Area Real Estate News & Market Trends Just For You!

You’ll find our blog to be a wealth of information, covering everything from local market statistics and home values to community happenings. That’s because we care about the community and want to help you find your place in it. Please reach out if you have any questions at all. We’d love to talk with you!

Feb. 14, 2018

12 Insane (But Completely True) Real Estate Facts and Events

DID YOU KNOW?!

1. When the Eiffel Tower was constructed, the designer included a secret apartment for himself at the very top.

2. Mark Zuckerberg purchased four houses next to his home in Palo Altoand leased them back to the families that lived there. He did it to avoid the houses from being marketed as “next door to Mark Zuckerberg.” 

https://u.realgeeks.media/thesimantongroup/2.jpg

3. Monica’s apartment from the hit TV show Friends is estimated to be worth $3.5 million.

4. Since the Empire State Building was opened during the Great Depression, much of its space initially went unrented. As a result, many New Yorkers referred to the building as the “Empty State Building.”

5. In Tunisia, Africa, you can book an overnight stay in Luke Skywalker’s boyhood home for only $10.

6. Adolf Hitler once owned a Hollywood mansion that he never stepped foot in.

7. Despite its free market image, all the land in Singapore is owned by the government, and 85% of housing is provided by a government-owned housing corporation.

8. MS The World is the largest privately owned residential yacht on earth. It has 165 private residences and is constantly traveling around the world.

9. Mike Ilitch (owner of Little Caesars and the Detroit Tigers) quietly paid Rosa Park’s rent for more than a decade after she was robbed in her home and forced to move to a safer, but more expensive part of Detroit.

10. In Japan, most houses depreciate in value. Half of all houses are demolished within 38 years, and there is virtually no market for pre-owned homes. Per capita, there are nearly four times as many architects and more than twice as many construction workers in Japan as the United States.

11. In several major cities like London, Toronto, New York, and elsewhere around the world, there are entire buildings and developments that exist solely for the purpose of hiding vent shafts, utilities, cell phone towers, railways, and simply to give off the “illusion of occupation.”

12. From 1908-1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold about 70,000-75,000 mail-order houses. They arrived as a kit and came with most modern conveniences (some of them still exist today).

 

Posted in pre-owned homes
Feb. 8, 2018

10 Ways to Prep Your Home for Sale

With the high inventory of homes on the market today, homebuyers can afford to be choosy. Buyers are looking for the best, so a home for sale can easily slip through the cracks if it's not in pristine condition. Use these 10 tips to whip your home into shape and wow potential buyers.

Improve your landscaping

Curb appeal is crucial to a good first impression, so make sure your home's lawn is immaculate. Mow the lawn, prune the bushes, weed the garden and plant flowers.

Clean the outside

A sloppy exterior will make buyers think you've slacked off on interior maintenance as well. Be sure to clean the gutters and pressure wash your home's siding.

Make repairs

In a buyer's market, you want your home to be in the best condition possible. Take care of major defects like broken windows or a leaky roof that could discourage buyers.

Make the front door inviting

A fresh coat of paint, especially in a color that contrasts with the home, will make the front door stand out. Replace faded house numbers so buyers can see them from the curb.

Buy a new welcome mat

Let buyers know they're invited into your home.

Remove clutter and depersonalize

Buyers want to envision their belongings in your home. Clean up by renting a storage unit for knickknacks, photos, extra furniture and other personal items.

Organize closets and drawers

Messy closets give the appearance that your home doesn't have enough storage space. 

Make every surface shine 

From ceiling fans to floors and everything in between, clean your home until it sparkles.

Take color down a notch

You might like your lime-green bedroom, but it may sour buyers. Paint your walls a neutral color that will appeal to a wide range of buyers.

 

Eliminate bad odors

Hide the litter box and spray air neutralizer throughout your home. When showing the home, fill it with inviting smells by putting out fresh flowers and baking a batch of cookies.

Jan. 30, 2018

10 COMMON MISTAKES THAT ATTRACT PESTS TO YOUR HOME

Pests are awful for every home owner. Those creepy crawlies start creating colonies as soon as they appear in your home, and you aren’t likely going to get rid of them that easily. We usually realize there are pests in our homes when it’s too late, and in most times we need to call pest control specialists or whatever. But it’s much more convenient to keep these insects and other unwanted animals out of your house rather than trying to get rid of them when they are already in. It’s highly unlikely that pests could just appear in your house by chance. Usually home owners make some common mistakes and attract the creatures to their houses. Let’s review the most common mistakes and learn how we can keep pests away.  

1. OLD TRASH – SAY HELLO TO COCKROACHES

Black beetle is said to be the most common pest all over the world. It’s attracted to any place where it can find some food and create a colony. They can smell the odor emanating from old trash from kilometers away and they will surely find a way of getting into your house. So, make sure you clean your trash bins regularly, and also create an optimal way of collecting and disposing of garbage. Disposing of your litter in a big bin on the backyard is not a good idea. Pests that will surely appear there might easily sneak into your house.

2.  BIRDFEEDERS AREN’T THAT SAFE

You should also pay attention to the placement of birdfeeders and birdbaths. People sometimes place them close to their windows in order to watch the birds easily and maybe to take pictures of them. Unfortunately, you’ll also be creating a leeway for insects to come into your house. Birdfeeders should be placed not nearer than 10 meters from your house. Make sure there is no food spoilage there, because that can attract bugs from all over the surrounding area. Also avoid placing birdfeeders on the branches of garden fruit trees. It may be harmful for a tree to bear all those pests.

3. STAGNANT WATER – A GREAT PLACE FOR INSECTS

During the warmer seasons of the year, it’s not recommended to leave water stagnant for more than 3-4 days. Numerous life species can start breeding there, including mosquitoes, flies and even roaches. Pay attention also to dog bowls, baths and buckets outside your house, and even puddles on your yard. They can be a major factor for attracting pests. It’s easy to prevent such kind of breeding for these insects. Just dump everything after gardening and keep an eye on places where water can possibly lie stagnant.

 

4. BAD ROOF CLEANING – DO IT RIGHT FROM NOW ON

Gutters are one usual place that can house pests. They always hold moisture, so during summer, cockroaches and other insects can easily make gutters their home. But where will they go to get some food? It’s obvious that they will gradually populate your house creating stable colonies. It is important you clean gutters every year. Gutters that are clogged with old tree leaves might also be the source of earthworms climbing up to the roof of your house. It’s awful to watch and even realize that such things do exist in your own house. Therefore, always pay close attention to the cleanness of your roof.

5. DIRTY GRILL EQUIPMENT IN YOUR GARAGE

Are you a grill fan? Then you probably have special grill equipment always ready for use. However, not many people like cleaning that equipment after eating tasty BBQ dishes. As a result, grill equipment are a great place for cockroaches and other insects to create colonies. Bits of meat fat fall onto the metal parts of a grill. After sometime, it becomes impossible to clean them out and insects will be attracted by the sweet smell from afar. For sure, they will want to know what kind of refreshments you left for them in your garage. And it won’t take them long before they find their way into your house afterwards.

 

6. ENTRANCE MAT – CHANGE IT EVERY YEAR

We all know that roaches and ants have the so called exoskeletons. It means that you actually can’t squeeze them to death that easily. These creatures find the narrowest of places and can easily come into the house through tiny holes. We are also aware that they have tracks which they follow all the time. Your entrance mat is the main thing to change if you are having trouble with pests. Under the old mats, insects make their homes, find or create routes to go into your house, and organize their graveyards, too. It could possibly be an awful sight if you took up your mat and had a look at the underside. Experts recommend changing the mat once per year, especially during spring.

 

 

7. ROTTEN FRUITS AT HOME

You better eat your fruits before they become overripe. If you notice that the fruits will probably not be eaten, just get rid of them. However, don’t put that brown banana into the rubbish bin as it will be somehow impossible to prevent fruit flies from coming down for the “prey”. These little nasty creatures come down chimneys or through small cracks and gaps. You will never prevent them from getting to the old banana or rotten apple. If you don’t have the means to dispose of rotten food right away, just put them into a plastic bag and tie it up as hard as you can.  

 

8. BUYING SECOND-HAND FURNITURE

Sofas and armchairs are the most common habitual areas for nearly all known house pests. You will find them in most second-hand furniture being sold on many websites. If you decided to save up some money by purchasing a used sofa, call for cleaning services and have a special type of pesticide applied or sprayed on it. Actually, it’s better to avoid purchasing any used furniture. And it’s not only about avoiding the big pests like ants and cockroaches. There are also billions of other microorganisms in used furniture, which can be detrimental to your health and possibly ruin the cleanness of your house.

 

9. RELUCTANCE TO REPAIR CRACK AND LEAKS

Damages to your house’s flooring and siding can be yet another explanation as to how pests come into your house. Just a little crack on the wall would be a good home for a colony of ants. As soon as they get there, they will use the heat insulation to organize their permanent housing. There are plenty of insect species which can live in such conditions. Furthermore, where will they get their food from? It’s obvious – they all will go to your house and cause you a lot of troubles. So, make sure you avoid such trouble by having any cracks, leaks and holes in the walls and roof repaired.

 

 

10. VENT UNITS – SAY WELCOME TO ROACHES

Up-to-date vent systems feature microcell nets for protection against pests. But after a period of time, these nets appear to be torn. It causes a lot of troubles for home owners because insects start to crawl into the house through the vents, especially during autumn. Just keep a check on the ventilation system and change the accessories from time to time. Low ventilation door placement can also be an entrance route for rats and mice. Make sure that you find a way to prevent all those species from entering your house. This is important as it doesn’t only affect the comfort of your living, but it also compromises your health, safety and confidence.

 

Jan. 23, 2018

Bright Ideas: How to Light Up Your Rooms

These clever tricks banish dim interiors and dark corners, and usher natural light into the house.

Choose glass-paneled doors. One of the most effective ways to let natural light flood into your home is to use glass-paneled doors. Installing a new window or increasing its size usually requires a permit, but this may not be the case when replacing exterior doors. Whether you like the bold lines of these steel-framed doors or prefer the traditional French doors in the next photo, there is a design to suit every palette and position, both inside and out.

Tip: If privacy is a concern, opt for frosted glass.

 

Use transom and sidelight windows. This home uses a sophisticated series of interior French doors to borrow light from adjacent rooms. Designed by Luigi Rosselli Architects and Decus Interiors, the transom windows (which crown the tops of the French doors) and the sidelight windows (which flank the opening) more than double the aperture and maximize the amount of light that travels from room to room.

Sidelights, transoms and fanlights (which also sit above doorways and are arched or elliptical) can usually be retrofitted with relative ease.

Adopt glass backsplashes. Can't afford to lose valuable cabinet space by replacing your wall-mounted kitchen cabinets with a window? Try using a window for your backsplash instead. Natural light will illuminate your countertops and provide important task lighting for cooking. Window backsplashes are possible when your kitchen butts up against an exterior wall. If yours runs along an interior wall, try using a mirrored backsplash instead.

Install clerestory windows. We can't always puncture a wall with a window at eye level, but clerestory windows can be equally effective in brightening up interiors. Clerestory windows sit high in your wall, and because they are positioned above your sightline, they rarely compromise your privacy. They are also especially effective in letting light into dim, excavated rooms.

Select white paint that has a sheen. If you've asked anyone how to brighten up a dark home, chances are you've already been told to paint your walls white and banish dark furnishings. While this is the first trick in the book, the glossier the paint is, the better it will diffuse light throughout your home. So opt for a satin finish on walls and use gloss or semigloss paint for the trim.

 Just note that paints with a medium to high sheen highlight every inconsistency, so make sure that you plaster, sand and prime surfaces well before painting — or call in a professional.

Tip: Reflective tiles and metallic wallpaper have a similar effect.

Embrace glossy floors. We rarely consider treating our floors to lighten a room, though high-gloss floors are brilliant at bouncing light around. It may be as straightforward as sanding back your floorboards and polishing them with a glossy finish, or you may prefer to employ a more drastic treatment and use high-sheen white floor paint or epoxy, as used in this industrial Montreal penthouse.

Install a tubular daylighting device. These ingenious inventions go by many names — tubular daylighting devices, solar tubes, sun tunnels, tubular skylights. Most capture sunlight through a small dome on your roof and funnel it down a reflective tube and through a skylight-like opening in your ceiling, which diffuses light throughout the room.

These devices amplify natural light, do not cause homes to heat up and in some cases are capable of capturing solar energy to light rooms at night. Most can even be installed in rooms with no direct roof access, using angled reflective tubing to channel light into hard-to-reach spaces.

Create an atrium. The sheer elegance of atriums is enough of a reason to try to incorporate one into any design. This circular skylight designed by Decus Interiors channels sunlight down to the ground-level kitchen, while natural light pours into the upstairs rooms via interior windows that overlook the void. One of the best features about a large round skylight is the exquisite light play and shadows that transverse your interior over the course of a day.

Break through the ceiling. What better way to wake up than to gaze at the sky during your morning shower? Besides letting natural light pour into a room, skylights have an uplifting effect and can be used in most places with direct roof access.

Gable skylights like the ones in this home can be cleverly angled to suit the aspect of your site.

Many skylights and roof windows now use self-cleaning glass. This usually has a specially formulated exterior coating that reacts with ultraviolet sunlight to break down leaves and debris that fall on the glass. Rain then finishes the job by washing the panes clean.

Tip: Skylights can trap heat inside homes, so increase your ventilation to counter this.

Consider exterior glass walls. For sites where privacy is not an issue, using floor-to-ceiling windows instead of walls will flood your interiors with light. Opt for double panes (at least) for insulation, and try to position your wall-to-wall windows facing north. Excessive glass on the western and even eastern sides of your home often lets harsh, hot rays inside and can overheat your house.

If you would like to install floor-to-ceiling windows but are concerned that this may sacrifice your privacy, there are many inventive screening options that may still make it possible to enjoy exterior glass walls and some seclusion too.

Swap walls for room dividers. Sometimes there is no alternative to walls for structural or screening reasons. However, if you want to delineate a space rather than divide it and create a solid barrier for privacy, consider using a room divider instead. Room dividers come in countless creative forms, including glass blocks and laser-cut screens, so the only limits are your imagination and site restrictions.

See the vertical black room divider in this home? This design borrows natural light from the windows beyond, which then penetrates the entrance.

Carve out an interior courtyard. Do you have the budget for renovations and some space to sacrifice? A central courtyard could naturally light your home from within, which is the case with this home. These tranquil indoor-outdoor spaces are best surrounded by windows, glass louvers or glass sliding doors to let light shine from the courtyard into adjacent rooms.

Consult an architect, an interior designer or a builder for advice on how to maximize light penetration on your site, and remember that even a small interior courtyard can make a big difference.

Hang a mirror on the wall. We've all heard that mirrors can transform any space from gloomy to glamorous, but there are a few tricks. First, bigger is always better when using mirrors — the larger the reflective surface, the more light it will bounce around the room.

And second, your mirror needs to reflect a light source, so place it opposite or adjacent to a window, as was done with the oversize circular mirror in this San Francisco home. Hanging a mirror behind a lamp can brighten a room even further.

This mirrored wall sports an antique finish that is reflective (and large) enough to brighten up this bedroom, but textured enough not to mirror your every move.

Tip: Mirrored furniture, such as a chest of drawers, can also have the same effect.

Use illuminated LED mirrors. Illuminated mirrors are like their regular relatives but on steroids. Thanks to LED technology, these clever inventions mirror your reflection and simultaneously light up the room.

Models like the one in this photo have motion sensors that allow you to switch them on and off, hands-free. As a bonus, the LED lighting consumes less power than many traditional light sources.

Jan. 14, 2018

8 Ways to Get Rid of Awful Pet Smells That Turn Off Buyers

You probably only think you’ve eliminated pet odors. Here’s how to make sure.

 

Having pet odors inside your home can turn off potential homebuyers and keep your home from selling. Ask your real estate agent for an honest opinion about whether your home has a pet smell.

If your agent holds her nose, here’s how to get rid of the smell:

 

#1 Air Out Your House

While you’re cleaning, throw open all the windows in your home to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents.

Once your house is free of pet odors, do what you can to keep the smells from returning. Crate your dog when you’re out or keep it outdoors. Limit the cat to one floor or room, if possible. Remove or replace pet bedding.

 

 

  

#2 Scrub Thoroughly

Scrub bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar, wood floor cleaner, or an odor-neutralizing product, which you can purchase at a pet supply store for $10 to $25. 

Try a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls. 

Got stubborn pet odors covering a large area? You may have to spend several hundred dollars to hire a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains.

#3 Wash Your Drapes and Upholstery

Pet odors seep into fabrics. Launder, steam clean, or dry clean all your fabric window coverings. Steam clean upholstered furniture. 

 

Either buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair for around $200 and do the job yourself, or pay a pro. You’ll spend about $40 for an upholstered chair, $100 for a sofa, and $7 for each dining room chair if a pro does your cleaning.

 

#4 Clean your carpets

Shampoo your carpets and rugs, or have professionals do the job for $25 to $50 per room, depending on their size and the level of filth embedded in them. The cleaner will try to sell you deodorizing treatments. You’ll know if you need to spend the extra money on those after the carpet dries and you have a friend perform a sniff test.

If deodorizing doesn’t remove the pet odor from your home, the carpets and padding will have to go. Once you tear them out, scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product, and install new padding and carpeting. Unless the smell is in the subfloor, in which case that goes next.

 

#5 Paint, Replace, or Seal Walls

When heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain, or replace the drywall or wood altogether. 

On brick and cement, apply a sealant appropriate for the surface for $25 to $100. That may smother and seal in the odor, keeping it from reemerging.

 

#6 Place Potpourri or Scented Candles in Strategic Locations

Put a bow on your deep clean with potpourri and scented candles. Don’t go overboard and turn off buyers sensitive to perfumes. Simply place a bowl of mild potpourri in your foyer to create a warm first impression, and add other mild scents to the kitchen and bathrooms.

 #7 Control Urine Smells

If your dog uses indoor pee pads, put down a new pad each time the dog goes. Throw them away outside in a trash can with a tight lid. Remove even clean pads from view before each showing.

 Replace kitty litter daily, rather than scooping used litter clumps, and sweep up around the litter box. Hide the litter box before each showing.

 

#8 Relocate Pets

If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation. If pets have to stay, remove them from the house for showings and put away their dishes, towels, and toys.

Jan. 10, 2018

10 Trends That Are Taking Over Homes In 2018 … and five that are over.

Ready or not, 2018 is here and it's not coming quietly, either. Designers and brands expect home decor to be bolder than years before, with vivid jewel tones and luxe velvet and brass balanced out with organic accents. As always, stick with what you love, regardless of what's in or out. But if your New Year's resolution is to refresh your home (whether with a new coat of paint or a pretty piece of furniture), here are the top trends to try—along with some you should skip.

 

OUT: All-White Kitchens

We said it this fall and we'll say it again: All-white interiors are on their way out. Kitchens in particular will continue to brighten up in the new year, swapping stark white for warm wood tones and new neutrals including cream, blue, and gray, Houzz reports. 

OUT: White and Stainless Steel Sinks

Sinks will follow suit with darker, more daring designs. We've already seen it with the copper farmhouse sink trend, but also watch out for concrete and stone styles.

 

OUT: Accent Walls

So long, lone wall. This is one fad Lauren Liess, interior designer and host of HGTV's Best House on the Block, is ready to retire. "Accent walls were big in the '80s and '90s and are an instant way to make a room look like it was decorated then," Liess explains. Instead, for interest, incorporate timeless texture such as millwork and wainscoting (Houzz says both are trending for 2018) or statement ceilings, one of Pinterest's top home predictions and something we saw coming back in the fall.

 

OUT: Word Art

Sure, signs or throw pillows spelling out sentiments such as "Home," "Family," or full quotes may seem like a simple way to create a fun focal point. But the concept has become overdone in recent years (with the exception of vintage signs, charts, and other objects repurposed into art, of course). In 2018, look for less literal ways to express yourself.

OUT: Random Architectural Elements

We love barn doors just as much as the next country gal, but architectural elements should be cohesive with the style of your home, Liess says. For example, barn doors just don't look right in an otherwise traditional house, nor do formal columns in a suburban space. "All of these things are amazing in the right setting but when applied inappropriately and all over the place, they quickly become dated trends," Liess says.

 

 

IN: Jewel Tones 

Fall and winter were all about dark, cozy colors, and 2018 is set to make a similarly bold entrance. Pantone just named Ultra Violet its Color of the Year, while Sherwin-Williams selected Oceanside SW 6496 (think emerald green meets sapphire). Both shades are said to be especially invigorating—just the motivation we need as we head into the new year. 

We love these vivid velvet (another huge trend continuing from fall) sofas from Barker and Stonehouse, but you could also take baby steps with a jewel-toned velvet throw pillow instead.

Doubtful of so much drama? Consider the colors' calmer cousins, especially in restful rooms like the bedroom. Lilac, for example, is a watered-down version of violet that's so versatile and feminine Erika Woelfel, color expert for Behr Paint, is calling it the new millennial pink.

 

 

IN: Heavy Cabinetry

"I'm seeing a lot of really beautiful, heavily cabineted kitchens out there," Liess notes, calling out deVOL's designs, like the one pictured here. "Possibly people's backlash to open shelving but I'm seeing a renewed appreciation for cabinetry."

Again, rather than stark-white kitchen cabinets, expect to see warm grays, blues, and creams, as well as wood grain tones.

 

 

IN: Brass

Whether you love it or hate it, brass is back and better than ever in the new year. The aged finish adorns kitchen cabinets and living room furniture and shines as serveware and vintage-inspired light fixtures alike, as in this beautiful bathroom from One Kings Lane.

IN: Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. In home design, this translates to handmade or hand-painted items including rough linens and pottery (like the Farmhouse Pottery pictured). The result? A deeply personal, organic aesthetic.

 

IN: Statement Storage 

"Statement storage will be a growing trend in 2018," says Anthropologie's customer styling director Christina Frederick. "Gone are the days of sacrificing style for function. Versatile pieces like this tamboured buffet are expanding beyond media and dining rooms for creative placement throughout the home. There seems to be a growing desire for high-end organization in our personal space, a desire for things—and life—to feel pulled together."

 

 

 

 

IN: Shapely Furniture

Couches will take cues from the '70s this season, with quirky curves that liven up your living room. We spotted this shapely silhouette at CB2's spring preview, and architect Elizabeth Roberts endorsed the idea in an interview with My Domaine.

 IN: Bold Floral Prints

We can hear Miranda Priestley's dripping sarcasm now: Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking. But when incorporated into furniture in an overt way, as in this Liberty for Anthropologie swivel chair, flowers are fun and funky.

"Floral prints are always 'in' if you ask Anthropologie," says Frederick. "Rather than a traditionally feminine look in 2018 they feel especially fresh and more interesting styled in a casual bohemian way. Juxtaposing florals with organic textures and neutral palettes evokes a new kind of elegance that is appealing."  

Of course, if furniture covered in florals feels a bit too risky, you can always ease into the trend with classic bloom-covered bedding.

Jan. 3, 2018

9 Tips for Staging Your Home to Sell

So you’re thinking of selling your home, and you want it to be presented in its best possible light to potential buyers.

You’ve probably heard this before, but the way you live when your house is for sale is NOT the way you normally live.  I mean, who do you know that has zero appliances on their kitchen counter?  Or absolutely nothing on their bathroom counters except for a stack of perfectly rolled up hand towels and a basket of twigs and berries? Unless you’re friends with a professional decorator, the answer is NO ONE.  Staging your home to sell is for one purpose and one purpose only – to make it sell!

You don’t have to hire a professional home stager and buy all new furniture to get the look buyers love.  I’m going to go beyond the obvious tips about staging your home to sell that you’ve all heard before – clean like a crazy person, pack up half of your clothes to make the closets look bigger, put away all the knick knacks and clutter, clean off the counters, and stick any extra pieces of furniture that make your rooms look small out in the garage or in storage.  Don’t put furniture in front of doors that lead out to the back yard or deck.  This drives me crazy when I’m showing homes!  How can we go see your screened porch if we can’t get out there?!

So without further ado, here are nine small details when staging your home to sell that have a great impact with minimal effort and/or money.

 

#1 – Let the sunlight in

Sunny rooms with lots of light – that’s what buyers love to see.  Pack up your heavy, ornate draperies.  Blinds or plantation shutters are great if they’re clean, but open them before showings.  Sheer curtains are fine since they don’t block light.

The downside?  Now you have to clean your windows.  Sorry.

 

#2 – Make your bathroom look like a hotel

With the linens, that is.  Sparkling clean white towels make the bathroom look like a spa or luxury hotel.  Buy a set on sale and put them out before showings, then put them away again afterwards.  Don’t use them!  They are for show only.  I’ve seen people tie a lovely ribbon around the center of the towels as they’re hanging and this little decorative touch is really nice.

A new white shower curtain and bathmat are fabulous too.  All this white screams clean, and what better word to describe a bathroom? 

 

#3 – Turn the lights on – every single one of ’em!

Here’s a great tip on figuring out how much light your rooms need.  Length of the room x width of the room x 1.5 = the wattage necessary to make a room bright enough.  So a 12′ x15′ room needs 270 watts of light.  I typically have one or two lights with a 60 watt bulb in any given room.  If I’m lucky there’s a ceiling fan in the room that holds 3 bulbs.  That’s still only 180 watts!  So I’m guilty of not using enough lamps in my own house.  Do as I say, not as I do.

If after opening all your blinds and cleaning your windows and turning on the lights your room is STILL dark?  Run on over to Goodwill or Target and buy a few inexpensive lamps.  If a buyer walks into your family room and it feels dark and gloomy, they’ll hate it.  Please trust me on this – I show homes every day and I hear their feedback.  Dark = dreary, depressing, sad.  This is not the impression you want to give buyers.  You are staging your home to sell, not to save a few bucks on your electric bill.

 

#4 – Give the kitchen and/or bathroom a facelift 

Yes, buyers love granite counters above all else.  Better than Corian or Silestone, better than tile, way better than laminate.  But if your kitchen doesn’t have granite, you don’t need to remodel it now.  Although I’m dying to try a faux granite treatment sometime!  I’ve never seen it done in real life though so I have no idea if it really looks good or if it’s durable.  But if you’re crafty and you know how to paint, wouldn’t this DIY faux granite makeover be cool? 

Faucets, light fixtures, and cabinet knobs make a HUGE difference.  Brushed nickel and oil rubbed bronze are the two go-to colors right now.

 

#5 – Replace family photos with art or mirrors

Neutral wall art (aka the stuff you buy at Kirkland’s or TJ Maxx) is inexpensive and unoffensive (no nudes please, no matter how artistic or expensive.)  While family photos are homey and welcoming, the goal is to make the buyers visualize themselves living there.  If all they see are photos of YOUR family and YOUR vacations and YOUR child’s graduation, it makes it harder for them to picture themselves there.  Remember, you’re staging your home to sell so you need to make it look up to date, welcoming, warm, and inviting without making it feel like it’s so you that no one else would ever be comfortable there.

Mirrors also give extra light to a room so instead of a giant family photo in the living room, try hanging a mirror instead. If it’s across from a window or lamp it should also illuminate the room that much more.

 

#6 – Add some sparkle

It’s easy to update a home and make it look more modern and luxurious as well simply by throwing in some metallic accents.  A dish on a hall table, throw pillows, silver chargers on the dining room table… metallics are neutrals with oomph. 

 

#7 – Ditch the rugs

Hardwood floors are a major selling point for the majority of buyers.  I’ve had numerous buyers refuse to make an offer on a house that had carpet throughout the main living area.  So if you have wood floors, show them off!  A stained rug not only looks bad, it can also trap odors.  If you have dogs or cats that rug might also smell like them, which is not a good thing.  If your floors are in good condition, show them off by putting the rugs in storage. 

 

#9 – Rearrange your furniture

Ever noticed how on TV or in decorating catalogs the pieces are always floating in the room?  They’re not pushed up against the wall.  Try pulling your couch and loveseat away from the walls and have them face each other with the coffee table in between them.  Angle chairs to face the conversation area rather than the TV.  A quick search on Pinterest for “how to arrange furniture” will give you tons of examples.

Again, staging your home to sell doesn’t mean it’s going to be terribly comfortable or convenient for you, the homeowner, in the meantime.  But making it look clean, contemporary, filled with sunlight, spacious, and welcoming means your home will appeal to buyers and THAT, my friends, is what it’s all about!

Dec. 28, 2017

2018 TRENDS IN GARDEN DESIGN

Each year we highlight topics of growing importance in the gardening realm. For 2018, our trends emphasize the concept of providing pleasure to people in their gardens—whether it’s growing new foods, providing a refuge for wildlife, or creating a relaxing place to share a meal with loved ones. Enjoy!

 

1. EMBRACING THE SMALL GARDEN

These days, space is at a premium—but, designers are determined to make even the smallest of gardens useful and attractive. While small gardens are by no means new, we've noticed great progress in the way they are designed. In this case, less really can be more.

Here are two popular ways to make the most of a small garden:

Multipurpose Features: “Everything in a small garden needs to have multiple uses,” says Seattle-based designer Scot Eckley. “This concrete fire feature is a perfect example: It creates a bold element that runs through the space. It’s also a curb edge for the deck. It’s a planter. It collects water from downspouts on the house. It’s a seat wall. And, of course, at the end of the day it turns into a fire feature.” 

Container Combinations: One of the best ways to appreciate and explore combinations is in a container. A plant may be exquisite on its own, but its assets can be magnified when placed in a context—with plants that complement its color, structure, or textures.

2. RETHINKING ALFRESCO DINING

For years, outdoor dining spaces have been conveniently located just off the house, near the kitchen. However, we’ve noticed dining spaces being pushed out into the garden. Yes, you’ll have to carry your plate a bit further, but it’s well worth it.

“Many people automatically design outdoor dining spaces right off the back of the house. But making an all-inclusive destination within the landscape immerses people in the ambience. It makes for a more luxurious experience and guests get to see more of your garden,” says Di Zock of Di Zock Design in Los Angeles, CA.

 Here are three tips for creating the ultimate outdoor dining destination: 

  • Surround the dining room with in-ground and container plants for a lush feeling
  • Turn your dining area into a sanctuary with special flooring, lighting and furniture
  • Include pre- and post-dinner entertainment spaces nearby, such as a fire pit or pool

 

3. MAKING CRAFTMANSHIP A PRIORITY

 With so many mass-produced products around us, we often forget that people still make things by hand. The following examples prove that in the garden handcrafted is always best. We hope they encourage you to seek out an artisan next time you add a structure or other important element to your property.

 

Lew French, based on Martha’s Vineyard, builds pieces that look as if they have stood for eons. His Three Walls project was a collaboration with landscape designer Wes Wirth. French’s original design for the opening over the pool ended with the straight lintel. Unsatisfied with the way it looked, he added the arch of granite wedges.

 

This arbor adds intimacy to the garden and also screens the neighbor’s yard. The vertical oak pieces are 12 inches thick, so it’s sturdy and gives the feeling of permanence. “Being plant fanatics, we often use pergolas and arbors as armatures for vines and climbing plants. They’re a great way to introduce color, fragrance, and texture—or even an edible landscape on a vertical plane,” says Eric Groft, Landscape Architect with Oehme, van Sweden + Associates in Washington, D.C.

 

“Nestled in the corner of a crescent-shaped border in my garden next to a dogwood tree, this playhouse is a whimsical getaway for my grandchildren,” says Peggy McDonnell-Walsh, a homeowner in Peapack, NJ. The surrounding dogwood blossoms, azaleas, bleeding hearts, and hostas add to the whimsy and make it feel hidden. “Each detail is designed to enchant: reclaimed red barn siding for an antique look, the bell tower my brother acquired in Austria, the shingle roof covered in moss and lichen, the sign on the door that lists the names of my grandchildren, the Dutch door and window, and the antique painted chair on the porch. It’s most charming quality? Adults are not allowed in unless personally invited by one of my grandchildren.”

 

4. RESTORING HABITAT AT HOME

 Most gardeners are aware that bees and butterflies are in decline, but did you know that habitat loss is also impacting birds, frogs and even turtles?

“Most of this dwindling habitat became our expanding cities and sprawling suburbs—spaces that have been designed for convenience and aesthetics, with little thought to the needs of local wildlife. Yet there is no reason we can’t create convenient, beautiful landscapes that also meet the needs of many, if not most, of our animal neighbors,” writes Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of the department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.

 Many of our readers are adjusting their plant selections and even redesigning their gardens to better support local wildlife. Here are some of our favorite takeaways for creating a habitat garden: 

  • Grow both seed-producing and berry-bearing plants
  • Restrict or stop using insecticides
  • Consider replacing some or all of your lawn

 

5. EXPERIMENTING WITH WHAT YOU GROW

We love the willingness of gardeners to try new things. This year, we predict continued experimentation with new plants and how they are showcased. Following are three ways you can add some botanical variety to your garden or home.

Grow Unusual Edibles: There is a big, wide world of diversity available to gardeners through seed companies, seed swaps, and community gardens, so make your veggie garden reflect this trend and try a few new-to-you crops.

“Food gardening continues to be incredibly popular with gardeners of all ages, and for me, a big part of the fun in food gardening is trying new edibles; from quirky cucamelons and burr gherkins to super-sweet ground cherries. From chickpeas and edamame to heat-tolerant, exotic greens like magenta spreen, sweet potato leaves, and amaranth,” says author Niki Jabbour, who has a new book called Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix.

 “And don’t forget the flowers!” she adds. “I include plenty of bee-friendly flowers in my garden to entice pollinators to my food crops. Pollinators can increase your yield by ensuring your flowering crops like cucumbers, melons, and squash get pollinated. The best blooms for the veggie garden include sweet alyssum, zinnias, cosmos, nasturtiums, and calendula.”

 Get Creative with Houseplants: Don’t limit yourself to the typical pothos or ficus in a corner. Instead, think of houseplants as integral design elements in your private sanctuaries, fulfilling the same roles they do in the garden outside: leading the eye, creating focal points, providing repetition and contrast, framing views, and lending texture, color, and form.

Barbara Pleasant, author of The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, dubs this “interiorscaping.” She has found the precepts of feng shui particularly helpful in plant placement. For example, she says placing plants near the front door connects the interior to the exterior.

Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit, authors of the new book How to Window Box (Clarkson Potter), suggest setting up a window box indoors to enjoy a few square feet of garden all year round. “Even though window boxes have a reputation for being classic and traditional, they are also an excellent way to experiment, especially if you're working in a small space. You can dedicate a window box to your favorite spring blooms like tulips and daffodils, to culinary herbs, or to carnivorous plants like pitchers and Venus flytraps. Or take a big enough box and make it lush with ferns or fill it with tropicals like pothos vines and monstera,” they suggest.

 Cultivate a Succulent Collection: “Not too long ago the gardening public thought of succulents as cactus or jade and dismissed the entire category as too spiny or common. Today, it’s possible for anyone, anywhere to cultivate any kind of succulent. The plants like the same conditions you do: warmth, fresh air, sunlight, and dryness. What once was exotic is now available at your local nursery or via mail order. Even potentially immense succulents stay small and manageable in pots, which are portable and can be moved and sheltered where the weather turns too hot, too cold, or too wet for their liking,” explains Debra Lee Baldwin in the completely revised second edition of her book Designing with Succulents.

6. CREATING A SENSE OF ENCLOSURE

 The most common method for enclosing a garden is with a fence. Of course fences have practical purposes, like containing pets or preventing trespassing, but they aren’t always the most attractive solution. This is why we love the new style of enclosing gardens with lush plantings that offer privacy, yet are attractive and welcoming.

The owners of this Salem, Oregon, cottage felt exposed to the street, even inside their home, and seldom ventured into the front yard. To create a sense of enclosure that still felt welcoming, husband-and-wife design team Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams of Mosaic Gardens gave the lawn clean-lined geometry with a rectangular frame, wrapped by deep beds filled with dwarf shrubs, grasses, and soft-textured perennials. “We wanted it to feel fun and interesting but also serene and peaceful,” Sams says. “There are spots of color, but it’s not overwhelming.”

Get this look:

  • Create a scrim of foliage with lacy-leaved small trees like Japanese maple and variegated giant dogwood
  • Hide a meditation bench along a side path for a secluded place to sit
  • Lightly screen the street with a deep planting bed between the curb and lawn

 

7. PUSHING THE SEASONAL BOUNDARIES

Another trend we’ve observed is that gardeners are putting more thought into their winter landscapes. Even the most devoted snow lover has to confront a harsh truth sooner or later: An empty landscape is a dreary landscape. However, during the dormant season, dazzling color and sophisticated textures can enliven the garden.

“Consider views from the windows where you spend a fair amount of time,” says horticulturist and garden designer Adrian Bloom, an expert in winter color at his family’s Bressingham Gardens and Foggy Bottom Garden in Norfolk, England. He also advises selecting plants and combinations that marry toughness, color, and texture. Furthermore, contrast—dark branches, bright green conifers, and fiery Cornus or red osier, for example—is an obvious and excellent strategy. Ultimately, design for the winter garden depends on simplicity, elegance, and smart design. “You don’t need a vast range of plants to provide interest and change,” Bloom says.

When selecting plants for winter interest, look for the following:

  • Deciduous shrubs or trees with colorful or peeling bark
  • Evergreens that change color in winter
  • Early bloomers that bring late winter flowers

 

8. SEEKING INSPIRATION IN PERSON

There’s no better way to get inspiration than visiting world-renowned gardens in person. Each year, incredible trips and local tours are planned specifically for gardening enthusiasts—and 2018 is sure to be a great year for exploring gardens near and far.

“Imagine touring both private and grand public gardens such as villas and palaces with like-minded travelers who share your passion for garden design and nature,” says Matthew Brumley of Earthbound Expeditions, a company that crafts specialized travel experiences. He urges you to consider essential garden destinations such as England, Ireland, France, Italy, South Africa & New Zealand. Or you can expand your interests to include nature trips to biodiversity hotspots such as Cape Town, South Africa or Costa Rica. “Not only will you have the experience of a lifetime, led by expert hosts and local on-the-ground experts, but you can feel good about your adventure because you will be supporting local businesses,” he adds.

If traveling abroad isn’t an option, you can experience the transformative power of gardens much closer to home through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. Last year, they opened the gates to over 300 private gardens in 18 states, allowing thousands of people to discover beautiful spaces not usually open to the public. The Open Days events begin in early spring and continue through late fall, check the schedule online and sign up for updates in your area.

When you return home to your own garden, you will see it with new eyes. You’ll have discovered unique plants to grow and surely have a garden project or two in mind.

 

Dec. 26, 2017

Top 10 Things First-Time Home Buyers Should Know in 2018

A lot has changed in the mortgage industry and real estate market over the last couple of years. So we thought it was time to create an updated guide for first-time buyers pursuing the goal of homeownership in 2018. Here are 10 things a first-time home buyer should know in 2018.

Top 10 Things First-Time Buyers Should Know in 2018

1. It’s getting easier to qualify for a mortgage loan.

This is a trend we’ve been following for the last couple of years. Mortgage lenders today are allowing lower down payments and higher debt levels for borrowers. In 2018, some first-time home buyers will be able to qualify for a conventional mortgage loan with as little as 3% down. Additionally, the maximum debt level has increased as well. These changes will likely increase access to mortgage financing in the latter half of 2017, and into 2018.

2. Debt limits have increased.

In July 2017, Fannie Mae announced it would start purchasing loans with borrowers who have debt-to-income ratios up to 50%. This was an increase from their previous limit of 45%. This is something first-time home buyers should know in 2018, because it could make mortgage loans easier to obtain — particularly for those borrowers with higher levels of debt.

3. Home prices are rising more slowly.

Many local real estate markets across the country experienced a cooling trend in 2017, at least were home prices are concerned. As a result, prices are expected to rise more slowly during 2018. But they will likely continue moving north in most cities, to some degree. Economists expect home prices nationwide to rise by around 3.5% – 5% during 2018. Some cities could see larger gains. This is something all first-time buyers should know in 2017 and 2018, because it affects your buying power.

4. Mortgage rates are expected to creep upward.

When this article was published, in August 2017, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage loan was 3.90%. A July 2017 forecast from the Mortgage Bankers Association predicted that 30-year loan rates would rise to 4.5% by the fourth quarter of 2017, followed by a gradual rise throughout 2018. They expect rates to climb above 5% during the second half of 2018. First-time home buyers should know about these trends and forecasts, especially since house values are also expected to rise.

5. You don’t need 20% down to buy a house.

Surveys conducted over the last couple of years have shown that many people believe they need to make a down payment of 20% or more when buying a home. In truth, there are mortgage programs today that allow for down payments as low as 3%. The FHA loan program requires a relatively low investment of 3.5%. VA loans offer 100% financing for eligible borrowers — military members and veterans. Some credit union programs are now offering 100% financing to first-time buyers. 

6. Inventory is limited in many cities.

Low housing inventory was one of the big real estate stories of the last couple of years. As a result, we will enter 2018 with supply shortages in many cities across the country. Granted, there are exceptions to this general trend. But in many local housing markets, there is not enough supply to meet demand. This is definitely something a first-time home buyer should know in 2018, because it affects everything from your offer to your negotiating ability. In a “tight” market with limited inventory, sellers tend to have more negotiating leverage.

7. Trump has made FHA loans more expensive.

In January 2017, then-President Barack Obama approved a reduction in FHA mortgage insurance that would’ve saved borrowers an average of $500 per year. But within hours of his inauguration, Donald Trump ordered HUD to cancel this reduction. As a result, first-time buyers who use the FHA loan program will continue to pay the elevated mortgage insurance levels put in place after the housing crisis. Appeals to reinstate the insurance reduction have fallen on deaf ears. 

8. Most home loans today have credit scores of 600 or higher.

A report released by the mortgage origination software company Ellie Mae in July 2017 showed that most closed home loans were issued to borrowers with credit scores of 600 or higher. A very small number were given out to borrowers with scores in the 500 range. But the vast majority (99.5%) of purchase loans went to borrowers with scores of 600 or higher. That’s not a hard-and-fast requirement, but it is an important industry trend that first-time home buyers should know in 2018.

9. It’s wise to have a real estate agent, now more than ever.

The housing market has changed considerably over the last few years, going from one extreme to another. Today, many local markets are experiencing inventory shortages that make things more difficult for first-time home buyers. So it’s wise to have professional guidance from an experienced real estate agent. And when you consider that the seller typically pays the agent commissions, it becomes even more of a no-brainer.

10. We have dozens of articles and tutorials written just for you!

The Home Buying Institute (HBI) has been educating first-time buyers for more than a decade. We have created one of the largest online libraries of home buying advice, and it’s available to you at no cost. We publish well-researched, unbiased information to help you make informed decisions.

 

Nov. 4, 2017

8 Facts of Daylight Saving Time

Springing forward and falling back may seem simple enough, but daylight saving’s history has actually been quite complex—and misconceptions about it persist today. As you prepare to reset your watches, alarms and microwaves, explore eight facts about daylight saving time that might surprise you.

1. It’s “daylight saving time,” not “daylight savings time.” 
A lot of people render the term’s second word in its plural form. However, since the word “saving” acts as part of an adjective rather than a verb, the singular is grammatically correct.

2. Though in favor of maximizing daylight waking hours, Benjamin Franklin did not originate the idea of moving clocks forward. 
By the time he was a 78-year-old American envoy in Paris in 1784, the man who espoused the virtues of “early to bed and early to rise” was not practicing what he preached. After being unpleasantly stirred from sleep at 6 a.m. by the summer sun, the founding father penned a satirical essay in which he calculated that Parisians, simply by waking up at dawn, could save the modern-day equivalent of $200 million through “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.” As a result of this essay, Franklin is often erroneously given the honor of “inventing” daylight saving time, but he only proposed a change in sleep schedules—not the time itself.

3. Englishman William Willett led the first campaign to implement daylight saving time.
While on an early-morning horseback ride around the desolate outskirts of London in 1905, Willett had an epiphany that the United Kingdom should move its clocks forward by 80 minutes between April and October so that more people could enjoy the plentiful sunlight. The Englishman published the 1907 brochure “The Waste of Daylight” and spent much of his personal fortune evangelizing with missionary zeal for the adoption of “summer time.” Year after year, however, the British Parliament stymied the measure, and Willett died in 1915 at age 58 without ever seeing his idea come to fruition.

4. Germany was the first country to enact daylight saving time. 
It took World War I for Willett’s dream to come true, but on April 30, 1916, Germany embraced daylight saving time to conserve electricity. (He may have been horrified to learn that Britain’s wartime enemy followed his recommendations before his homeland.) Weeks later, the United Kingdom followed suit and introduced “summer time.”

5. Daylight saving time in the United States was not intended to benefit farmers, as many people think. 
Contrary to popular belief, American farmers did not lobby for daylight saving to have more time to work in the fields; in fact, the agriculture industry was deeply opposed to the time switch when it was first implemented on March 31, 1918, as a wartime measure. The sun, not the clock, dictated farmers’ schedules, so daylight saving was very disruptive. Farmers had to wait an extra hour for dew to evaporate to harvest hay, hired hands worked less since they still left at the same time for dinner and cows weren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier to meet shipping schedules. Agrarian interests led the fight for the 1919 repeal of national daylight saving time, which passed after Congress voted to override President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. Rather than rural interests, it has been urban entities such as retail outlets and recreational businesses that have championed daylight saving over the decades.

6. For decades, daylight saving in the United States was a confounding patchwork of local practices.
After the national repeal in 1919, some states and cities, including New York City and Chicago, continued to shift their clocks. National daylight saving time returned during World War II, but after its repeal three weeks after war’s end the confusing hodgepodge resumed. States and localities could start and end daylight saving whenever they pleased, a system that Time magazine (an aptly named source) described in 1963 as “a chaos of clocks.” In 1965 there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone, and St. Paul, Minnesota, even began daylight saving two weeks before its twin city, Minneapolis. Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes. Order finally came in 1966 with the enactment of the Uniform Time Act, which standardized daylight saving time from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, although states had the option of remaining on standard time year-round.

7. Not everyone in the United States springs forward and falls back. 
Hawaii and Arizona—with the exception of the state’s Navajo Nation—do not observe daylight saving time, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands also remain on standard time year-round. Some Amish communities also choose not to participate in daylight saving time. (Around the world, only about one-quarter of the world’s population, in approximately 70 countries, observe daylight saving. Since their daylight hours don’t vary much from season to season, countries closer to the equator have little need to deviate from standard time.)

8. Evidence does not conclusively point to energy conservation as a result of daylight saving.
Dating back to Willett, daylight saving advocates have touted energy conservation as an economic benefit. A U.S. Department of Transportation study in the 1970s concluded that total electricity savings associated with daylight saving time amounted to about 1 percent in the spring and fall months. As air conditioning has become more widespread, however, more recent studies have found that cost savings on lighting are more than offset by greater cooling expenses. University of California Santa Barbara economists calculated that Indiana’s move to statewide daylight saving time in 2006 led to a 1-percent rise in residential electricity use through additional demand for air conditioning on summer evenings and heating in early spring and late fall mornings. Some also argue that increased recreational activity during daylight saving results in greater gasoline consumption.

Posted in