Tending Your September Garden: Week by Week

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve got some great Georgia Gardening tips and advice for the month of September from Walter Reeves, the most respected garden guru in the Southeast. They’re even broken down into weekly activities.

FIRST WEEK:
Fertilize salvia and chrysanthemums with liquid plant food. They will reward you with lots of blooms later this fall.

Examine your flower beds for tired out perennials like Shasta daisy, black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower. You can cut off dead flowers and brown foliage to neaten the plants for fall.

Preserve excess basil leaves by pureeing in a blender with a little water. Freeze the slush in an ice tray and use the cubes in your wintertime spaghetti sauce.

Lightly trim back the tropical hibiscus you kept outdoors for the summer. Make plans for where you’ll place it indoors in bright light.

Divide daylily, iris and monkey grass while you still have several weeks of warm weather to encourage root growth.

SECOND WEEK:
Spot spray the broadleaf weeds in your lawn with a herbicide labeled for their control.

You can’t live in the South without trying a muscadine: Pop it in your mouth, suck the pulp out of the skin, enjoy the juice, then spit out the skin and seeds. What a delicious mess!

It’s a great time to plant peony roots. A good, old-time favorite is ‘Festiva Maxima’. For real excitement, plant a tree peony and get huge blooms next May.

Before planting fescue seed, wipe out weeds with a fast-acting but short-lived weed killer. Use glyphosate (Roundup, etc) now; you can seed in seven days.

Bermuda lawns sometimes, but not always, benefit from a “winterizer” fertilizer application. Do it now when growth has slowed but before frost turns the grass brown.

Did chickweed and annual bluegrass run rampant in your lawn last spring? Now’s the time to put out a pre-emergent weed preventer on lawns you’ll not overseed this fall.

THIRD WEEK:
Spring-flowering bulbs are on sale now. You can buy them – but don’t put them in the ground until soil temperatures are in the 60′s or cooler in early October.

Time to plant cool season vegetable seedlings. Broccoli, collards and cabbage plants should be available at garden centers.

Watch out for saddleback caterpillars feeding on the leaves of trees and weeds. Their poisonous bristles can leave a nasty welt on your skin.

Examine patio plants for insects if you intend to bring them indoors. Treat with insecticide if necessary.

Time for the first application of fertilizer on fescue grass. This cool season turf needs fertilizer in September, November, February and April.

FOURTH WEEK:
Cooler weather means it’s time to plant shrubs and trees. Make sure to dig a hole three times as wide as the root ball.

Propagate limber-limbed hydrangea, grape and forsythia plants by placing a thin branch on the ground and partially covering it with soil and a brick.

Planting a new fescue lawn? Use 6 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet.

Replace all of the mulch under roses, red tip photinia and crabapples. You’ll prevent diseases on next year’s leaves.

For more information and helpful links, visit http://www.walterreeves.com/seasonal-gardening-calendar/september/.

Home Sizes Make an Unexpected Turn

We’ve been hearing a lot about the downsizing trend taking hold in new homes, and that the square footage of homes is shrinking. But if you look at the latest housing stats from the Census Bureau, you might be scratching your head on that theory.

New-home sizes are actually increasing, an unexpected find that at first had a lot of people in the housing industry a little stumped. Home buyers are asking for smaller homes, not larger homes, according to field reports from those in the real estate industry. So what gives?

First off, let’s keep this in perspective: New-home sizes only grew by 88 square feet last year. But this marked the first year in four years that the average square foot of homes has grown, according to Census data. Homes in 2011 were 2,480 square feet compared to 2,392 square feet in 2010.

“Why was this happening when most people want smaller homes, want to downsize?” Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research at the National Association of Home Builders, told MSNBC.com. “This is exactly so counterintuitive to what we know is happening on the ground.”

The latest stats show that new-homes actually seem to be getting supersized, not downsized: Nearly 40 percent of new single-family homes in 2011 had four or more bedrooms, 28 percent had three or more bathrooms, and 54 percent of new homes were two stories or taller.

But housing analysts say there are several possible reasons for the disconnect in what home buyers are increasingly saying they want nowadays — which is small homes — and the bigger home size numbers.

The numbers may be slightly skewed by the upper-end buyers, which tended to drive most of new buys last year, along with move-up buyers. Both upper-end buyers and move-up buyers tend to show preference to bigger homes. However, in a more normal market, it’s the first-time home buyers who tend to dominate, and they’re saying they want smaller.

Also, the numbers may be skewed a bit because there was a lot fewer homes to take into account in the 2011 data. The new-home industry posted its worst year on record for construction in 2011.

So while the statistics say square footage is on the rise in new homes, we probably shouldn’t all wave the banners that the McMansion is back …quite yet. According to recent home buyer surveys, more buyers are saying small is better as they look for a home that is more affordable and cheaper to maintain.

 

Article URL: http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2012/07/16/home-sizes-make-anunexpected-turn/

July Housing Starts Beat Year-Ago Levels But Decline from June

Housing starts soared above year-ago levels in July with 746,000 homes under construction, up 21.5% from 614,000 units last year, but were down slightly from June levels.

Housing starts in July soared above year ago levels with 746,000 units under construction, up 21.5% from 614,000 starts in July 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau said. Still, starts fell 1.1% from 754,000 units in June.

Single-family housing starts hit 502,000 units in July, down 6.5% from 537,000 a month earlier. Construction projects with five housing units or more resulted in 229,000 starts.

New housing construction projects completed in July also rose 7.1% to 668,000 units, up from 624,000 completions in June. Completed construction projects grew 5.4% from July of 2011 when only 634,000 units were completed.

Building permits, a measure of future construction, rose 6.8% from June to July, with 812,000 permits filed last month, compared to 760,000 in June. That figure also is up 29.5% from last year when permits reached a more modest level of 627,000.

Analysts with Econoday called the report “net positive with starts close to expectations and permits notably above.”

“With recently improved homebuilder sentiment corroborating, it looks like housing is on a modest uptrend,” Econoday said. “Equity futures were little changed on the news. Released at the same time, jobless claims were very close to expectations.”

 

Source URL: http://housingwire.com/news/july-housing-starts-rise-215-over-last-year

Metro Area Home Prices Rise

Median existing single-family home prices are rising in more metropolitan areas, but a lack of inventory — notably in lower price ranges — is limiting buyer choices in an increasing number of markets around the country, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).

The median existing single-family home price rose in 110 out of 147 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) based on closings in the second quarter in comparison with same quarter in 2011; three areas were unchanged and 34 had price declines. In the first quarter of 2012 there were 74 areas showing price gains from a year earlier, while in the second quarter of 2011 only 41 metros were up.

Positive Signs

A separate breakout of income requirements to buy a home on a metro basis shows a wide range of conditions, but most buyers had ample income in the second quarter assuming they could meet mortgage credit standards.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home prices are set to rise in even more markets during upcoming quarters. “It’s most encouraging to see a growing number of metro areas with rising median prices, which is improving the equity position of existing homeowners. Inventory has been trending down and home builders are still under-producing in relation to growing demand,” he said. “Some of the improvement in prices is due to a smaller share of sales in low price ranges where inventory is tight.”

The national median existing single-family home price was $181,500 in the second quarter, up 7.3 percent from $169,100 in the second quarter of 2011. This is the strongest year-over-year increase since the first quarter of 2006 when the median price rose 9.4 percent, but even with the gain the current price is 20.1 percent below the record set in 2006.

The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions.

Distressed homes — foreclosures and short sales which sold at deep discounts — accounted for 26 percent of second quarter sales, down from 33 percent a year ago.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, slipped 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.54 million in the second quarter from 4.57 million in the first quarter, but were 8.6 percent above the 4.18 million pace during the second quarter of 2011.

At the end of the second quarter there were 2.39 million existing homes available for sale, which is 24.4 percent below the close of the second quarter of 2011 when there were 3.16 million homes on the market. There has been a steady downtrend since inventories set a record of 4.04 million in the summer of 2007.

According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged a record low 3.80 percent in the second quarter, down from 3.92 percent in the first quarter and 4.66 percent in the second quarter of 2011.

A Look at Buyers

NAR President Moe Veissi said buying power is historically high. “Home buyers today can stay well within their means. Record low mortgage interest rates and an over-correction in home prices have opened the door to many potential buyers,” he said.

“What we need now is additional inventory in the lower price ranges, so we hope banks will be releasing more foreclosure inventory into the market. With gains apparent in all of the price measures, banks also should have more confidence in expanding mortgage credit to home buyers using safe but sensible standards,” Veissi said.

A breakout of incomes needed to purchase a median-priced existing single-family home by metro area shows the typical buyer has ample income. Required income amounts are determined using several downpayment percentages, assuming a mortgage interest rate of 4 percent and 25 percent of gross income devoted to mortgage principal and interest.

The national median family income was $61,000 in the second quarter. However, to purchase a home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5 percent down payment would only need an income of $39,900. With a 10 percent down payment the required income is $37,800, while with 20 percent down the necessary income is $33,600.

“Because the income required to buy to a typical home is very manageable by historical standards, any further decline in mortgage interest rates will have little effect. Changes in underwriting guidelines would have a far greater impact,” Yun said.

In the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices — covering changes in 53 metro areas — showed the national median existing-condo price was $178,000 in the second quarter, up 7.5 percent from the second quarter of 2011. Twenty-nine metros showed increases in their median condo price from a year ago and 24 areas had declines.

First-time buyers purchased 34 percent of all homes in the second quarter, compared with 33 percent in the first quarter and 35 percent in the second quarter of 2011. Historically they are close to 40 percent of the market.

The share of all-cash home purchases was 29 percent in the second quarter, down from 32 percent in the first quarter; it was 30 percent in the second quarter of 2011. Investors, who make up the bulk of cash purchasers and compete with first-time buyers, accounted for 19 percent of all transactions in the second quarter, down from 22 percent in the first quarter; they were 19 percent a year ago.

Around the Country

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 0.6 percent in the second quarter but are 10.6 percent above the second quarter of 2011. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast declined 1.6 percent to $241,300 in the second quarter from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales rose 1.3 percent in the second quarter and are 16.2 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest rose 7.5 percent to $149,400 in the second quarter from the same quarter in 2011.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 1.3 percent in the second quarter and are 7.7 percent above the second quarter of 2011. The regional median existing single-family home price increased 7.4 percent to $163,200 in the second quarter from a year earlier.

With tight inventory, existing-home sales in the West fell 5.3 percent in the second quarter but are 3.0 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West jumped 13.4 percent to $234,000 in the second quarter from the second quarter of 2011. “Inventory is pretty tight in all prices ranges in most of the West except for the upper end, which accounts for the sharp price gain,” Yun noted.

 

Source: NAR. Article URL: http://realtormag.realtor.org/node/12077?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DailyRealEstateNews+%28Daily+Real+Estate+News%29

Freddie Mac: Threat of shadow inventory subsides, home prices rise

It’s often feared a shadow inventory of homes will flood the housing market derailing the fragile recovery that some now believe is under way. But a new report from Freddie Mac says this view may be too pessimistic given today’s rising home prices and falling REO levels.

While the real estate market has its share of distressed loans and assets looming on the sidelines, the nation’s excess supply of vacant properties continues to fall, simultaneously making room for more REO absorption, Freddie said in its August “U.S. Economic & Housing Market Outlook” report.

“This continuing shrinkage in excess vacant stock is important because it means that in most markets the REO homes on the for-sale market are not competing with an oversized vacant housing inventory,” the government-sponsored enterprise asserted in its report. “Thus, REO homes may be more attractive to investors and first-time buyers because fewer vacant homes are available, and REO sales will have less effect on other home sales or home values.”

The rental vacancy rate alone fell to 8.6% in the latest Freddie report, its lowest point since 2002. The for-sale vacancy rate also declined to 2.1%, a six-year low. The market also is seeing fewer REOs with CoreLogic’s sales database revealing that REO sales made up only 13.5% of all May sales, their lowest share in four years.

The good news is a smaller supply of REOs can buoy home prices. That trend is already occurring with Freddie’s home price index rising 4.8% from March to June, the largest quarterly increase in 8 years. The national index also posted a year-over-year gain of 1%.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia saw home values rise during the 12-month period leading up to June 2012, the largest number of states with positive annual appreciation in five years.

Just a few years ago, the nation faced an “unprecedented oversupply of housing stock,” Freddie said. But with homebuilding suppressed for years and more households finally forming, a great deal of that excess inventory has already been absorbed, the GSE said.

Article URL: http://www.housingwire.com/news/freddie-mac-threat-shadow-inventory-subsides-home-prices-rise

Survey Reveals What Americans Want With Home Exteriors, Interiors

More Americans are showing their love for the great outdoors with their homes, seeking more outdoor living spaces at home that can blend in with their indoor spaces too, according to the American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey for the first quarter of 2012. AIA surveyed nationwide architects to discover home preferences. The first quarter survey focused on home layout and the use of interior and exterior space.

“In the last few years, outdoor living spaces have become the new ‘great room’ in terms of must-have items for home owners,” says Kermit Baker, AIA’s chief economist. “As people are more interested in adapting their property to their long-term needs rather than readying it for sale, we are seeing more attention paid to landscaping and features that have some return-on-investment like rainwater catchment systems.”

Nearly two-thirds of the architects surveyed said that outdoor living space, covered outdoor space, and outdoor rooms are increasing in popularity. The outdoor feature gaining the most in popularity, however, is low-maintenance, low-irrigation landscaping, according to the survey.

Architects also reported higher demand for exterior and security lighting.

Americans want to enjoy the outdoors but they also want to be comfortable indoors with a flexible, open space, the survey finds. Architects reported a continued rising demand among home owners for open space and flexible home layouts, such as wider hallways and fewer steps. More than half of the architects surveyed said that open space layouts are increasing in popularity, opposed to separately defined and enclosed rooms in a home.

 

Article URL:

http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2012/07/23/survey-reveals-what-americans-want-with-home-exteriors-interiors/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+StyledStagedSold+%28Styled%2C+Staged+%26+Sold%3A+Entries%29

Housing Recovery Brightens Fannie Mae Economic Outlook

Fannie Mae released its August 2012 Economic Outlook report, which shows housing on the upside with residential investment projected to contribute at least 0.2 percentage points to real gross domestic product. Fannie Mae economist adds housing is “showing signs of a durable, long-term recovery.”

Housing remains a bright spot in an economy where consumer spending dropped nearly a percentage point in the second quarter and a looming year-end fiscal cliff is haunting the financial markets, Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group said Tuesday.

The group released its August 2012 Economic Outlook, which shows housing doing well with residential investment projected to contribute at least 0.2 percentage points to real gross domestic product in 2012. If that does occur, it will be residential real estate’s first contribution to annual GDP since 2005.

The expected increase in home sales is supposed to come in at 9% above 2011 levels. Inventories also dropped over the past 12 months, leading to a smaller supply and a gradual uptick in homebuilding in certain markets.

While housing may be brighter today, Fannie Mae’s chief economist Doug Duncan remains cautious about the remainder of the year.

“The July data hasn’t changed our forecast for slow growth in 2012, but we’re increasingly focused on the looming ‘fiscal cliff’ near year-end,” Duncan said. “The debt ceiling debate, as well as current legislation that could create a drag of more than 4% on GDP in 2013, may spur further caution among consumers and businesses alike. On the bright side, we continue to see positive trends in the housing sector, which is showing signs of a durable, long-term recovery.”

The economy itself remains shaky with inflation-adjusted consumer spending falling nearly a percentage point in the second quarter — the first spending drop since last August. Those factors were offset by stronger July retail sales and the strongest jobs report in five months with 163,000 positions created last month.

Duncan suggested consistent job growth could lift the ailing economy and the confidence of small businesses, but risks to the overall economic outlook remain on the downside.

 

Home Depot Sees Signs of Improving Housing Market

ATLANTA (AP) — The Home Depot Inc. is feeling more optimistic about the recovery of the housing market after customers spent more on sprucing up their homes in the second quarter.

The country’s biggest home-improvement retailer said last Tuesday that strong cost controls and healthy sales of paint, bathroom accessories and kitchen installations helped lift its net income by 12 percent during the period.

The Atlanta-based company boosted its full-year outlook, citing its performance so far this year.

In a conference call with investors, Chairman and CEO Frank Blake noted that some of the strongest growth in the latest quarter came from the markets that were hit hardest in the downturn, such as California and Florida.

“These are encouraging signs of stabilization in the housing market,” Blake said.

He also noted that the housing market is now a contributor to the country’s gross domestic product, rather than a drag. Another positive sign for Home Depot: the Commerce Department said Tuesday that Americans boosted their spending at retail businesses in July by the largest amount in five months, as spending increased on furniture and building materials, among other items.

Still, the housing market is still a long way from returning to its heyday before the recession. Home Depot’s net sales in the quarter rose just 2 percent from a year ago and came in short of Wall Street expectations. And although the company lifted its earnings-per-share forecast, it didn’t update its outlook that sales for the year would grow by 4.6 percent.

When the housing market is weak, companies such as Home Depot struggle because new construction slows and contractors don’t spend as much on supplies. Homeowners also pull back on projects, such as kitchen or bathroom renovations.

Although customers still aren’t spending as much on their homes as during the housing bubble, Home Depot said it saw signs of improvements in key areas.

Overall, revenue at stores open at least a year rose 2.1 percent, which was slower than the 4.3 percent growth last year. The company noted that the warm winter pulled sales of many seasonal items, such as gardening products, into the first quarter.

In the U.S., where the majority of Home Depot’s stores are located, the figure rose 2.6 percent. The metric is a key gauge of a retailer’s health because it strips out the impact of recently opened or closed locations.

Transactions of $900 or more, which make up about 20 percent of U.S. sales, rose 3.4 percent in the quarter, as appliance, kitchen and flooring sales increased. Transactions of $50 or less, which also make up about 20 percent of sales, were down 0.7 percent.

The company attributed the decline to the sales of seasonal items into the first quarter.

Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst with NBG Productions, noted that the improvement in sales of bigger-ticket items suggests consumers are opening up to the possibility of larger projects, such as redoing their cabinets. They’re also spending on other items.

“People are buying lawn mowers and other items they weren’t necessarily buying in 2010 or 2011, when they just didn’t want to put that on their credit cards,” he said.

Home Depot’s total operating expenses also eased to $4.46 billion during the quarter, down 3 percent from a year ago. The improvement was partly the result of tight cost controls and a new regulation that caps the amount banks can charge retailers when customers pay with debit cards.

In the second half of the year, however, Home Depot expects expenses to rise as it spends on new call centers and other operational improvements.

Looking ahead, Home Depot now expects fiscal 2012 earnings of $2.95 per share, up from the $2.90 per share it previously forecast. Revenue is still expected to rise 4.6 percent, implying $73.63 billion.

Analysts expect earnings of $2.92 per share on revenue of $73.95 billion.

Home Depot runs more than 2,200 stores. Its smaller rival Lowe’s Cos. reports its earnings Monday.

Shares of Home Depot rose $1.89, or 3.6 percent, to close Tuesday at $54.71.

 

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Article URL: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ge9BFS9_z3KGqa4bhKF_mXaZ1G_w?docId=802a89153c614305972634add2f05076

5 Unique Grills To Fire Up Your Backyard This Summer

Americans love to grill, and from suburban backyards to estates, rural farms to tiny urban decks, virtually everyone with the outdoor space for it has some kind of grill, from tiny charcoal hibachis to a classic Weber kettle to a multi-burner propane grill. In year-round outdoor living hotspots like Scottsdale and Southern California, more serious cooks have full outdoor kitchens, while the explosion of interest in slow cooked barbecue has seen a corresponding jump in the sales of more complex smokers and once niche grills like the Big Green Egg.

But no matter what grill you have, there is always the temptation that there is some food you could cook even better with a new and different grill, and some folks are running two, three, four or more different fiery cooking apparatuses in their backward. But there’s a very good chance you don’t have any of these cool and unique devices, and acquiring one will make you the envy of the neighborhood.

But be careful what you wish for – once you install one of these bad boys in your yard, you will be expected to entertain, and you might have trouble keeping the guests away.

1. A Taste of Buenos Aires: Argentina is the most barbecue happy country on earth, eating roughly twice the amount of beef per capita as we do in the states – and it is all cooked almost exactly the same way, on a parilla grill over an open fire of chopped wood and logs. Argentina is home to some of the finest cattle producers and steakhouses on the planet, but they take a very different approach, eschewing sauté pan sears and ultra-high temperature commercial broilers for flame grilling, cooking their steaks slowly until thoroughly and evenly cooked, not crusty on the outside like our high-end steakhouses. They go with a constant heat and control it by raising and lowering the grill. It is caveman-simple, yet fun, authentic and delicious. Here in the US, for 30 years a company called Grillworks has been making very heavy-duty, very high quality versions of these traditional Argentinean grills, and they are as functional as they are beautiful – and will last a lifetime. Many are in use at famous hotels and restaurants around the country. They are the best.

Grillworks does many custom jobs, restaurants, kitchens and permanent outdoor installations of all types andsizes, but also make a range of 10 free-standing ready to order grills, including the original Grillery, which launched the company three decades ago. All of these models feature one or two of the signature oversized crankwheels for adjusting grates, are completely made of heavy gauge stainless steel, and feature V-shaped grate bars and lots of smart features for easy cleanup. They that look just like the ones found inside the kitchens of the finest steakhouses in Buenos Aires. These beauties do not come cheap – the entry level original Grillery runs $2,750 and the top of the line home model, the Dual 42 CRE, with two independently controlled grates, is $8,875. Their top of the line Infierno has to be seen to be believed, and it is not the Cadillac of grills but more like the rock star tour bus of grills, with prices and specs on request. Get something from Grillworks and your neighbors won’t just envy you, they will take pictures!

2. Go Caveman, With Style: FireGrill takes a simpler approach to cooking over an open fire – but is no less aesthetically pleasing. That’s because its creator, Charly Kocher, is Swiss, an engineer, and a restaurateur who ran an Asian-European fusion restaurant in Boston for 20 years. One winter day he was relaxing in front of his fireplace when he had the idea for a well machined modular grilling system that could cook over coal or wood, inside or out, in the fireplace or at the beach.

The FireGrill’s heart is a heavy duty stand (all the components are Swiss-engineered and made in the USA of cast iron or carbon steel with high-heat resistant coating) to which the other components can be mounted. The most basic configuration is a large rectangular grill that can easily be raised and lowered while cooking, but there is also a pot hanger for a cowboy-style Dutch oven, a 6-skewer shish-kabob rack, a ring for a wok, even a motorized rotisserie. There is also a wok-shaped fire pit for holding coal. The grill and stand run around $300, and as shown, with fire pit, $407. I cooked with this unit at BBQ University (which I wrote about last week) and it is bulletproof, fun and very, very portable.

3. Super Simple Smoking: The burgeoning popularity of authentic American barbecue in the Southern and Texan styles has led to rash of new home converts to the “low and slow” cooking style. This involves cooking meat with heated smoke in the most indirect fashion possible, without ever really touching the flame, usually in a tightly controlled temperature range of 225-250° for a long time – a rack of ribs takes 5-6 hours, a whole brisket 12-14. The results are fantastic, but it is as much art as science (maybe more), with a healthy dose of mysticism, and it is not a type of cooking to take up lightly. The pitmasters at roadside shacks in the Carolinas or BBQ temples in rural Texas make it look easy, but only because most of them have been doing it for decades. At home, keeping the temperature constant whilefeeding the fire, in varying weather conditions, having enough natural hardwood charcoal and even cleaning up are all bigger chores than they look – I know because I smoke a lot of food, using an upright water smoker, and I have judged some of the most prestigious barbecue competitions in the world. To be honest there are times I choose not to smoke because of all the labor involved (and because I don’t have a Traeger). It’s a rewarding pursuit but frankly, most part-time ‘cuers wish it could be just as good but easier. That’s where a pellet smoker comes in. Same exact cooking method, except it burns wood pellets, fed automatically. Set it to the temperature you want – say 235° – and it stay at 235°, period, end of story. If it needs a refill, you pour more pellets in the hopper . That’s it. And no one has more experience or a better reputation making pellet smokers than Traeger.

Push a button it lights, and 4-minutes later you are ready to smoke – no newspaper, coal chimneys, matches, or waiting for the smoke to die down. If you line the bottom pan with foil, clean up consists of throwing it away. With a flip of the dial you can high-temperature grill, bake, roast or braise in the same machine – even cook pizzas. Also, Traeger makes eight flavors of wood pellets, just like the hardwood chunks I buy for my smoker, apple, cherry, mesquite, oak, etc., all 100% natural with no binders or chemicals. The briskets and ribs coming off the Traeger taste just as good as almost any smoker run by someone who knows what they are doing – and better than those run by most people. If you have room for only one grill but wanted to cover all the bases of cooking with fire, this is the one you need. The only knock on the Traeger is that it makes cooking too simple and easy – barbecue expert and author Steven Raichlen said, “There’s no challenge to smoking with it because nothing can go wrong.”Shown is the Texas Grill, their most popular model ($999). Four other residential models are available ($399-$1,199).

4. Pizza Pizzaz! If barbecue is a trend, than brick oven pizza is a cult – these restaurants have popped up in every city and across the country, sometimes by the dozen. There are three brick oven pizzerias within 15 minutes of my home in rural Vermont! Why the sudden popularity? Because the stuff cooked in these ovens tastes great! So who wouldn’t want such an oven in their backyard? After all they do a lot more than make pizza – in Italy they bake breads, roast meats and vegetables, cook the entire meal in one.

Most residential backyard brick ovens or brick pizza ovens are homemade, from plans or kits, because these are hard to ship and stores don’t stock them. But there are exceptions, most notably Forno Bravo, the undisputed king of wood burning ovens. They do it all – restaurant installations, full custom, home kits, and fully built home ovens delivered to you. An 80s rock-star-turned-journalist I know in LA has a Forno Bravo and loves it. The choices are truly staggering. The turnkey Primavera 60 with stand as shown costs $2,150 and other fully assembled, ready to cook versions run $1,950-$3,800. Complete “modular” kits for do-it-yourself assembly span a greater range of sizes, run $1,250-$5,150 and come with everything from the stainless steel chimney and metal door to the dome, insulation, and mortar.

5. Churrascaria Your Way: Yesterday I featured the Carson Rotisserie Grill in detail on its own because it is so one-of-a-kind, so cool looking, so practical, so affordable and so totally unexpected. It basically replicates the Brazilian churrasco style of restaurant cooking and serving on rotisserie skewers at home (think chains like Fogo de Chao or Texas de Brazil). The Carson Rotisserie cooks up to seven skewers and 60 pounds of food at once, with no flipping, basting and nice even cooking, all in a compact grill that folds into a suitcase and runs on a rechargeable battery at the beach or tailgate.

This is simply my favorite grill of the year, revolutionary, and you can read a lot more detail about it in yesterday’s piece. But the bottom line is this: for $729 you can instantly transform your backyard into the hottest eatery in town. After all, summer is here and the grilling is easy.

 From Forbes Magazine contributor, Larry Olmsted.
URL: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2012/06/29/5-unique-grills-to-fire-up-your-backyard-this-summer/?feed=rss_home

A Digital Solution to Decorating Dilemmas

Even the most creative do it yourself types will admit decorating is tough work. All the choices available out there can be overwhelming and make it clear why interior designers get paid to do the job. HGTV shows or Better Homes and Gardens offer plenty of inspiration, but putting it all together to form a clear decorating scheme specific to your home is another thing. Houzz.com (a clever combination of the words “house” and “buzz”) helps solve the decorating dilemma.

Houzz is available as a website, iPhone app, and iPad app.  One reviewer suggested the apps are more user-friendly than the actual website simply because the website offers such a wealth of information it can start to feel overwhelming. But, no matter which avenue you pursue, it can be a great resource.

Depending on how you use it, Houzz can work a lot like Pinterest. Just like the idea and photo sharing social network, you can save images and ideas for later reference. You can also follow other dreamers and decorators for more ideas.  Similar ot Pinterest, you can also easily share photos with friends or family on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. It’s a great feature for getting feedback or even gift giving ideas. Unlike Pinterest, however, Houzz does give you the option of keeping your ideas and comments private.

Following decorating firms’ activities is a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends.  It’s also a great way to engage the latest trends and draw on others’ experiences by reading or adding questions and comments to discussions about product designs, availability, and design tips. Designers are inclined to offer solid advice because they are hoping to build their client base.

After you set up your account, you start saving images to Ideabooks. After you save 10 images to an Ideabook, Houzz starts making recommendations of similar images based on algorithms that determine what might be in line with your tastes and preferences.

One neat feature on the website and the apps are the green tags that hang from some items in pictures of different rooms. On the iPhone or iPad, the tags actually swing as if hanging in a real store when the device moves. The tags indicate a professional has marked the item and clicking on the tag reveals information like where to purchase the item and how much it costs. Another neat and new feature is the Houzz Lightbox, which will start a slide-show for scrolling through images faster.

One drawback to the site is that some of the items that catch your fancy may not be available to the public. In other words, you may have to be in the design trade to buy them. But, if you really like an item and find it either out of your price range or just completely unavailable, pay attention to the discussions. You can often get some great advice- like where to buy a similar item much cheaper- from other decorators or savvy shoppers.

If you’re still not confident about tackling decorating, Houzz is also a great resource for finding a decorator in your area. Each photo of a room includes information about the designer. Since you can filter by location, this can be a great way to determine which local decorator best matches your style. Or, try the site’s Professionals section, which lists over 1 million suppliers, remodelers, and design professionals for hire that can also be filtered by location or category.