Is a Mortgage Transfer Possible? Sometimes – Here’s When

Is a mortgage transfer possible—where you hand off a home loan from one person to another? The answer is usually no. When you sell your home, the buyers have to get their own mortgage and you pay yours off in full with proceeds from the sale.

But there are a few exceptions to the rule. Here are the ways you can transfer a mortgage, and why you might want to consider it.

What kinds of mortgage transfer are possible?

Most loans aren’t transferable, and the reason for this is that they have a “due on sale” clause, explains Chris Combs, founder of Combs Law Group. That means that when the property is sold, the entirety of the loan comes due.

But some loans are created without due on sale clauses, and so they can be transferred from seller to buyer. These are known as “assumable loans,” says Chris Lewis from Angel Oak Home Loans. There are three main types of assumable loans:

  • VA loans are designed to be assumable because service members move frequently for their careers. Loans closed before March 1988 can be transferred freely, with no additional approval from the lender (however, given that those loans are now nearly 30 years old, there aren’t too many left around). Loans closed after that date must have the transfer approved by the lender, which means that the person on the receiving end of the transfer has to meet certain income and credit standards to qualify.
  • FHA loans can also be designed to be transferable without lender approval. The loan must have closed before December 1989 (which also means not many are still around). Otherwise, the lender must approve the new borrower.
  • USDA loans can also be transferred, but lender approval is required, and the recipient must not exceed certain income requirements.

Reasons to make a mortgage transfer

With today’s low interest rates, there is less incentive to want to take over someone else’s mortgage. However, when rates rise, this option looks more attractive.

Taking over a loan also saves on closing costs: Instead of paying to originate a new loan and all the taxes and other closing costs associated with that, a buyer pays a nominal fee to assume the existing loan. You also don’t need a down payment to assume a loan.

However, even if a loan transfer is possible and preferable, there are some complications to the process.

Assumable loan disadvantages and dangers

Although you don’t need a down payment to assume a loan, you still might need to come up with a big chunk of change to make the transfer. Since you’re assuming only the existing loan amount, you are responsible for paying the seller for their equity in the home. The more equity a seller has, the more money the buyer has to pay up front.

For example, if the purchase price of the property is $300,000, but the seller has paid down the loan to $200,000, the buyer has to come up with the $100,000 difference that the seller has racked up in home equity.

If the buyers don’t have that much cash on hand, they can take out a secondary loan, but that loan will be at the current higher interest rate and include standard closing costs, making the transfer much less attractive.

Another thing to watch out for is that the original borrowers still retain responsibility for the loan unless they have a release in writing from the lender. If they fail to get this release, they are still liable if the new homeowner fails to repay the loan, and the loan debt will still count against them if they attempt to take out a new mortgage. If you do go through a loan assumption, be sure to hold onto your release paperwork in case there is ever an issue down the line.

When due on sale clauses don’t apply

Almost every loan other than a VA, FHA, or USDA loan will have a due on sale clause. However, because of a law called the Garn–St. Germain Act of 1982, there are some transfers that all lenders are required to allow despite the due on sale clause. Most of these are transfers between family members related to unanticipated changes in the homeownership, explains Combs. Here is a list of the most common exemptions:

  • Loan transfer to a relative on the death of a borrower
  • Loan transfer from a borrower to a spouse or children
  • Loan transfer from one ex-spouse to another during a divorce or separation (if they continue to live there)
  • Loan transfer to a living trust, if you continue to occupy the property

These transfers work by either adding a person to the home’s deed, removing a deceased owner from the home’s deed, or having the spouse giving up ownership sign a quitclaim deed.

Once ownership of the home has changed hands, the new owner can continue to pay the previous owner’s mortgage.

How living trusts work

For living trusts, the process is a bit more complicated. Living trusts are created to keep a property from going into probate when the owner dies, but is created before the former owner’s death.

“First the trust is created, typically by a lawyer, and then the property is deeded over to the trust,” explains Corey Chappell, closing options analyst with 181-Close-Now. “The trust now officially owns the property.”

As long as the former owner continues to occupy the home, the trust pays the mortgage. When the former owner dies, the trust’s beneficiaries can do as they wish with the home without having to go through probate. Here’s more on whether a living trust is right for you.

Article by Audrey Ference

5 Plants You (Almost) Never Have to Water

Gorgeous, cheap, and practically care-free — what’s not to love?!

Every plant needs water. But drought-resistant varieties need only dainty sips once they’re established, making them perfect for low-rainfall areas and low-energy gardeners.

Susan Gottlieb, an expert on drought-tolerant gardens, says native plants have the best chance of surviving dry summers or whatever nature throws at them.

“Natives have evolved to thrive in your climate without a whole lot of extra work,” Gottlieb says.

#1 California Lilac

This beautiful shrub flowers in late winter/early spring, emits a lovely fragrance, and shows flowers that run from white to purple. The “Concha” variety is prized for its deep blue blossoms. California lilacs grow best on dry, sloping land or in front of any structure that protects them from wind. They also prefer well-drained soil, and they don’t do well in clay.

#2 Deer Grass

Found in many desert gardens, deer grass is a spiky and dependable ornamental. It loves full sun, but also will grow in a little shade. Water every three days until established. After the first year, water only every three weeks.

#3 Salvia, Heatwave Series

These dependable perennials were developed in Australia to withstand extreme weather. As a bonus, they bloom spring through fall, to the delight of hummingbirds and butterflies. Colors include white, pink, and salmon.

#4 Dusty Miller

This low-growing perennial is known for its silver-gray foliage, looks good as a ground cover, and thrives in containers stuffed with annuals. It hates standing around with wet roots, so plant it in soil that drains well.

#5 Tickweed

These yellow perennials add a burst of sunshine to any garden or border. More than 100 species are long-blooming (so long as you deadhead) and low-maintenance. They range from long and leggy to small and mounded. Also, they are easy to divide, creating many more plants season after season.

More than 30 states host Native Plant Societies, which can guide your selection and help you save water in your garden. To find a local society, check with your local extension agent or with the Native Plant Conservation Campaign, a friend to native and endangered plants.

Article by LISA KAPLAN GORDON

A Housecleaning Checklist for People Hosting Guests With Pet Allergies

Pet allergies might not be a problem for you, but there’s a decent chance one of your guests can’t sit among dander without sneezing or coughing. And even if a pet is taken out of the house, it takes a certain amount of time for dander levels to go down significantly.

“Studies show that it may take as many as six months before allergen levels become low enough so as not to cause a clinical reaction,” says Andrew S. Kim, medical director of Allergy & Asthma Centers in Virginia.

But we challenge you to find a pet owner who would be willing to send their furry friend away for half a year—it’s not going to happen! So let’s focus on more realistic solutions.

Luckily, Kim says that “aggressive cleaning of homes may reduce allergen levels.” And while hours and hours spent vacuuming, dusting, and sanitizing your home doesn’t sound like fun, it’s one reasonable way to ensure your guests will be comfortable in your house during the holidays and beyond.

Here’s what you can do to get your pet-friendly house ready for pet allergy–prone guests. (Or even owners!)

1. Give your pets the spa treatment

A good bath can temporarily reduce the number of allergens on your pet, says Kim. Sadly, the results are only temporary. Two to three days afterward, your pet’s allergens will be back to baseline.

To make a long-term difference, “washing must be done at least two times per week,” Kim says.

2. Roll up your rugs

“Carpets are a greater reservoir of pet allergens versus a polished floor,” says Kim. Therefore, remove those fur catchers from your hardwood or tile floor so you can vacuum up pet hair.

3. Turn on your air conditioner

Doing so will help keep humidity levels in your house low.

“Higher numbers of airborne allergens are found in homes with high humidity,” Kim says.

4. Dust before your guests arrive

Aim to do this a day or two before their arrival.

“This will give dander time to settle out of the air,” says Leslie Reichert, cleaning coach and author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning.”

5. Take up vacuuming as a hobby

“Regular vacuuming or three-times-weekly vacuuming may temporarily reduce allergen levels,” Kim says. So get into it!

Make sure you use the best vacuum for pet allergens and hair, such as the Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly 31150.

6. Change your vacuum bag

Each time you vacuum, be sure to change or clean the filter. You should also change the bag or empty the dust cup.

“This will make sure you aren’t spreading dander around the house,” Reichert says.

7. Don’t forget to vacuum your furniture

Even if your pets aren’t allowed on your couch, “their dander is airborne so it will be on all the surfaces of your home,” Reichert says. Use your vacuum attachments to clean all fabric furniture.

8. Don’t let laundry pile up

Sure, you might fall behind on a few loads given how much other cleaning you have to do. But fun fact: Pet allergens stick to your clothing. Once there, they can easily transfer to your furniture or guests.

9. Clean those places you normally don’t

You might vacuum your lamp shades or dust under your couch only on a quarterly basis, but now’s the time if you’re preparing for guests with sensitivities to dust and dander. Put throw pillows into the dryer, dust the tops of doorways and picture frames, and don’t forget to wash and put away your pet’s food bowls.

10. Clean your air

An air purifier for pet hair is essential. Make sure yours has a HEPA filter, which can remove more impurities from the air. Place the purifier in the most-used room of your home and run it 48 hours nonstop before your guests arrive, advises Reichert. After their arrival, it should move into the room where your guests will sleep.

“This will give them a place to escape should their allergies get overwhelming,” says Reichert.

11. Come clean to your guests

Make sure your visitors know you have pets and the measures you’re taking to lower their exposure to allergens. Remind them to take their asthma and allergy meds before and during their visit.

Article by Stephanie Booth

4 Doable Spring Cleaning Tips for People With Lots of Stuff

One even includes wine. Sign us up.

You hate to get rid of anything, because what if you need it later? And yet, if you did need it, you’d never find it among all the other stuff you’ve held onto. (And, hey, there is such a thing as good clutter.)

Now’s the time to do some strategic (read: non-overwhelming) purging and organizing, so you can make life easier on yourself — without pitching all your goodies.

#1 Clear Out Your Bathroom Cabinet

This is a good place to get your spring-cleaning mojo going. It’s not too big, nor too small a project for a rewarding payoff of more storage space.

Expired medications and outdated cosmetics can take up some seriously prime real estate in the bathroom, and can even be hazardous to your health if you were to actually use them. (Can you believe mascara can start sprouting bacteria after just THREE months? That’s not pretty.)

#2 Purge Just One Room

Pick one room. Just one. And take your time there. Look through every closet and drawer and pull out anything you can live without to trash, recycle, or donate.

The goal isn’t to end up with as little stuff as possible, but to have fewer things — and a little more room in your storage spaces.

If you have the gumption to tackle another room when you’re done, awesome. If not, next week, next month, next year.

#3 Watch for Duplicates (and Get Rid of Them)

While you’re looking through drawers and closets (or just going about your day), keep an eye out for storage-clogging multiples. Because unless you’re a competitive potato salad maker, seven peelers is about five peelers too many.

#4 Host a “Ditch ‘n’ Wine Night”

Trying to purge, but have a pile items you just can’t decide if you can let go? Invite a friend over for a little wine and decision-making support on what should stay and what must go.

“It is much easier to organize for other people, and having someone with you can help you make realistic decisions instead of emotional ones,” says Alyssa Trosclair, a professional organizer with Centsibly Organized.

Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT

PAPRIKA-LEMON CHICKEN MARINADE

Quickly choose your favorite cut of chicken, 4 portions please, because a zesty paprika-lemon marinade is on the way and you will want to make it it in the morning, before work, so that cooking dinner is a blissful event, rather than a chore. We’ll call this kid-approved as well, so long as there are enough drumsticks to go around, but let us also mention that thighs are exquisite when bathed in this flavorful marinade, as well as skinless chicken breasts – you really cannot go wrong. You could also squeeze a bit of leftover lime in there, should one be lingering around after last night’s dinner of spicy cilantro-lime tuna… Use what you have on hand, just don’t skimp on the zestiness of it all.

When making a marinade, the length of marinating time really does matter. For poultry, 2 hours is the minimum amount of time for soaking, 4 hours is about average and 8 is certainly plenty. If the marinade is too acidic, it may toughen the meat, so learn from another tasty marinated chicken recipe and trust your cooking intuition. It is also good to know that the choice of baking, grilling or frying is up to you, so if you are stuck in a chicken rut, you can change your cooking methods and spices to keep meals captivating.

Ingredients

  • Chicken of your choice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. In a bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice, onion, herbs and spices; season to taste.
  2. Whisk until well mixed and pour over the chicken.
  3. Marinate in the refrigerator 2 to 8 hours, turning every few hours.
  4. Cook chicken to your preference or preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  5. Grill the chicken 5 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the cut, or until cooked through.
  6. Let the chicken rest 4 to 5 minutes before serving.

Current on your mortgage? Little or no equity in your home?

You could be eligible to save up to $2,400 a year with HARP.

What is the HARP Program?

Introduced in March 2009, HARP enables borrowers with little or no equity to refinance into more affordable mortgages without new or additional mortgage insurance. HARP targets borrowers with loan-to-value (LTV) ratios equal to or greater than 80 percent and who have limited delinquencies over the 12 months prior to refinancing.

Through HARP, you can get a lower interest rate (which means less out-of-pocket costs each month), get a shorter loan term, or change from an adjustable to fixed-rate mortgage. There’s no minimum credit score needed, either.

Interested in saving money?

Read up on HARP, then talk to your lender. HARP—the Home Affordable Refinance Program—was created by the Federal Housing Finance Agency specifically to help homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments, but have little to no equity in their homes, refinance their mortgage – that is, they owe as much or more than their homes are currently worth – are eligible for a HARP refinance.

If you got your mortgage loan at a bank, credit union or mortgage company, it may be owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If so, you could qualify for HARP refinancing and you could save thousands with a lower rate or other more favorable terms. No minimum credit score is required and closing costs can be bundled into the new loan so you don’t need much cash up front.

Check to see https://www.harp.gov

Use the government web site to find out. If you are not eligible, call us or e-mail us. Use the “contact us” form. We have helped home owners just like you and we have alternatives to help you! We listen first, seek to understand your situation, educate you with options before we transact business.

Paralyzed by Home Decor Decisions? You’re Not Alone

Confession: Nine years ago, when I moved into our house, I had so many plans for the place. For inspiration, I pored over home decor magazines and pinned paint colors and wallpapers on Pinterest. My mind was racing with the possibilities.

Can you guess what happened? Nine (yes, nine) years later, very little has changed in our home decor since the day we moved in. We finally painted the living room last year, and after many months of internal debate, I purchased some new throw pillows for my couch. But that’s it. The curtain rods hang bare above my children’s bedroom windows; the rugs and wallpaper I’ve been obsessed with, well, I just can’t seem to do it.

Why do home decor decisions paralyze me so?

It’s not a matter of budget, because I actually set aside some money for this purpose; I even hired a designer once for some consulting. It’s just that I never can make the leap to commit. And that’s the thing: It feels like so much of a commitment, a statement that will be etched in our memories forever—which you’d think would be a reason to get moving, but alas, not for me.

I know I’m not alone. Many people are paralyzed by decorating phobia, and it can happen for all sorts of reasons. To get to the bottom of this malaise, I spoke to interior decorators and designers for their insights on all the reasons people get a mental block on home decor, and how to get over these peculiar hang-ups so you can (finally) achieve the home you’ve always dreamed of having.

Fear No. 1: ‘My partner and I can’t agree on a decorating style’

To get over it: No matter how disparate your decorating styles are, there’s always a middle ground. Plus, with design trends today being more transitional than at any other time, it’s fairly easy to mix styles and live happily ever after, points out Lauren Clement of Lauren Nicole Designs in Charlotte, NC. If you two are truly butting heads, bringing in a third-party opinion can often help, whether that’s a friend or a professional interior decorator.

Fear No. 2: ‘Decorating will cost a lot of money’

To get over it: Decorating can cost a lot, but it sure doesn’t have to. Just make a budget and stick to it—then go find second-hand furniture or budget-friendly items that won’t drain your bank account.

And if hiring a designer is too pricey, you can hire a “virtual designer,” a professional who will make suggestions by viewing photos of your home rather than paying an in-person visit.

One caveat: Home furnishings can vary wildly in price, but one thing you should hold firm to is that you truly love what you get. There’s a saying that rings true: “Buy right or buy twice.” If you have to wait a while to save for what you really want, then wait. Don’t buy an inexpensive piece of furniture just because it’s cheaper—you’ll most likely be buying that piece again in a year or two.

Fear No. 3: ‘I can’t visualize how to put things together’

To get over it: If this is your fear, then your timing is good. These days there are a wealth of websites and magazines that show every style and trend available. Fill a file with inspiration photos, and you’ll soon learn your style and what designs make you happy. Share these with a design professional, or use them as a guide to replicate in your own space. You can also turn to a host of free sites and software such as RoomSketcher to see how your newly decorated home will look with your picks.

Fear No. 4: ‘I keep making buying mistakes, so I’m afraid to get anything’

To get over it: Buying mistakes usually happen for one big reason: You don’t have a design plan. Whether you are decorating an entire house or one room at a time, you can’t start without a master plan for how you want your home to look and function. For example, you see a beautiful sofa, you get all excited and buy it. However, when it’s delivered, it’s too big for the space and the color really doesn’t work, now you’re trying to decorate around it. A plan can prevent these mistakes.

Fear No. 5: ‘I worry I won’t like how my home looks in the end’

To get over it: Tell yourself there’s no real “end goal,” and your home will never truly be “finished” no matter how well you execute on the plan. Knowing that can ease some of the pressure.

“Designing a home is a lot like life—it is an ever-evolving process,” says Heather Higgins of Higgins Design Studio in New York. “Incorporating change, understanding its effects, and updating your desired outcome is important. You just need to have a destination in mind and a plan on how to get there.”

Sounds doable, right? Maybe my kids might get curtains before they move out after all.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

6 Essential Steps for Selling a Home With Pets

We love our pets, whether they be dogs, cats, hamsters, capybaras, hedgehogs, or pygmy goats—but that doesn’t mean that potential buyers want to see said pets (or any evidence of them) when looking at a home they’re thinking of buying.

“Pets are either an attractive distraction, so cute they distract prospective buyers from looking at the real estate, or completely the opposite—smelly, frightening, or otherwise off-putting,” says Diane Saatchi, an East Hampton, NY, real estate broker with Saunders & Associates.

Don’t want your precious property to be known as “that dog house”? Well, you need to pet-proof your place when preparing and showing it for sale. Here’s how, in six simple steps.

1. Check your insurance

Although you know your pets would never hurt anyone, they could scratch or bite a potential buyer whom they mistake for an intruder on their territory. You could be held liable for any harm your pet causes, so make sure your homeowners insurance covers you for incidents like these.

However, some insurers will not cover anyone who owns what they deem vicious or aggressive breeds, such as pit bulls; and if they do provide coverage, it could be expensive. If you have such a dog (and even if you don’t), it’s best to keep him out of the house during a showing.

2. Prepare your yard

Buyers will walk around your yard, a stroll that will be ruined if they step in poop or turn an ankle where your dog likes to dig.

Perform a poop patrol before each showing. Double-bag the waste before disposing, so your garbage cans don’t smell when buyers walk by. Fill all holes and sprinkle grass seed on top.

Before putting your house on the market, make sure your yard is a green oasis—not a brown-and-yellow dustbowl created when pets pee on grass. You can try to aerate and seed bare spots. But if that doesn’t work fast enough, you can replace ugly patches with new sod. Then, train Travis the Titan Terrier to use an out-of-the-way spot for his business. Or take him for very long walks.

3. Remove the odors

Removing the odors pets leave behind is one of the biggest challenges. It’s easy to clean and tuck away kitty’s litter box. But it’s way harder to erase years of piddle from rugs and hardwood.

If a bacteria-eating pet odor remover doesn’t banish all traces of cat or dog urine, you might have to hire a professional service to clean carpets or rugs. (Perhaps you should consider this whether you are selling your home or not.) Often, however, the odor returns, so if a carpet continues to reek, replace it before buyers trek through.

Clean turtle, hamster, and guinea pig cages frequently, to prevent odors. And make fish tanks sparkle; a daily swipe with an eraser sponge will do the trick.

4. Clean up the hair

Not only does a layer of pet hair on floors and sofas make your home look messy, it can trigger allergies and send potential buyers sneezing and wheezing out the door.

Before each showing, vacuum and dust to remove any settled hair or dander. Or, consider buying a vacuuming robot (such as a Roomba) that you can schedule to suck up hair several times a day. They actually work.

If your pet sheds, brush him frequently outside, so the hair doesn’t fly around the house. Bathing can help minimize shedding, too.

5. Hide the evidence

Like kids, pets (or rather, their caretakers) tend to accumulate lots of stuff—leashes, collars, toys, water bowls, food, cute sweaters, and costumes for Christmas and Halloween. But no matter how adorable you may think it all is, to buyers, it’s just clutter.

Make sure you stow pet paraphernalia in a cupboard or closet. Put dry food bins in a laundry or mud room. Wash pet beds to remove odors and dirt, and only display them if they’re attractive.

6. Say goodbye to your pets (just for a while!)

If you decide to leave your dogs or cats at home, either crate them or confine them to a special area of the house, and make sure your real estate agent knows where they are. Keep them busy with interactive toys or long-lasting treats, says Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, based in Livonia, MI.

“Even purchasing a new exciting toy or treat just prior to company coming may keep them more preoccupied,” he says.

But it’s best for everyone if you can find a playdate for your pet before a showing, or to send him to Grandma’s for an extended stay. But remember that pets have emotions, too—especially when it comes to change in their routines.

When you stow their toys, move their water bowl, or put them in a crate when strangers inspect their home, some pets will feel confused and anxious. So before making any major changes in the life of a dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian, who can help you ease your pet’s transition to a temporary new home.

Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

5 ‘Gotta-Dos’ In April for a Worry-Free Summer

Battle bugs before they bite (or sting!) you — and check the attic for problems.

Tackling five simple tasks now gives you a head start on spring.

That leaves you plenty of worry-free time to enjoy the warmer weather.

#1 Tell Insects to Bug Off

Early spring warmth awakens insects, so start to protect your home now. Seal openings in eaves, decks, and other structures to keep out carpenter bees.

Nix mosquitoes by eliminating standing water or treating it with larvicide. Call a pro to destroy wasp and yellow jacket nests, unless you’re experienced enough to engage in a bee battle.

#2 Prep Tools for Lawn Care

Ladies and gentlemen, start your mowers. April’s the month to get this vital piece of equipment ready to roll. An unmaintained machine can cost money, slow you down, and leave your lawn vulnerable to disease. So, before you pull the starter rope:

  • Replace spark plugs and the air filter.
  • Change the oil and sharpen blades.
  • Fill the tank with fresh gasoline.

While you’ve got your gloves on, clean, sharpen, and repair your garden tools. When your azaleas are ready to prune, you’re not going to want to keep them waiting.

#3 Tune Up the Air Conditioner

With flip-flop weather comes another summer tradition: cranking up the air conditioning. Tune your AC in April, before the mercury and service rates rise.

Ask your HVAC company if they have a twice-a-year maintenance plan. Often, you can get discounted rates if you join, and you don’t have to worry about finding someone to do it each spring and fall.

Now you only have to worry about which pair of Havaianas to wear.

#4 Check the Attic (and Garage)

How long has it been since you looked in the attic? Yeah, us too.

April’s the time to inspect this oft-ignored space — before it gets too hot. Look for signs of animal activity (raccoons love attics), and repair or replace damaged insulation or wiring.

Ensure stored items are still secure; tighten container lids and dust covers and replace moth repellants.

While we’re talking storage, how’s the garage? If soccer balls, bikes, and luggage have taken prime parking space, regain control with a storage system. Your car (and your partner) will thank you.

#5 Clean Up Bird Feeders

Besides spreading diseases to birds, dirty bird feeders attract rodents and hurt curb appeal. Gross.

Give your bird feeders a deep clean — not just a rinse-out.

Empty them, take them apart, and wash with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Rinse well to remove all traces of bleach, air dry, and refill with seed.

Clean under feeders, too, because moldy or spoiled seed on the ground can make pets sick. Don’t forget the bird bath.

A pretty yard that’s a healthy haven for birds makes a good impression — one that says “this is a well-cared-for home.”

Article by KELLEY WALTERS

Shredded Chicken Tacos – Paleo

Diet: Dairy Free, Grain/Gluten Free, Nut Free, Paleo, Refined Sugar Free, SCD Legal, Whole30
Servings: 20 tacos

Ingredients

Shredded Chicken

  • 4 large chicken breasts
  • 1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 ancho chili soaked in hot water for 10 minutes (or 2 tbsp chipotle in adobo)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 cup dates
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock

Pico de Gallo (Or you can use either the Green Tomato Salsa or Oven Roasted Salsa)

  • 1 small red onion finely diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes diced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro roughly chopped
  • juice from 1/2 a lime

Chipotle Sauce

  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp chipotle in adobo sauce or alternatively 1 dried ancho chili soaked for 10 minutes in hot water

Tacos

  • 1 celery root
  • 1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 jalapeño thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro

Instructions

For the Shredded Chicken

  1. Place the chicken along with the canned tomatoes, garlic, chili, oregano, cumin, coriander, dates, lime juice and chicken stock in a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on low heat until the chicken is tender.
  2. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and shred it using two forks.
  3. Pour the sauce from the slow cooker into a blender or alternatively use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until its completely smooth. Pour the sauce over the shredded chicken and stir until it is all evenly coated.

For the Salsa

  1. To make the salsa combine the red onion, tomatoes and cilantro in a bowl along with the lime juice and stir.

For the Chipotle Sauce

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Taste and adjust to your liking by adding more water to make thinner in consistency, acidic with more lime juice or spicier with more chili.

For the Tortillas

  1. Cut the two ends off of the celery root and then cut off the outer peel. Using a sharp knife cut the celery root into slices that are as thin as possible.
  2. You can either use a grill or the oven to cook the tortillas. If using a grill, turn to medium heat and cook the tortillas for approximately 1 to 2 minutes per side until grill marks form and the tortillas are tender and pliable. Alternatively bake the tortillas evenly spaced out on a baking sheet in the oven at 190C (375F) for approximately 10 until golden in colour and tender. Be sure not to overcook the tortillas as they will become too crisp.

To Assemble to Tacos

  1. Fill the tacos with the shredded chicken, shredded lettuce, salsa, avocado and chipotle sauce, top with sliced jalapeños and cilantro and enjoy!

8 Simple Rules for Negotiating Your Offer and Getting That House

You and your agent are going to use everything you’ve learned to seal the deal.

Here’s the dream: Your offer is perfect, you don’t need to negotiate, and you can spend the next few weeks addressing more pressing home-ownership questions, like “Why is it called wainscoting?” and “Do I want a new couch in blush or emerald green?”

And it could happen. Many sellers accept the best offer they receive, and for a variety of reasons.

But sellers are also known to reject offers for a variety of reasons. Or make counteroffers. This is especially likely if you bid low, or when you’re up against multiple competing offers.

If you do receive a counteroffer, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to accept the new contract, negotiate the terms, or walk away.

In cases such as these, look to your agent. He or she is your spirit guide. If you decide you want to negotiate — that is, make a counteroffer to the seller’s counteroffer — your agent will use their negotiating skills to help get you the best deal. This is what agents do every day.

But you’re not just going to sit there. If you understand what negotiating tactics your agent may deploy — they depend on the local market and your position — you can back them up. And cheer them on.

Here are eight rules every buyer should know before they — and their agent — start negotiating:

#1 Act Fast — Like, Now

When you receive a counteroffer, you should respond quickly — ideally within 24 hours. The longer you wait, the more space you leave for another buyer to swoop in and nab the property. Also? If a seller senses hesitation, they may decide to withdraw their counteroffer before you even have a chance to respond.

#2 Raise Your Price (Within Reason)

While you obviously don’t want to overpay for a house, you may have to up the ante — especially if you initially made a lowball offer. Lean on your agent’s expertise to determine how much money you should add to the sales price to make it more enticing to the seller.

Then, through their powers of persuasion, your agent can make the counteroffer look even more attractive by pointing out similarly priced “comps” — recently sold homes in your area that are comparable in terms of square footage and features.

As your agent negotiates, it can feel like things are escalating quickly. It’s stressful. You may feel a sudden urge to do whatever it takes to win.

Before you go overboard, there are two things you must keep in mind:

  1. You can’t exceed the monetary confines of the pre-approved mortgage you received from your lender.
  2. You shouldn’t overextend your budget.

Because your counteroffer has to be an amount you’re comfortable spending on a home. You want that new house and to keep living your life. Plus: You’re not out of options yet.

#3 Increase Your Earnest Money Deposit

Increasing your earnest money deposit (EMD) — the sum of money you put down to prove to the seller you’re serious (i.e., “earnest”) about buying the house — is another way to show the seller you have more skin in the game. A standard EMD is typically 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home. Making a counteroffer with a 3% to 4% deposit could be what you need to persuade the seller to side with you.

#4 Demonstrate Patience About Taking Possession

Depending on the seller’s timetable, changing your proposed possession date — the date you take over the property — could butter them up, too. If the seller wants to stay in the home for a few days after closing, try offering a later possession date. You could also draw up a “rent-back” agreement, meaning the seller pays you rent for staying in the home for a set period of time after the closing date.

#5 Let Go of a Few Contingencies — With Care

Want to give your counteroffer an even bigger boost?

Reduce the number of contingencies you’re asking for. It’s your way of saying, “Hey, look, I have fewer ways to back out,” which gives the seller more reassurance that the deal will close.

But be selective: Some contingencies are too important to give up. A home-inspection contingency — the right to have a home inspection and request repairs — gives you an out if you spot major problems with the home (and protects you from buying a total money pit).

You might waive a termite inspection if you’re in a state where the risk is lower.

But ultimately, waiving contingencies depends on your market, your loan program requirements, your risk tolerance, and the circumstances of the house in question. And if you waive contingencies and then you find a problem, the seller isn’t responsible for fixing it.

#6 Ask for Fewer Concessions

At a mortgage settlement, home buyers have to pay closing costs for taxes, lender’s fees, and title company fees. Closing costs vary by location, but you can expect to shell out between 3% and 4% of the home’s sales price. The seller pays an additional 1% to 3%. (Smart Asset and Nerdwallet have simple calculators you can use to get a rough idea of what your closing costs might be.)

When making an initial offer, you have the option to ask the seller for concessions — a settlement paid in cash to help you offset your share of the closing costs. (This move is less feasible if you’re going up against multiple offers.)

Concessions effectively lower the seller’s net proceeds from the sale. Making a counteroffer that removes the concessions you would have otherwise received at settlement puts cash back in the seller’s pocket — and can improve your bid.

#7 Pick Up the Cost of the Home Warranty

Sometimes sellers offer prospective buyers a home warranty. This is a plan that covers the cost of repairing major home appliances and systems, like the air conditioner or hot water heater, if they break down within a certain period (typically a year after closing).

A basic home warranty costs about $300 to $600 a year, according to Angie’s List. If it seems like waiving the home warranty can sweeten negotiations, but you still want the peace of mind of having one, tell the seller they don’t need to cover it — then buy it yourself.

Just keep in mind, whether you or the seller buy the warranty, you’ll need to pay the service fee (typically between $50 and $100) if something does, indeed, need to be repaired while under warranty.

Also, FYI: A home warranty is entirely separate from homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance — the security blanket that covers your home’s structure and possessions in the event of a fire, storm, flood, or other accident — is required if you take out a mortgage. It can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per year.

#8 Know When to Walk

When negotiating with a seller, trust your gut — and your agent. If he or she says a deal is bad for you: Listen.

And if you don’t want to make any more trade-offs — and the seller won’t budge — it’s smart to walk. That can be a tough decision to make, and rightfully so! Negotiating is tough. It’s draining.

And losing something you’ve worked hard to get can be disappointing. But don’t worry. There’s a better deal for you out there. And after those strong feelings of frustration pass, you’ll realize: Now I know how to do this.

 

COMPANION ANIMAL HEALTH

Keeping your pet healthy

Dogs, cats and horses have been our trusted companions throughout history and keeping them healthy is a top concern among their caregivers everywhere.

There are several factors influencing the growing demand for medicines, vaccines and related products and services for companion animals:

  • Economic development and related increases in disposable income
  • Increasing rates of pet ownership
  • Longer life expectancy for companion animals
  • Increased types of medical treatment now consumed for companion animals
  • Advances in animal health medicines and vaccines

Industry sources indicate that pet ownership and spending per pet are increasing globally, especially in emerging markets. As dogs and cats increasingly become members of the family, people in both developed and emerging markets are consuming a broader range of products and services to help their pets live longer, healthier lives.

  1. Keep your pet at a healthy weight and provide opportunities for exercise
  2. Feed your pet a balanced, nutritious diet
  3. Make sure your veterinarian examines your pet at least oncea year
  4. Vaccinate your pet against potentially deadly diseases suchas distemper, parvo, panleukopenia and rabies
  5. Consult with your vet to keep your pet free of parasites (fleas,ticks, heartworm, etc.)
  6. Learn basic first-aid procedures for pets and what suppliesto keep on hand
  7. Keep human medications out of reach of your pet
  8. Avoid feeding your cat or dog avocados, chocolate, onions,grapes and raisins, fatty or fried foods, macadamia nuts or

    products containing the artificial sweetener xylitol

  9. Spend quality time with your pet – it’s healthier for both of you
  10. Talk to your veterinarian about spaying or neutering your pet

Stylish Ways to Turn Doors Into Show-Stoppers

Wallpaper works on doors, too, you know.

Think about it. When’s the last time you actually noticed your bedroom or bathroom door?

That’s why they’re perfect for a little customizing and personalizing — so you will notice them. Plus, they’re a great way to enter the world of home improvement. Their small, flat square footage is a breeze to work with. (And you can pull the door down for easier DIYing.)

And if you goof it up (not saying you will), you really haven’t hurt your home’s value because a door is easy to replace.

Here are seven ideas to consider:

#1 Fancy Trim

 

Plain, hollow doors can be a yawn. But a little well-placed trim, along with a coat of white paint, gussies up a dull door.

So simple, so sophisticated, and such a home-value boost. Don’t forget to spruce up the hardware, too.

#2 Faux Stained Glass

Glass doors are great. Stained glass doors are OMG-so-great. And pricey. And a long-term color commitment.

But you can get the stained glass look without tapping into your firstborn’s college fund with stick-on colored film. While it takes some time, patience, and attention to detail (and directions!) to pull off a quality job, it’s still a breeze compared to the real deal.

Plus, you can remove it or swap out colors on a whim.

#3 Wallpaper

Don’t let the “wall” in wallpaper

limit your imagination. We especially like this solution for rooms that are a few notches down on the renovation list, but could use a little pick-up pronto.

The easiest way is with no messy glue. The wallpaper on the door below is temporary. Easy to change if you change your mind.

As actual wallpaper, though, this bold pattern could overwhelm the small hallway (and killing your home’s first impression). Limited to the door, it adds just the right amount of character to the space. Just cut and stick.

#4 Bee-Like Chevron Stripes for a Kids’ Closet Door

Kids’ rooms often teem with color, so why shouldn’t their doors? These lively stripes were pulled off with the careful placement of inexpensive painter’s tape.

To replicate, make sure the tape is sealed and flat so no paint will seep beneath while you work, and remove the tape when the paint’s still a bit wet for crisp lines.

#5 Bold Color (on Just One Side)

This homeowner decided to go for the gold, and it paid off. Light neutrals can help a room feel larger, making them a smart move for small spaces like bathrooms.

A painted door can be a just-right infusion of color that adds interest and balance — without undoing the size-boosting effect of the light color scheme. (And you don’t have to paint both sides.)

#6 Bifold Doors

Bifold doors aren’t known for their beauty. Their role is more about allowing you to access closets that are super close to the bed.

But you can give those ho-hum clothes hiders a custom look with lattice strips and some paint.

If you measure carefully, you could probably knock this out in an afternoon.

If your bifold closet doors are cramping your sophisticated style, don’t yank ‘em out — teach them French. Just make sure the room is big enough to accommodate a wider swing.

All it takes is a steel bracket atop the hinged portions to turn bifolds into elegant French doors.

Add some trim, fresh paint, and new hardware, and no one need ever know of their humble origins.

#7 Tape and Decals

No tools needed.

Washi tape is the perfect way to turn the inside edge of your door into a moment of joy. The paper-based tape can be moved, removed, and reused several times before the sticky fails — and it comes in so many colors and designs.

It’s a fast, cheap, fun way to let your door be the one to make an entrance.

Or buy pre-made vinyl cutouts. They come in just about every shape and theme that exists.

For maximum satisfaction, test the stickers on a small area before committing to the full look. Some decals don’t stick as well to certain surfaces, like glossy or premium paint.

Article by ANNE MILLER

PALEO BUFFALO CHICKEN CASSEROLE

Ingredients

  • 4 cups riced cauliflower one medium head
  • 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups diced celery
  • 1/2 sweet onion diced
  • 1 lb shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 cup homemade mayo
  • 1 cup Franks Red Hot Original sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Combine riced cauliflower, carrots, celery, onion, salt, and pepper and chicken in a casserole dish and mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the mayo and hot sauce and mix well.
  4. Pour the sauce over the casserole, and stir to combine, coating everything well. (Get in there with your hands if you’re not scared!)
  5. Bake covered for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more.
  6. Serve topped with homemade ranch, diced avocado, and if you feel like getting crazy, a bit of bacon. Oh yeah.
Nutrition Facts
Paleo Buffalo Chicken Casserole
Amount Per Serving
Calories 167Calories from Fat 54
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g9%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Cholesterol 66mg22%
Sodium 1566mg65%
Potassium 557mg16%
Total Carbohydrates 8g3%
Dietary Fiber 2g8%
Sugars 4g
Protein 17g34%
Vitamin A82.8%
Vitamin C51.6%
Calcium4.8%
Iron4.9%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Want to Lower Your Property Taxes? 7 Steps to Appeal—and Win

If you’re a homeowner, you probably already know that recent tax legislation means you can now deduct only up to $10,000 worth of property taxes from your federal tax bill. And if you live in a high-tax state—New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas, we’re looking at you—that probably feels like a drop in the bucket.

So it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little extra burn as you pull out your checkbook this tax season. But what can you do besides complain? (Or move?)

Sadly, there’s no “get out of paying property tax” loophole—it’s an ongoing burden that homeowners everywhere must take on. But there is a chance you can shrink the amount of taxes you owe on your home. Here’s how.

1. Know how this game works

Maybe “game” is the wrong word. There’s absolutely nothing fun about it! But the property tax system is somewhat labyrinthine and you do need to know the rules. And the most important one is that the amount you pay in taxes depends on the value of your property.

“A property owner’s chances of successfully appealing his or her property taxes depends upon whether the tax assessment is fair and accurate,” says Anthony F. DellaPelle, a property tax attorney in Morristown, NJ.

In other words, the assessment of your home should reflect its fair market value. If those two figures don’t line up, you should be able to reduce the assessment—and pay less.

If you’re lucky, your tax assessor will agree to a reduction without requiring you to file a tax appeal, DellaPelle says.

But there’s still a lot you’ll need to do to back up your claim.

2. Scrutinize your info

Before you can contest your property tax assessment, you have to know what it is, right? Some communities may allow you to access this information online. Otherwise, you’ll have to get it from your tax assessor’s office.

Once you have the information in hand, verify the following:

  • Square footage: Does it overstate your livable space? Look at the room counts,” advises Chris Dowler, owner of Dowler Construction in Madison, CT. “Is there an extra bathroom which doesnt exist? Do they show a finished basement area which truly isnt finished? If so, you may have a reason to appeal.
  • Zoning: Is your home properly zoned? If you have a conservation, drainage, or utility easement that minimizes the buildable area of your property, has that been noted?
  • Amenities: Fencing, sheds, in-ground pool, etc. If any of these have been removed, you have a reasonable claim for adjustment, Dowler says.

3. Find out what your neighbors pay

How much is their property tax? It really is your business.

To win an appeal, you want proof that your neighbors who live in a house comparable to yours pay less in taxes than you do. Search here for homes in your neighborhood that have recently sold, or contact a real estate agent and ask for comps to be pulled. The real estate agent may be kind enough to do it without the promise of a sale. You can also be nosy and just ask your neighbors.

But a word of caution: “Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples as reasonably as possible,” Dowler says.

A tax assessor will be skeptical if you argue that your brand-new, six-bedroom house should be taxed the same amount as a 100-year-old, four-bedroom home down the street. And be aware that any improvements you’ve made to your home (or plan to make) could send your tax bill right back up.

4. Consider hiring an appraiser

Not sure where to start to uncover all this info? Think about hiring a licensed real estate appraiser or property tax appeal service. These pros can put together an official report that includes an expert opinion of your property value.

Just keep this in mind: If your appeal proceeds to court, your appraiser will likely be required to testify, DellaPelle says. And the appraisal report may not be considered legit unless the appraiser’s available to testify, so choose someone local that you trust.

5. Understand how and when to appeal

Let’s say that you do find something incorrect on your assessment—maybe your home’s listed as 40,000 square feet instead of 4,000. You can’t just email your tax assessor’s office and demand it be corrected.

“While each state has different tax appeal procedures, appeals usually have an annual deadline that is strictly enforced,” DellaPelle says. Miss that deadline, and you’ll have to wait until the following year to appeal. (And keep paying your tax bill until then.)

You’ll also need to know to whom to appeal. Your tax board could be local, county, or regional. Some states even have a special tax court, DellaPelle says.

6. Consider hiring a lawyer, too

Just because you like DIY projects doesn’t mean you’re qualified to tackle this one.

“Property tax appeals have special rules and procedures that vary from state to state,” cautions DellaPelle. “The consequences of failing to adhere to them can be severe.”

Plus, since there are several ways your appeal can get thrown out (and lots of heady math involved), a tax attorney can help you figure out whether you have a case—and help you win it.

7. Get creative

Depending on where you live, certain laws can raise or lower your taxes.

For instance, in parts of Maine tapping into solar power could raise your taxes. Some states such as Illinois offer property tax exemptions and deferrals to seniors and people with disabilities. Other states are even considering creating loopholes to ease the pain of the new tax legislation.

But even if there isn’t a law that can help you, chances are good you can find other people also questioning their property taxes.

How’s this for inspiration? When 70,000 parcels in Georgia’s Muscogee County were reassessed last summer, some property taxes jumped as much as 1,000%. A local homeowners association quickly mobilized—filed a petition, asked the state to intervene, and even threatened a class-action lawsuit. A week later, residents were given the option to pay their taxes at the 2016 rate or at 85% of the new rate if things weren’t resolved by the end of the year.

If you’re displeased by your tax bill, there’s a good chance your neighbors are, too. Start by talking with them, and see how low you can go.

Article by Stephanie Booth

The One Room That’ll Make Buyers Bail, Even If They Love the House

That first home visit is a lot like a first date. House hunting can be going great, right up until you spot your personal deal killer—like a pack of cigarettes in her purse, or white socks with sandals. Check, please!

Same thing happens when shopping for a house: The tour could be going swimmingly until you turn a corner and bam, you see that room that brings the possibility of living there to a grinding halt.

So what is this ominous, deal-killing room? It turns out there are more than one. Peruse the list below for the common offenders—not just my own, but ones that real estate agents have noted make buyers cringe en masse. Hey, it’s better to know than not so you can make some changes, right?

The empty room

“Empty rooms can kill a home sale, especially if the other rooms are furnished,” says real estate analyst Allison Bethell of New York–based FitSmallBusiness.com.

A room devoid of furniture leaves the buyer wondering what the space can be used for. And any of the room’s imperfections will also stand out. If you have an empty room, stage it as an office, extra sitting area, or guest bedroom.

The dark room

One of the biggest turnoffs for a buyer? “A dark room,” says Desare Kohn-Laski, broker and owner of Skye Louis Realty in Coconut Creek, FL.

The reason is simple: No one wants to walk into a home and feel like they’re trapped in a dungeon. Even if the rest of the house is flooded with light, one dark room can make a whole house seem dark.

For starters, open all the curtains and blinds before showing a home. If the room doesn’t have much light, paint the walls a light color and add a mirror to make it appear larger. Updating the lighting also goes a long way in adding to the brightness of a room.

“Finally, put a plant in the room, because plants need light and buyers often realize this, even subconsciously,” says Bethell.

The icky bathroom

A big offender in this category: carpeted bathrooms.

“Just gross,” says Janine Acquafredda, associate broker at House-N-Key Realty in New York.

Not only will many home buyers refuse to enter a carpeted bathroom, but “after seeing one, they lose focus on the rest of the house,” says Acquafredda. Note to sellers—replace bathroom carpeting with tile!

Another major turnoff? A tub that’s seen one too many baths.

“No matter if the home is large or small, expensive or affordable, every woman walks straight into the bathroom and looks at the bathtub,” says Kristina McCann of San Fransisco’s Alain Pinel Realtors. She advises clients across all price points to refinish a tub if necessary. “Or else someone could think they need to do a complete bathroom remodel.”

The cluttered playroom

Think the kids’ playroom gets a pass? Hardly.

“If a playroom looks like a cluttered mess, buyers get the impression that the current residents aren’t clean,” says Kohn-Laski. Home sellers should make it look immaculate. That includes erasing crayon and marker drawings as well as fingerprints on doors, windows, and walls.

The run-down kitchen

The state of your kitchen—the epicenter of most homes—can be a big-time deal breaker.

“Buyers will think twice if it’s too small, has outdated features and appliances, or looks run-down,” says Sarah Pickens with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Blaine, MN.

The problem starts when buyers start calculating how much a remodel is going to cost, she says. A quick fix with a lot of visual bang—that won’t break the bank—is to swap outdated appliances with newer ones found on priced-to-move sites such as Craigslist.

The stuffy formal living room

Rooms that serve no purpose or do not fit the needs of the homeowners definitely can hurt house sales, says Elizabeth Dodson, co-founder of HomeZada.com. For example, the formal living room of yore was once valued in a home; however, this room serves little purpose today and is more a room to look at than use.

“Instead, transform a living room into a home office, game room, or movie room,” says Dodson.

The creepy basement

Spine-chilling cellars can definitely turn buyers away from a property, says Pickens. She was recently touring a house with one of her buyers and came across an empty all-cement room with zero windows.

“The buyer was so creeped out that we left the property,” says Pickens. “And he said he would never purchase the house because of that one room.”

Decreep your basement by finding a use for potentially scary windowless rooms (e.g., filling what was likely a canning room with charming Mason jars).

The cluttered closet

I know, a closet is not a room. But lack of storage space is a big deal killer.

Teri Connors, associate broker at Coldwell Banker M&D Good Life in Patchogue, NY, and author of “Sell Your House … Successfully” was touring a pricey home with her buyers when they opened the coat closet and an avalanche of clothes spilled into the hallway.

“The buyers had one thought: There’s not enough storage space in this home,” says Conners, who recommends removing at least two-thirds of the clothes in the closets to give the illusion that there’s plenty of space.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

12 Simple Home Repair Jobs to Lift You Out of Winter’s Funk

Like that annoying squeaky floor board. Easy as tossing a ball to fix!

Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter.

For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

#1 Sagging Towel Rack or Wobbly TP Holder

Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

#2 Silence Squeaky Door Hinges

Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

#3 Stop Creaky Floor Boards

They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

#4 Remove Rust on Shutoff Valves

Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most.

Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

#5 Repair Blistered Paint on Shower Ceilings

This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

#6 Fix Loose Handles and Hinges

You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

#7 Replace Batteries on Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors

If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.

#8 Test GFCI Outlets

You’re supposed to test ground-fault circuit interrupters them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!

#9 Clean Exhaust Filter for the Stove

By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.

#10 Clean Out Clothes Dryer Vent

Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.

#11 Drain Hoses

Inspect your clothes washer, dishwasher, and icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.

#12 Check Electrical Cords

Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

Article by JEANNE HUBER

How to Care for Your Washer and Dryer

Keep your clothes washer and dryer running efficiently and reliably with this simple maintenance routine.

Be good to your washer and dryer and those costly machines will be good to you.

Here’s how to keep your washer and dryer humming along safely and efficiently.

Before/After Every Load

1. Clean out dryer lint filter to maximize efficiency.

2. Dry the washer’s door and gaskets after using, and open the door on top-loaders to foster air circulation and prevent mold.

3. Always ensure that the washing machine is level and on firm footing.

4. Always use the proper type and amount of detergent for the machine and load. You can actually damage some models by using the premeasured pods. Check your manufacturer’s recommendations.

5. Remove damp clothes from washers immediately to prevent mold or mildew buildup.

Every Month

1. Inspect the dryer exhaust duct for crimps, obstructions, and unnecessary bends.

2. Inspect washing machine hoses for tight fittings, bulges, cracks, and leaks. Burst washing machine hoses could spill hundreds of gallons of water an hour, flooding your home. Tighten loose fittings. Replace hoses every five years; replace immediately if damaged.

3. Clean rubber gaskets and drums on washers and dryers with a solution of equal parts water and vinegar.

4. Check and clean drain pump filter on front-loading washers. Consult your owner’s manual for location.

Every Three Months

Wash dryer lint filter with detergent to remove invisible chemical residues that can restrict airflow.

Every Year

Remove and clean out the entire exhaust duct line from dryer to exterior. Clogged ducts cause thousands of house fires every year, with an average of about $10,000 worth of damages per fire.

More Tips

1. Replace vinyl dryer exhaust ducts with metal ductwork to reduce fire hazards.

2. Replace rubber washing machine hoses with braided-metal ones to reduce the risk of bursting.

3. To prevent rusting, fill nicks and scratches on the outside of machines with touch-up paint.

Article by DOUGLAS TRATTNER

SPINACH AND MOZZARELLA EGG BAKE

This low-carb and gluten-free Spinach and Mozzarella Egg Bake has spinach, mozzarella, and green onion and just enough egg to hold it together! This tasty breakfast idea is low-carb, Keto, gluten-free, low-glycemic, and South Beach Diet friendly.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 5 oz. organic fresh spinach (4 cups packed)
  • 1-2 tsp. olive oil (depending on your pan)
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella (I used a mozzarella blend from Costco; use regular or part-skim Mozzarella, your choice)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. Spike seasoning (or use any all purpose seasoning mix that’s good with eggs)
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Spray an 8 1/2 inch by 12 inch glass or crockery casserole dish with olive oil or nonstick spray.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add spinach all at once, and stir just until the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.  Transfer spinach to the casserole dish, spreading it around so all the bottom of the dish is covered.  Layer the grated cheese and sliced onions on top of the spinach.
  3. Beat the eggs with Spike Seasoning (or other seasoning mix) and salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  (I use only a tiny pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.)  Pour the egg mixture over the spinach/cheese combination, and then use a fork to gently “stir” so the eggs, spinach, and cheese are evenly combined.
  4. Bake about 35 minutes or until the mixture is completely set and starting to lightly brown.  Let cool about 5 minutes before cutting.  (The egg bake will settle down some as it cools.)  Serve hot.  This is good with sour cream.  I also like a little Green Tabasco Sauce sprinkled on the top.
  5. This can be cut into individual servings to keep in the fridge and microwaved for a quick breakfast during the week.  Don’t microwave longer than 1-2 minutes or the eggs can get slightly rubbery.
Recipe posted by KALYN DENNY

5 Common Reasons Why Property Taxes Go Up, No Matter Where You Live

Homeownership is one of life’s great highlights, but ask homeowners about paying property tax and they’ll tell you it’s one of their least favorite responsibilities. But as much of a downer as they are, property taxes are vital for funding schools, libraries, police departments, fire departments, and public works like roads and parks.

Savvy homeowners and prudent buyers are probably aware of the property tax rates in their area, but they may not understand the factors that can drive their property tax rates up. We’re here to help! (With the understanding part, that is.)

So when tax season rolls around, if you find yourself having to shell out more than you did last year, one of these five reasons might be to blame.

1. Home improvements

Renovating a bathroom or kitchen can revitalize a home and add to its worth, but it’s also the most common reason why your property taxes rise, says David Rae, a certified financial planner and president and founder of DRM Wealth Management in Los Angeles. Why? Improving your home makes it more valuable. That, in turn, increases your property taxes.

Converting a walk-up attic or basement into a livable space is also likely to trigger an automatic reassessment, says Rita Patriarca, a Realtor® with Re/Max Encore in Wilmington, MA.

Rae suggests that homeowners run the numbers first. Calculate how much the work will cost you, how much the renovation can add to your property’s value, and whether you can afford a higher tax bill. If you find that the cost of the work is likely to leave you with too little money to pay your higher taxes, Rae recommends holding off and saving more money before you do the work.

Although your tax bill will go up when you renovate, the good news is that you will directly benefit from the update in the form of a brand-new amenity in your home. That’s not the case in some of the scenarios that we describe below.

2. Revaluation

Communities and counties periodically reevaluate properties. During these revaluations, government officials or hired appraisers review all real property to figure out its current assessed value. Revaluations are needed to make sure that the tax burden is spread equitably and accurately among the area’s homeowners.

Lorrie Beaumont, appraiser and owner of LB Appraisal Associates in Westwood, MA, says revaluations are the second most common reason that property tax bills increase.

During the evaluation, an expert will take into account a home’s location, size, and type, and any changes since the last evaluation. The expert will also review home sales and valuations in the neighborhood, changes in the economy and housing market, and any changes in the area that may have improved or reduced a home’s value. Even if the assessor doesn’t enter your home, he or she will review permits to see whether you have undertaken any improvements. So, if you’ve renovated or expanded your kitchen, you can expect higher taxes.

A revaluation doesn’t automatically mean that your taxes will go up, though. For instance, let’s say there’s been a lot of building in your community lately. Having more taxpayers in your community may help offset a tax bill increase.

3. Nearby home sales

If your neighbors sell their homes for more than the asking price, your property taxes may rise. That’s the unfortunate fact, but it’s out of your hands.

Home sales affect what other houses in a neighborhood are worth. While that’s great for your property’s value when you decide to sell, it means a higher tax bill in the meantime.

Rae points out that, for you, this is the least advantageous way your tax bill can increase, because you’re not actually benefiting from living in a nicer home. Instead, you will be paying higher taxes because your neighbors made out like bandits!

4. New schools

Building a new school is great for students and teachers, and for the community overall. However, it will come with a hefty price tag that is likely to entail higher property taxes.

There are two reasons why property taxes can increase after the construction of new schools:

  • Communities and counties often increase taxes to help pay for school projects.
  • A new school will bring new families to town, which will make your community a more desirable location. The hotter market and the greater competition for homes are likely to lead to bidding wars and higher property values. And, of course, higher property values mean higher taxes.

5. Higher government budgets

One of the main reserves on which cities and counties draw to fund their budgets is the property tax. If government employees are owed a raise, or other budgetary needs increase, the residents’ taxes may need to be increased to help foot the bill.

But rest assured that a community can’t raise taxes at whim: There are limits that require voters’ approval. For instance, Proposition 13 in California and Proposition 2½ in Massachusetts limit how much property taxes can increase.

Still, that doesn’t mean your property taxes won’t go up each year. These limits just put a cap on the increases unless the community votes to raise taxes even higher that year.

Ways to protect yourself against property tax increases

So how can you, as a homeowner, push back and lower your rates (or, at the very least, make sure they don’t reach stratospheric heights)?

One way is to appeal your home’s property assessment, Rae says. Research home sales around you and look for similar homes that are selling for less. “Most municipalities have a process to contest your property tax bill,” says Rae. “I’ve contested the value of my home in the past, and the assessor shaved $150,000 off the taxable value of the home. Definitely worth the effort.”

You should also make sure your property records reflect the property’s amenities accurately, Beaumont notes. “I have seen many instances where records say you have more bedrooms or bathrooms than you actually have, or additional living area that doesn’t exist,” she says. If you do find mistakes, notify the assessor’s office and have the record corrected.

Article by Les Masterson