Curb Appeal Project

In a previous post, I mentioned that we were in the throes of a facade make-over for our recently purchased home in Mountain View, CA. When we broke ground on this project, many of our wonderful neighbors would stop by to chat and manage a very polite, "what's wrong with the way it is now?" 

Our home when we purchased it, post flip. 

Our home when we purchased it, post flip. 

It's a fair comment because our house was flipped right before we purchased it. It had just been outfitted with new windows, doors, paint, roof and landscaping. So yes, everything was new, but unfortunately, the flippers made some cost-saving design decisions and aesthetic choices that made it challenging for us to feel "at home" in our new house. For example, from a distance the garage door appeared to be a Craftsman style wood door with rustic wrought iron hardware. Cute, right? But a closer look revealed it was actually a metal garage door painted to look like wood with cheap faux hardware and plastic dividers making the 4 window panes look like 12 smaller panes. And note the window above the garage door - which is actually not a window at all but a black piece of plastic outfitted with faux shutters to make it look like a window. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Basically, good from far but far from good. 

The goal of our project was to give the home a more modern look and to improve the quality of the finishes. Our designer, the amazingly talented Regan Baker, came up with a beautiful concept that included new paint, windows, front door, garage door and lighting: 

1580MeadowLane_facade.jpg

Gorgeous, right? But my desire to scrap everything and start over was at odds with the obvious waste involved in doing so. Ultimately we decided to keep the existing windows and garage door to keep waste and happily, costs down. We donated the existing front door and replaced it with a laminated glass panel door to provide some much needed light to the entryway. And everything else, well - you just have to see for yourself: 

Instead of replacing the nearly new garage door, we removed the faux hardware and window pane dividers, painted it black to match the trim (and hide the wood grain embossing in the metal) and used a film on the windows to match the new glass panel front door. 

Instead of replacing the nearly new garage door, we removed the faux hardware and window pane dividers, painted it black to match the trim (and hide the wood grain embossing in the metal) and used a film on the windows to match the new glass panel front door. 

Three of my favorite details of the new design are captured here: the new house numbers (which are 8" tall and lit with a spotlight at night), the  Ipê wood siding, and the custom raw steel planters. 

Three of my favorite details of the new design are captured here: the new house numbers (which are 8" tall and lit with a spotlight at night), the Ipê wood siding, and the custom raw steel planters. 

New laminated glass panel front door with lovely hardware, new lighting, mailbox and board and baton siding to cover the old brick, which also allowed us to run electrical for a hardwired doorbell. 

New laminated glass panel front door with lovely hardware, new lighting, mailbox and board and baton siding to cover the old brick, which also allowed us to run electrical for a hardwired doorbell. 

Another genius idea from our designer: cut channels into the existing concrete path and lay pea gravel between and around the path. Add some succulents and voila!  

Another genius idea from our designer: cut channels into the existing concrete path and lay pea gravel between and around the path. Add some succulents and voila!  

The finished product! 

The finished product! 

We absolutely love the transformation and feel like this house is finally our home. And the neighbors have been so complimentary and appreciative of our efforts. It was a worthwhile investment as I'm sure we would see an ROI if we were to sell, but I'm much happier being able to come home to this beautiful house every single day and we will enjoy it for any years to come.  

And FYI - here's what the house looked like before the flip. A dramatic transformation indeed! 

Our home in 2011, pre-flip. 

Our home in 2011, pre-flip. 

Don't Just Find an Agent. Hire one.

A while back, I was approached by some buyers for an interview. They told me that they would be talking to approximately 6 agents before choosing one to work with. Now the average person may not know this, but it is very rare for a client to take up a formal interview process when looking for a real estate agent, so I was a bit surprised but happy to do so. Actually, I commended them for taking the time and effort to find an agent who would be a good fit for them. Upon meeting with them, they told me that not everyone had been so thrilled with having to be interviewed and, as a matter of fact, a couple of agents even bowed out. Surprised? I certainly was. That is, until I did some research. 

According to a study by National Association of Realtors®, 66% of buyers and 65% of sellers speak to just one agent before selecting one to work with. ONE AGENT. That means that two-thirds of the time, people hire the first real estate agent they speak with. Shocked? Yeah, me too.  

As a real estate agent striving every day to be exceptional at what I do, I must ask: Why is the bar so low for hiring a real estate agent? It would seem people are willing to put more effort into finding a good hair stylist than they are in finding a good real estate agent. Realizing this, it dawns on me that even the language we use to describe the process of working with an agent reflects this. "How did you find your agent?", is what we say. No one says, "How did you hire your agent?". But I think it's about time we did.  

So whether you're in the market for your first-ever agent or even a new agent, here are some tips for hiring the best real estate agent for you: 

1 ) Ask around. Just because your best friend's neighbor's sister had a great experience with her agent, doesn't necessarily mean they'll be the right fit for you, but it's a good place to start. Gather referrals from family, friends, and even neighbors and colleagues and after some quick online research, add the ones that rise to the top to your short list. 

2) Visit open houses. In some areas, the agent hosting the open house isn't necessarily the listing agent. Those agents are there to work with buyers, which means they are actively engaged in the market and eager to work with you. You also have the added bonus of a brief in-person encounter to see if you click. And if you don't, certainly be polite, but you have every right to move on and keep looking. 

3) Find a local expert. There is so much information available these days thanks to the internet and I say, use it! Keep an eye on listings and closings in your immediate search area and see if there are one or two stand-out agents representing buyers and/or sellers in that area. And if you can do a little further digging and find an agent that lives in your search area, definitely add them to your short list. 

4) Don't use the I-word. Now that you have a short list, it's time to interview the candidates. But here's the thing: don't actually use the word, "interview". Given that only 1 in 3 real estate agents hired are actually subjected to an interview process, the word "interview" might put some agents off (as demonstrated above). So instead, ask them to meet to "discuss their process". 

5) Key questions.

  • Ask how they prefer to work with buyers/sellers. Technology and therefore access to information have blurred the line as far as how and who keeps an eye on new listings.  Whether you prefer to do that legwork or you expect your agent to do it all, it's critical to set that expectation upfront.
  • Ask how they communicate with clients. Again, technology has proliferated our communication options, so if you're fond of a certain means of communication, it's critical that you ensure your real estate agent is willing and able to utilize it.  
  • Ask about the extent of their knowledge of the area you're looking in. 
  • Ask how many clients they work with at any given time. This will give you some insight into their availability. It's a difficult balance - you want an experienced agent, but not one that is so busy that you'll be talking to their assistant more than them. 
  • Finally, use the time to get to know them personally. You don't have to be BFF's with your real estate agent, but finding someone who shares your values and who you like spending time with can only help in what can be a complicated and sometimes tense process. 

If you had an experience with finding or working with an agent that others can learn from, please share in the comments below. Thanks in advance! 

Fall Refresh

It has been entirely too long since I posted, but I have been very busy with two exciting projects: redesigning my personal brand and remodeling the facade of my house.  

If you are reading this blog post and you have been to my website before, you will notice many new changes, including a new page design, new headshot and my very own personal logo:

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My website design, headshot and logo design are all the brilliant work of Melanie Barti over at Likewise Brand Co.. She is also designing some ads and collateral pieces for me that I can't wait to roll out! 

As for remodeling the facade of my home, Regan Baker of Regan Baker Design has once again astounded me with her creativity and amazing style. It is still a work in process and I'm wont to share any pictures before the big reveal, but here's the before picture: 

 

1580MeadowBefore.jpg

And here's the concept we decided to move forward with: 

1580MeadowLane_facade.jpg

The highlights of the remodel include: ipe wood detailing, new glass panel front door, 8" house numbers from modernhousenumbers.com and custom steel planters from 522 Industries. Stay tuned for the big reveal soon! 

UPDATE: (Sub)Urban Farming

Back in March, I wrote about my family's ambitious plan to start growing our own vegetables and raising our own chickens. Six months later, here's what happened and what we learned: 

It was a lot of work, but luckily men love shoveling dirt... 

It was a lot of work, but luckily men love shoveling dirt... 

 ...and kids love watering!

 ...and kids love watering!

I mean, REALLY love watering. 

I mean, REALLY love watering. 

We grew most things from seeds. 

We grew most things from seeds. 

Carrot sprouts. 

Carrot sprouts. 

CARROTS! 

CARROTS! 

Baby chicks. 

Baby chicks. 

CHICKENS! We get at least one egg per day. 

CHICKENS! We get at least one egg per day. 

They say chickens are flightless birds, but it turns out this fence was not high enough.

They say chickens are flightless birds, but it turns out this fence was not high enough.

That should do it! 

That should do it! 

Tomatos, peppers and crazy tall sunflowers (the fence it 6'). 

Tomatos, peppers and crazy tall sunflowers (the fence it 6'). 

Our bounty. 

Our bounty. 

Next year, Half Moon Bay Pumpkin festival! 

Next year, Half Moon Bay Pumpkin festival! 

Next, we will be planting our Fall/Winter garden, which I'm very happy to say will include brussels sprouts! And sometime in the very near future we will be adding some citrus trees to our backyard farm. I'll update again when everything is in. Until then, happy farming! 

A Case for Staging: Before and After

Silicon Valley is a pretty savvy real estate market and most sellers are well aware of the advantages of staging a property before sale. But for those few of you who are not completely convinced (or for those of you who just love a good before and after), here are some before and after pictures from a recent listing of mine that might knock you off that fence.  

(Staging credit: Shiri Weinstein, owner of Shirful Designs)  

BEFORE: The living room was dark, lived-in and cluttered 

BEFORE: The living room was dark, lived-in and cluttered 

AFTER: The living room is tidy, bright, and neutral

AFTER: The living room is tidy, bright, and neutral

BEFORE: The kitchen walls were a combination of unfinished drywall and peeling wallpaper 

BEFORE: The kitchen walls were a combination of unfinished drywall and peeling wallpaper 

AFTER: Wallpaper removed, drywall and trim completed... 

AFTER: Wallpaper removed, drywall and trim completed... 

 ...modern paint color and accessories transform cabinets and flooring from old and tired to retro-chic

 ...modern paint color and accessories transform cabinets and flooring from old and tired to retro-chic

BEFORE: Dusty rose and dingy 

BEFORE: Dusty rose and dingy 

AFTER: Removing the cabinet and a lighter, more contemporary paint really open up this small space

AFTER: Removing the cabinet and a lighter, more contemporary paint really open up this small space

BEFORE: Child's bedroom with unfinished paint 

BEFORE: Child's bedroom with unfinished paint 

AFTER: Tidy and modern 

AFTER: Tidy and modern 

BEFORE: Partially finished room off of kitchen

BEFORE: Partially finished room off of kitchen

AFTER: Bonus room is finished, tidy and has a purpose

AFTER: Bonus room is finished, tidy and has a purpose

BEFORE: Dingy outdoor dining space 

BEFORE: Dingy outdoor dining space 

AFTER: Power-washing and accessories completely transform this space 

AFTER: Power-washing and accessories completely transform this space 

BEFORE: Backyard deck and hot tub 

BEFORE: Backyard deck and hot tub 

AFTER: Freshly cleaned and stained, with accessories and new sod 

AFTER: Freshly cleaned and stained, with accessories and new sod 

In the Parent 'hood: Cooking Made Easy

When I first started this blog, I anticipated there would be many posts about being a parent, since it is such a huge and wonderful part of my life. But six months into this endeavor and nary a single word on the subject has crossed this keyboard. And I've come to realize the reason: There are many things in life that I naturally excel at. That I've developed some sense of mastery or expertise in and even feel that I can provide guidance or advice to others. Parenting is not one of them. 

But what I have become quite the expert at is simplifying other parts of my life in order to make the challenging task of parenting easier. For example: Cooking. Before I became a Mom, I looooved to cook. And the longer the recipe, the more complicated the technique, the more obscure the ingredients, the better! I scoffed at people who shied away from complex cooking, who purchased convenience items like pre-chopped vegetables, and who referred to cookbooks with the words "30-minutes" and "easy" in the titles. And just like most judgements I made before I was myself a parent, boy was I wrong. 

Since becoming a Mom I have purchased almost every cookbook promising "easy", "30-minute", "weeknight", "simple", "5-ingredient" meals, with varying degrees of disappointment. One book clearly never timed the recipes, because they always took me well over an hour to make. One book made the assumption that if you want to cook quickly, you must also not like food very much because everything in it was bland and boring. Another book obviously never tested their recipes because they always came out just wrong. But thankfully, there was one bright spot in the bunch: 

This book provides a variety of recipes using a wide range of ingredients. You will not be bored! Also, the recipes are simplified with a high standard for the quality of the food. In other words, instead of throwing in cans of condensed soup into a recipe (with all due respect to the 1950's, gag!), you're buying a pre-roasted chicken from the grocery store to save time. And the recipes really do take only 30-45 mins, depending on your organization and knife skills. The well worn pages of my copy clearly speak to my love for this book, and I think any fellow lapsed foodie with young children will agree. 

 

Source: http://americastestkitchen.buysub.com/amer...

Market Update: Hot, Hot Summer

2013 may go down as one of the hottest years on record - and I'm not talking about climate change. Of course, I'm talking about the real estate market. Even if you haven't been in the game this year, I'm sure you've heard it in the news. Just last night, ABC 7 News ran a story predicting another housing bubble (*gasp* The B-word!). 

Another news story out yesterday from Bloomberg Business has a less sensational outlook on the housing market, predicting continued double-digit price gains through the remainder of 2013, with more modest single-digit gains in 2014. 

From what I'm observing here in Silicon Valley, I tend to agree with the Bloomberg story that the second half of 2013 will likely be as hot as the first half, even during these normally "cool" summer months. And I also agree with the ABC 7 story, in that the price increases of the past 18 months are unsustainable long-term. But as the Bloomberg story points out, rising interest rates will serve to temper buyer enthusiasm. And I believe that sellers who have been waiting for the peak will rush their homes to market, which will *finally* bring inventory levels up and reduce competition. 

And as for the B-word? The only thing that will be bursting in 2014 is the media's housing market hype bubble.  This normalizing of supply and demand will simply bring us back to sustainable home value increases. You read it here first. 

 

UPDATE: Brass is Back

Just got back from a very fun and far-too-short visit to NYC, and perhaps it was just because I had just written my blog post Brass is Back, but I feel like I saw brass everywhere I looked! So what do you naysayers think - still skeptical? 

Deco-inspired eyeball wall sconce at the Standard Grill 

Deco-inspired eyeball wall sconce at the Standard Grill 

Vintage-inspired faucet at one of the many amazing restaurants we visited - I can't remember which. 

Vintage-inspired faucet at one of the many amazing restaurants we visited - I can't remember which. 

Coffee bar at Stumptown in the lobby of the Ace Hotel 

Coffee bar at Stumptown in the lobby of the Ace Hotel 

Jewelry at Theory 

Jewelry at Theory 

Brass is Back

As a real estate agent, I have the pleasure of regularly touring beautifully decorated and/or freshly staged homes. And as a fanatic and student of interior design, I regularly peruse design magazines, blogs and websites. While I always enjoy and am occasionally impressed by the creative things I see, very few things stop me in my tracks like this picture on Houzz did: 

Here is this elegant, modern design using brass fixtures. And even more surprising to me: I really like it. I really, really like it. After years of dominance of brushed stainless steel in modern and contemporary design, here is something totally unexpected and refreshing. It was a difficult pill for me to swallow, because for almost as long as I can remember, brass fixtures have been synonymous with painfully dated design. 

Brass fixtures of yesteryear. 

Brass fixtures of yesteryear. 

But this new generation of brass fixtures and design elements are not overly polished or plastic-y in appearance. They are more subdued and warm and bring a sense of history even to a newly created space. Here are some more wonderful examples I found on Houzz

Architecture, interior design, and more ∨

Browse thousands of bathroom designs and hire a top bathroom remodeler in your area.
Light up your living spaces with recessed lighting, a designer chandelier or even a row of pendant lighting.

It will be interesting to see how long and how far this trend will go. Many in the design world have been predicting the decline in popularity of stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. Will brass make it all the way to appliance status? Only time will tell. 

What makes a city "exciting"?

When I first came across this blog post about the 10 Most Exciting Cities in America, I was skeptical. Of course the usual players were there (San Francisco, New York, etc) and a couple of my personal favorites were represented (Portland and Boston). But I was shocked to read the #1 spot went to Oakland. Really? I like Oakland and I have a lot of friends who live there and love it and I know they have a blossoming foodie scene going on, but the most exciting city in America? 

But then I read the criteria they used and it all made much more sense. And it also challenged my thinking a bit on what makes a city truly exciting. Here is the criteria they used: 

  • Park acreage per person
  • Percent of population between 20 and 34 years old
  • Fast food restaurants per square mile (the fewer the better)
  • Bars per square mile
  • Big box stores per square mile (the fewer the better)
  • Population diversity
  • Movie theaters per square mile
  • Museums per square mile
  • Theater companies per square mile
  • Music venues per square mile

What do you think makes a city exciting? 

Don't just recycle it - put a stop to junk mail

For years my husband and I have been horrified by the amount of the junk mail that we receive. Especially on those all to frequent days when we would retrieve the mail from the mailbox only to dump the entire contents into the recycling bin. We cursed the United States Postal Service (USPS) and numerous marketers for the constant deluge and the blatant disregard for the environment. 

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All the while we felt powerless to do anything about it. Until one day as I was listening to Forum on NPR and in a discussion about the cuts to Saturday Postal Service, a USPS spokesperson dismissed a caller who voiced my exact concern about junk mail by saying there were means of stopping unwanted junk mail. "Really??" I thought, and immediately started to look into it. 

While I was not able to find anything sponsored by the USPS to control or end junk mail, I did find a helpful story from CBS News that ultimately led me to the answer - CatalogChoice.org! It takes a little bit of a commitment on your part to set aside each piece of junk mail and register each offending marketer in order to put a stop to it, but it is soooooo worth it. You might even feel empowered and get some well-deserved satisfaction from the process: "Take that Frontgate! I would never, ever order anything from you anyway!" Or maybe that's just me :) 

Little things, big difference

If you're like me, there are many things about your home that you love. But likewise, there are probably certain things about your home you are dissatisfied with. Perhaps your home was remodeled to someone else's taste before you took ownership. Or perhaps it is in dire need of remodeling and you don't have the time or the money (or both!) to do so. Or perhaps you remodeled it years ago and your tastes have since changed. Whatever the case may be, you probably live with the dissatisfaction like you would a housefly: trying to ignore it but no matter which way you turn there it is buzzing in your ear.

With all of the home improvement/remodeling shows out there these days, we get the impression that you have to knock down walls or take a room down to the studs in order to improve it. But that is simply not the case. I can't tell you how many people who after seeing their home staged for sale kick themselves for not making those simple changes sooner so they could have enjoyed the improvements themselves while they still lived there.  

Here are some simple improvements that most stagers make to prep a home for sale, that you can do to get more enjoyment out of your home TODAY.

1. Paint (with professional input) 

Paint is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to refresh any space in your home (duh), but here's my twist on this home improvement gimme: enlist the services of a color consultant or interior designer to help you select the colors. Because the only thing worse than living with an outdated wall color is spending your precious time, energy and money to end up with a color you hate even more. And if you can't afford the professional advice and still want that updated look, Benjamin Moore has some guidance for you (click on picture to go to article):

Note: If you're a perfectionist like I am, you probably want to hire a professional painter to do the work as well, otherwise those unsightly jagged tape lines of your DIY job will haunt you. 

Note: If you're a perfectionist like I am, you probably want to hire a professional painter to do the work as well, otherwise those unsightly jagged tape lines of your DIY job will haunt you. 

2. Update light fixtures

This easy upgrade is an opportunity often overlooked by homeowners but seldom missed by stagers. Perhaps homeowners view it as an intimidating or expensive undertaking because it requires the services of an electrician. But I assure you, the payoff is huge and the cost is a lot more reasonable than you may think. And I urge you to think beyond just updating the chandelier in your dining room - the foyer, bathroom sconces, bedroom flush mounts, stairway pendants and even outdoor fixtures are all very visible areas worth investing in. And thanks to the internet age, we have access to fixtures that satisfy every design style at just about every price point. Here are a couple I have used: 

Selection to satisfy all tastes and all price points

Selection to satisfy all tastes and all price points

Selection to satisfy more modern and more expensive tastes. 

Selection to satisfy more modern and more expensive tastes. 

3. Update plumbing fixtures

I had a recent experience with this which is why it made the list. We purchased our current home after it had been completely remodeled to someone else's taste. I really couldn't justify making any changes because everything was new and in working order. That is, until the plastic spray button on the kitchen faucet broke off and I finally had a chance to put my mark on our kitchen - woo-hoo! And what a wonderful difference it made. Not only is it an aesthetic improvement, making the space feel more modern and to our taste, but the faucet actually functions better too. The nozzle is higher up, making more room for large dishes, has a greater radius, making more of the sink more usable, and the water pressure has actually improved. My husband and I can personally attest - this small change has made us like our kitchen so much more! Here is the faucet I chose (click on image to go to retailers website): 

This is not an inexpensive fixture, but I saved money by installing it myself. 

This is not an inexpensive fixture, but I saved money by installing it myself. 

4. New house numbers

Another easy but often overlooked upgrade - get new house numbers! I've even seen homes that have been lovingly remodeled and painted inside and out, with dingy and outdated house numbers. Here are a couple of great sources:

For a modern look, these numbers from Design Within Reach are gorgeous and come in three colors. 

For a modern look, these numbers from Design Within Reach are gorgeous and come in three colors. 

For a more traditional look, you can't beat the selection and quality at Restoration Hardware. 

For a more traditional look, you can't beat the selection and quality at Restoration Hardware. 

Goodbye Granite

If you live in a house that has undergone a kitchen remodel in the last 10-15 years, chances are you have granite countertops. I have granite countertops. 90+% of the homes I see on the market have granite countertops. As interior design trends go, granite countertops have become as ubiquitous as pastel tiles were in the 1950s.

Since about the mid-1990s granite has been wildly popular and for a number of good reasons. It is durable (when properly sealed and maintained), comes in a variety of colors and offers that solid surface functionality we all love (especially after the tiled countertops that were popular in the 1980s). But if you're planning a remodel in the near future, I encourage you to look at solid-surface countertop options beyond granite. Because after almost 20 years of popularity, even the design community has concluded that "granite has been dethroned" which means that having granite countertops in your kitchen may soon look as current as pastel pink tile in your bathroom. 

Here are some beautiful alternatives for your consideration:

Soapstone

I can personally attest to the beauty and durability of soapstone since we used it when we remodeled our house in San Francisco (credit to our interior designer, Regan Baker). It is stain resistant, heat tolerant and IMHO, looks best when honed (vs. polished). Soapstone is a little soft, but scratches can be buffed out with a fine grit sandpaper. 

Soapstone countertops in our former house in San Francisco. 

Soapstone countertops in our former house in San Francisco. 

Quartz Composite

Most commonly known by the brand name Caesarstone (and I've even heard them referred to as "cultured stone") quartz composite countertops offer the look and color variety of of stone countertops with near bullet-proof durability and zero maintenance (no sealing required!). They are most frequently used in modern design, but they come in such an array of colors and stone-like patterns that I predict we'll start seeing them in all types of design schemes in the near future. And as an added bonus, quartz composite is more environmentally friendly than natural stone!

Caesarstone countertops used in traditional space. This color is called Wild Ride and has the look of natural stone.

Caesarstone countertops used in traditional space. This color is called Wild Ride and has the look of natural stone.

Butcher block

Not a fan of design trends and don't want to risk having your kitchen look outdated in 10 years? Butcher block is a classic look that's sure to never go out of style. It can be used in both traditional (picture below) and modern (see above shelves by John Boos from my SF kitchen) design. And apart from regularly oiling them with food-grade mineral oil, they are pretty low-maintenance. But remember - just because you have butcher block countertops doesn't mean you can use knives on them! Treat them like any other countertop surface and use a cutting board. 

Reclaimed anything

If you're into the weathered/rustic look, using salvaged stone or wood for countertops is not only green, it's also a great way to add character to a space. Remodeling can sometimes lead to space looking too slick (like perfectly white sneakers or pair of Frye boots that haven't been broken in yet) and the inclusion of reclaimed elements can temper that and really give a space a sense of life and history. 

Several tons of old marble blocks salvaged from a historic theater being torn down in Nashville is honed into 3-inch-thick countertops and a herringbone-patterned backsplash.

Several tons of old marble blocks salvaged from a historic theater being torn down in Nashville is honed into 3-inch-thick countertops and a herringbone-patterned backsplash.

Green Living: The Low Hanging Fruit

Thinking about the environment and the effects of global climate change and the potential challenges our children and grandchildren may face in the future because of our actions (or inactions) can be hyperventilation-inducing-ly overwhelming. Downright daunting, isn't it? To think of this giant planet and the billions of people on it and now with over 1 billion cars and what can little ol' me do to change all of that?

But like any big problem worth tackling, the key is to start somewhere, right? So here are 4 simple things we can all do to reduce our carbon footprint starting today and with very little effort: 

1. BYOC (Bring Your Own Cup)
Whether it's a travel mug for coffee or a sports bottle for water, bringing your own cup with you is a very easy way to reduce paper and plastic waste. The trick with this is to find ones that work well so that you're even more motivated to use them. Here are a couple that I really like: 

This water bottle by Nalgene is perfect for everyday use. It's narrow enough to fit comfortably in your hand and is simple to drink from (no squeezing or straws like some sports bottles that are more suited for the trail or the gym). Plus the lid has a back-up locking clip so you feel confident that you can throw it in your bag and it won't spill! 

This water bottle by Nalgene is perfect for everyday use. It's narrow enough to fit comfortably in your hand and is simple to drink from (no squeezing or straws like some sports bottles that are more suited for the trail or the gym). Plus the lid has a back-up locking clip so you feel confident that you can throw it in your bag and it won't spill! 

Once again the folks at OXO have improved on a product that many others have tried and failed to perfect. This travel mug is insulated to keep your beverage hot, is easy to drink from, fits most cup holders, but the best part is the simple push-button locking mechanism that keeps your beverage from spilling even when held upside down. And the bonus feature is that it's very easy to give it a thorough cleaning, unlike some locking travel mugs that have places where old moldy coffee can get trapped. 

Once again the folks at OXO have improved on a product that many others have tried and failed to perfect. This travel mug is insulated to keep your beverage hot, is easy to drink from, fits most cup holders, but the best part is the simple push-button locking mechanism that keeps your beverage from spilling even when held upside down. And the bonus feature is that it's very easy to give it a thorough cleaning, unlike some locking travel mugs that have places where old moldy coffee can get trapped. 

2. Take Back the Tap
This is simply taking BYOC one step further and giving up bottled water all-together. Restaurants in San Francisco have led the charge by no longer offering bottled water and instead simply filtering (and in some cases, carbonating) the exceptional tap water they have at their disposal. There is a common misconception that when you recycle the bottle the water came in, it absolves you of your carbon sin. Not so. The energy used to package and ship individual servings of water cannot be offset by recycling alone. Bottled water is really one of the more egregious environmental sins but luckily it's an easy one to remedy and it will even save you money in the process. 

3. Turn Off the Lights 
Who knew it? All of our fathers who were constantly reminding us to, "Turn off the lights when you leave the room" were early environmentalists. It seems like such a simple thing, but one we could all use reminding of (even when good ol' Dad isn't around). Lighting a home accounts for 12% of home energy usage. No data could be found to determine how much of that is for lighting empty rooms, but if your house is anything like mine, I'm betting it's more than it should be.

4. "For here, please"
The average American eats out 4-5 times per week, but "eats out" simply means they are buying food from a restaurant, not necessarily dining inside of a restaurant. So many of those meals are taken "to go", which means there is a lot of packaging - boxes, bags, paper cups, plastic utensils, etc. - being used. Being an obsessive multi-tasker, this is a tough one for me, but I'm trying to eat lunch in the restaurant (gasp!) more often to reduce this waste. And a happy side-effect is that it forces me to slow down and actually take a break from work every now and then.

It's easy to think, "These are such small things in the face of such a big problem", but if everyone made these (or similar) small changes it can add up to a big difference. Plus, it's a start. And if we all start thinking about how our small, everyday decisions impact the big picture, we will continue to find more ways to reduce waste, minimize our carbon footprint and live more sustainably. 

Why I ♥ Redfin

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Yes, you read that correctly - I love Redfin. I'm a licensed real estate agent working at a traditional brokerage and I L-O-V-E Redfin, the discount, online real estate brokerage. But not for the reasons you might think (or they might hope) I would.

I was first introduced to Redfin in 2007, before I got my real estate license but after I had developed a near obsession with real estate. And oh what an amazing tool Redfin was to feed that obsession! They had developed hands-down the most accurate, user-friendly, and information-rich real estate search tool I had seen or have come across since. What Redfin has essentially done is taken information from the MLS (Multiple Listing Service - the real estate agent's database of past and present listings) and various other public information sources (tax records, school information, Google maps, etc.) and combined it into one simple search site with a (dare I say) dead-sexy user-interface. But I was never, EVER, ever-in-a-million-years, not even remotely tempted to use their discount brokerage services. Because by that time I had already purchased my first property and learned first-hand the benefits of having an experienced, responsive, knowledgable, well-connected, real estate agent on your side (shout out to Lamisse Droubi). More on that later...

To this day, years later as a real estate agent myself, I still use Redfin to search and track listings. To the shock and horror of some of my colleagues, I have even been known to send Redfin links to my clients. Why, you ask? Because I know for a fact that my clients are already looking at listings online and IMHO, Redfin has the most accurate, up-to-date, and easy-to-digest information that doesn't confuse or frustrate my clients. Unlike other consumer-facing real estate search services that have incredibly poor data quality (i.e. raise false hope about foreclosure opportunities, provide unrealistic property value estimates, and display out-of-date listings) who shall remain nameless.

So what I love about Redfin is their software - not their discount brokerage services. Their business model provides that their agents work for a discounted fee, cover large geographic areas and as a result provide a lower quality of service for their clients. They tout their refund ("You save $XXX by using Redfin!") to prospective clients, but this is misleading. A skilled, geographically focused, well-connected, full-service real estate agent will provide you with expertise that can save you money in your transaction (more accurate pricing/bidding of properties, avoid disclosure pitfalls, mitigate risk exposure, referrals to competitively priced service providers, counsel on market considerations that may effect future value, higher quality marketing to fetch the best price, etc). And beyond that, a quality real estate agent that is a true partner will add value for their clients well before and long after a transaction closes. They are a resource for market updates, reputable vendor referrals, remodel ROI input, neighborhood and community information, and the list goes on!

There have always been and will always be discount real estate brokerages and I commend Redfin for raising the bar in that sector. I welcome the shake-up of the status quo and believe that a new competitor  in the marketplace will only raise the standard of service across the whole industry. Agents like myself who strive to provide a higher and more personal level of service will only be more motivated to up our game. And that is indeed a good thing.

 

Source: www.redfin.com

(Sub)Urban Farming

Spring is almost upon us and our family has been excitedly preparing for her arrival! In January, we built our raised vegetable beds. 

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In February, we assembled our composter. 

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And just this month, our chicken coop arrived. 

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Like so many other families across the country and around the world, we are putting the land that we have at our disposal to productive use. I actually thought that raising our own chickens was a bit extreme (I am after all, a city-girl), but when my husband and I went to find a "how to" on raising chickens at a book store on Castro Street, I was surprised to find a whole display shelf dedicated to the subject right at the front of the store! So we are not such radical trailblazers after all (phew - maybe our neighbors won't hate us). 

I am hopeful that this is not just a trend or a fad for us or our like-minded neighbors. The land our home was built on was all orchards at one point in time and after decades of almost exclusive ornamental gardening, it's nice to think about all of the natural resources (land, water, sun) being put to good and productive use! 

Green Product: Replenish Cleaner

I came across this product in Safeway a couple of weeks ago and I was so excited I  almost did a little dance in the aisle. Which sounds a little crazy because it is, after all, just a cleaning product.

But really, it is much, much more than just a cleaning product. It is revolutionary! It addresses one of the biggest environmental and economic challenges in Consumer Packaged Goods (that's the stuff you buy in the grocery store): the fact that we spend millions (billions?) of dollars and burn ridiculous amounts of fossil fuels each year shipping WATER around the country! And the world too, for that matter. Because many of the products we purchase are 90%+ water. Think: laundry detergent, soda, soups, juices, and just about anything in the home cleaning aisle. All of these products are mostly water and water is HEAVY, which means - expensive and inefficient to ship. 

The folks at Replenish have devised a simple and elegant solution to this problem - at least as it relates to All-Purpose Cleaners (APCs to you CPG peeps - I know you love your acronyms!). You purchase a reusable bottle that has a pod at the bottom loaded with super-concentrated cleaner. This concentrate is enough for three full bottles of cleaner and after that is used up, you just replace the pod, which also reduces plastic waste.

One word: Brilliant. And I'm hoping this catches on. It's a very challenging product proposition because most consumers don't think about the environmental impact of water in the products they buy. But I'll be doing my part to support this company and others like it with my dollar at the grocery store.

Source: http://www.myreplenish.com/

My 15 minutes

The cat is out of the bag. A full-page article in the local newspaper, the Los Altos Town Crier, has officially made it public knowledge: our family is going to be featured on an upcoming episode of HGTV's House Hunters. My husband and I had shared this with family and a few close friends, but now it's really out there: 

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The episode will air sometime in May and we have been nervously waiting to see how the editors whittled down 5 days of shooting into 23 (hopefully) entertaining (but not embarrassing) minutes of television. 

And for those of you dying to read the rest of the article, here's the next page - also with picture:

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NOTE: I would link back to the article on the Los Altos Crier's website, but the "Your Home" section hasn't been updated since November 2012. Such are the challenges of a publication relying solely on volunteers. (Note to self: contact Town Crier about helping with their website)

UPDATE: The Los Altos Town Crier updated the "Your Home" section of their website. 

Source: http://www.losaltosonline.com/