Month: April 2016

Planning Your Planting: Tips for Making a Garden Plan


The best-laid plans for a garden come after living in your home for a year, watching how the sun moves throughout the day in all the seasons, how much moisture you get and where it goes, and whether one area of your yard is more prone to wind than another.

But if you want to get started right away, keep these things in mind as they’ll help you plot out a successful garden.


Evaluating and Choosing a Site

Amount of sunlight and access to water are two major factors that go into selecting a good site for your garden. When evaluating the space, ask yourself:

  • How much sun exposure does it receive, and is it mostly morning sun or afternoon sun?
  • Are there any sheds, fences, or other objects that can obstruct the sun, especially in fall and winter?
  • Do you have deciduous trees that will block the sun in summer, flowering trees that will shed all over your garden bed, or small trees that won’t stay small for long?
  • Is the space susceptible to runoff from storms, or does it create a wind tunnel?
  • Where is the nearest water faucet, and is it convenient to run a garden hose, soaker hose, or drip irrigation line from the faucet to the garden? Can you see yourself filling a watering can and carrying it to the garden every day?

If you live in a hot desert climate, you may want to consider how the light hits your garden from midday to afternoon when the sun is harshest and your plants are prone to drying out quicker.

On the flip side, you might realize that your yard is shaded for several hours a day, and this will affect what you’re able to grow in that space. Perhaps you can prune a tree to provide more light, or rearrange the patio furniture to make room for a small sunny bed.

If you have your heart set on growing a vegetable garden, you may want to place it close to the kitchen where you have easy access for cooking, or in a spot where you see it every day so you can keep an eye on pests and weeds.

The amount of foot traffic can also be a pro or con when choosing a space. Will your kids trample all over the flower bed in your backyard? Will guests get to enjoy the fragrant border you plant in your entryway?


Costs to Consider

Once you’ve settled on a suitable space, consider the costs of starting a garden there. Figure in the expense of any containers or beds you’ll have to buy or build, the amount of soil you’ll need to fill them, and trellises or arbors you may want to add. Decide how you’ll be irrigating your garden and any labor or equipment costs associated with that, whether you hand water all your plants or have drip lines installed along your beds.

And finally, are there any auxiliary expenses you might incur down the line, such as installation of a potting bench, a compost bin, or a shed to store tools? Will you need to build a fence or a flagstone path as your garden grows?


Protecting Your Garden From Pets and Critters

If you have dogs that freely roam your yard, consider how destructive they could potentially be with a freshly planted garden. Do they like to urinate on greenery? Run through bushes? Eat grass?

Then, there are opossums, raccoons, rabbits, and moles — all of these animals are notorious for wrecking many a garden. Whether it’s a raccoon digging for grubs or a rabbit feasting on cabbage, you have to plan for any possible outcome if your neighborhood is known for these unwanted visitors.

Garden beds that sit at ground level may need protective fencing to deter digging, or you might want to elevate your raised beds even more to keep your furbaby away from your prized berries. Think of all the possible scenarios that could happen with your garden, as they could very well change your mind about the type of garden you want to plant.

(Image credits: Apartment Therapy ; Linda Ly)

Expert Tip: Sketch it out. Take measurements, plan where your containers and beds will go, how all of your plants will be laid out, and even how your irrigation will run through the space. Having this visual on hand will keep you focused on what you actually need when you start shopping.

Home Organization Ideas: Top Storage Tips to Organize the Home

TIBURON, CA – AUGUST 03: A worker with Johnson and Daly Moving and Storage moves a piece of furniture into a truck while moving a family August 3, 2010 in Tiburon, California. Since 2006, statistics show that homeownership is slowly declining, dropping to 66.9 percent in the second quarter of this year. It is estimated that with a continued decline, homeownership could drop to 62 percent by 2012. (Photo : Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Here are some tips on how to maximize and organize your storage spaces at home.

According to House Beautiful, you can easily add storage spaces in certain parts of your home by simply rearranging whatever items you already have there at the moment.

For instance, don’t let your fresh produce to just sit on the kitchen counters or dining area. Instead, have an extra storage built somewhere in your kitchen that you can use space only when you have fresh produce that you want to store.

Instead of wasting so much space on the counter for drying your dishes, why not have one built hanging? Doing this could mean that the bottom area of the hanging storage can also be used for other purposes.

You can also save so much time when using towels for drying dishes or cleaning the kitchen sink. All you have to do is have a hanger installed somewhere in the kitchen area.

Meanwhile, ensure that everyone at home will be safe by not storing knives inside the cabinets. Instead, store them outside where everyone can see them, but do so in an upward manner. In case it falls, no one’s hand will get injured.

Remember, all condiments and ingredients for cooking that you frequently use should be stored in the same area. However, bear in mind that they should be labeled properly to avoid confusion.

Additionally, if you are a self-confessed wine drinker, see to it that your wine bottles are always within reach. Buy a wine bottle holder or container that can make it easier for you to choose which wine to drink at a given time, according to Wayfair.

Now that you have all of these helpful tips, it’s finally time to execute them and to benefit from all of the ease they can provide you with.


2 inexpensive tricks that could help your home sell for more money, from HGTV stars the ‘Property Brothers’


HGTV stars Jonathan and Drew Scott, also known as the “Property Brothers.”   Photo Credit: Dave Kotinsky / Stringer / Getty Images

According to Jonathan and Drew Scott, stars of the HGTV show “Property Brothers,” it doesn’t take a lot to increase the sale value of your home.

In fact, there are two inexpensive, quick tricks you can use to potentially convince buyers to pay you more: Keep it clean and fix anything that needs it.

“Buyers associate dirt, clutter, disorganization and poor maintenance with serious problems they might not be able to see,” they write in their book, “Dream Home: The Property Brothers’ Ultimate Guide to Finding & Fixing Your Perfect House.”

“You can get an additional $20,000 or more for a house that’s neat and clean,” they write. “Why would you leave money on the table when it costs next to nothing to clean and declutter?”

Here are some suggestions from the Property Brothers to prepare your home for sale:

Keep it clean

The brothers suggest packing up all personal items and keeping only what is necessary to start your cleaning. This not only shows off the features of your home, but “removing a lot of personal items helps buyers picture their family in the home instead of yours,” they write.

Beyond personal items and a cluttered space, general poor maintenance can make buyers write off your property.

“We call it the Ick Factor: The more times a buyer says ‘ew’ in your home, the more likely they’ll just write off your property,” they say.

A quick vacuum is only a start. The Property Brothers suggest that you:

• Do a smell check to eliminate musty-smelling areas of your home. If you have become too accustomed to your house smells, bring a friend to your house for an honest second opinion.

• Scrub around doorknobs, which tend to get dirty easily.

• Sweep, weed, and wash paved walkways, patios, and sidewalks.

• Clean out the refrigerator — potential buyers are going to look.

• Tidy up the medicine cabinets and closets. Again, buyers will be looking.

Fix what needs fixing

The next step to getting more for your home is zeroing in on what might need to be fixed. The brothers suggest creating a list of what needs to be repaired, replaced, or updated.

If you don’t know what should be on the list, you can hire an inspector for about $300 to $500, depending on where you live and the size of your property.

“It’s money well spent if you can correct issues that may become points of contention for the buyer,” they write.

But fixing doesn’t have to cost much, if anything. The Property Brothers also suggest making a checklist of small items you might need to attend to, such as:

• Check all faucets for leaks, and make sure drains and toilets are working properly.

• Replace any broken or ripped screens in windows, doors, and porches.

• Check the baseboards for scuff marks you might want to repaint or go over with a Magic Eraser.

“Your house is only as strong as its weakest link,” they write. “Even the smallest of issues can become a huge concern for buyers.”


7 real estate trends you’ll see in 2016

Beacon technology, new regulations and more

byMary Fetzer



The housing market is, increasingly, back. In some markets, with a vengeance. More quality inventory is available, and buyers– particularly young ones — increasingly see homebuying as a good investment. Here’s what we can expect to see on the real estate front in 2016.

1. Prices and mortgage rates will rise — but slowly

Median sales prices for single-family homes have been on the rise since mid-2012, and the trend is expected to increase well into 2016, but at a slower pace than in recent years.

Prices rose 8 percent in 2012, 11 percent in 2013, and 5 percent in 2014 — analysts predict increases of 2 to 4 percent through 2016.

Meanwhile, the number of distressed property sales continues to decline and reduce the number of short-sale and foreclosed bargains to be had.

Mortgage rates, too, are likely to increase in 2016. “They have stayed relatively consistent,” said Allen Shayanfekr, CEO of the equity crowd-funding real estate company Sharestates, “but with volatile public markets, investors will look to capture gains in other markets, i.e., interest rates on mortgages.”

2. The buying crowd is younger

Young millennials (buyers between the ages of 25 and 34), comprise the largest share of homebuyers (32 percent) and the largest share of first-time buyers (68 percent). Whether these young buyers are shopping for a permanent home or a way to make a return on their investment, only time will tell.

3. Beacon technology will change the way homebuyers shop

Armed with a smartphone and cool new apps, buyers can skip newspaper listings and agent appointments for real-time browsing. Thanks to beacon technology, buyers can hang out in a desired neighborhood and receive phone messages about available listings in that area.

And, once the buyer is inside a home that’s for sale (at an open house, for example), the virtual “real estate agent” can provide information about recent upgrades and other details about the listing. The high-tech process doesn’t eliminate real-life agents, but it can take the place of those early, time-consuming one-on-one meetings.

There are also tools available to help you navigate purchase and sale agreements — another task traditionally handled by an agent, but increasingly done by DIY buyers and sellers in for sale by owner (FSBO) transactions.

4. Real estate agents and mortgage brokers will get even cozier

Shayanfekr expects consolidation in the financing space as several marketplace lenders will likely either go out of business this year or consolidate with other companies.

And an increased acceptance of online funding portals to provide financing for real estate investments will appeal to smart young shoppers said Shayanfekr.

Look for more real estate agencies to add mortgage brokers to their in-house teams. Low interest rates mean more buyers, and more buyers mean increased activity for agents. Having a mortgage broker on staff ensures that deals close more quickly and buyers enjoy the best up-to-the-minute interest rate.

5. New regulations change the way buyers and sellers do business

TRID (TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure) is a new mortgage lending rule.TRID, which went into effect last August, combines four complicated disclosures into two, hopefully less cumbersome, disclosures.

The Good Faith Estimate and the Initial Truth-in-Lending Statement comprise TRID’s new Loan Estimate. The HUD-1 Statement and the Final Truth-in-Lending Statement are now known as a Closing Disclosure.

“Implementation of the new TRID regulations will frustrate everyone,” said Bruce Ailion, broker attorney for The Ailion Team in Atlanta. “In the most recent survey, Realtors stated that about one-third of transactions have been delayed by financing setbacks, appraisal issues and inspection issues.”

Although TRID regulations place more responsibility and burden on the lender, they are designed to provide increased clarity for borrowers. Ideally, closings will run more smoothly and with fewer errors and less buyer confusion.

“Expect fewer all-cash sales and greater scrutiny for large cash purchases,” Ailion said. New regulations are forcing purchasers of high-end luxury properties to identify themselves within their shell purchasing entities.

“This is likely the beginning of a whole slew of regulatory changes to the real estate industry,” Shayanfekr said.

6. Urban cores are stronger than ever

So, where will these trends be strongest? Look for them particularly in the 18-hour urban cores that are increasingly popular in midsized cities across the nation.

Offering more than just a 9-to-5 urban experience, yet pulling in the reins on around-the-clock bars and buses, an 18-hour city appeals to younger buyers who want late-night options they could formerly find only in 24-hour cities such as New York and New Orleans.

Planners and business owners are creating cities in which people want to work and live. Agents will find themselves pushing fewer homes in the suburbs and more in the heart of the city.

Arpad Benedek /

Arpad Benedek /







7. Forget swimming pools; buyers want new amenities

Within those urban spaces, “developers will start dedicating outdoor spaces for outdoor theaters so that residents can enjoy movies under the stars in the comfort of their own development,” said William Ross, senior vice president and managing director of Halstead Property Development Marketing in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, “I think that swimming pools — in the building — are on their way out.”

Fitness will continue to be a popular amenity. “Larger-sized, on-site gyms are in high demand,” says Vanessa Connelly, sales manager for Halstead. “Buyers want convenient access to 24-hour, state-of-the-art facilities featuring classes, trainers, saunas, steam rooms and spa services.”

As winter becomes spring and more buyers come out of their seasonal shell — and more inventory hits the market — keeping these trends in mind can yield strong returns on your real estate investments, whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned professional.

How To Remodel Your Home Within Your Budget

The budget conversation — it’s sometimes awkward, often slightly uncomfortable and usually comes with a bit of anxiety. Because of the nature of construction, things often cost more than what homeowners think. There are endless debates on why that is, but the result is that we designers often have conversations with clients that end with an awkward silence. The silence usually means that certain aspects of their project might be out of their reach. And truth be told, we really don’t like being the messenger in these conversations. We want our clients to be satisfied with the process and get what they really want.

But the flip side of that conversation is that budget constraints can make a project better. Just hear me out… What we find is that financial considerations make our team and clients focus on what’s really important. That pressure helps edit down the myriad choices and allows a more coherent story to emerge. And it all comes back to sticking to that budget. Here’s how.

Establish Your Budget Early

We have been in situations where clients have not told us their budget until we have completed some of the initial phases of work. This, no surprise, can slow down the process. It’s like going to a personal trainer but not telling them how much weight you can lift, and so you spend time trying a few exercises to figure out what the proper weights are.


Close-up of a mid adult man looking at a mid adult woman writing with a pen

There are situations where homeowners generally don’t know what a new custom home or addition will cost, but a key part of the process is considering how much you would be comfortable spending on the project. Obviously spending $50,000 will produce a dramatically different result than if you spent $500,000. And what you spend will be influenced by a wide variety of factors, including neighborhood, type of project and level of finishes.

Without knowing a budget range, we could get through the first few meetings with clients and then give them a rough ballpark figure, which is sometimes double or triple what they thought it would be.

Don’t try to second-guess your design team by holding your cards close to your chest. Help us work with you to get the most value for your hard-earned dollars. Most designers don’t look for opportunities to waste money just for the sake of it. Sure we all want a great project at the end of the process, but we also want to make sure our clients are happy. So establishing your budget early in the process will be helpful to your team, as it will give them one of the key ingredients that will go into making a design you can live with.

Ensure Your Budget Is Realistic

It’s easy to look at TV shows and get the wrong idea about what things cost. In most cases those budgets are not realistic for a bunch of reasons, most of which revolve around how suppliers and trades price their services to be included on the show. There is an old project management saying that goes, “Price, speed, quality — pick any two.”

It’s not totally untrue, and it underscores that there are no easy trade-offs in a construction project. It would be problematic for me to suggest pricing in this article, as it varies substantially based on a number of factors, including location, number of trades in the area, level of finish, complexity of construction etc.


Piggy bank, architecture drawing and equipment/ home remodel saving concept

The budget number that most clients care about is the “all-in” number. That includes everything they will write a check for including moving expenses, fees and construction. (More about that later.)

Pricing tip: Pricing can change substantially in certain areas over as little as a few years, so be sure that the projects were completed recently for the best idea of pricing. After you create your budget, subtract 20 percent. Construction being what it is, there are always situations that arise that will increase the cost, and those are hard to foresee at the beginning of construction. It’s a very complicated process involving many people and a lot of communication, so there usually are things that happen that will eat into that 20 percent contingency. The contingency should not be used for upgrades to counters or splashy fixtures.

After you create your budget, subtract 20 percent. Construction being what it is, there are always situations that arise that will increase the cost, and those are hard to foresee at the beginning of construction. It’s a very complicated process involving many people and a lot of communication, so there usually are things that happen that will eat into that 20 percent contingency. The contingency should not be used for upgrades to counters or splashy fixtures.

On a recent project, our clients had to spend thousands of dollars to get their utilities hooked up again, as the electrical feed from the street was torn up by mistake. On top of that, since the utility’s own drawings said that the feed still existed, there was a three-month delay on top of the re-connection order so that the utility could update its drawings. Even though this these will never be seen, they were absolutely critical and had to be completed before construction could be completed.

Keeping a 20 percent contingency allows our clients to end up spending what they thought they would spend initially, and they can sleep at night.

Understand What You’re Paying For

Hard costs, fees, furniture — what is in the contract? Your design team will also help you understand what is in those budget numbers. Hard costs include the costs of the construction materials and fixtures required to actually build the structure. Soft costs generally include fees for permits, consultants and designers.

Home renovation and decoration concept

It’s important to establish what your team is referring to in conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page about budget numbers. For example, construction is often expressed in dollars per square foot to give a rough guide during planning. Generally this does not include appliances or soft costs. So it’s important to know that if your contractor says your new house can be built for $750,000, there are soft costs likely not covered in that estimate. Work with your design team to understand the costs and how they relate to a schedule, and how there are items you might not have thought about, to get an overall sense of what is required.

What if You Run Out of Money?

We have had this conversation with clients on more than one occasion, and truly it’s not easy for either the clients or us. It’s frustrating to hear how something that you’ve been planning for is out of your reach.

There may be opportunities to reduce costs by changing the scope of the project. For example, instead of fully constructing a basement bathroom in a new house, you might just rough in the plumbing so it could be finished at a later date. Or it could be possible to reduce the cost of fixtures and finishes such as flooring or faucets.

During a recent conversation with clients, we recommended that they wait before starting the project so they could gather more resources before proceeding. In the discussion we realized that it wouldn’t be possible to “de-scope” or redesign the project to fit their needs, so the best course of action was to delay. Was this difficult for all involved? Absolutely, but we felt strongly that starting a project that didn’t address their needs wouldn’t serve their overall best interests.

Whenever you are dealing with money, there is the potential for some uncomfortable conversations. But if you understand what you are dealing with early in the process, those conversations will be less stressful than if you’re standing in the middle of a half-completed project in the middle of winter wondering where all your hard-earned money has gone.


Spring Cleaning: 15 Projects for a Fresh Start

March 20, 2016 by


Spring cleaning gets a bad rap. Yes, it entails work (unless you hire someone—which is totally legit, or you force your kids to work for free like you did for your parents), but the results are soooo satisfying that you won’t even mind. We promise. Tackle these 13 indoor and outdoor projects and you’ll be loving life come sunny days.

Hire a House Cleaner


Super House Clean

You’ve got two options: deputize the family to be deep clean mavericks, or hire a team ofspring cleaning specialists to rock the job out. We’re not talking basic mopping here, this calls for wall scrubbing, ceiling dusting, oven cleaning, and curtain washing. It’s business time.

Take Care of Tile

If your tile grout has a mild case of wear and tear, use a DIY sealer painted on with a toothbrush to look as good as new. If mildew has set in, or large areas need to be redone, hire a tile and grout cleaning professional to solve it in one fell swoop.

Clean the Carpets

Get the mud and dog and red wine out from a long winter spent cooped up. Either rent a steamer from your local grocery store, or hire a carpet cleaning specialists to bring their big vans and fancy machines to breathe new life into your rug.

Wax or Restain Wood Floors

Life looking a little dull? Put new shine under your soles by having wood floors waxed or restained. It will look amazing.

Organize Your Life

Every home mag in the world tells you spring is the time to clear clutter and organize your closet, home desk, and garage. We understand that saying is easier than doing. If this herculean task of handling your stuff is beyond your powers, call in an organization professionalto save your sanity.

Clean Screens

Spring and summer mean letting in fresh air, not showing off the grubby screen door that’s been neglected for decades. Remove all the screen windows and doors in the house, wipe them down, hose them off, then replace them (or better yet, hire someone to do it for you). The fresh air will smell all the sweeter.

Deep Clean the Mudroom

If you live in a snowy, rainy, or mucky area, your mudroom is coated in gunk. Get the space ready for spring! Clean and store winter wear in the garage. Wipe down the walls and scrub the floor. Put in a brightly colored rug. Hurray!

Ready the AC

Just check that it’s in working order before the first 100° day, that way you’ll get top-notch service when you need it.



Wash Outdoor Furniture

Wipe off the chairs, wash outdoor cushion fabric as needed, scrub down the picnic table, and restring the bistro lights. It’s patio party time!

Ready the Lawn

It’s probably looking pretty bad in your lawn right now. Piles of decayed leaves are showing under the melting snow. Get out there with a rake and elbow grease, or call in a lawn specialistto clean out the muck, fertilize, and get you ready for spring.

Pressure Wash the House

Professional washers get exterior paint looking as good as new after a winter—or, let’s face it, decades—of rain, dirt, and snow. This is also an easy curb appeal boost if you’re putting your house on the market.

Clean the Deck

Clean the cobwebs, swab the deck, reseal as needed—get ready for sunny days outdoors! If you have a massive deck, or major repairs to be done, call in a deck professional to get you set safely.

Repair the Driveway

Cracks in the concrete and weeds growing in make the place look janky. Patch holes with concrete resurfacer, reseal asphalt driveways to look smooth, and reclaim your position as best looking house on the block. All that sound like a hassle? Hire a driveway specialist and sip lemonade on the back porch while it gets handled.

Wash the Exterior Windows

Yes, even the windows on the second floor. If you’re not comfortable on a ladder, or have crazy angles on your house, have a professional window washer come so you don’t spend all spring in a cast.

Prep the Pool

Have the algae and debris cleaned off the bottom of the pool, make sure the filter is in working order, and safety check your ladders and diving board. If you’re hiring a pool professional to handle the chemicals, many companies offer lower rates for early spring visits when they’re slower than during the summer rush.

Good luck, have fun, and enjoy the spring!

How To: Test for Lead Paint

Used in most homes before being banned in the late 1970s, lead paint still exists undetected in many places. Before digging into any renovations on an old home, run this important test to protect your health.


There’s nothing quite like the joy of living in a home with character, craftsmanship, and history within its walls. Yet, while remodeling an older house is a fun and worthwhile adventure, it’s important to note that most homes built before 1978 contain—or once contained—paint made with lead, which we now know can cause a host of health problems, especially for children. Originally used for its fresh appearance, quick-drying properties, and resistance to moisture, lead-based paint was proven dangerous decades ago and its use was quickly discontinued. However, in many places, these original coats of paint are still present on walls, windowsills, and baseboards today. As a result, testing for lead paint is a critical step for anyone moving into an old home in the modern age, especially when renovations are on the horizon. Ensure your home is safe before settling in by following this guide.


Store-bought lead test kit with swabs and confirmation card
Utility blade or small, sharp knife


Two common types of DIY lead test kits can be found in most hardware and paint stores: rhodizonate-based kits and sulfide-based kits. The type you choose will depend on the color of paint you’re testing. Rhodizonate kits are known to give false positives on red and pink paints, while sulfide kits are known to give inaccurate results on dark paint.

Once you’ve chosen the type of test that promises the most accurate results, you’ll find that most kits of either kind facilitate several tests for less than $100, which isconsiderably cheaper than hiring someone to perform the test for you.

On each wall, windowsill, or baseboard where you’re testing for lead, choose spots where the paint seems to be at its thickest (particularly if you suspect there are additional layers of paint underneath). Here, use a utility blade, or small, sharp knife to make a quarter-inch incision, slicing through the surface paint and revealing all the previous layers beneath it.

Most lead test kits come with swabs that require precise handling in order to use each one correctly. Generally, the swabs must be pinched in two designated areas in order for the solid and liquid chemicals inside to mix together. Next, you’ll open the swab to reveal the soft tip and press down on the incision made in the paint for the length of time specified on the test’s packaging (usually a few seconds). Apply pressure in a circular motion to make sure the swab has ample contact with each layer of exposed paint.

Now, look for a sign. Many popular rhodizonate-based test swabs will turn red if lead is present, although red paint (even traces of it from a previous layer) can create a false positive. Sulfide-based kits will turn dark grey or black, which of course can create a false positive when dark paint is already present. Even if you choose the correct test kit for your visible paint, additional testing may be required depending on the colors you find underneath.

Should your swab comes back clean, you’re likely in the clear, but double-check your work to be safe. Most test kits come with a confirmation card, which you can use to make sure the chemicals on your swab are reacting properly. The card comes with traces of lead on it, which will cause the swab to change color when it comes in contact with the paper. Now, if your swab remains colorless, you’re out of the woods.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a specific set of steps to take if the paint in your home tests positive for lead. Since scraping and sanding painted surfaces can release lead dust and create an airborne health hazard, it’s important to take these steps seriously and follow them to the letter before beginning any renovations:

• Using the EPA’s locator, find a certified inspector or risk assessor to conduct a thorough testing throughout your home.

• Review the written report provided to you upon the testing’s completion, and ask for your inspector or assessor’s recommendations on whether you should seek an abatement professional to remove all lead completely or come up with a strict maintenance plan to prevent exposure.

• If abatement is recommended, the EPA’s locator can also help you find a lead paint abatement specialist. Once you’ve hired a certified professional to remove lead from your home, they must notify the EPA at least five days before beginning the abatement process. Depending on how much time you’ve spent in the home already, blood tests may be needed in order to determine your family’s level of exposure and whether any medical response is in order.

• If a long-term maintenance plan is recommended rather than abatement, you’ll be given a set of instructions that include regular inspections and, in the case of renovations, working only with lead-safe certified home contractors who know exactly how to perform their work in a way that’s safe for all involved.

Rest assured that the patience required to accurately ensure your home is lead-free is always worth it in the end. After all, “safety first” isn’t just a catchphrase; it’s a must for keeping you and your loved ones healthy and happy in a home of any age.

17 Packing Tips for a Successful Move

March 31, 2016 by


The most important part of moving day is making sure that everything is ready to go before the movers arrive. It can be a daunting task to sort through and pack up all of your belongings, but these 17 tips and tricks will help you stay organized through the process and ensure your stuff all arrives in one piece.

Find a Local Mover

1. Use the Right Size Boxes

Heavy items like books, dishes, and small appliances should go in small boxes, so that they aren’t too heavy to lift and don’t break. Use bigger boxes for lighter items, like linens, pillows, lampshades, board games, and clothing.

2. Wrap Fragile Items Individually

For anything fragile, you’ll want to first line the bottom of the box (consider using dishpacks because they’re double walled) with packing paper, so as to create a protective cushion. Each dish or vase needs to be wrapped in paper individually, and then, if stackable, wrapped in small bundles of paper or bubble wrap. Whatever you do, don’t wrap an entire stack of dishes and then put then in a box as that leaves them very susceptible to breaking during the move. And yes, you can use newspaper; just know that the ink may rub off your belongings, which is why most movers recommend packing paper.

3. Fill the Boxes Completely

Fill the box to the brim (even if that’s just with more paper), so the box doesn’t cave in or get dented while being moved. But keep in mind that no box should weigh more than 50 pounds (though around 30 pounds is even better).

4. Pack Everything That Fits in a Box

It may sound like a lot of work, but if it’s small enough to fit in a box, it needs to go in a box. That includes appliances like microwaves and toasters. Items like vacuum cleaners and stepladders, however, don’t need to be packed.

5. Build Up Layers

The heaviest things should go on the bottom of the box, medium weight things in the middle, and the lightest on top.

6. Use Sandwich Bags to Keep Parts Organized

Screws and parts should be put in clearly labeled sandwich bags. Use one sandwich bag for each corresponding item and then tape the sandwich bag to the back of it. Same goes for cords, which should all be wrapped and clearly labeled.

7. Take Photos of Electronics Before You Disassemble Them

That way you’ll easily “remember” where all of the cords and wires go.

8. Color Code Your Boxes

Use big stickers or packing tape in different colors (red for living room, blue for kitchen, pink for bedroom, etc.) to distinguish which boxes are meant for which room. Put the stickers on three sides and the top of the box so you can easily see which room the box belongs in.

9. Create an Inventory

Give every box a number and then create a corresponding list of the boxes content and which room it belongs in. Not only will this help you prioritize and stay organized when you unpack, it also means you’ll know right away if a box is missing. And you won’t be announcing to the world what’s in each box.

10. Label Your Boxes on the Side

If everything is written on the top, you won’t be able to see what’s in boxes that are stacked.

11. Don’t Mix Stuff from Different Rooms in Boxes

It may be tempting to use your sweaters to cushion the box of dishes the belong in the kitchen, but ultimately, it will just make packing and unpacking that much more time consuming.

12. Pack Room by Room

If you can, pack one room at a time as it will keep you the most organized and allow you to be thoughtful about what you take with you. In addition, unpack each room one at a time to make the task feel more manageable. Start packing with the rooms you use the lease and unpacking with the rooms you use the most.

13. Decide What to Do with Your House Plants

If your move is over 150 miles or if you’re crossing state lines, your movers may not be able to put your plants in the truck due to federal guidelines. This means you’ll either need to bring them in your car or find them new homes.

14. Use Wardrobe Boxes for Clothing

Built-in racks mean your clothes never have to leave the hanger and will arrive mostly wrinkle-free. However, don’t use this as an excuse to be lazy; you’ll still want to be sure you plan to wear every single item you pack within the next year.

15. Make a Plan for Art and Antiques

If you can, have your art and antiques appraised before the move and document them with photos. Then, make sure you have a clear plan with the movers about how these items will be moved, including how they’ll be wrapped, any special handling requirements, etc.

16. Ask Movers to Help Pack Electronics

Even if you’re doing most of the packing yourself, you can arrange with your movers ahead of time to have them help with items like TVs and stereos. They’ll know the best way to pack these items so that they arrive without any damage.

17. Consider Having the Movers Pack Everything for You

There are some definite advantages to having the moving company pack up your belongings, the biggest one is that they do it all in a day so the disruption to your life is minimal. If you do go this route, it’s important to get an estimate up front because the downside is that it is going to cost you quite a bit more. Removing that stress of packing may very well be worth the cost; that’s just a decision you’ll have to make.

Find a Local Mover


5 Home Upgrades That Won’t Add Enough Value

If you’re hoping to increase your home’s value (above and beyond the cost of an upgrade itself), you should know that the upgrades you value might not be valuable to potential buyers. In fact, you may never recoup the full cost of some home improvements, and the primary offenders might surprise you! What five common upgrades have the worst return on investment? Find out below.

Swimming pool in backyard

Swimming pool in backyard

1. Adding a pool

Pools can be hit-or-miss when it comes to added value. If you’re selling Orlando, FL, real estate, or you live in a warm climate where people are inclined to use a pool year-round, you’re more likely to get a favorable response from buyers. Often, however, the return is not enough to pay for the pool itself. Don’t forget that you’ll need to operate and maintain the pool, and this comes with a sizable extra cost. Ultimately, your likelihood of recouping the money you spent on maintenance, in addition to the installation costs, is pretty low.

Plus, adding a pool to your home could be a major turnoff to some buyers. Buyers with small children may be concerned about safety risks, those looking for a low-maintenance yard won’t want to deal with the hassle and upkeep of cleaning a pool, and buyers who are on a tight budget may not have the extra cash to deal with the added expense.

2. Highly custom design decisions

Your idea of a dream kitchen probably isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream kitchen. Unless you plan to stay in your house for many years to come, think twice about renovations that are too personalized. If you install a kitchen backsplash, you might recoup the cost, because the difference between “no backsplash” and “backsplash” is noticeable. But the specific type of tile might not matter to buyers — they could be just as happy with a simple ceramic tile as they would with an expensive Calacatta marble tile. Similarly, choosing a beveled countertop edge that’s complex and ornate, rather than a basic beveled edge, can turn off buyers whose tastes don’t align with yours.

In fact, these custom features may wind up costing you come listing time, as many buyers will factor in the money they’ll need to spend to change the house to suit their own tastes. If you’re going to upgrade your kitchen just for the sake of selling, stick with neutral, builder-grade design decisions.

Partition Wall In House Under Renovation

3. Room conversions

Buyers will be looking to check certain boxes when they tour your home: For example, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a garage. Getting rid of these expected spaces (or altering them into something unusual) may harm your resale value. Every bedroom, for instance, is coveted space that can bump your listing up into the next bracket. Buyers are looking for a two-bedroom, three-bedroom, or four-or-more-bedroom home.

You might not need that extra room and dream of knocking down a wall to create a giant walk-in closet. Or perhaps you’d prefer to cover the walls with soundproof foam and convert it into a recording studio. Unfortunately, most buyers won’t share your interests. Instead, they prefer an extra bedroom for children or guests.

4. Incremental square footage gains

Sizable square footage gains — like finishing your dingy basement so it becomes an additional livable floor — can be a boon in buyers’ minds. But tiny, incremental changes may not give you much of a return on your investment. You may love your new sunroom, but it’s not likely to drastically increase your home’s overall value. Adding square footage in a way that doesn’t flow well with the floor plan can also backfire. Sure, a half bath on the first floor would be useful, but if buyers have to pass through the kitchen to get to it, the half bath loses some of its appeal.