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.

Caldwell NJ Public Library Holiday 2014 Events

Caldwell NJ Public Library Holiday 2014 Events

It’s that time of year again to celebrate the holidays. Here are a few events coming up at the Caldwell (New Jersey) Public Library.

Wednesday December 3, 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Make and Take craft workshop.  Create crafts and take them home.

The workshop is for ages 12+ with families welcome.

*Registration required and space is limited.

Tuesday December 16, 1pm-2pm
Happy Hannukah!

Stop in to celebrate and enjoy a jelly donut treat. While supplies last.

Saturday December 20, 10am-Noon
Parent shopping day free babysitting

Caldwell Public Library hosts a babysitting morning of crafts, treats and a movie for children ages 5+ to help parents get some holiday shopping done. Registration required.

In general the library is open the following days and times:

Monday 9am to 5pm
Tuesday 9am to 8pm
Wednesday 12pm to 8pm
Thursday 9am to 8pm
Friday 9am to 5pm
Saturday 9am to 12pm

Have questions? Contact the Library or head on over and speak with a librarian:

268 Bloomfield Ave

Caldwell, NJ 07006
librarian@caldwellpl.org
973-226-2837

Fall Decorating Trends

Fall is in the air! New Jersey is one of the most beautiful states to enjoy this season because of the abundance of trees and a diverse landscape where you can view the transformation from summer to fall off water or land. If you’re looking for creative ways to bring fall into your home, you’ll be pleased to know that we’ve tracked down some of the hottest seasonal trends! And, if you recently purchased a new home, you’ll have even more fun decorating your fresh place!

Rich, Warm Accents

Swap out your lightweight accents – throw pillows, blankets, area rugs,  curtains – for velvet and fur ones. Choose colors that represent the fall season, such as burnt orange, deep red or shades of brown. Also pack away fake flowers and decor that are reminiscent of spring and summer.

Fresh Fall Flowers

What is one of the best ways to bring the outdoors in? With fresh flowers! Flowers brighten up the home and add color and character. Stop by your local nursery to browse their selection of seasonal flowers. A few vases will do. Don’t forget to refill the water every few days and remove all leaves below the water line.

A Wall of Flair

Is your wall decor light and springy? No problem. Switch out the pictures in the frame with fall photographs. You can use photos from your own family at the pumpkin patch or apple orchard, or opt for pressed leaves and printed off copies of sayings like, “Give Thanks” or “It’s Fall.” If you can’t pull this off with your existing frames, head to a garage sale or thrift shop for inexpensive frames.

Get the Fireplace Ready

If your new home has a fireplace, don’t light it up right away. Safety always comes first, so have the chimney and firebox inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep company. Once everything has been cleaned, you can light that first log and enjoy a warm, cozy evening in your favorite place.

Move Beyond Eye Level

It’s common practice to add fall centerpieces to tables, floral arrangements on end tables, bowls of apples on the coffee table and so forth. But, these cutesy arrangements can also be distracting or in the way. Instead, move upwards and utilize space that is generally left untapped. For example, hang leaf streamers from light fixtures, the top of your entertainment center or above windows. Wreaths hung on the wall or door is also a nice touch.

Sellers in the West, Buyers in the East

Zillow, an online real estate site, recently released a study that listed the markets for sellers and buyers in the United States. The study showed that there is an east/west divide. Basically, if you’re on the West Coast, it’s a seller’s market. If you’re on the East Coast (or Midwest), it’s a buyer’s market. Obviously, if you compare New Jersey to California, there’s a lot of difference, and not just in terms of miles. Things are different out there. But why is one coast showing one market, and the other coast an entirely different market?

For starters, there are relatively strong job markets on the West Coast, which is helping to create more demand. Since there is a limited supply, this is causing a rapid appreciation for homes and giving sellers the edge. And, housing prices and interest rates are still favorable, so some buyers want to buy NOW. They’re willing to pay a bit more for a home because they know it’s still a great deal, and the sellers get to take more of a profit than they would have a few years ago.

Here in New Jersey and our surrounding areas, however, the housing market is appreciating more slowly. Homes are staying on the market for a bit longer, and this gives buyers the edge. If a seller wants to take advantage of the market and sell off their existing home, they’ll be much more willing to take a little less and move on rather than holding onto the property. This isn’t the case in every township, but it is the picture for things at large.

So, what can you be looking at this fall? It depends on who you are. If you’re the buyer, then you can expect to have the upper hand, and you may be able to land your NJ dream home by asking the seller to come down in price. If you’re the seller, on the other hand, expect to have your home on the market a little longer and perhaps have to lower your asking price. Or, you could always wait for that perfect buyer to come along, which isn’t asking too much in this market. New Jersey does, after all, have unique, one-of-a-kind homes.

5 Reasons to Love New Jersey

Are you considering relocating to New Jersey? Or perhaps you’re already a NJ native but are trying to convince a friend or family member to make the move. Whatever the case, this blog post is for you! Here are five amazing reasons to give the Garden State a chance!

1. Varied Landscape

On the West Coast, you get mountains and white sand beaches. The South – warm, sandy deserts. In the central part of the U.S., you see hundreds of miles of flat land. But in Jersey, you get everything. There are miles of farmland, breathtaking mountains, cityscapes and beaches. This means you can make your home anywhere you want – you can literally never get bored!

2. Adorable Mini Towns

One of the neat aspects to living in Jersey is that there are quaint little towns throughout the state. Most offer the perfect blend of urban and suburban life. There are places to grab a bite to eat, charming streets and rich history embedded in each town. From family friendly Little Falls to the marshes of Meadowland, you can get an entire history lesson in one drive.

3. Proximity to the Beach

Another highlight to New Jersey is the cozy beach towns. Many people have summer homes on Long Beach Island where they spend the weekends in the summer. And, no matter where you live in NJ, most residents are no more than an hour away from the coast. Nothing beats sitting off the beach in the summer, enjoying salt water taffy and french fries with vinegar.

4. Proximity to Manhattan

Millions of people can only dream of visiting the Big Apple, but for people living in NJ, it’s only a bus, train or ferry ride away. In fact, many people work in the Big Apple where job opportunities are more plentiful, and enjoy suburban living in New Jersey. Living right next to the city offers financial security, especially in an unstable economy.

5. Excellent Schools

New Jersey takes a lot of pride in their education system. There are numerous NJ schools in the 2014 U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, including 25 with gold medals, 19 silver medals and 32 bronze medals. Each municipality has their own school district essentially, which means that each district gets a lot of attention from committed families.

Tips for Winning a Bidding War

You don’t have to be a bidding man to win a bidding war. Even though the housing market has been slow to recover, many areas are seeing bidding wars on for-sale properties. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some areas to see 10-15 offers on homes the day they go on the market. Low mortgage rates and housing prices make it a good time to buy, and low inventory creates these bidding wars. To compete in these wars, you’ll need to be financially prepared to make the investment. You should also be familiar with the neighborhood and exactly what you’re looking for.

Here are a few helpful tips for winning a bidding war in today’s market.

Have Your Lending in Place

Too many buyers start working with lenders when they begin looking at homes. If you’re going to make a bid, you need to have your lending in place. Talk to lenders in advance and have a preapproval letter in hand before making a bid. This way, you’ll be more likely to win the war because financing is already in place.

Put Cash Aside

Financing is good, but so is cash. A down payment of at least 20% is ideal, but more cash is better. You want to show the sellers that you have the funds to close on the home, and the ability to make up the difference if the appraisal comes out low.

Make a Fast Offer

You can’t wait in today’s market. When you see a home you like, set up a time to view it as soon as possible. Not only should you make a fast offer, but also personalize it. You can talk to the realtor to determine what motivations the sellers need to close the deal and use this to your advantage. The goal is to make your offer look attractive compared to all the others.

Eliminate Contingencies

If you can, eliminate contingencies so that nothing slows down your offer. Common contingencies include financing, appraisals or home inspections. If you can’t waive these, at least find a way to shorten them. You want to make your offer strong and avoid having the sellers wait on things that may not come through. So, if you don’t need that home warranty after all, don’t ask for it.

Making the Most of an Open House

As a prospective buyer, open houses are a wonderful opportunity to drop by, view a home and meet others in the neighborhood in a semi-relaxed environment. The advantage to an open house is that it’s completely open, and you can drop by during the specific window without an appointment or even being a serious buyer. Below are helpful tips for making the most of an open house.

Attend open houses early on in your search.

Before committing to a realtor, attend a few open houses and get a feel for the market. Seeing what homes are on the market, what they look like on the inside and how much they are selling for are all important criteria to learn about. Plus, it puts you in a position where you can meet realtors and agents who may be a good fit for your needs.

Introduce yourself when you walk in.

Prospective buyers are often concerned that if they sign in, they’ll be hassled for the next few months by the realtor. This can happen, but it’s not the norm. Still, if you don’t feel comfortable signing in, that’s okay. Politely decline. But, you should introduce yourself and be polite, as it’s important for safety reasons for the agent to know who is coming into the home. And, if you’re a serious buyer, make yourself known to the agent. Putting a name to a face is helpful when reviewing offers.

Ask the listing agent questions.

The realtor may ask you questions, but don’t be afraid to ask your own. Listing agents know the most about the property, and they can direct questions to the seller if need be. Some things to ask: how long the property has been on the market, why the home is being sold, what costs are attached to the property and what fixtures/furniture are being sold with the property.

Watch the other buyers.

If you notice that people are leaving as quickly as they came in, that’s a sign that there are issues with the property on some level. If people are asking questions, sticking around and envisioning their own stuff in the house, you know that it’s probably a good property you’re looking at. Take direction from the other buyers and gauge their confidence level.