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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10 Tips For Buying a Home Pets Will Love

Some people will openly admit that they treat their pets like children. Many who feel that way have chosen to delay parenthood or simply not to have children. Others such as baby boomers whose children have grown and left home, sometimes substitute their pets for the kids who have moved out.

But when a pet lover turns into a home buyer, look out. Like parents who research the best school districts when considering neighborhoods in which to shop for a home, home buyers with pets have specific requirements, too.

1) Check County & City Code Restrictions

Imagine my shock when the city of Costa Mesa, CA, informed me that I was not allowed to own a goat. Notwithstanding, I did, in fact, own a Nubian goat. Even though my neighborhood was called Goat Hill, the city ordered me to find another home for my goat. Many cities restrict the number and types of pets allowed within city limits.

2) Read Home Owner Association Documents

Not every HOA allows pets. If the homeowner association permits pets, most likely the association bylaws will address restrictions on numbers, types, sizes, heights, noise factors and whether pets are allowed to freely roam the premises.

Many HOAs strictly enforce their bylaws. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the bylaws won’t apply to you because they are silly restrictions or that the HOA won’t enforce its own rules. Many homeowner association covenants carry severe penalties for those who violate their HOA regulations.

 3) Consider the Home’s Features

A Sacramento buyer was adamant that she would not buy a home with carpeting. She wanted a home for her Schnauzer with wood or ceramic floors throughout and did not want to deal with ripping up carpeting. Another first-time home buyer adopted a cat who ate fabric, so the home could not have drapes covering any of the windows.

Perhaps an outdoor faucet is important for bathing your dog? If so, check to make sure the home has exterior faucets; it’s an easy thing to overlook. Make a list of your desired preferences before going home shopping to find the right home.

4) Examine the Home’s Layout

Aging pets might have trouble climbing stairs, so for some home buyers with senior pets, a single-story home is ideal. Cats like windows, and those with window ledges or low to the ground are preferred by felines. Is there a playroom for your pets? Plenty of closet space for storing pet supplies? Your cat will appreciate a private place for a litter box, and you may prefer to keep the cat box out of sight.

Pets love to run and chase each other in circles — will your home allow a race around the house? If you keep your pets confined to certain rooms, is the layout conducive to that arrangement? It can be expensive to pay for a pet-friendly home remodel.

5) Inspect Street Traffic

Sometimes, even the most well behaved dogs bolt when the front door is opened. Cats are inquisitive, and a curious cat can find a way to push open a screen door to get outside. In an unfamiliar surrounding, pets can dart into the street. To prevent tragedy, it’s better to pass on buying a home that is located on or near a busy thoroughfare.

6) Ask About Previous Pets in House

If the seller is selling a home where pets live, check for pet damage, especially under rugs. Look at the backs of doors for scratches or gouges. Ask about pet accidents. Inquire about fleas in the house.

Pet odors are almost impossible to eliminate from a home but might not be noticeable to you, so bring along a friend who does not own a pet to act as your official sniffer. Cats, especially, mark territory; and if you own a cat, you don’t want the process of improper elimination to repeat itself.

7) Find Out if the Neighborhood is Pet Friendly

Drive around the area to see if you can spot neighbors outside walking their dogs or notice cats sleeping in sunny windows. Look for community-placed receptacles for waste deposits. Consider whether you would prefer an area where dogs are on leashes and the owners carry plastic bags, or a community where dogs run free, chasing cars, while the pet owner, say, staggers behind, slurping from a can of beer?

Very important, does a dog live next door who will bark all day at your dog? Talk to the neighbors.

8) Locate Pet Services

If you are buying a home in a new area, ask your agent and the neighbors for referrals to pet vendors. For example, where can you find the best:

  • Pet food store
  • Veterinary clinic
  • Doggie day care center
  • Pet sitter
  • Groomer

9) Search for Local Dog Park

A great way to meet your neighbors and make new friends is at the local dog park. Here are few questions to ask about the dog park:

  • Will you be expected to keep your dog on a leash?
  • Are dogs encouraged to play with one another and socialize?
  • Who maintains the park?
  • Does the park provide stations and containers for picking up after your dog?
  • Are you restricted from going to the park during certain hours of the day?
  • Can you hear dogs barking at the park from your new home?

10) Is the Yard Fenced?

If the yard does not have a fence, and you want to provide a safe play area for your pets, find out how much it will cost to construct your own fence. If the home has an existing fence, make sure it is gated, the gate latches, and the fence is high enough so your dog can’t jump over it. Inspect for loose fence boards that may need to be replaced.

Moreover, if you plan to buy a swimming pool home, either get a cover for the pool or install a security gate around it.

Article by Elizabeth Weintraub

Backyard Bar Shed Ideas That Let You Celebrate Summer Right

Who wouldn’t want a backyard bar shed? Seriously, folks, outdoor living rooms and fire pits are fantastic, all the more so with a strategically timed whiskey smash, glass of pinot, or a cold IPA.

“Bar sheds are simply cool,” says Brian Rhoden of Daniel’s Lawn Care. “They really elevate a backyard to your neighborhood’s new favorite Friday night hot spot.”

So instead of schlepping inside for a drink, consider installing this latest must-have backyard amenity. We break down how you can turn an existing or new shed into a watering hole, and the necessities that come with slinging booze.

Claim an outbuilding

The first thing you need is a shed. Maybe you have one in the backyard already which you can purge of rakes and hedge clippers. Just make sure you have enough alternative storage space.

“If you don’t have anywhere else to store landscaping equipment, it could be wise to consider adding a new shed,” says Jay Labelle, owner of the Cover Guy, an online retail outlet for hot tub covers and supplies. That might entail building a new shed.

Rhoden notes that you can buy a decent, prefab wooden one for $1,000 to $3,000.

Plan for elbow room

Factor in size, because a really small shed probably won’t be ideal for a bar. Think about how many people you plan to host on a regular basis, as well as your ideal seating (stools take up less room than a booth). Keep in mind that your local building department might have a size restriction on backyard sheds built without a permit. Around 120 square feet is usually a safe bet.

Consider the bar shed’s location

How will your bar shed fit into the backyard design? If you already have the shed, you might want to relocate it away from a child’s bedroom (or a cranky neighbor with a decibel meter). And if you want to drink alfresco, leave enough room to set up a seating area near the shed.

Your options: Tiki, pub, lounge, dive, beach, or sports bar

Start by considering the basics when designing the interior of your bar shed, says Rhoden. This means the flooring, wall paneling, and paint. Then decide on the vibe you’re going for. Do you want to show off the license plates you never turned in to the DMV (dive bar) or your collection of Polynesian drinkware (Tiki bar)?

The shelves for wine and liquor, as well as the bar itself, can be purchased or made. You might want to design the bar around a small fridge or cooler tucked under the serving side of your bar to avoid taking up additional square footage in the shed, says Deemer Cass of Landscaping & Garden Design.

“And don’t forget to mount a bottle opener on the wall.”

Get wired

If the bar of your dreams contains a miniature fridge, ice maker, and blender for frozen margaritas, you’re going to need power.

“Before you get started, consult an electrician on the resources available in your backyard,” says Nate Burlando, owner and president of Distinct HVAC. Depending on the type of exterior power outlets you already have, you might need to trench in extra power.

Or is a rustic bar with a cooler, bag of ice, and cocktail shaker more your style? That makes things easier, but keep in mind that your bar is going to need some light if your drinking goes late into the night. If you decide to go electricity-free, battery-powered strands of fairy lights should be enough to illuminate your pale ale.

“They also give your backyard a nightly enchantment for your get-together,” says Rhoden.

Add alcohol…

“The booze just might be the most expensive part of your backyard bar shed,” says Rhoden. Once word gets out about your gin martini, you might be tempted to open for business. But it’s definitely illegal to sell alcohol in your backyard, so stick to sharing your drinks with friends, for free.

… and a little music

Bars are not libraries. They are meant for conversation, laughter, and the occasional singalong.

“Just bear in mind you have neighbors, and loud music in the late evening is sometimes frowned upon,” says Cass.

The boring stuff

Check with your homeowners insurance agent to see if you need to insure your backyard bar shed for liability. (You’ll be glad you did.)

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Originator creates a niche with Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation

Lenders and real estate agents will be familiar with the lament: “Love the house, hate the kitchen.”

It can be a deal breaker. But it doesn’t have to be.

Dustin Swigart — an originator with PrimeLending in Cincinnati — hears opportunity. He’s carving a niche for himself with buyers interested in Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Renovation mortgage. Swigart closed 30 HomeStyle Renovation loans in 2016.

HomeStyle Renovation allows financing of home improvements for up to 50 percent of the as-completed value of the improved property in a purchase or refinance transaction. “With renovation loans, the buyer can do light to moderate repairs — such as flooring, roofing, electrical, and plumbing repairs — all the way up to major renovations like room additions and foundation repairs,” Swigart explains.

With a HomeStyle Renovation loan, borrowers can do repairs or renovate a kitchen, add a bedroom to accommodate a growing family or relatives requiring care, or modify the home to age-in-place. Plus, lenders can use HomeStyle Renovation to save deals that have repair contingencies — such as repairing a wall or ceiling.

Buyers like the idea of being able to roll improvements into the purchase cost and closing with some equity. While equity-at-close figures range, Swigart says he’s seen consumers close with $10,000 to $90,000.

“We can do all of this while still being affordable,” Swigart says. “That’s what makes these loans so appealing.”

This type of financing can be less costly for borrowers than a second mortgage or home equity line of credit. It combines the cost of the home and renovation into one single-cost mortgage. Individual homebuyers, investors, nonprofits, and local government agencies can all use HomeStyle Renovation.

Shopping for ‘Unique’

In Troy, OH, buyers Cameron and Eden Barnett — both 29 — were looking for a unique home in the spring of 2016. They fell in love with a 1850s brick farmhouse just outside of town.

“We wanted something unique, older, and something that we could make into our own,” says Eden. “This farmhouse was sort of the extreme of that. But the housing market at the time was not very diverse. A lot of the houses were either new construction or not very inspiring.”

Adds Cameron: “We loved the look of the home – the brickwork and the curved bannister going up the stairs. But we knew we’d have to renovate the outdated kitchen and bathrooms.”

The couple met with Swigart to discuss financing, and he introduced them to HomeStyle Renovation. It met their needs “perfectly,” says Cameron. The young couple loved the idea of being able to roll improvement costs into their loan.

The $35,000 renovation loan allowed the couple to gut the small kitchen and enlarge the space for modern appliances and fixtures (large top photo). And even though the renovation took longer than expected and was challenging for the contractor because of thick walls, they would “make the same decision all over again.”

“We got the house of our dreams, and we saved money,” Eden says. “It just feels better to be putting money into a house that we are fairly confident we will one day earn back, and then some, when we eventually move.”

Worth the Effort

Originating renovation loans is not without challenges for lenders. If you’re new to them, they can be tricky to underwrite and take longer to close. And unlike credit lines, renovation loans require lenders to administer the renovation funds by escrowing the funds and issuing draws once periodic and final inspections confirm the planned work is on track or has been completed.

Still, Swigart finds these loans and working with borrowers who use them highly rewarding. “I’ve made renovations my focus and have gotten really good at them by systemizing the process,” he explains. “So we end up closing in 45 days or less in most cases.”

His 2017 goal is to fund 50 HomeStyle Renovation loans. “It’s a product I really believe in.”

Learn more about HomeStyle Renovation at Fannie Mae.com.

Pet Emergency Preparedness

You probably have at least one first-aid kit tucked away in your home in case you, a relative, or a guest is in need of medical attention. And, while we love our pets, we don’t always think of their risk for a health emergency in the same way.

But, just like us, not every medical emergency requires an ER visit—sometimes a little bandaging or taping up is all it takes, so having a pet first-aid kit can help you prepare the next time your friend needs tending to.

Items to keep stocked:

Adhesive tape: secure bandages to protect open cuts or wounds

Alcohol wipes: use to prevent infection and clean up blood or dirt around cuts

Antibiotic ointment/hydrocortisone cream or spray: prevent infection in open cuts

Benadryl/diphenhydramine: use in the event your pet experiences an allergic reaction

Cotton balls/swabs: use to clean out very small cuts and openings

Disposable gloves: protect transferring infection to your pet’s wounds

Gauze pads and bandages: cover and protect wounds; secure hurt paws or limbs

Ice packs/heat packs: apply to an injury to prevent swelling or bruising

Important papers: rabies certificate, microchip info, and vet contact info, etc.

Nail cutters: clip nails to prevent breaking/infection

Oral syringe: safely deliver liquid medication orally

Pill treats: inconspicuously deliver pills to your pet

Scissors with blunt end: trim fur away from a wound, and cut bandages or gauze

Small flashlight: use to illuminate your pet’s ears, mouth, or nose

Sterile saline cleaning solution: flush out wounds or sores

Styptic powder: helps stop bleeding when trimming nails/grooming

Towels: wipe off dirt/blood/other materials from your pet

Tweezers: pull out splinters, bugs, plant materials, etc.

5 Tricks to Rejuvenate a Run-Down Patio on a Budget

Is your patio oh so shabby? These super-easy projects will make hanging outside fun again.

Oh, your poor, sad patio. Not a comfy seat to be had, and that cracked concrete … well, it probably looked really great when disco was king.

Whether you love to entertain friends or bask in the sun with a cocktail and a novel, here are five easy ways to inject new life into your little corner of nature.

#1 Stop the Pests that Make Your Patio Look Untidy

It’s hard to enjoy your patio if it’s covered in debris scattered by the wind or by critters with a penchant for digging and trampling. Stop critters with the humble pine cone — instead of regular mulch.

Those spiny cones will deter pests and mischievous pets.

And chances are your plants will LOVE them because they acidify the soil. Showstopper plants like azaleas and rhododendrons will burst with color.

Pine cones also decompose slowly, so you won’t be constantly re-upping your supply — saving you time and money. In most parts of the country, you can easily find them for free.

#2 Pop Some Color on that Concrete Patio

Rejuvenate that dilapidated patio with color in a can.

Try painting it a bold, bright color or a fun pattern, like chevron. You can also mimic the appearance of upscale stone patios with just a bit of paint and some stamps.

If you want to let your creative juices flow, try mimicking a carpet or even a game board, such as Twister. At the very least, a new coat of concrete stain will give that tired concrete a fresh look.

#3 Ditch the Rust But Not the Furniture

Lounging on your patio, cocktail in hand, requires something to lounge on.

But if that secondhand chaise you bought post-college is covered in rust, you’re not going to be relaxing on it in your summer whites anytime soon. But replacing it is expensive — and a waste! Give it a rust-busting makeover, instead.

There are several ways to remove rust.

If the damage isn’t too extensive, the job can be as simple as scraping it off. Use a wire brush, sandpaper, or steel wool — and a bit of elbow grease — to scour it away.

For less effort, use a drill with a wire brush attachment.

For more extensive rust issues, you can use an acidic agent like vinegar to help with the removal. Or use a chemical rust converter (such as Rust-Oleum), which actually changes the rust into a different substance and protects against future rusting, adding years to your chaise’s lifespan.

Paint over the treated spot and that chaise will be right back to its glory days and ready for you in your white shorts.

#4 Create Outdoor Storage

If a dumpy layer of clutter and scattered pots make your patio look sad, consider adding DIY storage to keep all of your outdoor whatnots neat and tidy.

“Storage can be as important outdoors as it is indoors,” says Keith Sacks, a professional landscaper (he’s VP of the landscaping company Rubber Mulch).

One of his favorite solutions is super easy and fun:

Paint wooden crates (about $10 each) to match your patio (or try a bright, fun, contrasting color) and add a sealant to weatherproof the wood. Arrange them to create attractive, rustic storage. Glue the crates together and attach wheels to the bottom if you want to be able to move it around.

#5 Build a Fire Pit — No Tools Needed

Sometimes the best way to distract from a patio that needs some love is by drawing attention to a feature that does nothing but delight.

A mini fire pit can serve as an arresting visual focal point while adding more fun and function to your patio.

Creating your own outdoor s’more-making oasis doesn’t have to take much time or money. Try DIY blog Young House Love’s super-cheap, pint-sized pit, which requires only heat-resistant pavers (also called fire bricks), which cost about $5 per stone.

Stack two layers of them in a small circle about six bricks in circumference on top of a stone slab, and there you have it: a mini fire pit.

Make sure your patio is constructed with fire-safe materials before attempting this project (sorry, wooden deck lovers!) and that you follow local fire codes.

Time to grab a few marshmallows!

Article by AMIE WIEBE


This easy to put together Paleo salad recipe combines tender shrimp with sweet watermelon and cherry tomatoes. It’s best made in the height of summer when the sweet fruits are in season. Tossed with a little lime juice, olive oil and fresh herbs, this amazing Paleo salad will be a big hit at your next barbecue.

Our Shrimp, Watermelon and Tomato Salad recipe makes a light meal, but you can leave the shrimp out for a nice vegan-friendly side dishthat goes great with your favorite grilled dishes.


1 pound(s) shrimp, cooked
2 cup(s) watermelon, diced
1 cup(s) tomatoes, cherry or grape, halved
1/4 cup(s) olive oil
1 medium lime(s), juiced
1 tablespoon(s) mint, fresh, chopped
1 tablespoon(s) parsley, fresh, chopped
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste


  1. Combine the shrimp, watermelon, and tomatoes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a jar with a lid, combine the olive oil, lime juice, and herbs. Season liberally with fresh ground pepper.
  3. Toss the salad with the dressing and chill until ready to serve. This salad is best served at room temperature.

5 Strategies to Build Wealth After You Buy Your First Home

Be good to your future home-owning self — starting now.

Thinking about buying a home? You’re not the only one. With interest rates at opportune levels, many people are anxious to get into the real estate market. However, even if you feel like you’re missing out on a hot opportunity, ensure you have the boxes checked in these five money areas first:

1. Max Out Your Emergency Fund

Are you sitting on $10,000 in cash and considering using that for your down payment? Congrats on the savings! Just consider whether you’ll have funds left if you use that for a down payment.

Having had countless conversations with consumers around the country, I can tell you that using all your saved cash cushion as a down-payment fund wipes out any money you might need in case of emergency home repairs or job loss. And that leaves you reliant on credit cards and debt.

Set aside a minimum of three months of expenses (ideally six) in addition to building your home down-payment fund.

2. Keep Saving for Retirement

Home ownership is a key part of the American dream, but getting to your retirement years in a solvent position is also important.

If you’re looking to purchase a home, make sure the mortgage payment you’re taking on allows you to continue saving for retirement. As your income grows over time and your mortgage payment takes up a reduced percentage of your expenses, you’ll have room to increase your retirement funding.

3. Build a “New Home” Budget

Budgeting may not be very sexy, but it’s smart. Knowing where your money is going before purchasing a home helps you to target areas for adjustment. In addition, knowing your monthly cash flow ins and outs allows you to consider how much home you can truly afford.

Remember, it’s not just about factoring in a mortgage payment. You should also consider:

  • Property taxes
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Homeowners association (HOA) dues
  • Landscaping
  • Increased utility costs
  • Added cost-of-living increases, such as more expensive groceries or gas, depending on where you buy
  • Commuting expenses
  • General maintenance

A general rule of thumb is that your monthly housing payment (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) shouldn’t take up more than 28% of your income before taxes. This debt-to-income ratio is called your “housing ratio.”

4. Keep Your Debt Under Control

Before even considering purchasing a home, pull a free copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com and grab your free credit score (with account sign up) from Credit Karma. You’ll want a good credit score in order to get approved for a low interest rate on your mortgage (which translates into dollars back in your pocket).

Take stock of any outstanding debt you have from credit cards and car loans, etc. This will affect your debt-to-income ratio, which is the total of all your monthly debt obligations plus your housing expenses versus the amount you earn.

Ideally, you want this number to be as low as possible (with a target of 36% or below), although 43% is the highest ratio a borrower can have and still obtain a qualified mortgage. The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the more manageable your payments and the better off your financial picture is.

5. Take Stock of Your Life Plans

If you’re one of the 35% of home buyers age 35 or under, you’re likely going through a significant amount of life change.

  • Do you plan to start a family and need more space in the next few years?
  • Is your job stable?
  • Are you open and willing to move to a new area if given the opportunity?
  • Are you thinking about getting married or starting a business?

Review your overarching goals and desires to ensure that the home you’re buying and its location align with your long-term objectives. For instance, is there a chance you may turn the home into a rental property? That’s a big case for keeping your mortgage payment low enough that a monthly rent payment could cover your costs.

Purchasing a home can be one of the most exciting times in your life. With a little advance planning, preparation, and thought, it’s an event you can enjoy instead of stress over.


6 Materials to Never Use in Your Kitchen

Don’t get distracted by flash or price. Here’s what to avoid (and choose) for your kitchen remodel.

About to remodel that old kitchen? Unless you’re cool with treating the hardest working room in your house like a museum exhibit, resist the temptation to buy the cheapest or shiniest materials available and go for durable options that can stand up to regular abuse.

Trust us: Although it may be tough to leave that raised, tempered glass bar top (ooo!) in the showroom, repairing its first (and second, and third) chip will get old. Very fast.

Picking the right materials is easy if you do your homework. “There are amazing products out there,” says Jeffrey Holloway, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Holloway Home Improvement Center in Marmora, N.J. “You’re looking at price point, sanitation, how easy it is to clean the product, its durability and maintenance.”

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoidduring your next kitchen project.

#1 Plastic Laminate Counters

First off, there’s plenty of great laminate out there. It’s the entry-level,plastic laminate to stay away from, Holloway says. These are the ones that look thin and dull, as opposed to richly textured. They scratch easily, and if the product underneath the laminate gets wet (say, from steam rising from your dishwasher), it can delaminate the countertop, which means the edges will chip pretty easily. Also, one misplaced hot pan on the plastic will result in a melted disaster zone you’ll remember forever.

But if you’re watching your budget, plastic laminate at the next level up is a good choice. “It’s got good color consistency, and there are a lot of retro and trendy patterns available,” says Dani Polidor, an interior designer and owner of Suite Artistry, and a REALTOR® in Pittsford, N.Y.

New laminate counter technology offers scratch resistance, textured surfaces, and patterns that mimic real wood and stone. “There are even self-repairing nano-technologies embedded in some laminates,” says Polidor, “and others have antimicrobial properties.”

For an average 10-by-20-foot kitchen, the next-level-up laminate will cost about $3,000, Polidor estimates, and those super cool technology options add another $200 to $300. For durability and longer life, the investment is well worth it.

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin. “If your vinyl floor is glued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

Compare that with luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that costs about $5 per square foot. It’s still usually glued down, but it’s a little more forgiving than its less classy cousin — and it can come in tiles, which you can grout so they mimic the look of higher-end stone, Polidor says.

#3 Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

Holloway suggests staying away from lower-end thermofoil cabinet fronts. What is thermofoil? Contrary to its name, there’s no foil or any metal-type material in it. It’s actually vinyl, which is heated and molded around fiberboard. If the cabinet is white and the price is waaaaay affordable compared with other cabinets, think twice. Cheaper thermofoil has three critical issues:

1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.

2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.

3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

But just like with plastic laminate, science has made great strides, and now there are a host of new cabinets that are remaking thermofoil’s reputation. “New European laminates have become all the rage for the clean-lined, flat-panel look,” Polidor says. “It’s budget-friendly and can look like wood or high gloss. It’s not your grandmother’s thermofoil.”

And it doesn’t come at grandma’s prices, either. But still, the new thermofoil is much more affordable than custom cabinets, and still satisfies with its rich look and durability.

#4 High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

A nice shine can be eye-catching. And spendy. About 20 layers of lacquer go on a cabinet for the high-gloss look. Ding it or scratch it, and it’s costly to repair.

“It’s a multi-step process for repairing them,” Polidor says. A better option for the same look is high-end thermofoil (see? We said there were good thermofoil options!). Thermofoil has a finish that’s fused to the cabinet and baked on for a more durable exterior. And it’s way more budget-friendly, too. High-gloss can be in the thousands of dollars, whereas thermofoil can be in the hundreds or dollars.

#5 Flat Paint

Flat paint has that sophisticated, velvety, rich look we all love. But keep it in the bedroom. It’s not KF (kitchen-friendly). Flat paint, also known as matte paint, has durability issues. It’s unstable. Try to wipe off one splatter of chili sauce, and you’ve ruined the paint job. About the only place to use flat paint in your kitchen is on the ceiling (unless, of course, you have a reputation for blender or pressure-cooker accidents that reach to the ceiling, then we suggest takeout).

Instead, you want to use high-gloss or semi-gloss paint on your walls. They can stand up to multiple scrubbings before breaking down.

#6 Trendy Backsplash Materials

Tastes change. So avoid super trendy colors and materials when it comes to permanently adhering something to your kitchen walls. Backsplashes come in glass, metal, iridescent, and high-relief decor tiles, which are undoubtedly fun and tempting. They can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to $220 a square foot, and difficult to install. And after all that work and expense, if (er … when) your tastes change in a few years, it’ll be mighty tough to justify a re-do.

Stick with a classic subway tile at $2 to $3 square foot. Or, even more budget friendly, choose an integrated backsplash that matches your countertop material. “If you want pops of color, do it with accessories,” Polidor suggests.

Article by  STACEY FREED

How to Stop a Dog From Barking (and Driving You Bonkers)

Love ’em or hate ’em, dogs can certainly be noisy—and even if you love your own pooch, your neighbor’s yappy Pomeranian or territorial Rottweiler is another matter. Given that 36% of U.S. households own a dog, you’re quite likely to find yourself in a situation where you need to know how to stop a dog from barking. If it’s your dog, the power is in your hands; if it’s your neighbor’s, things can get a bit tricky. Try following these steps to resolve the situation and restore serenity to your life.

Have a chat with your dog-owning neighbor

Your first line of defense should be to try to resolve the issue directly with the dog’s owner—that means without getting anyone else involved.

“Calling the cops first is a huge betrayal of trust and will destroy the relationship,” says John Bialk, a former rental property manager and founder of Quietyme, a noise monitoring and management solution company.

When expressing your concern, focus on collaboration (“I’ve noticed your dog has been barking a lot, and it’s been disruptive for me. Do you think there’s a way to fix this?”). For instance, dogs often bark if they’re lonely or cooped up too much, so you could suggest getting the pooch more exercise or a companion animal to see if that might help.

Contact your landlord or homeowners association

If you rent a house or apartment, you’re in luck because you can pass the buck: It’s your landlord’s responsibility to help you handle any noise issues. You’ll want to present your landlord with evidence, such as a time-stamped audio recording of the dog barking, advises Bialk, adding that such software can be downloaded on a smartphone or computer.

If you own a condominium or townhome that’s part of a homeowners association, you can notify the condo board or HOA of the problem; most have rules against noise disturbances like barking dogs.

Get backup from your neighbors

If your neighbor ignores your request for quiet, you might want to talk to other people who live nearby to see if they also hear the dog’s barking. Odds are, you’re probably not the only one who’s suffering. Once you’ve enlisted help, you can then talk to your neighbor as a group; hopefully, the person will be more responsive to requests from multiple people. But make sure to approach your neighbor respectfully. (Read: Don’t assemble an angry mob.)

Research your city or state’s anti-barking laws

Many municipalities have a code against dogs barking, especially at night. You can look up your city or state’s ordinances online; if you have trouble finding the information, contact your town council or governor’s office. For instance, in New Jersey, a dog’s yapping enters illegal territory if the sound is continuous for more than five minutes or is intermittent for more than 20 minutes. These specifics will be helpful if you involve law enforcement like the police or the courts. Again, it would help your case to have a time-stamped audio recording.

Contact the police

If there are anti-barking laws in your area, file a noise complaint with local police. In most cases, an officer will speak to the dog’s owner and get the issue resolved. (FYI: Some jurisdictions will act on anonymous complaints, while others require your name and address.) If nothing changes, don’t hesitate to follow up and let the authorities know that there’s still an issue.

Last resort: Go to small-claims court or mediation

If you’ve tried all of the above to no avail, you can sue for nuisance in small-claims court. You’ll need to convince the judge that the dog’s barking is disruptive enough to prevent you from enjoying your own home. If you win, the dog owner will need to pay you a sum of money; once the person has been penalized financially, hopefully the loud barking will stop.

Alternatively, you can try mediation, where a neutral third party will listen to both sides and help you resolve the issue. Many cities have volunteer mediators who are trained to handle disputes between neighbors. You can ask your local district attorney’s office for a referral.

Forget about using a dog silencer

Maybe you’re tempted to get one of those devices that claim to use sound frequencies unpleasant to dogs to deter them from barking. These might work for a bit, but some dogs learn to ignore them and keep on barking. You will also need to be within range, with many working only up to 75 feet. So unless you live really close to your neighbors, you might be barking up the wrong tree with one of those gadgets. When in doubt, a good old-fashioned conversation with your neighbor is probably the best way to go.

Keep your cool

On the long-running sitcom “Seinfeld,” Elaine Benes tried to make her neighbor’s dog pipe down by shouting back. (Spoiler: It didn’t work.) The point we’re making is, whichever option you choose, just make sure to keep your cool.

“Never act when you are mad,” says Bialk. “Angry people are seen by all as irrational and harder to believe.”

Article by By

8 Things Even Normal People Hoard: How Many Are Hiding in Your Home?

As much as we might enjoy gawking at shows like “Hoarders,” marveling at the messes lurking behind homeowners’ front doors, let’s be frank: We all hoard something, at least a little bit. You may call it clutter, but it’s a slippery slope from clutter to mounds of junk, right? So here’s how to identify your inner hoarder, target your secret stash (or three)—and finally let go.

1. Magazines

People often stockpile magazines for years and years, thinking they’ll eventually read that article on Belize or try a certain squash recipe.

“I had a client who was a dentist with a collection of 20-year-old magazines that he insisted he’d get around to reading,” says Alison Kero, decluttering expert and speaker. “He’s retired now, and I doubt he ever read any of them.”

To let go: “A general rule of thumb is to get rid of a magazine when the next one arrives,” says Kero. Remember, most information in those magazines can also be found online now. And if you get months behind on your reading, perhaps it’s time to cancel your subscription.

2. Your child’s schoolwork and art

Early drawings and even loose sheets of paper that your child scribbled on can quickly stack up, filling box after box. These same boxes then usually get moved from place to place without anyone ever looking through them.

To let go: “Pick one container, per kid, and fill it with your favorite pieces from school,” says organizing expert Amy Trager. And that’s one box for all years, not just this year. Whatever fits, you can keep; everything else goes. “If a paper conjures memories you’re not going to look back on fondly—like a math worksheet—or display in your home, there’s no reason to keep it.”

If you’re on the fence about tossing something, scan it or snap a digital pic to preserve it forever; numerous phone apps such as Keepy make this process easy-peasy and regret-free.

3. Holiday decorations

Some of Kero’s clients have so many decorations, “it looks like the holiday threw up all over their home.” Other people are sentimentally attached to their older decorations and keep them even though half of the lights burned out years ago and Santa looks more like a scary clown than a jolly old elf.

To let go: Keep what looks good, and pitch items that are torn, missing parts, or just plain broken.

“It’s OK to make new holiday memories by finding just the right replacement,” says Kero. Plus, newer decorations pose less of a fire hazard.

4. Boxes of photos

From black-and-white snaps to Kodachrome prints, the average household has thousands of photos from before the digital era. Most of us are guilty of hanging onto boxes of battered snapshots because it’s a huge pain to organize them.

As a result, “we keep them all,” says Kero. “I myself have kept photos for ages, even ones that were nearly completely black, gave everyone the red eye, or that made me angry or sad, even years later.”

To let go: To avoid getting overwhelmed, approach this task in segments: Do an hour of photo sorting a week until the job is done.

“It’s important to only keep your favorites—the ones where everyone looks great and remind you of the good times,” says Kero. “The rest you can just let go of, both physically and emotionally.”

5. Old tech

CNET estimates there could be up to 1 billion unused smartphones alone in the U.S. That means we each have four to eight out-of-date tech gadgets languishing in our junk drawers.

To let go: Old tech has value. Per household, your unused smartphones could collectively fetch anywhere from $500 to $1,000. You can sell your old gadgets to trade-in companies like Flipsy. Or donate your various electronics and take advantage of tax deductions.

6. Kitchen utensils and appliances

Do you have a bread maker you’ve never plugged in? Or, god forbid, a pickle fork? Anything that sits and collects dust in a cluttered mess on countertops or in various kitchen cabinets is just pointless, period.

To let go: Keep only what you regularly use and have space for.

“Gadgets are great, but if you aren’t using them they’re kind of useless,” says Kero.

7. Clothing you never wear

Kero has clients with clothing they’ve owned for more than 20 years that they know they will never wear again, but keep anyway. For one woman that included a pair of ribbed, acid-washed jeans from 1980.

To let go: “If you haven’t worn it in over two years, or clothes don’t fit or hurt to wear, let it go,” says Kero.

8. Heirlooms

An heirloom can be anything that someone who has died once owned. Some we may treasure, but others we may be dying to get rid of, if only we didn’t feel so guilty about tossing it in the trash.

To let go: Just because one person loved something doesn’t mean you have to as well.

“Unless you really treasure an heirloom, sell it or get rid of it because it’s not doing you any good—emotionally or spiritually—to have it taking up your physical space,” says Kero. Or hey, fob it off on another family member!

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My husband loves anything with bacon…so this is what we are having for dinner.


4 teaspoon(s) garlic powder
1 pound(s) chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1/2 teaspoon(s) sea salt
1/4 teaspoon(s) black pepper, freshly ground
4 tablespoon(s) rosemary, fresh
4 slice(s) bacon (thick)


  1. Preheat outdoor grill for medium-high and oil grates (or use a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat on the stove or oven).
  2. Season chicken breasts with garlic powder, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Lay one rosemary sprig on top of each chicken breast and wrap a slice of bacon around to hold the rosemary in place. Secure each piece of bacon with a toothpick or another rosemary sprig.
  4. Cook the breasts about 8 minutes per side on the grill, or until juices run clear and there is no pink in the middle. Note: If you are cooking chicken in a pan on the stove, more time is needed per side. Cook until internal temperature reaches 165 F. If you are roasting chicken in the oven, place chicken on baking tray at 350 F for 40 minutes, or until fully cooked.

Have an Underwater Mortgage? These Solutions Can Help You Come Up for Air

If you’ve found yourself unable to afford your mortgage payments, you’re not alone. In fact, 3.2 million households find themselves in that position, according to Black Knight Financial Services. In the real estate world, many people refer to this as an underwater mortgage. So what does that all-too-common euphemism actually mean and what are your options?

Simply put, being underwater on your mortgage means the balance of your mortgage loan is greater than the fair market value of your home. This can happen when there’s a housing market downturn or an outright crash (as there was in 2008) that causes property values to plummet.

For example, say you bought a home in 2007 for $250,000. Maybe by now you still owe $200,000 on your loan, but if you tried to sell your home in the current market you might get only $170,000. That would leave you still owing $30,000 on your mortgage with no down payment for your next home. Often, the best thing to do is sit tight and wait it out. But what if you can’t? What if your family is outgrowing your current home and you really do need to move on sooner than later?

Underwater mortgage options

To give it to you straight, a lot of the options for getting out of an underwater mortgage hurt one way or another, even if you have great credit. But get ready to bite the bullet: There are a number of paths you can take to get back on the road to financial stability.

  1. Short sale: You could try a short sale, but that will show up in your credit history, says senior mortgage banker Elise Leve of Citizens Bank. “If you wanted to buy another property, most lenders will not provide you a mortgage if you have had a short sale within the last two to four years. Therefore you would need to wait to buy again until after the waiting period has passed.” Clearly that would defeat the purpose if you’re trying to find a new home as soon as possible.
  2. Dip into your savings: You could cash out retirement funds or use your other savings to make up the difference, but that could leave you with nothing (or close to nothing) for a down payment on your next home. Still, in that case, Leve suggests finding a loan from the Federal Housing Administration. “Fannie Mae options up to 97% as well as up to 105% financing on some of their community home buyer programs,” she says. She recommends working with an experienced loan officer who can help you compare loan products.
  3. Rent out your home: Perhaps the best option is renting out your home while you buy or lease another one that meets the needs of your family. “This allows disposing of your current home without tapping retirement funds or damaging your credit,” says Realtor® and attorney Bruce Ailion, of Re/Max Town & Country in Atlanta. In fact, Supreme Lending loan officer Jason Skinrood of Salt Lake City says, “By renting the underwater home, the homeowner can use the lease income (75%) or income claimed on their Schedule E to offset the mortgage payment on the underwater home when applying for financing on a new larger home. The timing relative to the tax year will determine whether the homeowner can use the lease or Schedule E income.”
  4. Renovate your home: You could also try renovating your home to expand its size and value. “The good news is that lending guidelines have allowed for the use of lower equity financing,” says Peak Finance Company sales manager Tamir Lahav. “There are certain circumstances where a renovation loan can be utilized with as little as 5% equity on a property while utilizing the ‘future value’ (after renovations) of the home.”

If you have found yourself wondering about any of these topics and need a confidential review of your situation, please reach out to us by using the “contact us” form to the right of this page or call 630-570-9740. We are here to help.

9 Feelings That Are Totally Normal When You Sell Your House

Selling a home has its moments of joy and frustration.

Here’s what most people experience.


  1. EXCITEMENT  Hooray! We’re selling our house and moving to our dream home.

  2. ANXIETY  Will anyone want our home? Is it worth our asking price?

  3. DELIGHT  This is our house? Who knew staging could make it look so great?

  4. DISAPPOINTMENT  Nooooo. This is all someone thinks our house is worth? Will a decent offer ever arrive?

  5. ELATION  Hoorah! We accepted an offer! We’re going to move.

  6. WORRY  What if the appraisal is too low? Or the inspection goes bad?

  7. RELEIF  Phew–it’s official! The selling process is finally behind us.

  8. SADNESS  Our time in this home is really over. We’re walking away from so many happy memories.

  9. JOY  It’s really done! On to our future!

Homemade Pet Treats in 4 Easy Steps

What’s the best way to welcome new neighbors, celebrate an accomplishment, or say thank you? Food! And the most popular and tasty type is baked goods, which  have seemingly been a go-to treat forever. However, baked treats aren’t just for people; pets are often even more appreciative about getting them. So try your hand at one of these easy-to-make homemade treats, and show your pet how much you love him!

Fresh Breath Dog Treats

Freshen your pooch’s palate with these beef-flavored snacks that feature a touch of mint and parsley.


  • 1½ cups coconut flour
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ cup mint, finely chopped 
(or 1 teaspoon mint extract)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together until the dough forms. (Note: It should be drier than typical dough.)
  3. Roll the dough out flat, about 1/2-inch thick, on a surface covered in flour. Cut the dough with a bone-shaped cookie cutter, and place it on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove the treats, and let them cool on a cooling rack.

Tuna & Cheddar Cat Bites

These bite-sized morsels feature flavors that will tantalize your tabby—like tuna, cheddar, and even catnip!


  • 2 (5-oz.) cans tuna in water, drained
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon catnip


  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  2. Combine the tuna, egg, water, and oil in a food processor. Blend until mixture is smooth. Stir in the cheddar and parsley. Then add the flour and catnip, and mix until it is just blended.
  3. Roll into small balls, and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until they are slightly browned. Remove the treats, and let cool on a cooling rack.

Small Pet Snacks

Any smaller pet, such as a hamster, rabbit, or ferret, will love getting its tiny paws on these banana-and-peanut-butter-flavored treats!


  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • 1 small carrot, pureed
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • ¼ cup uncooked oats, ground


  1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.
  2. Mix peanut butter, carrot, banana, and honey in a medium bowl. Add flour and ground oats, mix until blended, and then knead for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Roll into small balls, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until treats are slightly browned. Remove the treats, and let them cool on a cooling rack.

Once you’ve made your snacks, store them in an airtight container. To add the finishing touch to your treats,  download these cute storage labels for your pet treats!

Try these treats and let us know what your pets think!


How to Hang (Almost) Anything

Other than adding a fresh coat of paint, hanging pictures and decorations can be the easiest way to make your house feel like home. But knowing how to hang those items can be a different story. From plaster to drywall, there are different tools, methods, and best practices depending on the type of walls you’re working with.



Don’t worry! We’ve curated a list of the most common wall types and the materials and tips you’ll need to get started. Here’s to happy hanging!

Materials for Light Items:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Level

Additional Materials for Heavy Items:

  • Stud finder
  • Drill bit
  • Drill
  • Wall anchor
  • Screwdriver
  • Screw

Best Practices: 
Before you start hammering or drilling, be sure to measure where you want the object to hang, and mark the area with a pencil. Once you’ve marked your spot, hammer the nail at a 45° angle, hang the item, and check that it is level. For heavier items, you’ll need to use a stud finder so you can hammer directly into a stud and an anchor for added support. Once you’ve marked your spot, using the drill bit, drill a guide hole in the wall slightly smaller than the anchor. Hammer in the wall anchor, and then use the screwdriver to insert the screw—then you’re all set to hang.


  • Measuring tape
  • Painter’s tape
  • Pencil
  • Coolant such as mineral oil or water
  • Drill
  • Carbide- or diamond-tipped drill bit
  • Hammer wall anchor
  • Screw

Best Practices:
As with all wall types, measure where you want the object to hang, and then use a pencil to mark it on painter’s tape. The tape will help protect the tile later in the process. Next, dip the drill bit in the coolant for ten seconds, and then slowly begin drilling. Apply light pressure, and then gradually increase the drill speed until you have reached the desired depth. If the drill bit begins to overheat at any point, simply take it out and dip it in the coolant again. Finally, using a hammer, drive the wall anchor into the wall, then drill in the screw and you’re ready to hang.

Materials for Light Items:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drill bit
  • Drill
  • Nail

Additional Materials for Heavy Items:

  • Wall anchor
  • Screw
  • Screwdriver

Best Practices:
Measure where you want the object to hang, and then mark with a pencil. With plaster walls, you’ll want to put a piece of tape under your hole on the wall, like a basket, to catch any discarded plaster. Use another piece of tape to mark the spot where you want to drill. Drill a pilot hole through the tape (to help prevent your plaster from cracking), and hammer in your nail. For heavier items, drill a larger hole for the wall anchor, and then drive in the screw. Finally, hang your item and check that it’s level.

Stone or Brick


  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drill with masonry bit
  • Wall anchor
  • Screw
  • Hammer
  • Screw
  • Level

Best Practices: 
Before you get started, measure where you want the object to hang, and mark the spot with a pencil. Next, use painter’s tape to mark an inch from the tip of the drill bit so you don’t drill too far. Drill the spot you marked, making sure to stop once you reach the tape on the drill bit. Using a hammer, insert the wall anchor into the hole, and then drive in the screw. Hang the object and then make sure it is level.


  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Drill or hammer
  • Wall anchor
  • Screw or nail

Best Practices:
Before you start hammering away, measure where you want the object to hang, and then mark it with pencil. Using your drill, start a small pilot hole first to help minimize splitting. A nail will suffice for wooden walls, but a screw provides great holding power. Use your selected material, hammer or drill, and then hang your object—checking to ensure it’s level. For thinner wooden walls, such as paneling, follow this same process, but use a wall anchor that will spread out behind the wall.


This is a very flavorful dish using garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper to marinate shrimp for grilling. You can grill the shrimp with vegetables as well, including mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. You can also use the paprika variety of your choice, such as sweet or hot paprika.

Recipe makes 3 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 15 minutes


1/4 cup(s) olive oil, extra virgin, or melted coconut oil
3 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 medium lemon(s), juiced
1/8 teaspoon(s) paprika
1/4 teaspoon(s) cayenne pepper
2 pound(s) shrimp, large with tail
1 medium lime(s), wedges
1 tablespoon(s) parsley, fresh, chopped
1 package(s) wooden skewers


  1. Soak wooden skewers in warm water.
  2. Mix olive or coconut oil, garlic, lemon and spices in a large, shallow bowl. Add shrimp and let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Prepare the grill just before meal time.
  4. Put marinated shrimp on skewers.
  5. Place on hot grill. Turn after a few minutes on each side and remove when bright pink and fully cooked (about 1-2 minutes per side).
  6. Serve with lime wedges and chopped parsley.

How to Get a Mortgage With Bad Credit: How Low Can You Go?

It’s one of those home-buying riddles that many think is all but unsolvable: How to get a mortgage with bad credit? After all, if your credit score is abysmal, you may as well kiss your home-buying dreams goodbye. Right?

Wrong. In spite of what you’ve heard, there is hope.

By “credit,” of course, we mean your credit score—that all-important numerical representation of your track record of paying off past debts, covering everything from your credit card to college loans. Mortgage lenders check your credit score to gauge how good you’ll be at paying them back, too, and a low credit score can definitely work against you.

According to a national survey by Experian, one-third of prospective home buyers are afraid that their poor credit score might hurt their ability to purchase a home. Meanwhile, 45% of people polled say they’ve decided to delay home buying until their credit score improves, with 1 in 5 believing they’ll have to shelve the idea for at least five years.

Is this true? Exactly how bad is bad, anyway? We’ll set you straight below, and offer some guidance on how to get a mortgage with poor credit.

How to check your credit score

Before you can explore your loan options, you need to assess what shape your credit is really in, says Todd Sheinin, a mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD. For starters, credit scores range from 300 to 850, and are calculated based on the following factors:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Debts owed: 30%
  • Length of credit history: 15%
  • Types of credit you have: 10%
  • Applications for credit: 10%

By law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

You can request the reports through AnnualCreditReport.com. However, your credit report only shows your credit history; to see your actual score, you’ll need to pay a small fee directly through the credit bureaus’ websites. (Alternatively, you can get a free estimate of your score through Credit.com, CreditKarma, or CreditSesame.)

If your credit score is 760 or above, you’re considered a low-risk borrower—meaning you’re likely to get the best interest rates and terms when you apply for a loan. Meanwhile, a good score is from 700 to 759, a fair score is from 650 to 699, and credit scores below 650 are deemed poor.

If your credit score is below 650, you may want to step back and take a few months to raise your score. But if you’re looking to buy a home right away, you do have options.

Option 1: FHA loan

If your credit is in rough shape, you might still be able to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan. Because FHA loans were created for low- and moderate-income households that would otherwise be locked out of the housing market due to subpar credit, qualifying credit scores start at 580 and up. Another bonus: FHA loans let you make a down payment as low as 3.5%.

The downside? Because FHA loans are government-insured, borrowers must pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium. Currently the fee is 1.75%—that’s $5,250 on a $300,000 home loan. Borrowers will also have to pay annual mortgage insurance, currently around 0.85% of the borrowed loan amount—or $2,550 more per year. Also, FHA loans are usually capped at $417,000. (In certain high-cost areas, the limit is $625,000.)

Option 2: VA loan

Active and retired military are eligible for the VA loan offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Not only do they accept credit scores of 620 and below, but they require no down payment and no mortgage insurance premium—all at decent interest rates.

“Because interest rates are fixed on VA loans, they’re not based on the borrower’s credit score,” Miller says. In other words, having crummy credit won’t prevent you from qualifying for a great rate.

Option 3: 15-year fixed loan

Good news: Most conventional loans only require a minimum credit score of 620, based on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines. However, “if you have a 620 credit score, you’re going to pay a higher interest rate,” says Heather McRae, a senior loan officer at Chicago Financial Services. But there is one interesting exception.

“If you get a 15-year fixed loan, the lender will essentially turn a blind eye toward your credit score with respect to what interest rate you get,” says McRae. In other words, for a 15-year fixed loan, you would qualify for the same interest rate whether you have a 620 or a 750 credit score.

Granted, you will still need to meet other requirements in terms of your income, down payment, and other factors. Essentially, you’ll need a solid salary and plenty of cash upfront. Still, it’s a great option if your past credit issues are haunting you, while your present circumstances are solid and scream “All systems go!”

Option 4: A bigger down payment

Some mortgage lenders might be willing to approve you for a home loan if you make a larger-than-usual down payment. Why? Because “the more you put down, the more you minimize the risk to the lender,” says Todd Sheinin, a mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD. So, by increasing your down payment to 25% or 30% on a conventional loan—instead of the standard 20%—you’ll strengthen your mortgage application. Just bear in mind your credit score can still negatively affect your loan’s interest rate.

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4 Kitchen & Bath Extras You Never Knew You Wanted

Take it from this first-time homeowner, you’ll want these brag-worthy problem-solvers once you buy.

Designing a kitchen or bathroom is one of those things I tend to geek out over — choosing the right tile, paint colors, and, of course, there’s my obsession with butcher block counters. But some features are the kinds of things I don’t realize I wish I had until I see them in action in a real home.

I’m not talking about guitar-shaped toilet seats or movie-themed showerheads. Rather it’s those modern and stylish additions that randomly pop up on my radar and scream “dream kitchen” or “the bathroom I probably would never leave.” (On second thought, that sounds more like a bad restaurant review.)

Even though I’ve gotten through most of my current home’s kitchen renovations, I never really intended on making my first home the one I’ll live in forever. So, if I ever find myself on a new house hunt (which, who knows, could be in just a few short years!), these are the top features that have now made it on my wish list that weren’t there before.

1. Soft-Closing Drawers Instead of Lower Cabinets

When I remodeled my kitchen, I knew it would be way beyond my budget to install new cabinets; painting the existing ones was pretty much my best option. But should I ever move into a house where I gut the cabinetry and install new, adding soft-closing drawers below the counter seems like the smart choice.


Not only does it nix the potential to injure myself on a half-closed drawer (I’ve already got enough mysterious leg bruises, thank you), but I prefer the accessibility of drawers for things like pots and pans instead of digging through a cabinet.

For the same reasons, I also like drawers for bathroom renovations. It’s a great use of hidden storage space, like if you can add one to a toe-kick near the floor.

2. Fingerprint- and Spot-Resistant Everything

Finishes like stainless steel, chrome, brass, and brushed gold have been extremely popular over the last 10 years. But when it comes to shopping for surfaces I use several times a day, I think it’s important to put more thought into its function too. So, for my next house or next home remodel, I know that I’ll be paying a lot more attention to finishes that are specifically labeled as “spot” or “fingerprint” resistant.

When I installed my faucet, one of the nifty features about the finish was that it was a new color called “slate” that was supposed to be resistant to fingerprints and water spots. While it seems to differ by manufacturer as to the name of this type of finish, the color appears to be not quite “stainless” but not quite “nickel,” either — it’s some kind of in-between style. Yet it still works with the other appliances I’ve already put in.

More and more companies seem to be offering similar “spotless” finishes on their newer appliances and faucets, so I hope it’s a long-term trend I can take advantage of when I need to decorate a new kitchen. I can see this finish being especially useful for things like bathroom faucet handles, too. They get splattered with soap, toothpaste, etc., the most.

3. Bluetooth-Enabled or Voice-Activated Devices

Bluetooth speakers aren’t exactly a novel concept, but they’re also (IMO) easily forgotten when designing. It absolutely makes sense to incorporate quality speakers into the rooms where you listen to music the most.

I installed a Bluetooth speaker/fan/ceiling light in my guest bathroom a while back, and while it’s awesome for singing (loudly) in the shower and provides great sound quality, I’d prefer it have one improvement: I’d love it if it used a voice system like Alexa (such as the Echo or Echo Dot) or Google Home instead of a remote.

The remote is useless when I’m all soaped up in the shower, and I’ve found that using a voice-activated speaker system is incredibly handy (pun intended?) when I’m cooking in the kitchen. I just added an Amazon Echo Dot to the kitchen (see picture below), and it has made cooking and doing dishes a far more enjoyable activity!

As time goes on, I imagine there’ll be more opportunities to mount or include such an item in a home’s design, rather than have it as a separate item on a counter surface (similar to how USB chargers are being added to outlets and wireless charging pads are being incorporated into furniture).

4. Deep, Single-Basin Sinks

I have this feature in my current kitchen, and when I daydream about a future kitchen, the sink stays the same! I spent a long time debating this when I picked out my sink, and I still LOVE that mine is really deep and has only one basin. It makes it really easy to fill pots and clean cookie sheets without having to play Jenga with other things I’m washing. I also think it makes it easier to keep clean — it just takes one simple sweep.

Once I start going down the rabbit hole of things to splurge on next time, the list tends to grow insanely fast, but it’s nice to take a break from the tedium of scrubbing my outdoor patio to daydream every once in awhile.

Article by SARAH FOGLE