I Live in My Home Like I’m Staging It for Sale—Here’s Why You Should, Too

PeopleImages/Getty Images

Two years ago, my husband and I were gearing up to put our first home on the market, which meant our house was due for a deep cleaning and an organizational overhaul.

After we got the house sparkling clean and staged for sale, we started to fall in love with it all over again. We looked around at our newly organized pantry and immaculate closets and wondered, Why haven’t we always lived like this?

Now in our new house, I’ve taken lessons from the home-staging process to maintain a relatively clean, uncluttered space. Of course, maintaining a pristine home 24/7 isn’t realistic—I’d drive myself nuts if I snapped every time laundry piled up or a crumb hit the counter.

But if you’re looking for a little inspiration to keep your space tidy, try it out: Imagine you’re staging it for sale. It’s not about aiming for a picture-perfect home, and you don’t need to repaint all the walls in neutral colors or buy trendy decor. For me, simply pretending that I need to spiff up my home for a prospective buyer is motivation to keep organized—and ultimately, I’m the one who benefits from it.

Here are a few reasons this method works so well.

1. You’re forced to confront the closets and corners you’ve been ignoring

Photo by Organized Living

Right before we listed our house, our real estate agent sent a professional stager to assess the space. The stager made a beeline to our messy laundry area in the basement and suggested buying a few inexpensive baskets to consolidate all of the items strewed atop the washer and dryer.

It seemed so obvious—why hadn’t I thought of this?!—but her simple tip made a serious difference.

One Target trip later, my detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets were neatly concealed in a basket on top of the dryer that was both cute and functional.

Giving myself permission to splurge on wicker baskets also gave me an incentive to declutter closets and bathrooms. I’m not an interior decorator by any stretch of the imagination, but reframing organization as an opportunity to decorate and beautify has made it feel like less of a chore.

2. Less bedroom clutter = less stress

At our first house, our bedroom had become a magnet for miscellaneous items. Little did I know that crumpled clothing on the floor and cluttered nightstands aren’t just an eyesore—all that extra junk can also increase stress levels.

When the stager spotted our dressers and nightstands covered in tchotchkes, her instructions were simple: Clear away the clutter if you want to appeal to prospective buyers.

I dutifully followed her orders, and I quickly found that a tidy bedroom appealed more to me, too. After decluttering, I took away a new perspective on what my bedroom could be: an organized oasis for relaxation instead of just a crash pad.

As a final touch, the stager also gave us extra throw pillows for the bed to make the room cozier and more inviting. I’ve taken a page from her playbook in our new house, incorporating a fluffy accent pillow on the bed to add a warm touch that makes the room feel more Zen and less like a zoo.

3. Clearing out the kitchen can be life-changing

Photo by CR Cabinetry Kitchen & Bath Design Studio

f there’s one thing I learned from working with a professional stager, it’s that I have a habit of covering every open surface with stuff, including (and especially) the kitchen counters. At first, my husband and I balked when she told us to hide the coffee maker, toaster, and steak knives during every showing and open house.

We used those items all the time! Where else would they go?

But after we found a new home for the appliances, we came to embrace her suggestion. The coffee maker didn’t really need a permanent residence next to the sink, and with all the counter space we freed up, it felt like a new (and much larger) kitchen.

The newfound space for food prep was a bonus for my husband and me—not just a ploy to appeal to prospective buyers.

4. You’ll always be ready for surprise guests

Photo by Lark Interior

Preparing for overnight guests used to be an ordeal. Now, when my family shows up for a last-minute visit, I don’t need to panic. The “live in your home like you’re staging it for sale” mantra is a lifesaver when it comes time to entertain.

By maintaining a solid baseline for cleanliness and organization, I can prepare for guests with just a quick breeze through the house to pick up stray items and wipe down counters and bathroom surfaces.

5. Eventually, organizing becomes automatic instead of traumatic

The early days of decluttering a space or staging a house can be fairly intense. For the first time in months (or maybe years), you’re coming face to face with the messy corners and overflowing closets that have become catchall storage spaces.

But once you get through the initial work, keeping your space clean doesn’t require as much thought or effort. Over time, you’ll fall into a rhythm that’s sustainable. It’s way easier to maintain an organized house than it is to organize a disastrous space from scratch.

Article by Lauren Sieben

Home-Buying Benefits for Veterans & Military Buyers

Veterans United

Veterans, service members, and their families believe in homeownership. In fact, the homeownership rate among veterans far outpaces that of civilians.

But the financial toll of military service can make it tough for some veterans to get a financial foothold, let alone land a home loan.

The good news is those who serve have access to a host of home-buying benefits and protections, from what’s arguably the most powerful home loan on the market to financial safeguards and more.

Let’s take a closer look.

VA loan program

Since the VA loan program’s inception in 1944, the Department of Veterans Affairs has backed more than 21 million loans for veterans, active-duty military members, and their spouses. This program has made buying a home more accessible to those who most deserve the American dream they helped build and protect.

VA loans feature many benefits that help make home buying possible, including the following:

  • No down payment requirement
  • No mortgage insurance
  • Lower average interest rates
  • Limits on closing costs
  • More lenient credit requirements

VA home loans have boomed in recent years, attracting many veterans and military members who may not qualify for conventional loans, which have stricter credit requirements.

Still, many eligible buyers are unaware of the benefits of VA home loans and the protections they offer. Some buyers also make the mistake of assuming a government-backed loan comes with endless red tape and miss an opportunity to benefit.

Typically, veterans and active-duty service members are eligible for a VA home loan if they served in the following capacity:

  • 90 consecutive days on active duty during wartime
  • 181 consecutive days on active duty during peacetime
  • 6 or more years in the National Guard or Reserves

Some spouses of military members who died in the line of duty or of a service-related disability may also be eligible for a VA loan.

Talk with a VA lender about obtaining your Certificate of Eligibility and getting a sense of your purchasing power.

Occupancy & power of attorney

VA loans are focused on getting buyers into homes they’ll live in full time. But the program makes exceptions for some veterans and active-duty service members.

For example, a spouse or children may be able to fulfill the occupancy requirement on behalf of a VA buyer. Also, a VA buyer who is deployed or otherwise unable to manage the loan process can typically assign a power of attorney to a spouse or family member to manage the loan process and sign documents.

There are two types of power of attorney: general and specific. The type needed depends in part on what loan-related documents the VA buyer can sign.

The occupancy and power of attorney options mean an eligible VA buyer’s spouse and children could buy a home during a deployment or unaccompanied assignment, helping alleviate the emotional toll of multiple moves on military families.

Basic allowance for housing

Many active-duty military members who receive a monthly housing allowance are surprised to learn that they can use this money to qualify for a home loan. Lenders can count Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as effective income. That can help service members make the leap from renting to owning, especially in higher-cost areas.

BAH is based on several factors, including the location of your duty station, your pay grade, and your family size. The housing allowance can change on an annual basis. To calculate your BAH, refer to the BAH calculator on the Defense Department’s website.

Financial protections

Even after becoming homeowners, active-duty service members can face unique financial challenges. Deployment and changes of station can strain a family emotionally and financially.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides active-duty military personnel and their families financial protection involving interest rates, income tax payments, eviction, foreclosure, and more.

For example, military personnel can ask creditors—including their mortgage lender—to cap their interest rate at 6% during their term of service. The SCRA also forces lenders and servicers to seek a court order to foreclose on active-duty military members during their time of service and up to nine months afterward.

Veterans Affairs also offers foreclosure avoidance protection assistance for homeowners. The VA has a team of experts who work with lenders and servicers on behalf of struggling homeowners to find alternatives to foreclosure. Their efforts have helped nearly 500,000 veterans and service members avoid foreclosure in the past six years alone.

Check with your local Armed Forces Legal Assistance office for more information regarding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. VA homeowners in jeopardy of defaulting on their mortgage can contact the VA loan program at 877-827-3702.

Article by Veterans United

These Pandemic-Related Housing and Design Trends Aren’t Going Away

Hispanolistic/Getty Images

Home trends come and go, but social distancing and staying at home have ushered in a new way of life—and some of those changes have spurred home trends that are likely to stick around well past the COVID-19 era.

“The idea of what is necessary is changing,” says Camille Thomas, a real estate matchmaker and lifestyle expert in Jackson Hole, WY. “The home has become more than a living space.”

This means a lot of people have started to evaluate how they live in their home and what matters most to them when buying.

Here are some of the real estate and design trends people have latched on to during the pandemic that will likely have staying power for years to come.

The great escape

Quarantine has caused more than a few people to pack up their lives and head out of crowded cities to the suburbs (or even the country) in search of more room to breathe. One in 5 U.S. adults says they either changed their residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

In fact, as people buy homes in the suburbs, housing inventories in those areas are dwindling faster than in urban areas, according to realtor.com®’s September Urban vs. Suburban Growth Report.

“People are not wanting to be in a city where it feels too crowded right now,” says Suzi Dailey, a Realtor, who’s with Realty One International in California’s Orange County. “They are leaving cities in favor of homes with more space, a backyard, or some type of view.”

Thomas says in the mountain town of Jackson Hole she is seeing buyers come in from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Houston, and Chicago.

“Some are purchasing sight-unseen,” she adds.

Also, with more companies allowing their workforce to work from home, many people are no longer tied to a specific city for employment. Most housing experts agree that this trend of increasing preferences for suburban homes will continue.

The Zoom room

Regular videoconferencing from home—whether you’re an employee or a student—is a new reality, and it’s become increasingly common to see agents and sellers including Zoom rooms in listings as part of a home’s features. But what is a Zoom room, anyway?

Essentially it’s a dedicated room or corner of your home that features an aesthetically pleasing background for your videoconference calls. Zoom rooms are free of household clutter and typically removed from the high-traffic parts of the house. And experts predict the dedicated video room trend is likely to persist for buyers beyond COVID-19.

“Buyers are looking for extra space to create workspaces for students and working parents,” says Thomas. “Three bedrooms is no longer enough. Now it must be three bedrooms and an additional workspace, at least.”

Clean and cozy design

Photo by ME Design Group

Interior design trends are always changing. But throughout the pandemic we’ve seen homeowners doing everything they can to create a cozy, simple, clean, and comfortable vibe inside their homes.

“It’s a focus on an open floor plan, lighter wall colors, and no clutter,” says Dailey. Elements that capture this aesthetic are comfortable sofas, throw blankets, candles, herb gardens in the kitchen, and houseplants that make a person feel at home.

“Especially with COVID-19, you do not want a home that feels dirty. That’s why clean, simplistic decor and decluttering have become very popular,” says Dailey.

And that feeling of streamlined coziness is extending to the outdoor areas of the home, too.

“Sales of space heaters, such as the tall standing heaters for porches, patios, and outdoor spaces, are already going through the roof,” says Dailey.

The backyard premium

It’s little surprise that homebound owners—or would-be owners—are focusing more on backyard spaces. Some buyers are even willing to settle on a smaller house or a house in a less desirable area in order to have a large backyard where they can spend more time in the open air.

“For some, that means moving farther outside of town for the same-size house with more land. Others are moving into small townhouses so they can purchase a small farm outside of the city,” says Mary Patton of Mary Patton Design.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Here’s Exactly When To Cook Every Dish For Thanksgiving Dinner

ERIKA LAPRESTO

Time out turkey day down to the minute.

From battling crowds at the grocery store to wrangling all your relatives into the same room, there’s plenty of stress that comes with Thanksgiving dinner. Avoid a mid-day meltdown by planning ahead and prepping dishes long before it’s time to eat. Read our detailed timeline that breaks down the most efficient schedule for preparing everything from starters to desserts to ensure that you’ll be trotting that turkey out right on time. Don’t forget to bookmark the easy-to-read chart at the bottom to keep on-hand while you’re prepping!

Soup

Fall soups make great starters for Turkey Day dinner, and luckily they can be made a week or so ahead. Whip up a big batch of your favorite and freeze it, then take it out of the freezer the morning of Thanksgiving or the night before so it’s ready to be reheated on the stove just before serving.

ETHAN CALABRESE

Gravy

There are tons of turkey gravy recipes that don’t require you to actually use parts of the turkey, plus you can buy giblets, turkey necks and wings at most butcher shops—that means it can be made and frozen 1 to 2 weeks before your guests arrive. If you want to use parts from the actual bird to boost flavor, whip up the gravy two days ahead (once your turkey is thawed enough to remove the giblets) and refrigerate it, then reheat in a saucepan until hot so it’s ready for pouring over the sliced turkey.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Turkey

The Thanksgiving turkey should be the crown jewel of your holiday table, so you’ll definitely want to time it right, and that means thinking way ahead. A 20-pound turkey can take up to five days to thaw in the fridge—budget one day for every 4 pounds—and if you’re using a brine, make sure the bird has 12 hours to marinate.

Roasting an unstuffed bird can take 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size. Check that an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F for the breast meat and 170 to 175 degrees F for the thick part of the thigh before removing it from the oven. Then tent it with foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing—this ensure that no one will be complaining about a dry bird. Timing everything around the turkey for oven space is key here so think about what can be ahead of time and reheated after the bird comes out of the oven or cooks at the same temperature as your turkey.

ETHAN CALABRESE

Stuffing

Store-bought stuffing mix comes together in no time, but homemade stuffing recipes take a bit of forethought. Cube the bread and set it out to stale two days ahead of Thanksgiving, or bake the cornbread and leave it on the counter for cornbread stuffing. If you’ll be serving stuffing on the side, assemble it one day ahead and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake (at the same time as the turkey, or once the turkey is resting).

KAT WIRSING

Casseroles

Whether your family demands green bean casserole or scalloped potatoes alongside their turkey, these dishes can be prepped and assembled two whole days before the big event. Make sure to cover and refrigerate them, then stick the dish in the hot oven once you’ve taken the turkey out to rest. They’ll be golden and bubbly just in time to eat.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Salads & Cold Sides

No-bake dishes are the key to a spacious oven. Wash and prep lettuce and vegetables for autumn salads two days ahead for easy assembly on Thanksgiving morning—wait to dress it until serving. While you’re at it, chop up all the herbs you’ll need for garnishes and other recipes. The most clever hosts could even recruit relatives to handle the cold sides and salads to complement your mains, guaranteeing that no one screws up your oven rotation.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Cranberry Sauce

Throw together a quick cranberry sauce or relish two days ahead and refrigerate it ’til dinnertime—you’ll never look back at the jellied stuff from a can again. Serve it cold or let it come to room temperature for an hour before the big meal.

ETHAN CALABRESE

Mashed Potatoes

If you’re really on top of your game, regular and sweet potatoes can be peeled the day before and stored, covered in cold water, in the fridge. Then all you’ll need to do it boil and mash them on the stovetop while the turkey is resting—don’t forget plenty of butter, and try adding mix-ins for the best mashed potatoesyour guests have ever tasted. You can also enlist your slow cooker and make CrockPot mashed potatoes. Once less pot and burner you need!

PARKER FEIERBACH

Desserts

Baking is way too time-consuming to bother with when your extended family is around and a dessert can almost always be made ahead of time. Make things easier on yourself by making pie dough a week before, then portion it into disks and freeze. Two days before, move the dough to the fridge to defrost so you can bake up a storm on Thanksgiving Eve. Custard and pumpkin pies can be refrigerated overnight, while pecan and apple pies do best when kept at room temperature. Anything that needs reheating can get popped in the oven while the turkey is resting, or while the dinner table is being cleared for dessert. A great tip for any dinner party is to never leave the dessert to be made day of.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Drinks

Don’t forget about one of the most important parts of the meal—the wine! Stick bottles that need to be chilled in the fridge the night before or, if you live somewhere cold, put them in the garage or back porch to save on space. If you’re serving Thanksgiving cocktails put someone who’s not stuck in the kitchen on bartender duty, or convince your fun uncle to make a batch of cranberry Jell-O shots to get the festivities going. Passing drinks on to a guest is an easy way to clear up your schedule and gives the guest a fun job to do. Plus, being served a drink once all your hard work is done is the best feeling in the world.

ETHAN CALABRESE
Article by

Buying a House After Bankruptcy? How Long to Wait and What to Do

Minerva Studio/iStock

Securing a home loan and buying a house after bankruptcy may sound like an impossible feat. Blame it on all those Monopoly games, but bankruptcy has a very bad rap, painting the filer as someone who should never be loaned money.

The reality is that of the 800,000 Americans who file for bankruptcy every year, most are well-intentioned, responsible people. Life has thrown them a curveball, however, that has left them struggling to pay off their past debts.

Sometimes, filing for bankruptcy is the only way out of a crushing financial situation, and taking this step can really help cash-strapped individuals get back on their feet.

And yes, many go on to become first-time home buyers or buy a home eventually, despite the challenging credit score that results from bankruptcy. But how? Being aware of what a lender expects after a bankruptcy will help you navigate the mortgage application process efficiently and effectively.

Here are the steps on buying a house after bankruptcy, and the top things you need to know.

Types of bankruptcy: The best and the worst

There are two ways to file: Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. With Chapter 7 bankruptcy, filers are typically released from their obligation to pay back

unsecured debt—think credit cards, medical bills, or loans extended without collateral.

With Chapter 13 bankruptcy, filers have to pay back their debt. However, the debt is reorganized and a new repayment schedule established that makes monthly payments more affordable.

Since Chapter 13 filers are still paying back their debts, mortgage lenders generally look more favorably on these consumers than those who file for Chapter 7, says David Carey, vice president and residential lending manager at New York’s Tompkins Mahopac Bank.

A bankruptcy attorney can help determine if Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 makes the most sense for your specific situation. Unfortunately, both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies will adversely affect credit scores. But don’t give up, hopeful home buyer.

How long after bankruptcy should you wait before buying a house?

Most people applying for a loan will need to wait two years after bankruptcy before lenders will consider their loan application. That said, it could be up to a four-year ban, depending on the individual and type of loan. This is because lenders have different “seasoning” requirements, which is a specified amount of time that needs to pass.

Fannie Mae, for example, has a minimum two-year ban on borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy, says David Reiss, professor of law and academic programs director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

The FHA loan, on the other hand, has a minimum one-year ban in place after a bankruptcy. These bans, or seasoning periods, are typically shorter with government-backed loans (such as FHA or VA loans) than with conventional loans.

The time is measured starting from the date of discharge or dismissal of the bankruptcy action. Generally, the more time between debt discharge and the loan application, the less risky a once-bankrupt borrower looks in the eyes of a mortgage lender.

How to reestablish credit after bankruptcy

Once the bankruptcy process is over, reestablishing and maintaining creditworthiness is key to your financial health. Lenders will be looking for zero delinquencies postbankruptcy.

While you work to build new credit, don’t go overboard opening an extensive number of accounts, as this will work against you, advises Carey. Usually, opening just a couple of revolving credit lines and paying them in a timely manner over the course of 12 months helps to increase credit scores back to an acceptable level.

What to do before you apply for a mortgage

Before you apply for a mortgage loan, check your credit score by getting copies of your three main credit reports, which detail the financial transactions (and transgressions) from your past. You will want to check these credit reports for errors, such as a credit issue that you resolved but that is not reflected in your report.

“In some postbankruptcy cases, errors continue to report negatively on credit reports,” says Carey.

These mistakes will drag down your overall credit score and reduce your chances of getting approved for the mortgage. So if you spot mistakes on your credit reports, work with the credit bureaus to correct the information they include. This can boost your credit score significantly, and may even tip the scales on your home loan approval. Mortgage lenders want to see any movement from bad credit to good credit, so don’t leave any of your hard-earned progress on the table.

Buying a house after bankruptcy: Ways to woo a lender

To start the mortgage process, lenders require a detailed letter explaining why you needed to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 in the first place. Ideally, the bankruptcy would have been caused by an extenuating circumstance beyond your control—such as the death of an income-contributing spouse, the loss of employment, or a serious illness.

In other words: A lender likes to see that you were hit with hard times that had a significant negative impact on your expenses or income, and made it impossible to meet your financial obligations.

What a lender won’t want to see is someone with a die-hard shopping habit or a lackadaisical attitude toward paying credit cards on time. If that’s you, you’ll have to prove you’ve changed.

Whatever the reason you filed for bankruptcy, lenders will need to properly document your extenuating circumstances, so be prepared to provide proof detailing your life event.

Medical bills, a doctor’s note, a death certificate, or severance paperwork are all acceptable evidence that prove to lenders that you are a safe bet worthy of a home loan.

Article by Margaret Heidenry 

Bundle Up! Winter’s Home-Buying Game Has Changed. Here’s How To Win

Viktoriia Hnatiuk / Getty Images

Savvy home buyers know that winter is typically a good time to embark on a house hunt, since much of their competition stays holed up at home until spring. But this winter, buyers might notice that despite the cold and the holidays, they’ve got company.

Lots of it, in fact.

“Normally winter is a good time for buyers,” says realtor.com® chief economist Danielle Hale. However, since the coronavirus kept buyers on lockdown for much of spring, many are making up for lost time by home shopping hard right now.

“This year’s unusual seasonal pattern means that buyers aren’t getting the usual break from the market frenzy that they typically do in the cooler weather,” Hale explains.

As a result, this winter is shaping up to be a seller’s market, with low real estate inventory, high prices, and bidding wars that could give buyers a major run for their money.

This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel—just that you’ll have to hone your house hunt in new ways to suit the times. Here are some tactics that will keep you ahead of the pack so you’ll be sitting in a new home by the new year.

Secure your financing as soon as possible

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage and securing financing are an essential first step when buying a home. It gives you a clear picture of how much house you can afford, and lets you make an offer as soon as you find your dream home.

Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker and owner at Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle, says this process is more important now than ever.

“Getting pre-approved for a loan is obviously important, but is there anything else they can do to put themselves in a good position?” he says. “Buyers need to be ready to buy a house before they start looking.”

Too often, buyers don’t line up their financing until they find a home they want to buy, van Winkle says. In the current competitive market, waiting to get pre-approval means you could lose out on purchasing a home you love.

“That creates a mad dash and stress to get everything lined up under pressure,” he says. “Get all your financing secured and ready before you look, that way when you find the right home you’re 100% ready.”

Starting early could also help you lock in an ultralow interest rate, which could affect your monthly mortgage payment and mean you could afford a more expensive home. As of Oct. 22, Freddie Mac listed rates at 2.8% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan.

Know what you want before you house hunt

COVID-19 has changed how we live and work. We’re spending much more time at home, and people are looking for different features in their living spaces.

Make a list of your must-haves before you start house shopping—and share your needs with your real estate agent.

Simon Isaacs, broker and owner of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL, says it helps cut down on the number of homes you’ll have to view before finding the right one.

“I would suggest buyers not look at 25 homes,” he says. “If the agent is showing them that many houses, the agent doesn’t know what they want.”

In such a competitive landscape, knowing exactly what you want enables you to act fast when you want to make an offer.

Tour homes virtually first

More real estate agents are embracing virtual tours and remote showings to ease coronavirus safety concerns. In some cases, they’re even limiting in-person showings to the most serious buyers—those with financing already secured, for example.

“Real estate agents in our local market are adjusting to the client’s needs by continuing to provide in-person showings with precautions and also assisting buyers virtually with their home purchases,” says Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estate in Huntsville, AL.

Virtual home tours, using Zoom or FaceTime, let you view the home from anywhere, and depending on the setup, you might be able to ask questions in real time. So you can narrow down the homes you’re most interested in and physically visit only the ones that best meet your needs.

Don’t dawdle if you want to make an offer

In September, there were nearly 40% fewer homes on the market than during the same month last year, according to a realtor.com report. At the same time, buyer demand has increased, creating an incredibly competitive marketplace. Homes were on the market for an average of 54 days in September, 12 fewer days than last year.

Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL, says the buyers she’s worked with lately have had just a few homes to consider. And, with all the other buyers in a location also looking at those same houses, you’ll need to act fast if you’re interested.

The challenge, she says, is potential buyers have little time to mull things over, and they are pitted against one another.

Isaacs is seeing a similar situation. Wait too long to submit an offer, and another buyer is likely to swoop in with an offer of their own.

“I would say don’t deliberate on buying,” he says. “I’ve had too many clients who were [saying], ‘Should we, shouldn’t we.’ I would say if it’s something that you want to do, do it.”

Make your offer stand out

Since inventory is so low, sellers are getting multiple offers on their homes these days. To make sure yours gets accepted, you’ll need to make it stand out.

Cash offers and inspection waivers are some ways to make your offer more appealing, Curtis says.

A cash offer, if you can afford it, is attractive to sellers because it eliminates dealing with a mortgage lender and often speeds up closings. An inspection waiver comes with lots of risks, since you’re essentially agreeing to purchase a home as is, but the waiver removes any repair negotiations and helps you close faster.

For competitive markets, where you know you’ll be competing directly with many buyers, Jones suggests talking to your agent about escalation clauses. This is a contract addendum where you agree to pay more than other offers (up to a maximum you set).

Bottom line: “Find a strategy to help make your offer stand out amongst the 10, 20, or more offers that may come in on your dream home,” Curtis says.

Article by Erica Sweeney

Pet Owner Surrender

Photo courtesy A.R.F.

If your pet was adopted through A.R.F.-Animal Rescue Foundation, please contact us first before making other arrangements to surrender or rehome the pet, as stated in your adoption contract.

If considering surrendering pets who were NOT adopted through A.R.F., we strongly encourage that before relinquishing your pet, you explore the options of re-homing your pet with a personal friend, co-worker, or family member. If your pet was adopted through a shelter other than A.R.F., contact that shelter about returning the pet before contacting us.

We understand that many are going through some tough economic times and that the needs of your pets may be a strain on the budget. If you are considering surrendering a pet because of financial difficulties, check out our list of resources for low-cost pet care.

List of Low-Cost or Free Pet Care Resources in Chicago

If you’re having behavioral issues and are seeking to relinquish your pet, you may wish to contact an animal behaviorist or professional trainer. Often times, behavioral problems can be resolved with a little patience and creativity. A.R.F. is not equipped to handle the more severe behavioral issues and acceptance of your animal into A.R.F.’s care will be dependent upon the animals overall health and behavioral temperament. A Sound Beginning Program offers behavioral training for both dogs and cats.

If you have found a stray, contact your local animal control agency for more information:

Surrendering an Animal to A.R.F.

It is illegal to abandon animals anywhere in the state of Illinois. Do not bring animals to adoption events to relinquish them, we can not take them without following our owner relinquish or rehomeing instructions below.

Please consider all options prior to contacting us. We will help if we can. Please read the following guidelines:

  • Before contacting us to surrender an animal, you must complete the Owner Surrender Request Form.
  • A.R.F. accepts pets by appointment only.  You can email us at surrender@arf-il.org to discuss your situation.
  • You must be the legal owner of the animal and have had the animal in your custody for a minimum of thirty days.
  • Appointments to surrender an animal will typically take place at our preferred veterinarian’s office where a decision can be made as to the health of the animal.
  • Euthanasia fees are at the expense of the person surrendering.
  • You will be asked to provide us with any previous medical history, a personality profile, and provide photos or videos for each animal.
  • The following minimum fee will apply to cover costs for the care of your pet subsequent to relinquishment:
    • Litter of kittens ( under 3 months of age): $60
    • Litter of puppies ( under 3 months of age) : $60
    • Cat: $35
    • Dog: $35

Please note that the relinquishment fee covers only a small portion of the cost to care for the animal.

7 Ways To Make Your Home a Cozy, Comfy Oasis This Winter

YakobchukOlena / Getty Images

As winter approaches, heralded by dark predictions from public health experts about the resurging coronavirus pandemic, we could all use some more comfort in our lives—even if only in the form of ultracozy additions around the house.

After all, now that many of us have become used to wearing pajamas as work clothes, the next step would be to just want to hide under the covers until this COVID-19 nightmare is over, right? And if you’re going to burrow under some blankets, they may as well be extra-soft.

We’ve rounded up some of the most comfortable, comforting items out there, from blankets to pillows and beyond, to help make your extended time at home feel like a warm hug. Consider them as gifts—to others or yourself—to help get you through the next few months.

1. A CBD-infused blanket

The Dream Blanket by Curfew is the world’s first CBD-infused throw.Curfew

f you’re looking to chill out while you warm up, the world’s first CBD blanket may be your new best friend.

Curfew’s Dream Blanket ($295) not only feels like you’re wrapped in your favorite gray sweatshirt, but the material includes patented, micro-encapsulated CBD beads. The capsules are ruptured by friction when the blanket is used, transferring small amounts of CBD to the skin.

Granted, the jury’s still out on whether the therapeutic effects of CBD are legit, but many believe it makes a difference. So if you’re a fan or know someone who is, this makes a great gift—it even comes in a poetically decorated box that says “Make Space to Dream.”

2. Silk pillowcases

Celestial Silk’s white marble pillowcase is as glamorous as it is comfy.Celestial Silk

Speaking of dreamy, Celestial Silk pillowcases are next level ($35.99 and up). Made of 100% mulberry silk, these pillowcases are thicker, more durable, and, well, silkier than lighter-weight brands. (They have 30% more silk than most of their competitors.) They also protect your beauty sleep, since laying your head on a silk pillowcase for the night is touted to prevent wrinkles, banish blemishes, and maintain frizz-free hair as you slumber.

While these pillowcases are available in a variety of appealing solid colors, be sure to check out the otherworldly galaxy prints or the superluxe marble for something a little different.

3. The Comfy Sack

The Comfy Sack 6-foot lounger with a long faux-fur coverComfy Sack

Like a beanbag on steroids, the Comfy Sack ($365) can function as a chair, love seat, or daybed. It comes in a variety of dimensions, but the 6-foot lounger—able to accommodate two cuddling adults or one who just wants to stretch out for a quality nap—remains one of the company’s most popular sellers.

Heavy enough to feel supportive (it runs about 70 pounds) but soft enough to sink into, thanks to its memory foam core, the Comfy Sack has a removable, washable cover and comes in a wide range of colors and fabrics.

4. Weighted electric blanket

This heated and weighted blanket is the first combo throw.Pure Enrichment

Many swear by the comfort of weighted blankets, but if you need more warmth than they can typically provide, you’ll want to step up to the Pure Enrichment WeightedWarmth blanket ($119.99). This electric weighted blanket is the first of its kind to combine the therapeutic benefits of weight with heat, and is backed by a five-year warranty.

5. The Florida King

The whole family and a pet can fit in this jumbo-sized bed.City Furniture

Does your whole family—pets included—need more space in bed? Then behold the Florida King. Measuring 7.5 feet long and 9 feet wide, this luxurious bed is almost 3 feet larger than a standard king mattress and even bigger than the widely known California King.

While people often pay a small fortune for custom-made beds of this size, this one comes with the mattress, frame, sheets, and all the accessories for around $1,500.

6. Wedge pillow

Use this pillow to support your back in bed or on the couch.Cushy Form

Let’s face it, we’ve all been spending a lot more time sitting on our couches and beds this year. But that’s not always great for backs, necks, knees, or circulation!

One thing that can help is the Cushy Form wedge pillow ($56.99). Thanks to its flexible, 5-in-1 design, you can change it up to support whatever needs a little extra. Made of high-density memory foam, it takes the shape of your body and can also help alleviate snoring, in case your significant other is keeping you up at night.

7. Foot warmer

You’ll never have cold feet again with this foot warmer.Pure Enrichment

Who needs shoes anymore, right? Life via Zoom means you can trade in those pinchy dress heels for the PureRelief deluxe foot warmer ($49.99). It’s as if an electric blanket and your sherpa-lined slippers had a baby.

With four temperature settings from 110 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and a drawstring around each ankle to make sure all the heat stays on your feet, you need never suffer from cold extremities again.

Article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Squash and Radicchio Salad With Pecans

  Photo By Alex Lau, Food Styling By Susie Theodorou, Prop Styling By Kalen Kaminski

This squash-centric salad has an irresistible pecan dressing and hardy radicchio that refuses to wilt. The palm-size 898 squash, a new cousin of the beloved honeynut developed by vegetable breeder–mad genius Michael Mazourek, tastes like a turbocharged butternut. It’s now rolling out at farmers’ markets, select grocery stores, and online grocers across the country. Preheating the baking sheet will help the squash sizzle and sear as soon as it hits the pan rather than steam and stick.

Photo By Alex Lau, Food Styling By Susie Theodorou, Prop Styling By Kalen Kaminski

Ingredients

8–10 SERVINGS

SQUASH
  • 6  898, honeynut, or delicata squash, halved, seeds removed, sliced into 1″-thick half-moons
  • ¼  cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
VINAIGRETTE AND ASSEMBLY
  • 1  cup pecans
  • 1  tsp. plus ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil; plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • ½  small shallot, finely chopped
  • ¼  cup plus 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2  Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 2  Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 4  tsp. pure maple syrup
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2  small heads of radicchio, leaves separated, torn if large
  • ½  medium Asian pear, thinly sliced
  • 3  oz. Piave cheese or Parmesan, shaved
  • ¼  cup parsley leaves
  • ½  lemon

Preparation

SQUASH

Step 1

Place racks in middle and lower third of oven and set a rimmed baking sheet on each; preheat oven to 450°. Toss squash with oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Remove baking sheets from oven and divide squash between them, arranging in a single layer. Roast, rotating sheets halfway through, until browned and tender, 15–25 minutes. Set squash aside; reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Step 2

Do Ahead: Squash can be roasted 1 day ahead. Let cool, then transfer to an airtight container. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature or heat slightly in a microwave before using.

VINAIGRETTE AND ASSEMBLY

Step 3

Toss pecans with 1 tsp. oil in a small bowl; season with salt. Toast on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing halfway through, until slightly darkened and fragrant, 8–10 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. Set ½ cup pecans aside for serving.

Step 4

Blend shallot, orange juice, mustard, maple syrup, ¼ cup lemon juice, and remaining pecans in a blender until mostly smooth. With motor running, gradually stream in ½ cup oil and blend until emulsified and smooth. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

Step 5

Toss radicchio and half of dressing in a large bowl to coat; season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter. Toss reserved squash with remaining dressing in the same bowl to coat; season with salt and pepper. Arrange over radicchio.

Step 6

Toss Asian pear with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice in a small bowl. Top salad with Asian pear, cheese, parsley, and reserved pecans. Squeeze juice from lemon half over and drizzle with oil; season with more salt and pepper.

Step 7

Do Ahead: Vinaigrette can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

Recipe by Bon Appetit

5 Speedy Ways to Come Up With a Down Payment

Sally Elford/Getty Images

The best way for first-time home buyers to come up with a down payment for a home: save for one, of course! But sometimes you’re in a hurry. Maybe your dream house just popped up on the market, or you’ve simply had it with being a renter. Whatever the reason, you’re ready to buy a house, now. But while your credit is good and your career is stable, you still need to come up with that big chunk of change for a down payment.

Never fear: There are plenty of ways to amass a sizable down payment fast. Check out these tactics, along with their pros and cons.

1. Dip into your 401(k)

If you’ve been socking away money in your 401(k), it is possible to borrow from that for a home loan—and get that cash in hand fast.

“Most 401(k) plans allow you to borrow up to 50% of the vested balance, or up to $50,000, and it takes about a week,” says Todd Huettner, owner of Huettner Capital, a residential and commercial real estate lender in Denver.

But it will cost you: If you take funds out of your 401(k) early—that is, before you’re 59½ years old—you’re going to take a 10% penalty on that withdrawn money. And it counts as gross income, which can bump you into a higher tax bracket.

Check out this Wells Fargo calculator to see what your penalties would be. In addition to penalties, most companies require you to repay that vested money over five years—or sooner if you quit or get axed. So be sure your career is stable.

2. Crack your IRA

Digging into your IRA usually carries the same 10% penalty of breaking open your 401(k) piggy bank, with one major difference: The penalty doesn’t apply to first-time home buyers. And unlike a 401(k), you don’t have to repay what you take out of an IRA. However, the withdrawal is still taxable. Plus there’s the matter of not repaying yourself, which can hurt your long-term retirement. So if you take out a sizable chunk, restoring this nest egg to its former level will take you many years.

3. Hit up your boss

Let’s get real: You don’t want to stroll into your boss’ office and demand help buying your house. But you can ask if your company has an employer-assisted housing program. Think about it: Companies hate employee turnover, so what better way to keep you around than pitching in to help you buy a home? It’s a win-win: Home loans are often low- or zero-interest and are usually structured to be forgivable over a period of time, often five years, which further encourages employees to stay put. The downside? Not all employers offer it. Hospitals and universities most often do, so be sure to ask to avoid overlooking this ready source of financial assistance.

4. Explore state and city programs

Local assistance programs abound to help you scratch up cash for a down payment. Offered by either your state, your city, or nonprofits, these programs often partner with banks, who hope to gain clientele they might pass over otherwise: Bank of America, for instance, recently launched a searchable database of local programs. Wells Fargo’s partnership with NeighborhoodLIFT offers down payment assistance up to $15,000.

The catch? You’ll need to qualify. For NeighborhoodLIFT, for instance, your household income has to be no more than 120% of the median in your area.

5. Get a gift from family or friends

Understandably, many home buyers turn to their family for help buying a home, and for good reason: There are no limits on how much a family member can “gift” another family member, although only a specific portion can be excluded from taxes ($14,000 per parent).

But it’s not just as easy as that. Gifters, even family, will need to provide paperwork in the form of a gift letter. And if the gifter is a friend, it gets even more complicated. For example, you’ll have to wait about 90 to 120 days before you can use any of those funds.

Article by Craig Donofrio

5 Crucial Questions To Ask Before You Renew Your Rental Lease Right Now

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Is your lease almost up? Before you renew your rental contract for another year, there are numerous questions you should consider, particularly in the era of COVID-19.

While signing a new lease should never be done without pondering your current circumstances, the coronavirus pandemic has made it all the more crucial to weigh your options first. After all, COVID-19 may have changed many things about how you live and work—and how well your current space and location suit your needs.

So before you sign on that dotted line of a new lease, consider these questions first to make sure it’s the right decision for you.

1. Can I still afford this rental?

The first and most important question to ask relates to your current financial situation. Are you fearing a layoff or pay cut? Or worse, have you already experienced it? If so, it may be time to consider downsizing to a less expensive rental, or negotiate with your current landlord for a rent reduction. You might be surprised by how accommodating your landlord is right now.

“Landlords are in serious competition for quality renters now,” says Justin Pogue, a residential property manager for nearly 20 years. “With millions unemployed, the pool of qualified renters has shrunk, which may give you the ability to negotiate.”

If you like your apartment but can’t afford it anymore, take a price survey of other apartment communities that meet your livability criteria before your lease is up, says Pogue. “If you find a better deal, ask your landlord to match it.”

Just make sure you’ve done your research first.

“Tenants should only renegotiate their rates afterfinding another comparable, but cheaper unit,” says Berk Cagatay, an apartment rental manager in Los Angeles. “It’s a good strategy for the renters who want to lock in a low rate before the economy picks back up.”

And if your landlord won’t budge, you may just want to move to less expensive digs.

2. Should I look for a roommate?

If you’re dogged by financial concerns, one of the easiest ways to control monthly expenses is by splitting them. Unless there’s a significant other in the picture, you may want to consider finding a trustworthy roommate or two. They can help you make ends meet, and provide some company in these isolating times.

“You may have dismissed the possibility before, but after living in the solitary confinement of lockdown, having the right roommate just might be more appealing now,” points out Pogue.

Just make sure to clear such a change in your living arrangements with your landlord so this can be reflected in your new lease.

3. Should I negotiate for lower rent where I am, even if I can afford it?

Even if your finances aren’t in jeopardy, negotiating for lower rent is still a smart option if you feel there are better deals to be had out there—or if you’re no longer able to use many of the amenities you once enjoyed, like the building gym or community swimming pool.

“Reach out, and ask for what you want. The worst they can say is no. And in that case, you’re no worse off than when you started,” says Seth Rouch, a landlord in Aurora, CO. In fact, he’d just offered one tenant a monthly discount of $300, totaling $3,600 for the year.

“I did this because they are great tenants,” he explains. “Landlords often confuse themselves, thinking their building is the asset. However, the truth is the tenant is the asset. Without a tenant, I just have an extra house payment.”

4. Does my rental still meet my space needs?

Though cities across the U.S. have slowly opened up, many people are still cooped up at home, either working virtually or home-schooling children. With that in mind, rental units have transformed from places to eat, sleep, and relax to doubling as offices, classrooms, and entertainment areas.

“One of the first questions I would ask is, ‘If I’m working or home-schooling kids from home now, does this rental meet those needs and space requirements?'” says Rob Carrillo, a property manager with Century 21 Haggerty in El Paso, TX.

It’s also worth pondering whether your apartment is conducive to being in quarantine. By that, think about your comfort level inside the space itself for long periods of time and in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Are you in an area where you want to live if you encounter a serious health issue or other crisis?” asks Chris Gold, CEO of Chris Buys Homes in St. Louis. “This virus may stick around for a while, and people should plan for it. Maybe you’d like to be closer to family or emergency services? Or maybe you’d like to get out of the city to live in a place where you are not directly in contact with people on a regular basis?”

5. Should I buy a home instead of renting?

There are numerous reasons why someone may choose to rent instead of buy. However, with interest rates hovering at all-time lows, renters may be surprised to find out they can often save money in the long run if they buy instead of rent.

“I understand down payments may be difficult for some people to come up with,” says Mike Zschunke, a real estate agent in Arizona. “However, it doesn’t hurt to call a mortgage broker to review your current situation. You may realize your situation is different than you initially thought.”

“Always evaluate the opportunity cost of renting versus buying,” adds Michael Chadwick, a licensed real estate salesperson with the Corcoran Group in New York City. “If you are at least four to six months from when your lease expires, and you have the means to buy, consider if you want to continue to dump thousands of dollars into rent when you could be investing in yourself. Despite every crisis in the past 30 or 40 years, home prices on average always rise. You have to play the long game.”

Not sure whether renting or buying is right for you? Use an online rent vs. buy calculator to see what’s cheaper in your area, or check out a home affordability calculator, which helps estimate how much you can afford to spend on a home and monthly mortgage payments.

Article by Clarissa Buch

Painting Your House in the Winter: 6 Facts Every Homeowner Should Know

standret/Getty Images

Winter may not seem like the ideal time to paint your home. As temperatures drop and snow looms on the horizon, most folks’ home-improvement plans go into hibernation (except for some perhaps overdue winterizing projects). After all, you’ve spent all year beautifying your house; now it’s time to slow down and cozy up.

But if painting your house does fall on your current to-do list, don’t stress. There are some unexpected benefits to painting your home in the winter!

Before you pick up a paintbrush or call a professional painter, you should have a full understanding of the ins and outs of painting when it’s cold outside. Below, the benefits and tips all homeowners should know about painting their home during the winter.

1. Painting your home in winter might be cheaper

If you’re hiring a professional to paint the outside of your home and if budget is a concern, scheduling the job during the winter may be your best bet.

Exterior painting requires temperatures of more than 35 degrees at night, for two days after the paint is applied. Freezing temperatures in many parts of the country mean fewer jobs for painters, and consequently less demand in the winter.

“Since pricing is based in part on demand, you’ll likely get a lower estimate for your paint job during this time,” says Eric Regan, CEO of Mission Painting & Home Improvements.

That said, you’ll obviously have to keep an eye on the weather forecast as your appointment approaches.

2. Paint dries faster in winter

It’s a common misconception that interior paint dries more quickly in the heat of summer. The opposite is true if summers in your area are muggy.

“The colder the weather gets, the less humid it is, which means you get faster drying times in the wintertime, because of the lower humidity levels in the air,” says Issabel Williams from Fantastic Handyman. Painting when it’s cold and dry means that you can get your paint job done earlier.

Humid air can also lead to blistering paint, chips, and flakes.

“Paint in a humid environment stays wet for a longer time and can pick up dust and be easily damaged, especially if you bring back the furniture too early,” Williams says.

3. Winter storms can cause problems

While cold temperatures may mean drier weather, winter storms can make it wet pretty quickly. That’s why painting the exterior of your home in the winter should be carefully timed.

“If weather permits, you can paint the home during colder times, assuming there is no rain,” says Terry Koubele, owner of Five Star Painting of Federal Way, a Neighborly company.

Freezing temperatures and lingering dew on surfaces prevent paint from drying properly, and it can end up tacky or sticky, according to Carmelo Marsala, owner of Spray-Net, Inc.

4. Exterior paint might have to wait

Where you live will more than likely determine whether or not you’re able to paint your home’s exterior during the winter. Regan notes that if you live in an area where winter temperatures remain above 35 degrees, you might be able to schedule it.

But in colder areas, where freezing weather is the norm, you’ll probably have to wait until spring. Unless you have a specific reason (for example, plans to sell the home during the spring), it’s best to avoid painting the outside of your house in the winter.

5. You’ll need to check the thermostat

When painting the interior of your home, the temperature should ideally be above 60 degrees. This usually isn’t a problem for most homes, even in the winter, thanks to indoor heating.

However, during the winter, the cold from outside can mean that your walls are much colder than the temperature of the room shown on thermostat.

“You should be more concerned about the temperature of the surface you’re painting, instead of the temperature of the environment you’re painting in,” says Andrew Wilson of Contractor Advisorly.

Wilson recommends increasing your thermostat temperature well above 60 degrees or the manufacturer’s recommended minimum temperature. If the walls are too cold, the paint may not bond to them correctly.

6. Specialty paint is your friend in winter

If you’re worried about exterior paint not drying fast enough in unreliable weather conditions, you should reach for paints and primers that have been specially formulated for cold temperatures.

“Certain paint additives contain chemicals to help increase the freeze resistance of paints, helping them dry in colder weather,” Wilson says.

Since cold temperatures can make paint more viscous, you can also use additives to achieve a professional-looking texture.

“They can prevent your paint from getting thicker, and allow you to get a nice, smooth finish,” Wilson adds.

Article by Mark Soto

Slow Cooker Chicken Pumpkin Curry

The Modern Proper

Tired of your weeknight dinner regimen? Spice things up with our slow-cooker chicken curry! Rich with coconut milk, chicken breast, crisp veggies, and fresh pumpkin—dinner is ready, set, DONE.

Ingredients

  • 114 oz can coconut milk
  • 2 tbspThai red curry paste
  • 1 tbspFish sauce
  • 1 tbspSoy sauce (or tamari)
  • 1 tbspBrown sugar
  • 4 cupsSugar pie pumpkin or butternut squash (3/4 inch cubed) (1.5-2 lb pumpkin)
  • 1 1/2 lbsBoneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tspSalt
  • 1Red bell pepper, sliced
  • 3Heaping cups baby spinach, fresh
  • 1Lime, juiced
  • Steamed rice
  • Lime wedges
  • Cilantro
  • Cashews, toasted

Method

Slow Cooker

  1. In the bowl of your slow cooker, stir the coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar.
  2. Add the pumpkin and chicken and nestle it until it’s submerged in the liquid.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
  4. Switch the slow cooker to high mode if it’s not already, and transfer the chicken to a bowl. Season the liquid with salt and using a fork or a hand blender (for smoother texture) mix the pumpkin curry together.
  5. Using two forks, shred the chicken (it will shred very easily) and return it to the cooker along with the bell peppers. Cover and cook the curry for 30 more minutes.
  6. Add spinach and the juice of 1 lime to the pot and stir until spinach begins to wilt. Serve over steamed rice with extra lime, cilantro and cashews.

Instant Pot

  1. In the bowl of your instant pot, stir the coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar.
  2. Add the pumpkin and chicken and nestle it until it’s submerged in the liquid.
  3. Seal instant pot lid and set the Instant Pot to Manual/High Pressure for 10 minutes. Once finished allow the valve to manually release for 10 minutes.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a bow. Using two forks shred the chicken.
  5. Return it to the cooker along with the salt and bell peppers. Stir until the pumpkin is smooth.
  6. Set on saute mode and cook for another 5-7 stirring often, until bell peppers are tender.
  7. Add spinach and the juice of 1 lime to the pot and stir until spinach begins to wilt. Serve over steamed rice with extra lime, cilantro and cashews

Recipe courtesy of The MODERN PROPER.

Veterans Day free food: Starbucks, Wendy’s, Buffalo Wild Wings offering freebies for vets, military Wednesday

Restaurants and businesses are saluting veterans and active-duty military personnel Wednesday.

They’re offering free meals, treats and special discounts on Veterans Day to show their appreciation for all those who have sacrificed for the country.

Proof of service such as a military ID is typically required and a few businesses will allow dressing in uniform as a form of identification. Discharge papers, VA cards and veteran organization membership cards also can be used to prove service at most businesses.

The majority of discounts are valid only on Veterans Day at participating locations nationwide with most applying to veterans and active-duty military.

Target military discount:Target is offering a 10% military discount Sunday through Veterans Day. Here’s how to sign up.

Some exclusions apply and offers can vary by location. Check with your closest location to confirm participation.

Veterans Day freebies and discounts

The following offers are available Wednesday unless otherwise noted. Most are for dine-in only and some require a mobile app.

7-ElevenVeterans with a Veterans Advantage account can link their account to the convenience store chain’s 7Rewards loyalty program to get special offers including a free cup of coffee for Veterans Day. Learn more at www.7-eleven.com.

Applebee’s: Free meal from a special menu but offers can vary.

Bar Louie: Free burger or flatbread.

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s: Free meal up to $10. No purchase required.

Ben’s Soft Pretzels: Free jumbo soft pretzel.

Biggby Coffee: Free hot brewed coffee up to 24 ounces.

BJ’s Restaurant & BrewhouseFree meal up to $14.95 and free Dr. Pepper beverage.

Bob EvansFree meal from a special menu.

Bonefish Grill: Ongoing 10% discount daily.

Buffalo Wild WingsFree order of 10 boneless wings and fries.

California Pizza KitchenFree meal from a special menu.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill: Free order of calamari with any purchase to all veterans, active military, police officers and firefighters with a valid ID through Wednesday. The chain also has an ongoing 10% discount for active and retired service members.

Casey’s General Store: Free coffee.

Chicken Salad Chick: Free Chick Special and regular drink.

Chili’s Grill & BarFree meal from a special menu.

Chopt Creative Salad Co.: 30% off military discount.

Cicis PizzaFree adult buffet for veterans with military ID and a coupon posted at www.cicis.com/veteransday.

Country Pride: Free meal for veterans Wednesday.

Cracker BarrelFree slice of Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake.

D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches: 50% off entire order Wednesday for walk-in and carry out orders. Not valid online, on lobster or gift cards.

Denny’s: Free “Build Your Own Grand Slam” from 5 a.m. to noon Wednesday.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: Free Pulled Pork Classic Sandwich.

Dunkin’: Free doughnut of your choice.

Einstein Bros. Bagels: Free hot or iced medium coffee when veterans state that they are a veteran.

Famous Dave’s: Free Lunch Georgia Chopped Pork Sandwich with side.

Farmer Boys: Free Big Cheese for veterans.

Friendly’s: Free All-American meal for lunch or dinner.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers: Free combo meal cards for veterans and active-duty military who visit a Freddy’s location Wednesday. The cards are good through Nov. 30.

Golden Corral: Through Nov. 30, Golden Corral is handing out free meal and beverage cards to all active duty and veterans. The cards can be used once through May 31 for lunch or dinner Monday through Thursday.

Huddle House: Free MVP Breakfast Platter.

Iron SkilletFree meal for veterans Wednesday.

Kolache Factory: Free breakfast for veterans, which includes one free kolache of any kind and one cup of any size brewed coffee.

Krispy KremeFree doughnut of choice and small hot or iced coffee.

Landry’s, Inc.: The company with more than 60 brands – including Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouses, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and Rainforest Cafe – is offering military veterans and active members 20% off Wednesday for up to four people. Excludes Golden Nugget restaurants and McCormick & Schmick’s locations.

Little Caesars: Free lunch combo between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Logan’s Roadhouse: Free meal between 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday from the American Roadhouse menu.

Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores: Purchase one roller grill item and get a second free and a fountain drink or coffee of any size for free.

Menchie’s Frozen YogurtFirst six ounces of frozen yogurt are free for veterans.

Metro Diner: 50% off breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Nekter Juice Bar: Free 16-ounce Fresh Juice or Superfood Smoothie.

Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub: Free meal from a special Veterans Day menu with the purchase of another meal and proof of service from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

O’Charley’s: Free meal Monday from special menu Wednesday. Plus, the chain has a 10% military discount daily.

Outback Steakhouse: Free Bloomin’ Onion and Coke product Wednesday. Also, the chain has a daily heroes discount offering 10% off entire checks to all servicemen and women, police officers, firefighters and first responders with a valid state or federal service ID.

Papa Gino’s: 50% off whole pizzas for walk-in and carry out orders.

Pilot Flying J: Free breakfast combo, which includes coffee, for veterans and military on the Pilot Flying J app through Nov. 15.

Qdoba: 50% off any entree Wednesday.

Red Lobster: Free appetizer or dessert.

Red Robin: This deal starts the day after Veterans Day. From Thursday through Nov. 30, veterans and active military who are current Red Robin Royalty members can get a free tavern burger served with bottomless fries.

Scooter’s Coffee: Free drink in any size.

Smashburger: Free Double Burger with any purchase.

Smokey Bones: Free meal from a special menu. Plus, the chain has a 10% military discount daily.

Smoothie King: Free 20-ounce smoothie of choice.

Sonny’s BBQ: Free pork sandwich Wednesday, plus service people that stop by on Veterans Day will also receive a voucher for a free BBQ Egg Roll appetizer, redeemable with a valid military ID from Dec. 1-15.

Starbucks: Free tall hot brewed coffee for veterans, active service members and their spouses Wednesday.

Travelcenters of America: Free meals for veterans at participating Country Pride, Iron Skillet or a TA Petro quick service restaurants.

Taco John’s: Free small beef #1 Combo Meal. Military personnel can redeem the offer in the Taco John’s App by entering the promo code VETERAN under the “More” tab.

TacoTime: Free meal up to $10.

Torchy’s Tacos: Free taco and non-alcoholic beverage from a special Veterans Day menu.

Twin Peaks: Free meal from a special menu at corporate locations Wednesday.

Wendy’s: Free small breakfast combo with valid military ID from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Hours can vary by location. Service members enrolled in the Veterans Advantage program can get a free breakfast sandwich with any breakfast purchase from Wednesday through Dec. 31.

White Castle: Free combo meal or breakfast combo.

Yard HouseFree appetizer Wednesday.

Zaxby’s: Free Boneless Wings Meal with proof of military service Wednesday.

This roundup will be updated. Businesses, such as restaurants or convenience stores with 50 or more locations, that have Veterans Day deals not listed in this roundup can submit details for consideration through this form.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko

What a Biden Administration Will Mean for Housing-Finance Reform

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For more than a decade, housing-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have remained in conservatorship after being bailed out amid the Great Recession. With former Vice President Joe Biden’s projected win in the U.S. presidential election, that may continue for the foreseeable future.

Fannie and Freddie’s shareholders have been kept in all these years — they’ve watched as the enterprises’ profits were swept to the Treasury Department to repay the federal government, and they’ve gone without a dividend in that time.

Glimmers of hope have emerged for Fannie and Freddie’s investors during the Trump administration. Last April, Vice President Mike Pence’s former chief economist, Mark Calabria, was confirmed as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the main regulator overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Since assuming that post, Calabria has worked to begin recapitalizing the two enterprises after ending the years of profit sweeps.

Also last year, Fannie and Freddie’s investors notched a court victory when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the structure of the FHFA was unconstitutional. That case is set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in coming weeks.

Here’s how the Biden administration will shape the fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — and the broader housing-finance ecosystem.

The Supreme Court’s decision will prove crucial

On Dec. 9, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Collins V. Mnuchin, a case that will determine whether the structure of the FHFA is constitutional. Fannie and Freddie shareholders brought the lawsuit in question. In 2012, the FHFA began sweeping the profits of the two mortgage giants to the Treasury Department to repay the funds the government used to bail them out.

The case, in many ways, mirrors one the Supreme Court has already decided. Earlier this year, the court ruled that e Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s structure was unconstitutional. Like the CFPB, the FHFA has a single director, who as of now is appointed by the president for a five-year term, but cannot be removed by a subsequent president.

Most observers expect the Supreme Court to rule similarly in the FHFA case — particularly with conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett having joined the court.

But that outcome could endanger the prospects of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being recapitalized and released from their government conservatorship.

Biden is likely to take a different perspective on housing-finance reform

Last year, the FHFA and the Trump administration presented a comprehensive plan for reforming Fannie, Freddie and the broader housing-finance system. Many of the proposals they made required congressional action — but some did not, including allow Fannie and Freddie to begin retaining the profits they earn.

Allowing Fannie and Freddie to retain their profits and recapitalize is meant to ensure that they have resources to fall back on were they to encounter another financial downturn.

“The Trump administration has clearly indicated its intent to end the conservatorships administratively if they cannot reach a legislative solution,” said Ed DeMarco, president of the Housing Policy Council and the former acting director of the FHFA. “The Biden campaign has not addressed the issue but conventional wisdom is that a Biden administration is unlikely to pursue that route.”

Most observers expect that Biden will move to replace Calabria, especially if granted the ability to fire him by the Supreme Court. Whoever he installs will likely take an approach similar to the Obama administration in holding Fannie and Freddie responsible for advancing certain affordable-housing goals.

“If Biden wins, they’re going to be a tool to help with racial justice and economic inequality once again,” said Brandon Barford, a partner at Beacon Policy Advisors. “So I don’t think there’s any desire to have them be released under a Biden administration, or necessarily to have them hold higher capital, because that makes the pool they have to purchase mortgages smaller.”

Some have argued that the Biden administration might even go a step further. Edward Pinto, director of the Housing Center at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted that Biden will keep Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship “and likely move them towards a utility-style regime.”

Some have argued that if the federal government were to treat Fannie and Freddie as utilities, the risk to taxpayers and concerns related to how profitable the enterprises are would be reduced. As a result, Fannie and Freddie could focus on lowering costs to borrowers.

The pandemic could scuttle any hopes of housing-finance reform

The Biden administration will come up against a major hurdle in reforming how Fannie and Freddie operate. “Whatever near-term challenges homeowners face in 2021 due to the pandemic likely will take priority over longer-term housing finance reform,” DeMarco said.

As of now, some 3 million homeowners are still in forbearance on their mortgages as a result of the pandemic — but at the height of the forbearance wave back in June, as many as 4.3 million borrowers were in forbearance, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Generally speaking, a smaller share of borrowers with loans backed by Fannie and Freddie went into forbearance, as compared with borrowers with loans backed by HUD. Nevertheless, extending that forbearance came at a cost. During a speech at a mortgage industry conference last month, Calabria said that Fannie and Freddie’s response to the pandemic has cost them $6 billion, including $4 billion in loan losses from projected forbearance defaults.

The FHFA plans to begin charging a fee for some refinance loans to recoup those losses. And Calabria noted that matters could have been worse. The extra capital he allowed Fannie and Freddie to retain starting last year helped to offset the financial impact from the pandemic, he said.

But with the economy still on shaky footing, an uptick in forbearance requests and eventually foreclosures remains possible. And solvency of Fannie and Freddie could hang in the balance.

“In their current condition, Fannie and Freddie will fail in a serious housing downturn,” Calabria said.

Article by Jacob Passy

Wow! How Home Sellers Can Make a Bundle in the ‘Best’ Winter Sales Season in Years

Feverpitched / Getty Images

Selling a home in winter is often a slow process. Since many home buyers traditionally hunker down as the temperature drops, particularly during the holidays, home sellers with real estate on the market typically see fewer buyers and lower offers.

That’s your typical winter, but this winter is shaping up to be a whole different reality, even a hot seller’s market.

According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors®, “It will be one of the best winter sales years ever.”

The coronavirus has changed real estate in a multitude of ways, and perhaps one of the biggest is the sea of buyers who put off buying during the first wave of the pandemic and are now slated to flood the market this winter.

“Sellers will have the ball in their court so to speak, as there are more buyers than sellers,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®. “This means seller-friendly trends like rising home prices and quick-selling homes.”

According to a realtor.com report, September’s home inventory was 39% lower compared with the same month last year. Meanwhile, buyers are keen to take advantage of the record-low interest rates, which have been hovering at or below 3%.

All of this means that sellers who are willing to put their homes on the market now could reap the benefits. Here’s how sellers can make the most of this unprecedented time and enjoy a blizzard of buyers this winter.

Price your home on the high end

COVID-19 has created a shaky economy, so you may think pricing your home on the low end is the way to go. But that’s not the case.

According to a realtor.com report, the national median home listing price jumped 11.1% in September compared with last year, reaching $350,000, and price per square foot rose 13.9%.

The upshot? These days, you’re likely to get offers at list price, or even higher.

“Prices are very high,” says Simon Isaacs, owner/broker of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL. “People are getting what they’re asking.”

Another plus: The low interest rates could keep monthly mortgage payments low. So buyers may be able to afford a more expensive home.

Make your home move-in ready

Today, buyers are keen to find a home that won’t need a lot of work after they move in. As such, it behooves sellers more than ever to make small repairs and upgrades that will increase a home’s value and justify a high offer.

“Sellers need to make sure their house is turnkey,” says Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker/owner of Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle. “The buyer is not going to want to remodel or do repairs in the winter.”

Cleaning up the landscaping and painting are two upgrades that Isaacs always recommends to sellers.

“Landscaping is definitely something that helps to sell a home more than anything,” he says.

Sellers would also be smart to highlight (in their listing and in person) features in their home that appeal to buyers today. Since the coronavirus, people are spending more time at home, and are thus keen to purchase property with more space, privacy, rooms that can double as home offices or learning spaces, and top-notch outdoor spaces.

Make sure your listing provides a virtual tour

The pandemic has made many buyers leery of checking out homes in person unless they see one they truly love. The upshot for sellers? Your listing will really need to shine online—and one of the best ways to do this is by offering a virtual tour.

“Depending on where you live and how COVID-19 is trending in your area, sellers may want to consider having a 3D tour readily available for buyers who do not wish to do an in-person tour,” says Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL.

This approach is also more convenient for sellers, since it can help minimize the number of strangers touring their home. Buyers can get a good sense if your home meets their needs without actually stepping inside.

Take safety seriously

Selling a home during a pandemic brings a new set of challenges. Virtual tours can minimize the foot traffic in your home, but eventually a buyer will want to see it in person. So it’s a good idea to ensure that you and your real estate agent are doing everything you can to make in-person tours as safe as possible.

Some ways to do this include limiting the number of showings per day, including gaps between showings, and limiting the size of groups seeing a home at once. Requiring masks and social distancing are also par for the course.

When people do have to see your home, leave doors, closets, and cabinets open throughout the house to minimize what they have to touch. Keep in mind, too, that once everyone leaves, it will be up to you to clean and sanitize your home.

Don’t accept an offer too quickly

The real estate market this winter is incredibly competitive. With so few homes on the market, sellers are poised to receive multiple offers, sometimes all at once. But Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estatein Huntsville, AL, cautions sellers not to get in a hurry and accept an offer too quickly.

Typically, sellers have 24 to 48 hours to accept an offer. If you jump the gun and say yes too soon, you could be leaving money on the table.

“Select a real estate agent that has a strategy to handle multiple offers versus an agent that’s not equipped to handle multiple-offer situations,” Curtis says. “Literally eight hours of sleep could net you an extra $30,000.”

So take time to mull over each offer you receive. If the offer is too low, you can always counter with something closer to the asking price.

Close remotely if you can

Along with virtual home tours, home sellers should strive to make as much of the home-buying process as virtual and digital as possible. Now, more buyers and sellers are able to complete the closing process remotely in most areas of the country, something that wasn’t possible a few months ago.

Pre-pandemic, remote closings weren’t possible everywhere, because some states didn’t allow documents to be notarized remotely. To keep real estate transactions and other business flowing during the COVID-19 crisis, most states issued emergency declarations now allowing for remote notarizations, according to the National Notary Association.

Along with limiting in-person contact, remote closings are much more convenient.

“You can sign all the documents now electronically,” Isaacs says. These days it’s all about “making sure that everybody is comfortable and as safe as possible.”

Article by Erica Sweeney

Fall Safety Tips for Your Pet

Larimer Humane Society

Last week’s early-season snowfall has reminded us that fall and cooler weather are right around the corner. While it’s the perfect time of year to get outside with your furry friend, it’s also a time to refresh yourself on how to keep your pet safe during the season.

There are new dangers during the fall that could be hazardous to your pet with new important safety issues to consider. Here are some tips that Larimer Humane Society belies will help keep your pet healthy and happy this fall.

Watch Out for School Supplies

This holds true every year. However, during the COVID-19 era that we currently find ourselves in, many kids are learning from home which means school supplies are placed throughout the house more than ever before. While we understand that many school items are considered low toxicity to pets, if ingested they could cause a gastrointestinal blockage or upset stomachs. While your children are learning from home, always make sure that they keep all school supplies out of reach from your pet.

Keep Away from Wild Mushrooms

When it’s fall, it means mushrooms will start sprouting up more often than any other season outside of spring. In Colorado, there are over one hundred mushroom species that are considered poisonous. Since there are many varieties of mushrooms throughout the state, we advise keeping your dog or cat away from areas where any mushrooms are growing. To see a list of the most common poisonous mushrooms seen throughout the area, follow this link.

Watch for Snakes

Fall is the time when snakes in Colorado start to prepare themselves for winter hibernation, which could increase the chances that your pets may experience an unprovoked bite. Keep an eye on areas throughout your yard, and places where you walk, that could be the right environment for a snake to take shelter. Knowing where these areas are ahead of time could help prevent being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fall Shedding

Early on in the season, your cat or dog will start to shed their summer coat to allow room for their winter coat. This means you could start seeing their hair everywhere, from your clothes, the couch, and everywhere else you can think of. To help alleviate the amount you have to deal with, make sure you put aside time at least once per week where you can brush your pet. Depending on your pet’s shedding habits, you may even want to make sure they are being brushed daily. Larimer Humane Society Supervising Veterinarian Lindsey Gapstur says that grooming is vitally important during the fall season. “Grooming is more than just a bath, especially for double-coated breeds. It’s important to maintain a regular pet grooming schedule to help ensure that your pet’s skin and coat are clean and healthy, his nails are kept short, and his ears are clean.”

Bundle Your Pet Up

Once we get to the end of summer, we are ready for chilly days and colder nights. Your pet is just as ready as you are! However, always make sure that they have a warm place to go at night. As we all know, Colorado’s weather can change rather quickly so always keep an eye on when a cold snap is going to hit or if a snowstorm is heading our way. Always keep your pet inside to help prevent her from getting wet and possibly getting frostbite or hypothermia.

According to Gapstur, it’s important to keep an eye on your pets who are older. “Drastic changes in temperatures can be especially challenging for older animals. Make sure to monitor them for signs of stiffness or weakness that could indicate arthritis.”

As long as you take all the safety precautions needed, you and your pet will enjoy the fall season and everything that comes along with it!

How To Get Rid of a Mattress Responsibly: Avoid These 4 Mistakes

FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

A mattress isn’t something you buy every day—thankfully. Researching the hundreds of options out there can be a long and confusing process. Experts say the average life span of a mattress is around 10 years, so this experience is inevitable. But once you find one that’s right for you and set it up in your bedroom, what do you do with the old one?

Well, think twice before abandoning it on the curb. It turns out, there are right and wrong ways to dispose of an old mattress.

“About 20 million mattresses end up in landfills every year,” says Erin Rossi, editor at SimplyRest.com. “Since the materials used in most beds are not biodegradable, they can take decades to break down. As they do so, mattresses release toxic chemicals that pollute our soil, water, and air.”

Some states like Connecticut, California, and Rhode Island require mattress manufacturers to provide consumers with a convenient way to dispose of old mattresses. And the Mattress Recycling Council operates a number of recycling programs throughout the country. But these options aren’t easily available in every city. Therefore, it’s important to know the proper ways to dispose of your mattress, no matter where you live.

Here are some of the biggest don’ts when it comes to getting rid of your mattress.

1. Putting it on the curb with a ‘Free’ sign

While it may sound like a good idea to invite people to take advantage of a free mattress, there’s no guarantee anyone will pick it up. And leaving your old mattress next to a commercial dumpster is no better.

“Many people think if they just place a mattress out on the curb, someone or the city will take it,” says Lori Barnes, the council’s manager of industry communications . “Check with your local government about how bulky waste is collected in your area. You may need to schedule an appointment.”

If your mattress is not stained or infested with bed bugs, you can also look into recycling it at one of the mattress recycling facilities across the country. Barnes says around 75% of a mattress, primarily parts such as metal springs, wood, and fibers, can be repurposed to manufacture new items.

Bye Bye Mattress, a program offered by the council, provides a nationwide list of known mattress recyclers.

You can also list your mattress for sale or offer it for free on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle, Nextdoor, or OfferUp. That way you can make sure your mattress actually gets picked up.

Just make sure you know the rules of selling a used mattress in your state. Many states have stipulations about clearly labeling the condition of the mattress and whether it needs to be sanitized. And in Kansas, it’s actually illegal to sell a used mattress.

2. Burning the mattress

Burning an old mattress is not only unsafe (as the fire can get out of control), but it can also harm the environment and may be illegal in some areas.

“Flame-retardant chemicals are in almost all mattresses sold in the United States. Setting your used mattress on fire would release those chemicals into the air,” says Barnes. “Once in the air, the chemicals do not go away and could be harmful to you, the environment, and those around you.”

“A bonfire is always a good time, but not when it starts with a mattress,” warns Jason Brown, chief marketing officer for LoadUp, a nationwide full-service junk removal and hauling company. 

He suggests asking the company where you purchased the new mattress if it can haul away the old one.

3. Illegally dumping it

“Tossing your old bed out on the street may seem like the most convenient option, but it will only cause you more problems in the long run,” says Rossi.

You may be charged with an “illegal dumping” misdemeanor, punishable by community service and some type of restitution.

“If ticketed, fees can cost up to one thousand dollars,” she says.

Rossi says most local trash services will take large items only on a designated bulk-item pickup day.

She adds that if the mattress sits outside for a long time, it can become a breeding ground for pests and rodents, making it an environmental and health hazard.

4. Donating a bad mattress

Charitable donations are always a good option, but you never want to donate a mattress that has stains or strong odors. The same goes for an uncomfortable mattress.

“If a mattress isn’t giving you a supportive and healthy night’s sleep, it’s probably not good enough for someone else either,” says Barnes.

The best way to dispose of a tarnished mattress—whether the damage is due to bed bugs, liquid, or anything else that renders the mattress unusable—is to wrap it in plastic wrap or shrink-wrap it in the bedroom.

The objective is to seal the mattress so you don’t spread anything as you drag it out of your home. Since a mattress is considered a bulky item, you’ll need to schedule pickup with your local department of sanitation or a private junk removal company.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Harvest Chicken Skillet with Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

Recipe by ERIN CLARKE

Harvest Chicken Skillet with Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, and Sautéed Apples—one of the top five most popular recipes on my site—  is a skillet dinner recipe that happened due to a chance encounter at Trader Joe’s. Had it not been for a fortuitous introduction in the wine aisle, this gem of a recipe might have been lost forever.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon chopped
  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts trimmed and quartered (about 3/4 pound)
  • 1 medium sweet potato peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 Granny Smith apples peeled, cored and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth divided

Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium high, until hot and shimmering. Add the chicken, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate lined with paper towels.
  • Reduce skillet heat to medium low. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crisp and brown and the fat has rendered, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate (I simply laid another paper towel on top of the plate with the chicken, then stacked the bacon on that). Discard all but 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon fat from the pan.
  • Increase skillet heat back to medium high. Add Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, onion, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender and the onions are beginning to look translucent, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the apples, garlic, thyme, and cinnamon. Cook 30 seconds, then pour in 1/2 cup of the broth. Bring to a boil and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved chicken and remaining 1/2 cup broth. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in reserved bacon and serve warm.

Notes

  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (the bacon will soften somewhat, but the meal is still yummy). Reheat gently in the microwave with a splash of chicken stock to keep it from drying out.

Nutrition

SERVING: 1(of 4) CALORIES: 435kcal CARBOHYDRATES: 30PROTEIN: 32g  FAT: 21
SATURATED FAT: 6CHOLESTEROL: 96mg POTASSIUM: 1024mg FIBER: 7SUGAR: 14g
VITAMIN A: 5252 IUVITAMIN C: 67mg CALCIUM: 69mg IRON: 2mg

Self-Employed and Applying for a Mortgage? Here’s What’s Changed Since COVID-19

valentinrussanov/Getty Images

The gig economy has blown up in the past few years, with more and more people choosing to work as freelancers, either by starting their own businesses, or by picking up nonsalaried jobs from bigger companies.

According to the Freelancers Union, over 50 million Americans worked this year as freelancers, a number that represents roughly 35% of the country’s workforce.

While freelancing undoubtedly has its perks, helping you get a mortgage is not one of them.

Since COVID-19 started tearing through the country in March, we’ve heard reports of freelancers having an even harder time getting approved for mortgages. Here’s the latest on what to expect when applying for mortgage as a freelancer in the post-coronavirus era.

Getting a mortgage as a freelancer (pre-coronavirus)

Before diving into what’s changed for freelancers applying for mortgages in the COVID-19 era, let’s back up to what it was like before the pandemic.

According to Todd Huettner of Huettner Capital, the two most important things self-employed borrowers (which includes freelancers, independent contractors, business owners, and sole proprietors) historically needed for mortgage applications were: two years of tax returns, and proof their business was in operation.

“Depending on timing, if you were more than six months into the following year, you may have also needed an unaudited profit-and-loss statement for the business,” says Huettner.

That’s exactly what it sounds like: a financial statement that records all the losses and gains of a business over a period of time.

Besides tax returns and proof that your business was up and running, lenders also had basic requirements for any borrower (self-employed or otherwise), which included things like a minimum credit score and maximum debt-to-income ratio.

“Most people don’t realize this and think there are totally different rules,” says Huettner. “But the main difference is that as a freelancer, you just had to document the income.”

What’s changed

The main thing that’s changed for freelancers applying for a mortgage is that the need for documentation has increased—by a lot.

Because of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, lenders are being extra careful when it comes to determining who actually qualifies for these mortgages, and whether they can realistically repay them.

“In the past, we could simply use the prior year’s tax returns,” says Todd Wells of Sinberg Capital Lending.

“There’s more documentation required post-COVID for self-employed borrowers. Now, we need a year-to-date profit and loss statement, as well as business bank statements to support the profit and loss statement.”

In other words, lenders need a lot more proof that you’re in a good position to take on that mortgage, and providing that proof could be a major pain, to say the least.

How to increase your chances of getting approved

Beyond doing all the usual things to increase your chances of getting approved (like boosting your credit score and improving your debt-to-income ratio), freelancers should also be prepared to jump through a few extra administrative hoops to that prove their income really is what they say it is.

This will include things like getting those profit and loss (also called P&L) statements ready, and possibly even pulling some bank statements to back them up. And while some lenders might allow you to get by with just an audited P&L statement, that may not be any easier.

“Most people don’t have a clue about the time and cost of obtaining an audited financial statement,” says Huettner.

“Most CPAs don’t provide this service—it’s a very specific process with a lot of requirements. The result is that it can cost thousands of dollars and take several weeks or months to finish.”

In today’s hot seller’s market, taking weeks or months to get approved would be simply out of the question.

That’s why many freelancers (when given the option by their lender) are choosing to prepare unaudited P&L statements as well as bank statements to prove their income.

Since this can take several hours (and plenty of fishing around in your various accounts) to complete, it’s a good idea to have these things ready before you need them.

“Have complete and accurate documentation going back as far as you can, 24 months if possible,” advises one former banker, Karen Condor of ExpertInsuranceReviews.com.

“This will prove that you can consistently afford loan payments. The higher your FICO credit score and the more robust your income documentation, the higher the chance of loan approval.”

The final word

Is it harder for freelancers to get approved for mortgages in the COVID-19 era? Yes and no. If your business has been consistently doing well and you have the documentation to prove it, you might be just fine.

But if you’ve recently hit a slowdown, or are having issues producing the extra proof of income, then getting that mortgage for your dream home might be harder than you thought.

Article by Larissa Runkle