Seth Lynn

Cell: 404.229.2100


Fax: 404.795.9079


Mailing Address:
Penguin Properties, C/O The UPS Store,
2897 North Druid Hills Road, Box #341
Atlanta, GA 30329


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The latest news from AOL Real Estate - Blog

Comparing a $13.9 Million Home to a $139 Million Home

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Zillow via Credit.comOne of these homes was listed for $139 million, and the other for a mere $13.9 million. Can you tell which is which?

By Michael Schreiber

Perusing homes out of one's price range online may as well be a national pastime in America. Who doesn't love imagining what it would be like to live someplace palatial, or even just gawk at these monster homes and their even bigger price tags?

In the world of real estate, however, there's expensive and then there's insanely expensive. The Credit.com team decided to take a look at two homes for this article, one of which is way out of our price range, the other of which is way, way, way, way, waaaaaaaaaay out of our price range.

(Or maybe one of these is within your price range. This calculator can tell you how much house you can afford, and this free credit scoring tool can tell you where you stand in case you'd like to apply for a mortgage for either of these fine homes -- or any home, really.)

The former is a seven-bedroom, nine-bath Florida home in Coral Gables, selling for $13.9 million. The latter is an 11-bedroom, 17-bath house, just up the road in Hillsboro Beach. The Hillsboro mansion was on the market for a mere $139 million before the listing was removed -- perhaps indicating a sale, or perhaps a change of heart by the seller.

We wanted to see what the real difference is between the two places. Is the Hillsboro Beach place really 10 times the house? How could one even arrive at that price?

Who are we kidding? We really just wanted to look at the pretty pictures.

Let's Start with the "Small" Place

Zillow via Credit.com

According to the listing on Zillow, here are the basics for the $13.9 million property in Coral Gables.

  • Seven bedrooms.
  • Nine bathrooms.
  • 12,636 square feet.
  • 2.07-acre lot.
  • Built in 1999.
  • Price per square foot: $1,104.
  • 2014 property taxes: $96,863.
  • Parking: attached garage, four spaces.

And here are some of the highlights from description:

"A foyer with a grand chandelier and 28-foot ceilings opens to a formal living room with 30-foot tall ceilings....

"Perfectly manicured gardens permeate the scenery, and are complemented by a babbling brook, a resort-style pool with waterfall bridge, a sophisticated cabana with gourmet summer kitchen...

"While the canal does not support a large vessel, the estate comes with a deeded boat slip allowing up to a 60-foot yacht.

"Two downstairs wet bars, including one in a library lounge offers plenty of variety for entertaining...

"Across the hall from the library lounge is a home cinema....

"Take the elevator or the stairs to the second floor where a split plan finds the master suite set away from the other bedrooms.

"Special features include a 80 (kilowatt) generator with two buried 1,000 gallon propane tanks, mosquito misting system."

So What Could $139 Million Get You?

Zillow via Credit.com

For those of you with $139 million burning a hole in your pocket, here are the basics of the Hillsboro Beach property also known as "Le Palais Royal" that recently was pulled from the market. The listing is courtesy of Zillow.

  • 11 bedrooms.
  • 17 bathrooms.
  • 41,774 square feet.
  • 2.48-acre lot.
  • Built in 2014.
  • Price per square foot: $3,327.
  • 2014 property taxes: $143,855.
  • Parking: attached garage, 30 spaces.

And here are some excerpts from the description of the house featured on Le Palais Royal's dedicated website.

"On one side of your very own private 465 [feet] of Atlantic beachfront and on the other side be romanced at the view of your yacht docked on 492 feet on the [Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway]....

"Custom designed doors...with 22-karat gold leafing, opening beneath the grand [staircase]... taking craftsmen more than two years to realize with an investment of $2 Million....

"The first-ever IMAX Theater contracted for private use... seating 18 along with a complete bar and IMAX lounge giving guests a unique experience....

"A 4,500-sq. ft. infinity edge La Piscine with a 12-ft cascading waterfall, a double-loop, LED-lit waterslide which plunges into the pool....

"An outdoor Jacuzzi is positioned above the waterfall allowing complete panoramic sea views....

"You may enter the Spa Privé massage room, as well as, access the outdoor Cuisine d'été furnished with its very own Four à Pizza and outdoor lounge...."

So which one will you take?

 

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Posted on 31 August 2015 | 2:37 am

How to Get a Chef-Worthy Kitchen for $50,000 or Less

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Trulia


By Brie Dyas

Even grilled cheese tastes better when made in a stylish kitchen.

For those who love to cook, a gourmet kitchen is the dream. However, unlike a living room or bedroom, this space is much harder to remodel. Kitchens can't be rearranged at whim, cabinets can't be easily changed, and counters -- well, there's very little you can do to hide 1980s laminate countertops. (Their existence is proof that not everything comes back in fashion.)

But don't shelve your dream just yet. It's possible to get a luxurious look for under $50,000, which is close to the average price spent on a budget kitchen remodel. We asked designers where they'd splurge, where they'd save, and other projects to consider for a space worthy of your culinary creations.

Before you start, carefully consider the space and your lifestyle.

"Design your kitchen for the way you live 90% of the time," says high-end kitchen designer Karen Williams. "Not the holidays or a visit from the in-laws."

She ranks the overall layout as the most important element in a kitchen renovation. "Good design is good design. A proper prep center, cooking, and cleanup [space] is essential." So before you get carried away on Pinterest, think more about the layout that best suits your daily habits rather than, say, Gwyneth Paltrow's.

Making a list of your main concerns will be invaluable for efficiently communicating with a designer. "Share your ideas and priorities by listing them top to bottom," says Sandra Brannock, principal at Expert Kitchen Designs. "Listen to the kitchen designer and ask for clarification if you are unsure about the design direction. If it is suggested something you want is not cost-worthy, listen and heed this advice."


Where to Splurge on Your Kitchen Remodel?

Trulia

Cabinets: Estimated Cost of $20,000-$25,000*

"The materials you choose for the kitchen cabinets will define the style," says designer Natalie Kraiem. "If you are going for a modern look, I love to use high-gloss or matte lacquer or frosted glass in a solid color. If you want to achieve a richer look, then go with wood veneers. You could use laminates for a similar but less expensive look."

Lifestyle also plays an important role in selecting materials. "Cabinetry will endure the most abuse, so look for all-plywood construction along with a superior finish and top-notch door and drawer hardware," advises Brannock. "Your investment will require 20 percent to 30 percent more upfront, but the obvious return will be realized five or more years later when your cabinetry looks and feels as great as when it was first installed."

Brannock has a few recommendations if you're looking to trim costs: "Opting for cabinets with MDF construction will save you approximately 12 percent. Oak, knotty alder, and hickory are no-upcharge wood species that will save you 6 percent to 22 percent. Consider high-pressure laminate for a contemporary look."

Appliances: Estimated Cost of $10,000-$14,000

Obvious as it may be, quality appliances are key to the gourmet kitchen. Kraiem likes side-by-side refrigerator and freezer models that offer custom panel options, which can blend in with your cabinets for a seamless look. A high-end dishwasher is also a luxury worth looking into, especially if it also offers the custom panel option. Hoods can be customized to suit the overall design.

If you're currently using an electric range, don't worry about converting to gas for a pro-caliber kitchen. Instead, replace the old stove with an induction model. "There are many high-end professional kitchens using this marvelous method," Brannock says. "It is instantaneous, efficient, and also minimizes the extra heat generated in a hardworking kitchen."

Luxe Details

Accessories have a big impact in a kitchen. "I like to splurge on hardware," Williams says. "It should look good to the eye and feel good to the hand. You see it and touch it every day."

Expanding Storage Options

Clutter can cramp the style of even the fanciest kitchen. However, you'll want to go for storage options that suit your kitchen.

"Extra deep drawers can be a blessing or a curse if not thought through for one's individual needs," Brannock says. "If incorporating them, consider a smaller hidden drawer above them or a narrow partition to house smaller items such as lids or food processor accoutrements so all the space is utilized. These drawers add $200-plus each but are totally worth it."

She also says that shallow-depth base cabinetry (13 to 18 inches deep) is especially cost-effective and can fit most people's storage needs.


Where to Save on Your Kitchen Remodel?

Trulia

Backsplash and Countertop: Estimated cost of $7,000

Renewed interest in marble means other natural materials can be found for a bargain. "With the popularity of white marble right now, granite may be a good choice. The marble yards have an overstock of the material and are usually offering to make a good deal," Williams says. "Stay with the softer, neutral tones so your kitchen won't look outdated."

Additionally, new designs in porcelain present another cost-effective yet stylish option for counters, floors, and other surfaces.

Since a backsplash tends to cover a smaller space, it's easier to cut costs here. "I tend to like to use the same countertop and backsplash material for a modern look. In this case, quartz is great because it doesn't stain or get damaged easily," Kraiem says. "I also like to use frosted glass or stainless steel for a unique look that's not so expensive." For more traditional kitchens, a tile or mosaic backsplash is the most budget-friendly option.

Flooring: Estimated Cost of $2,000

Your flooring is a big element of your kitchen, so it can have a big impact on overall style. "For example, with floors, 24-by-24- or 24-by-48 porcelain tiles in a concrete or minimalist color will 'speak' to those who walk on them as highly sophisticated," Brannock says. "Another option is wide and random-width hardwood flooring such as fumed white oak for a rustic yet timeless elegance." But the square footage here is probably less than in other areas in your home, so it'll be less costly than, say, redoing the floors in the living room.

Miscellaneous items (Faucets, Sink, and Garbage Disposal): estimated cost of $1,000-$1,500

While these smaller elements play an important part in the function of your kitchen, they aren't as noticeable, meaning you can get away with budget-friendly options. "Focus on the look and quality without splurging," Kraiem says.

*Costs for this report were estimated by designer Natalie Kraiem and are based on a 10-by-10 kitchen. Your costs may vary depending on individual design choices.

 

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Posted on 27 August 2015 | 8:58 am

A Decade After Katrina: View 10 Homes Built Since the Storm

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ZillowThis 2,800-square-foot West End home built in 2009 is on the market in New Orleans for $475,000.

By Melissa Allison

It was a decade ago this week that the levees failed in New Orleans, and Hurricane Katrina became one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history.

The beloved city struggled mightily in the aftermath, battling flooding, bureaucracy, and mangled and rotting houses.

Ten years on, there are signs of hope and renewal, including homes on the market that were built after the cataclysm.

West End

6032 Pontchartrain Boulevard, New Orleans
For sale: $475,000

Zillow

A new construction home with a flair for history, this listing features a large front porch, hardwood floors and a Jacuzzi tub.

See more listings in New Orleans' West End.

Touro

3727 Constance St., New Orleans
For sale: $675,000

Zillow

A newly built home just one block from Magazine Street, this home features a master suite with a soaking tub, extra-large shower and a walk-in closet. The floors are made from reclaimed heart of pine.

See more homes for sale in Touro.

Lakeview

6480 Louisville St., New Orleans
For sale: $499,000

Zillow

High ceilings, a covered back porch and an enormous walk-in closet make this 2011 home special. The attic was designed to allow space for two more bedrooms and a bath.

Check out more homes on the market in Lakeview.

Central City

2045 Chippewa St., New Orleans
For sale: $325,000

Zillow

This newly built home features hardwood floors, high ceilings and spacious closets.

Check out more homes on the market in Central City.

Holly Grove

8725 Belfast St., New Orleans
For sale: $179,000

Zillow

This four-bedroom, two-bath home offers an open floor plan and a laundry/mud room that leads to a large raised deck.

Check out more homes on the market in Holly Grove.

Lower Ninth Ward

5201 N Galvez St., New Orleans
For sale: $127,500

Zillow

The hard-hit Ninth Ward is rebuilding, too, with homes like this one, which is being marketed as great for tenants or owner occupancy.

See more homes for sale in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Milneburg

2726 Athis St., New Orleans
For sale: $124,900

Zillow

Built in 2007 on a deep lot, this raised home features wooden floors in the living room and carpet in the four bedrooms. Its location provides easy access to universities and highways.

View more listings in Milneburg.

West End

6601 Fleur De Lis Drive, New Orleans
For sale: $410,000

Zillow

This newly constructed home boasts a breakfast room with bay windows, covered front and back porches and a large master suite with bay windows, wood floors and two closets.

See more homes for sale in the West End.

Navarre

882 Homedale St., New Orleans
For sale: $539,000

Zillow

Built two years ago with lots of character touches, this home includes reclaimed heart-of-pine flooring, one-foot baseboards, encased frame windows and a master bedroom that accesses a private balcony.

View more homes on the market in Navarre.

Lakeview

5934 Vicksburg St., New Orleans
For sale: $580,000

Zillow

Luxury touches abound in this 2,529-square-foot home, including high ceilings, hardwood floors, crown molding and clawfoot bathtubs. There are three fireplaces, a walk-in master closet and a courtyard with a gas fire pit.

Check out what else is for sale in Lakeview.

 

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Posted on 27 August 2015 | 3:07 am

Which States Have the Oldest Homes? You Might Be Surprised

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ZillowThis 1954 California home designed by architect Cliff May has been updated in a retro style.

By Catherine Sherman

Zillow looked at single-family houses built from 1900 to 2014 to see which decades are most represented by the current housing stock. Turns out, many homes in the Northeastern states were built in the '80s. But in California, the '50s remain the dominant decade for homes still standing.

Washington, the nation's capital, is holding strong as the area with the oldest decade -- the 1920s -- most represented today.

  • 1920-1929: District of Columbia
  • 1950-1959: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin
  • 1970-1979: Hawaii, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, West Virginia, Wyoming
  • 1980-1989: Alaska, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia
  • 1990-1999: Delaware, Indiana
  • 2000-2010: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington
Knowing when the largest share of homes was built isn't just a fun piece of trivia. It also provides a window into the character of real estate in your state. Check out some of the most popular styles through the decades.

Zillow

 

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Posted on 21 August 2015 | 11:47 am

Mortgage Rates Remain Low This Week at 3.77%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans were quoted at 3.77 percent this week in Zillow Mortgages' report, unchanged from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed rate fell early in the week, then rose steadily throughout the week before settling Tuesday.

"Mortgage rates fell last week to their lowest levels since May after China's yuan devaluation, but strong U.S. data helped rates quickly recover most of the drop," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "This week, markets will focus on inflation data and commentary from Fed officials about developments in China."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.95 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.76 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for rate trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at current rates.

 

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Posted on 19 August 2015 | 2:36 pm

Nixon's 'Western White House' for Sale for $75 Million

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ZillowKnown as the "Western White House" during Nixon's presidency, the home in San Clemente is privately owned.


By Melissa Allison

The oceanside estate in California where Richard Nixon hosted 17 heads of state and retired to write his memoirs is on the market for $75 million.

Nixon bought the San Clemente home in 1969 and dubbed it "La Casa Pacifica." It was better known during that era as "The Western White House," because the native Californian spent so much time there.

He wasn't the first president to walk the halls of the sprawling estate. Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly used it as a retreat while serving in the 1930s.

Roosevelt also reportedly played poker there with financier Hamilton Cotton, who built the main house in the 1920s, modeling it after a country home in Spain.

Nixon replaced the tennis court with a swimming pool and built a wall around much of the compound.

"It's like owning a big boat on the ocean," the current owner, Allergan Pharmaceuticals founder Gavin Herbert, told the Orange County Register.

The property covers more than five acres and has been featured multiple times in Architectural Digest. It boasts 480 feet of beachfront, where Roosevelt's train used to make unscheduled stops.

The bluffs above the beach were planted with cypress trees to diffuse the late-day sun. Behind them, sprawling lawns abut seaside gardens of various stripes, including rose, English, ornamental and vegetable.

The compound includes a main house that spans 9,000 square feet as well as an entertaining pavilion, a two-bedroom guest house, a swimming pool and -- back again -- a lighted tennis court.

There are nine bedrooms and 11.5 baths throughout the estate, including a single-level main residence with white stucco walls and a two-story tower. It's adorned by wrought-iron flourishes and hand-painted tiles.

The listing agent is Rob Giem of Sotheby's International Realty.

 

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Posted on 18 August 2015 | 10:45 am

Sweltering? Here are 10 Hacks for Living Without AC

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tel aviv   aug 19  baby  talya...
Shutterstock / ChameleonsEye

By Michelle Hainer

No AC? No problem! With these hacks, you can keep cool this summer -- and keep your electric bill down.

When the temperature creeps past 90 degrees on a hot summer day, it's natural to regret the decision to rent a place without air conditioning or own a home without AC installed. But don't despair. With these tips for living without an air conditioner, you can stave off the sweltering heat without paying a sky-high utility bill (or putting in a noisy, energy-sucking window unit).

1. Change the rotation on your ceiling fan to counterclockwise.

It's easier than you think to make this fix (usually your fan will have a little switch on the motor housing that alters its rotation), and doing so will allow the blades to circulate faster, creating a cooler breeze. If you have box fans, turn them around so that they blow hot air out the window.

2. Don't let the light in.

Keeping shades, curtains, or blinds closed can lower the temperature inside your house by up to 20 degrees.

3. Channel your inner MacGyver.

Create a misting effect by placing a metal mixing bowl full of ice in front of a fan. Tilt the bowl so that the fan blows directly onto the ice. When the air hits the cubes, it will release a cool, misty breeze that chills the whole room.

4. Don't close yourself off.

By shutting doors, that is. Keep inside doors open throughout the day, which allows the cool air to circulate throughout your house.

5. Revamp your bedding.

Pack away the flannel sheets (duh) and opt for percale instead, which is more breathable. Mist your sheets with cool water before bedding down for the night (or stick them in the freezer for a few minutes), and invest in a buckwheat pillow, which won't trap heat the way traditional pillows do.

6. And then sleep solo.

Your partner may balk, until he or she realizes how much body heat cuddling creates.

7. Hit up your hot water bottle.

Only this time, stick it in the freezer first and then position it near your feet, which contain many pulse points. If you don't have a hot water bottle, dunk your feet in ice water before turning in.

8. Unplug.

Appliances that are plugged in radiate heat -- even when they're not in use. So unplug what you can. Now is also the time to embrace your grill; turning on the oven on a 100-degree day is only going to make things hotter. But you knew that.

9. Turn off the lights.

Even the most energy-efficient light bulbs give off some heat, so make do with natural light on super-hot days. But still swap out incandescent bulbs for CFLs, which will also lower your energy bill.

10. Lie low.

Literally. Hot air rises, so putting your mattress on the floor can help you stay cool while you slumber. Or if you're feeling outdoorsy but like sleeping with a roof over your head, rig up an indoor hammock, which will increase airflow. Bonus: It may even lull you to sleep, which will make you forget how hot you are.

 

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Posted on 14 August 2015 | 2:14 am

Serena and Venus Williams Sell NYC Loft for $2.1 Million

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Rogers Cup Toronto - Day 2
Getty ImagesWorld No. 1 Serena Williams will attempt to win the Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in New York in September.


By Melissa Allison

Serena Williams raked in more money than almost any other female athlete this year, and now she has a little real estate dough to go with it.

Williams and her sister, Venus, just sold their 1,800-square-foot Manhattan loft for $2.1 million, as first reported by 6sqft. They bought the two-bedroom, one-bath home in 2005.

Serena, the No. 1 ranked women's player in the world, will be attempting to win the Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in New York in September after winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon already this year. But she and Venus will need another place to stay after selling their loft, which they had not been using anyway.

The apartment is set up as a one-bedroom now, with a giant walk-in closet and laundry room.

Situated in the heart of the Fashion District, it has a loft feel, with oak floors and high, beamed ceilings.

It may have lost its famous owners, but the place still has sports ties. The tennis superstars sold it to Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the National Football League to investigate "Deflategate," and his wife, Nina Mitchell Wells, former Secretary of State for New Jersey.

The listing agent was Maria Anguah-Boafo of Douglas Elliman.

AOL Real Estate contributed to this report.

 

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Posted on 13 August 2015 | 9:53 am

Mortgage Rates Remain Low Despite Prospect of September Hike

ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed home loans rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.77 percent, up 2 basis points from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed rate rose Wednesday, then returned to the current rate and stayed there for the rest of the week.

"Mortgage rates temporarily rose last week after [Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta president Dennis Lockhart] said interest rates could increase in September, but ended the week essentially where they started," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "Mortgage rates should move lower as investors seek safety after China devalued the yuan. Friday's Consumer Sentiment data could also move rates toward the end of the week."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.96 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.83 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Posted on 13 August 2015 | 6:09 am

Location, Location, Appreciation: Where Home Buyers Thrived

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Grey small house with porch and white railings with summer landscape.
Artazum/Shutterstock

By Lauren Thompson

When it comes to purchasing a home, timing is everything. Some recent buyers got extraordinarily lucky, and the right time for them to become homeowners coincided with the lowest point in the market since the housing crash.

Zillow analyzed cities with populations over 50,000 and found the luckiest home buyers in America -- those who bought in the right place at the right time and have now seen the highest appreciation growth on their homes. (The analysis tracked home purchases beginning in January 2006).

Here are where the luckiest home buyers in America live and when they purchased their homes:

Courtesy of: Zillow

 

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Posted on 10 August 2015 | 6:47 am

6 Clever New Uses for an Old Pool

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Trulia

By Jill Russell

Swimming pools have many virtues, especially during scorching summers. But they can easily become eyesores -- not to mention money pits -- especially if they leak or have other functional issues.

Instead of going through the costly (and sometimes unsuccessful) process of trying to bring an old swimming pool up to date, why not turn it into an entirely new, seriously cool feature that sets your home apart?

From a detached, lower-level studio space to a fully realized aquaponic farm, here are six smart ideas (some DIY projects and some that require a little professional help) to convert your old swimming pool into something useful, beautiful, or both.

The Sunken Patio

Though part of a rooftop lounge in Midtown Manhattan, this former pool retrofitted as a patio by Future Green Studio holds a lesson for homeowners -- work with the site rather than against it. The final dining area maintains the pool steps, depth indicators, handrails, and even a retooled version of the pool lights, telling the story of the space's origins beautifully.

The Practical Deck

A simple but elegant solution for an unwanted pool? Drain it and build a deck over the top. Work with a landscape pro to design a deck that blends perfectly with the original pool's shape and structure. Not only will it add valuable entertaining square footage to the backyard, but it will also boost your home's value over time.

The Detached Studio

This gorgeous studio by Walk Interior Architecture & Design becomes even more awe-inspiring when you realize it's housed in an old, neglected in-ground pool. The finished space feels at once industrial, modern, and airy, and the solar panel-topped A-frame roof is both functional (preventing water from seeping in) and beautiful.

The Peaceful Pond

If you're imagining spending lazy afternoons surrounded by nature instead of cleaning the pool, think about transforming your pool into a pond. It's the perfect way to invite more wildlife into your yard, and it just makes sense. In the spirit of repurposing, you may even be able to get away with converting the original sand filter into a koi pond filter.

The Water-Wise Garden

A Southern California couple converted their little-used pool into a rainwater harvesting system, as noted by the Los Angeles Times. Now in the pool's place the couple has a stream, small waterfall, and some 100 plants, all fed with rain collected from the roof and stored in underground, recycled-plastic tanks in a system designed by the firm EnviroscapeLA. The resulting garden is luscious and inviting while making the most of the region's scant rainfall.

The Food-Producing Farm

And then there's the family who built a food-producing greenhouse, known as the Garden Pool, in the pit of their former swimming pool. The finished ecosystem includes solar panels and a greenhouse, and produces such varied foods as tilapia (through an aquaponics system), fresh fruits, vegetables and poultry.

While you might not be ready to go full-scale eco-farm, the project proves that an old pool site might be just the spot to pull off the herb-and-veggie garden of your dreams.

 

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Posted on 8 August 2015 | 9:59 am

Mortgage Rates Plunge to 3.75%, Lowest Level Since May

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.


By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.75 percent, down 8 basis points from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropped Friday, then hovered around the current rate for the rest of the week.

"Mortgage rates plummeted last Friday to their lowest level since May after U.S. data showed very weak wage growth in [the second quarter]," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "Looking ahead, since wage growth will be an important consideration in future interest rate hikes, markets will look to this Friday's jobs report for hints about wage trends."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.92 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.72 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for rate trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Posted on 5 August 2015 | 9:24 am

How to Protect Yourself on Short-Term Rental Sites

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colorful balcony over emerald...
Shutterstock / Cheryl CaseyThe gorgeous pictures of a property online might not be exactly what it looks like, or might not be the same place at all.

By Vera Gibbons

While short-term home rental sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway have made finding and listing vacation properties and alternative lodging fast, easy and convenient both for hosts and guests, there are risks involved for both parties.

Here are a few ways to mitigate those risks, whether you're renting a vacation villa or making some extra cash by welcoming paying guests into your home.

DO: Use reputable sites.

Reputable sites not only supply the largest number of rental offerings, but will additionally provide you with some peace of mind because they offer basic security features. Beyond conducting background and address checks, these sites also certify hosts with a proven track record, host community discussions, post uncensored reviews and ban questionable parties.

As a guest, all you have to go on are photos (which may not be verified) and reviews. If a place does not have more than three positive reviews, think twice about staying there.

DO: Have a conversation.

In most cases, conversations between hosts and guests happen through the vacation rental website's messaging system, but if having a phone conversation is an option, go for it. It's a great way to size each other up, and is extremely important if you're doing a home swap, as these exchanges require an enormous amount of trust from both parties.

During the call, note whether the host sounds legitimate and the house they describe matches what's online. If you're talking to a potential guest, consider whether they ask questions a visitor would typically have.

Also pay attention to the types of answers you're getting. For example, if you're a guest and you want to know whether the host has the legal right to rent the apartment to you, listen carefully to their answer. If they seem to be hedging at all, or even seem to be offended by the line of questioning, consider looking elsewhere.

If everything feels "right," however, go ahead with the transaction, keeping in mind that while it's still possible to be scammed over the phone, it's usually easier to fool someone when the communication takes place online.

DON'T: Pay with cash or money order.

Out of all the payment options, credit cards offer the most protection against fraud or wrongful charges. Online money transfer services such as PayPal may also be an option, and can be a good way to go. A personal check may also be fine.

But never pay with cash or money order, since those are the easiest means for the unscrupulous to disappear with your money. Is the host insisting on this type of payment? Rushing you to make a wire transfer? Don't go there.

If cash is required for a cleaning fee or damage deposit, guests should play it safe by postponing this last round of payments until they reach their destination. And get a receipt for the sum rendered.

DO: Prepare for disputes.

Many problems can and do arise. Guests may not show up. Properties may be misrepresented, unsanitary, already occupied, or full of safety hazards like exposed wiring or loose stairs.

Protection policies may not exist, and if they don't, or if they're minimal, you might very well be on your own if something doesn't work out. There is no government or trade agency regulating the advertising of rentals, so proceed with caution.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow or AOL Real Estate.

 

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Posted on 3 August 2015 | 3:17 am

3 Ways to Write a Tempting Offer When Buying a Home

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hand drawing dream home on blue ...
Shutter_M/Shutterstock

By Erika Napoletano

You've found it: the house of your dreams. In fact, you went home last night and played a little game of Where Does the Sofa Go? But before you can say "home sweet home," there's an offer to be made -- and it has to be accepted before you can move that sofa into the living room.

While these three tips don't guarantee your offer will be chosen, they will help you be competitive so you're one step closer to landing your dream home.

1. Carefully consider your approach.

If you think your dream home's listing price is just a place to begin negotiations, think again. First, have a conversation with your real estate agent. Look for similar homes and recent sales in the area.

You can do a little sleuthing on your own by searching Trulia for sold homes -- just be sure to choose a time frame in the past three months for the most accurate results. Comparables will give you a better idea of the seller's asking price in relation to similar properties and help you shape your offer based on property-specific amenities and location.

Next, you should decide how you'll pay for your purchase: cash or financing. Cash offers can sometimes command a lower selling price since there aren't mortgage details to sort through and the closing should go faster. If you're using financing but can offer a quick close (less than 30 days), take that into consideration in your offer price -- your real estate agent may be able to leverage a quick close to sweeten the deal.

If you're thinking of submitting a lowball offer, have a candid conversation with your real estate agent. Agents know the market well and might even know a thing or two about the listing agent through previous sales. There are certain times when a lowball offer might start a favorable negotiation process, but there are many others when it can derail the reality of landing your dream home. If you decide to submit an offer substantially below the listing price, be prepared for a negotiation process -- or a flat-out "no."

When you're ready to make your offer, back it up with everything the seller needs to know. You want them to believe that your offer is the one offer they should look at twice. Be sure to include completed offer paperwork, signatures where they belong, and make sure you're asking for seller concessions that make sense for the market.

2. Weigh the pros and cons of your requests for repairs.

Maybe you're looking to have some of your closing costs covered. Perhaps you just want the old, worn-out carpeting replaced. Asking for seller concessions is a normal part of the offer process, but you need to know what you can reasonably expect.

If you're in a competitive bidding situation, odds are that the seller is going to choose the offer requiring the least amount of work on their part. Work with your real estate professional to make a list of "musts" and "would like" items for the sellers to tackle. You can put these concessions side by side with your offer price and see what makes for the most compelling deal.

Bottom line? If you're entering into a negotiation and something's got to give, your requested concessions are probably the first place to consider revising to stay competitive.

3. Don't be swayed by emotions

One step it's important not to forget in the offer process is setting a maximum price. If you're financing, you will have a purchase ceiling from your mortgage lender, but when the perfect home comes along, it's easy for heartstrings to overrule good financial sense.

How much can you comfortably carry as a mortgage payment each month? (Use a mortgage calculator to get a rough idea.) How much is that home really worth? How long do you plan on staying in the home, and does that justify a higher-than-asking price?

And remember, the tips we're including here are for traditional sales, not short sales or purchases of bank-owned properties. Those types of transactions have nuances all their own.

 

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Posted on 2 August 2015 | 4:09 am

Trump Sells Apartment He Never Lived in for $21 Million

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ZillowA private elevator leads to the five-bedroom, 7.5-bath apartment on the 24th floor of the Trump Park Avenue building.

By Melissa Allison

When he's not stumping for the Republican presidential nomination or making decrees on "The Celebrity Apprentice," Donald Trump still works in real estate -- and he just made a killing on a Manhattan apartment.

Trump sold the nearly 6,200-square-foot dwelling on the 24th floor of his 32-story Trump Park Avenue tower for $21 million, the Wall Street Journal reports. He listed it in 2013 for $35 million and cut the price twice, settling on $24.995 million earlier this month. (However, Trump purchased the entire building in 2001 for $115 million, the Journal reported, and since has converted it into 120 luxury condo units.)

Trump never lived in the just-sold apartment, listing agent Michelle Griffith of Trump International Realty told the Journal. She also said Trump rejected an offer to rent the place for $80,000 a month.

A private elevator leads to the five-bedroom, 7.5-bath space, which boasts high ceilings and lots of windows. Luxurious details include Italian brass doorknobs, custom moldings and a kitchen with marble floors and counter tops.

The master suite features two bathrooms, two walk-in closets and a study.

 

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Posted on 30 July 2015 | 9:56 am

Mortgage Rates Fall to Lowest Level Since Early June

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.83 percent, down 8 basis points from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate moved lower throughout the week before settling at that rate Tuesday.

"Mortgage rates fell last week to their lowest level since early June," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "There is potential for increased rate volatility this week as markets look to Wednesday's Federal Open Market Committee statement and Thursday's GDP report. Rates could move back up if the data are stronger than expected."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.97 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.84 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Posted on 29 July 2015 | 5:13 am

Does Downsizing Add Up?

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BXAR81 Senior Woman in Her Kitchen Senior|Woman|Kitchen; |Optimism|Smiling|65-70; years|70s; adult|Senior; woman|Whites|Kitchen|
Alamy

By Susan Johnston

It's a common bit of retirement advice: Downsize your housing after the kids leave the nest to cut costs. Interestingly, though, many baby boomers have no intentions of downsizing. Nearly two-thirds of boomers surveyed in 2013 by The Demand Institute -- a nonprofit owned by Nielsen -- plan to "age in place" rather than move. Of those who do plan to move, nearly half said they plan to increase the size of their home or pay more for a comparably sized home.

Many people assume that downsizing housing saves money. But does it really?

It can, especially if you're able to cash in on the equity you've built up. But there are a lot of factors that can actually result in higher housing costs once you downsize.

"What we always recommend is to consult with a financial planner to see what your monthly expenses are now and what the expenses may be where you're thinking of moving," says Jeff Stone, a seniors real estate specialist in a Port Washington, New York.

Stone points out that the term downsizing can be, well, a bit of downer.

"Rightsizing, to me, is a better word," he says.

Here's a look at several areas to consider before moving later in life.

Moving Costs

When you move for a job, you might get a relocation package from your employer or load the moving truck with help from a couple of able-bodied friends. But when you move during retirement, you bear those costs, which can be considerable if you're moving a long distance and need to hire professional movers.

"Sometimes with the cost of moving furniture, especially if you're going a longer distance, it can be more feasible to buy new furniture," says Mario Minotti, a partner at Minotti Group Wealth Advisors in Chicago. (Minotti's clients are mainly retirees and pre-retirees, so he has talked through the pros and cons of downsizing with several of them.)

Beyond the cost of physically transporting your belongings, you'll also pay transaction costs on selling an existing home and buying a new one.

"If [a home is] listed with a broker, you pay their commission and will also be paying your attorney fees, closing costs and so forth," Stone says. Many boomers also choose to rent, which comes with a different set of costs.

Storage Costs

Many boomers have amassed -- and grown attached to -- large collections of antiques and other mementos over the course of their lives.

"There's china sets, a lot of antiques and family things that they want to preserve," Minotti says. "A lot of male clients have accumulated a couple of cars, and they're excited that they're going to be able to enjoy them [in retirement], but parking spots can be expensive."

Or, in some cases, "their kids had a bunch of their childhood stuff that they want to preserve for their grandkids," he adds.

One option, if you don't have space for these items, is renting a storage unit. But it doesn't come cheap, especially if you want secure, climate-controlled storage for antiques. The average asking rent for a 10-by-10-foot, climate-controlled storage unit in the U.S. was $151 per month during the fourth quarter last year, according to the Self Storage Association.

Another option is to sell, donate or give to relatives. Unless you have items that are in demand, don't count on making big bucks or getting younger relatives excited about decades-old furniture (a notable exception being college-bound or recently graduated grandchildren furnishing a place on a budget).

An item may provide "a memory but doesn't provide value to someone else," says Chris Abts, president and founder of Cornerstone Retirement Group in Reno, Nevada. "We find many times those just don't have much in the way of value."

Many boomers also lack the energy or discipline for a serious declutter, which has spawned an entire of industry of senior move managers and organizers for hire. "The key would be to downsize the things you've accumulated while you have energy, while you're healthy," Abts says.

 

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Posted on 28 July 2015 | 9:20 am

Home Security Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

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Security Camera,CCTV with orange wall background.
anekoho/Shutterstock A simple video camera often can be installed by the homeowner. Its presence alone is a deterrent to thieves.

By Teresa Mears

You want to keep your home safe from thieves, but you don't want to spend a fortune doing so because, frankly, you don't have a fortune worth stealing.

Technology has significantly brought down the cost of home security systems and home surveillance cameras, many of which you can install yourself. But there are also many low-tech solutions that cost little or nothing that will keep your home safer from intruders.

"Most burglars are just opportunists," says Martin Holloway, owner of Hollotec.com. A security expert who teaches lock-picking and specialized entry techniques to law enforcement and the military, Holloway says burglars are going to "find the easy house."

A professionally installed security system can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, plus $30 or so a month for monitoring. But in the last decade, dozens of do-it-yourself alarm systems have come on the market, some with monitoring options and others that send alerts to you via email or text so you can decide whether to call police. Even a rudimentary system is likely to make a loud noise when an intruder enters the house, and sometimes that's all it takes to scare away a burglar.

"Some of them are almost plug and play," says Holloway, who has a $60 security camera that he installed himself at his home. "I can control it with an app on my phone, and it's great." For a simple DIY security system, you can install cameras inside or outside your house, with a hard drive or cloud storage that collects the video footage so there is something you can review after a break-in.

Neal Scott, an Internet marketing consultant for security companies, cautions homeowners who go the DIY route to make sure they know what they're doing and install the system properly. He says homeowners should also ensure the system includes sensors for doors and windows.

One factor to consider is your insurance company may not grant a discount on your homeowners insurance if the system is not professionally installed, and some municipalities may require installers to be licensed. Good tech support is important, too.

"A technology problem with your smartphone is not a big deal, but a technology program with your security system is," Scott says. And the newest technology may not yet be tested, he warns.

"There an awful lot of time and experience that's gone into professional home security devices," says Scott, who has been working in the security system field since he started at his father's company at age 15. "I'm a proponent of going professional."

Security system or not, cameras or not, there are also free or cheap low-tech solutions that can be surprisingly effective against thieves. Here are seven free or low-cost ways to protect your home:

Use your deadbolt lock. The basic lock on your doorknob isn't really very good, Holloway says. "Many knob locks can be defeated by simply grabbing the knob with, at most, a pipe wrench or with, at the least, two hands and twisting hard," he says. "The internal locking mechanism shears and the door can be opened, and this can all happen in a matter of seconds. This is an old burglar trick." Deadbolts are harder to defeat, and a cheap deadbolt is as good as an expensive one. "The lock isn't going to break, but it's the doorjamb and the wood around the door that's going to break," Holloway says.

Protect your garage door. Garage doors have a pull cord that can be used to open them if the power is out. A burglar can stick a coat hanger down the top of a garage door, latch onto the cord and "unlock" the door. To keep that from happening, Holloway advises placing a zip tie through the piece from which the cord is hanging, which will make it almost impossible for a thief to open it from the outside with a coat hanger.

Secure sliding glass doors. Many older doors are easy to open from the outside. Use a broom handle lying on its side on the track to prevent the door from being opened.

Make sure your home is well-lighted outside. Motion detector lights are inexpensive and an easy way to illuminate anyone who approaches the house. "In all the years I was a cop, I don't think I worked a single case where a burglar kicked in a front door," says Alex Bracke, a police officer turned real estate agent in Northern Virginia. "The reason for that is because the front door is commonly the most visible part of the house, and if there's anything would-be burglars don't want, it's to be visible."

Make it look as if you're home. Lights, radio and TVs on timers create the illusion that someone is home when you're gone on vacation. Get a neighbor to pick up mail and newspapers when you're away.

Make it painful for thieves to climb in your ground-floor windows. "A window is the most vulnerable part of your house," Holloway says, reminding homeowners that keeping windows locked also is important. A thief who has to climb into a bed of thorns may be deterred. He suggests planting these three plants that grow in most parts of the U.S.: Pyracantha, also known as "firethorn," European holly, which has very sharp leaves, and voodoo rose. Homeowners who live in tropical areas can plant Bougainvillea.

Make it easy for people to see potential entry points. You want to have easily "inspectable space," says Joshua Godknecht, a sensitive compartmented information facility design specialist for AdamoSecurity.com, which designs and builds secure rooms for the government. "Most people have lots of overgrown plants or hedges to provide privacy, but trimming hedges and arranging your landscape so that it creates a single, very visible path to your front door, and only your front door, is practically free and ensures that no one could take advantage of the hidden places near your home."

 

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Posted on 20 July 2015 | 4:45 am

'Breakfast at Tiffany's' Brownstone Fetches $7.4 Million

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Holly At Tiffany's
Getty ImagesAudrey Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Courtesy of Peter*Ashe Real Estate via StreeEasyThe brownstone at 169 E. 71st St. on the Upper East Side.
By Catherine Sherman

You may remember Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard standing on these front steps. The brownstone featured prominently in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has sold for $7.4 million after most recently being listed for $8 million.

"Any time they had a street scene, the house was featured," said Asher Alcobi of Peter*Ashe Real Estate, the Manhattan home's exclusive broker. "The signature olive green doors are still the same."

The 1961 romantic comedy was filmed in a studio for the interior shots, including the famous party scene with Mickey Rooney's character, Mr. Yunioshi. But 169 E. 71st St. continues to garner interest as the place Miss Holly Golightly made her debut in The Big City.

"The house is on the tourist tour of the Upper East Side," Alcobi said.

The 3,800-square-foot brownstone boasts four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a sweeping staircase and an enclosed greenhouse.

It's split into an upper and lower duplex. Upstairs, two bedroom suites have their own renovated baths. There's also a sunny living room with a wood-burning fireplace, a renovated kitchen and laundry room. Downstairs, a garden apartment with a separate entrance has a front library, powder room and a large bedroom and full bath.

The house was renovated in the mid 1980s and again in the late '90s. It was last listed in 2011 before finding a buyer for $5.975 million in April 2012.

An earlier version of this story was published on Oct. 29, 2014.

 

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Posted on 18 July 2015 | 2:33 am

Where to Spend $10,000 if You're Remodeling

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24023551
Getty ImagesA bathroom remodel can improve your enjoyment of your home but might not pay off if you're planning to sell soon.

By Michael Corbett

Whether you're looking to sell or stay put, you'll save money on these home improvement projects.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to remodeling and upgrading your house, and deciding where to put your precious dollars can be tough. Many of these remodeling decisions can be made based on whether or not you're planning to stay in your home long term.

Let's take a look at the places where a $10,000 investment in your home can go the furthest.

If You're Planning to Sell Within 2 Years

It's important to remember that there's not always a direct relationship between exactly how much you put into a specific renovation project and exactly how much you get out of it.

If you consider home improvements item by item, you'll likely conclude that undertaking almost any individual home improvement prior to the sale of your home is a losing proposition. However, when you add small improvements together with vision and creativity, you create an overall house improvement and a big return on your investment. The whole package is far more valuable than the sum of its parts!

Top 6 Target Projects

1. Kitchen.
A $10,000 investment is not going to get you a full kitchen makeover and leave enough extra cash to make many other upgrades. Instead, think about upgrading tired old appliances. Cabinet resurfacing and upgrading the countertops can be very affordable and give a big splash. One word of caution: Make sure you don't overspend for your neighborhood. Know your market.

2. Master bath.
Again, here in the master bath, $10,000 will not go very far, but you can create a wow effect. Consider upgrading the shower to a frameless glass shower enclosure, adding new fixtures, and maybe a new vanity and countertops.

3. Paint.
Repaint the interior of your home and keep it neutral with soft earth tones. Then make sure you pick up some fantastic pillows and accessories to add punches of color.

4. New carpet.
No homebuyer wants to walk barefoot across your tired, old, stained, dirty, worn-out carpet. When you replace the existing carpet, go with a neutral shade.

5. Curb appeal.
This is a low-cost no-brainer. Trim up the hedges, give the grass some TLC, plant some flowers, and give the front door a fresh coat of paint in a wonderful accent color. Create a strong first impression by adding shiny new house numbers and maybe even a new mailbox. Finally, add in some wonderful outdoor lighting, and presto!

6. Push the inside out.
f there's an existing room that looks out to the backyard, push it out! Replace existing windows with French doors and build a small deck. You've just increased the "size" of that room -- and added value to the house for very little money.

If You're Planning to Stay in Your House

If selling isn't in the cards for you and your family, you can still consider all of the tips above. You'll enjoy living in an upgraded house, especially if you're staying put. Additionally, think about these projects for long-term payback.

1. Heating and air system upgrades.
New heating and air systems will actually reduce your monthly utility bills over time and are a great investment.

2. Going solar.
In sunny climates, investing in solar technology can increase the value of your home and reduce your monthly and yearly utility costs.

 

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Posted on 17 July 2015 | 4:17 am

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