How to Plant Trees to Boost Property Value and “Curb Appeal”

Plant trees yourself and you'll save money, beautify your property, and increase its value. (Flickr/Beatrice Murch)Plant trees yourself and you’ll save money, beautify your property, and increase its value. (Flickr/Beatrice Murch)

It’s no coincidence that one of the first items renters add to their apartments is a plant. Having something living and growing in a rental unit can transform it from a generic living space into a home. It’s no surprise, then, that planting trees around your buildings can create curb appeal and make them more attractive to potential renters.

In addition to the beauty they provide, trees also provide shade that can keep homes cooler in warmer months, saving owners and renters on air conditioning, and act as buffers against freezing winds in winter, reducing heating costs.

Trees also add tremendous value to a property, according to the results of studies compiled by the Arbor Day Foundation. Benefits include:

Mature trees have a “‘strong or moderate impact’ on the saleability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98%,” 83% of realtors said in a study by Arbor National Mortgage & American Forests.

According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, “A mature tree can often have an appraised value of between $1,000 and $10,000.”

A Management Information Services/ICMA study says, “Landscaping, especially with trees, can increase property values as much as 20 percent.”

Trees clearly represent a long-term and potentially valuable investment. If you’re planning on adding new trees to your complex or yard, you certainly can do it yourself to save money, but you need to do it the right way, starting with choosing the right type of tree.

Choose the right trees for your environment

Climate plays an important role in planting. Newly planted trees do best when exposed to moderate temperatures and rainfall. They need time to root and acclimatize before the heat and dryness of the summer or the freezing temperatures of the winter months, which makes early fall — which is right around the corner — an excellent time to plant. (Spring and late winter are the other best times.)

In addition, depending on your property’s conditions, one species of tree may be a better choice than another. For example, oak trees like a certain degree of acidity in the soil, while willow trees love excessively moist soil. Other things homeowners might consider is the size, privacy, shade, and color that a tree may offer.

Talk to a local arborist about choosing the right trees for your property and consider your local climate before you buy. Even if you don’t hire the arborist to plant your trees, he or she will be glad to advise you on which type to buy (and, of course, sell you some healthy trees).

8 Steps for planting trees and caring for your investment

Once you’ve chosen the type of tree, here’s how you get it in the ground:

1. Prepare a hole two- to three-times as wide as the root ball of your tree

The most common mistake you can make is digging a hole that is too deep and narrow. If the hole is too deep, the roots will not have access to a sufficient amount of oxygen to ensure proper growth. If the hole is too narrow, the roots will not be able to expand enough to be able to nourish and structure the tree properly.

Before you start the actual digging process, spread a plastic tarp on the ground to the side where you plan on depositing the dirt. This will make it easier when you have to refill the hole. After the perfect hole is dug, you should then roughen the sides and bottom with a pick or shovel. This will help the roots grow strong into the soil.

2. Place the tree in the hole

Be firm yet cautious when removing the tree from the container. This is best done by laying the tree on its side with the container near the hole you just created. Speed is a very important factor in this process. You want to move quickly yet cautiously so the root or root balls don’t dry out. Once your tree is removed, loosen the roots from the sides and bottoms with your hands, then gently uncurl the roots so that they are facing away from the trunk. This ensures they won’t cut into the trunk as it expands.

3. Position the tree where you want it

Move the branches so they are not in the way of anything. (Fifteen inches from power lines, other trees, and roads is a good measure to stick to.) If you prefer to see a certain side, you can turn your tree to be in the viewpoint you want. If you choose to turn the tree, make sure you are lifting it by the root ball and not by the tree trunk base itself.

Have the root ball sitting a half-inch to 1-inch above the surrounding soil surface so that it will not rot as it grows later on.Fill around the root ball with the loose soil from your tarp. Use your heel or the handle of your shovel to press down on the dirt to collapse any large air pockets in the soil. This will help stabilize the tree in the hole. While doing this, constantly check the trunk of the tree to ensure that it’s straight.

4. Support your tree properly

A big mistake often made is over-staking trees. If your tree is sturdy, there is no need for extra support. If your tree does need support, make sure to place the stakes outside of the area you just soiled on opposite sides, approximately 18 inches from the trunk. From the stakes, place tree tape loosely around the trunk. The ties should be loose enough to allow the tree to move back and forth slightly in high wind. Stakes are usually needed for up to six to 12 months.

5. Water!

Make sure to water the tree shortly after planting it. Your tree is going to need about 15 gallons of water over the next couple of weeks, so continue to consistently water it. After awhile, the tree’s roots will have reached the outside soil and will gradually need to be watered less and less.

6. Mulch!

Fertilizer is little to no help and could even be harmful to your new tree, but do go for mulch. Cover the planting area with a four-inch layer of mulch. Keep it at least two inches away from the base of the trunk. According to Fra-dor, Inc, a landscape supply company, mulch serves several important purposes.

“As a protective layer, mulch guards against harmful variations in soil temperature, traps the moisture in the soil, and fends off nasty weed growth,” say the folks from Fra-dor.

Mulch also prevents a hard crust from forming on the soil surface, and it serves as a great reminder to avoid stepping or mowing around the tree.

In addition to mulch, newly planted trees can benefit from Mycorrhizal Fungi. Adding this fungus to your soil will help promote the growth of the roots and discourage damaging fungi that could ruin the tree’s development.

7. Check your work

Now that your tree has been planted, there are two common situations you want to make sure you avoid:

Drowning — Double check the root moisture of your newly planted tree. The soil surface conditions are much different than what’s underneath, so do not let that fool you. Check the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. You want the soil to be moist and not soggy. Sprinklers are a very good way to not only save water but save you from this problem.

Suffocation — You want to avoid planting your tree too deep in the soil. The root crown, which is where trunk meets the roots, should be 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches above ground level.

8. Keep pruning

Now that your tree is safe and sound in the ground, it’s critical to keep up on its pruning. According to TreesAreGood.com, starting to prune your trees while they are young will mean easier maintenance in the future and less corrective action in the future.

Twin Cities-based Precision Landscape & Tree recommends pruning in the spring or fall.

“Pruning after the coldest part of the winter has passed is the most common time to prune,” a Precision pruning tip article advises. “Trimming during the tree’s dormancy allows for a very fertile spring. Pruning in the summer after your tree’s seasonal growth is over, is also an option if you aren’t a fan of the cold.”

The tree you add to your yard may require some special attention for a while, but the shade, beauty and environmental benefits it provides to our home, neighborhood and planet are well worth it.

Happy Planting!

Have any landscape success stories of your own? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

5 Simple, Proven Ways to Get Tenants to Sign Leases

Get that signature on the lease and then sigh with relief. (Flickr/Juli)Get that signature on the lease and then sigh with relief. (Flickr/Juli)

Often you hear about a new tenant or existing tenant who accepts the renewal or new tenancy, only to not sign the lease until move-in day or when the old lease is set to expire. What is your agency’s policy when it comes to getting leases signed? Do you or your staff rush around every month securing renewals and signings? Or do you follow up quickly to make sure you get those all-important signatures on the dotted line?

If “no” is the answer to that last question, letting your leases expire or waiting until the last minute reduces security for both the leaseholder, who might challenge your reputation if left without a home to live in, and the property owner, who might decide to part ways with you and enlist the services of another property manager.

Consider this unwelcome scenario: after telling the property owner his or her unit has been rented, you fail to get the lease signed by the tenant, who then decides to withdraw from the tenancy. Because you have told other applicants the property has been rented, the vacancy period becomes unexpectedly longer — and we all know what time equals. (Without that binding contract, prospective tenants can decide not to move in at any time, and it’s all legal.)

Follow these five easy — and I do mean easy — recommendations below, and you’ll never find yourself losing sleep (or money) over an unsigned lease.

1. Start your lease renewal process three months prior to the lease expiring.

First of all, this ensures a further term is secured for both the landlord and leaseholder with plenty of time before the lease expires. Secondly, this guarantees that the landlord has plenty of time to secure a new tenant should the current tenant decide not to renew for another term.

Thirdly, this allows enough time for you to provide ample notice to the tenant to vacate should the landlord not wish to renew. And finally, this three-month window provides ample time to negotiate any rent increase. Set up alerts to remind you three months before every lease expires using your property management system, or if you don’t have such a system, use a free tool like Google Calendar.

2. For new leases, ensure they’re signed as soon as the tenant accepts.

It’s always important to have the lease signed as soon as possible after acceptance of the property by tenant and property owner. We suggest 24 hours to ensure the tenancy is secured and to provide the necessary assurances to both tenant and landlord.

Financially, getting the lease signed within 24 hours rewards both the agent and the landlord, if you follow the best practice of collecting money upfront before the signing of any new lease. This enables the property owner to reduce the loss of rent while the property is still vacant and ensures you receive your commission promptly. Win, win!

3. Make lease signings easy.

Your company’s leasing process should be simple and streamlined. It’s equally important for both the landlord and the leaseholder to secure a lease on a property promptly. Always ensure you set the ground rules for the signing of leases and time frames for doing so. When terms are clear and simple, everyone enjoys peace of mind. It’s common sense and good business practice to ensure tenants understand their agreements in their entirety and the time frames for final decision-making.

At Jam Properties, we always make sure tenants come into the office to sign their leases. This gives us the time to sit down and explain the agreement they are entering into so they understand it completely. And if you’re thinking about sending leases in the mail or via email? I recommend avoiding that approach, unless the circumstances are exceptional.

4. A little incentive can go a long way.

With new tenancies, having the tenants commit to signing a lease quickly gives them the security of knowing they have landed a property. We have great little welcome gifts we give tenants when they sign their leases, simple things they tell us they love, such as vouchers for local gyms, beauty salons, and pizzerias.

5. Describe the rental market to tenants who delay their decision-making.

It’s a great idea to supply tenants with market research as to why the property is a great value. Often tenants tell us they will not renew their lease due to a rent increase, only to later to find themselves unable to secure another property to suit their needs, a decision they end up regretting. Educate your clients about what may or may not happen in the market to get them thinking that the more convenient, less expensive option is simply to renew.

In general, it’s good business to get on top of signing leases as quickly as possible, for the security of all parties, your own peace of mind, and your company’s reputation and financial well-being. And remember: without a signed lease in hand, as a property manager, you don’t have a binding contract!

Do you have any great suggestions to motivate tenants to sign on the dotted line? Please comment and tell us your ideas.

Choosing a rental applicant screening company: a guide for property managers

Let the pros handle rental applicant background checks for you. (Flickr/Olarte Ollie)Let the pros handle rental applicant background checks for you. (Flickr/Olarte Ollie)

Every property and apartment manager has his or her particular criteria for screening rental applicants. There are two basic ways to accomplish this: in-house, which can be problematic because accurate results aren’t guaranteed, and the leg work is time-consuming.  The other method: outsourcing background checks to a background screening company.

Should you elect to outsource, Google “renter applicant screening” or “background check,” and dozens of companies vying for your business will pop up. How do you determine which service provider is best for you? A full-service background screening company is your best bet. (Disclosure: I own and manage such a service, The Gold Shield Agency.)

What a full-service background screening company must provide

A full-service, background screening company meets these requirements:

The service verifies the applicant’s name, date of birth, and social security number.  This is necessary to avoid mistaken identity, which is a real possibility with both less familiar and very common names, people with more than one name or with hyphenated names, and women who have been married more than once. The goal here is to filter out those who may be representing themselves using false information.

The company is compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), such as a consumer reporting agency (CRA).  The FCRA was passed in October of 1970 and then strengthened in 1997 to insure accuracy of background checks, including those for the purpose of determining eligibility to rent and to protect the rights of applicants.

After an applicant’s personal information has been verified, the CRA will conduct a nationwide criminal background check which meets FCRA standards, as well as nationwide sexual offender, predator, and pedophile searches.

A full-service CRA will conduct a search of county and circuit court records in every county the applicant has lived for at least the past five years.  This is important to determine real-time credit information. For example, this search will reveal whether an applicants have been evicted, foreclosed, are “dead beat” parents or spouses, been sued for non-payment, had wages garnished, or have had other civil actions filed against them, such as a restraining order.

The CRA will customize a screening plan to meet your additional needs such as verifying employment, contacting former landlords or references, or running an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) search or Patriot Act Terrorist Watch list search.

Additionally, a good CRA:

Does background screening on its own employees before hiring them

Verifies the accuracy of your completed report

Has a program in place that defines their process for protecting the applicant’s personal information

Can provide you with the necessary release, consent, and information forms

Has a valid business license and a physical location

Presents a clearly defined pricing and payment schedule, with results returned to you the next business day

How to find a rental screening company

The proper screening of applicants is necessary to protect your property and the safety and security of other tenants, so it pays to establish a good working relationship with your CRA. But first you have to find one.  Ideally word of mouth, such as a referral from a colleague, is the best way.

A Google search will list the largest companies first before displaying the smaller ones.  Smaller may be better because it’s likely you will receive more attention.  Property manager social media groups, such as those found on Linkedin and Facebook, are another great resource.

Once you have narrowed the field (the CRA does not have to be local as they all have nationwide screening capabilities), call, or go to their office if it’s nearby, and interview the owner.  Don’t be bashful and clearly state your expectations. And finally, armed with this list of requirements I’ve put together for you, make sure to ask lots of questions.

This article is not intended to nor does it offer legal advice; contact your attorney for legal questions or concerns.  If you do need additional information, please email me at sandy@goldshieldli.com.

And if you have ideas of your own about finding the right tenant screening service, why not leave a comment and join the conversation?

How to Plant Trees to Boost Property Value and “Curb Appeal”

Plant trees yourself and you'll save money, beautify your property, and increase its value. (Flickr/Beatrice Murch)Plant trees yourself and you’ll save money, beautify your property, and increase its value. (Flickr/Beatrice Murch)

It’s no coincidence that one of the first items renters add to their apartments is a plant. Having something living and growing in a rental unit can transform it from a generic living space into a home. It’s no surprise, then, that planting trees around your buildings can create curb appeal and make them more attractive to potential renters.

In addition to the beauty they provide, trees also provide shade that can keep homes cooler in warmer months, saving owners and renters on air conditioning, and act as buffers against freezing winds in winter, reducing heating costs.

Trees also add tremendous value to a property, according to the results of studies compiled by the Arbor Day Foundation. Benefits include:

Mature trees have a “‘strong or moderate impact’ on the saleability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98%,” 83% of realtors said in a study by Arbor National Mortgage & American Forests.

According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, “A mature tree can often have an appraised value of between $1,000 and $10,000.”

A Management Information Services/ICMA study says, “Landscaping, especially with trees, can increase property values as much as 20 percent.”

Trees clearly represent a long-term and potentially valuable investment. If you’re planning on adding new trees to your complex or yard, you certainly can do it yourself to save money, but you need to do it the right way, starting with choosing the right type of tree.

Choose the right trees for your environment

Climate plays an important role in planting. Newly planted trees do best when exposed to moderate temperatures and rainfall. They need time to root and acclimatize before the heat and dryness of the summer or the freezing temperatures of the winter months, which makes early fall — which is right around the corner — an excellent time to plant. (Spring and late winter are the other best times.)

In addition, depending on your property’s conditions, one species of tree may be a better choice than another. For example, oak trees like a certain degree of acidity in the soil, while willow trees love excessively moist soil. Other things homeowners might consider is the size, privacy, shade, and color that a tree may offer.

Talk to a local arborist about choosing the right trees for your property and consider your local climate before you buy. Even if you don’t hire the arborist to plant your trees, he or she will be glad to advise you on which type to buy (and, of course, sell you some healthy trees).

8 Steps for planting trees and caring for your investment

Once you’ve chosen the type of tree, here’s how you get it in the ground:

1. Prepare a hole two- to three-times as wide as the root ball of your tree

The most common mistake you can make is digging a hole that is too deep and narrow. If the hole is too deep, the roots will not have access to a sufficient amount of oxygen to ensure proper growth. If the hole is too narrow, the roots will not be able to expand enough to be able to nourish and structure the tree properly.

Before you start the actual digging process, spread a plastic tarp on the ground to the side where you plan on depositing the dirt. This will make it easier when you have to refill the hole. After the perfect hole is dug, you should then roughen the sides and bottom with a pick or shovel. This will help the roots grow strong into the soil.

2. Place the tree in the hole

Be firm yet cautious when removing the tree from the container. This is best done by laying the tree on its side with the container near the hole you just created. Speed is a very important factor in this process. You want to move quickly yet cautiously so the root or root balls don’t dry out. Once your tree is removed, loosen the roots from the sides and bottoms with your hands, then gently uncurl the roots so that they are facing away from the trunk. This ensures they won’t cut into the trunk as it expands.

3. Position the tree where you want it

Move the branches so they are not in the way of anything. (Fifteen inches from power lines, other trees, and roads is a good measure to stick to.) If you prefer to see a certain side, you can turn your tree to be in the viewpoint you want. If you choose to turn the tree, make sure you are lifting it by the root ball and not by the tree trunk base itself.

Have the root ball sitting a half-inch to 1-inch above the surrounding soil surface so that it will not rot as it grows later on.Fill around the root ball with the loose soil from your tarp. Use your heel or the handle of your shovel to press down on the dirt to collapse any large air pockets in the soil. This will help stabilize the tree in the hole. While doing this, constantly check the trunk of the tree to ensure that it’s straight.

4. Support your tree properly

A big mistake often made is over-staking trees. If your tree is sturdy, there is no need for extra support. If your tree does need support, make sure to place the stakes outside of the area you just soiled on opposite sides, approximately 18 inches from the trunk. From the stakes, place tree tape loosely around the trunk. The ties should be loose enough to allow the tree to move back and forth slightly in high wind. Stakes are usually needed for up to six to 12 months.

5. Water!

Make sure to water the tree shortly after planting it. Your tree is going to need about 15 gallons of water over the next couple of weeks, so continue to consistently water it. After awhile, the tree’s roots will have reached the outside soil and will gradually need to be watered less and less.

6. Mulch!

Fertilizer is little to no help and could even be harmful to your new tree, but do go for mulch. Cover the planting area with a four-inch layer of mulch. Keep it at least two inches away from the base of the trunk. According to Fra-dor, Inc, a landscape supply company, mulch serves several important purposes.

“As a protective layer, mulch guards against harmful variations in soil temperature, traps the moisture in the soil, and fends off nasty weed growth,” say the folks from Fra-dor.

Mulch also prevents a hard crust from forming on the soil surface, and it serves as a great reminder to avoid stepping or mowing around the tree.

In addition to mulch, newly planted trees can benefit from Mycorrhizal Fungi. Adding this fungus to your soil will help promote the growth of the roots and discourage damaging fungi that could ruin the tree’s development.

7. Check your work

Now that your tree has been planted, there are two common situations you want to make sure you avoid:

Drowning — Double check the root moisture of your newly planted tree. The soil surface conditions are much different than what’s underneath, so do not let that fool you. Check the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. You want the soil to be moist and not soggy. Sprinklers are a very good way to not only save water but save you from this problem.

Suffocation — You want to avoid planting your tree too deep in the soil. The root crown, which is where trunk meets the roots, should be 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches above ground level.

8. Keep pruning

Now that your tree is safe and sound in the ground, it’s critical to keep up on its pruning. According to TreesAreGood.com, starting to prune your trees while they are young will mean easier maintenance in the future and less corrective action in the future.

Twin Cities-based Precision Landscape & Tree recommends pruning in the spring or fall.

“Pruning after the coldest part of the winter has passed is the most common time to prune,” a Precision pruning tip article advises. “Trimming during the tree’s dormancy allows for a very fertile spring. Pruning in the summer after your tree’s seasonal growth is over, is also an option if you aren’t a fan of the cold.”

The tree you add to your yard may require some special attention for a while, but the shade, beauty and environmental benefits it provides to our home, neighborhood and planet are well worth it.

Happy Planting!

Have any landscape success stories of your own? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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