How to Hire a Trustworthy House Sitter (Who Won’t Destroy Your Home)

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing. But when you’re leaving behind everything you own and possibly a menagerie of furry friends, the stress can be considerable: Who will take care of everything while you’re gone?

Most dogs and cats can be boarded, but the costs can add up quickly—especially if you have multiple pets. And news flash: Your plants won’t water themselves. For many vacationers, a house sitter makes the most sense.

But finding a house sitter sometimes makes no sense. You must trust this individual to live in your home—possibly for weeks at a time. If you can’t find a friend or family member to volunteer, you’ll have to trust a stranger in your space—and that’s terrifying.

Use these tips to find—and keep—the perfect house sitter.

Go beyond the obvious choices

We’re sure you already know that when seeking out a trustworthy house sitter, you’ll want to consult your friends and family first. But if they’re unavailable, take it to the next level: Think about the people you regularly do business with, suggests Mark Cianciulli, a real estate agent in Los Angeles.

He turns to other people he’s “familiar with and have somewhat of a personal relationship with,” such as clients or people he’s a client of—think dog walkers, personal trainers, and hair stylists.

Browse house sitting sites (yes, they exist)

Silicon Valley hasn’t overlooked our great national need for house sitters. Websites such as Trusted Housesitters, Nomador, and House Carers can truly make the entire process easier, says Meg Marrs, a senior editor at dog product review website K9 of Mine.

To stanch the anxiety associated with handing over your keys to a stranger, these sites thoroughly verify sitters to ensure they won’t make off with your favorite heirloom necklace. For instance, Trusted Housesitters requires, at a minimum, a driver’s license and one personal reference. For a more-vetted sitter (and for more money), you can find someone who’s been through an identity and background check.

Do your homework

You shouldn’t rely on a website alone to verify your potential house sitter.

“Just because someone posts a profile on an app, or even on a nationally publicized site, doesn’t ensure he or she is a qualified pet sitter operating a legitimate business,” says Meghann Evans of PetSit International, an educational organization for professional pet sitters.

Here’s how to ensure you’re booking a reputable sitter:

  • Read through the sitter’s bio. “This will give you a better idea of their personality and whether or not they’d be a good fit for your needs,” Marrs says. And “any individual who can’t take the time to fully fill out their profile probably isn’t someone you want watching your home.”
  • Before confirming the booking, Evans recommends meeting with the potential sitter—ideally in your home. A video meeting can substitute for sitters who live farther away.
  • Pay attention to the questions the sitter asks, according to Kelly Hayes-Raitt, the author of “How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva.” “Are they asking about how to make your pets happy in your absence and about keeping your home’s routine? Or about things that interest them only?”
  • Take a peek at their social media profiles to get a feel for their personality and past job experience.

Describe the situation appropriately

You want to find someone who actually wants to tackle the job.

“Your goal is to disclose anything that might discourage the wrong house sitter from agreeing to care for your home and pets,” Hayes-Raitt suggests.

Outline your pets’ behaviors: Do they need special medicine? Do your cats and dogs fight like, well, cats and dogs? Explain what your home has to offer, too.

Remember: Many house sitters are full-time nomads, which means they require wireless internet and space to work. You might think your off-grid home is a respite from the world outside, but it might not be convenient for every sitter.

Give thorough expectations

Good house sitters can save the day, but they certainly aren’t mind readers. Make sure your expectations are clear and your instructions are thorough—otherwise you may come home to a dead vegetable garden, or worse.

“Assuming a house sitter will just know (what you expect from them while you’re gone) isn’t reasonable, and it’s up to you to explain every duty and responsibility before you leave,” says Brett Helling, who owns ride-sharing resource Ridester and travels for work regularly.

He recommends printing and laminating instructions to ensure that every ask is within easy reach.

“Knowing I’ve properly explained everything lets me travel with one less thing to worry about while I’m gone,” he says.

Consider cameras

Of course, you’ll want to make sure your sitter actually did a good job and didn’t snoop through your office drawers or destroy your house.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’ve seen someone exploring my house, going into rooms they have no reason being inside,” Helling says. “Also, if something really bad were to happen while you’re not there, video evidence is irrefutable—there’s no denying what happened.”

Surveillance cameras are tricky territory, though. First, you’ll need to make sure you’re not breaking any kind of wiretapping laws, which vary from state to state. Plus, you can’t record video in a place where someone would reasonably expect privacy, like the bedroom or bathroom.

But if you want audio-free video of your living room and home office, you can set up cameras without disclosing them to your sitter.

Should you? That’s up to you.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

4 Genius Yard Upgrades Even a Klutz Can Crush

No DIY skills necessary for these outdoor projects. Did we mention they’re really, really easy?

You don’t need to be the host of an extreme home makeover show to build an amazing backyard. In fact, the transformative projects below are easy enough for even the klutziest home improvement newbie to complete.

Just don’t be shocked when the Johnsons appear at your door with hot dog buns in hand, begging to throw a cookout at your place.

#1 No-Blow Outdoor Curtains

When Cara Daniel of “The Project Addict” blog spied a neighbor’s unruly outdoor curtains, she hacked some for her porch that could withstand a gusty Tornado Alley afternoon without upending a glass of lemonade or ensnaring an unsuspecting guest.

She found the sweet spot by slipping conduit pipes through the curtain tabs up top and a hem at the bottom, and securing the pipes with wires (taut, but not too tight).

Daniel did all the hard work of dreaming up the curtains, so a DIY newbie can definitely recreate the project, which uses easy-to-find materials like washers and camping stakes.

Upkeep has been equally simple thanks to her sturdy choice of fabric. “The marine fabric is better than outdoor fabric that I bought,” says Daniel. The easy-to-wash choice has kept the curtains looking picturesque after five years of use.

#2 Shutter Privacy Fence

No fence? No problem! Daune Pitman of the “Cottage in the Oaks” blog MacGyvered an attractive privacy feature from a friend’s pile of discarded shutters.

The $0 price wasn’t the only thing that made the material desirable for an outdoor nook’s privacy screen, though. “They were tall,” says Pitman, “could easily be attached to posts, had the vents — which allows air to flow through — and didn’t weigh too much.”

After nailing the shutters to four-by-fours cemented into the ground (an easy task with a store-bought bag of pre-mixed cement), the nook-facing side got a charming French-blue facelift and the back a coating of foliage-matching bark brown paint.

It’s a kind of self-explanatory project because all you need is:

  • Shutters
  • Posts
  • Cement
  • Hinges (plus screws) for the shutters
  • Paint

What could be easier?

#3 PVC Pipe Pergola

Suburbanite Monica Mangin of the site “East Coast Creative” jumped at the chance to rehab a client’s neglected urban patio.

The showstopper was a clever PVC pergola decked with industrial-style lights. She was inspired by traditional wood pergolas, but wanted an easier material.

“A lot of mason jar light fixtures were trending,” says Mangin.”I liked the look of that but wanted to turn it a little more industrial.”

PVC pipe — with rebar inside as an anchor — won out for its ease on the DIYer and wallet. Could it get any easier?

A simple coat of hammered metallic outdoor spray paint gave the pipe a pricier look, and industrial-strength zip ties kept the string of dimmable, Edison bulb-style lights in place.

Although the project doesn’t take much time or skill, Mangin recommends recruiting two friends to help. Have one hold each end of the pergola while the third secures the lights with zip ties. Overall, it’s a dinner party-friendly cinch that’s surpassed the one-year mark.

4. Solar Light Hose Guards

Topping the list of Sad Gardening Ironies is when the hose you’ve lugged out to help your landscaping stay lush mows over a bed of delicate flowers you just planted. Sigh.

Lynda Makara of the blog “Home of Happy Art” figured out a pretty and pragmatic solution using affordable solar lights.

The DIY part entailed trashing their original plastic stakes (they weren’t strong enough to hold a hose in place), hammering 24-inch pieces of rebar into the ground, and slipping a light over each piece.

Those sturdy posts could handle even the bulkiest hose, protecting Makara’s plantings during waterings then casting a lovely spotlight on them post-dusk.

“The rebar is maintenance free,” says Makara. “I have had to replace some of the batteries in the solar lights, but I think that’s pretty normal.”

It doesn’t get much easier than hammering a stake into the ground. Although Makara suggests straightening the rebar with a level, that’s about as technical as it gets to create a more functional, flowering garden.

Article by ELIZABETH LILLY

Potato Nests with Peas, Ham and Cream Cheese

This elegant appetizer comes together easily with simple, time-saving ingredients. Frozen hash browns are pressed into mini muffin tins and baked into crispy nests filled with ham, lemony cream cheese, and peas. Serve them at your Easter dinner or spring cocktail party.

Ingredients:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 thick slices deli ham (about 4 ounces total)

16 ounces (about 3 1/2 cups) frozen shredded hash browns, thawed (about half of a 30-ounce bag)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

Finely grated zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 cup frozen peas

2 tablespoon chopped chives (1/2-inch pieces)

Paprika, for serving

Directions:

Special equipment:  one 12-cup mini muffin tin and one 24-cup mini muffin tin
  1. Position two racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup and a 24-cup mini muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Cut the ham into small matchsticks similar in size to the hash browns. Set aside and reserve 1/3 cup of the ham. Mix the remaining ham, hash browns, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper in a large bowl. Divide the mixture evenly among the sprayed cups, using about 1 rounded tablespoon each. Press the mixture in a thin layer across the bottom and up the sides of each cup to make a nest, leaving the edges uneven and jagged.
  3. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the nests are dark brown around the tips and golden and crisp on the outside, about 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese, lemon zest, milk 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper together in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed. Scrape the mixture into a resealable plastic bag, cut off the tip and set aside.
  5. When the nests are ready, remove them from the oven and let sit until they are cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift the nests out of the tins using a small offset spatula or butter knife and transfer to a cookie sheet. Pipe the filling evenly among the nests. This may be done ahead; the nests can be set aside at room temperature until ready to serve, up to two hours.
  6. When ready to serve, heat the filled nests until the cream cheese is warm and the potatoes are crisp, about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the frozen peas and cook until they are warm but not shriveled, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the peas in a colander, shaking to remove excess water.
  7. Transfer the nests to a serving platter. Top each with 1/4 teaspoon of the reserved ham, 3 peas and about 1/4 teaspoon chopped chives. Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately.

Can I Sell My Home If I’m Behind on My Mortgage?

Article by Daniel Bortz

If you’re behind on your mortgage payments and don’t see your situation improving, you might be thinking the only way out of this mess is to sell your home. But can you? The short answer is yes—that is, so long as your lender hasn’t foreclosed on your home yet.

The foreclosure process begins once you fall behind on your mortgage payments. Miss just one payment, and you may soon receive a foreclosure notice in the mail. Once you’re more than 120 days late, your lender has the legal ability to reclaim your home and sell it to recoup its money—and yes, you’ll be forced to vacate the premises.

Adding to the pain, a foreclosure goes on your credit report and can drop your credit score by as much as 300 points, possibly more. This can hurt your ability to obtain a credit card, auto loan, or cellphone plan, and also prevent you from being able to qualify for another mortgage for many years.

But here’s the bright side: You have up until the day that foreclosure takes place to sell the home on your own. Still, the process of selling your house before foreclosure isn’t easy. Here’s what you need to know.

Can you sell a home if you’re behind on your mortgage?

Whether or not you can sell your house before foreclosure will depend, first and foremost, on whether your house is worth more or less than what you owe on your mortgage.

If you’ve fallen behind on your loan payments but aren’t underwater yet—meaning the fair market value of your home is greater than what you owe on your home loan—you can sell your house and use the profits to pay back your lender.

If you choose to go this route, you’d follow the same steps you’d normally take to sell a home: You’d find a listing agent, accept an offer, and fulfill any contingencies before closing on the sale. Typically, you don’t need to get your lender’s permission to sell your home this way.

However, if your home is worth less than what you owe on your mortgage, you’ll need to sell your property as a short sale to avoid foreclosure. The caveat is that your bank has to be on board with this kind of transaction.

Here’s how a short sale works: Let’s say the bid you get on your home is so low that it won’t cover the total amount you owe on your mortgage. If you accept the offer, you’re going to end up “short” on paying back your lender. That’s OK only if your bank has agreed to accept less than what’s owed on the loan.

Getting your bank’s blessing, however, may be difficult. Since lenders lose money with short sales, they’re not always eager to approve these transactions. But some lenders actually prefer short sales over foreclosing and repossessing homes, since owning and selling property can be huge hassles.

Before approving a short sale, your bank will require you to submit some paperwork, including your offer letter and a “hardship letter” explaining why you can no longer make your mortgage payments, along with financial documents such as income statements or medical bills to back that up. Also, most lenders will have your home appraised to determine if the offer you’ve received is fair. If it is, they may allow the deal to go through—though there may be stipulations.

Indeed, lenders will often counter short sale offers with their own demands in an effort to raise their bottom line. For example, buyers might hear, “We’ll accept your offer, but you’re responsible for all repairs, wire transfers, and notary fees.” It’s ultimately up to you, though, to decide whether you’re willing to absorb these extra costs. The good news: Your real estate agent can help you negotiate these terms with your bank.

As a home seller, a short sale is preferable to foreclosure, since short sales do way less damage to your credit score than a foreclosure. This means you’ll be in better shape to apply for a mortgage and buy a new home down the road. In addition, you get to stay in the home until the sale is completed. (Foreclosures force homeowners to vacate.) You also avoid the shame of having your property repossessed by your bank.

Alternatives to selling your home

If you’ve fallen behind on your mortgage payments but would like to stay in your home, there are a couple of ways you can get back on track. You might qualify for a mortgage forbearance, a process where your servicer gives you a temporary break from your mortgage payments. Think of it as an “extended grace period,” says Guy Cecala, chief executive and publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.

Another strategy is to negotiate a loan modification, in which case your mortgage lender agrees to let you change the terms of your loan. However, if you choose to modify your mortgage and your lender allows you to skip payments temporarily, those missed payments will be added to your loan’s principal to pay later—meaning this isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card that lets you walk away from falling behind on your mortgage unscathed.

If you would like a fair assessment of your situation, please give us a call, 630-570-9740, or fill in your information on the right hand column. A financial review of your situation is free of charge. We pride ourselves on mapping out a strategy that works for you. We start by listening, understanding and educating to help you make the best decisions about your situation. When we have come to an agreement, we will move forward together.

 

Home Seller Secrets: ‘The Best Home-Staging Advice I’ve Heard, Ever’

When it comes to selling a house, appearances are everything. That’s why more and more homeowners hoping to impress buyers are investing in home staging. But between decluttering, styling, and making your house look its absolute best, this process can make you want to pull your hair out.

To make this undertaking a little easier, we asked sellers for their very best home-staging advice, and then compiled their greatest tips. If you’re getting ready to put your house on the market, use these pointers to spruce things up in a jiffy—and help buyers fall in love with your home.

Keep your home tidy 24/7

“When showing a house, I’ve learned it’s so important to keep your home tidy with all your possessions stowed away for two reasons. First, you don’t always know who’s walking through your house, and the listing agent can’t be in every room to watch your valuables. I had a brand-new bottle of Chanel perfume in one of my bathrooms, and one day I came home after a showing and it was gone. Second, a tidy house looks better. You want potential buyers to come in and see a beautiful dream home, not your clutter. You never know when a potential buyer will want a last-minute tour, so put away your dishes as soon as you’re done eating, pick up dirty clothes on the floor, and make your bed every morning.” – Jennifer Davis, homeowner in St. Louis, MO.

Invest in a few trendy items

“Before showing, you should update your house with a few new, stylish pieces to make it more on-trend. Look on Pinterest to see what’s fashionable right now, or tour open homes to see how they’re staged. Then, re-create the look. Don’t worry, you can do this while being budget-friendly! When we were selling our house, we ended up investing in a few pieces—a new duvet cover, some curtains, and some wall hangings—to make our home look more like other houses that were on the market. All this stuff only cost us a couple of hundred dollars, but we got a lot of compliments on our style and, in the end, our house sold for more than we expected. Remember that spending a few hundred on décor could end up getting you thousands in the end.” – Cassidy Carr, homeowner in Provo, UT.

Make your home feel like their home

“The best home-staging wisdom I’ve heard is that potential buyers need to see themselves in your home. That’s why real estate agents tell you to clear out any personal pictures you have on the walls. You don’t want buyers to think of it as your house, because it’ll make it harder for them to picture themselves living there. For that same reason, try your best not to be home when your house is being toured. If buyers see you, they’ll remember that they’re guests.

“And unless you feel very strongly about people taking their shoes off, remember that you’re moving, so it doesn’t really matter if people are tracking in dirt. When buyers are told to take their shoes off in a home, they’re reminded that someone else lives here, and it makes it harder for them to see themselves living in that house. Plus, for some people it’s awkward to walk around in their socks, and you don’t want potential buyers to feel uncomfortable.” – Anne Andrews, homeowner in San Juan Capistrano, CA

Spray a clean, simple scent

“You can absolutely kill a person’s interest by showing them a house that smells like dirty teenagers and smelly dogs. Houses need to smell fresh and clean, but shouldn’t smell like chemicals. Invest in a really good home fragrance spray with a soft scent, like lavender or fresh linen.” – Ashley Matthews, homeowner in New York, NY

Don’t try to hide your clutter

“It’s common to use the garage as a place to stash the boxes you’ve cleared out of your home for a showing. However, you still want the garage to look presentable. People want to see the entire house, so take this opportunity to clear it out. Buyers will also open closets. They’re not trying to be invasive—they just want to see how much space you have. Don’t think you can cram everything behind those doors and it’ll be invisible. People will look through everything, and when they do open closet doors, they probably won’t appreciate being met with an avalanche of stuff. In fact, it will probably make them think your house doesn’t have enough storage, and they’ll move onto the next.” – Linda Roberts, homeowner in Mission Viejo, CA

Get your pets out of the house

“The best advice I got before selling my home was to make sure that both buyers and my pets feel comfortable. Meeting someone else’s animals can be stressful. Pets might be protective of their turf, so owners should consider taking them somewhere else during showings. If you’re having an open house, bring your pet to a friend’s house for the day. If someone is coming over for a tour, take that opportunity to walk your dog. However, if you must leave your pets at home, always make sure you leave instructions on how to handle them. Give your listing agent instructions on where to put dogs if they get rowdy (like a guest room), but don’t just assume you can just put your pets in the backyard, because buyers want to see the outdoor space too.” – Leanne Logan, homeowner in Hershey, PA.

Article by Jilly Pretzel

How to Keep Pets Safe During an Emergency (and What to Put in Your Disaster Kit)

In the event of a natural disaster, your primary goal is to keep everyone safe—including your pets.

“If the conditions are not safe for you, they are not safe for your pets,” says Russell Hartstein, CEO of Fun Paw Care, in Los Angeles. “Never leave an animal behind.”

That’s why you need to include your pets in your disaster safety and evacuation plans. Here are some tips to help with this process.

Know where your pet hides

When thunder strikes or fireworks explode in the night sky, where does your beloved pet take refuge?

Deborah C. Mandell, veterinarian and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital, points out that this is an important detail to know because your furry friend will likely run there during a natural disaster.

“You need to know where they usually sleep and where they hide, so you can get them quickly if needed,” she says.

Decide in advance where to take your pet

You may have only a split second to get out of your home in a flood, fire, etc., so you need to decide well in advance where you and your pet will ride out the disaster.

Not every hotel or public shelter has to accept pets during an evacuation.

“Find out if family, friends, pet-friendly hotels, boarding facilities, and/or veterinarians could take your pet, if needed,” Mandell says.

Your advanced planning should also extend beyond your immediate area. You might have to evacuate to another county or state, so research some veterinarians and kennels in neighboring areas as well, and find out what kind of supplies or food you need to bring.

Prepare a disaster kit for your pet

When assembling your family’s disaster kit, consider the needs of your pets, too.

“You need enough supplies for your pet to last as long as you will be displaced, typically a week,” Mandell says.

Hartstein recommends printing out a copy of the disaster-preparedness list in case your power goes out during the disaster. Keep as many items as possible in waterproof bags and containers (including dry food).

He also recommends that you include the following items in your disaster-preparedness kit:

  • Copies of your pet’s medical records and veterinary information
  • Food and water
  • Collapsible food and water bowls
  • Water-purifying tablets and filters
  • Treats
  • Manual can opener
  • Cloth towels and paper towels
  • Pet first-aid supplies
  • Bug spray (pet-friendly)
  • Sunscreen (pet-friendly)
  • Life jacket/vest (if you live in a flood-prone area)
  • Dog crate
  • Dog bed
  • Special toys or comfort items
  • Leash, collar, harness
  • For dogs, poop bags
  • For cats, litter box and kitty litter for at least one week

Make your pet easy to identify

If you need to leave your pet in a shelter or you’re inadvertently separated, try to make identifying and tending to the pet as easy as possible. That means making sure your pets are microchipped and have an ID tag on their collar.

You might think that having a collar is enough; however, if it comes off in an emergency, the microchip may be the only form of identification. But other forms of identification can also be helpful.

“Keep photos and a description of your dog in your disaster kit, as well as in the cloud,” says Hartstein. “Include detailed markings of your pets, which can help you locate them if they become lost or you’re separated.”

Article by Terri Williams

Thank a Vet With Lunch

This week we thank Philip Zinni for his dedicated service to the United States Army and Illinois National Guard. Philip served in Vietnam as active Military Police from 1972 – 1974 followed by his service to the National Guard from 1974-1978.

Philip and his counterparts live by the Motto:  “Serve & Protect” and “Kick Ass, Take Names”.

Currently, Philip and his wife, Etola, live near Chicago, IL. Philip is an Architect and specializes in Design & Build projects.

With his wife along his side, Philip refers to himself an animal lover and together they work with local animal shelters to foster needy dogs. He is passionate about SCUBA Diving. When he is not diving, he focuses his attention on The Wounded Warrior Project and works with disabled Veterans.

Left to right; Cindy, Philip & Alyson

As a past client and friend, we proudly thank Philip for his service and dedication to our country. If you are a current member of the military or have served, we would like to Thank a Vet With Lunch. Please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you! In addition, let us know if we can answer any questions about VA Loans ( Jim Francis at Fairway Independent Mortgage Company Jim.Francis@FairwayMC.com ) or your real estate needs ( Cindy Soderstrom at RE/MAX Signature Homes csoderstrom@remax.net ) or Insurance needs ( Alyson Kneeland at Goosehead Insurance alyson.kneeland@goosehead.com )

Sheet Pan Crispy Salmon and Potatoes

This sheet pan supper will show you just how quick and simple it can be to get a salmon dinner on the table any night of the week. It all starts by firing up your broiler. Do that and you will be tucking into perfectly cooked fillets with just the right amount of char around the edges. We’re making it a meal by partnering this weeknight-friendly fish with crispy red potato rounds and tender asparagus spears. Oh, and it will all happen in under 20 minutes. Yes, really!

Behold the Power of the Broiler

Think of your oven’s broiler like an upside-down grill that blasts food with an intense high heat from above. It’s one of my favorite methods of quick-cooking, and also leaves an irresistible golden crust and light char around the edges of the fish and over the vegetables. This is why it is crucial to check the positioning of the upper oven rack before cooking and adjusting it when necessary. When it’s too close to the heating element, food is more likely to burn on the outside while the inside can remain undercooked.

Sheet Pan Crispy Salmon and Potatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 medium lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 pound medium red potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed
  • 4 (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets, preferably about 1 1/4 inches thick
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more fore seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the oil, garlic, and parsley in a shallow container large enough to hold all the pieces of salmon in a single layer and whisk to combine. Place the salmon in the marinade skin-side up. Cover and refrigerate for about 10 minutes while the oven heats up.
  2. Arrange an oven rack about 6 inches below the broiler, then set the oven to broil.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the potatoes and asparagus on the baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Arrange in a single layer around the edges of the baking sheet. Place the salmon fillets on the center of the baking sheet skin-side down (discard any remaining marinade in the container). Season the salmon with salt and pepper.
  4. Broil until the salmon is cooked through and flakes easily, 6 to 8 minutes. An instant-read thermometer into the middle of the thickest fillet should read 120°F to 130°F for medium-rare, or 135°F to 145°F for well-done. Total cook time will depend on the thickness of salmon.

RECIPE NOTES

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

How Much Is Capital Gains Tax on Real Estate? What Homeowners Need to Know to Avoid It

What is capital gains tax? This is a prime question that might crop up when you sell your home for more than you paid for it. That’s good news for you, but the downside is, you may have to pay taxes on those profits in the form of capital gains tax. Yep, just as you pay income tax and sales tax, home sale profits are subject to taxation, too.

Complicating matters is the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which is changing the rules. So if there’s ever a time to brush up on all things capital gains, it’s right now. Here’s what you need to know.

What is capital gains tax—and who pays it?

In a nutshell, capital gains tax is a duty levied on property and possessions you’ve held onto for more than a year that you sell for a profit—including your home.

Unlike other investments, home sale profits still benefit from a number of exclusions that might exempt you from capital gains tax entirely under some conditions, says Kyle White, an agent with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Minneapolis–St. Paul.

The IRS gives each person, no matter how much the person earns, a $250,000 tax-free exemption for a primary residence.

“So if you and your spouse buy your home for $100,000, and years later sell for up to $600,000, you won’t owe any capital gains tax,” says New York attorney Anthony S. Park. However, you do have to meet specific requirements to claim this exclusion:

  • The home must be your primary residence.
  • You must have owned the home for at least two years.
  • You must have lived in the home for at least two of the past five years.

If you don’t meet all these requirements, you may be able to take a partial exclusion for capital gains tax. For more information, consult a tax adviser or IRS Publication 523.

How much capital gains tax will you have to pay?

For capital gains over that $250,000-per-person exemption, just how much of a bite will Uncle Sam take out of your real estate sale? In the past, that depended on your tax bracket. Under the new tax law, capital gains rates are now based on your income, explains Park. Let’s break it down.

  • You’ll pay 0% in capital gains if… You’re a single filer earning less than $39,375, married filing jointly earning less than $78,750, or head of household earning less than $78,750.
  • You’ll pay 15% in capital gains if… You’re a single filer earning between $39,376 and $434,550, married filing jointly earning between $78,751 and $488,850, or head of household earning between $52,751 and $461,700.
  • You’ll pay 20% in capital gains if… You’re a single filer earning more than $434,550, married filing jointly earning more than $488,850, or head of household earning more than $461,700. For those earning above $488,850, the rate tops out at 20%, says Park.

Don’t forget, your state may have its own capital gains tax. And very high earners may owe an additional 3.8% net investment income tax.

Do home improvements reduce capital gains tax?

How much capital gains tax you’ll pay may also be reduced because of home improvements you’ve made. The money you spent on any home improvements—such as replacing the roof, building a deck, replacing the flooring, or finishing a basement—can be added to the initial price of your home to give you the adjusted cost basis of your home.

For example, if you purchased your home for $200,000 in 1990 and sold it for $550,000, but over the past 29 years have spent $100,000 on home improvements, that $100,000 would be subtracted from the sales price of your home this year. Instead of owing capital gains taxes on the $350,000 profit from the sale, you would owe taxes on $250,000. In that case, you’d meet the requirements for a capital gains tax exclusion and owe nothing.

Take-home lesson: Make sure to save receipts of any renovations and repairs, since they can save you big-time come tax filing season.

How capital gains tax works on inherited homes

What if you’re selling a home you’ve inherited from family members who’ve passed away? The IRS also gives a “free step-up in basis” when you inherit a family house. But what does that mean?

Let’s say Mom and Dad bought the family home years ago for $100,000, and it’s worth $1 million when they die and leave it to you. When you sell, your purchase price (or “basis”) is not the $100,000 your folks paid, but instead the $1 million it’s worth on their date of death.

How to avoid capital gains tax as a real estate investor

If the home you’re selling is a second home (i.e., vacation home) rather than your primary residence, avoiding capital gains tax is a bit more complicated. But it’s still possible. The best way to avoid a capital gains tax if you’re an investor is by doing a 1031 exchange. This allows you to sell your property and buy another one without recognizing any potential gain.

“In essence, you’re swapping one investment asset for another,” White says. He cautions, however, that there are very strict rules regarding timelines and guidelines with this transaction, so be sure to check them with an accountant.

If you’re opting out of the rental property investment business and putting your money in another venture, then you’ll owe the capital gains taxes on the profit.

Article by Cathie Ericson

How to Get Your House Ready to Sell in 4 Steps

Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you’re looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you’d better get cracking now.

How to get your house ready to sell

Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here’s how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here’s how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

1. Tally the age of various items

No matter how great your home looks at first glance, any savvy buyer will point to various parts and pop the question: How old? And since guesstimates won’t cut it, you will need to gather some paperwork to get your house ready to sell. If you’ve purchased your home in the past few years, check your home records or seller’s disclosure for the age or last repair of big items (namely your roof, HVAC system, water heater, and gutters), or dig up copies of your own maintenance records or receipts.

How long items last depends on a lot of factors such as the model and how well it’s been maintained, but you can get a general idea of average lifespan from the National Association of Home Builders. For example:

  • Wood shingle and shake roof: 15 to 30 years
  • Central air-conditioning unit: 15 years
  • Electric water heater: 14 years
  • Gutters: 30 years

2. Do your own walk-through

Channel Sherlock Holmes and go through your home, room by room. Look for signs of damage that might drag down its value. Chandler Crouch, broker for Chandler Crouch Realtors in Fort Worth, TX, suggests looking for these common problem spots:

  • Wood rot around outside door frames, window ledges, and garage doors. Condensation and rain can cause these areas to weaken and rot.
  • Water stains on the ceiling or near doors and windows. This can indicate a leaky roof or rain seeping in from outside.
  • Leaks under sinks or around toilets.
  • Bulges under carpet or discoloration on hardwood floors, which can indicate flooding problems or an uneven foundation.

Next, test what’s called the “functionality” in every room. For example, “Cracks visible in the walls and floor, doors that don’t shut right, broken handles on cabinetry, basically anything that doesn’t work perfectly should be repaired,” Crouch says. And don’t forget to inspect the outside.

“A lot of sellers skip the outside, but it is so important. That is where buyers will make their first impression,” says Darbi McGlone, a Realtor® with Jim Talbot Real Estate in Baton Rouge, LA.

3. Bring in the pros

Once you’ve done your own walk-through, you may want to have a pro take a second look before you decide you’re ready to sell. These people can spot flaws you overlooked, because either you’re used to them or you didn’t realize they could cause trouble. You can enlist a Realtor or hire a home inspector to do an inspection (or pre-inspection) to pinpoint problems from bad wiring to outdated plumbing.

While the cost varies, people pay $300 to $500 for a home inspection. Go to the National Association of Home Inspectors to find an inspector in your area. It may cost a bit, but it will buy you the peace of mind of knowing you’re not in for any surprises down the road. In fact, having a home inspection report handy to show buyers can inspire confidence that they (and you by association) aren’t in for any nasty surprises as you move toward a deal.

4. Decide what needs renovating

Once you know what in your house could stand for repairs or upgrades, it’s time to decide where to infuse some cash. Don’t worry, not everything needs to be done before your home is ready to sell. And while you’re probably not jumping at the idea of renovating a property you’re going to sell, certain fixes will give you an edge over the competition, which means more/better offers. Remember, real estate is an investment!

But don’t just obsess over the obvious—e.g., your kitchen could stand for new cabinets. After all, many buyers will want to tweak cosmetic details to their own tastes, so you could be throwing money down the drain. Instead, focus on fix-its that are less susceptible to personal preferences that buyers like to know are in good shape.

For example, a recent study by the National Association of Realtors® found that upgrading hardwood floors reaps an estimated 100% return on investment, essentially paying for itself. Upgrading your insulation can net you a 95% ROI, a new roof a whopping 105%! Because what buyers don’t like to know they’ve got a solid roof over their heads?

Article by Angela Colley

These Are the Most Expensive Fails in DIY Home Improvement

Many thrifty homeowners would rather save a few bucks by taking on upgrades themselves (after a few hours binge-watching HGTV and YouTube tutorials, of course) than by calling in the professionals to install new floors or retile the bathroom. Paying the pros is basically throwing money away, right?

If done right, going DIY to fix up a property can lead to some hefty savings. But DIY fails can cost folks big time, according to a recent reportfrom Porch, an online network that connects folks with home improvement professionals.To come up with its results, Porch surveyed nearly 1,200 folks who had completed a home improvement project within the last year.

It turns out the average DIY mistake can cost folks $310 to make right.

“People often take on repairs themselves in an effort to save money, but often can end [up] spending more,” says Porch’s spokesperson, Amanda Woolley. “People are also underestimating the time and emotional toll of these projects.”

So which DIY home improvement flop can set homeowners back the most? Installing flooring wrong costs folks an added $829, bringing the total bill to an average $1,540. That’s got to hurt. Redoing the floors also added an average of 13.8 extra hours of work.

“Jobs like flooring have a high material cost, so errors add [up] very quickly,” says Woolley. Hey, hardwood boards don’t come cheap.

The second most expensive mistake was in exterior paint jobs, which can add $447 to the tab. This was followed by replacing an electrical outlet wrong, an average $445 blunder; installing a ceiling fan incorrectly, at $306; and messing up the electrical wiring, at $255.

Slip-ups can take an emotional toll as well as a financial one. About 45.8% of do-it-yourselfers surveyed who made a mistake fought with their partner during the project, compared with 21.6% of the folks who did everything correctly.

Couples were most likely to fight with one another over electrical wiring or rewiring projects, 43.6% of survey respondents reported. Hanging or patching drywall came in second for sparking domestic strife, at 41.7%; followed by replacing an electrical outlet, at 39.1%; installing a ceiling fan, at 38.2%; and an exterior paint job, at 32.7%.

“These projects can definitely test relationships—whether they are worried about their partner’s safety or arguing about the materials,” says Woolley. “People need to [be] honest about their skill set and do a very close audit of their time versus money tolerance.”

“Is it worth the cost savings for the time and effort you’ll need to put into the job?” she continues. “If not, it might be worth hiring a professional.”

Article by Clare Trapasso

SPICY CHORIZO BRUSCHETTA EGGPLANT TOASTS

Whole 30 Spicy Chorizo Eggplant Bruschetta Eggplant Toasts are a great tasty entree that are filled with hearty, nourishing ingredients!  Super easy to make!

Ingredients

  • 2 small eggplant, sliced into about 7 thick slices each
  • 3 egg whites, beaten
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Bruschetta:
  • 1 (16 oz.) package of Pederson’s Natural Farms Chorizo, cooked
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle of baking sheet pan with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Place egg whites in a shallow bowl and whisk with little bit of warm water. Combine almond flour, paprika, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a separate shallow bowl.
  3. Dip eggplant slice in egg whites on both sides, then drench in almond flour mixture until evenly coated. Repeat with all slices. Add slices to sheet pan and drizzle more oil on top. Bake for 25 minutes, or until done.
  4. To make bruschetta, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Spoon over top of eggplant toasts. Enjoy!

‘How’s the Housing Market Right Now?’ Answers Ahead

Yeehaw, the latest home-buying season is now in full swing! And if you’re hoping to buy a house soon, listen up: The real estate market changes on a dime, so if you want to succeed in today’s environment, you’ll want to take its temperature and act accordingly.

And buyers are in luck: By and large, this year’s home-buying season is a far better bet for buyers than in the past. So if you’re craving some intel on what to expect—and how to use this to your advantage—here’s the info you need to confidently buy a house right now.

The strong seller’s market is on the wane

In the recent past, you weren’t altogether wrong if it seemed like buyers were offering their firstborn child in order for their offer to get a fair look—and often for houses that you would have snubbed in less-sizzling markets. But now it’s OK to breathe—and even sleep on it.

As inventory begins to rise, the strong seller’s market that characterized last season’s home-buying season is fading fast. In fact, many say we’re back into what can be considered more of a buyer’s market, where the seller doesn’t hold all the cards, says Brad Cox, a real estate agent at the Vesta Group of Long & Foster Real Estate, in Lutherville, MD. That means you’re going to have some wiggle room to negotiate.

“While you still want to prepare a competitive offer, your time window is likely to expand—meaning you can think it over before rushing in with an offer,” Cox says. “And you aren’t going to have to include some of the riskier elements, such as waiving financing or inspection contingencies, that were a hallmark of past years.”

But what you face still varies by the Big L

You’ve heard the adage “location, location, location,” but it will definitely be a huge factor in 2019’s home-buying season, Cox says. Because while bidding wars are out in most markets, real estate is still very neighborhood-driven.

“While you might see a softening market in some areas, others may still be in a strong seller’s market,” he explains.

He says the key metric to look for is “days on market,” which means how long a property has been waiting to sell. If you’re hoping to buy in an area where days on market are staying low, you’ll have to be prepared to act a little faster. But in areas where this number has started creeping up, you might be able to look around a little more.

For an accurate pricing picture, look only at the latest comps

Both buyers and sellers rely on comparables, aka comps, when determining a fair price. But that can get tricky as the market starts to turn, because sellers might be remembering a months-ago heyday and pricing accordingly.

“Buyers should only consider the most recent comps, which means the last three months, because that is the most accurate reflection of where the market is,” says agent Jed Lewin of Triplemint in New York City.

But don’t forget that it’s still very easy to insult a seller

Yes, the house might have been on the market a few more days than it would have been last year and the comps might be sliding, but that doesn’t mean you can expect that anything goes when you’re buying a home in 2019.

“I am seeing far more buyers starting to make very aggressive lowball offers in an attempt to test sellers’ appetites, even if they’re totally serious about a given property,” says Lucas Callejas, an agent at Triplemint. But in places where the market is still warm, that can turn sellers off—and turn their attention to the next offer that comes along instead of yours.

You may be able to get a better interest rate than you think

One of the big stories of 2018 was rising mortgage interest rates—but while they ticked up precipitously by the end of last year, they’ve fallen a bit again, so you could be in a good spot, says Beatrice de Jong, director of residential sales at Open Listings, in Los Angeles.

Bottom line: Now is the time to lock in a great rate, since today’s appealing numbers might not last long.

“Interest rates are predicted to rise in 2019 and 2020, so buyers would be wise to shop for and lock in their interest rate as soon as possible,” de Jong says.

Increasing rates can make a huge difference, she points out, noting that the difference between a 5% interest rate and 5.5% interest rate is $93 a month on a $300,000 mortgage loan, which can easily derail a buyer’s budget.

So even if you are trying to improve your credit or save a few more bucks for the down payment, you might be better off just wading in and locking in the rate, says Jason Lerner, vice president and area development manager for George Mason Mortgage, in Lutherville, MD.

“You might work for three months to burnish your credit, and then find that the rate has risen so much that it doesn’t make a difference,” he adds.

Your credit score might be better than you thought

Two recent developments in credit scoring may help would-be buyers: One is the new UltraFICO, which takes into account how you manage your checking, savings, and money market accounts, in addition to your credit cards and consumer loans. And the second is Experian Boost, which adds your utility and cellphone bills into the mix.

But even if you have a stellar record in all those areas, there’s no guarantee these will be your golden ticket, cautions Lerner. That’s because it’s still early days for these initiatives: UltraFICO is currently available only in a pilot phase in certain areas, and Experian has yet to launch the booster product, although it is taking sign-ups. But as these products become more widely available throughout the year, home buyers may reap the benefits.

“A difference in 10 or 20 points to your credit score can make a difference between approval or denial—and can lower your rate, which can save thousands over the life of a mortgage,” Lerner points out. He also predicts that requirements will loosen a bit in 2019: “You might not think your credit is good enough for a mortgage, but it’s worth talking to a lender to see if there is a program out there that can help.”

Article by Cathie Ericson

The 9 Elements of an Ideal House

Ceiling height and sun exposure are good. Stairs, not so much.

Welcome to the ideal house — one that satisfies all your needs, functions like a dream, and simplifies your life.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. The perfect house is made up of common-sense features that give satisfaction no matter where you live, or how big or small your house is. And it doesn’t hurt that they also add value to your home.

If you’re missing one or more of these elements, don’t fret — few houses are truly perfect. But if you have the opportunity to remodel or buy another house, you’ll want to keep these nine essentials at the top of your list.

#1 Single Level

The single-level house is resurging in popularity from its heyday as post-war, low-income housing (and the design darling of California’s iconic 1950s architects). The reason is simple: Single-level homes are easy to care for — no hauling out a big extension ladder to reach the second-story.

Everything is within reach for cleaning, painting, and repairs.

Maintenance chores can be done quickly and safely — saving you time, and keeping you out of the ER.

Plus, temperatures inside a single-level house are easier to regulate. Without an upstairs and downstairs, temperature differences are minimized, reducing stress on your HVAC, and ensuring your comfort no matter what room you’re in.

And a final benefit: A single-level home is ideal for aging in place because of the lack of stairs.

#2 Nine-Foot Ceilings

Nine-foot tall ceilings have magic, opening up interiors without actually increasing square-footage, and generating a sense of well-being and comfort that standard 8-foot ceilings lack.

A survey from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) shows a preference for tall ceilings among homebuyers — about 65% of respondents say they prefer a house with 9-foot ceilings over a similar house with the standard 8-foot ceiling — up 11% since 2004.

Although you’re probably stuck with your 8-foot ceilings if you have them, you can go with taller ceilings if you add on. A contractor will charge an additional $1 to $2 per square foot of living area for the upgrade. However, 9-foot ceilings are a marketable feature, and you can probably recoup much of the investment when you sell your house.

If you’re really craving that open feeling, you can vault your ceiling into the attic. You’ll end up with a ceiling higher than 9 feet, but it’s a pricey remodel, costing $18,000 to $25,000. Again you’ll recoup some of that at resale, but not as much as you would with an addition.

#3 Southern Exposure

A southern exposure has many benefits:

  1. In winter, south-facing windows let in sunlight that converts to free heat, known as solar gain.
  2. In the summertime, if you plant trees against those windows, your house will stay cooler.
  3. Sunlight is a mood-enhancer that will chase away the winter blues.
  4. Southern exposure is ideal for solar panels, an increasingly popular alternative.
  5. Houseplants, which improve air quality, and garden plants thrive in southern exposure.

If you’re lucky enough to have southern exposure, here are some tips to take full advantage of natural light indoors:

  • Remove or transplant evergreen plants that block winter sun from reaching your south-facing windows.
  • Open up shades and drapes on south-facing windows during the day. This is a simple chore that often gets overlooked in unused rooms, such as spare bedrooms. Cover up at night.
  • Add awnings to south-facing windows — they help block summer sun but let in winter sunlight when the sun is low on the horizon.

#4 Outdoor Living Spaces

Being outdoors isn’t just enjoyable, it’s healthy. A study of “life at home” by UCLA concluded that spending time outside lowers stress and reduces levels of cortisol — a hormone that contributes to feeling tired and foggy.

In terms of home value, outdoor living areas, such as patios and decks, have a high desirability factor with homebuyers, and cost a fraction to install compared to enclosed, year-round spaces.

In fact, if you add a patio or deck to your home, you can expect to get back more than 100% of your investment (102% and 106%, respectively) according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®.

#5 Maximized Insulation

You can’t see this vital feature, but you’ll really feel it. Maximizing your insulation helps lower energy requirements and keeps indoor temps stable — a big plus when it comes to feeling comfortable.

You’ll get the best ROI if you max out your attic insulation. If you boost the insulation of an 800-square-foot attic from R-11 to R-49, you’ll save $600 annually, and pay back the cost in about three years.

#6 Separate Master Bedroom

Sure, we like the one-big-happy-family theory. But we like sanity even more. Although your needs will probably evolve through the years (nurseries close to mom and dad; teenagers not so much), ultimately some separation is a great way to give everybody peace and quiet.

For a single-level house, the ideal configuration has three “wings” — a master suite on one end, kids’ and guest rooms (plus bath) on the other, and a common living/kitchen area in the middle.

#7 Low-Maintenance Siding

You choose: Weekends spent scraping, caulking, and repainting siding; or weekends spent relaxing and enjoying yourself.

We thought so.

Your ally in your dreams of pleasurable days off is a low-maintenance exterior that maintains its good looks even in harsh climates. Two of the best options are low-cost vinyl siding and durable fiber-cement.

Replacing old siding with new vinyl siding yields an 75% return on your investment, while fiber-cement siding has a 83% return, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Pricier fiber-cement siding returns slightly less — 79% — but scores big when it comes to satisfaction. Homeowners polled for the “Report” gave their fiber-cement siding project a perfect Joy Score of 10 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

#8 Great Storage

You don’t need us to tell you that storage is big priority, but did you know you’ve got tons of hidden storage space right at your fingertips? Max out your storage capacity, and you’re one big step closer to having the perfect house.

#9 Ergonomic Touches

More architects and contractors are adding the common-sense features of universal design, and you should, too. Although UD is often associated with mobility issues and wheelchair accessibility, it’s really smart, sensible design that functions well for everybody. For example:

  • Wide doorways (36- to 42-inches wide) make everyday life just that much easier. Ever try to move a piece of furniture from room to room through a narrow doorway? You get the picture.
  • Levers instead of doorknobs don’t require awkward twisting.
  • A curbless shower eliminates potential trips and falls.
  • Rocker switches have a big on/off button that you can flip with a knuckle or even your elbow when you’re struggling with bags of groceries.

The Intangible Feature

No house is without imperfections. But that’s a good thing — quirks give us individuality and personality, and they keep our houses from being cookie-cutter.

The perfect house takes all that into consideration, and let’s you be you. Want red kitchen walls? Go for it. Love salvaged building materials? That 1930s pedestal sink in the bathroom is a charmer.

If you’re able to have your home express the true you, you’re gonna love it. And that’s the true definition of the perfect house.

Article by JOHN RIHA

How to Hire a Trustworthy House Sitter (Who Won’t Destroy Your Home)

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing. But when you’re leaving behind everything you own and possibly a menagerie of furry friends, the stress can be considerable: Who will take care of everything while you’re gone?

Most dogs and cats can be boarded, but the costs can add up quickly—especially if you have multiple pets. And news flash: Your plants won’t water themselves. For many vacationers, a house sitter makes the most sense.

But finding a house sitter sometimes makes no sense. You must trust this individual to live in your home—possibly for weeks at a time. If you can’t find a friend or family member to volunteer, you’ll have to trust a stranger in your space—and that’s terrifying.

Use these tips to find—and keep—the perfect house sitter.

Go beyond the obvious choices

We’re sure you already know that when seeking out a trustworthy house sitter, you’ll want to consult your friends and family first. But if they’re unavailable, take it to the next level: Think about the people you regularly do business with, suggests Mark Cianciulli, a real estate agent in Los Angeles.

He turns to other people he’s “familiar with and have somewhat of a personal relationship with,” such as clients or people he’s a client of—think dog walkers, personal trainers, and hair stylists.

Browse house sitting sites (yes, they exist)

Silicon Valley hasn’t overlooked our great national need for house sitters. Websites such as Trusted Housesitters, Nomador, and House Carers can truly make the entire process easier, says Meg Marrs, a senior editor at dog product review website K9 of Mine.

To stanch the anxiety associated with handing over your keys to a stranger, these sites thoroughly verify sitters to ensure they won’t make off with your favorite heirloom necklace. For instance, Trusted Housesitters requires, at a minimum, a driver’s license and one personal reference. For a more-vetted sitter (and for more money), you can find someone who’s been through an identity and background check.

Do your homework

You shouldn’t rely on a website alone to verify your potential house sitter.

“Just because someone posts a profile on an app, or even on a nationally publicized site, doesn’t ensure he or she is a qualified pet sitter operating a legitimate business,” says Meghann Evans of PetSit International, an educational organization for professional pet sitters.

Here’s how to ensure you’re booking a reputable sitter:

  • Read through the sitter’s bio. “This will give you a better idea of their personality and whether or not they’d be a good fit for your needs,” Marrs says. And “any individual who can’t take the time to fully fill out their profile probably isn’t someone you want watching your home.”
  • Before confirming the booking, Evans recommends meeting with the potential sitter—ideally in your home. A video meeting can substitute for sitters who live farther away.
  • Pay attention to the questions the sitter asks, according to Kelly Hayes-Raitt, the author of “How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva.” “Are they asking about how to make your pets happy in your absence and about keeping your home’s routine? Or about things that interest them only?”
  • Take a peek at their social media profiles to get a feel for their personality and past job experience.

Describe the situation appropriately

You want to find someone who actually wants to tackle the job.

“Your goal is to disclose anything that might discourage the wrong house sitter from agreeing to care for your home and pets,” Hayes-Raitt suggests.

Outline your pets’ behaviors: Do they need special medicine? Do your cats and dogs fight like, well, cats and dogs? Explain what your home has to offer, too.

Remember: Many house sitters are full-time nomads, which means they require wireless internet and space to work. You might think your off-grid home is a respite from the world outside, but it might not be convenient for every sitter.

Give thorough expectations

Good house sitters can save the day, but they certainly aren’t mind readers. Make sure your expectations are clear and your instructions are thorough—otherwise you may come home to a dead vegetable garden, or worse.

“Assuming a house sitter will just know (what you expect from them while you’re gone) isn’t reasonable, and it’s up to you to explain every duty and responsibility before you leave,” says Brett Helling, who owns ride-sharing resource Ridester and travels for work regularly.

He recommends printing and laminating instructions to ensure that every ask is within easy reach.

“Knowing I’ve properly explained everything lets me travel with one less thing to worry about while I’m gone,” he says.

Consider cameras

Of course, you’ll want to make sure your sitter actually did a good job and didn’t snoop through your office drawers or destroy your house.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’ve seen someone exploring my house, going into rooms they have no reason being inside,” Helling says. “Also, if something really bad were to happen while you’re not there, video evidence is irrefutable—there’s no denying what happened.”

Surveillance cameras are tricky territory, though. First, you’ll need to make sure you’re not breaking any kind of wiretapping laws, which vary from state to state. Plus, you can’t record video in a place where someone would reasonably expect privacy, like the bedroom or bathroom.

But if you want audio-free video of your living room and home office, you can set up cameras without disclosing them to your sitter.

Should you? That’s up to you.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

3 Spring Cleaning Tips & Ideas To Save Money & Time in April

Stop doing these 3 little things if you want a tidier home.

Before you open the windows and crank up your favorite spring-cleaning playlist, here are some housekeeping and maintenance tasks you can actually stop doing.

You’ll save time, energy, and money.

#1 Don’t Use Bleach

It’s tempting to go straight to the bleach when you’re doing a deep clean. But bleach is a strong chemical. It eats through sealants on granite, fades acrylic tubs, and corrodes disposal seals.

What’s more, it’s not even the mold-killer many people believe it to be. While it does kill mold on nonporous surfaces (like porcelain), it can actually cause more mold to grow on porous surfaces like grout. A homemade scrub of water, baking soda, and lemon oil can clean just about anything without bleach’s harsh effects.

#2 Stop Opening the Windows When You Clean

Nothing feels better than letting old, stuffy winter air out your windows and replacing it with a warm, spring breeze. What could be bett – achoo! If an allergy-proof home is your goal, keep your windows closed when you clean.

If you must open them, try later in the day. Allergens are usually worse in the morning.

#3 Stop Organizing Paper First

Decluttering is an essential cleaning step, but whatever you do, don’t start with the paper piles. This frustrating and overwhelming task will only slow you down.

Instead, start organizing small areas like closets or bookshelves, and work your way through the house, giving yourself an endorphin-boosting pat on the back (or chocolate break) after completing each small task.

Then let the momentum you’ve gained propel you through the paperwork.

Article by KELLEY WALTERS

5 Unwritten Etiquette Rules Home Buyers Might Not Even Realize Are a Big Deal

If you’re looking to buy a house, you’re probably eager and excited. That’s fine, but just keep in mind that in this heightened emotional state, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment and behave, well, not perfectly.

This can lead to trouble since, just like anything else, buying a home comes with its own set of rules. Some may be fairly obvious, since they’re outlined in all that real estate paperwork you’ll soon be signing. But some of these rules are the unwritten, etiquette-based kind. And if you break ’em, it could still stop a real estate deal in its tracks.

Worried you might not be aware of all the things you might do that could inadvertently rub home sellers or real estate agents the wrong way? Then heed these five etiquette rules that many home buyers might all too easily overlook.

Rule 1: See a house online you love? Don’t call the listing agent

When you’re looking for a house and find a place that looks like it could be The One, it can be tempting to jump the gun and call the listing agent immediately. But stop right there.

The reason? The proper channels of communication dictate that you should ask your own buyer’s agent to reach out to the listing agent, who will, in turn, let the home sellers know of your interest. We know it sounds like a long game of telephone, but it’s necessary for a number of reasons. Namely, it means both buyer and seller have an agent looking out for their distinct interests, facilitating the deal.

“You’re not going to get a better deal by going directly to the listing agent,” explains Matt Van Winkle, owner of Re/Max Northwest Realtors, in Seattle. “They represent the seller and are just trying to get the seller the best price.”

There is a caveat to this rule, says Kerron Stokes, a real estate agent with Re/Max Leaders, in Colorado: “If you are not represented and if you do not have an agent, then feel free to call the seller’s agent,” Stokes says. “But if you are a buyer, you should get an agent, as they can best represent your interests.”

Rule 2: Don’t ask your agent to show you homes until you sign a buyer-broker agreement

We get it, signing legal documents is scary. But here’s the thing: If you’re not ready to commit to your real estate agent, you’re not ready to get serious about buying a home.

“Be prepared to sign a buyer’s agreement so that your buyer’s agent knows you are serious and ready to go,” Stokes says. “From a consumer protection standpoint, it’s a very good thing for all involved.”

A buyer-broker agreement is a legal contract that defines the relationship between the buyer (that’s you) and your real estate agent. The agreement is good for both parties, since it outlines exactly what services the broker is going to provide. A buyer-broker agreement is also a way to let your real estate agent know that you’re committed to working with this pro to find your home.

And, if the relationship doesn’t end up working out, you can always end the agreement and find another agent to work with. It’s poor etiquette to work with more than one real estate agent at a time, and the buyer-broker agreement shows your agent that you’re not doing that.

“Remember that buyer’s agents are only paid if they close a deal—they aren’t paid for their time,” Van Winkle says. As such, “it’s wrong to call another agent just because yours is unavailable or on vacation.”

Rule 3: Don’t make an offer without mortgage pre-approval

mortgage pre-approval is a letter from a lender saying it will provide you with financing to buy a home up to a certain loan amount. It makes everyone’s lives easier since it provides proof of how much home you can afford to buyers and agents—and that you can put your money where your mouth is with an offer. Without it, your offer is an empty promise.

“If you want to compete against other buyers for a home, you won’t be able to do that without that pre-approval letter,” says Bill Golden, a longtime real estate agent with Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside.

Rule 4: Don’t be late to home showings—or bail entirely

If you have an appointment with your agent to view a home, treat it like a priority. If you’re going to be late or can’t make it, call your agent and let him know.

“If you don’t respect my time, then we don’t have a good working relationship,” Golden says. “Usually, I will have set up appointments to see several homes, and if you’re late or don’t show, I have to try to rearrange all of the showings, which may not be possible on short notice.”

Rule 5: Don’t pretend you’re ready to buy if you know you’re really not

This one might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s such a big part of real estate etiquette it’s worth driving home: Don’t pretend that you’re ready to buy if you aren’t. Don’t enlist the services of a buyer’s agent if you know you’re still in the fact-finding and “just looking” phase of your home search.

So go to open houses. Window-shop. Just be upfront with everyone about where you are in the process. Don’t pretend you’re ready to buy just because you want to be taken seriously. Real estate agents work on commission, so don’t wantonly take their attention away from actual, paying clients and potentially costing them sales, which is a serious thing. Got it?

Article by Kayleigh Roberts

In Defense of Having a (Slightly) Cluttered Home

A messy environment is actually good for your psyche.

Breaking news: Humans like stuff. Stuff they have. Stuff they like. Stuff they need.

But stuff just gets everywhere. Hence the trendiness of uber-organized spaces, hyper-cleanliness, and Marie Kondo-like thank-your-stuff-for-its-service-then-toss-it attitudes. But living in that state of constant tidying is exhausting.

Enough.

It is not a moral failing to have a slightly cluttered home.

And you know what? Life can be better with slightly more stuff. Here are seven reasons why:

#1 A Messy Environment Is a More Creative One

Being too tidy will stifle your imagination. Science says so.

There’s a lot of research showing messy surroundings encourage you to break the rules of convention and think more freely, while a highly ordered house stifles you.

We’re not talking rooms full of empty cat food cans and closets crammed with so much crap you can’t open the door. We’re talking about a comfortable amount of disorder.

If you’re not convinced disarray fuels creativity, Google “Einstein’s office.” He dreamed up the theory of relativity in a room that would give Marie Kondo a heart attack.

If you share your home, chat with your partner and agree on the line between creativity-inducing clutter and chaos. Are the piles of “Architectural Digest” genius fuel, or a sign you’re a hoarder? Discuss.

#2 A Perfectly Tidy Home Isn’t a Sign of a Happy Home

Your obituary won’t mention how tidy your house was (unless you’re Martha), so why dedicate your life to cleaning it?

“Your home will never be 100% clean and organized and lived in at the same time,” says Becky Rapinchuk, author of “Simply Clean.”

You want to focus on living in your home, keeping it functional and enjoyable — not perfect.

She recommends doing one task each day: Clean bathrooms Monday, dust on Tuesdays — you get it.

This allows you time to do the things that remind you why you bought your house, from porch swinging to reading-nook sitting. “Don’t spend more than 30 minutes a day on each task,” Rapinchuk says.

“If you don’t get it done, save it until next week. It’s just dirt.”

#3 A Little Dirt Is Good for You

People with super-clean houses have bleached and scrubbed all the microbes out of their house. But some of those microbes sent to that petri dish in the sky are actually good for you.

They strengthen your immune system and make your kids less likely to develop allergies.

Studies show that kids exposed to fumes from cleaning products are more likely to develop asthma, and may cause adults to be 30% to 50% more likely to get asthma, too.

The solution? Use natural cleaning products free of industrial chemicals.

And don’t clean so much. And maybe add a bit more clutter (and dirt) with plants.

#4 Plant-Cluttered Houses Are Healthier Houses

Sure, houseplants drop leaves, look unruly at times, and their pots scatter dirt, but you’ll breathe easier around them, and possibly live longer, too.

Many houseplants remove toxins from the air (devil’s ivy and peace lily are two examples).

And studies have shown that having a bit of nature indoors reduces the type of stress that causes deadly cardiovascular problems.

Plus, filling your home with houseplants is so trendy right now, a la #urbanjungle.

#5 If You Do Declutter, You Will Toss Something You Need Later

Disciples of extreme cleaning and organizing exclaim how happy they are to be free of their stuff. At first.

“All kinds of wonderful, valuable, and useful things get thrown out in the name of organizing,” writes Columbia Business School professor Eric Abrahamson in his book (with David H. Freedman)  “A Perfect Mess.”

Instead of throwing out anything you haven’t used in a year, Abrahamson recommends evaluating an item’s value and ability to be replaced. Throw out that stack of Domino back issues. Think twice about tossing your first edition “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

#6 A Cluttered Home Can Be Stylish, Too

The backlash to minimalism has begun. Thank goodness.

Evidence? Jungalow style, a look that features rooms stuffed with artful clutter: houseplants everywhere, boho pillows, tribal rugs, mismatched furniture, tchotchkes on every flat surface, and walls full of macramé hangings and art. Your clutter is no longer clutter. It’s fashion.

#7 The Stuff You Love Isn’t Clutter

It’s your stuff. Don’t let the cleaning and decluttering tyrants tell you what’s clutter and what’s not. Make your house please you.

Fill it with items that mean something to you and express your personality. Display your 25-year-old T-ball trophy, make a gallery wall of your child’s art, and stack your vintage vinyl collection on the mid-century mod end table you snagged at a garage sale.

Throw away the copy of “The Art of Tidying Up” that you bought in a moment of guilt. Now that’s clutter.

Article by LEANNE POTTS

Fast Fixes for Scratched Floors, Smudged Walls, and Other Household Flaws

If you’ve been in your home for a while, it’s probably withstood a good amount of wear and tear. Maybe even a great amount. Scratches on the wood floor, stains on the carpet, your kids’ crayon “art” on the wall—that’s just life. But what if you’ve got visitors—or more important yet, home buyers—coming over that you want to impress?

Sometimes there isn’t time to repaint, resand, or even conduct a thorough cleaning. And that’s where these easy cleaning home hacks and repairs will help in a pinch. Try these fast fixes:

Scratches in wood

Whether it’s a scrape or shallow gouge in your wood furniture or floor, it’s a nut job. Walnuts, to be more specific.

“Break open a walnut, and rub the meat on the scratch,” says Mary Findley, aka Mary Moppins and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning.” “Repeat until the color returns to the scratched part. As a very last resort, a brown crayon will work, too.”

Red wine on carpet

Every great party has some grand spills, like red wine, Kool-Aid, or cranberry juice. And the solution is a one-two punch of hydrogen peroxide followed by white vinegar.

“Mix hydrogen peroxide 50-50 with water,” says Findley. “Also mix a 50-50 solution of grain-distilled white vinegar and water.”

Saturate the stained area first with the peroxide mixture, letting it sit for five minutes. Then blot away the peroxide before pouring on the vinegar solution. This step is important because the vinegar neutralizes the peroxide’s bleaching properties. Then rinse thoroughly with plain water. 

Coffee on a tablecloth

Pour on club soda. Yeah, we know you’ve heard this one. It works if you do it right. Allow the stain to be literally lifted out by the bubbles, says Findley. Blot up with a paper towel. Repeat if needed. Drink the remaining club soda with a twist of lemon.

Gum in carpet

The best remedy for gooey gum is to freeze it: Place a zip-lock bag with ice cubes on top of the sticky mess—and wait. Once the gum is solid, scrape it off with a plastic card, says Findley, who adds that this also works for tree sap. Of course, why you have tree sap on your carpet is another matter entirely. 

Pen or marker on walls

The first thing Findley does is reach for the foam shaving cream.

“Foaming shaving cream has denatured and rubbing alcohols, both of which are good stain removers,” says Findley. So dab some on the spot, wait 10 minutes, and wipe. Reapply if needed.

This method can also be used on wallpaper, wood, and fabric-covered furniture, but always test first and remember to use clean white or neutral-color cloths or sponges. Anything that has a dye can transfer to what you are trying to clean.

Permanent marker

Permanent marker isn’t as permanent as you might think: Sunscreen, hairspray, and nail polish remover that contain acetone should wipe it away. But be careful! Because acetone is a powerful solvent, test on an inconspicuous area first. And since liquid may increase the stain’s size as it dissolves, dab it on rather than pour, and do not leave it on for long lest you damage the surface you’re trying to clean.

Crayon

Reach for baking soda and a damp cloth. Sprinkle the baking soda on a part of the damp cloth and rub gently. Crayons are petroleum-based wax markers; baking soda is mildly alkaline, which gives it grease- and oil-removing properties. It ‘s also abrasive, so rub the wall gently so you don’t damage the paint.

Loose vinyl tiles

This is one problem you can literally iron out. Cover the fugitive tile with a sheet of aluminum foil, then with a hot cloth. Press gently with an iron, passing over the tile until you can feel the tile’s glue melt from the heat and soften. Then place a weight on top, like a few books. This method can also reset curled seams in vinyl flooring.

Clogged sinks and toilets

Have a clogged sink or toilet, but no Drāno? Your bathroom cabinet may provide the solution.

For a sink, take four Alka-Seltzer tablets and drop them into the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar. Let the citric acid from the tablets and the vinegar fizz and foam for 10 minutes to loosen the muck stuck inside. Meanwhile, boil a pot of water, then pour it down the drain. Repeat if necessary.

For a toilet, just drop two tablets in the bowl and let them fizz for 20 minutes, then flush!

Article by Laura Winter

ANGEL FOOD CAKE (GRAIN-FREE, PALEO)

Angel Food Cake is worth the time investment and provides a fun activity for kids to join in, especially since you need to cool it upside-down!

 

Ingredients

For the Cake:

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and adjust the rack to the middle position.
  2. Place the egg whites and lemon juice in the bowl of a standing mixer. Whisk the egg mixture on medium-high until foamy, about 30 seconds. Add the salt, cream of tartar and vanilla. Whisk the mixture on medium-high until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. With the mixer on medium-high, slowly add 1/2 cup of the maple sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Sift the remaining 1/4 cup maple sugar and arrowroot flour into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium, slowly add the arrowroot mixture. Turn the speed up to medium-high and whip until smooth (there might be some tiny little lumps from the sugar, but it will melt in the oven while baking).
  4. Pour the batter into a clean (and NOT oiled), 12-cup angel food cake pan (I’m still on the look-out for a glass or stainless steel angel food cake pan. If you know where to purchase one, please let me know!). Bake for 40-45 minutes, until cake is puffed and the top is just turning golden brown.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven. Carefully turn the cake upside-down and place on top of a can. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. Run a knife around the outside of the cake and invert onto a cake platter (you might need to shake the cake a little to get it to separate from the center tube of the cake pan). Serve alone or with whipped cream and berries.
  6. Note: I only test the recipes on my site with the listed ingredients and measurements. If you would like to try a substitution, you are welcome to share what you used and how it turned out in the comments below. Thanks!