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6 Features a Home Needs for Entertaining

Buyers looking for a home that’s perfect for entertaining will want certain property details. recently profiled some characteristics of the perfect home for entertaining, including:

An entry hall or foyer. Make sure it’s sizable enough to allow guests to enter comfortably and to remove their coats and shoes. In addition, a covered front porch that protects visitors from the rain may be a perk.

A coat closet in the entryway. Where to store partygoers’ coats is a common dilemma for hosts. Buyers may want to check whether a coat closet is available near the entry.

Open floor concept. This kind of floor plan can offer the flexibility to create seating arrangements in a variety of ways and can also be easier for guests to mix and mingle throughout the party. An island between the kitchen and dining room offers more seating and a place to serve a buffet.

A walk-in pantry. says this one is less obvious, but having a walk-in pantry can be a great spot to store extra ingredients and platters.

A powder room on the first floor. Guests will need to use the bathroom, so having one on the first floor near the entry may be ideal.

Indoor-outdoor flow. A sliding glass door that gives you access to a patio or garden is a nice perk when entertaining in the warmer months. It allows people to step inside and outside, while continuing to feel part of the festivities.

Source: “Design Dilemma: Shopping for a Home for Entertaining,” (December 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on January 10th, 2018 7:16 PM

Following on the heels of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Federal Housing Administration announced that it will increase its loan limits in most areas of the country in 2018. The FHFA had announced new limits for loans eligible for purchase or guarantee by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Nov. 28.

In high-cost areas of the country, the FHA’s ceiling on loan limits will rise from $636,150 to $679,650, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition, the national mortgage limit for FHA-insured reverse mortgages—known as home equity conversion mortgages—will rise from $636,150 to $679,650.

The FHFA calculates new limits each year based on median home prices.

The FHA loan limits will rise in 3,011 counties but will remain unchanged in 223. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s new conforming loan limits for 2018 will be $453,100 for conforming loans and $679,650 for jumbo loans in some high-cost areas. The new limits for the FHA and the FHFA will take effect on Jan. 1.

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on January 3rd, 2018 7:12 PM

How to Know a Fixer-Upper Isn’t a Money Pit

With inventories so tight, some home buyers may be giving a fixer-upper home a second thought. The price point and location may attract more buyers to bite, even though the home itself may need some TLC. But how do you tell a hidden gem from a hidden mess when shopping for a fixer-upper?

Paul Skema, president of the architecture and construction firm Roth Design + Build, and Jean Brownhill, founder of Sweeten, an online contracting service, recently shared important considerations for home shoppers looking at a fixer-upper. Here are a few of their tips, via

Determine the scope of the project.

Are the renovations mostly cosmetic or are they structural? “Before you even look for an apartment or home, you want to understand what type of project you’re comfortable with,” says Skema. Projects where owners start making additions or knocking down walls can add a lot of money, time, and risk. “One small bathroom renovation is hundreds of decisions you’re going to need to make,” says Brownhill. “You have to understand who you are as a person and how easily you make decisions.”

Set a budget.

After the down payment, how much money will your buyers set aside for the fixer-upper? Factor in unexpected costs, such as planning an alternative living situation while the work is being done on the home. The architect and contractor should be able to provide you with estimates. “By setting the price, you’re setting the approximate level of craft, finishes, and customer service that you’re looking for,” Brownhill says.

Establish a team.

Larger projects require an architect, who will then hire a general contractor and then subcontractors. Homeowners will need to establish a communication path to prevent delays or budget pitfalls. And don’t just hire the lowest-bidding architect or contractor, Skema warns. “Higher-quality firms limit the risk of the project,” Skema says. “Cheaper firms, many with less knowledge and less experience, will require more involvement from the homeowner and ultimately bring more risk.” Select a team with the right experience, solid references, and a communication style that is complementary with yours.

Meet the neighbors and the building association.

Significant renovations may require approval from the homeowner’s association. Meet your neighbors beforehand and warn them about the home renovations so as not to aggravate them. Learn about the permit process through your city’s building department ahead of time. Upgrading plumbing and electrical systems, moving walls, or changing structural elements will likely require permits. 

Protect yourself.

Make sure the contractor has both liability insurance and workman’s compensation. Also, ensure your homeowner’s policy will protect you from any contractor-caused issues.

See more tips on buying a fixer-upper at

Source: “Considering a Fixer-Upper? Here’s What You Need to Know,” (Dec. 6, 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on December 27th, 2017 8:29 AM

The Deck Is Making a Comeback

Nearly 24 percent of new single-family homes in 2016 included decks, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the National Association of Home Builders. The percentage is up slightly from 23.3 percent in 2015.

New England and the East South Central region of the U.S.—which includes Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama—are showing some of the biggest upticks in single-family homes with decks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the East South Central area is also seeing the most new homes featuring porches.

The average size of a deck on a new single-family home is about 230 square feet. The most common materials used for decks are treated wood and composite (a mixture of wood fibers and plastic), according to the 2017 Annual Builder Practices Survey, which is based on 2016 data. The Pacific region shows a higher preference for cedar and redwood than any other region.

While the number of new homes with a deck is rising, it's still below historic norms. From 2005 to 2008, the share of new homes with decks was consistently above 25 percent, according to the NAHB. In 2009, the share of new homes with decks started to decline below 25 percent, a trend that continued until 2012, when the share gradually started to increase.

But it's not just new homes where the popularity of this feature is evident. Many homeowners opt to add in a deck as a remodeling project later on. Twenty-five percent of NAHB remodelers reported that adding a deck to an existing home was a common project in 2016.

Source: “Share of New Homes With Decks Edges Up,” National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog (Dec. 4, 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on December 20th, 2017 1:50 PM

9 Pro Tips for a Top-Notch DIY Paint Job

When painting a room, the time, effort, and money you spend on the materials can make a big difference. Josh Max, a professional painter with 10 years of experience, detailed the “right” way to paint in a recent article in The New York Times.

Gather the right supplies. Take the measurements of your wall and ceiling to a hardware store that can help you pinpoint exactly what type of paint and supplies you’ll need. Max recommends a two-and-a-half-inch angled paint brush, two nine-inch medium nap roller covers, and one sturdy nine-inch roller handle.

Consider the type of paint. Max recommends water-based latex flat paint for ceilings, flat or eggshell finish for walls, and eggshell or semi-gloss for windowsills and doors.

Cover unpainted surfaces with tape. Roll nonstick painter’s blue tape along floorboards, windowsills, doorknobs, hinges, and any other unpainted surfaces. Max warns against using regular masking tape because it can be difficult to peel off afterwards.

Repair wall cracks. Use a spackling compound and sandpaper to repair any unevenness in walls. Do a few light coats of spackling, instead of just one thick one, Max advises. Apply a coat of quick-drying latex primer over it.

Sweep and mop floors. Dust bunnies can stick to a freshly painted wall or fall into a can of paint. Make sure to clean the room before you paint.

Pour the right amount of paint. Shake your gallon of paint, then pour it into your quart container until it’s about three-quarters full. Don’t overfill or underfill. Dip your brush in the paint about an inch, careful not to oversaturate it.

Strategize your brush technique. Start by using the brush to “cut” in where the ceiling meets the wall all around the room, Max suggests. Do the brushwork before you start rolling because it will take longer. Wherever detail is required on the walls, be sure to use a brush and not a roller.

Don’t roll paint on walls vertically. Pour about half a gallon of paint into a linted paint tray and then dip your roller into it. Roll your roller back and forth until it’s covered in equal amounts. Then, roll the paint on smoothly in long, even strokes. Start near the ceiling and work down and diagonally, instead of straight. Max says this will help to avoid vertical lines appearing at the end. Also, resist the urge to apply pressure.

Keep paint wet during breaks. If you take a break from your work for more than a few minutes, wrap your brushes in aluminum foil and cover the paint pan with plastic. Otherwise, you’ll find some dried paint in your pan.

Source: “The Right Way to Paint Your Apartment, According to a Pro,” The New York Times (Nov. 24, 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on December 13th, 2017 5:36 PM

Mortgage Rates Sink Lower This Week

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is averaging lower than it did a year ago, and remains well below the 4 percent threshold this week.

“The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell two basis points to 3.9 percent in this week’s survey, but we closed our survey prior to a surge in long-term interest rates following an upward revision to third quarter U.S. Real GDP growth and comments by Federal Reserve Chair Yellen touting a broad-based economic expansion,” says Len Kiefer, Freddie Mac’s deputy chief economist. “The market implied probability of a Fed rate hike in December neared 100 percent, helping to drive short term interest rates higher. The 5/1 Hybrid ARM, which is more sensitive to short-term rates than the 30-year fixed mortgage, increased 10 basis points to 3.32 percent in this week’s survey. The spread between the 30-year fixed mortgage and 5/1 Hybrid ARM is just 58 basis points this week, the lowest spread since November of 2012.”

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending Nov. 30:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.90 percent, with an average 0.5 point, decreasing from last week’s 3.92 percent average. Last year at this time, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.08 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.30 percent, with an average 0.5, down from last week’s 3.32 percent. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.34 percent.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 3.32 percent, with an average 0.3 point, an increase from last week’s 3.22 percent average. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.15 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on December 6th, 2017 2:31 PM

The Front Porch Is in Demand

The front porch—a classic feature of American homes—is making a comeback but with a twist.

Younger crowds are literally turning porches into stages. “Porchfest” is growing in popularity across the country, in which neighborhood music festivals pop up that are enjoyed from homeowners’ front porches.

The Atlantic Monthly’s CityLab reports: “In the Instagram age, the front steps have become places to see and be seen, throw a rocking concert or party, and to foster metropolitan community in a walk-by, stop-in-for-wine sense.”

Read more: Welcome Back the Front Porch

Shelley Glica in Niagara Falls, Ontario, told CityLab how she organized a Porchfest in her community and how in warmer months she’ll also host a “Stories From the Porch” series of speakers on art, history, and culture. Glica and others represent a generational rethinking of the front porch, CityLab reports.

Porches are growing in demand across the country. Twenty-three percent more new homes are being constructed with a front porch than two decades ago. The number of new homes built with porches was at 65 percent last year, according to the National Association of Home Builders. In the Southeast, that figure jumps to 86 percent. An NAHB survey from 2016 also shows that millennials—more than any other age group—say they want a porch.

The front porch was once a celebrated signature of Federal architecture. In the 1800s, past presidents had launched successful front-porch political campaigns. For homeowners, front porches were a place to do chores, such as shuck beans, or to get fresh air on hot days before air conditioners. But once air conditioning was invented, Americans showed less need for cooling porches in the middle of the 20th century. The invention of televisions also pushed homeowners inside more.

Nowadays, younger generations are finding the porch can be an enjoyable hangout spot. Scott Doyon, who organized a Porchfest in the Atlanta area, says the front porch is now being used as a place to host friends over for hors d’oeuvres or even sharing a concert on Instagram or other social media.

“I try to find ways to plug those old ways of living into the modern world,” Doyon says. “I still believe in the value of porches as a conduit to community-building—it just unfolds in a different way now.”

Source: “America Rediscovers Its Love of the Front Porch,” Atlantic Monthly (Nov. 20, 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on November 29th, 2017 3:21 PM

Kitchen Updates That Don’t Require a Remodel

If your sellers are looking for ways to improve their kitchen before listing, or if your buyers want to make cost-effective updates to a dated kitchen in their newly purchased home, professional organizer Colleen Klimczak, owner of Peace of Mind Professional Organizing, has five tips.

  1. Install under-cabinet lighting. This simple project is low in cost and leaves a big impact, giving the whole kitchen a beautiful glow. Try LED rope lights that plug into an outlet or battery-operated single lights.
  2. Clear the counters. This is imperative for sellers. Change out the dish drying rack for a smaller dish drain that fits over one side of the sink.
  3. Create kitchen zones. For example, set aside space for a “breakfast zone” where the coffeemaker and toaster sits along with a fresh fruit basket and napkins.
  4. Rethink cabinets. If your clients are considering an update, cabinets that reach the ceiling are an ideal use of space. But if that’s out of the question, clear off the dusty tops and declutter the space so there’s visible storage. Place an indoor, shade-friendly plan to add some life to the space.
  5. Choose one appliance to update. Consider the kitchen space itself and what would have the most impact. If the kitchen opens into a family room, a quieter new dishwasher could be a game changer for some buyers.

—Erica Christoffer, REALTOR® Magazine

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on November 22nd, 2017 10:21 AM

The 10 Most ‘Livable’ Cities in 2017

The most livable cities stand out in areas like low unemployment crime rates and property tax rates and high incomes after factoring in housing costs and walkability in their communities. Those were among the factors that SmartAsset, a personal finance site, weighed in compiling its 2017 “most livable cities” list. 

Arlington, Va., ranked tops this year as the most livable city in the U.S., according to SmartAsset’s analysis. The city stood out with its low violent crime and property crime rate, low unemployment, and high income after factoring in housing costs. 

SmartAsset analyzed the 100 largest cities in the United States. Mid-sized and smaller cities within that grouping tended to rank higher than the largest metros. In fact, Honolulu was the largest city to rank in the top 10, and it boasts the 55th largest population of the cities analyzed. 

The top 10 most livable cities for 2017 are: 

  1. Arlington, Va.
  2. Fremont, Calif. 
  3. Plano, Texas
  4. Jersey City, N.J.
  5. Irvine, Calif. 
  6. Chandler, Ariz.
  7. Honolulu
  8. Irving, Texas
  9. Madison, Wis.
  10. Scottsdale, Ariz. 

Source: “The Most Livable Cities in the U.S. — 2017 Edition,” SmartAsset (Nov. 1, 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on November 15th, 2017 7:51 PM

Vinyl Ranks No. 1 for New-Home Exteriors

Vinyl is the most common primary exterior wall material on single-family homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction data from 2016.

Vinyl tops the list at 27 percent, followed by stucco at 24 percent, brick or brick veneer at nearly 22 percent, and fiber cement siding at 20 percent. Wood or wood products comprised just 4 percent, and stone, rock, or other stone materials make up only 1 percent of exteriors nationwide. However, stone, rock, or other stone materials are the most commonly used secondary siding material on new single-family homes.

The popularity of exterior finishes can vary geographically. For example, vinyl is the most popular choice in the Middle Atlantic and New England regions, while stucco was the top siding choice in the Pacific and Mountain divisions. Brick or brick veneer is the top choice in the East and West South Central divisions.

Source: “Vinyl Is the Most Widely Used Primary Exterior on New Homes,” National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog (Oct. 23, 2017)

Posted in:General
Posted by John Polifka on November 8th, 2017 5:21 PM



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