Is It Last Call for Low Mortgage Rates? Why Home Buyers Should Act Now

All good things come to an end—even low mortgage interest rates. They’ve been steadily rising and are poised to climb even higher this year.

When they do, the cost of buying a home will rise as well. This could make the challenges of today’s buyer’s market even worse for some prospective purchasers—particularly first-time buyers, having to settle for smaller abodes, fixer-uppers (in the real sense, not the TV sense), and homes farther out where real estate is cheaper.

Some may even be priced out of the market altogether thanks to a toxic combination of soaring home prices and increasing mortgage rates.

After hitting historic lows, average mortgage rates have now reached their highest levels in more than four years. They hit an average 4.43% for 30-year, fixed-rate loans as of March 1, according to Freddie Mac data. This was the highest they’ve been since Jan. 9, 2014, when they were an average 4.51%.

They’re expected to go up even more after the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates. The new Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell, says the Fed is likely to gradually increase them this year. It is expected to bump up rates at least three times this year, in 0.25% increments, beginning this month.

And while short-term rates and mortgage rates are separate, mortgage rates usually follow any increases from the Fed.

“For the bulk of buyers, it’s not going to kill their decision to purchase a home. If anything, it will get them off the fence by creating a sense of urgency,” says Rick Palacios Jr., director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Higher rates are “a kick in the pants for you to start thinking seriously [about buying].”

Even a fraction of a percentage point rise quickly adds up. On a $300,000 house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and 20% down payment, the difference between 4% and 5% is $142 a month. That’s more than $51,000 during the life of the mortgage.

“Buyers thought they could wait forever because rates were going to stay low forever,” says Palacios. “They’re starting to realize if they’re going to buy they should probably buy now.”

How mortgage rates differ from federal short-term interest rates

It’s a common misconception that mortgage and interest rates are married to each other. It’s more like they’re related. Over the past two decades, they’ve differed by as much as 5% and have been as close as 0.5%. And that’s because mortgage rates are more closely tied to the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond market.

Mortgage rates tend to follow bonds because both may be considered safer places than the stock market to park one’s money. But mortgage rates are usually the inverse of bond markets. Translation: The greater the demand for bonds—which tends to happen during economic, political, or market distress—the lower the mortgage rates may be.

Steady economic growth along with relatively low inflation and interest rates has helped push bond rates down for years. However, a widening U.S. deficit and higher inflation could bring them up. Normally, that would help keep mortgage rates low. But there are other factors such as changes to tax codes, the overall state of the economy, and the rise in short-term Federal interest rates that can also affect mortgage rates, says Andrew Hanson, an economics professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Hence, the bell is slowly tolling on historically low mortgage rates.

It’s important to note that mortgage rates are still low. They averaged around 7% from the 1990s through the financial crisis, falling from a high of 18.63% on Oct. 9, 1981.They dropped below 5% for the first time in March 2009, before bottoming out at 3.1% on Nov. 21, 2012.

And while they may not return to the 3% range anytime soon, it’s also unlikely they’ll go into the double digits.

“We’re not going back to the levels of 10 years ago,” in the mid-5% to mid-6% range, says Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist for Freddie Mac. “Too much has shifted economically. There’s a lot of pressure on long-term rates to keep them from moving too rapidly.”

First-time home buyers have the most to fear from rising mortgage rates

Overall, about 44% of prospective home buyers say they will have to settle for a cheaper home—smaller, or maybe farther away from their jobs—as a result of the rate increases, according to a recent realtor.com® survey.

But first-time buyers and those on the tightest budgets are likely to be affected the most. Even a 1 percentage point rise in rates would mean 5% of all buyers would no longer be able to qualify for a $300,000 mortgage, according to a 2016 John Burns study. (Rates were only 3.47% when the study was published.)

“Every time the interest rates go up, you eliminate a group of people who can no longer afford to buy a house,” says Don Frommeyer, a mortgage broker at Marine Bank in Indianapolis. “Some people may have to rent for a period of time until they make more money—or buy a smaller house.”

And despite the increases, the housing shortage and soaring prices are only likely to get worse.

That’s because of the big backlog of buyers. Many folks held off from purchasing during the recession because they were worried about their job stability or couldn’t afford to buy. Now with a stronger economy, they’re entering the market in droves. Many older millennials are beginning to have families or expand their families and simply need the extra space.

“If you have a backdrop of accelerating job growth, wages rising, confidence booming, and the stock market improving, [home sales are] going to do just fine,” says Palacios of John Burns.

These same reasons, along with rising mortgage rates, are also powerful inducements for current homeowners to stay put. Instead of trading up to nicer abodes, many are choosing to make improvements or renovations to their existing homes instead. This means there are even fewer entry-level abodes on the market for first-time buyers.

So folks are going to have to make some sacrifices—including dealing with longer commutes.

“We call it driving for dollars,” says real estate professional Doug Hopkins, co-owner of Realty Executives Phoenix. “How far can you move out and still get what you’re looking for? How close to the city center can you afford to be?”

Buying a home? Consider locking down your rate

Home buyers worried about rising rates may want to consider locking in their rate with their mortgage provider. This means that the rate is guaranteed once an offer is submitted through the closing. Usually this is good only through a previously specified amount of time, so the process can’t drag on too long, and there can’t be any changes to the application.

The downside, however, is that not all rate locks are free. Ones for less than 60 days are often free, but can cost several hundred dollars. And if there are any unforeseen delays in the closing, and the rate needs to be extended further, it can cost buyers much more. (The exact figure depends on the individual mortgage lender and the size of the loan.)

Another downside: If rates do fall, buyers won’t be eligible for them.

But rate locks do protect buyers from higher-than-expected monthly mortgage payments if those rates do go up.

“You should be paying close attention to what is going on in the marketplace, because those rates can move pretty quickly in a short amount of time,” says Freddie Mac’s Kiefer. “So a rate lock is something people might want to consider.”

Article by Chris Parker

8 Things You Must Do Before Renovating Your House—or Else

Renovating your house is an adventure, one that can easily go off the rails. There are a mind-boggling number of wrong turns homeowners can take, from going over budget, to hiring a shady contractor, to just realizing that the quartz counters or paint color they picked are so wrong—afterthe work is done.

So if you want to make sure your renovation turns out all right, it’s essential you be prepared. Here are eight things you should do before embarking on any major home improvement project to avoid a whole bunch of headaches and regrets.

1. Know what you like

Oh that part’s easy, right? You want a totally new kitchen. But what exactly does that mean? You have to narrow down whether that’s just cosmetic (e.g., new cupboards, counters, and appliances) or structural (e.g., reconfiguring your space or knocking down a wall).

7 Super-Easy Cleaning Recipes for the Most Awesome-Smelling Home

Essential oils are the key to these sweet-smelling (and highly effective!) homemade cleaners.

If you get light-headed just reading the ingredients on your cleaning products, take heart: There’s another way.

These make-in-minutes, super-cheap recipes create potions that use sweet-smelling essential oils that won’t fumigate your home, while having superpowers to fight grime and bacteria.

And much like a food recipe you may try, you can modify the oils to suit your own olfactory senses.

Citrusy All-Purpose Cleaner

  • 15 drops of essential oil of lemon
  • 5 drops essential oil of sweet orange
  • 5 drops essential oil of rosemary
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups of filtered water

Funnel all these ingredients into a spray bottle, seal, and gently shake. There’ll be a battle of odors here, with the acidic vinegar likely winning out against the sweet-smelling oils, but don’t let this deter you.

The vinegar scent disappears quickly, but that citrusy, herby zing lingers on. And these oils aren’t just there for their scent alone. Lemon oil is a natural disinfectant, orange oil busts grease, and rosemary oil has some antibacterial and antiseptic qualities.

Lemon-Scented Window Cleaner

  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 10 drops essential oil of lemon

Mix all these ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray on any glass surface and polish in with a microfiber cloth. You’ll have sparkling panes and mirrors in no time, and that wondrous essential oil of lemon will kill off the bacteria left behind by mucky fingerprints.

Eucalyptus Toilet Bowl Cleaner

  • 25 drops essential oil of eucalyptus
  • 1/3 cup Castile soap
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 1/3 cups baking soda

Fill a squeeze bottle with the water, baking soda, and eucalyptus oil. Aside from having a deliciously fresh aroma, eucalyptus is a natural germicide.

Seal the bottle and shake. Next, add the Castile soap. Shake again. Squeeze around the bowl. Leave for 15 minutes, then scrub with a toilet brush, flush, and you’re done.

Lavender-Thyme Dish Cleaner

  • 20 drops essential oil of lavender
  • 10 drops essential oil of thyme
  • 5 drops of essential oil of tea tree
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 cup liquid Castile soap
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda

This one does require some stovetop time: Bring the water to a boil, then mix in the oils (thyme and tea tree goes to war on salmonella while emitting a pleasant aroma along with lavender). Add the rest of the ingredients slowly, and remove from heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, pour into a squeeze bottle. Shake gently before using.

Peppermint-Lavender Floor Cleaner

  • 5 drops essential oil of peppermint
  • 5 drops essential oil of lavender
  • 5 drops of essential oil of tea tree
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

Pour the vinegar into a bucket, fill that bucket up with hot water and add the oils.

Works on stone, tile, and wooden floors. Not only is peppermint oil anti-bacterial, many believe it can deter mice and other pests.

Tea tree oil is antibacterial, an antiseptic, and antifungal. And, not only is lavender oil antibacterial, its aroma has soothing properties to calm your whole household.

Lavender Linen Spray

  • 6 drops of essential oil of lavender
  • 2 tablespoons witch hazel
  • Filtered water

Fill a spray bottle with the witch hazel and lavender, shake, top up with water, shake again, and spray.

Cinnamon and Sandalwood Air Freshener

  • 10 drops essential oil of cinnamon
  • 10 drops oil of sandalwood
  • 1 cup filtered water

A spritz of this subtle-but-effective scent erases stinks in seconds. Fill a spray bottle with the water and the oils. Cinnamon scent boosts brain power and sandalwood is calming, perfect for a hardworking, stressed out home!

Essential oils do mix, so if any of the scents in these recipes don’t appeal, you can play around with other oils. Just keep the quantities the same. So if you switched sandalwood for essential oil of orange in this air freshener, stick to the 10 drops specified in the recipe.

Article by ANNA TOBIN

Slow Cooker Paleo Gumbo Recipe

This slow cooker Paleo gumbo is pretty dang easy to make, but there is a second step beyond simply loading the crockpot! You just get the ingredients prepped and added to your crock pot or slow cooker, and then let everything cook while you go about your day. When there is about 30 minutes left or about 30 minutes before you plan to eat, add the pre-cooked sausage and shrimp to the crockpot. The shrimp will turn pink and be ready by the time you are ready to ladle the soup into big hearty bowls!

Ingredients

  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot flour
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp cajun seasoning mix
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
  • 1/2 lb pre-cooked sausages, sliced (about 3-4 large sausages)
  • 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined and tails removed
  • 4 green onions, diced

Instructions

  1. Whisk together chicken broth and arrowroot flour until no lumps remain. Set aside.

  2. Chop onion, bell pepper, celery as noted and peel and smash garlic.

  3. Place chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker and toss in the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, and bay leaves. Sprinkle cajun seasoning and thyme over everything.

  4. Pour in the diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

  5. When the gumbo has 30 minutes left, slice up the sausages and green onions. Add the sausage, shrimp and 3/4 of the green onions to the slow cooker. Cook for the remaining 30 minutes until the shrimp is cooked through.

  6. Shred the chicken with two forks. Ladle gumbo into bowls, sprinkle with remaining green onions and serve.

Afraid of Selling Your Home Too Soon—and Missing Out on Tons of Cash? Consider This

If you sold your home at a good price, you’d be thrilled, right? But what if, a year or two later, you check in on your old home by idly punching your former address into realtor.com … and discover that its value has shot up even higher? In other words, had you only held onto this property a little longer, you could have made a real killing?

Welcome to home seller’s remorse—a rampant affliction among home sellers across the country. It can hit at any point after a home sale, where, akin to tossing a winning lottery ticket, home sellers torture themselves with fears that they’ve sold their home too soon, thus losing out on tens of thousands of dollars. Home seller’s remorse can even kick in before a sale, stressing out homeowners who are thinking of selling but are worrying that they could be pulling the trigger too early … and missing out on the windfall their home could become.

Sound painfully familiar? In the strong seller’s market we have now, where prices are rising across the country, it’s understandable.

“Sellers tend to think that if they just wait a little longer, they can sell for more,” says Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, a real estate agent at Triplemint in New York. (Of course, he adds, the same is true of buyers: “They tend to think they could have bought for less earlier.”)

Yet real estate experts insist that home sellers should stop second-guessing themselves and make peace with when they sell, and for how much. Here are some reasons you should never worry whether you’re selling your home too soon.

Reason 1: Just as with stocks, you can’t time the housing market

Have you ever heard how you can’t time the stock market? Pretty much the same thing goes for selling a house. Clairvoyant powers or a fully functional Magic-8 ball would be needed to know exactly what home prices will do next; even economists and real estate agents wouldn’t dare make predictions with any level of certainty.

So as a home seller, you shouldn’t beat yourself up; hindsight, as they always say, is 20/20.

To snap yourself out of this mindset, remind yourself that home prices could also drop—in which case you will be thanking your lucky stars that you sold when you did. Or, if home prices do indeed rise a year or two later, it can help to take a step back and consider the long-term perspective.

“When you look back 10 years from now, it is unlikely that you will be as upset about the marginal difference,” Fabrikant says. “What looms large today will likely seem insignificant several years and several other curveballs later in life.”

Reason 2: If you wait, the price of homes you’re buying could rise, too

It also helps to see the trade-offs, says Shannon Boudreau, sales director at a new development, 389 East 89th Street, in New York City. Some of her clients are downsizing from a large house to an apartment in the city.

“Sure, potentially, if these home sellers held onto their house another year, they would have possibly gotten a higher return on their investment,” she concedes. But at the same time, the prices of homes they were buying would have risen, too.

“The likelihood of values increasing elsewhere, in a nearby neighborhood, is also high,” says Boudreau.

So it’s a wash. As such, “I would never advise someone to wait, because values are increasing everywhere,” says Boudreau. “The more you make on your home sale, the more you’ll probably have to pay for whatever you buy.”

Reason 3: Odds are, you sell when you have to

Last but not least, homes aren’t abstract, tradable commodities like stocks, where the only thing that matters is the stock’s price. Homes are homes, and as such, have to fit your life circumstances—meaning that they need to be large enough to raise your family, to offer a convenient commute to your office, to be situated in a good school district, and more.

So if you’ve changed jobs, or are expecting a new family member, or your eldest just got accepted to the top magnet school across town, then the question of when to sell your home may not truly be an option. You really can’t wait!

“Sometimes, sellers have to sell immediately,” says Triplemint agent Gina Ko. So when clients fret that they might be selling their property too soon, Ko reminds them of the big picture.

“Whether it’s to be closer to family in another area, preparing for a baby to arrive, or setting themselves up for a better job opportunity, these life shifts are opportunities for bigger and better things to come,” she says.

So you can stop worrying and torturing yourself. Trust that, in the long run, you’ll sell at just the right time.

Article by 

Moving with Pets

Moving to a new home can be stressful for anyone. But with a little consideration and planning, it doesn’t have to be difficult on your pets.

May is National Moving Month. It marks the official beginning of the moving season, a four-month period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when millions of American families relocate. And because some 68 percent of Americans consider their pets to be members of the family, according to a 1999 report by pet supply retailer PetsMart, it stands to reason that every possible measure should be taken to ensure the safety and comfort of all nonhuman family members during the upheaval of a relocation.

“Moving is very stressful for a family,” say ASPCA President Larry Hawk, D.V.M. “That stress is also experienced by the pets. They want to know that they’re part of the family and that they’ll be going, too.”

Sadly, many pets will not be going with their families to new homes. According to research published in 1999 by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, moving is identified as the most common of 71 reasons for relinquishing dogs and the third most common reason for relinquishing cats to shelters. In addition, when citing moving as the reason for giving up their pets, 38.8 percent of dog owners and 38.1 percent of cat owners cited the refusal of a landlord to allow the animal in an apartment or house.

But for most people, leaving their companion animals behind is out of the question. With the proper preparation, you can ensure that your next move will go more smoothly, for you and your pets.

Before the Move

Moving with a companion animal usually means moving with a cat or dog. While these animals may react similarly to changes within the home, cats and dogs will, for the most part, respond to a family relocation with different behaviors.

“We tend to socialize our dogs a lot more,” says Jacque Lynn Schultz, director of special projects for ASPCA Animal Sciences. “We take them more places and often stay overnight with them. We don’t do that with our cats.”

In general, cats are more focused on their surroundings and don’t adapt to change as readily as their canine counterparts. Felines thrive on constancy, and any disruption to their environment can foster stress-induced behavioral changes. An independent cat may become clingy and atypically affectionate. Conversely, a cat who’s normally demonstrative may become temporarily reclusive.

The most important thing any pet owner can do before moving with their pets is “plan, plan, plan,” says Steve Zawistowski, Ph.D., senior vice president of ASPCA Animal Sciences.

If your cat’s only exposure to a carrier was when she came home from the shelter, now’s the time to leave it where she can examine it daily. Place your cat’s favorite blanket or toy in the carrier, and praise her when she goes inside. “Set the carrier up well in advance, so your cat will get used to going in there and hiding out,” says Schultz. “This way, when she feels stressed, she’ll hide in the carrier instead of in a suitcase.”

Dogs are often easier to travel with, but if Fido’s only experience in a car has been a trip to the vet, you’ll want to acclimate him to riding in the car a few weeks before your move. Start with short trips, perhaps to the park. Positive association will reinforce the pleasurable aspect of car rides and help decrease anxiety.

On the day of the move, place your cats or other small animals in their carriers and confine your dogs to one room or the backyard. If your dog has any territorial protectiveness or gets stressed out easily, ask a neighbor to watch him for the afternoon until all of your belongings are packed away. Only after everything is out of the house should you retrieve your animal and place him in the car or moving truck.

Cats should always be confined to a hard-sided carrier, as should other small animals, such as rabbits, ferrets and birds. Allow enough room on either side of the carrier for proper ventilation. Arnold Plotnick, D.V.M., vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, recommends covering the carrier with a sheet or light blanket for the first few hours of the trip. “Cats get a little freaked out when they see the world moving by,” he says. After a few hours, they should relax, and then you can remove the sheet.

Dogs should also be restrained. Safety harnesses, which attach to any seat belt, allow your dog to sit or stand comfortably, whereas safety gates, made of either mesh or metal, give him added mobility in a restricted area. An unrestrained, agitated dog can compromise your control of the car while driving. Moreover, there exists the risk of your already disoriented dog escaping from the vehicle at a roadside stop.

And don’t forget to pack a separate bag for your animal. Take some of his favorite food, as well as a gallon of water, because water characteristics change regionally. If you are traveling with cats, they can generally travel for eight to 10 hours without having to use a litterbox, but it never hurts to bring along a disposable litterbox for emergencies or overnight stops. You will also need to bring a pet first aid kit and some extra towels, in case of accidents. Place temporary ID tags with your new address and phone number, or a cell phone number, on your pet’s collar.

Keep a current health certificate for your pet handy during interstate travel, because many states require one. Highway patrolmen have the right to inspect your pet’s health certificate, should you be pulled over for another reason, and you can be fined for not having one.

If you cannot take your pet with you during the move, there are a variety of animal relocation companies that will transport your animal using either their own vehicles or by prearranging appropriate relocation methods and boarding. They also make sure that your pet’s paperwork is up to date. Leaving these details to someone else may be well worth the extra expense, says Denise Simmons. In 1998, Simmons accepted a job as a programmer at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, which required her to relocate from Virginia to Illinois. This meant packing up a menagerie of pets, including two horses, one dachshund, one parrot, a rabbit, a squirrel and six cats. Simmons contracted with Spotsylvania, VA-based 4 Bar Transport, which she found through ads in Horse Illustrated, to ship her two horses. The company picked up the horses and transported them to a designated boarding facility, where they stayed until Simmons could retrieve them.

Many realty companies have also begun to realize how important pets are to prospective homeowners and renters. One such company, Washington, DC-based McEnearny Associates, designed a program called PAWsitive Experience, which debuted in 1999. Pet owners complete a questionnaire detailing their needs. Once a suitable home is found, clients are presented with a Pet Welcome Bag, which contains pet toys and treats, as well as a book that features local pet laws and directories of animal hospitals, dog parks and pet specialty shops.

Hidden Hazards

Not all moves can be made in one day. If you must stop for the night, call ahead to hotels that claim to be pet-friendly. “Don’t take a hotel chain’s word for it. Call the actual hotel and verify what their pet policies are,” says Hawk. Many pet-friendly hotels have a limited number of rooms available for people with pets, or will only allow small dogs and cats.

In the hotel room, look around for any dangers, such as open windows or holes in the wall, before letting your cat out of her carrier or your dog off his leash.

“At home you’re familiar with your cat’s favorite hiding places, but a strange environment has all sorts of possibilities,” cautions Moira Allen, a Virginia-based writer who has moved nine times in the past 16 years. During a 1991 move from Germany to California, Allen and her three cats spent several days in a Los Angeles hotel room while trying to find an apartment. Aware of the typical hiding places, Allen was terrified when she could not locate her tortoiseshell, Nani. After looking in every conceivable place, she noticed a slight movement on the bed. Nani was nestled in the hollow between the pillows, concealed beneath the bedspread. While Nani was not in any danger, the experience made Allen realize how easy it is for cats to hide.

Hotels also provide an opportunity for your pet to escape and become lost. Audio engineer Jon Picciano almost lost his cat George during a 1996 move from Michigan to New York City. Picciano confined George in the bathroom while he went out for dinner. But George managed to open the bathroom door, and when Picciano re-entered his room, George ran out into the parking lot. Says Picciano, “Luckily, he was as freaked out as I was and hesitated long enough for me to catch him. Now when I travel, I never leave the cats alone. Ever.”

Those Lovable Unhuggables

Dogs and cats aren’t the only animals who get new addresses. Each year, millions of families move with their favorite tarantula, iguana, fish, bird or other exotic pet. Moving exotics can require careful research and special handling.

When the Popolillos of New Jersey built a second home in Kentucky in 1998, it was important to them that they be able to bring part of their family of koi to the new house. The fish were transported in large plastic bags infused with concentrated oxygen, which can be provided by most major aquarium supply stores. These bags can support the fish for approximately 24 hours. Three of the fish were carried by a family member on a plane—they were in First Class, so they had ample space under the seat. The remaining four fish were driven to Kentucky.

“Fish can be difficult to move,” says Zawistowski. “If you’re not going to make the move in one day, it’s best to contact a professional animal moving company about overnight shipping. It’s not cheap, but if you’re talking about shipping very expensive fish, it’s worth it.”

Reptiles require meticulous planning because they are extremely susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Cathy Smith, director of business and quality management for the Impact Group, which specializes in corporate relocation, recalls helping a New Jersey family move to Louisiana with their iguana, Iggy. Several airlines refused to carry the cold-blooded animal on a passenger flight, so Smith investigated shipping Iggy as cargo. She found an approved carrier and advised the family to travel in June rather than December, as originally planned, eliminating climactic concerns. “This greatly relieved Iggy’s owner, making the relocation a happier event,” says Smith.

New Home Sweet Home

When you reach your final destination, immediately remove your animals from the car and segregate them in a single room. “Take a full inspection of the house before you let your animal out,” says Schultz. “If you haven’t lived here before, you won’t necessarily be aware of holes in the back of the cabinets, and you don’t know what kind of openings may be behind your larger appliances.”

“Check for open windows, chemicals in the water, mousetraps under the bed or dressers and even drapery cords, which cats can get tangled in,” adds Plotnick, who once handled an emergency case involving a dog who drank water from a toilet bowl filled with antifreeze. Only after all of your boxes and furniture have been moved in, and all of the movers have left, should you let your animals out to explore.

Placing familiar objects in relatively the same locations as in your previous home will help ease your animal’s anxiety, and now is not the time to change routines or schedules. If your cat’s litterbox was in the bathroom of your previous home, put it in the bathroom in the new location. If your dog has been accustomed to eating twice a day, don’t suddenly change his feeding schedule to once a day. “Any changes you make should be made slowly,” says Schultz. “You want the stresses of the new place to wear off before you start making additional changes. For some animals, it may take days or even weeks to become comfortable.”

“Let your animal’s behavior be your guide,” Schultz recommends. “To that end, it’s important for you to be as calm as possible. A lot of the stress that your animal feels comes from you. If you’re falling apart, your animal’s reaction is going to reflect that. If you have a relatively calm demeanor, that’s going to brush off on the animals, too.”

“It’s not easy to move with animals,” says Zawistowski, “but it’s part of the obligation we have to them.” With forethought and planning, there is no reason why moving to a new home cannot be accomplished with a minimum of stress—for both you and your companions.

Article by Cynthia P. Gallagher

14 Garage Organization Ideas Under $50

Easy-to-afford solutions for your tools, sporting and seasonal gear (so you’ll have room for your car, too).

If you’ve got a garage, most likely you’ve got waaayyyy more than cars in there. It’s the catch-all place to keep stuff (mostly) out of sight and out of mind.

Put order to the chaos and protect your car’s paint job with simple storage systems and organizing hacks for everything from sports equipment to tools.

Bikes, Skates, and Other Wheels

#1 Hoist bicycles to the rafters with a rope-and-pulley system (starting around $40) that makes it easy to raise the bike and lock safely in place. When you’re ready to ride, release the lock and lower your bike to the garage floor. You’ll need an hour or two and basic tools to secure the pair of pulleys to ceiling joists and thread the ropes. (Similar hoists are available for kayaks or small boats; starting around $25.)

#2 Use a specially designed wall rack to hang helmets and skateboards together; starting around $20. Secure this one to wall joists in less than an hour.

#3 Keep scooters and bikes out of the way with tool hooks installed on a length of 1-by-6-inch lumber. You’ll pay $3 for each pair of vinyl-coated screw-in tool hooks and $1 per foot for lumber. You’ll need only an hour or two to secure the lumber to wall joists and screw the hooks into place along the board.

Sporting Goods

#4 Bring together balls and bats on a convenient wire rack equipped with hangers that hold gloves too; starting around $35.

#5 Stash two pairs of snow skis, poles, and boots in one handy steel ski rack; $45. Securing this rack to wall studs helps it hold the weight of the equipment. If you can’t position it on studs, use wall anchors for a secure installation. You can do the task with or without anchors in an hour or two.

#6 Stow your fishing rods by suspending two wire shelves from your garage ceiling about 5 feet apart, then threading the rods through the openings. Use shelves left over from a project or purchase a 4-foot-by-16-inch vinyl-coated wire shelf for less than $9, and saw it in half crosswise (or clip with bolt cutters) to make two 2-foot shelves. Snip additional wires where you need wider slots to accept pole handles or reels.

Tools

#7 Hang wrenches and bungee cords using an ordinary vinyl-coated wire tie-and-belt rack, available at big box stores; $8.

#8 Hang metal tools on a magnetized rail, keeping items in view and easy to retrieve; starting around $30. Simply screw the rail to wall studs to safely hold the weight of the tools (it’s an idea you may be drawn to.)

#9 Cushion and protect tools by padding your toolbox drawers with a soft, non-slip liner. The open-weave design keeps moisture away and prevents tools from rolling around. Enough material to line eight average-size drawers is $15. Just cut the liner to length to fit and slip it into the drawer.

#10 Organize small items — such as pencils, box cutters, and tape measures — by stashing them in electrical junction boxes; about $2 each (free if you have spares). Purchase a variety of sizes and shapes and secure them to studs or pegboard.

Yard and Garden Gear

#11 Transform an old filing cabinet into storage bins for various yard tools.Remove the drawers, turn it on its backside, and use a couple afternoons to apply paint and pegboard sides. Less than $25.

#12 Mount heavy tools, long-handled implements, and ladders on long steel rails with extruded holes high on the garage wall and secured to studs. Add hooks and pegs on the rail to hang big tools. Two 48-inch rails sell for $22.

#13 Secure a wooden pallet to wall studs to create a pocket for holding long-handled garden tools. To find free wooden pallets, check with local businesses as well as online classifieds, such as Craigslist. Cost: Free.

#14 Use a can rack to keep bottles of fertilizers, repellants, and lubricants upright and easy to retrieve. Rack ($15) prevents cans and bottles from tumbling off shelves.

Article by JAN SOULTS WALKER

Paleo Steak Tacos

Do you guys remember a few years ago when the taco diet was a thing? People were losing weight just eating tacos from Taco Bell of all places? TACO BELL. GRADE D MEAT. Meat that’s mostly made up of soy. Total garbage. But I thought to myself, this is a diet I can get on board with. Tacos all day? Sign me up!

I’m not sure how tacos originally got the reputation as being a less than healthy food, but they’re actually quite nutritious, especially if made properly. Always use a good tortilla, sprouted organic corn or these Siete tortilla shells, which are my absolute favorite. They’re grain-free, gluten-free, paleo and low carb. You can check them out HERE, but they’re much cheaper at your local health food store.

Choose a good protein for filling: grass-fed beef, wild seafood, pasture raised chicken – even eggs and make huevos rancheros for breakfast!

After that, just load it up with veggies. Pico de gallo, avocado, jalapenos, grilled peppers and onions and fermented spicy cabbage (rosetido) are some of my faves! You what you like and what you have. There is absolutely no need to over-complicate healthy eating. We’re talking tacos for God’s sake.

Ingredients

  • 3 Siete almond flour tortillas (HERE, or you can buy them in Whole Foods for cheaper than this)
  • 1/4 lb grass-fed sirloin steak (or skirt, flank, etc) marinated in garlic, avocado oil, cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper for at least an hour
  • 1/2 cup pico de gallo
  • 1/2 avocado
  • fermented red cabbage – optional but amazing

Instructions

  1. Heat the tortillas per package instructions.
  2. Cook steak to medium rare on grill or hot cast iron.
  3. Let it sit for five minutes.
  4. Slice.
  5. Layer on tcaos: steak, pico de gallo, avocado slices and fermented red cabbage.

Educating, Inspiring, and Giving Back to our Military Families and Veterans

LEARN ABOUT THE AMERICAN WARRIOR INITIATIVE

Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation takes pride in our superior customer care and our efforts to find the best loan at the best rate for our clients. What many people do not know is Fairways dedication to give back to the community. Through a partnership with The American Warrior Initiative (AWI), Fairway is able to make giving back and making a difference in the community part of the fundamentals of our organization.

Sean Parnell and Louise Thaxton founded AWI in April of 2012 with a mission to serve those who have served us and continue to protect the American Dream. Sean is a Retired Army Infantry Captain with the elite 10th Mountain Division and veteran of 485 days of fierce fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and Louise is producing branch manager for Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation.

The mission of the American Warrior Initiative is to educate, encourage and inspire Americans to give back to our military. AWI’s partnership with Fairway allows them to educate real estate and mortgage professionals on handling the home purchase needs of active duty and military veterans with excellence.

United States active military and veterans have fought and given so much to protect the American Dream, but unfortunately they are often targeted by shady businesses and have been cheated, scammed or overbilled. By learning how to be a better partner to them during the home buying process, we can become a watchdog for the warrior by pursuing excellence in serving the home purchase needs of military clients.

There are many things that AWI offers to mortgage and real estate professionals. AWI brings boot camps throughout the county where real estate agents have the opportunity to not only receive continuing education credits, but also the certification of “Certified Military Residential Specialist”. AWI also offers the Military Mortgage Specialist™ Designation, which is exclusive to Fairway Mortgage Planners. Through this designation, mortgage loan professionals, loan processors, closers, loan assistants, and branch managers, can be thoroughly trained and equipped to handle with excellence the mortgage loan needs of our active and former military clients.

For more information about Fairway Mortgage Lending programs, please feel free to reach out to Jim Francis, (630) 995-7090 or jim.francis@fairwaymc.com.

 

How to Clean Up (and Forget the Nightmare) of Basement Flooding

You can cope with the soppy mess. Here’s how.

Rain, rain, go away. And sewage backups. And burst pipes. All y’all can GO. AWAY. Especially if they turn your wet bar into a soaking wet bar and your ping-pong table into an island.

Every homeowner with a basement imagines that horror. If it should happen to you, don’t retreat into a fetal position on your couch and hope for a miracle, no matter how much you want to. You can deal with the soggy disaster. Here’s how.

4 Things to Do Right Away

Don’t wait until you’ve reached the fifth stage of grief before addressing a floodFast action can minimize a rising, rank situation — and the money it’ll cost to repair.

1. The first thing to do is really a “don’t,” says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations at Mr. Rooter Plumbing. Don’t ever, everstep into standing basement water. “You could be shocked or electrocuted,” he says. Who wants to venture into that murky mess, anyway? Turn the power off or call an electrician to be safe.

2. Then stop the flow of water.How you do that depends on what the source is:

Water Source What to Do
Broken or malfunctioning pipes Turn off your water’s shut-off valve. If you don’t know where that is, scope it out now — before the worst happens. Some valves are buried in the ground and require special tools to turn off.
Sewage backup Stop flushing toilets and running faucets. Your local sewage authority may offer pumping services or let you submit a reimbursement claim. If you have a septic system, though, it’s on you. Call the septic company to have your tank pumped ASAP.
Groundwater Sorry, that’s bad news. You can’t turn off Mother Nature. The good news: Groundwater flooding might not stink as badly as sewage. Get references for a waterproofing pro or a structural engineer because you could have a foundation problem.

Groundwater was the culprit for Nancy Friedman and her husband when their St. Louis home flooded back in 2014. They knew they had a tiny wet spot in their basement, but “I didn’t think too much of it,” Nancy Friedman says. “Going downstairs is not an everyday occurrence for us,” she says, especially since they both travel a lot.

That tiny wet spot soon became a full-on flood in their basement, causing thousands of dollars in carpet damage – not to mention the cost to repair the structural issue that allowed water to seep in in the first place.

3. Find a plumber with a high-capacity pump. This is not a job for a DIYer. It needs to get done fast. You need a professional-grade pump. “The longer that water sits, and the longer your drywall spends under water, the more long-term damage,” Gallas says. The more damage, the more it costs to clean up.

4. Make your smartphone earn its keep. Take photos and video, then back them up in the cloud, so you’ll have them for insurance purposes.

DIY Some of the Cleanup to Save Money

Once the water is pumped out, the rest can be a DIY job. Just make sure to protect yourself with:

  • Gloves
  • Rubber boots
  • Eye protection
  • A mask (especially if you’re dealing with a sewage backup)
  • A nose plug if the smell is really bad

Then suck up the remaining muck with a wet-dry vac. You’ll also need an army’s worth of paper towels and plastic bags to dispose of the mess.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to say goodbye to all rugs, carpets, and upholstery, which will soak up floodwater contaminants and bacteria, regardless of the flood source. (Seriously sentimental items might be restorable by a professional, but don’t get your hopes too high.) That’s what happened to Friedman. “The first thing we had to do was pull up the carpet.”

Other restoration steps:

  • Open all windows and doors, and run large fans and dehumidifiers.
  • Scrub water-contaminated walls, floors, cabinetry, or hardware with a soapy solution. Ventilate again.
  • Make a bactericide by adding 1.5 cups of bleach and a few drops of liquid soap to a gallon of water. Spray on the walls; let air dry.

But Don’t Feel Like a Wimp if You Want to Hire a Pro

In fact, both Gallas and Friedman recommend hiring a restoration service, as long as the company you hire is trustworthy and affordable. A small flood might cost as little as $500 to pump out and dry, but a large flood can cost up to $10,000.

“There’s a lot of companies out there that put a guy in a truck and think a high-powered fan is good enough to dry a basement,” Gallas says. Improper technique, like not allowing the home to dry for long enough or failing to properly treat drywall, puts your home at risk for mold or mildew in addition to the flooding damage.

So just be sure to do your homework on who you hire.

Don’t Assume Insurance Will Cover Your Repairs

Friedman’s first call when her basement flooded was to her insurance company. “They told me, ‘You don’t have flood insurance,’” Friedman says. “I thought everybody had flood insurance!”

Standard home insurance often doesn’t cover all types of floods, especially groundwater.

“If I could do a speech on floods, it would be: Do you know this very moment, for sure, if you have flood insurance?” Friedman says. “Call your insurance agent right now and ask.”

But the best scenario is no flood at all.

5 Things To Do So You’ll Never, Ever Flood Again

  1. Install a leak detector and high-water alarm. These small devices notify you before a small leak becomes a disaster, either via an audible alarm or a text message.
  2. Insulate your pipes. Thawing pipes are one of the leading causes of basement flooding.
  3. Maintain your backwater valve. It prevents sewage from seeping from the septic or sewer system to your home.
  4. Consider a sump pump. Every basement should have one of these flooding saviors. “I think sump pumps should be wedding gifts,” Friedman says.
  5. Flush and dump with caution.Dumping anything besides waste and toilet paper down your toilet or drains is a big no-no — from tampons to grease. These clog the system, causing backups.
Article by JAMIE WIEBE

 

Do you know what your air purifier is doing right?

While they may seem like a luxury, air purifiers serve an important role in keeping you and your loved ones safe. When purchasing a standalone air purifier, make sure it’s one you can rely on and trust for years to come. Here are some helpful tips and guidelines when buying an air purifier.

The Need

A standalone air purifier keeps the air in your home clean. Events in your area, such as wildfires or intense forms of air pollution, can affect your indoor air quality. Poor indoor air quality may lead to long-term damage to your lungs and general health. Studies have shown that “[w]hen exposed in a laboratory to pollution levels comparable to those found in the atmosphere of the Amazon region during the forest and crop burning season, human lung cells suffer severe DNA damage and stop dividing. After 72 hours of exposure, over 30% of the cultured cells are dead.”

While research indicates air pollution can be harmful, it’s unclear just how The Environmental Protection Agency has explained that “the long-term risk from short-term smoke exposures are quite low,” meaning that such conditions may not always lead to serious repercussions. It’s difficult to attribute long-term health benefits to air purifiers generally, as there are so many factors in a person’s life that contribute to an individual’s overall wellbeing. So while it’s inarguable that “particle pollution does impact health,” it isn’t clear to what extent it will affect yours.

Additionally, houses contain air far longer than any open outdoor space. In fact, the indoor spaces hold far more pollution in the air, making purifiers that much more necessary.

Cost and Maintenance

The cost of a standalone air purifier can range from $200 to $850, depending on which model you choose. If you decide on upgrading to a whole house air purifier, that can cost between $600 and $2,500. On top of this, air purifiers require a lot of electricity to operate, with some using over $300 of energy per year. When selecting your model, be sure to consider how much power it consumes so you aren’t surprised by the sudden spike in your monthly bills.

To offset the cost of your air purifier, you can upgrade your HVAC unit to include an air cleaner. While these come with some basic filtering functions for larger particles, such as pet dander, the cleaner’s filter can be upgraded to provide a stronger and more reliable service.

If you choose to go this route, keep in mind the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) associated with whatever replacement you select. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has gone on record stating that “[f]ilters with a MERV between 7 and 13 are likely to be nearly as effective as true HEPA filters at controlling most airborne indoor particles.” There is the option to upgrade your HVAC to a whole house purification system, but this is costly and often requires a complete overhaul of your current unit.

Generally, air purifiers are very low maintenance, made to run for an entire year with little to no issue. Still, many manufacturers recommend you at least inspect the inside of your unit once every six months to ensure there is no dust build-up and that nothing is going wrong with the inner workings of your device.

In regards to warranties, most companies offer limited lifetime warranties on their air purifier products. This means that the company dictates specific parts or conditions that is covered under their lifetime warranty policies. Be sure to read these agreements through thoroughly before selecting the machine to purchase.

There are many options and price points when it comes to “air machines” for the home. Some are mild filters for dust, some have HEPA filtration that help with allergies, some are helpful in removing smoke and other irritants from your indoor atmosphere, and some combine many of these traits.

Which one is right for your home? This helpful article https://www.furnacecompare.com/air-purifiers.html describes some of the differences in the product categories on the market today.

Replace or Reface Your Kitchen Cabinets: The Options and Costs

Refacing might be “superficial,” but the results and savings are dramatic.

Refacing your kitchen cabinets includes covering the exposed frames with a thin veneer of real wood or plastic laminate.

Doors and drawer fronts are replaced to match or complement the new veneer. New hinges, knobs, pulls, and molding complete the transformation.

What are the Pros and Cons?

Kitchen cabinet refacing pros:

  • Costs about half as much as replacing cabinets.
  • Takes less time (a week or less!) and money.
  • It’s less hassle than tearing out cabinets.
  • You can still use your kitchen while refacing.
  • It’s a green kitchen remodeling solution because you’re not adding to the landfill.

Kitchen cabinet refacing cons (there aren’t many):

  • Refacing won’t fix a bad kitchen design.
  • You might be tempted to spend more on exotic veneer and hardware (saving you less).

What are Your Refacing Options?

Your choices for the finished look of your cabinets are virtually limitless. Veneers are available in a wide variety of colors, patterns, textures, grains, and more, which you can mix or match to get a relatively low-cost kitchen facelift.

  • Rigid thermofoil (RTF) doors, which feature a durable plastic coating over fiberboard, are an affordable alternative to wood or laminate doors.
  • Plastic laminates come in hundreds of colors and patterns, are durable and moisture-resistant, and are reasonably priced. You can pick matching or contrasting laminates for your doors and drawer fronts.
  • Real wood veneers include many standard species, such as oak, cherry, and maple, and you also can choose from an array of stain colors. Wood veneers are the most expensive option. Wood must be carefully sealed to protect against moisture.

Further customize and update the look of your cabinets with new kitchen cabinet hardware.

What Does Refacing Cost?

A professional cabinet refacing for a typical 10-foot-by-12-foot kitchen starts at around $1,000 to $3,000 for laminate. Expect to pay $2,500 to $6,000 for real wood veneer. Costs can rise to $7,000 to $9,000 or more for a large project with high-quality wood veneer.

Finishing the project with new hardware (pulls, knobs, hinges) runs $2 to $4 per piece, up to $20 to $50 each for high-end hardware.

In comparison, completely replacing old kitchen cabinets with new cabinets starts at $4,000 to $5,000 and up for stock cabinets; $8,000 to $10,000 for semi-custom cabinets; $16,000 to $20,000 and up for custom-made cabinetry.

How Do I Know If My Cabinets are Good For Refacing?

Refacing is feasible if your existing cabinet boxes are structurally sound and in good condition. Cabinets with water damage, warping, and broken frames are poor candidates. Particleboard cabinetry sometimes requires fasteners, in addition to adhesives, to ensure that the veneer is secure.

How are They Installed?

A professional installer will come to your house to measure your cabinets and determine the amount of veneer required, the correct sizes and quantities for door and drawer fronts, and how much hardware is needed. Newly ordered doors and drawer fronts may take one to two weeks for delivery.

When all the materials are in hand, your installer removes old cabinet door and drawer fronts, and prepares the surface of the cabinet boxes by washing the exteriors with a degreaser and lightly sanding the finish. Any significant flaws in the surface are repaired or filled to ensure a smooth, secure fit for the new veneer.

The installer applies veneer to the cabinet faces and any exposed cabinet ends, then mounts the new doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. The process typically takes two to four days.

Article by JAN SOULTS WALKER

STUFFED SWEET POTATOES FOR BREAKFAST – WITH SAUSAGE AND EGGS

Who knew that sweet potatoes could make a great breakfast? My husband was skeptical. Well, after trying these stuffed sweet potatoes for breakfast, he is skeptical no more. I was myself surprised how well all flavors mixed in here: scrambled eggs and sausage mixed in with a little bit of cheese sauce and pureed sweet potatoes.

Prep time: 40 minutes

Makes 4 servings (half potato per serving)

Ingredients for sweet potatoes and filling:

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 breakfast sausage
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup half and half

Ingredients for cheese sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons mayo
  • 2 teaspoons mustard
  • 1/3 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese for sprinkling on top (not for the sauce)

To make filling for stuffed potatoes:

1) Bake sweet potatoes at 350 F for 50-60 minutes. Cool, cut each potato in half, scoop out the middle: you can use either knife or spoon or both. Puree or slice the scooped out parts of sweet potatoes and set aside.

 

6 Ways Home Buyers Mess Up Getting a Mortgage

Getting a mortgage is, by general consensus, the most treacherous part of buying a home. In a recent survey, 42% of home buyers said they found the mortgage experience “stressful,” and 32% found it “complicated.” Even lenders agree that it’s often a struggle.

“A lot can go wrong,” says Staci Titsworth, regional manager at PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh.

If you’re out to buy a home, you have to be vigilant. To clue you into the pitfalls, here are six of the most common ways people mess up getting a mortgage.

Waiting until you can make a 20% down payment

A 20% down payment is the golden number when applying for a conventional home loan, since it enables you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), an extra monthly fee of 0.3% to 1.15% of your total loan amount. But with mortgage rates where they are today—in a word, low—waiting for that magic 20% could be a huge mistake, since the more time passes, the higher mortgage rates and home prices may go!

All of which means it may be worth discussing your home-buying prospects with lenders right now. To get a ballpark figure of what you can afford and how your down payment affects your finances, punch your salary and other numbers into a home affordability calculator.

Meeting with only one mortgage lender

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about half of U.S. home buyers only meet with one mortgage lender before signing up for a home loan. But these borrowers could be missing out in a big way. Why? Because lenders’ offers and interest rates vary, and even nabbing a slightly lower interest rate can save you big bucks over the long haul.

In fact, a borrower taking out a 30-year fixed rate conventional loan can get rates that vary by more than half a percent, the CFPB has found. So, getting an interest rate of 4.0% instead of 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed mortgage translates into savings of approximately $60 per month, or $3,500 over the first five years.

So to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible, meet with at least three mortgage lenders. You’ll want to start your search early (ideally, at least 60 days before you start seriously looking at homes). When you meet with each lender, get what’s called a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the terms of the mortgage, including the interest rate and fees, so that you can make an apples-to-apples comparison between offers.

Getting pre-qualified rather than pre-approved

Mortgage pre-qualification and mortgage pre-approval may sound alike, but they’re completely different. Pre-qualification entails a basic overview of a borrower’s ability to get a loan. You provide a mortgage lender with information—about your income, assets, debts, and credit—but you don’t need to produce any paperwork to back it up. In return, you’ll get a rough estimate of what size loan you can afford, but it’s by no means a guarantee that you’ll actually get approved for the loan when you go to buy a home.

Mortgage pre-approval, meanwhile, is an in-depth process that involves a lender running a credit check and verifying your income and assets. Then an underwriter does a preliminary review of your financial portfolio and, if all goes well, issues a letter of pre-approval—a written commitment for financing up to a certain loan amount.

Bottom line? If you’re serious about buying a house, you need to be pre-approved, since many sellers will accept offers only from pre-approved buyers, says Ray Rodriguez, New York City regional mortgage sales manager at TD Bank.

Moving money around

To get pre-approved, you have to show you have enough cash in reserves to afford the down payment. (Presenting your mortgage lender with bank statements is the easiest way to do this.) Nonetheless, your loan still needs to go through underwriting while you’re under contract for your loan to be approved. Because the underwriter will check to see that your finances have remained the same, the last thing you want to do is move money around while you’re in the process of buying a house. Shifting large amounts of money out or even into your accounts is a huge red flag, says Casey Fleming, mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

So if you’re in contract for a home, your money should stay put.

Applying for new lines of credit

If you apply for a new credit card or request a credit limit increase a few months before closing, watch out: Credit inquiries ding your credit scoreby up to five points. So, don’t let the credit inquiries add up.

“Worse than the actual hit on your credit score is any pattern of trying to borrow more money all at once,” says Glenn Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty. Translation: Applying for multiple lines of credit while you’re buying a house can make your mortgage lender think that you’re desperate for money—a signal that could change your mortgage terms or even get you denied altogether, even if you’ve got a closing date on the books.

Changing jobs

Mortgage lenders like to see at least two years of consistent income history when pre-approving a loan. Consequently, changing jobs while you’re under contract on a property can create a big issue in the eyes of an underwriter.

Your best bet? Try to wait until after you’ve closed on your house to change jobs. If you’re forced to switch before closing, you should alert your loan officer immediately. Depending on the lender, you may simply need to provide a written verification of employment from your new employer that states your job status and income, says Shashank Shekhar, the founder and CEO of Arcus Lending in San Jose, CA.

Article by Daniel Bortz

6 Ways to Totally Snoop the House You Want to Buy

This checklist gives you carte blanche (well, almost) when viewing potential homes.

Ah, house hunting. It may technically be shopping, but it can feel more like breaking and entering. Even though you know the seller wants you there, does anyone really want you traipsing through their bedroom? Or looking through their closet? Or digging around in their basement? Awwwwkward.

But here’s something that should feel weirder: buying a home without knowing absolutely everything you can about it. The only way to avoid the second awkwardness is to face the first head on. When you’re house hunting, don’t think of poking around in someone else’s home as nosiness. It’s a smart, must-do investigation.

Here are six things you should absolutely do when viewing a home — no matter how awkward it feels.

1. Soak in the Bathroom

Homebuyers tend to peer into the bathroom for as long as they’d want a stranger to examine theirs: not long at all. But this isn’t the time to be quick. Josh Myler, a REALTOR® with The Agency in Los Angeles, encourages buyers to take a long, close perusal of the water closet.

Flush the toilet to find any backups in the system, and turn on the faucets to check the water pressure. Besides being annoying during showers, low pressure can indicate problems with the plumbing.

“Water pressure can really cause headaches down the line if you don’t dig in before you make an offer,” says Myler.

But always, always check with your agent first. In some markets, or with some sellers, it’s considered impolite to actually use the toilet.

Or, if the owners already have moved, the water may be turned off. And that could be, ummm, awkward.

2. Dig Around in the Closets

OK, don’t actually go through the owner’s stuff, but take a close look to assess how much storage space there is, and decide if it’ll meet your needs.

“People don’t like to open closets because they think it’s rude, but if you’re buying the house, it’s one of the biggest investments,” says Myler. “You want to make sure there’s enough room for everything you need.”

Before you step foot in a single house, take inventory of your current storage space, and know how much you’d like your next home to have.

3. Poke Around the Attic and Basement

Don’t just stick your head inside and call it good. Give the basement and attic a thorough investigation. If there are belongings piled against the wall, request they be moved before a second viewing.

“I get very nervous when I see a packed basement and stuff against the wall,” says Kyle Alfriend, lead agent of The Alfriend Group in Dublin, Ohio.

That’s because hidden walls and ceilings can conceal water damage, including peeling or discolored paint, rotting wooden accents, or a white, chalky substance on the wall, which indicates water intrusion.

As for the attic, a quick glance should tell you what you need to know. Are there rat droppings? Molding wood? Or is it generally clean, even if dusty? BYO flashlight for an enlightened examination.

4. Meet the Neighbors

Sorry, introverts. There’s no better way to get a read on the neighborhood than by directly asking the actual neighbors. Pop by their home and strike up a chat.

It’s a two-fer: Not only might you get valuable information about the area — from the noisy bar on the street behind you to eager babysitters on the block — but paying attention to their attitude speaks volumes about your potential relationship with your maybe-neighbors. Do they seem excited to meet you? Or are they standoffish?

“It’s not what they answer, but how they answer that will be very illuminating,” says Myler.

5. Be an Amateur Investigator

Anything seem fishy? Take your suspicions to city hall. If there are additions, pull the permits or get help from your buyer’s agent. You certainly don’t want to be responsible for tearing out that beautiful porch because the previous owners didn’t comply with the law.

Also, check the certificate of occupancy and any easements — especially if you’re hoping to make any major changes. Both are public record. An easement simply gives someone the right to use property they don’t own. Often that other someone is your local government that needs it for public services, such as water.

Myler remembers a friend who purchased a home with the goal of building a pool, only to find out an easement for the sewer line cut directly through the middle of the yard.

Another common use is a shared driveway, such as when one homeowner has to pass through another homeowner’s property to reach their home.

6. Ask Questions

If your sleuthing finds something concerning, don’t panic.

“Many times, there’s stuff that, at first glance, is real scary,” says Alfriend. “Often people will write off a house without digging into it, but there’s usually a perfectly logical, understandable reason, and it’s not a problem.”

Say you find a gaping hole in the drywall. It might be a huge red flag — or they might have rambunctious kids they absolutely plan to clean up after.

“Boys can wrestle and put a foot through the thing, and it’s 30 minutes before a showing,” Alfriend says. There’s not much the sellers can do at that point.

With any problem, your first step is simple: Ask.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

5 ways to keep your dog healthy this spring

Longer days, warm weather, and weekends spent frolicking with your furry friends all mean one thing–spring is here! As we emerge from our winterhibernation and prepare our yards, gardens, and home for the upcoming months, we don’t want to forget our pets. Increasing temperatures also mean the return of several health threats to our dogs and cats. Use this simple guideline to help make the blue skies and sunshine as fun and safe as possible.

1. Use heartworm and flea and tick preventive

Now. For everyone except those living in the coldest environments, your dog or cat should be receiving year-round monthly heartworm preventive. If you’ve been off heartworm preventive, be sure to have your pet tested prior to starting. As temperatures reach the 70s, biting insects like mosquitoes become very happy and prolific. In no time you’ll be swatting and reaching for the repellant. Now is also the time to make sure your pet is protected against fleas and ticks. If you wait until you see fleas and ticks to prevent them, it’s too late. You’ve got an infestation in your yard, house, or both. This year brings some new options for flea preventives so be sure to ask your vet about the latest advancements.

2. Avoid weekend-warrior syndrome

Each spring it inevitably happens: the first warm weekend appears and people think they need to make up for four months of inactivity. They take their out-of-shape, overweight selves with their out-of-shape, overweight dogs and decide to walk five miles, hike up their favorite mountain trail, or play an intense game of catch or Frisbee. Whatever it is, it’s too much and somebody gets hurt. This is the time of year when human ER clinics see injured knees, backs, and shoulders and veterinarians see torn cruciate ligaments, strains and sprains, and a variety of aches and pains. Take it easy. Gradually build up your strength and stamina and understand your dog needs time to adapt as well. This is especially true in older pets. What is only four to six months to you is more like two to three years to them. And if you do overdo it, be sure and have your pet checked out immediately. The sooner you have even a minor injury checked out and treated, the sooner your pet can return to enjoying the season.

3. Get the right gear

Today’s active pets can be better equipped than ever before. Having the right gear can increase not only the number of activities you can do with your pet but can also increase you and your pet’s enjoyment. High-quality harnesses, portable water bowls, and cool toys are items every dog lover should have on hand. For the more adventurous, doggie backpacks, protective clothing and glasses, life vests, and water toys are available. Whatever your interests, the correct equipment makes the time spent with your pet pal that much more fun.

4. Spring clean carefully

As you hasten to clean out your garage and prep your yard, remember these activities may pose a risk to your pet. Many cleaning agents, fertilizers, pesticides, weed-killers, and even mulch can all be dangerous to dogs and cats. Last spring I had a client who accidentally left a container of liquid plant food out on her porch. Her cat drank some and developed kidney failure. Luckily, the cat survived, but it could’ve easily been much worse. Remember, our pets can’t read warning labels. Look out for your little ones as you go about greening your homes.

5. Save a life this spring

Longer days also mean pets go into “heat.” For many stray, homeless, and neglected dogs and cats, this means unwanted litters. Animal shelters and rescue groups are typically stretched to capacity during spring. The economic downturn has resulted in fewer donations and more abandoned pets, creating even tougher conditions for animal shelters. Do what you can: volunteer, help with a pet adoption drive, promote spaying and neutering in your community, collect food, whatever. If you know someone looking for a pet, encourage adoption or rescue. We often think of November and December as a time of giving. Make Christmas come early for needy pets in your area this spring.

With a little foresight and planning, spring can be the best time of year for your pet. Go out and catch some rays, break a sweat, and give thanks for the times you share with your loved ones, both two- and four-legged!

Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM is the owner and chief-of-staff of Seaside Animal Care, a nationally recognized award-winning small animal practice. Dr. Ward is the current veterinarian for the Rachael Ray Show and is a spokesperson for Rachael’s Rescue. He has been featured on NBC Nightly News, Animal Planet, CNN, Animal Radio and numerous television and radio talk-shows around the country.

Clever DIY Ideas That’ll Transform Even the Ugliest Fireplace

The easiest one? This one, which uses stickers. Yes, stickers.

These are some serious stickers. Choosing the perfect decal design for your fireplace will be the biggest time commitment in this easy and inexpensive upgrade. It’s hard to believe, but these bad boys actually pull off the look and feel of tile. It’s a fireplace makeover with minimal effort and maximum impact.

Image: Charlotte Oakley

This  stately “before” hearth gets a modern makeover with concrete (next slide). And believe it or not, it was DIYed, even though it’s a bit of an in-depth project.

Image: Made by Deborah

It’s hard to believe this and the previous photo are of the same fireplace, right? The new look is both trendy and timeless, making the effort involved a smart investment. And, yes, a lot more went into this transformation than just the hearth swap.

Image: Made by Deborah

Not the roast-your-own-chestnuts type? A defunct firebox can still achieve that warm, cottage-y feel. Just stuff it with faux logs and surround it with cozy accent pieces.

Image: Morgan Spenla

Tile can turn a blah fireplace into the focal point of a home without any heavy masonry. This look isn’t just DIYable, it’s a way to create a truly custom look throughout your home. The homeowner who did this project used the same tile for a kitchen backsplash.

Image: Cathy Poshusta

Sometimes old, brick fireplaces can make a room feel unnecessarily dark. To fix this, just plaster over the fireplace surround and paint or whitewash. It lightens up everything and makes the whole room feel larger.

Image: Janice McCarty Design

Ready to get crafty? Tiles can be painted more easily than you might guess. What you see here is just primer and acrylic craft paint on new tile — plus a little creativity.

Image: Erin Souder of Earnest Home Co.

CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY PUNCH BOWL TRIFLE RECIPE

I threw this dessert together when I needed something quick to take to my in-laws’. Because it’s beautiful, everyone thinks it requires a lot of effort. It’s easy. And the recipe makes a lot, making this perfect for potlucks and large gatherings. —Kristi Judkins, Morrison, Tennessee

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package chocolate cake mix (regular size)
  • 1 quart fresh whole strawberries, sliced
  • 1 carton (13-1/2 ounces) strawberry glaze
  • 2 cartons (12 ounces each) frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided
  • 1 cup chocolate frosting
  • Shaved chocolate, optional

DIRECTIONS

1.  Prepare and bake cake according to package directions, using a 13×9-in. baking pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.
2.  Cut cake into 1-in. cubes. Place half of the cubes in a 6-qt. glass punch bowl. Top with half of the sliced strawberries; drizzle with half of the strawberry glaze. Spread with 3-1/2 cups whipped topping.
3.  In a microwave-safe bowl, heat frosting on high for 20-30 seconds or until pourable, stirring often; cool slightly. Drizzle half over the whipped topping. Repeat layers of cake, berries, glaze and whipped topping. If desired, drizzle with remaining frosting and sprinkle with shaved chocolate.
Yield: 24-28 servings.

Self-Employed Workers Face Mortgage Hurdles

Being your own boss allows for innovation and independence. But the self-employed also face difficulties when applying for a mortgage.

The biggest hurdle, experts say, is demonstrating they meet the lender’s income requirements. Self-employed workers don’t receive a W-2 form, the document that shows annual wages and withholding amounts. Instead, lenders need to rely on tax returns to verify a self-employed applicant’s income. That’s a challenge for lenders, because on one hand, self-employed applicants need to show enough income to qualify for a mortgage. On the other hand, they want to lower their taxable income by taking deductions and write-offs that they’re legally entitled to.

“That’s sometimes where self-employed people struggle, because they may not be showing enough income to qualify for the mortgage even though all the other characteristics of their credit profile look OK,” says Scott Witherspoon, chief credit officer of Affinity Federal Credit Union, a lender in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Self-employed business owners often take tax write-offs, such as depreciation of office equipment. The amount is deducted from their business income, even though it’s a noncash transaction. Personal expenses, such as car leases or travel and entertainment costs, are frequently covered by the business as well, so the net income reported on the tax return may not accurately reflect the true earnings of the business.

“You want to show as much income as possible to the lender so they know you can afford the mortgage, but pulling all these personal expenses out doesn’t reflect the operations of the business,” says Stephen G. Rosen, a certified public accountant in Boca Raton, Fla. “You need to help the lender understand that the business is making more money than you’re showing.”

Mr. Rosen says he often writes letters on behalf of his clients to help lenders better understand their business operations. He also provides profit-and-loss statements in which he removes personal expenses. That helps to reconcile the difference between the reported income on the tax return and the actual income the borrower claims on the mortgage application.

Another challenge for a self-employed mortgage applicant is the complexity of the tax returns they provide to the lender. “You have to figure out what kind of entity they own, what type of business they’re in and how the income is flowing from the business return to the personal tax return,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager for Equity Now, a direct mortgage lender in New York.

Mr. Hackett says Equity Now has approved jumbo loans that other lenders rejected. “We meet people all the time who were denied by another lender that could not understand or calculate self-employment income,” he says. “We are experts at determining the cash flow of a business to help self-employed borrowers qualify for a mortgage.”

A recent example: The applicant’s business had a net operating loss that was being carried forward to offset present income. The business had actually been profitable for two years, but was still showing the paper loss on its returns. Equity Now added the loss back into the applicant’s business income and was able to approve the loan.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re self-employed and plan to apply for a jumbo mortgage.

Find a good accountant.

Not only can an accountant help explain your business and its cash flow to a potential lender, but he or she can provide invaluable advice on structuring that loan to benefit both the business and personal tax situations.

Seek business-savvy underwriters.

Make sure your lender has sufficient expertise to analyze your tax returns, both business and personal. Staff underwriters should be able to understand a Schedule C and all other schedules annexed to the tax return. “You need a lender who can actually go through those forms in detail and know which expenses to add back in order to properly qualify and maximize the amount of mortgage that person could qualify for,” says Mr. Witherspoon.

Consider a mortgage broker.

Rather than applying to a direct lender, consider a mortgage broker, who works with many different lenders and can try to find the best program to fit your situation. “Self-employed applicants are not cookie-cutter loans,” says Mat Ishbia, president and chief executive officer of United Wholesale Mortgage in Troy, Mich. An independent mortgage broker can also look for a portfolio lender, which will have more flexibility on underwriting than a lender planning to sell the jumbo to an investor.

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10 Bathroom Materials That’ll Withstand Any Abuse

Absolutely stunning! No. 4 is a water-resisting showstopper.

We don’t ask much from bathroom surfaces.

Just that they be beautiful and withstand every cleaning chemical invented, steamy showers, piles of damp towels, and, did we mention, tantrum-induced line-drives with bath toys?

Oh, and they should be easy to clean. That’s all.

So what materials can live up to the ask? We asked the experts. Here are 10 they recommend:

#1 Engineered Stone Countertop

Dying for a white marble countertop? Join the club. But get ready to seal, reseal, and reseal. Then repeat. Year after year.

Or, go for engineered stone, which can mimic marble (and other stone materials) for about the same cost, but minus the hassle. It’s non-porous so it resists bacteria, mold, stains, and water damage better than the real thing. Better! And it never needs sealing!

#2 Glazed Porcelain Tile Floor

Moisture is Enemy No. 1 for bathroom floors, and glazed porcelain tile is its most-worthy adversary.

It won’t hold onto water like laminate and porous materials, and porcelain tiles glazed with glass are nearly stain-proof — as are today’s high-quality epoxy and urethane grouts, which don’t require sealing.

#3 Vinyl Floor

 

Time to rethink vinyl. Hear us out. Luxury vinyl tiles, which mimic stone and wood, are awesome at resisting moisture.

Other affordable options like laminate just can’t keep up. Plus, vinyl sheets are so large, you can cover a small bath without a single seam or grout line, making it easy on the eye and easier to keep clean.

#4 Plywood Cabinets

Yup. We said plywood. But today’s “grade A” offering isn’t your mother’s plywood. (Or your Swedish cousin’s, which is actually particleboard.)

Composed of pressed layers of alder, birch, or cedar, “grade A” plywood (also known as furniture-grade) remains more stable in the face of moisture than solid wood, which will shrink and swell in response to bathroom humidity (causing cracks in painted surfaces and even warped panels).

As for the finish, you don’t need to spring for anything fancy: The factory finish applied to cabinetry nowadays will hold up to the moisture. Isn’t living in the future great?

#5 Tempered Glass Shower Doors

While you need your glass to be tempered for safety, you don’t need a special spot-resistant treatment or upgraded texture to have crystal-clear shower doors.

“Glass is easy to clean,” says Ebony Stephenson, a certified kitchen and bath designer. “I tell my clients, ‘I’ll give you a squeegee and you can save $2,000. It’s a lot of money when you can just wipe off your glass.’” So definitely get tempered glass, but skip the add-on treatments that promise no spots.

#6 Glossy or Semi-Glossy Paint

Mold & mildew are real concerns, even on the walls, thanks to humidity.

So paint sheen matters.

A full-on glossy paint has a shiny, sealed surface that blocks out moisture and wipes clear of residue, say from hairspray, without leaving a mark like a matte finish will. But the sheen can be a bit overbearing on anything more than trim, and calls attention to wall flaws.

A semi-glossy finish will hold up nearly as well to cleaning and moisture, without calling quite as much attention to bumps, dents, and other imperfections.

#7 Cast Iron Tub

A tub forged from molded liquid iron is likely going to be the toughest thing in your house — maybe even your neighborhood, depending on where you live.

You may need extra support for your floor (and your pocketbook) to bring it home, but cast iron won’t chip, scratch, or dent like fiberglass, acrylic, and even porcelain can.

This tub is your forever tub. And probably your children’s forever tub. And their kids’.

#8 Porcelain-on-Steel Tub

Don’t let its acronym, POS, misguide you: Heat-fused enamel on steel will resist corrosion, abrasion, and chipping better than synthetic materials, and it is much more affordable than cast iron.

#9 Acrylic Panel Shower Walls

Despite their lightweight, acrylic wall panels, often called shower surrounds, are not lightweights. They resist chipping, cracking, and peeling, and are much easier to maintain than stone tiles or slabs. Unlike tile, they nail directly to wall studs or glue to the wallboards, so they don’t require grout. Acrylic is tougher than fiberglass and colored all the way through — so it’s less likely to scratch, and even a deep cut won’t be as obvious. They’re also more affordable than tile and available in textured patterns, if you want to look like you splurged on a fancy design.

#10 Stainless Steel Sink

Stainless: not just for kitchens anymore. Corrosion- and stain-resistant, it won’t melt under a hot curling iron like acrylic can, and won’t dent or chip like porcelain if nail clippers plummet down from the medicine cabinet.

And it’s the perfect match for the industrial-chic look that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT