Clever Home Staging Tricks You Can Steal

Getting ready to sell your home? It would be awesome to hire a home stager.

Home stagers are paid to furnish a home and help it look its best. What they create isn’t so much the ideal living environment but rather the idealized one—one in which there are no awkward furniture arrangements, toys on the floor, crumbs on the countertops, or surprises in the toilet. It’s not maintainable for most people everyday, but boy, does it work when selling your home!

Stagers typically have furniture and accessories at their disposal—not to mention interior design degrees. But they can cost hundreds—even thousands—of dollars. Fortunately, you can achieve great results by using some of their tricks.

Clear it out and clean it up

The first step in preparing any home for sale is to clear it out and clean it up, getting rid of clutter and personal items and scrubbing it down.

“De-cluttering — and having a pristine home from top to bottom — are the no-brainers that can make your real estate look better than the house down the block,” said Better Homes and Gardens. “Your home must be cleaner and less cluttered than it’s ever been. You need to banish not just the day-to-day buildup (the mail, the shoes, last season’s clothes, the dog hair), but also several years’ accumulation.”

Removing kids’ toys, outdated furnishings, and excessive knickknacks can help. Whatever you can’t sell or donate, box up and store at a friend or relative’s house, or rent a storage unit for a couple of months. Or, if you can do so neatly and without compromising your garage space, stack them along a wall.

picturewall - Clever Home Staging Tricks You Can Steal


A house that reflects your personal style from floor to ceiling and all over the walls (and every other surface) will have a hard time appealing to buyers.

“Prospective buyers won’t be able to picture themselves in the house if they’re surrounded by dozens of photos of your children and grandparents,” said Bankrate.

Update the bathroom

Not everyone has the funds for a big bathroom renovation prior to selling. Smart changes can make a big difference.

“Avoid dated tile by painting. Bathrooms sell houses, but dated tile in a bathroom doesn’t. A low-cost alternative to replacing the tile is to use paint,” said HGTV. “First coat the tiles with a high-adhesion primer.

Next, brush on a special ceramic epoxy covering. For a fraction of the cost of new tile, you will have an up-to-date bathroom that brings in big bucks.”

Pay attention to design details

After you’ve cleared away the clutter, you want to focus on creating simple, elegant designs. It’s easier than it seems.

“For a visual impact on a table without a lot of fuss, remember a design basic: Groupings of odd numbers always do the trick! Three of a kind, like…hurricane jars, filled with something as simple as pinecones, makes a ridiculously easy and dynamic table scape,” said Katie Jane Interiors.


Up your curb appeal

Make sure you make a great first impression, or you might not have an opportunity to make a second impression.

“You may have spent hours making sure the kitchen is clean, and doing so is worth the effort,” sad Bob Vila. “But remember, the facade is the first part of your house a potential buyer will see. A little landscaping can go a long way. Strapped for time? Potted plants placed around the front door will add welcome charm to your entryway.”

Pay attention to odors

We get used to our environment, so we might notice that musty smell or cat box aroma. Have your realtor or a trusted friend do a walk through and give you an honest assessment—not just of the way the house looks, but how it smells. Then take action to improve it. Start by steam cleaning the carpets and any upholstered pieces that need it.

Don’t ignore the windows

Windows that are cloaked by outdated or heavy window coverings can negatively impact the image your home projects. Open the blinds and replace drapes with inexpensive versions that will let the light in and frame the views.

window - Clever Home Staging Tricks You Can Steal
Katie Jane Interiors

“Need to dress up a window but don’t want to shell out big bucks for window treatments? Here’s a trick: Use place mats,” said HGTV. “First, apply a hook-and-loop fastener to the place mats and attach them in a row to a basic curtain rod. Now that the place mats are attached to the curtain rods, pin them together at the bottom, and you’ll have a stylish valance that costs about $12.”

Upgrade the Furniture

Giving your home a fresh, clean look with new furniture can make it feel more modern and appeal to more buyers. Don’t have money for new stuff? “Try giving worn-out pieces a pick-me-up with new pillows or a slipcover,” said Bob Vila.

While you’re at it, take a look at your furniture layout too. “Your preferred setup may not be the most appealing one to would-be buyers. Where logical, opt for a social layout that makes it easy to envision the space being enjoyed among family and friends.”

Give rooms a single purpose

That home office that doubles as a guest room is useful, but when it comes time to sell your home, pick one and run with it. “Potential buyers are confused by extra rooms that have a mishmash of uses,” said HGTV.

Shared from Realty Times


First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide to Making an Offer

You’ve mastered the search process and know all the questions to ask at an open house. Now make sure you’re really ready to make your first offer.

shutterstock 146633897 a024df 900x350 - First-Time Home Buyer's Guide to Making an OfferAfter months, maybe even years, of looking at homes online, going to open houses and stalking listing data, the time has come. You’ve fallen for a home, and you’re ready to make your first offer. It can be scary, but it’s exciting at the same time.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind as you throw your home-buying hat in the ring for the first time.

Have confidence in your search experience

Keep in mind that when it comes to making an offer, there is no single right answer and no “exact” price or terms for a home you covet. As a savvy buyer, you’ve got the market knowledge and experience it takes to analyze the deal. Believe in yourself.

Take what you’ve learned, partner with a great agent, and trust your judgment. Think about the homes you’ve toured and open houses you’ve attended, and you will naturally start to see where your home of choice fits in the context of the market.

Learn all you can before deciding on your offer

If you are ready to pull the trigger, first find out what the story is with the listing. In order to come up with the best offer, you’ll need to know how long the home has been on the market, if there are other offers on the table currently, and if there’s a specific day the sellers will review the offers.

You can uncover a lot by learning about the seller. Find out why they’re selling and what their motivations are. Pull all that information together and then mesh it with comparable homes’ sales data.

Reviewing comps is crucial

Your agent should send you the last six months of recent sales data to review and compare. These “comps” tell about the most recent market and what current buyers/sellers have agreed on for a sale price.

Look at the pending sales first and see if your agent can uncover some information about those transactions. You want to ask about the number of offers they received or a ballpark selling price. The pending sales represent the most up-to-date market statistics. Ask your agent what his opinion of the home’s value is and start to mull over this information.

Give your lender a heads up

Your lender should be on speed dial at this point. Let her know you plan to make an offer on the home. Not only will you need a pre-approval letter with your offer, but you will want an update on mortgage rates and products, since these change daily.

From the time you applied for pre-approval until now, there could have been a massive shift in rates or a new product that could benefit you. For all you know, you can afford more, or that bonus you received last month could mean a higher down payment and qualifying for a better product.

Discuss terms

In addition to price, you will need to decide on terms. How long will you take for your inspections? Do you want to close quickly or take a longer time? Will you need an appraisal and loan contingency? How long should that be?

The terms of your offer can make or break your deal. If the seller wants a quick close, and you can do it, give it to them. If you are competing with a cash offer, make your loan terms foolproof. Marry all of the data from above and take your best shot.

Remember, there will be other houses

Rarely does a buyer score the first house they offer on. And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. There will be other homes for sale.

People change jobs, get divorced, move closer to family, have children or pass away. All of these things can result in a home sale or purchase.

Have faith that another home will come along in the future. There’s no rush, and you should never buy real estate overnight. Have fun, and learn from each offer you make.


Shared from Zillow Blog

5 Ways to Get to Know Your Neighbors

Whether you’re a social butterfly or a homebody, getting friendly with the folks next door will make your new house start to feel like home.

Neighbors block party 79e29e 900x350 - 5 Ways to Get to Know Your NeighborsFor many of us, leaving friends and neighbors behind can be the toughest part of moving to a new home. These five tips will help you make connections and settle into your new community in no time.

1. Knock, knock

For an extrovert, walking over to a neighbor’s home to say hello may feel like a no-brainer. But for more reserved personalities, this tried-and-true method usually requires a bit of warmup. Start with a friendly wave as you drive by, then work your way up to a face-to-face introduction. Remember, timing is everything. You don’t want to disturb your neighbors in the middle of dinner or while they’re struggling to get a fussy toddler down for the night. Try to catch them when they’re already outside, or aim for a weekend afternoon when everyone is much more likely to be relaxed and open to a brief, friendly chat.

2. Snail mail

Can’t work up the nerve to knock on doors? In this age of electronic communication, a nice handwritten note can be a welcome surprise. Write a few lines for your closest neighbors introducing yourself and inviting them over for a cup of coffee or cocktail at their convenience. Be sure to personalize each note by including a small conversation starter — the roses in front of your home are absolutely stunning; we’re poodle-lovers, too! — then drop your letters at your neighbors’ front doors or in their mailboxes.

3. Magic school bus

If you’ve got school-age children, accompany them to the bus stop for the first few days of class. You’re likely to run into at least one other parent who can fill you in on both neighborhood and school happenings — and people love to talk about their kids, so you won’t have to worry about awkward silences and finding common ground. Exchange contact info and invite the family over for some weekend fun.

4. Man’s best friend

Our pets often are the friendliest members of the family! Let your four-legged companion break the ice for you. Dog parks are a natural spot for meeting new friends, both canine and human. You can also meet fellow pet lovers while walking your dog through your neighborhood — cleaning up any messes, of course. You can get recommendations for trails, vets and parks, as well as ask about any pet-themed meetups in the area.

5. Turn the page

Don’t let the name fool you: Book clubs are as much about socializing as they are about reading. Check out your library or local bookstore for groups near you, or you can find one online. If possible, contact the host ahead of time to ask whether you should bring any refreshments (wine!) and come armed with a few key insights about the book and recommendations for the following go-round. Who knows? You could pick the next talk of the town.

Bonus: Life of the party

Once you’ve made a few connections, team up to host a neighborhood block party. Volunteer to handle snacks and other logistics, and ask your more-established neighbors to spread the word. Pick a seasonal theme — hot dogs and lemonade for summer, cookies and warm cider for fall — and spend an afternoon meeting new friends and getting the inside scoop on the best places to eat and play near your new home. Before you call it a day, pass the torch to another neighbor and make the block party a new tradition.

Shared from Zillow Blog

What to Do If Your Home Isn’t Selling

Buyers are wary of homes that have been on the market too long. No offers yet? It may be time to take action.

shutterstock 148299182 618411 900x350 - What to Do If Your Home Isn't SellingIn a strong market, if a home is priced right and shows well, it should sell within the first six weeks. If it doesn’t, many sellers become frustrated, especially if their agent begins pushing for a price reduction.

It’s a common rub: the seller thinks the agent just wants a quick sale, but the agent sincerely wants to help the seller get action. Agents understand that a listing loses momentum and excitement soon after being listed. Buyers will think of a home as stale, tired, or flawed if it sits on the market too long. Here are some ways to get more traction if your home is not generating offers.

Location, price and condition are key

You can’t change your home’s location, but you do have some control over the other two important buyer considerations. If the home is still sitting on the market after a few months, and especially if it has had no showings or offers, you need to look at the price and the condition.

You have two big choices to make if you are ready to sell. The first is to take the home off the market and make some changes, such as staging, de-cluttering, and altering the look of the kitchens and bathrooms.

If you are getting specific feedback about one part of the home, change it. A few months off the market will ensure that, when it comes back on, there will be a new set of buyers taking a look at your fresh listing.

If you are unwilling to make the needed changes to the home, the other option is to reduce the price. I recently visited with sellers who built a brand new beautiful home with excellent finishes and fixtures. But after four months, they only had two showings, and in a market where homes were selling with multiple offers within weeks.

The issue was the location. It was the absolute best home on a very tough block, and the setting was not private. In this case, the sellers had no choice. There was no moving or improving the house. The only option was to drop the price.

The sellers opted to take the home off the market and rent it because they were not ready to sell at the recommended price.

Make sure you and your agent are on the same page

If you and your agent don’t see eye-to-eye on the pricing or sales strategy prior to listing, it might be time to find another agent.

You want an agent who has your back and who is on the same page as you. Without that synergy, you could be in for unnecessary conflict six weeks in.

Discuss your intentions with your agent upfront, and listen to her feedback. A price reduction or low offer shouldn’t come as a surprise. But if the home isn’t selling, and the seller wants to see action, a good listing agent will ask for offers, follow up with interested parties, and let them know that the seller wants to sell. Reducing the listed price may not be necessary if there’s a buyer who understands that the seller will entertain an offer below the asking price.

You may have to see firsthand how the market works. If you list your home at a lower price than you’re comfortable with, you may be sorry if you get offers right away. But if you price it higher and don’t get any response after some time, then you will see the market speak for itself. I’d much rather have seller clients in the latter situation than the former.

Every scenario is different, and it’s so important to work with an agent who is in synch with your strategy and can help you adapt to your market.

Shared from Zillow Blog

U.S. mortgage rates take a dive

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As the summer drags along, home buying activity remains brisk. And U.S. mortgage rates are providing a helping hand, according to Freddie Mac.

Mortgage rates have now dropped for the second consecutive week.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage averaged 3.98 percent for the week ending July 30, down from 4.04 percent the previous week.

A year ago, 30-year rates averaged 4.12 percent.

Several events helped push rates lower. A drop in Chinese stock market caused U.S. Treasury yields to drop, which subsequently helped lower mortgage rates, said Sean Becketti, chief economist for Freddie Mac.

”The mortgage rate has bounced between 3.98 and 4.09 percent since the first full week of June, falling a bit when events overseas take a turn for the worse and rising when the clouds appear ready to part,” Becketti said. “With no clear direction coming from the Fed this afternoon, we expect more of the same in coming weeks.”

The historic low for 30-year rates was 3.31 percent in November 2012.

Click here for more information

Shared from Nashville Business Journal

Smart Watering Tips for Every Gardener

shutterstock 246746683 de5d4b 900x350 - Smart Watering Tips for Every GardenerTired of watering all the time, while praying for rain and smaller water bills? If your garden is planned, prepared, planted and watered properly, you can have a beautiful yard and save thousands in the long run. Here’s how to get the most from your water this summer.

Start from the ground up

Plan your preemptive strike against drought. Get to know your yard, and note which areas tend to dry out quickly or develop puddles after it rains. Places that are especially prone to drying out include the soil under large and thirsty trees, or under the eaves of your roof.

Your soil type plays a big part in how often you’ll need to water. Loose, sandy soil holds very little moisture, so much of the water you dump on it slips away and goes to waste.runoff 6a5053 - Smart Watering Tips for Every Gardener

The soil you’re after is the rich, dark crumbly stuff called loam. Adding topsoil (good), composted manure (better) or compost (best) to your soil makes it loamy and performs some pretty amazing feats. It encourages beneficial organisms, improves the soil structure and texture, aerates the soil and helps it retain moisture.

If your garden is too big to amend with better dirt, consider growing vegetables in a raised bed, where you can easily focus your watering efforts and amend the soil without breaking the bank.

Choose the right plants

When it comes right down to it, you have to look at your water bill and ask yourself: Is that tomato vine really worth the absurd amount of money you spend each month?

If growing your own food is what motivates you to shell out for those big bills, consider raising cowpeas, hot peppers, okra or other edibles that require less water. Choose drought-tolerant plants whenever possible, unless you’re planting in a space that rarely dries out.texas sage a61b09 - Smart Watering Tips for Every Gardener

If you simply have to grow thirsty plants, group them together so you can easily water them without wasting a drop. You might even choose to submerge a perforated pond liner so water has a better chance to collect.

Native plants are often, but not always, good choices for a drought-tolerant landscape since they’re well adapted to the unique conditions of your region. Succulents and cacti are well equipped to handle drought because they store moisture in their leaves and stems.

If you have a lawn that requires regular irrigation, save money by replacing it with a mass of groundcovers like wooly thyme or liriope.

Prepare plants for drought

When properly planted and cared for, plants can get by with a lot less water. Let’s say you planted a tomato plant too high in the soil, giving it a weaker foothold and fewer roots to absorb water. That plant might then become susceptible to pathogens like bacterial wilt or root knot nematodes, and would wilt every afternoon as if dying of thirst.

wilted tomato plant 0c0b17 - Smart Watering Tips for Every GardenerYou might then water it more often, but at that point all the irrigation in the world couldn’t save it. Meanwhile, you’re overwatering the adjacent plants in your vegetable garden and opening them up to the possibility of disease.

Fertilize your plants, but only according to label instructions. Synthetic fertilizers are fast-acting, but don’t actually improve upon the soil itself. Using too much synthetic fertilizer can burn the plants and damage the soil, causing irreparable damage. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, rarely burn plants, and enrich the soil itself over time.

Water slowly, deeply and infrequently

There’s a good chance that you water your lawn or garden a lot more than is really necessary. Grass generally only needs one or two inches of rain a week to do well — and even less if it is a vigorous variety that has been planted on good soil.

If you water plants or turfgrasses too often, they become at risk for bacterial and fungal infections. This also encourages plants to develop shallow roots; meaning that they are more easily uprooted in storms, and they can’t take advantage of the moisture deeper underground in the event of a drought.

The upper layer of soil also dries out more quickly, effectively wasting water. The trick is to irrigate slowly, deeply, infrequently and only where it’s needed. Instead of watering a little every day, water once a week for long enough that the water can really soak in.

Slow down the runoff

Watering slowly is a big part of the solution, but you can take it a step further and slow the rainwater itself. Your goal is to take advantage of as much water as possible before it sinks or drains away.

If it’s legal in your area, install rain barrels that collect water from your roof, and save it for a not-so-rainy day. If you see a lot of runoff washing off your driveway into the gutter, replace the slab of concrete with permeable pavers that allow water to sink into your soil.

You can also divert the runoff to a rain garden — that is, a man-made or natural depression in your yard with plants that tolerate both drought and flooding.

rain garden 444e28 - Smart Watering Tips for Every GardenerCreate ‘dry creek beds’ that carry runoff from your downspout to the rain garden by digging a small ditch and lining it with gravel and rocks. Sometimes the most practical solutions are the most elegant.

When to water

Water once a week — unless, of course, that’s not enough. Don’t bother watering plants if they’re not complaining, but do water plants that tend to wilt during a dry spell. If you’re able, transplant these thirsty plants to a part of the garden that you can water all at once without wasting a drop, or consider replacing them altogether.

Keep in mind that new plantings will always need more water than established ones, and watering them deeply will help them resist drought in the long run. Some turfgrasses, such as Bermuda, zoysia and St. Augustine, go brown and dormant in drought but quickly return when rainfall resumes.

The best time to water the lawn and garden is in the morning, ideally when it’s overcast. If you water in the heat of a summer afternoon, much of that water evaporates before it can be absorbed. You can water in the late afternoon since the sun is no longer as strong, but don’t water in the evening.

If water collects on foliage overnight, it is a prime location for bacterial and fungal diseases to develop. If you must irrigate at night, soak the soil rather than the plant itself.

And here’s one last consideration: Check the forecast and Doppler radar to make sure a downpour isn’t about to do the job for you.

Shared from Zillow Blog

10 Ideas to Make an Unforgettable Score in Real Estate

Have you ever noticed that no one typically says:

Buying a house is like riding a bicycle…
you never forget how to do it
That is because buying a house has changed drastically over the past few years based on the various pressure points of the economy. Does that mean you should sit on the sidelines of the housing market and be a chronic renter or lifelong basement dweller? Nope, it simply means you have to be savvy about the new normal in real estate.

Do Ask, Do Tell
Don’t be afraid to ask homeowners in the community you have fantasies about that do not have “for sale” yard signs to sell to you. Many homeowners dashed their hopes of moving during “The Great Recession” due to such drastic property depreciation and have not been brought up to speed that their property values may have rebounded. You can rekindle their hope to sell by simply checking with your local, trusted REALTOR(r) on homes in your affordability range that were previously up for sell but had expired or were withdrawn from the market without a peep.

2015 07 07 1436296248 7558877 file000341456511 thumb - 10 Ideas to Make an Unforgettable Score in Real EstateReplace Quick Fixes with an Allowance

Instead of asking for the entire home to be cosmetically renovated as if you were being featured on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, many times the better route for you AND the seller is to ask for an allowance.

For instance, you may hate the shag carpet look, no worries. You can ask for a new carpet allowance that can either be given to you at closing or placed in an escrow account, depending on the prerogative of your lender if you are not a cash buyer. This is a win for you because you can choose what you like within the budgeted amount and this can be a win for the seller in that they do not have to oversee a housing project for which they may not have high-quality vendors or time.

Show Their Card & You Save
Know that the listing and agent are legit! How often do you hand over thousands of dollars without verifying the person is who they claim to be? Hopefully your answer is, “none” so do not let your next real estate transaction be the outlier.

The easiest way is to get the listing agent’s license number (some agents may carry a card with their license number), google the real estate commission for your state (like in Georgia it is GREC), and then confirm that the person is an active real estate license holder in good standing. You may discover that the person has an inactive, suspended, or no license, meaning there is something fishy going on that you should avoid.

If the home is listed without an agent, search your local government’s public tax records to see who the owner of record is and if that matches up with who you have been connecting.

Finance with Finesse

If you are seeking financing, remember that all lenders are NOT created equal despite what may be advertised or touted by some. The federal government has made several changes to disclosure documents that must be given to you from the lender for closing so make sure you interview several lenders and hire one that has a proven track record of closing on time and has a plan of action in place for these governmental regulations.

Read My Lips: APR2015 07 07 1436295094 5219607 file6521235526704 thumb - 10 Ideas to Make an Unforgettable Score in Real Estate

Also, if you are going the lending route, make sure your chosen lender discloses to you early on the APR (annual percentage rate) not just the interest rate of your loan. The APR is what you really pay as it speaks to the total costs of the loan so do not ignore this.

Despite all of the regulatory changes, I still hear too often of buyers that apply for financing but are not told the APR until they have already started spending money with the lender (like for a credit report and an appraisal on the home). Accordingly, be sure to make, “What’s my APR?” one of the first few questions you ask.

The Process Gets Better with Time
Ask for a longer contingency period whether you are buying cash or financing the home purchase. For those financing, the recent governmental changes to lending disclosures will surely create a learning curve and potentially some hiccups for even the most prepared and professional lenders so give yourself some additional wiggle room. If you are paying cash, you may find you need more time to prepare your funds or inspect the home, so let time be on your side.

Know that your closing date can change especially if you are financing now that there are changes to the lending process that can delay closings unexpectedly. I beg you, please do not plan to be out of your current home the day of closing with no other sleeping arrangements in case there are delays. Delays can happen to even the best, most efficient real estate agents, lenders, closing attorneys, and title companies.

If you can add a month buffer in with your current home, great. Or, if you can schedule an interim place to stay (i.e. a family member, corporate housing, extended stay lodging, etc.), that is fine too. But stay away from living in your moving truck!

It Takes a Village
Get the covenants, rules, restrictions, and other details if there is a mandatory homeowners’ association (HOA) during your inspection or due diligence contingency period. Financial surprises can quickly sour what should be an exciting time. Be prepared by finding out the costs to initiate ownership in the HOA or if there are any special assessments, any planned upgrades, repairs, changes in management, and the like coming down the road in your new complex or subdivision that may be cause for you to terminate that home’s sales contract.

Turned Up Neighbors? Turn Away2015 07 07 1436296562 9610717 file3851294841798 thumb - 10 Ideas to Make an Unforgettable Score in Real Estate

Meet the neighbors during your due diligence period. This tip is especially important for first-time homebuyers. No matter how nice a home is, your neighbors can either ruin or enhance your experience because you do not just buy a home, you buy a community. Often current home owners are usually ulta-conscientious of this and know to drive by a home at different hours of the day and night. But first-timers may forget that neighbors can be noisy, rude, and down-right obnoxious and subsequently overlook this step in the excitement of purchasing their piece of the American dream.

Super Incentive-Size Me
Did you know that different organizations are giving money away for some home buyers? Before you start your home search, be sure to inquire about home incentives, grants, and special financing options for your current life stage and the prospective area of your home sweet home. You may find various perks and monetary gifts available to you as a military veteran or spouse, first-time buyer, teacher, police officer, firefighter, EMT, participant in a local neighborhood redevelopment project (like the Atlanta Beltline), and the like. Consult with your trusted local REALTOR(r) to help you mine through any home buying bonuses available in your neck of the woods.

What say you? Have you used any of these tips? If so, share below how they worked for you because enquiring minds want to know. Happy buying!

Shared from Huffington Post

Green Homes Are So 2010: The Future Is Wellness Communities

GROW. kids in the garden1 - Green Homes Are So 2010: The Future Is Wellness CommunitiesIn 2000, Ray and Sarah Victurine bought a big house on 2.5 acres of Bainbridge Island. Like most Americans, they wanted space. With a 3,000-square-foot house and vast stretches of grass, their kids and dog were allowed to run freely.

But, Ray Victurine said, his family felt isolated. There were neighbors in the distance, but the car was their primary connection to people and places—to the world beyond their home.

“This is the United States,” he said. “People don’t just drop by other people’s houses.”

So, about a year ago, the family traded it all in. They sold the house and the land, and they moved to Grow Community, a sustainable development on Bainbridge Island, about 35 minutes by ferry from Seattle. Having downsized to a 1,600-square-foot townhouse, they are surrounded by people—the community’s 24 single-family homes and 20 rental townhouse units occupy just 3 acres.

Victurine said he welcomes the density. At his old house, he said, he spent so much time maintaining the property and mowing the lawn, it left little time for anything else. At Grow, there are no front yards and residents share the community gardens.

The emphasis here is on building an old-fashioned neighborhood—the kind where neighbors know one another, kids play together, and spontaneous wine-and-cheese parties break out all the time.

“One night I come home from playing tennis, and neighbors are on the porch with my wife. Next thing you know, we’re playing Name That Tune. A bottle of wine is opened. It’s spontaneous fun,” said Victurine. “We went from being isolated to having a really nice group of people.”

Grow, and other so-called wellness communities like it, is the logical result of Americans’ shift toward sustainable lifestyles. What began with energy-efficient appliances and solar panels evolved into the green home movement—essentially improving the health of the planet—and is now expanding to encompass entire housing developments with the mission to improve the health and well-being of their residents.

How? Through architecture. Gone are the things that make us lazy and isolated—elevators, attached garages, and winding streets without sidewalks, disconnected from the outside world. In these communities, there are sidewalks, gardens, and trails, with services ranging from bike- and car-sharing to fitness classes and potluck dinners. Healthy choices are easy to make, after all, when you’re surrounded by them.

And if Grow is any measure, these wellness communities are primed for success. Grow’s first phase sold out in six months with very little advertising. Phase 2, which will expand the community to 8 acres and is expected to be completed in January 2016, is 75% reserved, said sales director Joie Olsen. It’s seeing demand for single-level homes from retiring baby boomers. Prices in wellness communities are usually higher than average, “but when you really explain monthly costs here versus the average home, it’s cheaper on a monthly basis,” said Olsen. For instance, the average electric bill is $8 per month, she said. It is the largest solar community in Washington. In Phase 2 of Grow, a new two- or three-bedroom, single-level home will range from $495,000 to $725,000.

In addition to Grow, the Urban Land Institute’s recent report,Building for Wellness: The Business Case, identified three other wellness communities with homes available for purchase in the U.S. Let’s take a look:

Rancho Sahuarita, Tucson, AZ

Arizona is usually associated with retirees and spa retreats, not millennials. So when developers planned Rancho Sahuarita with the intent to draw young families looking for a healthy lifestyle, surely there were skeptics. But this 3,000-acre community—with its 17 miles of bike paths and 15-acre lake, just 9 miles south of Tucson—has become a destination for concerts, art fairs, triathlons, and festivals. Homeowners can take yoga, tennis, ballet, or more than 50 other classes a week at the community clubhouse, which provides babysitting. Best of all, they’re all covered by monthly homeowner association dues of $93 per house.

To ensure wellness, Rancho Sahuarita partnered with Carondelet Health Network to operate a primary- and urgent-care facility within the development. Through Carondelet, local doctors offer “Walk with a Doc” and “Lunch and Learn” programs, which allow residents to ask questions they may not feel comfortable asking in a sterile doctor’s office.

Kids are a focus, too. There’s a “walking school bus” providing kids and parents the opportunity to walk everyday to the six on-site schools, and a “Be Well” summer camp offered by Carondelet. All of which has helped make Rancho Sahuarita one of the best-selling master-planned communities in the country, according to the ULI report. Home prices range from $220,000 to $350,000.

Mueller, Austin, TX

The 700-acre Mueller, built on the site of a former municipal airport just 3 miles from downtown Austin, was designed as a sustainable model of anti-sprawl. The community is tightly integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods through bike paths (at Mueller, they’re separated from auto traffic by concrete curbs) and sidewalks (shaded to provide comfort in the extreme Texas heat). Researchers from two local universities found that residents walked, biked, and exercised 40-50 minutes more per week once they moved to Mueller.

Mueller is halfway completed, and when it’s finished building in 2020, it will have more than 5,700 homes, 25% of which will be reserved for low-income households. Market-rate houses are priced from $150,000 to $1 million, while affordable units are priced from $125,000 to $210,000. What’s more, each is being constructed with low-emission materials and designed to have tiny yards and large porches, to encourage Grow-like interaction among neighbors.

Jackson Walk, Jackson, TN

What was once an eyesore in the middle of downtown Jackson, TN, has been redeveloped into a centerpiece. With the city taking the lead to transform not just the land but also the people of Jackson, 17 acres of blighted, city-owned land have been converted into a wellness-based community of walkers and joggers, renters and owners, all of whom live in the first homes to be built in that part of Jackson in 40 years.

Marketed as a return to neighborhood living, Jackson Walk is the city’s attempt to get its residents—who in 2010 had the second-highest obesity rate in the country—moving. The community is built adjacent to Lift Wellness Center, an 82,000-square-foot fitness and medical facility that functions as an anchor for the neighborhood. When Lift opened in 2013, attracting people to the nearby apartments (which rent from $675 to $1,105 per month) and single-family homes (priced around $120,000) was a breeze.

The upscale apartments have attracted young, mostly single professionals. Yet, because Lift is a medical center as much as it is a gym, many of its members tend to be older and retired, adding another dimension to the development.

Jackson Walk is located within walking distance of the city’s three largest employers—the county courthouse, city hall, and the Jackson Energy Authority, all of which provide free employee memberships to Lift. Also nearby are the University of Memphis’ Lambuth Campus and the West Tennessee Farmers Market.

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3 Extreme Home-Buying Tactics to Get the House You Want

What can you do if you fear the seller of your dream house will go with another buyer … or if they already have?

shutterstock 84704197 f8021e 900x350 - 3 Extreme Home-Buying Tactics to Get the House You WantToday, in many markets, homes move quickly, often with multiple offers. Some homes, called “pocket listings,” sell before even hitting the market. It can be an all-out war for competitive buyers, and some will go to great lengths to win.

Here are three tips for going the extra mile to make sure you come out the winning bidder.

Make your offer a “sharp” offer

If the market is competitive and you really want the home, you need to let the seller know you’ll do whatever it takes to win it. In some cases, buyers will make what we call a “sharp” offer. In this situation, a potential buyer will match the highest and best offer, and raise that offer price by five percent — or sometimes even 10 percent.

Offer to buy out the winning buyer

I’ve seen remorseful buyers, frustrated after losing out in a bidding war, track down the winning buyer and negotiate with them. In this scenario, the losing buyer offers to pay the winning buyer their earnest money deposit (sometimes up to three percent of the purchase price) plus any expenses, in return for letting them take over the purchase.

Write a letter to the new homeowners once they close

If you can’t try to snag the home from the wining bidder, there is one final option. Knock on the door or write a letter to the new owner. Explain that you missed out on the home and that you would like to purchase it directly from them. In this case, you’d have to make them an incredible offer — one that would cover their sales and moving costs, and put money in their pocket. If you hit the right number, you just might motivate them.

When all else fails, it’s time to move on. There will be another house — there always is. Take the loss and chalk it up to experience. When the next great house comes along, be the first to see it, get the first offer in the door and make your offer irresistible.

Barbecue and Fire Pit Safety for the Summer

178700 850x565 outdoor fire pit on patio - Barbecue and Fire Pit Safety for the SummerThroughout the United States, the summer months are those months where millions of Americans find themselves enjoying the outdoors or chilling in the backyard. With summer comes barbecues and evenings outside, sitting beside the fire pit. It’s important to remember that barbecues and fire pits require a certain amount of safety when in use. To help you in your summer celebrations, keep these safety tips close by when using a barbecue or fire pit this summer.

men and grill - Barbecue and Fire Pit Safety for the Summer
Barbecue Tips

Grilled food is a true treat, especially when you don’t want to cook inside during the warm summer months. Grills should always be used outside, in a well ventilated area. To ensure safety, grills should be stationed away from the home, deck railings and away from any low hanging tree branches or plants.

The most important thing to remember is to never leave the grill unattended, especially if you have children and pets. The second most important safety item is to remember to keep the grill clean by removing grease and fat buildup. You can also clean or replace any trays that sit below the grill and collect food waste, oil and other grill debris.

64a61d5671aefad1ce823a067a43d434 - Barbecue and Fire Pit Safety for the SummerPropane Tips

Propane can be found in both liquid and gas form. Naturally odorless, an additive is added to the gas to give it a distinct odor to help people identify when the gas is around. Propane, when stored under pressure, is a liquid. When you hook up a propane tank to a gas grill, the tank is opened which allows propane gas to leave the tank and power the grill. Liquid Propane is very cold, so cold that it can cause freeze burns if it comes into contact with skin.

Storing propane is an important part of propane use. A propane tank should always be stored and transported upright, and proper propane storage requires the tank be in a temperature controlled area. If you store a propane tank in an area that’s susceptible to high temperatures, there is a risk of the pressure release valve opening and releasing gas, which is a fire hazard.

When transporting propane, make sure the pressure release valve is closed and that there is cap or plug over the valve outlet. Tanks should always be transported in an upright position, sitting on the tank’s foot. During transport, the tank should be secured, even if it’s empty. You can secure the tank with a safety strap, the seat belt, or some kind of other container to prevent the tank from tipping over.

It’s important to remember not to transport more than four propane tanks inside an enclosed vehicle at one time. You can carry more than four if you are transporting the tanks in the bed of a truck and they are secured to prevent escape.

natural boulder fire pit gas ring landscaping network 9229 - Barbecue and Fire Pit Safety for the SummerFire Pit Tips

Sitting beside a fire pit, enjoying a drink, roasting marshmallows, or just listening to the crackle of the wood can be some of the most enjoyable and memorable moments of the summer. Fire pits are a great outdoor accessory, but they do require an amount of safety to operate. A fire pit should be at least 10 feet away from any structure or combustible surface. Unless the owner’s manual says it’s ok, do not put a fire pit on grass, a wood deck or in an enclosed deck/porch.

When it comes time to light the fire, be sure to always burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least six months earlier. In order to prevent sparks, keeps logs no longer than three-quarters of the pit’s diameter. When starting the fire, don’t use gasoline, lighter fluid or kerosene as these are not meant for fire pits! Use a fire starter or newspaper and kindling.

Do not light a fire in windy conditions, and it’s important to remember to stay up-to-date with burn bans or burn ordinances in your area. If the pit is located in an area near trees or bushes, pick up any leaves or combustible material from around the pit before starting your fire. Keep a bucket of sand, a fire extinguisher or a garden hose nearby in case things get out of control.

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