Top 10 Native Plants that will Thrive in Your New Jersey Garden

The key to gardening success in the northeast, with its variably cold, snowy winters and short, humid summers, is choosing plants already adapted to the local climate and soils, as well as the specific conditions in your yard.

By learning to read the varied conditions of your landscape — and you may have multiple habitats that are very different from one another — you can then look for plants that grow naturally in those conditions without needing water over the average 40 to 60 inches of annual precipitation in this region.

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Instead of impulse-buying plants that strike your fancy in bloom at the nursery, first take a good look at what you have to work with.

Here are 10 plants, from herbaceous perennials to woody vines, shrubs and trees, chosen for their multiseason beauty and interest, wildlife value and adaptability to a variety of garden conditions found across the Northeast, from dry sun to moist shade. Other than irrigation in their first year or two and an annual weeding, once these plants are established in conditions to their liking, they should require little else to thrive in your Northeast landscape.

1. Foamflower
(Tiarella cordifolia)
Native to rich Eastern forests and woodlands

Best shade perennial. Foamflower, shown here, is a beautiful semievergreen ground cover that blooms in a sea of pink and white foamy flowers in spring. Fairly deer resistant (definitely not a deer’s first choice), it is perfect for growing in shady areas underneath trees or in the shade of a house. In rich soil, foamflower can spread annually a few feet in each direction from stolons (underground roots), but it is never invasive like Vinca and Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), commonly planted ground covers that can escape into nearby woodlands.

Choose spreading varieties if you’re looking for a ground cover effect. Named cultivars found in nurseries are often labeled incorrectly as Tiarella cordifolia and are actually the clumping Appalachian species, Tiarella wherryi. These don’t spread from underground stolons, so read labels carefully if you prefer a spreading plant to fill an area.

See how to grow foamflower

2. Butterfly Milkweed
(Asclepias tuberosa)
Native to open, sandy soils and uplands across eastern North America, but a rare species in most New England states

Best full-sun perennial for sandy or well-drained soil. This gorgeous native plant sports neon-orange blooms in early summer, attracting many butterflies and pollinators to its sweet nectar. Butterfly milkweed thrives in any sunny spot with well-draining soil, especially sand. As a milkweed, it’s an occasional food plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, although swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which leafs out and blooms later than the orange milkweed, is preferred as a host plant.

See how to grow butterfly milkweed

3. New England Aster
(Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Native to moist meadows and fields on the East Coast and south to Virginia

Best full-sun perennial for moist soil and late-season blooms. The purple flowers of New England aster, along with goldenrod (Solidago spp), signal the summer’s end here in the Northeast. An important nectar and host plant for butterflies and late-season beneficial insects, it loves full sun and moist soil, but it will put on a great show in any reasonable garden soil. Allow it to self-seed and create large drifts of fall color, and watch for monarch butterflies drinking nectar from the flowers, essential fuel for their long flight south to Mexico.

See how to grow New England aster

4. Serviceberry
(Amelanchier alnifolia)
Some species are native to low woods and swamps, and others are adapted to high and dry exposed areas

Most adaptable flowering shrub. Serviceberry, also called shadbush, shadblow and juneberry, is a beautiful multistemmed shrub or small tree that grows in sun or the understory of larger trees. Clouds of white flowers cover serviceberry in April, and the early-season nectar is valuable forage for many pollinators. Birds flock to feed on the pink and purple edible berries that ripen in June. The fall foliage is a striking orange and yellow, especially when grown in the sun. Plants sold in nurseries are usually natural hybrids of local species.

See how to grow serviceberry

5. New Jersey Tea
(Ceanothus americanus)
Native to sandy pine barrens and rocky soils of eastern North America

Best full-sun shrub for dry soils. This shrub makes it into the top 10 for its ability to thrive in the leanest and driest soils without wanting or needing fertilizer or watering. Planted in these conditions, it’s as close to a zero-maintenance flowering shrub that exists in the north. Billowy, white early-summer blooms attract hordes of pollinators and beneficial predatory insects that help control garden pests. New Jersey tea is hard to find for sale; look for it at native-plant nurseries in your region.

See how to grow New Jersey Tea

6. Highbush Blueberry or Lowbush Blueberry
(Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium angustifolium)
Native to a variety of habitats, ranging from swamps and bogs to woods, fields and rocky outcrops

Best edible plant. Blueberry is an essential Northern garden plant because of its delicious berries, fiery fall foliage and, depending on the species, ability to grow just about anywhere with some sun.

See how to grow highbush blueberry
See how to grow lowbush blueberry

7. Trumpet Honeysuckle
(Lonicera sempervirens)
Native to forest edges, woodlands and ledges in southern New England and south

Best flowering vine. Trumpet honeysuckle, also called coral honeysuckle, is a well-behaved flowering vine that attracts hummingbirds and won’t take over your house or yard the way Asian wisteria (Wisteria sinensis or W. floribunda) or English ivy (Hedera helix) can. Trumpet honeysuckle is perfect for twining up an arbor or along a fence line.

Important note: Don’t confuse trumpet honeysuckle with trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) or crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), which are also vines with trumpet-shaped flowers but should be avoided, due to their aggressive spreading through underground runners.

See how to grow trumpet honeysuckle

8. Gray Birch
(Betula populifolia)
Grows wild in abandoned fields and disturbed areas of the East

Most adaptable small tree. Gray birch is an attractive and fast-growing tree for sun or shade, wet or dry soil. It’s more resistant than other birches to the bronze birch borer pest. Grow gray birch to add quick and easy wildlife habitat to your property — its seeds and catkins feed birds, and its foliage hosts many butterfly and moth caterpillars, which in turn become a protein-rich food that birds use to feed their babies in the nest.

See how to grow gray birch

9. Red Maple
(Acer rubrum)
Native to swamps, forests, fields, and river and wetland edges

Most adaptable large tree. Grow red maple, also called swamp maple, for its fast growth when young and its multiseason interest. Its red flowers in early spring feed native bees, and its brilliant orange and red fall foliage rivals the iconic colored foliage of sugar maples, which are beginning to die out due to a warming climate.

See how to grow red maple

10. Creeping Juniper
(Juniperus horizontalis)
Native to dunes and sandy, gravelly or rocky outcrops, often seen growing on highway embankments

Best evergreen ground cover for full sun and dry soil. What it lacks in showy blooms, juniper makes up for with its tough disposition, growing in the toughest, driest soils. Its low, spreading habit creeps nicely around rocks and into awkward spaces, highlighting nearby showy plants and unifying landscape designs large and small. Easily the most drought-tolerant evergreen ground cover for Eastern gardens, juniper grows in any well-drained soil in full sun, including sand and on steep slopes.

See how to grow creeping juniper

YOUR TURN

Do you have a Jersey Green Thumb? What can you share about the plants thriving in your garden? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Instagram or Twitter Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

8 Maintenance Tasks All Homeowners Should Do Once a Year

 

You have the basics of homeownership maintenance down. You change the ceiling blade direction every summer and winter, you scrub the inside and outside of your windows each spring, and you remove every drop of water from your sprinkler system before the first frost.

But are you sure you’re getting everything done?

These eight annual maintenance to-dos are easily forgotten—but checking them off once per year can save you some major headaches, heartaches—and money!

 

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1. Salt your water softener

You’ll need to take a trip to your local home maintenance store for this project. If your water heater features a rad built-in water softener, skipping regular maintenance can cause irreversible damage.

Let’s say you’ve purchased a home with a 2-year-old hot water heater. Pretty new, right? Well, if the previous owner skipped salting the softener, letting mineral build up inside the unit, it will sound like a rock tumbler.

Should that happen, a few intense flushes should do the trick. But don’t wait.

At the end of the day, regular maintenance will prevent damage and will help you avoid a major expense down the road.

2. Test your well water

Having your own well can be a perk—sweet, fresh-from-the-earth water, with no bill! But in-ground water is subject to all sorts of contaminants, including high levels of nitrates, sulfates, or microorganisms. To keep your gut happy and prevent nastier health issues, make sure to test your well water every year. (Shallow wells can require more frequent testing.)

Many municipalities offer free water screening. If yours isn’t so kind, you can send samples to a nearby laboratory for analysis.

3. Update your disaster kit

You don’t have to be a prepper to be prepared. Even minor storms can knock out power for a days. Darkness is a lot less miserable with basic supplies. Every household needs a disaster kit—essential supplies that can keep you going in an emergency. Include necessities such as a first-aid kit, a three-day supply of nonperishable food, plenty of water, printed maps, and a whistle.

Dig through your kit once a year, and check the expiration dates of all of your food, look for broken seals, and make sure none of your necessities have been used or gone missing in the previous 365 days. Check your stock against Ready.gov’s extensive list of basic disaster supplies.

4. Know your humidity

Humidity—especially in the basement—is an early warning sign of future problems. High humidity can cause mildew and black mold. Left unchecked for a significant period of time, it can even cause structural damage. So pick up a hygrometer, and check your levels at least once a year.

If the reading is low, don’t assume you’re in the clear. Too little humidity might not be as dangerous as high levels, but it can still cause sore throats and itchiness—and damage the house. Wood might crack, paint can chip, and electronics could be permanently damaged. Shoot for humidity levels that fall between 30% and 50%.

5. Check for termites

Many homeowners tend to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to these wood-eating buggers—but once a year, make sure termites are on your mind.

Ultimately, an annual termite inspection is typically less than $100, and can save you thousands.

6. Take a photo

You’d never skip snapping a shot of your kid on her first day of school each year—so why wouldn’t you do the same for your house? On the anniversary of your purchase, step outside with a camera and shoot a picture of your home in its current state. Over the years, you’ll be astonished by how much your home has evolved.

7. Save 1% of the home’s value

The typical rule of thumb is that a home costs 1% of its value in maintenance fees each year. For example, if you’re purchasing a home worth $300,000, expect to pay $3,000 each year to keep it in shipshape condition.

While you should be regularly saving throughout the year, taking the time once annually to investigate your bank accounts can keep you out of hot water. And, of course, the 1% rule is only an estimate—when it comes to homeownership, anything can go wrong.

A new roof might cost $7,500 (or more—way more). Serious foundation issues could ring in at $40,000. And new siding might require a $10,000 payment. Adding more to your home savings account is never a bad idea. But at the very least, make sure you have the bare minimum.

8. Create a donation pile

After a few years in your home, you might be astounded to find out just how much unnecessary stuff has piled up. Once a year—perhaps around spring-cleaning—do a deep dive into your closets, drawers, bookshelves, and garage. Toss or donate anything you haven’t touched in the past year.

RELATED: Do I Have Too Much Stuff?

Here’s what not to do with all that newly empty space: Fill it up again. But if you fail, well, you’ll be sorting through it again next year when you do these steps all over again.

YOUR TURN

As a homeowner, what annual home rituals do you keep? What advice might you have to new homeowners when it comes to ongoing home maintenance? Sound off on The Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or our Twitter or Instagram feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

10 Top Secrets To Selling Your Home

So you’ve decided to put your house up for sale. Now what? Aside from hiring a real estate agent, there are a few other important matters to address before your home is listed and potential buyers start coming through the door. Some of these items, more important than others.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Home Selling Essentials
Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Home

It’s important to remember that while you may look around your abode and see your dream home, not everyone will agree. After all, potential buyers aren’t buying your aesthetic. They’re after square footage, closet space, great light, and up-to-date—maybe even brand-new—appliances and fixtures. Thinking like a buyer, we uncover the Top 10 Secrets to selling your home fast for top-dollar.

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Selling Secret #10: Pricing it right

Pricing is the most important aspect of selling your home and you need an experienced Listing Agent with extensive market knowledge. Your Agent will consider up-to-date information on what is happening in the marketplace and the price, and condition of competing properties. These are key factors in getting your property sold at the best price, quickly and smoothly.

RELATED: The Importance of Proper Pricing

Selling Secret #9: Half-empty closets

Storage is something every buyer is looking for and can never have enough of. Take half the stuff out of your closets then neatly organize what’s left in there. Buyers will snoop, so be sure to keep all your closets and cabinets clean and tidy.

Selling Secret #8: Light it up

Maximize the light in your home. After location, good light is the one thing that every buyer cites that they want in a home. Take down the drapes, clean the windows, change the lampshades, increase the wattage of your light bulbs and cut the bushes outside to let in sunshine. Do what you have to do make your house bright and cheery – it will make it more sellable.

Selling Secret #7: Play the agent field

A secret sale killer is hiring the wrong broker. Make sure you have a broker who is totally informed. They must constantly monitor the multiple listing service (MLS), know your marketplace and understand the latest available marketing methods.

RELATED: How to Interview A Listing Agent to Sell Your Home

Look for a Real Estate Agent who embraces technology – a tech-savvy one has many tools to get your house sold.

Selling Secret #6: Conceal the critters

You might think a cuddly dog would warm the hearts of potential buyers, but you’d be wrong. Not everybody is a dog- or cat-lover. Buyers don’t want to walk in your home and see a bowl full of dog food, smell the kitty litter box or have tufts of pet hair stuck to their clothes. It will give buyers the impression that your house is not clean. If you’re planning an open house, send the critters to a pet hotel for the day.

Selling Secret #5: Don’t over-upgrade

Quick fixes before selling always pay off. Mammoth makeovers, not so much. You probably won’t get your money back if you do a huge improvement project before you put your house on the market. Instead, do updates that will pay off and get you top dollar. Get a new fresh coat of paint on the walls. Clean the curtains or go buy some inexpensive new ones. Replace door handles, cabinet hardware, make sure closet doors are on track, fix leaky faucets and clean the grout.

Selling Secret #4: Take the home out of your house

One of the most important things to do when selling your house is to de-personalize it. The more personal stuff in your house, the less potential buyers can imagine themselves living there. Get rid of a third of your stuff – put it in storage. This includes family photos, memorabilia collections and personal keepsakes. Consider hiring a home stager to maximize the full potential of your home. Staging simply means arranging your furniture to best showcase the floor plan and maximize the use of space.

Selling Secret #3: The kitchen comes first

You’re not actually selling your house, you’re selling your kitchen – that’s how important it is. The benefits of remodeling your kitchen are endless, and the best part of it is that you’ll probably get 85% of your money back. It may be a few thousand dollars to replace countertops where a buyer may knock $10,000 off the asking price if your kitchen looks dated.

RELATED: Home Staging Ideas for the Kitchen to Make Buyers Bite

The fastest, most inexpensive kitchen updates include painting and new cabinet hardware. Use a neutral-color paint so you can present buyers with a blank canvas where they can start envisioning their own style. If you have a little money to spend, buy one fancy stainless steel appliance. Why one? Because when people see one high-end appliance they think all the rest are expensive too and it updates the kitchen.

Selling Secret #2: Always be ready to show

Your house needs to be “show-ready” at all times – you never know when your buyer is going to walk through the door. You have to be available whenever they want to come see the place and it has to be in tip-top shape. Don’t leave dishes in the sink, keep the dishwasher cleaned out, the bathrooms sparkling and make sure there are no dust bunnies in the corners. It’s a little inconvenient, but it will get your house sold.

RELATED: A Quick ‘Cover Your Bases’ Home Prep Checklist Before A Showing

Selling Secret #1: The first impression is the only impression

No matter how good the interior of your home looks, buyers have already judged your home before they walk through the door. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. It’s important to make people feel warm, welcome and safe as they approach the house. Spruce up your home’s exterior with inexpensive shrubs and brightly colored flowers. You can typically get a 100-percent return on the money you put into your home’s curb appeal. Entryways are also important. You use it as a utility space for your coat and keys. But, when you’re selling, make it welcoming by putting in a small bench, a vase of fresh-cut flowers or even some cookies.

YOUR TURN

What home selling secrets do you have to add to our list? We want to hear from you! Sound of on our Facebook Page, Twitter or Instagram feeds or connect with us on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for great tips for homeowners and sellers delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Living With Less: Do You Have Too Much Stuff?

We’ve all been there. The cabinets are overflowing. There’s no more room in any closet. And the drawers are crammed so full they won’t close. Your stuff has outgrown your space. But instead of blaming your home for its lack of storage, maybe consider that you have too much stuff. That issue is easier to address quickly and doesn’t involve a whole home remodel.

So, how do you know if you have too much stuff? and What do you get rid of?

clutter-free-home

Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help with paring down to quality possessions:

1. Do you own multiple versions of the same thing?

Do you have three blenders because you got updated versions twice and have yet to get rid of your old ones? This is the kind of thing that creates clutter.

What to do about it: Start in one space, and go section by section. For example, in your kitchen open up all of your cabinets. Go from cabinet to cabinet, removing all of the items.

Try starting with small appliances. Lay them all out on the counter, and keep only the ones you use. Donate or sell the rest. Move on to the pantry, then the serving pieces, then the dishes and on and on around the room. The same rules apply for every section. Get rid of the things you don’t use.

Tip: Try and lose the guilt you feel from getting rid of any gifts you have been given (or inherited). It really is OK to pass along things you don’t use or love.

2. Do you feel stressed about having to find a place for all of your things?

Are your closets jam-packed? Do you find that you wear the same things over and over even though your closet is overflowing? If you answered “Yes,” you probably have too many clothes.

In an effort to try and live with less, you must eliminate the things that don’t serve you. This same concept applies to any space in your home that’s overflowing.

What to do about it: Take all of your clothing out of your closet, or take out certain categories at once (denim, sweaters, shoes). Ask yourself very honestly if you love each item and want to wear it. If yes, great, it stays. If no, put it in a designated spot for donation or resale. Ask yourself this question with each and every item you come across in your closet.

3. Is it hard to keep track of your belongings?

Are you constantly losing things in drawers, cupboards, bins or other nooks and crannies of your home? This is usually a sign of too many belongings.

What to do about it: Keep your things consistent. Use one wallet, one makeup case, one pencil case … at a time. Having one place where your items live reduces the amount of backup items you have.

The goal: These questions and the resulting work will take time. You won’t be able to just snap your fingers and magically have uncluttered closets, drawers and living spaces. Instead, set aside an hour or two every day or week to tackle one area — or a whole room if you’re feeling ambitious. Regardless of how long it takes, you’ll appreciate the time you put toward living with less.

YOUR TURN

What struggles or strategies do you have when it comes to purging your belongings? Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Setting Up a Home Office That Works for You

Whether you’re paying a few bills or running a small business, a stylish, comfortable work space will help you stay focused and inspired.

In recent years, the line between working and living in our homes has become blurred. More people want a home office, whether it’s a simple space for taking care of household matters, a spot for the inevitable papers and projects that make their way home from work, or a dedicated area for a full-time business.

home office

For a few minutes a day or 40 hours a week, working at home is always more fun in an area with loads of function — and some personalization, too. Here’s how to create a snazzy home office space that will make you look forward to clocking in.

The Essentials

Some experts have said there are only two essentials for a functional home office: a comfortable chair and a door that closes. Most people, however, probably have a few more requirements.

Basic elements of designing a room include smart space planning, adequate lighting and sufficient storage. When setting up your home office, also consider functionality and comfort.

Get Horizontal

Start with your work surface. Stock desk units come in a variety of materials, but may be difficult to fit in with your room. Modular office furniture is more flexible and comes in many styles.

Or look to repurposed furniture. With some judicious changes, you can turn flea market finds and antiques into acceptable home office elements. Don’t hesitate to make a piece your own with a simple coat of paint in your favorite color.

Take a Seat

Chairs need to be functional, but an office chair isn’t your only choice.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time working in the office, consider including a lounge chair or chaise. It will make a comfortable spot for reading or coffee breaks.

For your desk, choose a chair with an adjustable seat and armrests to protect your spine and help reduce aches and injuries. To personalize it, add a throw pillow to coordinate with window coverings or other decorative elements in the room.

Essential Details

Make a list of everything you need, from pencils and paper clips to research materials and file folders. Pick a color scheme and purchase the necessities in your favorite palette.

Measure all the electronic equipment you’ll require to determine where it will fit best. And make sure you add some favorite framed photos or artwork to inspire you.

To create softness and texture underfoot, layer on an area rug to anchor your space.

Get Lit

Natural light is great, but you’ll need ambient and task lighting as well. Here is another opportunity to add a bit of personal style to your space via lamp shades, crystals and fixture finishes. Watch out for the possibility of glare, especially when finding a place for your computer screen.

If your office space doesn’t have a door, you can establish a sense of privacy by the way you orient your work surface or by using a screen or file cabinets to mark off the area.

YOUR TURN

Share your favorite ways to spruce your office space — we can’t wait to see what you come up with! Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

7 Handy Ways to Improve Your Home in 2018

If you let a lot of home improvement projects slip by without taking action in 2017, take heart. 2018 is here! You’ve now got an entire year to jump on those big household tasks. It’s time to seize the day, the month and the year.

Not sure what to put next on your to-do list, or do you even have a list at all? Take a look at this list for inspiration along with a selection of How To articles. Gathered here are everything from quick tweaks like setting your thermostat just right to big jobs like switching locks, doorbells and light switches.

We’ve even got downright messy but critical assignments such as cleaning dryer vents and gas cooktops. There’s bound to be a must-do task below for you, no matter how skilled or experienced you are.

nest_thermostat

1. Set your Nest right

Dive a little deeper into your Nest thermostat settings. You’ll be able to issue it voice commands though Alexa or the Google Assistant. Other tips are how to have it control humidity, work to save you money, and make it stop acting crazy when it’s on automatic.

Read: 5 tips for your new Nest Thermostat

2. Make multimeters your friend

If you have no clue what a multimeter is or you own one that’s gathering dust, this guide is for you. We take a quick look at how multimeters are versatile, flexible home DIY tools every homeowner should have.

3. Tend to your gas cooktop

Cooktops, stoves and ranges need regular attention and TLC. If they don’t get it, they won’t serve you well. Treat them right by keeping them spic and span, with all burners ready for action. Both you and your house guests will appreciate the sparkling new look of your tidy appliance, too.

Read: How to clean your gas cooktop with just a few supplies

4. Goodbye, blah light switches

Don’t hang onto old, boring light switches just because they happen to be three-way. Use this guide to help you overcome your fear. With a little care and caution, you’ll be swapping in fancy new dimmers in no time.

5. Ditch the keys for convenience

Physical keys are so medieval. Your front door should rock a sleek, electronic lock like it’s 2018. These gadgets are flexible, motorized, and look great. Take a gander for yourself and see just what we mean.

6. See who’s there from anywhere

Know who’s at your doorstep before they press the buzzer. Find out if anyone has their paws on your packages. A sweet video doorbell can help with all those things. Read on to learn how to hook one up yourself in a flash.

7. Don’t neglect that dryer vent

As the saying goes, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. I’m talking about your home’s dryer vent. If you don’t take time to clear it out every year, it can quickly become a dangerous fire risk. Bite the bullet with this deep dive into dryer vent hygiene.

Read: How to deep clean your dryer duct in 5 steps

YOUR TURN

How are you making home improvement a priority in 2018? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or Instagram feeds or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

5 ‘Must-Do’ Home Resolutions for January

Happy New Year! January is the month to take stock and plan ahead. That’s why these five “must-do” projects for January include everything from adopting some home-focused resolutions to storing holiday decorations and getting snow-ready.

NEW-YEARS-RESOLUTION-real-estate

1. Make ‘energy savings’ a resolution to keep

This year, as you make your New Year’s resolution to spend less, go on a diet, join a gym, learn a new skill or perhaps find more time for yourself, consider adding another goal for 2013 — putting your house on an energy diet.

Just like taxes and death, you can be sure that energy and utility costs will continue to take a bite out of your home operating budget. How big of a bite is within your control. That’s why it pays to do everything you can to keep your home as trim and fit as possible. After all, sometimes even a seemingly modest change in your home (or change in your personal habits) can make a dramatic difference over time.

For example, there’s been plenty written about energy-efficient light bulbs, but have you put that information into practice? If not, make it a goal this year. If every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star-certified variety, we would conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year (equivalent to the amount produced by about 800,000 cars), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

RELATED: How To Hack Your Electric Bill

And if you’ve turned a deaf ear to that dripping faucet or runny toilet, you can be sure that your water company hasn’t. If you know that there’s a leak, fix it. It may require something as simple as tightening a valve or replacing a worn washer or ineffective flapper, all simple repairs you can take care of yourself. If the leak requires replacing the faucet or toilet altogether, call in a professional and choose a fixture bearing the WaterSense label. And the next time you flush, consider this: If everyone in the U.S. flushed the toilet just one time less per day, we could save the equivalent of a lake full of water about 1 square mile and 4 feet deep every day.

Looking for more ways to conserve and save this year? Seal those drafts, make sure your home is well-insulated, install low-flow shower heads and change furnace filters.

2. Pack up the holiday decorations

As fun as it is to unearth boxes of holiday decorations in November, there is nothing enjoyable about packing them all away again in January. Big-box stores will be happy to sell you bins and containers geared specifically toward holiday-related storage, but with a little planning and ingenuity, you can create your own DIY solutions that will work just as well. A piece of cardboard with slots at both ends is ideal for wrapping string lights, while those inexpensive, 6-ounce plastic party cups are the perfect individual holders for fragile ornaments. And if you have a real tree, consider bringing it to a treecycling location, where it will be chipped into mulch for beneficial use.

3. Get snow-ready

Take time now to make sure you are prepared for snow. Snow shovels, snow blowers, salt or sand should all be at the ready. If you haven’t fired up your snow blower since last winter, you might want to do so now.

RELATED: Tips For Showing Your Home In The Snow

Consider some routine maintenance like changing the oil; replacing frayed or cracked belts; tightening nuts, bolts, and screws; and lubricating drive and chassis. Also, watch for the formation of icicles along the eaves as snow begins to melt. They can create ice dams and serious damage to the roof if left unattended. A roof rake is a great way to pull the snow from the eaves to lessen the problem.

4. Employ some countertop TLC

Perhaps never before have there been so many enticing countertop options to fit every budget, decor and culinary need. But all countertops are not created equal. So what’s the best way to keep yours in peak condition? You can start with some pretty basic “do’s and don’ts,” such as cleaning often with a sponge or soft cloth and mild, non-abrasive detergent, or by practicing caution when using sharp knives and hot cookware. If you have granite or marble, be sure to use a good sealer, which will help prolong the life of the stone and provide a barrier of protection against staining. Wood countertops should be rubbed with tung, linseed or mineral oil anywhere from monthly to quarterly, depending on usage. The same mineral oil can be applied to soapstone to provide a protective coat and rich, dark color. For stained laminate, try a homemade paste of baking soda and water. For tips on caring for concrete, stainless steel, quartz, solid surfaces and ceramic tile, visit Countertop Care 101.

5. Make a better fire

While many of today’s homeowners opt for the convenience of a gas fireplace, the traditionalists among us may always prefer the smokey smell, crackling sound and tactile ritual of fire building. While there is an art to making a fire, it all begins with the right choice of wood. Every species has its own set of burning characteristics. Some species — oak, for example — offer a very slow burn and hot fire, while other species like fir provide medium heat with less ash. You’ll also want to make sure the wood you use is properly seasoned and stored in a well-ventilated outdoor area, protected from the elements.

YOUR TURN

What 2018 Home Resolutions have you made? We want to hear from you! Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

7 Ways To Prepare For Your Go-To-Market Photo Shoot

With the majority of buyers shopping for homes online – and of those buyers, the majority skipping over Listings that do not have accompanying photos – high-resolution photos, slide shows and tours are a must.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Home Selling Essentials eBook

online-property-listings-monmouth-countyYour Listing Agent will take care of the actual photo shoot, but there are seven key things you can do to make your home shine on camera:

1. Understand the camera’s perspective

The camera’s eye is different from the human eye. It magnifies clutter and poor furniture arrangement so that even a home that feels comfortable in person can look jumbled online.

2. Make it spotless

Cameras also tend to magnify grime. Don’t forget floor coverings and walls; a spot on a rug might be overlooked during a regular home showing, but it could become a focal point online.

3. Know what to leave

You want to avoid clutter, but try to have three items of varying heights on each surface. On an end table you can place a tall lamp (high), a small plant (medium), and a book (low).

4. Snap practice pictures with your own camera

This will give you an idea of what the home will look like on camera before the photographer shows up. Examine the photos and make changes to improve each room’s appearance, such as opening blinds to let in natural light, removing magnets from the refrigerator, or taking down distracting art.

5. Pare down

Removing one or two pieces of furniture from each room, even if just for the shoot, can make your space appear larger on screen.

6. Rearrange

Spotlight the flow of your space by creating a focal point on the furthest wall from the doorway and arranging the other pieces of furniture to make a triangle shape. The focal point may be a bed in a bedroom or a china cabinet in a dining room.

7. Accessorize

Include a healthy plant in every room; the camera loves greenery. Energize bland decor by placing a bright vase on a mantle or draping an afghan over a couch.

YOUR TURN

Did you recently list or sell your home with award-winning photography? Tell us your secrets! Sound of on our Facebook Page, Twitter or Instagram feeds or connect with us on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for great tips for homeowners and sellers delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

8 Things Interior Designers Notice the Instant They Walk Through Your Door

If an interior designer were to walk through your front door, like, right now, what would this professional think of the place you call home?

We’ll tell you right now: plenty. And that’s even before you’ve given the pro the grand tour. Interior designers, with their sharply honed sensibilities, can take in a space in seconds. In fact, these pros can’t help but make a ton of snap judgments—and typically these first impressions aren’t all that good.

Interior Design Tips

In case you’re curious about what jumps out at interior designers when they first enter a home, here’s an unsettling glimpse. But don’t beat yourself up if you recognize your home in some of these scenarios; these flaws are common and entirely fixable. Read on for an inspiring home decor wake-up call.

1. A Wonky Flow

Does the furniture placement in your home promote good flow of traffic? Most living and family rooms have a focal wall that’s anchored by a fireplace or television, which means the chairs and couch should be arranged to face this point without causing you to walk awkwardly around them.

This can be a challenge with an open floor plan, with pieces defeating the whole ‘open’ idea.

The solution: Less is more. Remove extraneous chairs and side tables to create a natural path in and out of the space.

2. Poor Lighting

The wrong lighting can ruin even the best interior design.

If the overall look of your home is dark and drab it’s usually because there’s not enough of the right kinds of light.

Of course, we can’t all be blessed with a flood of natural light, but you can install what you need rather easily. Sit in each chair or section of the room, and determine whether you can read easily. If not, add in the missing table or floor lamps; don’t rely on one big overhead light. And opt for bulbs that boast a more natural feel.

3. Insane Clutter

Interior designers dream of a streamlined, junk-free look, which means their eyes will immediately come to rest on the hot mess that is your bookshelf.

RELATED: 9 Decluttering Tasks You Can Do in 30 Minutes Or Less

Good rule of thumb… just because you have it doesn’t mean it needs to be on display. Pick and choose a few sentimental or interesting pieces to show off and put the rest away.

4. A Lack of Theme

Style continuity is a big one for design pros. If your pieces don’t work well together or there’s no unifying color or theme to the rooms, the whole look can feel off.

This seems to come from a lack of understanding of the style elements and characteristics of the pieces in the room. Too many colors, in particular, can create a sense of disorder. Make it better by choosing a neutral palette and then introducing just a couple of coordinating hues.

5. That (Ahem) Smell

Interior designers make snap judgments not just on what they see, but also on what they smell. As a homeowner, you’ve become inured to your own odors, but an outsider can nail a scent right away.

Pets are the most obvious offenders, followed by cooking smells and odious candles. Fortunately, the remedy is an easy one; open the windows as often as you can to air out stale spaces (especially in bedrooms and the kitchen).

6. The State of Your Loo

The hard truth: Your bathroom must be pristine!

Interior professionals (and potential buyers) will look with a critical eye at every bathroom in your home, and a dirty one will convince them that the entire home isn’t clean, even if it is. Towels must be fresh, grout should be clean, and definitely clear your counters of personal items (makeup, hair dryer, toothbrush).

7. No Sense of Scale

We’re talking tiny lamps on huge tables, or king-size beds squeezed into too-small rooms.

Layout and scale is more noticeable than you think. Sometimes it’s a result of buying a whole package at the furniture store instead of choosing complementary items in the correct sizes for your home.

To fix this, try to mix and match your styles and the stores where you shop. You’ll end up with a more interesting, inviting space.

8. A Lack of Personal Style

Let it shine! A lack of personality in a home means your space will appear boring or sterile. Even worse is a look that’s been copied directly from a catalog. A designer can certainly help you develop a style, but you can also jazz up your abode with art you love, mementos from a faraway trip, or a collection that has special meaning.

YOUR TURN

What’s your biggest interior design challenge? What have you completely aced you’d like to boast about? Share your comments and pictures on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, Twitter or LinkedIn, or on our Instagram feed. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

How to Remove Stripped Screws, Fill Nail Holes, and Other Home Hacks

Our homes are full of small, but mind-boggling challenges, such as: Is there a way to remove stripped screws? Or eliminate those water rings on your coffee table, or those divots where your table once sat on your carpet? If you’re looking for answers to common conundrums you might encounter, a new book can help: “Tidy Hacks: Handy Hints to Make Life Easier.”

Written by home hack expert Dan Marshall, this modern-day maintenance manual is geared to people who have no time for home maintenance. The fix-its that it recommends are insanely easy to accomplish. And since we’re all about making home management easier, check out a few of these genius tips below.

How to remove stripped screws

How to remove stripped screws

Can’t put in (or take out) a screw because that X-marked divot is too worn to turn with your screwdriver? Place a flat rubber band over the top of the screw head, and insert the screwdriver so it pins the rubber band in place. The rubber band will give you enough grip to remove the screw with ease.

How to shine shoes with a banana

The combination of the potassium found in bananas (which is also an ingredient of shoe polish) and the natural oils in a banana peel makes a great natural leather shoe polish. So, when your shoes need shining and you’re in a pinch with no shoe polish around, reach for the next best thing: a banana. Rub the inside of the peel on your shoes to buff away the scuff.

How to organize cleaning supplies

How to organize cleaning supplies

Get your cleaning supplies out of that awkward low cabinet under your sink. If you hang up a shoe organizer in an area that is easy to reach, like the back of your laundry-room door, you can store them handily, without turning yourself into a pretzel. The best part? Close the door, and you won’t have to look at the bleach and Windex until it’s time to start cleaning.

How to fill nail holes

How to fill nail holes

For many people, hanging a picture or a piece of art isn’t an exact science, and it often involves a certain amount of trial and error. If you happen to hammer a nail into the wrong spot on the wall, grab a crayon that matches the color of the paint and draw on the hole until it is filled. Wipe away any excess wax with a clean cloth.

How to get rid of a water ring

How to get rid of a water ring

How dare your guests ruin your beautiful wood table with their damp drinking glasses? Don’t lose your head, though, because you have this ingenious trick to remove the liquid stain. Turn a hairdryer on high heat and hold it close to the water mark. It will start to disappear before your eyes! Keep the heat on the ring until it’s completely gone.

How to get rid of dents in the carpet

How to get rid of dents in the carpet

Rearranging the furniture in your bedroom or living room can be an exciting way to reinvigorate your home decor, but a heavy table or armoire is sure to leave unsightly dents in your carpet. Believe it or not, the secret of getting rid of those dents is hiding in your freezer. Simply place ice cubes along the indents, leave them there until the ice has melted, and then vacuum over the area to fluff up the fibers.

YOUR TURN

Do you have any ingenious Home Hacks to add to our list? Sound of on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

 

 


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