Drought Tolerant Landscaping

Courtesy of SacramentoAppraisalBlog.com*

Photo Courtesy of SacramentoAppraisalBlog.com*

With severe drought conditions across large swatches of the west and pockets of the rest of the United States, many homeowners are looking for ways to conserve water on landscaping. But there’s no need to rip out your whole yard and replace it with gravel—unless you want to. There are plenty of other ways to create a drought-tolerant landscape while also creating a beautiful and functional space. And drought-tolerant landscaping not only saves water immediately, but will be more resilient against future droughts. Here are some ideas:
Take on manageable pieces
Identify your biggest areas of water consumption. Besides lawns, the biggest areas of water use tend to be rose gardens, summer vegetables and cut flower gardens. If you’re not ready to eliminate these areas entirely, figure out how you might want to reduce their size. A rose garden, for example, could be made into a smaller group of favorite bushes. Vegetables and cut flowers can go in containers or raised beds where you will have more control over how much water they get. Mix compost into soil for better moisture retention.

Make your lawn more water-efficient
If you want to keep a lawn, consider downsizing to a smaller swatch, picking a spot where you’ll get the most use, like a play area for kids. Find low water grasses for your area. Raise the blades on your lawn mower—keeping grass longer will reduce evaporation and promote deeper root growth. Leave clippings on the grass after mowing to help retain moisture and return nutrients to the soil–extra clippings can also be tossed on the compost pile. Aerate soil with a soil aerator tool to reduce runoff and help water absorb into the soil.

Or go lawn-free
Consider replacing your lawn with an alternate ground cover. Try ornamental grasses for interesting textures, low-growing flowering plants for seasonal color or edibles like low-growing herbs or strawberries. Some cities offer financial incentives for switching to a drought-tolerant landscape or for using gray water (reused water from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances.) Check your area for opportunities.

Add more areas of low-water use
Replace a section of lawn with an outdoor seating area, a sandbox for kids or a raised bed with herbs. Create intrigue by laying down paths of flagstone, pavers, gravel, mulch or other porous material. Add new focal points like a porch swing, fire pit, or a patio. Instead of water-thirsty blooms, think of other ways to incorporate color with colorful perennials, planters, chairs or bright native grasses.

Optimize your sprinkler system
Inspect your sprinkler system for leaks, broken heads or misdirected heads that water driveways, sidewalks, or the street. Make sure the system runs early in the morning or late in the day. Consider a “smart” system that will monitor the soil and automatically adjust watering as necessary. Try watering less frequently or for shorter periods. When reducing your irrigation, make changes gradually, so plants and trees have time to adjust.

Water smartly
If you have plants with high water needs, plant them together. Use a drip irrigation system or soaker hose to minimize run off and evaporation. Watering deeply and infrequently encourages deeper roots and more resilient plants. Take advantage of natural sources of water by putting in plants next to paths, driveways and other spots where water run off naturally occurs. Direct eave spouts into raised beds or other planted areas and consider using rainbarrels to collect rain water.

Go native
Native plants are a great choice for drought-tolerant landscaping because they won’t need much (if any) watering once established. Over time native plants have developed a natural resistance to pests and won’t require added chemicals and special care. For ideas on good native plants for your area, ask at a local nursery, look on the EPA’s listing of native and regionally appropriate plants, or contact your local extension office.

Plant smartly

Shrubs, perennials, bulbs and trees use less water than most annuals and lawns and well-established plants use less water than newly-planted ones. Evergreens and other trees are also a good choice—they’re drought-resistant and offer shade that helps retain moisture in the rest of the yard. Cover steep areas with deep-rooted native ground covers and/or shrubs to discourage water run-off and erosion. Mulching is essential—it helps soil retain moisture and keeps weeds at bay. Use organic mulch like bark, cocoa husks, or pine needles that decompose and nourish the soil. Layer mulch about three inches deep and replace as necessary.

And don’t worry too much about the pool
New research indicates that pools use only about as much water as a lawn of the same size. And covering a pool will cut water use by 50-70 percent, making a covered pool about equal in water use to drought-tolerant landscaping.

 

* Click here for more info on how to order “Brown Grass Is Sexy” signs.

Phone Apps Target Water Wasters

The community reporting app has added a drought section inspired by the social media hashtag #droughtshaming

The community reporting app has added a drought section inspired by the social media hashtag #droughtshaming

With Californians being urged to cut water use as the state’s historic drought drags on, a growing number of local water agencies are enlisting the public to play water cop with their smartphones.

From Long Beach to Placer County, officials are rolling out apps that allow users to snap and send photos of homes and businesses that are violating watering restrictions or operating broken and wasteful irrigation systems.

The apps put more boots on the ground to spot waste and leaks that might go unnoticed, officials say. They say the high-tech citizen reporting programs are intended to encourage water conservation, and not to be used as evidence to fine offenders.

But at least one private company is taking things a step further. Creators of Vizsafe, a neighborhood watch app, have added a feature allowing users to map photos of water wasters — a practice dubbed “drought shaming” on Twitter and Instagram.

The company’s app provides people with useful information about their communities, said Peter Mottur, chief executive of Rhode Island-based Vizsafe. “People have a right to hold others accountable and that is what I think we are doing.”

Privately reporting excessive water use or leaks that have gone unnoticed is “fantastic,” said Karen North, a professor of social media and psychology at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“But to the extent that people then publicly shame each other for that behavior,” she said, it could force “a lot of really solid compliance, but it can also lead to a lot of animosity.”

Matthew Kahn, a professor of economics at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said the mere existence of the apps could increase conservation.

“While we all fear Orwell’s Big Brother,” he said, “we all try harder when we are being watched, even if that is a little creepy. You may need these social apps to motivate these behavioral changes.”

Long Beach’s water department released its first app to report water waste in 2010, but revamped it in August so users could add photos, said Melissa Keyes, a special projects coordinator who helped design the service.

The number of app-generated complaints initially increased five-fold, to about 25 a day, but has recently returned to lower levels, she said. “We wanted people to feel they had an outlet to get their frustrations out when they were doing their part and they saw others weren’t,” she said.

The anonymous complaints typically prompt a letter from the water agency to the property owner. Most complaints involve broken sprinklers or irrigation leaks, Keyes said, and often the owners aren’t aware of the problem. So far the city hasn’t seen fence fights erupt over use of the app, she said.

The water-waste app provided downtown Long Beach resident Sherry Ray-Von a convenient way to deal with a nearby apartment building resident who she said washed his car every day for months.

She tried to discuss the matter with the man, she said, but he shrugged her off.

When the upgraded city app came, she thought: “This is great. This is my chance to get this guy.”

She said she snapped a photo of the runoff, sent it to the water department and a few days later, the car washer stopped.

In Placer County, the water agency released a multipurpose water-saving app in May. It lets users report water waste, but it also features a shower timer that estimates how many gallons a person uses. So far, the agency has received 30 complaints, mostly about water runoff, said Matt Young, the agency’s director of customer services.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District forwards app complaints, most involving over-watering or irrigating outside permitted periods, to five water inspectors in the field, who remind offenders of the water usage rules, said spokesman Marty Grimes.

In Palm Springs, 67-year-old real estate salesman Victor Yepello said he used to see broken sprinklers and excessive watering when he biked around the city. But when he got home, he’d often forget the locations or to call the local water agency to complain, he said.

Then he discovered the Desert Water Agency’s new waste-reporting app. This summer, Yepello saw a small river of runoff coursing down Mesquite Avenue from a nearby house, so he stopped, snapped a photo and sent it and the address to the water agency.

Within a few hours, he said, an email came back telling him the problem was a broken irrigation line the property owner hadn’t noticed.

“I don’t see it as a way to snitch on your neighbor,” Yepello said. “If you spot something that is a real problem, report it.”

Creating a Pet-Friendly Home

carpet-cleaning-derby2A pet-friendly home is not just a fun and safe space for your pet, but also a space that can stand up to the kinds of things pets do to houses. Making pet-friendly choices in landscaping, design, and the materials you use will ensure that both you and your pet can enjoy your shared space together.

Opt for durable flooring – Even if your pet is perfectly well house-trained, they’re bound to have an accident or two. Choose a flooring material that’s easy to clean and won’t be damaged by accidents. Linoleum cleans easily and is naturally anti-microbial. Bamboo, cork, tile, and stone are also good picks. If you want carpet, try a modular kind, made of separate carpet squares. Buy back-up squares so if a section gets ruined, you can pop it out and replace it. Avoid wood and laminate floors. Wood is easily scratched and damaged by water and slippery laminate can cause injuries.

Choose pet-friendly materials and décor – Opt for satin paint instead of flat paint on walls. A glossier finish won’t show stains as prominently and wipes clean. Chose low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, especially if your pet bites or licks walls. Match the colors of throw rugs, upholstery, and other décor to your pet’s fur color to give yourself a little more leeway in how frequently you’ll be vacuuming and de-furring the furniture. Set up a feeding area in a spot where you won’t be accidentally kicking over the water bowl. Find a nearby place to store dog food, ideally in a sealed container, like a plastic bin or a metal garbage can with a lid.

Protect furniture – Choose upholstered pieces covered in tough, easily-cleaned fabrics like leather or ultrasuede. Consider washable slipcovers, throws to protect furniture, or extra-durable fabric designed especially for pet owners. Keep pets from chewing furniture by spraying with store-bought, anti-chewing spray or applying a bit of cayenne pepper to their favorite biting spots. If you need to keep a pet out of a particular area, put up baby gates and provide the pet with plenty of sturdy toys for diversion. Set up a special bed or blanket so your pet has a comfortable, cushiony place of his own.

Eliminate dangers around the house – Walk around your house and assess possible pet hazards. Move chemicals and cleaning materials to high shelves or locked cabinets. Make sure trash cans are safely secured so pets don’t get into something that could be harmful to them. (Many common household articles are toxic to pets including: coffee grounds, onions, grapes, and even nutmeg.) Latch lower cabinets with child locks if necessary and keep curtain and electrical cords out of pet reach. Put screens in upper level windows and make sure they’re intact and securely attached. Keep toilet lids closed and avoid automatic bowl cleaners. Wipe up spills in the driveway and garage immediately so pets don’t ingest poisons like antifreeze. Remove any indoor plants that are toxic to pets. You can find a list of toxic and non-toxic plants on the Humane Society’s web site (www.humanesociety.org).

Consider a pet door – If you are frequently away from home, consider putting in a pet door. Pet doors can be put in windows, doors, and walls. Smart models recognize your pet electronically and will only open for them, not for other animals. The doors can be controlled remotely and deactivated if you need the pet to stay inside. If you’re worried about the resale value of cutting a hole in the wall, consider a model that’s built into a glass sliding door. When you sell, you can replace that part of the door with a regular slider.

Create a yard for pets and people to share – Find safe, pet-friendly materials for plants and hardscape. Put in some mint or catnip for cats and a clover ground cover for dogs because it won’t yellow with urine. Outdoor cats like places to hide and things to climb and will make good use of trees and bushy areas. Dogs instinctively patrol the perimeter of the property and like running paths that follow the yard’s circumference. If your dog has already created a path, embrace it, covering it with mulch and lining with attractive plantings. Make sure your fence is in good condition with no secret ways out (including benches, large rocks, or other items that can serve as pet launching pads). Consider putting in a small eye-level panel in the fence so dog can peek out and keep a watch on things. For safety, keep sharp tools put away, keep compost bins covered, and avoid chemical like fertilizers and pesticides. Make sure plants are non-toxic and avoid plants with thorns. And pets like a lot of the same things humans like, so you’ll both be pleased if your yard has a shady spot to cool off and comfy places to sit.

Tackling Tricky Cleaning Jobs: 7 Jobs Just Got Easier

clean house funnyThere are a few tricky cleaning jobs universally dreaded for being time-consuming, hard, or just plain confusing. How are you supposed to clean off a ceiling fan without getting dust all over the house and your head? How do you clean a fireplace without creating an indoor dust cloud? The tips below won’t make any of these jobs fun, exactly, but they will make them quicker, easier, and maybe even tolerable.

 

 

Ceiling FanCeiling Fans
Put a drop cloth or old sheet on the floor and furniture over an area about twice the radius of the fan blades. If you want to keep your hair dust-free, pop on a hat as well. Use an old pillowcase to dust blades, sliding the case around the blade so the dust falls into the case. Make a second pass over each blade with a new pillowcase, this time spraying each blade first with a cleanser (a spray bottle of water and two tablespoons of white vinegar works too.) Hop on a sturdy chair or ladder and wipe around the rest of the fixture with a dust cloth or use a long handled micro-fiber duster.

RefrigeratorRefrigerator–Interior
To clean the interior, first take everything out the fridge. Remove shelves, bins, and drawers and wash in warm soapy water (don’t plunge cold glass shelves directly into hot water because they might shatter). Wipe down interior with a mixture of two tablespoons baking soda and a quart of hot water. For extra cleaning power, let mixture sit for a few minutes before wiping off. Use a plastic–not steel wool–scouring pad for stuck-on food and spills. Clean seals with a baking soda paste or undiluted hydrogen peroxide, getting into crevices with cotton swabs. While interior parts are drying, wipe down jars and containers, removing drips and spills. Check expiration dates and toss any out-of-date items. Follow the same procedures for the freezer, adding a plastic scraper to remove frozen-on ice or food.

 

 

 

refrigerator interiorRefrigerator—Exterior
For the exterior of the fridge, wipe down the outside surfaces with soft cloth and a gentle cleaner. Use a toothbrush or plastic scouring pad for grime on handles. Unplug the fridge to clean the condenser and coils. Remove the trim panel from below the door (you may need to unscrew it.) Vacuum or dust the panel, or if it’s plastic, soak it in warm soapy water to loosen dirt. Using the brush or crevice attachment, gently vacuum dust from coils and condenser. You might need to move the unit away from a wall to get at the back. When you put it back, make sure to leave enough space between coils and wall so the unit can run efficiently.

 

baseboardsBaseboards
Make a first pass over the boards with a dust mop, vacuum or a dusting cloth. If there’s leftover grime, wipe down with damp cloth and mild detergent. Use wood cleaner for wooden baseboards. Try a cotton swab to get at intricate designs and corners. Touch up scuffs and scrapes with a bit of matching paint. Finish off by wiping down clean, dry baseboards with dryer sheets to repel future dust.

fireplaceFireplace
Prepare for the job by donning old clothes and a pair of gloves. Cover the area around the fireplace with old sheets or newspaper. Remove grate and andirons and put outside on a tarp. Put a handful or two of used coffee grounds into the ashes to minimize flyaways, then shovel out the old ashes and put in a double-bagged trash can. Use the fireplace brush to sweep up remaining ashes. You can scrub the inside further by scraping with a wire grill brush and a fireplace cleaner, if desired. Clean the andirons and grate with the wire brush and a hearth cleaner or a paste of baking soda and warm water. Let everything dry thoroughly before putting back in.

groutGrout
Grout can be a challenge to clean because it’s porous and often light-colored. To clean, you will need a cleaning agent and a scrubbing tool, like a scrub brush or toothbrush. Use a baking soda and hydrogen dioxide paste, a half and half solution of white vinegar and water or a mix of oxygen bleach and warm water. Spray or apply the solution to the grout and let sit for about 20 minutes. Scrub the grout, reapplying the solution for tougher stains. For mold that won’t come off, you can use a chlorine bleach spray, but the bleach will weaken the grout over time. To maintain your grout and delay another deep cleaning, spray weekly with vinegar and wipe clean.

blindsBlinds
Gentle vacuuming with a brush attachment works for all types of blinds, including cloth, wooden, and metal/vinyl blinds. Close the blinds so they’re fully extended and brush each slat individually, working downward. Swivel the slats to do the other side, again moving downward. You can also dust with a micro-fiber cloth or a duster. Again, you have to go over each slat, front and back. For dingy vinyl and metal blinds, make a mixture of one part vinegar and one part water and go over each slat with a dampened cloth or, for more flexibility, an old sock turned inside out and worn on your hand. Cloth blinds can be spot treated with a damp cloth and a bit of dishwashing liquid. You can cut down on scrubbing time by removing metal and vinyl blinds and taking them to the bathtub or outside to hose them down, then scrubbing with warm soapy water, but you run a greater risk of bending or breaking the blinds. Make sure the blinds are fully dry before rehanging.

6 Things Homebuyers Should Avoid Once They are Preapproved for a Mortgage

black couple loan approved

You have done the hard part in the home-buying process and chosen a lender and a real estate agent to work with. You have also gone out and found the home of your dreams! Best of all, your team has done a great job of negotiating the best deal for you.

Now, as a buyer, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your loan to close … right? Wrong!!

Getting a home loan these days is a very interactive process. I am always amazed by how many clients I work with who come to me unaware of all the pitfalls they face during the loan process. To help avoid any surprises while waiting for final approval, I provide my clients with a short list of “do’s and don’ts” to follow.

Let’s start with the “do’s” …

  1. Do keep the process moving by responding to your loan officers’ requests for documentation as soon as possible.
  2. Do make decisions as soon as is reasonably possible.
  3. Do convey questions or concerns you
  4. Do continue to make all of your rent or mortgage payments on time.
  5. Do stay current on all other existing accounts.
  6. Do continue to work your normal work schedule with no unplanned time off.
  7. Do continue to use your credit as normal.
  8. Do be prepared to explain any large deposits in your bank accounts.
  9. Do enjoy purchasing your home but remain objective throughout the process to help make decisions that are best for you.

After you have been preapproved for your mortgage you will want to refrain from the following…

  1. Do not make any major purchases (car, boat, jewelry, furniture, appliances, etc.).
  2. Do not apply for any new credit (even if it says you are preapproved or “xxx days same as cash”).
  3. Do not pay off charges or collections (unless directed by your loan officer to do so).
  4. Do not make any changes to your credit profile.
  5. Do not change bank accounts.
  6. Do not make unusual deposits into your bank accounts or move money around from one account to another.

Follow these simple rules and you will help to make your loan closing as smooth and hassle-free as possible! Good luck!

5 Simple Ways To Increase Your Property Value

Selling your home? Make improvements to your home to increase the likelihood that you will get a higher offer. Even small and inexpensive updates can make a difference. Do these projects before you put up your listing and schedule a staging.
(By CENTURY 21 on August 6th, 2014)

Property Value Image

Here are five simple ways to increase your property value when it’s time to sell:

1. Rethink your home’s layout: If you have three bedrooms and a home office, take out the office to make your house a four bedroom home. Removing bedrooms may decrease the value of your home. Turn it into an office, gym, or craft room then turn it back to a bedroom when you’re ready to sell. (Forbes)

2. Remove clutter: Making rooms look neat and clean is always a necessity, but take it one step further and remove the clutter and personal items from your rooms. Taking out photos, magazines, and little decorations will make the room look bigger and taking away personal items will help your buyers envision their lives there. (Forbes)

3. Front yard makeovers: The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but when it comes to real estate, that is hard to live by. The first impression of your home is the front yard so make sure it is neat and tidy. Plant some new flowers, mow the lawn, and touch up any exterior paint that might need some attention. (DIY Network)

4. Maintenance work: The last thing buyers want to see when they walk into your kitchen or bathroom is rusty, leaking pipes, or a faucet that looks like it has seen better days. Take a weekend and give attention to any little repairs around the house. It could be as easy as replacing old door knobs and faucets. Paint your home neutral colors to minimize the chance that your design aesthetic will clash with the aesthetic of your potential buyers. (This Old House)

5. Update appliances: The kitchen is a huge selling point for potential buyers. If your kitchen appliances are old and outdated buy newer versions. While you’re at it, take your kitchen from good to great without breaking the bank.

Complete these simple tasks before selling your home to increase the likelihood that you’ll get a higher offer.

- See more at: http://blog.century21.com/2014/08/5-simple-ways-to-increase-your-property-value/#sthash.1K2Ufjic.dpuf

Changes to the B of A Short Sale process

Considering a short sale as a Bank of America mortgage holder? Well make sure you hire an experienced, proven short-sale agent and that they are current on that lender’s process.

Below describes some new changes to B of A’s shot sale process imperative tot he successful completion of your short sale.

(Re-Printed from B of A email correspondence 07/31/2014)

Bank of America Help for Homeowners in Sacramento and Elk Groveac

Bank of America Help for Homeowners in Sacramento and Elk Groveac

The new Initiation Package assists a homeowner through the Short Sale process.  Starting mid-July, homeowners will receive a short sale Initiation Package upon initiating a short sale and not being reviewed for a home retention option. Included in the package is the Borrower Election Form that will now be required before proceeding with a short sale.The short sale transaction will no longer continue and no other homeowner documentation or offers will be reviewed until the signed Borrower Election Form is received and verified by the Short Sale Specialist. As a reminder, for your agent, a valid Third-Party Authorization Form is also required and must be verified in order to proceed with the transaction.

As a homeowner, thoroughly read this package including the Homeowner Checklist. This package contains a list of financial documents that may be required to complete a short sale. B of A’s ability to evaluate the homeowner for a short sale, as well as postpone collection and foreclosure efforts, depends on their receipt of all necessary documents. Upon initiation, a Short Sale Specialist will continue to contact your agent, to discuss the next steps in the short sale process.

Initiation Package Includes:

  1. Homeowner Checklist
  2. Information on Loan Assistance Programs
  3. Frequently Asked Questions
  4. Important Notice to Help You Avoid Foreclosure Scams
  5. Borrower Election Form – now required upon initiation
  6. Third-Party Authorization
  7. Request for Mortgage Assistance (RMA) form
  8. IRS Form 4506-T

Please note: initiating directly into a short sale, through Equator, is not an option for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) investor properties. Homeowners must always discuss their situation with their Customer Relationship Manager (CRM), who can help them identify if they qualify for an exception to proceed with a short sale without doing a full home retention review.


Short Sale Customer / Agent Care
1.866.880.1232

bankofamerica.com/shortsaleagent

If you have questions, first contact your short sale specialist (or closing officer) through Equator messaging. If there’s no response after two days, escalate to the team lead.

For urgent needs (such as a foreclosure postponement) or for escalation beyond the team lead, contact Short Sale Customer/Agent Care at 1.866.880.1232.

Visit the Agent Resource Center at bankofamerica.com/sh