Get ready for No-Mow May

Bugleweed spreads in dense mats help turn a turfgrass lawn into a friendlier place for pollinators.

For about eight weeks, from early March as the snow is melting to the beginning of summer, the annual springtime resurrection of the landscape passes as a blur for those of us who work in the green industry. With more work to do than anyone can expect to fit in a day, spring is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting for gardeners. As we try to keep our heads above water, one of my favorite gardening trends of the last five or 10 years gives some welcome relief.

“No-Mow May” is a relatively simple concept with big implications. Don’t mow your lawn for the month so your landscape can better support early season pollinators. A mowing pause allows lawn “weeds” like henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), white clover (Trifolium repens), or creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) to flower, providing nectar and pollen sources for bees and other pollinators.

There are more than 40 million acres of irrigated turf grass across the country. For many native insects, especially pollinators who rely on flowering plants, that area may as well be desert. Scratch that. Deserts are way too biodiverse to compare to managed turfgrass. Those 40 million acres of lawn may as well be asphalt. Worse, considering the amount of pesticides dumped on turfgrass each year (an estimated five to seven pounds per acre according to the University of Massachusetts), those 40 million acres are really more like superfund sites if you’re an insect. Recent legislation to curb pesticide usage in the commonwealth limits the use of neonics, a specific class of systemic pesticides that make flowering plants toxic to the insects that depend on them. While this moves the state in the right direction, there’s more work to do to convince the average landowner that there is a better way to manage a lawn. No-Mow May is a great way to support the effort, diversify our landscapes, and make our yards better habitat for beneficial insects.

I’ve been practicing No-Mow May since I first bought my house in 2013. The previous homeowner planted bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) as a groundcover in a garden bed adjacent to the sidewalk. Bugleweed, a European plant species in the mint family, forms a dense mat of evergreen foliage. It’s a great groundcover for those who have the space to let it spread and there are many cultivated forms available at local garden centers. The bugleweed in my garden escaped the bed where it was planted and started spreading through the lawn in front of my house. That first spring, I let the bugleweed flower in the lawn, carefully mowing around its purple flowers and letting the honeybees from the farm down the street do their thing. The bugleweed spreads a little every year, outcompeting the turfgrass. Ten years later, my family enjoys a huge spring carpet of color, and I enjoy spending less time mowing at the height of spring.

My approach to No-Mow May might not be for everyone, but luckily there are many different options for those who

Read More

Millions of real estate documents to be amended in California county

Sonoma County’s recorder’s office has confirmed that millions of its real estate documents contain racial covenants meant to restrict people of color from owning property, and the county is now taking steps to rectify this.

California has a deep history of redlining, a racist practice dating back to the 1930s that prevented anyone who wasn’t white from living or purchasing property in certain neighborhoods. In Sonoma County, these practices involve including racially restrictive language in real estate documents.

“For example, there are a lot of properties that are restricted to only those of Caucasian descent,” said Deva Marie Proto, Sonoma County’s clerk-recorder-assessor.

Proto said that the recorder’s office is searching for an outside vendor to identify keywords and phrases in documents that may indicate the presence of racially restrictive covenants so that those covenants can be redacted. Some keywords include “Caucasian,” “African,” “Asiatic” and “Mongolian,” she said.

The racial covenants in places like Sonoma County differed from redlining practices in other parts of the Bay Area, which more often involved literal lines being drawn on government maps indicating which neighborhoods were “undesirable” and therefore off-limits to mortgage lenders and insurance providers.

“Racial covenants were even more specific than that and were written into the deeds of specific properties and sometimes entire developments to prevent the sale of those properties to certain groups,” said Holden Weisman, senior director for economic equity at the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland -based nonprofit that focuses on racial and economic equity in the Bay Area.

The racial covenants being identified in Sonoma County usually existed in whiter and wealthier areas, Weisman said. Even though they differ from the practice of outlining “undesirable” areas on a map, they still fit within the broader definition of redlining as the systematic practice of excluding communities of color from economic opportunities based on race.

“One big distinction that I’ll draw between them is that these covenants are generally found in what we would see as higher-opportunity, higher-income, more white areas now, because those were the areas that worked trying to exclude communities of color and other groups from entering those communities,” Weisman said.

The use of racially restrictive covenants was deemed unenforceable by the Supreme Court in 1948 and made illegal through the Fair Housing Act of 1968. However, the long-term effects of their use — and the use of redlining practices in general — are still felt across the state.

“We are seeing the lasting effects of these practices in terms of health disparities, in terms of the racial wealth gap that persists, in terms of environmental factors that different communities face, and in terms of just the general quality of life that different communities have access to. And that is tied directly back to both redlining and to these kinds of practices, like racial covenants,” Weisman said.

In 2021, Assembly Bill 1466 passed in California, which created a process for local recorders to identify and redact racially restrictive language within real estate documents.

So far, Sonoma County is

Read More

5 of the best apps and podcasts for new gardeners

Whether it’s getting your gardening questions answered in a tick, identifying unfamiliar species, or listening to expert advice, all you have to do is surf and stream to be bang up to date.

Reassuringly for beginners, there are lots of options to put you on the front foot…

1. Blossoms

From pretty petals to weird weeds, the Blossom app helps you identify over 12,000 plants, flowers, succulents and trees.

Take a shot with your camera or pick a photo from your library, and its artificial intelligence will pinpoint the bloom or leaf. The app also provides growing advice, plant care instructions and much more. Free with in-app purchases.

2. Candida

A doorway to get you digging, potting and planting, think of Candide as your greatest gardening tool. A weighty tome without the load, you’ll find anything and everything you need to know about plants and flowers.

With video tutorials, Q & As and plant ID, you can share posts, hear on-the-spot gardening news and listen to audio tours. Plus, the app doubles up as a fast-track to National Trust gardens and hidden gems to visit. Free.

3. iNaturalist

With iNaturalist, the focus is on connecting like-minded nature lovers and gardeners, sharing your photos and exploring biodiversity.

With a wealth of access to gardening knowledge, naturalists and scientists to help you learn more about nature, you can really get stuck in by recording and sharing your thoughts and impressions with other gardeners around the world. Free.

4. A Way To Garden

The garden whisperer across the pond, Margaret Roach has been recording her 25-minute weekly public radio program for more than 10 years – and has won three silver medals from the Garden Writers’ Association Of America.

Intuitive and fun, Roach has a lovely style. Her A Way To Garden podcast is an A to Z of tending and cultivating plants from seeds.

5. Gardeners’ Question Time

With a worldwide following of avid listeners, Gardeners’ Question Time is entertaining, informative and a wonderful addition to your listening pleasure.

With a panel of horticultural experts to answer all those nagging questions and share their gardening knowledge, this is the podcast if you want to be well-informed and build up your gardening repertoire.

Read More

Blackstone’s Real Estate Co-Head Reveals How It Will Spend New $30B Fund

Blackstone has just raised the biggest real estate fund in history. But amid the most volatile market in a generation, the big question is just how and when the world’s largest alternative asset manager will spend $30B of equity.

Blackstone Global co-Head of Real Estate Kathleen McCarthy told Bisnow where the new fund will be putting its money, and even more interestingly, where it won’t be following the final close of Blackstone Real Estate Partners X — the largest fund ever raised, not only in real estate but in private equity writ large.

She also explained why the current volatility is different to the post-Lehman crisis, but will still offer up great deals, outlining how the company will structure its giant portfolio to avoid becoming prey rather than predator when the market does turn.


Courtesy of Blackstone

Blackstone’s Kathleen McCarthy

“We made a huge pivot in our business,” away from US traditional office assets, toward industrial, rental housing, data centers and life sciences, with hotels holding a place in the firm’s heart, McCarthy said.

“Those sectors were 3{b5e4caabb46945dac267f6fa1789e0b2b1831cce91f79b27f72a0de22e4bb018} of our portfolio a dozen years ago, now they’re more than 80{b5e4caabb46945dac267f6fa1789e0b2b1831cce91f79b27f72a0de22e4bb018}. We’ve got that right, and that has allowed us to perform in a choppy environment, but [it has] also given us so much data to go on the offensive now in those sectors where we shine the brightest.”

Blackstone is a bellwether for the industry as the manager with the largest portfolio in real estate — $326B at the end of 2022. It got there by making large profits on huge deals during and after the 2008 financial crisis, so how it spends its latest opportunity fund in the most significant period of disruption since then will be closely watched by the market.

McCarthy told Bisnow where the new fund will be putting its money and where it will hold it back, namely traditional offices, and why the current volatility is different from the post-Lehman Brothers crisis, but will still offer up enticing deals.

“We’re starting to see interesting opportunities where you have willing sellers, what I’d call motivated sellers,” McCarthy said.

“Real estate is being painted with a pretty broad brush as if everything is the same, but the sectors we’re focusing on are actually in good shape. We’re starting to see deals where the assets themselves tend to be high-quality, we can build conviction around them. But the seller needs liquidity, and these are the most salable assets in their portfolio.”

Blackstone has been sitting on $24B of its $30B haul since the middle of last year. As of the end of 2022, it had only spent $674M of that, its annual report showed. Like everyone else in the market, the company has been waiting for the shrinkage of the gap between what sellers think an asset was worth yesterday and what buyers think it will be worth tomorrow.

That moment is coming, McCarthy said, as owners increasingly need capital to complete business plans and developments, or to

Read More

The Bombshell Real Estate Lawsuit Has Just Exploded | Inman

In these times, double down — on your skills, on your knowledge, on you. Join us Aug. 8-10 at Inman Connect Las Vegas to lean into the shift and learn from the best. Get your ticket now for the best price.

Judge Andrea R. Wood’s certification of class in the Moerhl “bombshell lawsuit” potentially opens the door for millions of homeowners to be reimbursed for the commissions they paid to buyer agents between 2015 and 2020. Faced with a prospect of a judgment that could be billions of dollars, what will the defendants (NAR, Anywhere, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Keller Williams and RE/MAX ) do next — settle, go to trial and/or file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

In three previous columns (March 16 and March 19, 2019, and May 4, 2022) I outlined the numerous issues with both the Sitzer Burnett and the Moerhl complaints.

The Moerhl complaint states:

The Buyer Broker Commission Rule ensures that price competition among buyer brokers is restricted because the person retaining the buyer broker, the buyer, does not negotiate or pay his or her broker’s commission. In addition, the seller’s inflated commission offer cannot be reduced by buyers or their brokers, as Defendants also prohibit buyer brokers from making home purchase offers contingent on the reduction of the buyer broker commission.

The Moerhl complaint is based primarily upon the NAR’s Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy and NAR’s Code of Ethics without regard to the extensive amount of local, state and federal legislation and regulations that govern price fixing and commissions. Also, the term “The Buyer Broker Commission Rule” was made up by the plaintiff’s attorneys and does not appear in either of those documents.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys ignore the various types of direct buyer representation

This includes Exclusive Buyer Agreements, fee-for-service models, one-party listing agreements for a single buyer, and various types of rebate models. Furthermore, builders and For-Sale-by-Owners typically pay the buyer’s agents directly as well. In fact, the Census Bureau currently projects there will be 643,000 new home sales in 2023; that’s 13.5 percent of NAR’s predicted sales of 4.78 million for 2023.

Challenges with the expert witness testimony and theories in the certification

The plaintiffs’ motion for class certification relies on the opinions of two experts, NYU economics professor Nicholas Economides and Harvard law professor Einer Elhauge.

  • Elhauge compares the real estate industry to air travel and trading stocks. The comparison fails to address that purchasing an airline ticket or stock can be done with a few simple clicks. Closing a real estate transaction involves hundreds of pages of documents including contracts, titles, loan documents, mandatory disclosures, agencies, etc. It also involves the coordination of the agents, the buyers and sellers, titles, mortgage professionals, appraisers, as well as the company or attorney responsible for closing the transaction and making sure the conveyance is properly recorded.
  • Elhauge also states (and the judge agreed) with his application of “the undisputed economic principle that decreased demand results in lower prices.”
Read More