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.

Why Winter is the Best Time to Sell Your Home

Why Winter is the Best Time to Sell Your Home

A lot of people find winter to be one of the most difficult times to sell a home. Truth be told, the entire winter season, from before the holidays through the end of February, is generally the slowest in the real estate industry. But that doesn’t mean the winter is a bad time to sell your home. The winter months, particularly February, can actually be beneficial to the seller.

Why You Should Sell in the Winter

One of the reasons the winter is considered a difficult time to sell is because there aren’t many buyers. After all, who wants to fight holiday traffic, brave the bitter cold, or slip on ice to view homes? During the colder months, potential buyers are making their plans but most of them aren’t in any real rush to make a purchase. A lot of people will even take their homes off the market in December, allowing their contracts with their showing agents to run out, thinking they’ll get a fresh start in the spring.

But here’s the deal – people who are looking to buy homes during the winter months are usually very motivated. They have a reason they’re moving, even if it’s snowing or the weather just plain stinks. They’re relocating because of a new post or new job; or for some reason that makes a move necessary right now.

According to Redfin, “74% of homes listed in February sold within 90 days, and 13% of them sold for more than the list price.” These buyers need good homes and they don’t have as much to choose from.

Preparing Your Home for a Winter Sale

The need of the buyer doesn’t mean you can slack off with home preparation work, though. Your home needs to look just as inviting as it would during the warmer months, which honestly means a little more effort on your part. Some ideas include:

  • Shoveling and salting the walks frequently; for an inviting atmosphere and for safety;

  • Make the home look brighter by removing unnecessary window treatments;

  • Emphasizing parts of the home that make it appealing in the winter – like an attached garage or a mudroom;

  • Emphasize conveniences near the home – close schools, regular plowing and city conveniences, close stores;

  • Decorate the home. Even after the holidays, plain wreaths with adornments look much nicer than an empty doorway.

Regular interior staging rules apply, of course. Cleaning and decluttering are important, as are making necessary home repairs. Just know that selling a home during the winter months isn’t impossible, and leaving the home on the market while others are pulling them can up your odds of selling considerably.

Spring Cleaning Tips Before Listing Your Home

Before you set that ‘for sale’ sign in front of your yard, there are certain things you need to do to get your home ready to sell. In this post, we want to discuss spring cleaning tips that will get your home looking its best, and hopefully, selling quickly. Now is a great time to go through your clutter and clean the home because you’ll need to do this when you pack anyway. So, let’s get a head start and get cleaning!

De-Clutter the Home

Going through your stuff isn’t always easy, because it means having to make decisions as to what to keep and what to get rid of. Some people do well in getting rid of the things they no longer want or use, and others dwell over it. To help, give yourself limitations so that you can still keep things but within a reasonable limit. For instance, if you have a collection of baseball cards, keep only those that will fit within one plastic container.

You may be able to sell some stuff in a garage sale or online and make a few extra bucks. Or, donate the things you don’t want to the many charities available, many of which will come to your home to pick everything up!

De-Personalize the Home

Next, you’ll need to take the ‘you’ out of your home. Potential buyers need to be able to walk through your home and envision their own life there, so keep your home tasteful but simple and minimal. Picture frames, collections, knick knacks and so on are the things to pack and put in storage. For tasteful decorating, use general items like candles, bowls of potpourri and fresh plants and flowers.

Clean Hard-to-Reach Areas

How long has it been since you washed the windows? Dusted the blinds? Scrubbed the shower? Vacuumed the baseboards and vents? These areas are often looked over, but they need to be cleaned before showing your home. You don’t want your dust and dirt overshadowing your space. If you need help, enlist a cleaning service and then keep up on the work from there.

Also, don’t forget the very basic tasks of vacuuming the floors each day, wiping down counters, keeping dishes out of the sink and dusting surfaces.

Why Are New Jersey’s Property Taxes So High?

New Jersey is a great place to work and live. Its cities are often ranked some of the best places to live in the US, and the state is home to great restaurants and sports teams, not to mention there are plenty of job opportunities being centrally located to several large cities. But, there’s one thing that often comes up in conversation when talking about New Jersey: property taxes are high. Some of the highest in the country, in fact.

A study from the Tax Foundation found that in 2009, New Jersey residents paid median taxes of $6,579 in 2009, giving them the highest property taxes in the country. It’s no wonder why residents get so angry about having to pay high taxes, but the truth is that New Jersey is highly reliant on property taxes to fund schools and government. So, looking at property tax numbers alone isn’t enough to tell the full story. Other areas may be paying the same dollar amount of taxes, just in a different form.

Here are the factors that determine New Jersey taxes, according to NJLM:

  • Your home’s market value

  • Cost of municipal and county programs and services

  • Cost of local public schools

  • Availability of revenue to cover the above costs

  • Extent of tax exempt properties in your municipality

  • Total value of taxable properties in your municipality

So, if you were to make structural renovations or additions to your property, your tax bill gets higher. If it costs more to deliver local government services and programs to your area, your tax bill gets higher. If local school districts cannot count on other revenues and their costs rise, your tax bill gets higher. When looking at the numbers, it’s important to remember all of the programs and services that NJ taxes support.

Also, NJ municipalities are highly autonomous. This offers a range of benefits to residents, including more control over local school systems and government. But, this also comes with a cost, and that cost is reflected in NJ property taxes. The more emphasis you place on having local independence, the more the municipality is to going to have to pick up these costs, when in other states, they are funded at a state level. It’s a Catch 22, really.

Bottom line: No tax is popular. There will always be some aspect of taxes that people don’t like. At the end of the day, there are many government-level programs and services that our nation’s cities need to function.