BERRY COCONUT CHIA SMOOTHIE

This chia smoothie recipe is packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants, making it perfect for a quick, healthy breakfast. You can use any berry of choice depending on availability and personal preference.

Ingredients

1 medium banana(s)
2 tablespoon(s) chia seeds
2 cup(s) spinach, baby
1 teaspoon(s) coconut oil
1/4 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
1 cup(s) berries, frozen
1 tablespoon(s) coconut flakes, for garnish, optional
1 tablespoon(s) chia seeds, for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding water to thin out if necessary. Serve immediately.
  2. Serves 2

7 Tips for Short Sale Success

Have to sell your home for less than it’s worth? Our seven tips will help you get the best price.

When you owe more on your home than it’s worth, but you have to sell, you need to squeeze every dollar possible from the sale. Here are seven tips for navigating the short-sale process.

1. Know who you owe

A short sale has to be approved by any company that has a mortgage or lien against your home. That includes your first, second, or even third mortgage lender, your home equity line lender; your homeowners or condominium association; and any contractors who’ve placed a lien on your home. Make a list and start talking to everyone early in the process. Ask what documents they’ll need from you.

2. Pick your short sale team

You’ll need to work with a team of short sale experts, including a real estate agent, real estate attorney, and your accountant. Look for agents and attorneys who advertise themselves as short sale experts. Interview at least three, and listen carefully for signs that they understand the complexities of the short sale process.

Agents should explain how they’ll arrive at a suggested price for your home. Ask them to show you a sample short-sale package or for an example of a prior short-sale success.

3. Get your documents ready

Gather the paperwork your creditors and mortgage lenders asked to see, like your listing agreement and a hardship letter explaining why you need to do a short sale. You’ll also need proof of what you earn and what you owe as well as copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years.

4. Expect delays

Despite a federal rule saying banks participating in the federal government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program must respond to short-sale offers within 10 days, it may take weeks or months for your lender to decide whether to allow you to sell your home in a short sale—and even longer if you must negotiate with more than one lender or lienholder.

Your lender and lienholders don’t have to agree to your proposed short sale. They can reject your terms or make a counteroffer, which can create further delays.

5. Anticipate demands

Discuss with your short-sale team how you should respond to common short-sale demands from lenders. For example, are you willing to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay outstanding amounts after the sale is complete?

6. Know the tax implications

Any unpaid amount of your mortgage “forgiven” by your lender through a short sale may be considered income to you under federal tax rules. Ask your attorney or accountant whether you qualify to exclude that amount as income on your tax returns under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act. Also ask if you’ll be required to report amounts “forgiven” by other lienholders, if applicable.

7. Consider how the short sale will affect your credit and what you must pay

Ask whether your lender will report the short sale to credit-reporting agencies. Having a portion of your debt forgiven may negatively affect your credit score, but a short sale typically damages your score less than a foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Ask you lawyer whether you’ll be responsible for paying back the lenders’ loss. If the lender says it will forgive any losses on the sale of your home, get that promise in writing.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to publications including Bankrate, REALTOR Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.

 

Preparing to Sell Your Home? The Best 5 Projects to Do Now

Buyers will simply flock to your home if you tackle these value adds.

Planning on selling your home in the spring? Good news — that leaves plenty of time to tackle all sorts of projects this fall that will help you snag top dollar when the tulips start blooming. Take an objective look around your home from a buyer’s perspective. What would stop you from making an offer? What do you need to do to put your home’s best face forward?

Here are some spring projects to jump on now in order for your home to be in tip-top shape for a spring sale:

1. Update Your Curb Appeal

Curb appeal is important,” says Steve Modica, sales associate and property manager at HomeXpress Realty Inc. in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla. “Make sure the bushes are all trimmed. Re-mulch or replace stone walkways and paths. Remove any dead plants and trees, and aerate your lawn so it will be lush come spring. Pressure wash the driveway, the front walk, and the exterior of your home. If need be, have the exterior of the house painted and, at the very least, apply a fresh coat of paint on the front door.

2. Get a Home Inspection

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® says 77% of homebuyers have an inspection done before completing a home purchase. To avoid nasty surprises once you’re in the process of selling your home, have your own inspection done and make any repairs over the winter months before you list the home. Homebuyers often use flaws and needed repairs to negotiate a lower price.

3. Replace Flooring and Paint Walls

Determine if your carpets need replacing or just a deep, professional cleaning. If they need to go, consider if hardwood or another flooring material might be more appealing to buyers.

You’ll also want to inspect interior rooms for dirty or scuffed walls that need a fresh coat of paint. “Paint the whole wall, don’t just do touch-up repair work, because it never looks as good,” says Modica. Also, if you have eccentric or loud wall colors, now is the perfect time to update to a more neutral palette. Stagers recommend beiges, light grays, and off-whites.

4. Tackle the Basement, Attic, and Garage

Often overlooked, these storage meccas can become a catch-all for junk. Use cool, fall weather as an excuse to get down and dirty in these hot spots and organize them from top to bottom. Install shelving, pegboards for tools, and hanging brackets for bicycles and other large sporting equipment. Your goal is to pitch the junk, sell what you no longer need, and categorize the rest.

“Donate or recycle clothes and bedding you don’t use anymore in order to free up storage space in your closets, basement, and garage,” says Amy Bly, a home stager at Great Impressions Home Staging in Montville, N.J. These areas should look roomy, well-organized, and clean.

5. Consult a Stager

Buyers need to picture themselves living in the house, and they may have trouble doing that if all your personal effects are on display. In order to accomplish that, a professional stager can create a plan for you that you can spend the winter months implementing. Bly spends about two hours walking through a property assessing curb appeal, interior flow, closets, bookcases, media cabinets, flooring, and more.

“I give homeowners a multi-page, room-by-room form they can use to take notes on my recommendations,” says Bly. She typically recommends things like neutralizing out-of-date decor, removing old furnishings and carpeting, and updating light fixtures. She also suggests the type of shower curtains, towels, bedding, and pillows to display for an upscale look.

Need a local staging coach?

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I would highly recommend Staging Coach for anyone seeking to sell their home. View Mary Jane’s web site

Getting a jump on these fall projects will give you a leg up on selling in the spring. Today’s buyers are savvier than ever before, especially millennial first-time homebuyers who may have searched homes online for months prior to getting in the field. More than just listing your home in the spring, you want to make it’s as perfect as possible. That means everything works and looks immaculate, and there are no glaring issues that will turn off buyers. When you’re ready, have a friend or relative drop by for a tour and point out anything you may have overlooked.

Healthy Yard: Insect Control for Your Lawn

Even if your dog spends most of her time indoors, you’re probably worried about fleas and ticks. She still has to go outside every day to use the bathroom, so it’s good to have a pet-friendly, pest-free yard.

You can take steps to make sure your yard isn’t a haven for fleas and ticks. And you don’t need sprays that can harm your pet. Here’s what to do.

Practice Smart Lawn Care

Keep it cut close and trim your shrubs. Short grass lets more sunlight reach the ground. That makes your lawn drier, so it’s harder for fleas and ticks to thrive.

Avoid Chemical Sprays

Plenty of them can rid your yard of fleas, ticks, and other insects, but many contain chemicals that are bad for pets and small children. Remember, your dog is low to the ground, where these products get applied. She also weighs less than you, so poison can affect her more. A pet that spends time on a sprayed lawn can spread chemicals to children through hugs or a shared bed. Even products that call themselves “natural” or have essential oils can hurt pets or kids.

Find Fleas First

Don’t treat your entire yard for these pests. Only target areas where you’ve seen them. Here’s how to hunt for fleas outside: Put on a pair of white socks and pull them up to your knees. Slowly walk around in the spots where your dog likes to wander. If fleas are there, they’ll jump at you. You’ll see their dark bodies against the socks.

Skip the Spray

If chemicals aren’t your thing, go to a garden supply store for nematodes. These tiny wormlike critters are smaller than fleas and like to feed on them. But they won’t hurt pets or people. To apply them to your lawn, water the area first, spray on nematodes, then water again.

Try Tick Control

If you live next to a wooded area or your neighbor’s yard has overgrown plants, cut back the brush on your side. Then create a gravel or wood-chip border 3 feet wide. This makes it hard for ticks to travel across to your lawn.

If there are lots of these pests in your area and you want to use a chemical spray, look for safety advice from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s GreenPaws Product Guide. The group checked the ingredients of more than 100 products and says whether they are safe to use around pets. If a spray is deemed pet-safe, apply it only once a year to the edges of your yard near wooded areas. Avoid spots where four-legged friends and children play.

 

6 Costly Mistakes First-Time House Flippers Make

When you’re flipping a house, time is money. And you don’t have time to make a lot of rookie mistakes.

That’s what Steve Cederquist learned when he first began renovating and flipping properties in 1994.

“I bought a house with a bad foundation and lost $30,000 on the deal,” says Cederquist, a general contractor who’s now a veteran house flipper and president of Cornerstone Property Services in Huntington Beach, CA. “I didn’t think I’d have to do much to a 1,200-square-foot house. But it cost me a ton of money.”

No house flipper is born wise. So we talked to several pros who outlined mistakes newbie flippers often make. Avoid these pitfalls to ensure your profits come out on top.

Mistake No. 1: Not getting a home inspection

This one’s a biggie. Even if you plan on making major changes to the house, you still need an inspection. Of course, if you’re going to tear down the whole thing, there’s no need for one. But house flipping usually involves making cosmetic changes—maybe opening a wall or remodeling a bathroom. It’s a makeover—not a complete rebuild. So you need to get it checked out before you buy.

“Never buy as is,” Cederquist says. “I can’t tell you the number of times people lose everything because they don’t do the safest thing: getting a home inspection.”

Inspections can turn up all kinds of problems. Some issues, like cabinet doors that don’t close properly, you won’t care about if you’re planning to rip and replace the kitchen anyway. Others, such as a cracked foundation, can cost you dearly.

At the very least, an inspection can identify problems you can use to bargain down the price. Every dollar counts toward your bottom line; whatever money you save on the purchase price will help you turn a profit when you flip.

Mistake No. 2: Overestimating your renovation skills

Every dollar saved on labor is a dollar you earn when you flip a house. But all too often flippers think they’re better plumbers, drywall hangers, and carpenters than they really are.

“This ends up being a major drain of time and resources, because you must redo work and spend twice the amount of money fixing it,” says Allen Shayanfekr, co-founder and CEO of Sharestates, an online crowdfunding platform for real estate financing.

There’s a simple answer to your DIY delusions of grandeur, Shayanfekr says: “Consult an expert prior to undertaking any major project.”

And make sure to ask for an estimate in writing. That way you’ll know what you’ll have to spend to make the house attractive to buyers.

Mistake No. 3: Underestimating total costs

Inexperienced flippers often add the purchase price to renovation costs and figure the sum is their break-even point. If only.

But the true cost of your flipping adventure involves much more. Think: state and federal taxes on profits, real estate commissions, title searches, transfer taxes, inspection and appraisal costs, and a bunch of other fees that show up at closing when you buy, and again when you sell your property.

Do yourself a favor and thoroughly research the total cost of your project (don’t forget permit fees, which can be substantial) and then add a cushion—10% to 15% is customary.

“Be prepared to pay over your expected fees when coming to the closing table,” Shayanfekr says. “Better safe than sorry.”

Mistake No. 4: Being a jerk

Even if you’re determined to do this on your own—you’re a whiz at mitering crown molding, after all—successful flipping requires some level of interaction with others. You’ll need to build a trusted team of craftsmen, suppliers, lenders, and real estate professionals that you can call on time after time.

Not only do you need to find people you can depend on to get the job done quickly and on budget, but your teammates must also be able to trust you to treat them with respect, pay on time, and not make their lives a living hell by changing your mind repeatedly.

“People want to do business with others they like and trust,” says Cody Sperber, who has flipped more than 1,000 properties in 15 years and has started a mentoring program called Clever Investor, based in Tempe, AZ. “So many deals have materialized because I listened and was empathetic. Not because I was shrewd and smart.”

Mistake No. 5: Jumping the gun

Some flippers put a “For Sale” sign on the property before completing renovations, hoping a buyer will be able to envision how gorgeous the house ultimately will be.

That’s a big mistake, says Bill Golden, an Atlanta-area real estate agent.

“Many people think they can get a jump on things by getting folks interested before it’s done, causing multiple issues,” Golden says. “Many people don’t have vision and can’t really see how things will look once they’re done. Also, missing molding, trim, and other details that may seem minor to you can reflect poorly on what the buyer perceives the quality of the renovation to be.”

Don’t list the project until it’s move-in ready. It will save time in the long run, because potential buyers won’t nag you about missing finishes you already plan to include.

Mistake No. 6: Designing a flip like you’re going to live there

Flipper rule of thumb: Never fall in love with a property.

Unlike your own home—where you’ll raise a family, build memories, and make modifications that suit your needs—flips are short-term projects that must appeal to the widest possible market.

When you design your flip, take yourself out of it. You may love aubergine, but stick to whites and neutrals when you pick paint colors. Research design trends, walk through open houses of new construction, and survey real estate agents to find out what’s selling and what’s not. If you don’t create an attractive yet blank canvas, your flip may languish on the market—costing you money with each painful, passing day.

“Don’t get attached to the house, because you’re not going to live there,” Cederquist says. “Keep it generic, what’s popular. Then stick to a design and budget.”

By 

MAPLE-CRUSTED SALMON

Fresh salmon is one of the best Paleo staples, and for good reason – this versatile and tasty protein is full of healthy micronutrients, quick to prepare, and easy to find. While most salmon recipes usually focus on adding savory or spicy ingredients, this unique recipe gives you a salmon dish that is delectably sweet. The use of maple syrup and other sauce ingredients create an unexpected, candied appearance to the salmon. Altogether, the dish works as a simple and distinctive dinner course that even young diners will try.

Locating salmon is as easy as visiting your local grocery’s seafood counter, but take note: Not all salmon is created equal. Just as with any other seafood, consider the pros and cons of what you’re purchasing. Less expensive filets may be easier on your budget, but you’ll be making a trade-off for taste, quality, and the environmental impact of the farming practices used. Do some research into the brands of salmon you purchase and consider paying a bit more for salmon that tastes better and doesn’t harm local ecosystems.

This sweet baked salmon is a perfect main course to serve with a variety of sides. For this dish, we love pairing with the grilled eggplant and sun-dried tomato salad – a hearty dose of oil in the dressing creates a more balanced macronutrient count for the meal. You can also try serving with a soup – try this winter vegetable soup for a heartier option.

Maple-Crusted Salmon Recipe

Serves: 4                       Prep: 15 min            Cook: 12 min
Protein: 36g / 36%     Carbs: 17g / 17%     Fat: 21g / 47%

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon filets;
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped;
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup;
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar;
  • 2 tbsp. coconut aminos;
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika;
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder;
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper;

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a bowl, combine the walnuts, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos, paprika, and chipotle powder; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the salmon filets in a baking dish and cover each piece with the walnut mixture.
  4. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook until the salmon is to your desired doneness, about 8 to 10 minutes.

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.

Article by 

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.

Article by By 

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.

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