Allergies at Home

If you have allergies at home, you’re hosting allergens with specific needs. If those pollutants could write classified ads, here’s what they’d want.

PET DANDER seeks vacuum-free home where cats and dogs are rarely bathed. Prefer pets be allowed to sleep in their owners’ beds. We really can’t tolerate a household that’s cleaned and vacuumed regularly and where pets are bathed twice a week and pet beds washed monthly.

DUST MITES in need of a cozy mattress. Please, no dust mite-proof covers (we can’t hack latex mattresses or silk bedding, either). Bedding and comforters must be rarely washed. Absolutely NO water heaters set above 130 degrees — we’d be goners. Prefer natural materials for hanging out — no synthetics or air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, please, as we find them inhospitable.

POLLEN wants airy home with windows and doors frequently left open. Prefer windows where mold and condensation are never cleaned from window frames and sills. Definitely prefer a location with no HVAC air filtration system so we can easily circulate to keep eyes watering and noses running. Absolutely NO small-particle or HEPA filters allowed.

MODERN ALLERGEN FAMILY (dust, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites) in need of carpeting. Thick carpet piles that are rarely shampooed or vacuumed given preference. No homes with hardwood, laminate, or vinyl flooring considered because there’s nowhere for us to hide. Also, no calls accepted from homes where surfaces are steam-cleaned or that feature low-pile carpets that are regularly vacuumed (equipped with  a HEPA filter). Washable area rugs not considered.

RESPIRATORY AILMENTS willing to trade a clean-burning gas fireplace for an old-fashioned, inefficient wood-burning model that produces plenty of smoke and gasses. Please, no wood-burning fireplace inserts. Also looking to sell our vented range hood (which really sucks the life out of us).

WANTED: Horizontal blinds where dust and pollen can settle undisturbed. Please, no natural and synthetic curtains that are regularly washed, or we’re down the drain.

DUST AND OTHER ALLERGENS seek comfy home fully furnished with upholstered goods that are never vacuumed. No leather, wood, metal, or plastic furnishings considered, as we don’t find these hospitable.

MOLD AND MILDEW need hot, humid home with no air conditioning and no dehumidifier. (A place with a dehumidifier may be considered if it’s rarely cleaned. We’ve found these make a nice home too.) Especially happy in a location with water damage: damp carpeting, a soggy basement, leaky plumbing, and a clothes dryer that isn’t vented outside. Also interested in locations with non-ventilated bathrooms lined with wallpaper, and equipped with a shower, tub, mats, and curtains that are rarely cleaned. Leaky toilets considered a plus. Please, no tiled bathrooms.

CLUTTER WANTED: Dust and pollen seek a variety of knickknacks, books and magazines, dried flowers, toys (especially stuffed animals), wicker baskets, and other items to collect on. No dusting considered. Also, please don’t wash stuffed animals monthly in hot (130 degree) water as this is a killer move when it comes to us allergens! And, if you’ve heard about putting nonwashable stuffed animals in the freezer for 24 hours and then rinsing the dead dust mites off with cold water — don’t do that either.

MUST SELL: HEPA filters for heating and cooling system. Allergens can’t thrive when these filters are changed in the furnace once a month. Priced for quick sale.

COCKROACHES seek dine-in home where food and garbage are easily accessible. (i.e. Don’t wipe down the stove, countertop, or table after dinner. DO pile unwashed dishes in the sink and leave the trashcan uncovered.) Please, no food stored in airtight containers. Positively no homes accepted where poison baits, boric acid, or insect traps are in use.

Article by JAN SOULTS WALKER

5 Tips That Will Protect You from This (Expensive) DIY Mistake

DIY home remodeling is great — until it isn’t. Here’s how to keep it great.

It was their first plumbing project. “It was just a small crack in a pipe,” says Karah Bunde. She and her husband, Joel, had just purchased a fixer-upper they planned to renovate and rent.

They bought a new piece of PVC pipe to replace the cracked one. “We installed it, glued it, gave it 24 hours to cure. The next day we turned on the water and it busted at the seams. We had extra pipe and did it again, this time allowing it to cure for two days. Same story,” says Bunde, an avid DIYer who writes “The Space Between” blog.

The couple returned to the store and started asking questions.

Turns out they had made one of the most common DIY mistakes: choosing the wrong material for the job. “Our downfall was not doing enough research. Turns out we picked PVC pipe for drains and not one that would hold the pressure of water lines,” Bunde says.

Whether you’re choosing tile, flooring, lighting, or cabinets, making the right choice can make or break your success. Get the right materials by doing these five things:

1. Set a Budget for Every Item

Make a budget for every single item you’re purchasing, says architect Todd Miller, owner of QMA Architects & Planners in Linwood, N.J. Otherwise, you may blow it all on a sexy plumbing fixture, but then choose the wrong flooring, for instance, just because it’s cheap and you want to keep on track.

“There are always tradeoffs, but having a budget will help you manage the choices,” Miller says.

2. Shop Where the Pros Shop

Not to dis big-box stores; they’re great for many things. But you have to know what you’re getting into, says Gary Rochman, owner of Rochman Design Build in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Heeding the siren call from the big-box store can oftentimes go wrong. You’re not getting the service and the professional advice you’d need, especially if you’re a DIYer.”

For example, he says, “You might purchase treated lumber for an outdoor deck, but no one tells you the nails you bought aren’t for outdoor purposes. At a lumberyard, they’ll let you know those two items don’t go together.”

Additionally, Miller says some manufacturers will make two versions of the same product: a more cheaply made one for major retailers and another for supply stores that sell to contractors. “I purchased one product at a retail store that had PVC supply lines, and the exact same product from my supplier that had solid copper fittings,” he says. Homeowners can have access to suppliers through their contractor, but many stores also sell directly to consumers.

3. Try It Out Before Committing to It

Robin Flanigan, a homeowner in Rochester, N.Y., thought she was doing all the right things when she chose backsplash tile. She went to a local tile store. She schlepped along her cabinet sample, and they knew her floor — a wood-look farmhouse tile — which she’d purchased from them. “The owner took his time with me every time I went to the store — and there were a lot of times I went to the store,” she says. It took her two months to decided on a clear tile. “I thought clear tile would be less noticeable, not clash with the concrete.”

She hired an installer who put up the tile on two walls before Flanigan saw it. “I wound up in tears all night and asked them to take it down,” she says. The installer did beautiful work, but “what looked great in a small sample turned out to look way too futuristic once the walls were covered. It didn’t fit the rest of the industrial loft vibe at all.”

Flanigan says the mistake was a “huge budget buster” and posted the torn-down tile on Craigslist. She had a thin concrete backsplash installed instead. “If there’s a next time, I would order a box to see if I liked the look first,” she says.

4. Invest in the Right Tools

Here’s a good place to practice balancing durability and cost: Get the right tools for the job.

“You can buy a brush for 98 cents, but you won’t get good results,” says Les Lieser, who recently retired as owner of a painting company and now runs Front Range Coating Consultants in Greeley, Colo. “Good brushes cost more for a reason.”

Lieser says cheap brushes are like straw, flaring out and not holding their shape. A good quality nylon or bristle brush, on the other hand, will allow for nice, straight lines. For a few dollars more, you’ll save a lot of hassle and get a more professional-looking result.

“The same goes for roller covers and paint,” Lieser says. “Spend a little more money on a brand name or something of good quality.”

What if you need a costly tool? “We’ve rented a bunch of tools; it’s a great option,” Bunde says. In addition, many cities have tool lending libraries or a MakerSpace where you can borrow bigger items. “When you buy your materials, always ask what tools are going to aid in your success,” Bunde says.

5. Be Cautious About What You Buy Online

Buying things online might be less expensive and convenient, but when you’ve purchased a 700-pound cast iron tub from Craigslist only to discover it’s scratched or too heavy for your second-floor bath, you’re going to have a hard time sending it back. “It’s important to see and touch the products,” Miller says. “And you’ll have an easier time with returns at a retail shop or professional wholesaler.”

Although it’s enticing to think you’ll save money by purchasing the cheapest materials and save time by doing it yourself, you’ve got to weigh the value of your time against the inevitability of things not fitting, arriving broken, or not lasting. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your free time wandering the fluorescent aisles of the hardware store rather than kicking back and sipping lattes in your newly renovated space.

Article by STACEY FREED

Paleo Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Homemade Cinnamon Coffee Cake is one of my favorite comfort foods. Growing up my mother used to buy an incredibly tasty frozen coffee cake at the grocery store. It was a special treat, albeit processed and full of preservatives and chemicals.

My healthy version is made with only six ingredients –almond flour, salt, baking soda, coconut oil, honey, and eggs– this easy coffee cake recipe can be thrown together in no time flat. The topping has three additional ingredients –coconut sugar, cinnamon, and sliced almonds.

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan with coconut oil and dust with almond flour
  2. In a food processor, combine almond flour, salt, and baking soda
  3. Pulse in coconut oil, honey, and eggs
  4. Spread the batter into prepared baking dish
  5. To make topping, combine coconut oil, coconut sugar, cinnamon, and sliced almonds in a small bowl
  6. Sprinkle topping over cake batter
  7. Bake at 350° for 25-35 minutes
  8. Cool and serve

5 Surprising (and Useful!) Ways to Save for a Down Payment

One of the biggest misconceptions of home buying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down-payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1. Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

3. Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4. Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back.

Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

Article by ERIK SHERMAN

5 Bathroom Things You’ll Hate If You Install Them

There is one paint color you must avoid at all costs (see #5).

A clean, well-planned, and stunning bathroom is every homeowner’s goal. But creating it can be a bit of a sticky wicket.

All that water, humidity, and artificial lighting, and those tight corners make the space a real challenge. Don’t make it worse by wasting money on materials that won’t withstand the task or will need replacing when they don’t work out. Dodge bad bathroom decisions by avoiding these five things:

#1 Wallpaper

In a high-steam area such as a bathroom, wallpaper may start to peel in a few years, according to some designers. In fact, steam is used to strip old wallpaper off walls.

Despite the many photos of stylish, wallpapered bathrooms in magazines, unless it’s a half-bath or guest bath that’s seldom used, skip it. Really want the unique look wallpaper provides? Try a solid vinyl wall covering instead. It won’t allow moisture to seep through.

#2 Laminate Flooring

Love the look and affordability of laminate flooring? Use it in another room. Water and laminate floors don’t mix. Even tiny amounts of water will seep between the planks, causing them to expand, peel, swell, and lift from the floor.

Even laminate manufacturers advise against installing in high moisture areas. The good news? There are plenty of other products out there that work extremely well in bathrooms. Take another look at linoleum. It’s eco-friendly, budget-friendly, and comes in a wide variety of looks.

#3 Slippery or Glossy Tile or Stone

Many ceramic, porcelain, and stone floors will become slippery in wet conditions. The more polished a tile, the more likely it will become slippery when wet.

Solution: Select your bathroom floor surface carefully, vetting each against slippery conditions. Look for tiles certified to meet slip-resistance standards specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

#4 Wall-to-Wall Carpet

Carpet, while soft and comfy, isn’t ideal flooring in a powder room. Not only is the ick factor apparent, especially around the toilet, but mold and mildew can build up, which can cause health issues. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically advises against carpeting bathrooms to avoid mold exposure.

If you really want the cozy touch of carpet in the bathroom, fluffy bath mats add color and comfort — and can be regularly laundered.

#5 Yellow Paint

When selecting paint colors, remember that color will appear more intense on your bathroom walls than it would in most other rooms, especially if the bathroom relies heavily on artificial lighting.

“In that smaller space, where the mirror multiplies the impact of the lighting, the walls tend to reflect and magnify color from other walls,” says Amy Bell, an interior decorator and owner of Red Chair Home Interiors in Cary, N.C. Be especially wary of yellow or other colors that contain yellow — even neutrals — as yellow can feel brash in a bathroom, and you won’t like what you see in the mirror. Instead, opt for grays with a hint of green or blue, which can feel spa-like.

Article by JENNIFER NELSON

How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard, Sandbox, and Other Favorite Haunts

If you’re wondering how to keep cats out of your yard, you’re not alone. Sure, they’re cute. They’re cuddly. And if they’re yours, cats can be amazing companions (no matter what all those dog lovers say). Yet outside your doors, there are an estimated 80 million feral cats in America, plus hundreds of thousands more whose owners let them roam the neighborhood, causing trouble.

So when the local felines decide your yard is the place to stage a catfight at 2 a.m. or that your toddler’s sandbox is their restroom of choice, most homeowners will want to know how to keep cats out of the yard. After all, you can’t exactly put up a “no cats allowed” sign and trust they’ll steer clear. So here are some proven tactics to keep felines at bay.

How to keep cats out of your kids’ sandbox

This is a classic gripe for homeowners. After all, “eliminating in a sandy mixture is natural cat behavior,” says Casey Coke Murphy, pet behaviorist at Mars Petcare in Franklin, TN. In other words, an open sandbox is basically a public bathroom as far as the neighborhood kitties are concerned.

The solution? Top your box with a lid. This will not only keep the cats out, but also prevent rain from turning your kids’ play space into a mud pit. Barring that, Coke Murphy suggests scattering citrus peels around the perimeter.

“Most cats do not like citrus scents and will avoid it as a result,” she explains. (Who knew?)

How to keep cats out of your garden

Although their canine counterparts are better known for digging giant holes, cats love loose dirt and can do some serious damage to a garden. Even if they’re not pawing up the ground, all it takes is a cat napping among your flowers to put a serious dent in your landscaping.

Picking your plants wisely can help deter the neighborhood cats from moving in, says David Holt, landscape foreman for D&R Excavating and Landscaping in Glen Spey, NY. Holt recommends his clients plant fragrant herbs such as rosemary, lavender, or lemon balm. You can also sprinkle diluted lemon juice or orange oil on foliage, he says, much like the citrus peel trick for your sandbox.

How to keep cats out of garbage cans

Feral cats tend to be scavengers, and that means the scent of your garbage is mighty attractive to a hungry feline. If you have the sort of trash that’s full of fragrant delicacies (to a cat, anyway), you’ll want to keep it indoors for as long as possible—until trash day if you can, says Coke Murphy. That includes leftover chicken, fish, and other treats cats love.

If you keep your garbage outdoors, you can invest in a new set of trash cans with closable locking lids that will prove too hard to open for neighborhood kitties. If they can’t get in, they’re bound to move on to another house where they can feast.

How to keep cats out of your yard

If the cats in your yard seem to be strays—say, they have no collar and appear malnourished—you can also see whether they can be adopted so they have a true home. Call your local animal shelter and inquire whether it will take in cats for adoption. If the cats in question seem too feral to be a good pet, another option is catch and release, where rescue organizations humanely trap the cats and make sure they’re vaccinated and neutered to help control the cat population in your area.

And, of course, whatever you do, don’t feed any strays that show up at your door—which is a surefire way to keep them coming around (and telling all their friends, too).

Article by Jeanne Sager

6 Laundry Room Ideas to Make Washing Clothes Actually Enjoyable

A pile of dirty clothes can be a big and odorous drag, but smart laundry room ideas and storage solutions can make doing the wash less of a hassle. You know already that laundry never ends—there’s always another basket of sweaty workout gear and used towels right around the corner—but fortunately, it doesn’t have to take place in a dark basement anymore.

Some of today’s trendiest homes are shining a spotlight on tricked-out laundry rooms, complete with useful—and stylish—design elements. So grab that fabric softener and check out how to create your own fabulous spin zone.

Install in places with high foot traffic

When considering the laundry’s location, look at the available space, along with the flow of your house and your family’s habits.

“It’s important for young families to have the laundry room off the kitchen,” says interior designer Carole Marcotte, of Form & Function in Raleigh, NC. Swapping out loads can take place while cooking dinner and overseeing homework.

Situating a laundry room near (or in) the kitchen or bath also takes advantage of existing plumbing. Or you might scope out a linen or hall closet, which already has shelving for supplies and slim space for stackable appliances.

Choose water-resistant materials

Protecting the floor and countertops from moisture is essential because your tasks will include soaking stained clothes in a nearby sink and transferring damp clothes from one machine to another. Whether you’re buying a home with a laundry room or doing a full-on renovation, make sure the floor is water-resistant, made out of a material such as poured concrete, stone, or budget-friendly linoleum or vinyl (both of which are easier to care for than wood).

Laminate counters and ceramic tile are other on-budget details, while cork flooring is comfy on the feet for those hours spent sorting and folding laundry.

For quick cleanup on walls and cabinets, choose semigloss or high-gloss paint that wipes clean.

Consider making it a multipurpose room

Dedicating an entire room to laundry isn’t feasible in every house, so combining the laundry room with an area for washing pets is a smart solution. A kitchen or bathroom is another spot ripe for double duty with laundry. And if you like to garden, plan out some space near the washer/dryer for arranging and potting flowers and planting seedlings.

Size it right

Don’t go too large with this space.

“A laundry room should be big enough to handle the washing needs of the home but not so big that it becomes a cluttered mess,” notes Marty Basher, a home organization expert with Modular Closets.

Declutter this spot regularly and then keep it looking nice, especially if you’re thinking of selling (a laundry room needs the same staging love as the rest of the house).

“The laundry room isn’t a sundry store, so don’t let it become a graveyard for old magazines, extension cords, and clothes you’re planning to (someday) donate,” says Mike Callahan, a home stager and Showhomesfranchisee in Chicago.

Offer smart storage solutions

Our favorite part of a well-arranged laundry-centric room is the smart features that make the task of washing clothes a little easier. Start with a laundry hamper in a pull-out bin and several shelves to hold detergent, stain remover, fabric softener, and spray starch. Add in a jar for loose buttons, coins, and tiny toys that drop out of pockets. Other design elements might include overhead cabinets, a pull-down ironing board, and drawers to store scissors and sewing supplies.

“Cabinets should be deep enough to hold big baskets and low enough so you can reach the soap, but high enough to clear the appliances,” explains Julie Green, a designer at Closet Factory.

Julie Ann Disselkamp, an interior decorator and owner of Decorating Den Interiors in Woodbury, MN, likes to install a large sink to soak garments and scrub car mats and vegetables from the garden. Don’t forget a retractable clotheslines or a fold-out rack so you can hang clothes to dry.

Light the way

A window in your laundry room is ideal for both the natural lighting and airflow it gives to a hot room with an overworked dryer. But if that’s not an option, try installing task lighting underneath cabinets for when you do precise work like sewing on buttons and treating tough stains.

Easy-to-install LED strips ($39.88, Home Depot) to put under cabinets are efficient and affordable. Complete the room with an overhead or pendant fixture to light up the room.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Smoked Gouda-Broccoli Soup

Smoked paprika and smoked Gouda give this broccoli-and-cheese soup recipe a double hit of smoky flavor. If you can’t find smoked Gouda, smoked Cheddar gives delicious results as well.

Ingredients

  • 1½ pounds broccoli crowns (2 medium)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups cubed rye bread ( ½-inch pieces)
  • 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
  • 2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper

Preparation

  • Prep 40 m

  • Ready In 40 m

  1. Cut 1½ cups bite-size broccoli florets and set aside. Coarsely chop the remaining broccoli.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add flour and paprika; stir to coat. Add broth and the chopped broccoli. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make croutons: Toss bread with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, or use an immersion blender. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Return the soup to the pan over low heat. Add cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly until it melts before adding more. Stir in the reserved broccoli florets. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in vinegar, salt and white pepper. Serve hot, topped with the croutons.

 

Five Things Happening in the Mortgage Industry Right Now

There are some current trends in the mortgage industry these days that you should be aware of if you plan on purchasing or refinancing a home.

If you have applied for a mortgage loan in recent months, you may have noticed some trends occurring in the industry these days. Some trends are good while others may be holding some people back from enjoying the home-buying process. Here are five things that analysts are predicting will happen in the mortgage industry for the next few months.

Rates Continue to Drop
One of the best things about the current mortgage industry is that mortgage rates continue to drop. As a result, these rates are consistently setting new record lows for mortgage interest rates. This was a shock to many mortgage insiders who thought rates would begin rising again once the autumn season hit. Now, these insiders are saying mortgage rates may continue to drop during the last few months of 2017 and possibly into the first part of 2018. It will be interesting to see just how low these rates will go before they begin to climb or even stabilize.

Fewer Foreclosures Will Occur
If you have been keeping up with the mortgage industry at all, you know that several banks in the country have now put a freeze on thousands of foreclosure proceedings as a result of many bank officials admitting to signing foreclosure paperwork without reading it. This means that they could have signed off on thousands of foreclosures that should have never been approved. When all is said and done, there may be thousands of homeowners who will not be foreclosed upon which leaves fewer foreclosed homes on the market.

The Mortgage Process is Lengthy
The time it takes to process a mortgage and a refinance is very long these days because of underwriting and other factors. Some mortgage lenders are suggesting that home buyers lock in their rates for 60 days when applying for a mortgage because it could take that long just to get the paperwork pushed through. Home appraisers are in high demand which means their schedules are full and they cannot make it to homes as quickly as before to appraise them which only adds to the amount of time it takes to process a mortgage loan. Remember to be patient and diligent during the process and you will be able to see it through.

Jumbo Rates are Falling
A jumbo mortgage is a mortgage loan for an amount larger than $729,750. The mortgage rates for these huge loans are falling faster than those for non-jumbo loans. A couple years ago, these rates were much higher and they didn’t continue to drop until just recently. Currently, rates for jumbo loans are only about 0.75 of a percentage point more than the rate for a regular mortgage loan. Unfortunately, there are not many people who are refinancing their jumbo loans because the underwriting process is very strict and they either do not qualify for the low rates or they simply don’t want to go through the lengthy process.

No-Cost Refinancing is Attracting Homeowners
With mortgage rates at historic lows, many homeowners are refinancing their loans with zero-cost refinances. This term is misleading, however, because homeowners still have to pay closing costs and other fees when they refinance their home. With this type of refinance, though, the homeowner accepts a higher mortgage interest rate in return for paying zero fees and costs to refinance.

Article by CA Hagy

Pretty Projects to Do Now to Avoid Costly Uh-Ohs in Winter

These 6 will give you bragging rights all year.

Ahh. It’s summer. Time for cocktails on the deck, laughter around the fire pit, and … pre-winter maintenance? Come on.

You’re a diligent (enough) homeowner, but who wants to spend their fleeting days of sunshine on a ladder when you could be in a hammock?

You do. (We swear. Bear with us.) There’s one very compelling reason: Summer is when preparing for winter can actually be fun — because it’s not all about HVAC filters and insulation.

It can be about beautifying your home, too.

Oh, make that two compelling reasons: Winter is so. Rough. On. Your. Home. So jump at the sunny chance to do these prep projects now for a home that’s gorgeous, warm, and worry-free when winter does come. Vitamin D boost included.

Upgrade Your Deck So It Won’t Get Slippery — or Rot

Your deck hates winter. Like, even more than you do.

Wintry weather soaks it, freezes it, and makes it swell and shrink repeatedly.

It’s a recipe for wood rot — and an ER visit if you step through the decayed part (hello, co-pay). Even if you come out unscathed, it’ll cost you $8 to $20 a square foot to replace with just basic treated wood.

So why not be proactive and do something to protect your deck, and while you’re at it, make it prettier and more enjoyable for the rest of your summer?

  • Stain it with a gorgeous color to shield against water, mildew, and harsh sun.
  • Give it new post toppers (solar ones are a nice touch).
  • Add some planters for all season color.
  • Maybe even screen your deck and enjoy it bug-free the rest of this summer and fall?

Light Up Your Landscape for Both Beauty and Safety on Dark Nights

You probably barely escaped a lawsuit when your grouchy neighbor (not the fun one) slipped on your dark driveway last January.

Avoid a replay (that could cost you lost work and soaring medical bills) on those how-is-it-dark-already winter evenings.

Some ways to use outdoor lighting:

  • Along driveways, sidewalks, porch and deck rails
  • Motion lights above the garage
  • Rope lights on deck and porch railings
  • Uplighting for trees and other features

LEDs last a long time and don’t use much energy. But they do require hard-wiring, which could require an electrician.

Solar lights don’t need wiring, but the light can be less bright.

Switch Your Fireplace to Gas for Instant Ambiance (and Lower Bills)

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Gas bill has you paying through the nose …

Science lesson: Most of the warm air from your beloved holiday hearth goes right out the chimney instead of into your room.

But you can reverse that climb in your heating bill by converting it to a gas fireplace insert.

Why fireplace inserts are better than wood:

  • You can turn them on and off with a remote.
  • They’ll work even when the power goes out (great during snowstorms, and possibly saving you on hotel bills).
  • They really do help lower heating bills.
  • You can even program some of them to turn on when your house reaches a certain temp.

A fireplace insert will totally revolutionize your winter — but it won’t come cheap. An insert is an investment of about $3,000 to $6,500 installed, says Charlie Turner, president of Cricket on the Hearth, Inc., in Rochester, N.Y., “but you’ll save money by using your furnace less and zone heating your living space better.”

Replace an Old Roof With a Colorful One (That’ll Keep Winter Out — Forever)

We know. You do not want to think about your roof right now.

But multiply that dread times snow, ice, and wind chill, and the appeal of a summer fix begins to emerge.

Plus, trying to make an iffy roof stretch through one more winter can mean ice dams, roof leaks, water in your walls, and interior damage. If that happens, goodbye beach getaways for the next several years.

And, yes, a new roof isn’t nearly as fun as buying that art deco dining table you’ve had your eye on. But then, maybe you haven’t seriously seen metal roofs, which come in some pretty cool colors. It could totally transform your home.

Metal roofs:

  • Never die. Correctly installed, they’ll last as long as your house.
  • Have great resale value because they last so long.
  • Weigh less than other roofs (less stress on your home’s structure).
  • Install faster than shingles because they come in sheets.
  • Shrug off heavy snow; it simply slides off, never sticking around.
  • Come in brighter colors than their muted competition.

They do cost more than traditional shingles, but if you live in an area with heavy snowstorms, and you plan to stick around for awhile, the worry-free nature of them is really sweet.

Wash Your Windows to Invite More Warming Sunlight Inside

You’re spoiled now, but think about how you’ll be salivating for sunlight in about six months.

Do yourself a sunny favor and clean your windows inside and out to bring in warm winter sunshine. You’ll save money on heating bills, brighten your house, and lift your mood.

Doing it now gives you a chance to spot potential issues such as cracked windows, a carpenter bee infestation, or warped siding — and still have time to fix them before temps drop.

If in your heart, you know you’re not going to do that (your heart always knows), a low-hassle option is to take the time in summer to book a pro in the fall — before they get swamped and won’t even answer your calls.

DIY Some Window Treatments to Keep It Cozy at Night

Wait, didn’t we just suggest allowing in the sunshine? Yes, so plan to keep your shades open during the day, but once the sun goes down, you’ll want to keep heat inside and freezing air out.

There’s a pretty neat DIY project called a Kume curtain that originated in Chile (how cool, is that?), which solves that problem.

They’re kind of like shades — but with four insulating layers that trap air, keeping your room toasty. And since you’re DIYing them, you can make them as fun and flattering as you like — while enjoying the last of summer’s warmth.

Article by STACEY FREED

7 Pricing Myths to Stop Believing If You Ever Hope to Sell Your House

Pricing your own home is hard, what with all the history and hopes this magic number entails. Of course, you want to make a profit. Of course, all that money you spent installing a swimming pool or a half-bath will be recouped, because you’re leaving your digs in better shape than when you bought it, right? Right?

Well, not necessarily. Too many home sellers fall prey to myths about home pricing that seem to make sense at first, but don’t jibe with the reality of real estate markets today. To make sure you haven’t bought into any of this malarkey—since the buyers you’re trying to woo sure haven’t—here are some common pricing myths you’ll want to rinse from your brain so you kick off your home-selling venture with realistic expectations. It’s time to get real, folks!

1. You always make money when you sell a home

Sure, real estate tends to appreciate over time: The National Association of Realtors® estimates that home prices will jump 5% by the end of 2017 and continue rising 3.5% in 2018. But selling your home for more than you paid is by no means a given, and your return on investment can vary greatly based on where you live.

The NAR also found, for instance, that the cost of single-family homes increased in about 87% of the metros it studied, but prices actually dropped in 23 markets. So don’t assume you’ll walk away with a profit until you’ve examined what’s up in your area first.

2. Price your house high to make big bucks

We know what you’re thinking: “Hey, it’s worth a shot!” But if you start with some sky-high asking price, you’ll soon come back to Earth when you realize that an overpriced home just won’t sell.

“While the payday might sound appealing, you’re actually sacrificing your best marketing time in exchange for the remote possibility that someone will overpay for your home,” says Kathleen Marks, a Realtor® with United Real Estate in Asheville, NC.

While certain buyers might be suckered in, this becomes far less likely if they’re working with a buyer’s agent who will know all too well when a home is overpriced, and advise their client to steer clear. And this can lead to problems down the road (as our next myth indicates).

3. If your home’s overpriced, it’s no big deal to lower it later

Sorry, but overpricing your home isn’t easily fixed just by lowering it later on. The reason: Homes that have lingered on the market for months—or that have undergone one or more price reductions—make buyers presume that something must be wrong with it. As such, they might still steer clear, or offer even less than the price you’re now asking.

Bottom line: “Price your home appropriately from the beginning for your best shot at having a quick and easy sale,” Marks recommends.

4. Pricing your home low means you won’t make as much money

Similarly, sellers are often leery of pricing their home on the low end. But as counterintuitive as this seems, this strategy can often pay off big-time. Here’s why: Low-priced homes drum up tons of interest, which could result in a bidding war that could drive your home’s price past your wildest dreams.

5. You can add the cost of any renovations you’ve made

Let’s say you overhauled your kitchen or added a deck. It stands to reason that whatever money you paid for these improvements will be recouped in full once you sell—after all, your home’s new owners are inheriting all your hard work.

The reality: While your renovations might see some return on investment, you’ll rarely recoup the whole amount. On average, you can expect to get back 64% of every dollar you spend on home improvements. Plus that profit can vary greatly based on which renovation you do.

Check out this list of common renovations and their return on investmentto know what you can actually expect.

6. A past appraisal will help you pinpoint the right price

If you have an appraisal in hand, from when you bought or refinanced your house, you might think that’s a logical place to start to price your home. It’s not!

An appraisal assigns your home a value based on market conditions at a specific date, so it becomes old news very quickly. In fact, lenders typically won’t accept appraisals that are more than 60 days old.

“Since lenders know markets can change in six months’ time, it’s important for sellers to understand that a previous appraisal is never a reliable source for the current value of a home,” Marks says.

7. Your agent might overprice the house to make a bigger commission

Don’t even go there, says Realtor Raena Janes of RJHomes in Tucson, AZ.

“While it’s true that an agent’s commission is based on the selling price of a house, the disparity will end up being negligible,” she says. For example, the difference in commission between a $300,000 house and one that’s $310,000 is about $150.

“No real estate agent is going to lose a sale for the sake of a couple hundred dollars,” she explains.

What is your home worth? Give us a call or send us an e-mail.

Article by Cathie Ericson

12 Top Tips For Boarding Your Pet

Boarding your dog or cat while you are away from home is less stressful for you and your pet when you prepare in advance.

When you travel, you can’t always bring your furry friends along. If you can’t find a family member or pet sitter to come to your home, take your cat or dog to a boarding facility. There are many options available, but boarding facilities can vary in the services they offer and the accommodations they provide your animal. Use these tips to choose a boarding facility that your pet will consider a second home.

  1. Ask for referrals. Contact pet owners you know in your area and inquire about their experiences with boarding facilities. Make a list of the boarding facilities that your friends recommend and list any pros and cons they mention. Also, ask your veterinarian for suggestions.
  2. Check them out. Once you have a list of potential boarding facilities, visit each one in person. Find out if someone is on the premises at all times and if a veterinarian is on call 24/7. Meet the staff to see how friendly and knowledgeable they are about cats and dogs, and seek out any specific staff members that will be assigned your pet’s care. Also, check for overall cleanliness of the property, the size of the enclosures, and if the animals (mostly dogs) have protected access to the outdoors. Be sure the facility is heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer.
  3. Read the rules. Most good boarding facilities will insist that your pet be up-to-date on its inoculations. Bring a copy of your pet’s health record with you as you tour the various facilities. That way, if you find a kennel you like, you can register your animal immediately. Also, most boarding facilities will ask that your dog be vaccinated for kennel cough (bordetella) before being dropped off. Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper-respiratory infection that spreads quickly in the close confines of a boarding facility. Check with your veterinarian about the vaccination and do it at least a week before it’s time to board your dog.
  4. Tour the grounds. As you tour each facility, be sure to walk the entire property. Make sure the yard is securely fenced in case of an accidental escape and that there is no uncollected dog waste lying about. The outdoor space should also have an assortment of dog-friendly structures your pet can play on.
  5. Don’t forget Kitty’s needs. Most cats, even those who live with dogs, would probably prefer to relax away from the hustle and bustle and constant barking of the dog runs. If you want your cat to enjoy its time away from home, be sure the boarding facility you choose has a separate soundproof area just for cats. Also, see if they offer a “cat room” where your pet can roam around for a few hours each day and stretch its legs. Make sure all litter pans at the facility are clean and that there’s isn’t a strong scent of cat urine when you walk in the room.
  6. Ask for a single room. Make sure the boarding facility you are considering does not double up by putting two dogs in each kennel. If you have two bonded canines and there’s enough space in the kennel, you can ask if they can room together, but never leave your pet at a facility where they’ll make it bunk with a stranger.
  7. Get a copy of your pet’s agenda. Ask the facility if they’ll provide you with an example of what your dog or cat’s day will be like. How often will it be fed? How many hours will it be free to play? Is there supervised time with other pets staying at the same location? Is there a trainer on staff who might teach your dog a few things while you are away? And, do they have webcams in place so you can watch your pet from afar on your computer?
  8. Know the hours. Find out when the facility is open and when you can pick up your pet. There is nothing more frustrating than getting home at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night and discovering you can’t bring your furry friend home until Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. And, if you expect to drop your pet off on the way to the airport, you want to be sure you won’t find a “closed” sign on the front door when you get there.
  9. Keep them healthy. If your pet has any special dietary or health needs, make sure the facility will allow you to bring special food and that they are willing to administer any drugs your pet might need. Even if your dog or cat doesn’t require a special meal, ask if you can bring along your own food so your pet won’t have to change diets while there. And, ask if they can groom or bathe your dog while being boarded. Dogs, in particular, will smell a lot better if they get a bath before you pick them up.
  10. Do a dry run. If you are going to have to board your pet for more than a week, you might want to do a “dry run” ahead of time by leaving it at the facility for a weekend. If your dog does well on the sleepover, it will probably be fine for a longer period of time. But, if it comes home stressed, dirty, or upset, you’ll know to look for another location.
  11. Book early. Good boarding facilities book up early, especially during holidays. Make all reservations beforehand, and leave the name, address, and phone number of your local veterinarian with the kennel, along with how and where you or another responsible person can be reached in case of emergency.
  12. Don’t forget your pet’s identification. Your pet should wear a collar with identification tags. You can also take the extra precaution of getting your pet a microchip before being boarded. Collars and tags can get lost, but if your pet has a microchip, it will be much easier to find if it happens to get misplaced while you are traveling.
Article by BY DOUG JIMERSON

4 Wow-Worthy (and Doable!) Upgrades for Blah-Like Kitchens

Take it from this first-time homeowner, you’ll want these brag-worthy problem-solvers once you buy.

Designing a kitchen or bathroom is one of those things I tend to geek out over — choosing the right tile, paint colors, and, of course, there’s my obsession with butcher block counters. But some features are the kinds of things I don’t realize I wish I had until I see them in action in a real home.

I’m not talking about guitar-shaped toilet seats or movie-themed showerheads. Rather it’s those modern and stylish additions that randomly pop up on my radar and scream “dream kitchen” or “the bathroom I probably would never leave.” (On second thought, that sounds more like a bad restaurant review.)

Even though I’ve gotten through most of my current home’s kitchen renovations, I never really intended on making my first home the one I’ll live in forever. So, if I ever find myself on a new house hunt (which, who knows, could be in just a few short years!), these are the top features that have now made it on my wish list that weren’t there before.

#1 Soft-Closing Drawers Instead of Lower Cabinets

When I remodeled my kitchen, I knew it would be way beyond my budget to install new cabinets; painting the existing ones was pretty much my best option. But should I ever move into a house where I gut the cabinetry and install new, adding soft-closing drawers below the counter seems like the smart choice.

Not only does it nix the potential to injure myself on a half-closed drawer (I’ve already got enough mysterious leg bruises, thank you), but I prefer the accessibility of drawers for things like pots and pans instead of digging through a cabinet.

For the same reasons, I also like drawers for bathroom renovations. It’s a great use of hidden storage space, like if you can add one to a toe-kick near the floor.

#2 Fingerprint- and Spot-Resistant Everything

Finishes like stainless steel, chrome, brass, and brushed gold have been extremely popular over the last 10 years. But when it comes to shopping for surfaces I use several times a day, I think it’s important to put more thought into its function too. So, for my next house or next home remodel, I know that I’ll be paying a lot more attention to finishes that are specifically labeled as “spot” or “fingerprint” resistant.

When I installed my faucet, one of the nifty features about the finish was that it was a new color called “slate” that was supposed to be resistant to fingerprints and water spots. While it seems to differ by manufacturer as to the name of this type of finish, the color appears to be not quite “stainless” but not quite “nickel,” either — it’s some kind of in-between style. Yet it still works with the other appliances I’ve already put in.

More and more companies seem to be offering similar “spotless” finishes on their newer appliances and faucets, so I hope it’s a long-term trend I can take advantage of when I need to decorate a new kitchen. I can see this finish being especially useful for things like bathroom faucet handles, too. They get splattered with soap, toothpaste, etc., the most.

#3 Bluetooth-Enabled or Voice-Activated Devices

Bluetooth speakers aren’t exactly a novel concept, but they’re also (IMO) easily forgotten when designing. It absolutely makes sense to incorporate quality speakers into the rooms where you listen to music the most.

I installed a Bluetooth speaker/fan/ceiling light in my guest bathroom a while back, and while it’s awesome for singing (loudly) in the shower and provides great sound quality, I’d prefer it have one improvement: I’d love it if it used a voice system like Alexa (such as the Echo or Echo Dot) or Google Home instead of a remote.

The remote is useless when I’m all soaped up in the shower, and I’ve found that using a voice-activated speaker system is incredibly handy (pun intended?) when I’m cooking in the kitchen. I just added an Amazon Echo Dot to the kitchen (see picture below), and it has made cooking and doing dishes a far more enjoyable activity!

As time goes on, I imagine there’ll be more opportunities to mount or include such an item in a home’s design, rather than have it as a separate item on a counter surface (similar to how USB chargers are being added to outlets and wireless charging pads are being incorporated into furniture).

#4 Deep, Single-Basin Sinks

I have this feature in my current kitchen, and when I daydream about a future kitchen, the sink stays the same! I spent a long time debating this when I picked out my sink, and I still LOVE that mine is really deep and has only one basin. It makes it really easy to fill pots and clean cookie sheets without having to play Jenga with other things I’m washing. I also think it makes it easier to keep clean — it just takes one simple sweep.

Once I start going down the rabbit hole of things to splurge on next time, the list tends to grow insanely fast, but it’s nice to take a break from the tedium of scrubbing my outdoor patio to daydream every once in awhile.

Article by SARAH FOGLE

Is a Mortgage Pre-Approval Letter Necessary to Make an Offer on a House?

Is a mortgage pre-approval letter necessary to make an offer on a house? The short answer is no. However, if you want your offer to be taken seriously and to stand out from any competing bids, this little piece of paperwork can really give you the edge.

“While you do not ‘need’ a pre-approval letter from your lender in order for your offer to be accepted, I highly recommend all of my buyers present it,” says Denise Shur, a Realtor® with 1:1 Realty in San Jose, CA. In fact, “I do not look for homes with my buyers until they have a pre-approval letter from their lender. To me, it’s that important.”

What is mortgage pre-approval?

Basically, a mortgage pre-approval letter is a guarantee from a lender that it’s willing to finance your home purchase up to a certain dollar amount, based on financial info you’ve shared with it, such as your pay stubs and tax returns. Pre-approval should not be confused with pre-qualification.

For that reason, pre-qualification can be done instantly, while it can take up to five days to be pre-approved. So is seeking pre-approval a good idea for you?

2 times a mortgage pre-approval letter isn’t necessary

The only buyer who definitely doesn’t require a pre-approval letter is one paying in cold, hard cash. Since this buyer doesn’t need a home loan, sellers know that they can move forward without fear that lack of financing might hold things up, says Jane Peters, broker and owner of Home Jane Realty in Los Angeles.

Another time when pre-approval might not be necessary is if you’re the ideal home buyer—meaning you’ve got a stable job and a solid credit history. This suggests you’ll have no problem getting approved for a loan, so in this case, mortgage pre-qualification may be enough to please the home sellers and their listing agent, at least at the outset.

3 times a mortgage pre-approval letter is a must

Yet outside this thin sliver of all-cash offers and impeccable buyers lies a huge swath of people who really should get that mortgage pre-approval letter before they make an offer. See if you fall within any of these buckets below.

  • You’re a less-than-ideal home buyer. If your credit worthiness is in any way questionable, getting pre-approval can really help put home sellers at ease. So if your credit history is spotty (say, a credit score below 640), you’re self-employed, there are gaps in your employment or you have less than two years of employment history, “It’s advisable to take it a step farther and get pre-approved,” says Ricamore.
  • You’re in a hot market. With much of the country in a sellers’ market, when it comes to helping you stand out from all the other home buyers, “You need to bring out the big guns,” says Peters. Or in the words of Shur, “When the sellers see an offer with a pre-approval letter, they instantly have more confidence that you are serious, qualified, intend to close, and are on top of your game.”
  • You’re not sure how much house you can afford. “Our team has had people completely readjust their budget after getting a pre-approval and finding out that they were nowhere near the price range they had expected,” agrees Christy Murdock Edgar, a Realtor in the northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., market.

If you don’t have a pre-approval letter, your offer should include a financing contingency, which binds you to this deal only if you can secure a mortgage. Such contingencies make sellers wary, since closing will hinge on a huge “What if…?” This is why you might want to strengthen your offer by arming yourself with this letter.

How to get mortgage pre-approval

If you’re convinced you must get a mortgage pre-approval letter, make sure you get the best one possible, by shopping around.

“All lenders are not created equal; you’ve got to compare and contrast to find the right one,” Ricamore says. “If you need to close quickly, you need a lender that can get it done fast rather than drag their feet. If you need to win a multiple-offer situation, you need a lender that the listing agent trusts.” So be sure to ask your lenders questions like how long it will take to get pre-approved, and whether they’ve worked with particular real estate brokerages in the area where you’re hoping to buy.

“One misconception I hear a lot is that if you apply for a mortgage with multiple companies, they’ll pull your credit, and that will hurt your score,” Ricamore notes. While it’s true that applying for a mortgage will impact your score, “Companies know that rate shopping happens,” he says, and “credit inquiries for a mortgage within 30 days are only calculated as one inquiry for the same type of loan.”

In other words, there are very few downsides—and many benefits—to getting this helpful letter in hand.

Article by 

When Are You Committed to a Real Estate Agent? The Exclusivity Question Explained

When are you committed to a real estate agent? That’s a good question to ponder if you’re shopping for a home, since you can’t just hopscotch from one agent to the next indefinitely. Still, if you’re in the very early stages of the home-buying process, it’s often unclear when you and your real estate agent are “going steady.” So when does exclusivity kick in?

As with all relationships, making assumptions on this without clear communication can end up awkwardly. So, we’re here to help you navigate this tricky territory. Here’s the deal on when you’re legally and ethically bound to your buyer’s agent—or, if you’re unhappy, how to consciously uncouple and move on.

Why agents demand exclusivity

Why would a buyer’s agent need to work with you exclusively, anyway? Because unlike most professionals who receive a steady paycheck, agents typically get paid only by commission—in other words, a cut of the real estate deal if it goes through. So when showing you properties, answering your questions, and negotiating on your behalf, a buyer’s agent is essentially working for free. As such, in order for him to devote the time and energy it takes to see this through, he’ll want to know you won’t bail and switch to another agent to get you through the final leg of closing—right when the first agent is expecting a sweet payback for all his work!

“As a Realtor®, we feel like we put a lot of time and effort into making sure you see properties,” says Lana Lavenbarg with Re/Max Ideal Brokers in Grants Pass, OR. “So if you go to someone else, we have just wasted a lot of time.”

Did you sign a buyer’s agent agreement?

Some agents will ask you to sign something called a buyer’s agent agreement before they start showing you homes. This is basically a contract between you and the agent in which you both agree to an exclusive working arrangement for a period of time, typically six months.

Once you sign a buyer’s agent agreement, you are legally obligated to work with that agent. So, it’s wise to read this document carefully. If you try to switch to a different agent during this period without canceling this contract, you could land in legal hot water.

“The first agent has the right to the full commission in mediation court,” says Beatrice Stambulski, an agent in Sherman Oaks, CA.

How to terminate a buyer’s agent agreement

Bottom line: If you signed a buyer’s agent agreement, you should stick with that agent if you’re generally happy with him. That said, if you’re unhappy with your agent, you are by no means stuck.

If you signed a buyer’s agent agreement and don’t want to continue your relationship, you can ask the agent to cancel the contract, says Lou Sansevero, a Realtor at Reynolds Realty Gulf Coast. Generally speaking, an agent doesn’t want to continue working with a disgruntled client. Here’s more on how to terminate a buyer’s agent contract.

What if you haven’t signed a buyer’s agent agreement?

If you didn’t sign a buyer’s agent agreement, you are not legally tied to that agent, and can move on whenever you please. That said, after meeting an agent more than once, some (less experienced agents usually) might think (or at least hope) you two are together until closing. To avoid such an awkward misunderstanding, it’s best if you voice your expectations upfront—ideally before the agent has shown you a home.

“Having an agent show you properties first is like putting the horse before the carriage,” says Rosanne Nitti, a Realtor with RMN Investments & Realty Services in Laguna Beach, CA. Instead, if you’re unsure about using his services, “Tell the Realtor you are ‘interviewing’ him.”

If you aren’t sure you want to stick with a particular agent after an initial meeting, simply let him know you are undecided. Then interview several more agents and decide on one that you like working with.

“We all have access to the same information, so it’s just a matter of who you are most comfortable with,” Nitti says.

“Once you’ve found this special agent, you should sign a buyer’s agent agreement to make it official. This means you can both move forward with confidence—which is important when you’re embarking on something as huge as buying a home.

“Buyer loyalty is always an issue with agents,” says Nitti. “You wouldn’t want to work for free, and neither do we. Time, effort, and even gas should be respected.”

Article by Margaret Heidenry

How to Reduce Pet Allergens at Home

Cute but hazardous

Pets can be your best friends. If you have allergies or asthma, they can also be your worst enemy.

Pets shed dander, a combination of dead skin cells and hair (or feathers), which can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the allergens. (Cold-blooded pets such as snakes and turtles do not produce dander.)

Some guidelines recommend that people with allergies or asthma avoid keeping pets—especially cats. If a doctor says that you—or your child’s—allergies or asthma is aggravated by dander, you may ultimately need to find a new home for your pet. However, there are several ways you can cut down on pet allergens at home.

Minimize contact

You can reduce dander in your home by keeping your pet outdoors as much as possible. At the very least, you should bar pets from bedrooms where people with allergies or asthma sleep.

Children with allergies should also avoid petting or touching animals. If they do come into contact with a pet, they should wash their hands thoroughly.

Restricting pets to rooms with wood floors may also help. Wood flooring traps less dander than carpet and is easier to clean; keeping pets off carpet may help cut down on allergens.

Keep Fluffy off the couch

Keeping pets off carpets, upholstered furniture, and beds can reduce exposure to dander. (Using allergen-resistant bedding will help fend off any dander that does find its way into bedrooms.) Keeping pets out of cars—or restricting them to a tailgate area, if possible—is also a good idea.

In addition, any furniture, fabrics, or materials that pets do come into contact with should be vacuumed or washed frequently. This includes throw rugs, pet beds, cushions, pillows, and blankets.

Clean, clean, clean

Dusting as often as possible will keep dander (as well as dust mites and other allergens) to a minimum. Vacuuming, however, may not get all the allergens from the lower levels of a rug and may stir up a bit of dander as you clean. It may help to use vacuums equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or double bags. However, it’s still a good idea to dust or vacuum when the person with allergies or asthma is not at home.

Replacing wall-to-wall carpets with wood floors will make it easier to remove dander.

Close registers

If you have forced-air heating and air conditioning, closing air registers may reduce the amount of animal dander that circulates through your home. If closing all of the registers isn’t practical, try closing those in the rooms where asthmatic or allergic individuals spend the most time (especially bedrooms).

Replacing the filter in your furnace or air conditioner with a HEPA filter and/or purchasing a room air cleaner may also help. Studies on the effectiveness of these methods have been inconclusive, however. (See our air cleaner buying guide for more information.)

Bathe your pet

Research shows that frequently bathing your pet reduces the allergens found in their dander.

A 1999 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology compared the levels of allergens in dog dander before and after a five-minute bath with an unnamed “proprietary shampoo” (which could describe an allergen-reducing shampoo such as Groomax). The researchers found that the bath reduced the dogs’ allergen levels by about 85% (pdf). But the allergen levels returned to normal in about three days, which suggests that dogs need to be washed at least twice a week.

Similar studies using cats have had mixed but generally less encouraging results.

Clean cages

Though hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, and other pets typically confined to cages tend to be less problematic for allergy and asthma sufferers, dander and urine produced by these pets can still provoke allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

Birdcages and rodent cages should be cleaned at least once a week and, if possible, the cages should be moved outside to a garage or shed. Likewise, litter boxes should be cleaned frequently and moved out of living areas.

8 Popular Tips That Cost Homeowners More in the Long Run

Hacks and advice that are more hurtful than helpful.

You’re always on the lookout for smart ideas and hacks to manage your home (and save money!) — whether that means listening to the wisdom of your parents who’ve owned a home longer than you’ve been alive, or scouring every corner of the internet for savvy tips.

But just because a tip has been pinned, shared, and Instagrammed thousands of times doesn’t make it smart. Here are eight tips (myths, really) that most people believe are good advice, but instead will cost you cash you don’t need to spend:

Myth #1: Lemons Are Great for Cleaning Garbage Disposals

What it could cost you: A plumber’s visit (and maybe a new disposal)

Proceed with caution when it comes to this well-circulated DIY fix. Citric acid is a natural deodorizer, but plumbing experts say it can corrode the metal in your disposal. That tough lemon peel can also damage the grinding components and clog your pipes. Next thing you know you’re Googling reviews for plumbers.

The better way: Turn on the disposal and, while running cold water, dump in two or more trays of ice cubes. Despite the clamor, this will safely dislodge buildup on the walls and the impellers, which grind up the food. Use vinegar to deodorize.

Myth #2: Use Duct Tape to Seal Ductwork

What it could cost you: Pricier energy bills

Despite its name, don’t rely on duct tape to seal leaks in your HVAC’s ductwork. Testing by the U.S. Department of Energy found it deteriorates over just a few years (hot air from the HVAC system degrades the glue), letting conditioned air escape without doing its job.

The better way: Use duct mastic (a gooey substance kind of like caulk that dries after applied) to seal metal and flexible ductwork, and use it along with a layer of fiberglass mesh for gaps larger than 1/16 of an inch wide. Use gloves with metal ducts because the edges can be sharp, and mastic is messy stuff.

Myth #3: Bleach Will Banish Mold

What it could cost you: A threat to your health, plus hundreds of $ (even thousands)

Although bleach can kill mold on non-porous surfaces, it isn’t effective on absorbent or porous materials — you know, the places it loves to lurk, like grout, caulk, drywall, insulation, and carpet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, it just bleaches it so you can’t see it. And diluted bleach can feed future mold growth (yikes!) because only the water will be absorbed, which mold just loves.

The better way: Use a commercial anti-fungal product to take out mold at its roots. And only tackle mold removal yourself if the area is less than 10 square feet and you use protective gear, such as a respirator and chemical-resistant gloves. Otherwise, call in a mold remediation specialist who’ll know how to remove it without spreading it’s yucky (and potentially harmful) spores.

Related:  How to Get Rid of Mold Forever

Myth #4: Change Your HVAC Filter Every Month

What it could cost you: Around $100 a year

Although the air filter should be changed regularly to keep your home’s HVAC system operating efficiently, this piece of advice is more of a convenient general rule that could cause you to throw away perfectly good filters (and money!).

“The harsh truth is that it’s easier to say, ‘Do it every month’ and know that means people might do it every three or four months,” says homeowner advocate Tina Gleisner of Home Tips for Women.

The better way: The Department of Energy recommends checking, but not necessarily changing, your air filter every month. Change it if it looks dirty, replacing it at least once every three months.

Myth #5: Buy a Rinse Aid for Spot-Free Dishes

What it could cost you: Dollars instead of cents

Most dishwashers now come with a built-in dispenser for commercial rinse aids, plus a free sample to get you started. So now you’re hooked (spot-free glasses every time!), and it has become a regular item on your shopping list, even if it does cost almost $4 for 8 ounces.

The better way: If you’ve never tried, run your dishwasher without a rinse aid. If your water is soft, your dishwasher may deliver spot-free sparkle without any extra help. But if you’re still seeing spots, just fill the rinse-aid dispenser with plain white vinegar (less than a 50 cents for 8 ounces).

Money Tip: Rinse aid does help dishes dry faster, which stops those annoying wet drips from top rack to bottom when you unload. But instead of spending money, unload the bottom rack first while letting the top rack air dry.

Related: Which Homemade Dishwashing Detergent Is Best?

Myth #6: Home Improvement is Always a Good Investment

What it could cost you: Thousands of dollars in disappointment

Dreaming of diving into your own pool or adding a second bath to put an end to those morning squabbles? That’s the beauty of owning your own home, you can renovate to make all your dreams come true. And you’ll get money back on most any improvement you do, but don’t expect it for all improvements. FYI: A new bath returns 52% of its cost.

The better way: First off, your own happiness matters, so by all means, follow your remodeling bliss if you’re financially able. But if payback is important, do some research and talk to a REALTOR® who knows what buyers are seeking in your market. The Remodeling Impact Report from The National Association of REALTORS® (the sponsor of HouseLogic) is a fantastic resource to get the scoop on what projects will boost your equity the most. For example, it points out that small projects such as an insulation upgrade, refinishing floors, and even seeding your lawn will recoup almost all, and in some cases more than, your original investment.

Related: Find Out What Projects Have the Best Return on Investment

Myth #7: Put Dryer Sheets in Air Vents for a Sweet Smell

What it could cost you: Higher energy bills and a potential fire hazard

Social media PSA: Thousands of pins and shares do not mean a remedy is smart or safe. If you follow this popular hack, you’ll block the flow of air in your vents, making your HVAC system work harder and increasing your energy costs. The blockage even can pose a fire risk when the furnace is pumping out hot air.

The better way: If fragrant air is what you’re after, there are no shortage of options available that won’t burn your house down. Give each room — or each day — a signature scent with all-natural scented candles, sprays, oils, and aromatherapy devices. If you’re seeking a scent to mask an offensive odor, however, it’s important to find and remove the source. Some stinky suspects — like mold, mildew, sewage, and gas leaks — can carry health risks.

Myth #8: Product Warranties Will Save on Repair Costs

What it could cost you: $50 to $100 or more

The last time you bought a major appliance or even a hand mixer, you were probably offered a warranty or service plan. While marketed to cover repair costs, these contracts typically cost more than you would ever spend to fix an item. And keep in mind that most manufacturers offer at least a 90-day warranty anyway.

The better way: Maintain the appliance as recommended by the manufacturer, and smartly stash the dollars you would spend on a warranty in a repair fund instead. Also, buy with a major credit card, such as AmEx or Visa. Many credit card companies extend product warranties (for free!) up to a year or so. Might be worth checking to see if yours does.

Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT

Almond cherry protein cookies

A HIGH PROTEIN, HEARTY, HEALTHY COOKIE FILLED WITH ALMOND, ALMOND BUTTER AND CHERRIES.

They’ve got 10g of protein each and they’re filled with goodies like almond butter, cherries and walnuts. They’re sweet enough to feel like a treat around 2pm when everyone is flocking to the ice cream sandwich social break and healthy and hearty enough to double as breakfast in a pinch.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons dried cherries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together all wet ingredients in a small bowl.
  4. Pour wet into dry and mix with a spatula until fully incorporated.
  5. Drop cookie dough onto baking sheet in large spoonfuls.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes. They’ll still be soft to the touch, but starting to brown on the bottoms.
  7. Let cool on sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to cool completely on a wire rack.

5 Most Common Questions About Mortgages—Answered

Not exactly sure how a mortgage works? Don’t feel bad—the average home buyer doesn’t either. The whole process is filled with head-scratching questions, from how big a down payment has to be to why your interest rate isn’t as great as you’d hoped. To help clear up some of your confusion, here are some of the most common questions home buyers ask about mortgages, as well as some expert answers.

Q: Do I really need a 20% down payment?

A: The gold standard for a down payment is 20%, but if you don’t have the cash, there are plenty of ways to put down less and still get a house. Topping the list: A Federal Housing Administration loan lets borrowers put down as little as 3.5%, but you’ll need to meet certain qualifications, including a minimum credit score of 500 and steady employment for at least two years.

And if you’re active or retired military (or a surviving spouse of a veteran), a Veteran Affairs loan allows you to put 0% down, says Todd Sheinin, mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD. And those aren’t the only workarounds; some counties and states offer loan programs that enable borrowers with low income to receive a down payment subsidy.

Q: Why is my mortgage’s interest rate offer higher than the one I saw advertised?

A: If you see an ad for a remarkably low rate, take a closer look and you’ll notice a disclaimer (typically an asterisk) saying this is the best possible rate. To nab it, you’ll need a high credit score (750 or above) and a low loan-to-value ratio, which essentially means you’re making a sizable down payment of at least 40% of the home’s price, says Richard Redmond, a mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

But if your borrowing scenario is not that spectacular, you’re considered more of a risk—and your interest rate will rise to reflect that. In addition to your credit score and loan-to-value ratio, it will depend on your loan size, the type of property you’re buying (e.g., condo versus single-family house). Bottom line: Read the fine print when evaluating your loan options.

Q: Is a 30-year fixed-rate loan the best option?

A: While the 30-year loan with a fixed interest rate may be the first mortgage most home buyers think of getting, “there’s no one-size-fits-all loan option,” says Redmond. For instance, although adjustable-rate mortgages have a bad rap, ARMs do make sense in certain circumstances—like if you plan to move soon, before the rates adjust. They may also make sense if you can’t afford a home with a fixed-rate mortgage, since those interest rates are slightly higher.

Meanwhile, a 15-year loan might make more sense than one for 30 years if you have enough cash to cover the bigger monthly bills. Why? Because you’ll end up paying far less in interest. For instance, if you get a 30-year mortgage on a $250,000 loan at 3.58% (the current interest rate), you’ll pay $1,134 per month and $168,628 in interest by the time those 30 years are up. Buy that same home with a 15-year loan at today’s 2.86% (the shorter time you borrow the money, the lower the rate), and your monthly payments balloon to $1,710—but you’ll pay only $43,306 in interest by the time you’re done. (Use realtor.com®’s mortgage calculator to get a rough idea of the numbers before meeting with a lender.)

Q: What is private mortgage insurance, and why do I need it?

A: If you’re using conventional nongovernment financing and can’t afford to make a 20% down payment, you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance. PMI kicks in if you end up unable to pay your mortgage. Since your lender loses money in this scenario, PMI pays it benefits to offset that loss. You can expect to pay about 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan in PMI. This can be a sizable sum, but it may make sense if you want to buy a home now rather than wait until you can amass a bigger down payment.

“PMI has a negative connotation, but it’s not the worst thing in the world,” says Sheinin. Another option? Have your lender cover the mortgage insurance. You’ll pay a higher interest rate, but “it’s often cheaper than paying PMI yourself each month,” says Sheinin.

Q: What happens if I can’t pay my mortgage?

A: Depending on the lender, you may have a grace period of a week or more to make the payment, says Craig Jaffe, a financial planner at United Capital in Boca Raton, FL. Miss the deadline and your account becomes “delinquent,” which can immediately hurt your credit score. Know you’re going to miss a payment? Notify the lender in advance to find out your options.

“You might be able to qualify for a forbearance, which provides a period of relief from making the full payment,”  says Jaffe.

Article by Daniel Bortz

The Best Way to Remove Wallpaper Without Losing Your Sanity

These wallpaper removal tips (secrets!) and tools turn the worst DIY gig into a no-brainer.

What would you do to avoid removing wallpaper? Probably whatever you could, judging by the stories of woe we found on the web.

DIYer Rachel Meeks wrote in her “Small Notebook” blog that she was so overwhelmed by the prospect of removing 40-year-old wallpaper from several rooms that she actually knocked down a couple of walls rather than spend time scraping.

If only she’d checked. She would have found t’s actually a fairly simple DIY project so long as you have the right info, tools, and expectations. (It’s gonna take some time!)

First, Check to See If Your Walls Were Primed

Anyone who’s managed to remove wallpaper lickety-split likely (and luckily) had walls that were sealed with wallpaper primer before they were papered, says Geoff Sharp, owner and founder of Sharper Impressions Painting Co., which operates in several cities including Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Priming became more common in the 1990s. It prevents the wet glue from soaking into plaster or drywall and forming a tough-to-break bond.

Loosen a corner or seam with a putty knife and pull. If it peels off in a sheet, you got primed!

Being able to peel off wallpaper in complete or partial sheets after lifting the corners with a putty knife is called dry stripping.

With well-primed walls, dry stripping should work for the entire job and you could finish a room in a couple of hours at most.

Water Works Miracles on Getting Rid of Wallpaper

“Wallpaper glue is water based, so water is a super-efficient remover,” says vlogger Chris Berry, known as The Idaho Painter, who owns B&K Painting in Boise. “It works so well, we use it instead of chemical wallpaper strippers on both drywall and plaster.”

Here’s what to do with water:

  • Score or perforate the paper and its backing in sections so water can soak through and loosen the glue. The pros recommend a scoring tool called the PaperTiger (under $20) because it doesn’t harm the wall.
  • Douse the perforated paper with hot water using a pump or compression sprayer (under $50). OK, wallpaper-phobics, here’s where the myth that DIY removal is the worst gets legs. The big mistake most people make is using a regular old spray bottle or damp rag to wet the paper. This leads to hours of fruitless scraping (and griping) because the paper and its backing don’t get sufficiently saturated. The sprayer, on the other hand, gives you the firepower to really soak the glue.
  • Let the paper soak for about 15 minutes and scrape it off with a putty knife.

It could take you six hours for an average room, but that’s way better than the days of effort it could take if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Another option for harnessing the power of H20 is steam.

Wallpaper steamers, which you can rent from home improvement or hardware stores, are effective and “much neater [than water] because you’re using moist heat,” says Jason Stratos, owner of Stratos Painting Co. in Springfield, Mass.

But they can be tough for steamer newbies. They’re bulky and awkward to use (done an upper body workout lately?)and it’s possible to burn yourself, warns Gina Paris of Gina Paris Design in Conneaut Lake, Pa.

So if all this sounds like a hassle, stick with a compression sprayer, which is easier to manage.

If you  have woven grasscloth:factor in the extra, painstaking step of tearing off as much of the top layer as possible to expose the backing first, because “the material rips off in thin, stringy shreds,” says Berry.

If wood paneling is underneath: they are the one exception to using water, since water and wood don’t mix. In that case, use a gel chemical stripper that won’t penetrate the wood.

Avoid Chemical Strippers Because of the Fumes

If water is so effective, why does stripper exist? Some pros prefer it because stripper dissolves glue faster than water. But it likely emits low-grade VOCs, or toxic chemicals.

And water is cheap. So why not go au naturel? By the way, if you use stripper, the pros recommend DIF Ultra Concentrate (pricing varies, ranging from about $5 to $35 online).

Don’t Try the Fabric Softener Trick — It’s a Myth

Through the interweb grapevine, you may have heard that fabric softener (diluted with water) is a brag-worthy way to remove old wallpaper. But we couldn’t find a single expert who agrees.

“Fabric softener just makes the process more complicated, smelly, and even messier than using just plain old water,” says Berry. You end up mixing glue with the chemicals from fabric softener. In addition, Berry says fabric softener may harm drywall.

So when it comes to removing wallpaper, the happiest journey (assuming your walls aren’t primed) involves water — and patience.

Article by DEIRDRE SULLIVAN