8 Houseplants That Could Kill You and Your Pets

Houseplants are a decorator’s best friend, adding pops of color and a vibrant touch to even the blandest home interiors. And studies show that they also improve air quality, lower your stress level, generally make you happier, and just might even make you smarter.

But what if those seemingly innocent buds are doing just the opposite? What if they’re actually trying to kill you?  Maybe even your pets?.

Whether they emit toxins or poisonous sap, some plants are far from harmless beauties. Wondering if you just brought home Audrey II? Read on.

1. Oleander

With its intoxicating fragrance and clusters of bright buds and glossy leaves, oleander is popular both indoors and out. But get ready for a buzzkill: every part of it is poisonous. Ingesting it can cause a range of symptoms, from dizziness to vomiting, and may even lead to death (especially in the case of pets and small children).


2. Peace lily

The peace lily, also known as the Mauna Loa plant, is a popular gift because it needs very little maintenance and blooms nearly nonstop. With a little water and a little sunlight, the peace lily can survive forever. However, it’s poisonous both for humans and for pets. Ingestion can cause skin irritation and swelling, trouble speaking, and burning. Doesn’t sound like “peace” to us.


3. Sago palm

In a pot, sago palms stay cute and small, making them ideal for desks and bookshelves.

But don’t be fooled by their adorable appearance—the leaves and seeds are toxic.

While humans may only suffer some discomfort if they ingest it, the plant is extremely dangerous to dogs. (In fact, sago palm poisoning is the No. 1 reason for calls to Animal Poison Control in South Carolina.) If your dog is the curious type, it might be worth getting this plant out of the house. So long, Sago!


4. ZZ plants

ZZ plants grow quickly, aren’t picky about what kind of light they get, and are generally easy to care for, making them a favorite choice for indoor greenery. They’re extremely common and sold at pretty much every garden center in the country. They’re also noxious to humans and pets. While not as dangerous as oleander, we probably wouldn’t keep any around if we had curious kiddos.


5. Snake plant

Because they do just fine in low light, snake plants are common in office spaces and in homes. They’ve even been used as herbal remedies in some parts of the world. But the plants are also poisonous if ingested. Large doses can cause nausea and vomiting, and the poison found in the plant has a numbing effect that can cause the tongue and throat to swell. The plants are more toxic to dogs and cats, which can suffer from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.


6. Lilies

While not generally dangerous to humans, all lilies are highly toxic to cats. And if a lily gets ingested by your kitty, it can lead to kidney failure and even death.


7. Areca palm

While most houseplants actually suck in the stuff in the air that is bad for you—pollutants, carbon dioxide, you name it—some plants do the opposite.

A study from the University of Georgia’s Department of Horticulture found that some plants, such as the areca palm, actually release volatile organic compounds into the air (in addition to removing others). And it’s not just the plants themselves—microorganisms in the soil they grow in were also to blame for releasing VOCs. It’s important to note, though, that researchers haven’t adequately studied the longevity of these compounds, so we don’t know their impact on humans.


8. Weeping fig

The sap that the weeping fig emits is highly toxic. Contact with the sap can lead to itchiness in the eyes, wheezing and coughing, and skin irritations. The weeping fig is poisonous for pets, too—especially parakeets and cats. If any of the plant is ingested, they’re likely to experience irritation of the eyes and skin.

Article by Angela Colley

Smart Options: Basement Flooring

Keeping your basement dry and free of condensation is key to installing the basement flooring of your choice.

Although moisture problems can be a concern for basement finishes, there are many types of flooring that are ideal for basement applications.

The key to successful basement flooring installations is to ensure that the basement is dry and that there is a smooth, flat surface for the new finish material.

Moisture and Humidity

Because the floor of your basement is below grade and the lowest surface within your house, it requires special considerations before flooring can be installed. If your basement has ever been susceptible to water infiltration and flooding, those problems must be remedied before flooring is installed. Sealing your basement from water and moisture infiltration can cost from several hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars or more.

Humidity and condensation are other concerns. Because moist, humid air is heavy, it tends to sink to the lowest part of your house—your basement. There, warm, humid air can come in contact with relatively cool surfaces, such as a concrete slab floor, and condense. Keeping condensation in check during warm, humid months helps ensure that flooring remains stable and free from mold and mildew growth.

Most likely, your existing heating and cooling system is equipped with a dehumidifier that maintains relative humidity (RH) levels between 30% and 60%, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and building codes recommend for a healthy indoor environment. A portable, plug-in unit for single-room use costs about $200 and includes a monitor to regulate the RH level.

Level Floor Surfaces

It’s also critical to inspect your existing concrete basement floor and make adjustments for any noticeable slopes or flaws that might damage the new floor finish or affect its aesthetic appeal.

Patch or fill minor cracks and flaws with an elastomeric sealant made especially for concrete. A 10-ounce tube runs from about $4 to $10 at home improvement centers.

Use a 3-foot or longer bubble level to see if any sections of the floor slope more than a half-inch in 8 feet. Fill in low spots with a self-leveling compound, available at home improvement centers for about $30 for a 50-pound bag. For about $60 to $80 per day, rent a concrete sander to reduce high spots.

Tile backerboard, made from cement or fiber-reinforced gypsum, can be used as a subfloor over your basement slab to create a smooth, level surface. Backerboard can be glued down or held in place with concrete nails. Backerboard costs about $11 for a 4×5-foot sheet. Allowing for waste, expect to pay about $500 for enough backerboard to cover the floor of a 600 sq. ft. basement.

Once you have satisfied all potential moisture-related issues and created a smooth, level surface, you’ll have many flooring choices for your basement retreat.


According to the NAHB Research Center’s annual survey of builder practices, more than 28% of basement floors in newly built homes are finished with carpeting. “Most of our clients want carpet in the basement,” says Sherrille Sabo, operations manager for COS Construction in Edwardsville, Ohio, a construction company that remodels about a half-dozen basements per year into finished living spaces. “It’s warmer and adds a level of soundproofing.”

Low-pile carpets such as Berber or other looped varieties show less wear than cut-looped or shag-like carpeting and are less expensive; all or partial nylon blends also are more durable and less costly than all-natural options.

Wall-to-wall carpeting is among the least expensive and easiest to install options for basement flooring. A mid-range nylon Berber carpet costs about $1 to $3 per sq. ft. With glued-down perimeter tack strips and a standard pad, plus professional labor, the cost to buy and install a new carpet is about $1,200 to $2,400 for a 600 sq. ft. basement.

If you’ve addressed any moisture issues in the basement but are still concerned about dampness or the chances that liquid spills or pet accidents may occur, consider a pad that is made to block moisture from either seeping up into the carpet or seeping down through the pad to the concrete floor. Moisture-resistant pads are about 70% more expensive than standard pads. They may reduce cleanup chores, but they will not solve chronic moisture problems.

Also, consider carpet tiles. Nylon pile 20-inch squares come in a variety of colors and styles and cost $2 to $4 per sq. ft. Most are made with integral pads and self-adhesive backings for easy, do-it-yourself installation.


Resilient vinyl flooring is durable, moisture-proof, and maintenance-free. Sheet vinyl comes in 12-foot-wide rolls that virtually eliminate seams. Self-sticking vinyl tiles are ideal for do-it-yourself installations.

There are an enormous variety of colors and styles from which to choose. In general, thicker vinyl translates to higher quality and cost. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types have the appearance of real stone and wood.

Vinyl installs easily over a concrete slab, but it’s critical to make sure the surface is smooth, as imperfections are sure to show through and possibly damage the flooring. A thicker (and more expensive) grade of vinyl flooring may help hide slight bumps in the concrete.

Sheet vinyl and vinyl tile can cost $1 to $5 per sq. ft. Figure another $1 to $2 per sq. ft. for professional installation, depending on the complexity of the basement configuration.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile installs readily over a concrete slab and the many styles and colors available make it a good designer’s choice. Properly installed and maintained ceramic tiles should last as long as your house.

In some below-grade applications, condensation may occur on the surface of ceramic tiles, making them slippery. If ceramic tile is your primary choice for your basement but condensation is a concern, consider glazed ceramic floor tiles with an anti-slip finish. Look for tiles that meet slip-resistance standards specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Costs for ceramic tile varies widely, depending on size, shape, and pattern. A standard domestic 12×12-inch ceramic tile might cost 80 cents per tile at home improvement center, while a highly decorative tile from Mexico or a porcelain stone tile from Italy can cost $10 per tile or far more. Professional installation adds $5 to $10 per sq. ft.

Engineered Wood

Until the advent of engineered hardwood flooring, few builders or remodelers would recommend or risk installing a hardwood floor over a below-grade concrete surface. Because solid wood changes dimensions with fluctuations in temperature and humidity, the chances of warping and cracking were too great. In addition, there were few reliable options for installing wood flooring without traditional nails or screws.

Engineered wood floors, however, provide a more stable substrate for the planks while delivering the look and feel of a solid wood floor. They feature a thin veneer layer of solid wood that is laminated to plywood backing. Plywood is more dimensionally stable than solid wood, allowing the planks to withstand temperature and moisture fluctuations without warping.

Engineered hardwood planks are installed one of two ways. Some varieties are designed to be glued to the basement floor using an industrial adhesive. Others are “floated” over a layer of thin foam sheeting; the planks are held in place by a system of interlocking ends and edges.

Engineered wood planks are priced from $2 to $20 per sq. ft. Their factory-finished veneer is virtually maintenance-free. Installation is about $4 to $5 per sq. ft., regardless of whether the planks are glued down or floated.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring has similar construction to engineered wood flooring, but the top veneer is a layer of tough film covered with plastic resins. Laminate flooring mimics the look of wood, stone, and ceramic tile. The core layers of laminate flooring are dimensionally stable; some varieties are treated to resist moisture and make good choices for basement applications.

Laminate flooring planks and tiles “snap” together and float over the concrete floor on a foam pad. The flooring sells for $3 to $5 per sq. ft. at home improvement centers; installation adds $4 to $5 per sq. ft.


One of the simplest and least expensive options for finishing a basement concrete slab is to paint or stain the slab. A one-gallon can of either coating option is about $30 and covers about 80-100 sq. ft. If you elect to use paint, consider an acrylic formula with slip-resistant surface finish.

Assuming the basement concrete slab is unsealed and still porous, a colored stain will likely penetrate fairly well and hold its color for several years before reapplication. A concrete paint probably will show wear in a high-traffic areas, and will require a reapplication every 3-5 years.

An epoxy coating system, which combines a solvent-based adhesive coating with decorative (and slip-resistant) color chips, is far tougher than a concrete paint or stain. It costs about 3 times as much as a gallon of paint or stain but covers four times the area and leaves a tough, industrial-looking finish.

Another option is to cover the concrete slab with an additional, thin layer of concrete that has been pigmented with color. A thin-coat can also be stamped with a pattern to resemble brick, flagstone, and even wood planks. Because the color is throughout the coating, it will never wear away. Expect to pay $2 to $3 per sq. ft. for a thin-coat installation.


Southwest Sweet Potato Hash with Vital Farms Eggs

Serves: 4-5


For the sweet potatoes
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced
  • 3 tablespoons melted ghee
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
For the hash
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
For the easy pico de gallo
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • pinch of salt
  • 4+ Vital Farms eggs
  • avocado, thinly sliced
  • cilantro, roughly chopped
  • freshly cracked pink peppercorns


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place diced sweet potatoes on top. Pour ghee on top and sprinkle with spices then use hands to thoroughly toss. Place in oven to bake for 25-30 minutes, until browned and soft.
  2. While sweet potatoes cook, place a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add ghee along with onion and bell peppers. Sprinkle with a bit of salt then toss every couple minutes to help cook evenly until peppers are slightly golden – about 10-12 minutes.
  3. While peppers are cooking, place all the mixture for the easy pico in a bowl, mix then place in a the fridge to chill until food is ready.
  4. Once the sweet potatoes are done cooking, place them into the cast iron skillet with the peppers and place over a medium-low heat to help held the flavors together and keep warm.
  5. Lastly, place a large non-stick sauté pan over medium-low heat and grease to make sure the eggs don’t stick. Carefully crack 4 (or more) Vital Farms eggs into the pan and cook low and slow for about 5-6 minutes for over easy eggs with the white completely cooked through and yolks creamy and delicious.
  6. When the eggs are done cooking, remove hash from heat then use a spatula to place each on top of the hash. Garnish with freshly sliced avocado, a couple spoonfuls of pico, crack pink peppercorns, and cilantro!

6 Sly and Simple Ways to Buy a Home

Rounding up on purchases, hiding accounts from yourself, and more sneaky saving ideas.

A big purchase like a home requires big savings. But what if you can only save small amounts? Can you still save for a home?

You can meet any of your financial goals if you’re determined. Here are a few tips for saving in big and small ways, on a consistent basis, so you can increase your home savings account.

1. Direct Deposit Your Savings

It’s easy to spend money when you have it. And it could be challenging to transfer money to your savings account if it’s already liquid cash in your checking account. Because when you see it there, you might be tempted to spend it. So pretend like you don’t have it.

Instead of depositing an entire check into your checking account, each month, deposit a portion of your paycheck directly into your savings. You won’t even miss it. Check with your employer to see if you can split your direct deposit into more than one account.

2. Institute a Personal Pay Day

We all have expenses we have to pay by a particular day. Why not institute the same plan for saving? One day a month, institute a personal pay day where you must transfer money into your savings account for the ultimate in personal accountability.

3. Check Your Daily Expenses

Every day, we spend small amounts here and there on countless items. Over time, those small amounts — coffee, lunch, afternoon snacks from the vending machine — all add up. Add a few happy hour drinks, and you could be spending anywhere from $20 to $50 on a daily basis.

Breaking the habit of whittling away cash can help you save in a big way. Be choosy with what you spend money on and transfer cash directly to your savings to start seeing a difference.

Take a moment to review your prior month’s checking account statement, and read through each transaction. It’s likely that you will find a pattern and immediately see items that you could cut from your daily habits.

4. Institute a No-Spend Day

If you’re already keeping your daily expenses in check, try this supercharged method to save even more. One day a week, choose a day you’re likely to overspend and avoid spending money altogether. On a day like Saturday when you might spend money on dinner, a movie, and drinks at a bar, instead spend the day having fun outdoors or doing free activities in your city. Take the money you would have spent and transfer it directly to your savings account.

5. Save the Change

In addition to saving big chunks, you could use the “snowflake method” to increase your savings with smaller dollar amounts. With this method, you simply make small transfers from your checking account into your savings account on an automatic basis.

“I use Digit to automatically save/hide small amounts of money from myself,” says real estate investor Paula Pant in her blog.

Pant has saved about $1,700 just by making small transfers. “It pulls $5 here, $10 there, and over time this accumulates to a decent savings balance,” she says.

Your bank may offer this service in a program that encourages savings. For example, Bank of America offers a program called Keep the Change that will round up each transaction and transfer the change into your savings account automatically.

At Wells Fargo, the program is called Way2Save, and it offers a $1 transfer from your checking account for each debit card transaction.

Chase Bank, USAA, and U.S. Bank also have programs in place for automatic savings.

If your bank doesn’t have this program, then simply set a twice-monthly, small, automatic transfer from your checking into your new home savings account.

6. Hide Your New Home Savings

As your new home savings account begins to grow, it can be tempting to see other possibilities for these funds. For example, you might find that the amount saved perfectly matches the cost of a new big-screen TV. Or you might be tempted to spend it on a summer trip with friends. While your reason for wanting to withdraw from the account may be valid, it’s important to stay on track.

Hiding the account from yourself can help. In your online banking settings, you may be able to hide specific accounts or account balances. This is based on the notion of “out of sight, out of mind.”

Even small amounts will add up when you follow these steps on a consistent basis. Then, before you know it, it’s time to unhide that account and make your down payment on a new home.


Purge Your Home of These 9 Things Before You Move

A new home means a fresh start: new paint, a new bedroom, even a fresh take on arranging your old furniture.

But your new space won’t feel so wonderful if it’s weighed down with junk you didn’t bother ditching during the move. Now’s the time to purge your home—and we’re not talking about just sifting through stacks of magazines while you binge on Netflix.

“Your possessions should have three purposes: function, aesthetic purpose, or sentimental value,” says Christina Giaquinto, a professional organizer in Franklin Lakes, NJ. “Pick up each item in your home, and ask yourself, ‘Why do I have this item? What does this item do for me?'”

From doodads you picked up at the flea market to jewelry you never wear to a pile of untouched cat toys, there are a lot of things you should toss or donate before packing up the truck. But here are nine of the most common offenders.

1. Old towels and linens

When’s the last time you bought new towels? If it’s the last time you moved, turn those suckers into rags and buy something new. After years of use and hundreds of washings, there’s no denying your fluffy bath towels have lost some of their plushness.

Ditch old bed sheets, too. Fitted sheets lose their elasticity over time, and exposure to sweat and oil can cause unpleasant stains.

2. Your juicer

We all have goals. Running three times a week. Cleaning every Sunday. And starting each morning with a glass of cold juice pressed from spinach, kale, ginger, and pineapple.

Don’t give up on achieving your dreams—but if you’ve tried to make a change and found it didn’t work with your lifestyle, don’t hang on to the dregs of disappointment. Maybe getting up a half-hour early every morning to juice isn’t for you. Assess your achievements at moving time, and donate everything that didn’t work out. At least you’ll have room for your next wild aspiration. Perhaps a set of dumbbells?

3. Unworn clothes

Organizing a closet before a move should be simple. A keep pile, a toss pile, and a donate pile—right? But we all have those jeans we keep around just in case we finally lose 15 pounds. Or a dress tucked deep in your closet in case you ever go clubbing again. (Never mind that the last time you were out of the house after 10 p.m. was the night your first child was born.)

Watch out for clothing you’re keeping “just in case,” which take up precious room in your closet. And even if you do lose the weight, or get an invitation to a bachelorette party in Vegas, you can always buy (or rent) something new—and we bet you’ll love it even more.

4. Duplicates and souvenirs

Clutter accrues in the strangest places—like your mug tree or your dining hutch. You might have started out with two novelty mugs, but now you own a coffee cup from every place you’ve visited. Ever.

“Try to keep only one from your favorite vacation,” Giaquinto says.

Look for duplicates throughout your kitchen. Do you really need three bread pans? Or more than one cake platter?

“You should only hold on to what can fit neatly in your space,”  Giaquinto says.

5. Collections you’ve outgrown

One day, many moons ago, you told your mom you liked elephants. You were 12.

Your next birthday: an elephant necklace. Your graduation gift: a porcelain elephant statuette. Your housewarming gift from your aunt: an Etsy elephant print.

It’s too late to convince everyone you’re not a loxodonta-phile, but it’s not too late to trim down your collection. And when Mom stops by and looks confused, just say, “I had to. I couldn’t fit it into our new space.”

6. Cosmetics and toiletries

Like most things in life, skin and beauty products don’t last forever. So before you move, ditch the pile of half-used products you’ve amassed under your bathroom sink; that goes for skin creams, sunscreens, shaving cream, beard oils, deodorant, and even soap.

Ladies—make sure to toss the nail polish.That stuff has a shelf life of only two years, meaning you’ll likely never finish a bottle before the polish gets gunky and hard to apply.

Same goes for cosmetics: For example, you should replace your favorite mascara every three months. Otherwise, you risk exposing your eye to contaminants and air particles.

7. Space fillers

Sometimes, when moving into a new home, we buy stuff just to fill the emptiness. Ugly side tables, a TV stand three shades darker than the rest of your furniture, or that annoying inspirational wall art that’s long past being cool (if it ever was).

Your next home doesn’t need to be a blank slate, but do yourself a favor before moving in by ditching furniture and decor you’re “meh” on. And next time, buy slowly and ponder exactly what you want before plunking down cash.

8. Cords and cables

You don’t know how it happened, but suddenly you have 34 micro-USB cables and seven random charging cables that seemingly belong to nothing and everything at the same time.

Save yourself from future headaches, and get rid of duplicates now—as well as anything that doesn’t have a match. And take advantage of the move to sort the remaining cords and cables into an organized system.

9. Paperwork

Go through all your old paperwork, setting aside documents you should keep (tax records, closing documents, recent bank statements) and ditching everything that’s no longer necessary—like old insurance policies. Create a filing system you’ll stick to, since that paperwork’s gonna keep coming, and promise yourself you’ll go back through everything once a year.

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Should You Pay Pet Rent?

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

But should you?

Pet Rent 101

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Article by Angela Colley

How to Clean a Bedroom (Because It’s Filthier Than You Think)

Determining effective strategies for thoroughly cleaning your bedroom probably isn’t the kind of thing keeping you up at night. But maybe it should be. Because this all-important room in your home gets seriously gunky.  And even though you spend roughly a third of your life there, the bedroom likely lingers low on your list of housekeeping priorities—all of which means this restful oasis is the secret hog pit of your home.

Grossed out yet? Look no further than our House Cleaning Guide on how to clean a bedroom right. To find out which areas need cleaning most—and the best way to make them immaculate—we interviewed professional housecleaners to get their insider tips on how to give this room the thorough cleaning it deserves. Read on to rest a little easier.

How to clean a mattress

Your mattress is ground zero. After all, you spend a lot of time there sleeping, snuggling with significant others, maybe even scarfing down late-night snacks. But that’s all OK, provided you know how to clean the darn thing.

After removing all sheets and bedding, break out your vacuum cleaner. Attach the hand-held extension, then run it across the entire mattress surface, paying special attention to seams and crevices, which is where dirt, dust, and tiny particles of dead skin (eww) collect.

To remove stains, spot clean them with a solution of 1 teaspoon mild dish detergent and 1 cup warm water. Next, sprinkle a layer of baking soda over the mattress to deodorize and sanitize it, and let it sit for a half-hour before you break out your Dyson again to vacuum it all up.

To keep your mattress in good shape, flip it periodically if it’s a two-sided mattress, says Debbie Sardone, president of SpeedCleaning.com. (Do not flip a pillow-top mattress.)

Studies also show that rotating a mattress every six months can extend its life span and prevent sagging. Here’s more on how to clean a mattress.

How to clean a mattress pad

Mattress pads come in an assortment of materials, including cotton, down, vinyl-backed, foam, and egg crate—and cleaning methods vary accordingly. In general, cotton, down, and vinyl-backed mattress pads can go in the washing machine using cold water and a mild detergent. Foam and egg crate pads, meanwhile, are more delicate and can tear if put in the washing machine; therefore, it’s best to spot clean them with a solution made from equal parts water, distilled white vinegar, and lemon juice, says green cleaning expert Leslie Reichert.

How to clean pillows

When’s the last time you washed your pillows? If you can’t remember, it’s time to get cracking. Bed pillows should be washed every three to six months, because fungi and allergy-causing dust mites can collect in them over time, and “you don’t want sneezing fits or breathing problems at night,” says Beth McGee, author of “Get Your House Clean Now: The Home Cleaning Method Anyone Can Master.”

Most pillows can be machine-washed, but check the label first for instructions. You’ll usually want to use the gentle cycle on your machine, hot water, and liquid detergent. Depending on the size of the machine, you can probably wash two regular-size pillows together to balance the load (king-size ones should go one at a time). To dry, throw pillows in the dryer with two clean tennis balls and a fabric softener sheet on medium heat. When you take them out, the pillows should be nice and fluffy.

How to clean down pillows and duvets

If you have down or feather in your pillows or duvet, these can also go in a washing machine—just make sure to use a mild detergent like Woolite, since a stronger one will strip the feathers of their natural coating, which is what makes them such amazing insulators. Then put them in the dryer with a couple of tennis balls on moderate heat until dry.

How to clean bedsheets and blankets

How frequently you should wash bedsheets really boils down to personal preference, says Sardone.

“Some people like the fresh, clean feel of weekly washing, [while] others think every other week is sufficient,” she says. “Both are perfectly acceptable.”

In either case, you’ll want to dry on low heat, since high drying temperatures can cause wrinkling and shrinking. Blankets can be cleaned less often, perhaps every few months.

How to clean curtains

Cleaning treatments for curtains vary depending on the fabric, so check the label first. If they’re machine-washable, use the gentle cycle, cool or lukewarm water, and mild detergent; then, hang on a clothesline to dry, or put them in a clothes dryer on a no-heat or delicate setting. Do that once or twice a year. Then, for routine cleaning, you can use a vacuum to remove dust, says McGee.

Pro tip: Set the vacuum cleaner for reduced suction so you don’t draw the fabric into the nozzle.

How to clean blinds

Blinds can be tricky to clean with all those slats, but one easy hack is to grab a pair of old socks and place them over your hands. Dip your mitts in a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water, then run your hands over your blinds from top to bottom, making sure the blinds are completely lowered and slanted down toward you.

Article by Daniel Bortz

Asian Broccoli Salad-Paleo

Serves: 4-5


  • 2 heads of broccoli, cup into florets (about 4-5 cups of florets)
  • ¼ cup cashews, toasted in pan
For the dressing


  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, fill a large bowl with ice and water to create an ice bath. Place florets in the boiling water to cook for 1½ minutes, until slightly tender, then remove with a slotted spoon and immediately dump into the ice bath to stop the cooking process and keep the broccoli tender. Once cooled, drain and pat dry.
  2. Blend together all the ingredients for the dressing until smooth.*
  3. Pour dressing over broccoli then add in the toasted cashews and mix until completely combined.
  4. Serve immediately!


*If dressing is too thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin it out. This consistency will depend on the amount of oil in the sunflower seed butter since all brands range.

The Worst Mortgage Advice Home Buyers Actually Believe

Getting a mortgage is a daunting prospect, which explains why so many people seem eager to pat your hand and say, “Let me give you a little advice.” Sure, those pearls of wisdom may come from an ocean of good intentions, but the suggestions might not necessarily be right for you. In fact, they could be dead wrong.

So before you take some friendly outside counsel as gospel, be sure to check it against our list of the worst mortgage advice people often give.

‘Don’t bother getting pre-approved for a mortgage’

Why you might hear this: Hey, you’ve barely begun shopping for a home! There’s no need to get all serious about mortgages just yet. And besides, a mortgage pre-approval isn’t real anyway your application isn’t reviewed by an underwriter, so it’s no guarantee you’ll get approved for a mortgage later. So why bother?

Why it’s bad advice: While a pre-approval might not be “official,” it will help you avoid major problems down the road.

“Getting pre-approved by a bank is one way to avoid the heartbreak that comes from falling in love with a house you can never buy,” says Maryalene LaPonsie of MoneyTalks. “It may also give you an edge if there are multiple offers for the same property. A seller will feel more confident selecting a bid from someone with a mortgage pre-approval rather than a person who hasn’t even begun the process.”


‘Get your mortgage from the bank where you already have an account’

Why you might hear this: When it comes to convenience, you just can’t beat the bank you’re already using. Plus, since you have an existing relationship with it, it’ll give you the best rates, right?

Why it’s bad advice: You already know to shop around for a home. You need to do the same with your loan.

“Even though the big bank where I keep my checking and savings accounts claims they’ll give me better service and an easier application process, that may not always be true,” says Albert Tumpson, a banking and real estate attorney who owns several properties and refinances them every couple of years. “I’ve found more favorable terms with other venues. Always go with the most favorable terms.”


‘Don’t bother reading the fine print’

Why you might hear this: Because actually perusing all that mortgage paperwork will drive you insane! And besides, this is the standard contract that everyone gets. Just sign here, here, and here—and you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches.

Why it’s bad advice: Because that fine print contains some clauses that could cost you serious money!

“Take your time and go over every last word with a fine-toothed comb,” says Jamie, a homeowner who purchased her second home two years ago. She was astounded when her lender asked her to sign a mortgage contract involving hundreds of thousands of dollars without “bothering” to read the details. Jamie ended up taking several hours to go over the contract and found several items to dispute. So what if the process took a little longer? It was well worth the wait.


‘Always go with the lowest interest rate’

Why you might hear this: A lower interest rate means lower monthly payments. Duh.

Why it’s bad advice: Lower interest rates can have all sorts of strings attached—often in the form of an adjustable-rate mortgage.

ARMs are not always a bad thing, but just be on the alert when someone suggests an interest-only ARM, says Shant Khatchadourian, president of SKR Capital Group. “Interest-only ARMs can result in significant payment shock, especially if rates increase down the line and amortization kicks in.”

In the past, as interest rates were dropping and home values were rising rapidly, interest-only ARMs worked well for some people—especially those who didn’t plan to stay in the home beyond the length of the loan’s first term. But although interest rates are low, they’re likely to rise soon, so beware.


‘Borrow as much as you’re approved for, even if you don’t need it’

Why you might hear this: Who doesn’t want a bigger and better house? Besides, a bank wouldn’t approve you for all that money unless you could afford to pay it back, right? Right?

Why it’s bad advice: It’s always wise to live slightly below your means, since you never know when life might pitch you a financial curveball, such as a layoff or medical problem.

“You can qualify for monthly payments up to 50% of your income these days,” says Khatchadourian. “But half of your gross income seems like quite a bit for most people, especially when they factor in taxes and insurance.”

So be sure to make a budget, decide what monthly payment you’re comfortable with, and stick to it.

Article by Lisa Johnson Mandell

7 Secret Thoughts Interior Designers Have About Your Home—Revealed

Interior designers have taste and style to spare, but here’s another trait they typically have in spades: tact. And for good reason—they know that not everyone is dying to hear their uncensored, unsolicited “helpful” opinions about their homes. Friends and family members might not want to know that those quartz countertops they just installed are so last year. Even clients who’ve hired these pros for their expertise don’t necessarily want the whole truth about just how bad their pad looks premakeover, right?

But make no mistake, interior designers have a running monologue in their heads packed with judgments and pet peeves—and truth be told, these are often the very best jewels of advice they could share with anyone who’s willing to listen.

You want the truth? You can handle the truth! So if you are curious and want to take a peek inside the dark corners of an interior designer’s mind, read on—then check if your home is guilty as charged.

1. ‘Why is the bed over there?’

While homeowners often obsess over their kitchens and living rooms, their bedrooms can leave a whole lot to be desired, according to Lorelie Brown, a Showhomes franchisee in Charleston, SC.

“The bedroom is supposed to be a restful retreat, but the way many people arrange the furniture can be awkward,” Brown says.

Amy Bell of Red Chair Home Interiors in Cary, NC, agrees. “I’m a stickler for bed placement,” she says. The head of the bed is the focal point and should be visible from the doorway. “It’s so disorienting to walk into a bedroom and then have to turn back around to see the bed because it’s on the same wall as the door.”

2. ‘The artwork’s too damn high’

Artwork that’s placed too high is another secret annoyance for Bell as well.

“As a general rule, I like to hang pictures so that the midpoint of the piece is 60 inches from the floor,” she explains.

Exceptions to this include placing art over a low piece of furniture or in the dining room. “In this case, you’ll want to hang it where it can be viewed from a seated position,” she adds. You never want visitors to crane their necks in order to get a look at your paintings.

3. ‘You’re storing your stuff all wrong’

Every home has storage woes—and interior designers are quite obsessed with solving it.

“Clients usually ask for more storage, not realizing that the way they’re using their current closets and bins is inefficient,” says Anna Shiwlall, a designer at 27 Diamonds, in Los Angeles. Simply decluttering and adding smart units in cool colors can immediately brighten your look.

“A lack of good cabinetry really stands out and can distract from the other great features in a house, but it’s often one of the last things considered,” adds Pamela Amerson, a designer at Closet Factory, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

4. ‘Dear God, not another brown couch’

“So many sellers have dark brown furniture or mahogany bedroom sets,” laments Brown. “But there’s nothing necessarily about this look that would entice a potential buyer—it’s just not inherently inviting.”

Dark pieces make a dim room feel even drearier, a small room tinier, and a dated home even more so. Think blond wood when considering flooring and new furniture.

“Lighter pieces also help increase the visual sense of space, which is critical for buyers trying to connect with a home,” she adds.

5. ‘Too much color!’

A fuchsia bathroom and lime-green kitchen might seem funky, but sometimes too much color can be, well, too much.

“A home is more interesting if color is used as an accent, whether with pillows or tabletop accessories,” notes Jeanne Hessen, a senior designer at Closet Factory.

A profusion of color can be chaotic, so use it sparingly. And if you’re gearing up for a sale, most interiors designers and stagers urge their clients to go neutral. Quiet tones are more universally appealing and will allow potential buyers to imagine their own furniture in the space without having to (mentally) repaint it.

6. ‘That wall has gotta go’

Interior designers live and breathe light and layout. And to achieve an optimal look, sometimes a wall or two needs to come down.

Lorraine Holmberg, a decorating pro with HR Design Group in New York City, is always praying a homeowner will agree to a little demolition.

“In my mind, I start to work out which walls I’d remove to open up the kitchen and living areas,” she says. “And I almost always plan to take out the back of the exterior wall in order to add glass doors.”

7. ‘This open floor plan doesn’t feel like home’

Lorena Canals, founder of the brand of furniture of the same name, loves open floor plans, but hates how people have no idea how to carve up this cavernous space into areas that feel cozy and intimate.

“Furniture is usually placed too far apart,” says Canals.

The solution, she says, is to use rugs to tie a space together. “Rugs give you the opportunity to create multiple intimate spaces when they’re placed correctly,” she notes. As a general rule, people choose rugs that are too small. Instead, they should be large enough that your furniture should sit at least half on, half off the rug.

Article by 


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6 Shocking Money Pits Hiding in Your Home

When people refer to their homes as “money pits,” it generally conjures up stark and terrifying images of a huge chasm in the floor, sucking down dollars (thanks, Tom Hanks).

And the reality is that the classic big-ticket home problems, such as a faulty foundation or flooding basement, can indeed sweep through bank accounts like financial tsunamis. But just because your home isn’t plagued by these traumas doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

The fact is, many homes have mini money pits that, over time and put together, siphon off thousands of dollars. Here’s where they’re hiding, and what you can do to keep the financial hemorrhaging in check.

1. Lightbulbs

If you have regular incandescent lightbulbs in your home, they’re burning through your heating bill. Only 10% of the energy they consume goes to light; the rest is given off as heat (resulting in a higher AC bill to boot!). That’s why the U.S. government encourages all homeowners to switch to energy-efficient bulbs such as LEDs.

Granted, LEDs might be more expensive at the outset, but they’ll save you cash over time: According to Energy.gov, if you replace just five of your most frequently used lights with energy-friendly models, you’ll save $75 a year. In fact, if every household replaced just one incandescent bulb with an LED, Americans would save more than $460 million in annual energy costs.

2. Air conditioner

“American homeowners spend $11 billion on cooling costs every year, according to the Department of Energy,” explains financial expert Andrea Woroch. So once summer comes around, it’s important to make sure to replace filters (at least once a year) to keep your air-conditioning unit in tiptop shape.

And don’t forget about the area outside your AC as well—meaning the vents.

“Your units need free, unconstricted airflow to operate efficiently,” says John Bodrozic, co-founder of energy-saving home improvement site HomeZada. “Oftentimes shrubs grow around these units, blocking airflow, causing the units to work harder, longer, and using more energy. They will also burn out quicker, requiring an expensive replacement.”

3. Fridge

Eric C. Wentworth, author of “A Plan for Life: The 21st Century Guide to Success,” notes that your fridge is a financial black hole in more ways than one.

For starters, “it’s easy to spend too much on food,” he notes. “What makes it worse is when food gets ‘lost’ in the refrigerator and eventually loses its safe shelf life and gets discarded. Nearly everyone has food in the back of the fridge or buried in a produce bin that escapes notice and isn’t eaten. It’s part of the reason why 40% of all food in America goes to waste. Per household, that adds up to about $2,000 a year.” Yikes!

The solution? Keep perishables or other items you should use at eye level to stay on your radar.

Another way your fridge eats up money is the electricity this appliance consumes. But there’s a way to curb this waste, too: Just clean your refrigerator coils—those long tubes snaking along the bottom or back of your fridge. Over time, these coils collect dust, which hinders how well they cool your perishables.

“Keeping a refrigerator well-ventilated and free of dust can knock 6% off its power consumption,” says Mike Catania, co-founder of PromotionCode.org.

4. Landline phone

We know you’re out there—you people who can’t quite quit your landline phone.

“The proliferation of cellphones has rendered landlines nearly obsolete, though many consumers still like having one for emergencies,” Woroch says. “At an average of $40 per month, it’s a lot of money to dish out on a phone you don’t use often.”

Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice your sense security for the sake of saving. Switch to a free internet home phone provider like Ooma.

“While there’s an upfront cost to cover the device, it pays for itself in just two months,” says Woroch. “Connect the gadget to your high-speed internet and regular home phone, and pay only applicable taxes. Opting for this free service will save you about $480 annually.”

5. Energy ‘vampires’

“Ever heard of an energy vampire?” asks Woroch. “Gadgets and appliances like TVs, laptops, coffee makers, printers, space heaters, and cable boxes continue to suck energy even when turned off.”

The solution? Get in the habit of unplugging these electronics and appliances when you aren’t using them, and you’ll save big.

“Power strips are an easier and less timely alternative—some even come with a remote control for easier use,” says Woroch. “This will save you 5% on your energy bill. Considering that the average American home electricity costs are $1,300 a year, 5% savings can keep an extra $65 in your pocket.”

6. House pets

Sad, but true: Wentworth says your pet might be at the top of list when it comes to money-sucking family members.

“People often underestimate the cost of a dog or cat. In our case, our dog eats about $80 a month worth of food, nearly a thousand dollars a year,” Wentworth points out. “Add to that another $1,000 a year for pet accessories, veterinarian costs, boarding, pet sitting/walking, and grooming, and the total is about $2,000 a year. The dog will likely live about 12 years—our last dog lived to be 15—and you are looking at $24,000+ in expenditures over the life of the pet—or the cost of a new car, year’s tuition at college, or luxury round-the-world vacation. If that money had been invested in the stock market 10 years ago, it would likely have doubled to almost $50,000.”

Yes, our pets might be well worth every cent, but just know what you’re getting into before you bring some cute fur ball home.

Article by Liz Alterman

The BEST Pineapple Salsa


1 pineapple (small, peeled cored and very finely diced, about 2 1/2 cups)
1 jalapeno chilies (large, seeded and finely minced, about 2 tablespoons, add more for a spicier bite)
1 lime (small, juiced, about 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice)
1 handful cilantro (leaves only, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons)
3 green onions (very thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (adjust to taste)


Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover with lid or transfer to an airtight container. Chill until ready to serve. This will keep well in the refrigerator for about a week. Enjoy!

Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the Difference?

When buying a home, cash is king, but most folks don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying in the bank. Of course, that’s why obtaining a mortgage is such a crucial part of the process. And securing mortgage pre-qualification and pre-approval are important steps, assuring lenders that you’ll be able to afford payments.
However, pre-qualification and pre-approval are vastly different. How different? Some mortgage professionals believe one is virtually useless.

“I tell most people they can take that pre-qualification letter and throw it in the trash,” says Patty Arvielo, a mortgage banker and president and founder of New American Funding, in Tustin, CA. “It doesn’t mean much.”

We asked our experts to weigh in to help clarify the distinction.

What is mortgage pre-qualification?

Pre-qualification means that a lender has evaluated your creditworthiness and has decided that you probably will be eligible for a loan up to a certain amount.

But here’s the rub: Most often, the pre-qualification letter is an approximation—not a promise—based solely on the information you give the lender and its evaluation of your financial prospects.

“The analysis is based on the information that you have provided,” says David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School and a real estate law expert. “It may not take into account your current credit report, and it does not look past the statements you have made about your income, assets, and liabilities.”

A pre-qualification is merely a financial snapshot that gives you an idea of the mortgage you might qualify for.

“It can be helpful if you are completely unaware what your current financial position will support regarding a mortgage amount,” says Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman, and Shipp, in Washington, DC. “It certainly helps if you are just beginning the process of looking to buy a house.”

Why is mortgage pre-approval better?

A pre-approval letter is the real deal, a statement from a lender that you qualify for a specific mortgage amount based on an underwriter’s review of all of your financial information: credit report, pay stubs, bank statement, salary, assets, and obligations.

Pre-approval should mean your loan is contingent only on the appraisal of the home you choose, providing that nothing changes in your financial picture before closing.

“This makes you as close to a cash buyer as you can be and gives you a huge advantage in a competitive market,” says Lea Lea Brown, a vice president and mortgage banker with Atlanta-based PrivatePlus Mortgage.

In fact, pre-approval letters paired with clean contracts without tons of contingencies have won bidding wars against all-cash offers, Brown says.

“The reliability and simplicity of your offer stand out over other offers,” Brown says. “And pre-approval can give you that reliability edge.”

So take notice, potential home buyers. While pre-qualification can be helpful in determining how much a lender is willing to give you, a pre-approval letter will make a stronger impression on sellers and let them know you have the cash to back up an offer.

Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

7 Things to Never, Ever Do When Buying a Home

Buying a home is exciting and terrifying. After all, this is the biggest financial move most people ever make. As such, there’s a lot of room for error, and even tiny mistakes can translate to tens of thousands of dollars.

The lesson here: Even the most intrepid home buyer should get some guidance not only on what to do, but also what not to do. Look no further than this list, which highlights the most common mistakes buyers make so you can avoid the same fate.

1. Don’t shop for homes without an agent

By all means, start out by looking online at pictures of pretty houses—the more the better. It’s a vastly useful way to get the lay of the land. But when it comes time to get serious about buying a house, you should find a professional to help you out.

Think of a buyer’s agent as a fairy godparent who’s here to turn your homeownership dreams into reality. This person will guide you through every step of the home-buying process—from finding the right property and writing a winning offer to negotiating home inspection repairs and sailing through to closing.

“You want an advocate who is going to look out for your best interests in the transaction,” says Bellevue, WA, real estate agent Holly Gray.


2. Don’t meet with just one mortgage lender

Once you’ve found a real estate agent, your next step should be to get pre-approved for a home loan. To do that, you’ll have to meet with a mortgage lender and provide a good amount of paperwork, including two years of W-2 forms, two years of tax returns, and proof of funds for the down payment (among other documents).

That mountain of forms is one of the things that prompts many to meet with only one lender, says Richard Redmond, a vice president at ACM Investor Services in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” That’s a potentially big mistake!

Redmond recommends getting at least three quotes from different lenders so that you can survey your options and find the best loan for you. One option you have when shopping around is to meet with a mortgage broker—basically an intermediary who presents you with options from a variety of lenders. No matter what, “you need to feel comfortable with the lender you choose,” says Redmond. “You want a lender who asks probing questions, listens to your answers, and presents you with intelligent options.”

3. Don’t understate your budget

It might sound strange, but a number of home buyers make the mistake of hiding their true budget from their real estate agent.

“Some people are afraid that their agent is going to make them buy the most expensive house that they can afford, so they understate their price range,” says Daniel Gyomory, a real estate agent in Northville, MI.

However, if you’re not upfront with your agent about your price range, you might miss out on a great house.

“If you tell me your budget is $300,000 maximum but you’re actuallywilling to pay $400,000, I may not send you listings that could actually be a good fit for you,” Gyomory explains.

4. Don’t hold out for the ‘perfect’ house

People throw around the words “dream home” a lot. (Heck, we’re guilty of it.) However, here’s the not-so-harsh truth: “There’s no such thing as a perfect house,” says Gyomory. And that’s why he has clients create a list of “musts” and “wants” to identify their criteria and focus on what really matters to them.

5. Don’t make ridiculously lowball offers

You obviously want to get a bargain, but you could lose out on a home that you love by making an absurdly low offer. In fact, a recent survey from Inman found that 15% of real estate agents say the third-largest mistake people make when buying a home is offering too little for a property (that’s behind not talking to a lender first and waiting too long to make an offer).

“When you overlook market data and make a lowball offer, you’re pretty much slapping the seller in the face,” says Gyomory. And if you offend the seller, the person might not even be willing to make you a counteroffer.

Bottom line: Trust your agent to help you assess the value of a house and write a winning offer, says Karen Elmir, a luxury real estate agent in Miami.

6. Don’t forget to budget for closing costs

The home seller will chip in some money at settlement; however, as the home buyer, you have the (unfortunate) pleasure of shouldering the lion’s share of the closing costs. Your mortgage lender should be able to give you a rough estimate of your closing costs once a seller accepts your offer, but as a rule you can estimate that they typically total 2% to 7% of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500.

7. Don’t make big purchases before you close

Once you have found the right house and get the seller to accept your offer, your loan still needs to go through underwriting in order for you to obtain the mortgage. One thing underwriters do is look at your credit score from the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—to make sure your credit hasn’t changed since you were pre-approved.

Therefore, you’ll want to avoid taking on any new debt while you’re in the process of buying a house. Purchasing a car with an auto loan or maxing out your credit cards, for example, could hurt your credit score, which could potentially raise your loan’s interest rate or—in the worst case—get your mortgage application rejected. (In other words: Bye-bye, new house.)

Article by Daniel Bortz

Choosing the Best Pets for Kids


Owning a pet can be a rewarding experience for a child. A well-chosen pet can bring years of joy. Pet ownership can also be a chance for kids to learn valuable life lessons as they care for a living creature. Pets can teach children about responsibility and dependability with parents’ guidance. As an added bonus, some pets give affection in return for a child’s loving attention.


  • Fish

    A well-chosen fish may be the perfect “starter” pet for a child. But not just any fish will do. Goldfish may seem like the most obvious choice, but they’re actually more difficult to raise than the Siamese fighting fish (Betta fish).

    These Southeast Asian natives are adapted to thrive in isolation, in surprisingly small amounts of stagnant water. No aerators, filters, heaters, or chemicals are required.

    • Reptiles

      The appeal of cold-blooded creatures may be less obvious than that of warm, fuzzy animals, but certain reptiles make prized pets. Tortoises, such as the plant-eating Russian tortoise, can live more than 50 years. Some snake species also make excellent pets, although constrictors should be avoided.

      Added bonus: Reptiles are non-allergenic. However, keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatricswarns against reptiles as pets for young children because they can easily transmit salmonella.

      • Birds

        Birds can be excellent pets. But owning a bird is more demanding than caring for a tortoise or fish. Some birds are highly intelligent. Others are very social. All birds require almost daily attention.

        The relatively inexpensive parakeet may be a good starter for kids who haven’t raised birds before. More expensive (and more intelligent) birds like cockatiels and cockatoos also make great pets, but they may need more attention than parakeets or canaries.

        • Rodents

          Smaller mammals, including hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils, are relatively easy to raise. Most will thrive in a relatively small living space, and require fairly rudimentary care. Except for hamsters, which are solitary, it’s best to obtain young same-sex pairs. Regular, gentle handling promotes friendliness, but bites are possible should rodents feel threatened (especially hamsters). Surprisingly, rats make excellent pets due to their intelligence, larger size, and enjoyment of human companionship. Guinea pigs are also excellent kid-friendly pets.

          • Cats

            Kittens are childhood favorites. Who can resist the antics of a fluffy feline? Notoriously independent cats need somewhat less care and attention than dogs, but no less commitment. Like dogs, cats require regular veterinary checkups and immunizations.

            A cat may be a better choice than a dog if your family has limited living space. Best breeds for children include:

            • Abyssinian (considered friendly and sociable)
            • American shorthair (known for getting along with dogs)
            • Burmese (affectionate and gentle)
            • Birman (easygoing)
            • Dogs

              A cuddly puppy is probably the most classic children’s pet. But choosing the ideal dog involves more than falling for big brown eyes. Some breeds may be unsuitable for children.

              Any breed will need a significant commitment of time and effort. Puppies must be housebroken and require daily exercise, regular veterinary checkups and immunizations, and plenty of love. As a rule, kid-friendly breeds include:

              • Labradors
              • golden retrievers
              • pugs
              • cocker spaniels
              • Australian sheep dogs
              • Insects & Arthropods

                Six-legged creatures might not be the first to come to mind when thinking of pets for children. But owning an ant farm can be an entertaining and educational experience for a child. Various suppliers sell habitats designed to let children directly observe ant activities. Ants can be shipped live or grown from eggs. Hermit crabs are another example of creepy crawlies that are easily raised in captivity.

                • Brine Shrimp

                  Better known as “sea monkeys,” these tiny crustaceans are essentially foolproof starter pets that even small children can enjoy. They’re available in kits. Children need only add water and watch these tiny live shrimp emerge, become active, and grow.

                  Maintenance for these hardy creatures involves adding feed about once a week, and some occasional additional water to combat evaporation. A colony can thrive for a year or more with minimal care.

                  Caring for a Pet

                  Caring for a pet can be a positive experience for children. Pets can provide companionship, entertainment, and educational opportunities. But pet ownership is also serious business. Pets are living creatures that require regular care and attention. Their maintenance involves an ongoing financial commitment.

                  Pets are capable of providing useful lessons about self-restraint, selflessness, and responsibility. Children may require adult supervision when interacting with some pets.


8 Costly Missteps New Homeowners Make in Their First Year

How not to make money mistakes as a fledgling homeowner.

The negotiations are over. Your mortgage is settled. The keys to your first home are in hand.

Finally, you can install your dream patio.

You can paint the walls without losing your security deposit.

Heck, you could knock out a wall. You’re soooo ready to be a homeowner.

So ready in fact, you’re about to make some costly mistakes.

Wait, whaaat?

“You have to rein it in and be smart,” says Daniel Kanter, a homeowner with five years under his belt. Especially in your first year, when your happiness, eagerness (and sometimes ignorance) might convince you to make one of these eight mistakes:

#1 Going With the Lowest Bid

The sounds your HVAC system is making clearly require the knowledge of a professional (or perhaps an exorcist?).

But you’ve been smart and gotten three contractor bids, so why not go with the lowest price?

You might want to check out this story from a Michigan couple. Rather than going with a remodeler who’d delivered good work in the past, they hired a contractor offering to complete the work for less than half the cost, in less time.

A year later, their house was still a construction zone. You don’t want to be in the same spot.

What to do: Double-check that all bids include the same project scope — sometimes one is cheaper because it doesn’t include all the actual costs and details of the project. The contractor may lack the experience to know of additional steps and costs.

#2 Submitting Small Insurance Claims

Insurance is there to cover damage to your property, so why not use it?

Because the maddening reality is that filing a claim or two, especially in a relatively short period, can trigger an increase in your premium. “As a consumer advocate, I hate telling people not to use something they paid for,” says Amy Bach, executive director of nonprofit United Policyholders, which works to empower consumers. But, it’s better to pay out of pocket than submit claims that are less than your deductible.

Save your insurance for the catastrophic stuff. “You want the cleanest record possible,” Bach says. “You want to be seen as the lowest risk. It’s like a driving record — the more tickets you have, the more your insurance.”

Some insurance groups, like the Insurance Information Institute and National Association of Insurance Commissioners, say it’s hard to generalize about premium increases because states’ and providers’ rules differ. But this stat from a report by UP and the Rutgers Center for Risk and Responsibility at Rutgers Law School is pretty sobering: Only two states — Rhode Island and Texas — got top marks for protecting consumers “from improper rate increases and non-renewals” just for making:

  • An inquiry about a claim
  • A claim that isn’t paid because it was less than the deductible
  • A single claim

Your best protection? Maintaining your home so small claims don’t even materialize.

#3 Making Improvements Without Checking the ROI

Brandon Hedges, a REALTOR® in Minneapolis-St. Paul, recalls a couple who, though only planning to stay in their home for a few years, quickly replaced all their windows. When the time came to sell, he had to deliver the crushing news that they wouldn’t get back their full investment — more than $30,000.

New windows can be a great investment if you’re sticking around for awhile, especially if windows are beyond repair, and you want to save on energy bills.

Just because you might personally value an upgrade doesn’t mean the market will. “It’s easy to build yourself out of your neighborhood” and invest more than you can recoup at resale, says Linda Sowell, a REALTOR® in Memphis, Tenn.

What to do: Before you pick up a sledgehammer, check with an agent or appraiser, who usually are happy to share their knowledge about how much moola an improvement will eventually deliver.

#4 Going on a Furnishing Spree

When you enter homeownership with an apartment’s worth of furnishings, entire rooms in your new home are depressingly sparse. You want to feel settled. You want guests at your housewarming party to be able to sit on real furniture.

But try to exercise some retailing willpower. Investing in high-quality furniture over time is just smarter than blowing your budget on a whole house worth of particleboard discount items all at once.

What to do: Live in your home for a while, and you’ll get to know your space. Your living room may really need two full couches, not the love seat and a recliner you pictured there.

#5 Throwing Away Receipts and Paperwork

Shortly after moving in, your sump pump dies. You begrudgingly pay for a new one and try to forget about the cash you just dropped. But don’t! When it comes time to sell, improvements as small as this are like a resume-builder for your home that can boost its price. And, if problems arise down the road, warranty information for something like a new furnace could save you hundreds.

What to do: Stow paperwork like receipts, contracts, and manuals in a three-ring binder with clear plastic sleeves, or photograph your documents and upload them to cloud storage.

#6 Ignoring Small Items on Your Inspection Report

Use your inspection report as your very first home to-do list — even before you start perusing paint colors. Minor issues that helped take a chunk of change off the sale price can cause cumulative (and sometimes hazardous) damage. Over time, loose gutters could yield thousands in foundation damage. Uninsulated pipes? You could pay hundreds to a plumber when they crack in freezing temperatures. And a single faulty electric outlet could indicate dangerous ungrounded electricity.

What to do: Get the opinion and estimate of a contractor (usually at no charge), and then you can make an informed decision. But remember #1 above.

#7 Remodeling Without Doing the Research

No one wants to be a Negative Nancy, but there’s a benefit to knowing the worst-case scenario.

Homeowner Kanter tells the time he hired roofers to remove box gutters from his 1880s home. Little did he know, more often than not aged box gutters come with more extensive rot damage, which his roofers weren’t qualified to handle.

“We had to have four different contractors come in and close stuff up for the winter,” he says. Had he researched the problem, he could have saved money and anxiety by hiring a specialist from the start, he says.

What to do: Before beginning a project, thoroughly research it. Ask neighbors. Ask detailed questions of contractors so you can get your timing, budget, and expectations in line.

#8 Buying Cheap Tools

You need some basic tools for your first home — a hammer, screwdriver set, a ladder, maybe a mower.

But if you pick up a “novelty” kit (like those cute pink ones) or inexpensive off-brand items, don’t be surprised if they break right away, or if components like batteries have to be replaced frequently.

What to do: For a budget-friendly start, buy used tools from known quality brands (check online auctions or local estate sales) that the pros themselves use.


Thai Salmon

In our household, we have thoroughly enjoyed this Thai salmon with sweet chili sauce.  In winter, I bake it in the oven and in summer months Jon grills it on a soaked in water cedar plank. Second version is unbelievable tasty but oven method is as good minus the cedar smoky flavor.


  • 6 x 6 oz sockeye salmon fillets, skin on or off
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce, divided
  • 2 – 3 tbsp green onions, chopped
  • Cooking spray (I use Misto)


    1. In a large baking dish, lay down salmon fillets in a row. Each fillet – sprinkle with a pinch of salt and top with 1 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce. Brush or rub with your fingers to coat fish with sauce evenly on top, bottom and sides. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight is the best (up to 24 hours).
    2. Turn on oven’s broiler on High and position top oven rack 5″ – 6″ below the heat source. Line large baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper, spray with cooking spray and place salmon fillets skin side down (if any). Coat with remaining marinade from the dish (if any).
    3. Broil for 8 minutes, rotating baking sheet once. Remove from the oven and brush top of each fillet with 2 tsp of Thai sweet chili sauce. Return to the oven and broil for another 5 minutes or until salmon has caramelized. Serve hot garnished with green onions, extra sauce (if desired) with brown rice or quinoa on a side.
Storage Instructions: Refrigerate covered for up to 3 days.

Buyer, Beware: 5 Home-Buying Negotiation Tactics That Can Backfire

There’s no denying that buying a home is a costly endeavor—in fact, it’s likely the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make.

So it makes sense to try to negotiate where you can. Save a few bucks here, get a few things thrown in there, right? We hear ya—we’re all about making a smart offer that doesn’t leave you house-poor.

But when it comes time to negotiate, there are a few strategies you should avoid, lest you risk offending the seller and losing your shot at your dream home. This is especially true in a red-hot seller’s market, where the seller might have a number of tempting offers and is looking for anything that breaks the tie.

Of course, the key to smart negotiating is having the right team in place to advocate for you without alienating the other party. Sellers (and their agents) might be reluctant to deal with you if your agent is perceived as being difficult or—worse—shady, says Cara Ameer, a Realtor® in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. And if a seller is dealing with multiple offers, that could be enough to get you sent to the bottom of the pile. So find out the word on the street about your agent by talking to people you trust.

And then help your agent help you into a great home by not trying to pull off one of these misguided maneuvers.

1. Making a lowball offer

How low can you go? That seems to be the game some buyers play, assuming that if they start really low, they’ll end up getting the house for a song.

Gary Lucido, president of Chicago-area firm Lucid Realty, says that buyer’s agents commonly dissuade their clients from this tactic because they fear it will “insult” the seller. But the problem might be bigger than just hurting someone’s feelings.

“The real issue in starting well below the market value is that it costs you credibility,” he says. “The seller either thinks you don’t know the market or you are looking to take advantage of someone, and in either case, they don’t want to deal with you.”

The bottom line: The seller has a number in mind, and whether you start at $1 or $300,000, it only matters if you can hit the seller’s lowest target selling price.

“You’re not going to lower their target by starting at a lower number,” Lucido says.

2. Asking for a bunch of add-ons

You’ve found a place that’s within your budget. What’s more, you’ve fallen in love with the home—and everything in it.

You might be feeling emboldened to ask for more than just the house, but you should resist that temptation, says Ameer. She’s seen buyers who think it’s a good idea to ask for furniture or appliances to be thrown in for free, or expect that the sellers will just leave their patio furniture because it “goes so well” with the house.

Apparently the adage “it doesn’t hurt to ask” doesn’t apply in this situation.

“Sellers become totally offended when you keep asking for more, and you risk alienating them,” Ameer says. “Even if they don’t like their patio furniture anymore, they’d typically rather sell it on Craigslist than leave it for a greedy buyer.”

Of course, you can always ask to buy their stuff—in that case, they’d probably be flattered!

3. Using the inspection as a renegotiation tool

So, your offer was accepted, but then you start to get cold feet and you subconsciously (or consciously!) start searching for flaws that you could use as leverage to lower the price.

“Most inspectors are going to find something to recommend—such as adding gutters, improving the drainage, or upgrading all the smoke detectors—but those aren’t repairs that the seller is responsible for,” Ameer says.

If the inspection turns up something major (like a cracked foundation), by all means that should be discussed. But you shouldn’t demand that the sellers fix every minor thing or lower their price.

“You can’t expect a perfect house,” Ameer says. “If you’re constantly nickel-and-diming the seller, they might decide you’re not someone they want to do business with.”

Mind you, the sellers generally can’t just back out because they’re unhappy, but if both parties are unable to come to an agreement regarding repairs, they can both decide to abandon the deal.

Remember how much you have already invested in the process, in terms of time and money, and be willing to let the little things go.

4. Negotiating with incremental amounts

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for a home—why offer $350,000 when you could have it for $325,000? But if you engage in too much back-and-forth, you’ll risk alienating the seller. When buyers insist on making incremental counteroffers, they’re just giving sellers a chance to move on to the next buyer, says George Theodore, a senior real estate adviser in Miami.

So, for example, if you’re ultimately willing to go up $8,000, don’t make four additional offers of $2,000 each.

“This tactic just tires out both sides and prolongs the transaction since you usually give each party 48 hours to reply,” Theodore says. It “actually gets you nowhere tactically or psychologically.”

5. Making a ‘one-way offer’

Just as the seller has a target price in mind, you probably have a point at which you’ll be unwilling to budge. But one of the worst things you can do is advertise this to the seller.

Ameer calls this the “one-way offer,” where buyers dig in their heels and state right off the bat, “This is our offer, you have X amount of time to respond, and if you don’t take it, we’re moving on.”

“This just puts the seller on the defensive and usually is a path to a dead-end offer,” Ameer says.

It seems like an obvious no-no, right? Well, even in this red-hot seller’s market, Ameer has seen buyers push for this tactic despite her warnings—especially if the buyer is offering all cash, or if the property has been on the market for a while. She calls it the “seller-is-lucky-to-have-me syndrome.”

“Sometimes buyers have to try this tactic themselves to see how it really ends up before they decide to get with reality,” Ameer says.

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Livable Sheds: Silly Trend or Ultimate Hack?

Here’s how to talk yourself into (or out of) building a tricked-out shed.

So long, storage shed.

Homeowners across the country are converting these sheds into tricked-out spaces to play, entertain, and work in — complete with drywall, paint, furnishings, and even utilities.

Kind of hard not to want one once you see one. Admit it, you’re trying to figure out exactly where you’d put one, right? But are these picture-perfect livable sheds really worth your money and yard space? Here are a few questions and answers to help you figure that out.

Is the Cost of Building a Shed Worth It?

Let’s cut to the chase: Real estate experts agree the value of a livable shed is in the eye of the beholder — and that doesn’t necessarily translate into increased resale value.

“I’d put it in the category of a pool,” REALTOR® Micki Sanderson says of livable sheds in her Amherst, Mass., market. Add one for your own enjoyment, but don’t expect it to bring big bucks. She expects homeowners could recoup the cost to add electricity, but not plumbing, given the higher installation costs.

A shed’s resale value is limited, in part, because they are considered “outbuildings” or “accessory structures.” According to the American National Standards Institute’s appraising standards, used in most parts of the country, these detached spaces — and even beautifully appointed guest houses — are not calculated into a home’s “general floor area” of finished square footage.

But resale price is one thing. A great feature that helps seal the deal is another.

REALTOR® Diane Taillon in Ephraim, Wis., believes a livable shed can increase a home’s desirability — if framed as the spectacular boon it is.

“It definitely, in my opinion, helps sell homes. It’s an amenity that is so attractive,” she says. Staging a gardening shed as a she-shed helped her sell one home, and just describing the potential of a junk-filled shed was enough to sell another.

What Purpose Will Your Shed Serve?

Now that you know these vamped-up outbuildings probably aren’t going to pay for themselves, you might still really want one. And that’s when they offer the most value — when they make you happy.

Whether using it for working, reading, yoga, or artistic pursuits, a livable (or workable or playable) shed adds a new functionality to your home to help you enjoy it more, and use it more.

For artist Maria Varmazis, a studio shed provides an ideal sanctuary outside of her Boston home. Here, she can paint, make a mess, and not have to worry about cleanup before her cats find their way in — and it’s made her more productive.

“I’ve been able to do more work than I hoped,” Varmazis says. “Just having the studio there is motivation.”

How Much Do Livable Shed Kits Cost?

A very basic 10-by-10-foot engineered wood kit from a home improvement store runs about $900. And if you’re wanting things like extra windows, bigger doors, flower boxes, etc., you’ll pay more. While that may sound affordable, there are additional expenses that aren’t included.

What shed kits don’t include:

  • Permits
  • Foundation and flooring
  • Shingles
  • Drywall
  • Electricity
  • Insulation
  • Plumbing
  • Installation if you’re not DIYing it

A poured foundation will cost about $75 in materials, and if you hire someone to do it, they’ll charge up to a $100 an hour.

Electrical materials will cost around $150 to run a line from your house to a shed 50 feet away. But unless you have this specific skill set, you’ll need to call in an electrician. At $50 to $100 an hour, that brings the cost to $500 or more.

And if you’re looking to trick out your shed with a wet bar or convenient bathroom? Plumbing is an even more costly addition, starting at $1,000 to $1,500 just to run the supply and drain lines.

Watch out for your local laws, too. There could be some costs there in the form of permits, the type of materials that are permitted, etc. If you fail to check off all the necessary boxes, you could receive a fine — or, even worse, be forced to undo some or all of the construction.

How Much Can Be DIYed to Save Money?

The kits make it easy for even the most novice DIYers to do some of the work, which will knock down labor expenses.

Varmazis and her husband handled the permits and DIYed the interior of their shed to save money. But they paid a crew to erect their shed’s shell because they weren’t confident they had the skills to do it well.

You, on the other hand, might be able to rouse your carpenter-savvy friends into an old-fashioned barn-raising, and then pay a pro to make the inside look really sweet.

Is Your Climate Suitable for a Shed?

If you live in a severely cold climate, be honest with yourself about whether braving the elements will deter you from using your shed, and what it might cost you to make it truly livable in terms of building materials and utility bills, says Sanderson.

It’ll need a pitched roof as well as insulation, a source of heat and possibly double-pane windows to keep you from risking frostbite.

Also, know that most kits are built for more temperate climates. So if your home’s in a frigid climate, it may be best to consult with a local vendor that knows what materials your shed needs to keep you “living” in it.