Professional Landscaping: Is it Worth the Investment?

landscaper-laying_sod_in_yardHave you ever driven through a neighborhood full of perfectly cut grass, beautiful gardens and manicured hedges? You may think to yourself, I could do that! Maybe you can, but landscape architecture is a profession backed by a four year degree and extensive knowledge in botany, horticulture as well as engineering and design. So, what can these professionals bring to your yard and is it worth the investment?

The rule of thumb for landscaping is that by spending 10% of your homes value on landscaping can add up to 20% to the selling price. This is not an immediate return on investment however. It takes about 5 years for plants to fill in, trees to put down strong root and everything to meld together to create a lush gardenscape and lawn. After 5 years you can expect a 75-100% return on investment plus the value it will add to your home in a sale.

Yards can also mean a lot to potential buyers. As the first thing they see when they pull up, a well kempt yard gives a great first impression and sets expectations on the inside of the house as well. All factors equal, it is possible a buyer will choose one house over another simply due to the landscaping. Knowing that landscaping has already been done also may draw buyers because it is an investment they do not have to make in the future. Maintaining an already landscaped yard is much easier than starting from scratch.

Once you decide to use a professional landscaper there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Certifications for landscape architects do exist. Alongside a four year degree, the American Society of Landscape Architects provides certification to landscape architects. “The Society’s mission is to lead, to educate, and to participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.” Members obtain certification, continued education and professional support and can be trusted for any landscaping project, large or small.
  • There are lots of options when it comes to landscaping. From simply sprucing up your yard to a complete overhaul, landscape architects are trained and qualified to provide any level of assistance. On a smaller scale adding new gardens, laying sod and planting trees can do wonders for your yard. Other trends include adding terraces, arbors, pools, paving stones along plants, trees and sod. A landscape architect can help assess your property and make suggestions based on your expectations.
  • Maintenance is required. From mowing and pruning to watering and weeding, landscaping takes commitment. You can always build a plan with your architect for upkeep on your own. If that seems a bit overwhelming, landscaping companies generally have teams of people that will come to your house as often as you like to help as much or as little as you wish.

Landscaping can seem like just one more thing to do on your property but, the investment is well worth it. From the increase in your property value, to the compliments from your neighbors and homegrown bouquets around the house, landscaping can bring more than just a monetary reward. By doing your research, requesting the guidance of a professional and keeping up with maintenance you will surely see the fruits of your labor for years to come.

 

 



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Should you buy solar panels for your home?

Most home improvement projects are calculated risks.  You hope that the project adds long-lasting value to your home, but it just as easily may turn into the next bad fad.  Remember the “great rooms” of the 80’s, wallpaper borders, popcorn ceilings, carpeted bathrooms?  If you’re looking for a sure bet, take a look at projects that improve the energy efficiency of your home.  Why?  Well, it’s hard to predict if the average homebuyer will like the exposed brick in your kitchen, but we all like money, right?

One amenity that will save you a chunk of change over the long haul, and appeal to a large group of homebuyers, is the addition of solar panels.  According to a recent article by Bloomberg, the demand for solar panels is expected to jump 56-percent nationwide this year and at least six of the ten largest U.S. homebuilders are including solar panels in their new construction.  Even The White House is getting in on the energy efficiency craze.

Installing Solar Panels

So, you’ve made the decision to go with solar panels, now what?  You can find reputable solar installation companies through national websites, including findsolar.com, cleanenergyauthority.com.  The installation company should be able to help you decide on the size of the solar system that you install, but the standard is to buy one kilowatt of capacity for every 1,000 square feet in your house.  If you’re building a new house, install the solar system now.  Installing the panels during the construction of a new home is 20-perccent cheaper than after the home is built.

Cost Savings

Installing a solar system is more affordable than ever.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the average solar system cost about $4.93 in the first quarter this year, down 16-percent from a year ago.  In addition, the federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit against the cost of the system, and many states and utility companies offer rebates that slash the cost of installation.

Still not convinced, consider this: for every dollar that your annual electric bill goes down because of your solar system, your home’s value goes up by $20, according to The Department of Housing and Urban Development.  So, a solar system that saves you $25 a month will net you $300 per year and increase your home’s value by $6,000.



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Five Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

With the recent recovery of the housing market, now is a good time to buy a home.  Mortgage loan rates should be lower, credit easier to get and there will likely be a wider selection of homes in your price range.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is; buying your first home is a lengthy process that can be intimidating and stressful if you don’t have some help.  Here are five important tips to help make the largest purchase of your life a satisfying one:

Understand your own finances

Before approaching a mortgage lender, check your credit score through a website such as freecreditreport.com and make sure that all of the information on the credit reports is accurate.  If you have a poor credit score, you will have a very, very hard time qualifying for a loan.  Lenders will pay special attention to the amount of credit used relative to your credit limit (credit utilization ratio).  If you need to repair or improve damaged credit, wait at least six months after making improvements before shopping for a home.

buyingIt’s also a good idea to put together a budget to get an idea of how much money you spend each month and how much you can afford to spend on a monthly mortgage payment.  Track all of your expenses, from your grocery store bill to your pedicure payment.  Remember, things that you don’t pay for in a rental property – a broken dishwasher, homeowner’s association fees – will be your responsibility when you own a home.

Get pre-approved for a mortgage

Make sure to save and organize your income and tax documents in the months and years before heading to the bank.  Lenders will want to see pay checks, W-2’s, tax returns and bank statements.  Shop around for a lender; check national banks, regional banks, mortgage brokers and local lenders and ask for referrals from friends and family members.  Weigh all of the different lenders and pick the one that meets your needs.  The bank will provide you with a pre-approval letter confirming how much they are willing to lend you.  This process will give you an idea of the types of homes that you can afford.  In addition, many sellers refuse to accept offers from buyers without pre-approval from a lender and some realtors refuse to show properties to buyers without pre-approval.

 Pick a partner

As a first-time home buyer, you are very susceptible to making mistakes that can cost you thousands of dollars.  A real estate agent will help you find homes that are in your price range and meet all of your needs.  Plus, they are seasoned in making offers, getting loans, completing paperwork and they likely know a really good home inspector.

Speaking of a home inspector….

Sellers and their real estate agents often conveniently forget about hidden damage or past problems with a home.  Don’t take their word about the status of the foundation of the home or the presence of asbestos in the basement.  Bring in your own expert – a home inspector.  Main areas covered by the inspection should include quality of construction, integrity of the foundation and condition of plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems.  If the home inspection reveals serious defects that the seller did not disclose, you’ll generally be able to rescind your offer and get your deposit back. Negotiating to have the seller make the repairs or discount the selling price are other options if you find yourself in this situation.

Don’t forget the details

When you are trying to figure out your budget and how much house you can afford, don’t forget about all of the often overlooked costs associated with the home that you likely didn’t have to pay while renting.  Did you account for home maintenance, utilities, property taxes, insurance, landscaping and snow removal? You can get an idea about utilities and property taxes by asking the seller and it’s smart to obtain a homeowner’s insurance quote before you make a final offer.  In addition, it’s a good idea to budget about one-percent of the home’s purchase price for annual maintenance.



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Five Lawn Care Tips for the Fall

lawnLabor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer.  It’s time to trade in the pool parties and golf outings for ugly sweater parties and ski trips.  If that is upsetting to you, perhaps we can help by turning  your attention to NEXT summer.  Fall is the time when grass absorbs energy and nutrients to survive the winter months.  Put in a little time and effort now and you will have a lush, green lawn by the time that first BBQ rolls around next spring.  Try these five lawn care tips:

1. Aerate - Aeration allows the grass to breathe, and also enables water and nutrients to reach the root system more efficiently.  A garden fork can do the job on a small yard, but a walk-behind aerator works best.  It pulls out 3-inch deep soil plugs, which will break down naturally by spring.

2. Seeding - After aerating, take advantage of the fact that turf roots grow vigorously in the fall by seeding the lawn.  Seeding will increase the turf density and help the lawn recover from the heavy use of the summer.  Lay down the seed when the soil temperature is around 50 degrees and water your new seed, daily, for two-to-three weeks.

3. Fertilizer - By fertilizing your lawn in the fall, you provide nutrients that it can use and store during the dormant months of the winter.  Apply a dry, high-phosphorus mix of fertilizer to all grassy areas.  A walk-behind spreader does the best job of covering the lawn with an even layer of fertilizer.

4. Weed Control - All of those weeds that you notice in the spring actually feed and grow during the fall.  You want to kill the weeds before they become an eyesore.  Pay special attention to what type of herbicide you use to do the job.  Selective herbicides target specific weeds without damaging turf grass or plants.

Nonselective herbicides destroy anything green.  Apply the herbicide when the temperature is above 50-degrees.

5. Rake - This may not help your attempt to convince your children to rake the lawn, but getting rid of the leaves in the yard will significantly help the growth of your lawn.  Layers of leaves and dead grass can build up on the surface of the soil, inhibiting drainage and leading to the growth of moss and fungal diseases.  Plus, when leaves and debris sit on the ground, they steal that precious sunlight that the grass needs to ensure proper growth.



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10 Tips to Help You Prepare for Home Moving Day

movingIf you plan on moving into a new home this summer, you’re not alone.  According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly half of all moves occur during the four warmest months (June, July, August, and September) of the year.  With so many families fighting for moving resources, it’s imperative that you have a plan to complete the job.  Use this list of 10 tips to help you prepare for the big day:

1. The first step is to decide whether you need professional help.  If the answer is yes, get written quotes from at least three licensed moving companies to ensure that you receive the best price and that the company can meet all of your moving needs

2. If possible, avoid moving on weekends and at the end of the month.  If you move on a weekday during the middle of the month, you will likely have access to top the highest quality moving equipment and resources, plus traffic won’t be an issue.

3. Use an excel spreadsheet, google doc, or notebook to track all of your moving related tasks.  This will help you keep track of the small details, including cancelling cable, phone and utility services, and notifying schools and the post office about your address change.

4. Label the top and bottom of each box with big, bold letters.  Use packing tape, not duct tape to seal the boxes and make sure not to mix objects from different rooms in the same box.

5.  Don’t over pack boxes.  The heavier the box, the harder it’s to move, and the more likely it’s to fall out on the bottom. Boxes should weight no more than 50 pounds.  Remember, lift with your knees and not your back.

6. Take pictures of electronic hook-ups, print the pictures out and label the pictures with installation instructions.  Think TVs, DVRs, home theater systems, video game consoles, etc.  The pictures will save you time and frustration when you arrive at your new home.

7. Take special care when packing up your kitchen.  Check manuals for instructions on how to move your large appliances.  Use dish barrel boxes to hold your dishes and fragile kitchen utensils in place.  Stack dishes and fine china upwards when packing and use packing paper instead of newspaper.

8. Evaluate all of your belongings.  It’s a big waste of money to move items that you will replace or throw out at the end of the move, so you need to get rid of some of your stuff before you move.   Make a list of the items that you will not move to your new home and separate those items into three categories: sell, donate to charity, and throw away.

9. Consider getting full value insurance protection. It may cost a few dollars extra, but it will ensure that any lost or damaged articles will be repaired or replaced, or a cash settlement will be made at current market value, regardless of age.

10. Make sure to pack a survival box that includes everything that you will need in an emergency situation and on night one in your new home: health and insurance records, a clean set of sheets and towels, the kids’ favorite bedtime story, a box of cereal for the first morning.



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5 Renovations That May Hurt The Value of Your Home

It’s your home and you’re free to decorate and renovate as you please.  I won’t judge if you love shag carpeting, your man cave or the heart-shaped pool.  But, you should be aware that future potential buyers will judge what you do to your home.  Here are five home renovations that may scare away future buyers:

  1. Swimming Pools – Your summer paradise may be viewed as a summer nightmare by the buyer.  Pools have the reputation as being dangerous, expensive, and hard work.
  2. Custom office – Adding custom lighting, cabinetry and high-tech equipment in an effort to improve work productivity at home may lead to more work when it comes to convincing someone to buy.  If buyers need that room to be a bedroom, it may be too expensive or tedious to transform all of your specialized renovations.
  3. Large-scale construction – Be wary of making overly expensive renovations in a neighborhood of modest homes.  Buyers don’t want to pay $300,000 for a home surrounded by $200,000 homes.  The home will seem to be overpriced and you will have a hard time recouping the money you spent on those pricey upgrades.
  4. Specialty rooms – A man cave, home theater, gym, art space.  When you sell your home, you want to appeal to the masses.  Rooms designed with your hobbies or special interests in mind don’t appeal to the masses. 
  5. Walls – Custom paint colors, wallpapers, tiling and stenciling can cost you money.  White, off-white or beige walls attract the largest group of potential buyers.

As a general rule, prospective buyers want to find a home that they can walk into and live in right away.  They don’t want to spend time and money renovating and repairing all of the “custom” work you have done on the home.



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All Hands on Deck: Steps to Consider Before Building a Deck Onto Your House

deckSummertime’s here, and if you’re like most people, there’s no better party spot than a back deck.  If you don’t have one, this summer may be the time to build one.  Less expensive than building an additional room, the deck adds living space without adding too much cost.  In fact, according to Remodeling Magazine, a wooden deck addition is the second most cost-effective improvement among mid-range housing projects.

Ready to begin?  Unless you have advanced carpentry skills, it’s probably a good idea to hire a contractor to build your deck.  Before you pick up the phone, make a few decisions before contacting a contractor.

Size & Placement

How big do you want your deck to be?  Where’s it going to go?  Grab a few stakes and some string and create an outline of a potential deck.  Use the outline to give you an idea of how the deck would fit with the surrounding yard, your deck furniture, and your appliances.  This process will also help to ensure that the deck meets codes.

Also determine which room(s) you’d like to have access to the deck.  You’ll have a lot of foot traffic coming in and out of this new area, so expect all sorts of dirt, leaves, grass, barbeque sauce and other debris to make its way into the room.

Don’t forget to consider the direction of the sunlight.  Too much sun can lead to deterioration of the deck and an uncomfortable experience for your guests.

Obviously, the more square footage, the more the deck will cost you.  The National Association of Homebuilders estimates the construction costs for a wood deck at roughly $35 per square foot, so crunch the numbers before you get started.

Wood vs. Composite

What type of material do you want to use to build your deck?  Pressure-treated lumber is the most common.  It’s resistant to the elements, cheap, easy to install and stainable.  Expect to frequently clean and stain pressure-treated boards to keep them in tip-top shape.

If the “look” of the wood is most important to you, cedar or redwood is probably the way to go.  These types of woods provide natural insect resistance and don’t absorb as much moisture, leading to a longer average lifespan.  Cedar and redwood are more expensive than pressure-treated boards.  Keep in mind that you’ll have to clean and stain the wood consistently to retain its look.

Composite decking is usually a combination of recycled plastics and wood fibers.  It requires significantly less maintenance and won’t rot or splinter.  It comes in a wide range of colors and textures.  While you may shell out more money for composite, it does tend to scratch and stain relatively easily.

Don’t forget about possible accessories for your new outdoor living space.  Do you have a gas grill?  Consider having gas lines run directly out to your deck.  Do you have a hill in the middle of your yard?  Look into a multi-level deck.  Does the sun turn you into a lobster? Add a pergola for a bit of shade.

With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to building a new deck for your home, increasing its value, and enjoying the warm days with some great cookouts.



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Are you really ready to sell your home?

imageFor anyone who’s ever made the move, you know that moving can be a daunting dask.  There’s the packing, pitching, and sorting – and that’s just the process for moving your STUFF.  Outside of all the box building, you’ll want to asses if now is the right time for your family to pick up and move.

Is it good timing for you?

Often, families opt to move in the Summer months so that children can enter their new school right at the beginning of a school year.  Or, your new job may be dictating when your start date is.  Either way, make sure that you have enough time to both physically and mentally prepare yourself and your family for what’s about to happen.  Don’t rush the process, if possible.  Most families require 8 weeks to really go through the moving process.

Is the market ready for your move?

If at all possible, schedule your move for the summer months.  This is often when new families or individuals are looking to move into the area.  Some families who are staying local may even move now too.  Thanks to flowers and yards that are in bloom, your home should show better in the Summertime as well. The downside?  You’ll have more competition, so ask your realtor what you can do to stand out.

Is your home ready for a move?

You’re mentally prepared.  The market is poised for new listings, but your home has seen better days.  Sometimes moving reveals all of those much-needed repairs that often went overlooked or hidden while you were living there.  Leave no stone unturned.  Hire a home inspector to pre-inspect your home before you move.  This will help you to set a better price for your house.  It should also shorten the time it sits on the market, as homeowners will have higher confidence in their new purchase.



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10 Ways to Prevent Humidity and Moisture Damage in Your Home

Summer is officially here, and it won’t take long to see the effects of the hot, humid weather on our friends and family members. It’s hard to hide sunburn or glistening skin or a sweaty lip. Our homes, on the other hand, do a great job of disguising the effects of humidity. A home may look perfectly fine on the outside, but it could be suffering costly damage on the inside.

Humidity leads to excess moisture which warps wood, breaks down drywall, stains walls, peels paint, attracts bugs and creates the perfect environment for the growth of mold and mildew. The big issue? These are the issues that can lead to costly repairs and failed home inspections.
Take our advice, and both you and your home will enjoy another beautiful summer:

Proper ventilation – Moisture tends to build up in the kitchen and bathrooms. Use exhaust fans while cooking or showering and, if possible, leave the doors to those rooms open.

Clean – Mold often grows on dust, so make sure you clean and vacuum on a consistent basis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests cleaning mold off of hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of one cup of bleach in one gallon of water.

Temperature control – Most molds need a temperature of 70-degrees Fahrenheit to grow. A properly installed and serviced air conditioning unit reduces both air temperature and humidity.

Dry clothes – Moisture on wet clothes evaporates into the air and the clothes are also a breeding ground for mold growth. Either dry the clothes immediately in a drying machine or hang them on a line outside.

Insulation and paint – To minimize wall and paint damage, increase wall insulation and use vapor-retardant paints. It is also helpful to fill all cracks around walls, doors and windows with caulk.

Replace carpeting – Carpet traps moisture, dust and dust mites that lower your indoor air quality.

Sunshine – Mold loves dark, damp spaces, so open your curtains and blinds to let some light into the house.

Basement – Moisture from the ground works with moisture from humid air to create condensation on walls and surfaces of homes. To combat this problem, leave foundation vents open during humid weather, close basement windows and doors and run a dehumidifier in the basement.

Attic – As we know, heat rises. Make sure that your attic has proper ventilation (one square foot of venting per 150-square feet of attic) and consider a vapor barrier.

Check for leaks: walls, roofs, pipes, shower.

The Summer months can be hot and sticky in the Philadelphia area. Keeping your home free from moisture is just the first step in protecting your investment.



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Who Pays for Repairs Found During a Home Inspection?

invoiceWhen shopping for a home, many home buyers fall in love with their dream homes – even after only one viewing.  Some even are convinced homes are for them – even if they’ve only see the photos online!  The home inspection can often be a wake up call that their home, which appeared to be perfect, actually has some needed repairs.

So who pays for the repairs found during a home inspection?  Well, the answer isn’t always black and white.

Each state has its own laws and requirements on issues that the home’s owner will need to take care of.  These are often safety or health-related issues, like mold, missing smoke or fire detectors, or significant amount of water damage.  The homeowner will need to take care of these before the house can be sold, but again, check with your local and state regulations for verification.

Apart from the legally mandated repairs, the sellers isn’t obligated to fix anything else for you.  Some may even opt to outline what repairs are needed – and will not be paid for – in their contract agreements.  This is becoming more common, as homeowners are undergoing home inspections before they even put their home on the market.  Still, if the home inspection uncovers any extensive repairs, the buyer can always ask that the issues be fixed.  Another angle is to ask that the seller lower the price of the home, in order to compensate for the problem.

The good news is that as the buyer, you have the right to accept or refuse the home inspection report.  The home inspection will allow you to really evaluate your purchase one last time before signing on the dotted line.  Consider the severity of the issues and whether you have the funds, time, and patience to take them on.



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