Fast Fixes for Scratched Floors, Smudged Walls, and Other Household Flaws

If you’ve been in your home for a while, it’s probably withstood a good amount of wear and tear. Maybe even a great amount. Scratches on the wood floor, stains on the carpet, your kids’ crayon “art” on the wall—that’s just life. But what if you’ve got visitors—or more important yet, home buyers—coming over that you want to impress?

Sometimes there isn’t time to repaint, resand, or even conduct a thorough cleaning. And that’s where these easy cleaning home hacks and repairs will help in a pinch. Try these fast fixes:

Scratches in wood

Whether it’s a scrape or shallow gouge in your wood furniture or floor, it’s a nut job. Walnuts, to be more specific.

“Break open a walnut, and rub the meat on the scratch,” says Mary Findley, aka Mary Moppins and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning.” “Repeat until the color returns to the scratched part. As a very last resort, a brown crayon will work, too.”

Red wine on carpet

Every great party has some grand spills, like red wine, Kool-Aid, or cranberry juice. And the solution is a one-two punch of hydrogen peroxide followed by white vinegar.

“Mix hydrogen peroxide 50-50 with water,” says Findley. “Also mix a 50-50 solution of grain-distilled white vinegar and water.”

Saturate the stained area first with the peroxide mixture, letting it sit for five minutes. Then blot away the peroxide before pouring on the vinegar solution. This step is important because the vinegar neutralizes the peroxide’s bleaching properties. Then rinse thoroughly with plain water. 

Coffee on a tablecloth

Pour on club soda. Yeah, we know you’ve heard this one. It works if you do it right. Allow the stain to be literally lifted out by the bubbles, says Findley. Blot up with a paper towel. Repeat if needed. Drink the remaining club soda with a twist of lemon.

Gum in carpet

The best remedy for gooey gum is to freeze it: Place a zip-lock bag with ice cubes on top of the sticky mess—and wait. Once the gum is solid, scrape it off with a plastic card, says Findley, who adds that this also works for tree sap. Of course, why you have tree sap on your carpet is another matter entirely. 

Pen or marker on walls

The first thing Findley does is reach for the foam shaving cream.

“Foaming shaving cream has denatured and rubbing alcohols, both of which are good stain removers,” says Findley. So dab some on the spot, wait 10 minutes, and wipe. Reapply if needed.

This method can also be used on wallpaper, wood, and fabric-covered furniture, but always test first and remember to use clean white or neutral-color cloths or sponges. Anything that has a dye can transfer to what you are trying to clean.

Permanent marker

Permanent marker isn’t as permanent as you might think: Sunscreen, hairspray, and nail polish remover that contain acetone should wipe it away. But be careful! Because acetone is a powerful solvent, test on an inconspicuous area first. And since liquid may increase the stain’s size as it dissolves, dab it on rather than pour, and do not leave it on for long lest you damage the surface you’re trying to clean.

Crayon

Reach for baking soda and a damp cloth. Sprinkle the baking soda on a part of the damp cloth and rub gently. Crayons are petroleum-based wax markers; baking soda is mildly alkaline, which gives it grease- and oil-removing properties. It ‘s also abrasive, so rub the wall gently so you don’t damage the paint.

Loose vinyl tiles

This is one problem you can literally iron out. Cover the fugitive tile with a sheet of aluminum foil, then with a hot cloth. Press gently with an iron, passing over the tile until you can feel the tile’s glue melt from the heat and soften. Then place a weight on top, like a few books. This method can also reset curled seams in vinyl flooring.

Clogged sinks and toilets

Have a clogged sink or toilet, but no Drāno? Your bathroom cabinet may provide the solution.

For a sink, take four Alka-Seltzer tablets and drop them into the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar. Let the citric acid from the tablets and the vinegar fizz and foam for 10 minutes to loosen the muck stuck inside. Meanwhile, boil a pot of water, then pour it down the drain. Repeat if necessary.

For a toilet, just drop two tablets in the bowl and let them fizz for 20 minutes, then flush!

Article by Laura Winter

ANGEL FOOD CAKE (GRAIN-FREE, PALEO)

Angel Food Cake is worth the time investment and provides a fun activity for kids to join in, especially since you need to cool it upside-down!

 

Ingredients

For the Cake:

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and adjust the rack to the middle position.
  2. Place the egg whites and lemon juice in the bowl of a standing mixer. Whisk the egg mixture on medium-high until foamy, about 30 seconds. Add the salt, cream of tartar and vanilla. Whisk the mixture on medium-high until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. With the mixer on medium-high, slowly add 1/2 cup of the maple sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Sift the remaining 1/4 cup maple sugar and arrowroot flour into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium, slowly add the arrowroot mixture. Turn the speed up to medium-high and whip until smooth (there might be some tiny little lumps from the sugar, but it will melt in the oven while baking).
  4. Pour the batter into a clean (and NOT oiled), 12-cup angel food cake pan (I’m still on the look-out for a glass or stainless steel angel food cake pan. If you know where to purchase one, please let me know!). Bake for 40-45 minutes, until cake is puffed and the top is just turning golden brown.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven. Carefully turn the cake upside-down and place on top of a can. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. Run a knife around the outside of the cake and invert onto a cake platter (you might need to shake the cake a little to get it to separate from the center tube of the cake pan). Serve alone or with whipped cream and berries.
  6. Note: I only test the recipes on my site with the listed ingredients and measurements. If you would like to try a substitution, you are welcome to share what you used and how it turned out in the comments below. Thanks!

How Retirement Plans Turn into a Short Sale

A vision of multiple retirement streams of income can suddenly go wrong when a person is robbed of their health. Such is the case with this client whereby her vision of a long and happy retirement subsidized with income from her investment property would ease her mind.

Unfortunately, shortly after retirement, Ms Walker was diagnosed with a brain tumor which landed her in the hospital. Multiple surgeries and treatments left her confused and her affairs in ruin. Her daughter was left to pick up the pieces.

Thankfully, her daughter, Angela, jumped in to help and was referred to us by their tax strategist, Stephan Vranek, West Suburban Companies in Oak Brook.

Working together as a team, the issues were quickly sorted and a strategy was formed. Angela was able to obtain power of attorney and the process of liquidation of this non-performing asset began.

“Initially, I had worked for months with the bank to conduct a Deed-in-Lieu”, said Angela. However, when the title search was conducted, the bank found multiple code violations, a water lien ($2,300) and City of Chicago fines in excess of $2000. The bank would not accept the Deed-in-Lieu without clear title. Needless to say, the Deed-in-Lieu was terminated.

In the meantime, the home was stripped of the electrical wiring, the copper pipes, the furnace and water heater. The value of the home plummeted.

That is when Stephen Vranek referred the family to us for help. The property was listed, a purchase contract was received and 4 weeks later, we received bank approval. The property was closed 2 weeks ago.

“Now we can get on with our lives”, said Ms Walker. “We are so appreciative of the work that you have done for us.”

We would like to thank Amir Mohabbat from Chicagoland & Suburban Law Firm, Stephen Vranek from West Suburban Companies, and Jeff Wood from Citywide Title Company. It took a village to resolve these issues.

If you or someone you know needs assistance with their mortgage, please feel free to reach out to us. Initial consultation is free. Peace of mind is priceless.

7 Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Home Cleaner Longer

Use humidity, a car product, and more wow ideas to save cleaning time.

When cleaning your home, why not do it in such a way that’ll keep your home cleaner with less effort?

Here are 7 ways to keep your spring-clean fresh all year long:

#1 Use Humidity to Defy Dust

Low humidity levels cause static electricity. Not only does static attract dust, it makes it stick, so it’s difficult to remove. High humidity causes problems, too — it’s an ideal environment for dust mites. These microscopic critters are a double threat: They’re a common allergen, and they contribute to dust production. There are as many as 19,000 dust mites in half a teaspoon of house dust, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Yuck!

What to do: Keep your home’s humidity level between 40% and 50%. That’ll eliminate static while decreasing dust mite growth.

Tip: About 80% of dirt in homes walks in from the outside. Stop dirt with a bristly doormat before it’s tracked inside.

#2 Apply a Car Product to Keep Shower Doors Scum-Free

You can eliminate soap scum build-up by coating your glass shower doors with a rain-repellent product made for car windshields. When applied to glass, products like these create an invisible barrier that causes water, oils, and debris (like soap suds) to bead and roll off.

What to do: Find this product anywhere that sells basic auto supplies. You’ll know it’s time to reapply when water stops beading on shower doors. Keep in mind, windshield rain repellants were made to treat glass, not plastic, so only use on glass door.

Another option: Automatic shower cleaners claim to let you clean your shower and tub less frequently — like every 30 days. After you finish bathing, the gadget will douse your shower and tub with a cleanser that prevents soap scum build-up while combating mold and mildew. You can buy automatic shower cleaners at most big-brand retailers, like Target and Walmart.

#3 Seal Your Stone Countertops

Natural stone countertops, including granite and marble, are porous, so if they’re not sealed, liquids like red wine, juice, or soy sauce can stain them. A countertop sealer repels stains by causing spills to bead instead of getting absorbed. Most countertops are sealed when installed, but the sealant does wear down.

What to do: To keep your countertops in tip-top shape, re-apply sealer twice a year. To see if you need a fresh coat, pour a tiny bit of water on your natural stone countertop. If the water doesn’t bead or doesn’t stay beaded for two to three minutes, it’s time to reseal.

Shopping for stone countertops? Slabs with lots of swirls or veins tend to be more porous, and, therefore harder to keep clean.

#4 Use Protectants on Furniture and Carpets

Protective furniture sprays and carpet sealants, like Scotchgard and Ultra-Guard, guard against inevitable spills by causing liquids to bead on the surface instead of being absorbed.

Some of these products also protect fabrics from fading and resist mold, mildew, and bacteria.

What to do: Apply the appropriate sealer once a year after a deep upholstery and carpet cleaning.

#5 Clean Your Oven the Old-Fashioned Way

Forget oven cleaners that promise an easy job. Most cleaners give off noxious fumes and m

ake a horrible mess. The basic ingredient in many oven cleaners is lye, which can burn your eyes and your skin; it’s usually fatal if swallowed.

What to do: Use a wet pumice stone to scrape off dirt and grease. It’s faster than oven cleaner and toxin-free.

Tip: Need to wipe your range or anything else down? You can bust filth faster by heating up a clean, damp sponge or cloth in a microwave for 30 seconds before wiping with or without a cleaning product. Put on rubber gloves before you pick up that hot sponge.

#6 Do Quick Touch-Ups

Small cleaning projects prevent filth from building up. When you spot clean daily, you can prevent smudges from staining, banish dust bunnies, and even combat allergens.

What to do: Create a spot-cleaning kit so you can address small, dirty situations in minutes.

  • Cleaning pads are great for eradicating dirty fingerprints on walls and light switches.
  • Damp micro-cloths can reduce airborne dander when used daily to wipe down pets.
  • Dry sweeper cloths can quickly pick up dust and dry dirt off floors, shelves, and electronics.

Tip: Keep stored items cleaner longer by shutting closets, cabinets, and drawers, so circulating dust and dirt can’t get in.

#7 Update Your Light Bulbs

Okay, It’s not really cleaning. But good lighting can make you and your home look and feel great — and help you spot that spill before it gets funky.

A room lit with low-wattage incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescents can look dark and dingy. “Daylight” bulbs brighten things up. These full-spectrum light bulbs mimic natural light, so they give better visual accuracy. Bonus: Like sunlight, these bulbs can boost your mood.

What to do: When shopping for bulbs, look for those marked “daylight” that have a range between 5,000 to 6,500 kelvins.

Article by DEIRDRE SULLIVAN

How to Make Your Home Pet Friendly

Make your home safe and comfortable for furry, feathered, and finned friends.

Pets are more than just animals. Our furry, feathered, and finned friends require time, attention, and as safe and comfortable a home as we do. “Most people don’t think about pets when buying or building houses—not even the pet owners themselves,” says David Beart of professorshouse.com, a Canadian company that will start building “the world’s most pet-friendly house” at the end of this year. “Over half of all homes have pets living in them, but animals are still an afterthought when it comes to home improvements,” says Beart. “What I really want to get across is much more than just creating the world’s most pet-friendly house,” Beart adds. “It’s about making people think of pets with importance rather than as possessions, or even disposable.”

When you’re planning a home for both you and your pets, consider their particular needs. Think about whether you’re putting your door-dashing dog on a high-traffic street. Will your protective pup go postal on guests? How can you make your multi-story home comfortable for your elderly dog? What common household items are hazardous to pets and not humans? (Last year, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) handled more than 140,000 cases of pets exposed to toxic substances and hazardous things in their own homes.) Keep reading to learn what you should be looking for, and how a little planning can go a long way to help you streamline your daily routine and keep your pet safe and happy.

All-Fours Inspection

Try to think like your pet to get a sense of what might be dangerous to them. The pros at Purina suggest that the best way to start is by taking “a puppy’s eye-view” of things. You have to put yourself in your pet’s place—and get down on all fours—to take a look around. Make sure you inspect areas that your pet can access by way of climbing or jumping. You’d be surprised at the dangers a periodic inspection of your home can reveal. Here are some hazards to look for (although they may not be all you find):

•Look for choking, strangulation, electrocution, and suffocation hazards. Keep window treatment cords short and cut through any loops, and unplug or cover wires and electrical cords.

•Don’t leave human foods and medications where pets can access them. Eliminate “ladders” that curious pets can climb to access elevated areas like countertops and tabletops. Discard perishable trash daily to keep pets from rummaging through it. Between trips to the curb, keep trash odors (and pet temptation) low with baking soda and a tight-fitting lid. One pet-owner favorite is the stainless steel and rubber Vipp Trash Can with foot-pedal.

If pets get into the trash, they can chew chicken bones into shards, get to choking hazards like fruit seeds and cores—and your house is going to be a mess. Note that many fruit seeds contain natural contaminants that can result in potentially fatal cyanide poisoning in dogs: Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure, caffeine in coffee grinds and chocolate are also toxic, sugar-free foods and gums containing Xylitol can cause liver failure, and nutmeg can cause tremors, seizures, and central nervous system damage. See the ASPCA’s list of Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pet. If you think your pet has ingested something hazardous, call the ASPCA Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 right away.

•Make sure indoor plants are varieties that are pet-safe. Lilies can cause kidney failure in cats. Other common, but toxic, plants include amaryllis, poinsettia, mums, and aloe vera. See the ASPCA’s database of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants before bringing a new plant home.

•Pets can often maneuver cupboards open to access home cleaning products, pesticides, fertilizers, and other hazardous items. Consider latching them shut. Keep rooms where you set out rodenticides and traps off limits to your pet.

•Not letting your pet ingest antifreeze seems like a no-brainer. But, the smell and taste of the stuff is especially appealing to both cats and dogs. In fact, approximately 10,000 pets die every year as a result of antifreeze poisoning from as little as a drop. Keep it stored in a latched cabinet or on a high shelf, and use it carefully, cleaning up any drips or spills immediately.

•Keep your toilet lid down, especially if you use automatic bowl cleaners, to eliminate risk of poisoning. Keeping the lid down also eliminates a drowning hazard.

•The number of cats that fall out of windows is so high, that the veterinary profession has coined the term High-Rise Syndrome. If you must open windows, make sure that screens are sturdy and properly installed. Window guards are not adequate protection for cats, who can easily fit through the bars.

Carving Out a Space

Kittens and pups will sneak into an opened dryer (or other small, dangerous places) the first chance they get. Give them their own space and you won’t have to worry about them seeking refuge where they don’t belong. A hazard-free zone, with a cozy bed, water source, and safe toys will do the trick. Other convenient features include a sink to wash feeding bowls, and adequate storage for accessories. Remember that well-exercised pets are less likely to get into trouble, and more likely to rest well at night instead of barking or whining for attention. If it’s possible, create a pet area in a mudroom with cat or doggy door access to a fenced-in yard, corral, or dog run so that they can head outdoors at their leisure.

Litter boxes should be placed away from feeding areas and in a place that’s private, but not too isolated. If your pet doesn’t feel safe or comfortable using a litter box, he won’t. Elderly pets should be given an area on the ground level, and weepads should be accessible. Consider placement of ramps to furniture if you allow your elderly pet that kind of access. If you’re not home for most of the day, you’re presented with a special set of concerns: Consider a pet fountain so that fresh water is readily available. Leave your pet with sturdy toys that won’t break to reveal small parts. Interactive treat toys made of high-impact plastic, like the Buster Cube from Doctors Foster and Smith, will keep your pets occupied and stay in one piece. If your pet is especially curious, consider crate training him or blocking off a small, safe area with a baby gate.

Paw-Safe Flooring and Fabrics

Go with fabrics and flooring materials that’ll make less work for you. Stylish, easy-care leather or ultrasuede can be wiped clean and won’t be dramatically affected by wear. Crypton Super Fabric is a synthetic germ- and stain-resistant option made with pet owners in mind. It’s available in a variety of custom colors and patterns and the Crypton online store offers couture pet beds, “Throver” furniture covers, and decorative pillows.

Carpet isn’t the best choice for pet owners, but if you must go wall-to-wall, choose a color that matches your pet (it’ll mask pet hair) with a performance rating of 3.5 or higher. For lightweight dogs, hardwood with adequate urethane finish is a common and easy-clean choice. For heavier dogs, ceramic tile or another nonporous hard surface flooring would be best. See Pet-Friendly Flooring for more ideas.

Clean Pet, Clean House
Groom your pet yourself, and you’ll save up to $100 per visit to pros. You’ll also spend less time cleaning house. Regular nail clipping keeps scratch damage down, while regular brushing keeps hair in the brush instead of, well, everywhere else. Brush before and after a wash to keep drain-clogging hair to a minimum. Vacuum twice a week with a machine like the DC17 Animal Vac by Dyson designed especially for homes with pets. It features a mini turbine head to lift hair and dirt from upholstery, stairs, and vehicles. The design allows for hygienic bin emptying and includes a lifetime HEPA filter. For a quick clean up, pass strips of packing tape or a wet plastic kitchen glove over clothing and surfaces to pick up stray hairs.

If your pet inherits furniture and flooring that isn’t ideal, then you’ll have to become a master at stain removal and disinfecting. Monitor your pet so accidents can be handled promptly. The longer a stain sits, the harder it’ll be to remove, and your pet will be more likely to sniff out the same spot for a repeat offense. Look for special cleaning products with natural enzymes to break down stains and odors. Pros recommend OdorLogic CleanAway and OdorLogic OxyQuick (for fresh stains). Finally, pay attention to flea and tick prevention and control. If the pests are on your pet, then odds are flea eggs, pupae, and larvae are in your carpeting, bedding, and yard.

Petscaping Your Yard

If you let your pets out into the yard, flea and tick prevention isn’t your only concern. You’ll have to determine whether you need to build or add structures, install invisible fences, and identify toxic plants in your landscape. The ASPCA keeps an extensive database of plants that are hazardous to dogs, cats, and even horses. Some such plants are azaleas, some ferns and ivies, daffodils, and daylilies. Pet-friendly plants include bamboo and, of course, catnip. Search the ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants database before you put something in the ground. Insecticides and fertilizers were among the ASPCA’s top 10 pet poisons in 2008, so consider organic gardening.

Feeding Time
Buying bulk to save on pet food? Then you have to store it appropriately to avoid contamination and slow the vitamin and nutrient degradation process. Check for tears in food packages before you buy them. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) advises against using feeding dishes to scoop food out of packages. Assign a clean spoon or small container for scooping. FDA guidelines for food storage call for leftover wet food to be refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and dry food to be stored in its original bag, then placed in a clean, food-grade plastic container, and stored at 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Placing the bag in a container will also keep unwanted insects and rodents away. Note that dry foods are more nutritious and less susceptible to contamination or spoilage than wet foods are.

Storing bulk food in large trash cans in the garage is a fairly common practice, but this exposes food to temperature extremes in a container that can leach dyes and additives into food over time. Make sure you purchase a special food storage container, or visit a local food establishment to claim a food-grade plastic bucket that’ll soon be headed for the trash heap.

Small Animals

“Too often parents buy small pets and fish for their children as learning tools, but those pets are even more fragile than cats and dogs,” Beart explains. “The average lifespan of a hamster, for example, is about 3 years. In many homes, the pet hardly ever lasts more than a few months.” Here are some helpful tips that’ll ensure the safety and longevity of your small pets:

Hamsters
•They tend to be active at night and asleep during the day. For that reason, you’ll want make sure your pet’s exercise wheel isn’t a squeaky one.

•Provide at least 2 inches of bedding to allow for normal burrowing behavior. Use shredded tissue or paper, or clean processed corncob. Commonly used cedar chips are associated with respiratory and live disease in rodents. Clean cages and refresh bedding at least once a week.

•Many hamsters must be kept in cages by themselves after the age of 10 weeks. Adult females are especially hostile to one another, so do your homework before you consider grouping.

Guinea Pigs
•Their bodies cannot produce Vitamin C, so you’ll have to supplement it with an appropriate product from your pet supply store.

•Guinea pig’s teeth grow constantly, so chew toys are essential.

Rabbits
•They actually learn litter box habits quickly and easily. Keep in mind that they like to chew and may hide in small, dark spaces. When you allow your pet time out of his cage for exercise, consider cord protectors, securely cover ducts and vents, and always locate your pet before sitting down and opening and closing recliners.

Birds

•Cage placement is very important: Keep the cage away from windows and radiators to protect your bird from drafts and direct exposure to heat. Many birds prefer to have a safe corner to back into, and if a cage is placed away from walls or toward the center of a room, it can make your pet feel insecure. Cage placement away from windows also means your bird won’t always be anxiously guarding itself from “predators” like your neighbors dog and other passing animals.

•They perch and take cover in the wild, so provide these opportunities in their cages. Your bird’s foot should wrap around approximately 2/3 of each perch and toes should never meet and overlap. Irritation, injury, and infection may result if perches are too small.

•Kitchens are a common place for pet-owners to keep their bird cages. Be aware that birds have very sensitive respiratory systems, and fumes emitted from overheated nonstick cookware could be fatal.

•Do your homework when looking for pet birds: Some species, like social finches, require companionship while others will do fine on their own.

Fish
•Though fish are widely considered the most “disposable” of pets, you can greatly reduce tank mortality by creating the ideal water conditions for the type of fish you have. Required temperatures and pH levels depend upon the kind of fish you have. Research the requirements of your breed and monitor their conditions periodically.

•When adding new swimmers to your tank, consider the types of fish you already have. Some species may be aggressive or even attempt to eat other fish. Tell a pro at the pet store what’s already in your tank, and ask if the fish you want to group are compatible.

Reptiles & Amphibians

Reptiles tend to have very long life spans, but 90% of them die within their first year. Mostly, that’s because of the misconception that they are easy-care pets that don’t require much attention. The truth is, their habitats require constant monitoring, and they are among the most hazardous pets to keep in a home. Some things to keep in mind:

•Salmonella is present in 90% of all exotic reptiles, and they shed it in their feces. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling your pet or cleaning its habitat.

•Do your homework to discover your reptile’s temperature requirements. You’ll need primary (undertank heaters) and secondary heating sources (basking lamps) to meet those requirements, and you’ll need to check tank temperature and humidity regularly. Be careful not to overheat your pet. Signs you should adjust your habitat temperature include your pet staying in shaded areas and, in lizards, visible panting.

Frogs
•The most common habitat for frogs is semi-terrestrial, i.e. half land, half water. Do not use tap water in your habitat, as frogs are very sensitive to chemicals. Dechlorinate tap water by letting it sit for at least 24 hours before adding it to the tank.

•Don’t house multiple frogs unless they are the same species and are similar in size. Otherwise, you risk exposing the animals to toxic counterparts, or species that may attempt to eat the others in your tank.

Turtles
•These can live 25 years or more, and depending on the species, turtles can range in size from 4 inches to 80 inches. Make sure you know how big your species can get, and plan the habitat accordingly.

•Turtles like hiding places, so make sure you include them in the habitat. You can purchase materials from a pet store, or use plants or driftwood.

Snakes
•Snake owners may get a kick out of giving their pets live prey, but pre-killed or frozen prey is safer. Prey shouldn’t be wider than the widest part of your snake’s body.

•State permits may be required to keep a snake in your home. State law in Florida, where a recent pet escape in one home resulted in a fatality, dictates that pythons are to be kept under lock. Check your local laws before you bring a snake home.

Article by Tabitha Sukhai

How to Get Stains & Grease Off Walls

Learn how to clean 7 tough stains off your walls — and ensure a lasting paint job.

You can’t wait to cover up that nasty beige on your walls, but as you take a close look at all the areas you’re gonna have to prep you see a lot of grime, gunk, and stuff that looks too stubborn for your standard vinegar wash.

Any cleaning rookie can wipe off dust and cobwebs. But it takes a cleaning pro to scour grease stains, watermarks, and kids’ crayon and ink wall art.

Kitchen Grease on Walls

Grease is an occupational hazard of cooking. If only it wouldn’t ind it’s way onto your walls and cabinets, trapping all kinds of gunk. Yuck!

Good news. Any decent dish soap can remove grease stains on walls.

For small stains, mix: 1/4 teaspoon of soap in a cup of warm water, and wipe. Rinse with clean water, and blot until dry. Clean stubborn grease stains with solution of 1/3 cup of white household vinegar with 2/3 cup of water.

Dirt and Grime Buildup

The oil from your hands gets onto walls, cabinets, doors, and door frames. A wall eraser, like the Mr. Clean Eraser ($3 for 4 pads), easily wipes away these stains.

Wet the sponge and rub gently to avoid taking bits of paint off with the stain.

Or make your own homemade wall cleaning sponge:

  • 1 cup ammonia,
  • 1/2 cup white distilled or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • one gallon of warm water.

Wipe the solution over walls with a sponge (or cloth), and rinse with water.

Crayons

Wall erasers work like a charm on crayon marks. If they don’t do the trick:

  • Rub marks with toothpaste (not gel).
  • Erase marks with an art gum or a pencil eraser; use a circular motion.
  • Swipe marks with baby wipes.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and scrub marks.

Permanent Marker

Permanent markers are tough to remove from walls. Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and dab the stain. Or spray marks with hairspray, then wipe drips.

Ink

Ballpoint ink, which is oil-based, often melts away if you use foaming shaving cream, dry-cleaning solvents such as Carbona, or nail polish remover.

Make sure you open windows when using cleaning solvents and polish remover.

Mildew

Mildew is a fungus that eats soap scum and body oil. To remove from walls, spray with vinegar water: 1 tablespoon white vinegar to 1 quart water. Also, try an enzyme laundry detergent; follow the pre-treating directions on the label. Blot it on the stain, and then rinse thoroughly with water.

Water Stains

After you’ve solved the problem that caused the water stains, rinse with a solution of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Thoroughly dry with a hairdryer or fans. If bleaching doesn’t remove water stains, you’ll have to repaint. Prime the walls with a stain-killing primer, such as Kilz Paint.

Article by PAT CURRY

Top 10 Questions to Ask a Mortgage Lender: Do You Know Them All?

What are the best questions to ask a mortgage lender before you lock in a home loan? If you want to find the very best mortgage for your needs, it pays to not automatically go with the very first lender you see.

“You need to shop around to make sure you’re getting the best interest rate and loan terms,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors, in Vienna, VA, who recommends that home buyers meet with at least three lenders before they pick.

So how do you compare and contrast your options effectively? Ask these 10 questions below to get a sense of who’s right for you.

1. What types of home loans do you offer?

Some lenders offer a wide range of mortgage products, while others specialize in only one or two types of home loans. Finding a lender that offers the type of mortgage you need is a must. These are the most common types of home mortgages:

  • Fixed-rate loan: True to its name, a fixed-rate mortgage means that the interest rate you pay remains fixed at the same level throughout the life of your loan (typically 15 or 30 years).
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM): An ARM offers a low interest rate for an introductory period. After that period—typically two to five years—the rate becomes adjustable up to a certain limit, depending on market conditions.
  • FHA loan: Geared toward low-income home buyers, a Federal Housing Administration loan lets borrowers put down as little as 3% on a house.
  • VA loan: If you or your spouse serve or served in the military, you may qualify for a Veterans Affairs loan. Under this program, the VA guarantees the loan—reducing the risk to the lender—and allows you to finance up to 100% of the house’s cost, so you won’t have to come up with any money for a down payment.
  • USDA loan: Another type of government-backed mortgage, this loan is offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development in towns with populations of 10,000 or less. USDA loan borrowerscan have down payments as low as 0%.
  • Jumbo loan: If you live in a pricey housing market, you may end up with a jumbo loan—a mortgage that’s above the limits for government-sponsored loans. In most parts of the country, that means loans over $417,000; in areas where the cost of living is extremely high (e.g., Manhattan and San Francisco), the threshold jumps to $625,000.

2. What type of mortgage is best for me?

A mortgage lender should be able to answer this question once you’ve completed a loan application and the lender takes stock of your employment, income, assets, credit, debt, expenses, down payment, and other information about your finances.

3. What are your closing costs?

For home buyers, closing costs—the fees paid to a lender and other third parties that help facilitate the sale of a home—typically run about 3% to 4% of a home’s sales price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs as a buyer would amount from $7,500 to $10,000. The good news is some closing costs are negotiable: attorney fees, commission rates, recording costs, and messenger fees.

Your best approach is to submit loan applications with several lenders so that you can receive good-faith estimates(GFEs), which contain an itemized list of a lender’s closing fees.

4. How much time do you need to complete a mortgage?

One recent study found that closing times take, on average, 50 days. But, if you’re buying in a hot housing market, you may need to find a lender who can turn around a mortgage quickly—30 days or less.

The caveat: Some types of loans often take longer to process. The entire FHA loan process, for example, may take 30 to 60 days from the time you apply for the loan to the day you close, since the house must pass an inspection conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And if the house requires certain repairs in order to pass inspection, they must be completed before the sale can go through.

5. Do you do underwriting in-house?

Underwriting—the process in which mortgage lenders verify your assets to get a home loan, check your credit score, and review your home appraisal—can last as little as two to three days, but typically takes over a week to finish. All loans must go through underwriting before the lender can issue you the funds for a home purchase.

Some lenders do underwriting in-house, while others farm out to third-party underwriters. Though there are plenty of good lenders that outsource their underwriting, finding lenders that do theirs in-house could help speed up the process, since the underwriter would have direct access to your loan officer. (Communication between a loan officer and an outside underwriter might take longer.)

6. What documents do I need?

Proof of income and assets, personal identification, and information about your credit history are the big three. It can be a lot of paperwork, so start now by getting your paperwork in order.

7. Do you participate in any down payment assistance programs?

Need help making a down payment? There are many down payment assistance programs across the country which can help. One study found that buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766. The challenge, though, is not all mortgage lenders participate in these programs—but if you need down payment assistance to buy a house, you’ll need to find a lender that does.

8. Do you charge for an interest rate lock?

A mortgage rate lock is a commitment by a lender to give you a home loan at a specific interest rate, provided you close on your home in a certain period of time. This rate lock offers protection against fluctuating interest rates—useful considering that even a quarter of a percentage point can take a huge bite out of your housing budget over time.

Most lenders will offer a 30-day rate lock at no charge to you, but some lenders do charge for rate locks. This fee can be as high as 1% of your total loan amount. On a $300,000 mortgage, that means paying up to $3,000 to secure your rate—that’s not chump change.

9. Who will be the title and escrow agency or attorney?

You don’t have to leave the selection of the title company up to the lender. See how much your mortgage lender’s recommendation will cost, then shop around and see if you can save any money.

You can do the same for an escrow agency and attorney.

10. How do you communicate with your clients?

A great mortgage lender will stay in close contact with you, giving you updates on key steps in the mortgage approval process (e.g., the home appraisal and underwriting), says Yee. Additionally, you want to find a lender that you could reach easily when you have questions. Some loan officers work only during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, which can be a big disadvantage if you need help on a weekend.

Article By Daniel Bortz

7 Smart Strategies for Kitchen Remodeling

Follow these seven strategies to get the most financial gain on your kitchen remodel.

Homeowners spend more money on kitchen remodeling than on any other home improvement project. And with good reason: Kitchens are the hub of home life and a source of pride.

A significant portion of kitchen remodeling costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. A complete kitchen renovation with a national median cost of $65,000 recovers about 62% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®.

The project gets a big thumbs-up from homeowners, too. Those polled in the “Report” gave their new kitchen a Joy Score of 10 (out of 10!), a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

To help ensure you get a good return on your kitchen remodel, follow these seven tips:

#1 Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning your kitchen remodel should take more time than the actual construction. If you plan well, the amount of time you’re inconvenienced by construction mayhem will be minimized. Plus, you’re more likely to stay on budget.

How much time should you spend planning? The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends at least six months. That way, you won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction and create change orders, which will inflate construction costs and hurt your return on investment.

Some tips on planning:

Study your existing kitchen: How wide is the doorway into your kitchen? It’s a common mistake many homeowners make: Buying the extra-large fridge only to find they can’t get it in the doorway.To avoid mistakes like this, create a drawing of your kitchen with measurements for doorways, walkways, counters, etc. And don’t forget height, too.

Think about traffic patterns: Work aisles should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.

Design with ergonomics in mind: Drawers or pull-out shelves in base cabinets; counter heights that can adjust up or down; a wall oven instead of a range: These are all features that make a kitchen accessible to everyone — and a pleasure to work in.

Plan for the unforeseeable: Even if you’ve planned down to the number of nails you’ll need in your remodel, expect the unexpected. Build in a little leeway for completing the remodel. Want it done by Thanksgiving? Then plan to be done before Halloween.

Choose all your fixtures and materials before starting: Contractors will be able to make more accurate bids, and you’ll lessen the risk of delays because of back orders.

Don’t be afraid to seek help: A professional designer can simplify your kitchen remodel. Pros help make style decisions, foresee potential problems, and schedule contractors. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

#2 Get Real About Appliances

It’s easy to get carried away when planning your new kitchen. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

Appliances are essentially tools used to cook and store food. Your kitchen remodel shouldn’t be about the tools, but the design and functionality of the entire kitchen.

So unless you’re an exceptional cook who cooks a lot, concentrate your dollars on long-term features that add value, such as cabinets and flooring.

Then choose appliances made by trusted brands that have high marks in online reviews and Consumer Reports.

It’s easy to get carried away when planning your new kitchen. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

Appliances are essentially tools used to cook and store food. Your kitchen remodel shouldn’t be about the tools, but the design and functionality of the entire kitchen.

So unless you’re an exceptional cook who cooks a lot, concentrate your dollars on long-term features that add value, such as cabinets and flooring.

Then choose appliances made by trusted brands that have high marks in online reviews and Consumer Reports.

#3 Keep the Same Footprint

Nothing will drive up the cost of a remodel faster than changing the location of plumbing pipes and electrical outlets, and knocking down walls. This is usually where unforeseen problems occur.

So if possible, keep appliances, water fixtures, and walls in the same location. 

Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction costs, you’ll cut the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

#4 Don’t Underestimate the Power of Lighting

Lighting can make a world of difference in a kitchen. It can make it look larger and brighter. And it will help you work safely and efficiently. You should have two different types of lighting in your kitchen:

Task Lighting: Under-cabinet lighting should be on your must-do list, since cabinets create such dark work areas. And since you’re remodeling, there won’t be a better time to hard-wire your lights. (Here’s more about under-cabinet lights.) Plan for at least two fixtures per task area to eliminate shadows. Pendant lights are good for islands and other counters without low cabinets. Recessed lights and track lights work well over sinks and general prep areas with no cabinets overhead.

Ambient lighting: Flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights create overall lighting in your kitchen. Include dimmer switches to control intensity and mood.

#5 Be Quality-Conscious

Functionality and durability should be top priorities during kitchen remodeling. Resist low-quality bargains, and choose products that combine low maintenance with long warranty periods. Solid-surface countertops, for instance, may cost a little more, but with the proper care, they’ll look great for a long time.

And if you’re planning on moving soon, products with substantial warranties are a selling advantage.

#6 Add Storage, Not Space

Storage will never go out of style, but if you’re sticking with the same footprint, here are a couple of ideas to add more:

Install cabinets that reach the ceiling: They may cost more — and you might need a stepladder — but you’ll gain valuable storage space for Christmas platters and other once-a-year items. In addition, you won’t have to dust cabinet tops.

Hang it up: Mount small shelving units on unused wall areas and inside cabinet doors; hang stock pots and large skillets on a ceiling-mounted rack; and add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

#7 Communicate Clearly With Your Remodelers

Establishing a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. To keep the sweetness in your project:

Drop by the project during work hours: Your presence broadcasts your commitment to quality.

Establish a communication routine: Hang a message board on site where you and the project manager can leave daily communiqués. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.

Set house rules: Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, available bathrooms, and appropriate parking.

Be kind: Offer refreshments (a little hospitality can go a long way), give praise when warranted, and resist pestering them with conversation, jokes, and questions when they are working. They’ll work better when refreshed and allowed to concentrate on work.

And a final tip to help keep your frustration level down while the construction is going on: plan for a temporary kitchen  along with the plans for your new kitchen. You’ll be happier (and less frustrated) if you’ve got a way to have dinner while construction is ongoing.

Article by JOHN RIHA

Thank a Vet with Lunch!

This week we thank Mat Parr for his 11 year service to the United States Army, Airborne Ranger and Green Beret, as a Senior Medic on 5th Special Forces “A” Team. His credentials include; Weapons trainer at the US Army Battle Skills Course, JRTC Joint Readiness Training Center, Hand to Hand Combat Instructor and Pre-Ranger Instructor.

Matt is a Life Member of the US Army Ranger Association. He is an NRA certified Pistol Instructor and currently operates Pistol training programs for people who have Concealed Carry Permits called PSD&S “Personal Self Defense and Survival” (survival of the Legal aftermath).

Currently, Matt recruits and trains marketing teams for a company in the Direct Selling Space.

The 5thSpecial Forces Moto is;  “De Opresso Liber  (Latin)  Meaning “To Free The Opressed”

Matt says; This motto has stayed with me in my civilian life, having a dynamic impact on me as a Soldier, Husband, Father, & Business Owner. Today I would say that my most important daily tasks are being a Husband and Father and my Charity work with the SFCT to help those families most affected by the Global War on Terror the Special Opps Families who have lost their Soldier in the war.

The majority of Americans assume that the families who have lost a loved one are taken care of by the Military.  I am here to tell you as a Disabled Veteran, that is a wrong assumption. We need to help those who have sacrificed the most for our rights as an American. We need to help the children left behind without a parent who was killed or significantly injured in the Military.

I view my daily contributions to supporting the spouses and children of my fallen brothers as my most important duty. I am passionate about my work, mainly because the need is so big and the people willing to help are so few. Assistance for these families can be in the form of volunteering, donations or through business affiliation. If anyone reading this is open to helping please call me immediately (708) 205-2975 or Matt@mjparr.com

As a past client and friend, we proudly thank Matt for his service and dedication to our country. If you are a current member of the military or have served, we would like to Thank a Vet With Lunch. Please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you! In addition, let us know if we can answer any questions about VA Loans ( Jim Francis at Fairway Independent Mortgage Company Jim.Francis@FairwayMC.com ) or your real estate needs ( Cindy Soderstrom at RE/MAX Signature Homes csoderstrom@remax.net ).

LEMON-GARLIC BAKED SALMON

When there is an opportunity to bake an entire meal on a single sheet, we are going to take it – we believe you should embrace the non-challenge too! In a world of fast, convenience foods, it takes a bit of a workout to get beyond the ease of pre-prepared options. Sure, canned fish is still better for you than the slice of pizza that everyone else seems to be eating, but if what you are after is true, life and happiness supporting health, then you are going to have to go out and find those quality ingredients that make you feel great.

It’s not always easy, and sometimes it even feels like takes a lot of time to eat “better”, yet at the end of a nourishing meal, you’ll find that the extra effort was worth it. Take this baked salmon with green beans for instance – and yes, it is okay to consume green beans on occasion. Let’s focus on the salmon, where the bulk of the protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, selenium and B vitamins are. In general, fish, along with shellfish, are extremely nutrient dense, meaning that they pack a good vitamin and mineral punch in exchange for the calories that they lack. And while calories are not much of a concern, vitamins (from food) are certainly important in a healthy diet.

Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. cooking fat of your choice, melted
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 8oz. salmon fillets, skin-on
  • Lemon slices
  • Green beans, to serve

Preparation

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Combine the garlic, lemon juice and zest, parsley, cooking fat, salt and pepper in a bowl, mix well.
  3. Place the salmon on a baking tray and pour over the marinade. Add the green beans to the pan and drizzle with a little cooking fat and season to taste. Add the lemon slices on top of the vegetables and salmon.
  4. Place in the oven and allow to cook for 10-12 minutes until the salmon is cooked through.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve.

FAT TUESDAY; LEARN THE HISTORY BEHIND THIS TRADITIONAL FEAST DAY

When is Mardi Gras 2019? Why is this day—also called Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday—celebrated? Read what The Old Farmer’s Almanac has to say about this festive holiday.

I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
– Mark Twain, American writer (1835–1910)

WHAT IS MARDI GRAS OR SHROVE TUESDAY?

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” and is the final feasting day before the Christian season of Lent, which begins on the day after Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday.

Fat Tuesday is also called Shrove Tuesday, a name that comes from the practice of “shriving”—purifying oneself through confession—prior to Lent.

For many Christians, Shrove Tuesday is a time to receive penance and absolution. It is the last day to finish up the eggs, milk, and fat that are forbidden during the 40-day Lenten fast, which begins the next day (Ash Wednesday) and ends on Holy Thursday (three days before Easter Sunday).

In England, where the event is also known as Pancake Tuesday, festivities include flapjack-related activities. The pancake race held by women in Olney, Buckinghamshire, dates back to 1445. Legend says that the idea started when a woman cooking pancakes lost track of the time. When she heard the church bells ring, she rushed out the door to attend the shriving service while still wearing her apron and holding a skillet containing a pancake.

Serve up some Shrove Tuesday Pancakes to celebrate—or choose from any of our favorite homemade pancake recipes!

In 1950, Liberal, Kansas, having seen photos of the English pancake race, challenged Olney to a competition: The International Pancake Day Race has been held annually ever since. The two towns run their own race, after which the scores are compared and the international champion announced. Each contestant, wearing a head scarf and apron, holds a pancake in a skillet while running a 415-yard course. She must flip the pancake at the beginning and end of the race, without dropping it.

Other cultures also cook up rich treats and fried foods, which was traditionally based on using up all the butter, flour, and fat in the house.

  • Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Tuesday is called Fastnacht (fast night), and everyone enjoys the traditional fastnachtkuchen, a rectangular doughnut with a slit in the middle.
  • In Louisiana, the favorite treat is the beignet, a pillowy fried dough concoction.
  • In Polish communities, the Tuesday is called “Paczki Day,” after the puffy jelly-filled doughnuts traditionally enjoyed.

In countries with large Roman Catholic populations, Mardi Gras is also a day of revelry with festivals, parades, masked balls, and lavish dinners. In the United States, New Orleans is the most known for its Mardi Gras celebrations with marching bands, decorated floats, colorful costumes and masks, lots of beads, and King Cakes.

LEARN MORE

In the spirit of New Orleans, try cooking up some great Cajun food for Mardi Gras, such as this soul-warming Jambalaya.

Discover more about the history and traditions of this holiday on the City of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Website.

 

Replace or Reface Your Kitchen Cabinets: The Options and Costs

Refacing kitchen cabinets might be “superficial,” but the results and savings are dramatic.

Refacing your kitchen cabinets includes covering the exposed frames with a thin veneer of real wood or plastic laminate.

Doors and drawer fronts are replaced to match or complement the new veneer. New hinges, knobs, pulls, and molding complete the transformation.

What are the Pros and Cons?

Kitchen cabinet refacing pros:

  • Costs about half as much as replacing cabinets.
  • Takes less time (a week or less!) and money.
  • It’s less hassle than tearing out cabinets.
  • You can still use your kitchen while refacing.
  • It’s a green kitchen remodeling solution because you’re not adding to the landfill.

Kitchen cabinet refacing cons (there aren’t many):

  • Refacing won’t fix a bad kitchen design.
  • You might be tempted to spend more on exotic veneer and hardware (saving you less).

What are Your Refacing Options?

Your choices for the finished look of your cabinets are virtually limitless. Veneers are available in a wide variety of colors, patterns, textures, grains, and more, which you can mix or match to get a relatively low-cost kitchen facelift.

  • Rigid thermofoil (RTF) doors, which feature a durable plastic coating over fiberboard, are an affordable alternative to wood or laminate doors.
  • Plastic laminates come in hundreds of colors and patterns, are durable and moisture-resistant, and are reasonably priced. You can pick matching or contrasting laminates for your doors and drawer fronts.
  • Real wood veneers include many standard species, such as oak, cherry, and maple, and you also can choose from an array of stain colors. Wood veneers are the most expensive option. Wood must be carefully sealed to protect against moisture.

Further customize and update the look of your cabinets with new kitchen cabinet hardware.

What Does Refacing Cost?

A professional cabinet refacing for a typical 10-foot-by-12-foot kitchen starts at around $1,000 to $3,000 for laminate. Expect to pay $2,500 to $6,000 for real wood veneer. Costs can rise to $7,000 to $9,000 or more for a large project with high-quality wood veneer.

Finishing the project with new hardware (pulls, knobs, hinges) runs $2 to $4 per piece, up to $20 to $50 each for high-end hardware.

In comparison, completely replacing old kitchen cabinets with new cabinets starts at $4,000 to $5,000 and up for stock cabinets; $8,000 to $10,000 for semi-custom cabinets; $16,000 to $20,000 and up for custom-made cabinetry.

How Do I Know If My Cabinets are Good For Refacing?

Refacing is feasible if your existing cabinet boxes are structurally sound and in good condition. Cabinets with water damage, warping, and broken frames are poor candidates. Particleboard cabinetry sometimes requires fasteners, in addition to adhesives, to ensure that the veneer is secure.

How are They Installed?

A professional installer will come to your house to measure your cabinets and determine the amount of veneer required, the correct sizes and quantities for door and drawer fronts, and how much hardware is needed. Newly ordered doors and drawer fronts may take one to two weeks for delivery.

When all the materials are in hand, your installer removes old cabinet door and drawer fronts, and prepares the surface of the cabinet boxes by washing the exteriors with a degreaser and lightly sanding the finish. Any significant flaws in the surface are repaired or filled to ensure a smooth, secure fit for the new veneer.

The installer applies veneer to the cabinet faces and any exposed cabinet ends, then mounts the new doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. The process typically takes two to four days.

Can I Do Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Myself?

Detailed instructions and adhesive-backed veneers make cabinet refacing a feasible do-it-yourself project.

If you have extra time, patience, the necessary veneering tools, and a knack for precision, you can save money by tackling kitchen cabinet refacing on your own.

If you opt to do your own kitchen cabinet refacing, you’ll spend about $200 to $500 on average for materials. Specialized tools (rollers, blades, irons) add $5 to $60 to the cost.

Article by JAN SOULTS WALKER

What’s the best pet for your kids? Here’s how to decide

It’s an exciting time — your family is about to get bigger! Soon there will be somebody barking, meowing or even hopping around your house, keeping the kids company and making lots of memories.

But before you get sucked into a flurry of new pet selfies, we’re here to ask a very important question: Which animal is the best pet for you and your kids? There are a lot of things to consider when bringing a new pet home.

“First and foremost, the family should take a look at their schedule to ensure that the pet will be adequately cared for and they can meet the pet’s individual needs,” says Pia Silvani, director at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in North Carolina. “For example, while cats may not require as much work as a dog, the litter box needs to be cleaned every day, brushing and nail clipping are required, as well as mental stimulation, which includes play. Dogs require training, exercise, socialization with animals and people, as well as mental and physical stimulation.”

All of these responsibilities suddenly become very real when a pet enters your Instagram story — and parents especially need to know that even if you’re getting an animal for a child, the day-to-day duties will fall in your lap.

“Children convince the parents that they will care for the pet,” Silvani says. “While their intentions are good, after a few months and a busy calendar, the child may lose interest in the ‘tasks’ that they promised and the responsibility is back on the parents.”

To help you on your quest to select the perfect family pet, we compiled this overview of nine pets parents usually get for kids and important considerations to make with each:

1. Dog

No two dogs are the same, so take your time and find a good match.

“Every dog is an individual with a unique personality,” Silvani says. “Whether a dog is well-mannered around children and babies has nothing to do with the dog’s breed type [it’s] more about whether the dog has been properly socialized with children early on.”

And if you think a small dog would totally suit a small child, think again.

“Small dogs are not necessarily the best choice for children,” Silvani says. “Young children tend to think small dogs enjoy being picked up, carried, hugged, dressed up, etc. Children need to learn that dogs should not be treated like a toy or stuffed animal.”

Considerations: Are you the traveling type? The family that wakes up on a Saturday morning with a game plan to spend the day driving across the state looking for landmarks? Think about how your dog will fit into this picture. Dogs need regular exercise, grooming and training, and they can’t be left alone for extended periods of time. As a result, a dog may not be the best pet for your family if no one is home during the day — unless you’re prepared to hire a dog walker or send your pup to doggy daycare.

2. Cat

As any cat lady will tell you, cats are independent creatures. While one kitty might be the biggest cuddle bug you’ve ever met, another may prefer a more solitary life (with regular servings of food, please!) Like dogs, cats do require responsibility — litter box duty will become some lucky person’s regular job — but the good thing about felines is that they may afford you a little more freedom. They need food, water, care and attention on a daily basis but leaving them overnight is definitely easier to do.

Considerations: Cats can bite or scratch when they’re not enjoying certain situations, so it’s a good idea to give your child a crash course in “Kitty Etiquette.” Teach them that not every cat likes to be held, or pet or snuggled, and that their quirks are what so many cat-lovers grow to love.

3. Rabbit

Rabbits are active and social, and they need plenty of stimulation or they can potentially get bored and destructive. If you plan to let your bunny explore your home you’ll need to do some serious bunny-proofing because they like to chew, according to the House Rabbit Society.

They require a rather large enclosure to dwell in, partly because they can grown in size as they age. The House Rabbit Society recommends an exercise pen, a large dog crate, a bunny-proofed room or a very large cage or condo (all of which require regular cleaning, so roll up your sleeves!)

Considerations: Like cats, rabbits can be quirky and some don’t like to be carried around, which may be difficult for children to understand.

“Animals need a break from children and they must be allowed quiet time so they are not overwhelmed with too much handling,” says Silvani.

4. Guinea pig

According to the Humane Society, snuggling and exploring are some of a guinea pig’s favorite pastimes, so they’ll need time out of their cage every day.

Regular responsibilities will include grooming, cage cleaning, and having supplies at the ready. Supplies for one guinea pig is a regular financial commitment, the Humane Society says, and that could potentially double should you get a second guinea pig, which is recommended for companionship reasons.

Considerations: They can be easily startled, so kids will need to learn how to behave around these adorable animals before they become a part of the family.

5. Turtle

Turtles are cute but quite complicated to keep. They need to live in a specific type of environment to really thrive. Everything from the temperature to the lighting must be just right, so you have to be ready and willing to set up those conditions.

Turtles have particularly long lifespans compared to most other pets, so you might have to care for them long after your kids are off to college.

Considerations: Not all states allow the sale or keeping of turtles or amphibians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and because of the risk for spreading germs like salmonella, you shouldn’t keep a turtle if you have children under the age of five or other people with weak immune systems living in your household.

6. Bird

Birds are intelligent and social pets. Though they spend most of their time in cages, it’s great if you can provide them with a safe place in your home to fly freely now and then.

Some birds, including parrots, can be loud or destructive and can live up to a whopping 25 years — which means they’ll stay in the nest a lot longer than your little humans.

Considerations: Petfinder.com says Chlamydiosis (psittacosis) and avian tuberculosis are two health issues to be informed about because they can make people with weakened immune systems, like children, sick.

7. Lizard

If your family has a particularly busy schedule and the desire for a relatively quiet pet, you might consider a lizard since they can be fairly low-maintenance.

While the habitat and feeding needs of lizards — which can have long lifespans — vary by type and can be pretty specific (insects, anyone?), most don’t require extensive grooming.

Considerations: Because some lizards are more delicate, an older child may be better at being gentle with them.

8. Hamster

Hamsters are nocturnal so only night owls will really get to see this critter in action. They have a relatively short lifespan — about two to three years — so keep in mind that your kids might get a lesson in dealing with the loss of a pet sooner rather than later.

Considerations: The Humane Society recommends adult supervision when a child younger than 8 handles a hamster because, like guinea pigs, they can be startled and even bite. Younger children may not be capable of making a hamster feel secure and could be at greater risk for diseases like salmonella, which hamsters can carry.

9. Fish

Often regarded as the perfect first pet for kids, fish are fascinating family members to watch, no matter your age.

Feeding them daily and cleaning out their tanks will be on a caregiver’s to-do list. The frequency of tank cleaning depends on a few factors, like the kind of fish you have, but generally it will need to be cleaned every two weeks. If your family life is too hectic for a dog or even a cat, these underwater friends can make great pets.

Considerations: The positives about fish are endless: their colors and swimming patterns can soothe, they’re quiet, they don’t require a lot of space, they don’t shed — but they still need care and attention, some more than others.

Article by Amy Jamieson

5 Bathroom Renovation Projects You Should Never Do Yourself

My husband and I are no strangers to bathroom renovation projects. We’ve tackled four bathrooms in two different houses, and while we’ve been ultimately pleased with each outcome, it’s painfully clear we are no Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Case in point: While fixing up our first bathroom, my husband sawed through a waterline, resulting in an emergency plumbing project (and a very irritated me when I came home from the gym unable to hop in the shower).

Even if it’s the tiniest room in your house, the importance of a bathroom renovation isn’t proportional to its size. Your water closet needs to be able to endure frequent use, in addition to humidity and water splashing around from sinks, showers, and tubs.

“A bathroom remodel is the most nerve-wracking of any renovation, especially if it is the only bathroom in your home,” says Beatrice de Jong, director of residential sales at Open Listings.

This is why de Jong suggests leaving most of the work to the professionals. Nothing puts a damper on a new bathroom like a burst pipe or an electrical snafu.

So no matter how intrepid you are, leave these five projects to the pros—and ensure that your new bathroom doesn’t become a DIY project from hell.

1. Installing a bath fan

A bath fan is your best defense against humidity from the bath and shower. But in many cases, installing a fan is way too ambitious for the average weekend warrior.

Although the exhaust from bath fans is sometimes routed to the attic, pros suggest venting the fan vent outside to get that humidity out of your house. This requires cutting a hole in your roof and installing an exhaust hood—not advisable for the average homeowner. Even my husband, who is currently in the thick of another bathroom renovation, recently put his frugal sensibilities aside and called in the pros to install a fan that vented properly through the roof.

2. Plumbing and electrical work

Just like in the kitchen (or anywhere else in your house), plumbing and electrical work should always be left to the pros.

Not convinced? This one is a matter of safety: “If an electrical switch was not installed correctly and poses a fire risk, it’s unlikely a homeowner would be able to tell,” says Jesse Fowler, founder of Tellus Design + Build in Costa Mesa, CA.

De Jong agrees: “With electricity in close proximity to plumbing, there are lots of moving parts that could be disastrous,” she says. Professional plumbers and electricians are “absolutely worth paying the extra expense.”

A pro will also ensure that your bathroom meets code requirements in your municipality (which is especially important for resale, when home inspectors will be looking closely to make sure your bathroom passes muster).

3. Putting in a glass shower

Dreaming of a gorgeous new glass shower for your renovation project? Even though you can order a precut-glass shower door at one of the big-box home improvement stores, installing it on your own isn’t such a good idea. The glass can weigh hundreds of pounds, requiring extreme care and precision to handle and install. A botched installation doesn’t just mean water on the floor—you could also find yourself walkin’ on, walkin’ on broken glass—and seriously injured.

4. Any kind of structural changes

If your bathroom remodel is more ambitious than a simple swap and replace of common features, that’s a sign you should call in the pros.

Moving a shower? Taking down a wall? Changing up the layout of the bathroom? A pro contractor can walk you through important considerations, like whether your bathroom is equipped to handle a double vanity or how tall your new shower should be.

Ultimately, paying a little more at the start of your project will likely save you money and hassle in the long run.

“Structural changes are the risky stuff, which, if not done correctly, could be very dangerous or very costly down the road,” Fowler says.

5. Tiling

When it comes to tile, the raw materials might not cost a lot, but the labor for installation can be pricey, Fowler says. As a result, he’s seen a lot of homeowners attempt to moonlight as tile layers, which is “almost always a very big mistake.”

Unless you, like my husband, are a bona fide Tiley Cyrus or Oscar the Grout, budget for a professional contractor to install your beautiful new tile. If you do a sloppy DIY job, your morning showers will go from relaxing to remorseful as you face your crooked Carrara and shoddy craftsmanship each day.

If you’re dying to scratch that DIY itch, don’t despair—there are still lots of projects homeowners can tackle themselves during a bathroom remodel, like painting, changing drawer pulls, and swapping out shower heads and faucets.

Article by Lauren Sieben

10 Things You Didn’t Know Baking Soda Could Do

Baking soda—a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate—is cheap, readily available, and incredibly versatile. While you might already use the chemical compound to clean your kitchen or make cookies rise, there’s a lot more you can do with it. In honor of National Bicarbonate of Soda Day today (yes, it has a day!), take a look at these 10 things you didn’t know baking soda could do.

1. TENDERIZE MEAT.

Bakers often use baking soda as a leavening agent in breads and cookies, but some chefs also use it to tenderize meat. Many Chinese recipes call for marinating raw meat in a solution of baking soda and water, which alters the meat’s pH level and keeps the meat tender as it is cooked. Make sure you apply the baking soda directly to whatever meat you’re working with—rather than the meat’s skin or fat—and wash it off before cooking.

2. POLISH SILVER.

Silver jewelry and utensils can be difficult to clean, and you probably don’t want to spend time scrubbing your silver with toxic cleaning solutions. For a cheap, non-toxic cleaner, sprinkle a quarter cup of baking soda into an aluminum foil-lined basin filled with your dirty silver items. Pour boiling water onto the silver, and let it soak until your silverware is clean.

3. REMOVE SPLINTERS.

If you’re having trouble extracting a splinter that’s embedded deep in your skin, don’t fret. Apply a mixture of water and baking soda to the skin around the splinter, and cover it with an adhesive bandage. In a day or two, the baking soda will soften the skin around the splinter, making it easier for you to coax the splinter out with tweezers.

4. IRRIGATE YOUR SINUSES.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommendsthat people with chronic hay fever try a homemade saline sinus rinse to remove extra mucus and allergens. Mix three parts iodide-free salt with one part baking soda, and add distilled or boiled (and cooled) water. Put the solution into a bulb syringe, and with your head tilted, squeeze the solution into each nostril.

5. WHITEN YOUR TEETH.

Baking soda can remove plaque and stains from your teeth (you might recognize it as an ingredient on certain specialty flavors of toothpaste). To make your own version, combine two parts hydrogen peroxide with one part baking soda, and then gently brush it on your teeth. After a minute, rinse your mouth thoroughly. To avoid damaging your tooth enamel, brush lightly, don’t use the paste more than once a week, and ask your dentist for his or her guidance.

6. COMBAT BODY ODOR.

If you want to make your own non-toxic deodorant, grab some baking soda. Spread a paste of baking soda and water under your armpits, or make a natural deodorant stick with coconut oil, cornstarch, baking soda, and essential oil.

7. MAKE YOUR HOME SMELL BETTER.

You may already keep a box of baking soda in your refrigerator to neutralize bad smells, but don’t overlook the rest of your home. Create a homemade air freshener by putting half a cup of baking soda and a few drops of an essential oil into a small jar. Cover the jar with cloth, and put it in your bathroom or closet.

8. RELIEVE ITCHY BUG BITES.

For any irritable bug bites, you can use a baking soda paste to relieve the pain, swelling, and itchiness around the bite. Apply a mixture of three parts baking soda and one part water to the skin on and around the bite. This solution will relieve pain from insect bites, bee stings, and even poison ivy exposure.

9. KILL BUGS.

Insects, ants, and cockroaches who eat baking soda will die as the baking soda releases fatal carbon dioxide bubbles in their bodies. For more environmentally friendly pest control, sprinkle baking soda and vinegar on ant mounds, and pour baking soda on plants to kill any bugs that might try munching your veggies.

10. REDUCE DANDRUFF.

Rather than buy an anti-dandruff shampoo, try washing your hair with baking soda. When you’re in the shower, massage a paste of baking soda and water into your hair. After a few seconds, rinse it out. The baking soda can remove excess oil and flaky skin from your scalp.

Article by SUZANNE RAGA

All images via iStock.

How Does Paying Off Your Mortgage Affect Your Credit Score?

A mortgage is probably the largest debt you’ll ever have, and paying it off is a significant achievement. But credit bureaus like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion might not be as thrilled.

“Paying off any debt will certainly affect your credit score, and your mortgage is no exception,” says Michael Mesa, branch manager and certified mortgage planning specialist at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp in Lacey, WA.

Depending on various factors, this act of financial responsibility could increase or decrease your credit score.

How does paying off your mortgage affect your credit score?

It’s hard to pin a credit score number on the effects of paying off your mortgage.

“The first thing to remember is that the formulas for computing credit score are proprietary, so we are making educated guesses at the effects of any one item on a person’s credit score,” says James Philpot, a certified financial planner and associate professor of finance and general business at Missouri State University.

“The second thing to remember is that when we try to answer questions like ‘What is the effect of X on my credit score,’ we are assuming that we are comparing two credit customers who are identical in all respects except the variable in question—and this is almost never the case,” he adds.

Your credit score could decrease

As crazy as it seems, paying off what is likely your largest installment debt might not, in fact, send your FICO score through the roof.

Philpot explains that if you don’t have a balanced mix of revolving to installment debt and a good length of time that credit has been established—and is still open—your score may dip slightly.

“While minor, there could be a negative impact if your mortgage was the only loan in the installment category, as the overall credit mix of your credit picture accounts for 10% of your score,” says David Bakke at MoneyCrashers.

And that’s not the only category that could negatively affect your score.

“Your score may also see a modest drop when the loan is paid off, because it takes the mortgage off of your length of credit portion of your score, which covers 15% of your score,” Bakke says.

But if your mortgage is your only installment loan, you might want to reconsider paying it off.

“It may be better for your credit score in the long run if you keep your installment loan open for its full term while continuing to make regular, timely payments,” says Theresa Williams-Barrett, vice president of consumer loans and loan administration at Affinity Federal Credit Union.

Your credit score could increase

On the other hand, paying off your mortgage might boost your credit score.

“If you do have other debt that you’re paying on every month and showing creditors that you are a responsible borrower, paying off your mortgage may show as a positive because your debt-to-income ratio may be higher,” says Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, MI.

Also, there is a basic credit advantage to paying off such a large amount.

“As a general rule, borrowers who have less debt already outstanding are considered to be better credit risks,” says Philpot. “Also, no longer having to make a payment will improve your net monthly cash flow, increasing capacity to make new payments.”

For example, whenever you apply for a loan, creditors want to know how much debt you already have. Moving a mortgage off your plate significantly reduces your total debt amount, which can make you more attractive to creditors.

Before you pay off your mortgage

Before making any big financial moves, find out what’s involved in paying off your mortgage.

“Clarify with your lending institution if there are any prepayment penalties,” says Williams-Barrett.

Also, make sure you have a nice savings cushion before paying more on your mortgage.

“It’s important to save those would-be extra mortgage payments for emergencies, even if it means avoiding a year or two of interest payments,” Williams-Barrett says.

Article by Terri Williams

5 Big Reasons to Sell Your Home This Year (Because It Could Get Tougher)

It’s no secret that life’s been pretty good to sellers for the past several years. Even if you had no need—or desire—to move, the housing landscape might have seriously tempted you to put your house on the market anyway. After all, it’s hard not to see visions of dollar signs when your neighbors are unloading their homes for tens of thousands over asking price.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. And you’ve probably heard that the white-hot housing market of years past is finally beginning to cool.

So if you haven’t listed your home before now, did you miss the boat? Absolutely not. But with each passing month, the experts say, you can expect the housing climate to shift a bit more in buyers’ favor.

“It’s definitely still a seller’s market in most of the country. But it’s not the same seller’s market that you saw in the last couple of years,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist of realtor.com®. “You might have to think about how your home compares to the competition that buyers are going to see when they’re shopping. And you might have to price a little bit more competitively, or think about other enticements to attract buyers.”

There’s still a chance to cash in for top dollar, though, if you move quickly. Here are the biggest reasons to sell ASAP in 2019.

1. You won’t be the only listing for long

The top reason sellers have been in the catbird seat for the past several years? Inventory. There simply weren’t enough homes on the market to keep up with buyer demand. And when a “For Sale” sign did go up, you can bet a bidding war would soon follow.

“You might have been the only listing in your neighborhood, and you could put your home up at a certain list price and you would likely see multiple offers at or above that list price,” Hale explains.

That tide is turning this year, Hale says. That’s because the number of homes for sale is finally increasing, albeit slowly. For now, buyers still outnumber inventory. But if you’re thinking about selling and don’t want to compete with your neighbors, it’ll pay off (literally) to list earlier rather than later. (This is particularly true in pricier markets, where inventory is increasing at a faster rate than more affordable areas.)

“It’s going to depend on what neighborhood you’re in, but we expect it to be more common this year that you won’t be the only listing,” Hale says.

2. You still stand to make a ‘handsome profit’

Home prices have been on a meteoric rise for the past seven years. In January 2012, the U.S. median home price was $154,700. Today, that figure has nearly doubled—to $289,300—and sellers have rejoiced.

Now comes a twist: 15% of all home listings saw price cuts in January, according to realtor.com data.

That might sound like bad news if you’re thinking of selling. But hear us out: Those moderating prices, combined with today’s mortgage rates (more on that below), mean increased buyer demand for your house.

Plus, it’s not that home prices aren’t still increasing—they’re just not increasing at the frenzied pace of previous years, which often featured multiple offers at or above asking price, Hale says. So even though you might have some more competition as a seller, things are still looking pretty sweet for you when it comes to cold, hard cash.

“Even if you don’t get an offer above your asking price, you’re probably still going to come away with a handsome profit from being a seller in 2019,” Hale says.

But again, it’ll pay to put your home on the market as soon as you can—before conditions change.

“Sellers who list their homes earlier in the year tend to get a higher sales price, often above list, and shorter days on market,” says Ali Wolf, director of economic research at Meyers Research.

3. There’s high demand for homes under $300K

There’s more good news if you own a home below the national median price of $289,300. Not only is that inventory increasing at a slower rate than its luxury counterparts, but there are more buyers shopping at those price points.

“If you’re a below-median-price seller, you will see a seller’s market that is as good as what you saw in previous years—maybe even better,” Hale says. “You might still see multiple offers coming in quickly, maybe even above asking price.”

4. Mortgage rates are at a new low

Something strange has been happening over the past few months. Experts predicted mortgage rates would rise—and at the end of 2018, they were indeed ticking upward as expected.

But since the start of the year, rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage (the most popular home loan) have been falling, sliding last week to a new 12-month low of 4.37%. And of course, those historically low mortgage rates mean you could have more buyers knocking on your door.

Plus, this temporary dip in rates creates an opportunity for trade-up buyers as well. After all, if you’re selling your home, there’s a good chance you’ll need to buy another one.

Bottom line: Now’s the time to hustle and get both transactions done.

“Sellers need to take advantage of low rates as much as buyers do,” Wolf says. “Sellers don’t want to get stuck in their homes when rates go up and the math no longer makes sense to move.”

5. Millennials are flooding the market

Historically speaking, people tend to buy their first home around age 30. And guess what? We’ve got a whole bunch of people turning 30 in the next two years—nearly 5 million, in fact, according to realtor.com data. So you can count on those millennials to be a driving force in the housing market.

“Millennials want to own a home as much as prior generations,” Wolf says. “We saw millennial shoppers scooping up homes in 2018—and 2019 will be no different.”

What’s more, Hale adds, is that you won’t just be seeing demand from first-time buyers. Older millennials in their middle to late 30s have already owned a home for a few years, and could be looking at now as a prime time to trade up.

“From a seller’s perspective, you’re going to have possibly more interested buyers,” Hale says. “So that’s motivation to put your house on the market.”

Looking to sell your home? I am happy to offer a complimentary complete home market analysis. Please call 630-570-9740.

Article by Rachel Stults

Couples (Couch) Therapy: How to Choose a Sofa You’ll Both Want to Snuggle On

Just as it’s no simple feat to find your soul mate, it can be equally challenging to score a sofa that ticks all the boxes for quality, style, and comfort. And that’s before taking your significant other’s opinion into account.

A recent study found that one-quarter of couples get frustrated when furniture shopping with their partner. The same survey found that 15% actively avoid going to the furniture store altogether if it can be avoided.

Snuggle up, because we’ve got tips that’ll help you shop with your partner to choose a new sofa that makes you both happy.

Find the right fit—for both of you

Photo by Van Metre Homes

Even if you and your significant other are prone to disagreements, you can’t dispute the hard facts of room dimensions. Remember this rule above all others: Measure your space before you go shopping. (And then measure again.)

“There’s nothing worse than getting your heart set on a sofa that ultimately won’t fit in the space and have to start all over,” says Washington, DC–based decorator and real estate agent Amber Harris of At Home DC.

And when you break out the measuring tape, make sure you do it together so you agree on the measurements—this will quash any fight over who didn’t measure properly.

Aside from taking measurements of the sofa’s final destination, you should also measure doorways, stairways, and hallways to make sure you can get your new sofa in your home, around corners, and into the desired space.

Do a little online sleuthing

Before you step foot in a furniture showroom, sit down with your sweetheart and assess your options online. This preshopping exercise will ensure you both have an idea of what a sofa costs—and allow each of you to discuss frankly how much you’re willing to spend. (Don’t forget to factor in delivery fees!)

Starting online also gives you a crash course on the variety of sofa options available, including sectionals and sleepers. Plus, retailers such as Crate & Barrel share dimensions for furniture online so you’ll know whether a sofa will fit your space before you go to a showroom. Send, pin, and share ideas about the kind of sofas you like with your partner.

Decide on your sofa vibe

Photo by Tara Bussema

“A sofa is just one piece of the design puzzle,” notes Beverly Solomon of Beverly Solomon Design outside Austin, TX. “A couple should first have a clear idea of how they want their living space to look and feel, as well as the image they want to project.”

So if he wants a comfy, overstuffed sofa ideal for football Sundays, you might need to remind him it doesn’t jibe with your home’s midcentury aesthetic. It can be a fraught discussion, but make sure your decor preferences are aligned.

Lay out your lounging style

Photo by Dotter & Solfjeld Architecture + Design

Consider how a new sofa will be used on a daily basis, including how you and your partner prefer to lounge around. Love to doze off on the couch? A firm sofa with deep button tufts might not be the best pick.

Then, pull out that measuring tape again because you’ll want to consider the depth and height of the sofa seat.

“A sofa should fit the person with the shortest leg length for proper seat depth and seat height,” advises interior designer Steven C. Adamako of Spectrum Interiors in Kalamazoo, MI.

Keep in mind seat cushion materials play a factor as well. Soft cushions will cause you to sink into a seat more than a firm cushion. A lower seat height can offset a deeper seat depth to help ensure good back support.

Think about who’s going to clean it

There’s form, and then there’s fabric—which is a key factor to consider if you have kids, pets, or just generally plan to use the sofa on a daily basis.

“Pay close attention to the durability and washability of the fabric you choose,” Harris says. An argument about who’s cleaning (or refusing to clean) the new sofa might mean someone might be sleeping on it.

Engineered fabrics such as indoor-outdoor upholstery have come a long way. They’re easy to clean, and many are as supple as indoor fabrics. Protectant sprays (e.g., Scotchgard) can also help keep your new sofa clean.

Canoodle to test comfort

Photo by Alex Maguire Photography

Your partner is the center of your life, and your new sofa will be the centerpiece of your living space. When shopping together, don’t hesitate to spend time sitting, lounging, and stretching out on floor models. Give your bodies time to sink into a sofa and evaluate the feel of the fabric.

Keep in mind that a sofa may feel like the right fit in the showroom, then lose its comfort and appeal halfway into a Netflix binge. With this in mind, do a deep dive into the company’s return policy so you’re not stuck with a dud.

Shop as a team (the same team)

Photo by Danielle Trippett Interior Design & Decoration

To make it as a team in life, you must first make it past the hurdles of furniture shopping. Neither partner should feel snubbed, unheard, or disappointed.

Set a budget, educate yourselves on options, and get excited about (don’t just settle on) a brand-new sofa to feather your nest.

And remember: You probably didn’t find your partner on the first go, so don’t feel pressured to find a sofa you both love on your first shopping trip.

Article by Erin Gifford

Spicy Rapid Roast Chicken

“This is the kind of recipe that you just throw together. No need to truss or fuss. Pop it into a very hot oven and it is ready in a hurry.”

Ingredients

  • 1 (3 pound) whole chicken
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
  2. Rinse chicken thoroughly inside and out under cold running water and remove all fat. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Put chicken into a small baking pan. Rub with olive oil. Mix the salt, pepper, oregano, basil, paprika and cayenne pepper together and sprinkle over chicken.
  4. Roast the chicken in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Lower the oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and continue roasting to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F (74 degrees C), about 40 minutes more. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes and serve.

Take the Plunge: The 4 Best Reasons to Buy a Home This Year

The housing landscape of the past several years hasn’t exactly been friendly to buyers: the bidding wars, the eye-popping prices, the houses that sold before a “For Sale” sign even went up. It’s enough to make any of us put our search on hold until we have a fighting chance at landing a home—without draining our bank accounts.

If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, we’ve got good news and we’ve got bad news: Things are finally slowing down. But they might not slow down fast enough for your liking.

Don’t despair, though—this year still stands to look better than last for aspiring home buyers.

“If your resolution is to buy a home in 2019, you’ll have some challenges to contend with, but also some opportunities,” says Danielle Halerealtor.com‘s chief economist.

The devil’s in the details, though, and there are quite a few factors that could dictate whether this is your year to buy. Here are the four biggest reasons to take the plunge now

1. There will be more available homes—or at least, not fewer

Tight home inventory has sidelined would-be buyers for several years now. Even if you could afford a home, too few of them were hitting the market to keep up with demand. Or, when they did, there was a good chance they were snapped up before you could even call your real estate agent.

House hunting felt especially bleak last winter, when nationwide inventory hit its lowest level in recorded history. By the end of 2018, though, things finally started looking up, and in 2019, experts predict more opportunities—and less frustration—for buyers.

But there’s a catch: Not everyone will be able to afford those opportunities. That’s because the markets seeing the most increases in available homes tend to be more expensive, Hale says.

“For buyers, there is going to be more inventory. So that’s a bright spot,” she says. “The downside of that bright spot is it might not be in their price range.”

If you don’t have big bucks, though, all is not lost. The news is still good—just tempered. The supply of affordable homes for sale (under $300,000, which is about the median home price right now) might not be growing dramatically just yet, but it’s certainly not decreasing anymore.

2. Skyrocketing prices will slow their roll

While inventory went down, down, down over the past few years, home prices did the opposite. Will we still see staggering dollar amounts throughout 2019?

It’s another mixed bag here: Expect home prices to continue to rise (blah), but at a slower pace than they have been (yay). Hale predicts a 2.2% increase in home prices this year—compared with a nearly 5% increase last year.

That’s not nothin’. And if you can get in the market before those moderate increases, all the better.

“We do still anticipate rising home prices, particularly for below-median-priced homes, so buyers in that price range may have some incentive to buy sooner rather than later,” Hale says.

And there’s a silver lining to those climbing home prices, too—again, for some of you.

“As rising costs raise the bar to homeownership, some would-be buyers will be knocked out of the market, so that remaining buyers may have less competition to contend with than they saw in 2018,” Hale says.

3. Mortgage rates are lower than expected

There was a lot of discouraging talk at the end of 2018 about increasing rates—and there was good reason to be nervous. Rates on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, the most popular home loan, were approaching 5%—and expected to trend upward throughout 2019.

But that hasn’t happened.

In fact, rates have been falling—perplexing the pros but creating a prime opportunity for home shoppers. Rates did tick up slightly last week—for the first time in 2019—to 4.46%. But that’s still historically low.

“That’s definitely a huge opportunity for buyers because it drastically improves affordability,” Hale says. “And I think that if these low rates persist for a little while, then we’ll actually see stronger sales than we originally forecast.”

“Lower mortgage rates will get buyers off the sidelines,” adds Ali Wolf, director of economic research at Meyers Research. “Consumers should take advantage of the returned purchasing power, and in fact, we’re already seeing early 2019 data that suggest they are.”

But don’t get complacent, Hale warns: “I do think that the long-term direction of mortgage rates is going to be back up. We’ve still got a strong economy.”

4. Rents are rising—and won’t be falling anytime soon

Buying a home is a scary-expensive endeavor in the best of circumstances, and when prices are climbing, it can be downright soul-sucking.

But bear this in mind: Rents are rising, too. In fact, they very rarelydecline, Hale says. And while buying a home is generally going to cost you more in the short term than renting, you have to look at the bigger picture. Buying means you’re building equity—and not forking over your hard-earned dollars to a landlord.

“The challenge will be finding a home that fits needs, some wants, and still stays within the monthly budget,” Hale says.

If you can afford to buy now, you’ll thank yourself in the long run—and whenever your friends get their annual rent increases.

Article by Rachel Stults