of the reach of children.

And remember the rules and regulations.

“Make sure you have all the paperwork in order before moving guns across state lines,” Deesing says.

4. Your record collection and other valuables

Whether it’s the complete history of the blues on 350 vinyl records, or a collection of antique snow globes, “if you can’t stand the thought of losing it, don’t put it on a moving truck,” Deesing says.

Your moving company isn’t going to toss any of your stuff around (we hope), but accidents do happen. It’s one thing when it happens to that bookshelf you bought at Target, but another when it happens to your great-grandmother’s antique lamp set. If in doubt, bring it with you.

5. Personal paperwork

Pack your Social Security card, birth certificate, auto title, and any other important paperwork in a waterproof case, and haul that with you. Inevitably, something gets misplaced in a move. And it’s not helpful to find your passport six months after you had to scramble to get a last-minute replacement for your vacation to Spain.

“Of all your belongings, these can often be the most difficult to recover if lost or damaged in transit,” Deesing says.

6. Climate-sensitive artwork

If you’re moving across town or within the same state, your artwork can probably be safely packed and stowed away on the moving truck. If you’re moving several states away and the temperature might change drastically on the trip, you might want to bring those originals with you in your climate-controlled car.

“If you have artwork in a truck and move from the Northeast to the Deep South, it could irreversibly damage certain paints and materials,” Deesing says.

———

For everything else, follow this rule: When in doubt, overcompensate.

“Communication is key with any part of the move, and this is no exception,” Deesing says. “Don’t take risks, either—clearly label your fragile items and feel free to supervise movers as they load items onto the truck.”

5 Home-Buying Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Retirement

5 Home-Buying Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Retirement

By
Daniel Bortz

William Howell/iStock

Buying a home is a major step toward building a solid, secure financial future—so whether you’ve made the plunge into ownership or are aiming to soon, you should pat yourself on the back! (This, of course, is not as easy as it seems.) And yet, in the race to settle into a place of your own, it can be easy to overextend yourself and cut corners on yet another important financial goal: saving for retirement.

Even if retirement is decades away for you, this subject nonetheless repeatedly tops the list of Americans’ economic fears in Gallup’s annual Financial Worry metric. But just because you buy a home doesn’t mean you can’t save for retirement, too. It’s a high-stakes balancing act, one where the right home-buying decisions will keep your retirement on track, and the wrong ones may throw you seriously off-kilter.

Here are some common retirement saboteurs to avoid.

Saboteur 1: Buying a house outside your price range

When you purchase a home, your retirement savings are on the line—even if it may not seem that way at the time.

“Housing is the biggest expense most people have,” points out Mary Erl, a certified financial planner and owner of Nest Builder Financial Advisors in Gurnee, IL. Hence, if you purchase a property that’s way outside your budget—and you’re forced to forfeit saving for retirement in order to make your mortgage payments—you’ve put yourself in a bind. A pickle, even.

And don’t just consider your current income, but your future income, too.

“People almost never take future earnings into consideration,” laments Joe Pitzl, a certified financial planner and partner at Pitzl Financial in Arden Hills, MN. “Younger couples get married, buy their first home based on their combined household income. But then when they start a family, one of the spouses leaves the workforce to raise the children and all of a sudden they’re bringing in a lot less money each month. That reduces how much money you can save for retirement.”

Saboteur 2: Draining retirement accounts for a down payment

While it’s tempting to borrow from your IRA or 401(k) to amass a down payment on a home, many financial experts say home buyers should do so sparingly, only as a last resort. IRAs and 401(k) plans are called retirement accounts for a reason—you’re not meant to touch the money until you’ve entered your golden years. If you borrow from either plan before age 59½, you’ll get slapped with a 10% excise tax on the amount you withdraw, on top of the regular income tax you pay on withdrawals from traditional defined contribution plans. Ouch.

Making early withdrawals also obviously prevents the money from accruing interest in these accounts. Put simply: Raiding the piggy bank before the money has matured can put a serious dent in your retirement savings, and many underestimate the repercussions.

“Withdrawing $5,000 from your IRA or 401(k) to pay for home repairs may not seem like a big deal,” Pitzl says. “But if you do so at age 30, that money would have grown exponentially over time if you left it in the account.”

Saboteur 3: Paying off your mortgage too quickly

While it sure sounds impressive to pay off your mortgage in three years, it’s not necessarily the best for your retirement. The reason: There’s good debt and bad debt. You want to pay off your credit card bill (bad debt) in full each cycle or you’re going to pay interest. Mortgage payments, though, work differently.

From a psychological standpoint, you probably don’t like owing a hefty sum to your lender. (We don’t blame you.) However, if you’re a younger homeowner with a new mortgage (good debt), it’s beneficial from a retirement savings perspective to make only the minimum monthly payments on the loan and invest the money where you can get a higher return.

For example, on a 30-year mortgage, at today’s interest rates, it makes more sense to put the money into an IRA or 401(k) than increase your mortgage payments, Pitzl says. “Don’t throw every penny you can at your mortgage debt,” he says. Granted, if you’re approaching retirement and are close to paying off your mortgage, it may make sense to up your payments if you want to retire debt-free.

Saboteur 4: Not saving for a rainy day

When asked about their emergency savings, an alarming 29% of Americans said they had none, according to a report last year by Bankrate.com. Nada. But without a sufficient emergency fund, you may be tempted to run up credit cards or tap your home’s equity or retirement accounts to pay for major repairs (new roofs don’t come cheap). And “if you get laid off, your mortgage payments don’t stop,” Erl says.

Therefore, make sure you have enough cash tucked away to cover six months of living expenses in the event you lose your job and budget 2% of your home’s value for annual maintenance (1% for newer homes), says Pitzl.

Saboteur 5: Waiting too long to downsize

Your $1 million McMansion may have made sense when your family of five was living under one roof, but if you’re heading into retirement, it’s probably time to downsize.

A common mistake, says Austin Chinn, a certified financial planner at Fountain Strategies in San Jose, CA: “People destroy their retirement savings by staying in their home so that they can have their kids move back in after they graduate college.”

Unless you’ve budgeted for a boomerang child, you need to do what makes sense for you financially.

“If you can move from a larger home to a smaller home and wipe out your mortgage, that’s a huge boost to your retirement,” says Erl.

Because crunching the numbers can be complicated, it can be helpful (and a huge relief) to meet with a financial planner to determine if a reverse mortgage makes sense for you (find one at Napfa.org).

7 Bathroom Renovations That Really Pay Off

7 Bathroom Renovations That Really Pay Off

kohler.com

Let’s get real: The first room you stumble into in the morning—bleary-eyed, dazed, and yawning—should be a soothing oasis. A bathroom that achieves those lofty heights? That’s a bathroom you can love. That’s why these most special of rooms are second only to kitchens as the areas homeowners eagerly spend time and money renovating—and that catch a buyer’s eye when you’re trying to sell.

But exactly which upgrades are the best, in terms of both usefulness and return on investment? Before you go nuts installing saunas and rain shower heads, check out this second installment in our series Renovations That Really Pay Off, for some smarter tweaks you’ll be very glad you made.

Reglaze, don’t replace, the tub

“No, no, no—do not put in a new tub,” says Rebecca Knaster, associate broker with Manhattan’s William Raveis. “It’ll cost thousands between the tub and the installation.” Instead, have the tub reglazed for “around $1,500,” which will make it look brand new.

Matt Plaskoff, founder of One Week Bath, agrees that if the shower area “is in decent shape,” it’s best to concentrate on the front part of the bathroom, which “sets the tone for the space.” 

Invest in a new sink

Face washing, teeth brushing, gerbil bathing—your sink sees a lot of use. It’s also the very first thing a buyer notices in a bathroom, says Knaster.

“Step 1 for getting the most bang for your buck is a new contemporary sink,” she says. “It will set you back a few hundred dollars and make all the difference.”

Just note whether the sink you already have is an undermount (where the edge is below the countertop to create an uninterrupted surface) or overmount (where the sink lip comes up over the countertop), says interior designer Randal Weeks, founder of Aidan Gray Home.

An undermount can be difficult to remove unless it’s under a formica top. If the sink is adhered to the surface, the top will also have to go, which quickly drives up the cost. One easy and dramatic sink upgrade Weeks recommends is replacing separate hot and cold faucets with a sleek single-handle faucet that starts at $70.

Go for timeless tile

While natural stone is hot, Weeks prefers neutral styles that will appeal to a broader range of people and provide better return on investment. Pricey stones are taste-specific, he notes, and can give a busy look that’s a turnoff regardless of expense.

In fact, Weeks says one of the biggest issues buyers consider when making offers is the cost of redoing other people’s “bad choices.” So go for crowd-pleasing features such as bright white subway tiles, which run a mere 21 cents each. The payoff?

“You can add $10,000 of value to your home by selecting timeless elements that won’t date it.” 

Upgrade your lighting

It’s not just Snow White’s evil stepmother and the Kardashians who spend lots of time staring into the mirror on the bathroom wall. For most of us, lighting and lighting fixtures are critical elements.

“Dated light fixtures are a turnoff,” says Knaster. “For no more than $100 you can buy a basic but nice bathroom light fixture.”

Install a double vanity

The last thing you need in the morning is a battle with your partner over who gets the sink. It’s no wonder “I’m looking for a double vanity” is one of the most common things heard by Will Johnson, a Hendersonville, TN, real estate agent and founder of the Sell and Stage Team.

A double vanity typically costs between $200 and $800, with installation falling around $220, Johnson says—and it’s a wise investment. Johnson has clients who “won’t buy a house simply because there’s only one sink in the master bathroom!”

Swap in new fixtures

“Old materials such as bronze can instantly date your bathroom,” says Johnson. To knock out this easy DIY update, simply purchase new door handles, drawer pulls, and towel bars. A nice chrome drawer pull can cost as little as $3, while a towel bar canaverage $30

Get a water-saving toilet

Old toilets use 6 gallons of water per flush, gobbling up about 30% of all residential water in U.S. homes. Go green when you swap out your throne. New WaterSense models using only 1.28 gallons per flush (e.g., TOTO’s Carlyle II 1G toilet) conserve up to 18,000 gallons of water annually. The initial cost of $974 will shave more than $110 per year off a water bill and add up to almost $2,200 over the lifetime of the toilet. Bonus: The latest water-saving thrones actually work.

But skip the bidet 

Bidets may be considered the Rolls-Royce of toilet upgrades, but most bathrooms simply don’t have room for them. What’s worse: Most Americans have no idea what on Earth these things are and may even be weirded out  by them.

“My personal opinion is that our society is not accustomed to this practice and doesn’t see the extra value in them,” says Tracy Kay Griffin, an expert designer at Express Homebuyers in Springfield, VA. “We haven’t renovated a home yet where we thought it would be a good investment to add a bidet.” Just say nay to the bidet.

Non-Bank Servicers Creating Bigger Mortgage Problems

Non-Bank Servicers Creating Bigger Mortgage Problems

By
Catherine Curan

elenaleonova/iStock

It’s hard to find a more sympathetic foreclosure story than Kathleen Conrad’s.

The disabled widow of a Marine who served in Vietnam, Conrad, 66, lives in a rundown Westchester house the couple bought in 1999, realizing their modest version of the America dream.

But after her husband died in 2004, Conrad faced larger-than-expected cuts to her widow’s benefits. During the 2007 housing market boom, she took out a second mortgage from GMAC. In 2013, Conrad fell behind on payments and was contacted by her loan’s new owner, Infinite Customer Systems and the strong-arm tactics began to get Conrad out of the home.

Unlike big banks, non-bank servicers like Infinite are not bound by even the modest consumer protections built into the National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) of 2012.

Non-bank servicers are taking a page from their predecessors’ playbooks. Sources say that many of the same old problems the NMS partially sought to address are back with the nonbank servicers, including long delays in reviewing loan modifications and wrongful denials of loan modification requests.

While Federal Housing Finance Agency director Mel Watt is still dithering about whether to finally allow principal write downs to help troubled borrowers keep their homes, private investors who’ve already gotten a steep discount on distressed debt sold by government-sponsored entities are using hard-knuckle tactics with homeowners.

“The investors buying these loans are not interested in offering home-saving solutions to struggling homeowners,” said Jacob Inwald, director of foreclosure prevention at Legal Services NYC.

As government-sponsored enterprises including Fannie Mae sell delinquent mortgage loans to shore up their balance sheets and banks pull back on this market, private investors are muscling in. They range from small fry like Virginia-based Infinite Customer Systems to $60 billion Texas-based private equity titan Loan Star Funds. Loan Star is the backer of mortgage servicer and originator Caliber Home Loans, a major new player in New York.

After a flood of complaints about Caliber’s practices, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened an investigation last year. Loan Star declined to comment. A spokesman for the AG said the investigation is ongoing.

ICS’ Patrick Desjardins said he tried to reach a deal with Conrad before filing foreclosure. She halted the case by filing for bankruptcy protection, aided by foreclosure defense attorney Linda Tirelli. Earlier this month, a judge voided ICS’ lien, leaving the investor with worthless paper, and Conrad in her home.

“I don’t know where I would have [gone]” Conrad said. “That’s why I was fighting so hard to keep the house.”

Experts fear the new wave of investors will steamroll other vulnerable New Yorkers.

“We’re really concerned about the outlook,” said a spokesman for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. “This is an unprecedented transfer of property ownership, accelerated by the distressed sales to non-bank servicers.”

Non-banks serviced 25 percent of the $9.9 trillion in outstanding US residential mortgages last year, against just 7 percent in 2012.

That’s according to a new Government Accountability Office report released last week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who called for more oversight. This shift could lead to “harm to consumers, such as problems or errors with account transfers, payment processing, and loss mitigation processing,” the report said.

These new risks come as thousands of New Yorkers are mired in foreclosure. A new report from New Yorkers for Responsible Lending notes that as of last October, the state had nearly 90,000 pending foreclosure cases, half of which were filed in the previous 12 months. The crisis has bypassed wealthy enclaves of the city while ravaging low-income minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens.

5 Tax Benefits of Owning a Second Home

As a RSPS certified realtor I can help you find your perfect family get away. Realtor.com explains how owning that home can even help get you more tax benefits.


 5 Tax Benefits of Owning a Second Home

STEPHEN WEBSTER/Getty Images

There are tons of benefits that come with owning a second home: novelty and adventure, a place to escape and unwind, an opportunity to create memories that last a lifetime, a valuable tool to make vacation-craving friends like you a whole lot (for better or for worse).

But there’s another benefit that’s often overlooked: the tax breaks.

You already know that owning a home usually offers some tax deductions. But what if you own two? Or three? What if you’re a regular Donald Trump (back in his real estate, meat magnate heyday, of course)?

Since we know you won’t mind a little extra cash to spend while soaking in your surroundings during your next getaway, we thought we’d tell you how to reap the fruits of your second-home purchase.

1. Mortgage interest—yes, again

When it comes to owning a second home, the interest on your mortgage is deductible. The same rules that come with writing off mortgage interest for your first home apply to your second.

In fact, you can write off as much as 100% of the interest you pay on up to $1 million of debt, which includes total debt taken on to pay for both homes, as well as money spent on improving the properties. (That’s not up to $1 million for each property—just up to $1 million in total.)

2. Home improvements

Is your second home a fixer-upper? If you want to spend the off-season making improvements to your hideaway, you can deduct the interest on a home equity loan or line of credit.

But there are a couple of exceptions.

For starters, there will be a limit on the amount you can deduct if the home equity loan on your main or second home is more than $50,000 if filing single or $100,000 if married or filing jointly.

Second, the amount you can deduct has a limit if the mortgage is more than the fair market value of the home, says Gil Charney, director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

For example, let’s say a taxpayer has a mortgage of $220,000 and takes out a home equity loan of $65,000. The property’s fair market value is $275,000. Since the difference between the fair market value and the mortgage is $55,000, then $55,000 of the home equity loan can be deducted, not the full $65,000.

3. Property taxes

You can also deduct your second home’s property taxes, which are based on the assessed value of the home. That’s good news. Even better news? Unlike the mortgage interest tax deduction, there’s no dollar limit on the amount of real estate taxes that can be deducted on any number of homes owned by the taxpayer.

But beware: Taxpayers who can afford two homes are likely to land in a higher tax bracket—which means slimmer pickings for tax savings. For example, in 2016, a married couple whose gross income exceeds $311,300 would have limits on the types of itemized deductions they could take.

4. Renting out your home

If you rent out your second home for 14 days or less over the course of a year, that rental income is tax-free—and there’s no limit to what you can charge per day or week. Score!

But if you’re hoping to put your secondary digs on Airbnb or another rental site for more than 14 days during the year, be prepared to do some heavy math come tax time.

You’ll want to figure out the number of days you rent your home and divide that by the total number of days your home was used—whether it was you or a renter staying there. (The total number of days that the home was vacant doesn’t fall into this equation.)

For instance, let’s say you rented out your vacation home for 30 days within a year, and vacationed in your home for 90 days.

We’ll divide 30 (the days you rented it out) by 120 (the total number of days the home was used). The result: 25% of your rental-related expenses—which could range from utilities to the cost of a property manager—can be deducted. Now, if your home is losing value, that same percentage (in this example, 25%) of depreciation costs can also be deducted.

Here’s the caveat, Charney explains: Depreciation costs can be deducted only if there is rental income remaining after taking into account other deductions, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, and direct expenses tied to renting your home—like agent fees or advertising.

5. When it’s time to sell

Maybe you bought a far-off hideaway that you’re lucky to visit a couple of times a year. Or perhaps your vacation home is just a quick drive away, and you spend every possible moment there.

If it’s the latter—and you don’t already know which of your homes is your primary residence and which is the second home—now’s the time to figure it out. Distinguishing between the two can have big tax implications when it comes time to sell.

That’s because a capital gain of up to $250,000 (or $500,000 for taxpayers who are married/joint filers) on the sale of the principal residence may be excluded from taxable income.

Your principal—or primary—residence is the home you used most during the five years prior to the sale. But other factors—such as your job’s location, voter registration address, and banking location—could also come into play. Among other requirements, you must own and use that principal residence for at least two of the five years before the home is sold.

We know—that’s a lot of heavy stuff to take in. But you knew your second home would pay off in more ways than one, right? Now, hurry up and file your tax return—so you can escape to your happy place and forget about burdensome things. Like taxes.

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