5 Cosmetic Home Improvements That Will Add Value and Livability

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Puffy Lux

Home is where your heart is, but sometimes you’d heart your home to have a little more flair. But if you’ve ever considered a remodel, you might’ve gasped at the expense — not to mention the hassle inherent in a major upgrade.

But that doesn’t mean you have to live with that ugly shag carpet a minute longer. Here are 5 simple and affordable cosmetic home improvements that can add livability now and value when you sell your house.

1. Create a home office

As people increasingly turn to telecommuting to save time and money, a home office can be an appealing feature. You might want to bust down walls to make a separate room, but there are more cost-effective ways to create your own space. After all, some of the most famous tech companies in the world were started in garages. While a contractor can make it into a real room for a price, you can also make do with office furniture, some cozy throw rugs, good lighting, and a space heater or fan.

2. Add extra space to your bathroom

One of the most useful additions to your house might be a bathroom. Just imagine, no more pounding on the door as the kids are getting ready to go to school. But that can be one of the spendier remodeling options at about $50,000 to $80,000. And surprisingly, it only recoups about 60% in resale value, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2019 Cost Vs. Value Report.

Instead, you can make your existing bathroom seem more spacious by adding a double vanity so 2 people can brush their teeth at once. You may have to have some plumbing work done, but it’s still far less than the cost of an extra bathroom! Increase your storage with a mirrored cabinet over the sink and shelves behind the toilet, and you might be surprised at how much more practical your space is.

3. Upgrade your kitchen

Maybe you’ve dreamed of swapping out all your appliances … and flooring and counters to boot. But there’s an easier and faster (and of course, cheaper!) way to make your kitchen look less dated. For starters, consider changing the drawer and cabinet knobs and pulls to a more modern or artsy look. Seriously, you won’t believe how fantastic your kitchen could look with updated hardware. Painting your cabinets can also make them shine like new. And while you’re at it, trade out your tired track lighting for of-the-moment pendants and bask in the glow of a refreshed kitchen that only cost a few dollars.

4. Create an outdoor living area

Sounds spendy, right? But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, outdoor kitchens and movie-theater quality tech might be all the rage, but you can create an “extra room” pretty simply with some hardy furniture that will stand up to rain. Add some charm with colorful pillows, string lights, and pots of bright flowers, and you’ll be ready for alfresco guests in your oasis all summer long. If you’re feeling ambitious, you might even install a fire pit. You don’t have to run a gas line or haul firewood, either. Simply choose a propane model and pick an area with level ground at least 10 feet away from plants. Just be sure to check laws in your city or county to ensure yours is up to code.

5. Add a fireplace

Outside fires are lovely, but nothing says “cozy” like an indoor fireplace. You can achieve the same ambiance much easier with a freestanding gas or electric fireplace. Masonry not required, no need for firewood to chop and store. For even more appeal, find one with a mantle or shelf so you have a place to display treasured photos (and hang your Christmas stockings, if that’s your thing).

Depending on the nature of your project, it’s also not a bad idea to think about your homeowners coverage. New materials might come into play and you’ll want to make sure coverage accounts for their value. If they’re ever damaged, having enough coverage could help replace them without putting a huge dent in your wallet.

With the right amount of know-how, even home-improvement projects can be surprisingly painless. 

DIY hacks | Home and garden

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about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she’s not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.

Does private insurance ever go after businesses?

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Puffy Lux

My kid fell and hurt her arm at a privately owned business that caters to kids. Kind of like a daycare. This resulted in an ER visit and a cast. I have no interest in holding them accountable as I do not believe them to be negligent.

I have private insurance through my employer which covered the visit. I'm just wondering, would insurance have any reason to go after the business? I would just like to let the business know I'm not planning on filing anything with them because I'm assuming they are probably concerned that's a possibility, but I didn't know if there's any reason for my insurance to go after them without my initiating it.

Thanks for your thoughts

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Help! Home Depot ruined my beautiful tile

Puffy Lux
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Alt account because of reasons. Long story short, I ordered a very nice refrigerator from Home Depot and the delivery guy severely scratched my kitchen floor in two different spots equaling about 9 damaged tiles. Now these tiles were already there when I bought my house 2 years ago and it’s a very upscale black marble with design. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I bought this house. I have no extras anywhere in the house or info of where the marble came from. Their Claims Examiner told me to find quotes for labor and material for new tiles since there’s no way of finding this exact stone even if I knew what and where it came from. My quoted price for about 1,000 sq. ft. of kitchen tile, labor and materials included totaled roughly $45,000. When I sent her the quotes, she replied, “Due to the amount of your estimates I will have to send an independent appraiser to your home. I have your address as ****** ***** ******. Please advise if I have your permission to send someone out?”

Now what are my options here? Should I allow for her appraiser to come and how “independent” is he? Should I get my own homeowner’s insurance involved and deal with subrogation even though I’ve heard mixed things about this. What should I do? Thank you kindly for your help.

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Geico denies claim because police report hasn’t come in ‘yet’ (MA)

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Puffy Lux

I was rear-ended about a month ago by a woman driving her boyfriend's work car. He had commerical Geico insurance. The police came took a report and she willingly stated that she was at fault.

I reported a claim with Geico (everything had to be through phone as it was commerical). The insurance agent was polite and took my information. Later she called me saying she couldn't reach the policy holder and asked for the police report number to verify my story, which I gave. Last week she called saying she was closing the claim because the police report had not come in "yet". How is this a valid reason to close a claim? I'm assuming there must be some performance numbers she needs to meet with closed claims but somehow closing a case before all the information has been gathered makes little sense to me.

I've called her office back and left a message, but if she refuses to anything about it what is my next course of action? Calling the police station myself? This takes place is Massachusetts by the waym

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Paying $210 a month for car insurance on a $1,000 car.

Puffy Lux
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I’ve shopped around looking at every possible car insurance company I can, and decided to stay with progressive when I bought this current car. Last car was totaled two years ago, it wasn’t my fault and is on record as such. It was about a $2,000 car and they gave me significantly less for it, so now I have a $1,000 car. It at least runs well after allllll the work I’ve done to it (probably $2,000 at this point).

I’m 27 years old and in Michigan, and the idea of insurance dropping as you get older always sounded amazing, but my insurance has never once dropped, not even a dollar. I’m paying $40 more for this beater than I did the previous car, all because someone almost killed me and my rates went up. My credit is also average. It pains me to pay a quarter of the car’s price every single month. Is there something I’m doing wrong somehow? I know it’s hard for anyone else to see without looking at my insurance documents but this isn’t right. It can’t be. I’m paying almost a quarter of my monthly paycheck. I’m looking into finding a job I can ride a bike to but there’s not much out here. It shouldn’t have to be like that though.

Any help is greatly appreciated.

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Medical Insurance

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Puffy Lux

Dumb question but… I have HMO insurance. This means i can only get covered if i use in network providers. I have a primary doctor, but they don’t have a vaccine i need to get. If i go to a different doctor and get the vaccine at their office, and it’s still in my network, I’m still covered right? As long as i use in network?

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Don’t expect your car’s safety tech to reduce insurance costs

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Puffy Lux

RUCKERSVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – Automakers are accelerating the rollout of technology designed to avoid crashes, but insurance companies are waving a caution flag at consumers eyeing discounts for buying cars with suites of accident avoidance technologies. 

The global market for such systems is expected to reach more than $67 billion by 2025, growing more than 10% each year. A group of 20 carmakers has pledged to outfit almost every new vehicle with forward collision warning and city-speed automatic emergency braking by 2020.

Government mandates to install technology such as collision-avoiding automatic braking systems are driving the market, as is the promise of profits for these higher-margin vehicles.

“Anybody that has been in a car with advanced safety solutions is not going to go back,” Kevin Clark, chief executive of auto technology supplier Aptiv PLC told Reuters. The cost for advanced safety systems – automatic braking, lane keeping and adaptive cruise control – can be relatively low to the automaker, between $500 to $1,000 per vehicle, Clark said.

“The (manufacturer) can price for it and consumers will pay for it,” he said.

Aptiv expects to book more than $4 billion in new safety tech business this year. “We have gone from five customers just a few years ago to I think we’ll have north of 20 in a couple of years from now,” Clark said.

The insurance industry’s perspective is different.

Personal auto insurance, while traditionally a low-margin business, provides the largest amount of liquidity to insurers, generating more than $244 billion in 2018 direct premiums in the United States alone, data by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners showed. Car insurance is also seen as a way for insurance companies to cross-sell other, more lucrative products to customers.

According to Swiss Re AG, the world’s largest auto reinsurer, and mapping company HERE, safety tech has the potential to reduce motor accident frequencies by up to 25%, cutting global insurance premiums for safety-tech-equipped cars by $20 billion by 2020.

But U.S. insurers said they currently do not have sufficient data to validate auto industry promises of safety benefits from automated driving systems.

They cite car manufacturers’ reluctance to provide detailed information on models sold with those features, a lack of consistent standards, drivers’ unpredictable use of the systems and higher repair costs.

“We’re not going to go against the data and create any type of false discounts for the purposes of marketing at this point. We just want to make sure the rate is reflective of the risk that it brings,” said Steve Armstrong, a vice president of Allstate Corp’s pricing department, one of America’s largest insurers.

Shantelle Thomas, also a vice president at Allstate’s pricing department, said insurance rates will reflect benefits and costs of modern auto technology in the next five years, but will not necessarily be presented as discounts.

The sentiment was echoed by other insurance providers.

“We’re stuck in a murky in-between,” said Jennifer St. John, national auto claims leader at Westfield Insurance. “(Safety tech features) have shown to provide real world benefits, but there really isn’t a great deal of commonality in terms of what’s out there.”

Insurers pointed to higher repair costs as a risk. Sensors and cameras central to automatic driving systems are mostly installed in a car’s bumper or windshield. Research by AAA has shown repair costs for even minor collisions can double if such sensors are damaged.

“There’s no such thing as a $300 bumper anymore. It’s closer to $1,500 in repair costs nowadays,” said Richard Lavey, executive vice president at The Hanover Insurance Group.

State Farm in a statement said it did not offer discounts specific to advanced driver assistance systems and that future rates would be shaped by a variety of factors, including safety, regulation, underwriting, liability and repair costs.

GEICO did not respond to requests for comment.

DATA DESERT

With new automated driving features being released on a rolling basis, insurers said it is difficult to keep up.

Forward collision warning with automatic braking has been found to have one of the greatest safety benefits among various driver assistance systems. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded in a recent study that automatic braking could reduce front-to-rear crashes with injuries by 56%.

But most safety tech features are still sold as optional equipment, making it impossible for insurance companies to validate which features ultimately end up on a specific car. Insurers are reluctant to trust car buyers to correctly identify what technology their vehicle has on board.

Advanced safety features not only differ in performance and description among different manufacturers, but even among models by the same automaker, according to research by IIHS and its UK equivalent Thatcham Research, which conduct road tests to evaluate safety tech performance.

“The only way you can adequately price is by getting more data to understand what a vehicle has and whether it makes a difference,” said Matthew Avery, Thatcham’s research director.

That data is not sufficiently provided by manufactures who often cite proprietary and competitive reasons, said Tom Karol, general counsel of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, whose members insure more than 170 million U.S. auto policyholders.

Automakers and insurers said they are dealing with the data issues. General Motors has a team working on safety tech and insurance, according to Barry Engle, head of GM’s North American operations.

Engle said he expects with better information, the insurance industry would respond positively. “To the extent that they are not, collectively we need to do a better job of communicating with one another,” he said.

Swiss Re is leading efforts to develop a global safety tech risk score and a mechanism allowing carmakers to supply data to Swiss Re, which in turn will recommend discounts to auto insurers. 

“If we say these cars are safer, insurers are more prone to believe us as we take part of the risk” as a reinsurer for consumer-facing auto policy writers, said Sebastiaan Bongers, Swiss Re’s head of products and technology.

Bongers believes reductions in accident frequency and severity will eventually offset higher repair costs. But he said lower premiums could result in temporary liquidity problems in the insurance sector in about 10 years.

Swiss Re so far has partnered with BMW and is in talks with more auto manufacturers to develop a comprehensive system.

I had an infusion done while I thought I was had insurance but I got hit with the bill

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Puffy Lux

I thought I was covered and I had been for every infusion up until this last one but after almost 2 month past my parents give me some mail and a bill for $26,691.00 from my doctor is in it. They didn’t bother to look at the mail and I don’t live at their house anymore so the bill is overdue by a week but I didn’t get it until yesterday.

Either way I can’t pay this at all and I would have never done it if I knew I wasn’t covered. So I have no idea what to do or what steps I need to take so if you guys have any suggestions on what to do to help with this situation that would be great.

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American drove car to Toronto, Canada. Meet with an accident. Need advice.

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Puffy Lux

In short I am visiting canada. Came on 2 weeks vacation. I drove my car here from New Jersey. On July 12, 2019 I met with an accident. I was going straight through the lights nd the guy comming from opposite side made a left turn nd hit me. I guess I am not at fault because I was going straight and the other guy taking a left turn should have yield to me. My car was towed from the accident. I have insurance through GEICO. They don't operate in Canada so they have to go through a 3rd party to have my car inspected and then appraisal would be approved by them. It seems like it's gonna take a month for everything to fix up. Anybody been through this situation or knows what can I do. July 29 and still i am waiting for the insurance compnay to do something. I can't go back to new Jersey because have to get car fixed and stuff when the inshurance approves the estimate. Can't stay here because employer gave 2 weeks holidays, been like 4 weeks I'm here. What are my options?

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