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Home Improvement Projects: DIY or Hire a Pro?

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Completing a DIY project can be incredibly satisfying, but get in over your head and you could be looking at some major expenses to fix the damage. Before you grab your toolbox, ask yourself if you’re really equipped to tackle that task.

In an increasingly do-it-yourself world, homeowners are now taking on more improvement jobs themselves. And while many projects are easy to pull off — even for the most novice DIYers — some are better left to a professional.

Here’s a guide to when it’s a good idea to DIY, and when it’s better to hire someone who’s got the tools, knowledge and skills to make your home the best it can be.

Tile and flooring

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

DIY: Laying down flooring or putting up a kitchen backsplash has become increasingly DIY-friendly as companies come up with easy-to-use products, such as snap-and-click floorboards and peel-and-stick tiles. Many online tutorials can show you how to properly grout bathroom tile, lay a subfloor, and more. If you feel confident installing a tiled backsplash or putting in some new floorboards — and have the time to commit to the project — go for it.

Hire a pro: Though these sorts of installations are becoming easier for the everyday homeowner, there still might be times when you want to invest in a pro. If you’re replacing the flooring in your entire house, have uneven flooring or lots of tricky corners, or simply don’t have the time for a project this involved, bring in a professional to make a quick job of it. With tile, if you want special accent features or are working with a difficult-to-use type of stone, then your local contractor will be able to help get it just right.

Electrical work

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

DIY: Electrical work can be very dangerous if not done correctly. If you just need to do simple jobs like changing out switch plates, hanging a new light fixture, or figuring out how to hide the cords for your TV, then generally you are safe to do it yourself. Resources online will show how to make simple electrical fixes. Whenever you are working with electricity, make sure to turn off the power to that area of the house, and only use tools and parts meant for electrical work.

Hire a pro: Basically, anything above the level of switching out a light fixture should be left to a pro. If you want to have outlets grounded, add lights where there were none previously, fix your electric fireplace or tackle anything that looks complicated or difficult, absolutely hire someone. Messing around with electricity is extremely dangerous and, unless you know what you’re doing, you could get seriously hurt.


Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

DIY: Painting is usually fairly low-risk and easy for anyone of any skill level. It’s very simple to grab some painter’s tape, a roller or two, your favorite hue and paint away. Most interior painting is DIY-able, and it’s more cost-effective than hiring a pro. Make your project safe by securing ladders and keeping windows open to ventilate fumes. Before you open up that paint can, be sure to consider the amount of time, cost of materials, and the strain painting might take on your body.

Hire a pro: If you’re looking to paint the exterior of your house, it’s generally easier to let a professional company handle it so you don’t have to deal with tall ladders, working around foliage, or spending all your free time completing the project. Though it can be expensive, it’s still a good option, especially if you don’t feel able-bodied enough. The same goes for cathedral ceilings or lots of intricate work inside your home. And if your house is older and has any lead paint inside or out, call a professional and have them look at it or remove it for you — otherwise you risk exposure to health hazards.


Courtesy of Carney Logan Burke Architects.

DIY: Stick to simple fixes like switching out sink fixtures, unclogging drains, or making easy repairs to your toilet. When you go to pick out new hardware or sink fittings, ask an employee about the best method to install it. Most easy plumbing upgrades just involve switching off the water and using some elbow grease.

Hire a pro: If you are planning on changing out toilets or tubs, it’s generally best to call someone trained for the job. Porcelain gets heavy, and can be tricky to maneuver and hook up. This also goes for adding completely new piping where there was none previously, or putting in a hot tub or water feature. Never dig without having the proper permits and calling the county to see if your house is on top of important utilities.

Demolition and renovation

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

DIY: Simple demolitions or renovations are okay for some homeowners to handle — if you know your stuff. If you’re ripping out old kitchen cabinets or tearing out an island, it’s generally pretty safe to take them out yourself. As long as you wear protective gear and are sure that you aren’t going to hit any utilities, such as electrical wires or plumbing pipes, go for it. If you are building anything outside the home, like a deck or shed, make sure that you have the proper permits and build it properly so it doesn’t fall apart after a year.

Hire a pro: If you’re building an addition or are demoing walls or whole rooms, consider getting a professional on the scene. A lot of permits and specifications must be managed for an addition or big project, so using a contractor will guarantee that your renovations are legal and up-to-code. As for demolition, having a pro do it for you will ensure you don’t accidentally hit any electrical or plumbing lines, and that whatever is being demoed won’t affect the structural integrity of your home.

These are general suggestions and precautions — only you as the homeowner know what you are capable of. If you are a DIY pro, have extensive experience, or know friends that do, you may be able to take on some higher-level work and skip hiring a pro. On the other hand, if a project seems out of your scope of capabilities or too dangerous to take on, call in your local handyman or contractor.

Whether you take the DIY route or get help from a pro, renovating your home can be a rewarding and beneficial experience. See home design inspiration to get you started.

Posted by Erica Sooter on Zillow

15 Luxe Must-Haves for Your New Place

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You’ve found your dream home; here’s what you need to make it even dreamier.

You may be the Internet’s savviest real estate stalker and spend hours poring over luscious home design on Pinterest and Houzz. You may even be lucky enough to move into a Mid-Century Modern home in San Diego or a stately home in Charleston, SC, in real life.

But once you’ve bought your dream home, moved in, and are ready make your vision board a reality, it can be hard to determine when you should splurge on useful yet somewhat unnecessary items. We’re here to help you outfit your luxe new pad with all the right nice things.

Cook up a gourmet kitchen

Vitamix. Ladies and gentlemen, if you have never thought a kitchen appliance could change your life, you’ve never met a Vitamix. The Cadillac of blenders not only mixes smoothies, sauces, and purees to perfection, it also operates at such a high speed, you can also make soup. As in hot soup.

Wine decanter/aerator. Chances are, you’ll want to host a housewarming sooner rather than later, so some rapid-fire wine aging may be in order. Equip your bar cart with a decanter to smooth out those dense reds, perfect for sipping during the grand tour — just not on the white carpet!

Electric pressure cooker. In your new kitchen, you want sophisticated equipment that fits in with a busy, health-conscious lifestyle. Enter the electric pressure cooker. Get all the good stuff cooked in half the time (literally), from oatmeal to black beans to chicken soup.

Dream up a bedroom oasis

Air purifier. Choose a supersleek contraption like one from Dyson that looks chic while working hard. The vacuum maker claims that this household tool “removes 99.95% of potentially harmful ultrafine particles as small as 0.1 microns,” so you can breathe easy in your classy space.

Sound machine. You’ve probably spent time researching and selecting a top-of-the-line mattress, but if you’re woken up at the crack of dawn by your trash truck, it’s all for naught. Ensure a good night’s sleep with a soothing sound machine. Newer models boast a wide array of crisp, natural-sounding tones — and look great on a nightstand.

New pillows. The average adult spends a third of their life sleeping, rendering a good pillow crucial to maximizing your well-being. Don’t skimp on these unsung productivity and spinal health power players. Pick the right type for your sleep position and any symptoms getting in the way of your restful slumber.

Jazz up the bathroom

Towel warmer. You didn’t install a top-of-the-line, five-head, rainfall steam shower just to step out and wrap up in a frigid towel. Get an extra dose of pure pampering in your dream bathroom by warming your bath sheet on an unobtrusive heated rack.

Shower TV/music. Invest in a waterproof TV, and never spend a minute unconnected. The convenient placement of all your news and entertainment will likely be a game changer.

Scale up. The sky’s practically the limit when it comes to how you weigh in. Some may opt to place this device in the home gym, but either way, you can track stats such as body fat percentage, weight fluctuation, and weigh-in progress — with Wi-Fi compatibility in some cases — right there at your feet.

Luxe up the laundry

Nice detergent. If you spend time and money building a killer wardrobe, it’s only logical that you treat those garments right when they’re in the wash. Skip the big box stores and head to Saks instead, where you can grab a bottle of Le Labo and The Laundress Rose, which blends the best detergent with ultrarich perfume.

Clothes stand. Stylists swear by a good clothes stand, so why not treat your magazine-worthy threads to the same storage and display? Something sturdy and mobile — for carting around your expansive closet — will prove an invaluable wardrobe addition.

Iron/garment steamer. Again, the benefit of a knockout outfit gets lost if it’s ironed with anything less than the best. Rowenta rules the roost, with plenty of capable models from Singer and Black & Decker coming in as runners-up.

Chic up the living room

Coffee-table books. Nothing brings out the fine finish and smooth lines of a good coffee table like stacks of sophisticated books placed on top. Think about what you like to look at every day, and it’s bound to be bound in an oversized tome for your tabletop.

Bonsai tree. Experts say adding green to your space makes you happier, and it literally breathes life into any room. An intricate bonsai tree will match fine decor in any setting, bringing an element of organic, artful intrigue to any corner.

A sweet sound system. The soundtrack to your space is important. Pick a system such as Sonos, whose components blend seamlessly in any handsomely outfitted room. Plus, the Wi-Fi operation makes turning up the sound a cinch.

Posted by Kelly O’Rielly


Sales Up In (Almost) Every Price Range!

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The National Association of Realtors’ most recent Existing Home Sales Report revealed that home sales were up rather dramatically over last year in five of the six price ranges they measure.

Only those homes priced under $100,000 showed a decline (-7.7%). The decline in this price range points to the lower inventory of distressed properties available for sale and speaks to the strength of the market.

Every other category showed a minimum increase of at least 5.6%, with sales in the $250,000- $500,000 range up 16.9%!

Here is the breakdown:

What does that mean to you if you are selling?

Houses are definitely selling. If your house has been on the market for any length of time and has not yet sold, perhaps it is time to sit with your agent and see if it is priced appropriately to compete in today’s market.

Posted by The KCM Crew

How to Stage Your Home for Fall Showings

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Follow these tips to show prospective buyers a home for all seasons.

Staging a home is like vacuuming before company arrives: You might not notice it when it’s done well, but you definitely notice when it isn’t.

Fall’s biggest buyers are millennials with a sharp eye for detail and empty nesters looking to have some space to themselves, so it makes even more sense to set your home up to show well to these demographics. Since autumn is an especially homey time of year, it’s easy to add a bit of cozy comfort while keeping your place ship-shape for showings.

Set the scene

Do as much purging and packing as you can before beginning home showings. Store packed possessions out of sight in the garage or at a storage facility.

Of course, furniture can stay, as long as it’s neutral and doesn’t take up too much room. It may seem counterintuitive, but pulling furniture away from the walls can make a room seem bigger, which is ideal.

Positioning furniture in the middle of the room can make a space seem bigger. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

A few small touches are not remiss. A folded throw on the back of a chair is welcoming, as are a tasteful cluster of candles on the coffee table or a selection of nice-looking magazines.

Put a shine on it

Once you’ve de-cluttered, a good old-fashioned deep clean is the number one way to make a house shine. Don’t forget the “hidden” spaces that buyers may check, such as under-sink cabinets, closets and storage areas.

Clear out the clutter and make sure cabinets stay tidy. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

It’s easy to become oblivious to things you see (and smell) every day, so hiring someone to come clean may be worth the investment if you’re short on time. Clear kitchen counters completely, except for perhaps a bowl of fresh apples or pears and a candle with a simple scent such as vanilla.

Don’t forget the outside, too: Replace burnt-out bulbs on garage lights, sweep cobwebs, and power-wash siding or decks if necessary. A simple fall wreath and new welcome mat are effective and inexpensive improvements.

Let them in

Potential buyers want to be able to see themselves living in the home they’re touring, so safely stowing away your family photographs and mementos will easily free up visual space for their mind’s eye. Hanging mirrors instead will bring light and life to the space, making it look larger as well.

Natural light is paramount to most buyers, so remove or open blinds and heavy curtains to keep rooms airy and bright. Inexpensive sheers on all of the windows will instantly lift visual weight from the interior. Fall days can turn gloomy, though, so be sure to have warm interior lighting ready to go if you need it.

Use natural light and careful lighting to create a welcoming glow at any time of day. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Show purpose

Setting up spaces in a neutral and intentional way will also help potential buyers design their own ideal life in the house. If you’ve turned the dining room into a catch-all station, it’s time to let that dining room table be seen again.

If there is an office space, keep it as streamlined as possible. Millennials will want to see a clean office space where they can envision telecommuting.

Streamlined rooms allow buyers to envision themselves living in the space. Courtesy of Thea Segal.

While these tips may be inconvenient or expensive in the short term, they can pay off in higher sale prices and less time on the market. And since the bulk of packing and moving work will be done already, you’ll be able to smoothly transition once your home sells.

Posted by Natalie Wise on Zillow

It is time to Air Out that House for Better Air Quality

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Summer is coming to a close and air conditioning is no longer needed. But before we head into winter, when we close up our windows and turn on our heat, we have some time to air out our homes and get them smelling fresh and clean. Opening your windows and airing out your home can improve the air quality in your home. Along with these other tips you can have a fall filled with freshness.

Clean your Home

Air quality is also dependent upon a clean house. Cleaning your floors and vacuuming your carpets will remove the dirt from the areas. Dusting your furniture and your ceiling fans will remove the dust that can build up and cause pollutants in your air, so dust your home at least once a week. Remember to remove dust from baseboards or wainscoating along walls. These areas can trap dust along their edges.

Add Plants to your Home

Plants take in our carbon monoxide and release oxygen which adds to a healthy environment. Many plants are low maintenance and can also add color and texture to a room. Plants can easily be incorporated into the design elements of your home.

Remove the Spray Air Fresheners

Air fresheners create a scent that may appeal to you, but they create more pollutants into a home. Try using natural air fresheners like boiling spices and fruit on your stovetop or using herbs and placing them in bowls around your home. Flavors can be mixed with a variety of herbs and dried fruits or using extracts. In addition to removing air fresheners, limit the aerosol products you use in your home. Limit the cleaning products and the personal hygiene products to keep your home fresh.

Change your Air Filters

Changing your air filters every three to four months can help improve your air quality in your home. Fall is a perfect time to start fresh with a new air filter. This is a simple task that cost a few dollars and a few minutes of your time.

Air Purifiers

Keeping a bit of humidity in your home and using air purifiers can also keep your home fresh. Air purifiers can be purchased and used independently in each room or you can call your air conditioning service provider to add a purifier to your system. Having an air purifier attached to your HVAC system requires that your use your air conditioning or heating units. If you are in place where you do not want to use your HVAC system, then using air purifiers in your home may work better for you.

Fall is a great time to refresh your home and try some new techniques to keep your home’s air quality pure.

Posted by HomeZada

Combining Houseplants for Decorative Arrangements

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When it comes to potted plants, “the more the merrier” makes a great rule of (green) thumb.

If you aren’t already making your own container combinations with houseplants, you’re really missing out. They bring a bit of the outdoors to even the smallest spaces,  and are a lot easier to water than plants grown on their own.
Here are nine reasons you should be combining your houseplants, and how to do it in nine easy steps.

9 reasons to combine houseplants

1. Less watering. Watering an assortment of potted plants can be a pain. With a combo, however, you just water once.

2. Living flower arrangements. Flower arrangements are great, but there’s just something so captivating about a living ecosystem in your home. In addition, living arrangements are more economical than cut flowers over time, because they last a lot longer.

3. Fits your decor. Going for a traditional look? Use cast iron plant, parlor palm, and ferns in an urn or terra-cotta pot. More modern? Plant snake plant, Haworthia and Gasteria in a sleek container. Primitive tropical? Fill a rattan basket with an exuberant pot of rainforest plants.

4. Stays alive. Even if a plant or two dies, the others will quickly fill in the gap. If you’re impatient, all you have to do is tuck another one in its place.

5. It’s therapeutic. Successfully cultivating life just feels good. You’d be amazed by how relaxing and rewarding an occasional trim or topdressing of soil can be.

6. It’s a garden, indoors. A well-planted arrangement truly feels like a little piece of garden in the middle of your home — minus the creepy-crawlies and hard work.

7. Ideal for small spaces. Everyone has room for an indoor garden. These arrangements can range from just a few inches wide to taking up as much space as a dining chair. No matter the size, the impact is huge.

8. A creative outlet. If you get your kicks from cooking, crafting, drawing or writing, then just look at an indoor arrangement as an extension of your craft. It’s a recipe of plants; a craft that hot-glues itself in place; a masterpiece in four dimensions; an adventure in your mind’s eye.

9. Year-round gardening. Throughout most of the country, winter puts the garden on hold for a few months. In the Deep South and Southwest, summer keeps you in the air-conditioned comfort of your home. Your indoor garden will keep you company until nicer weather.

How to combine houseplants

Now that you’re ready to plant your own indoor living arrangement of plants, here’s how you do it. Note that it’s almost exactly like planting an outdoor container combo.

  1. Gather materials. Choose a pot with a drainage hole and potting mix. The drainage hole is important because it keeps the water from stagnating and rotting the plants’ roots.
  2. Pick your plants. Select a few plants that tolerate the same conditions. For example, don’t put a sun-loving cactus in a pot with a shade- and moisture-loving fern.
  3. Add potting mix. Fill the pot almost all the way, leaving enough room for the plants.
  4. Add plants. Slip the plants out of their pots and place in the big pot.
  5. Arrange plants. Situate plants so that the tall ones are in the rear. This ensures that each plant gets light. Put trailing plants like pothos along the edge so they can cascade over the rim.
  6. Add more potting mix. Add enough potting mix to sit level with the tops of the plants’ root balls (the pot-shaped mass of dirt and roots).
  7. Water. Water thoroughly to level out the potting mix and eliminate any air gaps. Where the potting mix has sunk, add more.
  8. Fertilize. Feed the plants according to your product’s label instructions. Authentic Haven Compost Tea is a good choice, since it’s organic and effective, and the nutrients stay in the potting mix.
  9. Properly place. Place your container combo where it gets bright indirect light, meaning that it’s bright enough to read comfortably without flipping a light switch. Some plants, such as cacti, succulents and some plants grown for flowers, prefer direct light. This means that your plants get a clear view of the sun for at least a few hours a day.

If you’d like to know more about combining houseplants, check out my book Plant by Numbers. It offers comprehensive plant listings to help you choose and combine your own designs, 50 sample combos, and everything you need to know about keeping your houseplants happy and healthy.

Posted by Steve Asbell on Zillow

7 Questions to Ask When Buying a Fixer-Upper

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Here’s what to find out before you sign up for a major home project.

Buying a fixer-upper is a whole new ballgame; before you sign on the dotted line, it’s important to find out as much as you can about exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Agents use the term “fixer-upper” liberally — it could be code for a train wreck of a house, or it could refer to a home that simply needs cosmetic updates. Use the questions below to begin useful conversations with professionals on your team.

Questions for your agent

What are the neighborhood stats? Neighborhood dynamics become mission-critical when buying a fixer-upper. Will the remodel dollars needed to make this home livable work well with the neighborhood? Ask your agent for her analysis (and the stats to back it up). If you invest $30K in improvements but update the home beyond the neighborhood’s value, your ability to recoup your investment is greatly diminished.

Is the home located in a historic district? Buying and fixing up a charming Victorian home sounds dreamy: original crown molding, wainscoting, and lovely stained-glass windows. But buyer beware: If the property is historic or located in a historic neighborhood, the remodeling and finishes may have to be completed to an association or city standard. In many cases, this means getting approval for improvements and updates and often comes with a hefty price tag.

Questions for your inspector

What is the state of the homes major systems? Given that the term “fixer-upper” is often synonymous with “a ton of work and cash,” it’s important to choose your inspector wisely and to listen carefully. Cosmetic work is expected, but what about the foundation, electrical, and plumbing systems? Better yet, how is the roof — can it hold in heat and keep out rain? These items can run easily into the tens of thousands — and could turn a quick fix into a money pit.

What are the huge hidden expenses? Ask your inspector to dig deep into the home’s details. For example, does the unfinished basement have an adequate ceiling height and is there any evidence of flooding? If the basement needs a new subfloor and vapor barrier, do you need a permit to complete the work and must you hire a licensed and bonded professional? If an issue is uncovered, you may need to call in an inspector who specializes in that area. Your inspectors are the first line of defense against a poor investment. Use reputable professionals with relevant experience; their advice can be worth their weight in gold.

Questions for your contractor

What is the total investment? Once you formulate a plan based on the inspector’s report, sit with your contractor and discuss your options. As with any project, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. There are plenty of middle-road solutions that can satisfy your bottom line as well as a time commitment that’s comfortable. With that said, budgets and timelines may run over, so work with a reputable contractor to minimize the headache of living in a construction zone.

Questions to ask yourself

How is the overall layout of the home? With considerable cost and headache, it’s possible to change the structural layout of a home. However, I would counsel you to closely consider the existing layout of the home. Are there many small rooms with random nooks, whereas you’re more of a great-room kind of buyer? What about the number of existing bedrooms and bathrooms? If you require a four-bed, two-bath home and it’s currently a two-bed, one-bath, be certain this home will truly meet your needs.

Do I have the time, energy, and patience for this project? This is where you dig deep in your soul and be honest with yourself: Are you prepared to have a DIY project every weekend for the foreseeable future? Or on the flip side, are you prepared to drop a boatload of cash, paying professionals to make your fixer-upper into the dream home you’ve always wanted? Get real with your expectations and available resources.

Fixer-uppers can be a great investment and allow you to customize a home to your specific needs. But it’s best to have a sense of what you’re signing up for! With some strategic due diligence upfront, you can purchase and remodel your new home with confidence.

Posted by Robyn Woodman on Trulia