Contemporary, spa-like bathrooms are trending

Bathroom styles are shifting to contemporary, spa-like styles that are accessible and easy to maintain, according to the latest trend report from the National Kitchen & Bath Association, which surveyed 420 designers to find the top bathroom trends this year. “Spa bathrooms and Zen-like retreats are definitely desired aspects of today’s bathrooms, driving a more contemporary aesthetic,” says John Petrie, the 2014 NKBA president. Simple styles, with an emphasis on clean lines and functionality, are in high demand.

Below are among some of the trends designers identified for bathrooms this year.

Trend #1: Shades of grey: Beige and bone color schemes remain the most popular, but the third most popular color scheme – grey – is gaining traction.

Trend #2: Universal designs: Sixty percent of designers say they anticipate doing more universal design/accessible bathrooms this year. For example, about half of designers specified the growing popularity of no-threshold showers, which allow home owners to more easily walk or roll into the shower without having to step over any small ledge.

Trend #3: Shower lighting: Spotlights are being turned on in the shower. More designers say they are incorporating lighting in showers. Designers also say they expect more benches and seats to be included in showers.

Trend #4: Steamy: Steam showers are growing in popularity – with twice as many designers specifying steam showers being incorporated than whirlpools in master bathrooms.

Trend #5: Higher toilets, vanities: Toilets and vanities are getting more of a lift. Eighty-four percent of designers said that comfort height toilets and vanities gained popularity in 2013 and are expected to continue to be a growing option this year.

 Gaining Favor: Ceramic or porcelain flooring tile, quartz for vanity tops, linen storage cabinets, undermount sinks, wall-hung floating vanities, console tables and open shelving.

 Losing Favor: Designers not a decrease in Provincial and Tuscan-style bathrooms, as well as a decline in rustic/country styles.   Black was the least popular fixture color and is expected to decline even more this year.


Sunnier Days Ahead in Housing, Freddie Says

The housing market is stronger today than at any point since the Great Recession and has made progress in several key areas after hitting bottom in 2009, Freddie Mac reports in a blog post looking at the state of the housing market heading into spring.

Home sales are up 13 percent since their low point, Freddie Mac reports. Frank Notaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, predicts that home sales will rise about 3 percent in 2014.

Also, the agency reports that housing starts are up 50 percent since hitting bottom. Freddie Mac is predicting a nearly 20 percent increase in new-housing starts in 2014, “which will begin to help ease tight inventories in many markets.”

Housing prices have also been on the upswing, about 16 percent higher than their bottom in 2009, Freddie Mac reports. They expect home values to continue to rise this year, but at a more moderate 5 percent pace. Also, researchers say many markets are still posting housing values that are below their 2006 peaks.

Freddie Mac is forecasting mortgage rates to remain near their historic lows this year, but rates are expected to rise about a half-percentage point during the year to around a 5 percent average by the end of the year.


Don’t buy weedy soil and mulch!

Weeds are bad news. So isn’t it a kick in the pants when you discover the doofus responsible for all the new weeds in your yard is YOU? And it all started when you ordered that truckload of topsoil, manure, or mulch.

Perhaps you’ve had the horrible experience of spreading bulk topsoil over your yard, only to find yourself the proud owner of a beautiful new patch of ground ivy. Or topping off your planting beds with bulk mulch and can now boast a superb collection of nutgrass.

The key word in both cases is “bulk” — in other words, soil and mulch not delivered in bags, but scooped up into a truck from a landscape supply yard and dumped with great fanfare at the home of an excited and innocent gardener. Yes, bulk materials cost a lot less per cubic foot than bagged materials, but there’s a trade-off. With bagged topsoil, manure,  and mulch, you pretty much know what you’re getting  just read the label and stick to name brands.

However, with bulk material, chances are, you’ll get what you want — but you may also get what you don’t want. So let’s talk a little bit about how to safely buy bulk products.

Here are three simple ways to improve your chances of buying good bulk topsoil.

1. Buy from a local supplier you know. Ask where the topsoil comes from. Ask if it contains any organic matter. Ask if it has weeds.

2. Buy only screened topsoil that does not contain rocks, twigs, trash, or debris.

3. Run a simple test. Buy just a pot of topsoil, take it home, water it, and see if anything comes up.

Cow, horse, and sheep manure start out as grass and other plants. The digestive systems of these animals allow seeds to pass right through in mint condition. So never use straight-off-the-farm manure that hasn’t been properly composted for a year to kill the weeds.

As with topsoil, buy from a local supplier you know. Bulk mulch such as shredded hardwood and ground pine bark should have far less weed seeds than soil, because it didn’t start out on the ground. So just inspect it to make sure it doesn’t contain any leaves, stems, or vegetative matter. Make sure it’s been composted for a year too, because fresh mulch will rob the soil of nitrogen as microbes break it down. DON’T buy mulch made from shredded pallets, pressure-treated lumber, or scrap wood. These could contain harmful chemicals or destructive insects, such as termites and borers.

A bit of mindfulness can make all the difference in avoiding the introduction of unwanted weeds to your yard or garden.


How do you say “R E A L T O R?”

Business Insider recently highlighted a list of “surprising words you’re probably mispronouncing,” and landing in at No. 8 on its list: REALTOR®.

Business Insider says the word is often incorrectly pronounced “real-a-tor.” The correct pronunciation is “real-ter.”

The word “REALTOR® is trademarked by the National Association of REALTORS® to describe brokers who are members of the national association.

Robert Wilson, an English professor who is also a real estate professional, told Business Insider that he speculates the mispronunciation comes from methathesis or transposing certain letters within words. He cites another common example: “aks” for “ask.”

REALTOR® joined other commonly mispronounced words on Business Insider’s list, such as “cache” (the correct pronunciation is like “cash”) and “prestigious” (pronounced “pre-sti-jus,” not “pre-stee-jus”). See the full word list at Business Insider.

For the last word on buying or selling a home, visit us at and talk to a qualified real estate professional ready to help with all your needs.


Low-cost ways improve curb appeal to help sell a home can be easier than you think

First impressions are important, and this is no less true when selling a house. If your home doesn’t look so great on the outside that people have to stop and take a look—potential buyers may pass, and keep on driving.  Exterior replacement projects offer the greatest bang for the buck. Projects such as entry door, siding, and window replacements can recoup homeowners more than 78 percent of costs upon resale.”

But don’t fret if you can’t afford to replace my windows and siding. Often just doing a few small projects that can have a large impact.

Here are some of the top curb apparel improvement tips from real estate professionals.

  • Wash the windows.
  • Evaluate foundation plantings, and trim back or replace as needed.
  • Update the light fixture at the front door.
  • Repair or install a new mailbox.
  • Update or eliminate window treatments inside the house if necessary.
  • Repair the front walk if it is cracked or heaved.
  • Remove dead tree and shrub branches.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Power wash the house. [Before hiring a professional for this service, check out widely available exterior cleaners made to attach to a garden hose.]
  • Clean the entryway, front lights, and walkway of cobwebs, tree debris, dust, dirt, etc.
  • Add colorful, potted plants along your walkway or entryway.
  • Be sure the front door is clean, or give it a fresh coat of paint.
  • Clean and sweep the driveway.
  • Store all yard equipment, including children’s toys.
  • Find somewhere else to park any extra cars, boats, trailers, or RVs.
  • Do not use the porch for storage.
  • Clean up after your pets.
  • Store garbage cans where they are not visible from the street.

Curb appeal is the difference that sells nearly half of all houses on the market, so says the National Association of Realtors. If you’re getting ready to sell yours, investing some time and a little bit of money in improving your home’s curb appeal seems like a no-brainer.

Considering selling your home?  Visit us at and talk to a qualified real estate professional who knows how to help. – See more at:


April in NC: Excitement is brewing

April is NC Beer Month, celebrating the myriad craft breweries that help make dining and drinking in NC such a pleasure. Every great brewery reflects its place — all add their flavor to North Carolina craft beer. They also create an experience beyond the tap room for travelers during NC Beer Month and beyond.

RALEIGH - From a brewery that started in an airport hangar to the state’s only female-owned brewery, the Capital City area is home to 15 micro-breweries and counting. Any month is a great time to experience the region’s passion for craft brews, but April is especially inviting, with World Beer Festival (Sat., April 5 in downtown’s Moore Square)— Raleigh, which welcomes 120-plus breweries from around the country, and Brewgaloo (Sat., April 26 in Raleigh City Plaza), which celebrates regional craft breweries.

DURHAM - Like Durham, craft beers are unique, diverse and interesting. The city is home to three microbreweries — Bull City Burger and Brewery, Fullsteam Brewery and Triangle Brewing— plus Ponysaurus, a new nano. All are helmed by experienced brew masters producing distinct beers with local flavor and style that are each uniquely Durham in their own right.

CHAPEL HILL AREA - You don’t have to walk far in Chapel Hill to find craft beer. Less than half a mile of sidewalk separates a pair of blue-blooded brewpubs, Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery and Carolina Brewery, both on the lively Franklin Street artery. But pace yourself. In a destination billed as “the edge of the Triangle,” there are plenty of stops for shopping, dining and art gazing — plus the adjacent town of Carrboro, home to Steel String Craft Brewery and Starpoint Brewing. Nearby Hillsborough, with Mystery Brewing and its new Public House, provides a heady sense of intrigue.

CHARLOTTE - The Queen City shines as a destination that pairs a cosmopolitan vibe with a down-home feel. NC Beer Month spotlights Charlotte’s arrival as a beer destination, leveled up to critical mass by new breweries such as Unknown, Lenny Boy Kombucha and Heist with bottle shops and beer pubs enhancing the scene. And the Charlotte Knights’ new Center City Ballpark, hosting its first game April 11, adds yet another craft beer experience. Play ball!

GREENSBORO - Connoisseurs and people who just enjoy a cold one will want to sample beer culture in the Gate City. With this month’s Hops Around Greensboro, travelers can enjoy a cold local brew at downtown’s Natty Greene’s,  tap into the Red Oak Brewery Beer School at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, line up for the 4K Tap ’N’ Run and enjoy month-long specials on North Carolina beer — all while exploring a city where visionaries, history-makers and forward-thinkers have left their mark.

WINSTON-SALEM - NC’s City of Arts, has evolved from its traditional tobacco and textile roots into a thriving city with a lively downtown, a Southern-fresh way of life and an inspired beer scene. Start at Foothills Brewing with its award-winning beers and Old Salem, whose illustrious history covers the state’s first brewery (from 1774), then check out the newcomers, Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Co. and Small Batch Beer.

Happy brewpub hopping!  For more information, start here:

Top 10 remodeling projects for adding value to your home

A new steel door may not sound like the sexiest addition to your house, but it’s one of the financially savviest. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2014 Cost V. Value report, homeowners who install a steel door can expect to recoup nearly 97 percent of the cost when the home sells.

Exterior work on a property, from new siding to replacing windows, dominate the list of projects that offer the biggest bang for your buck. They offer the largest return because a potential home sale can be made or broken on the exterior alone, real estate agents say.

“It’s all about first impression, no question about that,” said John Kmiecik, regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors and a Chicago-area real estate agent.

So does a steel door really make that big of an impression? Not necessarily, but it improves security and offers energy savings through better insulation. That’s the other reason exterior projects also push up the value of a home — they tend to be practical. Unlike adding luxurious finishes to a kitchen that a new owner may not adore, new siding or new windows generally appeal to any buyer.

Although home exterior projects may deliver a greater return on investment than interior remodeling, all of the 35 home improvement projects listed in the survey returned value this year, thanks to rising home prices that exceeded increasing construction costs.  Here are the top 10 ways to add value:

10. Two-Story addition [or any addition of square footage]

9. Bathroom remodel

8. Basement remodel

7. Wood replacement windows

6. Minor kitchen remodel

5. Garage door replacement

4. Attic to bedroom conversion

3. Fiber cement siding

2. Wood deck

1. Steel entry door

Considering selling your home?  Visit us at and talk to a qualified real estate professional who knows how to help.