Monthly Archives: September 2011

Home Finance – 3 Reasons To Do It Yourself

Home finance just isn’t what it used to be. If you have been following my articles, you know I’ve been preparing you for the situation that is developing in the housing market. In this article I will share with you three reasons why it may be advantageous for you to finance your own home sale.

First, most mortgage lenders are reeling from the effects of the historic levels of real estate foreclosures. Even though a national real estate market doesn’t actually exist, indications are it may have just been virtually created. This is actually more a result of wide spread business practices that are being modified and adjusted because of the problems they have caused.

Generally speaking, the home finance problems have been created by overzealous mortgage lenders that allowed home buyers to make purchases that were not likely to ever succeed. What initially began as a concern for the sub prime mortgage market has now made it’s presence known throughout the industry, including the highest levels.

This reality has caused the mortgage lenders to re-group, reconsider, and revise their previous underwriting guidelines and requirements. As you might expect, the so called pendulum has swung to the other extreme. That would be the extreme of caution and the associated paralysis of analysis.

Even though they are still in the lending business, many mortgage lenders are reluctant to make loans. It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with a prime or sub prime lender, the thrill is gone because of so many bad loans to recover from. I guess we can call this phenomenon some kind of post traumatic disorder. The reality is, it is taking longer to process mortgage loans and there are more hoops to jump through.

The second reason you might want to consider financing the sale of your home is the tremendous amount of housing inventory in the marketplace. Some estimates suggest it will take at more than nine months to liquidate the existing inventory.

That depends on how well all of the elements fit together so houses can actually be sold.

One of the major elements is the amount of time it takes for sellers to realize that the sale prices are trending downward. Typically that trend will continue until the market determines the actual value of each property. Since most home sellers resist the idea that their property has actually lost value, it is difficult to say just how long this phase will last.

Some experts have reported more than a trillion dollars in specialty mortgages are set to adjust over the next two years. Unless dramatic actions are taken we are likely to see some huge additions to the foreclosures already in existence.

Additions of this magnitude will certainly drive the housing prices down further and faster.

Neither of the two reasons described is an issue you can control. As a matter of fact, right now no one appears to be in control.

The fact no one is in control of this housing fiasco is the third reason you may like the idea of seller financing your property. When you don’t have to worry about the source of home finance funds, one of your biggest worries is over. Seller financing actually puts you in control of the funding. With you in charge of the funding there is no need for you or your buyer to wait for lender approval. You become the bank.

Now, this is important. Since you are going to provide the financing for your home sale, you want to be very certain your loan will be repaid. You don’t want to be guilty of the same kind of misguided underwriting that has caused so much grief in the financial industry. That means you must focus on your buyer and his or her total package.

The total package includes considerations like the amount of the down payment, the credit score and profile, the ability to pay you, and their character. It would also be really great if there is an active savings account in place.

Here’s one more thing about seller financing you may like. You will attract more buyers than with any other type of financing. In the midst of everything that’s going on in the real estate marketplace, as a home seller you need to stand out and be recognized as the resourceful, creative, financially astute, problem solver you are!

Understanding Rental Property Insurance

The proper rental property insurance coverage can protect you from losses caused by many dangers, including fire, storms, burglary, and vandalism. A comprehensive policy also includes liability insurance, covering injuries or losses suffered by others as the result of defective or dangerous conditions on the property. Liability insurance also covers the legal costs of defending personal injury lawsuits – a valuable feature because the legal defense costs of these cases are commonly much greater than the ultimate award of damages, if any.

Common coverage’s

The following list describes the three levels of coverage available for primary policies, all of which include liability coverage. Many insurance companies offer competitive insurance packages especially designed to meet the needs of rental property owners, so remember to shop around.

Basic coverage: Most companies offer a basic coverage package that insures your investment rental property against loss from fire, lightning, explosion, windstorm or hail, smoke, aircraft or vehicles, riot or civil commotion, vandalism, sprinkler leakage, and even volcanic eruptions.

This coverage often doesn’t include certain contents, such as boilers, equipment, and machinery unless specifically added as an endorsement. Based on the type of property you have, you may need to consult with your insurance agent about additional coverage that may be beneficial.

But just because you own a small retail strip center with a couple of plate glass windows doesn’t mean you need to have the special coverage that’s offered. Insurance companies often have minimum policy premiums, so certain insurable items and acts aren’t worth insuring because the potential for a claim is minimal and the costs are high.

Broad-form coverage: You get the basic package, plus protection against losses of glass breakage, falling objects, weight of snow or ice, water damage associated with plumbing problems, and collapse from certain specific causes.

Special form: This coverage is the broadest available and covers your property against all losses, except those specifically excluded from the policy. It offers the highest level of protection but is typically more expensive.

An insurance company can pay owners for losses in two ways:

Actual cash value: The coverage pays the cost of replacing property less physical depreciation. The standard policies most insurance companies offer provide for actual cash value coverage only.

Replacement cost: This coverage pays the cost of replacing the property without subtracting for physical depreciation. You must specifically have an endorsement and pay extra for replacement cost coverage. However, we do encourage you to purchase it.

As with homeowners’ insurance policies, the location, age, type, and quality of construction of your property are significant factors in determining your insurance premiums. Be sure to get an insurance estimate before you buy your property to avoid unpleasant surprises (older properties with wood shake shingles located away from fire protection may not even be insurable, for example) and realize the benefits of lower risk properties. For example, newer commercial buildings, and even some residential proper- ties, were constructed with fire sprinklers and alarms that reduce your insurance premiums – so do as monitored intrusion alarms).

Some insurance companies have a coinsurance clause that requires rental property owners to carry a minimum amount of coverage. If you carry less than the minimum amount of coverage, the insurance company imposes a coinsurance penalty that reduces the payment on the loss by the same percentage of the insurance shortfall. For example, if you carry only $1 million in coverage when you should have $2 million, you’re only carrying 50 percent of the minimum required insured value. If the building suffers a loss, the insurance company pays only 50 percent of the loss.

Many rental property owners first become investors by renting out their former personal residences when they buy new homes. They may not realize they should immediately contact their insurance agent and have their home- owners policy converted to a landlord’s policy, which contains special cover- age riders that aren’t in the typical homeowner’s policy. Because of the increased liability risk for rental properties, some insurance companies may not even offer this coverage, whereas others specialize in this business. Either way, obtain proper landlord’s coverage for your rental property, or you may face the possibility of having your claim denied.

If you own multiple investment or rental properties, consider

A single insurance policy that covers all locations: Rather than have separate policies for each rental property, you can get better coverage with a single policy. For example, if you currently have three properties each with a $1 million policy, you could get a single policy with a $3 mil- lion limit at a more competitive cost.

An aggregate deductible: An aggregate deductible is the portion of your loss that you essentially self-insure, because the losses at any of your three properties can go toward meeting the aggregate deductible.

Excess liability (umbrella) coverage

Excess liability (umbrella) coverage can be a cost-effective way to dramatically increase your liability protection and is designed to supplement your main or basic policies. An umbrella policy provides both additional and broader coverage beyond the limits of the basic commercial general liability insurance and other liability coverage and this coverage is only available after the primary policy limits have been exhausted.

Your primary policy may have liability limits of $500,000 or $1 million, but an umbrella policy can provide an additional $1 million in vital coverage at a cost of $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Depending on the value of your property and the value of the assets you’re seeking to protect, buying an umbrella liability policy with higher limits may make sense. Umbrella policies are avail- able in increments of $1 million with even lower rates per dollar of coverage as the limits go higher. The most common umbrella coverage amount for the owners of large investment properties now is $5 million at an annual cost of approximately $7,500 to $12,000.

Landscape Lighting Benefits and Options

Benefits of landscape lighting

Landscape lighting is intended to reveal what the night hides and should enhance the property, extend the hours of enjoyment and provide security and safety for property owners and guests. In addition to the obvious benefit of being able to enjoy your yard in the evening, as well as the day, lighting up your home makes the property more visible and, thus, safer. By lighting walkways and steps, you eliminate the need for flashlights and reduce the potential for slips and falls. Furthermore, landscape lighting deters intruders by giving them less “shadows” in which to hide. A well lit house is the most effective deterrent to intruders but floodlights create pools of light coupled with pockets of darkness, often close to windows, which provide privacy for an intruder to enter your home. By strategically placing landscaping lights to provide even illumination, you eliminate protective cover for any would-be intruder and increase safety and security for your property and family.

Landscape lighting also enhances the aesthetic qualities of your property, which is especially beneficial for those wishing to sell their home. Creative lighting can produce dramatic effects that show off the beauty of your home and accentuate the landscape. Properties with a well designed lighting scheme give the impression of a luxurious estate, which often results in an increased resale value. Potential home buyers often drive by a house at night to determine if it might be a property worth checking out. Ornamental lighting attracts these buyers to your home giving them a great first impression. Those that find the outside of your home to be pleasant will believe the inside must be nice as well. The result is more prospective buyers and an increased perception of the value of your property.

For those not concerned with resale value at the moment, lighted backyards create additional useable space for you and your family at night. Landscape lighting creates a pleasant atmosphere for entertaining on warm summer evenings and around fall fire pits. Not only will you be able to further enjoy your deck or patio, you will enjoy sharing it with your friends.

Where should you light?

When deciding where to place lights, you need to assess the elements on your property such as trees, flower beds, statues and walkways. Which structures should be highlighted and which should be downplayed? You obviously want to make sure pathways are well lit for safety, but you also want to show off that rose bush you painstakingly nurtured or the fountain you couldn’t wait to bring home. Trash cans and other eyesores, you will want to keep hidden. You are painting a picture with light in your yard, just as you painted one when you landscaped. The key is to create a balance, highlighting a few spots and providing lighting transitions between them. While there are no rules, careful thought and planning are required as too much lighting creates a busy panorama and too little leaves an unfinished portrait.

Line voltage lighting systems

Line voltage lighting systems run on the same power which runs your house (120 volts) and, therefore, requires the expertise of an electrical contractor to install. In some cases, local permits may be required for installation. 120v wires must be buried 18 inches underground or placed in a protective conduit and all fixtures and connectors must be completely waterproof. Due to these requirements, 120v systems are relatively permanent once they are installed. Their lamps and fixtures are larger, as well as being higher wattage, and produce high light levels. This is beneficial for brightly lit parking lots but less so in residential gardens. For this reason, line voltage systems are better suited to large-scale commercial and institutional applications.

Low voltage lighting systems

Low voltage lighting systems are more practical in residential areas as they are small, flexible and do not require an electrician for installation. Except for the transformer that is connected to the 120v circuit, all the fixtures run on harmless 12v current. The cables need only be hidden, not buried, which allows for great flexibility as your landscape matures and changes. Furthermore, low voltage systems are designed for wet locations and pose no shock hazard when exposed to moisture. Low watt lamps are available in many beam sizes and colors, allowing for more precise lighting effects with lower energy costs. One drawback to low voltage systems is that dim lights from the voltage drop can occur over long distances. To prevent this, it is important to construct a comprehensive lighting plan in order to install the correctly sized transformer and consult a professional regarding proper engineering and adequately sized cables.

Traditional low voltage versus LED low voltage

LED landscape bulbs are the “green” alternative in landscape lighting but the environment isn’t the only thing you’ll help save. As LED bulbs use approximately 75% less electricity than an incandescent bulb of similar lumens, your pocketbook will benefit as well. LED bulbs can last up to 30 years, where standard bulbs need to be replaced every year or so. Furthermore, because LED fixtures are smaller, they allow for lighting designs which previously may have been impossible due to the limitations of standard systems. For example, they can be moved more easily as a tree matures or if you decide to change the landscape. While the initial cost of LED fixtures may be slightly higher, over the course of a lighting system’s lifetime, LED systems can save you 40-50%.

Solar panel powered outdoor lighting

As solar technology improves, innovative companies are expanding the utilization of solar energy and outdoor lighting is not left behind. By using solar panels to power outdoor lights, homeowners, businesses, neighborhoods and municipalities can save thousands of dollars by eliminating electrical and maintenance costs. Furthermore, solar panels bring the availability of light to areas where the electrical power grid is not accessible, opening up numerous possibilities.

Business signs

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 89% of all businesses that fail, do so because of improper signage. Business signs are the most targeted advertising you can do for your company but if a sign is not visible when the sun goes down the company is losing valuable “advertising time.” 85% of customers to a business come from within a five mile radius and by not continually displaying your availability to those potential customers you open the door for your competition. Solar panel powered outdoor lights effectively light up your business signs and monuments without the hassle of tearing up landscaping and parking lots, laying wires or dealing with electricians and utility companies. A fast, effective way to put a literal spotlight on your company, the investment will quickly pay for itself.

Park, parking lot and street lights

A number of styles of overhead and shelter solar panel lights are available to light up parking lots, streets, campuses, parks and shelters. Designed to provide highly efficient and controlled white lighting, lamp and pole styles are similar to those traditionally used although with much less installation and maintenance hassle. With no wiring, installation is much cheaper than traditional lighting as no concrete or landscaping needs to be torn up and reset and there is no waiting for the utility company to connect the lights. There is also no aged wiring to replace years down the road. With no maintenance or utility bills, municipalities and business owners can save thousands of dollars by implementing these solutions for lighting up public areas.

Monument lighting for subdivisions

Solar panel powered lights can be installed on subdivision monuments and entrances located in more remote areas or on monuments placed in between lanes on a split lane road. This allows previously unlit signs to be illuminated, increasing awareness and safety at road intersections. Having a lighted sign also increases perceived value of a subdivision’s location, which benefits those selling homes in the neighborhood. Prospective buyers are unconsciously influenced by these seemingly minor details.

Lighting Glossary

Accent lighting is used to highlight a particular object or area, such as a spotlight on a statue or flower bed or lighting along a pathway. This type of lighting focuses and commands the viewer’s attention.

Fill-in lighting is background lighting used to draw the viewer’s eye seamlessly from one accented area to another. Used as a transition, fill-in lighting ties the overall landscape picture together. Examples include backlighting a tree, washing a wall or flooding a row of trees with soft light.

Moon lighting, or down lighting, mimics nature by creating the illusion of moon light filtering through the trees. Achieved by mounting lights in trees facing downward and requires special fittings so as not to damage trees.

Swimming Pool Designs

Swimming pools are moving to a new level of achievement. They are becoming works of art. For the past twenty years or so the workings of the pool have been steadily improved. Technology has helped with pumps, fountains, jets, lighting, filtration systems, covers, automatic cleaning systems. In that sense, pools today are part of a revolution that has happened.

Normally, when a pool is finished the interior is plain white or plain blue. (A rough survey suggests that this is the case over 90 percent of the time.)

Add water to a white or blue lined swimming pool and the interior appears blue. Not an unattractive blue. A bright translucent blue. A blue that is replicated in almost every swimming pool in the world.

There are some owners, perhaps a majority, who would like their pools to be different, to make a statement.

Ways of doing this include changing the shape of the pool. Make it oval, curved, elliptical, L-shaped. Build features – a fountain, a vanishing edge. Add a spa, a hot pool, a cold pool.

Another way is to landscape the surrounding gardens. Make the pool appear as if it is a part of a natural setting. (True, that swimming pool blue is still an issue but we will get to that later.)

Add substance to the surrounds, the decking – wood, ceramic – anything that is kind to the feet but not slippery. Bring the landscape to the pool, have it overlap the pool in places, include the pool in the landscaping.

But the pool itself, the water container, no matter how it is surrounded, how many features are added, is normally not an artistic statement. It has no visual appeal apart from looking invitingly cool on a hot day.

Is there a way around this? A way to make the interior of the pool an attraction, an art form in its own right. To let the pool make a spectacular artistic statement.

Most customers do not know all of the alternatives that exist. Yes, they can change the colour the interior of the pool is finished with – although most of them do not. And when it is changed, it is usually changed to another ‘single’ colour. Have the inside of the pool a medium yellow and the water will look green. Better, perhaps, than swimming pool blue but still a plain, single-coloured statement.

Two ways of getting around this. One is glass (usually in the form of mosaics) and the other ceramics. Both materials are available, applicable and durable. Applied to a pool they primarily decorate. And, it can be argued, they make maintenance somewhat easier and extend the durability and life of the pool.

The pictures that accompany this article show the scope and breadth of swimming pool decoration. These pools were decorated using handmade ceramics.

The word handmade is important. Because of this no two pools are the same. It is easily demonstrated that when pools are decorated with handmade ceramics each of the pools is unique. Nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. But critically for the owner, the architect, the designer, using handmade ceramics transforms the interior of the pool into a large and open canvas in which the decking and garden around the pool are the frame.

And because such a pool can only be designed after consultation with the client the pool design becomes an outward manifestation of the client’s inward aspirations. It is uniquely theirs. Their fingerprint on the landscape in which they live. Their statement to the world. The portrait of their needs, longings, achievements rendered in the design of the interior of a swimming pool.

There is simply no other way of declaring artistic individuality that approaches this.

Think of a swimming pool as a large blank canvas on which a client can project totally their own artistic individuality. And then you will realize the inherent possibilities of hand-made, specially designed, ceramic tile pools.

Choosing the Right Moving Services Provider

The most prominent challenge faced by people while shifting form one location to another is going through the long list of all moving service providers to find the right one. The next step is to judge with whom to go and make the final decision depending upon the class of service they provide. One has to keep in mind the point of who provides smooth and safe transfer at reasonable rates before making the final call. However, if you could get in touch with the right moving services provider who has the essential experience and the ability to take on such a task successfully, a great deal of your worries would disappear right away.

However, to make the most from the services of any long distance moving company it is very important that you know exactly what kind of services you require and also the maximum limit of your budget. It is also wise to ask your moving services  provider all kinds of related questions to make the entire process a smooth experience.

It is very much essential to clear all your doubts with the company in the very beginning of the process. By doing so, you would get to know everything about their terms and conditions of service and also everything about the facilities that the company provides you with.

First, ask the company how many moves in general they handle every year, this would give you an idea about the companies competency over the job. Find out since when they have been in business. Ask if they can provide you with any recommendations from any other satisfied customers. This will give you a fair idea about of their consistency of service. After all, you cannot just trust every company with your assets without knowing everything about them. So, do not hesitate in asking these sorts of questions.

Next comes the most important question of all, the costing of moving. Ask your interstate moving services company if they offer an immediate moving quote after going through exactly what you want to move and the distance to be traveled. It is always wise to get your moving estimates depending upon that.

It is essential to get a fair idea of the price part once you have received the quote. Ask the moving company how much you have to pay for the services you want. Get a clear knowledge about the whole price break-up. It is very much crucial as a lot of times there are hidden charges attached with, which if not clarified in the beginning can cause great hassles at the time of work.

Next, enquire about what will happen if your belongings are damaged or stolen during loading or unloading or during the transportation. It is really vital to go through all the clauses applicable in such a condition. After all, it is about of your much prized personal belongings.

In addition to these entire questions ask them how many days they would take to transport the stuffs. This is again a very vital question as many companies charge according to the number days taken to get the job done, in particular in case of long distance moving.

Once all these questions are cleared up you are sure to have the right company for your job. Talking about a highly regarded moving services provider one name that comes into the mind is Moving Central. It is a top moving company with a glorious record of many years due to its sincere dealings and helpful operational approach.

Kitchen Design Ideas and Layout

Kitchen design ideas

Are You Designing Your Kitchen?

A kitchen is the central headquarters for the family. Kitchen is often the showplace of the home, and yet it is required to function well for a wide variety of tasks. A well-equipped, beautifully dressed kitchen will provide both a sense of well-being and a favorite place in the home. As you plan your new kitchen, you must consider both the utility and the look factor.

Kitchen design ideas – choose the one that suits you best!

When thinking of ideas for designing your kitchen, you could either consider one- one part of the kitchen at a time or pick up a complete theme. A complete theme could be something like a design based on Feng Shui which incorporates all its principles. Feng shui concerns the art of placement and you could help you to arrange your kitchen in a way that enhances its good energy. For instance, according to Feng shui, the cook’s back should never face the kitchen entrance so you must design accordingly

Now according to the other way, you could choose a particular look for the kitchen floor, the walls, the storing place etc. this can be done in various ways depending upon the amount of money you are willing to spend, the lay out of the kitchen and your taste. Here are some specific design ideas for your kitchen –

* Kitchen floor- Your flooring choice is important as it will set the tone for the whole kitchen. The textural quality of the floor always appeals to eye and has a radical effect on how one perceives the room as a whole. For kitchens, the two most elegant floors are tiles / stones and laminated or hardwood floors. Ceramic tiles are a premium product for a kitchen and represent an impressive upgrade over any other floor. The only disadvantage is the cold feel. However if you want you can also opt for a floor heating system.

* Kitchen countertops – While choosing your countertop, select a color and texture that will compliment your cabinetry, floor or paint selection. Don’t be afraid in combining two or more countertop materials. Complimentary colors and textures on adjacent surfaces create visual interest. Also remember, it pays to select a material, which will withstand years of use without extraordinary maintenance requirements and is easily repairable should an accident occur. Granite and marble are strong options.

* Kitchen lighting – you might have a large ceiling fixture, equipped with energy-efficient fluorescent tubes that supply plenty of well-diffused general lighting. However it may leave you working in your own shadow at the sink, range, and countertops. These areas in your kitchen need supplemental task lighting. Also placing your windows is a tricky question.

Kitchen design layout

The perfect arrangement

Kitchen designing is very subjective, so a layout that might be perfect for one can be disastrous for another. This is primarily because the tastes, and the ways of people in terms of working habits, styles are vastly different. Thus kitchen layouts should be done according to the necessities and specifications of the prime user of the space, who has definite ideas about how he/she would like their working space to be. But apart from this subjective outlook, there are certain steps that you should follow while designing your kitchen plan or layout. Following are the stages –

Stages in kitchen design layout

Follow these simple steps in order to get your kitchen space rightly utilized with a desirable look-

1. Measure your kitchen in a detailed manner, the position of the doors, windows, electric points, drains and sinks etc.

2. Demarcate the kitchen areas into three – Storage, cooking and cleaning. Go about planning the space, keeping these three aspects in mind.

3. Make a list of the appliances that you are likely to use in the kitchen, and provide space for them according to their dimensions.

Keep these three points in mind and then design your kitchen in a style that fits in accordance to your tastes. Following are some of the stereotypical kitchen design layouts that are used –

Kitchen design layouts – Types

These are the 4 basic kitchen layouts that are generally followed while designing a kitchen –

1. Corridor layout – This is meant for a narrow kitchen, where there are two facing rows. One for storage and the other for cleaning and cooking. Make sure there is a minimum 1200mm space between the two rows.

2. L shaped layout – This is a layout, where the rows are diagonal to one another, thus forming an L shape. This gets the kitchen working space into the corner, thus giving a lot of free space to move about.

3. U shaped layout – this is the best choice for small kitchens and very convenient too.

4. Island layout – This one on the other hand is meant for large kitchens. Here the cooking hob is altogether a different box unit, while the L shaped row is meant for the sink and storage purposes.