Why Fake Grass is Gaining Popularity

By Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Want a picture-perfect lawn? Maybe fake grass is the answer. It solves watering, weeding, and fertilizing woes. But is it perfect?

If you live in a low-water area, or if you’re just tired of constant lawn maintenance, you’re in good company.

More homeowners are saving time, water — and their backs — by switching from real grass to artificial turf.

Synthetic grass for landscaping and recreation is growing 10% to 15% a year in the U.S.

That means more and more homeowners are using fakes for:

  • Lawns
  • Dog runs
  • Play areas
  • Pool surrounds
  • Rooftops
  • Putting greens
  • Decorative borders between patio pavers

Faking It is Right for You If:

  • You’re tired of watering, weeding, fertilizing, and cutting real grass.
  • Your summer water bills are too high.
  • You don’t want to use chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
  • You believe artificial grass looks as good as real grass — maybe better.

What Exactly is Artificial Grass?

Fake grass consists of filaments threaded into a backing that lets water through. The backing is laid on a drainage layer, usually compacted gravel, and fastened along the perimeter. Then it’s filled with recycled crumb rubber or sand to keep it from blowing away in a stiff breeze.

Today’s synthetic grass is made of nylon, polyethylene, or polypropylene that’s colored to look like various species.

Synlawn, one of the largest manufacturers of synthetic grass, offers: SYNBermuda, SYNFescue, SYNZoysia — you get the idea. Some grasses even have a thatch layer that makes a yard look less Stepford-like and more realistic.

Let’s Talk Money

Artificial grass comes with a big upfront cost — $5 to $20 per square foot, installed. Once it’s down, it’s free for the next 15 to 25 years.

Professionally laid sod, on the other hand, costs only 14 to 60 cents per square foot. But that’s where expenditures (and upkeep) begin. You’ve got to water, mow, fertilize — all of which cost money and take time.

Let’s crunch some numbers on a hypothetical 500-square-foot yard.

First year costs:

Artificial Grass
Installation ($12.50/sq. ft. average) $6,250

 

Natural Sod
Installation (37 cents/sq. ft. average) $185

Annual costs:

Artificial Grass
Watering n/a
Fertilizing n/a
Gardener/Lawn Man n/a
Annual Total: $0

 

Natural Sod
Watering ($15/month for 6 months) $90
Fertilizing (20 cents/sq. ft.) $100
Gardener/Lawn Man ($25/week for 26 weeks) $650
Annual Total: $840

So, it would take about seven years for maintenance-free artificial grass to recoup its initial cost. If you’re planning on staying put for longer than that, you’ll begin to save money each year.

What are the Good Points of Artificial Grass?

  • It saves water.
  • It’s easy to maintain.
  • Synthetic grass can be environmentally friendly.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority says a home owner saves 55 gallons of water per year for every square foot of natural grass replaced with synthetic. Plus, some water companies in drought-prone areas will offer a cash rebate for artificial grass, up to $1 per square foot.

You’ve got to blow off leaves and other debris, and hose off pet waste. But there’s no mowing, seeding, edging, and fertilizing — lawn maintenance chores that take the average home owner about 150 hours per year, says Ted Steinberg, author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.”

The Synthetic Turf Council says synthetic lawns’ recycled crumb rubber infill keeps 20 million rubber tires out of landfills every year.

What are the Drawbacks?

  • It’s not completely maintenance-free.
  • It can’t absorb and break down pet urine.
  • It heats up in direct sun.
  • It can’t be recycled.
  • Some HOAs and municipalities ban fake grass.

Weeds can still grow in the dust or rotted leaves that can accumulate; so, you’ll have to spend time blowing or raking.

If you don’t hose off pet runs regularly, they’ll stink.

It radiates heat to surrounding people, pets, trees, and buildings. Shade trees, which prevent real grass from growing, will prevent fake grass from getting too hot.

Although the industry is working on ways to recycle old synthetic grass, currently fakes end up in landfills.

Alternatives to Fake Grass

  • Low-Maintenance Turf Grasses
  • Natural Lawn Replacement Ideas

Or, if you want to green up your lawn in a hurry, try lawn paint. [Just kidding]

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
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What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

By John Riha

If you’re new to homeownership, you’ll definitely want to avoid these boneheaded but easy-to-prevent mistakes that could cost you big time.

We know so well the thrill of owning your own house — but don’t let the excitement cause you to overlook the basics. We’ve gathered up a half dozen classic boo-boos new homeowners often commit — and give you some insight on why each is critically important to avoid.

1. Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve Is

Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home’s interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight — including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it’s located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it’ll work when you need it to.

2. Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole

Ah, spring! You’re so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don’t — not until you’ve dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property — often within a day — to mark the location of underground pipes, cables, and wires.

This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.

3. Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn’t soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.

This kind of water damage doesn’t happen overnight — it’s accumulative — so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you’ll be. While you’re at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

4. Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let’s start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don’t have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

5. Carelessly Drilling into Walls

Hanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls — but do you know what’s back there? Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.

You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor — a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.

But stud sensors aren’t foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max — enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that’s a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches — wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

6. Cutting Down a Tree

The risk isn’t worth it. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor’s property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that’s best left to a professional tree service.

Plus, trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
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Tax and Home Records Checklist: What to Keep and For How Long

By Dona DeZube, October 1, 2014

Want to rest assured you have all the documents you need when you need them, but not be awash in paper? Read on.

Unless you’re living in the 123-room Spelling Manor, you probably don’t have space to store massive amounts of tax and insurance paperwork, warranties, and repair receipts related to your home. But you’ll definitely want your paperwork at hand if you have to prove you deserved a tax deduction, file an insurance claim, or figure out if your busted oven is still under warranty.

Except for tax paperwork, there’s no official guideline governing exactly how long you have to keep most home-related documents. Lucky for you, we considered the situations in which you might need documents and came up with a handy “How Long to Keep It” home records checklist.

First, a little background on IRS rules, which informed some of our charts:

  • The IRS says you should keep tax returns and the paperwork supporting them for at least three years after you file the return — the amount of time the IRS has to audit you. So that’s how long we advise in our charts.
  • Check with your state about state income tax, though. Some make you keep tax records a really long time: In Ohio, it’s 10 years.
  • The IRS can also ask for records up to six years after a filing if they suspect someone failed to report 25% or more of his gross income. And the agency never closes the door on an audit if it suspects fraud. Just sayin’.
HOME SALE RECORDS
Document How Long to Keep It
Home sale closing documents, including HUD-1 settlement sheet As long as you own the property + 3 years
Deed to the house As long as you own the property
Builder’s warranty or service contract for new home Until the warranty period ends
Community/condo association covenants, codes, restrictions (CC&Rs) As long as you own the property
Receipts for capital improvements As long as you own the property + 3 years
Section 1031 (like-kind exchange) sale records for both your old and new properties, including HUD-1 settlement sheet As long as you own the property + 3 years
Mortgage payoff statements (certificate of satisfaction or lien release) Forever, just in case a lender says, “Hey, you still owe money.”

Why you need these docs: You use home sale closing documents, receipts for capital improvements, and like-kind exchange records to calculate and document your profit (gain) when you sell your home. Your deed and mortgage payoff statements prove you own your home and have paid off your mortgage, respectively. Your builder’s warranty or contract is important if you file a claim. And sooner or later you’ll need to check the CC&R rules in your condo or community association.

ANNUAL TAX DEDUCTIONS
Document How Long to Keep It
Property tax payment (tax bill + canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed) 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Year-end mortgage statements 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
PMI payment (monthly bills + canceled check or bank statements showing check was cashed) 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Residential energy tax credit* receipts 3 years after the due date of the return on which the credit is claimed (including carryforwards**)

Why you need these docs: To document you’re eligible for a deduction or tax credit.

*Energy tax credits for alternative energy sources; credit expires at the end of 2016.

**Tax credits that you carry forward from one year to a future year, such as when you don’t have enough tax liability to offset the entire amount of the credit. (You can’t deduct more than you earn.) Only certain tax credits can be carried forward. Check with your tax pro about your particular circumstances.

INSURANCE AND WARRANTIES
Document How Long to Keep It
Home repair receipts Until warranty expires
Inventory of household possessions Forever (Remember to make updates.)
Homeowners insurance policies Until you receive the next year’s policy
Service contracts and warranties As long as you have the item being warrantied

Why you need these docs: To file a claim or see what your policy or warranty covers.

INVESTMENT (LANDLORD) REAL ESTATE DEDUCTIONS
Document How Long to Keep It
Appraisal or valuation used to calculate depreciation As long as you own the property + 3 years
Receipts for capital expenses, such as an addition or improvements As long as you own the property + 3 years
Receipts for repairs and other expenses 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Landlord’s insurance payment receipt (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed) 3 years after the due date showing the deduction
Landlord’s insurance policy Until you receive the next year’s policy
Partnership or LLC agreements for real estate investments As long as the partnership or LLC exists + 7 years
Landlord insurance receipts (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed) 3 years after you deduct the expense

Why you need these docs: For the most part, to prove your eligibility to deduct the expense. You’ll also need receipts for capital expenditures to calculate your gain or loss when you sell the property. Landlord’s insurance and partnership agreements are important references.

MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS
Document How Long to Keep It
Wills and property trusts Until updated
Date-of-death home value record for inherited home, and any rules for heirs’ use of home As long as you own the home + 3 years
Original owners’ purchase documents (sales contract, deed) for home given to you as a gift As long as you own the home + 3 year
Divorce decree with home sale clause As long as you or spouse owns the home + 3 years
Employment records for live-in help (W-2s, W-4s, pay and benefits statements) 4 years after you make (or owe) payroll tax payments

Why you need these docs: Most are needed to calculate capital gains when you sell. Employment records help prove deductions.

Organizing Your Home Records

Because paper, such as receipts, fades with time and takes up space, consider scanning and storing your documents on a flash drive, an external hard drive, or a cloud-based remote server. Even better, save your documents to at least two of these places.

Digital copies are OK with the IRS as long as they’re identical to the originals and contain all the accurate information that was in the original receipts. You must be able to produce a hard copy if the IRS asks for one.

Tip: Tax season and year’s end are good times to purge files and toss what you no longer need; that’s often when the spirit of organization moves us.

When you do finally toss out your home-related paperwork, use a shredder. Throwing away intact documents with personal financial information puts you at risk for identity theft.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
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Lemons!

Congratulations, you now own a lemon tree!  Just FYI, that thing will give you a TON of fruit.  You can always share with neighbors or co-workers.  Here are some ideas on how to put all those lemons to use!

My favorite thing to do is juice the lemons (I would highly suggest an electric juicer) and enlisting the help of a child that still finds this kind of task fun.  Freeze the juice in ice cube trays (found at the dollar store) in 1-2 tablespoons.  Once they are frozen, you can store them in gallon size Ziploc bags in the freezer.  They will be handy for whenever you might need lemon juice when cooking.

Here’s my favorite recipe with lemons from Real Simple Magazine – Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon-Garlic Green Beans.  Everyone I have served this to has LOVED it, including my children.  It’s easy but delicious enough for a casual dinner party.  And with easy, ahead-of-time prep, you’re not busy in the kitchen when guests arrive, you’re sipping wine and serving appetizers (if you’re that fancy!).

Of course, a glass of water with lemon before a meal is recommended to help with weight loss. Here’s an article about Lemon & Mint Water by skinnyms.com and an article on the benefits of lemon water in Huffington Post.

Martha Stewart recommends using lemons to clean the cutting board, use half a lemon with baking soda to sanitize the garbage disposal and with water to clean the microwave.

I had been in search of a tub and tile cleaner that my kids could use to help clean the bathroom without any harsh fumes.  This one was fantastic!

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4 Tips to Determine How Much Mortgage You Can Afford

By G. M. Filisko

By knowing how much mortgage you can handle, you can ensure that homeownership will fit in your budget.

Homeownership should make you feel safe and secure, and that includes financially. Be sure you can afford your home by calculating how much of a mortgage you can safely fit into your budget.

Why not just take out the biggest mortgage a lender says you can have? Because your lender bases that number on a formula that doesn’t consider your current and future financial and personal goals.

Think ahead to major life events and consider how those might influence your budget. Do you want to return to school for an advanced degree? Will a new child add day care to your monthly expenses? Does a relative plan to eventually live with you and contribute to the mortgage?

Consider those lifestyle issues as you check out these four methods for estimating the amount of mortgage you can afford.

1.  Prepare a detailed budget.

The oldest rule of thumb says you can typically afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. So, if you earn $100,000, you can typically afford a home between $200,000 and $300,000.

But that’s not the best method because it doesn’t take into account your monthly expenses and debts. Those costs greatly influence how much you can afford. Let’s say you earn $100,000 a year but have $1,000 in monthly payments for student debt, car loans, and credit card minimum payments. You don’t have as much money to pay your mortgage as someone earning the same income with no debts.

Better option: Prepare a family budget that tallies your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.

See what’s left over to spend on homeownership costs, like your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.

2.  Factor in your downpayment.

How much money do you have for a downpayment? The higher your downpayment, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.

The lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.

But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.

3.  Consider your overall debt.

Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.

Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a homebuyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:

1.    Your gross annual income is $100,000.

2.    Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.

3.    Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.

4.    All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.

You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it. Evidence from studies of mortgage loans suggest that borrowers who go over the limit are more likely to run into trouble making monthly payments, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns.

4.  Use your rent as a mortgage guide.

The tax benefits of homeownership generally allow you to afford a mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — of about one-third more than your current rent payment without changing your lifestyle. So you can multiply your current rent by 1.33 to arrive at a rough estimate of a mortgage payment.

Here’s an example: If you currently pay $1,500 per month in rent, you should be able to comfortably afford a $2,000 monthly mortgage payment after factoring in the tax benefits of homeownership.

However, if you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for homeownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.

Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s owned her own home for more than 20 years. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Need help calculating your monthly mortgage payment, down payment required, or closing costs?  Email or call me, I’d be happy to send estimates to you!

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