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10 Tips for Designing Your Home Office Work

by Melissa Dierks

10 Tips for Designing Your Home Office

Work in style in a beautiful and functional home office.

By: Gretchen Roberts - Courtesy of HGTV

Contemporary Home Office With Hardwood Flooring

A home office for two by designer Nicole Sassaman

Whether your home office is designated space for running a business, the occasional telecommute, or simply a nook for paying bills and organizing your schedule, you deserve more than a metal desk and extra chair stuffed into a spare corner. Why? An office that reflects the design and comfort of the rest of your home is a place you'll want to burn the midnight oil. Here are 10 tips for creating a charming, practical work space.

1. Location, location, location. You'll likely spend many hours in your home office, so don't stiff yourself on space (e.g. squishing a tiny desk into a windowless closet to preserve the rarely-used guest room). Also consider traffic flow and your ability to withstand distractions. Do you work best in the thick of activity, or should your office be tucked away in a quiet space? If clients will be stopping by, a private space with ample seating is a must.

2. Don't sacrifice form for function. Your desk, shelves, and storage should serve you, not the other way around. Consider your workflow and what items you need at your fingertips before investing in furniture, and then look for pieces that are both beautiful and functional. Home office furniture should complement other rooms in your house instead of screaming "soulless cubicle." If your home has traditional décor, warm wood and soft, comfy chairs or a loveseat are ideal if you have the space. A contemporary home office can feature artistic pieces or modern metal furniture.

3. Invest in a great chair. You spend hours parked in your office chair; a beautiful, ergonomically-correct, comfortable seat is worth every dime.

Home Office With Orange Accents

A contemporary-style home office by designer Berliner

4. Paint the walls a color you love. Forget "office beige": you need a color that gets your work motor humming. For some people, that's a bright, cheery color like orange or lime green. Others need a calming shade like botanical green or sea foam blue to perform. Find out more about how certain colors can affect your mood.

5. Give yourself a view. Position the desk where you can stare at something more interesting than a blank wall (even if you do love the color) when you glance up from the computer. A window's natural light is ideal, but if you're in a windowless space, hang a pretty picture above the desk, or position your chair to face the door.

Home Office With Bookshelf and Window Seat

A cottage-style office by designer Luis Caicedo

6. Choose homey accessories. Unless you're going for a contemporary look, choose extras that enhance the comfy feeling of your home office, like a pretty mug for a pencil holder, trendy notepads and sticky notes, and a decorative waste basket. Wrap your bulletin board in a gorgeous fabric, and hide utilitarian bookshelves behind curtains made from the same material. Hang inspirational prints on the walls, whether that's simply your kids' framed artwork or a classic painting.

7. Organize vertically and horizontally. Many home offices aren't swimming in square footage, so using space efficiently is imperative. Hang floating shelves on the walls to get papers and office equipment off the desk, and use vertical file folders on the desk to keep important papers within arm's reach. Are you a stacker or a filer? If you tend to make piles, get a nice basket to tame your mail, notes, and papers. If you prefer a clean desktop, designate one drawer for your "to-do" papers. Wooden or metal cube storage is a fun alternative to bookshelves, since each space can be used for books, knickknacks, or baskets of odds and ends.

8. Master your technology. There's not much you can do to beautify the computer, printer, and phone, but you can hide unsightly cords. Start by making sure your equipment is close to outlets and easy to access if you need to unplug. Encase cords on the desk in a pretty fabric cord cover like this one from Taylor Gifts, and feed the cords into a desk grommet, a plastic or metal cap that helps guide cords through a hole in the desk and hides them underneath. Tame the cord jungle on the floor with cord winders, tubing, or a wire organizer that's attached to the desk and lifts the cords off the floor.

9. Let there be light. Here's a bright idea: make sure your office has plenty of light to cut down on eye strain and headaches. Position the computer monitor so there's no glare from a window or overhead light, and put a small lamp on the desk for task lighting.

10. Inspire yourself. Set up a mini-shrine — a few cherished knickknacks, a piece of framed art, a special photo on your desk — that motivates you to create and/or get the work done so you can get out of there. A print of Paris can channel your inner muse, or a photo of your children might remind you that you're doing it all for them.

A Reason to Lock In Mortgage Rates Now

by Melissa Dierks


Home buyers and refinancers may want to lock in their rates now. Fixed-rate mortgages inched higher for the second consecutive week amid a stronger employment report, according to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage market survey.

Still, fixed-rate mortgages are hovering near their all-time low on May 23, 2013, allowing buyers and refinancers an opportunity to lock in a low rate.

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending Feb. 19:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.76 percent, with an average 0.6 point, rising from last week’s 3.69 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.33 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.05 percent, with an average 0.6 point, increasing from last week’s 2.99 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.35 percent.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 2.97 percent, with an average 0.5 point, holding the same from last week. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.08 percent.
  • 1-year ARMs: averaged 2.45 percent, with an average 0.4 point, rising from last week’s 2.42 percent. A year ago, 1-year ARMs averaged 2.57 percent.

9 Real Estate Myths That Need Debunking

by Melissa Dierks
We've all been fed—and have sometimes believed—more than a few old wives’ tales: Poinsettias are lethal, tomatoes are vegetables, and a pat of butter will soothe that nasty burn. But what about the popular myths in real estate?

Real estate myths are often passed around among buyers and sellers. Some of them have some truth; others are outright false; and still others depend on a variety of factors that are best discussed in depth. Be prepared to help educate your buyers and sellers, so they make the smartest choices, rather than just accept what they hear.

Myth #1: Always change bold paint colors to neutrals before selling.

Reality check: False

Bold doesn’t automatically mean bad, says Kim Grant, broker with John Greene Realty in Oswego, Ill. Sometimes, a room calls for a grand color in order to play up an architectural feature, divide a room in two visually, or add cheer when there’s little natural light. But even if a room sports a bold shade of paint, home owners don’t always have to grab a brush to change it up before listing. Sellers can tone down a strong color with a neutral counterpart, such as a calming rug or tranquil array of fresh greenery. If the room needs a change, Grant suggests sharing the name of a painter, getting a bid on the cost of repainting, and offering a handful of paint chips that demonstrate alternative color options that are more universally appealing. “It’s up to the salesperson to explain that another color can transform the space without much effort,” Grant says.

Myth #2: Never buy the biggest house on a street.

Reality check: Usually true

The largest house on a block or in a neighborhood often is the most expensive, which may affect its appraisal and make its price much higher than other homes in the same neighborhood on comparative analyses, says Michelle Shurtleff, salesperson with the Miami Real Estate Team in Key Biscayne, Fla. Most buyers today are concerned about value when making an investment in a home, so they’ll appreciate a caveat about limiting their pool of future buyers by pricing themselves out of or above the local market, she says.

Myth #3: Always avoid first-floor condos because of noise and safety concerns.

Reality check: False

A first-floor unit can be a terrific bargain and a wonderful place to live, says salesperson L.J. Ganser of Fenwick Keats Real Estate in New York, who has sold many in Manhattan. He has found they offer numerous advantages, and sometimes they just need a few tweaks to dampen possible sounds and make owners feel safer. Among the advantages: “You don’t have to wait for an elevator [or] climb stairs, and you can enjoy the changes in scenery from the ground level up,” he says. Suggest ways to soundproof the unit with a good-fitting door and sound-dampening acoustical panels on the interior side. Also, suggest window treatments that block noise and views such as “top down, bottom up blinds” that can be raised from the windowsill to a height that prevents pesky pedestrians from ogling the buyer’s home but still allow in light. For safety, suggest wrought iron bars, if the unit doesn’t have them, or an alarm system.

Myth #4: Sellers should expect to earn back everything they invested in remodeling projects at resale time.

Reality check: False, but…

A quick check of the annual “Cost vs. Value” survey will demonstrate to sellers that it’s nearly impossible to get 100 percent of the money they put into a redo back when they sell. A siding replacement of fiber-cement brought the highest return in the most recent survey in the upscale project category, and that percentage was 84.3 percent. Still, Roman Bruno, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles,has found that remodeled kitchens and bathrooms continue to be huge selling points to prospective buyers. “They make a home more attractive to potential buyers—and help them avoid doing the work,” he says. Paul Rosso, ABR, GRI, a salesperson with RE/MAX Properties Ltd. in Newtown, Penn., agrees that it pays to keep a house updated and in line with similarly priced homes in the community. The two times he cautions against upgrades are when a home owner plans to sell soon after making changes and when the market is flat or heading downward.

Myth #5: To sell quickly in this market, you must have the most popular features buyers are seeking.

Reality check: False, but…

It’s true that items such as master bedroom walk-in closets and first-floor master suites are all the rage now. But most homes in Los Angeles don’t have these features because they were built before these residential trends became widespread, says Bruno. “There is always a market for these homes, and someone with a vision may buy it just to update it,” he says. “Right now, we have little inventory and a lot of buyers — including absentee owners and investors — so we don’t see the need for redos as a problem.” Rosso agrees, but warns that the selling price usually reflects the absence of the feature: “Every home will sell, but at the right price. Price is the great equalizer.”

Myth #6: If buyers don’t like an exterior, they’ll never go inside.

Reality check: Often true

Without some curb appeal, most think, “Why waste the time,” says Grant. She suggests buyer’s agents prepare clients for the exterior ahead of time by asking buyers in advance what styles of houses they like and dislike, and even showing them images before checking out a place in person. If a house works otherwise—its layout, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and maybe a backyard—she says listing agents can find ways to remove or downplay features that may not appeal. Exterior changes may be as simple as adding landscaping that dresses up part of the offending façade, painting shutters and a door to focus attention, or upgrading a walkway with a nicer material.  

Myth #7: Homes with swimming pools are always tougher to sell.

Reality check: False

While they bring with them high maintenance and utility costs, a lot of buyers look specifically for homes with pools, especially in warmer climates. Usually it’s just the seasoned investors and older home owners who shy away from homes with pools, says Bruno. To appeal to buyers not looking for a pool, he suggests sturdy canopies that can slide over the top to make a safe, walkable patio. But he never advises clients to remove a pool. “You don’t cater to a market that doesn’t want something. Instead, you use it as a tool to attract those who do,” he says.

Myth: #8: Green features automatically mean a higher listing price.

Reality check: Not always

Bruno says many buyers find added value in smart, environmentally friendly homes. “LEED certification has become a huge marketing feature, and it’s not just something for home owners living on either coast,” he says. Still, Rosso says many buyers shy away from these houses if they’re priced much higher than comparable non-green homes. “In my area, I haven’t seen buyers willing to pay a green premium. I view them as added value that can help with marketing a home,” he says.

Myth #9: Always remove holiday decorations before listing a home.

Reality check: False

If the decorations are tasteful, they’re fine, says Ganser.  If it's Christmas, go green and minimal with a tree, some fresh boughs on the mantle, and a pretty wreath on the door. “There will be some Grinches who come and object to Christmas décor on principle. Perhaps Jacob Marley will pay them a visit that evening and convince them to lighten up,” he says. “But most people like the holidays, and if sellers can warm their spirits with a light, welcoming touch, I say do it. But don’t make potential buyers wonder what's going on with a corner that’s blocked by a 9-foot-high tree.” Follow the same rules for other holidays, he advises. At Halloween, fill a dish with candy corn; for Easter, bring on the jelly beans.

So what’s always true?

Real estate professionals should always advise buyers and sellers to avoid accepting widely held truisms as fact. Help clients put these and other myths in the context of overall economic trends, local and neighborhood factors, and the special features that distinguish individual properties on the market.

How to Choose a Remodeling Contractor

by Melissa Dierks

How to Choose a Remodeling Contractor

It takes a little legwork to find the best person for your renovation job. Here's how to handle the task.

Man Carrying Ladder

When choosing a contractor to head up your remodel, these simple steps can mean the difference between complete confidence and sleepless nights.

Ask for Referrals
Word of mouth-hands down, is the best way to find a qualified professional to tackle the job. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors whom they've had good experiences with. And ask what made it a positive experience, how the contractor handled problems and whether he or she would use the same contractor again.

Look at Credentials
With recommendations in hand, do some preliminary research, whether it's with a phone call or a visit to the contractor's website. Find out whether he or she holds all the required licenses from state and local municipalities, along with designations from any professional associations such as the National Kitchen & Bath Association, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Association of Homebuilders. Look for contractors who have invested in course work and passed rigorous tests to earn particular certifications. Be aware, however, that not all certifications are created equal. Do some homework and find out the requirements.

Interview Candidates
Narrow down the list of contenders and set up meetings. Try to keep it to three contractors, because things can get confusing beyond that. How a contractor answers questions is extremely important, but communication goes both ways. Candidates should ask plenty of questions, too. 

Check References
Ask to see some of the contractors' projects. If you approve of them, request references and call contractors' former customers to check up on them. Ask how the contractors did at executing the projects. Were they on time and on budget? Were the customers pleased with the outcome? Was there anything that could have been done differently?

Remember that when you're hiring a remodeler, you are buying a service and not a product. Quality of service will determine the quality of the finished project. Here are some things you'll want to explore and questions you'll want to ask when interviewing a remodeler.

Business Experience and Management
Does the remodeler:

  • Maintain a permanent mailing address, e-mail address, personal phone number, fax number, cell phone and voicemail?
  • Carry insurance that protects you from liability? Ask for a copy of the remodeler's insurance certificates to be sure. Also, ask the remodeler how much the project will add to the home's value and attain additional insurance from your provider.
  • Have an established presence in the community? How long has the company been in business under this name? Does the remodeler maintain solid relationships with contractors such as plumbers and electricians and work with them as a team?
  • Possess a trustworthy reputation among customers and peers? Is there a track record of success?
  • Has the remodeler earned any professional designations, such as Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR), Certified Bath Designer (CBD), etc.? How long has the remodeler been a member or any trade organizations?

Get It in Writing
After selecting a contractor, take a look at the documents he or she has prepared. Do they look professional? Scrutinize the contract. Does it seem fair and balanced? And make sure the legal agreement includes the following:

  • a bid price and payment schedule
  • specifics about the scope of work
  • the site plan
  • a sequential schedule of primary construction tasks
  • a change-order clause
  • a written procedural list for close-out
  • an express limited warranty
  • a clause about dispute resolution
  • a waiver of lien, which would prevent subcontractors and suppliers from putting a lien on a house should their invoices go unpaid by the contractor

If everything checks out, you can sign on the dotted line with confidence.

5 Design Secrets From The World's Best Hotels

by Melissa Dierks

We may not be able to make your bed and put a mint on the pillow each night, but with these takeaways, you'll be able to create a home that's every bit as relaxing (and stylish) as your dream getaway.

By Candace Braun Davison - Courtesy of Huffington Post

  • Take the Shortcut to Luxury with Accessories
    Photo from Jay Jeffers: Collected Cool (Rizzoli), 2014
    One of the easiest (and most affordable) ways to get the high-end, collected-over-time look of a boutique hotel is with the accessories you use. Choose items that bring in at least three textures in the room: one plush, one sleek and one natural, recommends Jay Jeffers, author of Collected Cool and designer behind the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Lake Tahoe. Cashmere throws—particularly in not-too-cutesy patterns like herringbone—and Lucite trays that catch the light are two of Jeffers' go-to additions.
  • Go for the Most Drama in the Smallest Spaces
    Stovall Studio
    If all-white bathrooms read more "bland" than "spa-like" to you, steal this decorating idea from the model bathroom in the Solaris Residences in Vail, Colorado: Cover the walls in a low-contrast, nature-inspired wallpaper. Vertical patterns, like the Lee Jofa tree wallpaper the Solaris uses (you can find it at Anthropologie), emphasize the walls' height, making the ceilings look taller, explains designer Susan Moon. As long as the colors are all in similar, muted shades—think pale gray and blue, not sunshine-yellow and burnt orange—the room won't look busy and jarring. (The unconventional look pays off: the Solaris won Best Hotel in the U.S. in 2013 by The International Hotel Awards.)
  • Add a Different Kind of Mirror
    Courtesy of Pottery Barn
    We've all heard that the bigger the mirror, the more spacious a room feels, but modern hotels are going beyond hanging them on the walls: "Mirrored dressers and side tables are becoming much more mainstream," Bashaw says. (You can find the one shown at Pottery Barn.) To make the room appear even bigger, choose side tables that are leggier (versus cube-like). The more space you can see under and around the table, the less space it seems to take up.
  • Pick Lighting That Doubles as Art
    Matthew Millman
    Many people worry about choosing the perfect painting to hang on the walls, which is why some hotels skip it altogether and hang a bold chandelier in the lobby. These lights do double-duty, brightening the room while catching your attention. Try hanging three pendants at varying heights in a corner of the room, or buying side table lamps with sculptural bases, says Jeffers. If you're looking for an overhead light, try a rock crystal style over the classic chandelier or uber-trendy star pendant.
  • Upgrade Your Lampshades (and Wake Up Feeling Gorgeous)
    Courtesy of Congress Hall
    Part of the feel-good experience at a hotel is making sure you look good, too. AtCongress Hall in Cape May, New Jersey, the lampshades in the bedroom are lined in pink silk to cast a soft, warm light. "It makes your skin glow when you're in bed," says Colleen Bashaw, the resort's interior designer. She recommends painting the inside of an ivory paper lampshade a pale pink, like Benjamin Moore's Ballet Slippers.

Does Starbucks Brew Higher Home Values?

by Melissa Dierks

The arrival of Starbucks’ coffee shops may help indicate where higher home values will soon surface, asserts a new analysis from Quartz, which contains an excerpt of Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries’s new book, Zillow Talk. They claim that “Starbucks equates with venti-sized home-value appreciation. Moreover, Starbucks seems to be fueling – not following these higher home values.”

The company compared a database of Starbucks locations with Zillow housing data, tracking home values within a quarter mile of Starbucks to houses slightly farther away over a five-year period of when a Starbucks location opened.  

Homes closest to Starbucks appreciated a little more than 21 percent over five years, while the homes slightly farther away only appreciated just less than 17 percent.

Could it just be a coffeehouse effect? Homes near Dunk Donuts reflect a similar trend, but they don’t tend to appreciate as fast as properties a quarter-mile from a Starbucks, Quartz notes. Between 1997 and 2012, homes located near Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts followed similar trends in rising home value appreciation. But during the recent housing recovery, homes near Dunkin’ Donuts have appreciated 80 percent since 1997, whereas homes near Starbucks have appreciated 96 percent, nearly doubling their value.

“Although some may scoff that the predictive value of a given retail chain doesn’t mean much, locations near Starbucks are, indisputably, highly lucrative,” Quartz argues from its analysis. “True, properties near Starbucks locations tend to start out more expensive. … Maybe Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are just waiting for a neighborhood’s property values to heat up before moving in and setting up shop. What’s to say that Starbucks is the cause, rather than a consequence, of higher home values?”

But Quartz maintains from its study’s findings that homes near Starbucks tend to appreciate at a faster rate than U.S. housing on a whole, and are recovering much more quickly from the housing bust.

Arthur Rubinfeld, who oversees Starbucks’ location selection process, says that the company has about 20 analytics experts around the world scouring maps and geographic information systems data to assess an area’s traffic patterns and businesses.

“The beauty of Starbucks is our understanding of real-estate site locationing,” Arthur told Quartz. “It’s an art and a science.”

Source: “Are Starbucks Fueling America’s Increasing Home Prices?” HousingWire (Jan. 30, 2015) and “Confirmed: Starbucks Knows the Next Hot Neighborhood Before Everybody Else Does,” (Jan. 28, 2015)

Why Homebuyers Need to Act Now

by Melissa Dierks

Home buyers need to move fast if they want to spend less, notes Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at® in commentary at the site.

“Delayed purchases will only result in higher monthly mortgage payments as prices and rates rise,” Smoke writes.® is forecasting that affordability may decline as much as 10 percent over the year.

The Federal Reserve continues to remind the financial markets that it plans to raise its target federal funds rate this year, which will cause mortgage rates to rise. Many economists are predicting 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to average near 5 percent by the end of the year.  

For now, mortgage rates are near historical lows for homebuyers and home owners who can take advantage. Freddie Mac reported last week that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.66 percent (last year at this time it averaged 4.32 percent), and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 2.98 percent (a year ago, it averaged 3.40 percent). 

“Right now, the Fed is using the word ‘patient’ to describe its approach to picking the time to raise the target rate,” Smoke notes. “However, when the Fed ‘loses patience,’ rates will go up at least 20 to 40 basis points in anticipation of the target rate officially going up. … So, buyers beware: The clock on these low mortgage rates may be ticking.”

Source: “2015: Buy Now, Before the Fed’s Patience Ends,”® (Jan. 30, 2015)

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Contact Information

Photo of The Regal Team Real Estate
Melissa Dierks
Keller Williams Professional Partners
7025 W Bell Road, Suite 10
Glendale AZ 85308
Direct: (623)229-0154
Office: (623)643-1092
Fax: (623)201-7562

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