Sunday, March 29, 2009

10 Things You Must Put in Your Next House

This is a reprint from the Builder magazine website:

From: BUILDER 2008
Posted on: December 15, 2008 8:44:00 AM
10 Things You Must Put in Your Next House
Add these features to boost the value of your homes with your buyers.

Americans love getting a deal, which might begin to explain why so many consumers flock to shopping malls on Black Friday. Of course, they aren't always ending up with a real bargain, but sometimes this doesn't matter. As long as an item or service has a high perceived value to people, there’s a good chance they’ll choose to buy it.

This concept can be applied to selling homes. Create high perceived value, and you stand a better chance of closing the deal with buyers. One way to do this is to offer high value at a low cost. If your cool-looking kitchen was inexpensive to build, but it looks like it cost tons of money to do, you’ve hit a home run for your business and your buyers.
With that in mind, here are 10 items to put in your next home to create real and perceived value for your buyers.

Radiant-heated bathroom floorsForget fancy water-filled tubes embedded in concrete. You can now buy simple mesh-and-wire mats that install fast and easy under ceramic tiles. They cost as low as $10 a square foot and come with a variety of thermostats. Put a toasty floor in your homes' bathrooms and watch your buyers melt.

Butcher block countertopsWood is the original solid surface. Used as an island or a bar, it holds nostalgic memories for older buyers and offers a fresh natural look for younger customers. It traditionally comes in maple, but butcher block is available in other species such as cherry and birch. An 8-foot-long top measuring 1.5 inches thick and 25 inches wide can be had for as little as $189.

Glass tilesYes, glass is cool. And yes, it’s pricey. But used sparingly as a kitchen or bath backsplash, glass can’t be beat. It reflects light, shimmers with color, and is virtually maintenance-free. If you shop carefully, you can buy it for as little as $7 a square foot.

Dual flush toiletOne can only imagine the perceived value of a dual-flush toilet installed in a powder room, which will cost about $250. That is about $100 more than a standard toilet, but it can save a family of four up to 6,000 gallons of water per year.

Low-flow showerheadsThere’s a chance you’ve used a new low-flow showerhead and don’t even know it. And that’s the point. These units use air to deliver the same robust performance as a traditional showerhead, but with a flow rate of 1 gallon per minute as opposed to 3.5 gallons a minute.

On-demand water heaterDepending on your climate, an on-demand (or tankless) water heater is an excellent choice. It does cost more, but instead of heating water at a constant temperature 24 hours a day, the energy-saving unit only activates when there is a need. Plus, it installs on a wall (inside or outside) and frees up space, which is especially important in the smaller, lower-priced homes that buyers appear to prefer in the current economy.

Water re-circulatorIf a tankless water heater is a little too edgy (and costly), you can still give your home buyers instant hot water by using a high-efficiency conventional heater and a water re-circulator. With the push of a button, the device circulates ambient-temperature water from the line so hot water is instant and nothing is wasted down the drain.

Folding patio-doorIn 2007, four out of the most popular 10 products among BUILDER readers were folding patio-door systems. Here's why: When closed, these doors look like any other, but they fold up like an accordion to provide access to the great outdoors. Full-wall installations are pricey, but you can reduce cost with a two-panel system.

Central vacuumA central vacuum cleaner is a built-in system consisting of a power unit, collection canister, and hose. Connected by special pipes installed within interior walls, the system collects dust and deposits it in the centrally located canister. Five times more powerful than an upright, it’s quiet and efficient. Plus, an entry-level system can cost as little as $800.

Excellent insulation Insulation isn’t sexy, but when it’s 95 degrees in the summer or the mercury dips below freezing in the winter, your buyers will thank you for this, even if they didn't see the perceived or real value when they first signed the sales contract. Forget the entry-level insulation, and go for something that will really stuff the wall and the roof. While you’re at it, don’t forget the attic.

Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Moving Away from the Billable Hour in Construction Law

I am going to tell you a secret. Most lawyers hate the billable hour. It is hard for us to keep track of our time, even with all of the latest software and technology. Most clients do not understand why some activities take so much of our time. They don't understand the value we provide. That is why more and more lawyers are trying to change the way they charge and use flat fees and other means to bill their clients.

The other day, I had an epiphany. As a lawyer who works mostly in the construction industry, I should bill like contractors. I could prepare a proposal and scope of the work, and notify the client in advance what I would charge. If things changed dramatically, we would execute a written change order that would be signed by the parties. Everyone would be on the same page, and there would be no surprises.

This is easier to do in some areas than others. I pretty much know how much time it takes me to draft a contract, write a demand letter or file a mechanic's lien. The trickiest area is in litigation. The minute you file suit, you have no control over the process. The other side can make it quick, or drag the lawsuit out and make it incredibly time consuming and expensive.

However, I am doing research and trying to figure it out. I have never been comfortable with the fact that the first time I write a motion, it will take much longer and cost the client more money than the tenth time I write it. The billable hour does not encourage efficiency, and I am very efficient. I do not want my clients to be afraid to call me because they believe it will be costing them extra money to speak with me. Those conversations can frequently prevent problems and save money in the long run. So, look for some changes in the way I practice. They are coming soon.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why You Need a Good Renovation Contract

I just had a great experience as a lawyer last week. A client called and he was not unhappy. In fact, he was about to start a home renovation project, and was really looking forward to it. He found a contractor he liked, and he and the contractor were working together collaboratively. A colleague suggested to him that he come see me to draft their contract. It certainly made sense.

For less than 1/2% of the value of the project, we hammered out a contract that spelled out the understanding of the parties. It is in compliance with local law, so the contractor is protected. In fact, the homeowner told me that the contractor was willing to chip in and help pay for my fee. Discussing the contract terms helped the homeowner further define the scope of the project and a realistic payment schedule.

We discussed what would happen if change orders were necessary and how they would be handled. The homeowner decided what would constitute an unreasonable delay. Problems were anticipated and dealt with preemptively.

This experience was in huge contrast to the usual scenario in my practice. I receive a call from a desperate contractor or homeowner and things are going terribly wrong. It is usually too late to get the project back on course, and on some level, everybody loses. That is why I started this blog; to serve as preventative medicine, and to encourage more people to take my client's approach from last week. This may be the best money he has spent so far to ensure a successful home improvement project.