Archive | November 2013

The good-value kitchen revamp

Everyone knows that a good-looking kitchen is often the deciding factor in a home sale, but what homeowners may not know is that they don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to create a kitchen that will really impress potential buyers.

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For example, if you have steel or wood cabinets that are basically in good shape, a skilled painter can make them look great again by disassembling them, sanding them down, painting them inside and out and reinstalling. At the same time you should fit gleaming new hinges, handles and drawer pulls.

If you decide that the cabinets really need replacing, look around at the in-stock and DIY options available through companies like Builder’s Warehouse  (www.builders.co.za) and Lotters Pine (www.lotterspine.com) before you consider having new cabinets custom made. These outlets also have a great range of readymade cabinet doors in standard sizes that you can fit to old concrete (built in) cupboards to give them a bright modern look.

Next you will need new countertops to go with the revamped or replaced cabinets. Most popular are modern, durable laminates available in a huge range of finishes and much cheaper than tiles or granite. But if you really want a “stone” finish, you should consider Caesarstone (www.caesarstone.co.za), a quartz and resin compound that also comes in a wide range of colours and is very durable.

But before you even think about cabinets and countertops, you need to deal with the basics that will also help to give your kitchen that freshly done look. These include: 

  • Plumbing. You can keep costs down by not changing the position of the sink or the outlets for a dishwasher and/or washing machine. However, you might want to put in a new sink and get a plumber to fit a shiny new mixer or taps.  
  • Electrical outlets and light fittings. Get an electrician to check that all the electrical switches and outlets in your kitchen are safe (especially if they are anywhere near water) and consider installing new cover-plates and even a couple of new outlets if you’re currently using multi-plugs. At the same time, the light fittings can be quickly and easily updated from an extensive selection at stores like the Lighting Warehouse (www.lightingwarehouse.co.za) or one of the Radiant dealers around South Africa (www.radiant.co.za). Pick fittings that are “neutral” or clinical in design, easy to install and preferably use LED globes. 
  • Flooring. Ceramic tiles are the most durable floor surface but they are expensive (and disruptive) to install so if your floor is not already tiled, you should opt for something else. Marley tiles (see www.floorworx.co.za) are a practical choice as they are easy to clean and easily replaced if damaged. For a more luxe look, cushioned vinyl tile or sheeting is an excellent and relatively inexpensive option (see www.belgotexvinyl.com).
  • Walls. Don’t worry if the kitchen walls are not fully tiled. Just repaint with a matt, washable paint in a pale neutral colour (see www.plascon.co.za). And don’t forget the ceiling, which should preferably be white, and the doors and architraves.
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Start a toolkit and get hooked for life

You may not be a DIY enthusiast now, but there are many everyday situations you will encounter as a new homeowner or tenant that require you to have at least a few basic tools on hand, and that’s how it starts.

Although you can probably change a plug with a nail file or a knife, it’s a lot easier with a screwdriver – which can also be used for all sorts of other tasks. Similarly, a hammer comes in really handy when trying to hang pictures, and a tape measure is really useful when trying to decide if a new piece of furniture would fit the space you have available.

Toolkit

Besides, the more small repairs and alterations you are able to do yourself, the more money you will save. And there is plenty of how-to advice available on the internet these days, even if you are usually all thumbs. This will of course require you to expand your “repair kit”, and experts suggest you gather at least the following items:

  • A can of Q20 for oiling hinges and unsticking locks
  • A roll of duct tape
  • A pair of pliers and some wire cutters
  • A utility knife
  • A putty knife
  • A straight edge
  • A small spirit level
  • A plunger
  • Some picture wire
  • Some strong string
  • Some cable ties
  • Sandpaper in fine and rough grades
  • Screws and nails in various sizes
  • A bottle of wood glue
  • A can or tube of contact glue
  • A tube of waterproof silicone sealer

Also on your list should be some items that will make your forays into basic home maintenance easier and safer, including some rubber gloves, a strong torch or work light, some safety glasses, a pair of ear protectors, and a first-aid kit.

With this little lot, and some expert advice from your favourite handyman site, YouTube instruction video, or magazine (see www.homehandyman.co.za)‎, you’ll soon be able to take many household items apart, mend them and put them back together, cut cables to length, trim and lay carpet, reseal your bath, change door locks, unblock a sink, and handle a host of other household “chores” that you might previously have paid someone else to do.

The more you do and the more confidence you gain, the more you’ll probably want to do. Successful DIY (yes, that’s what this is now) is known to be addictive, and you’ll know you’re hooked when you start thinking about buying an actual toolbox to hold all your gear.

However, you’d better not buy a small one. The minute you start thinking about putting up shelves, you’ll need space for a drill and possibly a saw or two. And then there’s that electric sander you need to speed up the repainting or revarnishing jobs, the set of Allen keys for assembling flat-pack furniture, more screwdrivers, the rubber mallet, the tile-cutter, a crowbar… you get the idea.

Come to think of it, perhaps what you really need is a workshop.

Summer’s not the time to slow down

As the days grow longer and warmer, estate agents need to guard against taking things too easy.

Summer blog post

In fact, says successful entrepreneur and author Bill McBean, summer is actually a great time to amp up your business and perhaps even get a jump on those competitors who are coasting towards the end of the year and hoping that the weather will do most of their work for them over the next few months.

There is only a quarter of the year left now, which means you should be three-quarters of the way – or more – towards achieving the goals you set way back in January. But if that’s not the case, or perhaps you’d like to get ahead so that January is not the usual financial strain, here are some expert ideas for a “killer” fourth quarter:

  • Take a day to go back to basics. Check your results for the year and establish what has really worked for you (i.e. where most of your listings and sales have come from). Remember the most powerful way of leveraging your working time is to be very clear about what you do well, and do more of that. If you know where your best source of business is, you can increase your exposure to those people.
  • Write down the specifics of what you want to achieve in the next three months and what actions you think will be necessary to reach your goal. Add 25% to these actions to give yourself some insurance and draw up a weekly plan of action.
  • For example, your best way to get more business might be to call other business people that you have been sending customers to all year. Or it might be to do something special in the areas you have farmed and where your name is known. Or perhaps to put more work into increasing your online presence and use of technology to reach more people more quickly and less expensively.
  • Don’t carry passengers. Work steadily to eliminate all non-serious, energy-burning, time wasting clients from your database. Spend the time you used to waste on them on something positive and you’ll already be ahead for next year.
  • Schedule some time for proper relaxation and re-motivation. A burnout from working flat out without proper breaks would really wreck your success plan.
  • End each day by looking at what you did that was productive, and what you need to do tomorrow to be more even more effective.

Bank criteria an ever-changing picture

It’s not only SA banks that keep changing their qualification criteria for home financing – lenders in many parts of the world are seeking different ways to cut their risks in the face of ongoing worries about the global economy and their own higher costs of borrowing.

In the UK, for example, several smaller banks and building societies have now lowered the maximum age that borrowers can be at the end of their home loan terms. The Financial Times reported recently that some have dropped this age limit to 75 now, while others have lowered it even more to 70 – which effectively means that they can’t give new 20-year home loans to people over the age of 50.

bank criteria

And since most of the major banks already have an upper age limit of 65, this is going to put a huge damper on home purchases by anyone who is retired or approaching retirement. What is more, it does not seem to take account of the fact that the number of people working well-past the traditional retirement age of 65 is growing all the time.

On the other hand, however, lenders in the UK are setting a great example by being more flexible about lending to people who are self-employed or working on fixed-term contracts. Such buyers have typically struggled to obtain home loans in the past five years, but now more lenders are adapting their criteria to enable them to qualify.

These banks, it would appear, have now recognised that there has been a major and probably irreversible shift in the way people work – and that giving loans to self-employed or contract workers is not inherently more risky than giving them to corporate employees who could be made redundant or fired at any time.

Figures from the UK Office of National Statistics show that the number of self-employed people in the UK has risen by 10% since the start of the financial crisis, while contract staff now make up 14%.

And in June, leading mortgage lender Halifax made its standard mortgage range available through its branches for contract workers who can provide evidence they have been in the same field for at least a year. Borrowers must have a contract where they earn at least GBP500 a day or GBP75 000 gross per year.

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