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So You Bought a Fixer-Upper to Save Money—Here Are the Projects to Prioritize

If you're embarking on renovations on a tight budget, it can be difficult to decide what to do first. In the article below, experts identify the best projects for your wallet and your home.

By Mia Taylor

The vast majority of people who purchase fixer-upper homes do so for financial reasons— because they generally can't afford a turn-key property. A recent report from Buildworld, a UK company that connects buyers with building materials, reveals that 73% of people who buy fixer-uppers do so because of money issues. This financial reality, however, can present a perplexing challenge when moving into a home that's in need of a little (or a lot) of TLC. Which renovation projects should you focus on first if your budget is tight? And why?

According to Buildworld, the average spend on "necessary repairs" is about $13,000, and "practical upgrades" cost about $6,000. We asked experts to help identify the fixer-upper projects that make the most sense right out of the gate as well as those that will give you the most bang for your buck. Here's what the industry insiders had to say, along with a few tips on how to get organized as you embark on your fixer-upper facelift.

white house wooden fence


Before You Start Remodeling 

First things first: It's essential to understand what work should be done for safety reasons and to prevent costly challenges down the road. The best way to do this is to have a professional assess your newly purchased home and use that insight to develop a game plan.

"Create a priority list and start with what must be fixed," says Robbie Maynard, San Diego-based interior designer and owner of Robbie Interiors. "Hire an inspector to look for potential issues or hazards with electrical, plumbing, and the roof. It's a good idea to start with the structure and take care of items like electrical, which can be a potential fire hazard, as well as plumbing issues so that you don't end up with major problems or damage in the future. You will not see a great transformation, but it brings peace of mind."

Hiring an expert to create a cost estimate for your renovations can give you a realistic assessment of how much money you'll need to accomplish each item on the list and help you decide what you can afford to do first. And remember, while safety repairs are likely to be among the most expensive, they're critical to laying the proper groundwork for subsequent projects.

"Upgrading plumbing and electrical is always expensive," says AmyLynn Schwartzbard, owner of New York City-based Life Designs Group. "A two-bedroom, two-bath home could run $25,000-plus for all new electrical wiring and outlets. Plumbing could run $15,000-plus. But the additional work isn't worth doing if the inner runnings of the home are in disarray."

black and white living room


1. Refresh Rooms with Paint 

Once you've addressed safety matters, you can turn your attention to aesthetic renovation projects and upgrades. Adding a new coat of paint throughout your home can make a big difference without a big investment, says Stephanie Lindsey, principal designer with Texas-based Etch Design Group.

"A fresh coat of paint on walls goes a long way for our mental health," says Lindsey. "We feel rejuvenated and like we have a clean slate to start a new chapter. You can paint walls, cabinets, or even your front door for a fresh new look."

The best part: a paint project can cost as little as $50, depending on the scope. Maynard also notes that paint almost always needs a refresh anyway when a home transitions from one owner to the next. "New paint is the first thing that makes a huge impact," says Maynard. "The great thing is you can paint yourself and save on this one."

For an added style boost, consider painting an accent or focal wall, which is generally the wall you first see when entering a room. It might also be the wall where your sofa or your bed is located.  "Dark gray or smoky green or blue are all popular colors," says Maynard.

kitchen with large island and wood floors


2. Install New Flooring 

Another project that can make a tremendous and immediate difference in a fixer-upper is flooring. Maynard recommends luxury vinyl plank flooring to save money, which runs about $5 a square foot.

"It's the best thing since sliced bread," says Maynard. "It looks like real wood for a fraction of the cost. I love the chevron or herringbone patterns, which I have been specifying in many of my projects. Luxury vinyl plank is also water-resistant and can be used in bathrooms. New flooring and paint will transform your fixer-upper right before your eyes."

Not only will new flooring brighten a fixer-upper visually, but tackling this type of change early on can be much easier logistically. Once you've moved in and your furniture and personal belongings fill every room, redoing flooring can be challenging at best.

"It can be downright unbearable while the work is being done," says Ron Leffler, of Virginia-based Ron Leffler Real Estate. "It usually takes several days from beginning to end. The smell from the fresh polyurethane [if you're refinishing hardwood floors] can also take a day or two to dissipate."

One additional consideration: the color you select for your vinyl flooring or floor stain will also help set the stage for future updates in your home.  

White house porch people front yard


3. Upgrade the Exterior 

Exterior upgrades are also an important consideration for fixer-uppers and can be more affordable than interior changes, which often require plumbing and other system improvements. The 2020 U.S. Houzz & Home Study found that 21% of renovating homeowners tackled roofing, windows and skylights, and exterior paint projects at a median spend of $8,000, $3,900, and $1,000, respectively. Outdoor yard and landscaping projects are also a good idea, says realtor Jennifer Thomson.

"Don't forget about your fixer-upper's curb appeal; the neighbors will thank you and you will be able to enjoy your yard in the summer months," says Thomson, who recommends adding grass for starters. "If you use fast-growing grass seed, you will have a lush lawn surrounding your home in no time. Most homeowners spend between $450 and $900 on lawn seeding a 5,000-square-foot lawn. When it comes time to sell your fixer-upper, the curb appeal will add thousands to the value of your home."

Bermuda grass germinates in as little as seven to 10 days, while Buffalo grass can take two weeks to 30 days, says Thomson. Yet another option is Centipede grass, which has a germination time of 14 to 21 days.

black white kitchen modern minimalist butcher block counter range


4. Remodel Your Kitchen 

It's no secret that kitchens are often among the priciest renovations homeowners embark upon—because who doesn't want a dream kitchen with all of the bells and whistles right? The good news is that a kitchen renovation doesn't have to cost a small fortune. And furthermore, you might want to prioritize your spending on this space given just how big of a role kitchens play in everyday life. (Not to mention the solid return on investment you're likely to get.)

"The kitchen is one of the most used and important spaces in the home," says Maynard, noting that one way to save costs on improvements in this room is by simply painting your cabinets if they're in good shape, or refinishing them. Taking this approach could cost anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500, Maynard estimates.  

If the doors are not in good shape and won't be much improved with paint, refacing (replacing the doors) can be another budget-friendly cabinet upgrade option. Costs range from $5,000 to $7,000, says Maynard. Bottom line: kitchen renovations do not have to cost in excess of $15,000 or $20,000.

"Everyone thinks a kitchen remodel is super expensive, but it doesn't have to be. The Home Depot cabinets can look great. There are discount granite shops that will cut and install your countertop for much less than the high-end showroom places. I flip houses in California and can get an entire kitchen remodel for under $12,000," says Nancy Chillag of 23rd Street Investors.

Chillag's tricks of the trade include sourcing granite at warehouses, not showrooms, where you can purchase more affordable materials for a countertop upgrade. She also suggests searching for kitchen fixtures and other items at Lowe's or similar big-box, high-volume stores as opposed to high-end showrooms.

cheery entryway with colorful wallpaper and white doors and windows


5. Replace Windows 

Installing new windows might not be the cheapest project to tackle initially, depending on who you buy them from (and you should definitely shop around.) But this is an improvement that can pay for itself over the long run by saving you money on utility bills.

"Old windows might have air leaks, which can cause your furnace or HVAC system to work overtime and increase your bills," says Andrew Wilson, a home improvement contractor based in Madison, Wisconsin. "Plus, it also makes living in the home comfier when you don't have to worry about the cold breeze or warm summer heat entering through the windows seasonally."

white kitchen with beige ceiling


6. Repair Drywall and Ceilings 

Yet another home improvement project to consider early on for logistical reasons is major drywall or ceiling repairs, including moving walls. Like flooring, this type of work is best tackled before moving in. 

"Removing popcorn ceiling texture? It's a messy job and much easier to do when you don't have to worry about getting furniture or floors wet and dirty," says Robert Taylor, a rehabber based in Sacramento, California, who's been fixing and flipping homes for more than 15 years.

While most homeowners can remove popcorn ceiling on their own, you'll likely need someone to come through to retape and texture the ceiling, says Taylor, owner of The Real Estate Solutions Guy. Expect removal of acoustic ceiling texture and retexturing to cost around $2 to $3 per square foot, says Taylor.

How to Get the Most for Your Money 

Whether you choose to start with new flooring, kitchen renovations, updated ceilings, or drywall, if you're hiring a professional to do the work, it's best to shop around to make sure you're getting a good price. This will also help you develop a more complete picture of the expenses involved.

"Get at least three qualified quotes from contractors to do the work," says John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a platform that helps homeowners manage renovations. "This is where you start to see what the total cost of the project is beyond material costs, because the contractor quotes will include their labor costs, their tools costs, insurance costs, and their goals for profit on the project."

One more point about selecting a contractor: the lowest bid is not always the best bid, even when you're on a tight budget. 

"Hire the right contractor, don't hire the cheapest contractor to save money," says Chillag. "It will cost you more money in the long run. Get recommendations for contractors, interview them, and talk to their prior clients. A good contractor will look at your remodel wish list and give you advice on how to save money and what order to do things in so that you're not undoing work later on in the remodel process."

Final Considerations 

Buying a fixer-upper can be a wise way to get into homeownership on a budget. It can also be a monumental undertaking and a labor of love, particularly if you intend to stay in the home for the long haul rather than simply flip it in a few years. No matter which camp you're in, make sure you thoroughly understand the work that needs to be done and why before diving into any projects. After all, mistakes can be costly and if your budget is already tight, it's best to spend your money judiciously as a new homeowner. Doing this requires being educated about your choices.

"One of the biggest tips anyone should know about renovating a fixer-upper is ensure the correct thing is being fixed. A common mistake is people thinking for instance that if floors aren't leveled correctly, they need to replace the flooring. That's a costly mistake since most of the time it's not a flooring issue, but instead a problem with the home foundation," says Wilson, the home improvement contractor. "It's essential to be sure that what's actually causing the issue is what's being fixed."


Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist who's passionate about making personal finance coverage accessible and engaging. News organizations she has worked for as a staff member or contributor include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, The Boston Globe, TheStreet, Bankrate, MSN, and Cheapism. In 2011, she was a member of a team of KPBS reporters who received a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Follow her coverage on Twitter and Instagram.

Memorial Day Flag Etiquette & Protocol

Memorial Day is widely celebrated as the unofficial start of summer but what the day truly celebrates and acknowledges is something much more meaningful and patriotic. 


Established as an official federal holiday in 1971, Memorial Day is a holiday that celebrates and recognizes the soldiers who have given their lives in the line of duty defending the USA. The day takes place on the last Monday each May.

Given the important historical and patriotic significance of Memorial Day, it should come as no surprise that there are specific Memorial Day flag etiquette guidelines and rules that must be followed! Below is the Memorial Day flag protocol so you can be sure you’re flying your flags correctly.

Flag etiquette on Memorial Day is unique.

  • At sunrise, flags are to be raised to full staff briskly, then lowered to half staff position where they will remain until noon.

  • At noon, flags are to be raised to full-staff and will be displayed there for the remainder of the holiday. 

If you are unable to display the flag at half staff on Memorial Day, proper flag etiquette requires that you display your flag with a black mourning ribbon to show respect and acknowledge the somber meaning of the day.

Memorial Day is a great time to show your pride for your country and now you can do it properly!


How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden and Prevent Them From Eating Your Plants

These large mammals will do anything to get their hands (or hooves) on your flowers and vegetables. I wish I read this article sooner, otherwise, my tulips would still be in tact! Following are some solutions on how to keep them away!

Deer in flower garden

By Andrea Beck, Better Homes & Gardens

Once deer discover your yard as a delectable deli, they'll hop fences, ignore scare tactics, and show up like clockwork to devour plant after plant. They'll trot right up on a porch to chomp off the roses or stretch high to nibble the clematis you thought were safe on an arbor. And hungry deer will eat almost anything, depending on what else is available (deer in different regions have different palates). There are plenty of methods to keep deer away that you can try, but it might take some experimenting to see what works best in your yard. One of the best ways to keep your garden safe is to fill it with deer-resistant plants that they'll avoid on their own.

Deer often go for tender greens such as lettucepansyivyhosta, and most young plants. Spring and early-summer plants, including tulipslilies, and roses, seem especially appealing to deer, even if they're planted in containers. They feast on fruits of all kinds, from strawberries to fruit trees and fallen fruit. Deer will eat bark, twigs, and leaves of most trees and shrubs. They can also damage woody plants, especially during winter when food is scarce.

How To Identify Deer Damage 

Clues of deer visiting your garden include nibbled produce, roughly clipped leaves, buds and blossoms vanished overnight, hoof prints in soil, and small piles of round black droppings. Scrapes on tree trunks and woody shrub branches in the winter are often from deer antlers. Deer can reach leaves as high as six feet, so scoring on trees that high eliminates smaller animals as the culprit.


Odor Deterrents 

There are many deer deterrents that rely on odor, and effectiveness varies on how quickly the deer visiting your yard adjust to them. It's typical for many techniques to only work for a few days. Some common deterrents to spread around your plants include:

Physical Deer Deterrents 

Certain obstacles and items will keep deer far away from your gardens. Fencing is the most obvious barrier, but reflective surfaces and thorny branches can be just as effective. More physical deterrent options include:

  • Thorny branches

  • Floodlights

  • Hidden fishing lines

  • Sprinklers

  • Reflective surfaces (aluminum pie pans, streamers)

  • Fences

  • Netting


Deterring Deer by Season 


Deterring Deer in Spring

After a winter of searching for accessible food, deer have huge appetites in the spring, and new shoots and buds are especially enticing. If you've had deer problems in the past years, they will probably return in the next spring. The folks at Bobbex, a natural deer repellent brand, recommend spraying repellent every two weeks or when one to two inches of new growth appears.

Buy It: Bobbex Deer Repellent Ready-to-Use Spray

Deterring Deer in Summer

Lower growing plants are in the most danger in the summer, while trees and shrubs are the concern in the cooler seasons. Natural food choices are easier to find. But, when the weather turns hot and dry, natural vegetation in forests and fields can get scorched and die off, forcing deer to look for well-groomed landscaping for green.

Deer (and their less common relatives, moose and elk) usually leave a path of destruction in the landscape and can destroy plants and trees in every season. It's not enough to apply a deer repellent spray once or twice a year. Deer learn from experience, so repetitive applications will give them the message that they are not welcome in your rose garden. Although you should keep using deterrents in every season, there are different methods to use in each that is appropriate for where the damage is worse and how the deer behave.

Deterring Deer in Fall

Mating season starts in the fall for the deer population, which means there will be larger groups of deer in one area (does and bucks are seeking each other out). Most flowers will be winding down from their blooming season, but it's the trees you need to worry most about. Fall is also when bucks start to scrape their antlers against trees to remove the velvety layer grown over the summer. The repetitive scraping can damage, and even kill, trees. Make sure to use deterrents to protect trees of any size.

Deterring Deer in Winter

It seems like winter should be your downtime when it comes to deer, but they can be just as destructive in the dead of winter as they are in other seasons. When the grass and plants are covered in snow, deer look upwards for a food source and start chewing off twigs and leaves. Their eating habits can leave your branchy plants looking misshapen, can kill limbs, or even kill the whole plant.

Deer-Resistant Plants for Your Yard 

Deer steer clear of plants that are poisonous, fuzzy, coarse, spiny, bitter, or very aromatic. But if deer are unclear about liking something, they'll try it, so even things they don't like aren't always safe to plant. Start the design of your garden with known deer-resistant plants.

Red Bush

Deer-Deterring Trees

Deer may not completely avoid these trees, but they're less likely to munch on them than other options. If you've had problems with pests in the past, consider planting some of these trees:

White Bush

Because deer are so adaptable and resourceful, there's no way to completely guarantee that they'll leave your garden alone. But by choosing plants that deer avoid, putting up a fence, and using deer repellent or other deterrents, you've got a much better chance of keeping them at bay.


Experts: Mortgage Rate Declines Won't Last


May 14, 2021, REALTOR Magazine

The average for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage remained below 3% last week, but economists warn that rates in the 2% range likely won’t stick around much longer. Still, mortgage rates will continue to be historically low, and slight increases aren’t likely to spook home buyers, experts said.


Primary Mortgage Market survey

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.94% last week, down from 2.96% the week prior, Freddie Mac reported.

“Although mortgage rates may rise in the coming months, homebuying activity won’t likely be affected,” Nadia Evangelou, senior economist and director of forecasting for the National Association of REALTORS®, writes on the association’s Economists’ Outlook blog. “Keep in mind that rates are hovering at record lows, and they will remain historically low for a longer period.” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun predicts that mortgage rates will average 3.2% by the end of the year.

Low mortgage rates have helped with housing affordability at a time when home prices have surged by double-digit percentages over the past year due to increasing buyer demand. The median sales price for an existing single-family home rose to $319,200 in the first quarter of this year, registering an annual increase of 16.2%—a record high, according to NAR, which has been tracking such data since 1989. Also, housing inventory remains squeezed, pressing on demand and prices.

The following chart from NAR shows how many households earning $100,000 can afford to buy now versus two years ago.


NAR Chart showing household income

“The low mortgage rate environment has been a boon to the housing market but may not last long, as consumer inflation has accelerated at its fastest pace in more than twelve years and may lead to higher mortgage rates in the summer,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Freddie Mac reported the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending May 13:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 2.94%, with an average 0.7 point, dropping from the 2.96% average the week prior. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.28%.

  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 2.26%, with an average 0.6 point, falling from 2.30% average the week before.  A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 2.72%.

  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 2.59%, with an average 0.3 point, dropping from 2.70% average the week prior. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.18%.

Freddie Mac reports average commitment rates along with average points to better reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage.


Instant Reaction: Mortgage Rates, May 13, 2021,” National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook blog (May 13, 2021) and Freddie Mac

The Future of Smart, Safe Showings

Keyless smart locks are showing up on front doors across America. The reasons are clear: They provide easier access without the hassle of a physical key. So, does this mean the electronic lockbox real estate professionals are accustom to using for showings is on the way out? Not anytime soon, says one industry expert. 

Keyless smart lock on front door

By Lisa A. Beach  

Platform convergence is on the horizon!    

SentriLock's new platform is the first and only real estate solution that integrates showing-scheduling functions with property access with a premium on data security.

While home sellers with existing smart lock systems might question the need for another access device, lockbox technology is evolving quickly and offers a range of advantages to real estate pros and consumers beyond enabling entry inside a listing. “Electronic lockboxes provide a great synergy of accessing technology with the smartphone they’re already using,” says Scott Fisher, founder and CEO of SentriLock LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Association of REALTORS® and a REALTOR Benefits® partner.

Dealing with existing smart locks can be frustrating for agents trying to gain entry to a property. At least 25 different vendors, such as Nest and Ring, offer more than 45 different consumer smart locks, each requiring its own app and interface. This means downloading different smart lock apps, then figuring out how to operate them for showings. By contrast, an electronic lockbox used by a local MLS or association ensures product uniformity throughout the area.

From a security standpoint, electronic lockboxes can update the agent’s credentials and authorization status daily, providing controlled access during the marketing of the property. Electronic lockboxes can also provide peace of mind for sellers. “When the lockbox is removed from the property, the digital credentials go away,” says Fisher. “The homeowner can feel confident that no one can get in their home with the electronic credentials.”

SentriLock’s commitment to safeguarding data entered into the system will be just as vigorous in its new home showing scheduling platform SentriKey Showing Service, which is integrated with the lockbox system. Access credentials are provided only after an appointment is made. This ensures property access is restricted to scheduled appointments.

SentriLock is working to form a digital bridge with other smart lock products, which should please sellers with objections to putting lockboxes on their home. SentriLock will be integrating its technology with other platforms, which will allow agent credentials to be sent from the SentriKey Real Estate app to an existing smart lock. Their goal for the real estate space is ultimately to become vendor- and hardware-agnostic. The first integration will launch early this summer.

"Key" Takeaways:

  • Sellers with smart locks on their doors may question the need of a separate electronic lockbox for access during showings.

  • Electronic lockboxes can update the agent’s credentials and authorization status daily, providing controlled access during the marketing of the property.

  • The lockbox tracks access and reports back centrally, with the agent’s authorization and de-authorization handled automatically.


Lisa A. Beach is an Orlando, Fla.-based freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Parade, and USA Today.


Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day sign with flowers

This Sunday, mom's everywhere will be waking up early to a chorus of “Happy Mother’s Day,” and a homemade breakfast feast, complete with homemade cards, inexpensive flowers, and syrupy hands. Perhaps, followed by making Mother’s Day a family fun outing by going somewhere or taking a walk.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s nice to spend the day together. Well, over the past year or so there have been plenty of days together with family. Why not, challenge yourself and mothers everywhere to taking a little "me" time and treat yourself.  Below are some ideas to taking care of you!

lady reading book on couch  Jewelry  Hand Soaps and dish for spa therapy

1. Take Time for Yourself

If you’re craving alone time, ask your partner to take the kids for a nice long walk, and leave you at home. Enjoy the silence. Take a nap. Read. Take a bath. Rock out to Bon Jovi. Do whatever makes you happy. If you’re dreaming of a family outing, set up a backyard game, make an outdoor movie screen, have a lip-sync dance battle, or go for a drive through a local nature preserve.

2. Ask Only for What You Really Want

Make an “Acts of Service” wish list that your significant other and the kids can do instead of gifts. Sure, it’s basically a list of our least favorite chores, but hey, not having to fold the laundry for a whole weekend is like gold to any mama!

3. Buy Yourself Something

Is there a local store you’d like to support? Buy yourself a gift card or shop their online store. Does your athleisure wear collection need some updating? Now is the time! Have your eye on some jewelry? Buy it! Just go for it.

4. Eat Well

If you’re lucky enough to have family members who cook or grill well, take advantage of that. Put in your menu request early and enjoy your favorite grub. If you are the cook, take the day off and support local restaurants. Be sure to pick up your favorite treats and beverages on your next grocery run so you can enjoy the good snacks after the kids are in bed.

5. Create an At-Home Spa

It may not be the same as going to a real spa, but you can pamper yourself with a facial mask and some DIY bath bombs. Throw in a foot soak and a fresh coat of nail polish and you’ll feel like a new woman. If your little helpers are excited about spa day too, make it a mommy-and-me activity with facials for everyone.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your day! Happy Mother's Day!


Better Homes and Gardens; Source: By Megan Boettcher

Soaring Lumber Prices Add $36K to Average New-Home Price

Buyers who purchase newly constructed homes are paying more not only because of intense competition in the market but also surging lumber prices. Record-breaking growth for the cost of lumber is pressing on builders’ budgets and prompting them to pass along price increases to buyers.


lumber yard

© juniart - AdobeStock

The increase in lumber prices over the past year has added $35,872 to the price of an average new single-family home and $12,966 to the price of an average new multifamily home. The latter translates to an extra $119 per month in rent for apartment dwellers, according to new housing data from the National Association of Home Builders.

Some builders report slowing production due to the rising building costs. Still, single-family housing starts jumped 41% in March compared to a year earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. More than a quarter of single-family homes that were on the market in the first quarter of this year were new construction—the highest share on record, according to Redfin research.

But lumber prices—up a whopping 340% compared to a year ago, according to Random Lengths, a wood products industry tracking firm—threaten that market share. For a new home, lumber is often used for framing as well as for cabinets, doors, windows, flooring, and decks.

Builders are facing rising costs for other building materials, too. For example, year-over-year prices are up nearly 7% for drywall, 27% for copper—the price of which set a record high this month—and 11% for land prices. Prices for single lots especially have jumped this year due to high buyer demand and low supply.

“There’s a literal land grab going on as builders are scooping up lots to better match housing supply with demand,” Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, told CNBC. “The lot supply shortage is real, and it is causing prices to rise and builders to move further into the suburbs.”


Realtor Magazine, Source: 

Soaring Lumber Prices Add $36,000 to the Cost of a New Home, and a Fierce Land Grab Is Only Making It Worse,” CNBC (April 30, 2021) and “Higher Lumber Costs Add More Than $35K to New Home Prices, $119 to Monthly Rent,” National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog (April 28, 2021)

How to Remove Deeply Rooted Shrubs and Trees

Want to Redesign Your Garden? Here's How to Remove Deeply-Rooted Shrubs, Plants, and Small Trees. The good news is that you can tackle this job on your own. Here's what you need to know.

bushes and flower garden


By Kelly Manning

Is your landscape looking a little tired and weather-worn? Or maybe you're simply ready for a new look. It's easy to construe lofty goals until you take a closer look at your garden beds, only to discover the deep root systems of the plants, shrubs, and small trees you'd need to remove to change your outdoor space's style. Not only can this task feel overwhelming, but not everyone has the skillset or tools to tackle such a big job. Below, Blythe Yost, a landscape architect and the CEO of Tilly, a startup aiming to bring landscape design to more homeowners, shares her recommendations for removing longstanding varieties to pave the way for new growth.

Make a clear plan—and stick to it. 

"Landscape design is very labor intensive. Don't bite off more than you can chew," cautions Yost, who recommends homeowners map out a plan that outlines their goals. "Draw something out, even if it's on the back of an envelope, or put together a shopping list with the tools you need." Adds Yost, "Know where you're starting and where you're going so that you get somewhere in the end."

Take a strategic approach to removal. 

To remove shrubs, begin with a pair of loppers, to cut away branches and any large roots visible to the eye. As you get down to the soil, use a pick mattock to help you "hack out" the web beneath the surface. Continue to cut the root system as it becomes more accessible; be careful not to simply pull and tug, which can strain your back. For unrelenting roots, Yost recommends utilizing a Come-Along, a tool that allows you to use the support of a tree during the extraction process. Similarly, when removing the roots of small trees, remove branches with loppers—but be sure to leave enough "to give yourself leverage to twist, hack, and pull the roots," notes Yost. As for unearthing simple plants? Use a sharp shovel, such as a spade to dig up the roots, but remember "they are not as deep as the plant is tall." Uprooted trees, shrubs, and plants should be disposed of in the same manner as your regular yard waste.

Use root killer sparingly. 

If you choose to apply root killer, Yost recommends using it "judiciously;" wear protective gear, do not over-spray the area, and be mindful of runoff, she notes. Furthermore, remember that root killer is systemic and needs time to work. "It needs to be taken up by the leaves and then go down to the roots," explains Yost. "If you chop all the leaves off, you can't use it, because there's no leaf surface." Additionally, Yost has found that root killer is best suited for invasive species and works especially well in warm climates, where plants metabolize faster. Otherwise, it will take about two weeks for the root killer to reach the plant's base. If your goal is to kill the system, organic herbicides wont do the trick, she says, since they are not systemic: "Leaves will shrivel, but roots won't die."

Know when to call in a professional. 

"It depends on how much of a workout you want and how much time you have," says Yost of knowing if and when to hire an expert. "Most things can be achieved on your own, but when a tree is larger than an inch and a half in diameter, it will be very difficult to remove." Getting rid of large, overgrown shrubs, which can be especially taxing to remove, often requires a professional, as well. Assessing "size and quantity are two good ways of approaching it," says Yost.


Four Ways to Celebrate Arbor Day This Year!

National Arbor Day is April 30. Try these tree-hugging suggestions from reforestation activists for getting (and giving) back to nature.

woman walking with child in woods


By Erica Sloan

With spring finally here, sunshine, fresh blooms, and outdoor activities are all on the horizon once again—a strong reminder of the planet's sheer beauty and the need to safeguard it for future generations. Earth Day, which is observed annually on April 22, may be the most popular holiday dedicated to just that, but there's another eco-conscious day worth celebrating, too: Arbor Day. Commemorating trees and their many contributions to Earth's ecosystems, the holiday falls on the last Friday in April, and although the pandemic has put the kibosh on many in-person events, there are a number of COVID-safe ways you can show your support for trees and all they do for us, whether outside in a distanced group or entirely virtually. We spoke to conservationists and activists at the Arbor Day Foundation and reforestation nonprofit One Tree Planted to put together this list of ideas.

Take a Hike 

When you visit a national park or national forest, your admissions fee doubles as a donation: A portion of it will bolster crucial ongoing conservation efforts at that park. Looking for somewhere to start? Redwoods, sequoias, and Joshua trees are so iconic, they have national parks on the West Coast named after them, all of which could particularly use the support in the aftermath of last year's devastating wildfires. A few other parks where trees are the standout stars include Congaree National Park, in South Carolina, which boasts a breathtaking floodplain forest, as well as Olympic and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, in Washington and Tennessee respectively, which are both technically rainforests. And of course, there are the White Mountains and other surrounding hiking trails nearby!

Gift Some Green 

For every dollar you donate to conservation and re-greening nonprofits like One Tree Planted and the Arbor Day Foundation, they'll root a new tree specimen in an at-risk region—a place that's suffered major tree losses in recent years due to fires, damaging industries, or invasive species. Another option: Shop at businesses that share proceeds with the National Park Foundation or other park programs, like Good & Well Supply Co. (where you'll find a collection of soy-based candles in scents reminiscent of popular national parks) and Pendleton (which sells national park-themed beanies, blankets, and more). Thanks to a new partnership this April between bamboo-based toilet paper company No.2—which sports 100 percent recycled-paper packaging—and One Tree Planted, every carton of the brand's TP sold will root a tree in one of California's fire-torn forests. You can also support eco-friendly efforts further afield via the Arbor Day Foundation's Heritage coffee series, which features small-batch beans cultivated by Honduran farmers dedicated to sustainable practices (and who receive quality pricing for their goods in return). 

Grab a Shovel 

Scout volunteer re-greening initiatives in your neck of the woods, and you can get your hands dirty planting new saplings in areas that could really use them. While many big group activities have been postponed due to COVID-19, small and socially distanced outings are still happening in full force nationwide. To find one near you, start by looking through the list of current opportunities posted by One Tree Planted. At these Earth Month events, you'll spend the day learning about local native species and doing a range of hands-on restoration work, as well as planting trees, of course. For Californians, TreePeople is another ideal place to start: In April, volunteer groups will head out to the Angeles National Forest, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the LA River Greenway to help remove invasive species, and care for native plants and trees. And you can find still other programs happening right in city centers through orgs like Trees New York, for instance, which is working to replenish the urban canopy in the Bronx, helping combat the heat-island effect and cut down overall energy usage.   

Bring It Home 

If you're the proud owner of a green thumb, level up from your regular houseplant or garden duties, and add a tree to your yard. To find a species fit for your zone, soil type, and sun exposure, visit the Arbor Day Foundation's tree wizard. This nifty quiz entails plugging in your zip code and specifications, and lets you filter by height, spread, growth rate, and other attributes (like whether you'd like the tree to bring pollinators or provide privacy) to find your ideal specimen. Once you have your seedling in hand, start it off on a happy note giving it all the love it deserves and keep it thriving for years to come.