If you’re dreading the long months of cold weather ahead and the thought of being stuck inside, consider curing cabin fever with some fun, easy and rewarding home improvement projects.
When choosing projects to tackle first, Brian Bolger, Lead Contractor with Bolger Design & Remodeling in Mechanicsburg suggests focusing on ones that will increase your property value, save money on your utility bills, and, of course, add a smile to your face. Here are five ideas to get you started.
1. Create walls that wow
Since you’re stuck inside staring at the walls, why not give them a new look. Adding modern trim work, crown molding and a bold coat of paint can completely change the look of a room without the expense of doing a complete renovation, Bolger said.
“Contrary to what many homeowners might believe, you can use paint in your home without opening up every window as long it’s an environmentally friendly and waterborne paint, which has virtually no fumes,” he said. “Plus, the dryness of the colder months can actually produce faster results.”
To really add visual interest to your walls, homeowners could go with a new or dramatic paint color or use painter’s tape to create stripes or patterns. A winter project Bolger and his wife are actually getting ready to do is hang wallpaper in their bedroom.
“Wallpaper is making a bit of a comeback thanks to home improvement shows,” Bolger said. “It can definitely be a do-it-yourself project or you can get professionals to do it. My wife and I have hung it before in other rooms, so we have some experience on our side.”
Bolger also works on a lot of custom trim and crown molding projects which he said for an investment of between $500 and $800 dollars, can make all the difference in the world in bringing some life back into a room. A popular trend right now he said is replacing typical baseboard with ones that are at least five inches wide.
2. Add a “splash” of personality to your kitchen
For homeowners looking to spice up their kitchen without spending a pretty penny, adding a backsplash is a great solution, not to mention the perfect project for a cold winter weekend.
“For several hundred dollars you can completely change the look of your kitchen, as well as customize it to fit your personality,” said Clark Shindel, an at-home service specialist at The Home Depot in Mechanicsburg. “Our free do-it-yourself backsplash and tile workshops are our most popular classes.”
Just a few years ago The Home Depot had only about 40 tiles to choose from. Today, the store has more than 400 different styles and sizes, ranging from classic subway tile to natural stone to metal. While adding more functionality to a kitchen, a backsplash can also help accessorize and emphasize countertops, cabinets and appliances.
“Installation is a relatively simple process, but it is very tedious and time intensive,” said Shindel, who recommends making it a weekend project. “We offer products like the Simple Mat and peel and stick tiles that save time and eliminate a lot of the mess.”
Two pitfalls he warns do-it-yourselfers about are not taking the time to prep and lay out a template which can result in irregular lines or spaces. And not cleaning off the grout completely, which once dry can result in a nasty haze that is almost impossible to get off.
In addition to free tile classes, The Home Depot does offer backsplash installation services for those homeowners not quite daring enough to tackle it themselves.
3. Lighten up your rooms
What better way to brighten and warm your spirits this winter than with new lights, lamps or ceiling fans. Not to mention it’s an easy and affordable way to update the style of any room.
“We get a lot of customers during the winter who are shopping for new lights to get ready for the holidays or to accent kitchen and bathroom renovations,” said Charlotte Couch, showroom manager at Yale Lighting Concepts & Design in Swatara Township. “They are also looking to save on their energy bill with ceiling fans which push heat back down.”
LED-style lights, which come in contemporary and bold styles, also provide a money-saving option. Installing dimmers in areas like the family room or dining room saves money, while allowing homeowners to customize the ambiance.
In addition to pendant lighting, another style that is growing in popularity, said Couch, is Steampunk, which is a cross between vintage and industrial designs. But for a softer more romantic feel, a crystal chandelier is still a timeless choice.
“When it comes to installation and dealing with electrical issues my advice is to hire a professional so you know it’s done right,” Couch said. “Especially with ceiling fans, you want to be sure they aren’t loose or wobbly.”
4. Turn dull doors into classy decor
With home improvement projects, sometimes it’s the things that are used the most that are noticed the least. Like all the doors in your home — in and out of rooms, to closets and utility rooms. But after a closer look, the scratches, cracks, old hinges and outdated style can be hard to miss.
“Replacing interior doors is an affordable way to give your home an updated look versus an expensive remodel,” said Ken Shuman, salesman and estimator B&B’s Custom Trim Inc. in Rapho Township. “Most of the homeowners that come to us are looking for doors that have a unique or more modern look than what they have.”
According to Shuman, there are a lot of options that many people might not even think about. For example, double doors are a much more functional and attractive alternative to sliding doors and bi-fold doors, while French-style doors can add natural light and architectural detail to a space.
“A big thing with customers right now is not so much the door, but the hardware,” Shuman said. “Homeowners are choosing update hinges and doorknobs with more modern colors like brushed nickel or aged bronze.”
While installing interior doors can be a job for do-it-yourselfers, Shuman pointed out that it can quickly turn into a bigger job than expected, especially when replacing doors in older homes.
“Most doors are not going to just fall into place,” Shuman said. “The jobs we do involve cutting, trimming and shaping the door to size, and sometimes replacing the molding.”
Shuman’s advice to homeowners looking to replace interior doors is for them to do their homework, know their budget, and have an idea of what they like.
5. Take your bathroom from drab to fab
There’s no better time than the winter to turn your boring bathroom into a spa retreat. While replacing a faucet, re-grouting tile, or repainting are relatively easy for the do-it-yourselfer, more ambitious jobs like replacing the tub or adding tile floor might be better left to a professional.
While a complete remodel might be a bigger investment, it’s worth considering, said Charles Cornelius, owner of Chazz’ Home Improvement in Mifflin Township
“Many older homes were not built using mold-resistant drywall, so if you’re going to make an investment in upgrading your bathroom, that’s one of the best places to start,” he said. “Knowing what’s going on behind the walls is important before making expensive updates.”
According to Cornelius, there is also a lot of plumbing involved with replacing bathtubs, sinks and toilets, which requires an expert to ensure it’s done right. Once the walls are closed up, a small leak can go unnoticed for a long time, resulting in serious damage and possibly a complete remodel.
“My philosophy is that if you’re going to invest in a project, do it right the first time,” he said.
Source: NAR Article – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – What it Means for Homeowners and Real Estate Professionals
Tax Rate Reductions
- The new law provides generally lower tax rates for all individual tax filers. While this does not mean that every American will pay lower taxes under these changes, many will. The total size of the tax cut from the rate reductions equals more than $1.2 trillion over ten years.
- The tax rate schedule retains seven brackets with slightly lower marginal rates of 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%.
- The final bill retains the current-law maximum rates on net capital gains (generally, 15% maximum rate but 20% for those in the highest tax bracket; 25% rate on “recapture” of depreciation from real property).
Tax Brackets for Ordinary Income Under Current Law and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2018 Tax Year) Single Filer
|Current Law||Tax Cuts and Jobs Act|
|10%||$0-$9,525||10%||$0 – $9,525|
|15%||$9,525 – $38,700||12%||$9,525 – $38,700|
|25%||$38,700 – $93,700||22%||$38,700 – $82,500|
|28%||$93,700 – $195,450||24%||$82,500 – $157,500|
|33%||$195,450 – $424,950||32%||$157,500 – $200,000|
|35%||$424,950 – $426,700||35%||$200,000 – $500,000|
Tax Brackets for Ordinary Income Under Current Law and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2018 Tax Year) Married Filing Jointly
|Current Law||Tax Cuts and Jobs Act|
|10%||$0 – $19,050||10%||$0 – $19,050|
|15%||$19,050 – $77,400||12%||$19,050 – $77,400|
|25%||$77,400 – $156,150||22%||$77,400 – $165,000|
|28%||$156,150 – $237,950||24%||$165,000 – $315,000|
|33%||$237,950 – $424,950||32%||$315,000 – $400,000|
|35%||$424,950 – $480,050||35%||$400,000 – $600,000|
Exclusion of Gain on Sale of a Principal Residence
- The final bill retains current law. A significant victory in the final bill that NAR achieved.
- The Senate-passed bill would have changed the amount of time a homeowner must live in their home to qualify for the capital gains exclusion from 2 out of the past 5 years to 5 out of the past 8 years. The House bill would have made this same change as well as phased out the exclusion for taxpayers with incomes above $250,000 single/$500,000 married.
Mortgage Interest Deduction
- The final bill reduces the limit on deductible mortgage debt to $750,000 for new loans taken out after 12/14/17. Current loans of up to $1 million are grandfathered and are not subject to the new $750,000 cap. Neither limit is indexed for inflation.
- Homeowners may refinance mortgage debts existing on 12/14/17 up to $1 million and still deduct the interest, so long as the new loan does not exceed the amount of the mortgage being refinanced.
- The final bill repeals the deduction for interest paid on home equity debt through 12/31/25. Interest is still deductible on home equity loans (or second mortgages) if the proceeds are used to substantially improve the residence.
- Interest remains deductible on second homes, but subject to the $1 million / $750,000 limits.
- The House-passed bill would have capped the mortgage interest limit at $500,000 and eliminated the deduction for second homes.
Deduction for State and Local Taxes
- The final bill allows an itemized deduction of up to $10,000 for the total of state and local property taxes and income or sales taxes. This $10,000 limit applies for both single and married filers and is not indexed for inflation.
- The final bill also specifically precludes the deduction of 2018 state and local income taxes prepaid in 2017.
- When House and Senate bills were first introduced, the deduction for state and local taxes would have been completely eliminated. The House and Senate passed bills would have allowed property taxes to be deducted up to $10,000. The final bill, while less beneficial than current law, represents a significant improvement over the original proposals.
- The final bill provides a standard deduction of $12,000 for single individuals and $24,000 for joint returns. The new standard deduction is indexed for inflation.
- By doubling the standard deduction, Congress has greatly reduced the value of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions as tax incentives for homeownership. Congressional estimates indicate that only 5-8% of filers will now be eligible to claim these deductions by itemizing, meaning there will be no tax differential between renting and owning for more than 90% of taxpayers.
Repeal of Personal Exemptions
- Under the prior law, tax filers could deduct $4,150 in 2018 for the filer and his or her spouse, if any, and for each dependent. These exemptions have been repealed in the new law.
- This change alone greatly mitigates (and in some cases entirely eliminates) the positive aspects of the higher standard deduction.
To illustrate how the above-listed changes can affect the tax incentives of owning a home for a first-time buyer and a middle-income family of five, please see these examples:
Mortgage Credit Certificates (MCCs)
- The final bill retains current law.
- The House-passed legislation would have repealed MCCs.
Deduction for Medical Expenses
- The final bill retains the deduction for medical expenses (including decreasing the 10% floor to 7.5% floor for 2018).
- The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for medical expenses.
- The final bill increases the child tax credit to $2,000 from $1,000 and keeps the age limit at 16 and younger. The income phase-out to claim the child credit was increased significantly from ($55,000 single/$110,000 married) under current law to $500,000 for all filers in the final bill.
Student Loan Interest Deduction
- The final bill retains current law, allowing deductibility of student loan debt up to $2,500, subject to income phase-outs.
- The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for interest on student loans.
Deduction for Casualty Losses
- The final bill provides a deduction only if a loss is attributable to a presidentially-declared disaster.
- The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for casualty losses with limited exceptions.
- The final bill repeals moving expense deduction and exclusion, except for members of the Armed Forces.
Staging for a Cozy, Minimalist Look
Staging for a Cozy, Minimalist Look
Watch for these signs that you’re tipping the balance too far in one direction.
Yellow; rich, dark colors; and textured or faux Tuscan-painted walls
Elaborate window treatments
Floral or oversized patterns
Every wall covered with art
Orchids or other fussy plants
A set table
Matching furniture sets
Nearly empty shelves and storage
Cookies baking in an oven during the open house
But stagers also caution against stripping too much away, which can make a space feel stark and uninviting. The happy medium is instead a modern, minimalist look that permits buyers to imagine how their furnishings may fit in spatially while exuding warmth from some carefully added accessories.
Staging, once mostly for vacant homes or high-priced listings, is now more widely used. Meridith Baer, who stages more than 140 properties a month through her eponymous California firm, says the practice can help increase the sales price and decrease the listing time for homes. The Real Estate Staging Association pegs the average time on the market for homes sold after staging at 21 days, an estimated 90 percent less time than unstaged properties.
Bear in mind that different generations have slightly different design tastes and tolerance for clutter or spareness, as do buyers in different geographic markets and price points. “Many in the greater Los Angeles area have been asking for a more minimal look, but in Orange County and Northern California, high-end properties still reflect a rich layering that shows a well-lived, well-traveled life,” Baer says. Here are five recommendations to strike the right balance.
1. Set the stage. It’s called staging for a reason. The idea is to set the mood in the same way that a theatrical backdrop does. Think of how to use furnishings and accessories to tell a story about how a buyer may live there. You want the listing to look modern and gender-neutral to show a home’s bones, not to remind buyers of an antiseptic hospital or laboratory, says Winter. Certified stager Susan Batka of Aerie Interiors in suburban Atlanta suggests adding a few textured pillows, a rug, and maybe a large piece of modern, colorful artwork to give the space the necessary warmth so it looks alive but isn’t overwhelming or too personalized.
2. Declutter. This is still the number one mantra for stagers. “The key to the desired Zen feel is to pick interesting but fewer decorative items and keep upholstered pieces clean and lean,” Baer says. She describes the goal as leaving “some breathing room. Not every wall space needs art and not every surface needs accessories.” It can be difficult to decide what to keep, but one good rule is to retain only the accessories that play up architectural features and strengths of the listing. Items that draw attention to built-in bookshelves or fireplace mantels are especially helpful. For example, Winter removes half the books on a shelf and arranges the remaining ones with turned-out spines or groups them by colors that work well with the room. She’ll winnow down collectibles on a shelf or coffee table to three key items rather than removing everything.
3. Heed the size and shape of the room. You can use staging to highlight a room’s distinct features. If it has volume due to high ceilings, Baer will use a few larger-scaled furnishings. If it’s long and narrow, she generally fashions two seating groups, turning a rectangle into two squares. That way buyers can imagine a comfortable space where visitors can sit and converse intimately.
4. Retain functionality within today’s style guidelines. Because space is highly valued, making the best use of all square footage remains a priority. Show this in listings by following the principles of cozy minimalism throughout a home. For example, in a master bedroom where buyers are looking to gain a sleep sanctuary, whittle down the furnishings to only the essential items of a comfortable bed, nightstands, and good lighting. The cozy factor can come in the form of blankets, pillows, a soft rug underfoot, and a soothing palette, says Batka. To outfit a spare room or a large landing, you might stage a workspace with a clean, modern desk and comfy upholstered chair.
For more help, consider Home Staging: The Power That Sells Real Estate: 15 Home Staging Experts Share Industry Secrets (OTB Publishing, 2016). If homeowners don’t have au courant items, you can consider renting furnishings; some stagers keep large collections in a warehouse or storage facility. If you decide to hire a stager, know that some might charge an hourly fee, while others may charge anywhere from one-half to three-quarters of 1 percent of a home’s listing price, which is how Refined Interior Staging Solutions’ Helen Bartlett works.
5. Remember inexpensive tweaks. Good staging isn’t about grand gestures, large furnishings, or scads of accessories. Minor fixes can help what’s already there stand out without cluttering the space. Replace fixtures with bulbs of the same wattage and color, and hang clothing on similar hangers for a more uniform feel, says Jennifer Ames, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago. “It gives buyers a good feeling as they walk through, that the sellers have cleaned and organized their homes,” she says. But in keeping with the cozy factor, avoid overwrought perfection. “Make anything you do look authentic, rather than contrived like putting out place settings at a table,” says Helen Bartlett, a RESA certified stager with Refined Interior Staging Solutions in Fairway, Kan. “Nobody lives that way.”