Month: July 2016

6 Tips to Help You Survive Living Through a Remodel

Julie Laughton, Designer and General Contractor

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Allergies will most likely be triggered when construction dust is everywhere in your home during a remodel. Demolition and drywall sanding can cause airborne dust that can be hard to keep under control. If you are planning on living in your home during a remodel, you must be prepared for due diligence and what you are willing to tolerate.

Unless you are tearing your home down to the studs, most people who choose to live in their house during construction can survive the process with careful planning. Don’t wait until the job starts to assign your designated living space and get situated within your home. You also have to be prepared to get ahead of the dust before the remodel begins. Here are the ways I help contain the dust and keep my clients’ homes clean. Use these tips and pass them onto your general contractor.

1. Pack Like You’re Moving: Your house should be clean before the remodel begins. Get rid of everything except the things you want to keep. Pack like you’re moving. Wrap and store belongings such as knick-knacks in boxes, because if construction dust gets on them, they are a nightmare to clean. They will feel like new again once the remodel is complete and they are unpacked.

2. Create a Zone: During a remodel, homeowners and pets must stay away from the construction area. People often forget that a railing is not there anymore and they can accidently fall. For the safety of the homeowner, the work area should be blocked off. We create a zone by building temporary plywood walls with doors on them. We build a separate entrance so that the crew is not crossing paths with the residents and we also blow the dust off the workers clothes with an air hose before and after they enter the home.

3. Zip The Walls: Since the workers have to walk in and out of the room being remodeled during construction, I find that using a zipper instead of a tape entryway is better. We attach plastic sheets to painter poles and place a long zipper at the opening. This creates a re-sealable entrance and exit. The crew can enter the construction area easily through a zipper entrance and it will keep the dust contained in the work area. When the homeowner comes to check out the construction progress, we supply them with a mask and stop work immediately.

4. Set Up a Temporary Kitchen:
When doing a kitchen remodel from scratch, I help homeowners set up a temporary kitchen somewhere else in their home. I have seen people do this in the living room, den or garage. Set up a table with your microwave, toaster oven, toaster, coffee maker and a small refrigerator.

5. Broom Sweep Clean: Each day at the end of the job, we make sure that the rooms that were worked in are clean and spotless. We also clean as we move from room to room after completing the work. We use sawdust with light oil called ZEPs HD Sweeping Compound. This compound stops small dust particles from flying around while sweeping. We put it on the floor before we sweep. Once the dust is swept into a pile, it can be vacuumed with a Shop-Vac or shoveled away.

6. Spray Down The Dust: Once the sawdust in the house has been contained, we put it into buckets. When transferring the buckets to a dumpster or trash truck outside, dust can get everywhere as the workers walk through the house. It can also blow around in the air outside and get on everything, including a neighbors’ car. We take careful steps to contain it by using a fine mist spray pump to apply water on top of the dust after its put into the buckets.

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The Biggest Regrets of Real-Life Home Sellers

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Paul Velgos/iStock

Even homeowners who’ve successfully sold their place can be plagued by the shoulda-coulda-wouldas—meaning that, looking back, they wish they’d done certain things differently. Sometimes very differently. Regret can be a beast. One with teeth.

The silver lining? We got these remorseful souls to tell us their stories so that you, future home seller, can learn from their mistakes! Read this rueful list of home sellers’ biggest regrets—and take note when the time arises for you to put your own place on the market.

Regret No. 1: Not fully preparing the place

Serious about selling your home? Spiff it up, stat! Recent seller Kim Maggio admits that she didn’t focus on making cosmetic changes before putting her Haverhill, MA, house on the market and wishes that she had.

“I didn’t spend enough time prepping our house for sale—purging, staging, or doing small repair projects,” she says. “And I regret not planning ahead or getting real about what had to be done, because it ended up dragging out the home-selling process—in terms of finding a buyer and negotiating repairs—costing me precious time and money.”

Regret No. 2: Making the property too perfect

On the other hand don’t go overboard, either. When Jen Mason and her husband sold their Denver condo in order to buy their neighbor’s bigger apartment across the courtyard, she put extra energy into leaving the property in pristine condition.

“But why did we care about patching every nail hole, making the place look flawless, and leaving behind our beloved custom window coverings?” she gripes. “Our buyer was an older single woman who really just wanted to live in our neighborhood. All of our efforts had all been a waste.”

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It’s possible to make your home look too perfect. Terry J Alcorn/Getty Images

Regret No. 3: Staying in contact after the sale

Always do your best to keep things “just business,” Mason advises sellers. She didn’t, and is still kicking herself for it.

“Since we only moved across the street, we availed ourselves to the buyer for questions,” the Denver homeowner explains. “And she called us for at least a year on a regular basis whenever she couldn’t figure out how something worked: the house alarm, air filter, fire alarm, window screens, and on and on. It was as though my husband became her personal handyman!”

Despite their best efforts to remain friendly in the tight-knit community, she admits, “we eventually tired of her calls and stalled on our response time until she finally stopped reaching out.”

Regret No. 4: Trying to sell without an agent

“We tried to sell our home without using an agent and soon realized that in our market, and it didn’t quite work out,” says Boston-area homeowner Rebecca Addison. The approach “wasn’t really accepted by the buyer’s Realtors®, who often questioned our price point, which made things difficult.”

So she ditched the for-sale-by-owner approach and wound up enlisting a Realtor after all. “I wish we had just done it right away, because instead it set us back at least a month if not more,” she says. “And in that time people moved on and the market changed. I think we might have missed out on a better sale.”

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Selling your house without a Realtor could be a risky proposition. IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock

Regret No. 5: Caving to a buyer’s whims

Addison also learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to bend over backward, sideways, and into intriguing pretzel shapes for a demanding buyer.

“Our buyer was really difficult and wanted us to give on so many items,” she says. “We also agreed to give the buyer money toward updating the roof so we were very frustrated on the day of closing when he wanted even more.”

Addison stood firm, and after a few hitches the sale continued thanks to an agreement between the Realtors to appease the buyer by reducing their commission.

“I found myself resentful that the buyer got away with that and got the house,” she says. “Especially when I can see for myself that he hasn’t completed any roof work in the past five years.”

Regret No. 6: Skipping the staging

“I really regret not paying the money to stage my apartment right off the bat,” confesses Chicago homeowner Rachel Bertsche. Hoping to save on expenses since she’d already bought and moved into a different home with her family, Bertsche skipped that step until it was too late.

“The money that it cost us owning the apartment longer was far more than the price it eventually cost to stage it.” That jibes with the stats on staging, in fact. Professionally staged properties spend 73% less time on the market.

Regret No. 7: Jumping at the first offer

Antsy to exit her Washington, DC, condo, Aimee Agresti and her husband acted with their hearts rather than their heads. More than a year later, she regrets it.

“We were so anxious to move, we accepted the first offer for our apartment before it even went on the market,” she confesses. “We went for it because we thought it was quick and easy, but I can’t but help think it would have been able to get much more if we’d just taken a breath.”

Regret No. 8: Picking a buyer based only on money

Valerie Blanchard dreamed of finding a buyer who’d love her bucolic Nashua, NH, property as much as she did.

“Our goal was to sell that house to a family who’d maintain it well, since it was big and in a beautiful neighborhood,” says Blanchard, who downsized to a more urban area. But she took the best deal on the table. Later, “when I drove by, I saw that their promise to care for it didn’t actually happen. It’s so disappointing and disheartening, looking back at all the work we did, the labor, the love, the hours contemplating grass seed and bushes gone to pot!”

She advises others to follow their instincts when it comes to choosing a buyer.

“It was a seller’s market when we listed the house, and we had multiple offers, so I should have held out when my gut said that these buyers won’t love the house like we do,” she says. “But I didn’t. And now when we drive by the old house, I cringe every single time.”

 

Starter Home or Forever Home? The Answer May Surprise You

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andresr/Getty Images

House hunting can feel like a never-ending series of choices. Apartment or home? City or suburbs? One story or two? Carpeting or wood floors? But if there’s one question that really keeps buyers up at night, it’s the one they must ask themselves straight out of the gate: Should I buy a starter home or a forever home?

In the past, there was no question: First-time buyers were nearly always steered toward smaller, more affordable homes to build equity (and credit). Established homeowners were pointed toward abodes that could accommodate a larger family—and, eventually, visits from adult children and their kids. But that’s all been turned on its head now.

In fact, a new study by Bank of America found that 75% of first-time buyers plan to bypass a starter home and splurge on a house that will serve them for the long haul. Meanwhile, retirees are increasingly eager to jettison the hassles of a huge family home, opting instead for smaller digs.

So which is right for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help point you in the right direction.

Where am I in life?

Every home search is different, but identifying your current stage of life will help narrow your focus, says Maria Babaev of New York’s Douglas Elliman. Just remember, life stages aren’t necessarily dictated by age anymore. A millennial could be looking to start a family and settle down for the long term, while a middle-aged couple without kids might prefer to pioneer a neighborhood with a starter home. So take any advice you might hear about what type of home is “appropriate” for your age with a huge grain of salt. A truckload of salt! Instead, home in on what feels right for you.

What type of home will fit the way I live today?

Don’t buy mainly for the future, say Jessica Peters and Stephanie O’Brien of the Peters-O’Brien Team of Douglas Elliman. While you may have a preconceived idea of where you’ll be in five years, remember that life’s favorite pitch is the curveball. (The knuckleball also seems to be a specialty.) Be realistic—you may be ready to decorate your dream home, but the cold hard fact is that most people move 11.4 times in their lifetime.

Babaev says a starter home is a better bet for those buyers whose lives are “constantly shifting.” This means people who change jobs often, get relocated, or have a growing family. Other starter-home candidates include anyone with frequent changes in finances or tastes that tend to fluctuate. But if you’re a buyer looking for “an enduring lifestyle and sense of community” instead of just a roof over your head, Babaev puts you in the forever home category.

How much can I afford?

Bottom line: The amount of down payment you can afford will help you decide between home types.

“Starter homes typically have a lower home price value, meaning your down payment will likely be less than that of a forever home,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager at TD Bank. When eyeballing your finances, remember to look beyond your estimated mortgage payment and figure in other monthly costs such as utilities, homeowners association fees, cable, and internet. And when in doubt, don’t stretch past what you can afford, since you never know what could be coming around the corner.

Do I want to make a big profit on my home once I sell?

Consider the investment aspect of your decision when choosing between a starter or forever home. If you’re not looking for a huge return on investment and can afford a property priced at the top of the market, a forever home is in your sights. Forever homes “are generally occupied for much longer periods of time, versus a starter home,” says Peters. And while a dream home will typically hold its value, it will take longer to drastically appreciate. But if you’re hoping to make a tidy profit on your house in the foreseeable future, go for a starter home. Just remember that, according to Peters and O’Brien, the payoff timeline is likely five years.

Might I like to be a landlord one day?

One thing to keep in mind with a starter home is that even when it no longer suits your needs, it could be someone else’s dream rental.

“One of the great benefits of a starter home is the opportunity to turn it into a rental property down the road,” says Rodriguez. But first do a gut check to make sure you can handle being a landlord (i.e., vetting tenants and managing maintenance). If so, investing in a starter home that can become a rental property could turn into a great source of added income later in life. Better yet, put the extra dollars from a rental toward the eventual purchase of your forever home.

10 Essential Skills Every New Homeowner Should Have

Ah, the joys of homeownership — you can paint the walls any color you choose, let Fido run free in your backyard, and finally leave your bike outside your side door, without getting a citation from your property-management company.

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There are many perks of having a place to call your own, but the honeymoon can come to a sudden end as soon as something goes awry. Suddenly, there’s no one to call when your toilet just won’t stop running, a leak appears below your bedroom window, or your garbage disposal gets clogged. You’ve got to figure out how to fix the problem yourself — or hire someone to do it.

But with a little patience (and some smart internet research), it’s possible to take on many common home maintenance tasks yourself. Who knows: You may even start to take pride in your newfound handyman (or handywoman) skills! Whether you’re moving into a new home in San Diego, CA, or Wilmington, DE, these 10 skills are essential techniques that new homeowners across the country should know how to do.

1. How to change your air filters
Chances are, if you’re moving from a rental, your landlord took care of this task for you. Changing your air filters regularly is important to maintain air quality. “We get calls from homeowners who can’t figure out why their homes are so dusty,” says Bailey Neal, CEO of Nestive, a Nashville, TN-based home maintenance, repair, and cleaning service. “Come to find out: They’ve never changed their air filters.”

Neal says for new construction, consider changing your filters every two to three weeks at first, because of the initial drywall dust. Every three to six months is recommended for people without pets or allergies; if you have pets or allergies, every 30 to 90 days is best. Once you determine the size of your filters (it will be printed on the old one, for example 10x20x1), such services as Amazon or EZFilter can automatically deliver new filters at a determined frequency.

2. How to shut off your water
Ask someone, whether it’s your home inspector, a friend with construction experience, or a plumber, to locate and show you where the main water valve is in your home. “Water is one of the leading causes of damage in homes,” says Neal. “If you can shut off your water quickly, you can prevent thousands in damage.” Neal notes that if you’re going to be away for longer than one or two days, you should turn off the water to your washing machine — it’s as simple as turning the water-valve handle behind the machine to the right. “If there’s a leak while you’re gone, that water is going to run continuously,” he says.

3. How to change the temperature on your water heater
Many manufacturers set water-heater thermostats to reach 140 degrees, but most houses need only a maximum of 120. Setting the thermostat to a lower temperature prevents the potential of scalding, slows mineral buildup and corrosion in your heater and pipes, and can save you $10 to $30 per each 10-degree reduction on your annual energy bill. Plus, it’s as easy as turning a dial.

4. How to turn off your gas
If you smell gas or suspect there’s a gas problem, your first step should be calling your gas company. But it’s important to know how to turn off the gas yourself just in case you need to. The shut-off valve is usually located outside at the meter and will require an adjustable pipe or crescent-type wrench to operate.

5. How to fix a running toilet
A running toilet might sound like the start of a joke, but it can be very annoying — not to mention become a waste of water that could amp up your next water bill. Toilets run for several reasons: problems with the flapper, chain, or float are the most common. A diagnosis and repair is quick and easy. And remember, the water inside the toilet tank is clean, so don’t worry about putting your hands in there.

6. How to turn off power to different parts of your house
“We had a customer who bought a new house, and the first week she was there, her hair blow-dryer suddenly stopped working,” says Neal. “Our electrician went in, hit the ‘reset’ button on the outlet, and the dryer started working again.” The lesson? Look to see if your outlet has a reset button (common for grounded outlets, which are typically located in kitchens and bathrooms, since they are close to water); and while you’re at it, familiarize yourself with the circuit-breaker box. Neal says it’s common for power to die in one room of the house and people then think there’s a power outage. “They don’t even think to go to the breaker box to see if it has tripped,” he says. “Especially if you have (an) older house, the wiring was not built to handle the same capacity of modern electrical systems. Older homes will get overloaded quicker.” When you move into your new home, take some time to flip your circuit-breaker switches and figure out what controls what room — and that the switches are properly marked.

7. How to find a wall stud
It’s important to locate wall studs, which are vertical wood boards behind your drywall, when you’re hanging heavy wall adornments in your new home — including TV wall mounts, shelves that will support significant weight, or even a heavy mirror. Luckily, technology has made it pretty simple to do this — for around $10 at a hardware or home improvement store, you can purchase a stud finder that will help you locate the boards. Pro tip: Studs are almost always spaced either 16 or 24 inches apart.

8. How to clean your gutters
Clogged gutters are no joke. They can cause water to flow onto the wood trim and siding of your house, which can eventually lead to rot — and replacement, notes Neal. Gutters should be cleaned every year, or twice a year if you have overhanging trees. If you feel confident on a ladder, you can clear the gutters yourself by suiting up (wear long sleeves, gloves, even goggles and a mask) and using a small garden shovel to clear the muck, followed by a high-pressure water rinse from your hose. Focus on clog-prone areas: mainly where the downspouts join the gutter system.

9. How to caulk
Caulking is a simple task but delivers big impact — not to mention, it keeps air and water at bay. First, pick the right caulk. For a long-lasting seal, choose permanently waterproof, flexible, shrinkproof, crackproof silicone caulk. (Skip acrylic caulk, which can shrink and crack over time.)

Next, remove old caulk with a utility knife and make sure your surface is clean and dry. Cut the nozzle of the caulk tube to your desired bead size and run a line of caulk — make sure to use even pressure when applying with a caulking gun. Finally, smooth the line with a wet finger. Need more instruction? Do a littleresearch about proper caulk protocol, and you’ll be sealed up in no time.

10. How to maintain your appliances
This doesn’t exactly seem like a skill, right? But you’d be surprised: Knowing how to properly clean and maintain your appliances is key to extending their life span. For one resource, locate your oven’s instruction manual (or look it up onManualsOnline.com) and run the self-clean feature — no need to bake your cookies with lasagna leftovers from the previous homeowner.

If your refrigerator is equipped with a water dispenser (i.e., it makes its own ice), we’re betting it has been awhile since the filter was replaced. Again, use the manual to determine the correct filter model and how to replace it. Next, clean your dryer vent of lint buildup — in the lint trap, behind the lint trap, and in the duct that leads to the outside of your home. Then clean your dishwasher filter or trap (depending on your dishwasher model) and run an empty cycle on “hot” with a cup of white vinegar: This will remove all grease and grime. And finally, know how to unclog the garbage disposal — a clean toilet plunger can work or, in more extreme cases, an auger, which is sold at home improvement stores.

Mortgage Refinance Options for People With Bad Credit

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Low mortgage interest rates have created a great opportunity for many homeowners to refinance their mortgages, resulting in lower monthly payments or extra cash to pay off debts.

But what about people who have low credit scores and may have trouble qualifying for a new loan? We asked Roslyn Lash, an accredited financial counselor at Youth Smart Financial Education Services and a member of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor network, for tips on what consumers can do if they would like to refinance their mortgages but don’t have sparkling credit.

What can people with bad credit do to take advantage of low interest rates?

The options are limited. The 2008 housing crisis was a result of exceptions where loans were provided to clients that otherwise could not afford or qualify for a loan. The loans usually had inflated rates or were otherwise predatory. Since then, lending standards have tightened up considerably.

You may not be totally out of luck, though. The Federal Housing Administration has programs for people with less-than-desirable credit that include mortgage interest rates lower than that of conventional loans. To qualify, the applicant’s overall credit history must not consistently reflect late payments or delinquencies. Therefore, someone with judgments or delinquent federal loans such as tax liens and student loans may not qualify. A low credit score resulting from periodic delinquencies or a collection could still qualify, however.

What are the potential disadvantages of this option?

FHA loans require an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium. This amount is equal to 1.75% of the loan amount. In addition, a monthly mortgage insurance premium must be paid as well. The amount of the monthly premium will depend on the loan amount. When applying for an FHA loan, ask questions regarding the conditions in which these premiums can be reduced, refunded or canceled. For people already paying a monthly mortgage insurance premium, it’s possible that a refinance may actually eliminate it.

Are there any other steps people can take to improve their chances of being approved?

It’s important to show patterns of good credit, even if there are some negative marks on your credit record. A few delinquencies can be explained and won’t necessarily destroy your chances, especially if they are due to temporary drops in income or rate adjustments that increased your payment. In fact, even a bankruptcy will not automatically disqualify applicants. That being said, it’s important to re-establish your credit by having as many good lines of credit as possible.

It’s also important to minimize your debt and to be sure that your mortgage is affordable (no more than 30% of your income). An even better way to calculate affordability is to take into account not just housing debt but all debt — that means housing debt including mortgage, insurance, taxes and homeowners dues plus monthly debts such as credit cards and car payments. Using this kind of analysis, your overall debt should be no more than 43% of your gross income.

For example, if your monthly income is $2,850 and your monthly debt (including mortgage) is $1,150, you would still be in good shape to afford a mortgage, because your overall debt-to-income ratio is 40.35% ($1,150/$2,850). Please note that qualifying ratios are subject to change, and you should check with your lender.

The Secrets to Selling a Home for Over Asking Price

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No one puts their house up for sale hoping for an average offer. You want a good offer. A great offer, even. Dare we say it? You want an all-out, claws-bared bidding war that will push your home’s price well over what you’ve asked for in your listing.

It’s a dream for any home seller. And if you want to sell a home for over asking, it doesn’t necessarily boil down to luck, timing, or even location, location, location. As proof, read these true-life tales of how Realtors® helped home sellers wheel and deal their way to profits well above their expectations, and learn how you can (hopefully) do the same.

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Aim low in order to go high

“The most fruitful strategy I’ve seen is to aggressively price the property roughly 5% to 10% below the going market rate. This will always generate more traffic to the property and give buyers a chance to fall in love with the home, when a higher purchase price might have kept them away initially. Not only does it get more people in, but once the buyers see the place, they’re more likely to offer over the purchase price, which often leads to bidding wars.” – Collin Bond, Realtor for the Boris Sharapan Team of Douglas Elliman

Lesson learned: While pricing your home a bit below what it’s worth may seem counterproductive, sellers who take this leap of faith are often rewarded in spades. After all, a bidding war is a surefire way to push your home’s price over asking, and you can’t have a bidding war without multiple buyers. So price your home conservatively to up the odds that it will rise exponentially.

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Don’t leap at your first offer

“Several years back we listed a three-bedroom home in Star, ID, at a fair price; it received four offers almost immediately. But instead of biting right away, we held back. We notified the buyers there were other offers, and used that position to gain an advantage. In the end, we had two offers well above asking price.” – Nick Schlekeway, broker for Amherst Madison Legacy Real Estate

Lesson learned: Don’t immediately accept your first offer (or offers, if you’re lucky). Instead, consider it a launchpad for cultivating some fierce competition that could ultimately boost your home’s price.

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Approach investors

“I was selling a small studio apartment that needed a gut renovation, and received a lowball offer from a buyer who was very stubborn and didn’t want to budge on price. I knew I had to get another offer to create competition, so I showed the property to an investor, presenting him with a floor plan from another unit to prove this one could be remodeled and rented for a high price. The investor made an offer, but I wasn’t done. I went back to the original buyer and used the second offer to create a bidding war. Finally, the apartment sold to the original buyer for over asking, all cash—and I broke the record in the building at that time for getting the highest price per square foot in the building’s history.” – Dan Burz, Realtor for Douglas Elliman

Lesson learned: Investors may not be the first people you think of selling to, but they’re always shopping for a good deal, and can provide some much-needed incentive for other buyers to pony up more cash.

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Make your place stand out

“We had one home in a neighborhood with sluggish sales. So to stand out, the seller updated the basement, repainted the home, and redid the landscaping. Although we listed at a modest $150,000, as soon as it hit the market, we got offers. By the weekend, the bidding was around $165,000. We ended up getting an offer for $168,500, more than 10% over asking.” – Joshua Jarvis, founder of Jarvis Team Realty

Lesson learned: Granted, coughing up money for renovations will eat away at your profit. But it could also be a way to help your home shine in a lackluster market—and possibly get more money than you would have otherwise. Just make sure to pick renovations that offer a high return on investment, like your basement or attic. Better yet, you can save money by tackling a few of the simple upgrades (like painting) yourself!

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Highlight the divine in your home

“My team once listed a home for a pastor. It was wild. We had a couple of folks walk through and say they could feel the spirit of God in the house. By the end of one weekend, we had 22 offers, many waiving inspection contingencies, including handwritten letters, and all sorts of other incredible gestures. The sellers studied each person’s situation, then prayed about it, and selected the offer that felt right. We gave the property the same treatment we give all our listings, but I wouldn’t for one second claim we were the cause of all the incredible things we experienced with this house.” – Chandler Crouch, founder of Chandler Crouch Realtors

Lesson learned: Maybe it was divine intervention in this case, but it never hurts to highlight any unique features of a home—or you! So go ahead and announce you’re moving to join the Peace Corps, or that the home once housed a famous artist or pillar of the community. That extra selling point could just push those offers over the top!

Do’s and Don’ts of Summer Landscaping

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11 tips that will save your garden, lawn, and flowers … not to mention your green thumb rep.

Whether you’re dealing with a California drought, an mid-Atlantic heat wave or Deep South downpours, summer can be a tricky time to garden. Here’s what you need to know before you leave the comfort of the air conditioning for a steamy backyard jungle.

DON’T: Plant cool-season vegetables

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to attempt veggies like peas, lettuce, carrots and radishes in summer. They will quickly bolt in the heat, meaning that they’ll devote their energy to blooming and producing seeds, making the edible parts bitter.

DO: Plant hot-season vegetables

Take advantage of summer’s plentiful heat and sunshine by planting these heat-loving edibles: okra, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, cowpeas, yardlong beans and eggplant. Okra produces prolific pods all summer long, and is drought-tolerant as far as vegetables go. Sweet potatoes make an excellent temporary groundcover in veggie gardens and flowerbeds, shading out weeds until the arrival of cold weather, when they can be harvested.

DON’T: Water unless necessary

It’s tempting to set the sprinklers on a timer, kick up your feet and consider it taken care of. But here’s why that’s a problem: First off, do you really want to be the guy or gal who’s caught running sprinklers in a rain storm? Water plants when they are newly planted, or are wilting and/or dropping leaves due to drought.

DO: Use drought-tolerant plants

Drought-tolerant plants are all the rage, and not just because they conserve water. Grow drought-tolerant plants because they’re low-maintenance and because you’re an average person with — you know— a life. That said, ‘drought-tolerant’ does not mean that you can plant it and forget it. Keep the soil moist until the plant takes off on its own.

DON’T: Turn your back on the garden

Because in summer, things can change in a heartbeat. Plants can succumb to pests, drought, wet soil or rot in a matter of days. Pay attention to weather forecasts and be on the lookout for plants that are clearly struggling. Don’t hesitate to use those pruners on any bullies that seem to be taking over less vigorous plants. When in doubt, rip it out.

Smiling young woman working in roses plants at summer garden ; Shutterstock ID 222185932; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

DO: Water deeply

Water like you really mean it — with a deep soak so that the water penetrates the soil without running off or evaporating in the summer heat. Watering deeply will also encourage deeper root growth, which helps plants (especially shrubs and trees) stay healthier and more drought-tolerant in the long run. Water in the root-zone with a high falutin’ garden nozzle, a soaker hose, or nothing more than a hose and a full stream of water.

DON’T: ‘Scalp’ your lawn

If you plan on turning your summer lawn into a practical putting green and you mow your lawn close, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the results. (Unless you’re willing to settle for a putting brown, that is.) Short cuts mean less drought-tolerance, patchier growth, more weeds and shallow roots. When in doubt, cut high.

DO: Fertilize warm-season grasses

Give your lawn a pick-me-up to cope with the summer heat. Your local garden center should have a good selection of fertilizers to suit your region and/or lawn type. Fertilize according to label instructions, using a broadcast, handheld or drop spreader for even coverage. Generally speaking, don’t feed on a hot day with temps above 90 degrees.

DON’T: Water in the afternoon

It’s a myth that sunlight will become magnified by water droplets and burn the plants, but watering in the hottest part of the day is still pretty useless because many plants will go semi-dormant, and water quickly evaporate in summer. Water in the early morning so that the plants’ roots have a chance to absorb moisture.

DON’T: Let weeds go to seed

Procrastinate all you want, but pull those weeds before they have a chance to bloom and go to seed, spreading their progeny all over your garden to proliferate and give you headaches. Don’t settle for hand-pulling everything either: use a hoe or cultivator for new weeds in loose soil, or a heavy-duty weeding tool like a hori-hori knife, hook or mattock for tough, established weeds.

DO: Plant tropical bulbs

Much of your garden will slow down in the heat of summer, but tropical bulbs such as caladiums, elephant ears, cannas and gingers will only grow faster. Create a lush and jungly understory beneath shady trees by planting en masse, or use sparely for architectural interest in container combos and flowerbeds.

Addison’s Wonderland blogger Brittany Hayes gives home tour — See Inside!

Summer Home Maintenance Tips for Your New Home

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Looking for a few summer home maintenance tips to protect your new investment from the warmer months?

We’ve got you covered.

By Drew Knight

With summer just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to start preparing your new home for the warmer months.

From saving money on your electric bills to giving your home’s interior a seasonal refresh, a lot can be done now to make sure your new home is in optimal shape for years to come. To help get you started, here are just a few summer home maintenance tips from the professionals:

 

Exterior

One of the best ways to shave the dollars off your electricity bill is to provide natural shade around your home. This can be accomplished with a quick trip to your local garden center.

Planting a well-developed bush near the living room window or a large tree near a second-story bedroom could help keep your home cool and save you money in the long run. Be sure to plant any shrubs, trees and other plants at the appropriate distance from your home to prevent any problems with your foundation and plants’ roots in the future.

While you’re in the gardening spirit, now’s also a great time to think about how you plan to maintain your lawn over the summer. The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) provides several tips in their seasonal guide to summer lawn and landscaping care.

For instance, many people believe hot weather means you should water more frequently, but the NALP actually advises to water your plants less often but more deeply. So increasing the length of time you expose your greenery to water will usually do the trick.

And to ensure the health of your grass, the NALP suggests having your lawn properly aerated to improve the flow of oxygen in addition to adding adequate amounts of fertilizer and frequently checking its pH levels.

For more tips on summer lawn maintenance, check out the full guide.

After your yard is in tip-top shape, it’s time to pay attention to the rest of your outdoor area. Summer nights are great for enjoying friends and family in the backyard, so why not make an outdoor oasis?

“Create areas around your yard that aren’t being used,” suggests Nicolle Nelson, a spokesman for Nadeau Furniture in Dallas, Texas. “And don’t be afraid to use furniture in a non-traditional way.”

For example, adding a fire pit and seating area can help prevent mosquitoes and create an intimate gathering area. Teak benches around the pool and buffets to house your grilling essentials are other great furniture pieces that really bring out the summer feel.

“By adding a piece of furniture to any corner of your patio or yard, you are inviting your family to use every inch of your space,” says Nelson. “That means more memories for your summer.”

 

Interior

Apart from the exterior of your home, there are also plenty of things you can do to get your home summer ready from the inside.

Since warmer weather brings thoughts of a well air-conditioned home, let’s start with the AC system.

“With spring allergies in full swing and warmer temperatures on their way, it’s crucial to be sure your air filter and AC system are working properly,” says Mike Clear, vice president of operations for American Home Shield, a home warranty company based in Memphis, Tenn.

Clear suggests checking filters regularly throughout the year to help prevent damage, inefficiencies and to keep air clean.

“Schedule annual maintenance on your AC now so you can be sure your unit is in top shape before being put to the test with summer’s high temperatures,” he adds.

He also advises to check in on the furnace and heating system while you’re at it. While a new home’s furnace is likely already quite clean, it’s important to make sure the area around air returns stays clean and unobstructed throughout the year to prevent fire hazards and inefficiency.