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

3 Home Improvements You Can Make With $5,000

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Image 1
Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

By Lindsay Jackman

For a renovation budget of $5,000, you can add some serious functional upgrades to your home. Kitchens and bathrooms are smart places to focus your dollars. They are hardworking rooms that you'll enjoy using, but also among the first rooms a future buyer will want to see.

Another practical way to increase the function of your house is by adding living space. While you can't do an actual home addition for $5,000, you can create a functional outdoor living space that increases your usable square footage.

Here's how to complete each of these three renovation projects on a $5,000 budget. (If you have a little more to spend, consider what you can do for $10,000.)

Upgrading to Custom Kitchen Cabinets

​Creating a more functional and beautiful kitchen is a win-win, and one way to achieve that goal is by upgrading your cabinetry. For this price-point, you could design cabinets that work for you, the way you use your kitchen, and your kitchen layout. Custom cabinets allow you to maximize storage for the space that you have.

Installing a Tile Shower

Nothing says luxury in a master bath like a standing tiled shower with glass door. For $5,000, you could remove the standard bath insert and surround and put in a custom tiled shower. For additional function, tile in a corner bench and soap shelf. You'll feel like you're visiting a luxurious resort in the comfort of your own home.

Image 3
Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

Create an Outdoor Living Area

Boosting square footage is a great idea for you and future buyers, but additions are expensive. Adding a fabulous outdoor patio can drastically increase your usable living space for a much smaller price tag.

The options for patio material include chipped granite, pavers or flagstone. Adding mulch in beds surrounding the patio will really make a visual statement, and keep the patio from looking like it's floating in your backyard.

Image 5
Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

Build a pergola or covered seating area to create more visual appeal and boost the space's usability. You can hang lights or fans overhead in the structure -- and if it's covered, you'll have a spot to escape the weather.

While this upgrade benefits you, it's also a big selling feature. Most homes don't have an attractive outdoor living area, and adding this amenity will make buyers flock to your listing.

Any of these three updates will make you love your home in a whole new way. You can't go wrong with improving kitchen storage, upgrading your current bathroom, or increasing your potential living space by taking to the outdoors.

See more home design inspiration.


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Posted on 6 October 2015 | 4:31 am

Money Maven Suze Orman Selling Apartment at Plaza

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Corcoran via StreetEasy/ZillowThe Plaza Hotel at 1 Central Park South features residences in addition to a hotel known for its old-fashioned luxury.

By Melissa Allison

Financial maven Suze Orman is set to turn a tidy profit on a small apartment in the Plaza, New York's famed hotel and residences.

Orman is asking $4.5 million for the 1,279-square-foot unit, as Curbed New York first reported.

Orman got a deal on it in 2007, when she paid $3.68 million. A similar apartment with Central Park views was going for $3 million more, the talk-show host told The Wall Street Journal.

washington  dc   january 12  ...
ShutterstockSuze Orman

Real estate investing isn't her thing, Orman said, adding that she pays cash for homes. "If I can't write a check for it, I can't afford it," she said.

Like a grown-up version of Eloise, the 1950s children's book character who lived in the Plaza, Orman enjoys the apartment's location and perks, including room service, housekeeping and an upscale food court, she told the Journal.

She and her wife, Kathy Travis, considered the white-gloved butlers a little over the top, and their unit needed a year-long remodel to pull it out of Motel 6 territory.

Now it's a luxurious one-bedroom, two-bath apartment with herringbone hardwood floors, silver-leaf crown moldings and a chandelier in the bedroom. It comes furnished with designer furniture and window treatments.

Living at the Plaza also means in-building access to some of New York's storied hangouts, including the Palm Court, the Oak Room, the Champagne Bar, the Rose Club, and the Grand Ballroom.

The listing agent is Corcoran's Charlie Attias.


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Posted on 2 October 2015 | 4:54 am

How to Lose the Bidding War But Still Get the House

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couple standing in front of new ...

By Michael Corbett

If your offer is rejected, a little patience (and a backup offer) may pay off.

When there are more buyers than available homes in your area, real estate competition can get fierce. Chances are, not every offer you make will win the deal. But don't despair. It's possible to turn that next rejection into your dream home.

Here are seven reasons why your initial unaccepted offer may eventually close the deal.

1. A backup offer is a secret weapon.

You made your best offer, but it wasn't strong enough to secure the home -- maybe your competition offered more money, or their terms were slightly better. All is not lost. Ask the seller to accept your offer as a backup offer. There is no cost to you, yet you are in line to get the property if the deal goes sour.

2. It's all so close, they can taste it.

Once a seller has an offer and it's progressing, they are already psychologically moving from their home. They're picturing closing day and the moving trucks in the driveway. If the deal abruptly comes to a screeching halt, the seller is much more willing to move forward with a backup offer just to keep that momentum going.

3. Your chances improve after the inspection.

I have been successful in backup situations where an inspection has uncovered more issues than the first buyer wants to deal with and the buyer walks away from the house. The good news for you is that those issues won't go away. The seller may realize he or she can no longer play hardball and be more willing to accept your offer, rather than lose the deal a second time.

4. We're in an era of tougher loan qualifications.

As loan qualifications become tighter and more scrutinized, some homebuyers may not qualify and will have to back out of the deal. In this situation, you have the advantage of jumping in to save the day.

5. Set a 30-day time limit.

The longer the current transaction takes, the greater the chance the two parties are struggling to come to an agreement. Set an expiration date of 30 days for your backup offer. If the two parties are unable to close the deal, it may force the seller to settle for the next best thing before it's too late.

6. Get first right of refusal.

Ask for a first-right-of-refusal clause in your backup offer. In this case, you're not bound to purchase the property, but you're first in line if the other deal falls through.

7. Get the terms of the backup in writing.

Once the seller agrees to accept your offer as backup, get a fully executed detailed agreement, in writing. Be sure they are obligated to sell to you within a certain period at the agreed-upon terms if the property becomes available.

Here's one more bonus for the backup buyer.

Legally, the sellers have to disclose any problems the first-position buyers uncovered, even ones that made them bolt. As a result, you'll know the property's flaws in advance, saving you time and money on your own inspections.



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Posted on 1 October 2015 | 2:01 am

Mortgage Rates Remain Low as September Ends

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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 remained low this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.73 percent, unchanged from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose on Friday, then hovered around 3.76 percent before falling to Tuesday's rate.

"Mortgage rates are almost unchanged from last week despite some volatility in response to mixed messages from incoming data and Fed commentary," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "Despite a number of important speeches and data releases this week, expectations for the first Fed rate hike are firmly focused on December. We expect rates will remain roughly flat in the absence of exceptional global events."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.92 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.74 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage 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 30 September 2015 | 4:43 am

Sela Ward's California Home on Market for Almost $40 Million

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Courtesy of Hilton & Hyland via ZillowOne of the 13 baths on the property has soaring glass windows and doors that open to a furnished outdoor patio.

By Melissa Allison

Just two years out of "CSI: NY," Sela Ward has a hankering to live in the Big Apple -- and that means putting her 14,000-square-foot gated estate in the swanky Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on the market. For $39.995 million.

2014 NYFF -
Evan Agostini/Invision/APSela Ward

Ward, who recently landed the role of the U.S. president in next year's "Independence Day: Resurgence," bought the sprawling mansion on eight acres in 2003 with her husband, Howard Sherman, so their children could spend more time in nature, she told the Wall Street Journal.

The couple revamped the seven-bedroom, 13-bath estate and intended to flip it, until Ward "greeted me at the door one day and said, 'Let's live here!'" Sherman told Traditional Home.

Gracious Southern and French style mix in the five-bedroom main home, where century-old heart pine floors complement reclaimed wood beams from Louisiana and Ward's native Mississippi, plus antique doors and limestone counters from France.

The home includes a 30-seat theater, a library enveloped in cypress wood, and a small greenhouse off the indoor kitchen that Ward calls "l'orangerie."

A wall of doors in the living room opens onto a terrace that overlooks a stream lined with rose bushes and Mexican lime trees.

The property encompasses an art studio and guesthouse as well as a vineyard, a covered footbridge and a 100-seat amphitheater.

Residents and guests have two choices for swimming: an infinity pool and a man-made pond with a sandy beach lit by tiki torches.

Listing agents are Branden Williams and Rayni Romito of Williams & Williams at Hilton & Hyland, an affiliate of Christie's International Real Estate, and Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker Previews International.


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Posted on 29 September 2015 | 8:22 am

8 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Building a New Home

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two abstract pictures of a...

By Geoff Williams

Even if you love where you live, if you own a home that you purchased from someone else, you've probably looked around your house before and wondered: "What was the builder thinking?"

But not everyone goes that route. Plenty of people pay to have their home custom-built. In other words, some homeowners are the builder -- or at least, they're the ones pulling the strings and making the hard decisions on how small or big their residence should be and what features it should have.

And if that's what you're doing, you don't want to look around your house someday and wonder: "What was the builder thinking?"

So if you're spending money on a custom home, keep these eight things in mind.

Have Details in Place Before You Start Building

That means not just knowing how the floor plan will look but knowing how the rooms will be designed, says Jonathan Macias, a real estate broker and the president of the Macias Realty Group in El Segundo, California.

"Designing a house seems easy, but the amount of choices out there can be overwhelming for many. What color tile, what size, what pattern, will it match with the walls, what cabinets will go with this, what about the faucet?" Macias says. "All of these questions could be just for one small bathroom."

In other words, you don't want to be agonizing about how a bathroom should look and holding up your contractors. Speaking of which ...

Hire the Right People

It should go without saying, but let Macias say it: "Do make sure you get all licensed contractors and professionals. Make sure they are properly insured and get references from past work."

Don't Build Too Big

Sure, you may have a lot of stuff and you might look longingly at mansions and want the same thing, but if that's the route you want to take, then think long and hard about what you're about to do. What may be right for you now may not be right for you in 10 years, or even next year.

"I meet potential clients in my office almost weekly who tell me, "We built a 6,000 square-foot home, but now we're dying to downsize to something smaller. Most families don't even need 5,000 square feet, and a home as small as 2,500 or 3,000 square feet won't feel small if it's designed properly, says Andy Stauffer, owner of Stauffer and Sons Construction, a homebuilder in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"A larger house is just more expensive and harder to maintain and clean," Stauffer says. "According to the National Association of Home Builders, a custom home in the USA costs an average of $105 per square foot to build. That means by eliminating even 500 square feet in a home that you don't need, you'll save over $50,000."

Think About the Resale Value Now

Even if you never intend to sell your home and plan to pass it to descendants, assume that you might sell it someday, Stauffer says.

"It's simply a fact of life. Most of us don't know for sure where we'll be in 10 or 15 years, as much as we'd like to think we do," he says. "I recently spoke to a real estate agent who had some clients that built a five-story custom home. They loved it but when it was time to sell, they had to drop the price by tens of thousands of dollars and sell at a significant loss because nobody wanted to buy a five-story home and walk up and down the stairs all day long."

So build your dream home, but don't make it a nightmare for someone else, Stauffer advises: "Don't go crazy."

Keep Your Mortgage Within Reason

You can always add to your home later, creating the dream house when you can afford it, and build your realistic home now, suggests Joan Fradella, a family mediator in West Palm Beach, Florida.

When she built her home in 1998, she wanted to stick to keeping the mortgage balance low, and so Fradella was careful not to go, as Stauffer says, "crazy." She was going to have a luxury kitchen and bathrooms built into her home, but she didn't, settling for more modest layouts, reasoning that she could later.

"I also didn't get the crown molding and French doors because I knew we could do that ourselves," Fradella says. And, indeed, her mortgage remained reasonable.

Don't Sacrifice All of Your Amenities

Looking back, Fradella feels it might not have been a terrible idea to have included some of those "extras," provided her mortgage hadn't been too much higher. Because as it turned out, she says, "Life happens, your kid starts to play hockey; [goes] to private school, then college."

She still hasn't added any upgrades, and she's been living in her home for 18 years.

Yet, she stands by her advice. "You will be surprised how quickly a $200,000 home becomes $400,000 in upgrades," she says.

Preventing your house from becoming an economical abyss means knowing what upgrades are "must haves," says Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Custom Builders, a Chicago-area builder that specializes in custom homes. "For example, carpet can always be switched out to hardwood floors later, but a full basement is something you should decide on now," he says.

Brunhofer also points out that lending now is relatively inexpensive. As long as you don't go crazy, "it can be much more economic to stretch and plan for those features in your budget now," he says.

Of course, it's in every builder's best interest if you do include those upgrades now, since that's more money for the builder, but it doesn't mean Brunhofer isn't right.

Check In on the Work

Keep the surprises for holiday gifts and birthday presents. Don't get sucked into the idea that it would be fun to have someone drive you up to your new house, while blindfolded, so you can have a surprise unveiling (as you may have seen on home improvement reality TV shows). Because you might wind up stuck with a big mortgage on a house you're not thrilled with.

"Visit the site during construction," advises Nicole Cannon, a residential architect based in Los Angeles. "Make sure things are matching your expectations and ask questions if they don't. The worst option is to remain quiet and end up with something that you are unhappy with or have to pay to fix after the fact."

Don't Let Your Dream Home Cloud Your Reality

Let's end this on admittedly a bit of a downer -- to prevent you from having an unhappy ending when building your own home.

Cannon warns that having a house custom built can be an amazing experience, but it can also be a stressful time, and no matter what you might be thinking, "it will not solve all of life's challenges," she says. "I've had more than one client who thought that building a new home would bring their significant other closer, and a new home would solve their marriage problems. It's tragic when a home is completed and goes on the market immediately due to divorce."


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Posted on 25 September 2015 | 7:59 am

Jessica Chastain's Greenwich Village Apartment For Rent

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ZillowThe renovated apartment has two baths, including this master bath with its full-length soaking tub.

By Melissa Allison

Now that Jessica Chastain is settled into Leonard Bernstein's former duplex across from Carnegie Hall, the actress is renting out her old place in Greenwich Village.

For $11,500 a month, her tenant will enjoy a renovated and furnished two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with an extravagantly appointed master bath, including a full-length soaking tub fit for a Golden Globe winner.

The first floor boasts high ceilings, an open chef's kitchen with high-end appliances and a living room with a wood-burning fireplace.

Follow the wide, circular staircase to a skylit landing, a master bedroom with city views, a dressing area and a cedar walk-in closet.

It's "the perfect place to call home without needing to bring anything more than your toothbrush and favorite clothing," according to the listing by Chris Pomeroy of Halsted Property.


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Posted on 23 September 2015 | 7:35 am

Fed's Decision to Delay Rate Hike Keeps Mortgage Rates Low

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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 3.73 percent Tuesday, down two basis points from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell to 3.67 percent on Friday before rising to Tuesday's rate.

"Mortgage rates fell last week to their lowest levels since early May after the Fed deferred its first rate hike yet again," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "We expect rates to be mostly stable this week now that the uncertainty about the Fed's decision has subsided."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.89 percent. For 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages, the rate was 2.71 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 23 September 2015 | 6:31 am

6 Ways an Energy Audit Can Help Sell Your Home for More

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New home with solar panels
Getty Images

By Meaghan O'Neill

A home energy audit might not be at the top of your to-do list, but if you're getting ready to sell your home, here's why you should make it a priority.

If you've ever been in the market to buy or sell a house, you're probably familiar with a few key questions when it comes to utilities. Septic or sewer? Oil or gas? And how much will it cost to heat and cool this place?

The answers to those questions can affect the final offer because what buyers want to know is this: How much will this place really cost me? The monthly mortgage payment is one consideration, but ongoing maintenance and utility bills are also part of a smart consumer's equation.

In other words, an energy-efficient house is an attractive house. (In fact, in some states, an energy audit is required before selling a home.)

Energy labels for homes exist -- LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and Energy Star, for example -- but you don't need an official (and sometimes expensive) title to reap the benefits of efficiency. What you do need is an energy audit from a reputable provider who can measure your home's performance. Is it drafty? How's the HVAC? Is the insulation effective? Think of this as the equivalent of a miles-per-gallon rating for your home.

With that in mind, here's how an energy audit before selling a home can boost your property's value when it's time to sell.

1. Show you where to put the money

A home energy analysis such as the Home Energy Rating System Index provides a detailed report regarding energy problems and fixes. Results in hand, you'll know where to put your home improvement dollars, making your home more attractive to prospective buyers.

2. Lower utility bills

Once you know where to make cost-effective fixes, you can pinpoint the return on investment on those upgrades, large or small. Repairing caulking, say, or sealing a fireplace may be key to reducing your monthly energy bills. Alternatively, a bigger investment, such as replacing old windows, could cost more upfront but make a bigger impact on the value of your home overall.

3. Competitive advantage

A theoretical buyer looks at two similarly priced houses in the same neighborhood. House No. 1 has an energy bill of $1,000 per year. House No. 2 clocks in at $3,000. The math is simple: Over the course of 10 years, House No. 2 would cost $20,000 more. Which is more appealing to buyers and worth a higher sales price? Memo to sellers: Be House No. 1.

4. Increase purchasing power of potential buyers

It may sound wild, but energy-efficient homes can actually leverage a homebuyer's purchasing power if they apply for an energy mortgage. These mortgages work in two ways: A homebuyer adds a sum -- say $4,000 -- to a mortgage loan to finance energy-efficient upgrades. Though the monthly payments are higher, they're offset by the new energy savings. Or buyers may qualify for a bigger loan if they can show that lower energy costs offset what they'd spend on a higher monthly mortgage payment.

5. Boost your market value

According to the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), the market value of a home increases by $20 for every $1 decrease in annual energy costs. Another study showed that in California, the value of a home increased by 9 percent ($34,800 for the average home) if it had energy labeling.

6. Improve indoor environments

Increasingly, homebuyers are seeking out homes that tout indoor air quality and home emissions as amenities. Energy-efficient homes tend to get checks in these new must-have boxes. With a cleaner HVAC system, fewer allergens and pollutants enter the home; and an efficient house is less polluting. Plus, ultimately (whether you care about being green or not), homes that cool and heat rooms effectively are simply more comfortable.

Expect an energy audit to cost hundreds of dollars, not thousands.


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Posted on 22 September 2015 | 9:51 am

9 Things to Buy Secondhand for Your First Home

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Thrift shop kitchen items.

By Trent Hamm

There can be great joy in moving into your first apartment or your first home. You finally have space all to yourself. You can decorate how you want. You can spend your time how you want.

Sadly, that initial burst of joy is often deflated by the realization that you need a lot of little things when you move to a new place. For many people, that means an expensive shopping spree.

Instead, consider making your first stop the local secondhand store. Many of the items you need to set up an apartment or a home for the first time or in a new area can be found at a thrift shop, which means you'll cut back on that big burst of spending that can really hurt your wallet.

Here are nine items to consider purchasing secondhand for your new place.

Silverware is a requirement for eating food at home without making a complete mess. Fortunately, most secondhand stores have a selection of silverware on hand. You might not have perfect matching silverware, but you'll have more than enough for your needs at an inexpensive price.

Dishes are also a dining necessity. Again, it's easy to find plenty of plates and bowls at a secondhand store for a pittance, though you may not find a matching set. Still, you're far better off buying two or three partial sets for pennies than shelling out the money for a single matching set from a store.

Glasses and cups for consuming beverages are another household essential that's perfect for a secondhand purchase. As with silverware and dishes, you'll likely not find a matching set, but what you will find are many cups and glasses to fill your cupboards at an inexpensive price.

A toaster or toaster oven both perform the task of toasting bread, bagels, English muffins and other such items. A toaster oven goes further, making it easy to make grilled sandwiches and cook small items. Both can easily be found at secondhand stores in working order and can make for a valuable addition to your kitchen to help you with food preparation.

Lamps are simple items that are often found in abundance at secondhand stores. All varieties of lamps, from desk lamps and floor lamps to clip lamps and table lamps, can usually be found secondhand at a very reasonable price.

A dining table is an essential piece of furniture in most houses or apartments, as it provides a place to eat and share meals. You can find simple dining tables at secondhand stores, and they often come with simple, solid chairs. The key thing to remember is you can buy an inexpensive starter set, and then upgrade later when you have money to easily do so.

A side table is often a key part of a living room, providing a place to put a beverage, snack plate or remote controls as you watch TV, study or read a book. Side tables can be incredibly inexpensive. It's easy to find one secondhand for well under $10.

A bed frame is a key piece of furniture for those who have moved beyond the "mattress on the floor" style of bedroom décor. Bed frames can be expensive if you purchase them at a furniture store, but there are often many varieties of metal and wooden bed frames you can find at secondhand stores if you shop around. It's important to remember that bed frames are purely functional items meant to be covered with a mattress and other decorative materials, so don't worry about beauty.

Décor might seem like an unusual item to buy secondhand, but it's easy to find things such as picture frames and wall hangings in secondhand stores, particularly in more upscale neighborhoods. If you're creative, you can find a variety of décor items at a very nice discount.

One final suggestion: Don't buy certain types of furniture used unless it comes from a trusted source. Used furniture can be a source of bedbugs or other unwanted travelers that you simply don't want in your home. Solid wood items are fine, but be wary of upholstered used furniture and used mattresses.

The thing to always remember when buying secondhand items is that they're replaceable as time goes on. They can serve you for a long time if needed, but they simply provide an inexpensive and functional solution that can significantly trim the costs of setting up a new home.


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Posted on 18 September 2015 | 2:44 am

Mortgage Rates Holding at 3.75% Ahead of Signals From Fed

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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 rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.75 percent, up one basis point from last week.

The 30-year fixed rate hovered around 3.73 percent throughout the week before rising to the current rate Tuesday.

"Mortgage rates held steady last week," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "We expect rates to remain calm leading up to Thursday's Federal Open Market Committee statement as markets eagerly anticipate any signal or action from the Fed on interest rates."

(Update: The Fed kept interest rates unchanged Thursday, citing concerns about the global economy.)

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.90 percent. For 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages, the rate was 2.76 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for 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 16 September 2015 | 4:16 am

'Eat Pray Love' House Feels Like Home to Norah Jones

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By Natalie Wise

Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Norah Jones snapped up a breathtaking new home that is sure to be a place where lyrics are inspired. While Jones is notoriously private, records show the house was purchased in May for $6.25 million through an LLC tied to her name.

Star Max Archive
Star Max via AP ImagesNorah Jones

The home, located in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood, is a star in its own right: It served as the set for scenes featuring Julia Roberts' character in the 2010 movie adaptation of "Eat Pray Love."

The unique structure originally was an 1840s firehouse and retains much of that charm, including a fire-engine red door.

Jones recently applied for a permit to convert the existing two-family structure into one larger living space for herself, her unidentified beau and her young son. There should be plenty of room: The main floor of the house alone is 2,125 square feet. Entertaining will pose no problem in this wide-open space with double-height ceilings.

The living spaces are cozy but spacious, making the most of the home's architectural charm and views. And there are plenty of windows, which should please Jones, who once fought to have windows installed in a previous historic brownstone.

The house could make a powerful muse for Jones, as there is much to wax poetic about: 12-foot-wide plank floors, huge brick fireplaces, exposed beams and brick, a generous kitchen and a decidedly 19th-century flair. The home boasts a glassed-in greenhouse and private porch, terrace and perennial garden as well.

Should Julia Roberts need a place to crash in between selling her Hawaii home and her Greenwich Village apartment, perhaps Jones would lend a room to the star who graced the halls of the home on the big screen.

Deborah Rieders of The Corcoran Group was the listing agent.


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Posted on 10 September 2015 | 10:45 am

Mortgage Rates Holding Steady Near 3.75% in September

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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 mortgages fell almost imperceptibly this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.74 percent Tuesday, down 1 basis point from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around that rate throughout the week.

"Rates dipped slightly last week following a mildly disappointing jobs report but quickly rebounded, ending the week where they began," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "With limited domestic data slated for release in this holiday-shortened week, we expect rates will remain fairly steady for the second week in a row."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.90 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.66 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 8 September 2015 | 11:59 am

Fire-Tower Style Living at its Finest

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Tom Hanny/Zillow

By Catherine Sherman

They saw it coming: the mushroom cloud of smoke.

Dabney Tompkins and Alan Colley were on their deck enjoying the view when the Stouts Creek Fire broke out earlier this month. They'd read about moments like this -- spotting a forest fire from a 40-foot-high tower -- but nothing could have prepared them.

They weren't staffing a fire lookout, after all. They were at home.

Tom Hanny/ZillowAlan Colley, left, and Dabney Tompkins wouldn't trade their life above the trees for anything.

Treehouse Without the Tree

Tompkins and Colley's lives changed course on a ferry ride several years ago. Quite literally stumbling upon a book about fire lookouts used by the U.S. Forest Service, they learned how the structures on stilts were used to spot forest fires throughout the 20th century. Now largely replaced by satellites, very few lookouts are still standing.

Tompkins and Colley, who had downsized from their big Dallas estate to 1,400 square feet in Portland, wanted to know more.

"It was a magical moment that the book sort of fell off the shelf to us," Colley recalls. "We called the ranger district and said why don't we rent this thing? That was the beginning."

The urbanites rented several fire lookouts before purchasing 160 acres of meadow and forest land in rural Oregon, known as Summit Prairie. With the help of a local builder and engineer, their "treehouse without the tree" was completed in 2010.

For the first few years, it was just a weekend getaway, but those weekends quickly turned into something more.

"About a year and half ago, we decided to be totally irresponsible and quit our jobs and move here," Tompkins says. "We were just going to do it for one year because we thought this might just be too isolated, too boring, too rustic. But then we got down here and we started to meet people and really enjoy the rhythm of it." (See what life in the tower is like in this video.)

Life on the Prairie

Up four flights of stairs, the lookout is 388 square feet with a simple kitchen spanning the back wall and two narrow beds flanking the sides. Up a skinny wooden ladder, a "cupola" serves as a master suite -- minus the bathroom.

In fact, there's no bathroom to be found. Historic fire lookouts never had them, and Tompkins and Colley didn't want to obstruct their 360-degree view of the Umpqua National Forest. Instead, they created a few alternative options and put the shower out on the deck.

"My favorite time to take a shower is when we have snow outside and you have to walk barefoot through the snow on the deck," Tompkins says. "Then you turn that hot water on and that yin and yang of hot and cold - and looking out and seeing the meadow - it's heaven."

Courtesy of Alan Colley via Zillow

Without the luxuries of a typical single-family home, Tompkins and Colley find themselves retreating to the "hammock tree" or soaking in their wood-burning, spring-fed hot tub.

"It's quiet -- so quiet it allows me to hear things I wouldn't hear in the city," Colley says. "There's no urban beat. You don't hear sirens, you don't hear traffic -- you hear us."

He says the experience has brought him and Tompkins closer, as they've allowed each other to grow and be different.

A Taste of 'Off the Grid'

They're also learning what it truly means to live off the grid, finding you often gain more than you lose. (See off-the-grid homes for sale in Vermont, Colorado (the expensive and the not-so-expensive) and Alaska.)

"The saying we love to tell each other is 'just because we live off-grid doesn't mean we have to eat bad food.' And we have made some amazing meals," Colley says after making a blueberry pie from scratch.

Instead of buying organic produce from the grocery store, they have their own garden and are involved with the local farmers market.

Of course, living off-grid has its challenges -- like figuring out how to install solar panels -- but the biggest challenge came as a surprise.

"We're so enmeshed in this community, as weird as that may sound, that we really have to back away and say I just want time on my meadow," Colley says.

From vegan potlucks with the "old hippies," as they call the neighbors, to looking for ways to stimulate a local economy still dependent on timber, Tompkins and Colley are keeping busy.

The View Never Gets Old

They laugh when they think about how they used to worry about being isolated and bored.

"Reading, cooking, hiking and splitting wood are much more entertaining to us," Colley says. "If you're interested in those kinds of things as a DIYer, you're going to be fine in this situation."

And in the wake of a recent forest fire, they're even more thankful for the view.

"Every day, the sun is doing something different. There's no repetition at all," Colley says.

"Many mornings, we'll get up, and the entire meadow is shrouded in fog. And then as the sun moves up into the sky, the fog starts to kind of slip into the valley," Tompkins adds. "As you look out, it's like you're in an airplane where there's just this lower level of clouds. To me, that's magic."

Photos and video by Tom Hanny for Zillow.


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Posted on 3 September 2015 | 8:23 am

Mortgage Rates Rise From Recent Lows, Hitting 3.75%

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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 rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.75 percent, up 8 basis points from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose throughout the week before settling at the quoted rate Tuesday.

"Mortgage rates avoided the erratic movement of the stock market and rose steadily last week on improving domestic economic data," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "This week, we expect rates to be volatile as markets look for further improvements in the economy's health -- especially Friday's jobs report -- that will influence the Fed's decision to raise rates later in the year."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.92 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.73 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 1 September 2015 | 2:02 pm

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

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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?


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?


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.



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Posted on 21 August 2015 | 11:47 am


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