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Put the Cool Back in Ranch Style Homes

Excerpts From RealtorMagazine.Org, a reprint of an article dated JANUARY 2016 | BY BARBARA BALLINGER

What Is A Ranch Style Home?

This common, one-story house with a low profile has a distinguished American pedigree. Yet, for decades it’s been overshadowed. As the ranch again attracts attention, learn about its best features and how older, dated examples can become strikingly modern.

Cliff May, considered the father of the ranch house, drew his inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style and Usonian homes, as well as later Arts & Crafts designs. May designed and built these ranch homes in Southern California from the 1930s on with a goal to develop a prototype that would suit home owners in a warm climate who favored informal living and easy outdoor access.

After the Second World War, developers borrowed May’s concept to construct small variations quickly and affordably and meet growing housing demand. Some ranch-style homes were cranked out, cookie-cutter-style, in large tract developments such as Levittown on New York’s Long Island. Yet at the same time, other iterations grew into more sophisticated “California Modern” designs in the hands of developers such as Joseph Eichler, who had lived in a Wright home.

Hot, Then Not

In more recent times, the popularity of ranches has waxed and waned, depending on typical homebuying criteria: location, condition, and price. In Southern California, they remain a favorite that can command top dollar, especially if they’re near the ocean and good schools, says Kelly Morgan, sales associate with Troop Real Estate in Westlake Village, Calif. “A single-story in Thousand Oaks, closer to water, will bring a higher price than in Santa Clarita,” she says.

Back East, they remain popular on New York’s Staten Island because they’re among the more affordable options and offer relatively open plans as opposed to Colonial- and Victorian-style layouts, says broker-owner Holly Wiesner Olivieri of Holly’s Staten Island Buzz. She and her husband bought a ranch 17 years ago for its private cul-de-sac location, proximity by ferry to Manhattan, and handyman-special price. In other parts of the Northeast and Midwest, ranches can be a tougher sell, as more home owners typically prefer a two-story Colonial or Cape, says Connecticut architect Duo Dickinson.

Who’s Buying Now?

Overall, the greatest interest nationwide is coming from two demographics:
• Young couples find them an affordable entry-level option that they see remodeled and decorated often, thanks to HGTV shows and hipster home magazines. “It’s the style that appeals to the young ‘hip’ L.A. buyer who’s interested in simplicity,” says Kate Guinzburg, a partner at Deasy/Penner and Partners, a Los Angeles real estate firm that specializes in mid-century modern and other styles of homes. And in certain markets like Austin, Texas, it’s a style that’s prevalent in neighborhoods that are close to downtown, which appeals to a young professional segment of buyers who want to avoid long commutes as their city gets more congested, says Austin-based builder Dominique Levesque of Another Great House.

• The second big cohort is baby boomers looking to downsize to one level and gain more maintenance-free living but remain in a single-family home environment. Craig McMahon, whose eponymous firm is in San Antonio, Texas., says boomers might also be inclined to choose a ranch when looking for a second home.

To take advantage of this ranch revival, share with clients how these homes can both be livable and convey mid-century cool:
Give it the right name.

Ranches share many similar features — a single story with low-pitched gabled roof, for example. But that doesn’t mean that one moniker works everywhere. In some areas, the term “ranch” won’t raise red flags. But Chicago architect Stuart Cohen of Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects thinks that for some buyers, it has a negative connotation in the same way “tract” housing does. “‘Mid-century modern’ is a better term since it connotes a classic collectible,” he says.

In parts of the West, “ranch” implies that it’s a home where horses can be stabled, says Morgan, whose ranch-seeking buyers typically want land for a barn and sometimes a pool. That’s why she prefers to call ranch-style homes “single-story.” Other terms you might hear are “American ranch,” “rambler,” and “rancher.” “Split-” and “bi-level” connote ranches with an extra half-level.

Play up its manageable, affordable size.

Averages vary, but generally these homes are under 2,000 square feet, and some are less than 1,000 square feet. Rooms are usually small by modern building standards. Most were built with three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, though this also varies, says Levesque. The small footprint, along with a typically small lot, works well for those interested in keeping down costs, maintenance, and taxes.

Highlight the open layout.

Most feature a small center hallway that separates living quarters from bedrooms; the living area often consists of an L- or U-shaped living-dining room with a small, separate kitchen, says Dickinson. While not as open as many of today’s informal loft-style plans, ranches offer more openness than other older traditional homes do. That arrangement works especially well for young families who want to keep a close eye on children, says Guinzburg.
Share how to improve profile and layout.

Because of the style’s simple form, roofline, and construction method, ranch homes’ low ceilings can be raised and vaulted to 10 to 12 feet or higher. A second story can be added and interior walls can be removed, says architect Jeff DeGraw of DeGraw and DeHaan in Middletown, N.Y. By replacing the genre’s small windows with bigger panes, the home can also look larger. In fact, new windows are often a good investment here, since the originals weren’t usually the most energy-efficient, DeGraw says. On Staten Island, most ranches were built with a basement, so Olivieri often hires an architect to draw a simple floor plan to show how an unfinished lower-level space can be transformed.

Explain how to modernize while respecting the facade.

The exteriors of ranch homes can easily be updated with paint or new siding materials. But the goal should be to respect the home’s roots and not turn it into a totally different animal, says DeGraw. “Keep it simple, with the same proportions and trim, so it still reads as a mid-century modern house rather than a New England-style Colonial with shutters,” he says. Levesque follows a similar mantra and also makes changes that fit the house into its site and neighborhood. Due to its small footprint and one-story design, adding on can be relatively easy if funds and the site, setbacks, and septic system permit, says Cohen. The key is to do so with similar proportions so what’s new fits with the original, he says. Levesque stresses the importance of respecting the site and existing trees.

Channel the modernist spirit.

To attract buyers who find it hard to visualize furnishing a ranch, consider staging with mid-century modern pieces. Reproductions are readily available online at sites such as Allmodern.com and Retrofurnish.com. Los Angeles designer Kimba Hills, owner of Rumba, a mid-century modern design store, also advises installing modern light fixtures and cabinet hardware, painting backgrounds white, and adding a skylight if the house is dark. “So many buyers want what’s modern, yet they also want something with character and a hint of nostalgia,” McMahon says.
When all’s said and done, the ranch provides a cool way to live for another generation. Ultimately, Dickinson says, “It’s more about the living that goes on within.”

Tarrant County Property Tax Appraisal

Excerpts from 04/10/17 Star-Telegram article by writer MAX B. BAKER

For those of you suffering sticker shock after getting your annual property appraisal notice, Tarrant County officials have this advice: Don’t panic.

Tarrant Appraisal District officials mailed out 555,000 property tax appraisals last week. Chief Appraiser Jeff Law estimates that taxable values on Tarrant County homes went up an average of 5 to 8 percent, which has already created some social media howling, especially since it follows a double-digit value jump in 2016.

First, this mailing is NOT A BILL, it is an estimate of the property tax amount you will owe! The actual tax rates for 2017 will be established in September. You can challenge your appraisal values, the deadline for filing a protest for most homeowners is May 31, 2017 but should be done within 30 days of receiving your appraisal in the mail. Chief Appraiser Jeff Law recommends that you first sit back, look at the data and consider what it means before deciding whether to pursue a protest.

Before making a decision to protest your home’s value, Law suggests first using the eAccess feature on TAD.org. By using the PIN number on the notice, homeowners can review comparable home sales in their area to see how TAD came up with their value. The real estate market has been hopping this year and homeowners may be surprised to learn what homes in their area are selling for. The Texas A&M Real Estate Center reports that a lack of inventory — less than a two-month supply of homes for sale, compared to the preferred five to seven months — is driving up prices.

While TAD is planning for another “heavy protest season,” Law expects 2017 “to be a better year than the past two.” Still, it’s never too early to get your place in line. The review board begins hearings April 17.
“Again, we encourage anyone that feels they need to protest their market value to do so early,” Law said.

Have you ever…?

Have you ever wanted to live in your own home?  The home your hard work and dreams build into a nest egg and possible retirement source for your future?

Since becoming an adult, have you spent most of your income on a living space that belongs to someone else?  Now is the time to think about changing the pocket where your housing payments go.  Pay yourself, not your landlord by buying your own home.

Recently a memory was shared.  A couple who had been through tough times financially didn’t believe they could ever own a home of their own.  Fortunately they were connected with a knowledgeable lender that walked them through the steps necessary to get their finances in order to purchase the first home they would ever own.

The Broker and Agents here at Trophy Realtors can recommend several reputable mortgage contacts for you to interview.  Talk to the financial people to get your “ducks in a row” (as the saying goes) then let our team work with you to find a property to fit your pocket, needs and dreams.

Are you able to purchase your dream house, with all the amenities and upgrades in your wish book?  Possibly, but start at step one, with a financial review.  Establish a realistic budget then sit with a Realtor to develop search criteria that fits.

The memory I mentioned before?  That couple started with a small home then eventually sold it to invest in a larger home in a neighborhood they felt suited them better for the next phase of their lives.

“Every journey begins with the first step” is an excerpt from an ancient Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu.  Let Trophy Realtors help you on that journey to owning your own home.

How will home prices fare in 2017?

By Jonathan Berr, CBS News, December 6, 2016

Nothing can chill the real estate sector in the U.S. like rising interest rates. So is the Federal Reserve’s expected move to boost borrowing costs likely to dent the housing market?

Don’t bet on it. Experts predict that housing prices will continue to rise in many markets around the country next year even as mortgage rates drift up. The Federal Open Market Committee — the panel at the central bank that sets monetary policy — will hold a two-day meeting next week, with most forecasters expecting 0.25 basis point increase in short-term rates. Market watchers expect the Fed to hike rates several times next year is the economy stays on its current course.

But that small initial increase, which would be the first upward tilt in rates since December of 2015, is unlikely to reduce demand for housing. Home prices have continued to rebound this year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index posted a 6 percent gain in the third quarter on a year-over-year basis.

Economist Andres Carbacho-Burgos of Moody’s Analytics expects nationwide housing prices as measured by that index to rise an average of 4 percent in 2017. Steve Hovland of online real estate management firm FirstUnion projects a similar uptick, while noting that some markets that have seen have seen the sharpest price increases during the recovery, such as New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, could see a dip.

Mortgage rates have already started to creep up as house hunters ponder the impact of an imminent Fed hike. “Since early November, you have had a significant jump in purchase mortgage applications,” Carbacho-Burgos said. “A lot of that has to do with the expectations effect. People think `Oh my God, interest rates are increasing and we better purchase now before mortgage interest rates go higher.’”

Despite that perception, borrowing costs remain exceptionally modest by historical standards, while the average mortgage payment around the U.S. is still significantly below its level before the housing crash, Capital Economics notes. The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage is 4.04 percent, up two basis points over the last week, the lowest level they have been since 2014. Rates last month were 3.51 percent. That compares with an average of 6.41 percent since 1990, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“Buyers that have committed to a home purchase are unlikely to be swayed by the increase in interest rates,” Hovland said in a statement. “In fact, the change in the monthly mortgage obligation is approximately $65 for a median-priced home. The lower end of the market can absorb that increase. However, sellers are going to need to bear some of the cost of capital increase at the top of the market.”

Another support for the housing sector is the U.S. economy, which continues to see modest growth. Unemployment in November fell to 4.6 percent, its lowest level in more than a decade. Wage growth, which has been stagnant for years, has also ticked up this year.

“The employment picture has brightened considerably,” Bob Walters, chief economist with Quicken Loans, said. “There is a ton of pent-up demand over the last eight, nine years.”

Millennials, America’s largest generation, are also starting to enter the housing market and in 2017 will make up roughly 40 percent of first-time home buyers, according to Hovland.

Still, finding an affordable home in many markets remains a challenge because of a lack of inventory, according to realtors’ associations in those markets. For people buying their first homes, “It’s very difficult to find a product for them that they can afford,” said Lane McCormack, president of the Atlanta Board of Realtors, adding that starter homes in her area can fetch $300,000 to $400,000.

Christopher Zoller, chairman-elect of the Miami Association of Realtors, said sellers of homes priced between $300,000 and $600,000 are getting multiple offers while sellers of luxury properties are having difficulty attracting buyers. “We see some buyer reluctance at the high-price end and we see some seller intransigence,” he said.

Tight credit conditions are also making it hard some house hunters to get a mortgage. Although average down payments are not much higher these days than in the past, lenders require borrowers to have good credit.

How to Clean Quartz Countertops

Excerpts from Susan Pevaroff Berschler, 8/17/2016 via BobVila.com

Quartz. Quartzite. The names sound alike. Yet, although both of these popular countertop materials are derived from the same mineral—quartz—and achieve a similar aesthetic when installed, they are not the same. Quartzite is formed when quartz-rich sandstone is exposed to high heat and pressure over time as a result of natural processes. It’s found all over the world and in a variety of patterns and colors. Engineered quartz, in contrast, is factory-produced by combining quartz with resins, binding agents, and occasionally pigments, depending on the manufacturer.

Unlike natural quartzite, which must be sealed on a regular basis (twice a year, according to some experts), quartz does not require any sealing in order to resist stains, making it a very popular compromise. In fact, resin binders make the material nonporous, so mold, mildew, and stain- and odor-causing bacteria cannot penetrate the surface. Once it’s sealed, though, quartzite, the natural stone, can be cared for and maintained in the same way as its man-made counterpart. Follow these basic guidelines to keep either material sparkling like new for years to come.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS

  1. Mild dish detergent
  2. Soft cloth
  3. Glass cleaner
  4. Nonabrasive sponge
  5. Plastic putty knife
  6. Degreasing cleaner
  7. Goo Gone or comparable cleaner
  8. Trivet
  9. Cutting board

SOONER IS BETTER

Though quartz will resist permanent staining when exposed to liquids like wine, vinegar, tea, lemon juice, and soda, or fruits and vegetables, it’s important to wipe up spills immediately—before they have a chance to dry. Take care of fresh messes with mild dishwashing detergent and a soft cloth. For dried spills or heavy stains, your best bet is a glass or surface cleaner, a nonabrasive sponge (sponges designed for nonstick pans are safe and effective), and a little elbow grease. Keep a plastic putty knife handy to gently scrape off gum, food, nail polish, paint, or other messes that harden as they dry.

 

 

Should you find yourself confronting a particularly sticky situation, your stain-busting might require a couple of extra tools.

  • Remove cooking grease. If dinner was great but the counter took a beating, use a degreasing product that will first loosen then remove the grease from the surface. Follow the cleanser manufacturer’s instructions for use.
  • Erase permanent markers. Permanent markers are supposed to be, well…permanent. When the kids get creative, make sure your counters are protected from their artistry by first putting down placemats or craft paper, so the only thing they leave behind is a happy memory. Should you find an ink or permanent marker stain after craft time, moisten a cloth with Goo Gone or a comparable product, and rub it into the stain. Rinse thoroughly with warm water to remove any cleanser residue.

DEEP CLEANING

Daily wiping and attention to spills and messes will satisfy your countertop’s basic daily maintenance requirements. But experts also recommend an overall deeper general cleaning at regular intervals. For best results, spray a generous amount of a nonabrasive surface cleaner over your countertop and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wipe away with a non-scratch sponge.

AVOID AT ALL COSTS

When it comes to care and maintenance of quartz countertops, the dos are easy and straightforward: Wipe clean with a damp cloth. Use a mild nonabrasive detergent soap for deep cleaning. Preserving your counter’s integrity and appeal is more about adhering to the list of don’ts.

Abrasives and Acid or Alkaline Cleaners

For starters, never use abrasive cleansers and avoid scouring pads, which can dull the surface. Fortunately, soapy water will usually do the trick. If you need a gentle cleanser with a little more oomph to remove surface stains, make sure it is specifically designed for use on quartz.

Beware, too, of harsh cleaning solutions at both ends of the pH spectrum. Culprits include products from nail polish remover and turpentine to drain cleaner and dishwasher rinsing agents. Whether highly acidic or highly alkaline, those chemicals can disintegrate the bonds between quartz and resin. Quartz will tolerate casual exposure to milder alkaline solutions, such as diluted bleach, but high-pH substances, such as oven cleaners and concentrated bleach, will damage the surface. If any of the substances mentioned above come into contact with your quartz countertop, rinse the exposed surface immediately and thoroughly with water.

 

 

Extreme Heat

Trivets and hot pads are your quartz countertop’s best friends. Though the material is heat- and scorch-resistant, the resin used in manufacturing quartz countertops is a plastic and therefore prone to melting in heat above 300 degrees Fahrenheit. A sudden change in temperature or prolonged exposure to heat from a pan left on the countertop may even cause the quartz to crack. To be safe, always use a trivet or hot pad.

Slicing or Dicing Without a Cutting Board

Quartz is a hard surface, but not hard enough to withstand the effects of sharp objects like knives. So, slice and dice to your heart’s content, but make sure to do it on a cutting board to avoid ugly scratches on your quartz countertops.

The Elements

Quartz is not the right choice for an outdoor kitchen. If you install it outdoors, you do so at your own risk, as all manufacturer warranties cover indoor use only. Day after day in direct sunlight will fade colors and lead to warping or splitting.

Combining the best of authenticity and ingenuity, quartz is truly the rock of all ages. Be kind to your quartz countertops with regular attention and cleaning, and they will give you a lifetime of pleasure!