COVID-19 has changed just about every aspect of our lives, from the way we interact with others to our work environment. In the past four months, several companies have instituted work from home policies and have found that employees are not only still able to get their work done, but many of them enjoy working remotely. Working remote means that employees cut out their commute time, giving them more time to spend with their family. It also cuts down expenses for the company in utilities and rent on the office space they lease. Many companies are now considering keeping some of their workforce remote, even as restrictions ease. Aside from lowering their costs, they are also able to hire from a much broader pool of candidates by allowing employees to work virtually anywhere. So, if you don’t have to live close to where you work, what does this mean for the housing market?
In general, potential homebuyers are house hunting in the suburbs and more rural areas. Many of the attractive aspects of city life have been put on hold during the pandemic in the name of social distancing. Meanwhile, urbanites may feel cooped up in small apartments, apprehensive about sharing amenities and common spaces (elevators, laundry rooms, on-site gyms) with their neighbors.
A survey of 1,004 people by the International Council of Shopping Centers found that twenty-seven percent of adults in the U.S. are considering moving because of COVID-19, and many of them are looking to the suburbs or rural towns. Realtor.com surveyed 1,300 people over the first two weeks of April and found that 15.7% of homebuyers want more space in their next house and 13.6% want “more and better outdoor space.”
For many people, being able to work remotely means they can afford their dream home by moving away from the city, where the cost of living is often quite high. In fact, Vic Lederman of Stansberry Research makes the case that remote workers in the tech industry (like Facebook or Twitter) will make well above the U.S. median household income level and so if they settle in these more rural towns, the entire area will experience a rising-tide effect.
That said, working from home isn’t everyone’s ideal situation. Some employees are anxious to get back to the office, away from the distractions of home. While these employees may want to stay within driving distance of the office, we could see more offices move to the suburbs as they seek more affordable buildings with sprawling floors that are conducive for social distancing. Whether or not this trend will be short-lived or the new way of doing business, the need for social distancing has certainly created a desire for more space on both a personal and commercial level.
With the Fourth of July right around the corner, you may be brainstorming ideas on how to celebrate with friends or family in a time of social distancing (a term we are very familiar with and perhaps tired of). Having an outdoor gathering can be one way to still socialize with friends while minimizing the risk of exposure from COVID-19. If you decide to host a BBQ, you may realize your backyard needs a bit of TLC before you can entertain. Investing in a patio might be the answer; afterall, a “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of Realtors in 2016 found that 102% value is recovered from building a new patio and 106% is recovered from a new wood deck. Whether you are designing a new patio or deck, or are lucky enough to already have one, here are a few ways you can improve the area and make it one of your favorite places “in” the house.
Choose Versatile Furniture
Great furniture doesn’t have to be expensive to make a patio inviting. You may already have some chairs and tables that just need a quick facelift. You can easily remove rust and repaint/ spray paint metal pieces for a refreshed look. You can use benches for flexible seating or buy chairs that are ideal for both dining and lounging. A hammock is also a budget-friendly way to add a relaxing place to kick your feet up.
Create Outdoor Storage
Part of having versatile furniture is finding storage options that can help utilize the area if you have a smaller yard plus keep it looking tidy. An ottoman with an empty base can house magazines and sunscreen. A bench with built-in storage can hold cushions and pillows. Wooden crates can be painted and then treated with sealant to weather-proof them.
Add a Fire Pit
One easy way to instantly make your patio cozier plus establish a focal point in the yard is to add a fire pit. Not only do they provide heat in the cooler months, they are entertaining to watch and fairly inexpensive to install. A quick Google search will yield dozens of DIY fire pits (just be sure to stick closely to the materials list so you know you are constructing a safe fire pit) and you can always purchase a smaller, more portable one from a home improvement store or online. One of the biggest benefits of a fire pit right now is that people can easily congregate around the fire while staying six feet apart from each other.
Throw Some Shade
A backyard hangout or BBQ doesn’t have to be a sweaty, sunburnt ordeal. Incorporate shade to keep you and your guests cool. If your backyard doesn’t have many trees, you can purchase shade sails or umbrellas to cover the areas of the patio you plan to lounge in. You can also install a retractable awning or even build a pergola and add vines for a more natural feel.
Have a Pop of Color
After getting the basics set up, adding a bit of color is a great way to really make the space your own and show off your style. Quick ways to make your patio more visually appealing include laying down a big outdoor rug, planting bright flowers, using fun-shaped or colorful planters, or tossing in some weather-proof pillows with interesting designs.
Focus on the Accents
If you are looking for a way to really make your patio/ backyard stand out, there are plenty of things you can do. You can create a stone path to a bench or your favorite area of the yard. Bonus points if you cast your own stones using quick-mix concrete. A vertical succulent garden can be a great conversation piece, especially if space is an issue. Hanging up string lights or investing in a water feature are other great ways to instantly add some curb appeal to your backyard.
The Patio is Ready, Now What?
Now that your patio is ready for entertaining, what should those who are social distancing keep in mind while hosting the perfect BBQ?
Summer has officially started and downtown Harrisonburg is once again open for business, following some temporary closures due to COVID-19. An exciting new addition to the downtown Harrisonburg scene is the second location of a local coffee shop currently gaining a national reputation for high quality, ethically sourced coffees.
Merge Coffee Company was founded in 2017 by two different families who came together through a shared love of coffee. Cousins Darryl and Charles Mathews and sisters Emily and Larisa Martin started out getting together as friends who stayed up late drinking coffee. They were all impervious to the effects of caffeine, enabling them to drink coffee until midnight, and then go soundly to sleep. They began to source coffee from all over the country to sample different types. That led to the purchase of a 1 pound coffee roaster and a hobby of roasting “terrible” coffee. Gradually, the group got better at coffee roasting and their friends started to enjoy their efforts. From there, the hobby became a business.
Merge started their business as a coffee roaster that sold to established coffee shops, then expanded into a retail location in Park View at 821 A Mt. Clinton Pike, next to A Bowl of Good. Co-owner Darryl Mathews explains how direct trade sourcing is a key aspect of the business. “For us, sourcing well is very important, most of our coffee is direct trade, purchased directly from the farmers. Coffee is the third largest commodity in the world. Because of this there are a lot of middle men typically involved in the coffee supply chain, which ultimately doesn’t help on the farm end for their profits and being able to invest in infrastructure. So we eliminate those middle men, so that the farmers get a better profit margin, but also reinvest in infrastructure”.
Merge’s primary supplier is a multigenerational complex of over 10 farms, started three generations ago by a pair of brothers in Honduras. All the farms are still run by members of the Santiago family, and among the various farms grow a wide variety of different coffees. “They can serve everybody as far as their coffee tastes go, within these farms,” says Darryl. The Santiago farms produce several coffee varieties that are certified fair trade organic, but the certifications, which the farmers must pay for, apply only to certain lots on the farm. For Merge, it is more important that they and their customers know they are sourcing responsibly whether or not there is an official government certification. Darryl explains, “Fair trade organic is not as good for the farmer as it sounds, because the cost of getting and keeping that certification up could go towards other things.” Currently Merge carries seven different types of coffees from different parts of the world. Some are certified organic, and most are bought directly from the farmers.
Although a young company, Merge has already won two awards for coffees they roast from the Specialty Coffee Association. The SCA hosts an annual, national coffee roasting competition, with about 20 different categories into which coffee roasters can enter their various coffees. Merge entered two African coffees, one from Ethiopia and one from Burundi. Darryl described both coffees as being “very fruit forward”, with the Ethiopian roast having berry notes and the Burundian roast having a stone fruit flavor. Out of 1200 coffees, these two were included in the top 150 coffees chosen, winning Merge two bronze medals.
In addition to their commitment to direct trade relationships and an excellent quality product, Merge is also passionate about community building and heroic hospitality.
“We love the fact that coffee shops are a springboard for communities to flower,” says co-owner Darryl. We enjoy being the canvas for people to come in and work on that podcast, work on that book, get to know friends, debate, reflect. We love to be that canvas for neighborhoods to dream, to explore, and to grow.” After putting down roots in Park View, Merge has recently opened its second location in downtown Harrisonburg, at 425 North Main Street. The light-filled, airy interior has clean lines punctuated by vibrant green plants. Darryl describes the company’s aesthetic as fresh and modern, but still comfortable and inviting. The atmosphere feels warm and open, reflecting Merge’s vision of a coffee shop as a space for community building. Service is another important aspect of Merge’s business. “We want to serve people well with excellence, and have a great experience, we want the experience to always be consistent,” Darryl explains.
Both Merge locations are now open Monday through Saturday from 7 am until 4pm.
In addition to their coffees and classic espresso drinks, Merge is featuring some signature summer beverages. Darryl shared some highlights from the summer menu. “One thing that’s really popular right now is our coconut macaroon latte. That’s an iced latte with coconut, a little caramel and toasted coconut garnish. And for the non-coffee drinker we’ve got a rose gold lemon soda.” The soda is made in house from fresh, hand-squeezed lemons. “It’s a sparkling drink with a mineral-based glitter that goes in it as well. So it has bit of a shimmer to it.”
Merge’s new location is a welcomed addition to a vibrant, and growing downtown Harrisonburg scene. It is sure to become a hotspot for excellent quality, ethically sourced coffee and a neighborhood hangout. For more information about Merge, please visit https://www.mergecoffeeco.com/.
Buying a Home is More Affordable than 2019!
Due to record low interest rates, homes are more abordable this year than last! This may come as a surprise to many as house prices are higher.
Full commentary in video above and full report downloadable below.
A kitchen is central to both the style and functionality of a home. The average American spends about 40 minutes per day in the kitchen preparing food and cleaning up after meals. We want to enjoy the environment that we spend this time in. A beautiful kitchen countertop can really define the space and set the tone for the style of your kitchen. A countertop also must be functional for cooking on. Most countertops in residential kitchens are made of one of ten common materials. In this post we’ll explore the 10 best countertop materials currently on the market.
With so many options to choose from, finding a countertop material for your kitchen includes considering subjective and objective criteria. When you are looking at countertop materials, take these five factors into consideration:
A budget friendly and versatile option, laminate countertops are made by bonding a plastic laminate sheet to a particleboard (MDF) core. Popular brands of laminates include Formica, Nevamar, and Wilsonart. These countertops can be purchased ready-made as a post-form countertop or custom made to your specifications.
While they have been seen in a negative light in the past for being cheap, laminates have recently become more popular because of the thousands of varieties available. They come in an endless array of colors and patterns and are now popular in retro style kitchens, particularly mid-century modern styles.
Laminates are the best option for those on a tight budget. They are easy to clean, but can stain if not cleaned quickly enough. They are somewhat heat resistant, but can be scorched or discolored by hot pans. Laminate will not melt.
Cost: $15-40 per square foot, installed
2. Ceramic Tile
A second budget-friendly and DIY-friendly option is ceramic tile. Tiles come in more options than ever before, they can be made to look like wood, marble, leather, or cork. In fact, ceramic tile comes in more options than any of the other ten materials.
Tile is very durable and heat resistant, but much less expensive than natural stone, quartz, or solid-surface countertops. On the downside, tile creates an uneven surface that may make it more difficult to prepare food on. It can also be difficult to maintain clean grout lines between the tiles, although grout comes in a variety of different colors.
Generally, ceramic tile countertops do not contribute to the resale value of a home, but tile is still very popular as backsplash, wall and floor material.
Cost: $18-35 per square foot, installed
3. Solid-surface material
This relatively new material has been around for about 50 years. Solid-surface material is a manufactured material that blends acrylic particles and resins, which are formed into sheets and other shapes. It can be formed into countertops or sinks and can create a seamless surface. It was initially seen as a “space age” material that tried to mimic natural stone, although it does not convincingly resemble either natural or engineered stone.
Solid-surface material is a mid-range cost option that can be a good alternative to natural stone or quartz for large kitchens with lots of countertop space.The material will eventually wear out over time. It can be scorched by hot pans, but scorch marks can also be sanded out.
In terms of resale value, solid-surface material is generally perceived more positively by buyers than laminate or tile.
Cost: $35-85 per square foot, installed
A timeless source of beauty, marble is a natural stone widely used in ancient architecture. Traditionally associated with luxury, marble actually costs less than many of the other options in countertop materials. It is sometimes used in only a small part of a kitchen. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns, and because it is natural, each piece is unique.
Marble is one of the softer natural stones, making it less durable and easier to damage than granite or soapstone. It can scratch and stain, but using a sealer will help to maintain its appearance.
Cost: $40-100 per square foot, installed
Considered a premium material, granite is the most popular natural stone used for kitchen countertops. Granite is thought of as elegant and luxurious, and remains a common option for kitchen projects where money is no object. It comes in a very wide array of colors and patterns. Although it is expensive, the cost has come down in recent years as supplies have increased. Granite is a clear favorite of both realtors and home buyers.
Granite is one of the hardest natural stones, and may be the most durable of the stone options in the top 10 countertop materials. It will not burn, but lighter colors can stain. Sealing helps prevent granite from staining. It varies more in price than any other countertop material.
Cost: $45-300 per square foot, installed
A third option for natural stone, soapstone has a dark gray color and a smooth, satiny texture.It has recently become a popular choice in kitchen countertop material, and can also be made into a sink. Soapstone is particularly popular in historic homes, but can also lend a striking element to modern kitchen designs.
Soapstone is very hard and resistant to heat and stains. Over time, it develops a patina that lends it an antique look. Although it is a durable surface, it will scratch. It has a more expensive starting price than marble or granite, but does not go into the higher ranges like granite does.
Cost: $55-100 per square foot, installed
7. Quartz (Engineered Stone)
“Quartz” is a manufactured stone product made from 93% quartz particles and other minerals formed into slabs that are bound with resins. The quartz comes from leftover stone from quarries, making it a low-environmental impact option. Companies that produce quartz include DuPont Zodiaq, LG Viatera, Cambria, and Silestone. It was created as a stone product that performs better than granite or marble, and can closely resemble either of those natural stones. It comes in even more colors than granite, and overall, may be the best value. Some buyers even prefer quartz to granite .
Quartz has a non-porous surface, unlike porous natural stone. It doesn’t stain, scratch or scorch, and may be the least high-maintenance option. Quartz does not require sealing.
Cost: $55-155 per square foot, installed
8. Wood or Butcher Block
A unique option for a kitchen countertop, wood or butcher block has a distinctly warm, organic look to it. Wood countertops are particularly attractive in historic homes. Wood countertops are available in a wide variety of colors and finishes, but most are made from hardwoods like maple and oak.
Wood is fairly durable and very resistant to heat. It needs to be well-cared for to remain clean and attractive, and must be sealed very frequently to prevent staining. Use mineral oil on wood frequently to keep it in good condition. Although it can look very beautiful, wood countertops are an unusual choice that do not add any resale value to your home.
Cost: $60-100 per square foot, installed
Endlessly malleable and extremely durable, concrete can be custom made in almost any shape and form a seamless countertop and sink unit. Currently, concrete is very trendy in new, modern homes. Concrete countertops are cast into forms directly in your kitchen, and must be installed by skilled professionals.
Although countertops are made from a different type of concrete from that used for sidewalks, they remain very heavy. They are heat resistant and scratch resistant, but can be scorched by hot pans.
Cost: $70-$140 per square foot, installed
10. Stainless Steel
Originally reserved for commercial kitchens, stainless steel has recently become trendy in high-end residential kitchens. It has a distinctive contemporary and industrial style that works well in a new, modern home. Unlike most other materials, stainless steel can’t be modified, so it always looks the same. Stainless steel can create seamless countertop and sink units.
Stainless steel is very heat resistant, and doesn't burn. It can stain, but it does not rust. In addition to being the most expensive countertop material, stainless steel may be seen as unattractive by buyers who don’t follow new trends in materials.
Cost: $80-250 per square foot, installed
If you currently have a mortgage you may be wondering how you can lower your monthly payments without refinancing. Recasting your mortgage is one way to accomplish this.
What is mortgage recasting?
Recasting is when a borrower pays a large lump-sum payment towards their principal and the remaining monthly payments are then adjusted to reflect a new amortization schedule. The lower loan amount means you will also pay less in interest over the life of the loan. All the terms of the mortgage will remain unchanged.
How is recasting different from refinancing?
Refinancing is essentially replacing one loan with another one. Your new lender will pay off the balance to your old lender and then you begin making payments with the new lender. This means there are new loan terms including a new interest rate. Refinancing can lower your monthly payments if you refinance for a lower interest rate and because the length of the loan essentially starts over (you pay a 30 year mortgage for a few years and then refinance to another 30 year mortgage with the lower balance). Recasting will not change your pay-off date or your interest rate.
What are the pros of recasting a mortgage?
Recasting is often less expensive than refinancing since you are not paying for closing costs or an appraisal. Recasting is usually easier to qualify for than refinancing as well; your lender might not require proof of income or your credit scores. Additionally, while your interest rate will remain the same, you will still end up paying less in interest as the principal balance is lowered after you make the lump-sum payment. With a refinance, if you replace a 30 year mortgage you’ve paid on for several years with another 30 year mortgage, you may end up paying more in interest as mortgage payments start interest-heavy in the early years.
What are the cons of recasting a mortgage?
For starters, you might not even be able to recast a mortgage; not all lenders allow a recast and certain loans (like FHA or VA loans) do not qualify for recasting. If you have a high interest rate with your current loan, you will not be lowering your rate because the loan terms are not changed. You will not be shortening the length of the loan whereas a refinance could shorten your loan term if you move from a 30 year mortgage to a 20 or 15 year term. It’s also worth noting that recasting requires you to make a large, lump-sum payment (typically at least $5,000.00), thereby tying up your cash in equity. Keep in mind that while less expensive than refinancing, there is still a fee to recast a mortgage as well.
Recasting a mortgage can be an attractive option for someone looking to lower their monthly payments without the hassle of refinancing (as well as spending less than what would be required to refinance). A quick discussion with your lender can help you decide if a mortgage recast might be the right move for you.
I had the pleasure of having a phone interview with Kirsten Moore to get a little back story on how Magpie went from idea to a coming soon restaurant. I found myself fully immersed in Kirsten’s vision of this harmonious space. Like putting down a good novel, it’s almost jarring to imagine the corner of W Gay and N Liberty still being home to Big L Tires and not be Magpie: the natural evolution of the space and Kirsten’s career. I highly recommend you listen to the full interview with Kirsten to feel the passion and hear the story first hand.
Recorded June 3rd, 2020.
Speaking of local, Magpie stepped up during the pandemic to connect the community to the local farmers and businesses through a drive through á le cart farmers market. They seek to continue that sentiment by selling local goods in the restaurant. Tables are crafted by locally owned Rocktown Urban Wood out of the Ash trees from Westover park.
As for the restaurant, Magpie invites you into a familiar but modern diner setting. The smells of fresh bread, coffee, and bacon will give you the comfort of familiarity. However, the menu will also be exciting and invites you to challenge your pallet by trying something new; maybe a special like “Fig and Gruyere Egg Sando?”
Next to the front counter of Magpie is the original stairs that lead you to one side of The Perch. The Perch offers co-working space including private offices, dedicated desks, and general space. There will be at least one large conference room and refreshment area. The main entrance of the Perch is on the back end of the building. If you have interest in renting space, sign up through their Facebook page as there is already a waiting list for individual office space.
As any townie can tell you, Downtown Harrisonburg has transitioned into a vibrant destination filled with amazing food and businesses. Magpie will expand that theme by marrying amazing local food, coffee, and co-working.
As many of us find ourselves working from home, you may realize the temporary work space you had set up in the corner of the kitchen was fine in the first few days of quarantine but just isn’t cutting it now. Or maybe you’ve always worked from home and you’re ready to give your work space a few updates to improve your productivity and mood. Below are a few tips to creating a home office that suits your needs.
1. Designate Your Work Space
The most important aspect to a home office is choosing the space you will designate for work and only work. Ideally, your office would be its own room but having a room pull double duty can certainly work with proper boundaries. Keep work in your designated area and resist temptation to bring paperwork or your laptop to places you eat or lounge. This will ultimately help maintain a work/life balance so that when you finish with work, you can feel rewarded by relaxing in your living room or baking in your kitchen. It will also help you focus and stay on task when you enter your work area.
2. Have Ample Lighting
Make sure your home office is very well lit. The last thing you want is to strain your eyes for 8 hours of the day. You may need to play around with the lighting to avoid a glare on your computer screen and make sure your face is clearly visible for video calls. A small desk lamp can help with task lighting and reading.
3. Check Your Posture
Along the same lines as lighting, checking your posture and investing in a good office chair are key to your health and comfort. Some things to keep in mind regarding your posture:
4. Declutter and Organize
Physical clutter can instantly make your mind feel cluttered as well. Keep your work surfaces as tidy as possible to help you stay focused and reduce stress. Organize both horizontally and vertically; most homes don’t offer large office areas (or a specified office at all) so utilizing shelves can be a great way to keep important files and tools close at hand without infringing on your actual desk. For more information on decluttering and organizing, check out this blog post.
5. Check The Background
Since face-to-face meetings have largely been avoided in favor of social distancing, video calls have made a huge jump in popularity among companies. Something to keep in mind is what your coworkers or clients may see behind you when you have these video calls. Keep your background clean and throw in a bit of your own style with a piece of artwork or a shelf sparsely decorated with beloved trinkets. Perhaps you still have a few in-person meetings with clients or coworkers; it’s important that you keep any areas of the house a visitor may walk past on the way to your office cleaned up as well.
6. Add Color and Personality
Choose a color palette that encourages your work-flow. For some, this is a bright, poppy color. For others, a cool and calming color may do the trick. Then you want to pick accessories that make the area feel more homey and set the mood. Finally, give yourself a view or create an inspiration board to make the space inviting and engaging.
Now is a great time to curate the perfect work area whether you’ve been working from home for years or are new to working remote because of COVID-19. If you are still struggling to stay on task, think of places where you feel most productive and try to duplicate those elements. If you like the music at a local coffee shop you can play similar music at home. Perhaps the outdoors help to keep you focused, you can incorporate more plants and be sure to choose an area with a window. Something else to keep in mind is that you may be able to deduct your home office expenses from your taxes. Be sure to check the IRS website to determine if you would be eligible to do so and check out this article for more information.
Space. Do we ever have enough of it? Whether your home is a studio apartment or a mega-mansion, somehow stuff seems to multiply to fill any amount of space. Fortunately, there’s no end to human ingenuity, and there are a plethora of ideas out there for maximizing space. Here are some options that can work for any size home.
1. Make Your Furniture Do Double-Duty
Try to acquire furniture with built-in storage. You can find beds and benches with built-in drawers or shelves, coffee tables or ottomans that are also bins, and many other innovative combinations. The more you can turn your furniture into storage space, the more spacious your home will feel.
2. Sleep On It
Virtually any bed can be used for storage space. Simply tuck your things away neatly in bins under the bed. If your bed is low to the ground, you can lift it up with some wooden blocks. This creates a great deal of storage space that’s out of sight
3. Maximize Your Hangers
Use cascading hangers in your closet to increase the amount of clothing you can hang in the space. Shirts and pants are particularly well-suited to storage on cascading hangers and will create quite a bit of space in your closet.
4. Hang Your Shoes Up
Over-the-door shoe organizers can also help you maximize your closet space. They typically hold 12 or more pairs of shoes, and can also accommodate other small clothing items or accessories. They make your items easy to locate and put away.
5. Shrink Your Stuff
Use vacuum storage bags to compress and puffy or fluffy items and make them easier to store in a small space. This works with comforters, sheets, towels, etc. Simply place your items in the bag and use your vacuum cleaner to suck the excess air out of them.
6. Make It Float
Install hooks or dowels in the wall to hang various items. You can hang light weight things like pots and pans in the kitchen, or heavy items like a bike. If you are hanging something heavy, make sure the hook or dowel is installed in a stud so it can support the weight. If you have many small items you want to hang, consider using a pegboard.
7. Elevate It
Shelves are a great storage tool, whether you have items you want on display, or out of the way. Shelves can be integrated into any room in the home for books, artworks, or keepsakes. If you have items that you only need on occasion, like holiday decorations, you can install shelving in a closet above or behind other items.
8. Compartmentalize It
Almost any shelf, drawer or cabinet can be further compartmentalized to increase organization and maximize space. Stack boxes or bins on shelves, put dividers in drawers, and install pull-out drawers in cabinets.