America’s Hottest & Coldest Markets

U.S. home prices rose in June from the same month last year, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday.

Steady increases have contributed to a housing recovery that began earlier this year. And most markets are being affected by foreclosures.

Bank-owned homes typically sell at a sharp discount, weighing down the values of nearby homes. In markets where the supply of bank-owned homes for sale has declined, investors and other buyers will often drive up prices on the few properties that hit the market.

Here are the top five cities that have recorded home price gains over the past year and the five that have posted the steepest declines in the same period:

Five hottest markets:

1. Phoenix, up 13.9 percent.

The combination of fewer foreclosures coming onto the market and investor demand for bank-owned homes has created bidding wars, driving prices higher. But sales of bank-owned homes sank to the lowest level in nearly 4½ years last month.

2. Minneapolis, up 5.7 percent.

Sales of foreclosed homes have been rising, growing 33 percent in the first three months of the year. Even so, Minneapolis still has a nearly 20-month supply of foreclosures.

3. Miami, up 4.4 percent.

Investors and overseas buyers have been scooping up homes. Sales in June hit the highest level for that month in five years. But the market still has a 20.3-month supply of foreclosures.

4. Denver, up 4 percent.

Sales in Denver have posted monthly annual increases going back to February. Nearly 21 percent of sales in June were made by buyers that didn’t list the home as their primary residence. That suggests they were investors or people buying second homes.

5. Washington, up 3.9 percent.

The Washington metropolitan area, including suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, benefits from a healthy job market, much of it linked to the federal government. Demand for homes is consistently strong, and foreclosure activity in the area slowed in the first half of the year.

Five coldest markets:

1. Atlanta, down 12.1 percent.

The housing market is weighed down by 11 percent unemployment, partly due to heavy reliance on the construction and real estate markets. The market also has about a 12-month supply of unsold homes, which is about twice that of a healthy market.

2. New York, down 2.1 percent.

Prices in New York remain beyond the reach of most buyers. Even homes in foreclosure that are being sold at deep discounts remain high. It takes, on average, nearly three years for a home in the New York area to complete the foreclosure process, which means many potential sales are delayed for years.

3. Las Vegas, down 1.8 percent.

Sales have slowed as the inventory of bank-owned homes on the market has declined. High unemployment and a tourism-dependent economy have put off some buyers.

4. Chicago, down 1.7 percent.

The Chicago area’s unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent in June from 10.9 percent a year earlier. Sales of foreclosed homes have been climbing. The region’s supply of bank-owned homes is now nearly 19 months.

5. Los Angeles, down 0.6 percent.

The housing market in Los Angeles has stabilized during the past year. More homes that are not in some stage of foreclosure have been selling. But the job market has been improving only slowly. So it’s not creating enough demand to move prices higher.

Swimming Pools & Stone

Can you tell how much I want a swimming pool in my backyard?

When looking for a swimming pool contractor don’t go for the low price leader. Check references. Check age of company. Check whether they are part of the Florida Swimming Pool Association.

South Florida is home to some of the most talented pool designers and contractors in the country but we are also home to scam artists that will dig a hole for a hefty deposit and leave you hanging high and dry. Do your homework. Ask your LCRS sales consultant for recommendations. We work with many high caliber individuals in residential and commercial pool construction.

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Stone Flooring Styles Review

Stone Flooring Styles Review
Just like you, every stone floor has one-of-a-kind presence and personality. It is said that Mother Nature never repeats herself and natural stone floors are proof of this wisdom.
There are so many choices of color, style and finish, where do you start? Well, with the basics, of course.
Typically, natural stone floor tile sizes are 12”x 12”, 13”x 13”, 16”x 16” and 18”x 18”.
Next, natural stone floor tile comes with two kinds of edges: a polished bull-nose edge that has a rounded or curved appearance, or a polished straight 90-degree edge that offers a more contemporary look.
Know What You’re Talking About
Generally speaking, there are three basic kinds of rock from which we cut floor stone:
Sedimentary, from which we get travertine and limestone
Igneous, from which we get granite
Metamorphic, from which we get slate and marble
Travertine is a crystallized, partially metamorphosed limestone, formed by natural mineral springs. It has a honeycombed structure and a lot of surface pitting. It typically comes in two basic varieties: natural or filled. The pits can be filled with resin or grout to give each tile a solid surface or left unfilled for a more highly textured surface. The filled-in areas won’t polish out, which creates an interesting contrast.
The colors are generally warm, from almost ivory to Persian red and dark brown. A striking flooring in any room.
Due to its porous surface, travertine will require resealing.
Limestone is actually a “young” marble, formed from the consolidation of seashells and sediment. Each stone can be expected to have a certain amount of surface pitting, fossilized shells, fissures and mineral striations. There may also be degree of edge chipping.
It’s a perfect choice for bathrooms, dining rooms and hallways and ranges in color from ivory to golden brown to black.
Limestone should be sealed to protect the stone’s natural beauty and performance.
Sandstone is a sedimentary stone that is primarily composed of loose grains of quartz sand that are rough in texture. Compressing sand and water over time forms this coarse-grained rock. A hard, yet very porous stone, it must be thoroughly sealed when used as flooring.
Granite is the hardest of all flooring stones with a very dense grain, making it virtually impervious. Formed from liquid magma — the substance found at the core of the Earth — it has nearly the hardness and durability of a diamond. If polished, its high-gloss finish will resist scratching and etching, making it an ideal choice for your kitchen floor. Imagine it in foyers, bathrooms, or libraries. It pairs nicely with other natural stones for an artsy look.
Granite is found in a variety of rich colors: from “Black Galaxy,” a luxurious black stone with small white or gold crystals, to “Tropical Brown” filled with tan, brown and black flecks, to “Maple Leaf Red,” a vibrant mixture of reds and blacks and “Tiger Skin White,” a wonderful striping of black and white. One manufacturer lists over 2,500 colors of granite!
Marble is a metamorphic rock made famous by the buildings of Ancient Rome and Greece. They loved it because it was soft enough to be worked with simple tools but hard enough to last many lifetimes. This crystallized limestone comes in many different color variations and usually includes a dazzling vein pattern of color that contrasts with its base color.
For example: “Crema Marfil” is light cream color with veins of a dark brown sugar. “Dark Emperador” is a popular warm brown with peach notes and lightning-like veins of white. White or bluish-white “Carrara” marble comes from ancient quarries in Tuscany. The stone has been prized since the Romans began shipping it home for their monuments. Michelangelo carved David and Moses out of it. Marble has a legendary elegance that makes it a great choice for foyers, dining rooms, libraries — any room that needs a touch of classic sophistication.
Since marble is more porous than granite, it’s more susceptible to staining and not the best choice for kitchen floors. Some marble colors have special properties. Green and black marbles are not recommended for wet areas of your home. Green marble will absorb water and curl or warp. When black marble gets wet it “spalls,” which means small pieces may break apart.
Slate is a fine-grained metamorphic rock that splits into sheets easily. It is composed of clay, quartz and shale. It’s highly versatile and adds a rustic appearance to any room. The natural “clefting” along the surface gives it a unique layered look. It’s very dense and can be used for floors, walls, and roofs. Slate is water resistant, which makes it ideal for outdoor applications like patios and pool surrounds.
Slate comes in every color you can imagine: Rich red, orange, gold, mauve, green, blue, black, rust and brown. It adapts beautifully to every room in your house.
Agglomerate Stone or Manufactured Stone is made from natural stone chips suspended in a binder such as cement, epoxy resins, or polyester. The most well known agglomerated stone is poured-in-place terrazzo, used in building for thousands of years. These products offer the look of natural stone but are stain and scratch resistant, offer consistency and strength and are virtually maintenance free.
Mother Nature has provided a huge palette of colors and textures. The fun part is choosing what’s perfect for your neck of the woods.
The Big Finish
Your new stone floor will come with any one of a number of finishes on it. The finish creates greater variety within categories. The same granite, for example, takes on a totally different look when it takes on a totally different finish. Here’s quick primer on finishes.
A polished surface creates a mirror-like shine. Fabricators use a progressively finer polishing head to bring out the beauty of the crystals within the stone. Depending on the stone, the polish may last a long time or may be unstable. Granite, marble and limestone are frequently polished, and require varying degrees of maintenance to preserve their shine.
A honed surface produces a flat, matte, or satin finish by stopping short of the last stage of polishing. The stones will show fewer scratches and will require little maintenance. The best choices for this surface are, slate, limestone and marble.
An acid-washed finish is creates an antique finish. Once the stone has been polished, it is washed in acid, which removes most of the shine and reveals the crystalline structure of the stone. With this finish, scratches barely show. Most stones can be acid-washed, including marble, limestone, and granite.
Saw-cut flooring is truly rustic in appearance. After initial cutting, the stone is polished enough to take out the heaviest saw marks but not enough to give it a honed finish. If this style interests you, talk to your retailer about special orders.
To achieve a flamed finish, a blowtorch is passed over the stone, heating the surface crystals until they explode. This leaves a rough, unrefined texture ideal for areas like your shower, where slipping might be a concern. Granite is the best choice for flame finishing.
Split-faced finishing makes the texture rough but not as abrasive as a flamed finish.
Hand cutting and chiseling at the quarry expose the natural cleft of the stone. This finish is primarily applied to slate.
Tumbled stone has a lovely smooth or slightly pitted surface and broken or rounded edges and corners. The tiles are usually smaller and are often used in borders or decorative strips. Marble, travertine and limestone are the best candidates for a tumbled finish.
Brushed stone simulates the look of wear over time. It’s achieved by brushing the surfaces of the stone with hard plastic or metal brushes. The heavy action removes the softer part of the stone and creates a worn-down or medieval look.
If you’re looking for flooring that is beautiful, unique and timeless, then stone may be the answer. There are so many choices that we urge you to visit a retailer so you can see and touch the stone. Only then will you discover which one speaks to you and your lifestyle.

Natural Stone Playscapes

Being cooped up in the house with Tropical Storm Isaac with a 4 year old for 3 days had me thinking about play scapes with natural stone. As mothers of toddlers especially boys know the object is to get them as tired as possible so they will go to sleep at night. My next door neighbor Lauren Hadida helped inspire this post with her pinterest board.

Here are some cool ideas…

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Baroque Elements

The Baroque is a period of artistic style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, and music. The style started around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to most of Europe.[1]

The popularity and success of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, which had decided at the time of the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement.[2] The aristocracy also saw the dramatic style of Baroque architecture and art as a means of impressing visitors and expressing triumphant power and control. Baroque palaces are built around an entrance of courts, grand staircases and reception rooms of sequentially increasing opulence.

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Keep It Simple Stupid

KISS is an acronym for the design principle articulated by Kelly Johnson, Keep it simple, Stupid!.[1] Variations include “keep it short and simple”, “keep it simple sir”, “keep it simple or be stupid”, “keep it simple and stupid”, “keep it simple and straightforward” or “keep it simple and sincere.”[2] The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex, therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

I recently gave a 4 CEU presentation and received feedback from one of the legends in the business Bruce Howard about how to improve the presentation. Bruce’s thoughtful analysis made me really think about how many times marketing and sales staff over think the equation when presenting.

Bruce suggested that future CEU presentations include: specifics, price, how to install, pluses and minuses of each material, seal or not, and maintenance expected, etc.

Simple questions, but not addressed in 3 of the 4 landscape architecture presentations I gave to Bruce and his peers. So today’s spotlight is on Bruce for helping me tailor some of the “canned info” to be more relevant and simple.

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Gardening For City Dwellers – Adapted By Garden Design

by Tamsin McCahill

What would feature in your dream garden? An orchard full of fruit trees? An expanse of manicured lawn? An oasis of tropical plants? Sadly, with their smaller-than-postage-stamp dimensions, the average urban garden may not be big enough for even a fraction of your grand designs. But that shouldn’t stop us city slickers from creating our very own patches of paradise, right in the middle of the city.

Keeping a gorgeous garden isn’t just a nifty way to impress the neighbours, either. Think of it as another little aspect of life insurance: a bit of blooming peace of mind to guard against boredom, stress-overload and city-blues. There are the physical benefits of all the stretching, bending and lifting, for starters. You’ll also be getting a good dose of fresh air while the whole family will be able to enjoy the top quality nutrition of your organically grown fruits and vegetables. Gardening also has some well-documented psychological benefits and is even offered on the NHS as a way to ward off depression.

Now that you’re convinced, where should you start? Here are our top tips on gardening for city dwellers.

Make a plan

Take a look at the space that you have, no matter how small, and think about how you intend to use it. Do you love entertaining, or will it just be a place for the kids to play? Do you want to grow your own vegetables, or do you prefer the aesthetic benefits of beautiful flowers? Next, you’ll need to look at which areas of your garden get the most rain and sun exposure. Finally, find out what type of soil you have (should you have any). Armed with this information, your next stop will be your local garden centre where staff can help you choose the plants that will suit you best.

No garden? No problem
Having no (or very limited) outdoor space shouldn’t stop you from developing green fingers. Even a tiny balcony or windowsill could make a perfect spot for miniature salad gardens or beautiful flowering plants. Choose an area that gets at least five hours of sun, and don’t forget to water frequently if your plants will be under cover. You don’t even need to shell out on expensive window boxes or containers, either. Now’s your chance to get creative and recycle some of your old junk, such as decorative metal tins or old wellington boots, for example.

Lighten up
Worried that your garden doesn’t get much light? Maximise the rays by placing a small amount of aluminium foil on the wall next to your plants.

Look up
If you really don’t have much space you’ll need to get creative. Vertical gardening allows you to use every inch of your garden, so look out for stackable containers, climbing plants and vegetables that can be trained to grow upwards on canes, like French beans or tomatoes.

Sow what you like to eat
If you’ve kept plenty of things in pots before, only to see them wither and die when you forget to water them, it’s easy to get put off. But don’t be deterred by past mistakes. A great way to keep your enthusiasm levels up is to grow the things you and your family really love to eat. Making a salad of your home-grown lettuce, radishes and tomatoes will give you such a great sense of achievement, you’ll soon be wondering what else you can grow.