About Mike Hunter

http://HhunterTheHouseHunter.com

friendly, approachable, and an expert on the Metrowest real estate market

Posts by Mike Hunter:

Save the Butterflies, Love your Mother … Earth

Save the Butterflies, Love your Mother … Earth

You too can have a great butterfly garden – it can start small and grow with time, bringing you year-round beauty and delight to all the senses. But to maximize your butterfly visitors later in the year, you need to plant the right foliage this spring. There are many beautiful plants that you can add to your garden that will attract butterflies. There are also some very homely ones that shouldn’t be overlooked.

 When planning your garden, you need to think of two classes of plants, those that are food plants for caterpillars, and those that are nectar-producing plants for the adults. You should also have something flowering in the spring, summer and fall to help the butterflies through their entire lifecycle. When selecting flowering plants, use those with colors which complement your garden design, but know that butterflies are attracted to purple, pink, white and yellow flowers. Also, most of the plants attractive to butterflies grow in full sun, so make sure that the area you select gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. And remember to plant “en masse,” that is group similar colors together in a clump rather than spreading them around as individual plants. This makes it easier for the butterflies to find them.

To attract butterflies, your garden is not complete without some common milkweed – also called swamp milkweed. These plants typically grow in sunny field environments and are notorious self-seeders, so plant them along an edge of your property that you want to see “naturalized”. Milkweed is important because it is the main food plant for the caterpillars of the Monarch and Queen butterflies. The milkweed is also a nectar source from which adult butterflies such as the Monarch, several types of Swallowtail, the Sulfurs, Painted Ladies and more feed. They flower in the summer and are not what one could call attractive, but if you want butterflies, you’ve got to have milkweeds.

The most popular woody shrub that you can plant to attract butterflies is called the Butterfly Bush or Buddleia and comes in colors from lavender to deep purple. The Monarchs and Swallowtails love these bushes and will be all over them in late summer when they bloom. My garden has three giants in the front of the house that are lavender and two smaller plants in the back of the house that are the deep purple. Either color seems to attract the butterflies just as well, and their sweet, lilac-like scent is a welcome addition to our late summer landscape. The secret to cultivating Buddleia is to cut them back every fall to about 18” above the ground level. They will easily grow back to 8’ tall in one season, but what’s most important is that the best flowers grow on new wood.

Another woody shrub they like is the Staghorn Sumac. We’ve got some growing up on a hillside, and that’s where it belongs. You don’t want it near your house, as it can cause skin irritation if you rub against it. Blueberries, Blue Iris flowers, Rhododendrons and Spicebush are also very popular with butterflies and their early flowers make them a key part of any butterfly garden. Tall perennial flowers that butterflies love are Queen Anne’s lace, Black Eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Asters, Coreopsis, and Daisies. They can be purchased at a local nursery in pots and will come back year after year. In the fall, cut them to about 6” above the ground, and rub the dried flowers between your hands to release their seeds and spread them where you want some more.

 Low-growing perennial plants that they like are clover and mint. If you’re a lawn fanatic don’t plant either of these as they will spread and take over in direct proportion to how much you don’t want them to. Our garden has some pineapple-scented mint that the butterflies love and we eat in teas, salads and our annual mint juleps. They also smell wonderful when mowed with the lawn mower and seem to thrive. In the vegetable garden you can plant anise, parsley and carrots to attract butterflies. These also attract some types of moths, so you need to be prepared to lose some of your harvest to them, but I think it’s worth it.

And last, to the less beautiful but hardy common weeds that attract butterflies. Some of the weeds that shouldn’t be overlooked are Fireweed, Goldenrod, Butterfly weed, Wild Geraniums, and Cinquefoil. They grow in poor or good soils, and are best used as naturalizing elements in the transition zone from your woods to your lawn along the edges of your property. With a little planning, your garden can look beautiful to you and to all sorts of butterflies. When you see dozens of bright orange Monarch butterflies flitting about in August when everything is turning drab, the rewards of your efforts will be obvious!

What is the Difference Between a Raised Ranch and a Split Level Style Home?

What is the Difference Between a Raised Ranch and a Split Level Style Home?

When showing homes to first-time home buyers we often end up in Splits and Raised-Ranches as they tend to be smaller in square footage and in the lower price points for their town/marketplace.

Whichever house style we enter first, the buyers often ask me “what’s the difference between this one and the other one”. So I figured that there are lots of folks who are asking the same question and why not share my answer with you all.

 

Raised Ranch House Style

Raised Raraised ranch style homench style houses were built in the Boston area from the mid-40’s to the 70’s and are occasionally still built today as individual custom homes.

They are typically built in this area on lots with high water tables, lots with stone ledge very close to the surface, or lots on a hillside.

Imagine building a single story ranch style home with a full basement and instead of sticking it in the ground up to the top of the foundation,  you set it on a flat spot carved into the ground anywhere from one to four feet deep.This gives you two stories of living space mostly above grade with full-height windows in the basement to give you air flow and sunlight.

Because of the foundation location, you enter the front door directly at the same grade as the driveway on the basement level and have to go upstairs to the main living level (see sketch).raised ranch schematic

You will enter on the level with a family room, utility/mechanical room, laundry/bath, possibly a bedroom, and if there is one, the garage. There will be a full set of stairs to the side of the front door that takes you up to the main living level where you will find the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms and one or two full baths or a bath and a half.

In many towns they are found along rural roads or what were rural roads at the time in clusters of several homes that were built at the same time.

As these homes are anywhere from forty to seventy years old, their heating/cooling systems, wiring, plumbing, windows, doors, and other systems have probably been replaced or updated. If they haven’t been, they are easy to do and a great way for first time buyers to generate some sweat-equity.

When available, they sell well due to their economical carrying costs, generally low prices, and great use of space. So if you’re looking for all those things, a raised ranch might just be your perfect home.

Split-Level House Style

split-level style houseSplit-Level houses are a variation on the raised ranch style and are also called Splits, Split-Foyer and Bi-Level houses. Splits are built with the foundation sunken deeper than Raised Ranches, usually four to six feet into the ground, and the driveway is excavated level with the bottom of the foundation. Unlike a raised ranch which has full-height windows, the lower level tends to have short windows.

In Splits, you always have to go up a half-flight or more via exterior stairs or a sloping walkway from the driveway level and enter the door to a landing or a small foyer.The doorway is often recessed and sometimes the main level of the house is cantilevered out over the basement level, creating a natural indentation and very clear way-finding to the front door.

Once inside you immediately have to make a decision to go up a half-flight of stairs or down a half-flight of stairs, hence the name split-level (see sketch).split-level house scematic

As with a Raised Ranch, upstairs you will find the kitchen, formal dining and living rooms and the bedrooms/baths. In many of these homes the owners have opened up the original walls between the kitchen and dining/living rooms giving them a wonderful flow and nicely supporting the behaviors of today’s lifestyles.

Also like the Raised Ranch, downstairs you will often find a family room, utility room, possibly some miscellaneous finished space, and the garage (which is usually located under the bedrooms).

Splits were designed to be inexpensive homes giving two stories of living space while minimizing foundation and roof costs.

While most of them have full-height basement levels, there are many that have basement levels that were shortened to cut building costs. So if you’re tall you might want to find one with forced hot water heating systems that don’t require big duct work.

In Metrowest developers built them mostly in large developments (by New England Standards) that have evolved into wonderful family neighborhoods of thirty to forty similar homes. Depending on the original price point, they can have a variety of finishes and architectural details on their fronts, such as faux stone, brick, awnings, and bay/bow windows. They will hardly ever have front porches, and are often fitted with screened-porches or raised decks off the back of the dining rooms with stairs down to grade.

Splits don’t tend to handle additions well, so many folks buy them as starter homes and then sell/move when they find they have outgrown them.  Because of this and the fact that so many of these homes were built, they are almost always available for sale in all local marketplaces.

Summary

Whether it’s a Split or a Raised Ranch they be a very practical layout, they sell well due to their economical carrying costs, they have generally lower asking prices, and they make great use of all available space. So if that’s what you’re looking for, one of these just might be your perfect home.

Using Zillow? You Might Be Surprized.

Using Zillow? You Might Be Surprized.

Why Zillow can get your home value wrong

While I personally believe that Zillow is an awesome product and enjoy the creative thinking that has surrounded it, there are a few things that you need to know when using their estimates of home value, or what they call “zestimates”.

They use public records instead of multiple listing service data. Depending on the town or city your home is located in, the public records are notoriously inaccurate, especially when it comes to finished area and living area.

Multiple listing service data is entered by realtors who are responsible for the accuracy and while it can also be imperfect, the MLS data is much more likely to be correct.

Because the algorithms in Zillow are heavily reliant on living area and cost per square foot, these public record inaccuracies can introduce a statistically significant degree of error into their estimate of home value.

They use a radial distance from the house location to select comparable home sales in the vicinity.

In other words, they will select all houses within a half-mile radius of the subject property that have been sold within the last 6 months.

While this makes absolute sense, mathematically, it doesn’t make sense in the real world.

The reason is, that if a property is on the edge of two different zip codes of highly differing socioeconomic strata and real estate values, the results will introduce a statistically significant degree of error into their estimate of home value.

For example, a house in South Wayland commands considerably more in price than a house in North Framingham, but Zillow will include houses in North Framingham that are within a half-mile of the Wayland house when figuring their “zestimate”.

Zillow is very good at analyzing quantitative factors (facts) but doesn’t yet have the capacity to include qualitative (feelings) factors, what we realtors call the full 360 degrees.

There are a number of highly subjective factors that help to determine a home’s value, and these factors are constantly changing with trends and popularity of … colors, materials, lifestyles and family makeup, just to name a few.

And last, just as you can check-out a car on many great websites, commercials, movies and in pictures, you don’t really know how you’d like it until you drive it.

Imagine yourself test-driving dozens of cars and then comparing them with someone else who’s only looked at them on websites, who’s opinion of value/drivability/comfort do you think would be more accurate?

So in summary, I believe that Zillow is a great website and I think it is very good at coming up with a blazingly fast sweeping generality of a home’s value. But in its present form, it will not replace the complete market analysis of an experienced, full-time professional realtor.

For a really accurate market analysis of your home by Mike Hunter contact me, I’ll be glad to help you.

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