Spring is Here

Small townhouse perennial summer garden. Also available in vertical.

Oh, the joys of chirping birds and sunlight and the smell of flowers (no, really—go outside and smell them. They’re grand this time of year).

Yes, it’s spring, which means that you really do need to get out and make your home more, shall we say, viewer-friendly. Time to clean out the extra leaves that blew in over the winter. Time to lay down the weed killer, fertilize the lawn, repaint the shutters and for heaven’s sake, stop stalling already and actually use your flower boxes this year.

In fact, with quarantine still upon us, spring is the perfect time to pick out one thing you’ve put off doing outside and just do it already. Stuck? How about a mulched flower bed right out front?

Get a good amount of mulch delivered, if possible (buying it by the cubic yard is usually a lot more economical than bags). Pick a spot that gets plenty of sunlight (and eyeballs). If you have to clear some grass, use a flat spade and take your time cutting out the sod—that’s a big job. Then buy three times more flowers than you think you’ll plant and space them so they’ll crowd each other just a bit when they really get blooming. Use a good root starter to ensure they acclimate to the new soil well.

After you’ve planted, spread the mulch about 2 inches deep to ensure moisture retention and good appearance for the entire growing season. Then, make sure you water the new plants at least once a day to the point where you’ve really soaked the entire root base of every plant.

There, was that so hard? Now you’ve done something you haven’t gotten around to for years. And spring has barely started. You’re welcome.


Create a Home Office (More Easily Than You’d Think)

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For those working from home these days (and who isn’t?), the thought of having a home office, at least temporarily, has cross just about everyone’s mind.

However, if you’re thinking of a more permanent home office arrangement, consider this:

Space optimizers. With bedroom space being at a premium for most people, the thought of completely devoting a whole bedroom to just office use just isn’t realistic. However, with a install-it-yourself Murphy bed and a portable desk, you can make most any room in a dual-use space for about $1,500—a sizable investment, but one that will provide usable sleep and working space for years to come. Add a set of portable shelves, and you can change up the layout of the room without sacrificing functionality.

Lighting. One key to efficiency is a good blend of sunlight and targeted space lighting. With LED choices more prevalent than ever, cost-efficient lamps and fixtures can direct artificial light exactly where it needs to go. If at all possible, position the desk near a window so that ambient outdoor light can filter in and save your eyes from the glare of an over-bright screen.

Seating. In addition, provide yourself with comfortable seating and more than one sitting spot. Having a desk chair and a reading chair gives your brain some variety and also gives you an excuse to get out of your desk chair more often—a huge bonus for your back and muscles.

Home offices can work. Investigate your options and make a plan today.


Raised Seed Bed Gardening Made Easy

Happy family standing in the garden of the new house

Gardening has, thankfully, made a resounding rebound the past few years as people realize that, eureka, natural beauty is something to be sought after. And one of the prime ways to set your yard, back or front, apart is to build yourself some raised seed beds.

Now, for those of you who read “build” and think “would rather walk into traffic,” fear not. The amount of prefabricated parts and kits on the market these days all but ensures you won’t have to do any of the post-digging and nailing or drilling ancient people had to do, say, 10 or 15 years ago. Just find a material that suits you and assemble away, with few if any tools required.

Now, whether you choose to add legs to your seed beds or leave them on the ground is your call. But what you choose for your material is critical. For your planks, use a composite material or rot-resistant wood like cedar or redwood. Thick planks are better, with 1 -1/2-inch boards working best to hold soil and moisture in the bed.

Next, make sure you add the right soil. If you’re bothering to create new garden beds or boxes at all, don’t skimp on the soil. If you don’t happen to live in a part of the country with good native soil, make sure you’re using a nutrient-rich mixture with plenty of compost, manure, peat moss, topsoil and other black organic material. This will help ensure good results from your plants from the get-go.

Your yard deserves creativity. And raised beds have never been easier to build and install. Raise your game and have at it!


Inside Family Fun!

Happy family on floor lying in living-room

We know: You’re trapped in your house, you’re starting to see sides of each other you probably didn’t want to, and you just want this whole quarantine thing to end.

But as long as you’re stuck together, you might as well have fun together. Here are a couple ideas:

Themed dinner nights. Don’t just veg out again in front of the TV eating takeout chicken strips or cereal. Make it an event. Find your best outfits and make a themed party of it. Roaring ’20s, Western night, even Halloween costumes. Dress it up, post pictures on an Instagram story and make some memories.

Game competition. Sick of bored, er, board games? Pull them back out and make a family competition out of them, with prizes. Create a point system for, say, rounds of Jenga, Yahtzee, Splendor, even Monopoly or Catan. Winner actually gets something cool, just for enduring the agony of playing the same-old stuff. Let the games begin!

Work together in the yard. There is no time like the present to get some of those spring-cleaning yard projects done. Everyone will gripe. Everyone will groan. That’s OK.  Crossing items off that list will be worth it.

As long as you have time on your hands, together, invent things to do—together. We’re all in this. Might as well make the most of it.


Lower Interest Rates Mean One Thing

House property prices concept with money pillars from coins

With the coronavirus sending the world into economic uncertainty, the Federal Reserve has done its part to maintain stability by reducing lending rates to near zero.

What that means for homebuyers is that mortgage rates have plummeted to some of their lowest levels in recent memory. As of publishing time, Mortgage News Daily was quoting 30-year fixed-rate conventional loans as low as 3.24 percent and 15-year fixed loans at 2.96 percent. What does that mean for buyers? With good credit and financial history, homes in nearly every market are as affordable as they’re going to get.

Every housing cycle has a trough (they wouldn’t be called cycles without them), and right now, with unemployment numbers creeping up, housing could hit one. However, because many people will be selling in this market, the combination of low rates and the need to sell will give many buyers more options than they’ve had the past 10 years. Many more.

So, now is the time, if you’re even thinking about buying, to size up your job, credit and housing situation and do a hard assessment of your goals. Do you have the cash to put down, or will you? Do you have the credit to secure a good interest rate? And lastly, are you looking seriously or just dabbling? If you’re ready on all fronts, think seriously about putting some cash on the barrel head. The time has never been more ripe for buyers who mean business—and might not be for years to come.


Spring Cleaning: Make an Impact with your Tidy Home

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If you find yourself around the house a little more than usual lately, make the most of the time by creating a list of spring-cleaning chores that everyone can help with. If you can get over the moans from the kids (and maybe your back), you’ll have a home that’s more fun to live in and looks much better to a prospective buyer.

Make like a tree … Nothing makes a yard look unkept like leaves left around shrubs, next to the house or anywhere else. Rake them, blow them out, do what you have to do. But get them out and to the curb!

Weed the walkways. While you’re outside, make sure there are no weeds or grass growing between pavers, sidewalk slabs or around steps. And rather than use chemicals, whack them out with a trimmer or just pull them out, if possible.

Dust and detail. Throw open the curtains and dust the daylights out of every room. Nothing will add a bright and inviting sparkle to all your rooms than light shining off freshly dusted furniture, shelves, railings, stairs and countertops.

It’s spring. Take advantage of some of your free time right now and make that house shine!


Organizing Your Closets

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When it comes to making the most of your living space, organizing your closets can provide a two-for-one benefit for little or no additional cost. First, it can make simple existing in your own space so much more doable and enjoyable; and second, neatly organized closets can make your home that much more attractive when it comes time to sell (think: Easy staging).

Shelve it. Nothing helps make the most of what might be very tight closet space than an expertly arranged assortment of shelves and racks. Forget a boring ol’ rod for your hangers: Not only will shelves provide certain places for certain items, but they’ll also keep more items within view. And depending on the arrangement, you can still have ample space for those special items that can never be folded, only hung.

Room for shoes. While you’re freeing up some space for your clothes, give your shoes a better home, too. Creating racks or neat shelves for your shoes keeps them off the floor, from being lost and from making your bedroom or entryway looking sloppy. Scattered shoes have a way of saving, “I don’t care.” Neat shoes equal a neat impression.

Around the house. After you’ve organized your clothes and shoes, move to utility closets, game closets and those spaces where you’ve stashed all your cleaning products. They could all use the kind of organization that keeps everyday items within reach and keeps them neat for visitors, whether they’re friends or potential buyers. You never know who might be looking, so keep it neat!


Selling and buying a home in these trying times

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Looking to buy or sell your home in the near future? Have no fear. Despite fears about the Coronavirus, in between the Fed and fantastic technology, it’s still a great time to list your home or shop for one.

Let’s start with technology. Real estate agents have never had a better toolbox with which to serve their clients. Agents and other real estate professionals are or are fast becoming experts on virtual property tours, setting listing appointments with video conference tools like Zoom and FaceTime and closing on sales remotely.

In addition, lenders have sharpened their remote business skills with out-of-town buyers and sellers and will continue to meet with customers remotely to the best of their ability.

And speaking of lending, the Federal Reserve recently slashed the federal funds rate (otherwise known as the overnight lending rate, or the rate at which banks lend each other money overnight) to 0.25 percent, compared to a historically-low 1.75 percent just one month ago. That has dropped the average 30-year mortgage rate to a rock-bottom 3.22 percent. That means buyers with good credit can secure a fabulous rate for the next 15-30 years on a home that may have been out of their monthly-cash-flow range just a year ago.

As with any health-related situation, the current Coronavirus troubles will pass. Homes will last. Don’t get caught up in the fears that many people are allowing to drag them down. If you need to or simply want to, check out your local property listings. Modern technology and some very favorable lending rates could put you into the home you’ve always wanted sooner than you think.


Want a Pool for Summer?

Architecture; beautiful house with pool, blue sky and lush garden

Ah, the sweet smell of chlorine water on a hot, sunny day. Makes you want to go for a swim, right? Well, if you can afford it and your backyard is ready, start now to plan for the dig.


Cost. In-ground pools can run about $50,000, so before you decide to make that kind of investment, you may want to consider an attractive above-ground pool (if your neighborhood allows it). It’s easier to install and maintain, and may be the better option for your budget.

Ground around. Also consider whether the slope of your backyard is conducive to a pool at all. Installing a pool on ground that is not level jacks up the cost considerably and may make it unfeasible. In addition, make sure that the placement of the pool puts it in direct sunlight and that surrounding trees won’t make cleanup a nightmare. Also, make sure that lines of sight from the house are attractive. If you can’t see the pool from the house, it will make it less attractive to buyers when and if you sell. One more thing—make sure whoever is going to dig does so with full knowledge of what’s underneath for mains and power lines!

Size and shape. In addition, think long and hard about the size, shape and placement in relation to the rest of the yard. Too small or too big will forever look weird relative to the other non-moving parts of your yard—driveway, house (of course), gardens and outbuildings.


A pool can be a sensational addition to your property. Just know what you’re doing before you dive in!


Investing in Real Estate

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Investing in real estate, done smartly, can set you up for residual income for years to come, if you go in prepared.

Total costs. When you’re buying apartments, office space or houses to rent—or even just investing in a cooperative investment group that does the same—make sure you account for the total cost of investment, short- and long-term. That means, taxes, insurance, maintenance, HOA fees (if applicable) and of course any loans on the property. Make sure you know the full sticker price before fooling yourself into committing to something you simply cannot afford.

Long-term prospects. Is the property in an up-and-coming, stable or declining area of town. Make sure you and your real estate agent do thorough homework on this. What looks good now may end up being a debacle five years from now if that part of town slides into general disrepair. Don’t get sucked into that if you can at all help it.

Property management. If you can, consider hiring a good property manager to run the day-to-day affairs of your investment. If you’re simply investing in one house, for example, it may not be worth it to you. But then you are responsible for all maintenance for your tenants. A good manager charging a modest fee can do wonders for your peace of mind!

Real estate can be a wonderful investment, if you do your homework and take into account all the costs of ownership. Do your diligence and dive in!