What Really Makes a Property Appreciate?

Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Buying, Market, Neighborhood | 0 comments

Re-Posted from DAILY REAL ESTATE NEWS | TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 2017 A home’s value generally appreciates 3 percent to 4 percent every year, which is attributed mostly to population growth and inflation. However in 2016, homeowners saw appreciation jump to an average of 6.3 percent.®’s research team sought to find out what would boost a home’s value even more and what home features buyers may be willing to pay more for. Researchers analyzed millions of listings on® from 2011 to 2016 to calculate the annual price growth rate of homes with certain features. Here are some of the clear winners in housing appreciation: Small homes: Homes smaller than 1,200 square feet appreciated by an average rate of 7.5 percent a year for the past five years. On the other hand, larger homes of 2,400 square feet or more rose by 3.8 percent a year. The smaller-home demand is being driven by millennials wanting to enter the market with a more affordable starter home and baby boomers who are looking to downsize,® notes. Further, smaller homes are in shorter supply, which is prompting prices to increase more due to the high demand, says Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal firm. Two-bedroom homes: Homes with two bedrooms appreciate at a rate of 6.6 percent a year, compared to homes with five bedrooms that appreciate at 4.3 percent a year,®’s research team found. Open floor plans: Homes with open floor plans appreciate 7.4 percent a year. It’s the hottest appreciating home feature that® studied (see side for full list). As for features like stainless steel and granite, Miller says those amenities don’t really add any value to a home. “Those are what I call ‘have-to-have’ features,” Miller says. “A home needs to have them in a competitive market. But they don’t add long-term value. … Ten years from now, when you update your kitchen, they’ll be replaced.” Modern and contemporary homes: Modern and contemporary architectural styles have the highest potential for appreciation, increasing at about 7.7 percent annually. This style of home is known for simple, geometric shapes, and large windows. Newly constructed modern homes also tend to be energy efficient. Bungalows and Traditional are the next highest appreciating styles at 6.5 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, niche styles like Craftsman bungalows and Victorians are among the lowest appreciating architectural styles, at 3.7 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. Researchers speculate that may be due to some of the maintenance responsibilities in staying true to the home’s historical architecture that is often connected to these styles of homes. Green space views: Homes with a park view appreciate at 7.9 percent a year,®’s research team found. “[They] hold value over a longer period of time, and they recover quickly from a downturn,” says Michael Minson, a real estate pro in San Francisco at Keller Williams. “Buyers appreciate the tranquility and outdoor activities. They like being close to nature.” Indeed, homes with mountain views appreciated on average by 5.1 percent, and homes with a lake view at 4.9 percent. Ocean views appreciated the least of the “home views” studied, at just 3.6 percent a year. Recent storms may have spooked buyers from oceanfront properties as well as the fact that the highest-cost homes tend to be along...

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The Understated Master Bathroom

Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Buying, Home and Garden, Selling | 0 comments

From post on BY BARBARA BALLINGER Master bathrooms, along with the average home’s overall footprint, grew larger in recent decades. And with more square footage came excessive luxury and expense—tubs with aromatherapy kits, exotic countertop materials, coffee makers, small refrigerators, and showers for two with an arsenal of body sprays that performed like a human-sized car wash. But changes are afoot. As homes have decreased in size, many people prefer to put any extra space into other areas of the house, such as closets, says Stephanie Pierce, senior manager of the design studio at MasterBrand Cabinets. They also don’t always see the need for more than one tub in the house, and often there’s already one located in bathrooms designated for children or guests. Concern about getting money that’s been invested in a remodel back at resale is another driving force spurring home owners to spend less on master bathrooms. It’s tough to justify significant expenditures when buyers seem to attach greater value to adding a deck or replacing a garage or entry door, according to the 2015 “Cost vs. Value” report. Bathrooms remodeled with upscale finishes and fixtures, for example, cost around $54,115 this past year and returned only an estimated 60 percent of that in the sales price. Less costly midrange redos brought back a better return of 70 percent, according to the same survey. Yet, having a personalized, functional master bathroom with a touch of luxury remains a buyer priority. “People aren’t going to the extreme they once did, but they want a room that looks fresh,” says Sarah Barnard, a designer in Santa Monica, Calif. Rather than relying on trends from the hotel industry as has been popular in years past, Elissa Morgante of Morgante-Wilson Architects in Chicago says, home owners are more likely to use their own needs as inspiration. Case in point: Nikki Wheeler resisted a designer friend’s advice when remodeling her master bathroom in her 1890s Denver home. “She was pushing me to knock down walls to create a magnificent oasis. I thought with an older, more historic home, creating these giant hotel-style bathrooms didn’t fit,” she says. Wheeler kept within the existing footprint, adding a vaulted ceiling and upgrading the shower, countertop, cabinets, and floor. Making these types of changes can make a big difference when selling, says sales associate Paul Wyman of The Wyman Group in Kokomo, Ind. An outdated bathroom requires a lot of work, and most buyers will favor a house with a redone bathroom over an unfinished one, he says. Today’s understated master bathrooms are influenced by the following eight style categories. Encourage your buyers and sellers to pick and choose which upgrades or which categories to focus on to come up with their own personalized take on this trend: Aesthetic. In recent years, spas inspired the emergence of tranquil, often monochromatic bathrooms. But many home owners found the look too spare and didn’t want to feel like they lived in a hotel, says designer Tiffany LeBlanc, whose eponymous firm is based outside Boston. “People want a look that’s more authentic and personalized, with their favorite colors and materials,” she says. The preference now, Barnard says, is to eschew classical or historic styling, even in traditional homes and for older clients. Chicago designer Tom Segal of...

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Top 10 Home Design Trends To Expect In 2017

Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Buying, Market, Selling | 0 comments

From post on JAN 6, 2017 @ 06:00 AM Mitchell Parker, Houzz Editorial Staff Looking for some great ideas for your home? How about a voice-activated assistant that will give you a weather update while you pour coffee into a preheated mug from a warming drawer? Not your style? No worries — there’s something for everyone in this preview of 2017 design trends. We plowed into Houzz data, sifted through popular photos and articles, and talked to industry leaders for this look at 10 things we think you’ll be seeing more of in the home in 2017. 1. Satin brass. Brass finishes have been making a comeback in recent years, cherished for their ability to bring shiny golden tones to a space without the high price tag. But more recently, designers like Elizabeth Lawson have been turning away from the reflective finish of polished brass and embracing satin or brushed brass, which is more muted and warm. “I especially like a satin brass finish because it’s transitional and can complement a number of styles,” says Lawson, who used the finish in the kitchen shown here. “It also looks amazing against almost any color of the rainbow. I think we’ll continue to see rooms with satin brass for quite some time and also possibly mixed with other finishes for a more eclectic look.” 2. Voice-activated assistants. There’s been a lot of talk about voice assistants in the home. It’s something Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the Consumer Electronics Show every year in Las Vegas (Jan. 5 to 8, 2017), says will be big in 2017. Amazon’s Alexa, which is enabled in the Echo Dot shown on this side table, acts as a voice-activated interface for many smart home devices. Google Home’s voice assistant launched about a month ago. These devices work through activation phrases like “Alexa” or “OK Google.” The devices, placed throughout your home, are always listening in somewhat of a dormant state. Say the activation phrase, and the device fires up and awaits your command. Ask it to give you the weather or play a song from Spotify or dim your lights or power up the hot tub. Early last year, Amazon opened its platform to third parties and has since added thousands of integrated features from smart home companies like Lutron, Crestron, Philips Hue, Wemo, Honeywell, Nest, Samsung Smart Home to other services from Uber, Domino’s, NPR and more. Google Home just launched its voice-activated assistant about a month ago, and DuBravac says he expects the company to open the platform to third-party companies soon. “What you’re seeing is continued maturing of the smart home ecosystem,” he says. “It’s still a very nascent technology. Maturing isn’t something that happens instantaneously, but over time.” 3. Vanity conversions. If you’re having trouble finding the right premanufactured vanity for your home, try thinking outside the cabinet box. Many savvy homeowners are finding chests of drawers, old file cabinets, vintage consoles and more, and converting them into one-of-a-kind vanities. 4. Hardworking kitchen storage walls. In search of more open space, many homeowners and designers are doing away with expanses of upper cabinets and pushing all that storage onto a single hardworking wall. This one-stop hub frees up the rest of the space to...

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These Doors Can Modernize Your Listing’s Look

Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Buying, Home and Garden, Selling | 0 comments

From post on JANUARY 2017 | BY MELISSA DITTMANN TRACEY A front door with pizzazz has always had a starring role in a home’s curb appeal. But lately, the doors inside a home are getting a closer look for their ability to add style and address design challenges. Strategically placed doors can offer privacy in open floor plan environments or increase the usability of cramped spaces.   Real estate pros Helene Bonello-Strauss and Malte Strauss with Trust International Real Estate LLC in Orlando, Fla., who also manage the staging blog, have used barn doors hung on sliding tracks above door frames and pocket doors, which tuck inside a wall, in several remodel and staging projects. “We use [barn doors] all the time in master bathrooms where there is a vanity area that is separate from the tub [and] commode area,” says Bonello-Strauss, also a home stager. In some older homes, vanities are located in the master bedroom rather than in the bathroom, a style that quickly can date a home. “Now we just close those off with a barn door, and buyers love that solution.” She also recently used two barn doors hanging from each side of an open door frame to solve an open floor plan’s privacy issue. The homeowners had built an addition off the living area that could be used as a guest bedroom, but they never installed a door to separate the bedroom from the main area. Bonello-Strauss added the double barn doors so the space could be used as a guest bedroom or opened to expand the living area when not in use by a visitor. “It truly makes the room and provides an architectural interest to an otherwise bland wall,” she says. But don’t be thrown off by the word “barn.” Your listing doesn’t have to be country chic to benefit from this space saver. The concept works in many styles, from walnut barn doors for traditional homes to galvanized metal doors for urban lofts, says Lynn MacMillan, with Gem Home Staging & Designs in St. Catharines, Ontario. Pocket doors vary widely too, from all glass to all wood and from designs that stretch to the ceiling to those that are only waist-high. Sliding doors can attach to a kitchen island and can be used to close off areas to pets or children when needed. “I prefer using sliding doors in all my projects,” says designer and architect Lilian Weinreich in New York. Sliding glazed doors, she says, help create enlarged, obstruction-free bathrooms and walk-in dressing areas. Homeowners needn’t break the bank on these door styles. Costs vary, but barn doors start around $400 (with do-it-yourself installation). A pocket door can run about $550 (including installation and labor), according to the site But designers also point out the need for caution. “You don’t want overkill with this trend. A barn door is a statement piece. It’s artwork. You wouldn’t use it in every room,” says MacMillan. But in moderation, barn and double-pocket doors “instantly elevate a home’s style in a way that will make others take...

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Beige Is Back: And There’s No Blah About It

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in DIY, Home and Garden, Selling | 0 comments

From post on By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine  Beige is pushing out gray as the hottest neutral color tone in homes heading into 2017, according to several color forecasters. Beige had once been cast aside in home design as too boring. But the beiges gaining popularity again and some of the newest shades are far from boring, if paired correctly. Beige comes in many tones, dark and light. Take a look at Sherwin-Williams’ 2017 Color of the Year: Poised Taupe (SW 6039). This brownish-gray color has plenty of contrast to help make the whites in the room pop. Many beiges are more subtle. And it is true that too much of a softer neutral tone of tans could lack the same pizzazz. How can you spice up your beiges to avoid those beige blahs? A recent article by contributor Janet Dunn with Houzz offers tips on modernizing a beige backdrop.         Try bolder colored accessories. Make it pop up against higher energy colors that you bring in through accessories, like pillows, rugs, artwork, vases, or even chairs.           Weave it in with browns. Yes, beige and brown can go together in a décor scheme. Just make sure you keep the tone differences enough to add depth and variety to the shades of browns you mix.       Pair it with black and white. Add the contrast of black with some white to update a beige color palette. You’ll give a room a more modern edge.           Try it with some pastels. Beachy brights, highlights of white, and pale aqua accessories or furnishings may also help to modernize up the beige walls. Blend in some texture. Use a variety of textures so the neutral color backdrop doesn’t start to feel stale. For example, metallic, velvets, and natural linens can help give the beige walls a more updated...

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Creative Ways to Market Odd Spaces

Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Buying, DIY, Home and Garden, Selling | 0 comments

Originally posted on One client’s closet is another client’s playroom. Plant imaginative ideas in your staging and marketing copy demonstrating how outdated rooms and home features can better meet the needs of today’s buyers.   OCTOBER 2016 | BY BARBARA BALLINGER What do you say to buyers who look at a listing’s floor plan only to focus on the large space labeled “dining room” that they know they’ll rarely use? The fact is, buyers and sellers may have vastly different perceptions about how they want to live in the same home. But that doesn’t have to be a deal-killer. Part of the problem stems from how architects and builders label rooms on plans, says Chicago-based commercial interior designer Mary Cook. “Rooms get designated and labeled for specific purposes, so it’s difficult to break that perception and think about them as spaces that are something else,” she says. But as a real estate professional, you can help make a difference with the descriptions you write in your marketing materials and with the way you talk about space in a listing. Clever copy can provide just the right inspiration for buyers who might have otherwise turned away. A huge log-burning fireplace dominating a living room can be recast as a “built-in entertainment center to gather around,” suggests designer Lonnie Unger of Fredman Design Group in Chicago. Just be sure to make concrete suggestions that buyers can visualize, even before they zoom in on photos or step through the front door. Whether you’re working with sellers who have outdated notions of their listing’s assets or with buyers who can’t imagine how they’d use a space that doesn’t seem to apply to their lifestyle, we’ve amassed some talking points that can help you smooth out the conflict. Here are five examples to inspire you to help your clients imagine what can be, rather than allowing what is to become a deal breaker. 1. What it is: Oversized walk-in closet The big closets that came along with the McMansion trend were often outfitted with shelves, rods, cabinets, and even storage islands and seating space. As conspicuous consumption falls out of favor, these spaces may seem like a waste for some buyers, who’d rather spend their square footage elsewhere. What it can be: “Practical laundry space adjacent to master bedroom.” Because large walk-in closets are usually well illuminated and may even have a window for daylight, they offer numerous possibilities. How about an upstairs laundry by the bedrooms? After all, this is where most of the dirty clothing originates, so why should home owners trudge down to the basement with their hampers? If the space is large enough, a built-in ironing board or folding counter could work well, and closet shelving can be repurposed as a place to keep laundry supplies. If there’s leftover space, home owners could carve out a corner for crafts. Jennifer Ames, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago, notes that this idea is often appealing because few home owners want to give up a whole bedroom for such activities these days. 2. What it is: Built-in kitchen desk As kitchens became gathering hubs with more equipment, counters, and seating, many home owners wanted a desk with wall plugs and phone jacks where they could pay bills, schedule family...

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Small Prefab Homes: ‘The Best-Kept Secret in America’?

Posted by on January 27, 2017 in Buying, Home and Garden, Market | 0 comments

By Lisa Johnson Mandell | Nov 29, 2016 Marry the small-house craze with the equally hot trend of prefab homes, and what do you get? Small prefab homes, which are the housing industry’s equivalent to miniature schnauzers tied with a gift bow on Christmas day: extremely cute and increasingly in demand. Or, so argues Sheri Koones‘ latest book, “Prefabulous Small Houses,” which explores the beauty, variety, and benefits of small-scale prefab construction in all its glory. Also the author of “Modular Mansions” and “Prefabulous World,” Koones argues that these prefab homes may be small, but they are so beautiful and well-built, you can’t tell the difference between them and the supposedly “nicer” houses constructed on-site. Robert Redford, who wrote the foreword, is also a fan: “Building smaller, along with building houses prefabricated—in the process using less time, fewer materials, and using both more efficiently—is the sanest and wisest recipe for home construction, for now and for the future.” We talked with Koones about what we can all take away from these modest yet amazing dwellings. Q: What’s the biggest misconception people have about small prefab houses? A: The important thing for people to understand is that prefab homes today are literally indistinguishable from site-built houses. Realtors® don’t even have to disclose a house [they are selling] is prefabricated. I interviewed someone who bought a prefab panelized house, and he didn’t understand why I wanted to interview him. I explained, “your house is panelized,” and he said, “no, no, my house is a very expensive luxury house.” I said, “yes, it is,” and it was panelized and that means it’s prefab. Q: What do you consider a ‘small house’? Is it the same thing as a ‘tiny house’? A: The smallest house I feature in the book is 352 square feet. I differentiate that from a “tiny house” in that the one I write about is connected to the grid, it has a foundation, a septic system, plumbing electricity, etc., and it meets all the local codes. The largest house I feature is 2,500 square feet, and I’m considering that small, because it’s one of the smaller homes in Santa Monica. It’s all relative to the area. Q: What are some of the basic elements of the small prefab houses? A: In all of these houses, space is used in an intelligent way. A lot of the rooms are multipurposes. There are no large hallways or wasted space. All were built in less time than a site-built house would take, and are sustainable and low maintenance. Those are elements everyone seems to be looking for in homes these days. Q: Are small prefab homes less expensive than houses built on-site? A: Well yes, if they’re smaller. But price per square foot is usually about the same. But you save in other ways. Construction costs are reduced, because small prefab homes take much less time to build. There is less wasted material. Building on-site, you pay for wood, drywall, piping, etc., and the cutoffs go into dumpsters, which you have to pay to rent. When your home is built in a factory, you only pay for what you get, and the overages are recycled. Q: Are prefab houses really as strong as site-built homes? A: Yes! One contractor described it this way: You could never lift a site-built home with a crane and put it on a foundation—it would fall apart. But a prefab house is built strong, so it can travel along the...

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5 Cleaning Hacks to Keep Your Home Looking Show-Ready 24/7

Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Home and Garden, Market, Open House, Selling | 0 comments

By Angela Colley | Nov 30, 2016 When you’re selling your home, you must be ready for people to pop in at a moment’s notice. And no, it’s not like when your neighbor drops by to ask you to water her plants while she’s on vacation, and leaves in five minutes without noticing how many dishes are stacked in your sink or the layer of dust on your coffee table. Nope, these people will scrutinize. And they will judge. But you’re still living in your home—how do you keep it clean enough to make a good impression, no matter the time or day? It turns out you don’t have to hire a live-in housekeeper, and your life doesn’t need to come to a screeching halt just because you’re showing your house. Try these hacks to get the job done quickly and easily, so you can free up your time—and save your sanity. 1. Work the room Half of my cleaning problems come from not knowing where to start. I walk into a room, picture myself trying to clean all the things at once, get overwhelmed, and suddenly feel the urge to sit down for a while. Apparently I’m doing it wrong (no big surprise there). But if you know how to work the room, cleaning will go much faster.“ At first, follow the top-to-bottom and left-to-right rule for each room in the house,” says Lauren Haynes, home organizing and cleaning expert at Star Domestic Cleaners. That means start by dusting the ceiling fan, the top of the bookshelves, and anything up high before moving on. Going from left to right (or right to left, if that feels more natural) will keep you on task and make the cleaning go faster.“Then focus on the top eye-catcher places and things like floors, ovens, and bathroom [fixtures],” she says. While your instinct might be to clean everything, you might also go crazy trying to pull it off before every showing. Instead, zero in on what the potential buyer is likely to notice, Haynes recommends—cleaning it every day or two, and then doing a deeper clean once a week. 2. Use mobile storage As soon as you know you’re going to show your house, pack up everything you don’t normally use. “Remove all the nonfunctional stuff or things which don’t contribute to the overall look of the property,” Haynes says. It’ll feel weird to live like that at first, but the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to clean. Once you’re down to the stuff you actually need, find a way to quickly and easily hide it when it’s time to show the house. “When we had a viewing on short notice, we used plastic and cardboard boxes where we stored our belongings,” says Harriet Jones, supervisor for Go Cleaners London. “Pick a box with a different color for each room so you can find and return those items to the respective rooms easier. You can place the boxes in the garage during the viewing.” 3. Fake the good habits Sure, it might take a lifetime to actually develop good habits, but you can always fake it until you sell your house. By taking small steps throughout the day, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and keep the house clean around the clock. In the living room, pick...

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The 5 Real Estate Trends That Will Shape 2017

Posted by on December 30, 2016 in Buying, Market, Selling | 0 comments

By Cicely Wedgeworth | Nov 30, 2016 We won’t pretend to know everything that 2017 will bring—heck, 2016 sure surprised us—but we’re pretty certain there will be changes. A lot of them. And while the surprise triumph of Donald Trump in the presidential election won’t alter the fundamentals shaping the 2017 real estate market, its impact is already being felt. We’ve seen interest rates jump since the election, a movement that’s likely to affect the youngest generation of home buyers. Just like last year,®‘s economic data team analyzed our market data and economic indicators to come up with a picture of the key housing trends for 2017. As we prepare to bid farewell to 2016, it looks like we’ll be saying goodbye to the last of the record-low interest rates of the past few years, too. Interest rates have shot up 40 basis points, or 0.4 percentage points, since Trump’s election. And that’s significant, especially for first-time home buyers, including many millennials. “With more than 95% of first-time home buyers dependent on financing their home purchase, and a majority of first-time buyers reporting one or more financial challenges, the uptick we’ve already seen may price some first-timers out of the market,” says Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke, who worked on the 2017 housing forecast.According to the forecast, the 2017 national real estate market is predicted to slow compared with the past two years, across the majority of economic indicators studied.  But maybe “slowdown” isn’t quite the right description. “I would characterize our 2017 forecast as a moderation, as opposed to a slowdown,” says Smoke. “The pace of growth is still strong and, for pricing, still represents an above-average level of appreciation.” Smoke says we’re mostly reverting to normal prices, after years of appreciation as the housing market recovered from its 2008 crash. Recovery is good, but the flip side is that pricing is tougher for consumers, Smoke points out. “Throw in higher mortgage rates, and it becomes more challenging to be able to afford homes compared to what it was over the course of this recovery,” he says. Here are some of the key predictions for 2017: 1. Millennials and boomers will move markets In 2017, the U.S. real estate market will be in the middle of two massive demographic waves that will power demand for at least the next 10 years.Millennials and baby boomers, the two largest American generations in history, are both approaching life stages that typically motivate people to buy a home: marriage, having children, retirement, and becoming empty nesters.Smoke predicts that millennials will make up 33% of buyers in 2017, lower than his original estimate due to those increasing interest rates. 2. Millennials will look to the Midwest While the financial picture may look grim for our youngest home buyers, the Midwest, with its affordable cities, still looks good. We believe Midwestern cities will continue to beat the national average in terms of its proportion of millennial home buyers in 2017. Leading the pack are Madison, WI; Columbus, OH; Omaha, NE; Des Moines, IA; and Minneapolis.“It’s easier for millennials to buy in more affordable markets like in the Midwest,” Smoke says. “We’re also seeing large numbers of millennials buying in Midwestern markets with or near big universities. So part of this is an effect of recent graduates with good...

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8 Unexpected Housewarming Gifts a Hostess Will Never Forget

Posted by on December 16, 2016 in DIY | 0 comments

By Jennifer Geddes | Nov 30, 2016 Odds are you’ve made the rounds to plenty of people’s homes for parties, be it for a housewarming, the holidays, or other event. And, as you should know by now, a prime way to work your way into the party host’s good graces is to bring a little housewarming gift. Only what? Allow me to fill you in. When it comes to parties, you name it, I’ve hosted it. Super Bowl? Every year, without fail. Triple Crown race? Twice, in fact, for 30 people each. New Year’s Day soirees, spring fling cocktail parties, Thanksgiving for 24 (two turkeys, seven pies), and even a Kentucky Derby/Cinco de Mayo combo. As a result, I’m an expert in hostess gifts. From the good and the bad to the downright ugly, I’ve gotten it all and I’m here to say: No one wants your cast-off bottle of chardonnay. Same goes for that rancid candle in a jar. Instead, do the right thing and offer up something your hostess reallywants. Here are eight perfect picks that are all but guaranteed to result in a return invitation. Breakfast the next day It sounds obvious, but almost no one offers up this godsend: After a late night of wiping up spills, doing mountains of dishes, and putting away every piece of glassware I own, I’m exhausted. The next day, all I want is to sleep in and enjoy a ready-to-go meal. It doesn’t have to be homemade jam or granola (though both are excellent choices). Instead, a yummy loaf to slice and slather with butter is ideal, especially if it’s an almond stollen from Red Truck Rural Bakery ($31). New dish towels I use at least two or three every day, which means after a few months they end up looking stained and frayed and downright nasty. A guest who brings a pretty tea towel or dishcloth gets extra meatballs and the top-shelf bourbon in her Old-Fashioned. I literally leap for joy when I see this gift coming. These beauties from CypressInk ($10 each) are a good place to start. (I love the jellyfish and the octopus!) These towels are hand-printed with eco-friendly ink on soft cotton Something personalized My husband loathes fancy cursive monograms, but he’ll live with personalization at home if it’s a very simple version. Coasters or cocktail napkins with the host’s last initial are very welcome. Even better is this useful and unusual gift ribbon from Namemaker ($21) for the endless holiday wrapping that’s coming up. Personalized ribbon is also a two-fer, eliminating the need for a name tag. Personalized ribbon is cute and useful. Candles I don’t mean boring white tapers or those 100-pack votives, though I do stock a cabinet full of each. Instead, seek out something really beautiful—maybe one that’s shaped like the pear below ($6), or a couple of big pine cones or sparkling silver Christmas trees. Anyone who entertains with any frequency goes through a ton of candles in every shape and size. A lovely shape in an autumnal hue A better bottle Guests bring wine because they think it’s appropriate, plus it’s easy to just grab a bottle and go. But if I’m throwing a party, I’ve definitely ordered a case or two already. If you must bring vino, up the ante and make it Champagne, which I don’t normally keep around. Or be more interesting and choose mezcal for a friend who likes tequila or sherry...

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