Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Walk-in dreams; 50 tips to your perfect closet, part 2.

What’s the most important feature of your dream house? For a lot of women – and well-dressed men – it very well could be the closet! But unless you have money in your bank and space in your home to build a legendary closet like Mariah Carey, the Kardashians, or former Filipino presidential wife Imelda Marcos who had more than 3,000 pairs of shoes, you may have to get a little creative. But don’t despair because with some planning and design fore sight, you can turn any changing area – big or small – into your dream closet.

Here are 50 tips to do create your dream closet right at home:

1. For the things you don’t regularly wear like formal attire, seasonal gear, rarely worn shoes, and other items, wrap them in plastic and store them in bins or boxes so they don’t take up valuable space.

2. Organize your clothing by type, so shirts go together, pants go together, etc. You can even put all the jeans together, dress shirts together, and the like. This will help you catalog everything you own.

3. For those organized personality types who want to take it a step further, line everything up by color, including shirts, t-shirts, pants, etc.

4. When hanging things in your closet, start with the shortest items and then gradually go longer. This allows you to see everything at once.

5. Tiered hangers are a great space saver for cramped closets. You should be able to maximize vertical space and hang multiple shirts or pants on the same hanger. Waterfall valets and extending valet rods also double your hanging space.

6. Screwing in some hooks to every available wall or the back of your closet door is a fantastic way to find a home for more clothing, hats, or even purses. Just make sure to put your clothes on their on a hanger so the hook doesn’t wear them out.

7. Try to set up your closet with a door that pulls out so you’ll have even more space to walk in and you capture more natural light. A folding door is another option if it doesn’t set up well to have a door open out.

8. When you’re designing your closet and mapping out where shelves will go, keep in mind that a folded stack of clothing usually is about 12” wide. So a shelf that is at least 36” wide can hold three stacks of clothes.

9. And when you’re designing space for your hanging bars, you probably don’t want to go longer than 3.5’ to 4’ each because they weight will start sagging the rod in the middle. They do have re-enforcements if you need to go longer.

10. To keep vertically stacked clothing segregated and from falling into the next stack, insert plastic or wood dividers in between.

11. Nice baskets are a great way to hold items like belts, scarves, and ties that can be rolled up. Decorative baskets look great and can hold a whole lot of accessories.

12. Add reflective surfaces to the backs and undersides of shelves to echo more natural light. You can even install stick-on LED lights that are battery operated and turn on with one easy push.

13. Just be careful with regular light bulbs because they get too hot for a small space like a closet and could become a fire hazard.

14. You can also add mirrors as decoration and to catch more light. Hang small mirrors under your shelves or as the top surface of a chest of drawers or island. You can even hang a mirror on the ceiling to show all of your nice clothing.

15. Speaking of mirrors, every closet needs a full-length mirror for you to see how good you’re looking, so hang one on the wall. But if you are short on space, you can hang a mirror on the back or even front of the closet door or on the wall right outside your closet, where natural light is more flattering (and accurate).

16. You’ll want to highlight your favorite purses and shoes, so buy a nice rack for them or even pull out drawers.

17. If you don’t have room for that, plastic shoe organizers that hang on the back of the door or on the wall work great. Either way, avoid keeping shoes cluttered on the floor of your closet.

18. By the way, those hanging plastic shoe organizers work great to fill with accessories and even jewelry because everything will be visible and easily accessible.

19. Line up purses upright so they don’t lose form. You can store the ones you’re not using or that are out of season wrapped in plastic in those storage boxes.

20. If your closet is big enough, a fold out ironing board is a nice touch. They had these in the kitchen of a lot of older homes from the 1960’s and earlier.

21. A nice basket that tucks away into a cabinet or shelf space is a nice way to hide your laundry and save space. You can pick up great decorative baskets at any place like World Market, Pier 1 Imports, or even Ikea.

22. Utilize plenty of deep drawer space by folding your shirts and sweaters and lining them up vertically, instead of stacked on top of each other. Keep them neat with dividers and that way, you’ll be able to still see everything and store much more.

23. Most people stop the shelves as high as they can reach, but maximize space by going higher, all the way to about 12” from the ceiling. You can keep lesser-used items up there and have a fold out stepping stool for you to easily access them.

24. Install a few nice shelves right outside your closet door to display your nicest hats, baskets, purses, and quality items. If the door is open and the mirror is there anyway, it won’t look out of place. You can mix in a few pictures in frames, wine bottles, flower vases, etc. to ease the transition.

25. We’ve heard of people who turn their unused attic space into an open, airy closet! It might be easier and less expensive than you think. Any inconvenience of climbing the attic stairs will easily be outweighed by the feeling of having your own personal closet haven with plenty of space.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How long should your home's roof, air conditioner, and appliances last?

There comes a time in any man or woman’s life that truly tests their character, the grit of their determination, and sometimes…their sanity. I’m talking about when the refrigerator breaks at 3am, of course, which is what happened to a friend of mine recently. The filter to the ice maker clogged and then froze solid and then broke, leaving water streaming out of the back of the fridge. Well you can imagine the great flood he witnessed by the time he came downstairs at 6am to get ready to work, finding 6 inches of water covering his entire first floor where his nice hardwood used to be and water streaming out of the front door toward the street. 

Needless to say it was a panic moment for him, and within hours the first floor was taken over by remediation teams with big, noisy equipment and sheets of plastic everywhere. He had to call in sick to work and spent that day –and many others – submitting paperwork to and on the phone with insurance companies, meeting contractors, and generally having his life upended. In the end, the prognosis was grim, and he had to rip up and replace all the hardwood on the first floor. To add insult to injury, we started calling him Noah every time we saw him (what are friends for?) but the good news is that his insurance eventually paid for all the damage. Oh, and believe it or not, the refrigerator still worked fine – it only needed a new filter on the icemaker, which he should have known needed to be replaced every 36 months.

I tell you this homeowner horror not so you’re scared every time you walk downstairs or hear the name “Noah,” but because it’s important we understand the components that make up our homes and how long they last. Knowing the general lifetime of appliances and building materials can help you anticipate costs, do preventive maintenance, and possibly save yourself thousands of dollars in nightmarish repairs.

Lucky for us, the National Association of Home Builders did a comprehensive survey a few years back, polling manufacturers, trade associations and researchers about the life spans of appliances and components of our homes. They findings were released in a report called “The Life Expectancy of Home Components” and since then, there have been several other studies to add to their body of work.

How long will your refrigerator, your roof, or your icemaker last? No one can guess for sure, but when you’re buying a home, it’s a good idea to look at the existing components knowing the average life expectancy for each item so you can plan and prepare.


Slate, copper and tile roofs can last more than 50 years.

Wood shake roofs should expect them to last about 30 years. (Wood shake was most popular in the 1980s, which means they are all about due to be replaced.)

Fiber cement shingles last about 25 years.

Asphalt shingle/composition roofs last about 20 years. (Environmental factors like heat, wind, and the amount of rainfall factor in, and in Sacramento, it’s not uncommon for comp shingle roofs to last 30 years.)


A standard deck with pressure treated wood can last 20 years, but they often go 25-30 years if the deck received regular maintenance that includes power washing and treating with a new stain or paint. Of course decks last longer if they receive less rainfall, less than full exposure to damaging sun, and kept clean.


Exterior doors are made of fiberglass, steel, or heavy wood and usually will last multiple decades or as long as the house. Closet and interior doors should last just as long, though vinyl doors tend to warp after 20 years and screen doors will start ripping in that time.


Wood floors should last 100 years or more (unless flooded!) and marble and slate floors will do the same if they are maintained.

Tile floors last 75-100 years (the grout will dry out, crack, and start coming up long before that).

Linoleum floors start wearing out after 20 years, vinyl after 50, and laminate floors 15-25 years.

A high-grade carpet will last 8-10 years, but wear and tear (or stains) usually takes it out of commission before that.


Aluminum gutters last about 20 years, though they may need to be re-sealed and reinforced as they hang to prolong their use. Copper gutters last 50 years or more.


Wood windows last 30-50 years or more, but need regular maintenance.

Aluminum windows last 15-20 years before they warp or fail. Vinyl will last longer, but you have to be careful the vacuum seals don’t go out (which is why you see moisture and condensation inside the panes.)

Air conditioning systems:

Average life expectancy 10-15 years. Regular maintenance, cleaning filters every year, and cutting back brush or debris that may get in the system will help. This is a big-ticket item so it’s definitely important to put in TLC on a regular basis.

 Water heater:

A conventional electric or gas water heater usually lasts about 10 years. If you have a tank-less water heater, it will probably last closer to 20 years.


A furnace should operate for 15 to 20 years.


 Refrigerators last six to 15 years, with some estimates showing the newer models should last an average of 13.

Electric stove ranges function fine for 10 to 15 years.

Gas ranges tend to last a little longer, probably for 15 years.

Trash compactor, 6 years.

Microwave, 9 years.

Garbage disposal 12 years

Washers and dryers last 8 to 12 years. It’s common that a few specific parts go out first, so it usually makes sense to try and repair them instead of replacing them immediately.

Dishwashers last 8 to 10 years, with an average of 9.

Faucets for kitchen or bathrooms last 15 years on average.

Enamel sinks usually go for 5-10 years before cracking or losing their seal.


TV’s will last for 10-20 years, but on average we replace them every 4 years or less because we want bigger, sharper, or new technology.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Renting is now twice as expensive as owning a home, new study finds.

It’s now about half as expensive to be a homeowner than it is to rent in the United States. That’s the conclusion of a new study by the real estate website Zillow, which tracked the monthly allocation of income toward mortgage, or rent for those who did not own their own home. As of the third quarter of 2014 they found that renters paid an average of 29.9% of their monthly income toward rent, compared to an average of 15.3% for homeowners. The study aimed for impartiality by measuring only a segment of the population who owned the average home in their market, versus renters.

Although Zillow has a reputation for over-inflating and bungling property values, their data on this survey is sound. That’s big news considering the average percentage of income to pay a mortgage and own your own home was 22.1% from 1985-1999, the period before the real estate boom and subsequent crash. And while the numbers point to the fact that owning a home is cheaper than ever, renters have seen a steady and dramatic increase in housing expenses. The 29.9% proportion that Zillow discovered is up from a historical average of 24.9%.

In California, we see a several prize cities with exorbitant rental costs and mortgage costs. In Los Angeles, homeowners pay 40.8% of their income toward mortgage but renters pay 47.9%. In San Francisco, those with a mortgage have to write a check for 41.5% of their income while renters pay even more: 45.9%. Homeowners in San Diego have it much better, paying only 34.1% of their income to their mortgage, though renters pay 42.5%.

In our own local Sacramento metropolitan area, people who own a home pay an average of 25.6% toward their mortgage – an extremely low percentage. Renters in the area, on the other hand, pay 32.2%, a significant 6%+ increase compared to owning.

There are several factors that contribute to this affordability gap between owning and renting, now the biggest ever.

During the recession, millions of homeowners lost their residences to foreclosure or short sales, pushing increased numbers into the rental market and supplying upward pressure on rents. Tightening lending standards, low wages, and lack of consumer confidence kept them out for a few years.

Now, the longer-than-anticipated benefit of low interest rates is keeping mortgage costs low and bringing more and more buyers into the market, particularly first timers and those who are buying homes in the bottom range of prices, that they can afford. But at the same time, incomes have been flat, showing no significant growth, and demand for rentals has allowed landlords to keep raising the cost to live in their properties.

Since 2009, when the average national rent was approximately $1,020, rental prices have increased by 5% per year, until now the average American renter pays around $1,200 per month.

There are now 43 million rental households in the United States, totaling about 35% of all homes, the highest level in over a decade. 

Currently, half of all U.S. renters pay more than 30% of their income to rent every month, which is the accepted barometer for housing affordability. That’s a marked increase from only 18% of renters paying more than 30% of their income a decade ago. 

The problem is even worse for those on the lower end of the economic scale, and an astounding 30% of renters pay at least 50% of their income to housing costs. California is one of those states where at least half of all renters pay more than 30% of their income toward rent.

According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the average hourly wage among all renters is $14.32, yet it takes at least $18.79 to afford an apartment at fair market rent. The Fed calls reports that the ratio of rental costs to disposable income is the worst level since the Great Depression.  

What does this all mean? With renting more expensive than ever – twice as much as owning a home for many Americans – interest rates low, and the return of low-money down loans, there’s never been a better time to own your own home, and save a lot of money in the process.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A history of taxes in the United States, part 1.

We often complain about taxes, but we all agree they’re necessary. Most of us think someone else should be paying more in taxes, yet we all try to pay as little as possible. And Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

The current obligation to pay the IRS come April 15 (or on the 16th) is all-too familiar, but questions remain: how did taxes start in the this country; have the tax codes always been the same; and are we paying more or less than most U.S. citizens in throughout our history? We’ll answer these questions and more with the history of taxation in the U.S.

Taxes and the Revolutionary War.
Of course it was unfair taxation without representation that led to the American Revolution in 1773 and the birth of the United States. To raise money, the newly forming government collected tariffs and duties on liquor, tobaccos, sugar, legal documents, and other goods and services.

Oldest U.S. tax.
As our new country formed, the leaders were very careful not to start imposing too many taxes for fear of mirroring the British system they just rebelled against. In fact, direct taxation was Constitutionally prevented. But they did institute an estate tax in 1797, but was repealed and reinstituted over the years as the young nation tried to raise funds for wartime.

Whiskey Rebellion.
In 1791, Alexander Hamilton proposed a tax on all alcohol. Needless to say this was massively unpopular, and lead to the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania.

First property tax.
With the war against France in 1790, the new U.S. government raised money by implementing the first property tax.

Early taxes.
From 1791 to 1802, the government limited taxation as much as possible. Of course that’s hard to do when you need to run a nation, so they imposed internal taxes on distilled spirits, carriages, refined sugar, tobacco, snuff, property sold at auctions, corporate bonds, and slaves.

War of 1812.
Previous methods of levying and collecting taxes through property to fund wars were inefficient, so to fund the War of 1812, the government looked for higher duties and excise taxes, instead. Those included taxing gold, silverware, jewelry, and watches, among other items and services.

The Civil War.
The internal war that ripped our country in half was also disastrous economically, basically a war of economic attrition. Both sides incurred massive amounts of debt and scrambled to raise funds for the war effort without seeing their currency become worthless through super inflation. Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, a tax levied against those who made more than $800 yearly income. That tax was not rescinded until 1872.

The Revenue Act also created the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue and beloved Internal Revenue Service. They were given the right to assess, levy, and collect taxes, as well as enforce tax laws through property seizure and prosecution. This was the predecessor to our modern tax system, as it was based on the principles of graduated or progressive taxation and withholding income.

During the Civil War, if someone made $600 to $10,000 a year they paid taxes at a 3% rate. In 1866, the IRS collected $310 million, the most in its young history and a tax mark that wouldn’t be reached again until 1911.

Taxes were unconstitutional?
Interestingly enough, the Constitution still forbade any direct taxation of its citizens that wasn’t levied in proportion to each state’s population. But the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act in 1894 did just that with a flat tax. The Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in 1895.

The 16th Amendment.
In 1913, the 16th Amendment removed the “proportional to state’s population” clause from the Constitution (or managed to override it). That allowed renewed tax initiatives like an income tax on people who made more than $3,000 a year, although this was less than 1% of the population.

In a fascinating twist, the term “lawful income” in the Amendment was changed to just “income” in 1916, because of course criminals weren’t off the hook from paying taxes. This opened the door for Al Capone and others organized crime figures to later be convicted on tax evasion charges.

World War I.
Among three Revenue Acts to pay for the Great War in Europe, a federal income tax was implemented in 1913. The income tax progressed as income rose: 1% up to $20,000 income, 2% from 20k-50k, 3% from 50k-75k, 4% from 75k-100k, 5% on 100k-250k, and 6% on 250k-500k, and 7% for those who made $500,000 or more.

There was no filing status yet, so everyone paid the same based on income, no matter if they were single, married filing jointly, heads of household, etc. At this time, 5% of Americans were paying taxes, which was the highest in their history. World War I’s Revenue Acts also introduced new estate taxes and taxation of excessive business profits, the first backlash against the robber baron corporations that were starting to form.