SPINACH AND MOZZARELLA EGG BAKE

This low-carb and gluten-free Spinach and Mozzarella Egg Bake has spinach, mozzarella, and green onion and just enough egg to hold it together! This tasty breakfast idea is low-carb, Keto, gluten-free, low-glycemic, and South Beach Diet friendly.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 5 oz. organic fresh spinach (4 cups packed)
  • 1-2 tsp. olive oil (depending on your pan)
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella (I used a mozzarella blend from Costco; use regular or part-skim Mozzarella, your choice)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. Spike seasoning (or use any all purpose seasoning mix that’s good with eggs)
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Spray an 8 1/2 inch by 12 inch glass or crockery casserole dish with olive oil or nonstick spray.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add spinach all at once, and stir just until the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.  Transfer spinach to the casserole dish, spreading it around so all the bottom of the dish is covered.  Layer the grated cheese and sliced onions on top of the spinach.
  3. Beat the eggs with Spike Seasoning (or other seasoning mix) and salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  (I use only a tiny pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.)  Pour the egg mixture over the spinach/cheese combination, and then use a fork to gently “stir” so the eggs, spinach, and cheese are evenly combined.
  4. Bake about 35 minutes or until the mixture is completely set and starting to lightly brown.  Let cool about 5 minutes before cutting.  (The egg bake will settle down some as it cools.)  Serve hot.  This is good with sour cream.  I also like a little Green Tabasco Sauce sprinkled on the top.
  5. This can be cut into individual servings to keep in the fridge and microwaved for a quick breakfast during the week.  Don’t microwave longer than 1-2 minutes or the eggs can get slightly rubbery.
Recipe posted by KALYN DENNY

5 Common Reasons Why Property Taxes Go Up, No Matter Where You Live

Homeownership is one of life’s great highlights, but ask homeowners about paying property tax and they’ll tell you it’s one of their least favorite responsibilities. But as much of a downer as they are, property taxes are vital for funding schools, libraries, police departments, fire departments, and public works like roads and parks.

Savvy homeowners and prudent buyers are probably aware of the property tax rates in their area, but they may not understand the factors that can drive their property tax rates up. We’re here to help! (With the understanding part, that is.)

So when tax season rolls around, if you find yourself having to shell out more than you did last year, one of these five reasons might be to blame.

1. Home improvements

Renovating a bathroom or kitchen can revitalize a home and add to its worth, but it’s also the most common reason why your property taxes rise, says David Rae, a certified financial planner and president and founder of DRM Wealth Management in Los Angeles. Why? Improving your home makes it more valuable. That, in turn, increases your property taxes.

Converting a walk-up attic or basement into a livable space is also likely to trigger an automatic reassessment, says Rita Patriarca, a Realtor® with Re/Max Encore in Wilmington, MA.

Rae suggests that homeowners run the numbers first. Calculate how much the work will cost you, how much the renovation can add to your property’s value, and whether you can afford a higher tax bill. If you find that the cost of the work is likely to leave you with too little money to pay your higher taxes, Rae recommends holding off and saving more money before you do the work.

Although your tax bill will go up when you renovate, the good news is that you will directly benefit from the update in the form of a brand-new amenity in your home. That’s not the case in some of the scenarios that we describe below.

2. Revaluation

Communities and counties periodically reevaluate properties. During these revaluations, government officials or hired appraisers review all real property to figure out its current assessed value. Revaluations are needed to make sure that the tax burden is spread equitably and accurately among the area’s homeowners.

Lorrie Beaumont, appraiser and owner of LB Appraisal Associates in Westwood, MA, says revaluations are the second most common reason that property tax bills increase.

During the evaluation, an expert will take into account a home’s location, size, and type, and any changes since the last evaluation. The expert will also review home sales and valuations in the neighborhood, changes in the economy and housing market, and any changes in the area that may have improved or reduced a home’s value. Even if the assessor doesn’t enter your home, he or she will review permits to see whether you have undertaken any improvements. So, if you’ve renovated or expanded your kitchen, you can expect higher taxes.

A revaluation doesn’t automatically mean that your taxes will go up, though. For instance, let’s say there’s been a lot of building in your community lately. Having more taxpayers in your community may help offset a tax bill increase.

3. Nearby home sales

If your neighbors sell their homes for more than the asking price, your property taxes may rise. That’s the unfortunate fact, but it’s out of your hands.

Home sales affect what other houses in a neighborhood are worth. While that’s great for your property’s value when you decide to sell, it means a higher tax bill in the meantime.

Rae points out that, for you, this is the least advantageous way your tax bill can increase, because you’re not actually benefiting from living in a nicer home. Instead, you will be paying higher taxes because your neighbors made out like bandits!

4. New schools

Building a new school is great for students and teachers, and for the community overall. However, it will come with a hefty price tag that is likely to entail higher property taxes.

There are two reasons why property taxes can increase after the construction of new schools:

  • Communities and counties often increase taxes to help pay for school projects.
  • A new school will bring new families to town, which will make your community a more desirable location. The hotter market and the greater competition for homes are likely to lead to bidding wars and higher property values. And, of course, higher property values mean higher taxes.

5. Higher government budgets

One of the main reserves on which cities and counties draw to fund their budgets is the property tax. If government employees are owed a raise, or other budgetary needs increase, the residents’ taxes may need to be increased to help foot the bill.

But rest assured that a community can’t raise taxes at whim: There are limits that require voters’ approval. For instance, Proposition 13 in California and Proposition 2½ in Massachusetts limit how much property taxes can increase.

Still, that doesn’t mean your property taxes won’t go up each year. These limits just put a cap on the increases unless the community votes to raise taxes even higher that year.

Ways to protect yourself against property tax increases

So how can you, as a homeowner, push back and lower your rates (or, at the very least, make sure they don’t reach stratospheric heights)?

One way is to appeal your home’s property assessment, Rae says. Research home sales around you and look for similar homes that are selling for less. “Most municipalities have a process to contest your property tax bill,” says Rae. “I’ve contested the value of my home in the past, and the assessor shaved $150,000 off the taxable value of the home. Definitely worth the effort.”

You should also make sure your property records reflect the property’s amenities accurately, Beaumont notes. “I have seen many instances where records say you have more bedrooms or bathrooms than you actually have, or additional living area that doesn’t exist,” she says. If you do find mistakes, notify the assessor’s office and have the record corrected.

Article by Les Masterson

7 Smart Strategies for Bathroom Remodeling

Here’s how to get the bathroom of your dreams without making your budget a nightmare.

You dream about a bathroom that’s high on comfort and personal style, but you also want materials, fixtures, and amenities with lasting value. Wake up! You can have both.

A midrange bathroom remodel is a solid investment, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. A bath remodel with a national median cost of $30,000 will recover about 50% of those costs when it’s time to sell your home.

Regardless of payback potential, you’ll probably be glad you went ahead and updated your bathroom. Homeowners polled for the “Report” gave their bathroom renovation a Joy Score of 9.6 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their project, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

1. Stick to a Plan

A bathroom remodel is no place for improvisation. Before ripping out the first tile, think hard about how you will use the space, what materials and fixtures you want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending up to six months evaluating and planning before beginning work. That way, you have a roadmap that will guide decisions, even the ones made under remodeling stress. Once work has begun — a process that averages two to three months — resist changing your mind. Work stoppages and alterations add costs. Some contractors include clauses in their contracts that specify premium prices for changing original plans.

If planning isn’t your strong suit, hire a designer. In addition to adding style and efficiency, a professional designer makes sure contractors and installers are scheduled in an orderly fashion. A pro charges $100 to $200 per hour, and spends 10 to 30 hours on a bathroom project.

2. Keep the Same Footprint

You can afford that Italian tile you love if you can live with the total square footage you already have.

Keeping the same footprint, and locating new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes, saves demolition and reconstruction dollars. You’ll also cut down on the dust and debris that make remodeling so hard to live with.

Make the most of the space you have. Glass doors on showers and tubs open up the area. A pedestal sink takes up less room than a vanity. If you miss the storage, replace a mirror with a deep medicine cabinet.

3. Make Lighting a Priority

Multiple shower heads and radiant heat floors are fabulous adds to a bathroom remodel. But few items make a bathroom more satisfying than lighting designed for everyday grooming. You can install lighting for a fraction of the cost of pricier amenities.

Well-designed bathroom task lighting surrounds vanity mirrors and eliminates shadows on faces: You look better already. The scheme includes two ceiling- or soffit-mounted fixtures, and side fixtures or sconces distributed vertically across 24 inches (to account for people of various heights). Four-bulb lighting fixtures work well for side lighting.

Today, shopping for bulbs means paying attention to lumens, the amount of light you get from a bulb — i.e., brightness. For these bathroom task areas, the Lighting Research Center recommends:

  • Toilet: 45 lumens
  • Sink: 450 lumens
  • Vanity: 1,680 lumens

4. Clear the Air

Bathroom ventilation systems may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind during a bathroom remodel.

Bathroom ventilation is essential for removing excess humidity that fogs mirrors, makes bathroom floors slippery, and contributes to the growth of mildew and mold. Controlling mold and humidity is especially important for maintaining healthy indoor air quality and protecting the value of your home — mold remediation is expensive, and excess humidity can damage cabinets and painted finishes.

A bathroom vent and water closet fan should exhaust air to the outside — not simply to the space between ceiling joists. Better models have whisper-quiet exhaust fans and humidity-controlled switches that activate when a sensor detects excess moisture in the air.

5. Think Storage

Bathroom storage is a challenge: By the time you’ve installed the toilet, shower, and sink, there’s often little space left to store towels, toilet paper, and hair and body products. Here are some ways to find storage in hidden places.

  • Think vertically: Upper wall space in a bathroom is often underused. Freestanding, multi-tiered shelf units designed to fit over toilet tanks turn unused wall area into found storage. Spaces between wall studs create attractive and useful niches for holding soaps and toiletries. Install shelves over towel bars to use blank wall space.
  • Think moveable: Inexpensive woven baskets set on the floor are stylish towel holders. A floor-stand coat rack holds wet towels, bath robes, and clothes.
  • Think utility: Adding a slide-out tray to vanity cabinet compartments provides full access to stored items and prevents lesser-used items from being lost or forgotten.

6. Contribute Sweat Equity

Shave labor costs by doing some work yourself. Tell your contractor which projects you’ll handle, so there are no misunderstandings later.

Some easy DIY projects:

  • Install window and baseboard trim; save $250.
  • Paint walls and trim, 200 square feet; save $200.
  • Install toilet; save $150.
  • Install towel bars and shelves; save $20 each.

7. Choose Low-Cost Design for High Visual Impact

A “soft scheme” adds visual zest to your bathroom, but doesn’t create a one-of-a-kind look that might scare away future buyers.

Soft schemes employ neutral colors for permanent fixtures and surfaces, then add pizzazz with items that are easily changed, such as shower curtains, window treatments, towels, throw rugs, and wall colors. These relatively low-cost decorative touches provide tons of personality but are easy to redo whenever you want.

Article by JOHN RIHA

Five Ways to Prepare Your Pets for Spring

With the official start to spring behind us, soon temperatures will climb and outdoor activities will return in full force, bringing forth new threats to household pets.

However, owners can prepare their pets for the change in season by taking the proper precautions.

1. Get Back on Track With Heartworm Prevention

One of the single, largest dangers to the health of household pets is Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworms. Spread through mosquito bites, these parasitic worms can significantly harm the health of any animal infected.

With the peak of mosquito season coming with warmer weather, owners should be proactive and get their pets back on heartworm prevention medications if they were taken off them during the winter months.

“Heartworms are carried by mosquitos when temperatures are above a certain degree,” Associate Veterinarian at Central Pennsylvania Emergency Treatment Services, or CPVETS, Dave Allgeier said. “Average temperatures have to be above 55 or 60F for an extended period of time before mosquitos can become activated.”

Even though heartworms may not be as prevalent during the colder months of the year, it is still possible for animals to suffer from the infestation during the wintertime.

“In the colder air people think that their pets can’t get parasites but it is possible, so you should really keep your pets on medication year-round,” Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with VETdispatch Lauren Connolly said.

2. Continue Flea and Tick Prevention

During the wintertime, fleas are dormant outside, but when it gets warmer outside, they will come back out, according to Allgeier.

However, these insects can still be seen all year-round, and once they are present, they are exceedingly hard to get rid of, as they infest the animal then can jump to humans.

“Within five minutes of landing on an animal, they start eating and reproducing,” Connolly said.

Other than the direct effects of flea bites on both animals and people, the parasite can also carry a slew of diseases including the Bubonic Plague.

Similar to fleas, ticks are a major concern for the spring season as the peak activity of the blood-sucking arachnid approaches.

“Their breeding season is late April, May and June and that’s when we see a lot of tick activity,” Allgeier said.

Ticks can also be vectors for diseases including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Fever.

While the peak season for ticks is not until the spring, it’s a good idea to keep pets on preventative medications all year-round, according to Connolly.

3. Watch Out for Seasonal Allergies

With grasses, flowers and trees abloom in the spring season, like people, pets can suffer from seasonal allergies too.

“Pets manifest allergies through the skin instead of people with their respiratory systems,” Connolly said.

While there is typically no way to prevent seasonal allergies in pets, owners can keep an eye out for excessive scratching or ear troubles in their animal, as these can be classic signs of allergies.

According to Connolly, if it is suspected that allergies may be causing the animal distress, owners should first rule out fleas and ear infections by taking them to the veterinarian. If allergies are the culprit, antihistamines can be prescribed to help the animal cope.

4. Ramp Up Exercise Slowly to Shed Winter Weight

Due to a family’s change in activity level during the winter months, pets tend to gain weight. The warmer weather of the spring months present multiple opportunities for animals to shed that winter weight.

“If owners themselves start exercising and include the animal, start slowly and work up to an exercise regiment,” Connolly said.

However, owners should beware of increasing exercise too quickly, as animals can develop injuries from jumping into an exercise regiment too fast.

5. Consider Getting a Microchip

With pets potentially spending more time outdoors, spring is the perfect time to contemplate getting a microchip for their pet.

“This is a way to identify your pet in case they get out of the fence, yard or break out of the leash,” Connolly said. “It’s a great way to get your pets back to you.”

Article by By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer

8 Staircase Makeovers That Most Any DIYer Can Tackle

For when you want to exercise your imagination, not just your legs.

Unless you get an unusually deep thrill from doing calf exercises, climbing your staircase is typically more about function than fun. But a little DIY can change that (and maybe boost your home’s future desirability).

These eight DIY staircase projects can get you started.

#1 The Look of Tile Using Stencils

There’s no look as classic or as crisp as black and white — and no material more dignified than tile. You could take out a second mortgage to cover each riser in custom, monochrome tile, or you could grab some paint and a stencil for the same effect. But much thriftier.

If you have a longer staircase, consider following the lead of this homeowner and stencil every other riser. You want to delight climbers, not make them dizzy.

#2 A Rainbow on the Stairs

If you love color, why choose just one? This soothing spectrum adds interest to an otherwise neutral space, and the pastels keep the effect soft, so it doesn’t take away from the soft, farmhouse aesthetic.

With the natural light from the window above the stairs, this look is like a constant ray of sunshine.

#3 A Pretty Pattern With Chalk Paint

You can like the idea of a personalized staircase without needing it to be the focal point of the whole house.

This soft, subtle look was pulled off with chalk paint and a stencil. The pretty pattern is unique enough to feel custom, but the light colors and chalky finish prevent it from overpowering the room.

And here’s a tip for any time you’re painting a staircase: Consider leaving the banister unpainted for a nice pop of contrast.

#4 Ombre Effect Going Up the Stairs

A short set of stairs can be the perfect place to try an ombre look (if you haven’t read a design magazine in the last decade, it’s a progressive shading effect).

The homeowner who did these stairs recommends starting by painting the darkest shade first and gradually going lighter and lighter by adding white.

Make sure you make each batch large enough to cover a full step — and all the necessary coats.

#5 Classic Black and White (With a Useful Chalkboard Wall)

Another classic black and white pattern, along with a chalkboard wall, gives this short set of steps a modern, inviting update.

This DIYer used painter’s tape and a v-shaped template made of foam board to prep the chevron pattern — and paint, patience, and very slow tape peeling to execute it.

#6 A Way to Show Off Your Reading Obsession

Have a specific obsession? Decals are a great (read: easy) way for your staircase to share your fandom.

Peel-and-stick decals can be customized with your choice of words or images. Bibliophiles can choose book titles like these, but thanks to the wide world of available decals, you can also find favorite sayings, patterns, characters — you could even create a “The Walking Dead”-themed staircase if zombies are more your thing.

When working with decals, just make sure to read the fine print. These decals, for example, are just the lettering of the book titles, so painting the risers is a project you’d need to take on first.

#7 An Eclectic Look With Real Tile

We’ll say it again: There’s just nothing like tile. It’s incredibly durable — great for hardworking staircases.

Creating alternating sets of pattern and complementary colors on each riser makes for a one-of-a-kind staircase that’s anything but redundant.

While trimming tile to fit stair risers might be above some DIYers’ pay grade, this personalized look could be worth flagging down an expert to pull off.

#8 A Stair Runner Out of Floor Runners

Standard stair runners are as snooze-worthy as the stairs they cover. Don’t settle if you can’t find one that makes your heart dance.

One clever homeowner found a floor runner

she loved, bought four of them, and installed them one after the other to make this wild look shimmy up the whole stairway.

It took some creative trimming and rug positioning to make this alternating pattern look seamless, so to replicate it, order more length than you think you’ll need.

Article by NANCY MANN JACKSON

Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs cooked (small) shrimp
  • 15 limes, juice of
  • 1 orange, juice of
  • 2 finely (very finely) sliced medium purple onions
  • 3 finely diced larger tomatoes
  • 1 finely chopped bunch of cilantro
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup ketchup (if strict Paleo, avoid this ingredient)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Instructions

  1. Prep all ingredients ahead of time.
  2. Place your sliced onions in a bowl and rinse with cold water. Once rinsed, add water and a pinch of sea salt to the bowl with the onions and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Using your strainer, drain onions and place onions back into your bowl; add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your onions and set them aside.
  4. In a big bowl, combine lime juice, orange juice and diced tomatoes.
  5. Add in shrimp to your lime/orange juice and tomatoes; mix well.
  6. Add in onions to your lime/orange juice, tomatoes and shrimp; mix well.
  7. In a separate bowl, combine ketchup, mustard, olive oil and sea salt. Once mixed, add it in to your lime/orange juice, tomatoes, shrimp and onion bowl. Mix it in.
  8. Last but not least, add your chopped cilantro to the bowl.
  9. Cover with lid or tin foil and place in refrigerator. Let refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving, so that your ceviche is nice and cold!
  10. Serve it in a dessert type bowl, add plantain chips (and popcorn, if you’re not Paleo) and enjoy this incredibly refreshing appetizer. You will FALL IN LOVE.

Notes

Tools You’ll Need:
– Mixing bowls (x2)
– Measuring cups
– Measuring spoons
– Citrus squeezer
– Strainer
– Sharp knife
– Cutting board

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 1 serving — Calories: 520 Fat: 18 g. Carbohydrates: 18 g. Protein: 73 g.

Make Your House FHA-Loan Friendly

Know the basics of FHA loan rules and you stand a better chance of selling your house or condo.

Make your house FHA-friendly, and it will appeal to more homebuyers. Why? Because the Federal Housing Administration is insuring the mortgage loans used by about 30% of today’s homebuyers.

If your house passes the FHA rules, it will appeal to buyers who plan to use an FHA-insured mortgage. If your house doesn’t qualify for an FHA loan, you’re cutting out 30% of potential buyers.

FHA is especially important to first-time homebuyers and those with small downpayments because it allows borrowers with good credit to make a downpayment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price.

Here’s how to make your home appealing to FHA borrowers:

Know the FHA loan limits in your area

Start by checking to see if your home’s listed price falls within FHA lending limits for your area. FHA mortgage limits vary a lot. In San Francisco, FHA will insure a mortgage of up to $729,750 on a single-family home. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the loan limit is $271,050.

Home inspections

Most buyers will ask for a home inspection, whether or not they’re using an FHA loan to buy the home. You must give FHA buyers a form explaining what home inspections can reveal, and how inspections differ from appraisals.

How much do you have to repair?

If the home inspection reveals problems, FHA will not give the okay to buy the home until you repair serious defects like roof leaks, mold, structural damage, and pre-1978 interior or exterior paint that could contain lead.

Dealing with FHA appraisers

Help the lender’s appraiser by providing easy access to attics and crawl spaces, which usually must be photographed, says appraiser Frank Gregoire in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Your buyer can hire his own appraiser to evaluate your home. But FHA only relies on reports by its approved appraisers. If the two appraisals conflict, the FHA appraisal preempts the buyer’s appraisal.

Help with FHA closing costs

Most FHA buyers need help with closing costs, says mortgage banker Susan Herman of First Equity Mortgage Bankers in Miami. So a prime way to make your house FHA-friendly is to help with those costs.

FHA currently allows sellers to pay up to 6% of the sales price to help cover closing costs, but is considering lowering that limit to 3% in the fall of 2010.

If you’re selling a condo

FHA also has to approve your condo before a buyer uses an FHA loan to purchase your unit. Be sure your condo is FHA-approved for mortgages. The list has been updated, so if your association was approved a year ago, check again to make sure it’s still on the approved list.

FHA generally won’t insure loans in condo associations if more than 15% percent of the unit owners are late on association fees. Ask your property manager or board of directors for your association’s delinquency rate.

Other rules cover insurances, cash reserves and how many units are owner-occupied and the types of condos that can be purchased with an FHA mortgage.

FHA sometimes issues waivers for healthy condominiums that don’t meet the regular rules. If your condo isn’t FHA-approved, it doesn’t necessarily have to meet every single rule to gain approval. Ask your real estate agent to consult with local lenders about getting an FHA waiver for your condo if it doesn’t meet all the requirements.

FHA also limits its mortgage exposure in homeowners associations. With some limited exceptions, no more than 50% of the units in an association can be FHA-insured.

FHA loans for planned-unit developments

FHA no longer requires lenders to review budgets and legal documents for planned-unit developments.

Article by TERRY SHERIDAN

The Secret to Programming Your Thermostat the Right Way for Each Season

Before you get started, you’ll need to pick a programmable thermostat you’ll actually use. Here’s how.

According to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, nearly 90% of Americans say they’ve rarely (or never) programmed their thermostat because they’re not sure how to do it.

But it’s really not that hard, and it’s definitely worth doing because it can save at least 10% a year on heating and cooling costs.

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can achieve that 10% by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees F from it’s normal setting for 8 hours a day.

The first step is to pick the thermostat that best suits your scheduling needs so you can “set it and forget it,” an approach the Energy Department advocates to get the most savings.

Pick the Right Thermostat

There are four types of programmable thermostats, each with a distinctive scheduling style:

7-day programming. Best for individuals or families with erratic schedules, since this is the most flexible option. It lets you program a different heating/cooling schedule for each day of the week.

5-1-1 programming. One heating/cooling schedule for the week, plus you can schedule a different heating/cooling plan for Saturday and Sunday.

5-2 programming. Same as 5-1-1 programming, except Saturday and Sunday will have the same heating/cooling plan.

1-week programming. You can only set one heating/cooling plan that will be repeated daily for the entire week.

You’ll need a program for both the cooler months and the warmer months.

TIP: Before buying a programmable thermostat, identify the type of equipment used to heat and cool your home so you can check for compatibility. For example, do you have central heating and cooling, or just a furnace or baseboard heating? Otherwise, you may not reap the rewards of energy savings and may risk harming your heating and cooling equipment.

Change the Factory Settings

Most programmable thermostats have a pre-programmed setting that’s supposed to be for the typical American family. But what family is typical these days? You need to adjust the thermostat’s settings so it’s in sync with the life you and your family lead instead of some mythical family.

Programming options are based on:

  • Wake Time
  • Sleep Time
  • Leave Time
  • Return Time

The Department of Energy suggests the following settings as an energy-saving rule of thumb:

Winter months:

  • For the hours you’re home and awake, program the temp to 68°F.
  • Lower at least 10 degrees for the hours you’re asleep or out of the house.

Summer months:

  • For the hours you’re home, program air conditioning to 78°F.
  • For the days you don’t need cooling, manually shut off the AC. Keep in mind, it will kick back on if the house gets too warm.
  • Program it to be warmer than usual when you’re out of the house.

Here are a few programming timing tips that can help you create the best set-it-and-forget-it heating and cooling schedule for your home:

  • Shut down heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you leave home each day.
  • Turn on heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you come home each day.
  • Reduce the heating or cooling 60 minutes before you go to sleep each night.
  • Increase heating or cooling about 30 minutes before you wake up each morning.
  • Spend time tweaking your program for a few days to make sure it feels right.

TIP: With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can control your home’s temperature while on the go. That way, you’re not wasting energy if you’re running late or forgot to create a new program before going on vacation.

FYI: A furnace does NOT have to work harder to warm a house after the temperature has been set low during the day.

Use a Wifi Thermostat to Make It Super Easy

Want something that’s simpler? Newer more high-tech models have simplified the process:

The Nest Learning Thermostat: It creates a custom heating and cooling schedule for your home based on motion detection technology. Plus since it is Wi-Fi, it can be controlled remotely. Price: Usually a bit more than $200.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat: This device makes it easy to create a custom heating and cooling plan. Unlike conventional programmable thermostats, it has a large color interface that displays a simple menu that walks you through all the programming steps. It also “learns” your home and will send you personal notifications if the temperature is not right, or if there’s a power outage. Price: Usually under $200.

FYI: Thermostats made prior to 2001 may contain mercury. To see if your programmable thermostat contains mercury, check with the manufacturer. If you decide to dispose of a thermostat that contains mercury, check out how to do so safely in your area at Thermostat Recycling Corp. (Not sure why mercury is so bad? Here’s the skinny: It’s toxic and it never breaks down. When it enters the waste stream, it permanently damages the ecosystem.)

Article by  DEIRDRE SULLIVAN

Allergies at Home

If you have allergies at home, you’re hosting allergens with specific needs. If those pollutants could write classified ads, here’s what they’d want.

PET DANDER seeks vacuum-free home where cats and dogs are rarely bathed. Prefer pets be allowed to sleep in their owners’ beds. We really can’t tolerate a household that’s cleaned and vacuumed regularly and where pets are bathed twice a week and pet beds washed monthly.

DUST MITES in need of a cozy mattress. Please, no dust mite-proof covers (we can’t hack latex mattresses or silk bedding, either). Bedding and comforters must be rarely washed. Absolutely NO water heaters set above 130 degrees — we’d be goners. Prefer natural materials for hanging out — no synthetics or air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, please, as we find them inhospitable.

POLLEN wants airy home with windows and doors frequently left open. Prefer windows where mold and condensation are never cleaned from window frames and sills. Definitely prefer a location with no HVAC air filtration system so we can easily circulate to keep eyes watering and noses running. Absolutely NO small-particle or HEPA filters allowed.

MODERN ALLERGEN FAMILY (dust, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites) in need of carpeting. Thick carpet piles that are rarely shampooed or vacuumed given preference. No homes with hardwood, laminate, or vinyl flooring considered because there’s nowhere for us to hide. Also, no calls accepted from homes where surfaces are steam-cleaned or that feature low-pile carpets that are regularly vacuumed (equipped with  a HEPA filter). Washable area rugs not considered.

RESPIRATORY AILMENTS willing to trade a clean-burning gas fireplace for an old-fashioned, inefficient wood-burning model that produces plenty of smoke and gasses. Please, no wood-burning fireplace inserts. Also looking to sell our vented range hood (which really sucks the life out of us).

WANTED: Horizontal blinds where dust and pollen can settle undisturbed. Please, no natural and synthetic curtains that are regularly washed, or we’re down the drain.

DUST AND OTHER ALLERGENS seek comfy home fully furnished with upholstered goods that are never vacuumed. No leather, wood, metal, or plastic furnishings considered, as we don’t find these hospitable.

MOLD AND MILDEW need hot, humid home with no air conditioning and no dehumidifier. (A place with a dehumidifier may be considered if it’s rarely cleaned. We’ve found these make a nice home too.) Especially happy in a location with water damage: damp carpeting, a soggy basement, leaky plumbing, and a clothes dryer that isn’t vented outside. Also interested in locations with non-ventilated bathrooms lined with wallpaper, and equipped with a shower, tub, mats, and curtains that are rarely cleaned. Leaky toiletsconsidered a plus. Please, no tiled bathrooms.

CLUTTER WANTED: Dust and pollen seek a variety of knickknacks, books and magazines, dried flowers, toys (especially stuffed animals), wicker baskets, and other items to collect on. No dusting considered. Also, please don’t wash stuffed animals monthly in hot (130 degree) water as this is a killer move when it comes to us allergens! And, if you’ve heard about putting nonwashable stuffed animals in the freezer for 24 hours and then rinsing the dead dust mites off with cold water — don’t do that either.

MUST SELL: HEPA filters for heating and cooling system. Allergens can’t thrive when these filters are changed in the furnace once a month. Priced for quick sale.

COCKROACHES seek dine-in home where food and garbage are easily accessible. (i.e. Don’t wipe down the stove, countertop, or table after dinner. DO pile unwashed dishes in the sink and leave the trashcan uncovered.) Please, no food stored in airtight containers. Positively no homes accepted where poison baits, boric acid, or insect traps are in use.

 

How to Remove Paint From Wood: Sanding vs. Stripping

Wondering how to remove paint from wood? Taking off the top layers of paint from old dressers, doors, and other wooden items can give them a whole new look. Plus, you don’t have to be a carpenter to pull off this project on your own; with a little elbow grease it’s an easy weekend DIY.

Still, before you head to the hardware store, you’ll want to know whether sanding or stripping is better for your project. Here’s how to decide, and the steps on how to remove paint from wood, whichever method you pick.

Sanding vs. stripping paint: Which method is better?

Sanding is fine if you’re planning to paint over the surface anyway. In this instance, the goal of sanding isn’t to remove every last speck of paint; it’s just to get the surface scuffed up enough that new paint will adhere to it.

How to sand paint off wood

Materials you’ll need:

  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Small, handheld sander or sanding block

Before starting, prep the woodwork with soap and water, cleaning off the surface. Load your handheld sander or sanding block with the sandpaper and start sanding!

“Sand paint with 180-grit sandpaper until it becomes dull,” says Blake Aylott of Project Build Construction in Laguna Hills, CA. “If you need to sand away paint globs, then use a coarser grit paper like an 80 grit.”

Once that shiny top layer of paint is gone, wipe away your dust. As long as the surface is rough rather than smooth, “you can prime then paint,” says Scott Specker, owner of Five Star Painting of Suwanee, in Cumming, GA.

If, however, you don’t plan on repainting the object but prefer instead to show off the wood grain underneath (or stain it at most), then you’re going to have to remove every last drop of old paint. In this case, sanding is a futile endeavor and you should use paint stripper instead.

How to strip paint from wood

Materials you’ll need:

  • Thick rubber gloves
  • Face mask
  • Paint stripper
  • Steel wool
  • Mineral spirits
  • Paintbrush
  • Small bowl
  • Plastic or metal scraper

Most strippers are in liquid form, but if your project is vertical walls, Aylott recommends using a stripper in gel or paste form. Regardless of what you choose, every paint-stripping project needs to begin with some reading. Although most chemical paint strippers are similar, the directions do vary slightly, so you’ll want to make sure you read them thoroughly.

After putting on protective gloves and a face mask, fill a small bowl with the paint stripper, grab your brush, and begin applying stripper to the old paint. It can be painted on, just the way you would apply regular paint.

“Work on small sections at a time,” Aylott advises, and apply the paint uniformly, so it will strip the paint evenly.

Allow the paint stripper to sit until the paint beneath begins to crack and bubble. Once you notice the bubbles, grab your scraper and begin scraping away as much as you can. It’s best to tackle the paint right when it’s bubbling, rather than allowing it to sit, as it will dry and readhere to the surface.

Article by After you’ve scraped off as much paint as you can, apply another coat of paint stripper, again using the paintbrush. Follow the same steps: scraping when the paint bubbles. The number of times you have to do these steps will depend on how much paint is on the surface.

Once you’ve scraped your way to the wood’s surface, apply mineral spirits with an old rag or paper towel, and scrub off the remaining remnants of paint with steel wool.

When all the paint is gone, Aylott recommends cleaning down the surface with mineral spirits one final time.

“Rubbing the surface with mineral spirits is crucial for avoiding problems when sanding and staining later, because the mineral spirits remove the stripper from the wood,” he explains.

Now the wood is ready to be refinished!

If you’re not up for all that work, there is an alternative: Some professionals offer dip tanks, where portable pieces of wood (like a door or table) can be dipped in a vat of stripping agent.

Article by Jeanne Sager

 

Crudités with Lemon-Parsley Tahini Dip

This tangy dip is made from tahini, a sesame paste that’s also used to make hummus. I love creating a crudité platter using unexpected vegetables like watermelon radishes, Romanesco broccoli, and heirloom carrots – the more colorful, the better! You’ll notice that there are not specific amounts for the vegetables in the recipe – just use whatever combination you like.

Dip:
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crudités:
Rainbow carrots, halved
Raw snap peas or haricots verts
Romanesco broccoli or cauliflower, cut into florets
Breakfast radishes, halved lengthwise
Watermelon radishes, halved and cut into half-moons
Fennel slices

For the dip:
In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice and garlic and let sit for 2-3 minutes (this takes a bit of the edge off the raw garlic). Transfer to a food processor, add the parsley and tahini, and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of a thick paste. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Add 2 tablespoons of water and blend until completely smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the Crudités:
Arrange the vegetables on a platter and serve with the tahini dip.

Do Ahead: You can prep the crudités several hours in advance. Place the cut veggies in resealable plastic bags or in airtight containers, cover with moist paper towels, and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make the dip 1 day ahead and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Variation: To make lemon parsley hummus, add 1 (14.5 ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed, to the tahini dip in the food processor and pulse to combine. With the motor running, add 2 more tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons water, and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store, in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.

Is It Last Call for Low Mortgage Rates? Why Home Buyers Should Act Now

All good things come to an end—even low mortgage interest rates. They’ve been steadily rising and are poised to climb even higher this year.

When they do, the cost of buying a home will rise as well. This could make the challenges of today’s buyer’s market even worse for some prospective purchasers—particularly first-time buyers, having to settle for smaller abodes, fixer-uppers (in the real sense, not the TV sense), and homes farther out where real estate is cheaper.

Some may even be priced out of the market altogether thanks to a toxic combination of soaring home prices and increasing mortgage rates.

After hitting historic lows, average mortgage rates have now reached their highest levels in more than four years. They hit an average 4.43% for 30-year, fixed-rate loans as of March 1, according to Freddie Mac data. This was the highest they’ve been since Jan. 9, 2014, when they were an average 4.51%.

They’re expected to go up even more after the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates. The new Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell, says the Fed is likely to gradually increase them this year. It is expected to bump up rates at least three times this year, in 0.25% increments, beginning this month.

And while short-term rates and mortgage rates are separate, mortgage rates usually follow any increases from the Fed.

“For the bulk of buyers, it’s not going to kill their decision to purchase a home. If anything, it will get them off the fence by creating a sense of urgency,” says Rick Palacios Jr., director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Higher rates are “a kick in the pants for you to start thinking seriously [about buying].”

Even a fraction of a percentage point rise quickly adds up. On a $300,000 house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and 20% down payment, the difference between 4% and 5% is $142 a month. That’s more than $51,000 during the life of the mortgage.

“Buyers thought they could wait forever because rates were going to stay low forever,” says Palacios. “They’re starting to realize if they’re going to buy they should probably buy now.”

How mortgage rates differ from federal short-term interest rates

It’s a common misconception that mortgage and interest rates are married to each other. It’s more like they’re related. Over the past two decades, they’ve differed by as much as 5% and have been as close as 0.5%. And that’s because mortgage rates are more closely tied to the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond market.

Mortgage rates tend to follow bonds because both may be considered safer places than the stock market to park one’s money. But mortgage rates are usually the inverse of bond markets. Translation: The greater the demand for bonds—which tends to happen during economic, political, or market distress—the lower the mortgage rates may be.

Steady economic growth along with relatively low inflation and interest rates has helped push bond rates down for years. However, a widening U.S. deficit and higher inflation could bring them up. Normally, that would help keep mortgage rates low. But there are other factors such as changes to tax codes, the overall state of the economy, and the rise in short-term Federal interest rates that can also affect mortgage rates, says Andrew Hanson, an economics professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Hence, the bell is slowly tolling on historically low mortgage rates.

It’s important to note that mortgage rates are still low. They averaged around 7% from the 1990s through the financial crisis, falling from a high of 18.63% on Oct. 9, 1981.They dropped below 5% for the first time in March 2009, before bottoming out at 3.1% on Nov. 21, 2012.

And while they may not return to the 3% range anytime soon, it’s also unlikely they’ll go into the double digits.

“We’re not going back to the levels of 10 years ago,” in the mid-5% to mid-6% range, says Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist for Freddie Mac. “Too much has shifted economically. There’s a lot of pressure on long-term rates to keep them from moving too rapidly.”

First-time home buyers have the most to fear from rising mortgage rates

Overall, about 44% of prospective home buyers say they will have to settle for a cheaper home—smaller, or maybe farther away from their jobs—as a result of the rate increases, according to a recent realtor.com® survey.

But first-time buyers and those on the tightest budgets are likely to be affected the most. Even a 1 percentage point rise in rates would mean 5% of all buyers would no longer be able to qualify for a $300,000 mortgage, according to a 2016 John Burns study. (Rates were only 3.47% when the study was published.)

“Every time the interest rates go up, you eliminate a group of people who can no longer afford to buy a house,” says Don Frommeyer, a mortgage broker at Marine Bank in Indianapolis. “Some people may have to rent for a period of time until they make more money—or buy a smaller house.”

And despite the increases, the housing shortage and soaring prices are only likely to get worse.

That’s because of the big backlog of buyers. Many folks held off from purchasing during the recession because they were worried about their job stability or couldn’t afford to buy. Now with a stronger economy, they’re entering the market in droves. Many older millennials are beginning to have families or expand their families and simply need the extra space.

“If you have a backdrop of accelerating job growth, wages rising, confidence booming, and the stock market improving, [home sales are] going to do just fine,” says Palacios of John Burns.

These same reasons, along with rising mortgage rates, are also powerful inducements for current homeowners to stay put. Instead of trading up to nicer abodes, many are choosing to make improvements or renovations to their existing homes instead. This means there are even fewer entry-level abodes on the market for first-time buyers.

So folks are going to have to make some sacrifices—including dealing with longer commutes.

“We call it driving for dollars,” says real estate professional Doug Hopkins, co-owner of Realty Executives Phoenix. “How far can you move out and still get what you’re looking for? How close to the city center can you afford to be?”

Buying a home? Consider locking down your rate

Home buyers worried about rising rates may want to consider locking in their rate with their mortgage provider. This means that the rate is guaranteed once an offer is submitted through the closing. Usually this is good only through a previously specified amount of time, so the process can’t drag on too long, and there can’t be any changes to the application.

The downside, however, is that not all rate locks are free. Ones for less than 60 days are often free, but can cost several hundred dollars. And if there are any unforeseen delays in the closing, and the rate needs to be extended further, it can cost buyers much more. (The exact figure depends on the individual mortgage lender and the size of the loan.)

Another downside: If rates do fall, buyers won’t be eligible for them.

But rate locks do protect buyers from higher-than-expected monthly mortgage payments if those rates do go up.

“You should be paying close attention to what is going on in the marketplace, because those rates can move pretty quickly in a short amount of time,” says Freddie Mac’s Kiefer. “So a rate lock is something people might want to consider.”

Article by Chris Parker

8 Things You Must Do Before Renovating Your House—or Else

Renovating your house is an adventure, one that can easily go off the rails. There are a mind-boggling number of wrong turns homeowners can take, from going over budget, to hiring a shady contractor, to just realizing that the quartz counters or paint color they picked are so wrong—afterthe work is done.

So if you want to make sure your renovation turns out all right, it’s essential you be prepared. Here are eight things you should do before embarking on any major home improvement project to avoid a whole bunch of headaches and regrets.

1. Know what you like

Oh that part’s easy, right? You want a totally new kitchen. But what exactly does that mean? You have to narrow down whether that’s just cosmetic (e.g., new cupboards, counters, and appliances) or structural (e.g., reconfiguring your space or knocking down a wall).

7 Super-Easy Cleaning Recipes for the Most Awesome-Smelling Home

Essential oils are the key to these sweet-smelling (and highly effective!) homemade cleaners.

If you get light-headed just reading the ingredients on your cleaning products, take heart: There’s another way.

These make-in-minutes, super-cheap recipes create potions that use sweet-smelling essential oils that won’t fumigate your home, while having superpowers to fight grime and bacteria.

And much like a food recipe you may try, you can modify the oils to suit your own olfactory senses.

Citrusy All-Purpose Cleaner

  • 15 drops of essential oil of lemon
  • 5 drops essential oil of sweet orange
  • 5 drops essential oil of rosemary
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups of filtered water

Funnel all these ingredients into a spray bottle, seal, and gently shake. There’ll be a battle of odors here, with the acidic vinegar likely winning out against the sweet-smelling oils, but don’t let this deter you.

The vinegar scent disappears quickly, but that citrusy, herby zing lingers on. And these oils aren’t just there for their scent alone. Lemon oil is a natural disinfectant, orange oil busts grease, and rosemary oil has some antibacterial and antiseptic qualities.

Lemon-Scented Window Cleaner

  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 10 drops essential oil of lemon

Mix all these ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray on any glass surface and polish in with a microfiber cloth. You’ll have sparkling panes and mirrors in no time, and that wondrous essential oil of lemon will kill off the bacteria left behind by mucky fingerprints.

Eucalyptus Toilet Bowl Cleaner

  • 25 drops essential oil of eucalyptus
  • 1/3 cup Castile soap
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 1/3 cups baking soda

Fill a squeeze bottle with the water, baking soda, and eucalyptus oil. Aside from having a deliciously fresh aroma, eucalyptus is a natural germicide.

Seal the bottle and shake. Next, add the Castile soap. Shake again. Squeeze around the bowl. Leave for 15 minutes, then scrub with a toilet brush, flush, and you’re done.

Lavender-Thyme Dish Cleaner

  • 20 drops essential oil of lavender
  • 10 drops essential oil of thyme
  • 5 drops of essential oil of tea tree
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 cup liquid Castile soap
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda

This one does require some stovetop time: Bring the water to a boil, then mix in the oils (thyme and tea tree goes to war on salmonella while emitting a pleasant aroma along with lavender). Add the rest of the ingredients slowly, and remove from heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, pour into a squeeze bottle. Shake gently before using.

Peppermint-Lavender Floor Cleaner

  • 5 drops essential oil of peppermint
  • 5 drops essential oil of lavender
  • 5 drops of essential oil of tea tree
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

Pour the vinegar into a bucket, fill that bucket up with hot water and add the oils.

Works on stone, tile, and wooden floors. Not only is peppermint oil anti-bacterial, many believe it can deter mice and other pests.

Tea tree oil is antibacterial, an antiseptic, and antifungal. And, not only is lavender oil antibacterial, its aroma has soothing properties to calm your whole household.

Lavender Linen Spray

  • 6 drops of essential oil of lavender
  • 2 tablespoons witch hazel
  • Filtered water

Fill a spray bottle with the witch hazel and lavender, shake, top up with water, shake again, and spray.

Cinnamon and Sandalwood Air Freshener

  • 10 drops essential oil of cinnamon
  • 10 drops oil of sandalwood
  • 1 cup filtered water

A spritz of this subtle-but-effective scent erases stinks in seconds. Fill a spray bottle with the water and the oils. Cinnamon scent boosts brain power and sandalwood is calming, perfect for a hardworking, stressed out home!

Essential oils do mix, so if any of the scents in these recipes don’t appeal, you can play around with other oils. Just keep the quantities the same. So if you switched sandalwood for essential oil of orange in this air freshener, stick to the 10 drops specified in the recipe.

Article by ANNA TOBIN

Slow Cooker Paleo Gumbo Recipe

This slow cooker Paleo gumbo is pretty dang easy to make, but there is a second step beyond simply loading the crockpot! You just get the ingredients prepped and added to your crock pot or slow cooker, and then let everything cook while you go about your day. When there is about 30 minutes left or about 30 minutes before you plan to eat, add the pre-cooked sausage and shrimp to the crockpot. The shrimp will turn pink and be ready by the time you are ready to ladle the soup into big hearty bowls!

Ingredients

  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot flour
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp cajun seasoning mix
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
  • 1/2 lb pre-cooked sausages, sliced (about 3-4 large sausages)
  • 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined and tails removed
  • 4 green onions, diced

Instructions

  1. Whisk together chicken broth and arrowroot flour until no lumps remain. Set aside.

  2. Chop onion, bell pepper, celery as noted and peel and smash garlic.

  3. Place chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker and toss in the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, and bay leaves. Sprinkle cajun seasoning and thyme over everything.

  4. Pour in the diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

  5. When the gumbo has 30 minutes left, slice up the sausages and green onions. Add the sausage, shrimp and 3/4 of the green onions to the slow cooker. Cook for the remaining 30 minutes until the shrimp is cooked through.

  6. Shred the chicken with two forks. Ladle gumbo into bowls, sprinkle with remaining green onions and serve.

Afraid of Selling Your Home Too Soon—and Missing Out on Tons of Cash? Consider This

If you sold your home at a good price, you’d be thrilled, right? But what if, a year or two later, you check in on your old home by idly punching your former address into realtor.com … and discover that its value has shot up even higher? In other words, had you only held onto this property a little longer, you could have made a real killing?

Welcome to home seller’s remorse—a rampant affliction among home sellers across the country. It can hit at any point after a home sale, where, akin to tossing a winning lottery ticket, home sellers torture themselves with fears that they’ve sold their home too soon, thus losing out on tens of thousands of dollars. Home seller’s remorse can even kick in before a sale, stressing out homeowners who are thinking of selling but are worrying that they could be pulling the trigger too early … and missing out on the windfall their home could become.

Sound painfully familiar? In the strong seller’s market we have now, where prices are rising across the country, it’s understandable.

“Sellers tend to think that if they just wait a little longer, they can sell for more,” says Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, a real estate agent at Triplemint in New York. (Of course, he adds, the same is true of buyers: “They tend to think they could have bought for less earlier.”)

Yet real estate experts insist that home sellers should stop second-guessing themselves and make peace with when they sell, and for how much. Here are some reasons you should never worry whether you’re selling your home too soon.

Reason 1: Just as with stocks, you can’t time the housing market

Have you ever heard how you can’t time the stock market? Pretty much the same thing goes for selling a house. Clairvoyant powers or a fully functional Magic-8 ball would be needed to know exactly what home prices will do next; even economists and real estate agents wouldn’t dare make predictions with any level of certainty.

So as a home seller, you shouldn’t beat yourself up; hindsight, as they always say, is 20/20.

To snap yourself out of this mindset, remind yourself that home prices could also drop—in which case you will be thanking your lucky stars that you sold when you did. Or, if home prices do indeed rise a year or two later, it can help to take a step back and consider the long-term perspective.

“When you look back 10 years from now, it is unlikely that you will be as upset about the marginal difference,” Fabrikant says. “What looms large today will likely seem insignificant several years and several other curveballs later in life.”

Reason 2: If you wait, the price of homes you’re buying could rise, too

It also helps to see the trade-offs, says Shannon Boudreau, sales director at a new development, 389 East 89th Street, in New York City. Some of her clients are downsizing from a large house to an apartment in the city.

“Sure, potentially, if these home sellers held onto their house another year, they would have possibly gotten a higher return on their investment,” she concedes. But at the same time, the prices of homes they were buying would have risen, too.

“The likelihood of values increasing elsewhere, in a nearby neighborhood, is also high,” says Boudreau.

So it’s a wash. As such, “I would never advise someone to wait, because values are increasing everywhere,” says Boudreau. “The more you make on your home sale, the more you’ll probably have to pay for whatever you buy.”

Reason 3: Odds are, you sell when you have to

Last but not least, homes aren’t abstract, tradable commodities like stocks, where the only thing that matters is the stock’s price. Homes are homes, and as such, have to fit your life circumstances—meaning that they need to be large enough to raise your family, to offer a convenient commute to your office, to be situated in a good school district, and more.

So if you’ve changed jobs, or are expecting a new family member, or your eldest just got accepted to the top magnet school across town, then the question of when to sell your home may not truly be an option. You really can’t wait!

“Sometimes, sellers have to sell immediately,” says Triplemint agent Gina Ko. So when clients fret that they might be selling their property too soon, Ko reminds them of the big picture.

“Whether it’s to be closer to family in another area, preparing for a baby to arrive, or setting themselves up for a better job opportunity, these life shifts are opportunities for bigger and better things to come,” she says.

So you can stop worrying and torturing yourself. Trust that, in the long run, you’ll sell at just the right time.

Article by 

Moving with Pets

Moving to a new home can be stressful for anyone. But with a little consideration and planning, it doesn’t have to be difficult on your pets.

May is National Moving Month. It marks the official beginning of the moving season, a four-month period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when millions of American families relocate. And because some 68 percent of Americans consider their pets to be members of the family, according to a 1999 report by pet supply retailer PetsMart, it stands to reason that every possible measure should be taken to ensure the safety and comfort of all nonhuman family members during the upheaval of a relocation.

“Moving is very stressful for a family,” say ASPCA President Larry Hawk, D.V.M. “That stress is also experienced by the pets. They want to know that they’re part of the family and that they’ll be going, too.”

Sadly, many pets will not be going with their families to new homes. According to research published in 1999 by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, moving is identified as the most common of 71 reasons for relinquishing dogs and the third most common reason for relinquishing cats to shelters. In addition, when citing moving as the reason for giving up their pets, 38.8 percent of dog owners and 38.1 percent of cat owners cited the refusal of a landlord to allow the animal in an apartment or house.

But for most people, leaving their companion animals behind is out of the question. With the proper preparation, you can ensure that your next move will go more smoothly, for you and your pets.

Before the Move

Moving with a companion animal usually means moving with a cat or dog. While these animals may react similarly to changes within the home, cats and dogs will, for the most part, respond to a family relocation with different behaviors.

“We tend to socialize our dogs a lot more,” says Jacque Lynn Schultz, director of special projects for ASPCA Animal Sciences. “We take them more places and often stay overnight with them. We don’t do that with our cats.”

In general, cats are more focused on their surroundings and don’t adapt to change as readily as their canine counterparts. Felines thrive on constancy, and any disruption to their environment can foster stress-induced behavioral changes. An independent cat may become clingy and atypically affectionate. Conversely, a cat who’s normally demonstrative may become temporarily reclusive.

The most important thing any pet owner can do before moving with their pets is “plan, plan, plan,” says Steve Zawistowski, Ph.D., senior vice president of ASPCA Animal Sciences.

If your cat’s only exposure to a carrier was when she came home from the shelter, now’s the time to leave it where she can examine it daily. Place your cat’s favorite blanket or toy in the carrier, and praise her when she goes inside. “Set the carrier up well in advance, so your cat will get used to going in there and hiding out,” says Schultz. “This way, when she feels stressed, she’ll hide in the carrier instead of in a suitcase.”

Dogs are often easier to travel with, but if Fido’s only experience in a car has been a trip to the vet, you’ll want to acclimate him to riding in the car a few weeks before your move. Start with short trips, perhaps to the park. Positive association will reinforce the pleasurable aspect of car rides and help decrease anxiety.

On the day of the move, place your cats or other small animals in their carriers and confine your dogs to one room or the backyard. If your dog has any territorial protectiveness or gets stressed out easily, ask a neighbor to watch him for the afternoon until all of your belongings are packed away. Only after everything is out of the house should you retrieve your animal and place him in the car or moving truck.

Cats should always be confined to a hard-sided carrier, as should other small animals, such as rabbits, ferrets and birds. Allow enough room on either side of the carrier for proper ventilation. Arnold Plotnick, D.V.M., vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, recommends covering the carrier with a sheet or light blanket for the first few hours of the trip. “Cats get a little freaked out when they see the world moving by,” he says. After a few hours, they should relax, and then you can remove the sheet.

Dogs should also be restrained. Safety harnesses, which attach to any seat belt, allow your dog to sit or stand comfortably, whereas safety gates, made of either mesh or metal, give him added mobility in a restricted area. An unrestrained, agitated dog can compromise your control of the car while driving. Moreover, there exists the risk of your already disoriented dog escaping from the vehicle at a roadside stop.

And don’t forget to pack a separate bag for your animal. Take some of his favorite food, as well as a gallon of water, because water characteristics change regionally. If you are traveling with cats, they can generally travel for eight to 10 hours without having to use a litterbox, but it never hurts to bring along a disposable litterbox for emergencies or overnight stops. You will also need to bring a pet first aid kit and some extra towels, in case of accidents. Place temporary ID tags with your new address and phone number, or a cell phone number, on your pet’s collar.

Keep a current health certificate for your pet handy during interstate travel, because many states require one. Highway patrolmen have the right to inspect your pet’s health certificate, should you be pulled over for another reason, and you can be fined for not having one.

If you cannot take your pet with you during the move, there are a variety of animal relocation companies that will transport your animal using either their own vehicles or by prearranging appropriate relocation methods and boarding. They also make sure that your pet’s paperwork is up to date. Leaving these details to someone else may be well worth the extra expense, says Denise Simmons. In 1998, Simmons accepted a job as a programmer at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, which required her to relocate from Virginia to Illinois. This meant packing up a menagerie of pets, including two horses, one dachshund, one parrot, a rabbit, a squirrel and six cats. Simmons contracted with Spotsylvania, VA-based 4 Bar Transport, which she found through ads in Horse Illustrated, to ship her two horses. The company picked up the horses and transported them to a designated boarding facility, where they stayed until Simmons could retrieve them.

Many realty companies have also begun to realize how important pets are to prospective homeowners and renters. One such company, Washington, DC-based McEnearny Associates, designed a program called PAWsitive Experience, which debuted in 1999. Pet owners complete a questionnaire detailing their needs. Once a suitable home is found, clients are presented with a Pet Welcome Bag, which contains pet toys and treats, as well as a book that features local pet laws and directories of animal hospitals, dog parks and pet specialty shops.

Hidden Hazards

Not all moves can be made in one day. If you must stop for the night, call ahead to hotels that claim to be pet-friendly. “Don’t take a hotel chain’s word for it. Call the actual hotel and verify what their pet policies are,” says Hawk. Many pet-friendly hotels have a limited number of rooms available for people with pets, or will only allow small dogs and cats.

In the hotel room, look around for any dangers, such as open windows or holes in the wall, before letting your cat out of her carrier or your dog off his leash.

“At home you’re familiar with your cat’s favorite hiding places, but a strange environment has all sorts of possibilities,” cautions Moira Allen, a Virginia-based writer who has moved nine times in the past 16 years. During a 1991 move from Germany to California, Allen and her three cats spent several days in a Los Angeles hotel room while trying to find an apartment. Aware of the typical hiding places, Allen was terrified when she could not locate her tortoiseshell, Nani. After looking in every conceivable place, she noticed a slight movement on the bed. Nani was nestled in the hollow between the pillows, concealed beneath the bedspread. While Nani was not in any danger, the experience made Allen realize how easy it is for cats to hide.

Hotels also provide an opportunity for your pet to escape and become lost. Audio engineer Jon Picciano almost lost his cat George during a 1996 move from Michigan to New York City. Picciano confined George in the bathroom while he went out for dinner. But George managed to open the bathroom door, and when Picciano re-entered his room, George ran out into the parking lot. Says Picciano, “Luckily, he was as freaked out as I was and hesitated long enough for me to catch him. Now when I travel, I never leave the cats alone. Ever.”

Those Lovable Unhuggables

Dogs and cats aren’t the only animals who get new addresses. Each year, millions of families move with their favorite tarantula, iguana, fish, bird or other exotic pet. Moving exotics can require careful research and special handling.

When the Popolillos of New Jersey built a second home in Kentucky in 1998, it was important to them that they be able to bring part of their family of koi to the new house. The fish were transported in large plastic bags infused with concentrated oxygen, which can be provided by most major aquarium supply stores. These bags can support the fish for approximately 24 hours. Three of the fish were carried by a family member on a plane—they were in First Class, so they had ample space under the seat. The remaining four fish were driven to Kentucky.

“Fish can be difficult to move,” says Zawistowski. “If you’re not going to make the move in one day, it’s best to contact a professional animal moving company about overnight shipping. It’s not cheap, but if you’re talking about shipping very expensive fish, it’s worth it.”

Reptiles require meticulous planning because they are extremely susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Cathy Smith, director of business and quality management for the Impact Group, which specializes in corporate relocation, recalls helping a New Jersey family move to Louisiana with their iguana, Iggy. Several airlines refused to carry the cold-blooded animal on a passenger flight, so Smith investigated shipping Iggy as cargo. She found an approved carrier and advised the family to travel in June rather than December, as originally planned, eliminating climactic concerns. “This greatly relieved Iggy’s owner, making the relocation a happier event,” says Smith.

New Home Sweet Home

When you reach your final destination, immediately remove your animals from the car and segregate them in a single room. “Take a full inspection of the house before you let your animal out,” says Schultz. “If you haven’t lived here before, you won’t necessarily be aware of holes in the back of the cabinets, and you don’t know what kind of openings may be behind your larger appliances.”

“Check for open windows, chemicals in the water, mousetraps under the bed or dressers and even drapery cords, which cats can get tangled in,” adds Plotnick, who once handled an emergency case involving a dog who drank water from a toilet bowl filled with antifreeze. Only after all of your boxes and furniture have been moved in, and all of the movers have left, should you let your animals out to explore.

Placing familiar objects in relatively the same locations as in your previous home will help ease your animal’s anxiety, and now is not the time to change routines or schedules. If your cat’s litterbox was in the bathroom of your previous home, put it in the bathroom in the new location. If your dog has been accustomed to eating twice a day, don’t suddenly change his feeding schedule to once a day. “Any changes you make should be made slowly,” says Schultz. “You want the stresses of the new place to wear off before you start making additional changes. For some animals, it may take days or even weeks to become comfortable.”

“Let your animal’s behavior be your guide,” Schultz recommends. “To that end, it’s important for you to be as calm as possible. A lot of the stress that your animal feels comes from you. If you’re falling apart, your animal’s reaction is going to reflect that. If you have a relatively calm demeanor, that’s going to brush off on the animals, too.”

“It’s not easy to move with animals,” says Zawistowski, “but it’s part of the obligation we have to them.” With forethought and planning, there is no reason why moving to a new home cannot be accomplished with a minimum of stress—for both you and your companions.

Article by Cynthia P. Gallagher

14 Garage Organization Ideas Under $50

Easy-to-afford solutions for your tools, sporting and seasonal gear (so you’ll have room for your car, too).

If you’ve got a garage, most likely you’ve got waaayyyy more than cars in there. It’s the catch-all place to keep stuff (mostly) out of sight and out of mind.

Put order to the chaos and protect your car’s paint job with simple storage systems and organizing hacks for everything from sports equipment to tools.

Bikes, Skates, and Other Wheels

#1 Hoist bicycles to the rafters with a rope-and-pulley system (starting around $40) that makes it easy to raise the bike and lock safely in place. When you’re ready to ride, release the lock and lower your bike to the garage floor. You’ll need an hour or two and basic tools to secure the pair of pulleys to ceiling joists and thread the ropes. (Similar hoists are available for kayaks or small boats; starting around $25.)

#2 Use a specially designed wall rack to hang helmets and skateboards together; starting around $20. Secure this one to wall joists in less than an hour.

#3 Keep scooters and bikes out of the way with tool hooks installed on a length of 1-by-6-inch lumber. You’ll pay $3 for each pair of vinyl-coated screw-in tool hooks and $1 per foot for lumber. You’ll need only an hour or two to secure the lumber to wall joists and screw the hooks into place along the board.

Sporting Goods

#4 Bring together balls and bats on a convenient wire rack equipped with hangers that hold gloves too; starting around $35.

#5 Stash two pairs of snow skis, poles, and boots in one handy steel ski rack; $45. Securing this rack to wall studs helps it hold the weight of the equipment. If you can’t position it on studs, use wall anchors for a secure installation. You can do the task with or without anchors in an hour or two.

#6 Stow your fishing rods by suspending two wire shelves from your garage ceiling about 5 feet apart, then threading the rods through the openings. Use shelves left over from a project or purchase a 4-foot-by-16-inch vinyl-coated wire shelf for less than $9, and saw it in half crosswise (or clip with bolt cutters) to make two 2-foot shelves. Snip additional wires where you need wider slots to accept pole handles or reels.

Tools

#7 Hang wrenches and bungee cords using an ordinary vinyl-coated wire tie-and-belt rack, available at big box stores; $8.

#8 Hang metal tools on a magnetized rail, keeping items in view and easy to retrieve; starting around $30. Simply screw the rail to wall studs to safely hold the weight of the tools (it’s an idea you may be drawn to.)

#9 Cushion and protect tools by padding your toolbox drawers with a soft, non-slip liner. The open-weave design keeps moisture away and prevents tools from rolling around. Enough material to line eight average-size drawers is $15. Just cut the liner to length to fit and slip it into the drawer.

#10 Organize small items — such as pencils, box cutters, and tape measures — by stashing them in electrical junction boxes; about $2 each (free if you have spares). Purchase a variety of sizes and shapes and secure them to studs or pegboard.

Yard and Garden Gear

#11 Transform an old filing cabinet into storage bins for various yard tools.Remove the drawers, turn it on its backside, and use a couple afternoons to apply paint and pegboard sides. Less than $25.

#12 Mount heavy tools, long-handled implements, and ladders on long steel rails with extruded holes high on the garage wall and secured to studs. Add hooks and pegs on the rail to hang big tools. Two 48-inch rails sell for $22.

#13 Secure a wooden pallet to wall studs to create a pocket for holding long-handled garden tools. To find free wooden pallets, check with local businesses as well as online classifieds, such as Craigslist. Cost: Free.

#14 Use a can rack to keep bottles of fertilizers, repellants, and lubricants upright and easy to retrieve. Rack ($15) prevents cans and bottles from tumbling off shelves.

Article by JAN SOULTS WALKER

Paleo Steak Tacos

Do you guys remember a few years ago when the taco diet was a thing? People were losing weight just eating tacos from Taco Bell of all places? TACO BELL. GRADE D MEAT. Meat that’s mostly made up of soy. Total garbage. But I thought to myself, this is a diet I can get on board with. Tacos all day? Sign me up!

I’m not sure how tacos originally got the reputation as being a less than healthy food, but they’re actually quite nutritious, especially if made properly. Always use a good tortilla, sprouted organic corn or these Siete tortilla shells, which are my absolute favorite. They’re grain-free, gluten-free, paleo and low carb. You can check them out HERE, but they’re much cheaper at your local health food store.

Choose a good protein for filling: grass-fed beef, wild seafood, pasture raised chicken – even eggs and make huevos rancheros for breakfast!

After that, just load it up with veggies. Pico de gallo, avocado, jalapenos, grilled peppers and onions and fermented spicy cabbage (rosetido) are some of my faves! You what you like and what you have. There is absolutely no need to over-complicate healthy eating. We’re talking tacos for God’s sake.

Ingredients

  • 3 Siete almond flour tortillas (HERE, or you can buy them in Whole Foods for cheaper than this)
  • 1/4 lb grass-fed sirloin steak (or skirt, flank, etc) marinated in garlic, avocado oil, cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper for at least an hour
  • 1/2 cup pico de gallo
  • 1/2 avocado
  • fermented red cabbage – optional but amazing

Instructions

  1. Heat the tortillas per package instructions.
  2. Cook steak to medium rare on grill or hot cast iron.
  3. Let it sit for five minutes.
  4. Slice.
  5. Layer on tcaos: steak, pico de gallo, avocado slices and fermented red cabbage.

Educating, Inspiring, and Giving Back to our Military Families and Veterans

LEARN ABOUT THE AMERICAN WARRIOR INITIATIVE

Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation takes pride in our superior customer care and our efforts to find the best loan at the best rate for our clients. What many people do not know is Fairways dedication to give back to the community. Through a partnership with The American Warrior Initiative (AWI), Fairway is able to make giving back and making a difference in the community part of the fundamentals of our organization.

Sean Parnell and Louise Thaxton founded AWI in April of 2012 with a mission to serve those who have served us and continue to protect the American Dream. Sean is a Retired Army Infantry Captain with the elite 10th Mountain Division and veteran of 485 days of fierce fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and Louise is producing branch manager for Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation.

The mission of the American Warrior Initiative is to educate, encourage and inspire Americans to give back to our military. AWI’s partnership with Fairway allows them to educate real estate and mortgage professionals on handling the home purchase needs of active duty and military veterans with excellence.

United States active military and veterans have fought and given so much to protect the American Dream, but unfortunately they are often targeted by shady businesses and have been cheated, scammed or overbilled. By learning how to be a better partner to them during the home buying process, we can become a watchdog for the warrior by pursuing excellence in serving the home purchase needs of military clients.

There are many things that AWI offers to mortgage and real estate professionals. AWI brings boot camps throughout the county where real estate agents have the opportunity to not only receive continuing education credits, but also the certification of “Certified Military Residential Specialist”. AWI also offers the Military Mortgage Specialist™ Designation, which is exclusive to Fairway Mortgage Planners. Through this designation, mortgage loan professionals, loan processors, closers, loan assistants, and branch managers, can be thoroughly trained and equipped to handle with excellence the mortgage loan needs of our active and former military clients.

For more information about Fairway Mortgage Lending programs, please feel free to reach out to Jim Francis, (630) 995-7090 or jim.francis@fairwaymc.com.