Home Improvement's Popular Posts

Friday, July 29, 2011

Corral de Tierra Marketplace opens after long remodel

Corral de Tierra Marketplace opens after long remodel

Written by Robert Walch

Nanci Linares and Lonnie Wigham realized a long-cherished dream when the Corral de Tierra Marketplace opened a week ago. The two women, friends since they were young girls, had always wanted to own their own business and when the opportunity availed itself last year, they seized it.

Noticing that the building at 2 Corral de Tierra Road, a former grocery store on the corner of Highway 68, was empty, Linares approached the property's owner, whom she knew, to see if he'd be interested in opening a new store there. Although he declined, he suggested she consider leasing the site instead.

"It had always been a dream of mine to have a business like this where I could use all my prior experiences," Linares said. Why not open a restaurant closer to her Pacific Grove home rather than a deli/market?

"Location! Location! Location!" she responded, explaining that the site made the decision.

At that point Linares contacted her girlhood friend, Wigham, who was living in Scottsdale, Ariz., and managing a food store.

"When Nanci called me in Arizona to explain this opportunity, I was delighted to join her," Wigham said. "I knew the site and couldn't believe it was available.

"I had always thought that that was the ideal location for a store like ours."

As Linares' business partner, Wigham oversees

"the front of the house" — the groceries — while Linares handles the "business end" or back office part of the venture.

Getting the Corral de Tierra Marketplace off the ground was more complicated than either woman expected. They had hoped to be open by the first of the year but remodeling the interior of the building posed a number of unexpected hurdles.

The plumbing and electrical systems had to be brought up to code and a new bathroom had to be added. At times the process was a bit disheartening, but both Linares and Wigham were willing to tackle all the "surprises" that extended the remodeling process to nearly seven months.

Most frustrating of all was discovering that some people have been using the back of the lot as an impromptu dump site. Just recently, Linares said, they found a whole truckload of yard waste had been unloaded there. They hope the installation of a security camera will put a stop to that problem.

"We really appreciated the support of those in the area who continually encouraged us through the ordeal," said Wigham, now a Corral de Tierra resident. "They stood by us and gave us the strength to keep going."

With about 2,400 square feet to work with, the women have divvied up the space to fit in a deli work area as well as display shelving for grocery items, a fresh produce section, an ample wine display and refrigeration cases.

Using her experience in the grocery sector, Wigham ordered the "staples" that a person would need on a regular basis or on short notice. These items include fresh bread, dairy items, produce, some canned goods and cleaning products.

She stressed that this part of the marketplace is a work in progress. As customers tell her what they need, she'll "tweak" the offerings to reflect their requests.

The store's upscale wine collection will feature local vintages from both the Salinas and Carmel valleys as well as from other sections of the state.

Besides an espresso bar and variety of salads, cold meats and cheese, the deli will offer a daily special plus seven "house" sandwiches. The sandwiches include the Corral de Tierra (a veggie combination), the Toro Park (tuna salad with lettuce, tomato, pepperoni and jack cheese on sourdough) and the Laguna Seca (a combination of roasted turkey, ham and roast beef with cheddar, tomato, lettuce and avocado).

Linares grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, attended school in Carmel and worked in the restaurant and catering business. She was employed by Clint Eastwood at the Hog's Breath Inn for a number of years and then Toots Lagoon, another well-known Carmel watering hole.

Most recently, Linares worked for Sodexo, a large corporation that operates the food service at California State University, Monterey Bay. She was in human resources and then became the sales catering coordinator on campus.

Born and raised in Monterey, Wigham has managed grocery stores, run a café and sold real estate during a multi-faceted career.

Looking ahead to the end of the year, Linares and Wigham hope that by then they will have refined the marketplace's merchandise mix to reflect what local residents want.

Obviously, they want the Corral de Tierra Marketplace to be well on its way to becoming the preferred destination for those who live along the Highway 68 corridor and want a good sandwich, a fresh cup of coffee, or need to pick up a few items for lunch or dinner.

Linares said she's trying to find out more about the history of the building. Constructed in the 1940s and once used as a dance hall, it has been the site of two grocery stores as far as she knows.

"We'd like to learn as much as we can about how the structure was used over the years and perhaps write up a little history to post in the market," she said. "I think it would be fun to share that story."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What to do when house lingers unsold

What to do when house lingers unsold

By Michele Lerner

The real estate market in the Washington metro area has been luckier than most in maintaining its stability, but it has by no means been immune to the economic downturn.

While homes in some neighborhoods have managed to hold their value and even experience price increases, in others, homes still languish on the market. Sellers have a few options available if their home stays on the market too long, including lowering the price, making some home improvements or renting their home while waiting for the market to improve.

“In the D.C. area, most homes should sell within no more than 60 days if they are properly priced and in good condition,” said Valerie Blake, an associate broker with Prudential Carruthers Realtors in the District. “There are three things that determine whether a home sells and for how much: location, condition and price. You can’t control the location, so you have to look at the condition and price if something is not selling.”

Heather Elias, a Realtor with Century 21 Redwood Realty in Ashburn, Va., said sometimes the lack of an offer is market-dependent and sometimes it is simply about the house itself.

“If a home is getting showings but no offers, you can look at the feedback from other agents and see if the problem is the price or the condition of the property,” Mrs. Elias said. “If there are no showings at all, then the problem is usually the price.”

Mrs. Elias recommended that frustrated sellers visit three other properties on the market in their area that are comparable in size and price to evaluate the differences.

“You have to look at homes like a buyer,” Mrs. Elias said. “For instance, if two houses are similar, but one has granite counters and yours doesn’t, you either need to drop the price or make adjustments to the condition. It depends on what the issue is as to which choice makes more sense.”

Home sellers who are not getting many showings should carefully evaluate the marketing efforts of their real estate agent. Most buyers today first sift through properties online, so if your home does not have enough photos that show the home at its best or does not appear on a variety of websites with property listings, it may be time to push your Realtor to do more marketing.

While all Realtors recommend pricing a property appropriately from the beginning, they also acknowledge there is an art and a science to setting the listing price.

“The hardest part for sellers is to recognize that the real estate market is fluid, with some areas coming back more quickly than others,” saidDebra Swann, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Mitchellville. “It is best to get the price right within the first six weeks a home is on the market, because if you have a house on the market too long and you keep dropping the price, you look desperate.”

Mrs. Elias said if houses in your area are selling and yours is not, a price reduction may be required to at least bring your property in line with others on the market.

“Pricing a home is very specific to the owner’s situation and how quickly they want to sell the property,” Mrs. Elias said.

Other options besides lowering the price include staging the home and making improvements.

Mrs. Elias said it may be time to bring in a professional stager if your home is comparable in size and condition to others that are going under contract, but you still are not getting offers.

“A stager can make a house show better,” Mrs. Elias said.

Sellers need to be cautious about overspending on a stager or for home improvements to make sure they do not reduce their potential profits.

“There are plenty of inexpensive ways to give a place pizzazz and to differentiate yourself from other places on the market,” Ms. Blake said. “For example, you can put a stone or glass backsplash in the kitchen for a little bit of money or paint an accent wall to draw attention to the house rather than the furniture. Some of the best things sellers can do are free, such as decluttering. But sometimes it makes sense to spend a few hundred dollars on some improvements that make a home show better.”

Sellers can offer incentives to buyers, such as closing cost assistance, but they also can work with their agent to offer an enticement to buyers’ agents.

“Sometimes people offer a bonus to the buyer’s agent to encourage them to bring their clients to the property,” Ms. Swann said. “It is important, too, to make sure the seller’s agent is holding open houses for other brokers and actively marketing the property to them as well as directly to buyers.”

Mrs. Elias said that while some builders and Realtors offer a buyer’s agent bonus, she said the commission each agent earns should have no bearing on whether they show one house or another.

Some frustrated sellers opt to take their home off the market temporarily, but Ms. Swann said a home must be off the market for six months before it is treated as a newly listed home on the multiple listing service.

“Sometimes sellers want to temporarily stop showing the house in order to have it on the market at a busier time, such as in the spring or fall market,” Ms. Blake said.

Mrs. Elias said agents easily can see whether a home has been on and off the market, so she said it only makes sense to do this if a homeowner wants to sell at a different time of year or wants to stop showings to make improvements to the property.

“Sometimes moving out can help you sell a home, especially if you put in new appliances, fresh paint and carpet and some new landscaping, because that can make a home look new,” Ms. Swann said.

A vacant home can be easier to sell because it is always available for showings, but sometimes, Mrs. Elias said, a home just looks better furnished.

Some sellers opt to rent their home for a year or two, hoping for a market turnaround by the time the lease ends.

“Sellers need to be prepared to spruce up the home in order to attract a renter and then to fix it up again with new carpet, new paint and perhaps new appliances when they put it back on the market,” Ms. Swann said.

Ms. Blake said with rents rising in this area, sellers may have a better chance of the rental income covering their mortgage, but she said they need to consider the difficulty of selling the property with a tenant still on the premises.

Two other options are to sell the home at an auction or to investors who advertise quick sales for cash, but Realtors say both of those scenarios typically result in a relatively low sales price compared to the market.

“You can always try burying a St. Joseph statue in your backyard, which is supposed to bring luck to home sellers,” Mrs. Elias said. “They even make environmentally friendly statues now of clay called ‘EcoJoe.’ “Since thousands of homes sell each month in the Washington area, one of these tactics is likely to result in a sale — with or without a little help from St. Joseph.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Women's Roles in Home Improvement

Women's Roles in Home Improvement

The Do-it-yourself home improvement market used to only occupied by men, but now women are catching up with men when it comes to house projects. According to a study completed by the Home Improvement Research Institute, do-it-yourself projects at home are being completed by more and more women. $70 billion of home improvement purchases are made by women and that's a $16 billion increase in the last 16 years. Also, forty-four percent of do-it-yourself projects are now completed by women and fifty percent of most home improvement purchases are made by women.

Men still are the main buyers of tools. Men are also more eager to hire female construction specialists now as well because women construction specialists are more likely to understand what areas of the home are important to other women (areas often overlooked by males). Home improvement marketing has focused more attention on women as a result of this trend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Home Improvement: A Roofing Material with Real Mettle

Home Improvement: A Roofing Material with Real Mettle

Because of affordability and ease of installation, asphalt shingles have long been the No. 1 residential roof choice. However, metal roofs have slowly become a closer contender.

Though metal roofs may cost more up front than asphalt shingle roofs, they can be much more durable. Their lifetime is pegged anywhere from 40 to 60 years, versus 15 years for asphalt, says Mike Kowal, president of Custom-Bilt Metals, which manufactures metal roofs. Adds Thomas Black, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance, "By choosing a metal roof, it's the last time most homeowners will have to put on a roof."

Besides longevity, metal roofs also can be more energy efficient - a "cool" solution because reflective coatings can be applied to the base metal and reduce how much heat enters a home, Kowal says.

Aesthetics are yet another plus. They come in a variety of configurations, from standing seam to stamped panels and shingles. And with Kynar(r)-based pigments, they can add vibrant color that withstands strong sunlight for decades.

Before proceeding, know a few potential downsides:

• Metal may dent during a major hail storm, but still will maintain its strength and performance ability, says architect Scott Rappe, of Kuklinski + Rappe Architects in Chicago. "If your area is prone to hail, consider a higher weight metal panel," he says.

• Hire an experienced pro to install it since it takes more skill than putting on asphalt shingles, says Kowal.

• If you plan to move within a few years, you may not recoup your full investment, but should see some increased value, says Bob Kulp, director of the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 Green Tips for Summer Remodeling

10 Green Tips for Summer Remodeling
Save money and make your remodel a little greener.
By Heather Pritchard

Thinking about remodeling your kitchen, bathroom or outdoor area this summer? Lately, I've seen Home Depot and Lowe's hoping with customers and full of discounts, which inspired me to find ways to not only save some money, but make those do-it-yourself remodels a bit greener.

Even if you aren't doing it yourself, you can still make greener choices—although some may not be lighter on the pocketbook. As my husband and I have found out, not every green alternative is a cheaper one, so you have to weigh your conscience with your ability to pay. However, there are always many options to get what you want at a price that's right.

Here are a few options:
Go with sustainable products. Bamboo, cork and other materials are made from sustainable resources that are easy to replace. Bamboo for example, is a grass that grows quickly unlike many hardwoods that come from trees and take years to re-grow. There are many discount dealers for sustainable products, like bamboo.
If you don't want the sustainable products, another option is to go recycled. There are many brands of recycled products for flooring and countertops that use recycled glass and reclaimed wood to give you a unique product that is sturdy and stunning at the same time.

Can't afford the recycled alternatives? Try used! One interesting resource is Orange County's Habitat for Humanity's Restore. They sell items that have been donated to Habitat for Humanity and the proceeds go toward building more homes in Orange County. Another option is Builder's discount centers where you could find products that the previous owner didn't like or it wasn't what they ordered. You can purchase what they didn't want at a bargain price. Better in your home than a landfill! Technically reused to me.

What about all those tools you need to do your work? How about borrowing them if you don't need to own? Someone always has an uncle or friend who owns way too many tools. Maybe they are willing to come and help as well, it never hurts to ask.

Go green with your decorating supplies. When ever possible, go for low VOC paints, organic fabrics and sustainable wallpapers. 

Thinking of redoing the front yard? Go native! Ditch that turf and use drought tolerant alternatives for your front yard. The water savings alone can help pay for this renovation. And it doesn't have to be boring. Does it mean you have to ditch green? No, there are alternatives to the traditional grass. I am going to be trying an alternative myself in my own backyard. I will share how that goes once it is installed. Keep tuned in.

New lighting? Skip the incandescent and the Compact Fluorescents and go LED! They are more expensive initially, but will last longer than your CFL's and will save you just as much money. And if you are really feeling ambitious, you can add daylighting—the use of natural sunlight to augment light in your home. Add a skylight or solar tube (hole in the roof that brings sunlight to a room in your home that doesn't have a window) in your home. 

Reuse anything possible. Maybe you have something that's not quite working where it is now—try moving it. Our most recent project at my house was a bunch of river stones in the backyard. I moved them to the front and used them as mulch to cover bare ground. They serve the same purpose and added a much needed detail that our front yard was missing. They will also come in handy when we finally "go native."

It's not an easy task, but buy American if you can. The more local it is the better. We live in an Ikea world where the most affordable options are most likely things not made in the USA. Overstock.com has "Made in the U.S.A." options as well as manufacturers who advertise proudly that their products are made right here in the U.S.
Do your research. There is so much information that cannot be covered in one article about household hazards. A great resource is the The Green Home Guide. They give you their picks for green options from countertops to flooring.

Not everything you do in your renovation has to be green, not even one thing if that's what you choose. But it is important to know there are many options out there. It doesn't hurt to educate yourself. You never know, you might actually like one of them. And it's not just about being green, there are real health benefits to avoiding some of the products out there. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves and learn as much as we can before we make big changes and choices for our homes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Designer Lane Offers Painless Home Remodeling

Designer Lane Offers Painless Home Remodeling

For the last few years, DIY (Do It Yourself) has been all the rage, with numerous television shows helping to fuel the rise of Do It Yourselfers. For some individuals, DIY can be a fun and rewarding experience, especially if those individuals have previous construction experience, great connections, a knack for building things, tremendous patience, or all of the above.
There is an experienced and reliable, yet new and innovative organization in the DFW Metroplex that aims to save their clients lots of time, lots of money and the obligatory headaches that usually accompany home remodeling projects. Designer Lane recently opened its beautiful 1,500 sq. ft. showroom in Hurst, and according to CEO Charly Everett, “We hope to change the public’s perception about the way to remodel their home, all the while educating our clients to help them avoid the pitfalls that unfortunately await those who are less experienced. Our vast experience dealing with clients who have experiences fire and flood damage to their homes, and working under the worst situations, really gives us a unique perspective on how to truly be a service provider.”
For the average person, Designer Lane suggests the DDIY (Don’t Do It Yourself) approach. There are many potholes on the road from the beginning of a dream design in one’s head until it is finally complete and everything is functioning properly. Often times, eagerness on the part of the homeowner and the yearning to be self-sufficient works against them, and this is never truer than when it comes to design and remodeling.
The internet has helped people have increasingly grand visions of the type of beautiful kitchen or bath they desire, and this is both good and bad. Many folks will look up some designs online, and from there plan a big Saturday to go out and get their entire remodeling project laid out in a few short hours. In their minds, a morning trip to one of the big box retailers will have them done and home in time to attend their kid’s soccer or baseball game. Once bombarded with an avalanche of design information, reality usually smacks would be designers in the face, which can cause lots of frustration and wasted money.
To get the kind of beautiful kitchen and/or bath you truly desire, and avoid the plentiful potholes along the way, check out the Designer Lane approach. The folks that make up the leadership of Designer Lane have been in the construction business for nearly 40 years, and unlike the big box retailers and most contractors, Designer Lane provides a truly turnkey project from design to installation, utilizing their own people to do so. According to the good folks at Designer Lane, the time, money and headaches you save will be well worth it.
Designer Lane is located at 113 Souder Drive, Hurst, TX. To ask a question or set an appointment, call 817.268.0000.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vanilla Ice Awards One Lucky Dallas Couple with a Rock-Star Ronavation

Vanilla Ice Awards One Lucky Dallas Couple with a Rock-Star Renovation
Winners to be featured in DIY Network's "Ice My House" Special, which Kicks Off Season Two of "The Vanilla Ice Project" in 2012

Just moments ago, Vanilla Ice, 90s pop icon, home remodeler and host of DIY Network's The Vanilla Ice Project, knocked on the door of Dallas' Sean and Erica Heatley to announce that they were winners of DIY Network's inaugural "Ice My House" contest. The Heatleys were selected from thousands of video entries to receive a $30,000 personal room renovation to be completed by Vanilla Ice and DIY Network, the go-to-destination for home improvement television.
The transformation will be documented for a one-hour special, "VIP: Ice My House," which kicks off the second season of DIY Network's popular primetime series, The Vanilla Ice Project, in early 2012.
Erica, a retail buyer and Sean, a director of planning at a thermal management company, have lived in their mid-century modern home for over three years and have always wanted to renovate the small guest house at the rear of their property to have space for their guests. While the couple had remodeled their main house, they left the back house on the back burner - completely unlivable and in need of structural renovations, new gas lines and electrical wiring. Filming of this special project will begin mid-August.
"The surprise on the Heatleys faces makes this all worthwhile," Vanilla Ice noted. "I'm looking forward to rocking this renovation and giving this great couple an off the hook space they can share with family and friends."
Currently in production on season two of DIY Network's The Vanilla Ice Project, rock star turned home improvement all-star Vanilla Ice and his crew are back for another season of 13 half-hour episodes of jaw-dropping renovations as they tackle a new, busted up Palm Beach area mansion. This time, Vanilla Ice's imagination runs wild as he chases down the hottest home improvement trends and technology. But first, he's going to move walls, tear out shoddy work, and build this house up from the studs.
After his chart topping hit "Ice Ice Baby," Vanilla Ice turned his focus to a new hobby -- buying land and flipping houses. He's renovated old homes and foreclosures, and taught himself the basics through hands-on experience and a lot of research. The first season of DIY Network's The Vanilla Ice Project premiered to critical-acclaim in October 2010.
DIY Network, from the makers of HGTV and Food Network, is the go-to destination for rip-up, knock-out home improvement television. DIY Network's programs and experts answer the most sought-after questions and offer creative projects for do-it-yourself enthusiasts. One of the fastest growing digital networks and currently in more than 53 million homes, DIY Network's programming covers a broad range of categories, including home improvement and landscaping. The network's award-winning website, www.DIYNetwork.com , is a leader in the Nielsen Online Home and Garden category and features multiple resources, including thousands of do-it-yourself home improvement projects, expert advice, how-to videos and images, and user-friendly reference guides with step-by-step instructions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Connecticut lures 44 unregistered contractors in sting operation

Connecticut lures 44 unregistered contractors in sting operation
By Lee Howard

All face $250 fine after submitting bids at Waterford home

Using a tiny camera concealed in a display of plastic flowers at a Waterford home, the state Department of Consumer Protection conducted a sting operation over the past three months that led to 44 people - most of them from southeastern Connecticut - being cited Tuesday for failing to register as home-improvement professionals or, in one case, allowing someone else to use their registration number.

Caught in the sting were seven contractors or salespeople from Waterford, three each from New London and Bozrah, two each from Norwich, Colchester, Middletown, Madison, Waterbury and Westbrook and one each from Old Lyme, Niantic, Groton, Ledyard and Taftville. One contracting company involved in the sting, Certapro Painter, hailed from Pennsylvania.

The sting, conducted at 345 Rope Ferry Road, placed investigators posing as homeowners at the deteriorating Waterford home, where a small operations center was set up in an office area off the kitchen. Investigators reviewed more than 200 advertisements and invited contractors to submit bids on various projects.

"They said, 'We just bought the place, and we have to redo the whole thing,' " said Claudette Carveth, Consumer Protection spokeswoman. "Look around, and tell us what to do.' "

Bids on projects ranged from roofing and carpentry work to painting, flooring, paving, fencing and landscaping. The home is currently owned by the state Department of Transportation and previously had been used as a group home by the state Department of Developmental Services.

Unregistered contractors face a $250 fine for violating the Connecticut Home Improvement Act or the Home Solicitation Sales Act. A contractor's license costs $220.

"We want the penalty to be greater than the cost of compliance," said Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein, who held a short press conference at the musty home used for the sting.

But at least one person caught in the sting, Cheryl Pappas, owner of the Greek Gardener in New London, said she had never submitted a written quote for work at the home. Pappas said she had merely offered advice to the purported homeowner, and refused to even respond when the investigator asked whether she thought the gardening work would cost $5,000.

"It's entrapment - that's what I think," she said in a phone interview.

Pappas said she's a gardener, not a landscaper, but admitted it's a gray area and said she would henceforth register as a home-improvement contractor. Meanwhile, she vowed to fight the state's civil penalty.

"I walked away," she said.

The state has conducted home-contracting stings for the past decade, with the exception of 2008, when budget constraints canceled the operation. The most recent sting locally was conducted in Montville six years ago.

Rubenstein said compliance with state contracting laws has improved since the stings started. A decade ago, 60 percent of contractors investigated were found to be flouting the law. This year, only 21 percent failed to comply.

What's more, the state currently has 27,000 registered home-improvement contractors, an increase of 4,000 from just four years ago.

Rubenstein pointed out that homeowners who use registered contractors have more protections than those who don't. The state's Home Improvement Guarantee Fund can help compensate consumers left with problems after a registered contractor fails to perform, but no such rights are given to those who use workers without Connecticut registration numbers.

"In terms of volume and cost, the highest-ranking consumer complaint in Connecticut and nationally each year is home improvement," Rubenstein said. "We're working for 100 percent compliance."

The home where the sting occurred is right off Route 156 near the Niantic River Bridge. According to William A. Dorn, supervisor of rights of way for the DOT, it was acquired by eminent domain in 1987 as the state began planning the construction of a new bridge, and the state likely will put the property on the market now that the government has no more use for it.

A tiny video camera hidden in a plastic flower was used by investigators from the Department of Consumer Protection in a sting operation against unregistered home improvement contractors.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Remodeling remains robust in ailing real estate market

Remodeling remains robust in ailing real estate market

An upward bounce in a popular remodeling index shows that homeowners are going ahead with remodeling projects despite the dismal real estate market. In fact, BuildFax says that remodeling projects were up across the country in May continuing a 19-month trend. "Even with the continued struggles in the economy, the remodeling industry has been a bright spot, as consumers look to make upgrades to their current homes, rather than purchasing a new residence,” said Joe Emison, Vice President of Research and Development at BuildFax.

Based on construction permits filed with local building departments across the country, the BuildFax index shows that in May remodeling increased by 12 percent in the Northeast, 7 percent in the South and West and 18 percent in the Midwest. “Based on the trends from the first months of this year, we expect to continue seeing strong gains from coast to coast," said Emison.

Apparently, homeowners aren’t waiting to replace aging appliances, worn flooring or banged-up countertops. And they don’t have to spend a lot to do so as Consumer Reports testing shows. In our recent special reportYour New Kitchen we found major appliances and home improvement products that’ll stand the test of time, including:

Flooring. In our latest tests we found that the best oak and bamboo floors can fend off most wear and tear for about the same price as vinyl, which is still tops at resisting dents. Three oak floors from Mullican, Lumber Liquadators and Bruce topped our tests of sold-wood products. And Congoleum and Armstrong produced the top-scoring vinyls.

This year we added bamboo, recycled glass and soapstone to our tests of countertop materials. The bamboo was a bust and was the lowest-scoring product in the entire kitchen report. Granite and quartz, an engineered stone, were the only materials that aced most tests.

Cabinets. Well-made cabinets are likely to look good year after year. Look for doors with solid-wood frames, drawers with solid-wood sides and dovetail joints and shelves made of ¾-inch plywood or medium-density fiberboard.

Major appliances. Our new Ratings of refrigeratorsdishwashersranges, and cooktops and wall ovensfeature a lot of bargains. And keep in mind that today’s refrigerators and dishwashers use less energy and water.

If you’re planning to remodel your kitchen, take a look at our special video section which has makeovers that cost $5,000, $15,000 and $50,000 as well as interviews with homeowners about their biggest remodeling mistakes. Number one? Not planning ahead.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

Monday, July 18, 2011

Refresh Your Space Using These Home-Improvement Apps

Refresh Your Space Using These Home-Improvement Apps
By Meg Baker

If you are planning a home-improvement project, adding on an addition, or moving into a new space this summer, make designing a little easier with the help of these apps on your smartphone.With a tap or a drag, find design inspiration, create your own visual lay out plan, and even search for a reputable builder to help refresh your space.

Spice up your humble abode and steal some design ideas using the $2.99 Remodelista App-- a sourcebook that allows you to save décor concepts, and room and furniture ideas right on your phone, so when you are out shopping you can easily compare the looks. You can even buy some products directly through the app with the "buy now" feature. Sort through categories that are updated daily like “10 Easy Pieces, “Steal This Look,” “DIY Projects,” and “Palette and Paints,” to create your home’s new look. It’s okay to copy, because as the saying goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Home Design 3DIf you are a do-it yourself type, start out by creating your perfect floor plan right on your iPad for $5.99 with Home Design 3D. First select the dimensions of the house, then change the floor and ceiling and even “paint” the walls. Check out how your furniture fits by dragging and dropping objects to fill the space. Choose from over 150 items like windows, doors, tables, desks, carpeting and more. Get a first person tour of your newly designed space by navigating through in 3D mode. This is great for seeing how the furniture you own will fit into a new space. If you are juggling multiple projects, you can save and easily modify each at any time.

Here's how it works:

Service Magic Home ImprovementIf you need help around your house, Service Magic Home Improvement will match you with pre-screened contractors, electricians, plumbers, landscapers and many other professionals. Just describe your need, submit the timeline of when you need the job completed, and enter your location to get a list of experts in your area as well as their rate quote. This free service does criminal background checks, and state-level trade licensing on all recommended pros. 

Hire someone to do anything from tree and shrub removal, to cabinet installation, to pest control. Once you choose someone, you can contact them with one touch call, email or text—and save their contact info in case you need it for another time. If you are happy with the completed job, share the wealth and refer them by posting pictures of your project.

If you just have a question about a remodeling endeavor, have no fear the pros are here. First search for your answers within the expert articles and if you can’t find the information you are looking for, simply submit it and get a response ASAP.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Remodel before moving? Just paint and move on

Remodel before moving? Just paint and move on
Tom Kelly: Real Estate Today

Whether or not to sell your primary residence might be the most important decision you make in the next few months. If you decide to sell, don't jeopardize the decision by making the costly mistake of over-improving your nest egg - or racing to create a new room the new owner might enjoy.
Major structural changes, especially in this economic environment, need to be intensively scrutinized. Ninety percent of all remodeling projects take more than one year of appreciation to recover the costs of the improvement.
And, some projects never even get close to becoming a financial wash. Don't get carried away with a pet project that may draw the eye of a certain set of home buyers.
The solution? Paint, paint and simply paint some more. Paint is the least expensive and the most profitable improvement you can make. For example, be certain your entry is especially crisp and bright. Take advantage of your outside trim and highlight it with a color that truly makes your home stand out on the street.
Thinking about a color for the kids' old bedrooms? Most prospective buyers won't see the magic of magenta or the charisma of chartreuse. Stay boring, and attractive, with light beige and don't wander very far from off white.
If you want to be bold, be sure you know the type of buyer who will be looking at your home before you bring out your version of "wow" yellow in the den or "cool" gray in the bedroom.
If you are a female and single - and are certain your buyer will be the same type of individual - the paint and fixtures you choose for your home can be far different than those of a family home in a huge subdivision.
The way we live and work has changed dramatically in the past decade and our expectations of our homes have changed, too. If you are getting ready to list your home for sale, don't gamble that your taste in a new kitchen, den or master suite will match the desires of the potential home buyers that come through your door.
Don't waste your time - or jeopardize your money - by undertaking remodeling projects in an attempt to draw potential home buyers to an open house. It takes too long and you could easily guess wrong.
Remember, most buyers want to purchase a residence in model home condition, so all they have to do is turn the key in the front door and move in. Your challenge is to bring this feeling with the least possible amount of stress, cash and time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Weathering the storms: Home improvements could save your life

Weathering the storms: Home improvements could save your life

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It can take seconds for a monster tornado to tear a stick-built Midwest house to shreds. But even much weaker winds have damaged regional residences this storm season. We've seen the destroyed roofs and broken windows that prove it.
Fred Haan, a mechanical engineering professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., builds 5-inch-tall houses with little holes drilled inside them -small-scale versions of our life-size abodes-to see how they fare versus tornadoes big and small. A giant simulating machine at Iowa State University creates twisters that are 3 feet in diameter. The models are typically demolished in seconds.
"The main issue with houses in the Midwest is the lack of strong connections," says Haan, whose academic research helps lead to better storm-shielding products.
Relying on gravity, roofs rest on walls sitting atop foundations, and there is nothing fastening those components together. Unfortunately, saving frame-construction houses from 200-mph winds that occur in EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes , such as the May 22 Joplin tornado, is almost impossible. But there are steps to help strengthen houses so they can survive more than a 3-second gust of 90-mph wind, the standard to which most houses in the Midwest are built.
For example, better-quality hardware can make a big difference.
"An extra $500 or $600 spent on replacing a roof could improve things a lot," says Tim Reinhold, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, which does research for the insurance industry.
Ring-shank nails are the most effective roof fasteners, Reinhold says. The flat-top nails look similar to screws, with ridges along the length of the nail that penetrate the wood. The nails have much better holding power than typical nails with smooth shanks, because the rings act as wedges to keep nails firmly in place. Ring-shank nails typically add about $250 to an average roof cost.
Also, metal brackets commonly known as hurricane clips are effective at connecting roofs to walls. Hurricane clips attach the top plate to trusses or rafters, greatly increasing the strength between the two. These could help a home withstand wind speeds up to 135 mph, or a tornado up to an EF-2 . Roughly 90 percent of tornadoes are at this level or below.
"Metal strapping isn't like some exotic thing," Haan says. "I lived in Iowa, and my house was built with it, without me requesting it. Some builders use it on their own, without building codes mandating it."
Large openings in a house are also its weak points. That means doors, especially garage doors, and big banks of windows. So simple upgrades like steel-reinforced doors and high-quality jambs and latches also can help fight wind damage.
"Tornadoes are about generating a suction," Haan says. "Those openings increase pressure inside a house and get underneath your roof."
This year's storms have prompted Kerry Mooneyham, a paralegal who lives in Platte County, Mo. , to research roof shingles.
"I've been reading about impact-resistant shingles," says Mooneyham, whose hail-damaged roof needs replacing. "I'm willing to pay extra for them, up to a point."
Making houses more durable costs money that people might not be willing to pay, says Mark Heinze, co-owner of Phoenix Renovation and Restoration, an Overland Park, Kan., company that repairs houses after storm damage.
"Unless codes mandate things, insurance companies won't pay, and most people won't want to pay the difference because they're not sexy improvements," says Heinze, president of the Kansas City chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Still, Heinze says, more cities are beginning to require additional protective measures against storm damage. For example, Olathe, Kan., code enforcers now mandate ice and water shields for roofs, which can add 15 percent to roof costs.
City officials in Joplin, Mo., are reviewing building codes and are considering hurricane clips for home construction.
"I hope Joplin does it right, like Greensburg," says Tim Marshall, an engineer and meteorologist of Haag Engineering, a consulting firm in Dallas. "I hope houses and other buildings get built stronger and better, even if it takes a little longer."
From top to bottom, you can fortify your exterior.
If you need to have your roof replaced, specify:
Ring-shank nails . The design of a ring-shank nail resembles a screw, except that the head is flat.
Hurricane clips . The metal bracing connects roofs to walls.
Shingles . Look for materials rated by UL 2218 or FM 4473 as Class 3 or 4, which indicates they have been tested and found to stand up to increasing levels of hail damage. Also make sure the roof cover you choose is rated for the wind speed in your area. For example, shingles meeting the ASTM D 3161 Class F standard are rated for wind speeds up to 110 mph, while shingles meeting the ASTM D 7158 Class H standard are rated for wind speeds up to 150 mph.
Asphalt shingles are the best value with their hail resistance and wind warranties up to 130 mph. Metal is susceptible to hail damage. Slate is durable but more expensive.
Cement board is more resistant than vinyl. Cement is not rated by impact and wind like shingles.
High-pressure rated . This is important for attached garages, the largest hole in your house. High-pressure rated garage doors are $300-$400 more than the average garage door. "It may be a special order, but it's worth it," says Tim Reinhold, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Avoid garage doors that have a removable brace, Reinhold says. "In a strong storm, you're not going to go to the garage door to put on a brace."
Impact-resistant windows , such as Andersen Windows with Stormwatch protection-designed for hurricane-prone coastal cities-have stronger frames and hardware to withstand wind and debris. A clear film is sandwiched between two sheets of glass so the glass doesn't shatter into the house if the glass breaks. The windows are up to 30 percent more in price, compared with regular windows.
Walls bolted to foundation . This is invasive and is best done when the house is constructed but can be retrofitted if you're replacing drywall or adding siding.
A safe room in a house is the best way to protect people in a tornado. To build one using Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications, go to www.fema.gov and search "safe room." Pre-fabricated rooms are available for less than $5,000. The National Storm Shelter Association (www.nssa.cc) lists verified safe room vendors, according to FEMA.
Tim Marshall of Haag Engineering in Dallas surveys storm damage. In Oklahoma, he met someone who invested in an in-ground shelter, crediting it with saving his family. "He said it was the best $1,800 he'd ever spent."
Marshall says lots of families have a fire plan but not a tornado plan. "Some people have as little as 10 seconds to take action, so it's crucial to know what to do."
Close exterior doors and windows to minimize rain and flying debris; also interior doors if you have time. This provides more barriers between you and the storm.
If you don't have a safe room/shelter, go to a basement or small interior room without windows, such as a bathroom, during the storm. The more walls between you and the outside, the better. Sit underneath something sturdy like a workbench or staircase, or go to a bathtub and cover yourself with a mattress.
Edith Lawellin of Joplin, Mo., credits a weather-alert feature on her home security system for saving her life. A National Weather Service alert from Alarm.com beeped on her Vivint home-security panel before city sirens sounded, giving her time to take shelter in a reinforced closet. Her house was destroyed, but she survived. The service costs up to $1 extra per month on top of normal security service charges.
Ask storm experts what type of house they would build for themselves and the answer is unanimous: a concrete one.
"Eight-inch concrete walls are like having a storm shelter throughout your whole home," says Tim Reinhold, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
Insulated concrete forms cost 4 percent to 8 percent more than traditional frame houses.
Engineer Tim Marshall, who has surveyed the aftermath of severe weather across the U.S., including Joplin, says of all possessions, survivors are most excited when they find pictures among the house debris.
"They're interested in saving wedding photos, not the Sheetrock," he says.
It's a good idea to put scanned photos and back-up computer files on a portable hard drive along with important documents (birth certificates, wills, insurance papers and passports) - stored in airtight plastic food bags-in a safe.
The Inprint by 9G Products is designed and distributed in Bonner Springs. It uses fingerprints, not codes or keys, and is available through dealers across the U.S. and at www.9gproducts.com for $349.