Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Getting off on the Right Foot(ing)

Even though the homeowner is most concerned about how a new house looks and whether it will function in a practical way, the most important part of the building process happens below ground level. Right after the excavation, the footings are put in place. It's crucial that the footings are poured properly because the entire structure of the house will rest upon these concrete structures. The foundation walls themselves will sit on the footings so if something is out of line, the whole project is in jeopardy.
The footings must be able to withstand the forces of nature including temperature changes, water, and the sheer weight of the house. Get off to the right start (on the right footing) and you're more likely to have a successful building project.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tax Time Alert for Homeowners

As you prepare to do your tax work for 2009, you need to think back about what you've recently done as far as home improvement. Federal tax credits are in place for energy-saving improvements. The following list shows what you can claim for 2009. Remember, credits on your federal income tax increase your refund or reduce the amount you owe in taxes. It's well worth your time and energy to dig out receipts and refer to manufacturer's tax credit certification to see if you qualify. Other good sources of information include IRS Publication 553 and IRS Form 5695.
You can claim:

Exterior doors, windows, and skylights
Metal or asphalt roofs with qualified coatings
Insulation material or system to reduce heat loss
Energy-efficient building property
Natural gas, propane, oil furnace or hot water boiler
Air circulating fans used in natural gas, propane, oil furnace
Solar water heating costs
Solar electric costs
Fuel cell property costs
Small wind energy property costs
Geothermal heat pump property costs

You CANNOT claim energy-saving light bulbs, Energy Star appliances, low-flow showerheads, or low-flush toilets.

Many of these energy-saving improvement credits remain in place for 2010 so do the research to see what gives you the best return on your remodeling dollars.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trends in New Home Building for 2010 and Beyond

As we move into 2010, I've been reading predictions and forecasts about where the homebuilding industry is heading. It didn't take me long to realize that there's no real consensus. We are still in uncharted waters, and no one seems to agree on when the economy will rebound and when the existing home inventory will be reduced to typical levels. Nevertheless, it's worthwhile to consider some of the top trends predicted for the coming decade as described on the Fine Homebuilding website.
1. New home construction will shift from the job site to the factory. I find this interesting because our Swedish friends have been telling us about this for years. Many new homes in Sweden have pre-assembled walls and roofs, and the exterior shell can be constructed in a day or so. I'm sure we'll start to see more of this process in the U.S. as the number of skilled carpenters seems to decline each year.
2. Granite countertops are on the way out. I believe this one. Granite carries a high price and requires high maintenance. There are many other products, both natural and synthetic, that give a similar appearance at a lower cost...and with little or no maintenance.
3. Weatherization and small remodeling projects will be the lifeblood of homebuilders for a while. I agree. Most builders have been surviving on smaller projects for the last year or so...and until existing inventory gets back to normal levels, new homes may be on the back burner for many people. Yet, homes always need upgrading---both for aesthetic purposes and for energy-efficiency.
4. Insulation will continue to be big. Government incentives and tax credits are in place that make adding insulation a wise decision both for cost savings and for comfort.
5. Water conservation will gain in importance. This trend is evident in the Western United States where water rationing, irrigation, and water conservation are frequently in the news. Not that it's right or wrong, but in the Midwest, I think this is still a few years away from becoming a hot topic.
Whatever the next year has in store, it's fun to try to foresee where things are headed. With new homes, it's fun to imagine your dream home. We hope, however, that you realize that a home is more than a dream house...It's what you put in it (and I don't mean "things") that makes it truly a home.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home for the Holidays

"Home for the Holidays" has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs. Maybe it's because my mom enjoyed Perry Como music, and I remember hearing my brother play the song on our piano at home when I was growing up. I also remember my dad actually singing the song on family car trips (along with "Chattanooga Choo-Choo"...but that's another story). 
As I got older, the song took on more meaning. As I packed up at college after exams and prepared for the 6-hour drive home, I often found myself humming the song. I think the song also began to mean more for me as I grew old enough to appreciate American soldiers all over the world who couldn't get "Home for the Holidays." 
Today the song has a special meaning as our family re-groups at Christmas time. Our son is home from college, and our busy high school daughter has slowed down enough that we are able to spend some real time together. Of course, everyone rushes around like crazy these last few days before Christmas, but then starting with Christmas Eve night and through the day on Christmas, we stop and find time to just enjoy our home and each other. 
Here's hoping that you find everyone "Home for the Holidays." If you're unable to be together, may memories of Christmas past and dreams of Christmas future brighten your home. 
Merry Christmas from the Coopers. 
Watch a Christmas slideshow and listen to the music here

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Best Time in 10 Years to Buy a Home

What do you get when you have low interest rates, lots of houses to choose from, and tax incentives for homebuyers? You have the best opportunity to buy a new home in the last ten years.
We've been in the homebuilding business for 22 years. We always say that the REAL buyers are house-hunting in December and January. Those are the people that really have a need to buy...maybe relocating, maybe a new baby on the way, maybe bringing second generation into the home with them. Whatever the impetus, they are out looking for a house while everyone else is out Christmas shopping or staying warm by the fireplace. And the December/January buyers are likely to get the best deals.
The "tire-kickers" and "window-shoppers" come out after the Super Bowl. Those are the people who are "just looking." They are dreaming of a new home, and they are checking the prices to see what type of home might eventually fit their dreams. They are in no hurry at all...In fact, it would actually be easier to move "during the summer when the kids are out of school." There is always some sort of priority that trumps moving. Nevertheless, it's fun to look and to compare one home to another.
This year, more than ever, is the year for the REAL buyers in December and January. The $8,000 tax credit has been extended until April 30, 2010, for first-time homebuyers. In addition a new $6,500 tax credit has been created for people who already own a home. Both categories of homebuyers must sign a purchase agreement prior to May 1. Details are available at www.realtor.org.
Interest rates are near 5%, but who knows how long that will last? If you have a good credit history, the lenders are anxious to get your business.
And, of course, you'll find a high inventory of homes waiting for you. Many prices have been slashed as sellers become more impatient with the stagnant economy. Sellers know their homes need to be in mint condition to earn a sale. Competition between sellers in the same neighborhoods leads to terrific bargains for house-hunters.
So what are you waiting for? Now is the time to make your move!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Building Permit Process for Hamilton County, Ohio

The building permit process varies from one jurisdiction to another. In Hamilton County, Ohio, changes have been made in the last few years to centralize some of the process. Nevertheless, we still find ourselves running around from one office to another with applications, site plans, and building plans (not to mention the required checks) for each application. For the particular job we're working on now, we first needed to get zoning approval from Springfield Township. That required site plans, building plans, and a payment. Fortunately, we were able to get the Zoning Certificate in one stop with the help of the friendly people at the Township Administration Building.
Next, it was on to the Hamilton County Building Department that's located in downtown Cincinnati and so requires some extra effort with traffic and parking. Hamilton County requires the actual building permit application, an Earthworks Permit since excavation is involved, and a Water Availability Permit. Again, we submitted applications, copies of the plans and site plans, and payment for each. In addition, this job will have a private water system so we needed to complete the Department of Health Permit for Private Water System and the Application/Permit for Private Water System Site Plan. The Site Plan Permit required an extra visit to the plumber's office so that he could complete the drawing required on the application before we could actually submit the materials to the Health Department.
At the Health Department, we ran into a new snafu. The receptionist warned us that the permits could take a while because everyone from the office was out in the field administering and monitoring the H1N1 vaccinations. Time will tell what "a while" means to the Health Department.
There are a few other permits that will be required before we can actually start moving dirt. Luckily, we already have the temporary electric meter set at the site so that is taken care of.
We look forward to the day when building permit applications are accepted electronically. Think of all the time and paper that could be saved by just clicking your computer mouse and sending everything through cyberspace. Now THAT would be a good example of "green building."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We're Stimulating the Economy

We signed a contract last night for a very nice custom home---approximately 4000 square feet. I started thinking what a nice burst for the economy that would be and how many people are actually involved in the physical construction of a single family residence. I didn't even consider the architect, general contractor, engineering staff, or loan officer. However, when I started counting, I found about 84 other individuals actually doing work on one particular new home...2 for excavation, 6 for foundation, 5 for framing, 3 for electric work, etc., etc. When I added it all up, I got 84 people. That doesn't count the manufacturers of the appliances, the sales people for the flooring, the people who assemble the electric boxes, the nursery that grows the sod and shrubs, etc. It's really amazing when you think about how critical the homebuilding business is to the economy.
When we dropped off the plans to the foundation contractor, the guy who usually does the bidding was playing solitaire on his computer. Of course, he sprang into action to get the quote prepared in a proper way. Just think of all the others who will spring into action now that we have a shovel-ready job! American workers are ready, willing, and able...Let's get the economy moving again!