How to Build Credit in 6 Easy Steps

For new home buyers, establishing a solid credit score is crucial to locking in the home of their dreams. Good credit is no accident though, and will take more than dreaming to achieve. NOW is the perfect time to start.

According to FreddieMac, a FICO credit score can range anywhere between 300-850 points. The average score of a borrower falls on the high-end of the spectrum with a 751 FICO credit score.  For those with less than ideal scores, the time to begin building and maintaining an optimal score is today.

But there’s good news! Through careful planning and strategic financial choices, anyone can be on the path to home ownership by Spring 2016.  To get the ball rolling, here’s a convenient infographic on How to Build Credit in 6 Easy Steps:

Lasting Love: 3 Ways Your Remodel Will Keep You Happy for Years to Come

The best home renovations are the ones you love years after the new smell has worn off.

You love browsing remodeling ideas on Pinterest, but you also live in the real world. So how do you figure out what project will ultimately be worth the cost and effort? It’s not a whole lot different than choosing a life partner — will you still love them once the passion’s worn off? Will you still love your remodel after you’ve had to clean and maintain it year after year?

These three homeowners are still in love with projects they finished years ago. We give you permission to steal their strategies.

1. Expanding Living Space — Outside

Florida’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, but what’s the point of all that vitamin D without a proper spot to enjoy it? When Jane Watkins purchased her Miami home 13 years ago, it offered a pool and plenty of yardage — but little outdoor living space.

Watkins is no stranger to DIY projects, so she decided to build an outdoor space herself. Armed with hammers, nails, and a few good friends, she framed and built a simple, low-to-the-ground deck.

The spacious outdoor room bridged the gap between the wild outdoors of her tropical backyard and livable space with cutouts for existing trees, providing enough square footage for a full set of patio furniture — and lots of play space for the kids. 

And it’s not just good for grand gestures and major events. It’s the “preferred sitting spot” for supervising swimming kids, Watkins says. “I sip my coffee out there, check out the yard, and hang.”

Lasting Love Lesson #1: Take on a project that physically expands the livable area of your home, even if it doesn’t require walls or a ceiling.

2. Creating a Family Fun Hub

Georgia Harris and her husband Tim purchased their Los Gatos, Calif., home for its view of the Santa Clara Valley — definitely not for its design. “It looked like a brown, tiny little house, like the ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ It was very basic,” says Harris.

The unassuming home became a blank canvas for the family’s dreams. Their biggest renovation success: turning the downstairs into an all-in-one entertainment center to complement their brand new pool. 

Adding an enormous bonus room downstairs provided room for games and hanging out — a much-needed addition with two growing kids — and a 400-bottle wine cellar provides plenty of entertainment for the adults. The renovated basement helps the family stay in shape, too. An exercise room and direct pool access mean a well-rounded workout is only a flight of stairs away.

They even added an arched hallway to highlight that amazing view. “You can look from one end to another and see out the back,” Harris says. “We made everything really open.”

With one big project 11 years ago, the new Harris home went from an OK house with a great view to a house that’s as fun as it is functional.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever gone through a renovation like this,” Harris says. “I’ve done small projects, like bathrooms, but because we were involved in picking out everything, it feels like we built our dream home.”

Lasting Love Lesson #2: Give underused space a function that addresses the needs of everyone in the family.

3. Upgrading Entertainment Capacity

When both halves of a couple come from enormous families, finding room for everyone at Thanksgiving can be quite the challenge. For Cindy Carey, she met the challenge with a remodel that combined her kitchen, dining, and living room into one ginormous great room — long before the Property Brothers made open floor plans de rigueur. (See the photo at the top of this article.)

And more than 20 years later, she’s still in love.

“I love the big open room,” she says. “Everyone loves it. We’re able to entertain a lot of people.”

Carey often plays host for the holidays, and keeping the dining room as-is would have meant stuffing 26 people into one small room — or assigning everyone to different tables in separate rooms. Now, they’ve got elbow room to spare.

“Everyone may not be seated in a straight row, but we can all sit down and eat dinner,” Carey says.

A consummate entertainer, Carey regularly hosts employee holiday parties for her construction company. For this year’s party, she fit about 40 guests and a strolling magician into the room, no squishing required.

Carey says visitors are often astounded by the room’s size, considering its location — a tract home in the Bay Area.

“People don’t know how big it is until we get inside,” Carey says. “We get a lot of people that never knew this room could be back here.”

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

28 Genius Uses for White Vinegar Around Your Home

What if we told you there’s a magic potion that makes housework a breeze, costs next to nothing, and is probably sitting in your pantry right now?

Good ol’ white vinegar is a strong antimicrobial agent and solvent that banishes bacteria, odors, and stains. It’s an extremely cheap—$2.50 a gallon—and nontoxic alternative to harsh cleaners. When combined with other ingredients you’re bound to have on hand (e.g., water or salt), vinegar can clean anything in your house. Well, just about anything.

“Vinegar is acidic, so you can’t use it to clean all surfaces in your home,” says Nancy Bock, senior vice president of education for the American Cleaning Institute in Washington, DC. So skip the vinegar when cleaning granite and marble countertops, because the acid can eat away at the sealant that prevents stone from staining, she explains.

For other household tasks, though, like disinfecting, deodorizing, and removing stains, vinegar has your back.

Check out all the ways white vinegar will revolutionize your cleaning routine.

  1. Refresh your fridge: Wipe down shelves, bins, and walls with a 1-to-1 solution of vinegar and water.
  2. Remove coffee stains: Scrub coffee stains from mugs with a paste of equal parts vinegar and salt. The salt acts as a mild abrasive.
  3. Beat bathroom germs: Wipe down the outside of the toilet and around the sink and shower enclosure with full-strength vinegar. Follow up with a damp sponge.
  4. Clean toilet bowls: Pour a cup of vinegar into the bowl, let it work its magic for a few hours, scrub with a toilet brush, and flush.Voilà!
  5. Clean crud from faucet aerators: Soak faucet aerators in vinegar for an hour. Scrub the screen with an old toothbrush and rinse.
  6. Shine shower doors: Remove soap residue on glass shower doors by scrubbing with a sponge soaked in full-strength vinegar.
  7. Deodorize the garbage disposal: Keep your garbage disposal odor-free with vinegar ice cubes. Mix a solution of 1 cup vinegar and 2 cups water, and freeze the solution in an ice-cube tray. Run several cubes through the disposal, then flush with cold water. Yes, this really works.
  8. Clean the coffee maker: Get rid of mineral deposits from your automatic drip coffee maker during spring cleaning by filling it with vinegar and running it through a brewing cycle (but leave out the coffee grounds!). Rinse the coffee maker thoroughly after the treatment.
  9. Disinfect cutting boards: Scrub cutting boards with full-strength vinegar. Rinse thoroughly.
  10. Carpet cleaner: Remove carpet stains with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon liquid detergent. Squeeze onto the stain, blot (don’t rub), then rinse with a small amount of clean water.

11.  Brighten the wash: Make your whites whiter and your colors more vibrant by adding a half-cup of vinegar to your wash. Vinegar also helps reduce static cling.

12.  Shine shoes: Restore the luster and remove scuff marks from old leather shoes and handbags by wiping them with vinegar. Follow the treatment with a damp cloth and a fresh coat of polish.

13.  Revive cut flowers: Boost a tired bouquet by adding a tablespoon of vinegar and a pinch of sugar to a half-quart of water. Pour the solution into the vase.

14.  Wash windows: Spray windows with a solution of equal parts warm water and vinegar; wipe dry with a microfiber cloth for streak-free glass.

15.  Remove water marks: Vinegar can remove rings on woodwork caused by wet glasses. Rub the mark with a solution of equal parts vinegar and olive oil. Rub with the grain, then wipe dry. Test an inconspicuous spot first.

16.  Renew clothes: Make clothes and towels soft again by adding a half-cup of vinegar to the last rinse cycle of a load of laundry.

17.  Polish metal: Make brass and copper shine with a paste made of 1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup vinegar. Add flour to make a soft paste. Apply the paste, let stand 15 minutes, then rinse and polish with a soft cloth.

18.  Remove labels: Get rid of sticky label residue by rubbing stubborn glue with vinegar.

19.  Clean glass fireplace doors: Remove soot from fireplace doors with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.

20.  Unclog a steam iron: Fill the water chamber with a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water. Set the iron to steam mode, and leave upright for several minutes, then unplug. When cool, pour out any unused solution and refill with clean water.

21.  Deodorize doggy smell: Wet your pooch with plain water, then wash the dog with a solution of 1 cup vinegar diluted in 2 gallons water. Make sure to keep the solution out of the dog’s eyes. Dry the dog without rinsing.

22.  Fight dandruff: Give your hair a final rinse with a half-cup of vinegar mixed with 2 cups of warm water.

23.  Get rid of toenail fungus: Soak your feet in 1 cup of vinegar mixed with 2 cups of warm water. Soak for 15 minutes, once a day.

24.  Relieve itch: Add a quarter-cup of vinegar to your bath water to soothe itchy skin.

25.  Remove weeds: Straight vinegar will get rid of weeds in your yard and driveway cracks. Pour directly on unwanted plants, making sure to protect wanted plants.

26.  Beat morning windshield frost: The night before an expected frost, spray a solution of equal parts vinegar and water onto your car windows. The vinegar lowers the freezing temp of water so frost won’t form as easily.

27.  Change soil pH: Acid-loving plants, like hibiscus, will love a drink of a gallon of water spiked with 1 cup of vinegar.

28.  Soften old paintbrushes: Soak paintbrushes in warm vinegar, then wash the bristles with warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly.

Fido can’t help it if his fur stinks! But he’ll smell fresh and clean after a vinegar bath.

Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

The 7 Most Common Code Violations Remodelers Make

You may save money when you DIY, but unless your projects are up to code, you’re flirting with expensive fixes and putting your home and family at risk.

A good DIYer knows a lot about tools and techniques, but the best DIYers know about building codes, too. Completing home improvement projects that are code-compliant — and can pass inspections from your local building authority — are the route to a safe and happy home, and well-done DIY projects.

Although few homeowners can claim an encyclopedic knowledge of their local building codes, here’s a heads up on seven of the most common code violations that DIYers are guilty of:

1. Working Without a Permit

Sure, permits cost money. And if you don’t apply for one, who’s to know?

A lot of DIY homeowners have that point of view, and it’s wrong-headed. Yes, homeowners are allowed to do their own improvements without a contractor’s license, but you still need a permit for many remodeling projects.

That’s important because:

  • You’ll know that your improvements are safe and reliable.
  •  Your work will comply with the latest energy- and water-conservation measures. That saves you money in the long run, and makes your house more marketable when you decide to sell.
  • Work that’s not up to code may be discovered by an inspector when you try and sell, putting a big damper on your plans. You may be required to fix any problems (with added expense) before a buyer will consider making an offer. And if your buyer should later discover fixes that aren’t up to code, you could be sued for repairs and damages.

If you have permits, your project will be inspected. Don’t think of visits from a building inspector as adversarial; rather, they’re opportunities to learn about construction techniques and materials. A building inspector can be a valuable helpmate for the DIYer.

Not all projects require permits and inspections. Start off by inquiring with your local building authority and discussing your project in detail.

2. Not Testing Older Materials for Asbestos and Lead

These two dangerous materials lurk in many older building materials, and their disposal is strictly regulated in most states.

Those laws not only protect your health, but protect trash removal workers and landfill operators, too. If you dump tainted remodeling waste, you’re putting others at risk.

Asbestos is found in many common building materials, especially in houses built before 1970, including:

  • Popcorn ceiling texture
  • Vinyl tile
  • Drywall joint compound
  • Hot-water pipe and duct insulation
  • Vermiculite attic insulation
  • Cement shingle siding

Most communities have independent testing facilities that, for $25 to $50, can determine if asbestos is present in samples.

However, even the removal of samples is risky. If you suspect asbestos, contact your local building authority or regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration office to find out the best way to test for and remove asbestos.

Lead paint has been outlawed since 1978. Laws prevent contractors from doing work without taking specific precautions to contain and dispose of lead-contaminated building materials.

DIY homeowners aren’t subject to those laws. But if you’re hiring a contractor to do some of the work, your pro must adhere to the laws or be subject to fines of up to $37,500 per day. Talk about putting a crimp in your plans!

Other than that, your own health may be at risk if you cut, scrape, or sand materials — especially paint — with lead in them. DIY lead test kits are cheap ($8 to $35) and easy to use.

3. Improper Fastening of Deck Ledgers to Houses

Building a deck is the ideal DIY project — it’s fairly straightforward and materials are simple.

But a recent spate of deck failures reveals that many decks fail where the deck ledger fastens to the house — one of the more technically challenging steps of deck-building.

The North American Deck and Railing Association says two of the most-common mistakes are:

  • Improper (or missing) flashing to keep water from seeping behind the ledger where it can soften and rot out wood.
  • Using old fastening methods, such as plain nails, to secure the ledger to the house.

It’s a good idea to have your deck inspected for proper construction techniques when you build it, and to do yearly DIY inspections and repairs.

4. Adding a Basement Bedroom Without an Egress Window

Seems like a no-brainer: Junior needs his own bedroom, and you’ve got all this space in your basement. A few walls and carpet and voila! — an extra bedroom.

But it’s not that simple. Codes say that any “sleeping room” must include an egress window that’s at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches high, with a minimum opening of 5.7 square feet — enough for an adult to crawl through.

Because it’s a basement, you’ll likely need to excavate outside the window and add a window well to help keep water out.

The installation of an egress window costs $2,500 to $5,000 — well worth it for your peace of mind and the safety of your family. Without an egress window, a real estate appraiser won’t qualify the space as a bedroom, which may hurt your chances to sell your home.

5. Venting a Bath Fan into an Attic

You’ve spiffed up the guest bathroom and even added a new bathroom vent fan — nice going. But you aren’t finished unless you vent that fan all the way to the outside of your house.

Venting directly into an attic space might be easy, but your fan is going to deliver plenty of humid air into your attic where is can cause mold and rot.

Building codes say you’ve got to vent the air from the fan to outside your house using a 4-inch-diameter vent pipe.

Some inexpensive bath fans have 3-inch-diameter fittings. If so, buy a piece of converter pipe that changes the diameter to 4 inches.

Related: How to Install a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

6. Botched Electrical Work

Few examples of home improvement and repair are life threatening, but electrical work definitely can be. That’s why utmost caution is needed when you do your own wiring. Here are a few common wiring mistakes:

Wrong size circuit. Basically, 15-amp circuits are for lighting fixtures and 20-amp circuits are for receptacles. If you’re renovating and want to add a receptacle, don’t splice into a lighting circuit to do it — rather, extend from an existing 20-amp circuit.

An exception is a refrigerator, which can be on a dedicated, 15-amp circuit.

Splicing wires without a junction box. Don’t splice wires together with a couple of wire nuts and some electrical tape and call it a day. All wire connections must be inside an approved junction box. While you’re at it, you can’t hide a junction box inside a wall — it must be visible and accessible.

Missing GFCIs. A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is required for any circuit that services an area where water might be present: bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages, and outdoor receptacles. A single GFCI at the beginning of a circuit can protect other receptacles on the same circuit.

7. Not Following Fence Height Requirements

Fences are a major source of disputes with neighbors, and a top source of complaints to local building and planning departments.

Many problems stem from the fact that homeowners, in an attempt to establish privacy, build fences that are too tall. Most codes limit fences on the sides and in the back of property to 6 feet, and 42 to 48 inches in the front.

If you build a fence that’s not in compliance, a complaint could bring a building official to your property with an order to tear your fence down.

Article by JOHN RIHA

Cucumber and Shrimp Salad

If it’s a light and fresh appetizer you’ve been searching for, then look no further. These dainty cucumber slices topped with flavorful shrimp salad are a delightful spring treat that’s also gluten-free!


Ingredients:

  • ¾ pound cooked shrimp, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • Salt and pepper
  • 30 thin cucumber slices
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the chopped shrimp, celery, onion, mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and salt and pepper.
  2. Place the cucumber slices evenly on a platter, season with a pinch of salt, and then top each slice with a tablespoon of the salad.
  3. Sprinkle parsley for garnish, if desired.

– See more at: http://americanlifestylemag.com/cucumber-and-shrimp-salad/#sthash.BjiUvEVd.dpuf

3 Ways to Restructure Mortgage and Save Thousands

You can refinance or recast your mortgage. Or you can create your own DIY mortgage restructuring plan. We compare so you can decide.

The way your mortgage is structured today doesn’t have to be the way it’s structured tomorrow. What are your goals? To free up funds, reduce your monthly nut, or pay off your loan more quickly?

These three strategies offer something for most everyone.

  • Send in extra money to pay down principal.
  • Recast your mortgage.
  • Refinance your loan.

Send in Extra Money to Pay Down Principal

In the mid-1970s, Marc Eisenson coined the term “banker’s secret,” which promoted a cost-saving idea: Pay more than required on your monthly mortgage, and you’ll save a pile of money. Eisenson says, “It was a secret that bankers knew, but didn’t share with their customers.”

Here’s how it works. If you take out a $200,000 30-year mortgage at an interest rate of 6%, and hold it to term, you’ll pay a total of $382,537.97 for your home, including interest of $182,537.97. However, if you send in just $100 each month in additional principal, you’ll save more than $49,000 in interest over the term of the loan.

There’s another huge perk: You’ll pay off the loan five years and five months ahead of schedule. This strategy puts you in total control of the restructuring process, and there are no fees involved.

Another way to pay off your loan early is to use a bi-weekly payment plan. Banks and third-party companies can implement this plan for you, but they’ll charge hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees. We don’t recommend you pay for the service unless you lack the self-discipline to make the payments yourself.

With this strategy, you make half your monthly mortgage payment every two weeks, which equals 13 payments a year instead of 12. With bi-weekly payments on a 30-year $200,000 loan, you’ll save more than $49,000 in interest over the course of the loan, and pay it off approximately five years earlier.

Other ways to easily do it yourself:

  • Make one additional mortgage payment per year at any time.
  • Divide your monthly payment by 12, and add that extra amount each month when you pay your mortgage.

Recast Mortgage for Lower Payments

If you want to lower your monthly payment and have at least $5,000 to contribute, you can request a mortgage recast. In this scenario, you don’t change the interest rate or term of your mortgage, you change the principal balance, and the term begins anew.

Here’s how it works: After 10 years of paying your 30-year mortgage with a 6% interest rate and a monthly payment of $1,432.86, your balance is $200,000. With a mortgage recast, you contribute an additional $20,000, and have a new principal amount of $180,000, with the same remaining 20 years to pay it off at 6%. However, your new monthly payment is $1,289.58, for a savings of $143.28 per month.

There’s a small fee for this service — approximately $250. The bank gets nothing out of this except retaining your loyalty, so they don’t promote it. It’s up to the lender whether it’ll do it, so all you can do is ask. It’s also likely to be a lengthy process. You have nothing to lose, however, except a higher monthly payment.

Refinance Your Loan

The most common way to restructure your loan is with a mortgage refinance, where you replace your current mortgage with a new one at a lower interest rate. If you took that same $200,000 balance on your 6% mortgage and refinanced into one with a 5% interest rate, you’d reduce your monthly payment from $1,199 to $1,074, saving $125 monthly.

Refinancing may be challenging to get approved for in a tight lending environment, where you need stellar credit scores and a steady job history. You’ll also need to pay closing costs, which can run 3% to 6% of the loan amount.

These tips are appropriate if you’re current on your mortgage and have extra money. Struggling home owners should consider the government-sponsored Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) for mortgage restructuring. Interested in learning more about Loan Modification Programs? Give us a call or complete the “Contact Us” form to the right of the page.

Article by BARBARA EISNER BAYER

4 Spring Landscaping Ideas for Homeowners Who Hate Yard Work

Simple garden ideas and tips for choosing plants to kick boredom out of your yard (with hardly any work at all).

If only 50 shades of green could be as exciting as, well, you know. But let’s face it: There’s nothing titillating about green bushes against green grass.

To give your boring monochromatic yard a dose of charm without a ton of effort, try these four ideas perfect for spring. No gardening prowess required.

#1 Plant Just One Tree

Planting one tree isn’t a huge effort. You’ll be helping our planet, too. Plus, once the tree is established, it’s about as low maintenance as a landscape can get — and the difference it can make to your yard lasts for decades. The key is to choose a tree that adds interest to your landscape in the form of color, shape, and texture.

There are a ton of trees to choose from, but to play it safe, try a Japanese maple. Many are suitable for most any climate. They all offer color, form, and texture that can liven any landscape.

One, the Mikawa yatsubusa, is a dwarf version that resembles a tie-dye shirt when it changes colors in the fall. You won’t be lacking color then!

#2 Add a Colorful Punch With Mulch

Mulch is one of the easiest ways to add both color and texture to the entire yard. “Next to a green lawn, coffee bean-colored mulch is a great contrast,” says Paul Fraynd, owner of Sun Valley Landscaping in Omaha, Neb.

If a dark roast isn’t your preference, there’s a a multitude of mulch colors that can spice up your bland landscape. Red, black, gold, cedar-toned — you choose.

For something truly unique, try pine cones. They introduce a knotty texture that breaks up the monotony of flat lawns and box-like shrubs.

The point is that mulch is easy: Choose a cool color and texture, then dump it, spread it, and forget it.

“Keep it away from wood or siding, though,” warns Fraynd. “It can rot the wood and may attract insects.”

#3 Add Some Edging

Look along your walkways and garden beds. If your lawn just seems to morph into your shrubbery or threatens to take over your front walk, some unique edging could perk up your yard. No pruning, cutting, or watering required.

Define a walkway with some personal or found items, says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

“Colored hockey sticks can line a path or wine bottles planted neck down in the soil,” just make sure you do the entire path. “Two or three wine bottles lining a path might look like leftovers from last night’s party,” she says.

If you want to keep it all in the plant world, low-maintenance ground covers are an excellent choice for edging, she adds. Try lily of the valley, vinca, lamb’s ears, and pachysandra. Some of these add color, others texture, she says.

#4 Create a Focal Point That’s All About You

Your own passions and pleasures are great inspiration to add color and texture to your landscape. Try creating a focal point with something that brings back a happy memory, says Henriksen, like your old toy truck, tricycle, or wagon. Turn it into a colorful planter.

Or opt for hard non-gardening materials to contrast with the softness and monotony of nature’s green. “Make a table using an oversized flower pot or lobster trap filled with something that represents your passion — golf balls, sea shells — and cover the container with a wood or glass top,” says Fraynd. “These can be fun to talk about and give a unique personality to your yard.”

Your yard is a reflection of you. You’re not one-dimensional. Your yard shouldn’t be either.

Article by STACEY FREED

Selling a House with Pets at Home

Almost everybody loves pets except the home buyer who is buying your house. Don’t ask me why, but that’s often how it works out. Home sellers who adore their pets — and I count myself as a huge pet lover — have a hard time imagining the negative attitudes others harbor against pets. So, while this might be a bitter pill to swallow, if you want to get top dollarfor your house, pay attention to how much you might lose with a dog or cat in residence.

Why Don’t Home Buyers Like Your Pet?

  • Nervousness. Pets make some people very uncomfortable. Not everybody grew up with a family pet or enjoys outings at the zoo. Fur and four legs does not a human make.
  • Fear. Real and irrational. It’s not only dogs that instill fear in people. All kinds of silly wives’ tales and superstitions involve cats.
  • Inexperience. Pets are not always predictable.
  • Your pets aren’t their pets. They imagine yours bite, jump, vomit, claw, spit-up hairballs or are just plain hyper and bad — not all like their pets.

#1 Preferred Pet Solution

You’re not going to like this but I’ll say it anyway, fully realizing that this very excellent piece of advice is likely to fall on deaf ears. The best thing to do to ensure top price for your home is to relocate your pets while your home is on the market. Putting them in the back yard, in the garage or in another room that you keep locked is insufficient, and it’s not fair to them.

You need to remove them from the house.

  • Let a friend or relative care for Fluffy and Spike.
  • Board them at a kennel.
  • Send them on vacation.

Overcoming Negatives Associated with Your Pets

If you shrug off all professional advice and absolutely refuse to move your pets out of the house, then at least minimize the objections and nuisance factors, real or otherwise:

  • Cat Litter Boxes & Dog Potty PadsKeep them out of sight and impeccably clean. Nothing turns off buyers faster than opening the door to the laundry room and being greeted by a full or stinky cat box.
  • Carpet & Floor Pet StainsHire professionals to remove the stains. Buyers will spot them and form unfavorable opinions about the rest of the house. If the stains can’t be removed, then remove the floor covering and replace it.
  • Pet Odors and Smells
    1. Cat urine is the worst. Without question. The. Worst. Bring in a neighbor to do a whiff test.
    2. Do not use air fresheners. People with allergies will react.
    3. Try enzyme cleaners such as Simple Solution , Nature’s Miracle or call a professional ozone company.

Remove Signs of a Pet

You may be required by state law to disclose that pets have lived in your home, but you don’t need to advertise that pets live at your house. Removing signs that you have a pet is simply smart practice. Why turn off a buyer at the get-go? It’s those first impressions that are so all-fired important.

  • Do not put photos online showing your cat asleep on the bed
  • Seal up doggie doors
  • Put away food and water bowls when not in use
  • Vacuum religiously, every day, sometimes twice a day
  • Pick up pet toys and put them away
  • Pack up cat trees and other signs of cat paraphernalia (you know who you are)
  • Remove photos of pets from refrigerator, walls and table tops
  • Pack up all cages, carriers and other tell-tale signs

Showing Your House

Put your pets into a carrier and attach a note warning buyers not to disturb them. The last thing you need is somebody sticking their hand inside the carrier and getting bit or scratched. You can’t predict how your pet will react when locked up and alone.

I learned the hard way by letting my cat run loose during a showing. I was outside talking to my neighbor while the selling agent showed my home.

We heard loud knocking and looked up to see the agent rapping on my upstairs window. I thought he was showing the buyer I had dual panes. It didn’t dawn on me that he was panicking and couldn’t figure out how to open the window. When the rapping continued, I went inside. Turned out my cat had cornered the agent and the buyer, and was growling at them.

Needless to say, that buyer didn’t buy my listing.

Article by Elizabeth Weintraub

7 Terrifying Things That Can Happen During Home Renovations

A home renovation isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a good contractor who can take care of the heavy lifting. But even that doesn’t mean you won’t be exposed to your fair share of disasters—including some that can be scary, some that can be traumatic, and some that can even be harmful to your health.

You can’t avoid every terrifying possibility, but you can do your very best to minimize the risk. And that starts with knowing what terrors could be lurking behind that ordinary-looking brick wall or innocuous, if hideous, popcorn ceiling. We’ve got your back, friends!

Here are seven frightening and dangerous things to watch out for when you’re renovating or remodeling.

1. Flooding and electrical issues

Smart DIYers call 811—the service line that informs you where underground utility lines can be found—a few days before they dig. The helpful operator on the other end of the line will notify utility companies to send you indications of any water, gas, or electrical lines.

But maybe you forgot. Or maybe you hit a smaller water pipe in your wall, which the water company won’t know about.

“Mistakenly hitting a water pipe can have consequences much more serious than just getting your shirt wet,” says Dan Barr, a property restoration expert with 1-800 Water Damage.

Say you pop out for a bite after drilling a hole in the wall between your laundry and living rooms, not realizing you just punctured a pipe. When you return, everything is flooded. Including a puddle around your drill—that’s still plugged in. Yikes!

If you hit a line and find electric tools or appliances submerged, Barr recommends locating your home’s main electrical panel and turning off the power before you start wading through the water.

“It could be charged and extremely dangerous,” he says.

2. Creepy creatures

True story: My fiancé was unscrewing a can light in the living room of our brand-new house—and a handful of wasps smacked him in the face. Fortunately, they were dead.

But what if they weren’t?

“You can have really dangerous creatures fall or crawl on you,” says Texas designer Pablo Solomon. Dead wasps are just the beginning. Depending on where you live, shuffling around your attic or inching through your crawl space might bring you into contact with brown recluse or black widow spiders, scorpions, centipedes, or snakes.

While there’s no sure-fire way to avoid creepy-crawlies, full-coverage clothing will protect your skin from bites. As for the years of nightmares—you’re on your own.

3. Mold invasion

Skipping steps during a renovation is sure to cause you major problems down the line. And one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of a home renovation is proper ventilation.

“Most bathrooms have so little ventilation that they unintentionally become labs to grow mold and mildew,” says David Schneider, an interior designer in Chesterfield, MO, who focuses on sustainable, green remodeling.

So any time you remodel a kitchen or bathroom, make sure you’re installing enough fans—strong ones—to suck out all the moisture-ridden air. Most experts recommend one 100 cfm (cubic feet per minute) fan per appliance.

Plus, a whirring fan can cover up any unpleasant sounds. This is known as “value added”!

4. Release of asbestos and lead

You’re probably already aware of your home’s lead or asbestos risk. Unless you had a particularly unscrupulous seller, you should’ve signed a lead paint disclosure when buying any home built before 1978. And the second you Googled “popcorn ceiling,” you probably spotted the word “asbestos.”

But still, maybe that’s not top of mind when you’re in a hurry to yank out your ugly old cabinetry or rip up that garish old tile to start fresh—and you end up unleashing unknown amounts of those toxic materials.

“Inhaling or swallowing even small amounts of lead or asbestos is extremely dangerous,” Barr says. “Any time you remove walls or ceilings or do major work on floors, you run the risk of encountering both.”

Wear a mask during small renovation projects to help protect you. For bigger jobs, such as taking down a wall, contact an indoor environmental expert who can take samples. If asbestos or lead are present, plan to hire a professional for demolition.

5. Foundation damage

Have you ever used a drill to mount a pot rack or a flat-screen TV and found that your hands are a bit … wobbly afterward? Your walls feel the same thing—and the jiggling can cause major problems.

Constant shaking and hammering from power tools can create new fissures and other problems inside your walls. You might spot water leaks or even cracked Sheetrock, Solomon says. If possible, peek inside your walls after you drill for any new problems and repair them immediately.

6. Damage to your hearing

Construction is loud. You might think it’s tolerable, since it’s temporary. But if you’re, say, remodeling an entire kitchen, your ears will be under siege day after day for what could be a protracted period—and that could incur long-term damage.

“The noise of saws, hammers, power tools, and other construction machinery can wreck your ears,” says Bryan Pollard, president of Hyperacusis Research, a Hearing Health partner. “Noise damage is cumulative and presents with a delayed reaction. And the longer someone is exposed, the higher the risk.”

So maybe your ears feel fine the next day. But will they be fine a week later? A year later?Or 10 years later? Pollard warns of tinnitus—that annoying ringing in your ears—or hyperacusis, sound sensitivity, and noise-induced pain. Maybe those bulky protective headsets don’t look so dumb after all.

7. Exposure to high-VOC materials

Wearing a face mask can help keep you from inhaling fumes when painting, but their damage lasts long after the color is applied. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemical-emitting gases found in a number of renovation materials, including many paints, carpeting, or upholstering. You know that funny smell your carpet gave off for a few weeks after installation? That’s probably VOCs.

Many VOCs are known carcinogens, and they can cause headaches, allergic reactions, or asthma.

You can purchase low-VOC paint and carpeting to reduce your risk. Keep windows and doors open to ventilate your home and reduce the VOC danger.

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Celebrate St Patrick’s Day with a Reuben Casserole

Ingredients

 4  cups water
1 1/2  cups milk
1/3  cup butter or margarine
1  tablespoon yellow mustard
2  pouches (4.7 oz each) Betty Crocker™ roasted garlic mashed potatoes
1  package (6 ounces) sliced corned beef, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1  can (14 1/2 ounces) sauerkraut , rinsed well and drained
2  cups shredded Swiss cheese (8 ounces)
4  teaspoons caraway seed, if desired
Thousand Island Dressing, if desired

Directions

  • 1 Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease or spray 2 1/2-qt baking dish.
  • 2 Heat water and butter to rapid boil in 3-quart saucepan; remove from heat. Stir in milk and mustard. Stir in 2 pouches potatoes just until moistened. Let stand about 1 minute or until liquid is absorbed. Whip with fork until smooth.
  • 3 Spread about 3 cups of the potatoes in baking dish. Top with corned beef. Spread sauerkraut over corned beef and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons caraway seed, if desired. Spoon remaining potatoes over top; spread gently. Sprinkle potatoes with cheese and remaining caraway seed.
  • 4 Bake uncovered about 20 minutes or until cheese is light golden brown.

5 Stupid Money Mistakes That Can Get Your Mortgage Denied

You got the pre-approval, found a home, and had your offer accepted. Congratulations! All you need to do now is sit back and wait for closing, right? Well, not exactly. As Lenny Kravitz once crooned, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Sure, the odds are reasonably good that nothing major will go wrong. But that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. A financial misstep now could change your mortgage terms and interest rate, or even get you denied altogether—even if you’ve got a closing date on the books. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, avoid these less-than-savvy money moves.

1. Moving money around

If you’ve been storing up cash reserves, do not—we repeat—do notmove that money out of savings and into stocks while you wait to close.

Why would someone do this? Well, maybe you’d like to make some extra cash off those reserves—besides, the money is just sitting there anyway, right?

Wrong. It’s serving a real purpose: showing your liquidity. Moving money around can wreak havoc on your loan approval.

“You’d think that isn’t a big deal, but we’re counting how much money you have going into closing,” says Casey Fleming, mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.” 

“With savings, we count that as 100%, but with stocks we only use 70% of the value because stock prices can change,” he says. “So, if you have $100,000 in savings and you move that into stocks, suddenly you only have $70,000 from an underwriter’s perspective.”

You’ll need enough cash to cover the down payment, closing costs, and at least three months of mortgage payments. (Yep, that’s right, we said three months.) If the stock deduction dips your assets too low, you could be looking at a denial.

2. Taking a leave of absence from work

Lenders are relying on your being willing and able to work after they approve your loan—after all, it’s the only way to prove you’ll make those monthly payments.

We know stuff happens, and sometimes you have to take a leave of absence. But don’t risk it unless it’s completely necessary—or unless you’re prepared for your mortgage to get delayed or denied.

“Once, two weeks before closing, the borrower went out on medical leave because her back hurt,” Fleming says. “We had to wait for two more paychecks to prove she was back at work.”

3. Applying for new lines of credit

If you apply for a new credit card or request a credit limit increase a few months before closing, it probably won’t hurt you too much. But don’t let the credit inquiries add up.

“Some credit inquiries are OK, but not all of them—and you don’t know which is which,” says Glenn S. Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty. “Worse than the actual hit on your credit score is any pattern of trying to borrow more money from more companies all at once. This suggests you are not wise with your money and just out running up debt you may not be able to repay.”

Rather than trying to figure out how many credit inquiries is too many or how much new credit you can take on without killing your mortgage, do yourself a big favor: Leave the applications alone until you’re through closing.

4. Going on shopping sprees

Buying a new home is exciting, and you’re probably itching for new furniture, new appliances, maybe even a new car in the driveway. We get it—that impulse is difficult to deny. But if you get too carried away and aren’t careful with your financing, you can follow that sweet shopping spree right back to Rentville.

“Because lenders often run credit reports within hours of the scheduled closing, running up new large debt is an awful idea,” Phillips says. “It can change debt ratios, change your interest rate (which may also kill your mortgage approval), and even lead to a lender deciding you have too much debt and (you are) not worth the risk anymore.”

It’s OK to put some small charges on your credit cards. Our experts agree you don’t have to be at a zero balance to get approved. But play it safe and hold off on shopping for big-ticket items until after you have the keys to the house.

5. Taking a new job—even a better-paying one

No lender is going to be over the moon if you get a new job halfway through the home-buying process—it disrupts an already tedious paperwork process.

That said, some moves are more OK than others—like getting a promotion within your company or even making a lateral move to another.

“If you’re going to change jobs, as long as the function is the same, it is generally OK,” Fleming says.

Lenders are less OK with your switching fields. Want to trade in your low-paying journalism job for a lucrative gig as a software engineer? We feel you. But even with a potential pay increase, that kind of switch is seen as too risky to mortgage lenders. You don’t have a proven track record of being able to work (and not get fired) as a software engineer.

“Remember, (lenders) want to feel good that you can repay the loan,” Phillips says. Making “changes—particularly to your primary source of income—isn’t seen as stable as remaining in a job long term.

Even if you do remain in the same industry, you should beware of switching into a role where your income is largely dependent upon bonuses or commissions—even if your annual income will end up being higher than your current position. Lenders can’t see what you haven’t earned yet, and they’ll factor that into your mortgage approval.

Overall, the best thing you can do is lie low until you’ve closed. If you do need to make a change, run it by your lender or broker first.

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Can You Sell Your Home if You Have a HELOC?

One of the benefits of home ownership includes profiting from equity increases. Home equity is the difference between what’s owed on a home and its actual value. The profit you make from your home sale is what remains after your home’s liens, such as home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), are paid off. And HELOC, or “second mortgage,” and other lien holders on your home’s title won’t care about your home’s sale other than under certain negative equity situations.

Property Lienholder Payoffs

Normally, you can sell your home without obtaining mortgage or HELOC lien holder permission as long as those lenders are paid off at sale closing. Lien holders are ranked on property titles by seniority or recording date, with first mortgages usually the senior liens on property titles. Most other liens on property titles, including HELOC liens, fall in behind first mortgages in terms of seniority. Your home’s lien holders will be paid from your home’s sale proceeds before you, in other words.

Home Short Sales

Negative equity results when homes and other properties aren’t expected to recover at least what’s owed on them upon sale. The most common negative equity home sale is the short sale. It’s sometimes difficult to persuade junior HELOC lien holders to allow a short sale if they’re not going to receive at least some of the sale proceeds. Homeowners with first mortgages and HELOCs usually must work out sale proceeds division agreements with those lien holders before short selling their homes.

Pre-Sale Preparation

It’s disheartening to sell your home in expectation of profit and then find you still owe money on it. Before listing your home for sale, be sure you’ll be able to pay off lien holders from its sale proceeds. Most mortgage and HELOC lien holders supply payoff quotes upon request or feature websites that borrowers can use to obtain them. Compare what you owe on your home with what its market or appraised values are and then set your listing price accordingly.

Paying Lienholders Regardless

Except for short sales, mortgage, HELOC and other lien holders normally don’t interfere with their borrowers’ home sales. Property lien holders only care that their liens are settled when their borrowers sell their properties. If you sell your home and will be paying off any liens at least partially on your own, you’ll need to bring funds to the sale’s closing. Typically, real estate sale settlement agents inform sellers and buyers what their proceeds or costs will be assigned at their closings.

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How to Create Your Home’s Color Scheme

The only strategy you’ll ever need to coordinate color throughout your house.

The Best-Laid Painting Plans

Every new homeowner should plan their dream home’s color scheme way before breaking out the rollers. In fact, you can actually start the planning process when you first tour a home with your real estate agent. Ask them questions about the house to learn details that can help you pick the right color scheme and make your next house more like heaven.

Details such as house history and house layout can be vital information when it comes to the color scheme too. Here are some important questions to ask when you first start planning:

  • Is it historical? You may want to consider using a historically correct color for the year it was built. A paint specialist at your home improvement store can help identify those options.
  • Does it have any original features? Those original features may be highlighted with an original color.
  • Is there any architectural detail that makes this place special? Architectural details can pop with color or fade into the background with white or black.
  • What rooms get the most light? Light can change the way the color is perceived, so it’s important to know.
  • Is this open concept with views of different rooms? If wall colors are seen next to each other, will they look good together? Keep these facts in mind when choosing your palette.
  • What size are these spaces? Larger spaces and higher ceilings can intensify certain colors.

Here’s one method to put together a color scheme that’ll work for your family so that you can get your painting party underway.

Find Inspiration for Your Rooms

Discover the colors that you’re naturally attracted to by simply flipping through magazines and catalogs and tearing out your favorite photos of rooms. You can do this online with sites like Pinterest, too.

The key is to gather all of your inspirational photos together and find common threads in colors. It may be that all the photos have gray walls or blue accents. You may discover other things about your style, too, like your furniture preferences or your light fixture style.

Focus on the colors alone, and write down the list of hues that you find attractive. This will be a good “true north” for you if you become overwhelmed with all the options. If all the inspirational rooms are neutral with punches of color, then remember, you like neutral. If the rooms are white walls with high contrast, you like white. If the rooms are dark walls with moody accessories, you like dark.

Decide On Your Vibe

Now that you have your true north established, get a deck of paint swatches so that you can determine if you like monochromatic rooms, a more punchy room, or something complementary. Choose one neutral color that you like. Then see what you’re most attracted to when it comes to pairing colors with that neutral. There’s no wrong answer.

For this example, I picked greige (that first color row above) as my neutral to see what would work with it. You might go with analogous colors, which are pleasing because they sit next to each other in the color wheel, and they’re found in nature. Or maybe you like drama: Complementary colors are high contrast, so they create a vibrant look.

Research more about color theory to understand this idea better. Whatever those colors are, know that you are deciding your vibe by picking three main colors you love.

Pick Out Textiles

Now that you have your inspiration and your vibe established, it’s time to go shopping! This could mean that you’re simply shopping your stash, or it could be that you’re finding new wares.

Whatever it means, figure out what upholstery, curtains, and rugs are going to live in the rooms, and get fabric swatches of those items. This way you can group all the fabrics for one room together. This will help you determine the color to pick for walls. It’s also a great time to purge items that don’t fit into your new style or don’t go with that room’s color scheme.

Whip out your paint deck again and see what works with your textiles based on your established vibe and your inspiration. You may have dark curtains and dark furniture and want to lighten up the space. Pick out a lighter color for the walls. If you want to make it feel more like a cocoon, pick out something dark.

But remember, it should go with your overall desired vibe. For example, if you want to have an industrial vibe, steer clear of bright, sunny yellow.

You don’t need to know the exact color right now, just that the living room is going to be light blue and the dining room is going gray.

Also, keep in mind adjoining rooms. When you stand in a room and see the color on the walls in neighboring rooms, this is called a sightline, and the colors that are in those rooms need to look good next to one another.

Determine Accent Colors

Now that you have your textiles and a basic idea of what room is going to be which color, it’s time to choose accent colors. True accent colors can come directly from fabrics, throw pillows, artwork, or even your favorite stationery.

I like to pick at least two accent colors for each space. That accent color is used sparingly throughout the space – but enough to make it feel intentional. It should go well with the textiles in that space. An accent color can be the hue you use on an accent wall.

Also consider using a wall color from one space as an accent color in a neighboring room.

Test It Out

Now that you’ve determined your idea for a wall color and the accent colors that coordinate with your textiles and align with your style, it’s time to test some specific paint shades.

Remember that paint colors look different in natural and artificial lighting, often dry darker, and can coordinate or clash with undertones in flooring, stone, tile, and even cabinetry.

It’s very helpful to search for images of the specific colors online to see if you like the look in others’ spaces. I like to pick three to five paint colors for the walls before getting samples of that color. Then just make sure you test all your options in the room before choosing the specific hue and color plan.

Double-check that your chosen wall color coordinates with all the existing features, furniture, and textiles. Then write down your picks for the walls and any painted accent areas or furniture.

You did it! All your colors should play nicely with the neighboring rooms because of your hard work! Now you can confidently say that you have a plan for all the spaces and it’ll definitely work well with the other pieces in your space. Happy painting!

Article by KATIE AND JEREMY BOWER

What the Insane Appreciation of Warren Buffett’s CA Beach House Can Teach Us All

It seems that even when famed investor Warren Buffett isn’t trying to make money, he does anyway. Case in point: the Laguna Beach, CA, home that he picked up in 1971 for $150,000. Buffett just listed the six-bedroom, 6.5-bath property for sale, and today’s price tag is a whopping $11 million.

Buffett, a longtime resident of Omaha, NE, wasn’t thinking ahead to a payday when he bought the place. He told the Wall Street Journal that he purchased the place just because his first wife, Susan, liked it. At the time, Laguna Beach “wasn’t fully developed,” he said—certainly not the ritzy enclave it is now.

The reason Buffett is selling now is that the family hasn’t gone there as much since Susan’s death in 2004, he said.

“While the family used to go there during the summers and for holidays, in the past 10 years they haven’t used it as much, and that’s why they’ve elected to sell it,” says listing agent Bill Dolby, of Villa Real Estate.

That pragmatic attitude is typical of Buffett, who earned his nickname “The Oracle of Omaha” with his winning investment strategy rooted in a down-to-earth attitude. In fact, we can see the proof of some of his most famous advice in the way he approached this home’s purchase and sale. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Listen only to those you know and trust

We’re guessing that anyone married to Buffett was quite savvy, so he had good reason to listen to Susan’s preference for this house—she clearly had an eye for good real estate.

Know the difference between price and value

Even though he said he wasn’t thinking of the house as an investment, a guy like Buffett must have thought about what he was getting for the money. After all, $150,000 in 1971 is the equivalent of almost $900,000 today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator. So, it wasn’t chump change. But while the town may have been no big deal at the time, the home’s nice layout and its proximity to the beach and to Los Angeles clearly offered value.

Buy, then hold forever (almost)

As Buffett told shareholders of his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., in a 1989 letter, “Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre.” It’s a friend of the real estate investor, too—anyone who buys a good-value property and holds it for 46 years is likely to do well with it. Even if he had a 30-year mortgage, he’s long since paid it off.

Buy what you want to own

Again, Buffett didn’t buy this house because he wanted to win big in Southern California real estate—he just wanted a nice getaway for his family. He, Susan, and their three kids vacationed at this home for more than four decades, spending summers and Christmases there. Viewed that way, he’s more than gotten his money’s worth, regardless of the appreciation.

Invest in what you know

As one of the listing photos shows, there’s a cardboard cutout of Mary See, a founder of California-based See’s Candies, in the living room. Berkshire Hathaway purchased the confectionery company in 1972—one year after Buffett snapped up the Laguna Beach home. Could it be that he discovered the locally made chocolates while on vacation in California and loved them so much he bought the company?

The Laguna Beach house was originally built in 1936, but the Buffetts remodeled several times, expanding the square footage, according to Dolby. Now the house features views from almost every room, numerous decks, en suite bathrooms, and a large family room with an oversize viewing deck. Plus, there’s covered parking for three cars, rare in these parts.

Still, whoever buys the place might be up for a little remodeling.

“In my experience in Emerald Bay, I’ve seen all kinds of things,” says Dolby. “The new owners could either keep it as is, remodel, or tear the whole thing down and rebuild.”

But if the new owners want to maximize the return on their investment, they’d do well to keep its previous owner’s advice in mind.

By 

Must vs. Lust: What Do You Really Need in Your New Home?

The super-simple (and fun) way to separate needs from nice-to-haves.

When you embark on the home-buying process, your heart is filled with all the dreams in the world. It’s really easy to get caught up in the “I have to have ___________,  so I’ll cut back somewhere else ” game, even when you don’t actually know where that somewhere else is or if you can realistically cut back there.

This post will show you how to pare down the excess and make sure to get the things you really NEED.

Make a List of Wants

Start by making a list of everything you want in your house. If you love it, jot it down. Have your spouse or partner do the same thing in a separate document.

Once you and your partner have everything down, start sorting your wants by order of importance. What’s your No. 1? Do you need large windows? How about a sunroom? Double sinks in the master? You get the idea.

Come up with your top 10, and then compare your list to your partner’s top 10. What things appear on both lists? Those items should carry more weight because you both want them in your home.

Highlight the Important Stuff

Next, look at your list and consider:

  • The things that can’t be changed without a massive investment. I’m talking things like square footage, window size, and number of bedrooms. This is your heavyweight list. These things should take priority in your home-buying decision.
  • Features that are purely cosmetic, especially things that can be DIYed. These items should be moved waaay down the list or taken off entirely. Backsplash tile, paint color, and lighting can all be changed inexpensively and after you’re living in your house. You don’t want to pass up a fantastic house because you can’t see past a red accent wall.

At this point, you should have a combined list of 10 or so items.

My last tip is to figure out the priority of each one of the items. Ask yourself, would you be willing to give up item number 4, say, to have item number 5? Would you be willing to give up hardwood floors for a home theater room? This is the hardest question to answer, but it’ll put your must-haves in the right order.

I always picture this activity like an eye appointment when the doctor says, “1 or 2? OK, now 2 or 3?” Do that with your list! Pool or flooring? Flooring or yard size? Yard size or square footage? Make sense?

Bring Your List When You Look at a Home

As you’re out looking at houses, keep your list handy. Maybe you’re not willing to give up hardwood floors for a jetted tub, but would you be willing to compromise for a jetted tub and extra square footage? Refer back to your must-haves list often. It’s easy to get distracted.

Here’s a quick checklist that I use when searching for a home. If you answer “yes” to all of these, then a “want” may be worth the splurge — that is, if you can be sure that you’ll be able to afford the feature (in terms of your monthly mortgage payments and living expenses).

  1. Is it on both of your lists?
  2. Is it something that’ll be extremely expensive and difficult to change or add?
  3. Would you be willing to sacrifice something else to have it?
  4. Would you feel like your house would be incomplete without it?

Happy house hunting!

Article by MANDI GUBLER

Living with a Dog – Tips for Keeping Your House Clean

Living with a dog doesn’t mean your house has to look and smell like a dog house. Not wanting to spend my entire day cleaning, I’ve learned how to clean up in the quickest (and by the way – cheapest) way possible.

Keep The Fur From Flying

Brush your dog every day. This is especially important if you have multiple dogs like I do. You’ll be amazed how spending a short five minutes a day brushing your dog, will cut down on all that hair floating around your home. Brushing daily also gets rid of flaky skin by distributing natural oils through your dog’s coat. You’ll notice that your dog looks and smells better. And since most dogs love being brushed it counts as quality time with your dog.

The Quickest Way to Make Dust Bunnies Disappear

If you need to get rid of hair in a hurry, go for the Swiffer.
It works tons better than a broom. These little cloths grab hair, dirt, and dust, and other dirt quick, and you just throw away the cloth when you’re done.

Lint rollers are also another must-have. Keep a couple around the house if you need to get hair off clothing or furniture in a hurry.

Use Common Household Items

Baking soda is a miracle when it comes to getting rid of pet odors. Sprinkle it on your carpet and let it sit for a couple of house and vacuum. You’ll notice the room smells much, much better.

For a quick, easy, and cheap air freshener that really works:
Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with water in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray. The baking soda absorbs the odor. You can also add a couple drops of essential oils, vanilla extract, or even cinnamon for variety.

Another quick way to keep your house from smelling like a kennel is to spray vinegar into the air. As the vinegar smell goes away so does the doggie odor.

And here’s an extra tip: put a fabric softener sheet in an envelope under the sofa or chair cushion where your furry friend like to hang out. This is a simple way to keep the area from smelling like a dog house.

Like a Breeze

As a dog owner you might already have a bottle of Febreze around the house. If you don’t, get one. Its great for freshening up dog bedding and other furniture dogs like to call their own. If a member of the family is allergic to dogs, use the Allergen Reducer Febreze. They claim it reduces up to 75% of allergens from pets and dust mites that can come off furniture. We have noticed less dust and a it does make the room smell fresher.

Stop Dirty Paws At The Door

Stop muddy paws at the door. Place mats at both the outside and inside of every door. They really help cut the dirt down. Be sure to get a washable mat.

Another way to keep the mud out – pet wipes. It only takes a few seconds and you’ll be amazed to see how much dirt comes off your dog’s paws when they come in. Most dogs don’t seem to mind the routine.

Clean Messes ASAP

When accidents happen, clean them up as soon as they happen.
If you leave a mess, it will spread, stain, and smell. Also your dog will want to come back to that spot and use it again thinking that’s his toilet.

It’s best to use products made especially for pet messes.
These products are made to break down organic waste and to neutralize odors. Don’t use cleaners with ammonia – they smell just like urine to dogs.

Keep a “Clean-Up-Kit”

To avoid a catastrophe keep the following must-haves in your cleaning closet or somewhere handy: spray stain removers, old towels, paper towels, and disposable disinfectant wipes.

In case you are out of pet stain remover here’s a stain remover you can make yourself: Mix 1 quart of hot tap water, 1 teaspoon of dish soap, and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar (it gets rid of the odor). Shake or mix together; blot the area with towels and wet with cleaner to cover area. Let it sit 15 minutes, and blot again. Repeat as necessary.

Best 6 (Secret) DIY Tips

Common problems. Genius solutions.

As a DIY junkie, I’ve learned lots of tricks … most of them the hard way. Here’s a compilation of my favorite tips to take your project to the next level.

1. Pre-Painting Prep

Before you paint, use a floor duster to remove all the dust from your walls. Because of the long handle, you won’t even need to pull out a ladder, and your paint result will be a million times better.

2. Perfect Paint Lines

I have a secret for you. Even if you have texture on your walls, you can achieve perfect paint lines! You can’t stop paint from bleeding, especially if you have heavy texture like popcorn walls. So the trick is to make the bleed invisible.

After you’ve painted your base color on the wall and taped off your pattern, use the same base wall color and paint along the edges of the tape. This will make the bleed invisible. Then after it’s dry, paint your accent color over the space. Perfect paint lines every time!

3. Smooth Caulk

Getting a smooth finish on caulk can be maddening. The chunkiness and unevenness of the caulk can be quite the headache, but luckily, you’ve got everything you need in your house to resolve this problem, and it won’t cost you a thing.

Grab a disposable cup from your kitchen and fill it with water. After you’ve squeezed the caulk onto the seam, dip your finger in the water and run it along the caulk. The water creates a perfect lubricant for your finger. This will give you a smooth finish, and it’s virtually mess free. See how easy here:

4. Easy Wood Refinishing

Let’s say you just came across the score of a lifetime at the thrift store: a wooden mid-century dresser that’s in great condition, but the finish isn’t up to your standards.

Don’t worry about having to sand and restain it — just use a product called Danish oil. It’s a cross between a wood conditioner and a stain and will fill in and disguise the places where the color of your finish is all wrong.

5. Paint Preserver

If you find yourself mid-paint project and have to take a break, roll your roller in the paint to get a nice thick coat and then wrap it in a garbage bag and put it in the fridge. This will keep the paint fresh for up to a week until you can start again.

6. Art Straighteners

Do you have a problem with the art on your walls staying level? There’s nothing more distracting than having one or two crooked pictures in a gallery wall.

Buy a package of adhesive strips, cut them into small sections, and place them on the back of the frames. It will keep pictures straight and not damage the walls.

I hope that you’ll use these tips to make your DIY life a little bit easier!

This article was contributed by Mandi Gubler

TACO LIME SHRIMP SALAD

Have a hankering for tacos? Does your family want to do a taco night (Taco Tuesday, anyone!)? Try this grilled shrimp salad with plenty of tasty taco seasonings, a lime marinade and creamy avocado. There are so many flavors and veggies in this salad, you’ll forget it’s missing a taco shell!

When we give up grains, like corn, there are some food items that fly out the window, like corn tortillas. No, corn is not a vegetable — it’s a grain. Albeit a gluten-free grain, but corn is still a grain, and it’s just another reason to not fall for the “gluten-free” label fad. Thankfully, you can make your own tortillas from cauliflower or plantains. But, let’s make it even easier and leave out the shell and fill our bowl with veggies, instead.

Marinate the shrimp in the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and lime juice for at least 20 minutes. If you have more time, let it marinate even longer. Pack the ingredients into a big bowl, or do a build-your-own style and let everyone fix up their own salad.

Taco Lime Shrimp Salad Recipe

Serves: 2     Prep: 30 min     Cook: 10 min
Protein: 50g / 32%     Carbs: 18g / 11%     Fat: 40g / 57%
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined;
  • 5 cups mixed greens;
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved;
  • 1 avocado, chopped;
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced;
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder;
  • 1/2 tbsp. paprika;
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin powder;
  • 1/2 cup lime juice;
  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped;
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil;
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper;
  • Wood or metal skewers

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, combine the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and 1/4 cup lime juice.
  2. Place the shrimp in the chili mixture and marinate for 20 minutes.
  3. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  4. Thread the shrimps on wood or metal skewers.
  5. Grill the shrimp until they turn pink, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
  6. In a dressing jar, combine the cilantro, olive oil, 1/4 cup lime juice, and season to taste.
  7. In a salad bowl, combine the mixed greens, tomatoes, avocado, red onion and shrimp.
  8. Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

Ouch! Three Times You Can Kiss Your Earnest Money Goodbye

The earnest money deposit—the cash you offer to essentially call dibs on a house—is one of the most important and misunderstood parts of the home-buying process.

Depending on where you live, you can expect to put down anywhere from 1% to even 10% of the home’s purchase price as earnest money. (In some highly competitive markets, buyers are making even larger deposits in an effort to stand out.) An earnest money deposit tells a seller you are serious about closing. Without earnest money, you could theoretically make offers on multiple homes, essentially taking them off the market until you decide which one you like best.

Don’t worry—the seller isn’t going to run off to Aruba with your cash. It remains in an escrow account or with the title company until the sale closes. And, if everything goes off without a hitch, that earnest money is put toward your down payment and closing costs. So there’s nothing to lose, right?

Probably not, except these three scenarios where your earnest money could end up financing the seller’s trip to Aruba.

1. You waived your contingencies

In highly competitive markets, it’s becoming more common for buyers to waive contract contingencies regarding financing or an inspection. You might be tempted to do the same—it will make you a more attractive buyer. But it also comes with serious risks. You guessed it: You might lose your earnest money deposit.

The financing contingency guarantees that you’ll get your money back if for some reason your mortgage doesn’t go through and you’re unable to purchase the house. The inspection contingency allows you to renegotiate the price or demand repairs if serious defects are found during the inspection.

If your contract doesn’t have such buyer protections and you run into trouble with the inspection, you won’t be able to get your money back if you abandon the deal. Most experts recommend that you not waive the inspection contingency, unless you’re planning on tearing the property down.

As for the mortgage-financing contingency, waiving it may be the only way to compete with all-cash buyers. But you’ve got to be absolutely surethat you’ll be able to get approval from your bank.

“I strongly encourage my clients to obtain a conditional approval before signing a noncontingent contract,” says Ivona Perecman, a New York Cityreal estate broker and lawyer. “Otherwise, it may turn out that the bank that pre-approved you will not give you financing or offer a lot less worse terms and, consequently, you may lose the deposit.”

2. You ignored the timeline outlined in the contract

Your contract usually sets out a specific time frame in which you’ll need to secure financing, get the home inspected, and be available for the closing. Generally speaking, as long as you’ve made a good-faith effort to adhere to the timeline, sellers will grant a reasonable extension if a lender drags his feet or there are other extenuating circumstances that delay things.

However, in some cases sellers may include a “time is of the essence” clause in the contract. Watch out for this phrase in your paperwork—it means the closing date for the sale is binding. If you can’t make it to close for any reason, you’ve breached the contract and could lose your deposit.

3. You get cold feet

If you have a change of heart about the home you’re buying—but there’s no problem with the property or the financing—you likely will not get your money back.

“If a buyer changes her mind and was able to request the down payment be returned without consequence then the whole idea of a contract would no longer be worth much,” says Marc Kaufman, a real estate attorney with Wexler Lehrer & Kaufman in New York City. “One party cannot simply walk away and default on a whim.”

The earnest money deposit serves a protection for the sellers when they take their home off the market. If late in the game you decide that you no longer want to make the purchase, they get to keep it as compensation for the time and money they have to spend on listing their home again and looking for another buyer.

When it comes to real estate, a case of buyer’s remorse could be even more painful than a lost deposit. To avoid both, really make sure the home you’re bidding on is “the one.”

Article by Beth Braverman

Waterproofing Basement Walls: Costs and Options

Tempted by ads that promise to waterproof your basement?  Here’s the scoop:

If you’re trying to figure out how to cure a wet or musty basement, you’re probably curious about advertisements for products that claim to waterproof basement walls. So you wonder: Is it really possible to dry out a basement simply by sealing the walls?

Yes, it is possible — but to make sure you’re choosing the right option, you need to figure out if the moisture is coming from the outside, or if it’s actually high humidity that’s condensing on the cool walls of your basement.

How to Find Out What’s Causing the Moisture

Tape a 1-foot-square piece of aluminum foil to the inside of your basement walls, and leave it in place for 24 hours.

If there’s condensation on the outside of the foil, you have high humidity in your basement. Fix it with a portable room dehumidifier or a whole-house humidifier system instead of waterproofing products.

If the foil has condensation on the inside surface (next to the wall), it may be the soil around your house is naturally damp from a high water table or poor soil drainage. In that case, waterproofing your basement walls can be useful.

You can waterproof just your interior walls, which may solve the problem. Or you can waterproof your exterior walls, which is a better bet — but more costly.

Here’s the scoop on the different types:

4 Types of Interior Waterproofing

  1. Concrete waterproofing coatings: These thick coatings are cement-like; once dry, they adhere permanently to concrete and masonry walls. You apply the coating with a heavy brush made with tampico bristles — a natural fiber. Swirl the brush at the final stage of application to give the wall an attractive, finished look.Concrete waterproof coatings can’t be applied to previously painted surfaces; check the label. A 5- gallon bucket (you add water to the dry mix) is $30-$40 and covers 100 sq. ft.
  2. Silicate-based concrete sealers, also known as densifiers, are also suitable only for walls that haven’t been painted or sealed. The sealers soak in and chemically react with ingredients in the concrete or brick, forming a hard, waterproof surface.Because these are penetrating sealers, they can’t flake off or peel, and you can paint over them (but check the label first). Applying a silicate-based sealer with a brush, roller, or sprayer is easy enough for a DIY project. A 1-gallon can is $40-$50 and covers 200 sq. ft., but you’ll need at least two coats.
  3. Waterproofing paint is an acrylic formula, not all that different from ordinary wall paint. But you brush, roll, or spray it on much more thickly — one gallon covers just 75 square feet, not the 300 square feet typical with standard paint.Waterproof paint is fine for DIY application. You can apply it over painted surfaces, and paint over it once it’s cured (1 gal./$35).
  4. Plastic sheets and panels are suitable as wall waterproofing only in combination with interior basement drainage systems. They don’t stop water from getting through the wall, but they do stop it from ruining things in the basement.Water that gets through the wall runs down the back of the plastic, into a drainage system in the floor. A sump pump moves water out of your basement. The entire system is $3,000-$5,000 for a 20-by-20-foot basement room.

TIP: None of these products will work unless cracks and gaps are properly sealed. So make sure you fill cracks and gaps less than 1/8-inch wide with polyurethane caulk made for masonry ($5/10-oz. tube). Patch wider cracks with epoxy filler.

Your Best Bet: Exterior Waterproofing

The surest way to waterproof your basement walls is a full-scale exterior waterproofing solution. It’s also the most expensive — often $15,000 to $30,000.

Exterior waterproofing involves excavating all around the house to the full depth of the foundation walls, then installing a waterproof coating or membrane topped by drainage panels. The panels provide an easy path for water to flow down to an exterior French drain at the bottom of your foundation. From there, water flows by gravity — or with the aid of a sump pump — away from your foundation to another part of your property, or into a storm drain.

Article by JEANNE HUBER