April 2012 Archives - 2/5 - Bob Vila

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7 Eye-Catching New Annuals

While there’s no need to dismiss those hardworking favorites with which you fill your garden year in and year out, here are seven of the most eye-catching annuals new on the market. Today’s introductions could be next year’s classics!

VLanai TwstrPnk verbena-flowering-annuals-rev

Verbena 'Lanai Twister Pink'

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Fee for All: How to Keep More Equity

Real Estate Commissions

Photo: shutterstock.com

Realty agents have clung to their traditional 6% fee structure through boom and bust, insisting that 6% of the home seller’s price is fair, since agents share the risk. They don’t get paid unless the house sells—that is, unless they work with Koenig & Strey, a full-service Chicago agency that recently announced it will now be having its fee and commission, too.

This fee grab is actually good news for home buyers and sellers, because it signals a newfound willingness to consider alternatives to the 6% commission. Below are more details on how to make this work for you.

Related: 7 Renovation Tips to Boost Resale Value

But first, here’s why alternatives to the 6% fee structure are so important—that 6% commission could wipe out all of your equity. If you bought your house during the real estate boom—from 2002 through 2007—the subsequent crash likely wiped out all the appreciation you briefly enjoyed. (Nationally, home values have dropped 34% in the past ten years.) That 6% commission takes what shreds of equity you might have left. Why should an agent get more of your equity than you do? That’s why the real estate industry’s slow awakening to alternative compensation is so important.

Koenig & Strey’s pay-to-play ploy is new, but it does open the door for discussion with agents who want to list your home (i.e., the sell-side agent) or represent you if you are buying (i.e., the buy-side agent). There’s plenty of wiggle room packed into that 6%:  it is split evenly amongst the buyer’s agent, the seller’s agent, the buyer’s broker and the seller’s broker.

Here are five alternatives to the traditional 6% commission:

1. If you are buying, offer the buyer’s agent a flat fee to represent you and insist that the 3% buy-side commission be rebated to you.

2. If you are selling, offer the buyer’s agent the full 3% normally allotted for the buy side, plus guarantee that you will have that same agent represent you when you buy your own house, thus bringing another 3% to that agent—6% total. Don’t use an agent to sell the house and keep the 3% sell-side commission.

3. List with a discount agency, but read the fine print carefully. Every discount agency defines its services and fees on its own—there are no standard parameters for reduced fees and reduced services.

4. Go with a ‘by owner’ service, such as U S Realty.  You’ll need to hire a real estate lawyer to help with the paperwork, but you’ll have full control over the sell-side commission, and can set the commission you’ll pay to the buyer’s agent.

5. Get the house on the multiple listing service. The local MLS, which feeds into national listing supersites like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow, is only open to agents, so you have to use a service to get your house listed. Fees vary according to how many additional services the agent packs into your agreement, so shop around.

Agents will tell you that they are worth the commission they charge, but their model became the norm over decades of steadily rising equity. They are more willing to bargain than they want to let on.

Bob Vila’s Dream Patio Giveaway: Week Four


Bob Vila's Dream Patio GIve-AwayToday marks the start of the final week in our month-long Bob Vila Dream Patio Give-Away—a spring celebration featuring four weekly prizes from online retailer Wayfair. Enter daily here and then increase your chances of winning by entering every day on the Bob Vila Facebook page.

This week (through midnight ET Saturday, April 28) you can enter to win the DC America three-tier gazebo with insect screen from Wayfair, valued at $519.24 (MSRP). Made of heavy-duty, powder-coated steel with an awning grade poly top, the  gazebo is the perfect addition to any deck, patio or garden. And with insect screen panels, it not only provides shelter from the sun, but a bug-free enclosure ideal for summertime entertaining. The gazebo measures 118 inches square and has a bronze-colored, rust resistant finish.

Wayfair's DC America Gazebo

For official rules and entry, click here. Be sure to enter Bob Vila’s Dream Patio Give-Away daily on the site and on Facebook to increase your chances of winning.

Looking for more fabulous lawn and garden furniture?  Be sure to visit Wayfair.

The “Bob Vila Dream Patio Giveaway” sweepstakes is open only to permanent legal U.S. residents. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Contest Period runs from 12:00 a.m. (EST) Sunday, April 1, 2012 through 11:59 p.m. (ET) Saturday, April 28, 2012. One entry per household per day on BobVila.com and/or Facebook. Alternative means of entry for each Drawing is available by faxing your name and address to 508-437-8486 during the applicable Entry Period. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. See Official Rules.

Earth Day 2012: Our Year in Green

Bob Vila Green

Photo: flickr.com

Each year on Earth Day we pause to acknowledge and appreciate the majesty of nature and the gravity of the problems threatening it. As individuals, we ask ourselves if we’re doing all that we can to mitigate the global environmental crisis.

In that same spirit of inquiry, we at BobVila.com look back on the very best blog posts, features, slideshows, and videos from the last year about all subjects green—energy conservation, recycling and reuse, and sustainable architecture.

Energy Conservation
Monica Michael Willis addresses the water crisis in 5 Ways to Save H20 at Home, detailing several simple ways that everyday homeowners and renters can help protect the world’s fragile water supply.

So many ecologically kind choices are kind on your wallet too, and that’s a win-win we celebrate in 20 Ways to Go Green Today.

Bob Vila Green

Mesh unit provides a small-space solution for storing and organizing recyclables.

Recycling and Reuse
Chris Gardner highlights the everyday practical necessity of organizing and storing recyclables in 7 DIY Recycling Centers for Small Spaces.

LuAnn Brandsen writes on the green virtues of architectural salvage. A companion piece, Great Places to Buy Architectural Salvage has proved to be a great fan favorite.

In the slideshow Aviation Aesthetics Jane Dagmi explores the phenomenon of reusing disused aircraft in residential applications, while more recently, Dagmi helped us better understand cradle-to-cradle philosophy through reporting on the Loop Jacket, clothing made from the house wrap material Tyvek.

Bob Vila Green

The Hudson Passive Project is New York State's first Certified Passive House.

Sustainable Architecture
The search for ever-more-efficient modes of building has brought us to a tremendously exciting era of experimentation and creativity in architecture. The New American Home, a collaboration between the National Association of Home Builders and Builder magazine, reflects the priorities of homeowners today and the latest trends in home design.

We’ve given in-depth coverage to at least two other eco-friendly, design-forward homes. The Hudson Passive Project is New York State’s first Certified Passive House, and 2020 Alton Road is on track to become the first LEED Platinum-certified home in Miami Beach, FL.

For more, watch the Building Green web series, with Bob Vila investigating the principles and technologies at the forefront of contemporary construction. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

User’s Guide to Green Certification Seals

DIY Deals: Earth Day



In honor of Earth Day this Sunday, April 22, we’re encouraging everyone to give back to Mother Nature. Make your corner of the world a little greener and a lot more colorful. Here are just a few of the online nursery sales taking place this weekend. Shop for bulbs and seeds, trees and bushes, and spend the weekend beautifying your yard—and our world.

Jackson & Perkins is having an Earth Day Celebration until Monday, 4/23. More than 100 of their plants (along with gardening tools) are up to 50% off.

Blue Stone Perennials is also selling plants for up to half-off. Choose from a wide variety, from asters and clematis to hollyhocks and hostas, but order soon as this offer is for a limited time.

These cheery Anthemis Sancti-Johannis are 40% off at Blue Stone Perennials

Spring Hill Nursery has extended its free $25 coupon until Tuesday, 4/24. Take the discount off a full assortment of shade plants, roses, grasses, shrubs, and more.

Easy to Grow Bulbs has garden “perfume” on sale now. Find savings on a variety of scented varieties—fresia, ginger, jasmine, phlox, peonies and tuberose—all on sale through Sunday, 4/22.

These Circus Clown micro-miniature roses are on sale for $6.50 each at Heirloom Roses

Heirloom Roses is having its Mother’s Day and Miniature Roses Sale through 4/29. Get 110 varieties of miniature roses for just $6.50 each (reg. $8.50).

Nature Hill’s Nursery is celebrating Earth Day by offering 25% savings off all plants from the company’s huge selection of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and spring flower bulbs. Offers ends midnight 4/22.

Edmund’s Roses is offering sales up to half-off on select roses while supplies last. You’ll also find 20% savings on Clematis, 25% on select tree roses, and more. Take advantage soon, as this offer is good only while supplies last!

SPA-oritize Your Home Bath

Abraham-Teiger-Architects-Spa-Bathroom copy

Photo courtesy: Abraham Teiger Architects

We all dream of having a luxurious bath (consider the one pictured above, by Abraham Teiger Architects, or the bath below-right belonging to actress Hilary Swank). But luxury is hard to resist—especially in the bath, where space, light, storage and spa-like amenities are coveted.

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How To: Install a New Kitchen Sink

It's not so easy to install a kitchen sink without destroying your countertop, but a DIYer with average skills can complete the replacement in about four hours.

Install Kitchen Sink

Photo: JProvey

So many elements in kitchen design have remained common over the decades. Cabinets still have raised panels. Countertops are still made of plastic laminate. And tile is still a preferred surface for backsplashes and floors. But an ugly steel band running around an almond- or avocado-color sink? That says ’80s faster than big hair.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to replace an old sink (and its supporting hudee ring) without destroying your countertop, but a do-it-yourselfer with average skills can complete the replacement in about four hours. As with any plumbing job, begin early in the day, so if something does go wrong, you may still be able to finish by dinnertime!

1. Buy a sink that will fit the existing opening. (You can buy a sink that’s slightly bigger than the opening, but it may be difficult to enlarge the hole.) Buy the rest of the supplies you’ll need and get everything ready to go. If you’re replacing a cast-iron sink, be sure to have some extra muscle on hand to help manage the weight.

Install Kitchen Sink - Disconnecting

Photo: JProvey

2. Clear out the sink cabinet and crawl in there with a flashlight. Locate the clips that secure the sink and its rim to the countertop. Remove them and disconnect the supply and drain plumbing.

3. With your helper holding the sink from above, push up on the old sink from underneath. You may have to run a putty knife around the perimeter to loosen the old caulk seal. With the old sink removed, test-fit the new one.

Install Kitchen Sink - Connecting

Photo: JProvey

4. Prepare the new sink by installing the faucet according to the manufacturer’s directions. Two common sink installation mistakes are, one, forgetting to clean the new sink thoroughly before installing and, two, forgetting to install the new faucet before installing the new sink. Factory-fresh stainless steel sinks smell awful, so it’s best to scrub them down outdoors. And it’s a lot easier to install the faucet before you install the sink, for at this stage, the mounting nuts are more accessible. While you’re at it, install all accessories too, including sprayer and detergent dispenser mounts.

5. When installing the faucet and sprayer bases, apply a ribbon of plumber’s putty first.

Install Kitchen Sink - Caulk

Photo: JProvey

6. Apply caulk under the sink rim and seat it in the opening.

Install Kitchen Sink - Drain

Photo: JProvey

7. Install the drain and tail pipe, seating it in caulk or using the supplied gasket—whichever method is recommended by the manufacturer.

Install Kitchen Sink - Clips

Photo: JProvey

8. Install the new clips, then reconnect the supply lines and drain pipes. If using flexible supply hoses (recommended), don’t reuse the old ones. The rubber gasket that seals the connection may have hardened over the years and may not seat properly to the new faucet’s tailpieces.

9. Finally, turn on the water and run it for several minutes. Check for leaks at all connections, especially at the tubing, around the drain, and around the trap.

Money-saving tip: Buy a sink and faucet combo. You’ll save at least $100 if you can find a pairing you like.

How To: Unclog a Sink Drain
A Glassy-Smooth Enamel Finish for Old Kitchen Cabinets
Backsplash Idea: Faux Stone Refinishing

5 Ways to Get Perfect, Clean Cuts in Plywood

Plywood sheet goods are an essential in any home improvement project involving wood. But due to their layered structure, they’re often prone to tear-out. The result: little, ragged splinters in the fibers of the wood exposing the ply underneath. You don’t need fine cabinetmaking tools to get clean cuts in sheet goods. You just need a little know-how.

Cut Plywood

1. Use the right blade, and use it properly. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the blade that came with your circular saw, miter saw or table saw isn’t going to give you the cuts you’re after. These blades will work for rough cuts in construction-grade soft lumber, but for working with hardwoods and sheet goods, you need to upgrade. For circular saws, grab a $15-20 carbide tip blade designed for plywood. For table and miter saws, invest in an 80 TPI plywood blade, one designed for cross (miter saw) or rip (table saw) cuts.

Then when making your cuts, set yourself up for success. Your plywood should be oriented so that the blade exits the wood on the good face. So for a circular saw and miter saw, make your cuts with the good face down; on the table saw, with the good face up.

Cutting Plywood

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It’s National Painting Week!



April has ushered in a burst of color, and we’re not just talking about floral blooms. According to a 2012 Spring Home Improvement Survey conducted by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and Sherwin-Williams, seven out of 10 homeowners are planning home improvement projects this spring—and of those, nearly half (49%) cite painting as their top “to do.”

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Why Is The Home Depot So Crowded?

The Home Depot: DIY on the Rise

If you’re tackling a home improvement project this spring, you’re not the only one reinvesting sweat equity in your house. This is the DIY comeback year, according to an American Express survey released at the end of March. This year, 72% of American homeowners will be tackling home improvement projects—about even with last year. But as the spring get-it-done season ramps up, only 15% will be hiring contractors, a significant 25% drop from 2011.

That might be explained by the type of work that homeowners plan to shoulder for their $3,500 average annual project budget. Throughout the recession, homeowners hunkered down and concentrated on maintenance, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Prompted by both tax incentives and the importance of maintaining the essential structure of their homes, owners put scarce dollars into windows, doors, roofs, and systems.

With the economy perking up, so is enthusiasm for long-delayed smaller projects (homeowners still aren’t sinking major bucks into whole-house remodels or major additions); top among them cosmetic touch-ups (37%), room makeovers (30%), and floor replacement (17%).

Properties that are well-maintained open the door for a prompt sale, because obvious TLC is one of those know-it-when-you-see-it factors that buyers pick up on immediately, according to a new survey from brokerage Coldwell Banker. About 61% of both men and women trust their intuition to identify the houses that are best for them—and 28% of women and 25% of men rely more on their feelings than on technical elements such as the square footage and price, according to the Coldwell Banker survey. It’s the absence of tell-tale signs like cracked windowpanes and a cobwebby furnace that reassures buyers that this property is worth consideration.

Americans kept their houses in good shape despite the recession. That they’re focusing now on finishes and landscaping is a grassroots indicator that the market is about to see a burst of new properties.