Saturday, April 18th, 2015
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The interior design industry has been trying for years to break homeowners' addiction to granite counters. They've introduced stainless, concrete, glass, quartz, wood, marble and other ideas to wean people away, but the alternative surfaces just don't have the luxury look that granite does.

If you're getting granite countertops for the first time, here are five things you need to know:

Choose the right stone. Granite is a general term that describes a type of granular igneous rock formed by cooled magma and indigenous minerals. Depending on where the granite is quarried, it can be stunning with streaks of gray, pink, red, green, blue or gold. The rarity of the vein of granite can drive up the price considerably, as well as the thickness and the type of fabrication you choose.

When you shop for granite, don't choose from a sample. You're basically buying the whole slab so that's how you should shop. Look only at whole slabs, as the fabricators will use as much as possible to match sections and to minimize waste. Sometimes it's possible to buy two or more slabs from the same lot. They are sliced just like pieces of toast so they can accommodate large kitchens. If they're put back to back, they form butterfly or mirror images of each other.

The beauty of granite is the movement of color and the pattern of streaks and dapples, so choose wisely. A strong graphic pattern will be highly energizing, while a softer color and pattern will be calming.

Hold the Dumb End of the Tape. Granite is sold by the square foot. You can get an idea of the number of square feet you need by multiplying length by width for each section of the kitchen, such as countertops, backsplash, and an island. Then add the square feet of each section together.

But that's not all there is to measuring. There's an edge allowance, seam allowance, sinks and other things to consider. You can tell your salesperson how many square feet you think you'll need, and he or she can direct you to slabs and lots that are large enough to fulfill your order. Once you choose, the salesperson will "hold" the slab with a deposit, until the fabricator can come out to measure exactly.

Meanwhile, your cabinets should be installed before the fabricator comes out. Most appliances fit under the countertops, but if you're installing a new sink or cooktop, the fabricator will need those measurements, too. Let the fabricator take the measurements. That way the fit is guaranteed.

Be aware of slab thickness. Not all granite slabs are sliced the same, so expect to pay more for a three-inch thickness than a one-inch thickness. If you choose a thick granite, make sure your cabinets can support that much weight.

Next, you'll choose an edge that is bullnose, ogee or beveled, or raw-edged. The finish can also change the look of the granite. Polished granite is glossy and reflective. Honed granite is a smooth matte finish. Leather is a textured finish.

Ask for as few seams as possible. If you're doing a large area like a kitchen, you want to use as few seams as possible so that the flow of the granite pattern and color is less interrupted. A seamless slab in a kitchen looks beautiful and holds more value than seamed pieces because it's like a work of art. Ask the fabricator if any parts of the job can be done without a seam. Sometimes it's very possible, depending on the design of your kitchen.

To save money, you can choose granite tiles, which is like a tile, so there will be no seams, but they add little value to your home. You can also order from scraps the dealer may have leftover from other jobs, but they're only be suitable for small jobs where you don't have to match another granite, such as a powder bath or laundry.

Granite requires care. Granite is fairly heat-resistant and easy to clean, but you should keep in mind that it's also porous. It can crack, chip, stain and show scratches.

Don't put hot pans directly on the surface; use a trivet or hot pad. Use only granite-safe cleansers. Don't use bleach, ammonia products, scouring pads, or anything acidic such as lemon or vinegar to clean. Don't use dish soap to clean as it can leave a dulling film on the surface. Spills of wine, juice and tomato sauce should be cleaned up quickly.

Some finishes such as polish act as more of a seal, but you can also purchase granite sealers at your local market. Just wipe it on once a year or so to keep your countertops looking their best.

If you're wondering whether your countertop needs sealing, spill some clean water or the surface and cover it with a paper towel. If it leaves a stain, it will go away eventually, but you'll know it's time for sealant.


Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 18th, 2015
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ERA Real Estate and HGTV reported 46 percent of consumers see smart-home technology as important for their current and future residences. But luxury homebuyers are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. According to Digital Interiors, 94 percent of buyers surveyed would sacrifice 1,000 square feet of living space for more technology in their new home. Oversized houses are no longer the driving trend in the luxury real estate market and agents are under pressure to respond to the demand. Here’s what affluent homebuyers are looking for and which gadgets are must-haves.

Get a Smart Thermostat

Outfit your listings for luxury with smart-home additions like a smart thermostat . The Nest programs itself based on your preferences and can adjust whenever you leave to conserve energy. Your clients can control the system right from their smartphones. Owners can warm up the living room before an evening entertaining clients. Talk about how they can jet set to their vacation home and simply check-in on their property as needed. The idea behind a smart thermostat is really about controlling the overall climate of the home as opposed to an exact temperature.

Enhance your Home Surveillance

Home security systems have always dabbled in the high-tech world of smart automation. In the past, most alarms simply triggered an annoying sound and contacted the police at signs of danger.

Today, home security cameras keep an eye on the inside and outside of the home with wireless cameras. A wireless camera system can be mounted to the wall or ceiling and monitored remotely. Home buyers are sure to be wowed by its sleek and discreet design. Some home security companies, like Lorex Technology, even offer subscription-free monitoring options, yet another attractive feature for potential buyers.

New owners can keep an eye on their home from vacation, at work or on a spontaneous outing without worry.

Go High-Tech Culinary

Updating a kitchen has always been a recommended way to raise a home’s price tag and attract buyers. But affluent home shoppers are looking for more than just new appliances and chef’s kitchens. The latest technology trends include no-touch faucets and smart refrigerators that can alert you when you’re running low on groceries. The LG model features an internal camera to check on its contents, built-in Wi-Fi to connect to your mobile device and offers available accessories that can be 3-D printed. Other high-tech touches like Bluetooth smart cooking thermometers tell your mobile device when your food is ready to create perfect dishes every time.

Upgrade your Luxury Entertainment

Just about every home has a flat-screen television; some piped for surround sound and home theaters. Let your clients take entertaining to a new level by controlling everything from one device like Savant. Your clients can adjust the lighting, change the channel on your smart TV and turn on music. A system like Savant can also help monitor your home’s security and adjust the climate as needed. While clients are getting ready upstairs for an evening with friends, they can adjust the entertainment area and living room downstairs to create a luxurious atmosphere.


Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 18th, 2015
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The Refinance That Sounds Too Good To be True But Is 100% Real
By Jaymi Naciri

Have an FHA loan with a rate that's beyond what you'd pay today? Have yet to refinance because you think you're not a candidate? You're paying too much, plain and simple. And the streamline refinance may be everything you didn't know you needed to improve your loan - and your bank balance.

"The FHA Streamline Refinance is a special mortgage product, reserved for homeowners with existing FHA mortgages," said The Mortgage Reports. "FHA streamline refinances are the fastest, simplest way for FHA-insured homeowners to refinance their respective mortgages into today's mortgage rates."

Lenient Approval Process

In a nutshell, a streamline refi can lower your rate, and therefore your payment, without going through any tedious approvals. It's a simple process with little effort needed on the part of the borrower, and it applies to those who may not qualify for other refinancing programs because of a change in job status or a poor credit score.

"A streamline refinance offers several advantages for homeowners who are looking to save on their mortgage," said smartasset. "With no credit check or employment verification required, it's relatively easy to qualify compared to a traditional refinance."

Many people with an FHA loan may not have received the most favorable rates when they purchased because of their combination of credit score and down payment. In a typical scenario, a borrower could lower their initial interest rate from 4.75 to 3.75 after a minimum of six months by doing a streamline refi and save hundreds of dollars per month. In addition, a streamline refinance can help borrowers take advantage of a new rule for 2014 and beyond that reduced Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) fees; this will lower their monthly payments even further.

"Your existing loan's MIP is 1.35 percent of the loan amount each year, while your new loan will have an MIP of just 0.85 percent thanks to the recent rule change," said The Mortgage Reports. "That change saves you about $500 per year for each $100,000 of your loan amount."

Home Value

There is also no appraisal needed for a streamline refi, so the value of your home today is essentially irrelevant as it relates to the approval. Even if you owe more than it's worth, you can still qualify.

"The FHA streamline refinance program's defining characteristic is that it does not require a home appraisal. Instead, the FHA will allow you to use your original purchase price as your home's current value, regardless of what your home is actually worth today," said The Mortgage Reports. "In this way, with its FHA streamline refinance program, the FHA does not care if you are underwater on your mortgage. Rather, the program encourages underwater mortgages. Even if you owe twice what your home is now worth, the FHA will refinance your home without added cost or penalty."

Qualifications

While there are no approvals and appraisals, there are a few qualifications:

  • You have to be current with your loan payments.
  • You have to wait six months from the date of your home purchase
  • You can't take cash out.
  • "The streamline refinance must reduce your mortgage payment by at least 5 percent," said HSH.com.
Costs of the loan

Like any mortgage, streamlined refis have closing costs; these can range between $1,500 and $4000, according to My Mortgage Insider. But that doesn't mean the borrower has to pay for them out of pocket.

"Lenders want your business," they said. "Loans with streamlined processes are in high demand. They take lenders less time and manpower to get through the system compared to other loan types." Because of this, lenders will often negotiate.


Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 12th, 2015
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It Doesn't Pay to Wait To Buy A Home
By Blanche Evans
April 2, 2015
There will always be those who try to "time the market," but there's one factor you can't know -- when buying a home will become more expensive.

Certainly you can tell from recent trends whether or not prices and mortgage interest rates are in your favor. Monthly prices have risen year-over-year for three years. Mortgage interest rates are slowly rising, but remain at extremely attractive levels.

You could wait for prices to fall, but there are two problems with that idea. First, it would take an economic recession to lower prices, which could take months or years. With the exception of the Great Recession, you won't know if you're in or out of a recession until the talking heads online inform you.

Second, mortgage interest rates have been kept artificially low for five years. That's a very long time. With steady gains in employment, it's not likely they will go any lower. In fact, higher interest rates could wipe out any gains you could save by waiting to buy.

Here's a real life example:

If you buy a home and get a $200,000 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 4.5 percent, your monthly payment will be $1,013.37 and you'll pay $164,813.42 in interest over the life of the loan.

The same home at 5.0 percent interest costs $1,073.64, a difference of $60.27 more per month and $186,511.57 in interest over the life of the loan. The difference in interest payments alone is $21,698.15.

If your home dropped 5% in value and you were able to buy it at $190,000 and 4.5% interest, your payment would be $962.70, a difference of $50.67 per month, with $156,572.75 in interest over the life of the loan. You'd save $50.67 more per month than if you'd paid $200,000.

At 5.0 percent, your $190,000 home costs $1019.96, or $53.68 more per month than if you'd gotten the loan at 4.5 percent. Your interest payments would total $177,185.99 over the life of the loan. The difference in payments is $20,613.24.

Currently, mortgages for borrowers with good credit are around 4.00 percent. If you had purchased your $190,000 home a year and a half ago when prices were lower and interest rates were at 4.00% interest, it would cost you $907.09 per month and a total of $13,6552.06 in interest.

The question is -- did you?

There's never a perfect time to buy a home and you shouldn't buy a home just for financial reasons. Buy your home to raise your family, be close to friends and relatives and to be free from a landlord where you get nothing back but cancelled checks at the end of the lease.

Don't put your dreams off to gamble with the market. Think of getting the home you want at a reasonable price and payment as the best way to beat the market.


Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 11th, 2015
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Home renovation is a $400 billion business. But that doesn't mean every renovation is a successful one. So how do you know which ones bring home the ROI and which ones you shouldn't waste your time - and money - on?


We consult Remodeling magazine's Cost versus Value Report to find the highest return on investment for home projects. But how about the ones that don't pay you back?


Here are seven you should be wary of.

1. Mid-Range Bathroom Remodel

"The average cost is $16,634 with an average resale value of $10,668. The cost recouped is 64%," said WCVB. A high-end bathroom remodel fares even worse, with a $76,429 spend providing a 59.8% ROI.

2. Master Suite Addition

"The average cost is $108,090 and the average resale value is $68,146, putting the cost recouped at 63%," said WCVB. Where it's feasible to create an attic bedroom instead, the ROI is significantly better, at 77.2% with $55,696 spent on a midrange project.

3. Family Room Addition

With an average cost of $85,740, a family room addition typically pays back $53,624 for a 62% ROI. Direct those funds toward a deck addition instead, and this desirable amenity will pay you back with an 80.05% ROI and will cost just $10,048 on a midrange project.