Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Fit a Small Office in a Small Home

Yes, you can! Squeeze a small office into your small home, that is. But that doesn’t mean you have to take over one of the kids’ bedrooms—just look for under-utilized space. After that, it’s decision time: How much to spend, how big to make the office, and how you’ll use it.

Here are five solutions to consider:
1. Kitchen helper. From a $400 store-bought island for bill-paying to a breakfast bench nook with file drawers built in under the seats (cost: $5,000 to $15,000), your kitchen is a treasure trove of small office possibilities. Even a slide-out cutting board (about $500 in a cabinet package) can serve as a nifty desktop.

2. Closet conversion. Get rid of unused stuff or consolidate it in another area, and a 3- to 8-foot-wide closet accommodates a built-in desk, shelves, and lighting. Make a nearby chair do double duty for your desk.

With doors and wiring for lighting and a phone, and possible added drywall, your new small office would cost $2,000 to $4,000. Keep in mind that the more floors and walls that wiring has to travel through, the costlier it gets.

3. Porch possibilities. Convert that long, narrow space on the side of your small home that gets only seasonal use to a year-round office for about $15 per square foot. Use plug-in space heaters and fans for your HVAC system.

Use inexpensive, freestanding shelves to provide storage space. Cost: About $70 for a 30-by-80-inch bookshelf.

4. Those out-of-the-way spaces. Alcoves, lofts, stair landings, basement and garage corners, and bedroom nooks qualify as potential office space. Use freestanding shelving units and bookcases. Plants or privacy screens can “wall” the area without making it feel smaller.

You can build a bench for visitors with storage space inside for about $130. Want a craftsman to build it for you? Add another $300 to $400.

5. Under-used dining rooms. Formal dining rooms can be overrated. If yours isn’t being used regularly, convert it to a small office. You’ll be close to your main entry, making it easy to receive clients and business associates. If a nearby kitchen or other busy household area is a noisy distraction, install French or sliding doors as acoustic barriers.

Terry Sheridan is an award-winning writer who has covered real estate and home ownership issues for more than 20 years. She’s owned homes ranging from 1,500 square feet to 3,000 square feet.

Featured Property....(OWNER MAY CARRY!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

1. Have a home inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2. Get replacement estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3. Make minor repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems—sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets—as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4. Clear the clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5. Do a thorough cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.
If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.
Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

Spring Cleaning Guide
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has found happiness in a Chicago brownstone with the best curb appeal on the block. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Featured Property of the Day!

8 Tips for Adding Curb Appeal and Value to Your Home

Appraisers and real estate agents offer advice for adding curb appeal that both preserves value and attracts potential buyers.We asked real estate agents, appraisers, home stagers, landscape designers, and home inspectors which curb appeal projects offer the most value when your house is on the market, both in terms of its marketability and dollars. Here is what they told us:

1. Paint the house.

Hands down, the most commonly offered curb appeal advice from our real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it and appraisers will note it on the valuation.

“Paint is probably the number one thing inside and out,” says Frank Lucco, managing partner of Houston-based IRR-Residential Appraisers and Consultants. “I’d give additional value for that. If you’re under two years remaining life (on the paint job), paint the exterior because it tends to show wear badly.” 

Just make sure you stay within the range of accepted colors for your market. A house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition will be marked down in value by appraisers.

2. Have the house washed.

Before you make the investment in a paint job, though, take a good look at the house. If it’s got mildew or general grunge, just washing the house could make a world of difference, says Valerie Torelli, a California real estate agent with a background in accounting.

Before she puts a house on the market, Torelli often does exterior makeovers on her clients’ homes, a service she pays for herself to get higher selling prices. Overall, she says her goal is to spend less than $5,000, with a goal of generating an extra $10,000 to $15,000 on the sale price.

Torelli specifies pressure-washing—a job that should be left to professionals. Pressure washing makes the house look “bright and clean in addition to getting rid of unsightly things like cobwebs, which may not be seen from the yard but will detract from the home's cleanliness when seen up close,” she says.

The cost to have a professional cleaning should be a few hundred dollars--a fraction of the cost of having the house painted.

3. Trim the shrubs and green up the yard.

California real estate agent Valerie Torelli says she puts a lot of emphasis on landscaping, such as cutting down overgrown bushes and replacing them with leafy plants and annuals mulched with beautiful reddish-brown bark. “It runs me $30 to $50,” says Torelli. “Do you get a return on your money? Absolutely. It sucks people in."

You also don’t want bare spots. Take the time to fertilize the yard, throw out some grass seed, and if need be, add some sod.

4. Add a splash of color.

It could be a flower bed of annuals by the mailbox, a paint job for the front door, or a brightly colored bench or an Adirondack chair. “You can get a cute little bench at Home Depot for $99,“ Torelli notes. “Spray paint it bright red or blue and set it in the yard or on the front porch.”

It’s not a bad idea, but don’t plan on getting extra points from an appraiser for a red bench, says John Bredemeyer, president of Realcorp in Omaha. “It’s difficult to quantify, but it does make a home sell more quickly,” Bredemeyer says. “Maybe yours sold a couple weeks faster than the house down the street. That’s the best way to look at these things.”

5. Add a fancy mailbox and house numbers.

An upscale mail box and architectural house numbers or an address plaque can give your house a distinctive look that stands out from everyone else on the block. Torelli makes them a part of her exterior makeovers “I’ve gotten those hand-painted mailboxes,” she says. “A nice one runs you $40 to $50.” Architectural house numbers may run as high as a few hundred dollars.

6. Repair or clean the roof.

Springfield, Va.-based home inspector and former builder Reggie Marston says the roof is one of the first things he looks at in assessing the condition of a home. He’ll look at other houses in the neighborhood to see if there are a lot of replaced roofs and see if the subject house has one as well. If not, he’ll look for curls in the shingles or missing shingles. “I’m looking at the roof for end-of-life expectancy,” he says.

You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. That could knock thousands of dollars off your appraisal. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2010-2011 Cost vs. Value Report, the average cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is about $21,500.

“Roofs are issues,” Lucco says. “You won’t throw money away on that job. You gotta have a decent roof.”

Stains and plant matter, such as moss, can be handled with cleaning. It’s a job that can often be done in a day for a few hundred dollars, and makes the roof look like new. It’s not a DIY project; call a professional with the right tools to clean it without damaging it.

7. Put up a fence.

A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. A fence has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community, Bredemeyer says, but in most instances, appraisers will give extra value for one, as long as it’s in good condition. “Day in a day out, a fence is a plus,“ Bredemeyer says. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.

8. Perform routine maintenance and cleaning.

Nothing sets off subconscious alarms like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or lawn tools rusting in the bushes. It makes even the professionals question what else hasn’t been taken care of.

“A house is worth less if the maintenance isn’t done,” Lucco says. “Those little things can add up and be a very big detractor. When people say, ‘I’d buy it if it weren’t for all the deferred maintenance,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I’d still buy it if you reduce the price.’” 

Georgia-based freelance writer Pat Curry has covered housing and real estate for consumer and trade publications for more than a decade, including covering new home sales and marketing for BUILDER, the magazine of the National Association of Home Builders.