10 Strategies to Stop Murdering Your Plants

You can have a lush indoor landscape. Just follow these tips.

“Stop her before she kills again!”

Hear that? That’s your jade plant whispering to your bamboo palm every time you approach the windowsill. If you’re guilty of accidentally murdering your beloved houseplants, it’s not too late to stop the cycle! Whether you tend to neglect your greenery or drown it with too much water, the clever tips below will help you cultivate a thriving indoor garden in no time.

1. Don’t Listen to the Internet

Not every site vets their advice as carefully as (ahem) others. Just say no to these popular internet ideas to water your plants:

  • A damp sponge in the bottom of the pot.
  • Melting ice cubes.
  • An upside-down bottle filled with water.

No, no, and no.

“Most houseplants die because they’re overwatered,” says Judy Feldstein, author of “Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants” and former owner of Foliage Unlimited, which designs, installs, and maintains houseplants.

The damp sponge and drip systems are bad ideas, Feldstein says, because “if the soil stays moist all the time, no oxygen can get into the soil, the plant roots can’t breathe, and then they’ll rot, and the plant will die.”

As for melting ice cubes, most plants have the same attitude toward water as Brits with their beer – room temperature, thank you very much.

2. Watch Your Water Content

“You don’t have to use bottled or distilled, but don’t use water that’s passed through a softener; it’s too salty,” Feldstein says.

If you’ve been using softened water and your plants seem fine, it may be that you’ve chosen hardier plants — or not enough time has gone by. Softened water has sodium in it, and over a long period of time can build up and be toxic to your plants. If softened is your only option, create a reservoir at the bottom of the pot with rocks where the salt can collect, or periodically leach out the sodium with an alternate water source, like rainwater.

Municipally added fluoride and chlorine can take their toll, too. “If your water contains a lot of fluoride or chlorine, fill your watering can and allow it to sit out overnight,” says Feldstein. “The chemicals will dissipate, and you can use the water.”

3. Be More Afraid of Overwatering Than Underwatering

You love your plants. But just like your grandma trying to hard-sell you a third serving of lasagna, sometimes too much love is just too much.

Overwater and you’ll kill your plants. “Underwater, and your plants’ leaves may droop and yellow, but you can save the plant once you water it,” Feldstein says.

How much is too much? If you pick up the pot and it’s lighter than it looks, chances are the soil’s dry. If you’ve got a large plant that you can’t lift, just stick your finger in the soil about an inch. If it’s not damp, it’s watering time.

But don’t go overboard. Some plants need more water than others. Succulents, for example, don’t need much. Thin, delicate plants might need more water. Temperature, sunlight, even pot type (a clay pot will suck moisture away from your plant) all affect watering needs. Bottom line: Learn as much as you can about your plant.

Some signs you might be overwatering:

  • Young and old leaves fall at the same time.
  • Root rot: mushy, brown, possibly odorous roots are in pot bottom.
  • Standing water hanging in container underliner.
  • Flowers become moldy.
  • Leaves develop brown soft rotten patches and fail to grow.

4. Feed Them Coffee and Egg Shells

Try mixing coffee grounds or egg shells into the soil. Yup. Garbage. Store-bought potting soil has all the nutrients your plants need, but about once a year, calcium-rich egg shells can give plants a great boost (do it too often and you’ll change the soil’s pH balance). Clean off the icky stuff, let them sit out to dry, and then crush them to a coarse powder. Pour that around the base of the plants, and water.

Coffee grounds have nitrogen — yummy for plants. Different plants like a different amount of coffee, just like humans. To get a sense of how much to use, start with a teaspoon a week mixed into the soil, and then increase the amount until your plants stop showing signs of improvement. Then it should be good to go for a while.

5. Keep ‘Em Separated (From Your Pets)

Cat got your mother-in-law’s tongue? Hopefully not, because that plant can make your cat sick, and being eaten doesn’t work out well for the plant, either. Feldstein recommends the following to keep cats away:

  • Put orange or lemon rinds on the soil. (They don’t like the smell.)
  • Spray spicy cayenne pepper on the leaves.
  • Place crumpled tin foil on the soil. (Cats aren’t fans.)
  • Put camphor balls in the soil if you’re brave enough to risk smelling like your grandma’s closet.

“You might also give your cat a grassy plant of his own to play with,” Feldstein says. Yes, there are grasses you can grow just for your kitty. Typically a mix of oat, rye, barley, and wheat grasses, says the Humane Society. Introduce them to their own grass, and play with the leaves to pique their interest.

6. Easy on the Fertilizer

Dilute your plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than no fertilizer at all. “Fertilizers contain salts, which can build up in the soil,” Feldstein says. “It will burn the roots, and the tips of your plant leaves will go brown. Dilute the plant food one-half to one-quarter the recommended strength.”

7. Give Plants a Haircut

You know that light, airy feeling you have after a haircut? Your plants love it, too. Just because your spider plant is long enough to ring the room doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Pruning houseplants helps them grow stronger and more lush.

Prune away dead leaves, limbs and flowers at the beginning of the growing season or after the plant has flowered. While there are a few plants that don’t need pruning, most are happier when they’re all spruced up.

8. Park Them in the Right Place

Location, location. All plants need some amount of light to grow — whether sunlight or artificial light. But direct sunlight “will burn their leaves,” Feldstein says.

Before setting your plant in a spot, place an object there and check brightness by watching the object’s shadow. Intense light means a more defined shadow.

The direction from which sunlight is coming from can make a difference, too. Even plants that thrive in lots of sunshine may not be so happy in a west-facing window come spring or summer when the sun is most intense.

And be aware that some plants, like ficus, can be so sensitive to cold air that placing it near the entry might aid its demise every time someone opens the door.

9. Know When to Repot

Sometimes your plants will get too big for their clay britches. When that happens, it’s time to repot.

To find out if your little one is ready to graduate, gently remove it from its pot. “If the roots have taken on the shape of the pot, it’s time to move to a larger pot,” Feldstein says. The new container should be about two inches wider and a couple of inches deeper than the old pot.

“Then, don’t feed the plant [with fertilizer] for at least six weeks after repotting so it has time to acclimate. And, remember that now that the pot is larger it’ll take longer for the soil to dry and you won’t have to water as often.”

10. Choose the Easiest Plants to Grow

If you truly believe you’re the Norman Bates of plant owners, there’s still a way to enjoy the beauty and benefits of plant life in your home. Try plants with thicker leaves and stems; they’ll need less water. Think jade and aloe. Other easy-care plants include dracaena, pothos, and heart leaf philodendron.

And then there are air plants, tillandsia, which still need to be watered, but grow without soil, getting all their nutrients from the air. In general, says Feldstein, “Buy plants that are so easy to care for that if you forget about them for three weeks, they’ll be fine.”



This quick and easy recipe of shrimp stuffed avocados works great for a salad or appetizer.


  • 4 large avocados, peeled and halved, seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 c. small salad shrimp, cooked and washed
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 T. paprika


1. Set avocados on serving plate with cut side facing up

2. Combine shrimp, lemon juice, onion and pepper in a medium-sized mixing bowl

3. Spoon shrimp mixture onto each avocado, covering generously

4. Sprinkle the top of each stuffed avocado with paprika before serving

HELOCs Are Resetting and Rates Are Rising: Here’s What Homeowners Should Do

“Your HELOC is resetting” is a phrase you might be hearing a lot these days, and it sounds like something that might send your spaceship off its trajectory. But, if you’re not careful, it’s actually something that could send your budget off course.

The financial field is experiencing a perfect storm as multitudes of a popular financial product, the home equity line of credit, or HELOC, are coming due.

Why now? Well, homeowners rushed to take out HELOCs in 2007—just before the housing crash, when property values were at a peak. That gave homeowners flexibility to tap into much-needed funds during the rocky economic period of the past decade. But many of those HELOCs “reset”after 10 years, and with rising interest rates (just last week, the Fed announced another crucial rate hike), the mortgage math doesn’t look good. Your monthly payments could go higher—some by substantial amounts.

Let’s take a look at how you can deal with a resetting HELOC without busting your budget.

Why has my HELOC bill ballooned?

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what a HELOC is. But if it’s been 10 years since you reviewed your paperwork, here’s a refresher: A HELOC is a loan that allows you to borrow money against the equity you have built up in your home. Your lender figures out how much your house is currently worth, deducts what you still owe and offers you a percentage of the remainder as a loan.

What many borrowers don’t understand very well is that unlike their primary mortgage—whose interest rate is likely locked in for 20 or 30 years—a HELOC has a variable rate after the first 10 years. That variable rate is typically tied to the prime rate, which serves as a benchmark for lending rates. The prime rate increases when the Federal Reserve raises short-term rates.

HELOCs typically require interest-only payments for the first 10 years, after which payments on the principal kick in. So there’s a double whammy for homeowners who took out a HELOC in 2007: Not only are their principal payments coming due, but the rate on the loan is also poised to spike.

Now, we’re not trying to cause a panic; despite predictions that mortgage rates would rise throughout the year, they’re still historically low. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage (the most popular home loan) is currently hovering at a seven-month low, despite several increases to interest rates since December. The Fed just hiked interest rates again, though, so the mortgage market could see some of that long-anticipated fallout.

How to handle a HELOC reset

This situation doesn’t have to be a disaster. You just have to do your homework to make the decision that’s best for your budget.

First—and most important—make sure you’re reading the correspondence from your lender and monitoring your statements each month so you’re not caught by surprise, warns Elizabeth Mitacchione, vice president of mortgages for Teachers Federal Credit Union, in Hauppauge, NY.

Evaluating your options could take some time, so you want to be clear on how and when the rate will change.

If your HELOC is poised to reset, you essentially have three choices: Pay it off, refinance it, or stay in your HELOC.

Option No. 1: Pay it off

Maybe you’ve been quite conservative when using your HELOC. It could be that you’ve just been spending a small amount of extra cash to spruce up your outdoor area or fix that leaky roof. Now that the project is done, you might well have the cash available to pay off your HELOC in one fell swoop. Done.

Option No. 2: Refinance it

Sorry, refinancing a HELOC isn’t cut-and-dried. You have three choices for how to handle it.

  1. Refinance into another HELOC: It’s a good time to look into this option, as many local banks and credit unions are currently very competitive with their rates, says Jesse Johnston of Philadelphia-based HOW Properties. HELOCs offer a variety of benefits, including the absence of closing costs and mortgage insurance, notes Joe Talmadge, vice president of mortgage lending for Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, VA. However, he adds, “over time, the risk of having a large balance on a variable-rate loan with little protection from potentially rising rates could lead to more uncertainty than many people are comfortable with.” Also keep in mind that a new, comparable HELOC might not be possible if your home’s value has dropped over the past decade.
  2. Refinance it into a second mortgage: Many banks will allow you to convert your HELOC to a fixed-rate second mortgage without going through the process of requalifying for the loan all over again, Johnston says.
  3. Consolidate your first mortgage and HELOC into one: You may decide to do a full refinance of your first mortgage and HELOC while mortgage rates continue to be relatively low, Mitacchione suggests. Of course, that means you would need to pay closing costs, as well as go through the hassle of getting all your financial documentation together, notes Johnston.

Option No. 3: Stay in your HELOC

If you stay in your current HELOC, just remember that payment amounts will rise when the loan resets because you are no longer paying only interest. Your lender can walk you through the payment increase if you decide to just hold tight.

Article by Cathie Ericson

Super Simple Ideas for People Who Hate Yard Work

Yards are meant for fun times — not chores.

Look at those smug neighbors, lounging around on their stylish teak patio furniture, sipping cocktails, and loving life. Meanwhile, you’re behind on mowing the lawn andtrimming the hedges. Who has time to prep for a patio party when you can’t even keep up with the regular stuff? Shouldn’t you get to kick back on your lawn, too?

Yes, you should. It’s just a matter of designing your landscape so it requires less attention from you. Here are a few strategies to help:

Use Rocks for Interesting Landscape Features

Grass doesn’t grow on rocks. Besides stating the obvious, what that really means is that they’re the perfect, versatile tool for creating a low-maintenance outdoor space. Use them to create walkways, or group them together to form decorative outcroppings.

You can even lay out stones to be ornamental dry creek beds.

Small yards, especially in desert climates, can be completely rocked over, or you can use them as strategically placed accents.

And if you’ve got spots that are constantly wet, they’re great for keeping mud (and mosquitoes!) under control because they’ll help the water run off instead of collecting.

Add a Rain Garden if You’ve Got a Soggy Spot

Speaking of wet areas, do you have a depressed corner of the yard where puddles rule?

Try a rain garden, which is kind of a mini-wetland that reduces storm-water runoff. And done right, they’re almost maintenance free because they require no mowing, no watering, and little weeding.

They make much prettier focal points than soggy grass, too.

Rain gardens are fairly easy to create, using gravel, sand, and native plants. The idea is to slow down rainwater so less of it goes into the sewer system, and more is used to nourish plant life.

DIY the Easiest Deck Ever

Decks do require some maintenance, but you don’t have to mow ‘em every weekend, that’s for sure. And a platform deck — no steps, no railings — is the easiest of all.

“There are lots of dense hardwoods like ipe and cedar, redwood and composites that last a long time and are very low-maintenance,” says Tomi Landis, president of Landis Garden Design in Washington, D.C.

While you’re dreaming of your new deck, think about this: How you will use it?

“Will you be using it in the morning while having coffee?” Landis asks. “If so, it should be oriented to the east. If it’s mainly for dining out in the evening and having cocktails, it should be facing west.” But be sure shade is available in the hotter months.

Switch to Tall Grass That Never Needs Mowing

Not all grass is created equal. Tall grasses, like switchgrass, bluestem, muhly, and fountaingrass, all grow fast and require very little TLC. Nor do they ever get mowed.

“Native grasses are a great solution to a lot of landscaping problems,” Landis says. They soak up lots of water and provide an organic privacy screen while trimming your mowing time.

How to use tall grasses:

  • Group along a fence line.
  • Group into geometric patterns in your yard for a clean look.
  • Go more random for a more natural look.

The most maintenance you’ll do with these is cut them back in late fall. They dry up in the fall, which sends some of those glorious long leaves flying across your yard. But they can be used as (free!) mulch or ignored. They’ll do no harm.

Create Pathways to Reduce High-Maintenance Grass

Like the rocks above, pavers (sometimes called “steppers”) are decorative stones used to create pathways that need little or no care.

“A stepper in a natural shape looks really great in a lot of contexts,” Landis says. Traditional house styles like bungalows, colonials, and Victorians tend to go well with more natural pavers, like flagstone.

If your house is more on the modern side, opt for some rectangular or square pavers.

Go For Fake Grass — No One Will Know (Seriously)

Some purists might consider fake grass to be over the line, but the newer faux turf doesn’t make your yard look like a putt-putt course, nor does it get so hot it burns your feet like the fake turf in your parents’ day.

“It’s great for somebody with no time on their hands,” says Doug DeLuca, founder of Federal Stone and Brick in Sterling, Virginia. “It comes like a roll of carpet, you set a bed for it with gravel, then use sod staples to hold it down.”

It doesn’t need to be cut, watered or fertilized, and pets can’t kill it.

Plant Your Own Mini Forest if You Get Lots of Rain

Where there are trees there shall be no grass. But there will be shade, and that’s a plus for picnicking and lawn-chair lounging.

“Trees can soak up a lot of rainwater,” Landis says, and therefore, need a lot of water. Consider your local climate, as soaking up water can be good or bad. Do you need to sop up excess water? Is the yard already too dry?

Keep in mind that native trees are less maintenance because they’re adapted to your area.

Use Objects to Add Color — Instead of Flowers

Color is the secret to a stunning yard, but that doesn’t mean you need to plant a garden full of labor-intensive dahlias.

It means choosing bright pots, benches, bird baths, Adirondack chairs — anything that just sits there and looks lovely while you pour the cocktails.

The options are as numerous as the Pinterest search results for “yard art” (which is somewhere between 5,000 and infinity).

And if you decide to pop some colorful flowers into your colorful pots, what could be better a better backdrop to your finally-realized cocktail party?


Tips for Summer Travel with Your Pet

The warm summer months call for some fun traveling with loved ones, however, trips can be less fun if four-legged family members aren’t able to come along. Pet parents already know not to leave pets in the car on a hot day, but there are other factors to consider when your pets are tagging along for the ride.

“Your pet’s safety and comfort while traveling are extremely important to help reduce stress for both the pet and owner,” said Jam Stewart, director of corporate communications at Mars Petcare. “Creating a safe space for your pet to travel not only shows responsible pet ownership, but also allows additional quality time for you and your furry best friend.”

Keep these tips in mind when taking your pet on vacation this summer:

  • Be sure your furry friend can join you in all areas. Unfortunately, not all accommodations love pets as much as pet owners do. Don’t forget to call ahead to the places you plan to visit to be sure your furry loved ones are welcome. It’s also imperative for owners to understand any rules for their pets at their destination, like keeping their pets on a leash. Making sure your pet is well socialized and comfortable visiting unfamiliar places also helps make the new experience fun and positive for your pet and for you.
  • Don’t forget your pet’s ID. Microchipping your pet is one of the most effective ways to ensure he or she can be reunited with you if lost. Combine it with on-collar identification tags and a GPS pet tracker, such as Whistle 3, which lets owners track their pets wherever their travels take them.
  • Make sure your pet is comfy on road trips. It’s important to introduce your pet to your car slowly before embarking on a long adventure. You can also bring your pet’s favorite toys, blankets or bed to help him or her feel more at ease. If your pet is still uneasy in the car, your veterinarian can provide options like essential oils, over-the-counter supplements or, if needed, prescriptions.
  • Don’t forget the treats. While traveling, make sure your pet has healthy treats for the long ride. Treats such as Greenies and Pedigree Dentastix promote fresh breath and clean teeth for dogs. For treats your cat will love, try Temptations, which offers tasty treats in multiple flavors.

“Pets make our lives healthier, safer and happier, and owners should take the time to plan properly before heading out on the road with their pets to ensure a fun, safe and comfortable trip for all,” Stewart said. “Pets are part of the family and we want them to enjoy the trip as much as we do in order to have more opportunities to introduce them to new experiences and places.”

4 Things Professional Burglars Don’t Want You to Know

Even though a burglary occurs every 20 seconds in the U.S., you can still protect yourself with simple, common-sense steps.

1. Nighttime Burglaries Aren’t the Best Time. Burglars like to break in to homes during daytime hours – between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. – because there’s a high chance people will be away at work or school. The last thing criminals want is to encounter someone at home. Don’t leave your home unlocked just because it’s daytime.

2. They Know When You’re Not Home – Thanks to Social Media. Locating someone’s home address using basic information from their social media profile is surprisingly easy. In one survey of convicted burglars, more than 10 percent say they used social media to determine who was out of town. So while it’s tempting to post about your vacation to your social media feed, wait to share those trip photos until you’re back home.

3. They Don’t Like Your Security Practices. Burglars are looking for easy targets, so your basic security measures are pretty important. Unlocked windows, unused deadbolts, poorly lit homes, and residences without security systems are prime targets for burglars, so make sure you are using the security features you already have.

4. Your Landscaping Choices Can be a Burglar’s Best Friend. Thieves are searching for crimes of opportunity, and landscaping gives them a place to hide while planning a way of entry can be very enticing. Tall bushes are favorites of burglars since they offer an obstructed view from the street and an easy way to hide from neighbors. Sometimes the best defense is a clear view of your front porch.

Brought to you by Cyndi DuMontelle.


Smoothies are the perfect breakfast or snack for meals on the run. The chia seeds in this deliciously fruity version add a unique texture. Drink this Strawberry Kiwi Smoothie smoothie right away for a satisfying crunch, or wait for the seeds to “gel” and enjoy a texture similar to tapioca pearls. This shake is lower in protein than most Paleo breakfasts, so be sure to pair it with a hard-boiled egg, some cooked chicken or sausage, or a handful of almonds for a complete meal.

Recipe makes 2 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 5 minutes


1 large kiwi(s), peeled and roughly chopped or sliced
1 cup(s) strawberries, frozen
1 can(s) coconut milk, full fat (403 mL)
2 tablespoon(s) chia seeds
1 teaspoon(s) honey, raw, (optional)


  1. Combine kiwi, strawberries, coconut milk and honey (if desired) in a blender. Pulse for 60 seconds, or until fully blended.
  2. Stir in chia seeds. Serve immediately. For a thicker smoothie, refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours to let chia seeds “gel.”

What are the risks of buying a short sale or foreclosure?

It’s more complicated than you think.

I’m looking to buy a new home, and I’ve noticed that there are a couple of “short sale” and foreclosed homes in the area where I’m interested in living. These homes are priced substantially lower than others, and I’m wondering what the catch is. I’ve heard that short sales or foreclosures often need repairs. What else do I need to know to decide whether to invest in one of these properties?

Purchasing a home through a short sale or a foreclosure process can be a way to get a good deal on a property. But it isn’t for the faint of heart. Both processes are likely to be more complicated than purchasing a home on the open market.

First, make sure you understand the differences between these categories. Both are used when a property owner is in financial distress and can no longer afford mortgage payments.

In a short sale, the proceeds from the sale will fall short of the debt owed on the property. Such a sale can only occur if the mortgage holder (usually a bank) has agreed to accept less than the amount owed on the loan.

In a foreclosure, on the other hand, the mortgage holder has repossessed the property and is trying to recoup its losses by selling the house for the amount still owed on the loan. That amount is typically still less than the market value of the home.

Here are some of the common issues you may encounter when buying a foreclosure or short sale.

Purchasing delays

If you’re considering buying a property listed as short sale or foreclosure, keep in mind a few things, experts say.

“The process for purchasing this kind of property may not be as easy as purchasing a home directly from a seller who is current on their mortgage,” says Colin McDonald, real-estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Blake in Delmar, N.Y.

For instance, it typically takes six to eight weeks to close on a normal home, McDonald says. But with a short sale or foreclosure, the property may not close for six months or even a year.

“[W]hen a property is being listed as a short sale or foreclosure, you’re no longer just dealing with the seller,” McDonald says. “A bank is now involved, and unfortunately, they only care about getting what is owed to them. They will drag the process on for as long as they like.”

Short sales can also take months to get lender approval. “The seller’s bank can make things very difficult, making the borrower jump through many hoops — hoops that can take a long time to navigate,” warns David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School who writes and teaches about real estate.

And in the end, the bank may respond with a counteroffer that doesn’t meet your budget or terms. “So you might wait for a long time only to be disappointed,” says Sep Niakan, owner of Condo Black Book, a leading condo search website in Miami and broker of HB Roswell Realty.

Additional risks

Foreclosed properties may be purchased through the open market with a real-estate agent or at a sheriff sale or county auction. In many cases, you will not be able to view the inside of the property before the purchase. “[Y]ou are essentially buying a property sight unseen,” Niakan cautions.

In addition to buying the property, you’re also purchasing any liens (or unpaid bills relating to the property), code violations, or title issues, Niakan adds. Do your research to find out what other costs may be associated with the home, and factor all those costs into your bid.

If you’re purchasing a foreclosure or short sale on the open market — rather than at auction — you’ll typically get a clear title or a warranty deed that guarantees that no other lienholders have claim to the property. You can also buy title insurance to protect yourself from any future title issues.

Extra work

When you purchase a short sale or foreclosure, you will likely need to reserve funds or energy for home repairs or improvements once the sale is completed.

“Keep in mind when you buy any foreclosure or short sale, these people were in financial distress, so expect to inherit a property that has had some sort of deferred maintenance, even if it looks good on the surface,” Niakan explains.

In most cases, foreclosures are sold “as is,” which means the owner or the bank does not plan to make improvements before the sale.

“The bank will typically allow you to conduct inspections, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to make any improvements to the red flags called out in the report,” McDonald says. “As it is, they feel you’re already getting the property for a great price.”

With short sales, the sellers usually still live in the property, so even if they’ve let some things go, it shouldn’t be in complete disrepair. With a foreclosure, the risk is higher that the property could be vandalized or trashed, McDonald says.

Potential additional fees

While the price of the home may be low, a foreclosure or short sale often comes with additional transaction costs. With a foreclosure, you may have to pay transfer taxes as well as any superior liens on the property. You may also have to pay an additional fee to the foreclosure company.

Typically, in a short sale, there is a negotiator involved who will require a fee, such as 2.5% of the purchase price, McDonald says. The buyer is usually required to pay this fee.

You also may have to pay back taxes or other past dues associated with the property. If you buy a condo-foreclosure, for instance, “there may be many years of past due condo association fees that may not appear anywhere in public record, and you might end up inheriting a very large debt,” Niakan says. “Some local and state laws limit the amount you would be responsible for in those cases, but do your homework.”

Purchasing a home at a price that is significantly below market always sounds like a good thing — and it can be for the right person. But keep in mind that if the property is really great, “there will be others who will also be interested in it,” McDonald warns. “This includes veteran investors who have deep pockets of cash.”

If you hope to get a great home for a low price through a foreclosure or short sale, be sure to do your homework and be aware that it may take a long time and come with extra costs and repairs. And at the end of the day, buying a short sale or foreclosure isn’t for everyone.

“While you may get a good price, you will be paying for the house with uncertainty, delay, and frustration,” Reiss says. “You’ll need to determine for yourself whether it is worth it.”

Article By Nancy Mann Jackson

6 Things Everyone Should Do When Moving Into a New House

Settling in will be just that much sweeter if you do these things.

When I bought my first house, my timing couldn’t have been better: The house closing was two weeks before the lease was up on my apartment. That meant I could take my time packing and moving, and I could get to know the new place before moving in.

I recruited family and friends to help me move (in exchange for a beer-and-pizza picnic on the floor) and, as a bonus, I got to pick their brains about what first-time homeowners should know.

Their help was one of the best housewarming presents I could have gotten. And thanks to their expertise and a little Googling, here’s what I learned about what to do before moving in.

1. Change the Locks

You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20 to $30 per lock for labor.

2. Check for Plumbing Leaks

Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check. I didn’t have any plumbing leaks to fix, but when checking my kitchen sink, I did discover the sink sprayer was broken. I replaced it for under $20.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets, and check your water heater for signs of a leak.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

3. Steam Clean Carpets

Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself. I was able to save some money by borrowing a steam cleaner from a friend.

4. Wipe Out Your Cabinets

Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

When I cleaned my kitchen cabinets, I found an unpleasant surprise: Mouse poop. Which leads me to my next tip …

5. Give Critters the Heave-Ho

That includes mice, ratsbatstermitesroaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100 to $300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

For my mousy enemies, I strategically placed poison packets around the kitchen, and I haven’t found any carcasses or any more poop, so the droppings I found must have been old. I might owe a debt of gratitude to the snake that lives under my back deck, but I prefer not to think about him.

6. Introduce Yourself to Your Circuit Breaker Box and Main Water Valve

My first experience with electrical wiring was replacing a broken light fixture in a bathroom. After locating the breaker box, which is in my garage, I turned off the power to that bathroom so I wouldn’t electrocute myself.

It’s a good idea to figure out which fuses control what parts of your house and label them accordingly. This will take two people: One to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.


How to Stop the Smells and Funk That Invade Your Home in Summer

Anti-eeeew tips to keep your house from getting gross.

When did hanging out on your patio with that privacy wall you DIYed back in May stop being fun? All you can see is that rusty grill staring at you, and bird poop piling up on your outdoor chaise while you sweat and fight off bugs. And, eeeew, what is that you smell? Summer’s great — but, boy, can it turn on you when the dog days set in.

Don’t start job hunting in Alaska just yet. You can take back your summer. Here’s the worst of what it can inflict on you (in no particular order) — and how to fight back:

A Stinky Bug Invasion

Squish a stink bug, and you’ll quickly learn how they got theirnom de pee-yew.While the brown pests may be harmless, your family’s noses will be happier without them.

  • Use caulk or sealant to close up cracks a sneaky stinker could use to enter your home. Look around windows, doors, vents and outdoor faucets for any openings.
  • Stick a nylon stocking over your vacuum’s hose to suck up stink bugs into the stocking instead of the vacuum bag.
  • Drown these nasty visitors by dumping captured ones into a bottle filled with an inch of soapy water. No tiny cement shoes necessary.

A Mildew-y Smell That Won’t Go Away

Hot, humid summers create an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew, which your nose knows isn’t right. At the first whiff of these funky fungi, strike back hard.

  • Keep things clean and organized. It’s the best defense against summer’s musty aroma. That allows air to move around, keeping moisture (mold and mildew’s best mate) at bay.
  • Dry out your home with dehumidifiers and air conditioners — or at least increase air circulation by adding fans.
  • In rooms that tend to get that musty smell, line closet walls and drawers with cedar for a sweet smell all year long.
  • Waterproof your basement concrete and masonry with cement paint to prevent damp walls — and the sneaky mold that comes with them. But be sure to figure out the cause of the dampness before waterproofing. It only works if the moisture is coming from the soil outside.

A note of caution: Sometimes a musty smell is a harbinger of bad news — serious water damage in your home. If these tips don’t work, you may need to call in a pro.

Gross Garbage Funk

Summer’s heat waves make the stench of garbage 10 times worse. Keeping trash cans clean (duh) is your first line of defense. But there are a couple more things you can do.

  • Yes, scrubbing out your garbage can is disgusting, but it helps control the stink and pests. Give it one good clean when your stomach’s feeling strong, and then quickly wipe it out each time you empty. You’ll never have to face that throw-up smell again.
  • Dust the bottom of the clean, dry can with baking soda to suck up future pungency.
  • Or slip a dryer sheet or two underneath the bag when you change it out.
  • Cat litter in the bottom of the can also works to absorb garbage odors.

Excessive Bird Droppings

Not even the most dedicated bird watchers want to watch droppings accumulate on their porch and outdoor furniture.

The easiest and most humane solution is to install some yard art — the kind that moves or makes a racket. Think wind socks, chimes and fun whirly sun catchers.

If, however, the birds are barn swallows that have nested (you’ll know because their nests are made of mud instead of twigs), you mustn’t shoo them away, no matter how gently. Barn swallows are federally protected. Instead, install a flat board below it or place a newspaper on the ground to prevent droppings from ruining your porch. Then next year (because they will come back — and they will bring friends) install bird netting between your eaves and the side of your home before nests are built.

Rusty, Greasy Grill Grates

You never really got around to cleaning your grill at the beginning of the season, and now that you’ve invited some new work colleagues over for a barbecue, you realize your grill isn’t going to stir up any appetites with all that rust and grime.

  • Vinegar, baking soda, salt, and lemon juice are all natural rust eliminators. You can use individually or create a paste between wet and dry ingredients. Apply and let soak overnight. Then a little elbow grease should do the rest. Try these combinations: vinegar and baking soda; lemon juice and baking soda; or lemon juice and salt.
  • If the rust is really, really tough, do the above but get a wire brush attachment for your drill and use it to scrub the rust away.
  • Once clean, season the grates by rubbing with vegetable oil and heating them.

Uninvited Homesteaders

Snakes at the zoo: super cool. Snakes around or (gasp!) in your house: NO. NO. NOOOO. Snakes might be the worst intruder (or is it bats?), but any unwanted rodent or animal in your home is gross. Your best offense is defense. But if they break through, call a professional exterminator.

  • Cover holes more than a quarter of an inch wide (snakes don’t need much). Check behind gutters and roof flashing.
  • Trim trees to keep pesky animals, such as squirrels, from getting on your roof and into your attic. Keep branches at least eight feet from your house.
  • Eliminate any food sources — like a garbage bin with an askew lid — that might tempt a scavenging pest. The closer they are to your house, the more likely they are to find a way in.
  • Get rid of yard debris, such as piles of leaves and twigs, and mow frequently to eliminate hiding spots.
Article by JAMIE WIEBE

How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Front Door

Not all exterior doors are equal. Here are the pros, cons, and costs of different types.

Good looks and value — what’s not to love? Not only does replacing your front entry door kick up your curb appeal, it’s a solid investment with a decent payback.

According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (full disclosure: NAR is a sponsor of HouseLogic), a new steel entry door has a national median cost of $2,000, and you’ll recover 75% of that investment if you decide to sell your house.

What’s more, if you choose an energy-efficient exterior door, you may trim up to 10% off your energy bills. (With utility bills averaging $2,200 annually, that’s a savings of as much as $220.)

But how do you know which door is right for you? Make your decision by comparing the three main materials available for exterior doors: steel, fiberglass, and wood.

Steel Entry Door

If you’re looking to save money, a steel door is a great choice, especially if you have the skills to hang it yourself.

A simple, unadorned steel door can sell for as little as $150 (not including hardware, lock set, paint, or labor) and typically runs as much as $400 at big-box retailers.

Steel offers the strongest barrier against intruders, although its advantage over fiberglass and wood in this area is slight.

Still, the attractive cost of a steel door comes with an important compromise: It probably won’t last as long.

A steel door exposed to salt air or heavy rains may last only five to seven years. Despite steel’s reputation for toughness, it actually didn’t perform well in “Consumer Report’s” testing against wood and fiberglass for normal wear and tear.

With heavy use, it may dent, and the damage can be difficult and expensive to repair. If your door will be heavily exposed to traffic or the elements, you may be better off choosing a different material.

Fiberglass Door

Fiberglass doors come in an immense variety of styles, many of which accurately mimic the look of real wood. And if limited upkeep is your ideal, fiberglass may be your best bet.

Fiberglass doesn’t expand or contract appreciably as the weather changes. Therefore, in a reasonably protected location, a fiberglass entry door can go for years without needing a paint or stain touch-up and can last 15 to 20 years. Although it feels light to the touch, fiberglass has a very stout coating that’s difficult for an intruder to breach; and its foam core offers considerable insulation.

Fiberglass generally falls between steel and wood in price; models sold at big-box stores range from about $150 to $600.

Wood Exterior Door

Wood is considered the go-to choice for high-end projects; its luxe look and substantial weight can’t be flawlessly duplicated by fiberglass or steel — though high-end fiberglass products are getting close. If your home calls for a stunning entry statement with a handcrafted touch, wood may be the best material for you.

Wood is usually the most expensive choice of the three — roughly $500 to $2,000, excluding custom jobs — and requires the most maintenance, although it’s easier to repair scratches on a wood door than dents in steel or fiberglass.

Wood doors should be repainted or refinished every year or two to prevent splitting and warping.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your door as well as its energy efficiency, you can purchase a solid wood door certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which assures you that the wood was sustainably grown and harvested.

Tracing the environmental impact of a particular door — from manufacturing process to shipping distance to how much recycled/recyclable content it contains — is quite complicated and probably beyond the ken of the average homeowner, notes LEED-certified green designer Victoria Schomer. But FSC-certified wood and an Energy Star rating are an excellent start.

A final note on choosing a door based on energy efficiency: Because efficiency depends on a number of factors besides the material a door is made of — including its framework and whether it has windows — look for the Energy Star label to help you compare doors.


This simple Paleo breakfast dish gets its flavor from bacon. By cooking the spinach and eggs in the bacon fat and then sprinkling the bacon on top, you get bacony goodness in each and every bite of this Bacon and Spinach Frittata.

Recipe makes 4 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 35 minutes


12 large egg(s)
1/2 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
6 slice(s) bacon, chopped
4 cup(s) spinach, chopped
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Whisk the eggs with the coconut milk in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cook your bacon in a skillet till crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and set aside.
  4. Add the spinach to the skillet (and bacon fat) and cook until just wilted. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are set.
  6. Top with cooked bacon before serving.

5 Mortgage Mistakes You’re Too Smart to Make

How to ensure you get the best possible interest rate you can.

“Shop around for the best mortgage deal.” You may have heard this statement, before, but the best deal for one borrower could be a poor deal for another.

The key is to become a better borrower. Is it possible to influence the type of deal you get? Yes, especially if you avoid these missteps.

1. Not Checking Your Credit Report

The three main credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — keep track of your credit history, including lines of credit, payments, and available credit lines, among other data. While most information collected is similar across all three bureaus, it’s possible to find differences between reports.

When checking your credit reports, it’s most important to check for errors or misinformation. Accurate information can’t be deleted, but any information that can’t be verified or that’s inaccurate can be removed. If errors on your credit report are impacting your credit score, it’s best to have them removed before applying for a mortgage.

Get a free credit report from each of the three bureaus once a year at annualcreditreport.com.

2. Opening New Lines of Credit

Before shopping for a mortgage, it’s best to minimize your number of Worry not. FICO regards several lender queries in a short time as a single query, which shouldn’t have much effect.credit inquiries. These come when you apply for a new line of credit. Lenders use your FICO or other credit score to evaluate your creditworthiness.

Although FICO doesn’t provide insight into the number of points added or subtracted for specific credit activity, it does note that new credit lines account for 10% of your overall score and that “inquiries usually have a small impact.” However, even a small negative impact could potentially increase the mortgage rate for which you qualify.

3. Increasing Your Debt Load

Your credit score is calculated based on a number of factors, including payment history, amounts owed, and the mix of credit and new credit. Each factor is given a percentage weighting. For the FICO score, amounts owed on accounts are weighted as high as 30%. A larger number of accounts with balances can indicate a higher risk for the lender.

For revolving accounts such as credit cards, the credit utilization ratio is what you should watch. It’s the ratio of the amount you owe on your card to your available credit, and it’s calculated as a percentage. For example, a $10,000 line of credit with a $2,000 balance shows as 20%. Reducing your total amount of debt or minimizing debt from revolving accounts could help you get approved.

Beyond your credit score, your debt-to-income ratio could also affect your mortgage deal. A debt-to-income ratio of under 36% is necessary for a loan to conform to Fannie Mae guidelines. Many lenders lend according to those guidelines so that they can take advantage of the special programs provided by this government-sponsored enterprise. The debt-to-income ratio will factor in all of your debt owed, including credit cards, student loans, and any other debts listed on your credit report.

4. Forgetting About Special Loan Programs

You may qualify for special programs that could reduce the cost of getting a mortgage. For example, you may qualify for one of the VA loan programs. These programs, provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, cover service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses. There are also programs that help first-time homebuyers and eligible rural homebuyers, and even state-based homebuyer programs.

5. Applying with Fluctuating Income

Mortgage lenders require paperwork to verify your financial situation, including but not limited to debt, income, and assets. If you receive a paycheck, you may be asked to provide two years of proof of employment via W-2 forms. If you have a habit of switching jobs often with gaps in between, that unsteady income could delay your approval as the lender seeks other methods to verify your creditworthiness.

Before applying for a mortgage, make changes where necessary so you can get the best deal possible. Seek to improve your credit, minimize your debt load, and search for special programs. Depending on how much you owe and the state of your credit, you may need to begin this process one to two years in advance of purchasing a home.

8 Big Mistakes We’ll Keep You From Making When Organizing Your Home

Maybe your home has reached peak chaos because you’re too busy to put it in order, or maybe you’ve just been lazy. Either way, once you finally get started organizing your home, it would seem that you’re on the right path—even if that path is heaped with clutter.

And yet, all too often, when we tackle those piles of paper and heaps of clothes, we end up with a bigger mess than before. How does it happen?

The thing is, there’s an art and science to organizing that most mere mortals (Marie Kondo acolytes aside) aren’t born knowing. As a result, many of us end up bungling the organization operation big-time.

So take note of these all-too-common mistakes that you’re bound to make while organizing your home—and learn from the experts how to do it better.

Mistake No. 1: Buying storage bins before cracking open a drawer or closet

Before you head to The Container Store to load up on all those nifty new bins and baskets, make certain you know what you need. Measure shelves, closets, and under beds so you know whether the bins and baskets you’re buying will actually fit. And if you want to skip the store altogether, you probably can, says Mim King, a professional organizer.

“Most people have enough boxes and bags to do the job, so save your money to spend on just the containers that’ll be visible,” she urges.

Mistake No. 2: Just diving right in

You can’t just take the plunge and hope to emerge at the other end with an organized house. Take a pen, pad, and a few moments to jot down exactly what areas need to be organized, says Juan Carlos Daetz, an organizing pro at Max Warehouse.

“Next, estimate how much time each area will take, and then write that down, too,” he says.This way, when you have an extra hour (or even just 10 minutes), you can pick a spot to work on.

Mistake No. 3: Picking a bad time

Not a morning person? If that’s the case (and yes, we feel your pain), do not plan to organize the pantry at 7 a.m. And if the weather is simply glorious out, there’s no way you’ll want to hole up in the garage. Another timing mistake: waiting for a big block of it to miraculously appear out of thin air.

“It’s rare that you’ll have a huge chunk of time to devote to organizing,” points out Jamie Novak, author of “Keep This Toss That.” Instead, work in increments, chipping away at a large project or finishing a few small ones.

Mistake No. 4: Getting sidetracked searching for supplies

“When you finally find that pocket of time, you want to get to work, instead of hunting for enough garbage bags,” Novak says. So make sure to keep all the supplies you’ll need well-stocked, such as cleaners, sprays, and every kind of bag, including those for recycling. If everything’s in place, you won’t have to run out for something and end up getting sidetracked altogether.

Mistake No. 5: Making things neat instead of organizing them

Piles of papers that are neatly stacked on the kitchen counter are not organized, says Daetz. And stashing things in a drawer to clean off the dining table serves only to create a junk drawer.

“To be truly organized, your stuff needs a home,” he points out. If you find something on the floor or counter, you should know exactly where it goes.

Mistake No. 6: Rearranging items instead of organizing them

Many homeowners make the mistake of moving things around within the same room, by shuffling or grouping in a new way, reports Daetz.

“This happens when your things don’t have a proper storage spot,” he notes. The fix: Get into the habit of finding a place for new items the minute you bring them home. You might also adopt the “one in, one out” plan, too, especially when it comes to clothing, books, and magazines.

Mistake No. 7: Stashing everything rather than purging

You can’t organize unless you purge. Go ahead, read that sentence again. Accept it.

“Look at the stuff you’ve collected, and really think about how much you use it and love it,” Daetz advises. If you haven’t used it in ages, it doesn’t fit, or it’s expired (ewww!), place it in a bin to toss or donate.

“And if you can’t decide on an item, put it in storage temporarily,” he adds. After a few months if you don’t miss it, out it goes.

Mistake No. 8: Doing it alone

“It’s all in the mind—and then in the wrist,” says King, referring to that all-important toss into the trash can. But getting to the “wrist” part can be a hurdle for some people.

“Most homeowners need the OK to toss things out, so get a friend or hire a professional organizer to help,” she says. Plus it’s no fun sorting Legos and photos all by yourself.

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10 Tips For Buying a Home Pets Will Love

Some people will openly admit that they treat their pets like children. Many who feel that way have chosen to delay parenthood or simply not to have children. Others such as baby boomers whose children have grown and left home, sometimes substitute their pets for the kids who have moved out.

But when a pet lover turns into a home buyer, look out. Like parents who research the best school districts when considering neighborhoods in which to shop for a home, home buyers with pets have specific requirements, too.

1) Check County & City Code Restrictions

Imagine my shock when the city of Costa Mesa, CA, informed me that I was not allowed to own a goat. Notwithstanding, I did, in fact, own a Nubian goat. Even though my neighborhood was called Goat Hill, the city ordered me to find another home for my goat. Many cities restrict the number and types of pets allowed within city limits.

2) Read Home Owner Association Documents

Not every HOA allows pets. If the homeowner association permits pets, most likely the association bylaws will address restrictions on numbers, types, sizes, heights, noise factors and whether pets are allowed to freely roam the premises.

Many HOAs strictly enforce their bylaws. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the bylaws won’t apply to you because they are silly restrictions or that the HOA won’t enforce its own rules. Many homeowner association covenants carry severe penalties for those who violate their HOA regulations.

 3) Consider the Home’s Features

A Sacramento buyer was adamant that she would not buy a home with carpeting. She wanted a home for her Schnauzer with wood or ceramic floors throughout and did not want to deal with ripping up carpeting. Another first-time home buyer adopted a cat who ate fabric, so the home could not have drapes covering any of the windows.

Perhaps an outdoor faucet is important for bathing your dog? If so, check to make sure the home has exterior faucets; it’s an easy thing to overlook. Make a list of your desired preferences before going home shopping to find the right home.

4) Examine the Home’s Layout

Aging pets might have trouble climbing stairs, so for some home buyers with senior pets, a single-story home is ideal. Cats like windows, and those with window ledges or low to the ground are preferred by felines. Is there a playroom for your pets? Plenty of closet space for storing pet supplies? Your cat will appreciate a private place for a litter box, and you may prefer to keep the cat box out of sight.

Pets love to run and chase each other in circles — will your home allow a race around the house? If you keep your pets confined to certain rooms, is the layout conducive to that arrangement? It can be expensive to pay for a pet-friendly home remodel.

5) Inspect Street Traffic

Sometimes, even the most well behaved dogs bolt when the front door is opened. Cats are inquisitive, and a curious cat can find a way to push open a screen door to get outside. In an unfamiliar surrounding, pets can dart into the street. To prevent tragedy, it’s better to pass on buying a home that is located on or near a busy thoroughfare.

6) Ask About Previous Pets in House

If the seller is selling a home where pets live, check for pet damage, especially under rugs. Look at the backs of doors for scratches or gouges. Ask about pet accidents. Inquire about fleas in the house.

Pet odors are almost impossible to eliminate from a home but might not be noticeable to you, so bring along a friend who does not own a pet to act as your official sniffer. Cats, especially, mark territory; and if you own a cat, you don’t want the process of improper elimination to repeat itself.

7) Find Out if the Neighborhood is Pet Friendly

Drive around the area to see if you can spot neighbors outside walking their dogs or notice cats sleeping in sunny windows. Look for community-placed receptacles for waste deposits. Consider whether you would prefer an area where dogs are on leashes and the owners carry plastic bags, or a community where dogs run free, chasing cars, while the pet owner, say, staggers behind, slurping from a can of beer?

Very important, does a dog live next door who will bark all day at your dog? Talk to the neighbors.

8) Locate Pet Services

If you are buying a home in a new area, ask your agent and the neighbors for referrals to pet vendors. For example, where can you find the best:

  • Pet food store
  • Veterinary clinic
  • Doggie day care center
  • Pet sitter
  • Groomer

9) Search for Local Dog Park

A great way to meet your neighbors and make new friends is at the local dog park. Here are few questions to ask about the dog park:

  • Will you be expected to keep your dog on a leash?
  • Are dogs encouraged to play with one another and socialize?
  • Who maintains the park?
  • Does the park provide stations and containers for picking up after your dog?
  • Are you restricted from going to the park during certain hours of the day?
  • Can you hear dogs barking at the park from your new home?

10) Is the Yard Fenced?

If the yard does not have a fence, and you want to provide a safe play area for your pets, find out how much it will cost to construct your own fence. If the home has an existing fence, make sure it is gated, the gate latches, and the fence is high enough so your dog can’t jump over it. Inspect for loose fence boards that may need to be replaced.

Moreover, if you plan to buy a swimming pool home, either get a cover for the pool or install a security gate around it.

Article by Elizabeth Weintraub

Backyard Bar Shed Ideas That Let You Celebrate Summer Right

Who wouldn’t want a backyard bar shed? Seriously, folks, outdoor living rooms and fire pits are fantastic, all the more so with a strategically timed whiskey smash, glass of pinot, or a cold IPA.

“Bar sheds are simply cool,” says Brian Rhoden of Daniel’s Lawn Care. “They really elevate a backyard to your neighborhood’s new favorite Friday night hot spot.”

So instead of schlepping inside for a drink, consider installing this latest must-have backyard amenity. We break down how you can turn an existing or new shed into a watering hole, and the necessities that come with slinging booze.

Claim an outbuilding

The first thing you need is a shed. Maybe you have one in the backyard already which you can purge of rakes and hedge clippers. Just make sure you have enough alternative storage space.

“If you don’t have anywhere else to store landscaping equipment, it could be wise to consider adding a new shed,” says Jay Labelle, owner of the Cover Guy, an online retail outlet for hot tub covers and supplies. That might entail building a new shed.

Rhoden notes that you can buy a decent, prefab wooden one for $1,000 to $3,000.

Plan for elbow room

Factor in size, because a really small shed probably won’t be ideal for a bar. Think about how many people you plan to host on a regular basis, as well as your ideal seating (stools take up less room than a booth). Keep in mind that your local building department might have a size restriction on backyard sheds built without a permit. Around 120 square feet is usually a safe bet.

Consider the bar shed’s location

How will your bar shed fit into the backyard design? If you already have the shed, you might want to relocate it away from a child’s bedroom (or a cranky neighbor with a decibel meter). And if you want to drink alfresco, leave enough room to set up a seating area near the shed.

Your options: Tiki, pub, lounge, dive, beach, or sports bar

Start by considering the basics when designing the interior of your bar shed, says Rhoden. This means the flooring, wall paneling, and paint. Then decide on the vibe you’re going for. Do you want to show off the license plates you never turned in to the DMV (dive bar) or your collection of Polynesian drinkware (Tiki bar)?

The shelves for wine and liquor, as well as the bar itself, can be purchased or made. You might want to design the bar around a small fridge or cooler tucked under the serving side of your bar to avoid taking up additional square footage in the shed, says Deemer Cass of Landscaping & Garden Design.

“And don’t forget to mount a bottle opener on the wall.”

Get wired

If the bar of your dreams contains a miniature fridge, ice maker, and blender for frozen margaritas, you’re going to need power.

“Before you get started, consult an electrician on the resources available in your backyard,” says Nate Burlando, owner and president of Distinct HVAC. Depending on the type of exterior power outlets you already have, you might need to trench in extra power.

Or is a rustic bar with a cooler, bag of ice, and cocktail shaker more your style? That makes things easier, but keep in mind that your bar is going to need some light if your drinking goes late into the night. If you decide to go electricity-free, battery-powered strands of fairy lights should be enough to illuminate your pale ale.

“They also give your backyard a nightly enchantment for your get-together,” says Rhoden.

Add alcohol…

“The booze just might be the most expensive part of your backyard bar shed,” says Rhoden. Once word gets out about your gin martini, you might be tempted to open for business. But it’s definitely illegal to sell alcohol in your backyard, so stick to sharing your drinks with friends, for free.

… and a little music

Bars are not libraries. They are meant for conversation, laughter, and the occasional singalong.

“Just bear in mind you have neighbors, and loud music in the late evening is sometimes frowned upon,” says Cass.

The boring stuff

Check with your homeowners insurance agent to see if you need to insure your backyard bar shed for liability. (You’ll be glad you did.)

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Originator creates a niche with Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation

Lenders and real estate agents will be familiar with the lament: “Love the house, hate the kitchen.”

It can be a deal breaker. But it doesn’t have to be.

Dustin Swigart — an originator with PrimeLending in Cincinnati — hears opportunity. He’s carving a niche for himself with buyers interested in Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Renovation mortgage. Swigart closed 30 HomeStyle Renovation loans in 2016.

HomeStyle Renovation allows financing of home improvements for up to 50 percent of the as-completed value of the improved property in a purchase or refinance transaction. “With renovation loans, the buyer can do light to moderate repairs — such as flooring, roofing, electrical, and plumbing repairs — all the way up to major renovations like room additions and foundation repairs,” Swigart explains.

With a HomeStyle Renovation loan, borrowers can do repairs or renovate a kitchen, add a bedroom to accommodate a growing family or relatives requiring care, or modify the home to age-in-place. Plus, lenders can use HomeStyle Renovation to save deals that have repair contingencies — such as repairing a wall or ceiling.

Buyers like the idea of being able to roll improvements into the purchase cost and closing with some equity. While equity-at-close figures range, Swigart says he’s seen consumers close with $10,000 to $90,000.

“We can do all of this while still being affordable,” Swigart says. “That’s what makes these loans so appealing.”

This type of financing can be less costly for borrowers than a second mortgage or home equity line of credit. It combines the cost of the home and renovation into one single-cost mortgage. Individual homebuyers, investors, nonprofits, and local government agencies can all use HomeStyle Renovation.

Shopping for ‘Unique’

In Troy, OH, buyers Cameron and Eden Barnett — both 29 — were looking for a unique home in the spring of 2016. They fell in love with a 1850s brick farmhouse just outside of town.

“We wanted something unique, older, and something that we could make into our own,” says Eden. “This farmhouse was sort of the extreme of that. But the housing market at the time was not very diverse. A lot of the houses were either new construction or not very inspiring.”

Adds Cameron: “We loved the look of the home – the brickwork and the curved bannister going up the stairs. But we knew we’d have to renovate the outdated kitchen and bathrooms.”

The couple met with Swigart to discuss financing, and he introduced them to HomeStyle Renovation. It met their needs “perfectly,” says Cameron. The young couple loved the idea of being able to roll improvement costs into their loan.

The $35,000 renovation loan allowed the couple to gut the small kitchen and enlarge the space for modern appliances and fixtures (large top photo). And even though the renovation took longer than expected and was challenging for the contractor because of thick walls, they would “make the same decision all over again.”

“We got the house of our dreams, and we saved money,” Eden says. “It just feels better to be putting money into a house that we are fairly confident we will one day earn back, and then some, when we eventually move.”

Worth the Effort

Originating renovation loans is not without challenges for lenders. If you’re new to them, they can be tricky to underwrite and take longer to close. And unlike credit lines, renovation loans require lenders to administer the renovation funds by escrowing the funds and issuing draws once periodic and final inspections confirm the planned work is on track or has been completed.

Still, Swigart finds these loans and working with borrowers who use them highly rewarding. “I’ve made renovations my focus and have gotten really good at them by systemizing the process,” he explains. “So we end up closing in 45 days or less in most cases.”

His 2017 goal is to fund 50 HomeStyle Renovation loans. “It’s a product I really believe in.”

Learn more about HomeStyle Renovation at Fannie Mae.com.

Pet Emergency Preparedness

You probably have at least one first-aid kit tucked away in your home in case you, a relative, or a guest is in need of medical attention. And, while we love our pets, we don’t always think of their risk for a health emergency in the same way.

But, just like us, not every medical emergency requires an ER visit—sometimes a little bandaging or taping up is all it takes, so having a pet first-aid kit can help you prepare the next time your friend needs tending to.

Items to keep stocked:

Adhesive tape: secure bandages to protect open cuts or wounds

Alcohol wipes: use to prevent infection and clean up blood or dirt around cuts

Antibiotic ointment/hydrocortisone cream or spray: prevent infection in open cuts

Benadryl/diphenhydramine: use in the event your pet experiences an allergic reaction

Cotton balls/swabs: use to clean out very small cuts and openings

Disposable gloves: protect transferring infection to your pet’s wounds

Gauze pads and bandages: cover and protect wounds; secure hurt paws or limbs

Ice packs/heat packs: apply to an injury to prevent swelling or bruising

Important papers: rabies certificate, microchip info, and vet contact info, etc.

Nail cutters: clip nails to prevent breaking/infection

Oral syringe: safely deliver liquid medication orally

Pill treats: inconspicuously deliver pills to your pet

Scissors with blunt end: trim fur away from a wound, and cut bandages or gauze

Small flashlight: use to illuminate your pet’s ears, mouth, or nose

Sterile saline cleaning solution: flush out wounds or sores

Styptic powder: helps stop bleeding when trimming nails/grooming

Towels: wipe off dirt/blood/other materials from your pet

Tweezers: pull out splinters, bugs, plant materials, etc.

5 Tricks to Rejuvenate a Run-Down Patio on a Budget

Is your patio oh so shabby? These super-easy projects will make hanging outside fun again.

Oh, your poor, sad patio. Not a comfy seat to be had, and that cracked concrete … well, it probably looked really great when disco was king.

Whether you love to entertain friends or bask in the sun with a cocktail and a novel, here are five easy ways to inject new life into your little corner of nature.

#1 Stop the Pests that Make Your Patio Look Untidy

It’s hard to enjoy your patio if it’s covered in debris scattered by the wind or by critters with a penchant for digging and trampling. Stop critters with the humble pine cone — instead of regular mulch.

Those spiny cones will deter pests and mischievous pets.

And chances are your plants will LOVE them because they acidify the soil. Showstopper plants like azaleas and rhododendrons will burst with color.

Pine cones also decompose slowly, so you won’t be constantly re-upping your supply — saving you time and money. In most parts of the country, you can easily find them for free.

#2 Pop Some Color on that Concrete Patio

Rejuvenate that dilapidated patio with color in a can.

Try painting it a bold, bright color or a fun pattern, like chevron. You can also mimic the appearance of upscale stone patios with just a bit of paint and some stamps.

If you want to let your creative juices flow, try mimicking a carpet or even a game board, such as Twister. At the very least, a new coat of concrete stain will give that tired concrete a fresh look.

#3 Ditch the Rust But Not the Furniture

Lounging on your patio, cocktail in hand, requires something to lounge on.

But if that secondhand chaise you bought post-college is covered in rust, you’re not going to be relaxing on it in your summer whites anytime soon. But replacing it is expensive — and a waste! Give it a rust-busting makeover, instead.

There are several ways to remove rust.

If the damage isn’t too extensive, the job can be as simple as scraping it off. Use a wire brush, sandpaper, or steel wool — and a bit of elbow grease — to scour it away.

For less effort, use a drill with a wire brush attachment.

For more extensive rust issues, you can use an acidic agent like vinegar to help with the removal. Or use a chemical rust converter (such as Rust-Oleum), which actually changes the rust into a different substance and protects against future rusting, adding years to your chaise’s lifespan.

Paint over the treated spot and that chaise will be right back to its glory days and ready for you in your white shorts.

#4 Create Outdoor Storage

If a dumpy layer of clutter and scattered pots make your patio look sad, consider adding DIY storage to keep all of your outdoor whatnots neat and tidy.

“Storage can be as important outdoors as it is indoors,” says Keith Sacks, a professional landscaper (he’s VP of the landscaping company Rubber Mulch).

One of his favorite solutions is super easy and fun:

Paint wooden crates (about $10 each) to match your patio (or try a bright, fun, contrasting color) and add a sealant to weatherproof the wood. Arrange them to create attractive, rustic storage. Glue the crates together and attach wheels to the bottom if you want to be able to move it around.

#5 Build a Fire Pit — No Tools Needed

Sometimes the best way to distract from a patio that needs some love is by drawing attention to a feature that does nothing but delight.

A mini fire pit can serve as an arresting visual focal point while adding more fun and function to your patio.

Creating your own outdoor s’more-making oasis doesn’t have to take much time or money. Try DIY blog Young House Love’s super-cheap, pint-sized pit, which requires only heat-resistant pavers (also called fire bricks), which cost about $5 per stone.

Stack two layers of them in a small circle about six bricks in circumference on top of a stone slab, and there you have it: a mini fire pit.

Make sure your patio is constructed with fire-safe materials before attempting this project (sorry, wooden deck lovers!) and that you follow local fire codes.

Time to grab a few marshmallows!

Article by AMIE WIEBE