Remodelings on the Upswing
Article From HouseLogic.com
By: Christina Hoffmann
Published: January 24, 2013
Now that the housing market is back, home improvements are, too. And they’re paying off better than in years past.
2013 is shaping up pretty sweetly for home owners.
First, there were the home owner-centric tax benefits (energy tax credits, PMI deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/deducting-private-mortgage-insurance/), mortgage debt forgiveness ) that Congress and the President extended through 2013; and now, we’re seeing that our home improvement dollars are working harder.
After several bruising years, spending on remodeling projects is up and so too is your return on your remodeling dollars. The national average percentage recoup on all 35 projects in Remodeling Magazine’s 2013 Cost vs. Value Report (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2013/costvsvalue/national.aspx) rose since last year.
What a different story from 2012, when the ROI dropped in all but three categories.
The annual report is based on a survey that asks REALTORS® around the country to estimate what specific projects, from adding an attic bedroom to installing new windows, would recoup in their market at resale under current conditions.
Of course, what you recoup depends on the specifics of your project, your market, and when you sell. But the report offers a great bird’s-eye view of project costs and returns.
So which projects offer the best value for the money?
Exterior projects like siding, window, and garage door replacements took seven of the top 10 spots in this year’s list.
See a slideshow with the cost-vs-value details on exterior remodels.
Makes sense since REALTORS® always say curb appeal (http://www.houselogic.com/home-topics/curb-appeal/) is half the battle when you’re trying to sell.
Although it’s not in the top 10, I was gratified to see that the backup generator project is up about 5 percentage points since 2012. One of our bloggers, Lisa Kaplan Gordon, invested in a portable generator (http://www.houselogic.com/blog/emergency-preparedness/portable-generators-lessons-learned/) last year after one too many storms and power outages, and despite the learning curve, she was glad she did. She had power when a lot of her neighbors didn’t; she even shared power.
Indoors, the top-10 projects include a minor kitchen remodel (involving cabinet refacing (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/kitchens/refacing-kitchen-cabinets/) and new countertops and appliances (http://www.houselogic.com/maintenance-repair/preventative-home-maintenance/appliances/) ), which recouped 75.4% nationally.
Kitchen redo aside, replacement projects, such as installing an entry door (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/windows-doors/exterior-door-installation-options/) or new siding, (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/roofing-gutters-siding/siding-guide-options/) tend to have a higher cost-to-value ratio than remodeling projects. But now that housing has turned a corner, home owners are stepping up their remodeling plans (http://www.houselogic.com/news/home-improvement/us-home-owners-ramping-remodeling-plans/).
Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/us-housing-stock-ready-improvement) saw 9% growth in remodeling in 2012 and predicts that trend will continue as more and more distressed properties are bought and rehabbed.
The housing group says interest in energy-efficiency updates (http://www.houselogic.com/green-living/saving-energy/) will keep on trucking, too. It’s the one area where spending on remodeling projects rose during the recession.
I’m betting the revived energy tax credit will add fuel to that trend.
Learn more: About Cost vs. Value projects (http://www.houselogic.com/home-topics/cost-v-value/) | About the extended energy tax credit (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-credits/how-to-collect-tax-energy-credits/)
13 Lucky Superstitions for Your Home in 2013
Article From HouseLogic.com
By: Courtney Craig
Published: January 08, 2013
Is 13 an unlucky number? We don’t think so. But just to be safe, we found 13 superstitions that just might bring your home a little luck this year.
1. Never walk under a ladder. This is believed to be the devil’s territory. If there’s no way around it, protect yourself by crossing your fingers or making the fig sign with your hand – closed fist, with the thumb between your index and middle fingers.
2. When you move out of a house, leave the broom behind. Along with the dust and dirt of your old home, old brooms also carry the negative aspects of your life. A new broom signifies a fresh start in your new home.
3. Carry bread and salt with you when you first enter a new home (along with your new broom). After crossing the threshold, sprinkle salt in front of the door to keep evil spirits away.
4. It’s bad luck to carry a hoe into the house. If you do it by mistake, carry it out by walking backwards through the same door – it’ll reverse the bad luck.
5. Stuff fennel, an herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves, into your keyhole or hang it over the door to protect your home from witches.
6. Paint your front porch blue to ward off ghosts. This superstition, which originated in Southern plantation homes, tells us that “haints,” or ghosts, can’t cross water. Painting the porch “haint blue” would confuse ghosts into thinking the porch was made of water, so they wouldn’t enter the home.
7. Never put shoes on a dresser or table. Bad luck will ensue, according to a Jewish superstition.
8. In fung shui architecture, there should be windows on a house’s east side to face the sunrise. A 27-story home in Mumbai, valued at $1 billion, currently sits empty because its owner believes the lack of windows on the east side will bring him bad luck.
9. On Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated on Feb. 10 this year, you should clean your home (http://www.houselogic.com/home-topics/cleaning/) thoroughly to get rid of bad luck and accept new luck into your home. Also decorate your doors and windows (http://www.houselogic.com/maintenance-repair/preventative-home-maintenance/windows-doors/) with posters featuring the word “fu,” which means good luck and happiness.
10. According to a Norse superstition, placing an acorn on a windowsill will protect a house from being struck by lightning. Window blind pulls decorated like acorns are still popular.
11. Never open an umbrella inside. Doing so would be an insult to the sun god, as umbrellas are commonly used for protection against the sun.
12. Don’t move into a new place on a Friday, Saturday, or rainy day. These days are unlucky and may prevent you from ever truly settling into your new home. According to Indian superstition, Thursday is the luckiest day to move in.
13. Never pound a nail after sunset, or you’ll wake the tree gods. Wouldn’t want to do that.
Have any superstitions to add to the list?
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How to Deduct Your Mortgage Interest & Equity Loan Costs
Article From HouseLogic.com
By: Richard Koreto
Published: December 21, 2012
Deducting mortgage interest, as well as interest on home equity loans and HELOCs, can save money on taxes.
Deducting mortgage interest is a great tax benefit that can make home ownership more affordable. Your first mortgage isn’t the only loan that qualifies, either. In many cases, you can also deduct interest on home equity loans, second mortgages, and home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs.
If you want to deduct all of your mortgage interest, there are limits on both how much money you can borrow and on what you do with the money you get. You also need to itemize your return to reap the benefits of these deductions. Calculations can be complicated, so consult a tax adviser.
Know your loan limits
A good place to check out what you can deduct before you borrow is the chart on page 3 of IRS Publication 936 (http://www.irs.gov/uac/Publication-936,-Home-Mortgage-Interest-Deduction-2). It’ll walk you through the requirements you must meet to deduct all of your home loan interest. It’s an hour well spent.
The first hurdle you’ll run into is the total amount of your loan or loans. In general, individuals and couples filing jointly can deduct the interest on up to $1 million ($500,000 if you’re married and filing separately) in combined home loans, as long as the money was used for acquisition costs, that is the cost to buy, build, or substantially improve a home, explains Scott O’Sullivan, a certified public accountant with Margolin, Winer & Evens in Garden City, N.Y. Any interest paid on loan amounts above the $1 million threshold isn’t deductible.
The same $1 million limit applies whether you have one home or two. Buying a vacation home doesn’t double your loan limits. And two homes is the max; you can’t deduct a mortgage for a third home. If you have a mortgage you took out before Oct. 13, 1987, you have fewer restrictions on claiming a full deduction. The calculations for “grandfathered debt” can get complex, so get help from a tax professional or refer to IRS Publication 936.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that you can also deduct the points and fees associated with a first or second mortgage when you initially buy your home, says Jeff Rattiner, a CPA with JR Financial Group in Centennial, Colo. If you refinance the same house, you have to deduct those costs over the entire term of the loan. If you refinance again, you can deduct all the costs from the earlier refi in the year you take out the new loan.
Spend loan proceeds wisely
The other limitation on how much you can borrow and still get your deduction comes into play when you take out a home equity loan or HELOC that you don’t use to buy, build, or improve your home. In that case, you can deduct the interest you pay only on the first $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately). This loan limit also applies in a so-called cash-out refi, in which you refinance and take out part of the equity you’ve built up as cash, says John R. Lieberman, a CPA with Perelson Weiner in New York City.
That means if you decide to take out a $115,000 home equity loan to buy that Porsche, you can deduct the interest on the first $100,000 but not on the $15,000 that exceeds the limit. Use the same $115,000 to add a new bedroom, however, and the full amount is allowable under the $1 million cap. Keep in mind, though, that the $115,000 gets added into the pot of whatever else you owe on your other home loans. In many cases, points and loan origination costs for HELOCs are deductible.
Consider this simplified scenario: You borrow $250,000 against your home at 8% interest. That means you’ll pay $20,000 in interest the first year. Spend the $250,000 on home improvements, and all of the interest is deductible. Spend $150,000 on improvements and $100,000 on your kids’ college tuition, and all the interest is still deductible.
But spend $100,000 on improvements and $150,000 on tuition, and the improvement outlays are deductible, though $50,000 of the tuition expense isn’t. That’ll cost you $4,000 in interest deductions. Preserve the $4,000 deduction by coming up with the extra money for tuition from another source, perhaps a low-interest student loan or by borrowing from a retirement plan. For someone in a 25% bracket, a $4,000 deduction lowers taxes by $1,000, plus applicable state income taxes.
Beware the dreaded AMT
Even if you’ve followed all the loan limit rules, you can still get stuck paying tax on mortgage interest. How come? It’s all thanks to the Alternative Minimum Tax (http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc556.html). Congress created the AMT, which limits or eliminates many deductions, as a way to keep the wealthy from dodging their fair share of taxes.
Calculating the AMT can be complex, but if you make more than $75,000 and have several kids or other deductions, you might well be subject to it. Problem is, if you fall into the AMT group, you may not be able to deduct interest on a home equity loan, even if the loan falls within the $1 million/$100,000 limit. If you’re subject to the AMT and borrow money against the value of your home, you’ll have to use it to buy, build, or improve your place, or you may not have a chance to deduct the interest, says Rattiner, the Colorado CPA.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.
7 Smart Strategies for Bathroom Remodeling
Article From HouseLogic.com
By: John Riha
Published: March 04, 2011
Here’s how to get the bathroom of your dreams without making your budget a nightmare.
You dream about a bathroom that’s high on comfort and personal style, but you also want materials, fixtures, and amenities with lasting value. Wake up! You can have both.
A mid-range bathroom remodel is a solid investment, according to Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2013/costvsvalue/national.aspx). An average bath remodel of $15,782 will recoup about 65.2% of those costs when it’s time to sell your home, and a more extensive $50,000 job returns about 58%. In addition, you can maximize the value of your investment by using these smart strategies, which will create a stylish yet budget-friendly bathroom.
1. Stick to a plan
A bathroom remodel (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/green-remodeling/green-bathroom-remodeling/) is no place for improvisation. Before ripping out the first tile, think hard about how you will use the space, what materials and fixtures you want, and how much you’re willing to spend.
The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending up to six months evaluating and planning before beginning work. That way, you have a roadmap that will guide decisions, even the ones made under remodeling stress. Once work has begun-a process that averages 2 to 3 months-resist changing your mind. Work stoppages and alterations add costs. Some contractors include clauses in their contracts that specify premium prices for changing original plans.
If planning isn’t your strong suit, hire a designer. In addition to adding style and efficiency, a professional designer makes sure contractors and installers are scheduled in an orderly fashion. A pro charges $100 to $200 per hour, and spends 10 to 30 hours on a bathroom project.
2. Keep the same footprint
You can afford that Italian tile you love if you can live with the total square footage you already have.
Keeping the same footprint, and locating new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/electrical/types-plumbing-pipes-and-their-lifespans/), saves demolition and reconstruction dollars. You’ll also cut down on the dust and debris that make remodeling so hard to live with.
Make the most of the space you have. Glass doors on showers and tubs open up the area. A pedestal sink takes up less room than a vanity. If you miss the storage, replace a mirror with a deep medicine cabinet.
3. Make lighting a priority
Multiple shower heads (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/saving-water/low-flow-shower-head-features/) and radiant heat floors (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/heating-cooling/radiant-heat-5-hot-reasons-love-it/) are fabulous adds to a bathroom remodel. But few items make a bathroom more satisfying than lighting designed for everyday grooming. You can install lighting for a fraction of the cost of pricier amenities.
Well-designed bathroom task lighting surrounds vanity mirrors and eliminates shadows on faces: You look better already. The scheme includes two ceiling- or soffit-mounted fixtures with 60 to 75 watts each, and side fixtures or sconces providing at least 150 watts each, distributed vertically across 24 inches (to account for people of various heights). Four-bulb lighting fixtures work well for side lighting.
4. Clear the air
Bathroom ventilation systems may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind during a bathroom remodel.
Bathroom ventilation is essential for removing excess humidity that fogs mirrors, makes bathroom floors slippery, and contributes to the growth of mildew and mold. Controlling mold and humidity is especially important for maintaining healthy indoor air quality and protecting the value of your home-mold remediation is expensive, and excess humidity can damage cabinets and painted finishes.
A bathroom vent and water closet fan should exhaust air to the outside-not simply to the space between ceiling joists. Better models have whisper-quiet exhaust fans and humidity-controlled switches that activate when a sensor detects excess moisture in the air.
5. Think storage
Bathroom storage is a challenge: By the time you’ve installed the toilet, shower, and sink, there’s often little space left to store towels, toilet paper, and hair and body products. Here are some ways to find storage in hidden places.
•Think vertically: Upper wall space in a bathroom is often underused. Freestanding, multi-tiered shelf units designed to fit over toilet tanks turn unused wall area into found storage. Spaces between wall studs (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/between-studs-shelving-find-your-niche-life/) create attractive and useful niches for holding soaps and toiletries. Install shelves over towel bars to use blank wall space.
•Think moveable: Inexpensive woven baskets set on the floor are stylish towel holders. A floor-stand coat rack holds wet towels, bath robes, and clothes.
•Think utility: Adding a slide-out tray to vanity cabinet compartments provides full access to stored items and prevents lesser-used items from being lost or forgotten.
6. Contribute sweat equity
Shave labor costs by doing some work yourself. Tell your contractor which projects you’ll handle, so there are no misunderstandings later.
Some easy DIY projects:
•Install window and baseboard trim; save $250.
•Paint walls and trim, 200 sq.ft.; save $200.
•Install toilet (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/saving-water/low-flow-toilets-how-choose/); save $150.
•Install towel bars and shelves; save $20 each.
7. Choose low-cost design for high visual impact
A “soft scheme” adds visual zest to your bathroom, but doesn’t create a one-of-a-kind look that might scare away future buyers.
Soft schemes employ neutral colors for permanent fixtures and surfaces, then add pizzazz with items that are easily changed, such as shower curtains, window treatments (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/windows-doors/save-money-energy-efficient-window-coverings/), towels, throw rugs, and wall colors. These relatively low-cost decorative touches provide tons of personality but are easy to redo whenever you want.
7 Tips for Staging Your Home
Article From BuyAndSell.HouseLogic.com
By: G. M. Filisko
Published: March 19, 2010
Make your home warm and inviting to boost your home’s value and speed up the sale process.
The first step to getting buyers to make an offer on your home is to impress them with its appearance so they begin to envision themselves living there. Here are seven tips for making your home look bigger, brighter, and more desirable.
1. Start with a clean slate
Before you can worry about where to place furniture and which wall hanging should go where, each room in your home must be spotless. Do a thorough cleaning right down to the nitpicky details like wiping down light switch covers. Deep clean and deodorize carpets and window coverings.
2. Stow away your clutter
It’s harder for buyers to picture themselves in your home when they’re looking at your family photos, collectibles, and knickknacks. Pack up all your personal decorations. However, don’t make spaces like mantles and coffee and end tables barren. Leave three items of varying heights on each surface, suggests Barb Schwarz of http://www.StagedHomes.com (http://www.StagedHomes.com) in Concord, Pa. For example, place a lamp, a small plant, and a book on an end table.
3. Scale back on your furniture
When a room is packed with furniture, it looks smaller, which will make buyers think your home is less valuable than it is. Make sure buyers appreciate the size of each room by removing one or two pieces of furniture. If you have an eat-in dining area, using a small table and chair set makes the area seem bigger.
4. Rethink your furniture placement
Highlight the flow of your rooms by arranging the furniture to guide buyers from one room to another. In each room, create a focal point on the farthest wall from the doorway and arrange the other pieces of furniture in a triangle around the focal point, advises Schwarz. In the bedroom, the bed should be the focal point. In the living room, it may be the fireplace, and your couch and sofa can form the triangle in front of it.
5. Add color to brighten your rooms
Brush on a fresh coat of warm, neutral-color paint in each room. Ask your real estate agent for help choosing the right shade. Then accessorize. Adding a vibrant afghan, throw, or accent pillows for the couch will jazz up a muted living room, as will a healthy plant or a bright vase on your mantle. High-wattage bulbs in your light fixtures will also brighten up rooms and basements.
6. Set the scene
Lay logs in the fireplace, and set your dining room table with dishes and a centerpiece of fresh fruit or flowers. Create other vignettes throughout the home-such as a chess game in progress-to help buyers envision living there. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.
Make your bathrooms feel luxurious by adding a new shower curtain, towels, and fancy guest soaps (after you put all your personal toiletry items are out of sight). Judiciously add subtle potpourri, scented candles, or boil water with a bit of vanilla mixed in. If you have pets, clean bedding frequently and spray an odor remover before each showing.
7. Make the entrance grand
Mow your lawn and trim your hedges, and turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before showings to make your lawn sparkle. If flowers or plants don’t surround your home’s entrance, add a pot of bright flowers. Top it all off by buying a new doormat and adding a seasonal wreath to your front door.
More from HouseLogic
Spring cleaning guide (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/spring-cleaning-guide/)
Green cleaning products for the bathroom (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/green-cleaning-products-for-the-bathroom/)
Green cleaning products for the kitchen (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/green-cleaning-products-for-the-bathroom/)
Other web resources
How to make a small room look larger (http://www.lowes.com/cd_Ten+Ways+to+Make+a+Small+Room+Look+Larger_506205068_)
How to arrange bedrooms (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/arranging-your-bedroom-furniture.html)
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who occasionally rearranges her furniture to find the best placement-and keep her dog on his toes. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.
Window Cleaning Robot Will be Arriving in 2013
Article From HouseLogic.com
By: Deirdre Sullivan
Published: December 26, 2012
You won’t have to wash your windows anymore thanks to this glass-sucking cleaning machine.
Kiss your squeegee good-bye; this bot cleans windows inside and out.
When I bought a Roomba years ago, it changed my life for the better. I no longer spent a chunk of my free time chasing dust bunnies. So of course I was thrilled when I heard about Ecovacs’ Winbot Series 7 (http://www.ecovacs.com/features/Winbot-Winbot%207%20Series.html) robotic window cleaner.
I live in an apartment building, so I need either a suspended scaffold or the help of Superman to clean my exterior windows. But with this magical device that uses suction to stick and travel across glass, my grimy windows can finally be sparkling clean.
The Winbot gets glass spotless by using a reusable pad that you have to spray manually with a cleaning solution before operating. Like a vacuum bot, the machine tracks windows in a pattern in order to map its course. Once in motion, it squeegees and dries any dampness left from the pad to remove streaks and lines. I don’t know how it would do on windows will multiple panes or mullions.
If you’re worried about the device free-falling and killing someone on the sidewalk below (or maybe that’s just me), have no fear. The unit comes with a safety pod that sticks to the inside window to anchor the device.
FYI, don’t toss your squeegee yet. The Winbot Series 7 robotic window cleaner won’t be available in the states until 2013. We have no idea how much this gadget will cost, but we do know it’ll be available in two colors, pearl white or yellow.
So would you be comfortable letting this gizmo crawl across your windows? Let us know in the comments.