RISMEDIA, May 5, 2011—(MCT)—Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg of Mission Hills, Kan., leads us through a weekend action plan for transforming our dead-leaf-riddled outdoor spaces into true retreats—including a celebratory drink at the finish line.
Friday after Work: Make a plan. Determine the scope of the project. The good thing about a weekend makeover is that the change can be as simple as positioning furniture and redistributing accessories. Truly updating the space can cost a little more, says interior designer Stephen Saint-Onge in his book No Place Like Home (Wiley; $20). “This is something you could do alone, as a fun family project or with a group of friends,” Saint-Onge writes. “Instead of a book club, how about forming a makeover club?”
Take digital photos. Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg documents projects by taking photographs from different angles. The “before” photos help pinpoint problems.
Make a list of tasks and supplies. Schwarberg creates spreadsheets of tasks to be performed. She includes the fun, like new pillows and plants, as well as the mundane, including cleanup.
Early Saturday: Clean like mad. Empty pots and clear out furnishings. “They need to be out of the way so you can clean the area and visualize something new,” Schwarberg says.
Christine Stephan, who assists Schwarberg, hoses off the rings of dirt outside of pots and washes the interiors with water and a drop of disinfectant. “You don’t want this year’s plants catching last year’s diseases,” Stephan says.
Spruce up. Prune nearby trees and shrubs. Clear the gutters. Add mulch to existing nearby landscaping. Power wash or hose down the area of the house getting the makeover, including the walls and pavement. If necessary, apply touch-up paint on the house. Make sure all the lighting works.
Saturday afternoon: Shop around. Assess your furniture. “If the old stuff has to make it another year or two but looks pretty run down, consider painting it with one of the special spray paints made for metal or plastic furniture,” Schwarberg says. “This will shine it up and maybe add a new fun color. Remember to clean it thoroughly first, or the paint will flake and chip.”
Another option if you have a patio set worth keeping—or if you find a great set at a flea market or estate sale—is to take it to an auto body paint shop and ask them to give it a new life, she says.
Consider new cushions and pillows. For cushions, Schwarberg advocates a solid neutral color.
“That neutral could be a blue, lime green or whatever,” she says. “You want the cushions to be fine for any type of party, whether it’s a luau or fiesta. So the accent pillows can be the fun patterns, but you don’t want to get sick of the cushions.”
Or perhaps all that’s needed is a new umbrella.
Buy pots, plants and rugs. You might already have an outdoor-grade rug in your house that you can use on the patio.
Sunday after Breakfast: Race to the end. Plant pots. Schwarberg’s system: Place about an inch or two of gravel in the bottom of large pot. Smooth it out so a plastic liner sits level on top of it. Make sure pot and liner have holes in the bottom to drain the soil of excess moisture. Insert the plastic liner pot (about an inch smaller than the ceramic or clay pot) and layer the inside with an inch of gravel, filter cloth, organic potting soil and your main plant, tree or shrub; add annuals and herbs around edges. Use Styrofoam packing peanuts to fill in the gap between pot and liner — this prevents shrinking and swelling of soil that cracks pots. Add a finishing touch of sheet moss at the top to retain moisture.
Arrange furniture. Schwarberg likes to place club chairs on a diagonal to create outdoor conversation areas. If you also have lounge chairs, set them in the lawn facing the patio, she says. “This gives an additional view of the yard and extends your entertaining space beyond the paving.”
Eat, drink and have fun. Sit back, relax and toast your hard work. Your weekend makeover will pay off all season.
Bankrate: Mortgage Rates Inch Lower
RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011—Mortgage rates remained below the 5 percent mark, with the benchmark conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate inching lower to 4.95 percent, according to Bankrate.com’s weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.37 discount and origination points.
The average 15-year fixed mortgage stepped down to 4.14 percent, and the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate reset the low point of the year at 5.40 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were also lower, with the average 5-year ARM dipping to 3.69 percent and the 7-year ARM dropping to an even 4 percent.
Mortgage rates were lower this week, but the movement in mortgage rates continues to be tame. Mortgage rates have remained within a one-third percentage point band since mid-December. The Federal Reserve did little to rock the boat, holding interest rates steady and changing very little in the post-meeting statement. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s initial press release was a historic event, but uneventful. While the Federal Reserve confirmed that they will halt their bond purchases at the end of June, this has been widely expected and any resulting volatility in bond yields or mortgage rates is far from certain.
Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds.
The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.95 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,067.54, a difference of $174 per month for anyone refinancing now.
The survey is complemented by Bankrate’s weekly Rate Trend Index, in which a panel of mortgage experts predicts which way the rates are headed over the next seven days. The vast majority of panelists, 77 percent, don’t see much of any movement in mortgage rates over the upcoming week. The remainder are split, with 15 percent predicting an increase in mortgage rates and just 8 percent forecasting a decline in mortgage rates over the next seven days.
For more information go to www.bankrate.com.
For a gardener, there is no greater bliss than cooking compost, and no greater loss than leaving that time-intensive rot behind when we downsize, upsize, or move for a new job. Read
Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this.
Copyright 2011 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Perhaps, like us, you feel pangs of guilt when you don’t religiously save energy and resources at home. But, hey, sometimes time and money trump your best intentions. You’re still a good person. Read
Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this.
Copyright 2011 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Dedicated to Going Green? Follow These 10 Easy Steps
Here are just 10 ideas, along with some online resources, that you could try.
Green your office–Establish a green team with colleagues to address ways to reduce your office’s impact. A recycling program is obvious. Other strategies could entail ridding the kitchen of disposable goods, replacing equipment that hogs energy, improving lighting and HVAC systems, installing a bike rack, and replacing grass around the office with a vegetable garden or native plants. For more information, visit www.greenyour.com/office.
Shop locally–Swear off buying stuff from faraway places, even if it saves some pennies. Just consider the impact that packaging and shipping your goods has on the environment. Instead, shop locally. Walking to shops saves energy and you also help neighborhood businesses thrive.
Make mini moves–Build new habits that will have an ongoing impact. Those could include the basics, such as switching to CFL bulbs, fixing water leaks (www.epa.gov/WaterSense), or cutting the phantom power at home.
Do an energy audit–Invest in an energy audit to figure out exactly how your house wastes energy. Even if you’re on a tight budget, commit yourself to making some of the changes the auditor suggests, and start setting aside money for costlier upgrades. Find an auditor at RESNET, www.resnet.us/trade/find-raters-auditors.
Go car-free–Reorganize your schedule so you can take public transit or walk to work and errands at least a day a week.
Become a locavore–Rely on local providers for your weekly produce by shopping at a farmers’ market or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. And when it’s time for gift giving, consider buying CSA memberships for friends and clients. www.localharvest.org
Share your knowledge–Offer to make a presentation to colleagues at a weekly sales meeting about green changes they can make. Or pass the torch to the next generation by organizing an environmental event at a school or with a Girl Scout troop.
Raise your profile–Whether it’s a community garden, a rails-to-trails group, or a transit improvement committee, get involved in your community. Your participation raises your profile and connects you with new prospective clients, and your efforts have a direct impact on improving your community.
Learn something new–Still fuzzy on the details of programs like LEED or Energy Star? Wondering about new rebates and incentives? Spend two hours each week getting up to speed on industry programs and trends. One resource for such education is the Green REsource Council’s Webinars, one of the many great benefits available to NAR Green Designees. All the Webinars are archived at http://greenresourcecouncil.org/webinars.cfm for deisngees, and they include sessions on Energy Star, EPA’s WaterSense, USGBC’s REGREEN , LEED for Homes, and NAHB’s Green Building Program.
HUD Selects Lenders to Participate in New Pilot Program to Help Homeowners Pay for Home Energy Improvements
RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011—Eighteen national, regional and local lenders will participate in a new two-year pilot program that will offer qualified borrowers living in certain parts of the country low-cost loans to make energy-saving improvements to their homes. Backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), these new PowerSaver loans will offer homeowners up to $25,000 to make energy-efficient improvements of their choice, including the installation of insulation, duct sealing, replacement doors and windows, HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels, and geothermal systems.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the participating lenders during a tour of a family-run company that offers home energy audits and upgrades in Long Island, New York.
“We believe the market is right for a low-cost financing option for families who want energy-saving technologies in their home,” says Secretary Donovan. “PowerSaver hits on all cylinders by helping credit-worthy homeowners finance these upgrades, cut their energy bills and boost the local job market in the process. While FHA and these lenders are jumpstarting this pilot, we hope its success will lead to a growing private sector interest in making these types of loans.”
Secretary Chu announces “we are breaking down barriers and making energy efficiency more accessible and more affordable. It’s the right thing to do for our environment, for our economy and for the pocketbooks of American families.”
The remodeling industry cites surveys that point to a growing demand among homeowners interested in making their homes energy efficient. Yet options are still limited for financing home energy improvements, especially for the many homeowners who are unable to take out a home equity loan or access an affordable consumer loan. Initially, the PowerSaver pilot program is estimated to assist approximately 30,000 homeowners to finance energy-efficient upgrades though higher market demand may increase this impact. According to HUD projections, more than 3,000 jobs will be created through this pilot program and the impact may be larger if market demand for the loan program increases over time.
Participating lenders are largely selected based on their commitment to work in partnership with established home energy retrofit programs provided by states, cities, utilities and home performance contractors. These markets include, but are not limited to, areas of the country participating in the Energy Department’s Better Building Program.
PowerSaver loans will be backed by the FHA but require these lenders to have significant “skin in the game.” FHA mortgage insurance will cover up to 90 percent of the loan amount in the event of default. Lenders will retain the remaining risk on each loan, incentivizing responsible underwriting and lending standards.
PowerSaver has been carefully designed to meet a need in the marketplace for borrowers who have the ability and motivation to take on modest additional debt to realize the savings over time from home energy improvements. PowerSaver loans are only available to borrowers with good credit, manageable debt and at least some equity in their home (maximum 100% combined loan-to-value).
HUD developed PowerSaver as part of the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative launched in May 2009 by Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force to develop federal actions that would expand green job opportunities in the United States and boost energy savings by improving home energy efficiency. The announcement is part of an interagency effort including 11 departments and agencies and six White House offices.
For more information about HUD and its programs, visit http://www.hud.gov