5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

Article by G. M. FILISKO

Let the Fur Fly: What Are the Best Cities for Dog Lovers and for Cat Lovers?

Which side are you on?  America is bitterly divided into two warring groups these days. One is welcome in your home and considered family. The other is despicable and makes your blood boil.

So cough it up: Are you a you dog person or a cat person? And don’t give us that independent voter nonsense—we know you have a preference. Everyone does.

Catios or dog runs? Aloof cuddliness or goofy rambunctiousness? Automated litter boxes or hands-free, app-controlled pooper-scoopers?

Surprise: The camp you find yourself in might just help determine where you should live. As the animal-loving realtor.com®data team found out, some metros are particularly welcoming to canines and the folks who adore ’em—while others are hot spots for full-on feline frenzy.

One thing’s for sure: Pet ownership is climbing across the United States. Something about the current state of the nation seems to spur more of us to seek solace in turning to our clawed, furred, or taloned friends. They’re warm, loyal, and—canaries aside—almost never tweet.

In terms of popularity, dog lovers dominate. Around 54 million American households have at least one, compared to 43 million households that have at least one cat, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“The best cities for pet lovers really take into account the human-animal bond,” says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary of the American Kennel Club. So where should dog or cat lovers go to forge those ties?

We took the 150 largest metros and then analyzed a wide variety of pet data. We only included one metro per state, for geographic diversity. Our criteria included:

  • Percentage of single-family homes on realtor.com with dog-related home features (i.e., doggie doors) or cat-related features (i.e., catios)
  • Pet services per capita, including boarding, photography, and stores*
  • Veterinarians per capita*
  • Dog walkers per capita*
  • Percentage of restaurants that allow dogs*
  • Percentage of realtor.com rental listings that allow dogs or cats
  • Google searches for “cats” and “dogs”
  • State dog and cat ownership rates*

We found that, as with politics, pet preference is local. Regional predilections abide. New England is crazy about felines—the region had three of the top five cat-loving cities. Vermont and Maine have the highest rates of cat ownership in the country (those furballs help keep you toasty during those frigid winter nights). Meanwhile, the wide open spaces, mild weather, and outdoorsy/crunchy lifestyles out West seem tailor-made for pooches—three cities on the West Coast ranked highest for canines and the people who can’t live without ’em.

“The West Coast is far more climatically friendly [to dogs], especially if you like going to dog parks and schmoozing with other owners every weekend, even in the winter,” says Marc Morrone, host of the now-cancelled “Petkeeping With Marc Morrone” on Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. “The East Coast is freezing in the winter, and a lot of dogs don’t like to go outside in the cold city streets.”

Oh, and there’s this: “Cats are so much less work than dogs.” They don’t need to be walked and can live happily in itty-bitty spaces.

Got it? Grab your leashes, and let’s take a look, starting with the best havens for hounds.

1. Austin, TX

Dog ownership rate: 44%
Median home list price: $372,000

The whole “Keep Austin weird” thing isn’t just for homo sapiens—there’s plenty of seductive oddness for canines here as well. Is Humbert the husky seeming a bit angsty lately? Help him achieve a higher level of consciousness with a few sessions of mongrel yoga at Austin Doga. Does Cherry the chihuahua seem eager to strut her stuff and show off that knockoff Louis Vuitton collar? Let her vogue out at the annual Chihuahua Beauty Pageant.

“In Austin, you can take your dogs everywhere,” says Troy Pfeifer, co-owner of the Sit Means Sit dog training branch in the city. “There are no shortage of bars, restaurants that allow dogs.” There are reportedly over 200 eateries and 60 hotels here that allow furry companions (and no, beards don’t count).

There’s even an outlet mall near Pfeifer’s home that allows pups to peruse most of the stores. Let’s hope the majority of visitors aren’t big shedders.

Pfeifer says the dog craze shows no sign of slowing down in Austin. After living here for a year, he decided to quit an office job and open his doggie training center in 2011. The business has taken off, and he now trains more than a 1,000 dogs a year.

A standout among the many dog runs and parks is Red Bud Isle, a sweet spot where canines and their owners bond over refreshing dips in the lake.

It’s also worth noting that this is also the largest no-kill city in the United States for unclaimed pets, according to a local advocacy group, Austin Pets Alive.

2. Reno, NV

Dog ownership rate: 37.1%
Median home list price: $422,500

As the gateway to both Lake Tahoe vacationers and travelers to the annual Burning Man festival, Reno is accustomed to hosting an eclectic crowd. So it’s no wonder that nearly all breeds, ranging from Labrador retrievers to shih-tzus, are popular in this city, according to the American Kennel Club. Diversity rules!

And for owners looking for a fun afternoon and a chance to make a difference, there’s the DogFest Walk ’n Roll, a charity walk whose proceeds go to the Canine Companions for Independence—a group that provides assistance dogs free of charge to adults and children with disabilities.

3. Salinas, CA

Dog ownership rate: 32.8%
Median home list price: 
$904,500

Need a nosh after a long run through the park? Then stop by SUR at The Barnyard. We highly recommend the poached free-range chicken breast. If it’s a truly special occasion, then try the black-and-blue charred rare filet mignon tips with a wedge of Point Reyes blue cheese. Oh, wait—did we mention that this is the doggie menu?

So the dogs eat better than you do in the area around Salinas (and more than one in five restaurants in the town allow canine companions). Doggie love has a long history in Salinas. The town’s most famous son, John Steinbeck, chronicled a 1960 road trip around the United States with his standard poodle in the book “Travels With Charley.”

“People love walking their dogs on Pebble Beach, which has such beautiful views,” says Billy Quon, founder of SUR at The Barnyard. “There are endless trails here to take your dog hiking.”

Nearby, the charming oceanside town of Carmel is home to the Cypress Inn, an upscale hotel which allows dogs throughout the premises. Co-owned by actress and animal activist Doris Day, the hotel was once named “the most famous dog-friendly hotel in the country” by Sunset magazine. We don’t know exactly what that means, but expect plenty of Akita and Egyptian pharaoh hound sightings.

As for Billy Quon’s miniature schnauzer, named Sport, he has a particular fondness for the half-pound all-beef patty at SUR. Good call, Sport.

4. Denver, CO

Dog ownership rate: 42.5%
Median home list price: 
$499,500

What better way to relax after a hard week’s work than a trek with your pooch? Dog owners in Denver don’t have to go far. Want to stay near downtown? Head to Platte River Greenway Trail. Looking for snow-capped mountain views? Grab your leash and drive 50 miles to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

On your hike, you’re likely to run into some noticeably large canines. Denver is something of a hub for Bernese mountain dogs, Great Danes, and Siberian huskies.

The Colorado Kennel Club has hosted dog shows for more than 115 years. Its members know their stuff. When the hiking trails are snowed over in February, head over to the group’s Dog Days of Denver Showcase of the Performing Arfs.” During the three-day dog show, you’ll see more than 150 dog breeds.

5. Portland, OR

Dog ownership rate: 38.8%
Median home list price: 
$450,000

If Portlanders have a craft beer in one hand, then the other is holding a leash. Who can blame them? The region is among the country’s leaders for dog parks, with 33 major off-leash areas.

Of course, all dog owners thinks their dog is the cutest. So put your Toto or Lassie to the test and compete in Portland’s Next TopDog Model contest, hosted by the Oregon Humane Society. The competition is fierce. In 2012, a poodle with “rasta-poodle dreadlocks” took home the top prize. Last year’s winner was a three-legged, rescue pit bull named Jenny.

Rounding out the top 10 best metros for dog lovers were Seattle, WAOklahoma City, OKTucson, AZAnn Arbor, MI; and Raleigh, NC.

OK, now let’s take a tour of the best municipalities for mousers.

1. Albany, NY

Cat ownership rate: 29.1%
Median home list price: $422,500

Looking for the perfect palace for you and your pussy partner? The capital city of New York deserves a close look. Homeowners here have taken extraordinary steps to making their homes kitten-friendly, with the latest decor. Yes, cat patios are real. Finding those pesky mice is a lot easier from atop your cat ladder. Paw-sitively claw-some, say local felines.

If you’re looking to meet up with other cat lovers, try the Orange Street Cats annual Kitty Bowl, where mavens unite at the local bowling alley to raise money for a local animal shelter. Or swing by Happy Cat Rescue—an animal shelter that brings in abandoned cats from all over the country. “We always have cats looking for new homes,” says Marcia Scott, the shelter’s president.

2. Eugene, OR

Cat ownership rate: 40.2%
Median home list price: $325,000

OK, so raising a kitty isn’t quite the same as a baby, no matter how much cat people might try to convince you otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it is completely effort-free, either. So living somewhere with a lot of pet services, like Eugene, is a big plus.

Leaving town for the weekend? Drop your kitten off at a myriad of boarding facilities, for example, Willamette Valley Dog & Cat Motel, Auntie’s Cat Kennels, or Kitty Cat Hotel. Want some cute pictures of Travis the Turkish angora? Set up a photo shoot with Dream Storm Photography, a local specialist in pet portraits.

3. Seattle, WA

Cat ownership rate: 39%
Median home list price: $485,000

Seattle is more than just the coffee capital of the U.S. It’s also one of the country’s prime cat meccas.

At Seattle Meowtropolitan, those two local favorites can be found in one place: You can order your favorite java and pastry and then snuggle up to a purring cat. And if you like the animal enough, you can take it home. The cat cafe, which opened in late December 2015, partners with a local shelter to find these felines homes.

“Before we opened, we did our research [and found] Seattle is very cat-friendly, the ideal place for this,” says Louisa Liu, co-founder of Seattle Meowtropolitan.

If you’re looking to adopt a cat, you should also mark your calendar for Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving, Seattle Humane waives adoption fees. For black cats, that is.

4. Portland, ME

Cat ownership rate: 46.4%
Median home list price: $340,000

If you want to stretch out on your yoga mat while an adorable, adoptable tomcat meows in your ear, you’d better be quick. Tickets to kitty yoga go fast. We’re talking Hamilton fast.

“Kitten yoga is something new we started this year. It sells out within a day or two after posting the registration link,” says Jeana Roth, director of community engagement at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. “We have about 15 kittens in the room bouncing and roaming. It’s a lot of fun. And it raises money for our adoption program.” The kittens are all rescue animals.

5. Manchester, NH

Cat ownership rate: 34.2%
Median home list price: $314,900

The region’s love for cats made it easy for Cathy Hilscher to open up a pet store dedicated solely to her favorite animal.

“If you go into a big pet store, only one or two aisles are for cats—meanwhile … nine aisles are for dogs, and sometimes entire rooms are for fish or birds,” says Hilscher, owner of Cats Kingdom. “My store is two stories exclusively for cats. Nothing against dogs; I just have a special place in my heart for these creatures.”

Hilscher offers premium foods and environmentally friendly cat goods. Unexpectedly, her store has become a hot spot for the younger crowd.

“Millennials are not choosing to have kids right away,” Hilscher says, or choosing not to have kids at all. The cat scene, she says, is more the niche for them in Manchester than dogs. “They want their cats to be like their kids.”

The rest of the top 10 metros for cat obsessives are Oklahoma City, OKStockton, CAAustin, TXReno, NV; and Lexington, KY

Article by 

Money-Saving Tips to Repair Sagging, Leaking Rain Gutters

Gutter repairs for sagging and leaking rain gutters is a simple task that can be tackled in a day.

Sagging and leaking gutters risk damage to your siding and foundation that may cost thousands to repair. Use gutter sealant, patches, and hangers to fix sagging and leaky gutters at a cost of only a few dollars.

How to Fix Leaky Gutters

Seal leaky gutter joints and small holes using gutter sealant applied from the inside the gutter. A tube of sealant costs about $5.

Repair larger holes using a gutter patch kit or a scrap of metal flashing glued down with sealant. You’ll find patch kits at home improvement centers for about $10.

How to Straighten Sagging Gutters

If you suspect a sag, get up on a ladder and sight down the length of the gutter. Gutters should be straight. Long gutters should have a peak in the middle to enable water to run toward downspouts at either end.

The problem area should be easy to spot. In most cases, you can simply reposition loose hangers, using a cordless drill or a hammer.

Here’s how to set stubborn sags straight:

  • From the ground, prop a long, straight 1×4 or 2×4 brace under the sag.
  • Get up on a ladder and remove a hanger or two near the sag.
  • Sighting along the gutter, adjust the brace until the sag disappears.
  • Replace the hangers. If needed, add one or two new hangers for extra support. They cost less than $3 each.
Article by PAT CURRY

Coconut Pumpkin Soup-Paleo

Canned pumpkin makes this creamy soup easy and delicious. With just a hint of spice, it’s perfect for cool weather. Coconut cream adds dairy free creaminess and richness to this velvety soup.

Coconut Pumpkin Soup

Course Dinner, Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine Paleo
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Onion diced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp Ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 15 oz can Pureed pumpkin
  • 2 cups Chicken broth
  • 1 14 oz can Coconut milk chilled
  • roasted pistachios for garnish
  • Sea salt to taste
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until softened.
  2. Add the seasonings, and cook for another minute. Add the pumpkin and broth. For a smoother soup, transfer to blender and puree until smooth and then transfer back to pot.
  3. Scoop the coconut cream off the top of the coconut milk and add the milk to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until heated through.
  4. Serve the soup topped with pistachios and a dollop of the reserved coconut cream.

What You Need to Get a Mortgage: Do You Have It All?

What you need to get a mortgage is by no means obvious: Do you just show up at a bank with a checkbook and a smile? Hardly! Mortgages aren’t handed out to just anyone, but require a lengthy screening process. Just so you know everything you need to bring to the table, here’s a guide on how to please the lending gods so they deem you worthy of receiving a huge pile of cash…and what to do if you haven’t covered these bases quite yet so you’ll pass muster soon enough. Let’s jump in! Here are the essentials:

1. A good credit score

When you apply for a mortgage, lenders will check your credit score to assess whether you’re a low- or high-risk borrower. The higher your score, the better you look on paper, and the better your odds of landing a great loan.

While a perfect score is 850, research suggests that only about 0.5% of consumers hit that coveted mark. As a result, scores of 760 and above are considered to be in the best range from a mortgage lender’s perspective—meaning you’d qualify for the best (meaning lowest) interest rates, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

A good credit score is 700 to 759; a fair score is 650 to 699. If you have multiple blemishes on your credit history (e.g., late credit card payments, unpaid medical bills), your score could fall below 650. If that’s the case, you’ll likely get turned down for a conventional home loan—and will need to mend your credit in order to get approved (unless you qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan, which requires a 580 minimum credit score).

Your first step, therefore, should be to check your credit report, says Beverly Harzog, consumer credit expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.”

You’re entitled to a free copy of your full report at AnnualCreditReport.com. The report does not include your score—for that, you’ll have to pay a small fee—but just perusing your report will give you a ballpark idea of how you’re doing by laying out any problems such as late or missing payments. Some credit card companies (like Discover and Capital One) also offer customers free access to scores and reports. Because a 2013 Federal Trade Commission survey found that one in four Americans said they spotted errors on their reports, you should check to make sure you’re actually the person responsible for any black marks that appear on your report.

If you have poor credit, it may take you several months to raise your credit score into a range where you can qualify for a mortgage. (Here’s advice on how to improve your credit score.)

2. Substantial—and stable—income

How much income you need to get a mortgage boils down to your debt-to-income ratio; this figure compares your earnings to your outstanding debts. To qualify for a home loan, your job’s income must be high enough to offset your debts.

To calculate your DTI ratio, figure out how much you’re paying in debt per month—by tallying up things like car payments, student loans, and credit card bills—and divide that amount by your monthly income.

Let’s say, for example, that every month you’re paying $250 in debts and pulling in $5,000. Divide $250 by $5,000, and you have a DTI ratio of 0.05 or 5%. That’s well below the recommended rule of 36%, says David Feldberg, broker/owner of Coastal Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, CA. Keep in mind, though, you don’t own a home yet, which will push your DTI through the roof.

Once you know your income and debt, you can use an online home affordability calculator to see how much you can shell out for a new house, while still remaining below that 36% debt-to-income threshold.

Let’s take the aforementioned example where you make $5,000 a month and pay $250 in debts. Now let’s assume you have around $30,000 for a down payment and can get a 30-year mortgage at a fixed interest rate of 5%. Enter these numbers into a home affordability calculator, and this will put you in the ballpark of affording a home worth $243,100.

In addition, lenders like to see at least two years of consistent income history, says Todd Sheinin, mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD. This creates a roadblock for many workers who are just starting their careers or are self-employed. If you’re in the latter situation and have variable income, you may need additional assets in order to qualify for a mortgage, such as a higher down payment (more on that next).

3. A sufficient down payment

Most mortgage lenders like to see that you have enough in the bank to make a 20% down payment—which amounts to $50,000 on a $250,000 home. So if you don’t have that much saved up, it’s time to start pinching some pennies! But there are other options as well.

FHA-backed loans let borrowers make down payments as low as 3.5%. If you’ve served in the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs loans require no down payment at all. Only eligible for a conventional loan? Expect to need at least a 10% down payment, says Sheinin. However, if you put anything less than 20% down on a conventional loan, you’ll need to pay private mortgage insurance—a monthly premium that can range anywhere from 0.3% to 1.5% of the total loan amount.

Article by Daniel Bortz

Check Yourself: 7 Home Maintenance Tasks You Should Tackle in October

Ah, October. Temperatures are dropping, the days are growing shorter, and the pumpkin spice latte is, in a word, inescapable. But before you go hog wild with the Halloween decorations and settle in for that horror movie binge session, take some time to prep your home for winter’s onslaught (buzzkill, we know!).

Luckily, we’re here to make it a breeze with our handy checklist of home maintenance chores to tackle this month. Some of these are so quick and easy that you won’t even miss a beat of that “Friday the 13th” marathon (although we’d recommend skipping “Jason X.” He’s in space—do we need to say more?) Read on for details about where to start, and who to call if you need reinforcements.

1. Clean your dryer vents

This one’s a lot more serious than it sounds. Excess lint can dramatically increase the risk of fire.

“A key indicator of a dryer vent needing to be cleaned is if clothes aren’t drying as fast as they usually do, or if it takes multiple cycles to get them completely dry,” says Maria Vizzi of Indoor Environmental Solutions.

DIY: Prevent buildup from the get-go by emptying your lint trap every single time you use your dryer. If possible, move your dryer closer to an exterior wall; if your vent pipe is particularly long or has to snake around corners, you’re at a greater risk of a clog.

Call in a pro: If you want peace of mind that all your vents are squeaky clean, call in a professional. You’ll spend anywhere from $90 to $180.  Look for a dryer technician specially trained by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

2. Seal your outdoor surfaces

Cold temperatures and snow can cause your paint to peel, leading to moisture intrusion and wood rot, says Brian Osterried, a product manager at paint company PPG. Protect your exterior surfaces by applying a stain and sealant.

DIY:  Clean the surface first—taking care to remove any built-up ickiness between planks or in crevices—using a screwdriver or putty knife. Wait at least 48 hours before sanding the surface using 80-grit sandpaper, then sweep or vacuum, and apply your sealant.

Call in a pro: The cost of professional sealant jobs vary depending on size and the surface to be sealed, but for an average deck, expect to spend around $800.

3. Store your yard furniture

The fastest way to make your outdoor furniture look faded is to leave it out in the elements. Store your grill, deck chairs, and outdoor set in a shed or garage.

Shortcut: If you don’t have the storage space, invest in durable covers for your furniture to protect it from snow and rain.

Call in a pro: We suppose you could hire a personal assistant for this task (who are you, the Queen of England?!), but this one really just requires a little lifting and five minutes of your time. You’ve got this!

4. Stow that hose

If you live where it snows (yes, it’s time for that word again—sigh), it’s a good idea to drain and store your garden hose before temps start significantly dropping.

“Hoses with water in them will freeze and burst,” says Lisa Turner, author of “House Keys: Tips and Tricks from a Female Home Inspector.”

DIY: Here’s a clever hack: Unroll your hose on a downslope and then recoil it upslope so the water drains out, Turner recommends. You can store the hose outside in a shed or underhang if most of the water is removed. But it’s best to stash it inside if possible.

Next, shut off the water supply to your external faucets. Then drain the line by turning the faucet on and letting the residual water drain out.

For extra protection from freezing temps, install a foam insulator cover over each external faucet.

Call in the pros: If you see any faucet damage or leaking that won’t stop, call in a pro ASAP to repair or replace it. Expect to spend anywhere from $150 to $300.

5. Do a ‘fall cleaning’

“Open those windows up wide and do a thorough fall cleaning of your home that includes dusting areas that don’t always make the cut, like ceiling fans and ceiling corners,” says home organization expert Marty Basher.

DIY: Wash your draperies, dust your blinds, remove your window screens, and wash the windows inside and out.

Call in a pro: Depending on where you live, a professional home cleaningcould run you upward of $100. Now is also the time to have your carpets and rugs professionally cleaned to rid them of dust and other allergens (you should do this once a year). For a professional carpet cleaning, expect to spend anywhere between $100 and $250.

6. Feed and seed your lawn

“After a long, hot summer your lawn could probably use a bit of extra TLC, and seeding is proven to be the most effective way to repair damage,” says Bryan Raehl, general manager of Agronomic Lawn Management in Virginia Beach, VA.

Plus, by seeding now—before the first frost of the season—you can allow seeds to begin taking root in the soil and get a jump on spring growth.

DIY: Choose a seed for your lawn that’s right for your budget and your geographic region. You can complete a soil test, which will allow you to measure your soil’s health and nutrients, using a DIY kit. You’ll then have to prepare your lawn, lay the seeds by hand or using a spreader, and water.

Call in a pro: If you don’t know what you’re doing (or if your thumb isn’t the greenest), call in a professional landscaper, who will charge between $250 and $1,300.

7. Inspect your gutters and downspouts

Maintaining gutters and downspouts, which direct water away from your home, can go a long way toward preventing catastrophic roof leaks—especially if you live in an older home. This is particularly important during autumn, since it’s prime time for those gutters to get clogged with fallen leaves and twigs.

DIY: If you’re comfortable shimmying onto the roof, grab a ladder and have at it. Clear leaves, dirt, and pine needles from gutters, and examine downspouts for damage or loose pieces. Use a hose to flush out small bits of debris, and check the underside of the gutter to ensure no water leaks through. Inspect the downspout to verify that water is running freely through it and away from your home. Then inspect the flashing around your chimney and any openings in the roof (like skylights) for leaks.

Call in a pro: If you’re afraid of heights (guilty!), call in a pro for a thorough inspection. Expect to shell out around $150.

Article by Holly Amaya

Off-Leash Dog Areas Du Page County

You can enjoy off-leash fun with your four-legged friends at six DuPage forest preserves, but you need a permit for each dog you bring. You can have permits for as many of your dogs as you wish but can only have three dogs at an area at one time.

Dogs in DuPage County Forest Preserves

Dogs are welcome at most preserves as long as they’re on leashes under 10 feet long. Pets are not allowed at Kline Creek Farm for the safety of the farm animals.Leashes keep dogs on the trails and away from harmful plants and unseen hazards. They lessen the chance dogs will startle hikers, bikers or horseback riders or bite other pets or people (no matter how unlikely that may seem). They also ensure dogs can’t disturb nesting or resting wildlife. Dogs and other pets are not allowed at Kline Creek Farm for the safety of the farm animals.

If you’re visiting a DuPage forest preserve with your favorite pet, please keep these other regulations in mind as well.

  • Clean up after your dog.
  • Do not allow your dog to disturb or harass wildlife or other visitors.
  • Do not tie your dog to any trees, plants, buildings or equipment.
  • Always remain with your dog, especially in picnic and camping areas, and keep barking to a minimum.
  • Failure to keep your dog on a leash if you’re not in an off-leash area or to properly dispose of dog waste could result in $120 in fines and court costs.
 

Off-Leash Dog Areas

The Forest Preserve District offers off-leash fun at six preserves, but you need a permit for each dog you bring. You can have permits for as many of your dogs as you wish but can only have three dogs at an area at one time.

Blackwell
Fenced 10 acres, south side of Mack Road 0.25 mile east of Route 59, closed Mondays until 9 a.m.

East Branch
Training pond, 60 acres, west side of Swift Road 1 mile north of North Avenue, closed Mondays until 9 a.m.

Greene Valley
Fenced 1.5 acres for small dogs and 14.5 acres for large dogs), east side of Greene Road south of Hobson Road and north of 75th Street, closed Wednesdays until 10 a.m.

Hawk Hollow
Fenced 34 acres with two rotating 2.1-acre areas for dogs of all sizes, off Bittersweet Drive just south of Stearns Road, closed Tuesdays until 10 a.m.

Mayslake
Fenced 3.5 acres for large dogs and 0.5 acre for small dogs, east side of St. Paschal Drive south of 31st Street and west of Route 83, closed Thursdays until 9 a.m.

Coming Soon! Oldfield Oaks
Opening in fall 2017 or summer 2018, it will feature a 40-plus car asphalt parking lot; trail connector to the existing Oldfield Oaks loop trail; 2 separate fenced areas: a large active field (+5 acres) and a small dog field (0.6 acres); double-gated pedestrian gates; 1/3-mile trail loop within the large activity field.

Springbrook Prairie
Fenced 37 acres, north side of 83rd Street west of Book Road, closed Thursdays until 10 a.m.
Off-leash areas are located at six DuPage County forest preserves. Owners must have their dogs’ valid off-leash permits in their possession when in the off-leash areas.

Permits and Fees

Purchase a daily or annual off-leash permit online. For other options, download the 2017 Off-Leash Dog Area Permit application with instructions.

Dog Owner
DuPage resident Annual permit First dog $40
First dog after Sept. 1 $20
Additional dogs $8 each
Daily permit $8 per dog per day
Nonresident Annual permit First dog $150
First dog after Sept. 1 $75
Additional dogs $25 each
Daily permit $20 per dog per day

Dog owners who are 65 or older, active U.S. military personnel or honorably discharged U.S. veterans are entitled to one free annual permit per household per year.

An off-leash dog area permit is emailed after a purchase is complete; this permit can be printed or saved to a smart phone.

Off-Leash Dog Area Rules and Regulations

For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, when you’re in an off-leash area you must follow these rules and regulations. You can bring up to three dogs at one time, but the rules apply to each.

  • Have your dog’s valid permit with you when you’re at an off-leash area.
  • Keep your dog up to date on distemper, parvo and rabies vaccinations and make sure your dog is wearing its rabies tag on its collar.
  • Keep your dog in view and under control at all times.
  • Close the gate as you enter and exit the area, and leash your dog when you’re outside the area.
  • Carry a leash and leash and remove your dog at the first sign of aggression. You are responsible for the behavior of your dog and for any injuries or damages it causes to people or other dogs.
  • Never bring your dog if it’s sick or in heat.
  • Never allow your dog to dig holes.
  • Properly pick up and dispose of all dog waste. Failure to do so could result in fines up to $120.
  • Keep a watchful eye on children at all times.
  • Keep out of ponds or water areas; they for dogs only.
  • Never use animals — dead or alive — for any purpose.
  • Never use ammunition or devices that use explosive forces to propel retrievable objects.
  • There is one exception to this rule. At the off-leash area at East Branch Forest Preserve, you may — for dog training purposes only and with extreme caution — use blank ammunition or devices that use explosive forces to propel retrievable objects.
  • Follow all Forest Preserve District of DuPage County ordinances, state statutes and administrative orders. The Forest Preserve District may modify its off-leash dog area rules and regulations at any time.

 

How to Repair a Light Switch (No Electrician Required)

Here’s how to repair a light switch if you’ve got 10 minutes.

You flip a light switch and nothing happens. And you just changed the bulb yesterday. What gives?

Do you really need to call an electrician? Maybe not. The easiest and least expensive solution could be to replace the switch altogether. Best of all, you won’t need a $90-per-hour (or more!) electrician — it’s an easy DIY job.

How Much Do Switches Cost to Replace?

A single-pole light switch costs less than $6 to replace. Go for a rocker switch that’s easy to use and adds sensible universal design to your home.

Three-way switches let you control the same light from two different locations. When you flip one switch to the on position, the other switch is simultaneously moved to the on position. A three-way switch also will cost less than $6.

Likewise, four-way switches let you control the same light from three or more locations. Each four-way switch costs in the $10-$15 range.

Double-pole switches have four terminals instead of two, so they’re used for outlets and appliances that require 240-volt circuits. They also come in rockers. Each double-pole switch will cost $7-$15.

What if I Want a Dimmer?

Dimmer switches not only add instant mood lighting to a room, they save energy, too — for every 10% you lower a light bulb’s brightness, you’ll double the bulb’s life.

The only hitch: CFLs often don’t work with dimmers, so you’ll have to use LEDs or halogen incandescents in your fixtures. Dimmers come in rotary, slide, touch-activated, or digital varieties; the cheapest is rotary and will cost less than $10.

So How Do I Replace My Light Switch?

It’s easy. All you’ll need are:

  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Voltage tester
  • Needle-nosed pliers

Important: Before you attempt any repairs, cut power to the light switch by switching off the circuit breaker at your electrical service box.

  1. Turn off the power to the switch at the main circuit breaker or fuse panel.

  2. Unscrew and remove the switch plate; then use a voltage tester to make sure that the circuit is dead.

  3. Unscrew the switch from the electrical box and pull it out with the wires still attached.

Two or three wires will be attached to the switch: an incoming hot wire, which is black; a return wire, which carries the load to the fixture and may be black, red, or any other color except green; and sometimes a grounding wire, which is green or bare copper. There may be other wires in the box, but you are only dealing with the ones connected directly to the switch.

You may find a white wire that has black tape on it connected to the switch. This tape indicates that the white wire is being used as a black or colored wire in the switch leg, so it’s not neutral.

4.  Compare your new switch with the one you’re replacing to find the corresponding locations for the electrical screw connectors.Because the power is off, you can match up the connectors the easy way: Instead of disconnecting all the wires at once and possibly getting confused, unscrew and connect one wire at a time.

5.  Attach the first wire you unscrew to the same-colored screw on the new switch as it was on the old; do the same with the second.

6.  To connect a wire to a terminal, strip off about 1/2 inch of insulation, using a wire stripper, and twist the end into a clockwise loop with long-nose pliers. The loop must wrap at least two-thirds but no more than three-quarters of the way around the terminal screw. Hook the wire clockwise around the screw so when you tighten the screw with a screwdriver, the clockwise force of the tightening screw makes the loop wrap tighter around the screw.

7.  Gently push the new, wired switch back into the electrical box and screw it in place.

8.  Screw on the switch plate and turn on the power.

 

BEEF SIRLOIN WITH FRESH HERB MARINADE-PALEO

Pan-seared steak is a classic recipe: uncluttered and elegant, like the little black dress of food. But sometimes you do want to dress it up just a little without losing the simplicity that made it so good in the first place. A simple marinade adds a fresh, herbal flavor that compliments the steak without overwhelming it – and it doesn’t add much to your prep time, either. If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can always substitute dried; just remember to lower the quantities since dried herbs are more intense. A typical rule of thumb is to reduce the quantities by 1/3, or simply replace each tablespoon of fresh herbs with one teaspoon of dried herbs. The flavor might not be quite as fresh, but if you have high-quality dried herbs, they’ll still work just fine.

Ingredients

  • 2, 15-oz. beef sirloin steaks;
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper;

Ingredients for the marinade

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil;
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced;
  • 2 shallots, minced;
  • 3 tbsp. fresh basil, minced;
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced;
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, roughly chopped;
  • 2 tbsp. fresh thyme, roughly chopped;
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano;
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar;
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper;

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the marinade and season to taste.
  2. Pour half of the marinade into another container. Add the steaks, and marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature.
  3. Preheat a grill or skillet over a high heat.
  4. Cook the steaks for 5 to 7 minutes per side for a medium-rare steak (or adjust to your preferred doneness level).
  5. Spread the remaining marinade (the half that you didn’t use for the steaks) over a cutting board, and press both sides of each steak onto the marinade-covered board to pick up the herbs.
  6. Slice the steaks and serve well coated with the marinade.

3 Foreclosure Alternatives: What to Do Before Your Mortgage Goes Underwater

Maybe you’ve missed a couple of monthly mortgage payments. Maybe a notice of default from your lender is looming right now. You understand the severity of the situation, but what most homeowners don’t know is that foreclosure is not the only option you have when you’re no longer able to afford your house.

The first step for anyone in risk of foreclosure is to get in contact with your lender. This shows that you are aware of the problem and committed to finding a solution—and trust us, that will go a long way. The earlier you reach out, the greater shot you have of amicably rectifying the problem.

After you speak with your lender, your lender will lay out your options, including the foreclosure alternatives that you might be able to take advantage of. Let’s take a closer look at some of the alternatives so you—and your credit history—don’t suffer the ultimate blow.

1. Standard sale or rental

If your home is currently valued at more than you owe and if you are up to date on your mortgage payments (but you anticipate that paying your mortgage could become a problem), you can hold out as long as possible for a buyer.

You can also try to rent out the home to cover the mortgage payments until the house sells, says Carolyn Rae Cole, a Realtor® with Nourmand & Associates. In the end, virtually all homes eventually sell—it’s just about pricing.

2. Short sale

When a home has fallen in value and is priced so low that there isn’t enough equity to cover the mortgage, you might have the option to conduct a short sale. It’s also known as going “underwater.” This means the lender agrees to accept less than the amount the borrower owes through a sale of the property to a third party.

A short sale works like this: A specialist brokers a deal with the mortgage lender to sell the home for whatever the market will bear. If the amount of the sale is for less than what’s owed on the mortgage, the lender gets the money from the sale and relinquishes the remaining debt. (This means you won’t owe anything else.) In a short sale, the lender usually pays for the seller’s closing costs. A traditional sale takes about 30 to 45 days to close after the offer is accepted, whereas a short sale can take 90 to 120 days, sometimes even longer.

Sellers will need to prove hardship—like a loss of primary income or death of a spouse—to their lender. In addition to explaining why they’re unable to make mortgage payments, sellers will have to provide supporting financial documents to the lender to consider for a short sale.

3. Deed in lieu of foreclosure agreement

A deed in lieu of foreclosure is a transaction between a lender and borrower that effectively ends a home loan. Essentially both parties agree to avoid a lengthy foreclosure proceeding by the borrower voluntarily turning over the home’s deed to a lender, says professor David Reissof Brooklyn Law School
. The lender then releases the borrower from any further liability relating to the mortgage. However, if the property is worth significantly less than the outstanding mortgage, the lender may require the borrower to pay a portion of the remaining loan balance.

You might be eligible for a deed in lieu if you’re experiencing financial hardship, can’t afford your current mortgage payment, and were unable to sell your property at fair market value for at least 90 days.

Bottom line: This agreement is a negotiated solution to a bad situation—borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments are going to lose their house and the lender is not getting paid back in full.

Here are a couple of rules of thumb on dealing with this extremely unfortunate situation:

Go into foreclosure only as a last resort

Many distressed homeowners proceed with the foreclosure process often without being fully aware of the short sale option. But the truth is, banks don’t want the expense and hassle of a foreclosure. It can cost them thousands of dollars to take a home through the process and will force them to report the house as a “non-performing asset,” which can reduce the amount of money they have to loan out to other people.

Foreclosures can range from bad to worse depending on whether you live in a nonrecourse state.

“In a nonrecourse state, if the bank forecloses and doesn’t recover all of its money, it can’t come after you for the difference,” says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

In a recourse state, you’ll owe the bank the difference between the foreclosure price and the amount you owe on your mortgage.

How short sales and foreclosures affect your credit history

In both short sales and foreclosures, the delinquent mortgage will negatively affect your credit rating. But short sellers avoid having a “debt discharged due to foreclosure” on their credit reports—something that could reduce their credit score by over 250 points! You might also have to wait up to several years to requalify for a mortgage at a reasonable rate.

Short sales, however, show up on credit reports as a “pre-foreclosure in redemption” status and result in a credit score reduction of 100 points or less. People who successfully complete a short sale might also qualify for a mortgage at a reasonable interest rate in as little as 18 months.

Please feel free to contact us for a confidential review of your situation. We believe it is best to know your options before you make a decision.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

10 Photos of Hyper-Organized Kitchens That’ll Make You Swoon

Strategies tidy homeowners use (like color) to make things look pretty.

Some people have a special knack for making everything seem so put-together in their kitchen, so prettily organized — without buying expensive things.

How do they do it?

They Put ‘Like’ and ‘Like’ Together

Like goes with like, whether it’s a similar shape or a similar function. In the case above, it’s both. Lids are together, organized by shape. The bottoms are together, also organized by shape. And see how the colors are grouped? So satisfying.

They Use Color to Help Them Organize

Green glasses go on top …

Blue plates go on the bottom …

Brown mugs go on the right …

Color makes things pretty. By putting like-colors together, you create a sense of order and a way of mentally picturing where something is.

Plus, it makes a large pantry look put-together.

Like this mint green and gold one:

Or this black and white one:

Black and white is probably the most flexible color scheme. In the pantry above, the white pulls together the different canister shapes. The black wire baskets tie into the color scheme to help “tidy” the chaos that is supermarket food.

They Use a Grid

Whether it’s easy to see …

or not …

Having things lined up just looks neater. A grid helps you do that.

They Use Clear, Same-Shape Containers for Staples

Makes it easy to see what you have, and how much. Time saved.

They Use Consistent Labeling

Imagine how much messier that drawer would look if the labels and jars were all different shapes, sizes, and colors. (Now only if they were alphabetized …)

But it’s this fridge …

And this freezer drawer …

… that have us swooning.

Shape, function, containers, grid, and the color (wow!). Makes you want to clean out your fridge now.

Article by LARA EDGE

Should You Pay Pet Rent?

When you move into a rental, you know you’ll have to pay the rent each month, but what about your pet? Four-legged family members can get slapped with monthly dues too – it’s often called “pet rent” and you may be faced with paying it.

But should you?

Pet Rent 101

Typically, pet owners pay an additional deposit during the lease signing that covers any wear and tear the pet does to the rental. Pet rent, which is becoming increasingly more common, especially in corporate-owned apartment complexes, works differently. With pet rent you’ll pay a monthly fee as long as you and your pet live in the rental. The fee is relatively small – usually $35 or less – and is considered a discretionary charge, meaning the landlord can legally include this extra charge in your lease in most cases.

On the surface pet rent may seem like just another way for a landlord to make money off a tenant, but some landlords argue that pets cause extra wear and tear on the apartment building and require additional maintenance. For example, pet rent covers damage to landscaping or wear and tear on carpets in the lobby.

Advantages

While it may not seem like there is any advantage to paying another rental fee, you might get a better deal by paying pet rent. Say, for example, you’re comparing two apartment complexes with similar apartments. One complex charges $985 a month with a $300 non-refundable pet deposit and no pet rent. The other charges $900 a month with a $150 refundable deposit and $15 a month pet rent. For a 12-month lease at the first complex you’d pay $12,120. But you’d only pay $11,130 at the second complex and may get back your $150 refundable pet deposit.

Being willing to pay a pet deposit could give you more rental options, especially if you have a special circumstance. While many landlords are only willing to allow pets with specific rules, such as one pet per household or a small weight limit, other landlords may be willing to accept your three cats or large dog if you agree to pay a monthly fee.

Disadvantages

Pet rent also has a few big disadvantages. Namely, paying another fee that will add up over the course of the lease. Say, for example, you sign a 12-month lease with a $25 pet rent fee. Over the course of the lease you’ll end up paying an extra $300.

If you’re a long-term renter, a small monthly fee becomes an even bigger deal. If you renew your lease for another year you’ll pay $600 in total, and if you decide to stay put for five years you’ll end up paying $1,500 in pet rent alone.

Alternatives

While you could simply walk away from any rental with pet rent, you might have luck negotiating with the landlord. For example, if you’re planning on staying in a rental for a year or more and know your pet won’t cause problems, you could use that information as leverage and offer to sign a longer lease in lieu of paying pet rent. You could also offer to pay a higher upfront pet deposit to cover any wear or tear your pet causes to the building. It may not work, but many landlords are willing to negotiate with tenants.

Article by Angela Colley

How to Replace Weather Stripping

When weather stripping on doors and windows gets worn out, cold air comes sneaking in. Here’s how to replace weather stripping and stop air leaks.

Weather stripping on windows and doors protects the home from air leaks while increasing comfort and saving energy. But as weather stripping ages, it loses its effectiveness.

Stay ahead of the game by checking for worn-out weather stripping and replacing it.

Identifying Worn Weather Stripping

Weather stripping deteriorates due to age, friction, and exposure to the elements. It also can be damaged by people, pets, and pests. At least once each year, inspect your windows and doors to check for air leaks that indicate your weather stripping isn’t doing its job.

  • Self-adhesive foam tape loses its grip over time, causing it to pull away from the door or window frame — or fall off completely. Foam also can lose its resilience, no longer springing up to fill the gap.
  • Rubber and vinyl weather stripping becomes dry, brittle, and cracked. Over time, it can also lose its shape and effectiveness.
  • Spring-metal V-shaped weather stripping bends out of shape, cracks in spots, and comes loose thanks to missing nails.

How to Remove Old Weather Stripping

For peel-and-stick-type weather stripping, simply pull the foam strips off the door or window by hand. Stripping that is fastened in place with nails or screws requires a more tedious process of locating and removing all the fasteners.

Options for New Weather Stripping

There’s no shortage of weather stripping options at hardware stores and home improvement centers. As is often the case, the cheaper and easier the product is to install, the less effective and durable it probably is over time.

Adhesive-backed foam tape is inexpensive — costing less than a buck a foot — and peel-and-stick types are easy as pie to install. It works best where the bottom of a window sash closes against a sill, or a door closes against a doorframe. It’s the compression that produces the seal. Don’t expect this product to survive longer than 3 to 5 years.

V-shaped weather stripping, sometimes called tension-seal weather stripping, is the best option for the side channels of a double-hung window or a tight-fitting door. This product springs open to close gaps and plug leaky windows and doors.

Inexpensive peel-and-stick V-shaped vinyl (as little as $0.50 per foot) is easy to install but won’t last much longer than foam tape. More expensive copper or bronze styles cost as much as $2 per foot and must be nailed into place, but they look better and will last decades.

Tubular rubber or vinyl gaskets prove the most effective for sealing large and irregular gaps, such as around an old door. These hollow tubes are large enough to plug big gaps but soft enough to compress nearly flat. Types that are nailed in place last longer than peel-and-stick varieties. Prices range from less than $1 per foot for peel-and-stick to $1.25 per foot for nail-in-place.

Prepare the Surface

Before installing any new weather stripping, start with a smooth, clean, and dry surface. Remove all old adhesive using an adhesive cleaner and perhaps a light sanding. Fill and sand old nail holes. If old screw holes can’t be reused, fill and sand those as well.

Installation Tips

  • Some peel-and-stick types should only be applied when the temps are at least 50 degrees. Check the product label.
  • Start with one small area to make sure the door or window opens and closes without difficulty before completing the entire job.
  • Measure twice before cutting to prevent mistakes and waste.
  • Cut rubber and vinyl varieties with shears or a utility knife, and metal types with tin snips. Be careful not to bend the thin metal while cutting it.
  • Make sure to face the opening of V-shaped weather stripping out toward the elements to prevent moisture from getting inside.

Installing Weather Stripping

Adhesive-style weather stripping: Remove the backing and press firmly in place. Removing the backing as you go helps prevent the sticky part of the strip from accidentally adhering to something it shouldn’t.

Nail-in weather stripping: Fasten the strips in place by nailing through the pre-punched holes. For double-hung windows, you’ll need to install the lower half, drop the sash, and then install the upper half.

Article by DOUGLAS TRATTNER

Immune Booster Juice

Feeling under the weather? Send a power boost to your immune system with the germ-fighting combo of lemon, orange, and ginger.

Ingredients

  • 2 oranges, quartered (remove peel for less bitterness)
  • 1/4 lemon (remove peel for less bitterness)
  • 1 medium apple, cut into eighths
  • 1/2″ fresh ginger

Instructions

  1. Juice all the ingredients following the instructions for normal juicing in your juicer manual.
  2. Drink immediately, or let chill for an hour and then enjoy.

After Filing for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Can You Still Rent or Buy a Home?

It’s natural to wonder whether you’ll be able to rent or buy a home when you’re faced with filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. After all, everyone has to live somewhere—even those who turn to the court system for help with handling their debts. Applying for bankruptcy will affect your credit history for years to come and can make getting approved for housing a challenge. But will Chapter 13 bankruptcy quash your chances of ever renting or owning again? Let’s first get an overview of how Chapter 13 bankruptcy works.

What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy—sometimes called a wage earner’s plan—is typically sought by people who want to pay off their debts but can’t afford to pay them all off at the same time. Instead, they turn to the courts to essentially buy time to pay off their bills over time. It’s available to anyone whose unsecured debts are less than $394,725 and secured debts are less than $1,184,200. Today, one-third of all bankruptcies in the United States are Chapter 13.

Can I rent or buy a home while I’m in Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Are you allowed to buy or rent a home in Chapter 13 bankruptcy? Yes. Will it be more challenging? Certainly.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy affects your credit history, and because landlords and lenders take credit into consideration, having chapter 13 bankruptcy on your history can make the process of renting or buying a home more complicated. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

How to rent a home during Chapter 13 bankruptcy

When you’re ready to apply for a rental, start by writing a letter that explains your situation in the best terms to prospective landlords.

“Keep in mind there are zillions of bankruptcies today, many for reasons not caused by the bankrupted person, and it does not make you a bad person,” says Ginny Ollis, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in San Diego. “You might make that clear by defining how [the bankruptcy] happened in your letter.”

It can also help to ask people in your life to write you letters of recommendation. A current landlord, a boss, and well-respected members of your community can all be good references if they’re willing to attest to your responsibility as a renter.

Ollis is also a fan of sending along photos of your current home, photos that show it’s well-maintained and in good condition.

If you have a family, especially kids, Ollis says throw photos of them into the mix, too. “Kids can be a selling point. Use a photo or take them along when you tour the property.”

How to buy a home during bankruptcy

It might be trickier than renting, but buying a home amid Chapter 13 bankruptcy is possible, too, says Aram Shah, a Realtor with Florida Capital Realty in Doral, FL.

“You can possibly get a home within 12 months of filing, but it all depends on your situation.” Shah says.

Applying for a mortgage through the Federal Housing Administration is likely to be your best bet. Under FHA guidelines, lenders can approve an FHA-insured mortgage to someone in Chapter 13 bankruptcy if the following has been documented:

  • One year of the pay-out period under the bankruptcy has elapsed.
  • The borrower’s payment performance has been satisfactory, and all required payments have been made on time.
  • The borrower has received written permission from bankruptcy court to enter into the mortgage transaction.

When in doubt, if you’re stressed out about renting or buying under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, Ollis has this advice: “Spend a year building an excellent reputation from landlord and neighbors in a less desirable home, and then try again when all this is past.”

Article by Jeanne Sager

The Style Guide to Reimagining a Potential New Home

Mix don’t match and 4 other savvy ways to design your dream home.

Exposed brick, black and white, French doors. If you asked me what classic aspects of design I’d like in my dream home, I’d probably check every box. It’s that eclectic mix of old and new, home and travel, fun and sophisticated that can make buying a home and decorating it such an exciting challenge. But surely, at one point or another, many classic features were once a trend — the new thing on the market that everyone had to have.

However, unlike the way shoulder pads and babydoll dresses stuck around for what seemed like decades, the advent of the internet and Pinterest seems to speed us more quickly through the things that are new, and then now, and then passé. “Trend” has become a dirty word — almost synonymous with stuff that’s so of-this-minute that we’ll blink and it’ll already be outdated.

But does it really have to be this way? In my opinion, no.

As much as I might like bohemian and French, industrial and mid-century, and even coastal, I have a limited budget. I can’t afford to constantly replace the stuff that goes out of style. After all, I specifically decided to buy instead of rent to avoid wasting money on things that aren’t a return on my investment!

So, I chose to find a house with good bones — the kind of home with the right space, the right light, and a layout I can invest in for a few years. And after DIYing for the better part of a decade, I’ve learned a few good rules for making sure the home decor I choose lives up to those same investment expectations.

#1 Mix Instead of Match

I suppose you could call my style “global eclectic.” But really, that’s just a fancy way of saying, “I often don’t like any one particular style, and matchy-matchy just isn’t my thing.” I have a Moroccan-inspired peacock mirror in the hallway, modern blue dining room walls, industrial bar stools in the kitchen, sheepskin draping over my chairs in the living room, and antique items sprinkled everywhere. Not any one style really reigns!

In my mind, decorating where it looks like a single store threw up all over a single room is a quick way to Outdatedsville. Collecting pieces from different trendy styles keeps things fresh and unique. Take, for example, Beth from “Home Stories A to Z.” Her gorgeous bathroom mixes subway tile, global-inspired cement tile on the floor, modern urban fixtures, and farmhouse features like shiplap walls and vanity. Stunning!

#2 Give Trendy Features a Limit

Large items like couches, beds, and architectural details (like French doors) can still be fun and interesting, but I tend to play it safe by picking one feature on that item that’s somewhat trendy, such as exposed legs (often seen in mid-century furniture), but with a fabric that’s neutral. Rather than going with a piece of mid-century furniture (trend) in the color of the moment (trend), you choose one or the other. It translates well from one style choice to the next. It also lets all of the other, more permanent features stand out, such as a cool archway (or in my case, the big bow windows!).

#3 Edit, Edit, Edit

Trends that you wind up loathing over time are the ones that you see everywhere. They’re like that boyfriend you fell hard and fast for, and then woke up one day and can’t stand his laugh. Some things are simply never meant to stick around, and that’s OK. Just make sure these aren’t the pieces you invest in. For trendy items, look to bring them in through accents. When you tire of them and want to try out something new, you can then switch them out without making your wallet wince in pain.

Clutter is also what makes a trend look dated. It steals attention away from cool architectural features that should get more of a spotlight (like my big windows, which again, I LOVE). Too much of a good thing is never wise (except breakfast food). So when you like something, go ahead and try it out, but layer it in rather than buying every item of a single collection. Edit out the pieces that don’t fit, and you’re set.

Stacy Risenmay knows this more than most. With her tiny 1938 home filled with four boys, she’s an expert at getting rid of what isn’t needed while still making her house look gorgeous and full of style.

#4 Remember That Styles Are Cyclical (So You Can’t Really Go Wrong)

These days, a lot of trends are about nostalgia (subway tiles, open shelves, old-school kitchen faucets, reclaimed wood, etc.), so it should come as no surprise that plenty of what we call trends are cyclical. They’ll come into fashion, they’ll be overdone to the point we are tired of seeing them, we’ll move on, and then when it comes back in style, we’ll find it refreshing again.

But what is it that keeps these things coming back again and again? It may sound cheesy, but I think it’s all about the way we feel in a space — a happiness and simplicity. That’s why I like the concept of “classic with a twist.” Sure, it could be out of date as far as what’s popular in stores over the next 10 years, but the “classics” I see trending lately are just a recycling of a period that already came and went. That’s really kind of great, because it takes the pressure off. Finding a twist on an older design rather than reinventing the wheel is a simpler goal and something I’m less likely to mess up.

Take, for example, my kitchen’s two-tone cabinets. It’s a vintage look that was made popular again over the last 10 years, and although it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I get compliments on how retro and modern it looks at the same time.

#5 Focus on Your Faves

I hate burlap. HATE it. But you know what? Some folks love the look of it so much, they make that scratchy fabric into pillowsthat they lean against in their bedrooms every night. But I’ll admit, as I’ve seen the use of burlap grow in popularity or used in a beautiful room, I question whether or not to buy some for a table runner. The key of knowing when you’re liking something versus being influenced by outside forces? Your gut.

Some homes just have that “it” factor. And you walk away from that house wondering if you too should buy all of the same stuff they did. But it’s not really the couch that’s making the house feel that way; it was that the person who picked it out did so because they freaking love the item.

Take Charlotte’s sofa, for example (below). She knew she was dropping a lot of money on it, she knew it was green, and she new it was velvet. But she dove right in. It makes the space, but if you knew her in person, you’d also realize that no other sofa really quite captures her the way this styling does!

I doubt any reader who has checked out my blog could accuse me of being trendy. In fact, I never really set out to be the kind of DIYer who put a clever spin on everything I touched. And that’s OK, because all I’ve ever really wanted to do is give myself a house that I enjoy living in. So, I pick out pieces that truly speak to me, and forget the rest.

Mixing antiques with modern pieces makes the whole house look like it was collected over time (because it was), but also adds personality unique to me and how I express my style — one that can’t be repeated as easily as shopping through a catalog.

At the end of the day, it’s my home, and the important thing is to make sure that I’m buying it, installing it, etc., because I enjoy seeing it every day — not because someone has once again done something really spectacular with plywood. (I’ll still pin the heck out of it, though!) I truly believe that’s what makes a home both trendy and timeless simultaneously. Loving the home you live in never goes out of style.

Article by SARAH FOGLE

Amateur Radio Volunteers Filling Communication Gap in the Caribbean

Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands both suffered substantial damage from Hurricane Maria, although Puerto Rico took the bigger hit, and it is there that Amateur Radio has been filling a huge telecommunications gap. The FCC said at mid-week that 91% of cell telephone sites were still out in Puerto Rico. In the US Virgin Islands, the figure is about 60%.

ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, with an unidentified ARC volunteer. [Photo courtesy of Oscar Resto, KP4RF]

“The situation in Puerto Rico is very devastating across all the island,” Puerto Rico SM Oscar Resto, KP4RF, said over the weekend. “Communications via land phone or mobiles are almost nil.” Repeaters are down, he said, and hams have been using the 2-meter simplex frequency of 146.52 MHz, although he hoped to see some repeaters come back on line (the 448.225 repeater in Bayamon has been online, handling health-and-welfare traffic).

With police repeaters also down, law enforcement has been using 2 meters as well.

American Red Cross Headquarters suffered the loss of its emergency generator due to flooding. A temporary ARC headquarters has internet and cell service, he said.

Red Cross volunteers have been busy assisting those affected by Hurricane Maria. [ARC photo]

Resto said radio amateurs have also been assistingPuerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica) using 146.52 MHz to dispatch line crews and coordinate fuel deliveries for the authority’s offices at the Monacillo Control Center and at several power plants. “The power system is fully shut down for all the island,” he said. Drinking water and proper sanitation facilities are also in very short supply. Resto said Puerto Rico needs “everything…solar panels, repeaters, and most important, transmission lines and antennas. Some base or mobile VHF/UHF radios, a 1- to 2-kW power generator.” Fuel for generators as well as vehicles is still in short supply on Puerto Rico.

Radio amateurs in Puerto Rico have been operating brisk and busy ad hoc health-and-welfare traffic nets on 7.175 and 14.270 MHz, as has the Salvation Army Team Emergency Network (SATERN) on 14.265 MHz. Gerry Hull, W1VE, reported that the net on 14.270 MHz has handled thousands of messages in the past week. Hull has also been active on the SATERN net. Today will mark Day 11 of the Hurricane Maria activation for SATERN, surpassing the 8-day SATERN operation for Hurricane Irma and making it the longest activation since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Calls to family are very emotional,” he told ARRL. “I am getting all kinds of calls day and night for people desperate to hear about family in Puerto Rico, but hams cannot provide inbound traffic.” He directs them to the Red Cross website. “Lots of contesters are helping with their big stations,” he said.

ARRL USVI Section Manager Fred Kleber, K9VV.

US Virgin Islands Section Manager Fred Kleber, K9VV, said the USVI are in much better shape than Puerto Rico. “They really got slammed hard,” he said. Kleber said he still has antennas that were not destroyed by the storm and that he can hit Puerto Rico on 2 meters from his location. He also plans to deploy some 20 mesh wireless network nodes to provide connectivity between key USVI government locations. “We have used every trick in our comms bag of tricks to make stuff work,” he said.

Kleber said pictures in the news and social media don’t do justice to the wholesale devastation in parts of the Caribbean. In the USVI, he said, trees, power poles, transformers, and telephone lines were downed all over, and debris blocking roadways is making travel slow or altogther impossible. He and others have been staffing the emergency communications center 24/7.

The Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net (CEWN) on 7.188 and 3.815 MHz has focused its attention on the situation on Dominica.

“Truly I think that the regional agencies were not ready for a calamity of this magnitude,” Kumar Persaud, J85K, one of the CEWN net controllers said last weekend. “The CEWN operators have ended up filling the communications gap for the agencies, without any prior briefing.”

 

How to Get Rid of the Skunk Smell on Pets

Nothing quite compares to the threatened skunk’s smelly calling card. When skunks are frightened or feel threatened, they release a spray containing a very strong and unpleasant odor. This odor is due to sulphur-like compounds called thiols. These smell like rotten eggs and, to make matters worse, most humans’ sense of smell is very sensitive to thiols. The idea that tomato juice can remove the skunk smell is nothing but an old wives’ tail. Tomato juice will not be effective in ridding your pet, the unfortunate victim of a skunk’s spray attack, from the smell. Instead, you need to target the oily residue of the spray in order to neutralize the odor.

Treating the Skunk Smell

1. Prepare to wash the pet outside. Don’t bring the affected pet inside, since you don’t want to bring the pungent skunk scent with it. Moreover, pets rarely like baths so there’s no use in getting your bathroom messy. Outside is best.

2. Gather the required ingredients. You will need 3% hydrogen peroxide, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and liquid dish detergent.The hydrogen peroxide and the baking soda work together to neutralize the odor. The dish detergent will help break up the oils in the skunk spray, since most liquid dish detergents are grease-fighting. The soap will also work to turn the solution into a “shampoo”.

  • This hydrogen peroxide and bicarbonate solution was invented by a chemist named Paul Krebaum, who uncovered the chemical reaction that resulted from these ingredients and the thiols in the skunk’s spray.
  • If you don’t have hydrogen peroxide on hand or can’t make it to the local drug store to purchase it, you substitute with a 2% vinegar solution. However, the hydrogen peroxide is the most effective cleaner for removing the skunk smell.
  • Make sure you have rubber dish gloves and old clothes.

3. Mix the three ingredients together in a pail. You’ll want to use 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1-2 teaspoons of the detergent. This specific mixture comes widely recommended and is considered the most effective and scientifically-proven treatment to remove the skunk smell from sprayed pets.

  • Note that if your pet is particularly large, like a large-breed dog for example, then you may need to double or triple the solution in order to have enough to wash your pet with.
  • Be prepared to use this mixture immediately after it has been mixed together because it is unstable. It is not a solution that can be made ahead of time and stored away.
4. Bathe your pet. Don’t rinse your pet wet first. The solution will work better if applied directly and concentrated. Apply the mixture to your pet’s dry coat from the collar back towards the tail. Make sure to work in the solution all the way into the skin. Take extra care when washing your pet’s facial area (it is a good idea to use a washcloth for this area). Cover each eye with a dry cloth while you gently and carefully wash around it. Do not get the solution into the pet’s eyes as the hydrogen peroxide can burn them.

5. Let the solution sit on your pet for 5-10 minutes. Then rinse the solution with tap water. Make sure the rinse is very thorough.

  • When you rinse your pet’s head, tilt his upwards so the solution does not trickle into the eyes. Instead allow the water to run back off you pet’s neck.

6. Repeat as needed. You may need to repeat the lather and rinse procedure up to three times for the smell to fully disappear.

9 Cleaning Myths That Could Be Wrecking Your House

Urban myths live forever on the internet. Enter your PIN backward at an ATM and you’ll summon the police! (Cool, but not true.) The cast of “Friends” is in talks for a reunion! (For the millionth time, this ain’t happening.) Actual sharks were caught up in Hurricane Irma! (No.) With such rampant lies in mind, is it any surprise that some of the housecleaning myths you read online are equally fake?

Put aside the bleach. Step away from the coffee grounds. And read on to uncover some of the biggest cleaning myths that could be doing more harm than good in your house.

1. Bleach is the best cleaner for your bathroom

“Bleach does not clean anything,” says Leslie Reichert, cleaning coach and author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning.” 

“It does disinfect, but before you can disinfect a surface, you have to clean it with something that will lift off the dirt,” she advises. (Imagine trying to clean muddy feet with hand sanitizer, and you get the idea.)

Wipe down your bathroom with your choice of household cleaner, thenyou can disinfect with a diluted bleach solution, Reichert says.

What about those combo bottles of household cleaner + bleach? They’re OK, Reichert says, but less efficient.

“An item with bleach in it will probably kill some of the germs but will actually be diluted with the cleaning agent, so my personal opinion is that it’s not going to do a quality job,” she says.

“Remember, the bleach has to stay on the surface for 10 minutes to kill germs, so washing with a cleaner that has bleach in it is like trying to add hair color to your shampoo.”

2. Washing machines clean themselves

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it just isn’t so.

“This is a common misconception, because the purpose of a washing machine is to clean things, but they do need to be cleaned, too,” says Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert at Merry Maids.

“Many people leave their clothes in the washing machine long after the cycle’s done running, which can cause a musty smell that’s then transferred to your clothes,” she explains.

Even if you’re not guilty of that, you should still run a cleaning cycle every month to maintain your washer’s functionality and keep it smelling fresh. If your machine doesn’t have a special cycle, add a half-cup to 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup baking soda to the detergent dispenser and run a normal small cycle with hot water, Johnson advises.

3. Polish is the best way to care for wood

Commercial polishes contain a host of different ingredients, from the recognizable (beeswax) to the huh-what’s-that (polydimethylsiloxane). The good news: They shine up your wood. The bad: They can also leave a waxy buildup. So it’s lucky that you don’t really need polish.

“Most wood furniture has a finish that seals the wood, and really just needs to be kept clean and free from dust and dirt,” Reichert says.

All you need is a damp microfiber cloth. Its tightly woven fibers trap dirt without the need for an additional cleaner.

4. Too much vacuuming ruins your carpets

This myth was likely started by someone looking for a way to get out of cleaning carpets. But the truth is, “dust and dirt that gets down into the base of a carpet can do more damage than a vacuum,” Reichert says.

Of course, you will need to use care when vacuuming delicate floor coverings such as Oriental rugs and handmade carpets. And you should never leave your vacuum in one spot too long.

“The constant beating can heat up the fibers, cause them to melt, and leave a burn mark,” Reichert says.

5. Coffee grounds are a great way to clean your garbage disposal

Legend has it that coffee grounds can deodorize and clean unidentified gunk off the blades of your garbage disposal. Alas, you’re better off using it as compost in your garden.

“The grounds often clog up the drains and pipes,” Johnson warns.

A better way to clean that’s still natural: Place two to three small lemon, lime, or grapefruit slices in the garbage disposal, then turn it on and rinse with warm water, she advises. (Don’t use the full fruit—just the peels.)

Fresh out of citrus? Run warm water in your sink while pouring a half-cup baking soda down the drain.

6. Mopping just pushes dirt around

Reichert admits she’s not a fan of brooms, but don’t dis mops—so long as you invest in one made of high-quality microfiber.

“It picks up the dirt and holds onto it,” she explains. “There’s no cross-contamination because once the mop head’s dirty, you remove it and put on a clean one.”

Compare that to a traditional mop, where you’re basically “mopping up dirt, rinsing it in dirty water, then spreading that water all over the floor,” Reichert adds.

7. Hand-washing dishes is more effective than a dishwasher

Sorry to burst your soap bubble, but no matter how much time you spend scrubbing dishes, you’re still no match for a dishwasher. Its water temperature is much hotter, the dishes are exposed to soap longer, “and if you use a ‘drying cycle,’ you’re also sanitizing your dishes,” Reichert points out.

8. You need specialized cleaning products for every job

While the shelves of cleaning supplies at your grocery store certainly make it seem that way, you don’t really need an army of bottles under your kitchen sink.

“I’ve found that I just need an all-purpose cleaner for tough jobs and a few high-quality microfiber cloths,” Reichert says. These cloths get high marks because they contain millions of tiny, plastic fibers which easily trap dirt and even bacteria.

9. Washing clothes in cold water doesn’t get them clean

Busted! Why is this myth, well, a myth? For starters, the detergent, not the water, has the biggest effect on how clean your laundry comes out, Johnson says.

And, in fact, cold water is typically better for washing clothes than hot.

“Cold water preserves clothes both in quality and color better than hot water, which can also cause certain types of stains to set in the fabric,” she says. And to top it off, using cold water saves you energy, so it’s a win all around!

Article by Stephanie Booth’s

Low-Sugar Double Blueberry Yogurt Parfait

I served this as a dessert, but it could also be the type of dish you’d serve at a brunch, especially if you made a larger version in a single dish. I’m not someone who cares a lot about desserts, so if I’m going to make a dessert it will be a simple dish like this that can be made in a few minutes, and this was easy to make with lots of flavor.

Ingredients:
1/2 – 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (thaw if frozen)
4 T blueberry agave nectar (or less if you’d like it a little less sweet; you could probably use plain agave nectar but it wouldn’t be quite as pretty)
1 container (6 oz.) fat-free Greek yogurt
1 container (6 oz.) low-carb or low-sugar vanilla yogurt

Instructions:

Mix the fat-free Greek yogurt and the low-carb vanilla yogurt until there are no lumps. In parfait glasses, make a layer with 1/4 the yogurt mixture. Next put 1-2 T blueberries, then drizzle over about 1 T blueberry agave. Repeat with another layer of the yogurt mixture, blueberries, and blueberry agave nectar.
This will keep for a few hours, but it’s best served right away.

Makes 2 servings