Like a fine painting, every room has a focal point. It’s the element that draws your eye first, and invites you for a closer look.
The focal point defines the room’s ambiance and underscores the room’s purpose. It makes you want to enter, and enjoy the room to sit and relax, study, watch videos, sleep, make conversation, play or whatever the room is designed to do.
By establishing what your focal point is going to be, you have an easier time decorating the rest of your room, because the other furnishings will fit around it.
For example, if you are creating a focal point with a fireplace and seating area, you can embellish the mantel with a small group of candles or collectibles. Your seating can be arranged to enjoy the fire in the winter, or you can replace the grate with fresh or dried flowers for the summer.
If you want a warm, relaxing ambiance, add bookshelves and a luxurious lap throw draped on the arm of a chair or couch. Use neutral paints and tones, small patterns or solids on furnishings, and decorate with prints of pastoral scenes or still life. Finish with a thick pile area rug, and you’ve completed a cozy den or study.
What makes a good focal point?
A good focal point attracts attention.
Focal points are either created for you by the room’s architecture, or you have to create one yourself, but the idea is to make the room enjoyable to use.
The room may have an organic feature that you can enhance, such as a bay window with a beautiful view. A picture window can be enhanced with window seats with colors like blue or green to bring the indoors inside the room.
How to create a focal point
Some rooms simply don’t have an outstanding architectural feature, so you have to create your own focal point.
There are several tricks of the trade to create a focal point – size, color, light, and curiosity.
Size: Large items attract interest. Start by putting the largest piece of furniture against the largest wall to help traffic flow.
A bed is a natural focal point for a bedroom, and a sofa is great focal point for a living room or den. Rugs also command attention and anchor the décor, so they make great focal points, too.
Color: You can influence mood and behavior with color. A contrasting wall color behind your sofa or bed is an excellent way to create a focal point. You can also use small intense colors on accessories such as pillows to direct the eye to a seating area and focal point. But a little goes a long way – color that is too intense can repel as well as attract.
Light: Your eye travels easily to where it can see the best. Lighting is essential to giving attention to the main area of the room, such as a chandelier over a dining area. You can also arrange lights to dim or brighten depending on whether you want the ambiance to be lively or intimate.
Curiosity: Curiosity makes you want to want to learn. A collection, a great piece of art, a humorous slogan on a pillow, or an unusual piece of furniture all invite conversation, which is a wonderful way to use a focal point.
Is it possible to have more than one focal point in a room? Yes, if your room is designed for more than one purpose, such as a living-dining combination room, or a bedroom with a sitting area, you will need a focal point for each area to distinguish it from the rest of the room and to define its purpose.
Just make sure the focal points agree that both sides of the room are equally formal or informal, and in the same decorative theme as the rest of the room.
Natural Foods: Eating up the Trends
Remember chia pets? Rinsing your hair with beer? Food that’s just food—no soy protein isolate, xanthan gum, red dye No. 40 or mystery ingredients from the Amazon rain forest?
Well, chia is back, big time (the seeds, not the pets). And so is regular old food. We recently spent hours plodding the floors—along with 60,000 others—at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, Calif., the biggest health food trade show in the world. The overarching theme we saw: What’s old is new again.
Your grandmother would recognize a lot of these hot trends: Foods produced by local farmers. Skin products with ingredients that aren’t nine syllables long or start with prefixes like dimethyl or phenol. Products for sale in packages that can be recycled or composted. (Compostable baby diapers, anyone?)
In years past, the exhibit hall brimmed with bottles of vitamin, mineral and herb supplements. Now the supplement segment has shrunk.
“There is growing distrust” of all things synthetic, says Carlotta Mast, an editor at New Hope Natural Media, the company based in Boulder, Colo., that produces the Expo. “That is driving the idea of ‘Just eat real food.’” She says the purification ethos extends to that shrunken supplement sector: The number of multi-nutrient formulas is shrinking, edged out by single-ingredient pills of vitamin D or omega-3s made from pond-scum algae.
Here’s what jumped out at us:
Coming up Coconuts
Coconut flavor was popular back when kitchen appliances were harvest gold and avocado green. Now it’s back. Among the many items we spotted: Jamaican musician Ziggy Marley’s Coco’Mon, a coconut cooking oil, one of many coconut-based products in his food line, Ziggy Marley Organics. Other companies are making coconut palm sugar, coconut water, dehydrated coconut to make your own coconut water at home (no Earth-unfriendly plastic bottles to recycle).
Natural products manufacturers want a piece of the grazing market. In place of the traditional NFL Sunday snacks of soda and cheese nachos, they are proffering more exotic flavored waters and chips. Some of our favorite beverages: mint-flavored water by Metromint and Blackwater—yes, it’s pitch black and tastes, well, like black water—from Vancouver-based Blackwater Innovations Corp. The water’s infused with fulvic acid, a supposed health-enhancer. (So clearly the miracle-supplement market isn’t stone cold dead.)
To go with those non-sodas? Sweet-potato chips, kale chips, bean chips, banana chips—anything-but-corn chips, in fact, as corn becomes a new devil of the health food world. Consumers want traditional foods like chips and crackers to snack on at home but would like to feel less guilty about eating them, says Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for New Hope Natural Media.
They’re salty. They’re crunchy! And the bean chips have a pleasing (truly) lingering mouth feel.
Corporate consciousness is a big selling point in the natural-products biz. Naked Pizza’s new frozen pizza not only has probiotics and agave fiber in its crust and zero sugar in its sauce, the box also comes from a manufacturer that uses only recycled materials.
And here’s an odd one: Recent University of California-Berkeley business grads Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora are selling a “Back to the Roots” kit to grow your own mushrooms. They drive around the Bay Area collecting used coffee grounds as the medium for growing the mushrooms in a box. (“We diverted 1 million pounds of coffee grounds last year,” Arora said, proudly.)
The same seedlings you spread on a clay figurine to make a green Shrek are now being used in food products because of the high levels of omega-3 fats they contain. We saw FruitChia bars, Mamma Chia beverages and Crunchy Flax With Chia cereal. One company is hedging its bets with Coconut Chia granola — that’s two trends rolled into one.
Natural Baby Foods
Today’s parents are passionate about their offspring learning to like fruits and vegetables. Businesses are responding. Plum Organics has grab-and-go fruit and vegetable squeeze packs of pureed food (such as a blend of blueberry, pear and purple carrot) that babies can drink or be spoon-fed from.
“It’s about introducing babies to flavors so they become foodies,” insists Katie Sobel, director of marketing and communication for Plum Organics. Not to say plug into the hottest health trends: Plum is infusing some of its products with Greek yogurt (more protein than regular yogurt) and ancient grains like quinoa (fewer food allergy issues and easier to digest).
What a smorgasbord. Just as well: A late afternoon energy shot gave us the strength to make another pass across the 24,300-square-foot exhibit floor. The yoga drink Bikram Balance, a blend of fruits and vegetables, aims to restore electrolytes after you bow and murmur “namaste.” Fruitasia, a new fruit-and-veggie energy shot, is touted as having three servings of vegetables and two servngs of fruit in 3 fluid ounces.
Some of the big fads are continuing strong. Probiotics are booming; gluten-free is growing; the Greek economy may be tanking, but Greek yogurt is making plenty of money for some businesses over here.
Real Estate sales around and especially on Lake Conroe, has remained steady with no significant increase in sales from prior periods. With the lake being over 8 feet low and all the talk about The Woodlands and city of Houston needing water from Lake Conroe, the sales have not decreased much, but has not improved much either with the improved economy in Montgomery County.
I have heard many people express that the Lake will always be at low levels now that the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) has recently adopted regulations giving all large groundwater users in Montgomery County until January 1, 2016, to reduce their consumption of groundwater by 30%. In able to meet this requirement, a pipeline system is being constructed to The Woodlands and other areas allowing them to use water from Lake Conroe. But most people do not know the affect this will have on Lake Conroe and they assume the Lake will always be low. The facts are below:
1.) On average, Lake Conroe releases 7 feet of water each year from the dam because of too much rain.
2.) The LSGCD’s proposal to use water from Lake Conroe would only take 1 foot of water per year for the years 2016-2025, 2 feet for the years 2026-2035, 3 feet for the years 2036-2045 and 4 feet for the years 2046-2055.
Therefore, the public will not notice the difference in lake levels at all unless there is an extreme drought as we just went through. Even with that drought, the Lake has already come up over 5 feet from a low of over 8 feet in just a couple of months. For more information on the affect of the LSGCD’s proposal on Lake Conroe, visit the San Jacinto River Authority website at sjra.net.
While the lake was low, the Lake Conroe Association along with the family that owns EZ Boat Storage & Valet Launch and the Palms Marina pooled private funds to embark on a stump cutting project to eliminate the stumps in the main body of the lake (not the tributaries, shorelines or fingers that feed the lake). This project covered an area from the dam on the south end all the way north to the southern point of Cape Malibu or approximately 2.5 miles north of the FM 1097 bridge (see attached map). This project is complete and it can be stated that virtually all stumps visible at the 192.68 MSL lake level have been cut. There were approximately 400 stumps targeted and they were all cut approximately 8 feet below the 192.68 MSL level. The stumps were not removed from the lake as approximately 95% of the stumps sunk to the bottom of the lake providing an enhanced fishing habitat. Lake Conroe is a safer and more navigable lake because of the support of the Lake Conroe Association, San Jacinto River Authority, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Black Bass United and the Texas B.A.S.S. Federation. The map below is an approximate outline showing where the lake is stump free.
Lake Conroe will always be a great recreational lake and will continue to prosper for many years to come. So please let the naysayers know that the Lake will remain a great and even safer lake in the years to come.
Lake Conroe has of late been a little more than 8 feet below normal level, the lowest level ever in the lake’s 40 years existence. As of January 12, the lake was approximately 7 feet below normal. This has made it almost impossible for any homeowner on the lake to access the lake from their dock and has closed most of the public boat launches. As of January 12, only Lakeview Marina, Cagle Boat launch on the far north end of the lake and Stow Away Marina are open. The low lake level has had very little impact on the Waterfront home sales, as most Buyers are aware that these low levels are unusual and due to the severe drought. Those familiar with the lake know it will return to normal soon. However, there are others that seem to forget the amount of rainfall the Houston area normally receives each year and assume that the Lake will take a long time to fill. We just have to remind them of our normal rainfalls and the fact that the San Jacinto River Authority voluntarily releases on average 7 feet of water from Lake Conroe each year just for flood control.
The good news is that the lake’s low water level has allowed the Lake Conroe Association (LCA), San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), E-Z Boat Storage (EZ) and the Palms Marina to work together in an effort to eliminate the stumps located in the main parts of the lake on the south and north end of Lake Conroe. TPWD has said that their department may be able to contribute $3 to every $1 donated by the private sector in state and/or federal funds to clean up the stumps in the main body of the lake as well as clearing boat lanes up on the North end of the lake. This will allow fishermen and boaters greater access to the lake. If all entities work together and get this accomplished, this will make Lake Conroe a much safer lake with the elimination of stumps on North end and the creation of boating lanes in the areas of the lake where there are dense clusters of trees, allowing much greater access on the north side of the lake
Since the matching funds will require time to obtain, and are not certain to be approved, E-Z Boat Storage and Palms Marina will start the clearing and paying for the stump removal now. They did not want to wait a month or so for the funds as the Lake could rise thus making it difficult to locate the stumps. This project should be completed by mid February
Once this is complete and the lake gets back to it’s more normal levels, Lake Conroe will be a better and safer lake. Hopefully, we will continue getting normal rainfall around Lake Conroe and be full again before the summer season begins.
Buying a Home vs. Renting Today
As everyone knows, it is harder to obtain a loan for a home today than it was a few years ago. Because of tighter requirements for purchasing a home, rental rates have increased significantly as the cost of purchasing a home has decreased.
Prices of homes have remained steady but the interest rates are at an all time low around 4%. As you can see in the illustration below, it only takes 1½ years or more of ownership of a home to come out ahead of leasing a home. The 1½ years is the break-even point if you were to lease a home versus buying a home and selling it 1 ½ years later. The illustration is based on the following:
Value of Home: $200,000 Interest Rate: 4% Years Amortized: 30 years Rental Rate: $1,500
The 3 columns illustrate the costs associated with purchasing vs. leasing and selling the home in 1 ½ years, 5 years or 10 years. The costs are at breakeven after 1½ years, after 5 years a homeowner would save $34,500 during that 5 year period, and after 10 years the homeowner would save $87,300 vs. renting the home for 10 years.
As most of you know, ExxonMobil is constructing several office buildings on a 385 acre tract of land just south of The Woodlands. It is located in Harris County bordering Montgomery County. Currently, they plan on moving all their employees in the Houston area from Greenspoint, downtown Houston and West Houston, totaling approximately 8,000-9,000 employees to the newly constructed campus style setting of office buildings.
Construction has already begun and they plan to relocate employees in 2014 and be complete by 2015. They could still relocate many more employees from their Fairfax, Virginia location and their California office. They are still studying the viability of relocating the out of state employees, but many insiders believe this will eventually happen.
What does this mean to Montgomery County? This is the biggest consolidation in the country in many years and it is happening in our own back yard. Many and probably most of these employees from West Houston, downtown and possibly even Greenspoint will find a new or existing home close to work, and Montgomery County is right next door. The Woodlands area will benefit most, but many will want to enjoy the Conroe/Montgomery/Willis/Lake Conroe area lifestyle with it only being a 5-20 minute drive to work. Some will seek to relocate soon, others when the actual move occurs, and some years after relocating. So, the real estate market is going to finally get some good news that it has not had in several years. I believe the employees will gradually begin to move into the area in the next couple of years and increase significantly when they actually move to their new location. If ExxonMobil announces that they will transfer employees to the new office complex from Fairfax, Virginia and California, that would be icing on the cake.
This relocation will also bring many new restaurants, retail and service companies to the area. You will see many new residential developments begin construction in the area trying to capture all these new homeowners. Springwoods Village has already begun planning the development of an 1,800 acre residential development next to ExxonMobil.
Bottom line. Montgomery County got the best economic news than any other county or city in the country. With the growth in the Oil and Gas industry in Houston, the widening of I-45, the completion of the Grand Parkway from FM 249 to I-45, Montgomery County has a great future ahead with the already plentiful resources it has to offer such as Lake Conroe, the abundance of land for development, and the quality of life Montgomery County offers.
With only a couple of weeks remaining before income taxes are due, many home owners may be appreciating the value of home ownership just a bit more as they take advantage of the tax benefits of owning a home.
A number of tax deductions and credits are still available for home owners; these include deductions – with specific limits – for mortgage interest and capital gains on home sales, credits for certain energy-efficient home improvements, and tax credits for purchase of a home last year.
Ninety-one percent of homeowners who claim the mortgage interest deduction earn less than $200,000 a year, and the ability to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage can mean significant savings at tax time. For example, a family who bought a home in 2010 with a $200,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, assuming an interest rate of 4.5 percent, could save nearly $3,500 in federal taxes when they file this year.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer tax information company, suggests these 12 ways to save on your tax return:
If you bought a home last year, you may benefit from a refundable first-time homebuyers’ credit of 10% of the purchase price of a new home—up to $8,000. The credit is available for homes purchased before October 1, 2010 and you must have entered into a binding agreement to buy the home before May 1, 2010. You can’t have had an ownership interest in a principal residence during the three years before the purchase.
A refundable repeat homebuyers’ credit is available if you entered a contract to buy a home by April 30, 2010 and closed on the sale of the home before October 1, 2010. The credit is 10% of the purchase price with a limit of $6,500. To claim the credit, you have to have owned and used the same home as a principal residence for five straight years within a time period that may go back a maximum of eight years. You also must be at least 18 years old and your home purchase price must be under $800,000.
You can exclude up to $250,000 of gain on the sale of your home (up to $500,000 for joint filers) if you have owned and lived in the home as your principal residence for two out of the five years prior to the sale, although a partial exclusion may be available for sales due to a change of employment, health, or unforeseen circumstances. The periods of ownership and occupancy do not have to be identical.
You can take the interest on your mortgage indebtedness of up to $1 million as an itemized deduction. The interest can be on your principal residence and one additional residence.
For ordinary income purposes, up to $100,000 in home-equity loan interest can also be deducted. In regards to the alternative minimum tax, interest on home-equity loans is deductible only if the loan is used to acquire, build, or substantially improve a home.
The points you paid on a mortgage loan you used to buy or improve your principal residence are deductible in the year you paid them, as long as the points represent a customary practice in your area. Points paid on a refinancing loan must be deducted over the term of the loan.
Through 2010, you can deduct mortgage insurance premiums as mortgage interest. However, the mortgage insurance had to be originally acquired on or after January 1, 2007.
You can take the state and local property taxes you pay as an itemized deduction. An option to take up to $500 ($1,000 for joint filers) as an additional standard deduction for real estate taxes expired at the end of 2009 and is not available for 2010.
If you rented your home for fewer than 15 days during the year, you don’t have to include that rental income in your gross income, but you can’t deduct any expenses related to the rental either.
If your lender forgave your mortgage debt of up to $2 million on your principal residence, as in a write-down or foreclosure, the transaction won’t be treated as “cancellation of debt income.” This special relief is temporary and is available for six years, retroactively for taxpayers filing amended returns, from January 1, 2007 through the end of 2011.
If you own a home and installed qualifying energy-efficient fixtures or systems by December 31, 2010, you may claim a 30% tax credit—up to a maximum of $1,500 for both the 2009 and 2010 tax years. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created energy tax credits for installing insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows or doors, heat pumps, furnaces, central air conditioners, or water pumps.
A separate 30% credit is available to homeowners who installed alternative energy equipment such as fuel cells, solar water heaters, solar electric equipment, small wind energy projects, or geothermal heat pumps. Although the tax credit is more likely to apply for businesses, it’s also available for homeowners.
So, if you own a home, sold a home or purchased a home last year, be sure and get with your accountant on the proper deductions that are available to homewoners.
As of February 9, 2011, there were only 191 New Homes for sale in the Conroe, Willis, and Montgomery area compared to 1,110 resale homes. That means only 15% of the homes on the market are New Homes.
There are many Buyers who only want new homes and are not able to find them due to the lack of inventory. The lack of new homes will probably continue for awhile as lenders are still wary of making loans to Builders to construct new homes.
This lack of new home inventory is good for the resale market since Buyers are not able to find a new home that fits their needs. Therefore, Sellers today need to tap into this market by updating and making there home feel like a new home.
Your home will have a much better chance of selling by painting the home inside and outside, replacing old carpet, updating the kitchen and replacing the roof if needed and more importantly keeping the house in great shape and very clean. The expense of doing this should be able to be recovered by an increase in the sales price of the home.
You should also de-clutter the home, keep the yard and landscaping well maintained, have the exterior of house powered washed and throw away any items laying around outside that is no longer needed.
By making your home look and feel new, you will attract all resale buyers and buyers who are looking for a new or almost new home. A lot of Buyers want to just move in and enjoy there home and not have to remodel, update and clean a home.
Consult with your Realtor before making any changes in your home and listen to their opinions and suggestions on what they feel should be done in order to sell your home quickly and at the highest price.