Thursday, July 25, 2013

GREEN Gifting Ideas

Recently someone in my office asked me for advice on gifts.  I always try to be thoughtful in my gift-giving, and it's no surprise I try to give GREEN in most situations.  There are hundreds of environmentally-friendly gift ideas out there.

Spring through Fall, the garden nursery or garden center is my favorite GREEN gift resource.  Here's my brief guide for various gifting situations:

Real Estate Closings
I've been known to give hydrangea bushes as a real estate closing gift to clients who told me they loved the blossoms, or would miss the beautiful hydrangea they'd planted at their old house. For houses with hooks on the front porch begging for plants, I've brought over beautiful hanging baskets. If it's off-season, I've provided a gift certificate to a local garden center so the new owners could purchase plants when planting season comes up.  In the Fall I've given bags of Spring bulbs to plant, along with bulb planters and garden gloves, or potted mums to brighten their doorsteps.

In the event that my clients do not fall into the category of those who enjoy planting/yard work, a bottle of good organic wine has taken the place, and at one time I did buckets of non-toxic cleaning supplies for move-in day.

Adventure Vests!
Christenings & First Communions
As long as there are no allergies, I've given raspberry canes to plant for little ones.  Blueberries are lovely too, but they require a 2nd bush in order to fruit, so if you're going in that direction, make sure you have 2 blueberry bushes.  It's very sweet to get a call the next Summer and hear that little Olivia is picking her own raspberries in the yard and they're delicious!

Party Favors
We hosted a garden-themed birthday party one year and the party favors were flower seed packs and sturdy plastic trowels.  They were a big hit and we hear that thanks to us there were lots of nasturtium, morning glories & marigolds in everyone's yards that summer!

Birthdays & Anniversaries
I've been known to bring a rose bush for birthdays & anniversaries, and I have a neighbor who plants a tree or specimen bush for each anniversary.  Their yard is like a park!  I knew another family who planted a flowering pear tree for each of their grandchildren one year for their birthdays, and the children came to help "take care" of their trees.  We've given bluebird houses and I've seen bat boxes given as gifts.  I've given young children gardening baskets of tools, seeds, aprons & garden ornaments and they've just loved them, as well as the makings of a fairy container garden that I assembled myself, though the garden centers now sell pre-made kits.  My little one is currently growing cactus she got in a biodome kit.  My 9 yr old is fascinated with carnivorous plants at the moment, so I imagine that a pitcher plant or venus fly trap might hold interest to other budding scientists like mine.

The "adventure vests" (technically they're fishing vests) have been one of the GREEN-themed gifts that gets the most use for us.  I got them from LL Bean for the kids and a little friend for Christmas one year, ordered them a size or 2 larger than needed.  The larger ones come with a built-in whistle and we attached magnifying glasses, little flashlights & carabinieres.  The kids filled the zippered pouches with bandaids, observation notebooks, ziplock bags for collecting things... you get the idea.  My little ones still wear them all the time for any outdoor/discovery activities.  If you saw our photos from the Great Park Pursuit then you saw the vests in every photo!  Other friends have liked them so much that they've gone out and bought them too.  You don't have to go to LL Bean, they're pretty easy to find!

Another very well-received gift has been membership to science centers/children's museums.  With the reciprocal programs available through the Association of Science-Technology Centers, membership to one science center includes admissions to approximately 200 other participating science centers across the country.  This one is a little pricey though, but a great family-friendly gift, and so educational.  One year, in lieu of other gifts (because do we really need more toys?) we asked the grandparents for an ASTC membership and planned trips based upon the locations of the science museums we really wanted to visit.

Visiting science museums using our reciprocal membership!
Thank You & Appreciation Gifts
My favorite Administrative Assistant has always enjoyed receiving plants and this year I mixed it up and gave her potted herbs for her garden. I was thrilled to see that this year, in lieu of cut flowers for the directors and team involved with the school & local musical productions, that potted flowers and hanging baskets were handed out to be planted at home.

In Honor Of/In Memory Of
Some towns have memorial gardens where you can buy a plaque or a brick and have it inscribed with the name of your loved one and the proceeds go to maintenance of the garden.  In some places you can even buy a bench.  I know of several people who have planted their own memorial gardens or trees honoring family members.  We even had a rhododendron planted in our yard for many years in remembrance of a beloved family dog - it was called the Sadie Bush.  They're all really lovely ideas.      

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Bittersweet Week in Real Estate

It is said that Realtors are some of the happiest people.  It's really hard work, but it's a great gig.  The part I didn't expect though, was how bittersweet it can be.  After working hand in hand with clients for sometimes months, they're like family to me.  We share the ups & downs, we laugh over kooky houses, we drink coffee, I fall into gopher holes (do homeowners REALLY not know there's a big hole in their lawn?) we write contracts over wine & pizza, we race to see new listings, we pick ourselves up when deals fall apart, we stop the car & jump out when we realize we're covered in ticks from walking through someone's overgrown yard, I bring the flowers and we stage the photo shoot...

I just had one of those jam-packed weeks where I experienced the whole gamut of real estate ups and downs.  It was wonderful and exhausting all at once.  Two listings I'd loved having closed, and both sets of homeowners headed out of this area to start new adventures.  After spending so much time together, it's like going through withdrawal.  I also met new clients, showed lots of properties, received 2 sweet thank you cards from clients and 1 from a fellow Realtor, taught a mobile app class, had buyers back out of a deal, did volunteer work, and wrote my article for Realtor Magazine's YPN blog.  I was also asked to talk at a global symposium, and I'm flattered, but there's just too much on my plate right now.  Then to end the week we had houseguests for the weekend, which was relaxing and exactly what I needed after my busy week.

I get a lot of phone calls from people considering transitioning into real estate.  They always say that they can tell that I love my job, and they want to know how much work is involved, how competitive is it, what does it cost to run my business, etc.  My favorite question: what's the best part of the job?  My answer is pretty much always the same - how many new friends we make, families who become like our own extended family, and that moment when we walk into a house and instantly see the look on our client's face that says "this is home."  That part gets me EVERY time.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

On My GREEN Nightstand - The Upcycle

The stack of books on my nightstand keeps growing (to the point that I had to make 2 stacks - the bigger pile is on the lower shelf!)  It's an interesting mix though.  I love to read.  I wish I had more time to do so.

The GREEN book I'm reading is The Upcycle (Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance) by William McDonough & Michael Braungart.

The book starts with this one statement, alone on a page:  "The goal of the upcycle is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power - economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed."  It is followed by a forward written by President Bill Clinton.

Though I did not read it's predecessor, Cradle to Cradle, the book takes the ideas from Cradle to Cradle as a foundation and builds on them, based on the experience of putting the ideas from the first book to work.  The premise is a simple idea, really, that can be used by each of us all the way up to big corporations: moving from the idea of being "less bad" to the planet to being part of the natural cycle of regenerating it.  So not just the ideas of reuse & reduce, but design it better in the first place so you don't create waste to begin with.  "Eco-effectiveness can actually create endless resourcefulness."

This book is optimistic, thought-provoking, and for me, inspiring.  "Upcycling eliminates the concept of waste."  That's a big idea.  Let's not aim for just doing less damage to the earth, but let's find ways to turn opportunities into abundance.  Let's be creative and find solutions.  Let's thrive.  Let's make things healthful instead of less dangerous.  The caveat: finding a substitute takes work and time.  It takes innovation and values.

Of course reading this brings me to GREEN living in a real estate perspective, from the design and wellness elements.  As a GREEN Certified Realtor ® I always look at real estate from that perspective (well, ok, that and resale value!)  For example, last weekend I was showing a tiny condo.  The whole place fit into my kitchen, and had very little natural light or ventilation.  The buyers were really attracted to the very low price tag but I was worried this wasn't the kind of place that felt healthful or where they could thrive.  It was so poorly designed.  The price tag absolutely reflected it.  I was completely relieved when they called back that night to say they had decided not to put in an offer.

My favorite parts of the book are the examples the authors share of how and where creative solutions came about and the big focus is energy.  It's the kind of book that makes you think.  Happy Reading!