Phone: (480) 234-9225

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Before you make the offer…

Tips for Evaluating the Lender Owned Property

So often when I’m out with buyers, we are looking at a number of homes and they tend to run together.  Some are short sales, some are “normal” where there is a traditional seller and some are bank owned properties.  All are in various states of repair and we tend to look quickly at the details as we concentrate on the floor plan, the kitchen area, the views, amount of storage, etc. 

Sometimes, we miss a few things. Or, underestimate what it might take to make it work.

As a recent buyer myself, I had narrowed my list of possible homes down to a few.  I had a tough decision to make.  The short list included one property that was being sold by family members after the original owner had passed away – more of a traditional sale.  Another was bank owned.

The traditional sale was smaller, but very well appointed. Although somewhat dated with brass fixtures and those bleached kitchen cabinets that give off a pink cast, it was built in 1996 and was very well maintained.  The expensive items had been updated with granite in the kitchen and the baths.  The flooring was acceptable but nothing to write home about.

The bank owned home was built in 1986 and was being billed as a complete remodel.  It was WOW from the moment the Porsche [by now you know I'm kidding] pulled up to the curb.  Offered at about the same price as the traditional sale home, it had great curb appeal with its adobe brick walls and tiled roof.  It was spectacular on the inside, too.  It was quite spacious with more rooms than the other home, honed travertine floors everywhere and a dramatic stacked stone fireplace.  Cherry looking cabinetry in all the baths, brushed nickel faucets and hinges.  It had an enormous lot with desert landscaping and a pool.  The home looked like perhaps an investor had bought it to remodel, and then turn around to flip it. Not uncommon. As I ventured into each new room, I kept thinking to my self, “This is it. This is perfect”. 

Put the emotion aside for a bit; peel back the blinders for just a moment.  With pen and paper in hand, I followed the tips below to help make my decision:

  • Look under all sinks.  Check for signs of leakage; evidence of repairs (or lack of repairs); age of fixtures; type of piping.  Polybutylene is a big concern. 

  • Look at and around all toilets.  Can they be cleaned or are they so stained they will need replacement? Any visible water staining at the floor?

  • Jiggle the shower fixtures – turn them on if there is water to the home.  What kind of life do they have left?  Often times, a plumber will have to tear out the tiling to make any repair.  Consider those costs.

  • Carefully look at the ceiling, especially the edges where it meets the wall, in every room, including the garage. Look for signs of staining which could indicate water leaks from the roof.  Does the ceiling texture need correcting? Was all the popcorn properly removed, or are there still remnants at vents and in the corners?

  • Mentally calculate the cost to ready the home so it can be inhabited.  Are there faucets, appliances, light fixtures, towel rods? 

  • In the kitchen, open every cabinet and drawer.  What condition are the cabinet boxes in? Is there evidence they have been repaired?  Are the shelves adjustable to accommodate varying heights of bottles and other tall items? Is there a pantry for storage? [I was out with buyers recently who fell in love with a property – it was stunning in every way and very well done, with a remarkable kitchen.  Guess what?  It was missing a pantry.  The buyers did not even notice this flaw as they were overtaken by the other features.  This critical piece was the deal breaker on that home].

  • Consider all flooring.  Does it need replacing?  Is there cracking in the grout? Is the carpet in need of cleaning, re-stretching or more? 

  • Evaluate all windows and doors.  Are they single pane or dual pane?  Do they need replacing now? Will they in the future?

  • On the exterior, evaluate the fascia and wood trim.  Pay careful attention to the landscaping.  Is it in need of trimming? Does the grade slope away from the home or towards it? 

  • If there is a pool, is it empty? If so, it will likely need to be resurfaced as the sun and heat will (not may) crack the surface.  Does the pool equipment appear in good condition?

None of the items above should be deal breakers – merely, be cognizant of the cost to make it yours.  Write down all the items discovered and put a price to each one individually.  Add them up.

These costs should be considered before you make an offer.  When it’s all said and done, does the price plus the costs of repairs still represent a good value – or at least is acceptable to you?  And, you will still get the home inspection done to fully understand what you are getting involved with. 
In the end, the traditional sale needed nothing to be able to be lived in.  It would definitely need the rose colored paint in the bedroom corrected very soon though.  That was about it though. In time, the bleached cabinets could be refinished as the quality of the wood and the condition of the boxes was excellent.  My mental calculations on the bank owned home totaled somewhere around $50,000.  Money I would need to spend immediately just to be able to move in. 

We all know there are pro’s and con’s to every home.  I went with the traditional sale because it suited my pocket book and lifestyle at the moment.   Is it perfect? No way.  Does it meet my needs? Absolutely.  Watch for details on the house warming party – but when you arrive, don’t look too close at the pink walls.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC.  Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at 

Monday, September 27, 2010

And you thought Education in AZ was an issue....

Photo taken from The Steve/Dave Reality Tour
With all the attention on Arizona, our schools, education and the future of our kids, maybe we're not so bad after all.

Billboard reads "pubic" instead of "public"

As for me, I'm thinking home schooling my kids, maybe even private schools.

Urban Chic

Photo from ARMLS

I see a lot of homes each week.  Some are with buyers.  Sometimes I am out previewing property as I prepare for clients.  I came across one property I just had to share with you.

Some could even describe it as Purposeful Obsolescence. 

Photo from ARMLS
As you drive down the tree-lined streets in Yaple Park, you feel like your back in Mayberry in 1951.  This is an historical area just off of 7th Avenue in the Melrose area of central Phoenix.  Although many of these homes were constructed in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s and are any where between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet – they are largely original - there's a newcomer on the block.

 A number of young urbanites have found central Phoenix as an ideal spot to mingle affordability with urban charm.  Yaple Park is a blend between the younger adults moving in next door to the original homeowners holding on to a simpler past. 

Talk about the young and the old – one example clearly stands apart from the crowd.

Photos taken from ARMLS

From what I can tell, this property began as a 1,200 square foot brick post-war home and has grown into a 3,519 square foot 3 bed, 4 bath urban contemporary complete with basement.  Polished concrete floors, painted block walls and a loft-like stainless gourmet kitchen.  Retro and sleek.  Glass everywhere.  In the side courtyard off the motor court is a rectangular soaking pool perfectly placed in the corner against the living room glass. 

Master bath - photo taken from ARMLS
As I was touring this home, I was amazed at the space, the detail, the contemporary lines but had to question the location.  After all, this is Mayberry.  Was the architect ahead of the times for the neighborhood and a bit too progressive or was this a home that was going to be a glimpse of what was to follow? 

As I drove away, I thought to myself.  I could live there – if only it was more uptown, or more downtown or something.  For me, it was not the right house for the neighborhood. 

But who am I?  Originally listed for $535,000, after 200 days and a price reduction to $320,000, the home went under contract this weekend. 

Here’s proof, there’s a buyer for every home and clearly people are discovering it’s a tremendous time to buy.  Someone is getting one heck of home - you'll probably see it in some magazine some day.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC.  Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Paint, lighting and flooring are foundations for home design

Back to the basics.....How often have we heard that?

AZ Central had a great aritcle about paint, lighting and flooring - a winning combination for great home design and comfortable living.

Check out what Michael Payne, HGTV design guru and make-over specialist has to say in the article, "Paint, lighting and flooring are foundations for home design".

Now, where to get hope for the color blind.....details to follow, I'm sure.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Location, Location, Location - But do you know the 4 C's in Real Estate?

I'm an avid reader of Inman News - it always have some insightful tip about the real estate market. I had to share this one because it hits home.

So many times buyers struggle when they enter a home because of how it shows- And, lately, even in this market where you'd expect to see a seller getting their home in show shape to attract the perfect offer, we see other people's stuff scattered all over the place.  Add to that, painted rooms in every color of the rainbow. And, perhaps some forgotten pet accident in the hallway closet.

Take a look at what Paul Bianchina has to say - Let's get back to the basics of location, location, location....And, get over the rest!

The 3 L's and 4 C's of house-hunting Inman News

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nice Chi

It comes up every now and then.  I try to act intelligent and pretend to know what the heck they're talking about.  I can barely pronounce the term, let alone understand it.

Energy.  Harmony.  Vitality.  Clearly, these are important aspects to anyone’s life.  And, in the Chinese culture, it’s known as Feng Shui [fung-shway].   Some believe it’s the recipe for successful living.  Feng Shui deals with the earth’s five elements, then adds a bit of color to bring energy and vitality to a home.  Some absolutely live by the philosophy that dates back to when Buddha was in diapers.

Wikipedia describes it as, “an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven (astronomy) and Earth (geography) to help one improve life by receiving positive qi” [chi].

I know just a little enough about the subject – and it is obvious I needed to learn more.  I’m not looking to be Feng Shuiologist or anything, but there are some salient points to the practice that we can all benefit from.  It is said that even a Chinese vase, properly placed within the home can bring positive energy.  

Well, in this market, sellers need to do all they can to attract the right buyer.  It was time I did some homework on the subject.

I was watching HGTV’s House Hunters where a wife was most concerned about the home’s chi – energy, it seems, can enter a home allowing the occupants the good fortune of harmony and well being.  It does the opposite as well.  The position of a staircase and the direction of the front door are important elements when it comes to Feng Shui.  Even a tree in the front yard, if not properly placed, can be a barrier to chi entering the home and nurturing its occupants. 

Here’s a great dummies guide to Feng Shui I found through Google – I found it interesting and useful.  Perhaps you will too.  From the front door to the placement of furniture, you, too, can have nice chi.

I’m thinking I’ve lived in a home or two where the chi wasn’t so great.  Just saying.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wake up - it's not a dream!

This 3 bedroom Phoenix area home recently sold for $82,500

I don’t know if you read the New York Times, but a business partner of mine sent me an e-mail about an article, an Op-Ed actually, that appeared in the Times recently.  You have to really dig hard to find any sort of a positive slant to the current state of affairs as it relates real estate, it seems.   The media has been relentless and aren’t putting people's minds at ease.  

We all know the real estate market is turbulent.  Most of us are not just underwater, but are drowning with no sign of a life preserver. Investors, who were once having a field day, have retreated [although perhaps starting to return for  the right deal.]   

But, check out what Karl E. Case had to say in his article, “A Dream House After All”.  I thought he did a great job helping put into perspective what is happening in neighborhoods across the country. And, he presents a very interesting way of putting pen to paper to help us understand what’s actually going out of our pockets.

Of particular interest to me is where he says, “Do the math. Four years ago, the monthly payment on a $300,000 house with 20 percent down and a mortgage rate of about 6.6 percent was $1,533. Today that $300,000 house would sell for $213,000 and a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with 20 percent down would carry a rate of about 4.2 percent and a monthly payment of $833. In addition, the down payment would be $42,600 instead of $60,000.” 

Wow.  When you put it like that, who can afford not to own a home? 

Thanks to Cindy Davis at Equity Title Agency in Scottsdale for sharing.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at

Monday, September 13, 2010

Desert Landscaping from A to Z!

Low maintenance desert landscaping near Scottsdale's Hidden Hills.
Are you a do-it-yourself landscaper? Many of us are. After all, how hard can it be to dig a hole and plant a plant?

If you’re like me, you’ve replaced a countless number of plants because they didn’t make it. Too much sun or too much shade. Maybe not enough water, or it was just too darn hot. I’ve learned growing a lush and inviting Arizona yard is much different here than in other parts of the country. Take it from me - you need to consult with the pros.

In these turbulent times, I’d rather not fork over my hard earned pesos for a landscaper unless absolutely necessary. But, at the same time - and with my schedule - I just don’t seem to have that much time to devote working on the yard. [Plus, sometimes we all just deserve a little down time now and then where we can chill and sip on an Arnold Palmer poolside.] So, is there an option?

I don’t have a gardener, and I don’t intend too, either! But, I still want a yard that is thriving with native desert plant life and lush flora. And, make that all year round, too! Is such a dream even possible?

Dramatic agave
Low maintenance desert landscaping can be easier than you think! I’ve stumbled across a terrific resource about desert plants – and it focuses on water conservation! The Arizona Municipal Water Association has devoted a great deal of time and energy to help people like me enjoy the true beauty of the Arizona desert. It’s like the Arizona almanac for desert plants – you’ll find a wealth of information on all sorts of trees, shrubs, ground covers, cactus, grasses, flowers and succulents. Information on how to plant them, how to care for them and tips to make them thrive. It’s a terrific resource and should be required reading for any Phoenix area home owner. Check it out.

Don’t get me wrong – I do break down and call a landscaper every once in awhile. A couple of times year, the crew stops by and trims my hard-to-reach trees, blows the debris and rakes my granite. Sort of like a seasonal clean-up, I guess you could say. But, now I’m the one to suggest what kind of plant would be a great candidate for that bare spot – the perfect plant to mask the block wall or add a fragrant aroma to my patio.
Blooming Jacaranda

Just because we live in the desert doesn’t mean we can’t have a vibrant landscape! Your desert yard can be a beautiful place any time of the year!

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at

Enchanting Encanto-Palmcroft

Palm Lane in the heart of Encanto Palmcroft.

Spanish for the word “charm,” Encanto indeed lives up to its name.

I’ve always been drawn to historic homes. I’m intrigued with preservation and architecture. I love the unique attributes of these homes - the plaster walls, the front porches, the tile work and wooden floors. To me, it is such a refreshing escape from our stucco suburbia. Ah, at last, in these historic neighborhoods, no two homes are alike.

Perhaps my passion for historic homes stems from my upbringing. I grew in a turn of the century French Colonial in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton. It was grand and stately with its mansard roof and shuttered windows. I remember playing as a kid in the damp coal room and getting covered in black dust. It had catwalks and balconies and secret rooms. Mostly original, it had those rounded doorway arches and deep ebony wood work. It was truly one-of-kind.

And, my grandparents lived in ‘20’s –built enormous Tudor in Dayton, Ohio. It could have been from a movie with its huge sweeping circular staircase, grand entry and even servant quarters. It had an Olympic-sized pool with high dive, a pool house and even separate locker rooms for men and women. I spent hours at a time in the glass greenhouse digging in the dirt on the wooden tables my Grandmother would use for her geraniums. I so looked forward to visiting my grandparents. Some of my fondest childhood memories were from times I spent in old, historic homes filled with character.

Phoenix has a number of historic districts, each boasting their own unique charm and character. According to the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission, there are 35 historic districts currently registered, each boasting their own unique charm, characteristics and vibrancy. These very special historic neighborhoods continue to make central Phoenix the topic of conversation among preservationists both locally and across the country. But, hands down, one of my most favorite historic neighborhoods has got to be the Encanto-Palmcroft Historic district, with the seemingly endless Palm-lined streets and meticulously manicured lawns.

The Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood is boasting with character. Located just west of Central Avenue this historic district is between 7th Avenue on the east and 15th Avenue on the west. It sits between McDowell Rd to the south and Encanto Blvd to the north. The community boasts a terrific park as well – Encanto Park, located in the northwest corner of the community. This park has been named one of the America’s best city parks by Forbes Magazine. The 220 acre park was created in 1934 and features picnic areas, pool, a lake with boat rentals, fishing, golf, nature trails and even an amusement Park named Enchanted Island complete with games and rides.

Homes in the Encanto-Palmcroft community began to be constructed between 1927 and the mid-1930’s with the park being the focal point of the community, a model adapted from 18th century England. Early construction came to a halt in the ‘30’s, and then picked back up again in response to the FHA-insured loans and for the most part, the neighborhood was completed in the 40’s. Roughly 330 homes make up the historic district. Architectural styles tend to be varied and include Spanish and Colonial revival, French cottage, pueblo, Mediterranean and Tudor.

Every two years, the Encanto-Palmcroft Historic Preservation Association hosts a Home Tour. Planning is underway for the next home tour slated for March 2011. The Encanto-Palmcroft Historic Preservation can provide more details when they become available. 

Many Phoenix area homeowners living in the district are carefully updating and restoring these grand dames of Phoenix.  They range in size from about 1,500 square feet to some, well over 6,000.  View a sampling of the homes listed for sale in the area by clicking here.

There are a number of resources available for buffs of Phoenix historic homes.  Check out Phoenix Historic Preservation, view a map of the Phoenix Historic Districts, and learn about the Arizona Preservation Foundation. 
2011 marks our 100th year of statehood.  As we prepare for the centennial celebration of our great state, perhaps you too will become enchanted with some the historic neighborhoods of Phoenix area homes.
©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Windows: Single vs. Double Pane

About a year and a half ago I won the bid on a bank owned fixer I now call home. During the walk-through of the inspection, my inspector suggested I may want to consider replacing the old single pane windows with the more efficient dual pane variety.

My windows and doors were original – the home was built in 1984 and it was obvious they were not ideal. There was clear evidence of where water had been entering from around the window frames, they didn’t seal shut properly and dirt was caked on the sills; some didn’t open and while others could have served as a guillotine – they’d slam shut on their own as they wouldn’t stay up without placing a stick underneath.

I was nervous about the cost of replacement windows. I did my research on-line and talked to a number of energy experts and remodel gurus. Clearly, I was going to half to bite the bullet at some point. I could either do it now and enjoy the benefits myself or wait a while, but certainly they needed to be done before it came time to put the home back on the market.

As a real estate agent, I knew when my buyers were looking at Phoenix area homes, they always looked at windows and mentally evaluated whether or not they would need to be replaced. Often times, the condition of the windows would be a deal breaker – they would take a home off the list because of single pane windows.

On my home, the original windows were the black framed aluminum kind, with the dated - ‘80’s-style grids. I knew replacing them would go a long way in dressing up the way the house looked, not only from the street, but from inside as well.

I did my research and shopped around. A client of mine suggested I talk with Daytona Windows, locally owned company with whom he had done business. I phoned Daytona and Andy came over the very next day at the appointed time. He thoroughly explained my options to me, what was involved and the entire process. He won the bid and was awarded my business. Not only was he punctual and efficient, but his work was clean and tidy, and his product amazing. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Daytona Windows recommended Milgard Windows and Doors®, a product with a great reputation. I went with Low-E, Energy Star® rating, and then I opted for the 3D upgrade providing a minimum of a 10% increase in energy efficiency performance. I qualified for a Milgard Energy Package Rebate to the tune of $20 for each window and $80 for each slider, plus I received a full lifetime warranty – including coverage for glass breakage. On top of all that, I qualified for a tax credit of over $2,000 from Uncle Sam.

Today, I enjoy windows that open and close as they are supposed to, keep dirt out and seal properly. Cool air stays in; hot air stays out.  As far as energy efficiency goes, I have seen a difference in my electric bill. I didn’t spend too much time crunching the numbers, but here’s a real quick sampling of a couple of recent months electrical usage:

                                             2010                          2009                    Savings*

May                                       5.92                            2.92                       51%

Jun                                         6.56                           4.04                        38%

*Data based on my APS billing statements. Amounts listed are average daily usage.

There are a number of statistics out there discussing ROI on replacement windows. Milgard cites a 99% return on your investment according to a 2005 research study conducted by Remodeling Magazine. Other more conservative statistics suggest it can be around 80%. In any case, pretty impressive to me.

So, if you’re thinking about windows, shop around, but make sure you talk to Andy and Laurie at Daytona Windows.  And, should you decide to have your windows replaced, you will reduce your energy consumption and greatly enhance the curb appeal. And, when it comes time to sell, the home with the double pane windows will out shine the home with single panes every time.

Daytona Window can be reached by calling 602-788-0600 or via e-mail at Tell them I suggested you call.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let’s Talk Numbers

We all know the importance of first impressions. A good first impression will last a lifetime – and bad one will last an eternity, regardless of what we try to do to change it later on. During my elementary years, as summer would come to an end, I remember shopping the aisles of Sears with Mom each August looking for back-to-school clothes. [Now, if we really wanted to make a good impression, wouldn't Marshall Fields been a better choice?...we'll save that one for later.]  She would stress to us the importance of making a good first impression and how we looked was critical for those first days of the new school year. After all, we could never change that initial first impression. We were going to have a new teacher and meeting new classmates. And, when we looked our best, supposedly, we felt our best and acted our best.  Mom always new best.

First impressions are critical in real estate, too. We’ve all heard how important “curb appeal” is in getting a home sold. HGTV has countless hours devoted to this very subject.  Sprucing up the paint and manicuring the landscaping will go a long way in creating a memorable impression. To make a real statement and set your home apart from the crowd, go beyond the paint and polish.

I’ve always been a numbers guy. Well, maybe not in the algebraic or mathematical sense as my formers teachers can surely attest, but in the geometric sense. A simple way of creating some immediate attention to your home and making a curb side statement is how you display your property’s address – It’s like the icing on the cake and they can show others there is attention to detail at this home. Updating the house numbers is a simple and inexpensive way of enhancing the curb appeal of your home. How you show your house address says a lot about your home.

I love to drive through the North Phoenix neighborhood of Paradise Gardens - not only for my intrigue with true mid-Century modern architecture, but because these homeowners understand what first impressions are all about. They show true attention to detail. Most of these homes were designed by legendary Phoenix area home architect, Al Beadle, in the 1950’s and in recent years, homeowners have carefully restored and updated these beauties, inside and out. The feather in the cap seems to be the house numbers. Take a look at how the house numbers are displayed and what it does to the curb appeal:

Some simple treatments, but they make a big impression.  Consider updating your house numbers – you can find some great inexpensive numbers on the Internet or at your favorite home improvement store.  An area metal, machine or welding shop will gladly help you formulate the idea. Consider mounting numbers in a creative fashion – perhaps vertically along a narrow pillar. Or, mount them on separate piece of material (wood, tile, metal) in an interesting shape - an oval, a triangle or square -  and then mount it to the home.  Maybe your home is more suited for some "yard art" - a boulder where your numbers can be mounted, or some iron work as some of these photos suggest. 

Many Phoenix area homes have been meticulously updated and renovated on the inside - I urge homeowners to finish the job.  Take the extra step and dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" by updating the house numbers.

If you have an address with just a few numbers (one to three digits) - be creative and spell them out....As for my own home, I went with large numerals mounted on a separate surface..  Mine are numerals from Arte's, my favorite Ace Hardware - they were then mounted vertically on a piece of slate tile, 16" x 16" set on a diagonal so it's diamond shaped.  I painted the numbers a plum color to match my front door. 

When thinking about your home, consider the contrast and lighting, and don’t be afraid to be bold and dramatic.

You don't have to own a mid-century modern home to dress up the curb appeal by working the numbers.  Your house numbers can create an exciting architectural element to the front of your home regardless of style.  What you do with your numbers can add up to a big first impression!

Next time your driving the streets looking at Phoenix area homes, pay particular attention to the house numbers.  You'll see some real dogs, but also get some very thoughtful ideas that may work for your home.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Countertop Conundrum

Selecting the right material for your kitchen countertops

Having just completed a kitchen renovation myself, I know how overwhelming it can be when its time to select the best countertops. I was inundated with the decisions that needed to be made when it came to picking the kitchen counters. I had a limited budget and was really looking for a durable, refined and upscale look that would appeal to most buyers when it came time to sell the property. Not only did I have to think about cost, color and how it would meld with the cabinet choice, but, durability, maintenance and ease of cleaning were things to also consider.

And, then, what to do with the back splash?

There are a number of options available when it comes to kitchen countertops. I’ve tried to list most options here, along with some thoughts in terms of durability, cost and appeal for resale.

Granite Counters
Granite is an extremely durable natural stone that is quickly becoming the material of choice for many homeowners. Granite is mined from quarries located around the globe and comes in a variety of grades (qualities) and colors. Some have more uniform patterns while others have dramatic streaks of “movement” and color. Granite was a fairly expensive product early on, but with its popularity and the prevalence of more granite fabricators, prices are coming down. Homeowners may select from different grades and have a choice of slab thickness, as well as edging type. The surface is extremely hard and can withstand the test of time but it will dull knives if it is cut upon. Granite needs to be sealed occasionally and cleaning the surface with a natural stone cleanser is recommended as soap can dull the sheen and cause drying.

Engineered or manufactured surfaces
There are several engineered surfaces – a stone-like product and a man-made solid surface. The stone-like option you’ve likely read about in many of the design magazines is known as Quartz, Ceasarstone®, Silestone® or Zodiac®. These are brand names for an engineered or manufactured stone product that is made largely from ground quartz and may even have bits of polished glass and stone within. These surfaces are often dramatic, even or uniform in color, some may even appear to shimmer and don’t have a lot of “veining” or movement. It comes in a large array of colors and styles, is non-porous so it resists staining and is scratch resistant. It is easy to clean and care for, and should be sealed periodically.

The other manufactured product is created almost entirely from man made materials. Often referred to as “Corian” after the DuPont product brand, this acrylic polymer (mostly plastic) counter is custom made to your specific specifications and usually seamless. This surface is softer than a stone product and provides a bit of a bounce when something falls upon it, perhaps saving it from breaking. As it is soft, this type of solid surface countertop does nick. Scratches can be easily removed by simple sanding, often times with a finger nail file. You’ll need to avoid putting hot pots and pans on it as it can stain, burn and even melt.

Ceramic and granite tiles are durable and easy to clean. For a counter surface, an important point here is the size of the tile. Smaller tiles tend to look dated and require more grout lines. Many homeowners selecting tile are using pieces that are at least 12” x 12” and minimal grout lines. It creates a nice look and is relatively inexpensive. And if you’re handy, it can be a rather easy do-it-yourself project. Granite tiles may be an option as they create the elegant look of granite without the cost of the more expensive slab countertop. Tile can be uneven in places and the grout can get stained easily. You may want to consider a smaller grout line and darker color of grout.

Laminated surfaces
Laminate counters had long been the gold standard when it came to the ideal kitchen countertop surface. Many people today still stand by this tried and true product as it is easy to clean, does not absorb foods and comes in a variety of colors and styles and is relatively inexpensive. Laminated countertops are sometimes referred to a singular branded trademark – Formica®. Other manufacturers have a similar surface and they can be found at most home improvement stores. Several options are available for edging including bevel, bull nose, radius and square.

Wood surfaced counters (Butcher Block)
Butcher block countertops were widely used around the Depression, seemed to go out of vogue, but now coming back with great vengeance. Maple and oak are often the woods as they are hard and can stand up to wear. We are seeing wood surfaced counters used in conjunction with other stone/solid surfaces, as wood makes a terrific and practical accent to a kitchen, such as a built-in cutting board or when used on an island. Depending on where you live, wood surfaced counters will need some care – occasional oiling will help prevent them from drying out.

Stainless Steel
A sleek and contemporary countertop option is stainless. Think of your favorite restaurant –the chef is working on stainless surfaces throughout his kitchen. It goes with everything, is non-porous and very durable. You won’t want to cut on it as stainless does scratch and can dent, so be careful on how you use it.

Soapstone Counters
Soapstone is generally dark charcoal in color and has a smooth feel. It is often seen in historic homes, country-style and lately, we’ve been seeing it crop up in remodeled mid-century modern homes in the kitchen for countertops and sink material, and in mud rooms and laundry areas. You’ll need to regularly apply some mineral oil to keep it from drying and fading.

Marble has often been the stone of choice for the elite as it continues to be on the upper end of the price scale. Marble has a rich and luxurious look, but may not be a practical choice for most households when it comes to a kitchen countertop surface as it is a relatively porous material that is susceptible to staining and scratching. Perhaps a better spot for marble is in the powder room and bath. In the kitchen, marble may be a great supplemental stone to be used along with another of more durable and resilient qualities. It makes a great accent tile set medallion-style into the backsplash. Proper and regular sealants are a must.

Concrete Counters
If you’re looking for a smooth, more contemporary style, concrete may be for you. Although expensive to create, each is unique and can be molded into unusual shapes with interesting angles and inlays. (I was in a kitchen not long ago where the homeowner had her promise ring pressed into the corner along with some stones and shells she had collected years before). Concrete can be tinted to the homeowners’ personal tastes and the top can be finished and polished in a variety of ways. Concrete is somewhat porous and will need to be sealed. And, depending on how it is mixed, concrete can crack. When selecting your contractor, you will want to make sure they have experience in casting countertops and ask to see samples and/or testimonials as to their work.

For owner occupied homes, granite and engineered countertops are the most common choices for today’s renovations. Both have been found to be about the same from a hygienic perspective as they are similar in porosity and absorption. Tile and laminated counters are frequently seen in rental/investment properties because of material costs. As for my kitchen, in the end I selected granite for my countertop surface and then used 2” x 4” tumbled travertine tiles for the backsplash. I did not go with the highest grade of granite, rather one that was on the lower end of the spectrum with a more even and uniform pattern. And, by using a different material for my backsplash, I was able to reduce my granite costs. From a design perspective, I felt like I needed to break up the visual appearance of the granite by adding some color and texture variation to the space.

©2010 Tom Weiskopf, PLLC. Tom Weiskopf, PLLC is an AZ licensed real estate agent with John Hall & Associates serving the Phoenix area. For more information, Tom can be reached at (602) 953-4000 or via e-mail at