Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June To-Do's

We're now a few weeks into the summer and your to-do list probably has a few open spaces so here is a great list of June maintenance tips for around the house.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

May 2012 - Market Update

Home prices in DC Metro area rose to $392,500 in May an 11% increase from May 2011. This price gain reflects the fourth consecutive year-over-year gain, and the second consecutive double-digit increase for home prices in the region. The increase can partly be attributed to the low Inventory in the Washington region which in May was at its lowest May-level since 2005.  These trends, coupled with decreasing Days on Market (average down 17.6% from May 2011), and an increasing sale-to-list price ratio (up 1.9% from May 2011 to 96.3%) signal that it is a Seller’s market heading into the summer months.
Here are some other trends seen from May 2012:
    Home prices continue to gain momentum throughout the region. The median sale price in the DC Metro Area is $392,500, up 11% from May 2011.  This is the fourth consecutive year-over-year increase and the second straight month of double-digit price growth metro-wide.  Pricing in all jurisdictions within the metro area increased relative to May 2011.  Year-to-date medians are also on the rise, up 7.7% to $350,000 for the metro area.

    Newly signed contracts rose slightly with condos posting the strongest growth. New contract activity in the Washington market continues on an upward trajectory, as the region posted its 13th consecutive year-over-year increase in new contracts.   In total, 5,593 contracts were signed in May, a 1.6 percent rise from the previous year.  The condo segment of the market grew the most with 1,362 new contracts in May, 100 more than May 2011, a 7.9 percent gain.  Roughly half of the new contracts are detached homes, a quarter are attached townhomes, and a quarter are condos.

    Declines in the area’s active listings persist, the lowest May level since 2005.  There were 10,510 active listings in the DC Metro Area at the end of May, a 32.4% decline from May 2011.  This is the 15th consecutive year-over-year inventory decline.  The shrinking supply indicates a stabilizing market, as sales have increased and listings have declined.  As interest rates remain low and demand rises, the low supply will continue to put upward pressure on prices.  This price growth could entice hesitant sellers to enter the market.  The low supply also indicates that many potential sellers may still be wary of their financial situations, and are more comfortable remaining in their current homes.  A similar trend can be observed with new listings.  In May, 6,084 new listings entered the market, which is 6.7% below the previous year and the 11th year-over-year decline in new listings in the past twelve months.

    Sales volumes in the Washington, DC Metro Area continue to improve relative to 2011 levels. The 4,478 closed sales in May represent a 14.3% gain from this time last year and the second straight month of volume gains compared to a year ago.  Most of the growth is being driven by sales of detached homes, which at 2,342 units is 20.9% higher than May 2011.  Townhome sales edged up a mere 0.5% from May 2011.  Condos also fared well in May with 1,062 units sold, a 16.6% increase from last year.
    The number of foreclosure sales is down 47.3% compared to last May, the 25th straight year-over-year decline for this category.  The 307 foreclosure sales in May represent only 6.9% of all sales in the region, the lowest proportion since MRIS began tracking distressed listings in April 2009.  Short sales on the other hand are up 21.2%, the 7th year-over-year increase in the past eight months.  Much of this shift from foreclosure to short sale reflects a change in how banks deal with their distressed assets.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Get More 'Life' From Your Living Room

There is a good chance your living room gets a lot of use - watching TV, hosting friends, relaxing - which means it needs frequent refreshers. Luckily, it is one of the more straightforward of rooms to remodel and because it’s typically one of your home’s most public spaces it can offer your whole place a new look. Typical renovations in the the living room include:
  • Replacing or renovating the floor
  • Refinishing walls
  • Upgrading lighting and other electrical systems
  • Adding or changing integral features, such as fireplaces or recessed shelves
  • Expanding the overall space
Depending on your skill level and budget you can try and tackle any of the first three yourself while the last three typically require building inspections, permits and contractors.

Flooring Tip
Unless you’re tearing out walls or installing all new electrical the floor will likely be your biggest investment. Also depending on what material you choose it may last a long time so think about it carefully.

Here are the most common materials, along with some pros and cons:

FLOORINGSoft, warm, stylishNot water or stain proof. Typically requires installation by pros
Cheaper, softer and easier to install than woodNot as durable
Good investment, durable, warm, attractiveExpensive
Cushiony, stylish, versatile an cheaper than tileNot as durable
Cool, stylish, versatile and timelessExpensive and tricky to install
WALLSStylish, inexpensive, easy to install and can be made from multiple sourcesCan make a wall seem shorter than it is
Stylish and good investmentLacks versatility and can be tricky to install
Versatile, cheap and easy to do yourselfMany choices in colors and textures may be overwhelming
Warm, stylish, good investmentCan be expensive
Charming, versatile, long-lastingCan date a room and hard to blend with other styles
Inexpensive and versatileTricky to install

*For a quick and less costly fix you could reupholster a piece of furniture, purchase a new rug, add some throw pillows or change out the window treatments*

Saturday, June 9, 2012

10 Tips for a better lawn

Cutting the grass is once again almost a weekly endeavor this time of year and recently we came across a great top 10 list to consider when you are trying to create the perfect lawn.

1. Mow frequently with sharp blades
If your hopes include a green lawn, the key is frequent cutting, which forces it to grow thick and keep out weeds. Keep mower blades sharp so the grass isn't beat up and made vulnerable to disease.
2. Don't go too short
Golf courses mow low for a tightly trimmed look, but grass cut short responds by growing faster. "The lower you mow, the more herbicides and water you need, and then it becomes an intensive management system," says Pete Landschoot, professor of turf grass science at Penn State University.
So how high to cut? That depends largely on your type of grass, but Euel Coats, retired professor of weed science at Mississippi State University, preaches the "one-third rule": Never cut more than a third of the grass' height at a time. If your grass is three inches tall, cut an inch or less. Any deeper and you're "scalping" the plants, which can take two or three mowing cycles to recover.
3. Don't mow a wet lawn
Mowing when the lawn is saturated with water will compact the soil so the roots can't breathe. When that happens, the grass dies and you'll see bald spots in your lawn.
4. Mulch clippings into the lawn
Leave the clippings where they fall. Not only do you eliminate all the bagging and dump trips, but the clippings fertilize the soil. If you're cutting often, the clippings are short and few and work their way back into the soil without becoming brown and messy.

5. Water deeply -- and infrequently
"The No. 1 thing I see homeowners do is overwater, which builds up excess thatch (an unsightly thick mat of tangled roots between the grass blades and soil)," says Brooks. Daily watering encourages shallow roots and wastes water. Instead, water deeply, watching closely to see when more is needed.
Here are signs it's time to water, according to Gaussoin:
  • The soil resists when you push a screwdriver or steel rod into the ground;
  • Your grass gets a slightly blue tinge; and
  • Footprints across the lawn remain compressed.
If you don't have in-ground irrigation, a sprinkler works fine. Landschoot suggests giving the lawn an inch of water each time you irrigate. Measure by putting an empty tuna can on the grass. When it's full, move the sprinkler to another spot and start measuring again. Once you know your lawn's needs, you can put the sprinkler on a timer (they cost $10 to $60).
Poor soil -- composed of too much clay or compacted from heavy traffic -- won't absorb moisture easily. If water pools up and runs onto the street or sidewalk before your tuna can's full, try Plan B: Water just one third of an inch each night for three nights running, then hold off until it needs it again.
6. Avoid nighttime watering
Don't put the lawn to sleep with wet feet. That means to let the grass dry out before the dew falls, since prolonged moisture invites disease. The best time to water is pre-dawn or early morning. You'll lose water to evaporation by sprinkling in midday.

7. Don't overdo it
Over-fertilizing stimulates very fast growth, thatch and the need for more mowing -- and you don't want that. Homeowners use far more fertilizer and pesticides than golf courses do, says Brooks. "It's overkill." (Excess fertilizer also is bad for the environment: It washes into streams and lakes, clogging them with algae. Sweep or blow any type of spilled fertilizer into the grass.)
To find out your lawn's particular needs, test the soil every three or four years by sending a sample to a local lab. A test costs $20 or less and reveals the contents, including salts, organic matter, phosphorus, nitrates and nitrogen, lime and texture. Then take the results to your local garden shop for help deciding which fertilizers and amendments to apply.
Most fertilizer comes in dry grains or pellets. Distribute it evenly using a hand-held fertilizer spreader (roughly $13 to $80) for small areas, or a wheeled spreader ($90 and up).
Natural fertilizers -- sometimes called "organic" -- work slowly because they need heat and water to break down so grass can absorb them. The USDA doesn't regulate the term "organic" as it does with food, so ignore label claims and identify products by reading the key ingredients. Ingredient names you'd recognize from a chemistry book -- ammonium nitrate, say -- are a clue the product is probably synthetic. Organics use stuff in the forms found in nature -- dried manure, kelp, blood and bone meal, feather meal or poultry waste, for instance. Both types are applied in spring and again in fall.
8. Don't mix your fertilizers
Regardless of which type of fertilizer you choose, stick with only one. Mixing natural and synthetic gives poor results, says Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine.

Pest control
9. Grow thick grass -- and stay on top of your weeds
The best defense against pests -- weeds and diseases -- is to grow thick, vigorous turf. If you've only got a few weeds, pull them by hand or use a dandelion weeder ($8-$10), a tool with a forked metal end. Pay your kids or someone else's for every weed they pull.
By observing your lawn closely, you may let a problem resolve itself or stay contained without treatment, just as golf-course professionals do. "If we have a little bit of disease on a green, we let it go unless we get to the point where we could lose some serious putting quality," says Brooks.
10. Choose the right herbicide
If you decide you need extra help with weeds, there are two types of herbicides to choose from:
  • "Pre-emergents" prevent weed seeds from germinating and are often applied once a year.
  • "Post-emergents" are used after the weed is visible to control broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions and chickweed, or grassy pests such as crab grass, quack grass or even wild varieties of rye or bluegrass that aren't controlled by mowing or hand-pulling.
Most herbicides are synthetic. Natural approaches mostly involve beefing up the soil to prevent infestation, although corn gluten does both fertilize and stop seed germination and is used as a natural pre-emergent.
If you've followed all the tips on the product’s box and your yard is brown, dying or not thriving, you could have a disease or insect infestation. Treating diseases and insects is a complex task requiring accurate identification before taking action. Cut a sample of the affected grass, including plenty of roots and some healthy plant tissue, too. Put it in a sandwich bag and take the evidence to a local Extension service or garden center for help in identifying the culprit and choosing an approach.