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Countertop Choices

Real Estate is a people business.  An agent’s job is to connect with their client, listen to their needs and concerns, and provide guidance and service.  That being said, it often surprises me how little some real estate agents actually know about houses and the materials used to build them. If you ask about the flooring, the cabinets, or the countertops, often you’ll hear, “I’m not sure.” Some are content to judge a home based on its appearance but for others, more information is needed. Over the next couple weeks, I will share with you the different options available for home finishes and the pros and cons of each choice. Today we will start with countertops.

Laminate (Formica).

DSCN0860 Easily the most common and cheapest choice for a kitchen countertop.  Made from a plastic laminate of paper or fabric with melamine resin, laminate resists stains, impacts, and heat.  It is easy to clean and comes in a variety of colors, finishes, and textures.  On the con side, Seams are visible, it can be scratched and nicked, and isn’t repairable.

Solid Surface (Corian).

imageComposed of acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate, solid surface counters are heat and impact resistant, stain resistant, and seamless.  They come in a variety of colors and although they can be scratched or cut easily, scratches can be buffed out and repaired.  It is non-porous and waterproof and doesn’t require any maintenance or sealing.

Granite.

granite-countertopNothing looks as lux as natural stone, featuring rich veining and specks in a wide range of colors. Though strong and heat resistant, granite requires special care to maintain its appearance.  It must be sealed to prevent stains and chips can only be repaired by a professional.

Marble.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarble is a natural stone with white brightness not available in granite. Unlike granite, marble can be nicked or scratched easily, but those marks can be polished out.  Marble requires sealing to prevent stains, but it stays cools, making it ideal for rolling out pantry dough.  Rare varieties can be very expensive, but more common marble like Carrera is usually cheaper.

a8c90184c89c5bdc19ec51015e6bc331Quartz.

Providing the look of natural stone without the maintenance, quartz is an engineered material made from stone chips, resins, and pigments.  It’s waterproof, doesn’t require sealing, and comes in a variety of colors. Like natural stone, it can chip and has to be repaired by a professional.

Concrete.

concrete-countertopConcrete provides endless customization.  It can be cast into complex shapes and colored, textured or patterned. Depending on the mix, it can be stronger than natural stone but quality is dependent on the installer.  Concrete must be sealed with both a topical sealant for stains and a penetrating sealer for heat.

Tile1400983511247

A cheaper alternative to solid stone, tile countertops come in a wealth of colors materials, sizes, and patterns. They are easy to maintain and clean and the surface is heat- and stain-resistant.  However, grout lines stain even when sealed and tiles can chip or crack. It’s a good idea to have extra tiles to repair localized damage.

Now you are ready to decide for yourself the material you prefer. Call me when you are ready to find the kitchen counter you want in a new home.

 

Walla Walla by Bicycle

golden_gate_park_bike_rentalWhile I love being outside in the spring and fall, I have a hard time with the summer heat.  I tend to stay indoors enjoying the air conditioning.  The one time of day I do venture outdoors is in the evening after dinner but before dusk.  It’s still warm but bearable and I can usually get at least one if not all of my family members to go for a bike ride with me.

One nice thing about Walla Walla is the variety of routes we can take as we explore.  Some are specifically for bicycles and others are just more enjoyable that way.  Every time we ride through a neighborhood, I realize how much I miss while I drive.  Here are some of the places we like to visit by bike:

  • Mountain View Cemetery.  The roads are paved (better than a lot of city streets) and the slight slope makes it easy to cruse up and down the blocks of gravestones.  We often stop and look for specific names or calculate the ages of the deceased.
  • Whitman College Campus. The grounds are beautiful in the summertime and many seniors pose for their portraits along the creek.
  • The Planet Walk Bike Trail.  The Trail runs from the front of the Veterans Hospital Campus to the Amphitheater at Fort Walla Walla.  It’s not shaded but in the cool of the evening is a nice ride with no cars.
  • Mill Creek Trail.  Also protected from cars, this trail runs from Lions Park on Wilbur Street all the way to Rooks Park.  It’s a slight incline going to Rooks so the best part is coasting down from there.
  • Highway 12 Bike Trail.  From Borleske Stadium, there is a steep hill along the golf course.  Once you climb that, it is smooth sailing all the way to the Vista Terrace Park.  Once again, there is a small incline so the ride back down to Borleske is a fast one.
  • Table Rock and Sydney Heights Neighborhoods.  Both developments are off of Cottonwood Drive as you head South of town.  The roads are smooth, wide, and relatively quiet.  When we see a house for sale, we make bets on the listing price.
  • Division Street Parks.  The streets around Menlo Park are smooth and shaded by large, old trees and one can follow Division Street passed Wildwood Park to Pioneer Park.  Division isn’t the best of roads in terms of traffic or condition, but the parks are fun pit stops for a family ride.
  • The Walla Walla Country Club Neighborhood.  Quiet and green, it’s fun to ride around the golf course at the Country Club.  The community on the backside is gated but the streets along the south side are also fun to explore by bike.
  • The Villages of Garrison Creek.  Across from Fort Walla Walla, this neighborhood boasts a nature trail along Garrison Creek for residents to use.  The houses in this development are well-maintained and close together.  It is fun to compare the different colors and sizes of homes in the community and their roads are smooth.  If you start at Fort Walla Walla, you can ride through the neighborhood to Lions Park on Larch Street on the other side.
  • Walla Walla University Campus.  While not as compact as Whitman College, the campus in College Place has multiple buildings to weave around and surrounding neighborhoods to explore.

Decluttering vs. Minimalism

I recently read an article on another blog about living out of a duffel bag and a backpack for a month to see what it would be like.  The author learned that although doable for himself as an individual, it would be nearly impossible for a family as the items required for family life do not all fit in a few bags.  Families need homes with kitchens and gather spaces, entertainment centers and sleeping quarters, as well as books, toys, and games.  Minimalism and children are a difficult combination.

That being said, families can live well and happily without filling every room in their home with stuff.  The key is to find a balance between clutter and minimalism.  Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

  • Making a happy home is about intention and balance.  Be intentional about what you bring into your home and how much time you spend managing stuff.
  • For example, if you have a family of five with 14 loads of laundry after two weeks, you have a lot of clothes in your house.  If dressing your kids well is something you love, great. Enjoy doing laundry.  If not, consider reducing the clothing inventory.  It’s more fun to spend time with the kids rather than washing their clothes.
  • Toys that inspire imaginative play, problem solving, or creativity are worth keeping.  Large plastic monstrosities are not.
  • Teach your kids to be selective about saving papers.  Help them create a portfolio of their best work.
  • Once the designated toy storage area is filled, institute a something in, something out policy.
  • Make purchases based on your actual life, not the life you wish you had.  If you never entertain, you don’t need fancy serving dishes.  Maybe for the entertaining you do, all you need is paper plates.
  • Decide what hobbies are important and make space for them.  Make it easy to engage in the activities you enjoy.
  • Keep up with the latest gaming and entertainment technology only if that is the hobby you wish to invest in.  It will likely be the only one you’ll have money for.
  • Try before you buy.  Rent or borrow sports equipment to see if it’s something you will do often before you buy and have stuff sitting in your garage unused.
  • Invest in experiences as a family.  Go to ball games, concerts, plays, or water parks.  Visit the city, the mountains, or the ocean. Kids will remember the time you spent with more than the stuff you bought.

Walla Walla: A Great Place for Kids

After living in a suburb of Boston for three years, I knew that’s not where I wanted to stay long-term.  Elite preschools preparing toddlers for Harvard, $350 tuition fees for fingerpainting classes, and private memberships to access a local pond made raising  a family there not only cost prohibitive, but exhausting.  While we enjoyed visiting historical sites and the town forest, our connection to the community was non-existent.

Moving to Walla Walla with our kids was a no-brainer.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. We have frequent, free festivals connecting us to our community.  Examples include the Multicultural Arts Festival, the Sweet Onion Festival, the 4th of July in the Park, and the Hot Air Balloon Festival.
  2. We have a vibrant 4-H program in our county and a great county fair each year.
  3. Our city parks and recreation department offers team sports and classes year round.
  4. Our city library offers special programs and reading incentives throughout the summer.
  5. We have lots of history museums like Fort Walla Walla, the Whitman Mission, and the Kirkman House Museum.
  6. We have a wonderful Children’s Museum that can be rented for birthday parties.
  7. We have lots of beautiful and well maintained parks, a splash pad, and a public swimming pool.
  8. The YMCA, Campfire, and many local churches offer affordable day camps during the summer months.
  9. No one has to pay to fish or swim in Bennington Lake and it’s free to hike the trails too.
  10. While we do not have a town forest, the Umatilla National Forest isn’t far away.

 

De-cluttering 101

 

One of the most effective ways to make your home feel larger, newer, and cleaner is to remove excess items.  Often we collect things over time and don’t realize how much we have until there is no more room for anything new.  Here are some tips to get started on your journey to a clutter-free home.

  1. Start small.  Don’t try to tackle too much at once and get overwhelmed.  The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  The same principle applies to de-cluttering.  Start with one category (clothes, books, movies, craft supplies, etc.) and allow yourself enough time to sort that one group of items.
  2. Keep what’s used and appreciated, toss what’s broken or guilt-inducing.  Do not keep something because it was a gift or belonged to another family member.  Memories can be held separate from objects.
  3. Don’t hold on to objects that make you feel bad like clothes that no longer fit, home decor that is no longer in style, or towels that are frayed or smelly.  Make room for things that make you happy.
  4. Don’t feel like you need to keep aspirational items, things that represent the person you aspire to be, rather than who you actually are. For example, I purchased a yoga mat and instructional guide, thinking I might take up yoga.  I didn’t.  I bought a food processor thinking I might make bread.  I haven’t.  I bought craft supplies to make cards and scrapbooks.  I did, but not so much now.  It is okay to let go of past goals if they aren’t present goals.  You don’t need stuff reminding you of what you used to want to do.
  5. Enlist the help of a brutally honest friend with a minimalist streak.  I am that friend for a lot of people.  They will give you the courage to let go of things you feel like you should keep but really shouldn’t.
  6. Consider how you can share what you have and borrow what you don’t.  We all have things that we keep because we use them seasonally or sporadically, like the 6 foot ladder to get on the roof or the air compressor to blow out the sprinkler system.  If you don’t have something, rather than buying it, consider borrowing from a friend.  Then return the favor when your neighbor is in need.  This way you can build a friendship rather than a storage unit.

Not So Lucky Clover

cloverI remember as a little girl running through the back lawn barefoot. I stopped and paid special attention when I reached the clover, the danger zone. Although it felt soft and glorious under my feet, bee stings on my toes did not. My father was a beekeeper so we had more than the average amount of bees flying around our yard.  If I found the clover patch free of stinging insects, I plopped down and searched for a four leaf clover.  I never did find one.

I’m not as enamored with clover as I once was.  Though I prefer clover over dandelions or crab grass, it isn’t what I want filling my lawn.  I did some research to find out why it grows and how to manage its growth. Here is what I learned:

  1.  Lawn grass needs nitrogen rich soil to grow well.  Clover doesn’t because it absorbs nitrogen from the air.  Clover is a warning sign that your grass may be starving to death.
  2. Water leaches nitrogen from the soil so over-watering, heavy rains, or overlapping sprinkler patterns create ideal conditions for clover patches. (My clover is in the spot that gets watered most by our sprinklers.)
  3. Weather can affect the nitrogen levels too.  During a cool spring, soil microbes may be slow to move nitrogen into the grass, giving clover a head start in its growth.
  4. The best way to prevent clover is to improve soil quality.  Aerate your lawn and apply compost or another organic fertilizer.
  5. You could use a weed killer for clover, but then you might have an ugly dead patch in your lawn.  Instead, apply corn gluten meal. It prevents seeds from germinating while it breaks down to add nitrogen to the soil.  It won’t kill existing patches, but it feeds the lawn grasses while reducing the clover over time.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll find a four-leaf clover before it goes away.

Hot Weather Help for Your Flower Garden

summer gardenIf a sudden heat wave leaves you feeling weak and tired, think about how your poor flowers feel! They have to acclimate just like you do.  Here are some small steps you can take to help them flourish this summer.

  • Deadheading. Remove spent blooms to prevent plants from producing seeds.  This way they can put more energy into creating more blooms.
  • Watering. Most garden plants prefer an inch of water each week. It’s best to water deeply than frequently so that plants can develop stronger roots.  Water sitting on the leaves can lead to scorching or disease, so water thoroughly on the ground.  Soaker hoses work well.
  • Mulch. Spreading two inches of mulch shields the soil from the sun, preventing evaporation and keeping plants cooler.  You can use any kind of organic material, from wood chips to straw.
  • Weeding. Get those pesky sprouts while they are small and the soil is moist.  If you let them grow, they steal water and nutrients from your plants and produce seeds, leading to more weeds.  Check you garden in the cool of the morning or in evening, when the heat has dissipated.
  • Add new plants. Spring blooms like pansies and violets fade in the summer heat.  Replace them with heat loving flowers like salvia and zinnas.  You can also plant summer-blooming bulbs like dahlias or calla. Watch them rise as the temperatures continue to climb.

Look Before You Leap

cliffIt’s Open House season and many of us have caught home shopping fever.  It’s easy to see why.  It’s so much fun to dream about what you will do to make a new and different house your own: plant a garden, host parties on the deck, or enjoy a relaxing night by the fire, but hold on!  Before you get too emotionally invested, here are a few things to take into consideration before leaping into a new home purchase.

  1. Take the time to shop and qualify for financing before you start looking at homes.  Unless you have a pile of cash sitting around, you will need a loan to pay for your house.  By securing financing ahead of time, you can make strong offer, knowing what you can afford.
  2. If you qualify for a traditional mortgage with a 20% down payment, a commercial bank may offer you the most competitive interest rates.  However, if you are self-employed, have a smaller down payment, or wish to use a government program, consider using a mortgage broker.  They work with multiple lenders and can find the right loan to fit your situation.
  3. Meet your potential neighbors.  They can be a great resource for information about local activities, businesses, and public services.  You can also get a first impression of what they are like and whether you want to live next to them. You can have a great house but it’s not worth it if you have unpleasant neighbors.
  4. Research the cost of utilities.  The gas or electric company can give you historic usage for the property and applicable rates.  The city can tell you what the average rate is for water, garbage and sewer.  Recycling may be included or an extra fee.  Check to see what companies provide phone, internet, and cable services.  You’ll also want to see if your cell phone works and how good the cell coverage is in the area.
  5. Visit the property at different times of day to get an idea of lighting and noise levels.  Traffic may be non-existent during the day, but busy in the morning and early evening when people are coming and going. A home that is bright and sunny during the day could be a dark dungeon at night if there isn’t adequate lighting.
  6. Check the physical markers of your lot boundaries to see what is actually included.  You don’t want to assume ownership of what actually belongs to your neighbor.  You’ll also want to know if there is something, like a fence or outbuilding, encroaching on the property you wish to buy.
  7. Make sure you know about any deed restrictions, community covenants, or conditions placed on the property.  There may be rules about any number of things including outbuildings, paint colors, building materials, lawn care, landscaping, or noise levels.  Even if you are okay to conforming to these rules, it is always better to know ahead of time.
  8. Find a good real estate professional to guide you.  The internet provides a place start your home search, but the information it provides is often outdated and/or inaccurate.  A good realtor has access to the most accurate and timely information regarding the market and can guide you in making the right decision. She will answer your questions and make sure there are no unhappy surprises.  Please call me when you are ready to start your home buying adventure.

 

Keep Costs Down as the Temp Goes up

As summer brings higher temperatures, it can also bring higher energy costs.  Follow these simple tips to prevent that from happening.

  • Acclimate to the rising temperature outside by raising the temperature inside.  Try to set the thermostat to 78* in the summer, which may feel cool compared to the heat outside.
  • Try to keep the setting on your thermostat constant.  Frequently re-adjusting the temperature wastes energy.
  • Use the stove top, microwave, or barbeque outside rather than using your oven during the summer heat.
  • Make sure there are no lamps or televisions near your thermostat.  It will register the heat from the appliances and work harder and longer than necessary.
  • Use an exhaust fan when showering or cooking to vent the warm air.
  • Avoid using your heat producing appliances like your dishwasher during the day.  Save those dirty dishes until the cool of the evening.
  • Make sure your cooling system filters are clean.  Dust build-up makes them less efficient.  Filters should be cleaned or replaced once a month.
  • Installing a ceiling fan in the room you use the most can make it feel like it is five degrees cooler.  It is something to consider we trying to beat the heat.

Hopefully these ideas will help your energy bill stay low as the temperatures start to rise and help you to love where you live.