Ginny’s Famous Sea Foam Salad

Christmas 2019

Since my Mom was well known for being the queen of Jello, I thought I would share her most popular recipe.

Sea Foam Salad

Ingredients

  • 1  2 1/2 # Can of Pears
  • 1  Package of Lime Jello
  • 6  ounces of Cream Cheese
  • 2  T cream or half & half
  • 1  C whipped cream (she used 8oz Cool Whip)

Directions

Drain juice from pears – save and heat 1 Cup of juice to boiling point and pour over gelatin. Stir until dissolved. Let cool. Mix cream cheese & 2 T cream until smooth. Add gelatin mixture and beat with electric mixer. Chill until partially thickened – fold in well drained mashed pears & whipped cream. Pour into mold. Chill until firm.

 

How to Break a Lease: What Tenants and Landlords Can (and Cannot) Do

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No one is considering how to break a lease agreement and relishing it—whether it’s the renter or the landlord. But unfortunately, life and rental laws don’t always coincide.

Maybe you, as the tenant, have been transferred to another state for work. Maybe you’ve met the love of your life and decide to shack up together (congrats!), or perhaps your parents have fallen ill and you need to move closer to them.

Any of these situations—and plenty more—might mean you may have to break a lease agreement. And what would happen if you do?

You may have heard horror stories of lease-terminating tenants being made to pay rent for the rest of the agreement, or maybe you’ve heard of tenants scrambling to sublet their place, because it’s their only way to get out of their rent agreement without major fines.

Below are some hints and tips for tenants who need to get out of an agreement, and advice on how to handle this sticky scenario.

How to break a lease

If you, as the tenant, find yourself needing to break a lease, your first step should be to read the lease (and the termination clause) again—carefully.

You could get lucky: Some leases have an “opt-out” clause, meaning that breaking a lease is as simple as paying a previously agreed-upon fee, along with your last month’s rent.

Depending on the amount specified, it might make sense for the tenant simply to pay the rental termination penalty and then make a clean break, says David Reiss, academic programs director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

Then again, you may not be so lucky. Some leases will say that a tenant is responsible for the rent due for the remainder of the term of the lease. And if you’re terminating at the beginning of the lease, this could mean a lot of rent money.

Still, even in this worst-case scenario, a tenant may have some wiggle room based on how magnanimous the landlord is.

Talk to your landlord

If there is no opting out, or the fees are too steep for you to absorb, it will probably behoove you to speak directly with your landlord or rental company if you intend to break a lease.

“Your landlord may be willing to let you out of the lease early,” says Reiss. “You could also try to negotiate a lower amount for early termination than the lease calls for, by forfeiting your security deposit.”

All in all, it never hurts to ask (and pray you catch your landlords in a good mood). It’s possible they may not mind some tenants breaking their leases, since this would make it possible for them to raise the rent sooner. You won’t know until you ask.

Find a new tenant

Another option is to offer to help your landlord find a new tenant for your home before actually breaking the lease.

“It generally is not allowed without landlord consent, but you can discuss it with your management to see if they would consent to a sublease and under what terms,” says Reiss.

After all, if there’s still a tenant in the space, and your landlord is still collecting rent, the landlord might be able to live with it.

Keep in mind that you may also need to check local laws that may be applicable to sublet agreements. Don’t think about subletting a place to a new tenant if your local laws forbid it, or you might find yourself in more trouble than you would have run into if you had simply terminated your lease.

There’s also the matter of subletting to someone who will be a good tenant. If the new tenants who take your place don’t pay rent, you could be liable for their payments.

If it is allowable, you might try a site like Flip, where renters can post leases they need to break, and are seeking out qualified renters who are looking for someplace to live.

Breaking a lease no-nos

The one thing you absolutely cannot do without legal ramifications is just walk out and stop paying your rent.

Breaking a lease and walking off will probably not mean trading your apartment for a cell with bars (it’s a civil, not criminal, matter), but Reiss warns that it could get you in a lot of financial hot water if you handle it incorrectly.

“You cannot be arrested for nonpayment of rent—unless you live in 19th-century London—but you can be sued in court; have a judgment against you; have your wages garnished; and [have] liens placed on your property to satisfy the judgment,” says Reiss.

And did we mention that breaking a lease this way will mess up your credit scores? It will mess up your credit scores.

That said, there are a couple of cases where a tenant could terminate a lease without consequences, but they’re extenuating circumstances.

“If the apartment becomes unlivable—for instance, no heat in the winter—you could argue that you have been constructively evicted from the unit,” says Reiss. “Also, some states allow domestic violence survivors to break a lease in order to ensure their safety.”

Article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann

The Best Remote Working Essentials for Your Home Office Space

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Being cooped up in a home office all day may not seem like the best way to inspire productivity. But, with the right atmosphere and essential office supplies, you can stay on task and make the best of your work-from-home situation.

Accepting that your home office is the real deal is the first step—that includes having a morning routine that resembles the one you were accustomed to when you were commuting to an office.

“Even though you are in a remote environment, it’s super important to get up and dress the part,” says Nellie Akalp, CEO and founder of CorpNet, in Westlake Village, CA. “Shower, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, and get ready just as you would for your office. Doing all of that instead of staying in pajamas can really affect mood and productivity.”

Next, it’s time to spruce up your professional base of operations to get you going for a productive day of work.

Work-from-home basics

Photo by Rikki Snyder

All pre-pandemic remote workers already know a home office isn’t an office until you bust out all of the essential office supplies, all of which can be ordered online.

“For my team who has all gone remote to get through this trying time, we’ve stocked them with some good old-fashioned supplies: pens, pencils, notepads, and sticky notes. I live for sticky notes!” says Akalp.

A stylish notebook can make taking notes during Zoom meetings or Google Hangouts more enjoyable. We love this one with a cheeky message ($12, Amazon), this elegant version with a leatherlike cover ($17.27, Amazon), and this glam one with a marble pattern on the cover ($15.99, Amazon).

Lighting is also important and can set the right mood for the workday and productivity. Akalp recommends setting up your remote office in a room where there is plenty of light so you don’t feel gloomy. Whip open those blinds and curtains!

“A desk lamp ($28, Target) or some other kind of warm lighting helps make the room feel more comfortable than an overhead light,” says Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs.

Work smarter

Photo by James Frank Construction Inc

If possible, you don’t want to just work from your laptop propped on your bed. You want your tech workspace to be comfortable and functional.

“A full-size keyboard and mouse are an ergonomic choice, and wireless versions ($49.99, Amazon) won’t clutter up your office space with more cords,” says Reynolds.

She also recommends a second monitor ($200, Best Buy) to provide relief to eyes and posture, which can help increase productivity.

“Ask your employer what they might be able to provide you,” says Reynolds.

And with everyone working virtually, conference calls are going to be more of a necessity to help keep workers connected (and sane). Friends, too. For situations where you need long videoconferences, you may want to go beyond the camera on your laptop and get an external camera, which frees up your workspace and provides better video quality at the same time ($70, Best Buy).

Reynolds recommends using headphones with a microphone ($16.55, Amazon) for conference calls, instead of holding your phone or using your computer’s microphone, which doesn’t offer the best audio experience for those on the receiving end. Bluetooth headphones or AirPods with a solid microphone ($159, Apple) will also work.

Happy office space

Photo by Studio McGee

Since you’re going to be in your home office all day, you might as well make it your new 9-to-5 happy space. This means adding everything from freshly cut flowers to artwork to office plants ($8.99, Amazon).

“Greenery in your office has several benefits,” says Reynolds. “They act as a mood booster, an oxygen cleanser, and have some of the similar benefits as getting outdoors can have, including reduced stress, increased energy, and a feeling of calm.”

Since the home office will be your new normal for a while, Reynolds suggests taking advantage of the situation by decorating your office with anything that energizes, inspires, or gives you a happiness boost.

“Opt for lots of photographs of outdoor spaces, your friends and family, and other scenes that are important to you,” Reynolds says. Hanging photo holders ($25.99, Amazon) make it easy to display these cheerful scenes on the wall.

Take a break!

So now that you have your little home office up and running, don’t expect to spend all of your time with your head down. Working from home requires a lot of discipline, and that includes learning when to take a break. If you’re easily consumed by your work and need a little reminder to breathe every now and then, there’s an app for that.

Reynolds recommends Time Out, Self Control, or Workrave.

“Or just set the time on your phone to go off every hour, reminding you to get up a stretch,” she says.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Picking the Perfect Paint Color! 5 Colors That You Can’t Screw Up

#2 might surprise you.

Image: Mandi Gubler / Vintage Revivals

In a world where there are quite literally millions of paint color options, how do you tackle the daunting task of choosing the right one for your house!? It’s a little overwhelming, especially when you think white means white and find out that it’s actually pinkish, or blueish, or yellowish…after you’ve repainted an entire room.

Today we’re diving into my five fail-proof paint colors, ones that are tried and tested – that you can’t screw up.

1. A Perfect White

I typically go for one that doesn’t pull other colors and is a little desaturated, like the color of paper! Did you know that you can take a sheet of printer paper into your favorite paint store and they will color match it?

Image: Vintage Revivals

2. Deep Black

Just like white, black is really easy to see other colors coming through. I usually go for one that is a little warmer, that way it doesn’t read too purple or blue. A great way to test your colors is to line them up against a white background, you’ll immediately be able to see what hue they favor!

Image: Vintage Revivals

3. Green

Green is on the dawn of a huge moment. You’re going to see it everywhere, from kitchens to exteriors. Olive is a great balance between embracing the color without making it too in your face; it’s a deep muddy green and a great color for an accent wall.

Image: Vintage Revivals

4. Pink

Pink can be a bit harder, but it’s undeniable that this color has evolved from a shade for little girls to something completely universal. Stick to lighter hues that have a some warmth to them. That way the paint will appear more blush and less childish.

Image: Vintage Revivals

5. Charcoal

Moody, moody, moody. Charcoal straddles the line between almost black and gray. This color is a great way to make a statement, whether you’re using it on an accent wall or covering your entire room. If you’re struggling to find a great charcoal, but have a certain black paint that you love, try asking the paint counter to mix the black at 75% strength!

Image: Mandi Gubler / Vintage Revivals

Remember to Sample the Paints!

If you’re testing out different colors, make sure to place the paint samples on all of the walls in the room. The colors can appear very different depending on the location of the source of the light and the colors outside of your window.

This happened to me once when we were testing paint colors in my in-laws’ house in Southern Utah where the dirt is red. When we were testing white paint colors, they were all looking very pinkish. It wasn’t until we tried the colors on another wall that we realized that the colors were reading pink on a wall that had the window light shining on it. The sunlight was reflecting off of the red dirt and making our paint look pink! Now that the yard is properly landscaped the colors are reading the proper white shade.

At the end of the day, remember that it’s just paint. If you don’t love the end result, it can easily be changed! I’ve had my fair share of paint fails and all it took to fix it was a quick trip to the hardware store and another coat of a better color!

Article by MANDI GUBLER

Porcupine Meatballs

Taste of Home

These well-seasoned porcupine meatballs in a rich tomato sauce are one of my mom’s best main dishes. I used to love this meal when I was growing up.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Directions

  • 1. In a bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Add beef and mix well. Shape into 1-1/2-in. balls. In a large skillet, brown meatballs in oil; drain. Combine tomato sauce, water, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce; pour over meatballs. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Mortgage Rate Madness: They’re Up, They’re Down, Where Will They Land?

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With the economy in near shambles, layoffs becoming widespread, and more of the country under orders to shelter in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, historically low mortgage interest rates were one financial bright spot.

Not anymore.

Both homeowners seeking refinances and home buyers will likely be disappointed by rates that have fluctuated wildly in recent days—by the hour in some instances. That kind of volatility is unprecedented, and makes it more difficult for borrowers to lock in a low rate, say experts. And mortgage rates have surged upward despite the Federal Reserve slashing short-term interest rates.

Rates increased by more than a full percentage point from a low of 3.13% on March 2 to 4.15% on Friday, according to Mortgage News Daily. Some lenders are reporting rates in the mid-5% range.

Mortgage rates are “the most volatile they’ve ever been, by a wide margin,” Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily, told realtor.com®. “The craziness of today and this week cannot be overstated.”

That’s likely to frustrate borrowers looking for the silver lining amid the COVID-19 catastrophe.

“Rates are moving so much that there’s no guarantee … you’ll get a rate that you just saw advertised,” says realtor.com® Chief Economist Danielle Hale.

Why mortgage interest rates are on a roller-coaster ride

Typically when the economy is struggling, mortgage rates fall. But there’s nothing typical about this period. And there are several financial reasons that rates are seesawing so wildly.

First, it’s a reaction by lenders to the overwhelming throngs of homeowners who have been looking to refinance their mortgages when the rates bottomed out earlier this month. The gold rush was understandable: Some homeowners were able to save themselves hundreds of dollars a month and tens of thousands of dollars over the duration of their 30-year loans after refinancing at lower rates. But the hordes of people looking to lock in such deals turned out to be more than some lenders could handle. Many hiked up their rates to slow down the process,

But the bigger driver of the volatility involves mortgage-backed securities in the secondary market. After lenders make a mortgage, they typically don’t want to hold on to it because it ties up money they could be using to make new loans. So they sell the mortgage loans, which are bundled into a collection of mortgage-backed securities (aka mortgage bonds), to investors in the secondary market.

Still with us? Investors view mortgage -backed securities similarly to U.S. Treasury bonds. They’re both typically safer, less lucrative investments than the stock market. So with the stock market hurting, investors have traditionally turned to bonds. But now there is a glut of bonds on the market, thanks to the deluge of refis and the federal government issuing more bonds to fund economic stimulus measures. So bond prices are low.

And since mortgage rates are the inverse of bond prices, when bond prices are down, mortgage rates go up.

“The mortgage market is in absolute CHAOS!” Graham wrote in a recent article. “Coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation for the entire rates market (not just mortgages, but U.S. Treasuries and everything else).”

Now, the Fed has pledged to buy up at least $500 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds and $200 billion in government mortgage-backed securities over the coming months. That’s very likely to stabilize mortgage-backed securities as the demand is expected to bring mortgage rates down again.

But the problem is that many skittish investors want to keep their money more liquid during an unprecedented health and economic crisis—instead of locking up their cash for multiple years.

So as the stock market seems to be changing by the minute, so are mortgage interest rates.

“People want flexibility right now because things are different today than they were a couple of weeks ago,” says Hale. “When you don’t know what’s going to happen, holding cash gives you flexibility.”

What mortgage rate fluctuations mean for buyers

Longtime mortgage lender Don Frommeyer is advising his clients to apply for a refinance or purchase loan and get their paperwork in now. That way once rates fall again, they’re ready to lock in a low rate. Rates at his company, CIBM Mortgage, in Indianapolis, were at 5.5% as of Friday.

“The rates should really be down somewhere in the low 3% [range], and they’re in the 5% range,” says Frommeyer. “I’ve been in the mortgage business 45 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen it crazy like this.”

But buyers and homeowners should also realize the chaos is unfolding in real time.

“Be prepared to be a little bit flexible because things are moving so quickly now,” says Hale. “It could be days, it could be weeks, it could be months before it makes sense for you to refinance.”

And folks shouldn’t forget about the fees involved in a refinance. They average about $4,345 nationally, depending on the size of the loan and the lender, according to ValuePenguin, a consumer spending information website.

When things will calm down and stabilize is anyone’s guess.

“The rates should really be down somewhere in the low 3% [range],” says Frommeyer.

“While we can logically conclude that a massive economic recession should coincide with very low rates, there’s too much uncertainty,” Graham wrote. “As for how long it takes rates to get back to where they ‘should’ be, it’s impossible to know.”

Article by Clare Trapasso

Home Builders Still Hammering Away but Fear a Slowdown Looms

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While much of American business has shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, home builders are still building houses.

But these companies are bracing for a sudden drop in demand due to the outbreak and the weakening U.S. economy, which is likely to slow construction and exacerbate the national housing shortage.

Most parts of the country have allowed housing developments to continue, but other issues threaten to derail some projects. They could be delayed by difficulties in obtaining government permits or inspections. Some builders are reporting supply-chain disruptions for materials like lighting and plumbing fixtures related to imports from China and other countries.

Home builders also anticipate a sharp slowdown in new projects. Home-buying demand was strong earlier in the year, boosted by low mortgage rates. But now, many potential buyers are facing layoffs, drops in the value of their stock-market portfolios and widespread economic uncertainty.

“It is a double whammy,” said Brad Hunter, managing director at real estate advisory firm RCLCO. “The builders are being hit simultaneously with a sudden drop in traffic through their models and showrooms and also disruptions in supply.”

At Lennar Corp., one of the nation’s biggest home builders and bellwether for the industry, construction has continued and customers are still buying, said Stuart Miller, Lennar’s executive chairman, in an earnings call Thursday. Lennar shares rose 2.2% Thursday, more than double the increase of the broader stock market.

But the company said it is cutting spending on land acquisition, land development and new projects. It also paused stock buybacks and suspended its earnings guidance.

“As the economy slows, we expect that our traffic will decline and we will see the corresponding slowdown in sales,” Mr. Miller said. “There is enough uncertainty where nothing is on autopilot.”

A Lennar employee was one of the first Americans to die after contracting the coronavirus, he said.

The S & P Homebuilders Select Industry index has slid 41% this year, exceeding the 25% drop in the S&P 500 over the same period, according to FactSet.

Housing demand has outpaced supply in recent years. The U.S. has a national shortage of 3.3 million housing units, mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac said last month. Home builders have been ramping up to help fill this demand.

Last month, when the pandemic was starting to take hold in the U.S., housing starts fell 1.5% from the prior month but rose 39% from a year earlier, according to Commerce Department data released this week. Residential permits, which can signal forthcoming construction, fell 5.5% from the prior month.

In February, there were 539,000 single-family homes and 683,000 apartments under construction in the U.S., according to the data.

Home builders are in a stronger position than during the financial crisis, when a number were highly leveraged. Many are likely to slow or stop acquiring new land in the short term so they can preserve cash, said Fitch Ratings.

Home builder confidence slid in March, the National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday. About one in five home builders who responded to the survey reported supply disruptions due to virus issues in other countries, and that proportion rose to one-third for builders who responded after March 6, NAHB said.

About 30% of building materials imported to the U.S. comes from China, according to Dodge Data & Analytics.

The industry might also face issues obtaining certain supplies domestically. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday called for construction companies to donate a certain type of face mask to hospitals to help alleviate a shortage and  to not order more of those masks.

Local governments have taken varied approaches to home construction so far during the outbreak. Boston required all construction sites to halt work earlier this week. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to stay at home and clarified that home construction is exempt. Also on Thursday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered most businesses, including home construction, to shut down.

Some analysts said outdoor construction, where workers can maintain distance from each other, is less likely to be affected than interior work.

Buyers who are ready to move into completed new homes might have trouble getting the required closing documents such as loans and insurance if businesses or local government offices are closed, said Jerry Howard, chief executive of NAHB.

Similarly, home builders that are ready to start construction could be unable to get the required permits, he said, and projects that are mid-construction might pause until an inspection can be completed.

“The fact that the country is more or less shutting down is going to force construction sites to shut down until and unless we can solve some of these problems,” he said.

Bensonwood and Unity Homes, which build components of houses in factories before assembling them on site, have stopped hiring local construction crews to help their employees assemble homes, said Tedd Benson, who is chief executive of both companies.

The companies have also separated workers at their factories “into cocoons, where they are handling only the tools that they are handling and nobody else is handling those tools,” he said.

Mr. Benson said he expects some on-site assemblies to be delayed due to the virus. “People are scared, and they should be,” he said.

Article by Nicole Friedman

Animals and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people, while others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels, and bats. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals and do not infect humans.

Key Points
  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and others cause illness in certain types of animals.
  • Coronaviruses that infect animals can become able to infect people, but this is rare.
  • We do not know the exact source of the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  • We do not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19.
  • We do not have evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products imported pose a risk for spreading the 2019 novel coronavirus in the United States.

Risk to people

Some coronaviruses that infect animals have become able to infect humans and then spread between people, but this is rare. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are examples of diseases caused by coronaviruses that originated in animals and spread to people. This is what is suspected to have happened with the virus that caused the current outbreak of COVID-19. However, we do not know the exact source of this virus. Public health officials and partners are working hard to identify the source of COVID-19. The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person to person. The coronavirus most similar to the virus causing COVID-19 is the one that causes SARS.

At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.

Risk from imported animals and animal products

CDC does not have evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products pose a risk for spreading COVID-19 in the United States.

How to stay healthy around animals

In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time. However, because all animals can carry germs that can make people sick, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.

  • Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies.
  • Practice good pet hygiene and clean up after pets properly.
  • Take pets to the veterinarian regularly and talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet’s health.

For more information, visit CDC’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People website.

Risk to pets

CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.

How to protect pets if you are sick

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them. For more information visit: What to Do if You are Sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) play distinct but complementary roles in regulating the importation of live animals and animal products into the United States. CDC regulates animals and animal products that pose a threat to human health; USDA regulates animals and animal products that pose a threat to agriculture; and FWS regulates importation of endangered species and wildlife that can harm the health and welfare of humans, the interests of agriculture, horticulture, or forestry, and the welfare and survival of wildlife resources.

Related Resources

 

Stocking Up and Running Out of Space? 8 Clever Tricks for Storing Your Coronavirus Supplies

hedgehog94/Getty Images

Whether you’re staring down a quarantine, prepping to stay inside while the panic passes, or just hoping to max out your next trip to the grocery store, it can be hard to find a place to put surplus items—especially if you live in a small home or apartment.

Precariously stacking everything in one corner of your living room is always an option. But rather than add to an already stressful situation, we thought we’d help you find a solution that will calm some of that chaos.

We asked organization pros from all over the country for tips to help max out space in your place, no matter how many cans of food and rolls of toilet paper you stock up on.

1. Remove packaging

One of the best ways to start saving space on all your extra supplies? Ditch the bulky packaging.

“Cardboard packaging often takes up double or triple the space of its actual contents,” says Amy Bloomer, owner of Let Your Space Bloom. “Removing it is a huge space saver.”

Bloomer recommends stripping excess cardboard packaging from nonperishable food items, toilet paper, medication, and frozen food, just to name a few. Once you recycle all that cardboard, you’ll realize you have more space than you originally thought.

2. Make good use of the freezer

Store food efficiently.BravissimoS/Getty Images

Speaking of frozen food, your freezer is good for way more than just holding all those sad, preservative-filled microwave dinners.

“Just about any fresh food item can be frozen,” says Kait Schulhof, founder of A Clean Bee. “For example, I recently juiced about 10 lemons that we weren’t eating fast enough. I transferred the lemon juice to an ice tray and froze the rinds as well.

“The lemon cubes can now be added to hot water drinks, used in cleaning projects, and more. The rinds can be used sparingly in smoothies, grated in recipes, or used to infuse distilled white vinegar for cleaning purposes.”

Buy up some fresh fruits and veggies, then store them in your freezer for weeks of healthy meals.

3. Keep heavy stuff low to the ground

Keep heavy items low or on the floor. shanecotee/Getty Images

One of the hardest parts about storing a surplus of items is figuring out where to keep the heavy stuff, like large bottles of water.

“Keep heavier items, such as the water bottles, either on the floor or on low shelves, to avoid shelf collapse,” suggests Sherri Curley of The Practical Sort. “Create shelving that can support the weight of the bottles if you need to.”

Another trick of Curley’s: Buy stackable packs, smaller bottles, or narrow gallon bottles to fit more per shelf—one in front of the other. “Round bottles are less friendly for nestling,” she says.

4. Buy a stepladder—and go vertical

While it makes sense to keep the heavy stuff close to the ground, don’t be afraid to go vertical when it comes to lightweight supplies like toilet paper and other paper goods.

“Invest in a foldable footstool,” Curley says. “The top third of most closets isn’t used effectively and efficiently, because it’s difficult to reach for most folks.”

Remove your lightweight goods from their excess packaging and stack them in the tops of your closets or on top of high furniture in spare rooms.

5. Look for hiding places in other rooms

We’re guessing you don’t have a ton of visitors at the moment, making your extra bedrooms and guest rooms the perfect place to store stuff.

“If you bought extra supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, hygiene products, or other nonedible items, and you are short on the space where you normally keep those items, store those under beds or dressers in your bedrooms or guest bedrooms,” says Eileen Roth of Everything in its Place.

“If you have empty drawers in a dresser for guests, you could also use those drawers, or extra space in the guest bedroom closet.”

6. Do some spring cleaning (since you’re stuck at home anyway)

If you need more storage for your extra supplies, here’s a wild idea: Clear out space for them!

“Create storage space in your home by decluttering your current storage areas, like garages, laundry room areas, closets, and even under the beds,” says Nancy Haworth of On Task Organizing. “You can use clear plastic under-bed boxes to hold toiletries and paper goods, or even repurpose an extra room or an entire closet for overstock storage.”

Need more organization for your new storage space? Add in some free-standing wire shelving from Amazon.

7. Create a ‘store’ to organize your inventory

Make a supply store. Valeriy_G/Getty Images

When you’re stocking up and shoving everything you bought under beds and in the back of closets, it’s easy to forget what you have. That’s why Julie Brooks, of Peaceful Place Organizers, recommends keeping all your supplies out in the open in a makeshift “store.”

“Designate an area near the kitchen as the store,” she says. “This is where all back stock of food and toiletries will be kept. Keep similar items in semi-clear containers that are labeled and can be stacked.”

With an in-home store, you’ll always know how much of each item you have left, and how quickly you’re using them.

“It prevents your whole living space from becoming a warehouse, and it also evokes a sense of normalcy and alleviates anxiety about scarcity,” Brooks says. “It’s important to maintain a visually calm, peaceful space in this stressful time.”

8. Pace yourself

Although it might be tempting to buy every last item in the store, take a minute to consider what you really need.

“I know that there’s a lot of panic about being quarantined, but it’s important to be mindful when stocking up on surplus items,” says Katy Winter of Katy’s Organized Home. “Are you buying things with an expiration date? For example, medicine? Ask yourself how many bottles of Tylenol or how many cough drops are really necessary.”

Then ask yourself if it’s still something you’ll need in the coming weeks or months, when the panic dies down.

Article by Larissa Runkle

Re-Setting Your Moral Compass Starts Now

communications@farragut.org

Midwest folks are hearty. We are full of hospitality and warmth, no matter what the weather brings. We embrace the winter and enjoy the summer. Whether we help our neighbor by shoveling their driveway or invite them over for a backyard BBQ, our hospitality is far reaching.

Remember last winter during the Polar Vortex? We felt compelled to look in on neighbors and friends to compare notes and check status. During brutally hot summers, we look in on neighbors and friends to compare notes and check status. We make phone calls. We make grocery runs. We help each other out.

During this current time of uncertainty, let’s not forget our foundational values. Let’s remember our compassion for each other. Reset your moral compass to include hope and love. Direct it away from the fear that is rapidly growing within.

Since we have time and each other, why not reach out? Flood Social Media with positivity. Share the good that you are doing to help each other. If your neighbor or friend is sick, you can run to the pharmacy to pick up medication. If your family member needs milk or laundry detergent, get up, get out and help them.

You can sit around full of doubt and fear or you can choose love and compassion. For yourself. For your family. For your friends. This is what I am doing today. This is what I will be doing tomorrow and the next day. If you need my help, let me know. I am here for you!

 

Real Estate Reality: How to Get Ready for a Recession—Just in Case

claffra/Getty Images

What a difference a few weeks can make! We started 2020 on a hopeful note, expecting a solid—if moderate—continuation of the longest U.S. expansion on record. The only major obstacles in the housing market, it seemed, would be affordability and availability.

Then came the global expansion of the coronavirus epidemic, and in response, the social and economic landscape has shifted. On March 3, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced a surprise cut of 50 basis points in its short-term interest rate, the largest reduction in borrowing costs since the 2008 Great Recession. But despite this action, a slowdown in economic activity seems inevitable as consumers and companies cut back on travel, conferences, dining, lodging, and other spending, and talk of a recession is increasing.

Traditionally, a recession is marked as a period of two consecutive quarters of decline in the gross domestic product, although other factors also come into consideration. And while historically no two recessions have been alike, they tend to share some key features: rising unemployment, slow or no wage growth, declining prices, and shrinking credit availability.

The last recession, in 2008-09, is considered the second-worst economic contraction in U.S. history, and its effects still linger in our collective memory.

With this in mind, we thought it might be helpful to share our perspective on how a recession may affect the housing market, and how you can prepare for it.

Make your recession plan now

As the popular saying goes, “failure to plan is planning to fail.” But while a plan does not have to be overly complex, it should take into account your circumstances, life stage, goals, and resources.

Start by assessing your financial situation—are you early in your career or nearing retirement? Do you have family and people who depend on you from a financial perspective? Jot down how much you earn and how much money you bring home after taxes. Then compare that figure with how much money you spend on housing, utilities, food, transportation, travel, entertainment, gifts, charitable donations, and other items. Determine which are fixed expenses and where you can make cuts, if necessary. How large is the difference between money coming in and money flowing out?

Loss of a job is a major threat during a downturn, so an essential part of your plan should be saving. Traditionally, financial planners recommended putting aside enough cash to cover three to six months of expenses. However, during the 2008-09 recession many people found themselves unemployed for one year or longer.

Tips for homeowners

Sixty percent of homeowners have mortgage debt, which comes into focus at a time of economic uncertainty. For most Americans, a home is their largest asset and will factor prominently into their financial plan. As a homeowner, you should consider the following:

  • Establish an emergency fund: A good rule of thumb is to have at least six months’ worth of living expenses saved in the event you lose your job. If you’re a homeowner, planning to have enough cash to cover your mortgage and unexpected home repairs for six to 12 months is prudent. This may not be feasible, but it is a goal worth aiming for.
  • Look for ways to reduce your expenses: Mortgage rates have fallen to historic lows, so there may be an opportunity to lower monthly payments by refinancing, or to make them more predictable by switching from a variable to a fixed-rate mortgage. Often there are fees associated with refinancing, so you will want to compare those with what you’ll be saving over time and how long you think you’ll live in the home. If it costs you $2,000 to save $200 a month, then after you’ve lived in the home for just less than a year, you’ve saved enough to offset the fees, which probably means the refinance makes sense. If you’re not sure that you’ll be in the home long-term or if it will take you a longer time to recoup the fees with your monthly savings, then refinance may not be the best option for you. Also, it’s important to shop around for mortgage loans and make sure you are comparing apples to apples on the interest rate as well as any associated costs. Check rates or use a calculator to see if refinancing makes sense.
  • Consider your home an asset: Understand how much equity you have in your home, and research what rates look like for home equity loans. In the event of a job loss, it could make sense to tap into the equity in your home. Check with a financial adviser to see if this might be a good option for you. Tools like MyHome, which gives a view into your property value and equity, can be a good place to start.
  • Consider an early payoff: If you’re a longtime homeowner, there may be an opportunity to pay off your mortgage or switch to a shorter-term loan. Those in a 30-year might be able to switch to a 10- or 15-year mortgage at a lower rate. This can help reduce monthly payments or eliminate your mortgage debt, placing your financial situation on a stronger foundation.

Tips for house hunters heading into the spring buying season

Although most people think of recessions with dread, it is worth keeping in mind that they can also be periods of opportunity, especially if you are prepared. As the last recession demonstrated, while asset markets declined, many prepared buyers found treasures, often in low-priced homes. If you’re thinking about buying a home, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Do your financial homework. It’s important to understand your monthly expenses and how much you can comfortably afford. If you’re not feeling confident or comfortable that your income is stable, it might be best to pause your home search.
  • Know what you’re looking for. Have a short list of your preferred neighborhoods, home size, features, and commute time to help narrow your search. Understanding the market will help you identify a great buy or hidden gem, as many prepared buyers did during the last downturn.
  • Be ready to move quickly. Be prepared with loan pre-approval (which is more solid than pre-qualification) in case your perfect home comes on the market and you need to move quickly to beat out other offers.
  • Be patient. Housing inventory has been declining at double-digit rates for the past seven months. This has resulted in a noticeable shortage of homes for sale at all price points, but especially in the affordable range. A quarter of first-time buyers have had to spend over a year on their home search. In these market conditions, it’s important to be prepared, but also patient.

Whether you own a home or are looking to invest for the first time, the important thing to remember is that you can plan for a recession, and it’s never too early to do so.

Article by George Ratiu

Moving Forward with the Home Buying Process

A+ Advanced Home Inspection Team, LLC with first time home buyers

Yesterday, today & tomorrow…we will continue to assist buyers and sellers with the home buying process. This is what I do and I will do it for you too!

Yesterday was a typical day for my home buyers going through the inspection process as they anticipate the purchase of their first home. I am thankful that all parties have the hope and courage to focus on their dreams while being mindful of the extra ordinary circumstances that surround their decisions.

The sellers, eager to move onto their next dream home, were very compliant with our request to come to terms with our offer and accommodate our request to conduct the Home Inspection. A+ Advance Home Inspection, LLC led by Tim Ebert, at our request, made the conscious decision to ask his crew to come to work. Although chilly outside, it was a beautiful day.

Mindful of the home, the team and my clients were respectful of the space and spent very minimum time inside the home. We did our best to use gloves and hand sanitizer before touching anything.

During the inspection, we received notice that the Feds dropped the lending interest rates to 0%. Wow! An unexpected break that will set my clients up for success.

During this time of uncertainty, I am here to assist you and all of my clients. I am here to listen to your concerns, answer your questions and help you make educated decisions. Please feel free to reach out. I’m here. This is what I do.

Please stop the coronavirus hysteria. Now.

Photo by: David Goldman
A school bus sits vacant while parked at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, R.I., Friday, March 6, 2020, as the school remains closed following a confirmed case of the coronavirus. As a growing number of schools across the United States close their doors because of the coronavirus, officials are weighing whether to shut down entirely or move classes online, which could leave behind the many students who don’t have computers, home internet access or parents with flexible work schedules. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Substitute prayer for the COVID-19 panic

– – Monday, March 9, 2020

Just over a year ago, long before the term coronavirus had entered our collective vocabularies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in just a few short weeks of the 2018-19 winter season, the flu had sickened between 6 million and 7 million Americans. About half of those had gone to the doctor for help. Somewhere between 69,000 and 84,000 had been hospitalized. The good news, the CDC announced, was that it wasn’t nearly as severe as the year before.

The previous year, 2018, the CDC reported 49 million Americans had been sickened by the flu. 960,000 were hospitalized and over 80,000 ended up dead. You read that right, in 2018 over 80,00 people died from the flu in the United States. Most of the victims were geriatric, many with compromised immune systems. There were a handful of pediatric deaths, most with immune systems not yet fully developed. All tragic deaths. All flu related.

Fast forward to 2020 and we find our world in utter panic due to something called the coronavirus. Monday morning the New York Stock Exchange halted trading when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by nearly 1900 points (7%) in the first 15 minutes of trading. Coronavirus induced panic.

The organizers of South By Southwest — which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors and some of Hollywood and music’s biggest stars to Austin, TX at this time each year — announced last Friday they had canceled the annual arts and technology festival, saying they’re “devastated” but recognize it is necessary to prevent a serious threat of contagion. This recognition came despite the fact Austin Public Health had stated as recently as Wednesday that “there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer,”

No evidence that closing gatherings makes anyone safer and yet panic is setting in everywhere. The National College Players Association (NCPA) has asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to consider having its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments with no crowds in the arenas due to coronavirus fears. No crowds during the sweet 16 games? That may be the new definition of March Madness.

The same reactionary hysteria is taking place all over the globe. Saudi Arabia took the rare step of suspending religious pilgrimage trips to Mecca. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has ordered the lockdown of the country’s northern region of Lombardy and 14 nearby provinces in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus. A dozen passengers on a cruise line tested positive and more than 2300 other passengers and a crew of nearly 1100 were held hostage for days. Even upon release from the vessel, all will be quarantined for 14 days at various military facilities.

There are threats to close down public schools all across the United States. The Mayor of a Japanese town scheduled to host the 2020 Olympics this coming summer has suggested perhaps the Olympics should be canceled.

Hysteria. Total hysteria.

Is it possible the coronavirus is something less than the second-coming of the black plague? I have this crazy habit of checking facts and putting things in context. As I write this column I am looking at the “real time” CDC website which lists the “COVID-19 US at a glance” statistics. The latest numbers? 566 cases of coronavirus in the entire United States. 22 related deaths. Obviously any death is tragic but does a count of 22 deaths in a country of 330 million people really warrant billions of dollars in Wall Street losses, the cancellation of festivals, games, community gatherings, schools, church services and more?

In a word, no. It is hysteria.

In 2018, nearly 1 million people were hospitalized in the US for the flu. Over 80,000 died. Games weren’t canceled. Festivals thrived. Concerts weren’t shut down. Flights continued on as originally scheduled. Business as usual despite 80,000 dead. Why then are we closing down society in response to 22 deaths? Why the madness? Why the total hysteria?

It may be because the mainstream media is quite sure that fear sells. Facts be damned. Every year during hurricane season The Weather Channel puts a 23 year old kid in an oversized rain slicker on the beach in the rain and wind to breathlessly report how Hurricane “Fill in the Name” may potentially be the worst hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Christopher Columbus arrived. The storm eventually peters out but not until after millions of fear-filled viewers have tuned in endlessly (and cleared the local grocery stores of water and canned goods). Fear does sell.

News media is taking the sale of fear to a new low with the coronavirus. The CDC told us that 49 million Americans were sick with the flu in 2018. That same CDC tells us only 566 are sick with coronavirus now, nearly all of whom are high risk, frail individuals. Do we find CNN and other mainstream media reassuring us with that context? Of course not.

Instead they are reporting on new modeling from The Australian National University looking at seven scenarios of how the outbreak might affect the world’s healthy and wealth. In the hastily assembled study’s best case scenario the death toll is 15 million people and the global GDP loss will exceed $2.4 trillion U.S. dollars. That is the best case scenario. It gets much worse from there. The modeling is suspect, the assumptions grotesque and the science nearly non-existent, but that hasn’t stopped major news outlets from repeating the absurd conclusions. Fear sells.

Liz Specht, who has a PhD. in biology and is the associate director of Science and Technology for the Good Food Institute sent out her worries in a lengthy Twitter thread last Friday. Her assessment of how coronavirus is likely to impact the U.S. health care system suggests that hospitals will be quickly overwhelmed with patients, and that all available hospital beds will be filled by about May 8th. She says 10 percent of patients will require the ICU. Let me repeat that. Every single hospital bed in the United States will be filled with coronavirus patients by May 8th.

Now let me correct her. No they won’t.

The people predicting at least 15 million deaths and overflowing hospitals are the same as the ones that told us the polar ice caps would completely melt by 2013. Reality check: According to official government data from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Arctic Sea Ice is once again growing, with current 2020 levels exceeding 8 out of the previous 10 years.

Never ones to let hysteria flourish without spending taxpayer money, Congress rushed to approve $8.3 Billion to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Members literally bragged about who had come up with the highest dollar amount. Pressed for exactly what the money would be spent on and how it would stop sickness, Members stumbled. By the end of last week however, House Leadership was suggesting that perhaps Congressional staff should work from home to avoid getting sick, and some of the funds could be used to buy them new phones and new computers.

Only in D.C. would the fight against a dreaded virus entail buying congressional staff new telephones.

Over the weekend I watched Dr. Ben Carson’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous.” They spoke about the administration’s response to the coronavirus. Dr. Carson is not only a Medical Doctor, he is quite literally one of the most respected and revered surgeon’s on the face of the earth. He attempted to bring a logical approach to the discussion, assuring viewers that most were not at high risk. Primarily the frail and aged should be concerned. Dr. Carson encouraged people to learn what the real risks were, to wash their hands frequently and take other simple precautions, but also encouraged people to continue to live their daily lives. Stephanopolous however was having none of it. He kept insisting that the Trump administration should be doing a broad undefined “more.” Despite Dr. Carson’s medical expertise, George was busy selling fear.

Current headline in The New York Times: Virus Keeps Spreading as Governments Clamp Down. Very clever. A double dose of fear. People are petrified of disease and are also freaked out by the government making demands on them. Fear! Fear! Fear!

Stop. Please stop. Stop the hysteria. Stop the panic. Stop the grand ideas intended to demonstrate that you’re doing “something.” Stop the fear. Stop talking about coronavirus non-stop. Stop with the gloom and doom.

Instead let’s try something much more simple. Let’s follow the Centers for Disease Control suggestions for minimizing the risk of contracting coronavirus (or any other common cold/flu type illness):

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Stay home when you are sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask. CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

If you feel you absolutely must do more, take a moment and say a prayer for the 22 lethal victims of coronavirus. As long as you’re in the praying mood, say a prayer for the 80,000 dead victims of the flu too. Pray all you can … but please promise to stop the hysteria.

 

6 Reasons Why High-Fructose Corn Syrup Is Bad for You

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an artificial sugar made from corn syrup.

Many experts believe that added sugar and HFCS are key factors in today’s obesity epidemic (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).

HFCS and added sugar are also linked to many other serious health issues, including diabetes and heart disease (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).

Here are 6 reasons why consuming large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup is bad for your health.

1. Adds an unnatural amount of fructose to your diet

The fructose in HFCS can cause health issues if eaten in excessive amounts.

Most starchy carbs, such as rice, are broken down into glucose⁠ — the basic form of carbs. However, table sugar and HFCS comprise around 50% glucose and 50% fructose (5Trusted Source).

Glucose is easily transported and utilized by every cell in your body. It’s also the predominant fuel source for high-intensity exercise and various processes.

In contrast, the fructose from high fructose corn syrup or table sugar needs to be converted into glucose, glycogen (stored carbs), or fat by the liver before it can be used as fuel.

Like regular table sugar, HFCS is a rich source of fructose. In the past few decades, the intake of fructose and HFCS has increased significantly.

Before table sugar and HFCS became affordable and widely available, people’s diets contained only small amounts of fructose from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables (6Trusted Source).

The adverse effects listed below are mostly caused by excess fructose, although they apply to both high-fructose corn syrup (55% fructose) and plain table sugar (50% fructose).

2. Increases your risk of fatty liver disease

High intake of fructose leads to increased liver fat.

One study in men and women with excess weight showed that drinking sucrose-sweetened soda for 6 months significantly increased liver fat, compared to drinking milk, diet soda, or water (10Trusted Source).

Other research has also found that fructose can increase liver fat to a greater extent than equal amounts of glucose (11Trusted Source).

In the long term, liver fat accumulation can lead to serious health problems, such as fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).

It’s important to note that the detrimental effects of fructose in added sugar, including HFCS, should not be equated with the fructose in fruit. It’s difficult to consume excessive amounts of fructose from whole fruits, which are healthy and safe in sensible amounts.

3. Increases your risk of obesity and weight gain

Long-term studies indicate that excessive intake of sugar, including HFCS, plays a key role in the development of obesity (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).

One study had healthy adults drink beverages containing either glucose or fructose.

When comparing the two groups, the fructose drink did not stimulate regions of the brain that control appetite to the same extent as the glucose drink (14Trusted Source).

Fructose also promotes visceral fat accumulation. Visceral fat surrounds your organs and is the most harmful type of body fat. It’s linked to health issues like diabetes and heart disease (8Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).

Moreover, the availability of HFCS and sugar has also increased average daily calorie intake, a key factor in weight gain. Research suggests people now consume over 500 calories per day from sugar, on average, which may be 300% more than 50 years ago (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18).

4. Excessive intake is linked to diabetes

Excessive fructose or HFCS consumption can also lead to insulin resistance, a condition that can result in type 2 diabetes (11Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).

In healthy people, insulin increases in response to the consumption of carbs, transporting them out of the bloodstream and into cells.

However, regularly consuming excess fructose can make your body resistant to insulin’s effects (19Trusted Source).

This decreases your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. Over the long term, both insulin and blood sugar levels increase.

In addition to diabetes, HFCS may play a role in metabolic syndrome, which has been linked to many diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers (20Trusted Source).

Many serious diseases have been linked to the overconsumption of fructose.

HFCS and sugar have been shown to drive inflammation, which is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

In addition to inflammation, excess fructose may increase harmful substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which may harm your cells (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).

Lastly, it may exacerbate inflammatory diseases like gout. This is due to increased inflammation and uric acid production (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).

Considering all of the health issues and diseases linked to the excessive intake of HFCS and sugar, it may come as no surprise that studies are starting to link them to an increased risk of heart disease and reduced life expectancy (3Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).

6. Contains no essential nutrients

Like other added sugars, high fructose corn syrup is “empty” calories.

While it contains plenty of calories, it offers no essential nutrients.

Thus, eating HFCS will decrease the total nutrient content of your diet, as the more HFCS you consume, the less room you have for nutrient-dense foods.

The bottom line

Over the past few decades, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become affordable and widely available.

Experts now attribute its excessive intake to many serious health issues, including obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, among others.

Avoiding high-fructose corn syrup — and added sugar in general — may be one of the most effective ways to improve your health and lower your risk of disease.

Article by Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Is It Time to Refinance Your Mortgage?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Worries about coronavirus have battered stocks and sent investors fleeing to the safety of U.S. government debt.

On Friday, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell below 0.7% for the first time. Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate to a range between 1% and 1.25%.

Mortgage rates are expected to fall along with those yields. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.29% during the week of March 5, according to Freddie Mac, and the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 2.79%.

“Given the movement in Treasury rates right now, they’re probably going to go lower,” said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “I think low mortgage rates are going to be around for a while.”

If the yield on the 10-year Treasury declines even further, mortgage rates could drop more, too, though they don’t always move in lockstep with the government benchmark.

“This opens up a whole new world of refinancing for mortgage borrowers,” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry research group. “It’s a matter of time in terms of how fast lenders lower their rates to reflect a 10-year [U.S. Treasury note] and it’s also a question of how fast they want to go to that level, but at a minimum, we’re talking mortgage rates at 3.25% if not below 3% in the next few weeks, if everything stays the same—and frankly, that would be a once-in-a-lifetime refinancing opportunity.”

Whether it makes sense to refinance a mortgage now comes down to a host of personal factors. It depends, for example, on the cost of a refi, how long you plan to stay in your home, how much you hope to save, what you think your house is worth—and your view of the world economy.

“Yields have fallen quite steeply and the reason is that there’s concerns about a big slowdown in the global economy, largely because of the coronavirus,” said Kathy Jones, senior vice president and chief fixed income strategist at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

For those considering a refi now, first look at the difference, or spread, between the current rate and the rate in the market. Then looks at costs, as a refinancing means paying significant closing costs—including title insurance and an appraisal—which can often amount to a few thousand dollars.

If the potential saving from a lower-rate mortgage doesn’t make up for those costs, it may not make sense to refinance just yet. “The old rule of thumb used to be two years,” Mr. Cecala said. “If you can pay it back within two years and you expect to be in the house five years, then why not do it?”

Rates have fallen before, so those who wait to refinance could potentially see even better ones. As the coronavirus continues to develop and its effects are felt around the globe, Mr. Cecala said the mortgage market could see even more changes.

Lauri Droster, branch director at RBC Wealth Management in Madison, Wis., suggests considering a refinance if there’s a difference somewhere between one-half a percentage point or 1 percentage point.

Ms. Droster said it’s easier for people to understand the potential saving when they make it personal. Calculate how refinancing could affect monthly mortgage payments rather than simply looking at the percentage difference and examining it in an abstract way.

“When they see it in real dollars, then they can make that comparison,” she said. “That’s where they can really see what it means, when they can see it in dollars and say, ‘I’m paying $1,500 a month right now for my mortgage and 1% lower is down to $1,200 a month.’”

For those with adjustable-rate mortgages, however, Mr. Cecala recommends borrowers check how often their rate adjusts. Most only do so once every six or 12 months, in which case some homeowners might want to refinance from an ARM to a fixed-rate, he said, to lock into low rates.

“If you’re saying ‘I’m planning on being in this home for the next five years, and I don’t want to worry about what’s happening with interest rates,’ that’s pretty much a no-brainer,” he said.

Those with high loan-to-value ratios, however, may not be able to refinance, despite the fact that they may want to do so. But Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac, said that with home values steadily rising over the past decade, this circumstance is rare.

Dan Egan, managing director of behavioral finance at Betterment, is himself considering refinancing his house. To him, the move makes sense because he and his wife have decided to also shorten the time period of their loan from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage. Their net monthly payments could be higher as a result, but he’d be paying lower interest rates over a shorter time. His tax situation wouldn’t change as “the standard deduction is high enough.”

“My rate was 4% and it was a 30-year mortgage I am six years into, so I’m looking now, especially with the current softening in the stock market. If rates get a little lower, I could be looking at a new mortgage rate of 3.5%,” he said. “The difference between 4% and 3.5% may sound small, unless you’re looking at those interest payments over many years. So for myself, that change would mean saving somewhere around $500 a month, which is significant.”

With the mortgage rates dropping and refinancing interest growing, Mr. Cecala said that the math “gets easier.”

“The more you can adjust the interest rate, the more palatable it is to pick up closing costs,” he said. “If you’re saving $800 a month, you don’t balk at spending $8,000 in closing costs because you’ll make that back within a year.”

When it is worth refinancing

  • Home buyer puts 20% down on a home worth $266,300, the median home price in January.
  • No plans to move soon.
  • Pays a 4% rate, resulting in a monthly payment excluding taxes, fees and insurance of $1,017.09, according to LendingTree.
  • Dropping to a 3.25% rate would decrease the payment from $1,017.09 to $927.16. The homeowner would save around $90 a month, with exclusions.
  • Assuming refinancing costs of $2,000, this homeowner would need to stay in the home for a little less than two years to make it worth the money.

When it isn’t worth refinancing

  • Home buyer puts 20% down on a home worth $266,300, getting a 4% rate on the $213,040 fixed-rate loan.
  • Plans to move within the next two years.
  • Dropping to a 3.65% rate saves $42 a month, with exclusions.
  • With refinancing costs of $2,000, they’d need to stay closer to four years to make refinancing worth the cost.
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The Biggest Changes Coming in 2020 Real Estate—and What Buyers and Sellers Need to Do

asbe/iStock; realtor.com

Ten years ago, many homeowners were desperately hoping to hang on to their homes. Others were doing everything they could just to scare up potential buyers. Meanwhile, said buyers were struggling to get financing from newly skittish lenders. Ah, memories. What a difference a decade makes!

It has, in fact, been the most consequential stretch in American real estate history, one that has fundamentally altered the landscape. Cosmopolitan coastal cities are out; affordable midsize cities are in. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are no longer the dominant forces in buying, ceding that turf to millennials. Yet after all this time, it seems that home buyers still can’t get much of a break, according to a new report from realtor.com®.

“In 2020, there will be opportunity for buyers, but in many ways the challenges they’ve faced for years are going to persist—challenges like difficulty finding the home that’s right for them, and competing with other buyers, especially in affordable price points,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com, whose team pulled together a forecast of housing trends for 2020.

In other words: The more things change, the more they’ll stay the same. A lack of homes for sale has been making things difficult for buyers since 2015, and next year, inventory could reach historic lows. And although single-family home construction is expected to increase 6%, it still won’t be enough to keep up with demand.

There is a bright side, though: Mortgage rates are expected to remain reasonable, at an average 3.85%.

Let’s take a closer look at the biggest factors that will shape the real estate market in 2020.

Affordability, affordability, affordability

OK, it’s not as catchy as “location, location, location,” but achievable price points will be key in the coming year, especially as millennial buyers solidify their position as America’s main home buyers (more on that later).

Now that we’ve apparently hit the ceiling of crazy price growth, it seems that buyers are just over overpaying.

“Many people would prefer to live in the San Franciscos and [other] big cities, but for the right price they will make the decision to go to another city,” says Hale.

Perhaps a city like, say, McAllen, TX, where sales are expected to rise 4.4% and home prices to appreciate 4% in 2020. Compare that with a 9.5% drop in sales for Las Vegas, and 1.1% decrease in home prices.

Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are expected to welcome an influx of home shoppers priced out of California. Meanwhile, would-be buyers from pricey Northeastern markets will likely head to the Midwest or Southeast. There, they can find affordable housing as well as solid, diversified economies.

Millennials mature into home buying

“The largest cohort of millennials will turn 30 in 2020—historically, that’s when people tend to think of buying their first home,” says Hale. The oldest millennials will be turning 39. By the middle of the year, she says, this generation will account for more than 50% of mortgages taken out in the country. Yes, that’s more than all other generations, combined.

Surprised? Well, the popular notion that millennials aren’t interested in settling down just isn’t proving true as members of this generation, born in 1981 through 1997, partner off and start families.

“Family changes tend to drive home-buying decisions,” Hale notes. “Millennials are going to be active in the housing market not just because they’re just at the age when they’re thinking about becoming first-time home buyers, but they’re also in the age range when they’re having kids.”

But while they may be motivated, they’ll face a lot of competition for the scarce homes on the market—from roughly 71 million of their peers nationwide.

Where are the homes?

While millennials are raring to buy, Gen Xers and boomers are pretty comfortable where they are, thank you very much. Boomers are living longer, healthier lives, and staying in their houses longer. Gen Xers often aren’t quite done with raising kids or ready to retire, so except for the lucky ones trading up, they also aren’t inclined to move.

Since older owners aren’t quite chomping at the bit to give up their houses en masse—and with levels of new construction still low in most parts of the U.S.—there just won’t be enough housing to meet the demand. And while in previous years this scarcity has driven up home prices, home price appreciation is finally flagging, with predicted growth of just 0.8%.

After the housing crash in 2008, which wiped out quite a few builders, those who remained have largely focused on higher-end developments with bigger profit margins. Although they’re finally showing signs of a shift toward building more entry-level homes, faced with overwhelming demand, it will take a few years for a significant number to come to market.

How to buy a home in 2020

Those looking to buy an entry-level home will face a tough search, so they should be prepared for it to take a while—and to act quickly when needed.

“Finding a property that is right for you and snatching it up before someone else does is going to be the primary challenge,” Hale says.

Those with a bit more to spend will have more to choose from, less competition, and possibly more motivated sellers.

How to sell a home in 2020

Sellers of entry-level homes should be sitting pretty, as those will continue to be the most in-demand properties next year. If anything, those sellers should be prepared to move out quickly!

Others should brace themselves for a longer wait, especially as the price point moves up. The number of existing-home sales is expected to dip 1.8% next year. Higher-end sellers should do their homework: “They might need to think about the competition and pricing their home competitively,” Hale says.

Article by Cicely Wedgeworth

5 Disgusting Ways Your Cat’s Litter Box Could Make You Sick—or Worse

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The best part of owning a cat is probably when it decides you’re not thatworthless and deigns to be petted by you. The worst part? Cleaning out the litter box—over and over and over again.

And it’s not just a messy task. Litter boxes are full of health risks.

Here’s what could be lurking in your pet’s special place—and why it means you need to clean it more often, not less.

1. Campylobacteriosis

If your cat’s prone to eating raw meat—whether the spendy kind you get at the pet store or the occasional mouse—it’s at risk of ingesting a bacteria called campylobacter that it’ll then eliminate through its feces.

“It can be contracted by direct contact with cat feces, generally after not using proper hand hygiene,” says Laura Flinn, a board-certified nurse specializing in family practice and assistant professor of nursing at Bradley University in Peoria, IL.

You’ll know if that’s the case. The symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.

2. Giardiasis

This parasite isn’t exactly the same as the one that causes illness in international travelers, but it’s still gross. Since giardiasis loves moist, cool environments, it’s commonly water-borne. If your cat laps up contaminated water, it will then shed the little giardiasis cysts in its poop.

“Giardiasis can be found on surfaces that have been contaminated with infected feces,” Flinn explains.

And since a cat with giardiasis has frothy, greasy stools or diarrhea, you can see why someone cleaning its litter box (aka you) is at risk of also getting sick.

3. Roundworms

Roundworms, which look way too much like spaghetti, are common intestine dwellers in cats, merrily burrowing in for the long haul while allowing their eggs to be pooped out. If you touch infected feces, then forget to wash your hands and (shudder) touch your mouth, you’ll become a roundworm host, too.

What could happen next sounds like the third act of a horror movie: If roundworm larvae migrate to your eye, your retina could be damaged or you could lose your sight. The larvae can also end up in your major organs, causing painful symptoms like wheezing and abdominal cramping.

Roundworm eggs also have such a strong, protective layer that they can survive outside a host for month. Or even years. (Hey, you still with us?)

4. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis can cause flulike symptoms, blurred vision, seizures, and lung problems that look a lot like tuberculosis. It can also cause birth defects.

Cats get toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat or prey such as rodents and birds.

“They shed cysts in their stool for a couple of weeks after infection, so individuals cleaning the litter box could be at risk,” says Megan Teiber, a veterinary consultant for Tuft + Paw.

Those most at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis include infants of mothers who came in contact with the parasite just before or during their pregnancy, Flinn says.

Also in danger: anyone with a severely weakened immune system (e.g., people with AIDS, chemotherapy patients, or organ transplant recipients).

Since the bacteria that causes toxoplasmosis doesn’t become infectious in the stool until one to five days after it’s excreted, frequently changing your cat’s litter box can prevent you from ever coming into contact with the parasite.

Even so, “pregnant women should wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box, or avoid cleaning it entirely,” Teiber says.

5. Ammonia exposure

It’s a myth that’s made its way all over the internet: If cat urine and feces build up, dangerous ammonia fumes are created. You’ll go to scoop out Miss Kitty’s litter box one day and could pass out from the fumes!

While high levels of ammonia can indeed be hazardous, “the risk of ammonia exposure is extremely low for owners who are regularly cleaning up after their cats,” Teiber says. “Prolonged exposure to large amounts of cat urine may cause problems, but this is only likely to occur in situations with a large number of cats and poor hygiene practices.”

In other words, worry about ammonia exposure if you’re a cat hoarder who comes into frequent contact with decaying poop. Don’t worry if you have one little kitty whose litter box you regularly clean.

How much of a scaredy-cat should you be?

“Disease transmission from cats to humans through a litter box is rare, especially with good hygiene practices and frequent litter box maintenance,” Teiber says.

Cats who go outside are more likely to spread disease, so you might want to make your felines indoor-only pets.

To keep safe, you can also do the following:

  • Scoop the litter box every day. “And wash it out completely with soapy water once weekly,” Teiber advises. “Cats are very fastidious and may stop using the box if it gets too dirty or smelly.”
  • Have more than one litter box. Afraid so, especially if you have multiple cats. It means more work for you, but “cats don’t always like to share, or may be momentarily turned off by too much activity around a box,” Teiber explains. “The general rule of thumb is to have one more box than you have cats.”
  • Rein in the mess. Place litter boxes around your house in clean, quiet, and easily accessible spaces, Teiber says. Each box should be large enough for your cat to fully turn around in. If your pet tends to be messy, choose a style with higher walls. If you have an older cat with mobility issues, do it a favor and get a box that it can step into and out of easily.

As for what to put in your litter box, “odorless, finely granular scoopable litter is easier to clean and preferred by many cats,” says Teiber.

But take it easy on any upgrades. It’s no surprise, Teiber notes, “most cats react negatively to sudden changes, so any new boxes or litters should be introduced very gradually before taking the old ones away.”

Article by Stephanie Booth

6 Common Window Washing Mistakes You May Not Know You’re Making

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Tired of looking at the world through windows filled with streaks and smudges? Sparkling-clean windows are an essential part of a whole-house deep clean and will enhance the appearance of your home. But getting windows to be fingerprint-free isn’t as easy as spraying a cleaning solution and wiping it down with paper towels.

Rusty Sanford, owner of Desert Heat Window Wash in Queen Creek, AZ, has been cleaning windows for over 10 years and says that making your home’s windows look brand-new may require abandoning some old habits. In your attempt to have streak-free windows, there’s a good chance you’re sabotaging yourself!

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when washing the windows in your home.

1. Washing on sunny days

Photo by bg architecture

You would think blue skies and endless sunshine would make for a perfect time to wash those dirty windows. Nope! All that built-up dirt and grime on your windows will only get worse when you clean glass in the sunshine. You’ll actually be creating more streaks because the cleaning liquid on a hot window will dry too quickly.

“It’s the temperature of the sun that makes it difficult,” says Sanford. “For example, when someone cleans their windows in the hot sun, they have an extremely high chance of the windows smearing and/or leaving a haze or film on the glass.”

The better solution? Clean on a cloudy day. Trust us on this.

2. Not removing dirt and dust first

Similar to the rinse cycle of a car wash, the first step to getting a truly clean window is to remove the buildup of dirt and dust.

“This means liberally applying your cleaning solution, typically with a trigger sprayer, and then scrubbing the glass using a window washer scrub pad—a removable, washable washer sleeve on a T-bar,” says Joshua Kennedy, founder of First Coast Home Pros in Jacksonville, FL.

If you don’t have a window washer scrub pad, he says, a clean microfiber towel soaked in solution to wet and scrub the glass can be used instead.

3. Using the wrong cleaner

Photo by Auhaus Architecture

If you want to achieve windows so clean you can see a reflection, it’s all about using the right kind of cleaner—and not overdoing it.

“For normal DIY window cleaning, we recommend one drop of mild dish soap—yes, just one drop—per gallon of water,” says Kennedy. “If the glass has hard water spots, mineral deposits from irrigation, or salt residue from ocean air, a solution of one part vinegar to one part water can be effective as well.”

4. Not using the squeegee

Armed with the right tools, you can have clean windows that rival the work of the pros.

“A good squeegee will make sure that all of the water has been pushed from the glass down to the corners and the sills, leaving a clean and dry window” says Tyler Hake, owner of Wash Our Windows Wisconsin in Fitchburg, WI.

Kennedy says that buffing glass with towels has the potential to leave your windows streaky, but a squeegee will provide you with the best result.

5. Washing windows with hard water

Ever had big, hard-to-remove water spots on your car paint after washing? That’s from hard water. To avoid similar hard-water streaks on your windows, the pros recommend using distilled water.

“I would never use hard water to clean a window. It has too much mineral buildup in it compared to distilled water and will undoubtedly leave water spots on the glass,” says Hake.Sanford says it’s OK to use hard water “as long as you are cleaning the windows correctly and not leaving behind smears or drips.”

Pros also recommend using cold water because warm water can quickly evaporate and leave ugly streaks behind.

6. Not cleaning windows regularly

Relying on random rain showers to wash your windows doesn’t cut it. Neither does using the garden hose to quickly wash the exterior of your house.

“If windows are not regularly cleaned, you have a high chance of weather damage or sun damage,” says Sanford.

He says weather damage is when the seal breaks or a small crack appears in the glass where air or water can get through in between the panes of glass. Sun damage can occur when the sun acts like a magnifying glass on the window and cooks the dirt or debris, leaving a burned effect on the glass.

Your location will determine how often you wash your windows, but experts say once every month or two should be appropriate.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Where to Get a Mortgage: Bank, Broker, or Online?

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Wondering where to get a mortgage? More than three-quarters of home-buying consumers need a loan to purchase property. As borrowers, we know that shopping around is the key to getting the best deal on most items. Plenty of us, however, somehow miss that message when it comes to mortgages.

According to a report last year from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, less than half of home buyers shop around for a mortgage lender. This mistake can cost borrowers thousands of dollars over the course of their home loans. Wake up, people! These days, borrowers can get a mortgage loan in lots of different ways. So you may be wondering where you should get yours.

Back in the day, banks were the only option for getting a mortgage, but then credit unions and brokers came on the scene. These days, borrowers can get a home loan online, much as you’d order up dinner from Seamless. But should you?

Where to get a mortgage

Each of these mortgage lenders has pros and cons for borrowers, so it pays to know what they are before you commit.

Bank

Most local and national banks have mortgage lending programs, some of them aggressive and highly developed.

Pros: If you already have a relationship with a bank (through a checking account, for example), you may be able to obtain a discounted interest rate if you also use them as a mortgage lender.

“If you’re a customer with good credit, you can get a competitive interest rate from your bank,” says Ginger Wilcox, chief industry officer for mortgage startup Sindeo.

Cons: Banks typically have a limited variety of mortgage products and more rigid credit standards than other types of lenders. They expect you to have a good credit score, a down payment, and an acceptable debt-to-income balance. The biggest banks may have a certain amount of bureaucracy for you to wade through, which can slow down the process.

Credit union

Credit unions are nonprofit organizations that offer financial services directly (and often exclusively) to their members. You may already belong to a credit union if you have a checking account or credit card account through them.

Pros: Credit unions typically have lower overhead than banks, so they may be able to offer a mortgage with lower interest rates or fees. In the first quarter of 2016, for example, rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage at credit unions averaged 3.84%, compared with 4.02% on the same loans at banks.

Cons: Like banks, credit unions have a limited variety of loan products. You have to pay a membership fee (typically $5 to $25) and meet certain membership criteria in order to join, usually based on things such as your geographic area or employer. Use this tool to research a credit union and see whether you qualify for membership. Credit unions also look at your ratio of debt-to-income and your credit score, although they may be more willing to work with you if necessary.

Mortgage broker

A mortgage broker has relationships with multiple lenders and works on your behalf to find you the right loan with the best mortgage rate and lowest closing costs for your situation. The key factors would include the amount of down payment you have, your credit score, and other factors. Your real estate agent may recommend a local mortgage broker.

Pros: If you have a unique situation, for example if you are self-employed or have poor credit, a broker will know all of the options that are open to you—and which lender might offer the most appropriate product.

Cons: Brokers receive fees, paid either by the borrower, the lender, or a combination of the two. These are generally 1% to 2% of the value of the loan. There is no guarantee that you’ll get a better interest rate than you would have if you’d shopped around on your own, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of the mortgage site HSH.com.

Online lender

Like nearly everything else these days, it’s now possible to apply for and receive approval for a mortgage entirely online, from lenders such as Quicken Loans or loanDepot.

Pros: Streamlined document uploading and the ability to apply on your schedule can make the process less stressful. Plus, online lenders may be able to close your loan more quickly. Sindeo, for example, claims it can close loans in as quickly as 15 days, while the average lender takes about a month and a half.

Cons: There’s little human interaction, which could be tough for first-time home buyers or others looking for an adviser to guide them through the process. Online lenders also don’t have the long-term relationships with local Realtors®.

“If you’re in a strong seller’s market, where there are multiple offers on properties, having a lender with credibility in the local real estate community can help your offer rise to the top of the pile,” says Richard Redmond, author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

Keep in mind, however, that whichever route you go, you should always shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal, not only on your mortgage rate, but with the lowest loan origination fees and other closing costs.

You should also make sure you are ready to buy or refinance a home before you make a mortgage application. Check your credit report on the credit bureaus, and see if your credit history needs work.

If your credit score shows that you have bad credit, you may need to work on it for several months or even a year before you qualify for the loan amount you want, with a good mortgage rate.

Understand the requirements for a down payment, and save up an additional down payment if you need one. You may qualify for first-time home buyer or other down payment assistance in your state.

Pay down your credit card debt and other consumer debt as much as possible, to improve your debt-to-income ratio. The more you prepare before you apply for a loan, the easier it will be, and the better terms you can expect to receive.

It’s also becoming more common to get a pre-qualification or pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender before you make an offer on a home. Getting pre-qualified shows the potential seller that a lender thinks you can afford the monthly payment, and the lender expects to be able to give you a loan.

“Even if you’re getting a conforming loan and the rates don’t vary much, loan fees can vary lender by lender, and you can end up paying more than is necessary,” says Benjamin Beaver, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Patterson Properties in San Angelo, TX.

Article by Beth Braverman

5 Bad Omens That Could Curse Your Home—and Jeopardize Your Sale

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An outdated kitchen and a lack of curb appeal aren’t the only things that can keep buyers from biting. When it seems like there’s just no explanation for a perfectly good home sitting on the market, you might consider other possible causes.

Certain items, colors, and symbols have been thought to attract malicious forces to an otherwise peaceful abode. And while some people scoff at such beliefs, others take them seriously—and not just around Halloween.

“There are countless folkloric beliefs, and savvy homeowners are smart to acknowledge and respect such beliefs, whether they share them or not,” says Benjamin Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and co-host of the “Squaring the Strange” podcast.

Whether or not you believe in bad omens, you might still be interested in covering your bases. After all, there’s no telling what prospective buyers of your home believe.

To get you started, here are a few supposed bad omens related to houses that you might want to avoid. Because it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

1. Empty rocking chair

Photo by Schumacher Homes

Irish legend says an empty rocking chair brings dark spirits, and if the chair rocks, the evil spirit is already here. This could be of particular interest to sellers in the South, where rocking chairs are often placed on porches. One look at a chair that’s rocking by itself could send a seller running. But that doesn’t mean you have to remove it when you show the house.

Radford suggests keeping the chair still by placing a stone or doorstop under the legs to brace it.

“It just takes a few seconds, and might help seal a sale,” he says.

2. Green-painted walls

Photo by Connor Mill-Built Homes

Pantone may have chosen Greenery for its official Color of the Year in 2017, but some people believe that green on the walls can bring bad vibes.

Back in the day, green paint was made using arsenic, and the presence of this toxic chemical is believed to have killed a number of people. While arsenic is no longer found in green paint, some still consider it bad luck to use it in the home.

If you want luck on your side, consider using blue paint instead. In the Southern United States, it was traditional to paint porch ceilings blue to keep evil spirits away.

“In many places around the world the color blue is considered lucky—originally associated with the sky and divinity—which is why many window and door frames are painted blue,” says Radford. “Blue windows likely won’t make or break a sale, but if you like the color and need to repaint anyway—why not?”

3. Red and white flowers in a vase

Red and white rosesChalongrat Chuvaree/iStock

Red roses mean love and white flowers designate purity and innocence. As innocuous as a flower arrangement like this may seem, according to Victorian superstition, combining the two in a vase means death will soon follow.

But that doesn’t mean you should nix all flowers during an open house. They’re vital to elevating the appearance of your home. Instead, professional home stager Krisztina Bell of Atlanta suggests going green by using succulents and other types of greenery throughout the house. We’re also partial to eucalyptus branches, monstera leaves, or a pothos plant.

4. Old calendar

Make sure your calendar is up to date! A calendar showing the wrong month is believed to cut short a person’s life.

If you’re still stuck on the beautiful art that accompanies the calendar, cut it out and frame it for decor. Just make sure your calendar is flipped to the current month.

5. Black cats

Black cat at homemichellegibson/iStock

Your sweet black cat might be minding its own business, but to potential buyers who happen upon it, your cat could be a bad omen. Black cats have been associated with witchcraft since the Middle Ages; but in Britain, Japan, and Ireland, black cats are seen as bringing good luck.

“Some people love black cats, while others look at them with suspicion. If you have a black cat, crate him or her up while showing the house,” says Radford.

In fact, that goes for other types of pets, too. You want potential buyers focusing on your home, not your four-legged friend.

Article by Anayat Durrani