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ARTICLE | Clean Now & Play…Very Soon


A Floor-to-Ceiling Guide to Spring Cleaning

Daylight savings time is a good reminder that it’s time to spring clean. But what I don’t love about the chore is that once the weather gets nice I want to run outside, not be cooped up at home with rubber gloves and a duster. This month, though, is sort of that sweet spot when I can still justify a day indoors before I start to blow off my apartment for greener, sunnier pastures.

Here, I try to make the process less of a chore with our roundup of best spring-cleaning tips. Take your time, go room by room if you want, and soon enough you’ll have your home prepped for the season.

(Image: Bethany Nauert / Irene & Evan’s Welcoming Whimsy House Tour)

Bob Vila’s 5 ‘Must-Do’ Tasks for March


On the cusp of spring, March is the month to start readying your house for the warm weather ahead, as well as to address any projects you put off over the winter.

Get a jump on spring

Even if you’re diligent about cleaning year-round, spring is the traditional time to address those areas of the home missed by your regular cleaning routine. Dust or vacuum out-of-the-way nooks and crannies — the tops of wall-mounted cabinets, for example, and the floor beneath large appliances. Launder or dry clean fabric draperies, and use a damp cloth to clean wood and vinyl blinds. Vacuum upholstered furniture and mattresses, and if you have area rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting, think about renting a carpet cleaner. In short, the goal is to remove dust, mites, and allergens wherever they have settled in order to achieve a healthier home.

Grease residue lingering in the kitchen? Consider washing your cabinets, backsplashes and walls with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent. The same goes for the bathroom, where soap scum, mold and mildew are persistent nuisances. While you’re cleaning tile, look for areas of worn or missing grout, as these may lead to more serious water damage if not repaired.

And just as you readied your furnace for fall, now is the time to make sure your air conditioning unit is in good working order. Change the filter, examine hose connections for leaks, and verify that drain pans are draining freely. If you suspected problems with efficiency or performance last summer, call in a professional to check things out before the warm weather arrives.

Spring cleaning is by no means confined to the indoors. Take a walk around the exterior of your house to evaluate the condition of your home’s roofing, siding, and foundation. Snow, ice, and fluctuating temperatures can all take their toll on shingles and other exterior architectural elements. If you have a deck or patio, give it a good sweep, in the process checking for any minor issues in need of repair. You can get a year’s worth of grime and mildew off your deck and siding in minutes with a pressure washer and an oxygen-based bleach solution.

Source: Closet Maid
Source: Closet Maid

Organize a closet or two

Though many of us would rather keep the door closed on the subject of closet organizationcleaning up your act storage-wise can yield abundant daily and long-term benefits. Pick one closet as a starting point for your efforts and set a goal for what you wish to accomplish. List what you want to store in this closet and identify the ways in which it’s currently letting you down. Big box stores and specialty shops offer storage options running the gamut from strictly functional wire systems to highly decorative cabinetry. Budget, style, and the amount of space you have available should all factor into your decision-making.

Start planning your garden

While it may be too early in most parts of the country to start planting your garden, it’s never too early to plan! Consult seed catalogs or online retailers to find new varieties to experiment with. After all, nurseries and home improvement chains only have room to stock the most popular plants. So if you are looking for heirloom or rare varieties — anything to make your yard truly distinctive this summer — seed catalogs are the way to go. If you’re anxious to begin any way that you can, consider starting your tomatoes from seed indoors.

Paint something — anything!

There’s nothing easier or more rewarding than applying a fresh coat of paint to a room or piece of furniture. Would any room in your house benefit from a totally new hue or just a touchup? The answer is probably yes. If you’re interested in adding bright colors to your home’s palette but aren’t sure where to begin, don’t miss these expert tips on boosting color confidence. And there’s no need to stop at the walls; you can use paint to give new life to an old piece of furniture, worn-out cabinets, or a lackluster stairway.

Create a home office that works for you

Making the right design decisions in your home office can mean the difference between working hard and hardly working! Even if you already have a home office, consider whether there may be a better place for it. Two important questions to ask: Will you actually work in this space (steer clear of bedrooms, which our minds associate with rest), and will there be few distractions (laundry hampers, kitchen sinks, and anything else that might compete for your attention should be out of sight)? Be sure you have room for everything that is essential to the work you do. If your work area is small, take advantage of vertical space by installing shelves above your desk or tall adjacent bookcases. A home office should work for you, so if the setup you have isn’t working, change it!


Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

Real Estate Lead Generation Myths & Tips


Are you struggling to generate business from your real estate website? Before you can change this you must understand the realities of generating quality leads and how to actually turn those leads into clients.In this article we are going to debunk some common myths about real estate lead generation on the web and provide you with some actionable tips to improve your real estate website lead generation and management strategies.Real Estate Lead Generation Myths

Real Estate Web Leads: Top 4 Myths & Tips

Imagine you’re a young professional who just landed a new job and are searching for an apartment in the DC area. What’s your first step? If you guessed searching for “DC apartments” on Google…you were right! Now you, as the real estate professional, are picturing your webpage at the top of both the organic and paid search results. Voilà, instant prospects! Well, not so fast. While visibility is one step closer to your desired sales conversions, there are many more pieces to the puzzle than simply good search results. Below, we debunk some popular myths about real estate lead generation.

MYTH #1: It’s easy to get to the top of search engine results.
Everyone begins with that ideal image in their mind of their website listed beautifully at the top of the Google search results, sometimes both in the organic AND paid results. “I just need to include some quality content, provide some links, and choose the correct keywords, right?” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Getting your page to the top of the results is far from being quick or easy; however it’s better to understand this before diving in head-first. Without the proper preparations and knowledge of your target market, this could be a detrimental mistake to both your time and your wallet.

TIP: Implement a comprehensive online marketing strategy…and stick with it.
If you want to dominate the search engines for your most relevant key phrases, or even just want to take market share away from your competitors, then you must employ a comprehensive strategy. This strategy should be centered around creating unique, quality content on your website or blog. Promote this content through your social networks, PR, email marketing and good old word of mouth.

MYTH #2: It’s nearly impossible to get to the top of the search engine results.
As previously mentioned, it is certainly not easy, but it is definitely not impossible either. If you take the time to care for your website and provide your visitors with exactly what they are seeking, you will get good results.

TIP: Know your target audience and market your services directly to them.
Detailed client personas are a great way to provide visitors with exactly what they’re looking for. Depending on the size of your business, identify several target clients who would be using your services. Don’t be afraid to have fun with this. Find a picture to represent them and give them a name. Where are they from? Do they have pets? Are they tech savvy? How did they hear about your company? Provide as much information as you can about your target clients, then build your website to cater to their needs.

MYTH #3: Visitors are most interested in who you are.
Wrong. Well, yes, they do care, but not right away. Real estate prospects who come to your website from a search engine generally want to see what they searched for. If they like what they see, then they will check out your profile. However, if you don’t have the information, resources or tools they are looking for to find or sell their home, then you can bet that they will be moving on before even looking at that pretty face of yours.

TIP: Don’t make your website primarily about YOU.
Include your personal information and qualifications in the “About” section of your website, but don’t clog up your homepage with it. Including a picture of yourself is important and will help your visitors feel more welcome and connected to you and your webpage, but your face should not be the most prominent thing on your website. Focus your website around resourceful content, user-friendly home search tools and strong calls to action to create a winning formula for quality web lead generation.

MYTH #4: Lead generation trumps lead management.
We have found that this is a very common disbelief among not just real estate agents, but many business owners who lack experience with online marketing. You might have 500 leads, but if only 10 convert, that’s only a 0.02% conversion rate, and this is not enough to support your business. Conversion rates this low usually lead to a poor lead management system – one that can waste all of your hard work and money spent on marketing.

TIP: Guide each visitor all the way through the conversion funnel.
Once you get visitors to your website and are able to get them to provide their contact information, your creativity and hard work must continue. Segment your web leads by any and all information you have collected about them (source, location, interest, stage, etc). Once your lists are segmented then create communications to these lists that specifically target each of these segments. Lastly, don’t give up on a lead or disregard it just because it is “cold”. Cold leads become “hot” leads at some point….IF you spend the time and effort necessary to properly nurture it.

Generating Quality Real Estate Website Leads Starts Here

Quality Real Estate Leads

There you have it, common myths have been debunked and specific tips have been provided. Remember, there are many pieces to the puzzle of mastering your leads generation efforts. Successful real estate web lead generation and management comes from ongoing processes and hard work….not one off projects that have no follow through.

Lead Generation & Management Takeaways

Two things we would like for you to take away from this article are centered around two main questions to ask yourself:

1) Why would anyone want to visit, and more importantly, remain on my website?

Create personas and develop your website to cater to them. This will guarantee your visitors will like what they see and increase the chance of conversion.

2) Do I really have an effective lead management / nurturing system in place?

Don’t use automatic response emails to follow up with leads. Your customers will really appreciate a personal email from you and this will develop stronger relationships. Demonstrate patience and interest and follow up with the needs of each customer.

Follow these two things, at the very least, and you will begin to see results.

We would like to thank Annette Dvorak who provided some fantastic contributions to this post. Annette works at Contactually, a startup that has created a web-based personal assistant that automatically reminds you to follow up with the most important people in your network. Connect with her through LinkedIn or Twitter @annettedvorak.

Seriously.  Do it.


Bidding wars. Buyers paying cash. Homes selling for more than asking price.

Are we entering another housing bubble? No. But prospective buyers in many markets may be shocked at the competitive nature of the home-buying process these days.

The number of homes for sale fell to a 13-year low in January, leaving would-be buyers chasing a shrinking supply of homes just before the spring selling season.

“On a national scale, the market is clearly rebounding,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at “It’s not that the prices are crazy, but the buyers outnumber the available homes for sale.”

There was an average of 4.8 months of supply of existing homes for sale in the fourth quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors (that is, it would take 4.8 months to sell off the inventory at the current pace).

Six months’ supply is closer to normal, says Celia Chen, a housing economist with Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm. In 2010, it went as high as 10 months. “Prices are starting to rise as a result of the strong demand relative to low supplies,” says Ms. Chen.

That said, prices still are about 30% below their peak, she says. And the reasons for the slim pickings aren’t good news. Lenders are taking their time putting bank-owned properties on the market, in part to keep prices up.

Plus, prospective sellers are waiting until prices rise before listing their homes for sale. About 11.9 million homeowners are still underwater—that is, they owe more on their mortgage than the home is worth—according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

“When you’re underwater, you’re much less likely to list your home,” Ms. Chen says.


And that means a potentially tough time for buyers. “You might have to look and shop around a lot,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of, a housing-market data provider. “Competition for the most attractive properties is going to be stronger than you think.”

Real estate is local, of course. Inventories aren’t as tight in Michigan and Ohio, for example, where many distressed homes are on the market, or in Oklahoma, where the market is more stable. But buyers may find their choices limited in parts of Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Texas, California and the Washington, D.C. area, among other places.

If you’re in a tight market, consider these strategies to smooth the process:

1. Stay calm

Don’t spend more than you can really afford.


“There’s a renewed frenzy” in the market these days, says Christy Dean, a real-estate agent with Walt Danley Realty, focused on the luxury market in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Buyers can get caught up in the hype, and that can mean spending too much, she says.

“I’ve seen it happen so many times. The wife is about to have their first or second baby. They have to have a house on this street,” she says. “Don’t get house poor. Be conservative.”

2. Make your best offer

Remain calm, yes, but be realistic. When bidding on a home with multiple offers, you need your offer to stand out.

“Be bold,” says Hal Lehrman, owner of Brooklyn Properties in New York. “Usually, the best buyer we have on a bidding war is the guy who lost the last bidding war. He’s ready. He doesn’t want that to happen again.”

The danger is overpaying, but if it’s the right house for you, that risk is tempered by other considerations. “In a rising market, you look back five years from now, you’re not going to care about that extra $5,000,” Mr. Lehrman says.

3. Check credit

Before setting foot in an open house or lender’s office, check your credit reports (you can get one free report annually from each of three credit-reporting companies at this website). “If you see anything that doesn’t appear correct or needs updating, a good time to make those changes is before you’re in the process,” says Mr. Gumbinger.

Consider buying your credit score as well. (One option is With your score in hand, you’re in a position to negotiate, he says. You can say to the lender: “I’m looking for a 30-year-fixed [mortgage], I have a Fico [score] of 760, I can put 20% down. What sort of interest rates and closing costs can you offer me?”

4. Account for assets

In competitive markets, buyers need a lender’s preapproval in hand before looking at homes.

“Preapproval is absolutely a must,” says Vince Malta, a Realtor in San Francisco and a regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors.

Be prepared for a stringent underwriting process. Lenders want to see a consistent income stream. And a gift or funds transfer must be well documented, Mr. Malta says, in part to ensure you’re receiving a true gift, rather than a phantom loan. “If it’s not properly documented, it won’t be counted toward your down payment,” he says.

One benefit to a preapproval is that it sets a price limit on your home shopping, Mr. McBride says. “There’s no sense falling in love with a place you can’t afford to buy because you can’t get approved for the loan.”

5. Bring a big down payment

If possible, bringing more than 20% to the table will help your offer remain competitive.

“Anything that helps the down-payment side of it is a persuasive thing for a seller,” Mr. Lehrman says. “It reduces the possibility that there will be a bank problem.”

6. Be nice

If you’re competing for a house with other buyers, stand out by making life a little easier for the seller. For example, be flexible about the closing date.

“If all things are equal—the seller is getting the same dollar amount from me or the next person—but I give the seller the flexibility of the settlement date that he prefers, maybe the seller is going to say, ‘Money’s not everything,’ ” says Dominic Cardone, a partner at Keller Williams Real Estate in Media, Pa., and a regional vice president with the National Association of Realtors.

7. Find a good agent

An experienced real-estate agent may alert you to homes before they come on the market. Plus, if your agent is respected, that can help you stand out with the seller’s agent.


Shouldn’t that be called an Estimated Good Faith Estimate?

Mortgage Shopping: How to Compare Good Faith Estimates

Home on stack of billsWhen you’re in the process of buying a property and financing your purchase, you probably would like to make sure your lender is giving you a fair deal. In order to make that determination, you need to get at least two bids from different lenders. They should give you these bids, which show the total costs and the interest rate you are eligible for, on the federally required Good Faith Estimate (GFE) form.

Theoretically, you can use the different lenders’ good faith estimates to compare the cost of financing between those lenders. This, however, is easier said than done because the costs that are most relevant to determining whether you’re getting the best deal — loan origination charges, credits and points — are mixed among other costs that are not determined by the lender. The combined costs are noted on page 2 of the GFE under “Estimated Settlement Charges.”

So, how do you isolate the relevant costs that you need to review so you can make a better decision on the lower cost provider for mortgage financing?

In order to dissect and isolate the costs that the lender is charging you, have your lender add up the lender costs in lines 1, 2 and 3, which they would estimate on page 2 of the GFE, and provide you the loan interest rate for which you are qualified (and loan lock period).

So if Lender A estimates the lender costs at $3,500 for a 45-day loan lock at 3.5 percent, you can go to Lender B and ask for an estimate of costs on a 45-day loan lock at 3.5 percent for your borrowing and credit profile. Then you can compare the lender cost estimates and determine which offer is the best deal.

Some other costs on the GFE — such as title and homeowners insurance costs — are also important and relevant to your transaction, but they don’t need to be reviewed when selecting the best financing deal because those costs are not paid to the lender.


Leonard Baron is America’s Real Estate Professor®. His unbiased, neutral and inexpensive “Real Estate Ownership, Investment and Due Diligence 101” textbook teaches potential real estate buyers how to make smart and safe purchase decisions. He is a San Diego State University Lecturer, blogs at, and loves kicking the tires of a good piece of dirt! More at

Phone home…


Urban Vertical Farm and Pick-it-Yourself Market


When industrial designer Ben Green and grower Tyler Nevers saw a need for suppling urban food-loving folks with locally grown produce at reasonable prices, they devised a plan and successfully raised $25,000 on Kickstarter for a small scale urban “artisan” farm and market that they hope one day will become as common as the corner store.

Their Raleigh, North Carolina prototype, The Farmery, is an urban variation of a rural farm market: an all-in-one neighborhood urban food farm and retail farmer’s market that consolidates the food system by growing and selling the food all under one roof–including the sides and floor.


Constructed of stacked low-cost shipping containers and attached modular lean-to greenhouses, on the exterior facades of the containers living walls utilize a proprietary hydroponic vertical growing system to grow produce that The Farmery sells in its pick-your-own market.



A freestanding central greenhouse serves as a growing and retailing area, where customers can pick their own crops right off the growing panels.


The plan includes three containers dedicated to cultivating gourmet mushrooms, where water reservoirs line the walls to soak the blocks in between the fruiting. Oyster mushrooms grow in a ground-level container, Shiitake in one of two upper level containers, another with a rotating variety of seasonal mushrooms throughout the year including maitake, black poplar, king oyster.


Pick it Yourself Vertical Farm
Growing vertically saves space and insulates the containers, eliminating the need to cover them. In the central and lean-to greenhouses, the lightweight, modular growing panels are easily moved and produce is harvested through the container openings. The farmers grow seedlings and microgreens on the walls of the lean-to greenhouses in stacked trays.



Environmental Control
Solar water heaters with radiant heat pex tubing along the container outside walls provide heating near the root zone of the plants. The shipping containers are air conditioned, insulated by a ceramic coating on the containers, closed cell foam, and the growing system itself. Evaporative coolers, shade cloths and misting fans provide cooling in the greenhouses.

“Curated Farm Boutique”
In a climate controlled “food boutique” container, The Farmery will sell a ”curated” selection of locally grown crops from artisanal farmers.


DIY Home Vertical Farm
If you aren’t in the Raleigh area, you can purchase the just-introduced Farm Buddy, The Farmery’s version of felt panel vertical living wall. Farm Buddy uses a peat moss sponge growing substrate  known for high water retention, contains a built-in reservoir, and top flaps which form a backsplash to catch water runoff.


Like other living wall panels on the market, Farm Buddy is modular so one can combine several to create a large green wall to grow a variety of food, ornamentals, or both.


The Future: Neighborhood Urban Farm Stores
The Farmery team hopes to raise the value of produce through an educational and sensory retail experience that also reduces cost by consolidating the entire food distribution system into a single integrated site.


Green and Nevers envision the neighborhood urban farm becoming as common as the corner store or bodega. The Farmery will be able to offer mushrooms, fish, greens and herbs for prices that meet or beat organic supermarket prices–all the while reestablishing relationships between urban consumers and their food by educating them about how their food is produced.

5 Cheap and Easy Fixes Before You List Your Home


Thinking of listing your home? Of course, you’ll want to get the best possible price. Before you call a major renovation squad for a TV-style home makeover, try these cheap and easy fixes to increase your home’s appeal.


Start with the easiest fix of all. Pack up and hide or store some of your possessions. Stash your collections of porcelain dolls or “Star Wars” figurines; the less of your stuff potential buyerssee, the more likely they will be to envision themselves — and their stuff — in the home.

Add curb appeal

Next, take a look at your home from the street. Could it benefit from a little landscaping? Clear away any dead plants, trim back limbs and bushes, and check out your local home improvement store’s garden section. Small flowering plants and other foliage is very affordable and easily adds instant charm.

Deep clean

The next easy fix is to clean. No, really clean. Pressure wash the driveway, and have your tile and carpets professionally cleaned. Clean your window treatments and remove scuff marks around the baseboards. All the little things that may go unnoticed from day to day will make the home look much better when they are all sparkly-clean.

Go neutral

Watch about 20 seconds of any real estate reality show and you’ll surely hear a prospective buyer lament about the owner’s poor choice in color. “Oh, it’s so … blue.” This is like nails on a chalkboard to real estate professionals because it is literally one of the easiest things to change. The solution: Repaint some of your boldest walls a good old off-white or beige neutral. It will also help you start to detach emotionally from your home as you enter the sale process.

Kitchens and bathrooms

Kitchens and bathrooms are the two rooms that really sell a home. Give them a quick mini-makeover by making a few inexpensive hardware changes; towel racks, accent shelves, even light switches and utility plate covers are cheap and easy to fix. Also, refer to No. 1 and stash your family photos on the refrigerator and deep-six the extensive pile of magazines in the restroom.

With these five tips, you can give your home a major makeover on a budget in the hundreds versus the thousands and get it ready to list for top dollar.


Samantha (Sam) DeBianchi is a Realtor and founder of DeBianchi Real Estate. Her expert real estate advice and straightforward approach can be seen and heard on FOX Business. Always keeping it REAL, you can follow Sam online on Twitter and Facebook.

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Nice…if this photo wasn’t taken on a breezy night in June.

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