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
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!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where is the Building Business Headed?

Yesterday we had our first inquiry in 6 months about a prime building lot we have for someone's dream home. The lot is in the Winton Woods City School District, a great district caught in the middle of Ohio's state funding mess. On Tuesday, after 3 previous levy attempts, the voters finally passed a tax levy, assuring the district that academic and extracurricular activities can continue uninterrupted.
Perhaps the inquiry about the lot was a result of a more certain future for the district. I can understand the hesitation if you are investigating a new neighborhood and wondering about community support for the schools. Perhaps the gentleman felt the time is now right to start the house hunt. Maybe it was the passage of the levy. Maybe he sold his existing home because of the first-time buyer tax credit. Maybe he now feels comfortable that his own job is secure.
It's hard to say what motivates buyers that the time is right. It's particularly difficult to predict a rebound in the housing market when existing inventory is so high. However, another boost may come soon for the housing business with the expanded tax credit awaiting President Obama's signature. Maybe that will be just enough to tip the scales for our potential lot buyer and he can move closer to building his dream home.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In Limbo

I find myself using the phrase "in limbo" a lot lately. The term originated as a Roman Catholic phrase describing "the abode of unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls, as those of infants or virtuous individuals who lived before the coming of Christ." It has since evolved into a term that means "any intermediate place or state of neglect or confinement."
We seem to be "in limbo" with our current project---not that we are being neglected, but rather because we are seemingly stuck or "confined" at the particular point in the project. As the builder for this job, we are the party "between" the architect and the homeowner. There are several cosmetic design issues that the homeowners are having difficulty visualizing. One specific decision involves exterior stonework. Until the homeowners choose the type of stone they'd like to use, the architect cannot finalize the drawings. Until the drawings are finalized, the builder (we) cannot complete the final quotation and present the contract for signing. As you can see, we are "in limbo."
Fortunately, in this case, the three parties are all working together on this stone decision. On Saturday, Barry went with the homeowners to the stone supplier to help them get a better understanding of the material. Yesterday he drew diagrams to help them visualize the construction part of the stone work. He'll probably do a mockup of a small part of the stone wall to also help them make their decision.
The more time Barry devotes to helping the homeowners, the more I realize where the modern-day usage of the term "limbo" comes from. Maybe you've played the "Limbo" game where you bend over backwards and try to pass under the stick....Well, we'll BEND OVER BACKWARDS to help make decisions easier for our clients. We'll do the Limbo to help get things out of limbo!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting your Financial House in Order

It occurred to me that I had blogged about pre-construction activities that the architect and builder do, but I have neglected to write about what the buyer needs to do ahead of time. If you are planning to buy a house, your work begins six months to a year before you're ready to go house-hunting. Your most important task is to get your financial house in order first. Then you can start dreaming about that house.
The first thing you should do is to check your credit report. You can get a free credit report online. This report and the FICO score generated by the report are your keys to getting a mortgage. FICO scores are between 300-850...the higher the better. A score above 650 usually assures you of obtaining a good interest rate.
The biggest component of your credit report that determines your FICO score is the length of your credit history. You need to show the lenders that you are a good risk. You need to have a history of paying on time and using just a few credit cards. It can work against you to apply for every credit card you're offered. Limit your options, pay on time, and carry a low or zero balance.
Once you get your credit report, review it carefully and clear up any questions or discrepancies. This may take time so don't wait until you're ready to apply for your mortgage to fix any errors.
The house you can afford depends on your current income and your current debt. Check out an online mortgage calculator so see what price range fits your budget. It's possible to have a great salary, but lots of debt and the bank will reject you. The lender wants a complete picture of your financial situation.
Another major consideration as you get your financial house in order is to make sure you have easy access to your down payment. You'll probably need 20% of the appraised value of the house you want to buy. The lender won't want that in the form of a gift from a family member. They need to know that YOU have the money. Increase your saving program and make sure your money is where it needs to be.
You're almost ready to start house-hunting, but first you need to meet with a lender. This is a good time to get "pre-approved." The bank will take your information and run the numbers to give you a snapshot so that you know in what price range you can afford to shop. This is the time you'll need your financial paperwork in order. Find all of those statements and pay stubs in this early stage of the house-buying process, and you'll save yourself a lot of stress later on.
Here's a list of things the bank will probably need:
1. Bank statements from the last 3-6 months
2. Pay stubs from the last 2-3 months
3. Monthly loan statements for cars, other real estate, etc.
4. W-2's and tax statements
5. Property tax information
6. Transcripts if you're a recent graduate
7. Proof of current balances from utility companies
8. Other income information such as alimony, social security, child support
9. Driver's license, social security card
10. Car titles if you own the car 100%
11. Retirement, 401-K statements
12. Statements for stocks, mutual funds, IRAs
13. 1099 Forms if you received any
14. Your last 3 credit card statements--with low balances (I hope)
Don't get nervous if the bank wants more information. The current "credit crunch" has resulted in much closer scrutiny of lenders and their procedures. Many new regulations are in place to protect both the lender and the borrower so extra cooperation is required of all parties as you work your way toward finding your dream home and closing on the property.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pre-Construction Activities

So many things have to happen before actually breaking ground on a new house. Barry has been working with some potential clients for over a year, and we're getting ready to finalize the agreement. During the past year, there have been multiple meetings with the homeowners and architect. Barry has been involved in quite a few of those meetings and has met several times at the property to discuss site issues. Because the home will be built on the site of an existing farmhouse, there are several phases that must be completed prior to application for the actual building permit. In this case, the existing farmhouse will be demolished and the new house will be built on the site. The old house, however, contains small amounts of asbestos so an abatement contractor must remove the asbestos before demolition can take place. The new homeowners also want to salvage the hardwood flooring from the old house to reuse in their new home. Once that is completed, the demolition can begin.
In the meantime, the architect's plans are being distributed for final quotations from subcontractors. Barry installed a temporary electric pole that has been inspected. The electric company has installed a meter. An engineering firm will complete formal site plans and survey for permits. The homeowners are working with the lender to firm up the financing.
The excitement is building, but we're still weeks away from moving dirt. Nevertheless, it's fun to have a new project on the horizon.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Standards of Trust

Several years ago we had a new home client that I would call "thorough." As we progressed from initial design to finalized contract, the questions multiplied. Mr. B. needed a detailed explanation of every specification and procedure before he felt comfortable. As much as we thought we were building a good relationship with Mr. B., I never really felt like he believed what we told him. After several months of negotiations and plan revisions, both parties were finally ready to sign the contract. Even though Mr. B. had studied the contract ahead of time, he continued to ask for explanations and clarifications as we reviewed each line. We were more than happy to oblige. The last thing we want is to enter into an agreement with someone who is not ready. Near the end of the closing, I remember Mr. B. specifically asking, "How do I know you will do these things that you're promising?" I answered, "That's where trust comes in."
You hope that throughout the negotiation process, you get closer and closer to meeting the other party in the middle. In spite of efforts from both sides, you may never actually meet. There may be a slight gap that can only be filled by trust.
For the last 21 years, we have been committed to the principals of the Better Business Bureau. Recently the BBB developed a unique, summarized set of eight business "Standards of Trust." The Better Business Bureau Standards are:
1. Build Trust
2. Advertise Honestly
3. Tell the Truth
4. Be Transparent
5. Honor Promises
6. Be Responsive
7. Safeguard Privacy
8. Embody Integrity
We do our best to uphold these standards so that folks like Mr. B. feel comfortable entering into an agreement to remodel or build a home with our company. By the way, Mr. B. ended up totally happy with his new home and remains one of our best references (and friends) to this day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Property Tax Levy for Schools

We have an Emergency Levy on the ballot on November 3 for Winton Woods School District. We live and work in the district, and our two children have both received excellent educations at Winton Woods. Everyone agrees school funding in Ohio is a mess. A school district like Winton Woods, with little industry, a transient population, and numerous racial, socio-economic, and special needs subgroups, is caught in the gap created by state mandates and local needs.
We are at a crossroads in the Winton Woods district. Three previous failed levies, numerous budget cuts, school consolidation, restricted bussing, and increased pay-to-play fees have yielded no solutions. The Board has tried it all, and I believe they have managed the money they have wisely. The last resort is the Emergency Levy---or ALL extracurricular activities will be cut. The doors to all school buildings will be locked at the end of the day. There will be no football team, no spring musical, no Student Council, no school dances...none of the things that make kids look forward to going to school.
Sure, the kids will survive. Maybe we "give" them too much anyhow. However, for many kids at Winton Woods, the clubs and teams are a "safe haven"...a place where someone cares about them. I shudder to think how these kids will spend their afternoons and evenings without the added structure offered by coaches, mentors, and club advisors. Maybe if the parents rent an apartment, the lucky ones will pack up and move to other school districts where they can find outlets for their talents and abilities. Most of those who own homes, however, will be unable to move. Who will buy a house in a school district that offers only the basics? Why not choose a neighborhood down the street where the school offers all kinds of "extra" activities?
I hope the residents of Winton Woods School District realize the effect on their property values of another failed levy. Budgets are tight for everyone. School levies are expensive. But raising kids in a community that focuses not only education, but also on raising the "whole child" is priceless.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let's Build a Deck

Adding a deck can add value to your home. Not only will you see a good return on your investment, but you will also have the enjoyment of additional space for relaxation, family gatherings, grilling, and gardening. Many homeowners think building a deck is a "do-it-yourself" project, and it can be--IF you have as much experience working with building departments as you do working with tools.
Yes, in most jurisdictions, you need to obtain a building permit to build a deck. In order to get a permit, you'll have to have plans and specifications showing the deck has been designed to meet local building codes. Once you get the plans and permit, you'll need to be prepared for several inspections during the building process. If this sounds like more than you'd like to handle, you would be better off calling a professional to work with you on your project.
In your initial meeting with your custom deck builder, you'll discuss your intended purpose for the deck, the space you have to work with, how you want to access the deck, the material you'd like to use, and your budget. Some decks are simple: If the deck is at ground level or no more than 30" from the ground, no guardrails are required. A standard deck like this, about 12'x14', costs about $12-14/sq. ft. in the Cincinnati area and can be built in 2 or 3 days once the permit is issued.
However, if the deck is above ground, things get a little more complicated as you add posts, beams, railings, and stairs. The size and shape of the deck may be determined by any furniture you have or by where you might want to locate a grill. You'll also want to decide whether you'd like to add benches, flower boxes, various levels, or if you have future plans to add a spa or firepit.
The biggest decision you'll make about the deck is to decide what type of material you'd like to use. Decks have traditionally been built of pressure-treated lumber or redwood. Wood products require periodic cleaning and sealing in order to maintain the quality of the wood over the years. A Brazilian hardwood called IPÊ is gaining in popularity because of its durability and resistance to rot, insects, and mold. It's more expensive than pressure-treated or redwood, but with IPÊ, you don't have the maintenance time or money invested over the long haul. Another popular alternative is a composite material such as Trex that resists rotting, warping or splintering completely. The composites cost almost twice as much as pressure-treated, but you have no maintenance. However, if you imagine yourself barefoot on the deck, the composites do tend to be hot in the sun. A composite deck, built above ground with some of the custom options mentioned above, can take as long as 3 weeks to build and can cost as much as $30/sq. ft. in the Cincinnati area. That may sound like a lot of time and money for a deck, but when you think about it as adding an outdoor room to your home, the cost seems reasonable and the value is priceless.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Looking Back at Cincinnati Windstorm 9-14-08

It's the one year anniversary of the Cincinnati windstorm. September 14, 2008 was a day exactly like today---crisp blue sky, bright sunshine, temperature perfect. We heard a "high winds possible" warning on the radio on our way to the Bengals game. As we walked down Elm Street toward the stadium, it felt like a wind tunnel, but everyone was caught up in game-day excitement and no one was concerned. As the game went on, the winds increased, but the sun continued to shine and it just seemed like a windy day. Hot dog wrappers blew around the field and a few paper cups even flew out of spectators hands, but it still didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.
A few minutes before the game ended, our daughter called to say roads were closed due to fallen trees and she'd have to take a detour home from work. A few minutes after that, she called back to tell us she was afraid to drive and stopping at a friend's house until the wind died down.
As we started home from the game, we began to see the seriousness of the windstorm. Trees and branches were down everywhere, and stoplights were out along our route. As we approached home, our neighbors called to tell us the driveway was blocked with a big tree. As we pulled in, we realized the severity of the situation. A huge ash tree (probably 100 ft. tall) was on our roof. We could see the drywall of our bathroom and bedroom ceilings through the opening. Hundreds of other branches and sticks were scattered around our yard. We had a huge mess that you can see in this video
I remember entering the house behind Barry. We walked carefully into the bedroom and stood gaping at the branches and leaves that were in our bathroom and closet. Somehow the tree had come to rest on the walls of the house so that nothing was actually crushed. The windows weren't broken; the shower was still intact; the vanity and sink were still there. Yet, the bathroom and closet seemed more like a forest than a house.
It wasn't long until the cleanup was set in motion. Several neighbors appeared out of nowhere to start pitching in. First, a few branches were cut away so that a tarp could be applied over the entire roof. The sun was still shining, but if any rain would have begun, we would have doubled our troubles. Luckily, Mother Nature cooperated for the next 2 weeks as not a drop of rain fell during that initial cleanup time.
For the first 3 days, we didn't have electricity. The only sounds you could hear around the neighborhood were the whirls of chainsaws and circular saws. We quickly discovered that the biggest problem for us was that the tree was balancing on the walls of our house...with no way to get a crane to the area and no way to remove it other than foot by foot. Precise calculations were made each time a cut was made. Take too much off one end, and the whole tree would end up in the house. So after 6 days of cutting and calculating, the tree was finally rolled inch by inch off the house using a spud bar for leverage and chains for safety.
It took 6 more weeks to get everything back to what I would call "normal." Rebuilding was a project no different than any other remodeling project. Once materials arrived, roofers and carpenters followed, plumbing and wiring were completed, drywall followed, and ceramic tile and paint completed the finishing touches.
When I look back a year later, it's amazing what was accomplished in a short amount of time to put our house back together again. I never really worried that we had "lost everything" or that things couldn't be repaired. After 21 years in the building business, we knew plenty of contractors and suppliers who could help us when called. The best thing, however, was how we got so much help from friends, relatives, and neighbors.
It truly was a time to appreciate that a home is much more than a house.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How Much Does It Cost to Remodel a Bathroom?

Bathroom remodeling can range from a simple cosmetic upgrade to a major overhaul. Costs also vary with region of the country. Therefore, it's difficult to estimate cost before sitting down with your remodeling contractor. Barry likes to spend an hour or two initially with a prospective client just discussing needs, wants, and wishes in relationship to budget.
If you're just trying to decide whether or not you can even begin the process with a contractor, you can probably figure between $5000-$10,000 for a standard bathroom upgrade that does not involve moving fixtures or removing walls. This might include new flooring, sink and faucet, vanity, lighting, ceramic tile for tub surround, painting, mirror, and accessories like towel bars and paper holder. If you include tub replacement, you'd be on the higher end of that range.
If you're looking at rearranging or enlarging a bath, you might be in the $10,000-$20,000 range. Such projects could involve multiple subcontractors, moving plumbing stacks, re-wiring electric, and disposing of old fixtures and construction debris. If you opt for features like marble countertops or whirlpool tubs, you can easily spend $20,000-$30,000, more depending on your geographic location and your personal preferences.
A Connecticut company called "Simple Additions" publishes an estimator that can give you ballpark figures to see if remodeling is a possibility for you.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Ideal Kitchen

How would you design your kitchen if you were starting from scratch? Everyone always mentions more cabinet space, but it's important that you can actually REACH the added cabinets. So often we see kitchens with cabinets and shelves to the ceiling...not very practical unless you always keep your ladder at hand. I think I'd prefer an island or peninsula with more cabinet space underneath. It would also be nice to have some open shelving for cookbooks and recipe boxes.
I'd definitely want an eat-in area. Everyone always congregates in the kitchen, and it's great to pull up a stool to watch the chef cook or to read a magazine while waiting for the water to boil. If you have kids, the kitchen counter will be where they do homework, play games, or grab a bite to eat before soccer practice.
I'd want a nice, oversized sink with a gooseneck faucet to fill and clean those big pots and pans. I'd also make sure my sink, oven/range, and refrigerator were in the traditional triangle within a few steps of each other.
I would want lots of lighting including undercabinet lighting where possible. I'd go with hardwood flooring because I've found it's easy to clean and easy on the feet and legs when working in the kitchen. And, of course, I'd include a wine rack!
As I move beyond the kitchen basics, I'd include a small desk with several drawers. Even though I rarely sit at the desk in my kitchen, the phone is on the desk, and this area serves as a perfect clutter-keeper for mail, business cards, phone books, prescriptions, and post-it notes. Pens, pencils, scissors, tape, batteries, nail clippers, and coupons are stashed in the desk drawers. Another nearby drawer stores a hammer, screwdriver, tape measure, and odd screws and nails.
In or near the kitchen, I'd want a pantry. Cleaning supplies, paper products, oversized bowls and baskets, garbage bags, and buckets need to be nearby. Ideally, the pantry would be between the garage and the kitchen as a convenient drop-off point as you come into the house.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flat dollar discount or percentage?

I'm wondering which is more likely to catch your eye? A flyer offering a flat $100 off or a coupon offering 10% off. We're looking forward to the "Sold on Springfield Township" event on September 20 as a way to market our building and remodeling services, and I'm preparing some marketing material. This event is an all-day house-hunting affair sponsored by Springfield Township. It starts with an overview of the community, and then folks will fan out to visit open houses throughout the township. There will be prizes and free food, and each participant receives a "goodie bag." Our Building Images flyer will be in the "goodie bag." Since the main focus of the event for Building Images will be our remodeling services, I'm planning to include the coupon. I'm picturing the recipient as either a homeowner who needs to fix-up a home to sell, or someone looking to buy an existing home that may need some renovations to fit their needs. Which would you prefer? $100 off or 10% off?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Live in Cincinnati?

Cincinnati is a great place to live. As a major city in a convenient location, it has the big-time atmosphere provided by professional sports, world-class arts and entertainment, great hospitals, unique restaurants and shopping, and excellent universities. It's also the headquarters of ten Fortune 500 companies. Add in the low cost of living and the ease of getting around town, and you have a terrific place to call home.
Yet, it's the small town values and sense of community that really make Cincinnati so special. I think that stems from the German heritage that is such an important part of Cincinnati history. In the next few weeks, you have an opportunity to get a great snapshot of Cincinnati, its culture, and its people. It's almost Oktoberfest time! We really like the huge downtown Oktoberfest Zinzinnati that takes over the area around Fountain Square on September 19-20. But to get a real sense of Cincinnati values and community, you must visit one of the smaller festivals held by the German societies. Stop by Germania on August 28-30. We love to sit at a shady picnic table and sip the Warsteiner while listening to the German music and watching the folks in their lederhosen. We fill up on sauerkraut balls, sausages, pretzels, and homemade strudel.
Another festival we enjoy is at Donauschwaben on October 2-4. These folks always entertain us with their opening parade and dancing. It's fun to see the kids dressed in the traditional German clothes---and no one thinks they're "dorky." Chances are you'll strike up a conversation with some of the locals, and before you know it, you'll be raising a mug with your new Cincinnati friends. Prost!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Remodel or Move?

If you've decided your home no longer fits your needs, you might be thinking about moving. Maybe you need more space for the kids or a home office. Maybe you've outgrown your closets. Maybe the baths are just plain "dated." You're probably tempted by all the "For Sale" signs and all the indicators that it's a buyer's market. It's true that you might find a great deal on a house that fits your needs. Then again, it may take months of house-hunting to find the perfect match. Once you find the house and agree upon the price, you have to find the right lender that offers the right mortgage option for you. In the meantime, you have to sell your existing house...and you know that can take months. Then once you take possession of the new house, you will probably decide to do a few things to it...painting, new carpet, etc. And then you have to pack! All that "stuff" that has to be moved...And don't forget the psychological strain of leaving your neighbors, school, or familiar community. All of this while time passes...It wouldn't be unusual for 4-6 months to go by before you can actually close on both houses and move.
On the other hand, think of remodeling your existing house. You could have a room addition, new baths, new kitchen cabinets, or flooring upgrades, and you wouldn't have to uproot the family. You wouldn't have to pack! And often, you can use an existing home equity line of credit to finance the remodeling so no complicated loan applications or appraisals are necessary. In many cases, it can be quicker and easier to make changes to your existing house. Consider not only money, but also time and effort when deciding whether to remodel or move.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Building a New Home--Where to Start?

So you've made the decision to build a new home rather than buy an existing home. So what's next? If you are truly building a custom home, you need to gather all of your ideas together. You have probably been admiring other homes and dreaming about your ideal home for years. However, now that it's time to get your ideas on paper, it's hard to remember everything.
If you haven't already started a file, do it now. Start collecting magazine photos, newspaper articles, print ads, online resources, and other clippings and notes of things you might want to include in your new home. If you're in the kitchen and think to yourself that it would be nice to have a place to store your Tupperware, make a note of it and put it in your file.
This is also a good time to start talking to friends and relatives about their houses. What do they like? What do they wish they had in their homes? Visit Open Houses in the area. Go to home improvement centers like Lowe's and Home Depot. You can get a good idea of room sizes by walking through model homes and paying close attention to dimensions and layouts. Take a trip to a new home show. The Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati will be hosting their annual Homearama home show in September in Mason, Ohio. Whether or not the Homearama homes are in your price range, you can still gather lots of great ideas about the newest innovations in homebuilding.
The beginning stages of your new home design should include three categories---Needs, Wants, and Wishes. If you group your ideas in such a way, it will be easier to work within your budget once you begin to meet with your builder and/or architect.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Build a New Home?

Everyone knows it's a buyer's market these days. Find the neighborhood you like and you're likely to find at least one home for sale. If you find more than one, you'll probably be in the driver's seat when it comes to making an offer. So why would you want to build a new home rather than buy an existing home? We tell our prospective clients that building a custom home allows them to have the home that THEY want rather than the home that another owner or even the builder wanted to build. You can look and look at existing houses, but you'll probably never find a house that fits ALL of your needs perfectly.

The Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati offers these reasons to build:
  1. When you buy a new home you get exactly what you want. You won't have to replace old carpet, countertops or aging appliances or roofs. You select the floor plan, appliances, window treatment and flooring.
  2. New homes carry better warranties.
  3. Today's new homes can be wired to take full advantage of the latest communication, security, home office and entertainment technologies.
  4. New homes often sell at higher resale values than older homes.
  5. Builders today are subject to more stringent disclosure standards than existing home sellers.
  6. New Homes are safer than older homes. They have the most up to date wiring and electrical components and have been constructed to meet today's stringent building codes.
  7. New homes are healthier because asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials are no longer used in new home building.
  8. New homes are more energy efficient. Newer window technology, increased efficiency in heating & cooling systems, better insulation and better control of air infiltration are just a few of the things that make new homes far superior in energy efficiency than existing homes. New homes are twice as energy efficient as homes built prior to 1980.
  9. Existing and or older homes are more expensive to maintain and require additional maintenance and upkeep vs a brand new home or condominium.
  10. New homes offer more updated floor plans, typically featuring more storage, larger rooms and modern features.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Build a Custom Home?

People often underestimate the time it takes to build a custom home. Once you make the decision to hire someone to build your dream home, you will probably spend as much time in the pre-building stage of the process as it will take to actually construct the house. You'll probably agree that an investment of such proportion deserves careful planning and professional advice, but some folks just don't understand the time and effort needed by both the homeowner and the builder before the first load of dirt is moved.
We pride ourselves at Building Images with truly getting to know our clients. Barry spends several hours at the initial meeting listening to the needs, wants, and wishes of the homeowners. The initial meeting is usually followed by a series of meetings in which the clients share drawings, sketches, magazine pictures, and photos of ideas to incorporate into the home. Barry does all his own design work so the clients meet directly with him rather than with an outside architect or a third-party designer. This expedites the building process and eliminates communication issues between designer and builder. The first meetings with Barry result in rough drawings followed by more meetings to refine the ideas. At Building Images, computer-generated drawings help with visualization, but sometimes table-sized 3-D models are also needed. Barry's rough estimates of cost allow dreams to mesh with reality so that the finished design stays well within budget. You should expect the entire design process when building a custom home to take several months.
Once the design is finalized, Barry completes the plans and specifications and figures the final contract amount. At this point, most clients take the contract, plans, and specs to several financial institutions to compare mortgage options. Expect another few weeks to pass before getting approval.
When the financing is approved, we order a survey and site plan of the property, and we submit applications for building permits. Again another few weeks may pass before the permit is issued. Once the permit is received, the actual construction can begin.
The entire pre-building process generally takes at least 6 months. However, if you are building a home to last a lifetime, those 6 months are probably the most important part of the process.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Land for Your Custom Home

One of the most difficult steps in building a custom home is locating the property on which to build. Many people think in terms of "buying land"...maybe several acres out in a rural area. When considering buying land in the country rather than a building lot in a city or suburban area, you need to think about several factors. The farther the property is from a city, the cheaper it is. However, when planning to build a custom home in outlying areas, don't forget you'll need to consider extra costs for contractors and materials. There will be extra charges for time, transportation, and logistics depending on how far away the home will be from the city. In addition, you need to investigate availability of utilities. What about water and sewer? Will you need a well? A septic system? What about gas and electric? Will you need a propane tank? What about cable tv and internet service? And don't forget about zoning ordinances and proposed land use changes that could eventually effect the value of your property. Those 20 acres look beautiful right now, but what happens when the outlet mall goes in next door? Of course, with any property, you'll need to examine easements and covenants, and you'll also need to consider the elevation of the land and any natural hazards that may effect your building site. Finally, you need to imagine what your life will be like once you're living on the property. How far is it to the grocery store? the school? to work? What happens if it snows? Are the roads plowed? Where will the kids ride their bikes?
Nevertheless, living in the country could be a perfect experience for you. Privacy, beautiful scenery, working the land for business or pleasure, fresh air, self-sufficiency---all could be reasons for opting to buy land. Just make sure you carefully weigh the benefits vs. the costs so you know the true value of your property.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How to Convince Your Spouse You Need to Remodel

Here are some great lines to use to convince your spouse you need to remodel:

1. We can get a federal tax credit at 30% of the cost up to $1500 for windows and doors, insulation, a new roof, upgraded HVAC, or a new water heater...and think of the savings on our monthly utility bills!
2. The kids are getting older and need a place to hang out with their friends. I'd rather refinish the basement and have them stay here than have them running around "who-knows-where".
3. It's so dark in this house. Wouldn't it be nice to have more natural light in here? I wish we could bring the outside in.
4. I really don't think Grandma should live alone. Let's think about moving her in with us.
5. Someone could trip and fall on this broken concrete. Why don't we replace the patio with a wood deck?
6. Now that we cook at home more often, I feel like we need to upgrade our appliances.
7. I know you want the flat-screen tv, but where are we going to put it?
8. No one is going to buy this house with these outdated cabinets and worn carpet.
9. If you're going to telecommute, you're going to have to have a home office.
10. Now that the kids have moved out, wouldn't it be nice to have a first-floor master bedroom suite with our own bath?
And if you need more supporting evidence of the value of remodeling, check out this remodeling cost vs. value report from Remodeling Magazine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Going Green

Green, green, green...That seems to be all you hear these days. Whether it's packaging, manufacturing, transportation, or technology, it seems to be a contest to see who can be the "greenest." I know the chairman of the National Association of Home Builders said in the most recent Builder magazine that "the future is green" and green building is a "sure thing." Sure, it's a great idea to do as much for the environment as possible. However, many builders have been doing the things promoted in green programs for years---without the need to be "certified." For example, the first guideline of NAHB's National Green Home Building Program covers lot design, preparation, and development. Barry has always considered those issues when designing a home. He works hard to incorporate the design into the landscape and to position the house on the site for maximum energy efficiency. His goal is always to preserve as much of the natural setting as possible. The second guideline emphasizes resource, energy, and water efficiency. Of course, we've considered those things for years, and we've tried to help the client understand the trade-offs for things like 2x6 walls or high-efficiency HVAC systems. The third guideline involves indoor environmental quality. We've always researched things like insulation, paint, carpet, and other materials in order to offer the best and safest products for our clients and for the environment. Finally, the last guideline focuses on operation, maintenance, and homeowner education. We found long ago that it pays to spend time throughout the building process to educate our homeowners and include them in the construction process. A well-educated homeowner feels confident in his selections and can enjoy his new home for years. Consequently, his referrals bring more "green" to our business!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Aging in Place

Barry's meeting on Saturday got me thinking. He presented a proposal for a room addition to a middle-aged couple who have an older parent living with them. They want to build what traditionally has been called a "mother-in-law" suite. We've been hearing this more and more all the time...multi-generational living is becoming quite common.
Of course, Grandma doesn't always want to come live with the family. She often prefers to stay right at home. In fact in a recent AARP survey, 79% of participants said they wanted to "stay in their current home for as long as possible." I'm thinking that our Senior Safety package might be just what folks need to help retirees "age in place." Some simple, relatively inexpensive renovations can give everyone a little peace of mind.
Consider these remodeling possibilities for the seniors in your life:
  • Add a railing so that stairs have railings on both sides.
  • Add an additional, lower peephole to the front door.
  • Add wood transition strips between rooms that may have changes in floor height to reduce the risk of tripping.
  • Add a small shelf near the exterior door to place packages, groceries, or keys.
  • Consider new appliances that make accessibility easier for someone in a wheelchair or with a walker.
  • Add recessed lights to make reading easier.
  • Add grab bars or a walk-in shower with seat for added safety in the bath.
  • When exterior steps become difficult, replace with a ramp.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Welcome to my Blog

I've decided to start a blog for those interested in new homes and remodeling in the Cincinnati area. Building Images, Inc. was started in 1988 by my husband Barry Cooper. We entered the homebuilding business at a time when mortgage interest rates were in double-digits. We've seen the economic boom that followed, and most recently we've seen the bottom fall out of the housing market. However, within the last month or so, we sense renewed housing activity. From a national perspective, we see tiny signs of improving economic indicators. From a personal perspective, we know 3 young friends shopping for their first homes. Even more directly, we have had more telephone inquiries about our building and remodeling services in the last month than we had in the prior 12 months!
With all that said, it seems like a good time to start a blog. I anticipate having lots to say as housing starts its upswing. Feel free to add comments or ask questions if we can help with your new home or remodeling projects.