How To Choose The Perfect Garden And Landscape Designer

landscape-planningHiring a landscaper to design your perfect, ‘idyllic’ garden can be almost as exhilarating experience as buying a dream home. Even the top professionals in this game vary drastically in methods, finesse or personal style. This is why you should take extra special care when evaluating prospective designers.

It is typical to begin with a referral from a colleague or friend, neighbor, or local nursery. It’s also possible to consult your state’s landscaper’s association for an extensive record of local contractors. A few nurseries offer design services and there exist some very capable unlicensed professional designers out there, who will do a great job for you. A careful selection process can help ensure that you hire the most appropriate team for your project.

Initially, it’s a good idea to request that the landscaper or designer personally visits your home to assess your property and specific needs. Insist that they bring references with them, in addition to photographs of earlier projects they have overseen and completed. You may be lucky enough to find the perfect candidate at the first time of asking, but it’s worth allowing for two other appointments to give other contractors a chance to present the ideas.

Don’t have them around at the same time, though! That could turn out to be confusing and may be perceived as rude by the contractors. Find out what variety of garden landscaping they have specialized in to date. You want to be sure that their skill set fits in harmony with your vision.

Before meeting

Well ahead of the scheduled meeting, compile a checklist of the features you hope to include in your project. It’s common to lose track of what you’re doing during a consultation and neglect to mention your favourite garden feature, or an essential part of your plan. Prepare detailed questions on paper.

Another good idea is to flip through magazines and books depicting beautiful landscapes you appreciate and the ideas you would like to incorporate into your project. If there is a particularly stunning garden in your locality and you want to borrow some inspiration, take a few snaps and have those ready to present to the candidate.

Initial meeting

Take the candidate on a personal tour of the specific area of your property you want to landscape. Express yourself openly, as to your visions for the project. Use this opportunity to find out about the designer, too:

  • Does he or she pose any questions at all?
  • Does he or she request clarification on any points, or to give additional information?
  • Do they appear genuinely engaged in your ideas?
  • Do they seem enthusiastic about your plans?
  • Do you strike a good personal rapport?

It’s crucial that you find it easy to communicate your thoughts and ideas to each other. The majority of homeowners have a distinct image of their plan and a skilled designer should be able to grasp those concepts and run with them. Dedicate more than an hour to this initial meeting, so you have plenty of time to run through every detail.

Your task is to be extremely clear and upfront about what you want. Of course, the budget and timeline are included in this. There is nothing wrong with discussing money and timelines with each prospective designer; there is no need to feel embarrassed or awkward about it!

The landscape designer will be interested in your house, because interior furnishings and décor demonstrate a great deal about your taste – including details that may have been lacking from verbal descriptions and photos. They will also like to find out which aspects of your garden and landscape are framed by the windows from inside, as this is likely to influence the selection of styles and colours for common features like fountains, wall paint and tiling, and also aid with the arrangement of trees and shrubs to create a pleasant view from inside the building.

Second time of Meeting

Okay, so you’re now in receipt of a rendering of the designer’s proposed plan for the landscaping project. Typically the designer will explain the choice of materials at length and run through the installation process with you. Again, do not hold back – keep asking questions and listen closely for the use of your terminology in the designer’s talk, so you can be sure that they’ve been attentive to your needs and wants. If you don’t like anything, speak out about it. Professionals are well accustomed to making adjustments to keep clients satisfied.

Making a Decision

Finally, it’s time to evaluate all those proposals! These are the points you want to mull over:

  • Did the designer meet all the deadlines you specified?
  • Has the designer incorporated everything you asked for?
  • Does the result fit within the limits of your previously stated budget?
  • Did the designer include any extras or nice surprises?

Punctuality is a strong indication that the contractor takes all agreements seriously and will work diligently to satisfy client expectations. On the other hand, a common problem is that not all landscapers are as skilled in horticulture as they are with design.

Whittle the list down to one or two designers, then closely study their references. Consult the referees personally if you want extra reassurance before committing to an expensive project.  With all due diligence out the way, your choice will come down to who you feel comfortable with, trust, and whose designs you favour.

Written by Jessica Stone. She spends her time reading books at her lovely garden. She is fond of browsing landscaping and gardening magazines.

6 Ways to Damage Proof Your Rental

vandals-300x225When you make the decision to have an investment property, it’s recommended to take the time upfront to make it as damage proof as possible.

That way, you’re not spending thousands of dollars rehabbing the home after every tenant.

REI Liaison Property Management has some great ideas to help investment property owners maximize their return on investment, while minimizing costs:

Get rid of the carpets. Estimates show that carpets last only three years before they need costly and time-consuming steam cleaning. Tile, vinyl, or laminate flooring are easier to clean and show less damage, and they’re not much more expensive than carpet when you take the frequency of replacement and cleaning into account.

Remove luxury, non-essential items and systems. Examples include water softeners, humidity systems, reverse osmosis systems, security systems, and swing sets. These items are often costly to maintain, repair, and replace. Save yourself the hassle!

Keep the landscaping simple and maintainable. Plant native, drought-resistant plants and grasses that require little water and are slow growing.You can also install a simple irrigation system in order to keep the plants watered without having to rely on your tenants.

Paint walls with satin or semi-gloss paint and stick to one or two colors throughout the home.This type of paint is more durable and easier to clean.

Install door stops and closet door bumpers. These will go a long way to reduce dings and dents on the walls.

Create a mudroom or changing area near exits to the outside. Have a space where people can remove and store dirty or wet clothing and shoes before entering the home.

As a rental property owner, you want to maximize your income. Which can mean spending a little more upfront, such as tile or paint, in order to avoid more costly repairs down the road.

REI Liaison is a full service residential Property Management and Leasing company serving the St. Louis, Missouri area.

With AAOA, landlords have resources at their fingertips. Check out our new Landlord Forms Page.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your rental housing investment, including rental forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at www.joinaaoa.org.

WHAT SHAPED THE FUTURE OF COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY?

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Savvy community managers have adopted technology innovations throughout the years to improve efficiency and increase margins. Think back 10, 20, 30 years ago – can you imagine a community management world without mobile phones? Or the internet?

Mobile phones allowed managers in the community to reach out and take immediate action if there was an issue that needed resolution. Community websites have brought a 24/7 self-service aspect to communities, reducing calls into the administrative office. Those innovations improved the experience for communities, their managers, and administrative staff.

So what are the technological innovations of today that will shape Community Management for the future? To better appreciate the current state of technology for community association management, let’s first take a look at the past…

Welcome to the 70’s!

The 70’s were an age defined not just by groovy disco music and bell-bottom jeans – the 70’s began the boom of Condominium and HOA communities. If you were in community management in the 70’s your tools for the job were:

  • Ledger books
  • Rent roll cards
  • The “yellow legal pad”
  • Pencils
  • The desktop calculator

That latter item, in fact, greatly improved community accounting by giving administrative staff a time-saving tool to perform accounting. Up until this innovation it was manual tabulation or using a comptometer (anyone remember these?). This innovation helped to streamline operations in the 70’s.

Moving on to the 80’s

Like the 70’s, the 80’s had an innovation that greatly impacted community management: the personal computer! Goodbye ledger books and rent roll cards! That information could now be stored in a computer for quick retrieval and easy manipulation. Management companies that adopted the PC found huge time-savings over their previous manual processes. That said, managers were still using the “yellow legal pad” and many aspects remained manual, like keying in receivables.

Booming and Busting in the 90’s

The “Dot.com” boom/bust of the 90’s ushered in a lot of technology – the most ubiquitous being the mobile phone. This innovation allowed managers to keep in relative contact while they were on property. No more running to a payphone or knocking on a board member’s door to borrow the phone when an issue arose, this technology helped reduced the workload of managers that adopted it.

A New Century

After the Y2K paranoia subsided and the “Dot.com” bubble fully popped, the Internet became a new resource for community management. Community websites arrived on the scene giving homeowners and communities tools to access information 24/7. While managers were still using the “yellow legal pad” while in community, owners were given a resource to lessen the burden on administrative staffs.

Here and Now

So here we are in 2013 and the question becomes, “What technology(ies) are coming about today that I need to fold into my management operation to help us better compete now and in the future?”

There are two (among many) that are especially promising for the community management industry today: Smart Phones and Cloud Computing. In fact, while separate technologies, they are linked in many ways.

Smart Phones

No one could have foretold the impact the iPhone has had on consumers and how it, and its’ imitators, have bled into the business sector. These amazing devices are more powerful than those early day PCs, while fitting comfortably in your pocket or purse. They can take pictures and video, provide GPS navigation, send and receive email, and have a library of thousands of apps.

What we’re beginning to see in the community management space are applications designed for managers to use in the field. Whereas the first generation of mobile phones allowed a manager to make calls, these smart phones can be used to document violations and maintenance issues, access reports, manage owner information, contact vendors, and so on.

In fact, one client I spoke with said the use of smart phones for his management team saved his company 10+ man days per month!

Here are some tips to help you go about finding the right apps for your management company:

  1. Contact your software provider to see if they offer an app for community management. It’s important that with a mobile app it communicates with your back office systems and is not a standalone solution.
  2. Check with industry discussion groups to see what your peers are using.
  3. Know what you’re looking for – If all you need is document retreival, there are many free apps for online file storage, like dropbox and cloud drive, that might be all you need.
  4. Be flexible – new apps are coming online daily, so be willing to adjust based on what is out there.

Cloud Computing

The “Cloud” likewise is a game changer for community management.

Per Wikipedia, “Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). The name comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams. Cloud computing entrusts remote services with a user’s data, software and computation.” Basically it means working online versus on a localized server.

So why is this important for community management? There are many reasons actually, but we can break them down to three categories – economic, efficiency and core competency – all of which make cloud computingworth considering.

  1. Economic
    1. Pay as you go model
    2. Limited CAPEX
    3. Year to year commitment
  2. Efficiency
    1. Use only the resources your organization needs
    2. Tie in remote offices
    3. Enable telecommuters
  3. Core Competency
    1. Eliminate internal IT expenses
    2. Focus on management business not systems administration
    3. Leave systems management to experts

Smart managers are already leveraging the cloud and this, coupled with smart phones, can allow you to recapture hours of administrative and IT time, gain budget predictability, expand into new markets, and improve your margins.

In Conclusion

Community Management has come a long way in the past three decades, and technology has played a big role in helping make that happen. Smart management companies will continue to push the technological envelope toincrease efficiency and improve service levels for community members.

 


Mike Hardy is vice president of Sales and Marketing for TOPS SoftwareMike Hardy has specialized in technology and web-based software for over 14 years. Mike is a founding presenter at the CAM Profitability Conferences, where he speaks on technology and how it affects the community association management industry. Mike is a graduate of Radford University and has degrees in History and Political Science, and currently serves as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for TOPS Software.

Hiring pros for spring cleaning tasks? What to look for and what it should cost

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BUCKLES

Some traditional spring cleaning tasks are easily accomplished on your own, like clearing out clutter or rearranging storage areas. Other important tasks such as cleaning air ducts or your carpets may require professional assistance – and that’s where things can get confusing.

When you hire a professional to handle a cleaning task, how do you know what he or she should be doing for the money you pay? For that matter, how do you know how much you should expect to pay? Here are some common spring cleaning and maintenance tasks that you might hire a professional to do – and some guidance for what these jobs should entail and cost.

Air duct cleaning/HVAC maintenance

Regular maintenance of your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can help avoid costly break-downs, and keeping air ducts clean can improve air quality in your home. Concerns about HVAC contractors are among the top 10 most common complaints received by the Better Business Bureau.

Before you hire someone to clean your air ducts and service your HVAC systems, check their credentials with a credible organization like NADCA, the HVAC Inspection, Maintenance & Restoration Association. NADCA members carry general liability insurance, have at least one person on staff trained and certified as an Air Systems Cleaning Specialist, and clean and restore heating and cooling systems following the association’s guidelines.

A cleaning/maintenance inspection should include examination and cleaning of ductwork, including supply and air return ducts; cleaning of all supply registers, return air grilles and diffusers; cleaning of supply and return air plenums; and maintenance on various parts of the system. Check the NADCA website at http://www.nadca.com for a complete checklist of what a cleaning should entail. A typical cleaning should cost between $450 and $1,000 per system, depending on the services rendered, the size of the system, how easily accessible it is and how dirty it is, according to NADCA.

Window washing

Cleaning your home’s windows can have a dramatic impact on both the interior and exterior of the house, but it is a major project. If your home is large, you have a lot of windows and little time, hiring a professional may be the best way to get your windows cleaned. Look for companies with an established reputation. A typical window cleaning should include the inside and outside of all windows in the home, removal and cleaning of screens, and cleaning of all sills and tracks (which means they must open every window to fully clean it).

Most companies charge per pane and your total cost will vary based on many factors, including the number of windows in your home, how many are on upper floors and even your region of the country. Typically, however, you should expect to pay between $2 to $7 per pane, according to CostHelper.com.

Carpet cleaning

While you can rent a machine and shampoo your own carpets, cleaning rugs may be better left to a professional if you have particularly challenging stains, a lot of furniture to move or a material that requires special care. Typically, the cost of carpet cleaning is about 25 cents to 35 cents per square foot, according to The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI).

Several factors will influence the final cost, including the size and number of rooms, your area of the country, how much furniture cleaners will have to move, and how badly soiled the carpet is. A typical cleaning should include vacuuming before cleaning by a technician with professional certifications for carpet cleaning, according to CRI.

Screening Tenants Consistently for Fair Housing

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Under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act it is illegal for landlords to refuse to rent or sell a dwelling based on an applicant’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
Does your management company base their applicant approvals on documented evidence of an applicant’s ability to pay or not pay, or do other items factor into your  process?

by  –

Fairness and consistency play a large role when screening tenants. It’s important to establish a set of criteria that all staff must follow starting with:

Interpreting the Credit Report
While it’s easy to quickly glance at a credit report and get a sense of an applicant’s risk, many companies look beyond just credit report numbers and consider other factors as well. Just remember that if you are willing to work with an applicant with a low credit score, you must extend that same courtesy to a similar applicant. Whatever your standards are, they must be applied to all applicants.

Income Level
While it’s more work, establishing an income level for each property provides applicants with a well-stated, easily understood rental requirement. For instance, if you rent a 1 bedroom apartment for $700.00 a month, you can establish a minimum income requirement of $2,100.00. If the applicant’s income falls below the required level, they are declined. No exceptions.

Job History
A stable job history is a vital area for property managers to evaluate. It might be helpful to establish a minimum time on the job (i.e. six months) in order to be approved. Again, this may be a tough area to remain consistent on; those new to the area will obviously not have the required time on the job, but their overall job history may indicate stability. Again, if you make an exception for one applicant, be prepared to make an exception for all.

Rental History

Past evictions, consistently late rental payments, and trashed homes in an applicant’s rental history is a cause for concern, and a legitimate basis for denying an application. But remember, these standards must be applied across the board – to all applicants, not just a select group.

Race, disability, cultural background, or familial status should play no role in the decision making process. Knowing Fair Housing Laws, you’ll protect yourself and your company by establishing a consistent screening process and adhering to it. This will ensure that all of your tenants have been qualified in a fair and consistent manner.

Milpitas: Developer to transform McCarthy Ranch into Asian mall, hotel

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by  – The Torgan Group of Canada envisions knocking down four “underutilized” buildings totaling about 140,000 square feet at the center, located near the intersection of I-880 and Highway 237. In its place would rise a 12-story, 240-room hotel attached to a roughly 280,000-square-foot enclosed shopping mall.

City officials said the project would target the city’s strong Asian demographic. Torgan also built Pacific Mall in Ontario, a 250,000 square foot project that’s considered one of the most successful Asian malls in North America and is a major tourist draw.

“It would be a one of a kind destination point,”said Milpitas mayor Jose Esteves in an interview Friday. “It’s a different kind of major retail complex with a major hotel, which could really benefit from the 49ers stadium coming in.”

The project is notable for its enclosed design — a rarity these days, as developers aim for outdoor shopping experiences — and a commercial condominium business model.

Torgan representatives didn’t return calls. But a recent city filing from Steinberg Architects, which is working on the design, details the project in broad strokes.

“The new retail space will have an open interior with approximately 450 small commercial condominium shops laid out in a grid pattern generally for occupancy by small business owners,” it says. The project would also include a level of underground parking. A hotel operator was not identified.

“They’ve been meeting with us about the possibilities, but we never had a handle on the plans,” said Sheldon Ah Sing, senior planner for the city of Milpitas. “Now they’ve submitted some plans.”

McCarthy Ranch, built in 1995, currently has a gross leasable area of around 435,000 square feet, making it the 25th largest shopping center in Silicon Valley. Torgan, a major landlord in the Greater Toronto and Ontario, Canada area, picked up a chunk of the center on the west side of Ranch Drive in March 2012. It did not acquire the properties on the east of Ranch Drive, including the Walmart store and several restaurant pads.

The center has struggled for years with high vacancy, said Bob Berndt, a senior vice president with SRS Real Estate Partners who is active in the area.

“It hasn’t done well,” he said. “It doesn’t have a great trade area, and it doesn’t have anything you can’t get in Fremont or San Jose,” he said.

Still, Berndt said the high-profile freeway visibility and a new format could give the new development proposal a shot.

“Other Asian-themed marketplaces in that area have all been successful,” he said. “It’s got a chance to work.”

John Luk, the managing director for GD Commercial Real Estate, agreed. He is the listing broker on Lido Faire Shopping Center in Newark, which has successfully courted Asian tenants. “Milpitas is over 60 percent Asian, and Fremont is more than 50 percent,” he said.

Targeting a niche is also one of the few growth options for retail centers these days, since many of the traditional box tenants — such as Best Buy, Office Max and Office Depot — are in retrenchment mode.

“The big boxes, typically, some of those guys want to downsize,” Luk said.

Esteves said he understood the Torgan Group was ready to build the project once it received city clearance, and could break ground early next year.

“They put in big money to purchase it, and my impression is they have all the money lined up (to build),” he said. “They are well-funded.”

The project is part of growing development activity occurring in Milpitas as the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension project continues to progress, with the first stop at Montague Expressway and Capitol Avenue under construction. Estevez said more than 3,000 residential units are in the pipeline, many of them near the planned BART stop, as part of a transit village development boom.

Jay Paul Co. eyeing two more towers in Sunnyvale

Well, that didn’t take long. Just a few months after purchasing the Medtronic campus at Highway 237 and Crossman Avenue, the Jay Paul Co. is looking to build two seven-story towers at the Sunnyvale site.

The San Francisco-based force behind the highly successful Moffett Towers project has submitted a preliminary review application disclosing that the company wants to build 541,214 square feet of office and a parking garage on about 15.67 acres at 1221 Crossman Ave.

As I wrote in January, the existing three-building campus is fully leased to Medtronic Corp., though that company is only in one building right now and has a lease expiring in less than two years. The buildings on the site currently weigh in at around 150,000 square feet.

A preliminary review is not a formal project application. It is submitted to gather feedback from the city on what a developer is considering, so the plans could change based on the feedback.

Phil Mahoney, an executive vice president with Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank who is marketing the property, said the project makes sense as Class A vacancy in Sunnyvale continues to shrink and tenants seek out top-tier office space. Mahoney said the developer would begin the project on spec, at least to start.

“There’s certainly demand,” he said.

The project could be under construction by the first quarter of 2014, if not earlier, and would take about 14 months to build, Mahoney said.

“It’s got its own light-rail stop, with visibility and access,” Mahoney said. “It’s a great little site.”

This would be the third big development project from Jay Paul Co. in the submarket, all located within minutes of each other.

A new office campus in Moffett, called Moffett Place, is currently undergoing an environmental review process. That project would add 1.8 million square feet of building space on about 55 acres near the intersection of Mathilda Avenue and Highway 237. An EIR document shows six eight-story buildings, one two-story amenities building and two parking structures. The site currently has about 473,200 square feet of existing office space, which would be torn down to make room for the new development. Jay Paul Co. is seeking a zoning change from Moffett Park Industrial to Moffett Park Transit Oriented Development to reach the desired density on the site. (Read more about that project here.)

Moffett Towers — the original project of nearly 2 million square feet of office in seven eight-story towers — is pretty much leased up. After sitting vacant for a long stretch, the project filled up big time in 2011 with huge lease after lease. (It was also the winner of the Business Journal’s Best Speculative Deal Winner, which you can read here.) Tenants include Motorola Mobility, Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co.Financial Engines Inc., Plaxo Inc., and Amazon.com’s Lab126.