Planning to build a new home, plan to dig deeper into your pocket

BUFFALO, N.Y.  A massive overhaul of New York’s state building and fire safety regulations goes into effect and the code changes are expected to substantially raise costs for building homes and home improvements.

Todd Blackely, a building consultant who instructs builders, contractors, and code enforcement officers on the changes said the higher costs could mean the difference between a new house, or putting those plans on hold, “We hear numbers from $7,000 to $12,000 for compliance to this code versus the old code.”

The revised code is designed to make our homes safer and more energy-efficient, and it will change the look of traditional homes.

Bill Tuyn, president of the New York State Builders Association said the most obvious change–every new home with a basement is required to have what is called an “egress” window, or door, with a drain that hooks into the sump pump.

Blackely said it is to allow a means of escape in case of a fire, or emergency that blocks the stairs, “So that someone could get out of the basement, if in fact something went wrong, something happened a fire started.”

Egress windows must be a certain size, and open a certain way, and the same goes if you are planning to add living space to the basement of an existing home.

When grandmother Liz Noe finished the basement of her Tonawanda home for her son and grandchild to live in, she was required to install an egress window, which came with a bonus.

“It was a good choice, not only for the safety factor, it also ups the value of my home because now my house is a 4-bedroom home, instead of a 3- bedroom home.”

Frank DiMaria’s company Frank’s Basement Systems, installed Noe’s egress window, and says building inspectors are stepping up enforcement of the code requiring egress windows.

“Even if it is a playroom, an exercising room, and some towns will say even if there is a bathroom in the basement. So any way that you are possibly living in the basement, you are going to need a way out.”

Tuyn explains, the cost impact of the new regulations depends on what a homeowner’s starting point is. The new rules would not cause the same hardship for a large energy-efficient house that they would for a cost-conscious consumer trying to keep it simple, “As a percentage basis, that is true–the smaller the house, the greater the impact is on a percentage basis.”

What is a prospective homeowner to do, in light of all the new regulations that are about to complicate building or improving a home? Tuyn says hire a contractor who is qualified, knows the new rules and regulations, and has a solid track record, and he suggests starting with the Builders Association. “When we build a house for someone, we create a set of drawings and then not only are those reviewed by our professionals, and are stamped by building professionals and design professionals, they are also then reviewed by code enforcement officials for compliance with all the proper codes.”

A warning from Tuyn against taking shortcuts or hiring a low cost contractor that is not familiar with the new code: the consequences can be heartbreaking.

Tuyn said a family could build a beautiful brand new home, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and wouldn’t be allowed to live in it.

It is all about passing inspection and receiving a Certificate of Occupancy, said Tuyn, “that enables you to occupy that structure. Without that, you may have a structure standing but no one is allowed to live in it. So it is really important that it is built properly and is certified as safe.”

The builders and contractors agree, starting Monday, October 3, homebuilding and home improvements in New York will be a whole new ballgame.

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How to Design and Build Your Own Custom Home

Many people dream about designing and building their perfect home from the ground up. The home might be for raising a family or for retirement. Either way, planning makes all the difference when it comes to making your custom dream home a reality.

“If you find the right people, building a house is one of the great joys in life,” says Duo Dickinson, an architect in Madison, Connecticut, and the author of “The House You Build” and other works.

But building a home from scratch is not a simple job. Once you find the site, the process is likely to take at least another year and will involve, at minimum, an architect, an engineer, a builder and perhaps specialized designers for kitchens, baths and other elements.

In most cases, the best place to start is with an architect, who will design the house and create blueprints you can use to get bids from builders. Some companies provide design-build services, which have pluses and minuses. Because the architect and builder are part of the same company, they have experience working together. But you won’t have the opportunity to get bids from other builders once the plans are ready.

Ideally, you want to find your architect before you buy the land, since not all lots are created equal. In addition to general location, which is important for all homeowners, you’ll need to assess how suitable the lot is for building, what utilities are available and how the property can be reached by road. You must also research city and county rules to determine what kind of home can be built on the land.

“The thing that you have to pay the most attention to is the site,” Dickinson says. “You can’t build the site. You can only make something that exists in the place.”

An architect not only will understand all those issues, but he or she can also figure out where to place the house to best take advantage of views, sunlight, shadows, trees and more.

“What the architects do is help you work through the opportunities of the site,” says Elissa Morgante, a partner at Morgante Wilson Architects in Chicago. “Having a professional helps you understand the property you are buying.”

Once you have chosen a site, it’s time to shift your focus to the design of your home. When selecting an architect, ask a lot of questions about the design process. You want to collect photos of rooms you like and dislike, even if you don’t know why certain rooms appeal to you and others don’t. You can share those with the architect, while also outlining basic details about the home such as the number of rooms, floor plan and how many levels you would prefer.

“An architect should be able to fly through a lot of ideas quickly with you,” Morgante says. “Even a very simple house can be a disaster or an absolute gem.”

Sharing your budget for the house with your architect will make it easier to discuss whether different features are worth considering for your price range. A multistory house, for example, is cheaper to build than a single-story house, but it may not be the best choice for a retirement home. You may be set on a stone house until you discover it costs 50 percent more than a wood-frame house.

“We try to help them make educated, informed decisions,” Morgante says. “I think knowing what you want is pretty hard for a lot of people.”

Once you and the architect have agreed on the design, the architect will draw up blueprints you can use to get bids from at least three builders. Ask everyone you know for recommendations, including your architect and any real estate professionals you’ve worked with.

“Get a real estimate and check it twice and three times,” says H. Dale Contant, president of Atlanta Design & Build. “Just make sure every detail is covered.” You want to make sure that the contract is clear about what is and isn’t included, what the allowances are for appliances, flooring and other elements – or what specific fixtures are included, down to model number – plus the contract should include a schedule of progress payments and detail the process for making changes.

Once you’ve narrowed your choice to one or two builders, ask for references and talk to previous clients, visiting the homes that were built if you can. The contract should be extremely detailed – down to the exact model of fixtures and appliances included. “The best way to protect yourself is to make sure that you’ve got all the numbers lined up that you possibly can,” Contant says.

You also want to find a builder who will work with you and your architect. For the next year, your team will be a big part of your life. “You want to genuinely like the team,” Morgante says. “You’re going to spend a lot of time with them.”

Here are five tips for building a custom home without losing your mind and your shirt:

Know what you want before you start. An architect will help you create the exact plans for your home, but you need to have a sense of how many rooms, the preferred building materials, the size and the style of the home before you start. Some of those details may change during the planning process, but you can save time by going in with more information.

Don’t skimp on the planning process. You can easily change floor plans, materials and designs while everything is still on paper. Once building starts, changes get expensive. “You can make an enormous number of changes if it hasn’t been framed yet. After that, any change will cost you money,” Dickinson says. You should keep in mind, he adds, that once building decisions are made they are difficult to undo. So take your time when planning the house, and avoid jumping into the building stage before you’re ready.

Check references and licensing. You should do this with both the architect and the builder and any other professionals you are responsible for hiring. You want to talk to references in detail about how the process of building their homes went. Visit the final results if you can.

Get everything in writing. The contract with both the architect and the builder should be extremely detailed, laying out what services are to be performed, the timetable and a schedule of progress payments. If you can’t list specific makes and models of bathtubs, air conditioners, appliances and other features in the building contract, have the builder write in allowances with specific dollar amounts.

Visit the site frequently. Questions come up often about exactly how something should be done. The architect should visit at least weekly, but you want to be on site frequently, too, to answer questions and make sure you like the way things are going. If you live nearby, plan to stop by several times each week – if not daily – to help make decisions and assess the progress. “You really have to turn other aspects of your life off and dedicate yourself for the next six months to a year,” Dickinson says. “It’s not just you doing a house. It’s a village.”

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Tips offered for building aging-in-place home upgrades

Contracting for a home construction project is not a simple task at any age, but with aging-in-place building models more in focus nowadays, picking the right contractor for the job without too much grief is paramount for getting a project done right.

One of the main things to focus on when it comes to contracting is checking references, Building Industry Association of Clark County Aaron Marvin said. Actually getting ahold of references to ask questions about past work will help to get a feel for how well a contractor will fit a client’s needs.

Marvin stressed to ask specific questions regarding the work, such as any complications or issues encountered, as well as how the issues were resolved. Another question would be budget and whether the proposed contractor’s work was on or over budget — In the latter case, was it because of changes on the client’s part or the contractor’s side.

Marvin has a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) certification from the National Association of Homebuilders, which he said was a good place to start when looking for a contractor for a senior-minded project, but not the end-all be-all credential.

“I would use that as more of a benchmark for somebody who really takes this job and this career seriously,” Marvin said, explaining that generally someone willing to get the credential has a genuine concern for the demographic.

Finding someone involved with a local association, like Marvin’s Building Industry Association or something similar also helps show professionalism and willingness to be a part of an industry group that translates to thoughtful work.

For older individuals, Marvin reasoned there was more susceptibility in those populations than others. A willingness to pay and take people on their word, aversion to do-it-yourself projects possibly by physical limitations and a lack of tech-savviness were some of the reasons Marvin believed led to seniors being easier to exploit when it came to contracted projects.

Marvin said contractor shopping differs greatly from shopping for routine items, which is why knowing specifics regarding design and materials for a project are paramount.

“The majority of people are shopping on price,” Marvin explained, saying that often the bottom line is what sells clients. Knowing the scope of the project beforehand rather than generalizations can make bids between contractors more competitive.

“In this industry, it’s not like going and shopping for a car,” Marvin said, explaining that whereas brands are more defined in automotive sales, the differences in materials for a construction project aren’t as well known and a good salesman might be able to exploit that lack of awareness.

A handy tool for looking up a potential contractor is available through the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries (available at which allows a potential client to verify a contractor’s registration, bond, insurance and infractions, check to see if a tradesperson is licensed (and whether or not their license is currently active), find out an employer’s workers’ compensation premium status and look up an employer’s safety inspection history and violations.

Credentials and background research may prove time-consuming, but Marvin explained it’s worth it in the long run.

“I always tell people that they need to interview (contractors) like they are hiring for a job,” Marvin remarked.

Marvin said a focus on aging-in-place-styled projects doesn’t have to be strictly for accessibility, but could end up making a house simply easier to live in.

“Accessible living is comfortable living,” Marvin said, giving an example of being able to carry a laundry basket while simply shuffling feet throughout the home — something appreciable by the general populace — has similar requirements for a walker or a wheelchair.

“Small changes to a house could make a really big change in the overall function and flow,” Marvin said.

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4 tips for the thrifty home flipper

Installer Vlad Zolov carries in new ductwork during ongoing renovations at Beth Franken’s Oak Park two-flat. Franken intends to transform the property into a single-family home and sell it for a profit.

Installer Vlad Zolov carries in new ductwork during ongoing renovations at Beth Franken’s Oak Park two-flat. Franken intends to transform the property into a single-family home and sell it for a profit.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I am super cheap. I cut the mold off cheese and feed it to my kids (the cheese, not the mold). I squirrel away lightly used paper towels in a pile next to the kitchen sink so I can reuse them later to wipe the floors. My wedding gown was made with yards and yards of Shantung silk and hand-sewn with hundreds of seed pearls and cost $200. Resale shop.

My tightwad habits may be slightly pathetic, but in this first-ever house-flip project I’ve undertaken, they’re proving to be an asset. I’m trying to find just the right touches to make this house dazzle — without losing my shirt on every single item.

So, would-be flippers, here’s this month’s first piece of advice: Figure out where you can splurge and where you can save. I found Kenneth Ludwig sconces at a consignment shop in Oak Park and scored a crystal Pottery Barn light fixture at ReUse Depot in Maywood. With these nice finishes, I can buy the $2.29 Home Depot tile for the master bath and the room is still going to shine. It’s the home-decor equivalent of dressing up a cute shift from Target with the diamond pendant you found at an estate sale.

Of course, all of this is completely premature. I’m not even close to the razzle-dazzle stage. In fact, the opposite. A couple of weeks ago, I spent five hours shoveling construction debris into heavy black contractor bags, dragging them down the hall and hurling them out a second-story window into the backyard below.

Which leads me to another takeaway: Don’t toss your kids’ little red wagon. They may have outgrown it, but you’re going to need it. I used my kiddos’ old Radio Flyer to wheel trash bags out to the alley. We’re talking easily 600 pounds of detritus — chunks of drywall, attic insulation, lath and plaster, wire mesh, scraps of wood and metal conduit, sawdust, nails.

Why is this happening? Why am I filling contractor bags with a quarter-ton of refuse on a Saturday night?

It’s happening because I am the general. I am the very model of a modern flipper general. I do have a great contractor, he’s thorough and responsible, but he’s not overseeing the whole project. I am. It’s that cheap streak of mine. My contractor has finished Phase One, The Demo, and he’s waiting to return for Phase Two, The Drywall. In the interval, my mechanical guys — HVAC expert, electrician, plumber — are in the house and the work that the laborers were handling has fallen to me.

Other recent goings-on: The architect drew plans for a huge, 5-foot-tall window in the kitchen. The aperture has been cut and framed in, but the windows haven’t been installed yet, so there was a gaping hole in an exterior wall. My plumber wouldn’t bring in the copper pipes until the building was secured — turns out breaking into construction sites and stealing copper is a thing — but I was loath to ask my contractor to come out for 15 minutes of work sealing up a window. I fretted for a day, lost a half night of sleep, then thought, “Oh, for God’s sake, I can do this.”

Next tip: Don’t shy away from taking a hands-on approach. I borrowed a neighbor’s screw gun, guilted my 16-year-old son into joining me, and together the two of us lifted a 46-pound sheet of plywood over the window opening and screwed it to the frame. Then we took a selfie, which my son made me swear not to post on Facebook.

That’s the irony of this house-flipping situation: I’m the general, but I’m not handy — cheap but not handy. I wouldn’t know a socket from a ratchet, a bolt from a screw. In that sense, I’m at a truly remarkable disadvantage. But I’m starting to believe that flipping a house is not so much about nuts and bolts as it is about relationships — relationships with lenders and real estate agents, electricians and laborers.

That’s why it’s critical that you insist on strong partnerships. Renovating and ultimately flipping a home is a joint enterprise. When someone I’m doing business with talks down to me, whether it’s because I’m a woman, because I’m of a certain age or because it’s apparent I have no idea what I’m doing, that guy — or gal — is history. Listen to your inner Aretha Franklin: Require R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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FEMA Offers Tips To Flood Victims Returning Home

As the rivers begin to recede in the area and dryer conditions have become prevalent, some residents are returning back to homes the evacuated from during the recent flooding. Others have issues with fields and acreage where water has destroyed crops and grazing land. This leaves a number of questions about where to get help in recouping losses caused by the flooding.

Governor Terry E. Branstad issued proclamations of disaster emergency for Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Cedar, Chickasaw, Delaware, Floyd, Franklin, Linn and Wright counties in response to flooding that occurred on September 21 and continuing. The Governor’s proclamations allow State resources to be utilized to respond to and recover from the effects of these flooding.

Governor Branstad issued a proclamation of disaster emergency for four additional counties which are Cerro Gordo, Hancock, Mitchell, and Worth. Governor Branstad issued a proclamation of disaster emergency for four additional counties which are Howard, Jones, Louisa and Story. The proclamations also activated the Iowa Individual Assistance Program for residents of those counties.

The Iowa Individual Assistance Program provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the current federal poverty level, or a maximum annual income of $40,320, for a family of three.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers safety tips to residents returning to check on flood damaged property and encourage them to file flood insurance claims.

Potential health/safety hazards after a disaster include carbon monoxide poisoning from generators used to power homes or clean-up equipment; electrocution from stepping into water charged by live electric wires; infections to cuts or scrapes that come into contact with surfaces contaminated by floodwater; chemical hazards from spills or storage tank breaks, respiratory and heat-related illnesses; and the worsening of chronic illness from overexertion.

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First at Four: Tips on how to get your closet fall ready

The summer months are over and cooler temperatures are slowly approaching and for many this means it’s time to start putting away those bathing suits and pulling out the sweaters.

Liz Inman, Managing Partner at Metro’s Other Woman of Wilmington, has tips for you when you decide to transition your closet into fall.

1. Clean out your closet:  This is the perfect time to clean out your closet! Before you start transitioning your closet to fall – go through and take note of the items you never wore over the summer! Put them to the side in a special box and note that these are for donation or consignment.

2. Wash and Dry: OK, this one is really important: make sure all of your clothes are properly washed before deciding to move them into storage. This will get rid of stuff like random food or drink spills you’ve forgotten about that might cause your favorite shirts to mold or discolor. It will also keep your clothes looking like new over the winter.

3. Sort Clothing Into Underbed Storage Boxes: Once you’ve washed and folded your clothes, have your plastic storage boxes ready, like these from The Container Store, which can easily fit under beds and in dark closets. Keep clothes out of sunlight and away from changes in humidity, which can cause colors to fade and mold to grow. Avoid keeping clothing any place near a window.

4. Keep your clothes smelling fresh while stored: When you finally put those boxes under the bed, put a few dryer softener sheets in between your cotton sweaters and summer items. That way, when you pull them out next spring, you won’t need to rewash your clothes to have them smelling clean again.  I also recommend a few cedar wood sachets to tuck into your storage boxes and tie around your hangers. Cedar is known to ward away insects, like moths, that might damage your clothes over the winter, but it won’t leaving behind any unwanted smells.

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The Home Renovation That Never Ends

When Halle and Casey Cane bought a $2.73 million Edwardian-style home in San Francisco four years ago, they just had small upgrades in mind.

“We initially moved in thinking, ‘We don’t need to do anything” other than a few tweaks, said Ms. Cane, 39.

Four years and $1 million later, they’ve “touched every inch of the house in some way,” said Ms. Cane. They’ve redone the basement, the den, all the bathrooms, the closets and upstairs bedrooms. They refinished kitchen cabinets in gray and then painted them white. They spent $50,000 adding foliage to the backyard, but are currently spending another $25,000 to remove it. After that, they’ll be done renovating—maybe. The idea of expanding the footprint by 500 square feet “is still in the back of our heads,” said Mr. Cane, 39, a real-estate investor and ski blogger.

Most homeowners dread the prospect of a long renovation, where countless weeks or months are spent washing dishes in the bathtub and sleeping in the pool house. But a small number of homeowners—whether they’re procrastinators, perfectionists or just on a tight budget—take years and spend scads of money on home improvements. Eventually, they get their dream space, but endless renos can take a toll on remodeling professionals as well as residents.

In April, interior designer Timothy Corrigan walked away from a contract to design and furnish an estate in Beverly Hills that his clients bought three years ago for more than $27 million. The reason? He lost hope that the owners, whom he declined to identify, would ever make up their minds.

“I had been on it for over a year and a half, but it was dead in the water,” said Mr. Corrigan, who has offices in Los Angeles and Paris. “I even burned sagebrush in the house to try to get it moving,” he said, referring to an American Indian cleansing ritual. Despite his call to the spirits, the homeowners first decided to add three new bedrooms, then changed it to five, then went back to three. Mid-design, they announced they wanted to add a new building on the property that would house a spa and gym. Later, they scrapped that and opted to include those elements in the main building.

“As a designer, 80% to 90% of my income is from the furnishings,” Mr. Corrigan said. Three years after the property was purchased, it sat gutted and empty, he said. Last month, Mr. Corrigan said the clients asked to rehire him. He agreed, he said, on the strict condition that “we agree right now what it is that we are adding,” he said.

The majority of an interior designer’s revenue comes at the end of a project from upcharges on furniture, typically by about 30% over the trade price, said Alan M. Siegel, national counsel to the American Society of Interior Designers. Most interior-design contracts also include other compensation, such as a design fee or an hourly rate for certain kinds of work, such as site visits and installations, Mr. Siegel said.

By contrast, nearly 65% of architects charge flat fees—some with “reimbursable expenses”—according to a 2016 survey by the American Institute of Architects, a Washington trade group. As a result, architects typically get most of their compensation during the design and construction phases, said Dawn Zuber, an architect in Plymouth, Mich., who is chairwoman of the Custom Residential Architects Network for AIA.

Source: BuildFax analysis of a sampling of permits within the past year. Note: Timeframes cover when the permit was issued to the date the permit was marked as completed.

Remodeling companies—the builders—offer fixed-price contracts 90% of the time, estimated Dan Taddei, director of education and certification at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a trade group in Des Plaines, Ill. Only 10% of the time do they charge for their time, Mr. Taddei said. Since homeowners usually pay the builder in phases, construction companies have a long wait when projects take forever, Mr. Taddei said.

Even the most expensive renovations are usually completed in well under a year, according to Holly Tachovsky, founder and chief executive of BuildFax, an Austin, Texas-based firm that provides property condition data. The top 10% most-expensive residential remodels take an average of 277 days and cost an average of about $365,000, according to a BuildFax analysis of permits within the past five years.

Historic restorations are among the most time-consuming projects, remodelers say, requiring permitting, negotiating with landmark and preservation societies and hunting down specialized materials and craftsmen.

Julia Buckingham, an interior designer in Chicago, got a call in 2012 that began with the client saying, “I’ve got this little project and your name came up.” The “little project” turned out to be the restoration of an 1895 Italianate mansion on a third of an acre in Wicker Park. Renovation had been under way for three years by the time Ms. Buckingham got involved. She soon devoted about 20 hours a week to the project for two years.

One particularly painstaking task was restoring an original ceiling medallion and then searching the world for a modern-style chandelier to be inserted into it. Ms. Buckingham found an ideal one in Germany.

“I recall plotting the height and width on the metric system with someone in Germany who had a thick accent,” Ms. Buckingham said.

Also time consuming: finding a British craftsman who could re-create the original pattern of Victorian-era tiles in the front foyer.

Tracy Vaught and her husband, Hugo Ortega, who renovated their 4,700-square-foot brick Tudor in Houston, knew exactly what they wanted to do to the house. Their problem, however: Pulling together the $1.45 million in cash for their top-to-bottom overhaul. The process was an eight-year ordeal that involved sleeping in the living room for a year and showering at their country club, plus a subsequent year of eating in restaurants while their kitchen was gutted.

Fortunately for the couple and their teenage daughter, they own the restaurants. Ms. Vaught, 61 is the president of H Town Restaurant Group, which owns Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s and Caracol. Mr. Ortega, 51, is executive chef for the group.

Because “you never know what can happen in the restaurant business,” Ms. Vaught said they refused to take out a loan to cover their renovation costs, which would have allowed them to attack the house in one whack. Simply selling and buying another, already fixed-up house was also out: Ms. Vaught had purchased the home in 1994 from her mother, who bought it from her own mother, who lived there with Ms. Vaught’s great-grandmother.

“My daughter will be the fifth generation of women in this family to live in this house,” said Ms. Vaught. “I’m never moving out.”

Instead, the family took on the project in phases, which began in 2008 and were finally completed in October last year. Changes included adding a pool, expanding the house by 500 square feet, removing walls, adding closets, redoing six bathrooms and gut-renovating the kitchen. Ms. Vaught said that while the process “did wear on us,” her husband “never complained.”

Beyond budget busting, homeowners have good reason to fear long renovations: Remodeling appears to have deleterious effects on relationships, too. In an online survey by the home-décor website Houzz, 7% of the 1,739 respondents said they considered couples counseling, another 7% wondered, “How did I end up with this person?” and 5% said they considered a breakup or divorce during their remodel.

The Canes in San Francisco said their renovation dragged on in part because their family has grown—they had their third child in May—and their needs changed.

The couple said they were able to travel during the most construction-heavy phases, and that their designer, Rusty Wadatz, smoothed over many speed bumps. But they both said the outlay of money was stressful.

“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any arguments,” said Mr. Cane.

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Five basics of home remodeling

There are so many moving parts and issues to consider when remodeling a home that today we want to summarize five of the most important items to consider when tackling a home remodel.

The place to begin a redesign is to determine your existing home’s dominant style. This is not always easy. Some homes have a purity of style that makes it easy to identify. A true bungalow, colonial, Tudor, Cape Cod cottage, or mid-century ranch are quite simple to spot. A classic Victorian in the Avenues stands out.

However, most houses may not be a classic version of one of the above, or possibly have various architectural elements from several different styles. Less classically designed homes fall into a few catch-all categories known as “traditional,” “transitional” or perhaps “modern” or “contemporary.”

Step back across the street and really look at your house. Look at its shape and size. Consider the pitch of the existing roof, the placement of the windows, and how you enter. Do you like the basic shape, form and function of your home or do you want some changes?

After you have studied the “bones” of your home, consider the exterior materials. Do they need an update, either for looks or for ease of maintenance? Are there some parts you like and some you want to replace?

Basically, you are deciding if you want to work with the existing style and features of the house, or if you want to do a complete “façademy” and change the style altogether. I am sure you can guess which approach will be more expensive. Remember that changing the style completely usually means having to reframe the roof (not just new shingles) and replacing all the windows.

You can apply the same design-style analysis to the interior of your home, room by room. But perhaps more important is to analyze your home to determine what works and what doesn’t in terms of the way your house functions and how you and your family have to live in it.

Some clients are very clear about this and even come to us with suggestions of what they need. Others can enumerate problems, but are at a loss for solutions. Some clients just know there are issues with their house and know they need help!

An architect is trained to solve problems, but it is useful if you as the homeowner can help identify what isn’t working about your house and why. Together, the architect and homeowner can come up with solutions.

The best home remodels and the best experience with the process stem from working from a master plan. Many homeowners don’t have the ability or the funds to move out of their house for a complete remodel. Many times, the homeowners do the project in phases. For example, this year they may remodel the basement and next year they remodel the kitchen.

Having a master plan helps you know the construction sequence of what to remodel in what order, and puts purpose behind each project. When a homeowner has a master plan, you know what to work on next in order to move toward your goal. You aren’t changing your ideas in the middle, costing time and money by having to redo your redo.

A master plan goes hand-in-hand with a budget to make sure the investment you make in your home is wise and justified. It also assures that the money won’t be used up far before the project is completed. Next to the purchase of your home, a significant remodeling project may well be the largest expenditure your family will ever make.

Once a master plan is finalized, a cost estimate should be created. This is a process that is usually well beyond the skill of the average homeowner, and often out of the league of the architect as well. Architects have broad ideas of costs, but it takes someone with current contact with the construction industry to create a valid, itemized budget for a project. Therefore, we value the presence of a general contractor on a design team from almost the beginning of a project.

A budget at this stage is not a bid; not enough information is yet available. A competent contractor with experience in residential remodeling, however, can use his expertise and knowledge to create a reasonable allowance for each item that will need to be addressed in the construction process — for excavation, framing, windows, cabinets, etc.

This budget becomes a valuable tool for homeowners as they make final selections on all the items that must be specified. If you decide you must have that $10,000 Wolf range (and the allowance was $2,000), you had better be prepared to increase the bottom line or make adjustments in other selections to make up the difference.

Your budget should contain a contingency of 5 percent to 10 percent of the construction cost to give you peace of mind during the construction phase. Spending every penny we have leads to stress in remodeling, as in all other walks of life.

It is not unusual for the budget estimate made on a master plan to come in higher than the client’s actual budget. It is then time for a process called “value engineering.” This means the size of the project or the finishes have to be reduced in order to get the two in line. (We have never had the opposite situation where the budget came in far below the project shown in the master plan and we had to try to spend more!) The goal is to get the plan and the budget aligned before moving into the costly process of creating engineered construction drawings.

A basic design tenet in our office is to design better, not bigger. Most of the space issues in homes will not be solved by merely adding a big box addition to the back, side, or top of the house. Reconfiguring the existing space or moving functions within the house can dramatically impact the way a house flows and functions, with no addition at all.

If additional space is required, we often suggest small bump-out additions to add three feet here or two feet there, which will change the function of the space. A small addition can make a huge difference with functionality. Even when we go with a larger addition, the design mantra of “Bigger is not always better” always comes into play.

With these five basics of home remodeling, you, too, can confidently tackle the challenge of remodeling. Be patient, as it will take more time than you think. Be frugal, as it will take more money than you think. Finally, be wise and assemble a team of professionals who will help you through, as it will be more complicated than you think. The result can be worth the time, money and stress as you finally have a home that supports the lifestyle of your family.

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Four Tips On Getting A Second Home

With home values rising, mortgage rates low and rental demand strong, purchasing a second home may seem like a good investment.

Many would agree. According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) annual Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, over 2 million vacation and investment properties were purchased in 2015.

If you’re considering buying a second home for leisure, rental income or future retirement, here are four suggestions that may help.

1. Seek help from a Realtor. The survey found that recent vacation buyers typically purchased a second home 200 miles from their primary residence. Even if you’ve visited your targeted search area, chances are you aren’t privy to local market conditions, such as current demand levels and future resale value.

A Realtor, a member of NAR, can be your expert professional when it comes to buying a home. He or she can help you find the property that fits your budget, and will negotiate on your behalf at the closing table so you get the best deal.

2. Know the rules if you plan to rent it out. Whether it’s occasionally or all the time, many second-home owners rent out their home to earn extra income.

Even if it’s only a few weekends a year, it is absolutely crucial to know all ordinances related to allowing tenants into your home. Laws can vary from one town, neighborhood and condo building to the next.

A Realtor can familiarize you with the rules and laws of a property before you decide to make an offer. That way, you won’t be caught in a situation where restrictions limit your ability to earn rental income, especially if this money is needed to help pay your mortgage.

3. Be ready to make your case to lenders. Getting a mortgage today takes some diligence.

This is especially true with second-home buyers, as adding another mortgage to an existing one is going to stretch your debt-to-income ratio and you’ll likely need to make a significant down payment on any second-home purchase to get the most favorable terms.

4. Grab a pen and do some paperwork. As with all home purchases, it’s important to be patient and flexible, and to stick to your budget during your search. If you have a Realtor at your side and the means and wherewithal to do it right, that second home can be in reach either as a solid investment or a place in which to make lifelong memories—or both.

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8 Home Improvement Ideas to Revive the Beauty of Your House

Everybody would make their home the most beautiful home in the world if they could. Unfortunately, people don’t always have enough money to remodel their homes every once in a while. They are often delaying the idea of renovating their home for a long time. Sometimes they are just not able to come up with the right idea to remodel their house and so years pass without any improvement.

You don’t really want that, do you? You should then put some money apart as often as you can for this important project.

Luckily, you can easily make your home look different and fresh without going south. Moreover if you make good use of the social networks, you can get a lot of great ideas about the decoration of your house.

If you are still out of ideas, here are a few ideas that should help you bring freshness to the setting of your house.

One of the first things you should think of is introducing teak wood furniture in the house. Let there be millions of furniture items made of oak wood, wicker, bamboo, etc. When it comes to teak, all other woods have to walk off the stage. Teak is one of the most special types of woods in the world. It is nearly after 80 years of plantation of a tree that it gives you teak wood. Teak is naturally abundant in oil and rubber that are retained in the wood even after it has been harvested. In short, high grade teak wood furniture will add value to your home decor.

You don’t know how much of a change can be brought in the setting and look of a house by just changing its doors. When you want your house to look different you will have to work on your doors as well. Go on for a full time project on which doors you will have in your rooms and in which color.

Most importantly, go for a special door to your bedroom. If you don’t have enough money, just get your doors repainted and you will be surprised at the wonderful look it will give your home.

You don’t have to deal with the old and conventional looking shelves anymore. Search for “unique shelves” on the internet and you will be surprised by the amount of creativity people put in shelves.

The best looking shelves are the ones that don’t look like shelves. They are just pieces of wood protruding out of the walls with enough space to place various items on them. They are not squared shelves, but small platforms that look on the wall as though they were floating in the air.

Change everything in the house and keep the lighting same and you might not be impressed. Don’t change anything in the house and just change the lighting and you will be surprised by how different your house looks. You could even add a chandelier if you can afford it.

If you have art pieces in your house, you could dedicate a wall to those art pieces and special lighting that specifically throws light on your art pieces.

Ambient lighting is another great way to make your house look special. If not the whole house, it should definitely be done in the bedroom.

Remodeling the kitchen requires just as much effort as the rest of the house needs. It is because redoing your kitchen setting is a complex process.

First, you will have to get rid of the clutter that has accumulated over time in your kitchen. Secondly, there are some items that you just can’t remove from the kitchen. But it is still important that you change the shape and location of your kitchen shelf. Thirdly, introduce a bar fridge underneath the counter. Make sure you use the unused space for storage because the more your items are away from sight the more your kitchen will look beautiful.

You will be surprised by the number of options available to you for remodeling your bathroom. First, more and more people are going for the spa look for their bathroom. However, you will have to work with a professional in order to do that. The tiles, flooring, storage items, fixtures, etc. all need to blend with the theme if you want your bathroom to look like a spa. A bathtub with waterfall feature can equally make your bathroom your favorite room to be in all the time.

If you have never thought of this before then this is the right time to do it. Go for a patio outside your house. If there is space available outside your house, you could obtain great value out of it.

Choose a cool patio design on some patio company’s website. Secondly, introduce the right furniture on your patio so you can have some good time with your family and friends in the cool breeze of the evening. Lastly, choose your furniture wisely since it gets a direct beating from sun and weather.

A Sun room can be a great addition to any house. Not only does it provide you with a great place to sit alone and have a cup of coffee on winter mornings, but it also adds great value to the house. Building a sunroom will require some unused space to be used or restructuring of one of the rooms in the house.

This room should have large windows on all sides with blinds that allow you to control how much sunlight enters in the room. Choose furniture items that fit the setting and purpose of this room.

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