Thursday, July 19, 2012

Make The Most Out of Your Outside Time This Summer

Temperatures are rising, flowers are blooming and chirping birds greet us in the morning. It's official, summer is here. Are your yard and home ready? Here are five surefire tricks to help you prep them for sun and fun:

1. Create sensational seating. With summer get-togethers, you're always looking for more seating for guests. But that doesn't mean you need to buy new. If you're like many homeowners, you probably have miscellaneous chairs throughout your home. It might be a desk chair, a decorative one in the corner of your living room or an old one buried in the attic.

Now is the perfect time of the year to brighten it up with a vibrant, new color - such as lime green, poppy or lilac. All you need is a can of spray paint. And the best part is that you can always easily change the color again for fall with some additional paint.

2. Embellish with accessories. Does your living area look as dreary as the past winter months? Before you say replace your sofa for a refresh, consider the power of accessorizing. Summer is the perfect excuse to hit your local home goods store or even thrift shop for a whole new cadre of vases, throw pillows, framed pictures, baskets and more.

Go in with a game plan. Determine a couple of colors you would like to add and have a set budget in mind. This will help you stay focused and allow you to come home with a whole new look for your living room.

3. Paint for patio perfection. With the summer months, your social calendar may already be bustling with a number of parties and get-togethers. Now is the perfect time to update your deck or patio. If you have a bench, table or planters that have seen better days, consider using a spray paint-primer, such as Krylon's Dual Paint and Primer, which allows you to prime and paint in one single step - even on weathered metal. To create a more distinctive look, consider constructing a planter bench, which will provide added seating and a home for your stunning flowers.

4. Create lush landscapes. For a truly manicured yard, it's the small details that make all the difference. For areas where you tend to walk, add large stepping stones to make the path more inviting and help ensure you don't damage your plants and mulch. If you have large trees in your backyard, consider adding a plant bed covered with mulch around the base to provide a cleaner look and make mowing easier.

5. Find a fun and festive fire pit. Making s'mores over a campfire or creating ambiance for evening drinks is a great way to spend a summer evening. Depending on the layout of your backyard and local ordinances, there are a number of options for adding an evening fire to your summer plans. For a more casual feel, you can dig a pit in a dedicated area of your backyard and finish it with decorative stones and seating. Or, for a more formal fire, try a metal fire pit or chiminea. With the wide variety of styles and colors, you're guaranteed to find one that matches your backyard beautifully.

These few easy and cost-effective modifications will guarantee you're ready to celebrate the summer solstice in style. For more projects and ideas for your home, visit

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Uptick in remodeling activity a sign of the times

Mary Ellen Podmolik | Chicago Tribune | May 20, 2012

The weakest part of the housing industry is single-family home construction, but home remodelers are in line for an upbeat year.

After rising 3.5 percent last year, to $107.4billion, homeowner spending on remodeling projects is expected to increase 12 percent this year and an additional 8 percent next year, says a recent forecast by the National Association of Home Builders and Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

That doesn't include spending by investors purchasing distressed properties and fixing them up either to resell or to turn into rental units. Add that in and the total spent was close to $300billion last year and is expected to increase.

Credit the anticipated spending to some of the same factors that have helped weigh down the housing market. The percentage of people who moved from one home to another in 2011, 11.6 percent, was at its lowest rate since the Census Bureau began tracking mobility in 1948. Because of declining home values, 26 percent of homeowners plan to stay in their homes at least 16 more years, and an additional 23 percent said they plan to stay put six to 10 years, according to a recent poll by the National Institute of the Remodeling Industry.

Also, homeowners in areas where the local housing market seems to have bottomed out may be more willing to invest in their properties again, taking on projects they deferred.

Consumers buying foreclosures or homes sold through short sales typically need to make improvements and repairs that last year translated into average spending of $7,300 during the first year of homeownership.

And finally, even homeowners with equity in their homes may decide that in the current market, trying to sell their home isn't worth the effort, so they'll tailor the home to their changing needs instead.

"The mix is going to change," said Kermit Baker, a senior research fellow at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "It's not going to be driven by these upper-end projects. It's going to be driven by these smaller-scale activities and it's been deferred. There's a lot of folks who are not underwater or not that significantly underwater and aren't planning on moving anytime soon."

That's not good for would-be buyers who are waiting for choice inventory to come on the market. It's not good for homebuilders, either. But it's welcome news for remodeling professionals so long as homeowners have saved up enough for the projects or have the creditworthiness to borrow money.

Last year, the five most common remodeling jobs were bathrooms, kitchens, window and door replacement, repairing property damage and whole-house remodeling.

"Remodeling is (now) not driven by price appreciation or preparation for sale — by a lot of the things you'd normally thought of — but rather by simply good old-fashioned 'This is what I want. I want a place that is newer, has all the gizmos and is nicer to live in,'" said David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. "It's a return to the real value of a home as a place that I will use rather than trying to gain appreciation."

Baker continues to believe that much of the remodeling industry's growth will come from changes made to homes to allow baby boomers to age in place. "That's going to be one of the really strong markets over the next decade," Baker said. "I'm really not sure the remodeling industry knows how to sell that population really well."

Lower rate and shorter terms: With interest rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages that hovered under 4 percent, it's little wonder homeowners who refinanced their mortgages during the year's first quarter were eyeing more stable products and shorter loan terms.

According to Freddie Mac, 31 percent of borrowers who refinanced during 2012's first three months traded in their 30-year loans for 20-year, 15-year or shorter-term mortgages. Meanwhile, 68 percent of borrowers who had hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages refinanced by moving into fixed-rate mortgages, the highest share in a year. Mortgage refinancings accounted for 81 percent of mortgage applications during the quarter.

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