Sunday, December 29, 2013

Loud neighbors and old drafty houses

Back in the spring (of 2013) I bought an old house in an old neighborhood.  Ordinarily I would never even consider living in this particular neighborhood but this house was WAY cute and WAY cheap.  I convinced myself that having a mortgage payment of $200 a month outweighs any/all other concerns.  I can live in it for a year, update it and sell it for a profit.  I mean, anyone can withstand anything for a year.....right?

While this house is super cute.  Actually it's just under 2,000 square feet so it's not a cracker box house but from the street it appears to be so.  It's just way longer than it appears to be from the curb.  Below is a picture of it that was taken just before I bought it.
What I didn't count on was the noisy neighbors to my right (if you're looking at the house from the sidewalk).  I need to stress that - - NOISY NEIGHBORS!  The two houses are divided only by the width of my driveway.  Anyone who has ever lived in an old neighborhood knows that the driveways in these areas are about the width of a sofa (not a sectional)..just a sofa.  Also, these neighbors appear to have a few windows that have fallen out and they elected to replace the glass with clear plastic rather than actual glass.  Now my house has newer windows on that side of the house so I actually thought they would dampen the noise....I was soooo wrong.  While they are indeed newer windows - they were cheap single pane windows.  When I'm in my bedroom, I can literally hear their conversations in my bedroom.  These folks love love love to sit on their porch at all hours of the day and night and play cards, loudly chat on their cellphones and visit with their friends.  I can hear it all while I lay in my bed trying to sleep.

Something must be done.

So I began my research on soundproofing.  During the course of my research I have discovered that 90% of the noise that creeps into your home gets in via windows and only 10% via your walls - even if your walls aren't properly insulated.

So let's talk about how to reduce the outside noises while insulating your home in the process.  After all, if noise can't enter your home - neither can pollen, dust and the outside weather.

The first places I visited were the "everything done for you" merchants.  Like anyone else, if I can pay someone else to do the job for me - I'm a happy girl.

The link below takes you to my wishlist site.  I really really liked this one!  But at an overall cost of about $1,500 per window (after crating fees, shipping fees and price of window) BEFORE the cost of installation was tacked on - this was considerably out of my price range.....but I really really liked them.  At any rate, I did learn a bit from watching the informative video on their home page.  Also, when I asked for a quote late on a Friday night, I received one from a very nice man within an hour.  Really good customer service there. So not a total waste of time.
http://www.soundproofwindows.com/?gclid=CJ39lMDg1bsCFSEV7AodH2cAvA

Since the company above was out of my price range, I continued searching.  The great thing about checking out different options is that you learn so much in the process.  Who knew that there had to be at least a half inch (minimum) gap between the glass of your window and whatever you put over them for the noise reduction to work effectively?  I didn't.  I actually thought it would work better if it was laying flat against the window pane.  Hmm.  Who knew that acrylic is FAR better at soundproofing than either glass or plastic - even the pricey laminated glass?  I didn't.

Next I found the site below.  Far more affordable and appears to be an easy self install, but it worried me a bit when the site kept stressing that it really doesn't do much in way of noise reduction.
http://www.windowinserts.com/

Now if your noise problem isn't that bad and your main concern is weatherproofing them, sometimes just reglazing the windows (don't forget the sill and frame) will do the trick.  If there is the smallest of gaps between the outside and the inside - noise will enter your home.  Also, make sure to buy the right kind of caulk.  Owens Corning makes a specialized acoustic sealant that I've heard does a great job at both weatherproofing and reducing outside noise.  A lot of folks feel intimidated by caulking.  It's not fun but it's not hard.  It's like icing a cake.  Make sure when you are applying the caulk that you have an old rag that is damp with you so you can quickly wipe away any stray bits of caulk before it dries.  However, if you go back later and find some errant caulk - use your putty knife or a razor blade to gently scrape it off.

Sometimes you want the energy savings and noise reduction but you don't own the home (or apartment) so what do you do then?  Sound proofing blankets.  I found some for sale that are supposed to be professional grade used mainly for recording studios at this site:  http://www.audimutesoundproofing.com/audimute-sound-absorption-sheets-materials-that-absorb-sound-soundproofing-blankets.aspx  While they aren't exactly cheap - they might be worth a try.  Also, the site has some really good information on it.  Also, they aren't exactly the most appealing things to look at so if you were to go this route, I'd highly recommend putting curtains over them.  The down side to going the blanket route is that once you put those babies on your window - goodbye sunshine.  I would recommend installing a tie back and when you aren't trying to sleep or just want to brighten the room, pull them back.  But then that will also mean that whenever they are pulled back - no energy savings.  Slippery slope.

If you want to try the blanket soundproofing idea without spending $200 for a pack of 3, try this site: http://www.uscargocontrol.com/uscc/Moving-Blankets-for-Soundproofing  These are super affordable and if they don't work?  Use them to cover the furniture you have stored in the basement, put in the car or sofa to keep the dog hair off or some other similar function.  At these prices, you can afford for it to fail.

Let's say you have done the windows and still there are noises keeping you from sleeping at night.  The only thing left to do is to soundproof your walls.  I seriously doubt there is one centimeter of insulation in any of my walls so this is probably something I want to attend to anyway.  But do I have to rip out all the plaster walls down to the studs in order to insulate??  That's not gonna happen.  Actually the answer is a surprising no.  You don't.

What you do is add sheetrock over your existing walls.  I hate my plaster walls anyway.  They are the Devil to try to get a nail in to hang a picture.  They are cracked in a few places.  There are some walls that are as wavy as a rippled potato chip.  I am not a fan.  However, I have discovered that plaster over lathe (which is what I have) has a much better soundproofing reputation than regular drywall by itself.

There are actual soundproofing drywalls out there.  They are made specifically to deaden noise.  They cost a bit more than the regular kind but if you're going to go through the trouble and expense to add a layer of drywall - why not do it the right way first rather than go through all this only to discover that the cheap drywall you used just isn't doing what you wanted.

Here is a link to a site that will give you step by step instructions on how to get this done. http://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-install-soundproof-drywall#b

Warning.  When you add the drywall over your plaster, it will take anywhere from 3/4" to 1" off the size of your room where ever you added the new drywall.  This means you will have to remove any baseboards, molding and/or window/door frames and then reinstall them once you've finished hanging the drywall. However, in the grand scheme of things, losing an inch of space isn't really an issue if your room is quiet and insulated.

Back to the renters.

If you rent, you really can't go around replacing windows, adding sheetrock and some of the other suggestions listed above.  Earlier in my blog, I discussed covering cardboard in fabric and making a feature wall.  Cardboard is an excellent noise reducer and weather insulator.  Add to that a thick fabric and you've got yourself a soundproofed and weather proof wall.

All it takes is some fabric, tape (or staples), a few nails and maybe a couple of hours (I work slow) and you have not only a soundproof, weather proof wall but a great feature wall as well.  Use brad nails to affix them to your wall and when you move they will come off easily and leave virtually no trace of them ever having been there.  Another added bonus is if you clean the wall well before you apply the squares, when you remove them, you will have a clean wall with no marks on it which will help tremendously in being able to get your deposit back without having to paint - that wall anyway.  This trick is especially great if you aren't allowed to paint your walls.  Below are a few examples of how great this can look.  Remember, if you tire of the look, slap on new fabric and it's a whole new room!

This wall is extra finished because they framed it out with molding.  Stunning.  In order to get this "puffed" look, you will have to add a layer of batting between the cardboard and the fabric.
The one below is my favorite only because it's quick and easy while looking great!
To make the panels simply find cardboard boxes.  They can be any size at all, they don't have to be free of blemishes such as ripped or torn places.  You can take the time to find all the same size boxes or you can mix the sizes whichever suits your tastes.  If you want them to be uniform but can't find enough of the same size boxes, then use duct tape to stick two (or more) boxes together to get the size you're wanting.  Once you cover in fabric, no one will ever know that they are taped together.

Tip:  Every box will need to be folded in half in order to get the full effect of the insulation/sound proofing properties.  If you lay them flat, it's just a pretty wall.  The thicker the box, the better the insulation/sound proofing.

Once you have the boxes sized to satisfaction, do a dry run on the wall.  Tape them on the wall to see if you have enough or too many or maybe once you get them up there you might now like the configuration.  This will save you a lot of time down the road.

Now that you have the boxes you need, all you have to do is wrap them in fabric and hang them on the wall.
I don't like to staple the fabric to the boxes because I want as few holes in my fabric as possible so I can reuse it later somewhere else if I choose.  I use heavy packing tape to adhere fabric to the boxes.  After all, once I nail the boxes to the wall, the fabric isn't going to move anyway.

I only use 4 brad nails per box except for the outer boxes.  On them, I use as many as it takes to prevent gaps between the walls and the boxes.

My last tips on this subject are when you are dry fitting your boxes, make sure to mark where any outlets and light switches will be so you can cut those areas out before you begin wrapping the fabric.  Also, be careful not to get the fabric so close to the outlets that a loose string or even part of the fabric might get pushed inside the outlet.  The fabric should never cover the cover plate for the outlet.  Then you should be protected from this happening.

So my News Years resolution (one of them anyway) is to hang in this house until I have made it fabulous enough to turn a profit and in the meantime - insulate and soundproof!!

But that's just me....




Thursday, November 21, 2013

Let's dress up that kitchen!!

People seem to think that when they get tired of their kitchen or it becomes outdated, the only way to remedy that situation is to hire a designer, contractor and take out a second mortgage to gut the kitchen and start from scratch........not true....well, most of the time anyway.

Below are some photo's of some really ugly kitchens.  Could you pretty the kitchen below or is it one of the few that just needs to be gutted?  Unfortunately, this kitchen needs a gut job.  I don't see anything (including layout) that needs to be saved.
What about the kitchen above?  It's ugly, but with a little work, it doesn't need to be gutted.  By the way, I think every host of every DIY show that EVER recommended painting just the doors needs to be jailed - for life.  UGH!
The kitchen above is a DIY gone horribly wrong.....horribly.  Maybe if it wasn't filthy and cluttered on top of being ugly - it might not be so bad - yeah, it would.
Now the kitchen above is outdated BUT the space is good.  The cabinets look to be in decent shape and the layout is fine.  This kitchen just needs a face lift - not a gut job.

This is my rule of thumb on whether to gut or make pretty.  If the cabinets are still in good shape and the layout is comfortable - face lift is in order.  However, if not - gut it.

Now about those cabinets.  Sometimes the shelves inside will sag or perhaps (especially beneath the sink area) there was an old leak and it made the bottom sag or maybe even rot.  That is still no reason to rip them out.  All you have to do is replace the sagging shelf or cut a new floor for the cabinet beneath the sink and presto!  Good as new.  If the drawer fronts are falling off, you can usually fix that too.  Little wood glue, a few brad nails and again, good as new.

The bottoms of most drawers are made from very thin plywood and over time, these can sag causing the drawers to stick whenever you try to open or close them.  Sometimes they sag to the point that items put into the drawer will slip out and fall into the cabinet below or (worse still) get wedged causing your drawer to not open or close at all.  Again, cut a new piece and pop it in.

Some homeowners go a little bit crazy on the DIY.  They grossly overdo.  This is evidenced in the photo's above where they painted a wall pink, painted just the doors and/or stenciled pretty flowers onto the doors. While this may make you smile at first - it will quickly wear on you and before you know it, you begin avoiding your kitchen.  Unless you love redoing your kitchen and/or bath - Unless you have tons of money to spend on redoing them - Unless you have all the time in the world to spend on redoing them - stay away from momentary fads please.

So how to redo the kitchen without spending a ton of money?  Simple.  Do it yourself.  There are some items that I HIGHLY recommend you splurge and let a professional handle.  Unless your DIY level is right up there with a licensed contractor, let the professionals install your counter tops, move any electrical, water or gas lines, install that new dishwasher or lay down the new floor tiles.  But if you've done everything else but those items, you can afford to hire a professional for these things.  Sometimes you can save a lot of money by buying the materials needed and just paying the professional to do the install.  A tip on that subject is be wary of going this route for the following reasons.  (1) some contractors refuse to install anything that they haven't provided so it may take a bit of shopping around to find one who will (2) some contractors get crazy good deals from their suppliers so while you may think your shopping turned up some great buys - the contractor might be able to get the very same thing even cheaper. (3) You're not a contractor and neither is the nice person at the big box store who swears you bought more than enough tiles to do your kitchen floor.  Sometimes both of you are wrong and if you buy the closeout deal and you didn't buy enough - you will be forced to eat that money and timeline because the contractor is going to have to buy more tile and delay your project until it comes in.  Good news is - you'll have lots of tiles in the garage for future projects or to sell online. (that's not really good news - I was just trying to think of something nice to say). And my last tip on the subject is to let you know that contactors are just like everyone else in the world - you can negotiate with them on pricing.

But having said that, with a little (a lot) of sanding and patience, you really can redo your kitchen and love it!  Now let's look at some ways to camoflauge those old cabinets.
Paint and molding.  The bottom portion of this photo shows you what these cabinets used to look like.  Not at all custom.  Stock oak cabinets.  The portion above it is very custom yet all it took was a little bit of rope molding and paint.  If you ordered these doors for your kitchen it would cost you a very pretty penny.  Do it yourself and you are looking at dinner and a movie for a family of 4 price range.  People are always so afraid to attempt this themselves.  Trust me - it's not at all hard!  Do a couple of them and if after that, you still don't think you're doing a good job - then hire a professional.  But I promise you - if you take your time and do the prep work required?  You'll do a great job and save a ton of money!

In the last photo of the kitchens above, it has a nice layout with lots of counter top area.  The biggest problem with it (aside from the ugly) is that it is a dark kitchen.  At some point in the late 60's contractors stopped putting kitchens in the sunny areas of houses and rather began sticking them by the garage or an interior section of the house.  This made for very dark and uninviting kitchens.

Dark kitchens are not enjoyable nor do they inspire anyone to spend any time in them.  They become storage.  Using reflective surfaces and adding a few extra lights will turn them into a place anyone would want to spend time in!  To do that, add glass to the upper cabinets and string rope lighting underneath all the cabinets.  Rope lights are inexpensive, use very little energy and add drama and light to an otherwise dull and dark area.

The addition of glass in the upper cabinets also acts as faux windows giving the impression of space.  It tricks our minds into thinking we have a window.  It also reflects light so it bounces around the kitchen area which makes us think the area is both larger, brighter and cleaner than it actually is.

Adding glass to a cabinet door is really not difficult.  Below is a link that details the 7 steps to do this just like a professional.
http://www.ronhazelton.com/projects/how_to_replace_wood_cabinet_doors_with_glass

7 steps - one weekend - done deal!

By the way, if you don't have gorgeous dishes or maybe you don't always have your cabinets organized all nice and pretty - add a frosted glass to the doors.  You will still get the full effect but no one will actually be able to see your things.

When you're redoing your kitchen - please don't forget your ceiling.  Below are some great shots of kitchens with either wallpaper or stainless tiles on the ceiling.  These are especially great if you live in an old house that maybe has shifted with time causing cracks and/or an uneven surface.  Or maybe years ago there was a leak that has since been fixed.  The stain will pretty much always be there and if you paint it, over time, it will come back.  I think these are gorgeous!
Stainless steel tiles are a great DIY material.  You can cut them yourself with metal scissors and the job should only take the better part of an afternoon.
The wallpaper above is gorgeous!  However, when working with a strip design, you really have to be spot on when installing it or you will step back to crooked lines.  If I were going to do this myself, I'd choose a floral or other more forgiving graphic design.
The picture above is a tin stamped wallpaper.  It has all the texture of a tin stamped tile but is more subtle. This type of paper can be painted if desired or (as above) left natural.  I love the subtlety of it.

As I said earlier, sometimes a person wants to rip out all their cabinets because the inside of them have deteriorated to the point of ugly.  Lots of people spend the time and money to redo the outside of their cabinets but completely neglect the interiors.  As long as you never actually open your cabinets - they look amazing.  A lot of the time, the years have not been kind to the interior of your cabinetry.  The interior walls are in rough shape, the back has become stained.  A quick and really easy fix to this would be to wallpaper them.
This works really well for open shelving as well.  It adds a punch of pattern and/or color which makes anything look better and more cheerful.  Plus, when your mood or design tastes change - it's an easy do over.

Adding wallpaper to the interior of cabinets or shelving is a really quick and easy fix.  Painting them can take a bit more effort and time.  You might have to sand the interior walls to fix any irregularities and to remove any varnish.  Then you'll want to prime the area before adding the final coat of paint.  But once done, it looks amazing.  Below are a few examples.

I love the painted look!  Again, if you tire of the color - slap on a different one.

The picture above is an open shelving unit in a living room.  The darker paint on the back wall of the shelving unit adds drama, a punch of color and it allows the contents to really pop!

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a huge fan of cutting holes in my walls between the studs and fashioning shelving in the "new" space.  How about doing that in your kitchen so you can store your spices? This will free up tons of cabinet space for you!  Below is a picture that shows how this might look.  Go to the thrift store or to a big box retailer and buy a couple of pieces of artwork on canvas.  Then add a couple of hinges to them and put them over your new shelves.  When not in use, the shelves simply appear to be beautiful artwork.  Great idea!
As I've stated a zillion times,  DIY can go drastically horribly bad.  Sometimes the idea doesn't exactly match the outcome.....at all.  One of those "seemed like a good idea at the time" moments.

Below is a picture that shows how a homeowner solved a problem.  They owned a ranch style home built in the 70's.  At the time the house was built, the contractor added the washer/dryer hook-ups in the kitchen.  A fairly common issue for ranch style houses built around that time.  Laundry rooms weren't all the rage that they are now.  You pretty much either got yours in a tiny room built onto the back of your carport or you got them in the kitchen.  This homeowner had theirs in the kitchen.

The major issue with having your laundry in the kitchen is that it not only stood out like a sore thumb - you lost valuable counter top space.  This homeowner felt that this would never do and decided to think outside the box and come up with a creative solution.  Below is the result.
While it looks like they did a good job and it took a considerable amount of time to get this accomplished.....it's still really really ugly.

But that's just me......

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Halloween Issue

This is my favorite month of the year!  Weather begins to cool down.  Leaves begin to change colors and fall.  Days get shorter.  However, the most endearing part of October is the last day of the month.  Halloween.  Ghost stories.  Haunted houses.  Scary movies.

This post will pay homage to three haunted houses in anticipation of Halloween.  I purposely didn't include the tired and usual lists that always includes the likes of the Winchester Mansion, Lizzie Borden's house and the haunted hotel in Eureka Springs.  I also didn't include any that are currently businesses.  I am always skeptical about those simply because it behooves the owners to publicize them as haunted because it ups their reservation count.  I hope you enjoy my listings of haunted houses.

These are in no particular order.

FRANKLIN CASTLE a/k/a HANNES TIEDEMANN MANSION

Let's begin with the Franklin Castle also known as the Hannes Tiedemann Mansion located in Cleveland, Ohio.  It is purported to be the most haunted house in Ohio.  This house has 4 stories and more than 20 rooms.



  It was built in 1881 for a German immigrant named Hannes Tiedemann.  

Between 1891 and 1895, 6 members of the Tiedemann family died in that house.  The first was Emma.  She died at the age of 15 from complications arising from her diabetes.  Shortly thereafter, Hannes elderly mother Wiebeka died. In the next three years, the Tiedemann's lost a child a year to death.  Finally in 1895, Mrs. Tiedemann died from liver disease.  Rumors were rampant that something was going on in that house that just wasn't normal.  Too many deaths, too close together.

Upon the death of his wife, Hannes sold the house to the Mullhauser family and by 1908 Hannes had died. There was no one left of his family to inherit his rather massive fortune.

There is little known about the Mullhauser family.  I don't know how long they lived in the house.  But from all accounts, the house remained vacant until 1968 when it was purchased by the Romano family.  James Romano, his wife and their six children lived in the house until 1974.  They reported numerous ghostly encounters.

They tried to have the house exorcised and even called in a paranormal group to investigate the property all to no avail.  They moved and sold the house to Sam Muscatello who planned to turn the mansion into a church.  In order to raise the necessary capital for his project, he offered guided tours of the house and even offered people (for a fee) a chance to spend the night in Ohio's most haunted mansion.

However, Mr. Muscatello's dream would never come to fruition and he sold the house in 1984 to Michael DeVinko.  Over the next ten years, Mr. DeVinko spent more than a million dollars renovating the house and even went as far as tracking down furniture and art pieces that had originally inhabited the mansion.  But by 1994 he, too had sold the house.

Between 1994 and 2011 the house had changed hands many times.  Mostly it had set abandoned.  During this time period two separate fires had been set by vagrants damaging both the main house and the carriage house.   A shadowy group had advertised that they were planning to turn the mansion into a private club and upscale restaurant even going as far as putting up a very detailed website which purported to document the renovation progress.  It was later discovered that the pictures the site used had been copied from various unrelated sites and that no work was being done to the mansion.  Rather the shadowy group had used the mansion to film pornographic video's and the website with all its documented improvements was simply a ruse to rip off investors.

In 2011 a European tapestry artist had bought the mansion, had it rezoned for a three family dwelling and had begun renovations on it.  Their intention is to live in one of the units and rent out the other two.

WILKES BARRE HAUNTED HOUSE



It's been stated that this house has a "pretty nasty reputation" as a haunted house.  The house situated at 46 South Welles Street, was built in the mid-1860's by wealthy industrialist Augustus Lanning. It has been featured in many local news articles between 1979 and 1982 with one previous owner describing the house as "Wilkes Barre's own version of the Amityville Horror house".

Prior residents of the house had committed suicide in both 1940 and in 1950.

Walker Bennett said he moved out of the house in 1978 because it was haunted.  He described ghostly figures of a well dressed man with a cane wandering the house, a young girl in a nightgown, inexplicable sounds emanating from the attic and within the walls as well as bloody spots on the walls and pools of what appeared to be blood found on the floors.

Twice he and his wife witnessed their daughter trip at the top of the stairs and drift in slow motion to the bottom as if she were being carried by some unseen person.

Later he said he knocked a few holes in a wall in a back bedroom searching for the origins of the sounds that appeared to come from within the walls.  He found a tin box that contained a red ribbon, what appeared to be human molars and chicken bones tied together in the form of a cross.  He also found a photo of Lanning. Mr. Bennett swears that the photo depicts the same man he had seen wandering the house.  This same man beat on the front door on more than one occasion.

Walker Bennett brought in a priest to bless the house.  In March, 1978 the Bennetts finally fled the house leaving behind most of their worldly possessions including their electronics, televisions and other costly furnishings.

The morning they fled the house, Mr. Bennett said the family was awakened by loud thunder even though the weather was clear.  They heard footsteps running in the attic, a young girl screaming, a child crying behind a wall, the front door shaking as though someone were trying to force their way inside the house.  The dishes in the kitchen were all smashing against the walls.

In March, 1980 controversial psychics Ed and Lorraine Warren toured the house.  There are photo's of Lorraine leaving the house with her hand against her chest as if in pain.  She stated she felt a "terrible despair".

Katherine Watkins bought the distressed property in 1982 for $20,000.  This generated headlines that read "Haunted house sold in Heights".  She stated to reporters at the time that she wasn't scared of ghosts. However, according to her neighbor and friend, Betsy Summers who lived across the street, Ms. Watkins reported unexplained phenomena such as shaking beds, lights and/or appliances turning off and moving objects.  Haunted or not, Ms. Watkins remained in the house until her death in 2011.

SUMMERWIND/LAMONT MANSION





Summerwind (also known as Lamont Mansion) was built in the early 20th century as a fishing lodge on the edge of West Bay Lake in northeastern Wisconsin.  In 1916 the property was bought by Robert Pattinson Lamont who hired architects to transform the lodge into a private residence.   The renovations took two years to complete and once completed turned the hunting lodge into a mansion.  The majority of the mansion was new construction.

Lamont lived in the mansion for about 15 years after the renovation.  During this time period the maids and other staff members complained to Lamont that the house was haunted.  Lamont ignored their complaints as he didn't believe the house was old enough to be haunted.

However, in the mid-1930's, Lamont abandoned the property when he personally witnessed what he believed to be a paranormal event.

Local legend holds that one night while he and his wife were in the kitchen eating dessert, the door to the basement began to shake violently.  When it opened, the shadowy figure of a man was revealed.  Lamont grabbed his pistol and managed to fire off a couple of shots before grabbing his wife and fleeing the property.

At some point in the early 1940's, the property was sold to the Keefer family.  Some reports  list the purchase having occurred shortly after and some shortly before Lamont's death.  The Keefer family never lived on the property.  Rather they subdivided the property and sold the land piece meal.  The plot containing the mansion was sold and resold numerous times.  Each time it was abandoned or foreclosed, it reverted back to the Keefer family.

In 1969, after remaining vacant for some 20 years, the house was sold to Arnold and Ginger Hinshaw. Together with their 4 children, they lived in the mansion.  After moving into the mansion, they reported numerous ghostly events that ranged from flickering lights, doors opening on their own, hearing whispers that would suddenly stop when they walked into the room to seeing the apparition of a woman on several occasions in the dining room.

The Hinshaw's had an extremely difficult time keeping workers to help them renovate the house.  After a time they decided to do as much of the work as possible themselves.  One day while they were working, Arnold Hinshaw removed a shoe drawer and discovered a hidden recess behind it.  When he peered into the hole, he noticed what appeared to be bones and long black hair.  As he couldn't get further into the recess, he got his daughter to crawl in to take a look.  She discovered the skeletal remains of a woman hidden in the recess of the wall.

Within six months of moving into the house, Arnold suffered a nervous breakdown.  He took to wandering the mansion at night and to play the Hammond organ wildly. He claimed he heard voices that told him to do this.  During this time period, Ginger attempted suicide.

Arnold was committed to a hospital for treatment and Ginger moved in with her parents.  The land (and house) again reverted back to the Keefer's.

Years later, Raymond Bober (Ginger's father) bought the property with plans to turn it into an upscale bed and breakfast.  While renovating the property, Mr. Bober couldn't keep workers employed there.  They kept complaining that they felt uncomfortable there.  They said their tools would turn up missing or moved. They heard voices and noises that couldn't be explained away. By 1979 Mr. Bober had abandoned his plan to open a B&B due to the unnatural events that plagued the property and again, it reverted back to the Keefers.

By 1986 the mansion had fallen into near total disrepair.  It was sold again to an investment firm from Canada who in turn sold it to a family from Ontario, Canada.  They too, reported supernatural occurrences while on the property.

In June, 1988 the mansion was struck multiple times by lightning.  The only thing that remains now of the once expansive mansion are the chimney's, some of the foundation and the stone steps leading to the house.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thinking of improving your home before selling?

There are improvements you can make to your home that will indeed make the house more desirable to potential buyers and will help you sell your house faster and for more money.  But the key to home improvements is knowing which ones to do and which ones to skip.

If you're improving your home for your own benefit, go all out.  But if you are doing the improvements with the thoughts of putting your home on the market, maybe you should reconsider.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am an avid DIY & HGTV watcher!  However, some of the home improvement and selling your house shows appear to be so out of touch with reality that it boggles my mind.  Maybe because most of them are shot in California and Canada? All I know is whatever planet they are on - it's nowhere near Alabama.  I watched a show the other night on HGTV where the folks put $35,000 into their existing home and received an increase of $80,000 in the value of their home.  All they did was finish a basement and update an existing bathroom!  $80,000 - really??

Then there are the flipper shows.  These shows (again mostly in California or Canada) feature folks who buy a house for say $100,000.  They spend about $30,000 on it and then turn around in under a month and sell it for $300,000.  While these shows are very entertaining and even educational, they are grossly out of touch with the reality that most of us have to live with.  I also think these shows give local realtors nightmares. When a realtor gets a first time seller who watches these shows and then goes wild and updates the kitchen, bath and adds a deck and then is unrealistically determined to get double the price they paid for the house 3 years ago.....it's a nightmare for the realtor.

Suffice it to say, this post will have zero to do with the markets of Canada or California.

Of course, no matter where you live there are improvements you can do to your home that will raise the value and attractiveness of your home.  But sometimes all it will do is improve the attractiveness but not the value.  If you want a quick sell, then improving the attractiveness is a good thing.  Just don't expect to recoup the cost of the improvements in the final price. Below are a few improvements that will likely cost you money in the long run.

Landscaping

Curb appeal is essential to selling your home.  If you can't get them interested in the exterior - they're not going to be interested in seeing the interior.  At the same time, always remember that landscaping is akin to paint colors in that it always boils down to personal taste.  While you may think your water features, statues and expanse of neatly manicured boxwoods scream beautiful - a potential buyer may think it instead screams maintenance and others will think it simply screams ugly.  It's all in the individuals personal taste.   Below is a picture of a home with tons of boxwoods in a formal garden setting.  While this is lovely to look at........imagine how many hours are needed during the growing season to maintain this look. Most house hunters are looking for low maintenance lawns.  They won't mind mowing but spending every weekend trimming shrubs, mulching extensive flower beds or getting algae out of the fountain, is just not their idea of a fun weekend.

Along with fountains, pools are another potential money drain.  The only exception to this rule is when you are the only house in the neighborhood without a pool.  If people are coming to view your home, chances are they are familiar to some degree with your neighborhood already.  They might have driven around it.  They might know someone who lives nearby. Either way, they are going to be aware that every house in the neighborhood boasts a pool - but yours.  That can be a deterrent.  However, if this isn't the case and you add a pool you have just lost 50% of potential buyers because half of the house shoppers won't want a pool due to the cost of maintaining it and the liability issues.  Especially if they have small children or are planning to have them in the near future.  Putting in a pool in this situation will cost you both time and money when  you try to sell your house.

Flooring

No one wants to buy a house with bad flooring.  At the same time, no one wants to buy a house with wall to wall carpeting or unusual tiling either.  While you as a homeowner may think ripping up carpeting is not that big of a chore, potential home buyers don't want to shell out their life savings to buy a house at full price and then spend even  more money, time and effort to rip out carpeting just to be forced to spend even more money, time and effort to either repair the hardwoods beneath or install new hardwoods.

Same is true of unusual tiling.  You may absolutely love the intricate tile work in your kitchen, bath or sunroom.  But you may just be the only person who does.  I can't imagine it, but apparently someone thought the tile work below was a good idea......it wasn't.


If you need to address the flooring in your home before putting it on the market, do a little research and find out what the current trend is in flooring in your particular area.  If it's Berber carpeting then go that route.  But if it's hardwoods - don't install Berber.  If you do - asking price is history.

High End (here and there)

I have viewed tons of houses in my lifetime.  The thing that always blows my mind is when I look at a house and hate everything about it BUT the kitchen.  Or I hate everything BUT the bathroom, etc.  I'm not going to buy a house to get a kitchen.  Not many people will.

People seem to think that as long as they put high end finishes in their kitchen and/or bathroom that potential buyers will overlook anything else.  That's not the case.  If your house isn't consistent in the quality of the finishes, it will just make the areas that aren't high end stand out like a sore thumb.  You want the entire property inside and out to be consistent.  Otherwise you will lose money in the sale of your home.

Better to go with a mid range finish and appliances in your kitchen/bath and then spend the extra money elsewhere maybe in refinishing the hardwoods and adding an outside gathering area to the back yard.  

Warning:  What you consider high end might be what someone else considers trashy.  While the following picture shows a kitchen overflowing with expensive finishes and detailing.....I personally find it gaudy and WAY over done.  However, someone apparently loved it enough to pay for it.


Below are pictures of kitchens taken by Realtors.  While you don't want to over improve....anything would be an improvement to these kitchens.



The photo below shows an over improved kitchen in an under improved house.  I call it over improved only because it doesn't come close to matching the rest of the house.  Not that anyone would want it to match...but you get my point.  Notice how new, modern, neat and clean the kitchen looks?  Now compare it to the living room of the same house......oh dear!  It's as if someone stole the kitchen from another house and plopped it into this one.  I think they should have stolen a living room while they were at it.



Mystery Improvements

Mystery improvements involve money spent in areas that improve the home while not doing so esthetically.  Updating or upgrading the electrical or plumbing systems would be one example of a mystery improvement.  Perhaps the basement leaks and you spend money having that taken care of.   Getting a new HVAC system or tankless water heater are other examples.

While all of the above improves the property, it doesn't necessarily improve the property's value to a buyer.  When a buyer views your property, he or she feels they have a right to expect everything to be in good working order to begin with.  Hearing that the electrical has been newly updated is always great news.  But it's not something that a buyer will be willing to compensate you for.  In a buyer's mind, all the above items are simply a part of normal wear and tear on a property.  It's normal maintenance that any homeowner should do whether they are thinking of selling their home or not.

On the flip side, if you don't do the mystery improvements and you get an offer on your house, the chances are great that their inspector will discover these deficiencies and you will either be asked to pay to have them done anyway or the buyer will want a reduction in price.

So with all of the above in mind, what exactly should you do before listing your house for sale??  My recommendation would be to first attend to any outstanding maintenance issues that an inspector might discover and that would give the buyers leverage in lowering your price (or walking away from the deal altogether).  Then I would worry about the esthetics of your property.

Rather than putting in that new kitchen and bath, I'd work with what I already have and simply upgrade simple things such as the faucet, backsplash, counter tops and perhaps reface the cabinets.  Then I'd make sure the entire property (outside too) is spotless.  Slap a coat of neutral paint on every wall and ceiling and call it a day.  

Before I go please let me stress that if you decide to pretty up the kitchen, back splashes, counter tops and cabinets all go together as one update.  Why people think that they can update the counter tops but leave the old dated cabinets as they are is a mystery to me.  I've seen folks buy new counter tops but leave the old pine cabinets untouched and the torn vinyl flooring just as they found it.  Huh???  If you don't have the money to do all of it - don't do any of it.  For around $250 you can get a kit from Rustoleum that will refinish the cabinets without sanding and for the same price (again from Rustoleum) a product that will refinish your tired laminate counter tops.  So for what these folks paid just to replace their counter tops you can redo both. When people look at this picture they don't see it as "well, at least we can save on buying new counter tops" they see it as "We'll have to toss out the counter tops anyway when we have to replace the cabinets and the flooring".

Hope this was helpful.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Painting for beginners....or those who think they hate to paint....

Sooner or later in a person's life, they will have to pick up a paintbrush.  Well, maybe not someone like Paris Hilton or Donald Trump, but the rest of the world will inevitably have to paint something at some point.  It might be a wall, ceiling or maybe even a bookshelf.  So before you find yourself cleaning grout with a toothpick just because it delays painting, I'm going to show you how easy this process can be.

Painting is honestly not a difficult job.  There are exceptions as there are to anything, but the vast majority of painting projects are super easy, not messy and leave you with a feeling of accomplishment when it's all done.

There are two major steps in painting that when ignored, rushed or altered will lead to a ruined, messy and horrible finished product.  These steps are:  1. choosing the paint (this step includes paint finish, color, paint type, paint brand and light reflective quality of the paint) and 2. prepping the area for paint.

You can be spot on with your paint choice but skip the prep step and wind up with a big, bad, ugly mess.  You can prep to perfection but compromise on the paint selection and again - big, bad, ugly mess.

I am one of those annoying folks who loves to paint.  Always have.  I'll paint anything and I'll try just about any color.  When I find myself in any store that sells paint, I immediately head to the  "oops" paint section to see what they've got that I might possibly want.  I will also say that I'm pretty darned good with a brush.  But that wasn't always the case - not at all.  I became a good painter when I discovered that to fudge on steps 1 and/or 2 inevitably led to disaster and the expense of hiring a professional to come in and clean up my mess.

I'm going to do this post with painting a room in mind.  I'll get to painting furniture in a later post.

Step 1:  The Paint
You need to be familiar with the room you intend to paint.  How much light does it get at different times of the day?  How bright is that light?  Maybe you get full sunlight in the mornings but diffused light in the afternoon.  Or maybe you have large trees outside your windows and you only get diffused light at best at any time of the day.

There are paint brands on the market today that will tell you what the "light reflective value" is of any shade of their paint.  This is so helpful.  But to be honest, it's pretty easy to figure out on your own.  The lighter the color, the more light the paint will reflect.  The darker the color the more light the paint will absorb.

The current fad in decorating is to say that dark walls don't make a room appear smaller than it is.  I don't know how these designers came up with that idea.  It's pretty much science that the more reflective value a paint has - the larger the space will appear.  Seems like old fashion common sense to me.  However, you should be aware that not all white's reflect the most light.  It all depends upon the sheen and any undertones.

At night you need to be mindful of shadow areas.  Those are the areas within your room that are not completely lit by the lamps that you normally turn on at night.  If you normally don't use the over head light, then don't base your opinion on what the room looks like with it on.  These shadow areas can dramatically change the color of your wall paint.  So if you love the color everywhere else but hate it in the shadow area, your best bet is either pick another color or fill that shadow area with a light cast from a lamp or mirror.  If that's not an option try camouflaging the area with a tall side chair or even a tall plant or statue.

Other things to consider are trim color, ceiling color, artwork, furniture.  Anything that is going to be up against the wall paint color needs to be considered because that color will shadow onto your wall color and the results might not be super attractive.  That would include kitchen cabinetry (if you're painting the kitchen).  Below is a sample area that I did using a light yellow that has a very subtle green undertone.  I painted this next to my built-in china hutch in my breakfast room.  You can see how beige it looks next to the wood.
Next I'll show you another sample area that I did using the same paint but next to white trim.  The difference is pretty amazing.  They really don't even look as if they came from the same can of paint - but they did.

  In the store, beneath their fluorescent lights and without anything else next to it, a paint color will look one way but once you get it home under your lighting and next to your possessions, it can take on a very different hue.  I always recommend buying a sample jar of paint and then painting a square foot section in several areas of your room.  Then live with that for a couple of days.  You will then be able to see how it looks at all times of the day and night.  You will be able to decide if it looks good next to your sofa or against your favorite piece of art.  If it passes this test - head back to the store and buy as much as you need.  If not, time to buy another sample.  This step is so critical.  I have jumped head first into painting a room without painting sample areas and have lived to regret it - and repeat the process in order to correct my mistake.  This step is the main reason folks paint their walls either white or beige.  They think with those two colors, who can go wrong? However, what they don't seem to understand is the simple fact that white and beige can change hues dependant upon lighting and what's next to them as well as any other color can.  If you put white next to another shade of white, you get a dingy white.  In the right (or wrong) lighting conditions beige can appear to be just an off white that has aged really badly.  Ever walk into a room and while your eyes don't see any dirt, dust or clutter - it just doesn't feel clean??  My bet is that room was painted either white or beige and the hues had changed due to the colors touching them or reflecting off them.

Nearly every paint company has a different word for shiny or not shiny.  I leave all that up to the person in the store mixing my paint.  I have decided keeping up with that information is just something that my brain doesn't need to retain.  I tell the guy (or gal) I want shiny or I don't want shiny and he/she takes it from there.  You need to also let them know if this is going to be used in the bathroom or kitchen because you will want scrubbable & moisture tolerant paint in those areas.  Trim is another area that requires a tough paint finish that you can scrub without it coming off.

Brand.  Where to begin?  There are literally hundreds of paint brands on the market these days.  This is the area that folks either save money or waste money.  Please believe me when I tell you that just because it's cheaper, it doesn't mean you're going to save money by buying it.  I've said it once and I'll say it again.  In this world you usually get what you pay for.  Cheap paint usually equals color that fades, scuffs up easily or even thins over time leaving areas where the sheetrock is obviously peeking through the paint.  Cheap paint comes off your wall with the slightest amount of scrubbing.  If you bump your sofa onto a wall that has cheap paint you can rest assured there will be a large black scuff mark.  It also takes 3 times the amount of paint to get a good solid coverage so while the cheap paint may have cost $10 a gallon you wound up having to use 3 gallons and 3 times the work to get a good coverage so why not spring for a $30 per gallon paint and only have to paint it once??  Cheap paint simply will not last long.  If you use the $10 per gallon paint within 6 months to a year (max) you will have to repaint your room while the $30 per gallon paint should last 2 to 3 years or even longer if you wipe it down regularly.

Step 2:  The Prep Work

Remember this - paint will not stick in areas that have dust, dirt or any kind of oily residue on them.  It will look like it painted over those things really well - at first.  As the paint begins to dry it becomes heavier.  At this point, the dust or dirt will pull away from the wall due to the weight of the paint on top of it and it will either form a bubble or fall away completely leaving an unpainted spot.  The paint will simply slide off the oily residue spots.  Again, leaving an unpainted spot on your wall.  Also, grime left on the wall before painting, will change the color of your paint in that area.  So first thing to do is to clean your walls before you paint them.  You don't have to break out the scrub brush, rubber gloves and bleach water.  Just take a broom or dust mop and go over every inch of your wall beginning with the top and working your way down.  Once you've done that, look closely at your wall.  If you see a dirty spot that your broom didn't take care of, use a scrub sponge to get rid of it.  Tip: never use an SOS pad or any other type of metal scrubber because the metal will flake off and embed in your sheetrock or plaster leaving that area a different hue than the rest of your wall once painted.

While you are cleaning your walls, look for any nails that are backing out of the wall, holes, bowing or any other issue that will ruin your finished product.  Take care of those now rather than later.

Once your wall is clean and any repairs needed are done, it's time to tape it off.  I had a professional painter once tell me that the difference between a professional and an ameteur is that a professional never tapes - he doesn't have to.  Well, I must be a quasi-professional because sometimes I tape and other times I don't.  It all depends on what I'm painting and how calm I am that day.  The whole purpose of taping is to prevent the paint from leaving the intended area and getting into areas that you don't want painted that particular color.  It is also a way to get a straight edge quickly.  I always tape any glass areas and/or hardware such as hinges, door knobs, electric outlets, etc.  Not because I'm a bad painter but because as the day wears on and I become more tired, I tend to slop the paint on a bit willy nilly. Accidental splashing and/or dripping can, and most often does, occur.  This causes me more work.

The picture above is a perfect taping job.  Note that tape is also covering your electrical outlets and light switches.  This is very important.  Nothing says bad job like paint on your outlet or light switch.  Remove the covers and tape up the rest.  Next photo will show you how to tape windows in preparation for painting.


Always lay something on your floor.  My personal favorite is a canvas tarp.  The reason they're my favorite is because not only do they not slip beneath your feet but you can wash them and reuse them many many times. You can also use plastic garbage bags or the plastic painter's sheets.  I like to tape it to the floor so it doesn't move around and to prevent any spilled paint from slipping beneath it.

When to take your tape off?  I've heard as many folks say to wait until the paints dry as I have those who say take it off while the paint is still wet.  I imagine this is a matter of personal preference.  My preference is to take the tape off before the paint dries but not while it is still super wet.  I have tried it both ways and my way makes for less peeling of the paint.  Sometimes when you wait until the paint has cured (meaning once it's completely dry), when you remove the tape, the tape will peel away some of your paint.  I have never had this happen when I take it down wet.  Either way you always want to go slow and pull the tape at an angle.  It only takes a matter of minutes before you have this technique mastered.

The picture below shows crooked lines.  This was not caused by the removal of the tape but rather the bad application of the tape.  Always lay your tape on the wall, go over the edge closest to where you're going to paint with a flat edge such as a spackle applicator.  This will push out any air bubbles and make sure your tape is properly adhered to your wall.  Then taking a lightly loaded paint brush (not a roller), brush paint all along this edge.  Now when you roll close to the tape, no excess paint will leak under your tape.
Below is what happens when you pull the tape off too quickly, not at an angle or after it's completely dried.  Not attractive.

If your walls are new sheetrock or if they haven't been painted in a long time, it's always recommended to use a good primer before painting.  Your finished product will last longer and look better.  Always get your primer tinted the same color as your chosen wall color.  This will allow you to skip a second coat in most instances.

Now, where to begin painting?  Again, this is a matter of personal preference.  I prefer to frame the area I intend to paint so I cut first.  Cutting is where you take your brush and paint all the edges first.  Then I use my roller to fill in the middle.  Once that's done, I go back over my cutting again to make sure it all blends in well.

Last, let me warn you that just because you put a ton of paint on your brush or roller, it doesn't mean that you will finish the job faster.  What it usually means is that your paint will glob leaving bubbles and it will drip leaving drip marks and messes on the floor.  You want your brush or roller to have enough paint to do the job but you don't want it to be dripping full of paint.  It's far better to do 2 coats than 1 coat that bubbles.

See the picture below as an example of what happens when you overload your paint brush or roller.


Below is an example of getting in a hurry and applying way too much paint in one particular area.  Always allow the first coat to dry before adding a second coat or bubbles may be your result.  If you get bubbles, use a sanding sponge and lightly sand the affected area until you have removed all the bubbles.  Then wipe the area with a dry cloth and repaint.  It's your only option.
Dry time versus cure time?  Dry time is the amount of time it takes for the paint to be dry to the touch.  Meaning it's not sticky and no paint comes off on your fingers when you lightly touch the wall.  This means it's dry enough for a second coat.  It does not mean that the paint has cured.  The amount of time it takes for the paint to dry varies greatly with your physical location and the weather at that particular moment at your location.  In Arizona you can do the second coat as soon as you've finished the first one.  In Alabama, you need to wait at least a couple of hours before testing dryness.  Alabama has far more humidity than Arizona so paint takes longer to dry.  Also, if it's humid outside or raining, allow extra dry time.  If the temperatures are below 50 - allow for extra dry time.

The paint is cured once it has had ample time to dry all the way through.  Every manufacturer will have a slightly different cure time.  Usually the time is written on the can but if not, ask the person assisting you in the paint center.  They should be able to help you with this.  My personal rule of thumb is 2 days.  I don't put anything up against the painted area or hang any artwork for a full 2 days - 3 if it's been very humid or raining.

So.  Now you're up to speed on all the particulars of painting a room.  Remember, it's only paint.  If you mess it up the first time (or the second) simply sand down any obvious imperfections and paint it again.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Window Treatments for every budget

Whether you rent or own, if your space has windows, they will need window treatments.  It's always easiest to pick up a phone and call a designer to take care of this for you.  However, it's certainly not the cheapest solution.

Maybe I can give you a few ideas that won't break the bank and will look great!

Window treatments act as a necklace to your neck.  They bring softness and interest to an otherwise unadorned area.  They can add a punch of color, texture or graphic art to the windows.  This is especially important if you're a renter and are forbidden to paint your walls.  Windows, walls and doors can add sternness to a room because of their rigid lines.  Framing them with fabric not only adds color but also softens the feel of the room.  Adding fabric to these areas can also aide in insulating your space.  In the olden days, many homeowners added heavy drapery to all of their interior doorways just for this reason.  Some cities at the turn of the last century based a homeowner's property taxes on the number of doors in their house.  For this reason, many homeowners opted to forego the traditional door to their closets and rather substituted curtains.

When it comes to treating your windows, fabric is always the best choice.  But what kind of fabric?  That depends on which way your window faces, how well your windows are insulated and the view on the other side.  Windows that bring in a lot of sunlight and/or heat (such as southern facing windows) will need curtains or drapery constructed of durable material which can withstand the constant heat and light.  Tapestry, corduroy, chenille, velvet and some rayon fabrics are best for bright windows.  A linen or thin cotton fabric is a perfect choice if all you need is texture, color or a softening element at your window and where direct sunlight or the need for insulation is not an issue.

If you are the type of person who likes to change up their decor every year or so, then you can skimp on lining the curtains but if you are in this for the long haul, lining your drapery will not only provide the protection needed from the sun but also add weight to your curtains which will make them hang well.

Searching for your fabric is a very individual process.  Some people have to see the fabric in person.  Touch it.  Others don't mind basing their decision off a picture on a website.  I have done both and have had happy results from both.

Sewing is a huge reason that most people opt to purchase already made draperies or have a professional do them.  Good news!  You don't have to sew to make window treatments.  You can go to any craft store or even big box retailers like Wal-Mart and get a roll of witch tape.
This is the easiest way to "sew" ever!  All you need is a pair of scissors, fabric, an iron and the witch tape.  You fold your fabric to form a seam or hemline, place the tape between the main body of the fabric and the folded part, lightly hold a hot iron on each section until the tape melts and you are done!  Warning: Never run the hot iron over the fabric containing the witch tape as if you were ironing a shirt.  Let the iron sit on a spot holding the witch tape for about 5 seconds.  Lift the iron and then place it on the next section containing the tape, etc. until you have successfully melted the tape.  Also, be careful that none of the tape is exposed directly to the iron.  Otherwise the tape will melt to the iron and cause a mess that is not easy to clean.

With this approach you will get perfect seams every time.  It will even hold up well to the washing machine.  However, repeatedly putting this in the dryer will eventually break it down and cause it to turn loose.  If the tape does begin to turn loose, simply cut a small amount of unused witches tape, put it in the area that has come loose and hold a hot iron on it.  Problem solved.  Another upside to using this is the fact that you won't have visible thread lines on the finished product.

Below is an example of easy to make curtains.

To make the above curtains, make a hem on all four sides of the fabric that you have cut for your curtains. Using the witch tape, iron the hems until the tape has melted.  It only takes a few seconds for the tape to melt.  Then simply clip the curtain holders to the top and thread the clips onto the rod.  Done.  The entire process takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish.  No sewing required.  Note:  If you are going to use clips, be careful not to choose heavy fabric for your curtains or eventually the fabric can slip out of the clips.

I hope you have gotten a few ideas today!  Don't be afraid to make your own curtains.  It's not hard and not expensive.

How to find your dream home

This article will (hopefully) assist you in finding that perfect property and avoiding the not so perfect property.

Buying a house is the single most expensive and time consuming purchase you will ever make in your lifetime. Also, next to deciding who to marry and having children, it's the largest single commitment of your lifetime.  Sure if the marriage doesn't work out you can get a divorce.  Children will eventually grow up and move out.  In the perfect market if you decide a year or so down the road that you aren't exactly in love with the house you purchased, you can always sell it.  However, these days the perfect market really doesn't exist so in today's world, it's far easier to get rid of a bad marriage than a bad house purchase - and probably far cheaper.

House hunting is a lot like dating.  You go on that first date with someone and they just seem so perfect in every way.  Then you go on the second date, maybe they're still pretty perfect.  But by the third date, cracks are beginning to show through the veneer of perfection and by the fourth date, you can't wait for dinner to be over so you can just go home, lock the door and block his (or her) number from your phone.

Looking at properties should be given the same time and multiple looks as deciding who you're going to date long term.  After all, if you commit to dating a person and 6 months down the road you don't want to anymore, you can always break up.  But once you sign on the dotted lines for a house - you're committed to that property for usually the next 30 years.

Stage One: Narrowing down the list of properties.

I always recommend that anyone looking to purchase a property begin with some intensive online research before contacting an agent.  You need to be informed as to what's available in your price range and in your preferred location(s).  You need to be aware of what people are listing properties for with the amenities you require.

Now let's imagine you've been looking online at the usual websites (www.realtor.com or maybe www.trulia.com ) and you've found 2 or 3 houses within your price range that you are really excited about. You've looked at all the pictures posted on these properties.  You've gone to Google street view and "wandered" about the street where the properties are located to get an idea of the neighborhood.  Things like how many vacant houses are on that block, are the neighboring lawns well maintained, are there commercial buildings within a few blocks of the property.  If you have children, you've researched the school districts in that neighborhood. Everything seems to check out. What to do now?

Now you go into what I call investigator mode.  You take your top 2 or 3 properties and you stake them out. You drive by them early in the mornings (weekend and work day - this will let you know how busy the street is and also how your commute to work or taking the kids to school will change) and then you drive by them late at night making sure to do it late enough that normally you would be in bed sleeping.  By all means do this both during a work night and on both a Friday and a Saturday night (some folks don't party on Friday nights but always party on Saturday and vice versa).  I strongly recommend doing all of the above no fewer than 3 times per week (every Friday and Saturday night and then an alternating work week night) for a minimum of 2 weeks.  The reason for this?  Simple.  Some noisy neighbors are a little noisy all the time and some neighbors are extremely noisy only half of the time.  By doing the above stakeouts you will know if your potential house is next door to someone who will make you crazy.  By doing your stakeout on both weekends and during the normal work week, you will be able to tell if the neighbor next door works weekends - but not during the week - or if they work at all.  Neighbors who aren't elderly and don't work at all usually make for bad neighbors.  They don't have to worry about staying up late at night - any night.

In this phase make a point to park as close to the proposed property as possible, turn your engine off, roll down your window and listen.  Do you hear bass coming from a stereo?  Do you hear dogs barking incessantly? Do you hear folks sitting on the porch talking/laughing when you'd normally be trying to sleep?  Do you see a lot of foot traffic when maybe there shouldn't be?  If so, scratch this house off your list and move on - I don't care how perfect it looks and how well it's priced - move on.   There is always - always - a reason that a property that looks perfect is priced lower than it probably should be.  Nothing brings the price of a perfect house down like an imperfect neighborhood or neighbor.   Further down I have posted pictures of a perfect house in an imperfect neighborhood.

Tip:  Make sure to have printouts from whatever website you found the house on with you just in case a vigilant neighbor notices you and calls the police - which is a good thing - vigilant neighbors are a neighborhood's best friend.  If the police approach you, show them the printout and simply tell them what you're doing.  As long as you aren't trespassing or parking illegally, the police will simply tell you to move on.  BUT while he/she's there, take advantage of the situation and ask him/her what he/she knows about the neighborhood.  The police know more about a particular block than a real estate agent will ever know.

Which brings me to my next suggestion.  Visit the local precinct where the property is located.  In many large cities, the police keep a database of their calls and can look the address up and tell you if that block is a trouble block or not.  In smaller towns, they won't have such a database but they will be able to tell you from their professional experience whether or not they get a lot of calls from that block.  Either way, it's good information to know.

Now a few years ago, I'd say time is of the essence and if you find a house you love - jump on it before someone else snatches it up from under you!  However, these days houses sit on the market longer than they used to so you have the luxury of taking your time.  Plus, if the house is still on the market when you've completed your stakeouts, maybe the owners will be willing to negotiate a bit on the price?

Below are some shots of a beautiful house on a stunning lot.  This house is gorgeous with fully updated kitchen and baths, a fabulous outside entertaining area complete with a pool.  Meticulously maintained property.  The price seems fantastic!  On paper - a perfect house.  However, it sits on a narrow, curving and extremely busy street.  The surrounding houses are marginal. Some of the surrounding houses are actually government subsidized rentals.  The school district is poor at best.  As nice as this house and lot is - unfortunately it's overpriced for the location and will either sit on the market for a very long time or sell at a greatly reduced price.


Stage Two - Picking the Right House

So you've done your investigation and there are 3 houses within your price range that you equally like.  Now what?

Now you call a realtor.  I never ever recommend using the same realtor as the sellers.  Absolutely never.  It's crazy to think that a person can represent two parties in the same transaction and do it equally.  Remember, the agent that has the listing signed on to represent the sellers before you ever came along.  That in itself tells me where their loyalty lies.

Some houses have excellent floor plans.  Spacious rooms.  Tons of storage.  Kitchen and baths that won't require you to gut them.  Then you step into the yard.  Magic gone.

Other houses have beautiful yards.  Well maintained.  Wonderful flower beds.  Healthy trees and shrubs. Thick healthy grass.

You want both if at all possible.  However, unless you have the budget for remodels - go with the perfect house and worry about having a perfect yard down the road.  It's far easier and cheaper to redo your landscaping than it is to remodel your house.

Below are some shots of a property for sale in a decent neighborhood.  It boasts an acre of land and beautiful outdoor spaces.  I can see falling in love with this property and the price - from the outside.  Once you enter the house you quickly discover that every inch of it needs to be updated.  From the outdated kitchen to the outdated bathrooms to the enormous amount of dark paneling....every surface would have to be "touched".


Stage Three - You've found "the one" - what now?

It's easy for a pretty house to look amazing in good weather and during the daytime.  When  you find that house that is perfect in every other way, view it multiple times.  You want to view it during the day in nice weather so you can move about with ease inside and out.  You want to see how much natural light it gets, you want to see if the fence is in good condition all the way around, if the grass is healthy - all things that you can't see at night.  But you also want to view it at night when the neighbors are all home so  you can see what kind of noise levels are inside the house.  You will want to know how dark the interior is at night even with the lights on. At any time that you view a house, you always want to flip all the switches to see if all the fixtures work properly, all the ceiling fans work, the disposal works, the doorbell works, the sprayer on the kitchen sinks works, the toilet flushes properly.  Run water in the tub and/or shower to make sure it drains property.  Look for any mold in the grout or on the ceilings in the bathroom or under the sink in both the bath and kitchen.

If at all possible, you will want to view this house when it's raining, the morning after a big rain or after a snow when the snow is melting.  This is the easiest way to find active leaks.  Trust me when I tell you that even an active leak can go undetected by your inspector if it hasn't rained in a while since they use a gadget that detects moisture to determine if the leak is an old one or an active one.  If it hasn't rained in a while - the meter won't pick up any moisture and the inspector will determine the leak to be an old inactive one.  This has actually happened to me - it's not a cheap discovery and I was not amused.  Also, in this type of weather, pull the curtains back and look at the windows.  Are they fogging?  Any cracked windows?  Do they open easily?  Foggy windows means windows that aren't insulated and windows that aren't insulated means high energy bills.

Take a lighter with you and when you are inside the house with the doors closed, light the lighter and move it slowly around the edges of the door.  If the fire flickers - you have a breeze. That means the cold air from outside is coming in during the winter and the hot air is coming in during the summer.  It also means outside noise will invade your home easier than it should.  Good insulation drastically improves your sound barriers.

Stage Four - The all important offer

For most people selling their home is an emotional matter.  Maybe because they've lived there for years, raised their family there and have good memories of it.  Or maybe because it belonged to their parents.  Maybe because unfortunate circumstances such as a divorce or pending bankruptcy or foreclosure has caused them to sell it which has put them on edge about the whole process because they don't want to sell their house but are being forced to do so.  Whatever the reason for listing their house for sale, very few sellers list their properties for what it's actually worth.  They invariably list it for what they "feel" it should be worth.  Or they list it at a price that will give them the amount of money they want or need to get out of it in mind rather than what it is actually worth in today's market.

What folks don't seem to understand is that sure you can list a house for whatever price floats your boat.  I could list my house for a million dollars.  But it will never ever sell for that amount so all I've accomplished (besides giving my realtor a great story to tell at her next dinner party) would be a sign in my front yard for years to come and then actually selling my house for a teeny tiny fraction of the list price - if at all.

The pictures of the first house above show homeowners who cared for their home, improved their home, put a lot of time and money into their home.  While they have priced it about 20% too high - I have a feeling they will stick to their guns unless they're close to foreclosure.  The reason for this opinion is the fact that when people put sweat, time and money into their homes - they are extremely resistant to anyone telling them that their house is not worth the listing price - or more.  They take it as a personal affront.  However, it's not.  It's a business deal and emotions should never play into any part of it.

People who are trying to overprice their homes need to view selling their house in the same vein of having a garage sale.  That expensive dress you bought ten years ago is just not going to sell at a garage sale for anywhere near the price you paid for it.  After all, you've worn it for ten years.  While this may seem to be an extreme example, you need to realize that while you have indeed put money, time and effort into your home, you have also enjoyed the benefits of any improvements you've made to your property over the years.  In essence, you've gotten your money back already.

My last house had a beautiful yard.  I spent upwards of $2,000 on bulbs & flowers for it over the 5 years that I lived there.  Within a week of my moving - they had removed the multiple hydrangea's, pulled up the azalea's, cut down the fig tree and grape vines and dug up all the flower beds.  Guess my definition of beautiful differed greatly from theirs?

I've made bad emotional choices in home buying myself.  I once bought a house that didn't function for me at all because it sat on a lot I loved - bad decision.  I then bought a house that was priced super cheap, functioned really well for me (and sat on a great lot) but was in a questionable neighborhood - bad decision.

Both bad decisions were made with emotions - not research and logic.

In my opinion the worst mistake that a buyer makes (next to a lack of proper research) is the ever popular lowball offer.  Why do folks do that?  It offends the owner, it annoys the realtor's and the buyer never gets the property for a ridiculous price.  They never do.  I don't care how many TV shows depict buyers offering half of the listing price - and getting the house - in real life, that simply doesn't happen.  So what you end up doing is spending the next week or more tossing numbers back and forth.  That's providing you didn't offend the sellers so badly that they end all negotiations with the first lowball offer.

After wasting all this time and effort trying to get the property at an extra (we'll say) $20,000 off list price, you still end up only getting it for maybe $2,000 under list price - if not the full list price.  So what have you accomplished?  Delay, hurt feelings and a mental promise from your realtor never to answer your call again - ever.

Another downside to lowball offers is the fact that even if they accept a number far below asking, you still have to go through the inspection process.  As a sidenote here - don't skimp on this step.  If you do you will surely live to regret it.  I don't care how many houses your Uncle Joey has built before he retired in 1983, he is still not qualified to properly inspect a house for you - you will NOT save money this way.  Eyeballing isn't considered inspecting either for that matter.  As I stated earlier, just because you don't see any evidence of an active leak inside the house (such as water stains) doesn't mean there's not one there.  You need a professional to check this stuff out properly.

But I digress.  Bear in mind, if the sellers drop their price significantly don't expect them to do any necessary repairs that your inspector finds in his inspection.  They've already given you all the money out of their pocket that you're ever going to get.  So maybe the best way to approach an offer is to offer them a reasonable price for their property.  Not a penny more than what the comparables in the neighborhood suggest.  But maybe leave some wiggle room so that if problems crop up in the inspection, you can ask the sellers to take care of those things.  Also, instead of lowballing the initial offer, ask for some (or all) of your closing costs to be paid by the seller.  But for Pete's sake don't ask for all of the above or the chances are great that you'll be right back to house hunting.

I hope this was helpful.  Happy house hunting!