Big ideas for a small back yard
Just because you don’t have a sprawling landscape behind your home doesn’t mean you have to limit your vision for back yard fun. With a little creativity, you can apply some big ideas for a small back yard and turn it into your outdoor oasis.
Go up against the wall.
Use the wall space to hang planters, rather than take up ground space. Attach pots or mason jars, upcycle a colander and hang it from a hook or tree branch. Put up shelves to display your colorful pots and plants.
Choose furniture that provides storage as well as seating, like an ottoman with a lift-off cushion for keeping games or extra pillows. Add a coffee table where you can stash candles, paper plates, linens, and other items for outdoor entertaining.
Create one focal point in your back yard, like a small water feature, container garden, or sculpture. A small memory garden makes a great focal point.
Scale it down.
Large outdoor furniture will dwarf a small back yard. Choose a bistro set with two chairs, or a table that can be expanded, as needed, for entertaining. And, while those big comfy cushioned chairs are attractive, they’ll make your space look crammed. Opt for simple lines and smaller sizes.
Don’t shut me out.
While you certainly want some shade to escape the heat, avoid the temptation to provide too much cover, either with greenery, pergola, or canopy. Open up your outdoor living space to let the sun shine in so you’re not closing in your back yard.
Simplify your colors.
A varied color palette can overpower a small back yard. Limit your color choices for your furnishings, and carry it over to your accents. Use the burst of colors in nature’s beauty, like the flowers in your garden, to add the splash you want.
Table your heat.
Don’t have room for a fire pit? Place a fire bowl on your table. You’ll get the cozy feel of the outdoor fireplace without taking up space.
When you’re working with limited outdoor living space, you’re only real limit is your creativity. Think simple and cozy—for size, color, and volume—and you’ll make the most of a small back yard.
Country life or city dwelling: Which lifestyle works for you?
You could fit the entire population of Vermont in the city of Las Vegas, with plenty of room to spare. Of course, most Vermonters would run screaming from the city. And city dwellers would probably feel restless in a rural setting for an extended period of time.
Each environment—urban and rural—offers its own unique pros and cons. Your life situation—single, married, parent or no kids—has a big impact on your choice of living in the city or the country.
So, which lifestyle works for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons of urban versus rural.
City life: So much choice packed into tight space.
People who like living in the city enjoy the energy that pulsates there. You can live car-free and walk or take public transportation to everything you need—shopping, dining, entertainment, school, and work. In one block, you can choose from a variety of restaurant choices, from your favorite café to the pizza place that delivers. On any weekend, you can take your pick of things to do—movies, theatre, art galleries, comedy clubs, museums, street festivals, and more. You’re never far from fun.
That’s also a con. You’re in the midst of all this charged-up activity. Stress levels are higher in the city. Privacy is less. Your home is separated from your neighbor’s by a wall, not a yard. If you choose to own a car, parking can be hard to find, or expensive. Crime is more prevalent in the city, which makes sense when you consider there are so many more people there.
Most cities aren’t far from a rural area, so when you feel the need to escape, you can rent a car or hop on a bus for a country retreat.
Country life: Take it slow and easy.
People who choose to live in rural areas prefer the open space that is afforded outside the confines of a city. They are less enchanted by the choices afforded to city dwellers and prefer the simple pleasures. A hammock in the back yard. A vegetable or flower garden. Farmer’s markets with locally grown produce. Paddling down a river or hiking through the woods.
Country dwellers aren’t as enamored with designer labels—from the clothes they wear to the kitchen cookware. They prefer a casual lifestyle that’s uncomplicated. The choices are fewer than the city offers, but they don’t care.
With today’s technology, country dwellers aren’t as isolated as they used to be. The Internet, Wi-Fi hot spots, digital and cable television, and cell phone towers have spread to the outer confines of our society. So, moving to the country doesn’t mean you have to forego your favorite cable television series or rely on a (shudder!) land line for calling people.
Suburbia: The comfortable compromise
The suburbs surround the outskirts of cities, a cushion between those hubs and the rural areas beyond. They offer easy access, via highways and public transportation to all of the action in the city, but residents can escape the bustle to their peaceful homes. Suburbanites like the blend of urban conveniences with rural solitude. Although the yards are small, they at least create a small boundary between neighbors, and a place for kids to play and their parents to entertain.
As more city dwellers move outward from the city, the suburbs grow deeper into the outlying areas. As one suburb fills up (and prices rise accordingly), homeowners look for the next “up and coming” community. The commute to the city becomes a bit longer, along with the distance to the desired amenities. But that’s the trade-off for compromise.
Which lifestyle is most appealing to you? And why?
You have many lenders just a click away when you’re ready to look for a mortgage. When you’ve decided on your builder, you will most likely be given one or more preferred lenders to consider.
With so many choices out there, why should you use a builder’s lender?
First of all, let’s look at why the builder endorses a lender. He wants to work with a company that understands the building process, as well as the needs of the buyer. A preferred lender has proven, over and over, that the builder’s customers deserve high priority. That means rapid response—even on weekends and after business hours, because that’s when they’re often needed. A preferred lender doesn’t follow “banker’s hours”.
In addition to being responsive, a preferred lender knows he is expected to provide accurate, detailed information and answers. Delays are not just frustrating; they can be costly. The builder’s preferred lender is skilled at keeping the financial end of the process moving, so both the buyer and builder have the peace of mind that your closing will proceed as scheduled.
A preferred lender maintains a close relationship with a homebuilder. This relationship can yield a lot of business for the lender. So, you can be sure this mortgage professional bends over backwards to satisfy the homebuyer. To earn the “preferred” honor, the company must do more than hand out an application and stick to a script. The lender you work with will explore many options to find you the best mortgage program for your needs. They might offer incentives that other lending companies can’t or won’t.
When you want your calls answered or returned promptly, when you want to be sure that someone is personally tending to your mortgage process and shares your commitment to getting it done, consider using the builder’s preferred lender. Certainly, contact other lenders to see what they offer. Talk to other buyers who have used the lenders you’re considering. Your best decision is an informed one!
Are you feeling a little twitch when you walk into or around your home? Has the passion gone out of your relationship with your abode? Maybe it’s not the feng shui, but the home itself. You might be ready for a new home!
Here are some telltale signs you’re ready to move.
#1. You look at other places and wonder what it would be like to live there. Do you find yourself driving at night and looking at the lit windows of other homes, wondering what they look like? Are you spending more time analyzing the homes on your favorite shows than the story lines? That daydreaming is a sign that you’re not completely fulfilled in your current home.
#2. You fear your closets. Does the theme from “Jaws” pound in your head when you reach for the closet door knob, fearing what lies beyond? If you’re tight—really tight—on space, it might be time to move to a larger place. Cramped is never fun or healthy.
#3. The echo bothers you. Maybe the kids have grown and gone on their own. The echo of the empty nest is unsettling for you. Think about downsizing to a new home that better fits your lifestyle today.
#4. Your DIY is DI-Done. You’ve spent years fixing up all those spaces that needed help. Are you tired of using your weekend for DIY projects? Imagine the freedom of living in a new home where DIY becomes fun again—like planting flowers in your garden, trying new recipes in your new kitchen, or taking up a hobby that doesn’t disrupt your living space.
#5. You refuse to look at the weather forecast. Did that last snowstorm send you over the edge? Do rainy days destroy your mood? Does another day of hot and humid make you want to crank up the air conditioning and layer on some winter clothes? Maybe a change for the weather is a change for the better.
#6. The cost of living there doesn’t make sense. Your rent went up again—even though everything else has stayed the same, including your income. Look at your finances and decide if clinging to your current living space is cramping your budget. Remember that a fixed mortgage never increases, unlike rent, and a monthly mortgage payment is probably less than rent.
#7. The neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. Have your favorite neighbors moved out, replaced by the loud, annoying, or sloppy people who are driving down your quality of life (and maybe property value)? Has the vision of the up-and-coming area never arrived? Maybe you still love your home, but not the neighborhood—a very good reason to look for a new home.
#8. You’ve exhausted your audio library on your commute. If you’ve changed jobs since moving to this home, you might have tolerated a longer commute, just to stay where you are. Ask yourself which is stronger, your love of home or hatred of commute. A shorter commute means more available time for yourself and your family.
Still not sure? Apartment Therapy offers this simple equation:
New place > Old place + Moving hassle and expense
Is it really that simple? Lifehacker expands on the basic math by incorporating more variables:
New place + location – distance from friends > Old place + Moving hassle and expense + location – distance away from friends
You can revise the variables to your own situation. For example, “Quality of schools”, “Commute”, and “Finances”.
Pay attention to that little voice in your head that says it’s time to look for a new place to live. Change can be great!
Sometimes you want to spruce things up before your visitors arrive for a big holiday (like the one THIS weekend!). You’ve finished redecorating a room—or, at least you think so. Something still isn’t right. The feng is missing the shui.
Sometimes, the little things that punctuate your room makeover with an exclamation mark. When you’re redecorating, don’t miss these room design details.
Trim color. I looked through the home decorating manual and I couldn’t find any hard and fast rule that says you have to have white trim in your home. Go for colorful contrast to your walls, or a soft complement, if you’re not quite so bold.
Decorative molding. From tall baseboards to wainscoting to crown molding, you can enhance the impact of your walls by adding or changing the trim. A chair rail allows you to break up the wall and use two different colors, or a combination of color and a pattern or texture (or both).
Wall accents. Rethink your idea of what you can hang on your walls. Go for more dimension in your home décor with pottery, vases, creative shelving, and even your favorite books or album covers centered within an open frame. Apply wall decals, which are easily removable when you change your mind or mood.
Lampshades. Just because the lamp you purchased came with a particular lamp shade doesn’t mean it’s the right one for your space. A simple change (try it seasonally) can make a big difference in the decorative impact.
Dimmers. This is perhaps the simplest and least expensive lighting makeover you can do. Replace your switch with a dimmer and you suddenly create mood lighting.
Switchplates. Boring. Paint them to blend or contrast with the walls. Decoupage your switchplates with fabric, wallpaper, giftwrap, book pages, or anything else that you can stick to it.
Natural touches. Fresh flowers, plants, and even twigs bring the outdoors into your room and boosts the energy. Treat yourself to a fresh bouquet each week.
Before you stamp your room makeover as complete, focus on the little details. You’ll be amazed at the power of these finishing touches.
If you’re considering have a new home built rather than opting to purchase a resale, congratulations. It’s a smart move! A new home delivers a wealth of benefits, including peace of mind from knowing that your home is protected by a builder’s warranty.
Before you start, let’s walk through the steps involved, so you’re clear on what to expect and when. Here’s a step by step, newcomer’s guide to the new home construction process.
Step 1: Site prep
The crew clears the site of trees, large rocks, and debris to prepare the property for building. If your new home will include a basement, they dig the hole for the foundation.
The footings are put in place. Concrete is poured for the foundation, and once it’s cured, waterproofing is applied. The crew then installs the basement and first-floor plumbing connections, including drains, sewer, and water taps.
The surrounding soil is backfilled to the outside of the foundation, filling in the moat-like gap around it.
Step 2: 1st Inspection
The building inspector checks the foundation to ensure it’s up to code.
Step 3: Framing
The frame of the house (wall, floor, and roof systems) are constructed and then wrapped in protective sheathing. This cover protects the frame from water seepage into the wood itself, which could lead to wood rot or mold, while providing a means for vapor to escape. The roof is added, sealing the home before the interior works is begun.
Step 4: Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC
When the framing is done, the rough plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors get to work, setting up the infrastructure for these systems. Vents and water supply and sewer lines are installed. HVAC installs the ductwork, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning vents and pipework. The plumbers and electricians run pipes and wire through the home’s interior walls, floors, and ceilings.
Step 5: 2nd inspection
The building inspector examines the framing, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems at this point. You might have different inspectors—one for the frame, another for the other systems.
Step 6: Insulation
Exterior walls, floors, and ceilings are insulated.
Step 7: Drywall
Drywall (also known as “sheetrock”) is hung. Seams are taped so they’re hidden. A primer coat is applied in preparation for finishing.
Step 8: Exterior finish
Your new home’s exterior is applied—e.g., siding, stucco, stone, or brick.
Step 9: Interior trim
The window and door trim, casings, moldings, mantels, railings, and other interior trim are installed and painted. The walls are painted or wallpapered, depending on your choice.
Step 10: Exterior walkways
The walkways, driveway, and patio are constructed at this point, after the heavy equipment use is finished. The grading is added to drain water away from the home.
Step 11: Flooring and countertops
The hard surface flooring (tile, wood, laminate) and all countertops (including vanities) are installed.
Step 12: Lighting fixtures and mechanical trims
Your light fixtures are installed, along with the outlets and switches. The electrical panel is installed. Plumbing fixtures (toilets, sinks, and faucets) are added. HVAC is finished.
Step 13: Finishing
The interior finishes are addressed in this step This includes installing carpet, and hanging mirrors, and shower doors.
Outside, the lawn and landscaping are completed.
Step 14: 3rd inspection
The building inspector completes one more assessment to ensure your new home meets all building codes. When approved, a certificate of occupancy (CO) is issued. If any concerns are identified, the inspector provides a written list, and the home will require another inspection before the CO is awarded.
Step 15: The walkthrough
Before the closing, you will do a final walkthrough with your builder and real estate agent. This is your opportunity to learn how everything works—e.g., which light switch to flick, how your HVAC works, how to open and close the windows. You also need to observe details. If there’s a nick in a door or wall, a scratch on a floor, a cracked tile, or a dent in an appliance, point it out during this walkthrough so that you can show the damage was done before you occupied the home.
Your builder will make a list of all repairs the must be completed. Determine the time frame for having all corrections completed, and get it in writing.
With good communication between you and your home builder, the new home construction process is exciting. You get to watch your home emerging from a vision to a reality!
If you’ve been thinking about building a new home, there are probably people who are stepping up to warn you about the experience, based on their nightmares (or those of their hairdresser’s cousin’s neighbor’s friend).
When you choose to work with a reputable, experienced, professional homebuilder, you can avoid the headaches on the road to getting the home of your dreams. Here are some tips that will guide to through an enjoyable homebuilding process.
- Choose your builder carefully. The quality of the builder will be reflected in the quality of the home and the construction process. Make sure the builder you hire has the proper state licenses, experience, and references. Visit homes and talk to homeowners, if possible. Be sure the builder you select has built homes like the one you want, so you’re not paying for someone’s learning curve. Ask about warranties and scheduling. Be clear about what is included as a standard feature and which ones are considered upgrades and options.
- Establish clear expectations. At the outset, map out what you expect for the experience. How often will you need updates? Will they automatically be provided so you don’t have to chase someone down? Do you want to be able to visit the construction site? How often? Whom do you contact with questions?
- Understand your budget boundaries. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of all the changes happening in your home, but be careful you don’t let your enthusiasm drive up your costs. Know what you can afford to spend. Also be aware of where you are willing to compromise—e.g., better kitchen cabinets and less expensive flooring. Before you agree to any costs beyond the original estimate, ask for an outline in writing that details exactly what you’re getting.
- Plan ahead. Measure twice, cut once is an important concept to remember. Avoid making changes once construction is underway, because it will likely increase the cost of building your new home. Discuss your vision, goals, and style with your builder and home designer, so they can use their knowledge and experience to give you the home that best suits you. Once you’ve agreed that this is your dream house, stick with the plan.
- Never assume. Ask questions. Keep in touch with your team: the builder, the designer, and the lender. If you have concerns, doubts, or ideas, express them.
Remember, at the other end of this journey is a new home and a new life. There may be some bumps in the road, but it’s how you navigate that makes the difference between an enjoyable homebuilding process and a frustrating one.
The process of starting the search for your new home can be daunting. So many choices! It can be like hitting a car dealer’s showroom when you make contact. The salesperson puts on a big smile and hits you with the pitch. You’ve probably already done some research, but you want to kick the tires and inhale that new car smell to move you closer to a big decision.
Meanwhile, the car salesperson is sizing you up like a five-course meal.
That’s not what your new home buying experience should be. Most builders today utilize the helpful skills of an Online Sales Counselor (OSC) to gently guide you through the process of narrowing down your choices and getting answers to even the most minute questions. There is no sales pitch. The OSC’s job is to give you information that will help you determine the path to your new home purchase.
Why does it matter whether you search on your own or work with an OSC? Here are the benefits of working with an Online Sales Counselor when you’re buying a new home.
- You get fast answers. You will have lots of questions as you browse the Web, looking at homes, plans, developments, and builders. An OSC is your inside source for information, saving you time and giving you the detailed answers you might not find on your own. Remember, a website is designed to give you some information, not all. The goal of any website is to entice you to act.
- You can information on special programs. OSCs are on the inside. They know what sales incentives and financing are being offered at any given time. When you ask them a question, they will get you the answer or direct you to the knowledgeable source.
- They know the properties. The OSC is trained to understand the features of every community and the homes there. If you have certain criteria in mind—location, type of neighborhood, design features, or maybe need a home that will be available quickly—the OSC can show you your options.
- There’s no pressure. It is not the OSC’s job to sell a home. They don’t provide the property tour or review options and specs with you. Their job is strictly to be your information source, your connection to the builder and the community—but not the salesperson.
When you’re serious about finding the right new home and community for you and your family, start by talking to the homebuilder’s Online Sales Counselor. This person will contact you shortly after you leave an inquiry on the builder’s website. They will make themselves available to handle your interests until you’re ready to visit a community and take a tour. Think of the OSC as your personal, home-searching concierge. They will manage everything from sending you floor plans and elevations to connecting you with a lender and scheduling your personal tour. Maximize the efficiency and your time by accepting the help of an Online Sales Counselor, and you’ll discover how smooth the path to purchase can be.
Lifestyles have shifted over the past decade. The powerful population of Baby Boomers has reached retirement age, whether they choose to retire or not. Gen Y and Millennials—people born from 1980 to 2000—represent an even larger number, and their lifestyles are different from their grandparents. Gen Yers don’t have the same commitment to job or place as Boomers. They’re also far more likely to move back home than their parents were. As a result, we’re seeing a growing trend in multi-generational living—two or more adult generations under one roof. In 1980, 28 million Americans lived in a multi-generational household. In 2008, that number soared to 49 million.
There are many positive aspects of living with older and younger family members. But before you make the move, is multi-generational living right for you?
Here are some useful tips for transitioning to and thriving in a multi-generational household.
- Plan ahead. Discuss the boundaries in your combined home. How will the space be used? And by whom? How can you maintain open communication to resolve issues, like leaving dirty dishes in the sink, annoying bathroom habits, and territorial habits with the remote control!
- Identify caregiving responsibilities. A multi-generational household presents caregiving challenges, both for the youngest and eldest members. Do you expect the grandparents to help with their grandchildren? If so, be clear on what you’d like to happen, such as attending school events, sports, and recitals. Will grandma be charged with after-school care or helping with the cooking when the parents are running late? Don’t make assumptions. Make roles and rules!
- Discuss parenting. You might not share the same parenting approach as your parents or grown children. Before moving in together, discuss how the children in the household will be raised, from managing the picky eater to spoiling the children to doling out discipline.
- Organize shared expenses. Money is often at the root of shared living problems. Develop a budget of household expenses and determine, in advance, how each person is going to contribute. Consider establishing a household account where everyone contributes a pre-determined amount toward the expenses.
- Split the duties. When one person feels overburdened with household responsibilities, the atmosphere can become tense. Discuss regular household chores—from emptying the trash to scrubbing the bathrooms—and distribute the workload fairly.
- Invest in family time. Different members of the household will go their own ways most of the time, but to keep a happy, cohesive home, plan on sharing time together. Family time could be a movie or game night, a weekly dinner where everyone pitches in or attends, or some other activity that can be enjoyed by every member of your multi-generational home.
- Meet regularly. Plan a household meeting to occur at specified intervals; e.g., monthly or quarterly. During this casual gathering, be prepared to talk about any issues that involve other members. You can talk about changes to the household budget or chores, ask for help or suggestions, or simply offer appreciation.
Living with multiple generations offers a wealth of benefits. Children build a closer bond with other family members and learn more about their heritage. Adults can care for their aging parents in a more comfortable atmosphere. Grandparents experience a renewed sense of purpose. Planning for the challenges of multi-generational living will help you maximize the enjoyment!
The sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation enabled the 78 million members to dominate the consumer marketplace for generations. Now, 87 Millennials (also known as Gen Y and Echo Boomers)—born between 1980 and 2000—are taking over. With a large number now in the homebuying age range, homebuilders are taking a close look at this unique demographic segment, which happens to view their “dream home” in a very different way from their parents and grandparents.
For one thing, they’re more cautious. They’ve seen older family members and friends lose big time in the real estate market. Many of them are comfortable renting, or moving back in with their parents for an undefined period of time, to the chagrin of mom and dad.
So, they don’t seem to be in a rush, but a recent Redfin Research Center survey showed that, of the 2,000 Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 who responded, 92 percent who do not currently own a home plan to buy one in the near future.
What do Millennials want in a new home?
They aren’t seeking their “location, location, location” in suburbia. Millennials love their independence. They’ve grown up with the technology that keeps them wirelessly connected with their vast world, so they’re not accustomed to restraints. This includes vehicles. Millennials are often attracted to urban locales, within walking distance of or public transport to the services they need.
Size matters, as long as it’s small. Unlike Baby Boomers who enjoyed spreading out, Millennials look for less space and more flexibility. They want functional space that maximizes every square foot, and open floor plans. A formal dining or living room has far less appeal than an open space, like a great room or media room. A kitchen island should serve as both a prep and conversational/eating area.
Green is their favorite color. Expect your Millennial homebuyers to ask about the sustainability of your building materials and practices. They are committed to eco-friendly, energy-efficient homes—with ENERGY STAR appliances, programmable lighting and thermostats, and other high-tech, low-carbon-footprint amenities. Not only can they spell “LEED”, but they want this building certification.
Carefree is preferred. No one really likes unnecessary effort, but Millennials zoom in on low-maintenance features. Features like easy-care flooring and a gas fireplace give them more freedom without compromise. They also don’t concern themselves with large outdoor spaces, as long as they have room for play, cooking, and entertaining.
They know they get dirty. While a mudroom has been an afterthought in the past, Millennials have revived this functional space for organizing clutter. It’s a small space, but a big plus to these homebuyers.
Showers and closets can never be too large. Your Gen Y/Millennial/Echo Boomer homebuyer wants their living space to work intelligently. When it comes to the bathroom shower and storage, that means, go big. Incorporate plenty of storage space and walk-in closets. Make the shower larger, even eliminating the tub altogether.
The Millennial generation sees their home as a life comfort. It’s not a status symbol, nor do they view it with the same investment potential as their elders. By understanding the mindset of this growing number of new homebuyers, you can better guide them toward the right home.