Top Outdoor Living Trends

A recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) pinpointed the residential outdoor living and landscaping design elements that are developing in 2011, and many of them are continuing from 2010. While getting back to basics was the guiding theme for much of the outdoor living market last year, "basic" is a relative term. Homeowners at nearly every level are still very much interested in creating livable outdoor spaces that function like indoor rooms, according to ASLA's executive vice president Nancy Somerville. "The economy is trimming back a little bit on activity and preferences, but it's certainly not keeping people from adding outdoor rooms," she says. What's keeping the market going is the value—up to 13 percent—that creating outdoor living spaces and landscaping adds to a home, she adds. In 2011, homeowners' landscape design and outdoor living plans are still scaled down somewhat because of economic concerns, but they're not eliminating the elements that make outdoor ... Read the rest of entry »

10 Ideas for your next home

Just a couple of ideas... Radiant-heated bathroom floors Forget fancy water-filled tubes embedded in concrete. You can now buy simple mesh-and-wire mats that install fast and easy under ceramic tiles. They cost as low as $15 a square foot and come with a variety of thermostats. Put a toasty floor in your homes' bathrooms and watch your buyers melt. Butcher block countertops Wood is the original solid surface. Used as an island or a bar, it holds nostalgic memories for older buyers and offers a fresh natural look for younger customers. It traditionally comes in maple, but butcher block is available in other species such as cherry and birch. An 8-foot-long top measuring 1.5 inches thick and 25 inches wide can be had for as little as $189. Glass tiles Yes, glass is cool. And yes, it’s pricey. But used sparingly as a kitchen or bath backsplash, glass can’t be beat. It reflects light, shimmers with color, and is virtually maintenance-free. If you shop carefully, ... Read the rest of entry »

Construction Material Prices Continue to Rise

The prices contractors must pay for many essential construction materials continued to increase in January, even as the amount they charge for completed projects remains flat, according to an analysis of January producer price index figures released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that the price trends are cutting into already tight bottom lines for contractors, undermining chances for an industry-wide recovery in 2011.  “The last thing contractors need after two years of depression-like conditions is to pay more to make less,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “With margins continuing to shrink, few contractors are likely to benefit even if construction demand picks up this year.” Prices for materials used in construction jumped 0.9 percent in January and 4.9 percent during the past 12 months, while price indexes for finished buildings barely changed during the same timeframe, the economist noted. He ... Read the rest of entry »

Houses are a good deal

There might finally be some good news this year about the nation's dismal housing market. Or, at least, the bad news could stop. Either way, it will be welcome relief for current homeowners as well as for potential real-estate investors. Reasons to be optimistic have been sadly lacking since the housing bubble burst in 2006. For sure, last week we learned the widely watched S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index fell 1% in December, its fifth straight decline. The index tracks 20 major markets. But that figure belies real reasons to be optimistic, according to some experts. If they are right, it might make sense to jump into real estate. The trick is avoiding getting burned again, and it doesn't necessarily mean owning a home. First, let's recap the economic signs a bottom is close. Houses Are a Good Deal Housing is the most affordable it has been in decades, according to analysts at Moody's Analytics. They don't just look at house prices. They also look at incomes. Nationally, ... Read the rest of entry »

Home Affordability Returns to Pre-Bubble Levels

Home affordability returned to pre-bubble levels in a growing number of U.S. markets over the past year as price declines laid the groundwork for a housing recovery. Data provided by Moody's Analytics track the ratio of median home prices to annual household incomes in 74 markets. By that measure, housing affordability at the end of September had returned to or surpassed the average reached between 1989-2003 in 47 of those markets. Most economists believe the housing boom took off in 2003. During the boom, lax lending and speculation pushed house-price inflation far beyond the modest rise in household income. Nationally, the ratio of home prices to annual household income reached a peak of 2.3 in late 2005. But by last September, it had fallen to 1.6, matching the lowest level in the 35 years the data have been collected and well below the historical average of 1.9 between 1989 and 2003. "Based on incomes, this is as affordable as it gets," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "If you can ... Read the rest of entry »

20 Kitchen design ideas

Source: BUILDER Online Publication date: January 14, 2011 By Jenny Sullivan Houses are shrinking in the recessionary economy, but kitchens? Not so much. As other rooms are eliminated from downsized plans, their functions are naturally migrating to the kitchen, placing more pressure than ever on this culinary zone to perform double or triple duty as the home's primary living space. Flexibility is a must in open areas that are used not only for cooking, but also dining, entertaining, homework, family time, and even telecommuting. Thrift is also a virtue. And there are other ingredients in the mix, too. Aging baby boomers, sustainability, health consciousness, stricter energy regulations, new technologies, and the rise of the single woman buyer are all factors shaping kitchen aesthetics and functionality today. These were just a few of the observations noted by kitchen designers Mary Jo Peterson and MaryJo Camp, and architect Doug Van Lerberghe in a January 13 session on "Reinventing the Kitchen" at the Int ... Read the rest of entry »

10 Green Building Trends for 2011

Green building is going mainstream, no doubt. But exactly how is building science evolving, and where are eco-minded builders and consumers likely to focus their attention in the year ahead, in light of current economic conditions? The nonprofit Earth Advantage Institute, which to date has certified more than 11,000 sustainable homes, makes some predictions for 2011 in its annual forecast of green building trends. Affordable green. Many consumers typically associate green and energy-efficient homes and features with higher costs. However, the development of new business models, technologies, and the mainstreaming of high-performance materials is bringing high-performance, healthy homes within reach of all homeowners. Leading the charge are affordable housing groups, including Habitat for Humanity and local land trusts, now building and selling LEED for Homes- and ENERGY STAR-certified homes across the country at price points as low as $100,000 (in the case of land trusts, homeowners do not own the land th ... Read the rest of entry »

The new car smell

With the average cost return of green building (8 years) being about the same duration as home ownership (7 years) – how do you sell it?  With the economy in the dumps and the main concern of buyers being cost, where is the benefit to build green, let alone quality finishes and fixtures within the building package?

Looking forward to your responses.

Level of finish vs. quality

With budget being the driving force of new construction these days, more than once have I been asked the question "What kind of quality will I get for the budget?"

The answer is quite simple and always the same –

The level of finish is a direct reflection of the budget; the quality is a direct reflection of the builder, regardless of the budget. Your budget will dictate the level or type of finishes your home will have: tile vs. granite, carpet vs. wood, drywall vs. plaster, etc. The quality will be dictated by the builder, his or her selection of subcontractors and protocol for managing the project and materials installation.

Do your homework and qualify your bidders, ask for references, and always ask to view a couple of completed homes with difference levels of finish – the quality should be the same.  

How to hire a construction manager

Most consulting firms today offer “construction management services.” However, the interpretation of construction management and the services it entails greatly varies. According to the Construction Management Association of America, “construction management is a professional service that applies effective management techniques to the planning, design, and construction of a project from inception to completion for the purpose of controlling time, cost, and quality.” While that definition may seem simple enough, the selection of the proper firm can make or break your project. By selecting the proper firm, you can help manage risks and control costs at every stage of the project, from preconstruction planning and complete construction oversight to post-construction services. What Is Their Role? Undertaking a construction project is a complex endeavor. It is critically important that public works directors and municipal leaders clearly articulate their goals for the project to all mem ... Read the rest of entry »