Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kitchen Cabinets: Knobs & Pulls

Now that you have painted, refinished or replaced your kitchen cabinets don’t forget the knobs and pulls. Perhaps one of the easiest and most dramatic changes you can make, even if you do nothing else to the cabinets is to replace the hardware.

All home improvement stores and/or hardware stores have knobs and pulls. You can find ultra contemporary, traditional, or even whimsical! They can really vary in price and some may need to be ordered, so shop around.

Some of my favorite places to shop are Home Depot, Lowe's and Ace Hardware. But also look into Ikea contemporary styles and good pricing. Restoration Hardware is a great place to shop online for historical products and replacement parts. Also check out places such as Habitat for Humanity and other salvage stores in your area for great deals, especially for replacement or vintage items.

Be Creative. I was invited to visit a home of friends that had been renovating their 1970’s home. I was so impressed with their kitchen. They had glazed their cabinets in a deep green and made all the handles for each door and drawer from 1/2" copper plumbing pipe. It was great! The handles on the drawers were almost the length of the drawer; at the end of the pipe they had attached plumbing fittings to make a 90 degree angle. It was not only a clever solution that expressed their personalities, but it looked expensive and was an amazing effect!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kitchen Cabinets: Revive the old!

I spoke about refinishing cabinets by painting and/or by replacing doors for an updated look, but if you have good wood cabinets you may just want to redo and refresh the wood with stain. This is a very inexpensive option, but it can be very time consuming depending on the specific project.

Let’s say, the cabinets are a good wood, but are dull and need refreshing, You may want to
stain them and keep the wood-look rather than paint over them. Let’s assume a scenario of cabinets that are in good condition, but need refreshing and perhaps a deeper stain. (The prep work is virtually the same as for painting cabinets as described in my previous post on kitchen cabinets.)

  1. Anytime you are working with wood, ALWAYS FOLLOW THE GRAIN OF THE WOOD!
  2. As in any case, be sure they are clean! Use degreaser or TSP. If you choose TSP, read all the label directions carefully, it is a very harsh and toxic chemical and you will need to take all the precautions very seriously. Do not work with this unless you are using heavy rubber gloves and eye protection and have good ventilation.
  3. Remove all cabinet doors, drawer fronts. Number each piece to matching cabinet.
  4. Remove all hardware and keep it in a container to avoid losing any pieces.
  5. Place cabinets/drawer fronts in a horizontal position. Wherever you choose to place your cabinets, cover the floor. Perhaps you chose the garage, (a good choice) and you don’t care if anything gets on the floor, but if not, be sure the area where you are working is covered even if only a piece of cardboard.

There is a product line which I have used in the past, called Fornby’s. It can be purchased at any hardware or home improvement store. It is more expensive than some of the other refinishing products available; however, it does not contain the harsh chemicals of most products. It removes the gloss finish, doesn’t strip the natural color or raise the wood grain; therefore, you can avoid the sanding process. I used it to restore a grimy, old table top. Probably not the best advice, but because the table was so large and heavy, I could not physically move it. I opened windows and worked in my house. I didn’t really notice any fumes, but cautiously took several “fresh air breaks” anyway. I completed the table top by hand rubbing it with their tung oil product. I was extremely pleased with the results.

However, if you have cabinets that have been painted or had several layers of paint that need to be removed you may have to consider a harsh chemical stripper. All cautions need to be applied. In fact, if you are working in an older home, it is very likely that any paint work done prior to 1978 was lead based. If so, be extremely cautious about any paint dust you may generate by sanding. For your own safety, you may want to consider wearing a respirator instead of something like a simple breathing mask.

I would suggest that you take a cabinet door or perhaps a drawer from to a specialty store for a product recommendation. I have always used Zip-Strip or Strypeeze for difficult projects, I have never really felt the milder chemical products did a very good job.

  • Follow the same steps as (1-5) above.

CAUTIONS: Read the product directions carefully. These types of stripping products are very harsh and have a strong solvent smell. You NEED to work in a very well ventilated area, such as a garage. If you are working on wood that cannot be removed from your house, do small areas at a time! Allow plenty of time to complete this project! Do this when you can open windows, take plenty of “fresh air breaks” outdoors. Keep your children and pets in a non-toxic area. You may need to wear a respirator, safety goggles and definitely good quality gloves!

  1. Use a brush to apply the stripper, using ample amounts and always following the grain of the wood.
  2. Allow the product to stay on the cabinet, you will see the paint “crinkle”. Don’t get too anxious to remove it, LET THE PRODUCT DO THE WORK!
  3. Use a putty knife (or other tools listed below) to remove the paint.
  4. Rinse with water, let dry prior to sanding.
  5. When all the paint is removed, sand the cabinets with a “hand sander”, not “by hand” or the project will be a life-long commitment! These products tend to raise the grain to some degree, you want a smooth finish. Also, if there are bits of paint remaining, sanding will also remove them.
  6. Apply new stain.
  7. Protect the cabinets by applying a varnish or polyurethane.
  8. Allow for a long drying time between coats. It may seem dry, but “curing” may take weeks.


  • Gloves – heavy rubber, not light latex gloves as in painting. In fact have at least two pair. If you get a tear in your glove, you want a replacement. This stuff WILL hurt on your skin! Also, “cuff” your gloves when wearing them to prevent stripper from dripping to your arm.
  • Metal or glass container with a lid. You can pour some of your stripper in the container and work with small amounts at a time.
  • Brushes. For a harsh stripping product use cheap brushes…when you are done you can dispose of them. (Most landfill areas have an area for disposal of household hazards.) Use better brushes for applying sealer.
  • Putty knife. This is used to remove the paint after it has “crinkled”. I also like to use an old kitchen knife with a fairly wide blade, it is sharper than a putty knife, but be careful not to “nick” the wood. For hard to get to areas or detailed areas, I will use a tiny flat edge screwdriver, a toothbrush or anything else I can find in my house to improvise!
  • Soft cloths (lint free) to apply stain and/or brushes.
  • Fine grained steel wool to help remove any bits of remaining paint. The steel wool can also be used between coats of sealer for a smooth finish. Be sure there is NO residue of the steel wool remaining on your work. Use that soft damp cloth to be sure the residue is removed prior to finishing.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kitchen cabinets...More Options.

My last blog spoke entirely of updating your kitchen cabinets by painting. I assumed you had wooden cabinets that were usable, but perhaps older and just boring! In fact, you may even have a house that still has the old metal cabinets! They too can be painted. Just remember to purchase a paint that is designed to be used on metal.

Of course, make sure the cabinets are clean, and check out the foam roller I spoke about in my last blog. If painting on metal you could also use cans of spray paint, but really be careful of “over spray” and doing thin coats, just more of them to keep the paint from “running”. I like these cabinets because they are nostalgic, but certainly not as functional as the newer ones in which you can add many convenient organizational features.

I spoke briefly about considering the “investment” interest in your choices for painting, but if I had metal cabinets, this is a time where I might do something just for fun, something dramatic or just whimsical. For example, perhaps if you have artistic talent, paint a mural of a field of wildflowers across the doors or something that would address your lifestyle. I think it would be really fun to be creative or dramatic with these cabinets because in all honesty, if you eventually sell your home with metal kitchen cabinets, the buyer would most likely remove them anyway... Or not, if you are a skilled artist! (I'm still working on "stick people".)

Okay, no more painting….let’s get back to options for typical wooden cabinets.

  1. Change the color of the wood by refinishing with a darker (?) stain.
  2. Add moldings to the doors.
  3. Replace the doors and drawer fronts. There are companies that just specialize in doors and drawers like This site has a great page on how to measure the cabinets you have to be sure you know how to buy doors and drawer fronts. They are not inexpensive, but far less money than new cabinets plus installing cabinets is not the easiest project.
  4. You can also purchase cabinets that you assemble yourself. They are at all home improvement stores and available by many companies and in several styles, including unfinished if you want to save more money. You can choose which “add-on’s” you want, such as roll-out shelving, lazy susan, etc.

An important consideration, if you purchase cabinets: You can do everything on-line, but home improvement stores offer an in-store computer design service. If you just need to double-check yourself, take accurate measurements of your room, a drawing of the location of appliances, windows, doors, location of outlets, etc. with you to the store. They will go to their computers and design your kitchen, and give you a list of all the cabinets you need to complete the project. You might even get some great suggestions since this is what they do every day!

At one time, I purchased
Mills Pride cabinets at Home Depot and assembled them. They really are no’t hard to do, just like a puzzle but with really large pieces. Honestly, I have purchased Christmas toys that were more difficult to assemble! It can a bit awkward to handle larger pieces like a pantry cabinet. The real key is to read the directions! (In other words, don’t have a man help you with the project!) It’s been awhile, but if I remember correctly, there is a hinge that if placed in wrong and when “locked” in place, it cannot be removed. I had to replace a cabinet because a “helper” didn't read directions! Check out and make sure all the pieces are included. I had a huge pantry with some missing shelving, It was replaced and I must credit Home Depot for customer service that was far beyond my expectations.

  • If you don’t want to do that much work, of course you can go to any kitchen & bath store, or home improvement store and purchase ready-made and custom cabinets. Definitely, shop around. Most of these stores have kitchen displays for great ideas and as previously stated, design assistance. Home depot, and Lowe’s are obvious choice since they are located in all parts of the country. I would also suggest you also check out IKEA. This company offers a different type of cabinets, usually very contemporary, European style and can be purchased in “units”. They are reasonably priced and usually on sale twice a year. I have noticed that Home Depot now carries products from one of their suppliers. (Sorry, I’m guilty of not knowing if other home improvement stores are doing the same, but this could save money on freight charges since they do not have as many store locations.) While you are on the Ikea site, also check out their cabinet hardware and lighting. They are usually very stylish and reasonably priced!

If you choose to assemble, and/or install cabinets be sure you have:

  • A good tape measure, a level , a power drill, and preferably two strong helpers to “manhandle” the cabinets into place or hold the upper cabinets while they are fastened to the walls! This is really not a job for one person. You just don’t have enough hands and cabinets are awkward and heavy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I hate my kitchen cabinets! Let's talk paint!

So every time you walk into your kitchen, you look at those cabinets and get depressed! That's a lot of depression! The ideal situation would be to hire a kitchen designer, hire a cabinetmaker, "gut" the room. Here comes the.. BUT, you know it is out of your budget --at least for now.

There are many alternatives that I will talk about, but one of the least expensive is painting, so let's talk about that option first. If I have to make budget choices, I will paint or glaze my cabinets, assuming they are in usable condition. Then, spend money on adding shelving that slides out, spice racks inside doors, or features such as "lazy susan" for corner cabinets, making what I have convenient to use. These features can be really expensive when purchasing kitchens, but it is wonderful to have a pantry shelf slide out and have everything on it visible. Most of these items can be purchased as an "add-on" in any home improvement store.

  • Consider the style of your home, is it traditional, historic, cottage-style, country or contemporary?
  • Do you want to maintain the integrity of that style?
  • Check out your paints or glazes based on the feeling you want when you are in the room.
  • Keep in mind the amount of space your cabinets assume in the room, do you want them to be the entire focal area or background?
  • Are you doing the project for your own enjoyment? After all, the house is yours...or do want to consider the possibility of this as "investment" for the future? If you will be selling your house in the future, will your choices be appealing to others?

Examples: I love a light, sleek contemporary kitchen, however if I lived in a older cottage-style home at the beach, I would probably blend the two styles the best I can without sacrificing the integrity of my beach cottage. I might paint my cabinets white, my surrounding walls a very pale beachy blue or green, with future plans to tile a back splash with small glass tiles resembling sea glass.

My sister, having purchased a late 70's style home, with dark wood of that era, did a deep green glaze over her cabinets. I would never have thought to choose that color, but with the traditional decor of the rest of her house the result was stunning! The glaze only required that the cabinets were clean prior to glazing.

Personally, I would never paint my cabinets a bold color such as red. If I wanted red in my kitchen, I would paint my cabinets white and accent in red with kitchen towels, art work, perhaps tiles, or even a wall! This is only because the cabinets in red would be so dramatic, too busy, and a very time-consuming change if I tire of it, or want to consider the "investment" possibilities of my home.

If you just aren't sure you can see the "whole" picture, try the Internet. For example,, a site for Inspiration & Ideas, Colors & tools. You can pick out a kitchen, drag and drop colors on the walls, cabinets, counter tops, etc. has the same type of virtual color design for their paints. If you haven't been able to decide what to do, these (and there are many other) Internet options are fun to play with....they also have some great design ideas, either for now for the future.

  • You have decided to paint your cabinets and have chosen the color you want.
  • Plan your to do at least two coats of paint. Leave plenty of drying time between coats.
  • Check with the paint store, you might want to purchase a higher gloss oil based paint (if painting on wood) for cabinets. You want a paint that you can clean repeatedly in the kitchen.
  • Clean the cabinets really well and know they are dry. (I like to use a degreaser.)
  • Remove all cabinet doors, hinges, and hardware. Keep these together with all the screws, etc., so you aren't searching for parts when putting them back together.
  • Number each door or drawer front to the match the cabinet you removed it from. They can have just minor differences and it is frustrating when you replace them and they just don't fit right...then waste time "juggling" them around for just the right spot.
  • Preferably use a sander. If you don't have one, you can hand sand, but a small hand sander is quite inexpensive, and you will be amazed at the number of times you will put it to use.
  • If the cabinets have been painted prior, you might have to use paint remover if there are several coats of paint. The point is to have a surface that is smooth so the new paint can adhere.
  • A good quality paint brush and/or roller. I like a brush about 2". Depending on the cabinet style, you may also want a small foam roller for smooth surfaces.
  • Blue painters tape.
  • Keep cabinet doors flat (horizontal) when painting to reduce the possibility of "runs" in the finished product.

Once when painting cabinets, I was enjoying my project, singing along to good music, admiring my precise work AND having an excuse to splurge on "take-out" dinners; I had a friend decide to be helpful and save me a lot of time by spray painting all the cabinet doors. I admit I was hesitant, but agreed. I noticed all the doors standing vertically against a building and my friend was spraying away! Perhaps it would have worked by spraying several really thin coats of paint, but every one of my doors had "runs". I had to wait until they thoroughly were dry and then sand them again and repaint each one. Needless to say, I was not very happy! Besides, I ended up with "overspray" on a newly painted building. Sometimes short cuts just aren't!

As much as I was irritated by the additional work and time this mistake was going to cost me, I also realized how much the details count. I could do the work now and make sure I had a completed project I could be proud of, or do a "quick-fix", hang the cabinets and say "it'll do". Knowing myself, the only choice was the first. Had I chosen "it'll do", I would notice every imperfect area on those cabinet doors forever and I would hate my kitchen even more than if I had left it alone. I also knew that once I stopped, it would be really hard to face the same project again. So I rolled up my sleeves, turned the music a little louder and started singing "I'm Walking on Sunshine..."

The final result was wonderful. Each time I walked into the room, I wondered why I hadn't done this project sooner. On this project, the wooden cabinets had been painted prior, I sanded them, used a Martha Stewart paint from Ace Hardware.

Now that you've finished painting, consider changing the hardware. Cabinet hardware can make a dramatic impact and a simple way to modernize any style.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More on Renovations!

I know I have already written about renovations and choosing whether or not it is for you, but I really need to share a TV show that I have recently discovered. As I have said before, I really love watching HGTV, all the decorating, the remodels, the real estate shows. Some of these shows have been around for quite awhile and they can be great for ideas. However, as a person that has done a lot of decorating and renovating on my own, I have learned to see when a project is "over my head" or "out of my budget". One of my greatest fears for someone, especially a first-time home buyer, is not realizing the amount of work, mess, and money that these projects can become. Even the best laid plans can end up with the unexpected budget buster.

HGTV just recently added a show called "Renovation Realities". It is worth watching if you are considering renovating your home on your own! It is a show of regular people that decided to do their own projects. It is hilarious!!! Granted, sometimes I wonder "what are they thinking", or "nobody would do that"! But it does show how much work the projects can be, how not "everyone" is a carpenter, how the unexpected can kill the budget, etc., During the show, they will "flash" things like "Jill would know how to install the sink if she went to "www.......". They also put up notes about cost. For example: Jill dropped the sink on the floor and broke it....the the sink was $300, and she is 3 hours behind. Joe bought a countertop, but measured wrong -- it is too short. The cost of the new countertop is $.

So far I have only seen three of the shows, one was a guy that decided to put up a deck on a 3-day weekend, a guy that decided to "gut" his kitchen and put in new cabinets with help from his mother (he didn't finish the project), and the last one where two girls decided to rip up the carpet in their apartment and replace it with laminated flooring. The girls did finish their project in 4 days, but they "borrowed" a friend to help carry the flooring to their apartment, exhausted themselves trying to get the carpet out of the apartment. They couldn't understand the directions and the flooring wasn't going in right, so they "borrowed" another friend that reminded them "it is not that hard" and showed them what to do. They finally hired help. At the end of the show (although not entirely finished with the project), the result on the screen was: "They spent $2500 for the flooring, $500 for the helper. They could have installed carpet for $500. (To be fair, the girls had decided on laminate because they had a bunch of pets that "did their business" all over the I don't think more carpet was going to solve the problem unless they house trained all those animals first!)

Now, I am not trying to discourage you from taking on projects, but as I said before, I think it is good to know what you are getting into. I think this show is worth watching, it might be exaggerated for some of us, but it sure does give an idea of how things don't always go as planned! It also shows how details, accurate measuring, and sometimes a helper are really important and maybe when the "idea" was better than the result!

I have checked HGTV. com and for the TV episodes, so far I haven't been able to find them. If I do find them on the Internet, I will post them for those without cable TV.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Painting: Tools

Whenever I engage on a painting project, my first reaction is that "I really hate to paint", actually, I don't think that is true...I think I really enjoy painting. I don't like the prep work and the mess! The reason I do it anyway is because I always love the result.

Some of things that I have learned to make my job easier:
  • Have the right tools. The first thing everyone does is to buy a paint roller and paint pan. If you are using a roller, especially if you are buying it in a kit, make sure it is right for the project. If the walls or ceiling are heavily textured, you want a thick roller. If not, a thinner one. They hold a LOT of paint.
  • I like to use a paint "pad". They come in all sizes and shapes. I usually use one about mid-size, perhaps 4"x6". The reason for I choose to use this rather than a roller: the roller gets heavy when filled with paint, it also splatters paint back on me. I personally feel that the pad gives me more control on how much paint I am applying, it doesn't splatter, and cleans up easier. I also find that when cleaning it, I am rinsing out a lot less paint.
  • A paint stick for stirring the paint.
  • A container for pouring my paint without a lot of mess. These can be purchased. A lot of paint now comes with a "pour spout" or you can simply take a funnel and a old plastic milk carton (clean) and pour your paint in it. By doing this, I don't have paint dripping down the side of the can or caught in the grooves of the lid. I can pour some paint in my pan, put the top tightly on my container. I find I don't dump as much paint into the pan and having it dry out.
  • Good Brushes. Buy a couple of good brushes, they really make a difference when painting. It is really annoying to do all the work and see brush strokes when your done or to have bristles stuck in the paint. Just remember to always clean them well and you can keep them for many painting projects. My personal favorites are the smaller ones, 1" - 2". I also like them to have a slant, but that is less important than the quality. I feel I have better control of the smaller brush when doing detail work like painting close to moldings, or edging areas like where the wall and ceiling meet.
  • Artist brush. I like to have a very fine brush also - similar size to a watercolor brush in a children's paint set. Actually, just a bit larger with good bristles. The reason I use this is for my final touch-ups, usually where the wall and ceiling meet and it is sometimes hard to be perfectly straight.
  • Latex gloves. I buy a box of latex disposable gloves. They are really inexpensive. Know matter how hard I try, I get paint on me! If I wear the gloves, they are so thin that they don't interfere with my work. I don't get paint on my hands and inevitably touch something and get paint on that too. If I take a break or change tasks, I can pull of the gloves. Sometimes, I can put on the same pair, but if they are "messy", I use a new pair.
  • Blue painter's tape. The blue tape is "painter's tape". I'm all for saving money, but not here. It is so important to tape off any areas that you don't want to paint, or to "edge" a ceiling, or protect a molding from paint. Be sure when you tape, that you run your hand over it so it is absolutely adhering to the surface. It is so much easier to prevent a mishap than to remove paint (even if it is water soluble). Believe me, I HATE to tape, but I have learned when it is important to use. I have also tried using "masking tape" or other types if I've run short or because I had it on hand. A definite mistake....not only will I have paint "seepage", but removing the "other" tape can really mess up my work.
  • Drop Cloth. You can buy may sizes and types of drop cloths. I have had room -size ones that prevent the paint from "soaking in" if spilled. They are great, not terribly expensive and especially good if you are doing a lot of painting. Of course, they will last forever! Removing spilled paint from a carpet, could mean new carpet. If you have hardwoods, tile or vinyl it is simpler, but still "a pain in the butt" job that you didn't need! If you don't have a drop cloth of this type, or don't want the expense, look around your house---don't just leave the floors uncovered and left to fate! Personally, I prefer a cloth that is not room-sized, they are just easier for me to work with. I prefer to use smaller ones, sometimes more than one or move them. If I haven't had the cloths, I've used really old towels and sometimes large pieces of cardboard or "Kraft" paper.
  • A ladder. Unless you play for the NBA you will need some type of ladder, preferably one with wide steps because you will be on it often. It is amazing how you can feel muscles you didn't know you had because you've been balancing on a ladder for most of a day. If you are going to paint every room in a house or a "foyer", you may have to rent scaffolding. Actually, in some houses "with fabulous entries", the ceilings are so high and some areas almost impossible to paint. I would strongly suggest hiring a paint contractor. This kind of do-it-yourself project is neither fun or safe without the proper equipment. Falling off a tall ladder or stretching to reach the impossible can and often does end up at the hospital!
  • Zip-lock bags. I always have plastic bags by my supplies when I paint. If I need to break for awhile or even overnight, I can place my brushes, my paint pad, roller in a plastic bag. When I am ready to go back to work, I just remove the bag.
  • Screwdriver. It is just simpler to remove all the switch plates, etc., around the room than to tape around them. The details are important to the quality of the paint job. If it can come off, or down without a great effort, it is often easier than avoiding getting paint on it.
  • Old clothes. No matter what I paint or how careful I think I am going to be...I will get paint on my clothes! So because I am no longer kidding myself, I wear clothes that are comfortable and don't matter!
  • Slip-on shoes. I usually don't wear shoes when I paint, but rather keep shoes by the door of the room I am working in. This is entirely personal preference. If I step in paint on my drop cloth with my shoes on, I probably won't notice it and then track it elsewhere. If I am wearing socks or barefoot, I will usually feel the paint on my foot before I track it somewhere else. With my shoes by the door, I can slip into them to walk to other parts of the house...if I do have paint on my sock, it might be in my shoe, but not all over my carpet!
  • Radio. I really like to have a radio on so I can sing along while I work. I have tried the tv, but I never look at it and it just becomes noise. Music on the other hand, makes the time go quickly and me "upbeat".

OK... so remove everything you can from the room. If you can't remove it, cover it. Before you think about opening the can of paint, be sure your the surface you are painting is clean and dry! No point in doing all the work, if the paint can't adhere to the surface.

If your surface has been painted in a bright color such as a red, you will want to use a primer to keep the old color from "bleeding" through to your new color. It is always nice to use a primer, but really not necessary if; for example, the walls are a neutral color.

More Painting...

I know I'm guilty of not following all the rules when it comes to choosing my paint or even when it comes to mixing my colors. However, I have yet to be disappointed with the outcomes.

Yes, I often buy the "oops" paint. I also will take paint that I have and blend colors. For example, I bought a color that I like, but would like to have a wall painted lighter. If I have a white paint, I will add it to the color I have and create the shade I want. I have also gone to the paint store and just purchased a tube of "tint" to change the color I have on hand. I always measure out the mix, and write down my "recipe" just in case I need to make up more of the color.

Just to be really fair, I have to say that when I have been at the paint stores and commented that "I might mix in some white that I have" or something similar, I have been met with shock! Comments like "you can't do that! Every paint has differences in it, even in the amounts of water!" I'm sure they are right, but it has always worked for me. In fact, I think about the number of times I have had latex paint sitting in a tray and it gets "thick", what do I do? Add water. What do I do when an oil based paint is "thick", I add paint thinner. Granted, I would NEVER mix an oil base paint & a latex paint together! Nor would I take a priceless piece and try to play with paints, but then I probably wouldn't be painting that at all!

The other advise I have found at the paint store is they always sell me way too much paint for my project. I am really "picky" so I don't want to feel like I've "stretched" my paint and can see any type of color distortions after it is on the wall. In my experience, usually the store recommends a gallon of paint for every 400 sq. ft., selling me (usually) two gallons of paint. I find that I paint two coats of paint, everything is evenly covered, and I have one gallon unopened and paint still left in the first gallon! Of course, you can't return the unopend gallon! I would rather order more if I run out - which has only happened to me once!

The only time I ever ran out of paint, I really feel had to do with the color I chose and quality of it. It was probably my mistake. I need to paint a fairly small bedroom and didn't want to spend much money. I went to Wal-Mart and found a beautiful shade of orange that "picked up" the shade of a thread in a brown bedspread. It was the perfect color! To be fair, the salesperson said the Wal-Mart brand was "good", but did recommend that I "step up" to their "better" paint, which was twice the money. I painted over a off-white wall so I didn't use a primer. The paint seemed "runny" and didn't cover well. I intended to paint a second coat and did, but I had to stretch every drop of the paint to get through the next coat. It appeared uneven with some shading. I hoped that when it dried thoroughly it would be even, it didn't. Granted, I was the only person that could "see" it, but for me--I could never see anything else!

I should have taken the advise of the salesperson in this instance. I have never used Wal-Mart's brand of interior paint since, perhaps had I not painted such a strong color the experience would have been better. I was confident their "cheap" paint ($11/gal.) was okay because I had helped someone paint the exterior of their house using Wal-Mart paint and I was very pleased when using it.

My favorite type of paint for walls is usually an "eggshell" finish. "Flat paints" are often recommended for bedrooms, but I find them dull. Eggshell is the step betwen flat and semi-gloss. Semi-glosses are good in kitchens or kids rooms because they can be washed easily, they are okay, but reflect a lot of light. So, if their are imperfections on the walls they will show up more as light hits them. High-gloss paints can be fun, but be selective to where they are used...perhaps a chair or other furniture in a childs room. When you are looking at paint charts, they will also have a chart of "glosses".

Paint stores will often have paint samples if you are not sure of the color. Martha Stewart paints sells a tiny jar for $3. It is a lot of money for a small amount of paint, but if you are doing a special project and just not sure, it can also save a lot of time and repainting! I'm sure there are many others that do the same or similar. I know that now many companies offer swatches that are as large as a sheet of paper. It is best to take your swatches to your home to select the color, rather than in lighting at the paint store unless you have a really good "eye for color". I also take swatches of fabric, etc., to the store with me. I have even been lucky enough to find the right "paint mixer" to make the exact color I need from my fabric swatch.

Painting is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make dramatic changes in your home environment. The best part is only paint! If you don't like it, repaint it!

Good Luck!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Oops" Paint

Times are tough out there, but we also need to do some things to perk up our spirits. Spring has sprung! Whether you just purchased your new home or not, you look around the house and it needs some "perking up". Painting can make dramatic changes with minimal costs.

One of my favorite money saving paint tips is to check out the "oops" paint. Each time I go into a store that sells paint, I walk through the paint department. It is true many times I walk on by, but other times I have found, not only my best deals, but my favorite colors! Excellent paint is sold for ridiculously low prices, perhaps someone made a mistake when mixing it or the person ordering it changed their mind. I have often purchased quarts of paint for $2 ; $5 for a gallon; $15 for five gallon container.

I have never been disappointed by the paint that I have purchased this way. In fact, the paint that I loved the most, both in quality and color was a "boo-boo". The greatest part of buying this way, if you would ever need more of the color, the stores can "scan" a sample of the paint and re-mix it to the exact combination (granted, the addition may not be $5), but certainly removes the fear of running short in the middle of my project.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

First Time Home Buying 101: The Closing

Well, you have offered to purchase the home and your offer has been accepted! Yeah! The house passed the home inspection with flying colors!

However, the work is not over it is up to your mortgage broker to secure the loan you need. Now your mortgage broker knows what house and how much you are paying for it. He/she will now search for the best "program" to fit your needs at the lowest interest rate. This will require all the "conditions" in your folder (bank statements, etc.,) submitted to the lender. He/she will order an appraisal of the property and anything else the "lender" asks.

The lender (and there are far fewer of them than in the past) will want to be assured that you will be able to afford to pay for the property that you are buying. They also want to know that the property is worth the asking price (in case they end up selling it along with the thousands of foreclosures they already have!) Don't worry you will be fine!

Let's assume that everything has been completed. Your loan is approved! Your mortgage broker has spent the time to explain what the terms of the loan are and what your payments will be.

Closing has been set up at a title company or with a real estate lawyer. Let's assume you are using a title company. They have assured that you are receiving the property "free and clear" prior to your purchase. They also provide a detailed statement of all monies in the transaction. When all the documents are in place, the sellers, either or real estate agent or mortgage broker (possibly both) will accompany you to the closing. The seller has an easier day, they just sign off on the title to the property and leave.

The title company will explain all the documents to you before your sign each one. There are a lot of them....expect to have a very tired writing hand! The reason it is really nice to have your agents with you, if by chance, there is an error in the paperwork, they can catch it here. Don't worry, if there is an error, it probably something simple like whether or not you "checked the box" to have your insurance and taxes included in your monthly mortgage payment. Sometimes, a lender will require that you do (so they know the payments are being made). Other, times it's your choice.
  • You have signed the all the documents.
  • You recieve a complete package of all the documents for your records.
  • You are given the keys! You are a homeowner....go celebrate!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First Time Home Buying 101: The Offer

Finally, when you thought it would never happen! You found the house!

This a time when having an experienced real estate agent and a equally competent mortgage person working together to get "this show on the road" is really important!

As we discussed briefly earlier, the seller can ask any price they want for their home. That doesn't mean they will get it. If they have their property listed with a real estate agent, most likely the agent compared the "comps" (the prices that similar homes in the area actually sold for) and the house is priced reasonably for the area. Perhaps the home owner was really diligent and had a professional appraisal completed. The advantage is that prospective buyers know they are close to what a lender will loan on the property. In my world, I don't know to many people that can just "write a check" to own a specific property if its appraised value is a great deal lower than the asking price!

We spoke before about real estate being negotiable! It generally is, however, there are times when a seller just won't budge in price and then you again have choices to make. But first, your real estate agent will likely suggest placing an offer lower than the asking price. Take the advise.
If the seller doesn't like your offer, they will counteroffer.

Just a note on offers and counteroffers: If you submit your offer, and the seller agrees and signs it, it is a signed contract. If the seller, says "no" and returns with a "counteroffer", that is an entirely new contract agreement. If you sign it, it is a contractual agreement which you are obligated to complete. You can offer and counteroffer until you reach a "meeting of the minds". However, most real estate agents will not want to play this game too long. They are pretty aware of the circumstances. They will be speaking with the listing agent and both of them will want to complete the sale, each of them working for the best interest of their client.

Examples of circumstances that may influence your offer:
You want to spend the least amount of money for the home as possible.
  • Your realtor has checked "the comps" and feels the price is too hgh.
  • The appraisal is lower than the price, therefore you need a down payment higher than you want to spend.
  • Their are things on the property which need repair, for example the roof will need replacing, a new heating system, foundation repairs,or you need to do some expensive "updates".
  • The home has been on the market for an extensive period and the seller's are "motivated".
  • Homes in the area are not selling quickly or there are a lot of foreclosures in the area affecting property prices.
  • How badly you want the property. There is always a chance that the seller receives another offer. Will it devastate your life if you don't get it, or at some point are you willing to say, "its time to keep looking".

Real estate agents are generally expert negotiators, but also realistic. Hopefully, your real estate agent is realistic!

Examples of things in you offer that may influence the seller the to accept.

  • The house has been on the market for a long time.
  • They are living somewhere else and are paying two mortgages.
  • You can give them a fast closing date - perhaps prior to their next double mortgage payment.
  • They need the money and can't afford the repairs (if they could, they probably would have done them while living there).
  • Since you are a first-time buyer, you don't have to wait for your house to sell to purchase.

NRCC's: If your real estate agent may refers to non-recurring closing costs. The laws and/or amounts on this may vary from state-to-state (I have seen them up to 6% of the sales price.) Let me give a hypothetical: You really like the house, everything is perfect, but the roof needs replacement. The seller doesn't want the expense or take the time to do it. You know that once you get your mortgage you will not have the cash available to spend to fix the roof. So, lets say you put in a "full price" offer with "non-recurring closing costs" at 6%.

  • You are making a full-price offer (or somewhere close).
  • Your mortgage is for the higher amount as well as your taxes.
  • At closing you receive a check in the amount of the 6% (or what was agreed upon).
  • You have the cash to replace the roof, and yet paying for it in your mortgage.
  • If you don't have the cash, the interest rate on your mortgage is likely to be less than a credit card and/or it allows you to keep the savings you have for other expenses, subsequent loans may be hard to get, you can deduct interest paid on your mortgage on your taxes.

There are certain things you want your contract to contain when making your offer and/or counteroffer. Everything is negotiable!

  • Who is paying closing costs (usually split), but not always.
  • Contingent upon a home inspection that is acceptable to you.
  • Contingent upon on your accepted financing. Your realtor may include the maximum interest rate acceptable on your financing.
  • You can still accept if the contingencies are agreeable to you, for example if your interest is going to be higher than you anticipated; however, you can still afford the payment and want the is then up to you to say "go for it".
  • Someone that is selling their own home to buy this house, might have a clause "contingent upon the sale of their home."

The reason for this: Let's assume your mortgage person or bank is pretty confident that your loan will be approved at "?" interest rate. You sign the contract, the lender say they will give you the loan, but the approved interest rate approved is higher than anticipated and going to put the house out of your budget! If both you and the seller signed the contract, you bought a house. Perhaps, you'll have a real understanding seller, but I doubt it. Most likely, you will have a lawsuit.

To be fair, this can also work the other way, let's say the seller decides they want to change their mind and keep their house. Perhaps, the deal on the house they are moving into falls through, maybe they couldn't get their financing. Do you want to say, "I'm sorry, I'll give it back and start looking all over again." Chances are you've already picked out paint colors, been planning the decorating, maybe even registering the kids for school. Uh-uh! It is your house. These type of situations make that real estate agent or real estate lawyer worth every penny! Some of these agencies have some pretty powerful legal representation behind them and will force the parties to the contract to stand behind the deal!

Both you and the seller agree on the terms, your real estate agent assures you it is a good sales price and you sign the final contract. Your agent will ask you to submit a check to open escrow. This doesn't have to be a large amount, some will accept $500, but generally $1000. This check is never written to the real estate agent, it will be generally be written to the title company that the seller has selected to complete the closing. This money will be deducted from the sale as money paid.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

First Time Home Buying 101: HOA & CCR's

Briefly, I'll speak about HOA's (Home Owner's Associations). Generally, these are used if you purchase a townhouse or condominium. Let's use a condo as an example: When you purchase a condo, what you own is the interior space. Therefore, the grounds must be maintained, perhaps the building exterior painted. It will also include water, sewer and garbage pickup. When you make a purchase here, there will be a HOA manual for you to read. Be sure that you read all of it! It can include a lot of rules which you will have to abide. You are paying a fee for this which can be quite substantial and can be increased (depending on your specific HOA).

I lived in one for awhile, the HOA fee was $300/ month! It did include a lot of things, but the rules were pretty stiff. They regulated all the parking, when you could do your laundry or run the vacuum cleaner. If for some reason you ran over that time, etc., you could always count on someone complaining and receiving a scolding call from management.

Read the rules! HOA's have a lot of power, including eviction. Know what they can do if you are late on your fees. It might be easier to deal with your mortgage company than your HOA.

  • Ask them for a financial statement and their credit report.

CC& R's (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions.

You are far more likely to find this when looking for a home. These are when a developer designs a "planned community". When establishing the "development", they set up CC& R's. Basically, when the homes are sold, the homeowners are responsible as an association for compliance of the CC& R's. Some people really like having them, it is actually similar to a condo HOA in some respects. For example, if their is a community swimming pool or park that needs maintaining, all the homes in the development would contribute "fees". You must read and know what the conditions and restrictions are.

The advantage to this is all homes are well-maintained. It is very unlikely that you would have your property values decrease by the neighbor that decides to paint their house "hot pink and yellow" or have junk cars all over the property. The downside, and why some people really don't want to live in these developments is because they don't want to be told what to do on their own property. These CC& R's are a condition of title on this property, which gives the homeowners association a lot of power (legal power) if you do not abide by them. You can be fined and probably a lot read ALL OF THE AGREEMENT! Rules often include, but not limited to;

  • The colors you can paint your house,
  • How many pets you can have,
  • How long the grass is allowed to grow before mowing,
  • How many cars can be in your driveway and/or no street parking
  • Some restrict working on your car,
  • Noise restrictions
  • Fences, style, height, etc.

There can be many more (or less), it all depends on the development. But as you see, this is a time when you don't want to miss any of the fine print! Don't take this lightly, if you have questions or concerns about it seek the advise of a real estate lawyer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Time Home Buying 101: Checklist

After meeting with one or more mortgage brokers, since they offer different "products", and/or your bank loan officer and determined which has the best loan for you. You have been "pre-approved" for a loan amount and have searched homes within your price range.

For this scenario, let's assume that your real estate agent has now shown you several properties and you have found a couple of homes that would fit your needs and it is time to make a decision. Perhaps, their are some minor compromises or a few concessions that each offer, but still they all would make you happy. The following is a "checklist" of items your agent may or may not have discussed with you. It is simply additional questions or "food for thought" when making your decision. Some might be relevant, some not. I don't expect that you would use this list in your initial search; however, in making your final decision these things might be worth consideration.

Disclosures: Specific rules vary from state to state, but sellers must make disclosures when selling with their home with a real estate agent. That means that if they "know" something is wrong with the property they have to tell you about it. Sometimes the seller doesn't know, sometimes they fail to disclose everything to the real estate agent. These questions may vary from state to state, but things like a lead disclosure is a federal requirement. Some people will sell "as is". This pretty much means they are not going to fix anything before they leave, but they still have to "disclose". ("As is" does not mean not negotiable!). As I say this, remember this may not be as stringent with a For Sale by Owner or a bank foreclosure. The bank will make it clear that they really know nothing about the specific property and may not offer any type of warranty. If the property is listed with a real estate agent, the owners have been advised of disclosures, no one wants to end up with lawsuits. (Another valid reason for a home inspection, a little research on your own, and/or some additional questions that may be relevant).

CHECKLIST: Some of these items may be on the disclosure statement. Some may not be relevant to your home choice. If any of them fit your situation, ask your real estate agent or do some research on your own. You will recognize if any of these items fit your situation.

1. What are the taxes and how are they determined?
  • Tax assessments vary from state to state, but initially determined by your purchase price. The reason I think this is very important and relevant is that states receive a great deal of revenue from property taxes. With all the foreclosures and home values decreasing at such a rapid rate, the states are losing a lot of money and need to find it somewhere. For example,This is where you hear stories about people that bought lake front property 50 years ago and suddenly receive a tax adjustment that is 1000% higher. Of course, when they bought the property, it wasn't premium, now they are retired and they have to sell because of taxes. Ask your real estate agent how your taxes are assessed and what is the general rate of increase --- it will be a rare situation to see a decrease. You agent doesn't have a crystal ball, so don't expect them to tell you what to do. Unfortunately, the governor of the state in which you are moving probably couldn't give you an exact answer.
  • If you have moving to the country and have acreage, you may be taxed as agricultural property. You want to know what the requirements are to keep this status. If you have several acres and are raising hay, this may keep your status as agricultural. Perhaps you can lease some of the acres to a neighboring farmer that wants to plant corn, etc., and this may keep your agricultural status. An agricultural status will generally allow for much lower taxes.

2. What is the average utility bill for this property?

  • Do you have gas and electric?
  • If this is agricultural property, is there a rural electric co-op? This can really be less.
  • Are you considering a house with oil heat? This can be really expensive. If the home is heated with oil, you will generally have a minimum order prior to the oil company coming to put oil in your tank. Very often they will require that you "fill the tank". This can be pretty expensive at one time! The same is true if you live in an area where you need to fill the propane tank. Usually, you would only find oil heat in older homes, you will find propane (clean) in new homes that don't have access to natural gas lines. The worst thing about oil heat is that it is dirty! Your walls and ceilings close to heat registers will get dirty with a grimy, oily, residue where all the dust attaches. It means a lot of extra cleaning and a consideration if you have anyone with asthma or other breathing issues.

3. How far away is the fire department?

  • The best is a fire department that is staffed full-time and close to your new home. If not, a volunteer fire department close to your home. If the fire department is close to your home it usually reduces the rate of your homeowners insurance.

4. What type of shingles are on the roof?

  • In certain parts of the country, the type of shingles on your roof can make a difference in the cost of your homeowners insurance. For example, cedar shakes used to be very popular; however, especially in areas with high fire dangers, they are no longer permitted. They simply ignite too fast. In areas that are prone to hurricanes, tile roofs with a hurricane rating are a good choice.

5. Does the area and/or the property have a history of flooding?

  • A flood is a horrible thing to have to clean-up, even if your property is left standing. It's dirty, stinky, moldy.....just plain awful. If your home is in a "floodplain", insurance will be hard, expensive or not available. Fortunately, FEMA usually becomes the "insurer". However, there are maps to show the "floodplains". Your insurance agent will have these maps, also the FEMA website, and other Internet sites. But remember, these "floodplains" are a line drawn on a map. If you live across the road from the "floodplain", it doesn't mean that you will never have to worry about flooding. The property may have never had a flood, but technically speaking everyone can live in a flood area. It may be rare, but their are never any guarantees. There may simply be a year of torrential rains, or the terrain has changed over the years, allowing a greater potential for flooding.
  • 100 year & 500 year floods. These terms are deceptive, although not meant to be. When you hear the news reporters say, "100 year flood". It doesn't mean that there won't be another like this for a hundred years. It is based on historical data over a hundred years. It means that the chances of a flood like this happening in any given year is 1%. The chances of a 500 year flood (based on historical date over 500 years) to happen is .2%. However, there could be a 100-year flood and then a 500-year flood in the same year or even within months or never again. You just don't know....mother nature gets those decisions.
  • This may not be a major concern if you live on "high ground". But, it would be something to check out if you have a river anywhere close to your property. Some libraries also have a "mapping" section with aerial photos that go back in time, or the local University's geology department could probably give you a pretty accurate history of the property, especially if it is geologically interesting.
  • If you are buying in an area prone to earthquake's, landslides, or floods, it is not uncommon to request to have a geologic report done. Check with your real estate agent.
  • You may also want to know about your "micro climate". There may be an average climate for the area, but perhaps your spot is "warmer" or gets "high winds", just due to the topography of the area. Probably not anything serious enough for you to change your mind about the property, but interesting to note just the same.

6. Has the homeowner had a Home Inspection completed?

  • Often times the homeowner will have done a home inspection prior to putting the house on the market. They are really serious about wanting to sell the property and want potential buyer's to know they are getting a solid structure. I have been to "open houses" where there were copies available to take home.
  • Perhaps the homeowner had an appraisal of the property completed. It is the value of the property based on the sales of surrounding homes. Check with your realtor. (Your loan will be based on "appraised value" of the home).

7. What is the neighborhood like?

  • You have ruled the choices down, but I suggest that you try to go back to the home with your agent and take a closer look if you feel this is the "one". You may have missed something important on a quick walk through.
  • If you have the opportunity, I think you should spend as much time in the neighborhood as different times.
  • Drive around the neighborhood, what does it look like? Go to Google Earth and check out what surrounds you. For example; 1) You found a gorgeous home in the country. a) there is a dairy farm or a cattle feedlot and the wind blows the smells directly through your kitchen window! Plus, the flies can be horrific! b) Do the neighbors run a dog kennel and the dogs are barking constantly? c) Is there a train that you didn't notice and when it runs you feel like it is coming through your living room? (that you might get used to). d) Are you in an airport flight path? d) Is there a huge reservoir and your house is downstream from a dam? (I'd have to think about that one!) e) Is there a landfill over the hill behind the trees? f) When you drive around the neighborhood, are other homes nicely maintained?
  • Try to visit when the neighbors get home from work. Do the dynamics of the area change? Is there a lot of traffic? If you have the opportunity, talk to a neighbor and mention that you have been considering the house. They may say "welcome to the neighborhood, it's a great place" or tell you what you don't really want to hear.....the stuff that may give you some reasons to reconsider. Better to know before you buy!!!

8. Do you have city water or a well?

  • City water is tested. It is pretty simple, turn on the faucet and pay the bill. However in some areas water can be pretty expensive. There is really not much you can do about this except budget and conserve.
  • Do you have a well? That can be a real money-saver if it is a good one. Things to ask: a) When was the well drilled? b) How deep? (If it has to be replaced, you are charged by the foot - it is expensive.) If you don't have water, you really don't have a great deal of time to save money. It just has to be done. d) Has the well ever gone dry? d) How many gallons per minute is pumped? e) Did the house have good water pressure when you turned on the faucets? f) Has the water been tested for contaminates? (It is not hard to have done, usually a local water department will do it or send it out for testing.) This might be something important to know and especially important if their is a cattle lot, a landfill or a gas station that are close to your property where contaminates could leach into your water supply.
  • If you have a well, are there any plans to put sewer and water to your property in the future? If so, how soon and what are the potential assessments to your home?

9. Do you have a septic tank or city sewer?

  • if you have city sewer, same as water - just pay the bill. If your home is in the country, it is likely that you will have a septic tank. Generally, the septic will be pumped prior to your moving to the property. You will also want a septic report completed. It will tell you if the septic tank is really old and it is an expense that needs to be dealt with or if it is in good condition and working properly. Having a septic tank eliminates one bill each month. However, just like a well, they can be costly if they need replacing. Their are some things about septic tanks you can do to keep them working well. If you have one, check this out further. For example, garbage disposals are not usually recommended, or using certain harsh chemicals with a septic tank, but that is not a reason not to buy a house, rather an incentive to do some composting and use biodegradables!
  • If you have a septic system, it would be important to know if the City has plans to put sewer and water in your area. This could be a large tax assessment. (same as #8).

10. Any other future improvements, assessments planned by city, state, or federal governments.

  • Are you in an area where there is a chance or "knowledge of" sewer and water (already discussed)?
  • Usually with sewer and water, curbs and gutters are put in place, also. If you are really in the country, this may be highly unlikely, however, if you are on the "outskirts" of a growing city it is not impossible.
  • Is it likely that the road in front of your property will be widened? Is there plans to build a freeway? Or a freeway entrance/exit ramp that could end up in your living room? A new airport runway that will be in your back yard?
  • These are all things that can happen, but most of the time the planning and approval of any type of expansions like these are "in the works" for many, many years. Your real estate agent would most likely know of any future expansion plans. For example, if a freeway is going into a new area, that area would likely go from residential to highly desirable commercial property. The real reason I mention it, is because you want to know if the person selling the property is selling it because they know a new airport runway is going to be in your backyard. It is fine if you are given a "heads up" and you still want the property.

11. Schools.

  • I spoke about this before and I'm sure your real estate agent discussed the schools in the area with you. Even if you home school or don't have children in school this may be important. If you are having a tough choice to make between two properties, the school district could be a deciding factor. Obviously, if you have kids in school you will want them in the best schools possible, that is a given. If you don't have kids in school, it doesn't seem relevant; however, in some situations it can be a great difference on the value of your home. For example; A family member , living in the country for a lifetime, decided to sell. The property was one mile from a highly desired school district, that lowered the value of the property $40,000. Now that doesn't necessarily mean you should not buy. The people purchasing that property were able to save a lot of mortgage dollars over the years. They could be far better off financially if they choose to send their children to the desired school and pay tuition. When selling the property, if you eventually do so, the highly desired school district may attract more potential buyers. However, by the time you sell, perhaps the dynamics of the area will have changed and the school is now desirable. It is your decision, it is just good to know the facts, there will always be unknowns.

12. Are there any hazardous materials buried on or disposed on the property?

  • This should be on a disclosure statement if known. However, it may not be known. It is somewhat likely, if this is a farm-like property there has been things buried. Many farmers disposed of "garbage" by burning or burying it. It was totally acceptable and thought to be safe prior to the existence of the EPA. This is something you want to ask about. It could be potentially be a huge clean-up cost! For example, in certain areas of Idaho where silver mining was very active, people have discovered their yards to contain very high lead levels. Needless to say, they claim to have not known this prior to purchasing their homes. Ask!
  • Another example and probably more likely in the world as we know it today, is "the meth lab". Many unsuspecting landlords have rented their properties and discovered the tenants were "cooking meth". Unfortunately, for the landlord, if their property was "raided" and the EPA or a private company has to clean it up so it is habitable again. The costs are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, it is a highly profitable product. You don't want to discover the sellers of the property or your neighbors were part of this activity. Anyone disposing a hazardous material on a property is responsible for it "from cradle to grave". The health hazards to you and your family could be enormous if you unsuspectingly purchased this property.

13. What should I give a closer look to on my return visit to the property?

  • What type of siding is on the house? Is it need to be painted or is it a good quality vinyl-type needing little maintenance?
  • How old is the roof? Is it in good condition?
  • What condition does the chimney appear to be?
  • Does it have new energy efficient windows? Are they double pane glass?
  • How old is the furnace? Is it energy efficient?
  • Is there a secondary heat source such as a wood fireplace? (Nice if power goes out!) If their is a wood stove or fireplace, is it common to have bans on their use do to air quality conditions?
  • Is there central air conditioning in the home? If not, is it possible to install without major changes if you choose to in the future?
  • Are the appliances, washer & dryer included? Are they in good condition?
  • What improvements did the current owners make, if any? Does the workmanship look as if "they-did-it themselves" or that it was done by a contractor. For example, do tile floors or countertops have straight grout lines? Do the moldings fit around floors and ceilings or do they appear to all need replacing? Do the doors open and close correctly?
  • When you open cupboard or closets, do you notice "water stains" or "droppings"? (Your home inspection will reveal whether or not their are "critters, termites, or water leaks.)
  • When you check out the bathtubs, showers or even basement areas, do you see signs of mold? If it is only surface, it may just need cleaning with bleach; however, if there has been a real water problem, the mold could be in walls or ceiling and can't be seen. (Home inspector will know)
  • Can you tell if the floors are in good condition?
  • Will you be able to get your furniture up or down stairways? This can be a real problem in older homes, but it can happen in the new ones too! You will be pretty annoyed if you buy your house and can't get your bed "up the stairs and around the corner!"
  • If the property is fenced, are the fences in good condition? This can be a really costly item, especially if it's not just the backyard! They are also exposed to the elements, therefore, if they require paint, it can be time-consuming and costly project.

14. Does the property have a history of "weird"?

  • Has anybody died or been murdered on the property?
  • Has their ever been "drug raids"?
  • Is the property known to be "haunted"?

Many states have laws that require disclosures of "weird"! But not all are the same. Some people would be really uncomfortable in a house that they heard "stories" about. I think it is good to know about. I would definately want to know if someone that lived in the house was in prison for murder or drugs, etc. First of all, if I bought the house I would immediately change all the locks! (Which should be done really never know who might have had a key).

Example: Several years ago a friend of mine bought a old farm house for a ridiculously low price. After the purchase, people in the area began commenting to her about buying the "haunted" house. Of course, it was really cheap, NOBODY would live there! She moved in, found a lot of "satonic" literature and a pentagram painted on the basement floor. She called her priest and had the "house blessed". She said she could hear very definite footsteps on the stairs at night and a door that she closed was open every morning. Their were a few other "weird" things, but nothing she felt afraid of. I think she enjoyed her "ghost" and really loved the house. One time in visiting her adorable home, she thought it late and invited me to spend the night. I must say, I was only too willing to drive home!

15. The sexual prediator list.

  • One thing that won't be on your home inspection report, disclosures or your knowledge of your real estate agent. is the if there are sexual preditors living in close proximity to your home. Unfortunately, we never really know about other people. We just have to listen to the nightly news to hear neighbors say "they seemed like such nice people, I never would have expected this" to murders, thiefs, child molesters, etc. Most places have some type of sexual preditor list you can access on the internet. If you have children, I think it would be wise to check out. You would hate to discover that your house is next door to a third-level offender. They have to live somewhere, but you may not want to put your family in that type of situation if you can discover it in advance. Granted, if somebody has never been caught, they won't be on the list. But if someone on that list is living close to me, I would want to know.

Friday, February 27, 2009

First Time Home Buying 101: Renovations & Upgrades

You've been looking at homes and probably found some that are pretty nice, but perhaps need some work. Your real estate agent most likely has offered advise on each home and made suggestions as to what you could do to make it perfect. Your agent may be pretty wise on costs, but they aren't contractors. However, they may be able to direct you to a professional that they know has a reputation for doing good work.

Some things like a roof that needs replacing soon, a furnace that won't last much longer, a worn out carpet, may be negotiated in your in your offer. But you will still may have to have the work done. Almost anyone that has undergone a lot of renovations, remodeling, etc., will tell you to plan on everything taking "twice as much time and twice as much money". This is no joke! So be careful and know how much you want to take on. If during your home inspection, you discover all the wiring needs to be replaced....ouch! Sometimes, you open a "Pandora's box" and more issues just keep surfacing. (The reason for a home inspection!) Sometimes "loving" a house just isn't enough and you will have to make the hard choices. "Should I stay or should I go!"

I would completely agree that if the house you choose needs some cosmetic changes you shouldn't let that keep you from purchasing it. The location is great, the outdoor space is fantastic, the house itself is of great quality, but it is somewhat outdated or decorated in a style that really doesn't fit your taste. For example, the paint color choices are dreadful and there is some wallpaper you hate. Then plan to roll up your sleeves and get to work! You should be able to change the light fixtures, unless you think the power is turned off at the light switch. In that case, after you pick yourself up from the floor, you'll call a electrician.

When it comes to things like tearing out walls, "gutting" the kitchen or the bathrooms, it is not only expensive, it takes time and it is a mess! You will be living in that mess until it is done! The question is, will it get done? Will you have to spend more money buying the tools you need to do the job than it would cost you to hire a contractor?

I think many times people watch to much TV and think they can do anything. Unless you are really a perfectionist, most of those projects will probably look like "you did it yourself". Granted, some people love to do this stuff, but unless someone in the family is really skilled at it - hire somebody. It will save a lot of family arguments! If you have a job, kids, your husband travels, when is it going to get done? In 5 or 10 years, just before you decide to downsize and sell the house? Seriously, even if your husband was a contractor, (unless he is retired) would you want him to come home and spend every waking minute "renovating"? There is a reason for the old saying "the shoemaker's kids never have shoes".

Personally, I like doing some of these things, but I do know my limitations. That is all I'm asking your to look at. Is it a dreadful chore or something you will enjoy? I wouldn't hesitate to redo an "outdated" kitchen by changing cabinet doors or perhaps painting the cabinets. If I were installing expensive counterpoise, I'd hire a professional. If I was tiling the floor, I'd probably hire a professional simply because it's a big project. If I had a crooked grout line, it's all I would ever see in my kitchen. Even Martha Stewart, who can do everything....has the assistance of about 300 other people.

Just know yourself and be realistic. Can you plan to do a project and finish it before going on to the next one? Will you finish it while you are living in it or just do it before it is sold? If you can afford to hire a contractor and don't mind being "under construction". Go for it!

I'm not trying to convince you not to buy a house that is not perfect, not at all! I just think you should recognise what you need to do and what you want to do. Let's say, you have the location, the landscaping, the view, the style of house, solid workmanship, perfect # bedrooms, bathrooms. You wanted:

  1. Tile floors in the kitchen and baths, but they are vinyl,
  2. Granite countertops in the kitchen and bath, they are not, but they are in decent shape,
  3. Stainless steel appliances, they are older, but clean and in good working condition,
  4. A totally finished basement, it is partially finished but includes a full bathroom.

Should you not buy the house? It is up to you. Personally, I know I could live easily in this scenario, knowing I could budget my projects over time and do what I want. I also know that if I didn't get it done in my time frame, I would still enjoy my home. This is why I made the comment about TV. I am a serious fan of HGTV shows and I love decorating. But, I also know there are options other than granite and stainless steel which seem to be the current trend. Trends change so by the time you sell your home, IT may need "updating". I'd be more impressed with energy-efficient windows, furnace, or even solar panels. Over time, these things could easily save me enough money to add my "wants". By that time you sell, the trends may be changing. Although, I love granite as much as anyone, I might want to try recycled glass or something not yet a trend. I suspect that the future will see far more "green" products. This is my reality, what is yours?

First Time Home Buying 101: Touring Homes

Now the fun begins! At this point, you've met with your mortgage broker or a loan officer and know how much money you can qualify to borrow.

You have chosen your real estate agent, you have discussed your needs and perhaps faxed copies of homes you liked from the internet. Your agent has found a number of homes for time to do some marathon shopping! (The agent may show you one home or several at a time. Lets assume, because you are flying across country, that your agent has mapped out several homes to view in the few days you are in the area.)

The agent may ask you to meet at their office or have you drive to the property. Leave it up to the agent to make that choice. If you do meet with your agent and he/she suggests that they will drive you it can be a plus. It will give you an opportunity to discuss the homes between stops and chance to learn about the area from a person living there. Also, it will save you from getting lost!

  1. Dress comfortably. Most of the time you will be looking at vacant homes.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes that you can slip on and off easily. Generally, these homes will be immaculately cleaned, so it is really considerate if you can leave your shoes at the entrance.
  3. Pack a few snacks and a couple of your favorite energy drinks. (It could be a really tiring day, your agent will get tired also and may suggest a stop at local coffee shop! Take the opportunity, you will get energized, get to chat about what you have seen, and enjoy some local flavor!)
  4. Take a notebook and even your digital camera. After seeing a home, you can go back to the car and make notes about the property. Obviously, don't bother if it is a property you wouldn't consider purchasing. It is easy to forget or confuse homes or features about homes that you liked or disliked when seeing a lot of them at a time!

Touring the homes:
As you walk through the house you will either be impressed or distressed. This is where having that "expert eye" is really important! You will hear your agent talk about "structure" or "good bones". Those are the things hard and expensive to change. When they talk about "cosmetics" it is refering to the horrible paint colors, wallpaper choices, "cheezy" light fixtures. These things are usually pretty simple and not terribly expensive to do something about if everything else is great. (Will talk about renovations and updates soon.)

Most likely your real estate agent will have narrowed the spectrum of homes to include as many of your wants and needs as possible. Hopefully, you will find the home that absolutely "wows" you. If not, don't get discouraged.

  1. Notice the outside of the home, stucco, siding, vinyl?
  2. Do you have to walk a lot of steps to enter the home?
  3. What is the condition of the roof?
  4. Does it have a comfortable floor plan?
  5. Are the rooms a good size?
  6. Is there good closet space?
  7. How old are the kitchen appliances?
  8. Is there a pantry? Laundry room?
  9. Turn on the faucet and flush the toilet. Does it seem like there is good water pressure?
  10. What type of heating and/or air conditioning? Is it energy efficient?
  11. What are the windows? Energy efficient or old and leaky?
  12. Look in the cabinets under the sinks. Do they look as though they are water damaged?
  13. Do you see cracks in walls or water stains on the ceiling?
  14. Does the workmanship appear professional?
  15. Does the home look as though it has been well-maintained?
  16. Does it appear that you will have to spend a lot of money in updates?
These are things you can observe while walking through the rooms rather quickly, realize that your real estate agent is there to help you and will probably notice many more items than this list. Your comments will only assist your agent in determining what is really important to you.
Location cannot be changed like paint color. If a location within a specific driving distance is priority, you may have to make some compromises if it means finding that home within your budget.
Acreage: Depending on the amount of acreage you need, you may be further from a city or even in a rural area to get it. This may further reduce the choices if the drive to work is in the city.
Views: If having a view is really important, it may be at a higher cost so you may (or may not) have to consider homes that require some compromises to remain within your budget. Views can sometimes be tricky. If you find a home with a perfect view today, will it remain perfect? By that I mean, if another home is built, will it destroy your view? If you have paid a premium to get the view and sacrificed on the house will your "values" remain high if a high-rise apartment just blocked your view of the ocean? Questions for your agent! Many places have restrictions on what may be built so that views cannot be blocked.
Established landscape: It takes a long, long time for trees to grow! Moving into a development of new homes sometimes means NO landscaping! A really beautifully landscaped yard can cost thousands! If you find a home with established trees and/or professional landscaping can be a real plus. It can not only save you money, but a plus if you decide to sell your home. However, if the reason you LOVE the home is because of "the old oak tree" in the front yard, ask yourself, "would you still love the home if lightening struck the tree and it had to be cut down"? Mother nature is not always kind...anyone surviving a tornado or hurricane, could attest to their world looking different after the fact. I'm really not trying to sound like a fatalist, just reminders of priorities. I would probably buy any house that was located on an ocean beach as long as it had indoor plumbing!