Gunning Daily News

Kitchen Face-Lifts for the Frugal

January 27, 2012 2:28 pm

You're longing to replace those dark oak cabinets, avocado appliances and worn countertops in your kitchen, but you want to minimize the costs and time of construction.

Don’t worry. That doesn't mean you have to live with a tired look forever. As long as the layout is good and the cabinets are sturdy, you can transform a kitchen for just $1,000 to $10,000 by dressing up what's already there. "And you'll probably see a dollar for dollar or better return on the investment when you sell," says Baltimore home appraiser Terry Dunkin, who is president of the Appraisal Institute, a professional standards organization.

Keep to neutral colors such as white, cream or beige and natural materials (like wood and stone) so the results won't soon go out of style. You may also want to hire a professional kitchen designer ($250 to $500) to help you choose colors, products and materials that look good together (check and for certified designers who offer hourly rates). Then pick your projects according to your budget and your priorities.

If You Have a Few Hundred Dollars to Spend
Replace the Ceiling Fixture. There's no reason to live with an ugly ceiling light that causes eyestrain. For $25 to $250 you can buy a simple fixture that matches your cabinet hardware. If you aren't confident in your knowledge of electrical wiring, it's worth it to spend $200 to $300 to hire an electrician to do the work.

Put in Laminate Flooring. If your kitchen floor is level with the floors in the adjacent rooms, you can make old linoleum, sheet vinyl and chipped tiles disappear by installing laminate flooring right over them. Laminate costs $1 to $5 a square foot and looks like wood, stone or tile. The pieces snap together without nails or glue and are a cinch for handy homeowners to install.

Give the Cabinets News Life. Spending $3 to $10 or so a cabinet to replace shiny brass knobs and pulls with brushed nickel will instantly modernize their look, says Martha Kerr, a 30-year-veteran kitchen designer in Portland, Ore., "Or have some fun with colored glass, retro 1950s plastic or little metallic vegetables." Just make sure that any hardware you select matches the existing holes.

As long as your cabinets are solid, a new coat of paint will make them appear fresher. While you're at it, you can install doors with wood, leaded glass or punched tin panels ($50 to $150 or so a door) and paint the frames to match them. Or eliminate some doors entirely for an open-display look (free). You can fill unwanted hardware holes (use Bondo, the auto-body filler) before painting.

If You Can Spend a Few Thousand Dollars
Replace the Cabinets. You can get a gorgeous new maple or cherry finish for your old cabinets by hiring a refacing company to replace the doors and drawer fronts and cover the cabinet boxes with a matching veneer ($4,000 to $6,000).

"That's less than half the cost of new cabinets," says Dave Haglund, president of Kitchen-Tune-Up, an Aberdeen, South Dakota, refacing and remodeling company.

Another benefit: While replacing the cabinets will take two to three months, a complete refacing job can be done in three days. Refacers can also install additional cabinets, resize appliance openings and replace the countertops as part of the job (add one day and $3,000 to $6,000).

Update the Backsplash. A four-inch-high band of laminate or tile above the sink makes your kitchen appear outdated, says Richard Gaylord, a Long Beach, California, Realtor and 2008 president of the National Association of REALTORS®. Replace it with a full backsplash that fills the 18-inch space between the counter and the upper cabinets (don't worry, it need not match the countertops). In fact, you can use that space for some do-it-yourself creativity; try using tiles of colored glass or stone ($300 to $750 for the entire backsplash in an average-size kitchen), wallpaper ($50 to $100), beadboard paneling ($100 to $150), or tin ceiling tiles, ($400 to $800), to fashion the look you prefer.

Add New Lighting. If your kitchen has a single ceiling light, it probably casts an annoying shadow over the food whenever you cook. An electrician can add a few recessed ceiling lights ($300 to $500) to brighten the entire room and under-cabinet lights ($200 to $400) to illuminate the work surfaces.
Uncover the Wood Floor. Most houses built before World War II have wood floors hiding under the linoleum, and there is no better floor for a kitchen, says Sandy Gordon, an interior designer in Madison, Wisconsin.

"It's gentler underfoot than tile and more forgiving on dropped dishes, and today's finishes are super-durable."

If you're not comfortable ripping out the old layers of flooring, sanding the wood and applying polyurethane, you can hire a hardwood flooring company to do the job for about $5 to $7 a square foot.

Replace Appliances. New appliances will make your kitchen appear more up-to-date and will also improve its ergonomics and energy efficiency. Buy moderately priced equipment, ($2,000 to $10,000 and up for a refrigerator, range, microwave and dishwasher), in stainless steel for a modern look. If you can't resist that $10,000 stove, consider taking it with you when you move.

Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that just a week of an all-takeout diet will add hundreds more to your renovation costs. So before you get started, set aside some essential foodstuffs, perhaps a microwave, a mini-fridge and—most important—the coffeemaker.

For more information, visit

Hang Pictures with Designer Flare

January 27, 2012 2:28 pm

There are few things that can make a new house feel lived in like hanging your own personal artwork. Whether you're hanging family photographs, framed artwork, mirrors, or posters, these items give the eye a place to focus and complete the look of a room.

While a properly hung picture adds to a room, a poorly hung picture can draw the eye in a negative way. Follow these instructions to make sure your framed pictures are hung properly and securely.

Framed Artwork

Hanging a picture is a two-person job, so you'll want to recruit a helper before you get started. Next, you'll want to choose the right hanger for the weight of your framed art.

Once you've got your helper and your hardware, follow these three steps

1. Decide which wall will hold the picture. Balance the size of the art with any furniture that sits against the wall. For example, use a large painting over a large sofa—a small painting would be dwarfed by a big object below it. If you must hang a small item in a large space, consider grouping it with others for greater visual impact.

2. Decide where on the wall the picture will hang. Will you center the picture over a piece of furniture or center it on the wall itself, with furniture pieces spaced around it unevenly? Both ways can be attractive.

3. When hanging a group of pictures, arrange them on the floor first. If you have a grouping of several small pieces, lay them on the floor and experiment with how you will arrange them in relation to each other. You should know how the group will come together before you begin nailing. Measure the dimensions of the group as one unit and use those measurements to figure wall placement.

Word of the Day

January 27, 2012 2:28 pm

Useful life. The period of time over which a commercial property can be depreciated for federal income-tax purposes. Also known as economic life.

Question of the Day

January 27, 2012 2:28 pm

Q: What is a two-step mortgage?
A: Not to be confused with a biweekly mortgage, this type of home loan is also known as 5/25s and 7/23s. It has one interest rate for part of th

Two steps are 30-year mortgages. They can either be convertible or nonconvertible. The 5/25s have a fixed interest rate for the first five years and either convert to a one-year adjustable rate or a 25-year fixed loan. The 7/23 has a fixed interest rate for the first seven years and then converts to a one-year adjustable rate or a 23-year fixed loan.

The initial rate on the two step is lower than on a 30-year fixed mortgage, but higher than a one-year adjustable. Also, because the adjustment interval is longer, there is less risk initially than with an adjustable rate mortgage, or ARM e life of the mortgage and a different rate for the remainder of the loan.

What You Need to Know about Short Sales

January 26, 2012 5:26 pm

In the previous segment, we looked at reasons to consider a short sale. But in this segment, we'll hear from Charlotte, N.C. REALTOR® Jon Widdifield about what you need to know if you're considering buying a short sale property in 2012:

1. The list price may not be the sales price; the bank may ask for more than the list price.

2. The bank makes the final decision, not the homeowner.

3. The home will typically be sold as is. If the homeowner does not have enough to pay the mortgage, they probably do not have enough to do repairs.

4. A short sale is not owned by the bank. However the bank must approve the sales price.

5. A short sale is not a short process; it can take several months to get to the closing table.

6. There will be bumps in the road when purchasing a short sale; you must be patient if you plan on purchasing one.

7. You can get really great deals on a short sale; just keep in mind it can be an arduous process.

8. Do not set your hear on a particular short sale until the deal is closed; the deal can fall through at any time.

9. Don't give up. The process is difficult but these homes do get sold. And most importantly, if you're considering transacting a short sale in 2012, Widdefield says...

10. Make sure you have an agent that is experienced in Short Sales. You need someone that knows what to do to get the deal closed.

Looking for 2011 Tax Relief? There’s Still Time

January 26, 2012 5:26 pm

If you’re just beginning to think about your 2011 income tax return, you’ve got a late start—but it’s still not too late to cash in on some savings.

Jessica James, CPA and author of Justice for None (, shares some tips for both 2011 and 2012 savings:

• Contribute to retirement accounts.
If you haven’t already put money into your traditional or ROTH IRA account for 2011, you’ve got until April 17 to do it. If you have a Keogh or SEP (Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement for businesses), and you get a filing extension to Oct. 15, you’ve got until then to make your 2011 deposits. The maximum IRA contribution for 2011 is $5,000, or $6,000 if you’re 50 or older by the end of the year. For self-employed people, the maximum for SEPs and Keoghs for 2011 is $49,000.

• Don't fear the home office deduction. In the past, many tax filers didn’t claim a home office deduction because it was seen as an IRS red flag. But the requirements and forms have been clarified so people can do that properly—and not make mistakes that can lead to an audit. Also, the rules have been expanded so more people can claim the deduction. If you use a home office exclusively for business, even if you don’t meet your clients there, you’re eligible. For instance, a handyman who does his work other people’s houses can claim the deduction if he does his paperwork at his home office. Another change is that, in the past, if you claimed 10 percent of your home as an office, that amount would not be included in the $250,000 tax-free profit from the home’s sale that’s allowed for an individual by the IRS. Be sure to make your claim reasonable, or it will get questioned; a $25,000 home office deduction for a business with $50,000 annual gross revenue is not reasonable.

• Maximize your Flexible Spending Account. The Health Care Act will limit the maximum you can put into these pre-tax medical expense accounts in 2013. So 2012 is the last year to use an FSA to pay for orthodontics and other large medical expenses using pre-tax earnings. A medical expense flexible spending account, or FSA, allows you to use before-tax earnings to pay for medical or health care expenses not covered by your health insurance. Assuming a 25 percent tax rate, you avoid $25 in taxes for every $100 you spend from your FSA.

• Need to sell an investment?
Next year may be the time. The Tax Relief Act maintains the tax rate cap on capital gains and dividends at 15 percent through 2012. In 2013, the cap for capital gains will increase to 20 percent and for dividends, 39.6 percent. The Health Care Act also created a 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income, effective in 2013. Given those scheduled increases, plan to take advantage of the rates next year.

James is an author pseudonym used because she fears her novel may provoke IRS retaliation. It’s a fictionalized account of her experience as a minor player swept up in an IRS probe that included anyone associated with the primary target, a corporation. She says that, though she was innocent of any wrongdoing, she was coerced into accepting a plea deal by the IRS, which was bent on amassing adjudications of guilt to justify the investigation’s expense. She pled guilty to a count of falsifying a tax return and continues to work as a CPA.

Jessica James is a CPA and the author of a novel,
Justice for None, about her experiences as a minor target in a major federal tax fraud case.

5 Ways to Save Money on Health Insurance

January 26, 2012 5:26 pm

If you're like most consumers, you've probably seen your health insurance premiums go up in the last year. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, family health insurance costs for those with employer-sponsored coverage increased by nine percent in 2011.

Maybe it's time for a health insurance checkup. Take a look at what you're paying for coverage, think about which benefits you value most, and read the following five tips designed to help you save money on health insurance in 2012:

Review your options annually. Whether you get your health insurance coverage through an employer or purchase an individual policy, you should review your options at least once per year. Health insurance companies are bringing new, innovative options to the market all the time. Just remember that it's still possible to be declined for an individual policy due to a pre-existing medical condition. Don't cancel your current plan until you're officially approved for a new one.

Cultivate healthy habits. By taking care of yourself now, you may be taking care of your pocketbook in the future. A recent study conducted by eHealth Inc., found that of over 200,000 consumers with brand-name health plans purchased through, smokers paid 14 percent more on average for their monthly premiums compared to non-smokers. Policyholders with a body mass index in the "obese" range paid more than 22 percent more than those in the "normal" BMI range—an average annual savings of $444.

Try a plan with a higher deductible.
If you're relatively healthy and rarely see the doctor, consider switching to a plan with a higher annual deductible and a lower monthly premium. Thanks to the 2010 health care reform law, some preventive care services will still be available to you with no out-of-pocket cost. Just be sure that you can afford to pay the full deductible in case of a serious injury or illness.
Consider splitting up the family. There's no law that says you need to have the whole family on a single health insurance plan. For example, some employers pay a substantial amount of employees' monthly premiums but little—if anything -—for their dependents. You may be able to save on your monthly health insurance costs by putting your dependents on a plan of their own.

Mix and match additional benefits. Even if your employer provides dental and vision benefits, it may be worthwhile looking into these plans on your own—whether for your whole family, or just for dependents. You may be able to save money and get benefits better matched for your family's needs.


For Your Kids: Taking Care of Young Teeth

January 26, 2012 5:26 pm

Healthy teeth and a healthy mouth give children more than just a beautiful smile. A healthy mouth supports overall health, and it can help children perform better in school. But far too many children have preventable oral health problems far too young.

Tooth decay affects more than 25 percent of American children 2 to 5 years old, and half of children 12 to 15 years old—that's more than any other chronic infectious disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Left untreated, tooth decay causes pain and infection, which can lead to problems in eating, speaking, playing, and even learning.

There is plenty that parents and caregivers can do to help prevent tooth decay and other oral diseases.

First Things First: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) says that children should have their first visit to a pediatric dentist no later than their first birthday. The first tooth usually comes in between 6 and 12 months of age -- schedule an appointment and get started on good oral health care from the beginning. The AAPD says that, in one study, children that saw a dentist before their first birthday had dental costs that were 40 percent lower in the first five years than costs for children who had not seen a dentist by their first birthday.

Establish Good Habits: Kids need help establishing good dental care habits. Make sure they brush twice a day, floss every day, follow a healthy diet and visit the dentist every six months for checkups and cleanings.

• Using a soft-bristled brush, kids should brush for at least two minutes. Some power toothbrushes have a built-in timer. Before teeth appear, clean baby's gums twice a day with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush and water.
• Parents should floss young children's teeth once a day, until they can do a good job themselves, at least until age 7 or 8.
• Make sure they eat foods with vitamin C, which helps gum tissue stay healthy, and calcium, for strong teeth.

Be Alert: Watch for signs of oral health problems. Talk to your dentist if you see warning signs such as:
• Changes in performance at school—listening, concentrating and learning.
• Sucking on cheeks or lips.
• Reluctance to smile.
• Problems chewing foods.
• Problems sleeping.
• Aching teeth or gums.


Word of the Day

January 26, 2012 5:26 pm

Undivided interest. Ownership by two or more persons that gives each the right to use the entire property.

Question of the Day

January 26, 2012 5:26 pm

Q: How do building codes work?

A: Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design, construction, use and occupancy, and maintenance. The codes are established and enforced by local politicians and government officials, who also tend to modify them constantly. The codes are usually enforced by denying permits, occupancy certificates, and by imposing fines.

While codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire. Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors.

There are building codes for most remodeling jobs. So if you have done significant remodeling, make sure you save proof of the permits involved in the project. There is a good chance potential buyers may request them. Failure to obtain the appropriate permits before you undertake a project could later result in fines or other serious consequences, such as having a structure ordered to be torn down because it was constructed improperly.