Thursday, September 27, 2007

CURB APPEAL 101: Fall Tips to Make Your Landscape Shine

  1. Convince yourself that raking leaves can be fun. Rather than wait for a single weekend, break this chore into stages. Matted leaves can lead to insect and disease problems and smother your turf, especially cool season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass.
  2. To fertilize – or not to fertilize? Cool season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, fescues and perennial ryegrass often need fertilizer this time of year. Grasses that go dormant in the winter, such as Bermuda, Zoysia and Centipede may not. Visit for information on soil testing and choosing the right fertilizer.
  3. Repair and re-seed. Fall is a great time to repair a damaged lawn and re-seed. Fill any holes or bare spots with topsoil and add grass seed. It’s important to choose the right kind of grass for your growing zone; go to to learn what’s best for your area.
  4. Don’t forget to water. New grass in particular needs frequent but shallow watering. Once the grass is established, water deeply to reach the roots. To minimize the threat of fungal disease, water in the morning or early afternoon so that the grass blades are not moist overnight.
  5. Prune with care. Pruning promotes growth, so be careful not to encourage growth when plants are about to go dormant. By all means remove diseased, dead or broken branches.
  6. Transplant trees and shrubs. Autumn is a great season for transplanting trees and shrubs, allowing roots to get established before the cold sets in. Also, heat stress is not a concern. Visit your neighborhood Lowe’s Garden Center for a broad selection of trees and shrubs that can bring new life to your landscape.
  7. Spruce up flower beds. Replace warm-weather annuals with seasonal favorites like pansies and mums. Clean out summer perennials and add a fresh layer of mulch, which can help protect plants from hard freezes.
  8. Divide established perennials. If your perennials are looking a bit lackluster or overgrown they may need to be divided. The best candidates have large, healthy clumps and have been in the ground for
    years. By dividing these in the fall, you’ll enjoy healthier plants in more places next spring.
  9. Plant ahead for spring. Foolproof and fabulous, spring-flowering bulbs put gardening within everyone’s reach. When choosing bulbs, focus on your favorite color, or try shades that accent already established plantings throughout your garden. For more information on cutting gardens, see “Bulbs in Bloom” at

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Weekly Market Activity Report

Twin Cities consumers didn't do much laboring to purchase a home over Labor Day weekend, as sales activity for the week ending September 8 was down significantly. There were only 500 new purchase agreements signed in the metropolitan area during the week, the lowest number since the beginning of 2007. New listings increased slightly from the previous week, likely buoyed by post-holiday relistings.

Top 10 Cities with the Highest Cost Loans
The Chicagoland area ranked highest in the country in total high-cost loans in 2006, according to data released last week by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. Chicago has led the nation in high-cost loans for the past three years.

"High-cost" loans are identified in federal mortgage lending data as first-lien loans with interest rates at least three percentage points above the U.S. Treasury standard. The U.S. Treasury standard stood at 5.19 percent in mid-July for a 30-year mortgage.

African-American home owners were nearly three times as likely to get high-cost loans as their white counterparts. Even when African-American applicants went through prime lenders, they got high-cost loans 37 percent of the time, according to the report. Latino home owners were twice as likely as white home owners to get high-cost loans. From prime lenders, Latinos got high-cost loans 19 percent of the time compared with just 9 percent of the time for whites.The top 10 areas for high-cost loans were:
1. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet
2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale
3. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
4. Phoenix
5. Washington, D.C.
6. Atlanta
7. Houston
8. New York
9. Miami
10. Tampa, Fla.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Creating a Beautiful Autumn Lawn

Nothing improves curb appeal more than a thick, green lawn. Though summer is drawing to a close, now is just the time to stimulate a strong network of roots and top growth on lawn grasses. Here’s a short, nine-step course in keeping grass healthy. Much of the information comes from "Better Lawns Step by Step," by Joe Provey and Kris Robinson.

Mow regularly. Set the mower for 3 to 3 ½ inches. Cut no more than one-third of the blade height. Cutting too much shocks the grass and taller blades of grass allow fewer weeds to break through.

Keep the lawn mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear grass.

Get rid of the leaves. Heavy accumulations of leaves can weaken and kill grass.

Aerate regularly. Rent a core aerator that removes plugs of soil or hire a lawn maintenance company that uses instead of the kind that just punches holes. Go over the lawn three or four times.

Spread compost. Sprinkle it into the aeration holes. Don’t cover the blades of grass.
Lay 40 to 50 percent organic fertilizer over the soil surface after aerating and sprinkling compost.

Get rid of weeds. Use pre-emergent weed killer spring and fall. Pull the surviving weeds by hand. Only use chemical spot treatment if pulling them out doesn’t work.

Overseed existing laws with three to four pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet of grass. Chose top quality seed appropriate for your region.

Water, water, water.

Weekly Market Activity Report

The Twin Cities housing market is seeing huge week-to-week declines in seller activity as we enter the fall and the school year begins again. Just four weeks ago, home sellers placed 2,324 new houses on the market for sale; for the week ending September 1, only 1,659 new units were listed. Compared to one year ago, this most recent figure is a drop of 16.7 percent. Not surprisingly, buyer activity remains stunted as uncertainties in the mortgage market and a fragile consumer psychology persist. The most recent tracked week shows a pending sales decline of 22.5 percent from this time last year.

This week's edition of the MAAR Weekly Market Activity Report features several new updated figures. The Percent of Original List Price Received at Sale for July 2007 fell to 94.7 percent and likely will keep falling through the end of the year as the winter buyer pause creates additional short-term downward pressures on home prices. Mortgage Rates for September rose slightly to 6.8 percent, which, coupled with a slight seasonal decrease in the median sales price, caused the Housing Affordability Index to hold steady at 127 for September.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Weekly Market Activity Report

Sellers and builders continue to curb activity in the Twin Cities housing market, with the week ending August 25 posting only 1,874 new listings—down 9.5 percent from the same week in 2006 and even further from their early summer peak. Despite the decline in new seller activity, the number of homes on the market remains at a record high for this time of year with 34,225 residential units for sale. This persistently high inventory is due to slowed absorption caused by sluggish home sales; newly signed purchase agreements were 18.7 percent behind this time last year.
This week's edition of the MAAR Weekly Market Activity report features an updated September 2007 figure for our Supply-Demand Ratio (SDR). The SDR grew to 10.39, which means there are 10.39 homes for sale per buyer. This is an increase of 24.8 percent from last September, and this figure should continue to grow through December before declining in 2008 with the end of the winter season slowdown.