Put Pets First? Animal-Loving Home Buyers Leave Decisions to the Dogs

For two years, Kelly Heskett searched real estate listings for a home big enough for her noisy, rambunctious family. She found an ideal one last month in nearby Norristown, PA: a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath, single-family house on a quiet street with a big backyard. She and her husband now have plenty of room for their six dogs, three of which were rescued.

“I don’t have children, and I’m not looking to have children. I consider my dogs to be my children,” says Heskett, 31, an account manager at a pharmaceutical testing company.

Heskett and her husband aren’t the only home buyers basing their purchase on their pets’ needs. A realtor.com® online survey found 75% of pet-owning buyers who closed on a home this year would pass on their dream house if it weren’t right for their animals. Among the respondents, 87% said they took their pets’ needs into account when buying a home.

Heskett even picked her real estate agent for her pet-friendly attitude—she had worked with several volunteers at a local animal shelter.

That agent, Pamela Graham of Keller Williams Realty Group in Limerick, PA, says she knows what pet owners look for in a home. When she saw the Norristown home, Graham knew it would be perfect for Heskett. Not only did it have a spacious backyard that could be easily fenced in, but it also had a mudroom from the back deck, so the dogs could be cleaned up before entering the house.

“Animals are becoming part of the family,” says Graham, a former dog owner, “so we need spaces for them as well.”

Of the home buyers surveyed by realtor.com, 80% owned pets. A majority (64%) owned dogs, 41% owned cats, 12% owned birds, and 11% owned fish. Harris Research conducted the survey for realtor.com last month of more than 1,000 respondents who closed on a home this year.

Ninety percent of dog owners were more likely to say their pets’ needs were “important” or “very important” in their home search.

“Dogs are man’s best friend,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com. “It’s not terribly surprising that when pet owners are buying a home, their best friends get what they want. If a home doesn’t meet the needs of their pets, those needs are non-negotiable for a lot of home buyers.”

When asked to rank the important features, almost half (45%) of the home buyers chose a large yard, more than a third (36%) picked outdoor space, and a third (33%) wanted a garage.

Heskett says a large backyard was at the top of her must-have list. Not only did she want her pooches to have room to play, but she also wanted her home to be far enough away from her neighbors, so barking wouldn’t become a nuisance to others.

One feature Heskett’s dogs probably didn’t care about is hardwood floors—but she did.

“I needed them for cleaning purposes,” she says. “Carpets are going to get ripped up.”

The survey found younger home buyers with pets were more likely to pass up their dream homes if they didn’t meet their animal-centric needs. Seventy-nine percent of pet-owning buyers aged 18 to 34 wouldn’t buy their ideal home if it didn’t meet their criteria, while 77 % of those aged 35 to 54 wouldn’t make the purchase. Older home buyers with pets were less picky.

Marc Marrone, owner of Parrots of the World, a pet shop in Rockville Center, NY, says most of his customers wouldn’t sacrifice a dream house for their pets.

“No one would ever let a house in the right location and the right price slip through their hands for the sake of their pets,” he says. “At least, not in my world.”

Marrone says most animals are adaptable to their environment, within a certain range. Dogs may like backyards and cats like high ceilings and windows, but they don’t have to have them. (Fish and reptiles do need cooler rooms, for their health.) And birds don’t need special living arrangements at all.

“Parrots can live anywhere,” he says. “They go on sailing ships with pirates.”

Article By Louise Witt

The Most Common DIY Questions

When it comes to DIY, everyone has to start somewhere and that’s exactly what FAQ’s are for. To make it easier for you to get on with the task at hand, here are a collection of the most commonly asked DIY questions about:

What colour should grout be?

There are lots of different colours of grout, so pick one that complements or contrasts the colour of your tiles for your desired look. If your grout has black, grey or green staining then it may be indicating issues and it may be worth replacing.

Why are my radiators cold?

The most common cause for a cold radiator is that is simply needs bleeding – this is when a pocket of air has formed in the radiator, stopping the hot water from heating it up. You can bleed a radiator by opening up the bleed valve until all the air has hissed out, giving way to water.

If after bleeding the radiator is still cold then it may have a build-up of limescale and will need to be flushed out.

Do I need to have my boiler serviced?

Yes. Regular servicing of your boiler can help to keep it running smoothly all year round, eliminating any potential problems and keeping your central heating working efficiently. This isn’t a job you can do yourself and it is important that you bring in a Gas Safe registered professional.

Can I repair a brick wall myself?

Yes, replacing a few bricks is relatively simple task and as long as it isn’t a load bearing wall. You will need to remove the existing brick by drilling holes in the mortar and then knocking it out with a hammer and chisel. Then simply lay a mortar bed along the bottom and side of the hole and slide the new brick into place, tapping it until it is flush with the other bricks. Add more mortar to the joint and then scrape excess mortar off the wall and run a pointing tool or rubber piping along the joint to create a weatherproof finish.

What’s the best way to clean paintbrushes?

This strongly depends on the type of paint you’re using, but the quickest way of doing this is by wiping off the excess paint and then wrapping them securely in cling film. When fully sealed the air won’t be able to harden the paint, allowing you to reuse them quickly. If you’re planning on changing the paint then you will need to clean the brushes thoroughly in hot soapy water and then dry with a paper towel. If using gloss paint then it will require white spirit for cleaning.

Why does my carpet have a buckle in it?

This can be caused by several things, namely: improper installation, high humidity or by moving heavy furniture. To rectify this issue you will need to remove all furniture from the room and have the carpet stretched and fit correctly.

How do I fix a faulty light switch?

The first thing you need to do is turn off the power to the circuit then remove the cover plate and check the wires with a circuit tester to ensure no power is still running through the lines. Next you will need to inspect for loose or damaged connections or wires which could be the route of the problem. Once you’ve found the issue you will need to take the steps to fix it, by tightening connections, repairing wires or simply replacing the light switch.

Why is my guttering overflowing?

Some reasons for this include the piling up of debris in the gutter or a broken bracket causing a dip in the guttering. Luckily this can be easily fixed by clearing out your guttering or fitting a new bracket or section of guttering, a relatively straightforward task even for the freshest DIYer.

BREAKFAST STUFFED PEPPERS-PALEO STYLE

Good morning, sunshine! Get your day off to a bright and delicious start with these easy breakfast-themed stuffed peppers – if you’re looking for something new to do with your eggs, this is a creative alternative to the fried-poached-omelet rotation and an easy vehicle for plenty of vegetables along with your protein. Add ham or bacon for a hearty breakfast or leave it with just the eggs if you prefer a lighter meal to start the day.

If you can’t eat eggs or simply don’t like them, you could also substitute ground meat or loose sausage meat (not in casings) for the eggs. And don’t be afraid to play around with the vegetables either, if you have something else hanging around in the fridge that needs to be eaten. The great thing about stuffed peppers is how well they take just about anything and make it tasty.

Like most baked egg recipes these peppers travel very well; the eggs hold the insides together so the stuffing doesn’t spill out as much as it does with regular stuffed peppers. Why not make a double batch so you’ll have easy leftovers for breakfast tomorrow too?

Breakfast Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 bell peppers, sliced in half, core and seeds removed
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • Bacon, ham, and/or sausages, pre-cooked (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. cooking fat
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 F.
  2. Melt some cooking fat in a skillet placed over a medium-heat.
  3. Sauté the onion until soft, about 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms and tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and cook until witted, about 1 or 2 minutes.
  5. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  6. Divide the vegetable mixture equally among the bell pepper halves
  7. Top off each bell pepper half with some of the beaten eggs, and add the meat of your choice, if using.
  8. Place the stuffed peppers in the oven, on a baking sheet, and bake for 40 minutes.

 

Need a Mortgage Co-Signer? Here’s What It Means and What to Watch Out For

Need a mortgage co-signer? This may indeed be the case if you’ve found that perfect house, only to have lenders inform you that you don’t qualify for a mortgage.

Enter the co-signer.

What does having a co-signer mean for you as a home buyer, and what are the benefits and risks? Read on!

Why a buyer might need a mortgage co-signer

That property you’re eyeing may be just out of your price range, or perhaps you have either a poor or no credit history. Even if you know how to scrimp and save to make your monthly mortgage payments, the bank doesn’t know how well you pinch pennies. And being a financial institution, it needs a guarantee that the money it lends a potentially risky borrower will be paid back. And that’s where a co-signer comes in.

What is co-signing exactly?

When you apply for a mortgage, you become what’s known as the “occupying borrower.” A co-signer—usually a relative or friend—is someone who typically doesn’t live at the property (aka a “nonoccupant co-borrower.” This person physically co-signs the mortgage or deed of trust note with you, adding the security of their income and credit history against the loan.

Both parties then become co-credit applicants, taking on the financial risk of the mortgage together. That also means the co-signer essentially owns the home right along with you, whether they live in it or not.

How debt-to-income ratio is calculated with a co-signer

Mortgage approval (and how large a mortgage you can get) hinges on your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which is essentially how much money you have coming in (income) compared with going out (aka your debts, including college loans, car loans, and otherwise).

So how is the DTI ratio calculated with a co-signer? In this case, it is usually calculated by combining your income with that of your co-signer, which should hopefully boost your overall DTI to a number the bank will approve.

Just keep in mind that lenders will also examine your co-signer’s debts, and factor that into the picture as well to create what’s called a “blended debt-to-income ratio.” So make sure you choose a mortgage co-signer with high income and little debt to help offset your own numbers.

What is a co-signer’s liability?

A co-signer is a person who is taking on the financial risk of buying a home right along with you. If something unforeseen happens and you’re no longer able to make mortgage payments, the co-signer will be contacted to pay up.

“When co-signing a loan, the risk falls on the co-signer,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional sales manager at TD Bank. If anything happens to the occupying borrower that affects their financial health—think loss of job or severe medical problems—”the co-signer is responsible for the payments.”

And if you fall behind on your loan, the full amount of the mortgage payments are reported on both of your credit reports, according to Rodriguez. Those late payments also “get reported on the co-signer’s credit report and could drop their credit score, impacting their ability to obtain new loans for an auto or mortgage of their own.”

Whom you shouldn’t ask to co-sign your loan

Co-signers should be people rooting for you to pay off the loan without a hitch, not someone with an interest in owning the house—a possibility if they take over paying off the property. The co-signers to avoid are those who could make a buck by facilitating this real estate transaction—think the home seller or the builder/developer.

Warning: A co-signer doesn’t solve everything

Sure, a co-signer’s income can offset certain weaknesses in the occupant borrower’s loan application. But no co-signer can wipe away significant hiccups in your credit history. And before you put a co-signer at risk, make sure you as the occupant borrower truly have the ability and willingness to make the mortgage payments and maintain homeownership. In other words, don’t take your co-signer for granted, and lean on them only in the worst-case scenario.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

7 Surprising Mistakes You’re Making With Your Shower Curtain

The bathroom just might be the easiest space in the house to decorate: You choose some pretty towels and hang up a pretty shower curtain, and voila—you’re done. Right?

Well, not to make you paranoid, but the shower curtain is actually easier to screw up than you’d think.

“Too many frills, crazy, annoying patterns, or anything that needs special care is a problem when it comes to shower curtains,” says Drew Henry of Design Dudes.

Are you falling for the most common slip-ups? Let’s take a peek behind the curtain at these seven do’s and don’ts.

1. Picking plastic

A lot of folks will pick plastic in a pinch—it’s cheap and easy to clean, and you won’t feel bad about tossing it when you get tired of it. But the problem with cheap plastic curtains is that they look, well, cheap.

Splurge for fabric here—and that goes for the liner, too. (A cheap plastic liner is fine if you change it regularly and keep it scrupulously clean. But you’ll need to replace it every six months—or sooner if necessary—because it tends to show water stains, soap scum, and mildew.)

“I recommend a fabric liner made of polyester, which is pretty water-resistant and also very spalike,” Henry says.

Or try a nylon, hotel-style liner, suggests Catherine Pulcine of CPI Interiors. Both are better than tacky plastic, and have more staying power.

2. Forgetting about texture

No, we don’t mean you should add ruffles. But you should consider simple trim, ribbon, or embroidery so your plain curtain stands out. Henry’s master bath shower curtain is made from a cool-gray fabric with a white, ribbed center panel that brings texture and interest to the room.

“There’s also some light fringe on the bottom, which adds a bit of playful sophistication,” he notes.

But don’t go overboard or too high-end with your pick: “A custom shower curtain may not be machine-washable,” points out Lindsay MacRae of the eponymous design firm in New York City.

Stick with store-bought options, which are meant to be washed and dried along with other laundry.

“If you do have one made or you make it yourself, be sure the fabric is preshrunk,” MacRae warns.

3. Confusing cute with cheesy

The kids’ bath can definitely be childlike and colorful, but that doesn’t mean you cave entirely and hang up your little one’s favorite cartoon character (we’re looking at you, SpongeBob!). Keep this look fun, but don’t pick something cheesy, Henry suggests.

“Try an oversize graphic, an interesting pattern, or your child’s favorite colors instead,” he says.

4. Being afraid of plain white

Shower curtains give us a ripe opportunity to play with colors and patterns without committing to them for life. But before you go seeking out the perfect design, consider that the most on-trend look might just be the easiest: plain white.

It’ll give you a fresh look, especially in the master bath—and you’ll never risk making your space look cheap.

“Hotels use it exclusively because it telegraphs cleanliness—so it’s the only color I ever specify,” says Justin Riordan of Spade and Archer Design Agency.

5. Being a slave to size

Of course you’ll need to measure before you buy a shower curtain—buying one that’s too short or not wide enough means a daily flood on the floor. But don’t limit yourself entirely here. If you have a stall shower that isn’t enclosed in glass, you can actually ignore the curtain width. (Owners of open stall showers have long been shortchanged when it comes to curtain options, since the vast majority of pretty patterns and colors are sized for longer tub showers.)

But most of these tub curtains fit a stall shower just fine—the fabric will be just a bit bunched on each end. And if you pick your pattern wisely, with just a top or bottom border rather than one graphic slapped in the middle, your curtain’s design will display nicely.

6. Picking plastic rings

“Plastic shower rings remind me of the ’80s—and more specifically John Candy in ‘Planes, Trains, Automobiles,'” MacRae says. (To the uninitiated: his character sold the things!)

She prefers metal, as does Henry, who likes to match shower rings to other finishes in the bathroom.

“And always use double hooks so that the liner can hang inside the tub while the decorative curtain stays on the outside,” Pulcine suggests.

For added security, look for a liner with little magnets sewn into the bottom hem, MacRae suggests.

“This way, the liner sticks to the porcelain and doesn’t attack you in the shower,” she reports.

7. Ignoring hookless options

Jamie Novak, author of “Keep This Toss That,” struggled for years with rusting metal rings, cheap plastic ones, liners that ripped, and fancier versions that got ruined in the wash. Her solution? A hookless shower curtain with a snap-in liner.

“This product has rings with breaks in them so you can slip each one over the bar, stress-free,” she says. “And the washable liner snaps in and out—easy, breezy.”

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

6 Home-Selling Mistakes That Make Real Estate Agents Cringe

Not everyone has a knack for salesmanship, and this can become painfully apparent when homeowners try to sell their homes.

Want proof? Just ask real estate agents—who are hired expressly to lend their home-selling expertise, often to no avail. Try as they may to get their point across, sometimes home sellers just don’t listen.

Some mistakes might incite behind-the-back eye rolls, while others are sobad, agents felt compelled to reveal them, right here, in the hopes that they might persuade some of you more open-minded sellers to see the light—before you botch yet another sale.

Curious about the home-selling mistakes agents see time and again that make them cringe? Check out these six doozies below to know what not to do when selling your own digs.

1. Your home smells funny

“Sometimes sellers don’t understand how offensive their home smells. I’ve had sellers who smoke like chimneys, and buyers freak out when they go through the house. There are others whose homes smell like they never clean—or bathe. And plenty of sellers don’t understand that the pet smells in their house are overwhelming. If your agent tells you there is an offensive smell, believe it.” – Blayne Pacelli, Rodeo Realty, Studio City, CA

2. Your home has way too much ‘personality’

“I have sellers whose homes are way too customized to their taste, which is going to turn off lots of buyers. It’s hard to sell a property when there are red, orange, and dark brown walls—and so frustrating when a new coat of paint could solve the problem. Granted, some people have uniquely charming taste, but I’ve found that introducing some supplemental staging to soften and neutralize the rooms helps a ton.” – Justin Paulhamus, M Squared Real Estate, Washington, DC

3. You turn down a showing

“When sellers make the home difficult to show, they’re often increasing the amount of time the house will spend on the market, which can reduce their pool of buyers, and ultimately end up attracting lower offers. We understand that kids have nap times or that you prefer to relax on your day off, but buyers aren’t a patient bunch. If your home is unavailable to see on the day they are making visits, they might not make an effort to see it again. The same is true for sellers who constantly cancel showings at the last minute. It makes everyone look bad.” – Rae Dolan, Champions Real Estate Group, Katy, TX

4. You set up cameras to spy on buyers

“I’ve found that many home sellers these days have hidden cameras that they use to watch buyers tour their home remotely. It puts us in a bad spot as the selling agent, because buyers will make unfavorable comments, and we can’t respond. Even if the buyer is not our client, it’s important for agents to build a relationship of trust. For example, we would like to agree with them that the bright-green carpet is hideous. With this new seller tactic of recording, we cannot speak freely for fear of losing the listing. We have to either disagree with buyers—which they hate—or find a way to skirt the issue. But either way, in the end, there are no winners.” – Sarah Findel, Engel & Völkers, Colts Neck, NJ

5. You hang out during your open house

“Nothing makes a buyer want to exit a house faster than a seller who is following them around the home. Some sellers think they can ‘sell’ the buyer on the home, but in reality, it makes the buyer feel uncomfortable. It can also backfire, of course, as sellers overshare, maybe about an unfinished project or a reason that they are selling the house, which can instill doubt in the buyers’ mind.” – Rae Dolan, Champions Real Estate Group, Katy, TX

6. You pose as a buyer to try to drum up interest

“Last year I had a seller stay at an open house in his own apartment, pretending to be a prospective purchaser. He pushed his baby around the apartment in the stroller while loudly talking up all of the attributes of the property in front of other people. Frankly I wasn’t sure whether to cringe or laugh.” – Steven Gottlieb, Warburg Realty, New York City

Article by Cathie Ericson

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

Seared salmon with pearl couscous and salsa fresca

In this collaboration between the Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen and Sun Basket, an easy salsa brings a rainbow of flavors and textures to salmon fillets.

Instructions

2-serving instructions (4-serving modifications in red)

Wash produce before use

1  Cook the couscous

Bring a medium sauce pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the couscous and cook until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain the couscous, then return to the pot and toss with 2 to 3 teaspoons oil. Cover and keep warm.
While the water heats and the couscous cooks, prepare the salsa fresca.

2  Prep the salsa fresca ingredients

  • Juice the lime. (Juice 1 lime; save the remaining lime.)
  • Peel the cucumber, if desired, and trim the ends. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters, then crosswise into enough ¼-inch pieces to measure 1 cup (2 cups).
  • Cut away the core from the tomato; coarsely chop the tomato.
  • Remove the stem, ribs, and seeds from the bell pepper; cut the pepper lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide strips, then crosswise into ¼-inch pieces.
  • Peel and finely chop enough shallots to measure ¼ cup (½ cup).

3  Make the salsa fresca

In a medium bowl, using a fork or whisk, mix together the honey, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 to 2 teaspoons oil, and as many chile flakes as you like; season generously with salt and pepper.
Add the cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, and shallots and gently stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand while you cook the fish.

4  Prep and cook the fish

Prep and cook instructions are almost identical for all fish options.

  • Pat the fish dry with a paper towel; season the salmon or halibut generously with salt and pepper, the trout lightly.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 to 2 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Working in batches if needed, add the fish (skin side down for the salmon or trout) and cook until lightly browned (and the salmon or trout skin is crisp), 4 to 5 minutes for salmon or halibut, 2 to 4 minutes for trout. Turn and cook until the flesh is opaque and flaky, 2 to 4 minutes for salmon or halibut, 1 to 2 minutes for trout. Transfer to a plate. Add more oil between batches if needed.

5  Serve

Transfer the couscous to individual plates. Top with the fish and salsa fresca, including any accumulated juices, and serve.

Kids Can!

  • Juice the lime.
  • Measure the cucumber and shallots.
  • Stir the salsa fresca.

How to Finance a House Flip: 5 Types of ‘Fix-and-Flip’ Loans

If you’re wondering how to finance a house flip, you’re not alone. Buying, renovating, then quickly reselling houses for profit can be a highly lucrative endeavor, yet finding a loan to fund such a project isn’t anything like getting a conventional loan for a home you intend to actually live in.

In fact, there are six types of “fix-and-flip loans” you can use to buy and renovate distressed properties, and each comes with its own set of qualification requirements and pros and cons. Here’s a look at five options and how to figure out which one’s best for you.

1. Hard-money loan

Hard-money loans, sometimes called “rehab loans,” are short-term loans intended for real estate investments. Unlike traditional bank loans, these are issued by private lenders. A hard-money lender can be an individual, a group of investors, or a licensed mortgage broker who uses personal funds to extend the cash.

Hard-money loan terms are usually much shorter than traditional mortgages. Six months to one year is most common, but they can go up to five years. Interest rates are considerably higher, typically ranging from 12% to 21%. Most hard-money lenders also charge 3 to 6 points upfront, where 1 point equals 1% of the loan.

Down payment requirements for hard-money loans are also different. You can expect to receive about 60% to 75% of the property value you intend to purchase. If you’re looking at a $200,000 property, for example, the most you’ll probably be allowed to borrow would be $150,000, meaning you’d have to pay $50,000 upfront.

However, hard-money lenders are generally more willing to accommodate people with lower credit scores (as low as 550). And there’s much less paperwork than a traditional loan, so the process is faster—sometimes as fast as one week. Because the home being purchased is serving as collateral, hard-money loans are best suited for people who have flipped at least two to three homes.

2. Cash-out refinance

If the value of your primary residence has increased, one financing option for your flip is a cash-out refinance. This lets you tap the equity in your home by refinancing your mortgage for more than you currently owe and taking the difference in cash.

As the name suggests, you are in effect “cashing out” some of the equity in your home to pay for something else. Your new loan will be the amount you still owe on your mortgage plus the cash you wanted to take out. So, say you had a $300,000 loan, on which you still owed $200,000. That would mean you had $100,000 in equity in your house. You could cash out $25,000 of that equity, and get a new mortgage for $225,000, to replace your existing $200,000 loan—and then put that $25,000 toward your house flip.

To qualify for most cash-out refinance loans, you need a minimum 640 credit score, a maximum 45% debt-to-income ratio, and at least 30% to 40% of equity in your existing home. But because it’s part of a mortgage, you will typically get a better interest rate than if you were to use a credit card or hard-money loan to fund the same purchase.

There are a couple of caveats. You’ll have to pay closing costs, which average about 3% to 6% of the total loan. And, if you’re refinancing to a higher mortgage rate, you could wind up paying more money in interest on your loan over the long run.

3. Home equity loan or line of credit

If you’ve built equity in your primary residence, you could tap a percentage of it using a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. Both financing options let you borrow money using the equity in your home as collateral. The big difference is a home equity loan provides you with the cash upfront, and you pay monthly installments over the length of the loan (like you do on your first mortgage). With a HELOC, you access the money in small chunks over the life of the loan.

Since you’re getting all the cash upfront, a home equity loan is generally a better financing option when buying and flipping a house. Plus, the interest rate is fixed and fairly low compared with hard-money loans or credit cards, hoveringly currently around 6%—and any interest you pay on the loan is tax-deductible within certain limits.

Most mortgage lenders will allow you to borrow up to 80% of your home’s equity on a second mortgage.

4. Investment line of credit

An investment line of credit, also called an “acquisition line of credit,” is similar to an HELOC—except it’s issued solely for buying investment properties. This short-term financing option—with loans generally lasting from about 18 to 24 months—lets you borrow cash as needed, up to a predetermined loan limit.

These loans are best suited for people who have experience flipping houses, since borrowers are underwritten and approved based on their demonstrated record of owning or flipping investment properties, and their financial wherewithal. (Read: If you’re a high net worth investor, or own a portfolio of properties totaling over $1 million in value, an investment line of credit might be your best financing option for a single-home or multihome flip.)

Generally, you can obtain an investment line of credit in as few as three weeks, in amounts ranging from $1 million to $50 million. Interest rates on these loans typically run from 5% to 8%.

5. Crowdfunding

Another source of capital for house flippers is crowdfunding, or “peer-to-peer lending,” where the funds are raised through the contributions of a large number of people, usually through the internet.

“The biggest benefit we offer is flexibility and a national focus,” says Nav Athwal, chief executive officer of RealtyShares, a San Francisco–based company that finances investment properties in 35 states. With RealtyShares, funds come from more than 38,000 high net worth individuals who invest in a specific transaction for as little as $5,000.

There’s not a ton of data about crowdfunded investment loans, but RealtyShares funds up to 70% of the estimated after-repair value of a property in as little as 10 days. Interest rates vary from 8% to 11%, with the average loan term on luxury flips being 12 months. The company also does preferred-equity deals, where it takes a partnership interest in the property and benefits from both the interest paid and the potential upside of the transaction.

Article by Daniel Bortz

Selling Your Home? Don’t Neglect These 6 Maintenance Tasks—or Else

If you’re a homeowner, you already know that keeping your property in tiptop shape requires dedication and patience for ongoing maintenance. But what if you’ve put your home on the market, or even accepted an offer? Perhaps you’re thinking: Not my problem anymore.

Sorry, folks, we’ve got news for you: Just because you’re selling doesn’t mean you’re off the hook from routine maintenance tasks—and that’s especially true if you’ve already vacated the house.

Sure, a well-cared-for house shows better: Small things like broken doorbells and leaky faucets make buyers wonder if your property also has bigger issues elsewhere. But more important, a little routine maintenance can help you avoid a catastrophic problem down the line (e.g., burst pipes, roof leaks, critters moving into your attic) that could devalue your property and derail that sale.

To prevent minor issues from escalating into full-blown, money-sucking, sale-killing problems, focus on these six important areas you can’t afford to neglect.

1. Keep up the yard and walkways

Whether you’re still living at the home or not, you’ll want to make sure to keep your landscaping tidy—remove dead tree limbs, rake leaves, and clean out flowerbeds.

If your home is already vacant, have someone tend to the yard regularly so that grass and weeds don’t detract from your home’s appearance, suggests Kyle Hiscock, a Realtor® with Re/Max Reality Group in Rochester, NY.

“If your home does not have a well-maintained exterior, (potential buyers) will keep driving,” he cautions. “Plus, this kind of neglect can be a bull’s-eye for vandals to break into your property.”

Consider having lights on timers so the house doesn’t look dark all the time, and arrange for driveways and walkways to be plowed weekly in the winter months. And don’t let mail pile up in the mailbox.

2. Clean the gutters and check the roof

This one’s easy to forget about, even when you don’t plan on going anywhere. But when it comes to gutter and roof issues, neglect can cause a dangerous domino effect.

Overflowing gutters can damage your foundation, and also lead to drainage issues. And, of course, you don’t want buyers seeing puddling water as they approach your house.

Just ask Alise Roberts, owner/broker at Alise Roberts & Company in Bellevue, WA. In the rainy Pacific Northwest climate, she frequently has to remind her clients to keep sidewalks clear of moss and clean gutters of pine needles and leaves.

“Buyers, seeing the house when it’s raining, will also see your gutters overflowing,” she says. “That’s a terrible first impression.”

And then there’s the roof. Of course, it’ll be examined during the home inspection, but it would behoove you to do it before putting your home on the market. Small roof cracks can remain undetected for years, causing water to slowly infiltrate your home and damage ceilings and walls.

“If water starts to penetrate a property, it can be a very difficult sale,” Hiscock notes. “Water in basements or in homes is one of the top three things buyers are scared of.”

3. Service your heating systems

It’s not sexy, but the hidden guts of your home need regular attention, whether you’re still living there or not. That means having your HVAC systems professionally serviced.

First up, your furnace: If you get it addressed before you list your home, it won’t smell like dust when you crank up the heat during an open house on a chilly day. While you’re at it, have the duct work and filters cleaned as well. And if you have baseboard heaters, vacuum those out, too.

(Speaking of heat, Roberts suggests keeping the thermostat at 66 degrees Fahrenheit when agents are showing your house so buyers can visit your place comfortably. This will also avoid any issues with pipes freezing or bursting.)

Have a chimney? Be sure to have it inspected and cleaned as well.

“You want to make sure there are no cracked flue tiles, and that from the exterior, there are no gaps in the mortar between the bricks,” Hiscock explains. “Otherwise, you could potentially have the chimney fall over onto the house, and that’s a very expensive fix.”

4. Keep the critters out

If you don’t want to add “family of raccoons included” to your listing (and pay the hefty tab for getting them out), inspect the inside and outside of your home for any areas that need to plugged up. Take care of holes from damaged siding or fascia under the roofline—and do it promptly.

“In a colder climate, squirrels look for somewhere warm to go, and they’ll find their way into your property,” Hiscock says.

Stove and dryer vents, for example, should be covered with wire mesh to deter pests.

5. Wash your windows

Most people associate sparkling windows with spring-cleaning, Roberts says. But if your house is on the market, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is—you need to get those babies squeaky clean.

“If buyers walk through your home and all they see is dirty windows, that’ll really mar the showing process,” she says.

Make sure to wipe them down after a bad storm, when they’re especially likely to show muck and grime buildup.

6. Check the calendar

Depending on what time of year you bring your house to market, pay attention to any details that scream, “We don’t live here or care anymore,” Roberts says.

That means tackling seasonal tasks such as clearing away lawn mowers in the fall and storing shovels in the spring.

“Too often, I see a seller’s patio furniture still outside during the winter time. To me, that’s not a good reflection on the property,” Hiscock says. “It shows deferred maintenance and lack of caring, and can really turn off a potential buyer.

“If a seller can’t put away their patio furniture and lawn mower, what makes you believe that they’ve actually maintained the property all the years they’ve been there?” he adds.

Staying on top of these regular tasks will make it easier to sell your home with fewer headaches. Plus, it’ll preserve the value of your property, and potentially, the thickness of your wallet, too.

Article 

Top 10 Wackiest Pet Names

The Most Unusual Dog and Cat Names of 2017

For many a pet owner, Max sounds mundane and Bailey is simply boring. In order to pay homage to those who take pride in their pets’ unconventional names, Nationwide pet insurance (formerly known as Veterinary Pet Insurance) set out for the tenth year in a row to find the 50 most unusual dog and cat names in the United States.

Nationwide pet insurance employees selected the most unusual dog names from the company’s database of more than 500,000 insured pets, and narrowed them down by voting for the 50 most unusual names in each category. Following are the results.

Top 10 Wacky Dog Names

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Dunkin Butterbeans

2. Cheesebro

3. Choo Choo Boo Boo

4. Empress Tzu Tzu

5. Farrah Pawcett

6. Fiona Penny Pickles

7. Monsieur Le Colonel Moustache

8. Tango Mango

9. The Other Dude

10. Yeti Sphaghetti

 

Top 10 Wacky Cat Names

1. Little Booty Ham Sandwich

2. Dog The Cat

3. Fifty Shades Of Graham

4. Isaac Mewton

5. Jabba The Butt

6. Ninja Killer Nine Thousand

7. Obi Wan Catnobi

8. The Great Catsby

9. Whiskerus Maximus

10. Winston Purrchill

11. Amazes Me Penelope

Yep, You Can Put Shelves There: 5 Inspired Storage Ideas

A little shelf here, a big shelf there. You’d be surprised where they can fit.

Finally, you get to take that beach vacation in the dead of winter. But where is your beach towel?!? You know it’s somewhere in that linen closet, but (sigh) it’s so crammed you can’t find it.

One of these days, you’re going to have to figure out how to get more storage space so you can find this seasonal stuff faster. But the last thing you want to do is go out and buy more stuff to put more stuff in.

There’s a better way — shelves. Not the bookshelf kind (they only take up floor space), but shelves you can incorporate into your home’s architecture for an interesting, personalized look that also solves nagging storage issues.

Here are five unexpected places shelves can boost your home’s storage and personality:

#1 Over the Bathroom Door

Seems like your bathroom can never have enough storage, especially for that recurring avalanche of towels in your itty-bitty linen closet. But if your ceiling is high enough, you’ve got enough space to tuck those extra towels you only need for overnight guests.

Opt for larger items that are easy to see and grab, such as towels, bedding, or bath tissue. “If this were filled with tiny boxes or soaps, it would look like you needed more storage and had to start building down from the rafters to hold stuff,” says Lorraine Bohonos, professional organizer and owner of HomeFree, in Rochester, N.Y. says. Plus, it’s impractical to store tiny things up high where you can’t see them.

#2 On Windows

Gasp! Who would put shelves in windows and block the light?!

You would, if they’re glass shelves. Adding glass shelves in a sunny window for indoor plants is a great way to allow light and nature to filter into your home. Plus, glass shelves have such clean lines, Bohonos says, so they don’t overwhelm the room.

As with those pictured, keep the bottom shelves and floor space relatively open to let in plenty of light. “It gives an airiness and it’s inviting,” Bohonos says. You get some storage without having to give up privacy or natural light.

#3 Underneath Stairs

The space under stairways has been used to stash everything from vacuum cleaners to boy wizards, but you can open up that space to be visually appealing as well as functional. “Doing this adds interest to a space that would be pretty boring without anything there,” Bohonos says, and makes a room feel larger.

“Shelves like this make a nice horizontal balance to the shape of the space. For storage, you can put containers on the floor underneath,” Bohonos says. But you don’t want to overdo it or you’ll ruin the spacious effect.

#4 In-Between Your Walls’ Studs

There are all kinds of storage space around us if we just look. In most walls, especially in newer construction, studs are 16 inches apart. Knock out the drywall between those studs, and you’ve got a spot for built-in storage that gives your home that something special.

“These kinds of shelves have clean lines and add a bit of interest,” Bohonos says. But she cautions that things should be neatly placed and in good condition.

“If it’s well set up, it can look like a piece of art,” she says.

#5 All Over Your Kitchen Walls

Now that you know about the secret spaces in your home’s walls, opening up your kitchen walls (especially all the way up to the ceiling) is a very doable idea to maximize every inch of a small space.

“This is functional beauty. It has to be pleasing to the eye — and look as if every item has a mindful spot,” Bohonos says.

She suggests that before committing to open shelves in your kitchen, ask yourself if you’re okay with what people will see there. If not, get back to your regularly scheduled weekend. Otherwise, curate what will live on your new open shelves (and, remember, you’ll have to dust more often than usual).

Focus on function and form. If you entertain often, don’t put your favorite serving plate on the top shelf — no matter how good it looks there. Put rarely used attractive items (that Le Creuset roaster you only use on Thanksgiving) up there instead.

Article by STACEY FREED

Balsamic Grilled Zucchini

Has your garden produced an over abundance of zucchini this year? Try this…

“A simple, easy grilled zucchini with a touch of balsamic vinegar and spices.”

Ingredients

  • 2 zucchinis, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat grill for medium-low heat and lightly oil the grate.
  2. Brush zucchini with olive oil. Sprinkle garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and salt over zucchini.
  3. Cook on preheated grill until beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes per side. Brush balsamic vinegar over the zucchini and continue cooking 1 minute more. Serve immediately.
Recipe by LashGal

A Low Credit Score Costs Home Buyers Big—Here’s How Much

With skyrocketing home prices and rising mortgage rates, many home buyers are frantically looking for ways to cut down on costs wherever they can. But in one area, it makes sense to ramp up spending, experts say—paying off old bills, debts, and credit cards.

That’s because a very good credit score can save home buyers tens of thousands of dollars over the life of their mortgage, according to a recent report from online financial services marketplace LendingTree. That’s not chump change.

LendingTree estimates borrowers with very good credit scores of 740 to 799 can save $29,106 over those with a fair credit score of 580 to 669. The savings would be on the annual percentage rate of a 30-year fixed mortgage of $234,437, which is the average size of those loans, according to the report. Those savings are the price of a decent new car.

Aside from monthly costs, it’s a lot harder to get a loan with poor credit.

“When you’re taking out a mortgage, you’re asking a lender to invest in you for a very long time,” says Kali McFadden, senior research analyst at LendingTree.

“If you have a higher credit score, it means statistically you’re more likely to pay your bill on time,” she says. But “if you have a lower credit score, lenders are taking a bigger risk that you’re not going to pay your mortgage off or [you’ll go into] foreclosure.”

Credit score sweet spot

The ideal credit score is from 760 to 780 and up, McFadden says. Anything much below that and lenders are more likely to charge a higher interest rate or pile on more fees to compensate for the risk that the borrower may miss payments.

She recommends that would-be borrowers get their credit reports and resolve any outstanding issues before applying for a loan. They should also pay down or pay off old balances, not open or close any credit cards, and pay their bills on time.

That’s not to say every lender will offer rates to those with sterling credit, says Don Frommeyer, a mortgage loan originator at Marine Bank in Indianapolis. But some will and others will knock off various charges, such as filing and overnight fees.

In addition, many buyers will save substantially less over the life of their loan. That’s because after five or six years, many are likely to refinance their loan or move into a new home requiring a new mortgage.

Still, buyers should focus on boosting their credit score.

“You always save money with a higher credit score,” Frommeyer says. But “you can pay a fee for a lower credit score.”

Article by Clare Trapasso

5 Things Every First-Time Home Buyer Needs to Know

Here’s what every first-time home buyer needs to know to dive into house hunting with confidence—and with as few curveballs as possible.

1. How much home you can afford as a first-time home buyer?

Homes cost a bundle, so odds are you’ll need a home loan, aka mortgage, to foot the bill, along with a hefty down payment. Still, the question remains: What price home can you really afford? That depends on your income and other variables, so punch your info into realtor.com®’s home affordability calculator to get a ballpark figure of what you can manage.

In general, experts recommend that your house payments (mortgage, maintenance, taxes) should not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income. So, for example, if your monthly (before-tax) income is $6,000, multiply that by 0.28 and you’ll see that you shouldn’t pay more than $1,680 a month on your home.

But online calculators give just a ballpark figure. For a more accurate assessment, head to a lender for mortgage pre-approval. This means the bank will assess your credit history and other factors, then tell you whether you qualify for a loan, and how much. Mortgage pre-approval also puts home sellers at ease, since they know you have the cash to back up your offer.

2. Pick the right real estate agent

You buy most things yourself—at most, sifting through a few online reviews before hitting the Buy button. But a home? It’s not quite so easy. Buying a home requires transfer of a deed, title search, and plenty of other paperwork. Plus there’s the home itself—it may look great to you, but what if there’s a termite problem inside those walls or a nuclear waste plant being built down the block?

And did we mention there’s a whole lot of money involved?

All of which is to say, you will want to have a trusted real estate agent by your side to explain the ins and outs of the process and help you make the best decisions at every step. Make sure to find an agent familiar with the area where you’re planning on purchasing; the agent will have a better idea of proper expectations and realistic prices, says Mark Moffatt, an agent with McEnearney Associates in McLean, VA. “Finding a Realtor is not hard, but finding one that is best-suited for you and your purchase is a challenge,” he adds.

You can search on realtor.com/realestateagents to find agents in your area as well as information such as the number of homes sold, client reviews, and more. Make sure to interview at least a couple of agents, because once you commit, you will sign a contract barring you from working with other buyer’s agents—this ensures the agent’s hard work for you pays off.

3. Know there is no such thing as a perfect home

It’s your first home—we understand if you’ve dreamed about the ideal house and don’t want to settle for anything less. We’ve been there! But understand that real estate is about compromise. As a general rule, most buyers prioritize three main things: price, size, and location. But realistically, you can expect to achieve only two of those three things. So you may get a great deal on a huge house, but it might not be in the best neighborhood. Or you may find a nice-sized house in a great neighborhood, but the price is a bit higher than you were hoping for. Or else you find a home in the right neighborhood at the right price, but it’s a tiny bit, um, cozy.

Such trade-offs are par for the course. Finding a home is a lot like dating: “perfect” can be the enemy of “good.” Or even “great.” So find something you can live with, grow into, and renovate to your taste.

4. Do your homework

Once you find a home you love and make an offer that’s accepted, you may be eager to move in. But don’t be hasty. Don’t purchase a home without doing your due diligence and add some contingencies to your contract—which basically means you have the right to back out of the deal if something goes horribly wrong.

The most common contract contingency is the home inspection, which allows you to request a resolution for issues (e.g., a weak foundation or leaky roof) found by a professional.

Another important first-time home buyer addition: a financing contingency, which gives you the right to back out if the bank doesn’t approve your loan. A pre-approval makes this possibility much less likely, but a pre-approval is not a guarantee.

You also might want to consider an appraisal contingency, which lets you bail if your lender values the home at less than what you offered. This will mean you will have to come up with money from your own pocket to make up the difference—a tough gamble if cash is already tight.

5. Know your tax credits

The first-time home buyer tax credit may be no more, but there are a number of tax breaks new homeowners may not be aware of. The biggie: Mortgage interest deduction is a boon for brand-new mortgages, which are typically interest-heavy. If you purchased discount points for your mortgage, essentially pre-paying your interest, these are also deductible. Some states and municipalities may offer mortgage credit certification, which allows first-time home buyers to claim a tax credit for some of your mortgage interest paid. Check with your Realtor and local government to see if this credit applies to you.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

Your Inner Child Will Love These Creative Ways to Organize

There are 5 personality and organization types. Find the one that fits you.

Being organized isn’t about putting everything into a beautiful, new organization system— it’s about how well you’re able to maintain it.

And it’s your psyche that determines that. Find creative ways to organize your home by choosing a strategy that fits you. Which of the five personalities are you?

The Pile Maker | The Minimalist | The Designer | The Collector | The Speeding Train

The Pile Maker

If you like everything out and visible, you’re likely a creative, right-brained sort, says Beth Randall, a professional organizer and speaker.

The piles on your desk make sense only to you (well, until they don’t), and you get energized and inspired by the visual stimulus of stuff.

Strategy: Keep your stuff in view and organized with open-face organizers that have a place for everything in plain sight.

Tips:

  • Store your jewelry on a corkboard covered with fabric, using push pins to create a work of art, Randall suggests.
  • Stash items in clear bins or cubbies that don’t cut off your view of the contents, like an over-the-door shoe organizer with clear sleeves.
  • Take a moment every couple of weeks to look at your desk and countertops and purge or put away clutter.
  • Rather than plopping your paperwork in one big pile on your desk, use paper organizers or shelf dividers that only allow about six or seven inches of clearance per shelf, recommends professional organizer Thalia Poulos. Then, use labels as your new visual trigger. This can work in entryways for mail, in kitchens for recipes, or anywhere papers start to pile up.
  • Pegboards: Put ‘em everywhere. Pegboards give you customizable, highly visual storage in the garage, office, closets, bedrooms, kitchens — pretty much anywhere. To accommodate your creative brain, space out your hooks enough so you’re not limited to one configuration where everything fits.

The Minimalist

You like everything to have its place — and that place is out of sight. You find nothing more restorative than a tidy, minimalist space. But life happens, and you’ve been known to “stash and dash” and forget where you put things. And sometimes you pitch something you end up needing later on.

Strategy: You need behind-the-scenes systems that are convenient and efficient.

Tips:

  • Go virtual: You can ditch all that paper. Use an app for your to-do and grocery lists, and use scanning software (or a simple snap of your phone!) to turn any paperwork into a digital file.
  • Make it easy to quickly put stuff away with personalized classification systems, recommends Cena Block, a productivity expert and former professional organizer. From clothes to craft supplies, and from bins to drawers, group things the way your gut tells you to: by size, function, alphabet — whatever. The less thinking you have to do, the fewer “stash and dash” mishaps you’ll make.
  • Organize your organization: Think drawer sorters, hanging file cabinets, closet systems, or even ice-cube trays for jewelry drawers.
  • Have storage options where you need them that match the function of each space — like cubbies under the front stairs for shoes or rolling bins under your bed for sheets.

The Designer

Sure, you want your stuff to be organized, but if it doesn’t please the senses, you’re not gonna use it. That sometimes leads to more Pinterest-browsing and project-dreaming than actual organizing.

Strategy: You need organization options that look good —but are super-functional, too.

Tips:

  • Use woven baskets or wood boxes, rather than plastic bins, to organize items around the house.
  • In the office, rely on color-coded file folders, Poulos says.
  • Keep a beautiful notebook for jotting down your to-dos. An app simply won’t give you that tactile satisfaction you crave.
  • Use color-coordinated hangers to group ensembles together in your closet, Poulos suggests.
  • Include artwork among items you’re storing on shelves, or even on pegboards, to make even the most utilitarian spaces a delight to use.

The Collector

You see a lot of value in things. Sometimes too much value. You have a hard time deciding when to let go, which makes clutter control an endless challenge.

Strategy: Maximize your storage space, and keep things away enough to avoid clutter but close enough to appreciate the value your things add to your life. Also, regularly chip away at your collection where possible.

Tips:

  • You love your stuff. So before a quarterly purge, pick a charity or friend who could use some of your non-essentials. Loving your stuff’s next home can help get it out of yours.
  • Display your favorite things a few at a time, rotating them in and out of storage. It will make you feel like you have more stuff and will cut down on the clutter.
  • Set limits on how many of any one item you can have, whether it’s shoes or spatulas, Randall says. For magazines or catalogs, for example, give yourself one basket or bin. When it’s full, it’s time to pitch.
  • Use every cubic foot in your home with nice-looking, built-in, floor-to-ceiling storage systems. It’ll give you more storage space and keeps the things you love nearby and accessible, even when they’re put away.

The Speeding Train

You’re constantly moving from one location, appointment, or task to the next. Who’s got time for reading every email or finding a hanger for your coat? But man, you can leave a mess in your wake!

Strategy: Keep home organization solutions simple, flexible, and (most importantly) right in your path.

Tips:

  • Use simplified systems. Store any documents (physical or digital) you may eventually need in a single 12-folder system – one for every month of the year. Then conduct just one yearly purge, Randall suggests.
  • Systems that will work for you are those that don’t require much of a pause — like hooks for jackets, bins for shoes, and open cubes for, well, anything, Poulos says.
  • Because you’re always on the move, daily items like your keys often get lost in your dust. So create rituals around stashing these essentials in an in/out station, right where it’s most convenient to drop them.
  • Always keep a donation box by the door. When you don’t have to stop and find a trash bag or bin, you’ll be that much more likely to get rid of something. 
Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT

Preparing Your Home For Sale With Pets

“How do you sell a home with pets?”

This is a question that gets asked a lot in real estate sales. If you have a dog or cat, chances are you love your pet. While some home owners have strict outside pet rules, most allow their animals inside their homes as part of the family. But, while pets are great for your emotional health, it does not help you sell your home. When you decide to put the house on the market you need to do some serious housecleaning and repair work before you can command a competitive price.

You want buyers to be able to picture themselves in your home. This means giving them the space to envision living there, space that is free from too many of your personal things – including pets and all they bring with them. So how do you go about selling your property when you have pets?

Without further ado here are some of the best tips to prepare for selling your home with pets. These tips are general, and may or may not apply to your particular situation.

1. Talk to Your Pet’s Veterinarian First.

One important thing to keep in mind is that your animal has its own needs, needs that are best discussed with your veterinarian. Talk to him or her about what you plan on doing, and how it will work with your specific pet or pets. This is especially important when your pet is older and may not adjust well to change. Selling a home can be just as stressful for the pet as it is for the home owner.

2. Temporarily Relocate.

This may or may not be something you are willing to do, but it is easier to show-and-sell your home (and keep it clean), if your pets are not present when buyers arrive. If you have a friend or family member that you are comfortable leaving your animal with, it will give you the chance to eliminate all of the signs of having a pet in the house (which can significantly reduce a home’s value) and avoid the pet causing further issues. While I happen to be a pet lover myself there are many home buyers who are not. In fact some folks consider it a huge turn-off when looking at potential homes they may want to own.

3. Remove Pets During Showings.

When selling a home with pets, at the very least, you should remove your them from your home when you are showing the property for sale. All the cute things your dog does will not help you sell your home, and will only remind the potential buyer that the house has contained pets previously.

Ideally you should have your real estate agent showing the home, preferably while you are away. Having a pet in the house or yard can create complications for your agent while trying to show the house, and puts your pet at risk of accidentally getting out during the process. There are also liability issues to deal with as well. While your dog or cat may be ultra friendly, it is certainly possible they can have a bad day just like you and I.

When you leave your pet home during showings you are asking for trouble especially if a buyer brings a young child and they are curious. The last thing you want is Fido taking a chunk out of a buyers child’s arm. Remember we live is a lawsuit happy society! You are taking a big risk when your pet is allowed to roam freely during showings.

There are times where it may not be possible to remove a pet from a home. Maybe due to your job you just can’t come back and remove them or you can’t find anyone who will help take care of them. If this is the case your next best option is to either put them in a contained space and let a buyer and their Real Estate agent know about it ahead of time or buyer a pet friendly cage to keep them in. While your pet may not be accustomed to this and you love treating your animals like one of the family sometimes this is what is necessary when you are making selling your home a priority.

4. Repair Any Damage.

As much as we love our pets, they are still animals, and pet damage is never attractive when selling your home. Dogs and cats will inevitably destroy something, including carpets, furniture, hardwood flooring, walls, doors, turf in your yard and your fence.

All of this damage should be repaired prior to showing the home. This may require some investment on your part, especially if the animal has damaged expensive items like your hardwood flooring or walls in your house. Regardless of the cost of repair, though, the value you will get for your house will be well worth paying for the repairs.

5. Remove Pet Odors and Stains.

Pets have accidents; and while it is possible to get used to the pet smell over time, new visitors to your home will be sure to notice the smells. This is not something you want to happen. In fact, above all else, this may be important tip for selling a home when you have pets.

Our sense of smell has a powerful effect on our emotions, our memory and on our perception of things. An initial urine odor on entering a house is sure to stick in the buyer’s mind, and he or she will likely deduct the cost of carpet replacement immediately from an offer as a result. A strong odor is in fact one of the top reasons a buyer will pass on a home.

Avoid this by having your carpet and flooring professionally cleaned, with a focus on removing pet odors. If the staining or odors are too bad, you may need to replace the carpet in the problem areas.

6. Clean Your Yard.

Pick up any messes in the backyard, and have any sod replaced and other damage repaired as necessary. You may be the kind of person who picks up after your pet regularly, or you may have a cat that causes very little impact to your yard. However, a large number of dog owners give their pets free reign of the backyard. This is a great life for dogs and cats, but it can be hard on the look of your lawn. One of the best tips, when selling a home with pets, is to make sure you don’t neglect the yard as this is just important to some buyers as the inside of the home.

7. Erase Signs of Your Pet for Potential Buyers.

You want to buyers to be as unaware of your pet ownership as possible. If they ask the question, you will have to answer honestly. However, you can often avoid this by taking necessary steps like those listed above. In addition, put away all pet toys, bedding, litter boxes and food – preferably at another location besides your home.

Some realtors recommend removing all photos where your pet is present as well, and to look and make certain the animal does not show up in any marketing materials you create for your home. Like other forms of home staging, removing extra pet clutter is an important consideration when you are selling your property.

8. Prepare Properly.

Selling a home with pets takes work, but it’s worth it in the long run! You may do all of these things and yet still have buyers ask about whether you have pets. Sometimes it is impossible to hide all evidence, and sometimes they just ask anyway. Even if this happens, though, you have still done everything necessary to return your house to its prior pet-free status. Buyers will have little to complain about, because your house now looks as good as it did before you had your pet.

9. Remember Pet Liability.

Did you know that you can be held liable for your pet biting someone while on your property? According to Kenneth M Phillips who specializes in law surrounding dog bites, there are more than 4.7 million dog bite cases reported in the US every year. Further the average lawsuit resulting from an injury is settled for more than $29,000 and climbing much higher when extensive plastic surgery is needed.

If you own a pet and are leaving them in your home during showings this should be a real wake up call! I know you are probably thinking Fido would never hurt a flea. Is it really worth taking a chance?

One of the things you should do if you own a dog is check your home insurance policy and make sure that it does not exclude dog bite coverage. You will want to check the exclusion in the coverage section to make sure it does not mention dogs or even animals in general. Some insurance policies will exclude certain breeds such as Pit bulls, German shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes and others.

In approximately two thirds of the states in the US pet owners can be held liable for injuries resulting from a dog bite even if the animal has shown no previous aggression.  So while it was previously mentioned that you shouldn’t leave your dog around for showings it can’t be emphasized enough. If you want to know how to sell a home with pets this tip should be the one you don’t forget!

RATTAN CHAIR MAKEOVER

I fell in love with the lines of this vintage rattan midcentury bucket chair, but the finish was worn and in need of an update. I grabbed a can of Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch® 2X Ultra Cover® spray paint in flat black for a full transformation. I finished off the look with a leaf-pattern pillow to evoke a modern tropical vibe with a jute rug and greenery to tie it all together.

STEP 1

CLEAN IN THE GROOVES

Gently clean in the grooves using the brush attachment on a vacuum.

STEP 2

WIPE THE RATTAN CLEAN

Wipe the rattan with a damp cloth to remove and dirt and residue. If the chair is very dirty, use warm water and a mild detergent.

STEP 3

APPLY THE FIRST COAT

Put on gloves and a mask and place a drop cloth under the chair. Place the chair up on scrap blocks or a box to expose the bottom edges. Consider working in a spray tent or outdoors where overspray isn’t a concern. To avoid drips, hold the can 10-12 inches from the surface. Apply a light first coat moving in a sweeping horizontal motion back and forth. Start and stop each pass beyond the edges of the chair.

STEP 4

COAT THE DETAILS

If the rattan has details, follow the lines with a singular motion for even coverage. Fill in the surrounding areas as needed.

STEP 5

APPLY THE SECOND COAT

Apply a second coat within 1 hour or after 48 hours of applying the first coat. Spray in varying directions to coat the opposing sides of the rounded rattan that may have been missed the first pass. Allow paint to fully dry for 24 hours.

PEACH AND RASPBERRY LEMONADE

If it just isn’t summertime without a big pitcher of lemonade on the table, try this Paleo version for a sweet, fruity drink that doesn’t come out of a neon packet mix. You don’t need to fruit flavors out of a little plastic tube of powder when you could get them from the actual fruit!

This is a great option for people trying to get away from drinking soda all the time – cutting out the sugar water should be close to #1 on the list of ways to improve your diet, and sometimes, having a healthier flavored option makes the transition easier. You can add honey to this recipe to taste, or leave it out if you like it less sweet (yet another advantage of homemade over powder mixes: you can make it taste exactly how you want it).

If you don’t want to wait for your lemonade when you get thirsty, just make a big batch and store it in the fridge – it’ll keep until you’re ready for a glass. This would also be perfect with a cookout meal like burgers or grilled fish: grab a glass and enjoy the summer flavors.

Ingredients

  • 3 peaches, sliced
  • 6 oz. raspberries
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 3 tbsp. raw honey (optional)

Preparation

  1. Combine 1 cup of the water with the raspberries, peaches, and honey in a saucepan placed over a medium heat.
  2. Let everything simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the peach and raspberry mixture into a blender, and blend until smooth.
  4. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh to remove the raspberry seeds
  5. Pour the mixture into a pitcher. Whisk in the lemon juice and the remaining 5 cups of water.
  6. Refrigerate and serve chilled with ice.

Why Veterans Need Military-Friendly Real Estate Agents

Buying a home will likely be one of the biggest purchases of your life. Having a knowledgeable real estate agent to walk you through the process is imperative for a smooth transaction. This is especially true if you’re purchasing with a VA home loan.

VA mortgages come with a host of benefits, including no down payment, low interest rates, and no private mortgage insurance. Along with these benefits come some unique loan requirements. Here are three key reasons why using a military-friendly real estate agent benefits VA home buyers.

1. They understand the unique needs of VA home buyers

Active-duty service members relocate frequently. When receiving permanent change of station (PCS) orders, service members receive 10 days of leave to scope out the new duty station and complete a home search. Choosing an agent who understands this short time frame and can dedicate the time necessary to find a home during this compressed period of time is essential.

Due to frequent relocations, it’s also important for agents to understand the importance of strong resale value. Agents who work with active-duty service members understand they’ll need to identify a home that not only fits the service member’s current needs. The agent also needs to make sure the home has the potential for a quick and profitable resale if the service member receives PCS orders again.

2. They’re passionate about serving those who’ve served

Agents who identify as military-friendly frequently have a passion for serving those who’ve served. Some have served themselves, others have close ties to someone who has, and others simply have a desire to give back to those who’ve given so much for our country.

They’re also passionate about educating veterans and service members about VA home loan benefits. Many of these agents now ask every buyer “Did You Serve?” so they can identify buyers who may be eligible for a VA loan.

3. They understand the unique requirements of the VA loan

The Department of Veterans Affairs has created a few unique requirements for VA loans, to ensure buyers purchase homes that are a solid investment. The VA established a set of minimum property requirements (MPRs) to ensure all homes purchased by veterans and service members are safe, sanitary, and structurally sound.

VA appraisers are tasked with the responsibility of outlining any features not meeting the MPRs, and any issues will likely have to be fixed prior to closing. An agent who’s worked with VA buyers and understands MPRs is a great asset when doing a walk-through on a potential property—he or she can point out possible MPR issues before going under contract.

When selecting an agent to work with on a VA home purchase, buyers should ask the agent about any VA loan expertise. You may want to work with a Realtor® with a Military Relocation Professional designation.