Friday, June 28, 2013

Trend Alert: It May Be Time to Renovate

Trendsetters Say Granite May Have a Shaky Future

Is granite out? You wouldn’t think so judging from its prominence in so many kitchens these days.

It can be difficult to resist temptation to do as others are doing when it comes to renovating and granite has been no exception.

After all, a major part of the renovating fun is checking out what everyone else is doing. This is how you figure out what’s available and what you like. It’s one of the reasons why touring new home developments is a favorite pastime of many couples searching for ideas for their own homes.

When Trends Go Away

Over time, this is how trends are born. One person follows what another is doing until most everyone is doing what most everyone is doing.

But what happens when a trend is no longer a trend?

To answer the question, let’s take a look at granite countertops. It seems that not that long ago, everyone wanted granite countertops. Granite, with its hefty price tag, conveyed a definite cachet upon homeowners as they contemplated a kitchen remodel.

Granite dethroned?

But now “persons in the know” are declaring that granite is no longer desirable.

“Granite has been dethroned. While granite isn’t going away and still has many die-hard fans, the new king of countertops will be quartz composite,” wrote the editors of HousingZone.

A writer specializing in home trends on gave granite an even more blistering review under a blog post titled “Top Home Renovation Trends That Should Die.”

“I predict that in a few years, granite will look as hilariously outdated as "brick" cellphones are to us today,” the post reads.

Do You Have Granite?

Uh-oh. What to do if you are among the many whose kitchens feature hundreds of square feet of granite?

Well, you have nothing to worry about if you’re among the homeowners who decided upon granite because you truly like it. In that case,  you can simply continue enjoying your granite, even if you did choose granite partly because of its popularity.

But if you chose granite solely because that’s what everyone else you knew was doing, then you might want to think about renovating again.

Ever-evolving Trends

That’s the thing with trends. They are constantly evolving and their lifespan is completely unpredictable.

Did you see what Housing Zone is predicting as a trend in 2013 for kitchen cabinets?

HousingZone editors say fussy, complicated cabinets are headed out. Get ready to rip out some cabinets if that sounds like your kitchen.  And whatever your Dallas kitchen remodeling plan, be sure to think of Unique Home Construction.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Vast Array of Choices for Wooden Countertops

Different Woods Offer Something for Every Taste

There are a wide variety of options when it comes to wooden countertops.


As we talked in our last post, wooden countertops can be an attractive alternative to the ever-popular granite option. We discussed some of the pros and cons to choosing a wooden countertops and offered a few guidelines to assist you in choosing a wooden countertops.

In today’s post, we’d like to go over some of the more popular options:

Brazilian Cherry: With its interlocked grain, Brazilian cherry wood is quite durable. This kind of wood is great for butcher block countertops because it can produce long, clear boards since this tree can grow to be about 100 feet in height. This kind of wood is also ideal for boatbuilding, flooring and other things.


Wenge: A heavy wood, wenge offers high resistance to daily wear and tear. In addition, it comes in a range of colors from pale yellow to a darker brown, with subtle color variation throughout. These trees. which grow in Africa, can reach up to 60 feet tall. This wood is often used to make furniture.


Bamboo: If you’re a fan of HGTV, you have likely heard designers rave on about the virtues of using bamboo in flooring and in cabinets. This wood is also an ideal choice for countertops, especially for those who are eco-conscious. Bamboo, a rapidly renewable species that grows in Asia, is the most water tolerant of all solid woods.


Maple: Hard maple is one of the most commonly used woods in butcher blocks, likely because it is strong, straight-grained and with a uniform texture. Hard maples are about 35 percent harder than most soft maples. Maple, which grows in the United States and Canada, also holds up well to daily use.


Walnut: Walnut has long been a popular option for cabinets. It is hard and tough, with a medium stiffness that makes it ideal for kitchen wear. This also grows in Canada and the United States, with heights of up to 90 feet. There is also a wide range of colors throughout the maple wood family.

White Oak

Oak: There are three different popular options available. Reclaimed wood, also known as antique oak, is recycled wood that is typically salvaged from older buildings. Different weathering produces different variations in color and distressing, offering a unique look. White oak and red oak are also popular options for countertops.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wood Countertops Offer Many Possibilities

Wooden Countertops: Decorative or Functional?

Perhaps you’re tired of the granite counters that seem so common in kitchens nowadays.

Or maybe you never liked them to begin with.

One option that may be better suited for you is wooden countertops. These are warmer to the touch, can be as deep or light colored as you wish and can even be eco friendly depending on the wood you choose.

However, special considerations need to be made when it comes to wood countertops.

First of all, you must decide whether your wood countertops will be more decorative rather than functional.

A more functional countertop where you plan to do a lot of chopping and food preparation will require more of a butcher block type wood than a countertop that is more for decoration or light kitchen use.

Three Types of Grain

You need to think about your needs prior to choosing the type of wood for your countertops. First of all, you need to consider the kind of grain you want. There are three to choose from:

Face Grain, where boards are side by side. This type of wood grain is more decorative because it is not hardy as the others. It is softer and not as resistant to dents.
Edge Grain, where boards are on their side. This kind of wood grain can be used on countertops that you use more.
End Grain, where boards are upright. This kind of wood grain is perfect for butcher blocks.


Next, you want to consider the hardness of the wood. Pine wood is rather soft compared to red oak, which is much harder.


The kind of finish you choose depends on what kind of use and maintenance you prefer for your countertops. Some are temporary and you have to regularly reapply them. Others are permanent.

Here are among the most common ones:

  • Mineral oil or tung oil - Temporary
  • Wax, beeswax, or a combination of oil and wax - Temporary
  • Polyurethane or similar permanent finish - Permanent

Consider How You Will Use Your Countertop

Wood countertops that will serve as food preparation areas typically have a non-toxic oil like mineral oil or tung oil to help protect the surface and keep it from drying out or crackling.

Mineral oil provides protection but doesn’t offer much protection from the water. Tung oil offers more resistance to water and moisture.

Finally, a polyurethane finish is usually a permanent coating that doesn’t require periodic reapplication. This type of finish is usually used on more decorative countertops.

As for the type of wood, you have a nearly limitless range of woods to choose from. We’ll talk about some options in our next post.

Photo: FloFlorm Countertops

Monday, June 17, 2013

Less Dallas Homeowners Are Underwater

Equity Offers Homeowners Several Options

Rising home prices have meant that more Dallas homeowners once again have equity in their homes.

This doesn’t mean they have a huge amount, but enough that they are no longer considered underwater. The latest negative equity report from Zillow shows that underwater homes in the Dallas area range from about 9 percent in the 75244 zip code to as much as 62 percent in the 75217 zip code. Being underwater means that these homeowners owe more on their homes than the current worth of these homes.

Zillow Negative Equity Reports

Zillow puts out these reports every quarter, calculating the estimated value of a home to all outstanding mortgage debt and lines of credit on homes nationally down to the zip code level. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area underwater rate was at 20.4 percent, lower than the national average of 25.4 percent of homes that were underwater in the first quarter of 2013. The percentage of underwater homeowners nationally has gone down from the first quarter of 2012, when that number was 31.4 percent. In Dallas-Forth Worth metro area, that percentage has gone down eight percent.

What does all this mean?

More Homeowner Options

For many homeowners, it may just mean that they can sleep a little better at night, knowing they no longer hold a home loan that’s bigger than their home is worth. Others might be happy to be able to refinance for a more affordable mortgage deal since interest rates are still relatively low.

Yet others may be considering putting their home on the market, although some economists are noting that many homeowners still don’t have enough equity to sell their homes. In order to sell, a homeowner should have about 20 percent equity in their homes to provide for real estate commissions and other seller costs that are typically incurred during a home sale.

Perfect Time to Remodel?

But not all is bleak. Our message to homeowners is that this might be the perfect time to remodel. With home prices inching upward, this is a good time to invest in your home, whether you intend to stay in your home long term or sell as soon as you can. Cost-effective renovations that make your home more attractive to home buyers can help secure a quicker sale at a higher price. This may be particularly true in a market with tight inventory.

Remember, we at Unique Home Properties are specialists on the home renovation front and can help you determine what home improvements would make a difference in today’s market. Or we can simply help you hone in on the projects that you feel are most needed in your home.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Houzz is a Treasure Trove of Home Renovation Inspiration

Houzz Offers Much Information for Your Home Renovation 

Magazines, blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, and even Facebook provide much inspiration for home renovation projects these days. A favorite source for us is Houzz, which has a database of more than 1.6 million photos from designers to help stoke your renovating projects.

Have you checked it out yet? We highly recommend it for when you want to do a highly customized search or just want to look at a certain kind of room.

Their database of photos allows you to filter your search by room: kitchen, bath, bedroom, living room, dining room, outdoor, kids, home office, storage & closets, exterior, and any other room that doesn’t fall in any of these categories. You can further customize within any of these categories. For example, click on storage & closets and you can search by clothes racks, closet organizers, etc.

Also, you can filter your search by style, including contemporary, eclectic, modern, traditional and more.

Or you can also browse slideshows of photos that have been newly added, most popular today, and all time popular, among others.

The viewing possibilities are endless and contain valuable built-in research capability. Click on most any photo and you can see a lot of useful information about the room, including a description, more photos of the same room and the name of the designer/builder. Best of all, you can ask questions about any photo, such as the size of a room or where certain components of a room are from.

You can also create a scrapbook of sorts by using a feature Houzz calls “Ideabook,” which is a compilation of all your favorite photos. Some of you may also want to participate in Houzz community discussions or simply browse topics as part of your research for your current renovating project.

Whatever project you have in mind, Houzz is bound to have something to inspire you.

Remember that we at Unique Home Properties are happy to look over your Ideabook with you and help you hone in on those elements that would work well in your home so that you can achieve the look and feel you want in your home.

Photo credit: Houzz 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Season of Renovations Is Underway

Warmer Weather Inspires Good Work

Are you still thinking about what you will do this summer? Consider embarking on the home renovation you’ve always wanted. Summer is the perfect time to update your bathroom or kitchen with plenty of time before the fall holiday season kicks off. How about revamping your outdoor space, just in time for backyard entertaining?

Yes, summer is a great time to make all your HGTV fantasies come true. Warmer weather and longer days will mean that your contractor and his employees won’t need to don a parka while working on your home and can work longer hours to get the job done quicker.

Complete Renovations Are a Big Hit

This is why complete renovations are a big hit during warmer weather. The work can get done quicker and without inconveniencing the homeowner as much, in addition to making working conditions more hospitable.

Kitchens are a popular option to complete in the summer. For starters, a kitchen that is out of commission is not such a huge deal if you have an outdoor space with a grill. Sure, you will be inconvenienced during a kitchen renovation done any time of the year, but you may not mind grilled meals while enjoying the warm weather.

Bathrooms a Popular Option

Contractors are busy renovating bathrooms in the summer. No, we are not going to suggest you build an outhouse or even bring in a port-a-potty.

But a home renovation in a kitchen or bathroom may involve knocking down an exterior wall or replacing windows, options that are considerably less attractive during cold weather when workers would have to brave icy cold weather.

Outdoor Spaces

You may want to consider revamping your outdoor space, perhaps adding a pool or reconfiguring it to better suit your needs for outdoor entertaining and relaxing. It goes without saying that installing a pool would be ideal at this time.

Imagine creating  the outdoor retreat that you’ve always talked about. Just think that, if you play your cards right, you could be enjoying your beautiful retreat before the end of the summer, certainly in time for Labor Day.

For more information or an estimate for a renovation project, you may contact Unique Home Properties. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five Tips for a Good Relationship With Your Contractor

Things Your Contractor Wishes You Would Do

So you’ve found a great contractor, who you discovered after an exhaustive search that included getting references from trusted sources. You’ve had several meetings with this contractor, worked out a contract and have made a deposit. 

You’ve taken the first steps toward a successful home renovation project, but there is still much you can do on your own part to ensure the road to a finished project is a smooth one.

Here are some ways you can help your contractor throughout the renovation process:

Stick to the plan. Of course, plans may need to be changed as the project proceeds, especially if unexpected problems arise. However, it’s not a good idea to constantly change your mind about major design or building options throughout the renovation. Consider all your options, ask questions and think through the options carefully BEFORE committing to any plans. Changes could cause delays in the completion date and cause cost overruns if the contractor has already started work on a component of the project that you decide you want to change midway through construction.

Listen. You’ve likely chosen your contractor because his or her company has the experience and expertise to handle your renovation project. Listen to his or her advice. Your contractor is a professional who has led many renovations for many happy customers (as you likely discovered through your reference checks). He or she will have many good ideas.

Don’t be a control freak. Try to overcome the urge to micromanage the project.  Again, your initial search for a contractor was for someone who you could trust to understand and carry out your mission. Let your general contractor do the job you hired them to do.

Pay your contractor on time. The contract should include payment details, including when and how much. Make sure you adhere to the contract regarding the payment schedule. Sometimes, a contractor will need payment by a certain date in order to buy materials for the next phase of the project. Late payments could delay the project and inspire ill will.

Don’t get in the way. Don’t distract workers with a lot of small chitchat. Leave when you say you will if you have arranged to be gone from your home or the area of your home that is undergoing renovation during the hours that workers are in your home. If you’re still puttering around in the kitchen when workers are scheduled to be there, then you are causing a delay in the project.

Schedule regular update meetings. These don’t need to be formal face-to-face meetings or last very long, but scheduling regular meetings makes guesswork unnecessary for either party. It's your opportunity to hear about progress on the project and any potential problems. Likewise, your general contractor doesn't have to play phone tag with you to give you updates.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Assess Your Roof For Any Leaks or Damage

Summer is Perfect Time to Make Any Needed Repairs

Pool time and backyard BBQs are a hallmark of a good summer, but don’t forget also to set aside some time to make any needed repairs on your home. Remember that warm weather months are the ideal time to assess the condition of your roof to ensure your home is ready for Dallas’ next rainy season.

You can prepare for the wetter months by checking your roofs for any damage or leakage. Some guidelines for checking your roofs:

  • Reassess the roof’s overall condition as you look for holes and leaks. 
  • Look for any mold pile up as you check the roof lining and gutters.
  • While you’re at it, make sure you clear any debris that has piled up anywhere on your roof. Piles of debris can trap the water into big puddles that then cause rust and the roof to gradually deteriorate. 
  • Check for strength, mold pile up, including in the roof lining and gutters.

Minor damage can be easily repaired with special materials found at the hardware store.
If the necessary work is more intricate, you are probably better off hiring a contractor who can repair the roof or can recommend a new one altogether.

Replacing torn or damaged roof shingles is relatively easy and cheap. You simply remove the damaged shingles and put in new one. The downside to this solution is that the new shingles may not match the rest of the shingles on the roof.

Partial reroofing
If you need to repair just one portion of the roof, partial reroofing may be the way to go. But partial reroofing can end up being more expensive, especially of if you have an asphalt roof that already has two or more layers.

Replace all roofing
This brings us to our next item. You’ll need to decide whether to tear off the existing roof or install the new one over the one in place. Generally, shingles adhere better when they are directly on the roof deck.

And if you decide to reroof, keep in mind that the cost of a new roof will give you peace of mind and last a long time. Remember that maintaining your home on a timely basis ensures that your long-term costs aren’t astronomical.

Call Unique Properties Company if you are interested in obtaining a quote for necessary work.

Photo credit: Groton School

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rehab a Home With a Federally Insured Loan

A Loan For Homebuyers Who Want to Renovate a Home

Did you know that the federal government sponsors a loan for homeowners who want to renovate a home?

The loan, insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is intended for homeowners who are interested in rehabilitating and repairing a home. The goal of the program is to maintain community revitalization efforts and to expand homeownership opportunities.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the 203k program:

What is it?
A loan offered to homebuyers who want to buy a home that needs work.

Why is it called 203K?
203K refers to Section 203(k) of the National Housing Act (NHA), which stipulates the guidelines for the program.

Is 203K a federal loan?
No, HUD doesn’t offer any loans. The loan is offered by various FHA-approved lending institutions. HUD insures the loan per 203K program guidelines.

How is 203K different than other loans?
The 203K is designed for the homebuyer who is interested in buying a property that needs renovation. The 203k helps homebuyers avoid having to get separate loans, some of them short-term loans with higher interest rates, to finance the purchase price and renovation. With 203K, a homebuyer can finance both the purchase and rehabilitation of the property.

How does it work?
The mortgage amount of a 203k loan is based on the projected value of the home with the planned renovation. The loan amount, which also takes into consideration the cost of the labor need to renovate the home, is endorsed by HUD once the mortgage proceeds have been disbursed and an escrow account for rehabilitation has been established.

Can investors apply?
No, investors are not eligible.

Is any property eligible for a 203k loan?
No, but several different types of home qualify, including some individual condo unit and homes that will be demolished but whose existing foundation systems will remain intact. To qualify, the property must be a one- to four-family dwelling that has been completed for at least one year. For a full listing of eligible properties, go to the HUD website.

What happens if the renovation work ends up costing more than the loan provided?
This is why it’s important to choose an experienced contractor such as Unique Properties Company who can provide an accurate estimate of the work that’s need to renovate the home.

Can I use the rehabilitation funds to pay for all my improvements?
It depends. The guidelines allow homebuyers to use the loan for items such as painting and room additions but not for luxury items and improvements.

Monday, June 3, 2013

9 Earth-friendly Home Renovation Tips

Dallas Homeowners spreading green touches throughout the house

By now, most homeowners have heard about living green. They know that it’s more earth-friendly, but also better for their pocketbook in the long run.

Now, more homeowners are incorporating earth-friendly touches throughout their renovation and not just putting all their money into one earth-friendly feature.

Here are some popular ways that homeowners are sprinkling earth-friendly touches throughout their home:

Low VOC paints and adhesives. Homeowners are increasingly searching for paints and adhesives that come in recyclable containers and don’t emit such strong, toxic fumes and cause less environmental damage and create better indoor air quality. Same with indoor paint removers.

High efficiency windows. Window panes that are specially coated to keep in heat during colder months and to keep cooler air inside during warmer months. Sometimes, homeowners are choosing to move windows entirely to different locations to encourage natural lighting and natural breezes in conjunction with ceiling fans.

Replacing aging HVAC systems with newer models that can be customized with an owner’s preference.

Smart thermostats that can suggest or automatically set up a temperature based on a homeowner's living habits.

Optimizing natural light. Homeowners want to take advantage of natural lighting as much as possible, by installing large windows and skylights to make better use of sunlight and reduce their reliance on electricity.

Salvaged materials. Refinishing old cabinets or repurposing old materials to convert them into new pieces of furniture or decorative accessories.

Flooring. Using natural or recycled materials in flooring or hardwood flooring that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Energy-efficient appliances. Refrigerators manufactured before 1993 use twice as much energy as the latest models that are labeled with the “Energy Star.” Later models also offer the more modern stainless steel and oiled bronze finishes, in addition to configurations other than side-by-side freezer and refrigerator units.

Countertops and backsplashes. Using environmentally friendly materials, such as babmoo, recycled glass or others that that the Greenguard seal.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

As the Fed Goes, So Go's the Mortgage Interest Rate Market in Dallas, and throughout Texas

Dallas: Mortgage Interest Rates Soar on Fed Speculations

ABC New Wonders if Homeowners have "Time to Refinance."

Mortgage News Daily trumpets "Mortgage Rates Vault Catastrophically Higher"

The Motley Fool reports "Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) and 15-year FRMs both spiked sharply higher on the week, up 22 and 21 basis points, to 3.81% and 2.98%, respectively."

You can see up-to-the-minute mortgage rates on this mortgage rate widget anytime.

On the one hand, it is not a time to panic.  Rates will eventually go up.  When the Fed ends its policy of quantitative easing, interest rates on Treasuries will go up, and mortgage rates will follow.  The historically low rates we have enjoyed for the last few years are artificial.  They have nothing to do with the market, and everything to do with the Fed attempting to stimulate the economy.

The average mortgage rate for a 30 year fixed mortgage is commonly between 5% and 10%, with the 30 year average at 8.6%,  and is likely to go back to those levels in the next year or two.  Check this chart for details.  The graph above shows the 30 year history, and clearly illustrates that we are in a very unusual time for mortgage interest rates.

Here are some takeaways to think about:

  1. Refinancing for a lower interest rate is usually financially attractive if you can save 0.5%.  As rates go up, fewer and fewer homeowners will have a benefit from refinancing, if their goal is to lower interest rates or monthly payments.  
  2. Interest rates are part of the formula that determine affordability.  Therefore with the recent run up in home prices, home affordability has dropped.  If rates increase and home prices stay as they are or continue to climb, affordability will be dramatically effected.  With almost no single family homes for sale in many areas of Dallas and surrounding neighborhoods, the prices are likely to continue up. 
  3. If you are thinking of doing a major home remodel in the Dallas area, and will be using a mortgage to do so, you should move quickly to secure these current low rates. If you are planning to build a new home in Dallas, see your mortgage broker now!  We can help you plan that new home, entire home remodel, or just a kitchen bath or room addition.
We make it a policy to never predict the direction of mortgage interest rates, short or long term.  However, we feel confident that rates will go up, not down over the next few years.  They could easily fall back down to 3.5 - 4% over the next few weeks as the speculation over Fed decisions changes.  Or if the speculation goes more and more towards the Fed ending easing, then rates could go up even more than they have this past week.

There is a very useful saying in finance.  "Never try to guess the bottom."  It is a fool's game.  However, getting your financial house in order near the bottom of this cycle make extremely good sense.

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