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  • 8 Clever Ways To Zone Off Space In An Open Floor Plan
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Sarah Warwick, Houzz) on January 18, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    We've fallen for open-plan living in recent years. After all, not many of us have a formal room just for company anymore. And with modern building materials, we don't necessarily need every room to have four walls to keep it at a comfortable temperature. But although an open plan may bring the space, light, flow and garden views we desire, it can also feel problematic to organize into zones - and prove distracting to share. Enter the glass partition. It makes room division simple yet doesn't starve spaces of light or compromise the open feel. Decorative, at half or full height, framed or barely visible, a glass partition can work in every environment. Check out these designs. Cordon off the cooking area. A glass partition is a natural solution when a separation of cooking and relaxing spaces is essential. Here, it's a framed glass version from above counter height to the apex of the sloping roof. This division means that the TV volume doesn't have to be cranked up to drown out the sounds of the exhaust fan, dishwasher and running water when the space is being used for multiple activities, but the whole effect is still open. Notice how the cabinetry, partition framing and sofa are linked through color, while the floor finish is continuous throughout for a pulled-together effect. Photo by Naiztat + Ham Architects, P.C - Discover home office design inspiration Make a room within a room. When true separation is required, glass partitioning can divide without losing openness or light. Here, floor-to-ceiling shelving forms one wall, while the glass doors and side panels ensure that both areas benefit from all the windows. To maximize light, low furniture that sits at or below sill level is a must-have. Opt for window treatments that don't obscure any of the glass when they're open or, if privacy isn't an issue, take a leaf out of this room's book and go without. Photo by granit.co.uk - Search dining room design ideas Go half way. A half-height glass divider is enough to split the office from the dining area in this home. A height difference between the two areas and a change in floor finish also help separate the work zone from the social space. A smaller partition like this one is best employed when noise between the areas of an open-plan room isn't an issue, whether that's because the two activities are equally quiet or the two zones aren't used simultaneously. Photo by Domus Nova - Look for living room design inspiration Set off the staircase. When a flight of stairs is part of an open-plan room, it can become a striking feature. Here, surrounding it with glass that includes cross-struts adds to its sculptural value and draws the eye to the cantilevered steps. The glass partition also works to create a natural spot for the L-shaped sofa in a long room, leaving those seated and those using the staircase with a feeling that their spaces are separate. Adding rugs - such as the textured one here - can also help define large, open spaces. This rug links the seating area and the modern fireplace. Photo by Cherie Lee Interiors - Browse living room photos Divide a rectangle. Opening a Victorian house from front to back can result in a long, narrow room, so a glass partition can help with the proportions of the resulting space without losing any of the benefits of an open plan. It's easier to position furniture in rooms that are more square, especially if the fireplaces are still in place. Here, the central doors open, while the panels on both sides are fixed. If you were considering something comparable for your own home, it would be worth weighing the pros and cons between something like this and a design with bifolds that allow the two spaces to be fully open to each other when desired. Photo by Woodale - Discover family room design ideas Try a transom. A glass room divider can work by creating an entrance to a new part of an open-plan space, like the transom version marking the change from the kitchen to the seating area here. The steel-framed style of the partition elegantly links to the dark cabinetry. Repeating the look? A high-ceilinged room is the best place for this approach. In a less lofty space, a doorway works better than a transom for maximum head height. Photo by Morph Interior Ltd - Browse bedroom ideas Look into the bathroom. In this home, the bedroom and en suite are open to each other except for the glass divider. The upside of using glass in this type of arrangement is that an en suite gets filled with natural light where it otherwise might be windowless and always artificially illuminated. It also allows a beautiful bathtub to be a feature of the bedroom as well as the wash space. In this interior, mosaic tiles that catch the light complement the reflective wallpaper of the sleep space. If you're inspired by this arrangement, bear in mind that it's really for bathroom neatniks only. Discarded towels and plastic shampoo bottles can spoil the look of your bedroom as well as your bathroom with glass in place. And for many people, a closed-off loo may be preferable. Or screen the bath with translucent glass. When a little privacy is required, translucent glass can conceal a bathroom from a bedroom yet still allow light through. It's worth considering how obscure you want to make the partition. Sandblasting allows control over the level of opacity. Window film is an option for a DIY revamp of a partition from see-through to concealing. Photo by Andrew Lethbridge Associates - Search living room pictures Combine it with doors. The radical transformation of this beachside house in England involved adding glass at every opportunity to make the most of the wonderful light and views. The result of this approach is a contemporary-looking home, which is often the case where lots of glass is part of the architecture. But in this area of the house, the designer opted for a nod to classic coastal styling with doors that combine glass and a tongue-and-groove look. The result? The view of the sitting room from the hall looks characterful but also wonderfully light and bright. Half-glass doors come in all sorts of styles and, with roots in the Victorian era, are often a good shortcut to adding period style. Also See: Create Separation With Wall Shelves Find the Right Window Treatments for Your Space Try Pocket Doors for a Seamless Connection […]

  • Death And The Stepped-Up Basis
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Benny L. Kass) on January 18, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    Question. My wife and I are retired and are in our seventies. We have two children, and our house is currently worth approximately $300,000. We purchased the property many years ago for $32,000, and currently have a very small mortgage and a $40,000 home equity loan. We are debating on whether to sell the house and take the up-to-$500,000 exclusion of gain, or to let our children inherit the house when we pass on. What are the implications of all of this appreciation on our estate if we do not sell our house before we die. Must my heirs pay tax on the entire appreciation? How is this covered in the Tax Code? Answer. This is a very complicated issue, and you must seek advice from your tax advisors. It is especially important now that Congress has enacted a major change in the tax laws -- much of which is still under review by the tax experts. You should also discuss your concerns with your children, although the final decision can only be made by you. Oversimplified, the basis of inherited property for income tax purposes is the fair market value of the property at the time of the decedent's death. This is commonly referred to as the "stepped-up" basis rule. This was not changed under the new law. By way of illustration, you purchased your property 25 years ago for $32,000.00, and over the years have made improvements of $30,000.00. Your basis for tax purposes is $62,000.00. If you sell the property for $300,000.00, without taking into consideration costs or expenses of sale, your profit is $238,000.00. If you are eligible to claim the up-to-$500,000 gain exclusion,( i.e. you and your spouse owned and lived in the house for two out of the past five years before sale) you will not have to pay any capital gains tax on the sale. (Incidentally, there was a strong move to extend the 5 years to 7 but the real estate community lobbied hard and long and that portion of the new tax law was not changed). If, on the other hand, you do not sell your property, there are different tax laws that come into play. First, on the death of one of you, the surviving spouse will have to pay no Federal income tax at all. Presumably, your house is titled as "tenants by the entirety", and thus on the death of one of the "tenants", the survivor automatically becomes the owner of the property. However, on the death of the remaining spouse, (and assuming no advance estate planning has been accomplished) your heirs will in most cases receive the benefit of the "stepped-up" basis rule. If the value of your property on the date of your death was $300,000.00, and your heirs sell the property for that amount, then they will not have to pay any Federal income tax on this sale. They receive tax-free benefits of the appreciation during your lifetime. Obviously, if the heirs sell the property for $400,000.00, then they would have to pay tax on their gain, which in our example would be $100,000.00. Keep in mind that we are only discussing income tax and not inheritance or Estate taxes. Many tax experts in both the Treasury Department and in Congress have expressed concerns that this stepped-up basis rule creates inequities and is a major loophole in the tax laws. Indeed, in the Tax Reform Act of 1976, Congress included a so-called "carryover basis" provision which was designed to prevent beneficiaries from obtaining the stepped-up basis. They were required to carryover the decedent's basis. However, because there were serious technical problems created by this 1976 Tax Reform Act, in 1980 the carryover basis rules were repealed by Congress. And to my knowledge, the stepped up basis remains live and well. According to the Tax Code, the stepped-up basis applies to property "acquired by bequest, devise, or inheritance, or by the decedent's estate from the decedent. . ." This means that whether the decedent has a will, or dies intestate (without a will) the beneficiary is eligible for that stepped-up basis. The law further goes on to address community property states, where each spouse has an undivided half interest in community property. In those states, an heir, devisee or legatee obtains the decedent's half interest from the deceased spouse, and is entitled to a stepped-up basis under the general rules. The surviving spouse is also entitled to a stepped-up basis for his or her half interest if at least half of the community property in question is included in the decedent's gross estate for tax purposes. There is, however, an alternative valuation rule which can be adopted. This alternative valuation gives the taxpayer the election to value the property six months after the date of death or at the date of disposition, if earlier. The purpose of this election is to afford some limited tax relief to estates which have experienced a decline in the value of assets during that six month period. Obviously, the decision on whether to sell your property while you are living or pass it on to your heirs is a very important -- and personal -- decision. Some people want to make sure their heirs will be properly protected on their death. Other people are primarily concerned they are protected while they are living. Too many people are, unfortunately, house rich and cash poor. If, for example, you are sitting on a large amount of equity, and if you need cash now, letting your heirs inherit the property at the stepped-up basis will not solve your immediate cash problem. One transaction that, in my opinion, usually makes no sense is to transfer your property to your children while you are still alive. Under this scenario, your basis in the property becomes your children's basis, and they will not be able to utilize the stepped-up basis. There are, of course, many estate-tax planning approaches that may be available to you. Thus, it is critical that you discuss all of these ramifications with your tax advisors at the earliest possible opportunity. […]

  • Bright Ideas: How to Light Up Your Rooms
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Julia Fairley, Houzz Australia Contributor) on January 17, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    These clever tricks banish dim interiors and dark corners, and usher natural light into the house. Most homes have a few gloomy rooms and nooks, but you don't have to stay in the dark. To illuminate a poorly lit home without flicking a single light switch, use a combination of these bright ideas to enjoy an improved result that's like the difference between night and day. Choose glass-paneled doors. One of the most effective ways to let natural light flood into your home is to use glass-paneled doors. Installing a new window or increasing its size usually requires a permit, but this may not be the case when replacing exterior doors. Whether you like the bold lines of these steel-framed doors or prefer the traditional French doors in the next photo, there is a design to suit every palette and position, both inside and out. Tip: If privacy is a concern, opt for frosted glass. Photo by Decus Interiors - Discover bathroom design inspiration Use transom and sidelight windows. This Sydney home uses a sophisticated series of interior French doors to borrow light from adjacent rooms. Designed by Luigi Rosselli Architects and Decus Interiors, the transom windows (which crown the tops of the French doors) and the sidelight windows (which flank the opening) more than double the aperture and maximize the amount of light that travels from room to room. Sidelights, transoms and fanlights (which also sit above doorways and are arched or elliptical) can usually be retrofitted with relative ease. Photo by Decus Interiors - More living room ideas Adopt glass backsplashes. Can't afford to lose valuable cabinet space by replacing your wall-mounted kitchen cabinets with a window? Try using a window for your backsplash instead, as Rudolfsson Alliker Associates Architects did in this residence in Sydney. Natural light will illuminate your countertops and provide important task lighting for cooking. Window backsplashes are possible when your kitchen butts up against an exterior wall. If yours runs along an interior wall, try using a mirrored backsplash instead. Install clerestory windows. We can't always puncture a wall with a window at eye level, but clerestory windows can be equally effective in brightening up interiors. Clerestory windows sit high in your wall, as shown in this house in Melbourne, Australia, and because they are positioned above your sightline, they rarely compromise your privacy. They are also especially effective in letting light into dim, excavated rooms. Photo by EWERT LEAF PTY LTD - Search kitchen design ideas Select white paint that has a sheen. If you've asked anyone how to brighten up a dark home, chances are you've already been told to paint your walls white and banish dark furnishings. While this is the first trick in the book, the glossier the paint is, the better it will diffuse light throughout your home. So opt for a satin finish on walls and use gloss or semigloss paint for the trim. Just note that paints with a medium to high sheen highlight every inconsistency, so make sure that you plaster, sand and prime surfaces well before painting — or call in a professional. Tip: Reflective tiles and metallic wallpaper have a similar effect. Photo by Jean Longpré - More bedroom photos Embrace glossy floors. We rarely consider treating our floors to lighten a room, though high-gloss floors are brilliant at bouncing light around. It may be as straightforward as sanding back your floorboards and polishing them with a glossy finish, or you may prefer to employ a more drastic treatment and use high-sheen white floor paint or epoxy, as used in this industrial Montreal penthouse. Photo by Esther Hershcovich - Browse living room photos Install a tubular daylighting device. These ingenious inventions go by many names —tubular daylighting devices, solar tubes, sun tunnels, tubular skylights. Most capture sunlight through a small dome on your roof and funnel it down a reflective tube and through a skylight-like opening in your ceiling, which diffuses light throughout the room. These devices amplify natural light, do not cause homes to heat up and in some cases are capable of capturing solar energy to light rooms at night. Most can even be installed in rooms with no direct roof access, using angled reflective tubing to channel light into hard-to-reach spaces. Photo by - Discover hallway design ideas Create an atrium. The sheer elegance of atriums is enough of a reason to try to incorporate one into any design. This circular skylight designed by Decus Interiors channels sunlight down to the ground-level kitchen, while natural light pours into the upstairs rooms via interior windows that overlook the void. One of the best features about a large round skylight is the exquisite light play and shadows that transverse your interior over the course of a day. Photo by Decus Interiors - Look for kitchen pictures Break through the ceiling. What better way to wake up than to gaze at the sky during your morning shower? Besides letting natural light pour into a room, skylights have an uplifting effect and can be used in most places with direct roof access. Photo by Tracy A. Stone Architect - Browse bathroom ideas Gable skylights like the ones in this Sydney home by Christopher Polly Architect can be cleverly angled to suit the aspect of your site. Many skylights and roof windows now use self-cleaning glass. This usually has a specially formulated exterior coating that reacts with ultraviolet sunlight to break down leaves and debris that fall on the glass. Rain then finishes the job by washing the panes clean. Tip: Skylights can trap heat inside homes, so increase your ventilation to counter this. Photo by Christopher Polly Architect - More hallway ideas Consider exterior glass walls. For sites where privacy is not an issue, using floor-to-ceiling windows instead of walls will flood your interiors with light. Opt for double panes (at least) for insulation, and try to position your wall-to-wall windows facing north. Excessive glass on the western and even eastern sides of your home often lets harsh, hot rays inside and can overheat your house. If you would like to install floor-to-ceiling windows but are concerned that this may sacrifice your privacy, there are many inventive screening options that may still make it possible to enjoy exterior glass walls and some seclusion too. Photo by Tom Robertson Architects - More hallway photos Swap walls for room dividers. Sometimes there is no alternative to walls for structural or screening reasons. However, if you want to delineate a space rather than divide it and create a solid barrier for privacy, consider using a room divider instead. Room dividers come in countless creative forms, including glass blocks and laser-cut screens, so the only limits are your imagination and site restrictions. See the vertical black room divider in this Sydney home from Denai Kulcsar Interiors? This design borrows natural light from the windows beyond, which then penetrates the entrance. Photo by Denai Kulcsar Interiors - Discover entryway design ideas Carve out an interior courtyard. Do you have the budget for renovations and some space to sacrifice? A central courtyard could naturally light your home from within, which is the case with this Sydney home by Elaine Richardson Architect. These tranquil indoor-outdoor spaces are best surrounded by windows, glass louvers or glass sliding doors to let light shine from the courtyard into adjacent rooms. Consult an architect, an interior designer or a builder for advice on how to maximize light penetration on your site, and remember that even a small interior courtyard can make a big difference. Photo by elaine richardson architect - Search deck design ideas Hang a mirror on the wall. We've all heard that mirrors can transform any space from gloomy to glamorous, but there are a few tricks. First, bigger is always better when using mirrors — the larger the reflective surface, the more light it will bounce around the room. And second, your mirror needs to reflect a light source, so place it opposite or adjacent to a window, as was done with the oversize circular mirror in this San Francisco home. Hanging a mirror behind a lamp can brighten a room even further. Photo by SVK Interior Design - Look for bedroom pictures This mirrored wall sports an antique finish that is reflective (and large) enough to brighten up this Toronto bedroom, but textured enough not to mirror your every move. Tip: Mirrored furniture, such as a chest of drawers, can also have the same effect. Photo by Toronto Interior Design Group | Yanic Simard - Search bedroom pictures Use illuminated LED mirrors. Illuminated mirrors are like their regular relatives but on steroids. Thanks to LED technology, these clever inventions mirror your reflection and simultaneously light up the room. Models like the one in this photo have motion sensors that allow you to switch them on and off, hands-free. As a bonus, the LED lighting consumes less power than many traditional light sources. Photo by bathstore - Search bathroom pictures Also See: Retractable Awnings to Cover Skylights and Solar Tubes Creative Room Dividers to Open Up Any Space Contact a Windows Professional About Transom Options […]

  • Conventional Shmonventional: Is A Creative Loan Option Best For First-Time Buyers?
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Jaymi Naciri) on January 17, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    If you're in the market to buy a home and, especially, if it's your first home, you've probably heard A TON about conventional and FHA loans. But just like you're not like anyone else, your financial situation may not be either. The truth is that while you may think you need to go with one of these expected loans, it could be that there are far better options out there to meet your needs. This is especially true if you're having a hard time coming up with a down payment, have a lower credit score, are still paying off student loans, or are continually getting priced out of your desired neighborhoods. These options are all worth mentioning to your lender as you discuss your home purchase. Employer loan assistance This brand-new program could spell the difference between perma-renting and being able to buy your own place, and all it takes is a forward-thinking employer. "A new program allows employers to help workers' down payment on a home, similar to how companies contribute to a 401(k)," said REALTOR Mag. "HomeFundMe, a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-approved down payment crowdfunding platform, allows borrowers to crowdfund their down payment from several sources, including their employer. CMG Financial, a mortgage banking firm, created the HomeFundMe program." FHA 203(k) loan We have written about this loan a few times before but it bears repeating that THERE IS A LOAN OUT THERE THAT ALLOWS YOU TO BUY A HOME AND FIX IT UP! This is great for those who want to take on a reno project with their first home or are willing to do so because they can't find a move-in ready home in their budget and/or area. The minimum credit score is 580 to qualify for a down payment as low as 3.5%, but can go as low as 500 for a down payment of 10%. The standard 203(k) covers most types of improvements or repairs, and the amount of money borrowed for the loan can exceed its current value; you can borrow up to 110% of what an appraiser estimates will be the "after" value of the home. Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation mortgage The Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation mortgage is similar to the 203(k) and requires only a 5% down payment. It has one big advantage over the 203(k): It is also open to investors—perfect if you're already a homeowners and are looking to do a flip with little money out of pocket. "With a down payment of less than 25%, you'll need a credit score of at least 680," said Interest.com. "If your debt-to-income ratio is higher than 36% but less than or equal to 45%, your credit score needs to be 700 or higher." The funds can be used for repairs, renovations or energy improvements. "The only restriction is that the changes must be permanently affixed to the property and add value." Energy-efficient mortgage (EEM) This is another loan geared toward making home improvements, but, in this case, they are focused on energy efficiency. These loans are guaranteed by the FHA, or the VA for military buyers. "One of the best tools for making your dream home more affordable while saving on the cost of power, heating and cooling is the energy-efficient, or ‘green,' mortgage," said Bankrate. "Most energy-efficient mortgage, or EEM, programs let you qualify for bigger loans than you would otherwise by folding in the additional cost of making improvements for energy efficiency or of purchasing an already energy-efficient home. Another version of the green mortgage provides discounts on loan fees or interest rates for homes that are certified as energy-efficient." USDA loan Zero down payment loans are "issued through the USDA loan program, also known as the USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan Program, by the United States Department of Agriculture," said Nerdwallet. Eligible homes are generally in rural areas, but may also cover suburban locales. You can use their map to look up individual addresses. The USDA also "guarantees a mortgage issued by a participating local lender - similar to an FHA loan and VA-backed loans - allowing you to get low mortgage interest rates, even without a down payment" and offers home improvement loans and grants, as well. Good Neighbor Next Door If you're a police officer, firefighter, EMT, or teacher (K–12), you may be able to take advantage of the Good Neighbor Next Door program. Sponsored by HUD, this program slashes the price of eligible homes in "revitalization areas" by 50%. "Buying a home through HUD's Good Neighbor Next Door initiative is designed to encourage renewal of revitalization areas by providing an opportunity for law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and teachers to purchase homes in these communities," said HUD. You can search eligible homes by state on the HUD website. Eagle Home Mortgage Another recent entry intended to help millennials become homebuyers, this mortgage option from Eagle Home Mortgage, a subsidiary of Lennar, helps homebuyers pay off their student loan debt. "Eagle Home Mortgage's Student Loan Debt Mortgage Program offers borrowers as much as $13,000 that can be used to pay off student loan debt," said Housingwire. "But the program isn't without its conditions. Borrowers who used Eagle Home Mortgage's Student Loan Debt Mortgage Program can direct up to 3% of the purchase price to pay their student loans, but only if they buy a new home from Lennar. Lennar contributes the 3%, which, according to the company, does not increase the price of the home or add to the mortgage balance. The program's maximum loan amount is $424,100, but Lennar said that in addition to the 3% contribution to student loan balances, buyers may also be eligible for other incentives -- such as credits toward closing costs." National Homebuyers Fund The National Homebuyers Fund is not a loan - it's a grant for up to 5% of your loan amount that provides down payment assistance with no need to ever pay it back. "You read that right—you don't have to pay back anything," said Realtor.com. "The NHF offers two down payment assistance programs with different sets of requirements, but both are meant for low- to moderate-income earners. The NHF Sapphire program is available in multiple states and has generous FICO score requirements (which is a good thing if you have a subpar credit score)." […]

  • Follow These Steps Before Starting Your Kitchen Remodel
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Andrea Davis) on January 17, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    If your kitchen is looking a bit dated, consider a remodel to upgrade its efficiency and looks. Here's a quick guide to planning your kitchen update: #1 Plan it out. Sketch out what you want your finished kitchen to look like. Whether you draw your designs by hand or use software, understanding the finished look of your kitchen is an essential first step. #2 Measure your space. It's important to know how much space you have to work with. Record the dimensions of your entire kitchen and other surrounding areas in your initial sketch. Use your measurements to plan the rest of your project. #3 Choose storage options. One of the biggest advantages of remodeling your kitchen is adding more space. Think about your current storage problems and how to solve them. Consider all your storage options, from standalone shelving units to built-in turntables in your new kitchen cabinets. #4 Pick a color scheme. Do you want to keep the same color scheme or go with something different? Do you want your kitchen to stand out from the rest of your home or blend in? Now is the time to answer these questions. Your color scheme could impact the appliance- and flooring-related aspects of your remodel. #5 Compare materials. Now it's time for window-shopping. Head to your local home improvement center and begin calculating your remodeling budget. Compare the different costs of different materials. While it's okay to splurge on some aspects, stray away from a $50,000 kitchen remodel. #6 Have a set budget. Once you know how much your project will cost, start saving your money and planning your remodel in earnest. Prices can change over time, so be sure to include some flexibility in your budget. You'll also need to factor in the cost of permits and contractor labor. #7 Find a remodeling pro. Unless you are an expert, you will probably need to hire a remodeler to update your kitchen. Research local contractors, check their references and interview at least three pros before hiring one. Conclusion. Remodeling and redesigning your kitchen takes work. If you want to create an updated kitchen, you'll need to plan, budget and hire a trusted professional. Andrea Davis is the editor for HomeAdvisor, which helps homeowners find home improvement professionals in their area at no charge to ensure the best service in the shortest amount of time. […]