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From start to finish, 2012 was an extraordinary year filled with some interesting surprises. On the celeb front, when Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift weren’t making their fans swoon during concerts and sightings, they captured the attention of real estate watchers with their rumor mill home-buying headlines. Did they or didn’t they? (He did, she didn’t. Or, did she?)

Homes of NFL players caught the imagination of readers as did the locale for a steamy fan fiction bestseller (“Fifty Shades of Grey”). In between, readers clicked heavily on practical tips posts ranging from value-killing home renovations to tax tips every homeowner should know. And, since it was a presidential election year, our lineup of “Home of U.S. Presidents” appeared among the top ten most popular posts.

1. NFL Stars Score With Super-Size Homes

They take the big hits on Sunday, but NFL stars can console themselves at their lush and plush super-sized homes. From Tom Brady’s sophisticated townhouse in Boston to DeMarcus Ware’s mansion in Dallas (above), we found a slew of splendid real estate examples of how the gridiron greats enjoy the spoils of their mega-million salaries.

2. Beware of Value-Killing Home Renovations

Returns for additions can vary depending on where the home is located. Source: formanconstruction.com

The sky might be the limit when homeowners renovate to make their dwellings their dream homes (above), but it’s a different mathematical equation when it comes to evaluating the value of additions and decking when it comes to resale. See the principles for how much to spend — and where — for the greatest potential return on investment.

3. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

The Escala luxury condo building in downtown Seattle was the setting for “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Readers (i.e., mostly women), were consumed with the erotic writing offered in “Fifty Shades of Grey,”  which has occupied bestseller lists for months, including the venerable New York Times. What does steamy fan fiction have to do with real estate? The story setting is a glitzy downtown Seattle condo — the Escala, featuring stunning views of Seattle (above) and concierge amenities including a private spa, gym with yoga studio, private dining room, full catering kitchen and dining area with room for 140, theater room and dog run. The Escala is a little more like a five-star hotel than a condo building.

4. Best Places to Buy in 2012

Grand Rapids, MI, ranked first as Best Places to Buy in 2012

We ran the numbers for affordability and regional salary levels and came up with an interesting list of cities and regions across the U.S. where buying a home in 2012 was a great idea. From Grand Rapids, MI down to Oklahoma City and over to Phoenix, signs of recovery have helped put some of the country’s nice housing stock back in the limelight.

5. Offbeat Homes for Off-Beat Personalities

Architectural students at the University of Cincinnati helped their professor build this fabulously original and arty house.

Granted, most of us are looking for more traditional styles when it comes to our place of residence, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants a bungalow or craftsman or colonial. Our tour of experiments in architecture took us on a grand adventure, including Dick Clark’s eclectic cave-like structure in the hills overlooking Malibu. From a Hobbit House in Vermont to a grass-covered home built into a sand dune in Florida, there are no shortages of wacky, offbeat homes (above).

6. High-End Bathtubs

California dreaming becomes a reality in this soaking tub in a Dana Point, CA luxury home.

Forget a quick shower. Here is an enviable collection of homes where bathing has been elevated to an art form and where the actual tub is a work of art. From a marble beauty that transports the bather to Rome to stainless steel tanks to the luxurious reinterpretation of the deep, delicious porcelain claw-foot tub, it’s clear that in some of the most high-end homes, taking a bath is meant to be a dramatic performance suited for center stage. Especially when one tub is carved from solid granite. Slip on in.

7. Tax Breaks Every Homeowner Should Know

We’ve all heard that buying and owning a home brings with it certain tax advantages. But how many of us really understand the finer points of these tax breaks? Here is a list of the top deductions that homeowners should be aware of, especially if they file their taxes in the long form to maximize deductions.

8. Homes of U.S. Presidents

President Barack Obama’s home in Chicago.

Their goal is to get to the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the nation’s capital. But before they get there, or after they depart, where do our U.S. presidents hang their hats? We took a tour and found homes of some of the most recent U.S. presidents. As for George Washington: It’s more about where he slept, which — if you believe the lore — was just about every house in America.

9. Hideouts and Homes of the Mob

Al Capone moved south to Miami Beach and found a nice place to hide out until his death in 1947.

From shotgun shacks to remote cottages to some pretty lavish homes in the desert and by the sea, there’s nothing quite like the mystique of a home used by a criminal whose mug graced the FBI’s Most Wanted list. We found a bunch of them for your viewing pleasure at a safe distance: Al Capone’s Florida digs, Bugsy Siegel’s L.A. ranch and the rental in central Florida where crafty Ma Barker met her bloody ending.

10. Ask And Ye Shall Receive — Maybe

 

Contract negotiation is the time to ask for what appliances come with the house.

It’s not a guarantee that any item in a property you’re buying comes with the sale. That’s why negotiating during the time the contract is being presented is an important time to pay attention, or ask questions. Our real estate expert  Brendon DeSimone thoroughly outlines at least five things not necessarily included in your home purchase — a good refresher course for buyers and sellers!

Celebrities and Their Real Estate

Our blog just wouldn’t be the Zillow Blog without a few rousing tales of stars who buy from stars and other tales of high-end (and high-drama) real estate. From Ellen DeGeneres’ penchant for buying AND selling some of L.A.’s more notable abodes to the comings and goings of Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio and Oprah Winfrey, there was never a dull moment.

  • Josh Hutcherson buys from Ellen DeGeneres: For a teenaged star of “The Hunger Games” this was a very mature purchase, given the calm aura of this mid-century modern that had also been once owned by Heath Ledger.
  • Taylor Swift Buys Near Kennedy Compound: The blonde-tressed singer of catchy country-pop tunes caused quite a stir this summer when she reportedly bought a home near the Kennedy Compound and her summertime fling, Conor Kennedy.

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