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House design trends of the past and future

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Gutowski says high-tech homes will be to home buyers what Wi-Fi is to laptops. "Homeowners are seeking easy availability of broadband Internet access," he notes. Built-in wiring for computers and home entertainment systems, as well as upgraded heating and cooling, will help seal a deal.

Another feature high on everyone's list is an energy management system, or EMS, which blends technology and environmental stewardship. Industry has used EMS to cut energy costs for years. It works by using a computer to control energy use. Peter Corsell, president and CEO of EMS manufacturer Gridpoint, says skyrocketing utility bills and mammoth homes make EMS attractive to home buyers. "In the near future, we believe EMS will become as commonplace as AC," Corsell says.

Next year, many utility companies will offer time-of-use rates to homeowners, as they already do for industrial operations. Since energy rates are cheaper during times of lesser demand, EMS systems will operate some aspects of a home's appliances, and heating and cooling systems during periods when energy usage is at its lowest level.

While it's preferable to build an EMS into a home, not to worry: Your castle can be retrofitted. After all, as Corsell observes, in the case of energy prices, what goes up may not always go down. And there's a nice side benefit, too. EMS can be used to recharge the hybrid vehicles of the future -- whether they carry you over the open road or, as in the Jetsons' case -- high above the ground.

Homes from yesteryear versus tomorrow: 

Greener acres
Whether you live in the middle of a city or prefer to be miles from your nearest neighbor, the outside of your home can turn off -- or charm -- potential buyers as much as the inside. In fact, Scott Cohen, garden artisan of greenscenelandscape.com, who's appeared on several HGTV shows, says if you don't make the outside inviting, you'll blow potential sales.

One way to increase your home's curb appeal and value is both simple and timeless -- plant a tree. In fact, plant several of them. "It's 15 degrees cooler under the shade of trees than solid patio covers," Cohen says. "Plants transpire and evaporate moisture and cool the area."

Cohen advises that even if you don't hire a professional, consult with one early in the process to avoid planting the wrong types of trees. "Your selection should take into account whether they're root invasive, the amount of leaf debris and how they affect shade and sun," he says. "For example, use an evergreen where you want shade all year round."

Trees can be worth their weight in buyer's dollars. "Money grows on trees," Cohen says, explaining a tree that costs $100 today, will be worth $250 in a year and $700 in two years. Add those values right to your home's bottom line.

Another good outdoor strategy is to enhance your home's beauty with well-placed lighting. Cohen says an attractive entry pays for itself in lasting value. He recommends using good quality, timeless materials to dress up flowerbeds. "Don't get caught up in trends," he says. Instead, go for natural products like stone and brick. "They never go out of style."

Planting colorful shrubs and flowers add to a home's appeal, but Cohen says be careful not to use poisonous or noxious-smelling flora. A beautifully lit home with majestic trees in front and sweet-smelling bushes can prove very enticing to buyers.

Next "You can be up-to-date and classic at the same time. ..."
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Remodeling trends stick to the script
2006 Guide to Home Improvement
Remodeling room by room
Winner or loser: Mortgage shopper
Winner or loser: Home equity loans
Winner or loser: Auto loans

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