Landscaping Do’s and Don’ts When You Have a Dog

Your dog may be your best friend, but he’s not your yard’s BFF. Here are some guidelines to help you all get along.

Mulch

DO: Use gravel, shredded hardwood mulch, or wood chips, which won’t stick to longhair coats.
DON’T: Use cocoa mulch, which may contain theobromine, the same ingredient that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs.

Yard Features

DO: Create a water feature so your dog can cool off on hot days.
DON’T: Install a pond or pool that is hard for your dog to enter and exit.

DO: Add a sandbox your dog can feel free to dig in. Bury bones and treats at first to pique his interest.
DON’T: Think that sandboxes are maintenance-free. Keep a shovel and rake nearby to cover holes and clean waste.

Plants

DO: Use organic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides on lawns and plants.
DON’T: Spread toxic lawn and plant care products, which can harm dogs. A National Institute of Health study showed that professionally applied pesticides were associated with a 70% higher risk of canine malignant lymphoma.

DO: Select plant species that reduce fleas, such as lavender, rosemary, and mint, and others that are good for dogs to eat — blueberries, strawberries, wheat grass, and oat grass.
DON’T: Select plants that can make your dog sick, like foxglove, iris, monkshood, and lily of the valley.

DO: Landscape with urine-resistant plants, such as Euonymus japonica (Japanese spindle tree) and Burkwood osmanthus.
DON’T: Freak out when you find yellow and brown spots in your lawn caused by urine. Reseeding is a simple and easy cure for those spots. Or create a potty station.

Boundaries

DO: Create paths or walkways along routes your dog already travels.
DON’T: Think you can redirect your dog away from areas he’s already claimed. Don’t resort to planting thorny shrubs or other plants to deter him. You’ll both be sorry.

DO: Edge flowerbeds with rocks or foot-tall shrubs to protect your posies.
DON’T: Use a metal edging that can cut your pooch.

DO: Give up the idea of having a perfect yard — a place that’s perfect for you and your pet is better.
DON’T: Let your dog rule the roost. Train him to respect boundaries and do his business in a designated spot.

Article by LISA KAPLAN GORDON

Feeling Green: Eco-friendly Updates Under $20

The eco-friendly, energy-saving trend is not new in real estate, but it has ramped up in recent years. One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle for a new homebuyer is efficiency and sustainability, two things you can easily incorporate into your home without breaking the bank.


Start a compost pile.
Composting is a great way to ensure your nutrient-rich food waste doesn’t end up sitting in a landfill, creating harmful methane gas. All you need is a large plastic bin that will keep animals at bay and some materials to get your pile started (e.g. egg shells, fruit peels, leaves, coffee grounds, twigs, etc.). Remember to turn the pile every few days to keep nutrients and moisture moving. The compost you generate can then be used in your garden! Estimated cost: $12–$13

Go reusable.
You would be surprised how much trash you generate by buying plastic water bottles instead of a reusable bottle or by packing your lunch in a paper bag instead of an insulated one. These items might seem overpriced initially, but they make up for higher costs and damage to the planet down the road. Estimated cost: $7-$15

Opt for paperless billing.
This is one most of us have already begun to do, but signing up to pay your bills and keep track of your finances online is a great way to reduce paper waste. Most companies already offer this feature, and you can save on stamps! Estimated cost: free
*Depending on the company, which may charge an online processing fee.

Make your own cleaning products.
Store-bought cleaning products can be expensive, not to mention full of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Making your own supplies is relatively simple and can be done naturally with just a few ingredients. You can even personalize the scent to make sure your home smells light and fresh! Estimated cost: $15

Bring the outdoors, in.
Filling your home with flowers and houseplants is not only a great way to add beauty to your space, but also helps purify the air and is as inexpensive a fix as you can get. Just be sure to follow sunlight and watering instructions, and avoid plants harmful to pets, if you have any. Estimated cost: $5-$15

Charred Eggplant Risotto

There’s plenty of ways to incorporate smoky flavor into your dishes, and it’s a great option for summer, when the grill reigns supreme. This creamy risotto, combined with flavor-packed Baba Ghanoush, is a sophisticated but uncomplicated meal your guests will love.


Ingredients:
For the Baba Ghanoush

  • 1 large eggplant (1 to 1¼ pounds)
  • ¼ cup tahini (roasted sesame paste)
  • ¾ teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • ¼ teaspoon ground chile powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup packed fresh Italian parsley or cilantro leaves

For the Risotto

  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup finely grated yellow onion, with juices
  • ½ cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup dry unoaked white wine
  • 1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and sliced
  • 2 cups packed arugula, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Make the Baba Ghanoush: prick the eggplant all over with a fork. Place over a gas burner, over a fire in a charcoal or gas grill, or under the broiler and char the skin evenly, turning the eggplant as needed.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (or continue to use the grill). Place the charred eggplant on a rimmed sheet pan and roast in the oven (or using indirect heat on the grill) until completely soft and slightly shriveled, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to the touch, then split the eggplant lengthwise and scrape out the pulp.
  3. Transfer the pulp to a food processor, add the tahini, coarse salt, lemon juice, garlic, chile powder, oil, and parsley, and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop. Bring 1 cup baba ghanoush to room temperature for the risotto and save the remaining Baba Ghanoush for another use. It will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  4. Make and serve the risotto: In a large saucepan, heat the stock just until it reaches a simmer, then keep it warm. In a second large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and fine salt and lightly toast the grains, stirring every 30 seconds or so, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has been fully absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring constantly, until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, cooking and stirring the rice until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed before pouring in the next addition, until the stock is used up, about 20 minutes. At this point, the rice grains should be tender but still intact.
  5. Add the 1 cup Baba Ghanoush, the bell pepper, arugula, pecorino, and lemon juice to the risotto and stir to combine and heat through. Taste for seasoning and add more fine salt if desired. Spoon into individual serving bowls and serve immediately.

To Rent or Not to Rent

Today’s market shows that really no matter where you live, you are likely to have renters interested in your property. People are utilizing sites like VRBO and Airbnb in record numbers, but there are plenty of things to consider before putting your space up for rent this season.


Know the rules.
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure that renting your home falls within the specific guidelines and regulations in your state and county. These rules vary greatly depending on what part of the country you are in, so you’ll need to make sure you are following protocol.

Clear your schedule.
Preparing your home for rental can be time-consuming to start, but once you get in the swing of things, it shouldn’t involve too much time and energy on your end. Some of the basic tasks you will need to consider are advertising, responding to inquiries, handling taxes, managing maintenance, and hiring service people (e.g. housekeepers and handymen).

Market your home.
Getting renters to want to stay in your home shouldn’t be difficult, so long as you know what people are looking for. When searching for a vacation property, most people consider its proximity to popular attractions, accessibility and size, available dates, and cost. Be sure to check the going rates for other rentals in your area, and focus on advertising your space’s closeness to must-do activities, fine dining, and kid-friendly spots.

Make it stand out.
Your home will likely be up against hundreds of other rentals, so you’ll want to make sure to emphasize special deals and amenities. If you have things like a pool, an HD television, a large movie collection, or beach equipment in the shed, you will want to highlight it so you let potential renters know that your space is one of the best!

Protect yourself.
Anytime you open your home to strangers you, are leaving your personal property and belongings in the hands of others, and, accidents do happen. If you plan on renting your space for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to consider taking anything valuable with you or placing it in storage. It might seem like a pain to have to remove these things, but it’s worth the hassle to prevent damage or added expenses later.

Pre-Vacation Home Safety Tips

Vacation is something that we all look forward to, but it’s important not to forget about your home—and its safety—while you’re away. With some pre-planning, it’s easy to make sure your house is safe and secure, giving you peace of mind and allowing you to focus on the relaxation and fun of vacation.

Here are a few must-do tips to make sure your home is protected:


1. Unplug all of your major appliances that could experience power surges. This can help protect the appliances, but also prevent a fire in the event of a surge.

2. Another key fire protection measure is to check all of the batteries in your smoke detectors. These devices are crucial for early fire detection—and your neighbors can likely hear them to alert the fire department.

3. It’s important to not only wash, but dry all of your dishes before you go away. Toxic mold and mildew can form in these damp environments, posing a hazard to your kitchen.

4. If you live in a warm climate, consider turning off your air conditioner. There’s no need to keep it running, unless you have pets, and it will save you money on your next energy bill!

5. Help give the impression that someone is still at home by leaving a car parked in your driveway. Be sure to remove all of your valuables from the vehicle first.

6. Instead of leaving a spare key under the welcome mat, ask a trusted neighbor or family member to keep it while you’re away—it’s much safer. And in the event of a problem, they’ll have easier access.

7. Though it may be tempting to share the news of your upcoming getaway, thieves often scan social media looking for neighbors who will be away. Wait until after the vacation to share your photos and messages.

8. Don’t allow your mailbox or front stoop to overflow with mail—a sure sign you are out of the house! Instead, ask a neighbor or family member to hold on to it for you until you get back.

9. Consider purchasing controllable timers to turn on and turn off lights, TVs, and more, which gives the impression that you are still at home.

10. Take advantage of your local law enforcement agency’s policy—if they have one—to have an on-duty officer drive by your  home.

11. Place all of your most precious valuables and important documents in a fire safety box for added protection.

12. This goes without speaking, but double-check that all doors and windows are locked securely before leaving for your trip.

13. Have pets? Skip doggie daycare and ask a friend or family member to stay in your home with your furry friends. They’ll be much more relaxed in their own home, and your home will be under watchful eye.

14. Heading out for an extended trip? Clean out the refrigerator, throwing away anything that will expire while you’re gone. This will help prevent yucky messes in your fridge upon your return.

 

8 Creepy Things Exterminators Wish You Knew About Pests in Your Home

We love to wax poetic about the idyllic advantages of owning a home: The backyard barbecues! The walls you can paint any color you want! And, of course, the stability of knowing you can stay in a place long-term at (more or less) the same cost each month.

But homeownership also has a dark underbelly, full of scary things we pretend don’t exist when we turn out the lights. The scary truth is you’re not the only one living in your house. Whether you see them or not, you’re hosting a number of nightmare-inducing, creepy, crawly creatures. Sometimes they stay hidden, in dark corners under the house. All too often, they decide to come out and say hi.

Don’t let the pests win! To keep them at bay, you just have to exercise a bit of exterminator expertise. Take back command of your home, and heed these eight things that pest control pros wish you knew.

1. You don’t have to live in squalor to have a pest problem

We often associate mice, roaches, and other pests with unkempt, dirty homes. But you keep a relatively clean house! These wannabe intruders are no match for you, right? Not so fast—even pristine homes can have pest infestations.

Consider this nauseating revelation:

“Mice can survive on just 3 to 4 grams of food per day, so a few crumbs here and there are all they need to thrive in your home,” says Joe Magyar, branch manager at Terminix in Madison, AL. “Good sanitation won’t get rid of them, but a messy house will attract them. So be sure to vacuum floors regularly, wipe down counters, and eliminate access to food sources.”

2. Moisture is the enemy

Food and clutter aren’t the only things that attract pests. Beware of leaky pipes, clogged drains, or anything that creates standing water around your home. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Just get a load of this horrifying anecdote from Kim Kelley-Tunis, director of quality assurance for Orkin in Atlanta.

“One time I went into a house and took a look at the plumbing, which at first glance had a furry appearance to it,“ Kelley-Tunis says. “Upon closer inspection, there were cockroaches living on the piping in such large numbers that their antennae and legs gave the piping this sort of hairy look. When there are that many cockroaches in your home, you have a serious problem.”

3. Pests aren’t just icky—they can also be dangerous

Besides being gross, pests can also do serious damage that could put your house and your family in jeopardy. For example, rats can chew on—and fray—wires, which is a major fire hazard.

“Spotting a rodent issue early and resolving it immediately is incredibly important for this reason, let alone the fact that rodents carry numerous pathogens on their bodies and are known disease spreaders,” Kelley-Tunis says.

4. Secondhand furniture can cause problems

We’re not saying you should pass up that fabulous antique chair you spotted at the weekend’s estate sale, or the storage ottoman you can have for a steal on Craigslist. But just know that those pieces of furniture might come with some special guests.

“Technicians have encountered situations where a homeowner has purchased a new piece of furniture at an antique store and accidentally brought in termites or bedbugs to their home,” Kelley-Tunis says. She stresses that it’s vital to closely inspect any secondhand furniture that you bring into the house.

5. Pests aren’t loners

As much as you want to believe that the huge waterbug you just squashed (in alarmingly close proximity to your blender full of kale smoothie) was just a solo infiltrator, we’re here to break the bad news: It’s probably not the case.

“As a general rule of thumb, where there is one cockroach, there are likely many others,” Magyar says. “Roaches are aggressive breeders, so it doesn’t take long for a small problem to grow to a major infestation. If you wait to call in a professional until you’ve spotted a few of these pests, you may have a much larger problem on your hands.”

6. Poison isn’t foolproof

Matteo Grader, pest control specialist at Panther Pest Control, describes the scene of a homeowner who thought he’d gotten rid of his mice infestation himself. He thought wrong.

“He bought some cheap mice poison from the store and placed it in every corner of his house. The mice had eaten from the poison, but unfortunately they were able to find a narrow place to hide in before they died (which is typical for mice),” Grader recalls. “So the customer thought he got rid of the problem, until one day there was a disgusting smell in his home.

“During the inspection we found that there were more than 10 dead mice trapped inside the walls between the living room and the kitchen,” he adds.

If you insist on using poison, be prepared to call in a pro to remove the remains from your walls or pipes. Blecch!

7. Humane options exist

If the idea of a snap trap makes you feel queasy, or you’re concerned about your pets being underfoot, there are other options (ones that won’t send pests crawling into your walls). For example, PETA offers instructions on how to make humane rat traps. Other experts recommend peppermint oil to deter rodents. There are even humane options for cockroach control, such as putting stoppers in all drains and sealing up spaces between floorboards, under counters, and around sinks. You can also try placing dried bay leaves in your drawers and cabinets to repel them.

8. Don’t wait too long to call in the pros

We applaud you for having the courage to DIY your pest situation. Really, we do. But even the bravest homeowners need to ask for help every now and then. And when it comes to pest control, you should make that call sooner rather than later, says Brian Kelly of Twin Forks Pest Control, in Southampton, NY.

“As an exterminator for the past 20 years, I have seen lots of interesting things people do to try to eliminate pest problems on their own—from a homemade bedbug trap using a mannequin and duct tape to homemade ant traps using the secret ingredient of soy sauce and duck sauce mixed together,” Kelly says. “While these DIY methods might help a bit, it is best to call a professional to get the job done right.”

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

10 Strategies to Stop Murdering Your Plants

You can have a lush indoor landscape. Just follow these tips.

“Stop her before she kills again!”

Hear that? That’s your jade plant whispering to your bamboo palm every time you approach the windowsill. If you’re guilty of accidentally murdering your beloved houseplants, it’s not too late to stop the cycle! Whether you tend to neglect your greenery or drown it with too much water, the clever tips below will help you cultivate a thriving indoor garden in no time.

1. Don’t Listen to the Internet

Not every site vets their advice as carefully as (ahem) others. Just say no to these popular internet ideas to water your plants:

  • A damp sponge in the bottom of the pot.
  • Melting ice cubes.
  • An upside-down bottle filled with water.

No, no, and no.

“Most houseplants die because they’re overwatered,” says Judy Feldstein, author of “Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants” and former owner of Foliage Unlimited, which designs, installs, and maintains houseplants.

The damp sponge and drip systems are bad ideas, Feldstein says, because “if the soil stays moist all the time, no oxygen can get into the soil, the plant roots can’t breathe, and then they’ll rot, and the plant will die.”

As for melting ice cubes, most plants have the same attitude toward water as Brits with their beer – room temperature, thank you very much.

2. Watch Your Water Content

“You don’t have to use bottled or distilled, but don’t use water that’s passed through a softener; it’s too salty,” Feldstein says.

If you’ve been using softened water and your plants seem fine, it may be that you’ve chosen hardier plants — or not enough time has gone by. Softened water has sodium in it, and over a long period of time can build up and be toxic to your plants. If softened is your only option, create a reservoir at the bottom of the pot with rocks where the salt can collect, or periodically leach out the sodium with an alternate water source, like rainwater.

Municipally added fluoride and chlorine can take their toll, too. “If your water contains a lot of fluoride or chlorine, fill your watering can and allow it to sit out overnight,” says Feldstein. “The chemicals will dissipate, and you can use the water.”

3. Be More Afraid of Overwatering Than Underwatering

You love your plants. But just like your grandma trying to hard-sell you a third serving of lasagna, sometimes too much love is just too much.

Overwater and you’ll kill your plants. “Underwater, and your plants’ leaves may droop and yellow, but you can save the plant once you water it,” Feldstein says.

How much is too much? If you pick up the pot and it’s lighter than it looks, chances are the soil’s dry. If you’ve got a large plant that you can’t lift, just stick your finger in the soil about an inch. If it’s not damp, it’s watering time.

But don’t go overboard. Some plants need more water than others. Succulents, for example, don’t need much. Thin, delicate plants might need more water. Temperature, sunlight, even pot type (a clay pot will suck moisture away from your plant) all affect watering needs. Bottom line: Learn as much as you can about your plant.

Some signs you might be overwatering:

  • Young and old leaves fall at the same time.
  • Root rot: mushy, brown, possibly odorous roots are in pot bottom.
  • Standing water hanging in container underliner.
  • Flowers become moldy.
  • Leaves develop brown soft rotten patches and fail to grow.

4. Feed Them Coffee and Egg Shells

Try mixing coffee grounds or egg shells into the soil. Yup. Garbage. Store-bought potting soil has all the nutrients your plants need, but about once a year, calcium-rich egg shells can give plants a great boost (do it too often and you’ll change the soil’s pH balance). Clean off the icky stuff, let them sit out to dry, and then crush them to a coarse powder. Pour that around the base of the plants, and water.

Coffee grounds have nitrogen — yummy for plants. Different plants like a different amount of coffee, just like humans. To get a sense of how much to use, start with a teaspoon a week mixed into the soil, and then increase the amount until your plants stop showing signs of improvement. Then it should be good to go for a while.

5. Keep ‘Em Separated (From Your Pets)

Cat got your mother-in-law’s tongue? Hopefully not, because that plant can make your cat sick, and being eaten doesn’t work out well for the plant, either. Feldstein recommends the following to keep cats away:

  • Put orange or lemon rinds on the soil. (They don’t like the smell.)
  • Spray spicy cayenne pepper on the leaves.
  • Place crumpled tin foil on the soil. (Cats aren’t fans.)
  • Put camphor balls in the soil if you’re brave enough to risk smelling like your grandma’s closet.

“You might also give your cat a grassy plant of his own to play with,” Feldstein says. Yes, there are grasses you can grow just for your kitty. Typically a mix of oat, rye, barley, and wheat grasses, says the Humane Society. Introduce them to their own grass, and play with the leaves to pique their interest.

6. Easy on the Fertilizer

Dilute your plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than no fertilizer at all. “Fertilizers contain salts, which can build up in the soil,” Feldstein says. “It will burn the roots, and the tips of your plant leaves will go brown. Dilute the plant food one-half to one-quarter the recommended strength.”

7. Give Plants a Haircut

You know that light, airy feeling you have after a haircut? Your plants love it, too. Just because your spider plant is long enough to ring the room doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Pruning houseplants helps them grow stronger and more lush.

Prune away dead leaves, limbs and flowers at the beginning of the growing season or after the plant has flowered. While there are a few plants that don’t need pruning, most are happier when they’re all spruced up.

8. Park Them in the Right Place

Location, location. All plants need some amount of light to grow — whether sunlight or artificial light. But direct sunlight “will burn their leaves,” Feldstein says.

Before setting your plant in a spot, place an object there and check brightness by watching the object’s shadow. Intense light means a more defined shadow.

The direction from which sunlight is coming from can make a difference, too. Even plants that thrive in lots of sunshine may not be so happy in a west-facing window come spring or summer when the sun is most intense.

And be aware that some plants, like ficus, can be so sensitive to cold air that placing it near the entry might aid its demise every time someone opens the door.

9. Know When to Repot

Sometimes your plants will get too big for their clay britches. When that happens, it’s time to repot.

To find out if your little one is ready to graduate, gently remove it from its pot. “If the roots have taken on the shape of the pot, it’s time to move to a larger pot,” Feldstein says. The new container should be about two inches wider and a couple of inches deeper than the old pot.

“Then, don’t feed the plant [with fertilizer] for at least six weeks after repotting so it has time to acclimate. And, remember that now that the pot is larger it’ll take longer for the soil to dry and you won’t have to water as often.”

10. Choose the Easiest Plants to Grow

If you truly believe you’re the Norman Bates of plant owners, there’s still a way to enjoy the beauty and benefits of plant life in your home. Try plants with thicker leaves and stems; they’ll need less water. Think jade and aloe. Other easy-care plants include dracaena, pothos, and heart leaf philodendron.

And then there are air plants, tillandsia, which still need to be watered, but grow without soil, getting all their nutrients from the air. In general, says Feldstein, “Buy plants that are so easy to care for that if you forget about them for three weeks, they’ll be fine.”

Article by STACEY FREED

SHRIMP STUFFED AVOCADOS – PALEO

This quick and easy recipe of shrimp stuffed avocados works great for a salad or appetizer.

INGREDIENTS – Serves 2

  • 4 large avocados, peeled and halved, seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 c. small salad shrimp, cooked and washed
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 T. paprika

DIRECTIONS

1. Set avocados on serving plate with cut side facing up

2. Combine shrimp, lemon juice, onion and pepper in a medium-sized mixing bowl

3. Spoon shrimp mixture onto each avocado, covering generously

4. Sprinkle the top of each stuffed avocado with paprika before serving

HELOCs Are Resetting and Rates Are Rising: Here’s What Homeowners Should Do

“Your HELOC is resetting” is a phrase you might be hearing a lot these days, and it sounds like something that might send your spaceship off its trajectory. But, if you’re not careful, it’s actually something that could send your budget off course.

The financial field is experiencing a perfect storm as multitudes of a popular financial product, the home equity line of credit, or HELOC, are coming due.

Why now? Well, homeowners rushed to take out HELOCs in 2007—just before the housing crash, when property values were at a peak. That gave homeowners flexibility to tap into much-needed funds during the rocky economic period of the past decade. But many of those HELOCs “reset”after 10 years, and with rising interest rates (just last week, the Fed announced another crucial rate hike), the mortgage math doesn’t look good. Your monthly payments could go higher—some by substantial amounts.

Let’s take a look at how you can deal with a resetting HELOC without busting your budget.

Why has my HELOC bill ballooned?

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what a HELOC is. But if it’s been 10 years since you reviewed your paperwork, here’s a refresher: A HELOC is a loan that allows you to borrow money against the equity you have built up in your home. Your lender figures out how much your house is currently worth, deducts what you still owe and offers you a percentage of the remainder as a loan.

What many borrowers don’t understand very well is that unlike their primary mortgage—whose interest rate is likely locked in for 20 or 30 years—a HELOC has a variable rate after the first 10 years. That variable rate is typically tied to the prime rate, which serves as a benchmark for lending rates. The prime rate increases when the Federal Reserve raises short-term rates.

HELOCs typically require interest-only payments for the first 10 years, after which payments on the principal kick in. So there’s a double whammy for homeowners who took out a HELOC in 2007: Not only are their principal payments coming due, but the rate on the loan is also poised to spike.

Now, we’re not trying to cause a panic; despite predictions that mortgage rates would rise throughout the year, they’re still historically low. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage (the most popular home loan) is currently hovering at a seven-month low, despite several increases to interest rates since December. The Fed just hiked interest rates again, though, so the mortgage market could see some of that long-anticipated fallout.

How to handle a HELOC reset

This situation doesn’t have to be a disaster. You just have to do your homework to make the decision that’s best for your budget.

First—and most important—make sure you’re reading the correspondence from your lender and monitoring your statements each month so you’re not caught by surprise, warns Elizabeth Mitacchione, vice president of mortgages for Teachers Federal Credit Union, in Hauppauge, NY.

Evaluating your options could take some time, so you want to be clear on how and when the rate will change.

If your HELOC is poised to reset, you essentially have three choices: Pay it off, refinance it, or stay in your HELOC.

Option No. 1: Pay it off

Maybe you’ve been quite conservative when using your HELOC. It could be that you’ve just been spending a small amount of extra cash to spruce up your outdoor area or fix that leaky roof. Now that the project is done, you might well have the cash available to pay off your HELOC in one fell swoop. Done.

Option No. 2: Refinance it

Sorry, refinancing a HELOC isn’t cut-and-dried. You have three choices for how to handle it.

  1. Refinance into another HELOC: It’s a good time to look into this option, as many local banks and credit unions are currently very competitive with their rates, says Jesse Johnston of Philadelphia-based HOW Properties. HELOCs offer a variety of benefits, including the absence of closing costs and mortgage insurance, notes Joe Talmadge, vice president of mortgage lending for Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, VA. However, he adds, “over time, the risk of having a large balance on a variable-rate loan with little protection from potentially rising rates could lead to more uncertainty than many people are comfortable with.” Also keep in mind that a new, comparable HELOC might not be possible if your home’s value has dropped over the past decade.
  2. Refinance it into a second mortgage: Many banks will allow you to convert your HELOC to a fixed-rate second mortgage without going through the process of requalifying for the loan all over again, Johnston says.
  3. Consolidate your first mortgage and HELOC into one: You may decide to do a full refinance of your first mortgage and HELOC while mortgage rates continue to be relatively low, Mitacchione suggests. Of course, that means you would need to pay closing costs, as well as go through the hassle of getting all your financial documentation together, notes Johnston.

Option No. 3: Stay in your HELOC

If you stay in your current HELOC, just remember that payment amounts will rise when the loan resets because you are no longer paying only interest. Your lender can walk you through the payment increase if you decide to just hold tight.

Article by Cathie Ericson

Super Simple Ideas for People Who Hate Yard Work

Yards are meant for fun times — not chores.

Look at those smug neighbors, lounging around on their stylish teak patio furniture, sipping cocktails, and loving life. Meanwhile, you’re behind on mowing the lawn andtrimming the hedges. Who has time to prep for a patio party when you can’t even keep up with the regular stuff? Shouldn’t you get to kick back on your lawn, too?

Yes, you should. It’s just a matter of designing your landscape so it requires less attention from you. Here are a few strategies to help:

Use Rocks for Interesting Landscape Features

Grass doesn’t grow on rocks. Besides stating the obvious, what that really means is that they’re the perfect, versatile tool for creating a low-maintenance outdoor space. Use them to create walkways, or group them together to form decorative outcroppings.

You can even lay out stones to be ornamental dry creek beds.

Small yards, especially in desert climates, can be completely rocked over, or you can use them as strategically placed accents.

And if you’ve got spots that are constantly wet, they’re great for keeping mud (and mosquitoes!) under control because they’ll help the water run off instead of collecting.

Add a Rain Garden if You’ve Got a Soggy Spot

Speaking of wet areas, do you have a depressed corner of the yard where puddles rule?

Try a rain garden, which is kind of a mini-wetland that reduces storm-water runoff. And done right, they’re almost maintenance free because they require no mowing, no watering, and little weeding.

They make much prettier focal points than soggy grass, too.

Rain gardens are fairly easy to create, using gravel, sand, and native plants. The idea is to slow down rainwater so less of it goes into the sewer system, and more is used to nourish plant life.

DIY the Easiest Deck Ever

Decks do require some maintenance, but you don’t have to mow ‘em every weekend, that’s for sure. And a platform deck — no steps, no railings — is the easiest of all.

“There are lots of dense hardwoods like ipe and cedar, redwood and composites that last a long time and are very low-maintenance,” says Tomi Landis, president of Landis Garden Design in Washington, D.C.

While you’re dreaming of your new deck, think about this: How you will use it?

“Will you be using it in the morning while having coffee?” Landis asks. “If so, it should be oriented to the east. If it’s mainly for dining out in the evening and having cocktails, it should be facing west.” But be sure shade is available in the hotter months.

Switch to Tall Grass That Never Needs Mowing

Not all grass is created equal. Tall grasses, like switchgrass, bluestem, muhly, and fountaingrass, all grow fast and require very little TLC. Nor do they ever get mowed.

“Native grasses are a great solution to a lot of landscaping problems,” Landis says. They soak up lots of water and provide an organic privacy screen while trimming your mowing time.

How to use tall grasses:

  • Group along a fence line.
  • Group into geometric patterns in your yard for a clean look.
  • Go more random for a more natural look.

The most maintenance you’ll do with these is cut them back in late fall. They dry up in the fall, which sends some of those glorious long leaves flying across your yard. But they can be used as (free!) mulch or ignored. They’ll do no harm.

Create Pathways to Reduce High-Maintenance Grass

Like the rocks above, pavers (sometimes called “steppers”) are decorative stones used to create pathways that need little or no care.

“A stepper in a natural shape looks really great in a lot of contexts,” Landis says. Traditional house styles like bungalows, colonials, and Victorians tend to go well with more natural pavers, like flagstone.

If your house is more on the modern side, opt for some rectangular or square pavers.

Go For Fake Grass — No One Will Know (Seriously)

Some purists might consider fake grass to be over the line, but the newer faux turf doesn’t make your yard look like a putt-putt course, nor does it get so hot it burns your feet like the fake turf in your parents’ day.

“It’s great for somebody with no time on their hands,” says Doug DeLuca, founder of Federal Stone and Brick in Sterling, Virginia. “It comes like a roll of carpet, you set a bed for it with gravel, then use sod staples to hold it down.”

It doesn’t need to be cut, watered or fertilized, and pets can’t kill it.

Plant Your Own Mini Forest if You Get Lots of Rain

Where there are trees there shall be no grass. But there will be shade, and that’s a plus for picnicking and lawn-chair lounging.

“Trees can soak up a lot of rainwater,” Landis says, and therefore, need a lot of water. Consider your local climate, as soaking up water can be good or bad. Do you need to sop up excess water? Is the yard already too dry?

Keep in mind that native trees are less maintenance because they’re adapted to your area.

Use Objects to Add Color — Instead of Flowers

Color is the secret to a stunning yard, but that doesn’t mean you need to plant a garden full of labor-intensive dahlias.

It means choosing bright pots, benches, bird baths, Adirondack chairs — anything that just sits there and looks lovely while you pour the cocktails.

The options are as numerous as the Pinterest search results for “yard art” (which is somewhere between 5,000 and infinity).

And if you decide to pop some colorful flowers into your colorful pots, what could be better a better backdrop to your finally-realized cocktail party?

Article by SCOTT SOWERS

Tips for Summer Travel with Your Pet

The warm summer months call for some fun traveling with loved ones, however, trips can be less fun if four-legged family members aren’t able to come along. Pet parents already know not to leave pets in the car on a hot day, but there are other factors to consider when your pets are tagging along for the ride.

“Your pet’s safety and comfort while traveling are extremely important to help reduce stress for both the pet and owner,” said Jam Stewart, director of corporate communications at Mars Petcare. “Creating a safe space for your pet to travel not only shows responsible pet ownership, but also allows additional quality time for you and your furry best friend.”

Keep these tips in mind when taking your pet on vacation this summer:

  • Be sure your furry friend can join you in all areas. Unfortunately, not all accommodations love pets as much as pet owners do. Don’t forget to call ahead to the places you plan to visit to be sure your furry loved ones are welcome. It’s also imperative for owners to understand any rules for their pets at their destination, like keeping their pets on a leash. Making sure your pet is well socialized and comfortable visiting unfamiliar places also helps make the new experience fun and positive for your pet and for you.
  • Don’t forget your pet’s ID. Microchipping your pet is one of the most effective ways to ensure he or she can be reunited with you if lost. Combine it with on-collar identification tags and a GPS pet tracker, such as Whistle 3, which lets owners track their pets wherever their travels take them.
  • Make sure your pet is comfy on road trips. It’s important to introduce your pet to your car slowly before embarking on a long adventure. You can also bring your pet’s favorite toys, blankets or bed to help him or her feel more at ease. If your pet is still uneasy in the car, your veterinarian can provide options like essential oils, over-the-counter supplements or, if needed, prescriptions.
  • Don’t forget the treats. While traveling, make sure your pet has healthy treats for the long ride. Treats such as Greenies and Pedigree Dentastix promote fresh breath and clean teeth for dogs. For treats your cat will love, try Temptations, which offers tasty treats in multiple flavors.

“Pets make our lives healthier, safer and happier, and owners should take the time to plan properly before heading out on the road with their pets to ensure a fun, safe and comfortable trip for all,” Stewart said. “Pets are part of the family and we want them to enjoy the trip as much as we do in order to have more opportunities to introduce them to new experiences and places.”

4 Things Professional Burglars Don’t Want You to Know

Even though a burglary occurs every 20 seconds in the U.S., you can still protect yourself with simple, common-sense steps.

1. Nighttime Burglaries Aren’t the Best Time. Burglars like to break in to homes during daytime hours – between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. – because there’s a high chance people will be away at work or school. The last thing criminals want is to encounter someone at home. Don’t leave your home unlocked just because it’s daytime.

2. They Know When You’re Not Home – Thanks to Social Media. Locating someone’s home address using basic information from their social media profile is surprisingly easy. In one survey of convicted burglars, more than 10 percent say they used social media to determine who was out of town. So while it’s tempting to post about your vacation to your social media feed, wait to share those trip photos until you’re back home.

3. They Don’t Like Your Security Practices. Burglars are looking for easy targets, so your basic security measures are pretty important. Unlocked windows, unused deadbolts, poorly lit homes, and residences without security systems are prime targets for burglars, so make sure you are using the security features you already have.

4. Your Landscaping Choices Can be a Burglar’s Best Friend. Thieves are searching for crimes of opportunity, and landscaping gives them a place to hide while planning a way of entry can be very enticing. Tall bushes are favorites of burglars since they offer an obstructed view from the street and an easy way to hide from neighbors. Sometimes the best defense is a clear view of your front porch.

Brought to you by Cyndi DuMontelle.

STRAWBERRY KIWI SMOOTHIE-PALEO

Smoothies are the perfect breakfast or snack for meals on the run. The chia seeds in this deliciously fruity version add a unique texture. Drink this Strawberry Kiwi Smoothie smoothie right away for a satisfying crunch, or wait for the seeds to “gel” and enjoy a texture similar to tapioca pearls. This shake is lower in protein than most Paleo breakfasts, so be sure to pair it with a hard-boiled egg, some cooked chicken or sausage, or a handful of almonds for a complete meal.

Recipe makes 2 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

1 large kiwi(s), peeled and roughly chopped or sliced
1 cup(s) strawberries, frozen
1 can(s) coconut milk, full fat (403 mL)
2 tablespoon(s) chia seeds
1 teaspoon(s) honey, raw, (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine kiwi, strawberries, coconut milk and honey (if desired) in a blender. Pulse for 60 seconds, or until fully blended.
  2. Stir in chia seeds. Serve immediately. For a thicker smoothie, refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours to let chia seeds “gel.”

What are the risks of buying a short sale or foreclosure?

It’s more complicated than you think.

I’m looking to buy a new home, and I’ve noticed that there are a couple of “short sale” and foreclosed homes in the area where I’m interested in living. These homes are priced substantially lower than others, and I’m wondering what the catch is. I’ve heard that short sales or foreclosures often need repairs. What else do I need to know to decide whether to invest in one of these properties?

Purchasing a home through a short sale or a foreclosure process can be a way to get a good deal on a property. But it isn’t for the faint of heart. Both processes are likely to be more complicated than purchasing a home on the open market.

First, make sure you understand the differences between these categories. Both are used when a property owner is in financial distress and can no longer afford mortgage payments.

In a short sale, the proceeds from the sale will fall short of the debt owed on the property. Such a sale can only occur if the mortgage holder (usually a bank) has agreed to accept less than the amount owed on the loan.

In a foreclosure, on the other hand, the mortgage holder has repossessed the property and is trying to recoup its losses by selling the house for the amount still owed on the loan. That amount is typically still less than the market value of the home.

Here are some of the common issues you may encounter when buying a foreclosure or short sale.

Purchasing delays

If you’re considering buying a property listed as short sale or foreclosure, keep in mind a few things, experts say.

“The process for purchasing this kind of property may not be as easy as purchasing a home directly from a seller who is current on their mortgage,” says Colin McDonald, real-estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Blake in Delmar, N.Y.

For instance, it typically takes six to eight weeks to close on a normal home, McDonald says. But with a short sale or foreclosure, the property may not close for six months or even a year.

“[W]hen a property is being listed as a short sale or foreclosure, you’re no longer just dealing with the seller,” McDonald says. “A bank is now involved, and unfortunately, they only care about getting what is owed to them. They will drag the process on for as long as they like.”

Short sales can also take months to get lender approval. “The seller’s bank can make things very difficult, making the borrower jump through many hoops — hoops that can take a long time to navigate,” warns David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School who writes and teaches about real estate.

And in the end, the bank may respond with a counteroffer that doesn’t meet your budget or terms. “So you might wait for a long time only to be disappointed,” says Sep Niakan, owner of Condo Black Book, a leading condo search website in Miami and broker of HB Roswell Realty.

Additional risks

Foreclosed properties may be purchased through the open market with a real-estate agent or at a sheriff sale or county auction. In many cases, you will not be able to view the inside of the property before the purchase. “[Y]ou are essentially buying a property sight unseen,” Niakan cautions.

In addition to buying the property, you’re also purchasing any liens (or unpaid bills relating to the property), code violations, or title issues, Niakan adds. Do your research to find out what other costs may be associated with the home, and factor all those costs into your bid.

If you’re purchasing a foreclosure or short sale on the open market — rather than at auction — you’ll typically get a clear title or a warranty deed that guarantees that no other lienholders have claim to the property. You can also buy title insurance to protect yourself from any future title issues.

Extra work

When you purchase a short sale or foreclosure, you will likely need to reserve funds or energy for home repairs or improvements once the sale is completed.

“Keep in mind when you buy any foreclosure or short sale, these people were in financial distress, so expect to inherit a property that has had some sort of deferred maintenance, even if it looks good on the surface,” Niakan explains.

In most cases, foreclosures are sold “as is,” which means the owner or the bank does not plan to make improvements before the sale.

“The bank will typically allow you to conduct inspections, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to make any improvements to the red flags called out in the report,” McDonald says. “As it is, they feel you’re already getting the property for a great price.”

With short sales, the sellers usually still live in the property, so even if they’ve let some things go, it shouldn’t be in complete disrepair. With a foreclosure, the risk is higher that the property could be vandalized or trashed, McDonald says.

Potential additional fees

While the price of the home may be low, a foreclosure or short sale often comes with additional transaction costs. With a foreclosure, you may have to pay transfer taxes as well as any superior liens on the property. You may also have to pay an additional fee to the foreclosure company.

Typically, in a short sale, there is a negotiator involved who will require a fee, such as 2.5% of the purchase price, McDonald says. The buyer is usually required to pay this fee.

You also may have to pay back taxes or other past dues associated with the property. If you buy a condo-foreclosure, for instance, “there may be many years of past due condo association fees that may not appear anywhere in public record, and you might end up inheriting a very large debt,” Niakan says. “Some local and state laws limit the amount you would be responsible for in those cases, but do your homework.”

Purchasing a home at a price that is significantly below market always sounds like a good thing — and it can be for the right person. But keep in mind that if the property is really great, “there will be others who will also be interested in it,” McDonald warns. “This includes veteran investors who have deep pockets of cash.”

If you hope to get a great home for a low price through a foreclosure or short sale, be sure to do your homework and be aware that it may take a long time and come with extra costs and repairs. And at the end of the day, buying a short sale or foreclosure isn’t for everyone.

“While you may get a good price, you will be paying for the house with uncertainty, delay, and frustration,” Reiss says. “You’ll need to determine for yourself whether it is worth it.”

Article By Nancy Mann Jackson

6 Things Everyone Should Do When Moving Into a New House

Settling in will be just that much sweeter if you do these things.

When I bought my first house, my timing couldn’t have been better: The house closing was two weeks before the lease was up on my apartment. That meant I could take my time packing and moving, and I could get to know the new place before moving in.

I recruited family and friends to help me move (in exchange for a beer-and-pizza picnic on the floor) and, as a bonus, I got to pick their brains about what first-time homeowners should know.

Their help was one of the best housewarming presents I could have gotten. And thanks to their expertise and a little Googling, here’s what I learned about what to do before moving in.

1. Change the Locks

You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20 to $30 per lock for labor.

2. Check for Plumbing Leaks

Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check. I didn’t have any plumbing leaks to fix, but when checking my kitchen sink, I did discover the sink sprayer was broken. I replaced it for under $20.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets, and check your water heater for signs of a leak.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

3. Steam Clean Carpets

Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself. I was able to save some money by borrowing a steam cleaner from a friend.

4. Wipe Out Your Cabinets

Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

When I cleaned my kitchen cabinets, I found an unpleasant surprise: Mouse poop. Which leads me to my next tip …

5. Give Critters the Heave-Ho

That includes mice, ratsbatstermitesroaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100 to $300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

For my mousy enemies, I strategically placed poison packets around the kitchen, and I haven’t found any carcasses or any more poop, so the droppings I found must have been old. I might owe a debt of gratitude to the snake that lives under my back deck, but I prefer not to think about him.

6. Introduce Yourself to Your Circuit Breaker Box and Main Water Valve

My first experience with electrical wiring was replacing a broken light fixture in a bathroom. After locating the breaker box, which is in my garage, I turned off the power to that bathroom so I wouldn’t electrocute myself.

It’s a good idea to figure out which fuses control what parts of your house and label them accordingly. This will take two people: One to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.

Article by COURTNEY CRAIG

How to Stop the Smells and Funk That Invade Your Home in Summer

Anti-eeeew tips to keep your house from getting gross.

When did hanging out on your patio with that privacy wall you DIYed back in May stop being fun? All you can see is that rusty grill staring at you, and bird poop piling up on your outdoor chaise while you sweat and fight off bugs. And, eeeew, what is that you smell? Summer’s great — but, boy, can it turn on you when the dog days set in.

Don’t start job hunting in Alaska just yet. You can take back your summer. Here’s the worst of what it can inflict on you (in no particular order) — and how to fight back:

A Stinky Bug Invasion

Squish a stink bug, and you’ll quickly learn how they got theirnom de pee-yew.While the brown pests may be harmless, your family’s noses will be happier without them.

  • Use caulk or sealant to close up cracks a sneaky stinker could use to enter your home. Look around windows, doors, vents and outdoor faucets for any openings.
  • Stick a nylon stocking over your vacuum’s hose to suck up stink bugs into the stocking instead of the vacuum bag.
  • Drown these nasty visitors by dumping captured ones into a bottle filled with an inch of soapy water. No tiny cement shoes necessary.

A Mildew-y Smell That Won’t Go Away

Hot, humid summers create an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew, which your nose knows isn’t right. At the first whiff of these funky fungi, strike back hard.

  • Keep things clean and organized. It’s the best defense against summer’s musty aroma. That allows air to move around, keeping moisture (mold and mildew’s best mate) at bay.
  • Dry out your home with dehumidifiers and air conditioners — or at least increase air circulation by adding fans.
  • In rooms that tend to get that musty smell, line closet walls and drawers with cedar for a sweet smell all year long.
  • Waterproof your basement concrete and masonry with cement paint to prevent damp walls — and the sneaky mold that comes with them. But be sure to figure out the cause of the dampness before waterproofing. It only works if the moisture is coming from the soil outside.

A note of caution: Sometimes a musty smell is a harbinger of bad news — serious water damage in your home. If these tips don’t work, you may need to call in a pro.

Gross Garbage Funk

Summer’s heat waves make the stench of garbage 10 times worse. Keeping trash cans clean (duh) is your first line of defense. But there are a couple more things you can do.

  • Yes, scrubbing out your garbage can is disgusting, but it helps control the stink and pests. Give it one good clean when your stomach’s feeling strong, and then quickly wipe it out each time you empty. You’ll never have to face that throw-up smell again.
  • Dust the bottom of the clean, dry can with baking soda to suck up future pungency.
  • Or slip a dryer sheet or two underneath the bag when you change it out.
  • Cat litter in the bottom of the can also works to absorb garbage odors.

Excessive Bird Droppings

Not even the most dedicated bird watchers want to watch droppings accumulate on their porch and outdoor furniture.

The easiest and most humane solution is to install some yard art — the kind that moves or makes a racket. Think wind socks, chimes and fun whirly sun catchers.

If, however, the birds are barn swallows that have nested (you’ll know because their nests are made of mud instead of twigs), you mustn’t shoo them away, no matter how gently. Barn swallows are federally protected. Instead, install a flat board below it or place a newspaper on the ground to prevent droppings from ruining your porch. Then next year (because they will come back — and they will bring friends) install bird netting between your eaves and the side of your home before nests are built.

Rusty, Greasy Grill Grates

You never really got around to cleaning your grill at the beginning of the season, and now that you’ve invited some new work colleagues over for a barbecue, you realize your grill isn’t going to stir up any appetites with all that rust and grime.

  • Vinegar, baking soda, salt, and lemon juice are all natural rust eliminators. You can use individually or create a paste between wet and dry ingredients. Apply and let soak overnight. Then a little elbow grease should do the rest. Try these combinations: vinegar and baking soda; lemon juice and baking soda; or lemon juice and salt.
  • If the rust is really, really tough, do the above but get a wire brush attachment for your drill and use it to scrub the rust away.
  • Once clean, season the grates by rubbing with vegetable oil and heating them.

Uninvited Homesteaders

Snakes at the zoo: super cool. Snakes around or (gasp!) in your house: NO. NO. NOOOO. Snakes might be the worst intruder (or is it bats?), but any unwanted rodent or animal in your home is gross. Your best offense is defense. But if they break through, call a professional exterminator.

  • Cover holes more than a quarter of an inch wide (snakes don’t need much). Check behind gutters and roof flashing.
  • Trim trees to keep pesky animals, such as squirrels, from getting on your roof and into your attic. Keep branches at least eight feet from your house.
  • Eliminate any food sources — like a garbage bin with an askew lid — that might tempt a scavenging pest. The closer they are to your house, the more likely they are to find a way in.
  • Get rid of yard debris, such as piles of leaves and twigs, and mow frequently to eliminate hiding spots.
Article by JAMIE WIEBE

How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Front Door

Not all exterior doors are equal. Here are the pros, cons, and costs of different types.

Good looks and value — what’s not to love? Not only does replacing your front entry door kick up your curb appeal, it’s a solid investment with a decent payback.

According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (full disclosure: NAR is a sponsor of HouseLogic), a new steel entry door has a national median cost of $2,000, and you’ll recover 75% of that investment if you decide to sell your house.

What’s more, if you choose an energy-efficient exterior door, you may trim up to 10% off your energy bills. (With utility bills averaging $2,200 annually, that’s a savings of as much as $220.)

But how do you know which door is right for you? Make your decision by comparing the three main materials available for exterior doors: steel, fiberglass, and wood.

Steel Entry Door

If you’re looking to save money, a steel door is a great choice, especially if you have the skills to hang it yourself.

A simple, unadorned steel door can sell for as little as $150 (not including hardware, lock set, paint, or labor) and typically runs as much as $400 at big-box retailers.

Steel offers the strongest barrier against intruders, although its advantage over fiberglass and wood in this area is slight.

Still, the attractive cost of a steel door comes with an important compromise: It probably won’t last as long.

A steel door exposed to salt air or heavy rains may last only five to seven years. Despite steel’s reputation for toughness, it actually didn’t perform well in “Consumer Report’s” testing against wood and fiberglass for normal wear and tear.

With heavy use, it may dent, and the damage can be difficult and expensive to repair. If your door will be heavily exposed to traffic or the elements, you may be better off choosing a different material.

Fiberglass Door

Fiberglass doors come in an immense variety of styles, many of which accurately mimic the look of real wood. And if limited upkeep is your ideal, fiberglass may be your best bet.

Fiberglass doesn’t expand or contract appreciably as the weather changes. Therefore, in a reasonably protected location, a fiberglass entry door can go for years without needing a paint or stain touch-up and can last 15 to 20 years. Although it feels light to the touch, fiberglass has a very stout coating that’s difficult for an intruder to breach; and its foam core offers considerable insulation.

Fiberglass generally falls between steel and wood in price; models sold at big-box stores range from about $150 to $600.

Wood Exterior Door

Wood is considered the go-to choice for high-end projects; its luxe look and substantial weight can’t be flawlessly duplicated by fiberglass or steel — though high-end fiberglass products are getting close. If your home calls for a stunning entry statement with a handcrafted touch, wood may be the best material for you.

Wood is usually the most expensive choice of the three — roughly $500 to $2,000, excluding custom jobs — and requires the most maintenance, although it’s easier to repair scratches on a wood door than dents in steel or fiberglass.

Wood doors should be repainted or refinished every year or two to prevent splitting and warping.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your door as well as its energy efficiency, you can purchase a solid wood door certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which assures you that the wood was sustainably grown and harvested.

Tracing the environmental impact of a particular door — from manufacturing process to shipping distance to how much recycled/recyclable content it contains — is quite complicated and probably beyond the ken of the average homeowner, notes LEED-certified green designer Victoria Schomer. But FSC-certified wood and an Energy Star rating are an excellent start.

A final note on choosing a door based on energy efficiency: Because efficiency depends on a number of factors besides the material a door is made of — including its framework and whether it has windows — look for the Energy Star label to help you compare doors.

PALEO BACON AND SPINACH FRITTATA

This simple Paleo breakfast dish gets its flavor from bacon. By cooking the spinach and eggs in the bacon fat and then sprinkling the bacon on top, you get bacony goodness in each and every bite of this Bacon and Spinach Frittata.

Recipe makes 4 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

12 large egg(s)
1/2 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
6 slice(s) bacon, chopped
4 cup(s) spinach, chopped
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Whisk the eggs with the coconut milk in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cook your bacon in a skillet till crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and set aside.
  4. Add the spinach to the skillet (and bacon fat) and cook until just wilted. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are set.
  6. Top with cooked bacon before serving.

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

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.

8 Big Mistakes We’ll Keep You From Making When Organizing Your Home

Maybe your home has reached peak chaos because you’re too busy to put it in order, or maybe you’ve just been lazy. Either way, once you finally get started organizing your home, it would seem that you’re on the right path—even if that path is heaped with clutter.

And yet, all too often, when we tackle those piles of paper and heaps of clothes, we end up with a bigger mess than before. How does it happen?

The thing is, there’s an art and science to organizing that most mere mortals (Marie Kondo acolytes aside) aren’t born knowing. As a result, many of us end up bungling the organization operation big-time.

So take note of these all-too-common mistakes that you’re bound to make while organizing your home—and learn from the experts how to do it better.

Mistake No. 1: Buying storage bins before cracking open a drawer or closet

Before you head to The Container Store to load up on all those nifty new bins and baskets, make certain you know what you need. Measure shelves, closets, and under beds so you know whether the bins and baskets you’re buying will actually fit. And if you want to skip the store altogether, you probably can, says Mim King, a professional organizer.

“Most people have enough boxes and bags to do the job, so save your money to spend on just the containers that’ll be visible,” she urges.

Mistake No. 2: Just diving right in

You can’t just take the plunge and hope to emerge at the other end with an organized house. Take a pen, pad, and a few moments to jot down exactly what areas need to be organized, says Juan Carlos Daetz, an organizing pro at Max Warehouse.

“Next, estimate how much time each area will take, and then write that down, too,” he says.This way, when you have an extra hour (or even just 10 minutes), you can pick a spot to work on.

Mistake No. 3: Picking a bad time

Not a morning person? If that’s the case (and yes, we feel your pain), do not plan to organize the pantry at 7 a.m. And if the weather is simply glorious out, there’s no way you’ll want to hole up in the garage. Another timing mistake: waiting for a big block of it to miraculously appear out of thin air.

“It’s rare that you’ll have a huge chunk of time to devote to organizing,” points out Jamie Novak, author of “Keep This Toss That.” Instead, work in increments, chipping away at a large project or finishing a few small ones.

Mistake No. 4: Getting sidetracked searching for supplies

“When you finally find that pocket of time, you want to get to work, instead of hunting for enough garbage bags,” Novak says. So make sure to keep all the supplies you’ll need well-stocked, such as cleaners, sprays, and every kind of bag, including those for recycling. If everything’s in place, you won’t have to run out for something and end up getting sidetracked altogether.

Mistake No. 5: Making things neat instead of organizing them

Piles of papers that are neatly stacked on the kitchen counter are not organized, says Daetz. And stashing things in a drawer to clean off the dining table serves only to create a junk drawer.

“To be truly organized, your stuff needs a home,” he points out. If you find something on the floor or counter, you should know exactly where it goes.

Mistake No. 6: Rearranging items instead of organizing them

Many homeowners make the mistake of moving things around within the same room, by shuffling or grouping in a new way, reports Daetz.

“This happens when your things don’t have a proper storage spot,” he notes. The fix: Get into the habit of finding a place for new items the minute you bring them home. You might also adopt the “one in, one out” plan, too, especially when it comes to clothing, books, and magazines.

Mistake No. 7: Stashing everything rather than purging

You can’t organize unless you purge. Go ahead, read that sentence again. Accept it.

“Look at the stuff you’ve collected, and really think about how much you use it and love it,” Daetz advises. If you haven’t used it in ages, it doesn’t fit, or it’s expired (ewww!), place it in a bin to toss or donate.

“And if you can’t decide on an item, put it in storage temporarily,” he adds. After a few months if you don’t miss it, out it goes.

Mistake No. 8: Doing it alone

“It’s all in the mind—and then in the wrist,” says King, referring to that all-important toss into the trash can. But getting to the “wrist” part can be a hurdle for some people.

“Most homeowners need the OK to toss things out, so get a friend or hire a professional organizer to help,” she says. Plus it’s no fun sorting Legos and photos all by yourself.

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