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6 curb appeal-enhancing plants to start growing now

Waiting is part of life. But when the cold weather rolls in, the need to "sit tight" happens with greater frequency. Waiting for Christmas and Hanukkah. Waiting to see results from your New Year's resolution to exercise more. Waiting for the first flakes to fall - then anxiously awaiting the return of warm temperatures from spring when piles of snow have you at your wit's end.

If you're a homeowner, all this waiting around gives you plenty of time to prepare for spring, which is when the housing market really starts to heat up. During this intervening period, you may want to consider exercising your green thumb, the fruits of which can help to truly beautify your home and enhance curb appeal, which is a key aspect to drawing attention for would-be buyers. According to Zillow, the average seller has approximately 13 years of age on their home. In addition to some strategic renovations, shrubs, flowers and gardens help to spruce your property up a bit so that it captures potential buyers' attention.

The ground may be far too hard and temperatures far too cold to dig into the dirt outside for now, but there are a plethora of beautiful, aromatic plants you can begin growing from inside your home, then transfer outdoors once the ground thaws and April showers give way to May flowers.

Here are a few primarily outdoor garden plants that grow great from indoors, as recommended by The Spruce. You may not need to wait too long before you see some serious sprouting:

Abutilon

Otherwise known as flowering maple, abutilon is an annual flower, meaning that its life cycle lasts about a year - as opposed to a biennial or perennial - and thrives in tropical environments. As such, in order to enhance growth, it's ideally positioned in areas of the home where the sun shines the brightest. A window that faces southerly or westerly. It's fairly simple to manage as well, as a result of its desire for warmth, so you won't have to water it too frequently. The Spruce suggests doing so once the soil looks and feels completely dry. You may also want to use a water-soluble fertilizer.

Depending on when you begin, you can expect to see blooming in late April or the middle of May. The petals of abutilon are a vivid burnt orange, almost certain to capture the eye of house hunters.

Begonias

If you enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors from fall foliage, the begonia is right up your alley. The teardrop-shaped leaves are typically fuschia (purplish red) and often have additional deeper colors that add texture and contrast. But that's for rex begonias. There are dozens of begonia varieties, including ambassador series, cocktail series, doublet white, wax, sutherland and the appropriately described painted leaf. The type you get will largely dictate the colors you can expect, including silver, pink, red, green and brown.

Although begonias do thrive in humid environments, avoid placing them in portions of your home with direct sunlight. Partial or indirect is preferable. Also, be careful not to over water, as begonias harness moisture well.

Boxwood

Found in many parts of the world, including southern and western Europe as well as eastern Asia, boxwood is an evergreen variety that tends to grow rather slowly. Patience pays off, however, because the plant can grow to be as tall as nearly 50 feet. It takes a while for them to grow that that, as the growth rate is typically no more than around 12 inches per year, according to horticulturalists.

For boxwood to get going with growing, however, humidity is key. Place the initial seedlings of this evergreen in portions of the home where the air is a bit thicker. You can add to the humidity of your home through various moisture-promoting strategies, such as letting dishes from dinner air dry, leaving the door open slightly while showering or making your own tea more frequently (humidity derives from the teapot's steam).

Bright sunlight and watering every day or two helps as well. Much like the abutilon, water only when the soil feels dry.

Caladium

If you're sick and tired of the cold and wet, caladium feels your pain. They're native to tropical environments and have distinctively shaped leaves that resemble an arrow. The colors combine green and red, similar in distribution to what you'd find on stalks of rhubarb. Yet unlike the sour vegetable, caladium are poisonous if ingested, so be sure to keep them out of reach of pets or young children. 

As far as care goes, again, they loath the cold, so keep them in warm environments that are ideally between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, The Spruce advised. Light sources should be indirect and water enough to keep the soil consistently moist, but not drenching wet.

Coleus

This plant is another one whose leaves are uniquely shaped (almost resembling a heart), and are multicolored, flanked by green with yellow accents and a purplish pink in the center.  Other common coleus colors include green and red. Similar to the other flowers and plants mentioned, this plant prefers temperatures on the warmer side, but do still grow even when temps dip below room temperature. However, ensure that the thermostat stays above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Spruce says indirect bright sunlight is this plant's preference and the soil should remain damp to the touch, which entails regular watering.

Geraniums

You don't have to have a green thumb to have heard of the geranium, which is one of the more fragrant flowers you'll find and traces back more than 200 years. What makes these primarily pink and white beauties particularly great indoor plants is their need to overwinter, which basically means that they require sheltering from the cold. This can be done by placing geraniums in a cool - but not cold - portion of your home, such as in the cellar or garage. They do still require sunlight to grow, but it doesn't need to be direct. The Spruce says full sun is best.

Lastly, avoid over watering by allowing the soil to dry completely before the next one. 

 

Through tender loving care and attention, these plants can add eye-catching curb appeal and valuation to your home that is well worth the wait!


Helpful Tips

Heart Healthy Exercises to Do At Home

February isn’t just about chocolates, flowers and Valentine’s Day cards, it is also American Heart Month. Heart Month has been celebrated annually since 1963 in an effort to make Americans more aware of heart disease and ways that they can help prevent it. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes (30 minutes for 5 days) of moderate to vigorous exercise a week in order to improve cardiovascular health. Busy schedules can make finding the time to exercise a challenge. Luckily there are plenty of activities that you can do in and around your home to help get your 150 minutes of exercise in for the week.

Outdoor Chores:

In the winter shoveling snow from your walkway or driveway is an excellent way to get moving. You could even consider buying a roof rake to remove snow build up and avoid ice dams that cause leaks in your home. In the warmer months raking leaves, mowing the lawn, weeding, mulching, picking up fallen sticks and trimming hedges are all great ways to add curb appeal to your home. They also get your blood pumping and improve your overall health. Instead of paying someone else to take care of your outdoor chores, start spending some time on the weekends getting fresh air and making your outdoor space the envy of the neighborhood.

Housework:

Spending the day doing housework can also elevate your heart rate. Clear things out from your attic or basement that you no longer need and break a sweat carrying items up and down the stars. Sweep, vacuum and mop your house, or even rent a carpet steamer and give your floors the deep cleaning they deserve. Roll up your sleeves and get your blood pumping while you get a head start on Spring Cleaning.

Brisk Walk:

Walking is the simplest form of exercise, but its benefits for your overall health are huge. According the American Heart Association, for every hour of brisk walking, life expectancy for some people may increase by two hours. Walking at a brisk pace for 150 minutes a week can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

Common Household Items to Get You Moving:

  • Canned goods: Use cans in place of hand weights.

  • Wall: Wall-sits will work your quads and glutes.

  • Stairs: Walk or run the stairs in your house for a great cardio work-out.

  • Countertop: Do pushups using your counter top while you wait for your dinner to cook.

150 minutes can seem like a lot of time to spend exercising in a week, but it is very manageable when you can do it at home. Get up, get moving, and start improving your heart health!


Helpful Tips

5 indoor home improvements you can do during the cooler months

Do these chilly winter months have you hibernating in your home? It’s easy to fall into an unproductive rut when you find yourself avoiding the cold outdoors. Luckily, there is plenty that you can do to improve your home all while staying comfortably inside.

Crown Molding:

Installing crown molding can give your home a finished and refined look. Make sure that you are buying the correct size molding for the room you are installing it in. For smaller rooms with ceiling heights of 8 feet, consider keeping your molding width between three to six inches. Larger rooms and rooms with higher ceilings can support wider crown molding.

Upgrade Your Cabinet Hardware:

Changing your hardware on your cabinets can instantly make your kitchen look more updated. Upgrading the hardware on your cabinets will take less than half a day to complete, and all you need is the hardware itself and a screwdriver.

Add a new backsplash:

After you change out your cabinet hardware, add a new backsplash and your kitchen will look modern and refreshed. Many backsplashes like beaded-board and tile are easy to install so you can do it on your own within a weekend.  Freshening up your kitchen can add value to your home and it doesn’t need to break the bank or take more than a day or two to complete.

Add a Programable Thermostat:

A programable thermostat will help you save energy and money. You can set the thermostat to drop the temperature down 8-10 degrees while you’re at work and sleeping. This will help you save money on utility bills without needing to think about it!

Caulk Your Bathroom:

When you start to notice that the areas of caulking that regularly get wet are yellow and cracked, it is time to redo your caulking. First remove the caulk with the help of a putty knife and caulk remover. Then thoroughly clean the surrounding tiles with a vacuum and alcohol. Then you are ready to apply the new layer of caulk and remove any excess caulking.

Don’t let bitter cold weather keep you from updating your home. Spend the last few weeks of winter inside sprucing up your home and maybe even add some value to your investment!


Helpful Tips

Tips to Land a House in the Spring Market

Although each month is composed of roughly the same number of days from one to the next, some seem to come and go with lightning speed. There's no better example than December, which is frenzied with holiday hoopla.

But once January, February and March roll around, things definitely seem to slow down - and in more ways than the cold gripping the vast majority of the nation. This is also true in the real estate business.

No two ways about it, as documented by the National Association of Realtors and other real estate and home listing agencies, summer is the busy season for buying and selling homes. If you have any mobile apps that alert you to potential homes that are within your budget, you're no doubt well aware that this is the case. Open house announcements were particularly fruitful this past June, July and August as supply levels edged higher. Houses are also remaining on the market for longer stretches, as evidenced in October, the most recent month for which data is available (36 days, up from 32 in September).

However, almost as soon as the vernal equinox sets in - signaling spring has officially sprung - the housing market really starts to pick up steam once again. No matter where you may be house hunting, "first up, best dressed" may be the best phrase to describe the house shopping rush. With the national median existing-home price having risen on a year-over-year basis for 92 months in a row, high demand hasn't let up for a long time.

However, there are things you can do right now to ensure that you get ahead of the rush when April showers bring May flowers and the wide assortment of newly available houses are "in bloom" as well.

Here are a few things to consider if you're considering buying a home in the not-too-distant future:

Get pre-approved

As previously referenced, the housing market is a first come, first served industry. If sellers know you're serious about buying, they'll be more receptive to your interest. One of the best ways of going about this is with a pre-approval letter in hand. 

As its name suggests, pre-approval is a status you can obtain from a lender, which indicates you have the financial means to buy a property up to a certain price. In order to get such a letter, your mortgage provider will need a few things from you for corroboration purposes. Items typically include W-2 forms, two years' worth of complete tax returns, statement of available funds, pay stubs and a copy of your credit report. These particulars will provide your lender with an idea of how much you can afford.

Keep in mind, however, that a pre-approval letter is non-binding. In other words, you will still need to go through a more formalized loan approval process once you settle on the house you'd like to make an offer on.

Raise your credit score

There's no getting around the fact that home prices are notably higher these days than as recently as 10 years ago. The pace with which they're rising is now slowing, thanks to improving inventory. Additionally, interest rates remain near record lows, which can help you save on your monthly mortgage expenses.

The best way to obtain a low interest rate is by improving your credit score. Generally speaking, the higher it is, the lower your potential rate. To see where you stand, you can request a copy of your credit report for free from any or all of the credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Simple ways of improving your score include paying off all your bills by their due date, keeping credit card balances low and applying for credit only on an as-needed basis. Contrary to popular belief, opening new accounts purely for credit diversification purposes has more potential drawbacks than benefits, according to Experian.

Buy now to save later

You may have already gone through the pre-approval process, leaving you to hurry up and wait for spring to roll around. It may behoove you to jump into the home search before winter ends, especially if you want to buy a place at an affordable price.

According to analysis conducted by ATTOM Data Solutions, which examined single-family home and condominium prices over the past six years, winter was consistently the season in which asking prices were at their lowest. Ohio, prices averaged 7.4% below market value in January, -7.2% in February in Michigan, -6.3% in February in Delaware and -6.2% in Tennessee in January.

And in terms of the days of the year in which prices were their lowest, they all fell in the month of December (4th, 26th and 31st), the study found.

Settle on the style

From Victorian to colonial to ranch to split-level, the types of houses are almost as numerous as properties themselves. Each offers its own pluses and minuses when it comes to curb appeal, practicality and layout. If you have a few in mind, try to determine the one that you like the most. You may want to speak with a real estate expert so you can get their insight on the ones that are most in line with your goals and family composition. This will help you with the selection process once places become available.

Shop around for more than rates

As important as it is to do your homework when it comes to the house you intend to buy, the same holds true for the lender you select when applying for a mortgage. There are tons of providers you can consider, some national, local and even those that are exclusively online. Understand that there's more to a lender than just the interest rate. You should also consider their reputation and the type of customer service that others can speak to. Talk to friends for suggestions. You may also want to go online to do some of your own research. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to start.

It's true what they say: How you finish depends upon how you start. We can help you get the ball rolling at Residential Mortgages Services. Apply today or contact us to find out more about the loans we offer.


Helpful Tips

Ways to get ahead of the spring housing market

Top tips for landing a house in an ultra competitive market

You know what they say: The early bird gets the worm. The same goes for the real estate market. Given the ongoing shortage of houses - particularly those that are reasonably priced, such as starter homes - those who vigilantly keep track of what's percolating among newly available properties tend to be in the best position to buy their dream home, assuming they've been prequalified for a mortgage.

Just about everyone knows the housing market really comes to life when the flowers are back in bloom and hope "springs" eternal. Did you know it is also wise to keep an eye out in the dead of winter? A recent study from ATTOM Data Solutions found some of the biggest discounts across the U.S. are between December and February.

No one knows exactly how spring will pan out in terms of buyer activity and property availability, but an uptick in housing starts suggests competition will be white hot. According to the most recent statistics available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing starts nationwide in November  rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.3 million units, up more than 3% from  one year ago. Additionally, among single-family dwellings specifically, the number reached 938,000, a healthy 2.4% rate of growth.

National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist Robert Dietz noted in December that property development in 2019 started off slowly, but finished strong.

"Since the rebound in housing took hold earlier this year, single-family starts have posted a steady improvement in the pace of construction," Dietz explained.

This is particularly true in several regions of the country, as single-family and multi-unit starts jumped nearly 7.5% in the South and almost 9% in the West, the Commerce Department reported.

The pluses and minuses of more inventory

An uptick in supply is a double-edged sword. On one side, more inventory equals a greater amount of potential places to buy, something that would-be buyers haven't had much of in recent years, as supply levels have been limited for quite some time. This is particularly true for families operating on a budget.

But on the other side, growth in volume also brings more competition, especially in springtime, which is hands-down the busiest time of year for both sellers as well as buyers. More competition means a greater chance that your picture-perfect home ends up claimed by someone else who got to it first or made an offer the seller couldn't refuse.

If buying a new place tops your to-do list in 2020 and you want to improve your odds of landing the house you'll come to call your own, here are a few ways you can put yourself in the best position to succeed in an ultra-competitive housing marketplace:

Get prequalified

It's been said before in this space, but you can never hear it often enough: Prequalification is extraordinarily important when it comes to improving your odds of becoming a homeowner.

This status provides certain assurances to a seller, by indicating you have the financial capability to close a deal, usually within a certain price range. While prequalification doesn't meet the precise definition of loan approval, it can help the seller make a more informed decision about your intentions and seriousness of your bid. It can give you an upper hand on your competition, since some people opt not to pursue prequalification in order to save time. In reality, such a letter saves time and hassle, and may be the deciding factor if the competition doesn't have one. Talk to your lender about what you need to do to get one, but at the very least, you'll be asked to provide details about your income, in terms of salary as well as available funds.

Save up for a sizeable down payment

Of course, the main reason people pursue a mortgage is it allows them to come up with a large sum of money immediately, which is then paid down over time. Most loans, however, require a down payment, meaning a certain percentage of the house's list price. Generally speaking, down payments typically range between 3.5% and 20%, although the average runs between 3% and 5%, according to the National Association of Realtors.

If at all possible, try to save up as much money as you can to put toward the down payment. Aside from enabling you to borrow less - which can help you spend less in interest by paying off the loan principal - the size of the down payment may be something the seller takes into account when assessing one offer over another. Simple ways of saving include setting up an account specifically for the down payment and contributing a certain percentage of your paycheck each pay period. 

Work with the experts

Mobile apps and online mortgage calculators, which weren't always available, have revolutionized the homebuying process by making it faster and simpler than ever before. One thing that hasn't changed is the importance of surrounding yourself with professionals in the real estate industry. From loan officers to a real estate agent, the more trusted resources you have available to you, the greater your odds are of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to finding and buying the house you want.

Have a back-up plan

The Rolling Stones sang it best: You can't always get what you want. No matter how hard you try or how early you are inquiring about a house that goes up for sale, there's no silver bullet to buying your dream home when competition is fierce.

That's why it's important to have a fall back if Plan A doesn't pan out. What was it about the house that you liked the most? Was it the price that was right or was it the house itself, meaning its physical makeup or location? Understanding what made your dream house special can provide you with the context your team can use to search for a house that may be even better than the one that got away.

Don't let an intense housing market deter you from pursuing your homeownership goals. Residential Mortgage Services can help you achieve them. Contact us to learn more.


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