6 Ways To Create A More Serene Stress-Free Home

Your home is supposed to be your haven, the place where you can relax and wash away the stresses of the day. But, if your house is messy, cluttered, or designed in a way that opposes certain Feng Shui principles, it could actually be adding to your stress. Apply a few tips to make your home the serene spot it should be.

Plant a garden

It might seem seem like getting dirty in the yard could raise stress levels, but it turns out just the opposite is true for many people. It’s “so effective at combating depression, stress, and anxiety that it’s often used in ‘horticultural therapy‘ at psychiatric hospitals,” said Rodale’s Organic Life.

Perfect Backyard Vegetable Garden Design Plans Ideas |

For maximum benefit, choose crops that “can also have an impact on your mood,” they said, including “potent antidepressant foods and herbs” like Swiss chard, which is “packed with magnesium, a nutrient essential for the biochemical reactions in the brain that boost your energy levels. Cherry tomatoes are another great choice because, “Tomato skin is rich in lycopene, a tonutrient that actually stops the buildup of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression.”

Bring some plants indoors, too

A little greenery sprinkled throughout your home can be beneficial physically because it improves air quality. Researchers have also found a link between houseplants and a person’s emotional state.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, say that ‘bringing the outdoors inside’ can offer some of the benefits that are lost by retreating indoors,” said the Daily Mail. Plants reduce stress levels, improve mood and filter polluted air. A review of the scientific evidence suggests that workers are more productive when their office is filled with greenery, and hospital patients even tolerate pain better if there is a plant on the ward.

Perhaps most importantly, plants also trap and filter pollutants that are linked to thousands of deaths a year.”

Declutter

There’s a big difference between having a few too many knickknacks on the shelf and dishes in the sink and being a full-blown hoarder, but too much clutter can definitely have an effect on your emotional state. In fact, there is a proven link between clutter and depression, researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered. Among their findings: “A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel,” said Houselogic. “Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess, which accounts for tensions between tidy wives and their clutter bug hubbies. Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel.”

A few Houselogic’s easy decluttering tips include:

  • Adopt the Rule of Five. Every time you get up from your desk or walk through a room, put away five things. Or, each hour, devote five minutes to de-cluttering. At the end of the day, you’ve cleaned for an hour.”
  • Don’t let dishes pile up. “A clean sink will instantly raise your spirits and decrease your anxiety.”
  • Pare down photos. “Put snapshots in a family album, which will immediately de-clutter many flat surfaces.”
  • Aim to actually see your refrigerator again. “Researchers found a correlation between the number of items stuck to the fridge door and the amount of clutter throughout the house. Toss extra magnets, file restaurant menus, and place calendars in less conspicuous places.”

Add a water feature

Live on a busy street or have other noise you’d like to mask? Maybe you just need an easy way to add a relaxing feature to your environment. A fountain may be your answer.

“Studies show that being near water reduces stress levels. As little as five minutes with nature can help reduce stress hormones, but being near water may have a stronger impact,” said Masterplan Landscape Design. “Evaporating water produces negative ions, which are invisible, tasteless, odorless molecules that we inhale. Negative ions have been shown to boost moods and lower stress hormones.” 

If you’re building a pool, keep the fountain idea in mind. Not only will it add the de-stressing benefits to your yard and provide a great focal point, but pool fountains and waterfalls have an added benefit in helping keep water cool – great for areas where hot temps can make the pool feel like a bath by mid-summer.

Reconsider your color

Color theory shows that certain hues can bring energy and excitement while others can help us feel more relaxed and serene. For instance, if you find yourself unable to sleep in a red bedroom, blue might be a better choice.

Color can have a huge impact on our experience of a space – but that doesn’t mean it has to be colorless to be calming,” said Houzz. “Color is personal, so spend time getting to know how color (or a lack of it) affects you, and intentionally choose your home’s colors to create a tranquil feeling. For some, an all-white space would be the ultimate in calm and relaxation, while someone else may get that same calm, cool feeling in a rich mineral-green room.”

Apply the principles of Feng Shui

Color therapy, decluttering, and bringing nature indoors are all considered principles of Feng Shui, but a few more can impact how you feel at home.

“The benefits associated with the promotion of organization, relaxation and productivity that’s central to Feng Shui” could be realized by something as simple as leaving your shoes at the door – a “purposeful way of leaving all outside events and potentially negative stressors out of your home or ‘safe haven,'” said HealthCentral.

Another top tip: Create sacred sleep quarters. “Sleep deprivation is linked to maladies ranging from anxiety to heart disease to breast cancer,” they said. “Feng Shui suggests choosing a bedroom away from a noisy street and positioning the bed in the back corner of the room, diagonally opposite from the door. Additionally, while in the bedroom, avoid artificial light from electronic devices, as this stimulates the brain to stay awake.”

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Is This The Ultimate Example Of ‘What Not To Do’ When Listing Your House For Sale?

There’s a new home listing that’s been making the Internet rounds this week, and it’s a must-see for anyone who is selling their house, considering selling their house, or just wants to do a little point-and-stare. Oh, and for mannequin lovers. Let us explain.

The house in question is a large, gated estate on Jones Creek in the desirable Houston-area city of Richmond. I’ts listed for $1,275,000. At five bedrooms, five baths, and 7,406 square feet, with two acres of pastoral grounds backing to a scenic creek with a cattle ranch on the other side, and features including an art studio, game room, trophy room, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, and a garage apartment, it’s seemingly a gem.

But that assumes you can actually see any of what the home has to offer. The owner of the home, whose identity is undisclosed, is an artist. And the home is her canvas. Oh, and her tools aren’t paint, they’re…well, see for yourself.

Did you notice the figure hanging on the stair railing? That’s a mannequin. And he’s not alone. In fact, one notable real estate insider has even teased a contest to guess the number of mannequins in the home. “Our team has been chatting about this house now for a few days,” said CandysDirt. “Home stagers are running for Xanax.”

It definitely begs the question, “What is art and what is clutter?” It also makes you wonder what the initial conversation was like between RE/MAX FINE Properties agent Diana Power, who’s listed the home, and her seller. We assume it, at least, included the words, “de-cluttering,” and “staging” and “storage.

It goes without saying that this array of art and accessories may be just a tad excessive and perhaps also a little bit distracting. And maybe also kind of weird, or at least eccentric. It makes for a great spectacle – and certainly brings a lot of attention. But will it sell the home? “She has lots of collections,” Power told Huffington Post. “It’s not hoarding or clutter; it’s art.”

But that’s hardly the end of the discussion, and it brings up a few more keys for selling your home.

Mind your curb appeal

A house that’s picture-perfect on the inside but questionable from the street isn’t doing a seller any favors. It takes just a few seconds to form a first impression. If the mannequin standing at the front gate (presumably, the community’s HOA either limited the number of mannequins to one or made sure it was inside the gate, or both) doesn’t raise an eyebrow, perhaps the knocked-down and haphazardly restacked mailbox will. I mean, we presume it was knocked down and haphazardly restacked. It could be “art,” after all.

 

Don’t creep people out

Yes, the clutter in this master bedroom is overwhelming. But beyond the sheer amount of stuff in the space, why is there a mannequin at the foot of the bed? Even more curious: all the dolls stuffed into the bookcases. One look and I’m heading right back out the door. You?

Bonus question: Where do you even get all those mannequins?

 

 

Wait. Foot-of-the-bed mannequin has a friend. Or two? Who’s that climbing under the table?

Show off the goods

Most sellers, and, certainly their agents, would insist on framing that view out to the pool and creek. But, between all the taxidermy (real or faux), pelts, knickknacks, dolls, blankets, and furniture, it’s hard to even focus the eye, even with that grand expanse of glass.

 

Maybe this serene view of Jones Creek makes it all better? Is that a mannequin riding the lawnmower?

 

This home has great features throughout. In the living room, there are beautiful built-ins, gleaming hardwoods, an elegant fireplace, and detailed dental molding all around. But you have to look hard to notice any of it.

“You can see the charm of the house underneath it all, from its $300,000 foundations to the way the windows are framed in cement and stone,” Powers told ABC13. “I think that the person who will end up buying this house can see the forest from the trees.'”

Let’s test that theory in the kitchen. This gourmet space has professional grade appliances and a huge island – and every inch of it has been covered with something to distract potential buyers from the great features.

At least the seller staged a mannequin at the island to showcase the eating bar. That is a mannequin, right?

 

 

 

Look at the features in this library. Behind all the books, papers, rugs, birdcages(?), and a mannequin that is WALKING ON THE CEILING, there are some stunning bookcases, and French doors that lead out to a patio and pool – if you can manage to get to them.

Does it make you more interested in seeing the home, and, if you do want to see it, is it only to count the mannequins?

And, P.S., don’t get any ideas about trying to buy the home with everything in it. The owner has stated she’s “taking everything” with her when she moves on.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

How Green Can You Go? Eco-friendly Solutions For Every Commitment Level

It’s hard to ignore the influence of big oil in Texas. Thirty-five miles to the Southwest of Frisco, TX, this year’s second-fastest-growing city in the nation and home to thousands of suburban families like my own, whose electric bills climb up into the $300-plus range while cooling their 3,000-square-foot house, Irving-based Exxon is the biggest oil producer in the world – and that’s just the tip of the oil well. Frisco is also among the Texas cities where deregulation among power options is still not a thing, BTW. Oh and there’s also a fun Texas law that “allows builders to restrict solar-energy devices while a housing development is under construction,” said the Dallas Morning News, and when they would be most convenient, and most cost-effective to install, in most cases.

This is not the place you’d expect to see, oh, I don’t know, a luxury community of eco-friendly homes with features including grass rooftops.

But that’s precisely what is being proposed by architecture and design firms Stantec and Total Environment, who presented the concept “for a 57-acre, single-family home development” with luxury homes featuring low-energy, environmentally friendly products” to the Planning and Zoning Commission this week, said Frisco Community Impact. “These types of homes are popular in other countries such as India and Dubai, and, if approved, would be the first in the U.S., according to developers.”  

 

It begs the question: Did green living just move from the fringe to the forefront? If eco-friendly homes can come to oil-rich, fracking-loving Texas, are we talking game-changer? Could be.

We’re still a long way from hiring landscapers to manage our rooftops en masse. But, in the meantime, it’s easier and more rewarding than ever to live a leaner, greener life. So it might be time to ask yourself: How green can you go?

Here’s our breakdown of some of the best ways to incorporate a more eco-friendly way of life into your world, no matter your commitment level.

Green “lite”

You may already have thought of some of the easiest ways to go green, like recycling at home, watering plants early or late in the day when the sun is not at full strength, and doing laundry and dishes during the coolest part of the day to save your air conditioning from working overtime.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) are probably already on your radar, which is a great thing, since, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CFLs use as much as 75% less energy than those old incandescent bulbs and can also last up to 10x longer.

Here are a few easy changes you can make that you may not have considered:

Replace nonstick pans with cast-iron. “To create the slick surface of nonstick cookware, manufacturers apply chemicals called fluoropolymers, which are released into the air when you cook at high temperatures, according to the Environmental Working Group,” said Prevention. “Worse, the chemicals break down into compounds such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a likely human carcinogen that’s also been linked to heart disease, and can get into your food.”

Do your wash in cold water. Energy Star says that close to 90 percent of the energy used for laundry goes to water heating. Buy some cold-water detergent and you’re good to go.

Set your TV picture to “normal” instead of the manufacturer setting. “Many flat screens are shipped from the manufacturer with a picture setting that makes it stand out in retail displays, but are brighter than you need at home and consume 10 to 20% more energy (and cash) at this setting, reports the NRDC,” said Prevention.

Ditch your regular house cleaners. Many of them can include toxic ingredients that can harm the environment and are also potentially dangerous to members of your household. The only things you really need to clean just about everything in your house: baking soda, white vinegar, and lemon.

Trade your regular mulch for rubber. Mulch is great for your yard because it keeps moisture in and also makes it look nice and tidy. But rubber is a step up from the bark-like texture you’re probably used to seeing. “Made from 100-percent recycled tires, rubber mulch is suitable to use on most landscapes,” said HGTV. “It has several benefits: a safe play surface for children, prevents weeds, does not attract insects and water and air can easily flow through it.”

Green medium

Looking to make a larger commitment to green living? There are changes you can make outside of daily efforts like watching your water and electricity usage and choosing products with a more eco-friendly profile for everyday use.

Seal it up. Sealing up any leaks can make a big difference in the heating and cooling loss that’s driving up your bills – as much as a 20 percent difference, according to Energy Star. It’s also a pretty DIY-friendly task, but to get the best results, you may want to hire a professional Home Energy Auditor who can give you the lowdown on where your home is deficient and recommend changes.

Start composting. “Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead,” said the EPA. “Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” Their easy composting guide will give you all the info you need to for a DIY compost.

Replace your appliances. That old fridge is working hard to cool what’s inside, and that’s costing you – literally. It, and its friends the old dishwasher and washer and dryer, are sucking up energy and dollars. Swapping them out for newer, Energy Star versions, is good for the environment, and your bank account. Whether you get a new refrigerator or not, these tips from Prevention will help you save even more: “Keeping your fridge pushed tight up against the wall limits circulation and makes the unit work harder, increasing your energy use and costs. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to safely keep the fridge’s coils clean. If you’re one of the 25% of U.S. households using a second, older fridge, considering recycling it. Running an older – model fridge – ones commonly used in basements or garages – could cost your family up to $300 a year. Temperature makes a difference, too. Proper fridge temp should fall anywhere from 35 to 38 degrees – anything lower wastes energy.”

Hardcore green

Window replacement falls here because it can be a big dollar commitment. “All-new vinyl windows for an average 2,450-square-foot house run about $15,000, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report’ from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®,” said Houselogic. But, the good news is that you’ll save “$126–$465 a year when replacing single-pane windows, according to Energy Star. And, “For average-quality vinyl windows, you can recoup 80% of the project cost in added home value, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report,'” said Houselogic. Based on the vinyl window replacement projects in the report, that’s a value add of about $12,000 if you should decide to sell your house.”

Other “major commitments” include:

Use spray foam insulation. Give that old pink stuff the heave-ho. “An alternative to traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation, spray foam traps more conditioned air within the home, allowing for significantly less leakage and consequently, reduced energy use year round,” said CBS. “Containing rapidly renewable material, spray foam insulation does not produce harmful emissions and is also water and shrink proof, which translates into zero framing distortion over time — a huge construction plus. A study done on side-by-side homes, one with traditional insuation, and one with spray foam, “found that the use of spray foam to create an unvented attic (Home CP2a) lowers the HERS (the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured) score from 84* to 79, and results in a net annual energy savings of 16%. When spray foam is used to provide an unvented attic and insulate the exterior walls (Home CP3a), the HERS score is reduced from 84 to 78, and the annual energy savings increases to 22%.”

If you’re building from scratch, consider the material. You already know that bamboo is a top choice because it is renewable. But have you thought about recycled steel? “Two out of every three tons of new steel are recycled from old steel, making it the most recycled material on the planet,” said CBS. “According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel also uses less energy and emits fewer harmful CO2 emissions than many other building materials, making it an optimum green choice. You also can’t beat steel for durability.”

Choose sustainably harvested materials. You can get a natural wood look without the guilt by looking for eco-friendly options. “Put in formaldehyde-free cabinetry to avoid releasing environmental toxins,” said Nolo. “Better yet, go for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which will be sustainably harvested.”

Go solar. Forget those ugly solar panels. Elon Musk and Tesla are in the process of upending the roofing industry with their Solar Roof glass tiles, which are “offered in four styles of Tuscan, Slate, Textured, and Smooth” and which “look like regular roof tiles from ground level, but embedded with photovoltaic solar cells underneath,” said Teslarati. The first installations are expected soon, and are also said to be less expensive than many traditional roofing materials.

Reclaim your water. Water reclamation is an easy enough undertaking that it could go in the medium category above. But, for many, people, the idea of recycling water is slightly traumatizing, so it’s going here instead. The thing is, you don’t have to recycle all the water in the home to reap the benefits from an eco-friendly perspective. If the idea of blackwater, which includes wastewater from toilets as well as dishwashers and garbage disposals,gives you the shivers, you’re not alone. Companies are busy working on black water recycling systems, but, for now, you only need to concentrate on gray water, “which is tap water soiled by use in washing machines, tubs, showers and bathroom sinks,” said How Stuff Works. “Gray water reclamation is the process by which households make use of gray water’s potential instead of simply piping it into overburdened sewage systems with all the black water.

The advantages of gray water reclamation for your wallet include lower water and sewage bills. Additionally, reusing gray water’s otherwise wasted nutrients from soap (nitrogen and phosphorous) and food (potassium) can sustain plant life and recharge topsoil.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Tapping Your Rising Home Equity

If you bought a home recently, it may already have increased in value. Equity growth goes hand-in-hand with pride of ownership (and fun stuff like tax breaks) when it comes to homebuyer goals, so say a big, “Yay!”

“Nearly 91,000 homeowners regained equity in the first quarter of 2017, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic’s latest housing report, said Realtor.com. “Since the end of the most recent housing crisis, 9 million owners in total have regained equity, the report notes. About 63 percent of all homeowners have seen their equity increase since the first quarter of 2016, with the average owner gaining about $13,400 between then and the first quarter of 2017.” According to Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic, that’s the “largest increase since mid-2014.”

But, before you go making plans for all that equity, either by doing a cash-out refinance (if possible and prudent) or getting a home equity loan, take a pause. That money may be best left right where it is. If you still want to tap that equity, here are some of best – and worst – ways to use it.

Home renovations

When your home has equity, it can be tempting to use it for home renovations, which, presumably, will further raise your home value – or at least make your home prettier or more functional. Knowing which renovations pay you back is key to making smart choices. Review Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, which “compares average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets.” You can then take your research further, viewing data for your regional area. This will help you decide if that $50,000 kitchen is a good investment, or if that attic renovation you were considering will be a bust from an ROI standpoint.

A new car

That fancy new car is calling your name, right? Does it make sense to use some of your home equity to finance or buy it outright? Ask yourself this: Is this a car you can’t afford without using your home equity? Can you afford to pay the difference in your current monthly payment and what will be your new payment – plus the monthly cost of the car?

“During the housing bubble, consumers used home equity borrowing to pay for everything from boats and gambling junkets (clearly bad) to cars and kitchen renovations (not so bad), said Interest.com. “The problems these homeowners experienced during the financial crisis and recession taught us that even some ‘not so bad’ spending should be scratched from our list of acceptable uses. So, while we used to say that financing a car with a HELOC was OK, we no longer believe that. Besides, auto loans are now one of the few types of consumer loans that are cheaper than home equity loans or lines of credit.”


Additions

Adding on to a home can be a great way to make it more livable, especially if the space is inadequate for your family. The Cost vs. Value Report can be useful here, too. You might be surprised to learn that a midrange bathroom addition typically only pays back an average of 53.9%. But, if you bought an older home that only has one bathroom, adding another could have a much higher ROI that makes the addition worth it.

When it comes to larger undertakings, “Studies show that nearly all of the cost of a mid-range two-story addition may be recovered at the time of sale,” said The Spruce. “The key here is ‘may be recovered,’ as there is no predicting the real estate market years in advance. While this might seem like a ‘no-brainer,’ it needs to be mentioned. More space means higher heating and cooling costs, more windows to wash and gutters to clean, increased property taxes, and more house to clean. Even though additions offer the potential for higher cost-value ratios than other renovation projects, you still may not recover the full cost of the addition when you actually sell.”

Vacation

That European cruise or trip to Machu Picchu sounds like a great idea, especially because you’ve got some cash to pay for it with the rising equity in your home. But consider this: You may be paying back the money you spend on that vacation long after you return home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

What You Need To Know Before You Buy In A Planned Community

A particularly active spring storm season left pockmarked roofs and tumbled fences throughout North Texas this year, including many in my master-planned community, thanks to an EF0 tornado that blew its way through the neighborhood (thankfully missing my house – this time). The process of repairs and replacements was as fickle as the tornado itself. Some homeowners received immediate or at least prompt approval from the community Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and its Architectural Review Committee (ARC), while others were forced to wait and wait and wait – which would be frustrating, even if this weren’t the wettest June in 13 years. In one case, a homeowner’s approval was inexplicably delayed so long, even though she was only looking to replace her damaged roof with the exact same roof, that she suffered leaks and damage to the interior of her home.

That’s one of the rubs of living in a community that is governed by an HOA: You need approval to do stuff to your house, even if that stuff is going to be an improvement over what it currently looks like. It’s not the only potential downside, but there are also plenty of advantages associated with an HOA. And with more than 40 million U.S. households “or 53% of the owner-occupied households in the America” living with an HOA, according to HOA-USA – a number that’s on the rise with new construction, of which more than 60% have an HOA – it’s something you might have to deal with. Get to know the pros and cons so there won’t be any surprises.

Pro: An HOA protects your investment. “HOA rules and regulations help ensure homeowners keep their homes well maintained and in compliance with overall appearance standards,” said Signature Homes. “Combined with proper care of amenities and common areas, the value of your home is more protected than one that does not have HOA oversight.”

Con: Limits your creativity and individuality. HOAs may offer limited options when it comes to updates. Older neighborhoods may have a small color palette available to owners and may be reluctant to expand it to current trends.

Pro: You won’t have to deal with neighbors painting their house pink or letting their grass grow to armpit height. “Homes within an HOA must meet the standards set by the association or face a fine, so you’re less likely to see unkempt lawns, peeling paint or a garishly painted house,” said Realtor.com. “Some HOAs have a design review board with the power to approve any changes to your home’s exterior.”

Con: Those restrictions can be Confining. An HOA demands that you ask permission before making any changes to your home – even if you’re just talking about staining your fence the very same color. Depending on how finicky your HOA is, you might also get fined because your landscaper took the week off or because the basketball net in your driveway is torn (true story).

Pro: File this under the umbrella of “protecting your investment.” Many HOAs have stipulations about how many cars, or what type, can be parked on your property, or even where they can be parked. That can help ensure that the neighbor down the street doesn’t turn his lawn into an auto body shop with multiple non-functioning cars up on blocks.

Con: Looking to park your RV or boat in your driveway? An HOA may nix that idea. Be sure you check ahead of time to make sure this is allowed.

Pro: An HOA decision may not be final. Get a rejection from the HOA on your submitted request to make changes to your landscaping? You can always appeal and state your case.

Con: Deciding to “ask for forgiveness instead of permission” rarely goes well, so, if you decide to go ahead with changes despite not receiving an approval from the HOA, beware: You might be fined.

Pro: Some HOAs take care of things like your front-yard landscaping and trash removal, which means you don’t have to pay for it or worry about it.

Con: That also may mean strict restrictions about what you can and can’t plant in your front yard. You may have to reconsider those rose bushes.

Pro: You might not have to put in a pool because there’s one in the community that you’re helping to pay for through your HOA dues, but don’t have to maintain.

Con: When the pool needs to be redone, it’ll be you and all your neighbors that are on the hook to pay for it – even if you never use it.

Pro: A pool is just the beginning. Planned communities with an HOA can have golf courses, tennis courts, clubhouses, playgrounds, and even private lakes for fishing and recreation.

Con: The more amenities you have, the more you’re likely to pay in HOA dues. In a large masterplan with a couple of pools, a playground, and a tennis court, you can pay as little as $50 per month. The more homes that are added, the more the overall cost is spread out. A more “typical range” is $200–400 per month, said Investopedia, adding that, “The more upscale the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the homeowners’ association fees are likely to be.” In some condos, the fees may be higher if parking and security are considerations, and, especially, in a luxury building with amenities including a fitness center and concierge. “Hollywood’s fancy Sierra Towers condo building, which is filled to the brim with amenities like 24-hour concierge service and valet parking. They charge residents of a 3,400-square-foot condo about $4,000 per month in HOA fees,” said Realtor.com.

Pro: You’ve got a built-in mediator. “Involved in a tiff with your neighbor over that big oak tree that’s losing limbs? You can settle some confrontations with your neighbors by taking your grievances to the HOA’s board or management company,” said RISMedia.

Con: Maybe you’re the type that wants to “handle” grievances in your own way?

Pro: Some HOAs allow you to pay monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Con: Falling behind on HOA dues can lead to foreclosure. “This is another reason you’ll want to make sure those HOA fees are in your budget,” said Credit.com. “An HOA can move to foreclose on your property if you fail to pay its dues and/or associated late fees. Laws can vary by state. A few, for instance, place limits on when an HOA can move to foreclose. So if you’ve fallen behind on payments, you may want to consult a local attorney about your best recourse.”

Pro: Part of what you’ll pay to the HOA every month goes to a reserve fund, which can be used for neighborhood repairs and emergency needs.

Con: The reserves may not be enough to cover large expenses. “In addition to monthly fees, if a major expense such as a new roof or a new elevator comes up and there aren’t enough funds in the HOA’s reserves to pay for it, the association may charge an extra assessment that can run into thousands of dollars,” said Investopedia.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Early Planning For Retirement And Inheritance

Question: We are nearing retirement, and are becoming concerned about our future, and the future of our children.

Going through our books and records in preparation of our 2016 tax returns, we began to wonder what we should be doing now to make sure that there will be no surprises that can affect our future or the inheritance of our children.

Do you have any comments?

Answer: I could write a book on this subject. Too many of us live active lives, do not concern ourselves with future problems and basically are living on a “day-to-day” basis.

But if we take the time to think about these matters, and if we look around our house, we begin to realize that some careful planning is needed for the future.

Here are but a few ideas for you to consider. Clearly, you should discuss all of these matters with your family and your legal, tax and financial advisers.

Do you have adequate life insurance coverage? Many of us took out insurance policies years ago, and often have not reviewed the coverage to make sure it is adequate for the needs of our survivors.

More importantly, where beneficiaries change (because of divorce or death) the policy must be corrected to reflect the appropriate beneficiary. In recent years, insurance policies have changed, and the tax laws have changed. What you have obtained ten or fifteen years ago may not fit your current needs.

Indeed, some people begin to realize that as they get older, and their children become self-sufficient, the level of insurance can in fact be reduced. You should discuss all of these matters with your insurance adviser.

Is your house insurance adequate? Many insurance policies have automatic increase provisions to periodically boost the coverage.

Make sure the replacement value of your house meets industry standards, so you will not suffer a financial loss if your house is destroyed.

Do you have a Last Will and Testament? If not, you are strongly advised to give serious consideration to preparing one now.

And even if you have a Will, if it was written years ago, your legal and tax advisers must be consulted to make sure that the new tax laws will not adversely affect your Estate. With the new adminstration — and talk of serious tax reform — I recognize it is difficult to make decisions. However, don’t put your planning off; there is no guarantee that the tax laws will be changed in the foreseable future.

Additionally, you should consider signing Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney to cover situations where you may be in an accident and not able to handle your own affairs.

Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has made it clear that if you are medically diagnosed as totally “brain dead,” and you want the doctor to “pull the plug,” you must make your intentions quite clear — preferably in writing — so as to give guidance to the doctors. This is known as a “Living Will” or a “Declaration,” and will be necessary if you have to go into a hospital.

If you do not want to be artificially maintained by life-support equipment in the event of an accident, you should prepare a Living Will declaring your intentions while you are able to do so.

Are titles to the family assets in a form acceptable to you for inheritance and tax purposes? You should explore with your advisers the pros and cons of such things as (1) creating a revocable trust, or (2) preparing a “deed on death“. Many states have now adopted laws that allow you to prepare and file a deed that does not take effect until you die; but you have the abolute right to cancel the deed at any time during your lifetime.

You must also consider what will happen when your spouse dies. For every document that you enter into, always have an alternative person designated, just in case the person you do authorize to take certain actions is not able nor willing to assume that obligation.

Finally, if you die or are seriously incapacitated, will your family be able to find all of your legal documents and papers? Often, one party in the household handles the books and records. The other spouse has no idea whatsoever where things are.

Both of you should sit down one weekend and make a comprehensive list of your assets and liabilities. If you have stock certificates, certificates of deposit, life insurance policies, or other valuable documents, make a list where they are, so your family will not have to suffer more under the circumstances. You should also make a list of people who should be contacted in the event of a problem.

This list should include at the very least the names and addresses of your attorney, accountant, insurance adviser, executor of your Will and administrators of any pension plans.

Life has become quite complex. If you do not put your own “house in order,” the courts and the tax authorities will make decisions on your behalf (or on behalf of the Estate) which may not be in anyone’s best interest. Careful planning now can save considerable aggravation and frustration for your family in the long run.

Written by Benny L. Kass

Easy Ways to Make Your Patio Look Great This Summer

Summer is the perfect time of year to be outside with family and friends. The cold weather, snow and rain are gone, and you see bright, sunny days ahead of you. If you’re getting ready for a season full of pool parties and barbecues, here’s everything you need to make your patio look great:

Update Your Furniture

It’s a new season with new trends, so you might be in the market for new patio furniture, or your old furniture just needs some updating. Chances are your cushions and pillows are looking faded, worn out and tattered from last year, so replace them with new cushions or fabric covers to match the rest of your decor. Don’t be afraid to go with bold and bright colors or big designs because they won’t dominate the area since it’s an open space.

You also need enough furniture and seating to fit your family and friends. Get a large round table or a long rectangular table for your guests to eat, snack and set down their drinks. Add extra chairs or a love seat around your table so you can add more people than your immediate family when you host a party. Go for items that are easy to clean so dust, dirt and spills don’t permanently ruin your furniture.

Make Some Shade

The summer sun can be intense, so you need shady areas to give yourself and your guests a break. Get a table with an umbrella in the middle to provide some shade while you’re eating dinner on the patio. Or add an umbrella on the top step of your pool or behind lounge chairs to stay cool.

If you want a larger shady area, set up a pavilion with a canopy roof in a section of your yard. Add chairs, side tables and a reading area underneath. You also can build a pergola and cover the top and sides with growing vines or climbing plants. This will add some color and nature to your patio as well as provide you with shade.

Light It Up

Transform your patio into a summer wonderland by lighting it up at night. Once the sun goes down and the temperature drops, you’ll want to relax on your patio with a nice cocktail or dessert with a lovely glow around you. For a touch of glamour, install an outdoor chandelier or light fixture over your patio table and chairs. String up hanging lights from the roof and side of your pergola to light up your ivy or plants. Put a few candles in translucent vases on side tables surrounding your other furniture or in the middle of your table. This is a great place for you to include some of your accent colors and add a delicate touch to sometimes bulky furniture.

Make It Party Ready

Now that you have the necessities, it’s time to get to the fun part. You want people to see your beautiful summer patio, so give them an excuse to come over for a party. Set up a grill, cooler for drinks and counter space to prepare and display your summertime treats. If it tends to get cool at night, get a table with a fire pit in the middle or build your own fire pit where you can roast s’mores and tell ghost stories. You also should invest in some lawn games and board games that you can play well into the night.

Written by Realty Times Staff

Aging in Place – What Exactly Is It and Can You Do It?

I was recently on the Charlotte Today Show where i spoke about aging in place. Here is a taste for what we covered.

  1. What exactly is aging in place? The goal of aging in place is to help seniors live in the residence of their choice, for as long as they are able and get any help they need for as long as they can. That sounds kind of simple but there is more to it. It is about maintaining and/or improving quality of life. In order to do that, you need a good plan that focuses on your quality of life. This plan should be maintained over time as your situation changes just like you review your will from time to time. Aging in place is a choice and it not relegated to “old” people. We can all plan for aging in place sooner in life. A couple with a growing family who moves from the started house to a bigger one can imagine a day when the kids are grown and wonder if they could grow old in that house.
  2. So I imagine that it starts with your physical environment, your home. Yes. And there are two things to consider. Can you remodel your home so it is safe and efficient for aging in place or do you need to consider a new home? There are numerous areas to consider – Kitchen, Bathroom, Laundry Room, Bedroom, Home Exterior, Garage, Carport & Parking, Common Areas. So let’s pick one, the bathroom, because that is an area where falls can easily happen. Plus at 59 and 62 respectively, my wife and I just had our bath remodeled with aging in place in mind. The ideal situation is to have plenty of clear space to accommodate someone in a wheelchair around the toilet, bathtub or shower stalls. Having the toilet at the proper height can make an incredible difference in the comfort and safety of your bathroom. Replace the toilet with one that is the proper height or buy a seat extender. Installing grab bars can dramatically and economically increase safety in the bathroom. You can find stylish ones that don’t scream nursing home! Shower seats and an anti-slip coating to the tub floor are reasonably priced options. There are also a wide variety of walk-in tubs on the market. The most accessible option is a roll-in shower. An adjustable shower head is a great way to add accessibility to a bathroom. For help, there are a growing number of contractors that have earned the Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Home Builders. If all of this is too much then you should consider an independent senior living community that incorporates these features.
  3. Health care is probably a major priority for older people. How can they plan so that they have access to health care when they need it? First the obvious. Keep yourself in the best shape you can. Really. I have seen too many people in elder care facilities where age did not catch up. They did not keep up. You can’t live in your own house if you have major health problems. Many senior communities are built with access to doctors and hospital locations nearby so that is an advantage of buying a home. If not, consider. Are there adequate health care facilities nearby? Do physician’s offices offer in-home visits or remote health care? Do you have proper transportation to and from appointments should you not be able to drive? Have you made your health care wishes known and do you have someone appointed to speak for you should you become incapacitated?
  4. What other services should be close by to age in place properly? Even with the best house for aging in place, if community supports are not nearby, it makes it harder to stay in your home. Faith-based institutions are important to many people. How close are they? Do they have transport. Can you find centers that provide for social activities, friendships or volunteer opportunities? What transport options are available? Is retail and restaurant establishments close by? Can you access home maintenance people delivery services for groceries, shopping services?
  5. What else should we consider? We talked about spelling out your health care wishes. You also have to plan for how you will pay for your long-term care needs so securing the services of a good and ethical financial advisor is key. Plan early.

Simple DIY Projects That Will Increase the Value of Your Home

Looking to boost the value of your home without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars? You can! Making changes in certain rooms, like the kitchen and bathroom, is more beneficial than in others. These simple DIY projects will help increase your home’s value the most.

Modernize FixturesChildren in the Kitchen

 Replacing outlet covers can cost less than a dollar each, but if they have paint or other things on it, it’s a good change. While you’re at it, consider updating the outlets themselves. For about $25-$30 you can buy an outlet that also includes two USB charging ports. With all the smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices lying around, just a few of those, well-placed, can make a big difference. Think about the rooms in your home that don’t have enough outlets and the rooms that are most used for charging.

A less expensive upgrade? Doorknobs. Mismatched, broken, and dingy doorknobs can be a major deterrent. For a small amount of money per knob, you can update the look and make the whole house more visually appealing.

Lighten It Up

The more light you can add to your home, the better. Freshening up or removing curtains can brighten your home and make it more inviting.

curtains for living room picture window

Replacing windows is also a great way to add value to your home, particularly true if you live in an older home that has a lot of windows that stick or that let in the heat or cold. Installing energy efficient windows can also get you a nice tax break. However, poorly-installed windows can let in water, which can lead to mold and cracked foundations, so this isn’t for everyone.

Old light fixtures, or light fixtures that are dim or unappealing should be replaced to brighten the house.

Makeover the Bathroom

Bathrooms consistently get a high return on the investment. If you have a small budget and you’re DIYing, start small. A new vanity. New sink. A nice ceiling light. A spa-like shower head. A nice towel bar. None of these things have to cost over $100, but they all add value to your home by freshening it up, providing simple conveniences, and making it nicer. Who doesn’t want one of those fancy shower heads?

If your bathroom floor is falling apart, suffering from water damage or is just outdated, you can restore it yourself pretty inexpensively. Many home improvement stores offer a class so you can learn what you don’t know, which might enable you to choose a more expensive flooring. Stick with a neutral shade to add the most value.

Freshen Up the Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the biggest things that will turn potential buyers on or off to a house. It’s also one of the places where you can get the most money back for your investment. What’s the single best DIY change to make in the kitchen? A fresh coat of white paint on the cabinets. Go ahead and change out the knobs, too.

Storage is another change to consider. Add more shelves, possibly with space underneath to hang coffee mugs. Kitchen islands are in demand now and building one with storage will add value.

Keeping Up on Maintenance

A home in good repair is always going to be more valuable than one with a leaky roof. If the siding is old or falling apart, replace it. Consider getting a home warranty, to ensure the value of your appliances. Also make sure to maintain the appearance outside, sweep up the leaves, trim the bushes, and keep fences in good repair.

Adding value to your home doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Sometimes, the simplest DIY can be the best place to start. Start by considering your budget and your home’s most pressing needs, and update from there.

 Written by Damien Justus

Saying Good-bye to Your Garden

You can make parting easier by taking ideas and plants with you

Moving is a fact of life for most Americans. About 12 percent of us, or 1 in 9 – will move in any given year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Leaving the gardens we have lovingly designed and tended is a difficult part of any relocation. How do we make it easier on ourselves? What plants can we take with us? Is it best to dig them up, take cuttings or harvest seeds? These 10 tips will ease the transition and will help you take some of what you love with you – plants, ideas and inspiration for a new garden.

  1. Make a record of the garden you’re leaving. You can use a loose-leaf notebook, a bound garden journal or an online filing system that accepts notes, digital images and other information. Pick whichever form of record keeping appeals to you; you want an easy system that you will use.

Collect whatever details you have about what you’ve planted: how it succeeded (or didn’t), which plants or combinations you loved best, hardscape materials and any designs you’ve made. Gather seed packages, plant catalogs (add notes), plant labels, seed stakes, garden journals and photographs. If you’re using a digital filing system, scan the papers and file them with notes attached. If you’re using a notebook or bound journal, file them in pockets in the notebook or tape them to the pages of the journal.

  1. Take photos, videos or both. If you haven’t been shooting photos or video of your garden all along, start before you leave. Don’t forget to capture plant combinations that worked particularly well, such as this Pikes Peak Purple penstemon (Penstemon x mexicali), still blooming in southern Colorado in October, backed by the upright form and lovely fall color of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).

  1. Gather images from all seasons and from various times of day. You’ll want to remember how plants looked at different times in their lives and different times of the year. For example, the orange-scarlet autumn color of the skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) in this photo is lovely paired with the golden blossoms of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa).

Take photos at different times of day to show what was blooming at what hours, how the light fell, those great shadow patterns at sunset and the pools of shade at midday.

 

  1. Describe design elements and hardscape. Make sure to note things that you’re really pleased with, including design elements and hardscape. Did a patio come out especially well, both the materials used and the shape? Did you build raised garden beds you really loved? Take photos and make notes of a particularly successful (or unsuccessful) design element’s materials, dimensions and relationship with other elements. Don’t think you’ll remember – chances are you won’t.

 

  1. Document projects in progress. Didn’t finish a project? You can record it anyway. What did you like about it? What would you change? What was the process of planting and construction? Is the project specific to that particular site or are there elements you could use again?

Those details of how the project flowed and how it fit your expectations and what you can take away from it will influence what you do in your new garden, so make sure you record as much information as you can.

  1. Note relationships and what you’ve learned about wildlife, desirable or not. Which plants attracted the most butterflies? What was the late-blooming flower that the migrating hummingbirds focused on every year, returning to sip its nectar? What about the bulbs that were always full of tiny native bees in early spring? Which plants did the cottontails munch to the ground? What did the deer avoid?

Blossoms of the native bractless blazingstar (Mentzelia nuda var. stricta) in this photo, for instance, open in the evening and attract bumblebees to gather their pollen. Bumblebees are larger and heavier-bodied than most native bees and, thus, are more chill-tolerant and able to be active in the cooler hours of early morning and late evening. Planting flowers that attract certain pollinators is one way to ensure those species’ survival.

 

These common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are another example of a plant that is critical to a certain kind of wildlife. They never fail to attract goldfinches, called “wild canaries” for their chiming, bell-like calls and sweetly melodic songs. Goldfinches clamber over the flower heads and pry out the fat-rich sunflower seeds with their pointed beaks. The seeds provide critical calories and vitamins for goldfinches in their migration.

  1. Research your new planting zone and garden site. Before you move, get an idea of how different your new location will be from your current one. Is it in the same USDA plant hardiness zone? To learn more detail about climate, substrate and ecological conditions, look up what ecoregion you’ll be in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps. An ecoregion map is a map of an area’s natural communities, including their biological, geologic, soil and climate attributes – all useful information for gardeners.

To find your ecoregion on the EPA’s general map of the U.S., click on the region that includes your state, and then find your ecoregion from the more detailed map. (Level III ecoregions are probably the most useful for gardeners.)

 

  1. Identify favorite plants in your existing garden. Once you have an idea of the conditions in your new site, decide which favorite plants in your current garden will thrive in your new place. Then do some research. Familiarize yourself with any restrictions on transporting plants from one region to another (the National Plant Board is a place to start). Next, learn the best way to bring them to your new place: as whole plants dug up and potted, as cuttings to root, as bulbs or tubers, or as seeds. If you have time to prepare, make a spreadsheet, a list or a calendar with times of the year that are best for preparing each plant for the move.

For tough English irises, like the ones in this photo, it’s best to dig their tubers in the fall after the leaves have turned brown. If you’re not moving right away, store the tubers in breathable bags in a cool, moist place so that they won’t dry out or sprout.

 

  1. Label your selections. This seems self-evident, but in the rush of preparing for a move, you may assume that you’ll remember what those seeds are in the pill bottle or envelope. You think that you’ll remember what’s in that pot with a dormant plant and no identifying characteristics, or the zip-close bag containing cuttings wrapped in a wet paper towel, or the paper bag full of papery bulbs. Maybe you will, and maybe you won’t.

To be sure, note the name, species or variety and the date collected on a label or right on the container with a permanent marker. That way you’ll be sure you’re planting what you intended to.

  1. Take care of your selections before and during the move. If you’re bringing plants in pots, keep them watered and comfortable – not too hot or too cold. Most moving companies won’t take live plants, but they will move pots with dormant plants, so make sure your plants have what they need to survive the trip.

If you’re moving seeds, cuttings, bare-root plants, bulbs, corms or tubers, package them appropriately for their journey. Cuttings, bare-root plants, bulbs, corms or tubers need to stay moist and in the dark. Don’t allow them to freeze or broil. You don’t want them to sprout or break dormancy before you get them into the ground, and you also don’t want them to dry out. Seeds come in their own natural packaging in the form of a seed coat. But even these embryonic plants need cool and dark conditions to stay alive.

Good luck with your move and your new garden.

 

 

Written by Susan Tweit

Easy Decluttering Tips To Give You Your Life Back

Cluttered Closet

Clutter doesn’t just make your space feel cramped and crowded and chaotic. It can also have a negative effect on your mental state and make you less productive. A cluttered space has been shown to raise stress levels, create anxiety, and be a contributing factor to sleepless nights.

Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves,” said Psychology Today. A few reasons why: “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally. Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm, and problem solve.”

Whether you’re looking to move and need to pare down your stuff before you list your house or are just looking to streamline your environment, these tips will help you get it done with the least amount of pain.

Phone a friend

So you’re sitting in your closet, surrounded by clothes you haven’t worn for years and you just can’t seem to make a move to get rid of anything. It’s time to call a good friend. Or three (Cue the scene from Sex and the City when Carrie et al hold an impromptu fashion show while cleaning out her closet.). A good friend will be honest with you about clothes that just don’t do it for you, which should make it easier to make headway.

Research shelters in your area

If you’re finding it hard to get rid of clothing and shoes or rarely- (or never-) used housewares, reading about some people that might really be in need of the things that have been packed in the back your closet or cabinets for years can help you get some perspective. When your need to hold onto something butts up against someone’s need to clothe themselves, packing up those donation boxes may get a whole lot easier.

Consider sizing

The average woman has a range of sizes of clothing in her closet, some for those inevitable times when a few pounds creep on, and some that were purchased as incentive to lose a few. If you can’t get rid of anything in your current size, maybe there are a few outdated items in the far upper and lower range that can hit the box.

Hit the linen closet

Have any hole-filled towels and sheets back in that linen closet? Tell yourself this: If they’re not good enough for guests, they’re not good enough for you. Shred a few of the towels into cleaning rags and dump the rest. Imagine how much better you’ll feel when there’s space for the stuff you do use.

Now, take a look at any blankets that have rips, tears, and holes. Maybe it’s time to upgrade? Beyond those obvious imperfections, what’s going on with the texture? Do you have blankets in there that aren’t soft enough for you or that you consistently overlook because you don’t like the way they feel? Donate them and treat yourself to something new as a reward for your decluttering efforts. Feel better?

Pilfer the pantry

When your pantry gets to be a cluttered mess, it can become an overwhelming task to get it cleaned out. Start small and take one thing at a time, like your canned goods. Chances are you have at least a few cans that are expired; those are easy enough to toss, which will make you feel better by creating space on a crowded shelf. Now, check for things that you know you’ll never eat, like those four cans of sweet peas you bought on sale. As long as they’re still good, these would be great to donate to a local food pantry. Good deed done, and you’re on your way to a nice, clean pantry.

Tackle those drawers

Out of sight, out of mind is the mantra many of us when it comes to clutter. If it’s in a drawer, you don’t have to worry about it, right? Until you do. Let’s be honest: How many of us have not just one junk drawer in the kitchen, but several. Guilty! And how many of us go to clean them out, only to create a much larger mess because we were trying to do too much in too little time and got overwhelmed and gave up. Guilty again. Starting small here, too, is the key. There’s no need to organize everything at once. Have expired coupons in one of those junk drawers? Get rid of them. You’re eating away at the mess. Do you have a bunch of nails and screws and thumbtacks just kind of strewn about in one (or more) of the drawers? Take them out and organize them into their own little box. That’s progress.

Get your papers in check

For many of us, the main clutter culprit is paper. Having stacks of papers in your kitchen or office (or both), or, even worse, stacked in multiple areas of your house, can be a stress-producer. Start by designating “a spot for incoming papers,” said Zen Habits. “Papers often account for a lot of our clutter. This is because we put them in different spots – on the counter, on the table, on our desk, in a drawer, on top of our dresser, in our car. No wonder we can’t find anything! Designate an in-box tray or spot in your home (or at your office, for that matter) and don’t put down papers anywhere but that spot. Got mail? Put it in the inbox. Got school papers? Put it in the inbox. Receipts, warranties, manuals, notices, flyers? In the inbox! This one little change can really transform your paperwork.”

You can also decrease the amount of mail you receive by setting up email-only correspondence with your creditors. Ecocycle also has some great tips for getting rid of a lot of that junk mail.

Give it a few minutes

Trying to attack the clutter from a macro perspective is what many people find overwhelming. If it seems like a massive project, that could be enough to cause frustration, increase anxiety, and cause you to quit. If you set aside a couple of minutes on any given day, you can make an impact without taxing yourself.

“When your home is filled with clutter, trying to tackle a mountain of stuff can be quite overwhelming,” said Zen Habits. “So here’s my advice: start with just five minutes. Baby steps are important. Sure, five minutes won’t barely make a dent in your mountain, but it’s a start. Celebrate when you’ve made that start! Then take another five minutes tomorrow. And another the next day. Before you know it, you’ll have cleared a whole closet or a room and then half your house and then who knows?”

If you don’t like the five-minute tip, try the five-thing tip. “Pick up 5 things, and find places for them,” they said. “These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through — where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.”

 

 

 

Build A Deck For Backyard Appeal

Outdoor appeal is a key piece to the home selling process. What better way to increase the exterior appeal than having a beautiful deck? Decks are living, natural additions that effectively blend into the landscape while adding extra entertaining space for less money than a porch or addition.

Need more convincing? Here are some of the key advantages to why decks seal backyard appeal and convince sellers to look at your home longer than others on the block:

How much you save: The cost to build a deck might average $6,600 to $9,400 depending on square footage and materials. However, a deck costs far less than an addition – almost $50,000 – so why invest more when you can get something just as beautiful for less?

An outdoor living area is less expensive because you don’t need electrical wiring or plumbing. Plus you can recoup at least 85% of that investment during the resale.

How it adds to the house: Adding a deck onto your home increases the exterior appeal without all the extra work. It means extra room for entertaining, relaxation and grilling during the summer.

It can adapt to any kind of landscape, whether you need a raised platform deck for a sloping hill and multi-story home or a short deck for a flat backyard.

How it blends with the landscape: Unlike a porch, a deck is natural. Made of wood or plastic to look like wood, decks blend into the landscape seamlessly. It’s simple to add bushes, trees and flowers around the edge of the deck. By the end of the whole process, your deck will have a warm, homey feel in the yard.

How easy it is to maintain: Depending on the type of material you use to build the deck, maintenance should be simple. One treatment of staining and regular cleaning should take care of any pests or dirt. Decks can handle most weather conditions, and you can even build an awning to help it endure the climate better. Just keep an eye out for termites, mold or other things eating away at the wood and treat them quickly.

 

So don’t wait! Add this beautiful, natural addition to your home and get those sellers flocking to your backyard.

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrea Davis

10 Totally Free Tips For Getting Your Home Sold Quickly

Sell Your Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staging your home is a critical step in getting it sold, but all the recommended updates and upgrades can get pricey. Thankfully, there are tricks you can use to make your home look bigger, better, and brighter, without spending a dime.

  1. Fix up your floors

Don’t want to pay to replace or refinish your floors? No prob. Grab a brown crayon to fill in divots. A one-to-one mix of olive oil and vinegar rubbed directly on scratched areas will also help make it look new. You can also use canola if you don’t have olive, but then use a one-part vinegar, three-part oil mixture. Or, try this hack that uses walnuts to fix scratches. No, seriously.

Floors look great but don’t sound so hot? “Fix creaky wood floors with a generous dusting of baby powder,” said One Crazy House. “Work it into the cracks until the floor is no longer noisy.”

 

  1. Make it sparkle

Presumably, you already have cleaning supplies, sponges, and paper towels in the house. Now all you need is some elbow grease to make your home look shiny and new.

When selling your home, you need to take the cleaning beyond your typical weekly run-through. Think “Spring cleaning” turned up a notch or two. Remember that potential buyers will be looking everywhere, including inside drawers and cabinets. Make sure they’re crumb-free and well organized. They may also open your refrigerator. While this can seem intrusive, you don’t want to give them a reason to walk away, so make sure to tidy up the inside, wipe up any spills, throw away rotten food, and put a nice big box of Baking Soda in there to absorb any leftover smells.

  1. Let the light in

Everyone is looking for “natural light,” so show off what you’ve got by opening up those blinds and drapes. Did you just reveal a bunch of dirty windows and sills? Ewww. Grab that cleaning spray and make them shine. An old toothbrush is a great way to get gunk out of corners and in window tracks.

If your place isn’t light and bright, even with all the blinds and drapes drawn, you’ll need to depend on artificial lighting. This is no time to have lightbulbs out. Go hit that stash in your laundry room cabinet and switch out for fresh bulbs.

  1. Declutter

Home stagers will tell you there is no more important step when preparing your home for sale. “If you are serious about staging your home, all clutter must go, end of story,” said Houzz. “It’s not easy, and it may even require utilizing offsite storage (or a nice relative’s garage) temporarily, but it is well worth the trouble.”

Do a walk-through with an outsider’s eye, or ask a friend or family member to help since they’ll be more objective. Anything that isn’t used regularly or is taking away from the open feel of the house can be packed away. Small appliances and anything else hanging out on countertops can be put in a cabinet if you’re not ready to stick it in a box. You want people to see the bones of the house, not your blender.

 

  1. Depersonalize

While, you’re decluttering, keep personalization in mind. Buyers want to be able to picture themselves living in the home, and they might not be able to do so if they can’t take their eyes off your wall of taxidermy.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Create closet space

Even if you have the world’s largest walk-in closet in the master bedroom, you can give buyers the impression that there isn’t enough space by overfilling it. Stagers recommend taking half of your clothes and shoes out and packing them away to create some airiness. Does the idea of packing up your stuff freak you out? You’re going to have to do it when you move, anyway. This is just giving you a head start.

  1. Remove the stink

Does your home greet guests with a big whiff of cat box? Potential home buyers might just turn right back around and get in the car. You also want to make sure your animals aren’t irritating those who are touring or impeding them from entering certain rooms. Don’t want to board them? Surely you have a friend or family member who’d love to watch your pets during showings, right?

  1. Pull those weeds

You really can’t overestimate the importance of curb appeal today. Even if you don’t want to spring for a few bags of mulch and some colorful flowers to frame your door, there are easy and free steps you can take to give buyers a great first impression. Dispose of any visible weeds, leaves, and other unwanted stuff hanging out in the yard. Give your bushes a trim and mow the yard. If you can’t power wash your home, at least wash the outside of the exterior windows that are within eye level.

And don’t forget about the area closest to your front door. Sweep that stoop and make sure your welcome mat is actually welcoming, instead of dusty and dirty

  1. Address your furniture

Some of the most common problems in homes when it comes to furniture: 1) It’s ugly; 2) It’s old; There’s too much of it; The arrangement is uninviting. Ugly and old might be hard to overcome when you’re trying not to spend money, but the rest you can do something about.

“Sometimes when sellers are trying to make a small room seem like it’s more spacious, they have a tendency to push all of their furniture against the walls to leave a big open space in the middle. This type of arrangement may leave a lot of open space, but ultimately leaves the interior design looking unfinished — a big turn off for buyers. In this situation, it’s better to create furniture groupings. First, envision the way the space should be used,” said Freshome. “Do you have a huge flatscreen TV that requires a lot of seating? Is there a corner in your living room that would serve perfectly as a reading nook? Group the furniture in ways that would make sense for the intended use. Then, make sure that there are clean and direct pathways through the room. You want potential buyers to be able to envision themselves living in your home and one of the quickest ways to do that is by creating a cozy seating area that’s fit for conversation.”

If the problem is that you’ve created a crowded space by using too much furniture, ditch a few pieces in a friend’s garage for the time being (or, even better, donate them!) to create an intimate seating area. You can always bring those pieces back into your new home.

  1. Borrow stuff

If, at the end of the day, your home still isn’t looking show-ready, maybe it’s time to raid a friend’s house. Have a loved one who has an extra couch that’s more neutral than yours or a couple of great accessories? It’s time to test their love for you.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

 

WCKC Puppy Match

AKC PUPPY MATCH

SPONSORED BY THE WORCESTER COUNTY KENNEL CLUB

AKC Puppy Match

The Worcester County Kennel Club, Inc. will be holding a American Kennel Club Puppy Match on Sunday, May 7, 2017 at Champion Kennels, 149 Clinton Road in Sterling, MA.  Our day will start with CGC (Canine Good Citizen) testing with judge Lynne Pano starting a 9 AM.  The fee will be $25 per dog, and all are welcome.  This is a wonderful opportunity to come see some well behaved dogs in action and learn more about this testing.

Judge Colleen Stevens will be judging the All-Breed Match starting at noon and the entry fee will be $10 per entry, with an additional entry by same owner at $5).  We will start taking entries at 10:30 am.  Classes will be held for 3 to 6 months, 6 to 12 months, and adults. This will be a great chance to train your young pups and older dogs in preparation for the AKC dog shows this season.

Please be our guest for lunch starting at 11:30 AM.  Additional information contact Cindy Stark at (508)852-2483 or by email at stbernhospice@juno.com by Saturday noon on May 6.  We will look forward to seeing you.

 

The First Offer May Be The Best Offer

Versions of this column have appeared before. It is still true. And for many, still relevant.For Sale Sign

Sometimes when everything goes right we have trouble accepting that fact. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more clearly illustrated than in the case where a seller receives a good offer right away.

The annals of real estate are well stocked with stories of sellers who refused to take a good, but not perfect, first offer, and who then waited a long, long time before finally accepting something else at a considerably lower price. And most agents who have been around for a while know to shudder when a good strong offer is made almost at the outset of a listing; for the seller’s reservations are almost inevitable. “Did we list it too low?” “If someone will offer this much so soon, maybe we should wait a while and see if we can get more.” Etc.

When we read of Silicon Valley listings routinely selling at above list price, and while we are still in a period when multiple-offer situations are commonplace, it is understandable that such thoughts come to mind. Nonetheless, they are generally unfounded, especially if the market is anywhere near “normal”, as ours is today.

As an antidote to the ill effects of the “curse of the first offer”, a couple of observations might be kept in mind.

First, the fact that an offer is received early in the listing period — even in the first few days — doesn’t mean that the property has been listed too low.

It is easy to overlook how very efficient the residential real estate marketplace has become. Modern multiple listing systems (MLS) provide agents, and thus their buyer clients, with virtually instant access to information about existing inventory and about what has newly come on the market. In the old, old days a buyer’s agent did not become aware of new listings until “the book” (i.e. the compilation of MLS listings) was published. There might have been a lag time of ten days or more from the time the listing was taken.

Today, a good buyer’s agent will have electronically entered a “profile” of his client’s needs and price range into the system. Then, whenever he logs on to the MLS, he will be notified if a listing has been entered that matches that profile. In a low-inventory market such as we have had recently, buyers’ agents will log on a half-dozen times a day, or more, to see if an appropriate new listing has been entered. Moreover, in most systems the buyer’s agent is able to place the buyer himself on a similar notification.

The point is that potential buyers learn quickly of the existence of an appropriate new listing. Thus a flurry of activity at the outset of the listing does not necessarily imply a too-low price; rather, it reflects the efficiency of the system.

Secondly, an early first offer does not imply that the seller should hold out for full price.

We all know that there is typically a bit of a dance in the pricing and negotiating for a property. Sellers, with the concurrence of their agents, will usually list their property for an amount that is both higher than what they believe its value to be and higher than what they would be satisfied to receive. Why? Because they know that buyers almost always want and expect to pay less than the listed price

However, when an otherwise acceptable offer comes in near the outset of a listing period, sellers are frequently tempted to hold out for full price, or much closer to it than would normally be expected. Caution should be exercised in this regard.

For one thing, as we have noted, exposure of the property to buyers occurs pretty quickly nowadays, and sellers shouldn’t assume that there are going to be more, much less higher, offers as the listing period progresses.

Secondly, there often can be a transactional benefit to “leaving something on the table.” A real estate transaction is a process. These days, with inspections and disclosures, there are almost always “second negotiations” during the course of escrow. A buyer who feels ground down in the purchase negotiation may well be more difficult to deal with as other issues arise.

Written by Bob Hunt