An apple tart recipe with no added sugars

Instead of refined sugar, this recipe uses apple sauce, spices, and lemon juice to give this apple tart a simple, sweet flavor. If you’re feeling fancy, you can layer the apple slices in a beautiful pattern like a french tart.

Ingredients
  • 1 9-inch premade pastry crust*
  • 4 cups thinly sliced sweet apples (like Honeycrisp), skins removed (about 4 to 5 medium apples)
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9.5-inch round tart pan with oil.
  2. Press the pastry crust into the pan, folding down the edges and pressing into the sides of the pan to create the crust. Place in refrigerator while you’re preparing the apples.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the sliced apples, cinnamon, lemon juice, apple sauce, and cornstarch. Toss gently to coat the apples evenly.
  4. Add the apple mixture to the prepared crust. For a more refined look, layer the slices in a pattern.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are golden brown.
  6. Cool completely, then serve.
Notes
*Choose a crust with only three ingredients: flour, butter, salt
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 8 servings Calories: 200 cal Fat: 9g Sugar: 11g Sodium: 0mg Fiber: 3g

Is an All-Cash Offer on a House Always a Good Idea? The True Risks and Rewards

Ah, the all-cash offer. If you’re a home buyer with this ace up your sleeve, you probably have a swagger in your step as you tour homes, looking for the perfect property. Home sellers swoon over all-cash offers for one simple reason: It means there’s no doubt that you’ve got the coin to close the deal.

All-cash home buyers have a distinct advantage over those who need a mortgage, because there’s no guarantee that lenders will fork over the money. A lot can get in the way of that happening, from a subpar credit score to a poor home appraisal and beyond. All these what-ifs are eliminated with an all-cash offer; it’s a no-strings-attached deal at its finest!

Although you might assume that only millionaires have enough money lying around to make an offer in all cash, such deals are surprisingly common. According to a recent report from ATTOM Data Solutions, all-cash offers made up 29% of single-family home and condo sales in 2017. And they’re not necessarily filthy rich: Some buyers are retirees, while others are just savvy home sellers who’ve gained enough equity in their homes (and other investments) that they can swing an all-cash offer.

But should you always make an all-cash offer if you can?

It turns out that in spite of its many benefits, an all-cash offer isn’t always the best move for every home buyer. Here’s how to determine whether an all-cash purchase makes sense for you—and how to do it right.

Should you make an all-cash offer?

Just because you have the money to purchase property doesn’t mean you should definitely do it. Making an all-cash offer comes with both advantages and some lost opportunities. This explains why even extremely wealthy people (such as Mark Zuckerberg!) buy homes with mortgages when they clearly don’t need to.

Here’s a look at what you gain with an all-cash offer, and what you give up.

Advantages of an all-cash offer:

  • You’re in a tough seller’s market. If bidding wars are erupting over homes, an all-cash offer can help you cut through the competition and catapult your offer to the top of the list. All-cash can be an advantage when it comes to shorter escrow periods and eliminating some contingencies,” says Annapolis, MD, real estate agent Greg Beckman.
  • Depending on your market, an all-cash offer can strengthen your negotiation stance and persuade sellers to accept less than their full asking price. However, in today’s low-inventory seller’s market, don’t expect to get a crazy-good deal because you’re paying cash,” says Beckman. “But if youre not in a bidding war, you should be able to get the home for a little less.”
  • If you’re in a rush, an all-cash purchase can streamline the home-buying process for you, too, since there’s less paperwork and no delays for mortgage approval.
  • Without a mortgage, you can actually save money on closing coststitle insurance, and other mortgage-related fees. No loan also equals no money wasted on mortgage interest for the next 15 or 30 years.
  • This may seem obvious, but we’ll say it anyway: Owning a home free and clear means no mortgage payments! You’ll never have to worry about foreclosure (where the lender takes over your home) because you didn’t pay your mortgage.

Disadvantages of an all-cash offer:

  • Youll be tying up a lot of money in one asset, rather than diversifying your financial portfolio.
  • Your purchase could drastically limit your liquidity.
  • Youll miss out on sizeable tax deductions. (For instance, homeowners with a mortgage receive a tax break on mortgage interest.)
  • Your money may be better invested elsewhere (depending on how aggressive you want to be with your investments).

How to make an all-cash offer without getting screwed

While an all-cash offer has many positive qualities, there are still some pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. Here’s how to do it right.

Put the money in one place. You can use cash from a variety of sources to buy a house—including personal savings, cash gifts, and inheritance—but having your home-buying funds in one account can make it easier for you to keep track of the money you’re going to need. Also, because bank transfers can have delays, you don’t want to be moving money around shortly before closing.

Provide proof of funds. You’ll have to provide the home seller with a copy of your bank statement as proof of funds when you submit your offer.

Don’t forget your other home-buying expenses. Even if you plan on buying a house in cash, you still have to budget for the costs that come with any home purchase, including the following:

  • Property taxes: They depend not only on the homes assessed value but also where you live. (See how to calculate property taxes.)
  • Homeowners insurance: The average annual premium runs about $952, but a number of factors can go into calculating the cost. (See how to calculate your homeowners insurance.)
  • Homeowners or condo association fees: For a typical single-family home, HOA fees cost around $200 to $300 a month.
  • Home inspection: A typical home inspection costs $300 to $500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but costs can vary. (See our home inspection checklist.)

Don’t completely drain your savings. Paying for a house in all cash should not leave you scraping the bottom of your bank account!

Staci Titsworth, regional manager of PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh, recommends building an emergency fund that will cover living expenses for at least six months. And if you have extra cash after that, you’d be smart to funnel it into a retirement account, since a home alone should not constitute your entire nest egg.

Article by Daniel Bortz

4 Spring Cleaning Must-Dos for Home Chefs

When’s the last time you washed the knobs on your stove?

Tasty magic happens in your kitchen. And sometimes, a little of that magic is left behind. Only it’s not so tasty. More like stinky. And sticky. Yuck.

Even if you’re not into the spring ritual of deep cleaning your entire house, tackling some tough spots in your kitchen can make it feel like you did.

Especially if that’s where you spend most of your fun time. Here are four things all home chefs should focus on for a cleaner, more organized kitchen:

#1 Cleaning the Cracks and Crevices of Appliances

Even with regular wipe-downs, your appliances can get a little funky in the nooks and crannies. We’re talking about the grills, knobs, and exhaust filter on the range; the door crevices and rubber linings on the dishwasher and fridge; and the individual parts of small appliances.

Range grills and filters can usually go in the dishwasher. But if not — or if the crud is really bad — some elbow grease with a cleaning brush, baking soda, and soap do the trick. For a really grimy range hood filter, try boiling in water with 1/2 cup baking soda.

Appliance knobs do well with a good soapy soak, then scrubbing with a brush and baking soda.

Cleaning the rubber seals on your fridge and dishwasher with simple soap and water will help them last longer and keep tight seals.

#2 Organizing by Zones

Reorganize your kitchen to create zones for all your kitchen tasks, recommends Alyssa Trosclair, a professional organizer with Centsibly Organized.

Think about everything you do in your kitchen from food prep to washing pots to brewing coffee.

Then unload, wipe down, and reload your cabinets, placing items that are used for a similar purpose together (French press and coffee mugs; knives and cutting boards, etc.) in the area where they will be needed.

#3 Eliminating Outdated Staples

Clear out flour, oils, vinegars, and sauces that are past their expiration date — they lose their optimal flavor and can go rancid.

Also toss dried spices that have been open longer than a year (hello there, turmeric from your first apartment). Fresh spices will bring a bigger bang to your recipes, and getting rid of ones you never use will clear out storage space.

To avoid waste in the future, buy small amounts where bulk spices are sold.

#4 Washing Grocery Totes

Speaking of rancid, when was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bags? Studies have found bacteria easily transports from bag-to-food-to-refrigerator, increasing the chances of food poisoning and cross-contamination.

Throw them in the washer or wash by hand with hot soapy water.

Article by: AMY HOWELL HIRT

How To Remove Ticks From Your Dog: Dos and Don’ts

Ticks – ugh! They’re creepy and they can transmit disease. Experts are warning us that this year’s going to be an especially bad year for ticks, with disease incidence expanding and becoming endemic in new areas.

Whatever you use to repel ticks (even the toxic, carcinogenic pharmaceutical products) … if your dog plays in wooded areas, once in a while he’ll probably pick up a tick or two.

Most tick-borne diseases aren’t transmitted immediately, so if you get ticks off your dog within 24 to 36 hours of a tick bite, he’s unlikely to get infected.

But that means it’s really important to check your dog for ticks and remove them promptly. Keep reading to learn the dos and don’ts of tick removal …

… but first, find out which tick diseases your dog might be exposed to.

Tick Diseases In Dogs

Are ticks common where you live? Here’s some information about:

  • the most common diseases ticks can transmit to dogs
  • which ticks carry those diseases
  • geographic areas where they’re usually found

 

 

 

 

 

This is an emerging disease that’s quite rare but worth mentioning because it’s not spread by a tick bite, but by dogs ingesting infected ticks …

American canine hepatozoonosis (ACH)

(Hepatozoon canis, Hepatozoon americanum)

  • This can happen when a dog removes ticks off his own body, or if he eats prey that has ticks
  • It can be a highly debilitating disease … so it’s especially important to remove ticks from your dog before he does it himself!
  • ACH is found in the south central and southeastern US

Is There Tick Disease Where You Live?

If you want to check your area for the incidence of tick disease, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) has nice interactive maps for the US and Canada on their website.

Removing Ticks From Your Dog

Getting any ticks off your dog quickly is an essential part of tick-borne disease prevention.  So let’s take a look at some DOs and DON’Ts to keep in mind.

DOs

DO … remove ticks within 24 to 36 hours of a bite …

If your dog’s out every day in areas where he can pick up ticks, then you need to check him every day. Otherwise, check him when he’s been in the woods or any tick-infested area.

TIP: Some dogs may “show” you where they have a tick, so keep an eye out for your dog scratching himself or biting at himself repeatedly in one place.

DO … check him thoroughly all over. Ticks especially like to hang out in places like his groin, between his toes, in or around his ears, around the anal area, his tail and eyelids.

TIP: If you have a long-haired or double-coated dog, use a dog hair dryer (or your own dryer on a very cool setting) to check for ticks. As you move the dryer over your dog, the hairs will part and you’ll be able to see the skin and catch sight of any ticks lurking there.

If You Find A Tick On Your Dog

DO …use tweezers:

  • Part your dog’s hair around the tick with your fingers
  • Place the tweezers around the tick, as close as you can, possibly get to the skin
  • Don’t twist or jerk the tick
  • Just pull gently upwards with steady hands, adding pressure until the tick lets you pull it away from the skin
  • Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine or soap and water
  • Dispose of the tick by killing it in alcohol or flush it down the toilet
  • If you’re concerned your dog may have contracted tick disease, save the tick in alcohol for testing

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Or…

DO … use a tick removal gadget. There are several on the market. I like the Tick Key and I keep one in several rooms of my house so it’s close at hand when I find a tick on my dog. You can also keep it on your key ring.

  • Place the large opening of the Tick Key over the tick
  • Slide the Tick Key until the tick is in the narrow slot at the end
  • Keep sliding the tick key in the same direction, along the skin
  • The tick will come out, head and all
  • Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine or soap and water
  • Dispose of the tick by killing it in alcohol or flush it down the toilet
  • If you’re concerned your dog may have contracted tick disease, save the tick in alcohol for testing

DON’Ts

  • DON’T … remove ticks with your fingers (though I must admit I do sometimes). If you do use your fingers, it’s best to protect them with a tissue or paper towel, and disinfect your hands afterwards (as well as the bite area on your dog). You don’t really want tick saliva or blood on your fingers as it may contain pathogens
  • DON’T … squish or crush a tick. This can force infected body fluids through the tick’s mouth and increase the risk of infection for you and your dog
  • DON’T … worry if the mouthpart of the tick stays in your dog’s skin. It can happen sometimes when they’re really well embedded. It’s a bit like having a splinter and it will fall out in a few days
  • DON’T … put substances like nail polish, vaseline or repellents on the tick to try to suffocate or kill it while it’s on your dog. This can cause the tick to vomit into your dog, increasing the possibility of infection
  • DON’T  … burn the tick with a lighted cigarette or hot match as these things can also cause vomiting
  • DON’T … dispose of the tick in your trashcan or sink as they can easily crawl back out

How Long Can Ticks Survive Without A Host?

I’ve often wondered about this (because I’ve sometimes dropped a tick after removing it) … so I looked it up. (Now I’ll be a lot less worried that there’s a tick wandering around my house looking for someone to bite).

  • Deer ticks as well as most other hard ticks (which are the ones that usually transmit disease) can dry out and die very quickly in an environment where humidity is less than 90%. Most will die within about 8 hours and won’t survive even 24 hours.
  • On moist clothing in a laundry hamper they might survive 2 or 3 days, or longer if they’ve recently had a blood meal.

If you bring ticks home on your clothes, a study by University of Vermont concluded that putting your clothes in the dryer for 5 minutes on high heat will kill ticks. If you wash your clothes first, the water temperature needs to be over 115°F to kill them. If any survive the wash cycle, you’ll need to dry them for 70 minutes on low heat, or 50 minutes on high heat. Blacklegged (deer) ticks were used for this study so other ticks may respond differently.

Of course, keeping ticks off your dog in the first place is the best strategy, but it’s worthwhile taking the time to check him regularly for ticks. If you remove them promptly, the likelihood of him getting a tick-borne disease is very low.

But before I go …

Here are some quick tips to help keep the ticks off your dog

What to Avoid …

There are many chemical tick preventives that can harm your dog. These range from spot-ons and sprays or collars that repel insects (including brands your vet may prescribe, like Frontline, Advantix, Advantage, Seresto and more).  These pesticides are toxic and can all cause risky side effects in your dog.

There are also some new oral flea and tick preventives, which are given monthly or every three months … the brand names are  Nexgard, Bravecto and Simparica. You might think it sounds very convenient to just give your dog a tasty chew every month or so … but there are risks involved. These drugs circulate in your dog’s bloodstream and they work by attacking the nervous system of the insect to kill it. This means they can also be dangerous for your dog. A number of side effects have been reported, like vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, and seizures … and once these drugs are in your dog’s bloodstream, they will stay there for several weeks or even months. So if your dog has an adverse reaction, you can’t get it out of his system!  Learn more about these drugs that harm both the ticks and your dog!

Avoid these side effects by using organic and natural tick repellents.

3 Natural Solutions

1. Dietary Tick Preventatives

  • Garlic – Garlic helps repel fleas and ticks when it’s excreted through your dog’s skin. You may think garlic is toxic to your dog but it’s a healthy addition to your dog’s diet as long as you feed the right dose – about 1/3 tsp of fresh chopped garlic for per 10 lbs of your dog’s body weight. Here’s a more detailed dosage chart along with information about garlic’s health benefits.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Give your dog 1/2 tsp per day per 25 lbs of body weight.  Add it to your dog’s food or water bowl. The apple cider vinegar adds acidity to your dog’s blood which makes him less appealing to ticks and also fleas.

2. Topical Tick Preventives

  • Herbal flea and tick powder – Many herbal flea and tick powders and sprays are on the market, with various herbal combinations to prevent ticks. Or, learn how to make your own tick powder. 
  • Herbal flea and tick collars – You can make your own herbal flea and tick collar by mixing 2 tablespoons of almond oil with two drops of rose geranium essential oil or palo santo essential oil. Take the ingredients and dab a few drops on your dog’s neck area or place the essential oil directly on your dog’s collar or a bandana. Reapply the essential oil to the collar or neck weekly. There are also several herbal or essential oil tick collars on the market you can purchase.  Avoid any products containing essential oils of wintergreen, pennyroyal and clove. These oils are dangerous for your dog and should not be used for any reason.
  • Tick shampoo – You can make your own tick shampoo by mixing several drops of palo santo essential oil with your favorite organic lavender shampoo. Let the suds sit on your dog for twenty minutes before rinsing. Doing this will kill any existing ticks and prevent new ones.
  • Citrus repellent – You can make your own citrus repellent by cutting a lemon into quarters and putting them into a pint jar. Cover with boiling water and allow the fluid to steep overnight. In the morning, pour the liquid into a spray bottle and mist your dog (use caution around his eyes and nose). For best results, pay attention to the areas behind your dog’s ears, around his head, the base of his tail and the armpits.
  • Diatomaceous earth – DE is a fine white powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic creatures called diatoms.  Buy food grade diatomaceous earth and sprinkle a small amount on your dog: start at the tail, and hold back the coat so you get the powder on his skin. The powder will pierce the protective structures of insects like ticks, causing them to dehydrate and die. It’s safe for your dog but can be drying to his skin so don’t over-use it, and be careful not to get it in his eyes, nose or mouth.

3. For Your Yard

  • Nematodes – Nematodes feed on tick larvae which breaks their life cycle and kills off the parasite. The beneficial nematodes are microscopic, worm-like organisms that live in soil.  They eat many kinds of garden pests as well as fleas and ticks. You can buy them online at places like Arbico Organics as well as several sellers on Amazon. They come ready to use … you just add water as directed on the package. Spray them throughout your yard using a hose sprayer or a watering can.
  • Diatomaceous earth – Use food grade DE and sprinkle it around your yard.  The powder is lethal to ticks and fleas but safe for pets and humans – and it won’t hurt beneficial earthworms either.  It also contains minerals that are good for your garden.

There are many ways to prevent ticks and protect your dog. Ticks don’t always have to be scary … but the best way to avoid all ticks, diseases, and health concerns is to check your dog for ticks – and don’t forget to check yourself as well!

 

DIY Disasters: 6 Easy Mistakes to Avoid With Hardwood Installation

When it comes to do-it-yourself renovation jobs, hardwood installation can seem deceptively easy. All you need are a nail gun, kneepads, a steady hand, and a whole lot of wood.

Right?

But laying hardwood comes with more quirks and potential snags than you might expect. But don’t let all the planning and the “what ifs” get in your head. Just avoid these common pitfalls, and you’ll be admiring your shiny, new wood floor in no time.

1. Buying exactly what you need

You’ve measured the room (twice!), and you know exactly how much wood you need. Good for you.

Now go buy more.

“You need to purchase enough wood to cover a reasonable amount of waste,” says Jason Hoenig, a hardwood flooring contractor in Plainview, NY.

Pros wouldn’t start a job without some material overage. These extra supplies keep the job going if a plank splits or your morning coffee spills and stains some wood. And remember: If you’re not a pro, chances are good you’ll need those extra planks.

Hoenig recommends purchasing at least 5% more hardwood than you think you’ll need. And if you don’t use it, you can always save your leftovers for the next room.

2. Not letting the hardwood ‘breathe’

No matter how antsy you are to lay down the new planks, you can’t skip this vital step. Because hardwood expands and contracts as the temperature changes, it needs to acclimate to the unique conditions of your space before you nail it down.

That means all of those pallets of wood need to sit there, untouched, for at least three days. Ideally, conditions inside need to emulate the day-to-day heat and humidity in your home. You need to spoil your hardwood floors; even if you’ve moved out during construction, your heater or AC needs to be churning to maintain normal conditions.

Flooring that hasn’t been acclimated will expand and contract after it’s installed—potentially ruining your room.

“You’re going to end up with a floor with spaces between the planks when they shrink down,” Hoenig says. Or your floor may become uneven as the wood expands.

To avoid disaster, install wood with a gap around the room’s perimeter. This gap should be equivalent to the flooring thickness—so a half-inch-thick plank would require a half-inch space.

3. Ignoring leveling concerns

Are you laying down hardwood in a living room that connects to a tiled kitchen? You need to ensure the transition is even, otherwise you might trip every time you sneak a late-night snack.

How do you know if your flooring is level to begin with? If you tear up your former carpet and find an uneven subfloor (the flat surface beneath the “real” floor, typically covered in plywood), you’ll need to level it before proceeding.

But you don’t have to alter the space-time continuum to do it. The most popular option is pouring down some self-leveling concrete, which automatically levels into a flat surface perfect for laying hardwood planks.

4. Making unintentional patterns

Few things in the DIY world are more disheartening than than nailing down the hardwood, wiping the sweat off your brow, and proudly stepping back—only to discover the layout looks seriously wrong.

The reason? You unintentionally created patterns in the way you laid the planks.

Sure, you’ll decide whether the hardwood should run vertically or horizontally. But unlike most interior decor, symmetry isn’t the goal of most hardwood installations.

“You want the floor to look random,” Hoenig says.

When installing the boards, look for a wide variety of patterns and colors to give your hardwood that natural, unintentional effect. Keep the edges from lining up by racking the boards, or staggering their layout.

Of course, there are a few times when you want patterned hardwood floors. If you’re angling for a herringbone effect, throw all this advice out the window—but be aware that you’ll need a greater level of precision to keep the lines clean.

5. Sanding carelessly

Your new hardwood is almost ready. You’ve laid down the wood and covered the planks with a stunning maple stain and protective polyurethane coating. But your floors need to go a few rounds with the sanding machine, in between coats of polyurethane.

Be careful here—sanding carelessly can ruin the whole job.

Sanding requires a deft hand and constant movement. Stand still too long, and you’ll apply too much pressure—and you might strip the stain you so carefully applied. Cue another trip to the home improvement store, and more hours spent stripping and reapplying stain. Suddenly, saving a buck by doing it yourself ends up costing you more.

Make sure to read the instructions for your preferred hardwood floor finish. Some will have specific instructions for sanding and how to apply the finish.

6. Leaving dirt on the floor

It’s not fair that installing hardwood requires multiple cleanup sessions. No, you can’t just wipe everything up at the end—you need to clear off the dust before applying stain or lacquer, and again in between each round of sanding. Otherwise, your finish will never look finished—just irregular, bumpy, and very, very sad.

Use a rag soaked in mineral spirits to remove any leftover dust and dirt before covering your floor with stain or lacquer. Repeat in between sanding sessions, which most definitely kick up dust. And don’t forget to wash yourself off, too, lest you spread debris onto your newly cleaned floors and end up with curious bumps on your finish.

And if you’re having a particular tough time getting it all right? Don’t be scared to call in a professional. Not everything has to be DIY.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

BACON WRAPPED CHORIZO LIME JALAPENO POPPERS

Bacon Wrapped Chorizo Lime Jalapeno Poppers.   Not only is the name a mouthful but it’s a spicy bit of taste bud nirvana.

INGREDIENTS

CREAM CHEESE FILLING

  • 4 oz Cream Cheese at room temperature
  • 1 lime , juiced
  • 1/2 cupParmesan Cheese

CHORIZO FILLING

JALAPENOS

  • 8 pieces bacon
  • 8 jalapenos

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl combine and blend the cream cheese, Parmesan, and lime juice with a spoon. Set aside.
  3. In a small pan over medium high heat combine the chorizo and red onion and cook until done. Add in the tsp of ghee, coconut or bacon fat, cacao and cinnamon and stir well with a heat resistant spatula.
  4. Slice the Jalepenos as shown in the photo. De-seed.
  5. You’re going to stuff the jalapenos in a ratio of 2 to 1 with the Cream Cheese filling being the larger portion.
  6. Wrap the Jalapenos in Bacon and place on a baking sheet in an oven for 30 – 35 minutes. For extra color you can place the Jalapeno Poppers under the broiler on low for 2 -3 minutes – watch them because you don’t want them to burn.
  7. Enjoy
Recipe by By Kelly Bejelly

What Is a Closing Disclosure Form? A New Mortgage Document Home Buyers Must Check

What is a closing disclosure form? Put simply, it’s a form outlining the terms and costs of your mortgage—and one of the most important pieces of paperwork to check before you close on a home.

Lenders must provide borrowers with a closing disclosure (also called a CD) at least three business days before closing—that day when all the remaining paperwork is signed and you get the keys to your new home. You can also see the CD as the official follow-up to a more preliminary document you received when you first applied for your loan called the loan estimate, or LE (also known as a good-faith estimate).

The LE outlined the approximate fees you would be expected to pay if you move forward with a lender to close on a home. But your closing disclosure is the real deal, which is all the more reason to scrutinize it carefully.

Closing disclosure vs. settlement statement?

Before Aug. 1, 2015, the CD was known by another name: the HUD-1 settlement statement. Yet this document was long and confusing, and required by federal law to be distributed to home buyers only on the day of closing—which didn’t give them much time to address any issues. This is why the settlement statement was replaced by the much more streamlined five-page closing disclosure, and laws were changed so that lenders are required to provide this document at least three business days before closing.

But even so, the CD can still be confusing—so let’s break it down so you know what you’re looking at, shall we?

Why you should compare your CD with your LE

When checking items on your CD, you’ll want to compare what you see with what’s on your loan estimate. Many of the numbers and terms should match up (or close), but some may change because weeks or even months may have passed since you first applied for you loan.

Unless you locked in your mortgage interest rates, those rates may have changed. The title company or attorneys involved may have nudged up their fees. That’s all par for the course, but you’ll want to keep an eye out for errors such as typos in names or numbers.

Think such errors aren’t common? A recent survey of real estate agents by the National Association of Realtors® found that half of agents have detected errors on CDs. In other words, it really pays to check this document carefully and ask your real estate agent for help.

If any changes are significant enough or troubling to you, you’ll want to notify your lender and title or closing company immediately. Remember, you may have received your CD just three days before closing, so the clock is winding down fast.

If you do spot problems, what then? Depending on what the underlying issue is, “changes can be made in a manner that does not disrupt the closing of the loan,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at HSH.com, a mortgage information website.

In some cases, though, the closing may have to be postponed so that a new closing disclosure can be sent out with a new three-day review period.

Things to check on your CD

Here’s a list of things to triple-check on your CD and compare with your LE from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

  • Spelling of your name: Even minor misspellings can create big problems later.
  • Loan term: That’s how long your home loan lasts, typically 15 or 30 years.
  • Loan type: There are many types of loans, although conventional loans typically come with either a fixed interest rate or an ARM (or adjustable-rate mortgage for which rates remain the same for only a certain number of years.
  • Interest rate: If you locked in your rate, it should remain the same.
  • “Cash to close amount: This is how much money you need to bring to the table to close the deal, including your down payment and closing costs (more on that next). Typically, home buyers pay the remainder of the funds through a cashiers check or a wire transfer. (Depending on the bank, funds may need to be wired to a corresponding bank, which can delay receipt; also, some banks send out wires at only certain times of the day.)
  • Closing costs: These are fees paid to third parties (e.g., the appraiserand underwriter) to facilitate in the sale of this home. If there are significant changes from your LE, ask your lender to explain why. But in general, home buyers can expect typical closing costs to amount to about 3% to 4% of the home’s sale price.
  • Loan amount: This number may have increased since your LE. One possible reason could be that closing costs have been rolled into your loan, which reduces your upfront costs but adds to your overall costs because of the added interest youll pay over the life of the loan. If you’re not sure why this amount has changed, ask your lender.
  • Estimated total monthly payment: This is an “estimate” because your monthly payment can change over time if, say, the interest rate on your ARM increases after the introductory rate expires. (You can use realtor.coms Home Affordability Calculator to make sure youll be able to comfortably afford to pay your monthly loan payments.)
  • Estimated taxes, insurance, and other payments: This amount can change over time if, say, your property taxes or homeowners association dues increase.

If this is your first time purchasing a home—or you purchased your last home before Aug. 1, 2015 (when the CD replaced the HUD-1)—sit down and review a sample CD from the CPFB. If you have any questions, ask your loan officer or real estate agent for a line-by-line explanation of the form. Trust us, this extra dose of oversight is well worth it!

Article by Daniel Bortz

Don’t Buy That Fixer-Upper (Unless You Know These 4 Things)

Sure-fire ways to spot a fixer-upper that’ll fix you up financially.

A few years ago, Alessandra Pollina and her husband, Ondre, were looking for a property that would need no more than some cosmetic changes and upgrades. But because the price was right, they ended up with the ultimate fixer-upper: a two unit, single-family-style home that was already gutted to the studs.

They were excited about its potential, not to mention the one-half acre of land the house is sitting on. “That’s unusual for Boston,” Pollina says. “It’s the biggest backyard ever.”

Four years and many renovations later, Pollina estimates her home in the Dorchester neighborhood is worth (drum roll, please) an epic56% more than it was when she bought it. Wow, talk about a return on investment.

The moral? A fixer-upper isn’t necessarily something to eschew. If the right  things are wrong with a house, you could not only turn it into your dream home, but also earn serious equity (wealth building!) in the process.

Oh, and don’t assume you need to be a DIY master to make it worthwhile, either. Time and patience may be all you need.

Here’s how to tell if that fixer-upper is a keeper — or if you should keep walking.

1. Evaluate the Price

If it’s a fixer-upper, it should come at a fixer-upper price. Duh, but that’s a reminder NOT to fall in love too quickly with a home that the listing says “just needs a little TLC.” Do your homework first, and if the price is right, then fall in love.

Find out what similar homes in the neighborhood sell for and how tricked out they are (with amenities and materials). A REALTOR® can help you figure that out. And that will tell you how much money you can invest in the home before you over-improve for the neighborhood, a mistake you want to avoid if you plan to sell in the future.

Wendell De Guzman, a Chicago real estate investor who renovates at least two houses a month, recommends treating the remodel like a business, not a hobby. Determine your budget based on the market value of homes in your neighborhood, because you’re not going to sell for more.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you can put into the house,” Guzman says. “You’re limited by the market value of what nearby houses are selling for.”

2. Start Evaluating What Improvements Are Needed

The best fixer-uppers offer lots of opportunities for “instant equity,” which means if you sold the home tomorrow you’d pretty much get that money back, unlike other projects which you may never get your money back on. (Swimming pool anyone?)

Some can be as simple as painting or landscaping, which you can accomplish with sweat equity, De Guzman says. In fact, the Pollinas started their rehab with high-value, low-effort landscaping, since it’s the first thing people see. They raked, brought the grass back to life, planted fruit trees and a veggie garden, and enjoyed the reaction: “People are so surprised and impressed,” Alessandra says.

Other tasks — the Pollinas focused on the kitchen next — may require the work of professionals and cash to pay them. It’s those projects you want to carefully evaluate against the home’s price.

3. Which Hire-a-Pro Projects Add Instant Equity?

Fact: While most home improvements add some equity, some are consistently at the top of the heap. Another thing those equity champions have in common: They usually require the help of a pro, but the cost can be instantly  worth it.

Based on data gleaned from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ “Remodeling Impact Report” (RIR), if these three projects are on your fixer-upper’s list of must-haves, then you may have found your dream equity-builder:

  • New roof: A new roof may not be the remodeling project of your dreams — until you realize it could actually pay  you. You’ll spend about $7,500 to install it (based on a national average determined by contractors responding to the RIR survey), but when you sell, it could recoup 109% of that or $8,150, according to REALTORS® surveyed.
  • Hardwood floors: It costs about $3,000 on average nationally to refinish hardwood floors. The survey indicates you could recoup 100% of that at resale. If you’re looking at a fixer-upper (at the right price) that needs the floors redone, that’s like getting the floors for free! New hardwood floors are also a good choice at a cost of about $5,500 to install, and could recoup $5,000 of that at resale.
  • Insulation: A fixer-upper offers a great opportunity to replace or add insulation. New insulation costs about $2,100 on average nationally, and can recoup $1,600 at resale — as if saving 10% to 50% on your energy bill wasn’t compelling enough.

While those three are pretty safe bets — homeowners who responded to the RIR survey gave them high happiness and satisfaction marks, too — almost any project can be worth it with a fixer-upper if the price is right. For example, a complete kitchen renovation can cost $65,000 and recover only about $40,000 when you sell. But if the fixer-upper is discounted enough, think how amazing it would be to cook in a kitchen you designed yourself.

4. Evaluate Your Ability to Deal with Disruption

Whether you’re a DIY Jedi or content to let the pros handle the remodel, if your patience is shorter than your potential home’s to-do list, a fixer-upper may not be a good choice.

Renovating a bathroom alone can take two to three weeks. Add hardwood flooring, a new kitchen, and siding, and you’re looking at a whole summer’s worth of rehab.

When considering a fixer-upper, evaluate the limits of your emotional energy as well. Inevitable project pitfalls and delays can be wearing. Only if you have the time, patience, and emotional endurance for a fixer-upper will it be a good fit for you. And only you can determine that.

But if you can budget your time and money — and employ the right fixer-upper strategies — you might find yourself with a double reward: A home that’s worth far more than you paid, and the joy of knowing you helped get it there.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

5 ATTRACTIVE DOG FENCE IDEAS FOR YOUR YARD

If you’re a dog owner, you most likely consider the dog to be just as much a part of your family as you do your children or even your spouse.  There’s truly something wonderful about having a four-legged friend in your life.  The last thing you want to happen is for your dog to head outside and roam free to where the dog simply wanders off and cannot find its way home or wind up in a fatal accident.  Having a dog fence is a great way to protect that special family member.

A dog fence offers a pet owner a bit of security, knowing that you don’t always have to keep your eye on where the dog is at all times.  This is especially true if you happen to have a dog who lives for the outdoors and loves having a space it can run to its heart’s content.  A good dog fence serves as a proper barrier to keep a pet inside the yard and in a safe place—with you and your family.  Fences also protect your dog and your other loved ones safe from any strays or other wild animals.

If you’re looking to protect your furry four-legged friend and keep your pet safe and sound and also want to maintain the aesthetic appeal of your yard, here are some popular dog fences for yards our customers typically go for:

A Traditional Dog Fence: Split Rail

Split rail fences or log fences are constructed out of pine, usually split lengthwise into rails and remains one of the oldest and most reliable fences for keeping a dog inside the yard. They are very simple in their construction and you can build these fences almost anywhere, even on hard or rocky ground.  Split rail fences also provide a much more open view; clients often like the traditional and yet professional look they add to their landscape.  However, this fence often requires some type of fabric—like welded wire—inside the fence and close to the ground to keep the dog fenced in.  Split rail is virtually maintenance free once installed so you’ll spend more time enjoying your four-legged friend rather than having to deal with the fence.

The American Dream of Dog Fences: Picket Fence

Time and time again we get customers who talk about the American dream of having a little house with a white picket fence that keeps a dog inside the yard.  It’s a highly economical choice that offers closely spaced solid wood slats that can prevent escape as well as bias-cut tops that discourage jumping.  You can purchasewooden picket fence materials in various heights as well, depending upon the size of your dog.  Even better news about picket fences is that you can have your choice of decorative picket tops—from rounded or straight edges to ornate curves and arches.  I also recommend this option especially to customers who have smaller, non-aggressive dogs.

However, if you are the proud owner of a more athletic or aggressive dog who is prone to barking at every passerby, you may wish to consider some of our other options.

Dog Fence With An Ornamental Edge: Aluminum

If you’re less concerned with privacy and still want to treat your dog to a neighborhood view, consider a high-quality aluminum fence.  With an aluminum fence, you have a wide array of options to choose from—all of which can add a highly elegant look to your property while keeping your dog safe and sound inside your yard.  Depending upon the kind of dog you own, there are three ratings of aluminum fence to choose from, which means you may want to select a heavier, more industrial style fence if you happen to own a slightly aggressive or larger sized dog.

With aluminum, you can also purchase what’s called “puppy pickets,” which means that lower portion of the fence has pickets spaced closer together so that your furry friend won’t be able to squeeze through the fence and wander off.  Puppy pickets can give your dog fence a unique appearance that some customers think looks more stylish compared to traditional ornamental fences.

Dog Fence for Privacy: Solid Wood

If you happen to be the proud pet owner of the noisiest dog on the block who loves to bark at anything that passes by your front yard or treats your neighbors as if they were intruders, a solid wood fence offers a classic look that blocks your dog’s view of what’s beyond the fence and (hopefully) reduces the amount of barking your dog does. In addition to solid wood panels, you can still be highly creative in your design by adding a lattice top or some kind of other geometrical pattern.

Another benefit of a wood fence is that it offers a bit more stability and security if you own a highly active dog who loves to jump as you can design a fence tall enough to prevent your dog from escaping the confines of your yard.  This is often important for that dog owner who owns a dog that loves the great outdoors and needs a solid barrier to keep the animal from wanting to chase either another animal—particularly a cat, rabbit or even another dog.

We offer a variety of wood options so you can build a fence that serves as both a strong barrier to protect your pet while also adding some beauty and added sight appeal to your property.

Dog Fence That Lasts a Lifetime: Vinyl

If you want a fence that is easy to maintain and makes your yard look impeccably elegant while also keeping your dog safely inside your property, consider a vinyl fence.  Vinyl fencing is built to last and is made of highly durable materials to where it will never fade.  Other than the occasional use of a garden hose to keep it clean, vinyl fencing is truly maintenance free and will never fade or warp.

If you want a fence that lasts beyond your own lifetime in the home or the lifetime of several generations of puppies, vinyl is the best way to go.  At Frederick Fence, we offer more than 30 distinctive dog fencing ideas for our customers to choose from, all fabricated with 100% Virgin Vinyl.

Of course, we recommend that when purchasing a dog fence that you take everything into consideration—from the size of your dog and its temperament to your budget.  Our goal is to design a fence for you that offers you the comfort in knowing that your dog will always be with you and live in a safe environment.  After all, your dog IS your best friend! Check out more information here about Fencing For Dogs.

Ready to build a dog fence for your precious four-legged friend?  Contact us today and we’ll help you design a fence that meets your needs!

Got pictures of your dog enjoying its outdoor living space? Share them with us below—we love seeing dogs enjoying their freedom in a fenced-in yard!

Looking for a new home? Sellers may be spying on you

Home buyer, beware! The seller may be watching. And listening. A growing number of home sellers are using security cameras and microphones to spy on potential buyers as they tour their houses or condos. They then may use what they hear or see as leverage in price negotiations.

The trend has been fueled by the spread over the past five years of inexpensive Wi-Fi enabled cameras and mics that home owners can buy and set up them selves for home security. Motion sensors notify them by text or email that a visitor is in their house, and they can then observe a prospective buyer on a computer, lap top or smart phone through the Internet. Alternatively, they can view a recording later.

“Recording devices are cheaper and more readily available,” says Leslie Walker, deputy general counsel of the National Association of Realtors. Last October, a retired civil service worker bought a three-bed room house in Richmond Hill, Ga., for about $250,000, says Andi DeFelice, who rep resented the buyer as a broker at Exclusive Buyer’s Realty. After the retiree moved in, his next-door neighbor told him the seller “’knew he had a buyer the minute you walked through,’” DeFelice re counted.

Pretend the seller is home. He was right. When DeFelice and her client toured the home, they both gushed that it was perfect for his need for an isolated work shop to tinker with computers and TVs. The property came with a detached small build ing with a kitchen, bath room, living area and two-car garage.

DeFelice believes the intelligence the seller had didn’t affect the bargaining. The retiree paid $15,000 less than the asking price. But “it’s not a comfortable feeling to know that you’re be ing recorded,” says DeFelice, whose agency represents buyers only and who heads the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. “I was annoyed because my client was annoyed.”

Now, she says, she routinely tells potential buyers to curb their enthusiasm while they’re in the house. “Be fore we walk in the door, I say, ‘Pretend the seller is home’ or ‘Pretend somebody is listening.’ Because you never know.

 

In a survey conducted by Harris Poll for NerdWal let this month, 15% of Americans who have ever sold a home said they’ve use surveillance cameras to monitor potential home buyers. And 67% say they would use such cameras if they were selling a home that already had them.

“In a competitive housing market, everything is fair game,” says Holden Lewis, a housing analyst for NerdWal let, a personal finance web site. About 9.4 million U.S. homes, or 7.4% of the total, are equipped with Wi-Fi enabled cameras and mics, says Brad Rus sell, research director for Parks Associates, a consumer technology research firm. As many as 11 million or so have similar but more limited set-ups trained on the doorstep or outside the house, or embedded in a light fixture, Russell says.

That means up to 13% of homes have at least one Wi-Fi camera and mic. The cameras often are visible but can be hidden in stuffed animals, like a “nanny cam,” or concealed in bookshelves. This Web-enabled do-it-your self home surveillance market didn’t even exist five years ago, Rus sell says.

By 2022, as many as 50 million homes are projected to have at least one Wi-Fi camera, Parks forecasts. An average camera and mic costs $122, Russell says.

Spying may be illegal

Yet snooping home sellers may be breaking the law. Surveillance laws vary by state. Video monitoring is generally prohibited in places where some one has “a reasonable expectation of privacy,” according to a summary of state laws compiled by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Such privacy zones likely would not include other people’s homes. In many states, how ever, eavesdropping or recording audio requires the consent of at least one per son being recorded, and some require the sign-off of all the parties.

In other words, audio recording likely would be legal in many states if the home seller is accompanying the buyer. But not in the more common scenario in which the only ones monitored are the house hunter and his or her broker, both unsuspecting.

Sellers “need to disclose it, put a sign up or turn it o!,” says Lou Nimko, a broker at Brio Real Estate in Winter Park, Fla., and president of the Orlando Regional Realtors Association. NAR recommends that listing brokers ask home sellers if they’re using surveillance equipment, Walker says. If so, they should tell the buyer’s agent or include a notice in the home listing that all brokers can see, she says. Some regional Realtors’ groups now require home sellers to inform their brokers of any surveillance equipment as part of standard broker contracts, Walker says.

 

Gea Elika, a New York City broker, estimates that up to a third of the condominiums he shows have surveillance equipment because most of them cost at least several million dollars. A few years ago, a client saw a camera move as she toured a condo.

“She kind of wanted to get out of there,” says Elika, principal broker at Elika Associates. “She thought it was creepy” and didn’t buy the unit. Many home sellers and their brokers have a different perspective.

A couple of years ago, sellers in Atlanta used a nanny cam to record what prospective buyers said be cause they wanted to know what they didn’t like about the house, says their agent, Jen Engel of Keller Knapp. The house had been languishing on the market.

“In my opinion, if you’re not comfortable with (camera surveillance), that’s your problem and not mine,” says Engel, who has security cameras in her own house and believes buyers should assume they’re being recorded. “It’s my house, and I can do it if I want to.”

Ginger Tumeric Orange Juice

Juice blends are easy to prep, inexpensive, and delicious. We think that fresh fruit blends, made right at home, are the best option for a Paleo diet. That’s because pre-made juices are often filled with non-Paleo sugars, no matter how little is included. You don’t need to add sugar or any other sweetener to this juice blend though – the natural citrus flavors and sweetness are enough to make this a satisfying drink!

We love this orange juice recipe for a few reasons: It’s easy to scale this up or down as needed; you can make adjustments to the recipe based on your taste and preferences; and, it includes yummy and nutritionally beneficial ginger and turmeric root. Fresh ginger adds a hosts of benefits to your drink, including anti-inflammatory properties which help a ton with sore joints and digestive pain. While the health benefits of fresh turmeric might be a bit overstated, this spice still has a ton of other nutrients and oxidation-prevention properties (plus, it’s just a tasty addition to your drink anyway!). Locating fresh turmeric might be a bit difficult for some; check out local Middle Eastern groceries, chain grocery stores that specialize in unique produce, and online retailers. If needed you can substitute ground turmeric, just make sure to adjust the amount accordingly.

Ingredients

  • 2 apples, peeled and chopped
  • 4 oranges, peeled
  • 1 lemon, peeled
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh turmeric, minced
  • 2 cups water

Preparation

  1. Place the apples, oranges, and lemon in a blender and pulse until smooth.
  2. Add the ginger and turmeric and give another pulse.
  3. Pour in the water and pulse until you get a smooth juice; for a smoother juice add more water.

Is a Mortgage Transfer Possible? Sometimes – Here’s When

Is a mortgage transfer possible—where you hand off a home loan from one person to another? The answer is usually no. When you sell your home, the buyers have to get their own mortgage and you pay yours off in full with proceeds from the sale.

But there are a few exceptions to the rule. Here are the ways you can transfer a mortgage, and why you might want to consider it.

What kinds of mortgage transfer are possible?

Most loans aren’t transferable, and the reason for this is that they have a “due on sale” clause, explains Chris Combs, founder of Combs Law Group. That means that when the property is sold, the entirety of the loan comes due.

But some loans are created without due on sale clauses, and so they can be transferred from seller to buyer. These are known as “assumable loans,” says Chris Lewis from Angel Oak Home Loans. There are three main types of assumable loans:

  • VA loans are designed to be assumable because service members move frequently for their careers. Loans closed before March 1988 can be transferred freely, with no additional approval from the lender (however, given that those loans are now nearly 30 years old, there aren’t too many left around). Loans closed after that date must have the transfer approved by the lender, which means that the person on the receiving end of the transfer has to meet certain income and credit standards to qualify.
  • FHA loans can also be designed to be transferable without lender approval. The loan must have closed before December 1989 (which also means not many are still around). Otherwise, the lender must approve the new borrower.
  • USDA loans can also be transferred, but lender approval is required, and the recipient must not exceed certain income requirements.

Reasons to make a mortgage transfer

With today’s low interest rates, there is less incentive to want to take over someone else’s mortgage. However, when rates rise, this option looks more attractive.

Taking over a loan also saves on closing costs: Instead of paying to originate a new loan and all the taxes and other closing costs associated with that, a buyer pays a nominal fee to assume the existing loan. You also don’t need a down payment to assume a loan.

However, even if a loan transfer is possible and preferable, there are some complications to the process.

Assumable loan disadvantages and dangers

Although you don’t need a down payment to assume a loan, you still might need to come up with a big chunk of change to make the transfer. Since you’re assuming only the existing loan amount, you are responsible for paying the seller for their equity in the home. The more equity a seller has, the more money the buyer has to pay up front.

For example, if the purchase price of the property is $300,000, but the seller has paid down the loan to $200,000, the buyer has to come up with the $100,000 difference that the seller has racked up in home equity.

If the buyers don’t have that much cash on hand, they can take out a secondary loan, but that loan will be at the current higher interest rate and include standard closing costs, making the transfer much less attractive.

Another thing to watch out for is that the original borrowers still retain responsibility for the loan unless they have a release in writing from the lender. If they fail to get this release, they are still liable if the new homeowner fails to repay the loan, and the loan debt will still count against them if they attempt to take out a new mortgage. If you do go through a loan assumption, be sure to hold onto your release paperwork in case there is ever an issue down the line.

When due on sale clauses don’t apply

Almost every loan other than a VA, FHA, or USDA loan will have a due on sale clause. However, because of a law called the Garn–St. Germain Act of 1982, there are some transfers that all lenders are required to allow despite the due on sale clause. Most of these are transfers between family members related to unanticipated changes in the homeownership, explains Combs. Here is a list of the most common exemptions:

  • Loan transfer to a relative on the death of a borrower
  • Loan transfer from a borrower to a spouse or children
  • Loan transfer from one ex-spouse to another during a divorce or separation (if they continue to live there)
  • Loan transfer to a living trust, if you continue to occupy the property

These transfers work by either adding a person to the home’s deed, removing a deceased owner from the home’s deed, or having the spouse giving up ownership sign a quitclaim deed.

Once ownership of the home has changed hands, the new owner can continue to pay the previous owner’s mortgage.

How living trusts work

For living trusts, the process is a bit more complicated. Living trusts are created to keep a property from going into probate when the owner dies, but is created before the former owner’s death.

“First the trust is created, typically by a lawyer, and then the property is deeded over to the trust,” explains Corey Chappell, closing options analyst with 181-Close-Now. “The trust now officially owns the property.”

As long as the former owner continues to occupy the home, the trust pays the mortgage. When the former owner dies, the trust’s beneficiaries can do as they wish with the home without having to go through probate. Here’s more on whether a living trust is right for you.

Article by Audrey Ference

5 Plants You (Almost) Never Have to Water

Gorgeous, cheap, and practically care-free — what’s not to love?!

Every plant needs water. But drought-resistant varieties need only dainty sips once they’re established, making them perfect for low-rainfall areas and low-energy gardeners.

Susan Gottlieb, an expert on drought-tolerant gardens, says native plants have the best chance of surviving dry summers or whatever nature throws at them.

“Natives have evolved to thrive in your climate without a whole lot of extra work,” Gottlieb says.

#1 California Lilac

This beautiful shrub flowers in late winter/early spring, emits a lovely fragrance, and shows flowers that run from white to purple. The “Concha” variety is prized for its deep blue blossoms. California lilacs grow best on dry, sloping land or in front of any structure that protects them from wind. They also prefer well-drained soil, and they don’t do well in clay.

#2 Deer Grass

Found in many desert gardens, deer grass is a spiky and dependable ornamental. It loves full sun, but also will grow in a little shade. Water every three days until established. After the first year, water only every three weeks.

#3 Salvia, Heatwave Series

These dependable perennials were developed in Australia to withstand extreme weather. As a bonus, they bloom spring through fall, to the delight of hummingbirds and butterflies. Colors include white, pink, and salmon.

#4 Dusty Miller

This low-growing perennial is known for its silver-gray foliage, looks good as a ground cover, and thrives in containers stuffed with annuals. It hates standing around with wet roots, so plant it in soil that drains well.

#5 Tickweed

These yellow perennials add a burst of sunshine to any garden or border. More than 100 species are long-blooming (so long as you deadhead) and low-maintenance. They range from long and leggy to small and mounded. Also, they are easy to divide, creating many more plants season after season.

More than 30 states host Native Plant Societies, which can guide your selection and help you save water in your garden. To find a local society, check with your local extension agent or with the Native Plant Conservation Campaign, a friend to native and endangered plants.

Article by LISA KAPLAN GORDON

A Housecleaning Checklist for People Hosting Guests With Pet Allergies

Pet allergies might not be a problem for you, but there’s a decent chance one of your guests can’t sit among dander without sneezing or coughing. And even if a pet is taken out of the house, it takes a certain amount of time for dander levels to go down significantly.

“Studies show that it may take as many as six months before allergen levels become low enough so as not to cause a clinical reaction,” says Andrew S. Kim, medical director of Allergy & Asthma Centers in Virginia.

But we challenge you to find a pet owner who would be willing to send their furry friend away for half a year—it’s not going to happen! So let’s focus on more realistic solutions.

Luckily, Kim says that “aggressive cleaning of homes may reduce allergen levels.” And while hours and hours spent vacuuming, dusting, and sanitizing your home doesn’t sound like fun, it’s one reasonable way to ensure your guests will be comfortable in your house during the holidays and beyond.

Here’s what you can do to get your pet-friendly house ready for pet allergy–prone guests. (Or even owners!)

1. Give your pets the spa treatment

A good bath can temporarily reduce the number of allergens on your pet, says Kim. Sadly, the results are only temporary. Two to three days afterward, your pet’s allergens will be back to baseline.

To make a long-term difference, “washing must be done at least two times per week,” Kim says.

2. Roll up your rugs

“Carpets are a greater reservoir of pet allergens versus a polished floor,” says Kim. Therefore, remove those fur catchers from your hardwood or tile floor so you can vacuum up pet hair.

3. Turn on your air conditioner

Doing so will help keep humidity levels in your house low.

“Higher numbers of airborne allergens are found in homes with high humidity,” Kim says.

4. Dust before your guests arrive

Aim to do this a day or two before their arrival.

“This will give dander time to settle out of the air,” says Leslie Reichert, cleaning coach and author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning.”

5. Take up vacuuming as a hobby

“Regular vacuuming or three-times-weekly vacuuming may temporarily reduce allergen levels,” Kim says. So get into it!

Make sure you use the best vacuum for pet allergens and hair, such as the Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly 31150.

6. Change your vacuum bag

Each time you vacuum, be sure to change or clean the filter. You should also change the bag or empty the dust cup.

“This will make sure you aren’t spreading dander around the house,” Reichert says.

7. Don’t forget to vacuum your furniture

Even if your pets aren’t allowed on your couch, “their dander is airborne so it will be on all the surfaces of your home,” Reichert says. Use your vacuum attachments to clean all fabric furniture.

8. Don’t let laundry pile up

Sure, you might fall behind on a few loads given how much other cleaning you have to do. But fun fact: Pet allergens stick to your clothing. Once there, they can easily transfer to your furniture or guests.

9. Clean those places you normally don’t

You might vacuum your lamp shades or dust under your couch only on a quarterly basis, but now’s the time if you’re preparing for guests with sensitivities to dust and dander. Put throw pillows into the dryer, dust the tops of doorways and picture frames, and don’t forget to wash and put away your pet’s food bowls.

10. Clean your air

An air purifier for pet hair is essential. Make sure yours has a HEPA filter, which can remove more impurities from the air. Place the purifier in the most-used room of your home and run it 48 hours nonstop before your guests arrive, advises Reichert. After their arrival, it should move into the room where your guests will sleep.

“This will give them a place to escape should their allergies get overwhelming,” says Reichert.

11. Come clean to your guests

Make sure your visitors know you have pets and the measures you’re taking to lower their exposure to allergens. Remind them to take their asthma and allergy meds before and during their visit.

Article by Stephanie Booth

4 Doable Spring Cleaning Tips for People With Lots of Stuff

One even includes wine. Sign us up.

You hate to get rid of anything, because what if you need it later? And yet, if you did need it, you’d never find it among all the other stuff you’ve held onto. (And, hey, there is such a thing as good clutter.)

Now’s the time to do some strategic (read: non-overwhelming) purging and organizing, so you can make life easier on yourself — without pitching all your goodies.

#1 Clear Out Your Bathroom Cabinet

This is a good place to get your spring-cleaning mojo going. It’s not too big, nor too small a project for a rewarding payoff of more storage space.

Expired medications and outdated cosmetics can take up some seriously prime real estate in the bathroom, and can even be hazardous to your health if you were to actually use them. (Can you believe mascara can start sprouting bacteria after just THREE months? That’s not pretty.)

#2 Purge Just One Room

Pick one room. Just one. And take your time there. Look through every closet and drawer and pull out anything you can live without to trash, recycle, or donate.

The goal isn’t to end up with as little stuff as possible, but to have fewer things — and a little more room in your storage spaces.

If you have the gumption to tackle another room when you’re done, awesome. If not, next week, next month, next year.

#3 Watch for Duplicates (and Get Rid of Them)

While you’re looking through drawers and closets (or just going about your day), keep an eye out for storage-clogging multiples. Because unless you’re a competitive potato salad maker, seven peelers is about five peelers too many.

#4 Host a “Ditch ‘n’ Wine Night”

Trying to purge, but have a pile items you just can’t decide if you can let go? Invite a friend over for a little wine and decision-making support on what should stay and what must go.

“It is much easier to organize for other people, and having someone with you can help you make realistic decisions instead of emotional ones,” says Alyssa Trosclair, a professional organizer with Centsibly Organized.

Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT

PAPRIKA-LEMON CHICKEN MARINADE

Quickly choose your favorite cut of chicken, 4 portions please, because a zesty paprika-lemon marinade is on the way and you will want to make it it in the morning, before work, so that cooking dinner is a blissful event, rather than a chore. We’ll call this kid-approved as well, so long as there are enough drumsticks to go around, but let us also mention that thighs are exquisite when bathed in this flavorful marinade, as well as skinless chicken breasts – you really cannot go wrong. You could also squeeze a bit of leftover lime in there, should one be lingering around after last night’s dinner of spicy cilantro-lime tuna… Use what you have on hand, just don’t skimp on the zestiness of it all.

When making a marinade, the length of marinating time really does matter. For poultry, 2 hours is the minimum amount of time for soaking, 4 hours is about average and 8 is certainly plenty. If the marinade is too acidic, it may toughen the meat, so learn from another tasty marinated chicken recipe and trust your cooking intuition. It is also good to know that the choice of baking, grilling or frying is up to you, so if you are stuck in a chicken rut, you can change your cooking methods and spices to keep meals captivating.

Ingredients

  • Chicken of your choice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. In a bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice, onion, herbs and spices; season to taste.
  2. Whisk until well mixed and pour over the chicken.
  3. Marinate in the refrigerator 2 to 8 hours, turning every few hours.
  4. Cook chicken to your preference or preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  5. Grill the chicken 5 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the cut, or until cooked through.
  6. Let the chicken rest 4 to 5 minutes before serving.

Current on your mortgage? Little or no equity in your home?

You could be eligible to save up to $2,400 a year with HARP.

What is the HARP Program?

Introduced in March 2009, HARP enables borrowers with little or no equity to refinance into more affordable mortgages without new or additional mortgage insurance. HARP targets borrowers with loan-to-value (LTV) ratios equal to or greater than 80 percent and who have limited delinquencies over the 12 months prior to refinancing.

Through HARP, you can get a lower interest rate (which means less out-of-pocket costs each month), get a shorter loan term, or change from an adjustable to fixed-rate mortgage. There’s no minimum credit score needed, either.

Interested in saving money?

Read up on HARP, then talk to your lender. HARP—the Home Affordable Refinance Program—was created by the Federal Housing Finance Agency specifically to help homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments, but have little to no equity in their homes, refinance their mortgage – that is, they owe as much or more than their homes are currently worth – are eligible for a HARP refinance.

If you got your mortgage loan at a bank, credit union or mortgage company, it may be owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If so, you could qualify for HARP refinancing and you could save thousands with a lower rate or other more favorable terms. No minimum credit score is required and closing costs can be bundled into the new loan so you don’t need much cash up front.

Check to see https://www.harp.gov

Use the government web site to find out. If you are not eligible, call us or e-mail us. Use the “contact us” form. We have helped home owners just like you and we have alternatives to help you! We listen first, seek to understand your situation, educate you with options before we transact business.

Paralyzed by Home Decor Decisions? You’re Not Alone

Confession: Nine years ago, when I moved into our house, I had so many plans for the place. For inspiration, I pored over home decor magazines and pinned paint colors and wallpapers on Pinterest. My mind was racing with the possibilities.

Can you guess what happened? Nine (yes, nine) years later, very little has changed in our home decor since the day we moved in. We finally painted the living room last year, and after many months of internal debate, I purchased some new throw pillows for my couch. But that’s it. The curtain rods hang bare above my children’s bedroom windows; the rugs and wallpaper I’ve been obsessed with, well, I just can’t seem to do it.

Why do home decor decisions paralyze me so?

It’s not a matter of budget, because I actually set aside some money for this purpose; I even hired a designer once for some consulting. It’s just that I never can make the leap to commit. And that’s the thing: It feels like so much of a commitment, a statement that will be etched in our memories forever—which you’d think would be a reason to get moving, but alas, not for me.

I know I’m not alone. Many people are paralyzed by decorating phobia, and it can happen for all sorts of reasons. To get to the bottom of this malaise, I spoke to interior decorators and designers for their insights on all the reasons people get a mental block on home decor, and how to get over these peculiar hang-ups so you can (finally) achieve the home you’ve always dreamed of having.

Fear No. 1: ‘My partner and I can’t agree on a decorating style’

To get over it: No matter how disparate your decorating styles are, there’s always a middle ground. Plus, with design trends today being more transitional than at any other time, it’s fairly easy to mix styles and live happily ever after, points out Lauren Clement of Lauren Nicole Designs in Charlotte, NC. If you two are truly butting heads, bringing in a third-party opinion can often help, whether that’s a friend or a professional interior decorator.

Fear No. 2: ‘Decorating will cost a lot of money’

To get over it: Decorating can cost a lot, but it sure doesn’t have to. Just make a budget and stick to it—then go find second-hand furniture or budget-friendly items that won’t drain your bank account.

And if hiring a designer is too pricey, you can hire a “virtual designer,” a professional who will make suggestions by viewing photos of your home rather than paying an in-person visit.

One caveat: Home furnishings can vary wildly in price, but one thing you should hold firm to is that you truly love what you get. There’s a saying that rings true: “Buy right or buy twice.” If you have to wait a while to save for what you really want, then wait. Don’t buy an inexpensive piece of furniture just because it’s cheaper—you’ll most likely be buying that piece again in a year or two.

Fear No. 3: ‘I can’t visualize how to put things together’

To get over it: If this is your fear, then your timing is good. These days there are a wealth of websites and magazines that show every style and trend available. Fill a file with inspiration photos, and you’ll soon learn your style and what designs make you happy. Share these with a design professional, or use them as a guide to replicate in your own space. You can also turn to a host of free sites and software such as RoomSketcher to see how your newly decorated home will look with your picks.

Fear No. 4: ‘I keep making buying mistakes, so I’m afraid to get anything’

To get over it: Buying mistakes usually happen for one big reason: You don’t have a design plan. Whether you are decorating an entire house or one room at a time, you can’t start without a master plan for how you want your home to look and function. For example, you see a beautiful sofa, you get all excited and buy it. However, when it’s delivered, it’s too big for the space and the color really doesn’t work, now you’re trying to decorate around it. A plan can prevent these mistakes.

Fear No. 5: ‘I worry I won’t like how my home looks in the end’

To get over it: Tell yourself there’s no real “end goal,” and your home will never truly be “finished” no matter how well you execute on the plan. Knowing that can ease some of the pressure.

“Designing a home is a lot like life—it is an ever-evolving process,” says Heather Higgins of Higgins Design Studio in New York. “Incorporating change, understanding its effects, and updating your desired outcome is important. You just need to have a destination in mind and a plan on how to get there.”

Sounds doable, right? Maybe my kids might get curtains before they move out after all.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

6 Essential Steps for Selling a Home With Pets

We love our pets, whether they be dogs, cats, hamsters, capybaras, hedgehogs, or pygmy goats—but that doesn’t mean that potential buyers want to see said pets (or any evidence of them) when looking at a home they’re thinking of buying.

“Pets are either an attractive distraction, so cute they distract prospective buyers from looking at the real estate, or completely the opposite—smelly, frightening, or otherwise off-putting,” says Diane Saatchi, an East Hampton, NY, real estate broker with Saunders & Associates.

Don’t want your precious property to be known as “that dog house”? Well, you need to pet-proof your place when preparing and showing it for sale. Here’s how, in six simple steps.

1. Check your insurance

Although you know your pets would never hurt anyone, they could scratch or bite a potential buyer whom they mistake for an intruder on their territory. You could be held liable for any harm your pet causes, so make sure your homeowners insurance covers you for incidents like these.

However, some insurers will not cover anyone who owns what they deem vicious or aggressive breeds, such as pit bulls; and if they do provide coverage, it could be expensive. If you have such a dog (and even if you don’t), it’s best to keep him out of the house during a showing.

2. Prepare your yard

Buyers will walk around your yard, a stroll that will be ruined if they step in poop or turn an ankle where your dog likes to dig.

Perform a poop patrol before each showing. Double-bag the waste before disposing, so your garbage cans don’t smell when buyers walk by. Fill all holes and sprinkle grass seed on top.

Before putting your house on the market, make sure your yard is a green oasis—not a brown-and-yellow dustbowl created when pets pee on grass. You can try to aerate and seed bare spots. But if that doesn’t work fast enough, you can replace ugly patches with new sod. Then, train Travis the Titan Terrier to use an out-of-the-way spot for his business. Or take him for very long walks.

3. Remove the odors

Removing the odors pets leave behind is one of the biggest challenges. It’s easy to clean and tuck away kitty’s litter box. But it’s way harder to erase years of piddle from rugs and hardwood.

If a bacteria-eating pet odor remover doesn’t banish all traces of cat or dog urine, you might have to hire a professional service to clean carpets or rugs. (Perhaps you should consider this whether you are selling your home or not.) Often, however, the odor returns, so if a carpet continues to reek, replace it before buyers trek through.

Clean turtle, hamster, and guinea pig cages frequently, to prevent odors. And make fish tanks sparkle; a daily swipe with an eraser sponge will do the trick.

4. Clean up the hair

Not only does a layer of pet hair on floors and sofas make your home look messy, it can trigger allergies and send potential buyers sneezing and wheezing out the door.

Before each showing, vacuum and dust to remove any settled hair or dander. Or, consider buying a vacuuming robot (such as a Roomba) that you can schedule to suck up hair several times a day. They actually work.

If your pet sheds, brush him frequently outside, so the hair doesn’t fly around the house. Bathing can help minimize shedding, too.

5. Hide the evidence

Like kids, pets (or rather, their caretakers) tend to accumulate lots of stuff—leashes, collars, toys, water bowls, food, cute sweaters, and costumes for Christmas and Halloween. But no matter how adorable you may think it all is, to buyers, it’s just clutter.

Make sure you stow pet paraphernalia in a cupboard or closet. Put dry food bins in a laundry or mud room. Wash pet beds to remove odors and dirt, and only display them if they’re attractive.

6. Say goodbye to your pets (just for a while!)

If you decide to leave your dogs or cats at home, either crate them or confine them to a special area of the house, and make sure your real estate agent knows where they are. Keep them busy with interactive toys or long-lasting treats, says Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, based in Livonia, MI.

“Even purchasing a new exciting toy or treat just prior to company coming may keep them more preoccupied,” he says.

But it’s best for everyone if you can find a playdate for your pet before a showing, or to send him to Grandma’s for an extended stay. But remember that pets have emotions, too—especially when it comes to change in their routines.

When you stow their toys, move their water bowl, or put them in a crate when strangers inspect their home, some pets will feel confused and anxious. So before making any major changes in the life of a dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian, who can help you ease your pet’s transition to a temporary new home.

Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

5 ‘Gotta-Dos’ In April for a Worry-Free Summer

Battle bugs before they bite (or sting!) you — and check the attic for problems.

Tackling five simple tasks now gives you a head start on spring.

That leaves you plenty of worry-free time to enjoy the warmer weather.

#1 Tell Insects to Bug Off

Early spring warmth awakens insects, so start to protect your home now. Seal openings in eaves, decks, and other structures to keep out carpenter bees.

Nix mosquitoes by eliminating standing water or treating it with larvicide. Call a pro to destroy wasp and yellow jacket nests, unless you’re experienced enough to engage in a bee battle.

#2 Prep Tools for Lawn Care

Ladies and gentlemen, start your mowers. April’s the month to get this vital piece of equipment ready to roll. An unmaintained machine can cost money, slow you down, and leave your lawn vulnerable to disease. So, before you pull the starter rope:

  • Replace spark plugs and the air filter.
  • Change the oil and sharpen blades.
  • Fill the tank with fresh gasoline.

While you’ve got your gloves on, clean, sharpen, and repair your garden tools. When your azaleas are ready to prune, you’re not going to want to keep them waiting.

#3 Tune Up the Air Conditioner

With flip-flop weather comes another summer tradition: cranking up the air conditioning. Tune your AC in April, before the mercury and service rates rise.

Ask your HVAC company if they have a twice-a-year maintenance plan. Often, you can get discounted rates if you join, and you don’t have to worry about finding someone to do it each spring and fall.

Now you only have to worry about which pair of Havaianas to wear.

#4 Check the Attic (and Garage)

How long has it been since you looked in the attic? Yeah, us too.

April’s the time to inspect this oft-ignored space — before it gets too hot. Look for signs of animal activity (raccoons love attics), and repair or replace damaged insulation or wiring.

Ensure stored items are still secure; tighten container lids and dust covers and replace moth repellants.

While we’re talking storage, how’s the garage? If soccer balls, bikes, and luggage have taken prime parking space, regain control with a storage system. Your car (and your partner) will thank you.

#5 Clean Up Bird Feeders

Besides spreading diseases to birds, dirty bird feeders attract rodents and hurt curb appeal. Gross.

Give your bird feeders a deep clean — not just a rinse-out.

Empty them, take them apart, and wash with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Rinse well to remove all traces of bleach, air dry, and refill with seed.

Clean under feeders, too, because moldy or spoiled seed on the ground can make pets sick. Don’t forget the bird bath.

A pretty yard that’s a healthy haven for birds makes a good impression — one that says “this is a well-cared-for home.”

Article by KELLEY WALTERS