Top Outdoor Living Trends

A recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) pinpointed the residential outdoor living and landscaping design elements that are developing in 2011, and many of them are continuing from 2010. While getting back to basics was the guiding theme for much of the outdoor living market last year, "basic" is a relative term. Homeowners at nearly every level are still very much interested in creating livable outdoor spaces that function like indoor rooms, according to ASLA's executive vice president Nancy Somerville. "The economy is trimming back a little bit on activity and preferences, but it's certainly not keeping people from adding outdoor rooms," she says. What's keeping the market going is the value—up to 13 percent—that creating outdoor living spaces and landscaping adds to a home, she adds. In 2011, homeowners' landscape design and outdoor living plans are still scaled down somewhat because of economic concerns, but they're not eliminating the elements that make outdoor ... Read the rest of entry »

10 Ideas for your next home

Just a couple of ideas... Radiant-heated bathroom floors Forget fancy water-filled tubes embedded in concrete. You can now buy simple mesh-and-wire mats that install fast and easy under ceramic tiles. They cost as low as $15 a square foot and come with a variety of thermostats. Put a toasty floor in your homes' bathrooms and watch your buyers melt. Butcher block countertops Wood is the original solid surface. Used as an island or a bar, it holds nostalgic memories for older buyers and offers a fresh natural look for younger customers. It traditionally comes in maple, but butcher block is available in other species such as cherry and birch. An 8-foot-long top measuring 1.5 inches thick and 25 inches wide can be had for as little as $189. Glass tiles Yes, glass is cool. And yes, it’s pricey. But used sparingly as a kitchen or bath backsplash, glass can’t be beat. It reflects light, shimmers with color, and is virtually maintenance-free. If you shop carefully, ... Read the rest of entry »

Construction Material Prices Continue to Rise

The prices contractors must pay for many essential construction materials continued to increase in January, even as the amount they charge for completed projects remains flat, according to an analysis of January producer price index figures released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that the price trends are cutting into already tight bottom lines for contractors, undermining chances for an industry-wide recovery in 2011.  “The last thing contractors need after two years of depression-like conditions is to pay more to make less,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “With margins continuing to shrink, few contractors are likely to benefit even if construction demand picks up this year.” Prices for materials used in construction jumped 0.9 percent in January and 4.9 percent during the past 12 months, while price indexes for finished buildings barely changed during the same timeframe, the economist noted. He ... Read the rest of entry »

Houses are a good deal

There might finally be some good news this year about the nation's dismal housing market. Or, at least, the bad news could stop. Either way, it will be welcome relief for current homeowners as well as for potential real-estate investors. Reasons to be optimistic have been sadly lacking since the housing bubble burst in 2006. For sure, last week we learned the widely watched S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index fell 1% in December, its fifth straight decline. The index tracks 20 major markets. But that figure belies real reasons to be optimistic, according to some experts. If they are right, it might make sense to jump into real estate. The trick is avoiding getting burned again, and it doesn't necessarily mean owning a home. First, let's recap the economic signs a bottom is close. Houses Are a Good Deal Housing is the most affordable it has been in decades, according to analysts at Moody's Analytics. They don't just look at house prices. They also look at incomes. Nationally, ... Read the rest of entry »