Planning to Sell Your Home? Make Sure the Trees are Good to Go

Everybody loves trees. Trees fuel little children’s dreams of climbing, swinging and playing hide and seek. Trees provide shade to sit under; their leaves rustle appealingly in the breeze, and the branches have a unique beauty even in winter after the leaves have fallen. Trees offer homes for birds and squirrels; they enrich air quality and quality of life, and it’s calming to look out on a green landscape after a hectic day. But what should you be doing with your trees when trying to sell your home to picky home buyers?

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Boost Curb Appeal

Some homeowners tire of the seasonal job of raking leaves, the time and effort it takes to trim overhanging limbs, and the potential damage caused by spreading roots. Some avid gardeners might even prefer more sun than a heavily-treed lot provides. But, the curb appeal of landscaping, especially tall trees, is well-documented.

If your trees are healthy, attractive and well-groomed, prospective buyers will be more likely to love them — and your house. According to the National Association of Realtors, yards that boast mature trees and shrubbery for privacy also fetch higher selling prices and help properties sell more quickly even than yards with lush lawns and flower gardens.

Nationwide surveys place the “value added” figure of well-maintained towering trees between seven and 19 percent of total sales price. Studies conducted by both the University of Washington and Clemson University suggest that money spent on trees and associated professional landscaping can be recouped more easily than money spent on interior renovation, even popular kitchen and bathroom remodeling. If a coordinated, well-designed outdoor space includes expansive patios, stone walls and privacy in addition to tall trees, the homeowner might expect a 100 percent return on investment. The benefits of curb appeal simply cannot be understated for home sellers.

Make the Most of Trees

Like all living things, trees require the proper care in order to remain healthy and beautiful.

The question, then, is how to maintain your trees to best advantage?

Young trees need water and food, ongoing maintenance and occasional trimming in order to grow strong and tall. The right amount of irrigation and mulch are important, and pests and disease can threaten all trees at one time or another. Even older trees need pruning to look their best. And, in our neck of the woods, winter snow and ice can cause lasting damage, as can spring storms and and summer’s heat and humidity.

Tree-Mendous offers a full range of tree services to area residents — from planting to giving healthful injections, from trimming and pruning to treating for pests. After a severe storm or an attack of the Emerald Ash Borer, we can assess damage to see if a “broken” tree can be repaired. If tree removal is necessary, efficient and timely removal can be arranged without leaving a mess in your yard. Also ask about stump grinding and tree cabling services.

The Value of Landscape Trees

Even though we are lucky to have the benefit of old growth species in the state, most homeowners will want to select trees that enhance their lot and their home’s architecture. Experts caution owners to “do their homework,” consult with a professional to formulate a coordinated landscaping plan, and begin early. Professionals note that landscapes take time to mature, sometimes as long as five to seven years to look their best.

It’s important to select plants and trees that are appropriate for your locale — not only based on climate, but also on soil conditions, wind patterns, maintenance needs and any pertinent site consideration, including drainage and house placement. Young trees need care, but they are extremely resilient and adaptable, so don’t hesitate to add trees to your landscape.  They will grow to be strong and healthy with proper attention.

In short, trees add value to real estate. Just don’t neglect them. Keeping them well-groomed and healthy means that they will always be an asset, adding to your enjoyment for as long as you live in your home, and adding financial benefit when you decide to sell your property.

Best smart home system


Updated July 18, 2017 to include our review of the Home8 Video-Verified Home Security Alarm System. From smart light bulbs and thermostats that think for themselves to  Bluetooth door locks, wireless security cameras, and all manner of sensors, today’s home technology can sound awfully sophisticated while actually being a messy hodgepodge of gizmos and apps. Whether you call it home automation or the connected home, installing all this stuff in your house is one thing. Getting it to work together smoothly and with a single user interface can be something entirely different.

Here’s the essential gear to get you there, which we’ve separated into two categories: all-around smart home systems, which are designed to coordinate a wide variety of smart home products, and security-focused systems, which are built around sensors and sirens. You should also note that some of our picks are starter kits, consisting of a smart-home hub and a handful of devices, while others are just the hub. You’ll need to add the components you want to the latter, choosing from products certified by the hub manufacturer.

 smart home hub lead art

For breadth and depth of supported smart home products, you won’t find a smart home system that handles more than Samsung SmartThings. At its core is a small square box that plugs into your router (and Samsung’s Connect Home will soon eliminate that requirement by integrated a mesh router with a SmartThings hub). Through the SmartThings mobile app, you then start adding your various devices through its simple yet intuitive control system. These can be sensors or light bulbs that Samsung sells directly, or (more likely) you can choose from a vast number of products that boast “Works with SmartThings” compatibility.

Seemingly every major category is covered, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home, numerous major smart lighting products (including Philips and Sylvania gear), the Ring Video Doorbell, and a full 20 smart door locks. SmartThings can also integrate with your Samsung smart appliances—even the vacuum cleaner. If there’s a gap in SmartThings’ coverage, it’s a lack of (official) support for Nest products and relatively weak support for third-party security cameras (although third-party support code is often available if you’re willing to tinker). Otherwise it’s hard to find a smart market that SmartThings doesn’t play in.


Spotlight On Moving Mountains Design: Staging Luxury Homes for Sale


This week we shine the spotlight on Moving Mountains Design. Those needing to sell a  big luxury home in the Los Angeles area call on owner Michelle Minch. She and her team swoop in and choose just the right paintings, rugs, sofas and even duvet covers to make a property fetch top dollar. Minch says she has 6 part-time employees in all and has been in business eight years.

WHAT THE BUSINESS IS KNOWN FOR: Being the luxury home stager for the Los Angeles market.

Very few professional stagers own enough inventory to stage larger homes. Even fewer have the kind of higher end furniture, Persian rugs, artwork and accessories needed to complete these jobs successfully. Moving Mountains Design has a warehouse full of beautiful accessories, furniture, artwork, linens, throw pillows and lamps appropriate to luxury homes. At the Real Estate Staging Association International Conference this year, Minch presented a workshop on luxury home staging to a standing-room-only audience. The conference is kind of like a Ted Talks for professional home stagers.

HOW THE BUSINESS GOT STARTED: A trip to Kansas City to wow some home buyers.

The first home Minch staged (and got paid for) was for an interior design client. They asked her to help them get their Kansas City home ready to sell. Minch was flown from Los Angeles. She did a lot of editing, rearranging and upgraded the kitchen with granite counters and new backsplash. The sellers expected the home to take six months to a year to sell, which was the norm at that time in Kansas City. It was the early 2000’s. They went under contract almost immediately and closed escrow about two months later – shockingly fast. Minch didn’t call what she did staging back then. She just told colleagues she was “getting the house ready to sell”. But back home, one of her neighbors was a real estate agent. When she heard about Minch’s success, she started calling her to stage listings. Word got out and other agents started calling. And the rest is history.

BIGGEST RISK TAKEN IN THE BUSINESS: Taking a line of credit for high end inventory

The biggest risk was a home equity line of credit on a rental property which Minch used to grow her company and keep it in the black. She says if her business hadn’t prospered, she could have potentially lost that property to foreclosure. The end result is that she has been able to purchase a very large stock of higher end inventory, furniture, artwork and accessories. This allowed her to position herself as a luxury home staging expert.

BIGGEST WINS? Professional Stager of the Year and More.

In 2010, Minch was voted Professional Stager of the Year by the Real Estate Staging Association. Being chosen as the best professional stager in the United States and Canada by her peers- over 1,000 professional home stagers- was a huge honor. This year she was voted RESA Top 10 Professional Home Stager in the U.S.

Winning these awards has given Minch “street cred.” It has given her great credibility with her peers, her clients and with the media. It has also been a wonderful marketing and public relations opportunity.

IF THIS BUSINESS WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

Minch says she’s an eternal optimist. She surrounds herself with optimistic people. Her company culture is optimistic, creative and up-beat. Since the work the company does is very physically demanding, it helps to be surrounded by happy people, Minch says.

Runner up would be “High Hopes” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Minch admits her favorite version is by Jiminy Cricket.


Though Minch feels her team is a pretty diverse group, she says she’s never had anyone say no to Japanese food.


“Big doors swing on little hinges”

The quote is attributed to businessman and philanthropist W. Clement Stone.


Olive Garden: At Least 1 More Breadstick Creation On the Way

Darden Restaurants Inc. Reports 3rd Quarter Earnings Results

NEW YORK — Olive Garden isn’t finished dreaming up new ways to use its breadsticks.

The Italian restaurant chain said earlier this month it would introduce “breadstick sandwiches” as part of a broader menu revamp intended to play up its most popular offerings. The sandwiches don’t arrive until June 1, but Olive Garden already has a follow-up act planned with “breadstick crostini” in August.

The “breadstick crostini” — or toasted bread — will be sliced and used as part of an appetizer, said Jose Duenas, Olive Garden’s executive vice president of marketing.

“The flavor profile of the breadstick is powerful,” Duenas said in an interview.

Olive Garden, which is owned by Darden Restaurants (DRI), has been fighting to hold onto customers as competition has intensified from rivals that are seen as quicker, more affordable and more in line with changing tastes.

Darden Restaurants Inc. (DRI) | FindTheCompany

To win back diners, the chain has tried to modernize its image by ditching its long-running TV ads evoking Old World charm and adding menu items to offer greater variety. Now under new management, Olive Garden says it wants to focus on the things it does best, rather than chase trends.

To enhance its unlimited salad, for instance, Duenas said Olive Garden will start offering grilled chicken as a topping. It will also bring back a variation of its “Tour of Italy” dish, which includes smaller portions of three entrees.

The breadstick creations are notable in part because of a public spat last year with an investor that was trying to take control of the company. Among other criticisms laid out in a nearly 300-page presentation, Starboard Value said Olive Garden wasn’t being disciplined in distributing its unlimited breadsticks, which led to waste. It also said the quality of the breadsticks seemed to have declined and compared them to hot dog buns.

Soon after, Starboard ended up winning control of Darden’s board of directors. Olive Garden hasn’t said what changes it has made — if any — to address the criticisms detailed by Starboard. But during an appearance on “Wall Street Week” earlier this month, Starboard CEO Jeff Smith said “it might surprise people that I actually like the breadsticks.”

Since the breadstick sandwiches were announced, Olive Garden executive chef Jim Nuetzi said he has been getting other suggestions for dishes that incorporate breadsticks.

Taco Bell, Pizza Hut to Boot Artificial Ingredients

Taco Bell Menu

NEW YORK — Taco Bell and Pizza Hut say they’re getting rid of artificial colors and flavors, making them the latest big food companies scrambling to distance themselves from ingredients people might find unappetizing.

Instead of “black pepper flavor,” for instance, Taco Bell will start using actual black pepper in its seasoned beef, says Liz Matthews, the chain’s chief food innovation officer.

The Mexican-style chain also says the artificial dye Yellow No. 6 will be removed from its nacho cheese, Blue No. 1 will be removed from its avocado ranch dressing and carmine, a bright pigment, will be removed from its red tortilla strips.

Matthews said some of the new recipes are being tested in select markets and should be in stores nationally by the end of the year.

The country’s biggest food makers are facing pressure from smaller rivals that position themselves as more wholesome alternatives. Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) in particular has found success in marketing itself as an antidote to traditional fast food. In April, Chipotle announced it had removed genetically modified organisms from its food, even though the Food and Drug Administration says GMOs are safe.

Critics say the purging of chemicals is a response to unfounded fears over ingredients, but companies are nevertheless rushing to ensure their recipes don’t become disadvantages. In recent months, restaurant chains including Panera Bread (PNRA), McDonald’s (MCD) and Subway have said they’re switching recipes for one or more products to use ingredients people can more easily recognize.

John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University, said companies are realizing some ingredients may not be worth the potential harm they might cause to their images, given changing attitudes about additives.

Additionally, he noted that the removal of artificial ingredients can be a way for companies to give their food a healthy glow without making meaningful changes to their nutritional profiles. For instance, Coupland said reducing salt, sugar or portion sizes would have a far bigger impact on public health.

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are owned by Yum Brands (YUM), which had hinted the changes would be on the way. At a conference for investors late last year, Yum CEO Greg Creed referred to the shifting attitudes and the desire for “real food” as a revolution in the industry.

Yum Brands Inc. (YUM) | FindTheCompany

Representatives at KFC and Yum’s corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky weren’t immediately available to comment on whether the fried chicken chain would also be removing artificial ingredients.

Pizza Hut says it will remove artificial flavors and colors by the end of July. It said it will start listing all it ingredients online once the changes are completed.

Taco Bell says it will take out artificial colors, artificial flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and unsustainable palm oil from its food by the end of 2015. It says artificial preservatives will be removed “where possible” by 2017. The moves don’t affect fountain drinks or co-branded products, such as its Doritos-flavored taco shells.

Brian Niccol, the chain’s CEO, said the company would work to keep its menu affordable.

“I do not want to lose any element of being accessible to the masses,” Niccol said.

When asked whether the changes would affect taste, a representative for Taco Bell said in an email that “It will be the same great tasting Taco Bell that people love.”

From Flat Broke at 37 to Self-Made Millionaire

Barry MaherThrough saving and investing, a lot of hard work and, in his words, more than a little luck, motivational business speaker and author Barry Maher went from being broke at age 37 to being a self-made millionaire and semi-retiree who can afford to retire completely.

What Does ‘Semi-Retired’ Really Mean?

Now 67, Maher only works when he wants, how he wants and as often as he wants. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. But who knew this would be in the cards for the boy who started out selling greeting cards door-to-door?

Maher was self-employed through college and built a successful business selling advertising products from scratch, but sold it so he could pursue a career writing fiction. Unfortunately, he financed the sale, the new owners ran the business into the ground and he lost any chance of being paid in full.

“I only got about 30 to 40 percent of the base price and a small pittance of what was supposed to be royalties. What was intended to be an annuity turned into nothing with breathtaking speed.” Making matters worse, his novels weren’t selling well and he found himself flat broke at the age of 37.

So how did Maher turn that situation around to become so successful?

The Journey from Broke to Millionaire

Maher credits his becoming a millionaire in large part to making good money in the corporate world and as a speaker. Armed with his experience of building a business from nothing, Maher got a job with GTE as a salesman. “I busted my butt because I was absolutely broke,” he confesses. “I worked ridiculous hours from the time I woke up to the time I collapsed into bed.” Maher quickly became the Fortune 500 company’s top salesman, earning a promotion and financial security.

With money to invest, Maher dabbled in the stock market. He admits that he doesn’t have the time or the expertise to pick individual stocks, but he has bought many index funds that have done well over the years.

Maher also credits his frugality for helping him to save the money he has. As he explained, “Whenever I buy something I think of how hard I had to work to make the money for it.” For example, he imagines his Honda Accord, not just as a car, but as whatever he had to do to earn the $25,000 it cost him. “That mindset always makes my Honda seem more attractive when I start to think about buying a Mercedes,” Maher quips. Barry’s view on his Honda is the same I have on my 1998 Chevy Lumina that I inherited from my grandmother.

One day, Maher’s literary agent suggested that instead of writing more fiction, he should try his hand at a business book. Although dubious at first, Maher wrote a specialty book on Yellow Pages advertising and was soon asked to speak at small business events on the topic. Maher took this opportunity to broaden his field of expertise and he began consulting on various sales and management issues.

The book that really helped to establish Maher as a sought-after motivational speaker was “Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business,” which was translated into a number of languages and was cited by “Today’s Librarian” as “one of the seven essential popular business books.”

Common Misconceptions about Millionaires

Maher stressed that many millionaires today live normal lifestyles free of limousines and yachts. He drives an economy car and lives in a typical house. Because he doesn’t have a mortgage and is frugal, he could afford to retire when he was 60. As he points out, a million dollars doesn’t have the same spending power it once did. The writer estimates that, excluding travel and business expenses, it costs him significantly less than $100,000 a year to maintain his lifestyle.

It is easy to be intimidated by Maher’s success and accomplishments, but everyone has hiccups to overcome on the road to success. Even though he might have changed some of his past decisions, Maher acknowledges that without his experiences, he wouldn’t have anything to pass on to others.

For example, Maher gave many free presentations until he got himself established as a speaker. His first gig as a paid speaker was an excruciating 6-hour seminar on the Yellow Pages that he put together himself. “I bored the paint off the walls,” he recalls. “It was terrible! But if I hadn’t done that wrong, I never would have learned how to do it right.”

What Financial Freedom Really Looks Like

Although he has been broke, Maher has never been seriously in debt. “I don’t buy it until I have the cash to pay for it,” he says. For Maher, the biggest advantage of avoiding debt was having the financial freedom to try a new career if he didn’t enjoy his job.

He built an emergency fund to know that he wouldn’t starve if nobody hired him for six months or a year. In the corporate world, this financial independence earned Maher a reputation for being brutally honest, “because I knew I could walk away from that job anytime I wanted. That is the kind of freedom that kept me working.”

“The best investment you’re ever going to make is the investment in yourself,” says Maher. “You can’t take charge of your life if you’re paying money to other people. Then the bank’s in charge of your life. You’ve got to get out from under the thumb of debt if you’re actually going to succeed in the way that you would like to.”

Advice to Give Your Younger Self

I asked Maher what he would tell young workers about how to succeed:

  1. Do your homework. Maher’s worst investment was buying a franchise for a sales business. “I thought I’d investigated it, but I really hadn’t and it turned out to be a loss. I basically had to write it off.”
  2. Be open to trying something new. If you have too rigid an idea of what your career or your retirement will look like, then you will miss amazing opportunities that present themselves.
  3. Recognize the real cost of your purchases. You might think of frugality as being a drag, but if you don’t acknowledge that every dollar you spend costs you time at work, then you will never get out of the work-spend-work-spend treadmill.
  4. Don’t be in denial about your situation. It’s hard to fess up when things are going the way you want, but you have to own your situation, drop the denial and work your crazy to get out of it.

Generation Rent: Why Millennials Aren’t Buying Homes

House For Sale sign and daffodils, Spring of 2010Back in the day, moving out of your parents’ home probably meant you were moving into one of your own.

But whether you blame it on the economy or just a generational shift in values, young adult homeowners are becoming increasingly rare.

Case in point: recent stats find that only 38 percent of millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 owned homes in 2012, compared to 52 percent of the same age group in 1980.

So just why is “generation rent” so adverse to home-buying?

Well, that depends on where they live. Asurvey from Carrington Mortgage Services found that the underlying causes actually vary from region to region.

In the Western states, for example, millennials are most worried about being able to shore up enough for a down payment. That makes sense — considering the region’s average down payment amount tends to far exceed the national average.

Moving over to the Midwest however, millennials have misgivings for a much different reason: student loan debt. Experts suspect this is because salaries tend to be lower here, leaving student loan debt taking a greater chunk of the generation’s take-home pay — and making homeownership a more daunting challenge.

In the Northeast, Gen Y is most concerned with credit card debt, while Southern millennials actually shy away from homeownership for two reasons: concern about low credit scores, as well as simply not knowing where to start.

But not everyone is ditching the white-picket fence altogether. Despite their current low confidence, more than half of millennials surveyed said that they plan to buy a home within the next two years.

Pending Home Sales Jump to Strongest Level in 9 Years

California Homes

WASHINGTON — Americans signed contracts to buy homes in April at the fastest pace in nearly nine years, evidence that steady job growth is strengthening the real estate market.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index climbed 3.4 percent to 112.4 last month. It’s the fourth consecutive monthly gain. The index now stands at its highest level since May 2006.

The confidence has returned to housing, not only as shelter but as a good long-term investment.

“The confidence has returned to housing, not only as shelter but as a good long-term investment,” said Ron Peltier, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s real estate affiliate, HomeServices of America.

The upswing comes after a year of strong hiring, which has heightened demand to buy houses. Increased sales should help bolster the economy, but the surge could potentially destabilize the housing market, Peltier cautioned. Inventories remain low, causing home values to rise at a pace that is eclipsing wage growth.

Signed contracts are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

Pending sales increased in the Northeast, Midwest and South, while barely edging upward in the West. Greater demand has fueled sales growth this year after a lackluster 2014. Still, there is evidence that limited inventories are beginning to weigh on the market.

Sales of existing homes fell slightly between April and March to an annual clip of 5.04 million last month, the Realtors reported last week. The decrease may reflect complications in finalizing sales in addition to the shortage of listings.

Less Inventory

The inventory of homes listed for sale has declined 0.9 percent over the past year, so would-be buyers have fewer choices and may face bidding wars.

On average, existing homes sold in 39 days last month, versus 52 days in March and 62 days in February, the Realtors said.

Employers have hired 3.1 million new workers over the past 12 months. But wages are rising at a 2.1 percent annual clip, about four times slower than prices of existing homes.

Nationwide, the median price of an existing home surged 8.9 percent over the past 12 months to $219,400.

Unless home values level off because more supply comes onto the market, economists warn that buyers will be priced out of the market and sales will suffer.

Still, there is tremendous pressure on buyers to find homes quickly, since average rates for 30-year, fixed mortgages may start to climb from the relatively low sub-4 percent level.

A new analysis by indicates nationwide that waiting one year to buy will subtract $18,672 from the benefits of owning over the course of 30 years.