First impressions matter, and this is particularly true in real estate. Whether you’re looking for ways to increase the value of your home, or just looking for a fun home project, consider upgrading your landscaping.
Multiple sources attest to the draw that a beautifully landscaped yard has on potential home buyers. Martin Eiden, a top broker with Compass in New York City, claims that good landscaping can increase a home’s value by 10 to 15% at the most. Similarly, a study by Michigan State University found that potential home buyers perceived the value of a home with good landscaping to be 11% higher than a home without it. In addition, a survey done by the National Association of Landscape Professionals found that 84% of Americans said that landscaping would impact their decision to buy a home.
With spring weather here to stay, now is the perfect time to make an investment in your home by improving your landscaping. It may sound like an overwhelming project. Where do you start?
Here are some helpful tips to consider as you embark on this project.
1. Think Outside the Green Box
A green lawn has become a staple of the American yard, but there are many quick and easy ways to add on to that to create more interest. To add a pop of color here and there, use potted flowers. Refresh the look of your lawn with new mulch around bushes and in plant beds. Add some outdoor furniture or lawn ornaments
2. Match Your Yard to Your Home
Make sure the style of your landscaping matches the style of your home. If you have a classic style of home, choose landscaping that reflects that style, don’t go for a bold, contemporary statement.
3. Opt for Sophistication
A green rectangle is uninspired. Employing more sophisticated design elements like curved lines for plant beds and an island of plants in the middle of a lawn is much more interesting, and can even result in a higher sale price, according to a survey by Turf magazine. The same survey also found that yards with a mix of large trees and colorful annual plants also sold better.
4. Plan for Each Season
Plan your landscaping so that it will look good all year round. This is especially important for home-owners in a four-season climate. A blog post by HouseCall describes what plants to choose for each season, “blooming bulbs for spring, annual beds around the house during the summer, shrubs with brightly colored leaves in the fall, and evergreens for the winter”.
5. Trees are Awesome
Trees not only increase the value of your property, they also clean the air, provide fruit, provide privacy, and can reduce your heating and cooling bills. What a powerhouse plant! In addition, they are relatively inexpensive to plant.
A study by Landscape and Urban Planning found that homes with trees in the front yard in Portland, Oregon, sold for $8,870 more and also sold 1.7 days faster than those homes without them. A single hardwood tree can remove 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air in a year. The U.S. Department of Energy found that strategically planted trees can reduce a home’s energy use by 25%, since they can provide shade in the summer and block wind in the winter. The Tree Benefit Calculator can give homeowners an estimate of how much benefit a given tree can give the neighborhood.
While trees are generally awesome, if you are planting new ones, it’s important to choose their location carefully, making sure they aren’t too close to the driveway or home. Once matured, a badly placed tree can get in the way of power lines or septic system drain fields, a definite detractor for potential buyers.
6. Invest in an Automatic Irrigation System
If you are going to put the time, effort, and money into upgrading your yard, you may want to protect that investment, and reduce your daily time spent maintaining the landscaping, with an automatic irrigation system.
7. Keep it Low Maintenance
While a well-landscaped yard is a definite asset, for most homeowners it’s best to create a yard that is also relatively low-maintenance. Unless gardening is your passion, you’ll get the most economic benefit from a yard that’s easy to maintain.
If you live in an area that’s dry, like California or the southwestern states, consider water-smart landscaping, which features artfully placed rocks with bushes and shrubs that don’t require much water.
In general, plants that are native to the area you live in will be hardier and easier to maintain. They won’t need as much water, fertilizer, or hands on care to thrive in their native environment as something exotic would.
8. Create a welcoming pathway
Visitors and anyone interested in buying your home will encounter the front yard first and enter through the front door. Make a good first impression by designing a pathway to the front door that creates interest. “Ideally, have it winding with plants or a small hedge on each side,” says New York City broker Martin Eiden.
9. Install Outdoor Lighting
Outdoor lighting not only shows off your beautiful landscaping at night, it also provides added safety for anyone coming and going at night, and can ward off burglars. Outdoor lights can now be LED or solar-powered, saving money and electricity. There are a wide range of outdoor lights available, so you can pick up a simple DIY kit at a hardware store, or invest in a professional to design and install a lighting scheme.
10. Edge the Lawn
Since you have put the time, effort, and finances into improving your landscaping, why not finish the job with a nice clean edge around your lawn? This is especially important for home sellers. It will add clean lines and a sense of organization to your yard, overall. This sends a signal to potential buyers that you have kept the property in tip-top condition. For tips on how to edge your lawn, click here.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has lead to a world-wide and state-mandated move to shelter in place. For now, our homes are not just emotional sanctuaries, but also provide physical protection from the virus. But many of us must venture out from time to time, whether we are essential workers or just picking up the essentials from the grocery store. How do we keep our homes safe and secure from this invisible invader? Here is a compilation of the latest information on how to keep a clean and virus-free household, drawn largely from the Centers for Disease Control’s website.
COVID-19 is short for coronavirus disease 2019. It is usually spread from one person to another person by close contact, which occurs when people are within 6 feet of each other. In this situation the virus is usually spread by respiratory droplets, such as when someone coughs or sneezes. People who are infected by the virus may not have symptoms and may still spread it to others. There are no documented cases of anyone getting COVID-19 from a surface with the virus remaining on it. However, the virus may survive on various surfaces for time periods ranging from hours to days. An unpublished study by the CDC says it can remain on plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted through water.
The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your home as a best practice to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or any other viral respiratory illness. It is unknown how long the virus stays in the air of a room where there has been an infected person. Both the size of room and the type of ventilation system are factors that have to be considered. Still, it’s always a good practice to ventilate a room where a known or suspected COVID-19 patient has been. The CDC makes recommendations for cleaning in a household where a member may have or has a confirmed case of COVID-19. These practices can be used by anyone who is concerned about the virus in general. The CDC makes a distinction between cleaning and disinfecting. You will want to go through both steps to keeping your home both clean and disinfected.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Different Types of Surfaces
Hard (Non-porous) Surfaces
If possible, wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect, and throw the gloves away after cleaning. It’s ok to use reusable gloves, as long as you don’t use them for any purpose other than cleaning/disinfecting for COVID-19. Be sure to clean your hands right away after you finish cleaning and remove your gloves.
To clean hard surfaces, first use a detergent or soap and water to remove any dirt. Then, disinfect the surface with an EPA-registered disinfectant. For a list of these disinfectants that are approved for helping to fight COVID-19, click here.
You can also make an effective disinfectant by diluting household bleach, as long as it hasn’t expired. Make sure the bleach solution has contact with the surface you’re cleaning for at least one minute. Also ensure the area you are cleaning has adequate ventilation while you’re using the bleach solution. You can make a bleach solution by adding 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.
Soft (Porous) Surfaces
Common porous surfaces that may become contaminated and need to be cleaned include carpeted flooring, rugs, and drapes. First use a cleaner that is indicated for use on these types of surfaces. If possible, put the item in the laundry and wash it on the highest heat setting, then dry it completely. You can check the list of EPA-approved cleaners for use against COVID-19 to find one that’s appropriate for the item or surface that you’re cleaning.
When laundering items that may be contaminated, use disposable gloves or a pair of reusable gloves set aside for that purpose. Clean your hands after you finish the laundry and remove your gloves. Don’t shake your dirty laundry, as that could release the virus into the air. Use the highest heat setting on your washing machine and make sure to dry the items thoroughly. Also be sure to clean and disinfect your hamper regularly. If possible, use a liner bag that is either disposable or washable.
Keeping Your Hands Clean
To stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s very important to keep your hands clean. Always clean your hands when you are done cleaning and disinfecting other surfaces, and after coming in contact with someone who is sick with the virus. Spend 20 seconds washing your hands with soap and water. Warm and cold water are equally effective. If these are not available and your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds.If you hands are visibly dirty, it’s important to use soap and water, not just a hand sanitizer.
Wash or sanitize your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Also clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, and after going to the bathroom, or interacting with animals. In addition, clean your hands before eating or preparing food, and before and after providing care for another person.
With these tips in mind, you can keep your household clean and feel secure that your home is still a place of safety.
In this video, I address home buying in the current environment. If you have any questions on this, please don't hesitate to reach out.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both announced on March 25th, 2020 that a two month deferral option is available for some borrowers who are facing a short term hardship (such as being laid off from a job because of COVID-19). If the borrower is able to resolve the hardship within that two month time period and can resume paying their mortgage payments in full, they will be eligible to defer those two months of payments to the end of their mortgage without needing to significantly modify the loan. The deferred payment and interest is due either on the mortgage maturity date, the pay-off date or upon the sale of the property, whichever comes first. Mortgage servicers will be able to start evaluating borrowers to see if they are eligible for payment deferrals beginning on July 1.
Original blog post regarding forbearance plans can be found here.
There is a lot of uncertainty as the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the United States. Schools have closed for the rest of the school year in Virginia and many businesses have had to close or scale back temporarily, meaning that some people have found themselves unemployed. In light of this crisis, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are suspending all foreclosures and evictions until May 17th, 2020. Similarly, the Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled to suspend all evictions for tenants who are unable to pay their rent now until April 6th. As events continue to unfold, these dates could be extended.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both have forbearance plans for homeowners who are impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The forbearance plan reduces or suspends mortgage payments for 12 months. Borrowers in a forbearance plan will not incur late charges during that time. Additionally, the forbearance plan will suspend reporting to the credit bureau for past due payments. Keep in mind that a loan forbearance plan is best used for situations of temporary hardship since the interest continues to accrue even during the forbearance period.
Any homeowners who need mortgage assistance are strongly urged to reach out to their mortgage servicer at this time. It's important to note that some lenders may expect a lump-sum payment at the end of the 12 months while others may offer a repayment plan. Loan modifications may also be available.
The vast majority of borrowers have loans under Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or HUD. To see if your mortgage is owned by Freddie Mac, click here. To see if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae, click here.
Sources/ Additional Reading:
In light of recent events and government recommendations pertaining to COVID-19, many people have decided to stay confined to their homes. As we all adjust to this change, it could be an excellent time to declutter and organize your house. Having a clean, calm house can not only improve your mood, but it is an important step if you are preparing to put your house on the market. For most people, the hardest part of decluttering is starting what feels like a daunting task. Below are some tips to help you begin.
Make a Plan
Prioritize certain areas of the house and schedule them in your calendar. Make realistic goals so you don’t become frustrated and then stay on task. Most people accumulate clutter in storage areas - basements, attics, garages and closets - so these should be first on your list. After picking out an area or room to declutter, divide the space into zones. A zone can be a set of shelves, a corner of boxes, or all the drawers in a desk or dresser. Ideally, you should complete one zone before moving to a new one.
Item by Item
Once you’ve broken up your designated space into zones, take everything out of that area. This means empty out all the drawers, dump out everything from bins/boxes and clear off flat surfaces. Then you can evaluate each item to decide if you should keep it or get rid of it. There may be a few items you decide to store in a new area; just be sure you aren’t moving clutter from room-to-room in the process. Typically, you should plan to get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past year. Old toys, broken gadgets, half-finished projects, holiday decorations and the like can go. Clothes, books, and furniture are great items to donate or even sell (if they are in good condition). From an environmentally-friendly standpoint, it’s best to donate or recycle anything you can rather than taking everything to the dump. Once you’ve decided what’s worth keeping, group like items together so it’s easy to stay organized.
Maintain Your Organized Space
After you’ve worked hard to clean and organize an area, be sure to prevent clutter in the future. There are a number of ways to avoid re-cluttering. Before you buy something new, be sure this is something you will use several times. For things you may only need once, consider renting or borrowing. If you decide that you do indeed need this item, make a habit to then donate or toss an old item (especially if the new item is replacing or upgrading an existing possession). Make a point to clean and declutter a little every day, maybe fifteen minutes or so; it’s much easier to spend a little time everyday tidying up rather than carving out hours of your weekend every month or two to “catch-up.”
Decluttering can feel overwhelming even when you have a plan with realistic goals. Sometimes, deciding to let something go can be difficult. There are only a few items that increase in value over time; most of the time, your possessions are sunk costs and you should evaluate them based on how useful they are to you, not how much you spent on them. If the concern is paperwork or photos, consider making digital copies to store electronically. If you are on the fence about keeping a particular object, store it in a bin with the date on it. If several months go by and you haven’t needed it or, also likely, don’t remember what you put in the bin in the first place, get rid of it. Sometimes, finding a friend or relative who wants the item can be the only push you need to let it go.
A huge aspect of purchasing a home is finding the right mortgage loan for you. There are several different types of mortgages that each have their own advantages and disadvantages. You should always speak with a mortgage lender to review what your best options would be. Below is a brief outline of some of the most common loans you may want to consider. While reviewing mortgage loans might not seem exciting on the surface, just keep in mind that the right mortgage loan can help save you money and planning how to spend that extra money is definitely exciting.
These loans are most often conforming, meaning they stay within the federal limits set by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (government owned mortgage purchasers). In the Shenandoah Valley the cap is $510,400. With these loans, if you put down less than 20% of the purchase price for the home, you will pay a Private Mortgage Insurance premium each month until you reach 20% equity in your home.
Fixed Rate Loans
This is the most common mortgage loan, making up 75% of all home loans. These loans come in 15, 20 and 30 year terms. While the 30 year term is the most popular, the 15 year term will build equity faster, in part due to a lower interest rate. The interest rate stays fixed so the monthly payments remain the same for the duration of the loan; this is great for budgeting and there are no surprises down the road if you plan to stay in your house for several years. The down-side is that you could end up paying more in interest than you would with a different kind of loan.
Adjustable Rate Mortgage Loans
With ARM loans, there is an introductory period when the interest rate is fixed (one month to 10 years) after which the loan interest rate can fluctuate according to the index they are tied to. ARM loans can be attractive to buyers who don’t plan to stay in their house long-term because their initial rates are typically lower than the fixed rate loans but they come with the risk of a much higher interest rate after the fixed period.
Government Agency Backed Loans
Unlike conventional loans, these loans have more restrictions; investment properties and second homes are typically not eligible. However, these loans offer a much lower down payment and typically lower interest rates.
Virginia Housing Development Authority offers a variety of loans designed to meet the needs of Virginia's homebuyers, including Conventional 30 Year Fixed (Fannie Mae No MI, Fannie Mae Reduced MI), plus FHA, VA (Veterans Affairs), and RHS (Rural Housing Services) loans which are listed below. VHDA also offers a down payment assistance grant, closing cost assistance, and mortgage credit certificates. Something to keep in mind is that most VHDA loans are only for first time homebuyers and there is a maximum income and loan limit by region.
Federal Housing Administration Loans come in 15 or 30 year fixed rates and offer a low down payment requirement (can be as low as 3.5%), plus the ability to use a financial gift or inheritance for the down payment. Lower credit score and debt-to-ratio requirements are also advantages to FHA loans, particularly for first time homebuyers. The biggest drawback is that FHA borrowers must pay an upfront mortgage insurance fee of 1.75% of the total loan amount, as well as a monthly premium regardless of down payment size.
USDA/ RHS Loans
United States Department of Agriculture offers Rural Housing Service Loans. They can be a good option if you wish to purchase a single family home that is located in an eligible, rural area. This loan offers a no down payment option and tends to have lower interest rates than a conventional mortgage. The disadvantages to USDA loans are that you will have to pay mortgage insurance premiums and there is an income limit (for Harrisonburg Metro area- not the city itself, which is not eligible- this is $86,850 for a 4 person or less household) as well as a loan limit ($265,400 for Rockingham County).
If you've served in the United States military, you may qualify for a Veterans Affairs loan. A VA loan doesn’t require a down payment and there are no mortgage insurance requirements. There is also no minimum credit score requirement and interest rates tend to be lower. Because these loans come with so many benefits, there are a few restrictions; the property in question must be your primary residence, and it must meet “minimum property requirements" (not a fixer upper) which can prolong the appraisal process. There is also a funding fee associated with the loan.
There are several other, lesser-known mortgage loans (such as Balloon, Bridge, Jumbo, Interest-Only, Rental Property, etc) that may warrant some additional research as you determine the best loan for your situation. While one mortgage type may work for your friend or relative, it may not be the best fit for you which is why you should work with your lender and review the terms of any loan carefully.
In recent years, homeowners have opted to replace their kitchen cabinets for open shelves. When done correctly, open shelving can complement all styles of kitchens, whether they are rustic, modern, or more traditional and give your kitchen a fresh, open feel. While trendy, there can be some drawbacks to ditching traditional kitchen cabinets. So, would switching to open shelves be the right move for you?
The Pros of Open Shelves:
The Cons of Open Shelves: