Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Return of Home Ownership


Low interest rates and rising rents make home ownership more attractive than renting.
New indicators suggest we might be on the verge of a housing rebound this year. Between falling mortgage interest rates, affordable home prices, and climbing rents, buying a home looks like a smart investment. Plus, property taxes are beginning to ease for the first time since the start of the recession. Read about these trends and other top housing headlines in this week’s Friday Five....

Monday, March 19, 2012

7 Hot Home Improvement Trends that Make Your Home Work for You


Home improvement trends embrace energy efficiency, low maintenance exteriors, and double-duty space.


Trend #1: Maintenance-free siding
We continue to choose maintenance-free siding that lives as long as we do, but with a lot less upkeep. But more and more we’re opting for fiber-cement siding, one of the fastest-growing segments of the siding market. It’s a combination of cement, sand, and cellulosic fibers that looks like wood but won’t rot, combust, or succumb to termites and other wood-boring insects.

At $5 to $9 per sq. ft., installed, fiber-cement siding is more expensive than paint-grade wood, vinyl, and aluminum siding. It returns 78% of investment, the highest return of any upscale project on Remodeling magazine’s latest Cost vs. Value Report.

Maintenance is limited to a cleaning and some caulking each spring. Repaint every 7 to 15 years. Wood requires repainting every 4 to 7 years.

Trend #2: Convertible spaces

Forget “museum rooms” we use twice a year (dining rooms and living rooms) and embrace convertible spaces that change with our whims.

Foldaway walls turn a private study into an easy-flow party space. Walls can consist offancy, glass panels ($600 to $1,600 per linear ft., depending on the system); or they can be simple vinyl-covered accordions  ($1,230 for 7 ft. by 10 ft.). PortablePartions.com sells walls on wheels ($775 for approximately 7 ft. by 7 ft.).

A Murphy bed pulls down from an armoire-looking wall unit and turns any room into a guest room. Prices, including installation and cabinetry, range from $2,000 (twin with main cabinet) to more than $5,000 (California king with main and side units). Just search online for sellers.

And don’t forget area rugs that easily define, and redefine, open spaces.

Trend #3: A laundry room of your own

Humankind advanced when the laundry room arose from the basement to a louvered closet on the second floor where clothes live. Now, we’re taking another step forward by granting washday a room of its own.

If you’re thinking of remodeling, turn a mudroom or extra bedroom into a dedicated laundry room big enough to house the washer and dryer, hang hand-washables, and store bulk boxes of detergent.

Look for spaces that already have plumbing hookups or are adjacent to rooms with running water to save on plumbing costs.

Trend #4: Souped-up kitchens

Although houses are trending smaller, kitchens are getting bigger, according to theAmerican Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey.

Kitchen remodels open the space, perhaps incorporating lonely dining rooms, and feature recycling centers, large pantries, and recharging stations.

Oversized and high-priced commercial appliances—did we ever fire up six burners at once?—are yielding to family-sized, mid-range models that recover at least one cabinet forstorage. 

Since the entire family now helps prepare dinner (in your dreams), double prep sinks have evolved into dual-prep islands with lots of counter space and pull-out drawers.

Trend #5: Energy diets

We’re wrestling with an energy disorder: We’re binging on electronics—cell phones, iPads, Blackberries, laptops--then crash dieting by installing LED fixtures and turning the thermostat to 68 degrees.

Are we ahead of the energy game? Only the energy monitors and meters know for sure.

These new tracking devices can gauge electricity usage of individual electronics ($20 to $30) or monitor whole house energy ($100 to $250). The TED 5000 Energy Monitor ($240) supplies real-time feedback that you can view remotely and graph by the second, minute, hour, day, and month.

Trend #6: Love that storage

As we bow to the new god of declutter, storage has become the holy grail.
We’re not talking about more baskets we can trip over in the night; we’re imagining and discovering built-in storage in unlikely spaces--under stairs, over doors, beneath floors.

Under-appreciated nooks that once displayed antique desks are growing into built-ins for books and collections. Slap on some doors, and you can hide office supplies and buckets of Legos.

Giant master suites, with floor space to land a 747, are being divided to conquer clutter with more walk-in closets.

Trend #7: Home offices come out of the closet

Flexible work schedules, mobile communications, and entrepreneurial zeal are relocating us from the office downtown to home.

Laptops and wireless connections let us telecommute from anywhere in the house, but we still want a dedicated space (preferably with a door) for files, supplies, and printers.

Spare bedrooms are becoming home offices and family room niches are morphing into working nooks. After a weekend of de-cluttering, basements and attics are reborn as work centers.

Thanks,



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring Cleaning Guide


Make spring cleaning less of a chore by following these smarter--and mostly greener--tips for this annual rite of homeownership.


Bathrooms
When it's time to get down and dirty, many people start with the bathroom. Allen Rathey, founder of The Housekeeping Channel, says removing mineral deposits, rust, and such from toilets doesn't have to mean chemical warfare. Don rubber gloves and use a pumice stone to erase stubborn stains. If you want more scouring power, Rathey recommends mixing baking soda with acidic vinegar. The concoction is just as effective as conventional cleaners, and there are no toxic fumes to inhale. This approach works equally well on tub and shower stains.

Buy your supplies in bulk to save. A 64-ounce bottle of vinegar costs about $4; a 12-pound bag of baking soda, about $7. Both items can be used throughout the house. For just $1 you can mix equal parts vinegar and water in a 32-ounce spray bottle to make a terrific all-purpose surface cleaner. That's about $4 cheaper than buying a spray cleaner at the store.

Spring cleaning is the perfect time to extract dirt from porous grouted surfaces. For tile floors use your usual cleaner, but don't mop. Instead, run a wet/dry vac, which will suck contaminants out of the grout. Mopping drives the grime into the grout rather than removing it. According to Rathey, grout can harbor stinky bacteria that leave a bad odor in the bathroom. This technique is more time-consuming than mopping, but it's worthwhile to do at least once a year.
Kitchens
The kitchen can be a tough room to clean because there's usually so much stuff in it, says Justin Klosky, founder and creative director of The OCD Experience, an organizational service. Before you break out the broom, go through your cabinets and drawers, and put together a box of items to donate and a box of items to store somewhere besides the kitchen. Clear your countertops of everything except items you use nearly every day.

After you've de-cluttered, you can get to work cleaning. Cloud Conrad, vice president of marketing for cleaning company Maid Brigade, says one tool you shouldn't overlook is an all-purpose microfiber cloth (about $5). These aren't run-of-the-mill dusting rags. Microfiber is a densely woven synthetic fabric that picks up dirt and greasy deposits without chemicals thanks to its unique composition. You should be able to clean surfaces like countertops, sinks, and stoves with warm water, a microfiber cloth, and a bit of elbow grease, Conrad says.

Since you prepare your food in the kitchen, consider using green commercial products for surfaces, or make your own vinegar/water spray. Conventional cleaners may remove dirt, but they can also harbor some nasty substances you don't want in your PB&J. Microfiber, vinegar, and baking soda will clean and disinfect almost every kitchen surface at a fraction of the price. Don't neglect once-a-year chores like vacuuming refrigerator coils (unplug your fridge first), and tossing out expired food from the back of the pantry.
Bedrooms
Since bedrooms are such individual spaces, there's a lot of diversity in what needs to happen. Most homeowners should at least rotate and flip innerspring mattresses, and store out-of-season sheets and clothing. Also go through your closet, and donate or Freecycleitems you haven't worn in the last 12 months. For carpets and mattresses, consider using a professional cleaning service. Figure a typical mattress will cost about $70-$90 to clean, a bargain considering how much time you spend in bed.

Even if you're getting your carpet professionally cleaned, you still need to break out the vacuum, says Leslie Reichert, owner of The Cleaning Coach. Use the hose attachment to get to the hidden particles along baseboards, under your bed, and in your curtains, favorite environments of dust mites. If you have a large-capacity dryer, throw curtains in on high heat for good measure to kill the little pests.
Living area
Another surface you should consider getting professionally cleaned is living room upholstery. It can be tricky to know exactly how to deep-clean different types of fabrics, says Rathey, especially if there are stains you can't quite identify. Costs vary widely depending on the size of the furniture piece and the quality and state of its covering, but a typical sofa might run $70 to $90.
Microfiber cloths are great to use in the living area as well. Make sure you have cloths for each area of the house, though, so you're not cross-contaminating bathroom, kitchen, and living areas. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down windows, wood, mirrors, the tops of bookshelves, ceiling fan blades, and even the plastic housing of electronics for a quick, chemical-free clean.

Thanks,



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

February 2012 - Real Estate Market Update


This market report gives you the real estate activity for the Greater Portland, Maine area. Inventory is still high so sellers need to make sure their homes are better than the competition.  Buyers are still in a great place but this won't last forever.  If you are thinking of buying now is the time.

The following Multiple Listing Service (MLS) information is for the month of February 2012. Towns included in this report are Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Westbrook, Falmouth, Windham and Cumberland.

Number of Current Listings = 949 (down from last month)

Number of New Listings Added = 167 (down from last month)

Number of Properties That Went Under Contract = 164 (up from last month)

Number of Sold Properties = 98 (down from last month)

Number of Expired Listings = 40 (down from last month)

Average Sold Price = $295,723 (up from last month)

If you would like to see information for another town send me an email and I will give you a customized report.

Thanks,

Doug
doug@makemaineyourhome.com

Friday, March 2, 2012

How to Claim Your 2011 Energy Tax Credits

They're not as much as they used to be, but there are still energy tax credits to be had for upgrades made in 2011.
Other limits on IRS energy tax credits besides $500 max
  • Credit only extends to 10% of the cost (not the 30% of yesteryear), so you have to spend $5,000 to get $500. $500 is a lifetime limit. If you pocketed $500 or more in 2009 and 2010 combined, you’re not entitled to any more money for energy-efficient improvements in the above seven categories. But if you took $300 in the last two years, for example, you can get up to $200 in 2011. With some systems, your cap is even lower than $500. $500 is the max for all qualified improvements combined.

Certain systems capped below $500
No matter how much you spend on some approved items, you’ll never get the $500 credit--though you could combine some of these:
SystemCap
New windows$200 max (and no, not per window—overall)
Advanced main air-circulating fan$50 max
Qualified natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler$150 max
Approved electric and geothermal heat pumps; central air-conditioning systems; and natural gas, propane, or oil water heaters$300 max

And not all products are created equal in the feds' eyes. Improvements have to meet IRS energy-efficiency standards to qualify for the tax credit. In the case of boilers and furnaces, they have to meet the 95 AFUE standard. EnergyStar.gov has the details.
Tax credits cover installation—sometimes
Rule of thumb: If installation is either particularly difficult or critical to safe functioning, the credit will cover labor. Otherwise, not. (Yes, you’d have to be pretty handy to install your own windows and roof, but the feds put these squarely in the “not covered” category.)

Installation covered for:
  • Biomass stoves
  • HVAC
  • Non-solar water heaters

Installation not covered for:
  • Insulation
  • Roofs
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

How to claim the 2011 energy tax credit
  • Determine if the system you installed is eligible for the credits. Go to Energy Star's websitefor detailed descriptions of what’s covered; then talk to your vendor. Save system receipts and manufacturer certifications. You’ll need them if the IRS asks for proof. File IRS Form 5695 with the rest of your tax forms in 2012.


Thanks,

Doug

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice, and remember that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.