What's on Home Shoppers' Wish List

A new realtor.com® survey reveals the top desires of home buyers today: Ranch-style homes, big backyards, and updated kitchens.

More than half of home buyers say they’re on the hunt for a three-bedroom home, and 75 percent want a two-bathroom home as well, according to realtor.com®’s home buyer survey. The survey also showed a strong demand for townhouses and row homes among younger home shoppers, as 40 percent said they are looking for a townhome or row home to purchase. However, as home buyers age, single-family homes clearly are the top preference.

"The insights from our most recent consumer survey provide a glimpse into what buyers are looking at today," says Sarah Staley, housing expert for realtor.com®. "While we often think of dream homes as being big and bold, that's not what we're hearing from potential buyers today. These insights can help guide potential sellers in deciding which rooms or features to invest in before listing their homes."

Here’s an overview of some of the top features that emerged on buyers’ wish-lists, according to the survey:

The most-searched attributes at realtor.com®: Large backyards, garages, and updated kitchens

These three attributes were popular across all age groups. That said, younger home buyers with young children showed the most desire for finding a large yard and the greatest interest in living near a good school district.

The least-searched features among buyers: a guesthouse, mother-in-law suite, solar panels, and a “man cave.”

The most desired home style: Ranch homes

Forty-two percent of home shoppers say they’re looking for a ranch home, the clear leader. The second most common home style was a contemporary home at 28 percent, followed by Craftsman and Colonial styles.

The favorite room in the home: Kitchens

Eighty percent of home buyers ranked the kitchen as one of their three favorite rooms in a home, followed by master bedroom (49 percent) and living room (42 percent). (However, shoppers over 55 years old preferred garages over living rooms.)

The top goal when searching for a home: Privacy

The majority of home buyers said privacy and having a space that was solely their own was a top goal when in house-hunting mode. Buyers between the ages of 45 and 64 years old tended to value privacy the most, with privacy in the home topping other preferences like stability, family needs, and financial investment among this age group.

What motivates millennial home buyers the most: Family needs

Most millennials surveyed cited life events like an increase in family size, getting married, or moving in with a partner, as what primarily motivated them to find a new home. Home purchasers age 35 to 44 also cited family needs as the top motivation to buy. The majority of this age group also said they wanted to find a better school districts or that changing family circumstances was their motivation to buy. Home buyers over the age of 45, on the other hand, cited a chief motive to move as they were looking to downsize as they plan ahead for retirement.

Source: realtor.com®

This article was originally posted/written by Realtor Magazine.


The 7 Laws of Team-Building Success

Whether you’re a new team leader or an experienced team leader already enjoying a bountiful team harvest from having sown the right seeds of success, you must understand these seven laws because you don’t want to learn them the hard way—by failing.

Law of Leverage – Leverage, when used in the context of teams, is often misunderstood. It isn’t letting others do all the work. It’s using the power of something that already exists to provide lift, or thrust, for others. The basic elements of success must already be present within the team leader for a team to benefit from leverage.

Law of Purpose – What’s your big why? It needs to be something unattainable, like the North Star, which guides explorers around the world. It shows the way, but can never actually be reached.

Law of Financial Balance – While profit shouldn’t be the only priority of a team, everyone must remember that without profit, the team will cease to be able to provide a service to homebuyers and sellers who need it. Every financial arrangement must make sense to the team and the other party involved.

Law of Accountability – We must hold team members accountable for the activities required to produce the desired results. Accountability can be perceived negatively, but when you hold someone accountable, it’s because you love them and want them to perform up to their true potential.

Law of Environment – It’s not your job as the team leader to ensure each team member is successful. An individual’s success is up to them. It is, however, your job to create the right environment in which team members can be successful. This includes—but is not limited to—onboarding, agent development, lead generation, administration, core values and accountability.

Law of Attraction – You’ll need the right people in the right place to grow a strongteam. Putting “a” person in a position instead of “the right” person can impact the entire team. Does this person have the right personality and skillset for the job? Do they have a clear definition of success for their position? Most teams hire based upon need; the best teams hire based upon talent. They find talent and put it to work where it will be most beneficial.

Law of Constraints – The best team leaders focus first on what’s limiting the team most. According to Eli Goldrat in his book “The Goal,” successful businesses identify bottlenecks, or the part of the process that’s most limiting the results of the team. What’s most limiting your team’s ability to attract new customers and close more sales? Open that bottleneck first, then move on to find the next.

Write down the seven laws of team-building success and post them where you’ll be reminded of them daily. How do they apply to what you’re currently doing to build your team? What can you do to best follow the laws? Just like the speed limit on your local roads, if you don’t follow these laws, you might wish you had.

This article was originally posted/written by RisMedia


11 Nonnegotiable Rules High Achievers Live By



Setting big, audacious goals and completing them requires a significant amount of self-discipline. This means doing what you need to do before doing what you want to do. It also means knowing when to say yes and when to say no.

Each person’s nonnegotiable rules are what ultimately define their trajectory through life. Achieving success requires you to figure out what you value and fundamentally care about. Without this anchor, it can be all too easy to bounce aimlessly from one distraction to the next.

Without an inner code of guidelines to follow, you will struggle to keep a laser focus on your goals and set aside the time to work toward them. External circumstances will decide your day-to-day routine. And while there is a need to remain open to spontaneity, you need to remember that achieving greatness requires deliberate action.

In order to take action, you need to live your life accordingly. Here are 11 rules to follow.

1. Tackle Your Most Difficult Challenges First

What’s that big item on your to-do list that you know you’ll spend a chunk of your day working on? What’s the thing you’re most hesitant to dive into? If you can tackle the most challenging thing first, everything else you do for the rest of the day will seem easier in comparison.

Furthermore, accomplishing something you had dreaded will give you momentum to keep plugging away for that sense of achievement.

Diving into your most challenging project first will also keep you from procrastinating. Chances are, the rest of your day will feel like a piece of cake.

2. Put Your Priorities Ahead Of Everyone Else’s

Most people live their lives trying to please other people. Too often our sense of obligation to others means that we are quick to abandon our goals or priorities. We tend to everyone else’s needs before our own. This is one of the fastest routes to failure, and will leave you feeling unfulfilled.

But you must remember that no one can accomplish your dreams for you. Your goals are your responsibility. You have to find ways of drawing boundaries and making sure that you don’t constantly allow others to pull you away from your priorities and suck up all of your energy.

It is good to give, and there is real value in helping others out. But if all you do is accommodate others, you will have nothing left for yourself.

3. Protect Your Time Ferociously

Time is your most valuable resource. It is the one thing we all want more of, and the one thing no amount of money can buy. And yet so many of us end up giving it away. Achieving anything great in life requires a time commitment. Unless you are willing to use your time wisely, you will find days, weeks and even months of your life vanishing before your eyes.

The key is to only say yes to things that provide value in the direction you want to go, either personally or professionally. That includes the time it takes to maintain positive relationships with people close to you.

It also means carving out time to focus on the projects and goals you want to fulfill. Be aware of how you use your time. Otherwise, you will find it slipping through your fingers without you even realizing it.

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4. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others. Run Your Race

It’s not fair to compare yourself to others. Each person has their own journey. Making comparisons will always be a losing battle because there will always be someone who has accomplished more or succeeded at things you are still working toward. Instead of idealizing what someone has done, remember that they’re human and have made mistakes as well. You are seeking to be the best version of you -- not them.

Give yourself emotional distance when looking at the accomplishments of others. See if there are valuable lessons that you can extract from other people’s experiences. Are there things others have done that you can apply to your own journey, either to avoid or to reproduce in your own way?

Keep in mind that what worked for them may not work for you. Stay focused on how you can continue to improve, and don’t allow yourself to become consumed with resentment or envy. Chances are, they may feel the same about you.

5. Listen More Than You Speak

Ever notice how the people who move the fastest are also the ones who are obsessed with learning? They care less about proving themselves than about listening, learning and refining their craft.

Knowledge is power, and the more you listen, the more you learn. High achievers are masters of the learning process, and they know there is more value in being the quietest person in the room than the loudest.

You may be surprised by what you can learn if you sit back and listen to others instead of jumping in. Let a quiet moment linger, and see what others say to fill the void. Then, when you do speak, others will be more inclined to listen to you.

6. Measure Success And Track Progress Obsessively

How are you supposed to know if you’re moving in the right direction when you don’t track your own goals? It’s important to establish metrics -- or a way to measure your progress -- so that you can see how you are doing on both a large and small scale. Tracking your progress is key to your ultimate success because it allows you to see where you have made gains and where you have struggled.

Ideally, you should have multiple metrics tracking everything from your small day-to-day goals all the way up to your annual goals. Did you improve production? Great! But are your overhead costs skyrocketing at the same time? Details are important.

You should be checking your progress on a regular basis so that you can spot a downturn in trends and make corrections if necessary. Whether you do this before bed each night, or at the end of each week, month or quarter, what matters is that you’re always keeping an eye on the direction you’re going.


7. Only Surround Yourself With Positive People

High achievers tend to be exclusive about who they spend their time with -- and rightfully so. They don’t let negative people infiltrate their inner circle, because they know how impactful a supportive network of people can be on their own success.

A pessimistic person can weigh you down and leave you feeling stressed, discouraged and demoralized. A positive person creates a space where you feel bolstered, energized and determined to keep moving forward.

This doesn’t mean that a positive person only tells you cheerful and pleasant things. You can be positive and still be realistic. All it means is that they don’t look at the world through a lens of negativity. An upbeat person still sees when things are going south, and works to change it. Don’t be afraid to change friend groups or distance yourself from people who are constantly gloomy or cynical. Look for people who add value to your life. Chances are, you will add value to theirs.

8. Don’t Compromise Your Personal Health

As obsessive as high achievers might be about their goals, those who succeed over the long term are also adept at taking care of themselves along the way. They know that life is a marathon, not a sprint. They eat healthily, get a good night’s rest and make time to step away from their work in order to clear their heads.

Healthy habits help you maintain your energy and productivity. If you are exhausted, poorly nourished and out of shape, it’s hard to have the stamina needed to put in time and effort for long-haul success. Studies have also shown that even moderate exercise gives your creativity and confidence a boost, as well as giving you a shot of stress-relieving endorphins. That’s a win-win!

9. Do What You Say You’re Going To Do

Nothing speaks louder than your actions. High achievers are extremely intentional when they give their word. If they say they’re going to do something, they do it.

This is why they end up building such powerful networks and attracting such big opportunities: people know that they’ll follow through. After all, you can’t build trust if you don’t keep your word.

As well as following through on promises to others, you must hold true to the commitments you’ve made to yourself. If you are constantly putting off your own undertakings or responsibilities, how are you ever going to see things through to the end? Keep your word. Follow through in pursuing your ideas, dreams and goals.

10. Wake Up When You Say You’re Going To Wake Up

The alarm goes off like an angry banshee waaaaay too early in the morning. How is it even possible that you planned on getting up at this hour? But whatever you do, don’t give in to temptation and hit the snooze button. Although catching a few more z’s may sound enticing, hitting snooze will mess with your sleep rhythm. You will likely wake up feeling even more groggy and grumpy the second time around.

In addition, you will be starting the day by going back on an obligation you made to yourself, namely, that you would get up at a certain time and get going. By hitting snooze, you’ve just started the day on the wrong foot.

So now you’re grumpy, running late, not following through on your promises and practicing the bad habit of allowing yourself to renege on your promises. Whether you realize it or not, this bad habit will end up creeping into other aspects of your life. Do yourself a favor: go to bed on time and get up when the alarm goes off.

11. Collaborating And Working With Others

Successful people don’t climb the mountain of achievement on their own. Those serious about achieving their goals know they can’t do it alone and they understand the value of asking for help and collaborating with other people who can help them move faster.

Anyone aspiring to be successful has to learn the art of “knowing what you don’t know.” By surrounding yourself with people who can fill your gaps, you can accomplish more on your own and collectively.

Working with others allows you to combine your resources and experiences with those of others, and allows for more dynamic problem solving. This may also be a wonderful opportunity to leverage your differences with colleagues and create complementary work relationships.

This article was originally posted/written by Entrepreneur.com.


5 Common Real Estate Safety Myths

Most professionals believe these ideas will improve their personal security in the field. Sometimes, they’re wrong.

Real estate brokers and agents have hyped certain safety protocols in an effort to beef up personal security in the field, but some of the ideas that have become popular in the industry don’t necessarily make you less vulnerable to attack. In fact, some may have the opposite effect.

It’s not that these suggestions don’t have any value in the pursuit of safer practices, but none of them are foolproof. You shouldn’t rely too heavily on any one safety practice; to truly conduct business in a safer manner, you must incorporate a multitude of safety measures. As a longtime real estate safety educator, I offer these five personal security myths from agents around the country, along with my suggestions for how to work around them. (Request a handout to learn 7 More Safety Myths That Can Get You Hurt or Worse.)

Myth number one: Meeting prospects at the office first will enable you to vet them properly and ensure you work with only legitimate clients.

It’s always a good idea to ask prospective clients to come to your office or meet in a public place before taking them out on showings. But you are not equipped to properly vet prospects to determine whether they are criminals. Making judgment calls based on how a person looks, acts, or talks is not a science, and while you may be able to spot obvious red flags during a face-to-face meeting, you cannot guarantee that a prospect won’t intend to do you harm. Many offenders are repeat or career criminals, and they know how to present themselves in a manner that makes you feel comfortable and safe. Never consider yourself safe after meeting with a prospect.

Asking for a prospect’s ID and mortgage approval letter can provide some clues as to their legitimacy as a client, but you should do background research on new clients to get a fuller picture of who they are. Searching for them on Google is the typical place to start, but also search court records and public documents online as well as sites such as Anywho.com and Spokeo.com, which combine public records, social network information, and other online references.

If you want to go a step further, customer relationship management tools such as Great Agent provide prescreened customer leads. The program conducts a soft background check on potential clients and delivers a report of the findings to you. Though this decreases the level of danger in the prospecting process, you must remain alert and vigilant once you begin working with a new client.

Myth number two: Using a code word is a good way to discreetly signal you’re in distress.

Who doesn’t know what the “red file” is? It’s probably the most commonly used safety code word—and not just in the real estate industry—so you can bet criminals know what it means. Could you use a less conspicuous code word? Sure. But here’s the problem with code words in general: In a perfect world, the person you’re calling for help will immediately know that the code word means they should call authorities and have them dispatched to your location. That requires everyone at your office—all brokers, agents, and administrative staffers—to be properly and uniformly trained on the code word procedure. How likely is that to happen?

Unfortunately, when you make that call using your safety code word, there’s a high risk that the person on the other end of the line will have no idea what you’re talking about. If you can safely make a phone call and talk to someone—even briefly—your best option is to call 911 and give police as much information as possible about your situation. If you can’t speak freely, try using apps such as Life 360, which sends covert notifications to your predesignated contacts that you need help.

Myth number three: Safety apps will save you in a dangerous situation.

Speaking of safety apps, more agents are embracing them. Forty-two percent of REALTORS® use a smartphone safety app, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2016 Member Safety Report. While those are a good tool in the real estate professional’s safety arsenal, the problem is that some agents rely solely on them to save their lives. But if you’re in a situation where your cell phone isn’t accessible, you lose a signal, or a criminal takes your phone away, those apps become useless. Safety apps should be part of a layered plan; they alone will not save you.

Investigate standalone or wearable safety devices that offer added features, such as Alert Lion, a pendant-type device that can be used to call for help with the press of a button. Once the button is pressed, an Alert Lion representative can listen in and make the call to authorities or medical personnel.

Myth number four: Dressing to impress will always attract the right customer.

For real estate professionals, the appearance of being successful is an important marketing tactic. Do you broadcast on social media how many millions of dollars in real estate you’ve sold? If you’re a luxury agent, do you take marketing photos of yourself in a high-end car or in front of a mansion?

Wearing expensive jewelry, watches, and other accessories, or carrying around costly gadgets such as tablets and high-end cameras, may project the image you want your clients to see. But it can also garner unwanted attention from criminals who see the cash you’ve got on you. If you think dressing to impress will only attract people who are qualified to work with you, you’re wrong.

Dress professionally, but leave the bling and flash at home. And you typically don’t need expensive devices—aside from your smartphone—when you’re out on showings with a client. Limit the places you take your gear. While trend-conscious clients may appreciate your fashion forwardness, the people you want to attract will be more interested in your service than your cachet.

Myth number five: Avoiding working in the “bad” parts of town will keep you safer.

I always get agents in my classes who tell me they don’t do business in dangerous neighborhoods and never work at night, so they feel safe. These same agents also say they don’t work with “strange” or “scary looking” people.

As long as criminals are mobile, there is no safe part of town. Some areas may be safer than others, but agents need to be alert wherever they are. The worst thing you can do is let down your guard because you think you’re in a nice neighborhood; some criminals target higher-end areas where they can find more valuable items. They also may perceive agents who work those markets to be wealthier.

Your prejudgments on what kinds of people look legit may also cause you to miss out on business. I always reference Sam Walton, the late founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club, and his signature overalls and old pick-up truck. Many may have assumed based on his appearance that he couldn’t afford high-end property. By the same token, famed serial killer Ted Bundy cleaned up quite nicely.

Instead of judging people or neighborhoods by their appearance, agents should rely on taking the proper screening steps and always trusting their intuition, gut, or instinct. We all possess a built-in warning system designed to protect us from danger. Too often, we ignore that feeling in the pit of our stomachs. If your body sends these signals, listen to them and get out of the situation. Do not try to rationalize your feelings.

This article was originally posted/written by Realtor Magazine.


10 Reasons Green Is the New Normal in Real Estate

The following information is provided by the Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD).

In addition to the obvious benefits to the triple bottom line—people, planet, profit—below are 10 aspects of today’s world intended to help real estate professionals understand that green real estate (also known as efficient, high-performance, sustainable) is the new normal and has reached its tipping point for awareness, adoption, and market penetration.

  1. Today’s daily life is replete with messages about environmental responsibility—from ubiquitous recycling containers to continuous advertising for “all-natural” products and media reports of high-profile environmental disasters.
  2. The millennial generation is redefining what it means to live an environmentally conscious life. Surveys show the majority of millennials don’t even think of themselves as environmentalists. The traditional definition is too narrow for them. Millennials incorporate green choices into their way of life. It’s not what they do—it’s who they are.
  3. Walkability, car-optional transportation, affordability, and placemaking have become key market drivers in real estate. Communities that already have good walkability and public transit can build on these assets to attract high-income, well-educated residents, and the businesses that serve them.
  4. Nearly every municipality and state in the country has adopted minimum energy efficiency standards, which gradually raise the bar for compliance. Furthermore, many building codes now may require replacement of old materials and systems with newer, more resource-efficient parts and materials.
  5. Cash grants, rebates, and tax deductions provide a strong incentive as well as ease the cost of upgrades. The Database for State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  6. The market edge provided by certified homes is now a powerful incentive. Three major national certifications dominate in home certifications: ENERGY STAR ®, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) of the Home Research Innovation Labs.
  7. High-performance homes reduce mortgage risk. In a 2013 study, the Institute for Market Transformation found that mortgage defaults were found to be, on average, 32 percent lower for energy-efficient homes.
  8. The rapid convergence of technologies has become part of everyday life to include mobile phones and tablets, downloadable apps, embedded sensors, and Wi-Fi internet connectivity. Smart home technology is now widely available, affordable, and usable by the majority of the population. These technologies yield valuable data which can be analyzed and used to improve home performance for cost savings and improved resource usage—and are evolving at warp speed.
  9. According to predictions by market researchers at Frost & Sullivan, “the global homes and buildings industry is undergoing an intense evolution and accelerated growth. Transformational technologies such asInternet of Things (IoT), Big Data, data analytics, and thecloud are propelling double-digit growth and market expansion.” Data collection and process improvements from these efforts have a multitude of applications for improvements including, but not limited to: water efficiency, heating and cooling, security, overall facilities management, and even healthcare.
  10. In a move driven by the wishes of its members, in the fall of 2016, the National Association of REALTORS® created a new Sustainability Program designed to position NAR as a leader in the conversation about sustainability in real estate for REALTORS®, brokers, allied trade associations and consumers.

This article was originally posted/written by RisMedia.


5 Awesomely Easy Landscaping Projects

No need for fancy DIY skills, a lot of money, or a ton of time to pull off these yard upgrades.

It’s your yard — yours to do with as you wish. And while that’s great, that doesn’t mean you have to be one of those people who spends every spare moment in their yard, sprucing it up

But, still, your landscaping could use a little something. But something easy. 

Here are five totally doable projects that your budget will barely notice, but your neighbors definitely will:

#1 Add Some (Tough) Edging

Image: Paul Gerritsen/Shutterstock

Image: Paul Gerritsen/Shutterstock

Tell your grass who’s boss with edging that can stand up to even the crabbiest of all crabgrasses. 

But don’t make the mistake that many homeowners make of buying the flexible plastic stuff, thinking it will be easier to install. It’ll look cheap and amateurish from day one.

Worse, it won’t last. And before you know it, you won’t be able to tell where your garden bed ends and your “lawn” begins.

Instead buy the more rigid, tough stuff in either fiberglass, aluminum, or steel.

Tips on installing edging:

  • Lay out a hose in the pattern you want.
  • Sprinkle flour or powdered chalk to mark the hose pattern.
  • Use a lawn edger (or spade) to make an incision for the edging.
  • Tap the edging into the incision with a rubber mallet.

The cost? Mostly your time, and up to $2.50 a square foot for the edging.

#2 Create a Focal Point with a Berm

Image: Jon Jenks-Bauer

Image: Jon Jenks-Bauer

A berm is a mound of gently sloping earth, often created to help with drainage. You can also build them to create “island beds,” a focal point of textures and colors that are so much more interesting than plain ol’ green grass. 

Plus, they’ll give you privacy — and diffuse street noises. What’s not to like about that? Especially if you live in more urban areas.

For most yards, berms should max out at 2-feet high because of the space needed to properly build one.

They need a ratio of 4-6 feet of width for every foot of height. That’s at least 8 feet for a typical 2-foot high berm. So be sure you have the room, or decrease the height of your berm.

Popular berm plantings include:

  • Flowering bushes, such as azaleas
  • Evergreens, such as blue spruce 
  • Perennials such as periwinkle
  • Tall, swaying prairie grasses
  • Lots of mulch to keep weeds away

The cost?  Usually less than $300, depending on how big you make it, how much soil you need to buy to get to your desired height, and what plants you choose.

#3 Make a Flagstone Wall

Aim to build a wall no more than 12 inches tall, and it becomes a super simple DIY project — no mortar needed at all! 

How to build an easy flagstone wall:

  • Dig a trench a couple of inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the flagstones.
  • Fill with pea gravel and/or sand and tamp to make level.
  • Lay out the flagstones to see their shapes and sizes.
  • Stack the smaller stones first.
  • Save the largest, prettiest flagstones for the top layer.
  • Backfill with gravel.

Choose a stone of consistent thickness. Flagstone might be limestone, sandstone, shale — any rock that splits into slabs. 

The cost? About $300 for stones and sand (a ton of 2-inch-thick stone is enough for a wall 10 feet long and 12 inches high).

#4 Install a Path with Flagstone or Gravel

There’s something romantic, charming, and simply welcoming about a meandering pathway to your front door or back garden — which means it has super-huge impact when it comes to your home’s curb appeal. 

You can use flagstone, pea gravel, decomposed or crushed granite, even poured concrete (although that’s not easy to DIY). 

A few tips for building a pathway:

  • Allow 3 feet of width for clearance.
  • Create curves rather than straight lines for a pleasing effect.
  • Remove sod at least 3 to 4 inches deep to keep grass from coming back.
  • If you live in an area with heavy rains, opt for large, heavy stones.

The cost? Anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to upwards of $500 depending on the material you use, with decomposed granite being the least expensive, and flagstone (also the easiest of the bunch to install) the costliest. 

#5 Build a Tree Surround

Installing a masonry surround for a tree is a two-fer project: It looks great, and it means you’ve got less to mow. Come to think of it, it’s a three-fer. It can work as extra seating when you have your lawn party, too! 

All it takes is digging a circular trench, adding some sand, and installing brick, cement blocks, or stone. Just go for whatever look you like best. 

The trickiest part is getting an even circle around the tree. Here’s how: 

  1. Tie a rope around the tree, making a loop big enough so that when you pull it taut against the tree, the outer edge of the loop is right where you want the surround to be. 
  2. Set your spade inside the loop with the handle plumb — straight up and down. Now, as you move around the tree, the loop of rope keeps the spade exactly the same distance from the base of the tree, creating a nice circle.

Then build the tree surround:

  • Dig out a circular trench about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide. 
  • Add a layer of sand. 
  • Set bricks at an angle for a saw-tooth effect or lay them end-to-end.
  • Fill the surround with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

The cost? Super cheap. You can do it for less than $25 with commonly-available pavers and stones. 

This article was originally posted/written by houselogic.


Spring-Cleaning Time! 6 Things You Never Clean but Really Should

Mima Foto / EyeEm/Getty Images

Mima Foto / EyeEm/Getty Images

It’s spring—that time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, pollen takes over the Earth, and winter coats get mothballed for another year. It’s time to live again! But it’s also supposed to be the time you pull on the rubber gloves and get to scrubbing, dusting, washing, and polishing so your home looks sparkling clean for the upcoming warmer months.

And yet there are some particularly grimy areas even the most diligent among us tend to avoid. But should we?

“When we do get around to spring-cleaning, chances are the first places we tackle are those that we—or our guests—will see,” says Cheryl Reed from Angie’s List. “But if it’s up high, down low, or behind something, it may never see your scrub brush.”

That’s all the more reason to tackle these oft-ignored areas today! Here are the six most neglected items for spring-cleaning.

1. Refrigerator coils

Did you even know your fridge has coils you’ve gotta clean? Well, it does. When dust and dirt cover said coils, your fridge has to work harder to cool food—and that can shorten this appliance’s life span.

You can find your refrigerator coils either at the bottom or behind the machine. Vacuum them with a crevice or upholstery tool. Then push a duster or refrigerator coil brush (about $5)  between the coils to grab the rest of the pet hair and dust that stubbornly cling to the coils; position your vacuum under the brush to catch falling debris. Here’s more on how to clean refrigerator coils.

Vacuuming refrigerator coils. YouTube

Vacuuming refrigerator coils.


2. Ceiling fans

Ceiling fan blades are landing strips for dust and allergens, which the fan spreads throughout the room.

To grab the dust, climb a ladder and wipe the blades with a microfiber cloth. Or, slip an old pillowcase over the blades and grab the gunk as you pull it off. Shake the case outside so dust doesn’t fly all over, or throw the case in the laundry. You can also buy curved duster attachments made especially for ceiling fans for about $10.

While you’re on the ladder, reverse the blade direction so they’ll move clockwise and push air straight down, creating a cooling breeze and relief from warm weather.

3. Baseboards

OK, it’s not the sexiest home cleaning task (not quite up there with refrigerator coils, for example), but cleaning scuffed and dusty baseboards goes a long way toward freshening up your home. You can get rid of scuff marks by wiping them with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser or cleaning wipes. Vacuum with an upholstery attachment to get rid of dust. For a really deep clean, run a Q-tip over baseboard tops and ridges to remove dust collecting there.

4. Pillows

Sure, you clean pillowcases every week when you strip the bed. But once or twice a year, you should also wash the pillows, which absorb your sweat, dead skin cells, and dust mites. Gross, right?

Check and follow care labels for your particular pillow. You can wash most synthetic pillows in your machine on a short, gentle, lukewarm cycle. For down- or feather-filled pillows, wash in a basin with a little detergent. Knead the pillow, drain the basin, then wrap the pillow in a towel.

To remove the rest of the water, place pillows in the washer on the spin cycle. Then pop into your dryer on moderate heat for about an hour. Add a couple of tennis balls to fluff up the pillows during drying.

5. Shower heads

Need to remove mineral buildup from stainless-steel shower heads? Turn to white vinegar, says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing based in Waco, TX.

Fill a small plastic bag with distilled white vinegar, and attach it with a rubber band over the shower head. Let the vinegar work its magic for an hour or two until the scale dissolves; then scrub the residue away with a toothbrush.

If you have a brass or bronze shower head, which are more delicate, rub away scale with a soft cloth and warm water.

Clean a shower head with white vinegar in a plastic bag.

6. The insides of your appliances

The appliances that clean your dishes and clothes can get quite gunky over time. You most likely are painfully aware of this. Food and soap scum build up along the bottom and sides of your dishwasher, and dirt and detergent collect in the drum and along the top of your clothes washer. Here’s how to get them clean.

  • Dishwasher: Place distilled white vinegar in a shallow bowl on the top rack of your empty dishwasher, and run a hot water cycle. If the machine still smells funky, sprinkle baking soda on the bottom and run the machine through a short, hot cycle.
  • Washer: To kill any mold in your washer, add a cup of bleach to the bleach dispenser and run the empty machine through the longest, hottest cycle available. Scrub any removable parts, and use a toothbrush to clean the gunk out of nooks and crannies. Open the lid, and let air dry.
  • Dryer: Vacuum the drum and lint screen. If you use dryer sheets, soak and scrub the screen to remove residue. Unplug the machine, remove the exhaust hose, and pull out lint you can reach with your finger, vacuum hose, or flexible dryer brush. Or you can blow out debris with a leaf blower.

This article was originally posted/written by Realtor.com


10 Surprising Items People Hate Having in Their Home

Photo by b+g design inc.

Photo by b+g design inc.

Warning: This article might cause you to feel ashamed, embarrassed and like you're committing home design sins. OK, maybe not. But what you are about to read is a list of common household design elements that many homeowners, according to a recent, lively Houzz discussion, absolutely refuse to have in their home.

The dirty, and hilarious, truth is that many homeowners - even the most extreme yet playful haters - make do with these things in their own homes, and are actually quite fond of them. Plus, what many people are probably reacting to are those basic, off-the-shelf options that fill old, dated homes and apartments (like mine). Actually, many advancements have been made in things like carpet and laminate. And the point is, it's all fun and you should never take your house too seriously anyway. Just make the most of what you have - and never say never.

1. Carpet. Oh, come on. Why is everyone so down on carpet? It's soft, it comes in lots of styles and colors, and it's fairly affordable. Plus, it's versatile and customizable. My kids have customized our carpet with markers, juice and dirty shoes.

OK, I admit that I don't quite understand putting carpet in the kitchen or a bathroom. And stock apartment carpet is more than ho-hum. But let designer Judith Taylor convince you that there's more to carpet than what you think.

11 Reasons to Love Wall-to-Wall Carpeting Again

2. Laminate flooring. As with most things, the cheaper you go, the cheaper it'll look. Laminate flooring has come a long way. You can have entirely manufactured floors that look like exotic woods or even tile or slate.

Laminate Floors: Get the Look of Wood (and More) for Less

3. Taxidermy. This is a tough one. I've hunted before. I grew up in Texas. I have a friend who wants to train to be a taxidermist. But it's just not for me — from a moral, ethical and environmental standpoint. What I've found is that many homeowners who agree with me still find themselves in households with taxidermy because their spouse or significant other is really into it. I think if we can find a way to accept everyone's views and be respectful enough to have a serious, smart conversation about the subject, then we've made a little progress.

Take user mmers, for example. She sums the dilemma up nicely: "There are a few things I would have said ‘never' to until I married my husband. Unfortunately we have some taxidermy things (his office. I rarely have to see them. He's a hunter). We try to compromise. Sometimes it's more successful than other times."

4. Vertical blinds. I'll admit, I was a little taken aback by this one. I like my vertical blinds, especially the ones in my bedroom, and especially after I hang a large blanket, a dark red fitted sheet and blackout curtains over them. That's just me.

As longtime designer Becky Dietrich points out, however, vertical blinds have come a long way, work great for large windows and sliding glass doors, and are now available in materials like sheer fabrics.

How to Choose the Right Window Blinds

5. Fake flowers. Actually, pretty much fake anything. I definitely can get behind this one, though of course there has been a vase of fake flowers in my home at various points in my life, ones I let stay for far too long.

Architect Eric Reinholdt advocates for humble materials that "don't draw attention to themselves or pretend to be something they're not." I think that's a simple way to make a home more honest and inviting.

Design Workshop: The Beauty of Humble Materials

6. Wallpaper. Again, I think this is a case where many people have an image in their head from a time long, long ago. I can remember the floral-print wallpaper in my parents' bathroom, yellowed and peeling. But today things are different.

"Just a few years ago, wallpaper was considered a fusty relic of another era," says Houzz writer Fred Albert in his piece on considering wallpaper. "But in recent years, it's come roaring back, riding a wave of popularity fueled by improved selection, an interest in textured surfaces and an increasingly sophisticated public exposed to interior design via TV and the Web."

Considering Wallpaper? Here's How to Get Started

7. Too many knickknacks collecting dust. If I had a nickel for every time I dusted, I wouldn't have enough money to buy a stamp. I'm guessing from the comments in the above-mentioned Houzz discussion that many people are just like me, so much so that they've made it a mission to rid their homes of any tchotchkes that can accumulate dust.

But that's not the right solution. Our homes should be filled with memories and things that make us happy, no matter how abundant or small. Keep your collections and display them with pride — learn how to fight dust instead.

What You Need to Know About Dust and How to Fight It

8. Fluorescent lighting. I can't imagine any situation where fluorescent lighting makes a home feel, well, homier. In a home office or workshop? Fine. But a kitchen? Don't think so.

5 Questions to Ask for the Best Room Lighting

9. Recliners. People seem to fall into two camps: those who like big reclining chairs and those who loathe them. Sorry, I love my recliner. Granted, it looks like a big lump of ugly, but when I see it, all I think of is the times I've spent curled up rocking my newborn daughter, reading a good book or watching an exciting sports game. There's nothing like it. Maybe it's a dad thing.

The Beautiful Thing About Dad's Chair

10. Clowns. OK, I read Stephen King's It, have seen Killer Clowns From Outer Space and wouldn't want my house filled with anything reminiscent of a clown. But let's cut some people some slack here. After all, I'd be more than happy to have this Australian family of clowns in my home!

This article was originally posted/written by Realty Times.


Feeling Stuck in a Rut? Here's How to Burst Out and Thrive.

Find your groove with these habits that build courage and personal strength.

Image credit: Tom Merton | Getty Images

Image credit: Tom Merton | Getty Images

Anyone who has ever started a business has faced fear. A little bit actually can be a very positive catalyst. But when fear overwhelms your ability to make decisions, it can become paralyzing and leave you feeling stuck. That’s a sign you need to take action and restore the sense of confidence you once had.

When we're young, we think we're invincible. We can do anything (just ask my teenagers!). Yet for many of us, that confidence and self-assurance erodes over time as we get older. We wake up one day confronted by thoughts we can't shake: “I can’t. I shouldn’t. I couldn’t possibly.” We start to question our choices and ourselves. We second-guess our gut instincts and overthink things.

The stories we tell ourselves limit or enhance potential.

Fear and self-limiting beliefs create imaginary boundaries that can keep us from acting in our own best interests. There's a reason: Our brains are wired to resist change. They will process anything we repeatedly think, say or do and formalize it into a habit. It’s easier for our brains to depend on habits because they don’t have to work as hard. It’s comfortable. But if those habits aren’t serving you, where does that leave you?

We don’t get stuck overnight. We slowly dig a rut that gets deeper every time we think or behave the same way. It doesn't take much imagination to get complacent and content with the status quo. If we stay in a rut long enough, it can feel as if we'll never climb out.

Singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard urges us to "get out of your rut and get in a groove." But how do you shock yourself back into that wonderful state where creativity, courage and passion seem to flow effortlessly? 

Creating new habits takes courage.

Know that hitting the reset button requires courage and determination. You'll need to take risks to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and go after what you really want. 

If you don’t feel particularly courageous, there’s good news: Courage is a moral habit we can develop with practice. How? By choosing new habits. When we think and behave in new ways, we create new neural pathways in our brains. The more we think that way, the stronger those pathways become. This is why it's so important to push beyond what seems comfortable, familiar and safe.

Here are three ways to create new habits and act more courageously.

  1. Name where you’re stuck. Identity any patterns you've settled into that might be holding you back. What imaginary barriers have you created for yourself? What can you do to break through these self-limiting barriers?
  2. Visualize goals. Most people hold back because they can’t figure out how they're going to accomplish their goals. Thankfully, you don’t have to know how. That’s not the way your brain works. If you have a clear picture of your goal and visualize it, your brain will work backward to find ways to make it happen.
  3. Beware of courage-killing words. When you're in a rut, two words will kill courage faster than any others: "What if?" As in, "What if I can't do it? What if I'm not smart enough? What if I don't have what it takes?" I've learned to challenge this voice, and so can you.

Meaningful change demands practice and patience.

Shifting your thinking doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. Start by paying attention to how you talk to yourself about yourself. Would you talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself? If your friend came to you, sharing the challenges you are facing, what advice would you give?

Although simple in concept, shifting our thoughts can be extraordinarily difficult. We have conditioned ourselves to think the way we do. If we want to behave differently, we must think differently. We have to retrain our brains. This requires us to be thankful for what we have, appreciate the little things and look for the right things. When we talk to ourselves, it’s easy to go back to what we have habitually said. It takes practice to send ourselves new, more productive messages.

My son lives with severe mental illness and behaviors. I used to think to myself, “This sucks. Why me? It’s not fair!” As true as these statements might have been, they certainly weren’t serving me. So in their place, I began to use three little sayings regularly:

  • I’ve got this.
  • All I can do is all I can do.
  • It is what it is, and it will become what I make it.

Here are some additional phrases and affirmations that you may find helpful as you strive to develop habits of courage:

  • I have handled everything that has come my way so far. I will handle this, too.
  • I believe in myself and my abilities.
  • I choose to see the good in things.
  • I am grateful for the blessings in my life.
  • I eliminate obstacles and negativity around me.
  • I embrace opportunities with an open heart and open mind.
  • I feel better when I help others.
  • I take risks and get out of my comfort zone.

Personal strength builds over time.

Courage is something we can develop and build throughout a lifetime. Think of it as a byproduct of all that life presents to you -- the victories and the losses.

When you're in the midst of crisis or desperation, you're challenged to tap into strengths you might not realize you possess. Finding courage in these times is no fun, but it's often how we discover inner resilience.

One final thought: Inspiration is a key to unmasking strength and courage. When you are motivated enough, you'll find a way. Fostering courageous habits will help you unleash passion and inspiration that propels you out of your rut and into the groove.

This article was originally posted/written by Entrepreneur.com.


7 Tips to Help Late-Filing REALTORS®

According to the IRS, about 20 percent of U.S. income tax filers—that’s one out of five—wait until the week of April 15 to crunch out their returns. And approximately 61 percent of those returns are balance-due.

If you are a busy REALTOR®, and you know you are going to owe, it’s not that unusual that you may be putting off the inevitable for a few more weeks. So when the time is right and you sit down in front of the computer, with your tax preparer, or even still hand filing on paper and sending returns in via U.S. Post, mission No. 1 is to minimize the likelihood of being flagged for an audit.

In the event you may have forgotten to organize a few receipts along the way, or maybe mixed up some of your work-side and home-side accounting, there are a few things you can still do to remain low and on the far edges of the audit radar screen.

Here are a few things you should know:

Higher Income, Higher Risk
Did you know that as your income rises, the chances of an audit rise along with them? If your income topped $200,000, your chance of being audited doubles from 0.85 percent to 1.75 percent, according to a 2014 IRS report. That means those of you whose income is creeping up need to use some of that hard-earned cash to employ even better and more meticulous tracking of things like receipts, charitable donations, and mileage. Have you considered asking a real estate attorney about whether it’s time to convert your sole proprietorship to an LLC? Or maybe it’s time to consider switching from doing your own taxes to hiring a professional who can keep an eye on your records and all your possible reductions—on a quarterly basis, if needed. That subject comes next.

Pay Quarterly…Faithfully
When you go to work for yourself, you have to start looking at yourself as though you were an employee when it comes to separating money out of your income specifically to cover your taxes, which in most cases should be paid quarterly to the IRS, and in some cases to the state where you live or operate. Use IRS form 1040-ES to determine the appropriate amount to withhold. Failing to pay quarterly taxes, or making payments that are consistently too low, can not only cost you in the form of penalties, but also red flag an audit.

Log Every Mile You Roll
REALTORS® are constantly driving, and some weeks can really put some wear and tear on your vehicle, as well as draining a few tanks of gas. Did you know the 2016 mileage deduction has been reduced from last year’s 57.5 cents to 54 cents? So it’s only fair that you maximize your mileage deductions to reap the full benefit. But beware, because a lack of accurate mileage deductions can be a real problem in the event of an audit. A top mileage-related audit flag to avoid like roadkill is grossly over-representing mileage as it relates to your adjusted income. There are ways to make it easier on yourself if you are starting to track, or want to improve tracking your vehicle and mileage for tax purposes. Just be sure if you are doing so to use an app that it is IRS-compliant, like the mileage tracking feature in QuickBooks Self-Employed.

Don’t Be Unreasonable!
Bet you didn’t know that despite the ominous news of an IRS audit, tens of thousands of taxpayers walk out of those audits every year cashing a check instead of writing one. Fact: last filing year, nearly 40,000 audits resulted in refunds totaling nearly $1.1 billion. Another almost one in 10 field audits and 12 percent of correspondent audits result in no change in what the taxpayer owes. However, deductions that may be out of sync with reported earnings are one of the more frequent entries that make a tax filer vulnerable to audit. The IRS knows from experience that sole proprietors tend to minimize earnings and maximize deductions, so avoid deductions that aren’t necessary for your business. Expense only legit business expenses. (Keep on top of any changes in tax laws for 2016 here.)

Earn, Baby, Earn
A surefire way to catch the attention of audit screeners is filing no adjusted gross income. You are five times more likely to be audited if you report no AGI—5.26 percent compared to the 0.85 percent, according to the IRS. When the IRS sees a zero-adjusted gross income, the agency may feel compelled to check whether you inflated deductions to zero out taxable income. It’s easy to avoid applying appropriate deductions as long as you maintain good tracking of your business receipts. Many REALTORS® use receipt capturing phone apps, like QuickBooks Self-Employed.

Give Generously, Record Meticulously
Philanthropy in any form is a good thing—but an audit because of what may appear to be out-of-balance generosity compared to your income is not. So just like with mileage, avoid guessing or inflating charitable deductions. It cannot be overstated: keep records of all receipts for charitable contributions. The IRS has limits on how much you can deduct based on your adjusted gross income, so ensure your reported donations don’t go over the allowable limit. Generally, up to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income can be claimed as charitable donations, and for property donations, you can usually deduct 30 percent of your adjusted gross income. Ask your preparer, or check here for details.

Commuting Down the Hall?
If you are among the millions of Americans occupying and operating home office space, you have a lot of legitimate and rightful opportunities under the tax law to minimize your out-of-pocket costs through deductions. Generally, things from supplies, equipment, furniture, and even tax software and preparation services to a portion of household utilities, repairs, and real estate taxes can be included. While the likelihood is minimal, an IRS field agent could someday come knocking to verify your dedicated home office space is not being used for other purposes, such as a TV room for your kids. REALTORS® may want to take advantage of the IRS’ new simplified method for home office deductions. This method usually results in fewer errors, thus reducing the chance of an audit.

This article was originally posted/written by RisMedia.