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Tidy garages turn trendy

The garage continues to take center stage as a well-designed working space.

Whirlpool started this with its line of Gladiator storage and work components, clad in corrugated metal: workbenches, cabinets, wall-hung storage systems, even a beer refrigerator on wheels.

You can see the Gladiator line in the models at the Villas of Carillon, a new project of three-bedroom, 2{-bath townhomes starting at $284,900 off Ulmerton Road at the Carillon Town Center in St. Petersburg.

Not to be outdone, Sears Craftsman is unveiling its version of "garage storage solutions," including a locker, several cabinets, storage backwalls and workbenches. View them now at, and watch for them in stores in April. They have a platinum enamel finish with black tubular frames.

What's behind the move to clean up and dress up the garage?

Part of it has to be that for many of us the garage is the main portal of entry into the house. Lots of us almost never use our front door. We see the clutter and disarray of the garage a couple of times a day as we come and go.

"I think it's closely tied to the McMansion craze," said Bob Vila, the television remodeling-show host who promotes Craftsman tools. He was on the phone recently to talk about Craftsman's line of garage fittings.

"With the per-square-foot cost of real estate, you take a three-car garage and you've got a bunch of old boxes full of junk _ it's nice to do the real big cleanup, spruce it up and make it work for you," Vila said. "It's a wonderful way to take advantage of the real estate."

And there's a lot of real estate involved. As of 1995, Census figures show, 76 percent of new homes had at least a two-car garage. In 2000, a survey by the National Association of Home Builders showed that 24 percent of potential buyers preferred a three-car garage, 54 percent a two-car.

And this isn't cheap space. Take a typical two-car garage at 448 square feet. At $100 a square foot, a ball-park figure for midrange new construction, you're spending $44,800 for those parking spaces.

Vila said he thinks "probably 95 percent of the move is driven by women," who are big buyers of gift tools and who would like their garages to look better.

The Craftsman components are priced from $149 to $180; the whole package totals $1,800. Vila's favorite is the $120 project center, a five-drawer chest on wheels with a plastic-and-steel worktop that he says is impervious to corrosives and chemicals. "It can live in a corner of your garage, or it can navigate its way into the house" when you're working on a project.

Builders have welcomed these garage fittings because they provide a way to turn a garage into a profit center. When all you have to offer a buyer is a garage-door opener, it's pretty humdrum. When you can offer the upgrade of a garage that makes every guy feel like Bob Vila (well, maybe Tim Allen), there's profit to be made.

Older buyers get wired

The Internet is an essential tool for home buyers age 55 and older, a survey conducted for ERA Real Estate reports.

That contradicts the popular assumption that people in that age group are technophobic, afraid to touch a keyboard, out of step with the wireless world.

The survey of more than 1,300 people age 55 and older showed that the Internet was second only to driving around potential neighborhoods as a way to find homes to buy. Nearly 70 percent of seniors who said they might look for a new home in the next five years cited "photos and virtual tours" as the most important tools available when looking for property online.

Most seniors said they wanted single-family homes, not townhomes or condos or adult communities. And the No. 1 choice regarding the distance they would consider moving was less than 20 miles from where they live now.

House of Say-It-Isn't-So

Film critics have been ecstatic over House of Sand and Fog, a new movie starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley as former and current owners of a Northern California bungalow.

The film is an excellent argument for keeping your house in order, literally, in terms of title and ownership.

The county forecloses on Kathy Nicolo (Connelly) for nonpayment of business taxes. Exactly why one's home would be vulnerable for business taxes is never clear. Nicolo has already been to the county courthouse to explain why she doesn't owe those taxes, but the county forecloses erroneously anyway and sells her home to Massoud Amir Behrani (Kingsley), a former colonel in the Iranian air force.

Nicolo's attorney seems magically unable to get an accurate name and spelling for the new purchaser. (Could you go down to the courthouse and look it up? Could you tap into a database? This information is keystrokes away.) Tax sales like this get continued and delayed all the time, so the notion that Nicolo _ even though she's been ignoring the notices sent her in the mail _ is abruptly booted out on the street with her possessions in boxes is pretty hard to believe.

Even when everyone agrees that the house should never have been foreclosed on and the sale was in error, the bureaucrats shrug their shoulders and say, "Oh, well!"

The colonel, who bought the house in good faith, will relinquish it only for enormous amounts of money, which the county isn't willing to pay. Isn't it time for a call to risk management? Isn't it time to call the title company and say, "We have a problem here"? (Or didn't the county bother to obtain clear title to the property and title insurance before selling it? Does the colonel have owner's title insurance to protect him against a screwup like this?) Maybe Nicolo's character should call the local newspaper and blow the whistle on this sloppy deal.

Nicolo says she inherited the house from her father, but she's so dysfunctional you wonder if she ever bothered to have the title transferred from his name to hers. She is recently divorced, so you have to wonder too whether her ex-husband's name is also on the title, and if so, whether he got proper notice of the foreclosure.

And we won't even ask whether anyone pulled proper permits for the observation deck the colonel hires a contractor to build atop the house to obtain a view of the ocean. (We'd like to know how he got a construction crew there so fast: The rest of us wait months for contractors to fit us into their busy schedules!)

Neither Connelly's nor Kingsley's character is sympathetic _ there is no good guy to root for in this dreary, depressing movie _ but we do have to feel sorry for people who are the victims of bureaucratic ineptitude. A first-year law student could have handled this deal better, but then, of course, there would be no movie.