Monthly Archives: May 2013

Your Upgrades Could Be Downgrades

With today’s homeowners only expecting to stay put for about five to seven years, many must rethink major upgrades or renovations that may hurt them when it comes time to sell.

Zillow highlights five of the worst upgrades you can make if you’re hoping to resell soon. Most of them sound like great home improvement projects; many are. But they might not appeal to everyone, so exercise restraint if you’re not in it for the long haul.

  1. Overblown Gardens. Elaborate landscaping and gardening may sound like your backyard paradise, but it’s also some people’s worst nightmare. If you’re looking to sell, your buyers will most likely be interested in neat, but low-maintenance, lawns, not the hanging gardens of Babylon.
  2. Garage Turned Family Room. You may crave the extra space that your garage-to-family-room conversion yields, but many buyers are unwilling to make that trade. Garages offer not only car parking, but storage for your outdoor items and other things you can’t find room for. Getting rid of it could cost you.pool
  3. Removing a Bedroom. Jettisoning a smaller bedroom to enlarge a master suite or home office could cost you in the long run. Extra bedrooms add tremendous value to a home, and a two-bedroom home with a cavernous master suite and walk-in closet just won’t have the same selling power as a standard three-bedroom house.
  4. Taking a Dip. You may end up taking a bath by adding a backyard pool. While they may be fun, pools could actually hurt your home’s resale value. They boost homeowners’ insurance rates, carry loads of maintenance, and can be a major turn-off for families with small children.
  5. Making it Too Personal. Adding too many personal touches–whether it’s a custom pink tile you absolutely love or shag carpeting you think is stylish–could turn buyers away who see the house as a fixer-upper instead of the pinnacle of design. When it comes time to sell, nothing beats mass appeal–even if you don’t like it.

Mortgage Rates Hit 12-Month High

Mortgage rates are continuing to creep up as the real estate market improves, rising to their highest average levels in 12 months.

price increase

The average for 30-year fixed rates peaked around 3.71% this week, up from earlier lows between 3.4% and 3.5%. Cutting back to 15 years will shave off about 1%, with averages hovering about 2.87%.

Rising rates could cool the housing market, but rates are still at historically low levels, letting borrowers take advantage of increased purchasing power. Rates could continue their upward trend as the overall economy recovers and the housing market regains it momentum.

Get Creative With Chalkboard Paint!

Chalkboards aren’t just for elementary schools anymore!

With the expanding use of chalkboard paint, crafty people have started putting chalkboards in places you would never have dreamed of. But before getting into the fun part, the basics: chalkboard paint is applied like any other paint by rolling it onto a clean, smooth surface. Most manufacturers recommend using a wet towel to wipe off the chalk instead of a traditional eraser. Light-colored chalks will wipe away without leaving residue.

Now for the creative ideas:


Give the kids the ultimate playroom!


Add decorative molding to frame out the chalkboard

kitchen wall

Paint a whole wall in your kitchen for grocery lists


Use boxes to create a permanent calendar

Confused By Kitchen Counters? Help Is Here!

Unsure if granite resists stains better than marble? Not sure if laminate is easier to clean than stainless steel? Don’t even know you had an option for paper countertops? Have no fear–Houzz has put together a simple primer for all your options!

Its Kitchen Countertops 101: Choosing a Surface Material cuts right to the chase, comparing 11 materials. Get the lowdown on:


  • Granite (completely unique)
  • Solid Surface (maintenance free)
  • Quartz (great looks; low maintenance)
  • Marble (ultra elegant, but prone to stains)
  • Tile (inexpensive, but with grout stains)
  • Laminate (the least expensive)
  • Soapstone (ages with time)
  • Stainless Steel (clean and sleek)
  • Concrete (rugged but expensive)
  • Butcher Block (rustic but prone to expanding)
  • Paper Composite (ecofriendly but pricy)

The materials and installation can run you anywhere from $10 per square foot to $125 per square foot, so opting for an expensive material drives up the cost quickly. 

Cruise on over to check out the full scoop on each one–and take a look through the kitchen photos!

How Much Home Can You Afford?

It’s the one thing buyers must know before they start looking: how much house I can actually afford? Thankfully, some easy-to-use resources will let you figure that out.

Many personal finance or real estate sites include mortgage calculators. They let you plug in your income, debts, down payment, interest rate, property taxes, and homeowners insurance to give you an estimate of your buying power based on typical guidelines of a mortgage payment not exceeding 36% of your gross monthly income.

Take a typical example on Zillow’s calculator:


Annual Income: $75,000
Down payment: $20,000
Other monthly debts: $500
Mortgage Terms: 30 year fixed at market rate of 3.579%
Property taxes: 1.125%
Homeowners Insurance: $800 annually
Private Mortgage Insurance: $174 monthly

According to Zillow, that’ll let you buy a $296,619 home at a monthly payment of about $1,750.

Happy hunting!

Houses Moving Quicker as Market Picks Up

It’s not just a mirage: the housing market is still picking up steam. So if it seems like houses are on and off the market quicker, it’s because they are.

According to’s Economist’s Outlook blog, half of houses listed are now sold within two months. Fully 37% of listings move within a month. On the other side of spectrum, only 8% of houses end up sitting for over a year. That’s a promising sign, especially compared to the same time last year, when only 27% of listings sold within a month.

Check out all the numbers:


Fake Grass: Seriously

Many homeowners have no doubt muttered under their breath that replacing their lawn with astroturf would make their lives infinitely easier. Turns out they’re probably right: synthetic grass is taking off as an alternative to high-maintenance grassy lawns.

As opposed to traditional grass and sod, synthetic grass is a woven product that lays over a drainage layer–typically gravel–and secured around the edges. Water can still drain through it, and it comes in several varieties to mimic the natural surroundings.

Houselogic provides a good overview of the pros and cons. Let’s tackle them and see if it’s too good to be true!


fake grass

  • Time saving. With no need to mow, fertilize, and water, synthetic will save you tons of time each summer.
  • Money saving. This one’s tricky. Over the long run, synthetic grass will save you money because of the super-low maintenance. So if you plan to stick around for five or ten years, it’ll be worth the investment.
  • Water saving. Reducing water usage–especially in drought-prone areas–can be a huge win for homeowners.


  • Upfront cost. While it can save money in the long run, the upfront cost is steep: anywhere from $5 to $20 per square foot. In that range, a 20′ by 50′ yard will set you back anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
  • Low maintenance, not no maintenance. Even the fake stuff will take some effort. Leaves and other debris will accumulate, so you’ll still have some work. Plus, it doesn’t absorb and break down pet waste like grass, so it needs fairly regularly washdowns if pets will be using it.
  • Heat. Synthetic materials give off much more heat than normal grass, putting a premium on shade.

Swapping out the real stuff isn’t as tacky as it used to be–keep that in mind while you’re sweating over your weedwacker this summer!