Archive for the 'Home Improvement' Category

Chicago Construction Jobs on a Seesaw

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Last month, risk-management firm Moody’s Analytics published a graph of Chicago-area construction jobs that left Crain’s employees questioning when employment in this arena would finally rebound. Less than two weeks later, the answer to that question is starting to come into focus.

Inman has reported that nationwide construction job growth has struck a seven-year high.

Buoyed by a strong March showing, construction jobs grew by an average of 30,000 a month, nationally. In fact, the overall year-over-year numbers for March show a 3.8% increase in construction jobs created. The residential construction job growth actually dwarfs the overall jobs growth rate of just 1.4%.

Considering that new home construction was up 28% year-over-year in February, some have wondered why a greater number of construction-related jobs isn’t being created. The simple fact is this: during the housing market’s downturn, construction activity fell harder than actual employment did. Employers didn’t want to assume the costs of firing, rehiring and training new staff during the downturn, so the need for new hires isn’t as great as might be expected, despite the increase in activity.

Unfortunately, this trend is particularly notable in Chicago—there’s plenty of new construction, but a seemingly disproportionate number of construction jobs. Government money funds many road and public work projects, but building construction positions rely on private sector for new housing starts or commercial developments. Moody’s Analytics projects that the construction job outlook will hit bottom in the next two years, when foreclosures and excess inventory are taken off the residential market. Only when that occurs will Chicagoans find a new wave of construction jobs.

On the bright side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has recently announced the approval of the Chicago Riverwalk Expansion. The city will receive $100 million in federal financing and the project, which is slated to be completed in 2016, will create over 400 Chicago construction jobs and 400 long-term jobs for the city.

Chicago Condo Renovation: Embrace the Unexpected

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Since early January, the Windy City has been many times blanketed in layers of snow, with inhospitable temperatures forcing residents to hole up indoors where it’s warm and dry. But even as we grow to appreciate the coziness of our living space all the more during the snowy season, some of us can’t help but fantasize about what we could do to make our living rooms and kitchens better looking.

Lucky for us, spring is never too far away. In a few months, the ice will thaw, the temperature will rise, and the conditions will be ideal for us to start renovating our Chicago condos.

If you’re planning a spring renovation for your unit, or designing a new condo to be built in the spring, keep this one thought in mind: avoid the mundane and embrace the unexpected.

Chicago is a city famed for its avant-garde, modernist architecture, so take a note from the “Greats” and think outside the box. Remember that the essence of beauty is a pattern containing fluctuations—incorporate an element of surprise into your design.

Adding an unexpected form, recess or feature, for example, is a great way to break up a mundane space. A hallway niche or arched recess is an elegant and cost-effective way of deviating from the expected.

Another way of shaking up your condo design is to vary the floor levels, including raised or sunken areas in your two-dimensional floor plan. Constructing an overlook from higher to lower levels—especially in an unexpected place like a bedroom—is a great, unconventional way of playing with space.

Ceiling heights can be varied as well, giving your condo a more dynamic look. Take a page from the book of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and experiment with the way ceiling levels can transform the overall feel of a space. A low-ceilinged passage that opens into a lofty, high-ceilinged space is a nice, unexpected surprise for visitors.

These are just a few ways of introducing some edge into a conventional floor plan. Chicago condo owners who are serious about renovating or redesigning their space should plan on attending one of Chicago’s premier home remodeling events: the Chicagoland Home Remodeling and Design Expo 2013, from May 18-19th. This event will provide valuable information for anyone thinking about renovation, and should not be missed.

Tips for Those Seeking A Chicago Rental

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Whether you’re finally moving out of mom’s suburban paradise and have finally arrived in the city or simply feel it’s time to upgrade from your quaint 400-square-foot studio box, there’s a lot to consider when hunting a new Chicago rental. Before you slap down a security deposit and schedule your movers, think about the following three things.

1) Target a price range and stick to it
No one likes to crunch numbers, especially when it comes to selecting a new home or rental. It’s a sobering reality that can really take the fun out of house-hunting. However, it’s important to set your financial parameters to avoid overextending yourself. Sure, a few more bucks and you might end up with more square footage, modern updates and a dynamite location, but if you’re forced to sustain yourself with a steady diet of Ramen noodles and furnish to your space with bean bags, is that a trade-off you’re willing to make?

2) Air conditioning and water pressure
These two amenities seem like no-brainers, but it’s easy to overlook these small luxuries when you’re smitten with a new place. If you’re shopping for a rental unit in spring, fall or winter, it’s easy to forget that summer-time Chicago can feel like a Sahara adventure. It’s all fun and games until you answer the door and forget that you’re still in your underwear because of the unrelenting heat.

Needless to say, if the place you’re checking out doesn’t have central air, it’s worth asking the management company or individual owner if they provide window units. If not, make sure that you’re able to install one on your own.

Water pressure is something that people don’t seem to think about when scoping out a new home, but it’s one thing that can quickly damper the euphoria of moving in. There is nothing enjoyable about standing beneath a showerhead as the lukewarm water dribbles out one or two drops at a time.

3) What floor is this on again?
This is where you have to be honest with yourself: can you stomach trekking up five flights of stairs every time you need to get groceries, do laundry or move your things in? You can rationalize anything to yourself but remember, this is something that can adversely affect your overall quality of life. There’s no reason to be anything but honest with yourself.

We all know that moving can be a stressful endeavor in itself. The idea is to be 100% prepared, if there is such a thing. The last thing you want is to discover unwanted problems after you’ve already signed your lease and are locked in for a year.

3Flat Targets Chicago Condo & Small-Space Dwellers

Friday, September 14th, 2012

There’s a new company in town that has local urbanites cocking their brows with interest, particularly those living in small Chicago condos and apartments. Should you be among those turning their heads toward this up and coming trend? Well, let us ask you three questions: 1) do you need help turning cramped and crazy space into something more functional and attractive; 2) are you a budget-conscious homeowner with interest in remodeling; and 3) do you have a round-the-clock busy schedule?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these, then let us introduce you to 3Flat, a new Chicago-based company owned by the Lowe’s home improvement chain. And to put it simply, this is an ecommerce venture that will help Chicago homeowners turn cramped spaces into functional “nooks,” all on a dime and with pop-up simplicity.

The idea behind 3Flat is to offer entire room solutions online (think high-end Ikea, but with a smaller catalogue). This allows consumers to order whatever they may need for bathroom remodels or kitchen updates without having to the leave their home. Consumers can buy a “solution” that includes everything from hardware to paint to furniture. It’s pretty much the truest sense of one-stop shopping for the home remodel.

Clearly, this is an ideal solution for Chicago homeowners with smaller spaces, many of whom don’t have cars and rely on public transportation or bicycles. 3Flat’s offerings tend to be consumer specific and have been carefully chosen by designers to target exactly what the urban consumers desire. And get this: the convenience doesn’t end there! Every order is shipped out and delivered together, so you’re not left wondering whether you have all the pieces to get started.

Why Chicago? Lowe’s decided to target our fair city because condo owners and renters often face specific challenges relating to limited space and mobility. The company simply felt that not all consumers were being effectively serviced in the current marketplace.

One example of a room offered by 3Flat is the “laundry closet,” which is designed to fit into a standard 6-foot closet. This option comes with a stackable washer and dryer, a laundry sorter, pull-out drying rack, folding table and storage shelf. The complete package costs $2,395 but can be customized to accommodate the individual consumer.

Once your “room solution” is delivered, you can perform the installation yourself (of course, 3Flat will sell you the tools needed to complete the job) or even hire a contractor to manage the finishing touches. 3Flat is currently partnering with Angie’s List to help identify quality contractors.

So, to all you homeowners wondering how you can update and organize your not-so-enormous bit of Chicago real estate, check out www.3flat.com and find out if they, like their parent company, can assist you in “improving home improvement.”

Quick Tips for Speedy Condo-Cleaning

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

If you are privileged enough to share a home with a clean freak—one of those mythical aberrations who actually enjoys the tedium and labor of house cleaning—or if you happen to be a clean freak yourself, then congratulations, this post isn’t for you.

However, if you find yourself constantly putting off cleaning tasks day after day, week after week, opting instead to let the dust pile up and the grime slowly spread, here are a few speed-cleaning tips that may abate the monotonous cleaning process and save you some much-needed time:

1. Unless you’re seven feet tall, cleaning oversized windows can be a pain. Rather than dragging the ladder out of your building’s basement, just fasten a microfiber cloth to a Swiffer sweeper, spritz it with quality window cleaner and have at it.

2. Furniture scratches can make even your finest and most expensive pieces of wood furniture less attractive. Fortunately, covering these areas is easy. Depending on the type of wood, lemon oil, a walnut or the right shade of shoe polish will cover it up in a jiff!

3. Funky kitchen smells got you down? It may be your sponges. If you use a plastic sponge holder, you’re not letting enough air circulate around the sponge, which can make it both smelly and moldy. Buy a wire sponge caddy instead and let those things breathe.

4. Baseboard dust can be vanquished by sweeping over them with a dryer sheet (you can use the ol’ Swiffer sweeper for this one, too). The anti-static properties help keep dust and animal hair from accumulating on your baseboards.

5. Few things are worse than a smelly fridge, so make sure to keep it fresh. Line vegetable crisper drawers with newspaper to ensure that odors are absorbed by something disposable. Top the newspapers with old placemats to keep produce dry and toss them in the wash when they get dirty.

6. Let your stainless and chrome shine bright! Add a drop of baby oil to a microfiber cloth and polish until shiny.

7. Pet owners may find themselves frustrated by vacuums that can’t separate pet hair from the upholstery and carpets. If this is you, run to your car and fetch your snow sweeper (this is Chicago, don’t pretend you don’t have one). Windshield sweepers have fibers with frayed ends that can reach in and pull up stubborn pet hair.

These tips prove that you don’t have to be a clean freak to have a clean home. Put a little bit of time and thought into your cleaning process, and you may find yourself with plenty of time to catch up on the other things you’ve been putting off for weeks.

Make the Most of A Small Chicago Space

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Many of us love to watch HGTV programming, which showcases swanky penthouse living and couture furnishings. Of course, the only reason there’s such a market for these shows is because most of us can’t actually afford this type of Zsa Zsa Gabor lifestyle.

In Chicago, most of us get excited to have an in-unit washer and dryer.

But who cares if you don’t have superfluous square footage—it doesn’t mean you can’t absolutely love your space. In the case of smaller Chicago condos and apartments, you just have to maximize your space and put some emphasis on the right features.

Designer extraordinaire Janet Lee has been providing cramped space solutions for years. Fortunately, she says her techniques for boosting space are universal.

First, Lee emphasizes the importance of adapting the correct mindset—think big! Too many people buy small accessories to furnish their undersized dwellings. But Lee says this plays into the hands of creating a small feel in your unit. Instead, Lee encourages her clients to go big when selecting anchor pieces for a room.

Long tables, mirrors and sofas (beware of a couch’s girth) are just a few items that can really take the focus of a room.

Second, Lee campaigns for color and texture. She claims that cool, dark tones give smaller rooms an expansive feel. White walls do nothing but make smaller rooms feel compact. To give the room depth and texture, Lee implores her clients to utilize 3-D architectural elements. Anything from antique picture frames, artist stretcher bars and self-sticking adhesive tape to create panel molding on closet doors.

Finally, when you’re stuck without much space, Lee emphasizes the importance of enhancing every room’s functionality, which includes storage space. Much of your available storage is going to be open storage—everything is out in the open. This is where you have to get your Martha Stewart on and revitalize an old filing cabinet or mount white rubber boating straps to the walls to hold items and reduce clutter.

Chicago is an enormous city of more than 2.5 million people, so space will always be at a premium. But don’t scoff at what you’ve got. Check out LivingInANutshell.com and you’ll find more of Janet’s tips on how to transform your living space.

A Chicago Guide to Social Etiquette in Condo Living

Monday, August 13th, 2012

You may be the sole owner of your unit, but owning a Chicago condo means sharing a wealth of common areas within your community. In doing so, there are certain rules and social codes that you should probably abide by if you’d like to harmoniously coexist with your neighbors.

Follow our advice and make sure you’re not the neighbor everyone secretly despises.

Having a party? Invite your neighbors.
Even in units that are completely soundproof, it’s a little difficult to hide a party in progress. If the noise doesn’t tip them off, the barrage of people migrating in and out of your unit certainly will. And because a party is nearly impossible to hide, it’s your neighborly duty to invite the neighbors who will most likely be impacted by your gathering.

“Which neighbors do I invite?” Generally, you should invite those neighbors directly above and below you, and the neighbors on either side of you. That way, no one feels left out and you’re able to look like a caring member of the community.

Don’t avoid eye contact—speak to your neighbors in passing.
With today’s fast-paced rate of living, it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own world and forget to do certain little things, like acknowledging your neighbors in passing. Depending on your community, some neighbors may not even acknowledge you, but the important thing is that you make the effort to appear warm, thoughtful and courteous. You never know when you’ll need the assistance of somebodies you pass in the hall.

Be considerate when using common areas.
This is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure that you and your neighbors remain on good terms. Because many areas within a condo are shared, it’s important that you exercise great courtesy when utilizing them. If you share a laundry room, don’t use more than two washers or dryers at a time. If you’re going to swim in the community’s pool, dress appropriately. And if you use the community gym, respect the equipment.

It’s just three simple social etiquette tips, but abiding by these could easily lead to you and your neighbors being pals before you know it.

Ways to Reduce Your Condo Fees

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

While Chicago condos are incredibly convenient dwellings, especially for those of us who live in the city, they also come with an added expense that many of our suburban counterparts don’t have to contend with—the dreaded condo fee.

While a condo fee covers all building maintenance and upkeep, which saves you from having to perform these tasks yourself, it can get pretty expensive, with some condo assessments being equal to or even greater than your mortgage payment. Truthfully speaking, while there aren’t a ton of things you can do to control the payment, you do have a few options to explore.

Join Your Condo Board
As you likely already know, the condo board is responsible for dispersing the funds that flow from the unit owners into the association. If you’re not pleased with how high your assessment has become, join the condo board and make your voice heard. You’ll not only gain a much better insight into how the board is using the budget, but you can help steer them towards more money-saving options.

Maybe that new pool was a little too extravagant for your tastes. Maybe the gym really didn’t need all of that new equipment. Perhaps you could suggest that residents recycle more, which could lower the cost of trash removal. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to saving money and changing how a condo board operates. Small inroads into the board could mean big changes for you and your fellow neighbors.

Sell Your Condo and Head for the ‘burbs!
While this next solution isn’t ideal, you could always sell your current home and head for the ‘burbs. There are no fees, but in your own private home, you’d have complete control over what goes on and you wouldn’t have to deal with a board that imposes super-expensive fees on you.

Essentially, aside from getting on the board yourself, you’re pretty powerless when it comes to trying to lower your condo fees. Ultimately, the choice is grin and bear it or sell and move.

Condo neighbors making you crazy?

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

You probably don’t have a moat around your Chicago condo, but your home is still your castle. It’s your respite from the hustle and bustle of work and city life. But while your home is usually your sanctuary, something new to your building has completely interrupted your peace and tranquility, and that something is a new neighbor that you just can’t stand.

Inconsiderate neighbors can really ruin a perfectly good condo building. But, there are ways to deal with bad neighbors—diplomatically. Here are three steps to consider.

Confront Your Neighbor
“Confront” is such a strong word, but no matter how we dress it up, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing when you approach your neighbor about whatever it is that’s bugging you. Whether it’s loud music, cigarette smoke or nosiness, you’re going to have to say something—you can’t just ignore the issue (well, you could, but how happy would you be with that solution?).

When you approach your neighbor, remember: Tone is everything. If you come off confrontational and accusatory, then you’re going to make neighbor on the defensive and you’ll achieve nothing but a big argument. But, you can’t come off like a big softy, either. Strike a firm, but friendly balance in your tone, lay the issue on the table, and see what your neighbor has to say.

Talk to the Condo Association
Okay, so maybe talking didn’t quite do the trick. And when words fail, take action.

Make the issue known to your condo board. You have a right to enjoy a property you purchased without someone preventing you from doing so. And if someone infringes on that right, you must let the board know. Make sure your communication on the matter—and the board’s response—is verifiable in some way, just in case this thing ends up in the legal system. Send an email or certified letter so that you have proof that the board knew about your troubles.

Sell and Move On
Realistically, if you did your research on the property before you moved in, things should never come to this point. But sometimes, moving on truly is the only satisfactory response to a bad neighbor. While we’re not fans of this solution, we understand the necessity for it.

Why Joining Your Chicago Condo Board May be a Good Idea

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Congratulations! You’ve just purchased a prime piece of Chicago real estate in exactly the building you wanted. It has all the amenities you could ever ask for, and your neighbors seem pretty friendly.

But while you’re basking in the glow of your new home, you’re making a conscious effort to avoid being recruited to your building’s condo board. After all, you don’t want, or need, to be that visible in the community. But before you let your apathy completely take over, there are some definite perks to joining your condo board. Here are three reasons why you may want to reconsider.

Your Voice Will Be Heard Loud and Clear
One of the downsides to buying a condo as opposed to a more traditional home is the lack of complete control you have over something you own. Of course, you control what goes on in your unit, but the common areas such as pools and lobbies are up to the board. If you want them to hear your ideas and suggestions for your community, you could go to a meeting and address the board. While your voice will be heard, you’ll have much more leverage and influence if you were to actually be on the board. You’ll get a valuable behind-the-scenes peek at how things really work, and use this information to try and shape the direction of your board.

Get an Inside Look at the Community’s Financials
One of the most interesting aspects about joining your condo board is the ability to see exactly how every thin dime of the assessment funds are being allocated. Everything from employee salaries, utilities and trash pick-up to maintenance—right down to each light bulb—will be itemized for your viewing pleasure.

Meet Your New Neighbors
If you’re just moving in to your building, chances are slim that you’ll know someone who lives there. Being involved with the condo association, particularly in a leadership role, will give you the opportunity to meet other people in your building you may not have met otherwise.

Clearly, there’s reason to think twice before doffing the responsibility of condo board membership. Granted, it’s one more obligation added to the pile, but it’s not so highly demanding that you’ll come to resent. Besides, wouldn’t you like a behind the scenes look at every aspect of your new home?