How to Remove Stripped Screws, Fill Nail Holes, and Other Home Hacks

Our homes are full of small, but mind-boggling challenges, such as: Is there a way to remove stripped screws? Or eliminate those water rings on your coffee table, or those divots where your table once sat on your carpet? If you’re looking for answers to common conundrums you might encounter, a new book can help: “Tidy Hacks: Handy Hints to Make Life Easier.”

Written by home hack expert Dan Marshall (also author of Life Hacks: Helpful Hints to Make Life Easier and Dad Hacks: Helpful Hints to Make Life Easier), this modern-day maintenance manual is geared to people who have no time for home maintenance. The fix-its that it recommends are insanely easy to accomplish. And since we’re all about making homeownership easier, check out a few of these genius tips below.


How to remove stripped screws

Can’t put in (or take out) a screw because that X-marked divot is too worn to turn with your screwdriver? Place a flat rubber band over the top of the screw head, and insert the screwdriver so it pins the rubber band in place. The rubber band will give you enough grip to remove the screw with ease.

 


How to shine shoes with a banana

The combination of the potassium found in bananas (which is also an ingredient of shoe polish) and the natural oils in a banana peel makes a great natural leather shoe polish. So when your shoes need shining and you’re in a pinch with no shoe polish around, reach for the next best thing: a banana. Rub the inside of the peel on your shoes to buff away the scuff.

 


How to organize cleaning supplies

Get your cleaning supplies out of that awkward low cabinet under your sink. If you hang up a shoe organizer in an area that is easy to reach, like the back of your laundry-room door, you can store them handily, without turning yourself into a pretzel. The best part? Close the door, and you won’t have to look at the bleach and Windex until it’s time to start cleaning.

 


How to avoid tangled Christmas lights

After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there comes a time when every well-decorated home must lose its Christmas lights.

Some of us are all too familiar with throwing them into a storage box and calling it a day—only to spend hours untangling them next year. Allow us to suggest a better way to keep knots out of your lights: Take an extra three minutes to find some wire hangers and wrap the strands around them. This will space the bulbs at regular intervals, so that they are less likely to break.


How to fill nail holes

For many people, hanging a picture or a piece of art isn’t an exact science, and it often involves a certain amount of trial and error. If you happen to hammer a nail into the wrong spot on the wall, grab a crayon that matches the color of the paint and draw on the hole until it is filled. Wipe away any excess wax with a clean cloth.

 

 


How to get rid of a water ring

How dare your guests ruin your beautiful wood table with their damp drinking glasses? Don’t lose your head, though, because you have this ingenious trick to remove the liquid stain. Turn a hairdryer on high heat and hold it close to the water mark. It will start to disappear before your eyes! Keep the heat on the ring until it’s completely gone.

 


How to get rid of dents in the carpet

Rearranging the furniture in your bedroom or living room can be an exciting way to reinvigorate your home decor, but a heavy table or armoire is sure to leave unsightly dents in your carpet. Believe it or not, the secret of getting rid of those dents is hiding in your freezer. Simply place ice cubes along the indents, leave them there until the ice has melted, and then vacuum over the area to fluff up the fibers.

 


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PALEO APPLE COLESLAW

Ingredients

1/2 head(s) cabbage(s), green, chopped
1 medium apple(s), tart, (Granny Smith recommended), grated or chopped
1 large celery stalk(s), chopped
1 medium bell pepper(s), chopped
1/4 cup(s) olive oil
1 medium lemon(s), juiced
2 tablespoon(s) honey, raw
1 teaspoon(s) celery seed
1/4 teaspoon(s) sea salt

Instructions

  1. Toss the cabbage, apple, celery, and bell pepper together in a large bowl.
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk remaining ingredients.
  3. Drizzle over coleslaw and toss to coat.

What Is the Standard Down Payment on a House?

“Down payment”: It’s amazing that these two little words have such a profound influence on your homeownership process—and your life! Ask most people what is an acceptable down payment on a house, and nine times out 10 they’ll tell you it’s 20% of your home’s selling price. So you do the math, figure you’d have to put down $50,000 on a $250,000 house, and break out in hives when you realize that the chances of your getting out of that tiny one-bedroom apartment are slim.

Well chin up, buckaroo. That 20% figure is common, but it’s not set in stone. Sure, there are many reasons why you should make a 20% down payment on a house, but most banks will allow you to put down less—and yes, you can put down even more if you’re feeling flush.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of making a number of different down payments on a house.

When your down payment is 20%

It might sound like a huge chunk of change, but you’ll ultimately end up paying less if you make a 20% or higher down payment on a house. That’s because when you put 20% down, you won’t have to pay mortgage insurance, which can add several hundred dollars a month to your house payments.

“Mortgage insurance exists because the lender … assumes additional risk when a homeowner’s equity stake is small,” mortgage banker Craig Berryexplains in The Mortgage Reports.

Both private lenders and the Federal Housing Administration have mortgage insurance plans. No matter which you chose, you’ll likely have to pay a one-time fee upfront and then another amount of money that will be tacked onto your monthly mortgage.

The only good thing about mortgage insurance is that it doesn’t last forever. When your loan-to-value ratio is 80% (or you have paid the equivalent of 20% of your home’s value), you can ask your lender to stop charging you for the insurance. Once the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78%, the lender is legally obligated to cancel it.

Another advantage of making a 20% down payment on a house is that that’s often the magic number at which point you’ll get a more favorable interest rate. So you can see the various advantages to saving up for that 20% down payment if it’s possible.

When your down payment is under 20%

If you are unable to make a 20% down payment, there are many lenders that will allow you to make a smaller down payment on a house. Among them is the FHA, which offers mortgages with as little as 3.5% down, if your annual income is under a certain amount that varies by market. There are even some lenders, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that allow you to put 0% down, but eligible homes are usually in rural areas, and your income must meet certain low requirements.

Although you can find decent terms when you put less than 20% down, remember that since you’ll be financing a greater amount, no matter how favorable the terms you negotiate, your payments will be higher and you’ll be paying more interest, so the home will ultimately be more expensive.

When your down payment is over 20%

People who inherit a windfall sometimes choose to put more than 20% down, so their payments will be lower and they can avoid mortgage insurance payments. But others, with very low credit ratings, are required by the lender to put more than 20% down. According to Robert Bergerin U.S. News & World Report, if your credit score is under 620, you’ll probably have to put more than 20% down to get a conventional loan.

Down payment hope and help

There is a surprising amount of down payment and home loan assistanceout there for those in need. It comes in the form of low-interest-rate loans, grants, and tax credits. According to Sean Moss of downpaymentresource.com, in some cities you can get as much as $100,000 in assistance for purchasing your first home.

Of course, most of these programs depend on factors like your income, a maximum home price, and even your profession. For example, government employees in the Washington, DC, area may be eligible for $10,000 in down payment assistance, and teachers in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, can get up to $15,000 to help them with their home purchases. Ask your real estate agent about these types of programs that you are eligible for.

For most people, a home is the biggest financial commitment they’ll make, but don’t let that intimidate you. If you’re serious about owning your own place, there are lots of resources out there to help make this into a reality.

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Why Do Dogs Smell Like Corn Chips? 10 Fascinating Facts About Pets

In honor of the furry, scaly, and sometimes slimy companions who live under our roofs, we thought it’s only fitting to lay out some warm and fuzzy, wild ‘n’ crazy facts about pets. Like: Are dogs or cats more popular? Where do they sleep, and do we celebrate their birthdays? The answers to these burning questions will get you appreciating these creatures even more than you do already.

How many of us have pets?

A whole lot. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 48.4% of U.S. households have at least one pet.

Which are more popular: Dogs or cats?

That depends on how you count. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 36% of households own dogs while 30% own cats. So Fido wins, right? Not so fast. Apparently there are more cats per household (2.1) than dogs (1.6).

Hey, what about other animals?

Let’s not ignore our feathered and scaly friends. Here are the numbers of households that cater to rarer home companions:

  • Fish: 7.7 million
  • Birds: 3.6 million
  • Horses: 1.7 million
  • Rabbits: 1.4 million
  • Turtles: 1.3 million
  • Hamsters: 877,000
  • Guinea pigs: 847,000
  • Lizards: 726,000
  • Gerbils: 234,000
  • Ferrets: 334,000

City with the most (and least) pets

Tucson, AZ, is the city with the most pets (nearly 60%), according to the U.S. Census. Meanwhile, New York City hangs at the bottom, with only about 20% of households having animals.

How much do pets cost?

You might pick up one at the pound for free, but it’ll still cost you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average U.S. household spends just over $500 per year on pets. That’s more than they spend on alcohol, phone lines, or men’s or boys’ clothes (because let’s face it, your pooch needs a cute sweater way more than Dad does).

So what do pets do for us?

Pets may gnaw our shoes, shred our couches, and drain our bank accounts, but they give back plenty. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pet owners were less lonely and preoccupied than those who didn’t have a furry companion greeting them at their front door. Pet owners were also more physically fit, boasted greater self-esteem, and were more outgoing. All in all, pet owners are happier people.

What about the strays?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 6.5 million animals enter shelters every year. Sadly, 1.5 million end up euthanized, but that number is down from the past, thanks largely to the fact that 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted by loving families. An additional 710,000 animals were just lost, and get returned to their owners.

Do we celebrate their birthdays?

Among pet owners, 45% say they get their pets a birthday present and 64% also get a gift for the holidays. Because honestly, don’t we all deserve a new squeaky toy on occasion?

Where do they sleep?

According to Harris Polls, 81% of cat owners let their felines lounge on the bed, while 73% of dog owners allow their canines the same sleeping privileges.

Why do dogs’ paws smell like corn chips?

Now for the question that’s been stumping dog owners for decades: It’s a condition nicknamed “Frito feet,” which describes how dogs’ paws smell just like this delicious snack.

Turns out, it could be due to the Proteus bacteria, which is found on dogs’ feet and gives off a sweet, yeasty odor. It’s no cause for alarm; however, if you don’t love the smell, well, that’s just one more reason to keep your dog off the bed, right?

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How to Clean a Mattress (Yes, You Can—and Should)

Among the most-used household items, the mattress is one that doesn’t get cleaned nearly as often as it should. Think about it: You use it nearly every day—for sleeping, for sitting, for jumping, for, uh, other activities—yet many of us think just changing the sheets is enough to keep it clean. Beyond that, you might be stumped on how to clean a mattress. But don’t sweat it.

The next time you change the sheets, pull off the mattress pad and take a look at what lies beneath. See a few stains? Catch a whiff of something funky? It could be perspiration that seeps through bedclothes into the mattress, or dead skin cells you shed at night, or even the remains of mites that burrow into mattresses. Gross.

Follow these tips at least two times a year to keep your mattress looking and smelling its best. You might even have a better night’s sleep because of it.

How to flip a mattress

Start by moving your bed away from the wall.

Rotate and flip your two-sided mattress. (Do not flip a pillow-top mattress.)

This will extend the life of the mattress and prevent sagging. You knew this, right? Lots of people put off this basic task until it’s too late. But go ahead—enlist a partner to lift it up and over. If in doubt, read the mattress tags or check with the manufacturer for specific recommendations. During the rearranging process, move the bed frame, vacuum or sweep the floor underneath, and clean the bed frame. Dust the headboard and footboard.

Remove odors from your mattress

To make your mattress smell sweet, sprinkle a solution of baking soda and essential oils on it. Simply pour 1 cup baking soda into a bowl and add a few drops of oil like chamomile, sandalwood, or lavender (all of which have soothing scents). Spread the mixture on the mattress or evenly distribute with a flour sifter. Use a bristled cleaning brush to rub it into the mattress. Let it set for at least an hour.

Suck up the baking soda mixture by using a portable vac, or the hand-held extension of your vacuum cleaner. This helps eliminate dust mites, which are too small to see, but can live in mattresses. Mites can cause hay fever and asthma, and have been linked to other conditions, including allergies and migraine headaches. Vacuuming can also get rid of dead skin cells, pet hair, and other debris.

If your mattress still reeks, spray on a citrus-based cleaning product and then vacuum the mattress.

How to get blood stains out

Yikes! Whether due to nosebleeds, visits from Aunt Flo, or God knows what else, you might end up with a bloodstained mattress from time to time. Here are ways to clean the spots, courtesy of howtocleanstuff.net.

  1. Blot the stained area with a wet cloth to remove any excess blood. Then blot it with a dry cloth.
  2. Mix together a half-cup cornstarch, 1 tablespoon salt, and a quarter-cup hydrogen peroxide. Apply the paste to the stain, and let it dry completely.
  3. Scrape away the dried paste and vacuum.
  4. Repeat if necessary.

How to clean urine from a mattress

If kiddos or pets crawl onto your bed and have an unexpected accident, use this method, from thehumbledhomemaker.com, to clean up the mess.

  1. Blot the stained area with a cloth to remove any excess urine.
  2. Make a solution of one part vinegar to one part water. Spray it on the stain, and let sit for five to 10 minutes.
  3. Cover entire area with baking soda. Let stand for eight to 10 hours.
  4. Vacuum up the baking soda.
  5. Repeat if necessary.

All other stains

Most other stains can be treated using one of these solutions.

  1. Cover the stains with a mixture of a quarter-cup liquid dishwashing detergent and a few teaspoons of water. Put the foam on the stain, and rub it in circular motions with a sponge. Let the mattress dry before making the bed.
  2. Fill a spray bottle with distilled white vinegar; spray the stain. Let the vinegar set for approximately five minutes. Sprinkle baking soda on the spot, and leave it on until the fizzing stops. Soak it up with a towel, and vacuum the residue. If the stain remains, use a wet sponge and hydrogen peroxide to blot the stain in a circular motion.
  3. Rent a self-service steam carpet cleaner with an upholstery attachment ($30 to $50 a day). Spot-clean the mattress according to the manufacturer’s instructions, taking care not to oversoak the mattress. Make sure you suck up as much moisture as possible, and then open the windows to help the drying process, or use a hair dryer on the spot.
  1. As a last resort, apply an enzymatic pet stain remover, and let it set for 15 minutes before wiping with a damp cloth and vacuuming.
  2. If your DIY approaches don’t work, consider a mattress cleaning professional, who will charge $25 to $75, according to Angie’s List.

Remember to clean a stain as soon as possible before it soaks into the mattress pad and sets into the mattress. Care tips are the same for a regular mattress as one with memory foam.

How to wash pillows and other bed accessories

Avoid tossing decorative throw pillows on the floor. Keep them clean by placing them on a chair or bench near the bed.

To care for the pillows you sleep on, read the care labels and follow the directions. In general, you can wash your pillows in warm water on a gentle cycle. Tumble dry with a few rubber dryer balls to keep the filling from clumping.

Foam pillows need to be hand-washed in a tub and air-dried.

There’s no better time than now to give your mattress some much-needed TLC. Sweet dreams!

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PALEO CASHEW BROCCOLI WITH LEMON

This Cashew Broccoli with Lemon recipe is really easy to make and absolutely delicious! Broccoli and cashews belong together in this dish which is perfectly complemented with a citrus amino dressing. This cashew broccoli dish is not only Paleo, but can easily be made vegan friendly if you use olive oil in place of the ghee. Served with a side of lean chicken or fish and your taste buds will be in heaven!

Ingredients

2 head(s) broccoli, separated into 1 inch sections
1/2 cup(s) ghee, or olive oil
1 medium lemon(s), juiced
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup(s) cashews, halved
1 medium garlic clove(s), chopped
1 medium onion(s)
1/2 cup(s) coconut aminos
1 medium orange(s), juiced

Instructions

  1. Steam the broccoli until just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat the ghee and lemon juice. Add the broccoli, cashews, salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. Saute for 5 minutes or until the mixture starts to brown.
  3. Add the coconut aminos and orange juice to the mixture and cook on low heat for 5-8 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Serve hot over cauliflower rice.

What Is Mortgage Fraud? Steer Clear of These 3 Offenses

There are white lies, and then there’s mortgage fraud. Yes, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference, but it’s essential for home buyers to understand exactly where the line is drawn, because the consequences can be dire if you cross it. So what is mortgage fraud?

Mortgage fraud is deception about your financial circumstances or how you’re going to use the property that you purchase. If fraud is detected at any time during the mortgage process, your loan will be declined and you will be out any funds you’ve already paid, such as the appraisal fee or your earnest money deposit, says Casey Fleming, mortgage adviser at C2 Financial Corp. and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

And even if your loan closes, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten away with any deception. If it’s caught later, your lender is likely to call the loan, meaning the entire amount would be immediately due, forcing you to try to refinance or sell the home.

Did we scare you? We didn’t mean to—actually, we sort of did. But we mostly want to impart the seriousness of mortgage fraud. So, read up and make sure you’re not one of the suckers pleading, “But I didn’t know!”

Here are the three main types of mortgage fraud most likely to trip up home buyers.

Offense No. 1: Occupancy fraud

There are two varieties of occupancy fraud.

1. Purchasing an investment property, but claiming it will be your personal residence.There’s a reason people are tempted to do this: cold, hard cash.

“The cost premium on an investment property is typically 2.5% of the loan amount in up-front fees, or 0.625% to 1% higher in interest rates,” says Fleming.

While those savings are tempting, it’s relatively easy to get caught. Lenders will look closer if the property is multiple units, such as a duplex; considerably smaller or less expensive than your current residence; or located far from where you work. Of course, many people downsize or telecommute, but these factors are likely to raise a red flag.

2. Claiming your home will be a vacation home when you intend to rent it out, or that it will be a primary residence when it’s going to be a second home. Here again, location would raise a red flag, though for the opposite reason: You’re unlikely to buy a second home where you live. If you’re buying in a beach or mountain town, or another obvious resort location that screams “second home,” you’ll have to cite evidence that you plan to live there as your primary residence.

And before you’re tempted to say, “Yeah, I’m living in Hawaii, want to make something of it?,” know that many mortgage lenders will make something of it. One tool they are turning to is the LexisNexis Verification of Occupancy, which uses public and proprietary records to analyze 16 different components of occupancy evidence to try to root out the fibbers. Don’t be one of them.

Offense No. 2: Hiding debt

A lender decides how much home you can afford based on your monthly debt-to-income ratio—that is, the total of all your monthly debts, divided by your gross monthly income. So if you aren’t giving your lender the straight scoop on your debts, it’s basing its assessment on false numbers.

And don’t even contemplate trying to hide what you owe. There are ways of spotting debt that doesn’t show up on your credit report, Fleming warns. For example, most debts require regular monthly payments, which is one reason why your lender is so eager to paw through at least two months of bank statements.

“If they show identical payments going out to someone two months in a row, an underwriter is likely to ask what it’s for, and potentially flag it as debt,” says Fleming.

There are other debts that might not be reported to the credit bureaus, yet still show up on a public record. For example, an IRS repayment schedule for unpaid taxes would not be a “lien” per se that would be reported to the credit agency if you are making your payments on time, but it would still be evident in a records search.

“The bottom line is that a debt other than to your Uncle Bob that you either don’t make payments on or pay in cash, we’ll probably find it,” says Fleming.

Offense No. 3: Hiding your down payment source

We get it: Amassing a down payment can be hard. That’s why it might make sense to borrow money from a relative—especially one who doesn’t ask for interest. However, it still counts as a debt if you are expected to pay it back.

Lenders need to see a complete financial picture before they commit to making you a loan; that includes all the debts you owe, because they affect the funds you have available to make that mortgage payment each month.

Although a lender won’t accept your down payment if it includes a debt you have to pay back, the lender is almost always cool if it’s a gift. So cross your fingers that Mom, Dad, or Uncle Bob are in a giving mood and make sure you have a letter from them specifying they don’t expect the funds to be repaid.

Bottom line?

“There truly are loan programs for almost every person and every circumstance out there,” Fleming says. “You may have to pay a few dollars more each month than you otherwise would, but mortgage fraud is not worth the risk.”

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Light It Up: 6 Glow-in-the-Dark Home Decor Ideas

If your place is a little drab, consider this bright idea as a pick-me-up: glow-in-the-dark home decor. That’s right, luminescent accessories aren’t just for kid parties and raves—they have also found a permanent spot in people’s homes, in the form of tiles, pavers, murals, and more. Check out these illuminating ideas to see all the ways you can make some magic happen. In the dark!

 

 

Turn on the tile

If making a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom has you stumbling and fumbling, you can put an end to these problems with glow-in-the-dark tile ($47 per square foot at Susan Jablon Mosaics).

Available in turquoise and sky blue, they give off a soft glow—much gentler than harsh overhead lighting—without upping your electric bill. Aside from bathrooms, we could see these looking amazing in kitchens (midnight snack, anyone?) and swimming pools, too.

 

Driveway meets runway

These glow stones will turn your average driveway into something straight out of a fairy tale. Whether you want to up the wow factor before your next dinner party or just add a touch of whimsy to your yard, these photo-luminescent pebble aggregates should do the trick ($20 per 1-pound bag of 135 stones at Core Glow).

These stones—made of glass, marble, or synthetic resin—contain a proprietary luminescent material that soaks up sunlight, then maintains an afterglow for up to 12 hours, just in time for sunrise. Color choices include blue, green, pink, purple, white, and yellow. They can be used indoors as well.

So what happens if a stone is swallowed by Fido? Never fear, these stones are nonradioactive and nontoxic.

Paving the way

To make your pool or patio pop, you can use glow-in-the-dark pavers ($12 for seven lights at Hayneedle.com). The markers are each fixed to a 2.5-inch nail so you can drive them into the ground. By day, they look like any other border as they absorb light, but at night they’ll light up your garden path or walkway in style.

Luminous lumber

These tricked-out tree trunks bring a touch of cool to your outdoor space—and your guests should have no trouble finding a seat. Artist Judson Beaumont of Straight Line Design builds these on commission; prices vary depending on size and design, but your basic stump starts at $550.

Glow-in-the-dark murals

And let’s not forget the home inhabitants who probably appreciate glow-in-the-dark paint more than all others: kids. Honestly now, what little tyke (or hey, even teenager) wouldn’t love a room like this?

Artist and “neoluminist” Bogi Fabian painted the above masterpiece, but if you don’t have the cash to commission your very own mind-blowing mural, consider purchasing one of Fabian’s glow-in-the-dark prints. This moon print sells for just under $200 for a 24-inch, and approximately $390 for a 59-inch at bogifabian.com.

Or just get a can of glow-in-the-dark paint!

Probably the cheapest way to get your glow on at home is by picking up a can of glow-in-the dark paint ($10 for a 10-ounce can of Rust-Oleum, at most hardware stores or on Amazon.com).

For best results, Rust-Oleum recommends that you apply this paint to a white or light-covered surface. You can paint anything: planters, furniture, ceramic tile, the insides of your cabinets, and more. Here are some surprising things you’ve never considered painting but should.

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7 Cute Yet Cringeworthy Ways Your Pets Can Wreck a Home Sale

You love your pets, but the people checking out your house in the hope of buying it may not share your ardor. The mere sight of these furry creatures can tip the scales, for some buyers, against making an offer on your property at all. Perhaps you only want animal lovers to inherit your home—but if you’re a come-one-come-all kind of home seller, you may want to try to avoid the seven deadly home-sale saboteurs that are listed below. We’ll show you how.

Tufts of fur

Just when you think you’ve got it all vacuumed up, you spot drifts of fur under tables and stuck to upholstery.

“A lightly dampened sponge is perfect for removing pet hair on furniture and fabric,” says Danessa Itaya, vice president of Maid Right, a home-cleaning service. Alternatively, you can try lint rollers and squeegees, adds Nancy Jones, an interior decorator with Showhomes, a home-staging company.

“We also use pet hair gloves that are designed specifically for cleaning up fur,” Jones says. You should also get in the habit of brushing your pet regularly—and doing this outside. Apply a minivacuum directly to his coat, as shown below. Really.

Floor stains

If your feline likes to cough up grass clippings in the hall or pee under the basement workbench, a potential buyer will likely note the discoloration and either wince or run (or perhaps wince, then run). Carpet and floor stains need to be fixed before any showings. If you can swing it, replace the rug, or at least roll it up and stash it in the garage. Hire a flooring professional to remove tougher stains, either by sanding and re-staining a wood floor or dealing them with a commercial-grade cleanser.

That aroma

You’re so accustomed to—and in love with—your pet that you no longer realize she’s given your home a certain scent … but rest assured, visitors will pick up on it as soon as they set foot through your front door. In some cases, before they set foot through the door. The remedy? Good ol’ baking soda, which is safe and effective, says Itaya.

“You can sprinkle it in your cat’s litter box as a deodorizer or put a small amount in a spray bottle with water to apply to your pet’s favorite hiding spots,” she says. And if the smells haven’t been absorbed by the carpet padding, they can generally be lifted out with a pet enzyme removal product or Resolve, notes Jones. “There are also many candles and air fresheners that can eliminate odors without overpowering,” she says.

Pets on beds

Cats may have some leeway to nap on the bed, but the very presence of a dog on the couch or bed may scare some people off, often for good reason. When you’re getting ready for a showing, be sure your pooch is out of the bedrooms and either housed in his crate or shipped off to a friend or doggy day care for the afternoon. Then make sure there’s no telltale pet hair left behind.

Scratches and dings

Puppies will chew on just about anything, including chair legs, baseboards, and other wooden features in your home. If you see significant furniture damage, remove the pieces and store them during your next open house. But smaller marks can be hidden with a couple of DIY solutions.

“Felt-tip markers can make a world of difference on scratched-up furniture—find one that matches the color of the wood, and you’ll quickly transform dings so they’re less noticeable,” says Itaya. Jones likes Old English furniture polish to clean up pet scratches.

“It now comes in both light and dark versions and covers most surface marks,” she reports. To remove a deep scratch, use wood putty to fill in the grooves and follow up with a stain to match.

Pet accessories

You won’t impress a potential buyer if he or she has to dodge your pet’s toys in order to get inside the door. Remove these hazards by gathering up her chew things and placing them in a nice-looking basket or bin. You should also hang up your pup’s tangled pile of leashes, fold and straighten her outfits and jackets if she has any, and stash pet beds until the showing is over.

Bowls and litter box

Water dishes and pet food bowls are easily knocked over, so be sure to dump them out and load them in the dishwasher before an open house begins. Of course, you’ll scoop out the cat box so that it’s as clean as possible, but it’s better to get rid of it entirely. Not only does it smell, but it’s just plain gross to catch sight of that gravelly stuff.

“If you must have a litter box around, I usually suggest the clumping kind [of litter] because it’s easier to clean,” Jones recommends. And if your visitors are coming with pets, be sure to spray neutralizers on the areas where they migrate, to prevent dogs or cats from marking their territory.

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5 Ways to Save on Home Renovation Costs So You Don’t Go Broke

Is your kitchen hopelessly outdated, and your bathroom a blast from the past? Then it sounds like you’re overdue for some home improvements. There’s just one problem: Remodeling can be a huge undertaking—and a costly one at that. The average kitchen remodel will set you back $60,000; a bathroom overhaul, $17,908. Ouch! But hey, that’s just the average price homeowners pay. Plenty of home renovations can fall way under that wire if you know some tricks to keep your home improvement budget in check. Check out these smart ways to save on home renovation costs to achieve the home of your dreams without blowing wads of cash.

1. Don’t do a complete remodel

Unless the room needs to be completely gutted, you can cut costs by refurbishing existing fixtures. When renovating the kitchen, staining the current cabinetry, replacing old drawer handles and knobs, and refacing moldings can save you thousands of dollars.

In fact, refinishing existing cabinets can save you up to 50% compared with the cost of buying new cabinetry, according to Angie’s List. You can also cut costs by purchasing materials (e.g., granite, flooring, or lighting) yourself, says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.

2. Pick decent, midgrade materials

Picking premium options or materials can raise the cost of your remodeling project substantially. One area where you’ll find a major price difference? Carpeting.

While basic olefin and polyester carpeting costs around $1 to $2 per square foot, wool can cost upward of $9 to $11 per square foot, according to Angie’s List. Those costs add up if you’re recarpeting a large room or an entire floor.

Another biggie? Countertops: Granite costs $60 to $100 per square foot; laminate (i.e., Formica) looks like granite for $10 to $40 per square foot.

3. Do prep work yourself

To reduce the hours your contractors will need to put in—and save money on labor—do light prep work yourself, says Dossman. By removing and discarding old carpeting on your own, for example, you’ll shave time off the installer’s bill, which can lead to substantial savings when you consider that many companies charge an additional $4 per yard to remove old carpet.

4. Go DIY, but know your limits

Another way to cut remodeling costs is, of course, to do the work yourself. That’s a good move for small projects, like painting a bedroom, where the work is fairly simple. Also, the materials you’ll need, including paint, brushes, sandpaper, and tape, cost only $100 to $200. (Professional painters, meanwhile, charge $25 to $100 an hour.)

With larger projects, however, rolling up your sleeves probably isn’t the best decision—especially if you lack handy skills. For major home improvement projects, you’ll most likely want to hire a professional to do the work—it’ll cost more, but it’s worth it. Let’s face it: The last thing you want to do is cheap out and need to pay a second contractor to redo the work.

5. Shop around for the best (and budget-friendly) contractor

Last but not least, a home remodeling project is only as good as whom you hire. It’s crucial to find a reliable contractor who will quote you a fair price and deliver high-quality work. To find this special someone, you’ll want to meet with at least three contractors and get in-person bids. Doing so will give you a good idea of the price range; it’ll also give you a sense of whether you’d be comfortable working with the person.

When vetting contractors, pay attention to small details, like whether they show up on time for the appointment. Punctuality indicates whether the person is well-organized, which can affect how much you’ll have to pay, says Matt Parker, a real estate agent in Seattle and author of “Real Estate Smart: The New Home Buying Guide.”

If a contractor has a habit of running behind schedule, that might affect how long the project will take to complete—and how many hours of labor you’ll need to pay for. The adage “time is money” can be painfully true when contractors are involved, so you want someone who takes yourtime seriously.

Another money-saving safety measure: Insist on seeing all renovation estimates in writing, and get a cap on the hours if possible. Meanwhile, a punch list can ensure that the renovation isn’t officially done until you’re satisfied. Any contractor who isn’t willing to provide this par-for-the-course paperwork may not be worth the trouble, because it protects you both in case any part of your renovation goes off the rails.

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PALEO CREAMY CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

Creamy casseroles are a favorite when the weather gets chilly, but they’re not always Paleo diet friendly. This easy broccoli casserole recipe layers chicken with vegetables for a filling and comforting meal. Crisp bacon and crunchy almonds give it that casserole-like top, without starchy breadcrumbs or cheese.

Ingredients

1/2 head(s) broccoli, cut into thin slices
3/4 head(s) cauliflower, cut into thin slices
1/2 pound(s) mushrooms, sliced
2 piece(s) chicken breast(s), boneless skinless (4-6 oz)
1 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
1 large egg(s)
1/2 cup(s) chicken broth
1/2 cup(s) almonds, sliced
4 slice(s) bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 tablespoon(s) coconut oil, for cooking chicken
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 TB coconut oil or other cooking oil of your choice when hot.
  2. Season chicken breasts with sea salt and pepper if desired and sauté for 10-15 minutes, turning once or twice until fully cooked. Chop into bite-size pieces.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  4. Layer the broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and cooked chicken in a (9×13) casserole dish, seasoning with salt and pepper between each layer.
  5. In a bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the coconut milk with the egg and chicken broth until well combined. Pour over the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven, uncover and sprinkle with almonds and bacon. Bake uncovered for 5-10 more minutes until almonds are lightly toasted and casserole is bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

5 Things You Should Never Say When Getting a Mortgage

Being an open book is a great quality to exhibit to your BFF or significant other (well, usually), but it can get you into hot water with your lender when you’re trying to buy a home. Now, let’s be clear: We are not advocating in any way, shape, or form that you lie to your lender or withhold pertinent information when you’re getting a mortgage.

But there are some topics that you just don’t need to bring up, because they wave unnecessary red flags that can lead to lots of extra paperwork and raise questions about whether you can really afford that mortgage. Just ask Cheryll LeBlanc, a loan officer at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. in Holden, MA, who weighed in on some doozies she’s heard over the years.

“When I hear statements like (these), it makes me pause, kind of turn my head sideways, and say ‘Hmmm…’” she says.

Here are some crazy things would-be home buyers have said to lenders, and why they’re cause for concern.

1. ‘I need to get an extra insurance quote due to … (fill in the blank)’:

  • Crime rates in the area
  • Potential flooding
  • Earthquake zone

Asking questions about insurance could indicate the house is in a high-risk zone, and we “now have to underwrite the borrower and the property with a different and more intense default lens,” says Bill Dallas, CEO and co-founder of Cloudvirga. If your home is in a designated flood hazard area, flood insurance is mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Otherwise, it might well be a good idea, but you don’t have to mention it.

2. ‘I can’t believe how much work the house needs before we move in’

Have you ever seen a home inspection report? It’s a stack of 20 to 50 pages containing every little nuance that needs to be fixed in a home. It’s crucial information for you, but you’ll want to hold off on mentioning the contents of it to your lender.

“When lenders see a home inspection report, they freak out and begin to ask for a lot of conditions to make sure these issues won’t grow into bigger problems and halt borrower payments,” Dallas says.

Best-case scenario: The lender will ask for a lot of information. The worst case is it will ask for a lot of money to be escrowed to make the repairs.

“Avoid any mention of what your inspector found,” Dallas says. “The appraisal comments create enough challenges.”

3. ‘Please don’t tell my spouse what’s on my credit report’

First off, this makes lenders cringe because they’re wondering just how much debt you have, LeBlanc notes. Or what else you’re trying to hide.

But, the bottom line, she says, is that it’s all going to be revealed on an application.

“I’ve been in face-to-face appointments with clients and when I pulled their credit—one of the parties is crying as the extent of debt is coming out,” she says.

She advises couples make sure both parties are clear on each other’s debts and that they get the animosity out before sitting down for a pre-qualification or pre-approval.

4. ‘I’m still working out the details on my down payment’

“Lenders like to see that borrowers have ‘skin in the game,’ so the down payment source is critical,” Dallas says.

Any borrowed funds, gift funds, and increases in CLTV, or combined loan to value ratio, mean there’s an increase in the chances of default, he says.

“Fraud is the biggest risk in lending, and down payment fraud is the second-highest kind, after income fraud,” he notes.

Down payment fraud could comprise a number of things: Perhaps the borrower says it’s a gift but it actually has to be repaid, or the borrower got a loan to pay for it (which is a no-no). Or perhaps the buyer borrows the down payment from the seller and does a silent second mortgage to pay it back.

That’s why lenders will request a paper trail for any gifted funds.

If you do plan to use a gift for your down payment, the donor must be an immediate family member, must provide copies of bank statements confirming the donor has the capacity to gift the funds, and must sign a letter that states the money is a gift, not a loan.

5. ‘I can’t wait to use the hot tub I’m buying on the side from the seller’

If the hot tub comes with the house and it’s written into the contract, then you’re in the clear. But if you’ve negotiated for something on the side with the seller, you’ll be in hot water—and we’re not talking about the kind with bubbles.

“Buyers have to sign a document at the closing, which states that no money has exchanged hands between the buyer and seller outside the closing,” says Lauren LoMonaco, managing partner of Chicago law firm LoMonaco & LoMonaco.

If you mention a side deal to your lender, it’s going to raise major red flags. But don’t withhold the info, either—if you do and you’re found out, you could be charged with mortgage fraud, and that’s a felony. So whether it’s a lawn mower, flat-screen TV, or that sweet hot tub out back, make sure you disclose it in the contract.

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4 Worst Color Combos to Ever Curse a Home—Proven!

When it comes to selecting paint colors for a room, anyone can find one color that works, but two? Just like playing matchmaker to your friends, pairing two hues is really, really hard. Want proof? Check out these clashing color combos below, plus recommendations for infinitely more appealing duos to try instead.

Bad color combo No. 1: Warm with cool

Dee Schlotter and Misty Yeomans, color experts for Glidden, Olympic, and PPG Paints, suggest avoiding color combinations that mix warm and cool colors.

Warm colors tend to advance toward us, creating a friendly atmosphere,” Schlotter says. “Cool colors tend to recede away from us, creating a spacious feeling. When you mix them, they compete.”

 

 

 

Instead: Match like with like. Schlotter urges homeowners to use warm colors with other warm colors, or cool colors with other cool colors.

 

Bad color combo No. 2: Holiday duos

“While red and green are complementary colors on the color wheel, and can look nice together, it’s important to not create a palette that is often associated with certain holidays, or use colors together that create a ‘vibration’ due to similarities in intensity,” explains Yeomans.

 

 

Instead: If you want to go for the spirit of merry and bright holiday-style colors, Yeomans recommends pairing them with neutral shades. For example, this cheery cherry is offset beautifully by a soothing gray.

Bad color combo No. 3: Dark with dark

Remember to take into consideration the fixed elements of your home, such as the color of flooring, furniture, or, for exterior projects, the colors in stone, brick, siding, and more, color experts suggest.

“If you have dark wood featured throughout your home, you should try to avoid dark paint colors,” notes Schlotter.

 

 

 

Instead: To create a complementary look between your home’s fixed elements and your paint colors, pair dark wood with lighter shades.

Bad color combo No. 4: Bold with bright

“I was fascinated by the sudden shift to neon palettes,” says Juan Pablo Madrid, a home design expert at Online Optimism. “Yet while they’re picking up in popularity, it’s wise to limit the use of these bold shades since they’re super-stimulating and can cause you to squint. It’s also best not to pair them with each other.”

“Bright colors are great, but they should be used sparingly, and we don’t recommend them for the exterior of a home,” agrees Courtney Heaton, owner of Courtney Heaton Design.

“If you like some of these bright colors, we’d suggest using them as accents with pillows, bedding, or curtains. Brights are fun for kids’ rooms and family rooms; but stay away from them in bathrooms and limit them for the master bedroom.”

 

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Dogs and Water Safety

Water can be a great source of fun for you and your dog. Before you take your pooch out for a paddle, though, make sure you know how to keep things safe.

Swimming

You might think canines are natural-born swimmers, but that isn’t always the case.

There’s no sure way to gauge your pal’s swimming skills until you introduce him to H2O and teach him the basics:

  • Choose a quiet, shallow spot in the water.
  • Keep your dog on a leash while he learns.
  • Get into the water with him.
  • Start at the edge of the water, and stay as long as he enjoys it.
  • If he doesn’t want to go, don’t force him in — especially if it’s a deep spot.
  • When your dog begins to paddle with his front legs, lift his hind legs to show him how to float.

The younger your buddy is when you teach him to swim, the better. Keep the lesson positive and stress-free for him.

At the Beach

While you enjoy the surf with your pal, keep these tips in mind:

  • Watch out for strong currents and riptides, which can take you both out to sea. Even the best swimmer can be in danger when seas are rough.
  • Don’t let your dog drink ocean water. It can make him sick. Bring fresh H2O with you to keep him hydrated.
  • Keep your pal away from fish that have washed onto the shore. They may smell great to him, but they can make him ill.

In the Pool

Got a swimming hole in your backyard? Keep it Fido-friendly with these steps:

  • Put a fence around it to keep your dog out when it isn’t time to swim.
  • Keep a sturdy cover over it when you aren’t using it. It should be made of a material that lets rainwater drain through. Dogs can drown in puddles on top of pool covers.
  • Teach your dog how to get in and out. Make sure there are steps or a ramp he can use to climb out.
  • Check the water temperature before letting your dog take a dip. Only a few breeds can handle extra-cold water.

In a River, Lake, or Pond

Keep these tips in mind when you’re at Mother Nature’s water park:

  • Get your dog a life jacket, especially if you take him out on a boat or a dock.
  • Steer clear of bodies of water with blue-green algae. It can make your buddy sick.
  • Check the current of a river or a creek. Make sure it isn’t too strong to let your dog swim.
  • Keep your pal away from fishing gear. Sharp hooks and barbs can hurt him.

General Safety Rules

No matter where your pooch makes a splash, follow these pointers:

  • Rinse him off after he’s been in any type of water. Seawater minerals, salt, chlorine, algae, and pollution can irritate or damage his skin and fur.
  • Remove his flea collar before he swims. Water can wash off its active ingredients.
  • Dry your dog’s ears completely to prevent an infection. Try an ear cleaner that has a drying agent in it.
  • Learn canine CPR. Mouth-to-nose resuscitation and chest compressions could save a dog’s life in an emergency.
  • Never leave your pal alone in the water.

How to Unclog a Gutter

Unclog a blocked rain gutter as quickly as possible to prevent damage to your landscaping, home exterior, gutters, and foundation.

Clean your rain gutters at least twice a year. Otherwise, debris like leaves and twigs can clog up your gutter system, causing potential harm to your house and landscaping — not to mention the gutters themselves. Here’s how to identify and fix a clogged gutter.

Is My Gutter Clogged?

When it rains, here are the telltale signs of a clogged gutter:

  • Water spills over the edges of a gutter.
  • Water sprays like a fountain from gutter seams and elbow joints.
  • Water doesn’t flow out the bottom of downspout extensions.

If it’s not raining, look for these telltale signs:

  • Eroded earth directly below a gutter.
  • Peeling paint on siding and fascia.
  • Wet, moist, or dirty siding beneath the gutter.
  • Gutters pulling away from the fascia (likely caused by excessive weight).

Where’s the Gutter Clogged?

The downspout cage, a wire strainer designed to trap debris while allowing water to flow through, is located where the downspout intersects the gutter. Often, this item is bent or out of place.

Gutter hangers and spikes often slip free from the fascia, landing in the gutter. These obstructions catch leaves and twigs, causing clogs.

Downspout elbows and seams are likely spots for clogs, too. Working your way down from the gutter, tap the outside of the downspout with a screwdriver and listen for a dull thud (as opposed to hollow ring). This will indicate the location of the clog.

If you still haven’t identified the location of the clog — and you have downspouts that descend below ground level — then the clog likely is in an underground pipe.

How to Unclog a Gutter

If the clog occurs at the downspout cage:

  1. Remove and clean it.
  2. Remove all the accumulated debris in the gutter.
  3. If the cage is in good shape, firmly re-seat it into the downspout hole.
  4. If the cage is damaged or missing, replacement screens cost just a few bucks.

If the clog is caused by loose hangers or spikes:

  1. Clean debris from clogs.
  2. Reposition or repair the gutter supports.

If the clog occurs at an elbow or seam — and you can reach it from above:

  1. Try to free the obstruction with a stick, plumbing snake, or pressure washer outfitted with a telescoping wand.
  2. If you can’t reach it, simply disassemble the downspout and remove the clog.

If the clog is below-grade, it’s the most difficult to clear, and may require excavation. But before that:

  1. Remove the downspout where it enters the ground and try to clear the clog using a plumbing snake.
  2. Turn on a garden hose and force it into the underground portion of the line; the water pressure may dislodge the clog.
Article by DOUGLAS TRATTNER

BERRY COCONUT CHIA SMOOTHIE

This chia smoothie recipe is packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants, making it perfect for a quick, healthy breakfast. You can use any berry of choice depending on availability and personal preference.

Ingredients

1 medium banana(s)
2 tablespoon(s) chia seeds
2 cup(s) spinach, baby
1 teaspoon(s) coconut oil
1/4 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
1 cup(s) berries, frozen
1 tablespoon(s) coconut flakes, for garnish, optional
1 tablespoon(s) chia seeds, for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding water to thin out if necessary. Serve immediately.
  2. Serves 2

7 Tips for Short Sale Success

Have to sell your home for less than it’s worth? Our seven tips will help you get the best price.

When you owe more on your home than it’s worth, but you have to sell, you need to squeeze every dollar possible from the sale. Here are seven tips for navigating the short-sale process.

1. Know who you owe

A short sale has to be approved by any company that has a mortgage or lien against your home. That includes your first, second, or even third mortgage lender, your home equity line lender; your homeowners or condominium association; and any contractors who’ve placed a lien on your home. Make a list and start talking to everyone early in the process. Ask what documents they’ll need from you.

2. Pick your short sale team

You’ll need to work with a team of short sale experts, including a real estate agent, real estate attorney, and your accountant. Look for agents and attorneys who advertise themselves as short sale experts. Interview at least three, and listen carefully for signs that they understand the complexities of the short sale process.

Agents should explain how they’ll arrive at a suggested price for your home. Ask them to show you a sample short-sale package or for an example of a prior short-sale success.

3. Get your documents ready

Gather the paperwork your creditors and mortgage lenders asked to see, like your listing agreement and a hardship letter explaining why you need to do a short sale. You’ll also need proof of what you earn and what you owe as well as copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years.

4. Expect delays

Despite a federal rule saying banks participating in the federal government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program must respond to short-sale offers within 10 days, it may take weeks or months for your lender to decide whether to allow you to sell your home in a short sale—and even longer if you must negotiate with more than one lender or lienholder.

Your lender and lienholders don’t have to agree to your proposed short sale. They can reject your terms or make a counteroffer, which can create further delays.

5. Anticipate demands

Discuss with your short-sale team how you should respond to common short-sale demands from lenders. For example, are you willing to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay outstanding amounts after the sale is complete?

6. Know the tax implications

Any unpaid amount of your mortgage “forgiven” by your lender through a short sale may be considered income to you under federal tax rules. Ask your attorney or accountant whether you qualify to exclude that amount as income on your tax returns under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act. Also ask if you’ll be required to report amounts “forgiven” by other lienholders, if applicable.

7. Consider how the short sale will affect your credit and what you must pay

Ask whether your lender will report the short sale to credit-reporting agencies. Having a portion of your debt forgiven may negatively affect your credit score, but a short sale typically damages your score less than a foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Ask you lawyer whether you’ll be responsible for paying back the lenders’ loss. If the lender says it will forgive any losses on the sale of your home, get that promise in writing.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to publications including Bankrate, REALTOR Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.

 

Preparing to Sell Your Home? The Best 5 Projects to Do Now

Buyers will simply flock to your home if you tackle these value adds.

Planning on selling your home in the spring? Good news — that leaves plenty of time to tackle all sorts of projects this fall that will help you snag top dollar when the tulips start blooming. Take an objective look around your home from a buyer’s perspective. What would stop you from making an offer? What do you need to do to put your home’s best face forward?

Here are some spring projects to jump on now in order for your home to be in tip-top shape for a spring sale:

1. Update Your Curb Appeal

Curb appeal is important,” says Steve Modica, sales associate and property manager at HomeXpress Realty Inc. in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla. “Make sure the bushes are all trimmed. Re-mulch or replace stone walkways and paths. Remove any dead plants and trees, and aerate your lawn so it will be lush come spring. Pressure wash the driveway, the front walk, and the exterior of your home. If need be, have the exterior of the house painted and, at the very least, apply a fresh coat of paint on the front door.

2. Get a Home Inspection

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® says 77% of homebuyers have an inspection done before completing a home purchase. To avoid nasty surprises once you’re in the process of selling your home, have your own inspection done and make any repairs over the winter months before you list the home. Homebuyers often use flaws and needed repairs to negotiate a lower price.

3. Replace Flooring and Paint Walls

Determine if your carpets need replacing or just a deep, professional cleaning. If they need to go, consider if hardwood or another flooring material might be more appealing to buyers.

You’ll also want to inspect interior rooms for dirty or scuffed walls that need a fresh coat of paint. “Paint the whole wall, don’t just do touch-up repair work, because it never looks as good,” says Modica. Also, if you have eccentric or loud wall colors, now is the perfect time to update to a more neutral palette. Stagers recommend beiges, light grays, and off-whites.

4. Tackle the Basement, Attic, and Garage

Often overlooked, these storage meccas can become a catch-all for junk. Use cool, fall weather as an excuse to get down and dirty in these hot spots and organize them from top to bottom. Install shelving, pegboards for tools, and hanging brackets for bicycles and other large sporting equipment. Your goal is to pitch the junk, sell what you no longer need, and categorize the rest.

“Donate or recycle clothes and bedding you don’t use anymore in order to free up storage space in your closets, basement, and garage,” says Amy Bly, a home stager at Great Impressions Home Staging in Montville, N.J. These areas should look roomy, well-organized, and clean.

5. Consult a Stager

Buyers need to picture themselves living in the house, and they may have trouble doing that if all your personal effects are on display. In order to accomplish that, a professional stager can create a plan for you that you can spend the winter months implementing. Bly spends about two hours walking through a property assessing curb appeal, interior flow, closets, bookcases, media cabinets, flooring, and more.

“I give homeowners a multi-page, room-by-room form they can use to take notes on my recommendations,” says Bly. She typically recommends things like neutralizing out-of-date decor, removing old furnishings and carpeting, and updating light fixtures. She also suggests the type of shower curtains, towels, bedding, and pillows to display for an upscale look.

Need a local staging coach?

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I would highly recommend Staging Coach for anyone seeking to sell their home. View Mary Jane’s web site

Getting a jump on these fall projects will give you a leg up on selling in the spring. Today’s buyers are savvier than ever before, especially millennial first-time homebuyers who may have searched homes online for months prior to getting in the field. More than just listing your home in the spring, you want to make it’s as perfect as possible. That means everything works and looks immaculate, and there are no glaring issues that will turn off buyers. When you’re ready, have a friend or relative drop by for a tour and point out anything you may have overlooked.

Healthy Yard: Insect Control for Your Lawn

Even if your dog spends most of her time indoors, you’re probably worried about fleas and ticks. She still has to go outside every day to use the bathroom, so it’s good to have a pet-friendly, pest-free yard.

You can take steps to make sure your yard isn’t a haven for fleas and ticks. And you don’t need sprays that can harm your pet. Here’s what to do.

Practice Smart Lawn Care

Keep it cut close and trim your shrubs. Short grass lets more sunlight reach the ground. That makes your lawn drier, so it’s harder for fleas and ticks to thrive.

Avoid Chemical Sprays

Plenty of them can rid your yard of fleas, ticks, and other insects, but many contain chemicals that are bad for pets and small children. Remember, your dog is low to the ground, where these products get applied. She also weighs less than you, so poison can affect her more. A pet that spends time on a sprayed lawn can spread chemicals to children through hugs or a shared bed. Even products that call themselves “natural” or have essential oils can hurt pets or kids.

Find Fleas First

Don’t treat your entire yard for these pests. Only target areas where you’ve seen them. Here’s how to hunt for fleas outside: Put on a pair of white socks and pull them up to your knees. Slowly walk around in the spots where your dog likes to wander. If fleas are there, they’ll jump at you. You’ll see their dark bodies against the socks.

Skip the Spray

If chemicals aren’t your thing, go to a garden supply store for nematodes. These tiny wormlike critters are smaller than fleas and like to feed on them. But they won’t hurt pets or people. To apply them to your lawn, water the area first, spray on nematodes, then water again.

Try Tick Control

If you live next to a wooded area or your neighbor’s yard has overgrown plants, cut back the brush on your side. Then create a gravel or wood-chip border 3 feet wide. This makes it hard for ticks to travel across to your lawn.

If there are lots of these pests in your area and you want to use a chemical spray, look for safety advice from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s GreenPaws Product Guide. The group checked the ingredients of more than 100 products and says whether they are safe to use around pets. If a spray is deemed pet-safe, apply it only once a year to the edges of your yard near wooded areas. Avoid spots where four-legged friends and children play.

 

6 Costly Mistakes First-Time House Flippers Make

When you’re flipping a house, time is money. And you don’t have time to make a lot of rookie mistakes.

That’s what Steve Cederquist learned when he first began renovating and flipping properties in 1994.

“I bought a house with a bad foundation and lost $30,000 on the deal,” says Cederquist, a general contractor who’s now a veteran house flipper and president of Cornerstone Property Services in Huntington Beach, CA. “I didn’t think I’d have to do much to a 1,200-square-foot house. But it cost me a ton of money.”

No house flipper is born wise. So we talked to several pros who outlined mistakes newbie flippers often make. Avoid these pitfalls to ensure your profits come out on top.

Mistake No. 1: Not getting a home inspection

This one’s a biggie. Even if you plan on making major changes to the house, you still need an inspection. Of course, if you’re going to tear down the whole thing, there’s no need for one. But house flipping usually involves making cosmetic changes—maybe opening a wall or remodeling a bathroom. It’s a makeover—not a complete rebuild. So you need to get it checked out before you buy.

“Never buy as is,” Cederquist says. “I can’t tell you the number of times people lose everything because they don’t do the safest thing: getting a home inspection.”

Inspections can turn up all kinds of problems. Some issues, like cabinet doors that don’t close properly, you won’t care about if you’re planning to rip and replace the kitchen anyway. Others, such as a cracked foundation, can cost you dearly.

At the very least, an inspection can identify problems you can use to bargain down the price. Every dollar counts toward your bottom line; whatever money you save on the purchase price will help you turn a profit when you flip.

Mistake No. 2: Overestimating your renovation skills

Every dollar saved on labor is a dollar you earn when you flip a house. But all too often flippers think they’re better plumbers, drywall hangers, and carpenters than they really are.

“This ends up being a major drain of time and resources, because you must redo work and spend twice the amount of money fixing it,” says Allen Shayanfekr, co-founder and CEO of Sharestates, an online crowdfunding platform for real estate financing.

There’s a simple answer to your DIY delusions of grandeur, Shayanfekr says: “Consult an expert prior to undertaking any major project.”

And make sure to ask for an estimate in writing. That way you’ll know what you’ll have to spend to make the house attractive to buyers.

Mistake No. 3: Underestimating total costs

Inexperienced flippers often add the purchase price to renovation costs and figure the sum is their break-even point. If only.

But the true cost of your flipping adventure involves much more. Think: state and federal taxes on profits, real estate commissions, title searches, transfer taxes, inspection and appraisal costs, and a bunch of other fees that show up at closing when you buy, and again when you sell your property.

Do yourself a favor and thoroughly research the total cost of your project (don’t forget permit fees, which can be substantial) and then add a cushion—10% to 15% is customary.

“Be prepared to pay over your expected fees when coming to the closing table,” Shayanfekr says. “Better safe than sorry.”

Mistake No. 4: Being a jerk

Even if you’re determined to do this on your own—you’re a whiz at mitering crown molding, after all—successful flipping requires some level of interaction with others. You’ll need to build a trusted team of craftsmen, suppliers, lenders, and real estate professionals that you can call on time after time.

Not only do you need to find people you can depend on to get the job done quickly and on budget, but your teammates must also be able to trust you to treat them with respect, pay on time, and not make their lives a living hell by changing your mind repeatedly.

“People want to do business with others they like and trust,” says Cody Sperber, who has flipped more than 1,000 properties in 15 years and has started a mentoring program called Clever Investor, based in Tempe, AZ. “So many deals have materialized because I listened and was empathetic. Not because I was shrewd and smart.”

Mistake No. 5: Jumping the gun

Some flippers put a “For Sale” sign on the property before completing renovations, hoping a buyer will be able to envision how gorgeous the house ultimately will be.

That’s a big mistake, says Bill Golden, an Atlanta-area real estate agent.

“Many people think they can get a jump on things by getting folks interested before it’s done, causing multiple issues,” Golden says. “Many people don’t have vision and can’t really see how things will look once they’re done. Also, missing molding, trim, and other details that may seem minor to you can reflect poorly on what the buyer perceives the quality of the renovation to be.”

Don’t list the project until it’s move-in ready. It will save time in the long run, because potential buyers won’t nag you about missing finishes you already plan to include.

Mistake No. 6: Designing a flip like you’re going to live there

Flipper rule of thumb: Never fall in love with a property.

Unlike your own home—where you’ll raise a family, build memories, and make modifications that suit your needs—flips are short-term projects that must appeal to the widest possible market.

When you design your flip, take yourself out of it. You may love aubergine, but stick to whites and neutrals when you pick paint colors. Research design trends, walk through open houses of new construction, and survey real estate agents to find out what’s selling and what’s not. If you don’t create an attractive yet blank canvas, your flip may languish on the market—costing you money with each painful, passing day.

“Don’t get attached to the house, because you’re not going to live there,” Cederquist says. “Keep it generic, what’s popular. Then stick to a design and budget.”

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