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Jason O'Neil


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By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

#3. Plant Some Trees

Say what? Adding trees doesn’t instantly pop into your head when you think of adding value to your home. But trees are moneymakers that get better with age.

A mature tree could be worth between $1,000-$10,000, says the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers. A 16-inch silver maple could be worth $2,562, according to a formula worked out by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

In urban areas, money really does grow on trees. A recent study of home sales by the Pacific Northwest Research Station of Portland showed that street trees growing in front of or near a house boosted its sale price by an average of $8,870 and shaved two days off its time on the market.

There’s more. Trees also:

  • Save $100-$250 annually in energy costs
  • Lower stress
  • Prevent erosion from downpours and roof runoff
  • Protect your home from wind, rain, and sun

But don’t just run out and plant trees willy-nilly. Here are some tips:

  • Follow the sun. Plant shade trees on the south side of the house where the sun beats strongest and longest.
  • Follow the wind. Plant windbreak trees, which can lower winter energy costs by 30%, on the north and northwest sides of your property.
  • Don’t plant too close. If you do, branches can scrape roofs and siding, causing expensive damage. Rule of thumb: Don’t plant trees any closer than the tree’s mature height plus one-fourth of that height. So, for example, if a tree reaches 40 feet, it should be planted at least 50 feet from any other trees.

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Indianapolis May 2014 Housing Report

by Jason O'Neil

5 Plants You (Almost) Never Have to Water

by Jason O'Neil

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Every plant needs water. But drought-resistant varieties need only dainty sips once they’re established, making them perfect for low-rainfall areas and low-energy gardeners.

Susan Gottlieb, an expert on drought-tolerant gardens, says native plants have the best chance of surviving dry summers or whatever nature throws at them.

“Natives have evolved to thrive in your climate without a whole lot of extra work,” Gottlieb says. 

Include these 5 stunners in your landscaping and retire your watering can.

1. California lilac (Ceanothus): This beautiful shrub flowers in late winter/early spring, emits a lovely fragrance, and shows flowers that run from white to purple. The “Concha” variety is prized for its deep blue blossoms. California lilacs grow best on dry, sloping land or in front of any structure that protects them from wind. They also prefer well-drained soil, and they don’t do well in clay.

2. Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): Found in many desert gardens, deer grass is a spiky and dependable ornamental. It loves full sun, but also will grow in a little shade. Water every three days until established. After the first year, water only every three weeks.

3. Salvia, heatwave series: These dependable perennials were developed in Australia to withstand extreme weather. As a bonus, they bloom spring through fall, to the delight of hummingbirds and butterflies. Colors include white, pink, and salmon.

4. Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria): This low-growing perennial is known for its silver-gray foliage, looks good as a ground cover, and thrives in containers stuffed with annuals. It hates standing around with wet roots, so plant it in soil that drains well.

5. Tickweed (Coreopsis): These yellow perennials add a burst of sunshine to any garden or border. More than 100 species are long-blooming (so long as you deadhead) and low-maintenance. They range from long and leggy to small and mounded. Also, they are easy to divide, creating many more plants season after season.

More than 30 states host Native Plant Societies, which can guide your selection and help you save water in your garden. To find a local society, check with your local extension agent or with the Native Plant Conservation Campaign, a friend to native and endangered plants.

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

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

#2. Install Quality Ceiling Fans

If crown molding and chair railing were #3 and #7 on buyers’ decorative wish lists, what was #1? 

Ceiling fans. 

Over the years, ceiling fans have become quite the crowd pleaser. Once they were just a cheap solution to rising energy costs — ugly, wobbly, noisy eyesores endured because they were cheaper than air conditioning.

Today, ceiling fans have evolved into an essential component of American homes as energy prices continue to rise. And since designs have caught up with the times, they come in a variety of styles and colors to complement any room.  If your ceiling fans are old and outdated, new ones (coupled with a fresh paint job and crown molding) could give your rooms a refreshing update while saving money.

Some tips about ceiling fans:

  • Ceiling fans should hang 7-8 feet above the floor. If you’ve got a low ceiling, buy a hugger ceiling fan that’s flush-mounted.
  • Size matters more than the number of fan blades. Go for the biggest Energy Star-rated fan that will fit the space.
  • Choose quality. You’ll get better cooling results, less noise, and good looks at a digestible price point of $200-$600.

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


The 8 Most Financially Savvy Home Improvements You Can Make

by Jason O'Neil

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

When it comes to home improvement, some dollars stretch more than others. And if you’re on a limited budget, it becomes even more important to spend those dollars wisely. 

Over the next few months, I am going to cover eight affordable (under $5,000) home improvement projects that’ll help you enjoy your home more today and provide excellent financial return in the future.

#1. Add the Finishing Touch of Molding

Decorative molding is a classic touch that’s been around since the ancient Greeks and Romans first installed it to add grandeur to their buildings.  Centuries later, molding is still one of the most dramatic ways to dress up a room. It’s a budget-friendly improvement that trims a room for a finished and expensive look.

Today’s wood moldings come in hundreds of options — from simple to ornate — that you can stain, paint, or leave natural. You can also find moldings in flexible materials, such as foam, that make installation a whole lot easier. Some moldings even include lighting that casts a soft, ambient glow.  

Buyers consistently rank both crown molding and chair railing in their list of most desirable decorative features they seek in a home (#3 and #7 respectively), according to the annual National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, “What Home Buyers Really Want.”

And at $1.50/foot if you DIY it, or $8 per foot if you hire, it’s a no-brainer in terms of personalizing your home while adding value. (Although we don’t recommend DIY unless you’ve got above-par mitering skills.)

A few tips about molding:

  • Use crown molding to make a room seem bigger and taller. But be careful about proportions. If your ceiling height is 9 feet or less, go with simpler styles to avoid overwhelming the room.
  • Chair railing placed incorrectly can make a room seem out of proportion. Rule of thumb: Place chair railing at one-third the distance of the ceiling height.
  • Don’t forget entryways, doors, and windows: Bump up the trim around these areas to give rooms a completed and expensive feel.

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

Indianapolis Housing Market Shows Strength

by Jason O'Neil

By: Dona DeZube

Although the real estate crisis might have broken some homeowners' hearts, many folks are ready to start dating again, according to two Gallup polls.

One polls shows Americans believe real estate is the best long-term investment, better than even gold, stock, bonds and savings accounts.

High-income consumers are the biggest believers in home ownership as an investment - 38% of people who make $75,000 or more think real estate is the best long-term investment.

Image: Copyright 2014 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. The content is used with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.

A second Gallup poll found that nearly three in hour Americans say now's the time to buy, an attitude that could increase home buying activity and home values over the next year.

And the expectation that home prices will rise is further fueling the buy-now belief. Back in 2011, only 21% of Americans expected home prices to rise. Today, 56% of those Gallup polled expect local home prices to increase.

Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, it's clear that the scant 21% of people in 2011 who thought prices would rise were right. The median US home price rose from $166,100 in 2011 to $197,000 in 2013.

The take home from the Gallup poll? Most people can't predict the future of the housing market anymore than they can predict where the stock market and the gold market are headed.

Fortunately, most of us buy our home because we want to put down roots. But we also see buying as an investment. We know once we pay off the mortgage, we'll have a free-and-clear home to live in during retirement and wealth to pass along to our heirs. Rising and falling home prices over a few years don't matter so much if you're investing for the long run.

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Home Safe Home

by Jason O'Neil

Common sense isn't always so common.

That's why when it comes to safety in the home, you must remember the basics to keep your family safe.  Families can do everything from making sure they've got smoke detectors to installing home security systems to meet that aim.  But if you forget about them, what good is that doing you?

People often remove batteries from smoke detectors because the noise of the beeping alarm may be annoying.  Common sense will tell you that doesn't make any sense.  If the batteries are beeping because they are dead, take the extra 60 seconds and replace them batteries.  If the batteries are beeping because of a smoky meal, pop a window open instead.

Fire is a major area of concern in regards to home safety. According to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, fire departments in the US responded to an average of more than 360,000 home structure fires per year from 2007-2011. The statistics from those fires are heartbreaking - approximately 2,500 deaths, more than 13,000 injuries and $7.2 billion in property damage EACH year.

Smoke detectors can cost as little as $6 to as much as $44, depending on the model. They need replacing every 10 years and batteries should be checked periodically throughout the year, according to the NFPA.

Other similar items to think about include carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and escape ladders.  Most people don't think about their escape route ahead of time.  If a second story window is your only place of exit, how will you safely get to the ground?

Families with children have additional safety needs. Key points of safety include using outlet safety plugs and door latches to keep children out of cabinets where cleaners with chemicals to children might be kept.

As weather beings to heat up, grilling and pool safety begin to become important aspects of safety around the home, too. According to the FNPA, those grilling with propane and charcoal grills should only use their grills outside and should take care to place them well away from their home, deck railings or eaves and overhanging branches.  We've all seen the homes with melted vinyl siding because the grill got a little too close to the house.  Don't make that same mistake.

When it comes to pool safety, owners should use fencing to keep unauthorized users out. One of the biggest things pool owners should do is to be observant. If you have a pool, it will attract kids.  Take a few extra steps to make sure they are kept safe.

8 Dirty Secrets in Your Home

by Jason O'Neil

By: Alyson McNutt English

In denial about the crud that’s festering in the nooks and crannies of your home? The maintenance and cleaning pros we talked to say these eight jobs are among the grossest -- and among the most important. One job could even save your life. 

Deep breath ...


1. Cruddy undersides of rugs

Look under your area rugs for a nasty surprise -- a sea of grit and dust -- despite regular vacuuming. 

What to do:

  • Move furniture, fold over the rug, and vacuum dirt and dust from its underside. Sweep and mop the floor, too.
  • While you’re under the hood, check the rug’s condition. If there’s no staining or discoloration, a good floor cleaning and vacuuming of the rug’s underside is enough. 
  • If pets, kids, or wine have left their mark, invest in a professional cleaning. A pro will run between $1.50-$3/sq. ft. of rug, depending on the type of rug. Delicate natural fibers are usually more costly to clean than synthetics.

2. Disgusting disposal

Your kitchen has more germs than even your bathroom. And your garbage disposal and its splash guard flaps just might be the most disgusting place in the house -- slimy, smelly, and befouled with old food. 

What to do:

  • Scrub the underside of the rubber flaps with an old toothbrush and warm, soapy water.
  • Pour a 1:1 ratio of white distilled white vinegar and baking soda down the drain. Let it sit overnight and flush with boiling water to sanitize.
  • Toss frozen cubes of white vinegar (just freeze it in an ice tray) down the disposal while it’s running. This will sharpen and sanitize the disposal’s grinding blades.
  • Freshen up the drain with slices of lemon or other citrus fruit. Peels are OK, but if you have fruit to spare, the citrus acids will help disinfect and freshen. 

3. Greasy kitchen vent hood

Your range vent hood works hard to absorb smoke, steam, and grease. Just like you change air filters to extend the life of your HVAC, you should clean the vent filter. Not only will this make the vent more efficient, it’s a safety measure. Should you have a grease fire, a greasy hood and filter can spread the fire into your home’s duct work. 

What to do:

  • Remove the hood filter according to directions for your vent hood model. If you don’t have the paper manual anymore, search online for a copy. 
  • Soak the filter in a kitchen-grade degreaser.
  • Once most of the grease has dissolved, rinse the filter with soapy water. 
  • While you’re soaking the filter, clean the greasy interior of your vent hood.
  • Use a kitchen-grade degreaser for the hood like the one you’re soaking the filter in. 
  • Wipe the hood's interior with a sponge or rag.

4. Crumby kitchen crevices

No matter how spotless your kitchen surfaces are, crumbs, morsels, and drips of stuff have fallen into the crannies between appliances and countertops, tempting bugs and vermin. 

What to do:

  • For appliances with a bit of ground clearance, like a refrigerator, use the vacuum crevice attachment to suck out the yuck. 
  • For appliances with less room to maneuver, attach microfiber cloths to a yardstick with rubber bands. Slide and grab under and between appliances.
  • Sneak an old-school feather duster between counter cracks or under appliances. Get one with an extra-long handle ($15-$25) or use a flexible duster specifically designed to slide under appliances.

5. Grimy fans and ceilings

Dispatching the out-of-sight, out-of-mind dust (sloughed-off skin cells, dust mites, and outdoor allergans) that lives on ceiling fans and light fixtures means better indoor air quality and fewer allergy problems. 

What to do:

  • Dampen the inside of a pillowcase and slide it over each ceiling fan blade. As you slide it off, run your hands along the sides of the blade to wipe up dirt and dust so the dreck doesn’t rain down on you. Get a spotter if you’re balancing on a ladder or chair.
  • For less-dusty ceiling fans, use a microfiber duster that'll grab the blades. ($7-$20)
  • For oily or grimy buildup on ceilings, especially in the kitchen or bathroom, run a flat mop tool with a microfiber or soap-cloth attachment along the ceiling. Dish soap will do nicely. 
  • Remove light shades or covers from ceiling fixtures to wipe out dust and bugs. But turn the light off first. 

6. Grungy toilets

You’re not getting down-and-dirty with your toilet until you scrub where the commode meets the bathroom floor. 

What to do:

  • Check that the caulk at the base of the toilet is sealing the area. If it's worn, remove the remaining caulk with a utility knife. Then re-seal it. For extra germ-fighting, choose a caulk with Microban. 
  • Slide a feather duster behind the tank to brush off any dirt or dust, and use a sponge or damp microfiber cloth to scrub all the way around the porcelain base.

7. Debris-filled crawlspace

No one wants to crawl around under the house -- except bugs and rodents. If you suspect critters are playing house, skip the DIY and consult a pro. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to check your crawlspace annually to check for water penetration and clean out debris. 

What to do:

  • Wear personal protective equipment, such as coveralls, a dust-mask, goggles, and gloves. 
  • If you see mold, don’t disturb it. Call a professional mold remediation company. 
  • If you don’t see mold, check your vapor barrier for holes, deterioration, or uncovered areas. If you’re handy and comfortable with working in cramped crawlspace conditions, you can fix it yourself with supplies from your local hardware or home store. Otherwise, call a handyman. If the problem seems more extensive (major holes or large uncovered areas), call a foundation specialist. 
  • Make sure there’s no standing water on top of the vapor barrier. That could mean water is coming from leaking pipes or gutters. It’s a recipe for mold and rot. Call a pro who specializes in foundation or crawlspace work pronto. 
  • Push out trash through the nearest vent or access door. When you go outside to collect the debris, secure vents and doors so nothing else will blow, crawl, or slither in. 

8. Linty dryer vents

This is one of the most important dirty jobs, because cleaning your clothes dryer’s lint trap and vents will extend its life, improve its efficiency, and save your life. Clothes dryers cause more than 15,000 structural fires, injuring 400 and killing 15 people on average each year. "Failure to clean" is the leading contributing factor to these fires.


What to do:

  • Use a dryer vent cleaner (about $15), a long, flexible, thick metal cord that snakes through the dryer vent’s dark corridors, to sweep out lint and dust. 
  • Use your vacuum’s crevice tool to suck out hangers on in the lint trap. 
  • Vacuum underneath and around the back of the dryer to clear out any remaining lint colonies.

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11 Ways to Create a Welcoming Front Entrance for Under $100

by Jason O'Neil

By: Cara Greenberg

First impressions count — not just for your friends, relatives, and the UPS guy, but for yourself. Whether it’s on an urban stoop or a Victorian front porch, your front door and the area leading up to it should extend a warm welcome to all comers — and needn’t cost a bundle.

Here’s what you can do to make welcoming happen on the cheap.

1. Clear the way for curb appeal. The path to your front door should be at least 3 feet wide so people can walk shoulder-to-shoulder, with an unobstructed view and no stumbling hazards. So get out those loppers and cut back any overhanging branches or encroaching shrubs. 

2. Light the route. Landscape lighting makes it easy to get around at night. Solar-powered LED lights you can just stick in the ground, requiring no wiring, are suprisingly inexpensive. We found 8 packs for under $60 online. 

3. Go glossy. Borrow inspiration from London’s lovely row houses, whose owners assert their individuality by painting their doors in high-gloss colors. The reflective sheen of a royal blue, deep green, crimson, or whatever color you like will ensure your house stands out from the pack.

4. Pretty up the view. A door with lots of glass is a plus for letting light into the front hall -- but if you also want privacy and a bit of decor, check out decorative window film. It’s removable and re-positionable, and comes in innumerable styles and motifs. Pricing depends on size and design; many available for under $30.

A way to get the look of stained glass without doing custom work or buying a whole new door: Mount a decorative panel on the inside of the door behind an existing glass insert, $92 for an Arts and Crafts-style panel 20” high by 11” wide.

5. Replace door hardware. While you’re at it, polish up the handle on the big front door. Or better yet, replace it with a shiny new brass lockset with a secure deadbolt. Available for about $60. 

6. Please knock. Doorbells may be the norm, but a hefty knocker is a classic that will never run out of battery life, and another opportunity to express yourself (whatever your favorite animal or insect is, there’s a door-knocker in its image). 

7. Ever-greenery. Boxwoods are always tidy-looking, the definition of easy upkeep. A pair on either side of the door is traditional, but a singleton is good, too. About $25 at garden centers. In cold climates, make sure pots are frost-proof (polyethylene urns and boxes mimic terracotta and wood to perfection).

8. Numbers game. Is your house number clearly visible? That’s of prime importance if you want your guests to arrive and your pizza to be hot. Stick-on vinyl numbers in a variety of fonts make it easy, starting at about $4 per digit.

9. Foot traffic. A hardworking mat for wiping muddy feet is a must. A thick coir mat can be had at the hardware store for less than $20. Even fancier varieties can be found well under $50.

10. Go for the glow. Fumbling for keys in the dark isn’t fun. Consider doubling up on porch lights with a pair of lanterns, one on each side of the door, for symmetry and twice the illumination. Many mounted lights are available well under $100.

11. Snail mail. Mailboxes run the gamut from kitschy roadside novelties masquerading as dogs, fish, or what-have-you to sober black lockboxes mounted alongside the front door. Whichever way you go, make sure yours is standing or hanging straight, with a secure closure, and no dings or dents. The mail carrier will thank you.

Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Read more: 
Image credit: iriana88w / 123RF Stock Photo‚Äč

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