Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The pros and cons of 10 non-traditional countertops.

When you walk into a kitchen for the first time, it’s probably the countertops that jump out at you. In fact, the right countertops can make – or break – the aesthetic of a kitchen, and luxury homeowners should understand the pros and cons – and costs – of all their countertop options. In part one of this blog we covered the pros and cons of the seven most common countertop materials and now we’ll take a close look at the countertops made of nontraditional, modern, and sometimes luxurious materials.

1. Concrete
Concrete may be traditionally known as a rough, course and unattractive building material, but it’s actually one of the hot new elements in modern design. Concrete flooring has long been a staple in trendy restaurants but now concrete is adorning countertops, too.

Since concrete is custom formed, its use is extremely versatile, shaping to fit any surface or frame you need. You can easily add patterns, rocks, shells, smaller tiles, polished glass or any other inlays. Concrete is durable and does well with heavy traffic and use. It can be stained or colored to create beautiful natural variations and really never goes out of style. People who have tile countertops (grout lines) or even granite (seems) will love the uniform form of concrete.

Concrete is porous, so it needs to be sealed frequently so it doesn’t stain, and it’s not particularly resistant to heat. As concrete settles over time it can crack, which can’t really be repaired without a noticeable fault line. Concrete is heavy so it often needs extra support in the cabinets or structure beneath. Installing concrete counters may not cost much in materials, but the quality of the finished product largely depends on the contractor or installer you hire, so you get what you pay for.

$75 to $125 per square foot, installed

2. Stainless Steel
Stainless steels used to be just for restaurants and service kitchens, but now steel is at the forefront of modern industrial design.

Steel is nearly indestructible, doesn’t chip or stain and is resistant to heat, making it perfect not only in form but function. Steel countertops are usually custom fabricated (or built-in with the cabinet) so they can match almost any kitchen design. A steel countertop lends itself to the serious chef or trendy urbanite. 

Steel countertops will show fingerprints and smudges easily so they will need to be frequently wipes down and cleaned to remain pristine. Steel can also dent, though that patina look doesn’t necessarily ruin its integrity. Some chemicals may stain steel so stick to cleaning products intended for steel.

$65 to $125 per square foot, installed

3. Butcher Block
Once popular in the mid 20th century, varnished butcher block was stain resistant but pretty impractical, while oil-finished wood counters resisted heat well but susceptible to stains. Neither of these made for great choices for countertops around sinks, cooking areas and islands, but today’s butcher block countertops have improved upon those flaws while keeping their natural appeal.

Butcher Block wood countertops are organic, inviting, and warm up any kitchen. Since wood is strong but malleable, scratches and dings will probably only add to the well-used charm of wood without ruining it. It’s also to resand and restain and seal old butchers block to give it new life.

Wood is porous so shouldn’t be left wet, and can also trap bacteria if not cleaned properly. It also may swell and contract slightly based on temperature and humidity, and it’s not the most heat resistant surface.

$40 to $100 per square foot, installed

4. Recycled Paper Composite
You can’t really make kitchen counters out of paper, can you? It may sound like the worst possible material for a kitchen that you actually use, but in fact, recycled paper composites are a lot more practical – and appealing - than you may thing.

Recycled paper composites are mixed with resins and pigments, giving it a wide array of colors, patterns and even textures that are available. It’s extremely cool to have this eco-friendly countertop material, is light and easy to work with, and surprisingly heat and water resitant.

Recycled composite paper countertops aren’t scratchproof and can discolor or become compromised by chemical damage. They do need some regular maintenance with mineral oil or even sanding. There are some cheaper options to install recycled paper counters but because they are a custom surface, it’s often hard (and expensive) to find someone who really knows how to work with them.

Cost: $40 to $125 per square foot, installed

5. Bamboo
Bamboo is a gorgeous, warm and natural building element, though still not very popular. It’s extremely strong but can warp with water or scratch, and may require some maintenance.
Cost: $40 to $100 per square foot, installed.

6. Copper countertops
Copper roofing and interior copper features have become popular design elements in luxury homes, but for the truly discerning high-end homeowner, copper kitchen counters will surely awe their visitors. Copper countertops may be difficult to work with and install, but they are easy to clean and maintain. Since it will color with new reds, greens and browns as it ages, and dents, dings or scratches only add to its character, copper is a truly unique investment.
Cost: At least $100 per square foot, installed

7. Recycled glass
Repurposed glass can be used in a dazzling array of designs, and when incorporated into a countertop is also heat resistant and not easily scratched. While the aesthetic of recycled glass on the counters is sure to impress, glass can chip or stain and may even develop settling cracks.  

Cost: $60 to $120 per square foot, installed

8. Caesar stone
Also called Engineered Quartz, Caeser stone combines the beauty of that natural stone with the durability and design options that come with engineered surfaces. Since it’s infused with pigments, Caesar stone can come in a wide variety of colors or designs and is nonporous and heat resistant.
Cost: $95 to $105 per square foot, installed.

9. Zinc countertops
Zinc is a rare material for kitchen counters, but is one of the warmest and most inviting metal surfaces Zinc’s storm cloud tones darken and change with time for a stunning effect, but it’s also extremely resistant to bacteria.
Cost: $100 and up per square foot, installed.

10. Salvaged wood

Repurposing old wood beams, doors, frames and boards is a spectacular option for luxury homeowners that want unique natural surfaces in their kitchen. It ensures that your kitchen will be truly unique, and adds instant charm and character to any kitchen. Salvaged wood always has a story to tell, and can be combined with just about any other design motif or material like brick, metals, tile, etc. and even match ceiling planks or other beams. 

Of course you’ll have to find the wood first and probably x-ray it first for any hidden nails, then replane and install wooden counters before applying a durable lacquer-like varnish. It can be one of the cheapest or most expensive options based on where you get the wood and the contractor or installer you’re working with, but an kitchen with salvaged wood has a story to tell that you’ll never grow tired of.

The Four Phases of the Real Estate Cycle (and when we'll see the next crash)

The Four Phases of the Real Estate Cycle:

“The next major bust, 18 years after the 1990 downturn, will be around 2008, if there is no major interruption such as a global war.” — Fred E. Foldvary (1997)

If you want to read the ups and downs of the housing market, there may be no better place to turn than the venerable halls of Harvard University to check in with some of the most noted economics and real estate minds in the world.

Just like the cycle of any market, what we do know is inevitable – some call it a downturn or a correction; others a bubble or even a crash – is that what comes up must come down, and then up again.

In fact, these same Harvard economists accurately predicted the financial crash in 2008, or at least the timing of it if not the severity. They didn’t know some complex algorithm or hidden financial secret that the rest of us don’t, they just understood one thing: that any real estate market cycle goes through four phases.

In fact, as early as 1876 an economist named Henry George noted that all real estate cycles move through four phases.

Understanding these market shifts, what causes them and what happens next can empower the average person to make incredibly wise decisions about their real estate holdings far ahead of the curve of public sentiment or knowledge.

Imagine if you had sold all of your property in 2007 before the historic crash? What would it look like if you had kept liquid in anticipation of the Great Recession and had the means to snatch up properties so discounted the banks almost couldn’t give them away? If you knew these signs of a housing market ready to expand and appreciate wildly, you could certainly take advantage of that and when you could ascertain the warning signs that the roller coaster was at its peak and about to go on a wild ride, you could sell, sell, sell way ahead of your unsuspecting and vulnerable neighbors.

Believe it or not, all of that information is readily available. So when will the next real estate crash happen? Read on to find out!

Phase I of the real estate cycle

Having gone through the dark days of the last economic downturn, we all understand the characteristics of a recession, at least anecdotally. Recessions are characterized by:

High rates of unemployment
Decreased levels of consumer consumption
Downturn in corporate investment and expansion into buildings, factories, machinery, etc.

The price of land is depressed. In fact, property and real estate are at their lowest value any time during the four-phase cycle.

But during this phase, the population doesn’t stop increasing, and that means a higher demand for goods and services.

The government typically intervenes during this phase, aiming to spark the economic recovery in the form of lowered interest rates.

While demand inevitably marches on and the cost of borrowing money and investing is lower than ever, smart companies start looking to expand their businesses. There might be some small businesses that have to close their doors, but the larger corporations see this valley as a golden opportunity to expand and snatch up invaluable market share.

This expansion includes hiring new employees, building new factories, plants, stores, etc., and investing in new technology, machinery and infrastructure.

At the latter end of this phase, the extreme rates of vacant offices, retail spaces, plants, and homes starts to decrease. There is just too much inventory, prices and interest rates too low, and demand too high for economic expansion not to start in earnest.

Phase II of the real estate cycle

The real estate market leaves Phase I and enters Phase II of the cycle once companies and consumers have started to purchase or rent most of the available properties, easily tracked by low vacancy rates and shrinking inventory. In fact, occupancy rates surpass long-term averages during this period.

With vacant or available properties becoming far scarcer, opportunistic landlords start to raise rents. Most real estate expenses are fixed so their revenues and profits also increase with these inflated rents. With rents unprecedentedly high, buying vacant land or existing properties for development is more attractive than ever.   

New construction and development begins to boom, but the problem is that these projects could take a long time to get underway and reach completion – sometimes several years. In fact, the average new development takes two to five years to finish. So we still have strong demand but supply to fill that demand can’t be built or developed fast enough, resulting in increased upward pressure on rents, land and housing prices.

So by the time this new supply becomes readily available, the climate of high demand, high rates, low occupancy rates, low interest rates and low supply has been active for five to seven years, a period of robust economic expansion. 

But very soon, people start overpaying for existing homes, land and properties. “Investors” and consumers alike start basing the price their willing to pay on the scarcity of supply and the anticipated growth of rent and housing prices – not actual market conditions.

This is a critical point in the real estate cycle where perception of future growth outpaces the facts, and setting up the perfect storm of conditions for the next phase in real estate – the boom, the bubble, or, as economists call it, hyper-supply.

Tune in for part two of this blog coming soon where we examine the two remaining phases of every real estate cycle – and share these Harvard economists’ predictions for exactly when we’ll see the next real estate downturn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

15 Silver and black facts about your Oakland Raiders!

1. The Oakland Raiders were first granted a professional football franchise on January 30, 1960 in the now-defunct AFL. They joined the NFL in 1970 with the AFL-NFL merger.

2. The Raiders won football’s ultimate prize, a Super Bowl Championship, three times:
Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977, 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings
Super Bowl XV on January 25, 1981, 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl XVIII January 22,1984, 38-9 win over the Washington Redskins

3. Entering the 2016 season, the Raiders’ all-time NFL record stands at
389 wins, 354 losses and 6 ties.

4. While they don’t often play each other, the Raiders have a heated rivalry with the adjacent San Francisco 49ers to capture bragging rights and Bay Area fan attention. 

5. In fact, they’ve only played 13 times with the Raiders winning 7 and the 49ers 6. They aren’t slated to play head-to-head again until 2018 (unless they both meet in the Super Bowl before then!)

6. Since 1961, the team cheerleaders have been called the Raiderettes, often known as "Football's Fabulous Females".

7. Part of the Raiders’ checkered history includes a move from their native Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982. Spurned by Oakland’s refusal to improve their stadium and add luxury boxes, Al Davis and the Raiders moved to the 95,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after a lengthy legal battle, where they played until 1994, before moving back north.

8. The all-time record holders among Raiders players include:
Marcus Allen – most rushing yards with 8,545 yards (1982-1992).
Ken Stabler - most passing yards with 19,078 yards (1970-1979).
Tim Brown – most caught passes with 1,070 receptions (1988-2003).
Sebastian Janikowski – all-time Raiders leading scorer with 1,574 points and growing (2000 to current).

9. The Raiders are famous for their silver and black pirate logo and uniforms, but those weren’t always the team colors. In fact, the original Raiders’ jerseys were gold and black, with gold stripes on the sleeves.

10. Although they soon switched to all silver and black uniforms, it wasn’t the end of color changes. The team used to wear silver jerseys when they played on the road, and black ones at home. But on sunny days the reflection caused a problem for TV cameras and viewers, so the NFL asked them to change to black road jerseys.

11. “Just win, baby!” was a Raider rallying cry made famous by owner Al Davis, but Davis originally proclaimed “Just win! Be right!” and Raider linebacker Phil Villapiano added the “baby” to the end.

12. The Raiders’ official credo is “Commitment to Excellence,” in reference to a line from a speech by Winston Churchill.

13. The team we know so well as the “Raiders” almost never was, since the original team name was left up to a fan contest, which voted for “The SeƱors.” But after plenty of ridicule and jokes, the name was changed after only 48 hours.

14. The official team song is The Autumn Wind, a ballad of bad-guy buccaneers (and football teams) that’s played before every home game. In fact, the song was originally written impromptu by David Morocom, an employee of NFL Films, to accompany footage of the Raiders.

15. The Raiders now play in venerable Oakland Coliseum, which they’ve shared with the Oakland A’s baseball team since 1968 (except for the years in Los Angeles). In fact, the A’s dirt infield is still bare and visible for Raiders games, and the midfield and end zones are devoid of any Raider logos or badging like you see on other NFL fields. 

16. The unofficial name for Raiders fans is “Raider Nation,” known for their undying loyalty, rambunctious behavior, and colorful costumes to express their fandom. Al Davis coined that phrase was back in 1968.

17. “The Black Hole” is a particularly rowdy (and sometimes dangerous!) area of fans at home games, located on field level in the end zone in sections 104-107 in The Coliseum.

18. Famous California rapper Ice Cube recorded a song called "Raider Nation" in 2009, as well as contributing to a documentary about the role of Raiders clothing and gear in 1980s Los Angeles gang culture.

19. Over the years, the Raiders have featured a host of players that are former Heisman Trophy Winners, including Marcus Allen, Bo Jackson, Tim Brown, Charles Woodson, Billy Cannon, Desmond Howard and Jim Plunkett.

19. John Madden is one of the most iconic Raiders and football “lifers.” Madden was the Raiders head coach starting on February 4, 1969 and went on to a surprisingly good 12-1-1 record that year, with a close loss in the AFL Championship game. 

20. Madden went on to coach the Raiders for 10 seasons and his lifetime winning percentage (including playoffs) is the second best in league history! In fact, Madden led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl and never had a losing season, and went on to become a household name as an announcer and for his Madden Football video game.

21. When the Raiders hired Art Shell as their head coach in 1989, he became the first African American head coach in the NFL. The Raiders had also hired the first ever Latino head coach in the NFL when they brought on Tom Flores in 1979. 

22. The Raiders ushered in a new era of leadership when they hired Jack Del Rio has head coach on January 14, 2015, replacing fired coach Dennis Allen and then interim coach Tony Soprano.

23. This year’s team shows particular promise to soon overcome the Raiders playoff and even Super Bowl draught. With young stars Khalil Mack (1st player ever to be selected as an All-Pro at 2 positions the same year), wide receiver Amari Cooper (first Oakland Raider rookie to reach 1,000-yards) and budding QB star Derek Carr  (53 TD passes in his first two seasons are the 2nd–most in NFL history) they Raiders are poised for an epic resurgence!

24. However, there is a cloud over the future of the team remaining in Oakland, as plans are underway for the Raiders to relocate to Las Vegas. On September 15, 2016, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee voted to approve an initial $750 million funding package for a new stadium to host the Raiders. 

25. But if history has shown us one thing, it’s that no matter where the Raiders play the diehard Silver and Black fans will remain loyal!