28 June 2010

East Coast Couple's Southwestern Dream Home

AZ Central

There's a lot of cowboy in Larry Rogoff. He may be from Pittsburgh, but the design sensibilities that stir his soul are those of the Southwest.

His wife, Lisa, shares his exuberant embrace of the region. Raised in a Yonkers, N.Y., apartment, she too found herself drawn to Navajo and Hopi designs, art and Southwestern hues long before the couple left the East Coast 20 years ago for the Arizona sunshine.

A frustrated architect, Larry settled for remodeling their homes, waiting for the day when he could build one from scratch.

With an eye to the future, the Rogoffs bought a near acre of land on Lone Mountain in north Scottsdale. Avid travelers of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, they also began collecting such things as antique doors and other architectural relics from La Puerta Originals in Santa Fe, as well as art, handcrafted furniture and anything else that struck their fancy.

About 10 years ago, Larry began designing their dream home. He was careful to incorporate remodeling changes he had made to their other homes and to create the kind of open, comfortable, decidedly Southwestern abode they envisioned.

The ceilings - except for the 19-foot ceiling in the two-story entryway - would be lower. Windows wide for the mountain views. No formal living room. And they wanted a dining room that was like a ceremonial Native American kiva, intimate but large enough for a 10-foot-long table to seat a dozen or so guests.

There were special places for artwork they had collected for more than 20 years, for such custom furniture as the handcrafted buffet in the entryway and the chair Larry and his son carved from a tree trunk.

"We wanted to keep it comfortable and cozy," Larry said. "We didn't want a model-home showcase where you walk into a living room and there are rooms to the left and rooms to the right. That lacks imagination."

There's no lack of imagination in the mountainside home where they've lived for eight years.

Walk into the light-filled two-story entryway and there's a nearly 10-foot-high gaming wheel on one side and a handmade inlaid-wood chest on the other. Ahead is the great room with its exposed-beam ceiling and a bank of windows overlooking the terraced backyard, pool and mountain views.

"We didn't want a formal living room because no one uses them," Lisa said. "We wanted this comfortable and livable, and we like natural materials."

The kitchen overlooks the great room and a dining area.

The couple like to entertain and cook, so Larry designed a raised kitchen rather than the more popular two-level granite-slab counter. The higher kitchen floor creates a bar-height counter on one side, where guests can sit and sip wine, and a counter height for those prepping food in the kitchen.

At the end of a hallway with a brick-barrel ceiling is the sunken dining room that Larry designed as a kiva.

Steps lead down to the room with a brick sand-grouted floor, Venetian-plaster walls, coffered ceiling and a beehive fireplace that burns both natural gas and wood.

When you enter the room, the focal point is an 8-foot-long wide-angle photograph of Monument Valley hung above a narrow window slit.

When you're seated at the 10-foot-long dining-room table, the view shifts from Monument Valley to Pinnacle Peak and the McDowell Mountains outside the window.

If the dining room was Larry's focus, the guest room was Lisa's.

"I've lived with three men," she said, referring to Larry and their two sons. She wanted a decidedly feminine guest room that reminded friends of a turn-of-the-20th-century bordello. Larry joined in the design fun, using reclaimed-wood floors, rosebush-print wallpaper and a pressed-tin ceiling in the adjoining bathroom. A cowboy hat hangs from one of the posts on the four-poster bed.

Framed sepia-toned photographs of Amsterdam's red-light district hang in the bathroom. Her grandmother's silver tea set sits on an antique table.

"I picture a single woman who's a bit promiscuous living here," she said. "Sometimes I come in here just to laugh."

The Rogoffs decorated another bedroom in an early 19th-century theme they call Hollywood cowboy. A four-poster bed is covered in a Navajo blanket. The window shutters have cowhide insets, and bead-board wainscoting adds to the room's authentic feel, as does a small old-fashioned saloon bar and tufted-leather wing-back chair. It's a nice place to land after a long trail ride.

"Nothing happened all at once. When it's right, that's when we got it," Lisa said, explaining the careful assembly of a ruby-red antique chandelier and an antique pickle-jar collection. She also made curtains from feed bags.

At the end of the day, you can find the Rogoffs on the rooftop deck off Larry's second-floor office. Whiskey more than wine drinkers, they come here to toast the sunset and savor the landscape they love.

"I wanted it to be a comfortable home," Larry said. "Could I have made it bigger and a little more grand? Yes, but it's our nest and that's not who I am."

27 June 2010

Pittsburgh Home to Harness Sunlight

Philly dot Com

PITTSBURGH - When Michael Merck's Pennsylvania remodeling crew is finished, sunlight that once streamed through dusty cracks in a vacant East Liberty home will strike a solar panel array capable of generating enough energy to support a family of five.

At least, that's the goal the owner of West Penn Energy Solutions set for himself in a novel bid to transform a deteriorating 100-year-old shell of a house into a Zero Energy Home , a "green" living space that produces as much energy as its occupants consume in a year.

"We want to show that we can take this great example of Pittsburgh housing stock and convert it into something as energy efficient or more energy efficient than what people are building new," said Merck, 32, of Regent Square.

Work began in March on the North St. Clair Street home and could be finished by year's end.

Merck hopes to sell the five-bedroom house for about $265,000. He'll list it for sale soon before it's finished in case a buyer wants his company to customize it.

Since minimal air will be able to enter or escape, Merck will use special wall paints and wood stains that emit little or no toxic gas. Rain barrels outside will catch water to irrigate the lawn and garden. Solar-thermal panels mounted atop awnings over two master bedroom windows will block some sunlight, yet catch enough to heat a water tank in the basement equipped with a 400-gallon reservoir. Sun-heated water will flow to showers, sinks and the wood-floored home's radiators.

Merck said the annual cost for electrical service and heating the home will be less than $300.

One drawback: No air conditioning, but a ventilation system will bring in cool, fresh air and exhaust stale air. A single window-mounted air conditioner could cool the entire house, if the owner installed one, he said.

"This really is Michael's dream and his initiative to do a net-zero energy house, and it's one of our core principles, so we're happy to be working with him on this Pennsylvania home remodeling project," said Nate Cunningham, director real estate for the nonprofit East Liberty Development Inc.

ELDI owns the house, but it has worked out a unique business deal with Merck and with two other developers: father-and-son-team Albert and Chas Suter and, separately, Thomas Bencho, who are renovating homes on North Euclid Avenue and Beatty Street, respectively.

The nonprofit purchased the vacant homes typically in economically depressed or crime-prone areas , and gave the small developers an option to renovate and sell them for a profit. Cunningham said ELDI is slowing creating a market for higher-priced homes with the goal of creating a mixed-income neighborhood of homeowners and renters.

"What we liked about them was they're not making us pay anything up front," Chas Suter said. "When we go to close with a buyer is when we pay them for the house and we pay a finder's fee."

The Suters are the first to nearly complete renovations to a house on North Euclid. Theirs is not a net zero-energy house. They preserved a stick-and-ball staircase, pine wood floors and created a master suite. The asking price is $239,900.

"It allows them to continue their mission of bringing homeownership back to East Liberty, and it allows Pennsylvania remodeling contractors with limited resources to renovate a property ... and sell it," said Coldwell Banker real estate agent Holly Sisk, who is working with the Suters.

Cunningham said a real estate market analysis shows there are few who own homes worth between $150,000 and $300,000 in East Liberty. ELDI is changing that.

Three of six homes on North Euclid that ELDI helped to build are sold or under contract. Each falls in or above that price range. People want to live near the improving Penn Avenue corridor, he said, which offers easy access to Whole Foods, Border's, Trader Joe's, a planned Target, and other retail and commercial gems.

ELDI has nine more homes it could offer to small developers.

"We are getting the pioneers now, but we are seeing a pick up in momentum from home buyers," Cunningham said.

When Does Home Remodeling Make Financial Sense?

NJ Today

My wife and I survived two major home remodeling projects and we’ve got the battle scars to prove it. Like most people feeling cramped for space – thanks to two growing children in our case – we weighed the plusses and minuses of remodeling versus moving to a larger home.

Because we live in a great neighborhood with strong local schools, we ultimately decided to stay put and remodel, but everyone’s case is different.

Here are a few considerations to weigh before you decide to remodel:

Wishes vs. needs. How necessary are the improvements you want? The days when many improvements paid for themselves in increased home value are over for now, especially such strictly cosmetic upgrades as new kitchen cabinets or a bathroom skylight. That doesn’t mean certain projects aren’t worthwhile. For instance:

    * Repairing a leaky roof or faulty plumbing might spare you from water or mold damage.

    * Installing attic and wall insulation and energy-efficient windows or replacing older appliances and light fixtures will lower utility bills and may be tax-deductible (visit www.energystar.gov for information on tax credits and rebates).

    * The IRS allows tax deductions for certain home improvements such as bathroom remodeling in Pennsylvania to accommodate medical conditions or disabilities with a doctor’s recommendation. The rules are complex, so read IRS Publication 502 at www.irs.gov and consult a tax advisor before proceeding.

Budgeting. Gather cost estimates for each job or item and create a chart with columns for high-, medium- and low-cost options. Don’t forget supplies for do-it-yourself projects and always add an extra 20 percent or more for unexpected expenses. If contracted labor is involved, gather three estimates and carefully check references and business licenses. Also, ask about discounts for grouping multiple projects together.

Financing options. Ideally, you’ve already established a Saugatuck home improvement savings plan. But if you’re planning to borrow, proceed with caution. Just a few years ago, home values were skyrocketing and many people took out a home equity loan (HEL) or line of credit (HELOC) to tap their home’s equity.

The real estate market’s collapse left many people owing more than their homes were worth, so now even folks with excellent credit and significant home equity have difficulty finding such financing. Lenders now demand stringent income documentation and have cut back on the debt-to-value percentage they will allow – only 60 or 70 percent or less of the appraised value in some hard-hit areas. So if your existing mortgage is over that amount, you may be out of luck.

Comparison shop.
First, ask if your existing lender offers HELs and HELOCs. If so, compare their interest rates, fees and qualification criteria to what other lenders are advertising. Bankrate.com has home equity rate comparison tools for both banks and credit unions; but be forewarned, pickings are slim right now. You might have better luck talking directly to lending officers at local branches.

One important caution: HELs and HELOCs are considered secured debt in which your home is used as collateral for the loan. If you miss payments or default, you could lose your home. If you’re not certain you’ll be able to make the payments (worries about unemployment, prolonged illness, etc.), it’s probably best to forego Pennsylvania home remodeling projects until you have sufficient savings.

06 June 2010

Jury Still Out on Home-Buyer Tax Credit, says Home-Builder CEO

USA Today

The CEO of Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) said Thursday that a final push by homebuyers in April to qualify for a government tax credit didn't give the homebuilder's sales as big a boost as he'd hoped.

The company's new-home contracts tumbled 17% in the February-April quarter vs. a year ago. Excluding communities that are no longer open, new contracts were flat, however.

Those results exceeded the builder's internal projections, but still disappointed.

"I'd be less than candid if I didn't say we were hoping for better sales due to the impact of the homebuyer tax credit," CEO Ara Hovnanian said.

The tax credit — $8,000 for first-time homebuyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers — helped stoke sales for homebuilders this spring. In April, new-home sales nationwide jumped 14.8%; in March, new-home sales posted the biggest monthly increase in 47 years.

The government incentive expired April 30, although homebuyers have until June 30 to close on their purchase. That had many builders anticipating they would see a spike in sales as buyers raced to qualify for the credits.

Hovnanian said the deadline pulled some home sales forward into April, and that appears to have sapped some of the sales that ordinarily might have happened in May.

The builder's sales per community were slower last month than a year earlier.

"Given the fact that the tax credit is no longer in place, this reduction in sales per community in May seems reasonable," Hovnanian said. "The jury is still out as to what the impact will be on the expiration of credit on sales going forward."

Many experts anticipate home sales will decline in coming months now that the government incentive has ended, although some homebuyers in California can still qualify for a $10,000 tax credit enacted by the state legislature. New Jersey lawmakers are working to enact a $15,000 tax credit of their own.

Regardless, high unemployment and job insecurities continue to keep many buyers on the fence.

Hovnanian, based in Red Bank, N.J., reported Wednesday a smaller net loss of $28.6 million, or 36 cents a share, in its second quarter. Revenue dropped to $318.6 million from $398 million a year earlier.

Management said home prices remain stable in most of the company's markets, which has helped raise its profit margins and led to smaller write-downs. The builder also saw a lower rate of cancellation on new home contracts than a year earlier.

03 June 2010

Whirlpool Recalling Maytag Dishwashers due to Fire Hazard

Bloomberg / Business Week

Whirlpool Corp., the world’s largest appliance maker, issued the biggest U.S. dishwasher recall in three years to fix 1.7 million of its Maytag models with a fire hazard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

The dishwashers have a faulty heating element that can short-circuit and ignite, the agency said today in a statement. Consumers should stop using the dishwashers immediately and disconnect the power source by pulling the fuse or flipping a circuit-breaker, the agency said.

The manufacturer, based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, received 12 reports of fires with the plastic-tub models, including a blaze that caused extensive kitchen damage, the agency said. No injuries have been reported.

“Product quality and consumer safety are Whirlpool Corporation’s top priorities,” spokeswoman Jill Saletta said in an e-mailed statement. “If a product quality or safety issue is identified, we move swiftly and with urgency to correct the issue.”

The dishwasher recall is the biggest since General Electric Co. targeted 2.5 million units with a fire hazard in May 2007, according to the safety commission’s website. Maytag recalled 2.3 million dishwashers in February 2007 after 135 fires were reported.

Those are the only dishwasher recalls involving more than 500,000 units in the past decade listed on the agency website.

Maytag sold the recalled units at department and kitchen appliance stores and homebuilders from February 2006 through April 2010 for $250 to $900, according to a company news release.

$75 Million Cost

Whirlpool said it was investigating “a limited number” of potential quality and safety issues when it filed its April 26 quarterly report with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We currently expect to undertake a corrective action to address a supplier-related quality and potential product safety issue,” Whirlpool said in the filing. “We have accrued $75 million for this matter based on our current estimate of the costs of the action.”

Saletta confirmed the amount in the filing covers the dishwasher recall.

Maytag will repair the appliances in customers’ homes without charge, the agency said. Consumers who prefer new dishwashers will get a rebate of $150 or $250 toward a purchase of one of seven new Maytag stainless-steel tub models.