Home Remodeling

When you can’t find a new home to buy it may be worth your while to remodel the won you own. Granted you may pay extreme amounts for lumber and wait months for appliances, but every dime you drop into upgrades should give you a great return on your investment when you sell.  And doing so will make you happier in your new space!  Remodeling magazine has released the key remodeling trends specific to Salt Lake City that will give you a great return on your sweat equity or your cost of hiring contractors. Here’s what’s top of the list:

-Replacing garage doors to electric and /or doors with windows that let in ambient light.

-Adding stone veneer to the exterior of your home’s street-facing façade to give it a different look, using river rock or something local.

-Updating exterior siding. Old siding is wide, sometimes made of asbestos or painted aluminum that chips and fades. Upgrade to less wide planks in more modern materials.

-Minor kitchen remodels. Replace cabinet and drawer fronts if the boxes are of good quality. Update your appliances, sink and fixtures. Or simply add ‘roll outs’ to your cabinets-rolling tracks to pull out to see everything in the cabinet.

-New front door! There are so many choices these days in front entry styles made from wood and/or metal. Make sure you replace the casing around the door and update your locks to a Nest-like system that you can control when you’re not home.

-New roof and add/update your insulation. Plus, instead of large expensive skylights, add solar tubes for ambient light. These tubes are great for when you get up in the middle of the night and must use the toilet but don’t want to flick on bright light.

Now that warmer temperatures are here there are inexpensive things you can do yourself to add sweat equity to your home. I generally suggest these for outside and inside:

-New larger numbers on the exterior of your home. Generally I find that signals to people that you’ve updated and paid attention to details.

-Some type of security camera system and door locks. You can buy these now from discount stores like Costco.

-Closet organizers. One bar to hold your hanged clothes is stupid. Break up that space with at least two bars and maybe but up a found set of drawers to add for extra storage.

-Re-caulking bathroom tile/tubs. New bath fixtures can be inexpensive. Cabinet/drawer pulls can be handmade and artsy or you can buy simple modern ones on the web.

-Wallpaper is back from the grave and is in great designs and colors. Do one wall in your home say in the dining, rec room, kitchen or bedroom as an accent to make your home pop.

-Updating light fixtures. New LED fixtures for your ceiling can cost $30. You don’t ever replace the light bulbs, you replace the fixture several years down the road to the newest design in LED fixtures. Easy peasy!

Temple Square Reopens

What are the best places to visit in Utah? According to www.touropia.com they are Lake Powell, Antelope Island, Moab, Park City, Salt Lake City, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. None of those on the list are a surprise to us locals, and many of us ventured out closed to home at these places during the Pandemic. What’s the number one place to visit in our capitol city? Temple Square of course, which has been closed for major renovations since December 29, 2019. Visitsaltlake.com reports that an estimated 3 to 5 million people flock to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake each year, which is more visitors than all five of the state’s ‘Big Five’ national parks combined.

The Salt Lake Temple itself, an icon of Western Gothic Architecture muchly needed a safety and seismic upgrade. The mechanics, electric and plumbing systems were aged and had we experienced a major earthquake the building may have crumbled. We had a big tremblor one morning back in March of 2020 of a 5.7 magnitude. The subsequent shaking caused the golden trumpet on the Angel Moroni to fall off and some of the smaller spires had minor displacement. The major shaking was almost an alarm not just to employees and visitors but to some a signal that God was bringing his wrath upon the peoples of the earth with the rampant Covid 19 pandemic.

To protect the historic building from future damage, Church officials authorized installation of a ‘base isolation system’, one of the most effective means of protecting a building against the forces of an earthquake. A base isolation system is a method of seismic protection where the structure (superstructure) is separated from the base (foundation or substructure). By separating the structure from its base, the amount of energy that is transferred to the superstructure during an earthquake is reduced significantly. This system installs one or more types of bearing to support the weight of the structure through things like sliding plates and elastomeric pads, like shock absorbers to dissipate the energy of the quake. If you’ve driven by Temple Square in the past year, you’d have seen bulldozers digging several stories deep around the Temple

FAIR HOUSING FOR ALL

April is the month when we REALTORS celebrate the passage of the Fair Housing Act of congress in 1968 by sponsoring events and offering education focusing on housing discrimination and segregation, with a recommitment to expanding equal access to housing for all.

If we step back in time, we can all see that segregation in housing in big and large cities alike didn’t happen randomly. Pockets of racial and ethnic makeup often live there because of extremely specific laws that were passed to either try and put them there or keep them there. Think of high end neighborhoods you know of around our country with large homes on larger lots. The diversity of peoples is most likely non-existent at best, with most expensive homes being owned by whites. Over the centuries these landowners have helped to create and enforce zoning rules that put a virtual wall up to keep diversity of housing out-no apartment buildings, duplexes/triplexes, very few townhomes. And as housing prices rise and affordable housing product vanishes, we hear pushback from the NIMBY landowners who may support the concept of affordable housing… if it’s not in their backyard.

During the Trump years, the HUD Secretary (Ben Carson) didn’t seem to initiate or fight for sweeping changes in national housing policies. The overall affordable housing shortage worsened under Carson’s term, HUD’s budget was cut and there was no increase in Section 8 housing vouchers for families in desperate need of rental housing. Obama’s presidency created programs to racially diversify and create more affordable housing in the suburbs, but those programs were axes by Trump, as were the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulations. The latter Trump cut to appease white suburban women before the 2020 presidential election. Carson pushed to make sure that government-funded homeless shelters refused to allow transgender people in housing based on gender identities. Luckily, Biden is committed to wiping out all laws against trans people in housing.

My National Assn. of REALTORS has a new and encouraging Fair Housing Action Plan to help ensure our 1.3 million REALTORS are doing as much as we can to protect housing rights in America by educating not just ourselves but the public in the topic. We are hoping to increase our partnerships with governments and private housing providers/developers to promote best practices to prevent discrimination and foster diverse, inclusive communities in this country.  Most important though, I want you to know that IF for any reason you feel you’ve been discriminated in trying to rent or buy a home because of your race, color, sex, national origin, or religion you can file a complaint with HUD. If they determine discrimination might have occurred, the case would be sent to an administrative hearing or Federal District Court. If a judge finds discrimination did occur, the guilty one could be ordered to compensate you for damages, make housing available, pay a penalty and/or attorney’s fees.

There’s a great movie “The Banker” out with Samuel L. Jackson about two black entrepreneurs in the 1960’s who hatched an ingenious business plan to fight for housing integration with equal access to the American Dream.

 

NATURE CHALLENGE

The 2021 City Nature Challenge is almost here to get us out from in front of our computers and NETFLIX binges and into our neighborhoods, parks and even our downtowns. From April 30-May 3, people from around the world are about to join in a chance to document their local nature using the iNaturalist app.

Let’s think for a moment past the never ending documentaries on television on how our planet is dying and get out and smell some nature and help document what is beyond our front door. There are native trees like Desert Willow, Mountain Mahogany and Bigtooth Maple. None of these trees blew over in the hurricane winds of last Labor Day Weekend! Then there are all the wildflowers starting to poke their heads up, such as White Sand, Snowball Sand and Desert Sand Verbenas, Common Yarrow, Desert Rock Peas, Horsemint Giant Hyssop, Northern Water Plantains and our state flower, the Sego Lily. Many of our local nurseries in the state have expanded their native plant selections and it’s fun to discover what will grow in our yards each year. And less we forget the evil garden weeds also vying for garden space, ones that fool us with their flowers and take over the yard like: Common Mallow, Bindweed, Henbit, Morning Glory, Prickly Lettuce, and the Scarlet Pimpernel. And don’t forget on your adventure to note Dandelions and grasses such as the evil Crabgrass, Hare Barley, Junglerice and Perennial Ryegrass.  I have a newer IPhone that has Google Lens on it, where I just click on the lens icon, point at the plant and viola! it tells me what I’m seeing.

The City Nature Challenge asked you to take pictures of what you find and share with fellow nature lovers and tree huggers. The Natural History Museum of Utah and over a dozen other organizations throughout Northern Utah are in on this event to help us all document our wild neighbors outside our homes.

As a side bar, I know there are urban foresters around the state who help cities and counties with advice and help in planning more indigenous flora. I drove by a school last week where they were planting a long row of small pines along a fence line and I gasped when I recognized that the fir was not a native plant and a tree which would require much water and have short roots-making them susceptible to being blown over in high winds. If you weren’t living in the tri-city area along the Wasatch mountains back in September of 2020, you missed hurricane winds that yanked out 100-year-old trees all over our valleys. My all-time favorite tree nicknamed ‘Thor’ came out ok. This male Fremont Cottonwood doesn’t give off cotton and is located just north of The Bagel Project at 753 S. 500 E. He was planted in 1857 by Peter Beck Hansen.  History has it that Brigham Young told his followers to ‘forest the valley’ when they got here, and thus Thor was planted and thrives to this day with deep, deep roots to the artesian well in the neighborhood (where you can get water 24/7 at the park on the corner of 800 So and 500 E

Rent Relief is Here!

Have you been struggling to pay your landlord the rent they are due? Behind on utilities? The Emergency Rental Assistance program is now open for applications in Utah!  This covers renters expenses from March 13th, 2020 to December of this year if you qualify, and here are the requirements:

-Combined household income at or below 80% of area median income;

-Someone in the household has qualified for unemployment, or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19;

-Household is experiencing housing instability (for example, received a past due utility or rent or eviction notice, or living in unsafe or unhealthy living conditions);

-Applicant resides in the household and is on the lease.

You can speed up the process and be ‘prioritized’ if you have been unemployed for at least 90 days or are living at or below the 50% area median income. The US Census Bureau reports the median household income in 2019 is $60,676 and lower in other counties in the state.

To apply for assistance, you’ll go to www.rentrelief.utah.gov. This site works for BOTH tenants AND landlords who apply on behalf of their tenants late on rent. You’ll fill out an application and take photos of documents they require to load onto the site, like your 1040 or W-2 form. The process will be quicker if you can work directly with your landlord to get their W-9, a ledger showing the outstanding rent and late fees you’re being charged, your income verification like a 2020 tax form and recent pay stubs, any unemployment insurance history, any past due utility bills and an eviction notice if that’s relevant.

I want to mention here that if you’re experiencing housing stress, you may also be in need of food for yourself or your family. The Utah Food Bank is helping to fight hunger statewide (last year they distributed 52.9 million pounds of food or 44.1 million meals to Utahns facing hunger). They report that 1 in 5 kids here are unsure where their next meal will come from. They are always looking for donations of money, food and volunteer time to assist their 203 partners across the state. Last year they got much of their food donated from programs like Grocery Rescue (16 million pounds from 270 grocery stores), National Commercial Donations from Feeding America, USDA commodities, local growers, and food drives. The website www.utahfoodbank.org/get-help will assist you in finding a food pantry or mobile food pantry near you.

Finally, if you are lost in the muck of life, overwhelmed and out of answers, we have a great resource in just dialing 211 for help. They are there 24/7 for you to chat, text, email or call for fantastic resources in housing, food, mental heath assistance, medical referrals, Coronavirus information, distance learning and tutoring, transportation, human services STATEWIDE. And thanks to United Way, it’s a free service to contact them anytime.

 

BUYER HELL

If you’re in the market to buy a home or condo right now, you know you’re up against a wave of fellow buyers competing for a pathetic amount of available inventory. Someone sent me a meme the other day that said there were more REALTORS® than listings, but trust me, there have always been more REALTORS® than MLS listings. If you’re about to buy or have been making offers, here’s what’s in our contracts written in your favor:

All Utah Assn. Of REALTOR® Real Estate Purchase Contracts have language to protect the buyer to get OUT of the contract if: a) the buyer doesn’t like the seller’s property disclosures and/or has the property inspected and doesn’t like what they find; b) the property doesn’t appraise for the agreed purchase price and c) the buyer doesn’t get final loan approval. In this market, to win contracts, I’m seeing buyers give up one, two, or all three of these rights to secure a property! If you’re never purchased a home, it’s scary NOT to get a professional inspection to determine if the wiring is safe, the roof doesn’t leak, there’s no or low radon gas, or if the property has high mold or allergen readings, hidden moisture in walls, a broken main sewer line or poor water quality. Yet some buyers are willing to risk buying a money pit to win the multiple offer battle.

Appraisers right now are living in hell because homes are selling fast and there are very few comparable sales to support increasing high sales prices. I know of a home near the U of U that just sold for $300K over asking and an agent of mine sold one in Harvard/Yale for $115 over ask price. I work more with sellers than buyers and try to suggest list prices that are fair and will garner the seller multiple offers. If the property is listed too high the seller won’t get to chose from as many offers, and multiples are what drive the final sales price up. Some buyers are taking out the ‘subject to appraisal’ clause in their offers and making up the difference between an appraisal that may come in low and the final sales price. Yet, buyers that don’t have that cash in hand drive up prices more hoping the seller will like a high offer. Example: seller asks $450,000 and there are 10 offers. Seller picks the highest offers at $500,000 and the appraisal only comes in at $460,000. Buyer must come up with $40,000 to make up the difference, when they had originally planned on putting only 5% down on the home.  And worst of all, buyer may not eventually qualify for a loan at the higher sales price and the sale will fail.

Offers I see rolling into my office or that I’m writing may also temp the seller with ‘non-refundable earnest money’ from the buyer at signing of the offer and/or buyer offering to pay seller’s closing costs at settlement! Whoa! Will this ever stop? Not soon, in my opinion!

Too Much News!

A lot of folks are going to be happy that $1400 is going to appear in their bank accounts from Ol’ Uncle Sam in a minute. That is if your adjusted gross income is below $75,000 or if you’re married, under $150,000 to get $2800. The payments are based on your 2019 or 2020 income depending on when you filed your 2020 tax return. Good news is that IF you OWE taxes, they won’t be taken out of the stimulus check if you qualify for that $1400 windfall. The stimulus package that Biden just signed also extended unemployment benefits for those who qualify until Sept. 6th, 2021 to the tune of $300 a week from the Feds which will be added on top of any Utah state unemployment benefits. The best thing about this new relief package is that people who got benefits in 2020 will not be taxes on that income under $10,200. Believe it or not, unemployment benefits are generally taxing during non-pandemic years.

Locally, the Utah State Legislature just ended it’s 45 day session and tried to make a dent in our housing crisis within our state borders. First, there’s going to be a designated housing/homelessness ‘Tzar’ with HB347, which will fund the one person standing on the top of the mountain to oversee homeless and low income projects and programs. They will oversee a new ‘Office of Homeless Services within the Department of Workforce Services’ and sit on the newly formed Utah Homelessness Council with state officials, members of the legislature, mayors, members of the public, service providers and religious leaders. There is also a huge amount of state funds going to preserving what little affordable housing units we have here. Simply stated, when an apartment building gets old and ratty, the owner(s) might sell to a flipper and the property torn down and replaced with higher priced housing. This bill will help rehab older buildings to keep them for affordable housing units.  Another related bill (finally!) that pass is SB164 which required the State to conduct an inventory of surplus property owned by the state, throughout the state, to see if any of it can be used/converted to affordable housing. That one is a bid ‘DUH!’ I’ve been waiting to see for years!

The other bill I supported and even wrote in to support was HB82. We’re down almost 50,000 affordable housing units in this State and one of the answers to this crisis is allowing people to build ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) on their property. Basically, standardizing the myriad of city to city/county to county rules to allow for more of these to exist. Parents want to modify the ‘shack in the back’ to let Grandma live there or the kids while they are going to college. It’s hell for property owners in many cases to get these simple dwellings approved and hopefully this bill will make it easier to do so in the future to help make a dent in affordable housing options in Utah.

Containing It

I’ll admit right off that I’m not an expert when it comes to shipping products around the world. Stuff I need gets magically stocked on store shelves or in a website on the internet. I do have friends and clients in the shipping business but frankly, talking about ‘containers’ doesn’t float my retail boat. Yet, we’re getting plenty of news these days about Utah’s desire to establish an ‘inland port’ west of the new prison, which is west of the new airport.

What does an inland port do? It is a stop for containers to be loaded and unloaded, items shipped off again after being repackaged into lots to thousands of destinations. In effect it makes Utah a global trade port that supposedly is very cost effective and allows for customs to operate here to open and inspect the containers before the inventory moves elsewhere. Proponents here, like Derek Miller, the president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah and co-chair of the Inland Port Committee sees Salt Lake as a hub for international business-especially because we are one of the fastest growing economies in the United States. To my pea brain, this all seems silly to come here since we have ports along the coast to do those very things.

Ah, but talking to my friends who own small businesses trying to get goods these days lends a different light on the subject. Apparently, container ship congestion at ALL North American ports is crazy right now. If you visit the Marine Traffic website (marinetraffic.com) you can see the massive shipping traffic in real time anywhere in the world. Look to our West Coasts ports like San Diego, L.A./Long Beach and Oakland and you can view the congestion there yourself. When I checked in, I saw at least 30 ships sitting and waiting to unload in the L.A./Long Beach harbor. According to the website Expeditiors.com this situation is being driven by the “unprecedented surge in demand” and “vessels are experiencing  severe delays for berth windows once they arrive at the terminal for discharge.” The lack of laborers, warehouses, delivery trucks and rail cars is stressing out the system, not to mention effects of Covid closures in California over the past year. The Journal of Commerce writes that they see no relief in sight especially for LA-LB congestion but predicts that there will be “Double-digit trans-Pacific volume growth projected through the first half of the year and at ports around the world.”

Locally, I don’t know how our proposed Inland Port can help if you can’t get the damned containers off ships. While we sit at home during Covidtime we’re browsing the web and ordering too much stuff-explaining some delays in packages. My friends in retail can’t stock their shelves like they used to, and worse, my friends in the building trades are seeing massive shortage deliveries in tile, carpet, lumber, steel products and more. Even the cost of old containers to use for tiny homes has gone up-if you can find one.

UTA ART

Since I was born in New York, I’m a native New Yorker! Although I’ve lived in Utah most of my life, I still love traveling back to the Big Apple to see friends and family, the latest show on Broadway or a museum and of course track down a dirty water dog or a chewy bagel dog. I’ll hope in a Yellow Cab to travel but I’m also a fan of the subway system. The subway experience is always a visual overload, from the characters riding along with me to the public art along the tracks and inside the cars.

When I was a Board member for UTA I asked why we didn’t have public art on our buses, trains and TRAX and my fellow Board members just looked back at me like deer in my headlights. The staff got it, and a few years after my term UTA has announced a friendly competition to get students from K-12 to make art to beautify our public transportation. UTA’s first My BeUTAHful Community Student Art Competition is now under way and UTA is asking kids to submit visual artwork based on the theme “Meet Your Neighbor”.  Participants will have the opportunity to self-express through public art that will be visible throughout the entire public transportation system along the Wasatch Front and it will give riders and the communities they serve to opportunity to see the rich talent we have in our tri-city area.

If you have a child or sibling who might be in the age range and interested in having their art work seen in this ‘moving museum’, the deadline is March 16th. Entries are encouraged to highlight the beauty and diversity of Utah’s communities and people. Pieces will be judged in four age categories: kindergarten-second grade, third to sixth grade, seventh to ninth grade and tenth through twelfth grade. The winning artwork will be displayed on UTA buses and trains for a year starting this April. Winners get at $50 gift card and the overall ‘Best of Show’ winner will get a $100 gift card, as well as the opportunity for that artist’s friends, family and the community to see their creation displayed prominently where public transportation is happening. All participants will also be entered to win a drawing for a one-day UTA family pass, although I personally think ALL participants should get a one day pass just for entering! Seriously, this is not just fun for aspiring young artists it’s a way for us to appreciate the diverse talents we have in our community. UTA will accept 2-D artwork made with paint, pencils, colored pencils, markers, digital programs, pastel’s and ink. Each entry has to have the theme of “Meet Your Neighbor” creatively displayed in the piece but doesn’t have to include any rendering of public transportation on it. For entry info: www.rideutah.com/art or drop submissions off at UTA, c/o Megan Waters: 669 W. 200 So. SLC

Monumental!

National monuments in Utah include the obvious: Timpanogas Cave, Bear’s Ears, the Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Dinosaur, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef, etc. State monuments also include This Is the Place, the Seagull Monument at Temple Square, The Eagle Gate Monument on State Street and South Temple, Joseph Smiths birth place and many others.  I would think most people in our state have visited or have heard of our precious national monuments but very few would be pressed to know where some of these State monuments are located.

Brigham Young is buried just east of Temple Square at 140 East First Avenue. Surely, you’ve driven by it a million times if you live in or near the Avenues. At the site is a small garden with four plaques dedicated to the Mormon Pioneers (two of which are dedicated to well-known Mormon hymns).  The Seagull Monument is inside Temple Square and is dedicated to ‘the miracle of the gulls’ when supposedly Western Gulls descended out of nowhere to eat the invasion of Mormon Crickets that were annihilating the crops of the early pioneers in the year 1848. A block east are the metal arches above the intersection of State Street and South Temple. These were erected in 1859 and commemorates the original entrance to Brigham Young’s property at the mouth of City Creek Canyon. You’ve driven under this if you head up to the state capitol building.  It was originally topped by a wooden eagle (on display at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum) but was replaced with a 4,000-pound bronze bird with a 20’ wingspan.

Why do I mention monuments? One potential site has been in the news lately because a local developer wanted to build a high-end celebrity rehab center right above it, making access to the public difficult or not at all. I tell of our legendary beautiful Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon. Legend has it that an indigenous girl named Norita fell in love with a rival tribe boy named Grey Eagle. The classic Romeo and Juliet-like story went simply that elders from both tribes found out about the forbidden love and told her that they had killed her lover, and so she leapt over the falls to join him in the spirit world. Mother Nature felt badly for the girl and turned her hair into a bridal veil of falling water. It’s a drop dead gorgeous site because it’s a year-round stream of water that flows 607 feet down from springs above Cascade Mountain there in the canyon. It’s a natural wonder and I don’t believe this kind of thing should ever be owned privately.

Luckily Utah County Commissioners placed the county-owned falls in a protected conservation easement last year. This pissed off the potential developer who then filed a lawsuit. Luckily Richard Losee, the developer, has now backed off of the lawsuit since Utah County has asked state legislators to designate this a state monument this year which will protect this natural landmark for future generations.

https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/212