Outdoor entertaining? Get rid of mosquitos naturally

There are two things that qualify to be the bane of summer: flies and mosquitos. Entertaining outdoors seems to triple the pests and their ability to irritate and annoy guests.

Luckily, we found some simple tricks to keep mosquitos at a distance while you enjoy friends and family in your outdoor living space.

Use a fan

Fortunate is the homeowner who has an overhead fan on the patio. “The breeze outdoor fans provide makes it more difficult for these annoying critters [mosquitos and flies] to fly, so they tend to stay away from wherever the fan air flows,” according to the pros at lasco.com.

An oscillating fan or two is the ideal solution because they spread the breeze out more than a stationary fan.

The folks at Lasco also recommend that you consider a fan with a misting apparatus “… for an extra cooling effect.”

If you’ll be buying a floor fan for your next get-together, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for one with remote control.
  • Large controls that make it easier to see in low-light conditions come in handy in the evening.
  • Ask to plug in and operate the model you’re interested in to make sure it’s quiet enough at high speed to hold a conversation.
  • Ensure that the fan is intended for outdoor use, with grounded plugs and cords and moisture-proof casings.

Get rid of sources of standing water

One of the most common sources of mosquitos is anything that collects rain or irrigation water. This includes:

  • Kiddie Pools (keep the water fresh)
  • Planting pots and saucers
  • Watering Cans
  • Buckets
  • Open trash cans
  • Puddles in your lawn
  • Rain Barrels
  • Tarps
  • Kid’s Toys
  • Birdbaths (keep the water fresh)
  • Wheelbarrows

Seek out even the smallest sources of standing water. All it takes is 1/4 inch of water for a mosquito to “… lay hundreds of eggs at a time—so even very small sources can become a big problem,” according to the experts at the Vector Control Program of San Diego.

Get more tips on how to deal with standing water in your backyard by visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website.

Set up a defensive perimeter

The folks at the Today Show suggest that you surround the backyard with “… tiki torches with citronella or other insect repellent oil to combat insects.”

In reality, there are no studies that prove citronella’s effectiveness against mosquitos. The CDC, however, suggests that oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is a good alternative.

NOTE: The Mississippi Department of Health says that “Oil of lemon eucalyptus and lemon eucalyptus oil are not the same product.”

Cover your food and drinks

Backyard barbecues are a beacon for lots of flying insects, such as flies and wasps. Cover all food dishes and drinks to keep them at a distance.

Martha Stewart offers up a tip for covering drinks:

  • Use a hole punch to punch a hole in the bottom of paper cupcake holders.
  • Turn the cupcake holders upside down and place them over the drinks, sticking straws through the punched hole.

Avoid mosquito myths

You’ll find plenty of mosquito repellent myths online. Avoid the bad and misleading information by typing “site:.edu” or “site:.gov” (without the quotation marks) after your search term. For instance:

“How to deter mosquitos site:.edu”

Here are a two of the most popular myths you’ll find online:

  • Mosquitos dislike geraniums or essential oils derived from geraniums (National Institutes of Health). Geraniums and pelargoniums have no effect on mosquitos.
  • Citronella candles and other products deter mosquitos. The truth is “Oil of citronella products … have little effectiveness against mosquitoes.” (Mississippi State Department of Health)

Most of the plant-based repellents suggested for mosquito control are not the plants themselves, but the distilled essences.

For more information on finding the right mosquito repellents, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s database.

Get started with smart home technology

Whether it’s trying to remember to turn on the porch light at night or the constant fiddling with the thermostat in your home, the day will come when you’ll decide, once and for all, to look into all the hoopla about smart homes.

You’ll soon learn that not only does a connected home offer convenience, but, if done right, it can save you money too. Want to learn more? Check out our tips for the three must-haves to get your home on the road to becoming smarter.

Start with a hub

A hub is the boss of all the connectivity devices you add to the home, controlling each one according to your parameters. You can choose from a wide range of hubs, from budget to ultra- expensive.

Our go-to review site, TomsGuide.com, chose several hubs that they claim are the best of the best for 2021:

  • Best smart-home hub for those on a budget – Amazon Echo Dot
  • Best overall smart-home hub – Samsung SmartThings Hub (Version 3)
  • Best for the hardcore techie – Hubitat Elevation Home Automation Hub

Now that you have the hub, it’s time to decide what else you’d like to add to your smart-home arsenal.

No more hitting switches

If you’re like a lot of consumers, you bought or were given a smart speaker, such as the Echo, with Alexa built in.

While getting weather and news reports, lullabies for the kids and reminders for you are some of the conveniences Alexa offers, she (and other voice assistants) is capable of so much more.

So, which smart home gadget do most people buy first?

The smart plug. It’s inexpensive and versatile. While the experts at TomsGuide.com recommend the Wemo WiFi Smart Plug, those at PCMag.com suggest the Wyze Plug.

Plug the smart switch into a wall outlet and use Apple, Alexa’s or Google Home Assistant’s app to control whatever you plug into it. For instance, we have a friend who uses hers to turn on and off the grow light over her vegetable seedlings in early spring.

Plug a lamp into it and then tell Alexa to turn it off or on, at a given time each day. “It’ll let you automate anything you plug into it — lamps, desk fans, crock pots, space heaters, you name it,” says CNET.com’s Ry Crist.


Another popular beginner smart home gadget is some sort of security product.

TomsGuide.com highly recommends the Arlo Q security camera, “… which is one of the best smart home devices designed for giving you peace of mind.”

The doorbell cams are big sellers. Connected to the internet, the systems allow the user to monitor their homes from any smart device.

Video doorbells such as Nest Hello get the nod from TomsGuide.com while the folks at CNet.com choose Arlo Essential Video Doorbell.

On a budget? Check out Ring Video Doorbell Wired, “The cheapest Ring video doorbell — with some compromises,” according to the review at TomsGuide.

Smart door locks follow close on the heels of the security cameras in popularity. Lock or unlock doors remotely and you can choose to access your home either keyless or with keys (depending on brand).

Speaking of brands, the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is hands-down the experts’ favorite.

Set up a “scene,” and your voice assistant can put all of these elements together. For instance, say “Alexa, goodnight” and she’ll dim the lights, ensure the thermostat is where you want it while you sleep, and lock the door.

It doesn’t get more convenient than that.


Information you need if you’ve got your eye on a condo


They’re typically smaller than single-family homes and they require far less upkeep. Yet the process of purchasing a condo may be much more detailed than that of purchasing a house.

Some of the advantages to purchasing a condominium, rather than a single-family home, include the obvious facts that condos are typically less expensive and may offer more amenities. Let’s take a look at some of the other advantages:

  • Maintenance chores are greatly reduced for condo owners. Although there may be landscaping in front of your unit, it is typically (though not always) up to the Homeowner’s Association (HOA) to maintain it. The same holds true for the roof, fencing and other items.
  • The typical HOA maintenance fee imposed on owners includes paying for items such as water, trash collection and sewer fees. Insurance is also paid for by the HOA, bringing down the cost of living in a condo even more, although you will still need to insure the contents of your condo.
  • The appearance of the complex and issues such as noise and other types of disturbances are regulated by the HOA.
  • Condominiums may offer more security than a single-family home. Many have doormen, guards or gates at the entry. The proximity of neighbors also adds a certain level of security that may not be present in an area’s single-family home selection.

Yes, there are disadvantages to owning and living in a condo:

  • The proximity of neighbors, while also listed as an advantage, may be a disadvantage for those who crave privacy.
  • The HOA, while advantageous for many reasons, may be intrusive and dictate unreasonable restrictions.
  • Condos tend to have less storage space than single-family homes, a concern especially for families with lots of “stuff.”
  • When you purchase a house, unless it sits on leasehold property, you are also buying the land beneath it. Not so with a condo. In most instances you will own only the space inside the unit and share ownership the common areas of the complex.
  • Your share of the common areas, however, does not grant you the right to alter them in any way. So, although you may despise the tree in front of your unit, you are not allowed to remove it unless the HOA approves.

The Condo Purchase Process

If you’ve purchased a house before you’ll notice that the condo purchase requires far more paperwork. This is because the seller must provide the buyer with certain HOA documents, which vary by state. These documents may include:

  • Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs)
  • HOA budget
  • Bylaws
  • HOA meeting minutes

Each document in the HOA package provides valuable information. For instance, the meeting minutes let you know the type of issues that the board deals with frequently and whether there has been discussions regarding raising fees or if they are considering special assessments.

By far, the most important documents are the HOA’s financials, especially the reserve balance, sometimes called “reserve funds,” or “reserves.”

This is money set aside to cover major repairs, replacement or maintenance of common area elements, such as a broken sewer line. A well-funded reserve account ensures you that there will most likely not be future special assessments imposed on the owners.

Another red flag to look for in the HOA documents is the number of non-owner occupied units. There are several reasons that a large number of tenants make the condo less attractive. First, many lenders won’t finance a condo in a complex with a tenant ratio over 25 percent.

Next, tenants don’t have the same incentive as owners to keep the property maintained so an overabundance of them may tend to bring down the value of the complex.

Lots of tenants also means a noisier environment and heavier usage of common area amenities such as the pool and exercise equipment, according to Robert Irwin, author of “Tips and Traps When Buying a Condo, Co-op, Or Townhouse.” Irwin suggests looking for a complex with 10 percent or fewer tenant-occupied units.

If you have any questions about anything in the HOA documents, consult an attorney before signing an agreement to purchase the condo.

Since these documents govern how you can use your unit and the future costs of owning it, you owe it to yourself to understand every word.

How to remove a lien on your home

Unless she checks her credit report periodically, the average American will often not realize that there is a lien against her property until she applies for credit or tries to sell property.

A lien will stop the sale of your home until it’s taken care of.

A lien is a type of security for an unpaid debt, and it can be placed on a home, an auto, a boat, a business and any other type of property with significant cash value. It essentially keeps the property from being sold until the debt is paid.

There are several types of liens that find themselves slapped on a home. Among the most common are mechanic’s liens, tax liens and judgment liens. Let’s take a look at each.

Mechanic’s lien

Homeowners who have had remodeling or other construction work done around the home should check to ensure that the contractor or a subcontractor didn’t place a lien for non-payment.

“For example, if you are remodeling your bathroom and the supplier who supplied the bathtub isn’t paid by the general contractor, a lien can be placed against your house to recover the money,” warns the attorneys at FindLaw.com.

Even if you paid the contractor for the bathtub, you’ll be held liable if the contractor failed to pay the supplier for it.

No, it doesn’t seem fair, but the law presumes that you can sue the contractor for the money. When you’re knee-deep in a home sale, however, time is of the essence and court cases take time.

Tax lien

Don’t pay your taxes and the government can and will put a lien on your home. This includes federal, state and local governments.

Judgment lien

If you’ve ever sued or been sued in small claims court, you may be familiar with the judgment lien.

Investopedia defines the judgment lien as “a court ruling that gives a creditor the right to take possession of a debtor’s real property if the debtor fails to fulfill his or her contractual obligations.”

Liens must be removed before you sell your home

Unless the buyer agrees to buy your house subject to the lien, it will need to be paid and released before the sale can go through. Even if the buyer did agree to this, however, his or her lender most likely will not.

  • The first step you should take when you learn of a lien against your property, and you feel you don’t owe the debt, is to contact an attorney.
  • If you agree that the debt is valid, contact the lien holder for instructions on how to pay it off. Request that he or she sign a Release-of-Lien, in front of a notary public. These forms are available from your attorney, the county clerk and online.
  • Pay off the debt to the lien holder if the debt is valid. Sometimes an attorney can negotiate a lower payoff for you.
  • Request that the lien holder sign a Release-of-Lien, in front of a notary public. Release-of-Lien forms are available from an attorney and from the county clerk’s office.
  • File the Release-of-Lien at the county recorder’s office. This makes the release a matter of public record. There is usually a charge for this, and the fee varies by region.
  • Consult with your real estate agent about how to notify the title company of the release.
  • Keep a copy of the Release-Of-Lien in a safe place, for your records.

We are not attorneys and can’t offer legal advice, so your best course of action when concerned about lien removal is to contact your attorney.


Selling your home when it’s hard to let go

Letting go can be brutal. Often, we have no choice, such as when it’s time for our kids to leave the nest, or we decide to leave a relationship that has soured.

It is often the same for homeowners when they decide to sell their homes. For some, letting go of a home isn’t just divesting themselves of a structure, but also from the lifestyle it represents, the memories made under that roof – all that life lived in it.

Selling a home can be an emotionally-charged transaction, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can put your emotions aside for a time and realize that the sale of your home is a business transaction —and stay in that mindset— you’ll avoid the pitfalls we see some home sellers contend with.

Those pitfalls

There are several commonalities among home sellers who are attached to their homes. The first is that they tend to overvalue it for the market.

It’s important to keep in mind that what you feel the home is worth may not be the same as the value the buyer puts on it. Then, there’s the appraiser’s valuation.

Depending on the type of market we’re in, be prepared for buyers coming in with lowball offers. These buyers aren’t intentionally insulting you, but treating the transaction for what it truly is, a business deal.

Ditto when buyers appear to be criticizing your taste in décor, such as by asking you to remove the wallpaper in the kitchen or for new carpet.

No home is ideal for everyone, not even yours. When you approach the sale with less emotion, you’ll be better able to let these unintentional slights roll off your shoulders.

Vow to be flexible

If your attachment to your home is strong, it’s easy to talk yourself into little ways that may sabotage the sale.

Take showings, for instance. We’ve seen some sellers who become completely unreasonable when an agent requests a showing.

Yes, we know how very challenging it is to keep a home spotless while “real life” carries on (kids to get to and from school and lessons, pets, etc.).

Remind yourself that as busy as life is, if you want to sell the home you must be accommodating to buyers. Take some deep breaths, straighten the chaos and take the kids to the park.

An offer is just an offer, not an insult

There is a reason you may be intensely emotionally attached to your home. Whether it’s because of the memories it holds, the hard work it took to get it to its current condition or something else, this attachment can cloud your judgment.

Seldom is this more evident than when entertaining offers from buyers. As mentioned earlier, many homeowners who are attached to their homes treat a simple request, such as for new carpet or a minor repair, as a personal affront.

Remember, your home is perfect for you, but it may not be for everyone. The buyers certainly don’t mean to be insulting.

Even lowball offers can cause defensiveness. Keep in mind that an offer is just an offer and selling your home is a business transaction.

And, by the way, in a tough buyers’ market, a lowball offer may be worth negotiating. Put on your business hat so we can work together on a solution.

Additional coping strategies

“Sure, this house was perfect, but the home selling and buying process isn’t [about] finding ‘the one’ that sticks around forever,” suggests Catrina Sun-Tan at homelight.com.

“It’s more about finding the home that fits your needs best, based on your current situation,” she concludes.

She goes on to suggest that you keep your focus on your ‘why.’ That may be a particular lifestyle you crave, living closer to your children and grandkids or to have a snappier commute. Keep that ‘why’ top-of-mind.

Take photos of the home, especially those areas where you spend the most time and have built the most memories.

Some homeowners will take a plant or even soil from the garden to plant at their new home (let me know if this is your plan because we’ll have to move the plant to a pot before the home goes on the market).

Then, change your focus. Focusing on the future during the sale process is one way to alleviate that panicky feeling many get when they begin dwelling on the loss of their home.

Look to the future instead – where you’re going next, how you’ll furnish and use your next home.

Get excited about what lies ahead.

Is it time to replace your windows?

From humans to rocks, everything ages. The average life expectancy for a water heater, for instance is between 8 and 12 years, according to the experts at Lowe’s.

Fortunately, the windows in our homes have a much longer life span–up to 20 years, depending on how they’re maintained, what they’re made of and weather, among other factors.

So, how do we know when our windows are about to bite the dust? We consulted the pros; read on to find out what they have to say.

Do they leak?

The best time to check the windows for leakage is while it’s raining or immediately after the rain stops. If the water intrusion has been persistent for some time, however, you may be able to spot evidence of it on a sunny summer day.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Water leaking into the home’s interior from around the windows
  • Discoloration of the window sill
  • Swollen sills
  • Musty smell
  • Signs of mold
  • Signs of moisture between panes in dual-paned windows

Moisture intrusion typically means you’ll need to replace the windows, or, at the least, the glass.

How’s that trim?

Harsh weather over the decades can take its toll on a home’s windows. In fact, if left too long, the damage may be too extreme to repair, according to Justin Bartley at nextdoorandwindow.com.

Inspect the windows from the outside, looking for cracked or rotted trim. Dark spots may be an indication of rot.

Chipping and decay are two other important signs to look for.

Operate properly?

You shouldn’t have to fight with your windows to open and close them. If you do, you may need to replace them.

“Most aging windows develop balance issues, which lead to jamming and sticking,” according to Bartley. “The formation of rust, rotting, or mold may also factor into this, indicating that your existing windows are nearing the end of their service life.”


If you feel drafts when near the home’s windows, or your heating and cooling bills seem higher than normal, check the window’s seals. If they are damaged, you may need to purchase new windows.

The experts at Lee’s Glass in Pensacola, Florida suggest that you take a look at “… the points where your window meets the wall and the sash meets the frame. If you can see gaps or light coming in, there is a good chance your seals have failed.”

The typical American homeowner can save up to $583 per year on heating and cooling when replacing single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR Certified Products, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Do you like how they look?

This is an important consideration, especially if you are planning on selling your home in the near future. Not only are energy-efficient windows attractive to homebuyers, but they can dramatically improve the home’s curb appeal.

Although window replacement is expensive, it does have advantages.

4 reasons to sell your house a.s.a.p.

If you’ve toyed with the idea of moving up, downsizing or just craving a change of scenery, you may want to consider selling your home a.s.a.p.

In pockets across the country, the housing market is showing signs of change. Yes, in June we saw record high median home prices nationwide. But there are hints of change coming that you should be aware of if you hope to make maximum profit from the sale of your home.

Read on to find out why.

1. Homebuyers may start rethinking their decision to buy

Battle-weary homebuyers are starting to reconsider purchasing a home right now. In some areas of the country, they’ve chosen, “ever so slightly,” to rent a home while awaiting better opportunities for buyers, according to Rick Palacios, director of research for real estate research firm, John Burns.

In fact, the high home prices resulted in a 6% decrease in mortgage applications in mid-July. This represents a decrease of 18% over this time last year.

Selma Hepp, deputy chief economist with data analyst firm Core Logic feels that “There are signs that the hottest days of the market are behind us.” She predicts an increase in housing inventory for the remainder of the year.

Yes, the market is still red-hot for home sellers, but if you’re waiting for it to get even hotter before placing your home on the market, you may be disappointed.

Take advantage of the current pool of homebuyers to get the most money for your home.

2. What will interest rates do?

Some economists are predicting rising mortgage rates throughout the latter half of 2021, cooling off the housing market.

In late July, “The average rate for 30-year fixed loans increased slightly to 3.11% after two weeks of declines,” according to Diana Olick at cnbc.com.

“So far, the increase in rates has come with ups and downs marked by a gradual rise over time,” Stauffer claims. As this incremental rise continues “as some experts have forecasted,” he adds, the market will cool, even if it’s just slightly.

3. You’ll have little competition from other homeowners

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the inventory of available homes in June increased 1.4%, month to month.

“We may have turned a corner on inventory,” the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors tells Olick. “There is some softening in the demand.”

When the inventory of homes for sale increases, expect home prices to soften. When this will happen is anyone’s guess, so keep an eye on housing market news. Or, give us a call; we’re happy to share with you what we’re seeing in the market.

The bonus for you as a home seller right now is that you’ll have little competition from other sellers. A well-prepared home in a decent area can easily become the belle of the local market and receive multiple offers from qualified homebuyers.

Don’t try to time the market. By the time it turns a corner for sellers, it will be too late; you will have missed the top of the market.

4. Money, money, money

Chances are good that you’ll be surprised how much equity you have in your current home.

Last year, American homeowners, on average, gained $33,403 in equity. Let that one sink in a minute. That figure represents a nearly 20% increase from the previous year, according to the number crunchers at Core Logic.

Summer appears to be heralding yet another hot real estate market for sellers. Give us a call to find out how much your home is worth.

3 reasons to never garden without gloves

We recently read a Facebook gardening group post asking “Who else loves to garden bare handed?” We were shocked at the responses, most of which agreed that they do the same.

“I need to feel the soil in my fingers,” said one response.

While garden soil may “feel” good to some, it may also contain toxins that can cause grave illnesses and even death.

Older gardeners and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk of picking up an infection while gardening.

Thankfully, you can avoid these nasties. But first, an introduction.


Commonly known as “rose gardener’s disease,” sporotrichosis is caused by Sporothrix, a fungus that thrives in plant matter and in soil.

Although most of the gardeners who’ve suffered a bout with this nasty critter contracted it by a thorn puncture, it can also enter our systems via inhalation, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The first sign of an infection, a bump on the skin, may not be apparent for up to 12 weeks, but may show up as early as one week.

“The bump can be red, pink, or purple, and usually appears on the finger, hand, or arm where the fungus has entered through a break in the skin,” according to the experts at the CDC.

“The bump will eventually grow larger and may look like an open sore or ulcer that is very slow to heal. Additional bumps or sores may appear later near the original one.”

This disease may result in infections in other parts of the body, such as joints, nervous system and lungs. Diabetics are at an increased risk for contracting sporotrichosis, according to the New York State Department of Health.


The most common cause of Legionnaires’ disease is the bacterium Legionella pneumophila. Most cases of the disease are from the water-borne bacterium, however the Mayo Clinic says that “A few people have contracted Legionnaires’ disease after working in a garden or using contaminated potting soil.”

The disease is a form of pneumonia

Although rare for gardeners, the CDC claims that “… transmission from potting soil has occurred …” in the U.S.

CDC experts recommend that gardeners wear gloves and a dust mask when handling compost and potting mix.


Manure is great for our plants but not so much for us.

“Bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, and Listeria monocytogenes are often present in gardens as a result of using cow, horse, chicken or other animal manure,” according to Mark Blaskovich, senior research officer at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Infections with any of the aforementioned can lead to sepsis, a serious blood infection.

In fact, Blasovich refers to a case in England, “… where a 43-year-old solicitor and mother of two died five days after scratching her hand while gardening.”

Again, the use of gloves can go a long way in avoiding this disease.

Additional gardening safety recommendations include:

  • Apply a wound dressing to cover scrapes, cuts or other open lesions on your arms and hands
  • Always wear gardening gloves when working with soil and plants.
  • Purchase puncture-proof gloves, elbow length, when working with and around roses.


DIY tips to increase curb appeal

What happens – or doesn’t – between the curb in front of your home and the home’s front door is known as curb appeal. It makes or breaks the potential buyer’s first impression.

It’s that important.

But, it’s the area around the front door that’s considered the focal point of the exterior of the home. While they may not be conscious of it, this area will be the potential buyers’ first impression.

Many homeowners are quite successful taking the DIY route to staging this area for maximum appeal. We’ve gathered some tips from the experts to help you get started.

Understanding landscape design is important

One of the principles of landscape design, according to the experts at Environmental Landscape Associates (ELA), a Doylestown, PA landscape architecture firm, is to ensure the landscaping near the entry area matches the home’s architecture.

For instance, while a free-flowing cottage garden in the home’s front yard may be the perfect choice for a Tudor cottage, when planted in front of a modern home it creates confusion and appears chaotic.

“Is your home a traditional colonial or a casual contemporary? The style of your home should trump your personal style preferences for the greatest curb appeal,” caution the pros at ELA.

Staging the exterior of the informal-style home

Informal-style homes, such as bungalow, ranch-style, Craftsman and cottage demand informal landscaping. Here, you can be creative in your use of hardscaping and plants. The aforementioned cottage garden works well.

Additional ideas to help you update the front of an informal-style home include:

  • Line the walkway with flowers or evergreen plants to help draw the eye to the front door.
  • Place lanterns near the front door.
  • Add a coordinating door mat.
  • Change the door hardware and house numbers to compliment the home’s architecture.
  • Check all the lighting to ensure the covers are clean and the bulbs function.

Tips to spiff up the exterior of a formal-style home

Popular formal-style designs include colonial, Georgian and Greek revival. To coordinate and compliment the home’s exterior, landscaping should rely on organization and symmetry.

A good example of this is a carefully staged entryway with “two of everything,” according to the experts at betterhomesandgardens.com. Identical planters holding identical plants on either side of the door creates symmetry and balance.

Consider well-manicured boxwood shrubs, grown as a hedge, to line the walkway.

The key to success with a formal home is to avoid over-staging the exterior entry area. Keep it sophisticated and simple.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to increasing curb appeal. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.

What you need to know about homeowner’s associations

A Dallas homeowners association (HOA )sent a letter to homeowner Frank Larison, a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran, threatening to have his car towed, at his expense. His crime? Displaying Marine Corps decals on the car’s bumper and in the rear window.

Jim Lane decided that the common areas in his community needed some sprucing up so he planted pansies. The HOA slapped him with a fine and, when he refused to pay it, they placed a lien against his home.

Joseph Prudente’s sprinkler system died and, subsequently, his lawn started turning brown. Prudente, 66, had fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford to repair the system and, in the Florida heat, the lawn began turning brown.

His HOA, the Beacon Woods Civic Association, requires homeowners to have lawns in the front yard and notified Prudente that he was in violation of the community’s covenants. He pleaded his case to the board, but to no avail. They filed a complaint in court, which Prudente ignored, landing him in jail.

For not re-sodding his lawn.

Say the words “homeowners association” and many Americans conjure an image of a group of meddling, power-hungry, petty tyrants. Think Elmira Gulch in “The Wizard of Oz,” and you’ll have a picture of how this group is portrayed in the media and pop culture.

The reality

Despite what we read in the media, 70 percent of Americans who live in communities governed by homeowners associations say they are satisfied with their communities, according to the Community Association’s Institute 2020 Homeowner Satisfaction Survey.

71% of those surveyed say that their HOA’s rules and regulations “protect and enhance property values.”

Whether their reputation is well-deserved or overhyped, HOAs offer both advantages and disadvantages to residents living in managed communities. One of the most obvious disadvantages are the fees or dues required of residents. Don’t pay them, and the HOA can not only slap a lien against the home, but push you into foreclosure.

Why homeowners have to pay dues

When you buy a condo or single-family home in a managed community you are essentially agreeing to share in the costs of maintaining the common areas and amenities shared by all residents.

The payments are a lot easier to swallow if you think of them as helping to ensure your property’s value.

HOA fees vary, depending on amenities and services provided by the association. “Some estimates claim these fees are between $100 and $700, with roughly $200 as an average,” according to the staff at Investopedia. Payment due dates also vary, from monthly to quarterly, semi-annually or yearly.

Where does the money go?

The HOA uses the fees collected to pay for expenses, such as the improvement and maintenance of landscaping, parks, clubhouses, pools and tennis courts. HOA responsibilities and duties vary, however and may include:

  • Paying taxes on the common areas
  • Enforcing the rules
  • Legal fees
  • Insurance for the common areas

The reserve account

The HOA also uses a portion of the fees to fund the reserve account. This money is set aside to pay for major or long-term projects, such as replacing the roof on the clubhouse, installing a new pump for the community’s pool and painting or landscaping projects.

The reserve fund will also pay for any needed natural disaster emergency repairs

Special assessments

The HOA reserve fund may not hold enough money to take care of an unexpected large expense so homeowners may be asked to pay a special assessment. Typically, the governing board will determine whether or not an assessment is required and in what amount.

The HOA board is typically required to use these funds only for the stated purpose and, if there is money left over, the bylaws should outline whether it is to be redistributed to homeowners or held in the general fund.

If you are considering buying a home in a managed community

Shortly after signing the agreement to purchase, you’ll be given a huge packet of HOA documents to look over. Filled with legalese, this paperwork isn’t light reading.

In fact, we hope that our clients will consult with their attorneys if they find anything in the paperwork that they don’t understand.

Once you sign off on your acceptance of the HOA documents, there is no turning back. If you purchase the home, you are bound by them.

Pay close attention to the following documents:

  • The Declaration of the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions — A fancy way of saying “rules and regulations,” the CC&Rs, as they are known, dictate how you can and cannot use the home. Some HOAs also issue a separate document outlining rules and regulations.
  • From pet ownership, landscaping and the appearance of the exterior of the home to whether or not you can smoke in your backyard and what color your mailbox can be painted, everything you need to know to decide whether or not the HOA is too restrictive for you can be found in these documents.
  • Financial documents – How well does the HOA’s board handle the association’s finances? You can find out in the financial documents. You should find a statement of the amount of the current dues, the history of special assessment requests, the amount of money in the reserve fund and the HOA’s budget.
  • Meeting minutes – Most HOA document packages contain copies of minutes from recent HOA meetings. Read through these with an eye toward finding frequent and repeated homeowner complaints. Repeated complaints may be an indication of an unresponsive board.

Buying a home in a managed community not only adds to your house payment each month, but it means allowing an association to govern how you use your property and, thus, impact your lifestyle.

Take your time reading the HOA documents so you go into the process with your eyes wide open.