Clean-up Tips for your lawn moving into Fall and Winter

Fall is almost here. Read the tips below to ensure your lawn has the best chance to thrive next year.

This summer has been hot and dry. You may have had it with your lawn. It’s natural. After summer winds down, the tendency is to put lawn care on the back burner until spring blooms anew. But by taking time to put your yard and landscape “to bed” in fall, your lawn will reap the rewards. Give your lawn a healthy start next spring by managing these 10 fall tasks.

  1. feed your lawnFeed your lawn. Think of fall fertilization as refueling and replenishing your lawn after a long, hot summer. Fall fertilization will help maintain your lawn’s root health and replenish nutrients that were expended in summer months. Fall feedings should be timed when plants are still absorbing nutrients, so don’t wait too long. Depending on your region, fall feeding can take place beginning on Labor Day or into early October.
  2. Remember to water. Before you put away that watering can and retire your sprinklers for the season, remember that thriving plants are still thirsty. Water early in the day to avoid evaporation and disease development. And water deep: When you see moisture soak into the soil of container plants and beds, apply another dose.
  3. healthy lawnAir out the soil. Thatch build-up and foot traffic can compact soil, which cuts off oxygen and nutrient supply to the roots. Aeration loosens soil and literally airs out the earth. Soil plugs that are removed can be left on the lawn they will eventually break down, providing nutrients to your lawn. Balding turf, matted-down grass, sparse new growth, pools of water and tough ground are signs you need to aerate.
  4. Level and reseed. Start spring on level ground by filling ruts and low spots where water collects now. Early fall is the best time to reseed a lawn so turf roots establish before winter. Loosen soil with a dethatching rake, add a soil amendment and evenly apply seed.
  5. Divide plants. If your perennials are overcrowded, fall is an ideal time to divide the root ball and replant. Cutting back the plants prior to transplanting can help reduce shock.
  6. Plant fall bulbs. Plant in fall to enjoy spring’s first blooms – crocus, daffodil, tulip. The best time to plant is after the first frost so the bulbs will stay cool all winter. Dig holes for bulbs and fertilize before replacing soil.
  7. Pick up leaves. Fall cleanup will save time for gardening come spring, and clearing your lawn of leaves and sticks will prevent the heavy, wet foliage from suffocating the turf. Dark, moist environments are breeding grounds for disease.
  8. Mow low. Make the last mowing of the season a short cut since you’ll retire lawn equipment until spring comes around again.
  9. Decorate for the holidays. Fall is the time to think festive! Draw attention to your landscape with lighting, and find ways to incorporate a pop of color by filling containers with seasonal selections – mums for fall.
  10. Clean up. Wash down the patio furniture and store it for the season. Make sure to pick up toys so they don’t get buried or lost.

If your family is like mine, before you know it summer is over, kids are going back to school and we begin to space out lawn maintenance from week to week to a more “every two weeks” routine. I hope these tips help you prepare for fall lawn maintenance sooner and more frequently!

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee

a cup of coffeeIn today’s world, we are never too far from a cup of coffee. Whether it’s in your office or the coffee shop across the street, you can always get your fix of caffeine. But usually the office coffee is subpar at best and the coffee shop charges $5.00 for a small. If you want good coffee at a reasonable price, the best way to go is to brew your own.

  • The beans: The most basic necessity for any cup of coffee are the beans use. There are two different types: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is considered superior due to its low acidity and difficulty to grow. Robusta is easier and cheaper, but has a harsher acidity. Most generic coffee brands used Robusta because of this.
  •  The roast: The roasting of the bean is part what gives it its unique flavor. The amount of heat over time separates them into three different types.
    • Light: Light is, for the most part, what you would expect. It has delicate flavors and a lighter taste; however, it usually contains a higher amount of caffeine, due to a shorter roasting period.
    • Medium: Medium is the most common roast. Used in many breakfast blends, it has a great balance of taste and strength.
    • Dark: What most people consider to be “strong” coffee, it actually has a lower amount of caffeine due to the roasting process. Very bitter, it is often used to make espresso or french press coffee.
    • Blends: A blend is any mixing of different kinds of beans. There is no set kind of “blend,” Each and every one is different. Mixing the beans creates flavors that wouldn’t be possible with only one kind. You can buy pre-made blends or pick any different beans to use together.
  • The grind: In order to make coffee, you usually shoot hot water through coffee grounds. The finer the grinds, the stronger the coffee is. Different kinds of coffee call for different grind sizes. Espresso and Turkish coffee are the finest grinds, almost to the consistency of powder, while drip coffee is very coarse.
  • The drink: There are countless kinds of coffee drinks you can make ranging from straight black to mixing soda, coffee, cream and more. There are a few basics though.
    • Americano: One part espresso and two parts hot water. The taste of espresso in a regular cup of coffee.
    • Latte: Two parts coffee and one part milk. A cup of coffee less harsh than black.
    • Mocha: One part espresso and one part steamed milk with added chocolate drizzle. A sweet and satisfying cup.
    • Cappuccino: One part espresso, one part hot milk and one part steamed milk foam.

Learning and investing in making your own coffee is a great way to save money and enjoy your coffee more.

Take a Look at This Drool-Worthy Kitchen Design

image-kitchenThe kitchen is the heart of a household. It provides light, warmth, and most of all, food. Kitchens should be comfortable, efficient, and functional. Here is this week’s drool-worthy kitchen design.

Close mouth, mop up drool.

We like to call it ‘Ceramic and Stone’. This kitchen is designed to be open, light, and roomy. The center island is made up of a dining counter, gas stovetop, and the piece de resistance: A built in fireplace. The exhaust hood is modern and sleek, barely drawing any attention, and the sink is situated directly behind the island for easy access. We love the use of natural wood, white enamel, and slate to create a modern cabin atmosphere.

Despite the rustic feel, the appliances are state of the art. Built in refrigeration units in the corner and under sink dishwasher seem to melt into the room, unusually inconspicuous.

The reason that this kitchen was deemed drool worthy was the innovative storage concept. Instead of wall-to-wall cabinetry, the designer opted for shelving. This makes for ease of access and makes the room appear much more open.  This provides relief to the flat stone ceiling’s oppressive closeness.

This is definitely a room to have friends or family over for a nice meal, or perhaps to enjoy the morning paper over coffee and buns. That is, if we can concentrate on the paper. The room is just too pretty to ignore!

Simple tips to increase counter space at your kitchen

One of the most frequent design requests we see every day is “I want to improve or increase counter space in my new IKEA kitchen”. With a smart IKEA kitchen design, it is possible to make your space work. For a busy cook, lack of a proper work space can really be a nightmare: Where are you going to chop those vegetables? Where are you going to leave those sizzling pots of chili while you wash the dishes? If you’re thinking of changing your kitchen layout, we have some tips to increase your counter space that you probably haven’t considered. Take a look:

How to increase counter space at your kitchen in 5 simple steps:

1. Use multi-purpose, built-in appliances Do you really need that 8-burner gas range if you only have a family of 3? Do you need that microwave sitting on the counter and a separate oven? Why not placing both on a tall cabinet and free up some space? Using multi-purpose appliances such as a convection-microwave oven or a microwave-hood combination will not only save you money, it also save you space both at counters and cabinets. It’s a smart choice. v-2 2. Downsize your sink or dishwasher If you’re leaving in a condo, it may be a good idea to consider a 24″ wide sink or an 18″-wide dishwasher. These are amenities that can increase both storage and counter space. To make them blend in with your kitchen, you could use an undermount or an apron-front sink, such as the DOMSJO sink from IKEA. Or you could use a panel-ready dishwasher and simply use an 18″-wide door front to integrate it with the rest of your kitchen cabinets.

small-appliances

3. Avoid cabinets or appliances sitting on the counter

This basically the same as tip #1, but this also applies to those tall appliance garages or fancy hutch arrangements with glass doors. Sure, they look nice but… Isn’t your counter and work space more valuable? If you need an appliance garage, try to use the back of a corner. That space is hard to reach and wasted most of the time anyway.

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4. Use drawers instead of shelves in base cabinets

Drawers store more. Much more. Keep your pans, small appliances and spice jars there, not on the counter. The more you can stash and hide away, the better.

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5. Minimize the amount of specialized appliances and dedicated storage

If you have a small kitchen, space needs to be used wisely. Think again: do you really need that huge coffee maker, that stand mixer, the capuccino machine, the panini press, the electric grill and the food processor sitting on the counter at all times? How about that wine cooler, the china cabinet or the linen drawers at your kitchen? Maybe not.

What are the best brushes for staining?

staining-brushesThe best brushes for staining furniture are those that work on multiple furniture projects. Brushes are the most versatile stain applicator. They’re used to apply clear, semi-transparent or semi-solid viscous stains. Brushes are used to apply solid color stains over previous coats of paint or solid stains. Brushes can be used to apply stains to raw new surfaces or those previously stains. Brushes allow for greater application control and offer deep penetration of stain into wood pores.

High Quality Stain Brushes

Buy the best quality brushes you can afford and then clean thoroughly after use. They will be worth the cost. Professional painters purchase the best brushes and maintain these high quality brushes for years, as these are literally the tools of their profession. Get a good tool once and use it for years. Do not buy something that will cause frustration and become a throwaway after one use.

Good brushes make the task of applying stain easier: the brushes hold larger amounts of product, allowing the painter to make a smooth, even application in less time. The best brush makes the finished stain look better, too. Delivering more stain into the wood with each stroke and allowing it to lock and dry properly.

A lesser quality brush can cause the painter to exert 25 percent more effort, and a poor quality brush adds up to 80 percent more time to the project, says author Tom Philbin in “Perfect Exterior Staining.” (2004) A poor quality brush could add up to three hours to a four-hour furniture project. Philbin says that the poor quality brush won’t yield as attractive results even with extra effort!

Natural Bristles For Staining Cabinets

When applying oil-based stains, use only natural bristle brushes. These natural hair bristles are sometimes called “China bristle” because many of the wild hogs or boars used to make the bristles originate there.

If you insist on buying cheap brushes, make sure to remove the loose bristles. Bristles that come off the brush when staining or painting will stick to whatever you are working on. To fix this problem get some tape and wrap it around your hand; adhesive on the outside. Then press the tape on the brush. Keep doing this until all the loose bristles are off. A sticky lint roller works well for this too.

Cabinet stains come in oil and water-based varieties. If using a traditional oil-based type, use a natural brush. To protect the wood from stain blotches, use a thin coat of wood conditioning before applying stain. The conditioner should stay on the wood for 10 to 15 minutes to dry. (No need to sand the conditioner.)

  1. Stir the oil-based stain before applying to make sure the pigments and dyes mix with the mineral spirits.
  2. Apply the stain to cabinets with a brush, working with and against the grain.
  3. Focus on putting a generous coat of stain on the wood.
  4. To lighten the stain, wipe some off; to deepen the stain, leave on for at least five to 10 minutes prior to wiping.

All excess stain in the direction of the wood grain should be removed: this step guarantees that the stain has soaked into the wood and shows the wood grain to advantage.

Expect to pay at least $25-$30 for a high quality brush suitable for cabinet work. Avoid natural bristles with water-based stain. Natural bristles absorb too much product–as much as 40 percent of the hollow bristles fill up for a soggy result. Older brushes (manufactured before World War II) are always natural hair brushes. Paint from that era was oil-based.

Synthetic Bristles For Decks

Water-based deck stains continue in popularity because these stains are longer-lasting and durable when compared to oil-based varieties. Water-based formulas are easier to use: the water-based stains wash with soap and warm water. Because they aren’t made with solvents, painters breathe freely. Water-based deck stains wear better and are resistant to the elements. Wood needn’t be fully dry to use the oil-based stain. They dry faster than oil-based varieties and they’re a better green alternative. A high quality synthetic brush for the deck starts at about $50, and the stain brush can be used to maintain the deck when it starts to discolor or gray. Add wood brightener, then a light coat of stain to seal.

Disposable foam brushes work well for application of polyurethane. To avoid the challenge of cleaning this sticky substance from fine bristle brushes, or for a fast touch-up, foam brushes save the day. If you really need a throwaway stain applicator, foam brushes are your best bet. They provide a good surface area staining and can be cheap enough to toss out. They can cost $1-$3 for a simple small to medium sized brush.

Is the Thermostat getting “Smart”???

honeywell_prestige_hdYou may have heard the big news recently about Google acquiring smart thermostat manufacturer, Nest Labs, for $3.2 billion. But why would tech giant Google be willing to pay so much money for thermostats?

First off, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “smart thermostat,” you’re not alone. In the most general sense, “smart thermostat” refers to thermostats that can connect to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection. Once connected, consumers can control their thermostats remotely through a mobile app or on the Internet. Did you forget to turn the heat down before you left the house today? Not a problem—there’s an app for that! Maybe you’re spending a summer weekend in the mountains, but forgot to turn off the air conditioner. Again, don’t worry—just turn it off using your phone!

But that’s not all, many smart thermostats can be programmed by asking simple questions about your schedule during installation, then they raise and lower the heat/cooling to match your schedule. They are much easier to program than past customizable thermostats, or in the case of Nest’s thermostat, it can actually learn your schedule and tailor a program based on how you use it.

Smart thermostats also offer a variety of features that can help owners use less energy such as:

  • Reminders to change air filters
  • Pop-up icons to alert owners when temperature changes they made are saving them energy
  • Alerts that detect when an air conditioner’s efficiency is declining and likely needs maintenance
  • Reports that show customers their heating and cooling energy usage month-over-month

All of these features empower customers to make smart decisions about their energy usage, which can save them money while also adding to their overall convenience and comfort.

Nest-ThermostatNest has earned much of the attention of the smart thermostat market, especially since the Google announcement, but it’s not the only company offering smarter thermostats: ecobee, Ecofactor, EnergyHub, and Honeywell all offer devices with similar feature sets. Let’s face it though—thermostats don’t drum up the same interest and enthusiasm as the latest smart phone or gaming console. But perhaps they should, and Google is betting that they will in the not-so-distant future.

5 Things New Home Buyers Look for First

The real estate market is so huge these days that people that want to sell a house need to make sure that everything is in a perfect state. And not only that – they should also try to make the most important features stand out in order to make the potential buyers even more interested in their particular house.

Nobody buys a house without looking around for awhile, so it is necessary to get the property into the ideal state. Of course, there are some things that new home buyers look for first – and those are the things that you should focus on in your preparations the most. In this article, we are going to look at some of the top ones.

patioPatio

Patio might not be the most important feature for many buyers, but it is a feature that has a huge influence on the buyer’s first impressions and we all know how important that factor might turn out to be. Someone who will have to walk through a patio that is in a state of disrepair is surely not going to regard the entire property very highly. On the other hand, a well-designed patio with seasonal decorations that is kept in a good state might have the opposite effect on the potential buyer, so make sure that your patio is indeed going to start the inspection on a high note.

Roof

When it comes to exterior features, roof is one of those things that stand out the most and any deficiencies in that department are going to be noticed by everyone who will want to take an in-depth look at the property. This is especially true in locations that experience their fair share of bad weather and where it is a really good idea to have a roof of the best possible quality. You might not be willing to invest into a complete renovation, but you should undoubtedly fix the most obvious problems in order to make your house more attractive.

Layout

With the exterior out of the way, the layout is what is going to hit the buyers straight away. Changing the layout is an incredibly tough task and, unfortunately, you will have to pitch your layout a little bit if it isn’t designed according to the current trends and tendencies. One of the things that modern families like to have is shared space between the living room and the kitchen. You are obviously not going to change the entire layout just because you have the two rooms separate from each other, but you should know how to convince the buyer that this is no issue at all if the topic comes up during the inspection.

Indoor Decor

One thing that can be changed more easily is the indoor decor – and you should definitely try to make it as neutral as possible. Neutral and conservative colors are going to appeal to a much wider audience than eccentric colors like dark red. You might love to live in rooms with that kind of aesthetic features, but chances are that the buyers would prefer to come into a place that has a neutral decor and color palette. Thankfully, it is not that hard or expensive to change this particular feature and you should therefore surely consider changing it even before you put your house on the market.

Infrastructure

Finally, everyone who is satisfied enough with what he or she sees will certainly want to take a look at the house’s infrastructure. We are talking about the most basic things – water, electricity, and heating. Every single house has an infrastructure, but customers tend to be very picky these days. First and foremost, everything needs to be in a perfect state – nobody will want to buy a house in which the heating system will have to be changed in the near future.

With that out of the way, home buyers also tend to look for how efficient all those systems are, especially when it comes to environmental friendliness. Solar panels seem to be what the craze is mostly about these days – and innovative solutions like that can certainly make your house stand out from the rest of the market. So don’t forget to mention them during the inspection!

Poll: The Reasons Why People Moved in 2012

WhyPeopleMove2012

Infographic found @ KCM Blog

Based on these numbers, over 30% of American’s that moved this past year moved because the needed an upgrade, a better neighborhood, etc… At Heritage Homecrafters, we offer solutions to your upgrade needs! Call us today!

Home Building at 4 year high

Housing starts climbed unexpectedly in October, a sign that the recent recovery in housing is continuing.

The pace of home building rose to its highest level in more than four years in October, according to a government reading issued Tuesday.

The Census Bureau report showed builders started construction at an annual pace of 894,000 homes last month, up 3.6% from the pace in September. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast a slight slowdown in building.

The stronger-than-expected report came because of a surge in construction of buildings with five or more residences in them. Single-family home starts remained little changed from September. But the September and October readings were the two best months for single-family home starts since 2008 as well.

Applications for building permits slipped 2.7% to an annual pace of 866,000. Despite that decline, the October reading was stronger than any month other than September over the course of the last four years.

Housing starts have soared about 42% from year-earlier levels, while permits are up about 30%. Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank, says the recovery in housing is coming at a critical time for the overall U.S. economy, as the lift it was getting from exports and capital spending by businesses had started to slow.

The housing market has been showing numerous other signs of recovery in recent months. Demand for homes have been helped by mortgage rates at record lows.
The Federal Reserve’s decision to buy $40 billion in mortgages every month is likely to keep rates low for the foreseeable future. The low mortgage rates, coupled with affordable housing prices and an improving jobs market have helped to restart home sales.

Foreclosures have fallen to a five-year low, reducing the supply of distressed homes available on the market. And four years of depressed levels of home building have cut the supply of new homes on the market to nearly record lows, according to a separate government report.

All these factors have helped to lift home prices and get builders back building again. So Tuesday’s report is just one more sign that the long-awaited housing recovery is taking hold.

New Home Sales Holding Steady Through August

Following a substantial gain in July, the pace of new-home sales held virtually unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000 units in August, according to newly released figures from HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau.

“New-home sales in August effectively tied the pace they set in the previous month, when they were the strongest we’ve seen in more than two years — so this is really a continuation of the good news we’ve been getting on the housing front,” says Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. “Looking at the big picture, sales have been trending gradually upward since the middle of last year as favorable interest rates and prices have driven more consumers to get back in the market for a newly built home.”

“This latest report indicates that new-home sales continue to run at a steady pace that’s well ahead of what we were seeing this time last year, and at this rate, the third quarter of 2012 is going to be well ahead of the second quarter,” notes NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “That said, the razor-thin inventory of new homes for sale is very concerning because it indicates that builders aren’t able to access the credit they need to build new homes as demand for them improves.”

Crowe also observed that the share of new homes sold in the higher price ranges ($400,000 and above) rose significantly in August. “This reflects the fact that people who are able to buy homes right now are those in higher-income ranges who have cash and equity on hand, while first-time buyers are having a tougher time getting qualified for a mortgage,” he said.

Regionally, new-home sales gained in all but one area of the country this August, with the Northeast, Midwest and West posting increases of 20 percent, 1.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. The South was the only region to post a decline, of 4.9 percent.

Meanwhile, the inventory of new homes for sale held at an historic low of just 141,000 units in August, which is a 4.5-month supply at the current sales pace.

For more information, visit www.Nahb.org.

Housing recovery blossoms

The U.S. housing industry — crucial to any jobs recovery — showed more signs of strength, according to two reports issued Wednesday.

The Census Bureau said housing starts and permits rose substantially in August. Separately, sales of previously occupied homes climbed 7.8% from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Builders started on new homes at an annual rate of 750,000, up 29.1% compared with a year earlier. They applied to build another 803,000 new homes on an annual basis, a 24.5% jump compared with August 2011.

Home builders have become increasingly bullish — a confidence index from the National Association of Home Builders reached its highest level since June 2006.

Even after recent gains, housing starts lag well behind the peak set in May 2005, when the pace of building hit more than 2 million homes.

If sales continue to gain steam, that could help the nation break out of its economic doldrums. Home building provides many good-paying jobs, about three hires for every home built in a year, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

A rebound would create other jobs too: factory jobs at carpet and furniture makers, for example. Truckers get work transporting all those goods.

Most housing markets around the nation have reached a good balance between sellers and buyers, according to the Realtors’ chief economist, Lawrence Yun. There’s a 6.1 month supply of homes on the market at the current pace of sales. That’s down from 6.4 months in July and 8.2 months a year earlier. The lower supply provides some support for prices.

The housing market has shown several signs of life over the last few months with sales of existing homes, new home sales and home prices all turning positive.

Historically low mortgage rates have helped propel the market forward. This week, rates appear to be headed for new lows, following last week’s announcement from the Federal Reserve that it would begin to purchase tens of billions in mortgage securities each month.

The Fed’s move “provided the financial support to the mortgage market and signaled an intention to keep rates low for the foreseeable future,” said John Tashjian, who runs a real estate investment fund, Centurian Real Estate Partners.

According to Tashjian, the real benefit of the Fed’s action could be to increase lending volume. The banks, knowing that any well underwritten mortgage will find a ready market, should be more willing to approve mortgages.

Prices are on the upswing as well. They have benefited from a change in the mix of homes sold with distressed properties — repossessed homes and short sales — accounting for only 22% of total sales, down from 31% last August.

The median home price grew 9.5% year-over-year to $187,400. That marked the sixth consecutive month of price increases, the first time that has happened since May 2006, near the very peak of the housing price boom.

Overall the housing market continues to improve and rates remain at an all time low. Maybe its time to give Heritage Home Crafters a call and let us show you your dream home today!

The Finances of Renting versus Buying

Trulia reported this week that homeownership is 45% cheaper than renting in the United States. Jed Kolko, Trulia’s Chief Economist explained:

“Homeownership is cheaper than renting in all of the 100 largest metros, by a wide margin. Despite the recent price rebound, rents continue to rise faster than prices, and mortgage rates are near record lows.

Homeownership makes the most financial sense for people whose strong credit scores let them snag the lowest mortgage rate and who get the biggest benefit from deducting mortgage interest and property taxes from their income taxes.”

This news did not come as a surprise to us as we have heard reports lately that today’s rental market definitely favors the landlord. Below is a graph of how rental prices have increased recently and where they are projected to go over the next few years based on a report from Marcus & Millichap.

It cost more to rent than own right now. And you don’t get any of your rent back in the future. History shows us, in the long term, you can build equity in a home. Dr. Ken Johnson earlier this year explained in a post on this blog:

“It appears that homeownership creates extra wealth mainly through its ability to force owners to save rather than through property appreciation. Thus, homeownership appears to be a self-imposed savings plan, which through time leads to greater wealth accumulation as compared to comparable renters. In short, buying a home makes Americans save.”

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University released a study last year titled America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Building on Opportunities. In the study, they actually quantified the difference in family wealth between renters and homeowners:

“[R]enters have only a fraction of the net wealth of owners. Near the peak of the housing bubble in 2007, the median net wealth of homeowners was $234,600—about 46 times the $5,100 median for renters. Even if homeowner wealth fell back to 1995 levels, it would still be 27.5 times the median for renters.”

What Does This All Mean?

We believe David Shulman, senior economist with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate said it best:

“The American Dream of homeownership may be comatose, but it is not dead, and the wake-up call will come in the form of higher rents.”

So with rates looking to stay low for years to come and renting on the rise, isn’t it time to give us a call and lets talk about your custom home dreams and let us make them a reality!

Housing Market Recovering with Record Low Mortgage Rates

The U.S. housing sector was ready to rebound while the construction industry continued to struggle on the jobs front, said U.S. mortgage giant Freddie Mac on Wednesday in a report.

Record low mortgage rates, supported by the Federal Reserve’s ” Operation Twist,” had fueled housing demand and led to a pickup in housing starts, home sales, and even house prices in many markets, said the report.

According to a weekly survey by Freddie Mac, the U.S. average 30- year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) was 3.62 percent in the week ending July 5, matching or hitting a new record low in 10 of the last 11 weeks.

With lower rates, borrowers can substantially lower their monthly mortgage interest payments. These lower payments mean that homeowners have more funds left over each month to support either consumer spending or savings.

As consumer expenditures represent close to 70 percent of the U. S. gross domestic product, an improved household balance sheet and increased consumer spending will support economic activity in the second half of 2012 and a pickup in labor force growth, noted Freddie Mac.

Housing starts over the first five months of 2012 had averaged an annual rate of 719,000 units, a 26-percent jump from the year- ago period. New home sales went up 17 percent and existing home sales rose 7 percent, comparing January-to-May 2012 with the same period last year.

In June the U.S. housing production continued its upward trend with a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 760,000 units, up 6.9 percent from the previous month. This is the fastest pace of new- home construction since October 2008, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition, the U.S. nationwide median existing-home price for all housing types rose 7.9 percent to 182,600 dollars in May from a year ago, the third consecutive month of year-over-year price gains, said the U.S. National Association of Realtors, a leading trade association in the housing industry.

“While housing may not have played its traditional role coming out of the Great Recession, at the end of the day, it has turned a very large corner and now it’s time to get this sector back to work whether through construction jobs, remodeling, or home brokerage,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s vice president and chief economist.

However, the latest labor market reports showed that job creation continued but at a slower-than-expected pace during the second quarter. Overall, there was a net gain of 80,000 payroll jobs in June, bringing the total for the second quarter to 225,000, the lowest quarterly gain in employment in nearly two years and a lackluster result when compared to the first quarter’s 677,000 job boost.

Employment in construction and mortgage finance continues to lag behind job gains elsewhere. Over the past 12 months, overall payroll employment across all industries was up 1.8 million, yet construction employment was up a mere 13,000, well below the sector’s share of total employment — about 4.3 percent.

While the U.S. unemployment rate remained elevated at 8.2 percent in June, the jobless rate for the construction sector was 12.8 percent.

But housing demand has helped increase hiring in the construction sector on a year-over-year basis, and the unemployment rate for construction workers has fallen by 2.8 percentage points since June 2011.

Building the Perfect Home Theatre Room

The home theater planning process is often one of those things that is taken for granted. Some think that they have a fairly good idea of what they want in their home theater and they’ll figure out what they don’t along the way. Unfortunately, approaching your home theater project in this fashion can have some significant ramifications down the road and they typically don’t play into your favor.

Make sure you allocate a significant amount of time during the initial stages of your project for planning!

Making a significant investment in time and energy up front to thinking, doing your homework, and mapping out your project plan will certainly pay long-term dividends. This will help to ensure you get what you want out of your home theater and possibly help to avoid some otherwise costly mistakes.

The first step in the home theater planning process is to clearly identify your personal objectives. For some enthusiasts, their home theater design concept may translate into something that mimicks as many aspects of a real movie theater experience as possible. For others, this may mean partitioning a space in their home for casual television viewing and gaming. As long as you know what the end game is, you’ll at least know where you’re headed.

The next phase of the home theater planning process is to determine your requirements. However, before you jump into this, it’s helpful to first make a sketch of the space you’re working with. This doesn’t have to be a professional architectural rendering of the area, just something that will give you a visual representation to reference as you move forward with the planning process. Graph paper works well for this activity and you can easily sketch something that is fairly close to scale. Here’s an example of a basement floorplan:

It’s especially helpful to take note of any objects that are immovable. In the example sketch, you’ll see that the sump pump is penciled in the upper-left corner and the furnace and water heater are also included. These things will have some level of impact on your home theater design concept, so you want to include them as part of your planning process.

Additionally, before you begin to assess your requirements, you should spend some time looking at other home theaters for features that you would like to replicate. Perusing pictures on the Internet or trade magazine are easily accessible sources. Also take some time to visit a local home show to take a live tour. Participating builders will often have a basement or another area of the house decked out with a home theater.

To determine your requirements you need to first take note of your constraints. Budget and available space are typically the two things we’re all constained by. Here’s some other things you need to address before you move into the construction phase of your project:

  • How will this room be used?
  • How important is the performance of my home theater system?
  • What type of video equipment (LCD TV, projector, etc.) will I be purchasing?
  • What type of lighting do I want?
  • What are my storage needs (for equipment, DVDs, CDs, etc.)?

Most importantly, be sure to read several design guides! Many aspects of a home theater planning and design are interdependent, meaning one thing can impact another. For example, your choice of video equipment may effect the placement of your seating. The placement of your seating may effect the layout of other things in the room, such as speaker placement. Do your best to cultivate your knowledge so you can make the best decisions under your given circumstances.

As you go through the guides, make sure to keep a running list of things you want to achieve with your home theater. If you intend on using a contractor to build your theater, you’ll want to have those things documented so you don’t overlook any details.

Lastly, take an honest evaluation of your skill sets before you begin. Decide what you are reasonably capable of doing and what you cannot do.

Decorating a Contemporary Dining Room

Contemporary Dining Room

When staging a home in Western Washington for sale, an important room to consider is the dining room. To get the most value for your investment, when decorating a contemporary dining room, or any room for that matter, you should always start with the wall color. Painting the dining room walls is one of the least expensive ways to change the character of the room without spending a fortune and staying within your budget.

Let’s say you just bought a small home in downtown Bonney Lake. For a smaller dining room, you can open the space in any room up by painting the walls a white crisp clean contemporary look while minimizing the amount and size of furniture. In a larger, more spacious dining room, like many found in Sky Island, Bonney Lake, consider a warmer and dramatic look with bright and bold colors.

Focal Points

It is easy to create an eye-catching focal point to any dining room with the addition of reasonably priced contemporary art. You don’t have to have another Nicknack  Museum in your home. Ross, Kohl’s, flea markets, arts and crafts shows and garage sales are some examples of where you might find some great art bargains. Almost anything of interest can be framed and mounted on a simply bare dining room wall.

Accessorizing the Table

When looking for decorating ideas within your budget for a contemporary dining room, look no further than the items you may already have stored in your closet spaces such as funky retro glassware, candleholders, dried flowers, or various decorative bowls. This can be fun and imaginative.

No matter where you live, these are just a few ways of decorating on a budget. Dive into your creative side. Keep it simple. You won’t have to look very far to find all kinds of decorating ideas for a contemporary dining room using your imagination and creativity without breaking the bank.