Fall 2011

A Fresh Start to Fall
Add Value to Your Home
Home Security Checklist
6 Green Remodeling Tips
Holiday Plants

A Fresh Start to Fall

What you do to your garden in the fall can directly affect its success next season.

Autumn is not merely a time to plant trees, grass and spring-blooming bulbs. It’s also the time to “regroup” and fortify lawns and gardens in preparation for cool winter temperatures and spring blossoms, says ____________ president, __________ Board of REALTORS

Clean up
Now is the time to remove dying annuals and dead branches and leaves from trees and shrubs and toss them into the compost pile. Don’t add diseased or insect-infected foliage to compost, as it can spread. Be sure to leave live material undisturbed, as pruning may produce new buds that will die during a winter freeze.

In areas that receive winter snow and ice storms, fall is a good time to wrap shrub branches with twine, to prevent them from breaking under the weight of a winter wonderland. Simply secure twine to the shrub trunk and wrap upward in a spiral. Do the same in a downward spiral from the top and tie to the tree trunk.

Hedges can be protected by lightly clipping the sides to taper upward, so snow will not fall between branches.

Divide and conquer
Many plants benefit from being divided every few years. Spring- and summer-blooming plants can be divided in the fall. Perennials with roots that spread or produce shoots from their base are the best candidates for division. Those that have dead growth in the center and young, healthy growth on the outside are ready to be divided and replanted as new and separate plants.

Love your lawn
Yes, summer is over, but mowing is not. Warm-season lawns Depending on a lawn’s condition, it will benefit from aeration (holes created to make soil less compact and encourage growth) once a year to once every few years. The job is made easier by renting (about $50 per day) a core aerator from a garden center.

After aerating, re-seed fescue and add lime if necessary — a soil sample can be taken to your county extension service for testing — followed by a slow-release fertilizer. Use a spade or shovel to apply top-dressing (a mixture of loam, horticultural sand and organic matter) evenly over a new lawn or stressed lawn. Top-dressing improves the consistency of the soil and can be purchased pre-mixed.

When half an inch of thatch (debris that forms at the base of grass stems) builds up, remove it with a rake. This process, known as de-thatching, allows water, air and fertilizer to reach grass roots easily. It’s best to de-thatch on an autumn day when the ground is moist. Don’t worry if the lawn looks worse afterwards, as the benefits will be visible in a few months.

After aerating and de-thatching, feed with a starter fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and iron. The rate and frequency of fertilizing depends on soil and grass types as well as manufacturer instructions. Autumn is also the time to sod or sow any patches of lawn that are bare or need repairing. And finally, rake fallen leaves off grass regularly (add them to the compost bin) so they won’t block sunlight or trap water.

Whenever possible it is best to anticipate and prevent problems in the garden. Fall’s mild conditions provide the perfect opportunity to have the lawnmower serviced and to clean garden tools (try a solution of one-part bleach to nine-parts water). Also lubricate, tighten and sharpen tool parts as needed.

Grub control should be applied to lawns in the fall to kill grub larvae before they mature. And finally, apply a pre-emergent to warm-season grass to prevent weeds from popping up in the spring.

It’s that time of year — so sip cider, go on a hayride and get busy on your fall gardening “to-do” list.

If you’re in the market for a new home…or thinking about selling your current home, contact a REALTOR. Their value and expertise will ensure a professional home buying/selling experience.

Add value to your home

The way your house looks from the street–attractively landscaped and well-maintained–can add thousands to its value and cut the time it takes to sell. But which projects pump up curb appeal most? According to ________________________, president of _______________________Board of REALTORS, some spit and polish goes a long way, and so does a new color.

Wash your house
Before you scrape any paint or plant more azaleas, wash the dirt, mildew, and general grunge off the outside of your house. Washing a house can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the sale prices of some houses.

A bucket of soapy water and a long-handled, soft-bristled brush can remove the dust and dirt that have splashed onto your wood, vinyl, metal, stucco, brick, and fiber cement siding.

Wash your windows inside and out, swipe cobwebs from eaves, and hose down downspouts. Don’t forget your garage door, which was once bright white. If you can’t spray off the dirt, scrub it off with a solution of 1/2 cup trisodium phosphate–TSP, available at grocery stores, hardware stores, and home improvement centers–dissolved in 1 gallon of water.

You can make your house sparkle in a few weekends. A professional cleaning crew will cost hundreds–depending on the size of the house and number of windows–but will finish in a couple of days.

Freshen the paint job
The most commonly offered curb appeal advice from real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it, and appraisers will value it. Of course, painting is an expensive and time-consuming facelift. To paint a 3,000-square-foot home, figure on spending $375 to $600 on paint; $1,500 to $3,000 on labor.

Your best bet is to match the paint you already have: Scrape off a little and ask your local paint store to match it. Resist the urge to make a statement with color. An appraiser will mark down the value of a house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition.

Look at the roof
The condition of your roof is one of the first things buyers notice and appraisers assess. Missing, curled, or faded shingles add nothing to the look or value of your house. If your neighbors have maintained or replaced their roofs, yours will look especially shabby.

You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2010-2011 Cost vs. Value Report, the average cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is about $21,500.

Some tired roofs look a lot better after you remove 25 years of dirt, moss, lichens, and algae. Don’t try cleaning your roof yourself: call a professional with the right tools and technique to clean it without damaging it. A 2,000 sq. ft. roof will take a day and $400 to $600 to clean professionally.

Neaten the yard
A well-manicured lawn, fresh mulch and pruned shrubs boost the curb appeal of any home.

Replace overgrown bushes with leafy plants and colorful annuals. Surround bushes and trees with dark or reddish-brown bark mulch, which gives a rich feel to the yard. Put a crisp edge on garden beds, pull weeds and invasive vines, and plant a few geraniums in pots.

Green up your grass with lawn food and water. Cover bare spots with seeds and sod, get rid of crab grass, and mow regularly.

Add a color splash
Even a little color attracts and pleases the eye of would-be buyers.

Plant a tulip border in the fall that will bloom in the spring. Dig a flowerbed by the mailbox and plant some pansies. Place a brightly colored bench or Adirondack chair on the front porch. Get a little daring, and paint the front door red or blue.

Pay attention to mailbox
An upscale mailbox, architectural house numbers, or address plaques can make your house stand out.

High-style die cast aluminum mailboxes range from $100 to $350. You can pick up a nice, hand-painted mailbox for about $50. If you don’t buy new, at least give your old mailbox a facelift with paint and new house numbers.

These days, your local home improvement center or hardware stores has an impressive selection of decorative numbers. Architectural address plaques, which you tack to the house or plant in the yard, typically range from $80 to $200. Brass house numbers range from $3 to $11 each, depending on size and style.

A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. Not only does it add visual punch to your property, appraisers will give extra value to a fence in good condition, although it has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community.

Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.

If you already have a fence, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. Replace broken gates and tighten loose latches.

Maintenance is a must
Nothing looks worse from the curb–and sets off subconscious alarms–like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or peeling paint. Not only can these deferred maintenance items damage your home, but they can decrease the value of your house by 10%.

Here are some maintenance chores that will dramatically help the look of your house.

Refasten sagging gutters; Repoint bricks that have lost their mortar: Reseal cracked asphalt; Straighten shutters; Replace cracked windows.

If you’re in the market for a new home…or thinking about selling your current home, contact a REALTOR. Their value and expertise will ensure a professional home buying/selling experience.

Home Security Checklist

The first step toward protecting your home from break-ins is to conduct a home security check that will show where your property is most vulnerable, according to ____________ president, __________ Board of REALTORS

This step-by-step list is a good place to start.

Your home’s appearance
Burglars want an easy target. Stand on the street outside your house and ask yourself: Does my property look neglected, hidden, or uninhabited? A front door or walkway that’s obscured by shrubbery offers crooks the perfect cover they need while they break a door or window.

Consider trimming shrubs away from windows, widening front walks and installing outdoor lighting with motion detectors. Simple motion-activated floodlights cost less than $50, and installing them is an easy job if the wiring is already in place. All sides of your house should be well-lit, not just the front.

Doors: The first line of defense
Are your front and back doors vulnerable? Steel, solid wood, and impact-resistant fiberglass are all good choices for security. If you must have glass, make sure it is tempered or reinforced for added strength, and that sidelights are positioned where somebody can’t easily reach in and turn the lock.

Open all doors and check the strike plates, the metal fittings that catch bolts and latches. Chances are, the strike plates are fastened to the soft wood of the door jamb with two screws only. Not good. Best are four-screw strike plates with 3-inch screws that penetrate the jamb and bite into the hard wood of the stud behind the jamb. All exterior doors should have deadbolts that throw at least a 1-inch bolt. Ask your locksmith to upgrade to Grade 1 or Grade 2 locksets and deadbolts, the most secure options.

Back doors and garage doors are more likely to be attacked before the front door, according to Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles-based home security consultant. If you have an attached garage, secure the door by disabling the automatic opener and locking the door before you go away on a long trip. The door leading from the garage into the house should be outfitted with the same hardware as all other exterior doors and be kept locked at all times.

In order of risk, ground-floor and basement windows are more likely to be attacked than second-floor windows. The exception is second-floor windows that can be easily accessed by a deck or other elevated structure outside the home. Make sure all windows can be opened, closed and locked with relative ease–and then remember to lock them. The biggest problem with windows is that homeowners leave the house and leave them wide open.

For added security, consider installing blocking devices on the most easily accessed windows so they can’t be opened from outside, says McGoey. Wooden dowels laid in the track block windows that slide horizontally, and steel locking pins (about $7 each) inserted in small holes drilled through the frames prevent windows from sliding vertically. If you install a home security system later, the pros will install glass-break sensors on your most vulnerable windows.

Storage sheds
Don’t ignore the doors and windows on your outdoor storage shed, especially if you store tools such as ladders, saws, screwdrivers, and hammers, any of which would be handy to a burglar. As with house doors, the best option is a secure deadbolt. Hasp closures are easily defeated because someone can insert a crowbar behind the hasp and snap it.

Patio doors
It’s relatively easy to lift a set of older patio doors off the track, even when they are locked. Don’t attempt to do this on your audit, but take time to inspect the doors and hardware. Replace any missing or broken locks, and consider installing and using locking pins to prevent them from sliding.

Consider your family’s habits: Do you leave the patio doors open all summer? Locking the screen door isn’t good enough; it keeps out bugs, not thieves. Get in the habit of closing and locking patio doors when they’re unattended or you’re not home.

Safeguard household valuables
Thieves want easy-to-grab electronics, cash, jewelry and other valuables, though some are not above running down the street with your flat-screen TV. Most make a beeline for the master bedroom, because that’s where we’re likely to hide spare cash, jewelry, even guns.

Tour each room and ask yourself: Is there anything here that I can move to my safe deposit box? Consider getting rid of old jewelry you never wear. A home safe, bolted to your basement slab, is a good spot for everything else. Have you made a video inventory of other items of value in your home? Are you properly insured for theft? Understand that high-ticket items in your home office, such as computers, professional camera equipment, or other business essentials, may require an additional rider or a separate policy. And take steps to back up the personal information stored on your home computer.

If you’re in the market for a new home…or thinking about selling your current home, contact a REALTOR. Their value and expertise will ensure a professional home buying/selling experience.

6 Green Remodeling Tips for your Kitchen

According to _____________________ president, _________________ Board of REALTORS, you can green your kitchen with these six resource-conserving tips.

Salvage nontraditional items for new kitchen storage.
Reuse is the gold standard for green remodeling and a little creativity goes a long way. Banks of old school lockers or lab cabinets, for example, are a hot salvage item for retro-flavored kitchen storage.

Reuse stuff from your old kitchen.
Take a hard look to see if there are things you can keep–appliances, cabinets, hardware, faucets, and sinks are all candidates for reuse or refurb rather than replacement. A caveat: Don’t keep any faucet purchased before 1997, because it’s likely to contain some lead. And dispense with any appliances more than 10 years old. Energy Star appliances are leaps and bounds ahead of their ancestors in terms of energy-efficiency.

Install an under-the-counter water purifier.
These have about 10 times the filtering capacity of a faucet-mounted purifier. A model with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and pesticides–not to mention odors and bad tastes.

Don’t forget energy-efficient lighting.
Fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps use up to 75% less energy than comparable incandescent lamps. In fact, according to EnergyStar.gov, a single CFL bulb will save $30 to $40 during its expected lifespan of 10,000 hours. But make sure you keep task areas well-lit: Consider efficient halogen and LED lighting sources anywhere you’re planning to chop veggies or measure ingredients. Or plan a skylight overhead–the sun’s still free.

Make recycling easy.
Most cabinet manufacturers offer options for lower cabinets that include pull-out recycling bins to keep contents organized and out of sight. You can even get surface-mounted bins to go underneath holes in countertops. Just sweep food scraps right in.

Buy counter-depth Energy Star refrigerator instead of a standard-depth model.
Counter-depth fridges fit flush with cabinet fronts instead of jutting out five or six inches into the kitchen. It’s a way to carve out extra floor space, get a sleek built-in look, and save energy, since you’re cooling less space. And an Energy Star option adds efficiency over older models. You likely won’t even notice the slight difference in capacity, although you’ll pay a few hundred dollars more.

Make your decision up front, though, because counter-depth appliances often aren’t standard width. You’ll need to plan your cabinets accordingly.

Keep in mind models featuring the freezer on top use 10% to 25% less energy than a same-sized model with a side-by-side configuration.

If you’re in the market for a new home…or thinking about selling your current home, contact a REALTOR. Their value and expertise will ensure a professional home buying/selling experience.


Holiday Plant Guide

Poinsettias are one of the most popular and prominent, holiday plants.
According to ____________ president, __________ Board of REALTORS, whether you’re giving them as gifts or scattering them through your home throughout the season, holiday plants are a festive, colorful addition to any room. But don’t be fooled by their name: Christmas plants flourish until spring if they’re properly cared for.

Still not sure which one to get or give? These six varieties might be a good place to start.

Poinsettias: Surrounded by red, white or pink leaves, poinsettias (they’re actually the yellow center of the leafy part) are one of the staples of holiday flowers. To ensure this perennial lasts beyond the holidays, be sure that the plant you buy has either flowers just beginning to open or green buds that are tightly closed. Place the plant in bright–not direct–sunlight and make sure it has a moderate amount of moisture and fertilize the plant after the holidays.

Winter Hollies: Hollies have been used for holiday decorations for thousands of years. They prefer neutral to slightly acid, well-drained soils and most prefer full sun but tolerate partial shade. The male and female flowers are born on separate plants, and only females produce the colorful berries. There are thousands of hollies available–each one offering a unique combination of adaptation, size, leaf color or berry habit.

Amaryllis: Amaryllis bulbs blossom into strikingly colored blooms (ranging in color from crimson to white) on two-foot-high stems. Each plant produces a cluster of two to four blooms, with some blossoms reaching up to 8 inches in diameter at their peak. For holiday blooms, buy bulbs that are about to bud or beginning to flower. The plants fare best in cool locations and sunny windows.

Christmas cactus: These plants generally bloom from November until March, depending on the species. After watering and feeding the cactus normally, place it in a dark spare room or cover it at night. The darkness will stimulate blossom formation in late autumn. A dark garbage bag makes a nice cacti cover, until it’s time to bring them out into direct light in late fall.

Kalanchoe: Just like the Christmas cactus, the Kalanchoe is a succulent that produces clusters of petite buds in the autumn ranging in color from red to orange to purple to white. Easily grown in sun or shade, they prefer bright direct light and some heat.

Paperwhite: These narcissus are easy bulbs to force for the holidays. Paperwhite narcissus are beautiful, white delicate flowers that can be grown in just about anything, whether it’s plain water, gravel, potting soil or sand. The plants need plenty of moisture and light, as well as pleasant temperatures of 65 degrees. With too little light and too much warmth, you’ll find yourself tending to a tall, spindly paperwhite. If the plants become spindly and lean to the light, tie them to a stake with some raffia or twine.

Tie a ribbon around that clay pot, and give your favorite green thumb one of these five festive gifts. They’re perfect buys that with the right amount of care will be around for years to come.

If you’re in the market for a new home…or thinking about selling your current home, contact a REALTOR. Their value and expertise will ensure a professional home buying/selling experience.