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5 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Curb Appeal

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House hunting is a little like speed dating. You only get a few minutes to make a great impression. That’s why curb appeal is so important.

Craftsman

“When potential buyers pull up to your house, they’re asking themselves: Is this place worth getting out of the car to look at?” says Kevin Kieffer, a real estate agent based in California’s East Bay area. “Your house needs to be framed up: It needs to look like a picture when people pull up. They expect to see tasteful paint colors, well-trimmed grass, new bark, fresh flowers — the whole deal.”

Real estate agents participating in Zillow’s 2014 Home-Selling Season Survey identified curb appeal as a key way to make a property more attractive to buyers. Kieffer says that, while it’s hard to quantify return on investment, curb appeal is the best way to get quick action and top dollar for your property.

“In a market like ours, if people can see that a property is turn-key and they’re not going to have to spend time resodding or painting, you’re more likely to get more interest,” he said. “If you end up with amultiple-offer situation, it’s typical for the price to go up by 3 percent per bidder — that can add up to $10,000 over asking price really quickly.”

The great news is that you don’t have to spend a lot to make big changes to your home’s exterior appearance. Start the makeover by cutting the grass, power washing the porch and walkway, and getting rid of clutter. Then, tackle one or all five of these perk-up projects to enhance your home’s curb appeal.

Hardware redo

Rustic

House numbers, a wall-mounted mailbox and a porch light can add interest to your home’s exterior — unless they’re dated or dinged up. Ideally, all this hardware should match, both in style and finish. You’ll also want to choose hardware that coordinates with the style of your home. Sleek, brushed nickel house numbers, for instance, might look great on a contemporary home, but they’d probably be out of place on a log cabin.

Add a splash of color

Stone, Raised Beds, Cottage, Stained Glass, Transom

You can buy a gallon of quality exterior paint for about $25. That should be enough to add new color to — or simple freshen up — your front door, shutters and trim. Don’t be afraid of bold colors; just make sure they complement the other shades on your house and in your landscape. Of course, if the rest of the house is peeling, you may need to outlay more cash and paint the whole thing — or, at the very least, the side that faces the street.

Go green

Traditional

Plant some flowers along your front walkway or add planters by your front door to give your home a welcoming feel. You can purchase pre-planted containers from your local garden center or create your own with your favorite plants. Window boxes are another great way to add color and interest to your home’s exterior. Just be sure you tend to your flowers after you plant them. Dying geraniums will not enhance your curb appeal.

Manicure trees and shrubs

Traditional

Your house may be gorgeous, but that won’t matter if no one can see it. When your home’s best features are obscured by overgrown branches and shrubs, it can make the house seem uninviting and unkempt. In addition to looking unappealing, trees that rub against your house can damage your siding and provide a direct pathway for squirrels and other rodents that want to get onto your roof or under your siding. Tame bushes and branches or hire someone to do the job for you.

Bring the indoors out

Tile, Contemporary, Cottage, Wrap Around Porch

If your outdoor space allows it, add a comfortable place to sit. Use an outdoor rug to visually anchor a seating area and then add a loveseat or chair and small table. Colorful cushions and pillows in outdoor fabrics will add punch to the space; select cushions with removable covers so you can wash them or swap them out as seasons change. Choose all-weather art to add the finishing touches to your outdoor space. If you already have outdoor furniture, make sure it’s clean and cared for. Create a setting that’s so attractive prospective buyers can’t resist it.

Photos courtesy of Zillow Digs

This article was originally published by Mary Boone on Zillow Blog. To see the original article, click here.

Mary Boone is a freelance writer for Zillow Blog. Read more from her here.

Stage Your Own ‘Game of Thrones’ in This $30 Million Castle

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Looking for a hot medieval property to stage your own “Game of Thrones”? You won’t have to travel the plains of Westeros to find such a keep, but rather the blue grass of Kentucky, where this fortified castle lists for the Lannister price of $30 million.

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Occupying 55 acres in Versailles, KY, the baronial fortress has been primarily used as an event facility but still presents itself as a formidable stronghold for any king-in-training. Lined in solid stone, the castle comes lined in soaring conical spires and battlements perfect for guarding the outer wall against an onslaught of enemy invaders.

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Inside, the castle is prime for entertaining families of the Seven Kingdoms. Of its 50 rooms, there are 16 bedroom suites and 19 full bathrooms, a great hall with massive ceilings and authentic period chandeliers, and an expansive dining room equipped to handle the largest of royal weddings.

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A barrel-vaulted ballroom has a wood-burning fireplace and a dance floor, and a stately library is stocked with a collection of leather-bound books. There’s even a music room equipped with a grand piano and standing harp.

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For the sportsmen in your clan, a rooftop deck with shuffleboard, sports courts and a large swimming pool offers sufficient outlet; while a horse farm and two additional residences can be found outside the walls of this southern kingdom.

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This article was originally published by Neal J. Leitereg on Realtor.com. To see the original article, click here.

What Do Homebuyers Want?

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Whether you are marketing your home to first-time buyers, young families or empty nesters, all of them are looking for some of the same characteristics in a home, along with a few special preferences that meet their specific needs.

Of course, homebuyers are individuals, too, so the feature in your home that most appeals to one buyer—such as an extensive backyard with space for gardening—could have zero appeal for another buyer. Researchers spend a lot of time profiling buyers to find out how to market existing homes and how to design new homes to appeal to a broad market. As a seller, there are some things you may not be able to change easily about your home; but the more you know about what attracts buyers, the more you can emphasize those features in your marketing materials and by staging your home.

Buyer Preferences

The National Association of REALTORS®’s 2013 Home Features Survey gathered information from purchasers to find out what they bought and what features mattered most to them. According to the survey, the majority of buyers want more closet and storage space. If you can emphasize this space in your home by emptying some of your closets, you are more likely to attract top dollar for your property.

In addition, 65% of buyers said a home with central air conditioning was very important. In fact, this is the most important of 31 features listed by the NAR.

NAR’s study showed that buyers were willing to pay the most extra money for a home with a basement and an in-law suite, but, as always, upgraded kitchens were a priority, too.

While granite countertops are definitely a popular choice, only 20% of buyers said that particular type of surface was very important. Stainless steel appliances were considered very important by 17% of buyers. More important than those specific features were new appliances and an eat-in kitchen. So, as a seller, if you have limited money but want to upgrade your dated kitchen, you may be better off spending the money on new appliances instead of new counters.

Home purchasers in 2013 emphasized practicality with their focus on storage, space and appliances: 89% bought a home with a laundry room, 78% bought a home with a garage, 57% bought a home with a fireplace and 41% bought a home with a basement.

Generational Preferences

In addition to NAR’s study, surveys by GfK Roper Reports and 24/7 Wall Street looked at preferences among younger buyers and older buyers. Sellers can use this information to target their marketing to the buyers they think are most likely to purchase their home.

For example, the surveys found that hardwood floors were more important to younger buyers than to baby boomers. Older buyers think a private master bath is an important feature to have in their home. While younger buyers want this as well, it’s less of a priority for their age group.

First-time buyers and younger buyers are looking for an open floor plan and a home office with up-to-date wiring, so if you have an older home to sell it may be wise to invest a little money in upgrading your technology. You can also stage your home to show that your separate living room and dining room can be flexible spaces to use for an office or casual gathering space.

Younger buyers tend to be more interested in energy efficiency than older buyers, so if you decide to replace your appliances make sure you choose Energy Star models.

While you can’t provide a dream house for every buyer, considering buyer preferences while you prepare your home for sale can make your property more appealing so it sells faster.

This article was originally published by Michele Lerner on Realtor.com. To see the original article, click here.

Making Beach House Dreams Come True

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If you are considering buying a beach house as an investment, a holiday getaway or a year-round residence, you will have advantages and disadvantages to consider that aren’t factors when buying a land-locked house.

Some of the pros and cons of dipping your toes in beach real estate include:

Pros

  • The beach
  • The glorious water
  • The sounds and the views
  • The refuge from city life
  • The laid-back atmosphere

All the intangibles and tangibles that make beach vacations so relaxing extend to owning a piece of the beach for yourself. If your beach home will be your permanent residence, you could feel like you are on vacation every day. And if you intend to rent out your new beachfront digs as part of an investment plan, you probably won’t have too much difficulty finding tenants, charging the rents you need and recouping your investment.

Cons

  • Most beach communities empty out when summer is over, so if you and your family intend to live in one permanently, you might feel isolated once the temperatures dip.
  • A transient vacation population can make it difficult to build friendships.
  • As shops in the area close during the winter months, you may need to travel further afield to do your shopping.
  • If your home is an investment property, then seasonal fluctuations can have an impact upon the number of people willing to rent the property during the off-season and how much they would be willing to pay.
  • The closer you are to the ocean, the greater the risks of damage from storms and flooding. That carries risks for your family, as well as potential pricey fixes to the home.
  • If your home is an investment, you might have to charge your tenants more in order to pay for its upkeep to guard against storm damage and other risk factors.

Other Considerations

There’s beachfront, and then there’s near the beach—you will need to decide which best serves your needs. The former will make it easier to access the beach, which is, after all, the main asset of the home. However, beachfront homes are more prone to storm damage and flooding, and they are usually more expensive.

If a home is located even just a half-block away from the surf, the price difference from one on the beach could be huge; but it may still offer views, salt air, and a quick, easy walk to the sand. A residence a short distance from the beach can still offer solid amenities, more protection from the elements, and more protection for your bank account.

Then again, if it’s an investment property, you won’t be able to charge your tenants as much if the property is off-beach. You lessen the likelihood of relaxing over a stunning sunset (or sunrise) over the water. And, let’s be honest, if you’re dreaming big enough to buy at the beach, do you really want to settle for almost but not quite there?

Expert Advice

To minimize the dangers of storm or flood damage, consult an expert about the highest level of ocean tides near your home. In addition, check out the history of the house and the area to see the extent of damage from storms. When you have the home inspected, make sure the inspector weighs the home’s ability to withstand severe weather.

Also, consider the area around the home. Landscaping such as dune grass can indicate safe drainage and offer some protection from the elements. And you’ll want to make sure your understanding of the property lines doesn’t shift like the sand.

A beach home can be a wonderful acquisition, but be sure you weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully.

Ben Apple contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by Anne Miller on Realtor.com. To see the original article, click here.

14 Ways to Reclaim Lost Counter Space

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Counter space. No matter how big the kitchen, you hardly ever hear anyone complaining that there’s too much of it. Especially in a compact kitchen, clear counters are a precious commodity worth fighting for. Luckily, there are lots of smart storage ideas that can help you reclaim lost counter space. Here are 14 great solutions that are just begging to be a part of your kitchen expansion.

Granite - simple, Contemporary, One-wall, Undermount
Source: Bright Designlab Interior Design

Top-shelf idea

Open shelving — whether it’s set on the backsplash, mounted on a painted wall, or even free-hanging from the ceiling — can greatly increase your kitchen storage capabilities. Although you’ll want to choose eye-pleasing items to house there, the net result will be an increase in space down below.

Roll me away

If you’re striving to save space, a rolling cart with a butcher-block top does double duty. Use the top for prep when you need it, and give dishes or other supplies a good home on the shelves underneath.

Get some hang time

Most kitchen utensils have a notch on the handle, perfect for perching up high. This way, you can save your limited drawer space for something else.

Source: Zillow Digs
Source: Zillow Digs

Climbing the ceiling

Similar to the elevated utensil concept, hanging your pots and pans from a ceiling-mounted rack keeps them nearby and easy to spot. Even better, the cabinet they used to occupy gets freed up, making room for items that used to live on your counter.

Sink in

When you’re chopping, you can’t be washing, so why not use your kitchen sink as a prep area? Any cutting board slightly wider than your sink will do the trick.

Slide into home

If you’re lucky enough to be in the design stages, why not sneak a few pull-out surfaces into the mix? It’s a great way to gain extra space that appears only when you need it.

Beyond the block

Let’s face it, traditional knife blocks are counter hogs. A simple solution is to store knives on the wall with a magnetic holder, but make sure you dry your knives thoroughly before storing and place them carefully on the strip.

Trash it

Made famous by Rachael Ray, the “garbage bowl” can help keep peels and trimmings under control as you cook. Scraps go in the bowl until they’re all ready for the trash or composting, and the counters stay free of debris.

Another way to look at it

Having a limited amount of kitchen real estate can inspire creative, and at times beautiful, solutions.Mounting a few shelves inside a window not only gains surface area for storage, but also captures a stunning backdrop for anything placed there.

Island idea

Make your kitchen island work a bit harder for you by adding shelves for books, or bars for hanging towels or utensils.

Corian, Crown molding, Breakfast Bar, Traditional, Flat Panel, Inset, L-Shaped, Pendant
Source: CBI Design Professionals

Hole in the wall

Even if your kitchen’s footprint is small, you may uncover a treasure trove of storage possibilities between the studs. In many cases, reclaiming this hidden wall space requires remodeling only this one area instead of the whole kitchen.

Corner pocket

Freestanding shelves like these from Beyond the Rack give you a clever, efficient way to use that often-neglected corner space.

Have your cake and eat it too

Use a simple cake stand to hold high-use items like salt, pepper and olive oil. If you need more room, you can easily transfer the stand to another spot in the kitchen.

Jar ingenuity

Ah, the all-purpose Mason jar. What a great idea: Affix the metal lids to the underside of a cabinet, and screw the jars on and off as you need them.

This article is by Tracy Anderson of Bobvila.com, and was originally published on Zillow Blog. To see the original article, click here.

Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

‘Blue Sky Home’ in Wine Country

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This house perched on a wine-country hillside gives away little when you approach it from the driveway — just a bold wall that reveals the owners’ favorite color.

Swing open the large, pivoting front door, though, and you’re hit by a giant view beyond a wall of windows.

The home, designed and built for a local family in the wine business, is Casa Cielo Azul — the “Blue Sky Home.”

“He designed the house to create a sense of surprise,” said Cyd Greer, the listing agent with Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley. “You don’t really have a sense of what you’re in for when you get there.”

Mexico-trained architect Juan Carlos Fernandez designed the modern home, which was built by contractor Mark Grassi. The owners, who recently sold a Napa Valley winery, asked for an easy-living space that incorporated the color blue.

The sophisticated and private home combines indoor and outdoor living with walls of windows that fold away to access an outdoor terrace with a fireplace and infinity-edge pool.

Touches of blue carry through the home’s design, such as blue tile in the master bathroom. It also has an outdoor shower, a spa, and a kitchen that centers on a very large marble island.

Also included on the property: a separate 1-bedroom, 1-bath guest house, a barn-style 1,255-square-foot 2-bedroom, 2-bath second home with a cathedral ceiling and rustic modern kitchen.

“When you’re in this house, it is very hard to take your eyes off this view,” said Greer. “It’s a very easy-living house. It just feels right.”

660 Linda Falls Ter, Angwin, CA
For Sale: $4,500,000

This article  was originally published by Emily Heffter on Zillow Blog. To see the original article, click here

Emily Heffter, a reporter and writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, unusual properties, and other real estate topics. Read more of her work here.

How to Judge a Neighborhood’s Quality of Life

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Location is a huge factor in successful homeownership. Just a mile—in some cases just a city block—can make a difference in home values, health risks, crime and the general quality of life for you and your family.

Everyone has different priorities but neighborhoods that are more likely to cause trouble for your housing investment often share certain qualities. What makes or breaks a neighborhood, and what are the signs of decline?

Here are four ways to evaluate an area:

Home Prices

Sale prices in an area offer a good barometer of what’s happening on the ground. A neighborhood where homes linger on the market for years, where owners constantly drop their selling prices or sell for much lower than they initially asked for, might not serve as a great investment for a new home buyer. Most of that information is publicly available. A REALTOR® can answer questions too. Pay very close attention to small fluctuations in urban areas. In San Francisco, for example, by merely crossing to the other side of the street you can pay up to 25% more for a comparable house.

Looks That Aren’t Deceiving

If you see streets dotted with “out of business” signs, or if the schools look in dire need of upgrades, the area may not be for you. Evaluate the quality of transportation—areas with better transit options tend to hold their value more. If you spy dirty streets, poor local services, few recreational facilities, or a shortage of restaurants and other amenities, you may be witnessing signs of a neighborhood in decline. Purchasing property in such an area could put your investment at risk and create havoc in your daily life.

Focus on the Details

If you’re looking at a specific house or apartment, pay close attention to what’s nearby. Some things that might signal a less desirable area:

  • Lots of traffic and noise
  • Potential hazards such as a power plant
  • Built on a landfill or former swampland
  • Roads and sidewalks in disrepair
  • Shabby, rundown or vacant buildings
  • Near railroad tracks, under flight paths
  • Near commercial or industrial areas

Careless Neighbors

Driving through a prospective neighborhood and looking at the condition of properties nearby can help you spot other signs of a declining neighborhood. Poor yard maintenance, shoddy landscaping, discarded junk in driveways, gardens growing weeds and broken fences could mean owners lack pride in their homes, and possibly in their community.

Deena Weinberg contributed to this article.

This article was originally published by Anne Miller on Realtor.com. To see the original article, click here