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Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Insurance And Animal Bites In Your HOA

Question: My condominium association is overrun with dogs. We are concerned that someone will be injured, and we will be sued because we did not impose the proper precautions. What should we do? Anne.

Answer: Over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention CDC almost half were children. And 1 out of 5 bites become infected, with such diseases as rabies, MRSA -- a type of Staph infection, or different types of bacteria such as capnocytophaga or pasteu>

In fairness to dog owners, the CDC reported that during the early part of this century, more cats than dogs were determined to be rabid. "The majority of these cases were associated with spillover infection from raccoons in the Eastern United States," CDC said, "and the larger number of rabied-infected cats might be attributed to fewer cat vaccination laws, fewer leash laws and the roaming habits of cats."

Typically when a person is bitten -- and is infected or seve>

Because of the volume of claims, many insurance companies are now refusing to insure homeowners or community associations where certain brands of dogs are present. Dogs such as pit bulls, rottweilers, akitas and chow-chows are often labeled as "dangerous" and insurance companies will either exclude injuries from these dogs or significantly increase the annual premium. You should immediately confirm with your insurance agent whether your policy covers dog bites, and from all kinds of dogs.

For years, the law around the country was called the "one-bite rule". Owners -- regardless of the kind of animal -- would only be held responsible and liable for injuries caused if the owner knew or should have known the dog has dangerous propensities abnormal to its >

Virginia still follows this rule. However, the owner may face criminal penalties if a "dangerous dog" causes injury or death. And all of the surrounding counties have some form of "leash law", requiring a dog to be on a leash at all times when outside of the home environment.

Additionally, all dogs over four months old must be properly registered with the local county.

In the District of Columbia, dogs must be leashed, vaccinated and registered. The Mayor -- acting through one of her agencies -- has the power to impound a dangerous animal, defined as an animal that because of specific training or demonstrated behavior threatens the health or safety of the public. The "one-bite" rule does not apply; if a dog injures a person while at large, lack of knowledge of the dogs vicious propensity will not necessarily be a defense; the court will look at all of the facts in order to determine if the owner was negligent.

Maryland has an interesting dog law history. In 2012, the highest court in the state ruled that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous"and such a dog owner could be held to strict liability in the event of a dog bite. According to the court, "it is not necessary that the pit bulls owner have actual knowledge that the specific pit bull involved is dangerous".

Pit bull owners -- and many other dog lovers -- rose up in arms, claiming this law unfairly singled out specific breeds. Accordingly, the Maryland legislature enacted a law that in essence repealed the high court ruling, thereby adopting a strict liability approach for any dangerous animal. According to the new law, dangerous dog is one, that without provocation, has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person. The law does, however, allow the dog owner to claim the defense of contributory negligence; the plaintiff cannot win if he contributed in any way to the dog bite.

Maryland is unique in that the state law governs the specific licensing and other regulations certain counties may adopt or enforce. And many of the local counties, have, in fact, determined certain dogs as "dangerous.

What can your association do? Adopt a rule that all dogs must be leashed when outside of the homeowners property, and require that all dogs register with the association, and show proof that the dog has been properly vaccinated. Furthermore, the rule should state that if any one is bitten by a dog, regardless of whether it was on a leash, the owner will be subject to a hearing and a possible fine. Furthermore, if any more incidents occur, unless the dog owner agrees to muzzle the dog when outside, the dog can be permanently removed from the area. In some cases, legal action may be necessary.

And most importantly, the Board should confirm that the association has the necessary insurance coverage. People sleep better knowing there is insurance.

In Maryland, the state dog is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever; the American Foxhound is the Virginia state dog. There is no such "State" dog in the District of Columbia.

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Ontarios Growth Plan Would Increase Densification, Protect Environment

Ontarios proposed growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe GGH area is being hailed by some as the pathway to "a better quality of life for residents" but slammed by others who say it "means less housing choice and higher prices for home buyers."

The GGH includes the cities of Toronto and Hamilton. It extends south to Niagara, east to Waterloo, north to Orillia and east to Peterborough. The province says the area will grow by four million people during the next 25 years, to a population of 13.5 million, working in 6.3 million jobs.

The proposed growth plan incorporates changes to four existing land use plans that have been developed over the years. They include protection of the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment. It also includes the Greenbelt Plan, which was implemented in 2005 to halt urban sprawl and protect agricultural lands.

Some key elements of the proposal:

Increase densification targets in existing built-up areas to 60 per cent from 40 per cent

Increase densification in other areas excluding natural heritage features such as wetlands and woodlands, rights of way for infrastructure and prime employment areas to 80 residents and jobs per hectare from 50

Require zoning along transit corridors to provide adequate density to support transit

Add the lands within 21 major urban river valleys and seven coastal wetlands to the Greenbelt

Preserve farmland by setting "strict requirements for the expansion of urban areas and allowing more flexibility for agricultural use in the Greenbelt"

Require municipalities to integrate climate change policies into their official plans and to conduct climate change vulnerability risk assessments when planning or replacing infrastructure.

"Ontario recognizes the myriad problems created by sprawl, from residents stuck in cars for hours to rising carbon emissions to municipal debts due to the higher costs of servicing sprawl developments," says Tim Gray, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Environmental Defence. In an editorial published by the Toronto Star, Gray writes, "If implemented property, this plan will bring more efficient land use, more climate-friendly communities, a greater variety of housing options and better quality of life for residents."

Ontarios home builders have a different view.

"This announcement means that youre going to see more intensification, more condos, less choice and higher prices," says Brian Tuckey, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association. "The residential construction industry will adapt, as it has in the past -- its going to be the residents and new home buyers that are going to pay the price."

The builders note that housing prices in the Greater Toronto Area have seen huge increases in the last 10 years. The average price of a detached home in the GTA was 459,000 in 2006 and is more than 1 million today, while condo apartments have gone from an average of less than 300,000 in 2006 to 459,000 in 2016. The average new condo is also smaller than it was 10 years ago.

Gray says there is no evidence that the Greenbelt policies are responsible for the jump in housing prices. "Sprawl-hungry developers perpetrate the myth because they want to continue their outdated pattern of paving over some of the best farmland to build car-dependent, low-density housing," he wrote. "Toronto housing prices are primarily increasing because people want to live in urban areas with a mix of housing options that are served by public transit and have high walk-scores, jobs and green spaces."

The builders say they support the move to have density along transit lines, but that congestion is already a serious problem throughout the Toronto and Hamilton areas, "and more intensification will make it worse unless there are massive public investments in infrastructure. The current financing system disproportionately places the brunt of paying for these infrastructure projects on new home buyers."

They also say that increasing density in existing communities is a bad idea because these areas "do not have the necessary infrastructure in place transit, schools, hospitals, roads to support these density targets."

Ontario Home Builders Association president Joe Vaccaro says the organization supports adding river valleys and wetlands to the Greenbelt, but says, "We need to build new communities where residents have housing choice with access to green space, good public transit and jobs."

The government is looking for feedback on the proposals until Sept. 30, 2016. Comments can be posted online.

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8 Easy And Cheap Things You Can Do To Transform Your Bathroom

Cringing every time you walk into your bathroom? You dont need to rip the whole thing out. "Reviving a tired washroom neednt require a total overhaul," said This Old House.

Indeed, small changes can help make it feel new again, and many of them are easy enough for you to do by yourself. Careful attention to the right materials can also keep these updates super affordable.

1. Paint

Choose a neutral color if you want a soothing backdrop for pops of color in your accessories, or a bolder shade that can create a glam space.

Or, "Create a striking monochromatic effect by painting walls to match your floors, as was done in this sunny space," said This Old House.

This Old House

2. Forget the walls; paint your vanity instead

A painted vanity can take your bathroom from blah to beautiful in an instant. Adding some bold hardware and matching fixtures is the extra touch that your bathroom needs to really shine. Here, the golden hues play beautifully off of the turquoise and white, but chrome would work equally well.

dcor pad

3. Replace your vanity

If your vanitys not worth salvaging, it might be time for a new one. The DIY Network calls a vanity replacement an "easy bathroom makeover" and provides step-by-step instructions. When it comes to what to replace the old one with, you can scour stores like Lowes and Home Depot for sales or check out places like Second and Surplus. This 24-inch, soft close vanity with undermount sink is only 299.

Seconds and Surplus

4. Address your floors

If your bathroom floors are grungy or grimy, a good scrubbing with a heavy-duty product is step one. But if your tile is old and ugly or you have vinyl thats seen better days, it might just be time to replace it. Laying new flooring might not be a DIY job depending what you have We tried to do our own tile once, and we wont be repeating that mistake anytime soon..

Our easy answer for ugly floors were not ready to replace: a good throw rug. Its an easy and cheap, albeit temporary solution that can help distract you from a poor floor. Tip: get the biggest size you can find, which may mean buying a rug thats not necessarily intended for the bathroom. Be sure to ask the sales associate if the material is water resistant or you could end up with a mold problem.

Timberline Custom Homes

5. Create a spa shower

You dont need thousands to create a shower that feels like youre in a resort. The Dreamspa Temperature Sensitive LED Combination Shower Head is under 80, and gives you a three-way water diverter, 30 water flow patterns, and even changes colors depending on the water temperature.

Prefer a rainhead? "Theyre softer and less grating, making each shower feel like a special occasion, not an obligation," said Elle Decor. "It doesnt have to be a big investment, either: This highly-rated rainfall->

6. Add shelving

Whether you lack storage or just want to add a focal point to your walls, open shelving may be your answer.


7. Cover up problem walls

Walls not looking so great? In many older homes, the texture can be uneven or problematic, and paint may not do the trick. Installing beadboard is an easy solution you can do on your own.

"Thriftier than most wall tile and less maintenance than wood, beadboard paneling made from cellular PVC stands up to sloshing and never needs to be painted," said This Old House. If white is too traditional for you, thats nothing a can of paint cant fix.


8. Change out your lighting

Youd be surprised how big an impact a new light fixture can make in your bathroom. Not only will it bring a fresh, new focal point, but the light it gives off may also improve the entire look of the room. This easy DIY job can be done in a jif- the hardest part will probably picking out your new fixture


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Living Like Royalty: Castles You Can Really Own

That old saying, "Your home is your castle?" Its true for some who actually LIVE IN A CASTLE. And you could be one of them.

For many of todays grand castles, you have to move to Europe like this 17 million, 16-acre French chateau. But if youre looking to live like Downton Abbey while staying stateside, you still have plenty of options.

"If you think only kings and queens live in castles, youre royally wrong," said Today. "The U.S. real estate market has no shortage of grand estates for sale, but lording over your own manor doesnt come cheaply."

You dont have to live in the French countryside. Just live in a home that was created in its image, like this 14,000-square-foot custom estate that was "inspired by Frances Chateau de Chambord," said Business Insider. The home is located just outside of Washington, DC in McLean, VA, is buffered by more than two acres of National Forest, and features "a gourmet outdoor kitchen, wine grotto, pool, and a 5-car garage." It could be all yours for 12,900,000.


This private family estate named Highlands Castle is located in Bolton Landing upstate New York, sitting at the top of a mountain, overlooking Lake George and the Queen of American lakes, with the Adirondack Mountains all around. Youll feel like the King or Queen of the world in this private oasis, which offers 12,000 square feet of living space on 8.66 acres, along with a "grand entrance with romantic Romeo amp; Juliet stained glass doors, separate Gatehouse with living quarters, full bathroom, and two bedrooms, separate Guest House with living quarters, full bathroom, and two bedrooms," said Prestige Property. So whatll it run you for such royal grandeur? A mere 12,800,000.

Prestige Property

With eight bedrooms, seven baths and and more than 22,000 square feet, youll have plenty of room to host lavish parties on this 75-acre property.

Known as "The Chateau," this architectural estate is situated on 2.74 acres in the exclusive waterfront community of Costa Bella in Austin, TX. With 13,600 square feet, the home boasts seven bedrooms, nine baths, two pools, and a massive gourmet country French kitchen, along with a 1,600-bottle wine room, a hi-def 3D theater, and a private boat dock. Its currently for sale for 9,988,000.


Known as Chrismark Castle, this fortress in Woodstock, Connecticut has eight bedrooms and comes with 75 acres of land, plus its own lake. Its "owned by Christopher Mark, the great-grandson of Chicago steel tycoon Clayton Mark Senior. Mark caused quite a fuss when he bought the parcel and began building his 20-room castle back in 2003," said The Chive. "According to Connecticut Magazine, it took 7 years and 4.1 million to build. In total, Chrismark Castle has 20 rooms, 12 fireplaces, a maids room, library, pool, and massage rooms," and is for sale for 32 million.

The Chive

A little too rich for your blood? How about Tiffany Castle in Kansas City, Missouri, which can be yours for 599,900. "This home, built in 1909, is definitely the best deal in our roundup," said Huffington Post. "For just shy of 600,000, the future owner will get to lord over five bedrooms, four baths, a grand staircase and a faux lookout tower."

According to Fox 4, the castle measures 4,200 square feet, is located in the Historic Northeast neighborhood of KC, and is for sale for "only the eighth time in 100 years."

Tiffany Castle Facebook

This historic mansion in Cleveland Heights, Ohio has a pedigree, having been designed in 1910 by respected architect Frank Meade, and, its a movie star, having appeared in "Captain America: The Winter Solider." The Elizabethan Tudor known as Harcourt Manor offers more than 8,000 square feet, with eight eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms plus eight fireplaces. Even better: its only 650,000.


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Tips For Selecting An Interior Door

Take a minute to count the number of doors in your house. Surprising, right? Consider then, the impact that a little attention to the doors can have on the overall >

Lets take a look at the options:


Prices for interior doors vary depending on what theyre made of. There are pros and cons associated with the materials themselves that are worth considering before you start thinking about the different >

Solid Wood: Believe it or not, most residential doors are not solid wood, but they offer such excellent soundproofing that they are a very popular upgrade. The weight of a solid wood door also lends a high-end feel when you swing it open or shut. Available in all kinds of wood, from exotic mahogany to the most common pine, solid wood gives you the option of staining to accentuate the beauty of the wood or painting to work with your decor.

Solid Core: These doors are actually constructed of medium-density fiberboard MDF, which is essentially an engineered hardwood that is available in wood-grain or smooth finishes. These, too, offer great sound proofing and that high-end heft, and are arguably the best value for your money.

Hollow Core: These are the most common and affordable doors available. Hollow-core doors are constructed with wood grain or smooth panels that cover a honeycomb-like center. Hollow-core doors are much lighter in weight and offer less soundproofing, but the upside is affordability.

Prehung or Slab: Finally, its important to consider whether you will hang the door in an existing door frame, or purchase a door that is prehung in its frame. Hanging a heavier door is a more delicate process, so we recommend homeowners interested in solid wood doors consider prehung options. A lighter, hollow-core door is simple to hang from existing hinges as it doesnt have much impact in terms of weight.


Once youve decided on the type of door that best fits your needs, its time to think about >

Panel: Panel doors offer a little detail and history. The panels are constructed of rails and stiles to create two-, four- or six-panel options. Rails and stiles can be straight or curved to match your design aesthetic. Straight lines tend to fade to the background, which is often the best option when youre upgrading several doors in one space. Panel doors work well in more traditional design >

Flush: Flush doors are just that: smooth, with no detailing. The lack of detail makes them a good choice in any decor, but especially if youre working with more contemporary >

French doors: French doors are a beautiful upgrade in the right spot. The detailing of the panesand the light they bringimprove the look of any space, and the value as well. Great for exterior doors, they can also help open up interior spaces while still offering boundaries, both visually and spatially.

Pocket doors: Pocket doors are problem solvers. They are the perfect solution in tight spaces, or as a way to add a little privacy within a larger space. They also add a custom flair. Installation requires wall space on one side of the door large enough to accommodate the door when its open. Dont forget that these are also available in flush and panel >

Specialty doors

Of course, there are a few door >

Barn doors are a beautiful way to add real visual interest and architectural flair, and are much simpler to install than you might guess. A simple track above the door holds the panels and allows them to slide open and closed. Choose rustic, natural wood tones and textures or more tailored and polished door panels.

Frosted glass inserts are a great way to let in the light and maintain privacy while adding a very custom, high-end look. Great for closet doors, they also work well in other interior and exterior situations.

Those are just a few of our favorites. Whats on your wish list for interior doors?

Kerrie Kelly is an award-winning interior designer and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in northern California. Kerrie writes on interior design topics for Home Depot. Many of the interior doors mentioned by Kerrie in the article can be viewed online at www.homedepot.com/b/Doors-Windows-Doors/N-5yc1vZas82.

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Effectively Staging Your Home For Sale

Youve accepted the job offer, met with the Realtor, and are starting to get bids from moving companies.

Its officialyou really are selling your home and moving away

As anybody who has ever sold a home knows quite well, it takes a lot more than sticking a For Sale sign in the front yard and hoping that potential buyers will love it as much as you did. In order to get the best price for your home and pique the interest and bidding power of buyers, you need to take some time to stage your home so that it looks and smellsyes, smellsterrific, inviting, and worth every dollar of your asking price.

The following four tips can help home sellers effectively and attractively stage their home:

1. Consider new window treatments

Take a look at the various window coverings in your home and ask yourself if they look new, clean, and in excellent condition. If the answer to any of these questions is an honest no, then consider getting some new window treatments. Home window treatments are available in a variety of textures and colors, and can make a huge difference in the quality of light that enters a room.

Photo by PoshSurfside.com via Flickr

2. Upgrade your tile with paint

As HGTV notes, bathrooms have been known to help sell a home, but old and shabby tile will definitely steer potential buyers away faster than you can say avocado and almond tile. Because replacing tile can be on the costly side, sellers can repaint them. After coating the tiles with a primer be sure you purchase one that is marked high adhesion, paint the tiles with a ceramic epoxy coating. This >

Photo by jbj via Flickr

3. Tone down an old fireplace

Sure, that brick fireplace in the living or family room looks great during the holidays when its festooned with stockings and the various trimmings of the season, but the rest of the year it really doesnt do much for the look of the room. To lessen its visual impact, try adding a thin coat of paint to the bricks. In order to avoid the mortar, you do have to paint one brick at a time, which can be time-consuming. But the pay-off of painting your fireplace is well worth your patience when you have a new neutral focal point in your room. One additional tip: to make sure the fireplace blends in as much as possible, choose a color that closely matches the surrounding walls.

Photo by dusty via Flickr

4. Simmer some apples

Nothing will turn off home buyers faster than a musty, moldy, smoky, and/or any other type of undesirable smell. Even the cleanest home can often benefit from the addition of a nice aroma. Shortly before your open house, place some sliced apples and cinnamon sticks in a sauce pan on the stove, and let them simmer. The delicious smell will be sure to tempt potential buyers to spend even more timeand hopefully moneyon your home.

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What To Do When Your Tax Appraisal Comes In High

Your house is worth how much more than it was last year? Hot damn You obviously made a smart buy. But while youre getting all excited about your great investment, you may not have thought about how it affects your property taxes... right up until that moment you open the mailbox and receive a notice that your rising equity means rising property taxes.


If your expenses just went up alongside the perceived value of your home, well, youre not alone. Appraisals all over the country, especially in states like Texas, have risen substantially over the past few years - a byproduct of having some of the strongest real estate markets in the country. According to the Dallas County Central Appraisal District DCAD, "Tax assessments are rising 1213 this year, said CBS, and, in other hot areas, theyre up as much as 40.

Thats the downside of appreciating real estate markets. But that doesnt mean you have to live with it.

"Good news for Americans facing eye-popping property taxes: You can fight city hall, or whichever government body sends you this annual economic albatross," said Bankrate.

The knowledge that "as many as 60 of properties in the U.S. are assessed at a higher amount than their current value, according to the National Taxpayers Union, said Kiplinger, should give homeowners some solace, or at least a little encouragement as they try to knock that appraisal down a bit or a bunch. If youre looking to lower those property taxes, here are a few things to try.

Understand what youre dealing with

Its important to note that while appraisals are generally based on a combination of local tax rates and assessed property value, they are not necessarily accurate on a house-by-house basis, Unless the government has a drone thats been spying on the inside of my house they dont, right?, Im quite sure they are unaware of how badly I need new floors. And a cooktop. And window coverings. In order to sell my home for what theyve appraised it for, I would need to do some updating and repairs. Most of us would, and that can help if youre planning to dispute your appraisal.

Request Your "Property Tax Card"

"Few homeowners realize they can go down to the town hall and request to view or receive a copy of their property tax cards from the local assessors office. The tax card provides the homeowner with information the town has gathered about the property over time," said Investopedia. Here youll find information about your lot size, exact room dimensions, fixtures, and details about any improvements that may have been made over time. Find any errors? You may have just discovered the key to lowering your taxes.

"As you review this card, note any discrepancies and then raise these issues with the tax assessor. The assessor will either make the correction and/or conduct a re-evaluation. This tip sounds laughably simple, but mistakes are common. If you can find them, the township has an obligation to correct them."

Fair Assessments

Hire a professional

For many, the surest bet when fighting increasing assessments is hiring a lawyer, property tax negotiator, or consultant. Keep in mind, though, that youll be paying for those servicesanywhere from one-third to one-half of the money saved if the taxes are lowered.

Fight it yourself

If you plan to do it on your own, you need to prepare yourself:

First, locate your assessors office. This will help you find out precisely how the property tax calculation is derived and get their criteria for home appraisals.

Fight it in person. According to experts, this is the most effective way to dispute your appraisal. Emails are often ignored or requests flat out refused. And make sure you "come armed and ready," said Banking My Way. Gathering comps from your real estate agent that outline recent sales for similar homes in your neighborhood is key. Taking pictures of areas of your home that need repair or arent in "selling shape" to illustrate why the higher appraisal number is inaccurate can also help.

Put Zillow to use for you. Weve talked at length about the inaccuracies of Zillows Zestimates. But in this case, that might help bolster your case. Zestimates for your home and similar homes in your area showing lower than the appraised amount? Print out those pages and add them to your file.

Network. If your communitys Nextdoor community is as lively as ours, its full of discussions and information about property taxes and appraisal disputes. Using social tools like this can help you get to know what your neighbors are up against and find common solutions specific to your neighborhood. It may also help you find someone to help guide your dispute.

Do some reconnaissance. Neighbors with the same floorplan across the street have a pool? Make sure to mention that in the file youre putting together. Know whos redone their kitchen? Note that as well. "What many individuals dont realize is that in many cases, information about other home assessments in the area is also available to the public," said Investopedia. "You can often find discrepancies that could lower your taxes. For example, lets say that you have a four-bedroom home with a one-car garage, and your home was assessed at 250,000. Your neighbor also owns a four-bedroom home, but this house sports a two-car garage, a 150-square-foot shed and a beautiful swimming pool. Despite this, your neighbors home was valued at 235,000. If an error is found, it pays to bring it to the assessors attention as soon as possible so that you can get a reassessment if necessary."

Pay attention to the timeframe

Filing an official protest has to be done within a certain timeframe. You dont want to miss out on savings because of a missed deadline. In Texas, property owners only have until May 31 to challenge their property tax assessments.

"Most municipalities differ, with some towns stipulating that you only have 14 days from the time of your property tax assessment to appeal, and some may go as high as 60 days," said Banking My Way. "Your towns tax appraisal office will have the deadline information."

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5 Front Yard Landscaping Tips That Will Wow Buyers

Your front yard is the red carpet inviting buyers into the beauty that is your home. If its rugged, messy and unkempt, buyers will take one look and then keep on driving to the next property on their list. Dont let that happen by making your front yard luscious and as amazing as the inside of your home.

What areas should you focus on in your front yard? Where do you start? To help you break down the revitalization of your front yard, here are the steps you should take:

1. Cut the grass.

Buyers dont want to trudge through high grass as though they were in the Amazon or on a safari in Africa. This means the lawn mower needs to be out at least once a week if not every other week, keeping it trimmed and maintained. It also needs to be green so it looks alive and lush. Water so the sun doesnt dry out the lawn and turn it yellow or brown. A professional landscaper can help maintain a balance of trimming and growth so it looks just right for buyers.

2. Plant more shade trees.

One or two trees in the front yard are all right, but if you want to really add some shade, plant more. Shade trees will detract from the glare of the sun, and it can help decrease the temperature of the house if theyre placed close to windows. It also will help keep the lawn green with moisture. You can plant trees that are shorter and will grow by the time the new owner buys the home, but be sure theyre strong and can handle the climate.

3. Install outdoor lighting.

Outdoor lighting is a good way to both illuminate the house at night and accent parts of your yard. Depending on where you install the lights, your house will look very appealing at night to those buyers who might not have time to do their shopping during the day. Outdoor lighting also helps to illuminate a path like a sidewalk to get from the curb to your front door for easier navigation. It helps to accent the beauty of your landscaping which all together increases the beauty of your home.

4. Consider adding flowers for more color.

If your front yard has a lot of greenery, you should increase the yard appeal by adding more colors. Flowers are a great and simple way to do this, as well as shrubbery with different blooms. Perennials are the best for this because they last for more than a year, which means less maintenance for the seller and the new homeowner. They come in a wide variety of colors and types so the yard can be decorated with any number of them while still requiring less maintenance.

5. Keep everything clean

In addition to keeping the lawn trimmed, everything else should be clean. Anywhere that can build up dirt or grime - siding, porch, front door, driveway - should be cleaned on a regular basis. Buyers dont want to see a lot of dirt and mess, and it will detract from them wanting to walk into the house. So take a broom, a power washer and a few hours on the weekend to keep everything sparkling clean. Dont have a power washer? A professional power washing service can cost as little as 293.

Photos courtesy of DesignMine

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Ask the HOA Expert: Owner Not Paying Assessments

Question: We have an owner who has not paid an assessment for several years. The property is being used as rental property.

Answer: Your board needs to adopt a formal Collection Policy that provides for an "assignment of rents" provision. This provision allows the HOA to redirect rents to the HOA when a member fails to pay the HOA assessments. There is a sample Collection Policy at www.Regenesis.net in the Policy Samples section. Have the proposed Collection Policy reviewed by a knowledgeable HOA attorney to ensure it complies with the governing documents, federal and state statutes. The proposed Collection Policy should be circulated for comment to the members before enactment. Once enacted, start enforcing the provisions on any owner who is delinquent.

Question: Our HOA recently had a reserve study update which the board is evaluating to ensure that we are adequately funded. What is a proper funding level? I have heard numbers from "30 Funded" to "80 Funded".

Answer: 100 Funded should be the goal. For example, if you have a 30 year roof that costs 90,000 to replace, you should reserve 3,000/year to be 100 Funded. Reserving anything less will produce a lower level of funding that will have to be made up in the future by others that shouldnt have to pay it. Having a goal of 100 Funded insures that all members pay their fair share. Understand, however, that it is impossible to maintain 100 at all times since large expenditures can draw reserve down dramatically in any given year. The funding plan should anticipate these draw downs and adjust annual contributions to build up reserves again. The main issue is to avoid funding by special assessments which are unfair to most that have to pay them.

Question: Our governing documents have policies regarding tree cutting and clearing. From time to time, the board gets requests from lot owners asking permission to cut a tree because of fear that it will fall on the house. If there is no disease or damage, we deny such requests. It has been suggested recently that the HOA can be held liable for damage and injury from falling trees.

Answer: The HOA is certainly liable for failing to maintain trees in the common area and should have a regular tree maintenance program to keep trees trimmed, healthy and safe. Trees located on private lots is another matter. If an owner maintains a tree is in danger of falling, it should either be obvious to a casual observer or be documented by an arborist. The board should make prudent decisions based on >

There is also a fire hazard presented by trees that are closer that 30 feet to the structure, especially if they are highly flammable like pine trees. If an arborist believes they are a danger, they should be removed.

Question: Our HOA has extra parking spaces which are first come/first serve. There are several residents which park extra vehicles and boats there long term. This doesnt seem fair.

Answer: If the HOA has extra parking spaces, it should not allow any resident to commandeer them, especially for no cost. These are revenue generating assets which can be rented long term at market rate. In many urban settings, a reserved parking spot is worth 50 or more a month. The board should charge market rent on a yearly basis. This way, parking revenue benefits all HOA members by helping reduce HOA fees.

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Running For The Board Of Directors In Your HOA

Question: I want to run for election to our Communitys Board of Directors. What exactly does the Board do? What can it not do? Please advise.

Answer: If you really want to be on your Board of Directors, you must first do your homework. You must read your States statute dealing with community associations whether you live in a condominium or a homeowner association, and you must read -- and understand -- your associations legal documents.

There is a power source recognized in community association law. This means that when you seek guidance as to what a board can -- and cannot do -- you must first look to the applicable state statute. If there is a specific prohibition contained in that law, it will usually be the end of the discussion.

However, state laws are general in nature; they usually deter to the specific documentation >

The next level of this power source are your operational documents: first the declaration in a condominium or the Master Deed in a HOA. Next, we turn to the Bylaws, and finally the rules and regulations.

I am often guided by a legal opinion issued by the high Court in the State of Florida. In analyzing the role of a particular Board that was involved in litigation, the Court in effect said the following: If something is in the Bylaws, the Board can be unreasonable; if it is not in the Bylaws, the Board must be reasonable.

Service on a Board of Directors is an unpaid, thankless task. Yet, a major investment -- your home -- is at stake, which is why many owners make the difficult decision to serve their community.

Many community associations are big business -- with revenues often exceeding other businesses and even local governments -- although most unit owners and many Board members do not understand this. Budgets often exceed a Million Dollars annually. An Association Board must deal with a wide variety of issues -- such as pet and parking restrictions, crime on the common grounds, trash, tot lots, employment and tax issues.

Money issues:

Finance and budgetary matters are perhaps the most important function of a Board of Directors. The Board must establish an annual budget, so the amount of the owners assessments can be determined.

But it is important to remember that a Board of Directors establishes policies and procedures; the Board is not -- and should not -- be the manager. Many writers have likened community associations to a mini-government. In this context, consider the Board as the legislative arm of government, and your property manager as the executive branch.

Work closely with your property manager; dont fight him/her all the time. There has to be a team effort, and the team generally includes the property manager, the attorney, and the accountant. You probably do not have the expertise -- nor the experience -- to craft your own budget, but the buck stops with the Board of Directors. If next years budget is too low -- or if there are unforseen emergency expenditures -- you will have to pass a special assessment. Go tell that to your friends and neighbors

Rules and enforcement:

Another important function of the Board goes to the enforcement of the association documents, including but not limited to, architectural covenants. Boards in the past have often harshly and strictly attempted to enforce their rules; as the result, homeowners throughout this nation refer to their architectural control committees and Boards fondly as the "local KGB."

There is no question but that the rules and regulations must be enforced. The law is quite clear that arbitrary and selective enforcement will not stand the test of litigation. However, common sense -- and a bit of humanity and heart -- must be part of the enforcement process.

The Board has to adust to new and developing issues, such as the use of drones over the common elements, as well as the potential impact that such groups as AIRBNB may have on your community.

The Community Association Institute has a publication entitled "Be Reasonable." Permit me to quote from this material -- which should be read by every Board member of every community association in America:

"Its time for associations to write responsible rules and review existing restrictions. To eliminate restrictions that are outdated and illogical, and to address specific problems with clear, specific solutions. To realize that overzealous, unreasonable boards of directors can be more damaging to property values than the violations they so vigorously try to prevent. Its time to be reasonable."

And finally, lets get one thing straight: if you are on an ego trip, or me>
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Three Important Responsibilities Home Buyers Have

The American dream of owning a home is something everyone should have if they want it. You should be able to live where you want and enjoy the features of your environment that help you >

You can own a pet, build a treehouse, paint the walls your favorite color, and play music and videos as loud as you like without disturbing your neighbors. Thats the essence of the dream -- independence.

For most first-time buyers, its better to accept that for dreams to come true, you have to do the groundwork. Yes, you will be far more independent than you would as a renter, but you will still have some very real responsibilities to make homeownership work. Here are the top three responsibilities youll have as a homeowner.

Financial responsibilities

You owe your lender timely payments. Paying on time helps you build your credit. With great credit, you can take on more projects such as remodeling, or youll be able to buy furniture, cars or other things you want with lower interest on your payments.

Your debts should never be more than 40 percent of your income. If you get overextended, youll have problems meeting the minimum payments. Instead, limit the amount of credit you actively use and pay off balances every month. Dont add new charges until youve paid off your balances.

You should also be in a position to save money, which you can do several ways. You can put money in your 401K, you can pay extra on your principal every month, or you can buy bonds or invest in the stock market, according to your tolerance for risk. You can put money in a safety deposit box or under the mattress as long as you are saving rather than overspending.

Common wisdom is to build six months of cash so you can continue to make your house payments if you lose your job or become ill. You need savings for emergencies, large expenses such as student debt, and retirement.

Neighborhood responsibilities

When you buy a home, your household becomes part of the neighborhood. You can influence whether or not the neighborhood prospers or declines simply by the way you treat your neighbors and your home. Its up to you to uphold or to set a higher standard for the neighborhood by keeping your lawn and trees trimmed, your home freshly painted, and toys and trash picked up from the entry.

This is the way you can protect your investment and those of your neighbors. Its one of the reasons many neighborhoods have homeowners associations -- to protect values by standardizing safety and maintenance for the community.

To get the benefits the HOA provides such as higher and consistent home values, you have to pay your dues and obey the covenants. You can volunteer to help or youll have to abide by the decisions others make. Before you buy a home in a HOA-managed community, read the covenants so youll know what youre getting into. If not being able to use certain exterior paint colors bothers you, then dont buy the home. Find something else.

Household responsibilities

You owe yourself and the other members of your household the best life you can possibly provide. Buying a new home is a great time to step up your life>

Your home should help you be who you want to be. Thats the purpose of shaping your environment. You have control over whether you entertain like Martha Stewart, paint in your studio like the next Picasso, or grow a lawn as sleek as the Augusta fairways.

Choose a home that meets as many needs as you can within your means. Separate bedrooms for the kids may be doable, but you may have to compromise on a Jack and Jill shared bath. This is an excellent opportunity to teach your older children about prioritizing, delayed gratification, give and take and winning and losing gracefully.

Make sure the area you select offers amenities that your building doesnt have. If you dont have a yard for the kids and the dog, make sure theres a park and playground nearby.

Think about how far and how long it will take you to get to shopping, work, and other friends and family. Think about how a long commute will affect your family. Would you rather be sitting in traffic or attending your sons ball game?

You and your spouse may want the prestige of living in a certain area, but if your house-payment is too high, youll introduce problems into the >

Buy the best home you can thats within your means and it will see you through years of comfort.

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8 Common Email Marketing Mistakes

While Email Marketing is not as new as Social Media and other digital channels, its still one of the most powerful and lucrative ways for agents to generate leads, get listings, and close more sales. It may not sound as "sexy" as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but savvy agents who know what theyre doing can get great results. On average, over the past 3 years, every 1 spent on email marketing has brought in a return of over 30.

One reason behind emails massive success is that "inbox-checking" is as addictive as video games, and its very personal. If someone is waiting for an important business update, or to hear from a friend, it almost always comes via email, which is one of the main reasons people tend to be glued to their devices all day.

Whats the catch? As mentioned earlier, you just need to know what youre doing. Here are 8 common mistakes agents make when they create email content. If you avoid these and follow email marketing best practices, you can leverage your campaign for maximum results, including lead generation, new listings, and more:

1. They offer promotional content with no real value. Your emails main function may be to promote, but readers are wary of sales jargon. Instead of a hard sell, offer useful information that benefits their lives, like how to spruce up their yard, or an update on local real estate trends.

2. Generic or clich subject lines. Were bombarded with emails all day, and we delete almost all of them. To survive the "delete massacre", your email needs a subject line thats original, stands out, and builds curiosity. Try asking a question "Why are home sales up in June?", making a promise "Have a lush green front yard in January", or offering ultra-specific advice "3 Inexpensive ways to boost your homes value in under a week".

3. Not enough newsletter->. Many agents only send an email if theres a new listing to announce. Big mistake. You should also send a monthly newsletter about recent successes, like your agencys home sales over the past quarter. It will show what you can do for THEM, without a hard sell. And since homeowners like to know their homes value, they will want to read about current market trends.

4. Erratic, unpredictable schedule. People like consistency. If they dont hear from you in a few weeks, and then suddenly get bombarded with emails, they may not appreciate it. It may be once a week or even once a month, just have a schedule, and stick with it, so people know what to expect.

5. Theyre afraid of long emails. Contrary to conventional wisdom, longer emails are not less effective. Many long emails are devoured by readers. The ideal email length is the amount thats necessary to convey your message. Just dont be too wordy, and keep it neat and organized. People read content thats interesting and concise, as long as theres not too much fluff or unnecessary words.

6. They forget to be personal. Often overlooked, the "From" section can be really important. People want emails from PEOPLE, not COMPANIES. Instead of "Best Realty", it should say "Kate from Best Realty." Same thing at the end of your email.

7. They skip the "P.S." Believe it or not, many people read the end of your email before the middle, because its shorter and less intimidating. Be sure to end with a powerful "PS" message, and maybe even a call-to-action.

8. Weak or no call-to-action. Even an informational email needs to tell people what you want them to do. It can be as simple as "call for more information", or "reply to this email if you have a question." Just give specific instructions.

By following the advice of experts, you can leverage what many consider the most powerful digital marketing tool available. Use these strategies to get more listings and close more sales than your competitors who live in the Dark Ages.

Another digital marketing tool being leveraged by thousands of agents is ScoreApprove, a free home buying assessment service that can offer your clients huge credit benefits.

Want to generate more qualified leads, faster than ever? Now you can, by offering home buyers a free home buying assessment that combines both financial and credit data, with many other amazing services, all completely free. Click Here for more information.

To learn more, visit ScoreApprove.com today.

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Are You Responsive?

With more and more people searching real estate listings online, the quality of your net presence is makes a vital statement. What message do real estate professionals deliver when their website is not responsive?

Google recommended Responsive Web Design is the most common method of achieving mobile-friendly web pages configured to look great on the small screens of smartphones and other mobile devices. Responsive uses computer code that responds differently to different screen sizes, but ensures page displays remain similar and readable on any mobile device.

Asking buyers and sellers to use non-responsive real estate websites is equivalent to real estate professionals choosing to sell unstaged, even handyman->

In April 2015, Google announced search changes that favor mobile devices. With this and subsequent edicts, responsive switched from a target-driven alternative to a business essential. Smartphone internet use and mobile computing continues to dominate.

The internet is increasingly being defined by the rising mass of mobile computing devices. Mobile phones have replaced desktop and laptop computers on many levelsfrom what people are buying, to what they use to search the net. Websites and blogs that do not cater to small-screen mobile devices, particularly smartphones and other hand-helds, are increasingly ignored. Significant internet usage continues to shift away from non-responsive sites and blogs.

Websites designed and coded for these larger screens do not automatically make a graceful transition to small screens. Your beautifully-designed non-responsive website can look hideous on a smartphone. Potential viewers must do so much pinching, scrolling, zooming, and squinting at tiny fonts they may give up and click on a competitors website, which is designed to look great on screens of any size.

To go responsive or not? The time, expertise, and expense required for transition to responsive may be daunting for some site owners. Here are key factors to consider:

  • Prioritize. Traffic, lead generation, and e-commerce are among the key reasons for investing time and money to go responsive. For example, suppose you have a blog and a website, and your blog draws significantly more target traffic. Start with the blog and overhaul the website later. Expanding the blog and phasing out the website may be an alternative.
  • Allocation of time and resources. Create an efficient sequence for continuous updating and modernizing just as you suggest sellers do with their assets. Responsive design may be the latest overhaul, but it will not be the last that technology dictates.
  • Analyze Dont Just Assume. Switching to mobile friendly may not instantly create dramatic shifts in traffic or usage statistics since so many factors are involved. Reduced bounce rates may indicate phone users find it easier to stay and read, but >
  • >If content is not top-notch and video excellent, mobile-friendly design alone will not be enough to increase traffic and usage.

Is your website or blog or the competitions responsive? Check the following three simple tests to determine whether your web design is responsive or not:

Test 1. Visit your website or blog on your desktop or laptop. Using your browser, go to the responsive test mode. For example, on Mozillas Firefox, click on Tools on the navigation bar top left; then, click on Web Developer. Then, click on Responsive Design View. If you prefer to use keys, the shortcut is pushing ControlShiftM. On the right-side of your screen, a vertical double bar or arrow appears. Click on it and move the right vertical border toward the left. You can approximate smartphone, tablet, and other handheld-device screens. If the design is responsive, the website page will remain readable and lovely to look at. If not, a jumbled mess may appear. Google also has a Mobile-Friendly Test.

Test 2. Using your mobile device, go to your website or blog. If the web pages are responsive...well, you know the drill.

Test 3. Ask mobile-addicted prospects and clients what they think of your website or blog. If you hear complaints about what a pain it is, the site is non-responsive. "No complaints" may be worse since it may mean users have bounced off to competitors.

If you present yourself as a tech-savvy professional or a social-media natural intent on engaging prospects and clients on their terms, transforming your website and blog into mobile-friendly territory is essential. Take time to decide the best strategy that is compatible with your short- and long-tem goals:

  • Nowhere Fast: Those who find little or no business comes to them over the internet may decide there is no need to redesign. There may be a very good business case for going responsive and optimizing the site to gain traffic, leads, and referrals, but thats another article, for another time.
  • Halfway There: Blogs are not automatically responsive. For instance, popular WordPress WP accounts for almost 25 of internet activity and powers many blogs. Earlier WP blog templates or themes were not responsive. Even now, new bloggers do not have to choose responsive themes. Transforming non-responsive WordPress blogs and websites may me>
  • All the Way: The process of transforming a website to responsive is not as simple as switching templates. Coding changes are just the beginning. Designincluding layout, fonts, images, and site navigationwill need modification to optimize smaller reading "windows." Then, theres Search Engine Optimization SEO to consider. Although this may be an opportune time for a full-site overhaul of content, navigation, and all >

Are you responsive? Weve been talking about communicating your value and intentions using technology. "Responsive" means much more. In both the technical and >

Resource: Whats Your Point?

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Designing Your Home Like A Pro In 10 Steps

Pulling together a flawless home isnt easy. But you dont need to be an expert or hire one to create an inviting space - you just need to follow a few expert rules.

Heed these designer tips to get a designer look that Freshome says is "fabulous and functional, all at the same time," in your home.

1. Pick the perfect paint color

Paint is one of the easiest ways to transform a room, but choosing the right hue can be challenging. Staging pro Meridith Baer had a few suggestions on Elle Dcor to make it easier. "When you go to pick paint, either go for a perfect shade of white, a color that flatters every skin tone, or go for bold in a dark shade of red of brown or even black," she said. "Ceilings painted white or cream tend to make the room feel larger."

2. Decide your rooms purpose

If you have a great room, it may serve several different needs. But in other spaces, choosing a single purpose is key. "If youve got the space, try to narrow things down and let the rooms real purpose decide the dcor," said designer Katie Leavy of Capital Design in Washington, D.C. on HGTV. "Decide, for example, if your room will be a living room that youll entertain in on just a few occasions or a family room youre going to use every day. A rooms purpose should be one of the strongest cues for the decor."

Photo by Phil Kean Design Group - Search traditional kitchen design ideas

3. Pay attention to lighting

Have you ever noticed how well-lit the rooms are when you tour a model home? Thats - literally - by design. Different types of lighting are layered into spaces to create an ambient feel. If your rooms are too dark or youre not accentuating focus areas, give your lighting plan another look. And dont forget to put everything on dimmers. Being able to adjust the amount of lighting is key

4. Add in some texture

"Equally as important to color, is texture. A room at first glance can seem like a single color scheme, but if you look closely you will notice shades within the same color and plenty of texture via fabrics/textiles," said Freshome. "An all-white room may have linen draperies, a plush velvet chair, shiny silk cushions, rattan chairs and woven baskets, and a nubby cotton sofa with a faux fur blanket tossed on the side. All of these elements add texture and please the eye, creating a warm, rich environment."


5. Raise the roof

High ceilings are a much-desired feature, but if your home hasnt been blessed with them, you can still fake it with a few clever tricks. "If your ceilings are on the low side, paint them white to make the room feel less claustrophobic," said This Old House. Hanging curtains at a taller height than the windows "can trick your eye into thinking the room is taller. Love patterned panels? Try vertical stripes; the lines visually elongate your walls. Leaning a large mirror against a wall can also make a room seem taller."

Katie Detherage

6. Focus on your coffee table

If the coffee table in your living room is simply a utilitarian piece to rest a drink or a pair of tired feet, you may not have thought about how you can >

"When designing the top of your coffee table, start with something large and wonderful in the middle: a floral in an interesting pot, a huge bowl maybe filled with sea urchins or something else interesting," said Elle Decor. "Then build out from that: stacks of art books, candles, sculpture or pottery. Make it interesting and change it regularly."

7. Make a good first impression

Getting the outside of your home right can also be tricky, and a big spend on landscaping may not be your priority. But one simple step can make a big difference, and make you smile every time you drive by. "If you want your house to make a great first impression, paint the front door a fun, glossy hue," said This Old House. "Red is a lucky color in many cultures," Lara Allen-Brett, a New Jersey-based stager, told them. "A red door meant welcome to weary travelers in early America, and on churches it represents a safe haven. Two other hues gaining favor: orange and yellow, according to San Francisco-based stager Christopher Breining," they said.

8. Mix and match different >


The Covetable

9. Add in some art

Focus on your walls to take a good space and make it great. "Art is a great go-to for giving your space a more luxurious, unique feel," said HGTV. "A lot of people are intimidated by art because it can be so expensive. But you dont necessarily have to spend a fortune on art." Online sites like Art.com, flea markets, or even places like IKEA and World Market can be treasure troves for great art pieces.

Dont forget to also hang that art at the right height. "Galleries and museums hang artwork so that the midline center of each piece is 57 inches to 60 inches from the floor," said Houzz. "The average human eye level is 57 inches. And you should do the same."

Photo by STEPHEN FLETCHER ARCHITECTS - Search transitional living room design ideas

10. Add in a little bit of you

If you play by the rules, you may end up with a nicely pulled together space, but it can also be boring. Dont forget to add in a little bit of you so the home reflects your >

"Personality is what makes a space great. Make your own statement and have fun. The more you try, the more you will begin to see what works and what doesnt," said Houzz. "Incorporate unexpected elements for drama. The unconventional ottoman seats, library->

But, while youre being bold, remember not to go too far. Going crazy with a theme or displaying an inordinate amount of collectibles can make a space look crowded or overworked.

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5 Basement Renovations That Pay Off

With homeowners using their basements for laundry, exercise and storage, aesthetics are usually a secondary concern. How can you update the looks of your basement? Here are a few ideas worth exploring:

1 Enhance the Floor

Floors in busy areas eventually end up in bad shape. A new floor will tremendously enhance the appeal of your basement. The costs of a new floor are less expensive than most homeowners assume. Vinyl floors are affordable, tough and require little upkeep. Apply an epoxy coating for an even cheaper flooring option. Several coats of epoxy make even the roughest floors look new.

2 Add Shelves

Clutter undermines the look of any basement. Adding shelves to your basement walls will help organize clutter and contribute tremendously to its overall look. Varnished wood shelves add an additional shot of >

3 Utilize Waterproofing Strategies

The presence of water in your basement causes rotting wood and corroded plumbing fixtures. Cracks in your basement wall can also expand, potentially damaging your foundation. Call a waterproofing professional if you notice leaks in your basement. Failure to address a leak can result in major damage and costly repairs to your home.

4 Improve the Stairs

Change the look of your basement staircase for a dramatic improvement in looks. If the stairway is enclosed, knock down the wall to create an open staircase. Replace the old stairs with newer wood and install a decorative banister for an added shot of >

5 Build a Small Kitchen

A basement has water, electrical and gas lines that are useful in a kitchen remodel. Generally, a kitchen by itself would seem odd in a basement. But, if your basement is already designed as an entertainment room, the addition of a kitchen makes perfect sense. A stove and a refrigerator will cut down on going upstairs for snacks.


All of these basement improvements will make your space more livable and boost your propertys value.

Andrea Davis is the editor for HomeAdvisor, which helps homeowners find home improvement professionals in their area at no charge to ensure the best service in the shortest amount of time.

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