Tips for Bringing a Pro Into Your Bubble

While everyone is home trying to stay healthy, there are a lot of people who have taken to trying to do things around the house on their own. This has helped homeowners keep busy when they have little else to do. Unfortunately, there are some jobs that are just too big for a DIY; for these jobs, you’ll need to bring someone in to tackle the issue. This can be anxiety-inducing if you’re still trying to practice proper social distancing and avoiding contact with others. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your risks when bringing someone into your home. Not only will these steps keep you safe, but they will also protect the worker who has to come in to do the job.

Schedule and Screen

When scheduling a service call, don’t be afraid to ask whether anyone at the company has been sick recently. While it won’t guarantee that the service person isn’t ill, knowing whether there have been sick employees in recent weeks can give you at least an idea of how well the company is managing social distancing and keeping its employees safe. There’s a good chance that you’ll have to answer similar questions, so the company shouldn’t have any problems with the questions that you ask.

Open Everything

Before the service call arrives, open any doors, cabinets or other barriers between the worker and what they’ll be working on. If there’s a wall panel or other basic covering that needs to be removed, go ahead and take that off too, provided that you can do so safely. The goal is to eliminate as many possible points of contact that the service person would otherwise have to touch or open. Once they arrive, explain what you’ve done and ask them to let you close everything back up. This will let them come in, do the job and leave without touching every door, panel or similar objects in your house.

Keep Your Distance

Social distancing is very important when someone new is coming into the home. Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and the worker, and try to avoid being in the same room once they’ve started their work. Greet them and see if they have any questions once they arrive, then find ways to busy yourself elsewhere. You can check in periodically to make sure that they don’t need anything, but be sure to do so from a distance. It may be helpful to wear a mask while they’re in the home as well, which they should be doing already.

No-Contact Payment

If possible, opt for a no-contact payment option or request that an invoice be mailed to you. If you’re able to pay online, this is likely your best option; you can make a payment from your computer or smart device without having to hand anyone your credit or debit card. If online payments aren’t an option, you may be able to pay over the phone or through some other no-contact method. If you aren’t able to use a card for your payment, there are still no-contact options available. If you’re paying with cash, put the money in an envelope and place it somewhere that the person making the service call can easily pick it up. The ideal way to do this is to have part of the envelope hanging over the edge of a table or other piece of furniture so that they can pick it up without actually touching your furniture. This is also a situation where writing a check can come in handy, as you can simply fill it out and then leave it to be collected without having to bother with an envelope.

Clean Before and After

Before the service worker arrives, take the time to wipe down the area they’ll be working in with sanitizing wipes. This will present a clean, safe environment for them to work in that they will surely appreciate. Once the work is finished and they’re gone, go over everything again and clean up to remove any germs that might have traveled in with them.

Stay Calm

While this is a stressful time, it’s important to reassure yourself that it’s possible to have a service call while also staying safe. Keeping your distance and reducing possible points of contact will go a long way toward keeping yourself and your family healthy. You wouldn’t be calling in someone if it weren’t necessary right now, so treat the situation with the respect that it deserves, and you should be fine.
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Considering a DIY Interior Paint Job?

There are a lot of people tackling DIY projects at the moment. Some of these are necessary projects that people are doing themselves to avoid bringing strangers into their homes. Others are simply a way to pass the time and shake off some boredom. Regardless of the reason, you might find yourself considering some interior painting. This can be a great idea, especially if you find yourself going a bit stir-crazy while you wait for everything to reopen. That said, it’s important that you don’t rush into a DIY painting project since that can lead to results that are less than optimal. Here are a few things to think about to help ensure that your painting project turns out well.

Measure First

A can of paint only goes so far, so it’s important to know just how much paint you need before you buy it. Since most paint colors are mixed, there’s no guarantee that paint mixed at different times will look exactly the same even if it’s all supposed to be the same color. A can of paint covers an average of 400 square feet, though this can differ based on the paint type and other factors. To begin, measure the width and height of each wall and multiply to get their area. Be sure add the area of any ceilings if you’re painting them as well. Once you know exactly how much surface area you need to cover, you can check the coverage of the specific paint you’re getting and buy accordingly.

Make a Single Trip

Even though some areas are opening things up again, that doesn’t mean you can stop respecting social distancing rules. Figure out exactly what you need and make a list so that you can buy it in a single trip. Wear a mask, avoid getting too close to anyone else and go get your supplies at a time when the store isn’t crowded.

Prep Your Rooms

Don’t underestimate the importance of prepping your rooms. Fill any holes, sand rough surfaces and take the time to clean everything. If possible, wash the surfaces you’re going to paint with soap and water a day or two before you plan to start painting. Even if you aren’t painting them, you should also clean the ceiling, baseboards and any other surfaces so that any cobwebs, dust and dirt on them doesn’t mess up your freshly painted surfaces. Remove any outlet covers, light switch panels and anything else that’s attached to the walls. Once the room is ready, be sure and use an appropriate primer to coat everything you’re going to paint before you start painting.

Paint in the Proper Order

You might be tempted to jump right in and start working on the walls. Doing so can actually make things more difficult in the long run, though. If you’re painting your baseboards, start with them first. Move on to window and door frames, then the ceiling. Once these are all painted, give them plenty of time to dry, then put easy-release painter’s tape over the painted surfaces. After everything is taped up, you can then paint the walls and not have to worry about getting paint on those areas you’ve already painted. Any paint that got on the walls while you were painting your trim and ceilings will be painted over with your wall paint.

Working With Tape

Putting down painter’s tape is easy but pulling it up can be very frustrating. A lot of people don’t think about the fact that paint from the walls will overlap onto the tape, so pulling the tape off can take paint with it, leaving an uneven edge on the paint. Before pulling, take a utility knife and cut the paint right at the edge of your trim or taped surface. Pull the tape at a 45-degree angle behind where you’re cutting, ensuring a nice crisp edge to your painting. Just make sure that the paint has dried for at least a day so that it’s not still soft or gummy.

Give Yourself Time

When you start painting, allow yourself at least a few days per room. You’ll need time to prep the surfaces you’re going to paint, time for the primer to dry and then additional time for the paint itself to dry. If you’re doing multiple coats, that time will be even longer. It will all pay off in the end, though, with the extra time resulting in a more professional look with even coverage and nice clean edges. Once everything’s dried you can start replacing anything you removed, but give yourself at least a few more days before trying to clean the newly-painted surfaces.
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6 Home Inspection Tips for Buyers That Sellers Can Learn From, Too

In fact, 90% of homeowners believe that home inspections aren’t a luxury but a necessity, according to a poll from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).Realizing that each side ultimately wants the same thing—and that you can work together toward closing a deal—should set all parties more at ease. Start with these 6 home inspection tips for buyers that offer hidden lessons for sellers, too.
Papers outlining a home inspection contingency for buyers.
Source: (Kristine Isabedra/ Death to the Stock Photo)

Tip #1: Make the inspection official by writing it in as a contract contingency.

It’s not enough to tell the seller of a house verbally that you plan to get the house inspected before closing. You’ll need to work with your agent to make sure it’s written into the contract as a contingency clause, which “defines a condition or action that must be met for a real estate contract to become binding,” according to Investopedia. The inspection contingency clause in particular allows a buyer to stipulate that they have a certain amount of time (typically 10-14 days) to inspect the property after both parties sign the purchase offer. This gives the buyer the chance to back out of the deal and get their earnest money back if they can’t come to an agreement on repair negotiations. In the event that you’re buying the house from a friend or relative—or trying to compete in a hot market with fierce buyer competition—you might be tempted to waive the inspection. Bad idea—says Frank Lesh, who also has inspected houses since 1989 and is the executive director ASHI. “Unfortunately, that could be a serious mistake,” he said. Even if a seller isn’t deliberately hiding something, some maintenance issues aren’t apparent to an untrained eye. Jesus Cardenas, a top-selling agent in Pembroke Pines, Florida, echoes that inspections are always part of the contract in the West Broward County area, where he works. “All properties are sold as is with the right to inspect within the first 10 days,” he said.

What that means for sellers:

95% of purchased homes go through an inspection before closing so there’s very little chance that you’ll wiggle out of this step. The only exception may be in a white-hot market where buyers are clamoring to compete, giving you all the power to sell “as is” for market value (but it’s rare). Because the inspection is written in as a contingency, you should know your options when it comes to repair negotiations: agree to fix the issue, offer a credit to the buyer at closing, or refuse to take action with the risk that the buyer could walk away with their earnest money. The upside of a home inspection is that it puts everything out in the open. Both sides know what a property’s problems are and can negotiate with all facts on the table. For more tips on what’s the right call in varying negotiation scenarios, check out HomeLight’s guide: “Fix it or Fight It?” which is all about how to handle repair requests before closing. Many agents will suggest a pre-listing home inspection to either tackle maintenance issues early or give buyers a heads-up about certain issues, creating transparency. Cardenas, for instance, incorporates an inspection into his pre-listing routine because his area has a lot of 1990s homes with Spanish-tile roofs near the end of their life expectancy. One such inspection found that a client’s roof had perhaps one or two years’ life left. Cardenas knew a roofing company that his client hired to perform about $6,000 worth of repairs, plus provide certification of another year on the life of the roof. “The seller was a nervous wreck, but you know what? The inspection went through completely fine,” he said. “We sold the place to the first buyer.” He’d rather know of any problems upfront than have the buyer’s inspector unearth a surprise maintenance issue.

Tip #2: Temper your expectations for a perfect inspection.

Although a home inspection report is detailed, it doesn’t cover every nook, creak, and cranny. “One expectation that first-time buyers have is that the inspector is going to find everything wrong with the house—and that’s not the case. We’re there as a guest of the owner, so we’re limited in our ability to inspect things,” Lesh said.
“We can’t tear behind the wall to see if there’s a leak behind the bathroom faucet or the bathtub. We can’t take things apart to see why the dishwasher is making a funny sound. Other than removing the electrical panel, we don’t move furniture or appliances.”
So if there’s a sectional sofa in front of the living room windows, for example, the inspector may not be able to reach all the windows to test if one sticks.

What that means for sellers:

The inspection report assesses a home’s condition. It’s not a report card on how good a homeowner you’ve been or a “pass or fail” test. You may be used to your home and its quirks, but a buyer isn’t, so try not to take anything in the report personally—and remember, minor things will always crop up. “Listen, you’re buying a 30-year-old home … even a ten-year-old home or brand-new construction, you’re going to have issues. Every house has an issue,” Cardenas said. Trust your agent to help weed through what’s minor and what’s a potential deal-breaker.
Buyers inspecting home before selling.
Source: (Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock)

Tip #3: Be prepared to attend the inspection and ask lots of questions.

When buyers pay for the home inspection, it’s fairly standard for them to watch the inspector at work. “The first thing I always do is I ask what their concerns are. Maybe they had an issue with a previous house, so they’re sensitive to that,” Lesh said. Although he also explains that he needs elbow room—he might go into and out of the house several times, crouch down to examine something, and make sudden stops—he’s glad to answer any questions the buyer has. “You’ll still get a report, but it’s easier to understand a problem when I can explain it to you, and you see what the issue is,” Lesh said.

What that means for sellers:

Although buyers need this opportunity, a seller already knows the home—and more often than not can get in the way. Lesh and Cardenas both have had experiences with buyers clashing with sellers who became defensive or emotional during the inspection. Let your agent supervise the inspection and tell you what the inspector found. (If you’ve had a pre-listing inspection or a maintenance inspection done recently, you’ll already know what’s in store.)

Tip #4: Know when to ask for a repair, take a credit, or leave it be.

The home inspection can trigger some delicate negotiations over a property’s flaws. For each, a buyer can request that the seller hire a contractor to fix it, obtain a credit (a reduction in the purchase price) toward fixing it themselves, or let it be. Sellers can opt for either or simply reject both and negotiate from there, although that puts the transaction at risk of the buyer walking away. Sellers should repair major structural issues or safety problems, such as a dated roof or any requirements for a government-backed mortgage like an FHA loan, or offer credit if they don’t have the funds. Cosmetic imperfections, such as chipped paint or peeling wallpaper, can be left to the buyers to handle once they purchase the property. “Most of the time, a seller will say, ‘No, I’m not going to give you a credit because the door doesn’t close properly,” Cardenas said.

What that means for sellers:

If your electrical system, appliances, or water heater are older, talk to your agent about offering a service contract to sweeten the deal. Cardenas said these cost about $300 a year and reassure sellers that any repairs that might arise after closing will be covered. “That takes away a lot of problems,” he said.

Tip #5: Request documentation to prove completed repairs.

While not essential, this can help verify any amenities the seller’s advertising, such as a new roof. “If the receipts are out, I’ll look at them,” Lesh said. “I think it’s a good thing for a seller to do if they actually did have work done.”

What that means for sellers:

You might already have your receipts handy for a home appraiser, so it doesn’t hurt to let a home inspector view them, too, as well as your agent. “If the buyer asked for the documents about the repairs, and it was recently [done], then it’s better to give them to me,” Cardenas said.
Source: (Fevziie/ Shutterstock)

Tip #6: Now’s your chance to get specialty inspections, too.

Although home inspectors are trained and certified to assess several parts of a home, they also can specialize in what are called “ancillary inspections,” or more detailed reviews focusing on individual components. If they don’t have the right expertise themselves, general inspectors might refer the buyer to specialty inspectors who can more accurately assess components such as the home’s foundation or signs of termites. These types of specialty inspections are an additional fee. Depending on where you live, radon inspections are a common one for home buyers to get, Lesh said. This colorless, odorless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in rock, soil, and water, so any home can have a radon problem, the EPA says. However, people tend to think of radon testing more readily in homes that use well water or that have basements. Other specialty inspections include termite or pest inspections, swimming pool inspections, and well or sewer scans, where they insert a special camera into the sewer line underground to make sure the pipe is functional. If your home is older than 10-15 years, an electrical inspection can point out any repairs needed to bring the property up to code, such as replacing the electrical panel and any outdated wiring and receptacles.

What that means for sellers:

Be prepared for your home to be scrutinized and have patience throughout the various inspections—but do keep tabs on the deadlines of the contract and when the buyer is supposed to have each appointment scheduled by.
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Public Spaces and Social Distancing

It goes without saying that no one expected 2020 to turn out the way that it has. The last several weeks have been especially difficult, with businesses shutting down and people needing to stay at home. Though the measures seemed extreme, they were necessary as a way for people to protect both themselves and others in their community. This isolation is finally starting to wind down, with many areas either reopening businesses or releasing a roadmap for reopening. This doesn’t mean that everything is immediately going back to normal, however. There are still some risks associated with going out in public, especially in certain parts of the country. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you stay safe even as restrictions are lifted.

Social Distancing Is Still a Thing

One big thing to be aware of is that just because more places are opening doesn’t mean you can ignore social distancing guidelines. When out in public areas, you still want at least six feet between you and those around you. To help you navigate this, many stores and other places open to the public are placing tape, stickers or signs out to show you how far six feet is. Even if those indicators are not present, you can estimate six feet by picturing how much room you take up holding your arms out to your sides; if you’re close enough that you could touch another person’s hand or arm if you both had your arms stretched out, then you’re a bit too close.

Avoid Crowded Public Spaces

Just because a place is open for business doesn’t mean that you have to visit it right now. Many businesses or other public venues that were previously closed will have a sudden rush of people who have been waiting to visit. This can be bad, as crowds make it difficult to maintain proper social distancing. Wait for things to clear out a bit or choose a time early in the morning to avoid the crowds and keep yourself and others safe.

Use Curbside Purchasing

You may have already used some curbside pickup options while buying supplies during the lockdown period. As more stores open, many of them will offer curbside options as well. Most will use curbside pickup for online purchases, but some places such as pharmacies, vets and specialty stores may let you call in orders directly from the parking lot. The rules for curbside pickup vary based on the specific store you’re visiting, but for the most part you simply pull into a specially marked space and give the store a call. Let them know that you’re there to pick up an order and give both the identifier for the space you’re parked in and your name or order number. They’ll deliver the order to you with minimal contact.

Real Estate Concerns

The real estate market has been hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with many buyers and sellers being hesitant to physically interact with each other. As things open back up and the economy starts to improve, we’ll likely see more open houses and showings. Care should still be taken to ensure that social distancing guidelines are followed at all times. Doors, windows and any other barriers should be opened by the homeowner beforehand to reduce or eliminate the need for contact with surfaces inside of the home.

Home Improvement Options

While everything was in lockdown, a lot of people put off home improvements and other non-essential activities that might bring new people into the home. Many turned instead to DIY projects, and they’re still a great idea even as things start to return to something closer to normal. With that said, you might be ready to bring in a contractor for your home improvement project. Just make sure to maintain distance away from any workers and check with the contractor to make sure that everyone will wear a mask or other facial covering while in your home.

Getting Out of the House

While we may not be out of the woods yet, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get out of the house if you do so safely. To help prevent the spread of disease while outside, wear a mask and maintain your distance from others. It’s ok if things still feel a bit weird, and you’re more than welcome to ease back into things at a pace that you’re comfortable with. Just remember that there are a lot of outdoor activities in parks and other public areas that let you stay away from crowds while still getting out of the house. Even if it’s just a brief trip, you might be amazed at how much good getting out can do after weeks of seeing the same four walls.
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Is Now a Good Time to Buy?

With social distancing being an important part of life at the moment and so many parts of the economy suffering the effects of state lockdowns, some are worried about how all of this will affect the housing market. This is especially a concern for those who were hoping to buy a new home and have seen their plans potentially derailed by the pandemic. Is this a good time to consider buying a new home, assuming that it’s even safe to do so? Depending on where you live, the answer may be surprising.

It’s a Buyer’s Market in Some Markets (but not everywhere)

With the current state of the world, the demand for real estate has dropped significantly in some parts of the US and Canada. This has left many of those who have already listed homes for sale or who were planning to list over the summer in a position where there are far fewer people looking at their properties. For some sellers, this isn’t much of an issue; they can simply wait it out and stick to their previous plans. A lot of sellers don’t have that luxury, though. This creates a buyer’s market where a lot of sellers are willing to consider offers that they wouldn’t have in the past, giving potential buyers a lot more control in the home-buying process. As the name suggests, it’s always good to buy in a buyer’s market. It isn’t necessarily a great time to list a home for sale, of course, since you’d likely have to settle for a lower offer than you were expecting if you want to move the property. This usually helps to balance out the market, with listing rates slowing down to meet demand until things pick back up again. With all of that said, not every market is experiencing this pandemic the same way.  In fact, many markets remain a seller’s market due to low inventory, mortgage rates, or any number of other local demand characteristics.

Demand Is Staying Low in Most Markets

Most of the time, a buyer’s market is caused by shifts in the economy that have people trying to save money; an example of this would be a recession. These economic shifts temporarily reduce the number of people who are willing to take on large debts, creating a glut of sellers trying to entice a smaller pool of buyers. The buyer’s market typically fizzles out once the number of sellers shrinks or the economy stabilizes. In the current buyer’s market, the economy certainly plays a factor. There is an external factor at play here as well, however: The physical distancing that COVID-19 requires has added additional worry about open houses and other forms of interpersonal contact that are traditional when buying or selling a house. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, including how long it will last, so with this external factor and the currently stunted economy we could see demand stay low for longer than you would expect in a buyer’s market situation.

Market Recovery

This isn’t to say that the market won’t recover, of course. Some states have already started reopening non-essential businesses and other parts of the economy, and other states have plans to start reopening soon. The economy will likely stay sluggish for a while, but reopening is the first part of recovery. Even the pandemic is becoming something less of a factor as people continue to practice social caution and science continues to work toward treatment and vaccine options. While market recovery may take longer than in the past, a recovery will happen, and the good deals that buyers can find now will become less common as things move forward.

Buying Safe

If you do decide to shop for a home in the current market, make sure that you’re smart about it and stay safe. Maintain all physical distancing practices while looking at homes, even if there is only a seller or agent present. Ask whether no-contact options such as virtual tours or virtual closing with digital signage are options, and if touring the property request that any doors or other barriers be opened before you arrive to reduce contact. Wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and take the same precautions that you would in any other social situation. This may seem excessive for viewing a home, but keep in mind that these practices not only protect you, but also protect the seller and agent as well.
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New Real Estate Rules Under Social Distancing

Buying or selling a home can be stressful even under ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, the current state of the world is far from ordinary. The housing market is feeling the crunch, as fewer buyers want to get out and shop for a home, and fewer sellers want to take a risk with selling. This isn’t to say that nobody’s buying and selling, of course; the market is just going through some changes. One of the biggest changes revolves around how buyers and sellers are handling social isolation and social distancing. If you’re thinking of selling, or are in the market to buy, here are a few new “rules” to keep in mind when entering the real estate fray in the era of self-isolation.

Increasing Online Presence

One of the big changes to the real estate process is an increased dependence on online resources instead of in-person shopping. This includes lots of pictures and videos of properties being posted online, but many sellers are taking things even further than this. Recorded virtual tours, online conferences to allow buyers to ask questions about the property, and even livestream walkthroughs with a seller or agent showing the property are all increasingly popular options to supplement or even replace in-person showings and conferences.

Fewer Open Houses

Open houses are a popular way to show off a property to many potential buyers, but in the current crisis these events are a big no-no. In many locales, open houses aren’t even allowed under state and federal guidance. In states where they haven’t been specifically banned, many sellers are still hesitant to hold an event that would bring multiple people into close contact with each other. Online “virtual open house” conferences are popping up as one option to adapt to this, letting multiple potential buyers come together on Zoom or a similar video conference service at the same time to get a better feel for the property that’s being sold.

More One-on-One Time

As convenient as online access and virtual tours are during the current isolation period, few if any buyers would sign on the dotted line without getting a chance to see a property in person. To accommodate this, many sellers and agents are meeting with potential buyers by appointment only. This lets a potential buyer get a good look at the property in question while also restricting the size of the meeting as much as possible. Many of these appointments are made with the understanding that if any participant feels the least bit under the weather on the day of the meet-up, then it will need to be rescheduled for another time.

Respecting Social Distancing

Even when buyers and sellers do meet up, the process is usually a little different than it used to be. Social distancing rules are usually respected, meaning that everyone involved should stay at least six feet apart at all times to prevent potential infection. Discussions about the property and general Q&As are more likely to occur outdoors in the open air, and any greetings or introductions skip out on traditional handshakes. Masks, gloves, shoe covers and hand sanitizer are commonly available on site, and many sellers go through and open all of the doors and windows to both maximize airflow and to allow interested buyers access to the entire house without having to touch doorknobs or other surfaces in order to see inside.

Closing Remotely

Remote closing negotiations are becoming much more common, taking advantage of video conferencing to bring everyone together without actually having to be in the same room. There may be some instances where people have to meet up to actually sign paperwork, but digital signing is more common because it removes that point of contact. Even when people do come together for closing and signing, it’s much more likely that everyone will utilize social distancing and that both parties will use their own pens instead of sharing.
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DIY: Raised Bed Gardening

Even though everything seems to have ground to a halt, it’s important to think about things a bit further down the line. This not only helps you to prepare for when things start back up again, but it can also make you a bit more self-sufficient in the future. This is where planning out a garden can be a great idea; it helps to keep you occupied now and yields a variety of healthy vegetables and other foods later in the year. Maybe you don’t have a lot of space, though, or perhaps the soil in your yard isn’t the greatest. Neither of these prevents you from having a garden, though. There are a few different options available to address these concerns, but you might find that a raised bed garden is exactly what you’re looking for.

What Is a Raised Bed Garden?

First thing’s first: What exactly is a raised bed garden? Essentially, it’s a garden that has a box or other physical container around its border that allows you to add more soil to plant your vegetables and other crops in. In some cases, this can be a few added inches of topsoil. In other cases, you’ll need to add a substantial amount of new soil, and some raised beds have so much added topsoil that the plants never actually touch the “real” soil. Regardless of whether you add a little soil or a lot, the growing medium is still raised at least slightly from the ground level thanks to the garden box that surrounds it.

Building the Garden Box

There are a number of options available to you when it comes to building a garden box. You can use landscaping timber, bricks, 2x4s, wooden planks or even concrete. Decide on a height that works for you and pick a material that you’re comfortable working with or have easy access to. You can design a perfectly sized garden box, or you can make one that has gaps in the corners where your material doesn’t quite line up. It doesn’t actually matter what the box looks like, just so long as it is solid enough to contain your soil and is connected to itself or other supports to keep the sides from falling apart. Just keep in mind that some materials such as pressure-treated wood contain chemicals that could leak out into the soil over time. If you have concerns about this or are using materials that you know present a chemical hazard, be sure to stain or seal your materials before use to keep water from penetrating and leaching the chemicals out.

Filling It In

Once you have a workable garden box, it’s time to add some soil. Ideally, you should till the ground soil before adding any additional soil to the box. Add a layer of garden soil or topsoil, then use a rake or hoe to blend the garden soil and your additive soil a bit. From there you can continue adding soil, mixing it together periodically, until you’ve reached the level you want in your garden box. In some cases, you’ll have room left within the box; in others, the soil will go all the way to the top. After it’s filled, you might want to water it well to let the soil settle a bit before you start planting.

Planting and Garden Care

With the box built and filled with soil, you’re ready to get your plants in the ground. Planting is largely the same as you’d do if you were planting directly into the ground, though your newly filled garden bed likely has softer soil than your yard. Water your garden a little more often than you normally would, as raised beds offer more of a chance for water to leak out or evaporate than ground soil does. Feed your plants as needed, remove weeds or grass when it appears, and do your best to keep pests out of the garden. The raised bed itself may deter some pests, and a small chicken wire fence around the edge of the bed can help as well. There’s a decent chance that your raised bed garden will grow better than an in-soil garden thanks to the quality of its soil and the added control that you have over your garden environment. With proper care, you should be able to enjoy a bountiful harvest in just a few months.
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At Home Entertainment for the Whole Family

One of the best things that we can do right now to protect both ourselves and our friends and neighbors is to stay home. Unfortunately, there are only so many times that you can watch Tiger King or listen to your kids sing along with Elsa on Disney+. You need something new to do, and it needs to be something that the whole family can enjoy while you’re all staying safe at home. There are some unique opportunities available right now that may never be available again once this is all over. They provide experiences that the whole family can enjoy that aren’t just the same old TV shows. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few activities that you might consider that would give your family some new things to do.

A Virtual Reunion

With record numbers of people working and doing schoolwork at home, more people are using video conferencing services like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams than ever before. These services aren’t just for work, however. You can use them to get in touch with family from around the country, and even schedule a “virtual reunion” to catch up and check in with each other. This can be a recurring event, letting you stay connected with loved ones throughout the pandemic. You may even grow closer as a family despite the distance.

Museum and Zoo Tours

Even though museums and zoos are currently closed to the public, a number of high-profile museums and zoos have started offering virtual online tours for free. You can go online and view great works of art, watch animals relaxing during their downtime, and even see unique things like puppies getting to run wild in an aquarium. On top of these custom experiences, many zoos and similar facilities have webcams focused on specific exhibits that you can check out throughout the year.

Learn Something New

To help families pass the time, many online learning platforms are offering extended free trials so that people can pick up new skills or learn interesting things while in self-isolation. On top of that, some teachers and experts are streaming free courses on Zoom and other platforms as well. There is a wide range of content available for both kids and adults, meaning that there’s something for everyone to learn and enjoy.

Start (or Join) a Book Club

Reading is a great way to pass the time, and you can share that with the family by starting a family book club. The premise is simple: Everyone picks out a book, and once a week you get together and discuss what you’re reading. Even younger children can participate; let them pick out a book that they want you to read, and at the meet-up you can let them show off the book and tell everyone about it. If you want a bit more social interaction with your book club, you can also look into online book clubs that are a bit closer to traditional book club offerings. These can have members from across the nation or around the world. Some of them operate on dedicated websites, and others use social media groups. Either way, there should be options available for most readers.

Listen to a Story

Even if you don’t feel like doing all of that reading, there are a good number of authors and celebrities doing podcasts and videos in which they read a variety of books or stories. Quite a few of these are aimed at children, but some of them are more tailored to adults as well. Levar Burton (of Reading Rainbow fame) has even recently launched a video version of his podcast Levar Burton Reads with a wide range of content.

A Night in at the Movies

Under ordinary circumstances, you’d be able to take the family out to see some of the many movies that would be in theaters right now. But that’s not possible now that all the theaters are closed. So instead, movie theaters are adapting. Special digital rentals are now available for recent box-office hits that ordinarily wouldn’t be available for rental yet, so that a wider audience can enjoy them. And some movies that were scheduled for early summer release, such as Trolls World Tour, are also making their debut via digital rental. So pop some popcorn and enjoy these new and recent blockbusters all from the privacy and safety of your own home.
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Get Ready to DIY!

While everyone’s staying at home, a lot of people are hesitant to bring in outsiders for things like painting or smaller construction projects. This could be the perfect time to tackle some of those tasks as do-it-yourself jobs! There are many things around the house that you can do without having to bring in outside help. Or at the very least, you can get started and bring in someone else to finish later. One common pitfall for aspiring DIYers is not quite being prepared for the task at hand. Since the current goal is to limit trips out of the house to only the essentials, it’s a good time to take stock of what you have on hand and determine what if anything you might need for those DIY projects. Here are some common things that you should check so you’ll know if you need to make a trip to stock up.

Common Supplies

There are a few things that will come in handy for almost any DIY project. These are items like sandpaper, wood glue, cleaners, rags, tape and lubricants. While not all of these will be used for every project you might tackle, if you don’t have any of them on hand then you’ll likely need to restock before your tasks are finished.

Tools

It’s hard to do it yourself if you don’t have anything to do it with. At the very least you’ll likely need tools like a drill, a hammer, Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers, wrenches and other common tools. If you have specific tasks in mind that require specialized tools, then you’ll need to make sure that you have those on hand too. You should also check to make sure that your tools are in good condition; too much rust or other corrosion can cause serious problems and possibly even result in broken tools once you get to work.

Screws, Nails and Fasteners

Chances are, you’ll need to have some screws, nails or other fasteners for the work that you’re doing. Don’t just assume that whatever you have on hand will work for any job, though. Screws for example come in different lengths, materials and head types, and if they don’t match the job that you’re doing or the tools that you have then you’re not going to be happy with the results.

Brushes and Rollers

Will you be doing any painting, staining or other similar applications? Make sure that you have the right type of brushes, rollers and other application tools for the job. Different types of paints, stains and glues/pastes all apply differently, so you’ll need to match your tools to the type of material you want to put down.

Shovels and Garden Tools

Working outside is a pretty common DIY task, but make sure that you have the right tools for the job. Shovels, hoes and rakes are all common outdoor tools, but you may also need a tiller or other equipment as well. You should also make sure that you have the right type of shovel or rake for your needs. A flat-nose shovel is good for spreading gravel, for instance, but won’t do you a lot of good if you need to dig a hole to plant a shrub.

Getting Ready to DIY

Once you’ve taken an inventory of the supplies you have with you, make a list of the DIY tasks you’d like to tackle around the house. See how your current supplies will meet the needs of those tasks, writing down anything that you seem to be missing. Take your time to plan out your various DIY projects, prioritizing those things that you can do without any additional materials. If you absolutely must get additional materials for your projects, do your best to make a list of everything that you’ll need so that you can wrap up your DIY shopping with a single trip. Or, better yet, place an online order that’s shipped directly to your house.
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Activities You Can Do With the Whole Family

With the current state of the world, people are spending more time at home than ever. This provides for some great opportunities to bond as a family, and also gives some of us a bit more time to get things done around the house. Spending more time with your family can lead to some questions, though. One of the biggest is “Exactly what are we supposed to do now that we’re together?” Without the breaks afforded by work, school and other activities, trying to come up with activities for the whole family can seem a bit overwhelming. If you need some ideas on how to spend that family time, here are a few suggestions to get you started. Not only will these ideas help you to spend some quality time together as a family, but some of them might help you with some of those tasks around the house as well!

Planning (and Planting) a Garden

Even though the year has gotten off to a rocky start, time waits for no one. We’re already getting into gardening season, so it’s time to start prepping the soil and starting your seeds. Since you’ve got the family all there at home, try to get everyone else involved as well. Plan out the size and shape of your garden plot and make a list of everyone’s favorite fruits and veggies to help decide what to plant. You can even get younger kids involved by letting them make row markers featuring pictures of everything you plan to grow.

Family Game Nights

Game nights are a classic, but sometimes it can be hard to fit them in. Timing isn’t as much of an issue these days, however, so let’s play some games! These could be anything from board games to multiplayer video games or even tabletop role-playing games. Let the family decide on the specifics and plan out a new game night every week to help keep everyone entertained.

Movie Time

Going to the movies is a popular family activity. Just because the theaters are closed doesn’t mean you have to give up on enjoying a film together, though. Make some popcorn, break out some snacks and cue up a favorite film on the TV. Several studios are releasing movies for sale or rental early, and some have even put new releases up for rental on streaming services even though they should still be in a theatrical run, so you can still catch some of the films that you might have planned on seeing as a family anyway.

Plan Some Redecorations

Were you hoping to redecorate this spring? You still can, and you can get the family involved in the process as well. Let everyone help pick out paint colors and decorations, especially in their bedroom or other rooms where they spend a significant amount of time. Even if you can’t get everything that you need for the project right now, this will let you plan things out in advance so that you’ll be ready to start once it’s go time.

Activities From a Hat

If you aren’t sure what to do, have everyone get together and make a list of three things that you’d like to do as a family. Once you’ve got the lists made, put them all on a hat or other container and draw one of the lists out. Look at the listed items and let the family vote on which activity you’d like to do from the list. If you’re worried that the same person might win too many times, the next time you do it, have the person who won sit out the suggestions and be the one to draw the winning list instead.

Time Alone, Together

Sometimes, one of the best things that you can do as a family is just relax and enjoy each other’s company. Don’t assume that you have to fill up every available moment with activities. Take some time to read books, give the kids some screen time or do some other individual downtime activities. You can take this downtime in the same room, spending casual time together without having to be “on” and actively doing things together all the time.
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