5 Ways to Design a Luxe Room for Less

Note: This article was originally posted on Zillow Blog (www.zillow.com/pro) on July 17, 2014. http://www.zillow.com/blog/5-ways-design-luxury-room-for-less-155311/

Adding style to interiors doesn’t necessarily require wads of cash. Whether you prefer to keep money in the bank or desire to incorporate creative solutions, updating your home while saving money can be rewarding. From shopping your own space, to finding amazing lighting or re-purposing found items, consider these tips and tricks to create a luxe room — without breaking the bank.

Let there be light

kitchen lights

Does that dated, fluorescent light box in your kitchen have you feeling less than chic and savvy? Good news is that you have the electrical junction box already installed to connect a design-driven fixture instead. Whether you use a surface-mounted version or a sparkling chandelier, your kitchen will go from drab to fab in just a few minutes, and for not a ton of money.

Play out of the box

A black door is unexpected and chic. Source: ZIllow Digs

Acquaint yourself with other designer tricks, like painting interior doors black — instead of standard white — and adding architectural molding to less than lively spaces. You will soon be on your way to creating a rich-looking space without spending a lot of dough.

Pump up the details

Over-stuffed pillows are an easy luxe addition. Source: Kerrie Kelly

Sometimes a small detail, like an extra-large overstuffed throw pillow, can make your entire living room feel more luxurious — even if your sofa isn’t top of the line. Simply by adding a down and feather 22-inch insert in a 20-inch pillow cover, you can achieve a plush, luxurious look for little money.

Shop what you got

“Sourcing” furniture and accessories within your own space is the best — and cheapest — way to decorate on a budget. Shifting old furniture to a different room or using it in a fresh way, like re-purposing a kitchen cart as a side table, can deliver amazing results without spending a dime.

Refresh paint and hardware

Cherry red and chalkboard paint liven up a kitchen. Source: Jason Landeau

Kitchen remodels are infamously expensive — but savvy homeowners can slash those costs with a bit of creativity. Consider working with what you have by painting your cabinets and your updating hardware to give your existing space a lift. Consider painting doors or appliances with chalkboard paint for a truly interactive experience.


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6 (Surprisingly Affordable!) Luxury Features Buyers Love


Note: This article was written by Camile Salama and was originally posted on Zillow Blog (www.zillow.com/pro) on July 11, 2014.  http://www.trulia.com/pro/buyers/6-surprisingly-affordable-luxury-features-buyers-love/

Modest. Affordable. Starter. There is no shortage of words we use to describe a home that cost less than the average in an area. But no matter how —shall we say,budget-friendly—a listing is, or how constrained the buyer’s wallet may be, every home-owner hopeful still has the wish-list of luxury features that they simply think theycan’tlive without.

It can drive agents batty. After all, in real estate, you get what you pay for. If you have a beer budget, that’s okay! But don’t expect that you’re going to get Champagne.

Still, when it comes to buying a home, it’s going to be the biggest investment most consumers make in their lifetime, and even a home that’s budget-friendly is going to feel like they’re dropping big bucks. Think about it: almost no one looks at their monthly mortgage statement and says, “Wow! It’s just so cheap!”

Luckily, there are a few little luxuries that sellers and agent can easily install or fake that don’t cost a fortune and that potential buyers go wild over!

Here are a few of those little, affordable luxuries! If you’ve got a listing that needs some more buyer love, these little fixes can go a long way toward closing a killer deal.

1. Automation

For a home to automatically anticipate your preferences and living habits, and conduct itself accordingly, is a serious luxury that no longer requires a serious investment. Easily programmable thermostats and smart home systems are now available at very low prices. Check out the Nest Learning Thermostat for one of the most simple-to-use, inexpensive alternatives around. Created by the man who designed the iPod, it learns the temperatures you prefer without any complicated programming process, it can detect when no ones home and change the temperature accordingly, and it is even remote controllable via Wi-Fi and mobile app.

In some areas, home cable companies are now bundling temperature automation and smart home features like remote-controlled lighting, temperatures and security systems and even smoke and carbon monoxide monitors right into the same online dashboard you use to pay your bill or order a movie on-demand. Word of mouth raves from users of these sorts of systems often include delight at money saved on overall more efficient use of electricity, time saved coming home to check that doors are locked and other little daily assists beyond the expected convenience.

These next-gen automations are able to be had in the $200 or less range, up front, though the size of the home and number of devices required can send costs upward.

2. Nature Niceties

Visiting my grandmother recently, I was reminded that there is nothing quite so luxurious as craving a piece of fruit or a particular meal and being able to walk right into your backyard and grab the fixings for it—cost and chemical-free. This doesn’t even factor in the beauty of a kitchen garden right outside your window, or the healthfulness of gardening as a habit.

The range of cost for landscaping and creating what many now call outdoor rooms is vast. But there are also dozens of inexpensive projects that can level-up a home’s nature factor, like:

  • installing raised vegetable beds in the backyard;
  • hanging a vertical garden on the kitchen wall;
  • putting in window boxes or outdoor seating;
  • installing a bird bath or planting a new tree.

Lush, green anything is a luxury that can cost very little to enjoy for years on end.

3. Delicious Details

Customizing, sprucing and even adding little details can make a tract home feel custom, a condo feel personalized and can even take a home with character and imbue it with your character. These little projects can also be bizarrely high in the aesthetic impact and feeling of polish they add to a home vis-a-vis the relatively low investment of time and money they require.

Walk through the listing and see where you can work with the sellers to add, improve or tweak the details— consider projects like:

  • Adding crown moldings or baseboards;
  • Adding interior or exterior shutters;
  • Painting moldings, baseboards, mantles and door trims a contrasting color to the surrounding areas;
  • Replacing doors and lighting fixtures (I just replaced the pendant lighting fixture over my own kitchen table and have to say, it looks like a new room!) ;
  • Replacing dated faucets, sinks, toilets and hardware— even recessed lighting soffits and door handles;
  • Painting exterior eaves, doors, trims and fences.

4. Solar

A survey by Sunrun revealed that over 40 percent of Americans believe a solar system cost more than $20,000. And get this: eight out of 10 homeowners said they would install a solar system at home if cost wasn’t a factor. Solar is not for everyone, and not even for every home, but in states with sunny, hot summers and energy bills to boot, installing a solar system can create the double luxury of allowing owners to run the home on renewable energy and reduce energy costs in one fell swoop.

The truth is, in some states, cost isn’t a factor. There’s a new generation of companies— solar power service providers— who will pay for a solar system, install it on the home for little or nothing, and pay for its maintenance. In turn, the homeowner pays them for the power used.

These arrangements are not available everywhere, but it’s certainly worth investigating whether you can find a solar service provider in your neck of the woods who can boost the perceived value of the listing.

5.Built-ins (or faux ones)

Built-ins like desks, book shelves, closet systems and even kitchen recycling centers feel particularly luxurious because they offer a polished approach to efficient use of the space in a home, and often eliminate the need for bulky pieces of furniture.

You might be surprised to realize how affordable it can be to build a desk or closet organizer into your existing space. Or, get up to speed on all the off-the-shelf built-in alternatives that are on the market, like a kitchen nook dining set in lieu of a built-in banquette. Think creatively: placing a day bed under a window with a bookcase on each end is a fantastic alternative to building a window seat between built-in shelves. Look for built-in alternatives on Craigslist or Freecycle, then have it painted or reupholstered, to get a luxe, custom look at a very low price.

6. Dedicated Spaces

Like custom built-ins, dedicating a space to a particular favorite activity is a special luxury, even if the home is not otherwise especially luxurious. The idea here is to simply dedicate a space to an activity, painting it, installing the appropriate furniture and carving out a place for all the supplies that are involved in that activity. At my house, I just painted the office in bright colors that researchers have found to boost creativity, installing new project tables and bookshelves to facilitate the organization and stand-up work style I prefer. My friend A.G. has turned one bedroom into a room for her menagerie of pets—dogs and birds alike!


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Zillow Names Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home

Note: This article was written by Camile Salama and was originally posted on Zillow Blog (www.zillow.com/pro) on July 2, 2014. http://www.zillow.com/blog/vacation-homes-summer-2014-154939/

In the market for a second home close to your favorite vacation destination but worried you’ll have to spend all your hard-earned savings to afford one? Well, your dream may closer to reality than you think.

Today, Zillow introduces its new, semi-annual “Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home” list, ranking places based on location, price and investment potential. For the summer edition, we named the best places to buy if you are a golf lover, outdoor adventurer, amusement park enthusiast or seeking an oasis by the water.

Because all home shoppers are not created equal we built an interactive tool, allowing people to customize their own best places list based on their preferred vacation type, price and location. Try out the new tool on Zillow Research here and find the perfect city for your vacation home.

To see Zillow’s top places to buy a vacation home, check out the graphic below.



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Don’t Look for Design Inspiration in These 5 Places

Home improvement and construction samples  swatches blue prints

Note: This article was written by Jackie Hernandez and was originally posted on Trulia Blog (www.trulia.com/pro) on June 25, 2014. http://www.zillow.com/blog/bad-places-inspiration-home-design-154285/

Did you know that there are places to avoid when seeking home design inspiration?

When you look for design ideas, the best sources for inspiration will make you try something new that you can enjoy for the long haul.

You also want to enter the design process with the right mindset. Don’t get dangerously close to the edge of the comparison cliff — inches from plummeting into the abyss of “not good enough.”

To find design ideas that will work best for your home, don’t look to these five places for inspiration.

1.  Your Neighbors House

If it looks good in their house, it will certainly look good in yours, right? Wrong. It’s natural to look at other people’s homes, see something you like and wonder if it will look good in your home.

It may look good in your home. Except, then it will feel like their home.

If you spend too much time looking at everyone else’s decorating style, you’ll never find your own style. And nobody likes a copycat on the block.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Look inside your own home at what you already have and get real about what you love and what you don’t. Focus on multiplying what you already have and love.

2.  A Model Home

It’s so tempting to think the model (or staged) homes are a good place for inspiration. But model homes are about as boring as they come. In a model home the decorating is done:

  • By a pro, not a real person.
  • On an extreme budget, leaving the rooms looking a bit sparse.
  • To appeal to the widest audience possible in hopes of a quick sale.

It all leads to very bland decor, lacking in personality. No one hates it, but no one loves it either. Anytime you are decorating for the lowest common denominator — the average home buyer — the home can look plain and drab.

But checking out a model home can be quite beneficial. They are great for:

  • Looking at different floor plans to get a sense of the space and layout.
  • Seeing finishes, flooring, countertops and tile in person.

3.  Your Alter Ego

Moving out of your comfort zone is great and sometimes the only way to get a design you will truly love. You should try new things, but be careful about going to the extreme.

We all have that voice in our head that tricks us into thinking that different is better. When what you have now isn’t working the way you want, you lose patience when making small tweaks and assume you need to do something drastic.

It’s like when you hair is long and you want a new look. You don’t just get a trim, instead you lop off 10 inches. Thankfully, hair grows back.

Making such drastic changes in your home rarely has the same result as a fun, new, temporaryhaircut. And it isn’t quite as easy to get back to the way it was.

It’s called the alter ego for a reason. It’s not your true self. If you find yourself saying, “it’s totally not me, but …” — think again. The goal is for every room in your home to scream, “That’s so me!”

4. Your Mailbox

When your mailbox is filled to the brim with catalogs, it’s hard to resist taking a quick peek. The rooms are luxurious and perfect, like no one has ever slept on that bed or put their feet up on that coffee table — because no one has.

Rooms in a catalog aren’t real. Nobody lives in them. They are an interior stylist’s playground. So the bed can be positioned at a weird angle and the dining table can be cluttered with way too many things to actually dine there.

So, what can you learn about home decorating from a catalog? How to make a pretty bed, for one. Like the beds, most everything in catalogs is overdone, with two exceptions: lighting and wall decor. Most real homes have too little lighting and too many bare walls.

5.  The Magazine Aisle

Oh, the promise of pretty pictures and the tales of the people that really live in those homes. They do live there, but not in the way the pictures depict.

What makes the glossy pages of the magazine isn’t only the homeowner’s real stuff. It’s better. Sometimes their rug doesn’t show enough texture in the picture or they were missing a bench at the end of the bed. Follow enough bloggers or stylists on social media and you’ll see how many boxes of decor are shipped to a person’s house to get it ready for a photo shoot.

The rooms are beautiful and in your head you’re thinking, “No one really lives like that, right?!” You want to believe in your heart that it’s all a rouse. Rest assured, it is.

No one lives in the pages of a magazine. The designs are often impossible to recreate … unless a magazine editor and a professional stylist appear at your door with borrowed accessories and a magic touch.

Don’t compare your home to one from someone else’s magazine shoot. The homeowner likely has piles of paper on the countertop, too. Just outside the picture frame.


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3 Lethal Home Showing Killers (and How to Conquer Them)


Note: This article was written by Leonard Baron and was originally posted on Trulia Blog (www.trulia.com/pro) on June 20, 2014. http://www.trulia.com/pro/sellers/easy-hacks-for-getting-showing-ready-in-a-flash/

Just when you’re ready to breath a sigh of relief… You have taken the right photos. You’ve listed on the right websites. You’ve e-mailed, called, staged, and nurtured the leads. And now…it’s the home’s time to shine.

It’s time for the deal-making or -breaking showing, and then it happens. No response from the buyers agent, no offer, and another day on the market.

Why? The reason could be that one of these showing killers is sabotaging your hard work and ultimately delaying or killing the deal before you even get to the negotiation.


Love these tips? Share our download on the 10 hardcore staging tips for sellers with your clients!

1. The Odor of the Offerlessness

Showing successfully is about eliminating the obstacles that prevent buyers from seeing a homes value. One huge showing killer can be a home’s odor. Whether it’s the stench of cigarette smoke, pet odor, or an unfortunate bachelor’s “musk,” make sure you remember these handy hacks for eliminating the stinky showing killers you can’t see:

  • Bowl of Vinegar Overnight — Sit a bowl of vinegar in a smelly room overnight and it will help soak up the unwelcomed odor. Queen of Clean, Linda Cobb, also says that if you pour white vinegar over a towel, ring it out, and then wave it around in the room it can help soak up smells in a flash.
  • Happy Hour Spray — Add 2-parts water and 1-part cheap vodka into a spray bottle and spray almost any area in the room. The mixture grabs the smell and evaporates. Bonus tip: This is also called “poor man’s drycleaning” and used to freshen a suit when you don’t have time to hit the cleaners.
  • Have Coffee and an Orange — Coffee grounds and orange peels are great odor neutralizers. Add one of them to a bowl in the room, inside the trash can, or down the garbage disposal to help eliminate odors.

Yes, you could bake cookies too, but faintly oatmeal raisin covered stench might not go over as well as one would hope.

2. A Scummy Situation

Another thin layer that can stand between your sellers and a sale is soap scum. Two of the most important rooms to show are the kitchen and bathroom. Unfortunately, these two have the biggest chance of (1) being used right before a showing and (2) carrying the showing killer called soap scum.

The Glove and the Dryer Sheet
If you find a filmy listing and you want to get rid of the soap scum in quickly, grab a plastic glove and a dryer sheet. Cover your hand with the glove and wipe away the scum in a fast with a dryer sheet. This is one of the fastest ways to clean tubs, showers, sinks, and countertops in a flash.

3. The “Necessary” Clutter

Clutter’s a killer. This we know. However, the battle with many clients is that the clutter meets a need and storage is the real problem. To find a happy medium and offer sellers a stylish option for putting things away, suggest some of these chic basket options.


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Top 10 Real Estate Investor Mistakes


Note: This article was written by Leonard Baron and was originally posted on Zillow Blog (www.zillow.com/blog) on June 13, 2014. http://www.zillow.com/blog/real-estate-investor-mistakes-153599/

Many people have learned that Investing in real estate is not as easy as it seems. At least that is true for investors trying to get a fair deal. For those of us who have been investing for years, and learned many hard and expensive lessons, here are issues you should think through, understand, and consider before jumping into the real estate investing arena. These are in no particular order, since an individual would be smart to read and think through each and every “lesson learned” in the list.

1. Not penciling out your real estate deal

This describes about 80 percent or more of real estate investors.

They don’t take the time to put pencil to paper and make sure that the rental revenue from the property will be more than all the property expenses – and leave some monies left over to return to one’s bank account.

A negative cash flow property will virtually guarantee a measly – at best – investment return on your money.

2. Not penciling out your deal with conservative numbers

For those few fortunate ones who do know how to pencil out a deal, many use unrealistic numbers. They overestimate rental income, underestimate the vacancy, then underestimate the expenses associated with operating a property. That turns into low or negative investment returns for the property owner.

3. Getting renovation costs wrong

Most buyers have little idea how much it costs to renovate a property. They listen to the home inspector, their real estate agent, and just throw out a number like $25,000 for everything. Then they start getting bids for the work and quickly see it will actually cost $80,000 for everything. Word to the wise: Always do a lot of homework and be very conservative in your renovation budget estimates.

4. Underestimating renovation time

Additionally, inexperienced investors believe a good renovation can be done in 30 days, or 60 days. Many times it takes much longer to finish these projects than originally estimated. As a real estate buyer, you should talk to others who are experienced to get a realistic expectation of the time involved in a property rehabilitation.

5. Thinking something can only cost ‘that much’

It never does, it always costs more; many times much much more. So whatever the expense, renovation, service, contract, capital item, etc; chances are it will cost more than you think.

6. Thinking that stocks, bonds and real estate are all comparable investments

People often say they want to buy real estate to get better returns than their stock, bond or bank account can provide. Real estate is a unique asset that comes with clogged toilets, challenging tenants, nebbish neighbors, etc. It’s not an asset where you can invest and just look at an account statement every few months like you could with a stock, mutual fund or bond. Owning rental properties is a business, it can be time consuming and stressful. Make sure that makes sense for you before you buy.

7. Thinking it’s a “turn-key” real estate deal

Earning money with almost no work on the investor’s part? Never! Not going to happen!

8. Believing that flipping properties is investing

Flipping is “speculating” for most real estate buyers. Unfortunately, most lose money. Sure, it looks easy on TV and those shows are fascinating! I personally enjoy watching them; but they are not realistic. Not everything you see on TV or the Internet is true you know…..

9. Thinking that real estate is low risk

There are all kinds of risk issues that come along with owning real estate. Many an investor can mitigate and/or remove some of those with prudent behavior and the proper due diligence. Most investors do not do any of that, leaving them exposed to a myriad of items and issues that can and sometimes do become financially painful.

10. Believing what others say about their “profitable” real estate investing acumen

There is also no way to verify what someone else is telling you about how they did on their real estate investments – unless they show you their tax returns and credit report. But since people love to boast, we often only hear about the winners, not the losers. Many times the statements from those supposed “winners” are embellished with questionable claims. Be careful, do your own homework, but verify your own conclusions.

Those are many mistakes that investors can make. Some are very challenging to mitigate. Experience will teach you a multitude of lessons over your real estate investing career. Just try to avoid the big expensive ones that could clobber you; and end your investing career before it even gets off the ground.


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Why You Shouldn’t Rush Through the Final Walk-Through

See, hear, speak no evil

Note: This article was written by Brendon Desimone and was originally posted on Zillow Blog (www.zillow.com/blog) on June 6, 2014. http://www.zillow.com/blog/final-walk-through-153502/

The final walk-through in real estate was designed so that the buyer could literally “walk through” one last time before the closing. From time to time, a buyer and seller will have negotiated any number of fixes during escrow. The walk-through gives the buyer an opportunity to make sure all the agreed-upon work has been done to specifications and that everything is in working order.

Sometimes, buyers are so excited to close that they quickly whisk through the walk-through without taking time to inspect the property. This can lead to small issues once the buyers take ownership. On the other hand, the final walk-through can raise both positive and negative emotions during this final part of the sale process.

It’s smart to think things through and take the walk-through seriously. Don’t see it as simply checking a box.

Here are some things buyers should consider before and during their walk-through.

Don’t do the walk-through the day of closing

A walk-through can uncover repairs that need to be made, but that you didn’t know about before. If you do the walk-through the same day as the closing, there may not be time to get things remedied. It’s not uncommon for two walk-throughs to happen. The first identifies some issues for the buyer, and the second makes sure those issues were addressed.

Check the power outlets

Nowadays with mobile phones, it’s easy to plug a phone in and out of all of the outlets to make sure the electricity works. You want to avoid moving in all your stuff, only to realize some outlets don’t work and you lack light in a bedroom. Bring your phone and charger to the walk-through and test all the outlets. It’s quick and easy.

Be on the lookout for the sellers’ leftover junk

Sellers are notorious for leaving junk behind, so take the time to check the garage, attic and under the deck. The sellers may just assume you want their old paint cans or a propane tank for a future grill. In fact, they should leave the place completely empty. At times some left-behinds, such as the paint, can be toxic or require special provisions for disposing. (In one situation, a seller left behind all kinds of used oil that needed to go to a certain, state-approved car repair shop to be disposed of properly.) These unwanted items become yours after you close.

Be prepared for a surprise

Often times, buyers fall in love with a home that’s full of furniture, art and belongings. They see it as a home and remember a warm feeling. Fast-forward to the close of escrow and you’re faced with an empty home, which can feel cold, sterile or hollow. Buyers are often surprised by how they feel entering an empty home. Not only is it absent any furniture and “stuff,” but sometimes an empty home shows its imperfections, too. The sun may have slightly bleached floors, showing the outline of a rug. There may be carpet stains or holes in the wall from a flat screen TV or paintings. An empty home tends to show poorly, so prepare yourself before the walk-through.

The journey toward homeownership is often a long one, filled with lots of excitement and ups and downs. The final walk-through is one of the very last steps of what could be a multiple-year process. Consider the walk-through in advance and prepare for it mentally, emotionally and physically. Know what you want to look for, have a checklist and keep your emotions and feelings in check. Doing so will make for a smooth ride to the close of escrow.


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