If there's any endeavor that really does take a village, it's home renovation. As you tear down walls, imagine the kitchen of your dreams, and install large appliances, you'll be dealing with a team of specialists. Here's how to put together an Olympic-worthy dream team.
"I always half-rolled my eyes at real estate listings that said 'Bring your architect.' It sounded impossibly high-flown, perhaps aimed at the type of people who traveled with an entourage of servants," a New York City renovation survivor wrote on Curbed. "But let me say this flat-out: The best thing we ever did for our renovation was hire an architect." An architect listens to your ideas and helps you think through the design, then translates all of that into a plan that can be made real. Expect to pay 10 to 20 percent of the overall project cost.
The Project Manager
Think of the general contractor as your project manager. They take those plans from the architect and executes it with a team of subcontractors they have on speed dial. That means you don't need to spend hours of your own time to find individual tradespeople to paint, plumb, and carpenter. Even if your project doesn't require an architect, if your renovation will require more than one specialty tradesperson and cost a few thousand dollars, you need a general contractor.
Ask people you know for references and see if neighbors have had projects similar to yours done. The rule of thumb is to interview several contractors and receive a bid from each before you decide. Expect to pay 25 percent of the project cost.
You really don't need an interior decorator or designer for your renovation, but for some, choosing between hundreds of different countertops, cabinets, and floors gives a flooding sense of decision fatigue. In those cases, the expertise of a designer may help you feel less overwhelmed. Find certified designers through the National Kitchen & Bath Association (nkba.org) or the American Society of Interior Designers (asid.org). Designers will charge somewhere between 4 and 7 percent, according to Consumer Reports, but you can expect to pay an interior decorator, especially of the Million Dollar Decorator variety, up to 20 percent for them.
When your renovation is complete, you will hopefully no longer require the services of highly-trained specialists like plumbers, carpenters, and painters. It may not be a full-blown renovation, but home repairs will still come along that are too much for you to handle.
In those cases, you need a handyman or woman. Whether it's a silencing a squeaky front door or drippy faucet, hanging the projector screen, assembling bookshelves, cleaning the gutters, or power-washing the upstairs windows, no job is too small for this household helper. These people can also sometimes tackle slightly larger jobs, like installing a simple deck or building a ladder for your new above-ground pool. Angie's List says you can expect to pay anywhere between $50 to $100 per hour — but a good one is worth their weight in gold.
You've got your team and your chomping at the bit for the kitchen of your dreams, but whoa there, Nelly. You need to set a budget for your project for you start getting stars in your eyes over German appliances and carrara marble. How much should you spend?
First, you need an overall estimate of the value of your house. One easy tool is to use Zillow's "Zestimator." Once you know how much your house is worth, a good rule of thumb is not to spend more than the value of that room as a percentage of your overall house value. Kitchens, for example, generally account for 10 to 15 percent of the property value, so if your home is worth $200,000, you'd want to spend no more than $30,000.
Where does that money come from? You've got a few options. You could refinance your mortgage, get a home equity line of credit, or a home equity loan. This choice can be overwhelming, so consult with a lender about which option is best for you.
Last but not least, you'll want to leave wiggle room for unforeseen expenses. Factor in 10 to 20 percent (or more) of your contracted budget for those imperfections that are revealed when the layers of your home are peeled away.
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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.