Dude, What Car?

Boston's Beloved MBTA - Photo by Annie Bergen

Boston's Beloved MBTA - Photo by Annie Bergen

Do you spend a large majority of your waking hours looking for parking, talking about parking, worrying about parking -or one of my best friend’s all-time favorites -telling really great stories about parking?

Well then maybe it’s time to lose your car!

Owning a car in downtown Boston can be time consuming and expensive.  It can be wonderfully liberating to live without a car.

Let me tell you why.

Four Reasons to Live without a Car in Boston

Reason Number One: No More Parking Tickets!

How happy would it make you to never have to pay a parking ticket again? Oh the things you might do, the places you might go –you’ve got extra spending money!

Reason Number Two: Say Goodbye to the Street-Cleaning Sweats

You know what I’m talking about.  Did you read that sign correctly?  Or did you read the wrong sign altogether?  Did a city ordinance have all the signs changed in the middle of the night?  Imagine not having to care one way or the other.

Reason Number Three: No More Snow Emergencies

You’re bundled by the fire after a day on the slopes, far from the city, only to realize your car is parked on a major artery back in Boston, and a snow emergency requires it to be removed.  Imagine not having to worry about where your car is, ever.

Reason Number Four: No More Registration, No More Insurance, No More Parking Stickers.

Enough said.

So, are you thinking the car-less life doesn’t sound too bad after all and want to learn more?

Well then read my list of . . .

Four Ways to get around Boston without a Car

Way Number One: You Can Walk Places.  Cardio is good for you and Grrrreat for the environment too!

Walking is liberating and fun.  You will see things you’ve never noticed before.   You can work on your waistline.  You experience Zen moments with the morning birds and squirrels before you get to the office.  And that’s all great for your health –but it doesn’t stop with just your well-being alone, it’s great for the planet, too.

~ MBTA Red Sox Art ~ Photo by Annie Bergen

~ MBTA Red Sox Art ~ Photo by Annie Bergen

Way Number Two: Tired of Walking?  Ride the T!

The T is still better for the environment than your car.  If your commute is too long to walk, you can combine walking with riding the T.  If you need to, you can drive to a T parking lot and then ride the rest of the way into Boston. Some things you can do on the T:

            1. You Can Meet New People.  You have at least one full stop to get them to like you and they are a conveniently captive audience.
            2. You Can Read That Book you started twenty times, but don’t have time to read at home.
            3. You Can Just Relax.
            4. You Can People Watch.
            5. You Can Check Out the Art!  (See picture to right.  That’s a wall painting at the Fenway T stop).

Way Number 3: Maybe the T’s not for you?  Ride a Bike.

Don’t have your own bike?  Don’t despair.  The Hub’s got a wicked new bike sharing program.  Check it out here: www.hubway.com.  PS: Don’t forget your helmet -it’s a matter of safety as well as a fashion statement.  Now get on your bikes and ride!

Way Number Four:  I Really Need a Car.  OK then, Just Zip It!

If you really just can’t live without the wheels, maybe you can at least live with –sharing the wheels!  Zipcar is a fantastic company that exists solely to get you from place to place in a car.  Just sign up for a membership then jump in a car wherever they’re parked. It’s that simple and cars are available all over town.

See how simple life can be?

Until next time,

Annie Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Team
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If I Knew More About My Condo Fee, What a Wonderful World it Would Be.

~~~ The Charles River and the Brownstones of Boston ~~~ Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

~~~ The Charles River and the Brownstones of Boston ~~~ Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Don’t know much about history.  Don’t know much biology.  But I do know that I love condominiums.  And if I knew more about their fee, what a wonderful world it would be.  What a wonderful world it would be.  All together now!

Do you like the idea of sharing the joys and responsibilities of home-ownership with others instead of going it alone?  And is it agreeable to think of sharing costs and decision-making regarding the upkeep of your building’s common areas?  Then condominium living might be for you!

But, you might be thinking, what exactly is a condominium?  What are condo fees?  And how does it all work?  The terms are so familiar, yet also mysterious at the same time.

Well these are all great questions and you’re not alone in asking them.  So we at Marston Beacon Hill have gone ahead and compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about condominiums, condo fees (aka association fees), and the major points you need to know in order to keep it all straight.  So come along and explore these questions with us –here we go!

1. I always hear about the “budget,” but am not quite sure what that means . . .

Condominium associations elect a board of trustees to oversee the planning and execution of running the condominium.  In order to make and implement decisions efficiently and effectively, the trustees need to create a budget for the condominium to run on just like any family or individual needs to do.  In order to do this the trustees first look at all necessary expenses (discussed below) and then add in any special projects (also discussed below).  Then they use that number as the total budget for the year.  Each unit owner’s condo fee is then based on their respective percentage of the total budget needed for the year.  For example, if it takes $50,000 per year to operate a building and you own 5% then you would owe a total of $2500 for the year, making your monthly association fee $208.33.  So, the next time you think you might like your association to oh, let’s say, “just go ahead and build a gym,” don’t forget that this will also mean a corresponding increase to your monthly fee!  So which do you think will make you sweat more?  The gym or the fee?

2. Let’s Talk about “Condo Fee,” Let’s Talk about You and We

The term “condo fee” stands for condominium fee and it refers to a monthly dollar amount that a condominium unit owner must pay to their condominium association.  It is also, by the way, actually an “association fee,” rather than a “condominium fee” even though it is commonly referred to as the latter — A condominium is a type of ownership entity. An association is the organization of condominiums. The fee that is paid is an association fee rather than a condominium fee –are you loving this yet?  The fees are split between all owners in the condominium and cover costs that vary from building to building, generally going towards common area maintenance, utilities, and other costs of running the condominium.  Some associations include very little in the fee –perhaps just maintenance, heat, and hot water.  Other larger associations can include salaries of maintenance or concierge staff and the upkeep of common amenities like roof decks, pools, and gyms.  There is also generally a portion that goes to building up a healthy reserve in case the association has to make an emergency or planned repair.

3. Why do condo fees change (often go up) and can I do anything about this?

One thing that generally confuses people is why their condo fees often change –and unfortunately usually go up!  Well, this can be for many reasons.  Sometimes the association chooses to increase the monthly fee to raise money for increased routine costs, or to make a repair to the building that was unanticipated like getting a new roof.  These expenses would often be too much for people to handle in one go, so it helps to roll them into the condo fee and spread them out over time.  Since the raw underlying costs involved change, the fees that are passed onto owners have to change as well. For example, fuel costs have been going up as much as 25% this year, so condo fees are going up to reflect this added cost.  In order to be fiscally responsible, associations plan for upcoming capital needs, and a good way to do this is to put aside money in a reserve account. Part of the condominium fees often include a portion for funding this contingency account. In the case of an unplanned event, or a cosmetic or non-capital expense, calling for a supplementary assessment may be done.

And there you have it!

The secrets of condominium living 101 have been unlocked and are yours forever.

We hope this information has been helpful.  If you find yourself still brimming with unanswered questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch anytime and we would be glad to help.

Until next time,

Annie Liza Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Team

City Living Got You Feeling Under-Nourished? Try Container Gardening!

Feeling Blue?  Grow Some Green! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Feeling Blue? Grow Some Green! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Are you getting your greens?  Or are you green with envy?  If it’s the latter, then you better get your grow on!

City living is exciting and vibrant.  Still, some of the things that give it its allure are the same things that also make us itch (just on occasion) for the suburban life.  Do I have a yard?  Probably not.  A garden to stroll in?  Wouldn’t that be nice.  Luckily in Boston we are blessed with some lovely public outdoor spaces.  But unless you are also one of the fortunate ones who have snagged a community gardening patch to call your own, you can’t just wander down to the Public Garden, drop some watermelon seeds, and rest on your green thumb laurels.  The Parks Department is understanding, but not that understanding.

So what to do?  You’d love a little more green in your life.  A little more zest.  You’d like to grab a handful of your homegrown basil and drop it in your pasta salad on a steamy July afternoon.  Who wouldn’t?  Not to fear.  Container gardening to the rescue!

Container gardening is a way of life.  It’s a philosophy.  It’s a secret club.  Ok, it’s not actually all that serious.  But if you do join the club, you can feel good about yourself.  It’s low-cost, healthy, and simple as pie.  Come to think of it, it’s simpler than pie, both the food and the number.  No baking involved and no discouraging decimal places.

Here are five quick and easy steps to get your green thumb thriving in the city:

FIRST: Upcycle!

I’d like to say just for the record that I don’t actually advocate killing birds in any way shape or form, but in this strictly metaphorical case, killing two birds with one stone is a good thing. you can use old household items to start your gardening adventure instead of buying new containers. This way, you’re de-cluttering, recycling, AND saving money all in the name of your new green thumb.  Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  According to simple and concise diytogether.com, you can use old watering cans, old mixing bowls, cooking pots & pans, old metal or plastic bins, waste paper baskets, wooden boxes –in short, just about anything you have on hand to start your container garden.  Just remember to make drainage holes in the bottoms of things!

SECOND: Get Crafty

Finding it hard to contain your excitement whilst container gardening?  You’re not alone.  And the answer is don’t be afraid to let your creativity rule.  Go ahead and throw the traditional planter out the window (although be careful not to hurt anyone or get arrested).  Diytogether.com has the fantastic idea of making hanging baskets out of sieves, colanders, and lampshades …imagine that!  So don’t limit yourself to standard planting protocol, go ahead and hang some things over your head.  One day you’ll be walking across the room and when your hair gets caught in your over-exuberant spider plant, you’ll know you’ve really made it.

THIRD: Claim your new Hobby Spot …or better yet, Many Spots!

Why contain the beauty?  Spread your container gardening around!  If you have a coveted patch of green, a deck, or a patio, you can fill these spaces to your heart’s content.  But if you aren’t lucky enough to have these outdoor spaces, or as I like to advocate, you want to “spread the green,” you can install a window box, hang things from above as in tip number two, or even put a few containers on your front steps.  I once had an herb garden in a window box right outside my kitchen window.  It was SO easy and I could just go give Clive the Chive plant a haircut and toss the trimmings in my dinner whenever the spirit moved me.  Lots of local hardware stores and trusty Target sell little ready-to-go herb garden kits so you’ll be up and running in no time.

FOURTH: Think this is all well and good, but worried you just don’t have the time?

Set up your plants to water themselves!  Seriously.  Check it out here on diytogether.com.   And if you’ve read this far and feel the excitement, but just can’t imagine getting started, then go ahead and hire some help!  You can find gardening pros in any city, but if you’re right here in Beantown with me, give Boston City Gardens a call (www.bostoncitygardens.com) and they’ll sign you up for a free consultation to get up and running with your container gardening.  Once they’ve done all the hard work, you can just roll on maintenance mode.

FIFTH: Enjoy Year-round Nourishment AND Make Your Containers Double as Art!

No matter what kind of space you have for your containers –a balcony, a patio, even just a doorstep or window box –you can grow your edibles and florals outside when it’s nice and then whisk them inside when it turns chilly out there.  That’s a plus one for the portability of container gardening.  And while you’re moving your containers around, why not use them as conversation pieces too?  The fantastic Etsy arts & crafts site has beautiful gardening accessories from artists all over the world.  Check out this pretty Etsy planter.  Oh and while you’re there, how can you resist these adorable herb garden kitchen towels!?

And there you have it.

See how simple it is?  And inspiring?  Go ahead, take care of your City Self.  If you’re having trouble getting closer to nature, bring nature closer to you.

I will leave you with a handy list of some great edible container gardening instructions from About.com’s Container Gardening Guide, Kerry Michaels.  Click below if you want to know more about . . .

Think the blog links are nice, but you’re secretly a bookworm like me and prefer to have a good study before diving in?  Check out The City Gardeners Handbook by Linda Yang.

And you know where I work, so please don’t be bashful about dropping off some of your prize-winning container vegetation.  I will ooh and ahh and my mother will be so happy I’m eating your greens!

Until next time,

Annie Liza Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Green Team