Spaced Out

north conway nh real estate buyIt turns out I need my space. One of the reasons I enjoy winter hiking so much is the beautiful and serene silence. Being surrounded by nothing but trees and snow pacifies something inside me that nothing else can match. I have always been aware of (putting it nicely) a "lack of patience with crowds". As I am spending more time in busier places, the draw of the woods has grown stronger. One of my favorite t-shirts and/or bumper stickers simply says: "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog".

Unfortunately for me, the next time I attend a concert it will be a very expensive ordeal. I intend to purchase 10 tickets for the two of us. The three seats in front and behind and one seat on either side of us will simply be empty. While I can (and have!) appreciate the experience of being "down front", surrounded by fellow fans, dancing, laughing and generally enjoying the moment, in a show where the goal is simply to appreciate the music being performed and the artist themselves, I would much prefer to be left alone. I should not have to dodge elbows, guard my drink from a pushy neighbor or fend off seat poachers every time I change positions.

As I re-read the beginning of today's article, I realize I sound like a crotchety old man. I even found myself criticizing someone's driving this morning by saying "They were probably texting!" I don't mean to sound negative, but I truly believe we are losing the notion of consideration. If any one of the people I'm referring to above had taken a quick second to consider the presence (and feelings) of their fellow human being, and they were honest with themselves about it, their behavior would likely (hopefully!?) be very different. Instead, this trend of going through life without regard for any of our fellow citizens seems to be taking hold.

I also recognize that we are all different. Synapses (yes/no responses) make up the "guts" of the human brain. Our brains contain 1013 of these synapses (that is 2 multiplied by itself 10 trillion times!). The immense combination of human brain configurations further explains that no two of us will appreciate the same event the same way. And with that in mind, I make a concerted effort to be more understanding and patient with people who simply approach life from a different angle. This is also the reason we all have such varying tastes in real estate.

Last week we touched on the remodeling projects that can help or hurt your chances of selling. In the end, there really IS a bum for every seat and the "right" buyer really IS out there for your home. The trick is to find that "universal appeal" that will attract the greatest number of interested buyers. This transcends the home itself and continues right on to the location and setting of the home. Yes, location is critical to your home's inherent value and appeal, but "where" your home sits is also important.

My good friends whom I dog/house sit for live in a very rural area and their home sits on 7 acres of wooded land. Each of their neighbors also enjoys similar sized chunks of land and has positioned their homes out of sight from one another. The result is a feeling of complete privacy and, aside from hearing a passing car a couple times a day, glorious, wooded isolation. But I recognize this is not for everyone. Another good friend lives right downtown in a small city. She would not trade her location for the world and would certainly not enjoy living "in the woods" and away from the "life" of the city.

When I hear a town has an ordinance in place for minimum lot sizes, I am immediately attracted. They are setting their town (and neighborhoods) up for a certain lifestyle and a certain type of resident. The same can be said about the developments loaded with "McMansions". I can't help but think of the opening video sequence of the Showtime series: "Weeds" and the song "Little boxes" playing in the background. Again, this is not a criticism, but just a wide variance in the tastes of people's notion of "home".

"When working with a new client and especially first time home buyers, I tend to initially focus a lot of our energy into the type of community or neighborhood they are looking for," notes Badger Realty agent, Michele Southwick. She continued, "They are already interested in the Mount Washington Valley, but there are so many different options available just in this small geographic area. It is important to get the 'setting' right first and then we can shift our attention to the house itself."

We have enough (too many?) grumpy old men in this world. I don't want to be another one added to the pile. I truly appreciate the vast differences we all experience as humans and don't want to begrudge anyone their chosen path. My only wish is for a little (lot?) more consideration for our fellow man. Take a second to look around you and consider the situation of your nearest neighbor. Could you talk a little quieter? Could you wear a little less perfume or cologne? Could you be more aware of your flailing limbs while dancing in a crowd? Could you put the toilet seat down? (Hey, someone just took over my keyboard!!)

Holiday Party Ideas

conway homes holiday partyI'm a "Rye bread bowl and artichoke dip" kind of guy when it comes to holiday parties (or any party for that matter).  It is easy and everyone seems to love it.  That said, if you're headed to a party this year (and you WANT to be invited back) here are a few ideas that might just do the trick.

A game is usually a fun idea and can be a fantastic ice-breaker if the host has not already set something up.  Speaking of that, it is important to understand what is "expected" of you to bring and make sure you follow those rules. Nothing is more annoying to a host (aside from muddy boots!) than having guests arrive with an endless string of fruitcakes.  Pictionary is a safe one that basically anyone can play and is animated enough to keep people engaged. I'm not sure Risk is the best option here.

If there are going to be kids there, don't be afraid to bring a selection of movies.  Not everyone has a copy (or has even SEEN) some of the great classics and if you come prepared, you could be the hero.  Peanuts, Shrek and most Disney classics are pretty safe bets.

north conway home holiday partyAnother great food-related item is to bring a mason-jar filled with the basic ingredients of your favorite cookies.  Whether or not the host opts to bake them right then and there, or uses the gift to take some of the pressure off later in the season, this is still a winner.

Depending on the situation, you can safely bring a house gift for the host and have it utilized right then and there.  Coasters (holiday themed or not) are a very versatile gift and not very expensive either.  This shows that you care about their home and that you're thirsty!  This simple gesture can go a long way to ensuring your invite the following year.

Holiday parties can be exhausting and stressful.  If you show up with a handy and useful gift, without breaking the bank, it might take some of the stress out of the evening and will keep you in good graces with the host!

2015 Housing Predictions

jackson nh real estateOK, I know.  We are not supposed to talk about "national trends" since we all know that the "real" nitty gritty of real estate is hyper-local!   Well, with that in mind, here are a few items that still hold some relevancy in the market, regardless of where you are!

The mortgage rates are still just plain fantastic and will continue to stay there.  Although we may see a slight bump, it will only be approaching the 5% mark.  Nothing to get too upset about, but worth keeping an eye on regardless.  If you are re-financing or buying a new home, this is good info. for you.

If you are lucky enough to already own a home, congratulations!  Home appreciation is expected to continue by 3-5% next year.  Not a massive jump, but at least it is not going in the other direction!  We should also see an increase in housing starts as new construction continues to get its legs.  A 20% increase in new construction is anticipated.

There is also a prediction that multi-family homes will continue to rise in 2015.  These purchases increased by about 60% between 2011 and 2014.  I  know this is a great place to invest and a great way to affordably purchase a home!

While any "prediction" is worth just about the same as the paper it is written on, these are some good numbers and some good news for real estate owners and buyers in 2015.

Busted Bargains

conway real estate"It is not a good deal if it is something you don't need". Jane's husband had never spoken truer words. She and I were headed out the door to take advantage of a "going out of business" sale and I believe he was worried about the health of their checking account. When stores go out of business or throw notions like "50% off everything", most of us tend to get a little excited. But what is the true value of those things that are so heavily marked down.

I once heard the saying "items are worth what someone is willing to pay for them". If you buy a car/home/diamond/baseball card/etc. with the notion that its value will increase, you are gambling on the idea that at some point in the future, someone will pay more than you did. This is true in the real estate world as well. I almost fell into that trap at a real estate auction a few years back. Thankfully, clearer heads prevailed and I was out-bid. The excitement of the auction and the idea of "getting a good deal" almost cost me thousands.

I almost always refuse to pay retail price. I believe that is why, on the 8th day, god created Marshall's and TJ Maxx! With the purchase of a home there are a few reasons that may make you re-think bidding on that foreclosure or chasing down the next great bargain. In the end, it may cost you more. "If a home is priced well below the market, that raises concerns for myself and the buyers I represent," notes Badger Realty agent, Lee Phillips. He continued, "These homes demand much closer scrutiny and a higher level of patience."

Heeding my friend's advice from the first paragraph, buying a home that is a "good deal" only works if the home is what you need. With two kids and a dog, that small home with only 2 bedrooms is a great price, but clearly not what your family needs. If you are looking for a "move-in-ready" home because you are relocating for a job, that "fixer-upper" is clearly not in your best interests. We can quickly become enamored with a home solely based on price. This is when it is important to have a list of "wants" and "needs" so you are not tempted to get into a home that does not cover the "needs".

Jumping the gun on a home that is not "just right" can cost you more than just being the wrong size. If you grab that deal with a home that does not fit, you could end up spending more money in transaction fees when you have to sell it and buy the "right" home later on. This could end up costing you more than if you had gone for the "right" home at first. This is also the case if you opted for that smaller home with the intent of "adding on" as your family grows. These projects, as we have discussed before, are not inexpensive. Consider your family size and expansion needs up front.

In the end, you almost always get what you pay for. We all have that friend (who's a jerk!) that flipped a house and doubled her money. There are plenty of stories of people getting a "great deal" on a house and everything turned out rosy. But I promise you those are not the norm. Talk to any veteran real estate professional and they will tell you the truth. When you see a house for sale, with a price that seems too good to be true, chances are it is.

A home that is priced well below the comps for the area should be a red flag for the savvy investor. Bank-owned properties often fall into this category and appear, from the curb, to be a deal too good to pass up. Upon closer inspection, the maintenance of the home has been neglected and all the appliances (and copper!) have been removed.

I have looked at countless multi-family properties all over Northern New Hampshire and was rarely able to pull the trigger. In most cases, the size and age of the home are what scared me off. Regardless of the price, I knew that the property was in need of more maintenance than I could afford or was capable of doing myself.

The first property I owned had a perfectly suitable unit upstairs and the rent for that one covered the expenses of the mortgage. This afforded me the opportunity to work on the downstairs unit at my own pace and update it accordingly. It was also in need of only cosmetic changes such as paint, flooring and some deep cleaning. I knew I could handle these updates on my own and get the unit ready to rent without breaking the bank. If you have the opportunity to walk through a property (with a contractor if necessary) before you make an offer, it will give you loads of peace of mind and likely save you from an investment misstep.

I'm sure you are tired of hearing the saying, but this is a great time to buy real estate. If the home is priced appropriately and is in good condition, make an offer. Just don't waste the seller's time with a low-ball offer. Offer a fair price for the home and don't expect to get a super-discounted price. Those discounts come at a cost and if you are bidding on a high quality home, paying the fair price will pay off in the end.

Honey I Shrunk The House

north conway nh ski houseSize really does matter. Especially when it comes to the size of your home. For those of you reading this from the comfort of your vacation home here in the Mount Washington Valley, you are likely not as concerned with the size of this house as your primary residence. The fact is, if you can crash here for a few weekends and a few weeks a year you’re happy. Sharing the home with family and friends typically warrants a larger home, but for the single family, a smaller space is fine. We are seeing this trend in primary residences as well and I have to admit I don’t blame them at all. Here are a few reasons why smaller is actually a nice direction to be heading.

Although not always the case, smaller homes typically come with smaller mortgages. For obvious reasons, this is often the most important factor in downsizing. Since mortgage payments usually gobble up about 30% of our gross and 50% of our net income, shrinking the house payment can lighten the load a bunch and improve the health of our budgets almost immediately. Right along with the mortgage are the utilities. It makes perfect sense, especially for a ski house, that heat will be much cheaper the less space you have to deal with. This savings applies to lights and water as well.

According to the newly released 2013 American Community Survey, New Hampshire ranks #3 in the nation for the highest property taxes at a median bill of $5,107. New Jersey (#1), Connecticut (#2), New York (#4), Mass (#5), Rhode Island (#7), Vermont (#8) and Maryland (#10) make the northeast the highest taxed area in the country. (Hooray for us!) Needless to say, the smaller your home (and your plot of dirt) the smaller amount you’ll pay in taxes. Of course, you could move to Alabama, with a median tax bill of $532, but why would anyone want to do that? (You DID see the New Hampshire foliage this year, right!?)

When I moved into my newly built home, the surrounding property (often referred to as a “lawn”) was nothing but dirt and weeds. While I had grand ideas of a plush green oasis to make the neighbors jealous, I never really got around to it. Funnily enough, the new owners have continued my laziness and rely on the beauty of fresh snow to make the yard pretty for at least half of the year! Moving into a smaller home means much less maintenance. Cleaning is easier and faster and nearly everything from painting, repairing windows and doing general maintenance is made more simple the smaller your home. Let’s be honest. You’re not getting any younger. Do you really want to be mowing (or raking) 3 acres of lawn and cleaning countless windows on your weekend? You could be sipping coffee and reading the Conway Daily Sun instead!

north conway country houseAs you can imagine, my favorite reason for downsizing is the lack of clutter. Even if you are a card-carrying pack rat, you can’t fight the fact that the storage space is just not there. With a smaller home you will be forced to be more organized and hang on to less “stuff”. I get giddy just thinking about all the trips to the thrift store to eliminate the piles of unnecessary junk in our lives. Less is more!

In case you hadn’t noticed, smaller homes are becoming quite trendy. While I don’t encourage you to join the crowd just because everyone’s doing it, there are some clear advantages. The new “smaller” homes take up a smaller footprint, but don’t really sacrifice space on the inside. Smart builders are able to utilize previously wasted space and take full advantage of the entire home. Among these adjustments, we’re seeing a disappearance of the formal dining room and a move towards more useful and logical layouts.

“Smaller homes don’t always mean cramped living quarters, they simply make better use of the space available,” notes Badger Realty agent, Edward O’Halloran. He continued, “If home owners were honest about the space they need, most of us would be able to downsize without negatively impacting our living conditions in the least.”

Looking back in history, it is obvious that we can live with less. The average single-family home built in 2013 was around 2,600 square feet. In 1950, when the average family was larger than it is today, the average home was less than 1,000 square feet. Faced with those numbers, we are clearly “living large” today.

The savings for living in a smaller home, as mentioned above, can also be migrated towards your retirement. What better way to channel the funds you were spending (wasting?) on that huge home than to pad your savings account and make your golden years that much more comfortable. Or, better yet, how about grabbing that ski home you’ve always talked about! With rates as low as they are and inventory holding steady, there has never been a better time.
See you on the slopes!

Beautiful Budget-Friendly Bathroom Upgrades

north conway real estate bathYou may have been planning to relax on the couch this weekend, but we've got a few updates to your bathroom that you can do before kickoff on Sunday!  Kitchens and bathrooms sell houses and if you update your bathroom a bit, with a few of these tips, you may be surprised at the results (and ROI) you get!

This time of year lighting is crucial.  It is getting darker earlier and lighter later in the morning.  A few quick updates to the lights in your bathroom can breath new life into the room and help with the showings as well.  If you don't want to tackle replacing the light fixture itself, you can always replace the glass shades and still get the desired results.

What those lights are shining on, the cabinet or vanity, is another great place to do a little updating. Something as simple as painting that piece of furniture can bring some new life into the room and even change the whole feel.  If you head down this road, you may as well replace the bath mats and towels while you're at it.  These are two very inexpensive and easy updates that can liven up the bathroom a ton.

Along those color lines, you can paint the whole bathroom, the vanity or even just the inside of the door.  There is no rule that says you have to have the same color on both sides of the door so get a little creative here.  While painting is a bit more of a project than just swapping out towels, the return is well worth it.

Remember that all the updates and remodeling you do to your home and bathroom are great for selling the house but also great for you living there.  While it is good to keep the buyers in mind when picking colors and styles, don't disregard your tastes entirely.  Who knows, maybe someone else will like purple poka-dots!

How To Communicate Gooder

north conway nh real estate nerdI consider myself what some would call “computer savvy”. Of course there are other terms like “nerd” or “geek”, but those are no longer derogatory terms. In fact there’s a good chance if you don’t learn your way around computers or the Internet, you’ll be hiring one of those nerds in the near future. When I first got into real estate, the tables were turned and I was on the wrong side. As the “computer guy” for our company, I was relied on for everything related to the digital world. The thing that struck me almost immediately, was that agents, brokers, bankers, etc. all spoke in a bit of a different language.

Because of my involvement with the I.T. stuff, I was also thrown into the deep end of online marketing. This meant working with the marketing team and translating their message to the website and other online arenas. The advantage for them was that I was completely ignorant of their language. Together, we were able to get our message across in a way that made sense to me, the average “uneducated” real estate consumer.

Today, many of our customers and clients are well versed in the real estate language, but there are still some miscommunications that can be costly. These communication breakdowns can cause hurt feelings, embarrassment or worse: a deal falling apart. I’d like to cover a few of the more common misunderstandings in an effort to avoid these hiccups for you in the future.

The first one, only because it is typically the first step in the buying process, is the “preapproval”. The biggest mistake new buyers make with this one is equating the preapproval with an actual guarantee from the bank for the amount discussed. This is not an assurance that you will qualify for the mortgage. It is merely a statement from the bank indicating how much money you will most likely qualify for should you move forward to get a mortgage.

The preapproval is an important first step and is a great place to start when beginning your search for a home. It can be a benchmark for the price range you should begin your search. But it is also not equal to the “amount of home you can afford”, which is another phrase real estate professionals tend to use. The amount of home you can afford is how much of a mortgage you can take on in addition to all the other expenses that go along with home ownership. The preapproval is simply taking into account the actual selling price of the home.

north conway nh real estate bankAnother trap new buyers fall into is taking the “good faith estimate” as a real number. While the word “estimate” should be enough of a flag, sometimes the excitement of buying a new home can cause us to hear only what we want to hear. The good faith estimate is the amount of cash the bank is “estimating” you will need to bring with you to closing. Even in all their experience of closing real estate deals, there are still unknowns that inevitably pop up before everyone gets to the closing table. The good faith estimate truly is just an estimate. As a buyer, I’d encourage you to bump that number up 25% or more, just so the surprises that arise don’t kill the deal.

The “comp” is another over-used and under-explained word in the real estate world. A comp is not a CMA (competitive market analysis). A comp is a single, comparable property to the one you are selling or buying. The vast differences between the two are all the factors that go into the CMA vs. the comp. CMAs take into account entire neighborhoods, home updates, sale prices, days on the market and a slew of other factors. A good CMA will give the buyer or seller a very clear picture of the state of the market in that specific area or neighborhood as well as all the factors that have been used to arrive at the price for this specific home. These take lots of work and should never be considered equal to a comp or two.

“CMAs are a lot of work and can take lots of time and research to complete,” notes Badger Realty agent, Brett Newton. He continued, “The time it takes provides a very clear picture, to the agent and the client, about the specific home in question as well as the trends in the neighborhood. There is truly no better way to get an accurate depiction of a home’s relative value”.

MLS or “multiple listing service” is the place where your home will be listed if you decide to sell it through a REALTOR®. The MLS is such a common acronym today that it is easy to assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about. The truth is, if you are not involved in the business of buying or selling real estate, there’s a very good chance you had never heard it before. Our MLS, which is NNEREN (Northern New England Real Estate Network), has listings in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. NNEREN is also including rentals now as well as homes for sale.

The MLS is a great way for REALTORS to get your home in front of every real estate agent in the NNEREN family. The large aggregating sites like Trulia and Zillow also utilize regional MLSs to provide all of the listings on their sites across the country. The exposure gained by using the MLS by companies like Badger Realty, helps get your listing in front of anyone, literally across the globe, looking for homes in the Mount Washington Valley.

Every industry has their own nomenclature for the items and terms they work with. If you find yourself ready to get into real estate, take a little time to familiarize yourself with these terms. This will help reduce surprises along the way and give you confidence when talking to your agent, your banker or anyone else involved in the process.

Older is Sometimes Better

conway nh real estate older homeWe live in Northern New Hampshire and "older homes" are a very common site.  New construction is awesome and that "new home smell" really is a nice thing to come home to, but are there advantages to buying (and living in) an older home?  I think that answer is a resounding "yes".

While the inventory of older homes is certainly going to be larger than new construction, there is also some retro charm that is often overlooked.  I fully understand that drafty windows, poor insulation and a leaky roof are not things that can pass as "charming", but we're not talking about old (and crappy) houses.  We're just talking about homes that have some history behind them and are in solid structural shape.

conway nh real estate constructionNew construction also typically requires that you are more financially "fit" than when buying an older home.  Construction loans are dependent on you having more "skin in the game" as it were and can be tougher to get. If finances are not an issue, then this will not be a hinderance for you.  There are also some great programs out there that allow you to purchase an older home and use some of the money from the loan to update the house.  This is a great way to get into an older home but still have some additional funds available for improvements.

If you are not fortunate enough to work from home and are currently commuting into the more urban areas of your town for work, you will find that the older homes are going to be closer to your job.  Land is a scarce commodity and finding land "in-town" is going to not only be more challenging but likely much more expensive.  Focusing your efforts on an older home can keep you closer to work and might even save you money in gas and auto expenses.

Having lived in a newly constructed home as well as my share of older homes, I see the benefits of both.  This was just a few examples of the advantages to going the way of the older home.



All Up In My Business

north conway nh real estate concertIt all started at a concert. It was Red Rocks in Colorado. O.A.R. was the band. If you’re like me, you hadn’t really heard of them but when they start playing you say, “Oh, I love this song!” We had great seats, row 17 and just off center. As soon as the band got going, this “twenty-something” guy started (drunkenly) dancing away and flailing about. The next 2 hours was just more of the same with him sliding over into our seat area with a complete disregard for our personal space. The kicker was, he was bragging about having “snuck down here” without a ticket since his seats were way back in general admission. Nice.

The next morning, I’m checking out at the local grocery store and was bagging my own groceries since there was nobody there to help the cashier. As I walk back to the terminal to slide my card and pay, there is a guy standing directly in front of the cashier and about 6 inches from where I was entering my PIN. Really? Is it OK if I go ahead and pay for my stuff now? Typically this wouldn’t have bothered me, but coming off the previous night’s shenanigans, I was inclined to shove him hard enough to plop him back into the produce section! How about a little space?

I love living in New Hampshire. While in Lincoln, I would jokingly be frustrated after getting to work and exclaim; “I had to wait for 2 cars this morning at the light!!” This time of year, the biggest “hang-up” on one’s way to work is having to stop multiple times to get a picture of the foliage or a brilliant sunrise. On more than one occasion I was delayed getting to work after stopping (in the middle of the road) to chat with a neighbor or a jogging friend. There truly is something to be said for living in a small town.

I no longer live in a small town. My perspective has changed now and I’m learning to seek out and find those “small town” experiences in other ways. “Meet-up” groups are a fantastic way to find like-minded folks and re-gain that community feel. We live on a short road with a cul-de-sac and getting to know our neighbors has truly been a rewarding and fun experience. While there are many people out there that truly love the big-city living, there are still plenty of us that appreciate and crave the “Mayberry” experience.

Living in a small town can be a bit of a double-edged sword though. One of the stumbling blocks tends to be that everyone really IS all up in your business because everyone knows everyone. This can be frustrating for some who make an effort to keep their business private. The flip side of this is one of my favorite reasons for small town living. That is the security in knowing that your neighbors, and others in the town, know who should be and who shouldn’t be at your house.

Back in the 80’s my family went on a weeklong trip to D.C. and Virginia. While we were gone, my good friend, Ken, stopped by the house to grab something (of his) that we had discussed over the phone that morning. As he was backing his way out of the house our neighbor, Marcel (who was right behind Ken), shouted, “What are you doing?” nearly giving poor Ken a heart attack at age 17. Marcel didn’t recognize Ken at first and was making sure there weren’t any strangers in our home. We still chuckle about that story to this day. From that day forward, we always knew we had a trusted watchdog right next door.

“Being born and raised in Bartlett and the Mount Washington Valley, I appreciate the good and bad of living in a small village,” noted Badger Realty agent, Norman Head. He went on, “From my experience, the good far outweighs the bad with regards to community feeling, security, friendliness and overall contentment. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

north conway nh real estate crowdBy definition, inconsiderate is “causing hurt or inconvenience to others”. When you go through life without any sort of consideration for the people around you (an epidemic today, in my opinion!), you don’t create a community. You create a dystopian society where people are unconcerned about one another. This is not a world where I want to live.

I love my neighbors and I love my town. I am making an effort to reach out to those closest to me and ensure those relationships are strengthened. I encourage you to do the same. You have the power to create the type of community in which you want to live. You can start the ball rolling with a simple batch of cookies or go all out and have an “end of summer” party. It takes effort to not be discouraged by the ignorance of others. If you make that little bit of effort, I am confident it will pay you back in spades! Now, where are those cookies?

Let The Sun (and Green) Shine In

north conway nh real estate gardenI love spring, summer and fall.  The smells, the colors, the life and all that nature has to offer.  I also appreciate the longer days and abundant sunshine that these seasons bring.  And while we would not live in North Conway New Hampshire if we did not love the winter, I do find myself longing for more sun and some "green".  This year, I'm going to make an effort to bring some of those other three seasons into my home to make the winter doldrums a little less "doldrumy"!

The first and most obvious thing to do is to bring some of that green indoors.  Regardless of how much space you have (or don't have) something as small as an old wine-crate can be an effective flower box for the winter.  Simply line the container with plastic and start adding plants.  Herbs and other small flowers don't take up much space and will bring a slew of colors and aromas into your home and keep that taste of summer fresh.

If you don't have time for a small garden, have flowers delivered on a regular basis.  While this sounds cost-prohibitive, I think you'll find that monthly flowers, from a local source, can be very reasonable in price.  The reward for this sort of delivery is going to pay you back tenfold, so make the investment into your own personal well-being.

Lastly, start composting.  While this is not the most glamorous part of gardening, it is truly beneficial and will provide fantastic nutrition to the garden you DO start or even the flowers you currently have.  Discarded fruit, coffee grounds, grass clippings, etc. are all great for this purpose and keeps that renewable stuff out of the landfill.