By Rich Bruder:
I’ve lived in homes with small or no backyard since moving out of my parents’ house many years ago. Up until recently, I’ve lived within a 3 mile radius of Center City, Philadelphia. All but one of the places had a small cement backyard somewhere around 12 X 15 feet.
Now, I have more space but not a huge, hell of a lot more: roughly 25 x 35 feet. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they keep their backyard. I am a prime example of this assumption: I and my yard are low maintenance, my family and I like to cook outside, garden and quite frankly, just hang out. I have a wife, an 8 year-old daughter and a dog.
After years of moving and experimenting, I’ve crafted my list of 3 favorite small yard living tips. One of the things that drew me to the home I currently live in was very little yard space in front of my house. I wanted all my outdoor space in the back where I can enjoy it in privacy. Rather than a small front lawn, it had hardscaping along the front yard and edges around the backyard which I loved immediately. Little white pebbles don’t require mowing, or so I thought…What I didn’t know was the previous homeowner didn’t really do such a great job at prepping it so weeds and dandelions would grow out through the pebbles which is a huge drag to someone like myself. This leads me to easy yard living tip #1:
MULCH. Mulch comes in a variety of colors: black, brown and red. It requires 0 mowing unto itself. Laying it poorly will also result in weeds and such growing out from between it just like pebbles. But here’s the kicker: if you hit dandelions with a weed wacker on your pebbles you run the risk of slinging dangerous little pebbles into eyes and windows. Nobody has ever broken a window with a chunk of mulch that has taken flight.
Now mulch is great but we’d like a little greenery as well. Mulch is good for the front and the edges around the back fence because we don’t walk on it, for that you want something more grass-like. Grass requires mowing, watering and if you’re so inclined: weed killing. A perfect golf course style lawn is a lifestyle and is pretty much out of the question for a small yard housing a small family and their dog. You can shop for durable grass that can take the kind of abuse we’re laying down, but then you have to mow durable grass which is actually considerably more difficult on the weed-wacker I like to use to mow my tiny lawn.
Tip# 2 CLOVER! Although you don’t see it advertised, the people who make grass seed are aware that people like me exist. They package grass seed fortified with clover seed which not only is durable to child and dog play: it requires very little mowing! Clover is still a plant and doesn’t exactly thrive on pet urine, you do have to hose it down every so often to keep it alive and happy. Hey: nothing is perfect, but clover is good, durable stuff! Clover is a wild plant and may be considered a weed, but plants and soil thrive alongside it. We grow a vegetable garden every summer in it!
TIp #3: My last tip is on picking the right barbecue grill for small yard living. In my small yard journey, I’ve had a variety of gas grills, charcoal grills as well as gas and electric smokers. All grills require your attention: you’ll get flare ups on most grills that can burn your food if not attended properly. There are gas and electric grills advertised as infrared cookers that cook searing hot with indirect heat. They will never burn your food via flare up. They generally run too hot to cook things low and slow like barbecued brisket and ribs, so if you’re a fan of low and slow, you’ll need another cooker as well. I like to entertain but having a small yard means I’m not throwing huge lavish barbecues that may require a giant smoker like one might see on barbecue competitions on TV.
My favorite is the old school Weber Kettle charcoal grill. There’s a reason the design has changed so little in all the years they’ve made them: they’re awesome. With research and practice I’ve learned I can sear at temperatures over 600 degrees, as well as cook for hours at low and slow temperatures closer to 200 degrees. Gas grills have the advantage of being easier to light, but there’s nothing like a live fire for roasting hotdogs on a stick or making s’mores.
By Brooke L. Willmes:
I hope you all are doing well and staying healthy and sane! Last night, Governor Wolf extended our stay-at-home order until June 4th. As such, we (the business of real estate) continue to be deemed “non-essential” to life sustaining activities. What does this mean? We cannot physically interact with any clients in person, which means no showing houses, no in person meetings of any kind, no attendance at home inspections, no attending vacant houses without clients, no attendance at settlement.
Houses are still selling right now and in the past two weeks, the volume has definitely picked up. Why? Because there is a lot of pent up demand from the spring from people who would have been seeking to move anyway, leases that are ending in the summer that people don’t want to renew and ridiculously low interest rates. When inventory is an issue, which it is because everyone is holding their houses off the market that they are living in and the prevailing wisdom has been not to list anything if it cannot be shown, inventory is seriously at an all time low.
So how are people “seeing” houses they’re buying? While it’s not possible to have me take you on a showing, there are virtual tours for many homes. (Many real estate agents have been scrambling to get tours done by non-real estate professionals whom are allowed to go in vacant houses for listings that have been on the market prior to the stay-at-home order.) People are putting in offers, sight unseen and when their offer is accepted, they are able to see the home via the lockbox during a due diligence or inspection period. They can facetime with their agent when they’re in the house. If they don’t like the house, they can terminate the Agreement of Sale, which usually involves some time getting the first deposit back.
There are home inspection companies with exemptions to the Governor’s Order who come in after that will Facetime with you, being the next best thing to being there. From there, we negotiate inspections over the phone and everything is the same from this point until settlement.
Settlements are virtual now–you’ll sign your loan paperwork online the day before or of settlement, seller signs in advance and seller and buyer agents are not present. The title agent must still see the buyer(s) sign the paperwork but can do so while maintaining social distance–in a park, at the house during the final walkthrough or whatever arrangements we make (not in a real estate office by law however).
While not ideal, there are adaptations happening quickly as buyers still need to buy and sellers still need to sell. I don’t ever have a crystal ball to determine exactly where things will be at the end of this or (maybe what I’d prefer:) know when this will end but it does appear that demand is strong and shows no signs of slowing down.
Let me know what questions you have! Always happy to jump on Facetime/Zoom as your schedule permits!
By Jennifer Bazydlo:
Off-street parking is a hot commodity in Philadelphia. This is especially true in the relatively denser neighborhoods near Center City like Fishtown, Pennsport, and Graduate Hospital where on-street parking has become notoriously challenging. Because of the high demand, a home with an off-street parking spot in these neighborhoods can often sell for substantially more than similar homes without a parking spot.
But not everything that looks like an off-street parking space is an actual legal parking space. And just because the property is listed as including “off-street parking” does not guarantee that the space is fully legal since even many well-intentioned sellers and listing agents incorrectly assume existing spaces are correctly permitted.
Most rowhomes in these near neighborhoods are zoned RSA-5. Under the current City of Philadelphia Zoning Code, off-street parking in RSA-5 zoning districts is prohibited by the city code unless it can be accessed from a shared driveway (used to access parking for 3 or more properties), alley, or rear street on which no on-street parking is permitted on the side of the rear street adjacent to the property. A new exception to this general prohibition requires a variance from the zoning code, which depending on the configuration and location of your property, could be very difficult to obtain. Prior to 2012, the standards for off-street parking were less strict but still required proper permits.
An off-street parking spot (surface spot or garage space) is considered an accessory use to the residential home and requires a permit from the city. Without a permit, the space is not legal.
So how can a buyer be certain that an off-street parking spot is legal and properly permitted? The first step is to look at the space and see if it “looks right.” Is there an actual curb cut? Do you have to pull in at a weird angle? Is the parking area large enough to meet the city requirements (8.5’ by 22’)? Is it accessed from a rear street, alley, or shared driveway? Nine times out of ten, if it does not “look right” it is not right and you should dig a little deeper. Even if everything “looks right” you might want to double check that what you are seeing is what you are getting–even if it goes into a garage.
The licenses and permits issued for a property in Philadelphia are available at Atlas.phila.gov. Type in the property address on the main page then click on the Licenses and Inspections tab. Here you will be able to see if a zoning/ use permit was issued for the accessory off-street parking spot or if there are any other historical zoning documents indicating that the space is in fact permitted and legal. Atlas.phila.gov is a great place to start your research, but it cannot and should not replace the expert analysis of a real estate or land use attorney. The expert realtors with Brooke + Co are trained to recognize potential legal issues concerning off-street parking in Philadelphia and can assist with connecting you to with our trusted legal partners when needed.