Category Archives: Home Builders

How to Choose a Property Manager for Your Rental Home

You would never turn your home over to a stranger, so choosing a property manager shouldn’t be any different – finding one you trust is vital. 

“You are entrusting probably one of the biggest investments you’ll make into the hands of someone else, so you want to make sure you feel confident that they’ll handle things the way you want them to,” says Grace Langham, CEO of Nest DC, an award-winning boutique property management firm in Washington, D.C.

Dependability and trustworthiness are two key points all homeowners should keep in mind when assigning their home or condo to the loving care of a third party. But before handing over the keys, consider these six other factors to help you find the right property manager.

Communication

With so many players involved – owner, tenant, and manager – communication is critical. Some owners prefer lots of updates, while others want few. Regardless of your desired amount of communication, the quality of it is crucial.

A property manager’s availability and response rate get to the very heart of their job. In your initial contact, look for clues about their speed, courtesy, and availability.

“Once signed on, a good manager will do what it takes to keep you in the loop, whether you prefer emails, phone calls, or texts,” Langham says.

Residents

When it comes to renters, a property manager’s duty is twofold: Find quality residents, and ensure they are treated fairly.

Happy renters often stay in a residence longer, and are more reasonable when things break. That said, finding good residents requires legwork.

“Bad tenants can be one of the most costly things for an owner,” says Nathan Miller, president and founder of Rentec Direct, a property management software company.

Evictions are expensive, especially when owners are forced to forgo several months’ rent, and damage can be costly. That’s why running a credit check and performing a background screening for criminal and eviction reports are musts, according to Miller.

Fees

Property management fees tend to be fairly standard, Miller says – usually between seven to 15 percent of a month’s rent, but most often around 10 percent. Sometimes, a condo may cost slightly less than a stand-alone house because there’s less home and yard to maintain.

The owner is also on the hook for maintenance costs, and often pays a finder or leasing fee – up to a full month’s rent – when a new resident moves in  Ask if you will still be charged, even if the unit stands empty.

Some property managers also charge a lease renewal fee and sometimes tack on a project management fee when dealing with excessive bureaucracy or paperwork, such as insurance claims. Verify the fee structure and services provided before signing any contract.

House visits and other specs

When it comes to inspections, a property manager should be proactive. That means taking a peek at your property no less than once (and maybe even twice) a year to ensure that everything is in good shape.

Such time-consuming tasks mean it’s important for a property manager to maintain a reasonable caseload. Miller says his ideal property manager oversees between 500 to 1,000 properties. “Once they get above that size and they’re managing many, many thousands of units, you’ll lose the personal touch,” he says.

Finally, you want to find a property manager that specializes in a type of unit: single-family homes, apartment complexes, or high-end houses, for example.

Earning potential

To maximize a home’s earning potential, property managers should know how to deftly market a unit so that it doesn’t stay empty long. This includes everything from posting it on well-known rental websites to taking quality photos that make it pop.

Miller says the property manager should also ensure a home is leased at market rent, and analyze that rate semiannually. You want to know you’re not being shorted income by charging too little.

Technology

Finally, the proper software can indicate that a management firm has what it takes to succeed. “We’re lucky to be a company that’s eight years old,” Langham says. “We started with all this technology that’s really friendly to the millennial generation, which is a lot of the renter base.”

Collecting rent and submitting maintenance requests via an online interface makes interactions between all parties a breeze, meaning owners and tenants can move on with their busy lives. After all, at the end of the day, that’s what having a property manager is all about.

Get more tips for managing your rental property

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Is Buying a 'Starter Home' Still Smart?

When the Baby Boomer generation was venturing into adulthood, it was common to buy a “starter home” – a modest, small dwelling. As their families grew and careers advanced, they moved into bigger or better homes.

Now, many people struggle to come up with the down payment for a first home. They may wonder if it’s smarter to wait and save more money so they can buy a home that makes more long-term sense, or go the other route, buying a starter home and planning to stay in it for more years.

It’s a personal, practical and financial decision, but here are some pros and cons of buying a starter home.

Pro: Build stability quicker

Lots of lessons come from homeownership. It exposes you to a new set of decisions and circumstances.

One surprise benefit that strikes most people is the stability they feel when they become homeowners. They might feel more grounded, and a part of a larger community.

After making a few cosmetic changes to make a home “theirs,” many new homeowners find they enjoy nesting at home, having friends over, and enjoying their own space.

Con: Buying twice means moving twice

Think you’ll be ready to upgrade in just a few years? It might be more cost-effective to save and stretch for the larger house, so you can stay in it longer.

Although mortgage rates are low, there are costs associated with buying and selling a home: title insurance, inspections, brokerage commission, along with a handful of loan fees.

Plus packing up and moving twice can be expensive and exhausting. Some prefer to pick one house for the long haul. While staying put and continuing to rent may seem wasteful in the short term, it might be a more strategic move.

Pro: Build equity sooner

Although not the guarantee it was a generation ago, odds are good that when you get into your first home, you can realize some equity. If you can commit to at least five to seven years, there’s a chance you can come out well ahead.

By making improvements that add value, you can take the equity you’ve built and apply it as a down payment on the next home. In essence, the starter home might help you purchase your dream home.

Con: You may spend more than you planned

There are soft costs to home ownership. Property taxes and mortgage payments aren’t the only expenses to owning. You’ll need to furnish your new home, purchase window coverings, and pay for landscaping improvements.

You’ll likely want to paint, refinish the floors, or change the carpet before moving in. And, you’ll surely make mistakes along the way by hiring the wrong contractor, making a poor landscaping decision, or mistakenly waiting to install the new AC condenser.

Some parts of homeownership are trial and error. It adds up. You might be better off avoiding those expenses by renting and saving for your long-term home.

Pro: Start realizing the tax benefits

When you own a home, the interest portion of your monthly mortgage payment can be written off, dollar for dollar against your income.  If you spend $1,000 per month on mortgage interest, at the end of the year, you can deduct $12,000 off your taxes.

When you pay rent, the money goes to your landlord, and that’s it. The sooner you own, in theory, the faster you can save some money – perhaps toward your next home.

Con: Homeownership isn’t a sure thing

The world moves at a faster pace today, and that affects home values. Just a generation ago, people stayed closer to home, got married earlier, stayed married forever, and kept the same job through retirement.

Today, people choose to stay single longer, and may even purchase their starter home solo. Divorce rates are higher, the global economy moves people all over the world for work, and we prefer to stay more mobile.

That means homeownership may not be part of the equation. What happens if you buy your starter home and then get a job transfer, divorce, or the opportunity of a lifetime to live abroad? You might be stuck being an accidental landlord or selling your home at a loss.

It’s up to you

If you play your cards right, you can get into the starter home sooner rather than later and make a smart financial decision. If you buy the right first house, are open to building sweat equity, and plan to hang out there for five to seven years, there’s a good chance that you’ll have made a smart move.

This decision will enable you to get into a larger home, in a better neighborhood or school district, or maybe just your dream home.

Homeownership is a personal choice, and there is no one path to take. Stick within your comfort zone, and always go with your gut.

Check out our Home Buyers Guide for more tips and tools.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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How to Attract Birds to Your Yard (Hint: Don't Just Wing It)

It takes more than a bird feeder to attract a colorful variety of songbirds to your backyard. Think of your feeder as a drive-thru fast-food joint in an unsafe neighborhood: The birds will stop to eat, but they won’t stick around for very long. They want to get home to their comfy nest in an exclusive deciduous broadleaf community, where they can get fancier food anyway.

If you want to see more than bird backsides at a millet buffet, you need to give them all the luxuries they’ve come to expect.

Create a habitat

Birds prefer townhomes to single-level ranch houses. They need perches for preening, thickets for hiding, branches for bickering, wide-open spaces for showing off, and, eventually, a tree cavity where they can nest and paint their nursery a nice robin’s-egg blue.

Give them privacy by planting walls of foliage. Native shrubs, small trees, and even tall grasses and perennials offer the versatility they need to make a quick escape.

Create a ceiling of tall deciduous and evergreen trees at the back of your property, and plant small understory trees between them and your house. Selectively prune lower limbs of shrubs and small trees so you can easily see perching birds from your window. They’ll appreciate the perch, and you’ll appreciate the camera angle.

Grow your own birdseed

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but, conveniently enough, birdseed does! It also grows on shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals, and anything else that qualifies as a plant.

To grow the seed that your local bird species prefer, however, choose the native plants that they’d otherwise find in the wild. Native plants vary by region, but some good choices include coneflower, blanketflower, beautyberry, asters, and sunflowers.

Attract hummingbirds with nectar-filled trumpet honeysuckle and cardinal flowers. Native oaks, hollies, dogwoods, sumac, cedars, and spruces provide nuts and berries, as well as shelter.

Stage your birdhouse

Research the birds that you’d like to attract, and give them the house that suits their needs. For example, bluebirds like their nesting boxes out in the open, while chickadees like thick leaf cover.

Whichever bird you try to attract, keep that nesting box away from human noise and activity so you’ll never have to witness the heartbreaking sight of abandoned eggs in an empty nest. Also, keep your cat indoors, if possible. Otherwise, you may find birds not only in your backyard but on your front doorstep, too.

If birds haven’t moved in yet, be patient. Sometimes all your birdhouse needs is a little lichen, moss, or wear and tear to make it more appealing.

Turn a birdbath into a Jacuzzi

If your birdbath is emptier than a swimming pool in January, there could be a reason. The ideal birdbath doesn’t look like you’d expect – it’s placed directly on the ground in a shady space with nearby shrubs.

Add some gravel to the basin so birds can find their footing, and even add a few rocks on the outside to serve as steps. Include a small pump or fountain, if possible. This turns your birdbath into a miniature water feature, and the circulation keeps the water clean and helps birds cool off on hot days.

Leave the leaf litter

If you’re looking for an excuse to get out of gardening chores, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re absolutely allowed to keep that accumulation of dead leaves and small branches on your garden’s floor. It gives birds everything they could ever ask for – bugs and other small animals for snacking, materials for nesting, and even a hiding place from predators.

If things begin to look untidy, just break down the larger branches by hand or with a pair of anvil pruners, and spread everything out evenly. Everyone loves free mulch.

Invest in your feeder

Rather than spending money on multiple feeders that you have to replace year after year, invest in a feeder that’s made with quality materials, has a tightly fitting lid, and drains easily. Better yet, purchase a sturdy pole and squirrel baffle before you leave the garden center.

Even the best feeder will need maintenance, so give it a thorough cleaning every year, and break up any clogged holes so moisture doesn’t accumulate. Trust me on this – cleaning out a maggot-infested feeder is something nobody should have to experience in his or her lifetime.

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House of the Week: Tiny Shipping Container, Big Style

With only 320 square feet of living space, this Carolina Beach house isn’t like others on the street. Set back on a peaceful wooded lot just three blocks from the beach, the tiny home is stirring up a lot of buzz. But, it’s not just the size everyone is talking about.

Two years ago, builders turned an average shipping container into this recycled, ocean-blue residence that listing agent Diana Jewell refers to as “a modern, minimalist tiny beach home” or, more simply, a “cool surf shack.”

Now on the market with Century 21 for $250,000, the home features 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom and decks off the living room and kitchen.

Photos by Cape Fear Real Estate Directory.

The shipping container isn’t the house’s only recycled characteristic. The home is also furnished with mahogany wood floors that were salvaged and refinished.

“Paperstone (recycled paper) countertops were used in the bathroom and kitchen,” Jewell explains, meaning this tiny home makes an even smaller environmental footprint than you might expect.

Although the space is well, mini, a large effort went into create a comfortable and spacious interior.

“Neutral finishings make it appear to look larger and brighter,” Jewell says, and huge glass doors and windows were thoughtfully placed around the home.

“Also, bump-outs were built in the living room and bathroom to maximize those spaces,” she adds.

This tiny container home shows that you don’t need much to live with style.

“It has all the features and amenities necessary to live comfortably,” Jewell says.

Top photo by Harry Taylor.

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Pro Tips for Making the Most of Your Kitchen Remodeling Budget

A high-end kitchen remodel could easily drain your wallet. The nationwide average for a major kitchen remodel – replacing all appliances, installing a sink and faucet, and repainting walls – is $62,158, according to Remodeling magazine. And in cities like New York, those costs edge even higher.

A modest kitchen remodel, in which the cabinets are left in place, is $20,830 on average, and that’s not even accounting for labor delays or electrical issues from outdated wiring, which is common in kitchens.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep costs down without going batty. Here, two renowned interior designers share their tips for renovating a kitchen.

Consider how long you’ll be in the home

“Do you plan to be there two to three years, which means reselling is very important? Or do you plan to be there five to 10 years?” says Elena Frampton, creative director at Frampton Co in Manhattan. “That makes a difference in terms of design direction.”

If reselling is a factor, focus on basic, clean cabinetry and new appliances. If you’re staying longer, it’s about personalizing the space.

Photo from Zillow listing

Evaluate the layout

“Ask yourself if you want your kitchen to be open or closed,” Frampton says. The answer will determine not only the kitchen’s layout, but also how it interacts with adjacent spaces.

Photo from Zillow listing

Factor in pantry space

Homeowners forget this frequently used storage space all too often. Frampton recommends including it in your plans.

Photo from Zillow listing

Choose cabinets wisely

When remodeling a kitchen, you really need to understand how you live, how you cook, and how you like to organize things. “Know what you prefer and not necessarily what the marketplace is offering as a standard,” Frampton says. After all, the kitchen has to be functional.

If you’re annoyed by setting the toaster on top of the microwave every time you finish using it, you may want an appliance garage to keep gadgets and gizmos more accessible. “Focus on how it works for you,” Frampton adds.

Photo from Zillow listing

Forget name-brand appliances

Concentrate instead on getting the right dimensions for the space, and appliances that fit how you live. “Looking at those practical elements is really important if you’re on a budget,” Frampton adds.

Photo from Zillow listing

Buy a counter-depth refrigerator

“A space-saving unit that barely protrudes past the edge of your countertop is a worthwhile investment,” says Michael Tower, architect and partner at Studio Tractor in Brooklyn. “I hate fridges that are so deep that they take up a lot of your footprint. You’re always bumping into them.”

Photo from Zillow listing

Select the right countertop material

“Countertop trends change year to year, so understand your tolerance for each material’s character,” Frampton advises. “Do you want something that’s aesthetically quiet, something dark, something light with grout lines, or something without grout? Can you live with the patina of natural stone? Or do you need some sort of man-made conglomerate material?”

Photo from Zillow listing

Avoid cheap hardware

“You want your cabinets to last a long time,” says Tower. “You open and close them how many thousand times a week?” Splurge on durable materials that look good and will last.

Photo from Zillow listing

Save on lighting

While quality lighting is important from a functional perspective, Tower says, “From an investment point of view, it’s not a big deal any longer.”

Most standard cabinets feature some kind of LED underlighting. And when it comes to decorative fixtures, there are plenty of options to choose from at flea markets or resale design sites like Chairish. Just be sure to measure your finds before swiping your credit card.

Photo from Zillow listingReady to remodel? Get more kitchen design inspiration on Zillow Digs.

Top photo from Zillow listing

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Can You Save Money by Bundling Home Services?

Why pay full price for something if you can get what you want, plus another item, at a discount? This is called bundling, and researchers have been studying the pros and cons of it for decades.

Although many consumers think of bundling as a modern concept – it’s often used to combine TV, internet, and phone services, for example – the practice has been around for years in a variety of forms.

As a homeowner or renter, navigating the benefits and pitfalls of bundling household services means using a little common sense and a bit of economic reasoning. It also requires being aware of when and how products are bundled.

What is bundling?

Everything from fast-food combo meals to items in a two-for-one deal could be considered bundled, especially if sold at a lower price than the separate parts.

For households, bundling might mean purchasing home and car insurance together at a slightly lower rate – the average American, for example, saves 16 percent when bundling the two policies, according to the latest data from InsuranceQuotes.com.

The possibilities for bundling household services abound, according to Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance: “You might find someone on Craigslist who can help with electrical, plumbing, and air-conditioning/heating needs. You’ll likely get a discount, because you’ll be bringing that person more work.”

Mixed versus pure bundling

There are several types of bundling, each with varying levels of consumer benefit, according to George John, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. As a homeowner, you’ll most likely encounter these two types:

  • Mixed bundling. The consumer chooses between separate items or a bundle. The pieces will likely be more expensive individually, but the consumer has the option to buy just one piece.
  • Pure bundling. Occurs when the seller offers only a bundle and no individual pieces. This would happen, for example, if a town has only one moving service, which requires clients to buy its cardboard boxes.

In such a scenario, consumers are worse off, because the seller increases its profit by requiring such a deal. The company can get away with it “because they have a very strong market position,” John says.

Understanding your needs is key

Why are so many services offered in bundles? “This is somewhat controversial, but it turns out that companies make more money when they offer you discounts on those bundles, because consumers get tempted into buying it,” John says.

To win at the bundling game, keep your needs in mind, and stay strong in the face of alluring deals. Bundles are a true victory for consumers only if they genuinely need all parts included in it.

When consumers fail to shop around for the other items in the bundle and go for the packaged deal instead, they often walk away with products they don’t want or need – and sometimes pick up lesser-quality goods along the way.

Finally, the touted time-saving advantage of combining bills, which service providers sometimes use as a selling point, may not economize that much time, especially if a consumer would be signing up for automatic bill payments anyway.

Service providers “want to take your attention away from the fact that it’s actually a price move. They want to tell you that you’re getting a better experience if you bundle,” John says.

Client-controlled bundling

Consumers triumph when they control what’s in the bundle. Have a nanny who you pay a little extra to make dinner each night? That’s a bundle. “It’s totally a good deal, because you know the benefit that comes from having the same person watch your child and cook for you. You’ve made the judgment,” John says.

At the end of the day, discipline is key. Saying no to unnecessary items, looking for other options instead of pure bundling, and refusing to be duped by false benefits will ensure you win the bundling game.

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5 Ways Home Buyers Make Their Agent's Job Harder

Buying a home can be a long and challenging process. It’s a big, expensive and infrequent transaction that can cause lots of stress and anxiety.

Some buyers take years to complete a purchase, and they require a lot of hand-holding and make lots of requests. Others are more self-sufficient, and only bring in the agent from time to time.

Good real estate agents can accommodate any buyer at any time – as they should. We’re in the service business, and I always say the customer is always right.

But let’s face it: All buyers (and all agents) are not created equal, and since buyers don’t pay for the agent’s time, there can sometimes be a disconnect.

Here are five buyer behaviors that can make life tough for agents.

Planning a (secret) price swap

It’s one thing for a buyer to ask a seller for a credit if the final home inspection uncovers a problem. But after you have a deal, planning to negotiate the price down without telling your agent is a big no-no. It adds stress and ill will among all parties involved, during what could already be a difficult transaction.

It’s better to be upfront about your intentions. If the deal is not meant to be, it’s better to not go down the path at all.

Making unjustified lowball offers

The seller’s property is on the market for $400,000, and it’s worth close to that, based on recent comparable sales. And yet, a potential buyer offers $300,000 and won’t budge on the price.

It’s not because the home is grossly overpriced or there’s something seriously wrong with it, but simply because the buyer wants a bargain.

Unjustified lowball offers can be a waste of time for everyone involved. The seller isn’t going to swallow $100,000 for no reason, even if the property has been on the market a while.

In fact, a lowball offer will likely just help the listing agent get a small price reduction, thus opening the window of opportunity to another buyer.

It’s certainly okay to offer less than the asking price, but be realistic.

Requiring too much during the showing

It’s typical for a potential buyer to view a property during an open house, then ask for a private showing – even two or three times. That’s par for the course.

However, it’s frustrating when a buyer arrives to a showing with a designer, architect, contractor or just some friends, then spends an hour or two at the home checking out and measuring each room. This is counterproductive, particularly if you do it at one home after another and never make an offer.

Some buyers have even been known to bring their psychic, who, after making a big splash with tarot cards and numerology charts, declares that the property has “negative energy” and isn’t a good fit, mainly based on the numbers in the property address. Did the psychic really need to see the property in person to figure that out?

Buyers typically give themselves an opportunity to gauge their own reactions to a property before bringing in friends, family or hired consultants. To go over a home inch-by-inch on the first or second visit is often a waste of everyone’s time.

Demanding loads of attention early on

Some people are just beginning to think about buying a home. That’s fine; buyers have to start somewhere.

Unfortunately, sometimes buyers are a year or two away from being ready to pull the trigger, yet they make a lot of demands on the agent’s time.

Asking an agent to research city building permits on a house just because you’re curious – and even though the property doesn’t fit your requirements – is probably not a fair request.

Agents can’t be as effective with their active clients if they’re spending lots of time researching tax records or city permits for clients who are years away from being ready to purchase.

Changing your mind repeatedly

It’s fine to shift course based on what you learn during the home shopping process. This is a common part of the buyer evolution process.

Many buyers set out for X but end up with Y after learning the market and seeing where their dollar goes. By the time you’re ready to start making offers and moving in the direction of acquiring a home, you will be laser focused.

But if you find yourself moving around and you’re uncertain about the object of your search, it’s possible you just aren’t ready to buy. That’s fine. Take your time and learn the market.

The home-buying process is a journey, and a good local agent, brought in at the right time, can add so much value. Be mindful that agents work for free until a buyer or seller closes. Agents should be leveraged as a huge resource – when the right time comes.

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Originally published May 23, 2014.

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Designer Lookbook: Elena Frampton's Sleek Pied-à-Terre

Manhattan interior designer Elena Frampton prides herself on striking a balance, be it with color, texture, or the eccentric design details she likes to refer to as “moments.”

For a Westchester County couple who purchased a pied-à-terre in the tony enclave of Sutton Place, Frampton’s mission was to “create a sense of spaciousness” from the kitchen that extends to the bedroom.

A lighter, brighter kitchen

No stranger to gut renovations, Frampton eagerly tore down the kitchen wall to “create an elegant space that would be open,” she says. Then she added an island that serves as a dining room sideboard.

Ceiling-high cabinets in a medium oak were selected for their “cleaner geometry,” Frampton continues, while sky-blue tiles were chosen for color. “I love bringing color and texture into a kitchen,” she says.

A square column that leads to the living room was rounded to make it more of a “sculptural element,” Frampton says, rather than something obtrusive. “When we encounter something that appears to be a conflict, we ask, ‘What can we do to make it something interesting and appealing?'”

In the same vein, Frampton selected a variety of eye-catching light fixtures. “I love bringing personality to spaces with sculptural, interesting items,” she says, noting the surface-mount fixture and chandelier, both in the kitchen, that were made in the ’60s and ’70s.

“It’s really about having fixtures and finishes that are elegant and suitable for an open living environment.”

Spacious tricks for open living spaces

Mixing materials was also important when it came to the textiles. A brown leather couch makes a statement in a living room defined by beiges and grays, while a chunky knit blanket adds a touch of whimsy to an otherwise serene master bedroom.

“It doesn’t feel too beige, and it doesn’t feel too gray,” Frampton says of the bedroom’s palette, which is enhanced by art from Sears-Peyton Gallery in Chelsea, New York. The light on the nightstand is from Orange in Los Angeles.

For Frampton, the biggest challenge was creating a sense of spaciousness in an apartment that felt closed off. “The windows are not large,” she says, “and the ceiling height is the standard eight feet.”

To get around the problem, she used several wall-mounted lights, which take up little space, and painted the ceilings a shade lighter than the walls. “It makes rooms feel larger,” she notes.

Back in the living room, a tinted mirror with an architectural frame was added to reflect the stunning view of the 59th Street Bridge outside.

Frampton also took risks where she could afford them, as evidenced by a fur-covered bench in the bedroom. Going back to the idea of balance, she says, “It’s more about calibrating choices than tempering all of them.” In other words, she carefully chose what she wanted to stand out.

“If art is your thing, or whatever it is that gives you joy, that’s the area to take risks,” she says. “It’s not about whether it’s trendy or if your friends like it. What are the things that bring you joy?”

Get the look at home

Follow Frampton’s tips to get a tailored look in your own home.

  • Choose your moment. “Here, we decided to go vintage with light fixtures, but it could also be hardware or dining chairs,” Frampton says. “Pick a moment, and find the right thing to focus on.”
  • Vary the palette. To make the bedroom’s beige walls feel more of the moment, Frampton says, “We brought in art, and the art brings a lot to the story.” It’s also helpful to layer beiges and grays for a balance of warm and cool effects. “Mixing brings some complexity to the palette, even though it’s neutral.”
  • Always test the paint colors. “We test paint colors on-site to look at them in different lighting conditions,” Frampton says. She also likes to sample “four or five neutrals on a wall.”
  • Go a shade lighter on the ceiling. “We do our ceilings in the same shade as the walls, but one hue lighter so it all looks the same,” Frampton says. “A ceiling inherently has shadows, so going one shade lighter makes it look uniform.”

Photography by Joshua McHugh

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5 Futuristic Buildings by a Postmodern Architect You Need to Know

Photo by Mary McCartney

If you’ve paid any attention to architecture in the past couple of decades, you already know the name Zaha Hadid.

The late Iraqi-born London resident’s buildings — residential, commercial, hotels, retail — can be found all over the world. While Hadid began her career teaching architecture at prestigious institutions, she quickly rose to fame for her designs.

Over her extremely successful 30-year career, Hadid designed numerous iconic buildings, contributed theoretical and academic work to the field of architecture, and received some of the highest accolades, including becoming the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Check out these five Zaha Hadid Architects buildings we love.

1000 Museum, Miami Beach

Located on Biscayne Boulevard, opposite Museum Park, this 66-story tower will house 83 residences described as “super luxury.” A duplex penthouse will occupy the top two residential floors, with an aquatic center and sky lounge above them, and a rooftop helicopter landing pad topping it all off. The views of Biscayne Bay will likely be unbelievable from all floors of the wavy structure.

520 West 28th Street, New York

Overlooking the High Line in Manhattan, this 11-story development features 39 luxury condos that range in price from $4.95 million to $50 million. “I’ve always been fascinated by the High Line and its possibilities for the city,” Hadid once explained. “Decades ago, I used to visit the galleries in the area and consider how to build along the route. It’s very exciting to be building there now. The design engages with the city while concepts of fluid spatial flow create a dynamic new living environment.”

d’Leedon, Singapore

Public and private spaces come together in this unique Hadid design located in the center of Singapore’s District 10. The d’Leedon is comprised of seven residential towers and 12 semi-detached villas with a resort-like communal space in the center, including a pool. Each tower tapers inward as it reaches the ground, creating a funky visual effect, while a petal-shaped layout ensures that each unit will have at least three sides with windows to maximize natural light.

33-35 Hoxton Square, London

This prism-inspired design is being constructed from sandblasted aluminum and clear glass. It will “respond and manipulate daylight and views,” according to the design documents. The two-level gallery will house both commercial offices and residential flats in London’s Hoxton Square.

Casa Atlantica, Rio de Janeiro

Located on Copacabana Beach, this building combines in its design the natural forms of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches with the energy and rhythm of Copacabana. As the marketing materials for the building further explain, “Casa Atlantica’s design continues the liberating composition and spatial flow inherent within Brazil’s rich Modernist tradition.” Balconies jut out on each floor and separate the residential units.

 Photos courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

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Renters: Are You Ready to Buy a Home?

For renters planning to buy a home, preliminary steps like creating a budget and saving for a down payment are obvious. Here are five more advanced steps toward moving out of your rental and into a dream home of your own.

Understand the full cost of homeownership

As a renter, a single rental fee covers your monthly housing payment. But as a homeowner, four main factors go into your monthly housing payment: principal, interest, taxes and insurance (P.I.T.I.). Understanding these costs will help you determine how much house you can afford.

Together, principal and interest comprise your monthly mortgage payment, with the principal paying down your loan balance each month, and the interest paying your fee for borrowing the money. Use a mortgage calculator to determine how much of your payment goes toward principal versus interest each month.

Taxes refer to property taxes, which are assessed by the county you live in. They average 1.2 percent of your home’s value each year.

Insurance — paid to a homeowner’s insurance company of your choice — is required when you have a mortgage. Lenders require that your insurance cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it is ruined by fire or other disaster. This “replacement cost” is determined by your insurer, and must be agreed to by your lender. Insurance will typically cost $700 to $1,200 per year for a single family home.

For condo owners, there’s a fifth monthly cost category: homeowners association (HOA) dues. These fees cover common area amenities, landscaping, ongoing upkeep and reserves for future maintenance like roof replacement or exterior painting. These monthly dues range from $100 for cheaper condos to $1,000 or more for luxury condos.

Single family home buyers can take a useful cue from HOA budgets, which generally require that at least 10 percent of dues go toward reserves. Even if you’re not buying a condo, it’s a good idea to set up a similar savings plan for future maintenance like replacing a roof or major appliances.

Know your homeowner tax benefits

Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible when you file your annual tax returns, and reduce taxable income.

These deductions significantly lower your cost of homeownership. For example, for a $300,000 home with 20 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent, monthly P.I.T.I. is about $1,545. Tax deductions reduce this total housing cost to about $1,215.

Study rent-vs.-buy math

Often, people judge the cost of renting vs. buying by comparing P.I.T.I. to a rental payment. But to get an apples-to-apples comparison, you actually have to look at after-tax-benefit homeownership costs and rent costs.

Using the example above of a $300,000 home that costs $1,215 per month after taxes, you could compare this residence to a home that rents for about $1,200. If the $300,000 home was more spacious or in a more desirable area, the math would seem to favor buying — but don’t forget this example requires a $60,000 down payment.

Identify mortgages that fit your budget and timeline

If you don’t have 20 percent to put down, you can still get a mortgage with as little as 3 percent down. However, if your down payment is less than 20 percent, you’ll have to pay mortgage insurance, which is about .85 percent of your loan amount, and isn’t tax deductible.

Your monthly P.I.T.I. (which includes mortgage insurance) is about $1,995 on a $300,000 home with 3 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent. After tax deductions, this total housing cost drops to about $1,614. And you’d only need $9,000 for the down payment.

You can also lower your rate and P.I.T.I. with a shorter-term loan like a 5-year ARM, but rates on these loans will adjust in 5 years, so you risk having a much higher payment if you plan to stay in the home longer than that.

Start preparing your credit score now

Credit scores are critical for getting the best mortgages with the lowest rates. Lenders want reliable on-time payment history as well as credit depth.

More credit accounts are better, so renters with only one credit card should consider obtaining more credit. Just note that your credit score can drop 5 to 15 points when you first open a new account, then will come back up when you’ve established a good payment history.

Have questions about purchasing a home? Check out our Home Buyers Guide.

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Originally published January 5, 2015.

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