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Add a Personal Touch to Your New Garden
Find out how to give your landscape your personal stamp while respecting what is there and not exceeding your budget. You've moved to a new place, and you're already imagining what you're going to do to improve the outdoor space. Maybe it's a new development, offering a blank canvas, or perhaps it's already been landscaped. Here are ideas to help you bring your gardening aesthetic to the new space in a way that works with the site, its existing design and any established plantings, and won't cost an arm and a leg. Geting started: You can work through some or all of these steps on your own, but you may want to work with a landscape professional, someone who can help you identify what you need for your ideas to come to life and can pull your ideas together into a coherent plan. 1. Observe. Put down that spade and rototiller. Before you do anything major, take the time to see what you've got to work with. Live with the place through at least a growing season if you can, giving yourself enough time to discover what's already there. The daffodils in this photo, for instance, appeared as a surprise in an untended bed the spring after I moved to my current house in northern Wyoming, with a yard that had basically been abandoned for a decade or two. Fortunately I am not someone who tidies or improves first and asks questions later. If I had turned the bed and planted before their leaves appeared, I might have spaded up the daffodils and missed their cheerful yellow blooms. I also would not have been able to incorporate them into the new garden design. 2. Identify and inventory. Take photos and make notes. Identify and label everything you can, either using plant tags and stakes or drawing a yard plan and noting what grows where. If you can't identify something using the abundant resources available online, go the old-fashioned route and talk to neighbors or take photos to a local nursery or garden club. That's how I learned the variety of the heritage peony that grew in my former home. It had popped up as a bonus after I planted a rhubarb clump I dug up from a friend's garden; the peony tuber had come with it. I love peonies, especially the old, richly scented varieties, so I was delighted by the unexpected addition. My friend's neighbor identified the peony as a circa-1907 ‘Frances Willard' from her mother's garden in Illinois, a long way from our Colorado neighborhood. 3. Understand your site. Whether experienced gardeners or novices, we all make this mistake: We plunge in before taking the time to really know our site, from the small details of the soil and microsite to the big picture of the bioregion. Later we're sorry we didn't do our homework, when we find the soggy spot where nothing grows or the hot spot we didn't notice — or our prized shrubs we bought at great cost die because they weren't suited to the climate. If your new garden is in the same area as your old one, you may already know your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and bioregion. If not, click the links to learn. The Plant Hardiness Zone map gives you a rough idea of climate as measured by lowest temperatures; the bioregion info supplies more detail about soils, substrate and natural ecosystems. Observe the specifics of your site too: how water drains, where the sun falls through the seasons and the hot spots and frost pockets. 4. Understand your soil. Soil is where plants harvest their nutrients, drink water and engage in relationships with mycorrhizae and other microscopic life forms that help them thrive. Knowing what kind of soil you're working with is at least as important as understanding your site, because it helps determine whether your plants will flourish, and what kind of hardscape and structures you can create. Plants respond to both soil texture and chemistry (pH and any particular concentrations of metals or metal salts). Soil test kits for pH and other issues are usually available through county extensions. Texture is pretty easy to gauge: Take a pinch of your soil, wet it and then squeeze it out between your fingers. If your sample is grainy and falls apart, it's mostly sand; if it begins to form a ribbon between your fingers, it's got more silt and clay. The longer the ribbon you can form without its breaking, the higher the clay content. 5. Know your style and objectives. How do you envision your garden or landscape looking? Is it formal with clipped hedges and disciplined borders or more of a cottage garden with a riot blooms? Do you imagine a naturalistic prairie, meadow or forested shade garden? Putting your own stamp on a landscape means knowing the style or styles you prefer. If you're not sure, look at garden photos online, in print or in person. Make notes about what you love about them: Is it the arrangement of the plants? The colors and shapes? The relationships between plants and built environment? Those are all part of what makes up style. Finding your own preferences is key to picking your garden style. What's your objective? Is it simply to make a more beautiful landscape? Do you want to grow your own food? Do you want make a safe and healthy place for your family to spend time outdoors or to provide habitat for pollinators and songbirds? Most of us have multiple objectives; writing them out reminds us of what's important in shaping a garden and landscape that reflect who we are. 6. Pick your plant palette. Once you know your style and objectives, make a list or collect images of plants that fit your aims. (Be sure they're ones that will thrive on your site, in your ecoregion or climate zone). If you're working with an existing garden or landscape, an inventory is useful, as noted above. Once you know what's there, you can decide what existing elements you love or like and are willing to work with, and what you simply must add. With a new landscape, you have complete freedom. That's great but also can be overwhelming. That's when a plant palette is especially useful. Whether you're adding your special touch to an existing landscape or starting with a new site, it can be helpful to limit yourself at first: Pick two or three dozen of your absolute must-have plants, including trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. Repeating elements of a more limited plant palette will give you a more cohesive overall design. In choosing your palette, remember to think in terms of color, form and pattern throughout the year. The photo here is of the native prairie garden at Denver Botanic Gardens in fall. Notice how the colors and textures of the native grasses and shrubs lend interest beyond prime flowering season. Remember you can always add more plants later. 7. Remove obstacles. Before you start planting, remove any large obstacles or unwanted garden elements. Do you have trees that need to come down or be pruned? (The mature spruce in the photo here, for instance, had to go because it endangered the house.) A fence, garden structure or path that needs to come out or is in the way of your plans? Are you taking out lawn to replace it with other types of landscaping? Anything that requires disrupting the garden or yard should be removed before you start planting to avoid disturbing your new plants and landscaping, or worse, having to spend money and time replanting. Don't forget to reuse or recycle materials from anything you remove: The branches of that large spruce tree in the photo here, for instance, were chipped and piled on-site to provide free mulch to shade and improve the soil of the much-neglected yard. Bricks from a dated and decaying planter were reused to edge paths and garden beds. 8. Put in hardscape. Just as with removing obstacles and unwanted elements, putting in your hardscape — the nongrowing elements of your landscape, including paths, boulders, patios, decks and other garden structures — should be done before you do any large-scale planting. In this photo, of a brand-new yard in a development on Colorado's Front Range, the lot had drainage issues that had to be dealt with by creating a dry streambed and a shallow runoff retention area before mounds could be built and mulched, boulders placed, paths and patios laid. Only after all the site work had been done was it time to plant. 9. Build your plant collection. Planning and doing your homework is critical too, to help save money and to ensure the garden you envision is what comes to life. As soon as you know your plant palette, start collecting your plants. Look for postseason sales to pick up specimen plants at bargain prices. If you can't plant them right away, devote an area of the yard, somewhere convenient for watering and tending, to being your personal nursery. Stash your finds there until it's time to plant. Grow your own too: Collect seeds, cuttings and root divisions of your preferred plants, and start new plants inside or in your outdoor nursery area, depending on the conditions they need. (Always ask permission before collecting.) Meadow-style plantings can often be done most inexpensively from seed, and then as the meadow grows, you can plug in plants to fill gaps or add color. In any planting, remember the basic design rules: Plant in groups of three to five to give more impact, except for large specimen plants. With bulbs especially, grouping in dense clumps is often more effective than planting individual bulbs one to a hole. Go for punch and mass. 10. Be open to surprises. Gardens are part of nature, so things don't always happen according to plan. That's OK. Surprises add to a garden; what appears can sometimes be just exactly what the space needed, like the columbine in this photo sprouting in a garden bed at my new house that appeared to have been shaded out. Once the sickly tree above the bed was removed, columbines and other perennials popped up, inspiring me to create an old-fashioned cottage garden in a formerly neglected and boring part of my yard. There are many ways to make a garden your own. The most important is to know what you like and follow your instincts, no matter what the current fashion may be or what others prefer. It is, after all, your garden. Have fun making it your own.
Rehabbing a Home? Be Ready for These 5 Costs
So you want to calculate the price tag on a house rehab, but you have no construction background. How do you go about it? Understandably, this is a common scenario that holds many people back from flipping houses. It’s also one of the most common questions people ask Tarek and me. A rehab’s costs involve more than just what you pay your contractor, so ensure you consider them all by dividing them into five categories: Costs of a rehab team Costs of purchase Costs of rehab Costs of ownership Costs of selling Costs of a rehab team Build your rehab team before you start a project. This gives you time to thoroughly screen each of your team members. The last thing you need is to hire the wrong home inspector or contractor because you were closing on a deal and crunched for time. You want qualified people who understand your needs and investing as a business. If you’re wondering what your team should look like, here are the main players: Attorney Lenders Real estate agent Insurance agent Contractor(s) Home inspector Ask other, more seasoned real estate investors for recommendations. It’s a good way to find solid, trustworthy team members, and most investors will be glad to recommend who they use. The only possible exception to this is contractors. Good contractors can be hard to come by, and a real estate investor may not be willing to compete with you for their contractor’s time. So, you may be on your own. If you find yourself in that situation, ask employees at your local lumberyard or hardware store for recommendations. You can also search sites like Craigslist or Angie’s List, but you’ll want to personally vet whomever you choose. Once you assemble your team members, use their help to get more accurate rehab numbers.  Costs of purchase The biggest chunk of this category is probably the money you’ll pay to close on the property. But also included here is any expense you might have incurred while hiring your team members. There are some other hidden costs here that you might not have thought of, such as flood certificates or various government fees. But in general, your main expenses will likely include the following: Purchase price Home inspection Home appraisal Surveys Lender fees (your bank’s closing costs, appraisal fees, origination costs, etc.) Attorney fees Costs of rehab This includes contractor fees, permits, and any work done on the house. It can be difficult to get an accurate number for this category, but there are a few things you can do to get close. First, pay your contractor to do the walkthrough with you. Get their advice on things that need to be fixed or changed, and get a quote from them. Or, find a home inspector with construction experience, then ask questions and listen to their input as they inspect the house. You could also try partnering with another more experienced house flipper so they can teach you the tricks of the trade. Costs of ownership These expenses happen while you are in possession of the home. This is a common area overlooked by inexperienced house flippers, so make sure you account for these expenses: Mortgage payments Property taxes Property insurance, including flood insurance, if necessary Utilities Yard upkeep Costs of selling It might seem like this category should be all profit. That may be true if you do the job right, but it’s still important to budget for the costs that come with selling a house, like the following: Selling price Real estate commission Home warranty Radon and lead tests, termite inspection, and other tests buyers sometimes request Staging Attorney fees Get to work building your team today to get the best estimate possible for your house flipping project!
How to Sell a House: 4 New Rules
These days, knowing how to sell a house isn't as simple as sticking a "For Sale" sign on your lawn. Times have changed—and the good news is the market is largely tilting in your favor. “It’s undeniably a seller’s market," says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent. In other words, buyers are demanding homes, but there isn't much inventory on the market nationally. Plus, half of home buyers are worried about rising interest rates and looking to lock into a home soon. As a result, “there is pressure on buyers to submit offers quickly, and to offer full or even above list price,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker. –– ADVERTISEMENT ––   All of this puts sellers squarely in the driver's seat—which can be a lot of pressure if your GPS is broken and you don't know how to navigate this new world. Consider this your crash course in getting up to speed. Rule No. 1: Price it right from the outset While conventional wisdom might suggest listing your house a bit above market value so you can make a mint (or get haggled down by buyers to something reasonable), don't do it. The reason: In today's fast-paced environment, this also puts you at risk of your home sitting on the market, which can make it more difficult to sell. "If your house is still for sale after a month, buyers are going to assume something’s wrong with it,” says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent. Moreover, “today’s buyers are savvy,” Yee adds. “They know if a house is overpriced.” So list it right at market price, which your agent will help you determine. If anything, listing it a bit below market price could also work in your favor by sparking a bidding war which could drive the price up higher than you'd ever hoped. Rule No. 2: Amp up your marketing While professional photographs are a must, many sellers are going a step further these days. For example, you might consider doing a video tour, which entails hiring a videographer to walk through your home, camera in tow. The footage is then edited, background music is added, and the video is posted online. “It gives buyers the sense that they’re walking through the house without even stepping foot inside,” says Lejeune. It may even enable you to sell your home "sight unseen"—which is actually how one in five buyers does it these days! Social media is another smart component to leverage. Spread the word that your home is for sale by posting your listing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Create a post saying: “We’re excited to put our house on the market. Please get in touch if you’d like to schedule a showing. Pass along!” Be sure to include a link to the listing so that buyers can see more. And, of course, make sure your real estate agent is spreading the word on social media as well. Rule No. 3: Splurge on staging “Presentation is everything,” says Sanderfoot. And these days, that means hiring a professional home stager, someone who arranges your furnishings in a way that entices buyers to bite. The payoff can be substantial. On average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for 20% more than nonstaged ones. Staging is particularly important if you've moved out, because bare rooms can look empty and sad. Unfortunately, staging costs can add up. Most home stagers charge $300 to $600 for an initial design consultation, and $500 to $600 per month per room. If you can't afford to stage the entire house, at least make sure the living room and kitchen are professionally furnished, because they’re the most important rooms to home buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging survey. Need an even cheaper option? Try pop-up staging ("fake" cardboard furniture that looks real) or virtual staging (digitally altered listing photos). But use these only as last resorts—real is better. Rule No. 4: Devise a plan for how to handle multiple offers With how tight inventory is today, there’s a good chance you’ll receive multiple offers. Trust us, this is a good problem to have! Still, if you're blindsided, it can be stressful. To ease that pressure, create a plan for how you’d respond if you receive multiple bids. For starters, there’s no hard and fast rule on how you should act. “The decision depends on what’s important to you,” says Yee. For example, some sellers are just looking to accept the best offer they receive and move out fast. Others, however, might be interested in learning how to spark a bidding war to drive up their home's price. That said, “sometimes the highest offer is not always the best offer,” says Sanderfoot, adding that you need to consider each offer's full terms, including contingencies, closing window, and the buyer's financing. By determining exactly what's important to you in advance, you’ll be able to make an easier decision if you get a deluge of offers (hey, in today's market, it can happen).
Things to Know If You’re Trying to Get a Mortgage With Bad Credit
Believe it or not, your credit doesn’t have to be stellar to get a mortgage. Many banks and lenders will extend a mortgage to applicants with at least a 640 credit score. However, not all lenders are created equal — and, even if you can score a home loan, bad credit is going to seriously cost you in interest. What Credit Score Do I Need to Get a Mortgage in 2017? There are two main types of mortgages: conventional and Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, loans. Some lenders will offer conventional mortgages to consumers with a credit score of just 620. Other lenders will go even lower, but the process for getting that mortgage will be difficult and involve thorough explanations of your credit history. For FHA loans, some lenders will go as low as 580, with just 3.5% in equity. However some folks can get a new mortgage or even do a cash-out refinance with a credit score as low as 550 — but there’s a catch. You’ll need at least a 10% equity position. This means you need 10% down when buying a home or 10% equity when refinancing. Keep in mind, though, not all lenders will extend a mortgage to someone with a bad credit score — it has to do with their tolerance for risk. (From an underwriting perspective, poor credit indicates a higher risk of default.) The more risk a bank is willing to take on, the higher your chances of getting approved with a not-so-hot score. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free credit scores on Here are some things to keep in mind if you have a low credit score and are shopping for a mortgage. 1. It’s a Good Idea to Rebuild Your Credit If you are looking to increase your credit score to have an easier time getting a mortgage, you’ll need to be able to clear the 620 mark to see any significant difference. Hitting that threshold (and beyond) will likely make better mortgage rates and terms available to you, plus keep you from going through the type of scrutiny a lower tier credit score bracket often requires. You can generally improve your credit score by disputing errors on your credit report, paying down high credit card balances and getting any delinquent accounts back in good standing. 2. Down Payment Assistance Will Be Hard to Come By  Down payment assistance programs are currently quite scarce. Beyond that, to be eligible for down-payment assistance, a borrower would typically need at least a 640 credit score. You can expect this across the board with most banks and lenders. It is reasonable to assume you are ineligible for assistance if your credit score is under 640. 3. Previous Short Sale, Bankruptcy or Foreclosure Are Subject to ‘Seasoning Periods’ If you have one of these items on your credit report, it’s going to impact your ability to get a mortgage. There’s typically a three-year waiting period — also known as a “seasoning period” — before you can qualify for a mortgage after you’ve been through a foreclosure or short sale. The waiting time after a bankruptcy is two years. Note: There are some loan programs that have shorter seasoning periods. For instance, VA loans can get approved at the two-year mark following a foreclosure. 4. Higher Debt-to-Income Ratios Make it Harder It’s no secret that FHA loans allow debt-to-income ratios in excess of 54%. In order to be eligible for this type of financing, your credit score should be around 640 or higher. That’s not to say your credit score of 620, for example, will not work. It’s almost a guarantee, though, that if your credit score is less than 600 you’re going to have a difficult time getting a loan approved with a debt-to-income ratio exceeding 45%. 5. Cash-Out-Refinancing Is On the Table This is a big one. If you already own your own home, you could use your equity to improve your credit. How? You could do a cash-out refinance with your home. This would allow you to pay off installment loans and credit cards, which often carry a significantly higher rate of interest than any home loan. Wrapping them into the payment could end up saving you significant money, and it’s still an option for borrowers with lower credit scores. (As I mentioned earlier, some lenders will do a cash-out refinance for borrowers with a credit score as low as 550, so long as they’re in a at least 10% equity position.) However, if this is something you’re considering, be sure to read the print and crunch the numbers to determine if you’ll come out ahead. Cash-out re-fis require you to pay closing costs and your bad credit might not merit a low enough interest rate to make this move worthwhile. You’ll also want to make sure the new monthly mortgage payment is something you can handle. Remember, just because you can technically get a mortgage with bad credit, doesn’t mean it’s the best move for you. You may want to improve your standing, lower your debt-to-income ratio and bolster your down payment funds before hitting up the housing market. Still, it can be done and if you’re currently looking for a home loan, be sure to ask prospective lenders or mortgage brokers lots of questions to find the best deal you can get.
7 Top Design Tips for a Small Backyard
Long to be a land baron, with acres of lush grounds to create the ultimate outdoor paradise? That may be a dream for another time. For now, a smaller space is your reality, but that doesn't mean it can't be amazing. These 7 tricks will help your small yard live large. Don't be scared of trees While a towering live oak may not be the right choice for your smaller yard, you don't have to give up on trees altogether just because you don't have acreage. Japanese maple and ornamental crabapple are just a few great options that will bring some color to your outdoor space. Our favorite: the crape myrtle, which maintains a manageable size and, "It's hard to beat the showy summer flowers, beautiful bark, and brilliant fall color," said Sunset. Consider the scale That patio set at Costco might be great deal, but how are that huge glass-topped table and eight rocker chairs going to look on your mini deck? There are plenty of options for small-space patio sets, and if you're looking to create an outdoor living room, building in the seating in this yard creates a welcoming seating area and keeps the rest of the space open. Go diagonal Finding the right hardscape material is only the beginning. How you lay it can make a big difference in the overall impact in your yard. "Creating a view along the diagonal of the property creates the illusion that the space is bigger than it looks," said HGTV. "Here, the diagonal path with steps traces a zigzag line through the garden, providing areas to linger and enjoy the wide beds and colorful plantings." Go vertical Vertical gardens have been one of the top trends for outdoor spaces for a few years and are perfect for smaller spaces or yards where the floor space is limited. There are all kinds of fun planters you can use for a mix of greenery and flowers, or choose a climbing variety. "Liven up a plain patio wall with a sun-seeking climber, like bougainvillea," said Good Housekeeping. "A simple stake in the dirt is all the trellis you'll need." Divide it up You may think that the less you place in the yard, the larger it will seem. But think about how a house looks with no furniture; that emptiness doesn't always translate to roominess. Placing things randomly throughout the yard might not create the feel you want, so think strategically. "It may seem counterintuitive, but by dividing your yard into zones using garden beds and landscaping, you actually give the illusion of space," said Aussie Green Thumb. "Consider creating areas that are essentially a series of rooms, such as an outdoor paved area, a lawn section and then gardens of varying heights. This means when you look at the yard from any angle, you don't know what is around the corner and it could go on forever. It's about creating mystery and allure." Play with varying heights throughout The gardens are a great place to start, but you don't have to stop there. This multi-level deck creates so much interest that the size of the space becomes an afterthought. Create a container garden Container gardening makes even the smallest outdoor space game for some greenery. "No space? No problem! You can grow flowers, herbs, and even vegetables in pots," said Rodale's Organic Life. "Container gardening is ideal for those with little or no garden space. In addition to growing flowers, gardeners limited to a balcony, small yard, or only a patch of sun on their driveway can produce a wide variety of vegetable crops in containers containers. Basil, chives, thyme, and other herbs also are quite happy growing in pots, which can be set in a convenient spot right outside the kitchen door."
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William Davis Realty
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