Should You Refinance Your Mortgage? A Homeowner’s Guide to HELOCs and More

Bill Oxford/iStock

Refinancing a mortgage can be a great way for homeowners to save some money. But beware—make a wrong move when you refinance a loan, and you could easily get in over your head. That’s why we highlight here the right (and wrong) ways to refinance your mortgage loan.

What is home equity?

Your home equity is the current market value of your home, minus the amount you owe on your mortgage. While paying down your mortgage loan will decrease your debt and increase your home equity, the value of your home can rise (or fall) and increase (or decrease) your home equity, too. (Here’s how you can get an estimate of how much your home is worth.)

What is a refi?

When you refinance your mortgage, you’re essentially applying for a new loan. Once again, you’ll be subject to complete documentation and verification of your income, assets, debt-to-income ratio, credit score, and job history. Your real estate property will need to appraise for enough value to support the mortgage refinance, and you’ll have to show that you can afford the new monthly payments on the mortgage.

You will also need to either pay closing costs on the loan, which run anywhere from 2% to 7% of the amount of the mortgage, or opt for a no-cost refinance, where your lender covers the closing costs but you get a slightly higher interest rate on your new loan.

A mortgage refinance can be for the amount you currently owe on your mortgage, or it can be for more or less money. If you have extra cash and want to reduce your mortgage balance, putting money with your refinance is a good idea. The lower your new loan amount, the less you’ll pay in loan origination fees and interest. On the other hand, if you get a cash-out refinance, you can get a check at closing.

Whether you use the same lender for a mortgage refinance is entirely up to you, says Jordan Dobbs, a loan officer at Washington First Mortgage in Rockville, MD. Even if you were happy with your current mortgage lender, it could be beneficial to shop around and compare your loan options with different lenders.

4 reasons refinancing a mortgage can work

There are several things that could prompt you to refinance your loan:

  1. To get a lower interest rate. Many people decide to refinance a mortgage when mortgage rates are lower so that they can lower their monthly payments and, consequently, pay less in interest over the life of the loan. You may also qualify for a lower interest rate now than you did when you took out your mortgage (e.g., if your credit score has improved). If that’s the case, you’d want to look at your potential closing costs and calculate your break-even point to determine whether it makes sense to refinance, since you’re also resetting the clock in terms of the life of your mortgage. You can use realtor.com®’s refinance calculator to crunch the numbers of your own mortgage and see how much you’ll save on your monthly mortgage payments if you refinance at a lower interest rate. (One rule of thumb says that if your interest rate is more than 1% above current mortgage rates, deciding to refinance is a smart move.)
  2. To get a different type of mortgage. Some borrowers want to refinance an adjustable-rate mortgage into a fixed-rate loan, while others want to reduce their loan term from a 30-year loan to a 10-, 15-, or 20-year loan in order to pay it off faster and save money in interest payments over the long haul.
  3. To stop paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). If you didn’t have enough cash to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, your lender likely required you to get mortgage insurance—a monthly premium that typically costs between 0.3% and 1.15% of your home loan and is included in your monthly payment. If you refinance to a loan without mortgage insurance, you can save hundreds of dollars each month in your mortgage payment, but you’ll need to have at least 20% equity in your home to qualify, says Dobbs.
  4. To tap into the home’s equity. People also refinance a loan because they want to take cash out of their real estate, which is often done to make home improvements, pay for college, consolidate debt, or make a down payment on a second home. If you decide to go that route, you can choose between a cash-out refi and a home equity line of credit (or HELOC). Be aware that a cash-out refinance increases the size of your loan amount over your previous balance on your original mortgage loan. A one-time mortgage refinance may be a good strategic move if the monthly payment does not adversely affect your cash flow and financial goals. However, repeated mortgage refinances every few years will put you further in debt and extend your loan term, making it difficult to ever pay off your loan balance.

What’s the difference between a home equity loan and a HELOC?

Although these two loan products sound similar, they’re significantly different. With a home equity loan, you decide how much you want to borrow against your real estate and then make monthly payments, similar to a regular mortgage. Thus, with a home equity loan you avoid the temptation to overspend, because you’ll be borrowing a set amount. Also, because the interest rate is usually fixed, you have peace of mind knowing that the payments will remain the same.

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, meanwhile, functions more like a credit card, because it allows you to borrow up to a certain amount (typically 75% to 85% of the appraised value of the real estate, minus what you still owe) on an as-needed basis over the term of the loan (usually five to 20 years). In fact, your lender will actually issue you a plastic card that you can use to access the money easily. A HELOC works well if you want to borrow money but don’t know exactly how much you’ll need (a common conundrum when making home improvements).

The main drawback to HELOCs? Unlike with home equity loans, interest rates on HELOCs are variable, which means they fluctuate depending on market conditions. And while many lenders offer a low “introduction” rate, it lasts only for a matter of months; after that, the interest rates will adjust—and continue to readjust—which could create problems if you don’t prepare for the potentially higher payments. So be sure to weigh these pros and cons before you start chipping away at the real estate equity you’ve gained.

Article by Daniel Bortz

Catch the Silver Wave! America’s Best—and Most Affordable—Beach Towns for Retirement

kate_sept2004 / Getty Images

Ah, Florida: warm weather, beaches, and no state income tax. No wonder it’s a favored destination for older Americans eyeing the golden expanse of work-free years ahead of them. And now that the coronavirus pandemic makes it unwise to socialize except at a distance, it’s more important than ever to be able to settle into a forever home where you’re free to enjoy the fresh air, long walks on the beach, and the soothing sound of crashing waves.

There are currently more than 74 million boomers—of which 10,000 per day are hitting age 65, according to the Pew Research Center. And as they shift into retirement mode, many are migrating toward the beach. According to United Van Lines National Movers Study, in 2018, 39% of the retirees they moved had their GPS systems locked on to Florida. Shocker, right?

In fact, the Sunshine State’s shorelines aren’t the only coastal ZIP codes attracting boomers—plenty of folks don’t want to live in what feels like a steam room six months out of the year, or they may want to be closer to friends and family elsewhere in the country. Instead, the 55-plus crowd has been seeking out budget-conscious, beach alternatives with plenty of outdoor activities and (often) a temperate climate in which to settle down for good.

“Retirees are undoubtedly drawn to these areas by the active, beach lifestyle,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com®. “And the relative affordability of homes in these towns means more of a fixed income is left over for fun, which probably makes the case for sticking around.”

From the peaceful dunes of Cape Cod and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the wild cliffs of the Pacific Northwest, these are the top 10 affordable beach towns and cities across the United States where retirees can kick back. And it turns out, they share some common features that are particularly attractive for folks who are no longer congregating by the water cooler.

“Retirees look for affordable communities where they can fill their time with purposeful activities and social connections, keys to a long, healthy life,” says Hale.

InfographicTony Frenzel / realtor.com

To come up with this list, our data experts looked at more than 1,300 towns on the water, pulled off the places that are located on lakes or rivers—this list is all about tasting the salt in the ocean breeze—and cut the selections to one place per state, for a wider variety of options. The ranking was based on the population of residents aged 55 and over per capita (the higher the better, we say), affordability based on median list price, access to hospitals and other health care facilities, the number of amenities like golf courses (for low-impact exercise) and country clubs (for the social scene), as well as marinas and water-recreation businesses like boating and fishing, for that all-around beach town experience.

Ready to take a long stroll down the list together? Let’s hit the beach.

1. Murrells Inlet, SC

Median list price: $329,950

Boats docked at the marina in Murrells Inlet, SC skiserge1 / iStock

Just 15 minutes south of the bustling tourist shops, boardwalks, and mini-golf courses of Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet offers retirees a quiet respite from that popular vacation town. The former fishing village is bordered by a beautiful marsh shoreline and dotted with wooded areas. It also boasts a strong health care system, numerous golf courses, and a stunning sculpture park and wildlife preserve, Brookgreen Gardens, hailed as one of the Top 10 Gardens in the United States by TripAdvisor.

The mild weather, coastal scenery, good airport, and myriad amenities have made Murrells Inlet a desirable retirement destination for Northeasterners seeking a break from high tax rates and harsh winters.

Retirees can get into affordable homes starting at just under $200,000, including this $196,919 two-bedroom in a 55-plus community or this three-bedroom with a whirlpool hot tub—and no age restrictions—for $249,900.

“You kind of have the best of both worlds [in Murrells Inlet] if you’re looking for a nice, affordable area to retire to,” says Jeremy Jenks, vice president of sales at Keller Williams The Trembley Group. “It takes 15 minutes to get to everything Myrtle Beach has to offer without having to worry about traffic and stuff.”

2. Venice, FL

Median list price: $299,950

Venice, FL, pier krblokhin / iStock

Venice’s shoreline is located halfway between Sarasota and Port Charlotte, on the eastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The powdery white-sand beaches are a paradise for sunbathers—or those who seek shade under an umbrella—and shell seekers. The city hails itself as “The Shark Tooth Capital of the World” due to the thick fossil beds that lie right under its gently lapping shores. The shallow and sedimentary conditions of the beach expose thousands of ancient shark teeth every day.

If hunting for shark teeth won’t keep the grandkids occupied, chances are nothing will—but you could always try taking them to the arboretum or Historic Venice Train Depot, or take them for a boat ride. Buyers can get into the market at a wide price range, from a three-bedroommanufactured home for $159,900 to this three-bedroom with water views and a private pool for $350,000.

3. Morehead City, NC

Median list price: $339,050

Morehead City and the Atlantic Beach Bridge in North CarolinaRaynor Garey / iStock

Morehead City has enough nautical attractions to make die-hard boaters keel over. The port town offers great boating, fishing, and nearly every type of water sport imaginable in both the sound and the Atlantic. Homes start in the $200,000 range, and it’s possible to snap up a townhome with an onsite dock such as this sprawling three-bedroom for $274,000 or this $350,000 three-bedroom with water views.

Though Morehead City is on the mainland, protected from storms by a barrier island, the city proper isn’t known for its beaches. To hit the soft sand of beautiful Atlantic Beach, locals have to drive about seven minutes across the bridge.

4. Lewes, DE

Median list price: $399,050

Lewes, DE aimintang / iStock

Lewes and nearby Rehoboth Beach have become one of the hottest LGBTQ retirement destinations on the East Coast. The welcoming area boasts many gay bars and restaurants, a thriving Pride parade (in years past), and an LGBTQ center—all on the shores of tax-friendly Delaware.

Historic Lewes has a more natural, small-town feel and (slightly) lower home prices. Retirees can get into active adult communities like Bay Crossing in a $239,000 two-bedroom condo all the way up to a fully kitted-out four-bedroom for $620,000.

“It’s a popular gay retirement community,” says Russell Stucki, real estate associate at Re/Max Realty Group. “People enjoy it.”

5. Toms River, NJ

Median list price: $279,950

New Jersey—and its infamous shore—gets a lot of flak, but it’s called the Garden State for good reason: It’s friggin’ beautiful when you exit the turnpike. That includes Toms River, a seaside town that’s nestled along the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay, a rich estuary that’s long been a destination for fishing, crabbing, and boating. The historic city boasts a vibrant downtown with shops and restaurants, 15 recreational parks (including a golf course), and waterfront views from both the mainland and the peninsula across the water.

Buyers looking for a deal can get into a one-bedroom home starting around $125,000 or even a four-bedroom right next to the water for $349,000.

6. Coos Bay, OR

Median home price: $279,050

Shore Acres State Park, Coos Bay, OR Andrei Stanescu / iStock

Most folks probably don’t imagine spending their beachy retirement huddled up under layers of sweaters and blankets, but they’re missing out. The cliff-edged and chilly shoreline of Bastendorff Beach, just a short trip over the bridge from Coos Bay, is gorgeous, a wholly relaxing place to collect shells, pitch a tent, or ride a horse.

Many locals also take whale watching tours by boat, view masterpieces at Coos Art Museum, swing a 9-iron, or watch the pros play golf at the Bandon Dunes Resort, home to the Curtis Cup. Homeowners can look at the bay from their two-bedroom bungalow for just $169,000 or smell the salt air in a grand four-bedroom Dutch Colonial in the heart of town for a cool $649,000.

7. Seal Beach, CA

Median list price: $279,050

This is not a typo: Southern California does, in fact, boast affordable retirement homes right near the coast. Leisure World, a gated retirement community located just 12 minutes from the sands of Seal Beach, offers some serious deals. This renovated one-bedroom cottage is listed for just $199,999 and this two-bedroom at $225,000.

The large community has various purchase restrictions, including a minimum age, and in some cases requires all-cash transactions; but to buy in another part of the desirable beach town would cost at least $700,000. And locals are willing to fork over that kind of money for a reason. Seals actually do galumph around on the shore. The laid-back city boasts a restaurant- and shop-lined Main Street, which spills out to a nice pier and beach.

“Seal Beach is quaint and cute to walk around,” says Melinda Elmer, a Realtor® with Century 21 Masters. “It has a little bit of everything.”

8. New London, CT

Median list price: $207,950

New London, CT aimintang / iStock

Located at the mouth of the Thames River, this seaport city—the second-largest whaling port in the world back in the “Moby Dick” days—boasts a historic waterfront district that has become the creative hub of the city with art, music, and design venues, unique boutiques, and more than 30 restaurants. Retirees can take the grandkids on whale watching tours or picnic at one of the many parks or the beach.

However, what really makes this port town ideal for the 55-plus crowd is the easy access to quality health care. Part of Yale–New Haven Health, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital is home to the region’s only inpatient rehab unit and a nationally recognized cardiac rehabilitation program.

A two-bedroom condo right near the hospital and within walking distance to Ocean Beach can be had for just $99,000 and $209,900 can fetch a three-bedroom Cape Codder with a master bed and bath on the first floor, blocks from the water.

9. Rockport, TX

Median list price: $324,050

Rockport, TX kzubrycki / iStock

This Gulf Coast tourist haven has clean beaches, great fishing, and fantastic fowl. It has 10 birding sites on the Great Texas Birding Trail and the planet’s sole migrating flock of over 265 whooping cranes, which passes through the Aransas Wildlife Refuge every winter.

About 27% of the city’s 10,000 residents are aged 65 and up. Many of them seek out single-story homes with attached garages right around the golf course, marina, and beaches. They include this three-bedroomon the water for $275,000 and this two-bedroom cottage for $219,000.

10. Hyannis, MA

Median list price: $399,950

Lewis Bay Lighthouse, Hyannis, MA OlegAlbinsky / iStock

With its bustling main street, John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, and world-renowned Cape Cod Hospital, Hyannis is basically the hub of the Cape. It’s home to lots of shopping, plenty of restaurants, nice golf courses, a great sailing scene, and beautiful beaches. It even has an airport and ferry terminal that connects the mainland to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Many of the retired residents of Hyannis move into their former summer homes, but there are still plenty of boomers relocating to the area. Year-round homes start around $350,000 and reach nearly $4 million. Though a four-bedroom on the beach will set you back $1,650,000, a two-bedroom right next to downtown can be purchased for just $249,900.

“There’s still a lot of areas in Hyannis that are very affordable,” says Jeanette Neeven, a Realtor with Century 21 Cobb Real Estate. “Obviously, just like anywhere, the closer to the water you are, the more expensive the property.”

Article by Sara Ventiera

How to Help Your Dog Stay Calm on the 4th of July

Authored by Cathy Madson, MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

While July 4th celebrations can be tons of fun for us humans, the loud bangs and other fireworks noises can be downright terrifying for many dogs. Even dogs who don’t suffer from thunderstorm phobia or other noise aversions can become stressed by all the hubbub and flashing lights in the sky.

Dogs may show anxiety or stress in a variety of different ways. Pay attention and learn to recognize these signs for what they may mean. Signs of stress can include: panting, trembling, drooling, pacing, hiding, trying to escape, decreased appetite, potty accidents, dilated pupils or wide eyes, and whining or barking.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help your dog through the fireworks and lessen their stress and anxiety. Let’s look at things you can do ahead of time to prepare your dog, as well as things you can do the actual day of July 4th to lessen their stress!

 

  • Fireworks Shows and Dogs Don’t Mix: It’s best to just leave your pup at home if you plan on attending a live fireworks show or a party. They’ll feel more comfortable being in a familiar environment (especially if you’ve created a safe space for them), and you’ll be able to enjoy your time with friends and family. Just make sure you’ve closed all your windows and shut outside doors to prevent your dog from escaping.
  • Exercise: Provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise before the fireworks begin. It’s best to have your dog on-leash whenever you’re outside, in case they are startled by a random bang and try to bolt.
  • Collar and ID Tags: Make sure your dog is wearing their collar with their identification tags, in case they do get out and become lost. This can save a lot of time in getting them back to you quickly if someone finds them.
  • Hunker Down: My fourth of July consists of lots of exercise and training early in the day to help burn my dog’s energy, followed by an action movie marathon during fireworks time. I put on my favorite jammies and cuddle up on the couch with my pup to relax for the evening. Not only does this give me the chance to catch up on some movies, but it also provides some nice sound masking from the bangs and booms of the fireworks in my neighborhood. You can also use a loud fan or turn on music to mask the outside noise.
  • Treat Party for Firework Noise: Grab your treat bag with some super high value treats and keep it on you for the evening. Any time there’s a loud firework noise, praise your dog and give them a treat. You’re teaching them that the loud “scary” noise predicts something awesome happening — Pavlov would be proud. This is similar to the noise desensitization protocol outlined earlier in this article, but you’re doing it in real time. You can also give your dog an interactive toy or a kong stuffed with yummy food and treats to give your dog something fun and positive to work on while the fireworks sound outside.
  • Potty Breaks: At some point your dog will most likely need a potty break while fireworks are going off. Make sure they are leashed and under control to prevent them from bolting if a loud noise scares them. I recommend keeping them leashed for potty breaks even if you have a fenced yard — safety first!

Transform Your Basement Into a Teen Hangout and Make the Whole Family Happy

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The ways we use our home evolve as our families do. One day you’re setting up a Pinterest-worthy nursery, and, after what seems like just a few years, you’ve got a teenager who just wants to spend time in his room texting with friends and blasting music late at night.

If you’re lucky enough to have a basement space, you may have the solution to your problems. The basement can offer teens the privacy they crave and space to hang out with their friends, while keeping the rest of the home more tranquil—especially desirable if you also have a baby or young children.

Here are some key considerations if you want to transform your basement into a teen-friendly space that will make the whole family happy.

Create a cool hangout that also brings in good ROI

Photo by Vicente Burin Architects

As the mother of four teenagers, Brie Fowler knows all about relegating the chaos to the basement.

“I have two teenagers living in our basement right now, and they love having their own bedrooms and shared bath down there. They’re always playing video games and watching movies with their friends,” says Fowler, a Realtor® with the Fowler Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Erie, CO.

In the past, basement remodels didn’t always give homeowners the best resale bang for their buck, but that’s changing, adds Fowler.

Today, having a bedroom-bathroom combo below definitely boosts property values, especially in the eyes of buyers with growing families.

“Today’s basements are very customized, and it’s a great idea to have a safe environment for your kids to sleep and relax,” says Fowler.

Make the necessary structural changes

Photo by Residents Understood

Often, basement windows are below grade, so make sure the bedroom window is the right size for someone to exit in case of fire, and get permitting for any changes you make to ensure everything is done to code, suggests Kim Trouten, a Realtor and designer with Allen Tate Realtors in Charlotte, NC.

You also need proper ventilation.

“If you’ve got high moisture in a basement or changing temperatures because the heating and cooling isn’t quite as effective in the lower level, then you may need a dehumidifier,” Trouten says.

Get rid of any old drop acoustical-ceiling tiles and splurge on high-quality insulation to muffle the impromptu jam sessions and late-night gaming tournaments. Trust us, it’s worth every cent.

“It’s OK to have different ceiling heights, so if you have to drop it down in one section to accommodate ductwork or pipes, you can create intimate flex spaces or built-ins,” adds Trouten.

A basement doesn’t need to be a dim lair, either. Put in some recessed lighting and hang some mirrors strategically to brighten it up. And since teens are so device-dependent, install smart outlets throughout the space.

Plan for tons of storage space

Photo by Meadowlark Design+Build

Your basement might already serve as a catch-all for sporting equipment, musical instruments, school stuff, and more. So if you want to turn it into a more efficient space, you’ll have to corral that clutter.

If you’re planning to put up some walls to create a bedroom, build in as much closet space as possible, suggests Fowler.

Consider hanging an oversize barn door that can hide the mess when needed, and install plenty of shelves, cubbies, and hanging rods.

Swap out your teen’s childhood twin bed for a double or queen mattress set atop a platform with large drawers underneath to store clothing and shoes. Put up floating shelves and hooks so books, guitars, and collectibles stay off the floor. (Well, a parent can always hope, right?)

Carve out space for a full bathroom

We doubt your teen is going to want to traipse up and down the stairs to shower and use the bathroom, so having a full bathroom in the basement is a must, says Trouten.

“This bathroom does not have to be large, and from a reselling point of view, I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on it,” she says. “Make it as simple as possible, with a single-sink vanity and a shower. And make sure there are lots of hooks and good storage.”

And, of course, ventilation is also key in a bathroom.

Divide and conquer (the space, that is)

Photo by Anthony Slabaugh Remodeling & Design

The rest of the family should still be able to enjoy the basement, and setting up flex spaces that can serve multiple purposes will allow them to do that, says Trouten.

You can have a family-style room for watching TV and gaming, or just a recreational area for kids, that might share a bathroom with a bedroom. Just make sure the bathroom can be accessed from the bedroom without having to walk through the family room.

Still, Fowler warns against making the layout too choppy—most buyers still want an open concept, even in the basement.

“Teenagers love having a big, open space where you can put a pool table or a pingpong table, and throw in some beanbag chairs,” suggests Fowler.

Add some key pieces of furniture

Photo by Hammer & Hand

Invest in a large sectional sofa—perhaps with a pull-out bed for buddies who want to spend the night—and pair it with an oversize ottoman that doubles as storage for blankets and pillows. Put up shelves to flank a wall-mounted TV, so video games, DVDs, and stereo equipment can be neatly stored.

If you have room, set up a refreshment corner with a minifridge stocked with snacks and drinks, and a floating counter with stools that can slide underneath when not in use.

The teen years aren’t all fun and games, though. Your teen will also need a study space, so provide a desk in a neutral material and hang a large bulletin board above that runs to the ceiling.

Elsewhere in the room, you can add punches of color with bedding, decorative pillows, and posters. Encourage your teen to personalize the space, like by printing a collection of selfies with friends that you can frame as collages and hang throughout the space.

Focus on the future, too

As parents know, kids grow up fast—plan your basement space in such a way that it can adapt when they move out, or if someone else moves in.

“Make sure whatever you do can shift and flex as your family changes or you move and somebody else moves in,” says Trouten. “Maybe it will someday function as an office, an exercise room, or an in-law suite.”

Article by Wendy Helfenbaum

Boozy Cherry Bombs

EMILY HLAVAC GREEN

Patriotic cherries are exactly what your Fourth of July has been missing. If you want to make them kid friendly, skip soaking the cherries!

INGREDIENTS
  • (10-oz.) jar maraschino cherries with stems, drained
  • 1/3 c. Fireball whisky
  • 1/3 c. whipped cream-flavored vodka
  • 1 c. white chocolate chips
  • (3.5-oz.) jar blue sanding sugar sprinkles
DIRECTIONS
  1. Place cherries in a medium bowl and pour Fireball and vodka over. Soak for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Drain cherries and pat dry with a paper towel. Reserve alcohol for another use.
  2. Place chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until fully melted.
  3. Dip each cherry two-thirds of the way into melted chocolate, twisting slightly to help chocolate stick. Dip cherry in blue sanding sugar, coating halfway up the white chocolate coating.
  4. Chill in fridge for at least 20 minutes.
Recipe by

What Is a No-Fee Mortgage?

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

When you apply for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage, you want to secure the lowest interest rate possible. Any opportunity a borrower can exploit to shave dollars off the cost is a big win.

This explains the allure of no-fee mortgages. These home loans and their promise of doing away with pesky fees always sound appealing—a lack of lender fees or closing costs is sweet music to a borrower’s ears.

However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.

No-fee mortgages have experienced a renaissance given the current economic climate, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified. “No-fee programs are popular among those looking to refinance … [and] first-time home buyers [have] also increased as far as interest” goes.

Be prepared for a higher interest rate

But nothing is truly free, and this maxim applies to no-fee mortgages as well. They almost always carry a higher interest rate.

“Over time, paying more interest will be significantly more expensive than paying fees upfront,” says DiBugnara. “If no-cost is the offer, the first question that should be asked is, ‘What is my rate if I pay the fees?’”

Randall Yates, CEO of The Lenders Network, breaks down the math.

“Closing costs are typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount,” he explains. “On a $200,000 loan, you can expect to pay approximately $7,500 in lender fees. Let’s say the interest rate is 4%, and a no-fee mortgage has a rate of 4.5%. [By securing a regular loan], you will save over $13,000 over the course of the loan.”

So while you’ll have saved $7,500 in the short term, over the long term you’ll wind up paying more due to a higher interest rate. Weigh it out with your financial situation.

Consider the life of the loan

And before you start calculating the money that you think you might save with a no-fee mortgage, consider your long-term financial strategy.

“No-fee mortgage options should only be used when a short-term loan is absolutely necessary. I don’t think it’s a good strategy for coping with COVID-19-related issues,” says Jack Choros of CPI Inflation Calculator.

A no-fee mortgage may be a smart tactic if you don’t plan to stay in one place for a long time or plan to refinance quickly.

“If I am looking to move in a year or two, or think rates might be lower and I might refinance again, then I want to minimize my costs,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager at EquityNow. But “if I think I am going to be in the loan for 10 years, then I want to pay more upfront for a lower rate.”

What additional fees should you be prepared to pay?

As with any large purchase, whether it’s a car or computer, there’s no flat “this is it” price. Hidden costs always lurk in the fine print.

“Most of the time, the cost for credit reports, recording fees, and flood-service fee are not included in a no-fee promise, but they are minimal,” says DiBugnara. “Also, the appraisal will always be paid by the consumer. They are considered a third-party vendor, and they have to be paid separately.”

“All other costs such as property taxes, home appraisal, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance will all still be paid by the borrower,” adds Yates.

It’s important to ask what additional fees are required, as it varies from lender to lender, and state to state. The last thing you want is a huge surprise.

“Deposits that are required to set up your escrow account, such as flood insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, are normally paid at closing,” says Jerry Elinger, mortgage production manager at Silverton Mortgage in Atlanta. “Most fees, however, will be able to be covered by rolling them into the cost of the loan or paying a higher interest rate.”

When does a no-fee mortgage make sense?

For borrowers who want to save cash right now, but don’t mind paying more over a long time frame, a no-fee mortgage could be the right fit.

“If your plan is long-term, it will almost always make more sense to pay the closing costs and take a lower rate,” says DiBugnara. “If your plan is short-term, then no closing costs and paying more interest over a short period of time will be more cost-effective.”

Article by Kristine Hansen

Summer’s 5 Hottest Decor Trends Will Have You Staying at Home in Style

KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

OK, we’ll admit that summer 2020 has been a bit of a buzzkill so far: Between derailed travel plans and being forced to spend more time stuck inside (for the fourth month in a row, and counting), it’s not exactly the new decade we all dreamed of.

But we’re glass-half-full kind of people. And the silver lining of all this time at home means more time to decorate and transform our space into an oasis we’re almost glad to be cooped up in.

Ready to ditch the quarantine clutter and rid your home of those stale spring looks? We consulted with designers from coast to coast about the hottest home decor that’s trending right now. These five looks are sure to transform your space into one of those lush, tropical locales you’ll be missing this season, and make long days at a home feel a little sweeter.

1. Curved sofas

Photo by Tara Bussema

Nothing speaks to kicking back and relaxing quite like one of these oversize, curved couches.

“A curved couch is a symbol of comfort,” says Colin Haentjens, interior designer for The Knobs Company. “Without 90-degree corners, the only sharp parts of the couch are removed. And the shape is reminiscent of a bean-shaped swimming pool—so you can imagine diving right in to beat the heat.”

Snag your very own curved couch with this Ayva curved love seat from Wayfair.

2. Raw materials

Photo by IL Decor

Finished furniture is out this season, and being replaced by something much more rustic and natural-looking.

“The use of raw materials isn’t new, but its resurgence this summer speaks to a desire to incorporate natural textures and materials into the home,” says design blogger Jaime Huffman of the Charleston Blonde. “Raw materials, like furniture made from live-edge wood, are a way to have one-of-a-kind items in your space, and they take on a timeless quality that will suit any design style.”

Shop the perfect live-edge piece for your home by browsing this collection on Etsy.

3. Floral wallpaper

Photo by Office of Architecture

Flowers aren’t just blooming in the garden this year, as more and more designers flock toward the floral wallpaper trend.

“From large and abstract to intricate and botanical—every kind of flower imaginable is showing up on walls,” says Huffman. “Done right, floral wallpaper can transform your space into one of color and creativity, and works great in small spaces like bathrooms or as an accent wall in a larger space.”

Breathe new life into your interiors this season with this collection of floral and botanical wallpaper from Joss & Main.

4. Canopy beds

Photo by Chango & Co.

Canopy beds aren’t just for exotic rentals—they’ll also give an instant (and modern) boost to your current bedroom style.

“Canopy beds transform a bed into a private, tranquil space for rest, and create quite the atmosphere you want in a master bedroom,” says Huffman. “Especially for the summer season, more modern, simple-style canopy beds recall the look of a poolside cabana, turning the bedroom into a true oasis.”

Plus, there are a wide variety of canopy styles; you can choose from a more traditional, romantic four-poster look, or opt for something more modern and linear to fit your own individual taste.

Upgrade your bedroom with some much-needed cabana vibes by shopping this Moyers Profile canopy bed from Wayfair.

5. Island carts

Photo by Houzz

While you might not be jet-setting to any islands this summer, that doesn’t mean you can’t upgrade your own island—that is, the one in your kitchen. While many kitchen designs include a stationary island, we love the added flexibility of these trending island carts.

“An island instantly transforms a kitchen, adding functionality, storage, and counter space,” says Huffman. “Add wheels, and the opportunities expand!”

An island on wheels adds extra value in a small kitchen space, so you can move it to where it’s needed most, she adds.

“After so many months spent inside, many people are looking for ways to refresh their space,” Huffman says. “And an island on wheels makes a huge impact without having to put in the planning and construction necessary for a stationary island.”

Find your perfect island cart on Overstock.

Article by Larissa Runkle

8 Ways To Keep Your House Organized and Spotless With Pets

Cunaplus_M.Faba / Getty Images

We love our pets, but we don’t love the damage they do to our homes. Whether they relieve themselves on your sofa or emit funky odors, fur babies can foil your best efforts to keep your place looking and smelling its best.

Yet having an animal or two in residence doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to living in filth. Often, a few pet-friendly purchases and habits can keep things under control. Take fabric, for instance. Some materials hold on to a stink longer than others.

“And once an odor soaks in to an absorbent fiber, it can be very difficult to extract,” points out Maeve Richmond, an organizing and cleaning professional and founder of Maeve’s Method.

Don’t let your pets rule the roost! Here are eight tips for keeping your home clean and organized when an animal is in residence.

1. Groom on a schedule

Photo by Designs Dell’Ario Interiors

A clean pet can mean a cleaner, fresher house, especially if you groom it consistently (every month or so as needed). And if you don’t have a dedicated room where you can lather up your pup, carve out a corner in an existing space like the laundry area.

2. Invest in attractive storage

Choose from three sizes in either round or rectangle shapes.Amazon

Katie McCann, the home and office organizing pro at Haven, recommends good-looking bins and baskets for pet gear, since owning a pretty container for toys may make you more inclined to keep things neat and organized. The material on this pick ($11.99, Amazon) wipes clean, and the chic gray shade allows it to blend into the background, with just a subtle paw print as a clue to its use.

3. Keep kibble fresh

Cute wheels make moving this around the kitchen a breeze.The Container Store

A folded-over top on your cat’s food bag means the scent of turkey delight will waft through the house—and who wants that?

Instead, McCann picks these smart-looking containers ($39.99 and up, Container Store) that come in two sizes for your pet’s chow. There’s also a scoop included so you don’t have to donate your half-cup measure at feeding time.

“And rather than shlep home giant bags of food, use a service like Instacart or Chewy to schedule pet deliveries,” she adds.

4. Pick pet-friendly furniture fabric

If your pets tend to lounge on your couch or other spots meant for humans, over time the spots will start to smell like your pets—and certain fabrics absorb odors more than others.

“Natural fabrics like cotton and linen hold more odors,” explains Richmond. A better bet for pets? “Man-made materials like polyester, polypropylene, and olefin.”

If you must stick with cotton or linen, get a slipcover so you can easily pop it into the washing machine.

“You can also mask the odor with a cleaning agent like Febreze,” adds McCann.

5. Give the sofa a scrub

Another benefit of couches made from synthetic materials? They can withstand a light bath.

“One cushion at a time, spritz your sofa with distilled water, followed by a drop of dish soap and then use a soft-bristled brush to create a lather,” says Richmond. Wipe away excess liquid and soap with a clean cloth.

If your couch has a cotton or other natural fabric on it, resist the temptation to clean with water as the material may shrink.

“If your cotton sofa is stinky or dirty, a professional clean is worth the effort. A good piece of furniture like this can last 10 or 15 years if it’s well-taken care of,” Richmond notes.

6. Toss pet toys in the wash

Just the way you change dish towels in the kitchen every few days, throw some of the cat’s fabric mice in the washing machine, or your dog’s chewy toys in the dishwasher. If you get in the habit of cleaning these playthings, they will build up fewer odors over time.

7. Pick the best vacuum for pet hair

This vacuum is designed to pick up pet hair.Rakuten

A vacuum that effectively picks up pet hair is a lifesaver in a home with pets. And the Dyson Ball Animal Upright Vacuum ($224.99, Rakuten) is designed for households with pets. This device sports shorter, stiffer bristles than usual, which provide better suction to remove stubborn pet fur. It also has a turbine that resists hair tangling and a HEPA filtration system, which captures allergens in the machine rather than releasing them back into the environment. Plus it comes with a five-year warranty.

8. Consider washable or replaceable flooring

This rug’s pad is made from recycled plastic bottles.Amazon

Let’s face it: Only certain messes can be vacuumed up. Other, wetter accidents require a trip through the washer. For these, Richmond votes for carpets like the polyester-based ones from Ruggable, above ($89.99, Amazon).

“No stain or smell is a match for man-made fibers,” she says.

But for truly disastrous episodes that make you want to cry, pick floor covering you can actually replace. FLOR carpet tiles start as low as a couple of dollars per square foot, and are easy to lay down and then quickly pick up if you need to toss them out and start again.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Pandemic Etiquette: How To Deal With Annoying Neighbors (or Know If You’re the Jerk)

AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Many of us are spending more time at home than ever before. While this comes with some silver linings—um, more time to bake bread?—it also means we’re seeing (and hearing) our neighbors more than usual. And this leads to all kinds of discoveries. Did you really need to know all about your upstairs neighbor’s love of high-impact workouts?

“Being home more under such stressful times, there has been increased day-to-day contact, which isn’t always easy,” says Myka Meier, author of “Modern Etiquette Made Easy.” “Being home more means remembering to be respectful of any actions that may affect our neighbors.”

Found yourself in a heated situation with a neighbor? But wait a minute—maybe you’ve started wondering if you’re the one being annoying. Whoa. Heed this advice from etiquette experts on the do’s and don’ts of being neighborly during a pandemic.

Don’t: Disregard boundaries

With so many people staying home all day long, our personal space has become extra valuable. If you live in a single-family home, make sure your tree limbs aren’t encroaching on your neighbor’s lawn. If you have a car, be sure to park in your own spot. If you have kids or pets, make sure they know where they can and can’t play.

“Keep your children in check—make sure they’re in their own yard,” says Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. Sorry, kids!

“It’s just about being courteous,” says Gottsman. “It’s all of the things we should be doing anyways.”

Do: Keep an eye on your animals

“Pets can be a bone of contention,” says etiquette expert Lisa Grotts, aka the Golden Rules Gal. “When pets do something on someone else’s property, make sure you take ownership and apologize.”

That means making sure your dog doesn’t wander onto the neighbor’s lawn to do its business; use a fence or leash to keep pets on your property. If your dogs start barking, don’t leave them outside all day. It’s not only an annoyance to your neighbors, but, as the weather heats up, your furry friends might need to come in for their health.

“Be attentive to your animals,” Gottsman says. “Don’t throw your dogs or cats out there without any water, because they are going to be barking and feeling uncomfortable.”

Don’t let things boil over.Pheelings Media/Getty Images

Don’t: Mow the lawn at odd hours

Avoid noisy outdoor maintenance at hours when the average person would be sleeping. Be mindful of what time you’re mowing the lawn, using a leaf or snow blower, or doing other tasks that could disrupt the neighbors.

If you live somewhere with a neighborhood association, it might designate a time frame for when these activities are allowed, Gottsman says. But ultimately, as long as you’re avoiding loud tasks at extremely early or late hours, you don’t need to overthink it.

“You’ve got to mow the lawn,” Gottsman says. “It may not be good at 9 for one neighbor and may not be good at 10 for another neighbor. We all have to adjust a bit and show some understanding for each other’s lifestyle.”

Do: Get ahead of potential conflicts

Don’t let things boil over with your neighbors if you can avoid it—it’s always better to get ahead of conflicts if you anticipate a sticky situation could arise.

“If you know your neighbor and you’re friendly with your neighbor, you might say, ‘I have a virtual meeting tomorrow at 9:30—may I ask you to keep the dogs quiet?’” Gottsman says.

If you’re worried about disruptions coming to your door during an important call or your toddler’s nap, post a note.

“I have delivery and I have people sometimes stop by, there’s all these uncertainties, so I put a handwritten sign on my door: ‘Kindly don’t knock or ring my doorbell,’” Gottsman says. “We have to leave indicators.”

Don’t: Pet that dog (unless you have permission)

As people continue to maintain social distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you might be wondering if it’s OK to get face time with your neighbors and their pets.

“When you’re walking by someone, since everyone is outside now, just smile and say hello,” Gottsman says. But don’t assume you can reach out to pet their dog—“we’re all hypervigilant right now,” Gottsman says.

Do: Be calm and collected when addressing problems

If you’re fuming after waking up from another one of your neighbor’s loud parties, don’t immediately march upstairs to yell and scream.

“Never react when you are boiling mad,” Meier says. “Take a few deep breaths or try to calm down, as you can’t undo a poison pen text or angry conversation.”

When you’re feeling calm and ready to talk with your neighbor, “try explaining how something is affecting you in a polite way, which hopefully your neighbor will have compassion for,” she advises.

Meier suggests calmly reasoning with difficult neighbors. For example, if noise is an issue, explain why.

“Say, ‘The baby’s crib is right under your room and she isn’t sleeping,’” Meier suggests. “Try to find a middle ground where possible.”

Wild house parties are a no-no.SeventyFour/Getty Images

Don’t: Host a big, raucous party

Hosting a loud shindig has always been a surefire way to frustrate your neighbors, but in the age of social distancing, the annoyance—and the risks—are even greater.

“Large, indoor gatherings are an example of a home activity that should be avoided,” Grotts says. “Anything that involves crowds is a big no-no.”

Also be mindful of where you and your guests are smoking, whether that’s cigarettes or marijuana. Don’t smoke near neighbors’ windows or outdoor spaces, which could cause the smell to seep into other people’s living areas. Your condo or neighborhood association may also have its own rules about smoking, so be sure to understand what’s allowed before you light up.

Do: Be flexible and come up with creative solutions to problems

At the end of the day, some amount of neighborly noise and annoyance is inevitable. Be reasonable with your expectations for others. Your neighbors with a newborn baby certainly don’t want to annoy you, but there’s nothing they can do about the occasional crying you can hear in your office.

“It might be on your part to make changes,” Gottsman says. “It might be changing rooms or putting on some music.”

Article by Lauren Sieben

Watermelon Feta Flag Salad

Watermelon Feta Flag Salad Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Our family celebrates the Fourth of July with a watermelon salad that resembles the flag. Here’s an all-American centerpiece that’s truly red, white and blue. —Jan Whitworth, Roebuck, South Carolina

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • SALAD:
  • 6 cups fresh arugula (about 5 ounces)
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 5 cups cubed seedless watermelon
  • 1 package (8 ounces) feta cheese, cut into 1/2-in. cubes

Directions

  • 1. For vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk the first 6 ingredients; gradually whisk in oil until blended. Stir in onion.
  • 2. In a large bowl, lightly toss arugula with 1/4 cup vinaigrette. Arrange evenly in a large rectangular serving dish.
  • 3. For stars, place blueberries over arugula at the top left corner. For stripes, arrange watermelon and cheese in alternating rows. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Serve immediately.

How Unemployment Can Affect Your Plans To Buy a Home—Now and LaterErica Sweeney

thianchai sitthikongsak / Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has led to record-high unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. And this is particularly worrisome for would-be home buyers.

If you were among the 23.1 million Americans who were laid off or furloughed, you might be worried about your financial future. And if you were hoping to buy a house—either now or in the next few years—you might also wonder how your current jobless status might affect those plans.

While the situation might seem dire, unemployment does not mean that home-buying plans have to be put on hold for long. Here’s how to navigate a period of unemployment so that it doesn’t derail your hopes to buy a home.

Can you buy a home if you’re unemployed?

For starters: If you lose your job while in the midst of home shopping or after you’ve even made an offer, you might have to put the purchase on hold.

The reason: Given your reduced income, the odds of lenders loaning you money for a property purchase are slim, unless your spouse or partner has a sizable income that can carry the mortgage alone.

And even if you’re getting unemployment checks every week, that money is considered temporary income, so it can’t be used to qualify for a mortgage, says Jackie Boies, senior director of housing and bankruptcy services at Money Management International, a nonprofit providing financial education and counseling.

In short, “unemployment could have an effect on your ability to purchase a home in the short term,” Boies says.

But the good news is that once you find a new job, you can likely resume home shopping without trouble, Boies adds. “Unemployment shouldn’t have a long-term effect on being able to buy a home.”

How long after unemployment can you buy a home?

But even once you do find a new job, that doesn’t mean you can easily buy a house just yet. That’s because lenders like to see a steady history of employment before loaning someone money.

“Regular employment must be reestablished as stable, reliable, and dependable,” says Karma Herzfeld, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Alliance in Little Rock, AR.

So how long is enough? Lenders typically require borrowers to have six months of employment at their current job, and two years of continuous employment. Breaks in employment older than two years shouldn’t affect getting a mortgage.

How unemployment affects your credit score

While unemployment doesn’t jeopardize future home-buying hopes per se, financial experts warn that what can put those plans at risk is how you handle your finances while jobless. Unemployment, after all, can stress your budget in ways that can damage your credit history and credit score.

Lenders check your credit score to assess how well you’ve managed past debts. Scores between 650 and 700 range from fair to good; scores below 650 are considered subpar, which could limit which lenders are willing to loan you money for a house. (You can check your score for free on sites like Credit Karma.)

Credit scores can be damaged in a variety of ways during unemployment. For one, if you get behind on paying bills, this will put some blemishes on your credit history and drag your score down.

Unemployment can also lower your credit score by negatively affecting your debt-to-income ratio, a calculation used by mortgage lenders to compare how much you make against how much you owe.

If you’re unemployed, you may face a double whammy as your income is lower and you’re charging more to your credit cards, thus increasing your debt. Both moves can negatively affect your debt-to-income ratio, which may make lenders leery of loaning you money.

“Any factor that affects income or debt may affect the debt-to-income ratio,” Herzfeld explains.

In sum, hopeful home buyers should be careful not to take on too much debt, even while unemployed. You need to preserve cash as best you can.

“I recommend, if on unemployment, [you] cut back on all discretionary spending and make every effort to keep bills current so that the credit score may not get negatively impacted,” Herzfeld says.

Debt-to-income ratio will likely rebalance once you return to work, as long as you haven’t racked up too much debt during the period of unemployment, Boies says.

How to handle your finances while unemployed

“My recommendation is to always try as best as you can to pay at least the minimum required payment on all monthly debt obligations, otherwise credit may be negatively affected,” Herzfeld says.

Boies suggests reaching out to landlords, credit card companies, utilities, auto lenders, and others to find out what options you have, such as payment plans, deferments, or forbearance. You might also be able to reduce some bills, such as insurance, by reviewing your policy.

“Don’t think that if you can’t pay that bill, you just can’t do anything about it,” Boies says. “You need to reach out to see what options they have available to you.”

How to bounce back from unemployment

If your credit score is negatively affected while you’re unemployed, it’s not the end of the world—but it will take time to repair.

Six months to a year or more of positive credit rebuilding could get you on track to buy a home, Herzfeld says.

“The sooner past-due debts can be remedied, the sooner the score may begin to improve,” she says.

Article by Erica Sweeney

8 Thoughtful Last-Minute DIY Gifts for Dad This Father’s Day

Isarapic/Getty Images

While April and May dragged on (is it just us, or did they each last 2,357 days?), somehow June has flown by—and Father’s Day is rapidly approaching. So you’d be forgiven if you’ve found yourself in panic mode, floundering to find something to show your dad some love.

Never fear! We scouted far and wide for ridiculously easy DIY projects to give Dad a gift he won’t forget. Here are eight thoughtful ideas you can tackle before Sunday—just in time for Father’s Day.

1. Custom grilling apron

Custom grilling apronMomtastic

If your dad is known as the grill master in the family, then he’s going to love this custom grilling apron.

“With summer barbecues around the corner, Dad doesn’t need his clothes—or skin—getting burned by grill grease,” says Rachel Ritlop, founder and CEO of The Confused Millennial. “There are so few apron prints out there for men, that this is a great gift to personalize.”

Check out this simple barbecue apron tutorial from Momtastic to get started.

2. One-of-a-kind baseball cap

Custom patch for dadAmazon

Dads always seem to have a collection of caps, but this one will be special—and customized just for him. Cool, right?

“The sky’s the limit with customization,” says Vicki Liston of On the Fly DIY. “Hobbies, sports teams, multiple sports teams, a catchphrase, the family name, his favorite brand, a line from his favorite song.”

Find a patch that your dad will love, then get to work with this tutorial.

3. Reading glasses case

DIY glasses caseMakezine

Is your dad more of a newspaper and armchair sort of guy? Then this homemade reading glasses case, made from old neckties, might be just the ticket.

“I don’t know about your husband, but mine has a bag full of ties he just can’t part with, but never wears—and he’s always losing his glasses,” says Ritlop. “This DIY solves two problems in one and is fairly easy to do in a pinch.”

Make Dad his very own glasses case with this DIY tutorial from Makezine.

4. Bouquet (of beer)

Beer bouquetHappyToWander

“Is Dad a beer aficionado? If so, this is a must-DIY,” Liston says. “You can either create this with beer you know he loves, or order a variety of options from a microbrewery so he can try something new.”

Add a few of his favorite snacks for palate cleansing between swigs, she suggests. Once you pick out Dad’s favorite bottles, follow this tutorial to make the beer bouquet.

5. Leather business card holder

Leather business card holdersisterMAG

If your dad is all business, then he’ll appreciate this one.

“Kids will love making this leather business card holder for Dad,” Liston says. “And Dad will have a proud story to tell onlookers every time he goes to pull out a business card.”

Make him two—one for his business cards and one for the cards he receives so he can keep them separate. Use this template from sisterMAG, then follow their video for the full scoop.

6. Handmade fishing lures

Bottle-cap fishing lures2littlehooligans

“If Dad is an avid fisherman, he’ll love these,” Liston says. “Not only are they practical, but they can be used as decor in his man cave. Personalize them with caps from his favorite beer or soda.”

Start saving up some bottle caps now, then check out this DIY guide to make him some unforgettable fishing gear.

7. Wood coasters

DIY wood coastersThe Art of Manliness

“Have an outdoorsy dad? He’ll love these rustic coasters,” Liston says. “Let them retain their natural wood shade by sealing with a clear coat, or experiment with one or multiple stains in a pattern for a unique finish.”

You could also add small appliques over a portion of the surface. Old pictures of Dad, pictures of the family, or sports team logos are some fun ideas, Liston says.

Follow this simple tutorial from The Art of Manliness to get started.

8. Rustic picture frame

Rock frameDIY Place

Another great gift for the outdoorsy dad is this easy-to-make rustic picture frame.

“There’s no better reminder of his role as ‘Dad’ than a picture frame of his adoring family,” Liston says. “You can use anything to make it—shells, golf tees, bottle caps, coins, little pebbles, buttons—anything. He’ll love the effort, but the picture inside will be what touches his heart every time he looks at it.”

Article by Larissa Runkle

Anthony Martignetti And That Famous Prince Spaghetti Ad, 50 Years Later

A Prince Spaghetti House at the corner of Avery and Washington streets in Boston in the mid 20th century. (Courtesy MIT-Libraries)

Fifty years ago this fall, Prince Pasta began running their now-iconic “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day” TV commercial.

It featured a young Anthony Martignetti running through the streets of the North End, and made him a bit of a local legend here, where he still gets recognized as “Anthony!”

“I remember getting letters, people saying they named their kids after me, Anthony,” Martignetti said. “People say to me, ‘My name’s Anthony and people stretch it out when they say it, the same way they do it in the ad. They sing it.'”

The commercial ran on television for 13 years starting in the fall of 1969, and it was produced by the then Lowell-based Prince Pasta Company.

It opens with the late Mary Fiumara, leaning out of a second story window on Powers Court calling to her TV son, Anthony.

“The minute you say Anthony, people know what you’re talking about,” said Jim Botticelli, the author of the book “Dirty Old Boston: Four Decades Of A City In Transition.” “If you say it in that tone of voice, ‘Anthony!’ people know exactly what you’re talking about.”

You’re talking about Prince and pasta. In 1969, Italian-style pasta was not as thoroughly part of the mainstream as hot dogs and burgers. Italian food, for many Americans, consisted of cans of SpaghettiOs and Chef Boyardee.

The 1969 Prince commercial let America in on the secret of Italian family dinners.

“It’s a little voyeuristic in some ways,” said Paula Taylor, who runs Off The Eaten Path food and history tour of the North End. “You see Anthony running through the streets, and then it flips to being being back in the kitchen, where you see his mother making the pasta and the family gathering at the table. It’s like a documentary in some ways. There’s something raw about it.”

“I remember getting letters, people saying they named their kids after me, Anthony.”

ANTHONY MARTIGNETTI

And for folks like James Pasto, cofounder of the North End Historical Society, the commercial put Boston Italian Americans like him into the center of American life.

“It was exciting to see us on TV, which we weren’t used to seeing. It was unworldly, surreal almost, because we were on the map of America,” Pasto said.

The commercial ends with the family gathered at the table. And Anthony enters last.

“[The producers] said to stand outside the door and when we say, ‘Action,’ you come in. And they said, ‘Listen, you’ve been running all this way, you gotta act like you’re tired.’ I wasn’t an actor, I don’t know how to act tired,” Martignetti said. “One of the guys I was with made me run 15 times up and down the stairs, so when I opened that door I was really exhausted. I wasn’t acting, I was tired.”

Anthony Martignetti stands on Powers Court in the North End. (Jamie Bologna/WBUR)

If Martignetti wasn’t an actor, how did a 12-year-old kid born in Italy come to star in an American TV commercial that ran for more than a decade? Turns out he was simply nice to a couple of ad men and TV producers walking around the North End.

“You could tell they didn’t live around here,” Martignetti said. “The way they were dressed. They had long hair. Back in those days, our parents always told us to stay away from the hippies because they’re going to kidnap you.”

When they asked for directions, Martignetti and his friends definitely knew they weren’t from the North End.

“In those days, you knew everyone from the neighborhood,” he said. “My friends were mean to them, typical punks. I just gave them directions. And a few weeks later they asked me if I wanted to be on TV.”

The ad became a classic. In today’s terms, it went viral, according to Peter Seronick, a former Boston ad man who teaches at Emerson College.

“It was iconic. Is it incredibly creative? No. But did it do its job? Absolutely,” he said. “Fast forward 50 years, and when I walk through a supermarket and I see those boxes of Prince dried pasta, my brain triggers that slogan, ‘Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day.’ “

A lot has changed in the North End since the ad started running 1969. Back then, Boston was balkanized, and the North End was mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants. It was walled off from the rest of the city by the central artery.

“It was fishmongers, green grocers, butchers with rabbits hanging in the windows [and] chickens in the back, and lots of people hanging out in the streets,” Taylor said. “The neighborhood felt more colorful, with lots of awnings on the storefronts. You don’t see that as much anymore.”

Pedestrians make their way Wednesday, January 3,1989 along Hanover Street in the Historic North End section of Boston, which a study says is changing from an Italian-American, blue-collar working class population to elderly men and women and white-collar professionals. The study was done by the Gerontology Institute of the University of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Peter Southwick)

Martignetti is in now his 60s, works as a court officer and doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore. Lifelong North End resident Fiumara died in 2016. And Prince is no longer a local company producing pasta in New England; it’s now one of dozens of brands owned by Madrid-based food conglomerate Ebro Foods.

Yet, if you stroll down Hanover or Prince streets today, you’ll still get a distinctly Italian American experience, with pastry shops, markets and restaurants lining the main drag. You’ll see double-parked delivery trucks unloading all kinds of Italian foods and imports.

But you’ll also see a more diverse group of residents and lots of tourists. You’ll see a Chinese takeout place and a Bank of America.

Pasto said the Prince commercial takes us back to an older idea of the North End, with a certain nostalgia for how it might have been when it was a stopping place of new Italian immigrants.

“It created something to look back towards, the North End of the ’60s,” says Pasto. “It re-created the Italian American neighborhood, in a sense.”

And for J.J. Pellegrino, the grandson of the Prince Pasta chief executive who came up with the famous slogan, the ad holds a special place in his family’s lore.

“It has a really nice sense of authenticity,” said Pellegrino, who was also in the ad, sitting at the table, ready to enjoy the meal. “Families would gather around the table to be together and share stories, and that was a little moment in time akin to that, and I think that authenticity was what helped it be lasting, and to endure.”

The Pellegrino family sold Prince in 1987, but the impact of ad endured far beyond the company.

“It made people aware of pasta,” said Marguerite Buonopane, the author of six editions of “The North End Italian Cookbook.”

Here is 92 Prince Street in Boston’s North End today. It’s where the Prince Pasta Company was first started by Sicilian immigrants in 1912. (Jamie Bologna/WBUR)

“Pasta is a good thing, which we took for granted,” she said. “There’s no other food in the world better than a plate of spaghetti with sauce.”

Maybe the “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day” tagline and ad had something to do with the fact that Americans annually consume about 20 pounds of pasta per person, according to the National Pasta Association.

“People from Texas tell me they love that commercial,” Taylor said. “It put the North End on the map as America’s little Italy.”

For Buonopane, now that the North End is very much on the map, it’s also changed. And not just the neighborhood, but the culture.

“Those days are gone, as far as I know,” Buonopane said. “It’ll never be the same, unless everyone cooks and slows down.”

Martignetti agrees.

“I miss those days, Sunday afternoons, my brothers, my sister — every weekend it was a family gathering,” he said. “Now you’re lucky if you see your family once a year. Everybody’s rushing to be someplace. Relax, you know? Sit down, enjoy your family. They don’t last forever.”

In some ways, this is the strength of Prince ad. Yes, it’s just a 50-year-old TV ad that’s trying to sell a box of dried pasta, but it’s also selling the idea of a family gathering around the table for dinner.

That simple idea helped change how a lot of Americans viewed Italian food, and their Italian American neighbors.

“I guess we’ve made that Prince Pasta ad a metaphor for the times we lived in versus the times we live in,” Botticelli said.

And even though Fiumara leaned out that second story window to call “Anthony,” she perhaps was really calling us all back to the table.

Article by Jamie Bologna

Saving Up for a Down Payment? Here’s Where To Put Your Money

MonthiraYodtiwong/Getty Images

The coronavirus crisis has heightened financial anxiety and uncertainty. But if buying a home has been part of your life plan, there’s no need to panic. Many Americans will receive stimulus payments in the coming weeks, which could ease some of the burden, and if you’re able, now is still a good time to start saving for the down payment on your mortgage.

So where should you put that money while you amass the right amount? There are a number of places to stash your cash—each with its own pros and cons.

“Some have low risk, but also low returns, like a savings account or CD,” says Sherry Graziano, head of mortgage omni experience at Truist. “Other options may have higher returns, but they typically have a higher risk associated with them.”

Exactly which type of account will work for your own personal path to homeownership depends on your individual financial situation, how soon you plan to buy a home, and how much risk you’re willing to take. Here’s a look at your options.

Savings, checking, or money market accounts

Best for: People buying a home in three months or less

If you plan to buy a home fairly soon, a savings account is one of the safest places to put your money. They are FDIC-insured, meaning your money is protected in case of banking institution failures, and your money is always accessible.

“The least risky type of account is a savings account,” says Shelby McDaniels, channel director of corporate home lending at JPMorgan Chase. “They are highly insured. It is simple to link a checking or direct deposit to the account, and most do not have any restrictions on timing.”

Most first-time home buyers, she says, use a savings account to begin the process of buying a home.

The downside? Savings account interest rates tend to be low, with less than a 2% annual percentage yield, according to an America’s Best Rates survey. High-yield savings accounts averaged 2% to 2.4%, but some require a minimum deposit or that you maintain a minimum balance.

Money market accounts are another option. They are similar to savings accounts, but offer some checking features and sometimes a little more interest.

If you’re opting for a savings account, make sure you’re aware of any fees or requirements, like maintaining a minimum balance, Graziano says.

Certificate of deposit

Best for: People buying a home in three to 12 months

A certificate of deposit, or CD, is another low-risk option. Offered by banks and credit unions, CDs give savers interest on a lump sum of money if they leave it in the account for a designated time frame, such as three, six, or 12 months, or even longer.

If you’re saving for a down payment, CDs have a couple of downsides.

“CDs typically don’t allow for additional deposits, so that may not be the best option if a client is planning on making continuous deposits,” Graziano says.

CDs also have a low interest rate—just a hair higher than savings accounts—and the money isn’t accessible until the CD has matured.

McDaniels suggests choosing a CD that will work well within your time horizon so you can use it when you need it.

401(k)

Best for: People buying a home in three years or less

A 401(k) is a retirement account that you contribute to tax-free, but it has annual contribution caps and limits when you can withdraw money before you reach age 59 and a half. For 2020, the contribution limit is $19,500, according to the IRS.

Buying a home is one instance where you can use money from your 401(k) before reaching retirement age, but it can be risky.

Early withdrawals come with a 10% penalty on the amount taken out, and you’ll have to pay income tax on the distribution.

You can also take a loan against the 401(k). However, Graziano says, “the client would want to determine the amount of the repayment, and be sure that they will be comfortable with the new house payment and 401(k) repayment responsibility.”

Another thing to consider: You’ll miss out on any interest you would have earned on the money taken out of the 401(k), McDaniels notes.

“This can be a good short-term option for someone who knows they will be able to pay back their 401(k) loan quickly, with no penalty,” she says.

Roth IRA

Best for: First-time home buyers purchasing within three years

A Roth IRA, or individual retirement account, is usually opened at a bank or investment firm. Roth IRAs are a good way to save, because you fund the account with after-tax money, meaning contributions aren’t deducible but funds withdrawn when you retire are also not taxed as income.

First-time home buyers can often take money out of their Roth IRA to buy a home without paying a penalty. You can withdraw the amount you’ve contributed tax- and penalty-free, and then, once the contribution amount is maxed, you can take out as much as $10,000 of the account’s earnings.

Historically, IRAs have earned high interest of 7% to 10%, and money can be accessed within a few days. But keep in mind that Roth IRA contributions are capped at $6,000 for 2020, so you can save only so much per year. And you can’t repay the money you take out like you can with a 401(k). So once you take it out, even to buy a home, it’s gone and you miss out on the years of accumulating interest.

Investment accounts

Best for: People buying a home in five years or more

The stock market fluctuates, so investing and hoping your money grows before you buy a house with it can be a risky move. Still, if your time horizon for home buying is more than a few years off, this could be a decent option where your money could expand by as much as 10% during boom market years.

“Higher risk typically means greater return,” Graziano says. “But keep in mind there is no guarantee when investing in the stock market. The account may lose value, too.”

Investing in the stock market can be complex, and you may owe fees and commissions.

McDaniels suggests carefully examining your financial situation and home-buying plans to evaluate the benefits and risks. And when you sell your stock, it can take up to three days to see your money, according to rules set by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Make sure the cash is accessible

Wherever you choose to put your money, make sure it’s accessible when you find your home.

“The timeline and flexibility with the amount of down payment are the two biggest factors that a buyer should take into consideration,” McDaniels says. “Someone who has a flexible timeline or already has a portion of their down payment might want to consider an investment account. While someone who is just starting to save or plans to buy in a shorter timeframe (of a few months) might be best suited for a savings account.”

Exactly how much you need to save for a down payment varies by your lender and the type of loan you get. Before you buy a home, McDaniels recommends saving 20% of your take-home pay, as well as three to six months of your mortgage payment.

Lenders usually require 60 days of asset account statements verifying the funds needed for the home purchase, and the source of any large deposits.

“Money kept at home in a safe commonly known as ‘mattress money’ is not eligible to be used for the down payment or closing costs,” Graziano says.

Article by Erica Sweeney

How to Kill Weeds: Natural, Nontoxic Ways to Win the War This Summer

lolostock/istock

Wondering how to kill weeds? Most homeowners with a lawn struggle with this issue all summer. And for good reason—battling weeds is like one giant game of Whac-A-Mole. As soon as you kill one, another pops up in its place. So what’s a lawn lover to do? Allow us to show you the ropes, with some honest answers about herbicides and natural weed killers. This will help you keep your yard, garden, and even the cracks in your driveway from being overtaken by these wily green intruders.

Are herbicides safe?

Spraying weeds with herbicide has traditionally been the way Americans have won the war on weeds. In recent years, however, concerns have cropped up about how these toxic chemicals might affect our health. Are any weed killers entirely safe to use?

The Environmental Protection Agency does evaluate all pesticides and herbicides to ensure they meet federal safety standards that protect human health and the environment before they can be sold in the United States, so there’s some level of comfort in that.

Damon Milotte, general manager at Tailor Made Lawns, says herbicides are most dangerous in their concentrated form. “The biggest risk is to the person who is doing the mixing of the pesticides,” he says. “Once diluted, the danger goes way down.”

If you do choose to use an herbicide, he says it’s imperative that you follow the label instructions and re-entry time guidelines, so that children and pets don’t play on the lawn too soon after it is applied.

“The label is the law,” says Milotte. “Read the precautionary statement, wear the proper personal protective equipment, and follow all instructions explicitly. When mixed properly, applied properly, and the re-entry time is followed properly, there should be no issues.”

Still worried? Have a licensed lawn professional do the work if it will help give you peace of mind.

How to kill weeds naturally

What if you want to err on the side of caution and go the eco-friendly route—can you still wipe out weeds? There are plenty of natural recipes online for homemade weed killers using everything from vinegar to cornmeal and salt, but none are all that effective, says Jake Hill, a research analyst with LawnStarter Lawn Care. There are, however, some proven all-natural techniques to keep weeds at bay. Here are a few to try:

  • Crowd out weeds with a healthy lawn. The best defense against weeds invading your lawn is keeping the grass healthy to begin with. This technique is called “crowding out the weeds.” Proper lawn maintenance habits, such as keeping your mower blade sharp and mowing during the mornings and evenings, as opposed to the hottest part of the day, are easy steps you can take to keep your lawn healthy.
  • Keep bare patches to a minimum. Weeds sprout the fastest in bare patches of lawn where the grass is either dead or dying. To avoid lifeless patches of dirt, right before the grass begins to grow in the spring, it’s a good idea to overseed (in other words, plant extra seeds to thicken your lawn) and aerate, which adds oxygen to the soil.
  • Make sure you don’t cut the lawn too short. This technique coincides with crowding out the weeds. A common mistake made by homeowners, in an attempt to increase the time they can leave before they have to mow their lawn again, is to cut the grass really short. But this risks scalping the lawn, creating the perfect opportunity for weeds to creep in while the grass struggles to grow back to its optimal height. As a general rule, never remove more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.
  • Water grass infrequently and deeply. Frequent watering in short bursts results in grass with shallow roots; it also helps crabgrass, chickweed, sedges, and other weed seeds to germinate. However, if you water too little, the lawn suffers, while weeds adapted to drier soil, like spotted spurge, Bermuda grass, and quack grass, can thrive. The best compromise is to give your lawn deep soakings about once a week. Most types of grass need only about an inch of water per week. Set an empty tuna can on the lawn to check on when you have applied 1 inch of water.
  • Handpick weeds the right way. Handpicking weeds can certainly nip them in the bud. Just make sure to pull them up slowly, in order to remove the entire root system. Simply picking the stem will allow the weed to grow right back in where it was.

The bottom line: Constant vigilance is key.

“Even if you do everything perfectly and eliminate every weed from your property, every time there’s a strong wind, you are receiving weed seed delivery from neighboring properties,” Milotte says. “Weed seed can be smaller than a grain of sand, and its only job is to find a place to land and grow to create the next batch of seeds.”

So keep your eyes peeled, and get your grass in great condition to fight the good fight.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

How To Host a Socially Distant Barbecue in Your Own Backyard

Halfpoint / Getty Images

While the novel coronavirus may have people canceling big graduation bashes, birthday parties, or other large get-togethers this season, as many states start to reopen and allow small gatherings of up to 10 people, homeowners are more than ready to break out the grill and have a little fun.

While meeting with anyone outside your home’s inhabitants could raise your exposure levels to COVID-19, meeting outdoors has lower risks than convening inside, due to increased air circulation.

“As long as you’ve been quarantined and are meeting with others who’ve followed similar practices, it makes the situation low-risk for transmission of the virus,” says Andrew Janowski, M.D., an instructor in pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine.

Furthermore, there are many things you can do during your gathering to keep it as safe as possible. So if you’re determined to do some true face time with your friends or family, here’s how to host a socially distant backyard barbecue or gathering that can help keep everyone as safe as possible this summer.

Spread wide—even outside

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc.

Don’t sit on top of one another—instead, double up on furniture, with a picnic table and a folding table so each family has its own personal space.

“Talking induces significant production of saliva droplets from the mouth, but being outdoors helps reduce the chances that the virus could spread more so than in a confined space,” says Janowski.

“Arrange seating that forces social distancing, so a table that usually fits six people should be set up for four,” says Andrea Correale of Elegant Affairs Catering. This way, your guests will see you’re being responsible and sensitive to the situation and they’ll feel more relaxed, she adds.

Make it BYO

Photo by Design Really Matters

Communal bowls of macaroni salad should give you pause, so let your guests know it’s BYO food.

“Using any shared utensils and dishes comes with the risk of spreading the virus as does congregating near the food, so remember to maintain social distancing even when you’re hungry,” says Janowski.

With the BYO option, families can sit apart with their own snacks and watermelon and you won’t have to worry about the virus on bowls and platters.

“You absolutely should not share any side dishes—it’s just not worth the risk,” says Janet Morgan, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic.

Highlight hand washing

Upon arrival, direct guests to an easily accessible spot to wash up like the kitchen sink.

“It’s better than a bathroom since there’s no contact with door handles,” says Bill Taradash, owner and head chef at The Party Box Caterers.

Or offer those little wet wipes you get with a lobster dinner or other hand-sanitizing cloths.

“Try to keep it light and funny, with a cute sign by the sink so people don’t feel like they’re eating in a hospital,” he says.

Designate a guest bath

Photo by Roomscapes Cabinetry and Design Center

Rather than have every bathroom in the house be available to your guests, announce that one is open for use and direct people there (or hang a sign on the door so it’s clear). This way, you have to disinfect only a small area after people have departed.

Serve everything grilled

Photo by Fire Magic Grills – Robert H Peterson Company

If you’d rather not deal with the BYO option, you might consider making the whole menu a grilled affair. Heat renders the virus inactive, says Janowski.

Ideas to try: kielbasa, brats, burgers, and veggies of every kind (e.g., eggplant slices, peppers, onions, and planks of summer squash and zucchini).

“Designate one person as the grill server, and have him or her wear a mask and gloves to handle the serving spoon and fork, and then he should remove the gloves after serving,” says Taradash.

For additional safety, serve the food straight off the grill so it doesn’t have a chance to pick up any germs on a serving plate being passed back and forth.

Skip dips—and use disposables

Now is not the time for one big bowl of guacamole or salsa.

“If you want to serve chips and dip, make individual cups or plates to pass out,” says Taradash.

Correale likes tiny Lucite vessels, votive holders, or paper cones for holding crudités, cheese and crackers, and even shrimp cocktail.

And individual bottles of lemonade, iced tea, and beer are better than a keg, large urn, or pitcher that everyone has to handle.

“Disposable plates and utensils are safer, too, and if you can offer eco ware like paper and bamboo over plastic, then all the better,” adds Taradash.

Choose games carefully

Photo by Linden L.A.N.D. Group

Badminton is a yes; football or any contact sport, no. Pick activities that allow for some distance among players, like a game of whiffle ball or throwing a Frisbee back and forth.

And if you have a swimming pool, go ahead and dive in. Water itself isn’t a conduit of COVID-19, but the CDC does recommend providing enough kickboards and pool noodles to cut down on the the need to share them, and potentially spread germs.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Panic Soup For Pandemic Times

Miriam Szokovski

With so much uncertainty and anxiety in the world right now, as things evolve hour by hour, I think it’s fair to say all of us are feeling unsettled to some degree or another. I, for one, have done a fair bit of panicking (some of which somehow resulted in this soup).

This soup will not fix all your problems or make your anxiety evaporate. But it’s warm and comforting and will last all week in the fridge so you can keep coming back to it, until it starts to feel like a familiar old friend (at which point you should probably start socially distancing yourself from it. Also you’ll likely be sick of it by then.)

Everyone shops and stocks their pantry differently. These are ingredients I tend to have on hand, but the recipe is fluid and things can be added, omitted, or substituted.

  • The onion, carrot, and celery create a strong flavor base. Things you could use instead: other types of onions, and root vegetables with strong flavor like parsnip, parsley root, celeriac, etc.
  • Instead of the cabbage you could use kale, collared greens, spinach, or swiss chard.
  • If you use broth, you don’t really need the chicken. If you use water (like I did), the chicken is a good way to amp up the flavor of the broth. But it’s also ok to skip and use neither. There is enough flavor in the rest of the ingredients.
  • The chickpeas can be replaced with other types of beans or legumes.
  • Instead of pasta you could use rice, barley, quinoa, or couscous (but much less. Use 1/2 – 2/3 cup of any of these.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 large zucchini
  • ¼ small cabbage
  • 1 (28 oz. / 800 gram) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz. / 425 gram) can chickpeas
  • 10 cups water or broth
  • Optional: 4 chicken wings (or 1 full leg)
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 cups pasta (any shape)

Directions

  1. Chop the veggies into bite-size pieces. Put all ingredients except the pasta into a pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for one hour.
  2. Remove the chicken.
  3. Return the soup to a rolling boil and add the pasta. Wait for the soup to return to a boil once the pasta has been added. Then simmer another 20-30 minutes until pasta is cooked.
  4. Remove the chicken bones and skin. Shred the meat and return to the soup.

NOTE: If you use broth, you don’t really need the chicken. If you use water (like I did), the chicken is a good way to increase the flavor of the broth. But it’s also ok to skip and use neither. There is enough flavor in the rest of the ingredients.

NOTE: If you’re not adding the pasta, only use 7-8 cups of water.

Yields: More than expected!

Recipe by Miriam Szokovski

How the Fed’s rate decisions affect mortgage rates

The Federal Reserve does not set mortgage rates but its actions do indirectly influence the rates consumers pay on their fixed-rate home loans when they refinance or take out a new mortgage.

The Federal Reserve sets borrowing costs for shorter-term loans in the U.S. by moving its federal funds rate. The Fed is set to meet Wednesday to discuss the funds rate, which is currently set near zero. The rate governs how much banks pay each other in interest to borrow funds from their reserves kept at the Fed on an overnight basis. Mortgages, on the other hand, tend to track the 10-year Treasury rate.

Changes to the federal funds rate may or may not move the rate on the 10-year Treasury, which are bonds issued by the government that mature in a decade. Though a Fed rate cut doesn’t directly push down yields on the 10-year, it can lead to the same outcome. Investors worried about the economy after a rate cut might flock to the safe-haven asset that is the 10-year Treasury, pushing down yields.

The Fed also influences mortgage rates through monetary policy, such as when it buys or sells debt securities in the marketplace. In early March, for example, the pandemic caused severe disruption in the Treasury market, making the cost of borrowing money more expensive than the Fed wanted it to be. In response, the Federal Reserve announced it would  purchase billions of dollars in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, or MBS. The move was to support the flow of credit, which helped push mortgage rates down to record lows in the days and weeks that followed.

What influences mortgage rates

Fixed-rate mortgages are tied to the 10-year Treasury rate. When that rate goes up, the popular 30-year fixed rate mortgage tends to do the same and vice-versa.

Rates for fixed mortgages are influenced by other factors. Mortgage rates influenced by supply and demand. When mortgage lenders have too much business, they ratchet up rates to quell demand. When business is slack, they tend to cut rates to attract more customers.

Price inflation pushes on rates as well. When inflation is low, rates trend lower. When inflation picks up, so do fixed mortgage rates.

The secondary market where investors buy mortgage-backed securities plays a role. Most lenders bundle the mortgages they underwrite and sell them in the secondary marketplace to investors. When investor demand is high, mortgage rates trend a little lower. When investors aren’t buying, rates may rise to attract buyers.

What Fed rate decisions mean for mortgages

The Fed sets the federal funds rate. This is an interest rate applied to money that banks and other depository institutions lend to each other overnight.

The fed funds rate affects short-term loans, such as credit card debt and adjustable-rate mortgages which, unlike conventional fixed-rate mortgages, have a floating interest rate that goes up and down with the market on a monthly basis. Long-term rates for fixed-rate mortgages are generally not affected by changes in the federal funds rate.

At this point, if the Fed wanted to reduce rates again to stimulate the economy, it would have to push rates into negative territory, a move that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said is not being contemplated.

What to consider if you’re shopping for a mortgage

When you’re shopping for a mortgage compare interest rates and APR, which is the total cost of the mortgage. Some lenders might advertise low interest rates, but offset them with high fees — which are reflected in the APR.

You can begin comparison shopping online, by checking rate tables, reading reviews and going directly to lenders’ websites.

If you have a relationship with a lender, bank or credit union, find out what interest rate or customer discount you might qualify for. Often, lenders will work with customers to give them a better deal than they might otherwise get at another place.

Mortgage rates are at historic lows, so while you can and should pay attention to the Fed and the economy, your best move if you need a property loan is to get a rate that suits your budget and goals rather than trying to wait for rates to fall even more.

Article by Natalie Campisi, Senior mortgage reporter

Selling Your Home in the Age of Coronavirus? Here Are All Your Top Questions, Answered

Melpomenem/Getty Images

With every day of this pandemic feeling like it brings a fresh batch of news, you’d be forgiven for feeling confused about the actual state of things now. While many cities start to reopen—and some continue to experience a high volume of new COVID-19 cases—it’s hard to know how any sector of the economy is doing, especially the real estate market.

Are things getting back to normal? Is now an OK (or even appropriate) time to consider selling a home? Whether you’re curious about the timing of a sale or the nitty-gritty details of how it will all go down, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve gathered advice from the real estate experts to answer your most pressing questions about selling a home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Can I sell my house during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Selling a house should always be based on a number of factors, particularly with regard to your family’s health and financial situation. But to cut to the chase: Yes, you can still sell a home during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly now that states are beginning to reopen.

In most markets, inventories are low and prices are high—which means you can still make a profitable sale.

“Now’s a great time to sell,” says Michelle Sloan, a broker and a Realtor® who’s with Re/Max Time Cincinnati. “With low inventory and high buyer interest, many homes are selling very quickly—within days or hours in some cases. Interest rates are also low, and there’s serious pent-up demand for homes, especially in lower price ranges.”

Is it safe to sell your home during such an outbreak?

Selling your home during a pandemic means extra precautions.Siriporn Carrelli/Getty Images

You might be asking yourself if it’s safe to go through the traditional home showing and selling process. Assuming your family members are all in good health, there are several precautions your real estate agent can take to safely show your home to interested buyers.

“We’re allowing showings, but with safety in mind,” Sloan says.

For her team, that means no overlapping showings, no children in the house, masks on, shoes off, and hand sanitizer at the door. She also recommends people leave all of their lights on and doors open (even for closets), since this translates into fewer surfaces being touched.

Are houses even selling now?

Yes! The fact is that people still need to move, pandemic or no pandemic. For instance, in Austin, TX, at least 400 homes “and counting” are closing every single week, reports Regine Nelson with Wealthward Realty.

“Austin is low on inventory; we still have more people moving here than we have housing available,” she says.

Other markets, like Tampa, FL, are seeing a similar trend in sales.

“Houses are definitely selling now,” says Nadia Anac, a Realtor with Reagan Realty. “In my market, I’ve even been in multiple-offer situations.”

The key to these kinds of numbers seems to be in the inventory: Markets with low inventory are seeing houses sold quickly. As always, we’d recommend chatting with a local real estate agent to get the pulse on exactly how your market is performing.

Should I sell my house during a recession?

Since this recession is largely dictated by the pandemic, it’s almost impossible to keep the two separate. But if you do decide to sell during this period of economic downturn, take the time to consider your own financial stability, as well as the conditions of the market you’re moving to.

“If you planned to sell your home due to relocation, a short sale, or moving for larger space, then I would recommend proceeding—but with caution,” says Nelson. “Do you have another home or area in mind? Always be sure to see if what you are seeking is available or will be available when you’re ready to find a property to purchase.”

And while the buyer pool has undoubtedly shrunk in the past few weeks, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Homes are still selling, but lending requirements have tightened, meaning buyers are more qualified and ready to move forward,” says Karen Parnes, owner of NextHome Your Way.

Will I have competition if I try to sell my house right now?

Even during a pandemic, you can expect some competition from other sellers.georgeclerk/Getty Images

“You’re likely to have much less competition as a seller right now,” Parnes says, since potential sellers are still wary about putting their homes on the market amid a pandemic. (These conditions are expected to change as summer ramps up; more on that later.)

But Nelson advises her clients to avoid getting caught up in the competition, and focus instead on the things they can control—like competitive pricing, getting their home in a good state, and having a solid marketing strategy.

Another point to remember? Competition happens on both sides of the street.

“Once you sell, you’re way more likely to have competition as a buyer,” says Parnes.

Should I expect to sell for less right now?

Not necessarily. Although the economy’s experiencing a recession, that doesn’t mean prices are going down.

“There are less buyers, but there are also a lot less homes on the market,” says Parnes. “The old rule of supply and demand still holds.”

While some predicted a price drop for 2020, experts now expect the summer home-buying market to be much hotter than expected, as many Americans feel more secure in their jobs and can physically step into the homes they are considering.

While you might not have to drop your price, Anac reminds her clients that they may need to be more patient in pursuing a good sale.

“If your house is priced correctly, and depending on your market, it may just take a little bit longer to sell,” she says.

How can I sell my house without allowing buyers to walk through?

If you’re selling, now’s the time to make the most of virtual tours.dem10/Getty Images

It may be the safest option, but it’s not the easiest to pull off. Understandably, buyers want to see the home they’re buying in person. And no, telling them they can walk the property without entering won’t help matters much.

“It’s mostly impossible to sell your home with no showings or [prospective buyers] in the home at all,” says Parnes, although she admits “real estate transactions are still happening in states where showings are not allowed and being done completely virtually.”

If you have special health concerns or live with someone who’s considered high-risk, talk with your real estate agent about the possibility of virtual showings. Otherwise, consider just cleaning up thoroughly after would-be buyers leave.

Should I stage my house?

This room was virtually staged with furniture for adults.VHT Studios

“Staged homes always sell faster,” says Anac, “but especially in times like these.”

The real question isn’t whether you should stage your house, but how you should stage it. With more tours and showings happening online, you might consider having your home virtually staged rather than actually inviting people into your home to decorate it.

How can I prepare my home for a virtual tour?

A virtual tour can run the gamut from a live walk-through with an agent on FaceTime to a sophisticated 3D rendering from companies such as Matterport. But for the most part you want to prepare for a virtual tour the same way you would for a still-photo shoot—by decluttering it, upping the curb appeal, and making sure nothing is broken or an eyesore.

“Make sure everything is clean, all lights are turned on, fans are off, blinds are open, surfaces are cleared, and everything is put away,” advises Anac.

How can I close remotely?

States are handling remote closings a little differently, so the short answer is to ask your real estate agent. The long answer: The way settlements are being handled varies quite a bit.

“Some, but not all, states have remote settlements,” says Parnes. “Some have approved it temporarily, and those that don’t are typically splitting the buyers and sellers at settlement and having only the essential people involved at the table.”

Article by Larissa Runkle

Can Your Pool Kill the Coronavirus? And Everything Else You Should Know About Swimming During a Pandemic

By now, you may have heard that the novel coronavirus can live up to three days on some surfaces. But what about in your swimming pool? Is there any way you could get the virus from your afternoon dip?

The short answer: You probably won’t get the virus from pool water. But a pool is still a risky environment as far as social distancing and person-to-person transmission are concerned.

So before you head for a swim in your backyard or community pool, read on for expert advice on how to keep yourself and other swimmers safe.

Pool water doesn’t spread the virus, but people do

“If you look at what the CDC has to say, there’s no evidence that [the coronavirus] spreads in water,” says Bill Carroll, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University. “It can’t reproduce in water. This is not like a food-borne virus that you can eat, and it’s not a water-borne virus. This is an inhaled virus, and in order to be infected, you have to be inhaling it.”

Plus, the chemicals in your pool or hot tub can help kill the virus.

“Chlorine in pool water inactivates the virus so it is no longer infectious,” says Dr. Chris J. Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council. “A properly maintained pool protects swimmers from the virus in pool water.”

But outside of the water, the virus can spread among people—and the risk is especially high at a community aquatic center or an apartment building pool where lots of swimmers come and go.

“If you’re going to be exposed to the coronavirus, it’s because you’re going to the pool and there’s other people there and you’re not social distancing,” Carroll says.

Be smart about social distancing at the pool

If you go to a community or friend’s pool, remember to practice social distancing and avoid coming within 6 feet of anyone you don’t live with.

“If possible, sanitize chairs before sitting down,” Wiant says. “Minimize time in the locker room by coming dressed to swim, and shower at home both before and after swimming.”

When it comes to your face mask, you should never wear a cloth mask when you’re underwater.

“If your head is going to be underwater, a mask isn’t going to do a damn thing for anybody,” Carroll says. But if you’re standing in the shallow end or lounging poolside, be sure to wear your mask to protect other people.

You can also call the pool ahead of time to ask what precautions are being taken to keep people safe, like limiting the number of swimmers and spacing lounge chairs at least 6 feet apart. And remember: If you’re feeling sick or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, stay home.

Normal pool maintenance should be enough to inactivate the virus

Pool water maintenance guidelines haven’t changed in the wake of COVID-19, Wiant says. If you’re responsible for maintaining a public pool, follow the CDC guidelines and check the pH and chlorine levels twice a day, or more if you have a lot of swimmers in the water.

For a residential pool, “there’s nothing special you need to do” beyond your normal weekly maintenance, Carroll says. Stick to your usual pool cleaning routine: Test your pH at least once a week and make sure you have plenty of chlorine available. It’s also a good idea to hyperchlorinate once a week to ward off cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that can make swimmers severely ill.

Pool vs. beach: Which option is better?

If you’re worried about coming into contact with other people at the pool and you live near a natural body of water, you may be considering heading to the beach instead.

Properly maintained pools offer an advantage with its chlorine and chemicals that inactivate the virus, but “beaches have large volumes of moving water that dilute virus particles efficiently and reduce risk of exposure to the virus,” Wiant says. Ultimately, “the safest place to swim is wherever there are the fewest people.”

Before you head to the beach, check with your local health department to make sure the water has been tested recently and is safe for swimming.

Please, please, please: Don’t pee in the pool

We hope it goes without saying, but you really need to adhere to proper hygiene while in the pool.

“Shower before swimming, and never pee in the pool,” Wiant says. “The contaminants people bring into the water use up the chlorine, making less available to disinfect against viruses, like the coronavirus, and bacteria.”

Article by Lauren Sieben