Don’t Get Burned by a Credit Freeze

Baby, it’s cold outside.

With Equifax and other companies reporting massive data breaches this year, more consumers are putting a freeze on their credit reports. And while a credit freeze won’t affect a borrower’s ability to qualify for a mortgage, it does require the borrower to take additional steps during the application process.

A credit freeze blocks anyone—including lenders and employers—from accessing your credit report. Requests for a credit freeze must be submitted by mail, online or over the phone to the three major credit bureaus individually (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). You’ll need to provide your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number. The fees vary by state but run from free to $10 each time you place or lift the freeze, and payments can be made using a personal check, money order or credit card. (Fees may be waived for victims of identity theft.)

Once placed, a credit freeze stays on your credit report until you lift or remove it. But remember: It can affect your ability to get a new cellphone, apply for a store credit card or even get a job. And existing creditors or debt collectors acting on their behalf will still have access.

“Freezing your credit can prevent others from opening new lines of credit in your name, but it also prevents you from opening an account yourself,” says Sam Mischner, chief sales officer and head of mortgage at Charlotte, N.C.-based LendingTree. “If you’ve instituted a freeze on your credit but now want to apply for a loan, you will need to take the extra step of allowing the lender access to your credit. You will have to contact each credit bureau to temporarily lift the freeze.”

For borrowers applying for a mortgage, that freeze will probably only have to be lifted once, because the credit report would be good for the typical 30- to 45-day period from contract to closing, says Josh Moffitt, founder and president of Silverton Mortgage Specialists, a direct-mortgage lender in Atlanta. But there are certain situations where another report needs to be pulled by the lender nearer to the closing. In that case, the borrower may have to lift the freeze—and pay for it—multiple times.

In addition, borrowers might run into problems in competitive housing markets where they need to close quickly. In those instances, it might be tricky to unfreeze the credit in time for the lender to pull credit reports and complete the underwriting and pre-closing process.

Here are a few considerations if you’re applying for a mortgage with frozen credit.

Watch yourself

While freezing your credit protects you from the time the freeze becomes effective, it does nothing to correct existing credit issues. Get a copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies, check them carefully and correct any errors before you apply for a mortgage.

Get alerts

While a credit freeze “locks down” your credit, a fraud alert still allows creditors to pull your credit report as long as they verify your identity first, according to the Federal Trade Commission. For example, a business may call you to verify that you are the person requesting new credit. However, while fraud alerts may make it more difficult for others to open new credit accounts in your name, they may not prevent misuse of your existing accounts. Placing a fraud alert is easier than with a freeze. You need only to contact one of the reporting agencies, which in turn is required to notify the others. A fraud alert is free.

Know how the freeze works

Understand the logistics of lifting the freeze—and make sure you allow enough time for the lender to pull credit reports. Consumers who deal directly with the three credit-reporting agencies are given a personal identification number to provide, either by phone, online or mail, every time they want to lift or remove the freeze, according to David M. Blumberg, a spokesman for TransUnion. Alternatively, consumers can lock or unlock their credit using a third-party service like TransUnion’s TrueIdentity, which is available online or in an app.

Contact information

Here is contact information for fraud and identity-theft issues.

Equifax: 888-349-9960, www.equifax.com

Experian: 888-397-3742, www.experian.com

TransUnion: 888-909-8872 www.transunion.com

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‘Our Home Was Renovated on a Reality Show’: What It’s Really Like, Warts and All

If you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper,” “Flip or Flop,” or “Property Brothers,” you’ve probably wondered what it’s like to have your home renovated on a reality TV show. Alex Shaw, a casting producer in Los Angeles, had pondered that same question. So when she heard that TLC’s “Nate and Jeremiah by Design” was looking for applicants last November, she applied—and was picked!

At first, Shaw was beyond excited, knowing that Nate Berkus had gained fame designing Oprah‘s home and served as an expert on her talk show before branching off to star in his own home makeover show with husband Jeremiah Brent. Plus, Shaw’s house with her fiancé, Tom Schultz, was run-down and in dire need of renovating (as you can see below in the before pic).

Nonetheless, Shaw would soon learn that having your home made over on a reality TV show is a bit of a roller coaster ride. As Shaw admits, “There’s really no way you can anticipate all the crazy things that will happen.”

So in case you’re fantasizing about having your own place prettied up on camera, read this behind-the-curtain sneak peek about what it’s really like.

The audition process is extremely time-consuming

All told, “we spent about 60 hours on the audition process spread out over a two-month period,” Shaw estimates. First they submitted photos and a short video of their home, as well as a few paragraphs about who they were and what they needed. That was followed by numerous Skype interviews with producers, and requests for the couple to shoot more lengthy videos of their house and interactions with each other.

From there, they had to submit to background checks, put together Pinterest boards with examples of their favorite designs, and open their home to film crews several times—even when they weren’t there. All this, before they were even selected for the show!

They had to pay to play

Shaw and Schultz were told upfront that they would have to pay for most of their remodeling fees—a minimum of $40,000. Since there was a lot they wanted done, they tapped their savings account and refinanced the house to come up with $100,000 for the designers to spend. Sure, it was scary, but as Shaw explains, “This was our only shot at an opportunity like this. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

They had to move out—fast

Shaw and Schultz thought a camera crew had come to their house to shoot the last step of their audition when Berkus and Brent snuck in to let them know, on camera, that they’d been selected for the show. Then they revealed their grand plans for the remodel. Oh, and then they informed the couple that they had to move out of the house—in the next 48 hours!

“Moving was painful,” Shaw recalls. Although only a few rooms would be remodeled, the couple had to remove everything from every room. The producers promised them a large storage pod to contain everything, but it arrived just two hours before deadline.

No professional movers were sent in, either.

“We recruited our neighbors to come and help us stuff everything into plastic trash bags,” says Shaw. “And all this was during a terrible rainstorm, so it was almost impossible to keep everyone and everything from getting soaked. It was chaos.”

And they had to stay out for a whole month

Since Shaw and Schultz had to move out immediately, they didn’t have time to arrange to stay with friends or family. The good news is that the production company had booked and paid for Airbnb accommodations for them. The bad news? Since everything happened so last-minute, no single home could be booked for an entire month, so they ended up having to move five times.

This wreaked havoc on their jobs, since both work from home. “There was so much upheaval, we virtually couldn’t get any work done,” says Shaw, who had to forgo numerous projects. Schultz, an animation producer, had to pass on a number of lucrative opportunities as well.

They had no say about what would be renovated

Although the couple had made up a wish list of the rooms they most wanted renovated (which included the bathrooms, bedrooms, and exterior) and conveyed their tastes through Pinterest boards and numerous conversations with Berkus and Brent, they were also warned that they’d have no say on what the designers would decide to do. So after a month, when the couple were finally allowed to see their overhauled home for the first time, it was not exactly what they expected. For one, their living room had been repainted a color called “golden rust,” but Shaw wasn’t in love with it.

“The brown walls weren’t my favorite,” Shaw admits.

Shaw was also shocked to find that her dining room was painted “canary green,” although she now loves it.

But some renovations they loved

But Shaw says she did genuinely love many of the upgrades the designers had done.

“We loved what they did to the kitchen,” says Shaw. “The crew went above and beyond in some aspects, like putting in beautiful wood flooring throughout the entire house.” She added that they also fixed a dangerous vent in the hallway, even though something like that would never make it on camera.

The ‘free’ stuff isn’t exactly free

When all was said and done, Berkus and Brent used only $85,000 of the couple’s $100,000 budget. Plus, they also received $75,000 worth of freebies from sponsors of the show, including furniture, appliances, and accessories. The catch? Since those freebies are technically “gifts” in the eyes of the IRS, they’d have to pay taxes on them later.

“They told us in advance that I would have to pay taxes on everything that they gave to us, so we were prepared,” says Shaw. “And we were OK with it, because the taxes would be just a fraction of what the items cost. We would never spend, like, $4,000 on a sofa.” Schultz estimates their tax bill at the end of they year for the items they got for free will be about $4,000 to $5,000.

It might have been cheaper to just hire a designer on their own

While visitors have admired their revamped home, “people look around and they wonder was what was done here really worth $155,000, all totaled? ‘Where did the money go?'” says Shaw. That said, she understands that much of the expense went into construction issues like insulating some walls and knocking down others, repairing the roof and plumbing, putting in new subflooring—things you can’t see.

When asked if it might have been cheaper to just hire a designer on her own, Shaw admits that’s possible. But the process would have also dragged on for far longer, too.

“For all the hassle of moving in 48 hours and switching homes five times, the entire renovation process only lasted one month,” Shaw points out. “Permits alone would have taken months, and the crew was able to get them in 24 hours.”

In spite of the hassles, they still think it was worth it

All in all, the entire process—from sending in her application last November to the show airing this April—took nine months. Even though their lives went through major upheaval, they spent almost $100,000 of their own money, and they lost thousands of dollars worth of work, Shaw insists she and Schultz would “do it again in a heartbeat.”

For one, aside from a few color choices, they were genuinely thrilled with their new house.

“We had been living in the house for eight years, and hadn’t been able to accomplish a fraction of what was done,” Shaw says. “It took a huge load off us. The biggest plus was having someone else make the decisions. We’re both hard-headed and think we know better than the other. It took us two years to decide on a color to paint the front door.”

Plus, “the designers were a blast, and we had an adventure not many get to experience.”

“Nate and Jeremiah by Design” airs on TLC. See their episode, called “Happy Hour,” on demand or online here. And come back tomorrow for tips on getting your own home on a renovation reality TV show!

Article by Lisa Johnson Mandell

The Ultimate Stylish and Durable Home Decor for People With Pets

You undoubtedly love your pet, but cats and dogs can be rough ‘n’ tough on your home furnishings. But having animal companions doesn’t mean you have to live with torn couches, stained rugs, and claw-gouged floors. Really! You just have to shop carefully for beautiful things that can withstand being in the same house as your four-legged friends.

We’re here to help. We sought the advice of design experts Emily Henderson of Style by Emily Henderson and Debbie Gartner of The Flooring Girl to get their top decor picks for style-minded cat and dog owners.

Durable varieties of hardwood floor

Hardwood is having a moment—the wildly popular flooring is the go-to choice for many homeowners. But some dog owners avoid these types of floors because claws can leave permanent scratches and gouges.

5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes From Exploding this Winter

Even if you think they’ve already started to freeze.

New homeowners may have heard that winterization is important, but in the hubbub of your first year living in a home you own (finally!), it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare for the cold weather ahead. After all, it’s just not something renters deal with; prepping pipes for winter is often the landlord’s job.

Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.

Here are some easy techniques to save your pipes from bursting:

#1 Turn On Your Faucets

If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.

#2 Open Cabinet Doors

During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.

#3 Wrap Your Pipes

If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.

#4 Pull Out Your Hairdryer

A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.

#5 Shut Off The Water if Pipes Are Frozen

Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)

Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

Tortilla Turkey Soup

Forget the bland, day-after leftovers pulled begrudgingly from plastic Tupperware containers. Instead, with a few steps, you can create something everyone will love. This recipe will help you put a new spin on those turkey remnants. Try leftover turkey in soup for a tasty, flavorful change. This Mexican-inspired turkey soup has crunchy tortilla strips, creamy avocado, and fresh cilantro for a zesty day after Thanksgiving dish. And with those dropping temperatures, you’ll love to have a big bowl of steaming soup to warm you up. This Tortilla Turkey Soup is the fuzzy scarf of soups—comforting, lovely, and you’ll reach for it again and again, especially this season.

Ingredients

  • 10 (6-inch) fajita-size corn tortillas, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (32-oz.) container chicken broth
  • 1 (10-oz.) can medium enchilada sauce
  • 2 cups chopped cooked turkey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Toppings: chopped avocado, shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped tomatoes

How to Make It

Step 1

Preheat oven to 450°. Place half of tortilla strips in a single layer on a baking sheet. Coat strips with cooking spray; bake 10 minutes or until browned and crisp, stirring once.

Step 2

Sauté onion and next 2 ingredients in hot olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 5 to 6 minutes or until browned.

Step 3

Add chicken broth and remaining unbaked tortilla strips to onion mixture. Cook broth mixture over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes or until tortilla strips soften and broth mixture thickens slightly.

Step 4

Stir in enchilada sauce and next 2 ingredients, and cook 6 to 8 minutes or until mixture is thoroughly heated. (Do not boil.) Serve with baked tortilla strips and desired toppings.

Why You Should Still Talk to a Lender Even If You’re Not Ready to Buy a Home

If you’re a first-time home buyer, you might think you’re not ready to purchase a house. Perhaps you’re concerned about your job situation, your previous credit history, or your high monthly expenses. Whatever the circumstances, every borrower and financial situation is unique.

Unless you’re a financial expert, it’s best not to self-diagnose your financial problems. You wouldn’t skip out on the dentist to fill your own cavities, so don’t try to solve your financial troubles yourself either. A loan officer can walk you through your options—and they won’t try to drill your teeth!

When you apply for home loans, mortgage loan officers look at your credit score, credit history, monthly liabilities, income, and assets. These officers see the entire financial picture, not just the investable funds. A reputable loan officer with experience can get you on the right track for buying a home.

Here are three common reasons people don’t want to apply for a mortgage and what you should do if you’re really serious about buying a home.

A less-than-ideal credit report

The reality is that mortgage companies are required to pull a copy of your credit report, which includes scores from all three credit reporting bureaus. Your credit report is the most accurate representation of your credit available. Don’t let your messy credit report keep you from talking to a lender. After looking at your credit report, the lender can actually tell you what debts are the biggest drain on your borrowing power so you can start making smart financial decisions to improve your score.

Not enough income

Let the mortgage company review your pay stubs, W-2s, and tax returns for the last two years. If you were self-employed, let the loan officer look at your tax returns and evaluate your credit to determine what down payment you can afford and what you can buy. The lender can give you an idea of what you need to do to qualify, including how much more money you need to make to offset a proposed mortgage payment. With an action plan and a strategy in place, it may just take you a matter of months to button up your financial picture to qualify.

Too much debt

Debt and liabilities definitely impact spending power. Every dollar of debt you have requires two dollars of income to offset it. So for example, if you have a car loan that’s $500 a month, you will need $1,000 a month of income to offset that monthly liability. If more than 15% of your income currently goes toward consumer debt, you’ll have to either pay off debt or get more income—perhaps via a cosigner—to qualify for mortgage financing. Again, let the lender look at your financial picture so they can tell you what it takes to make it work.

If you’re planning to buy a house in the future but aren’t financially ready, talk to a professional. Meet with them face-to-face, provide them with all of your financial documentation, let them run a copy of your credit report, and go through a pre-home buying consultation so they can either pre-approve you or tell you what to do to become pre-approved in the future.

Many times, potential buyers are not ready, but having a conversation with a professional—so you know where you stand and where you are going—can be tremendously beneficial. You can also take a look at your financial health with a free credit report from Credit.com.

Article by Scott Sheldon

7 Tips for Staging Your Home

Make your home warm and inviting to boost your home’s value and speed up the sale process.

The first step to getting buyers to make an offer on your home is to impress them with its appearance so they begin to envision themselves living there. Here are seven tips for making your home look bigger, brighter, and more desirable.

1.  Start with a Clean Slate

Before you can worry about where to place furniture and which wall hanging should go where, each room in your home must be spotless. Do a thorough cleaning right down to the nitpicky details like wiping down light switch covers. Deep clean and deodorize carpets and window coverings.

2.  Stow Away Your Clutter

It’s harder for buyers to picture themselves in your home when they’re looking at your family photos, collectibles, and knickknacks. Pack up all your personal decorations. However, don’t make spaces like mantles and coffee and end tables barren. Leave three items of varying heights on each surface, suggests Barb Schwarz of Staged Homes in Concord, Pa. For example, place a lamp, a small plant, and a book on an end table.

3.  Scale Back on Your Furniture

When a room is packed with furniture, it looks smaller, which will make buyers think your home is less valuable than it is. Make sure buyers appreciate the size of each room by removing one or two pieces of furniture. If you have an eat-in dining area, using a small table and chair set makes the area seem bigger.

4.  Rethink Your Furniture Placement

Highlight the flow of your rooms by arranging the furniture to guide buyers from one room to another. In each room, create a focal point on the farthest wall from the doorway and arrange the other pieces of furniture in a triangle around the focal point, advises Schwarz. In the bedroom, the bed should be the focal point. In the living room, it may be the fireplace, and your couch and sofa can form the triangle in front of it.

5.  Add Color to Brighten Your Rooms

Brush on a fresh coat of warm, neutral-color paint in each room. Ask your real estate agent for help choosing the right shade. Then accessorize. Adding a vibrant afghan, throw, or accent pillows for the couch will jazz up a muted living room, as will a healthy plant or a bright vase on your mantle. High-wattage bulbs in your light fixtures will also brighten up rooms and basements.

6.  Set the Scene

Lay logs in the fireplace, and set your dining room table with dishes and a centerpiece of fresh fruit or flowers. Create other vignettes throughout the home — such as a chess game in progress — to help buyers envision living there. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.

Make your bathrooms feel luxurious by adding a new shower curtain, towels, and fancy guest soaps (after you put all your personal toiletry items are out of sight). Judiciously add subtle potpourri, scented candles, or boil water with a bit of vanilla mixed in. If you have pets, clean bedding frequently and spray an odor remover before each showing.

7.  Make the Entrance Grand

Mow your lawn and trim your hedges, and turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before showings to make your lawn sparkle. If flowers or plants don’t surround your home’s entrance, add a pot of bright flowers. Top it all off by buying a new doormat and adding a seasonal wreath to your front door.

Article by G. M. FILISKO

Thanksgiving Pet Safety

Thanksgiving is a special holiday that brings together family and friends, but it also can carry some hazards for pets. Holiday food needs to be kept away from pets, and pet owners who travel need to either transport their pets safely or find safe accommodations for them at home. Follow these tips to keep your pets healthy and safe during the holiday.

Poison Risks

Overindulging in the family feast can be unhealthy for humans, but even worse for pets: Fatty foods are hard for animals to digest. Poultry bones can damage your pet’s digestive tract. And holiday sweets can contain ingredients that are poisonous to pets.

  • Keep the feast on the table—not under it.  Eating turkey or turkey skin – sometimes even a small amount – can cause a life-threatening condition in pets known as pancreatitis. Fatty foods are hard for animals to digest, and many foods that are healthy for people are poisonous to pets – including onions, raisins and grapes. If you want to share a Thanksgiving treat with your pet, make or buy a treat that is made just for them.
  • No pie or other desserts for your pooch. Chocolate can be harmful for pets, even though many dogs find it tempting and will sniff it out and eat it. The artificial sweetener called xylitol – commonly used in gum and sugar-free baked goods – also can be deadly if consumed by dogs or cats.
  • Yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating.
  • Put the trash away where your pets can’t find it.  A turkey carcass sitting out on the carving table, or left in a trash container that is open or easily opened, could be deadly to your family pet. Dispose of turkey carcasses and bones – and anything used to wrap or tie the meat, such as strings, bags and packaging – in a covered, tightly secured trash bag placed in a closed trash container outdoors (or behind a closed, locked door).
  • Be careful with decorative plants. Don’t forget that some flowers and festive plants can be toxic to pets. These include amaryllis, Baby’s Breath, Sweet William, some ferns, hydrangeas and more. The ASPCA offers lists of plants that are toxic to both dogs and cats, but the safest route is simply to keep your pets away from all plants and table decorations.
  • Quick action can save lives. If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. You may also want to call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 888-426-4435. Signs of pet distress include: sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Contact your veterinarian immediately.

Precautions for Parties

If you’re hosting a party or overnight visitors, plan ahead to keep your pets safe and make the experience less stressful for everyone.

  • Visitors can upset your pets. Some pets are shy or excitable around new people or in crowds, and Thanksgiving often means many visitors at once and higher-than-usual noise and activity levels. If you know your dog or cat is nervous when people visit your home, put him/her in another room or a crate with a favorite toy. This will reduce the emotional stress on your pet and protect your guests from possible injury. If your pet is particularly upset by houseguests, talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions to this common problem.
    Learn about dog bite prevention.
    • If any of your guests have compromised immune systems (due to pregnancy, some diseases, or medications or treatments that suppress the immune system), make sure they’re aware of the pets (especially exotic pets) in your home so they can take extra precautions to protect themselves.
    • If you have exotic pets, remember that some people are uncomfortable around them and that these pets may be more easily stressed by the festivities. Keep exotic pets safely away from the hubbub of the holiday.
  • Watch the exits. Even if your pets are comfortable around guests, make sure you watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving your home. While you’re welcoming hungry guests and collecting coats, a four-legged family member may make a break for it out the door and become lost.
  • Identification tags and microchips reunite families. Make sure your pet has proper identification with your current contact information – particularly a microchip with up-to-date, registered information. That way, if they do sneak out, they’re more likely to be returned to you. If your pet isn’t already microchipped, talk to your veterinarian about the benefits of this simple procedure.
    Learn more about microchips.
  • Watch your pets around festive decorations. Special holiday displays or candles are attractive to pets as well as people. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle; it could result in a fire. And pine cones, needles and other decorations can cause intestinal blockages or even perforate an animal’s intestine if eaten.

Travel Concerns

Whether you take your pets with you or leave them behind, take these precautions to safeguard them when traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday or at any other time of the year.

Your pet needs a health certificate from your veterinarian if you’re traveling across state lines or international borders, whether by air or car. Learn the requirements for any states you will visit or pass through, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to get the needed certificate within the timeframes required by those states.
Learn more about health certificates.

Never leave pets alone in vehicles, even for a short time, regardless of the weather.

Pets should always be safely restrained in vehicles. This means using a secure harness or a carrier, placed in a location clear of airbags. This helps protect your pets if you brake or swerve suddenly, or get in an accident; keeps them away from potentially poisonous food or other items you are transporting; prevents them from causing dangerous distractions for the driver; and can prevent small animals from getting trapped in small spaces. Never transport your pet in the bed of a truck.
Learn more about properly restraining pets in vehicles.

Talk with your veterinarian if you’re traveling by air and considering bringing your pet with you. Air travel can put pets at risk, especially short-nosed dogs. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you regarding your own pet’s ability to travel.

Pack for your pet as well as yourself if you’re going to travel together. In addition to your pet’s food and medications, this includes bringing medical records, information to help identify your pet if it becomes lost, first aid supplies, and other items. Refer to our Traveling with Your Pet FAQ for a more complete list.

Are you considering boarding your dog while you travel? Talk with your veterinarian to find out how best to protect your pet from canine flu and other contagious diseases, and to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines.

Food Safety

Don’t forget to protect your family and loved ones from foodborne illnesses while cooking your Thanksgiving meal. Hand washing, and safe food handling and preparation, are important to make sure your holiday is a happy one. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tips for handling, thawing and cooking turkey, as well as saving your leftovers.

4 Hilarious Thanksgiving Mishaps

Exploding turkey fryers. Awkward dinner conversations. Relatives showing up unannounced. At some point, we’ve all had an unexpected Thanksgiving experience, right?

Sure, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to take a step back and think about the things we’re grateful for. It’s also a great time to enjoy family and create memories.

But sometimes, the holidays have a way of creating memories for a different reason.

We asked Dave’s Facebook fans about some of their hilarious Thanksgiving mishaps, and they responded in full force:

1. A Very Frozen Feast

My friend was renting a little house where only two of the stove burners worked and the oven door was permanently jammed shut. So we decided to order turkey, dressing and sweet potato casserole from the grocery store.

We went on Thanksgiving morning to pick the food up and discovered that all of it—including the 30-pound turkey—was precooked but frozen solid!

It was 9 a.m. and we had about 10 people coming at noon. We didn’t know what to do! Finally, one of us had the great idea to break up the turkey. So we took a hammer and a screwdriver and tore that frozen turkey apart. We wrapped it in foil and put it into the hot fireplace.

We put the sweet potatoes and dressing right up next to the fire and turned them every now and then. Everyone showed up and raved about the “smoked turkey,” and we never told them that we beat it with a hammer and a screwdriver to get it ready! — Genie

2. The Flame-Throwing Turkey

I wanted to do something different one year, so I baked a ham with a bourbon glaze. I accidentally used twice the amount [of bourbon] needed. After baking for about 45 minutes, the alcohol vapor built up in the oven and exploded, blowing the door completely open.

A huge blue flame shot across the kitchen as we all shrieked and ducked! Thankfully nothing and no one was injured in any way! — Jill

3. Roasted Rubber Stuffing

A newlywed cousin (not known for her cooking skills) was determined to take on hosting our whole extended family one Thanksgiving. We all joked about her skills on the big day, taking bets on whether or not she had remembered to thaw the turkey, remove the giblet bag, and so on.

As the turkey roasted, it began smelling . . . well, strange. During the carving of the bird, Grandpa suddenly shouted, “What the heck?” He flipped the carcass over, revealing a round, black blob stuck to the underside.

It was the sink stopper! It apparently got wedged in the turkey during the initial rinsing of the bird. Roasted rubber was what we had smelled! Needless to say, we gave thanks for and thoroughly enjoyed our vegetarian feast. — J.W.

4. The Jail Bird

When my husband and I were newly married, a friend brought us a wild turkey he had killed. We were thrilled! I set about preparing it. The house smelled fantastic.

It was time to take it from the oven, and I was wrapping up all the little stuff to complete our feast. It was about then that our doorbell rang. It was the guy who gave us the turkey—and the game warden.

Apparently he had taken the turkey out of season and was in big trouble. They asked me to remove the turkey and bag it for them. We said goodbye to our Thanksgiving turkey and ate veggies and stuffing. I am quite certain someone enjoyed that turkey that year, but it wasn’t my family. — Gina

Isn’t Thanksgiving awesome? Even when the turkey explodes or the law takes your bird, at least you’ll have some unforgettable memories!

Article by Dame Ramsey

How to Invest in Real Estate If You Have Bad Credit

It seems like every time you turn on the television, there’s a new home improvement show dedicated to flipping houses and making bank—a popular way to invest in real estate. Investing in real estate and turning it for a profit might be tempting. But if your credit score is below 601—the number the credit bureaus mark as the dividing line between “fair” and “bad” credit—you might have a tough time finding funding.

So is investing in real estate out of the question for someone in that bunch? Not necessarily.

Buying an investment property vs. buying your own home

No matter what you’ve seen on TV, purchasing real estate as an investor is a lot more complicated than doing so as a homeowner if you are turning to a lender to help finance the deal.

“Those looking to finance the purchase of real estate as an investment—as opposed to a primary residence—can expect a higher interest rate and more stringent lending criteria from lenders before getting a mortgage,” explains Bruce Elliott, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association and a broker associate with Regal R.E. Professionals in Orlando, FL.

Lenders typically require more money down and a better credit score for a real estate investment loan than for an owner-occupied home loan.

“They also look very carefully to ensure that investment home buyers are financially capable of sustaining the mortgage over an extended period of time in the event that the property doesn’t resell, and they even have formulas to calculate for shortages in expected rental income,” Elliott explains.

Can you invest in real estate with bad credit?

Unless you have spare cash or a loan from a friend or relative to finance your investment, obtaining a loan will likely be difficult.

That said, there are other options to help you one day become a real estate investor, Elliott says.

  • Improve your credit score. Resolve any collection-related issues uncovered by a credit check, and pay down existing balances. And be smart about other investments: Now is not the time to finance additional purchases such as a car or to open additional credit accounts of any type.
  • Find a hard money lender. No, this isn’t a back alley deal-maker. Hard money lenders are private individuals or groups who will put up cash for real estate ventures, and they are often more amenable to making a deal with someone who has poor credit. Of course, there will be some drawbacks: “Generally, these lenders will require anywhere from 40% to 60% down to purchase or close outright,” Elliott notes.
  • Skip putting money down. It might sound like a pipe dream, but Elliott says this is often the story behind those roadside “home for sale” signs that specify “cash only.” “The investor simply has purchased an option or received permission from a homeowner to try to sell the home,” he explains. “The investor makes money either from a back-to-back closing or from payment directly from the ultimate buyer.”

If you want to invest in real estate, bad credit can be a stumbling block, but it doesn’t have to derail the whole train.

Article by Jeanne Sager

5 Home Organization Ideas That Are Also Gorgeous (Bye-Bye, Storage Bins)

Home organization is essential to, well, being able to find stuff … but is it beautiful? Not so much. If you’re tired of being told to stash your possessions in clunky storage bins, then you’ll definitely want to check out a new book out this week, titled “Remodelista: The Organized Home.”

Remodelista, a home decor site launched 10 years ago by Julie Carlson(and now part of the realtor.com corporate family) has attracted a devoted fan base with its minimalist, classic approach to remodeling and home design. This book (the third, in addition to “Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home” and “Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces“), hones in on organizing the home in an aesthetically pleasing way. Yes, it can be done!

“Amid all the advice about paring down to the essentials, no one was addressing how to arrange your things in a way that’s not only practical but beautiful,” Carlson says.

Best of all, these ideas are easy to put into practice—and they will come in particularly handy now that the holidays are right around the corner. In the interest of achieving serenity in your home before the madness of the holidays ensues, here are five organizational tips the team at Remodelista swears by.

1. Group kitchen sink essentials on a tray

 

The smartest organizational solutions are often the simplest, as evidenced by this genius tip: Corral stove-side essentials like a bottle of olive oil, wooden spoons, and spice dispensers on a tray, to make your counter look more pulled together. “We think trays are the basic building blocks for order in the house,” says Carlson, who uses them everywhere: whether on the kitchen counter or in the bedroom, bathroom, or entryway. Aside from their ability to bring “visual order” in any cluttered area, they’re also portable and easy to clean.

2. Keep pot lids in place with a tension rod from the hardware store

 

Tired of hearing the clang of metal cookware every time you’re trying to find a lid for your saucepan? Secure a tension rod at the front of your drawer to keep those lids from rolling around. “We love the idea of using spring-loaded tension curtain rods inside cabinets,” Carlson says. If you keep your pots and pans in a cabinet instead of a drawer, the book also recommends putting Japanese metal towel rods on the door for the same purpose.

3. Be ready to throw a cocktail party at a moment’s notice

When friends ask “Your place or mine?” you can now feel confident inviting them over for an impromptu cocktail party by having everything you’ll need (save for a good bottle of wine) in place, ready to go. Reserve one drawer in your kitchen or side table for entertaining essentials like flatware, pre-rolled cloth napkins, a corkscrew, candles, and matches. That way, the only challenge you’ll have to tackle with guests is “Red or white?”

4. Be smart when organizing your closet

Investing in matching nonwire hangers will pay off in the long run—we promise. According to the book, matching hangers will allow you to fit more items in and make your closet look much tidier. On that note, you should also resist the urge to cram the hangers together. Your clothes will hang better (aka wrinkle less) if you leave a gap of about three fingers between each garment.

The book also advises grouping clothes according to type, color, and length, so you can scan your wardrobe with ease. This will be especially handy when you’re running late because you hit the snooze button one too many times. Another time-saving trick? Make a section for empty hangers, so you’ll always know where to look when you have to hang something up.

5. Organize your fridge for maximum efficiency

Store like items together and keep them in designated areas. For example, keep meat and produce near the bottom (the coldest part of the fridge), beverages on the top shelf, condiments in the door shelves, and leftovers at eye height, so you’ll be less inclined to forget them.

Another smart solution is practicing the “Last in, first out” rule. It’s a tactic used at grocery stores that ensures that the items that need to be used up first—like milk or leftovers that tend to expire quickly—are easily accessible.

And if you can, try to commit to cleaning out your fridge once a week, which is bound to inspire a kitchen-sink meal or two, from a frittata to a big salad.

Article by 

4 Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell

You could be noseblind. Here’s how to find and eliminate the funk you can’t smell.

Stand in your kitchen and take a deep breath. Smell that? From last night’s fish to your son’s nasty lacrosse pads (why did he leave them on the table?), you probably can’t detect any of your home’s rankest odors. You’ve got nose blindness.

“You adapt to the smells around you,” says Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

On a sensory level, your processing mechanism becomes less sensitive to the continuous stimuli. Or, on a cognitive level, you can become habituated to the smells and basically learn to ignore them. Or you can do both.

Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to ban them from your home.

#1 Pet Funk

There’s one easy way to tell if your home smells like pets: Do you have them? Then yeah, unless you’re an obsessive cleaner and groomer, your abode has at least some Fido funk.

It could be pee, but more likely it’s just hair, gunky ears, and weeks-old slobber.

The first step to cleaning up pet smells is — sorry, pets — cleaning the pets themselves. Bathe and groom them regularly.

Then, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. If they have a favorite couch or cushion, cover it with a blanket and run it — and the cushion cover — through the wash weekly. Every time you vacuum, start with a hearty sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet.

And use that crevice tool liberally; pet hair loves tight spaces like the border between the carpet and the wall, the edges of your steps and that little crack of space between the stove and your cabinets.

Hopefully urine isn’t the issue, but to be sure, you can use a black light to out any dried stains your pet was hoping you’d never notice.

Use more of that baking soda followed by a half-water, half-vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. Lots of people also swear by store-bought neutralizers, like Nature’s Miracle.

#2 Mustiness

Fortunately, nose blindness only affects one of your senses, and you don’t need your nose to verify a basement with a musty smell.

Mustiness is caused by mildew and mold, which — for better or for worse — your eyeballs can easily detect. Do a careful inspection of your basement, from the darkest corner to the surface of every cardboard box or bookshelf. If you find gray or white splotches anywhere, it’s probably mildew. If it’s fuzzy, (oh no!) it’s mold.

First, you’ll want to bust up those existing odors. Then, you’ll want to make sure they never return. Some elbow grease with regular household cleaner will scrub away mildew. Bleach isn’t the cure-all for mold. If often can exacerbate the problem.

To prevent mildew and mold from returning, consider running a dehumidifier or improving air circulation and sunlight exposure in the affected area if possible.

For chronic mustiness, you can deodorize rooms by setting out bowls of vinegar, cat litter, baking soda, or — as crazy as this sounds — an onion also will do the trick. Cut one in half and let it sit in a bowl in the room. The onion smell goes away in a few hours, and so will the dankness.

#3 Smelly Bedding

Similar to pet odors, knowing if your mattress could smell is easy: Do you have a human body with skin and oils? Do you sleep on it?

Eventually, all the dead skin and body oils you shed while sleeping are going to build up, and stink they will, especially if your bedding is older.

You can’t exactly toss your mattress in the washing machine, so you’ll have to deal with it where it lies.

But it’s an easy fix: Sprinkle baking soda on it, let it sit for an hour or more, and then vacuum up the soda. (This works for memory foam, too.) Add a couple drops of essential oil to the soda (drip directly into the box and shake it well to mix evenly) for a pleasant smell. Bonus: Lavender has been shown to help you sleep.

#4 Fridge and Freezer Grime

It’s your fridge and freezer’s job to keep your food fresh, but they need a little help staying fresh themselves.

Itty bitty food bits hang out long after you’ve tossed the item from which they came. Although you might not notice the odor creep, you may notice your ice starting to taste funny or see those food morsels start to accumulate in the corners of your fridge shelves.

If you see or taste something icky, you can bet others can smell something icky.

To zap odors from from your freezer and fridge, unplug and empty them and do a thorough cleaning with a mix of hot water and baking soda.

You can sanitize with a solution of one tablespoon bleach and one gallon of water. Let it air out for 15 minutes. Try wiping it down with vinegar for extra odor eliminating, or even leave the door open for a few days.

What better excuse is there for a long weekend away, or to treat yourself to takeout?

Article by STACEY FREED

6 Tasks Every Homeowner Should Do in November

It’s the spring cleaning of fall, so to speak.

With guest season (also known as THE HOLIDAYS) coming at you fast and furious, you want to be sure your home is cozy, but with that fresh-as-spring feel — as opposed to that musty-damp-winter feel.

Here’s how to make that happen (along with a few other timely tips):

#1 Wash Bed Pillows

You love your trusty, old, perfectly-snugged-to-your-head pillow. But guess what’s also snug against your head? Fungus — 4 to 16 species to be precise. Gross!

With fall being the height of guest season, you’ll want your guest pillows fresh, too. Pop them in the washing machine and dryer for an all-over clean feeling. (But check manufacturer advice, too. Some pillows shouldn’t be washed, but replaced instead.)

#2 Clean the Mattress, Too

Sleeping soundly gets even better when you know you’re lying on a clean and fresh mattress. The yuck factor: Skin cells and sweat get into the mattress, then dust mites show up for a dinner party featuring those tasty skin cell morsels.

You’ll want your guest mattress to be at it’s freshest. It’s easy to do: Vacuum it and then wipe it down with a cloth dampened with an upholstery shampoo. But be sure to let it dry; otherwise, you’re inviting mold. Also, be sure to rotate it 180 degrees to help keep it lump-free.

(Another option: if you’ve got a flippable mattress, go ahead and flip it. That, too, can help kill the yucky mites.)

#3 Insulate Windows

Bone-chilling drafts seriously detract from the cozy vibe you want. Keep it cozy by hanging drapes as close to your windows as possible to help you keep the heat inside.

You can even add clear Velcro strips or dots to the back of the drape and attach to fasteners on the wall to help insulate. Be sure to cross one drape over the other when you close up for the night. Insulating shades can do the trick, too.

#4 Stock Up on Snow Supplies

If snow is a given where you live and you’re lacking supplies, take advantage of seasonal sales now to make sure you’re not the one rushing to the hardware store at the last minute — only to find out they just sold out of ice melt.

If you have a snow blower, be sure to have it serviced and fueled up before the first winter storm arrives — and with it, price hikes on all the snow stuff.

#5 Trim Tree Branches

The last thing you need is a winter storm loosing the wrath of that mighty tree whose branches are angling over your roof. Long limbs invite pests to explore your roof for excess water to seep into cracks in the roof or siding.

Keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from the house. Plus it’s easier to trim branches after leaves have fallen. (If it’s an evergreen, well, sorry about that. It’ll be a prickly job, but the bonus is you’ll have greenery for the holidays!)

#6 Get a Chimney Sweep to Inspect the Fireplace

It’s time to dust off and sweep the chimney! Best to hire someone who knows wood-burning fireplaces. A professional chimney sweep will ensure your wood-burning fireplace burns more efficiently and will help prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter. So yeah, it’s pretty important.

Tip: If you don’t already have a chimney cap, this is also the time to add one to stop wild outdoor critters from crawling down it — and (yikes!) into your house.

Article by STACEY FREED

Paleo Chocolate-Dipped Toasted Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients

  • 4 Large Egg Whites (2/3 cup)
  • Pinch of Kosher Salt
  • 1/3 cup Melted Raw Honey
  • 12 ounces Unsweetened Shredded Coconut, toasted
  • 12 ounces Dark Chocolate Chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly spread the shredded coconut over the sheets.
  3. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, removing and stirring every 5 minutes.
  4. Separate 4 egg whites into a bowl and add the pinch of kosher salt.
  5. Beat the eggs on high until almost stiff peaks are formed.
  6. Slowly add in the heated honey about 1 tsp at a time, beating simultaneously.
  7. Once all the honey is added, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed.
  8. {Note: stiff peaks are marked by when you shake the beaters and the peaks of egg white foam do not move or wiggle.}
  9. Fold in the cooled and toasted unsweetened coconut with a large spatula.
  10. Line the baking sheets with more parchment paper.
  11. Using a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, spoon the egg white/coconut mixture into the bag filling towards one corner. Cut the corner of the bag off.
  12. {Note: an actual pastry bag works too.}
  13. Squeeze about 1 Tbl dollops onto the baking sheet.
  14. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown.
  15. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the chocolate.
  16. Melt the chocolate chips on a double boiler. {Boil some water in a small sauce pan and place a large glass bowl on top of the pot. Add the chocolate chips to the glass bowl and stir constantly until evenly melted, then remove from the heat.}
  17. When the cookies are cooled, dip the bottom into chocolate and set on parchment paper.
  18. Set the chocolate by placing the cookies in the refrigerator. This should take about 30 minutes.
  19. Plate and enjoy!

What to Know About Your Credit Before Buying a Home

It’s not just whether you pay your bills on time that matters.

Like it or not, your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your life, ranking up there with your Social Security number, date of birth, and wedding anniversary. This three-digit number is your financial report card, except there’s no getting rid of it after college.

Your credit score shows lenders just how trustworthy you are when it comes to managing your finances, and it can either save or cost you thousands of dollars throughout your life.

If you’re in the dark about just how significantly this number can impact you and the details behind your personal score, here’s an overview of what you need to know before hitting the mortgage application process.

How Your Score is Calculated

Your FICO credit score is comprised of five elements, according to the Fair, Isaac Corp.

  1. 35% of your score is attributed to how you pay your bills. Points are added for paying on time and deducted for late or missing payments. Note: This is a big portion of your score, so if you’re not paying bills on time, it’s best to get that under control pronto.
  2. 30% of your score is based on your credit utilization ratio. Translation: How much money do you owe as a portion of the amount of credit available to you? The lower this ratio, the better.
  3. 15% is based on the length of your credit history. When did you open your first account (and is it still open)?
  4. 10% of your score goes to the type of credit you have. Think revolving credit (such as credit cards) and installment credit (such as car loans and mortgages).
  5. The last 10% is impacted by new credit applications. How often and for what types of credit are you applying?

Where to Find Your Score and Report

To access your credit report, use a website such as annualcreditreport.com, which will give you one free report a year, or creditkarma.com, which will provide you with free access to your score upon signing up for an account.

Once you have copies of your report and score, immediately look for fraudulent or erroneous information. If you find anything, immediately contact both the credit reporting agency and the company that is portraying inaccurate information to determine next steps.

How Your Score Can Cost You

Your score can range from about 300 to 850. You’ll find a variety of breakdowns on what’s considered “good” compared to “excellent” versus “poor,” but in general you’ll want to aim for a score of 720 and higher, which is the “excellent” range.

The higher your credit score, the more creditworthy you appear to lenders (meaning they can rely on you to pay your debts and pay them on time), which translates into lower interest rates and more money saved when taking out a loan.

Not sure how this can play out financially? Consider this:

Meet Claire: She’s 35, pays her credit card off in full each month, has all her bills on auto-draft, and never misses a payment. She’s had a positive credit history for 10 years and wants to buy a home. Claire was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 3.75%.

Meet Steve: He’s 32, obtained his first credit card at age 18, ran up some debt in college that he’s still working on paying down, and has no system for keeping track of bills. He has consistent late and bounced check fees. Steve wants to buy a home and was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 5.5%.

What’s all the fuss about if they were both approved? Over the life of her loan, Claire will pay $133,443.23 in interest. Over the life of his loan, Steve will pay $208,808.08 in interest. A small interest rate difference of 1.75% translates into $75,364.85 more paid by Steve! $75,000 is a pretty significant sum of money that could be used toward other goals.

Having a solid credit score is one of the most financially savvy tools for you to have on hand when it comes to buying a home. When managed wisely, your credit score will bring you confidence, peace of mind, and more money saved via low interest rates.

When mismanaged or not cared for at all, your credit score can delay your success in meeting financial goals and result in additional funds and resources spent correcting past mistakes.

Article by MARY BETH STORJOHANN

A Dozen Foyer Ideas for Under $100

When you open your front door, do you step into what looks like a lost-and-found? Here’s how to organize the jumble and avoid a bad trip.

If there’s one place in the home that cries out for organization, it’s the foyer. Navigating it can even become a safety hazard, not to mention other dire consequences: Lose your car keys? Be late for work. Missing homework? First grader’s tantrum. Can’t find the dog’s leash? Uh-oh, puddle on the floor.

Whatever the size of your foyer — whether it’s a grand, two-story space with commodious closets or barely a space at all — here are the essentials for a more functional foyer that’s also more fun.

1. Wall Color

Conventional wisdom often dictates that the use of white paint creates the illusion of larger space, but unless you have a really tiny vestibule, you can afford to go bold in a room you pass through quickly. So go ahead and wow visitors with a pop of something fearless. Orange? Scarlet? Teal? Washable high-gloss paint makes short work of scuff marks and fingerprints. A gallon should do it. $36

Do keep the ceiling white, though, to head off claustrophobia.

2. Easy-Clean Flooring

A foyer needs a floor that can handle the wear and tear of comings and goings. Sure, ceramic or marble are nice, but self-adhesive 12-by-12-inch vinyl squares go down easy, can be laid on a diagonal for a diamond pattern, and cost only 69 cents a square foot. Black and white checkerboard is classic and graphic, but you can also create stripes, a contrasting border, and any color combo you like. Just make sure you choose something that works with the colors in the next room.

3. Room Divider

Don’t have a dedicated foyer? Create one — or the illusion of one — with a room divider to ensure the foyer and all the stuff that ends up there doesn’t leak into the living area. It could be a bookshelf, a screen, or a couple of IKEA’s new vertical 3-pot plant stands for a welcome-home filled with greenery. $40

4. Boot Tray

Providing one or more trays for wet boots and shoes is a game-changer if all you’re used to is a pile in the corner. Go decorative if you like, but a large aluminum baking sheet with a lip, available online for $7, works just as well.

5. Bench

You need something to sit on while taking off those muddy boots. If it’s built-in and hinged for inside storage (think soccer balls, ice skates), so much the better. But a less-expensive option is to gussy up an old blanket chest or old camp trunk with fresh paint. Find one on eBay or in a thrift store or flea market and you’re good to go.

6. Key Rack

Make it an ironclad family habit: When you come in, hang keys immediately on a dedicated key rack on the wall just inside the door, like this one. $12. DIYing one with the kids makes it fun.

7. Coat Hooks and Shelves

Be as generous with coat hooks as wall space allows, but don’t let things get out of hand. Stash anything not currently in season or in use in the nearest closet. If you need more space for hats, bike helmets, and items only the grown-ups need access to, add a shelf. A continuous shelf running around the room just a foot or two short of the ceiling makes use of vertical space and keeps less frequently used items out of the way.

8. Umbrella Stand

Another must: a spot for umbrellas in a corner near the door. Buy a pretty one, or repurpose a tall wire wastebasket.

9. Table or Console

If you have room, go for a narrow table or console for library books that need returning, outgoing mail, a lamp. Many available online for around $100.

10. Lockers or Cubbies

Really squeezed for space? You can still give each kid his or her own little cubby for books, homework, gym gear. Cubbies are available at all price points.

11. Mirror

A wall mirror for last-minute hair check and tie-straightening is vital. Bonus: It reflects additional light into the room.

12. Good Lighting

The all-important entry area needs ample illumination. Did you know that outdoor lanterns tend to be much less expensive? Nowhere is it written you can’t use one indoors. Styles vary from rustic to traditional to Arts and Crafts. $50

Article by CARA GREENBERG

What Is the Best Flooring for Dogs and Other Rambunctious House Pets?

The best flooring for dogs and other four-legged friends is, among other things, durable. Popular varieties of beautiful hardwood and luxurious wool carpets don’t stand up well to daily wear and tear, so if you’ve fantasized about filling your home with high-maintenance flooring, you might want to think twice.

“One of the biggest problems with pets is their nails,” says Ebeth Pitman, director of brand development and marketing at Armstrong Flooring. Even well-trimmed nails can gouge hardwood and snag carpet. Muddy paws and pets thats are not yet housebroken are also a bad match for carpeting. Stains and smells can be impossible to remove, even with the best industrial-strength cleaners.

Still, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style for durability—as long as you choose your surfaces wisely. Here are some flooring options that will keep both you and your furry pals happy.

Poured and sealed concrete

Concrete resists scratches of all kinds, is easy to clean in case of accidents, and doesn’t collect pet fur. Plus, it gives off a stylish industrial vibe that’s all the rage right now. The downside is that it’s hard and can be quite cold in the winter. If you live in a chilly climate, radiant floor heating is an option. Another easy way to soften concrete floors and add warmth is to cover them with inexpensive, easy-to-wash rugs.

Tile

Tile is another great option for people with pets: It’s durable and easy to clean. Although, if you have animals with serious bladder control issues, keeping the grout clean might be a challenge. But for most pet owners, tile is a smart, liquid-proof surface with tons of different design options. If you’re dreaming of wood floors but don’t want to risk it, consider faux-wood tiles.

Luxury vinyl

Luxury vinyl is another fantastic option for pet owners set on keeping their floors pristine.

“They’re highly durable, long-lasting, and resistant to moisture, scratches, and dents,” says Pitman. Plus, they diminish that “click-click” sound your pets’ nails make on the floor. Stylewise, vinyl has come a long way. Most vinyl floor tiles and planks are designed to mimic stone or wood patterns. And it’s affordable!

Laminate

Laminate is another artificial wood product that’s extremely strong: The sealant layer on laminate makes it scratch- and scuff-proof, though it canbe damaged by liquids if they’re left to sit for long. Laminate is less expensive than wood, concrete, or most tile. The only potential issue with this type of flooring is that the layer that protects the laminate is very slippery and can have your pet skidding all over the place. If you’re going to go with laminate, consider a finish with some texture to help your buddies get traction.

If you absolutely must have hardwood floors

Pets don’t have to dash your dreams of a hardwood-filled home. If you’re willing to live with the real thing, you still have options.

“Hardwood floors and dogs can live in harmony, with a few rules,” says Pitman. She recommends making sure dog nails are trimmed frequently and messes are wiped up immediately. Consider engineered hardwood with the most scratch-resistant finish available. Go for the hardest wood you can find such as teak, mesquite, or hard maple. Wood with a matte or low-gloss look will do a better job at hiding scratches. And be sure to finish your floor with a scratch-resistant finish.

Another option? Distressed or reclaimed wood. It’s supposed to look scratched, so any blemishes caused by pets just add to its beauty. Right?

If you absolutely must have carpet

Carpet adds a cozy look to bedrooms and family rooms, so it’s no wonder that it’s still a popular option for many homes. If you can’t live without it, consider installing carpet specifically designed to resist pet stains and odors. Choose a nonwhite neutral that won’t show dirt as quickly, and vacuum frequently to keep fur from building up (or invest in a robot vacuum to do the cleaning for you).

Carpet tiles are another good choice if you live with pets. The tiles are easy to remove for cleaning, and if one is damaged beyond repair, you only have to replace a single tile, not the entire carpet.

Article by Audrey Ference

The Genius Way to Clean Fast for Last-Minute Guests

It’s all about priorities. Oh, and hiding messes. That, too.

What in the world made you invite your new workmates over for a little “whine” time tonight? You never dreamed they’d actually say yes, but they did.

Gah! While your place isn’t a total mess, it’s not exactly guest-ready. You’ll have maybe an hour before they get here.

What to do?

The trick is to focus on the obvious, says Dana K. White, creator of “A Slob Comes Clean” website. Her top tip? If you can’t see it, forget it. Here’s how to prioritize your tidying in a pinch:

Follow Your Guests’ Path

You don’t need Google Maps to plot out your guests’ likely route. The places on this path are the ones to tidy first.

“Prioritize,” White says.

For example, they might start in the foyer (where your boots are currently dripping on your gloves that you threw down when you dashed in), and move through your living room (oh look, this morning’s yogurt cup), and into the kitchen (oh man).

Stuff clutter into grocery totes and toss the bags in a closet until your guests are gone.

Deodorize

Cooking an apple pie is an old real estate trick that makes the house smell good and conjures thoughts of happy family meals.

You don’t have to go that far. Once you’ve decluttered your guest’s path, light a citrus candle to burn as you clean. Blow it out at the end of your cleaning binge (or as you spot your guests arriving, whichever comes first) — that’s when the aroma really hits.

Dump the Dishes

“Dirty dishes in the sink are the main thing that makes your house look like you’re not keeping up,” says White. Stick them in the dishwasher (don’t bother to scrape plates this one time; new dishwashers can handle it), and turn it on. The hum signals you’re a diligent homeowner.

If you don’t have a dishwasher, stash dishes under the sink or in the oven. Definitely set your phone’s alarm to remind you they’re there — or a monster stink will jog your memory tomorrow.

Flip the Cushions

Flip your cushions instead of vacuuming them to save a couple of minutes.

Tip: Try to buy furniture with cushions that can flip; designate one cushion side for yourself and one for guests. That way your sofa will always be guest-ready.

De-Gross the Bathroom

To get the essentials clean in hurry, White says:

  • Grab a microfiber cloth that picks up dust easily or a disinfectant cloth and run it over every visible surface, including the mirror.
  • Shine up the faucets, and take five swipes at the sink.
  • Unless you have a septic system, pour some bleach into the toilet, brush, swirl, and flush.
  • Put away anything that’s nobody’s business but your own.
  • Install a fresh roll of toilet paper; fold the ends into an arrow like they do in fine hotels and really impress your guest.
  • Last, replace your hand towels. White says fresh hand towels show you care.

Set the Mood

We mean mood lighting — lamps, candles — anything but overhead lighting that highlights dust. Lamps also make nice focal points to distract from whatever you missed.

Vacuum Last

“Vacuuming and sweeping is the very last thing,” White says. Otherwise, you’ll just get the floors dirty again with your speed cleaning.

Concentrate on the areas guests will see, like the middle of rooms. Forget corners and baseboards. Just suck up the big dust bunnies and dog hair. You can at least pretend Max won’t shed all over your friend anyway while saying hello.

Know When to Stop

Remember, these are your friends, not your boss. You don’t have to white-glove the place for people who only want to open a bottle of red and whine a little.

Get it tidy, but drop the broom the moment you open the door. It’s hangout time.

Article by LISA KAPLAN GORDON

Avocado-Corn Salsa

A fresh salsa of avocado and corn is great with simple sautéed fish or just about anything Mexican-inspired—huevos rancheros, a quick quesadilla or atop rice and beans.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium avocado, diced
  • ¾ cup frozen corn, thawed
  • ½ cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Toss avocado, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Serve chilled with tortilla chips.
  • Per serving: 109 calories; 8 g fat(1 g sat); 4 g fiber; 11 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 55 mcg folate; 0 mg cholesterol; 2 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 307 IU vitamin A; 9 mg vitamin C; 9 mg calcium; 0 mg iron; 75 mg sodium; 363 mg potassium

5 Mortgage Mistakes You’re Too Smart to Make

How to ensure you get the best possible interest rate you can.

“Shop around for the best mortgage deal.” You may have heard this statement, before, but the best deal for one borrower could be a poor deal for another.

The key is to become a better borrower. Is it possible to influence the type of deal you get? Yes, especially if you avoid these missteps.

1. Not Checking Your Credit Report

The three main credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — keep track of your credit history, including lines of credit, payments, and available credit lines, among other data. While most information collected is similar across all three bureaus, it’s possible to find differences between reports.

When checking your credit reports, it’s most important to check for errors or misinformation. Accurate information can’t be deleted, but any information that can’t be verified or that’s inaccurate can be removed. If errors on your credit report are impacting your credit score, it’s best to have them removed before applying for a mortgage.

Get a free credit report from each of the three bureaus once a year at annualcreditreport.com.

2. Opening New Lines of Credit

Before shopping for a mortgage, it’s best to minimize your number of credit inquiries. These come when you apply for a new line of credit. Lenders use your FICO or other credit score to evaluate your creditworthiness.

Although FICO doesn’t provide insight into the number of points added or subtracted for specific credit activity, it does note that new credit lines accountfor 10% of your overall score and that “inquiries usually have a small impact.” However, even a small negative impact could potentially increase the mortgage rate for which you qualify.

Worry not. FICO regards several lender queries in a short time as a single query, which shouldn’t have much effect.

3. Increasing Your Debt Load

Your credit score is calculated based on a number of factors, including payment history, amounts owed, and the mix of credit and new credit. Each factor is given a percentage weighting. For the FICO score, amounts owed on accounts are weighted as high as 30%. A larger number of accounts with balances can indicate a higher risk for the lender.

For revolving accounts such as credit cards, the credit utilization ratio is what you should watch. It’s the ratio of the amount you owe on your card to your available credit, and it’s calculated as a percentage. For example, a $10,000 line of credit with a $2,000 balance shows as 20%. Reducing your total amount of debt or minimizing debt from revolving accounts could help you get approved.

Beyond your credit score, your debt-to-income ratio could also affect your mortgage deal. A debt-to-income ratio of under 36% is necessary for a loan to conform to Fannie Mae guidelines. Many lenders lend according to those guidelines so that they can take advantage of the special programs provided by this government-sponsored enterprise. The debt-to-income ratio will factor in all of your debt owed, including credit cards, student loans, and any other debts listed on your credit report.

4. Forgetting About Special Loan Programs

You may qualify for special programs that could reduce the cost of getting a mortgage. For example, you may qualify for one of the VA loan programs. These programs, provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, cover service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses. There are also programs that help first-time homebuyers and eligible rural homebuyers, and even state-based homebuyer programs.

5. Applying with Fluctuating Income

Mortgage lenders require paperwork to verify your financial situation, including but not limited to debt, income, and assets. If you receive a paycheck, you may be asked to provide two years of proof of employment via W-2 forms. If you have a habit of switching jobs often with gaps in between, that unsteady income could delay your approval as the lender seeks other methods to verify your creditworthiness.

Before applying for a mortgage, make changes where necessary so you can get the best deal possible. Seek to improve your credit, minimize your debt load, and search for special programs. Depending on how much you owe and the state of your credit, you may need to begin this process one to two years in advance of purchasing a home.

Article by LATISHA STYLES