PALEO CASHEW BROCCOLI WITH LEMON

This Cashew Broccoli with Lemon recipe is really easy to make and absolutely delicious! Broccoli and cashews belong together in this dish which is perfectly complemented with a citrus amino dressing. This cashew broccoli dish is not only Paleo, but can easily be made vegan friendly if you use olive oil in place of the ghee. Served with a side of lean chicken or fish and your taste buds will be in heaven!

Ingredients

2 head(s) broccoli, separated into 1 inch sections
1/2 cup(s) ghee, or olive oil
1 medium lemon(s), juiced
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup(s) cashews, halved
1 medium garlic clove(s), chopped
1 medium onion(s)
1/2 cup(s) coconut aminos
1 medium orange(s), juiced

Instructions

  1. Steam the broccoli until just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat the ghee and lemon juice. Add the broccoli, cashews, salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. Saute for 5 minutes or until the mixture starts to brown.
  3. Add the coconut aminos and orange juice to the mixture and cook on low heat for 5-8 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Serve hot over cauliflower rice.

What Is Mortgage Fraud? Steer Clear of These 3 Offenses

There are white lies, and then there’s mortgage fraud. Yes, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference, but it’s essential for home buyers to understand exactly where the line is drawn, because the consequences can be dire if you cross it. So what is mortgage fraud?

Mortgage fraud is deception about your financial circumstances or how you’re going to use the property that you purchase. If fraud is detected at any time during the mortgage process, your loan will be declined and you will be out any funds you’ve already paid, such as the appraisal fee or your earnest money deposit, says Casey Fleming, mortgage adviser at C2 Financial Corp. and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

And even if your loan closes, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten away with any deception. If it’s caught later, your lender is likely to call the loan, meaning the entire amount would be immediately due, forcing you to try to refinance or sell the home.

Did we scare you? We didn’t mean to—actually, we sort of did. But we mostly want to impart the seriousness of mortgage fraud. So, read up and make sure you’re not one of the suckers pleading, “But I didn’t know!”

Here are the three main types of mortgage fraud most likely to trip up home buyers.

Offense No. 1: Occupancy fraud

There are two varieties of occupancy fraud.

1. Purchasing an investment property, but claiming it will be your personal residence.There’s a reason people are tempted to do this: cold, hard cash.

“The cost premium on an investment property is typically 2.5% of the loan amount in up-front fees, or 0.625% to 1% higher in interest rates,” says Fleming.

While those savings are tempting, it’s relatively easy to get caught. Lenders will look closer if the property is multiple units, such as a duplex; considerably smaller or less expensive than your current residence; or located far from where you work. Of course, many people downsize or telecommute, but these factors are likely to raise a red flag.

2. Claiming your home will be a vacation home when you intend to rent it out, or that it will be a primary residence when it’s going to be a second home. Here again, location would raise a red flag, though for the opposite reason: You’re unlikely to buy a second home where you live. If you’re buying in a beach or mountain town, or another obvious resort location that screams “second home,” you’ll have to cite evidence that you plan to live there as your primary residence.

And before you’re tempted to say, “Yeah, I’m living in Hawaii, want to make something of it?,” know that many mortgage lenders will make something of it. One tool they are turning to is the LexisNexis Verification of Occupancy, which uses public and proprietary records to analyze 16 different components of occupancy evidence to try to root out the fibbers. Don’t be one of them.

Offense No. 2: Hiding debt

A lender decides how much home you can afford based on your monthly debt-to-income ratio—that is, the total of all your monthly debts, divided by your gross monthly income. So if you aren’t giving your lender the straight scoop on your debts, it’s basing its assessment on false numbers.

And don’t even contemplate trying to hide what you owe. There are ways of spotting debt that doesn’t show up on your credit report, Fleming warns. For example, most debts require regular monthly payments, which is one reason why your lender is so eager to paw through at least two months of bank statements.

“If they show identical payments going out to someone two months in a row, an underwriter is likely to ask what it’s for, and potentially flag it as debt,” says Fleming.

There are other debts that might not be reported to the credit bureaus, yet still show up on a public record. For example, an IRS repayment schedule for unpaid taxes would not be a “lien” per se that would be reported to the credit agency if you are making your payments on time, but it would still be evident in a records search.

“The bottom line is that a debt other than to your Uncle Bob that you either don’t make payments on or pay in cash, we’ll probably find it,” says Fleming.

Offense No. 3: Hiding your down payment source

We get it: Amassing a down payment can be hard. That’s why it might make sense to borrow money from a relative—especially one who doesn’t ask for interest. However, it still counts as a debt if you are expected to pay it back.

Lenders need to see a complete financial picture before they commit to making you a loan; that includes all the debts you owe, because they affect the funds you have available to make that mortgage payment each month.

Although a lender won’t accept your down payment if it includes a debt you have to pay back, the lender is almost always cool if it’s a gift. So cross your fingers that Mom, Dad, or Uncle Bob are in a giving mood and make sure you have a letter from them specifying they don’t expect the funds to be repaid.

Bottom line?

“There truly are loan programs for almost every person and every circumstance out there,” Fleming says. “You may have to pay a few dollars more each month than you otherwise would, but mortgage fraud is not worth the risk.”

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Light It Up: 6 Glow-in-the-Dark Home Decor Ideas

If your place is a little drab, consider this bright idea as a pick-me-up: glow-in-the-dark home decor. That’s right, luminescent accessories aren’t just for kid parties and raves—they have also found a permanent spot in people’s homes, in the form of tiles, pavers, murals, and more. Check out these illuminating ideas to see all the ways you can make some magic happen. In the dark!

 

 

Turn on the tile

If making a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom has you stumbling and fumbling, you can put an end to these problems with glow-in-the-dark tile ($47 per square foot at Susan Jablon Mosaics).

Available in turquoise and sky blue, they give off a soft glow—much gentler than harsh overhead lighting—without upping your electric bill. Aside from bathrooms, we could see these looking amazing in kitchens (midnight snack, anyone?) and swimming pools, too.

 

Driveway meets runway

These glow stones will turn your average driveway into something straight out of a fairy tale. Whether you want to up the wow factor before your next dinner party or just add a touch of whimsy to your yard, these photo-luminescent pebble aggregates should do the trick ($20 per 1-pound bag of 135 stones at Core Glow).

These stones—made of glass, marble, or synthetic resin—contain a proprietary luminescent material that soaks up sunlight, then maintains an afterglow for up to 12 hours, just in time for sunrise. Color choices include blue, green, pink, purple, white, and yellow. They can be used indoors as well.

So what happens if a stone is swallowed by Fido? Never fear, these stones are nonradioactive and nontoxic.

Paving the way

To make your pool or patio pop, you can use glow-in-the-dark pavers ($12 for seven lights at Hayneedle.com). The markers are each fixed to a 2.5-inch nail so you can drive them into the ground. By day, they look like any other border as they absorb light, but at night they’ll light up your garden path or walkway in style.

Luminous lumber

These tricked-out tree trunks bring a touch of cool to your outdoor space—and your guests should have no trouble finding a seat. Artist Judson Beaumont of Straight Line Design builds these on commission; prices vary depending on size and design, but your basic stump starts at $550.

Glow-in-the-dark murals

And let’s not forget the home inhabitants who probably appreciate glow-in-the-dark paint more than all others: kids. Honestly now, what little tyke (or hey, even teenager) wouldn’t love a room like this?

Artist and “neoluminist” Bogi Fabian painted the above masterpiece, but if you don’t have the cash to commission your very own mind-blowing mural, consider purchasing one of Fabian’s glow-in-the-dark prints. This moon print sells for just under $200 for a 24-inch, and approximately $390 for a 59-inch at bogifabian.com.

Or just get a can of glow-in-the-dark paint!

Probably the cheapest way to get your glow on at home is by picking up a can of glow-in-the dark paint ($10 for a 10-ounce can of Rust-Oleum, at most hardware stores or on Amazon.com).

For best results, Rust-Oleum recommends that you apply this paint to a white or light-covered surface. You can paint anything: planters, furniture, ceramic tile, the insides of your cabinets, and more. Here are some surprising things you’ve never considered painting but should.

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7 Cute Yet Cringeworthy Ways Your Pets Can Wreck a Home Sale

You love your pets, but the people checking out your house in the hope of buying it may not share your ardor. The mere sight of these furry creatures can tip the scales, for some buyers, against making an offer on your property at all. Perhaps you only want animal lovers to inherit your home—but if you’re a come-one-come-all kind of home seller, you may want to try to avoid the seven deadly home-sale saboteurs that are listed below. We’ll show you how.

Tufts of fur

Just when you think you’ve got it all vacuumed up, you spot drifts of fur under tables and stuck to upholstery.

“A lightly dampened sponge is perfect for removing pet hair on furniture and fabric,” says Danessa Itaya, vice president of Maid Right, a home-cleaning service. Alternatively, you can try lint rollers and squeegees, adds Nancy Jones, an interior decorator with Showhomes, a home-staging company.

“We also use pet hair gloves that are designed specifically for cleaning up fur,” Jones says. You should also get in the habit of brushing your pet regularly—and doing this outside. Apply a minivacuum directly to his coat, as shown below. Really.

Floor stains

If your feline likes to cough up grass clippings in the hall or pee under the basement workbench, a potential buyer will likely note the discoloration and either wince or run (or perhaps wince, then run). Carpet and floor stains need to be fixed before any showings. If you can swing it, replace the rug, or at least roll it up and stash it in the garage. Hire a flooring professional to remove tougher stains, either by sanding and re-staining a wood floor or dealing them with a commercial-grade cleanser.

That aroma

You’re so accustomed to—and in love with—your pet that you no longer realize she’s given your home a certain scent … but rest assured, visitors will pick up on it as soon as they set foot through your front door. In some cases, before they set foot through the door. The remedy? Good ol’ baking soda, which is safe and effective, says Itaya.

“You can sprinkle it in your cat’s litter box as a deodorizer or put a small amount in a spray bottle with water to apply to your pet’s favorite hiding spots,” she says. And if the smells haven’t been absorbed by the carpet padding, they can generally be lifted out with a pet enzyme removal product or Resolve, notes Jones. “There are also many candles and air fresheners that can eliminate odors without overpowering,” she says.

Pets on beds

Cats may have some leeway to nap on the bed, but the very presence of a dog on the couch or bed may scare some people off, often for good reason. When you’re getting ready for a showing, be sure your pooch is out of the bedrooms and either housed in his crate or shipped off to a friend or doggy day care for the afternoon. Then make sure there’s no telltale pet hair left behind.

Scratches and dings

Puppies will chew on just about anything, including chair legs, baseboards, and other wooden features in your home. If you see significant furniture damage, remove the pieces and store them during your next open house. But smaller marks can be hidden with a couple of DIY solutions.

“Felt-tip markers can make a world of difference on scratched-up furniture—find one that matches the color of the wood, and you’ll quickly transform dings so they’re less noticeable,” says Itaya. Jones likes Old English furniture polish to clean up pet scratches.

“It now comes in both light and dark versions and covers most surface marks,” she reports. To remove a deep scratch, use wood putty to fill in the grooves and follow up with a stain to match.

Pet accessories

You won’t impress a potential buyer if he or she has to dodge your pet’s toys in order to get inside the door. Remove these hazards by gathering up her chew things and placing them in a nice-looking basket or bin. You should also hang up your pup’s tangled pile of leashes, fold and straighten her outfits and jackets if she has any, and stash pet beds until the showing is over.

Bowls and litter box

Water dishes and pet food bowls are easily knocked over, so be sure to dump them out and load them in the dishwasher before an open house begins. Of course, you’ll scoop out the cat box so that it’s as clean as possible, but it’s better to get rid of it entirely. Not only does it smell, but it’s just plain gross to catch sight of that gravelly stuff.

“If you must have a litter box around, I usually suggest the clumping kind [of litter] because it’s easier to clean,” Jones recommends. And if your visitors are coming with pets, be sure to spray neutralizers on the areas where they migrate, to prevent dogs or cats from marking their territory.

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5 Ways to Save on Home Renovation Costs So You Don’t Go Broke

Is your kitchen hopelessly outdated, and your bathroom a blast from the past? Then it sounds like you’re overdue for some home improvements. There’s just one problem: Remodeling can be a huge undertaking—and a costly one at that. The average kitchen remodel will set you back $60,000; a bathroom overhaul, $17,908. Ouch! But hey, that’s just the average price homeowners pay. Plenty of home renovations can fall way under that wire if you know some tricks to keep your home improvement budget in check. Check out these smart ways to save on home renovation costs to achieve the home of your dreams without blowing wads of cash.

1. Don’t do a complete remodel

Unless the room needs to be completely gutted, you can cut costs by refurbishing existing fixtures. When renovating the kitchen, staining the current cabinetry, replacing old drawer handles and knobs, and refacing moldings can save you thousands of dollars.

In fact, refinishing existing cabinets can save you up to 50% compared with the cost of buying new cabinetry, according to Angie’s List. You can also cut costs by purchasing materials (e.g., granite, flooring, or lighting) yourself, says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.

2. Pick decent, midgrade materials

Picking premium options or materials can raise the cost of your remodeling project substantially. One area where you’ll find a major price difference? Carpeting.

While basic olefin and polyester carpeting costs around $1 to $2 per square foot, wool can cost upward of $9 to $11 per square foot, according to Angie’s List. Those costs add up if you’re recarpeting a large room or an entire floor.

Another biggie? Countertops: Granite costs $60 to $100 per square foot; laminate (i.e., Formica) looks like granite for $10 to $40 per square foot.

3. Do prep work yourself

To reduce the hours your contractors will need to put in—and save money on labor—do light prep work yourself, says Dossman. By removing and discarding old carpeting on your own, for example, you’ll shave time off the installer’s bill, which can lead to substantial savings when you consider that many companies charge an additional $4 per yard to remove old carpet.

4. Go DIY, but know your limits

Another way to cut remodeling costs is, of course, to do the work yourself. That’s a good move for small projects, like painting a bedroom, where the work is fairly simple. Also, the materials you’ll need, including paint, brushes, sandpaper, and tape, cost only $100 to $200. (Professional painters, meanwhile, charge $25 to $100 an hour.)

With larger projects, however, rolling up your sleeves probably isn’t the best decision—especially if you lack handy skills. For major home improvement projects, you’ll most likely want to hire a professional to do the work—it’ll cost more, but it’s worth it. Let’s face it: The last thing you want to do is cheap out and need to pay a second contractor to redo the work.

5. Shop around for the best (and budget-friendly) contractor

Last but not least, a home remodeling project is only as good as whom you hire. It’s crucial to find a reliable contractor who will quote you a fair price and deliver high-quality work. To find this special someone, you’ll want to meet with at least three contractors and get in-person bids. Doing so will give you a good idea of the price range; it’ll also give you a sense of whether you’d be comfortable working with the person.

When vetting contractors, pay attention to small details, like whether they show up on time for the appointment. Punctuality indicates whether the person is well-organized, which can affect how much you’ll have to pay, says Matt Parker, a real estate agent in Seattle and author of “Real Estate Smart: The New Home Buying Guide.”

If a contractor has a habit of running behind schedule, that might affect how long the project will take to complete—and how many hours of labor you’ll need to pay for. The adage “time is money” can be painfully true when contractors are involved, so you want someone who takes yourtime seriously.

Another money-saving safety measure: Insist on seeing all renovation estimates in writing, and get a cap on the hours if possible. Meanwhile, a punch list can ensure that the renovation isn’t officially done until you’re satisfied. Any contractor who isn’t willing to provide this par-for-the-course paperwork may not be worth the trouble, because it protects you both in case any part of your renovation goes off the rails.

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PALEO CREAMY CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

Creamy casseroles are a favorite when the weather gets chilly, but they’re not always Paleo diet friendly. This easy broccoli casserole recipe layers chicken with vegetables for a filling and comforting meal. Crisp bacon and crunchy almonds give it that casserole-like top, without starchy breadcrumbs or cheese.

Ingredients

1/2 head(s) broccoli, cut into thin slices
3/4 head(s) cauliflower, cut into thin slices
1/2 pound(s) mushrooms, sliced
2 piece(s) chicken breast(s), boneless skinless (4-6 oz)
1 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
1 large egg(s)
1/2 cup(s) chicken broth
1/2 cup(s) almonds, sliced
4 slice(s) bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 tablespoon(s) coconut oil, for cooking chicken
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 TB coconut oil or other cooking oil of your choice when hot.
  2. Season chicken breasts with sea salt and pepper if desired and sauté for 10-15 minutes, turning once or twice until fully cooked. Chop into bite-size pieces.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  4. Layer the broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and cooked chicken in a (9×13) casserole dish, seasoning with salt and pepper between each layer.
  5. In a bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the coconut milk with the egg and chicken broth until well combined. Pour over the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven, uncover and sprinkle with almonds and bacon. Bake uncovered for 5-10 more minutes until almonds are lightly toasted and casserole is bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

5 Things You Should Never Say When Getting a Mortgage

Being an open book is a great quality to exhibit to your BFF or significant other (well, usually), but it can get you into hot water with your lender when you’re trying to buy a home. Now, let’s be clear: We are not advocating in any way, shape, or form that you lie to your lender or withhold pertinent information when you’re getting a mortgage.

But there are some topics that you just don’t need to bring up, because they wave unnecessary red flags that can lead to lots of extra paperwork and raise questions about whether you can really afford that mortgage. Just ask Cheryll LeBlanc, a loan officer at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. in Holden, MA, who weighed in on some doozies she’s heard over the years.

“When I hear statements like (these), it makes me pause, kind of turn my head sideways, and say ‘Hmmm…’” she says.

Here are some crazy things would-be home buyers have said to lenders, and why they’re cause for concern.

1. ‘I need to get an extra insurance quote due to … (fill in the blank)’:

  • Crime rates in the area
  • Potential flooding
  • Earthquake zone

Asking questions about insurance could indicate the house is in a high-risk zone, and we “now have to underwrite the borrower and the property with a different and more intense default lens,” says Bill Dallas, CEO and co-founder of Cloudvirga. If your home is in a designated flood hazard area, flood insurance is mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Otherwise, it might well be a good idea, but you don’t have to mention it.

2. ‘I can’t believe how much work the house needs before we move in’

Have you ever seen a home inspection report? It’s a stack of 20 to 50 pages containing every little nuance that needs to be fixed in a home. It’s crucial information for you, but you’ll want to hold off on mentioning the contents of it to your lender.

“When lenders see a home inspection report, they freak out and begin to ask for a lot of conditions to make sure these issues won’t grow into bigger problems and halt borrower payments,” Dallas says.

Best-case scenario: The lender will ask for a lot of information. The worst case is it will ask for a lot of money to be escrowed to make the repairs.

“Avoid any mention of what your inspector found,” Dallas says. “The appraisal comments create enough challenges.”

3. ‘Please don’t tell my spouse what’s on my credit report’

First off, this makes lenders cringe because they’re wondering just how much debt you have, LeBlanc notes. Or what else you’re trying to hide.

But, the bottom line, she says, is that it’s all going to be revealed on an application.

“I’ve been in face-to-face appointments with clients and when I pulled their credit—one of the parties is crying as the extent of debt is coming out,” she says.

She advises couples make sure both parties are clear on each other’s debts and that they get the animosity out before sitting down for a pre-qualification or pre-approval.

4. ‘I’m still working out the details on my down payment’

“Lenders like to see that borrowers have ‘skin in the game,’ so the down payment source is critical,” Dallas says.

Any borrowed funds, gift funds, and increases in CLTV, or combined loan to value ratio, mean there’s an increase in the chances of default, he says.

“Fraud is the biggest risk in lending, and down payment fraud is the second-highest kind, after income fraud,” he notes.

Down payment fraud could comprise a number of things: Perhaps the borrower says it’s a gift but it actually has to be repaid, or the borrower got a loan to pay for it (which is a no-no). Or perhaps the buyer borrows the down payment from the seller and does a silent second mortgage to pay it back.

That’s why lenders will request a paper trail for any gifted funds.

If you do plan to use a gift for your down payment, the donor must be an immediate family member, must provide copies of bank statements confirming the donor has the capacity to gift the funds, and must sign a letter that states the money is a gift, not a loan.

5. ‘I can’t wait to use the hot tub I’m buying on the side from the seller’

If the hot tub comes with the house and it’s written into the contract, then you’re in the clear. But if you’ve negotiated for something on the side with the seller, you’ll be in hot water—and we’re not talking about the kind with bubbles.

“Buyers have to sign a document at the closing, which states that no money has exchanged hands between the buyer and seller outside the closing,” says Lauren LoMonaco, managing partner of Chicago law firm LoMonaco & LoMonaco.

If you mention a side deal to your lender, it’s going to raise major red flags. But don’t withhold the info, either—if you do and you’re found out, you could be charged with mortgage fraud, and that’s a felony. So whether it’s a lawn mower, flat-screen TV, or that sweet hot tub out back, make sure you disclose it in the contract.

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4 Worst Color Combos to Ever Curse a Home—Proven!

When it comes to selecting paint colors for a room, anyone can find one color that works, but two? Just like playing matchmaker to your friends, pairing two hues is really, really hard. Want proof? Check out these clashing color combos below, plus recommendations for infinitely more appealing duos to try instead.

Bad color combo No. 1: Warm with cool

Dee Schlotter and Misty Yeomans, color experts for Glidden, Olympic, and PPG Paints, suggest avoiding color combinations that mix warm and cool colors.

Warm colors tend to advance toward us, creating a friendly atmosphere,” Schlotter says. “Cool colors tend to recede away from us, creating a spacious feeling. When you mix them, they compete.”

 

 

 

Instead: Match like with like. Schlotter urges homeowners to use warm colors with other warm colors, or cool colors with other cool colors.

 

Bad color combo No. 2: Holiday duos

“While red and green are complementary colors on the color wheel, and can look nice together, it’s important to not create a palette that is often associated with certain holidays, or use colors together that create a ‘vibration’ due to similarities in intensity,” explains Yeomans.

 

 

Instead: If you want to go for the spirit of merry and bright holiday-style colors, Yeomans recommends pairing them with neutral shades. For example, this cheery cherry is offset beautifully by a soothing gray.

Bad color combo No. 3: Dark with dark

Remember to take into consideration the fixed elements of your home, such as the color of flooring, furniture, or, for exterior projects, the colors in stone, brick, siding, and more, color experts suggest.

“If you have dark wood featured throughout your home, you should try to avoid dark paint colors,” notes Schlotter.

 

 

 

Instead: To create a complementary look between your home’s fixed elements and your paint colors, pair dark wood with lighter shades.

Bad color combo No. 4: Bold with bright

“I was fascinated by the sudden shift to neon palettes,” says Juan Pablo Madrid, a home design expert at Online Optimism. “Yet while they’re picking up in popularity, it’s wise to limit the use of these bold shades since they’re super-stimulating and can cause you to squint. It’s also best not to pair them with each other.”

“Bright colors are great, but they should be used sparingly, and we don’t recommend them for the exterior of a home,” agrees Courtney Heaton, owner of Courtney Heaton Design.

“If you like some of these bright colors, we’d suggest using them as accents with pillows, bedding, or curtains. Brights are fun for kids’ rooms and family rooms; but stay away from them in bathrooms and limit them for the master bedroom.”

 

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Dogs and Water Safety

Water can be a great source of fun for you and your dog. Before you take your pooch out for a paddle, though, make sure you know how to keep things safe.

Swimming

You might think canines are natural-born swimmers, but that isn’t always the case.

There’s no sure way to gauge your pal’s swimming skills until you introduce him to H2O and teach him the basics:

  • Choose a quiet, shallow spot in the water.
  • Keep your dog on a leash while he learns.
  • Get into the water with him.
  • Start at the edge of the water, and stay as long as he enjoys it.
  • If he doesn’t want to go, don’t force him in — especially if it’s a deep spot.
  • When your dog begins to paddle with his front legs, lift his hind legs to show him how to float.

The younger your buddy is when you teach him to swim, the better. Keep the lesson positive and stress-free for him.

At the Beach

While you enjoy the surf with your pal, keep these tips in mind:

  • Watch out for strong currents and riptides, which can take you both out to sea. Even the best swimmer can be in danger when seas are rough.
  • Don’t let your dog drink ocean water. It can make him sick. Bring fresh H2O with you to keep him hydrated.
  • Keep your pal away from fish that have washed onto the shore. They may smell great to him, but they can make him ill.

In the Pool

Got a swimming hole in your backyard? Keep it Fido-friendly with these steps:

  • Put a fence around it to keep your dog out when it isn’t time to swim.
  • Keep a sturdy cover over it when you aren’t using it. It should be made of a material that lets rainwater drain through. Dogs can drown in puddles on top of pool covers.
  • Teach your dog how to get in and out. Make sure there are steps or a ramp he can use to climb out.
  • Check the water temperature before letting your dog take a dip. Only a few breeds can handle extra-cold water.

In a River, Lake, or Pond

Keep these tips in mind when you’re at Mother Nature’s water park:

  • Get your dog a life jacket, especially if you take him out on a boat or a dock.
  • Steer clear of bodies of water with blue-green algae. It can make your buddy sick.
  • Check the current of a river or a creek. Make sure it isn’t too strong to let your dog swim.
  • Keep your pal away from fishing gear. Sharp hooks and barbs can hurt him.

General Safety Rules

No matter where your pooch makes a splash, follow these pointers:

  • Rinse him off after he’s been in any type of water. Seawater minerals, salt, chlorine, algae, and pollution can irritate or damage his skin and fur.
  • Remove his flea collar before he swims. Water can wash off its active ingredients.
  • Dry your dog’s ears completely to prevent an infection. Try an ear cleaner that has a drying agent in it.
  • Learn canine CPR. Mouth-to-nose resuscitation and chest compressions could save a dog’s life in an emergency.
  • Never leave your pal alone in the water.

How to Unclog a Gutter

Unclog a blocked rain gutter as quickly as possible to prevent damage to your landscaping, home exterior, gutters, and foundation.

Clean your rain gutters at least twice a year. Otherwise, debris like leaves and twigs can clog up your gutter system, causing potential harm to your house and landscaping — not to mention the gutters themselves. Here’s how to identify and fix a clogged gutter.

Is My Gutter Clogged?

When it rains, here are the telltale signs of a clogged gutter:

  • Water spills over the edges of a gutter.
  • Water sprays like a fountain from gutter seams and elbow joints.
  • Water doesn’t flow out the bottom of downspout extensions.

If it’s not raining, look for these telltale signs:

  • Eroded earth directly below a gutter.
  • Peeling paint on siding and fascia.
  • Wet, moist, or dirty siding beneath the gutter.
  • Gutters pulling away from the fascia (likely caused by excessive weight).

Where’s the Gutter Clogged?

The downspout cage, a wire strainer designed to trap debris while allowing water to flow through, is located where the downspout intersects the gutter. Often, this item is bent or out of place.

Gutter hangers and spikes often slip free from the fascia, landing in the gutter. These obstructions catch leaves and twigs, causing clogs.

Downspout elbows and seams are likely spots for clogs, too. Working your way down from the gutter, tap the outside of the downspout with a screwdriver and listen for a dull thud (as opposed to hollow ring). This will indicate the location of the clog.

If you still haven’t identified the location of the clog — and you have downspouts that descend below ground level — then the clog likely is in an underground pipe.

How to Unclog a Gutter

If the clog occurs at the downspout cage:

  1. Remove and clean it.
  2. Remove all the accumulated debris in the gutter.
  3. If the cage is in good shape, firmly re-seat it into the downspout hole.
  4. If the cage is damaged or missing, replacement screens cost just a few bucks.

If the clog is caused by loose hangers or spikes:

  1. Clean debris from clogs.
  2. Reposition or repair the gutter supports.

If the clog occurs at an elbow or seam — and you can reach it from above:

  1. Try to free the obstruction with a stick, plumbing snake, or pressure washer outfitted with a telescoping wand.
  2. If you can’t reach it, simply disassemble the downspout and remove the clog.

If the clog is below-grade, it’s the most difficult to clear, and may require excavation. But before that:

  1. Remove the downspout where it enters the ground and try to clear the clog using a plumbing snake.
  2. Turn on a garden hose and force it into the underground portion of the line; the water pressure may dislodge the clog.
Article by DOUGLAS TRATTNER

BERRY COCONUT CHIA SMOOTHIE

This chia smoothie recipe is packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants, making it perfect for a quick, healthy breakfast. You can use any berry of choice depending on availability and personal preference.

Ingredients

1 medium banana(s)
2 tablespoon(s) chia seeds
2 cup(s) spinach, baby
1 teaspoon(s) coconut oil
1/4 cup(s) coconut milk, full fat
1 cup(s) berries, frozen
1 tablespoon(s) coconut flakes, for garnish, optional
1 tablespoon(s) chia seeds, for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding water to thin out if necessary. Serve immediately.
  2. Serves 2

7 Tips for Short Sale Success

Have to sell your home for less than it’s worth? Our seven tips will help you get the best price.

When you owe more on your home than it’s worth, but you have to sell, you need to squeeze every dollar possible from the sale. Here are seven tips for navigating the short-sale process.

1. Know who you owe

A short sale has to be approved by any company that has a mortgage or lien against your home. That includes your first, second, or even third mortgage lender, your home equity line lender; your homeowners or condominium association; and any contractors who’ve placed a lien on your home. Make a list and start talking to everyone early in the process. Ask what documents they’ll need from you.

2. Pick your short sale team

You’ll need to work with a team of short sale experts, including a real estate agent, real estate attorney, and your accountant. Look for agents and attorneys who advertise themselves as short sale experts. Interview at least three, and listen carefully for signs that they understand the complexities of the short sale process.

Agents should explain how they’ll arrive at a suggested price for your home. Ask them to show you a sample short-sale package or for an example of a prior short-sale success.

3. Get your documents ready

Gather the paperwork your creditors and mortgage lenders asked to see, like your listing agreement and a hardship letter explaining why you need to do a short sale. You’ll also need proof of what you earn and what you owe as well as copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years.

4. Expect delays

Despite a federal rule saying banks participating in the federal government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program must respond to short-sale offers within 10 days, it may take weeks or months for your lender to decide whether to allow you to sell your home in a short sale—and even longer if you must negotiate with more than one lender or lienholder.

Your lender and lienholders don’t have to agree to your proposed short sale. They can reject your terms or make a counteroffer, which can create further delays.

5. Anticipate demands

Discuss with your short-sale team how you should respond to common short-sale demands from lenders. For example, are you willing to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay outstanding amounts after the sale is complete?

6. Know the tax implications

Any unpaid amount of your mortgage “forgiven” by your lender through a short sale may be considered income to you under federal tax rules. Ask your attorney or accountant whether you qualify to exclude that amount as income on your tax returns under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act. Also ask if you’ll be required to report amounts “forgiven” by other lienholders, if applicable.

7. Consider how the short sale will affect your credit and what you must pay

Ask whether your lender will report the short sale to credit-reporting agencies. Having a portion of your debt forgiven may negatively affect your credit score, but a short sale typically damages your score less than a foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Ask you lawyer whether you’ll be responsible for paying back the lenders’ loss. If the lender says it will forgive any losses on the sale of your home, get that promise in writing.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to publications including Bankrate, REALTOR Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.

 

Preparing to Sell Your Home? The Best 5 Projects to Do Now

Buyers will simply flock to your home if you tackle these value adds.

Planning on selling your home in the spring? Good news — that leaves plenty of time to tackle all sorts of projects this fall that will help you snag top dollar when the tulips start blooming. Take an objective look around your home from a buyer’s perspective. What would stop you from making an offer? What do you need to do to put your home’s best face forward?

Here are some spring projects to jump on now in order for your home to be in tip-top shape for a spring sale:

1. Update Your Curb Appeal

Curb appeal is important,” says Steve Modica, sales associate and property manager at HomeXpress Realty Inc. in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla. “Make sure the bushes are all trimmed. Re-mulch or replace stone walkways and paths. Remove any dead plants and trees, and aerate your lawn so it will be lush come spring. Pressure wash the driveway, the front walk, and the exterior of your home. If need be, have the exterior of the house painted and, at the very least, apply a fresh coat of paint on the front door.

2. Get a Home Inspection

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® says 77% of homebuyers have an inspection done before completing a home purchase. To avoid nasty surprises once you’re in the process of selling your home, have your own inspection done and make any repairs over the winter months before you list the home. Homebuyers often use flaws and needed repairs to negotiate a lower price.

3. Replace Flooring and Paint Walls

Determine if your carpets need replacing or just a deep, professional cleaning. If they need to go, consider if hardwood or another flooring material might be more appealing to buyers.

You’ll also want to inspect interior rooms for dirty or scuffed walls that need a fresh coat of paint. “Paint the whole wall, don’t just do touch-up repair work, because it never looks as good,” says Modica. Also, if you have eccentric or loud wall colors, now is the perfect time to update to a more neutral palette. Stagers recommend beiges, light grays, and off-whites.

4. Tackle the Basement, Attic, and Garage

Often overlooked, these storage meccas can become a catch-all for junk. Use cool, fall weather as an excuse to get down and dirty in these hot spots and organize them from top to bottom. Install shelving, pegboards for tools, and hanging brackets for bicycles and other large sporting equipment. Your goal is to pitch the junk, sell what you no longer need, and categorize the rest.

“Donate or recycle clothes and bedding you don’t use anymore in order to free up storage space in your closets, basement, and garage,” says Amy Bly, a home stager at Great Impressions Home Staging in Montville, N.J. These areas should look roomy, well-organized, and clean.

5. Consult a Stager

Buyers need to picture themselves living in the house, and they may have trouble doing that if all your personal effects are on display. In order to accomplish that, a professional stager can create a plan for you that you can spend the winter months implementing. Bly spends about two hours walking through a property assessing curb appeal, interior flow, closets, bookcases, media cabinets, flooring, and more.

“I give homeowners a multi-page, room-by-room form they can use to take notes on my recommendations,” says Bly. She typically recommends things like neutralizing out-of-date decor, removing old furnishings and carpeting, and updating light fixtures. She also suggests the type of shower curtains, towels, bedding, and pillows to display for an upscale look.

Need a local staging coach?

I was very pleased with Mary Jane’s great ability to stage my home & get it ready to sell. With a few minor adjustments & embellishments it really warmed up my home & gave it a cozy, comfortable atmosphere.

I would highly recommend Staging Coach for anyone seeking to sell their home. View Mary Jane’s web site

Getting a jump on these fall projects will give you a leg up on selling in the spring. Today’s buyers are savvier than ever before, especially millennial first-time homebuyers who may have searched homes online for months prior to getting in the field. More than just listing your home in the spring, you want to make it’s as perfect as possible. That means everything works and looks immaculate, and there are no glaring issues that will turn off buyers. When you’re ready, have a friend or relative drop by for a tour and point out anything you may have overlooked.

Healthy Yard: Insect Control for Your Lawn

Even if your dog spends most of her time indoors, you’re probably worried about fleas and ticks. She still has to go outside every day to use the bathroom, so it’s good to have a pet-friendly, pest-free yard.

You can take steps to make sure your yard isn’t a haven for fleas and ticks. And you don’t need sprays that can harm your pet. Here’s what to do.

Practice Smart Lawn Care

Keep it cut close and trim your shrubs. Short grass lets more sunlight reach the ground. That makes your lawn drier, so it’s harder for fleas and ticks to thrive.

Avoid Chemical Sprays

Plenty of them can rid your yard of fleas, ticks, and other insects, but many contain chemicals that are bad for pets and small children. Remember, your dog is low to the ground, where these products get applied. She also weighs less than you, so poison can affect her more. A pet that spends time on a sprayed lawn can spread chemicals to children through hugs or a shared bed. Even products that call themselves “natural” or have essential oils can hurt pets or kids.

Find Fleas First

Don’t treat your entire yard for these pests. Only target areas where you’ve seen them. Here’s how to hunt for fleas outside: Put on a pair of white socks and pull them up to your knees. Slowly walk around in the spots where your dog likes to wander. If fleas are there, they’ll jump at you. You’ll see their dark bodies against the socks.

Skip the Spray

If chemicals aren’t your thing, go to a garden supply store for nematodes. These tiny wormlike critters are smaller than fleas and like to feed on them. But they won’t hurt pets or people. To apply them to your lawn, water the area first, spray on nematodes, then water again.

Try Tick Control

If you live next to a wooded area or your neighbor’s yard has overgrown plants, cut back the brush on your side. Then create a gravel or wood-chip border 3 feet wide. This makes it hard for ticks to travel across to your lawn.

If there are lots of these pests in your area and you want to use a chemical spray, look for safety advice from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s GreenPaws Product Guide. The group checked the ingredients of more than 100 products and says whether they are safe to use around pets. If a spray is deemed pet-safe, apply it only once a year to the edges of your yard near wooded areas. Avoid spots where four-legged friends and children play.

 

6 Costly Mistakes First-Time House Flippers Make

When you’re flipping a house, time is money. And you don’t have time to make a lot of rookie mistakes.

That’s what Steve Cederquist learned when he first began renovating and flipping properties in 1994.

“I bought a house with a bad foundation and lost $30,000 on the deal,” says Cederquist, a general contractor who’s now a veteran house flipper and president of Cornerstone Property Services in Huntington Beach, CA. “I didn’t think I’d have to do much to a 1,200-square-foot house. But it cost me a ton of money.”

No house flipper is born wise. So we talked to several pros who outlined mistakes newbie flippers often make. Avoid these pitfalls to ensure your profits come out on top.

Mistake No. 1: Not getting a home inspection

This one’s a biggie. Even if you plan on making major changes to the house, you still need an inspection. Of course, if you’re going to tear down the whole thing, there’s no need for one. But house flipping usually involves making cosmetic changes—maybe opening a wall or remodeling a bathroom. It’s a makeover—not a complete rebuild. So you need to get it checked out before you buy.

“Never buy as is,” Cederquist says. “I can’t tell you the number of times people lose everything because they don’t do the safest thing: getting a home inspection.”

Inspections can turn up all kinds of problems. Some issues, like cabinet doors that don’t close properly, you won’t care about if you’re planning to rip and replace the kitchen anyway. Others, such as a cracked foundation, can cost you dearly.

At the very least, an inspection can identify problems you can use to bargain down the price. Every dollar counts toward your bottom line; whatever money you save on the purchase price will help you turn a profit when you flip.

Mistake No. 2: Overestimating your renovation skills

Every dollar saved on labor is a dollar you earn when you flip a house. But all too often flippers think they’re better plumbers, drywall hangers, and carpenters than they really are.

“This ends up being a major drain of time and resources, because you must redo work and spend twice the amount of money fixing it,” says Allen Shayanfekr, co-founder and CEO of Sharestates, an online crowdfunding platform for real estate financing.

There’s a simple answer to your DIY delusions of grandeur, Shayanfekr says: “Consult an expert prior to undertaking any major project.”

And make sure to ask for an estimate in writing. That way you’ll know what you’ll have to spend to make the house attractive to buyers.

Mistake No. 3: Underestimating total costs

Inexperienced flippers often add the purchase price to renovation costs and figure the sum is their break-even point. If only.

But the true cost of your flipping adventure involves much more. Think: state and federal taxes on profits, real estate commissions, title searches, transfer taxes, inspection and appraisal costs, and a bunch of other fees that show up at closing when you buy, and again when you sell your property.

Do yourself a favor and thoroughly research the total cost of your project (don’t forget permit fees, which can be substantial) and then add a cushion—10% to 15% is customary.

“Be prepared to pay over your expected fees when coming to the closing table,” Shayanfekr says. “Better safe than sorry.”

Mistake No. 4: Being a jerk

Even if you’re determined to do this on your own—you’re a whiz at mitering crown molding, after all—successful flipping requires some level of interaction with others. You’ll need to build a trusted team of craftsmen, suppliers, lenders, and real estate professionals that you can call on time after time.

Not only do you need to find people you can depend on to get the job done quickly and on budget, but your teammates must also be able to trust you to treat them with respect, pay on time, and not make their lives a living hell by changing your mind repeatedly.

“People want to do business with others they like and trust,” says Cody Sperber, who has flipped more than 1,000 properties in 15 years and has started a mentoring program called Clever Investor, based in Tempe, AZ. “So many deals have materialized because I listened and was empathetic. Not because I was shrewd and smart.”

Mistake No. 5: Jumping the gun

Some flippers put a “For Sale” sign on the property before completing renovations, hoping a buyer will be able to envision how gorgeous the house ultimately will be.

That’s a big mistake, says Bill Golden, an Atlanta-area real estate agent.

“Many people think they can get a jump on things by getting folks interested before it’s done, causing multiple issues,” Golden says. “Many people don’t have vision and can’t really see how things will look once they’re done. Also, missing molding, trim, and other details that may seem minor to you can reflect poorly on what the buyer perceives the quality of the renovation to be.”

Don’t list the project until it’s move-in ready. It will save time in the long run, because potential buyers won’t nag you about missing finishes you already plan to include.

Mistake No. 6: Designing a flip like you’re going to live there

Flipper rule of thumb: Never fall in love with a property.

Unlike your own home—where you’ll raise a family, build memories, and make modifications that suit your needs—flips are short-term projects that must appeal to the widest possible market.

When you design your flip, take yourself out of it. You may love aubergine, but stick to whites and neutrals when you pick paint colors. Research design trends, walk through open houses of new construction, and survey real estate agents to find out what’s selling and what’s not. If you don’t create an attractive yet blank canvas, your flip may languish on the market—costing you money with each painful, passing day.

“Don’t get attached to the house, because you’re not going to live there,” Cederquist says. “Keep it generic, what’s popular. Then stick to a design and budget.”

By 

MAPLE-CRUSTED SALMON

Fresh salmon is one of the best Paleo staples, and for good reason – this versatile and tasty protein is full of healthy micronutrients, quick to prepare, and easy to find. While most salmon recipes usually focus on adding savory or spicy ingredients, this unique recipe gives you a salmon dish that is delectably sweet. The use of maple syrup and other sauce ingredients create an unexpected, candied appearance to the salmon. Altogether, the dish works as a simple and distinctive dinner course that even young diners will try.

Locating salmon is as easy as visiting your local grocery’s seafood counter, but take note: Not all salmon is created equal. Just as with any other seafood, consider the pros and cons of what you’re purchasing. Less expensive filets may be easier on your budget, but you’ll be making a trade-off for taste, quality, and the environmental impact of the farming practices used. Do some research into the brands of salmon you purchase and consider paying a bit more for salmon that tastes better and doesn’t harm local ecosystems.

This sweet baked salmon is a perfect main course to serve with a variety of sides. For this dish, we love pairing with the grilled eggplant and sun-dried tomato salad – a hearty dose of oil in the dressing creates a more balanced macronutrient count for the meal. You can also try serving with a soup – try this winter vegetable soup for a heartier option.

Maple-Crusted Salmon Recipe

Serves: 4                       Prep: 15 min            Cook: 12 min
Protein: 36g / 36%     Carbs: 17g / 17%     Fat: 21g / 47%

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon filets;
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped;
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup;
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar;
  • 2 tbsp. coconut aminos;
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika;
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder;
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper;

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a bowl, combine the walnuts, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos, paprika, and chipotle powder; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the salmon filets in a baking dish and cover each piece with the walnut mixture.
  4. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook until the salmon is to your desired doneness, about 8 to 10 minutes.

How to Build Credit in 6 Easy Steps

For new home buyers, establishing a solid credit score is crucial to locking in the home of their dreams. Good credit is no accident though, and will take more than dreaming to achieve. NOW is the perfect time to start.

According to FreddieMac, a FICO credit score can range anywhere between 300-850 points. The average score of a borrower falls on the high-end of the spectrum with a 751 FICO credit score.  For those with less than ideal scores, the time to begin building and maintaining an optimal score is today.

But there’s good news! Through careful planning and strategic financial choices, anyone can be on the path to home ownership by Spring 2016.  To get the ball rolling, here’s a convenient infographic on How to Build Credit in 6 Easy Steps:

Lasting Love: 3 Ways Your Remodel Will Keep You Happy for Years to Come

The best home renovations are the ones you love years after the new smell has worn off.

You love browsing remodeling ideas on Pinterest, but you also live in the real world. So how do you figure out what project will ultimately be worth the cost and effort? It’s not a whole lot different than choosing a life partner — will you still love them once the passion’s worn off? Will you still love your remodel after you’ve had to clean and maintain it year after year?

These three homeowners are still in love with projects they finished years ago. We give you permission to steal their strategies.

1. Expanding Living Space — Outside

Florida’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, but what’s the point of all that vitamin D without a proper spot to enjoy it? When Jane Watkins purchased her Miami home 13 years ago, it offered a pool and plenty of yardage — but little outdoor living space.

Watkins is no stranger to DIY projects, so she decided to build an outdoor space herself. Armed with hammers, nails, and a few good friends, she framed and built a simple, low-to-the-ground deck.

The spacious outdoor room bridged the gap between the wild outdoors of her tropical backyard and livable space with cutouts for existing trees, providing enough square footage for a full set of patio furniture — and lots of play space for the kids. 

And it’s not just good for grand gestures and major events. It’s the “preferred sitting spot” for supervising swimming kids, Watkins says. “I sip my coffee out there, check out the yard, and hang.”

Lasting Love Lesson #1: Take on a project that physically expands the livable area of your home, even if it doesn’t require walls or a ceiling.

2. Creating a Family Fun Hub

Georgia Harris and her husband Tim purchased their Los Gatos, Calif., home for its view of the Santa Clara Valley — definitely not for its design. “It looked like a brown, tiny little house, like the ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ It was very basic,” says Harris.

The unassuming home became a blank canvas for the family’s dreams. Their biggest renovation success: turning the downstairs into an all-in-one entertainment center to complement their brand new pool. 

Adding an enormous bonus room downstairs provided room for games and hanging out — a much-needed addition with two growing kids — and a 400-bottle wine cellar provides plenty of entertainment for the adults. The renovated basement helps the family stay in shape, too. An exercise room and direct pool access mean a well-rounded workout is only a flight of stairs away.

They even added an arched hallway to highlight that amazing view. “You can look from one end to another and see out the back,” Harris says. “We made everything really open.”

With one big project 11 years ago, the new Harris home went from an OK house with a great view to a house that’s as fun as it is functional.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever gone through a renovation like this,” Harris says. “I’ve done small projects, like bathrooms, but because we were involved in picking out everything, it feels like we built our dream home.”

Lasting Love Lesson #2: Give underused space a function that addresses the needs of everyone in the family.

3. Upgrading Entertainment Capacity

When both halves of a couple come from enormous families, finding room for everyone at Thanksgiving can be quite the challenge. For Cindy Carey, she met the challenge with a remodel that combined her kitchen, dining, and living room into one ginormous great room — long before the Property Brothers made open floor plans de rigueur. (See the photo at the top of this article.)

And more than 20 years later, she’s still in love.

“I love the big open room,” she says. “Everyone loves it. We’re able to entertain a lot of people.”

Carey often plays host for the holidays, and keeping the dining room as-is would have meant stuffing 26 people into one small room — or assigning everyone to different tables in separate rooms. Now, they’ve got elbow room to spare.

“Everyone may not be seated in a straight row, but we can all sit down and eat dinner,” Carey says.

A consummate entertainer, Carey regularly hosts employee holiday parties for her construction company. For this year’s party, she fit about 40 guests and a strolling magician into the room, no squishing required.

Carey says visitors are often astounded by the room’s size, considering its location — a tract home in the Bay Area.

“People don’t know how big it is until we get inside,” Carey says. “We get a lot of people that never knew this room could be back here.”

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

28 Genius Uses for White Vinegar Around Your Home

What if we told you there’s a magic potion that makes housework a breeze, costs next to nothing, and is probably sitting in your pantry right now?

Good ol’ white vinegar is a strong antimicrobial agent and solvent that banishes bacteria, odors, and stains. It’s an extremely cheap—$2.50 a gallon—and nontoxic alternative to harsh cleaners. When combined with other ingredients you’re bound to have on hand (e.g., water or salt), vinegar can clean anything in your house. Well, just about anything.

“Vinegar is acidic, so you can’t use it to clean all surfaces in your home,” says Nancy Bock, senior vice president of education for the American Cleaning Institute in Washington, DC. So skip the vinegar when cleaning granite and marble countertops, because the acid can eat away at the sealant that prevents stone from staining, she explains.

For other household tasks, though, like disinfecting, deodorizing, and removing stains, vinegar has your back.

Check out all the ways white vinegar will revolutionize your cleaning routine.

  1. Refresh your fridge: Wipe down shelves, bins, and walls with a 1-to-1 solution of vinegar and water.
  2. Remove coffee stains: Scrub coffee stains from mugs with a paste of equal parts vinegar and salt. The salt acts as a mild abrasive.
  3. Beat bathroom germs: Wipe down the outside of the toilet and around the sink and shower enclosure with full-strength vinegar. Follow up with a damp sponge.
  4. Clean toilet bowls: Pour a cup of vinegar into the bowl, let it work its magic for a few hours, scrub with a toilet brush, and flush.Voilà!
  5. Clean crud from faucet aerators: Soak faucet aerators in vinegar for an hour. Scrub the screen with an old toothbrush and rinse.
  6. Shine shower doors: Remove soap residue on glass shower doors by scrubbing with a sponge soaked in full-strength vinegar.
  7. Deodorize the garbage disposal: Keep your garbage disposal odor-free with vinegar ice cubes. Mix a solution of 1 cup vinegar and 2 cups water, and freeze the solution in an ice-cube tray. Run several cubes through the disposal, then flush with cold water. Yes, this really works.
  8. Clean the coffee maker: Get rid of mineral deposits from your automatic drip coffee maker during spring cleaning by filling it with vinegar and running it through a brewing cycle (but leave out the coffee grounds!). Rinse the coffee maker thoroughly after the treatment.
  9. Disinfect cutting boards: Scrub cutting boards with full-strength vinegar. Rinse thoroughly.
  10. Carpet cleaner: Remove carpet stains with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon liquid detergent. Squeeze onto the stain, blot (don’t rub), then rinse with a small amount of clean water.

11.  Brighten the wash: Make your whites whiter and your colors more vibrant by adding a half-cup of vinegar to your wash. Vinegar also helps reduce static cling.

12.  Shine shoes: Restore the luster and remove scuff marks from old leather shoes and handbags by wiping them with vinegar. Follow the treatment with a damp cloth and a fresh coat of polish.

13.  Revive cut flowers: Boost a tired bouquet by adding a tablespoon of vinegar and a pinch of sugar to a half-quart of water. Pour the solution into the vase.

14.  Wash windows: Spray windows with a solution of equal parts warm water and vinegar; wipe dry with a microfiber cloth for streak-free glass.

15.  Remove water marks: Vinegar can remove rings on woodwork caused by wet glasses. Rub the mark with a solution of equal parts vinegar and olive oil. Rub with the grain, then wipe dry. Test an inconspicuous spot first.

16.  Renew clothes: Make clothes and towels soft again by adding a half-cup of vinegar to the last rinse cycle of a load of laundry.

17.  Polish metal: Make brass and copper shine with a paste made of 1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup vinegar. Add flour to make a soft paste. Apply the paste, let stand 15 minutes, then rinse and polish with a soft cloth.

18.  Remove labels: Get rid of sticky label residue by rubbing stubborn glue with vinegar.

19.  Clean glass fireplace doors: Remove soot from fireplace doors with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.

20.  Unclog a steam iron: Fill the water chamber with a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water. Set the iron to steam mode, and leave upright for several minutes, then unplug. When cool, pour out any unused solution and refill with clean water.

21.  Deodorize doggy smell: Wet your pooch with plain water, then wash the dog with a solution of 1 cup vinegar diluted in 2 gallons water. Make sure to keep the solution out of the dog’s eyes. Dry the dog without rinsing.

22.  Fight dandruff: Give your hair a final rinse with a half-cup of vinegar mixed with 2 cups of warm water.

23.  Get rid of toenail fungus: Soak your feet in 1 cup of vinegar mixed with 2 cups of warm water. Soak for 15 minutes, once a day.

24.  Relieve itch: Add a quarter-cup of vinegar to your bath water to soothe itchy skin.

25.  Remove weeds: Straight vinegar will get rid of weeds in your yard and driveway cracks. Pour directly on unwanted plants, making sure to protect wanted plants.

26.  Beat morning windshield frost: The night before an expected frost, spray a solution of equal parts vinegar and water onto your car windows. The vinegar lowers the freezing temp of water so frost won’t form as easily.

27.  Change soil pH: Acid-loving plants, like hibiscus, will love a drink of a gallon of water spiked with 1 cup of vinegar.

28.  Soften old paintbrushes: Soak paintbrushes in warm vinegar, then wash the bristles with warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly.

Fido can’t help it if his fur stinks! But he’ll smell fresh and clean after a vinegar bath.

Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

The 7 Most Common Code Violations Remodelers Make

You may save money when you DIY, but unless your projects are up to code, you’re flirting with expensive fixes and putting your home and family at risk.

A good DIYer knows a lot about tools and techniques, but the best DIYers know about building codes, too. Completing home improvement projects that are code-compliant — and can pass inspections from your local building authority — are the route to a safe and happy home, and well-done DIY projects.

Although few homeowners can claim an encyclopedic knowledge of their local building codes, here’s a heads up on seven of the most common code violations that DIYers are guilty of:

1. Working Without a Permit

Sure, permits cost money. And if you don’t apply for one, who’s to know?

A lot of DIY homeowners have that point of view, and it’s wrong-headed. Yes, homeowners are allowed to do their own improvements without a contractor’s license, but you still need a permit for many remodeling projects.

That’s important because:

  • You’ll know that your improvements are safe and reliable.
  •  Your work will comply with the latest energy- and water-conservation measures. That saves you money in the long run, and makes your house more marketable when you decide to sell.
  • Work that’s not up to code may be discovered by an inspector when you try and sell, putting a big damper on your plans. You may be required to fix any problems (with added expense) before a buyer will consider making an offer. And if your buyer should later discover fixes that aren’t up to code, you could be sued for repairs and damages.

If you have permits, your project will be inspected. Don’t think of visits from a building inspector as adversarial; rather, they’re opportunities to learn about construction techniques and materials. A building inspector can be a valuable helpmate for the DIYer.

Not all projects require permits and inspections. Start off by inquiring with your local building authority and discussing your project in detail.

2. Not Testing Older Materials for Asbestos and Lead

These two dangerous materials lurk in many older building materials, and their disposal is strictly regulated in most states.

Those laws not only protect your health, but protect trash removal workers and landfill operators, too. If you dump tainted remodeling waste, you’re putting others at risk.

Asbestos is found in many common building materials, especially in houses built before 1970, including:

  • Popcorn ceiling texture
  • Vinyl tile
  • Drywall joint compound
  • Hot-water pipe and duct insulation
  • Vermiculite attic insulation
  • Cement shingle siding

Most communities have independent testing facilities that, for $25 to $50, can determine if asbestos is present in samples.

However, even the removal of samples is risky. If you suspect asbestos, contact your local building authority or regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration office to find out the best way to test for and remove asbestos.

Lead paint has been outlawed since 1978. Laws prevent contractors from doing work without taking specific precautions to contain and dispose of lead-contaminated building materials.

DIY homeowners aren’t subject to those laws. But if you’re hiring a contractor to do some of the work, your pro must adhere to the laws or be subject to fines of up to $37,500 per day. Talk about putting a crimp in your plans!

Other than that, your own health may be at risk if you cut, scrape, or sand materials — especially paint — with lead in them. DIY lead test kits are cheap ($8 to $35) and easy to use.

3. Improper Fastening of Deck Ledgers to Houses

Building a deck is the ideal DIY project — it’s fairly straightforward and materials are simple.

But a recent spate of deck failures reveals that many decks fail where the deck ledger fastens to the house — one of the more technically challenging steps of deck-building.

The North American Deck and Railing Association says two of the most-common mistakes are:

  • Improper (or missing) flashing to keep water from seeping behind the ledger where it can soften and rot out wood.
  • Using old fastening methods, such as plain nails, to secure the ledger to the house.

It’s a good idea to have your deck inspected for proper construction techniques when you build it, and to do yearly DIY inspections and repairs.

4. Adding a Basement Bedroom Without an Egress Window

Seems like a no-brainer: Junior needs his own bedroom, and you’ve got all this space in your basement. A few walls and carpet and voila! — an extra bedroom.

But it’s not that simple. Codes say that any “sleeping room” must include an egress window that’s at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches high, with a minimum opening of 5.7 square feet — enough for an adult to crawl through.

Because it’s a basement, you’ll likely need to excavate outside the window and add a window well to help keep water out.

The installation of an egress window costs $2,500 to $5,000 — well worth it for your peace of mind and the safety of your family. Without an egress window, a real estate appraiser won’t qualify the space as a bedroom, which may hurt your chances to sell your home.

5. Venting a Bath Fan into an Attic

You’ve spiffed up the guest bathroom and even added a new bathroom vent fan — nice going. But you aren’t finished unless you vent that fan all the way to the outside of your house.

Venting directly into an attic space might be easy, but your fan is going to deliver plenty of humid air into your attic where is can cause mold and rot.

Building codes say you’ve got to vent the air from the fan to outside your house using a 4-inch-diameter vent pipe.

Some inexpensive bath fans have 3-inch-diameter fittings. If so, buy a piece of converter pipe that changes the diameter to 4 inches.

Related: How to Install a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

6. Botched Electrical Work

Few examples of home improvement and repair are life threatening, but electrical work definitely can be. That’s why utmost caution is needed when you do your own wiring. Here are a few common wiring mistakes:

Wrong size circuit. Basically, 15-amp circuits are for lighting fixtures and 20-amp circuits are for receptacles. If you’re renovating and want to add a receptacle, don’t splice into a lighting circuit to do it — rather, extend from an existing 20-amp circuit.

An exception is a refrigerator, which can be on a dedicated, 15-amp circuit.

Splicing wires without a junction box. Don’t splice wires together with a couple of wire nuts and some electrical tape and call it a day. All wire connections must be inside an approved junction box. While you’re at it, you can’t hide a junction box inside a wall — it must be visible and accessible.

Missing GFCIs. A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is required for any circuit that services an area where water might be present: bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages, and outdoor receptacles. A single GFCI at the beginning of a circuit can protect other receptacles on the same circuit.

7. Not Following Fence Height Requirements

Fences are a major source of disputes with neighbors, and a top source of complaints to local building and planning departments.

Many problems stem from the fact that homeowners, in an attempt to establish privacy, build fences that are too tall. Most codes limit fences on the sides and in the back of property to 6 feet, and 42 to 48 inches in the front.

If you build a fence that’s not in compliance, a complaint could bring a building official to your property with an order to tear your fence down.

Article by JOHN RIHA