8 Old-School Gardening Tips from the Father of Landscape Architecture

8 Old-School Gardening Tips from the Father of Landscape Architecture

If strolling through a city park has been a rare source of solace for you in the past two months, you can probably thank Frederick Law Olmsted. Born in 1822, America’s first and foremost landscape architect was a passionate advocate for truly public parks and the conservation of natural landscapes—at a time when the only real public green space found in most American cities was the local graveyard

After partnering with Calvert Vaux to design New York’s Central Park in the 1850s, Olmsted and his firm went on to create Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Montreal’s Mount Royal Park, Chicago’s Jackson Park, and the grounds of Stanford University and the Biltmore Estate, among other projects. 

While his specialty was creating sprawling natural escapes amidst the chaos of America’s fast-growing cities, Olmsted’s design philosophy offers lessons for our backyards, too. After all, he applied some of the same principles to his 1.76-acre lot in Brookline, Mass. So if you’re looking to turn your yard into a serene retreat from city life, here are some landscaping tips from the founding father of America’s urban parks.  

Olmsted was no fan of stick-straight hedges and right angles. Nature flows in curves and waves, and he sought to emulate—as well as enhance—its tousled natural beauty. 

He embraced rolling meadows broken up by irregular clusters of trees, and sought to mimic nature’s vastness and mystery by contrasting lush layers of foliage. Using different shapes and shades of green enhanced the effects of sunlight and shadow—chiaroscuro, if you ever took an art history course—and created perspective between foreground features and an indistinct backdrop.

So instead of a square, flat lawn with crisp, straight edging, don’t be afraid to add some curves and a variety of plants and groundcover. Layer darker or more vivid shrubs in the foreground and place bigger, blander foliage in the backdrop to make the space seem bigger. 

Use native, low-maintenance plants

Olmsted wasn’t strict about using only native plants—in fact, he imported quite a few European species to the U.S. But he at least tried to choose plants that fit their setting, and would thrive in nature’s care without excessive maintenance. Most importantly, he avoided using elements that clashed with the local environment, like a tropical flower in upstate New York, or a cool-weather turfgrass in the sun-baked Southwest. 

Use nature like a proverbial fig leaf

Olmsted wanted people to feel immersed in natural settings and be able to reflect without distraction, so he used stone as a building material when possible and camouflaged necessary but unseemly man-made elements with foliage. One of his greatest feats in Central Park was to hide the crosstown traffic traversing Manhattan from the view of park visitors. At his Brookline home, he added trellises so that ivy could climb the exterior walls of the house. 

In your own yard, this might mean using fieldstone for steps or planting shrubs to obscure unsightly air conditioning units, propane tanks, electric meters, your neighbor’s shed, or other unnatural elements from your line of sight.  

Whether you’re exploring Central Park or wandering outside the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., a hallmark of Olmsted’s landscapes are winding paths that branch off this way and that— over small bridges, along creeks, through meadows, and under leafy canopies. The effect is tranquil and mesmerizing, and allows you to get lost in the landscape—while knowing you’re not really lost, because all the paths eventually meander back into one another. 

Even in the relatively small yard of his Brookline home and office, Olmsted created a winding gravel footpath—complete with a bench—that beckons one to take a stroll. When most of us think about laying a stone path in our yard, it’s often to get from one place to another: From the deck to the shed, from the driveway to the front door. But maybe a path doesn’t have to go anywhere at all. 

Surprisingly, Olmsted didn’t like the concept of “gardening” and frowned upon showy flowers or prized specimens that called too much attention to themselves. Just as he wanted his parks to be enjoyed by all social classes, he valued an egalitarian landscape that worked in harmony. 

On one occasion, he noted that while a bright hybrid flower in a glass vase may capture our immediate attention, a common wildflower in a grassy meadow may touch us more deeply and have a more soothing influence—though we’re barely aware of seeing it, as it’s just one piece in a greater pastoral portrait. 

While a stately tree or favored fall bloomer can certainly serve as an anchor for your larger landscape, Olmsted believed each element in a design should, more importantly, be part of the greater, cohesive whole—to be taken in all together, and not as individual pieces. 

Remember that function matters

Olmsted valued function over form. “Service must precede art,” Olmsted wrote. “So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be no true art.” 

Nature offers us so many useful creations. Use them. If your basement experiences water seepage, maybe your soil could benefit from some beautiful but thirsty plants, like winterberry or tatarian dogwood. If you like to cook with fresh ingredients, then don’t waste time with pretty flowers—plant some chives, rosemary, or a full vegetable garden. If your living room roasts in the summer sun, maybe it’s worth planting some deciduous shade trees. 

Know that it’s never too late

Maybe you’ve never pruned a plant in your life; maybe you’re not sure what pruning even means. Maybe you’ve lived in your home for five years or more, and have never once done anything to the yard. It doesn’t matter: It’s never too late to start. 

The most famed landscape architect in American history didn’t design a park until the age of 35, and didn’t commit to the profession until age 43 — at a time when the average American male could only expect to live until about 40. After a short stint as a surveyor, Olmsted nearly died of scurvy sailing to China as a deckhand, ran a farm for six years without ever turning a profit, and reported on the Confederate South for the New York Times. Then he and Vaux designed one of the greatest public parks the world has ever seen. 

Like the best gardeners, Olmsted was patient, and understood that his landscapes would take time (lots of time) to fully mature into masterpieces. He planted a hemlock tree in the carriageway of his Brookline home and office the same year he bought the place, knowing it would be a decades-long wait for the desired effect: An imposing centerpiece that anchors the estate’s entryway. 

He also understood that people need more immediate payoff. As they churned the soil of Central Park in 1858, he and Vaux made sure to have at least one major feature ready for the public at the end of the first year: The Lake, which people could skate on, allowing them to enjoy the new park even in winter.  

It will take years before this season’s saplings cast summer shade or grow boughs big enough for kids to climb. And it’s worth the wait. But you also deserve something to enjoy now, whether it’s a whimsical stone path, some berries to pick, or a tranquil spot to sit or entertain.  

Published at Thu, 14 May 2020 19:00:00 +0000

Expert Interview: Avoiding Aesthetic Monotony in Your Rental during Quarantine

Expert Interview: Avoiding Aesthetic Monotony in Your Rental during Quarantine

If you’ve lived in your apartment for a while now, it is sure to carry your unique style with it. However, being indoors all the time can make the apartment feel a bit too flat, since you’ve probably gotten used to the layout and the overall look of your design. That’s why it is a good idea to look for design tips and implement some creative solutions for avoiding aesthetic monotony in your rental.

These solutions can range from rethinking your layout and moving the furniture around, to painting your walls or adding some accents. Depending on your lease and your level of commitment, there are different options for you to try. Below, you will find some tips from interior designers on how to do just that.

add art colors

Also, as more and more people start working from home, another innovation is likely to pop up in your apartment: a home office or a workspace. Although many people think it takes a whole lot of space, that mustn’t always be the case. Check out what practical tips these experts have about creating a productive workspace.

Beth Diana Smith, owner of Beth Diana Smith Interior Design

interior design advice“Art and décor are both quick and simple ways to transform a space; plus, they’re easy to take with you when you move. If you’re not ready to make a large art investment, prints and digital prints are budget-friendly especially when you use places such as Etsy, Minted, and Juniper Print Shop. As far as retail décor goes, CB2, Jung Lee NY, and West Elm are great online choices.

When it comes to creating a workspace, keep it clean and create storage for the items that you want easy access to such as pens, scissors, AirPods, and charging cords. And you could easily do that now by using items you have around the house; for example you could use a mug for pens and scissors, a simple binder clip to help you keep the cords at bay, etc.”

Kesha Franklin, principle designer of Halden Interiors

interior design advice“With the standard restrictions that come along with renting an apartment, renters can sometimes feel like it’s not worth investing in decorating their home. But, there are ways to add interest in the space. One of my go-to recommendations is hanging art on the walls. A gallery wall in particular can make a great statement and show off your personal interests. Another cool visual option is removable wallpaper which has a big impact; it’s easy to install and won’t cost you anything to bring the apartment back to its original state when it’s time to move on to bigger and better things!

Let’s discuss the home office situation. Typically, a rental apartment means there is limited space. So, having a designated area to work from home during times like this can be a challenge. A few tips that I would offer are to find a spot near a window to pull on the outdoor energy to feel productive. You can also purchase a folding screen to create a work area with a small desk and chair, that you can use and keep visually separate from the rest of your living space. Lastly, a C-Table is a great option to easily use at your sofa where you can place your laptop, phone and notebook. They come in a variety of heights, widths and finishes and are aesthetically pleasing to compliment your existing décor!”

Mally Skok, founder of Mally Skok Design

interior design advice“I am an Etsy fiend. Nothing warms up a space like a fun Turkish or Morrocan vintage rug. The Etsy shipping is usually free, the vendors are reliable, and there’s a whole lot of bang for your buck. Also you can roll the rug up and take it with you when you need to move.

Colorful pillows are a way to make your space feel distinctly yours. John Robshaw has ready-made pillows that are gorgeous; if these are too pricey, you can always find some cheery ones on West Elm or Crate and Barrel.

There are some clever new ways of hanging pictures on the walls without a nail. I am all for piling up the things you have hanging around in your life — old posters, old photos or postcards. Buy ready-made frames off Amazon and go bananas on your walls.

Another great idea for a quick improvement is plants. Do some research on plants that do well with limited water and sunlight. There are many! Having another living thing in your space — even though it won’t talk back — will make your apartment a whole lot homier.”

Stacey Sheppard, founder of The Design Sheppard

interior design advice“When you live in a rented property it is often difficult to put your own stamp on it. Many landlords are not particularly flexible with what they allow you to do to a property, but there are plenty of creative ways in which you can adapt your home to avoid aesthetic monotony. Changing up your textiles is a great way to make a space look different. Adding new cushions, blankets, rugs or curtains/blinds is very simple. You can change them with the seasons and — by switching to a new color palette — you can give a room a whole new look.

Repainting is a cheap and easy option that has the ability to completely transform the look and feel of a room. You don’t necessarily even need to paint entire walls. Making a feature by painting geometric shapes in different colors can work wonders. Wall art is also a great way to add visual interest. If you aren’t allowed to hang pictures, consider investing in larger framed pieces and simply lean them against the walls. And don’t forget the power of plants. Plants are not only good for our well-being and our health, but they can really bring a room to life. Move them round to change things up, buy new ones to fill empty spaces or — even better — propagate your existing plants to breed new ones.

add plants

To comfortably work from home, you should design a space for your home office. You don’t need a huge amount of room to set up a productive workspace. There are plenty of space-saving desks on the market that will fit into narrow spaces, unused corners or even that fold away when not in use. Make the most of the space you have available by putting wall shelves up above the desk to store all your office supplies. If your landlord won’t allow you to drill into the walls, consider buying a freestanding shelving unit that has a small desk shelf built-in. It is extremely important to invest in a good office chair that supports your back and provides maximum comfort. Whatever your desk space is like, try to ensure you position it in an area of your home that gets plenty of natural light, is quiet and comfortable. You’ll be most productive when you enjoy spending time in a space.”

We hope these tips proved useful and you’re ready to embrace a bit of change. Even the simplest details can wake up your apartment, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Start small and build your way up to refresh your home.

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Published at Wed, 06 May 2020 11:51:30 +0000

Nine Tips for Safely Moving During Coronavirus

Nine Tips for Safely Moving During Coronavirus

Social distancing measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19 have drastically changed the shape of everyday life. Restaurants, bars, offices, and other businesses in which people regularly tend to come within six feet of each other have been closed, with essential businesses remaining open under strict social distancing guidelines. Moving into a new apartment looks different now too, as both apartment hunting and the moving process itself tend to bring people closer than six feet apart. That said, safely moving during coronavirus is possible  – here’s how.

moving during coronavirus

1. Know whether movers are essential businesses

In most regions of the U.S., movers are essential businesses according to government pandemic regulations. However, this classification may vary by city and state. Be sure to check whether your state and city consider movers essential businesses – if not, you could face challenges safely moving during coronavirus and may want to consider postponing your move, if possible.

2. Decide whether you actually need to move

COVID-19 can be spread between two people less than six feet apart from each other by simply breathing or speaking, and if you hire movers to help you move, then all of you will be breathing and speaking in each other’s presence. You might thus want to postpone your move if possible. If you still decide to move, you can do so safely if you stick to the following steps.

3. Never tour apartments in person

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you should conduct all apartment showings virtually. Many companies have implemented virtual showing tools that can easily be used in place of traditional in-person visits. Once you’ve relied on these tools to find your new apartment and sign your lease, then you can begin making the right steps for your move.

4. Contact movers – and ask questions

Ask any movers you’re considering about the steps they’re taking to minimize the potential for coronavirus to spread during moving. Be sure to inquire about their disinfecting and social distancing practices and ask how you can make their work easier. Additionally, just as with apartment showings, if your movers need to give you a quote for their work, set up a virtual estimate.

5. Start as early as possible

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused supply shortages and shipping delays. You should thus order all your moving supplies, such as boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap, and mattress bags as early as possible. Make sure to have these items home-delivered, as in-store visits should be minimized to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

When your packages arrive, resist the temptation to use these boxes in your move. Instead, since COVID-19 can survive on cardboard for 24 hours, isolate your packages for that long, then unpack your deliveries outside if possible. For the same reason, using secondhand or recycling packing materials (other than those you accumulated long before the pandemic) may be dangerous. If you run out of packing supplies, consider packing your belongings inside your other belongings (for example, storing mugs and silverware in large kitchen pots).

You should begin your move by packing non-essential items such as decorations. This packing approach can help after your move, as you should isolate your boxes for 24 hours following your move before unpacking them. Doing so is much easier when your boxes don’t contain essential items.

6. Designate a staging space

During your move, you should minimize the number of trips your movers make in and out of your house. This way, you reduce the number of potential opportunities for COVID-19 to spread between you and your movers. 

To achieve this goal, designate one portion of your apartment as a staging space where you can place boxes after they’re taped shut and ready to move. On moving day, have your movers take out these boxes first, in as few trips as possible, and stay at least six feet away from them. Then, wait outside your apartment as your movers haul out your larger belongings such as beds, dressers, and tables.

7. Clean and disinfect before, during, and after

It’s common courtesy to clean your apartment once you’ve moved out. You should take extra care to clean and disinfect your apartment while you pack, during your move, and, if possible, after you’ve unloaded all your belongings. Do the same at your new apartment before your move and while you’re unpacking, too. Keep plenty of disinfectants, hand sanitizer, and hand soap available, and don’t forget to quarantine boxes for at least 24 hours when possible.

8. Don’t involve friends

Often, moving involves gathering a couple of friends and paying them for their help with pizza and beer. Since COVID-19 spreads through speaking and breathing, having your friends in such close proximity during your move could increase your chances of transmission (remember, COVID-19 can be transmitted by asymptomatic people). 

If you can’t do your move alone, keep your friends out of your move and hire professional movers. Make sure you’re all wearing face masks, minimizing the time you spend within six feet of one another, and disinfecting often. If anything, since your movers are professionals who complete multiple moves a day, they’ll be as diligent in these regards as you are. 

9. Don’t move if you’re feeling sick

If you’re showing any COVID-19 symptoms, then do everything you can to cancel your move. Symptomatic people are far more contagious than asymptomatic people and can easily spread the virus to people in their vicinity. This consideration may require you to structure your move with extra flexibility regarding dates and moving companies, but these additional steps shouldn’t stop you from moving if you need to. Safely moving during coronavirus is possible – you just need to be careful.

Published at Tue, 05 May 2020 15:01:46 +0000

Home Buying and Selling During the Pandemic: What You Need to Know

Home Buying and Selling During the Pandemic: What You Need to Know

Technology and good-old-fashioned creativity are helping agents, buyers, and sellers abide by COVID-19 health and safety practices while getting deals done.

Some buyers are touring houses virtually. Others visit in person while remaining at least six feet from their agent. Sellers are hosting open houses on Facebook Live. Appraisers are doing drive-by valuations. Buyers are watching inspections via video call. Masked and gloved notaries are getting signatures on doorsteps.

“We have had to make some adjustments, for sure,” says Brian K. Henson, a REALTOR® with Atlanta Fine Homes / Sotheby’s International Realty in Alpharetta, Ga. “Everyone is trying to minimize face-to-face interactions. There have been some delays, but mostly, deals are getting done, just with tweaks.”

Here’s what home buying and selling during the pandemic looks like.

Showings Go Virtual

The rules around in-person showings vary by city, county, and state. Some allow them and some ban them. Check with your state, county, and local government to get the latest on business closures and shut-down rules.

Agents have conducted home tours via FaceTime and other similar tools for years. But these platforms have proven invaluable for home buying and selling during the pandemic. Real estate sites report a surge in the creation of 3D home tours. Redfin, a real estate brokerage, saw a 494% increase in requests for video home tours in March.

“I’ve done several FaceTime showings,” says Henson. He conducted virtual showings before COVID-19, too. He recently closed a deal on a home the buyers only saw on video, he says, but hasn’t yet done so during the pandemic.

In places where in-person showings are allowed, agents wipe down door handles, spray the lockbox with disinfectant, and open up the house, closets, everything for a client. “We leave all the lights on so no one touches switches, and we don’t touch cabinets or doors during showings,” Henson says.

Safe-Showing Guidelines

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, which produces HouseLogic, recommends only one buyer enter a home at a time, with 6 feet between each guest. NAR also recommends agents have potential buyers wash their hands, or use hand sanitizer when they come in the door. They should also remove their shoes. No children should be present at showings, either.

“We’re living in extraordinary times and unusual circumstances. If you have the ability to work, you have to be creative,” Mabél Guzmán, a Chicago real estate agent, told NBC News. Guzmán, who is also vice president of association affairs for NAR, has put together a video offering tips and strategies for virtual showings during the pandemic.

Down Payment Help

Many organizations offering down payment assistance to first-time home buyers have temporarily suspended the programs or changed the rules. You can check the status of programs in your area at the Down Payment Assistance Resource site.

Desktop, Drive-By Appraisals

Appraisers are essential workers in many areas, so home valuations are continuing. But often remotely. New, temporary rules from the Federal Housing Finance Authority allow drive-by and desktop appraisals for loans backed by the federal government.

In a desktop appraisal, the appraiser comes up with a home estimate based on tax records and multiple listing service information, without an in-person visit. For a drive-by, the appraiser only looks at the home’s exterior, in combination with a desktop appraisal. The Appraisal Foundation has put out guidelines for handling appraisals during the pandemic. Here’s the FAQ.

And here are specific new appraisal guidelines by agency:

On the other hand, some private lenders still require in-person appraisals, which are allowed even in areas with shutdown orders. Private lenders hold about 35% of first-lien mortgages, according to the Urban Institute

When appraisers come to your home, they should adhere to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, including wearing gloves and a face mask, keeping at least 6 feet apart from anyone in the home, and asking if the homeowners have been sick or traveled recently to a COVID-19 hotspot.

Inspections Via Live Video

Inspectors are now often working alone, no buyers in tow, and using hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors advises inspectors to videotape their inspection so clients can watch it at home later, or to use FaceTime or other live video chat apps to take their clients along on the inspection, virtually. They can also call clients with their findings after they’re done.

The American Society of Home Inspectors has also issued guidelines for inspectors so they keep themselves and the homeowners safe while providing an accurate assessment of a home’s condition.

Mortgage Rates and Locks

With mortgage rates fluctuating quickly and closing times taking longer than usual, some lenders are extending mortgage rate lock periods. You can grab a good rate and hang on to it even if your lender takes longer than usual to process your loan.

But the protocol depends on the lender and the loan. Some lenders are offering this for all loans; others for refis. Check with your lender about its policy.

Related: How to Get Home Financing

Employment Verification

An important step in getting a mortgage is proving the borrower has a job. In pre-coronavirus days, lenders called the borrower’s employer for a verbal verification.

The Federal Housing Finance Authority, which oversees Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and federal home loan banks, has relaxed the rules for loans backed by the federal government because so many businesses are closed.

Lenders for federally backed loans now accept an email from an employer, a recent year-to-date paystub, or a bank statement showing a recent payroll deposit as proof of employment.

Walk-throughs

Home buying and selling during the pandemic means real estate agents can conduct the final walk-through via video with their clients. Or they can just open the home and have buyers walk through on their own. Henson says he still accompanies his clients, but stays six feet away and has them wash their hands when entering and exiting the house. Everyone’s wearing masks, too.

And, of course, when the buyers take possession, they should disinfect.

Remote Notarization Depends On Where You Live

About one-half of states have permanent remote online notarization (RON) policies. These allow a notary and signer in different locations to sign electronic document, usually by use of video apps like Zoom or FaceTime. Notaries will watch you sign either a paper document or do an electronic signature on an e-doc, via camera.

Some states have rolled out temporary rules allowing RON. Here’s a state-by-state list of notary law updates, and the type of remote notarizations allowed. The number of states allowing remote notarization could grow as federal and state pandemic legislation expands.

Closings Get Creative

Traditional closings, where everybody gathered around a big table to sign the final papers, are no longer possible. Title companies and banks are getting super creative in dealing with the limitations.

A Minnesota company, Legacy Title, rolled out a drive-thru closing service at one of its offices in an old bank branch building. The title company rep sits in a bank teller window and handles the closing papers while the customer sits in their car. Legacy completed 14 closings in the first week it offered drive-thru service.

Then there are drive-by closings, where the entire transaction takes place in cars. Masked and gloved notaries meet buyers in parking lots and pass documents through car windows.

“I had a closing where the buyer sat in her car the whole time. The attorney came out to her car, gave her paperwork, had her sign in her car, and my buyer never got out of her car,” Birmingham, Ala., agent Isaac McDow told WBRC television.

Says Georgia-based agent Henson, “I’ve had closings the last three weeks [that] I’ve been asked not to attend. There was one where the seller signed two days before buyer. Then the seller came back two days later and signed.”

Henson, who is also licensed in New York, has had to extend closing dates on two sales there since. Co-op boards won’t let non-residents into buildings ­­­– not even an electrician who needs to make repairs as part of an issue that came up in the inspection. He left the closing with an open-ended date.

“It’s all about being really flexible right now,” he says.

TIP: Find out if your county recording office can complete the deal online.

Student Loan Relief

Finally, if you’re also trying to swing your student loan payments, know that federal student loan borrowers get an automatic six-month break in loan payments from April 10, 2020, through Sept. 3, 2020. Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they also won’t be charged a dime of interest in that time.

Learn more at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s site.

Keep in mind that payment suspension only applies to federal loans owned by the Department of Education. Some help may be available to borrowers with private student loans and other loans (like Perkins Loans and Federal Family Education Loans) that aren’t covered. But it’s not automatic. Reach out to your student loan servicer for information.

So, Should You Buy or Sell?

The real estate industry is creatively and safely responding to the situation, and mortgage rates remain low. Your agent is a great source of information about home buying and selling during the pandemic to help you feel comfortable. But, ultimately, it’s a question only you can answer.

Related: 5 Questions to Ask Your Agent When Buying a House

Published at Fri, 01 May 2020 21:31:14 +0000

How to Protect Your Credit Score During Coronavirus

How to Protect Your Credit Score During Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on every aspect of our lives. Our financial lives will not be spared. Millions have applied for unemployment, and many of us are struggling to pay our mortgages, rents, credit card debts and other bills, let alone food and medication.

But that slippery slope of payment issues can lead to problems with your credit score during the coronavirus, which can affect you far into the future.

While your main focus should be on your health and well being, there are some things you can do to keep your financial house in order so you’ll be less stressed in the coming months.

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Credit report basics

Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850 given by one of the three national credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) based on things such as the following:

  • Your on-time bill paying history
  • Length of time you’ve had credit
  • Whether you’ve applied for new credit recently
  • The number and type of credit accounts you have

Federal law gives you the right to get a free copy of your credit report from any of the three reporting companies mentioned, as well as from a government-approved site, AnnualCreditReport.com. And as of April 20, the three credit bureaus agreed to offer Americans free weekly credit reports for the next year.

It’s a good habit to check your score often, and don’t worry that it will lower the score. Your checking is called a “soft pull” and is not an issue. It’s only when there’s a “hard pull,” i.e., a company checking in order to give you credit, that your score may lower.

Having a “good” credit score — around 700 — helps you to qualify for lower rates on loans, purchase a home or even apply for certain jobs, for example. (During this crisis, however, lenders are worried about loan defaults and many are requiring stricter borrowing standards, including the need for higher credit scores than in previous years.)

credit scores

Source: Experian

Rent and your credit score

If you’re struggling to cover your rent, the good news is that rent payments are hardly ever reported to the three credit bureaus. If the bureaus do receive the information, they will include it. Landlords who own many units or properties may report unpaid rents, but they must become a member of the credit agencies to do so. Landlords with few properties don’t usually report.

If you haven’t had great credit, however, paying your rent on time may help you build credit. You can connect with a rent reporting service (some charge a fee) that will get your payment history to the three reporting agencies.

If you’re having difficulties paying rent now, contact your landlord or property manager. They most likely will be willing to work with you and help you set up payment plans.

credit card debt

Contact creditors

Get in touch with your creditors as early as possible. You may be able to defer payments or request a forbearance, which offers some form of temporary payment relief. If you’re approved, you won’t be penalized for doing so.

Normally, lenders can’t report late payments to credit bureaus until 30 days after payment is due. However, Section 4021 of federal coronavirus relief law amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act for these temporary emergency conditions.

If you’ve gotten a deferment or forbearance, your lender can’t report missed payments as delinquencies. The prohibition on adverse credit reporting is in effect from Jan. 31 until the later of 120 days after the enactment of the CARES Act or 120 days after the end of the national state of emergency declaration, which was March 13.

In other words, if you’ve been paying on time all along, you’ll be considered in good standing for up to 120 days after the declared national emergency ends — as long as you live up to whatever bargain you made with your creditor.

If you were behind on your bills before you made any kind of agreement with your creditors, they may still report delinquencies until you catch up.

If you’re facing economic hardship and have difficulty paying your creditors — whether due to the current pandemic or not — you can send a short statement to the credit reporting bureaus explaining your situation.

Get help

This national emergency is affecting us all. Don’t shy away from getting help if you need it. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a non-profit organization that can connect you with a debt counselor.

We’ll eventually see an end to this national emergency. Taking care of your mind, body, spirit — and finances — will help you when we get there.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal, medical or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional financial, medical or legal advice as they may deem it necessary.

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Published at Tue, 05 May 2020 12:00:20 +0000

12 Important Things People Should Learn About Colorado Springs Before Moving There

12 Important Things People Should Learn About Colorado Springs Before Moving There

Colorado Springs is a famously attractive destination for people seeking to relocate. The rental market is cheaper than in most big cities, while the job market is thriving. Also, there’s a generally laid-back feel to the town, which some might even describe as bohemian, and of course a myriad of opportunities for outdoor activity.

If you’re considering Colorado Springs for your next move, here are some funny, quirky, interesting and very useful things to learn about this city.

1. How much do apartments and self storage cost in Colorado Springs?

Renting an apartment in Colorado Springs will cost you around $1,200 per month, well below the national average of $1,468, according to Yardi Matrix. You might want to look into self storage as well, as you’ll probably require a home away from home for all those things needed for enjoying the outdoors, including hiking gear and a bike, winter clothes and gardening equipment. The city is not short of good self storage options, with the street rates for a self-storage unit in Colorado Springs hovering around $108 per month for a standard 10X10 unit, under the national average rent of $114.

2. You get to witness the majestic beauty of Pikes Peak each and every day

The 14,115-feet high Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs with all its picture-perfect beauty – one more reason for the social-media obsessed Millennials to love this city. Basically, most pics you take around Colorado Springs are Instagram-worthy. “Pike’s Peak provides the backdrop for the city.  Almost every day you can see it on the west side of the city. It’s gorgeous,” David and Lisa Wolf, long-time residents of Colorado Springs, told us.

American writer Katherine Lee Bates, who visited the area in 1893, was so impressed by its beauty that she wrote the famous poem “America the Beautiful.”

3. Visit the Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods, located at the base of Pikes Peak, only a few miles from downtown Colorado Springs, is a national park featuring stunning geological formations. The iconic deep red, pink and white rocks formed millions of years ago due to erosion and upheavals in the earth’s surface.

The park, with its 21 miles of trails, is very popular for hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and horseback riding, and it attracts almost six million visitors annually.

4. Money has its own museum in Colorado Springs

It shouldn’t be assumed that Colorado Springs’ residents are materialistic – on the contrary, the city is well known for its unpretentious, relaxed lifestyle. But the Money Museum in the city, part of the American Numismatic Association, is a very cool place to visit, especially with your young ones. You get to explore the power that money has had throughout history and how it influenced culture, art, science and people’s lifestyles. Look at the fascinating exhibits about the evolution of currency worldwide and enjoy one the most extensive US gold coin collections ever assembled. The museum also organizes numismatics seminars and workshops.

5. Giraffes seem to be thriving at high altitude

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the highest in terms of altitude in the United States, and it has one of the largest herds of giraffes in captivity worldwide. About 200 giraffes have been born in Colorado Springs since the first one was brought here in 1954. The giraffes, obviously thriving at over 6,000 feet above sea level, are part of the zoo’s renowned breeding program that supports conservation efforts.

There are plenty more habitats and animals to admire at this high-flying zoo, including African tigers, several different species of bear, apes, bald eagles, and many more. In addition, an open-air ski lift allows you to admire the entire zoo from above.

6. Check out the one-of-a-kind museum of World War II aviation

As you have already noticed, Colorado Springs is a pretty unique place, so no wonder you can find an amazing, one-of-a-kind museum right here. The National Museum of World War II Aviation, opened in 2012, is the only one in the world to focus exclusively on the role of aviation during WWII.

You’ll be able to admire dozens of airplanes and other vehicles that were used in WWII. The museum also includes a state-of-the-art restoration facility, where old airplanes are brought back to life for the public to enjoy.

7. Take a stroll through Manitou Springs

As most Manitou Springs residents will let you now, their small town is not technically part of Colorado Springs. However, as it’s located just a few miles from downtown Colorado Springs, it has become a de facto neighborhood of the larger town. Manitou Springs is a National Historic District, scattered with art galleries, restaurants, cafes and boutiques. All in all, it’s the perfect spot to spend a relaxed afternoon with your family, or a fun weekend, making the most of the area’s many sunny days.

8. Get used to living near Olympians

The US Olympic Training Center has been located in Colorado Springs since 1978, and the reason why the city was selected to host the training center has to do, once again, with the altitude. Experts agree that training at high altitudes drastically improves athletes’ performance.

And not only might you casually meet your favorite Olympian while standing in line to get coffee, but you can also tour the facility and understand all the hard work and dedication behind getting those shiny medals.

9. Cross America’s highest suspension bridge

Located about an hour away from Colorado Springs, the Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the country, crossing the gorge at almost 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River. The bridge itself is 1,260 feet long, 18 feet wide, and its towers are 150 feet high – a impressive structure that offers breathtaking views. The bridge is part of the Royal Gorge Park, which also includes aerial gondolas, zip lines, hiking trails, a children’s playland and photo lookout areas.

10. Are you ready to track Santa?

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)’s famous Santa tracking program started in 1955, and Colorado Springs is the origin of this beloved tradition. It appears that in 1955 a child trying to reach Santa Claus on a hotline provided by Sears misdialed and instead reached Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command Center.

The call was answered by Colonel Harry Shoup, who provided Santa’s “current location” for the young caller. From there, the Santa tracker exploded in popularity, and today NORAD, who took over this huge and extremely important mission, relies on hundreds of volunteers to answer the approximately 100,000 phone calls and 12,000 emails coming in each Christmas.

11. Colorado Springs is a favorite destination for Millennials

According to research done by the Brookings Institution, the city registered a 15% growth of its Millennial population between 2010 and 2015, the highest nationally. The proportion of Millennials among the entire population of the town is over 26%, the same research says. This obviously indicates that Colorado Springs is a young and thriving place, with plenty of amazing food and entertainment options available.

12. Learn the good and the bad about Colorado Springs: there’s plenty of sun but a little less oxygen

Due to the high altitude of its geographical location and the dry weather in the area, Colorado Springs benefits from about 300 days of sunshine per year, making it one of the sunniest places in the United States. However, there are some downsides regarding the weather in Colorado Springs.

“With the elevation comes crazy weather — it can be really warm, almost hot one day, and the next day snow,”  added David and Lisa Wolf. “Last year we had a horrible blizzard May 20 that wiped out so many trees. The earliest we have had snow since we’ve lived here was September 8…then everything went brown and dead.  Very short growing season! We usually have thunderstorms every afternoon in summer and unfortunately really bad hail frequently.”

The elevation of over 6,000 feet also means that Colorado Springs only has about two-thirds of the oxygen concentration found at sea level. For some people, the exposure to low amounts of oxygen and the changes in air pressure can lead to altitude sickness, characterized by symptoms such as headache, nausea, and tiredness. “It takes about a year to get used to living at this altitude. Some people cannot – especially if they have heart issues,” explained our Colorado Springs couple.

Are you already living in Colorado Springs? Let us know in the comments what your favorite things about the city are and what else a person planning to relocate there should know about.

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Published at Thu, 30 Apr 2020 06:42:23 +0000

Coronavirus Mortgage Relief: What You Need To Know

Coronavirus Mortgage Relief: What You Need To Know

Mortgage lenders, and the federal agencies that regulate lenders, are putting coronavirus mortgage relief measures in place to ensure homeowners have options if they’re unable to make payments.

Your first stop in the face of financial hardship is your lender or bank.

Just keep in mind lenders are working to figure out and implement the new mortgage relief polices outlined by the regulatory agencies. So you might read one thing from the FHFA, a federal regulator, but your bank might be doing something else.

In addition, due to the number of homeowners affected by the pandemic, lenders are dealing with a crush of calls and online queries. Be patient, persistent, and prepared to spend time on hold.  

Here are the resources you need now.

Your Mortgage

Federally Backed Mortgages
If you have a mortgage backed by Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veteran’s Administration (VA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, your loan servicer must offer you deferred or reduced mortgage payment options – called forbearance — for up to six months. This means you don’t have to pay your mortgage and you won’t be charged late fees, penalties, or interest while you can’t pay.

Loan servicers for FHA, Freddie, and Fannie must provide an additional six months of forbearance if you request it. 

Not sure who backs your own loan? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have loan look-up sites where you can find out who owns it, and how to get in touch with them.

In addition, here are direct links to some lenders and banks’ Covid-19 resources:

Mortgages Not Federally Backed
If your mortgage is one of the 5 million in the United States not backed by a federal entity, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes a coronavirus mortgage relief mandate, doesn’t apply. But regulators have encouraged those lenders to work with borrowers who can’t pay their mortgages, and most banks and other lenders are suspending mortgage payments or offering forbearance.

The level of relief you get will depend on who owns your loan. Contact your lender to find out what’s available.

Regardless of the type of loan you have, you must apply for coronavirus mortgage relief through their mortgage servicer. That’s the entity that collects your monthly payments and decides how long the assistance will last. When you reach your mortgage servicer, you’ll need to explain your situation and provide information about your income, expenses, and assets. 

TIP: If you’re an at-risk homeowner, this downloadable PDF will help you understand the sources you can approach for help.

Foreclosure and Evictions

Federal officials have imposed a nationwide halt to foreclosures and evictions for more than 36 million Americans with home mortgages backed by the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

The moratorium only affects borrowers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, and RHS (Rural Housing Service loans through the USDA). This doesn’t apply to the roughly 35% of mortgages held in bank portfolios and private label securities. But some individual lenders are offering relief.

Some cities, counties, and states, including Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Texas, have placed a moratorium on foreclosures. Check with your city, county, and state governments. Find state-by-state tallies online.

Housing Counselors

Another tool in your relief toolbox are housing counselors. Counselors can provide independent advice on buying a home, renting, defaults, foreclosures, and credit issues. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s look-up tool lets you can find counselors in your state.

Your Credit

The CARES Act forbids lenders from dinging your credit score for missed payments on federally backed mortgages and student loans during your forbearance period. The federal government is also encouraging private lenders to suspend reporting late payments on eligible mortgages. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has more advice about protecting your credit.

To keep close tabs on your credit, you can now obtain a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, every week for the next year through April 20, 2020. The companies ratcheted up their once-a-year allowance to help consumers “protect their financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19.”

Get all three reports in one spot: annualcreditreport.com.

Your Student Loan

The CARES Act includes immediate relief for those who can’t make their monthly payments on federally held loans due to coronavirus. All loan payments (both principal and interest) are suspended through Sept. 30, 2020, with no penalty. You don’t need to apply for this program or contact your lender. It’s automatic.

If you keep making payments, they’ll be applied entirely toward the principal. These suspended payments will count towards any student loan forgiveness already in effect.

Here’s a list of servicers — and their phone numbers — for loans backed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Some loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program and some Perkins Loans not owned by the Department of Education aren’t eligible for suspended payments. Nor are private student loans owned by banks, credit unions, schools, or other private entities. If you can’t make payments, contact your loan servicer to find out what options are available. Many are offering ways, like forbearance, to postpone payments.

Not sure who your servicer is? Look on your most recent statement and contact the servicer immediately.

If your student loan is already in default, the relief act immediately suspends wage garnishments or tax refund deductions. They’ll resume after the suspension ends.

Find out more about student loan relief at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Your Taxes

The IRS has pushed back the deadline for filing and payment of federal taxes to July 15, 2020. Many states are following suit. Check with your state tax agency, or see this list from the American Institute of CPAs for details on deadlines.

Related: Tips to Get Filing Ready for (Delayed) Tax Deadline

Your Real Estate Transaction

If you’re going to be buying or selling a home in the near future, find out if your county recording office can complete the deal online.

In addition, more than half of states, many under emergency state directive, allow for remote online notarization of documents. This makes it safe and easy to complete real estate transactions under social distancing orders. The number of states allowing remote notarization could grow as pandemic legislation expands.

Your Appraisal

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have provided detailed appraisal alternative guidelines, so homeowners and appraisers can practice social distancing on Freddie and Fannie loans through May 17, 2020.

FHA, VA, and RHS are also allowing variations on the usual appraisal protocol. Check with your servicer for details.

Look Out For Scams

Fear breeds scams. And scammers are out in full force during the pandemic. Beware of third parties offering mortgage assistance and other help. Seek help from your lender directly.

For information on circulating scams, and guidance on identifying them, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.  

With additional reporting by Christina Hoffmann

Published at Tue, 07 Apr 2020 13:23:42 +0000

Pros and Cons: Signing a Multi-Year Lease

Pros and Cons: Signing a Multi-Year Lease

In our Pros and Cons series, we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of important decisions that apartment dwellers are making every day.

When you sign a lease for your new apartment, chances are that you’ll sign a one-year lease, with the ability to renew your lease every 12 months. However, you might also have the option to sign a longer multi-year lease. As the name suggests, a multi-year lease obliges tenants to stay in their apartment rentals for longer than a year. The length of commitment involved in a multi-year lease – often 24 months, but sometimes 18 months – may work better for certain renters. 

multi-year lease

Is a multi-year lease right for you? Weigh the pros and cons below to help with your decision.

Pros of signing a multi-year lease

Rent stability

If you want to re-sign your one-year lease to keep living in your apartment, then some landlords might raise your rent for the next year’s lease. (This changes by jurisdiction; not all cities and states allow landlords to raise rent after the first year.) When you sign a multi-year lease, you lock in a rent amount for a time period longer than a year, which may prove better for your budget in the long run.

Cheaper rent

In some cases, landlords looking to find trustworthy tenants for longer periods of time will sign leases for lower rent prices to lure in good tenants who might otherwise look elsewhere. That’s why, when you sign a multi-year lease, your monthly rent might be much less expensive than with a one-year lease.

Location stability

Even if you’re happy in your apartment, when your one-year lease ends, you might find yourself at least toying with the possibility of moving. When you sign a multi-year lease, you can immediately nip that temptation in the bud. If you’re the kind of person who finds yourself moving more often than you’d like, then signing a multi-year lease on an apartment that meets all your standards can ensure the location stability you’ve been missing.

Cons of signing a multi-year lease

Too much commitment

You might find that a one-year lease gives you more flexibility if you’re unsatisfied with your apartment. If the best apartment you find during your hunt is still not quite up to your standards, then if things don’t work out at the end of your one-year lease, you can just look again and potentially find an apartment that’s better for you. When you sign a multi-year lease, you don’t have this flexibility, so if you discover a dream apartment only to move in and find it deeply flawed, then you’re stuck there for much longer than you’d like.

Risky if your finances change

If you don’t think you’re particularly picky about apartments, keep in mind that the commitment of a multi-year lease can be stressful for more reasons than just your preferences. If your financial situation suddenly changes and you can no longer afford your rent, with a multi-year lease, you’re far more bound to your apartment than with a one-year lease. 

Breaking your lease is never easy (and rarely encouraged), but with a single-year lease, you may be able to try riding out the remainder of your lease if money gets tight. This prospect is far less realistic with a multi-year lease, and often, the penalties for breaking your multi-year lease are harsher than with a one-year lease. When you’re signing a multi-year lease, thoroughly read the consequences for breaking your lease before you sign it.

Would you rather sign a one-year lease or a multi-year lease? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Published at Thu, 23 Apr 2020 13:23:53 +0000

WE ARE MADE OF TOUGH STUFF!

WE ARE MADE OF TOUGH STUFF!

WE ARE MADE OF TOUGH STUFF!

We are made of tough stuff. Now more than ever before, we need to know that we will make it through this unprecedented COVID-19 global health emergency. As an industry multifamily will remain a strong player in the US economy. But what will be the impact of this national health crisis for apartment housing?

As we look for answers in the short term, one thing is clear, no one really knows what may and can happen.  This is the time to pull together as a country and help our residents the best way we know.  First and foremost, communication will be crucial. Some apartment communities have a broadcast text or email system to keep their residents well informed in real time. Message Assist from @CallAssist247 is a simple easy way to message your residents via phone, text or email. Remote messaging is the best way to continue to maintain physical distancing. We need to be social as isolation can lead to depression and sadness for many.

In the short term, The National Apartment Association has given guidelines for their members and has been key in trying to keep pace with an event that changes hour by hour. As rents are at an all-time high and the typical renter is spending close to half of their income on rent, April 1st there will be delinquency. NAA suggests that there is no easy cookie cutter approach for how to handle default rent, but to take each situation on a case by case scenario. Perhaps partial payments? There will be many residents who have never missed a rent payment and may need to choose between food and rent. Local governments may offer some solutions. You can be helpful and keep abreast of these local resources to help your residents. Are there local food banks or state agencies that can offer some financial assistance?

What can we expect moving forward for our industry? Again no one has a crystal ball. Shelter is a basic need. Possible recession is a distinct possibility. Historically the apartment sector overall is likely to weather a recession well. We may see mobility slow as eviction and foreclosure processes evolve. The shortage of work force housing will be exacerbated by job losses from the service sector. And perhaps as more of us are working from home, the demand for commercial real estate will lessen. (Source: Apartmentlist.com)

We survived the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, Black Monday in 1987 and recession in 1975. Often our greatest opportunity lies in our biggest challenges. With the strength of our nation, we will make it through this unprecedented global health crisis. As we pulled together as a country during 9/11, we will make it through Covid-19 as we are made of tough stuff!

Published at Thu, 26 Mar 2020 10:48:45 +0000

How to Safely Get Your Mail While Social Distancing

How to Safely Get Your Mail While Social Distancing

Simple things like getting the mail are becoming more complicated thanks to coronavirus.

If you live in a house, avoiding people during the coronavirus pandemic can be easy, but what if you live in an apartment complex?

It’s especially challenging to socially distance in apartment complexes where there are several shared spaces such as standard rooms, hallways, elevators and even mailboxes.

For those living in apartments, it’s a good idea to keep in touch with your property manager about some of the steps they’re taking to keep you safe. Additionally, there are several things that you can do to remain safe during this global pandemic.

mailroom

Staying safe while getting your mail

One of the most common areas in an apartment complex is the mailboxes. Everyone has mail coming in at some point. If you live in an apartment and there’s a shared space for your mailboxes, there are some things that you can do to keep safe and practice social distancing during these unprecedented times.

1. Go at times when people likely won’t be there

To avoid exposure to others as best you can, try to get your mail at times when others are not likely to be in the area. You can decide to go early in the morning or late at night. If you notice there are times when there are no other people around, head to your mailbox and grab what you need.

It’s also a good idea to try to find out about what time your mail is delivered each day. This will help you avoid meeting your mailman during deliveries.

2. Take the stairs

Instead of using the elevator to your building, start using the stairs. Elevators are cramped spaces. The elevator also requires you to touch a surface that others have touched previously.

One of the ways you can keep your distance is to use the stairs instead. Not only does using the stairs eliminate being in a crowded space, but it also is an excellent form of exercise. If you see someone else on the stairs, you can step over on the landing and let them pass you at a safe distance.

Just be cautious that you don’t touch the handrails.

3. Wait for an empty elevator

If you live on a high floor of an apartment building, taking the stairs might not be an option. If you must take an elevator to get to your apartment, avoid getting into an elevator with other people.

This might mean that you have to wait for a bit for the elevator to come to you, but if many people are staying home, chances are, the elevators will be moving up and down frequently, and it’s definitely worth the wait.

Once you’re in the elevator, if several people try to get on with you, ask them to step to the side and get off on that floor. You can wait for the elevator to come back or take the stairs from whatever level you land on.

You can also ask your property manager to place signs in the elevator stating that the usage is limited to 30 percent. It’s also a good idea to see if they can put sanitizer or wipes in the elevator that passengers can use when they get on.

man wearing mask

4. Wear a mask and gloves

Try to wear gloves and a mask when you venture out to your mailbox. This protective gear can help you avoid coming into direct contact with any germs that might be hanging around.

When you wear gloves to your mailbox, make sure that you dispose of them as soon as you get back inside your apartment. Avoid touching anything inside of your residence after you enter. Wash your hands right after, as well.

Remember, wet, soap and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.

5. Wipe down your mailbox

You can also carry sanitizer with you and wipe down your mailbox before you get your mail and then again after you grab your mail out of the box. This can help not only you but your mail carrier, as well. Sanitizing your hands is an excellent way to help prevent the spread of germs.

6. Communicate

Talk to your property manager about any steps that they’re taking in regards to keeping the mailbox area clean and sanitized. Ask if they’re taking extra measures to ensure that the area is kept clean.

Maintain social distancing while going to get your mail

It can be challenging to practice social distancing when you’re living in an apartment complex. However, if you take a few relatively easy steps, you’ll be able to avoid contact with most of the people who are living around you and bring your mail back to your apartment, safe and sound.

Published at Fri, 17 Apr 2020 13:56:58 +0000