7 Winter Home Maintenance Tasks That Will Save You Money (and Your Sanity)

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The long, dark days of winter are upon us, and with COVID-19 still keeping us closer to home, we’re keenly aware of all the maintenance tasks we’ve put off or let slip through the cracks.

And we hate to break it to you, but it’s time to get to work.

We know you’re wondering if you can get out of this. Must you really hit pause on your “Bridgerton” binge session and do, ugh, chores?

Well, no. You don’t have to do anything. But if you do, we guarantee you’ll save some money—and maybe even your sanity—down the line. A modicum of maintenance now will prevent astronomical repair costs in the future.

So we asked a few experts for a list of things we should do while we hole up at home. Some of the tasks are things you can tackle yourself, and some might be better suited for a professional—following COVID-19 safety precautions, of course. But don’t worry: We’ve outlined how you can get them all done—as quickly as possible, of course, so that you can get back to your precious spot on the sofa.

1. Get an energy audit for your attic

We marvel at the beauty of the occasional sparkly icicles that hang from the eaves—but they could also mean your attic isn’t adequately insulated.

“These primarily occur when there’s heat being lost from the interior living space of your home that leaks into your attic space,” says Joe Palumbo, president of Ice Dam Guys. “When that heat [from the roof] ‘interacts’ with the frozen snow on the outside, it can create an unnatural melting cycle that doesn’t actually allow for the melting snow to leave the roof.” 

If you don’t resolve the fluctuating temperatures in the attic, these ice dams can cause water accumulation to back up into your attic, causing damage to the roof and ceiling of your home. 

DIY: If you’re feeling ambitious, you can inspect your attic yourself—just follow the steps in this DIY energy audit.

Call in the pros: If you’re not sure where the leaks might be, call in the experts. Home audits typically cost 8 to 50 cents per square foot with a minimum cost of $100 to $200.

2. Check for cracks 

Bundle up and head outside to take a closer look at the foundation. Walk around the whole perimeter, and check for leaks or cracks where water can enter your home.

“Even though there might not be a leak at the moment due to the freezing temperatures, look for areas that are compromised that could lead to melting snow or new rain seeping into your home,” says Aaron Goucher, general manager of Olshan Foundation Repair.

DIY: Hairline cracks up to an eighth of an inch are common as expansion and contraction occur due to temperature fluctuations. You can fill them with caulk suitable for concrete.

Call in the pros: If you spot anything bigger than a half-inch, call a structural engineer for an assessment. It’ll cost you about $350 to $1,000—we know, that’s a lot. But larger horizontal cracks could mean the structural integrity is compromised.

3. Get a jump-start on spring painting

Get a head start on your next painting project.gilaxia/iStock

With the double whammy of COVID-19 and winter, we’re spending even more time in the house, looking at the same faded colors of peeling and marred paint on the walls. But you don’t have to dream about the hot new color you’ll paint your living room and wait for months to roll it on.

In fact, here’s why you should do it now: The air is drier in the winter, and with the warm temperatures inside, the paint dries faster, says Matt Kunz, president of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company.

And with the right materials, you don’t have to open windows and freeze to avoid the stinky fumes while you paint.

“Low-VOC latex paint is less toxic and has fewer odors so that windows can remain shut,” Kunz says.

Call in the pros: If you’re comfortable with their COVID-19 safety precautions, you can hire painters and likely get it done faster for around $3.50 per square foot. 

Plus, scheduling a painter in winter might be quicker and easier to coordinate, says Kunz. You might even get a discount because winter is traditionally the slow season for painting.

4. Swap out your outdoor dryer vent covers

There are myriad reasons to upgrade these things: Once the temperatures take a nosedive, your old dryer vent can become a toasty nest for mice and an invitation into your house. Snow can pile up on top of old hooded vents and prevent them from opening, raising the risk of carbon monoxide buildup in the house. And vents with flimsy louvers can get clogged and not open and close properly—which can cause lint to back up, creating dryer failure, or worse, a fire hazard. 

“Regardless of the season, you want to use a vent cover with the best airflow efficiency, [that] meets code, and is pest/rodent-resistant,” says Scott Thomas, senior director of franchise affairs at Dryer Vent Wizard, a Neighborly company.

DIY: This is a job you can absolutely tackle on your own. Just grab your new vent cover and a screwdriver, and follow these steps.

Call in the pros: If the thought of heading outside makes you shiver, a handyman should be able to tackle this for you. Small jobs like this one may cost $60 to $250 for one to two hours of work.

5. Upgrade to a smart thermostat

A smart thermostat will save you money in the long run.nn Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Stop us if this sounds familiar: Every winter, you turn down your thermostat when you leave the house or before going to bed. You turn it down on sunny winter days and back up when it’s windy and cloudy. Then there are the times you leave for a few days and agonize over whether you remembered to turn the heat down to save money.

This winter, Kevin Busch, vice president of operations at Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly Company, recommends installing a smart programmable thermostat.

“This one change will make your entire home more energy-efficient,” says Busch. “Just lowering the heat 8 degrees while you’re at work or sleeping can save an average of $180 each year.”

DIY: You can tackle this job yourself, but don’t forget to turn off the power before you get started. Once you’ve taken safety precautions, install your new detectors by following these steps from the Home Depot.

Call in the pros: Most electricians can install a thermostat in two hours or less for under $200. But don’t forget to factor in the cost of the device itself, which can run you $300 or more.

6. Install hardwired smoke detectors 

If you’re over going room to room checking the batteries on your smoke detectors, there’s no better time than now to upgrade to hardwired versions, says Sean Dion, president at Mr. Electric of Queensbury, a Neighborly company. After all, there are more house fires in winter than any other time of year, according to the American Red Cross.

The added benefit of hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is that they interconnect.

“If any one detector is activated, it triggers the rest of them and notifies everyone in the home,” says Dion.

DIY: Install your new hardwired detectors using this handy guide from the Home Depot.

Call in the pros: An electrician can install three hardwired detectors with a new base for around $270.

7. Give your portable generator a checkup

A portable generator will be a lifesaver if you lose power during a winter storm—now’s the time to make sure yours will fire up and generate power when you most need it. (Be sure to avoid these dangerous mistakes if you’re firing up a portable generator for the first time.)

DIY: If you haven’t already, you’ll want to service the engine’s oil and add fuel stabilizer for winter storage, recommends Jake Thomas, portable-generator safety expert and director of global service operations at Generac Power Systems.

“You should also remember to start and run the engine for 10 to 15 minutes to circulate the stabilizer,” he says.

And think about where you’re going to keep the portable generator before finding yourself in crisis mode to restore power. Shield generators from snow and rain, place them at least 25 feet away from doors and windows, and be sure you have a safe, clearable path to access it.

Call in the pros: If your generator is throwing up red flags, call a pro in to repair it right away. It might cost you up to $300, but you’ll be grateful you shelled out the dough when you don’t have to bundle up during the next ice storm.

Article by Lisa Marie Conklin 

These foods will boost your mood and make you happy

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Americans discuss food in emotional terms: It can be a comfort, a reward, a guilty pleasure, a bit of nostalgia.

For years, researchers have treated what we eat as a role player in our emotions and science has proven what we put in our mouth affects what comes out of our head.

The “gut-brain axis,” as registered dietitian nutritionist Wesley Delbridge explains it, ties our digestive system to how we feel.

“We’re realizing our gut talks to our brain and it can have huge effects on our mood and the emotions we experience,” he said. “If your gut is happy, then you’re going to be more happy.”

In 2008, UCLA researchers reviewed 160 studies about how food affects the brain and determined that a balanced diet, along with exercise, can beat back mental disorders.

“Quite literally – we are what we eat,” notes Dr. Aarti Gupta, founder and clinical director of TherapyNest, a California center specializing in anxiety and family therapy.

Gupta performs a “functional nutrition assessment’ on patients suffering from anxiety or depression. Addressing how much coffee, water or fast food a person consumes can be the first step toward feeling better.

“Considering that our brain and body function due to the food we ingest, metabolize, and reallocate within ourselves,” she said, “it makes perfect sense that what we eat also must influence our biochemistry, which is a substantial part of mental health.”

So, if food plays a part in our mood, then what should we eat to feel our best?

Quinoa

los_angela, Getty Images/stockphoto

 

Enjoying its time in the limelight is quinoa, the protein-packed whole grain popular among those looking for substitutes for rice and pasta.

Delbridge said studies have found a flavonoid in quinoa has a significant anti-depressant effect.

Salmon

ValentynVolkov, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Salmon is packed with omega 3 fatty acids, which are proven to improve our mood. Omega 3s, Delbridge described, play a vital part of our body’s cell manufacturing and makes our hair and skin shiny, even giving the appearance of happiness.

Yet, he said, the fish is under-consumed. Most people he talks to eat it fewer than one time per month.

If you can’t afford the fresh stuff, Delbridge suggests canned salmon. Simply not a fan? Fish oil supplements contribute the same mood-boosting effects.

Mushrooms

Vitamin D boosts mood and has anti-depressant qualities. Mushrooms have a ton.

We usually get our Vitamin D from the sun. But it’s also found in mushrooms, milk, beef, chicken livers and fatty fish, notes Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a registered dietitian and founder of Philadelphia-based MNC Nutrition.

Vitamin D’s main role is converting and regulating the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. The goal, Cohn said, is to maintain the right amount of serotonin, which can ward off depression and anxiety. Too much or too little serotonin can have adverse effects.

She recommends a Vitamin D supplement for many of her patients.

Dark chocolate

JulyProkopiv, Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

Yes, this is true. Dark chocolate has plenty of health benefits, including easing emotional stress, according to a 2009 American Chemical Society trial.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone said dark chocolate boosts mood because it raises endorphin levels. Angelone advises choosing the dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao.

Foods with probiotics – i.e. kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut

Probiotics are bacteria living in our intestines and known for aiding in digestion, boosting the immune system and cleaning our gut.

They’re a key contributor to the health of the gut-brain axis and have a calming effect on the body and specifically helps with aggression, notes Delbridge.

Fermented dairy foods contain probiotics, such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and yogurt.

B6 vitamins – poultry, leafy greens, beef

Tay Jnr, Getty Images

 

B6 vitamins are vital for converting tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a primary role in mood, learning, appetite and impulse control, Cohn said.

B6 is found in poultry, seafood, beef, leafy greens, spinach, kale.

Grapes

Mythja, Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

 

Grapes contain something called resveratrol, Angelone said, an antioxidant proven to boost mood.

Folic acid – bok choy, turnip greens

Folic acid deficiencies lead to a drop in serotonin levels.

Cohn said folic acid also is good for fetal brain development. Look for leafy greens like spinach, bok choy and turnip greens.

Vitamin C

MoJoStudio/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Vitamin C is a great way to boost your immune system with antioxidants.

Your immune system and your brain are connected. People who are not physically well often cite their condition as a source of depression. Plus, Vitamin C binds to free radicals, allowing the body to more easily remove them, said Cohn.

Vitamin C is found in broccoli, oranges, kale, strawberries, mangoes and kiwis.

Magnesium

Statistics, notes Cohn, show large parts of our population could be deficient in magnesium, which plays a role in hundreds of different metabolic functions and helps balance serotonin.

It’s found in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocados, whole grains, yogurt, kefir and Swiss chard.

Despite the benefits of these foods, medical experts claim any one food isn’t the elixir for a steady mind. Sleep, a person’s eating patterns and exercise also play a part. Gupta adds eating is not a substitute for therapy or medication.

Article by Sean Rossman

5 Myths About Transitioning From Renter to Homeowner

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Making the leap from being a renter to becoming a homeowner is a process that includes taking stock of your financial situation and determining whether you’re ready for such a massive responsibility. For most people, the primary question is affordability. Do you have enough cash in the bank to fund a down payment, or do you have a credit score high enough to qualify you for a home loan? But there are other considerations, too—and plenty of misconceptions and myths that could keep you from making that first step.

Below, our experts weigh in on why some situations that may seem like roadblocks are actually not as daunting as they appear.

1. Buying a home means heavy debt

Some may argue that continuing to rent can spare you from taking on heavy debt. But owning a house offers advantages.

“Buying a home and using a typical loan would be spread out over 20 to 30 years. But if you can make one extra payment a year or make bimonthly payments instead, you can shed up to seven years from that long-term loan,” says Jesse McManus, a real estate agent for Big Block Realty in San Diego, CA.

Plus, as you pay your mortgage, you gain equity in the home and create an asset that can be used when needed, such as paying off debt or even buying a second home.

“Currently, mortgage interests rates are at their lowest point in history, so … it’s a great time to borrow money,” McManus says.

2. At least a 20% down payment is needed to buy a home

“Contrary to popular belief, a 20% down payment is not required to purchase a home,” says Natalie Klinefelter, broker/owner of the Legacy Real Estate Co. in San Diego, CA. “There are several low down payment options available to all types of buyers.”

These are as low as 0% down for Veterans Affairs loans to 5% for conventional loans.

One of the main reasons buyers assume they must put down 20% is that without a 20% down payment, buyers typically face private mortgage insurance payments that add to the monthly loan payment.

“The good news is once 20% equity is reached in a home, the buyer can eliminate PMI. This is usually accomplished by refinancing their loan, ultimately lowering their original payment that included PMI,” says Klinefelter. “Selecting the right loan type for a buyer’s needs and the property condition is essential before purchasing a home.”

3. Your credit score needs to be perfect

Having a credit score at or above 660 looks great to mortgage lenders, but if yours is lagging, there’s still hope.

“Credit score and history play a significant role in a buyer’s ability to obtain a home loan, but it doesn’t mean a buyer needs squeaky-clean credit. There are many loan solutions for buyers who have a lower than the ideal credit score,” says Klinefelter.

She says government-backed loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration have lower credit and income requirements than most conventional loans.

“A lower down payment is also a benefit of FHA loans. Lenders often work with home buyers upfront to discuss how to improve their credit to obtain a loan most suitable for their needs and financial situation,” says Klinefelter.

McManus says buyers building credit can also use a home loan to bolster their scores and create a foundation for future borrowing and creditworthiness.

4. Now is a bad time to buy

Buying a home at the right time—during a buyer’s market or when interest rates are low—is considered a smart money move. But don’t let the fear of buying at the “wrong time” stop you from moving forward. If you feel like you’ve found a good deal, experts say there is truly no bad time to buy a home.

“The famous saying in real estate is ‘I don’t have a crystal ball,’ meaning no one can predict exactly where the market will be at a given time. If a buyer stays within their means and has a financial contingency plan in place if the market adjusts over time, it is the right time to buy,” says Klinefelter.

5. You’ll be stuck and can’t relocate

Some people may be hesitant to buy because it means staying put in the same location.

“I always advise my clients that they should plan to stay in a newly purchased home for a minimum of three years,” says McManus. “You can ride out most market swings if they happen, and it also gives you a sense of connection to your new space.”

In a healthy market, McManus says homeowners will likely be able to sell the home within a year or two if they need to move, or they can consider renting out the property.

“There is always a way out of a real estate asset; knowing how and when to exit is the key,” says Klinefelter.

Article by Anayat Durrani 

How to Up the Cozy Factor in Your Home

BHHS-Chicago

Looking for a home so cozy you almost want to cuddle with it? The following design elements can create a comforting, warm space that you will never want to leave.

Warm colors. Add warm colors to your walls, accents, linens window hangings and more to create a cozy vibe inside. Deep orange, rusty reds, buttery yellows and soft off-white colors can all add a “stay at home” vibe to your space.

Plush textures. From fleecy blankets thrown over every chair, to faux-fur pillows and rugs, having textures you want to lounge on will seriously up the cozy factor in your living space.

Soft lighting. Nothing derails a cozy home faster than harsh lighting. Add dimmers to your overheads and add ample accent lights on the walls and tables for a soft, warm glow.

Well-designed storage.
Clutter is the antithesis of a cuddly space. From properly organized closets to sneaky storage spaces (like under your sofa seats or ottoman), having a place to stow away your belongings that aren’t being used will create a sleek vibe.

Extra lounge areas.
Move past the living room set for lounge spaces. An oversized sofa, a sweet day bed, a hammock, big cushy floor pillows—all of these lounge areas can up the cozy ante in your home.

Decluttering for Dummies: Insider Secrets for Organizing Your Overflowing Book Collection

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Last year changed the way we do a lot of things—especially the way we live at home. Between mandatory shelter-in-place orders, canceled vacation plans, and working remotely, we’re all spending a lot more time inside our four walls than ever before. And with our houses now doing extra duty as offices, gyms, and even classrooms for the kids, there’s undoubtedly no shortage of clutter.

If you’re as sick of the piles as we are, then we bet you’re ready to take action. And there’s never a better time than a new year to rethink your space, declutter, and get organized.

That’s why we’re launching a new series with tips from the pros on how to bring order to every space in your home. First up: all those books you bought to read (and never did) during quarantine. Here’s what the experts say on how to comb through your bookshelves and organize those seemingly endless stacks.

How to declutter your collection

“Clutter is postponed decisions—and that’s true of book clutter as well,” says professional organizer Barbara Hemphill.

“The first step in decluttering books is to determine how much space you’re willing to allot to books,” she says. “To decide whether to keep a book, ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst thing that would happen if I got rid of this book, and then wanted it?’ If you can live with your answer, donate or toss it.”

Get rid of ugly or old books

While some books might be obvious keepers (like the ones you’ll reread or reference later on), you’ll likely end up with a good-sized pile of maybes. For those, Barbara Reich, founder of Life Organized, has this pro tip.

“I look at whether a book is in good condition, and if it’s something I’ll want to display,” she says. “For example, you may not want to display every self-help book you own.”

Donate your unwanted books

Once you’ve narrowed down your pile of keepers, it’s time to get rid of the rest. While you might try to sell any valuable or collectible editions, most other secondhand books won’t fetch a ton of cash—which is why donations can be a great way to get rid of your unwanted volumes.

However, Sherri Curley of The Practical Sort notes that the pandemic has made the usual outlets—libraries, used bookstores, nursing homes and hospitals, consignment stores, and even certain nonprofit organizations—reluctant to handle secondhand goods.

“I caution my clients and readers to save time, hassle, and gas by contacting the organization prior to heading out, to ensure that they are accepting donations and what their current protocol and hours are,” Curley says.

How to organize your remaining books

Arrange your books by color

Photo by Hudson Interior Design

With your permanent collection of books established, you’re ready to start organizing them. One great way to get started is to group your books by color.

“This works for the very visual client who enjoys their books as a collection, rather than searching for specific ones to read or reference,” says Lucy Milligan Wahl of LMW Edits.

Organize by author

If a colorful display isn’t your style, then you might just consider organizing by author instead.

“This style works best for those who love to read and are looking to be able to access specific books on a regular basis,” says Wahl. “This is also a more time-intensive method, since it should be adjusted and updated whenever you add a new book to your collection.”

Organize by genre

If neither a color- nor author-based organization system works for you, consider a simple genre-based one.

“Organizing by genre works well for most clients, especially when they’re storing books in multiple rooms,” says Wahl. “It helps to match the genre to the space: for example, cookbooks in the kitchen, business and self-help in the home office, fiction and travel in the bedroom, etc.”

This might also be extended to other rooms of the house, like putting your kids’ books in the playroom and sports books in a basement or workout room. Finally, be sure to put aside a few favorite display books to decorate coffee tables, guest rooms, and even bathrooms.

Use leftover books as decor

Photo by M. Swabb Decor + Style

While decluttering and organizing might be adequate for most book collectors, some might just find themselves with a few leftovers that still need sorting. Here are some creative tips from the pros that can help.

“I love using large art books stacked under lamps or small art objects to personalize a space,” says Sarah Giller Nelson of Less Is More. “Using a few favorite books to decorate your entryway will make you happy every time you come home.”

Be creative with shelving

Floating bookshelfAmazon

If you need more space than just a short stack, invisible wall-mounted bookshelves are another great option to display your favorites.

“Invisible bookshelves can be wonderful for adding an accent to a wall without needing to invest in art,” says Wahl. “A window seat can also be a great place for a row of books—perhaps your favorite novels for curling up on a cozy afternoon.”

Last but certainly not least, if it’s more shelving you need, consider this minimalist design—which is great for showing off your book collection, clutter-free.

Article by Larissa Runkle

Roasted Cauliflower & Potato Curry Soup

From the Eating Well Cookbook

 

 

In this healthy cauliflower soup recipe, roasting the cauliflower first adds depth and prevents the florets from turning to mush. A little tomato sauce and coconut milk give the broth a rich, silky texture. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, if desired.

Ingredients

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

  • Combine coriander, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, salt, pepper and cayenne in a small bowl. Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture and toss again. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower until the edges are browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside.

  • Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring often, until the onion is soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile and the remaining spice mixture. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

  • Stir in tomato sauce, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer for 1 minute. Add broth, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lime zest and juice. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

  • Stir in coconut milk and the roasted cauliflower. Return to a simmer to heat through. Serve garnished with cilantro and chiles, if desired.

Tips

To make ahead: Refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Nutrition Facts

272 calories; protein 5.3g; carbohydrates 33.4g; dietary fiber 7.2g; fat 14.8g; saturated fat 10.1g; vitamin a iu 9200.1IU; vitamin c 52.2mg; folate 73.8mcg; calcium 86.3mg; iron 3.6mg; magnesium 69.4mg; potassium 910.5mg; sodium 509.4mg.

The Ultimate Home-Buying Checklist: 12 Ways to Prepare to Buy a House

realtor.com

Even a first-time home buyer knows that a new home is not an impulse purchase. You can’t just waltz in and declare, “I’ll take it!”

Long before you get to making that offer (on paper, through your real estate agent)—and even before going to your first open house—there are a ton of things to do and to prepare.

Overwhelmed? Here’s a checklist of everything you need to do to get ready to buy a new home.

1. Check your credit score

Do not pass “Go,” and do not start looking at real estate until you have checked your credit score. This is the number that mortgage lenders will look at to determine whether you are creditworthy, and will dictate the rate you will be charged by the bank.

The higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate—and that’s what you’re going for. Get a free copy of yours at AnnualCreditReport.com to see where you stand.

2. Clean up any credit blemishes you can

Any surprises on that report? Credit errors are more common than you might think, so contact the credit bureau to correct any erroneous information.

Have credit that’s less than stellar? Check out these (totally legit!) tricks to boost your score fast and nab great rates.

Remember that lenders love good credit scores, because they are an assurance of your financial worth. If you walk into a meeting with a lender with a low score, don’t be surprised if you can’t get the loan you’d like.

3. Figure out how much home you can afford

Next, make sure you are clear on how much home you can afford. Check out our calculator, which will help you determine your monthly mortgage payment, adjusting for variables such as the size of your down payment, the type of mortgage you will qualify for, and current interest rates. You can also get an official estimate by following our next tip.

4. Shop for a mortgage lender

“A prospective home buyer should make one of their earliest stops with a mortgage originator, to see if they can qualify for a mortgage and confirm how much of a mortgage they can afford,” says Steve Ujvagi, a Realtor® with Keller Williams Realty Atlanta Partners.

Are you unsure where you are in this process? Let me get you in touch with an expert lender who can help you make that determination. Sandra Phillips, Mortgage Consultant, from Prosperity Mortgage,  is a real pro. Get you questions answered by someone who knows… Sandra can be reached at 312-813-0939 or sandra.phillips@phmloans.com

Different mortgage shops offer a wide variety of rates and programs, so shop around to find the best rate and mortgage option for you.

5. Secure mortgage pre-approval

Once you’ve found the mortgage that’s right for you, you’ll want to show the sellers that you have what it takes to buy their home. In hot markets, a pre-approval is almost required for a seller to take your offer seriously. That’s because it spells out exactly how much a lender has agreed to loan you, assuring the seller that you’re both willing and able.

6. Save up for a down payment

To get the best rates on real estate, you’ll need to make at least a 20% down payment on a home. With the current median home price of $306,700, that comes to $61,340. That’s a lot of money!

Check out these smart ideas to help you save for a down payment. But if that amount is out of reach, don’t worry—most people put down less.

7. Sit tight!

Once you’re ramping up to buy a home, it’s wise to not make any—we repeat, any—major changes in your life or, most important, your finances.

“Do not switch jobs. Do not buy a new car. Do not even buy furniture or apply for a new credit card, which could affect your credit,” says Ujvagi. “Just a credit pull alone from a car dealership or a furniture store is enough to affect your credit score and could cause you to lose your dream home.”

This is a sensitive time for a buyer, so before you do anything, remember that you don’t want to mess things up with your credit score or your lender. If you do make a wrong step, you may not be able to qualify for the home loan.

8. Find a real estate agent

There’s no reason to go it alone—having a real estate agent helping you can make the whole process much easier.

I would love to assist you in finding the perfect home. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. Cindy Soderstrom, 708-288-2098, csoderstrom@BHHSChicago.com

“In times like these, with a limited number of homes on the market, a buyer needs a great Realtor to make sure they find their dream home,” says Ujvagi.

Referrals are often a good place to start; check with family and friends. Here’s more on how to find a real estate agent in your area.

9. Make a wish list

Of course, this list may be a very long one, but you need to be realistic about what elements are truly “wishes” and which ones are nonnegotiable—such as the number of bedrooms, a fenced yard for a pet, a specific school district, walking distance to the bus stop, etc.

Sometimes it’s helpful to divide your list into three categories: those nonnegotiable elements, followed by items that would be nice to have (e.g., a bonus room or home office), and your dream features (e.g., in-ground swimming pool).

Know that you are not likely to get everything on your checklist—but hopefully, you’ll get close!

10. Browse listings online

If we do say so ourselves, realtor.com is a great place to start to figure out what properties are available in your area in your price range. Buyers can search by price, number of bedrooms, location, and other variables to start narrowing the options.

11. Visit open houses

Poring over online listings is one thing; seeing the properties in person is quite another. Take advantage of open houses, as a low-stress way to visit several homes in one day.

Map your strategy in advance, and while you’re in each home, take photos and notes so they don’t all run together in your mind. (Now, which one had the in-room fireplace again?)

12. Check out the hood

You’ve undoubtedly heard the adage “location, location, location.” What that essentially means is that you’re not just buying the property you’re looking at; you’re also buying into the whole neighborhood.

That’s why you have to be certain that it has the vibe you want. Savvy home buyers know that the best way to find out more about the neighborhood is to meet the neighbors and then visit at various times of the day and night to see what it’s really like.

Article by Cathie Ericson

5 Telltale Signs That You May Not Be Ready To Buy a Home

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If the dream of owning a home is on your bucket list, you’ve likely combed through listings, narrowed down your home preferences, and even attended a few open houses. But while you might be mentally ready to buy a home, your financial situation might tell a different story.

“Renters who are ready for homeownership should have their financial house in order before contemplating a purchase,” says Ben Creamer, co-founder and managing broker of Downtown Realty Company in Chicago. “I tell my clients to approach buying a home as they would for their job—it requires planning, diligence, and structure to be successful.”

There are a number of monetary factors that can rule you in—or out—as a viable candidate for a mortgage. Here are some signs you’re not ready to be a homeowner.

1. Crummy credit score

Those three little numbers, which are based on your history of financial stability and how responsible you are with your credit, play a big role in the mortgage process.

“A low credit score will directly impact your ability to get a mortgage loan for a home, because it shows that you have not been responsible with managing and paying down consumer debt,” says Creamer.

He says a score that’s basement-level low—typically anything below 500—means a prospective buyer will likely not qualify for a home loan of any kind. If a credit score is low enough to flag the buyer as a credit risk, a loan may be approved but the terms will be more costly (e.g., having to pay more in loan origination points, a higher cash down payment, a higher interest rate, or all of the above).

“In the end, if you can’t manage consumer debt, you’re not ready for mortgage debt,” says Creamer.

On the other hand, having a high credit score (typically above 740) significantly improves your chances of receiving your loan’s lowest possible interest rate, says Lauren Brown, a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in San Diego.

“This way you can save thousands of dollars over the life of your loan,” she says.

2. Patchy job history

Lenders want to see a stable job history, so switching jobs every year or so might not look great.

“Job stability is vital to pre-qualifying for a loan to purchase a home. Most lenders require not only proof of employment but also ask for up to 12 months of financial statements to ensure you are qualified to take on a mortgage,” says Brown.

Creamer says a home purchase is not something that should be done on a whim, since the buyer is responsible for the mortgage payment every month for the next 30 years. 

“Banks want to see a steady, uninterrupted stream of income from a borrower. A prospective buyer who can’t commit to a job might want to rethink committing to a 30-year mortgage payment,” says Creamer.

3. Not enough money saved for a down payment

If you’re looking to buy a home, you should have saved and built a nest egg that can cover a down payment and any unforeseen expenses that may come up during the purchasing process.

“It’d be wise to save enough to cover at least a 20% down payment,” says Brown. This amount is typically recommended since it means the lender won’t require you to also pay for private mortgage insurance.

Of course, 20% down is not always realistic for most buyers. In fact, the average down payment in January 2020 was just 11.4%, according to real estate data firm Optimal Blue. That’s why, at the beginning of your home search, you should find an experienced real estate agent or lender that can give you a realistic picture of how much house you can afford and how much of a down payment you’ll need.

Are you unsure where you are in this process? Let me get you in touch with an expert lender who can help you make that determination. Sandra Phillips, Mortgage Consultant, from Prosperity Mortgage,  is a real pro. Get you questions answered by someone who knows… Sandra can be reached at 312-813-0939 or sandra.phillips@phmloans.com

4. You can’t get a favorable loan

When shopping for loans you’ll become quite familiar with mortgage interest rates, aka the extra fee you pay your lender (based on your total loan amount) for loaning you the cash you need to buy a home.

Your financial situation determines the type of rates you qualify for, as well as the upfront fees you may have to pay. But if you’re not pleased with the terms of your mortgage, you shouldn’t move forward with the purchase.

“A higher percentage interest rate may not seem like a big deal, but it actually translates to tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of the loan. It’s better to hold off on buying until you can secure a more favorable loan,” says Creamer.

Brown advises speaking with your lender about developing a course of action to improve the terms of your loan.

5. Too much debt

Someone who is drowning in debt should tread carefully before juggling a home mortgage loan. 

“If you haven’t managed your consumer debt wisely, you’re not ready to take on a sizable mortgage debt,” says Creamer.

Brown says in a lender’s eyes, you probably can’t afford to add a mortgage payment to your budget if your other bills eat up 50% of your monthly income. She says it would be best to pay off any debts before purchasing a home.

Article by Anayat Durrani

A Car Repair Shop in Chicago Is Transformed Into an Amazing Modern Residence

realtor.com

A showcase for Tracy Hickman’s interior-design prowess, the 7,000-square-foot home she shared with her husband  in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood is up for sale, with a price tag of $3.35 million.

The couple lived in the auto-body shop turned single-family home with their two large Newfoundland dogs for nearly a decade. It has four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms.

“Their dream was to find a large commercial space to renovate,” says the listing agent, Jon Dimetros of Main Street Real Estate Group.

The couple put in the arduous conversion work, and the result is a gorgeous home with all the living space on one level—practically unheard of in a metro area where additional space can only be constructed vertically.

They paid $882,500 for the historic property in 2009, and the couple wrapped up renovations in 2011.

“The first two homes they had were more traditional, in Lakeview and Lincoln Park,” says Dimetros.

By contrast, he says, the bones of this building are not traditional. Details of the 1908 building in Logan Square included Venetian plaster, original beams, and 14-foot ceilings.

Hickman’s touches include stone pavers imported from France, a suede-paneled front door, Hope’s Windows NYC steel doors, St. Andrews limestone counters, bowstring trusses, and custom lighting from a variety of designers.

Luxe interior perks added by Hickman include a wine cellar, gym, and chef-grade kitchen.

Exterior of home in Logan Square, Chicagorealtor.com
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“They had to completely relay the foundation. They’ve kept all the original wood, but had to sandblast the beautiful truss wood,” says Dimetros.

The couple tore up a parking lot in favor of green space that includes reflection ponds, a basalt patio, and grill station, he adds. Parking is now in a four-car garage.

“The home is super large, but it’s cozy and easy to navigate. The attention to detail, along with the design, is what makes this property unique,” he says.

Mammoth Distillery, which Hickman and her husband founded in Traverse City, MI, six years ago, now requires more of their hands-on attention. As a result, they’re leaving Chicago after 30 years, and are ready to hand over the keys to the next owner.

Dimetros thinks the lucky buyers will be surprised to learn how much space they can get in the city.

“It’s the closest you’ll get to large-scale suburban living in the city of Chicago,” he says. “You just don’t find that.”

The ideal buyers, he says, might be a younger couple with or without children who want city amenities, as well as everything the suburbs have to offer. Alternatively, he says, they might be empty nesters from the suburbs or a city high-rise.

Logan Square is a 15-minute drive to downtown Chicago (the commute doubles during rush hour). That’s a breeze compared to North Shore spreads, where a commute can take up to 90 minutes.

“Close but with a lot of square footage” is the key phrase Dimetros has been using to market the property. But we’re partial to the phrase he chose in the listing details: “an urban oasis.”

Article by Kristine Hansen

It’s a Shake-Up! These 10 Drastically Different Design Trends Will Be Everywhere in 2021—and Beyond

Interior Obsession/Houzz

We’re finally closing the book on 2020, and many of us have never felt more desperate for a fresh start and a new beginning. And since it’s not like we’re leaving the house anytime soon, it makes perfect sense that the first place to start anew would be at home. (Plus, decorating and home renovation projects are a pretty good distraction from ever-present existential dread, if we do say so ourselves.)

If you’re looking to do a design overhaul, you’re probably also looking for some inspiration—so we asked real estate and design experts to weigh in on what they anticipate will be the biggest home trends of 2021. It turns out, with all the stress that 2020 brought to our lives, it also influenced some defining changes in the way we decorate, design, and live in our homes.

So get cozy on your sunken-in couch cushion—you know, the one you’ve barely left since March 14—and join along for some inspiration as we prepare for the new year.

1. Dedicated home offices

Photo by Gina Sims Designs

We can probably all admit: Working from the kitchen table was kind of cute when you thought you would be doing it for only a few weeks. But now? Not so much. That’s why, in 2021 (and beyond) home offices will be more important than ever.

“One of the most prevalent design trends currently is adding or renovating home offices. People are working from home and do not want to field calls from the kitchen table,” says Simon Isaacs, owner/broker of Simon Isaacs Real Estate.

If you don’t have a spare room for an office, there are plenty of ways to get creative and set up a space with some personality. In fact, one of the biggest trends on Pinterest this year is the rise of the “cloffice,” a portmanteau of “closet” and “office.”

“I’ve seen clients transform hall closets into amazing offices with high-gloss paint, some wallpaper, and a few shelves,” Isaacs says. “A can of paint can go a long way.”

2. Clearly delineated spaces

Photo by Nicholas Design Collaborative

t’s quaint to think back on our obsession with open floor plans. They’re not completely passé (yet), but people are increasingly interested in closing off those wide-open spaces we so used to covet.

“The pandemic has completely shaped home design trends for 2020 and 2021,” Isaacs says. “Not only do people want to create a cozy shared living space, but they also are carving out areas to have some space to themselves.”

“The trend will be to create different living spaces within the open floor plan so people will have pockets or nooks in the home for e-learning, Zoom calls, a conversation, lounging, exercising, etc.,” adds Julie Busby, founder of the Busby Group at Compass in Chicago.

The need for separate spaces is also shifting home buyers’ priorities in the new year.

“New buyers are asking for homes with more separation, as sometimes multigenerational families share a home and need space and privacy amongst themselves,” says Yorgos Tsibiridis, a Hamptons broker at Douglas Elliman.

3. Houseplants and indoor gardens

Photo by Chris Barrett Design

“During the pandemic when it was difficult for some to get their daily dose of nature, people started bringing the outdoors in with natural materials in their home,” Busby says.

With the pandemic raging on, the pros say the indoor houseplant trend is here to stay—which is good news for your collection of monsteras and air plants.

“For houseplants, definitely do your homework before investing,” she says. “Take into account your natural light, exposures, and how much you will remember to water.”

4. Rattan accents

Photo by studio three beau

In line with the houseplant trend, natural materials are having a “huge moment,” Busby says. In particular, rattan is the material du jour, appearing everywhere from drink holders to bed frames.

Try out the trend by choosing a rattan accessory or accent piece that you love; just don’t go overboard.

“Rattan is best in small doses, so pick your favorite piece and work from there,” Busby suggests.

5. Wood-grain kitchen cabinets and counters

Photo by Buckminster Green LLC

Organic touches are also sprouting up in the heart of the home: the kitchen.

“For the kitchen, our designer members are seeing more minimalist styles with touches of organic and natural materials such as wood grain—perhaps as part of a desire to connect with nature,” says Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Instead of painted kitchen cabinets or the ubiquitous all-white kitchen, expect to see homeowners embracing a more natural look with wood-grain cabinets and wood countertops on islands.

6. Next-level playgrounds

Photo by RVM Construction Inc.

Speaking of connecting with nature, 2020 has taken our cabin fever to record levels. Experts say enhanced outdoor spaces will continue to trend in the new year—including elaborate custom playgrounds, which Isaacs says are one of the hottest trends he’s seeing right now in South Florida.

To create the ultimate kids’ club, homeowners are even going beyond store-bought swingsets and adding zip lines, adventure courses, and climbing walls to their backyard playgrounds.

7. Outdoor kitchens

Photo by E2 Homes

Multiseason spaces that feature “fireplaces or fire pits, patio/deck areas, or screened-in porches that can be used year-round” are on the rise, Darcy says. That includes outdoor kitchens, which have become more popular than ever during the pandemic.

An outdoor kitchen can be as elaborate (read: expensive) or as modest as you like. Some homeowners may simply add an outdoor refrigerator and dining area to the backyard to create an expanded entertaining space. Others will invest in a stovetop, ample counter space, and appliances to create a fully equipped outdoor kitchen.

8. Smart bathroom innovations

Photo by Change Your Bathroom, Inc.

We won’t soon forget the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, when grocery shelves were cleared of Charmin and bidets sold out at home improvement stores.

Never embraced the bidet in your home bathroom? Well, hold on to your butts: That’s just the start of things—you can expect to see a slew of new bathroom innovations in 2021 as homeowners continue to focus more than ever on hygiene (and perhaps prepare for the next Great Toilet Paper Shortage).

“Touchless appliances, including motion sensors for lighting, and smart temperature control for bathroom floors will be more popular in the next year,” Darcy says.

9. Retro furniture and color palettes

Photo by Elad Gonen

The pandemic brought on a serious wave of nostalgia for people seeking comfort from the past, and Busby says that wistfulness will influence our home decor in 2021.

Expect to see funky color palettes (think mauve, forest green, and burnt orange) and furniture throwbacks like ’80s curves and ’90s traditionalism.

“I think people are nostalgic for simpler times, and we are seeing this desire reflected back in home design,” Busby says.

An easy way to try the trend for yourself is with a quick coat of paint.

“Pick a bold color and one wall, or a smaller bathroom, and paint your way back to the ’80s or ’90s,” Busby says.

10. Cozy, layered vibes

Photo by Urbanology Designs

“Overall, the design pendulum is swinging to be more traditional,” Busby says.

That means warm colors and natural wood in lieu of cool grays and blues. Instead of stark white minimalism, expect to see more color and personality in 2021’s home decor—less uber-modern and more boho chic.

So go ahead and pile on those mismatched blankets and throw pillows, and don’t be afraid to embrace a design that reflects your personality.

“People want to feel at ease in their homes now more than ever,” she says. “Before the pandemic, people may have put form before function to create the out-of-a-magazine look for their living room. Trends now lean toward a more casual and layered aesthetic.”

Article by Lauren Sieben

Cheesy Spinach-&-Artichoke Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Eating Well

 

This spaghetti-squash-for-pasta swap slashes both carbs and calories by 75 percent for a delicious, creamy casserole you can feel good about eating. It’s worth roasting the squash versus cooking it in the microwave if you have the time: the flavor gets sweeter and more intense.

 

 

Ingredients

Directions

  • Place squash cut-side down in a microwave-safe dish; add 2 tablespoons water. Microwave, uncovered, on High until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place squash halves cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F until tender, 40 to 50 minutes.)

  • Meanwhile, combine spinach and the remaining 1 tablespoon water in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

  • Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

  • Use a fork to scrape the squash from the shells into the bowl. Place the shells on a baking sheet. Stir artichoke hearts, cream cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, salt and pepper into the squash mixture. Divide it between the squash shells and top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Broil until the cheese is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and basil, if desired.

Nutrition Facts

223 calories; protein 10.2g; carbohydrates 23.3g; dietary fiber 8.6g; fat 10.9g; saturated fat 5.7g; cholesterol 28.2mg; vitamin a iu 3155.5IU; vitamin c 14.7mg; folate 135.6mcg; calcium 281.4mg; iron 1.9mg; magnesium 81.9mg; potassium 481.5mg; sodium 528.3mg.

A Happier New Year: Eviction, Foreclosure Freeze Extended Into 2021 for Lucky Few

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Many renters and homeowners won’t have to worry about losing the roof over their heads this new year. At least not at first.

The Federal Housing Administration announced on Monday that it is extending the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums through February. They were set to expire at the end of the year.

Protections for homeowners with government-backed mortgages who lost income due to the pandemic have been in place since March. A less robust patchwork of local, state, and federal protections for renters began around the same time for renters living in homes with similarly federally backed mortgages.

While these extensions are likely to bring relief to millions of Americans, they only continue to protect a fraction of those struggling as the pandemic has upended the economy, leaving millions still out of work.

The two-month moratoriums cover only renters and homeowners living in single-family homes with FHA-issued mortgages. That means only about 1 in 4 renters is protected along with just over half of homeowners, roughly 28 million, with government-backed mortgages.

“Today’s foreclosure moratorium and forbearance extensions for single family homeowners ensure American homeowners continue to have the critical relief and support they need to get back to financial stability,” Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said in a statement. HUD oversees the FHA.       

Homeowners will have until the end of February to request a COVID-19 forbearance from their lenders. If they can show financial hardships brought on by the pandemic, they will be allowed to defer their mortgage payments for up to a year. This is the fourth moratorium extension.

Should you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Cindy Soderstrom at BHHS-Chicago, csoderstrom@bhhschicago.com or 708-288-2098.
Legal questions may be directed to Philip Fornaro at Fornaro Law, www.FornaroLaw.com or 708-639-4320

Renters are particularly vulnerable. In a typical year, about 3.7 million evictions are filed—roughly 1 every 7 minutes, Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” told National Public Radio.

Even during the pandemic, with all of the additional protections, landlords filed 162,563 in the 27 cities tracked by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which is spearheaded by Desmond.

Nearly 7 million to 14 million households are at risk of eviction, according to investment bank and consulting firm Stout Risius Ross.

Their households earned a median $40,500 in 2018—almost half of the $78,000 for homeowner households, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Homeowners, who are often in better financial shape, are likely to fare better. Many lenders take their cues from the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. So if the government is offering forbearance, then some lenders will follow suit.

“COVID-19 has created hardships for millions of Americans,” said FHA Commissioner Dana Wade in a statement. “American homeowners should not be forced from their homes while they are seeking help.”

Should you have questions or concerns about your current situation, please feel free to reach out.

Article by Clare Trapasso 

5 Red Flags That Could Sink a Home Inspection

BanksPhotos/iStock

You’ve found the perfect house, located right near that cool new shopping area and the best schools. It even has the right number of bathrooms! Swoon. It’s time to sign the paperwork and move in … or is it?

Up until now, you’ve likely been blinded by the sparkling granite counters and the hardwood floors in every room. (Squee!) But before you blindly forge ahead, you’ll want to get a home inspection—and before that, you’ll want to check the house yourself for any red flags that might make an inspector tell you this particular piece of real estate could be more trouble than it’s worth. Check out these warning signs —and what they may take to fix (brace yourself).

1. Sewer issues

What to look for: You don’t have to tell us twice that a sewer issue can quickly turn into a stinky situation. Standing water in the yard, signs of flooding in the basement, and heaved walkways are telltale signs of a blockage or break in the underground sewer line that connects to the sewer main in the front of a home, says Bill Erickson, real estate agent and national director of National Property Inspections.

The cost: Repairing sewer pipes can cost up to $100 a foot, says Erickson, citing a recent situation where a disconnected pipe resulted in an estimate for $10,000.

2. Faulty electrical system

What to look for: If the home that’s caught your eye was built before the ‘70s, you might have more than lingering shag carpet and wood paneling to worry about. Hazardous electrical wiring such as knob and tube wiringand aluminum branch circuit wiring are two of the biggest offenders that could put your home at risk of fire.

Numerous extension cords can be a big tipoff that your electrical system is stuck in the disco era, says Kathleen Kuhn, president of national home inspection franchise HouseMaster. Another sign is a lack of ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuits near a water source, such as in the kitchen or bathroom. These are designed to protect you from electrical shock because they monitor electricity flowing in a circuit and sense a loss of current.

The cost: If you need to upgrade the electrical panel to make your system more efficient, expect to spend about $1,000 to $3,000, depending on your area and the size of the panel, Kuhn says. Each additional outlet will cost $150-plus each, she says. Rewiring the home will run about $10,000 and up.

3. Foundation cracks

What to look for: Don’t worry about every little hairline or corner crack, says Erickson, since for the most part they are caused by normal settling and are relatively easy to repair. But be aware of cracks that are a quarter-inch wide anywhere on the foundation or horizontal cracks, which generally result from hydrostatic pressure against the home’s foundation, says Kuhn.

In fact, this one is such a big deal that ”usually only flippers, developers, and people considering demolishing a house will consider a property with foundation damage,” says William Fastow, associate broker with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty in Washington, DC.

The cost: Foundation repairs can vary dramatically depending on the cause and remedy, but rarely is the repair under several thousand dollars, Kuhn says. A localized repair can possibly be achieved for as little as $1,500 to $5,000, but varying foundation types and significant or widespread issues can easily exceed $10,000, especially if excavation is needed.

4. Worn roofing

What to look for: The best way to confirm roof life is to go up on a ladder to check it out, of course, but there are ways you can speculate about a faulty roof by staying on solid ground.

“Water stains on the ceiling could indicate a leaky roof, and freshly painted ceilings could be a sign that the sellers are attempting to cover up the problem,” warns Erickson. Also look for excessive vegetation outside, which could be hiding roof damage, as well as curling, buckling, or missing shingles.

The cost: A new roof can range from $2,000 to $10,000 and up, Erickson says. You’ll want to note if it’s a single or double roof, as that will determine the cost. With a single layer of shingles, another can go right over the first layer; but if it’s a double layer, code requires both layers to be removed, leaving you to start from scratch.

5. Old pipes

What to look for: Turn on the faucet to see if the water pressure is low and to listen for gurgling: Either could indicate that your house has older galvanized piping or inadequate piping, Kuhn says. You also should check exposed pipes for signs of corrosion (e.g., discoloration and flaking).

If your house was built between 1978 and 1995, it might have polybutylene water supply pipes, which were part of a class-action lawsuit in the 2000s that found the pipes degrade and break down, causing leaks, says Scott Brown, owner of Brightside Home Inspections in Syracuse, NY.

“They will eventually fail, so homeowners risk flooding their home if they don’t replace these faulty pipes,” he warns.

The cost: Full replacement with a more modern product like PEX will cost $5,000 and up, or double that for copper pipes, Brown estimates.

Article by Cathie Ericson 

5 Times Landlords Are Willing To Renovate Your Apartment—and Even Pay for It

Highwaystarz-Photography / Getty Images

Renters often bemoan the fact that they’re not allowed to renovate their space. They assume their landlord would never splurge on fancy upgrades like a new sink or washer and dryer—or if they do, they’d wait until the current tenant moves out.

But is this true? Based on the landlords and real estate experts we talked to, we found that under certain circumstances, landlords are actually happy to renovate—and to foot the bill.

Timing is everything! So whether you’re pining for an updated kitchen or new flooring, don’t assume it’s hopeless until you’ve pinpointed these choice times when landlords might be ready and willing to hear you out.

1. Something’s broken, and needs to be repaired or replaced

If something in your unit is broken, such as the kitchen sink, you have grounds to propose not just a repair, but a replacement or even an upgrade.

“In my experience, the best opportunity for upgrades will occur when there’s a repair or problem to be fixed,” says Brad Creger, a financial adviser with landlords as clients. “The landlord will need to spend the money anyway, so often it makes sense to fully improve the situation, versus patch up the problem only to have it resurface later.”

Keep in mind that while an apartment serves as your home, it’s a business to the landlord, which means keeping expenses down is always the goal. Think back to the broken kitchen sink—upgrading to a brand-new one will set your landlord back a few hundred dollars. Factor in labor costs, and the total bill may be anywhere between $500 to $1,000. However, if the original sink instead requires fixes every two to three months at $100 to $200 every visit, it may be wiser for your landlord to pay more now to save money later.

“Appeal to the real estate investor in your landlord,” says Brian Davis, a career landlord and co-founder of SparkRental.com. “You think of the unit as your home, but they think of it as an investment that costs them a massive amount of money and must produce a healthy return to be worth the headache.”

2. Your lease is almost up—and you’re thinking of moving

If you haven’t told your landlord whether or not you will renew your lease, now is the time to negotiate in the form of a few upgrades. It’s likely a few improvements would have happened after you moved out anyway, in preparation for a new tenant.

“Tell the landlord you’d be willing to renew, perhaps for a longer-term lease, if he is willing to upgrade a couple of components of the apartment,” says Davis. “Since turnovers are the most expensive and the most labor-intensive periods for landlords, many are happy to put a certain amount of money into upgrading the unit simply to avoid the cost and hassle of a turnover.”

“Stability in vacancy does more for the bottom line than the cost of renovations,” says James Watson, who owns and oversees a 100-unit rental portfolio in Nebraska. “I know we have plans to renovate all of our rental units as they become vacant. Chances are, plans for renovations are in place once the tenant’s current lease is up anyway, so it doesn’t hurt to ask in exchange for locking in another lease.”

3. The upgrade will add long-term value to your landlord’s investment

Certain upgrades can offer landlords a decent return on investment—particularly if they will survive the existing tenant, enhance the property value, and justify higher rents down the line. Suggest these types of improvements.

“Temporary improvements that will only last the duration of your tenancy, such as repainting, are generally not worth it to landlords,” explains Davis. “The landlord will probably have to do that anyway after you move out, so they have no incentive whatsoever to make them while you continue living there. However, new kitchen and bathroom components tend to offer a high return on investment, and make a great starting point to your proposal.”

Before you approach your landlord, try to get as much information as possible regarding your desired upgrade, including total costs, expected time to complete, and the return on investment.

Plus, if you’re handy, “offer to do some of the work yourself,” Davis adds. “Showcase the savings that the landlord would see by hiring you, in exchange for free or reduced rent, versus a typical contractor.”

4. The upgrade will save on your landlord’s insurance

Another way to sweet-talk a landlord into renovating is to highlight how certain upgrades might help save money on his home insurance.

“We rented an old and drafty four-story home in suburban Boston, and when we grew frustrated with the rattling windows and the overused furnace, we signed up for a free in-home energy assessment,” says Lydia Auchtung, a longtime renter. “We did it out of curiosity, expecting thousands of dollars worth of upgrades would be needed. But their price tag only came to a bit over a thousand dollars for insulating the entire attic and some pipes, as well as taking care of sealing the windows.”

As a result, “we pitched our landlord on the fact that the improvements would help him steer clear of home insurance claims on frozen broken pipes and water damage nightmares, resulting in the additional possibility of paying more for his insurance,” Auchtung says. “That spin brought him in, and he ended up saving 15% on his insurance premium.”

5. You’re willing to pay more in rent

If all else fails, there’s always one option that may work: Offer to pay more in rent, if your budget allows.

“If the landlord sees the renovation as something that adds long-term value, they’ll likely go for it, but they’ll typically expect you to pay a bit more in rent,” says Andrew Weinberger, CEO of PropertyClub, a real estate startup based in New York City.

The one caveat? “Just make sure it makes sense for you costwise,” Weinberger says. “For example, one of the most common requests tenants have is for a washer and dryer. While paying an extra $100 per month might make sense if you’re only going to live there for a year, it makes no sense if you plan on living there long-term. You’d simply be better off buying your own.”

Article by Clarissa Buch

How Much Home Can I Afford? Find That Magic Number Here

Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images

How much house can I afford? Long before you start asking yourself what type of house you want—condo or house? Craftsman or ranch?—you should ask yourself this pragmatic question.

After all, it’s no secret that your dream home can quickly turn into a living nightmare if you’re struggling to save for a down payment or wonder how you’ll afford your monthly payments.

These days, lenders are less likely than ever to loan you more than you can easily manage, and often require a substantial down payment. But the good news is that mortgage interest rates are at historic lows of late, which means it’s cheaper than ever to buy a house since you’ll be paying less in interest over time.

Nonetheless, for your own sanity, it’s smart to take charge of coming up with an affordable figure for a down payment, and your monthly mortgage payments. That way, you can shop within your price range—because let’s face it, nothing’s more of a downer than finding your dream home only to discover after the fact that it’s out of reach.

All of this means that before you start checking out houses, it’s good to determine from the get-go what home price you can afford, including what the mortgage payment would be and how much you need for a down payment. We’re on the case! Here’s how to find that magic number for you.

How much house can I afford?

One of the most basic equations you can use to figure out home affordability is your debt-to-income ratio. This is essentially a way for you (and lenders) to compare your monthly income with how much you owe—and how a house can fit into that picture.

As a general rule, your debt-to-income ratio should remain below 36%, says David Feldberg, broker and owner of Coastal Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, CA.

Here’s how to figure it out: Calculate how much your monthly payments go toward debt—that’s things like car payments, credit cards, and student loans (rent should not be included in this calculation). Once you have that number, divide that amount by your monthly income.

Let’s say, for instance, that every month you’re paying $500 to monthly debts and pulling in $6,000. Divide $500 by $6,000 and you have a debt-to-income ratio of 0.083, or 8.3%. That’s well below 36%, but then again, you don’t own a home yet.

Once you know your income and debt, you can plug those numbers into a home affordability calculator to see how much house you can afford while still remaining below that 36% debt-to-income ratio.

Let’s take the aforementioned example, where you make $6,000 a month and pay $500 in debts. Now let’s assume you’ve got around $30,000 for a down payment and have a good credit score. With current interest rates lingering in the 3% range, this will put you in the ballpark of affording a home worth $267,800.

So what does this amount to for a monthly payment? To know that, you’ll want to factor in more than just your monthly mortgage payment. There are other expenses, including property taxes and mortgage insurance. Add those in, and a mortgage calculator will reveal you’ll be paying about $1,662 for the privilege of owning this house.

How to calculate how much home you can afford

Of course, these numbers will change with a homeowner’s circumstances, as will how much house you can afford, how quickly you can save for a down payment, and how much you’ll be able to spend on a monthly mortgage payment.

Let’s say you were given a raise and now make $8,000 per month. Take those same numbers above (a down payment of $30,000 on a 30-year fixed interest rate mortgage in the 3% range) and you’d be able to afford a home worth $364,500, with a monthly payment of $2,386.

Or let’s say you make $8,000 per month and are able to whittle your debt in half, down to $250 per month. That would mean how much house you can afford is in the area of $400,100, with payments of $2,632 per month.

How mortgage pre-approval can help

One way to get some help calculating how much house you can afford is by talking with a lender about getting a mortgage pre-approval. This is where a lender scrutinizes your finances and then agrees to loan you a certain amount of money to buy a house.

Since lenders won’t loan you more money than they think you can easily pay back, pre-approval is a good way to gauge what price you can pay for a house. However, you should also know that your pre-approved amount is often more than you might be able to afford if you factor in additional expenses.

As you can see, when you’re trying to figure out how much house you can afford, the details matter, so be sure to take all of them into account. In other words, don’t look at just your salary, or just how much your monthly mortgage payments will be.

Factor in student loan debt, mortgage insurance, down payment, and other expenses related to buying a house or your monthly bills. The clearer the picture you have of your financial commitments, the easier it will be to figure out how much house you can afford without getting in over your head.

Article by Cathie Ericson

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Forever Changed the Process of Selling a House

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In normal circumstances, selling a house involves interacting with a lot of people. In-person house tours, roundtable closings, and handshakes are all standard formalities.

But in a world rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, safety and social distancing are a must, and real estate professionals and sellers have had to adapt to a new way of doing business. That means altering how they approach open houses, closings, and even personal greetings. (We’re all too familiar with the elbow bump.)

“It has been amazing to see how quickly our industry has evolved,” says Tricia Hausler, director of sales for Lexington Homes. “We have banded together throughout the many facets of our industry to create positive solutions that allow us to continue to comfortably and safely serve our prospective clients and buyers.”

Many of these safety solutions—like self-guided house tours while wearing personal protective equipment—are still in place in states seeing surges of the coronavirus infection. But even after rates fall out of the high-risk zone and a COVID-19 vaccine has been widely distributed, experts predict some of these solutions will have staying power.

The pandemic ushered in many new methods to facilitate selling a home. Here are some of the practices experts say are here to stay.

Curbside and no-touch closings

Perhaps the most exciting part of the home-selling process is closing day. It means that your house is finally sold! But curbside and no-touch closings were enacted during the pandemic to comply with social distancing recommendations.

How does a curbside closing work? According to Chicago-based title insurance firm Proper Title LLC, a title expert walks out to the client’s car to gather signatures on paperwork that an attorney has prepared ahead of time, instead of the traditional process of completing all the paperwork with an attorney in a conference room.

And in instances where remote online notarizations or remote ink notarizations are permitted, all documents can be signed remotely through an approved online notary platform (e.g., Notarize) or audiovisual portal (e.g., Microsoft Teams).

Moving forward, experts can see curbside and no-touch closings becoming the norm.

“Everyone is looking to save more time in their lives, and that’s exactly what curbside and no-touch closings let us do,” says Kathy J. Kwak, executive vice president of operations and counsel for Proper Title LLC. “These new closing options not only reduce travel times for most parties involved, but they also help mitigate some of the scheduling challenges that surrounded the closing process before the pandemic.”

Kwak says most of their clients appreciate the changes made and would like to continue with these new closing procedures postpandemic.

Goodbye, out-of-focus photos and meager listing descriptions

Any well-informed seller knows that high-quality listing photos and a gripping listing description of your home are vital to attract buyers. But presenting your home in its best light online was more important than ever during the pandemic, when in-person open houses were limited.

“The pandemic only accelerated the need for agents to be more virtually literate and use heavy images in their listings,” says Greg Phillips, designated managing broker for Baird & Warner’s Northwest Suburban office in Arlington Heights, IL. “Many agents started to leverage social media by posting video tours of homes on Instagram or Facebook Live, which have been very well-received by buyers.”

Phillips says his company has also seen great responses to its detailed online listings.

From here on out, the more details the better! Standard marketing of a home is likely to include professional photos, virtual tours, and a compelling description of the property.

Virtual showings are here to stay

Open houses—whether limited capacity or not—will always be a part of the process, but virtual showings are truly the future of selling a home.

“Virtual showings through 3D videos have already revolutionized the way our industry does business and likely will continue to do so,” says Kirste Gaudet, broker for @properties in Chicago. “The 3D tours are so realistic that we may be able to put open houses to rest. I find that my clients now want them as part of the marketing effort.”

Phillips says going forward, virtual tours will be used to complement in-person open houses, and that buyers are using virtual tours as a way to narrow down their choices before visiting a property in person.

Buying sight unseen

For some people, buying a home without ever setting foot inside sounds insane. But the pandemic actually saw a spike in these types of sales!

“I had three sales from out-of-town buyers who purchased properties sight unseen,” says Gaudet. “I conducted showings through FaceTime and was able to capture details—showing every nook and cranny—and home in on specifics.”

Liz Brooks, executive vice president of marketing and sales for developer Belgravia Group, says even before the pandemic, they had experience selling homes sight unseen using virtual reality in their sales galleries.

“We expect that after a vaccine is widely available, buyers will embrace this tool again to help them envision their new home before they step foot in it,” say Brooks.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Jewish American Chinese restaurant patronage

My Jewish Learning

Jewish American Chinese restaurant patronage became prominent in the 20th century, especially among Jewish New Yorkers. It has received attention as a paradoxical form of assimilation by embracing an unfamiliar cuisine that eased the consumption of non-kosher foods.

A common stereotype, the relationship Jewish people have with Chinese restaurants during Christmas is well documented. The definitive scholarly and popular treatment of this subject appears in the book A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish by Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, Ph.D. in the third chapter entitled “We Eat Chinese Food on Christmas.” The origin of Jews eating Chinese food dates to the end of the 19th century on the Lower East Side, Manhattan, because Jews and the Chinese lived in proximity to each other. There were around a million Eastern European Jews living in New York around 1910 and the Jews constituted over “one quarter of the city’s population.” The majority of the Chinese immigrated to the Lower East Side from California after the 1880s and many of them went into the restaurant business.

Mental Floss

The first mention of the Jewish population eating Chinese food was in 1899 in the American Hebrew Weekly journal. They criticized Jews for eating at non-kosher restaurants, particularly singling out Chinese food. Jews continued to eat at these establishments. In 1936, it was reported that there were eighteen Chinese restaurants open in heavily populated Jewish areas in the Lower East Side. Jews felt more comfortable at these restaurants than they did at the Italian or German eateries that were prevalent during this time period. Joshua Plaut wrote of the origin of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas: “It dates at least as early as 1935 when The New York Timesreported a certain restaurant owner named Eng Shee Chuck who brought chow mein on Christmas Day to the Jewish Children’s Home in Newark. Over the years, Jewish families and friends gather on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Chinese restaurants across the United States to socialize and to banter, to reinforce social and familiar bonds, and to engage in a favorite activity for Jews during the Christmas holiday. The Chinese restaurant has become a place where Jewish identity is made, remade and announced.”

Getty Images

The relationship that Jews have with Chinese food runs deeper than stereotype. “Eating Chinese [food] has become a meaningful symbol of American Judaism… For in eating Chinese, the Jews found a modern means of expressing their traditional cultural values. The savoring of Chinese food is now a ritualized celebration of immigration, education, family, community, and continuity.” Chinese food is considered a staple in the Jewish culture, and the further option of kosher Chinese food is also becoming more available in the US.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Serving Those Who Served Our Country

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loan is a popular homebuyer choice, but is also available if you’re refinancing your mortgage. These loans must meet certain requirements.

VA Loans

This type of loan is guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It was created to help make housing affordable for eligible U.S. veterans and members of the military. VA home loans are available to veterans, reservists, active-duty military personnel, and surviving spouses of veterans with 100% entitlement. Eligible veterans may be able to buy a home with no down payment, refinance up to 100% of the home’s value and pay no private mortgage insurance.

Benefits

  • Provides a wide range of rate, term and cost options.
  • Doesn’t require monthly mortgage insurance.
  • No down payment required

Considerations

  • Typically requires a one-time VA funding fee that can be financed into the loan amount
  • Only available for a primary residence

These programs have special requirements to qualify. Talk to your local Mortgage Consultant, Sandra Philips, 312-813- 0939 to see if you qualify today. For more information, please visit her website at https://sandraphillips.phmloans.com/