Housing Trends Reflect Pandemic’s Influence  

The effect of pandemic lockdowns has triggered more interest in working at home, a trend that will be long-lasting and possibly permanent.

Early in the pandemic we saw a surge in real estate activity as buyers sought more space for working from home. Compounding that was a desire for more at-home entertainment and exercise. People want not only a home office, but a home theater and a home workout facility. These are features that will, in my opinion, dominate home design and buyer demands for at least the coming decade.

People feel safer at home, but they don’t want to feel cloistered. They want elbow-room.

Lockdowns also triggered more separations and divorces as couples who weren’t really in love found that being cloistered together at home didn’t work for their relationship. This also contributed to the real estate boom of 2020 and into 2021.

Real estate was considered an “essential service” in the early days of Covid-19 lockdowns, and we Realtors certainly relished the lack of traffic and traffic jams on local highways.  Those days of free-flowing traffic may be gone, but there is still a widespread appreciation of working from home and doing less commuting. This means continued buyer activity focused on finding additional home office space.

Some homeowners are finding that additional space at home instead of trading up to a bigger home. There’s increased interest, for example, in building ADUs over detached garages, not to create rental income (a great idea) but for the homeowner’s own use as a studio or office away from family distractions.

An attached garage can offer great potential for additional living space, not just as a workshop, but as a home office, art studio, workout room or even a bedroom if necessary. Heating and cooling, on top of improved insulation, will be job #1 before improving the flooring, walls and ceiling. Rather than extending your home forced-air furnace ductwork, consider installing a single-unit heat pump mini-split system.  I saw this on a garage in north Golden—a perfect application of this technology.

Click here for the Realtor Magazine article which inspired this article.

BONUS FEATURE:

Here’s an article submitted by Tina Martin about transforming your garage into a great work space:

Work-from-home jobs have become much more prevalent in recent years, with many people looking for remote opportunities or even starting their own businesses from the comfort of their houses. If you’ve just started working from home or are planning to in the near future, you’ll need a quiet, dedicated space for an office, and one place you may not have thought of to create a setup is your garage. With a few simple changes, you can transform this area into another room that comes with plenty of benefits–including more privacy and fewer distractions. You can also look for ways to make the transition to working from home a little easier at the same time.

Come prepared

If you’re going to be working from home at your own business, it’s a good idea to be as prepared and organized as possible to make the process a smooth one. This means taking steps to ensure that your company has all its bases covered legally, including creating an LLC so you can keep track of your tax responsibilities and remain in good standing with the IRS. A limited liability company comes with less paperwork and more flexibility than a corporation, so you can stay on top of things and run your business the way you want. Every state has its own rules for formation, so look up the steps for creating a Colorado LLC before jumping in.

Set up your workspace

Once you have the details figured out, it’s time to think about how to turn your garage into a room you can work in throughout the seasons. Of course, you’ll need access to wi-fi and electricity, but never try to handle electrical work on your own–hire a pro if you have to add wiring to your garage. If you already have wi-fi in your home, a simple and affordable signal extender could help you bring service to your new workspace. You’ll also want to make sure you have access to cool and warm air for the different seasons and that the garage is well-ventilated. Add shelving and a desk so you can keep things neat, and don’t forget to bring in a comfortable, supportive chair.

Let some light in

Once you know where your desk will be, think about how to make sure you have the right light for your needs. Many garages have overhead fluorescent lighting, which can be tiresome to your eyes for long periods of time. Look for a small lamp or two that will provide task lighting to the right areas and diffuse the overheads for your comfort. If your garage has a window, even better! Natural light is beneficial for working in an office because it can help to prevent disruptions in the circadian rhythm and boost your mood. If you don’t have a window, take breaks throughout the day and step outside for some fresh air.

Keep distractions out

Once you have your office space set up, it’s time to keep the distractions to a minimum. There are several ways you can achieve this, but you might start by replacing the garage door with a regular one that locks. Keep your new office space dedicated to business-only; the more it looks and feels like home, the easier it will be for you to put off work. It’s also a good idea to keep devices out of the space unless they’re necessary for your job.

Creating a home office out of a garage doesn’t have to be time-consuming or costly. With a few simple moves, you can turn this space into an entirely new room and give yourself the workspace you’ve always wanted in the process.

My Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home  

This column is adapted from my July 18, 2019, column on this topic.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we did when we purchased our current home was to pay for an energy audit to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. One result of that test was to blow additional cellulose insulation into walls and ceilings and to caulk around windows. We considered installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home using a heat exchanger that warms outside air in the winter and cools outside air in the summer. Instead we installed a fan in our powder room that runs 24/7 at a very low volume, but higher when occupied.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, with sun tunnels. Rita and I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a Velux sun tunnel in our garage and another one in our laundry room. (He installed four more at Golden Real Estate.)

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb in our home with LEDs which are “daylight” color.

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. Since everyone will be driving an electric car eventually, install as much solar PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install mountable curbs the entire length of residential streets, because they can’t know where each driveway will be. One of the first things we did at our home was to remove the mountable curb in front of our driveway.  It cost about $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but we love it every time we enter from the street!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump or hybrid furnace. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I recommend buying a heat-pump water heater. We bought a 50-gallon Rheem unit for $1,200, but it came with a $400 rebate. Once you’ve replaced both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. 

Other improvements I’d recommend: Replacing any bathroom carpeting with ceramic or porcelain tile; replacing regular double-pane windows with Low-E windows on south-facing windows; replacing fluorescent fixtures (as we did in our garage) with flush-mount LED panels sold at Lowes for about $100.  Love ’em!

Some Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home

Who doesn’t want to make some improvements on a home they have just purchased?  Here are some of my personal favorites.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we do is pay for an energy audit by someone like Andrew Sams of Alpine Building Performance to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. This would likely include blowing more insulation into walls or ceilings and caulking around windows. It might also include installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home. This device warms cold outside air in the winter and cools hot outside air in the summer by means of a heat exchanger.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, not with traditional skylights but with sun tunnels. Most people are familiar with the Solatube brand, but I prefer the Velux brand. I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a 22-inch Velux sun tunnel in my windowless garage and a 14-inch sun tunnel in my windowless laundry room — and four large Velux sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. Ah, sunlight!

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb is our house with LEDs which are “daylight” color (like sunlight), not cool white or warm white. CFLs and incandescent bulbs are so 2010!

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer for us, especially now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. (That’s our situation.) Since you might be driving an electric car someday, install as much PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.  If you have just purchased an EV, Xcel will allow you to install more panels based on anticipated future use.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install those mountable curbs the entire length of the streets in new subdivisions, not knowing exactly where each driveway will be. One of the first things I would do (and have done) is to hire a concrete company to replace the mountable curb with a smooth entrance. It cost over $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but I love it every time I enter from the street! Caution: the sidewalk will now be sloped slightly and pedestrians could more easily slip on ice, so be prepared to salt your sidewalk to eliminate icing!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump furnace or mini-splits. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I suggest buying a heat-pump water heater. The cost is about the same, and, by converting to electricity for both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

Other improvements I’d consider include: Replacing carpeting with  tile in bathrooms; and replacing regular glass with Low-E glass on south-facing windows to reduce the harmful effects of sunlight on furniture, hardwood floors and artwork.

Renovate Your Home for Your Own Enjoyment, Not to Help It Sell Better

Sellers often ask whether they should renovate prior to putting their home on the market. The short answer is “no.”  Unless you’re fixing an eyesore, you will be wasting your money.

So, what’s an “eyesore”?  I use the term to define something that draws a buyer’s immediate attention in a negative way — a torn carpet, a damaged countertop, a broken window, a weathered and peeling front door, etc.

The closer an eyesore is to the home’s entrance, the more important it will be to fix. If the eyesore is in a far-flung bedroom or the basement, I’m less concerned, so long as the main part of the house is really attractive. By the time a buyer gets to that eyesore, they will either have fallen in love with the house or not. If they have fallen in love by then, the buyer’s response will be more forgiving — “Oh, that’s easy to fix.”

Eliminating eyesores is worth every penny. Other improvements, such as updating a bathroom or kitchen that’s not an eyesore, may return some or much of what you spend, but probably not all. On such improvements, consider the condition of the real estate market.  If there’s a shortage of homes like yours — say, a ranch-style home in a desirable neighborhood — then you could probably minimize even the eyesore fixes. If your home will have lots of competition, fixing those eyesores becomes far more important. This is a topic on which you benefit from speaking with a Realtor, given our ready access to such data. 

Committed as we at Golden Real Estate are to sustainability, I hate to say it, but installing solar panels produces about the lowest return on investment when it comes to selling your home. You should only invest in solar if you intend to stay in your home for at least five years. You will get your return on investment from the reduced energy bills, not in a higher sale price for your home. In our case, we installed 10 kilowatts of solar at our home, but that was seven years ago, and we don’t plan to sell anytime soon.  If you make the same decision, please buy solar instead of leasing. Selling a home with a leased solar system is not as attractive to buyers.

As stated in the headline, make improvements that you want to live with and enjoy, and make them nownot when you’re about to sell.  It matters little to Rita and me whether our wonderful new kitchen will return the $40,000 we spent on renovating it, since we will have enjoyed it ourselves for many years. And if you know you’re going to sell eventually, but not soon, spend the money now and enjoy the improvement!

Some of the other improvements Rita and I made soon after buying our home and continue to appreciate over 7 years later include installing Solatubes (to bring sunlight into our windowless garage and laundry room) and an energy audit followed by weatherization improvements. We had acacia hardwood flooring installed, and retrofitted the south-facing windows with Low-E glass. A hybrid gas furnace/heat pump system heats and cools our home.  We also installed a hot water recirculation line to provide instant hot water at all faucets.