Creating a Zen Garden for Your New Jersey Backyard

Zen—or dry—gardens date back to the late 14th century, when Zen Buddhist priests created these austere gardens for meditation and appreciation of beauty. These gardens had no water features; the priests created a feeling of water with rocks, even raking them to get a ripple-like appearance.

Zen gardens are appearing in backyards across northern New Jersey as well, taking a cue from Asian traditions by keeping the focus on nature. Homeowners may choose to create these gardens—made primarily of stone and gravel, often enhanced with moss, small plants or shrubs, and rock formations—to avoid having to water; others choose to install these for the quiet contemplation they invite and the serenity they provide. And, they are easy to maintain and are weatherproof. The homeowner needs simply to rake the gravel or sand, in desired designs. The very act of this raking can be in itself a meditation and is meant to be relaxing. Raked designs are often made to look like waves or streams.

Although they appear simple on the surface, Zen gardens have a complexity that is revealed as one takes time to enjoy the space. The homeowner takes an active (albeit, relaxing) role in changing the raked design, then stepping back to contemplate and enjoy it. The carefully groomed sand is meant to provide a refuge from the world.

Today’s Zen gardens may include enhancements such as ponds, bridges, lighting and sculpture but the raked sand and fine gravel are the canvas upon which these sit.

Designing your Zen Garden

This starts by defining the space: a corner of an existing garden, part of your yard or even the whole yard. Do some research or visit other Zen or Asian gardens for ideas about topography and the hardscape (the stone work). Do you want to include water or not? What about lighting?

Whatever you do, think nature—a space with rough edges. Plants are not the main attraction so select a few specimen plants that will enhance the design because of their color or texture. Also consider seasonal changes; in northern New Jersey we experience all four seasons very distinctly and so does plant life.

Then it’s time for your hardscape materials:

  • Stone – the structural basis for your Zen garden. Stepping stones, formations, borders, designs.
  • Pebbles – think river-rounded pebbles of various sizes that will create the fields, surround plants and outline paths.
  • Sand or fine gravel – this is used to create the illusion of water, raked as anything from a dry riverbed to roiling waves and ripples – the choice (and the fun) is all yours.

Other enhancements may include bamboo panels, statues (such as one of Buddha), low lighting (stone or concrete housing blends in best), and a koi fish pond. The plants you choose should offer some texture and color. Your landscaping professional or high-quality garden center should be able to make some smart suggestions.

You can find inspiration and ideas for your Zen garden on Pinterest and there are plenty of sources online or in your public library.

Adding a Zen garden to your New Jersey property will certainly make your home stand out, and will provide you with many tranquil hours enjoying and reconfiguring your creation.

Getting Ready to List Your Home – Steps You Can Take to Add Value for Buyers

Getting your home prepared for a listing with a real estate agency is an exciting time. Of course, your agent will want to be excited about your listing and bring as many qualified prospects as possible. Is your real estate professional providing you with guidance about how to add value to your home? These home maintenance and repair tips will help you increase your chances of a sale more quickly.

De-clutter and organize. No one wants to step through clutter, look in rooms or closets that are overflowing with unnecessary items, or have to imagine what the space could look like without a homeowners personal effects clouding the “scenery.” Before you list your home for sale, start going through all the rooms, from attic to basement, and clean out and organize. You can create piles for discard, donate and store; once you’ve done the first two, it’s time to organize your storage needs. Closet storage systems will help you keep clothes organized and make a great presentation. Garage and basement storage solutions are also available to keep items off the floor and in a safe place.

Refresh rooms with paint. That first impression will be largely influenced by the look and feel of your rooms. After you’ve cleaned and cleared, a fresh coat of paint in neutral colors will help rooms look larger and make prospective buyers feel better about your space. Bright colors might be your style but not theirs so avoid making too much of a “statement” in your color choice.

Update bathroom fixtures. Swap out those tired old bathroom faucets and the old sink; install a new vanity or a shower head; or put on new toilet seats if necessary. You need not spend lots of money to do these simple updates and a little goes a long way. Remember, clean and new is better than tired and worn.

Update kitchen appliances and fixtures. If this is in your budget, it is well worth the expenditure on this end of the sales process. There’s no need for a full remodel but a face lift is well worth it for making a quicker sale. New cabinet doors and hardware or a new sink or new faucet with sprayer (a popular feature) are good investments. If you can swing it and your dishwasher or refrigerator are outdated, consider installing new models that prospective home buyers will appreciate.

Boost your curb appeal. Landscaping and driveway appearance are what prospective home buyers will see first—and will encourage or discourage them about coming inside for a closer look. Get your lawn in shape, plant your garden beds, prune your trees and shrubs. Outdoor lighting is also a benefit, from the front porch to the walkway or gardens. If the driveway is in poor shape, have it repaired.

Make necessary exterior repairs. In addition to the driveway, your front steps should be in good condition; your gutters should be in place and doing their jobs to prevent water damage to the home; missing roof shingles should be replaced; problems with paver or concrete walkways, your sidewalk, patio and deck (where applicable) should be remediated. Remember, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to walk away (and you wouldn’t want anyone to trip and get hurt).

Insulate for energy efficiency. One way to show prospective home buyers that your home is prepared for 21st century living is to add insulation in order to improve your energy efficiency and reduce heating and cooling costs. This is a also good time to look at your windows to see where you can seal any seams or cracks where air penetrates.

At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we guide our clients to make sure their homes are in “ready for sale” condition, in order to make the sales process as stress-free as possible for everyone involved. As part of our client service, our real estate agents will go over what we feel your home needs to prepare it for a listing, and help you hash out the pros and cons of certain upgrades and repairs. Want to find out more about the best way to sell your home in Essex County or other northern New Jersey areas? Call Century 21 Cedarcrest at (973) 228-1050 or visit our website to get started.

Can the Paint Colors in My Home Help or Hinder a Sale?

Can the Paint Colors in My Home Help or Hinder a Sale?

Yes, you read that title right. The color of the paint throughout your home can make a huge difference when it comes to actually making a sale. They say your first impression is the most important, and the first thing you’re potential buy is going to see is color.

Exterior Paint Colors

The exterior paint colors are going to be influenced by the neighborhood in which you live. You’re going to want to have a nice, fresh look to your home without necessarily sticking out like a sore thumb. Case in point – many years ago there was a home in historic Haddonfield, NJ. The homes in that area are all governed by rules based on Victorian-era history. A homeowner painted his house purple – light/medium purples with dark purple trim. The paint job, despite making people angry enough to go to court (the homeowner won, as the color was Victorian), didn’t blend in with anything else in the neighborhood. The home stayed that way for many years, but it was definitely painted before it was able to sell again.

At the end of the day, colors on the neutral pallet tend to do best.

Interior Paint Colors

This is where things get tricky, and where you are most likely to have trouble, as the interior of your home is where you’ve done the most personalization in each room. We once met a couple who spent a great deal of time paining the inside of their home. Most of the rooms were neutral in nature but the kitchen was painted a lovely shade of yellow and their family room was painted a rust-color. People love bright kitchens that are full of light, so there was no problem with the yellow.

The rust-color was the problem because the den had a sports theme, complete with trophies and pennants. A key consideration in selling a home is giving a buyer the opportunity to image it as his own. No one who stepped into that den could visualize anything other than a sports room. Even removing the sports memorabilia didn’t really help. It wasn’t until (months later) they painted the room a neutral color that people started to take the home seriously.

It is, in general, better to stick with warm and neutral colors in your main living areas. Bedrooms should be soft and relaxing. Bathrooms need to be painted with colors that make them look larger instead of smaller, so whites are generally best.

You may have spent a ton of time making your home match your personality, but if it’s really time to move on, you may have to seriously consider undoing some of that work. Selling a home means making it appealing to as many people as possible. Talk to your real estate agent if you need help deciding which areas are a priority for change.

Still Living in Your Starter Home? Make the Most of the Small Space

It’s no secret that the housing market has been slow to recover, but at least we’re moving in the right direction. Still, millions of families across the U.S. are finding themselves in the home they purchased years ago as a starter home, even though their family has outgrown the space. For some homeowners, it will still take years before they break free from being underwater in their loan, but that doesn’t mean that homes can’t be modified to fit new needs. Here are some of the best tips for making the most of your space.

Use Your Home’s Space from Bottom to Top

If you don’t have a lot of floor space to work with, see what you can do when you start working upwards. A popular idea is hanging multiple shelves on the wall to be used for displaying collectibles, photo frames or books. Use the tops of your cabinets to add plants or cookbooks. Cabinets hung on the walls can also help in bathrooms and kitchens.

Include Dual Purpose Furniture in Main Rooms

There are many pieces of furniture that are dedicated to helping homeowners with small spaces. If you need space for a laptop but don’t want a desk sitting in your family room, try a stylish armoire. These are also great for storing toys inconspicuously. If you enjoy entertaining, try a compact table with leaves that can be inserted. If you lack seating space, try an ottoman that has chairs underneath.

Make Functional Use of Your Garage or Basement

Garages are different for everyone. Some people park their cars in them, others use them to store all of their extra stuff. When you’re tight on space, you need to utilize extra spaces in your home that can offer you more flexibility. Turn your garage into a useful storage space with overhead storage and shelving, or create a workspace for your favorite hobby. Sheds are also a great way to create additional space and can be used for a guest home or hobby space.

Rent a Storage Unit

Sometimes, we accumulate so much stuff, we just can’t house it all anymore. If you plan on moving in the near future and want to save items for this purpose, it makes sense to purchase a storage unit in the meantime. You’ll find that it will make your home much more comfortable, and keep you feeling organized, too. Since storage units cost a monthly fee, it’s best to store only necessary items you know you’ll need.