Best-Ever Grilled Cheese

Photo by Michael Graydon Nikole Herriott

After rigorous scientific testing for this best-ever grilled cheese, we’ve determined that sandwiches sliced in half on a diagonal actually taste better.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 slices ½”-thick Pullman or other white bread
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced American cheese or cheddar (about 4 slices)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Campbell’s Tomato Soup (for serving; optional)

RECIPE PREPARATION

  • Place bread on a cutting board and spread mayonnaise over top side of each; this is key to a golden, delectable crunch. Heat a small skillet (nonstick, ideally) over medium. Slide in half of butter. When it melts, place 1 slice of bread, mayonnaise side down, in skillet; top with cheese; season with pepper. Top with second slice of bread, mayonnaise side up. When underside is golden brown, about 4 minutes, turn sandwich and add remaining butter to skillet. Press down on sandwich to encourage even browning and to help melt cheese—be gentle, don’t smash it. Cook until second side is golden brown and cheese is melted. Eat immediately, preferably with soup.

    Recipe by Alison Roman

6 Refinancing Mistakes Homeowners Risk Making Right Now

wutwhanfoto/Getty Images

Between low mortgage interest rates and the coronavirus pandemic sending our economy in a tailspin, many people have recently rushed to refinance their mortgages. But as we all know, haste makes waste—and many of those eager homeowners made mistakes that could cost them tons of money in the long run.

So if you’re tempted to jump on the refinance bandwagon, do so with caution. To help clue you in to where the pitfalls lie, here are six mortgage refinancing mistakes to avoid.

Mistake No. 1: Assuming that a federal rate of 0% means you can get a 0% mortgage rate

In an effort to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Reserve dropped the federal funds rate to a range between 0% and 0.25%. Many people assumed that this meant that mortgage rates would fall into that range, too. That is not the case, as it happens.

“I think one of the most misunderstood things that people are seeing right now is the news about interest rates going to 0%,” says Ryan Wright at Do Hard Money.

The reason? Wright explains that the Federal Reserve interest rate, the prime rate, and the actual rate someone’s lender will offer are all different.

The federal funds rate, which is what the Fed sets, is the rate that banks pay to borrow from each other. This actually doesn’t directly affect mortgage rates, but it does have a trickle-down effect.

The mortgage rate reports that come out weekly typically compile the average rate for a 30-year loan. But there are a lot of variables, including where you live and what your borrower profile looks like. Prime borrowers, with the best credit score and debt-to-income ratio, get the cheapest rates. Meanwhile, if you aren’t the ideal borrower, your rate is likely to be higher.

Moreover, interest rates have been going up and down in the last few weeks, and are likely to continue in this way before they level out. As a prospective refinancer, it’s important to stay informed, and not to try to refinance with unreasonable expectations.

Mistake No. 2: Jumping on the refinancing trend too late

With so many people refinancing, you might be tempted to do the same. Unfortunately, it may already be too late.

That’s right: Good news travels fast, and with so many people rushing to refinance, lenders have been inundated by the demand, and rates have gone up.

“We are seeing a major influx of refi applications to capture lower interest rates,” Nicole Rueth, a mortgage lender with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation explains. But it’s not just homeowners hoping to score a deal during a dip in the economy. Plenty more are visiting lenders to prepare for an uncertain future.

Rueth reports that she’s seen many homeowners who are leveraging equity with cash-out refis, aiming to secure a nest egg to prepare for the ongoing COVID-19 emergency.

And it’s not just Rueth who’s experienced the surge in refinancing. As of March 11, the volume of refinancing applications was up 79% from the previous week and 479% year over year, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Since the industry wasn’t prepared to process all these applications, many lenders hiked up rates in an effort to slow business.

“Mortgage rates move according to supply and demand and liquidity in the market,” Mike Zschunke, a real estate specialist in Arizona, says. “The more people that want to refinance or that apply for new mortgages, the higher the rates will go.”

Mistake No. 3: Forgetting about refinancing fees

As stated above, it may be hard to get a good refinance rate, now that so many homeowners have gone running to their lenders. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find a better rate than the one you currently have.

But the promise of a lower rate doesn’t necessarily mean you should refinance.

A refinance will come with plenty of fees and closing costs, and sometimes those fees can make your refinance cost even more than you’d save on the lower rate.

“People should know that just because their new interest rate may be lower than their current interest rate, it may not make sense,” says Roger Ma, a certified financial planner. “They need to consider how much longer they’ll be staying or keeping their current place, the upfront closing costs involved, and the ongoing interest savings.”

If you crunch the numbers and realize that, in the long run, a refinance will be worth the costs up front, great!

Just make sure you know what fees you’re facing so you can make an educated decision.

Mistake No. 4: Refinancing too much equity out of your home in a time of uncertainty

There are many reasons to refinance, but if you’re planning to tap into your home equity—to, say, consolidate your debt or pay for home improvements or other expenses—watch out.

“We should be concerned about people refinancing too much equity out of their homes and not being able to afford the mortgage payment,” says Odest Riley Jr. of WLM Financial. “This is especially the case if the COVID-19 virus causes any type of economic downturn, which could tighten up a homeowner’s ability to keep up with their financial obligations.”

So if you’re refinancing—even with a lower interest rate—make sure that your new monthly payments make sense for your budget. Before you make any big decisions, remember that rates are low for a reason, and in this time of national and international financial uncertainty, it may be best to play it safe, financially speaking.

Mistake No. 5: Expecting to lock in your lender’s quoted rates and fees ASAP

Since the rates could go up (or down) while you’re in the process of refinancing, it’s always good practice to lock in your lender’s rate to ensure you’ll be paying what you expect. This lock may cost a fee.

But with all the volatility in the market these days, locking in rates can be especially tricky. It can be difficult to get a lender to look at your application, let alone lock in a rate, before the rates move again.

If you’re lucky enough to lock in a rate that works for you, even if it’s not the best rate you’ve seen, you might want to take the opportunity while you can. Here’s more on when to lock in a mortgage rate.

Mistake No. 6: Shopping for the right loan for too long

With today’s online financial tools, like this mortgage rate comparison tool, there’s no excuse to not get the lowest rate possible. Still, experts warn against falling into a black hole of shopping for the best rate indefinitely, always thinking you can find a better deal.

“I have many clients who are too focused on rates or making a perfect decision on small details of their loan—so much so that they are likely to miss out on an incredible opportunity in an effort to make a perfect decision,” says Todd Huettner with Huettner Capital.

“A few are in a position where they could save thousands of dollars a year—tax-free, no less—by refinancing, but they are waiting to start the process. Many of them will get left behind.”

Plenty of people track rates as they sink, waiting to pounce when rates drop to their absolute lowest, but Huettner says this isn’t the best tactic.

“If you think you can time the bottom, you can’t. You can only get lucky,” says Huettner. “Find a rate that makes sense for you, and jump on it if you get it.”

Article by Jillian Pretzel

 

‘Why We’re Selling Our Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic’

AlexSava/Getty Images

On March 10, my husband and I decided to list our home this spring—smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

This was not a decision we took lightly. Derrick and I had been thinking about putting our Chicago condo on the market for a while. Having lived in our two-bed, two-bath home for four years, 2020 was going to be when we’d finally “settle down” somewhere quieter and closer to our families.

Plus, we figured at the time that getting in on the spring buying season would be key.

Our condo building in Chicago, where we’ve lived for four yearsrealtor.com

On March 11, we emailed a local real estate agent, Paul Barker of Barker Group, who specialized in our Northside neighborhood and had sent us a marketing flyer last year. We made plans for the three of us to meet at our condo a few days later.

But that week, as things began to really get weird in Chicago—like panic shopping at grocery stores and sports seasons canceling­—we questioned whether we’d need to meet virtually instead. Barker assured us we’d be fine, however.

“I need to do a walk-through, but we will keep our distance, and I won’t have to touch anything,” he told me. “Then, after I’ve researched and put together a plan, we can have a virtual meeting to go over the marketing strategies and pricing.”

We met in our living room, and I had to silently reprimand Derrick for reaching for Barker’s hand as he opened the door. (Barker politely declined.) Social distancing was a new concept at that time, and we were still figuring out the new social norms.

After doing a walk-through, we sat at opposite ends of our sectional in the living room and felt confident we were doing the right thing by listing our condo now. At the time, home buyer traffic online was still at a relatively normal level, Barker assured us, and he’d be able to schedule a photographer in the next few days.

‘I could tell things had changed’

But a week later, we hadn’t heard from him. I followed up and learned he’d like to meet with us over Zoom to discuss our listing. From the minute we connected, I could tell that things had changed—even the tone of his voice was different.

We could still go ahead with the listing, Barker said; however, it was going to be a little more trouble than expected. For instance, only one of his regular photographers was still working; the others were refusing to go into other people’s homes and potentially be exposed to the virus. Showing requests had now dropped to 10% of their normal level.

Things didn’t look good. Once our call with our agent was over, Derrick and I talked through our options.

While we were both nervous at the thought of having strangers tour our home, Barker had assured us they were taking precautions to keep both homeowners and buyers safe during the process. For one, there would be no public open houses. To lower his exposure risk, Barker would not be present for showings, instead allowing the buyer’s agent to tour the home with buyers.

Plus, if we decided to close our home for showings, our agent said, it wouldn’t count against us. This is why: In the past, multiple listing service regulations required a listing to be removed from “active” status if the home couldn’t be showed for an extended period of time. But this has been changed for the time being, during the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, listings without showings can remain active.

In addition, if your listing has the “temporarily no showings” status, the market time will also be frozen. This means it wouldn’t accrue days on market—which can count against sellers because they can make a listing seem stale.

Finally, while showings were down, they were in fact still happening—so there was a chance we could still sell our home during this crazy time, and be able to move out of Chicago in the time frame we’d planned. In the end, we concluded that we really had nothing to lose by going on the market now.

A home seller’s new secret weapon: 3D virtual tours

Our living roomrealtor.com

The good news with moving forward as planned, our real estate agent told us, was that online traffic was actually up from the previous month. But with showing requests down, we’d have to up our game online. How? By adding a 3D virtual tour to our listing. Creating a virtual tour would entail hiring a specialized photographer and equipment—which our agent’s firm would provide.

We were told that a still photographer was available to come March 31 and a 3D photographer on April 1. Both appointments would take an hour or less. So, before each appointment, we loaded our cat, Monty, into his carrier and went for a drive while the photographers did their work.

A couple of days after both appointments, Barker sent us links to view both the photos and the 3D model—and we were thrilled by how they turned out.

My home in 3D “dollhouse” modeMatterport

Our listing finally went live on Saturday, April 4, and within two hours of posting, Barker already had a showing request for the very next day. A couple had loved our condo from what they saw on the 3D tour so much that they wanted to see it in person.

“Hoping this could be a one-and-done situation,” Barker added.

We’d been thinking of getting out of Chicago for a while, as the coronavirus pandemic was predicted to peak there soon, so when our agent said he wanted to schedule the showing for the following day at 11 a.m., we figured now was as good a time as any to temporarily relocate. We spent Saturday packing the car and departed Sunday morning, making the 10-hour drive to Alabama to stay with Derrick’s family.

We figured this temporary move would not only be a good opportunity for a change of scenery, it would also help our agent sell our place. He said it would be more appealing to do showings if he could tell potential buyers that we were not home—which would allow buyers faster access to the place while posing less of a health risk.

3D view of our second bedroom, used as an officeMatterport

While we felt very hopeful that morning, the one-and-done situation hasn’t exactly materialized—so far.

Barker said the couple who came for the showing were looking for a condo with two parking spaces (a near impossibility in Chicago; our place has only a single garage space) and decided for the time being it was priced too high for them.

The kitchenrealtor.com

However, Derrick and I remain optimistic that we’ll be able to sell soon, based on the online traffic we’ve seen. By Barker’s calculations, listings with 3D tours are seeing about 250% more online views right now than listings without.

Overall, it was a pleasant surprise to see how many people are still shopping for homes during the coronavirus outbreak. We guess time will tell whether we’ll be able to sell and move on permanently in the near future, so stay tuned for updates!

Our outdoor spacerealtor.com

If you want more guidance for your own situation, please feel free to reach out to Cindy Soderstrom (708-288-2098), Broker Associate, Pattie Murray Team, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services-Chicago.

Article by Kelsey Ogletree

Brad Pitt Teams Up With the Property Brothers for an Epic ‘Celebrity IOU’

HGTV; realtor.com

What’s better than the stars of “Property Brothers”? How about those stars, Drew and Jonathan Scott, renovating alongside Brad Pitt?

The Scott brothers just premiered a new HGTV show, “Celebrity IOU,” where they help celebrities do a surprise renovation for a loved one. And on the premiere episode, “Brad Pitt’s Gifting a Back Yard,” Pitt calls in the brothers to help him create a stunning guesthouse for his good friend (and Santa Monica makeup artist) Jean.

This means the brothers and their crew must turn a 400-square-foot garage into a luxurious guesthouse, complete with a kitchen and full bathroom. But can they pull this off in just three weeks? Read on to find out how Pitt helps speed up the renovation, and what we can all learn about how to make guests swoon.

A Murphy bed makes a space multifunctional

Brad Pitt and Jonathan Scott relax on Jean’s comfy new couch.HGTV

As it turns out, Pitt is quite handy when it comes to renovation. On demo day he joins the brothers in busting down a wall in Jean’s garage so they can extend the floor plan a few feet.

And that extra space comes in handy when it comes time to shop for furniture. As Pitt says, he’s hoping to turn this garage into both a comfortable spot for Jean’s guests to stay and a cozy spot for her to practice makeup—so the furniture has to work for both purposes.

Who would have guessed this wall comes down to turn a living room into a bedroom?HGTV

The brothers end up finding a stylish Murphy bed that works as both a welcoming sitting area and a cozy bed. Talk about win-win!

A secret closet helps keep storage hidden

This may look like an unassuming bookshelf, but it’s actually a secret closet!HGTV

While the Scotts already know this space will need to do double duty, things get even trickier when Pitt mentions that Jean will need some storage for her many boxes of makeup and wigs.

The brothers find a creative solution by making a walk-in closet behind the bathroom. To add some fun to this storage space, they give the closet a “secret passageway” feel by installing a false bookcase that, when pulled, opens the door.

The brothers surprised both Pitt and Jean by hanging a picture of Jean’s parents on the inside door of the storage closet.HGTV

While Jean’s garage once looked like a storage warehouse, this closet hides the clutter and makes the space look like a clean, welcoming oasis.

Light fixtures can be fun

Pitt picked out these stunning lights himself.HGTV

When it comes to finishing details, Pitt knows exactly what Jean would like in her new, stylish bungalow. The brothers show him different samples for light fixtures, and while he isn’t impressed by the smaller pendant lights, he says that one larger light shade is “more fun.”

Pitt picks out the perfect light fixture.HGTV

It seems Pitt has an eye for design because his choice of big lighting fixtures really works in this small space. The color goes perfectly in the kitchen, and it brings a modern aesthetic to the bungalow.

A kitchen counter can double as a workspace

The mirror transforms this space from kitchen to makeup studio.HGTV

The brothers know this guesthouse will need some kitchen space—but it will also need an area for Jean to try out new makeup looks. So, they decide to combine these two areas by putting a light-up vanity mirror in the kitchen peninsula.

Jean loves her new mirror!HGTV

The mirror rises up and lowers down with the push of a button, transforming this kitchen into a makeup station fit for the stars. Cool!

Jonathan and Drew also choose white quartz for the countertop, which works perfectly for both a makeup table and a stylish kitchen.

Create an indoor-outdoor flow

This patio gives the guesthouse a great flow to the backyard.HGTV

Drew and Jonathan have the great idea to install a collapsible window wall so that this small space can open up to the backyard for indoor-outdoor living. But once the doors go in, the brothers realize that the space needs a back patio to feel finished.

They end up laying down some stone and adding furniture to give this guesthouse a perfect patio and a great space to sit and relax.

In the end, this patio looks perfect. It’s clean, fresh, and definitely welcoming.

Is this a ‘Celebrity IOU’ a success?

When Jean finally sees her former garage, she’s stunned. With Pitt’s modern style choices and the Scott brothers’ creative space solutions, Jean is blown away by this incredible renovation.

Article by Jillian Pretzel

Easy 30-Minute Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

The soup is easy, ready in 30-minutes, and has all the comforting qualities you want in classic chicken noodle soup. To save time, use storebought rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken. If you don’t have them all the herbs on hand, use what you do have. Egg noodles are my favorite but another pasta may be substituted and make sure to salt your soup to taste. My family loved the homey, classic flavors in the soup and I love that it it’s ready in a flash. It makes enough to stash half in the freezer for a rainy day or for winter cold and flu season.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced thin (about 1 1/2 large carrots)
  • 1 cup celery, sliced thin (about 2 stalks)
  • 1 cup sweet Vidalia or yellow onion, peeled and diced small (about 1 medium onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 64 ounces (8 cups) low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if desired
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • 12 ounces wide egg noodles (or your favorite noodles or pasta)
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (use storebought rotisserie chicken to save time; or roast or cook your own chicken in a skillet)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, optional
  • salt, to taste

Directions:

  1. To a large Dutch oven or stockpot, add the oil and heat over medium-high heat to warm.
  2. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and sauté for about 7 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften. Stir intermittently.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, pepper, and bring to a boil. Allow mixture to boil gently for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are fork-tender. Note – If you like brothier soup, add additional broth, possibly as much as an additional 64 ounces because as time passes the noodles will continue to absorb broth.
  5. Add the egg noodles and boil mixture for about 10 minutes, or until noodles are soft and cooked through. At any time while making the soup, if the overall liquid level is lower than you like and you prefer more broth, adding a cup or two of water is okay. At the end you will adjust the salt level.
  6. Add the chicken, parsley, optional lemon juice (brightens up the flavor), and boil 1 to 2 minutes, or until chicken is warmed through. Taste soup and add salt to taste. I added about 1 tablespoon but this will vary based on how salty the brand of chicken broth used is, how salty the rotisserie chicken is, and personal preference. Make any necessary seasoning adjustments (i.e. more salt, pepper, herbs, etc.), remove the bay leaves, and serve immediately. Soup will keep airtight in the fridge for 5 to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Is It Safe To House Hunt During the Coronavirus Crisis? This Is What You Must Know

Sisoje/Getty Images

In the best of times, shopping for a house is a complicated and involved process—a big-ticket proposition involving lots of shopping around and meeting a ton of people so you’re 100% sure you’ve picked the right place, at the right price. But, of course, these are not the best of times.

Now that the coronavirus pandemic has people across the country hunkering down at home to lower their exposure levels, even the most determined home buyer might be wondering: Is it safe to shop for a house right now?

We’re here to help you navigate this time of uncertainty and instability with this second installment of our new series, “Home Buying in the Age of Coronavirus.”

While risk is a personal decision, the real estate industry is adapting to provide ways to go about home buying safely during the coronavirus pandemic. You can now do many things at a safe social distance, or even remotely, when it comes to buying a home that you may not have considered doing in the past.

Here are all the ways in-person checkpoints to buying a home have changed to keep you safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Finding the right real estate agent

When it comes to buying a home, pairing up with the right agent is always key to finding your perfect property. But today, you need one who is tech-savvy and comfortable conducting meetings and business online.

“Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other tools allow buyers to have consultations they would normally have in person with me from the comfort of their home,” says agent Maggie Wells of Keller Williams in Greater Lexington, KY.

To find an agent to further help you remotely, ask candidates if they offer virtual consultations and home tours. They should also be able to help you with e-signature apps so you can send and receive documents to sign digitally through email.

“If an agent doesn’t offer these services yet, I highly recommend finding an agent who is [comfortable] working with technology,” adds Wells.

Virtual home tours

Crowded open houses with a plate of cookies for everyone to grab are a thing of the past—at least for now. Instead, you’ve got virtual open houses and video tours.

There are several ways to virtually tour a home. Along with photos, many listings were already starting to incorporate videos or virtual reality tours. (For example, the listing for this house in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL,features a VR icon you can click on, which will take you to a video.) You’ll be able to tour the home, room by room, without physically stepping onto the property.

“The power of video cannot be underestimated at a time like this,” says Cara Ameer, an agent with Coldwell Banker who is licensed in California and Florida.

However, these videos are filmed and edited, so you may not be able to see every nook and cranny. If you want to do a deeper dive, many agents will accommodate you.

“I’ve been giving live FaceTime tours of homes,” says Wells. “This provides buyers a personalized experience of the property without having to leave their home.”

Granted, we’re not necessarily saying you should buy a house without seeing it in person, unless there’s no choice in the matter. Nonetheless, it’s smart to do what you can remotely to whittle down your options so you can choose what’s worth an in-person visit, now or later.

Also keep in mind that in late March, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared residential real estate sales an “essential service,” although certain state officials, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have explicitly forbidden home showings. And even if they are allowed, agents, home sellers, and buyers must all be willing to make them happen.

When in doubt, check with your agent and local government for more information, and know that things could change as this pandemic progresses.

Remote mortgage pre-approval

“One smart way to stay safe right now is to work with a loan officer who is set up to work remotely,” says Andrina Valdes, executive sales leader and chief operating officer of Cornerstone Home Lending in San Antonio.

Some lenders had already made the entire mortgage process digital long before social distancing was needed. And now, many more have jumped on board out of necessity.

The first step is to interview a few loan officers over the phone or by video chat. Since mortgage interest rates are all over the map these days, it’s extremely important to shop around and compare what they’re offering—and make sure they’re comfortable conducting all steps of the transaction online.

Ideally you want a lender that allows you to track your loan progress, view educational resources, and stay in touch, all without leaving the house.

In order to get pre-approved for a loan, the lender will need to review your income, debt, credit history, and other factors—and you’ll need to submit paperwork verifying all of the above.

Luckily, most of this paperwork should be available online, such as pay stubs, tax returns, and bank statements. If you’re unsure how to access them, a tech-savvy lender should be able to help. (Here’s more on the paperwork needed for mortgage pre-approval, and why getting pre-approved matters.)

Check out realtor.com/mortgage to find local lenders and to figure out how much home you can afford.

Remote home inspections

“We are offering clients the option of doing a remote inspection, where we inspect the house alone and review the findings with them via a videoconference,” says certified home Inspector Welmoed Sisson of Inspections by Bob in Maryland and author of “101 Things You Don’t Want in Your Home.”

At a remote home inspection, inspectors take a lot more pictures than they might have in the past so clients can get a good idea of where the issues are.

“We also take videos if the issue is something moving that shouldn’t, such as a loose handrail or wobbly toilet,” adds Sisson. “While we’re in the house, we use gloves, wash our hands, and wipe down things we touch with antiseptic cloths.”

Once the report is completed, Sisson sets up a video call and emails clients PDFs of background information about why inspectors test what they do.

“Through screen sharing, I go through a slideshow of the pictures, answering questions as we go,” says Sisson.

Virtual home appraisals

Home appraisals required by a lender generally include a site visit, which is not possible in some parts of the country where this is not considered an essential service. Luckily, appraisals pertain only to those getting loans, so cash buyers can skip this process entirely. But if you are getting a mortgage, fear not.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen an influx of virtual appraisals done via video as well as ‘desktop appraising,’ where the appraiser reviews available public and private data,” says Nikita Idiri, a licensed real estate salesperson at New York’s Elegran.

The appraiser then uses comparable properties for the reports. While these methods may not be to the penny in terms of value, they are relatively accurate and allow lenders to continue operating.

Remote home closings

In-person home closings—where all parties come together to sign contracts, swap keys, and shake hands—are, for the most part, not happening right now (especially the shaking hands part). However, most closings require some face-to-face interaction, since people have to sign documents and notaries need to stamp them in person.

So while home buyers will probably have to show up on closing day, it will look far different from the past.

Lynn “Ginger” Ruckman, real estate associate broker at Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty in Bronxville, NY, recently closed on a home at the buyer’s attorney’s office. But instead of everyone crowding into a room for hours, parties sat in separate rooms to finalize the deal.

“The sellers and I were in the reception area, and the buyers were in the conference room,” says Ruckman. “The title company shuffled papers back and forth, and the entire process took 23 minutes.”

Another agent in Ruckman’s office had a closing where all parties showed up on the street where one of the attorneys lived.

“Papers were delivered to the appropriate cars for signatures,” explains Ruckman. “Everyone had their own pen, and the intermediary wore gloves. It got done without a hitch.”

And soon closings may be entirely remote, with states such as Georgia announcing that, as of March 31, video closings are temporarily permissible.

“The approval just happened, so nobody has done it yet,” says Georgia attorney Ken Luther. “But this is my understanding of how it would work: The closing attorney would send links to all necessary parties for a secure videoconference. All parties would sign electronically, and the transaction would be witnessed and notarized by conference participants.”

Article by Margaret Heidenry

Should I Buy a House During the Coronavirus Crisis? An Essential Guide

erhui1979/Getty Images

Spring is upon us, which typically involves a big peak of home buyers checking out properties, negotiating, and closing on new places. But the coronavirus outbreak—with its quarantine measures and economic uncertainties—has many a real estate shopper wondering: Should I buy a home now, or wait?

We’re here to help you navigate this confusing new normal with this series, “Home Buying in the Age of Coronavirus.”

This first installment aims to help you figure out whether you can—and should—shop for a home right now, or hold off until this crisis blows over. Read on for some honest answers that will help you decide what to do.

The impact of the coronavirus on the housing market

So what state is the housing market in right now, anyway? While that depends on how bad an outbreak an area is suffering, most markets are feeling some sort of hit.

“The coronavirus is leading to fewer home buyers searching in the marketplace, as well as some listings being delayed,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors®.

The latest NAR Flash Survey: Economic Pulse, conducted on March 16 and 17, found that 48% of real estate agents have noticed a decrease in buyer interest attributable to the coronavirus outbreak.

However, nearly an equal number of members (45%) said that they believe lower-than-average mortgage rates are tempting buyers to shop around anyway, without any significant overall change in buyer behavior.

For those who are determined to buy a home, there is opportunity out there.

“This is the best buyer’s market I have ever seen in my career,” says Ryan Serhant of Nest Seekers and Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York.”

“Sellers are nervous, there’s excess supply, and interest rates have been hovering at historic lows. You can own a home for less per month than you can rent an equivalent property in most areas,” he adds.

With fewer home buyers out there looking, you have less competition in your way.

“Unmotivated and uncommitted buyers have dropped off,” adds Maggie Wells, a real estate professional in Lexington, KY. “Less competition is a huge leg up in this market.”

The window of opportunity for buyers won’t stay open wide forever. NAR data shows that there was a housing shortage prior to the outbreak.

“The temporary softening of the real estate market will likely be followed by a strong rebound, once the quarantine is lifted,” says Yun.

This pent-up demand could eventually push home prices higher. That could mean that the time to strike for bargains is now.

Bottom line: If social distancing has made you realize you don’t love the place where you’re currently spending most of your time, it’s a good time to consider buying.

How the housing industry has adapted to keep buyers safe

Although it’s a scary time to be out and about checking out real estate, it is still possible to do so and stay relatively safe. The industry has rapidly adapted, introducing approaches that minimize exposure to the virus.

For instance, many agents are now working remotely and conducting most of their business virtually.

“Buyer and seller consultations have transitioned to virtual meetings with success,” says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in Boston.

While open houses or showings may not be easy to arrange because of quarantine or other safety issues, real estate listings have stepped up to the plate by offering virtual tours.

“We can send clients videos of whatever properties they want to see, or we are happy to have our agents FaceTime from a property,” says Leslie Turner of Maison Real Estate in Charleston, SC.

While those who are immunocompromised may want to stay home, if you’re otherwise healthy, it is also still possible to see some homes in person in some parts of the country. You’ll want to take some precautions before you go.

“Hand sanitizer at the door has become the norm, as well as shoe covers, even on sunny days,” says Ziegler.

During the tour, it’s also now customary for the listing agent to open all doors, so that home buyers can explore closets and other enclosed spaces without touching anything as they look.

If you do make an offer that’s accepted and you head to the closing table, real estate agents and attorneys are also adapting to remote closings, to keep you out of a crowded conference room. (We’ll provide more information about virtual tours and remote closings in later installments.)

How to weigh economic concerns

Coronavirus aside, anyone thinking about buying a home is also likely to be weighing whether it’s a smart idea when the economy is in a downward spiral. But in the same way you can’t easily time a stock purchase to make a profit, you can’t easily time a home purchase, either.

“Recession or not, it’s impossible to time the market, whether for buying stock or buying real estate,” says Roger Ma, a New York–based financial planner and owner of lifelaidout.

Just keep in mind that while current market conditions offer an incredible opportunity for home buyers to lock in historically low interest rates for a mortgage, rates are actually going up quickly, because so many people are refinancing.

If you wait too long to buy, you may miss the money-saving boat. So make sure to read up on the latest mortgage rates first.

Besides mortgage rates, home buyers are probably wondering about the stability of their income, as fear of layoffs loom.

“We are entering uncharted territory,” says Michael Zschunke, a real estate agent in Scottsdale, AZ.

On the flip side, putting a property under contract now and locking in a low interest rate gives a buyer some control at a time of relative uncertainty, adds Turner.

The takeaway from all this? It matters more than ever to get pre-approved for a mortgage, to calculate your home-buying budget accurately.

If you’re worried about layoffs, you should buy a home well under budget so you have enough money left over for closing costs, home maintenance, and a rainy day fund. Now is the time to crunch your numbers more carefully than ever before. Below is what you need to consider.

  • Research ways to reduce your closing costs. For instance, many loans allow sellers to contribute up to 6% of the sale price to the buyer as a closing-cost credit.
  • Figure out how much you need to set aside for yearly home maintenance and repairs. A smart budget is to have between 1% and 4% of the purchase price of your home.
  • Be sure to put aside an emergency nest egg for unexpected repairs. On average, it’s a good idea to sock away 1% to 3% of a home’s value in cash reserves.
Article by Margaret Heidenry

Can Dogs Get COVID-19? A Reality Check for Pet Parents

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Your dogs may be the last ones to fully grasp the concept of social distancing. In this crazy time, where a little love from a pet can go a long way, dog owners probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

But with the daily onslaught of new information about the novel coronavirus—including reports that two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus—dog owners might be wondering if their four-legged friends are also at risk. Can dogs get COVID-19?

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not received any reports of dogs or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States.

While the situation is still being evaluated, all major health organizations, including the CDC and the World Health Organization, have stated that there is no evidence at present that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.

There is no evidence that dogs have infected any people,” says Dr. William Karesh, a wildlife vet and executive vice president for health and policy for EcoHealth Alliance in New York.

“It would be prudent, though, not to let dogs lick infected people, and dogs in households with infected people should also maintain social distance from other dogs and people, just as the human members of the household are urged to do.”

Here are some other points to keep in mind to help your pet keep living its best quarantine life.

How to protect your pup

Keeping healthy and virus-free should extend to your pets, too. So practice good hygiene when handling your dog. That means no kissing!

The American Veterinarian Medical Association recommends washing your hands before and after interacting with a pet; keeping the pet well-groomed; and regularly cleaning the pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys.

The CDC and AVMA advise those already sick with COVID-19 to limit contact with animals out of an abundance of caution, until more is known about the virus. They recommend having another person in the household care for the pets or, if that’s not possible, continuing to practice good hygiene when interacting with pets and wear a face mask.

Respiratory illness and your dog

Even if your dogs can’t get COVID-19, they could come down with another kind of respiratory disease, although their symptoms might be different from anything humans might experience.

“If your dog has respiratory disease, it will most likely be due to a number of common viral and bacterial diseases in dogs. Owners should contact their veterinarian to discuss the case and decide on a treatment plan,” says Karesh.

So, can dogs catch the coronavirus? A definitive answer might be near. IDEXX Laboratories, a global network of more than 80 diagnostic labs, recently announced it has been testing animals for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19).

To date, the company has analyzed more than 4,500 cat and dog samples and found no cases of the virus.

“We wanted to make the public aware that if there becomes a medical need and/or clinically relevant reason pets should be tested for the virus, there is an accurate option that could be made available,” says Dr. Jim Blacka, a veterinarian with IDEXX’s Companion Animal Commercial Business.

Maintain essential vet visits

While pets are currently presumed not to be at risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19, that doesn’t mean they won’t have other health issues. Vets have been deemed as providing essential services, and many offer telemedicine and the occasional house visit.

Best Friends Animal Society is offering free veterinary consultations to those unable to leave their house due to the quarantine or to safety concerns, through the Best Friends Vet Access app for your phone or tablet.

The app allows users to connect with a licensed veterinarian by phone or video call. You can also text a vet with quick questions.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Sanctuary or Solitary? Keeping Your Sanity When Stuck Inside the House

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Home. The word means a safe and comfortable sanctuary to return to after a busy day. But with the novel coronavirus on the march across the country and most people under orders to stay inside to slow its spread, the word now feels more like a four-letter word meaning imprisonment.

With this situation unlikely to change very soon, how can we make our homes feel more like a sanctuary again, and keep our sanity?

“Everything is becoming blurred. If you notice yourself not getting that sense of ‘I just ended my day, I’ve done my work for the day, I’ve packed it up,’ it’s probably a great time to signal to yourself that you want to reclaim some of that sanctuary of the home,” says Ann Park, a Tampa, FL-based psychiatrist specializing in anxiety, depression, and stress management.

She points out that part of the difficulty is that no one knows when the current situation will end, as things keep changing week by week. So while we’re in this limbo, Park offers up some tips to manage the stress of a life lived indoors.

Keep separate spaces sacred

Prior to the past month, a small percentage of people worked from home full time. But that number has ballooned over the past few weeks, which has served to blur the lines between workspace and living space.

“The two areas in which we struggle now that we’re all home is the geographical demarcation as well as the time demarcation,” Park says. In other words, you end up doing work on the couch while watching TV as well as at your desk, and at all hours of the day and evening.

She suggests carving out a space, of any size, that is solely for work or school and then  closing off that space, mentally and physically (if possible), when we’re not working or studying.

“Even in a small space, we can designate a work zone,” Park says. “It doesn’t have to be a room or a specific table, but a zone, a marker to oneself that when I have my laptop open, that means I’m in work mode. When I have my laptop closed, I’m off.”

Conversely, make sure to set up a work-free zone where you can kick back.

“We need to be more intentional about allowing for there to be parts of our home that are still an oasis, that still are soothing and relaxing to us even though we have to probably take up more of that space at home to work in,” Park says.

Create a schedule

A basic schedule goes a long way toward dividing the home into a space for work and relaxation.

“You might draw up a schedule ahead of time and say, ‘OK, from 9 to 11 every day is work zone. Or from 5 to 6 every day, I’m going outside to take a walk or I am closing work things down and I’m going to have a cup of tea,’ so we might make those designations quite concrete,” Park suggests.

Each person in the house should have their own schedule.

“Creating a realistic cap on the day for ourselves is helpful because it announces an end to the day when the whole space turns back into home space, like when Cinderella’s carriage turns back into a pumpkin,” Park explains.

Dress the part

In addition to a schedule, there are other ways to signal to your brain that you’re shifting gear—by changing clothes, for example. Although the idea of wearing pajamas all day sounds really appealing at first, donning “real” clothes for work can clarify the fuzzy line between work and home.

“When I’m in work mode, I’m in this outfit or dressed in a certain way, and when I switch off work mode, I might change into something more casual,” Park suggests. “I might demarcate the transition by going out for a walk, and when I come back that means I have turned off my work mode for the day and now I am in rest mode.”

Take care of your space—and yourself

The desire to keep your home clean and virus-free can make it seem more sterile and less like a comfortable space. And you can wear yourself out trying to keep it that way.

“Each of us has our own personal threshold of what we’re able and willing to do, and I think if you find yourself getting overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do to keep yourself safe, it’s worthwhile to maybe write down the top two or three things that you think you really can do,” Park suggests.

You can’t control every single element of your sanctuary, so narrow your focus to the tasks that truly make a difference. Make sure your home is comfortable and your high-touch surfaces are clean, but don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t get to every single household chore.

Cut yourself some slack

Transforming a home into a multipurpose space (office, gym, school) is difficult, and no one really planned for it. We’re all meeting the challenge differently.

“The important thing is, we should be intentional, otherwise that home space can begin to feel claustrophobic,” Park warns. “It can begin to feel like there’s nothing going on here but work and school and worrying. It should have all those functions, but it also should function as a home is supposed to, which is rest and refuge and oasis and calm.”

Article by Tiffani Sherman

Quick and Easy Hamburger Stroganoff

Who remembers this recipe from their childhood? Seems like this was a popular Mid-West Dish growing up.

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 ounce) package egg noodles
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 (4.5 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can cream of chicken soup (such as Campbell’s(R))
  • 1 cup sour cream

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook egg noodles in the boiling water, stirring occasionally until cooked through but firm to the bite, about 5 minutes; drain.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion in hot butter until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef to skillet in small chunks; cook and stir to break the beef into smaller pieces as it cooks until no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle flour over the beef mixture, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Stir mushrooms and garlic salt into the beef mixture. Pour chicken soup over beef, stir, and cook until hot, about 5 minutes; add sour cream, stir until smooth, and cook until again hot, 2 to 3 minutes more. Pour beef mixture over the cooked egg noodles.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2020 Allrecipes.com
Printed From Allrecipes.com 4/8/2020

Mortgage Deferment and Mortgage Forbearance—Is There a Difference?

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With finances in peril due to COVID-19, many homeowners are in search of mortgage relief. Two strategies that many borrowers are anxious to invoke right now are mortgage deferment and mortgage forbearance.

Both tactics allow a borrower to skip monthly payments for a set period. Depending on the lender, there can be subtle differences between the two terms.

“We are seeing the terms being used interchangeably,” says Sara Singhas, the director of loan administration for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

She adds that both tactics allow a temporary period during which a borrower need not make contractual monthly payments. The differences between the two strategies come at the end of that period.

“What happens at the end of the forbearance period is the amount of payments that you missed during that forbearance will be due in a lump sum,” says Singhas.

Sometimes, lenders will work with borrowers to structure a payment plan, instead of demanding a lump sum.

Deferment—especially special programs that lenders have introduced during the pandemic—often allow customers to repay the money over time or to add it to the end of the loan period.

“What happens at the end of the forbearance period is the amount of payments that you missed during that forbearance will be due in a lump sum,” says Singhas.

Due to the current financial situation, the mortgage world is shifting. Options that weren’t on the table for borrowers a few months ago might be available now.

Singhas says the length of time that the forbearance could be extended and the options at the end of the term might be different. She adds that borrowers in good standing prior to the current crisis may able to do a modification wherein any monthly payments missed now are simply tacked on to the end of the loan.

Pressing pause on your mortgage

Whatever terminology your lender uses, it’s important for you to understand what is really happening with your loan. Nothing is free. You can’t expect to stop paying your mortgage forever.

“It’s not free mortgage payment, it’s not free money. [Forbearance] is temporarily hitting the pause button on your mortgage, and not having to make the payment,” Carlson warns.

“It does not necessarily pause the interest that is accruing, and it does mean that you’re going to have to make that principal and interest payment at a later date.”

Key questions to ask before seeking mortgage forbearance

When calling your lender, Carlson recommends asking:

  • What relief options are available?
  • Will interest continue being calculated during the length of time I am not paying?
  • Will there be any fees?
  • How will it be reported to the credit bureaus?
  • Do I still need to pay for my escrow to cover taxes, insurance, and mortgage insurance?

Singhas says some lenders have decided to allow certain loan modifications. In some cases, they will allow the monthly payment to be changed later in the life of the loan, to include the amount missed during the forbearance.

She adds that the main confusion for consumers right now is the fact that most lenders will not necessarily require a lump sum payment after the forbearance period ends.

“I think some people are panicked that if they get a forbearance, they have to pay it all back immediately,” she notes.

“That’s one option, or they can enter into a payment plan if they can’t make the lump sum, and if they can’t make a repayment plan work, there are other options available to them.”

If you work out a forbearance or deferment plan with your lender and don’t just skip payments, it can protect your credit.

“It doesn’t show a positive or a negative, but it doesn’t show like a missed payment,” Carlson explains.

“So if you were to ignore it and just not pay anything and pretend it will go away, that’s absolutely going to affect your credit report in the long run. But the forbearance or deferment is a neutral. It’s not positive or negative on the credit report, but it’s a lot better than having missed payments on your mortgage.”

One caveat to keep in mind is that if you can pay your mortgage, pay it, and don’t ask for relief.

“It’s always better to make your monthly payment if you can,” Singhas says.

Article by Tiffani Sherman

If you need advice or a financial review of your situation,

please feel free to reach out!

We are here to help! Ask for Cindy 708-288-2098.

The Distraction You Didn’t Know You Needed: Spring’s 5 Hottest Home Decor Trends

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Although it might not feel like it when you’re quarantined in your living room, spring is here. And while the usual outdoor festivities will likely get cut short or canceled altogether, that doesn’t mean you can’t still appreciate the changing of the seasons inside your home.

Especially when it comes to the lush selection of new looks coming out right now. We’ve consulted with designers from coast to coast about the hottest decor styles of the season, and we’re bringing you five you absolutely won’t want to live without.

Ready to fall hard into spring decor fever? Keep scrolling.

1. Rustic cluster globe lighting

Photo by Globe Electric

Why buy one new lamp when you could have three? We’re seeing cluster globe lighting everywhere this season, from the bathroom to dining room.

“Multiple hanging lights are extremely popular,” says Pamela Durkin of Pamela Durkin Designs. “They come in so many shapes and sizes, and the nice added bonus is that you don’t need to use more than one junction box—which means it can be an easy change out for any handy homeowner!”

You can get this exact cluster pendant delivered from Amazon.

2. Classic-blue kitchen cabinetry

Photo by Kountry Kraft

If you’ve paid any mind to decor trends for 2020, then you know bold is big in the kitchen this year. But we must say: These classic-blue cabinets really are stealing the show.

“One of the many reasons that blue kitchen cabinetry is so popular this season is the variety of blue shades and the endless ways to incorporate the color,” says Kobi Karp, principal at Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design. “Cabinets rendered in shades of blue work in both traditional and modern kitchen designs, as well as in-the-middle traditional aesthetics. They pair especially well with warm brass finishes and a crisp white backsplash.”

From turquoise to teal, aqua to dusty blue, there’s a shade of blue that anyone can connect to. But we suggest you give your kitchen cabinets a stunning new look with Naval from Sherwin-Williams.

3. Modern natural wood bed frames

Photo by Environment Furniture

Wood bed frames are nothing new, but artisanally crafted ones are a bit rarer—and trending now.

“Wood bed frames are extremely popular this season because of how sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly they are,” says Karp. “Wood bed frames are versatile, aesthetically delightful, and easily match with any bedroom’s style. They’re also essential in creating comfort, warmth, and bringing organic beauty into a space.”

Shop this Miri black and rattan bed from CB2 to get this modern and natural style.

4. Elegant gold wallpaper

Photo by Third Coast Interiors

Bold statements aren’t just for the kitchen this season; we’re seeing more and more walls in designer homes being adorned in statement gold wallpaper.

“Gold is in this season, perfect for warming up interior spaces,” says Karp. “Whether you’re decorating a whole room, a feature wall, or cabinet interior, gold wallpaper adds an instant elegance to any space.”

Ready to go for the gold in your house? Check out this metallic gold removable wallpaper from Wayfair.

5. Serene neutral living rooms

Photo by 30 Collins

If you’re not ready to go big in your home this season, don’t worry. There’s another major trend we’re seeing right now: stunningly neutral living rooms.

“Soft color palettes are so soothing right now, and I think everyone is for that,” Durkin says. “These neutral rooms give us the freedom to change it up very easily with pillows and other accents.”

Add some serenity to your stressed out day-to-day with this neutral wall hanging and these hand-embroidered pillow covers from Etsy.

Article by Larissa Runkle

Lonely While Social Distancing? Now Could Be the Best Time To Foster a Pet

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As the public stays home and businesses nationwide shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal shelters are having a rough go of it as well. The Humane Society and rescue organizations across the country have closed their doors to the public and canceled adoption events, moves that have seriously hindered their efforts to find homes for their four-legged friends.

That’s why now, more than ever, shelters are sounding the call for people to foster or adopt a pet.

“If shelters close completely to the public, it can be detrimental” to the health of the animals, says Lindsay Layendecker, assistant director of development for Jacksonville Humane Society. “By fostering, families can save a life with a temporary commitment. And pets provide comfort, stability, and routine.”

(The Centers for Disease Control has stated that it has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19, and it has no evidence that pets spread COVID-19.)

One of those gracious new fosters is Gerri Cantor, an animal control officer in Salt Lake City. She chose to foster a dog to help ease the strain on shelter employees due to the closures during the pandemic. Cantor, who has a dog of her own, recently picked up her new foster dog, a 6-month-old Doberman mix.

“We are committed to helping for as long as we are needed,” says Cantor.

Gerri Cantor (right) with her dog, Chicken, and new foster dog, Bella (front).
Callista Pearson/Salt Lake County Animal Services

At Best Friends, the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals, fostering has also taken off.

“Amazing fosters have stepped up to help shelters in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, New York City, and Kanab, UT—placing nearly 300 dogs and cats in temporary homes in just the last week,” says Temma Martin, public relations manager for Best Friends Animal Society in Salt Lake City.

How the adoption and foster process currently works

The new measures being taken because of COVID-19 have forced shelters to get creative and use different forms of technology to find homes for their animals.

“We’re all trying to keep up with this rapidly evolving situation, so the systems we had established for meeting pets, adopting, and fostering have all changed in the last week,” says Martin. “Meet-and-greets may now take place virtually by webcam and online meeting programs, and pickup of pets may take place by drive-through or drop off.”

Other shelters have formulated their own ways to ease the process of fostering or adopting animals.

The Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control in Michigan has the Cuddle Shuttle, which offers transportation from shelter to home. The SPCA in Wake County in North Carolina had the Home Adoption Network, where it livestreamed adoptable animals. And Curbside Pickup at Kern County Animal Services in California had lines of cars to pick up 100 pets in two days, Martin says.

“We have been doing adoptions by appointment, but our foster program has seen a 75% increase in people wanting to foster pets,” says Callista Pearson, marketing and development manager at Salt Lake County Animal Services. “The pets’ personalities come out in a foster home unlike a shelter. All of the attributes that make them a wonderful family member truly shine in these homes, helping them find a new home sooner.”

If you’re interested in fostering or adopting, Layendecker says a good place to gather information is your local shelter’s Facebook page and/or website.

Martin says individuals can also reduce the impact on local shelters by reaching out to donate to support the animals in their community. She says those interested in fostering or adopting can use this interactive tool to find a shelter nearby.

Is a pet adoption or fostering right for you?

Bringing home a new fluffy friend might sound enticing, especially if you’re social distancing at home all alone, but it might not be the right long-term decision for everyone.

“Adopting is a lifetime commitment to the pet, so it’s important to make a good decision for your lifestyle, even after this crisis ends and you go back to working outside the home,” says Martin.

For adoptions, Martin says, people should choose a canine companion whose personality, exercise needs, size, and behavior match their stage in life, and those of their family members. She says the needs of cats vary less, but people should still consider how a cat fits with the family and other pets.

Not ready to commit to a pet for good? Martin says fostering a pet is also helpful and can help keep you company during this lonely and uncertain time.

“The beauty of fostering is that it can be temporary,” she says. “As long as everyone gets along for the weeks the pet will be in the home, there is less pressure to find the perfect fit.”

Article by Anayat Durrani

What’s the Weirdest Thing You’ve Cleaned at Home While Self-Quarantining?

realtor.com

Whether we’re officially sheltering in place or just sensibly staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, the inside of our homes is suddenly getting a lot of scrutiny.

For some of us, this started out as a nice little reprieve from things like a daily commute or being away from our pets during the day. But self-quarantine got old real quick. Stir-crazy is a real thing—and it’s rough.

So now, we’re all thinking of creative ways to keep occupied. For many of us, that means finally crossing items off our “someday” to-do list. You know, those things you’ll do “someday,” when you have time?

Suddenly, those of us who can’t telecommute have all the time in the world. That also means lots of us have really clean houses—even though no one can come over and see them.

And the cleanest of houses undoubtedly belong to those whose homes are always in tiptop shape: professional cleaners, organizers, and designers.

That’s why we asked them to share the weirdest, most particular things they’ve cleaned since being stuck at home. Here’s what they had to say.

Bathroom vanity drawers

All that spare time can lead you to clean things you’ve never even considered before.

“I’ve been focused on our bathroom vanity drawers. Totally random and rarely done,” says Andrea Walker, certified professional organizer and the owner of Smartly Organized.

“Even with drawer organizers, they get super gross over time, with toothpaste, hairbrushes, makeup, and other products.”

To get her drawers spick-and-span, she empties them out and scrubs them down with a sponge and cleaner. She also soaks the drawer organizers in hot water and scrubs them.

“I even clean the items in the drawer, like the toothbrush, toothpaste, and other items!” Walker says.

Disinfecting wipes canister

Kathy Turley, director of marketing at Home Clean Heroes, has picked up a weird quarantine cleaning habit we can all sympathize with.

“More times than I can count, I’ve cleaned my canister of disinfecting wipes with disinfecting wipes,” she says.

These days, there’s really no such thing as too much disinfectant.

Every. Single. Drawer.

Some people are taking the time to clean their entire house, one drawer at a time. One of those people is Marty Basher, home organization expert with Modular Closets.

“I am in the process of tackling cleaning out every drawer in the house, from the bedroom and bathroom to the kitchen, home office, and even the garage,” he says. “It’s quite a task, but I am finding that de-cluttering in this way is very therapeutic.”

To accomplish this massive project, he takes two drawers a day, discards what he no longer uses, gives the drawer itself a thorough cleaning, and adds drawer organizers to drawers that contain multiple items, before placing them back in.

Too many mugs

Organizer Amanda Clark, owner of Ever So Organized, tackled a problem area a lot of us have in our kitchens.

“I took a good look at my large collection of coffee mugs. I always grab for my few favorites, so I decided to declutter the rest and open up room in my kitchen cabinets,” she says.

“Sorry, ‘World’s Best Mom’ mug—it was time to let you go!”

All the food storage containers

Most of us would probably admit to having a nightmare drawer for Tupperware and the like, but Tracy McCubbin, decluttering expert and author of “Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need,” took straightening up that area to the next level.

“I pulled out all my food storage containers and made sure all bottoms had a top,” she says. “I wiped out the drawer before I put it all away, but what I did next, I’ve never had time to do—I took all the cracked lids from my reusable glass, researched replacement lids, and ordered new lids.

“That’s something I’ve wanted to do forever and finally had the time! Plus, with how much I am cooking, it’s great to have it all organized,” she says.

Phone storage and email inbox

All this extra time also gives us time to clean up our technology—both the physical devices and everything up there in the cloud.

“Not only have I been disinfecting my phone multiple times a day … but I’ve also been decluttering the photos stored on my phone,” says Clark. “I’ve been deleting old screenshots and multiples, as well as creating albums for photos I want quicker access to.”

And that’s not all she’s been doing.

“I’m closer to inbox zero than I’ve ever been,” she says. “I created folders for emails I wanted to keep and unsubscribed to over 1,000 emails. It feels so good!”

Pile of business cards

Eventually, the world will start back up again, and when it does, McCubbin will be ready to start reaching out.

“In my office, I tackled that giant pile of business cards that have been on my desk for years—tossed the ones that were no longer applicable and made sure to add the important ones to my phone contacts,” she says.

“I also added notes on my phone about where I met the person and who referred them, or why I was interested in their business.”

Water damage on the ceiling

It’s not just random cleaning projects that are finally getting tackled. Darla DeMorrow, Certified Professional Organizer and author of “Organizing Your Home With SORT and SUCCEED,” finally got to a small home project that had been long postponed.

“My kids overflowed the toilet over a year ago,” she says. “I finally have time to patch and paint the ceiling that it ruined!”

Under the toilet seat cover

A lot of grime is hidden in the bathroom, and one small project can also lead to many. That’s what Nicole Graff, co-owner and principal designer for the Los Angeles based interior design firm Hamsa Home, found out during quarantine.

“I replaced one of my toilet seat covers, as it was starting to discolor. When I removed the cover, I was surprised to see what accumulated underneath there over the years,” she explains.

“Seriously, who would have thought? This only encouraged me to unscrew all my other toilet seat covers throughout my home and clean!”

Diaper pail

And if you thought that was kinda gross, here’s one of those projects you try to put off as long as possible, but thanks to COVID-19, you might as well get it done.

“My son is coming up on 22 months old, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never once cleaned his diaper pail,”” says Kait Schulhof, founder of A Clean Bee. “I noticed a few weeks ago that tiny spots of mold were developing on the underside of the lid, so I knew that this job had to be done. I simply had to mentally gear myself up for it!

“Last week, under quarantine … I disassembled his diaper pail and disinfected the whole thing. I scrubbed it with vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide (in different steps), with a cleaning toothbrush.”

Article by Whitney Coy

Ginny’s Famous Sea Foam Salad

Christmas 2019

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

Sea Foam Salad

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to break a lease

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to your landlord

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

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

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

Find a new tenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking a lease no-nos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann

The Best Remote Working Essentials for Your Home Office Space

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

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

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

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

Work-from-home basics

Photo by Rikki Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

Work smarter

Photo by James Frank Construction Inc

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy office space

Photo by Studio McGee

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

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

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

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

Take a break!

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

Reynolds recommends Time Out, Self Control, or Workrave.

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

Article by Anayat Durrani

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

#2 might surprise you.

Image: Mandi Gubler / Vintage Revivals

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

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

1. A Perfect White

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

Image: Vintage Revivals

2. Deep Black

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

Image: Vintage Revivals

3. Green

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

Image: Vintage Revivals

4. Pink

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

Image: Vintage Revivals

5. Charcoal

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

Image: Mandi Gubler / Vintage Revivals

Remember to Sample the Paints!

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

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

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

Article by MANDI GUBLER

Porcupine Meatballs

Taste of Home

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Not anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

Why mortgage interest rates are on a roller-coaster ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What mortgage rate fluctuations mean for buyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Clare Trapasso