I love small projects that keep my carpenter skills up-to-date!
So this is the latest project that was completed last week. Holes where dug for the posts thanks to my friend Vicky’s niece. (thanks Dominique!) I took care of the layout and construction. How fun! The weather was not bad at all and the whole project only took 2 days! Here are some pics…can’t wait for the next one!
Optimism grows around home ownership, though some first-timers struggle to compete in the housing market. Plus, two senators put forth a bill to encourage more refis.
A new bill offers important baby steps toward helping underwater home owners refinance their mortgages, first-time buyers compete for purchases as markets heat up, Americans are optimistic about housing, and housing starts to tick up. This and more in our Friday Five housing news roundup.
HouseLogic: Refinancing Underwater Mortgages a Baby Step at a Time
In an effort to address the problems affecting 31.4% of Americans who have an underwater mortgage, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have introduced The Responsible Home Owner Refinancing Act (S. 3085). The bill would eliminate some restrictions on Fannie and Freddie guidelines that have impeded home owners who are current but underwater on their mortgages from refinancing into a lower rate.
Bloomberg Business Week: Housing Starts in U.S. Probably Climbed in May on Lower Rates
Builders in the U.S. broke ground on more homes in May as the real estate market showed signs of sustaining recent gains. The combination of lower prices and record-low mortgage rates is underpinning demand and encouraging some builders to take on new projects. At the same time, competition from cheaper, previously owned properties and stricter lending rules remain hurdles for an industry that’s been the weakest link for the economic expansion.
USA Today: Housing Isn’t a Buyer’s Market for Many First-Timers
As the nation’s housing market shows signs of bottoming after years of declining prices, many first-time buyers are getting a rude awakening. Instead of having their pick of homes to buy in some markets, they’re losing houses to cash buyers and bidders with bigger down payments, or they’re facing bidding wars spurred by shrinking numbers of homes for sale. Still, low interest rates are luring more buyers, as are home prices that are down 35% from their 2006 peak. One buyer decided to buy after discovering it would cost less than renting.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Poll: Americans’ Optimism Grows about Home Ownership, Prices
Despite the drubbing home values have taken, a new poll shows a large majority of Americans say owning a house is still important. A year ago, 28% of those polled for the online real estate firm Trulia said they never wanted to own a home. That dropped to 22% this year, leaving three out of every four Americans saying home ownership is an important part of successful living.
The Street: How to Sell Your Home to Foreign Buyer
Having trouble selling your home? Maybe you should cast a wider net and go after foreign buyers. Foreigners are among the most eager buyers of residential real estate in the U.S., drawn by low prices and the weakness of the dollar, according to research by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. About 62% of foreign buyers pay cash, making them especially appealing at a time many U.S. shoppers are having trouble getting loans.
Just another weekend? Not if you take advantage with one or more of these 5 great projects you can easily pull off for under $300.
Project #1: Add a garden arbor entry.
The setup: Install an eye-catching portal to your garden with a freestanding arbor. It’ll look great at the end of a garden path or framing a grassy area between planting beds.
Specs and cost: Garden arbors can be priced up to thousands of dollars, but you can find nice-looking kits in redwood, cedar, and vinyl at your local home improvement or garden center for $200-$300. Typical sizes are about 7 feet high and 3-4 feet wide. You’ll have to assemble the kit yourself.
Tools: Screwdriver; cordless drill/driver; hammer; tape measure. Kits come pre-cut and pre-drilled for easy assembly, and usually include screws. If fasteners aren’t included, check the materials list before you leave the store.
Time: 3-5 hours
Project #2: Install a window awning.
The setup: Summer is super, but too much sunlight from south- and west-facing windows can heat up your interiors and make your AC work overtime. Beat that heat and save energy by using an awning to stop harsh sunlight before it enters your house.
Specs and cost: Residential awnings come in many sizes and colors. Some are plastic or aluminum, but most are made with weatherproof fabrics. They’re engineered for wind resistance, and some are retractable. A 4-foot-wide awning with a 2.5-foot projection is $150-$250.
Tools: Cordless drill/driver; adjustable wrench; tape measure; level. You can install an awning on any siding surface, but you’ll need a hammer drill to drill holes in brick. To prevent leaks, fill any drilled holes with silicone sealant before you install screws and bolts.
Time: 3-4 hours
Project # 3: Screen off your air conditioner from view.
The setup: Air conditioning is great, but air conditioner condensers are ugly. Up your curb appeal quotient by hiding your AC condenser or heat pump unit with a simple screen.
Specs and costs: An AC screen is typically 3-sided, about 40 inches high, and freestanding — you’ll want to be able to move it easily when it comes time to service your HVAC. For about $100, you can make a screen yourself using weather-resistant cedar or pressure-treated wood to build 3 frames, and filling each frame with plastic or pressure-treated lattice.
Or, buy pre-made fencing panels. A 38-by-38-inch plastic fencing panel is about $50.
Time: Build it yourself in 4-6 hours. Install pre-made fencing in 1-2 hours.
Project # 4: Add garage storage.
The setup: Shopping for garage storage solutions is definitely a kid-in-the-candy-store experience. There are so many cool shelves, hooks, and hangers available that you’ll need to prioritize your needs. Take stock of long-handled landscape tools, bikes, paint supplies, ladders, and odd ducks, such as that kayak. Measure your available space so you’ll have a rough idea of where everything goes.
Specs and cost: Set your under-$300 budget, grab a cart, and get shopping. Many storage systems are made to be hung on drywall, but hooks and heavy items should be fastened directly to studs. Use a stud finder ($20) to locate solid framing.
If your garage is unfinished, add strips of wood horizontally across studs so you’ll have something to fasten your storage goodies to. An 8-foot-long 2-by-4 is about $2.50.
Tools: Cordless drill/driver; hammer; level; measuring tape; screws and nails.
Time: This is a simple project, but not a fast one. Figure 6-10 hours to get everything where you want it, plus shopping. But, oh the fun in putting everything in its place!
Project #5: Edging your garden.
The setup: Edging is a great way to define your planting beds, corral garden mulch, and to separate your lawn from your garden or patio.
Specs and cost: Wood and metal edging looks like tiny fencing; they’re 4-6 inches high. Some include spikes that hold the edging in position; other types must be partially buried. Cost is $1-$5 per foot.
Plastic edging can be molded and colored to mimic brick, wood, and stone. About $20 for 10 feet.
Concrete edging blocks are smooth, or textured to resemble stone. $15-$25 for 10 feet.
Real stone edging is installed flush with the surrounding grade in a shallow trench on a bed of sand, so digging is required. Stone is sold by the ton and prices vary by region. You’ll need about one-third of a ton of flagstone to make an 8-inch-wide edging 50 feet long, costing $150-$200.
Tools: Shovel; wheelbarrow; tin snips (for cutting plastic edging); work gloves.
Time: Pre-made edging will take 2-3 hours for 50 feet; stone will take 6-10 hours.
COMMUTERS’ DREAM! Lovely Duplex converted to modern condo with many upgrades. Spacious upper unit features bamboo wood floors throughout, stone tiled bath, dual pane windows, bonus room, backyard. Easy freeway access. Located 1 blk from BART, minutes to SF. Exclusive use parking space included!
From toilets that double as sound systems to water-conserving spa experiences, here’s what’s trendy for bathroom improvements for 2012.
Trend #1: Conservation rules
All around the country, water reserves are stressed. In response, regional governments are implementing conservation measures. As a result, there are likely to be new regulations that’ll affect your construction or remodeling plans. Here’s what to watch for:
Your new toilet will have a lower flush-per-gallon rating than the one that’s in there now. Consider a dual-flush version, or any low-flow toilet coming on the market that meets your style preferences. At the very least, your next commode is likely to feature a 1.28 gallon-per-flush rating — better than even the most-recent 1.6 GPF offerings.You’ll find them at home improvement centers from $100 to luxury showroom models for thousands more.
The WaterSense label, launched in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency to promote water conservation by plumbing manufacturers and home owners, will become as well-known as Energy Star. You’ll be shopping for low-flow shower heads and faucets with the WaterSense symbol on the box. Just as with Energy Star appliances, there is no cost premium associated with WaterSense savings — there are faucets in every price range. WaterSense shower heads are newer on the market, with a more limited selection today — mostly at more affordable prices.
You’ll start seeing more shower heads — especially rain shower models — using Venturi principles that deliver strong water pressure by adding air, not water, to the mix. They’re available in every price range, from ultra-affordable standard heads to luxury rain showers.
Trend #2: Technology advances
You may not think of your bathroom as a high-tech space, but that’s about to change. Here are some of the trends that can benefit your home:
You’ll be able to create a custom showering experience more affordably than ever. For $300 for simple controllers to $3,500 or more for a complete luxury installation,programmable showers let you digitally set your preferred water temperature, volume, and even massage settings before you step in. To achieve a personalized showering experience, you’ll need a 120-volt power source, and a thermostatic valve and controller in addition to your standard shower head or heads. Luxury models may include a steam system, a wi-fi source for music, multiple body spray outlets, tankless water heater, and a secondary controller to start the system from another room.
Dock your iPhone or MP3 player directly with your speaker-equipped, high-tech toilet so you can entertain yourself on the commode. While you’re not likely to invest $4,000 to $6,000 for a Kohler Numi toilet using this technology today, start looking for competitive models later in the year with lower prices.
Catch up on news and weather while you brush your teeth. Television screens are being integrated into medicine cabinets and vanity mirrors. Cost? Early entries to the market command a premium $2,200 to $2,400 price tag.
Plug your smart phone or MP3 player into your medicine cabinet so you won’t miss a call or song while getting ready for work or bed. A built-in jack keeps your unit charged (and away from wet countertops) and linked into a built-in speaker system.
Trend #3: Aging demographics emphasize safety
It’s not just high-tech that’s bringing an “experience” to the bathroom. Trends in universal design features add comfort, convenience, and safety. But that doesn’t mean your bathroom has to look institutional. Here are some universal design innovations that can factor helpfully (and stylishly) into your 2012 bath remodeling plans:
Sleek, low-profile linear drains are ideal for creating safe, zero-threshold shower designs. Unlike standard round drain covers that are typically mounted near the front end of a shower, these long, straight drains can be installed in different locations to minimize the slope of the shower floor. One popular location is at the outside edge of the shower, creating a wheelchair-friendly curbless shower. More offerings in more finishes — including nearly invisible tile-in channel models that are largely covered by shower floor tile — are becoming the standard for upscale spaces. You’ll spend $500 to $900 for a quality linear drain.
The rapidly-expanding selection of porcelain, glass, and ceramic tiles makes it easy to find slip-resistant, low-maintenance floors that don’t skimp on style. Expect to see faux wood, linen, and uniquely-textured looks for tiled bathroom floors and walls in 2012. The texture adds both visual impact and better traction for wet feet.
The accessible tub is no longer limited to the high-walled, narrow-door format that dominated the market in the last decade. Newer models, such as Kohler’s Elevance ($5,100), employ rising panels in front that give more of a traditional tub look with easier entry and exit. Others use standard hinged, sealed doors, but are increasing door width by several inches for better accessibility and appearance.
What would your mom like best — gardening gloves? A bug-killing device? Pet waste vacuum? Image: BugZooka, Inc., Gardener’s Supply, Hammacher Schlemmer
Sure, you can give Mom the same bouquet of flowers or pastel scarf you give her every year. Or, you can make sure Mom loves you best with one of these unique gifts.
1. Emergency kit: Since you want Mom to be safe in a storm and power outage, and keep her from worrying about you, spend some time on Mother’s Day reviewing a family emergency plan. And put together an emergency preparedness kit for Mom including:
Miner’s light that straps on the head — so much easier to use than a flashlight
2. Really good gardening gloves: Ones made of suede that reach the elbows, so rose thorns and poison ivy won’t wreck Mom’s day. Try the Bionic Rose Gauntlet glove, designed by a hand surgeon with protection and flexibility ($38); or Gardener’s Supply’s Rose Glove, that won’t stiffen or crack ($37).
3. Hummingbird feeders ($12-$35): Now that you’ve flown the coop, buy Mom a hummingbird feeder so that she can watch those miraculous, migrating birds. Get a red one — hummingbirds like red — with multiple feeding ports. Don’t spend money on nectar. You can make it yourself by combining 4 parts hot water with 1 part sugar. Make up a big jug that Mom can keep in the fridge. If she wants to follow the hummingbird migration, she can check out this map. If hummingbirds aren’t her thing, here are some other ideas for backyard birds.
4. Weeding time: A good weeder will cost $30 to $40; but the gift of weeding time is priceless. Instead of giving Mom one marathon session, give her an hour or two of weeding each month through the first frost. That way you’ll keep her garden beds well-groomed and increase her home’s curb appeal.
5. Bugzooka ($25): Every time Mom spots a spider or stink bug climbing her walls, she’ll think of you when she captures it in this bug sucker-upper. Bugzooka lets her release the critter unharmed into the wild, or deposit it dead into a trash can or compost pile.
6. Solar fountain or insert ($57 to $300): The sight and sound of running water calms the nerves and feeds the soul. Solar fountains and solar water fountain pumps are a snap to set up, and they run as long as the sun shines. Some even store power for cloudy days.
7. Session with feng shui designer ($100-plus/hr): An hour with a feng shui designer can help Mom rethink her furniture placement and, quite possibly, change her luck. A feng shui designer also can offer declutter and storage solutions that change the psychic conversation Mom has with the things in her life.
8. Dog Dung Vacuum ($99.95): Picking up after pets is no way to spend Mother’s Day, unless you have this hilarious but useful outdoor vacuum. A 30,000-rpm motor sucks up dog poo into a disposable bag, which wraps around the vacuum’s intake, so waste never touches any part of the cordless dung device.
9. Stone Face Creations ($98-$135): These wacky planters, shaped like male and female heads, will add a little whimsy to your mom’s garden. Plant trailing and flowering annuals in the top of planters to create a green toupee or cascade of blooming tresses.
Here are some tips to get you started on incorporating universal design features in your home.
One of the basic principles of universal design, also called ageless design, is that it makes homes more practical and safer for everyone — not just the elderly or people with limited mobility.
These days, universal design features are an everyday fact of life for many households, with architects and other professional designers adding universal design ideas as a matter of course.
You don’t have to be a pro designer to incorporate this smart thinking into your own home. If you’re remodeling or simply adding a few upgrades, be sure to keep universal design features in mind. There are lots of resources that’ll give you some great starting points.
As we remodel our 1972 ranch-style house (we’re on the multi-year, budget-as-you-go plan), my wife and I have incorporated several low-cost, easy-to-do UD features. A few of our favorites:
1. Switch out doorknobs for lever-style handles. Doorknobs require lots of dexterity and torque to open; with levers you simply press and go.
Makes sense for folks with arthritis, of course, but think about an emergency situation when everyone, including small kids, needs to exit fast: A lever handle is a safe, foolproof way to open a door.
A big plus: Levers are good-looking and can contribute to the value of your home. A standard interior passage door lever in a satin nickel finish costs about $20; you’ll pay $25 to $30 for a lockable lever set for your bath or bedroom. Replacing door hardware is an easy DIY job.
2. Replace toggle light switches with rocker-style switches. Rocker switches feature a big on/off plate that you can operate with a finger, a knuckle, or even your elbow when you’re laden with bags of groceries.
Rocker switches are sleek and good-looking, too. Ever notice how conventional toggle switches get dirt and grime embedded in them after a couple of years? No more! You’ll pay $2 for a single-pole rocker switch, up to $10 for multiple switch sets.
3. Anti-scald devices for your bathroom prevent water from reaching unsafe temps.An anti-scald shower head ($15) reduces water flow to a trickle if the water gets too hot. An anti-scald faucet device ($40) replaces your faucet aerator and also reduces hot water flow.
Anti-scald valves — also known as pressure-balancing valves — prevent changes in water pressure from creating sudden bursts of hot or cold water. An anti-scald valve ($100) installs on plumbing pipes inside your walls. If you don’t have DIY skills, you’ll pay a plumber $100 to $200 for installation.
4. Motion sensor light controls add light when you need it. They come in a variety of styles and simple technologies. I like the plug-in sensors ($10 to $15). You simply stick them into existing receptacles, then plug your table or floor lamps into them. When the sensor detects motion, it turns on the light.
They’re great for 2 a.m. snacking, or if your young kids are at that age when they migrate into your bed in the middle of the night. The lights turn off after about 10 minutes if no more motion is detected.
You can refinance or recast your mortgage. Or you can create your own DIY mortgage restructuring plan. We compare so you can decide.
Send in extra money to pay down principal
In the mid-1970s, Marc Eisenson coined the term “banker’s secret,” which promoted a cost-saving idea: Pay more than required on your monthly mortgage, and you’ll save a pile of money. Eisenson says, “It was a secret that bankers knew, but didn’t share with their customers.”
Here’s how it works. If you take out a $200,000 30-year mortgage at an interest rate of 6%, and hold it to term, you’ll pay a total of $382,537.97 for your home, including interest of $182,537.97. However, if you send in just $100 each month in additional principal, you’ll save more than $49,000 in interest over the term of the loan.
There’s another huge perk: You’ll pay off the loan five years and five months ahead of schedule. This strategy puts you in total control of the restructuring process, and there are no fees involved.
Another way to pay off your loan early is to use a bi-weekly payment plan. Banks and third-party companies can implement this plan for you, but they’ll charge hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees. We don’t recommend you pay for the service unless you lack the self-discipline to make the payments yourself.
With this strategy, you make half your monthly mortgage payment every two weeks, which equals 13 payments a year instead of 12. With bi-weekly payments on a 30-year $200,000 loan, you’ll save more than $49,000 in interest over the course of the loan, and pay it off approximately five years earlier.
Other ways to easily do it yourself:
Make one additional mortgage payment per year at any time.
Divide your monthly payment by 12, and add that extra amount each month when you pay your mortgage.
Recast mortgage for lower payments
If you want to lower your monthly payment and have at least $5,000 to contribute, you can request a mortgage recast. In this scenario, you don’t change the interest rate or term of your mortgage, you change the principal balance, and the term begins anew.
Here’s how it works: After 10 years of paying your 30-year mortgage with a 6% interest rate and a monthly payment of $1,432.86, your balance is $200,000. With a mortgage recast, you contribute an additional $20,000, and have a new principal amount of $180,000, with the same remaining 20 years to pay it off at 6%. However, your new monthly payment is $1,289.58, for a savings of $143.28 per month.
There’s a small fee for this service — approximately $250. The bank gets nothing out of this except retaining your loyalty, so they don’t promote it. It’s up to the lender whether it’ll do it, so all you can do is ask. It’s also likely to be a lengthy process. You have nothing to lose, however, except a higher monthly payment.
Refinance your loan
The most common way to restructure your loan is with a mortgage refinance, where you replace your current mortgage with a new one at a lower interest rate. If you took that same $200,000 balance on your 6% mortgage and refinanced into one with a 5% interest rate, you’d reduce your monthly payment from $1,199 to $1,074, saving $125 monthly.
Refinancing may be challenging to get approved for in a tight lending environment, where you need stellar credit scores and a steady job history. You’ll also need to pay closing costs, which can run 3% to 6% of the loan amount.
These tips are appropriate if you’re current on your mortgage and have extra money. Struggling home owners should consider the government-sponsored Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) for mortgage restructuring.
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