“Is It Done Yet?” Home Remodeling with Kids

Spring home improvements can be stressful, especially when you’re living in the middle of it. Add children to the mix, and the tension increases.

But you don’t need to take a vacation while your home is being remodeled – even if walls are coming down. Here are some tips on how to continue to live as a family during a major renovation.

Your children’s space – and their routines – will be disrupted. To avoid comments like “When can we use the kitchen again?” share the construction schedule with them.

Prepare for disruptions: Kitchens and bathrooms are often the rooms being remodeled; unfortunately, they’re also the most used. If possible, consider completing one room at a time. Set up a temporary kitchen in another room and prepare meals in advance that can be quickly reheated. Get the kids to help you devise a bathroom schedule; they may be more inclined to follow it if they’re involved.

Make safety a priority: Know where your kids are during work hours. Make sure they understand the safety risks, and put lots of space between them and the work. Also ensure your contractor stores tools away safely at the end of the day.

Dust can be hazardous for anyone with allergies. Plastic sheeting should be used to seal off the area under construction from your temporary living space, but you also may want to consider closing the heating and cooling vents. As well, your contractor should use nontoxic paints and stains.

Choose your contractor wisely. Make sure the company has a reputation for completing jobs safely, and be prepared to pay more for contractors who are properly insured and follow regulations. Ask them how comfortable they are with children on site and make sure everyone agrees to and obeys the safety rules.

Finally, when it’s finished, have fun together in the new space. After all, you – and the kids – deserve it.

‘Urbys’ Offer a New Approach to Housing Millennials

What do millennials want when it comes to housing? The answer: pretty much everything.

The “Urby” – a mixed-use residential development that brings a little bit of city, a little bit of community, and a little bit of entertainment to a little apartment – may be the answer. Emphasizing “New Urbanist” principles such as walkable neighborhoods and access to public transportation, Urby developments are designed to attract successful urban professionals.

New Jersey-based Ironstate Development Co. calls its Staten Island complex Urban Ready Life (URL), and describes it in a recent CityLab article as “an all-encompassing living experience for today’s urbanite.” Each apartment complex includes ultramodern living units, ground-level retail stores, and amenities that include fitness centers, heated outdoor pools, and keyless entry via a phone app.

Key to an Urby such as this is providing opportunities for social interaction. The goal is to use common areas to organize activities for millennial apartment dwellers; coffee shops in the lobbies, communal kitchens, and a cultural director offer many chances for interpersonal connections between residents. URL residents, for example, can gather for stand-up comedy in the café, flower arranging in the workshop, or stump-the-chef in the kitchen.

The apartments themselves are inspired by European design and use European techniques for making small spaces feel bigger. While planning, the developer considered what its millennial market would and would not live without. The result: built-in shelving, pocket doors, and kitchen and bathroom “stations.” Nonessentials included room to entertain, as the entertaining takes place in communal spaces. Sounds ideal for this work-hard, play-hard generation.

Redecorating Your Child’s Room? Start Here

Redecorating a child’s room is enjoyable. Figuring out creative ways to make your kids’ spaces whimsical yet functional is a fun design challenge. And watching their faces light up when it’s all done? Priceless.

Home design website Houzz conducted a survey of users who have “recently completed, are working on or are planning a home project with kids in mind.” The results provide an interesting look at what’s currently trending in the world of children’s rooms. If you’re about to embark on creating a special room for a child, keep the following in mind:

  • Close to 70% of respondents said their kids’ rooms have themes. The most popular looks, in order: nature, animals, sports, and princesses. But note: kids grow up quickly and tastes change just as quickly. Today’s trendy decor may look dated tomorrow.
  • Functionality and maintenance are top priorities. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they wanted a space that was easy to clean and maintain, and 64% said they needed a functional setup. Be sure to incorporate washable and durable materials, and include labeled storage boxes and bins.
  • Blue reigns supreme. Fifty-nine percent said blue is the dominant color for kids’ rooms, followed by white, gray, green, and pink.
  • The cost of redecorating a kid’s room varies. Of respondents who had completed their project, one-third spent $1,000 or less. Establish a budget before starting; it’s easy to get carried away with cute decor and playful features. And unlike adults, kids don’t notice the difference between the more expensive option and a more affordable one.
  • Nearly 70% of participants cited clutter as a challenge. Make toy management a priority in your kids’ rooms. Oversized bins in fun colors and/or closet storage systems are key to keeping toys and “stuff” out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, involve your kids in the decisions. After all, it is their room.

Family Living in the Sky: North America’s Newest Reality

As land available for new construction shrinks in urban centers across North America, governments, builders, and families are looking upward. Living high in the sky isn’t how many young families would have envisioned the family home, but for many, it’s a reality.

This new reality is playing out in Toronto, Canada, where family-sized condo units are rare. Some 80% of new housing built in the past decade are buildings of five or more stories. Yet fewer than 10% of high-rise homes in the city have three or more bedrooms. And this is presenting a problem for young families who want to live and work there.

According to a recent story in Citylab.com, Toronto is on its way. Guidelines generated in a 2015 study by the city’s Planning Division were adopted this summer by its City Council and will be used in evaluating current and future projects. The guidelines, points out CityLab contributing writer Mimi Kirk, “are not only applicable to Toronto, but to cities across North America and beyond …”

Among the recommendations: 15% of units should include two bedrooms and 10% should include three, with these larger units located on lower levels, close to each other, and adjoining outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile, in New York City, where raising kids in high-rises is nothing new (but not particularly family-friendly), some existing buildings are currently updating and repurposing their amenities, thanks to the growing number of New Yorkers choosing to raise their families in the city.

Maybe life in the sky isn’t such a hardship after all.

NAR Poll: Home Affordability and the American Dream

Do you dream of owning a home someday? If so, you’re not alone. The desire to put down roots and invest in a home is a common one.

And this dream is still strong across North America. The problem is, many can’t afford it.

To many, the dream seems elusive as a result of the significant cost not just of purchasing a home but also in carrying it. Many who would like to and can pursue the dream never will due to fears associated with the lack of affordability (“Will I be in over my head?” “Will I lose money?”).

According to the 2017 National Housing Pulse Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 84% of Americans view owning a home as “a good financial decision.” And 80% of respondents see homeownership as a way of building equity toward their retirement. As well, 50% believe homeownership is an avenue to a secure neighborhood and a stable family environment. However, the positive sentiments don’t necessarily mean all of these respondents will be home-shopping this year.

Affordability is a concern

Why? Some 60% of those responding to NAR’s survey identify affordability as one of the top five challenges of homeownership. Many also believe the myth that they need significant savings (more than 15%) for a down payment on a home. According to the survey, 69% felt a “reasonable” down payment was 10% or less, while more than 40% believe lenders require down payments of 15% or greater.

That said, the survey itself supports a willingness for people to learn, wait and save – if it means the culmination of their dream.

NAR President Bill Brown, quoted in an article in RISMedia, says: “Despite the growing concern over affordable housing, this survey makes it clear that a strong majority still believe in homeownership and aspire to own a home of their own.”

How to Cut Your Electricity Bill without Really Trying

It’s fall – a good time to take a fresh look at your bills to see if you can reduce them. For example, try these tips to cut your power usage and lower your electricity bills.

Switch to LED bulbs. About four times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, LEDs last for years. The “lumens” number indicates the amount of light emitted; use this to compare bulbs.

Install a programmable thermostat. With this device, you can automatically adjust the temperature to reflect where you are in your day – busy at home, away at work, asleep, etc. It keeps your home comfortable when you’re there and reduces energy use when you’re out.

Unplug unused electrical devices. All electronic devices sip small amounts of electricity even when they are not in use.

Use timers and power strips to turn electrical devices on and off. A power strip with an on/off switch can block the charge going into the strip itself as well as anything plugged into it.

Lower the temperature on your hot water heater. A hot water heater accounts for about 14% of energy usage in a typical home. Turn the temperature down when you’re not at home and up when you’re doing laundry or bathing. You can also install a water heater blanket to hold the heat.

Last but not least, air seal your home to prevent drafts around doors and windows, and ditch that old power-hungry refrigerator in your garage that’s only chilling a few cases of soda.

Now you can relax and enjoy saving!

Rules Differ in a Condo Remodel: Here’s How

You’re ready to renovate. Your creative juices are flowing, and you’re excited to create that perfect space.

But wait. Are you remodeling a condo? If so, this requires some special considerations. The game rules differ from those for a detached home. Here’s the playbook:

Read the regulations: Condos come with associations. These come with rules. The association has put certain standards in place to maintain the best possible conditions for your building. Before forging ahead with any plans, read through the regulations of your association and consult with your board or property manager for anything that will need the association’s approval.

Consider condo limitations: Your unit may be linked to others, so you may not be able to alter certain aspects of your home: plumbing fixtures might have to stay where they are; you may not be able to remove walls that support the structure, or install pot lights in ceilings. But don’t let these limits stifle your creativity or dash your renovation hopes. Just keep them in mind as you plan.

Plan ahead: If your renovations are extensive and the space small, your contractor and workers may require an extra space in which to work. Ask if there is a workshop or outside space they may be able to use.

Don’t fear the painter: One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to transform a space is by painting it. However, many condo owners are concerned about personalizing their walls, especially with deep, dark colors. Unless you’re renovating for an immediate sale, go ahead and make the space your own. Enjoy it while it’s yours. When you are ready to sell, you’ll likely need to apply a fresh coat of paint anyway, and you can make it neutral then.

Get out: For your own sanity, stay with a friend or relative during construction, or treat yourself to a hotel.

Second Mortgages: Make Your Dreams Happen – Carefully

RateHub defines a second mortgage as “an additional loan taken out on a property that is already mortgaged.” Sounds risky – and indeed it comes with plenty of risks. But it also comes with rewards.

There are two major kinds of second mortgages: The home equity line of credit (HELOC) has a variable interest rate and acts much like a credit card, allowing you to withdraw the cash you need, when you need it. And the fixed-rate home equity loan allows you to borrow a lump sum and make set monthly payments.

Second mortgages provide speedy access to money at a generally favorable interest rate – and the interest you pay on mortgages may also be tax deductible. Compared with money borrowed on a credit card or a standard consumer loan, a second mortgage may be easier to obtain, and you can use the money for whatever you want: home remodels, tuition – even a dream trip.

The most important disadvantage: because your home secures the loan, the second mortgage lender takes on less risk than with a personal loan, and may offer you more money than you need. Many borrowers are happy to comply, only to find themselves in trouble.

Ensure you can make your monthly mortgage payments easily, even when interest rates go up or personal circumstances change. And note that if interest rates increase, so will your monthly HELOC payments. Home equity loan payments aren’t affected by rate increases during the term of the loan.

So go ahead and make that bucket-list trip a reality – but plan carefully.

Is It Curtains for the Open Concept Lifestyle?

For years, it’s seemed as though open-concept living was the design principle of choice.

Kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms were prized for their lack of dividing doors and walls.

Now, however, the dominance of the open-concept lifestyle is in question, according to architects and designers quoted in a November 2015 article inDezeen, an international design magazine.

UK architect David Mikhail told Dezeen that he first noticed the shift while working on an affordable housing scheme. Residents were offered a choice between an open-plan living space and inserting a wall between their living and dining rooms.

“Much to our surprise, they all chose to put the wall in,” Mikhail said.

According to Mikhail, many designed homes include a mix of spaces, such that large living areas now comfortably coexist with nooks and crannies, reflecting a current desire for secluded spaces and privacy.

The trend to “flexible-plan living” may be a function of today’s mobile technology. So-called broken-plan spaces allow each family member privacy for tablet and smartphone use, as well as individual areas to watch different TV programs at the same time.

While open-concept design still rules, other design publications have also noted a renewed interest in closed spaces.

The New York Times, for example, reported that an increasing number of buyers preferred separate dining and living areas.

And, in dissing open kitchens, Houzz writer Vanessa Brunner suggests: “If you want to leave your smells and mess behind when serving meals, a closed layout could be for you.” Point well made.

Your Dream FROG Can Add Space and Value to Your Home  

Instead of just a place to store stuff (and maybe to accommodate your car), your garage may also be a moneymaker.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a FROG over your garage, you may be missing out on something.

Your finished room over garage (or FROG) could be the perfect spot for a game room, kids’ play spot, or best of all (financially speaking), a rental property.

FROGS and bonus rooms are widely popular with buyers these days. And while it certainly hasn’t reached the stage where you won’t be able to sell your home without a FROG, you will add value and may be able to get a higher price with one.

According to an article at ThisOldHouse.com, a FROG can be a cost-effective way to add space. In the article, architect Mary Dorsey Brewster notes, “An over-the-garage addition doesn’t increase a house’s footprint, which helps reduce costs…

But it also presents unique challenges in planning and construction.”  These include local bylaws and fire and safety regulations as well as a host of potential structural and design problems.

Building your dream FROG won’t be cheap: you will need special insulation and will have to heat, cool, and plumb it – and that’s just for a start. You’ll also need an entrance, and you may have to install more windows or skylights to bring in natural light.

FROGs can add to your home’s curb appeal or they can look like poorly done add-ons. Hire experts to design and build your FROG. You’ll be glad you did.

A New Home for Fido…And the Rest of the Family

Anyone who owns a pet knows: a pet is family. And when you’re the parent of a pet and considering a move, you want to be sure your new home and neighborhood are pet-friendly.

Start by Googling pet-friendly neighborhoods. A million sites appear with blogs, maps, and articles to help you find your way. Studies show that bringing pets to work improves productivity and decreases sick time; and studies prove that pets increase longevity and decrease the effects of chronic illnesses. Other benefits include community forums, neighborhood pet parties, pet chat rooms, and even pet-friendly dating services.

Most of these can be excellent information sources. But when it comes to the actual living space, you may want to consider a few questions. Are there too many stairs for an elderly pet to climb? Too many rugs to keep clean and hair-free? Or are the floors too slippery for a pet’s comfort? Is there easy access to a safe, fenced-in play space? Safe routes for a long, leisurely walk?

When you’re satisfied the living space is appropriate, check out the local ordinances and, if you’re condo-bound, read the homeowners association rules, which may limit the number, species, or size of pets.

To be sure Fluffy or Fido is in a healthy environment, investigate the municipal codes, including vaccination and licensing requirements; local animal control service websites are good places to start.

Then, take yourself for a walk.

In a recent article in RISMedia, author Drake Ernest suggests you search for signs the neighborhood welcomes furry family members. Are there dog-friendly restaurants? Do shopkeepers keep doggie water bowls out in the summer and welcome the well-behaved pooch into their stores? Are there nearby veterinary services, cat sitters, dog walkers, an off-leash dog park?

Once you’ve done your homework, you can be sure your new home will be right for all your family members.

The 80s Called: Your ‘Dated’ Home Is Trendy Now

We’ve seen it on TV: potential buyers (PBs) horrified by dated bathrooms and kitchens, wall-to-wall carpeting, and floral wallpaper (“The ’80s called; they want their rooms back…”)

“It’s so old-fashioned,” the PBs say, “we’ll have to gut it.”

There must be a lot of gutting going on: according to the most recent American Housing Survey, some two-thirds of owner-occupied U.S. homes were built before 1980, and many of those considerably earlier.

But before you start to tear down walls, consider this: today’s outmoded decor is yesterday’s classic design-widely loved and admired in its day.

Also consider that these homes were mostly built to last-sturdy homes that celebrated a time when “ordinary” wasn’t a dirty word. Call it normcore, meaning bland and unremarkable. Or call it trendy.

Who wants bland and ordinary? Once again, we turn to millennials (the leading edge of whom are now in their mid-30s). Similar to previous generations, these market drivers are looking for something different, and just as they are dressing in normcore fashion, the millennials are turning to normcore neighborhoods and homes that reflect their own values.

They’re searching for balance and normalcy, notes one real estate insider in an RISMedia article titled “Best Normcore Neighborhood to Buy an Unpretentious Home.” Like the Seinfeld TV series, it’s ordinariness as a lifestyle. And it’s now a big trend.

So next time you’re tempted to disparage wallpaper, pink and black bathrooms, and laminate countertops, think back. Remember the Formica kitchen table where you weren’t afraid to do homework or spill your milk. Or the rec room with fake pine paneling and furniture you could put your feet on.

Also remember that laminate counters and linoleum floors are virtually indestructible and are eco-friendly, and that “popcorn” and wallpaper magically cover up unsightly irregularities in ceilings and walls.

So, has your perspective on “dated” houses changed maybe just a bit?

Boost Your Home’s Look for Less: Try These $500 Hacks

Itching for a home improvement project but low on cash? Not every project has to break the bank; there are plenty of jobs that will boost your home’s appeal for under $500. Here are a few ideas:

Paint: Paint your kitchen, paint the baseboards, paint your front door, and paint some furniture. It’s amazing how a few coats of a new color (or a refreshing of the old one) can improve the overall look and feel of your home.

Work in the yard: You don’t have to have the best garden on the street, but a well-maintained front yard plays a huge role in curb appeal. Trim trees, replace or repair fences and install a new mailbox. If you haven’t touched your front walkway since moving in, consider a remodel.

Get organized: Most people have a place in their home that could benefit from a major reorganization. For messy closets, a DIY organization system can be installed individually or as a unit; big box stores have good selections at many price points.

Replace hardware: It’s expensive to replace cupboards and cabinets, but swapping out hardware can make a big impact for little money. Switch up handles and drawer pulls for updated (or antique) hardware to give your kitchen or bathroom a new look.

Replace your backsplash: If you’re handy, replacing your kitchen backsplash is fairly easy and instantly renews the look of the room. Tiles vary widely in price; know how much space you’ll need to cover and price out the project before shopping to avoid overspending.

Easy and Affordable: “Going Green” at Home

Green living isn’t limited to big projects like installing solar panels. There are simple and affordable ways to go green. The best part: Green living may also save money and make your home more comfortable. Here are three suggestions:

Use green products: All that seems “green” isn’t necessarily so; “green labels” aren’t regulated. So always check ingredients of cleaning products, paint, sealers, and even windows before buying. Many well-known manufacturers now offer green products (particularly house paint) with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some VOCs can be damaging to human health.

Reduce reuse recycle: It’s not just a slogan; there are lots of ways to make easy, everyday changes that can have an impact:

Wherever possible, purchase products and materials made from recycled materials.

Use reusables, such as washable cups and plates, instead of paper or foam, and washable rags instead of paper towels. Also reuse-don’t toss-plastic containers, glass jars, and paper or plastic bags.

Add compostable leftovers from meals to a compost pile for richer soil and a reduction in food waste. But check what’s compostable and what isn’t. Try:Sustainable Baby Steps

Find home products, like flooring, porch posts, countertops, cabinets, doors, and light fixtures at salvage yards and Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

Insulate and energize: Green homes are energy-efficient, and there are many energy savvy products available now to make your home green-many of which can be installed with tools you already have. Consider:

  • Having boilers/furnaces professionally cleaned.
  • Insulating water heaters and hot water pipes.
  • Looking for Energy Star labels on appliances and electronics, such as TVs.
  • Installing energy-efficient lighting and programmable thermostats.
  • Checking attics and home exteriors for leaks and torn insulation.

Questions to Ask a Contractor Before You Hire

It’s renovation time, and, as part of your preparations, think about the last time you hired someone to rebuild or remodel your home. There was probably an initial phone conversation, followed by a site visit where you were probably given a quote for the project and a discussion of a timeline. Then, they showed up to start the job.

You may have asked them for testimonials or photos of previous work. But did you ask if they had their own insurance?

According to experts, it’s essential that hired contractors and subcontractors are adequately insured. (Some experts suggest they should carry $1 million liability at minimum.) If they’re not insured, the work they do for you comes at a high price. If they are injured, or if there is damage to your property because of their actions, you could be the one to take the financial hit. Your homeowners insurance may have to pay if the contractor doesn’t have a liability policy.

To avoid liability, it’s always wise to vet contractors at the beginning. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, and check out the candidates through your local Better Business Bureau. If you’re unsure about what credentials your contractor should have, contact the national contractors association.

Ask what insurance the contractor has before you hire. Then ask to see the insurance certificate as proof that the contractor’s policy is in place. There have been incidences of forged certificates, so be wary. Also, check the date to ensure it will remain valid throughout the entire period he or she will be working on your project.

Finally, be sure you can work with the contractor. Whatever the project, you must have a high level of confidence in your contractor; inevitably, things will go wrong on the job, and you need to be able to work closely with him or her to help solve problems.

Three Easy Ways to Create Great Winter Curb Appeal

Selling a home during winter can be difficult. Wherever you live, the usual curb appeal tactics – a lush garden and water features – may not feel right as the holiday season approaches. But there still are ways to spruce up your exterior with seasonal flair. Here are a few:

Work with the green around you: Thanks to evergreens, your front yard can look beautiful no matter what the season. These versatile plants come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, and complement every exterior house style.

For example, plant mature cedar hedges or boxwood around the perimeter, and add porch appeal with potted evergreens beside your front door. Stick in branches of berries or artificial fruit for color, and, in southern climes, “borrow” some tropicals from the garden for a splash of color against the green in your pots.

Take inspiration from holiday décor. Buy a mini-Christmas tree and pot, and decorate it. Cover the pot with burlap, and put it by your front door.

Brighten those dark days: Days are shorter in winter, so keep things bright. Employ clear floodlights to showcase your home’s architecture, or install driveway and walkway lights leading prospective buyers directly up the path to their new home.

Add some bling: Sparkle is always in style! Buy a silver, copper, or gold wreath to match your exterior, and add shiny garden globes to a lackluster garden. Keep it simple and elegant. And, oh yes, please hold the inflatable Santa and prancing reindeer until after the house is sold.

Property Investing Requires a Cool Head, Cash and Help

While TV shows on buying investment properties make it look easy, becoming a real estate investor can be a trap for the unwary. Here are several things novice investors should be aware of.

Pick a Niche: When you’re new to real estate investing, you’d be wise to start small and pick a niche where you can develop your investment property owner skills. Get your feet wet on one or more smaller properties before tackling a bigger and more complicated investment. Consider everything from a single family home to building a rental apartment in the basement of your own house.

If you’re in a position to acquire a two-family unit or mixed-use property (with a business on the ground floor and living quarters above), you can live in one unit and rent the other. The tenant may pay a portion or all of your mortgage and maintenance costs.

Do Your Homework: Once you’ve decided on your niche and found just the right property in the right location, conduct due diligence before buying, to ensure your investment is sound. Most importantly, work with a good real estate agent who has experience in investment properties, knows the neighborhoods you’re considering, and is familiar with applicable bylaws.

Do the math: Before you buy, crunch the numbers to be sure you can afford it. Factor in the cost of repairs, overestimate the total cost, and underestimate the payback. Remember, your rental could be vacant for some time between tenants, so plan ahead for the reduced income.

New Old Homes Combine Charm and Convenience

The era of pretentious McMansions is so over. One of this year’s most important trends is the move towards traditional residential design – homes with the charm of a bygone era but with a twist.

For a variety of reasons, it’s unlikely most home buyers want – or can find – an authentic historic property that works as a family home. Historic homes are often inconveniently located or dilapidated beyond repair. If they are in liveable condition, they more than likely have obsolete structural elements, such as low ceilings, tiny kitchens, and miniscule closets – not particularly conducive to our twenty-first-century century lifestyle.

Consequently, some home buyers are turning to “New Old” homes, which, as the name implies, combine the charm of the past with the convenience of the present. New Old houses are rationally proportioned structures that are historically accurate on the outside, but comfortable, functional, and contemporary on the inside: Think Greek Revival farmhouses with spacious island kitchens; Craftsman-style bungalows with open floor plans; Cape Cods with roomy, walk-in closets.

Boomers are drawn to the concept, as traditional homes generate memories of happier, less disposable times when the family home was warm and inviting. Millennials, who make up nearly a third of today’s home buyers, see the New Olds as authentic, reflecting their principles and values. Both groups embrace charm that doesn’t sacrifice the convenience that is so much a part of our lifestyle.

Responding to the demand, several architectural firms are now specializing in traditional design with a focus on historical accuracy; they study builder’s guides from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to get the scale, proportion and architectural elements exactly right.

Luckily for those who can’t afford custom design but who value historical character and the charm of yesteryear, there is a twenty-first-century solution: customize a prefab or buy a plan online and hire a contractor to build it.

Watch Your Thumbs and Other Rules of Remodeling

Today’s renewed interest in home remodeling has a dark side. Prevent problems with these “rules of thumb.”

Rule 1: Safety first

DIY projects can lead to mistakes and injuries. Remember the oldies but goodies: Wear safety goggles; don’t cut electrical lines before shutting off breakers; hammer carefully…

Rule 2: Measure twice and have a Plan B

Take careful measurements and cut once. When you’re re-modeling, you need to be prepared to make changes on the fly. So develop a Plan B. For example, adding new appliances or fixtures may necessitate reconfiguring wiring or plumbing – not something you want to find out at the last minute. Be prepared.

Rule 3: Get a home inspection

Find out in advance about potential pitfalls, so you can plan ahead to avoid them whenever possible. Inspections validate (or not) previous DIY or work done when your home was built. Plus, your home may not be sound enough to undergo some big projects, such as modifying fireplaces, removing walls, or repairing foundations, without professional help. Don’t find out the hard way.

Rule 4: Call the pros

Television and online videos make remodeling projects look easy, but that isn’t always the case. Doing it yourself can save money, but doing it incorrectly may cost more. Don’t be afraid to call in the pros.

Rule 5: Budget first

Don’t start tearing down walls before you come up with a budget. And budget for everything – even the cost of screws and nails – then add 30 percent for unexpected expenses.

Law May Stymie Your Carry-Back Mortgage Plans

It’s not good news for a seller when your buyer can’t qualify for a mortgage from a bank. In this situation, the seller has two alternatives: He or she can start looking for another buyer, or act as the bank for the buyer and carry the mortgage him or herself. To both the seller and the buyer, this may sound like an ideal plan, but thanks to a rule implemented in 2010, this option may not be the best choice for either of you.

In the past, if the seller had sufficient equity and didn’t need an influx of cash, he or she simply had the buyer’s credit verified, became familiar with the state’s mortgage default and foreclosure laws in case the buyer’s payments ceased, and “carried the paper.”

Assuming all went well at the closing of the transaction, the mortgage note could then be sold to an investor at a regular discount.

In the last few years, however, sellers have been required to comply with Dodd-Frank, a law that restricts sellers who want to carry their buyers’ mortgages.

When the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted into law on July 21, 2010, it said that you could only do three seller carry-back transactions a year, and those transactions had to meet certain requirements:

  • The note could not have a balloon (a payment required at the end of a mortgage loan to repay the balance)
  • It had to have a fixed interest rate for five years; then it could be adjusted
  • The seller had to prove and document the buyer’s “ability to repay” in accordance with the Qualified Mortgage rule (QM), which is quite restrictive.

If you are interested in this option, before volunteering to become your buyer’s bank, you would be wise to consult an attorney familiar with carry-back mortgage laws.