6 Tasks Every Homeowner Should Do in November

It’s the spring cleaning of fall, so to speak.

With guest season (also known as THE HOLIDAYS) coming at you fast and furious, you want to be sure your home is cozy, but with that fresh-as-spring feel — as opposed to that musty-damp-winter feel.

Here’s how to make that happen (along with a few other timely tips):

#1 Wash Bed Pillows

You love your trusty, old, perfectly-snugged-to-your-head pillow. But guess what’s also snug against your head? Fungus — 4 to 16 species to be precise. Gross!

With fall being the height of guest season, you’ll want your guest pillows fresh, too. Pop them in the washing machine and dryer for an all-over clean feeling. (But check manufacturer advice, too. Some pillows shouldn’t be washed, but replaced instead.)

#2 Clean the Mattress, Too

Sleeping soundly gets even better when you know you’re lying on a clean and fresh mattress. The yuck factor: Skin cells and sweat get into the mattress, then dust mites show up for a dinner party featuring those tasty skin cell morsels.

You’ll want your guest mattress to be at it’s freshest. It’s easy to do: Vacuum it and then wipe it down with a cloth dampened with an upholstery shampoo. But be sure to let it dry; otherwise, you’re inviting mold. Also, be sure to rotate it 180 degrees to help keep it lump-free.

(Another option: if you’ve got a flippable mattress, go ahead and flip it. That, too, can help kill the yucky mites.)

#3 Insulate Windows

Bone-chilling drafts seriously detract from the cozy vibe you want. Keep it cozy by hanging drapes as close to your windows as possible to help you keep the heat inside.

You can even add clear Velcro strips or dots to the back of the drape and attach to fasteners on the wall to help insulate. Be sure to cross one drape over the other when you close up for the night. Insulating shades can do the trick, too.

#4 Stock Up on Snow Supplies

If snow is a given where you live and you’re lacking supplies, take advantage of seasonal sales now to make sure you’re not the one rushing to the hardware store at the last minute — only to find out they just sold out of ice melt.

If you have a snow blower, be sure to have it serviced and fueled up before the first winter storm arrives — and with it, price hikes on all the snow stuff.

#5 Trim Tree Branches

The last thing you need is a winter storm loosing the wrath of that mighty tree whose branches are angling over your roof. Long limbs invite pests to explore your roof for excess water to seep into cracks in the roof or siding.

Keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from the house. Plus it’s easier to trim branches after leaves have fallen. (If it’s an evergreen, well, sorry about that. It’ll be a prickly job, but the bonus is you’ll have greenery for the holidays!)

#6 Get a Chimney Sweep to Inspect the Fireplace

It’s time to dust off and sweep the chimney! Best to hire someone who knows wood-burning fireplaces. A professional chimney sweep will ensure your wood-burning fireplace burns more efficiently and will help prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter. So yeah, it’s pretty important.

Tip: If you don’t already have a chimney cap, this is also the time to add one to stop wild outdoor critters from crawling down it — and (yikes!) into your house.


Paleo Chocolate-Dipped Toasted Coconut Macaroons


  • 4 Large Egg Whites (2/3 cup)
  • Pinch of Kosher Salt
  • 1/3 cup Melted Raw Honey
  • 12 ounces Unsweetened Shredded Coconut, toasted
  • 12 ounces Dark Chocolate Chips


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly spread the shredded coconut over the sheets.
  3. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, removing and stirring every 5 minutes.
  4. Separate 4 egg whites into a bowl and add the pinch of kosher salt.
  5. Beat the eggs on high until almost stiff peaks are formed.
  6. Slowly add in the heated honey about 1 tsp at a time, beating simultaneously.
  7. Once all the honey is added, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed.
  8. {Note: stiff peaks are marked by when you shake the beaters and the peaks of egg white foam do not move or wiggle.}
  9. Fold in the cooled and toasted unsweetened coconut with a large spatula.
  10. Line the baking sheets with more parchment paper.
  11. Using a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, spoon the egg white/coconut mixture into the bag filling towards one corner. Cut the corner of the bag off.
  12. {Note: an actual pastry bag works too.}
  13. Squeeze about 1 Tbl dollops onto the baking sheet.
  14. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown.
  15. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the chocolate.
  16. Melt the chocolate chips on a double boiler. {Boil some water in a small sauce pan and place a large glass bowl on top of the pot. Add the chocolate chips to the glass bowl and stir constantly until evenly melted, then remove from the heat.}
  17. When the cookies are cooled, dip the bottom into chocolate and set on parchment paper.
  18. Set the chocolate by placing the cookies in the refrigerator. This should take about 30 minutes.
  19. Plate and enjoy!

What to Know About Your Credit Before Buying a Home

It’s not just whether you pay your bills on time that matters.

Like it or not, your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your life, ranking up there with your Social Security number, date of birth, and wedding anniversary. This three-digit number is your financial report card, except there’s no getting rid of it after college.

Your credit score shows lenders just how trustworthy you are when it comes to managing your finances, and it can either save or cost you thousands of dollars throughout your life.

If you’re in the dark about just how significantly this number can impact you and the details behind your personal score, here’s an overview of what you need to know before hitting the mortgage application process.

How Your Score is Calculated

Your FICO credit score is comprised of five elements, according to the Fair, Isaac Corp.

  1. 35% of your score is attributed to how you pay your bills. Points are added for paying on time and deducted for late or missing payments. Note: This is a big portion of your score, so if you’re not paying bills on time, it’s best to get that under control pronto.
  2. 30% of your score is based on your credit utilization ratio. Translation: How much money do you owe as a portion of the amount of credit available to you? The lower this ratio, the better.
  3. 15% is based on the length of your credit history. When did you open your first account (and is it still open)?
  4. 10% of your score goes to the type of credit you have. Think revolving credit (such as credit cards) and installment credit (such as car loans and mortgages).
  5. The last 10% is impacted by new credit applications. How often and for what types of credit are you applying?

Where to Find Your Score and Report

To access your credit report, use a website such as annualcreditreport.com, which will give you one free report a year, or creditkarma.com, which will provide you with free access to your score upon signing up for an account.

Once you have copies of your report and score, immediately look for fraudulent or erroneous information. If you find anything, immediately contact both the credit reporting agency and the company that is portraying inaccurate information to determine next steps.

How Your Score Can Cost You

Your score can range from about 300 to 850. You’ll find a variety of breakdowns on what’s considered “good” compared to “excellent” versus “poor,” but in general you’ll want to aim for a score of 720 and higher, which is the “excellent” range.

The higher your credit score, the more creditworthy you appear to lenders (meaning they can rely on you to pay your debts and pay them on time), which translates into lower interest rates and more money saved when taking out a loan.

Not sure how this can play out financially? Consider this:

Meet Claire: She’s 35, pays her credit card off in full each month, has all her bills on auto-draft, and never misses a payment. She’s had a positive credit history for 10 years and wants to buy a home. Claire was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 3.75%.

Meet Steve: He’s 32, obtained his first credit card at age 18, ran up some debt in college that he’s still working on paying down, and has no system for keeping track of bills. He has consistent late and bounced check fees. Steve wants to buy a home and was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 5.5%.

What’s all the fuss about if they were both approved? Over the life of her loan, Claire will pay $133,443.23 in interest. Over the life of his loan, Steve will pay $208,808.08 in interest. A small interest rate difference of 1.75% translates into $75,364.85 more paid by Steve! $75,000 is a pretty significant sum of money that could be used toward other goals.

Having a solid credit score is one of the most financially savvy tools for you to have on hand when it comes to buying a home. When managed wisely, your credit score will bring you confidence, peace of mind, and more money saved via low interest rates.

When mismanaged or not cared for at all, your credit score can delay your success in meeting financial goals and result in additional funds and resources spent correcting past mistakes.


A Dozen Foyer Ideas for Under $100

When you open your front door, do you step into what looks like a lost-and-found? Here’s how to organize the jumble and avoid a bad trip.

If there’s one place in the home that cries out for organization, it’s the foyer. Navigating it can even become a safety hazard, not to mention other dire consequences: Lose your car keys? Be late for work. Missing homework? First grader’s tantrum. Can’t find the dog’s leash? Uh-oh, puddle on the floor.

Whatever the size of your foyer — whether it’s a grand, two-story space with commodious closets or barely a space at all — here are the essentials for a more functional foyer that’s also more fun.

1. Wall Color

Conventional wisdom often dictates that the use of white paint creates the illusion of larger space, but unless you have a really tiny vestibule, you can afford to go bold in a room you pass through quickly. So go ahead and wow visitors with a pop of something fearless. Orange? Scarlet? Teal? Washable high-gloss paint makes short work of scuff marks and fingerprints. A gallon should do it. $36

Do keep the ceiling white, though, to head off claustrophobia.

2. Easy-Clean Flooring

A foyer needs a floor that can handle the wear and tear of comings and goings. Sure, ceramic or marble are nice, but self-adhesive 12-by-12-inch vinyl squares go down easy, can be laid on a diagonal for a diamond pattern, and cost only 69 cents a square foot. Black and white checkerboard is classic and graphic, but you can also create stripes, a contrasting border, and any color combo you like. Just make sure you choose something that works with the colors in the next room.

3. Room Divider

Don’t have a dedicated foyer? Create one — or the illusion of one — with a room divider to ensure the foyer and all the stuff that ends up there doesn’t leak into the living area. It could be a bookshelf, a screen, or a couple of IKEA’s new vertical 3-pot plant stands for a welcome-home filled with greenery. $40

4. Boot Tray

Providing one or more trays for wet boots and shoes is a game-changer if all you’re used to is a pile in the corner. Go decorative if you like, but a large aluminum baking sheet with a lip, available online for $7, works just as well.

5. Bench

You need something to sit on while taking off those muddy boots. If it’s built-in and hinged for inside storage (think soccer balls, ice skates), so much the better. But a less-expensive option is to gussy up an old blanket chest or old camp trunk with fresh paint. Find one on eBay or in a thrift store or flea market and you’re good to go.

6. Key Rack

Make it an ironclad family habit: When you come in, hang keys immediately on a dedicated key rack on the wall just inside the door, like this one. $12. DIYing one with the kids makes it fun.

7. Coat Hooks and Shelves

Be as generous with coat hooks as wall space allows, but don’t let things get out of hand. Stash anything not currently in season or in use in the nearest closet. If you need more space for hats, bike helmets, and items only the grown-ups need access to, add a shelf. A continuous shelf running around the room just a foot or two short of the ceiling makes use of vertical space and keeps less frequently used items out of the way.

8. Umbrella Stand

Another must: a spot for umbrellas in a corner near the door. Buy a pretty one, or repurpose a tall wire wastebasket.

9. Table or Console

If you have room, go for a narrow table or console for library books that need returning, outgoing mail, a lamp. Many available online for around $100.

10. Lockers or Cubbies

Really squeezed for space? You can still give each kid his or her own little cubby for books, homework, gym gear. Cubbies are available at all price points.

11. Mirror

A wall mirror for last-minute hair check and tie-straightening is vital. Bonus: It reflects additional light into the room.

12. Good Lighting

The all-important entry area needs ample illumination. Did you know that outdoor lanterns tend to be much less expensive? Nowhere is it written you can’t use one indoors. Styles vary from rustic to traditional to Arts and Crafts. $50


What Is the Best Flooring for Dogs and Other Rambunctious House Pets?

The best flooring for dogs and other four-legged friends is, among other things, durable. Popular varieties of beautiful hardwood and luxurious wool carpets don’t stand up well to daily wear and tear, so if you’ve fantasized about filling your home with high-maintenance flooring, you might want to think twice.

“One of the biggest problems with pets is their nails,” says Ebeth Pitman, director of brand development and marketing at Armstrong Flooring. Even well-trimmed nails can gouge hardwood and snag carpet. Muddy paws and pets thats are not yet housebroken are also a bad match for carpeting. Stains and smells can be impossible to remove, even with the best industrial-strength cleaners.

Still, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style for durability—as long as you choose your surfaces wisely. Here are some flooring options that will keep both you and your furry pals happy.

Poured and sealed concrete

Concrete resists scratches of all kinds, is easy to clean in case of accidents, and doesn’t collect pet fur. Plus, it gives off a stylish industrial vibe that’s all the rage right now. The downside is that it’s hard and can be quite cold in the winter. If you live in a chilly climate, radiant floor heating is an option. Another easy way to soften concrete floors and add warmth is to cover them with inexpensive, easy-to-wash rugs.


Tile is another great option for people with pets: It’s durable and easy to clean. Although, if you have animals with serious bladder control issues, keeping the grout clean might be a challenge. But for most pet owners, tile is a smart, liquid-proof surface with tons of different design options. If you’re dreaming of wood floors but don’t want to risk it, consider faux-wood tiles.

Luxury vinyl

Luxury vinyl is another fantastic option for pet owners set on keeping their floors pristine.

“They’re highly durable, long-lasting, and resistant to moisture, scratches, and dents,” says Pitman. Plus, they diminish that “click-click” sound your pets’ nails make on the floor. Stylewise, vinyl has come a long way. Most vinyl floor tiles and planks are designed to mimic stone or wood patterns. And it’s affordable!


Laminate is another artificial wood product that’s extremely strong: The sealant layer on laminate makes it scratch- and scuff-proof, though it canbe damaged by liquids if they’re left to sit for long. Laminate is less expensive than wood, concrete, or most tile. The only potential issue with this type of flooring is that the layer that protects the laminate is very slippery and can have your pet skidding all over the place. If you’re going to go with laminate, consider a finish with some texture to help your buddies get traction.

If you absolutely must have hardwood floors

Pets don’t have to dash your dreams of a hardwood-filled home. If you’re willing to live with the real thing, you still have options.

“Hardwood floors and dogs can live in harmony, with a few rules,” says Pitman. She recommends making sure dog nails are trimmed frequently and messes are wiped up immediately. Consider engineered hardwood with the most scratch-resistant finish available. Go for the hardest wood you can find such as teak, mesquite, or hard maple. Wood with a matte or low-gloss look will do a better job at hiding scratches. And be sure to finish your floor with a scratch-resistant finish.

Another option? Distressed or reclaimed wood. It’s supposed to look scratched, so any blemishes caused by pets just add to its beauty. Right?

If you absolutely must have carpet

Carpet adds a cozy look to bedrooms and family rooms, so it’s no wonder that it’s still a popular option for many homes. If you can’t live without it, consider installing carpet specifically designed to resist pet stains and odors. Choose a nonwhite neutral that won’t show dirt as quickly, and vacuum frequently to keep fur from building up (or invest in a robot vacuum to do the cleaning for you).

Carpet tiles are another good choice if you live with pets. The tiles are easy to remove for cleaning, and if one is damaged beyond repair, you only have to replace a single tile, not the entire carpet.

Article by Audrey Ference

The Genius Way to Clean Fast for Last-Minute Guests

It’s all about priorities. Oh, and hiding messes. That, too.

What in the world made you invite your new workmates over for a little “whine” time tonight? You never dreamed they’d actually say yes, but they did.

Gah! While your place isn’t a total mess, it’s not exactly guest-ready. You’ll have maybe an hour before they get here.

What to do?

The trick is to focus on the obvious, says Dana K. White, creator of “A Slob Comes Clean” website. Her top tip? If you can’t see it, forget it. Here’s how to prioritize your tidying in a pinch:

Follow Your Guests’ Path

You don’t need Google Maps to plot out your guests’ likely route. The places on this path are the ones to tidy first.

“Prioritize,” White says.

For example, they might start in the foyer (where your boots are currently dripping on your gloves that you threw down when you dashed in), and move through your living room (oh look, this morning’s yogurt cup), and into the kitchen (oh man).

Stuff clutter into grocery totes and toss the bags in a closet until your guests are gone.


Cooking an apple pie is an old real estate trick that makes the house smell good and conjures thoughts of happy family meals.

You don’t have to go that far. Once you’ve decluttered your guest’s path, light a citrus candle to burn as you clean. Blow it out at the end of your cleaning binge (or as you spot your guests arriving, whichever comes first) — that’s when the aroma really hits.

Dump the Dishes

“Dirty dishes in the sink are the main thing that makes your house look like you’re not keeping up,” says White. Stick them in the dishwasher (don’t bother to scrape plates this one time; new dishwashers can handle it), and turn it on. The hum signals you’re a diligent homeowner.

If you don’t have a dishwasher, stash dishes under the sink or in the oven. Definitely set your phone’s alarm to remind you they’re there — or a monster stink will jog your memory tomorrow.

Flip the Cushions

Flip your cushions instead of vacuuming them to save a couple of minutes.

Tip: Try to buy furniture with cushions that can flip; designate one cushion side for yourself and one for guests. That way your sofa will always be guest-ready.

De-Gross the Bathroom

To get the essentials clean in hurry, White says:

  • Grab a microfiber cloth that picks up dust easily or a disinfectant cloth and run it over every visible surface, including the mirror.
  • Shine up the faucets, and take five swipes at the sink.
  • Unless you have a septic system, pour some bleach into the toilet, brush, swirl, and flush.
  • Put away anything that’s nobody’s business but your own.
  • Install a fresh roll of toilet paper; fold the ends into an arrow like they do in fine hotels and really impress your guest.
  • Last, replace your hand towels. White says fresh hand towels show you care.

Set the Mood

We mean mood lighting — lamps, candles — anything but overhead lighting that highlights dust. Lamps also make nice focal points to distract from whatever you missed.

Vacuum Last

“Vacuuming and sweeping is the very last thing,” White says. Otherwise, you’ll just get the floors dirty again with your speed cleaning.

Concentrate on the areas guests will see, like the middle of rooms. Forget corners and baseboards. Just suck up the big dust bunnies and dog hair. You can at least pretend Max won’t shed all over your friend anyway while saying hello.

Know When to Stop

Remember, these are your friends, not your boss. You don’t have to white-glove the place for people who only want to open a bottle of red and whine a little.

Get it tidy, but drop the broom the moment you open the door. It’s hangout time.


Avocado-Corn Salsa

A fresh salsa of avocado and corn is great with simple sautéed fish or just about anything Mexican-inspired—huevos rancheros, a quick quesadilla or atop rice and beans.


  • 1 medium avocado, diced
  • ¾ cup frozen corn, thawed
  • ½ cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Toss avocado, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Serve chilled with tortilla chips.
  • Per serving: 109 calories; 8 g fat(1 g sat); 4 g fiber; 11 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 55 mcg folate; 0 mg cholesterol; 2 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 307 IU vitamin A; 9 mg vitamin C; 9 mg calcium; 0 mg iron; 75 mg sodium; 363 mg potassium

5 Mortgage Mistakes You’re Too Smart to Make

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

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

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

1. Not Checking Your Credit Report

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

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

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

2. Opening New Lines of Credit

Before shopping for a mortgage, it’s best to minimize your number of credit inquiries. These come when you apply for a new line of credit. Lenders use your FICO or other credit score to evaluate your creditworthiness.

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

Worry not. FICO regards several lender queries in a short time as a single query, which shouldn’t have much effect.

3. Increasing Your Debt Load

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

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

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

4. Forgetting About Special Loan Programs

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

5. Applying with Fluctuating Income

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

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


10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For

Never underestimate the power of an extra phone charger.

You’re expecting houseguests. Fun! You want them to feel welcome, comfortable, and — dare we say it? — maybe even a tad envious of your hosting prowess.

No need to moonlight at hospitality school. We asked Airbnb hosts with tons of great reviews on their cozy bungalows and light-filled island condos for some quick, easy (and cheap!) ideas to turn your guest quarters into a vacation haven. Be careful, though – your guests may not want to leave!

#1 Stock Up on Extra Chargers and Cords

A dead phone equals getaway misery. Airbnb host Valarie D’Elia sets out a bowl with power strips and cords, outlet converters, and even an iHome speaker. Nothing sets the stage for feeling at home IRL like feeling at home digitally.

And that includes posting your Wi-Fi name and password in the guest room so they don’t have to bug you.

#2 Offer Sample-Size Toiletries in Your Bathroom

Put your stockpile of Sephora samples and hotel toiletries to good use. Tiny shampoos and lotions arranged in a basket or vintage apothecary jar are as welcoming as they are practical. Guests will be relieved if they forgot their own, but even if they didn’t, they’ll love the luxury of washing their hair on the house.

#3 Raise Your Cleanliness Standards

When you miss a dust bunny at home, it’s just your own skin flakes and dried up sneezes in your own corner. To guests, it’s disgusting at best and insulting at worst.

So clean it all. Airbnb even tells hosts to scrub the entire bathroom, not once but twice, including the toilet, sink, bath, and floors after every guest.

“We make sure you can smell the cleaner,” says Cheryl Trotta, who rents out her vintage bayside cottage in Warwick, R.I.

#4 Give It Your Personal Touch

People choose Airbnbs over sterile hotel rooms because, in part, they want an authentic, personal experience.

So give it to them!

Trotta intentionally markets her rental as a family cottage and scatters pictures and family treasures throughout the cottage. Frame a couple of your childhood photos and hang them up alongside some mementos from your own travels.

How else would your guests discover that you were drum major of your high school marching band?

#5 Put a Radio in the Bathroom

Your guests may like to sing along in the shower, but the real reason for putting some tunes in the bath is to provide them with plenty of, well, privacy. Add an essential oil diffuser — or poo-pourri drops — and you’re in business.

#6 Set Up a DIY Cafe

If your guests are early birds — or will just want some occasional alone time — put a coffeemaker in their room along with a well-stocked basket of coffee and tea. Maybe even blow their minds with a mini fridge full of snacks.

To pull this off right, ask how they take their coffee in advance, and stock up appropriately.

#7 Designate Drawer and Closet Space Just for Guests

If your guest room closet could be featured on Storage Wars, it’s time to rethink your stuff strategy.

Consider some serious Marie Kondo-izing — maybe donate your to-be-regifted pile and sell those designer jeans you’ll never fit into again — to make room in the closet and dresser for guest to have plenty of space (and the key word is plenty).

Label a few guest drawers and crack the closet so they can see there’s space to hang their clothes.

#8 Fancy Yourself a Travel Agent

Give guests a local’s-eye view by filling a basket with menus from nearby restaurants, brochures from local businesses that cater to tourists, and a current issue of your community newspaper. It’s a great way for guests to feel like a local and customize their time in your town.

#9 Hang a Robe – or Two – in the Closet

Bonding with their host over morning coffee is one of the best parts of staying with friends. But they can miss it completely when they realize they only packed a ratty grandma nightgown or — even worse — NSFW lingerie.

Help your guests feel right at home by hanging a couple of cozy (and freshly laundered), one-size-fits-all robes in the guest-room closet.

Not only can they wear their pajamas to breakfast without feeling self-conscious, but they’re also super-comfy and great to wrap up in after a shower.

#10 Expect the Unexpected with Extra Personal Supplies

And let your guests know where they are so they won’t feel guilty for bothering you (or worse, go without!). Here’s a list of things that rock-star Airbnb hosts always keep in stock:

  • Disposable razors
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • First-aid kit
  • Towels, pillows, and extra blankets
  • Umbrella
  • Flashlight
  • Replacement light bulbs

Being the perfect host is perfectly achievable. With a little forethought, you’ll start racking up your own stellar reviews from your friends and family. Get ready to be the house everyone vies to visit.

Article by LISA ROGAK

The Pet Lover’s Guide to Buying a Home: 6 Things You Might Miss

If you have dogs, cats, or other pets in your family, you’ll want to take their needs into account when you’re looking to buy a house. Yes, really. Your furry roommates might seem easygoing, but certain homes—and neighborhoods—are more pet-friendly than others.

Here are six questions to ask that often get overlooked; keep them in mind to find a place where you and your pets can live in peace.

1. What are the local pet laws?

Even if you own a piece of property, it’s not guaranteed that your pets will be welcome there. Depending on the number and the breed, there can be restrictions within an HOA, condo development, or even the city or state at large.

“Check your city and state for breed-specific laws and limits on the number of animals per home,” advises Amy Ference, a Realtor® in Bozeman, MT, and owner of two pit bull mixes. “For example, Bozeman requires a kennel license if you have more than two dogs.”

Some considerations:

  • Some HOAs or condo developments restrict the number or type of pets you can have, or spell out how your pet must be restrained in common areas.
  • In condo developments, there is often a limit on the number of dogs allowed per unit, or even per floor. “It’s important not to assume dogs are allowed because you saw one during your tour,” explains Ference. “Sometimes they are only allowed on the first floor, or in end units.”
  • If you have a breed that tends to bark a lot (ruh-roh), find out if your HOA or city enforces any noise ordinances.

2. What’s up with the yard and fencing?

Having a yard where pets can roam is amazing, of course, but keep in mind that if you want to keep your pets in (or other critters out), you’ll have to have a fence—or build one. Yet again, check your HOA or condo covenants on this front.

“I’ve seen covenants that only allow underground electric fencing, restrictions on the size or materials allowed for outdoor kennels or dog runs, and most neighborhood covenants outlaw animals running at large, so if you’re looking for a country setting where Fido can run free, it pays to give those a careful read,” says Ference.

3. Is the neighborhood good for pets to roam?

With dogs, finding a location that’s good for walks is key. That might mean being close to a park, dog run, trail, or other green space. But even if your pup doesn’t mind the commute, think about the sidewalk situation for everyday bathroom walks.

“You want to find a place where you’re happy to walk,” says Ference. “In snowy climates, that also means places with sidewalks, or you’re stuck walking in the roadway—which is super dangerous—or trudging through snow, which is exhausting.”

Be careful about choosing a location right on a busy road or highway; for dogs that get out frequently (or cats that like to roam), car traffic is a danger. Cat owners should also think about the local wildlife. In some areas, proximity to a green space means being closer to coyotes and foxes, which like to snack on smaller critters.

4. Does the house have pet-friendly floors?

Pet-friendly flooring is a big issue. Flooring expert Debbie Gartnerrecommends solid hardwood since it can be refinished when it’s scratched, and suggests looking for very light or very dark wood, and triple-sealing it with high-grade polyurethane (use a water-based poly for light floors, and oil-based for dark).

If you’re putting in new flooring anyway, consider reclaimed or distressed wood so that the scratches just add more character. Other good flooring options include poured concrete, tile, luxury vinyl, or laminate.

So what’s not so great? Wall-to-wall carpet. “Carpeting is not great for resale value,” says Ference. Cats will claw it, dogs track in mud and dirt. Carpet also traps smells from accidents, stains easily, and collects pet hair. If your dog or cat (or hey, human family members) needs something softer underfoot, go with an area or throw rug, which can be cleaned or replaced.

5. Does the house have a pet-friendly floor plan?

Consider the size and layout of the home if you have a large dog, or several dogs.

“You’ll be pretty sick of your house in short order if you’re always tripping over the dog—trust me on this one,” Ference says.

Is the space big enough for your dog’s breed? Is there enough room for a cozy dog bed or cat tree? If you’re downsizing, you should take into account how a tighter space will stress your pet.

6. Can your pet handle the stairs?

If you’re looking at a multilevel home, consider whether your dogs will be OK with the stairs, particularly as they age.

“When dogs get older, they can get joint problems that make it difficult for them to do steps,” explains Gartner. Just like their owners!

If you do choose a multilevel home, look for a place that has a carpet runner on the stairs, or be ready to install one. “It’s the No. 1 request for people with dogs,” says Gartner.

Article by Audrey Ference

Time to Brush Up: 9 Ugly Painting Mistakes You’ll Come to Regret

To a new homeowner, painting rooms might seem like the ultimate dream. After years of renting white walls that weren’t yours to alter even a smidge, you finally get to slather your home in whichever colors you desire. Freedom!

But if you’re gonna do the job right, there’s way more to do than sifting through fan decks and playing with online visualization tools—there’s actually a lot to consider when it comes to painting your home. The wrong move could ruin your decor (at least temporarily)  and fill you to the brim with regret.

So before you pick up that brush, learn the most common painting mistakes homeowners make—and save yourself some heartache.

1. Getting tiny samples

When it comes to swatches, size matters. Ask a color expert for an oversize sample or fan deck, and make sure that when you test different shades, you paint swatches that are big enough to evaluate how the color will really look.

“It’s essential to paint large blocks on every wall to see what they look like in each light and gloss level,” explains Sara McLean, color expert and stylist for Dunn-Edwards Paints. And don’t crowd samples, she says. “You need room between swatches to focus on each color.”

Next, try not to rush the testing process. “Live with your color choice to be sure it’s the right one for you,” urges Kaitlin Willhoit, a Realtor® with The Boutique Real Estate Group.

2. Not comparing finishes

The finish you choose should correlate with the room’s purpose.

“Many homeowners are nervous about using shiny semigloss, but it’s more durable than flat or matte and more moisture-resistant, which makes it perfect for bathrooms and the kitchen,” points out Kristen Chuber, marketing director at Paintzen.

On the other hand, flat and matte finishes allow for easy touch-ups, so save those for high-traffic spots like hallways and the kids’ rooms, she adds.

You should also consider the room’s undertones. “Your color will look off if you pair a pink undertone with a yellow one, so look at the counters, the stone fireplace, and cabinets when choosing paint,” says Karen Gray-Plaisted, a home staging expert with Design Solutions KGP. And don’t forget about your flooring—a warm mahogany hardwood might look off-base when paired with a cool gray paint.

3. Choosing a boring palette

Beige on beige with some white trim? Zzz … sorry, we dozed off there for a moment.

“Some homeowners stick to dull colors so they never have to repaint, but color is a reflection of your personality,” McLean says.

Plus, using the same color throughout will create a decor scheme that lacks depth. “It’s important to develop a complementary palette, and it’s trendy to mix neutrals, like warm grays, beige, and soft colors,” says Dessie Sliekers, an interior designer with Slick Designs.

4. Picking the wrong white

If you’re new to the world of paint, we’ve got news for you: You can’t just pick “white” paint and call it a day. Even white has different levels and shades, and you need to know what you want before you head to the store.

“Some whites are cool, others warm, still more are neutral, so the one you pick will depend on the room’s finishes and undertones,” Gray-Plaisted explains.

Another common mistake is using too much white—it makes a room look gray and drab, says Liat Tzoubari, CEO of Sevensmith, a home decor boutique. “Instead, choose a white with a slight pink or yellow tint such as cream,” she says.

5. Forgetting about the function of the room

The psychology of color has a few general rules, according to the experts.

“Red, for example, has been shown to raise the heart rate and blood pressure, so it’s a good choice in a room where you’re entertaining, but poorly used in a bedroom,” Chuber says.

Amy Bly, a home stager with Great Impressions, prefers navy blue in an office and calming shades of green or blue in bedrooms.

Also, whatever you do, never paint a bathroom brown or yellow, says Justin Riordan, founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency. They don’t send the right message. Instead, he says, “White exudes cleanliness.”

6. Skipping the ceiling

The ceiling is your fifth wall, so treat it with the same TLC as the other four, Chuber says.

“Whether you pick white or a bright color, painting it properly will give you those sharp edges along the top and can make wall color pop,” she says.

You don’t need to repaint ceilings as often as walls, but ignoring them will make them appear dull and dirty, she adds.

7. Adding an accent wall that’s jarring

“Accent walls seem to be the go-to solution for homeowners who are afraid of using color,” says Liz Toombs, president of Polka Dots & Rosebuds Interiors.

But think carefully about saturated color on one wall. You don’t simply want the loudest color you can think of, cautions Bee Heinemann, interior designer with Vant Wall Panels: “For an accent wall to work, the bold hue needs to be within the overall color scheme of the room or house.” Plus, going too bright may turn off a potential buyer.

Be cautious about where you paint an accent wall, too. Certain rooms are more appropriate than others.

“Accent walls are supposed to draw attention to a beautiful area, like the dining room—but not the bathroom or toilet area,” Willhoit says.

8. Ignoring the light

When you see a color in the paint store, the lighting is often harsh and industrial. But at home, you have softer bulbs with a warm glow, plus some natural light to work with.

“Test your color swatches in different lighting, or you’ll end up with a shade that’s all wrong,” Chuber recommends.

And you’ll want to consider the direction your rooms face, Bly adds. “North-facing rooms give colors a cool cast, while rooms looking south make colors warmer.”

9. Trying trends without professional help

Stencils and sponge painting may be cute on TV, but adding them to your walls can be tricky.

“Some of these can damage the wall, leaving an undesirable texture behind,” Heinemann explains.

This can be difficult to fix and may require a pro to restore the wall’s surface. And if you’re thinking of selling, remember that not every potential buyer will be in love with your designs.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Sweet and Savory Moroccan Chicken-Paleo

Currants, almonds, and cumin are just a few of the elements inspired by Moroccan-flavored stew in this delicious and easy chicken recipe. A bit of honey and subtle spices are simmered with a tomato-based sauce to create juicy, tender chicken. The chicken braises for about 45 minutes in a Dutch oven, leaving plenty of time to prepare any side dishes or even clean up the kitchen before serving dinner. I, for one, love to have the kitchen already cleaned when I sit down to enjoy my meal. You could serve this with a side of green vegetables, cauliflower rice, or perhaps roasted carrots.

  1. 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  2. 2 tbsp ghee
  3. 1 large yellow onion, diced
  4. 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  5. 1 tsp salt
  6. 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  7. 1/4 cup sliced almonds, plus more for garnish
  8. 1/4 cup dried currants
  9. 1 bay leaf
  10. 1 tsp cumin
  11. 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  12. 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  13. Pinch of red pepper flakes
  14. 1/4 cup honey
  15. 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Melt the ghee in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Work in batches and sear the chicken breasts to form a golden crust on the outside, 3-4 minutes per side. Set the chicken aside.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, garlic, and salt to the pot and stir. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomatoes, almonds, currants, bay leaf, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Slowly drizzle in the honey, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken back into the simmering sauce and reduce the heat to low. Stir to coat the chicken, then cover and cook for 45-50 minutes. Serve with additional sliced almonds for garnish, along with fresh parsley.

Home Purchase Basics

Have you made up your mind on buying a new home? There are many important things to consider throughout the process, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. Here’s some information that will keep you on track.

In General….

A home purchase may be your largest financial transaction to date, so it’s important to make the right decisions and to keep an eye on the details. With the assistance of your Real Estate Agent and Loan Officer, it should be an efficient, pleasant, and ultimately rewarding experience.

Count On Your Real Estate Agent To:

  1. Preview available homes to weed out those that are overpriced, or undesirable in some other way.
  2. Present the homes that suit your needs as you’ve defined them.
  3. Help you determine the difference between a “good buy” and a property which, because of its nature (neighborhood, market appeal, etc.), might have to be discounted if you decide to sell in the future.
  4. Negotiate the best deal for you. With a Pre-Qualification letter from us in hand, your Real Estate Agent will be able to demonstrate that you are a qualified and capable borrower. This will strongly influence the Seller, and may make the difference between the Seller accepting your offer or someone else’s — even if your offer is lower!

Count On Your Mortgage Broker and Loan Officer To:

  1. Assist you in selecting the best loan to meet your personal situation and goals. (This single decision can save you thousands of dollars throughout the years!)
  2. Keep you informed of your loan status throughout the entire process.
  3. Keep your Real Estate Agent informed of our loan progress (Note: your personal information is always kept confidential between you and us; only deal points and progress are shared).
  4. Get the appropriate loan for you at the best rates and fees. This will save you significant money “up front” and throughout the years to come.

Count On Yourself To:

  1. Keep your Real Estate Agent informed of any questions or concerns as they develop.
  2. Keep the process moving by providing documentation and decisions as soon as reasonably possible. By doing so, many of the details are taken care of early in the process so you can comfortably concentrate on any last-minute details or events that require your attention.
  3. Enjoy purchasing your home, but do remain objective throughout — to make the business decisions that are best for you.
  4. Make sure you are pre-approved as early as possible. This will put the power of financing behind you so you can concentrate on selecting your home.

Ready to get started? Give me a call or send me a text; 708-288-2098 or e-mail; csoderstrom@remax.net

‘For Sale by Owner’ Horror Stories That Reveal All That Can Go Wrong

If you’re looking to rake in megaprofits when you sell your home, it might be tempting to try to sell your house yourself. After all, by doing For Sale by Owner, you can avoid paying a real estate agent’s commission—typically 6% of the price of the home—and keep that cash yourself!

But it isn’t quite that simple.

Be warned: FSBO is riddled with pitfalls and often doesn’t pan out at all, which explains why only 8% of recent home sales were FSBO—the lowest share since the National Association of Realtors® started tallying these statistics in 1981. So what exactly can go wrong when you try to sell your house yourself? Read these tales of woe straight from folks who’ve tried it.

The facts about microchipping your dog

It is a sad fact that hundreds of dogs go missing every year and are found, rather bedraggled but perfectly healthy, handed into the local animal shelter which then searches desperately for the animal’s owner to no avail. In some cases the dogs are even euthanized. Many of these fine canines had been equipped with dog identification tags or collars but with so much time astray from their owners such collars had often slipped off or, agonizingly, the writing had become illegible. In a recent study involving over 7,700 stray pets, the number of non-microchipped dogs that were safely returned to their owners was just under 22%.

Very few dog owners would wish that their chances of finding their beloved lost pet were as low as one in five. As such, the solution that many have turned to is to have a microchip injected into their scampering young member of the family in order to raise these meager odds.

For an average one time cost of $45 at the majority of local veterinary practices, a microchip can be injected into the dog. It is a small glass cylinder about the size of a grain of rice that contains a radio transmitter and a minute electronic device containing the animal’s ID number. This is done in exactly the same manner as any usual injection procedure, although, in order to accommodate the microchip, it requires a slightly larger needle. The chip will last for over 25 years, which is well beyond the lifespan of all but the most exceptional hounds.

At this stage it is important to note that this is not a tracking microchip that can be used to pinpoint a dog’s location. The idea behind it is that when a dog is handed into an animal shelter, they can scan the dog for the microchip. This will then give them the animal identification number in order to search the database so as to contact the owner. The same study of 7,700 stray pets revealed that dogs with implanted microchips have a 51.2% chance of being reunited with their owners, a near 30% increase over those without.

Based on this information alone, most people would be convinced that a microchip for their pet is a good idea. However, there are a few warnings of which to take heed. In the past there were three microchip frequencies commonly used in the U.S. that responded to scanners on the fame frequency. These were 125 kilohertz (kHz), 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz. Until recently, these frequencies were mutually exclusive. For example a microchip that responds to a 125 kHz scanner would not respond to a 134.2 kHz scanner. There were some very sad cases of dogs unable to be returned to their owners, despite having a microchip, because it did not respond to the scanner’s frequency.

In order to alleviate this problem, universal scanners have been introduced. They are used by most shelters in the country, detecting microchips resonating at any of the above frequencies. In those unfortunate cases where animals are still scanned with the wrong frequency, it is always recommended that the dog’s identification tags are also maintained and kept up to date. An especially vigilant owner could always check the frequencies that local rescue shelters use to identify microchipped dogs. For reference, the international frequency for those looking to take their dogs abroad is 134.2 kHz.

The more worrying concerns are the admittedly rare medical complications that a microchip implant can cause. In 2009 there was the case of a Chihuahua hemorrhaging to death in California due to mystery bleeding put down to the microchip implant. There have also been complications when the chips have been implanted into the wrong area of the animal — something highly unlikely with a qualified veterinarian — or when the chip has migrated within the animal’s body. These have usually been harmless but can sometimes cause infections or abscesses. Finally, there have been reported cases of tumors developing in and around the area in which the implant was made, though this in itself does not necessarily mean it was due to the implant itself.

The latter part of this information is not designed to worry owners, it is merely a statement of fact. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Considering how a large number of pets have been implanted with microchips with a relatively small number of confirmed cases of tumors associated with microchips, the AVMA advises against a rush to judgment on the technology.” In the great majority of cases, microchips have saved lives and kept dogs and their families together without any drawbacks. While a dog can easily lose its tags or collar, it’s almost impossible to lose a microchip barring serious injury, and the benefits can outweigh the risks.

Article by Joe Barnes

Garage Organization Ideas Under $50

If clutter is leaving little room for cars, get organized with these smart, budget-friendly garage storage solutions.

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

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

Bikes, Skates, and Other Wheels

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

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

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

Sporting Goods

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Yard and Garden Gear

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

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

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

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


Creamy Pumpkin Curry with Chicken-Paleo

Creamy, sweet pumpkin is a delicious accompaniment to spicy Thai red curry. The rich pumpkin balances the curry to give the dish well-rounded flavor. It almost keeps getting better as leftovers the next day. Serve it alongside some cauliflower rice or Paleo pita bread for a hearty meal with bold flavor.


  1. 1 tbsp coconut oil
  2. 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  3. 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  4. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 tsp salt
  6. 1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  7. 1 1/3 cups coconut milk
  8. 1/3 cup pureed pumpkin
  9. 1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  10. 1-2 tsp lime juice
  11. 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  12. 3 tbsp cashews, toasted


  1. Melt the coconut oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until soft. Add the bell pepper, garlic, and salt and stir to combine. Cook for an additional minute.
  2. Add the curry paste to the pan and cook for about a minute, stirring to coat the other ingredients. Add in the coconut milk and pumpkin puree and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add lime juice to taste. Sprinkle with cilantro and cashews to serve.


  1. Servings: 4
  2. Difficulty: Medium

By Rebecca Bohl (PaleoGrubs.com)

8 Totally Hidden Home-Buying Costs to Plan Ahead For

So you’ll have all your financial needs buttoned up before your home closing.

With your focus on building your down payment fund and figuring out what your mortgage payment will be, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller fees that come along with a home purchase. Here are eight and what they could cost you.

1. Home Inspection

A home inspection helps protect you from purchasing a home that could be a lemon. So you don’t want to forgo it. Your inspector isn’t required to be an expert in everything. If you suspect termites, asbestos, and foundational issues, for instance, you’ll need to hire a specialist.Inspectors will look for signs of structural issues, mold, and leaks; assess the condition of the roof, gutters, water heater, heating and cooling system; and more. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee.

2. Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. This report worked in our favor a couple of years ago when our home came back appraised for $10,000 less than our bid; the sellers had to reduce their asking price in order to move forward. An appraisal can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425.

3. Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

4. Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

5. Lender’s Origination Fees

Your lender will charge you this upfront free for making the mortgage loan. This includes processing the loan application, underwriting the loan (researching whether to approve you), and funding the loan. These fees are quoted as a percentage of the total loan you’re taking out and generally range between 0.5 to 1.5%.

6. Survey Costs

This report ($150 to $400) confirms the property’s boundaries, outlining its major features and dimensions.

7. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase

Your lender must cancel PMI once you reach 78% of your loan-to-value ratio or you have 22% equity. But you can petition to cancel early when your LTV hits 80%.Read More InCancel Your Private Mortgage Insurance PMI,  which is a policy that protects the lender from losing money if you end up in foreclosure. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

8. Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.



5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

Article by G. M. FILISKO

Let the Fur Fly: What Are the Best Cities for Dog Lovers and for Cat Lovers?

Which side are you on?  America is bitterly divided into two warring groups these days. One is welcome in your home and considered family. The other is despicable and makes your blood boil.

So cough it up: Are you a you dog person or a cat person? And don’t give us that independent voter nonsense—we know you have a preference. Everyone does.

Catios or dog runs? Aloof cuddliness or goofy rambunctiousness? Automated litter boxes or hands-free, app-controlled pooper-scoopers?

Surprise: The camp you find yourself in might just help determine where you should live. As the animal-loving realtor.com®data team found out, some metros are particularly welcoming to canines and the folks who adore ’em—while others are hot spots for full-on feline frenzy.

One thing’s for sure: Pet ownership is climbing across the United States. Something about the current state of the nation seems to spur more of us to seek solace in turning to our clawed, furred, or taloned friends. They’re warm, loyal, and—canaries aside—almost never tweet.

In terms of popularity, dog lovers dominate. Around 54 million American households have at least one, compared to 43 million households that have at least one cat, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“The best cities for pet lovers really take into account the human-animal bond,” says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary of the American Kennel Club. So where should dog or cat lovers go to forge those ties?

We took the 150 largest metros and then analyzed a wide variety of pet data. We only included one metro per state, for geographic diversity. Our criteria included:

  • Percentage of single-family homes on realtor.com with dog-related home features (i.e., doggie doors) or cat-related features (i.e., catios)
  • Pet services per capita, including boarding, photography, and stores*
  • Veterinarians per capita*
  • Dog walkers per capita*
  • Percentage of restaurants that allow dogs*
  • Percentage of realtor.com rental listings that allow dogs or cats
  • Google searches for “cats” and “dogs”
  • State dog and cat ownership rates*

We found that, as with politics, pet preference is local. Regional predilections abide. New England is crazy about felines—the region had three of the top five cat-loving cities. Vermont and Maine have the highest rates of cat ownership in the country (those furballs help keep you toasty during those frigid winter nights). Meanwhile, the wide open spaces, mild weather, and outdoorsy/crunchy lifestyles out West seem tailor-made for pooches—three cities on the West Coast ranked highest for canines and the people who can’t live without ’em.

“The West Coast is far more climatically friendly [to dogs], especially if you like going to dog parks and schmoozing with other owners every weekend, even in the winter,” says Marc Morrone, host of the now-cancelled “Petkeeping With Marc Morrone” on Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. “The East Coast is freezing in the winter, and a lot of dogs don’t like to go outside in the cold city streets.”

Oh, and there’s this: “Cats are so much less work than dogs.” They don’t need to be walked and can live happily in itty-bitty spaces.

Got it? Grab your leashes, and let’s take a look, starting with the best havens for hounds.

1. Austin, TX

Dog ownership rate: 44%
Median home list price: $372,000

The whole “Keep Austin weird” thing isn’t just for homo sapiens—there’s plenty of seductive oddness for canines here as well. Is Humbert the husky seeming a bit angsty lately? Help him achieve a higher level of consciousness with a few sessions of mongrel yoga at Austin Doga. Does Cherry the chihuahua seem eager to strut her stuff and show off that knockoff Louis Vuitton collar? Let her vogue out at the annual Chihuahua Beauty Pageant.

“In Austin, you can take your dogs everywhere,” says Troy Pfeifer, co-owner of the Sit Means Sit dog training branch in the city. “There are no shortage of bars, restaurants that allow dogs.” There are reportedly over 200 eateries and 60 hotels here that allow furry companions (and no, beards don’t count).

There’s even an outlet mall near Pfeifer’s home that allows pups to peruse most of the stores. Let’s hope the majority of visitors aren’t big shedders.

Pfeifer says the dog craze shows no sign of slowing down in Austin. After living here for a year, he decided to quit an office job and open his doggie training center in 2011. The business has taken off, and he now trains more than a 1,000 dogs a year.

A standout among the many dog runs and parks is Red Bud Isle, a sweet spot where canines and their owners bond over refreshing dips in the lake.

It’s also worth noting that this is also the largest no-kill city in the United States for unclaimed pets, according to a local advocacy group, Austin Pets Alive.

2. Reno, NV

Dog ownership rate: 37.1%
Median home list price: $422,500

As the gateway to both Lake Tahoe vacationers and travelers to the annual Burning Man festival, Reno is accustomed to hosting an eclectic crowd. So it’s no wonder that nearly all breeds, ranging from Labrador retrievers to shih-tzus, are popular in this city, according to the American Kennel Club. Diversity rules!

And for owners looking for a fun afternoon and a chance to make a difference, there’s the DogFest Walk ’n Roll, a charity walk whose proceeds go to the Canine Companions for Independence—a group that provides assistance dogs free of charge to adults and children with disabilities.

3. Salinas, CA

Dog ownership rate: 32.8%
Median home list price: 

Need a nosh after a long run through the park? Then stop by SUR at The Barnyard. We highly recommend the poached free-range chicken breast. If it’s a truly special occasion, then try the black-and-blue charred rare filet mignon tips with a wedge of Point Reyes blue cheese. Oh, wait—did we mention that this is the doggie menu?

So the dogs eat better than you do in the area around Salinas (and more than one in five restaurants in the town allow canine companions). Doggie love has a long history in Salinas. The town’s most famous son, John Steinbeck, chronicled a 1960 road trip around the United States with his standard poodle in the book “Travels With Charley.”

“People love walking their dogs on Pebble Beach, which has such beautiful views,” says Billy Quon, founder of SUR at The Barnyard. “There are endless trails here to take your dog hiking.”

Nearby, the charming oceanside town of Carmel is home to the Cypress Inn, an upscale hotel which allows dogs throughout the premises. Co-owned by actress and animal activist Doris Day, the hotel was once named “the most famous dog-friendly hotel in the country” by Sunset magazine. We don’t know exactly what that means, but expect plenty of Akita and Egyptian pharaoh hound sightings.

As for Billy Quon’s miniature schnauzer, named Sport, he has a particular fondness for the half-pound all-beef patty at SUR. Good call, Sport.

4. Denver, CO

Dog ownership rate: 42.5%
Median home list price: 

What better way to relax after a hard week’s work than a trek with your pooch? Dog owners in Denver don’t have to go far. Want to stay near downtown? Head to Platte River Greenway Trail. Looking for snow-capped mountain views? Grab your leash and drive 50 miles to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

On your hike, you’re likely to run into some noticeably large canines. Denver is something of a hub for Bernese mountain dogs, Great Danes, and Siberian huskies.

The Colorado Kennel Club has hosted dog shows for more than 115 years. Its members know their stuff. When the hiking trails are snowed over in February, head over to the group’s Dog Days of Denver Showcase of the Performing Arfs.” During the three-day dog show, you’ll see more than 150 dog breeds.

5. Portland, OR

Dog ownership rate: 38.8%
Median home list price: 

If Portlanders have a craft beer in one hand, then the other is holding a leash. Who can blame them? The region is among the country’s leaders for dog parks, with 33 major off-leash areas.

Of course, all dog owners thinks their dog is the cutest. So put your Toto or Lassie to the test and compete in Portland’s Next TopDog Model contest, hosted by the Oregon Humane Society. The competition is fierce. In 2012, a poodle with “rasta-poodle dreadlocks” took home the top prize. Last year’s winner was a three-legged, rescue pit bull named Jenny.

Rounding out the top 10 best metros for dog lovers were Seattle, WAOklahoma City, OKTucson, AZAnn Arbor, MI; and Raleigh, NC.

OK, now let’s take a tour of the best municipalities for mousers.

1. Albany, NY

Cat ownership rate: 29.1%
Median home list price: $422,500

Looking for the perfect palace for you and your pussy partner? The capital city of New York deserves a close look. Homeowners here have taken extraordinary steps to making their homes kitten-friendly, with the latest decor. Yes, cat patios are real. Finding those pesky mice is a lot easier from atop your cat ladder. Paw-sitively claw-some, say local felines.

If you’re looking to meet up with other cat lovers, try the Orange Street Cats annual Kitty Bowl, where mavens unite at the local bowling alley to raise money for a local animal shelter. Or swing by Happy Cat Rescue—an animal shelter that brings in abandoned cats from all over the country. “We always have cats looking for new homes,” says Marcia Scott, the shelter’s president.

2. Eugene, OR

Cat ownership rate: 40.2%
Median home list price: $325,000

OK, so raising a kitty isn’t quite the same as a baby, no matter how much cat people might try to convince you otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it is completely effort-free, either. So living somewhere with a lot of pet services, like Eugene, is a big plus.

Leaving town for the weekend? Drop your kitten off at a myriad of boarding facilities, for example, Willamette Valley Dog & Cat Motel, Auntie’s Cat Kennels, or Kitty Cat Hotel. Want some cute pictures of Travis the Turkish angora? Set up a photo shoot with Dream Storm Photography, a local specialist in pet portraits.

3. Seattle, WA

Cat ownership rate: 39%
Median home list price: $485,000

Seattle is more than just the coffee capital of the U.S. It’s also one of the country’s prime cat meccas.

At Seattle Meowtropolitan, those two local favorites can be found in one place: You can order your favorite java and pastry and then snuggle up to a purring cat. And if you like the animal enough, you can take it home. The cat cafe, which opened in late December 2015, partners with a local shelter to find these felines homes.

“Before we opened, we did our research [and found] Seattle is very cat-friendly, the ideal place for this,” says Louisa Liu, co-founder of Seattle Meowtropolitan.

If you’re looking to adopt a cat, you should also mark your calendar for Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving, Seattle Humane waives adoption fees. For black cats, that is.

4. Portland, ME

Cat ownership rate: 46.4%
Median home list price: $340,000

If you want to stretch out on your yoga mat while an adorable, adoptable tomcat meows in your ear, you’d better be quick. Tickets to kitty yoga go fast. We’re talking Hamilton fast.

“Kitten yoga is something new we started this year. It sells out within a day or two after posting the registration link,” says Jeana Roth, director of community engagement at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. “We have about 15 kittens in the room bouncing and roaming. It’s a lot of fun. And it raises money for our adoption program.” The kittens are all rescue animals.

5. Manchester, NH

Cat ownership rate: 34.2%
Median home list price: $314,900

The region’s love for cats made it easy for Cathy Hilscher to open up a pet store dedicated solely to her favorite animal.

“If you go into a big pet store, only one or two aisles are for cats—meanwhile … nine aisles are for dogs, and sometimes entire rooms are for fish or birds,” says Hilscher, owner of Cats Kingdom. “My store is two stories exclusively for cats. Nothing against dogs; I just have a special place in my heart for these creatures.”

Hilscher offers premium foods and environmentally friendly cat goods. Unexpectedly, her store has become a hot spot for the younger crowd.

“Millennials are not choosing to have kids right away,” Hilscher says, or choosing not to have kids at all. The cat scene, she says, is more the niche for them in Manchester than dogs. “They want their cats to be like their kids.”

The rest of the top 10 metros for cat obsessives are Oklahoma City, OKStockton, CAAustin, TXReno, NV; and Lexington, KY

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