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Floor Cleaners

Keeping your home floors clean is a necessary part of maintaining your home’s appearance. It requires diligence, especially in areas with a lot of foot traffic. Carpets are notoriously difficult to keep clean, but hardwood and laminate flooring must also be maintained to make sure your floors are looking their best. Investing in floor cleaners and floor cleaning equipment will reduce the time and energy you need to spend cleaning your floors and, in general, result in cleaner floors.

Floor Steam Cleaners
The most difficult type of floor to maintain is carpet. Many floor cleaners are specifically designed to clean carpet for this very reason. Floor steam cleaners can remove the typical dirt and grime that gets tracked into your carpet fibers. The process isn’t too difficult but it’s more involved than would be practical for part of your weekly cleaning chores. Most homeowners who know this try to keep dirt off their carpet as much as possible, vacuum weekly or several times a month, and only occasionally break out the steam cleaner. If this is your situation, you might not even want to purchase your own floor steam cleaner and, instead, hire professional carpet cleaners to come in twice a year to revive your carpet.

On the other hand, while floor steam cleaners are most often used for carpets, they can be used for other types of flooring as well. Investing in a high-powered, adjustable steam cleaner will allow you to clean, not only your carpets, but can even get the oil stains out of your garage floor. The major disadvantage of floor steam cleaners is that they require deft handling. Improper use or employing steam cleaners that have fallen into disrepair can damage your floors. Your floors will also have to be protected as they dry after the cleaning, although most steam cleaners will leave floors that dry after 2-6 hours.

Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaners
Hardwood and laminate floors are not only classic, elegant installations, they’re also the easiest to maintain and clean. The first, big step you can do is simply to sweep or vacuum the floor regularly—although if you’re vacuuming, use a soft brush extension. There are expensive floor cleaners out there, but vinegar and water can work just as well on laminate flooring. Whatever you use, try the cleaning solution on a small, inconspicuous area the first time before proceeding to the rest of the floor. If you’re in doubt, the flooring manufacturer is usually the best source of advice. If they try to sell you an expensive cleaning product, however, watch out for a scam. These cleaning products are often unnecessary.

Hardwood floors usually require nothing more than water, unless your hardwood has been stained. The biggest danger with hardwood flooring is moisture damage, so use the water or cleaning solution as sparingly as possible when cleaning your floor.

The First Step of Floor Cleaning is Choosing Your Floor
One of the most common mistakes in home improvement is becoming obsessed with the look of a new home improvement installation. As infatuated as you might be with your new home or home remodel, the ability to maintain that look is probably more important in the long run. Pick a floor that you can afford, but also one you can afford to maintain. This may mean actually splurging on your initial floor installation, but can be worth it in the long run. Carpet is a cheap floor covering, but your floors may have to be re-carpeted several times over in the same lifespan as a hardwood or laminate floor. In fact, it may be worth it to take out a small homeowner’s loan to ensure a floor that won’t require further financial investments down the road.

Thanksgiving Home Maintenance

If you’re not already set on hitting the shopping mall during Thanksgiving weekend, you might think about taking a look around your home. As busy as this time of year can be, neglecting home maintenance just before your friends and family arrive is a recipe for embarrassment. If you don’t inspect your home now, December is almost always a lost cause. Whether you’re broiling, basting or baking this Thanksgiving, here are a few ideas to get you started on your maintenance menu and plans for your budgetary leftovers.

1. Turkey and Stuffing: Furniture and Beds

If you have less-than-comfortable furniture, the turkey’s tryptophan is going to make you feel like you’re sitting on a bird’s rump. Lumpy, unforgiving or poorly designed is going to seriously hamper guests’ ability to doze and drool, as the Pilgrims intended. Once broken in, furniture can actually become more comfortable but left to age too long, and you get a filthy, broken-down safety hazard—especially after grandpa has gone back for his third plate. For the bedroom, you might want to think about platform beds. They will modernize your bedroom decorating and provide incredible opportunity to increase your bedroom storage.

2. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy: Insulation

The old family recipe for mashed potatoes may have worked in years past, but it’s a good idea to look at your utility bills and your home’s insulation. Gravy may be a necessity for mashed potatoes, but the moisture of roof or plumbing leaks will cause bigger problems than lumpy insulation. If you can’t afford the cost of insulation, at the very least make sure your home is airtight this winter. Check windows, doors and cracks in your walls for air leakage. If nothing else, you may need to install caulk or weather-stripping. You can call this the instant-mashed-potato version of insulating.

Just as russet potatoes and fat-free buttermilk can make for healthier mashed potatoes, there are healthier insulation choices. Cotton insulation, for example, is not only made from recycled denim, but it also doesn’t use glass fibers that cause skin and respiratory irritation, nor does it use formaldehyde, which can leach into your home.

3. Green Bean Casserole: Energy-Efficient Appliances

Whether it’s salad, creamed spinach or green bean casserole, every Thanksgiving dinner needs something green. For your home’s makeup, green should be a dominate theme. If you haven’t replaced your major appliances in the last five to 10 years, chances are your home is needlessly burning through cash. It’s hard to justify replacing an appliance until it goes kaput, but it’s a good idea to look around now, before the situation becomes urgent.

To maximize energy efficiency and value, look for concrete ratings and performance standards. Looking at ENERGY STAR-rated appliances is a good start. Washing machines save you between 38 and 55 percent on water (and water heating) consumption. For dishwashers, you stand to save 25 percent on water and heating. For heating and cooling, which is half of your home’s energy consumption, ENERGY STAR air conditioners and furnaces can save you about 20 percent over most models and even more over older units. Overall, these appliances can save you $1,000 or more every year.

4. Cranberry Sauce: Stain Removal

There are dozens of tricks, home and commercial remedies, but many stains—including cranberry sauce—can be a lost cause to remove from carpet and upholstery. As frustrating as stains can be, too many homeowners think the only reasonable course of action is to rearrange the furniture to cover the carpet or haul stained couches out to the curb. The truth is you probably have more options than you think. Even if you don’t have spare carpet runs, manufacturers may still be producing your carpet and repair professionals have more than one trick up their sleeves. The average cost of carpet repair is $220, and you can hire professionals to come in to do the job quickly and efficiently so you can focus on other to-do list items.

5. Pumpkin Pie: Cleaning Services

Pumpkin pie is meant to be savored without the dread of a mountain of dirty dishes. If you’re playing host this Thanksgiving, you probably aren’t going to be thrilled with the house cleaning that hits full-force that night and the next morning. By planning ahead and scheduling maid service, you can optimize your time management, and when you tell guests not to worry about helping you clean up, you can mean it. You can probably find a maid service to clean your kitchen and living area for around $200.

This is only a few of the more popular home maintenance projects. The point is to use this last breath before the holiday season crush truly arrives and evaluate what your home needs to make it through the winter. Both you and your home will be jollier for the attention.

Removing Pet Odor

If your home has pet odor problems, you’re in for one of the toughest odor removal projects known to man. That doesn’t mean you should give up hope. It just means that depending on the nature of the odor, and the material, this isn’t going to be an easy task.

General Pet Odor Removal
If the extent of your pet odor problem is just a general pet smell (not urine), you’ve just encountered a best-case-scenario when it comes to pet odor removal. It’s not pleasant, and it’s still going to take some work to remove the odor from your home, but there are a number of pet odor removal solutions out there to take advantage of.Clean, Clean, Clean
The first step is the most obvious. Clean any affected areas as thoroughly as possible. That doesn’t mean a quick vacuum or running over your hardwood with a Swiffer. Pet odor removal is only effective if you give affected areas a good, deep cleaning. Scrub and mop hard surfaces as thoroughly as possible, and think about using a vinegar or baking soda solution as you do so. Both are rumored to work wonders when it comes to removing pet smells. And if you’re dealing with pet odor removal from carpeting, hire a professional. Make sure they use the hot water extraction method (also known as “steam cleaning”), since it provides the deepest clean, and ask if they use a truck mounted unit. These units do a much better job of getting down into the carpet pile, where much of the pet smell resides, than other professional carpet cleaning techniques, or any homeowner operated unit you can rent.If Your Home Smells Like More Than a Wet Dog . . .
If your specific issue is trying to remove pet urine odor, you’re in for another treat altogether. Pet urine odor is one of the most difficult smells to remove from any surface, and at times requires you remove the flooring altogether, and replace it, if none of the less substantial solutions do the trick. Still, it can be done. Here’s how.

Use an Enzymatic Based Pet Urine Removal Solution
About the only proven way to remove the smell of pet urine from your flooring is to purchase an enzymatic based cleaner from your local pet supply store. Don’t use this like carpet shampoo, however.

You need to soak the affected area thoroughly, and allow the solution a long time to dry, whether you have carpet, wood floors, or masonry flooring. No fans or open windows are needed here. In fact, it’s a good idea to place a piece of cardboard over the affected area to slow down evaporation. The solution works to eat away at the natural enzymes that are causing the odor in the first place, and they need time to do their work. If after all this, you still have pet odor problems, you’re going to need to take more drastic measures. With carpeting, you’ll probably need to replace it. And if the pet urine has made it into the subfloor, you may have to replace that as well. The same goes for wood flooring. It can be a timely, and costly, project. But when compared to living with the smell of pet urine, it’s often worth the trouble.

Recession-Resistant Renovations

Upgrade Siding
When your siding has seen better days, upgrading it just might be one of the best investments you can make for your home, no matter what the economic climate. Since siding functions as a shield for the materials it covers, the better siding you have, the longer those materials are likely to last. Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report revealed that installing fiber-cement siding generally recovers over 87% of construction costs in added resale value. This makes upgrading from vinyl or aluminum to fiber-cement the best investment nationwide when it comes to recouping your costs!

Bathroom Enhancements
Though often the smallest rooms in the house, your bathroom can have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day life. Bathrooms also pack quite a punch when it comes time to put your property on the market, and remodeling your bathroom can mean the difference between a home that’s sold quickly and one that stays on the market for years.

The average cost of a bathroom remodel over the last quarter was around $10,200. Out of a pool of 3,000 homeowners who found their bathroom contractors through SM, 9 out of 10 were not only pleased with their project, but would recommend it to others. When you think of the money and resources that get wasted by leaky pipes, dripping faucets, inefficient shower heads and obsolete toilets and, add the hassle of waiting for mirrors to clear up, waiting for hot water (or running out too soon) and dealing with water pressure problems it’s easy to see why so many folks are so happy with their new bathrooms!

While not technically a renovation, an inspection is a sound enough investment in shaky economic times that we had to include it in this list. The beauty of an inspection lies not in what it does for your property, but what it prevents. For instance, a chimney cleaning will often cost around $310, where a chimney fire can cost you thousands in property damage. Inspections are available for many of your home’s systems (roofing, foundation, waterproofing, etc.) and can either identify small problems before they become large or give you peace of mind that your home is in good shape!

Enhance Flooring
Few things can make a room shine like good flooring. Fortunately, flooring upgrades are also an excellent investment in just about any home. One of the nice things about replacing a floor with a more durable material is that you can really get your money’s worth. For instance, while carpet remains the least costly flooring material, the National Home Builder’s Association puts its life expectancy at 8 to 10 years “with appropriate maintenance and normal foot traffic.” Though definitely more costly, natural hardwood’s life expectancy is “100 years or more.” So, by upgrading, you might be spending a little more in the short term, but you can rest easy knowing that you (or even the next owners of your property) won’t have to bear the expense of flooring replacement!

Small Kitchen Remodels
In much the same way as bringing a bathroom up to par is almost always a good investment, minor kitchen improvements are generally a safe bet. Unfortunately, going overboard during a kitchen remodel is common, and many folks end up spending way more than they planned before the job is finished. To keep your investment budget-friendly, focus on the things that really need attention, and leave the elements of the room that are functioning just fine intact.

General Guidelines for Recession-Proof Remodeling
During uncertain economic times, the adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is certainly appropriate in many cases. However, to be completely accurate, you may want to add something to the effect of “If it’s slightly broken, fix it now.” “If it’s working fine, but it’s costing you plenty to operate, get a better model” might be another good phrase to live by. Basically, any remodeling project runs the risk of being more trouble than it is worth, but, in a nutshell, hard times call for projects that will not only make your property look better, but will help it function more efficiently for years to come!

Simple Ways to Transform a Room on a Budget

Simple Ways to Transform a Room on a BudgetInterior designers know the quickest and most inexpensive way to dramatically change a room’s style is to attack those boring white walls. Sure, you could try painting the room a bold new shade, but the newest design techniques go a step further with drywall, faux painting, and nontraditional wall coverings.

1. Drywall Textures

Once purely functional, drywall techniques are now a designer’s trick. Using drywall techniques to add new architectural or design touches, or simply re-texturing ceilings and walls, can update the overall appearance of a home with a relatively small investment.

Walls and ceilings can be finished in many different ways. Re-texturing or smoothing walls can freshen and modernize older homes or even return the original character to period homes that may have been carelessly remodeled.

Changing up the old-fashioned styles of texture (such as skip & trowel or brushed) can significantly freshen and update a 30-year-old home.

On the other hand, covering those styles of texture with a new layer of hand-troweled joint compound to resemble plaster could restore the charm to a 1900 Victorian. Custom textures and treatments, such as combining textured walls with totally smooth ceilings, can give a home a unique look.

Try the Orange Peel Finish: Very popular right now, the orange peel finish is created by spraying texture compound onto a smooth wall and then letting it dry. Paint when ready for a brand new look.

2. Faux Painting

One of the most popular ways to create a change in your home today is through faux painting. Faux painting incorporates decorative and special paint finishes, as well as techniques that resemble wallpaper, such as glazing, sponging, ragging, wood graining and even freehand designs.

Although many illusions can be achieved with faux finishing techniques on flat surfaces, textured products can create three-dimensional effects. Products applied in layers to walls, fireplaces and ceilings can look and feel like real stone, crumbling masonry, or peeling paint for a European country look. Other popular finishes resemble linen, grass cloth or denim.

With a little skill, a great idea and a new color scheme your home’s interior can resemble an ancient Tuscan building, a marble wall or even a cloudy day.

Try a suede finish: To warm up a formal room such as a dining room, library or office, consider a suede finish. Textured paints containing solid materials like silica can make walls look—and even feel—like suede.

3. Non-traditional Wall Coverings

Wallpaper has always been a popular alternative to painting a room. But in addition to buying & installing traditional wallpaper, there are many types of wall coverings that will enliven a room. Bright fabrics, grass cloth, even cork are becoming popular as unique ways to dramatically change a room’s appearance.

Some non-traditional wall covering options:

  • Foil (some people refer to it by the brand name “Mylar”) can be difficult to work with because it shows imperfections in the wall surface and because it can get wrinkled easily. But the silver, reflective surface and the patterns on many foil wallpapers can be strikingly contemporary.
  • Cork-faced wall coverings are thicker because they have a surface of cork. They make for a cozy, dark and woodsy effect and can often be seen in family rooms or offices.
  • Paper-backed fabric shows the high-quality look of a fabric wall covering but can be installed with the ease of a vinyl-coated paper. The backing adds a stiffness that both hides defects in the wall and makes it easier to manage the fabric.

Could your House be Making you Fatter?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep your body fit by simply designing your home properly? While choosing a certain style of counter or a particular color of paint for your walls might not lower your blood pressure or help you fit in your prom dress again, it doesn’t seem too far fetched for there to be a few common threads that are often present in homes of healthy people but absent in homes of less healthy folks. To test this theory, we looked at some stats from (a nationwide resource matching homeowners to contractors in their area) and compared the types of home improvement projects preferred in “healthy” cities to those that are more common in less healthy areas. Here’s what we found!

Projects “Healthy” Cities Prefer
According to Men’s Fitness Magazine, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Denver are all pretty high on the healthy city list. So, what projects do homeowners in these areas enter most? Appliance repair is extremely popular in each of these cities, as is hiring a handyman for multiple small tasks. Landscaping and lawn care seem to be a priority in all three cities, too.

Common Projects in America’s Least Healthy Cities
Few will be surprised to know that Men’s Fitness voted Las Vegas as the least healthy city (or that, once again, Texas kills the competition, sporting 6 of America’s top 10 least fit cities). What is surprising, however, is that in these “unhealthy” cities, homeowners opt for nearly the exact same projects that are found in the healthy cities. Since so many cities on the second list are in the south and southwest, it’s no shock that each boasts a high amount of requests to install solar panels and to repair air conditioning, however, other than these two tasks, the lists of what projects are most common is quite similar to those of their healthier counterparts.

Where to Spot the Real Differences
While looking at lists of total numbers of requests in healthy and unhealthy cities hasn’t really turned up much, one big statistic rears its head when you start examining what types of projects are becoming more popular. San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston have each seen some pretty dramatic increases in the popularity of TV wall mounting and/or home theater accessory repair. According to HomeAdvisor statistics, homeowners in these cities have been calling for TV services sometimes 10 or even 20 times more often per month than what was recorded last year!

Other Conclusions
It seems as though, no matter where you go in America (or how rotund the people in your neighborhood are), the average homeowner tends to focus mostly on small home improvement tasks like appliance repair, plumbing fixture repair or replacement, or shingle repair. The absence of large, expensive projects makes sense, of course considering the current economic environment. To be sure, homeowners in healthy cities and unhealthy cities have far more in common with each other than they do with themselves 6 years ago, when some of the most common tasks HomeAdvisor processed were building water docks, installing central air conditioning, and installing radiant heating panels and flooring. Homeowners (both big and small) seem to be focusing on repairs rather than replacements and increasing the function of what they already have rather than building something new; and while following this trend might not help you lose 15 pounds, it could certainly assist in keeping your finances healthy!

Simple Room Makeovers in No Time

The biggest problem with any home improvement project is the clock. You want to spruce up the bedroom, renovate your bathroom or transform your kitchen, but where are you going to find the time? Oddly enough, a main anxiety among homeowners isn’t how much the job costs or how much work is involved. Instead, the chief concern is how long it’s going to take. That’s a valid question: the longer the job, the more money and labor it’s going to require. Plus, it’s the weekend and who wants to be stuck inside doing even more work. Initially, it’s hard to guess how long a chore will take, so here is a timeline guide to help you organize any home remodel around your schedule.

One-Day Bedroom Makeovers
Bedroom makeovers don’t have to be a chore since several small touches can be accomplished in a single day. The point of any remodel is to keep it simple and not get overwhelmed. So take one Saturday at a time and schedule a small renovation each week.
Painting: A fresh coat is a quick and comparatively inexpensive way to rejuvenate any room. For bedroom makeovers, it’s best to stick to warm, rich colors such as tans, maroons or blues. Plus, to save even more time, just paint a single accent wall to create some spice.
Redecorate: Spend a day at the store. Buying a few knick-knacks, pillows and sheets is a fast way to reinstate a new sense of style. The hard part about this bedroom makeover is finding the perfect item, so take your time during the selection process.
Reupholster: In one morning, you could buy new fabrics for your chairs, loveseats, and drapes. Then in the afternoon, replace the window treatments and reupholster your furniture to create a seamless pattern throughout the room. By taking one step at a time, a bedroom makeover may take an entire month, but in reality it only takes a few hours.

Bathroom Makeovers in Single Weekend
Bathroom makeovers are little trickier since more is involved beyond the decor. Though decoration is important, there is also flooring, plumbing, cabinetry and countertops. Plus, you want it to remain functional as well as beautiful, so most projects take a couple of days. Here are a few things that can be accomplished in a single weekend.
Fixtures: Replacing your plumbing fixtures can quickly transform a lavatory. And though you could replace the bigger items, simply swapping out the faucets, showerheads and handles can give a restroom new life and a fresh focal point.
Lighting: Do you have old-fashioned brass fixtures, rounded bulbs or glaring fluorescents? If so, you may need to switch out your lights. Go for track lighting, smaller fixtures and always focus on natural lighting (skylights, windows, etc.) if you’re able to.
Sinks: Toilets never change. Showers create more renovations. But a sink is a perfect two-day bathroom makeover. To make more room, tear out the vanity and counters and install a pedestal sink. But if square footage isn’t a problem, a larger his-and-her sink system may be the solution since it’ll always adds value to the home.

A Month of Kitchen Makeovers
There’s a reason they’re the social hub of any household: they have it all. Plumbing, appliances, lots of square footage and it should be the focal point of the home. It takes time to accomplish a kitchen makeover, but it’s always worth the hassle in the long run. And if you hire remodeling professionals, the job may not take as long as you think.
Cabinetry: The first thing to become outdated is usually the cabinets. Old-fashioned wood, dark-stained grains or tacky brass hardware can quickly devalue the space. So replacement is always a great option, although if you want to save time and money, re-staining or painting is an efficient alternative.
Flooring: Nothing modifies a room more drastically than new floors. Of course hardwood is all the rage. It certainly adds value and never goes out of fashion, but it’s also pricey and takes skill to install. Tile is also a great substitute with its clean lines and polished look. But even fresh linoleum is a great way to restore a faded, curling floor.
Appliances: Not only can new appliances make the space more effective and easy-to-use, they also add to its appearance. It takes time to slowly replace each electrical item, so don’t rush. You can never go wrong with stainless steel (it’s sleek, modern, and fashionable), yet no matter the veneer make sure it all matches. But beyond beauty, you also want to think efficiency, so EnergyStar products are always a good investment.

Small Space Remodeling

Most of us wish that our homes were larger, but the obvious solutions like building an addition or moving to a bigger place are simply not an option in many cases due to budget restraints. There are, however, some excellent small space solutions out there that can either physically increase your living space inexpensively, or at least give an area the appearance of being bigger.

Making Small Spaces Look Bigger

For many people, the most cost-effective remodeling ideas are focused on increasing living space without increasing the size of the home. Sound impossible? It’s not. One way to make small spaces look bigger is to better integrate indoor and outdoor living areas. In many homes, especially those that are a decade old or more, the indoor and outdoor areas are completely cut off from each other, but by blurring the line between inside and outside, you can give the feel of more space without actually having to add on.

Small Room Ideas: Windows and Glass Doors

Architects and designers have understood for years that, when creating physical space is just not practical, the illusion of more space can really go a long way. If you take a 10 ft. x 15 ft. room with windows and another without and ask people who’ve just been in both rooms, “Which room was larger?”, nearly everyone will say the one with windows. Of course it isn’t larger, it just feels larger. So, the simplest way to combine indoor and outdoor spaces is to add or enlarge windows. The bigger the window, the greater the feel of added space. A similar effect can be achieved with groups of windows. If you take an existing window and add sidelights (vertical windows flanking either side) or a semicircular top light, you can really open up and brighten a room.

Sliding glass patio doors are a small space solution that will enhance the look of a room and provide the option of physically connecting the inside with the outdoors, as well. Glass doors not only increase the feeling of space, they also allow you to move freely into the outside; add an awning or even some patio furniture and you’ll essentially be expanding the living space of your home. When you find yourself heading outside to open the mail or relax with a glass of iced tea, you’ll begin to fully appreciate the benefits of integrating the spaces.

Small Room Ideas: Painting

Proper color choice is another tool in making a small room look bigger. Lighter colors open a space up and darker colors pull a space in, so if you’re dealing with an already small space, dark paint or dark stained wood paneling are your enemies. While painting a solid color on walls or ceilings can make a difference in how big a room feels, some folks have combined this small space solution with the openness provided by windows by actually painting a large window on the wall. It sounds a bit silly, but you’d really be amazed at how much bigger a room feels with even a faux window. While your painted window won’t have all of the same benefits of a real one, faux windows offer one very interesting perk: the view from them isn’t limited to your location. If you want a painted window to overlook the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, or even a sunset from a memorable vacation, it is well within your reach.

Small Room Ideas: Furniture

One of the biggest factors in making a small room look bigger is the furniture you choose. Putting a full-sized couch in a cramped space only serves to make the room less navigable; opting for a loveseat frees up space and allows you more room to breathe. Storage is a must in small rooms, but a busy bookshelf can scream clutter; choosing end-tables, coffee tables, and foot rests that also provide storage space kills two birds with one stone. For a more permanent solution, consider custom made built-in furniture; it’s expensive, but there’s simply no better space saver on the market.

Most of all, remember that the most effective small space solution is good planning. Almost any room can be made to function better if it is planned out before it gets outfitted, and in a small space, getting the most from what you’ve got is essential. If you’re working on a small space that is new to you, keep it empty until you know exactly how everything should fit together; if you’re dealing with an existing small space, clearing it out completely will give you clean palette and a better idea of what options are possible. A good interior decorator or designer can be very beneficial, but if you take your time and consider your choices carefully, just about every homeowner can come up with a few small space solutions that will fit perfectly with his or her tastes!

To Remodel or Not: 5 Deciding Factors

For most of us, homes are not only where we live but also our single biggest investment. As a living space, a home’s design and condition impact our lives day in and day out. As an investment, we seek to preserve and enhance value in the marketplace.

When considering remodeling and improvement projects, we must consider both roles. In general, a well-maintained home yields better day-to-day service and long-term financial returns. Taking care of repairs as they arise makes sense, so problems are solved while still small, and the home remains a safe and comfortable place in which to live. Renovations, remodeling and other major home improvements are more complex.

The best starting point is your own home improvement needs. How much more do you think you will enjoy your home if you remodel or put in an addition? How long do you think you’ll stay in the house?

If you are planning to stay in the house ten years or more, most of your decision should be made based on how much the enhancements will improve your lifestyle.

If your length of stay is shorter, uncertain, or a contemplated project is quite large, you have to pay more attention to the improvement’s impact on probable resale value.

While every real estate market is different, you probably already know quite a bit about your area’s real estate market simply because you live there. With that knowledge and an understanding of the 5 D’s of remodeling, you should be in a position to sort out all the advice you’ll get from general contractors, neighbors, home magazines and family members. The five D’s are:

  • Distance
  • Deficiency
  • Distinctiveness
  • Demand
  • Degree

Remodeling Factor #1: Distance

Distance, or curb appeal, has to do with how well the property looks from the street before a person gets out of a car and takes a closer look. If someone doesn’t have any interest at first glance, you’ll never get them inside.

Things that give your home better curb appeal generally have a high rate of return. Landscaping, the front entrance, and the condition of the paint or siding are the biggest factors in curb appeal.

When it comes to landscaping, nothing elaborate is necessary. Well-trimmed foundation plantings, potted plants at the corners of the front porch, a groomed lawn and mulched flower beds all contribute to the house’s appeal. Flowers certainly add to curb appeal, but it may be better to add them at the last minute depending on seasonal considerations.

The front entrance can be a big draw and seems to play a large role in curb appeal. The door should be in good shape with a fresh coat of paint. New hardware can also upgrade its appearance. If the houses on your street look alike, it might be worth adding more elaborate door trim, flanking windows and/or a sharp looking stoop or porch.

The paint should be in good shape. Sometimes a thorough washing can freshen the look of paint or siding. Also, make sure the shutters are in good shape and hung straight.

Remodeling Factor #2: Deficiency

Deficiency has to do with whether or not your house is flawed compared to nearby homes.

If you have one bath, for example, and everyone else in the neighborhood has three, adding a bath is likely to have a relatively high return.

Obvious deficiencies substantially reduce the value of the home. People tend to lower the offering price by an amount greater than the actual cost of the remodel or addition. Taking care of such problems not only makes sense in terms of resale value but also will make your stay in the home more pleasant.

Remodeling Factor #3: Distinctiveness

Distinctiveness is the one thing most people talk about. In fact, it’s what your realtor and you talk about when you describe the house to others.

When people buy a house, they tend to buy on emotion and then back up the decision with rational considerations. A key to selling a house at a good price is to get the buyer emotionally interested in the home.

Homes generally sell better if they have two or three special or distinctive features. A walk-in closet, a whirlpool bath, a fireplace, attractive landscaping or a grand foyer can separate your home from the crowd and stir interest for buyers. These special features become very important in a competitive real estate market where a lot of similar homes are on the market.

Remodeling Factor #4: Demand

While the special features that make up distinctiveness are important, they are of no help and can even lower the value if these features are not widely in demand.

You may think a whirlpool in the living room will give your home a terrifically distinctive character, but if those looking to buy your house don’t see that as valuable, you may actually reduce the value of your home by adding the feature.

Anything zany or out of character with the neighborhood should be avoided. For example, an ornate fireplace with a sculpted marble mantel may add plenty of value in an upscale neighborhood of $500,000 homes. But the same fireplace may be seen as difficult to clean and not energy efficient in a working class neighborhood.

Limit improvements to those for which there is documented demand.

Look at new model homes to verify that features you’re considering adding are present in those homes. If the builders, with all their market research and surveys, aren’t including the feature, you can bet that the market for it is limited.

Remodeling Factor #5: Degree

Remember things need to be done by degrees. No matter what you do, don’t overdo it. If the front entrance is attractive already, renovating it in a new color will rarely be worth the cost.

Whether enhancing how your home looks from a distance, adding distinctiveness, or addressing deficiencies, one can usually get a fairly high rate of return up to some point. After that the rate of return drops off markedly.

If your house is the only one on the street with only one bath, spending $35,000 on a bathroom addition might yield a return of $6,000 to $8,000 in terms of resale value. However, adding a bath that costs $50,000 or more may also yield an increased value of only $6,000 to $8,000.

If the house already has a number of special features, each added one would have a relatively smaller impact on resale value.

The best resource for getting more information on how various improvements might affect resale value is a real estate professional who knows the market in your neighborhood. Discuss the five D’s with them, and you should come away with a pretty good idea of where you stand.

Just keep in mind that only you can determine what the improvement means in terms of your enjoyment of the house while you continue to live there.

Keeping Room as Center for Your Home Life

Back in the Colonial period of American history, the chores and tasks that went into everyday life were something that was shared among family members. Families would gather together to cook, clean, and do laundry. Colonial architecture reflected this lifestyle, through a common area called a “keeping room” that connected to the kitchen and was situated at the center of the house. It was a place where families could gather, work, talk, and laugh.

Keeping rooms disappeared in the 20th century as Americans became more affluent, housework became automated, and people became more private. But these days, the keeping room is making a comeback in home design, fueled by families’ desire for a place where they can reconnect in the midst of their busy, hectic lives.

Keeping Room Design
There are as many keeping room designs as there are individual tastes. A common factor is that most keeping rooms combine the kitchen with a living area in a setting that is less formal than a parlor or living room. The features of your particular keeping room design should reflect your lifestyle. For example:

  • The Family and Business Center: For families in which one or more spouse works at home, it often makes sense to move features such as a desk or computer armoire into the keeping room. A telephone, fax, and photocopier might even adorn your space. This way, spending weekend hours on a last-minute report or work project doesn’t need to keep you from also spending time with the kids. For their part, children need computer access more and more often these days in order to complete their homework. This is another way in which a business-oriented keeping room can accommodate the working needs of the entire family.
  • The Entertainment Center: Many families use the keeping room as a place to gather to watch television and movies together. In this case, the room might incorporate couches, a big-screen, and surround sound. And you can make popcorn without missing a scene.
  • The Oasis: On the other hand, the bombardment of modern technology and the ever-expanding work week may have you looking for a place where you can leave work behind and just enjoy the lost art of conversation. In this case, your keeping room might contain comfortable couches and chairs, a dinner table, and perhaps the supplies for a few chosen hobbies that you can enjoy as a family. The keeping room can also be a great place to entertain guests, as you can cook or mix drinks without losing contact.

Once you’ve determined the function of your keeping room, you can begin to think about form. Traditionalists may want to stick with a country/colonial theme, in keeping with the room’s roots, but if this isn’t your style, you can go with anything from rustic to ultra-modern. You will find that your keeping room will be a place where the whole family spends lots of time, so be sure to choose d?cor that makes you comfortable.