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5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

by The Schnoor Team

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It’s like that with energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us believe we’re doing the right things to lower energy costs, and almost half of us think our homes already are energy efficient. Yet, 59% of us say our bills are going up, not down, despite our efforts to economize.

Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, a marketing agency that specializes in energy efficiency and that did this research, says we’re rationalizing: “I bought these [LEDs] so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.” Denial much?

Her research also shows consumers, on average, made fewer than three energy-efficient improvements in 2012 compared with almost five in 2010. It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements really will make the biggest difference to lower your bills. There are five, and the good news is that they’re really (seriously) cheap.

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

That mindfulness is important because your relationship with energy is getting more intense. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government), but to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. Energy improvements should pay for themselves. Nice wish, but it doesn’t work that way. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.

Unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. (Sorry.) Even if you do all the right things, the most you should expect is a 20% to 30% reduction annually, says Head, which is still significant over the long term.

What does 30% translate into? $618 in savings per year or $52 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,060 per year, according to Lawrence Berkeley and EIA.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; can increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).

But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster.

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective.

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

Source: "5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills"

 

Tips to Create a Simple Garage Workshop

by The Schnoor Team

You can build a garage workshop, complete with lighting, for less than $500.

Garages often harbor a not-so-secret second life: heroic home workshop. They’re well-suited to the task, with a tolerance for the noise and dust of do-it-yourself projects.

You can assemble a basic workbench, cabinets, shelving, and add simple overhead lighting for less than $500.

But if a garage workshop isn’t comfortable and convenient to use, you’ll avoid projects rather than enjoy them.

Here are the essentials:

Get (or Build) a Solid Workbench

Your primary work surface should be a rock-solid bench with a hard and heavy top. Buy or build the best you can manage. (Then vow to keep the top clear — tools and materials have a way of eating up workbench space).

Premade workbenches run $100 to $500 and come in many lengths; they’re usually 24 inches deep. A 38-inch height is typical, but you might be more comfortable with a work surface as low as 36 or as high as 42 inches. Some benches include vises, drawers, and shelves.

Build one yourself using readily available plans. A simple, sturdy workbench takes less than a day to build and materials cost less than $100. The Family Handyman magazine offers detailed instructions for several, including an inexpensive, simple bench. A more complex bench with a miter saw stand and drawers costs $300-$500 to build and takes a weekend.

 

Install Bright Light

Garage work surfaces need bright ambient light and strong task lightening.

  • High-intensity lights (halogen, LEDs, and others) are great for over-bench task lighting. An LED task light with a flexible goose-neck ($75-$150) puts light where you need it.
  • If your garage has a finished ceiling, recessed fixtures (can lights) are inexpensive ($10-$20) and are good for task and ambient lighting.
  • Ceiling-mounted fluorescent light fixtures are the classic, low-cost solution for workshop lighting. A two- or four-bulb, 48-inch fluorescent fixture costs less than $50.

When shopping for workshop lighting, think lumens rather than watts. A lumen is a measure of lighting brightness, and is a handy way to compare today’s new energy-efficient light bulbs. Lighting fixtures and bulbs have labels that indicate lumens per device. A general rule of thumb is to use 130 to 150 lumens per square foot of work space.

For example, a 40-watt fluorescent bulb puts out about 2,200 lumens. A 60-watt incandescent bulb puts out about 800 lumens.

Be Sure to Have Adequate Electrical Power

Along with your new lights, be sure your garage workshop has adequate electrical service — outlets and capacity — to accommodate your arsenal of power tools. Place outlets nearby; don’t depend on extension cords stretched across your garage — they can be a tripping hazard. If you don’t have 30-amp circuits on your garage service, talk with an electrical contractor about making this simple upgrade.

Ballpark $75-$100 an hour for an electrical contractor, plus a probable service-call fee of $50 to $100. Rates will vary across regions of the country.

Good electricians work quickly, so installing shop lights might take only an hour or two if access to electrical service is readily available. Increasing circuit capacity generally requires running new, heavier-gauge wire from your circuit-breaker box to the shop site.

Create Smart Storage

Don’t make yourself rummage through old coffee cans full of rattling bolts and bits: Visit home improvement centers for garage storage ideas and products.

Modular, wall-mounted garage storage systems let you configure shelves, bins, and hooks the way you need. Cost is about $10 per sq. ft. of wall space.

Plastic bins and hefty tubs protect tools, sandpaper, and tool manuals from insects, rodents, and dust. A 10-gallon plastic tub with lid is $5-$8.

Old kitchen cabinets, available where salvaged building materials are sold, are a great way to add storage — and a homemade workbench. Salvaged cabinets are about 50-75% cheaper than new. Top a run of cabinets with ¾-inch plywood for a durable work surface.

Source: "Tips to Create a Simple Garage Workshop"

Yep, You Can Put Shelves There: 5 Inspired Storage Ideas

by The Schnoor Team

A little shelf here, a big shelf there. You’d be surprised where they can fit

Finally, you get to take that beach vacation in the dead of winter. But where is your beach towel?!? You know it’s somewhere in that linen closet, but (sigh) it’s so crammed you can’t find it.

One of these days, you’re going to have to figure out how to get more storage space so you can find this seasonal stuff faster. But the last thing you want to do is go out and buy more stuff to put more stuff in.

There’s a better way — shelves. Not the bookshelf kind (they only take up floor space), but shelves you can incorporate into your home’s architecture for an interesting, personalized look that also solves nagging storage issues.

Here are five unexpected places shelves can boost your home’s storage and personality:

#1 Over the Bathroom Door

Seems like your bathroom can never have enough storage, especially for that recurring avalanche of towels in your itty-bitty linen closet. But if your ceiling is high enough, you’ve got enough space to tuck those extra towels you only need for overnight guests.

Opt for larger items that are easy to see and grab, such as towels, bedding, or bath tissue. “If this were filled with tiny boxes or soaps, it would look like you needed more storage and had to start building down from the rafters to hold stuff,” says Lorraine Bohonos, professional organizer and owner of HomeFree, in Rochester, N.Y. says. Plus, it’s impractical to store tiny things up high where you can’t see them.

#2 On Windows

Gasp! Who would put shelves in windows and block the light?!

You would, if they’re glass shelves. Adding glass shelves in a sunny window for indoor plants is a great way to allow light and nature to filter into your home. Plus, glass shelves have such clean lines, Bohonos says, so they don’t overwhelm the room.

As with those pictured, keep the bottom shelves and floor space relatively open to let in plenty of light. “It gives an airiness and it’s inviting,” Bohonos says. You get some storage without having to give up privacy or natural light.

#3 Underneath Stairs

The space under stairways has been used to stash everything from vacuum cleaners to boy wizards, but you can open up that space to be visually appealing as well as functional. “Doing this adds interest to a space that would be pretty boring without anything there,” Bohonos says, and makes a room feel larger.

“Shelves like this make a nice horizontal balance to the shape of the space. For storage, you can put containers on the floor underneath,” Bohonos says. But you don’t want to overdo it or you’ll ruin the spacious effect.

#4 In-Between Your Walls' Studs

There are all kinds of storage space around us if we just look. In most walls, especially in newer construction, studs are 16 inches apart. Knock out the drywall between thos studs, and you’ve got a spot for built-in storage that gives your home that something special.

“These kinds of shelves have clean lines and add a bit of interest,” Bohonos says. But she cautions that things should be neatly placed and in good condition.

“If it’s well set up, it can look like a piece of art,” she says.

#5 All Over Your Kitchen Walls

Now that you know about the secret spaces in your home’s walls, opening up your kitchen walls (especially all the way up to the ceiling) is a very doable idea to maximize every inch of a small space.

“This is functional beauty. It has to be pleasing to the eye — and look as if every item has a mindful spot,” Bohonos says.

She suggests that before committing to open shelves in your kitchen, ask yourself if you’re okay with what people will see there. If not, get back to your regularly scheduled weekend. Otherwise, curate what will live on your new open shelves (and, remember, you’ll have to dust more often than usual).

Focus on function and form. If you entertain often, don’t put your favorite serving plate on the top shelf — no matter how good it looks there. Put rarely used attractive items (that Le Creuset roaster you only use on Thanksgiving) up there instead.

Source: "Yep, You Can Put Shelves There: 5 Inspired Storage Ideas"

A Toast to New Mexico Wine

by The Schnoor Team

The Spaniards who settled New Mexico knew a thing or two about wine, and the grape-growing culture they brought along with them is one that today’s New Mexicans are fiercely proud of.

From high-altitude bubbly and festive events, to sophisticated atmospheres and down-home charm, there’s something for wine enthusiasts in every corner of the state. The New Mexico True Wine Trail offers a roadmap to dozens of uniquely New Mexican wineries for visitors to explore. Grab a friend, bring your map and get ready to toast!

Source: "A Toast to New Mexico Wine"

Don’t Wait for Spring. 7 Winter Home Improvements to Do Now

by The Schnoor Team

Keep your DIYing going year-round with these indoor winter home improvement projects.

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to hang up your tool belt. You can keep the DIY going with winter home improvement projects. Do these without propping open doors or freezing your fingers off setting up shop in the garage.

Let the indoor work begin with these seven value-adding projects.

#1 Update Your Laundry Room

Laundry rooms in need of an upgrade tend to suffer from a lack of features, so this is typically a sledgehammer-free project. That means no windows propped open on a seven-degree day to let out dust.

To make a bleak laundry space more functional, add shelves and bins for laundry baskets and detergent, and put a countertop over the washer and dryer. You get storage space and a place to fold clothes. Add a little peel-and-stick wallpaper, and you can make the chore-heavy room more enjoyable without fumigating your cozy home with paint.

Pro Tip: Appliances go on sale September through November and in January. You can snag a deal for your winter home improvement project if you time it right.

#2 Add Crown Molding

Crown molding adds some heavy-duty appeal to a home without any heavy materials to haul through the ice and snow. You can put it at the top of walls or door frames or on the wall along the top of cabinets.

It’s not just pretty; crown molding will cover dings and nicks on walls, and it gives your home a custom look buyers love. You won’t be using a ton of paint on molding, so fumes won’t be an issue, either.

You can do this winter home improvement project – painting, prep and installing – in a weekend with a miter saw, drop cloth, paint, nail gun, and a ladder.

For professional results, be sure to pick the right size. Crown molding ranges in width from 3 to 20 inches, so choose one that’s in proportion to your ceiling height:

  • For standard 8-foot ceilings, the molding should be 2.5 to 6 inches wide.
  • For 9-foot ceilings, 3 to 7.5 inches wide.
  • For 10-foot or higher ceilings, at least 8 inches wide.

#3 Change Out Cabinet Hardware

Here’s a simple upgrade you can practically do with hot cocoa in one hand: replacing the old pulls and handles on cabinets with new hardware.

If you inherited minimalist cabinets with no pulls at all, you’re adding function, too. “It’s simple and will have dramatic effect on a room,” says Kathryn Emery, a home improvement and lifestyle expert with an eponymous YouTube channel.

A hardware redo’s one of the simplest winter home projects because all you need is a screwdriver and an hour or two.

#4 Get a New Faucet

A faucet is the brains of your sink. Put a better one in, and your sink is suddenly smarter. Normally, plumbing projects are near the top of the list of “Don’t Try This At Home” ideas. But this one is an easy one— as long as you get a faucet with the same number of mounting holes in your sink.

Just turn off the water shutoff valves under the sink, and follow the instructions that come with the faucet. If you can assemble an IKEA bookshelf, you can install a faucet. Really.

#5 Put in a New Bathroom Vanity

Take your bathroom into the 21st century with a new vanity. You can pull out your old one without making clouds of dust, and buy a new one that’s a single, prefab unit you won’t have to paint. No fumes, no dust, no problem for a winter home project.

#6 Max Out Your Kitchen Storage

Turn a kitchen wall into a storage wall by covering it in easy-to-install pegboard, then hanging pots, pans, cutting boards, and other utensils on it. You can find pegboard in a variety of colors and styles now, so you can skip the fume-y painting step.

Plus, it adds storage space without losing any square footage. Add a shelf at the top of that pegboard wall, and you’ll have storage on steroids.

Another genius hack: Add storage in the wall with between-the-studs shelves. You get more space for your stuff and more value because homebuyers love-love-love space for stuff.

#7 Add Wainscoting

Pump up the panache in your house by adding wainscoting to walls. “It’s like icing on a cake because it creates a finished look,” Emery says.

It’s pretty easy to do, too, because it comes in panels you can put on the wall in one piece (even pre-painted to avoid the fumes), and you don’t need mad carpentry skills to install it.

Just take off your baseboards. Cut each panel of wainscoting to length. Glue it in place with construction adhesive, and nail the panels where the studs are. Glue on the cap rail, and put the baseboard back. You can do wainscoting in an average-sized room in two to four hours, including breaks for hot chocolate.

Source: "Don’t Wait for Spring. 7 Winter Home Improvements to Do Now"

The New Mexico True Ale Trail

by The Schnoor Team

New Mexico craft beers are showing up increasingly among the winners at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.

All the breweries whip up seasonal and special production beers, including some brews from local ingredients, so check them out. Of course the best experience is almost always going to be sitting in the brewpub or taproom, talking with the people making the stuff, and sampling their varieties.

In New Mexico you can drink distinctive local beer almost anywhere you visit. About three dozen independent operations - microbreweries, brewpubs, brew houses, and taprooms - have sprung up from Artesia in the state’s southeast corner to Farmington in the northwest, with the biggest concentration in and around Albuquerque.

Source: "The New Mexico True Ale Trail"

 

8 Eye-Opening Things Home Inspectors Can’t Tell You

by The Schnoor Team

What’s included in a home inspection may not be as important as what isn’t.

A home inspector may feel like a final exam, but it’s not quite so clear cut. Your inspector’s report won’t include a clear-cut  A+ if a house is a keeper or an F if it’s a money pit.

What is included in a home inspection report is a set of neutral facts intended to help you decide on a home’s final grade.

Oh sure, a seasoned inspector will know if a home is a safe bet or full of red flags. But they’re actually bound by a set of rules that limit what they can tell you.

Here’s what they can’t say:

#1 Whether They Would Buy This House

Here’s the big one: Many buyers think an inspector will give them a thumbs up or thumbs down, but they can’t. Giving real estate advice violates the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors’ code of ethics.

Clues to look for: Count up your issues. “The average inspection turns up around 20,” says Larry Fowler, a home inspector in Knoxville, Tenn., who has done around 10,000 home inspections in his 22 years in the business. “If there are more than 30 items, you may have a bad house,” Fowler adds. “If there are fewer than 10 items on the list, you may have a bad inspector.”

The bottom line is that every house and buyer are unique and what inspection results one person is fine with, another may not be. Confer with your agent once you have the report.

#2 If It Has Termites, Rats, or Mold

Yikes! You might assume this trio of homewreckers would be part of every house inspection checklist, but your inspector isn’t licensed to look for them.

Clues to look for: Inspectors can note that those sagging floors are evidence of termites, or that shredded insulation is evidence of rats, or the black stuff on the walls is evidence of fungal growth. To turn evidence into proof, ask a specialist for a follow-up inspection.

#3 If the Pool or Septic System Are in Good, Working Order

Home inspectors aren’t certified to inspect everything that could appear in any home. So for example, if there’s a pool, some may turn on the pool pump and heater to make sure they work, but they won’t look for cracks or plumbing leaks. You’ll need to find a pool inspector. In other cases, you may need a septic systems or wells expert, an asbestos or radon specialist, etc.

Clues to look for: Any special feature is your cue to find a specialist. “We’re general practitioners,” Fowler says.

And here’s a bonus tip: Consider a home’s advanced age a “special feature,” as they’re likely candidates for lead paint, asbestos, and other old-home hazards.

#4 That They're Making The House Look Worse Than It Is

Some inspectors make note of every tiny thing in a house, even inconsequential ones. Like chipped paint. Scratched windows. Surface mold in a shower. These folks are sometimes known as deal killers. “Some inspectors like to show they know more than somebody else,” Fowler says. “It’s annoying.”

Clues to look for: If your inspector’s report is pages long and full of items that won’t hurt the value of the home, it’s probably not a big deal. Sit down with your agent, and go through the report to determine which (if any) issues could affect your offer.

#5 If That Outlet Behind the Couch Actually Works

An inspector can only check what they can see without moving anything. This means the foundation could be cracked behind that wood paneling in the basement. Or the electrical outlet behind the sofa might not work.

Clues to look for: The inspector should note if they’re unable to inspect something critical. Consult with your agent about what to do, such as asking the seller to take down the paneling or offering to pay to have it removed. Alternately, offer a lower price.

#6 Whether They've Inspected the Roof Closely

Some inspectors will climb up on the roof to look closely at shingles and gutters — but they’re not required to. If it’s raining or icy, or the roof is steep or more than two stories high, they can stay on the ground and report what they can see from there.

Clues to look for: They should note whether they walked the roof, but if it’s not clear, ask. If they haven’t, keep this in mind when evaluating their roof inspection report. They should still note any missing or damaged gutters or downspouts and the general condition of the roof based on what they can see from the ground.

#7 What You Should Freak Out About (or Not)

It’s an inspector’s job to find things wrong with the house. Big things, little things, all the things. It’s not their job to categorize them as NBD or OMG. A checkmark next to a crumbling foundation will look the same as a checkmark next to chipped paint.

A few things you may find on an inspector’s report that aren’t a big deal:

  • Condensation in a basement or crawl space
  • Early signs of wood rot on trim
  • Cracks in bricks from the house settling
  • Faux stone siding that’s been improperly installed
  • Radon levels below 4 pCi/L

These items, however, could trip your freak-out response (if you’re not prepared to address them):

  • Standing water in a basement or crawl space
  • HVAC not working
  • Outdated wiring, especially knob-and-tube wiring or aluminum wiring
  • Wood rot
  • Old plumbing pipes
  • Radon levels above 4 pCi/L

#8 Who They'd Recommend to Fix It (and How Much It Will Cost)

Your inspector may seem like the perfect source of insider info on repairing issues they see all the time, but the opposite is actually true.

You don’t want your inspector to make financial decisions based on their report. Think about it: If an inspector’s buddy Steve gets a plumbing gig every time a certain issue turns up on a report, it gives that inspector some pretty big (and not cool) motivations to find that issue.

Even giving you a price range for the repair is off-limits. It’s not their area of expertise, it creates a conflict of interest (they could be endorsing Steve’s great deal, after all), and, perhaps most importantly, it’s against the ethics rules.

Clues to look for: This is good home ownership practice. Try to price out every item on your home inspector’s report, big and small. Do some research, and call three contractors or check out three retailers for the service or part needed to resolve each issue. You’ve got this, future homeowner!

Source: "8 Eye-Opening Things Home Inspectors Can’t Tell You"

 

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?

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.

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"

Kitchen Remodeling Decisions You’ll Never Regret

by The Schnoor Team

These 7 ideas will make your kitchen timelessly gorgeous and functional.

We see lots of kitchen trends at HouseLogic, so we know it’s easy to get swept along with what’s in vogue, only to get bummed out by your faddish design choices a few years later.

But chances are you’re only going to remodel your current kitchen once. After all, a complete kitchen renovation has a national median cost of $60,000, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®. With that much on the line, you want to make all the right moves. If you do, you could recover about 62% of your investment if you sell.

So we’re here to future-proof you from angst by naming the seven definitive kitchen features that will retain their beauty, marketability, and value — all while giving you lasting enjoyment.

#1: White is the Dominant Color

Bottom line: White is the most marketable color. You’ll always find it atop the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s annual survey of most popular kitchen colors. It simply doesn’t go out of style.

  • Throughout history, it’s been associated with happiness, purity (think Snow White), and new beginnings.
  • It’s a bright color that reflects light and makes even small kitchens feel larger.
  • It’s a neatnik’s dream — dirt has no place to hide.

Even better, it’s uber-tolerant of both your budget and taste: A standard color for any manufacturer, you’ll find white cabinets, tile, counters, faucets, sinks, and appliances at any price point.

And with a white backdrop, you can be as conservative or expressive as you want. After all, it’s about your enjoyment, not just dollars and cents. For example:

  • Add your personal touch with colored glass knobs and pulls.
  • Show off antique Fiesta ware on open shelves or in upper cabinets with glass fronts.
  • Paint walls the color du jour — even off-white!

Heck, with a white palette, you can change your mind about paint color on a whim. Those all-white basics will make any hue you choose look fresh and contemporary.

#2: Hardwood for Flooring

It’s been our foot fetish for years. That’s especially true ever since hardwood flooring was mass-produced during the Industrial Revolution, making beautiful flooring readily available at a reasonable cost.

Today, more than half of home buyers who purchased a home without hardwood floors say they would have paid an extra $2,080 for them, according to the “Home Features Survey” from the National Association of REALTORS®. And among buyers of any age, upwards of 80% say hardwood floors are “somewhat” or “very important.”

“It’s the one feature men and women agree on,” says Debe Robinson, NKBA treasurer and owner of Kitchen Expressions Inc. in Sheffield, Ala., who’s also worked in the flooring industry.

Why? The love of wood is in our genes. Our nesting instincts know that hardwood has warmth, personality, and makes our homes cozy and inviting. That’s why this clever chameleon pairs well with any kitchen style — from casual cottage and sleek contemporary to the most chi-chi Park Avenue traditional.

More reasons why wood flooring is the goof-proof option:

Perfect for open floor plans. It flows beautifully from the kitchen into adjoining rooms.

It’s tough. Hardwoods such as oak, ash, and maple will shrug off your kitchen’s high-traffic punishment for years. Solid hardwood flooring can be refinished 10 to 12 times during it’s typical 100-year lifespan.

It’s eco-friendly. Hardwood is considered a green building material when it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and comes from sustainably managed forests.

#3: Shaker Style for Cabinets

Thank heaven for the Shakers. While they were busy reducing life to its essentials, they made cabinets with clean, simple lines that will forever be in style.

Shaker cabinets are an enduring legacy of American style and, like wood flooring, have the knack for looking good in any setting. Their simple frame-and-panel design helps reduce the amount of busyness in a kitchen, making it a soothing, friendly place to be.

“In a kitchen with a timeless look, you want the cabinets to be part of the backdrop,” says Alan Zielinski, a former president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “You don’t want to be overpowered. You’re looking for plain, simple, clean lines.”

Those plain, simple, clean lines are a perfect fit for transitional style — a beautiful combo of traditional and contemporary styles. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association says that after creeping up on traditional for years, transitional is now the most popular kitchen style.

As our families grow more diverse, transitional style will only get more popular. It lets us personalize and blend cultural influences — Latin, Asian, Mideastern — into our homes; it’s the perfect balance of old and new, just like Shaker-style cabinets.

#4: Carrara Marble for Countertops

Carrara marble is a timeless classic that’s been used in homes for thousands of years. (Michelangelo’s “David” was carved from Carrara.) It’ll look as good in the next millennium as it does now.

Here’s why:

  • Carrara’s lacy graining and subtle white colors look terrific in a white kitchen (or any kitchen, for that matter).
  • It has a whiteness you won’t find in other natural stones.
  • It’s readily available, making it less expensive than other high-end choices, such as quartz.
  • It’ll last for generations.

If you Google it, you’ll find a lot of debate about it (and marble in general) because it stains easily. But if you want something truly timeless, Carrara is the answer. And with today’s sealants, the problem of staining is almost moot if you reseal once or twice a year.

Still not sold? Or don’t have the budget? Laminate countertops are relatively inexpensive and can be upgraded to stone when you do have the budget.

#5: Subway Tile for the Backsplash

Subway tile goes back to the early 1900s, when it was used to line New York’s first subway tunnels. Classic subway tiles are white, 3-inch-by-6-inch rectangles — a look that became popular in American kitchens and baths, and has stuck around ever since. Now it’s an iconic part of the American design vernacular, destined never to go out of style.

In the kitchen, ceramic tile excels as a backsplash, where it guards against moisture, is a snap to clean, lasts forever, and always looks classy.

Sure, a backsplash can be an opportunity for a blast of color and pattern, but neutrals will always be current and blend with any look. Plus, a subway tile backsplash and a marble countertop make a dashing couple that will stand the test of time.

To make it even more enduring, keep it achromatic and camouflage dirt with gray or beige grout.

#6: Ergonomic Design

Adaptability and universal design features mean easy living at any age. A recent survey on kitchens from the American Institute of Architects points to the growing popularity of smart ergonomic design, a sign that kitchen adaptability will stay in vogue.

Smart ergonomics simply mean convenience — for young or old, party people or homebodies — a key factor when remodeling a kitchen that will function well, retain its value, and always feel right.

No matter you or your buyer’s current or future needs, everyone wins with these approaches:

Create different countertop heights. Standard height is 36 inches, but you can raise or lower sections of cabinets by altering the height of the base. Add color-match shim strips to the bases of countertops that don’t include sinks or appliances. You (or a new owner) can easily remove them or add to them to adjust the height.

Swap a standard range for a wall oven and a cooktop. Ranges have fixed heights. There’s no getting around the fact you have to bend to access the oven. But a wall oven conveniently installs about waist-high.

Add pull-out shelves to base cabinets. Lower cabinets with doors mean having to twist like a pretzel to see what’s inside. Pull-out shelves put everything at your fingertips.

Keep wide clearances. Kitchens attract people, and with open floor plans, you’re apt to have folks hunting for snacks, helping you cook, or just hanging out while you prep meals. Keep traffic flowing with a minimum of 42 inches between counters and islands.

#7: Smart Storage

Today’s families store about 47% of their kitchen stuff outside the kitchen — in laundry rooms, basements, even sheds — according to data released at the 2013 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.

We blame it on the fact that kitchens have evolved from a tucked-away place at the back of the house into a multiple-chef, multi-tasking space that’s the hub of family life. Plus, our love of open kitchens and stocking up at warehouse stores means less wall space and more stuff, kitchen design expert Robinson says.

The solution: smart storage. Cabinet manufacturers have you covered with nearly unlimited storage options — shelves and compartments that unfold, turn, extend, and slide.

But it’s not just about having storage, it’s about designing it smartly. Follow these guidelines to make your storage timeless:

Create a primary storage zone. This is an area 30 to 60 inches high and within two feet on either side of your body. Store your most-used items here — your favorite work knives, measuring cups, salt and pepper for cooking, your trusty pots and pans. With one easy motion, you can grab what you use all the time.

Plan for the unknown. A truly timeless kitchen anticipates and adapts to future needs, such as:

  • A space that can easily convert to an office, wine storage, or a closet.
  • Lower cabinet spaces that can accommodate a wine cooler, under-counter refrigerator, a second dishwasher, or new must-have kitchen appliances on the horizon. (Remember when microwaves didn’t exist?)
  • An open space that fits a freestanding desk or favorite antique that can personalize the kitchen — no matter who owns the home.

Source: "Kitchen Remodeling Decisions You’ll Never Regret"


 

7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House

by The Schnoor Team

The most critical things to do to increase your home’s value before putting it on the market.

As a smart seller, you’ll want your home in tip-top shape — but you don’t want to eat into your profits by overspending on home improvements. You won’t be around to enjoy them anyway. The key is to focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house to ensure every dollar you spend supports a higher asking price.

“Smaller and less expensive updates in combination with good staging will have a great return,” says Colorado Springs agent Susanna Haynie. But how do you know what things to do before putting your house on the market? Prioritize these updates — and consider letting the rest go.

#1 The Most Important Repair to Make Before Selling: Fix Damaged Flooring

Scratched-up wood flooring; ratty, outdated carpeting; and tired linoleum make your home feel sad. Buyers might take one step inside and scratch the property from their list. Want to know how to increase the value of your home? Install new flooring.

“Replace what’s worn out,” says Haynie. “Buyers don’t want to deal with replacing carpet, and giving an allowance is generally not attractive enough. Spring for new, neutral carpeting or flooring.”

If your home already has hardwood floors, refinishing does the job. Expect to spend about $3,000 on the project — and recoup 100% of the cost, according to the “National Association of REALTORS® Remodeling Impact Report.”

Consider swapping any old flooring for new hardwood. This project costs more at around $5,500, but you could recoup more than 90% of that at resale. If that’s not in the budget, any flooring update makes an enormous difference.

#2 Fix Water Stains

You’ve learned to live with the results of a long-fixed plumbing snafu, but for buyers, a water stain suggests there could be a dozen pesky problems hidden beneath the surface. That’s why this is one of the things to do before putting your house on the market.

“No buyer wants to buy a money pit,” says Haynie.

First, make sure the problem is fixed: Bring in a plumber to look for leaky piping or poor yard drainage if your basement is damp. Diverting rainwater from your foundation may cost as little as $800, and repairing a leaking pipe costs approximately $300.

As for the repair work, replacing a water-stained ceiling runs about $670, and drywall costs around $1.50 per square foot.

All are cheaper than a lost sale.

#3 Repair Torn Window Screens

So super inexpensive — and even DIY-able. You can purchase a window screen frame repair kit from a home improvement store for $10 to $15.

Considering the simplicity of this repair, making the fix is always worth it — and so are other small but highly visible issues. When you’re debating how to increase the value of your home, nix any small problems, snags, or ugly spots that might make buyers scrunch up their brows.

#4 Update Grout

Is your grout yellowing or cracked? Buyers will notice. New grout, on the other hand, can make old floors look like they came straight from the showroom.

“The best return-on-investment projects before selling a home involve making a home look like new,” says Malibu, Calif.-based agent Shelton Wilder. She recently sold a home above asking price after a complete re-grout.

This is another small fix with a big impact: Simple bathroom re-grouting may cost just $1 to $2 per square foot, increasing to $10 per square foot for more complicated jobs. And if you’re handy, you can save even more DIY-ing it.

#5 Resuscitate a Dying Lawn

Nothing says, “This one’s gonna take some work” like a brown, patchy, weedy lawn.

Fixing the problem doesn’t cost a ton of money — and you’ll get it all back (and then some!) once you sell. Hiring a lawn care service to apply fertilizer and weed control will cost about $375. Once you sell the home, that comparatively cheap fix could recoup $1,000. That’s an unbeatable 267% return on investment.

#6 Erase Pet Damage

Did your (sort of) darling kitten scratch your bedroom door? Fix the damage before listing your home. Otherwise, buyers may consider the scuffs a canary in the coal mine.

“If you have pet damage, buyers will [then] look for pet stains on the floor,” says Haynie.

Refinishing a door costs between $100 and $215 (or less, if you’re willing to DIY). Replacing pet-damaged carpeting or hardwood may be a bigger job than buffing out some scuffs — but it’s worth the cash.

#7 Revive an Outdated Kitchen

A full kitchen renovation is rarely worth it when it comes time to sell — even though buyers love a fresh look. “Kitchens are still one of the most important features for buyers,” says Haynie.

The problem is, this $65,000 upgrade isn’t something that buyers will pay you back for. Sellers recoup about 62% of a full-on kitchen renovation. If you’re updating the space just for your sale, focus on low-cost, high-impact projects instead.

“Updating the kitchen doesn’t need to be expensive,” says Wilder. “Painting wood cabinets, updating hardware, or installing new countertops or appliances could be enough.”

Setting up your home for selling success doesn’t have to be expensive. Focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house by picking projects that do more than look pretty. Choose updates that get your home in selling shape and justify a higher asking price.

Source: "7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House"

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