5 Kitchen Projects You Should Leave to the Pros

Renovating your kitchen is an exciting project, but the various tasks involved can also make it a daunting one—especially for home improvement novices. While some projects can save money on the overall costs of a kitchen remodel, you need to know when it’s safer to leave tasks to the professionals. Here are some tips to help you separate the DIY from the hire-a-guy projects:

1. Installing a sink

-lvinst-/iStock

-lvinst-/iStock

Installing a sink sounds simple, but there are actually a lot of factors involved, including sink type, plumbing, and hardware. The type you choose determines how it should be installed, as well as the extent to which hardware and plumbing may be involved. In any sink installation, it is best to leave plumbing work to a pro. This ensures proper placement while also preventing leaks and bigger issues down the road. Common sink types and installation considerations include the following:

  • Top-mount: Top-mount sinks also require hardware, fittings, and adhesive for installation. They’re installed over the countertop, which means they can replace existing sinks of similar size. In cases in which a former sink was smaller, a bigger hole may be cut into the counter to make the new one fit. Countertop professionals know how to accurately measure the space required for the sink and any plumbing.
  • Undermount: Undermount sinks are the most complicated to install, because securely fitting them underneath countertops requires specialized tools, hardware, finesse, and experience. Plumbing contractors are a necessity for this kind of project.
  • Pedestal: Pedestal or farm sinks are easier to install than others, because they are standalone items around which counters and other kitchen hardware may be installed. However, pedestal sinks—particularly those made of porcelain—are also quite heavy and fragile; therefore, homeowners should not attempt installing them on their own. Porcelain sinks further require plumbing and the installation of hardware such as connectors, fitting, and mounts.

2. Replacing cabinets

fatihhoca /iStock

fatihhoca /iStock

Cabinet replacement is another major kitchen renovation project. While there are some DIY-appropriate cabinet projects—refinishing wood cabinet doors or refacing cabinet doors with paint or stain, for example—some cabinets rot or wear to the point of needing replacement after several years. When this happens, homeowners should have a professional remove the cabinets—particularly given the following risks:

  • Cabinet doors falling on the feet or hands
  • Wood chips or shards
  • Sharp nails jutting out
  • Cabinet shelving falling out
  • Damaging drywall

You could run into numerous complications when trying to install new cabinets on your own. If you choose cabinets that are too big for your kitchen, for example, you could get halfway through your project only to find that just half the cabinets fit onto the wall. Cabinet installers know how to accurately measure your wall space and choose cabinets that will fit with the size and style of your kitchen.

3. Hardwood flooring

manley099/iStock

manley099/iStock

Many websites will purport that homeowners can install hardwood floors as a DIY project, but there is a lot of room for error. Homeowners should not attempt to lay wood flooring unless they’re absolutely sure they know the process and have the right materials to do the job. Otherwise, flooring installers should be called in to do the job. Here are some of the most commonly faced problems in DIY flooring projects:

  • Moisture: Too much moisture or lack of moisture accounts for most wood flooring installation issues, particularly bumps and swells. Installers know to allow for the expansion of the floor and will lay it loosely enough to allow for swelling and shrinkage.
  • Subfloor: In order to successfully lay hardwood flooring, you must start with subfloors that are flat, clean, and dry. Installing wood flooring over the wrong type of subflooring may cause swelling, shrinkage, and other issues. Solid wood flooring should never be installed on concrete slabs. Particle board is not a suitable subfloor for any wood flooring.
  • Layout: Many DIY installers approach installation with the perspective that a room is square, which causes problems as they near the end of their projects. Professional floor installers know to plan the layout of a wood floor installation ahead of time, and they carefully measure the room to avoid errors and install a professional-looking floor.
  • Nails: If there aren’t enough nails or fasteners put into the wood, the chances that the floor will pull up with wear and foot traffic over time are increased. Homeowners are less likely than a pro to know how many nails are enough.

4. Overhead lighting

-Oxford-/iStock

-Oxford-/iStock

Homeowners who attempt to install lights in their kitchen could run into issues with electrical wiring. Electrical wires hold a significant charge—one that could put you in the hospital if you aren’t careful. While you could cut the power to the kitchen to perform the installation, it’s better to call a professional to disconnect any old lights, particularly if you want to upgrade for energy efficiency or brightness. Additional lighting means additional electrical wiring and safety considerations.

Here are some lighting types you might consider having installed by a professional:

  • Chandeliers: General lighting to add brightness overhead in your kitchen; recommended with transparent glass or fabric shades for easy cleaning.
  • Under-cabinet lights: Slim track lighting for your cabinets to illuminate them in a new way.
  • Recessed task lights: Round or square lights to place over your oven or sink for preparing and cooking meals.
  • Pendant lights: Short, hanging lights to put over your island or bar while you’re preparing food or enjoying snacks with friends.

5. Countertop replacement

Jodi Jacobson/iStock

Jodi Jacobson/iStock

Over time, countertops wear down and get scratched or burned by pots and pans. While you can refinish or reface some types, others simply need to be replaced. You can invest in installing various countertop materials:

  • Laminate
  • Ceramic tile
  • Stone slab (granite, marble, quartz, etc.)
  • Recycled glass
  • Corian
  • Stainless steel
  • Concrete

Countertops are very heavy—and old countertops must be removed in order to install new ones. That said, it’s imperative that homeowners hire a countertop professional to install countertops. Otherwise, there’s a high risk of personal injury, as well as underestimating or overestimating the amount of countertop material required.

This story was written by Andrea Davis and originally appeared on The CheatSheet.
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All-Cash Sales Are Declining—and That’s Good for Home Buyers

When the housing market collapsed at the end of 2008, an odd thing happened—Wall Street investors became single-family-home buyers.

iStock

iStock

But the end is near. Hedge funds are losing their lust for houses, opening the door back up to traditional buyers.

Investors understood the adage, buy low and sell high. With money pouring in from around the globe, investors formed REITs and hedge funds targeting America’s housing stock as the new publicly traded commodity. Now, however, cash sales are on the decline, and that’s good news for home buyers. At their peak in 2011, all-cash sales accounted for more than 46% of all home sales nationwide.

With low interest rates and easing credit restrictions, buyers are taking advantage of off-peak prices and becoming homeowners. Cash sales made up just 36% of all home sales at the end of 2014, marking the 23rd straight month of decline, according to CoreLogic, a California-based real estate analytics provider.

At the current rate, CoreLogic is predicting the share of cash investors to reach pre-housing-crisis levels of just 25% by 2017. Of course, there are still markets attracting lots of cash buyers, most in Florida—Miami (57%), West Palm Beach (56%), and Fort Lauderdale (55%), according to CoreLogic. Washington, DC, on the other hand, has the lowest level of cash buyer activity at just 16%, according to CoreLogic.

For regular home buyers, that’s good news. With cash-flush investors in the mix, regular buyers had to fight bidding wars in hot markets, and their need for financing put them at a disadvantage. Now that Wall Street’s appetite for housing is waning, entry-level buyers may finally be able to get a foot in the door, literally.

But don’t sleep. Wall Street is still changing the game. Those same hedge fund managers who were buying up houses throughout the recession have transitioned to managing their rental portfolios. It’s no longer about flipping; it’s about holding. This is the long game. So, if you’re renting a single-family home and enjoying the perks of suburban living, don’t be surprised if your landlord is actually Gordon Gekko, or one of his real-life counterparts.

This article was published by Chrystal Caruthers on realtor.com.

5 Things to Consider When Buying Rural Property

A sprawling stretch of land far removed from urban or suburban life may seem like a dream come true.

beerlogoff/iStock/Thinkstock

beerlogoff/iStock/Thinkstock

Buying rural property offers more land for the buck, less crime and traffic, better air quality, and peace and beauty among the trees and fields. Reasons to buy range from a desire to leave the city permanently to buying a weekend vacation home, or securing an investment for the retirement years.

But despite stunning vistas, buying a rural property isn’t a guaranteed idyll. There are issues to consider before buying that could throw even an experienced urban real estate hound. Avoid unpleasant surprises in a new country home by doing a little extra homework before buying.

Water and power

Rural properties may rely on wells, not municipal water. Water treatment and softening can prove costly. Invest in testing the water, literally in this case, before you buy to ensure that contaminants, sediment, and dangerous chemicals are not present.

Homes in rural areas may rely on septic systems that collect sewage and wastewater. Make sure the septic system can handle the number of occupants. If you plan to expand the property’s use or develop part of the land, keep the septic system’s capacities in mind.

If power lines fail, such as with a harsh storm, rural customers may be among the last to have electrical power restored. Backups like a power generator and wood for a fireplace become lifelines. A well may need an electric pump.

Getting there

The picturesque winding road that leads to a property may belong to you—and the maintenance costs, too. Or your lot might share a road with adjacent property owners. Owners become responsible for the cost of fixing potholes or plowing snow.

Snowfall or heavy rains can wreak havoc on country roads, especially with no municipal professionals to keep up with storms. You may need to budget for snow tires, plowing equipment, or four-wheel-drive vehicles that can handle tough road conditions.

Trash removal

City trash removal can feel almost luxurious compared with country living. You might have to deliver your trash to a dump site or carefully burn leaves and paper trash.

Neighbor’s behavior

You won’t have to suffer through your neighbor’s music blasting through your walls, but that doesn’t mean the neighbor’s behavior won’t trouble you. In the country, land may be used for hunting, raising livestock, grazing, and agriculture. Your dream of the quiet of a rural setting could be punctuated by rifle shot, loose livestock, or machinery used to harvest fruits and vegetables. And don’t dismiss the powerful smell of a freshly fertilized field.

Ask around

These challenges shouldn’t dissuade anyone from buying rural property. It just means doing a little homework in a way that’s different when buying in a more populous area. Talk to your real estate agent or home inspector about the utilities. Ask the current owners about the roads, the property owner’s responsibilities, and what it’s really like to drive in the area during a harsh season. Check with county or state officials about trash requirements and the land-use rights of the area.

And if all else fails, you can always knock on the doors of your potential neighbors. They may live far beyond shouting distance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like company—and you might enjoy theirs.

Updated from an earlier version by Frank Alan Herch. Published by Anne Miller on realtor.com.

4 Simple Strategies to Shave Years Off Your Mortgage

Just because you’ve got a 30-year loan doesn’t mean you have to spend 30 years paying it off. These tips can help you reach the finish line up to 10 years early.

No one wants to spend longer making mortgage payments than they have to. The obvious way to pay off a mortgage faster is to get a shorter-term loan, like a 15-year instead of a 30-year. But on a $300,000 home purchase with 10 percent down, you’ll pay about $620 more per month on a 15-year loan than on a 30-year loan (including mortgage insurance), which might be too expensive for you.

So how do you fix your budget with a loan you can afford, yet still pay it off early if you have extra money? Here’s a look at four common approaches.

1. Refinance, then reinvest savings

It’s always prudent to evaluate refinancing when rates drop, but unless you refinance from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan, refinancing doesn’t automatically shave years off your mortgage.

If you bought a home for $300,000 with 10 percent down five years ago, the rate on your 30-year fixed loan of $270,000 was about 4.875 percent, giving you a payment of $1,429 (plus mortgage insurance). With today’s refinance rates of about 3.625 percent on your remaining $247,494 balance, your new payment would be $1,129, saving you $300 per month.

It’s a huge savings, but you’re resetting your payoff clock from 25 years back to 30 years. However, if you take the extra step of applying the $300 savings toward your new loan each month, you’ll shave 9.5 years off your new mortgage, giving you a shorter term for the same budget.

You can run your own refinance calculations to find the best balance between monthly budget and the fastest loan payoff.

2. Make biweekly payments

A biweekly payment plan is the simplest way to shorten your mortgage without a material budget increase. This plan shaves about four years off your mortgage by paying half your payment every other week.

Doing so means you’re making 26 biweekly payments per year, which is the equivalent of 13 monthly mortgage payments per year instead of 12. Your budget can usually absorb this because you’re simply chopping your mortgage payment in half and paying each half every other week.

On a $300,000 home purchase with 10 percent down, a 30-year fixed rate of 3.625 percent gives you a payment of $1,231 (plus $88 in mortgage insurance). By paying half ($616) every two weeks, you’re paying your loan down by an extra $103 per month, ultimately saving $26,511 in interest and paying off your loan in about 26 years.

Your lender can brief you on how to set up a biweekly payment plan.

3. Increase your monthly payment amount

The biweekly example above shortens your 30-year loan term four years by paying about $100 extra per month, but what if you could afford more?

If you paid $200 extra per month on your 30-year fixed loan at 3.625 percent on a home purchase of $300,000 with 10 percent down, you’d save $42,969 in interest and pay off your loan six years and eight months years early.

If you paid $300 extra per month, you’d save $57,122 in interest and pay off your loan eight years and 11 months early.

And if you paid $400 extra per month, you’d save $68,426 in interest and pay off your loan 10 years and 10 months early.

Once you go higher than this, it’s worth looking at whether your budget can accommodate a 15-year loan, because rates on 15-year loans are about 0.5 percent lower than 30-year fixed loans, which means $113 less interest per month versus the 30-year loan.

That’s a clear interest cost savings, but your budget is higher: you pay $1,881 per month (plus $59 for mortgage insurance) for a 15-year loan versus $1,231 per month for a 30-year loan (plus $88 for mortgage insurance).

4. Make one-time loan payments when you get extra cash

If you can’t commit to the 15-year loan budget but know you may have cash infusions along the way — like bonuses from work, inheritances, or selling other properties or investments — you can shave years off your 30-year mortgage by doing a large loan pay-down.

Here are two scenarios using a $300,000 purchase price with 10 percent down:

  • If you got a bonus at work and paid down your loan by $10,000 in year three, you’d save $15,747 in interest and pay off your loan one year and eight months early.
  • If you got a signing bonus for a new job and paid down your loan by $25,000 in year five, you’d save $32,556 in interest and pay off your loan three years and 10 months early.

Normally, when you pay extra on your loan, it shaves years off your mortgage, but your payment stays the same. However, for large one-time pay-downs like this, some lenders may lower your payment, too. When you’re shopping for mortgage lenders, ask them in advance if they’re willing to do this.

This article was published on Zillow Blog.

Home Prices: A 5-Year Outlook

With inventory presently below historically normal levels, current & future home prices have been the topic of many real estate conversations.

Home Prices: A 5-Year Outlook

The most recent Home Price Expectation Survey was just released; giving insight into where experts believe prices will be leading up to 2019.

Every quarter, Pulsenomics surveys a nationwide panel of over 100 economists, real estate experts and investment & market strategists about where prices are headed over the next five years. They then average the projections of all 100+ experts into a single number.

Here are some highlights from their latest survey:

  • Home values will appreciate by 4.4% in 2015.
  • The cumulative appreciation will be 19.3% by 2019.
  • That means the average annual appreciation will be 3.6% over the next 5 years.
  • Even the experts making up the most bearish quartile of the survey still are projecting a cumulative appreciation of 11.7% by 2019.

Individual opinions make headlines. We believe the survey is a fairer depiction of future values.

Originally published on Keeping Current Matters.

Free Money: $12,000 for Down Payment, Why Aren’t You Applying?

If someone offered you 10% for a down payment, would you take it? “Absolutely,” you say. Well, most people overlook thousands of dollars available to them—because they don’t know to apply for it.

Free MoneyThere are 2,290 down payment programs across the country waiting for home buyers to apply for funds, according to a joint analysis recently issued by RealtyTrac, a real estate data provider, and Down Payment Resource, a purveyor of home-buyer assistance programs. The average amount of down payment assistance per buyer is $11,565, according to the analysis.

“It’s important for buyers to research down payment programs as part of their loan shopping process,” said Rob Chrane, president and CEO of Down Payment Resource. As a former Realtor® turned mortgage lender turned entrepreneur, Chrane started DPR to help bridge the gap between these programs and the home buyer.

Missed opportunity

The problem is, few people know his company exists—let alone that there is money out there to help them become homeowners.

“There’s a lot of missed opportunities here,” he said.

Of the 78 million single-family homes and condos in the United States, more than 68 million, or 87%, would qualify for a down payment program, according to the report. Of course, not all of those houses are on the market. The report looked at parcels and matched them with county-, state-, and federal-level assistance programs.

In each of the 3,143 counties in this country, there is a down payment program available, according to the report.

“Consumers do not know about these programs, and those that do assume it’s more difficult to get than it is,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at realtor.com®.

First-time buyers

The housing market is in the midst of recovery from its 2009 collapse. Houses are selling and prices are rising. Yet first-time buyers are largely absent from the recovery. Historically, they make up 40% of annual sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Last year, however, they accounted for 33%, the lowest level since 1987.

For many would-be buyers, saving for a down payment is a known barrier to entry. According to a sample of more than 900 randomly selected visitors to realtor.com in January, 12% said they lacked enough funds for a down payment. That proportion more than doubles to 26% of those who identify themselves as first-time buyers, according to Smoke.

“More than half the interested buyers in our agents’ pipelines are more concerned with pulling together today’s required down payment than meeting the income-to-debt ratio requirements,” said Mark Hughes, chief operating officer at First Team Real Estate in Irvine, CA.

The industry

Shad Bogany, past chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors® and a licensed Realtor, blames the industry.

“When buyers come into the market, if they get with the wrong lender or the wrong agent, they won’t find out about these programs,” he said. “Some banks have portfolio products, but you would never know about it because nobody advertises it.”

In Houston, upper-tier houses are selling at a record clip. Home sales achieved record highs on the back of record low inventory, according to the Houston Association of Realtors®. Last year, the median price of a single-family home rose 10.6% in Houston driven by houses priced at $250,000 or more.

“If you’re buying on the high end, we’re selling those left and right,” said Bogany. “There’s not a lot of people looking out for that first-time home buyer.”

Home-buyer programs are usually administered by nonprofit organizations with limited budgets for advertising. In this fragmented marketplace of grants, tax credits, and reduced mortgages, there are more than 1,100 program providers, said Chrane. What’s more, any given marketplace may have dozens of providers.

‘Millennials are the key’

If first-time buyers, particularly millennials, took advantage of these programs, Chrane said the housing market would see a boost in sales.

Millennials are the key to the recovery,” said Smoke. “If Realtors want the market to grow 8%, they have to work harder to support the first-time home buyer.”

While there will always be critics of any program that reduces the down payment requirement or provides funding assistance to qualify for homes, Smoke says that betting on qualified first-time buyers offers little risk. Most millennials—those aged 25 to 35—are employed and earning high incomes but lack the “wealth” or savings necessary to buy a home, he said. They are saddled with student loan debt but aspire to be homeowners.

Resources for buyers

That means Realtors and lenders alike need to research and understand various funding resources for buyers. Major program types include the following:

  • Below-market interest rate loans or 100% financing
  • Mortgage credit certificates that provide up to $2,000 in annual tax credits for the life of the loan
  • Neighborhood Stabilization Program loans and grants designed to revitalize communities

Find your share of the money here.

This article was published by Chrystal Caruthers on realtor.com.