Owners Recoup More with Exterior Home Projects

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of yourCharleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

Owners Recoup More with Exterior Home Projects

As part of the 2010-11 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, REALTORS® recently rated exterior replacement projects among the most cost-effective home improvement projects, demonstrating that curb appeal remains one of the most important aspects of a home at resale time.

“This year’s Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report highlights the importance of exterior projects, which not only provide the most value, but also are among the least expensive improvements for a home,” said National Association of REALTORS® President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. “Since resale value can vary by region, it’s smart for home owners to work with a REALTOR® through the remodeling and improvement process; they can provide insight into projects in their neighborhoods that will recoup the most when the owners are ready to sell.”

Nine of the top 10 most cost-effective projects nationally in terms of value recouped are exterior replacement projects. The steel entry door replacement remained the project that returned the most money, with an estimated 102.1 percent of cost recouped upon resale; it is also the only project in this year’s report that is expected to return more than the cost. The midrange garage door replacement, a new addition to the report this year, is expected to recoup 83.9 percent of costs. Both projects are small investments that cost little more than $1,200 each, on average. REALTORS® identified these two replacements as projects that can significantly improve a home’s curb appeal.

“Curb appeal remains king – it’s the first thing potential buyers notice when looking for a home, and it also demonstrates pride of ownership,” said Phipps.

The 2010-11 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report compares construction costs with resale values for 35 midrange and upscale remodeling projects comprising additions, remodels and replacements in 80 markets across the country. Data are grouped in nine U.S. regions, following the divisions established by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is the 13th consecutive year that the report, which is produced by Remodeling magazine publisher Hanley Wood LLC, was completed in cooperation with REALTOR® Magazine.

REALTORS® provided their insight into local markets and buyer home preferences within those markets. Overall, REALTORS® estimated that home owners would recoup an average of 60 percent of their investment in 35 different improvement projects, down from an average of 63.8 percent last year. Remodeling projects, particularly higher cost upscale projects, have been losing resale value in recent years because of weak economic conditions.

According to the report, replacement projects usually outperform remodel and addition projects in resale value because they are among the least expensive and contribute to curb appeal. Various types of siding and window replacement projects were expected to return more than 70 percent of costs. Upscale fiber-cement siding replacement was judged by REALTORS® the most cost effective among siding projects, recouping 80 percent of costs. Among the window replacement projects covered, upscale vinyl window replacements were expected to recoup the most, 72.6 percent upon resale. Another exterior project, a wood deck addition, tied with a minor kitchen remodel for the fourth most profitable project recouping an estimated 72.8 percent of costs.

The top interior projects for resale value included an attic bedroom and a basement remodel. Both add living space without extending the footprint of the house. An attic bedroom addition costs more than $51,000 and recoups an estimated 72.2 percent nationally upon resale; a basement remodel costs more than $64,000 and recoups an estimated 70 percent. Improvement projects that are expected to return the least are a midrange home office remodel, recouping an estimated 45.8 percent; a backup power generator, recouping 48.5 percent; and a sunroom addition, recouping 48.6 percent of costs.

Although most regions followed the national trends, the regions that consistently were estimated to return a higher percentage of remodeling costs upon resale were the Pacific region of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington; the West South Central region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas; the East South Central region of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee; and the South Atlantic region of the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The regions where REALTORS® generally reported the lowest percentage of costs recouped were New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), East North Central (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin), West North Central (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota), and Middle Atlantic (New York and Pennsylvania).

“It’s important to remember that the resale value of a particular improvement project depends on several factors,” said Phipps. “Things such as the home’s overall condition, availability and condition of surrounding properties, location and the regional economic climate contribute to an estimated resale value. That’s why it is imperative to work with a REALTOR® who can provide insight and guidance into local market conditions whether you’re buying, selling or improving a home.”

Results of the report are summarized in the January issue of REALTOR® Magazine. To read the full project descriptions, access national and regional project data, and download a free PDF containing data for any of the 80 cities covered by the report, visit www.costvsvalue.com.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of yourCharleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Source: NAR

Q&A: Budget Smart Remodeling

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

Q&A: Author Sarah Susanka Talks Budget-Smart Remodeling

Article From HouseLogic.com

Published: March 10, 2010

HouseLogic sat down with author and architect Sarah Susanka to talk about remodeling that builds value and saves money.

For Sarah Susanka, architect and author of the Not So Big House series of books, remodeling is an opportunity-not just for realizing your improvement and decor dreams, but for making your home comfortable, right-sized, and energy efficient.

In this Q&A, Susanka helps homeowners make smart decisions about that next big project.

HouseLogic: What are your top three pieces of advice for homeowners considering a remodel?

Sarah Susanka:

1. While you're remodeling, take the opportunity to upgrade the energy systems in your house. It will make the house more comfortable and more valuable in the long haul. Today's buyers will ask to see utility bills, and may not consider homes that aren't energy efficient.

2. You can remodel without having to add on. We tend to assume we have to add space. But many spaces in a home are underused. Consider how to repurpose that space to do double duty.

3. The way we live in our homes today is different than before the 1970s. Formal dining rooms may not get a lot of use, for instance. Open a view from the kitchen to the dining or living room. People will start using those rooms and the house will feel a lot bigger, which is also a sales point.

HL: Where do you get the biggest return for your remodeling investment?

SS: Kitchens and bathrooms. But often people spend more money on their kitchen than they think they will, which can affect the return. Work within the existing footprint of the kitchen to stay reasonably priced.

People often assume that if they buy more expensive materials, that equates to higher value. But it's the quality of design that sells and equates to more value.

HL: How can the budget-minded homeowner conserve funds?

SS: Consider materials. Opt for a plastic laminate countertop with bullnose (fully rounded edges in which the laminate wraps under the countertop) rather than a granite countertop. It's a great look, but less expensive than granite. You can't tell that it isn't a solid material.

 For tile backsplashes, make an impact by spending a little more to add some drama tile above the cook top. But spend less on surrounding tiles. That can save one-sixth of the price than doing the whole backsplash in expensive material.

HL: Where should you splurge?

SS: On the kitchen island. It's a focal point. Here you could invest in granite, since the island requires a rectangular chunk of material without a lot of cutouts, which is where the labor and expense come in. And then you can say, "I have granite."

Flooring is another place to invest. Get a designer to help you select a product that gives the room a sense of permanence and solidity. Also, people often pick too light a color, which makes it look cheap.

HL: What about green materials-do they have to be expensive?

SS: People are scared about green materials being expensive. But they don't need to be. Many IKEA products, for instance, are green certified. More products, like cost-effective bamboo, will begin appearing at home improvement stores, too.

HL: Why is retrofitting an existing home more cost efficient than building new?

SS: For each $5,000 in energy improvements you spend on a new house, you only get small, incremental gains in energy efficiency. A California energy consulting company study found that retrofitting existing homes with energy-efficient features is four to eight times more carbon and cost efficient than adding energy-efficient features to new housing.

HL: You believe beauty is sustainable. Why?

SS: Beauty is one of the greenest things you can do. If a home is beautiful, it will be looked after by the current homeowner and all those who follow. It's good to create beauty and energy efficiency as you go. If your home is beautiful and comfortable, you'll save money and enjoy it. If it's not beautiful-even if it's energy efficient-someone will tear it down, and that's not green.

See home remodeling articles previouly posted here.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com
 

7 Smart Strategies for Kitchen Remodeling

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

7 Smart Strategies for Kitchen Remodeling

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: John Riha
Published: September 21, 2009

Keep the same footprint, add storage, and design adequate lighting so you preserve value and keep costs on track.

If you're contemplating a kitchen remodel, you're also weighing a considerable investment. But a significant portion of the upfront costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. Kitchen remodels in the $50,000 range recouped 76% of the initial project cost at the home's resale, according to recent data from Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. To make sure you maximize your return, consider these seven smart kitchen remodeling strategies.

1. Establish your priorities

Simple enough? Not so fast. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (http://www.nkba.org) (NKBA) recommends spending at least six months planning before beginning the work. That way, you can thoroughly evaluate your priorities and won't be tempted to change your mind during construction. Contractors often have clauses in their contracts that specify additional costs for amendments to original plans. Planning points to consider include:
 •Avoid traffic jams. A walkway through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide, according to the NKBA. Work aisles for one cook should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.
 •Consider children. Avoid sharp, square corners on countertops, and make sure microwave ovens are installed at the heights recommended by the NKBA-3 inches below the shoulder of the principle user but not more than 54 inches from the floor.
 •Access to the outside. If you want to easily reach entertaining areas, such as a deck or a patio, factor a new exterior door into your plans.

Because planning a kitchen is complex, consider hiring a professional designer. A pro can help make style decisions and foresee potential problems, so you can avoid costly mistakes. In addition, a pro makes sure contractors and installers are sequenced properly so that workflow is cost-effective. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

2. Keep the same footprint

No matter the size and scope of your planned kitchen, you can save major expense by not rearranging walls, and by locating any new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes. Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction, you'll greatly reduce the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

3. Match appliances to your skill level

A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator might make eye-catching centerpieces, but be sure they fit your lifestyle, says Molly Erin McCabe, owner of A Kitchen That Works design firm in Bainbridge Island, Wash. "It's probably the part of a kitchen project where people tend to overspend the most."

The high price is only worth the investment if you're an exceptional cook. Otherwise, save thousands with trusted brands that receive high marks at consumer review websites, like www.ePinions.com (http://www.ePinions.com) and www.amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com), and resources such as Consumer Reports (http://www.consumerreports.org).

4. Create a well-designed lighting scheme
Some guidelines:

 * Install task lighting, such as recessed or track lights, over sinks and food prep areas; assign at least two fixtures per task to eliminate shadows. Under-cabinet lights illuminate clean-up and are great for reading cookbooks. Pendant lights over counters bring the light source close to work surfaces.

* Ambient lighting includes flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights. Consider dimmer switches with ambient lighting to control intensity and mood.

5. Focus on durability

"People are putting more emphasis on functionality and durability in the kitchen," says McCabe. That may mean resisting bargain prices and focusing on products that combine low-maintenance with long warranty periods. "Solid-surface countertops [Corian, Silestone] are a perfect example," adds McCabe. "They may cost a little more, but they're going to look as good in 10 years as they did the day they were installed."

If you're not planning to stay in your house that long, products with substantial warranties can become a selling point. "Individual upgrades don't necessarily give you a 100% return," says Frank Gregoire, a real estate appraiser in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But they can give you an edge when it comes time to market your home for sale" if other for-sale homes have similar features.

6. Add storage, not space

To add storage without bumping out walls:

* Specify upper cabinets that reach the ceiling. They may cost a bit more, but you'll gain valuable storage space. In addition, you won't have to worry about dusting the tops.

* Hang it up. Install small shelving units on unused wall areas, and add narrow spice racks and shelves on the insides of cabinet doors. Use a ceiling-mounted pot rack to keep bulkier pots and pans from cluttering cabinets. Add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

7. Communicate effectively-and often

Having a good rapport (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/) with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. "Poor communication is a leading cause of kitchen projects going sour," says McCabe. To keep the sweetness in your project:
 •Drop by the project during work hours as often as possible. Your presence assures subcontractors and other workers of your commitment to getting good results.
 •Establish a communication routine. Hang a message board on-site where you and the project manager can leave each other daily communiques. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.
 •Set house rules. Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, which bathroom is available, and where workers should park their vehicles.

Consumers spend more money on kitchen remodeling than any other home improvement project, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute (http://www.hiri.org), and with good reason. They're the hub of home life, and a source of pride. With a little strategizing, you can ensure your new kitchen gives you years of satisfaction.

John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He's been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

SeeCharleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

 

Smart Options: Kitchen Flooring

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

Smart Options: Kitchen Flooring
Article From HouseLogic.com

 
By: John Riha
Published: September 16, 2009

 
Choose kitchen flooring that marries your priorities–durability, sustainability, low maintenance, or an open floor plan–with the options.
 
Choosing flooring for your kitchen remodeling project is a critical design decision, one that unites all the elements of your kitchen. Not only that, kitchen flooring must perform extremely well, providing low maintenance, durability, and good looks without breaking your budget. With so many flooring options available, how can you be sure you're getting a product that provides the right combination of price and style-one that will provide years of satisfaction? Weigh the options based on your lifestyle and how you'll use your kitchen.
Chef's choice: Comfort and low maintenance
Top-quality sheet vinyl flooring is ideal for busy cooks. It's a snap to clean up, plus it's completely waterproof and stain-proof. There are few seams to trap dirt or let moisture through to the subfloor, and installations for kitchens less than 12 feet wide (the width of standard sheet vinyl) are seamless. Sheet vinyl requires no ongoing maintenance, so you can spend more time cooking.

Sheet vinyl belongs to a group of flooring products called resilient flooring, which have flexibility and are slightly soft under foot. This characteristic eases muscle fatigue-a plus if you spend a lot of time in your kitchen. Also, resilient floorings are much more forgiving of accidentally dropped glasses and bowls.

Then there's cushioned vinyl, which is backed with a layer of foam-regular sheet vinyl uses felt backing-providing an extra measure of comfort. But its added thickness and flexibility makes it difficult to create seams that stay tightly bonded over time. When your flooring dealer measures your kitchen, be sure to ask if your configuration requires seams. If the answer is yes, consider regular felt-backed vinyl.

You'll find sheet vinyl flooring in many of colors and patterns. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types do an excellent job of mimicking the appearance of ceramic tile and real stone. Textured vinyl provides traction and is a good idea for kitchens where floor surfaces occasionally get wet.

Vinyl flooring includes a "wear layer" on its top surface that helps resist scratches and scuff marks. The trade-off for low maintenance is that the wear layer eventually dulls and you'll likely want to replace it. The best brands offer guarantees on the wear layer of 10-15 years, but good quality vinyl should last 20 years.

Cost: At $1 to $5 per sq.ft., sheet vinyl is one of the least expensive options for kitchen flooring. Installation adds $1 to $2 per sq.ft., depending on the complexity of the project. For a 12 x 16 foot kitchen, you'll spend about $1,000. In general, the thicker the vinyl, the higher the quality and the cost of the product. It's widely available at home improvement centers and flooring stores.
When durability is important
Porcelain flooring tile, a version of common ceramic tile, is the durability champ. It's fired at high temperatures that produce an extremely hard, durable, stain-resistant tile impervious to moisture. In fact, it's so tough it can be used outdoors in virtually any climate.

Like common ceramic tile, porcelain tile comes either unglazed or glazed. The unglazed versions take on the color of their clay mixture, so they have naturally earthy tones. Glazed tiles have a glass-like coating that can be made in virtually any color, and can mimic the look and texture of real stone at a much lower cost than stone. For kitchens, choose porcelain tiles certified as slip-resistant by the Americans with Disabilities Act-the designation should be visible on product literature or packing materials.

Cost: Averages from $1 to $20 per sq.ft.; installation, $5 to $10 per sq.ft. Porcelain tile is widely available at home improvement centers and flooring stores.
Your best green option
Cork is made from tree bark that's harvested every eight to 10 years; it's a sustainable material, meaning the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Countries that produce cork are careful to regulate harvesting practices to ensure future supplies.

Cork has a unique cellular structure that's waterproof and compressible, which makes it a comfortable, moisture-resistant choice. It comes in 12 x 12-inch tiles and 1 x 3-foot planks, each with a unique grain pattern of swirls and speckles. The surface is naturally textured, so cork is slip-resistant as well.

Most cork flooring products come pre-finished. However, they should be resealed every 3 to 4 years to help guard against scratches and prevent moisture from entering the seams between tiles. Both natural wax and polyurethane are good sealers for cork. Choose water-based polyurethane that's non-toxic or has low volatile organic compound content.

Cost: $2-$6 per sq.ft.; installation, $5-$10 per sq.ft.
Hardwood unites an open floor plan
Hardwood flooring, with its unmatched warmth and visual appeal, is a great choice if you have an open floor plan and prefer a single flooring style that creates visual continuity beyond the kitchen. In the kitchen, hardwood provides durability and low-maintenance. Prefinished hardwood is moisture-resistant, although spills should be wiped up immediately.

Hardwood flooring is either solid wood strips or engineered wood planks. Engineered wood has a veneer of real wood backed by layers of less expensive plywood. This construction provides dimensional stability that makes the flooring less susceptible to movement caused by changes in humidity and temperature-a good idea for kitchens.

Increasingly popular bamboo, like hardwood, is glued together to form solid strips or engineered planks. But technically it isn't a hardwood, it's a grass. Bamboo is tough, durable, and green. It can be re-grown quickly and easily. If the environment is a factor in your choice of bamboo flooring, look for products made without urea formaldehyde glues. Costs are comparable to hardwood.
Cost: $3-$8 per sq.ft., although exotic varieties of wood may run as high as $12 per sq.ft. Installation, $5-$12 per sq.ft., depending on the complexity of the job.
John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He's been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Here are additional green features and home renovation ideas.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com
 

6 Backyard Improvement Ideas to Add More Value to Your Home

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

6 Backyard Improvement Ideas to Add More Value to Your Home

If you’re like most homeowners, there is never a shortage of options when it comes to projects around the house. But studies have shown that some of the highest return on household improvements can come from those on the outside, not the inside.

A primary reason is that outside investments can produce curb appeal, which is especially important if you are planning to sell your home. Those same improvements can enhance the enjoyment factor if you and your family plan to stay in your home.

For example, one national industry resource—the National Association of Realtors, reported recently their experience shows a new wood deck produces the second highest return on home improvement investment of any common addition, remodel or replacement project.

However projects don’t have to be big to add value or enjoyment, according to Jimmy Rane, president of Great Southern Wood Preserving, a leading producer of pressure-treated lumber products and maker of YellaWood brand products.

The following popular outside improvement projects will increase the curb appeal or value of a home:

1.  Adirondack chairs:  Uniquely-American classic outdoor furniture is made entirely of wood and has a straight back and seat, which are set at a slant to sit comfortably on a hillside or mountain incline, but still be comfortable at any angle.

2.  Gazebo:  A gazebo can be freestanding or attached to a garden wall, roofed and open on all sizes to provide shade or shelter.

3.  Planters and window boxes:  Planters have become popular because they are both functional and ornamental. Additionally, some can be moved frequently to account for seasonal weather or just to create a change in scenery.

4.  Picnic table:  Picnic tables go well on a patio or a deck, but equally as well on the grass or under a tree in the yard. A traditional picnic table is all in one piece so that it wears well without a lot of maintenance.

5.  Trellis:  A trellis can function as a unique sun screen or it can be the framework for an outdoor hanging garden. Building it with pressure treated lumber can add life by minimizing rotting and other threats.

6.  Trash can corral or compost bin:  While many outdoor projects tend to be cosmetic in nature, here are two ideas that are both practical and pretty. With a trash can corral, you can hide unsightly trash cans and with a compost bin, you can reduce your own carbon footprint in a way that doesn’t take away from the visual appeal of the place.

For more information, visit www.greatsouthernwood.com.

See additional home maintenance, home renovation, and green features here.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

When It Pays to Do It Yourself

Doing home-improvement jobs yourself can be a smart way to save money, but choose the right DIY projects or you'll end up paying dearly.
 
Why pay someone big bucks to do something you can just as easily do yourself? That's the thinking that has gotten more Americans than ever swinging their own hammers. In a recent Time magazine poll, nearly a quarter of people said they were taking on more home-improvement projects themselves-understandably so, when you consider that it usually means a 50% to 75% discount, since all you pay for is materials.

But sometimes doing it yourself costs more than it saves, like when you decide to replace the toilet, end up flooding the basement, and have to pay a pro to fix your mistakes. Or, worse, if you become one of the more than 100,000 people injured each year doing home-improvement jobs. Here are some guidelines for deciding when DIY can save you money and when it could cost you.

Stick to routine maintenance for savings and safety

Seasonal home maintenance (http://www.houselogic.com/categories/maintain-structures-systems/) is ideal work for the DIY weekend warrior, since you can plan tasks in advance and get to them when your schedule allows. Because these are repeat projects, your savings will add up to big bucks over the years. Just by mowing your own lawn, for example, you can save $55 to $65 a week for a half-acre lawn during the growing season. The bigger the lot, the bigger the savings: with two acres, you'll pocket around $150 per week.

When It Pays: Look for maintenance jobs that are relatively easy and need to be done regularly, so you can hone your skills over time. In addition to mowing, other good ones are snow removal, pruning shrubs, washing windows, sealing the deck, painting fences, fertilizing the lawn, and replacing air conditioner filters.

When It Doesn't: Unless you have skill and experience on your side, stay off of any ladder taller than six feet; according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov), more than 164,000 people end up in emergency rooms every year because of ladder injuries. The same goes for operating power saws or attempting any major electrical work-it's simply too risky if you don't have the experience.

Act as your own GC on small jobs

If you're more comfortable operating an iPhone than a circular saw, you may be able to act as your own general contractor on a home-improvement project and hire the carpenters, plumbers, and other tradesmen yourself. You'll save 10% to 20% of the job cost, which is the contractor's typical fee.

When it Pays: If it's a small job that requires only two or three different tradesmen, and you have good existing relationships with top-quality professionals in those fields, consider DIY contracting.

When It Doesn't: Unless you have an established network of contacts who will show up as promised, the time to spend on oversight, enough construction experience to spot potential problems, and the skill to negotiate disputes between the various subcontractors, trying to manage your own project can quickly send the schedule and budget off the rails.

Pitch in with sweat equity on big jobs

Contributing your own labor on a big job being handled by a professional crew can cut hundreds or even thousands of dollars off the contractor's bill. Tear the cabinets and appliances out of your old kitchen before the contractor gets started, say, and you might knock $800 off the cost of your remodel, says Dean Bennett, a design/build contractor in Castle Rock, Colorado.

When it Pays: Grunt work-jobs that are labor intensive but require relatively little skill-makes the best homeowner contribution. Offer to do minor interior demolition like removing cabinets and pulling up old flooring, daily jobsite cleanup, product assembly, and simple landscaping like planting foundation shrubs and grass seed around your new addition.

When It Doesn't: If you get in the crew's way, you may slow them down far more than you help. Make your contributions when the workers aren't around, such as in the morning before they arrive, or on nights and weekends after they've left.

Put on some of the finishing touches

Unlike the early phases of a construction job, which require skilled labor to frame walls, install plumbing pipes, and run wiring, many of the finishing touches on a project are comparatively simple and DIY-friendly. If you do the painting yourself for a new basement rec room, for instance, you can easily save $1,800, Bennett says.

When it Pays: If you have the skill-or a patient temperament and an experienced friend to teach you-finish work like setting tile, laying flooring, painting walls, and installing trim are all good DIY jobs.

When It Doesn't: The downside to attempting your own finish work is that the results are very visible. Hammer dents in woodwork, for example, or sander ruts in your hardwood floors may cause you aggravation every time you see them. So unless you have a sure eye and a steady hand, it may not pay to embark on these tasks.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Budgeting for a Remodel

To calculate how much remodel you can afford, follow these four steps: Ballpark the cost, establish a spending limit, make a wish list, and set your priorities.
 
What's on your remodeling wish list? Maybe you're longing for a spa-like master bathroom, a new eat-in kitchen, or a garage with space enough to fit your cars and your outdoor gear. Well, when it comes to home improvements, knowing what you want is the easy part. The tougher question is figuring out how much you can afford. Follow this four-step plan to arrive at the answer.

Ballpark the costs

The first step is to get a handle on how much your remodeling dreams will cost. Remodeling magazine's 2009-10 Cost vs. Value Report (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2008/costvsvalue/national.aspx) gives national averages for 30 common projects. Or you can use a per-square-foot estimate: In general, major upgrades, such as a bathroom remodel or a family-room addition, run $100 to $200 per square foot. Your local National Association of Home Builders (http://www.NAHB.ORG) affiliate can help with estimates. At this point, you're not trying to nail down exact prices, but to get a rough sense of what your project might cost.

Figure out how much you have to spend

Once you have a ballpark cost estimate, the next question is whether you have the money. If you're paying cash, that's pretty easy to answer. But if you're borrowing, you need to assess how much a bank will lend you (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/a-guide-to-equity-loan-options/) and what that loan will add to your monthly expenses.

For the vast majority of homeowners, the best way to borrow for a home improvement is a home equity line of credit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/when-heloc-right-choice/). A HELOC (pronounced HEE-lock) is a loan that's secured by your home equity, which means that it qualifies for a lower rate than other loan types, and you can deduct the interest on your taxes. Because a HELOC is a line of credit rather than a lump-sum loan, it comes with a checkbook that you use to withdraw money as needed, up to the maximum amount of the loan. For help shopping for a HELOC, download our free worksheet.

 The catch is that the minimum payment on a HELOC is just that month's interest; you're not required to pay back any principal. Like only paying the minimum due on a credit card, that's a recipe for getting stuck in debt. Instead, establish your own repayment schedule. You can do this simply by paying 1/60th of the principal (for a five-year paydown) or 1/120th (for 10 years) in addition to the monthly interest. If you can't afford that much, then you should reconsider your project.

Get quotes from contractors

Once you have ballpark estimates of what your job might cost and how much you can spend, you know whether it's feasible to move forward. Assuming the numbers are within shooting range of each other, it's time to get a nuts-and-bolts assessment of project costs.

Don't ask contractors for bids yet, though. First, you need to determine exactly what you want, right down to the kitchen countertop material and the type of faucet. By specifying these details up front, you ensure that contractors are all pricing the same things, rather than the countertop and faucet they assume you want. If you're using an architect or designer, bring them in now to help with these choices. If not, consult magazines, go to showrooms, and visit friends' houses for ideas.

Next, get recommendations for at least three contractors from friends, neighbors, and other tradesmen that you trust. Give each one your project description and specific product lists and request an itemized bid. To make a final decision, assess some of their previous work, their attitudes, and their references, and then choose the contractor who impresses you most.

Prioritize and phase

Take the winning contractor's bid and add a 15% to 20% contingency for the unforeseen problems and changes that occur on every project. Is the total still within your ability to pay? If so, you're ready to get started. If not, it's time to scale back your plans.

Because you have an itemized bid, you can get a good sense of what you'll save by eliminating various aspects of the project. Enlist the contractor's help: Explain that you've decided to hire him (and you're not trying to nickel-and-dime him) but that the bid is over your budget, and ask him to recommend ways to cut costs. He may suggest phasing parts of the job-keeping your old appliances in your new kitchen, for example, because they're easy to upgrade later-or stealing some underutilized square footage for part of your family room to reduce the size of the addition. He may even suggest waiting until the slow winter season, or letting you do some of the work yourself (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/when-it-pays-to-do-it-yourself/). Once the bottom line on the bid matches the bottom line on your budget, you're ready to transform your home.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Tax Credits for Solar Water Heaters

A federal tax credit makes energy-efficient solar water heaters a more affordable and sustainable for many homeowners.
 
A solar water heater uses the renewable thermal energy produced by the sun to warm water for your shower, washing machine, and dishwasher. Better yet, it does it at a fraction of the price of a conventional storage tank water heater. If you take the plunge and purchase a solar water heater, expect to see your home's water-heating bill cut in half.

The financial attraction doesn't end there. A federal energy tax credit that's available through the end of 2016 allows homeowners to shave 30% off the cost of a system. Even new homes and second homes qualify. 

How solar water heaters work

Solar water heaters operate (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=solar_wheat.pr_how_it_works) in one of two ways: either as a direct system or as an indirect system. A direct system warms water by circulating it via pipes through rooftop solar collectors. An indirect system, also known as a closed-loop system, relies on a non-freezing heat transfer liquid.

The liquid is heated in the solar collectors and returns through pipes to a storage tank, where a heat exchanger inside the tank transfers the heat to the water. Most systems rely on electric pumps to move water (or a transfer liquid) between the storage tank and the rooftop solar collectors.

In general, solar water heaters can be used anywhere as long as your roof gets direct sunlight for most of the day. The rooftop collectors should face south. A direct system makes sense in warm climates where temperatures don't fall below freezing. The non-freezing liquid used in an indirect system makes it better suited for cold climates.

You'll need to retain your conventional water heater as a back-up at night, on cloudy days, or anytime a solar water heater's capacity is exceeded. An average person uses about 15 to 20 gallons of water per day, so a family of four would likely need an 80-gallon water heater tank.

The cost of a solar water heater

A solar water heater starts at around $4,000 including installation, though the price tag could double depending on the size, quality, and complexity of the system. Figure it'll take two to four days to install.

There's no cap on the 30% federal tax credit, which applies to systems placed in service between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2016. Solar water heaters must be certified by the Solar Rating & Certification Corp. (http://www.solar-rating.org/) to qualify. States may offer additional incentives. Check the DSIRE database (http://www.dsireusa.org/).

To earn the federal tax credit, at least half of your household's energy for water heating must come from the sun. You can only count money spent on the solar water heater, not the entire heating system. You can't claim the credit if the solar water heater is for a pool or hot tub.

Take the credit on IRS Form 5695 for the year you install the solar water heater. Remember to save receipts and manufacturer certification statements. The credit can't exceed the total amount you owed in federal taxes for the year.

The savings can add up

According to Energy Star, a federal program that promotes energy efficiency, a solar water heater can lower the average household's water-heating costs (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=solar_wheat.pr_savings_benefits) by 50%. If you use a gas water heater, that translates to savings of $190 a year. You'll save $265 annually if you have an electric water heater.

Savings are greater for large families that use a lot of hot water. How quickly you recoup your total investment depends on how much water you use, the amount of sun you get, the performance of your solar water heater, and how much it costs to heat up your water using your existing system.

If you're building a new home or refinancing your mortgage, consider lumping in the cost of a solar water heater with the loan. By spreading the cost (http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=12860) of the system over the life of your mortgage, you can take advantage of the tax deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/deduct-interest-home-equity-loans/) for mortgage interest.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you'll pay an extra $13 to $20 per month to include the cost of a solar water heater in a 30-year mortgage. With the mortgage interest deduction that cost gets reduced by $3 to $5. The difference is about what you should save on your monthly energy bills.

Long life, little TLC

Solar water heaters have a life expectancy of 20 years or more, double that of conventional storage tank water heaters. They typically don't require replacement parts for the first 10 years. It's prudent to hire a qualified contractor to conduct annual inspections, as you might do with a furnace.

You can do your part by making sure the collector is clean, sealings aren't cracked, and fasteners connecting the collector to the roof are tight. Whether for installation or maintenance, look for contractors certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (http://www.nabcep.org).

Solar water heaters not only save money-they save the environment. The DOE says a solar water heater can cut the electric load of your water heater by 2,500 kilowatt hours annually, which prevents 4,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. That's equal to not driving your car for four months a year.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Donna Rivera has written about alternative energy for Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, and Fox Business News for more than a decade. She's currently renovating her house with an eye toward energy efficiency and green technologies.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.
 
To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Tax Credits for Replacing Windows, Doors, and Skylights

If money seems to be escaping through drafty windows, doors, and skylights, this federal tax credit might make energy-efficient replacements more affordable.
 
Does it feel like money is escaping through your home's drafty windows, doors, and skylights? You might be able to keep at least some of that cash in your pocket by taking advantage of federal energy tax credits for retrofitting your house with qualified energy-efficient replacements. You can claim a tax credit of up to $1,500 for upgrading the windows, exterior doors, and skylights in your primary residence during 2009 and 2010.  The credit is based on 30% of the cost of materials, so a $5,000 purchase would max it out. But a tax credit alone isn't reason enough to start calling contractors. Do a little homework first. The true value of replacing aging windows, doors, and skylights isn't always an open-and-shut case.

Follow the 15-year rule for windows

A good rule of thumb for window replacement: Don't bother if they're less than 15 years old, says Jim Rooney, a home inspector in Annapolis, Md. The savings on your energy bills likely will be negligible since window technology hasn't changed that radically and the integrity of your windows should still be intact. Shoddy installation or poor manufacturing may call for exceptions to the 15-year rule. Windows that are 20, 30, or more years old are prime candidates for replacement.

Most of your focus should be on windows, since they're more numerous, but skylights are notorious for energy loss too, not to mention water leaks. Exterior doors tend to outlast windows, so keep them unless the upgrade is purely for aesthetic reasons. Besides, weather stripping and snug sweeps can boost the energy efficiency of exterior doors for a whole lot less money.

Adding up the costs-and savings

With windows, doors, and skylights, you get what you pay for. Expect to shell out between $500 and $1,000 per window including installation, or about $10,000 total for a moderately sized house of about 2,000 square feet. New energy-credit-qualified doors and skylights are also in the $500 to $1,000 range, including installation.

Tom Herron, of the National Fenestration Rating Council (http://www.nfrc.org), says products on the higher end of the cost scale are usually better constructed and more energy efficient. NFRC is a non-profit organization that administers the rating and labelling system for the energy performance of windows, doors, and skylights.

It could take years to recoup the upfront costs, but you should see an immediate reduction in your energy bills. In general, you'll save $126 to $465 a year if single-pane windows in a 2,000 square foot house are replaced with tax-credit-eligible windows, according to the Efficient Windows Collaborative, a trade group. That's 15% to 40% off the typical energy bill.

Do my replacements qualify?

A label alone doesn't guarantee your new windows, doors, and skylights qualify for the energy tax credit, but it does provide critical information related to eligibility. To qualify, windows, doors, and skylights must have a U-factor (http://www.efficientwindows.org/ufactor.cfm) of 0.30 or less and a Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (http://www.energycodes.gov/support/shgc_faq.stm) (SHGC) of 0.30 or less. The U-factor measures how well a product prevents heat from escaping, and the SHGC gauges how well a product blocks heat from the sun. Labels also carry information on light transmission, air leakage, and condensation resistance.

Herron, of the NFRC, says about 80% to 85% of the manufacturers in North America provide NFRC labels. All Energy Star qualified windows carry an NFRC label (http://www.nfrc.org/Label.aspx), according to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that promotes energy-efficient products and practices.

Resist the urge to trim costs by purchasing cheaper windows, doors, and skylights with poor U-factor and SHGC ratings. Not only will you miss out on the tax credit, energy bills won't come down much.

Taking advantage of the tax credit

A credit is especially valuable because it directly reduces the amount of tax owed, as opposed to a deduction, which lowers the amount of taxable income. To be eligible for the full credit you must owe more in federal taxes than you're trying to claim. Use IRS Form 5695 to take advantage of the credit, which is cumulative for 2009 and 2010 only. You can't claim $1,500 for each tax year, but you can spread the $1,500 over the two-year period.

Uncle Sam may want proof that your new windows, doors, and skylights meet energy-efficiency standards, so be sure to save receipts, product stickers, and certification statements. The latter can often be found on packaging or manufacturers' web sites. As for receipts, ask contractors to itemize expenses. Installation costs aren't eligible for the credit; only materials are.

Keep in mind that a variety of energy-efficiency improvements to your existing home, including insulation, roofs, and HVAC, count toward the credit limit. You can't claim separate $1,500 credits for each upgrade, nor can you claim the credit for a newly built home. Matt Golden, president and founder of San Francisco-based Sustainable Spaces (http://www.sustainablespaces.com), says homeowners can often lower energy costs for a lot less, and still get the tax credit, by insulating attics (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/save-money-with-insulation-upgrade/) instead.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Gil Rudawsky has been covering business and consumer issues as a reporter and an editor for 18 years, most recently as a deputy editor at the Rocky Mountain News. He lives in a house built in the 1930s, and always keeps the home's character in mind when making upgrades.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

 

Tax Credits for Replacing Heating and Cooling Systems

Upgrading to an energy-efficient heating and cooling system can save hundreds on your utility bills and up to $1,500 on your tax bill.

Replacing an aging heating and cooling system can save you money on energy costs. According to Energy Star, the federal government's program to promote energy-efficient products and practices, the average household spends about $1,900 a year on energy bills, with about half of that amount going toward heating and cooling. Upgrading your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to energy-efficient units can cut utility costs by about 20% or $200 annually, on average. This type of home improvement doesn't come cheap. Prices vary widely based on where you live, unit specifications, and the condition of your home, but figure a high-efficiency furnace will start at around $3,500, including installation, estimates Corbett Lunsford, executive director of Chicago-based Green Dream Group. A standard furnace may cost $2,400. To help offset the price difference, the IRS allows a tax credit worth up to $1,500 on eligible HVAC systems put into service during 2009 or 2010. Consult a tax adviser.

Pay attention to efficiency ratings

To earn an Energy Star rating, furnaces must be more efficient than standard units, with annual fuel utilization efficiency ratings, or AFUE, of 85% for oil furnaces and 90% for gas furnaces. The Energy Star seal of approval alone isn't enough to garner the federal tax credit. Credit-eligible (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index#c3) gas furnaces (either natural gas or propane) must have AFUE ratings of 95% or greater; oil furnaces, 90%. A boiler must have an AFUE of 90%.

Heating by burning a fuel is inherently inefficient. Simply put, high-efficiency furnaces have components that are better designed to get more heat out of the combustion process, Lunsford says. You'll need to hire an HVAC contractor to calculate the size of the equipment needed for your home. Beware bidders who take a one-size-furnace-fits-all approach. Air source heat pumps (http://energystar.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/energystar.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=5799) and advanced main circulating fans can also qualify for the $1,500 tax credit.

Technically, a homeowner could replace either a furnace or a central air-conditioning unit and be eligible for the tax credit. Practically speaking, you probably will have to replace both for the A/C to qualify, says Enesta Jones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most homes have split systems made up of an outdoor condenser and compressor that are connected to an indoor air handler that's part of the furnace. Split systems must have a SEER rating of at least 16 and an EER rating of at least 13. The higher the rating, the more energy efficient the unit will have.  A package A/C system, which houses all of its components outdoors, requires lower ratings.

HVAC's value goes beyond savings

It typically takes about a decade's worth of energy savings to recoup the investment in a new HVAC system, Lunsford says, though that time frame can vary greatly depending on how much fuel prices fluctuate. Less apparent in dollar terms are increasing the comfort level in your home and lowering your household's drain on non-renewable fossil fuels. Then there's the effect on your home's value when it comes time to sell.

You're going to enhance a home's salability by moving to a more energy-efficient heating and cooling system, says Frank Lesh, president of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Indian Head Park, Ill. That doesn't mean adding a $5,000 furnace will add $5,000 to the sale price. Rather, potential buyers are less likely to push for repairs or negotiate a credit if the HVAC is in good shape. Evaluate systems older than 10 years for possible replacement.

But before you do, conduct a wider energy audit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/conduct-your-own-energy-audit/) of your home. Lunsford, also manager of consumer education for the U.S. Green Building Council's Chicago Chapter, says he rarely recommends replacing a furnace as the first step in making a home more energy efficient. Instead, start by sealing it against air leaks. Do-it-yourself caulking and weather-stripping help, as does adding insulation in the attic. Professional air sealing, which is more effective, can cost as much as $5,000 for a large house, he says. The payoff: Energy costs should go down, and you might be able to get by with a smaller HVAC system.

Getting tax credit for your upgrades

The federal energy tax credit is based on 30% of the cost of an eligible HVAC system. Installation charges count too. A $5,000 bill would max out the credit. You'll need to owe more in taxes than you're trying to claim in credits to qualify. Use IRS Form 5695. Save receipts for your records, as well as manufacturers' certification statements. If part of a new HVAC system qualifies for the credit but another part doesn't, ask the contractor to itemize the receipt.

The tax credit is aggregated for all qualifying energy upgrades-insulation, roofs, windows, and so on-so you can't claim separate $1,500 credits for each project. Only improvements to your existing primary residence count. New homes and second homes are excluded.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Suzanne Cosgrove, who spent nine years as an editor at the Chicago Tribune, has written for a number of business and real estate publications. She has a 90-year-old house and a long list of home-improvement projects.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Tax Credits for Adding or Replacing Insulation

Adding insulation is one of the easier and cheaper ways to improve your homes energy efficiency and cut your heating and cooling bills.
 
If putting a dent in your home's heating and cooling bills is a priority, then adding insulation needs to be at the top of your to-do list. It's a relatively affordable home-improvement project, and the savings can be felt almost immediately. Some DIYers can even tackle the project themselves over a weekend.  For a 2,200 square foot home, adding insulation to an attic can cost from $1,000 to $2,500 including labor, depending on how much you put in and how easy it is to install. Effort and expense go up when you add insulation to exterior walls or around hard-to-reach ductwork. A federal energy tax credit worth up to $1,500 can help defray the cost.

It all comes down to R-value

Insulation is measured in R-value, the resistance to heat flow. The higher the number the better the insulating power. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends R-values (http://www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html) between 30 and 60 for most attics. Take a peek in yours. If your insulation is level with or below the attic floor joists, then you probably need more.

There are different types of insulation, including fiberglass, cellulose, mineral wool, spray foam, foam board, and cotton batting. The most familiar is pink fiberglass roll insulation. If you're not sure what's best suited for your home, check with an insulation contractor. Just about all insulation qualifies for the energy tax credit (more below) as long as its primary purpose is to insulate-insulated siding, for example, doesn't count-and it brings your home up to recommended R-value guidelines.  Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table), a joint program of the DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, suggests R-38 insulation for most attics (or about 12-15 inches, depending on the insulation type). In colder climates, R-49 may be required. The DOE's online calculator (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs%2bwalls/insulation/ins_16.html) can recommend R-values for all areas of your home's "envelope": attic, walls, floors, basement, and crawl spaces.

Generally, most homes built before 1980 have inadequate insulation. The easiest insulation to add is blown loose-fill insulation. You'll probably need to hire a contractor. Since insulating an attic isn't too complicated, you can get quotes-at least three-by phone. However, get a copy of the quote in writing before work starts, and be sure it specifies R-value. Michael Kwart, executive director of the Insulation Contractors Association of America (http://www.insulate.org/), recommends rolled insulation for do-it-yourselfers. New insulation can be added on top of existing insulation.

Savings and sustainability can add up

Depending on where you live and how much insulation you already have, adding more can trim heating and cooling costs anywhere from 10% to 50%. A homeowner in the Northeast with an uninsulated attic, for instance, can save about $600 a year by adding about 15 inches of insulation (R-38) between the rafters, according to the Energy Department. Just 6 inches can net annual savings of about $200.

The $1,500 federal tax credit (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index) can be applied toward 30% of the cost of insulation installed in your primary residence during 2009 and 2010. Let's say you spend $1,760 on enough R-38 roll fiberglass to insulate the attic of your 2,200 square foot home. That's $40 per 50 square feet retail, a fair estimate. You'll be able to subtract $528 (30% of $1,760) straight off the top of your tax bill, as long as you paid more in federal taxes than you're claiming in credits. Since a typical homeowner won't be able to use up the entire tax credit on insulation alone, the remainder can be applied to other qualifying energy-efficiency upgrades like new windows (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/tax-credits-replacing-windows-doors-and-skylights/) or roofing (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/tax-credits-replacing-your-roof/). Just keep in mind that the total credit claimed for all of these improvements can't exceed $1,500 for the two-year period.

Save receipts, and if a contractor did the work, get a receipt that's itemized. Labor costs, typically 25% of the total bill, according to Kwart, don't count toward the tax credit. There's no need to file receipts when you claim the credit on Form 5695, but the IRS could ask you to cough one up later. Also hold on to product stickers from packaging that show R-values and manufacturers' certification statements that attest to tax-credit worthiness. Check manufacturers' websites for a copy of the statement. If you're building a new home, you're out of luck; only existing homes qualify for this tax credit, which can't be carried over into future years.

Adding insulation is just the beginning

In conjunction with adding new insulation, conduct a whole-house energy audit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/paid-energy-audits-the-costs-and-benefits/) to find other ways to reduce power consumption and save even more on monthly bills. Caulk around drafty windows and doors, and stop gaps in siding and the foundation, says Matt Golden, president and founder of San Francisco-based Sustainable Spaces (http://www.sustainablespaces.com/). Reducing a home's air leakage by 25% can lower annual energy costs by about $300, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (http://www.lbl.gov/).

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Gil Rudawsky has been covering business and consumer issues as a reporter and an editor for 18 years, most recently as a business editor at the Rocky Mountain News. He lives in a house built in the 1930s, and always keeps the home's character in mind when making upgrades.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Tax Credits for Replacing Your Roof

Upgrading to a qualifying energy-efficient metal or asphalt roof can cut your cooling bill as well as knock off up to $1,500 from your tax bill. 

The roof of your house protects against more than rain. The sun's rays beat down relentlessly, especially during summer. The intense heat can raise the temperature inside your home. Proper venting and insulation help keep the cool air in and the warm air out. So, too, do energy-efficient roofing materials, which take the brunt of the solar onslaught. Uncle Sam is encouraging homeowners to improve the roofs of their primary residences with a tax credit worth up to $1,500.  During 2009 and 2010, you can claim a credit for 30% of the cost of qualifying asphalt or metal roofing materials. The credit, which should be taken on IRS Form 5695 for the tax year in which the work is completed, can be split between 2009 and 2010 but can't exceed $1,500 total for both years. You can't claim more in credits than you owe in taxes.

Metal vs. asphalt roofs

To qualify for the tax credit, you must use either metal or asphalt roofing materials that are designed to reduce heat gain-the amount of heat transferred into a home-and meet the requirements of Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov), a federal program that promotes energy-efficient products and practices. Metal roofs must have appropriate pigmented coatings and asphalt roofs must have appropriate cooling granules. Asphalt materials can be either traditional shingles or modified bitumen (rolled asphalt sheets). Energy Star has a list (http://downloads.energystar.gov/bi/qplist/roofs_prod_list.pdf) of all of its approved roofing products, but only the metal and asphalt materials may qualify for the tax credit.

It's a good idea to hang on to manufacturers' certification statements (http://www.gerardusa.com/Energy%20Star/ESTaxCert.pdf) that attest to the tax credit-worthiness of the roofing materials you purchase. These can usually be found on product packaging or company websites. You don't need to file these with your tax return, but the IRS could ask for them later. Consult a tax adviser.

Dean Kucharski, a 22-year veteran of the roofing business in Pontiac, Mich., estimates that for a typical 2,200-square-foot home, a mid-range asphalt roof will run about $7,000 to $12,000, including labor. The good news is that it will likely last 20 years or more. For a metal roof, expect to pay twice as much, though it can last for 50 years, he says. If you hire a contractor, get an itemized bill that breaks out the cost of materials since labor doesn't count toward the tax credit. Materials should account for about half the bill on standard roofing jobs.

How much roof do I have?

You can get a rough estimate of how much roofing material you'll need by figuring the square footage of the footprint of your home and adding about one-third more to account for roof pitch, overhangs, dormers, gables, and so on. Roofing contractors often quote in terms of "squares." One square equals 100 square feet. So if a roofer says your house is 20 squares, it means it's roughly 2,000 square feet-20 times 100.

Once you're ready to pick a roof type, Kucharski suggests talking to an area building wholesaler or a company that specializes in roofing materials. It's important to consult with someone who knows what types of materials are appropriate for a given region's climate. Big-box retailers may not have as wide a selection or knowledgeable staff.

Finding a good roofer entails the same steps as finding any qualified contractor: ask neighbors for recommendations, collect at least three bids, check references, and get everything in writing. Craig Silvertooth, executive director of the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing (http://www.roofingcenter.org/), recommends finding a contractor through the National Roofing Contractors Association (http://www.nrca.net/), which has about 4,000 members.

Save on cooling bills

You'll get the most bang for your roof-renovation buck if you live in a hot climate, namely the South and Southwest. Expect to save between 7% and 15% on your cooling costs with energy-efficient roofing materials, says Michelle Van Tijen of the Cool Roofs Rating Council (http://www.coolroofs.org/). If you pay $300 a month to cool your home, figure you'll cut your monthly bill by up to $45.

Ironically, with roofs there is such a thing as being too energy efficient. In winter months, roofing materials with very high heat-deflecting qualities can increase heating bills. However, you're more than likely to make up the difference on your air-conditioning costs. That's especially true if you live in an area where you run your air conditioner much of the year.

Think hard before replacing a roof that's in perfectly good shape. Consider instead a roof coating, a material painted over your existing roof that offers insulation and sun reflection, says Silvertooth. Roof coating costs about 75% less than replacing a roof, though it doesn't qualify for the tax credit. Another affordable way to save on cooling costs that doesn't even involve the roof is to add more insulation (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/tax-credits-adding-or-replacing-insulation/) to your attic.  This home-improvement project can even be tackled by weekend warriors, and it qualifies for a federal tax credit.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Gil Rudawsky has been covering business and consumer issues as a reporter and an editor for 18 years, most recently as a business editor at the Rocky Mountain News. He lives in a house built in the 1930s, and always keeps the home's character in mind when making upgrades.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.
 
To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

5 Questions (and Answers) About Adding a Fireplace

If you want to add a fireplace to your existing home, ask yourself what value it brings to you and your property.  About half of the 40 million homes constructed in the U.S. since 1973 were built without a fireplace, and yet consumer study after homebuyer survey indicate that the majority of people want one and are willing to pay extra to have it. For homeowners considering adding a fireplace to their existing home, here are answers to the key questions you need to ask to determine if a fireplace is right for you.

1. Is it possible?

With the variety of fireplace options available today, from traditional wood-burning masonry to wall-mounted ventless units, it would be difficult to imagine a situation in which it would be entirely impossible to add a fireplace of some sort.  That being said, local interpretations and enforcement of building codes may dictate details such as the chimney height, the construction of the firebox and flue, minimum clearances around vent pipes, and limits on fireplace emissions–all of which narrows your choices. You'll need to check with your city or county building department, many of which have current code information online. You also can check state and local building codes at ww.statelocalgov.net (http://www.statelocalgov.net) .  There's also the question of fuel: If you've got the space to safely store stacks of wood (not against the house–a fire hazard–but within convenient proximity) or an existing source of natural gas or propane, then you'll increase your options.

2. How much will it cost?

Costs for materials and labor to add a new fireplace can run the gamut from several hundred dollars to $20,000 or more. Among the most popular options, a factory-built gas/propane fireplace unit runs about $2,000 for a basic materials package; add to that at least another $5,000 for the cost to hire professional tradespeople to cut a hole in an exterior wall, frame and build a chimney, install the fireplace, and add a surround and mantle.  Figure on spending about half that or less for a fireplace that vents horizontally through the wall–called a direct-vent fireplace-which eliminates the costs of building a vertical flue and chimney extension, and for simpler finishes around the fireplace opening.

An EPA-qualified wood-burning fireplace (http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/fireplacelist.html), which features doors with air-sealing gaskets to regulate how much indoor air it uses for combustion, therefore saving energy and reducing emissions, may cost upwards of $4,000 per unit. The installation and finishing costs of such units, however, is about the same as the natural gas fireplace. A traditional, open-hearth, wood-burning fireplace–like the ones you see in mountain resort hotels–requires a skilled, professional mason and a budget approaching (and often exceeding) $20,000.

The lower end of the cost spectrum includes so-called "ventless (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-you-need-know-about-ventless-fireplaces/)" gas or gel fireplaces, and those powered by electricity. Expect to spend about $400, plus another $1,000 to have a professional install and finish those that require a dedicated gas or propane line.

When considering costs, factor in on-going expenses for fuel and maintenance, purchase price and installation costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (http://www.energy.gov/), natural gas is the least expensive utility-supplied heating fuel at a national average of $1.42 per therm (a measure of heating value), followed by heating oil and propane; electricity, meanwhile, is nearly twice the average cost per therm of natural gas. Utility rates vary by geographic region, so check with your local suppliers to accurately gauge those costs; your use of the fireplace will impact ongoing fuel expenses as well.

If you have a readily available (and thus cheap) source of wood (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/buying-and-storing-fireplace-fuel/), ideally on your own property, it probably trumps the cost of any utility-supplied source. Wood and natural gas are by far the most popular fireplace fuels, combining for 83% of the market, according to the National Association of Homebuilders Research Center.

An annual service contract with a professional fireplace or chimney inspector, around $150, is a relatively inexpensive way to maintain your fireplace with confidence.

3. Will I recoup my up-front costs?

A fireplace generally isn't calculated separately in a professional home appraisal, though real estate salespeople often consider it to be a hot button among potential buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors(r)' 2007 Profile of Buyers' Home Feature Preferences, 46% of homebuyers said they would pay extra (a median of $1,220) for a house with at least one fireplace, the most popular "desired feature" in the survey.

Still, says certified appraiser and real estate industry author Mark Rattermann, "Probably the best gauge is to look at the number of newly built homes with fireplaces" to measure whether homebuyers want and are willing to pay for them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/const/C25Ann/sftotalfireplaces.pdf), 53% of new homes built in 2008 included at least one fireplace. That's down from a peak of 66% in 1990, though that drop-off may say more about builders trying to reduce costs than changes in consumer demand, as the latest NAHB consumer preferences survey (http://www.nahb.org/reference_list.aspx?sectionID=137) found that 77% of homebuyers want a fireplace.

Rattermann also suggests homeowners consider a new fireplace in the context of their home's overall value when trying to estimate its payback potential. "A $10,000 fireplace in a $1 million home is well supported in most markets," he says, because it's an expected feature in upscale homes. "But a $10,000 fireplace in a $100,000 home probably isn't valued as much," in the context of other spending priorities at that price point.

4. Where will it go?

If you're thinking payback, put the new fireplace in the most-used room in the house (besides the kitchen). That's usually the family room or great room. But if your goal is personal enjoyment or perhaps the more practical goal of space heating, the best place is where the unit best serves those purposes: to enhance the sitting area of the master bedroom, to heat an office or guest room at the far end of the forced-air system's duct run, or for holiday ambiance in the lesser-used living room.

And don't forget the backyard: About 3 million outdoor fireplaces are installed every year, according to the Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association (http://www.hpba.org/), as part of an overall trend toward more extensive outdoor living spaces. Expect to pay about the same for an outdoor unit, installed, as you would a comparable indoor fireplace, though don't expect the outside unit to be an efficient heating source; rather, more so for ambiance.

5. Is a fireplace energy-efficient?

It's true that a traditional, wood-burning fireplace in a big, open room–while romantic and impressive to guests–is an energy hog by continually sucking conditioned indoor air for combustion and losing most of its heat up the chimney. But sealed units (including those that burn wood) have the mechanics, controls, and venting systems to use outdoor air for combustion, reduce thermal loss, and effectively supplement the home's primary heating system. A fireplace used for "zoned" or small-area space heating can lessen the energy demand on the furnace and reduce utility bills by allowing you to turn down your thermostat when the fire is going.

Theoretically, a series of well-placed and right-sized fireplaces might completely replace an existing home heating system. "A direct-vent gas fireplace is much more efficient as a per-room space-heating option than a traditional central forced-air system (using a furnace)," says Steve Frederickson, a fireplace installation expert and lecturer for Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Education Foundation. "It's very wasteful keeping your whole house at 70 degrees all the time. If everyone used one of these fireplaces to heat just the rooms they use, when they use them, it would cut the residential heating load by 20%-25%."

Rich Binsacca has been writing about housing and home improvement since 1987. He is the author of 12 books on various home-related topics, is currently a contributing editor for Builder and EcoHome magazines, and has written articles to such magazines as Remodeling, Home, and Architectural Record, among several others. He intermittently uses the wood-burning fireplace and the gas-fueled freestanding stove that came with his current home.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210
 
Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

What Your Remodeling Contract Should Say

Review your remodeling contract carefully and adjust it to make sure it protects you in terms of payments, work schedules, and project specifications.

Even if you never intend to pick up a hammer for your remodeling project, there's one tool that's absolutely essential-a solid contract. But just having one often isn't enough. That's because the document a contractor gives you is designed to protect him. It's up to you to add in some basic protections for yourself. Here's what you need to know to make sure the remodeling contract you sign includes solid legal protection for you and your home. 

Hiring a lawyer to review and make changes to a contract is a safe bet, especially since each state has its own construction-contract statutes. But not many homeowners are willing to shell out $500 for an attorney review, plus $1,000 to $1,500 additional fees to make wholesale revisions to a flawed contract. However, you can hand-write changes and additions in plain English and make sure both you and the contractor initial each change to the document, says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry. Here's what you want to add (and subtract).

Project specs

Start by reviewing your contract, a process that should take several hours. The most important element of a contract is a thorough and complete description of the project, and the materials and the products that will be used. "It should say that the contractor will secure all necessary permits and approvals as well as what walls are being moved where, what type of countertops are going in, what type of sink, what type of faucet, and so forth," says Meyer. "You can't rely on everyone's memory because if there's a problem later, people may remember different things." The contract needn't contain these specs on its pages, it can simply refer to the contractor's attached itemized bid. Avoid allowances (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/), which are pools of money set aside for work to be determined later, and which often lead to cost overruns.

Payment schedule

The contract (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/) should also state the total price for the job, and that it's a fixed price-not an estimate. It should provide a schedule of how the payments will be made by linking them to milestones in the work-such as when the foundation, rough plumbing, and electricity will be completed-so you're paying for work only after it's done. "You should always have enough money left to hire someone else to finish the work if need be," says Meyer. In general, the first payment should be no more than 10% of the total job and the final payment should be at least a few thousand dollars to ensure that it's a big enough incentive to get the contractor back for the final niggling details. If you're unsure whether the payment schedule is proportional to the milestones your contractor suggests, ask a friend who's familiar with construction process or consult a construction attorney.

Start and end dates

A contractor's boilerplate contract rarely includes dates for when he will begin work and when he will complete the job, so make sure those details are included. It's not that he'll be penalized if it runs late, only that if you ever have a major problem and need to sue him-or defend yourself from a suit he brings-showing that the contractor is, say, two months behind schedule will help you make your case. The dates needn't be too exacting. If he says it's a six to eight week job, eight or even nine weeks is fine for the contract, says Meyer.

Statement about change orders

Make sure the contract contains a line stating that any changes that will affect the cost of the job must be priced in writing and countersigned by both the contractor and homeowner before that work commences. That ensures that an offhand discussion about a possible change to the project won't result in a huge unforeseen additional cost (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/getting-best-work-contractor/). It also helps you, as the homeowner, keep track of exactly how much you've added to the bottom line, so you can avoid the very common urge to keep expanding the job.

Binding arbitration

Many contractors include a line that says that rather than going through the courts, disputes will be resolved by an arbitrator. Some legal experts feel that this is a quicker and lower-cost solution to problems, so a binding arbitration clause isn't necessarily a problem. What can be trouble is if the contract requires a specific arbitrator. "There are some big, national, well-respected arbitrators, like the American Arbitration Association (http://www.adr.org)," says Meyer. "And there are other questionable arbitrators that always side with the contractor. If a particular arbitrator is specified, I'd do some internet research about the agency to make sure it's legit."

Warranty

Having the contractor's warranty in the contract seems like a good thing, right? Well including it is often actually a technique for limiting how much liability the contractor has. "It's usually loaded up with exclusions and time limits," says Meyer, "and you're actually better off with no mention of warranty at all because then the only limits on his warranty are what's in the state statutes." In other words, keeping the contractor's warranty language in the contract will likely mean you're agreeing to less than what state law provides. For example, state law may specify a longer warranty term than what the contractor's warranty offers. So, unless you're having a lawyer review the contract, strike the warranty clause.

Technicalities

There are numerous state-by-state requirements for construction contracts. He may have to include his contractor's license number, for example, and he may have to include a clause saying you have the right to rescind the contract within a certain time period after signing. And unless you and the contractor sign the document, it doesn't matter what it says-it's not a valid contract.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Getting the Best Work from Your Contractor

Working with a contractor takes effort and know-how in order to keep your project on time and on budget.
 
You've chosen a great contractor, you have a clear and well-designed project plan, and now you're ready to sit back and watch your dreams become a reality. Unfortunately, the hardest part of your job has yet to begin. No matter whom you've hired to construct your home improvement project, you're going to have to actively manage the process in order to keep it on target, on time, and on budget.  Get apathetic or lose your focus for even a single day and you may pay for it-quite literally. Here's what you need to know to stay organized and maintain strong communications with your contractor and construction team.

Avoid allowances

An allowance is a line item in the contractor's bid for something that's yet to be determined. Let's say you haven't chosen your plumbing hardware for your new master bathroom or the decking you'll use for your new three-season porch. The contractor will put a number in the budget as a placeholder. But with such a wide range of price points for these products, his guess may be far lower than what you wind up spending, which can lead to cost overruns. Try to eliminate allowances by sorting out all of your material and product selections before the contractor gives you an itemized bid (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/five-essential-questions-ask-before-hiring-contractor/) for the job. Otherwise, at least do enough shopping to give the contractor an accurate ballpark price for the materials you're considering.

Establish a communication routine

Ask the contractor how he prefers to communicate with you. Depending on the size of the job and how his team operates, he may say that he'll be on site to talk with you every morning before you leave for work. He may give you his cell phone number and say, "call me anytime," or tell you that his foreman can handle whatever comes up. In any case, try to meet with the project leader at least once a day. This is an opportunity for you to hear progress reports and find out what work is scheduled over the coming days-and to ask your questions and voice any concerns you have.

Keep a project journal

Part scrapbook, part diary, part to-do list, a project journal will help you stay organized. Use a notebook to record progress, note things you want to ask your contractor, jot down ideas, record product order numbers, and anything else that comes along. It'll help you keep things on track, communicate with the team, and provide a record of exactly who said what when-which could help you iron out disagreements later on.

Track all changes in writing

No matter how thorough your planning is, your home improvement job will inevitably evolve as it moves along. You may encounter unforeseen structural issues, or you may decide to include additional work as you see the project take shape. Any good contractor can handle these changes-just make sure that he bids them in writing first. Tell the contractor at the outset (and put in the contract (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-remodeling-contract-should-say/) ) that you want to sign off on written change orders for anything that's going to add to the bottom line of the job. That means he has to give you a bid (a description of the change and a fixed price for what it will cost) and you both have to sign it before the work is done. This eliminates the risk of expensive changes happening without clear communication about how much more you're spending, and it helps you keep track your bottom line from one change to the next.

Check their work

It's much easier to nip problems in the bud than to undo mistakes after the fact, so try to be proactive about checking your contractor's work. As fixtures arrive on site, compare the model numbers on the boxes against your receipts, invoices, and the contractor's bid to ensure that the right product was delivered. As walls get framed, check their locations and the locations of window and door openings against the blueprints. To the extent that it's possible, conduct these investigations after hours or during lunch breaks so you don't seem like you're looking over the workers' shoulders (even though you are).

Pay only for completed work

Money is power. As soon as you've paid the contractor, you no longer have the upper hand, so it's crucial that you keep the payment schedule in line with the work schedule. The contract (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-remodeling-contract-should-say/) should establish a series of payments to be made when certain aspects of the job are completed. For example, your contract could stipulate that you'll pay in three equal installments, with the last payment to be made after the project is complete, and after you and your contractor agree the work is satisfactory. Never put down more than 10% upfront; that's too much cash to hand over before any work is complete. Your contractor should be able to get any necessary supplies on credit.

Be a good customer

One of the best ways to get quality work out of a construction crew is to make them enjoy working for you. That means being decisive with the contractor-and giving him a check promptly at the agreed-to points in the project. It also means being friendly and accommodating of the workers in your house: designating a bathroom that they can use, greeting them by name each morning, and perhaps serving them cold lemonade on a hot day. Complimenting their work (as long as you feel it's worthy of praise) can be a great way to motivate them to do their best for you.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.
As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

You're ready to remodel but you want to make sure you get the best contractor for the job.  Here’s what to ask the candidates before you decide.
  
For all of the excitement of choosing plumbing fixtures, cabinets, and tiles for a remodeling project, the most important decision you make won't involve color swatches or glossy brochures. It's the contractor you pick that makes or breaks the job. That choice will determine the quality of the craftsmanship, the timeliness of the work, and the amount of emotional and financial stress the process puts on you. To make sure you're getting the best contractor for the job, here are five questions to ask the candidates.

You're ready to remodel but you want to make sure you get the best contractor for the job.  Here’s what to ask the candidates before you decide.

1. Would you please itemize your bid?

Many contractors prefer to give you a single, bottom-line price for your project, but this puts you in the dark about what they're charging for each aspect of the job. For example, let's say the original plan calls for beadboard wainscot in your bathroom, but you decide not to install it after all. How much should you be credited for eliminating that work? With a single bottom-line price, you have no way to know.

On the other hand, if you get an itemized bid, it'll show the costs for all of the various elements of the job-demolition, framing, plumbing, electrical, tile, fixtures, and so forth. That makes it easier to compare different contractors' prices and see where the discrepancies are. If you need to cut the project costs, you can easily assess your options. Plus, an itemized bid becomes valuable documentation about the exact scope of the project, which may eliminate disputes later.

The contractor shouldn't give you a hard time about itemizing his bid. He has to figure out his total price line by line anyway, so you're not asking him to do more work, only to share the details. If he resists, it means he wants to withhold important information about his bid-a red flag for sure.

2. Is your bid an estimate or a fixed price?

Homeowners generally assume that the bid they're seeing is a fixed price, but some contractors treat their proposals as estimates, meaning bills could wind up being higher in the end. If he calls it an estimate, request a fixed price bid instead. If he says he can't offer a fixed price because there are too many unknowns about the job, then eliminate the unknowns.

"Have him open up a wall to check the structure he's unsure about or go back to your architect and solidify the design plans," says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry. If you simply cannot resolve the unknowns he's concerned about, have the project specs describe what he expects to do-and if he needs to do additional work later, you can do a change order (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/what-remodeling-contract-should-say/) (a written mini-bid for new work).

3. How long have you been doing business in this town?

A contractor who's been plying his trade locally for 5 or 10 years has an established network of subcontractors and suppliers in the area and a local reputation to uphold. That makes him a safer bet than a contractor who's either new to the business or new to the area-or who's planning to commute to your job from 50 miles away.

You want to see a nearby address (not a PO box) on his business card-and should ask him to include one or two of his earliest clients on your list of references. This will help you verify that he hasn't just recently hung his shingle-and will give you perspective from a homeowner who has lived with the contractor's work for years. After all, the test of a quality job, whether it's a bluestone patio or a family room addition, is how well it stands the test of time.

4. Who are your main suppliers?

You've found a few potential contractors, you've talked to the happy former clients on each of their reference lists, now it's time for one additional bit of homework: talking to their primary suppliers. There's no better reference for a tile setter, for example, than his preferred tile shop; for a general contractor than his favorite lumberyard or home center pro desk; for a plumber than the kitchen and bath showroom where he's on a first name basis.

The proprietors of these shops know a contractor's professional reputation, whether he has left a trail of unhappy customers in his wake, if he's reliable about paying his bills-and whether he's someone you'll want to hire. The contractor should have absolutely no qualms about telling you where he gets his materials, as long as he's an upstanding customer.

5. I'd like to meet the job foreman-can you take me to a project he's running?

Many contractors don't actually swing hammers. They spend their days bidding new work and managing their various jobs and workers. In some cases, the contractor you hire may not visit the jobsite every day-or may not even show himself again after you've signed the contract. So the job foreman-the one who's working on your project every day-is actually the most important member of your team.

Meeting him in person and seeing a job that he's running should give you a feel for whether he's someone you want managing your project. Plus, it gives the general contractor an incentive to assign you one of his better crews since you're more likely to hire him if you see his A Team. If the contractor says he'll be running the job himself, ask whether he'll be there every day. Again, he'll want to give you a positive response-something you can hold him to later on.

It's not only the answers to these questions that will help you judge potential contractors-it's the way they answer them. Were they easy to talk to and forthcoming with details or did they hem and haw and make you ask more than once? Difficulty communicating now means difficulty communicating on the job later. But clear, timely and thoughtful responses-combined with terrific references, great completed work that you've seen, and a smart take on your project-may mean you've found the right pro for your job.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

12 Things to Know When Hiring a Remodeling Contractor

 1. Get at least three written estimates.

2. Check references. If possible, view earlier jobs the contractor completed.
 
3. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau for complaints.
 
4. Be sure the contract states exactly what is to be done and how change orders will be handled.
 
5. Make as small of a down payment as possible so you won’t lose a lot if the contractor fails to complete the job.
 
6. Be sure that the contractor has the necessary permits, licenses, and insurance.
 
7. Check that the contract states when the work will be completed and what recourse you have if it isn’t. Also, remember that in many instances you can cancel a contract within three business days of signing it.
 
8. Ask if the contractor’s workers will do the entire job or whether subcontractors will be involved too.
 
9. Get the contractor to indemnify you if work does not meet any local building codes or regulations.
 
10. Be sure that the contract specifies the contractor will clean up after the job and be responsible for any damage.
 
11. Guarantee that the materials that will be used meet your specifications.
 
12. Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the work.
 
As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.
 
Sincerely,
"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com