There's a reason that many people who have gone through a major remodeling job eventually refer to their homes — no matter how beautiful the result — as "The Money Pit": All too often, the costs outstrip their expectations (and that's being kind).
One could make a convincing argument that any entity that could effectively arm consumers with realistic, reliable notions of cost — before they sign a contract — would garner considerable loyalty. Maybe even a Nobel Prize.
So in recent years, various players in the housing business have certainly tried. Remodeling magazine and the National Association of Realtors have teamed to offer an annual cost roundup of prototypical projects, featuring estimates from contractors that are tied to real estate agents' estimates of the jobs' payback at resale time. Earlier this year, Zillow launched Zillow Digs, which featured photography of actual projects paired with contractors' estimates of costs.
Now comes Houzz, the popular home improvement site that's known for its 1.7 million photos of rooms and other household improvements: It recently introduced the Houzz Real Cost Finder, which surveyed 106,000 homeowners who had completed numerous projects within the last five years to learn how much they had spent.
"It's a tool that enables homeowners to see specific costs for building and renovation and decorating in their local areas and at different price points," said Houzz Vice President Liza Hausman.
Houzz has created an interactive map: Click on your area and chose one of 20 project categories. Below the map is a slider bar that enables users to see the data from consumers in specific geographic areas who had completed the projects, segmented into various price categories.
"One of the things we got back from our annual survey at the end of January was that 41 percent of the people said they went over their budget," Hausman said. "Trying to set that initial budget and finding the number that they'll need to face is the biggest challenge for homeowners.
"They don't have that ballpark data for their starting point," she said. "They call up professionals and turn out to actually have only 30 percent of what they need. We're trying to close that gap."
Got a pricey house to sell? By one measure, this is your moment. On a nationwide basis, the luxury real estate category has been declared to be a seller's market by the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, which tracks the high-end market and provides specialized training for real estate agents. The group said that higher-end homes crossed the line that divides buyers' from sellers' markets in June. The Dallas-based group said it was the first time homes listed for more than $500,000 had been in the seller's market category since it began tracking market trends in 2008.
Real estate at dawn. Browsing online for houses appears to appeal to the early birds of the world. HomeFinder.com, a listings site, studied its database to see which hours seem to draw home-seekers, and a surprising 18.5 percent of them are going at it between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. in each U.S. time zone. The most ardent early birds apparently are in Bellingham, Wash., where 28 percent of all home searches are done at those hours, the company said.
It's a jungle out there. If your house hunt seems as if it's been going on forever, it probably has. A recent survey for Century 21 Real Estate found that 33 percent of consumers who are actively searching for a home have been pounding the pavement for more than a year. Further, 42 percent of those searching for homes said they had made an offer on a place in the past six months, but only 11 percent said their offers had been accepted.
Real estate smells. A San Diego real estate agent has created a marketing piece that's either brilliant or completely weird. Maybe both. Jesse Zagorsky wanted to design a promotional item to give to
clients that would have a relatively long shelf life, so he devised a custom scratch-and-sniff book, according to online trade journal Inman News.
Because Zagorsky specializes in selling foreclosed properties, he created a book that would capture the, er, essence of the sometimes-unpleasant experiences that go along with selling neglected homes.
So in addition to scratchable pages that emit the aroma of roses, there are also mildew- and garbage-infused pages.