Regain Your Garage: Simple Tricks for Getting Organized

Never spend 20 minutes searching for a screwdriver again. A thoughtful approach to garage storage makes the most of this valuable space and keeps every necessity at your fingertips.

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

If your house is bursting at the seams, with every cabinet and closet filled to the brim, the solution to your storage woes may be as close as your garage. To make the best use of this space, however, you first need to corral its current chaos.

This is, fortunately, a relatively simple task if you incorporate a few good storage ideas. With careful planning and a little effort, you can transform your garage from a messy catchall to an efficient, well-organized household annex.

Divide and conquer

First things first: Get rid of anything you no longer use. After you’ve winnowed down the contents of your garage, sort everything into groups. Keep garden tools with garden tools, and sports equipment with sports equipment. Items used together ought to be stored together.

Where possible, place like items into clear plastic containers with lids. It’s fine to use opaque bins, just be sure to label each one. Stackable containers are especially handy. They keep your belongings clean, protect against insects and rodents, increase the amount of usable floor space, and cut down on visual clutter.

What goes where?

The efficient use of space partly depends on positioning stored items in a thoughtful, strategic way. Are there certain items in the garage that you’re likely to need on a regular basis —for example, cleaning supplies? If so, locate these items near the door so that you can access them quickly and easily. Stash rarely used or seasonal items, such as sleds and skis, in harder-to-reach spots.

Off the wall

The key to garage storage and organization is getting things off the floor. Capitalizing on wall space enables you to fit the most into your garage, while keeping it all visible and easy to access. The type of wall storage you choose depends on your storage needs, project budget and personal preferences. Many homeowners opt for one or a combination of the following storage standbys:

  • Pegboard. A favorite for generations, pegboard is inexpensive and easy to install. Because it can be outfitted with an array of compatible hooks, clamps, bins, and shelves, pegboard can be used to store and organize just about anything, as long as the item to be stored isn’t especially heavy.
  • Open shelving. Whether a wall-mounted track system or a set of stand-alone units, open shelves are affordable, versatile, and user-friendly, and they keep everything in plain sight. Plus, depending on their construction, 12- or 16-inch-deep shelves are typically capable of holding heavier items.
Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

Closed cabinetry. If you plan to park your car in the garage, cabinets with doors may be the most desirable option, because closed storage means not having to come face-to-face with paint cans and garbage bags every time you leave or arrive home. Cabinets are available in countless materials and styles, but generally speaking, they are more expensive than other solutions. And because they are unable to accommodate very large items, cabinets are most effective when used in conjunction with another storage system.

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

Panelized systems. Here, entire walls are covered with specially designed panels that hold any number of companion add-ons, such as hooks and shelves. Unlike pegboard, panelized systems can handle heavier items. But that strength and utility comes at a cost, especially since some proprietary products must be installed by licensed professionals.

Look up

For certain infrequently used belongings, the ceiling provides ideal, out-of-the-way storage space. Ladders and seasonal gear can be kept here, hung by clips or straps fastened to the ceiling joists. Or you can take advantage of hoist pulley systems, which cleverly operate like the cords on window blinds. Bear in mind, however, that ceiling storage must be oriented so that it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the garage door.

Safety steps

As you’re organizing your garage, it’s important to keep safety in mind. It’s unsafe to store gasoline and propane in the garage; a single spark could lead to tragedy.

Likewise, if you have children or pets, you should store hazardous materials like fertilizer and pesticides far out of reach. Locked cabinets are a good solution for these toxic materials, and they’re also a smart place to store power tools and sharp implements.

This article was published by Bob Vila on Zillow Blog.

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.

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2015 Real Estate Predictions You Can Count On

Looking to make your fortune in real estate this year? These proclamations offer wisdom to guide you.

At the start of every year, real estate experts and financial analysts throw out their predictions for the next 12 months, and advise home buyers and investors on how to make money on real estate. The problem with this mindset is that real estate investments require much more than a one-year time horizon.

The following observations will help you establish a more reasonable approach to your real estate future.

Real estate is a long-term asset

The average value appreciation on real estate assets isn’t really all that high — typically 2 percent to 3 percent per year, which is nothing to brag about.

In addition, transaction costs on investments of any type can significantly reduce one’s wealth. For real estate, transactional costs include purchase cost, renovations, holding period costs, repairs, and sales costs and commissions. These expenses could eat 20 percent to 40 percent of your invested equity. That’s money you won’t have when you retire.

Due to these transaction costs and low appreciation in value, it’s highly unlikely that a person will earn much wealth on real estate if they don’t own their property for at least seven years. That timeframe is a minimum, however. Most people who earn net profit/monies from their properties have owned them for 15 to 30 years or more.

If you want to earn wealth from your real estate investment, buy something you can afford and hold on to it for the long term.

You must do your homework

Doing the proper due diligence when purchasing real estate is vital to your financial future and retirement. Unfortunately, most folks do an inadequate job of it. Here are some basic due diligence issues that many buyers fail to consider:

  • Making sure buying property makes financial sense for you
  • Getting a proper home inspection
  • Reviewing HOA documents before you buy to avoid problem HOAs
  • Obtaining two financing bids and properly comparing your options
  • Reviewing the title abstract and the title insurance policy and exceptions
  • Keeping the proper type and amount of insurance in place on your property

Make sure you take all these steps, and you’ll be an extraordinary, rather than average, buyer.

If it sounds too good to be true…

In real estate, if a property sounds too good to be true, you can bet that it is. “Great deals,” fix-and-flips, fixer uppers, rent-to-own, off-market deals — none of these arrangements ever seem to work out for the average real estate buyer.

Avoid get-rich-quick schemes or any notion that real estate is going to help you attain wealth overnight. You’ll be better off if you maintain realistic expectations.

Low interest rates work to your advantage

One thing is for sure: Mortgage rates have been ridiculously low for the past few years, hovering in the 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent range for a 30-year amortizing mortgage. Rates had never been below 6.0 percent before 2009.

It’s amazing that bondholders — like grandmas and grandpas (via mutual funds), foreign governments (such as Japan and China) and risk-averse investors — are willing to take such a low rate of return on their money for the risk they are taking.

But don’t worry about the bondholders, because they make their own decisions about where to place their money. Your best bet is to take advantage of their generosity by purchasing some real estate before they start to figure out that they should be requiring a much higher rate of return on their money.

Pay no attention to predictions about how the real estate market will do in 2015, 2016 or 2017. Buy real estate when you personally are ready to buy so you can enjoy the long-term spoils of low housing costs and property equity in your retirement.

Originally published by Leonard Baron of ProfessorBaron.com on Zillow Blog.

Leonard Baron, MBA, is America’s Real Estate Professor®. His unbiased, neutral and inexpensive “Real Estate Ownership, Investment and Due Diligence 101” online video series teaches real estate owners how to make smart and safe purchase decisions. He is a past lecturer at San Diego State University and teaches common sense real estate guidance continuing education courses to California real estate agents at the Chamberlin Real Estate School.

Super-Size Tubs, Tiny Kitchens and 3 other 2015 Design Trends

1. Bathrooms go big-time

Baths will emerge in 2015 as “the most sumptuous room in the house,” says designer and Marc Jacobs favorite Stephan Jaklitsch. He notes a shift away from ho-hum tiles in favor of monolithic slabs of marble and exotic stone.

Victoria & Albert “Drayton” free-standing tub, $4,500 at Simon’s Hardware & Bath, 421 Third Ave. Photo: Handout

Victoria & Albert “Drayton” free-standing tub, $4,500 at Simon’s Hardware & Bath, 421 Third Ave. Photo: Handout

At Simon’s Bath in downtown Manhattan, design consultant Shiv Persaud says ultra-chic, free-standing tubs will help infuse city apartments with a spalike atmosphere.

He notes that tub trends vary by geography: Urbanites are embracing tubs from Quebec-based hydrotherapy leader BainUltra (from $2,595), which offer massage features as well as aroma-, thermo- and chromatherapies ideally suited for stressed-out New Yorkers.

Suburban dwellers, meanwhile, have a penchant for footed soaking tubs like the “Drayton” ($4,500) from UK-based Victoria & Albert, whose volcanic limestone models promise more traditional comforts.

Bathroom fixtures, meanwhile, are shifting across the board from chrome to polished, uncoated brass, along with more exotic matte-black finishes, like those from Dornbracht’s Tara line, which Persaud suggests will be a top seller this year.

2. Luxe lighting fixtures

Statement lighting will grow even more important this year, says architect Peter Pennoyer, who sources fine vintage fixtures from auction houses to play up ceiling details and play down aesthetic flaws.

“Aurora” lamp, $4,580 for two at christopherspitzmiller.com. Photo: Handout

“Aurora” lamp, $4,580 for two at christopherspitzmiller.com. Photo: Handout

Trending now are European-influenced sculptural lights from the ’50s and ’60s, many of which Pennoyer acquires from specialized dealers like Remains Lighting and Fred Silberman in Manhattan.

“If you’re going to invest in special vintage lighting, you have to consider the size of the fixture and the space it’s going in,” Pennoyer explains.

His picks: the circa 1960 three-tier Austrian crystal “Kinkeldey” chandelier ($9,000), which combines transitional modernist style, European heritage and luminosity, or an Arredoluce chandelier ($14,500 from Retro Modern).

The “Anwar” electroplated steel hanging lamp ($4,615) from Stephen Burks Man Made offers a modern twist on tribal basketwork, while Christopher Spitzmiller’s “Aurora” table lamps ($4,580 for two)  evoke Ming mod.

Covetable and collectible, these pieces are sure to become any home’s bright spots.

3. ‘Modern eclectic’ is style of the year

Decorating a home in floor-to-ceiling midcentury décor is so yesterday. Interior tastemakers are now shifting toward “modern eclecticism.” The style embraces ultra high-end modernist — or modernist-inspired — furnishings but encourages blending them with pieces from other eras.

Shawn Henderson “Alloy” chair, $8,000 at altforliving.com. Photo: Handout

Shawn Henderson “Alloy” chair, $8,000 at altforliving.com. Photo: Handout

Designer Analisse Taft-Gersten is now leaning toward new interpretations of classic midcentury pieces, such as Shawn Henderson’s “Alloy” chair ($8,000), a sort of Bauhaus-meets-Adirondack lounger, and his “Mercury” daybed ($9,750), an austere cushioned bench that stands alone as an art piece dressed up with pillows.

Also flowing in this nouveau modernist vein is Warren Platner’s glass-topped dining table ($3,572), with a base made of curved steel spindles and an elegant design that plays well with other styles in the home.

Finishing with a statement piece, such as the 1980s embossed-lizard “Pergamon” credenza by Karl Springer ($25,000), is a confident gesture that keeps a room intriguing while adding a layer of funky functionality.

4. Bringing nature indoors

Organic modernism is the next big thing in New York’s most stylish homes. But these natural shapes and earthy materials evoke the tastes of a well-traveled curator rather than a Poconos lodge keeper.

Triple-burnt teak table, $2,400 at Andrianna Shamaris, 261 Spring St. Photo: Handout

Triple-burnt teak table, $2,400 at Andrianna Shamaris, 261 Spring St. Photo: Handout

The trend has been hottest downtown but is now migrating to Brooklyn, says Tribeca designer Jenny Wolf. “Natural elements lend so much texture, and they’re so different from what we’ve seen in harsh, contemporary lines,” she explains. Wolf recommends anchoring a room with a solid piece, like a triple-burnt teak coffee table by Andrianna Shamaris ($890 to $5,900) or her petrified wood side table ($4,500).

Alternatively, she suggests bold, stand-alone objects like those from legendary French designer Elizabeth Garouste, who incorporates a variety of organic forms — animal, tribal, nature — in her sculptural furniture and décor.

Her latest collection, “Garouste,” debuting at the Ralph Pucci furniture gallery Feb. 5, includes the “Iris” resin mirror encircled with giraffes ($12,250).

5. Kitchens hidden in plain sight

“In the past, no one wanted smaller appliances,” says Highlyann Krasnow, who oversees design as a partner at MNS, the NYC-based realty brokerage firm. “But with apartments trending small, no one is balking anymore.”

Refrigerator drawers, from $3,850 at Sub-Zero, 150 E. 58th St. Photo: Handout

Refrigerator drawers, from $3,850 at Sub-Zero, 150 E. 58th St. Photo: Handout

High on Krasnow’s short list is the 24-inch Bertazzoni gas range ($1,999), which combines simple Italian design and function and tucks into modest spaces.

For some urban dwellers, notes Johannes Knoops, an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, kitchen appliances may disappear altogether, hiding under the counter disguised as cabinetry.

“Europeans have known this secret for years,” he says. “A clever way to achieve a grander living space is to covertly tuck away your fridge and freezer, blurring the boundary between kitchen and living.”

American brands like Sub-Zero are now embracing that look, offering under-counter refrigerator drawers in widths from 15 to 36 inches ($3,850 to $4,600). Also blending the lines are Hinkley swivel barstools ($660 each), available from Arteriors.

Made of iron and polished Brazilian wood, they seamlessly stand beside living room furniture — ideal for open layouts where la cucina meets le salon.

This article is from realtor.com. It was originally published by Lana Bortolot on New York Post.

How VA Loans Stack Up Against Conventional and FHA Loans

For many military service members and veterans, VA loans are the most powerful home-buying tool on the market.

Credit: Veterans United

Credit: Veterans United

Qualified buyers can purchase with $0 down and considerably lower credit scores than what conventional lenders typically require. To be sure, loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs aren’t the right fit for every veteran.

But the program’s more flexible requirements have helped scores of military buyers who might otherwise struggle to secure conventional and even FHA financing.

Here’s a quick look at how VA loans stack up against the other two major lending options.

Credit score

The VA doesn’t require a credit score to use this benefit. But the lenders who make these loans usually do. The upside: Credit score benchmarks for most VA lenders are far below what conventional lenders want.

Conventional loans often require a FICO score of 720 or higher. It’s not uncommon to see VA lenders looking for a score of 620.

FHA lenders are allowed to dip down to a 580 benchmark. But it’s tough to find them venturing far below 640 in the current economic environment.

Down payment

The biggest benefit of VA loans is the ability to buy with no down payment. About 82% of buyers in 2014 did exactly that.

Conventional loans typically come with a minimum 5% down payment. FHA loans require 3.5% down. On a $250,000 home purchase, that’s nearly $13,000 for conventional lending and $9,000 for FHA.

Needless to say, it can take buyers years to save that kind of lump sum.

Mortgage insurance

Conventional and FHA buyers can also get stuck paying mortgage insurance. Conventional buyers who can’t put down 20% will usually pay this each month until they build sufficient equity.

FHA buyers pay both an upfront and an annual mortgage insurance premium. The latter is a cost they now pay for the life of the loan, and it can add as much as $200 or more to the monthly payment.

There’s no mortgage insurance with VA loans. But VA buyers do pay an upfront funding fee, which most choose to finance. This fee goes directly to the VA to help keep the program running for future generations.

Closing speed

There’s a lingering sense that government-backed loans mean more red tape and delays. But the closing time frame for these loans is about the same on average.

In September, the average conventional purchase loan closed in 39 days, according to Ellie Mae. VA loans were one day behind at 40, with FHA coming in at 42 days.

A lot will depend on where you’re purchasing and the specifics of each transaction.

––

This article was written by Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United Home Loans and author of “The Book on VA Loans.” It was posted on realtor.com.

6 Rules to Follow When Pricing Your Home

It’s time to move on. You’ve decided to sell your home and embark on a new adventure.

David Sacks/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

David Sacks/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Unfortunately, potential buyers don’t care about how long you obsessed over choosing the perfect bathroom tiles or the number of carpenters you interviewed to make the perfect built-in bookcase. To the buyer, those items may not matter to the value of the home, even if you think they should.

When it’s time to sell, you have to price your home right, using tangible factors. Here are six rules to remember:

1. Price is king

Your asking price determines how long the home will sit on the market. Pricing the home too high may reduce the number of interested buyers, which can cause your home to sit on the market too long. If your house is on the market too long, it may create the perception that there’s something wrong with it. It can also lead a buyer to think that you’re desperate for an offer. You want to avoid these outcomes and not overvalue your home.

On the flip side, pricing the home too low may create some skepticism and raise unwanted questions about the home’s true value. This will hit you in the bank account if multiple offers don’t drive the price up to its true market value.

2. Use comparable sales 

The simplest way to figure out the right price for your home is to compare similar homes that have sold in your neighborhood. Instead of skulking in the shadows and casing the neighbor’s house, use realtor.com to check out nearby stats.

Compare your house with those with the same number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and square footage. If you find comparable homes with similar floor plans and outdoor space, all the better. See how many homes in your area have sold recently and what they went for. You can also work with a real estate agent to help you compare houses.

3. Compare fairly

Make sure your comparison is fair. If there are neighborhoods in your city that are more desirable, consider that in your comparison. Also consider your location and what buyers want. If a similarly sized new-construction townhouse sold for top dollar down the block, you may not get the same amount for your cute ’40s bungalow.

4. Check the market history

To get a more comprehensive picture of the real estate market in your neighborhood, check the listing history of a home. Compare the original asking price with the final sale price, and note the amount of time the house was on the market until it sold. A REALTOR® can help you with this step.

If you’re looking to speed up the process, you may want to price your house a bit lower. However, if profit is your motive, you may need to wait a few months for a sale on the high end of the spectrum.

5. Consider special improvements

Consider whether major improvements you’ve made warrant a higher asking price. If you’ve remodeled the kitchen and put down a new parquet floor, or if you really feel the special woodwork details will clinch the sale, make sure those enhancements are reflected in the price of the home. Be reasonable. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get as much money as you expected—improvements don’t always recoup their cost.

6. Don’t ignore supply and demand

In a buyer’s market, with many homes for sale and sellers competing for attention, you may want to ask a bit less for your home to make it more attractive to potential buyers. In a seller’s market, where there is little home supply and much buyer demand, you may want to ask a bit more and maximize your profit.

Updated from an earlier version by Aviva Friedlander and published by Craig Donofrio on realtor.com.

Increase Your Home’s Value in 5 Easy Steps

Focused improvements in these key areas will position your home to sell — without breaking the bank.

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

Thinking about taking on some small home improvement projects to boost the value of your home? Here are some smart upgrades and fixes that won’t cost a lot, but could help you clinch a deal if you’re trying to sell.

Consider curb appeal

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

First impressions are everything, and potential buyers often decide whether they’re interested in a home within seconds. As they’re walking toward your house, they’re asking themselves, “Could I live here?”

Keep the walkway swept and tidy, and spruce up your entryway landscaping with well-placed shrubs, new plants and trimmed hedges. And don’t underestimate the power of a new front door, fence or mailbox.

Buff up the bath

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

Sure, bathroom improvements can get pricey, but small cosmetic changes can reap big rewards. Consider replacing dated frosted glass with clear glass, updating fixtures or putting up new wallpaper.

Other projects that are worth the effort include re-grouting the tile, replacing an old vanity with a new one and buying a new toilet seat.

Make your kitchen cook

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

The kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s where the family congregates, guests gather and the kids do their homework. To appeal to potential buyers, this space has to look clean, inviting and warm.

Beyond making sure your appliances work well and look shiny, consider updating cabinet doors and drawers, light fixtures and faucets. And a basic coat of neutral paint can go a long way toward impressing buyers.

Let there be light

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

Is there an old chandelier that needs to come down? Dated lamps that age the room? Take care of that!

Also, increase the wattage in dark rooms that lack natural lighting. Rooms will seem larger and more open.  Visual space — or how large a home feels — is crucial.

Reconfigure the layout

Source: Zillow Digs

Source: Zillow Digs

Assuming you’ve already covered the basics, such as removing clutter and personal belongings to make rooms look larger, why not take it one step further and think about reconfiguring the layout?

Substituting one room’s use for another is a cheap way to transform a two-bedroom home with a den into a three-bedroom home, for example.

This article was originally published by Vera Gibbons on Zillow Blog.

Mortgage Rates Still Dropping, Hit New Lows

Fixed mortgage rates inched down again for the fourth consecutive week, bringing them to new lows in early 2015.

AlexRaths/iStock/Thinkstock

AlexRaths/iStock/Thinkstock

Averaging 3.63%, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is at its lowest level since the week ending May 23, 2013, according to the latest survey from mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

Last week at this time, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.66%. A year ago, it was trending at 4.39%.

“I don’t think there will be much upward pressure on rates next week and doubt they will drop much lower than where they are at now,” said Polyana da Costa, senior mortgage reporter at Bankrate.com, which surveys experts in the mortgage industry to see if they believe mortgage rates will rise, fall, or remain relatively unchanged.

The low rates have led to a surge in mortgage applications recently. Mortgage application volume jumped 14.2% over the last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). Total volume is now 41% higher than it was one year ago, and it’s driven entirely by refinances, the MBA says.

Applications to refinance increased by 22% week-over-week––up 63% from a year ago.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed mortgage also registered a drop, to 2.93% from 2.98% last week. A year ago, it averaged 3.44%, according to Freddie Mac.

Averages for the two most popular hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages were mixed. The five-year ARM dropped from 2.90% to 2.83% week-over-week. The one-year ARM held steady at 2.37%.

In the latest Mortgage Rate Trend Index, 59% of the panelists polled think rates will remain relatively unchanged, while 33% predict rates will decrease.

“Due to the lack of big economic news this week and the fact that last Friday (Jan. 16) saw a jump in mortgage rates, I expect the market to correct itself,” said Shashank Shekhar, CEO of Arcus Lending in San Jose, CA. “The rates will mostly remain flat but should go down by a small margin.”

This article was originally published by Rachel Stults on realtor.com.