Landscaping Your Home



You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Curb Appeal is fast becoming one of the most important details buyers look for when shopping for homes. Landscaping can bring out the best in your home while allowing you to put your own personal touch on it. Ugh, just the WORD “landscaping” seems so….HOT! All the digging and the hauling and the rocks and the dirt and which trees should I plant? Do I want flowers? Which flowers bloom every year? How long does it even TAKE for flowers to, um, flower? What kind of grass is best? It’s Kentucky Bluegrass, isn’t it? Let’s dive in to the basics and not-so-basics about what you can do with the landscaping around your home.

Testing your soil. This sounds easy, right? Plus, this super-cheap soil tester will measure the moisture, light and pH of your soil! With this knowledge, you can tackle the next hard part: deciding what and where to plant.

What do I want to plant? Deciding between trees or shrubs or bushes or flowers is going to be a matter of personal taste. I would LOVE to walk out of my house and see a literal SEA of pink peonies, but will they even grow in my soil? That’s why the soil testing is so important. It will tell you which plants you can expect to grow and which ones to avoid. Trees will obviously take a while to sprout and even longer to shade, but don’t plant anything that needs full sun in an area that will eventually be shaded by your trees. Try to balance your yard, if not with symmetry then with size. Emphasize a front porch by planting bright flowers under or use tall plants to bring focus to a detailed doorway.

Do I really want to dig in myself? Hey, if you’ve got the money to dish out to have your landscaping done by professionals, by all means let them show you what they’ve got. It can be really exciting to plan on some sweat equity, until you’re three weeks (and possible hundreds of dollars) in and you haven’t even planted a seed yet. Sioux City has a few great options if you don’t want to get your own hands dirty! They will have some ideas you’ve never even thought of while also helping you add your own unique ideas.

Why should I even do this? Landscaping, on average, can raise the value of your home anywhere from 5% to 12%, depending on the extent of it. It is the mark of a pristine interior as well as a sign of good taste. Plants are really in style these days, and by the looks of it that isn’t going to change anytime soon.


Keeping the Bugs at Bay



I have hated bugs since I knew what they were. Mosquito bites are hands down the worst part of summer. And the SPIDERS?? Don’t get me started. But alas, the more we learn about these pests, the more we learn what they don’t like! Here are a few tips for keeping summer’s most common outlaws OUT of your house!

  1. Spiders: The #1 thing to keep spiders away is Peppermint Oil. This can be bought at any local grocery store and here at Simply fill a spray bottle with water and add a few drops of the peppermint oil and a few drops of dish soap. Spray it around doorways and windows and anywhere else you may have seen spiders before, and make sure to leave doors and windows open for a little while after spraying. Inhaling peppermint oil can sometimes cause dizziness. If you haven’t got any Peppermint Oil on hand, I bet you’ve got white vinegar! Make a mixture of half white vinegar, half water, and spray away. That is, if you can handle the smell of that! Another trick is to plant Eucalyptus plants. Spiders don’t like those, either and who doesn’t want another excuse to get another plant??! Vacuuming up webs is also a favorite pastime of mine as it doesn’t require me to touch anything gross. Finally, the cleaner you keep your home, the less chance you’ll have ANY nasty little creepy crawlers around so use that as incentive for the kids! “You don’t want spiders in your bedroom, do you?”
  2. Snakes: Personally, I have a pet snake, I love snakes I think they’re incredible creatures and they’re smart and beautiful, and I could go on and on but since I’m probably the minority with that opinion, here are a few things you can do to keep them away from your home. Going back to the oils theme, snakes don’t like close or cinnamon oil, and you can get the clove oil here and the cinnamon oil here. Same basic concept as the peppermint oil, mix a few drops in a spray bottle of water and spray in cracks and crevices outside and around the perimeters. Mothballs also have an active ingredient snakes hate, so putting a few of those out can help too! Or you can just call me! I will gladly come and take any snakes you may have off your grounds! (Just Kidding!)
  3. MOSQUITOES: My least favorite bug on the PLANET, really. Ugh, just the absolute worst! But since my hatred for them isn’t going to lead them to extinction (a girl can dream, can’t she?), hopefully these tips will help you avoid bites altogether. Placing a fan outside pointed toward where you’re sitting can actually keep mosquitoes away. I can’t believe I never thought of this. How could their puny little wings withstand a fan? They probably can’t. Citronella candles can also thwart off these buzzers. And again following with the Oils theme, this lemon eucalyptus bug deterrent spray is a natural way to keep mosquitoes out of your garden party. Peppermint oil (see SPIDERS above) can also be used for these little buggers! Another trick is to definitely get rid of ANY standing water!!!!!!!! Plus, standing water is just gross!
  4. Bees: This is a tough one because bees literally pollinate ALL of our crops. If it weren’t for bees, we would have no agriculture. So, for the sake of future generations, I am only listing all-natural repellents, none of which should be harmful to these awesome little bugs. The peppermint oil/water mixture mentioned for spiders above will also work for bees, just spray around perimeters, doors, windows, etc. Or you can also use tea tree oil or cinnamon oil (or all three if you like!). You can also place cinnamon sticks outside where you’ve seen bees and plant mint as that is a natural deterrent, too! I know our first reaction is to kill bees, but please try to minimize this as many species have become endangered and like I mentioned, if we lose bees, we lose a lot more with them.

I truly hope these tips will help you live your best bug-free summer ever!


What’s the Deal with Lead-Based Paint?



If you’ve recently put your house on the market or made an offer on one, you’ve probably been asked to sign a Lead Based Paint Disclosure.. Hopefully your Real Estate Agent gave you an explanation before you signed. If they didn’t, drop them and call one of us! There are normally 2 mandatory disclosures that need your John Hancock when buying or selling a home; A Seller’s Disclosure and a Lead Based Paint Disclosure. I’ll explain the latter now.

Lead-Based Paint is exactly what it sounds like: Paint with Lead in it. Lead was added to paint to speed up drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance and block out moisture that leads to corrosion. That’s fine and dandy, except Lead paint is hazardous! It can cause nervous system damage, stunted growth, kidney damage and delayed development, and the risks are higher for children. Unfortunately, lead makes paint taste sweet, which makes every kid want to eat it. The good news about lead-based paint is that it is usually not a hazard IF IT’S IN GOOD CONDITION and if it’s not on an impact or friction surface, like a window. The United State didn’t ban lead-based paint until 1977, so if your home was built before that chances are you’ve got lead-based paint in your home. An estimated 37 million homes in American have lead-based paint.

If you’re buying or selling a home and it was built before 1978, you’ll need to sign a Lead-Based Paint Disclosure. This form states that you’re either aware or unaware that your home has lead-based paint. If you do have knowledge of it, you’ll need to give an explanation as to where it is. If you’re not aware of any in your home, simply check that box and sign. There is an EPA Issued Pamphlet you can view to better understand what to do if you do have lead-based paint in your home and you want to get rid of it. Furthermore, if the home you’re buying or selling was built AFTER 1978, then there’s no need for the Disclosure and all the paint should be lead-free!

There are state and federal programs in place to ensure that testing is done safely, reliably, and effectively. Contact your state or local agency for more information, visit, or call 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) for a list of contacts in your area.

HOA’s: Yay or Nay?


HOAs, or Homeowners Associations, are organizations that create and enforce rules and guidelines for a ceratin area, condominium complex or community. People who reside within that community are members, with some memberships being mandatory. A Board of Directors is responsible for collecting HOA fees, whether it be monthly or yearly. These fees are used for community maintenance and enhancement like landscaping, pools and tennis courts, sometimes even including garbage takeway and snow removal. This Board can also force the rules and regulations with fines, liens and even litigation for non-compliance. Most HOAs are incorporated, so they are subject to state laws. HOAs are not the same as POAs, which stands for Property Owners Association. HOAs are usually more strict and specific with their guidelines and often include a more exclusive area of homes. POAs not only include homeowners, but anyone in the community with an interest in enhancing the real estate in their respective zone.

Now, you may be thinking “What’s not to like about something that makes my community so much better?” Well, sometimes HOAs have inept and detrimental Directors, since the only requirement to be on the board is to live in the designated area.  Fees can be high and regulations are often restrictive to creativity and expression. The Association can also require additional fees for things like parking lot or sidewalk repair if the reserve fund doesn’t have enough. Fees can range anywhere from $100 – $10,000 a month, but the average is anywhere from $200-$400.

Although the main idea of community development is a good one, it really depends on the board members. Do your research before you move into a community with an HOA. See if they’ve actually completed any projects, ask for a copy of the budget. Knock on doors and ask the people who live there if they’re happy with their HOA. Ultimately, if it’s being run effectively, it can be a great thing for a community. Otherwise, there goes the neighborhood.

5 Awesome DIY Home Improvement Projects

5 Easy DIY Projects


Home Improvement is never-ending, honestly. There is always something you can make better. Sweat Equity is the most rewarding way to add value to your home, and everything is getting easier to do yourself. I’ve listed 5 of the easiest things you can do today to increase the value and aesthetics of your home.


  1. Paint your kitchen cabinets. I KNOW this sounds like it’s out of your wheelhouse, but painting your kitchen cabinets is one of the easiest things you can do to increase the value of your home. The kitchen is the most important room in almost everyone’s house and it’s definitely the first thing potential buyers look for when browsing. White is the most traditional color and I would recommend it because it looks clean and immediately makes your kitchen look bigger. The first step is removing all the doors and hardware from the cabinets themselves. Next, you’ll want to sand the old finish or paint off of all of it. This is the most tedious step, but this sander will make it easier. Vacuum up all the dust inside, then tape off everything you don’t want painted. Using a paint sprayer (like this one), paint the insides and outsides of the cabinets. For the doors, I recommend laying them all out on some newspaper outside and painting them that way. Depending on the original color, two coats may be necessary. Wait for them to dry, then re attach and admire your new white cabinets. This can also easily be done in the bathrooms to match the kitchen.
  2.  Ship lap Accent Wall. Yes, the same ship lap Chip and Joanna Gaines are always raving about. You can get authentic and imitation ship lap, both of which are going to automatically spruce up the wall you choose to put them on. I recommend putting this behind the TV, and all you have to do is measure the square feet of that wall, buy as much ship lap as the wall requires, and stick! If you didn’t opt for the stick-and-peel ones, I would recommend using a 3″ drywall screw, but you’ll want to drill the holes first to avoid bursting in the wood or cracking in the drywall.
  3. TRIM. Trim is such a weird thing. Some people love white, some people love wood. But we can all agree that whatever color you choose, nice trim is a must have for buyers everywhere. If you have wood trim and want to paint it, that’s easy! Just remove the trim with a small molding bar, but make sure you put a putty knife between the bar and the wall to avoid chipping the paint. Start at the edges and work your way in. Pull the nails out the back of the trim with a pair of nippers to avoid splitting the trim front. Be sure to label your trim once it’s removed so you don’t try to put the wrong piece back where it doesn’t fit. Reattaching trim after you’ve painted it works best with a brad nailer and finishing nails. Use putty to cover any nails.
  4. Paint your Tile. Did you even know you could do that? I didn’t until this article! Before painting your tile, clean it. Then clean it again. Painting your tile requires special tile paint that adheres to the tile, and using a smart roller is the best way to apply it.  You can paint your tub to match, if you wish!
  5. Frame your mirrors. I am specifically talking about your bathroom mirror, but I think you could do it to all your mirrors to make a more cohesive look throughout your home. I did this recently, and it was remarkably easy. I measure my mirror, then bought enough 1×4 to frame it. I did a miter for the corners (45 degree angle cuts), and used mirror glue to stick the wood to the mirror. I also added some fake flowers, but you could use anything you want! Jewels, flowers, paint brushes, I don’t know! I also stained the wood dark walnut, in a light pink bathroom it really pops!

If you try any of these, comment below with before and after pics!!

DIY: Refinishing Hardwood Floors


With all this time on my hands, my DIY bone has been ACHING for some major home renovations. I recently planned on replacing the carpet in my living and dining room, but upon further inspection of the original hardwood floors after ripping up the old carpet, I have decided to try to refinish the hardwood floors myself. A friend of mine recently refinished her own hardwood floors, and I am a firm believer in my ability to do anything if I just take the time. So here are my step-by-step instructions for sanding, staining and coating hardwood floors.

  • Remove any carpet, pad and glue that may still be stuck to your floor. Also remove tack strips if you have them. Nails can be hammered into the floor, and using a nail set will prevent hammer marks.
  • Clean the floor THOROUGHLY. Sweep and scrub. Yes, I highly recommend doing what our grandmothers and their mothers before them did; get on your hands and knees and scrub the floor. The cleaner it gets, the longer it lasts.
  • To remove the old stain from the wood, you can use a chemical stripper, but it’s a quick fix and won’t work well on older floors that need a lot of TLC. On the other hand, if your floors have recently been redone and you just want to change the stain or color, chemical stripping is ok. Be sure your area is well-ventilated regardless of whether you’re using chemicals or a sander.
  • The best way to strip the floors is with the use of a floor sander. You can rent one from Home Depot here. You’ll need to sand the perimeter by hand because most floor sanders won’t get closer than 4-6 inches to the wall. Start with a semi-course grit then do them again with a medium grit. You may have to change the disk on your sanding machine.
  • After sanding, you’ll want to sweep again to get rid of all the dust. Be sure the floor is clean and dry before staining.
  • To stain your floor, pour some stain on the floor and use a lambswool applicator pad to spread the stain slowly and evenly. Give yourself an exit path so you don’t have to walk on the wet stain.
  • Let the stain dry completely. If you want the floor to be darker, add another coat of stain. Let that coat dry completely.
  • Finish your floors with a polyurethane top coat and use a long handled roller. It’s much easier than a brush. You’ll want to wait 24 hours between coats and you’ll need at least 3 coats.

Refinishing original hardwood floors can bring a new look to an old home and even increase your resale value. Taking the time to do it right will pay off in many different ways.

Starting a Garden 101

Nothing is more ideal to me than going outside and picking some fresh strawberries for breakfast. The idea of self-

sustainability is rightfully gaining more momentum than even the swankiest organic grocery stores. Since we’re all

“stuck at home” anyway, we might as well be doing something that is actually saving us a LOT of money.  Growing

your own food has to be one of the more liberating feelings we can get as human beings. It reconnects us with nature

as much as it does nurturing. We can enjoy the fruits of our labor in a very literal and juicy sense. Whether you’re

making a pot roast or a pie, your garden can be a source of connection and joy within your home.


Okay, let’s start with the meat and potatoes, figuratively speaking, kind of. Obviously you can’t grow a cow in your

garden, but the potatoes are easy! Vegetables have been loved by parents and hated by kids for generations, but

knowing they’ve grown what they’re eating may just entice even the pickiest little eaters to try something that looks


Now, there are roughly 6 types of vegetables, but really, there are numerous different classifications and it kind of

just depends on who you ask.

  1. Root Vegetables like carrots, potatoes and beets. Basically if the part you’re eating grows underground, you’re eating a Root Vegetable.
  2. Stem Vegetables like celery and asparagus are consumed by eating, you guessed it, the STEMS!’
  3. Leafy Greens like lettuce and spinach, and anything else that is green…and leafy.
  4.  Cruciferous Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.
  5. Allium Vegetables like onions, garlic and shallots.
  6. Marrow Vegetables like pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchinis.

That information wasn’t really important, just fun facts. But the following information will make or break your

garden. These 3 things will determine where you plant.

  • How much sun each vegetable needs
  • How much water each vegetable needs
  • Companion planting

What is “Companion planting”, you ask? It’s just a rule-of-thumb, nay, a rule-of-GREENthumb for which veggies

grow well next to each other. Did you know you shouldn’t plant broccoli near strawberry patches? Neither did I, until

yesterday, when I planted my broccoli next to my strawberry patch. Next time I’ll Google things BEFORE I plant.

Here is a link to an in-depth Companion Planting Guide that can explain all the ins and outs much better than one of

my infamous run-on paragraphs. 😉

As far as the sun part, everyone learned in 4th grade that plants make theirhowmuchsundoveggiesneed

own food with sunlight using a process called photosynthesis. Plants take

in water, and carbon dioxide and then with sunlight, they turn that into

sugars and oxygen, which they release into the atmosphere for all of us to

breath in and enjoy. Yes, vegetables do this, too. And planting them so they

get the correct amount of sunlight is uber important. The chart to the left has

the most common garden vegetables and exactly how much sun they will need

to thrive. A tip I just learned yesterday is to plant your veggies from North to

South, since the sun goes from East to West, this will allow for the most even distribution of sunlight.

                   gardne watering scheudle  Now, for the watering. Speaking of watering, my mouth has been doing it the entire

  time I’ve been writing this. Anyway, the chart to the left shows how much water some common

vegetables need. Over-watering and under-watering are equally as detrimental to your garden’s health

so if you’re not sure what to do, this link can help you further. If you touch your soil and it crumbles

or breaks, you may need more water. And watering after a short rainfall can also help you build up a

reserve of water under the soil. Try to water enough to penetrate 5-6 inches. Researching your

location will also reap great benefits down the road. You can enter your zip code here to find

some good tips specific to where you are. The more time you spend taking care of your garden, the

more time your garden will take care of you.

                                                         Happy Planting!!!

Shaking Hands is outdated and bad for your health.

shaking hands


With the recent worldwide events, shaking hands has become almost obsolete. And it should stay that way forever. Let me tell you why. COVID-19 has us all taking extra precautions when interacting with other people, from wearing homemade t-shirt masks to staying at least 6 feet away from everyone. Banks are limited to drive-up services, some grocery retailers are allowing for a “one in one out” policy to combat the spread, restaurants are take-out and delivery only. Everyone is working from home, and everyone is going stir crazy. But when all this settles down and we all go back to normal (whenever that may be), you should still stop shaking peoples’ hands.

Shaking hands dates all the way back to Ancient Greece. The first evidence of it is found on a headstone from around 5000 B.C. It was actually originated as a literal shake to be sure the person you were encountering didn’t have any weapons up his sleeve, no pun intended. As times and people evolved, the handshake is almost automatic when meeting someone for the first time, and has come to solidify business agreements and friendly bets alike. Weak handshakes are said to represent weak character. Compliments on a “good handshake” are common, especially to women.

Now for the gross part. The average human hand carries 3,200 bacteria from 150 species. commonly including fecal bacteria. Yes, that’s right. Poop particles are on almost everyone’s hands. A study performed in 2013 by Michigan State University showed that after using a PUBLIC restroom, only 5% (FIVE PERCENT) of people washed their hands well enough to eliminate germs, while 15% of men and 7 % of women didn’t wash their hands at all. Even in healthcare settings, only about 40% of doctors and nurses wash their hands correctly.

How many times have you heard “Wash your hands!” as of late? I hear it 20 times a day, at least. Washing your hands correctly and for the proper amount of time, is the best way to stop the spread of germs. And as studies have shown, most people aren’t doing it correctly. If you’re looking for more information, this article from the CDC will help, but I think we all learned in Kindergarten how to wash our hands. (Remember: Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice!) Unfortunately when shaking hands, you’re usually not just shaking your own. So even if you have the most perfect hand washing routine and wash them every time you touch anything ever, that doesn’t mean whoever you’re shaking hands with has been washing their hands. Just like in winter driving, I’m worried about the other drivers.

So, let’s test this no hand shaking thing out. Imagine the scenario, meeting someone new, ‘Hello, nice to meet you’ and their hand starts coming toward you, you start to sweat, you don’t want to seem rude but you don’t want to get sick! Do you put your hands in your pockets? Pretend you’re getting a phone call? It does seem like a conundrum, no one likes awkward situations, and this may be one of the worst ones. Simply explaining your stance on eliminating hand shaking should curb any anxiety or self-conscious concerns from the reaching party. Say something like, “I’m not shaking hands because I don’t want to spread germs.” You can practice some alternatives, a fist bump, maybe try bowing. That seems just as professional as a hand shake, and no touching! Whatever you decide to do instead, remember you’re doing a great thing in helping stop the spread of germs, not only for you but for more susceptible people. As my nana always said, Better Safe than Sorry!

The Ins and Outs of Homeowners Insurance.



Most people are pretty familiar with car insurance policies, deductibles, premiums, and coverage. Homeowners insurance is relatively similar, except there are no laws governing the requirement of a homeowner’s insurance policy. Your joy in knowing that will be short-lived, however, as it is almost always a mandate for homeowners seeking a mortgage. Most banks and mortgage lenders do require you to have a homeowner’s insurance policy, and it is going to cost you. But remember, “cheap insurance can be expensive” so be sure to do your research before you agree to the least costly policy. It may catch up to you should you need to make a claim.

There are two kinds of common coverage for your homeowner’s insurance: Structure coverage and Personal Belongings coverage. I don’t need to go into detail about the definitions of those, do I? No. I won’t. I will tell you that the typical Structure coverage protects your home from fire, windstorm, hail, and water damage, but not flooding or earthquakes. Flood insurance is a separate policy you’ll have to purchase on top of regular liability coverage. Some properties require you to have flood insurance, some don’t. It should be easily accessible in the listing information. Typical Structural coverage also protects you from having to pay out of pocket for the cost of living elsewhere should your home need repairs or rebuilt. You are also covered if you, a family member or even a pet should injure someone or destroy their property, not only at your home but if you’re away from home, too.

A few things affect your insurance costs and policy renewals. Your credit history comes into play here, obviously better credit history results in lower costs for better coverage. Local building costs and crime rates, square footage of all structures, as well as type of construction, materials and features determine your rates, too. Your home’s distance to a fire hydrant and fire station also affect your pricing, and the condition of the plumbing, heating and electrical systems in the house. Sometimes, the likelihood of natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood) will make your policy more expensive.  Catastrophe insurance is mandatory in certain areas. Flood insurance is available through the Federal Government here.

There are a few things that could lower your insurance rates. Some companies offer bundle savings if you carry other insurance policies with them, such as car and life insurance. A good credit history, as mentioned above will help you get the best rates along with your claim history. Less claims equals less risk equals lower rates.

Taking your time to shop around and verify that you’re getting a legitimate and reputable homeowner’s insurance policy will absolutely be one of the most important things you can do. Remember: Your Home is your largest asset. Protect it!

Foreclosures: What are they?

House on stack of cash
Ok, easy answer: A property that is now owned by the bank due to loan default. Is that all? Yes, pretty much. A borrower can’t pay their mortgage so the bank forecloses on the property, and now the bank owns the property! The bank will usually try to sell the property at an auction, but sometimes they bundle a few properties together for potential investors, selling the property(s) traditionally through an REO (Real Estate Owned) agent that specializes in foreclosures if an auction doesn’t bode any takers.

Banks and mortgage lenders want to avoid foreclosing on properties. In fact, they will work with borrowers pretty extensively to cure the default on the loan, including but not limited to temporarily adjusting payments to make them more affordable, which is also referred to as a special forbearance or a mortgage modification. Banks and lenders will normally start foreclosure proceedings about three to six months after the borrowers’ first missed payment. The average foreclosure process lasts anywhere from 450-700 days.

Selling properties through an REO has some advantages. The bank can usually sell the property for more money, as one of the requirements is the eviction of occupants (if necessary), which means the house can be shown/inspected/appraised. The title is required to be cleared before a property can be sold via an REO, too. Auctions don’t allow for walk-throughs, inspections or anything like that. Auctioned properties are sold As-Is, which means they sell for less. And clearing a title, like you’ll have to do if you buy a property at auction, can prove costly if there are any liens. You likely wouldn’t find that information out until after you’ve made the purchase. Like I said before, REO’s have the ability to remove tenants before selling the property, and auctions don’t require the properties to be vacant, so if you buy a property at auction, it is also now your responsibility to have the previous owner(s) legally removed, which can be uncomfortable for some people, me included!

Buying foreclosures does come with some risks, but if you’ve got the means (money) and motivation, it may be right up your alley. Happy Hunting!