Posted by admin on February 28, 2013
The home’s cobalt blue siding sets it apart from older brick houses in its River Forest neighborhood. But the color of the house on Jackson Avenue is the least of its distinguishing factors.
As northern Illinois’ first certified passive house, Corinna and Rodrigo Lema’s new house is a celebrity in architectural circles. Originated in Germany, a passive house has maximum indoor air quality and is super energy-efficient.
The Lemas’ house is the third certified passive house in Illinois, according to the Passive House Institute U.S., which certifies them. The other two are in Urbana and Champaign.
“If it were a car, it would be getting 300 miles per gallon,” said Mark Miller, executive director of the Passive House Alliance United States, which advocates for these homes. “Europe has embraced this for years. In the U.S., we’re just catching up. There are only 34 certified in the U.S.”
Corinna Lema was vaguely familiar with passive houses before she met their architect, Tom Bassett-Dilley of Oak Park.
“As energy prices went up, we knew we wanted a house that was less dependent on gas and electricity. If not off the grid, at least as much as possible,” she said.
After meeting with Bassett-Dilley, Corinna and her husband knew a passive house was the right choice. Bassett-Dilley recruited the house’s builder, South Elgin-based Brandon Weiss. Like Bassett-Dilley, Weiss has a green-building track record.
To earn certification, the house had to pass a third-party audit that included a blower-door test to detect air leaks, a visual inspection to make sure specified products were used, and an air-flow test of the ventilation system to ensure that incoming and outgoing air was balanced.
Including the finished basement, the house has 3,800 square feet plus a detached, two-car garage. That includes three upstairs bedrooms, an open living area plus in-law suite for Corinna’s parents on the main level and a recreational room on the lower level.
The first thing a visitor notices about the Lemas’ house is its 18-inch-thick exterior walls. They contain the key to keeping the house airtight — Logix insulated concrete forms, which are Lego-like panels of concrete and foam. Outside of that is a 2-inch rigid foam layer, an air cavity and SmartSide engineered wood siding.
“It’s all about making the house airtight,” said Bassett-Dilley. “It’s so airtight, in fact, we had to have an air exchanger that changes the air every three hours, and we used the healthiest building products possible.”
The health aspect of the house is a bonus, said Corinna. “And, it’s quiet. You can’t even hear the kids at the school down the street.”
To meet their goals, Weiss told his subcontractors to use eco-friendly products where possible. Their supply lists included zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and adhesives, water-based sealants, formaldehyde-free cabinetry and CertainTeed AirRenew drywall, which captures VOCs from the air.
Weiss recommended SmartSide engineered-wood siding instead of fiber-cement siding, he said, because it is all wood, stronger and lighter, but looks like traditional clapboard. It has a 50-year warranty and will not have to be painted for about 25 years, he said.
The house’s walls are framed 24-inch-on-center (24 inches between the centers of studs), which uses less wood and makes more room for insulation than conventional 16-inch framing does. Blown into the cavities is Knauf Jet Stream fiberglass insulation, made of recycled bottles.
“We researched every product for the healthiest and most energy-efficient choice — not just the products but also what goes into them, like the type of adhesive used by the plywood manufacturer,” said Weiss. “That meant taking more time and having to run around to a lot of suppliers, but it’s worth it.”
To take advantage of passive solar heat, Bassett-Dilley put most of the windows on the house’s south side. Made by Zola European Windows, they are triple-paned.
“Typically the windows are where you have energy loss,” said Bassett-Dilley. “But with these, you gain more than you lose.”
Instead of a furnace and air conditioner, a heat pump heats and cools the house by absorbing warm or cool air. Solar panels on the garage roof heat the house’s hot water. A high-efficiency water heater is a backup when solar power does not provide enough energy.
The house has no connection to a gas utility. Its electric Bosch Axxis Condensation Dryer clothes dryer requires no vents or ducts because it condenses moisture into water, which is drained. The induction stove is electric also.
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Headlines regularly tell people that Vancouver is among the least affordable cities in the world. But often they don’t tell the full story — that while the city of Vancouver is a pricey place to be a homeowner, the suburbs still have home prices that are affordable to most families.
Today, The Vancouver Sun introduces the UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index, a new way to look at housing prices that provides a clearer, more specific picture of affordability across Metro Vancouver. The index was developed by a partnership of The Sun, the Urban Development Institute and Urban Analytics Inc. over the past three months.
Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, said she thinks it may dispel some of the “myths and hysteria” that are sometimes heard about housing.
“It gived us a different read and drills down a bit more to have a better understanding of what affordability is really like in the region,” said McMullin. “There’s no doubt that there are issues of affordability in certain areas. But I think, as a region, the numbers aren’t bad.”
The UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index will be reported by The Vancouver Sun every quarter.
“This is the first one. It will be interesting to see how it goes every quarter and to compare on an annual basis,” said McMullin, whose non-profit institute represents B.C. residential, commercial, industrial and institutional developers.
The UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index breaks Metro Vancouver into three areas — the city of Vancouver, Inner Metro (West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, Delta, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam) and Outer Metro (Surrey, Langley, North Delta, White Rock, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge). Urban Analytics calculated the numbers using average prices for new homes and median prices for resale homes.
“I often think when we talk about affordability, we say Vancouver meaning the whole region. But there are differences within the region. We tend to lump it all into one,” McMullin said.
“This takes out the really high-end, which is just really just a small number of people on the west side of Vancouver or on the West Vancouver waterfront, and looks more at the median prices rather than averaging the high, high prices with the relatively low prices.
“This study, unlike others, brings in not just income and house prices, but also factors in interest rates and amortization and looks at how that affects affordability,” McMullin said. “I think this gives a more accurate gauge of affordability in the region.”
The index shows that the majority of households in outer Metro can afford the payments on all types of homes, both new and resale. It found that as many as 82.9 per cent of households in outer Metro could make the payments on a re-sale wood-frame condo, while 80.4 per cent could afford a re-sale concrete condo.
For inner Metro, the index found that while 64.5 per cent of working households can afford a re-sale wood-frame condo, just 51.7 per cent of working households can afford a new concrete condo. For single-family homes in inner Metro, less than 40.9 per cent of households could afford to make the mortgage payments.
In Vancouver proper, housing is affordable for a far smaller percentage of the population — the UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index shows that fewer than 32 per cent of households can afford payments on a single-family home, a new or re-sale townhouse or a new concrete condominium. The numbers are a bit more encouraging for other types of housing: 34.7 per cent of households make the $66,017 required to make the payments on a new wood-frame condominium, 35.4 per cent of households make the $65,129 needed for a resale concrete condo, and 49 per cent make the $48,455 required for a $356,000 resale wood-frame condo.
The index defines “affordable” as the percentage of households living in a region who would qualify for the mortgage required to own the property. Typically, a bank wants to see no more than 32 per cent of income going to housing before it provides a person with a mortgage.
Certified financial planner Michael Thorne said the 32 per cent debt-service ratio is a good guideline.
“In most circumstances, about 30 per cent is what I recommend a family target to spend on housing,” Thorne said. “When you start getting up to 40 or 50 per cent of your income, that’s when there are problems.”
Adrian Mastracci, portfolio manager at KCM Wealth Management, said 32 per cent is a reasonable amount for a family to spend on housing, but that it would be tough to do that in Vancouver, with its lofty prices.
Mastracci said most people have to start with a small condo and whittle down their mortgage to build up equity. “Plow any extra money you have against your mortgage and really go to town,” Mastracci suggested. “That is a risk-free investment you can make.”
The UDI/FortisBC Housing Affordability Index treats first-time buyers differently, as most have less money for a downpayment and thus need an insured mortgage. For such buyers, the index assumed a 10-per-cent down payment and a 25-year mortgage amortization (the maximum allowed for an insured mortgage).
Using those assumptions, the index shows that 63.3 per cent of working households in outer Metro earn the $46,384 annual salary required to buy the average new wood-frame, 836-square-foot condominium, while 48.8 per cent are above the required income of $59,760 to buy a similar condo in inner Metro, and less than 32 per cent earn the required $82,649 to afford a similar type of condominium in Vancouver proper. For resales, the percentages were higher; 76.9 in outer Metro, 54 in inner Metro and 37.9 in Vancouver proper.
By: Tracy Sherlock
Posted by admin on February 20, 2013
David Goswick thinks homebuilding is entering what he calls a golden era, and it’s not because houses are getting bigger or smaller or prettier or have perfected the walk-in closet. It’s because, he said, the housing business has finally gotten the message that consumers would like to drop-kick their utility bills into the next county.
He’s so sure of this that he’s heading up a company that guarantees the buyers of its new homes will pay no electric or gas bills for the first 10 years — not because the builder is picking up the tab, but because the homes will be so efficient that they will have energy to spare. The company, Houze Advanced Building Science, will start construction on 20 homes in Houston, where the company is based. It’s also prepared to take its act on the road, aiming to partner with homebuilders in 35 cities during the next two years, said Goswick, Houze’s chief executive.
“We see a category emerging, and you’ll see all builders move in this direction,” said Goswick, whose earlier career focused on providing marketing services for major homebuilders around the country. “Everybody now is talking about how to make homes more efficient. It should be priority one — the greatest environmental benefit is to consume less.”
Houze (not to be confused with Houzz, an unrelated interior-design site) is banking on a two-part strategy to create a highly efficient home. Part one is the tight “envelope” (walls and ceilings with high R values, a measure of energy efficiency).
Part two is its proprietary technology. After researching wind, solar and other power systems for the houses, the firm has developed the Houze Power Cell, a device about the size of an air-conditioning unit that produces on-site electricity and thermal heat from natural gas. Goswick said the power cell generates more energy than the home will consume, and it either stores the excess in backup batteries or feeds it back into the community electricity grid.
“In Houston, the (two demonstration homes we’ve built in collaboration with the city) each produce enough electricity to power a number of homes that have been built to our standards,” Goswick said. “We’re selling back the surplus electricity that’s generated on-site. We use that revenue to pay for the natural gas the houses use.”
He said the demonstration homes score 44 on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index developed by Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), the standards-making body for the residential energy industries. The lower the score, the more energy-efficient: RESNET said a typical resale home has a 130 HERS score; a typical newly built home, 100; Energy Star-rated homes are 85 or better.
Goswick said this functionality will make the homes affordable to a broader swath of the homebuying public, which, since the advent of so-called green construction decades ago, has struggled with the perception that such houses are more expensive to build than traditional homes.
And Houze houses, are, indeed, pricier — typically 15 percent more expensive to build than the typical new home in a given region, Goswick said. In Houston, the Houze houses will cost $150,000 to $270,000, he said.
“But what we’ve found is that the total cost of homeownership is slightly less (factoring in the energy savings, potential insurance savings and other economies),” he said. “People should buy a home based on the monthly cost associated with owning and maintaining it, not on the sale price.”
Houze is building the Houston homes but is working on partnerships with builders in other cities that will use Houze technologies, Goswick said. In 2013, he has agreements in place or is in serious discussions with builders in markets in Florida, Texas and California and in several other metro areas; Houze likely will have an agreement with a builder in Chicago this year, he said.
In 2014, partnerships are in the works in cities around the country. Goswick said the company isn’t ready to release the names of its partner builders.
The building science and marketing research that Houze undertook before the company opened the demonstration houses in Houston in December has required some deep pockets, he said; the company has private investors, Goswick explained, as well as alliances with the American Gas Association and AT&T, which is using the model homes to introduce its Digital Life wireless security system.
Goswick said many builders have been skeptical of or even resistant to the idea of producing high-efficiency homes on a broad scale, but attitudes have evolved, nudged largely by the many energy-saving advances in the components that go into a house.
“There’s such a convergence of focus” toward energy savings, he said. “It’s just like the telephone was 30 years ago. Today, it isn’t just a telephone anymore, and that’s what we’re seeing within the home. Its day has finally come.”
By: Mary Umberger
Posted by admin on January 7, 2013
What are the secrets of that house you’re thinking of buying? What’s in the basement, in the attic, on the roof? Are mechanical systems working properly?
As buyers gradually jump back into the housing market, a thorough examination of a dwelling is an essential step toward homeownership. It can increase confidence about the condition of a property and save thousands of dollars down the road. Risky deals like foreclosures and short sales require even more scrutiny. That’s where a home inspection comes in.
“Home inspectors lay all the cards on the table,” said Doug Hanscom, broker associate with ReMax Properties in Western Springs.
Like doctors, home inspectors give thorough physical exams. They probe the ins and outs of residences and make detailed reports. What they uncover can make or break a deal.
Illinois law requires home inspectors to be licensed by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Trade organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Association of Home Inspectors promote high standards of practice.
Home inspections cost an average of $350 for single-family homes and $300 for condominiums, but they can pay for themselves if serious defects are discovered. In that case, the buyer and seller can negotiate the cost of repairs.
Roofs can be deal-breakers because of the $15,000 to $30,000 replacement cost.
The No. 1 problem discovered in inspections is water intrusion, frequently from leaking roofs and basements, according to home inspector Ed Miehlke.
“Home inspectors are like general practitioners. We check out a house for a couple of hours. If we need more information, we call in a specialist — a plumber, electrician or other expert,” said Miehlke of HomeTeam Inspection Service of Arlington Heights.
The standard inspection checklist includes electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems. Siding and roofs are evaluated, as are foundations and interior walls and ceilings. Doors and windows are checked for tightness.
“The age of a property tells us what to look for,” Miehlke said. “Older houses may have issues with cracked foundations and wiring.”
“We give buyers three choices of home inspectors,” said Chris Downey, a real estate agent with Koenig & Strey in Winnetka.
She noted that sellers must report pre-existing defects in a disclosure statement that covers major components.
Downey said home inspections are especially important for young, first-time buyers not seasoned in how to evaluate a house.
“Usually, people don’t make an issue about small things, like a few cracks that don’t have a structural cause. But in the case of a major problem, the buyer and seller may split the cost,” she said.
What issues do the pros often encounter?
“We check certain building systems that have had problems in the past. One of them is a certain brand of circuit breaker panel that was popular in the 1950s and ’60s,” Miehlke said.
“Asbestos frequently was wrapped around ductwork from the 1950s to the ’70s. Some Chinese drywall has a high sulfur content.”
Miehlke said he finds mold in as many as 10 percent of houses his company inspects.
“Mold occurs because of lack of ventilation in an attic or basement,” he said, noting it can cause respiratory problems and allergies.
By: John Handley
Posted by admin on December 31, 2012
1. Stretch first
Don’t be in a hurry to get outside. Stretch thoroughly using the same sorts of moves that runners, mountain bikers and other athletes use. Stretch your hamstrings, stretch your back, and stretch your shoulders. Then dress in removable layers, grab your shovel and resist the urge to fly at the white stuff just to get the job done. Pace yourself. Start slowly and ramp up to speed.
2. Don’t move snow twice
Before you even take your first scoop, decide where you’re going to dump the snow. Drop the first shovelful farther away from where you are standing, then dump remaining snow closer and closer to where you are. That way, the last scoops that you shovel are moved the shortest distance. Don’t block access to snow that needs to be removed by piling it up in a way that will force you to move it twice.
3. Move snow the shortest distance possible
Consider that everything from a driveway to a patio to a walkway is really a rectangle, and rectangles have a center point. Move the snow from the center of the rectangle to the nearest edge.
4. Clear cars first
Brush snow off cars then clear around the cars.
5. Do the foreground then the background
For example, to clear snow from a rectangle, first shovel a strip clear along the perimeter of the rectangle. Then, moving from the center to the edge, push the snow into the cleared area. Next, lift and throw the snow out of the area.
6. Maintain proper posture:
A. Use your leg muscles as much as possible – push snow when you can and use your legs to lift when you can’t push it.
B. Keep your back straight as you move from the squat position to the upright position.
C. Use your shoulder muscles as much as possible.
D. Hold the snow shovel as close to your upper body as possible.
E. Keep one hand close to the shovel blade for better leverage.
F. Don’t twist your upper body as you throw snow.
7. Keep hydrated
Take bottles of water out with you and keep them accessible, either in the car or on the front stoop or somewhere else convenient.
8. Rest frequently
Clearing an area by hand means that you may lift and carry anywhere from hundreds of pounds to tons of snow.
9. Be thorough but not fussy
The sun is relatively strong this time of year. Clear an area, spread de-icer if necessary and then let the sun do the rest. The fact is, any surface color that you expose in shoveling (gray, green, brown or black) will be far less reflective than a thick blanket of snow, and remaining snow will melt more easily from that darker surface.
10. Don’t overdress
You need to stay warm, but if you overdress you’re going to be soaked in sweat in no time. Dress in loose-fitting layers that you can peel off as you heat up.
11. Whenever possible, team up
Shoveling with a friend or neighbor is inherently more enjoyable than shoveling on your own. Plus, it’s quicker to get the job done with two or three sets of hands.
12. Go easy on the de-icer
Once the area is clear, all you need is a thin scattering of de-icer to keep it that way. If you’re scattering by hand, throw the salt, pellets or granules low along the ground so they bounce and roll into a uniform layer.
13. Whenever possible, get a head start
It’s easier to remove snow in thin layers than wait until all the snow is down to have at it. If it looks like your area is going to get dumped on, try to get out there and shovel it in several passes.
14. Maintain your equipment
The front edge of a snow shovel takes a beating. If it’s metal, hammer it straight when it gets bent; if it’s plastic use a utility knife to carve off the burr that forms on its end. Tighten a loose handle by driving a large hex head sheet metal screw through the blade socket and into the handle.
15. Stretch when you’re done
Stretch gently when you’re done and use an ice pack and ibuprofen to take care of inflamed muscles. Rest and remain hydrated.
How to Use a Snow Thrower
In case all that stretching sounds like too much work, here are some tips for using a snow-throwing machine.
1. Test run the machine before the storm.
2. Keep necessary spare parts on hand: drive belts, spark plugs and shear pins.
3. Keep a wire brush, a scrap piece of wood and spray de-icer handy. You may well need any number of tools to keep the machine’s auger and other moving parts cleared of ice and compacted snow. Never clear a clogged auger with the engine running.
4. Don’t forget the newspaper that’s been thrown into the driveway or onto the sidewalk. A frozen newspaper can clog a snow thrower like nobody’s business. If you spot the paper or circular’s outline under the snow when you come home (let’s say) just remember to go out there and pick it up.
5. Keep a can of spray lubricant handy. Moving parts that worked fine in the garage can suddenly get cranky when exposed to cold, wet conditions.
By: Roy Berendsohn
Posted by Admin on
Imagine the scenario. You have decided to work from home. Just think of how much you’ll get done without no meetings to attend or the interruption of colleagues!
Then there’s the extra hour you can stay in bed every morning that would otherwise be spent on a cramped commuter train, not to mention being able to swap your desk for the comfort of working out of your favourite armchair. And if you have a pet, they’ll be around for company. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Yet the realities of working from home can be very different, a recent study by Regus has revealed. According to the findings, six in ten people said their attempts to work from home are disrupted by having to deal with kids, pets or other family members demanding attention and making noise.
Poor internet connectivity is also cited as hindering work productivity. And working from a makeshift home office can lead to posture problems. The survey, based on interviews with over 24,000 business people from 90 countries, identified 15 main obstacles to working productively from home.
The top three are:
1. Children or family demanding attention (59% of respondents)
2. Difficulty concentrating on work issues (43% of respondents)
3. Children, family members or pets disturbing work telephone calls (39% of respondents)
On the health side, 20% said their posture had been adversely affected by unsuitable home office arrangements, and 21% reported the lack of proper work surface in their home to be a problem.
But if homeworking on its own isn’t the solution, what are workers looking to obtain a reasonable work-life balance meant to do?
Finding a professional environment close to home to work out of rather than actual homeworking could be the answer.
You’ll still be able to work alongside and interact with other professionals, and without interruptions from family you can remain productive during working hours. Then, at the end of the day you can switch off, thus avoiding the strain working from home can put on family life.
Posted by admin on
1. Too many photos
All of those picture frames clutter up table tops and walls. Besides making your space look smaller, they’re also a haven for dust. (And if you’re trying to sell your home, they’re a surefire way to make sure that potential buyers feel like a guest in your home – which is the exact opposite feeling you’re trying to generate!) If you’re sentimental about your memories, we don’t blame you. However, put out a few select picture frames. Then, stick the rest of your photos in neatly-organized albums that you can pull out and pour over anytime you want.
2. Turning your living room into cable heaven
We get it… you love your TV, surround sound speakers, Blu-Ray player, and game consoles. However, your living room now looks like a spot where cables go to die. It’s not a good look!Keep the cords hidden by neatly arranging them in the first place. You know, by making sure they aren’t tied in knots as they go from the back of your TV stand into your power strip. Then, get a cord cover that matches your wall color. Just like that, they’re invisible!
3. Not keeping up with the times
OK, so you don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to update every room of your home every few years when the trends change. That’s fine. You can keep your basic pieces of furniture for as long as you want. Luckily, it’s easy (and relatively inexpensive) to keep up with the times just by changing your accessories! For example, a new comforter can give new life to your entire bedroom set. Or, new drawer pulls can make your kitchen and bath cabinets instantly look more modern. Or, a new lamp can make that old end table look cool and chic again.
We’re all guilty of it at some point, but having clutter is a giant no-no. The more clutter you have around your home, the worse you’re going to feel about the entire place. So, no matter how busy you are, take some time to get rid of it – whether it means re-organizing, throwing stuff away, or donating stuff to your favorite charity. It may take some hard work, but in the end, your home will look (and feel!) a whole lot better – all without you having to spend a dime on home décor upgrades!
Posted by admin on December 30, 2012
1. “You will bolt the door when I’m gone.”
As the old saying goes, guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Turns out, that assessment may be optimistic. A 2010 survey by travel-rental site HomeAway.com concluded that, during the holidays, nearly a quarter of relatives have overstayed their welcome after just one day. Of course, vacation rental websites may have an invested interest in travelers not imposing on their friends and relatives. Nonetheless, that statistic doesn’t bode well for the thousands of households now breaking out fresh soap and crisp linens.
More than 93 million Americans are expected to travel to visit friends and relatives during the year-end holiday season, according to the American Automobile Association. And while many will stay in hotels, almost 50% will stay at the homes of friends and family, according to the 2012 “December Holiday Travel Survey” by travel website TripAdvisor.com. And that is where the problems begin.
Experts suggest laying out firm ground rules — starting with the exit date and continuing on to out-of-bounds areas, whether pets are welcome and where guests can smoke. That allows the host to plan activities and know there is an end in sight. “This is probably the most important decision to make before your guest arrives,” says Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of the grand dame of etiquette Emily Post, who founded the Emily Post Institute. “The three-day guideline is phenomenally good,” he says. “The host can get through so much more when that is already established.”
2. “Some relatives are more equal than others.”
When the houseguest is a family member, some surveys suggest, dads are dearest. Nearly 30% of visiting siblings will most likely grate on the nerves of their hosts, a 2012 HomeAway.com survey of holiday travelers found. Adult children (22%), mothers-in-law (16%) and even mothers (11%) will likewise become a nuisance. Fathers and fathers-in-law, meanwhile, appear to be the most popular (or least offensive) guest, with just 6% and 4% getting complaints, respectively. Adding to the risk of personality clashes: 55% of travelers plan to spend the December holidays with nine or more people.
Why do mothers and mothers-in-law get such a bad rap? “Women are generally more involved in planning vacations,” says Kathy Bertone, author of “The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host; Becoming the Perfect Guest.” Women are also more likely to deal with more of the logistics of hosting. And consequently, they may be more likely to interfere. But to be fair to the guests, hosts sometimes have unrealistic Norman Rockwell-like expectations when it comes to dealing with family — wanting everything to be perfect — and may experience heightened anxiety about being judged by their guests. “The stress level will be higher than it normally would be, because we want to impress,” Bertone says.
One way hosts can avoid trouble, experts say, is to set expectations before the relatives roll up with their excited kids and a barking dog. “Guests can take relationships for granted,” says ChrisYoung, executive director of The Protocol School of Washington. Comfort and ease — the hallmarks of good hospitality — can also be the death knell to a friendship, he says. “It allows us to slack on our manners,” he says, which can lead to such egregious improprieties as “teaching the host’s kids bad words, eating the last slice of cake or hogging the television.”
3. “I’d prefer a hotel, but your place is free.”
Houseguests often hang their coat in your closet not for love, experts say, but for money. It’s understandable that many people would rather stay with family than pony up for a hotel, given the still uncertain economic outlook, but long-lost friends may be a different story, says Ummu Bradley Thomas, an etiquette expert and the founder of the Freddie Bell Jones Modeling & Finishing School in Denton, Md. “If they phone you when they’re in town and need somewhere to stay, chances are, it’s because you were the only local contact that agreed to offer them room and board.”
Some folks, though, go out of their way to avoid being a burden. Around 15% of houseguests say they will stay in a hotel to sidestep the strain of staying with family throughout the holiday season, according to TripAdvisor.com — even though they pay for the privilege, with the average hotel room in the U.S. running upwards of $150 a night, according to American Express. Plus, travel experts say, some hotels in popular winter destinations increase their rates during the holiday season.”In some cases, it’s better to get a hotel room,” says author Kathy Bertone. For those who do decide to stay with their hosts, she says, guests on a tight budget can show their gratitude by offering to cook their hosts a meal or even to order a pizza.
But plenty of people forgo hotels not just to save money, but also for the simple joy of it. One person’s free room for a night is another person’s cultural exchange program, Bradley Thomas says. Case in point: One online community, CouchSurfing.com, has a membership list of 5 million people who choose to sleep in random homes for free in over 9,700 cities around the world. CouchSurfing.com, which went public in 2004, envisions “a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter,” according to its website. The upside: If it goes horribly wrong, you never have to see the person again, Bradley Thomas points out. If it all goes swimmingly, on the other hand, you’ve made a new friend.
4. “The service around here stinks.”
A place to rest is not the only free gift hosts bestow on their guests at Christmas. Cooking and cleaning is a time-consuming and expensive business. And that’s even before you account for the cost of doing the laundry. Just over a quarter of hosts say the most annoying habit of guests is not helping with cooking, according to HomeAway.com. “Some guests prefer for you to treat them as if they were dignitaries and not houseguests,” says Bradley Thomas, the etiquette expert.
Like children, guests need boundaries, experts say. Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, CEO of interiors website ApartmentTherapy.com, says his favorite hosts greet him with two welcome choices: the offer of a shower and/or a nap. “Anticipate what your guests need, give it to them and leave them alone,” he says. Invite them to help themselves — though perhaps not to your $4,600 Highland Park Reserve 1902 vintage Scotch. Close family should be given clear instructions to pitch in, which will make them feel like they are doing their part, says Jon Gray, senior vice president of North American business at Hotels.com. If your guests are arriving in time for a dinner party, he says, “don’t hesitate to ask them to bring a dish.”
5. “The less well I know you, the more harshly I’ll judge you.”
For those who live near holiday tourist destinations, spare beds can be turned into spare cash. But experts say paying guests can be notoriously hard to please. What’s more, they often won’t come back — for reasons that go beyond price or even location. “A guest could be put off by something as simple as the d cor,” says Christine Karpinski, an independent consultant who advises owners on renting properties.
There’s a lot at stake: Homeowners can make $25,000 to $35,000 a year by renting their home, Karpinski says. That’s one reason why San Francisco-based Airbnb — which was founded in 2008 and helps people rent out their room, apartment or home via its website — already has listings in over 33,000 cities and 192 countries. As such, it’s important for hosts to make sure rental spaces are modern enough to suit all tastes, but not so bland that they’ll be unappealing to potential guests perusing online ads. For instance, paisley wallpaper could conjure up images of rustic chic — or make prospective guests think a place hasn’t been redecorated (or perhaps even renovated) in 20 years.
Nor does the roll of good judgment stop at the choice of curtains or other interior design elements. One of the first things guests do when they enter a home is eye the list of titles on the bookshelf, says Post Senning. A political book by a well-known pundit might lead to snap judgments about where the host falls on the political spectrum rather than give the impression that the host has a vast and unbiased intellectual curiosity, he says. Of course, people may not be able to help themselves from judging their hosts by their book covers. “It’s human nature,” Post Senning says.
6. “I will cost you your apartment.”
Chris Dannen, a journalist and consultant, had a steady stream of houseguests helping him pay his rent, but last June, it cost him his New York apartment. Over 13 months serving as an Airbnb-facilitated host, renting out a spare room in his three-bedroom apartment, his earnings covered more than half the cost of his rent — after Airbnb received its cut, which is typically 10% of each transaction. “There were other people in the building who were making as much as me, but I had a higher turnover,” he says. His houseguests were often from Europe and, on occasion, could be found in the corridors wielding their luggage.
The reason he lost his apartment? His lease required him to seek permission first. His landlord’s legal counsel claimed that Dannen was running a hotel, but Dannen contends that they were just temporary guests.
Airbnb’s terms warn prospective hosts to be careful not to break their building’s regulations, a spokeswoman for the company says. Airbnb’s responsibilities are limited to serving as the limited agent of each host for the purpose of accepting payments from guests on behalf of the host, according to the company’s policy. That is, all bookings will be made at the host and guest’s own risk. That hasn’t stopped others from doing what Dannen did. To date, Airbnb has logged over 10 million bookings worldwide, at least some of which could break landlord-tenant agreements.
7. “…but not before I trash it.”
The downside to playing host to a stranger: a broken glass may be the least of your worries. In June 2011, an Airbnb customer arrived home to find her San Francisco apartment trashed by her houseguest: “They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside,” the Airbnb customer wrote in a blog post that went viral.
While the Airbnb host, a corporate events planner who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals should any other suspects be still at large, was initially complimentary about Airbnb’s customer support in the wake of the incident, she later wrote that a co-founder of the site asked her to “shut down the blog altogether or limit its access,” and suggested she “update the blog with a ‘twist’ of good news” to complete the story. (A spokeswoman for Airbnb declined to comment on the host’s claim.)
Because the site facilitates the reservation details and payment information, the spokeswoman says, Airbnb was able to pass details of the guest to the authorities, to assist with the investigation. (Two individuals eventually pleaded guilty to first degree residential burglary in the case.) “Thousands of people are staying at properties through Airbnb every night and virtually all of these experiences have been incredibly positive,” the Airbnb spokeswoman says. Additionally, Airbnb has instituted a “$1 million host guarantee” to reimburse hosts in the rare event of guest damages, but this doesn’t cover cash, collectibles, rare artwork or jewelry, and shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for home insurance, she says.
8. “Snooping through drawers is for amateurs.”
Last summer, Kat McDonald, owner of Art+Farm Wine vineyard in Napa, Calif., invited a friend of a friend to stay at her home. The next day over breakfast, her guest told her that he tried all night to get into her Wi-Fi. “I tried your dog’s name,” he reportedly said. “I tried your baby’s name, and I even looked in your baby’s books to find a date of birth.” McDonald was stunned. She does usually give guests the Wi-Fi password, but after hearing how hard he tried to break into her system, she made an exception and withheld the password. “I thought, ‘Forget it,’” she recalls.
McDonald was right to be cautious, experts say. The number of victims of identity theft rose by 13% last year to 11.6 million adults, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a research and consulting firm. “A great deal of identity theft occurs between people who know each other,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “We advise people to be careful about what others have access to in their home.” But that’s not always possible. The mean direct financial hit suffered by victims of the misuse of personal information was $13,160 in 2010, up from $5,400 five years earlier, the Department of Justice found.
And 21st century snooping can be far more sinister than rifling through an underwear drawer, says Post Senning, the etiquette-family scion. When houseguests use their host’s computer, lists of previously searched items and visited sites will often automatically pop up. Looked up a financial adviser, divorce lawyer, psychiatrist or a therapist recently? Unless the search history has been cleared, most browsers are programmed to provide a list of auto-fill guesses based on previous searches. Not everyone knows how to use their browser’s “private” setting, Post Senning says, “and you don’t have to be a sleuth to figure that out.”
9. “These bed bugs are my parting gift.”
This is the time of year when that friendly neighbor from the apartment upstairs decides to pop in for a glass of port or your favorite aunt or uncle travels hundreds of miles to spend the holidays with you. Be warned: They may both bring the same plus-one — the dreaded bed bug. Unlike some guests, bed bugs are not fussy about their hosts. “The primary vector for a bed bug infestation would be luggage or clothing of somebody coming to stay with you,” says David Hedman, CEO of ThermaPure, a Ventura, Calif.-based company that specializes in the eradication of bed bugs without the use of pesticides.
Bed bug-infested rental cars are showing up with increasing frequency, Hedman claims, especially as bed bugs easily develop resistance to pesticides and can survive freezing temperatures tucked away in a pair of socks in the trunk. “We have companies driving their rental cars to our offices, telling us, ‘We’ve got bed bugs in our car,’” Hedman says. One thing the bugs don’t like: heat. “If you have bed bugs after your guests leave, the first thing you should do is put all your clothes and linen in a dryer.”
Neighbors may be most likely to cause your place to become infested. “If your friends and neighbors do have a problem with bed bugs, they will typically carry them on their clothes,” Hedman says. If one apartment gets treated, he says, the responsible thing to do is tell your neighbors. “It’s the last gift you want to leave after the holidays.”
10. “Thanks for having me. I’m going to cost you a fortune.”
For many Americans, the holiday houseguest season may start with a chocolate on the pillow and a round of air kisses, but it can end in recrimination, empty pockets and regret. People often spend a lot of money while on vacation. But without hefty hotel bills to contend with, houseguests can literally go to town on their spending, and sometimes the hosts feel pressure to keep up with their guests’ large holiday budgets. In fact, Airbnb says its customers spend around $740 on their vacation activities, 40% more than those who stay in hotels. For those who stay with friends and relatives for free, experts say, the spending is likely even higher. Hosts who want to avoid overspending, Bertone says, should send an email several weeks before the guests arrive. Suggesting low-cost or free activities for the stay can open up a dialog, she says.
It works both ways: Hosts who are planning a fancy cocktail party should give their guests a heads-up, so they can pack the right clothes and avoid an expensive last-minute shopping trip, Bertone says. Meanwhile, “if the guest wants everyone to go a Broadway show at $150 ticket, this request should be made upfront,” she says. Same goes for a night out at an expensive silver-service restaurant, she says. And if those same guests have turned vegan in the past 12 months, they should inform their host before they buy a 20-pound turkey. Otherwise, Bertone says, all parties might prefer to wait another year until they see each other again
By: Quentin Fottrell
Posted by admin on December 19, 2012
We hope that the coming year will bring you peace, good health, good cheer and much prosperity, best wishes for a wonderful holiday and a very Happy New Year.
Posted by admin on December 10, 2012
When renter Cathryn Schmaltz wanted to book the perfect place for her wedding rehearsal dinner three years ago, she didn’t have to look any farther than her apartment building. With a little help from concierge Kelli Taylor, Schmaltz was able to host a memorable prenuptial feast in the party room at Eugenie Terrace on the Park in Chicago.
“(Kelli) didn’t just reserve the room for us,” said Schmaltz. “She helped us pick out the flowers, catering and decor; made sure our audiovisual slide show worked; helped us pick our wedding day limos; and even gathered all of our mail while we were on our honeymoon.”
The charge for all this assistance? Zero. As with many apartment and condo buildings, concierge services like restaurant and ticket reservations, mail pickup, trip planning and exclusive events are provided free to Eugenie Terrace tenants.
In Chicago’s highly competitive condo and rental markets, concierge services are a given at many luxury properties.
“Today, to be considered a luxury building, you need to have a concierge available for residents,” said @properties broker Phil Skowron. “These types of amenities have not always been as detailed or personalized. However, expectations are always changing, and now the presence of a concierge is customary the way that a glass of champagne is on any first-class flight.”
Skowron said buildings offer different levels of concierge services. A building with more affordable units may staff one part-time concierge, while high-end Chicago properties such as Park Tower and The Elysian Residences pamper occupants with white-glove service offered daily by highly trained staff.
Condo owners at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, for example, can have dry cleaning placed in a closet, groceries unloaded from their car to their kitchen by a bellman and their home staged for an impromptu dinner party.
“We receive a lot of requests that are handled in-house by our trained staff, including in-home housekeeping, dinners prepared by our hotel chefs, and tables and chairs provided by our banqueting team,” said Adora Manalo, director of owner services for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago.
“Our program is a twist on the traditional concierge concept,” said Vanessa Casciano, community relations director for Magellan Development Group, whose Chicago properties include condos at Aqua at Lakeshore East, town homes at Benton Place Parkhomes, and apartments at The Shoreham and The Tides. “At these buildings, we offer a complimentary rewards program, which allows residents to take advantage of discounts through local hotels, restaurants and other businesses, as well as different exclusive complimentary events.”
Magellan residents can, for example, partake in seasonal movies in the park, happy hours at area steakhouses, a monthly book club, creative classes, building mixers, healthy cooking demos, wine tastings and annual get-togethers like a dog parade and kids Halloween party.
Adam Basey, a renter at Presidential Towers in Chicago, said his understanding of a concierge changed dramatically after moving into the building in April and getting to know the concierge, Anna Cornille.
“Before, I thought a concierge was an information desk where you could get brochures and have a few questions answered,” said Basey. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that this person can not only provide information but also fulfill special requests and follow up on making something happen.”
Since Basey has settled in, Cornille has helped him score reduced-price movie tickets and meals and is planning a special “guys night out” itinerary for when his out-of-town friends visit soon.
Taylor, like Cornille, said she plays many roles in her job, from a community liaison who connects Eugenie Terrace residents with resources like baby-sitters within the building to a city travel guide who directs occupants to hot spots and deals throughout the neighborhood.
“I’m a one-stop-shop matchmaker who makes connections on behalf of residents, and I’m prepared to go beyond the call of duty when necessary,” she said.
Taylor recently overnighted a passport to a desperate resident detained in New York who needed to travel overseas, and she located a country house in Iceland on short notice per a renter’s request.
Thanks to Taylor’s efforts, “I do feel very spoiled, and things are much easier living in this building,” said Schmaltz, a personal trainer who is often referred by her concierge to fellow tenants looking to start a fitness program.
Booking events, fulfilling reasonable requests, and connecting residents to people and places of interest continue to be among a concierge’s most in-demand duties.
Lately, there are requests for a variety of personalized services too, including pet-sitting/walking, in-home massages and in-building conveniences such as fitness trainers, wellness providers, and Fooda (a service that brings and sells restaurant food to the building), said Linda Jasinski, general manager for Alta at K Station apartments in Chicago.
“A lot of residents today are busy and on tight schedules and want recommendations for where they can visit while traveling for business or pleasure,” said Cornille. “They’re looking for more referrals to different resources in other cities and suggestions on good weekend getaways. They also appreciate special events, such as our No-Cook Wednesdays and Food Truck Fridays, along with conveniences like Zipcars — six of which are available in our building at a discount for residents.”
For prospective renters and buyers, Basey recommends asking about the free resources available and talking with the building’s concierge prior to committing to the property.
“A concierge can give you a more down-to-earth perspective on what’s really going on in the building, and they may be able to offer help with moving, introduce you to other residents, and ease your transition,” said Basey.