Month: May 2016

6 Surefire Signs It’s Time to Sell Your Home

By Angela Colley

time-to-sell

Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Most people don’t plan on living in their first (or second or maybe even third) home forever, but knowing when the time is right to put that baby on the market can be tricky.

In fact, it can feel kind of like breaking up with a longtime boyfriend or girlfriend. Deep down, you knew you wouldn’t be with that person forever—but ending things can be way easier said than done.

Sometimes life changes force the issue: There’s little reason for self-doubt or trauma-level angst if you’re relocating to another state or you know your newborn twins won’t fit in your one-bedroom bungalow. But without a pressing reason staring you in the face, it can be hard to know when you’ve outgrown your home.

So how do you know when it’s the right time to let go?

1. You’re feeling cramped, and you can’t add on

Your family might not be growing, but that doesn’t mean your lifestyle still fits in your current house.

If you’ve started working from home, for example, or you’ve adopted an extended family of indoor cats—or maybe you’ve just never gotten over your dream of having a sewing room—your house might be too small.

But before you jump to conclusions, see if paring down your possessions works to free up some space. Another option might be to finish an attic or basement, add another room, or even add a whole story to your home. But, of course, that won’t work for everyone.

“If your property isn’t large enough or your municipality doesn’t allow it, moving to a bigger home may be your best option,” says Will Featherstone, founder of Featherstone & Co. of Keller Williams Excellence in Baltimore.

To decide which route to take, check your local building laws and get estimates from two or three contractors. It also wouldn’t hurt to check with your Realtor®. Sometimes adding on won’t increase the value of a home, and you don’t want to make big-time improvements that will bring only a small-time return on your investment.

2. You have too much space

On the other hand, perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed by vacant rooms and silence. (Hello, empty nesters!)

“In this case, it no longer makes sense to have, say, four bedrooms and a basement,” Featherstone says.

Saying goodbye to a family home can be difficult, but you should consider how feasible it is to stay. If yardwork and house upkeep are getting to be a little too much, or soaring utility bills are cramping your style, it might make more sense to move.

3. You’re over the neighborhood

Maybe you can no longer deal with the rigid rules of your homeowners association, or perhaps your neighbors turned their house into a rental for frat guys. Whatever the reason, neighborhood dynamics can change dramatically over time.

And sometimes, you can change. Maybe the 40-minute commute to work didn’t seem like such a big deal the first few years, but now you’re dreading it every day. Or your kids are getting older, which can be a big problem if you’re not in the right location.

“If you can’t afford a private school system, you are limited to one school for your children,” Featherstone says. “Moving may be a benefit to your child’s education.”

4. Remodeling won’t offer a return on your investment

Giving your kitchen or bathroom a face-lift can make your house feel like new again, which might be all you need to decide you want to stay put for years. But that doesn’t mean it’s a financially sound decision.

“Before making significant improvements, you should really study the neighborhood and know the highest price point of your neighborhood,” Featherstone says.

If your home is already similar in style and condition of some of the priciest homes in the neighborhood, remodeling might be a bad idea, and you should consider selling instead.

5. You can afford to sell

Sure, you’re going to make money when you actually sell your house, but as the adage goes, it takes money to make money. So seller beware: You probably won’t be sitting around and waiting for the dollars to roll in.

“Before you consider selling, you should have the funds available to prepare your home for sale,” Featherstone says.

Most sellers need to make some minor improvements such as painting, landscaping, or updating flooring to get a good price on their home. Those costs will come out of your pocket at first, so it’s a good idea to have a cushion before you start.

6. You’re ready to compete

If you’re living in a seller’s market, you might be enticed to offload your home before things cool off. But don’t forget—once you sell, you’ll probably be a buyer, too.

“If your market is hot, your home may sell quickly and for top dollar, but keep in mind the home you buy also will be more expensive,” Featherstone says.If you’re going to get out there, you should make sure you’re ready to compete.

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Silly Putty and Other Secrets of Hanging Wall Art Perfectly

By Margaret Heidenry

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mattjeacock/iStock; Kameleon007/iStock; stevecoleimages/iStock; Amazon; Home Depot

There’s something frustrating about hanging art on your home’s walls. You have to buy those special picture-hanging hooks, measure six ways till Sunday, punch a hole or two in a pristine wall, and then, after all that, the frame always seems to end up crooked. And no matter what political party you identify with, be it Democratic, Republican, or Pirate (yep, that’s a real thing), everyone can agree on one issue: Wall art should be perfectly straight. And it shouldn’t immediately go off-kilter when you barely brush past.

But don’t be cowed by a fear of crookedness—wall art adds visual punch to any home.We’ll clue you in to the secrets of hanging your frames as straight as an arrow—and getting them to stay that way.

Step 1: Measure for measure

First things first, if you want your art smack dab in the middle of a wall, you’ll need to measure the wall’s height and width to find the center. From there, figure out how high you want the art to hang—your eye should fall in the middle of the piece—and lightly mark where the center top of the frame lands on the wall.

Step 2: Double up on hooks

When you hang art on one measly hook, it acts like a fulcrum, on which your picture will seesaw every time a door slams. But if you double down on hooks, your art will be less likely to slip and slide. Make sure you have the right type, too.

“Wall fasteners are available in both lightweight and heavyweight options to prevent the need for drywall repair in the future,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman. “If you think your frame may be too heavy for the wall, use a stud finder to locate a supporting beam.”

To figure out where to make your holes, first look at the back of the frame and pull the wire straight up at two points about 8 inches apart, says Tessa Wolf, creative director of Framebridge, an on-demand online custom framing company.

“Measure the distance between the top of the wire at each point to the top of the frame. Then measure and mark two spots on the wall that are the same distance below top of the frame and exactly 8 inches apart. Hammer the hooks into the wall so the bottom is directly on top of your marks.”

Step 3: All about that tape

If you have a picture with two hooks on the back as opposed to a wire, “place a piece of painter’s tape on the back of the frame right under the hooks and mark a dot on the tape where the nails need to go,” says Sassano. “Then place the tape on the wall where you’d like to hang your photo. Use a level to ensure the tape is straight and hammer the nails in where the dots are marked.” Remove the tape, and you’re good to go.

Step 4: Helping hacks

Hanging art can be a two-person job—one to adjust the picture, while the other person takes forever to decide whether the angle is right. But if you prefer to work on your collection solo, check out the Hang and Level ($15). This nifty tool helps you position art with a built-in hook that allows you to mark the wall when you find your perfect placement.

You can also make a DIY approximation by driving a nail through the bottom of a paint stir stick. Simply hang your art on the nail, get it in position on the wall and tap the nail to mark the spot.

Step 5: Call in backup

Keep your pictures straight by installing self-adhesive cabinet plastic bumpers on the bottom inner corners of your frame. These will prevent slipping and general crookedness by creating traction between the frame and the wall. A-types out there can go withVelcro, though it may damage walls when removed, and those with a sense of humor can even use Silly Putty.

Step 6: Level it off

Use an actual level to get your frames perfect, or go to your smartphone’s app store and download one of the countless level apps. Stick either version on top of the frame until the bubble is perfectly centered, and voilà, you have a straight picture! Push your frame with bumpers, Velcro, or Silly Putty against the wall to keep it that way.

Step 7: Mask any mistakes

To avoid damaging drywall, Sassano recommends selecting the lightest frame possible prior to hanging. If you do mess up and need to fix a nail hole, no biggie. Check out this Dunn-Edwards Paints short hack video on how to master a quick patch.

Read Before You Refi: 5 Tips For A Higher Home Appraisal

By Laura Agadoni | April 21, 2016

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A clean, uncluttered home isn’t just attractive for potential buyers: It can make an impression on your home appraiser too.

If you’re refinancing, these home appraisal tips can help.

If you’re hoping to refinance the mortgage on your home, there’s one big roadblock between you and that lower rate: the home appraisal. If your appraisal is low, you might not be able to refinance at all, or you might be facing less-than-optimal loan terms, including potentially paying for private mortgage insurance. If your appraisal results in a higher assessment, you’ll quite likely have more loan options available to you — often with lower interest and better payments.

To start your appraisal prep, make sure your home is clean (inside and out). Appraisers are human, after all, and can be swayed by how pristine (read: well-cared-for) a home looks.

Here are five more home appraisal tips to ensure your home appraises as high as possible.

1. Make those small repairs you’ve been postponing

Your house isn’t going to morph into a mega-mansion overnight, so some of the considerations for an appraisal (such as the number of rooms, square footage, and location) aren’t negotiable. But you can make the most of your home’s features. “Make sure that all the major systems have been serviced and that everything in the home appears to be maintained and functional,” says Ingrid Vincent, a Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts real estate agent. For appraisers, the condition of a home often matters more than the year it was built. Tackle any DIY home projects that you’ve put off.

2. Enhance your home’s curb appeal

You might not pay much attention to your home’s exterior, especially if you typically enter and exit through the garage or a side door. But curb appeal matters to potential buyers, and it matters to appraisers too. The Appraisal Institute states that properly maintained landscaping can enhance a home’s value. If you’re wondering what else you can do (besides mowing the lawn) to boost curb appeal, Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping in California, gives these tips for a quick landscaping fix:

  • Strategically place container gardens
  • Mulch flower beds
  • Wipe down existing foliage and outdoor lights
  • Stage patios or porches with seating and pillows

3. Create a file of all recent improvements, upgrades, and tax documents

If you spend any money on your home, save all your receipts and keep them in a filing cabinet. (Or digitize the documents and store them on your computer.) It’s also a good idea to take before-and-after photographs of any improvements and upgrades. By staying organized, you can easily prove to the appraiser what you did to improve and upgrade your home, and how much you spent. Also be sure to include documentation for any permits that were pulled as part of home improvement projects.

4. Know the comps in your area

One of the best ways to determine the value of your home is to compare it with similar homes nearby that have recently sold. If you know the comps as well as or better than the appraiser, you can challenge any lowball comps they might use. “Don’t wait until the appeal process if you think you got a lowball appraisal,” says Gloria Shulman, a California mortgage broker. “You have almost no chance of succeeding because it would be an admission they were wrong.”

Instead, here’s the approach Shulman suggests: “Go to your local county offices and find out exactly what properties have sold in your area in the last six months and then go see them in person.” Too labor-intensive? Trulia makes it easy to find recently sold homes with a quick property search (like this one for recently sold homes in Charlotte, NC). “You might find out that the property with the lowest sale price was a teardown,” Shulman says — and that’s the type of information appraisers can use to best evaluate your property.

5. Don’t be pushy

To present the appraiser with all the great information you’ve gathered, you need to do so diplomatically, or all your efforts could be wasted. “Meet the appraiser, and be as nice as possible but not overbearing,” says Antonia Barry, a Maryland broker. “State that you have some information to share with them before they get started.” You would then go over your intel (don’t forget to mention the brand-new shopping center nearby) and then let them do their jobundisturbed. If you hover, the appraiser might wonder what you’re trying to hide.

One the appraiser is finished, you have one last chance to offer assistance. “Ask the appraiser if they have any questions and if they feel there will be any issues with the appraisal,” advises Barry.

8 Easy Ways to Make Money in Your Own Backyard

By: Lisa Johnson Mandell

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Central IT Alliance/iStock

You’re probably not aware of it, but there could be a gold mine in your backyard!

No, we’re not talking about the Eureka-gold-nuggets-whisker-faced-prospectors type of gold mine; we mean more of a take-advantage-of-what-the-land-provides-to-make-a-little-extra-spending-money type. And some of these outdoor projects even hit the home trifecta: easy, fun, and lucrative!

Here are some ways to get started.

Make good with wood

Estimated earnings: Hundreds or thousands of dollars per tree

If you have densely wooded property full of hardwood trees such as birch, oak, or mahogany, there are companies that will come out and thin those trees, harvesting them for timber, and pay you to do something you might have paid someone else thousands of dollars to do instead. A website called SellYourTrees.com makes it all very easy.

Use your yard clippings

Estimated earnings: From about 20 cents an ounce

Yard clippings and kitchen waste can be surprisingly profitable when converted to compost and/or fertilizer. There are plenty of videos and books available that can teach you how to treat your plant-product waste. And yeah, you can even worm your way into some serious coin, as resourceful Princeton classmates Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer did by starting their own worm bin, which produces rich, organic, liquid fertilizer from insect waste.

Their company, TerraCycle, now sells its wares at ubiquitous stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart, and has developed numerous recycling products that can help you do the same.

Be a sap

Estimated earnings: Up to $15 per pint of maple syrup

Retired teacher Dick Henderson of Thunder Bay, Canada, realized all the sap from his huge maple trees was going to waste, so he decided to tap the trees and make maple syrup. Although he uses it for his own purposes and gives the rest away, plenty of others bottle their sap and sell it to tourists and gift shops. Delicious!

Horn in on the antler industry

Estimated earnings: $1 per inch of antler

If you live in an area where elk roam wild (e.g., Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, or Utah) and you come across a nice rack (elk shed their antlers once a year in early spring), they could provide quite the windfall.

“Sheds,” as the antlers are called, are a hot commodity to people who use them to craft furniture and lamps, or want a source for all-natural doggie chews. They can sell at retail for several dollars per inch.

Kevin Foutz, a rancher in Colorado, notes that “hard bone” brokers are easy to find on Craigslist. And by the way, Foutz says if you have a ranch dog, you can train it to find and retrieve antlers.

Get in a jam with fruit

Estimated earnings: Up to $12 per jar

If you’re fortunate enough to have fruit trees, try bottling or canning what grows on your premises. Homemade jams sell at a premium in fancy country stores, and lemon curd happens to be all the rage right now. Tomato sauces and bottled apple pie filling are also popular. You can sell them at farmers markets or in upscale food boutiques.

Get in the swim

Estimated earnings: $10 to $35 per lesson

If you have a pool, you can have a classroom. Take lifeguard, water safety, and swimming instruction classes at the local YMCA or community college, and voila! You can teach those little tadpoles a thing or two about how to behave in the water. Many parents would prefer private lessons in a quiet place with fewer distractions than they’d find at a public pool.

Provide parking space

Estimated earnings: $35 to $100 per month

Here’s an idea that doesn’t require trees, grass, or a green thumb. As a matter of fact, if your backyard is all cement, it’s even better. Offer to store someone’s boat, RV, or extra car. If you have a covered area a vehicle will fit under, you can charge even more.

Grow your own … anything

Estimated earnings: $5 or more per plant

We know what you’re thinking, and at the moment there are 23 states where that is legal, with certain stipulations. But there are plenty of other high-cash crops that you might not have thought of and require little space, including ornamental succulents, catnip, saffron, truffles, and mushrooms. Granted, your yard may need to meet special requirements in terms of sun, shade, and moisture, but there’s essentially a cash crop for any type of land, so be sure to check.

VACATION HOME SAFETY TIPS

Written by Jaron Clinton on Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Among the fastest ways to kill a post-vacation buzz is returning home and discovering your house is in shambles. Maybe a water pipe broke and now you’re trudging through ankle-deep sludge. Perhaps a burglar slipped inside, ransacked the place and gallivanted away with your most valued possessions. Or it could be that you forgot to clean out the fridge before leaving, and now mold has infested every nook and cranny. Just like it’s important to shop for an excellent vacation deal, it’s crucial to make sure returning from that well-earned trip isn’t a headache or disaster. Here are six easily-skipped steps to keep in mind while you’re planning that enticing itinerary.

Of Course Somebody is Home

Hiring a house or pet sitter is the best – albeit costly – method to ensure your home stays just like you left it. House sitters can vary from a trusted friend or family member, to somebody who is a professional. Typically a house sitter will take care of any pets you’re leaving behind, water plants, collect the mail and sometimes other small tasks. It’s challenging to trust somebody enough to be in your home for days on end, but their presence ensures burglars avoid your place and that your appliances and utilities don’t decide to take a vacation of their own.

Celebrate on Social Media After the Trip

Booking a vacation is exciting. It’s a break from the daily grind, and that’s often something we want to share with our friends, family and acquaintances via social media. But you should probably hold off on announcing to the whole Internet that your home is vacant and ripe for the picking. Websites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy for complete strangers to gather your personal information and then find out where you live with a quick online search.

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If you can’t help yourself from announcing the trip and posting photos, then do yourself a favor and greatly restrict who can see and share the information. The same plan of action holds true for automatic email responses and voicemail systems. The rule of thumb is that if you’re not comfortable with somebody being in your house when you’re not there, then don’t tell them – even indirectly – that you’re heading off on some sweet adventure. Scoundrels might seize that announcement as an open house invitation, and you might return to an open front door.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Casing a house is a common tactic for many home invaders. They spend days – sometimes even weeks – monitoring when you’re home, what rooms you’re in, what you’re doing and who you’re with. They’ll know your daily habits better than you do. The best way to thwart these folks is to make sure it genuinely looks like somebody is home. Set up an app-controlled light timer. You can even set up a timer-controlled power supply to stereos or TVs. But don’t keep the same timer settings day by day. Vary when lights come on, which rooms they pop on and for how long everything is running. Also be sure to use compact florescent light bulbs to save electricity and your energy bill.

Lock it Down, Regardless of Where You Live

It’s oddly common that in small, homely towns where “everybody knows each other” folks leave their homes and cars unlocked. If you’re involved with this mindset, then you may very well leave your door unlocked during an extended absence. And unlocked doors are the biggest “burglarize me” signals out there. More than 30 percent of home burglaries happen from an unlocked entrance. Don’t be the person who forgot to close and lock the windows or sliding glass door. Put a dowel rod behind any type of sliding entrance, and be sure to lock the deadbolt. It’s easy to prevent an easy crime.

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This Needs Power, This Doesn’t

Imagine how devastating it feels to show up back home after your trip and discover a charred pile of rubble where your home once stood. Let that feeling sink in for a few moments, and then take a look around at what electronics and appliances you currently have plugged into the wall throughout your home. A power outage or surge could trip these devices and cause a fire if the device isn’t plugged into a surge protector or turned off. Now since you’re leaving certain electronics on timers to discourage home invasions, make sure what you do leave plugged in is plugged into a surge protector. You can group electronics and appliances close together to limit the number of protectors you’ll need to buy.

Otherwise, think about how much energy appliances like your refrigerator, water heater or climate control require and consume. If you don’t have plants, animals or open food, then you can pretty much turn off your climate control depending on what the outside weather is like. Set your water heater to vacation mode to reserve energy consumption. And last, either remove perishables from the fridge, turn it off and open the door to prevent mildew, or make sure the appliance is completely full of non-perishable items. If you have empty space then fill jugs of water there to insulate your fridge and lower energy consumption.

Finally, if you’re off on an adventure during the winter, ask a trusted neighbor, friend or family member to come by and run the facet for about 5 minutes every day or two. If your pipes are properly insulated, this should help prevent them from freezing over or breaking.

A Tidy Home is a Lived in Home

The final step that is extremely easy to skip on longer or seasonal trips is how your home looks. Sure, you have lights popping on and off at random times, but is your yard unkempt? Are mail flyers, newspapers and packages creating the next great pyramid on your doorstep? These are signals to anybody paying attention that you’re not home. Either stop packages, the newspaper and your mail from being deposited, or get somebody you trust to pick everything up for you. Plus if you’re leaving in the winter and it snows, make sure they shovel your driveway or sidewalk.

 

10 Quick Curb Appeal Fixes to Sell Your House Faster

These ideas might also increase your home’s value, too.

Tips For Getting The Garden You Want This Summer

Not sure where to start in your garden? Follow these basic rules for success and get the garden you love.

 

Alderwood-Landscaping-Medina-Renovation

If you are like most homeowners, spring is that time of year when you finally get into your yard, take a look around, and immediately feel overwhelmed. A yard can be a great place to feel productive and actually learn new skills, but it can also be a slow-going and expensive project. Fall and winter weather can create a messy, overgrown and un-tended yard. You might have erosion issues, weeds, fallen branches, dead plants, and empty containers to contend with. You might even have repairs that need fixing, like a broken fence, wiggly stair railing, or drainage issues. Here are some great tips to help you make the most out of your yard work this season and help lay a good foundation for your garden.

1. Take care of what’s broken first

Before you launch into planting new flower beds, be sure you repair any structures on your property that are broken or in need of repair. The deck, stairs, fencing, gutters or any concrete work that poses danger to people or could lead to more property damage should be addressed first. If you are unable to do the work yourself, hire a contractor. You’ll also want to make sure your lawn and yard equipment is in good shape. Sharpen your tools so that they work properly, lubricate and clean off the mower, and make sure everything is in working condition and safe to use. You’ll want to assess your trees, shrubs and plants and see what is dead or damaged. Winter can be particularly harsh on even the hardiest of plants, and dead branches can pose a real danger in the yard.  Having a safe and functional yard is the first step towards a healthy and beautiful garden that everyone can enjoy.

2. Get inspiration from your neighborhood

Sometimes the best sources of inspiration are right around you. Your neighbors have the same climate, soil conditions and rainfall that you do, so see what plants are working in their yard how they have designed their garden space. This is an excellent way to get familiar with the types of plant species that are successful in your region and get inspiration for landscaping and curb appeal. Keep in mind that if you see an enviable yard, that person has most likely spent many years cultivating it. So although you may not be able to immediately replicate the landscape of your favorite home, you can certainly learn from their choices and use that as a guide for your own yard.

3. Get expert advice from a master gardener

A master gardener is a person who has gone through a formal training in the field of gardening. Local universities and extension programs provide classes, testing and educational programs for people interested in taking their gardening knowledge to the next level. Master gardeners not only know their local flora and fauna, they are trained in sustainable gardening practices, have studied the environmental impact of gardening including water conservation, are knowledgable of invasive species of plants, and are interested in educating the public about successful gardening techniques. Many nurseries host free master gardener sessions where you can ask specific questions about your yard like how to design a perineal garden, natural pest control methods and general plant selection. This is a great way to get professional-level advice for your own garden. Learn more about your local master gardener program here.

4. Know your soil

Before you run out and purchase soil amendments, plant nutrients or fertilizer, test your soil to see what nutrients it is actually lacking. Soil kit testers are inexpensive and can be an excellent way to understand why certain plants aren’t growing well in your yard. Plants need a particular pH level for optimal growth and health; soil that is too acidic (with a low pH) or too alkaline (with a high pH) may not support your favorite flowers, for example.  In addition to testing the pH levels, you should also have a good understanding of your soil composition. Is your garden sandy, rocky or mostly clay? You may need to amend your soil with good-quality top soil to build a better base for your plants. Or, if this proves to be too expensive, look for plants that adapt well to your type of soil.

5. Start composting

Compost is the result of decomposed organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or plant nutrient. In other words, compost is like a vitamin pill for your plants, and can contribute to healthy soil conditions, moisture retention, weed control, and general good yard condition. Compost can be created a number of different ways: you can add food scraps to a compost bin where it will decompose, place yard waste scraps in an open compost area, or place worms in a compost container (called vermicomposting) which will produce manure for the yard. All of this “black gold” created from these various compost methods can be added to your soil, on your lawn, or in a produce garden to help create robust and healthy plants. The benefits of composting go beyond the garden. Composting can help reduce waste in our landfill and can be a great way to get rid of your eggshells, coffee grounds, grass clippings or dead leaves. Buying compost is expensive, so try it at home for a low-cost method. Read more about how to set up a compost area in your yard here.

6. Save those plant tags

The tags that come with your new plants may not have tons of detailed information, but they may prove useful in the future. Knowing the species name of the plant is important, especially if you want to learn best practices for pruning, fertilizing, watering, spacing, or any other pieces of information that can affect the health of the plant. You can keep these tags in a garden notebook for quick reference, or write the species name of the plant on a plant tag and affix it to the plant. This is a great way to become more of a plant expert and be able to identify plants at the nursery as well.

7. Be mindful of watering

Planning your garden and landscape usually means focusing on plants, colors or design, but how you intend to water everything should also be top of mind during the planning and planting stages. Planting a beautiful flower bed that is too far out of reach of your sprinkler system, or adding plants that require lots of water, will actually become problematic to your budget: dead plants waste money, and too much watering means a higher water bill. Experts agree that water conservation should always be part of your landscape conversation, no matter what region you live in. A great way to plan for watering is to plant by water need, grouping similar water-need plants together to make irrigation more efficient. If you have a sprinkler system, you should have the sprinkler heads checked annually to make sure they aren’t wasting water. Additionally, having a good layer of mulch around your plants is an excellent way to ensure that moisture is being retained and can help prevent water run-off.

8. Create focal points for an expert look

The best landscapes and backyards use a little design trick that works no matter what size your space is: have a focal point. This could be as simple as a bird bath, water feature, tree, a park bench, or a large container filled with flowers. The idea is that this focal point creates a sense of perspective and depth in the yard and grabs the eye’s attention, making your brain think that something interesting is going on. Large yards can have several focal points that lead the eye across the yard or down, let’s say, a path to a bench. Small yards can look larger with clever uses of structure like an arbor, or something directional like a pathway. It does’t matter that this pathway leads to anything, it’s the illusion that there is direction and momentum that makes for an interesting and engaging space. If you don’t know where to begin, start by organizing things you already have like a small sitting area, or a large container or two, and try grouping them in the garden. You can use this a base in which to landscape or garden around, adding plants, flowers or features slowly over time. If you’d like to see a great example of this design trick, check out this amazing before/after landscaping project by Alderwood Landscaping.

9. Use native plants

Native plants are plants that are naturally found in your region or climate conditions. These are “local” plants that should adapt easily to your soil, altitude, temperature and overall climate. Ideally these plants are somewhat low maintenance and won’t need a multitude of expensive soil amendments, toxic fertilizers, or excessive watering. Experts feel that native plants are a more sustainable way to plan your garden, and won’t cause strain on the environment like a non-native plant can. Native plants are also thought to coexist more successfully with native insects, birds and animal life, and can create a better environment for living creatures who may rely upon these plants for food or shelter. Most nurseries should have a native plant section or be able to help you find the plants you are looking for. You may even already have these plants in your yard and can possibly help propagate them or encourage their growth.

10. Know when to hire a professional

Even the greenest of thumbs needs professional landscaping help from time to time. There may be a larger project that needs to be done with professional-grade equipment, labor intensive jobs that require many hands, or structural elements that may be beyond your skill level. You might also want to hire someone to design and create the right type of “foundation” for your yard or simply clean up and clear a huge mess. If you are considering hiring a professional landscaping company, it’s a good idea to know your budget and the ideal scope of the project. Have them visit your yard in person so that they can assess the space, take a look at the overall landscape and point out any issues or work that may affect the budget (like erosion control, permitting, or drainage issues). If you have any must-have elements like specific plants or colors, be sure you have that information for your meeting.

Top image credit: Alderwood Landscaping

8 Curb Appeal Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Home Sale

Would you wear sweatpants for an important job interview? Going out on a limb here, but the answer is probably “no.” The same holds true for selling a home; you should prepare your home’s curb appeal to ensure an outstanding first impression. When your home is on the market, first impressions are everything. An unkempt yard or peeling paint will scare some buyers away completely. Even if you’re selling in a perpetually sunny place, like Miami, FL, where seasonal chores like leaf removal and shoveling may be a nonissue, it’s important to spend some time on curb appeal to draw in all the potential buyers you can.

2016-04-05-1459875281-1869-July2015Trulia8CommonMistakesThatSabotageCurbAppealhomewithbluedoor-thumb

Start your journey toward an impeccable first impression by avoiding these eight common curb appeal mistakes sellers make when listing their home.

  1. Overlooking curb appeal entirely. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is sellers not doing anything in terms of curb appeal,” says Matthew Coates, a real estate agentwith West USA Realty Revelation in Chandler, AZ. Many sellers focus their staging projects inside their house, but the exterior is just as important. Spend at least half a day cleaning up your yard to reinforce the impression that your home is well cared for.
  2. Ignoring clutter. It’s one thing to have a cluttered yard in your “normal” life, but it shouldn’t be cluttered when your home is on the market. A collection of shoes near the front door, a jumble of lawn furniture, kids’ toys, a tangled yard hose — all of that should be cleared away, leaving only a few tasteful pieces to make your yard look homey and to give buyers ideas for how the space could be used.
  3. Tired landscaping. No need to go overboard and bring in a backhoe to level the lawn, but do make sure the yard is looking its best. Water the grass, trim the hedges, and put in a few perennial flowers to brighten things up. “Adding vibrancy with fresh flowers can make a world of difference and make the yard inviting and alive,” says Coates. Backyards and gardens teeming with bright flowers are one of the main reasons the real estate market heats up in spring. Pro tip: If it’s not springtime, you can still imbue a little liveliness with strategically placed planters and by sweeping up dry, brown leaves.
  4. Peeling paint. There are many theories about which home renovations are worth investing in when a house is on the market. One theory that’s a proven winner? Touching up the paint on the front of your house. New paint won’t disguise a house that’s in need of major repairs, but it will give the house a more cheerful appearance. It may not be practical to repaint the entire exterior, but repainting the trim goes a long way. If you can’t paint all of the trim, focus on the trim around the front door so that the buyer standing on the front porch carries that positive first impression inside.
  5. Quirky art. That enormous dancing elephant statue out back may fit your tastes or express your eccentric sense of humor, but you don’t want buyers to fixate on one thing that makes the house seem bizarre. Because you can’t anticipate everyone’s taste, it’s best to remove all the quirky art from your yard (and house, for that matter). You want to showcase your house as pretty, appealing, and accommodating of the buyers’ style. A trusted friend’s honest opinion will help you part with your precious treasures — even if just for staging.
  6. Unusual landscaping. In some places, front yard vegetable gardens are all the rage. You’re welcome to maximize your home bounty by putting raised veggie beds instead of flowers in your front yard — but buyers might not love the look. When you’re selling, the front yard is best served by ornamental plants only. Similarly, the backyard should be an inviting outdoor living space. Consider removing backyard poultry farm, the goat pen, and any other unusual pet habitats. (Yes, that includes squirrel and bird feeders!)
  7. Shocking colors. Is your house locally known as “the Easter egg house”? Bright colors are cheerful, but again, you don’t want your bold taste to scare off a solid buyer. Consider updating to neutral paint colors and lawn furniture when your house is on the market. For inspiration, look around the neighborhood. Your house should complement the ones around it. Save your vibrant color preferences for your next home — not the home you’re trying to pass along to its next owner.
  8. Outdated fixtures. New exterior light fixtures don’t have to be very expensive, but they can make a big difference. Not only will fresh fixtures give the impression that your home has been updated recently, but they also will cast a brighter light for potential buyers who drive by at night. Coates recommends making sure the hardware on your front door is also in working order. “Nothing will turn off a buyer faster than if it’s a chore just to get in the door,” he says. Same goes for garage doors: If yours is rickety and outdated, consider springing for a new one (or fixing up the one you have).

Did you see elements of your house in this list of curb appeal mistakes? Don’t hang up your home seller hat just yet. None of these solutions has to be that expensive —decluttering, a bit of fresh paint, a few flowers here and there. However, all these steps will help guide potential buyers inside the house, where your home’s real charm will have a chance to win their affections.

 

These 15 Features Sell Homes the Fastest And At The Best Price

barn-door

It turns out homebuyers are really into barn doors. When Zillow looked at design features that sell homes at the best price and with the shortest listing time, that feature topped the list. Anything craftsman-style, like rectangular farmhouse sinks, also got homes off the market at a premium. Zillow Digs screened over 2 million listings for homes sold between January 2014 and March 2016 and looked for the keywords that had the best effect on how much more than the expected price and how much faster they sold.

Here are the top 15 design features:

 

outdoor-kitchenOutdoor Kitchen

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 3.7%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 19

Most common metro: Tampa, Florida

 

 

 

tankless-water-heaterTankless Water Heater

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 43

Most common metro: Los Angeles, California

 

 

 

Backsplash backsplash

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.1%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 46

Most common metro: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

 

 

graniteGranite

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.1%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 38

Most common metro: Dallas, Texas

 

 

 

stainless-steelStainless Steel

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.2%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 42

Most common metro: Chicago, Illinois

 

 

 

heated-floorsHeated Floors

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.3%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 28

Most common metro: Seattle, Washington

 

 

 

frameless-showerFrameless Shower

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.6%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 38

Most common metro: Dallas, Texas

 

 

 

pendant-lightPendant Light

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.6%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 48

Most common metro: Phoenix, Arizona

 

 

 

exposed-brickExposed Brick

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 4.9%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 36

Most common metro: New York, New York

 

 

 

craftsmanCraftsman

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 5.4%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 14

Most common metro: Seattle, Washington

 

 

 

quartzQuartz

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 6.0%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 50

Most common metro: Los Angeles, California

 

 

 

subway-tileSubway Tile

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 6.9%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 63

Most common metro: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

 

 

farmhouse-sinkFarmhouse Sink

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 7.9%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 58

Most common metro: Los Angeles, California

 

 

 

shaker-cabinetShaker Cabinet

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 9.6%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 45

Most common metro: Los Angeles, California

 

 

 

Barn door

Percent of homes that sell for above expected values: 13.4%

How many days faster than expected the home sells: 57

Most common metro: Phoenix, Arizona