Here’s what to kick to the curb and what to keep before you sell your home

If you’ve chosen your listing agent wisely, he or she will determine the most likely buyer for your home and then laser-focus the marketing materials to that pool of buyers.

Various studies of what different types of buyers are seeking in a home help the agent figure out which of your home’s features will attract them.

Now, there’s one more survey to add to the arsenal and it was published at builderonline.com.

Overall, if your home offers better energy efficiency than your competition, expect it to be popular with potential buyers. Other turn ons for buyers include floor plans that can be personalized and a home that is easy to maintain.

All of these features are more in-demand than a home with the latest technology, according to the survey.

Interior features that repel homebuyers

When asked what they dislike most about their current homes, the majority of homebuyers report that the outdated features drive them nuts. In fact, these are the most common features they are fleeing:

  • Linoleum floors
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Wood paneling
  • Ceramic tile countertops in the kitchen
  • Shag carpet
  • Avocado green appliances

Yes, I’m sure you love that wallpaper you put up in 1988, but buyers will hate it. The same goes for the “gold” bathroom faucets or those with plastic faux crystal handles.

Features buyers love

Wood flooring is still the overwhelming favorite among buyers, with 65 percent of those surveyed showing a preference for it. Internet connectivity (ethernet and USB ports) came in second, with 44 percent of respondents.

Surprisingly, 56 percent said they were willing to give up square footage in a home if it meant having a larger yard. And, across all demographics, the most important exterior feature of a home is “distance from neighboring homes.”

Broken down by generations, here are the home feature preferences:

Millennials

  • Whirpool tub
  • Home theater
  • Wine refrigerator or cellar
  • Dining room
  • Darker, richer wall color

Gen Xers

If you have a larger home in the suburbs, members of this cohort may be your buyer. Gen X homebuyers are seeking:

  • A detached single-family house.
  • A home with lots of square footage (the average, according to study respondents, is 2,315 square feet).
  • A single-level home, or one with the master bedroom on ground level.
  • A home near trails or other amenities to help them keep fit.

Baby boomers

  • A home with 2,000 to 2,999 square feet of living space.
  • Planned community with amenities and a resort-like vibe
  • A community with a diverse age range, or “stroller-to-walker,” Tammy Barry, director of marketing for a marina resort master-planned community near Chicago tells newhomesource.com’s Camilla McLaughlin.
  • Boomers seek low-maintenance homes with large rooms and plenty of storage. 

Even homeowners on tight budgets can make minor changes to the home to attract more interest.

Small changes, such as changing out dated kitchen and bathroom faucets, buying new panels for the front of your appliances and replacing dated flooring with something attractive yet inexpensive can make a world of difference.

How to shop for a new grill for your summer cookouts

There’s a reason grilling takes center stage in summer. The weather demands it ― who wants to be cooped up indoors with all that glorious sunshine outside?

Aside from that, I doubt there’s a barbecuing man or woman in town who doesn’t feel that his or her barbecue prowess kicks hiney over even our best barbecue eateries.

To do it right, though, you need the right equipment and, if you’re in the market for a new grill (or even your first), read on for some shopping tips.

Gas or charcoal?

Or, maybe both? It’s not unheard of for the serious griller to own one of each. If, on the other hand, you don’t have a preference, maybe it’s time to learn about the differences.

Gas grills are faster and easier. You won’t need to deal with the charcoal, the fluid and then waiting for the coals to heat up. You will, however, need to ensure you have a full gas canister before the cookout begins.

Charcoal-cooked food, on the other hand, tastes better. The charcoal smokes, adding the barbecue flavor we all crave.

Consumer Reports claims that most of the gas grills we buy cost less than $300 and we use them for an average of three years. When it comes to replacing parts, expect to replace the burners. They wear out the quickest.

While charcoal grills are typically less expensive than gas grills, you can end up spending a couple hundred dollars for a large one with all the bells and whistles.

Now, charcoal and gas aren’t your only choices. George Foreman makes a lean, mean electric grill (as do other manufacturers) and there are even wood-burning grills on the market.

For the casual griller, gas or charcoal are the typical choices. If you want ease-of-use and have a need for speed, choose gas.

Which features do you need?

Of course, your budget will dictate the features you’ll find on your new grill, but there are some that are must-haves, at least for some chefs.

These might include a rotisserie (for cooking whole turkeys, chickens or roasts), lighted knobs for nighttime grilling and even alarms that let you know you’re on the verge of burning your meal.

Some are a bit extravagant but there are many features you might find quite useful. Shelving is indispensable for the serious griller. They’ll hold all of your ingredients so they are within easy reach as you cook.

A built-in thermometer is nice as well. If you really want to go all out, look for a gas grill with an infra-red burner. It’s ideal for searing meat to give it that crusty exterior and for locking in the juices.

If you’re just interested in turning out a juicy steak or burger, you don’t need all the fancy and expensive features. A basic charcoal grill will do the trick. The classic Weber kettle-style grill costs about $80 at the big home improvement stores and you can often find them on sale for even less.

Other things to think about

Don’t buy a grill without a decent manufacturer’s warranty. “This should keep you from having to spend money on parts that shouldn’t have broken in the first place,” cautions Chef Tony Matassa at BBQGuys.com.

He suggests looking for a gas grill with a 10-year burner warranty. And, speaking of the burner, Matassa reminds us to ensure that the burner size is proportional to the overall size of the grill.

“A lot of grill manufacturers make a large, impressive looking casting with a little burner – that means lots of hot and cold spots.”

Finally, he suggests that if you grill a lot of steaks, and insist on using gas, look for a gas grill that heats to at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Barbecue season gets underway soon, so get out there and fill that empty spot in the backyard with a new grill.

Retiring and thinking of downsizing your home?

When the last time you bought a home was far enough back that your mortgage is paid off, or nearly so, can we give you some advice? A lot has changed in the real estate industry since the 1980s, in both the selling and buying process.

First, you’re no longer looking for areas with good schools for the kids or a strong job market for Mom and Dad. So, your priorities have changed as well and you have far more freedom now to live where you want and how you want.

It’s liberating, isn’t it?

If you’re considering downsizing your home, read on.

Right now, half of the “most viewed” articles on AARP’s website deal with romance, sex and vacations. Retirees — or those contemplating retirement — don’t have a one-track mind though.

When they aren’t reading about hooking up, or the birds and the bees, they think about their finances. And downsizing a home isn’t just a way to save on home maintenance costs but also a way to free up all that equity you’ve built up to use during your retirement.

Whether you’ll be shopping for another, albeit smaller, single-family house or a condo, downsizing doesn’t really differ that much between the two. Since it’s a major life event, however, it’s a bit scary, “like having an empty nest after the children leave,” says gerontologist Karen Owen-Lee.

Be that as it may, baby boomers are a hardy bunch and it takes a lot to frighten them off what they truly want. In fact, of the 14 percent of Americans age 65 and older who say they plan on moving in the next five years, 67 percent say their priority is to move to a smaller home.

My best advice to you is to first consult with your accountant or financial adviser before taking any concrete steps toward that new future. Armed with his or her good advice you’re in a far better position to make this move, sans the emotions.

Then, you’ll need to consider whether you want to try to time the sale of your current home with the purchase of the new one. It’s a tricky process but we’re happy to walk you through it.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages

With the home paid off, you’re in a far better financial position than many retirees but you should still consider the costs of selling a home. You’ll pay real estate fees, perhaps concessions to the buyer and mortgage fees. These can add up to a big chunk of money.

The advantages to downsizing, however, may just offset those costs

First, if you don’t pay cash for the new home, you’ll have a mortgage payment. Since you’ll be buying a smaller home, however, your payments may be far lower than they were when you had a mortgage on the current home.

And, because the home will be smaller, you’ll save money on utility bills and, if you choose a condo, home maintenance chores may be picked up by the HOA.

But, before you can make a plan for the future, you’ll need to consider both sides of the issue, the good and the bad.

Yes, there are disadvantages

In a perfect universe there would be perfect timing in all that we do. Selling your current home would coincide with a hot sellers’ market which would magically morph into an equally fiery buyers’ market when you look for the new home.

Ah, that dratted universe – nothing is perfect

And, the late Steven Hawking agrees. “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist … without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist,”

The upside to this, however, is that one of the markets will prevail so you are ensured of saving money on at least one of your transactions.

Next, consider that condo living offers many advantages (low maintenance, amenities you might not find in a single family home community, etc.) but it has drawbacks as well. Chief among these are the HOA fees and any special assessments which may crop up in the future.

It’ll work with a good plan

My advice is to plan on selling your home as soon as possible. We are still in one of the best sellers’ markets we’ve seen in decades, but interest rates may hike again this year, locking many buyers out of the market.

To make the most money possible on the sale of your current home, get it on the market soon

Then, to really get the most bang for your home-buying buck, consider moving to a less expensive community. AARP’s Shelley Emling compared the “best places to retire” cities from both Forbes and USA Today and found that both lists had three cities in common:

  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Columbia, Missouri

Both publications’ rankings used a variety of criteria, but of the three, the city for retirees on a tight budget appears to be Iowa City.

There, you’ll pay no state income tax on your Social Security income and receive a tax break on what your pension brings in. The median home price there, by the way, is $204,000, according to Emling.

Downsizing, coupled with a move to a less expensive city or even a cheaper community right here in our hometown, may just mean all the difference, financially, during your retirement.

When considering downsizing, it’s important to consider not only the type of neighborhood and home in which you want to live, but the financial aspects of the move as well.

Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to seek counsel from your financial planner or accountant before making any decisions. Then, call me and we’ll get started on the real estate part of your plan.

 

A Kid-Friendly, No Cook Breakfast-in-Bed for Dad

June 17 is Father’s Day, the day set aside each year to show love and appreciation for dear old dad. So, just what is it that men want, truly, for Father’s Day?

Naturally, we aren’t the only curious types so retailers and others have surveyed Dads and find what, in their heart of hearts, they crave for Father’s Day:

A majority (60%) say they want to spend their day with the family

At least according to ebates.com.

Sadly, a survey by the National Retail Federation last year finds that “Many kids don’t even go as far as buying a gift for their father. Greeting cards are still the most common present …”

Let’s change it up this year, with a little help from Mom. Sure, buy or make the card, but buy the ingredients for the kids to make Dad an awesome, no-cook breakfast in bed on Father’s Day.

This recipe was actually created by kids, so it’s kid-tested for munchkins age 7 to 12 years old. Younger kids can still prepare it, but with Mom’s or another bigger person’s help.

DAD’S SPECIAL BERRY PARFAIT

INGREDIENTS

 ¼ cup breakfast Muesli (about 4 big spoonfuls)

½ cup Vanilla yogurt (about 8 big spoonfuls)

1 tablespoon Honey

¼ cup Fresh berries (about 3 kid-sized handfuls) – try to figure out Dad’s favorite berries or just use strawberries or blueberries or a mixture of both

WHAT ELSE YOU’LL NEED

A tray to carry Dad’s breakfast to his bed

Decorations for the tray, like a hand-drawn placemat

A Father’s Day card

A pretty container for the parfait (ask Mom if she has a nice champagne glass or something similar)

A spoon

A small cup of juice

A couple of napkins

The morning paper or a crossword book and pencil

If you’re allowed to make coffee or tea using the coffee maker – or if Mom can help you – serve coffee or tea just the way Dad likes it.

INSTRUCTIONS

A few days before Father’s Day, you’ll need to do a little work. Find the tray that you want to serve breakfast on and everything you want to put on it. You also should make the decorations now.

Let Mom or another adult know what to pick up at the store (see the Ingredients list). If there isn’t anyone besides Dad who can help you to get the ingredients, write him a shopping list and tell him that you need it before June 17.

He might guess that it’s for Father’s Day, but he won’t know what you’re making.

On Father’s Day morning, get your tray and put everything on it except the bowl to make the parfait. Then wash your hands so you can make Dad’s Special Berry Parfait.

Scoop the yogurt into a bowl. You can use any bowl, like the one you use for cereal or ice cream because you will need another bowl for serving.

Squeeze the honey, slowly, into a tablespoon (ask Mom if you need help finding it) and mix it together with the yogurt.

Sprinkle 1 big spoonful of muesli on the bottom of the serving dish. Top this with some of the honey- yogurt mix and add a handful of berries. Repeat this in layers until you’ve used all the ingredients.

Place the parfait dish on the tray and take it to Dad.

Then, go back to the kitchen and clean up the mess you made. (You’ll get credit for that, don’t worry!)

How safe is your deck?

If your spring cleaning routine paid special attention to getting the deck ready for summer entertaining, we have a question for you:

Did you check the deck’s safety while getting it all clean and gussied up? If not, you’re not alone.

The estimated life span for a wood deck is between 10 and 15 years, according to the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission. They further estimate that half of the country’s 40 million wooden decks are older than 15 years.

Want to hear something even scarier?

Deck and porch problems cause 224,000 injuries each year in the United States – 33,000 were the result of either a collapse or structural failure.

Don’t let your summer guests be among these sad statistics. Inspect your home’s deck or porch before the seasonal fun begins and make the repairs necessary to ensure that it’s safe.

How’s that wood looking?

Your home’s deck is exposed to the elements, day in, day out, year-after-year. Naturally, it’s going to eventually show the toll the weather has been taking on it.

Check the deck for wood that is split or appears to be decaying. The experts at the National Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) suggest you check the area where the deck attaches to the house (known as the “ledger board”), which, they say, is “a common source of deck failure.”

Then, check the posts that support the deck as well as the joists under it, the support beam (runs parallel to the floor joists) and the boards that you walk across. Use a screwdriver or ice pick to lightly poke the wood, checking to ensure it’s not spongy, which is an indication of decay or damage caused by insects.

Use the same tool to probe cracks in the wood. “If you can insert it more than ¼ inch into any cracks … or if the wood breaks off without splintering, this could indicate rot,” warns Natalie Rodriguez of This Old House magazine.

Use a hammer to lightly tap each bolt or other connector. If it sounds hollow, it may be loose. Also check them for signs of corrosion. “As the fastener corrodes, it causes the wood around it to deteriorate,” according to Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).

Check the railings and balusters

Shake the deck’s railings and if they wiggle, call in a professional to help you secure them.

Use a measuring tape to ensure that they’re up to snuff, safety-wise. Rodriguez claims that the railing should be a minimum of 3-feet in height (3.5 feet is best, according to the pros at NADRA) and the balusters spaced a maximum of 4 inches apart (measured from the inside of each baluster).

Check the area around the deck

A sprinkler that hits the deck every time you water will eventually cause the wood to decay. Redirect errant sprinklers and downspouts that drain near deck posts.

Clear away plant detritus from the deck and the area beneath it. The experts at NADRA say wet plant material can be slippery and it promotes mildew.

Finally, give the deck a new, waterproof coating.

May is National Deck Safety Month – a reminder that now is a great time to do a deck inspection and perform maintenance to ensure family and friends are safe during summer.

Don’t make these 5 common home staging mistakes

Although DIY home staging may seem an easy project, we see several common mistakes when homeowners make the attempt. Most go about the process as if it were just a matter of rearranging furniture or redecorating.

There’s a lot more to home staging than that, however. The most important aspect is of it is knowing who your most likely buyer will be and then appealing to his or her emotions.

Take a look at the five most common staging mistakes we see so you can avoid them if you plan on going the DIY route.

Mistake number 1: Not cleaning before you stage

There’s a difference between routine house cleaning and cleaning for staging. The latter is a deep clean and serves as the background for the staging. Professional housecleaners suggest that you move around the house, cleaning from the ceiling to the floor, so that you don’t miss any spots.

“Dust and wipe down the baseboards, clean the vents, bleach the grout in your shower, and polish the hardware in your kitchen and bathrooms,” suggests the experts at MHM Professional Staging in Orlando, Florida.

A deep clean also sends a subliminal message to potential buyers that the home is well-cared for and helps them imagine living in the space.

Mistake No. 2: Leaving the wrong furniture in place

Too much (or too big) furniture makes rooms appear cluttered.

“Trying to put too much furniture in one space makes it look smaller than it really is,” Joanna Gaines tells HGTV’s Judy Dutton.

“Try to stick with three large pieces at most per room to keep the house feeling big and open.”

Then, ensure that what’s left in each room advertises the room’s purpose. This means no baby changing table in the home office and ridding the master bedroom of the treadmill.

Mistake number 3: Neglecting to stage storage areas

While the home is on the market, its storage spaces should be highlighted. Remove bulky winter clothes and blanket from closets and cupboards, organize the pantry and store excess linens to make the linen cupboard appear roomy.

“Potential buyers will definitely want to know how much storage space your home has, so no closet will be safe for concealing messes. If you’re in a pinch, a last-ditch effort to hide a mess is under a bed,” according to Gaines.

Mistake No. 4: Ignoring the garage

A National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) study finds that more than half of the homebuyers they surveyed find a home with a garage “essential” or “desirable.”

A 2017 National Association of Realtors survey resulted in learning that more than 30 percent of homebuyers think the garage is the most important room in the home. Baby boomers, in fact, care more about the garage than the living room.

Get ideas for your garage at realtor.com

Mistake number 5: Assuming buyers won’t notice your lack of curb appeal

The exterior of your home can make or break your bottom line. It’s the home’s first impression and, believe me, if potential buyers don’t like what they see from the curb, they’ll drive on to the next home on their lists.

Start with the exterior walls. Sometimes powerwashing is all it takes to make them sparkle. If the home needs new paint, however, you can look forward to an average 43 percent return on your financial investment in the process, according to homegain.com.

Then, turn your attention to the landscaping. “Simple touches like making sure the lawn is freshly cut, power-washing the driveway, or putting a few freshly potted plants on the front porch can make a big impact,” says Gaines.

Staging your home, inside and out, is a wise move. But don’t make common mistakes that might negate all your hard work.

 

3 Over-the-Top Luxurious Travel Destinations for your Bucket List

In case you missed it, summer recently arrived. If you’re still making your summer getaway plans, and you have the means, you may want to consider the ultimate luxury vacation.

A couple of years ago Spectrem Group conducted a study of the spending habits of people with a net worth of at least $25 million. What they found is that these people spend more on home renovations and vacations than any other purchases, including cars and jewelry.

If you are among those that would rather spend your money on seeing the world than something to wear on your wrist, check out the following destinations. Even if you don’t have the means to visit this summer, we think that they all deserve a spot on your bucket list.

1.Relax on a Private Caribbean Island

The self-described “undiscovered gem of the Caribbean,” Calivigny Island is an island for rent.

This 80 acres of unsurpassed, world-class luxury and privacy ― can be yours for a night ($30,000 per night for a two-bedroom cottage), week ($868,000) or month ($3,472,000). Located off the southern coast of Grenada, the island boasts six white-sand beaches while the resort offers a tennis court, swimming pool with a swim-up bar, a tree house, fitness center and more.

During your Robinson Crusoe experience you’ll meet no cannibals and no mutineers, but you just might enjoy windsurfing, waterskiing, jet skiing, wake boarding or any number of other water sports.

The island retreat accommodates up to 50 people so it’s ideal for weddings, family reunions and very private, romantic getaways. Find out more here.

2. Pampering in the Maldives 

The Maldives have long been a beloved destination for the wealthy, but the Soneva Jani Resort offers everything a bucket-list destination demands. The crystal-clear, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, the amazingly soft, white sand beach and the balmy breezes are just the beginning.

Pampering? It begins before you check in, when you’ll be handed an iPad with a questionnaire about everything from which pillows you prefer and the type of fragrance you want sprayed on them to your favorite alcoholic beverage, foods and music.

Privacy? Soneva Jani is located on Mehufaru, an uninhabited island in a lagoon in the Noonu Atoll. With only 24 villas (all over-the-water) and one beach villa, you’ll have plenty of solitude.

As a guest of the resort you’ll be enticed to hit the water in a complimentary paddleboard, kayak or catamaran, go snorkeling or diving or visit the on-site observatory to view the celestial glory. There’s also a cinema (set over the water, naturally) for movie buffs.

So, how much will all this casual opulence set you back? The least expensive villa rents at $3,000 to $5,000 a night, according to CNN. But, you can also stay in the largest villas for around $20,000 per night.

Learn more about Soneva Jani at soneva.com.

2.Reach a Transcendent State in a Floating Mansion 

All vacations should invoke Nirvana and, should you charter the super yacht that carries the name, you’ll find yourself in a blissful paradise from which it will be hard to return to the real world.

“Nirvana” is a 290-foot long floating mansion with six decks (with access provided by an elevator), a pool, a helicopter landing pad, a 3-D cinema, full gym, and a crew of 26 to cater to your every whim.

She sleeps 12 guests in 6 staterooms. These include a VIP stateroom, master suite and four double cabins.

When you aren’t sunbathing on deck, you’ll be invited to enjoy the gym, Jacuzzi, pool or get a message.

You just can’t get more privacy than being in the middle of the ocean, so if solitude is your aim, contact a yacht charter broker. Learn more here.

Should I sell my home as-is?

Ah, the need for speed in a real estate deal – we’re quite familiar with it. From clients who’ve taken a job out of town with an impatient employer to the need to sell a deceased family member’s home, “Should I sell my house as-is” is a common question.

There are also the clients who tell us they aren’t the best at maintenance and have, sadly, let the home go over the years and they now need to sell, with neither the time nor the money to make needed repairs.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues you should consider before trying to sell the house in as-is condition.

Price considerations

A recent study finds that most homebuyers – especially first-time buyers – want a home that they can move right into and hang up their toothbrush. And, they say they are willing to pay more for such a home.

Face it: many of the competing homes in your area will be closer to this condition than yours if you choose not to make improvements and/or repairs.

Unless your home is priced low enough to compensate the buyer for what he or she will need to spend to bring it to comparable condition, it will sit on the market.

So, if your budget can tolerate a very low listing price, you’ve passed the first challenge of trying to sell as-is.

Lenders have their preferences too

Should you find a buyer who is using a government-backed loan program, such as the VA or FHA, the lender will have a thing or two to say about your home’s condition.

Typically, it’s “fix it or we won’t loan the money to the buyer.” You can almost guarantee this for problems of a health or safety nature.

Considering that the VA grants almost a half-million mortgages a year and the FHA is the preferred program for first-time buyers, that’s a lot of people to exclude from the buyer pool

The FHA-approved appraiser will be the one to determine what needs to be fixed before the home qualifies for an FHA-program buyer. Repairs listed as essential on his or her report are the ones to be most concerned about.

Even a conventional lender may balk at making a loan for your home if the repairs needed include HVAC, roof or structural problems. Some will require that broken window glass be repaired and ask that any code violations in existence be remedied.

By the way, some home insurance companies are also asking for repairs before they will insure the home for the new owner.

Come up with a strategy

Again, it’s understandable that some fixes are just too expensive for some sellers to manage. For these, we can suggest the FHA 203(k) program in our marketing materials.

With this program, FHA will wrap the cost of the home and the cost of rehab in one loan, so the buyer has only one payment a month. There are other rehab mortgages out there as well.

You’ll also want to consider how you’ll deal with the very low offers you’ll receive. The mere mention of the words “as-is” act as a magnet to investors and flippers. Know the lowest price you’ll accept and remind yourself to keep your emotions in check and to not take lowball offers personally.

Finally, despite the problems with the home, the one way you can help boost the price, even a small amount, is to ensure that it’s clean at all times.

If your home will be vacant, consider some inexpensive staging techniques to help buyers overcome the as-is aspect of the sale.

When a home is neat and tidy (both inside and out) it sends a subliminal message to potential buyers that someone does care about the home.

It’s spring! Let’s debunk 3 common gardening myths

You see them all over the internet but nowhere online do gardening fallacies proliferate more than on Pinterest.

For instance, we recently read a pin that described several ways to improve our garden soil, “naturally.” Among them was throwing a banana peel on the soil, or burying it, to supply potassium to your plants.

For the record, “As soil microorganisms work to break down the peels, they extract significant amounts of nitrogen from the soil, which results in less nitrogen for greening up plants,” according to Jeff Gillman of This Old House magazine. He suggests offering your plants a well-balanced fertilizer instead.

Read on for more common gardening myths.

Put small pebbles in the bottom of your planting pots

How many times have you read that container gardeners should add pebbles or place pot shards in the bottom of their pots to aid in drainage? Yet, this myth was busted more than 100 years ago, according to renowned horticulturist and professor, Dr. Linda Chalker Scott.

And, similar, more current studies prove that this is a myth, because “water does not move easily from layers of finer textured materials to layers of more-coarse textured,” the professor claims.

“Additionally,” she continues, “one study found that more moisture was retained in the soil underlain by gravel than that underlain by sand.

Therefore, the coarser the underlying material, the more difficult it is for water to move across the interface. Imagine what happens in a container lined with pot shards!”

So, stop with the pebbles on the bottom of your pots. Chalker-Scott suggest that you use only pots with drainage holes and high-quality topsoil to ensure adequate drainage.

Compost tea improves soil structure

Compost tea is a combination of compost and water that has been allowed to culture for a specified amount of time.

One online promoter of the use of compost tea has a list of its uses. Included on the list is that compost tea improves “nutrient retention in the soil,” reducing fertilizer use. The author also claims that the use of compost tea improves soil structure.

Compost tea does add nutrients to the soil. But, the only way it helps the soil RETAIN these nutrients is if it is applied frequently.

“The effects of compost tea are short-lived, and frequent and repeat applications are required” to replenish the soil’s nutrients and microbes, according to a 2015 study published in Advances in Bioresearch.

Horticulturists recommend ditching the water mixture and using dry compost as mulch. Each time you water, the nutrients will drip into the soil and provide those nutrients your plants are so hungry for. The bonus? Unlike tea, compost will improve the soil’s structure.

Always stake a tree when planting it

Chalker-Scott calls the process of staking a tree “tree bondage.” She does admit that there are some circumstances that call for using a stake to support a tree, such as when planting in “poor, shallow soils that hinder root development.”

But most of the time, staking a newly-planted tree is unnecessary and may end up harming the tree.

The stake takes on the support role of the trunk and root system. “This artificial support causes the tree to put its resources into growing taller but not growing wider,” Chalker-Scott explains.

Although a stake is supposed to be temporary, too often homeowners neglect to remove it. Those who do often end up with a tree that blows over or breaks during the first big wind. Chalker-Scott explains that this is due to the roots and trunk not fully developing because of the stake.

Bareroot trees are generally the only ones that require staking when planting. Chalker-Scott recommends that stakes be placed no higher than two-thirds the height of the tree. Use a flexible tie, such as a strip of nylon hosiery or other fabric that will stretch and not girdle the trunk.

Finally, remove the stake when the roots are established. Bartlett Tree Experts say that most trees’ roots are established within one to two years.

Getting ready to sell? Depersonalize and get rid of clutter first

Think back to a time when you, or someone you know, sold or traded in a car. There was some work to do before advertising it for sale or taking it to the car lot, right? It’s a rare car seller who’ll leave all the fast-food wrappers, empty plastic water bottles and crumbs left behind by the kids.

Why?

Because a clean car gives off an impression of being well-maintained.

It’s the same thing with houses. Sadly, cleaning and decluttering a car about to go on the market is a routine task, doing the same for homes isn’t.

Yet a home is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than a car.

First, get rid of the clutter

Scientific studies show that clutter causes anxiety in people who view it. Not a good state for a homebuyer to be in, and reason enough to get rid of excess “stuff” in the home.

If you have a lot of it, the process may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to. Remember the old advice on how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time) and apply it to getting rid of the clutter in your home.

In this case, take it one room at a time. Try to do the entire home in one day and you’ll most likely get frustrated and lose the mojo needed to complete the job, according to professional organizer Nicole Anzia.

“It’s much better to spend a few hours — 2 or 3 — on one project or space. This way you’ll feel motivated to do more, not be burned out by the process,” she tells Apartmenttherapy.com’s Catrin Morris.

For those who burn out quickly, Anzia suggests doing one room at a time, “in 30-minute bursts … work for 30 minutes, take a half-hour break, then work for another 30.”

When tackling clutter, pay close attention to any collections you may have. Too many items in a room makes it appear cluttered and distracting to buyers.

Depersonalizing comes next

Actually, you may end up doing a lot of the “depersonalization” while you’re getting rid of clutter.

In a nutshell, depersonalizing a home involves removing anything of an overly-personal nature.

Think about model homes in new-home communities. These homes are carefully staged to appeal to the broadest number of buyers and they are decidedly depersonalized.

You want buyers to be able to imagine themselves living in the home, with their furniture and their belongings.

Some of what you should remove and store includes:

  • Excess family photos
  • Framed diplomas, degrees and awards
  • Extra toys
  • Magazines and professional journals
  • Craft items
  • Anything on the refrigerator doors
  • Anything that sits on the kitchen and bathroom counters that isn’t decorative
  • Mail
  • Paperwork
  • Anything of a religious or political nature
  • Sports memorabilia

Depersonalization doesn’t just include removing overly-personal items from the home. Consider repainting walls that are currently painted in a bright or odd color and getting rid of odors from cooking, pets, babies and smokers.

Don’t go overboard in depersonalizing the home, however. Leave some traces of your personal statement so that buyers get an idea of the lifestyle the home offers.