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Friday, June 22, 2018

The Scary Prospect of Hiring a Contractor for Your Kitchen Renovation

It's been a while since I posted about my kitchen renovation, but I have been working on it. I've finalized the design, chosen cabinets and doors, decided on two versions of appliances (high and low, in case I need to cut budget), obtained building plans from my co-op and confirmed that the wall I want to remove is not a retaining wall. Then... crickets. I know. Truth is, I'm in a quandary about the contractor. My go-to contractor's timeline has slipped. He called with his reasons, and I do understand. The same attention to detail that he gives my projects is right now laser focused on finishing up someone's brownstone in Brooklyn. The question is, do I wait for him—a known entity? Or do I hire someone I've never worked with before? There are risks both ways it seems to me. Tell me, what would you do?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Fixer Upper Friday: 2 BR + Office in Laburnum Court - $559k

This week's Fixer Upper find is a 2BR + office, located in Laburnum Court at 37-16 80th Street, #42 in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of NYC, asking $559k. The same classic 6-room layout in this co-op building just sold for $670k in February of last year, so there is at the very least $110k of instant equity on the line—likely more, as sales prices have been climbing this past year in this architecturally significant neighborhood. For a prospective buyer willing to tap into that instant equity and renovate a home exactly to their taste, it's certainly worth a look.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Least Expensive "True" Counter-Depth Refrigerator Solutions

You often hear that appliances come in standard sizes—but don't believe it. A quick check of the actual cabinet dimensions of so-called "standard" 36-inch refrigerators reveals a great deal of variation. Widths vary, and so do depths. And nowhere is this more apparent than when you're shopping for a "counter-depth" fridge. A true counter-depth fridge will cost you several thousand dollars more than a conventional refrigerator, and even then there will still be a good three inches of door protruding past the countertops. (Believe it!) If you're looking for a truly streamlined look, here are your options.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Marble Maintenance: Sealing Marble Is No Big Deal

Cadogan Hotel, London, Via Hotels Combined   
When I designed the bathroom in our 1940s home, I wanted it to look classic, timeless. Not a slavish devotion to 1940s era bathrooms, but a good fit with the period of our building. In short, I wanted it to feel as if it had always been there. My inspiration was a bathroom in the Lillie Langtry suite at the Cadogan hotel in London, where I'd recently stayed. It had an old cast iron deep soaking tub, trimmed in marble. When I started to show people my design, I was surprised at all the horrified reactions. "Oh the upkeep!" "You'll be sorry!" "You'll have to seal it every year." So, I'm here to set the record straight: Sealing marble is no. big. deal.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Fixer Upper Friday: A 2BR for $399k in the Wilshire House in Jackson Heights

This week's Fixer Upper find is a 2BR located at 34-15 74th Street, 6E in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of NYC listed for just $399k. Renovated 2BR/1BA homes in this neighborhood are going for upwards of $600k, so there's a good $200k of instant equity on the line for some lucky buyer to tap and renovate a home exactly to your taste. Let's take a look.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Financing Your Renovation: What a HELOC Appraiser Is Looking For in a New York City Co-Op Home

Whether you're renovating to resell or to stay in your home and enjoy your design upgrades for years to come, a HELOC can be a good way to finance your renovation. Though it doesn't come with as rigorous a screening process as a first mortgage, a HELOC does require a bit of paperwork. And once you're pre-approved, the lender will order an appraisal. This won't be exactly like the appraisal when you sold your last home — so put down the grout cleaner. Here's what a HELOC appraiser is looking for.

If you've come this far, you've already jumped through some hoops. The lender asked questions about properties you own, your income, and expenses. They ran a credit check and you passed with flying colors. Now the appraisal.

Though hired by the lender, a HELOC appraisal can be viewed as safeguard for both borrower and lender. By providing an up-to-the-minute, accurate valuation of the equity you have in your home, it protects you from borrowing too much against the value of your home (and getting into financial trouble) and it protects the lender from loaning too much.

The Basic Calculation
Banks will generally lend 75-90% of the value of a home for a HELOC — after subtracting the amount you still owe on your mortgage.


A home appraises for $500,000.  The owner still owes $100,000 on the mortgage. Subtract what's still owed from the appraisal value and there's $400,000. The bank will lend at least 75% of that, or $360k.

So, what is the appraiser looking at in a NYC co-op?

Location and Size
What neighborhood is the home located in, how many square feet of living space, what floor it's located on, and what are the views. These can all come into play. Also, if there's any outdoor space, such as a terrace, rooftop deck, or yard.

How old is the unit and how old is the building? Are there signs of deterioration in the building? Is there work being done that could mean an assessment for the shareholders. Have renovations and upgrades been made recently, and if so, have features been added since the last appraisal?

Design and Quality of Fixtures
Once inside your unit, the appraiser will be evaluating the quality of construction and finish work that have already been done. They'll look at the makes and models of the fixed appliances, and any defining features in the current home, such as the view from the windows or architectural details like hardwood floors, cove ceilings, plaster, stone, moldings, and original woodwork.

Is the building a doorman building? Is there a parking garage, bike room, fitness room, or communal garden or rooftop?

Preparing for the Appraiser
You really don't need to do any prep work to meet your appraiser, and you can also strike most DIY tasks off your list. The number one thing on your plate is simply to tidy up the place. A clean house makes it easier for the appraiser to see the beauty and improvements in your home.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Scherr's Versus Semihandmade White Shaker Doors That Fit IKEA Sektion Cabinets

There's a growing trend in homeowners choosing IKEA cabinet boxes and organizational inserts but sourcing their doors elsewhere, and it's dominating Houzz discussion boards lately. If you're looking for doors made to fit, with the bored holes for IKEA's European style concealed hinges already carved out and ready to go, there are several companies providing custom doors for IKEA. I've looked at all of them, and with samples in, I'm proclaiming the winner in the category of already-painted white Shaker is Scherr's. Here's why.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Free Kitchen Design Apps to Make Your Floor Plans, Mood Board, and Renderings

As your kitchen plan comes together and you start speaking with vendors and interviewing contractors, it's really helpful to have something to show them that's more than just a collection of inspirational photos you saved on Houzz or Pinterest. Contractors, especially, can get overwhelmed by too many photos. So, I like to boil it down to just one inspirational photo, floor plans, and a drawing — and I keep them on me at all times, just a click away on my phone or in dropbox. It's not difficult, and a lot of the apps you need are free. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

What Lenders Look for in a Renovation Appraisal

This kitchen renovation, for so long just a gleam in my iPad, is becoming a reality, and that's exciting. I'll be paying for a good deal of it out of pocket, but I'll need to borrow additional funds. Let's take a look at the number-one thing a lender looks for to approve renovation financing: Will the current value of the home support the current mortgage loan amount plus the renovation amount you want to borrow.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Financing and Return on Investment for a Major Kitchen Renovation

Via Berkshire Green
The kitchen renovation I've been dreaming of has finally arrived, and I'll be paying for a good deal of it out of pocket. But adding up cost estimates so far for cabinets, countertops, and appliances, I can see I'll need additional funds. Financing a renovation isn't a topic many home blogs cover, so I thought I'd share my discovery process. Let's take a look at the cost of a major kitchen renovation and the estimated return on investment (ROI).