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January 22nd, 2015 | No Comments

How to Assess the Real Cost of a Fixer-Upper House
By: G. M. Filisko
When you buy a fixer-upper house, you can save a ton of money, or get yourself in a financial fix.
Trying to decide whether to buy a fixer-upper house? Follow these seven steps, and you’ll know how much you can afford, how much to offer, and whether a fixer-upper house is right for you.
1. Decide what you can do yourself.
TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult remodeling job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results that won’t increase the value of your fixer-upper house.
Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.
Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate your fixer-upper house? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?
2. Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an offer.
Get your contractor into the house to do a walk-through, so he can give you a written cost estimate on the tasks he’s going to do.
If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies.
Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that often arise with a fixer-upper house.
3. Check permit costs.
Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home.
Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit.
Factor the time and aggravation of permits into your plans.
4. Doublecheck pricing on structural work.
If your fixer-upper home needs major structural work, hire a structural engineer for $500 to $700 to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full extent of the problems.

Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.

Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:
You’re getting it at a steep discount
You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem
You know the problem can be fixed
You have a binding written estimate for the repairs
5. Check the cost of financing.
Be sure you have enough money for a downpayment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings.

If you’re planning to fund the repairs with a home equity or home improvement loan:
Get yourself pre-approved for both loans before you make an offer.
Make the deal contingent on getting both the purchase money loan and the renovation money loan, so you’re not forced to close the sale when you have no loan to fix the house.
Consider the Federal Housing Administration’s Section 203(k) program, which is designed to help home owners who are purchasing or refinancing a home that needs rehabilitation. The program wraps the purchase/refinance and rehabilitation costs into a single mortgage. To qualify for the loan, the total value of the property must fall within the FHA mortgage limit for your area, as with other FHA loans. A streamlined 203(k) program provides an additional amount for rehabilitation, up to $35,000, on top of an existing mortgage. It’s a simpler process than obtaining the standard 203(k).
6. Calculate your fair purchase offer.
Take the fair market value of the property (what it would be worth if it were in good condition and remodeled to current tastes) and subtract the upgrade and repair costs.
For example: Your target fixer-upper house has a 1960s kitchen, metallic wallpaper, shag carpet, and high levels of radon in the basement.

Your comparison house, in the same subdivision, sold last month for $200,000. That house had a newer kitchen, no wallpaper, was recently recarpeted, and has a radon mitigation system in its basement.
The cost to remodel the kitchen, remove the wallpaper, carpet the house, and put in a radon mitigation system is $40,000. Your bid for the house should be $160,000.
Ask your real estate agent if it’s a good idea to share your cost estimates with the sellers, to prove your offer is fair.
7. Include inspection contingencies in your offer.
Don’t rely on your friends or your contractor to eyeball your fixer-upper house. Hire pros to do common inspections like:
Home inspection. This is key in a fixer-upper assessment. The home inspector will uncover hidden issues in need of replacement or repair. You may know you want to replace those 1970s kitchen cabinets, but the home inspector has a meter that will detect the water leak behind them.
Radon, mold, lead-based paint
Septic and well
Pest
Most home inspection contingencies let you go back to the sellers and ask them to do the repairs, or give you cash at closing to pay for the repairs. The seller can also opt to simply back out of the deal, as can you, if the inspection turns up something you don’t want to deal with.

If that happens, this isn’t the right fixer-upper house for you. Go back to the top of this list and start again.
More from HouseLogic
What you need to know about foundation repairs

Budgeting for a home remodel

Tips on hiring a contractor
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer whose parents bought and renovated a fixer-upper when she was a teen. A regular contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

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Leftovers Gobbling up Refrigerator Space?

January 8th, 2015 | No Comments

A well-organized refrigerator keeps food fresh longer and lets you grab and go faster. Before you unpack groceries, spend a second thinking about the right place for everything.
Here are common sense ways to declutter and organize your fridge:

1. The front of the middle rack, near eye-level, is prime refrigerator real estate. Put priority items there, like leftovers you want eaten soon and healthy snacks. The back of the fridge is the coldest part. Store milk there, and it will stay fresh longer.

2. Don’t waste fridge space on food that doesn’t need to be chilled. Examples: fresh eggs from backyard chickens (though store-bought eggs do need refrigerating), ketchup, vinegar, jam, mayonnaise, and butter. Put those items in the pantry. You can store fresh eggs in a bowl on the counter for eight weeks.

3. Never put tomatoes in fridge, or they’ll get mushy; onions will soften; honey will thicken; potatoes will turn too starchy. Keep onions and potatoes in separate paper bags and store in a cool, dark place (a lower cabinet drawer is great).

4. Rectangular or square bins are your friends (round ones waste space, so don’t use them). Designate one for healthy snacks and another for breakfast foods like bagels and cream cheese. In the freezer, use one big bin for frozen veggies, rather than stuff individual bags into the freezer.

5. Use plastic placemats as shelf liners, which makes cleanup easier.

6. Place drippy food, like red meat and seafood, on the bottom shelf. That way it won’t drip too far.

Related: Green Clean Your Refrigerator 3 Cool Ways

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December 13th, 2014 | No Comments

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this.

Copyright 2014 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

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Budget Kitchen Remodeling

December 12th, 2014 | No Comments

Budget Kitchen Remodeling: 5 Money-Saving Steps
By: Gretchen Roberts

Can’t afford an entire kitchen remodel in one fell swoop? You can complete the work in 5 budget-saving stages (and still cook dinner during the down time).
Major kitchen remodels are among the most popular home improvements, but a revamped cooking and gathering space can set you back a pretty penny. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report, a major, 200-sq.-ft. kitchen remodel costs about $55,000, with a 74.2% return on investment come selling time.

If you can’t come up with all that cash or take out a loan to do the remodel in one shot, a good strategy is to proceed in stages. By breaking down the kitchen remodeling process, you’ll be able to proceed at your own pace, as time and money allow.
Stage one: Start with a complete design plan

Your plan should be comprehensive and detailed — everything from the location of the refrigerator to which direction the cabinet doors will open to whether you need a spice drawer.

To save time (and money) during tear-out and construction, plan on using your existing walls and kitchen configuration. That’ll keep plumbing and electrical systems mostly intact, and you won’t have the added expense — and mess — of tearing out walls.

Joseph Feinberg, vice president of Allied Kitchen and Bath in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recommends hiring a professional designer, such as an architect or a certified kitchen designer, who can make sure the details of your plans are complete. You’ll pay about 10% of the total project for a pro designer, but you’ll save a whole bunch of headaches that would likely cost as much — or more — to fix. Plus, a pro is likely to offer smart solutions you hadn’t thought of.

For a nominal fee, you also can get design help from a major home improvement store. However, you’ll be expected to purchase some of your cabinets and appliances from that store.
Cost: professional designer: $5,800 (10% of total)
Key strategies: Once your plans are set, you can hold onto them until you’re ready to remodel.
Time frame: 3-6 months
Read on to learn more budget kitchen remodeling tips:
Stage two: Order the cabinets, appliances, and lighting fixtures
Stage three: Gut the kitchen and do the electrical and plumbing work
Stage four: Install cabinets, countertop, appliances, flooring, and fixtures
Final phases: Upgrade if necessary
Stage two: Order the cabinets, appliances, and lighting fixtures
Cabinets and appliances are the biggest investments in your kitchen remodeling project. If you’re remodeling in stages, you can order them any time after the plans are complete and store them in a garage (away from moisture) or in a spare room until you’re ready to pull the trigger on the installation.
Remember that it may take 4-6 weeks from the day you order them for your cabinets to be delivered.

If you can’t afford all new appliances, keep your old ones for now — but plan to buy either the same sizes, or choose larger sizes and design your cabinets around those larger measurements. You can replace appliances as budget permits later on.

The same goes for your lighting fixtures: If you can live with your old ones for now, you’ll save money by reusing them.

You’ll have to decide about flooring, too — one of the trickier decisions to make because it also affects how and when you install cabinets.

You’ll need to know if your old flooring runs underneath your cabinets, or if the flooring butts up against the cabinet sides and toe kicks. If the flooring runs underneath, you’ll have some leeway for new cabinet configurations — just be sure the old flooring will cover any newly exposed floor areas. Here are points to remember:
Keep old flooring for cost savings. This works if your new cabinets match your old layout, so that the new cabinets fit exactly into the old flooring configuration. If the existing flooring runs underneath your cabinets and covers all flooring area, then any new cabinet configuration will be fine.
Keep your old flooring for now and cover it or replace it later. Again, this works if your cabinet configuration is identical to the old layout.
However, if you plan to cover your old flooring or tear it out and replace it at some point in the future, remember that your new flooring might raise the height of your floor, effectively lowering your cabinet height.

For thin new floor coverings, such as vinyl and linoleum, the change is imperceptible. For thicker floorings, such as wood and tile, you might want to take into account the change in floor height by installing your new cabinets on shims.
Cost: cabinets: $16,000 (27% of total); appliances and lighting fixtures: $8,500 (15% of total); vinyl flooring: $1,000 (2% of total)
Key strategy: Keep old appliances, lighting fixtures, and flooring and use them until you can afford new ones.
Time frame: 2-3 weeks
Stage three: Gut the kitchen and do the electrical and plumbing work
Here’s where the remodel gets messy. Old cabinetry and appliances are removed, and walls may have to be opened up for new electrical circuits. Keep in close contact with your contractor during this stage so you can answer questions and clear up any problems quickly. A major kitchen remodel can take 6 to 10 weeks, depending on how extensive the project is.

During this stage, haul your refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven to another room — near the laundry or the garage, for example — so you’ve got the means to cook meals. Feinberg suggests tackling this stage in the summer, when you can easily grill and eat outside. That’ll reduce the temptation to eat at restaurants, and will help keep your day-to-day costs under control.
Cost: $14,500 for tear-out and installation of new plumbing and electrical (25% of total)
Key strategies: Encourage your contractor to expedite the tear-out and installation of new systems. Plan a makeshift kitchen while the work is progressing. Schedule this work for summer when you can grill and eat outside.
Time frame: 6-10 weeks
Stage four: Install cabinets, countertop, appliances, flooring, and fixtures

If you’ve done your homework and bought key components in advance, you should roll through this phase. You’ve now got a (mostly) finished kitchen.

A high-end countertop and backsplash can be a sizable sum of money. If you can’t quite swing it, put down a temporary top, such as painted marine plywood or inexpensive laminate. Later, you can upgrade to granite, tile, solid surface, or marble.
Cost: $12,000 (21% of total)
Key strategy: Install an inexpensive countertop; upgrade when you’re able.
Time frame: 1-2 weeks
Final phases: Upgrade if necessary
Replace the inexpensive countertop, pull up the laminate flooring, and put in tile or hardwood, or buy that new refrigerator you wanted but couldn’t afford during the remodel. (Just make sure it fits in the space!)

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Welcoming Front Door Entrances

December 6th, 2014 | No Comments

11 Ways to Create a Welcoming Front Entrance for Under $100
By: Cara Greenberg
Wouldn’t it be nice to approach your home’s entrance with a grin instead of a grimace? Take our tips for beating a clear, safe, and stylish path to your front door.
First impressions count — not just for your friends, relatives, and the UPS guy, but for yourself. Whether it’s on an urban stoop or a Victorian front porch, your front door and the area leading up to it should extend a warm welcome to all comers — and needn’t cost a bundle.

Here’s what you can do to make welcoming happen on the cheap.
1. Clear the way for curb appeal. The path to your front door should be at least 3 feet wide so people can walk shoulder-to-shoulder, with an unobstructed view and no stumbling hazards. So get out those loppers and cut back any overhanging branches or encroaching shrubs.

2. Light the route. Landscape lighting makes it easy to get around at night. Solar-powered LED lights you can just stick in the ground, requiring no wiring, are suprisingly inexpensive. We found 8 packs for under $60 online.

3. Go glossy. Borrow inspiration from London’s lovely row houses, whose owners assert their individuality by painting their doors in high-gloss colors. The reflective sheen of a royal blue, deep green, crimson, or whatever color you like will ensure your house stands out from the pack.
Related: Pictures of 10 Great Value-Add Exterior Paint Jobs

4. Pretty up the view. A door with lots of glass is a plus for letting light into the front hall — but if you also want privacy and a bit of decor, check out decorative window film. It’s removable and re-positionable, and comes in innumerable styles and motifs. Pricing depends on size and design; many available for under $30.

A way to get the look of stained glass without doing custom work or buying a whole new door: Mount a decorative panel on the inside of the door behind an existing glass insert, $92 for an Arts and Crafts-style panel 20-inches-high by 11-inches-wide.

5. Replace door hardware. While you’re at it, polish up the handle on the big front door. Or better yet, replace it with a shiny new brass lockset with a secure deadbolt. Available for about $60.

6. Please knock. Doorbells may be the norm, but a hefty knocker is a classic that will never run out of battery life, and another opportunity to express yourself (whatever your favorite animal or insect is, there’s a door-knocker in its image).

7. Ever-greenery. Boxwoods are always tidy-looking, the definition of easy upkeep. A pair on either side of the door is traditional, but a singleton is good, too. About $25 at garden centers. In cold climates, make sure pots are frost-proof (polyethylene urns and boxes mimic terracotta and wood to perfection).

8. Numbers game. Is your house number clearly visible? That’s of prime importance if you want your guests to arrive and your pizza to be hot. Stick-on vinyl numbers in a variety of fonts make it easy, starting at about $4 per digit.

9. Foot traffic. A hardworking mat for wiping muddy feet is a must. A thick coir mat can be had at the hardware store for less than $20. Even fancier varieties can be found well under $50.

10. Go for the glow. Fumbling for keys in the dark isn’t fun. Consider doubling up on porch lights with a pair of lanterns, one on each side of the door, for symmetry and twice the illumination. Many mounted lights are available well under $100.

11. Snail mail. Mailboxes run the gamut from kitschy roadside novelties masquerading as dogs, fish, or what-have-you to sober black lockboxes mounted alongside the front door. Whichever way you go, make sure yours is standing or hanging straight, with a secure closure, and no dings or dents. The mail carrier will thank you.


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