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8 Staircase Makeovers That Most Any DIYer Can Tackle

by The Schnoor Team

For when you want to exercise your imagination, not just your legs.

Unless you get an unusually deep thrill from doing calf exercises, climbing your staircase is typically more about function than fun. But a little DIY can change that (and maybe boost your home’s future desirability).

These eight DIY staircase projects can get you started.

#1 The Look of Tile Using Stencils

There’s no look as classic or as crisp as black and white — and no material more dignified than tile. You could take out a second mortgage to cover each riser in custom, monochrome tile, or you could grab some paint and a stencil for the same effect. But much thriftier.

If you have a longer staircase, consider following the lead of this homeowner and stencil every other riser. You want to delight climbers, not make them dizzy.

#2 A Rainbow on the Stairs

If you love color, why choose just one? This soothing spectrum adds interest to an otherwise neutral space, and the pastels keep the effect soft, so it doesn’t take away from the soft, farmhouse aesthetic.

With the natural light from the window above the stairs, this look is like a constant ray of sunshine.

#3 A Pretty Pattern With Chalk Paint

You can like the idea of a personalized staircase without needing it to be the focal point of the whole house.

This soft, subtle look was pulled off with chalk paint and a stencil. The pretty pattern is unique enough to feel custom, but the light colors and chalky finish prevent it from overpowering the room.

And here’s a tip for any time you’re painting a staircase: Consider leaving the banister unpainted for a nice pop of contrast.

#4 Ombre Effect Going Up the Stairs

A short set of stairs can be the perfect place to try an ombre look (if you haven’t read a design magazine in the last decade, it’s a progressive shading effect).

The homeowner who did these stairs recommends starting by painting the darkest shade first and gradually going lighter and lighter by adding white.

Make sure you make each batch large enough to cover a full step — and all the necessary coats.

#5 Classic Black and White (With a Useful Chalkboard Wall)

Another classic black and white pattern, along with a chalkboard wall, gives this short set of steps a modern, inviting update.

This DIYer used painter’s tape and a v-shaped template made of foam board to prep the chevron pattern — and paint, patience, and very slow tape peeling to execute it.

#6 A Way to Show Off Your Reading Obsession

Have a specific obsession? Decals are a great (read: easy) way for your staircase to share your fandom.

Peel-and-stick decals can be customized with your choice of words or images. Bibliophiles can choose book titles like these, but thanks to the wide world of available decals, you can also find favorite sayings, patterns, characters — you could even create a “The Walking Dead”-themed staircase if zombies are more your thing.

When working with decals, just make sure to read the fine print. These decals, for example, are just the lettering of the book titles, so painting the risers is a project you’d need to take on first.

#7 An Eclectic Look With Real Tile

We’ll say it again: There’s just nothing like tile. It’s incredibly durable — great for hardworking staircases.

Creating alternating sets of pattern and complementary colors on each riser makes for a one-of-a-kind staircase that’s anything but redundant.

While trimming tile to fit stair risers might be above some DIYers’ pay grade, this personalized look could be worth flagging down an expert to pull off.

#8 A Stair Runner Out of Floor Runners

Standard stair runners are as snooze-worthy as the stairs they cover. Don’t settle if you can’t find one that makes your heart dance.

One clever homeowner found a floor runner she loved, bought four of them, and installed them one after the other to make this wild look shimmy up the whole stairway.

It took some creative trimming and rug positioning to make this alternating pattern look seamless, so to replicate it, order more length than you think you’ll need.

Source: "8 Staircase Makeovers That Most Any DIYer Can Tackle"


FAMILY FUN & KIDS

by The Schnoor Team

Albuquerque is possibly the best family vacation destination, with something for all interests. The city has been voted among the top 10 cities for families several times. Every visitor to Albuquerque is encouraged to be a kid at heart. From nature centers and museums to amusement parks and sports venues, families are guaranteed to have plenty of fun options to choose from. The little ones might be interested in seeing the animals at the zoo, while the older ones may want to try hands-on science experiments. If your family is looking for outdoor activities, there are many opportunities for hiking, biking and even ballooning.

As far as kid-friendly vacations are concerned, Albuquerque has many options. Plus, it's so affordable that you'll find your travel budget goes far. If you’re looking for the very best family vacation destination, with everything from dinosaur exhibits to outdoor fun, look no further than Albuquerque.

FAMILY FUN ATTRACTIONS IN THE ALBUQUERQUE AREA

Tinkertown Museum- http://tinkertown.com (505) 281-5233 9am-6pm daily, 7 days a week Adults: $3.50   Seniors (62+): $3.00   Children 4-16: $1.00 “Fantastic, funky Tinkertown Museum is an enchanted assortment of miniature, animated Western scenes. The gift shop alone is worth the visit.” - Sunset Magazine

Albuquerque BioPark- http://www.cabq.gov/biopark The Albuquerque BioPark consists of the Albuquerque Aquarium, Rio Grande Botanic Garden, Rio Grande Zoo and Tingley Beach. The BioPark is a great place for kids. Marvel at animals from all over the world at the zoo, learn how the waters of the Rio Grande change from Albuquerque to the Gulf of Mexico at the aquarium, and the kids will love the 10,000 square foot glass conservatory housing native and exotic plants at the Botanic Garden

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History- www.nuclearmuseum.org 9:00am - 5:00pm Daily Adults: $8.00 Seniors (60+), Veterans, Youth (6-17): $7.00 Kids Under 6 Free The nation’s only congressionally chartered museum in its field, and an intriguing place to learn the story of the Atomic Age, from early research of nuclear development through today’s peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum- www.balloonmuseum.com (505) 822-1111 $4.00 Adults ($3.00 for NM Residents with valid ID) $2.00 ages 65+ / $1.00 ages 4-12 / under 3 FREE The museum tells the history of ballooning, from the first flight in France in 1783, with a rooster, sheep, and duck as passengers, to the use of balloons in military, science, and aerospace research.

Explora- www.explora.us (505) 224-8300 Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm Sunday 12pm-6pm Adults $8.00 / Children (1-11) $4.00 / Seniors (65+) $5.00 “I can't say enough about how awesome this place is. It isn't just a science center or a museum... it is a fun house! The kids cheer when I tell them we may return. From the visitor-controlled water fountain art to the living room-sized elevator, we love it!” – Yahoo Reviews

New Mexico Museum of Natural History - www.nmnaturalhistory.org (505) 841-2800 9am-5pm daily, 7 days a week Adults $7.00 / Children (3-12) $4.00 / Seniors (60+) $6.00 The Museum's permanent exhibit halls illustrate a "journey through time", covering the birth of the Universe (≈13.6 billion years ago) to the Ice Age (≈10000 years ago).

White Sands National Monument - Located outside of Alamogordo, about 1.5 hours south of Albuquerque, the White Sands National Monument is open seven days a week from 7am to an hour after sunset. The park admission fee is $3.00 per person over 16 (15 and under are free). Guided sunset strolls and full moon hikes and biking are available for an additional fee.

Source: "FAMILY FUN & KIDS"

8 Ways New Homeowners Accidentally Trash Their Yards

by The Schnoor Team

Avoid these rookie mistakes to keep everything beautiful.

You’ve done it. You own a house with a yard. The great outdoors. Amber waves of grain. OK, maybe not grain, and ideally you want it green, not amber.

But now that you have it, how do you keep from screwing it up? By avoiding a few common gaffes that landscaping experts say new homeowners make waaay too often.

“They end up buying the wrong fertilizer, they have no clue what weed killer is, they kill their entire lawn, they kill their bushes — and then they call me,” says Dean Granat, who runs D&D Landscape & Sprinkler Services Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Here’s what the pros say newbie homeowners often do wrong with their lawns and yards:

#1 Not Following Product Instructions

Peter and Leah Lenz, two bright, educated people (data scientist and attorney) were thrilled when they bought their Westchester County, N.Y., home — only to have their lawn undone by a little bugger known as the Japanese beetle.

“When we looked at the house originally, we weren’t even looking at the yard because it was March, and it was covered with snow,” says Peter. “But when we moved in, we noticed the previous owners had patched holes where the beetles had already hit.”

Once Peter identified the problem, he launched “full-out chemical warfare.”

Sadly, he did not read — nor heed — the instructions for his “weapons,” and the beetles won the first round.

“There are different granulated chemicals you can put down in the spring and the fall, and I discovered there are different formulations for the different seasons,” Peter says. “One of the mistakes I made the first year was using the spring formulation in the fall, and it didn’t do a damn thing.”

Today the lawn is lush and green thanks to the proper use of anti-beetle products the second time around. “I smile when I see the backyard,” Peter says.

#2 Misusing Fertilizer

The No. 1 problem new homeowners have with fertilizer, says Eric Groft of the landscaping firm Oehme van Sweden, is overdoing it.

“Instead of putting in the correct amount of fertilizer, they put in more — and more is not more.”

Too much fertilizer adversely affects plant growth, can burn and even kill grass and plants. And, if it runs off into waterways, can cause toxic algae bloom.

To avoid those awful outcomes, prep and apply fertilizer with care. Use only the amount of recommended fertilizer — or less.

And don’t skip a single prep step. Most powdered or liquid fertilizers need to be mixed with water.

Timing is important, too. Different species of grass have different needs. Warm-season grasses (Bermuda and St. Augustine) need to be fed when temperatures are warm. Late spring is usually good. Cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue) prefer feeding in cooler temps, such as late fall, but before frost sets in.

#3 Not Watering Grass Deep Enough

Brown and dry, dehydrated grass is ugly. it invites weeds to set up squatting rights. But it’s not just about the ugly.

“If you’re thinking about a future resale, a good lawn is what gets people in the front door,” says Valerie Blake, a REALTOR® in Washington, D.C. A sad lawn just turns them away.

But novice homeowners often think watering a little bit here and a little bit there will suffice. If the grass is wet, it’s watered, right?

Not quite. It’s really a matter of how moist the soil is underneath. Ideally, you want the soil to be moist 6 inches deep.

Here’s how to make sure your lawn gets enough water:

  • Use a shovel to check that the soil is moist 6 inches deep.
  • The first time you water, check every 15 minutes.
  • Keep track of how long it takes to get moist.
  • Water that same amount of time the next time.

How often should you turn on the sprinklers? Do your homework, and, if the Joneses do in fact have a beautiful lawn, note how often they water and follow suit. (We won’t tell.)

#4 Cutting Grass Too Short

If mowing isn’t your idea of weekend fun, you might be tempted to skip a round or two by cutting the grass extra short.

And while cutting the grass shorter may save you from mowing so often, it ends up starving the plant, as sunlight is collected via the leaves. Hello, brown lawn.

“Grass should never be cut lower than two and a half to three inches,” says Granat.

#5 Overusing Weed Killer

“People will buy weed killer thinking it’s for dandelions and clover and will spray it over their whole yard,” Granat says.

“I had a customer who sprayed his whole lawn with weed killer. It killed everything and cost $8,000 to resod the lawn.”

So, only use the weed killer on small, isolated areas, OK? Non-chemical solutions work, too, such as pulling weeds out by hand or dousing them with boiling water.

But prevention is best. Smother them with mulch (add newspapers for an extra layer of protection) before they can take root.

#6 Trimming Limbs and Branches the Wrong Way

Out-of-control bushes can block windows and give insects (and burglars!) a direct path into the house. The solution? Cut them back.

But know where to cut. “Don’t saw it off in the middle of the branch,” says Groft. And don’t cut it flush with the trunk either.

You want to leave the “branch collar” — usually a small bump where the trunk and branch come together.

That bump contains special cells to help a tree or shrub recover from its wounds. Leaving the branch too long or cutting it too short prevents the branch collar from doing its job, which means instead of losing a branch or two, you could lose the entire tree or bush.

#7 Putting Plants Too Close Together

Impatience is really the culprit here. You want a lush yard fast. So you buy more plants and plant them closer together.

That’s a costly mistake. First, you’re buying plants you don’t need. And second, those plants will lose their looks really soon — or even die.

By planting bushes, shrubs, trees, annuals, or perennials closely together, you’re not giving them room to grow. And you’re forcing them to compete with each other for sunshine and nutrients in the soil. You won’t be happy with those results.

Nurseries usually include recommendations on how far apart to plant, but to give you an idea, here are a couple of guidelines:

  • Trees usually need to be planted as far apart as their mature width.
  • Perennials should be 6 to 36 inches apart, depending on their mature size.

It’s also OK to remove existing plants you don’t like. “If you have 30-year-old evergreens crowding a walkway, don’t be afraid to be subtractive,” Groft encourages.

#8 Letting Your Pet Urinate Wherever

It’s so tempting to let Fido go where and whenever he feels like it. But after awhile, you’ll notice yellow grass. Then dead grass. And that bush you planted a couple of months ago? Yeah, it’s half dead, too. They’re being burned alive by your dog’s urine. Not good.

But there are things you can do, such as training Fido to go in one special area. You could even make it a spot without any grass to kill at all.

“I’m starting to install a lot of dog runs for people. They’re all fenced in and we use some kind of stone on the surface,” Granat says.

Source: "8 Ways New Homeowners Accidentally Trash Their Yards"


Tax changes for 2019 change the landscape for homeowners.

Tax season is upon us once again, and to make it even more interesting this year, the tax code has changed — along with the rules about tax deductions for homeowners. The biggest change? Many homeowners who used to write off their property taxes and the interest they pay their mortgage will no longer be able to.

Stay calm. This doesn’t automatically mean your taxes are going up. Here’s a roundup of the rules that will affect homeowners — and how big of a change to expect.

Standard Deduction: Big Change

The standard deduction, that amount everyone gets, whether they have actual deductions or not, nearly doubled under the new law. It’s now $24,000 for married, joint-filing couples (up from $13,000). It’s $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,550). And $12,000 for singles (up from $6,500).

Many more people will now get a better deal taking the standard than they would with their itemizable write-offs.

For perspective, the number of homeowners who will be able to deduct their mortgage interest under the new rules will fall from around 32 million to about 14 million, the federal government says. That’s about a 56% drop.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pay more taxes,” says Evan Liddiard, a CPA and director of federal tax policy for the National Association of REALTORS® in Washington, D.C. “It just means that they’ll no longer get a tax incentive for buying or owning a home.”

So will you be able to itemize, or will you be in standard deduction land? This calculator can give you an estimate.

If the answer is standard deduction, you’ll be pleased to know that tax forms are easier when you don’t itemize, says Liddiard.

Personal Exemption Repealed

One caveat to the increase in the standard deduction for homeowners and non-homeowners is that the personal exemption was repealed. No longer can you exempt from your income $4,150 for each member of your household. And that might temper the benefit of a higher standard deduction, depending on your particular situation.

For example, a single person might still come out ahead. Her $5,500 increase in the standard deduction is more than the $4,150 lost by the personal exemption repeal. 

But consider a family of four with two kids over 16 in the 22% tax bracket. They no longer have personal exemptions totaling $16,600.  Although the increase in the standard deduction is worth $2,420 (11,000 x 22%), the loss of the exemptions would cost them an extra $3,652  (16,600 x 22%).  So they lose $1,232 (3,652 – 2,420).

But say their two kids are under 16, giving them a child credit worth $2,000. That offsets the loss resulting in a $758 tax cut.

The takeaway: Your household composition will probably affect your tax status.

Mortgage Interest Deduction: Incremental Change

The new law caps the mortgage interest you can write off at loan amounts of no more than $750,000. However, if your loan was in place by Dec. 14, 2017, the loan is grandfathered, and the old $1 million maximum amount still applies. Since most people don’t have a mortgage larger than $750,000, they won’t be affected by the cap.

But if you live in a pricey place (like San Francisco, where the median housing price is well over a million bucks), or you just have a seriously expensive house, the new federal tax laws mean you’re not going to be able to write off interest paid on debt over the $750,000 cap.

State and Local Tax Deduction: Degree of Change Varies by Location

The state and local taxes you pay — like income, sales, and property taxes — are still itemizable write-offs. That’s called the SALT deduction in CPA lingo. But. The tax changes for 2019 (that’s tax year 2018) mean you can’t deduct more than $10,000 for all your state and local taxes combined, whether you’re single or married. (It’s $5,000 per person if you’re married but filing separately.)

The SALT cap is bad news for people in areas with high taxes. The majority of homeowners in around 20 states have been writing off more than $10,000 in SALT each year, so they’ll lose some of this deduction. “This is going to hurt people in high-tax areas like New York and California,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and expert for TurboTax in California. New Yorkers, for example, were taking SALT deductions around $22,000 a household.

Rental Property Deduction: No Change

The news is happier if you’re a landlord. There continue to be no limits on the amount of mortgage debt interest or state and local taxes you can write off on rental property. And you can keep writing off operating expenses like depreciation, insurance, lawn care, and utilities on Schedule E.

Home Equity Loans: Big Change

You can continue to write off the interest on a home equity or second mortgage loan (if you itemize), but only if you used the proceeds to substantially better your home and only if the total, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t go over the $750,000 cap ($1 million for loans in existence on Dec. 15, 2017). If you used the equity loan to pay medical expenses, take a cruise, or anything other than home improvements, that interest is no longer tax deductible.

Here’s a big FYI: The new rules don’t grandfather in old home equity loans if the proceeds were used for something other than substantial home improvement. If you took one out five years ago to, say, pay your child’s college tuition, you have to stop writing off that interest.

4 Tips for Navigating the New Tax Law

1. Single people may get more tax benefits from buying a house, Liddiard says. “They can often reach [and potentially exceed] the standard deduction more quickly.” You can check how much you’re likely to owe or get back under the new law on this tax calculator.

2. Student loan debt is deductible, up to $2,500 if you’re repaying, whether you itemize or not.

3. Charitable deductions and some medical expenses remain itemizable. If you’re generous or have had a big year for medical bills, these, added to your mortgage interest, may be enough to bump you over the standard deduction hump and into the write-off zone.

4. If your mortgage is over the $750,000 cap, pay it down faster so you don’t eat the interest. You can add a little to the principal each month, or make a 13th payment each year.

Source: "Tax Deductions for Homeowners: How the New Tax Law Affects Mortgage Interest"


Closer To Wild

by The Schnoor Team

Whether you crave a week of camping in a backcountry wilderness area, a day of singletrack mountain biking, a weekend rafting trip, hitting the links for a round of 18, or discovering where the Rockies begin, the Land of Enchantment has you covered. Adventurers and explorers, welcome to the Southwest’s best outdoor recreation.

AT A GLANCE:

  • New Mexico is the fifth largest state by land mass and 37th in population.
  • The state is home to five national forests, 17 national parks and monuments, 35 state parks (20 of which have lakes), and 25 wilderness areas.
  • Wheeler Peak, near Taos, is New Mexico’s highest peak 13,161 feet.
  • Elephant Butte Lake State Park, near Truth or Consequences, is home to the state’s largest lake.
  • The Rio Grande, which ribbons through the state from north to south, is the fourth longest river in the U.S.
  • With over 300 days of sunshine, any season is golf season in the Land of Enchantment.
  • New Mexico's ski resorts are exceptionally family friendly, with affordable skiing and lodging packages to suit any budget.

​​Source: "Closer To Wild"

 

4 Genius Yard Upgrades Even a Klutz Can Crush

by The Schnoor Team

No DIY skills necessary for these outdoor projects. Did we mention they’re really, really easy?

You don’t need to be the host of an extreme home makeover show to build an amazing backyard. In fact, the transformative projects below are easy enough for even the klutziest home improvement newbie to complete.

Just don’t be shocked when the Johnsons appear at your door with hot dog buns in hand, begging to throw a cookout at your place.

#1 No-Blow Outdoor Curtains

When Cara Daniel of “The Project Addict” blog spied a neighbor’s unruly outdoor curtains, she hacked some for her porch that could withstand a gusty Tornado Alley afternoon without upending a glass of lemonade or ensnaring an unsuspecting guest.

She found the sweet spot by slipping conduit pipes through the curtain tabs up top and a hem at the bottom, and securing the pipes with wires (taut, but not too tight).

Daniel did all the hard work of dreaming up the curtains, so a DIY newbie can definitely recreate the project, which uses easy-to-find materials like washers and camping stakes.

Upkeep has been equally simple thanks to her sturdy choice of fabric. “The marine fabric is better than outdoor fabric that I bought,” says Daniel. The easy-to-wash choice has kept the curtains looking picturesque after five years of use.

#2 Shutter Privacy Fence

No fence? No problem! Daune Pitman of the “Cottage in the Oaks” blog MacGyvered an attractive privacy feature from a friend’s pile of discarded shutters.

The $0 price wasn’t the only thing that made the material desirable for an outdoor nook’s privacy screen, though. “They were tall,” says Pitman, “could easily be attached to posts, had the vents — which allows air to flow through — and didn’t weigh too much.”

After nailing the shutters to four-by-fours cemented into the ground (an easy task with a store-bought bag of pre-mixed cement), the nook-facing side got a charming French-blue facelift and the back a coating of foliage-matching bark brown paint.

It’s a kind of self-explanatory project because all you need is:

  • Shutters
  • Posts
  • Cement
  • Hinges (plus screws) for the shutters
  • Paint

What could be easier?

#3 PVC Pipe Pergola

Suburbanite Monica Mangin of the site “East Coast Creative” jumped at the chance to rehab a client’s neglected urban patio.

The showstopper was a clever PVC pergola decked with industrial-style lights. She was inspired by traditional wood pergolas, but wanted an easier material.

“A lot of mason jar light fixtures were trending,” says Mangin.”I liked the look of that but wanted to turn it a little more industrial.”

PVC pipe — with rebar inside as an anchor — won out for its ease on the DIYer and wallet. Could it get any easier?

A simple coat of hammered metallic outdoor spray paint gave the pipe a pricier look, and industrial-strength zip ties kept the string of dimmable, Edison bulb-style lights in place.

Although the project doesn’t take much time or skill, Mangin recommends recruiting two friends to help. Have one hold each end of the pergola while the third secures the lights with zip ties. Overall, it’s a dinner party-friendly cinch that’s surpassed the one-year mark.

4. Solar Light Hose Guards

Topping the list of Sad Gardening Ironies is when the hose you’ve lugged out to help your landscaping stay lush mows over a bed of delicate flowers you just planted. Sigh.

Lynda Makara of the blog “Home of Happy Art” figured out a pretty and pragmatic solution using affordable solar lights.

The DIY part entailed trashing their original plastic stakes (they weren’t strong enough to hold a hose in place), hammering 24-inch pieces of rebar into the ground, and slipping a light over each piece.

Those sturdy posts could handle even the bulkiest hose, protecting Makara’s plantings during waterings then casting a lovely spotlight on them post-dusk.

“The rebar is maintenance free,” says Makara. “I have had to replace some of the batteries in the solar lights, but I think that’s pretty normal.”

It doesn’t get much easier than hammering a stake into the ground. Although Makara suggests straightening the rebar with a level, that’s about as technical as it gets to create a more functional, flowering garden.

Source: "4 Genius Yard Upgrades Even a Klutz Can Crush"


5 Tips That Will Protect You from This (Expensive) DIY Mistake

by The Schnoor Team

DIY home remodeling is great — until it isn’t. Here’s how to keep it great.

It was their first plumbing project. “It was just a small crack in a pipe,” says Karah Bunde. She and her husband, Joel, had just purchased a fixer-upper they planned to renovate and rent.

They bought a new piece of PVC pipe to replace the cracked one. “We installed it, glued it, gave it 24 hours to cure. The next day we turned on the water and it busted at the seams. We had extra pipe and did it again, this time allowing it to cure for two days. Same story,” says Bunde, an avid DIYer who writes “The Space Between” blog.

The couple returned to the store and started asking questions.

Turns out they had made one of the most common DIY mistakes: choosing the wrong material for the job. “Our downfall was not doing enough research. Turns out we picked PVC pipe for drains and not one that would hold the pressure of water lines,” Bunde says.

Whether you’re choosing tile, flooring, lighting, or cabinets, making the right choice can make or break your success. Get the right materials by doing these five things:

1. Set a Budget for Every Item

Make a budget for every single item you’re purchasing, says architect Todd Miller, owner of QMA Architects & Planners in Linwood, N.J. Otherwise, you may blow it all on a sexy plumbing fixture, but then choose the wrong flooring, for instance, just because it’s cheap and you want to keep on track.

“There are always tradeoffs, but having a budget will help you manage the choices,” Miller says.

2. Shop Where the Pros Shop

Not to dis big-box stores; they’re great for many things. But you have to know what you’re getting into, says Gary Rochman, owner of Rochman Design Build in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Heeding the siren call from the big-box store can oftentimes go wrong. You’re not getting the service and the professional advice you’d need, especially if you’re a DIYer.”

For example, he says, “You might purchase treated lumber for an outdoor deck, but no one tells you the nails you bought aren’t for outdoor purposes. At a lumberyard, they’ll let you know those two items don’t go together.”

Additionally, Miller says some manufacturers will make two versions of the same product: a more cheaply made one for major retailers and another for supply stores that sell to contractors. “I purchased one product at a retail store that had PVC supply lines, and the exact same product from my supplier that had solid copper fittings,” he says. Homeowners can have access to suppliers through their contractor, but many stores also sell directly to consumers.

3. Try It Out Before Committing to It

Robin Flanigan, a homeowner in Rochester, N.Y., thought she was doing all the right things when she chose backsplash tile. She went to a local tile store. She schlepped along her cabinet sample, and they knew her floor — a wood-look farmhouse tile — which she’d purchased from them. “The owner took his time with me every time I went to the store — and there were a lot of times I went to the store,” she says. It took her two months to decided on a clear tile. “I thought clear tile would be less noticeable, not clash with the concrete.”

She hired an installer who put up the tile on two walls before Flanigan saw it. “I wound up in tears all night and asked them to take it down,” she says. The installer did beautiful work, but “what looked great in a small sample turned out to look way too futuristic once the walls were covered. It didn’t fit the rest of the industrial loft vibe at all.”

Flanigan says the mistake was a “huge budget buster” and posted the torn-down tile on Craigslist. She had a thin concrete backsplash installed instead. “If there’s a next time, I would order a box to see if I liked the look first,” she says.

4. Invest in the Right Tools

Here’s a good place to practice balancing durability and cost: Get the right tools for the job.

“You can buy a brush for 98 cents, but you won’t get good results,” says Les Lieser, who recently retired as owner of a painting company and now runs Front Range Coating Consultants in Greeley, Colo. “Good brushes cost more for a reason.”

Lieser says cheap brushes are like straw, flaring out and not holding their shape. A good quality nylon or bristle brush, on the other hand, will allow for nice, straight lines. For a few dollars more, you’ll save a lot of hassle and get a more professional-looking result.

“The same goes for roller covers and paint,” Lieser says. “Spend a little more money on a brand name or something of good quality.”

What if you need a costly tool? “We’ve rented a bunch of tools; it’s a great option,” Bunde says. In addition, many cities have tool lending libraries or a MakerSpace where you can borrow bigger items. “When you buy your materials, always ask what tools are going to aid in your success,” Bunde says.

5. Be Cautious About What You Buy Online

Buying things online might be less expensive and convenient, but when you’ve purchased a 700-pound cast iron tub from Craigslist only to discover it’s scratched or too heavy for your second-floor bath, you’re going to have a hard time sending it back. “It’s important to see and touch the products,” Miller says. “And you’ll have an easier time with returns at a retail shop or professional wholesaler.”

Although it’s enticing to think you’ll save money by purchasing the cheapest materials and save time by doing it yourself, you’ve got to weigh the value of your time against the inevitability of things not fitting, arriving broken, or not lasting. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your free time wandering the fluorescent aisles of the hardware store rather than kicking back and sipping lattes in your newly renovated space.

Source: "5 Tips That Will Protect You from This (Expensive) DIY Mistake"

What You Need to Know Before Accepting — or Rejecting — an Offer

by The Schnoor Team

It’s not always about the money (except when it is).

The day will come — and it will be a wonderful, joyous, do-a-happy-dance day — when you receive an offer, or multiple offers, for your home.

And on that day, you’re going to face a question you may not have previously considered: How do you know if an offer is the best one for you?

Your listing agent will be a big help here. They will understand and help you suss out the merits and faults of an offer because — believe it or not — it’s not always about price.

One buyer’s beautifully high offer might not look so good anymore, for example, if you discover that it’s contingent upon you moving out a month earlier than planned. Or, conversely, you may prefer speed over price, particularly if you’re moving to a new city.

Your listing agent will have a sense  of what you want financially and personally — and can help you determine whether the offer at hand satisfies those goals.

Before the first offer rolls in, here’s what you need to know about the offer evaluation process, including the main factors that should go into making a decision — accept or reject? — with your agent.

5 Important Things — Other Than Price — to Consider When Evaluating an Offer

Want to fetch top dollar for your home and walk away with as much money in your pocket as possible? Of course you do. You’ve gone through the time-consuming process of setting your asking price, staging your home, promoting your listing, and preparing for open house-  and should be rewarded for your efforts.

Your first instinct may be to just pick the highest bid on the table. But the offer price isn’t the only thing worth considering.

When vetting offers, evaluate these five areas in addition to price:

1. The earnest money deposit. One important consideration when weighing an offer is the size of the earnest money deposit. The EMD is the sum of cash the buyer is offering to fork over when the sales agreement is signed to show the person is serious (i.e., “earnest”) about buying your home. This money, which is typically held by a title company, will go toward the buyer’s down payment at closing.

A standard EMD is 1% to 3% of the cost of the home (so, that would be $2,000 to $6,000 on a $200,000 house). If a buyer tries to back out of an offer for no good reason, the seller typically keeps the EMD. Therefore, the higher the earnest money, the stronger the offer.

2. The contingencies. Most offers have contingencies — provisions that must be met for the transaction to go through, or the buyer is entitled to walk away from the deal with their earnest money. Contracts with fewer contingencies are more likely to reach closing, and in a timely fashion. 

Here are five of the most common contingencies:

  • Home inspection contingency. This gives the buyer the right to have the home professionally inspected and request repairs by a certain date — typically within five to seven days of the purchase agreement being signed. Depending on where you live, you may be required to make home repairs for structural defects, building code violations, or safety issues. Most repair requests are negotiable, though, so you have the option to haggle over which fixes you’re willing to make.
  • Appraisal contingency. For a mortgage lender to approve a home buyer’s loan, the home must pass appraisal — a process during which the property’s value is assessed by a neutral third party. The appraisal verifies that the home is worth at least enough money to cover the price of the mortgage. (In the event the buyer can’t make their mortgage payments, the lender can foreclose on the home and sell the property to recoup all — or at least some — of its costs.) Generally, the home buyer is responsible for paying for the appraisal, which typically takes place within 14 days of the sales contract being signed.
  • Financing contingency. Also called a loan contingency or mortgage contingency, a financing contingency protects the buyer in the event their lender doesn’t approve their mortgage. Although the timeframe for financing contingencies can vary, mortgage lenders report that buyers generally have about 21 days to obtain mortgage approval.
  • Sale of current home contingency. Depending on the buyer’s financial situation, their offer may be contingent on the sale of their home. Usually, buyers have a window of 30 to 90 days to sell their house before the sales agreement is voided. This contingency puts you, the seller, at a disadvantage because you can’t control whether the buyer sells their house in time.
  • Title contingency. Before approving a mortgage, a lender will require the borrower to “clear title” — a process in which the buyer’s title company reviews any potential easements or agreements that are on public record. This ensures the buyer is becoming the rightful owner of the property and the lender is protected from ownership claims over liens, fraudulent claims from previous owners, clerical problems in courthouse documents, or forged signatures.


These contingencies are standard for most real estate sales contracts. There’s one exception: the sale of current home contingency, which tends to be used more often in strong buyer’s markets, when buyers have greater leverage over sellers.

That being said, contingencies are always negotiable. (The caveat: Mortgage lenders require borrowers to have appraisal financing contingencies, or they won’t approve the loan.) It’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable agreeing to, and your agent can help you make that decision.

3. The down payment. Depending on the type of mortgage, the buyer must make a down payment on the house — and the size of that down payment can affect the strength of the offer. In most cases, a buyer’s down payment amount is related to the home loan they’re taking out. Your chief concern as a seller, of course, is for the transaction to close — and for that to happen, the buyer’s mortgage has be approved.

Generally, a larger down payment signals the buyer’s financial wherewithal to complete the sale. The average down payment, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, is 10%. Some mortgage products, such as FHA and VA loans, allow for even lower down payments.

If, by chance, the appraisal comes in higher than your contract’s sale price, the buyer with a higher down payment would more likely be able to cover the difference with the large amount of cash they have available.

4. The all-cash offer. The more cash the buyer plunks down, the more likely the lender is to approve their loan. That’s why an all-cash offer is ideal for both parties. The buyer doesn’t have to fulfill an appraisal contingency — whereby their lender has the home appraised to make sure the property value is large enough to cover the mortgage — or a financing contingency, which requires buyers to obtain mortgage approval within a certain number of days. As always, having a sales contract with fewer contingencies means there are fewer ways for the deal to fall through.

5. The closing date. Settlement, or “closing,” is the day when both parties sign the final paperwork and make the sale official. Typically, the whole process — from accepting an offer to closing — takes between 30 and 60 days; however, the average closing time is 42 days, according to a report from mortgage software company Ellie Mae.

Three days before closing, the buyer receives a closing disclosure from the lender, which he compares with the loan estimate he received when he applied for the loan. If there are material differences between the buyer’s loan estimate and closing disclosure, the closing can’t happen until those amounts are reviewed and approved. But this is rare.

Some transactions can take more time, depending on the buyer’s financing. For example, the average closing time for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan is 43 days, according to Ellie Mae.

Whether you want a slow or quick settlement will depend on your circumstances. If you’ve already purchased your next home, for instance, you probably want to close as soon as possible. On the other hand, you may want a longer closing period — say, 60 days — if you need the proceeds from the sale to purchase your new home.

When Should You Make a Counteroffer?

Depending on the circumstances, you may be in the position to make a counteroffer. But every transaction is different, based on the particular market conditions and your home. In some circumstances, you can be gutsy with your counteroffer. In others, it might serve your goals better to give in to the buyer’s demands. Your agent can provide helpful insight about when and why a counteroffer will be the right thing for you.

For instance: If you’re in a seller’s market — meaning that homes are selling quickly and for more than the asking prices — and you received multiple offers, your agent may recommend you counteroffer with an amount higher than you would have in a buyer’s market.

If you choose to write a counteroffer your agent will negotiate on your behalf, to make sure you get the best deal for you.

A caveat: In many states sellers can’t legally make a counteroffer to more than one buyer at the same time, since they’re obligated to sign a purchase agreement if a buyer accepts the new offer.

When Does an Offer Become a Contract?

In a nutshell, a deal is under contract when the buyer’s offer (or seller’s counteroffer) is agreed upon and signed by both parties. At that point, the clock starts ticking for the home buyer’s contingencies — and for the sweet moment when the cash — and home — is yours.

Source: "What You Need to Know Before Accepting — or Rejecting — an Offer"

 

Do’s and Don’ts of Flooring

by The Schnoor Team

What to consider — from durability to style — for what’s under foot.

So many flooring choices, so little time to research which looks good, feels good, and lasts.

No worries. We’ve sorted it out for you with a handy do’s and don’ts list.

Style

DO: Consider your home’s layout. Got an open floor plan? Using the same flooring throughout the space will create a clean, continuous appearance.

DON’T: Forget about your home’s architectural integrity. By all means, make your home a reflection of your personal style. (Get inspired by these super-cool  floor ideas.) Just keep in mind that staying true to your home’s innate style will pay off when it’s time to sell.

Tip: Hardwood floors are the goof-proof option.

  • Hardwood is a win-win when it comes to architectural style. It’s equally at home in both classic and contemporary abodes. You and your eventual buyers will never regret the choice.
  • It’s practical and beautiful; hardwood is strong enough for kitchen duty, but adds a homey and classic touch.

Durability

DO: Keep your local climate in mind. Damp and humid weather can shorten a floor’s lifespan. For instance, hardwood can warp.

DON’T: Underestimate wear and tear depending on where you’re planning to install new flooring. Drop a glass jar on ceramic tile and it’ll chip; heavy foot traffic will beat up pretty plush carpeting.

Tip: Properly sealed, concrete floors are a tough and good-looking choice.

  • Concrete resists water, stains, smells, and scratches. It also won’t harbor mold or mildew.
  • It can take a pounding, so no worries there about daily wear and tear.
  • It packs an energy-saving benefit since concrete floors can retain your home’s heating and cooling.
  • The icing on the cake? It can be painted to look like wood or tile.

​​

Comfort and Air Quality

DO: Consider comfortable flooring materials, especially in rooms where you spend a lot of time standing, such as the kitchen, and if you have small children or plan to age in place.

DON’T: Contribute to household air pollution. Both traditional vinyl flooring and newly installed carpets can emit high levels of VOCs for up to 72 hours.

Tip: Cork hits the comfort and environmental-friendly trifecta.

  • It’s a treat for feet (think kitchens) and can soften the blow when little ones fall (think basements, family rooms, kids’ rooms) thanks to microscopic air pockets that give the material its cushiness.
  • Cork is great for indoor health. It won’t hold on to dust and pollen and resists nasties like bacteria and fungi. When it comes to VOCs, go with low- or no-formaldehyde content and avoid cork-vinyl composites. How do you do that? Look for cork flooring products that are either Floorscore or Greenguard certified, or that qualify for a LEED point for low-emitting materials. Also, if you’re using a sealer or an adhesive select a low- or no-VOC product.
  • It’s sustainably harvested. Cork flooring is made from cork oak bark. Since the bark grows back, the tree is left standing.

Tip: You’ll want to seal cork every few years to help protect it from any standing water; it’s water resistant but not waterproof.

DO: Add carpet. It’s great for maximizing comfort, and it can cost much less than other types of flooring. For a 12-foot-by-12-foot room, you could expect to pay about $1,580 to $3,190 in materials and labor for hardwood versus $335 to $700 for carpet.

New fiber technologies have made carpet more durable (think longer wear and superior color-fastness), stain resistant, and even eco-friendly (some carpets are made from recycled materials, like plastic bottles, and natural fibers). The key is picking and maintaining the right carpet for your home and lifestyle. For example, a dense carpet with a short pile height (half an inch or less) is best for high-traffic areas.

DON’T: Think carpet is off the table because you have allergies.  Several studies suggest that carpet doesn’t cause allergies or make asthma worse.

  • Since carpet traps particulates, like dust and dander, it can act as a filter and bring relief to some people, according to a recent Spanish study.
  • Frequent vacuuming, using a doormat to eliminate the amount of dirt that comes into your home, and a yearly deep cleaning can keep your carpet in good shape for years to come while retaining good air quality.

​​Source: "Do’s and Don’ts of Flooring"

 

Renting Out Your Home? Get Landlord Insurance

by The Schnoor Team

If you’re renting out your home, it might not be covered by home owners insurance, so look into landlord insurance instead.

Maybe you’re moving up to a bigger home and holding on to your former residence as a rental property. Or maybe you’ve tried to sell your home without success. Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking about renting out your home, you need to look into landlord insurance.

Homeowners insurance covers your house if it burns down, your possessions if there’s a break-in, and medical and legal bills if someone gets hurt on your property. Problem is, homeowners insurance might not offer protection if you decide to rent out your home. Landlord insurance does. Set aside half a day to research policies.

Renting Out Your Home Raises Risks

Homeowners insurance typically covers owner-occupied, single-family residences, says John W. Saunders, president of Slemp Brant Saunders, an independent insurance brokerage in Marion, Va. When your home doesn’t meet that definition because it’s being rented out regularly, it’s no longer covered.

Most homeowners policies will cover an occasional short-term rental if, say, you’re going away for a few weeks, says Dave Millar, a partner at Riley Insurance Agency in Brunswick, Me. “But if you have a summer home you’ve decided to use as an income property and are putting different people in there every week,” he explains, “that’s a lot higher risk for the insurance company.”

The risk is also higher for both you and your insurer when you rent out your home on a full-time basis. You have an increased responsibility for injuries on the property, whether to your tenants or your tenants’ guests, says Bob O’Brien, vice president of Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance in South Portland, Me.

Insurers also experience more claims on tenant-occupied properties because tenants typically don’t care for properties as well as owners would. Renters are less likely to either identify or report maintenance needs, says O’Brien, and may be unfamiliar with a home’s systems like the location of the water shut-off.

Look Into Landlord Insurance

When you decide to become a landlord, inform your insurer and ask about a specific landlord insurance policy, sometimes known as a dwelling fire policy or special perils policy. Coverage from a basic landlord policy isn’t quite as broad as a homeowners policy, says O’Brien, but it includes big risks like fire, wind, theft, and ice damage.

There are several levels of dwelling fire policies: DP-1, DP-2, and DP-3. The higher the number, the better the coverage. “A DP-3 policy might provide replacement cost on the house and theft of contents coverage for your belongings,” says Millar.

Expect to pay 15% to 20% more for landlord insurance than you did for homeowners insurance. In recent years the average cost of homeowners insurance was $822 a year. Tack on 20%, and that would put the average annual premium on landlord insurance at about $986.

A landlord policy covering a one-year rental for a home in Maine insured for $370,000 and personal property for $10,000 would cost $1,170, for example, says Millar. Expect to pay even more if you allow short-term rentals. The same insurance for the home if rented by the week for 12 weeks during a year would be $2,170.

Other Insurance Policies to Consider

Landlord insurance typically covers the house itself, other structures on the property such as sheds, the owner’s possessions (but not the tenant’s possessions), lost rental income if the house is damaged and uninhabitable, and some liability protection for the owner in case of injury or a lawsuit. Policies vary, however, so read the fine print. If lost rental income isn’t included, you might be able to add the coverage for an additional $50 a year, says Saunders.

Also consider an umbrella policy, that provides additional liability protection beyond the limits of your landlord policy. “If you’re talking about owning more than one house, and your net worth is starting to build up, then you should consider an umbrella policy,” says O’Brien. You can usually get an additional $1 million worth of liability coverage for $250 to $300 a year.

Finally, O’Brien advises that you require tenants to buy renters insurance that protects their own property. Remember, landlord insurance only covers the owner’s property. In recent years, the average cost of renters insurance has run $182 annually.

Source: "Renting Out Your Home? Get Landlord Insurance"

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