Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween can be the spookiest night of the year, but keeping your pets safe doesn’t have to be tricky. The ASPCA recommends taking these simple, common sense precautions to keep your pet happy and healthy all the way to November 1.

Stash the Treats
The candy bowl is for trick-or-treaters, not Scruffy or Fluffy. Several popular Halloween treats are toxic to pets. Chocolate in all forms—especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for cats and dogs, and sugar-free candies containing the sugar substitute xylitol can cause serious problems in pets. If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 immediately.

Watch the Decorations and Keep Wires Out of Reach
While a carved jack-o-lantern certainly is festive, pets can easily knock over a lit pumpkin and start a fire. Curious kittens are especially at risk of getting burned or singed by candle flame. Popular Halloween plants such as pumpkins and decorative corn are considered relatively nontoxic, but can produce stomach discomfort in pets who nibble on them.

Be Careful with Costumes
For some pets, wearing a costume may cause undue stress. The ASPCA recommends that you don’t put your dog or cat in a costume unless you know he or she loves it. If you do dress up your pet for Halloween, make sure the costume does not limit his or her movement, sight or ability to breathe, bark or meow. Check the costume carefully for small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that could present a choking hazard. Ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.

Be sure to have your pet try on the costume before the big night. If he or she seems distressed or shows abnormal behavior, consider letting your pet wear his or her “birthday suit” or don a festive bandana instead.

Keep Pets Calm and Easily Identifiable
Halloween brings a flurry of activity with visitors arriving at the door, and too many strangers can often be scary and stressful for pets. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours. While opening the door for guests, be sure that your dog or cat doesn’t dart outside. And always make sure your pet it wearing proper identification—if for any reason he or she does escape, a collar with ID tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver for a lost pet.

How To Make The Best Pumpkin Soup Ever

Ready for the best pumpkin soup recipe ever? A bowl of this thick and creamy soup spiced with turmeric will warm your body and soul.
Recipe by: Felicia Lim

Tools

  • Baking tray
  • Large skillet
  • Wooden spoon
  • Blender

Ingredients

  • 1 medium kabocha pumpkin (or 3 cups organic pumpkin purée)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 t turmeric
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups chicken bone broth
  • 2 T full-fat coconut cream
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pumpkin seeds, for topping

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Cut the pumpkin in half and place halves skin-side down on a baking tray. Roast for 45 minutes, or until fork tender.
  • While the pumpkin is roasting, sauté the onions and garlic in a large skillet until the onions are tender and translucent (about 10 minutes).
  • Add the turmeric, bay leaves, and stock, and let the ingredients simmer for 15 minutes on low heat.
  • When the pumpkin is done roasting, scrape out the flesh with a spoon or fork and add the flesh to the skillet. Mix well and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • Transfer the ingredients to a blender; blend for 20 to 30 seconds, until you get a thick and creamy mixture.
  • Return the mixture to the skillet over medium-low heat, mix in the coconut cream, and then add salt to taste.
  • Divide the pumpkin soup evenly between bowls, top with pumpkin seeds, and serve.

Tip: If you don’t have fresh pumpkin available, you can also use organic canned pumpkin purée – just make sure it’s 100% pumpkin with no added sugars or preservatives.

6 Reasons Why Selling a House in the Winter May Be the Best Decision Ever

Spring is generally the most popular time of year to sell a house, with hordes of buyers looking to move into a new place before the school year begins. But if you decide to sell your home during the winter, experts say you could reap a reward in cold, hard cash.

“I have personally had my best months in real estate during the holiday season, so the idea that the markets are very tough to sell in the winter might be a myth,” says Emil Hartoonian, managing partner of The Agency in Beverly Hills, CA.

He’s not the only one who believes selling in the winter can make you a real estate winner. Read on for the top reasons why you should consider unloading when the temperatures drop.

1. Low inventory = less competition

Since spring is the most popular home-selling season, the housing market is ultracrowded with options at that time of year. And if you paid attention during Econ 101, you understand the law of supply and demand.

“Most sellers still think they need to sell in the spring, but that means there is more competition for buyers’ attention,” says Matt Van Winkle, founder of Re/Max Northwest in Seattle.

But in the winter, there are fewer homes for sale. That competition over low inventory can make winter an ideal time to sell your home.

“In the Atlanta market, January is one of the strongest months for homes to go under contract,” says Ally May of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s.

2. You get to show your home’s winter-readiness

Selling in the winter also gives you the opportunity to show that a home is designed to handle the harsh elements.

“Sellers in places like Lake Tahoe can show off features like a south-facing driveway to speed up snow melting, how snow will fall off of a roof, a short driveway that will minimize shoveling or plowing, heat tape on the north side of the roof to avoid snow accumulation, and how recently the roof and furnace have been replaced,” says Sandy Soli, regional manager at Engel & Völkers in Lake Tahoe, NV.

Plus, during winter months, homes with features like fireplaces and hot tubs are certainly more appealing.

3. New parents may be looking to upgrade

The baby boom in September may lead to more buyers later in the year. According to data from the Center for Health Statistics and the Social Security Administration, there are more birthdays in the month of September than any other time of the year. Therefore, there’s likely to be a crop of growing families looking to buy a larger house.

“Once baby is home and settled, these parents may want to start the year in a new, and more spacious, family home,” according to Melissa Temple, real estate adviser and partner at Engel & Völkers in Aspen, CO.

4. Winter brings out the serious buyers

News flash: Not everyone looking at houses intends to make a purchase. Some people are contemplating moving and may just want to see what’s on the market. Since more homes tend to go on the market in spring and fall, this is also when window shoppers are likely to be out looking.

However, these looky-loos tend to be scarce during winter months, according to Jennifer Baldinger, licensed associate real estate broker at Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty in Scarsdale, NY.

“When I have buyers looking for homes in January and February, they’re real buyers looking to make a purchase—especially if it’s a great house. They don’t want to take the chance of waiting until spring and losing out on the home,” Baldinger says.

“There may be less people at these open houses, but I would rather have 10 real buyers come through than 20 people who are just curious,” she says.

5. Year-end financial bonuses and payouts

As a seller, year-end performance reviews could mean that more people have money to spend on a home.

“End-of-year financial bonuses or workers retiring with large payouts could mean opportunities for these buyers to upgrade their living situations or for first-time buyers to enter the housing market,” according to Temple.

6. Corporate relocation

You could also encounter buyers who are relocating for a job.

“One of the biggest months for corporate relocation is January/February, so those buyers, who need to move quickly, are out in full force looking for new homes,” Baldinger says.

Relocators typically have a limited amount of time to uproot their families and, as a result, don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time looking at properties. The kids need to get settled into school, and dealing with selling their old home can add another level of urgency and stress. So it’s likely that once they find a home that meets their requirements, these buyers will be ready to sign on the dotted line.

Article by Terri Williams

Get the Best Return on Your Investment in Home Improvements

The ROI on home improvements isn’t always about the money.

Often the best return on your home investment is the joy you get from waking up in a home you love more and more with each project you complete.

And the best part? You can sometimes get your money back when the love affair is over.

Which home improvements will pay off when you sell depends on how savvy you are when you remodel.

Here are some of the more popular home improvements, and whether you should do them for love or money (and in some cases, how to have both).

Kitchen Remodel

Often the best return on your home investment is the joy you get from waking up in a home you love more and more with each project you complete.

And the best part? You can sometimes get your money back when the love affair is over.

Which home improvements will pay off when you sell depends on how savvy you are when you remodel.

Here are some of the more popular home improvements, and whether you should do them for love or money (and in some cases, how to have both).

Basement Conversion

Do It For: Love

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $40,000

ROI: 63%

Converting a basement to a living area is the very definition of a project done for love. It instantly makes your home more functional by giving you more living space — without increasing your home’s footprint. Just so you know, though, it can be a big-ticket remodel.

How to add more money to your love: Think about how you’ll use the space. Will you be working, throwing parties, or watching Netflix? If you can make an open floor plan work, you’ll save the cost of framing, drywalling, and painting more rooms.

Skip the cost of a drop ceiling, and give your basement the flavor of a downtown loft by painting the ceiling, ducts, and plumbing.

Speaking of plumbing, if you can run upstairs for the loo and your wet bar doesn’t actually need to be wet, skip the extra pipes and save a bundle.

New Wood Floors

Do It For: Money (and Love!)

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $5,500

ROI: 91%

One of the best returns on a home investment is hardwood floors. They’re beautiful, durable, and timeless — and one of the smartest things you can do, too.

Many homeowners now want (and even expect) hardwood floors. And when done in keeping with the home’s layout and neighborhood, they can add 2.5% to the sale price.

How to get even more ROI: If you already have wood floors and they’re still in good shape, why not refinish them and save a little money? It costs around $3,000 and recovers 100% of its value at resale.

In-Ground Swimming Pool

Do It For: Love

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $57,500

ROI: 43%

Even if you adore the thought of diving into the clear, blue water of your very own backyard swimming pool, when you hear about the 43% ROI (not to mention the high project cost and the years of maintenance), the idea of installing one may feel like a wet blanket. And let’s face it: There’s no DIYing an in-ground pool to trim costs.

A better bet for your ROI: If you’re more of a sit-by-the-water type, consider a waterfall or fountain. It’ll bring you water-side happiness while also upping curb appeal. Or DIY a small (removable) soaking pool and mini-deck — you’ll get all the watery goodness without the high cost and maintenance.

But! If you just can’t stop dreaming about the real deal, don’t let the low return on investment deter you. Being happy while you’re in your home is just as important, maybe more so.

Bathroom Addition

Do It For: Love

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $59,000

ROI: 50%

Adding a new bathroom seems like an ROI no-brainer. And yet, it’s not. So ask yourself why you’re fantasizing about the update. If it’s because you’re legitimately short on toilets, it’s worth considering.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, buyers tend to favor houses with an equal number of bathrooms and bedrooms. And if you’re in a four-bedroom with one bathroom, you probably do, too.

How to add some money to your love: If a new bathroom will boost your happiness (or sanity), there are ways to make the most of your remodeling budget. Adding one within the existing footprint of your home and next to existing plumbing will save thousands. And like a kitchen update, the bathroom is a place where DIY pays off. Doing your own paint or demo can save a bundle.

New Garage Door

Do It For: Money

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $2,300

ROI: 87%

While it’s not the dreamiest home investment, a new garage door is one of the quickest ways to make your home shine, especially if it’s front and center like many of today’s homes. It’s also one of the most affordable.

How to make your garage door pay off more: In addition to improving curb appeal, an insulated door on an attached garage can help lower energy bills, which will earn back money every month — and generate a little joy in your heart.

Outdoor Kitchen

Do It For: Love and Money (depending on where you live)

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $14,000

ROI: 71%

There’s something dreamy about cozying up to a table under the trees and digging into a meal you’ve cooked under the open sky.

But before you give in to the call of a backyard cucina, consider your climate and neighborhood.

While 71% ROI is good, that’s a number that includes homes from sunny Tucson to frigid Fargo. The more you can use the outdoor kitchen, the better your ROI will be.

If your neighbors prefer a simple backyard grill and plastic lawn chairs, your ROI may not be so great.

How to add even more money to your love: Stick to a built-in charcoal or gas grill and skip the cooktop to avoid running electricity. Use inexpensive string lights from the wall outlet on your home’s exterior to illuminate the space.

Also, situate the outdoor kitchen near the back door, and you can use the plumbing inside rather than paying extra for an outdoor sink.

Plant Trees

Do It For: Love and Money

Estimated Cost: $50 to $100 for a 6- to 7-foot deciduous tree

ROI: 100% or more

Planting trees today is one of the smartest ways to reap financial rewards tomorrow. A well-positioned tree shades the house in summer and shields it from harsh winds in winter, shaving money off your utility bills — as much as $250 per year.

And according to the Forest Service, mature trees contribute as much as 10% to your home value.

New Roof

Do It For: Money

Estimated Cost for a Pro Job: $7,500

ROI: 109%

Putting on a new roof tops the home project list in rate of return. This is a relatively high-dollar item, but wow — that 109% ROI sure makes your bottom line do the happy dance.

And even better: REALTORS® say a new roof helps them make a sale 32% of the time.

FYI on your roof’s ROI: Naturally, the longer the time span between your roof replacement and your home sale, the lower that ROI becomes. But even if you aren’t thinking of selling right away, if your roof is in disrepair, a new one is the wise choice.

It improves energy efficiency (an Energy Star-certified roof can reduce peak cooling demand 10%-15%); it ups curb appeal; and it protects you from mold, critters, and the dreaded water damage.

Article by Kelley Walters

 

Top 5 Homemade Pet Costume Ideas Halloween

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night.” That Scottish saying accurately sums up that time of year when witches, pumpkins, bats and ghosts all make their appearances for the annual fright night that is Halloween. Many pets enjoy being dressed up, or their owners want to include them in the festivities, but store-bought costumes can be expensive. With just a few materials and some imagination, you can make a howling good costume for your four-legged friend. Just don’t forget to put safety first and make sure your pet isn’t restricted in a way that prevents him from breathing, seeing or hearing. We’ve scared up five of the easiest and most creative homemade Halloween costume ideas for pets, so sit for a spell and have some brew as we prove that just about anyone can be crafty.

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night.” That Scottish saying accurately sums up that time of year when witches, pumpkins, bats and ghosts all make their appearances for the annual fright night that is Halloween. Many pets enjoy being dressed up, or their owners want to include them in the festivities, but store-bought costumes can be expensive. With just a few materials and some imagination, you can make a howling good costume for your four-legged friend. Just don’t forget to put safety first and make sure your pet isn’t restricted in a way that prevents him from breathing, seeing or hearing. We’ve scared up five of the easiest and most creative homemade Halloween costume ideas for pets, so sit for a spell and have some brew as we prove that just about anyone can be crafty.

What could be more bizarre than an animal that looks like a completely different animal? Dressing your dog up as a cat or another critter is guaranteed to turn a few heads and elicit a few aww’s and guffaws. Sure, it might be a little humiliating for your pet, but he’ll probably forgive you — for a few treats.

For a black cat costume, it’s easy to turn a child’s black t-shirt into the body of a cat. Just cut off the sleeves and put it on your pet. You might need to cut a slit in the neckline of the tee to make sure it fits comfortably. Next, cut two triangles out of black felt and glue them to an elastic headband that will comfortably fit your pet’s head without digging into the skin.

An even easier option is a skunk. Take the same black t-shirt and paint a white stripe down the back with fabric paint. Once it’s completely dry, cut out the sleeves and put it on your pet for a stinkin’ sweet costume.

If you like your Halloween costumes a bit spookier, your pet could offer up ghostly greetings as a skeleton or mummy. To create a skeleton costume, first search online for an image of your pet’s skeletal system. Next, paint shapes of the bones onto a black tee, keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to look perfect. Once the paint has dried, put the t-shirt on your pet and your little Skeletor will be ready to rattle some bones in the neighborhood.

Mummifying your pet couldn’t be easier. Just purchase some gauze and start wrapping. If you don’t want to waste money on gauze that you’ll end up tossing later, recycle an old white sheet by ripping it into long strips you can then use to wrap your pet in. Just make sure you don’t wrap him up too tight, and don’t cover his paws, face, ears, tail and bottom. If you really want to make your pet mummy look like he’s been exhumed from an Egyptian tomb, soak the strips in some freshly brewed tea for an antiquing effect. Just make sure all of your wrapping material is completely dry before dressing your pet.

If your pet is just too cute to spook, consider a costume that gets back to nature. All you need are a few supplies and creativity to have the most boo-tiful butterfly or flower on the block.

For a flower, cut out shapes of petals in the colored felt and glue to an elastic headband. Next, cut off the sleeves of a green tee and put it on your pet as the stem. Once the glue has dried on the flower headband, put it on your pet’s head, making sure it fits comfortably, then get ready for a night of flower power.

To create butterfly wings, draw out the shape you want on cardboard and cut them out. Next, cover the front and back of the cardboard in the felt colors of your choice, making a butterfly pattern. Take a black children’s t-shirt and cut off the sleeves, then glue the butterfly wings to the back of it. Once it’s dry, put the costume on your pet and adjust the collar for comfort by cutting a slit in neck of the tee. Now you’re ready to flutter off into the night together.

Are you a food-obsessed pet lover? Combine your two passions to create a hilarious costume even Ghoulia Child would envy. Whether it’s an all-American hot dog or something trendier like edamame, it’s easy to create a cuisine-themed costume worthy of the pickiest chowhound.

To create a hot dog, start with the bun. Measure the length of your pet’s torso (from shoulders to hips) and cut two hot dog bun shapes out of the tan craft foam. Next, cut red and yellow felt into wavy strips to mimic ketchup and mustard. Take the pink t-shirt, cut the sleeves off and glue the red and yellow felt onto the back. Once the glue has dried, put the t-shirt onto your pet. Next, attach the tan craft foam to each side of the t-shirt with safety pins. You’ll have one freaky frankfurter to show off!

For edamame, measure the length of your pet to determine how long the dark green felt should be and how many foam balls you’ll need for the soybeans. To make the bean pod, glue three to five green foam balls to the center of the green felt in a row. Next, gather the ends of the felt and pin them together to create a boat-like shape around the balls. Take a child’s light green tee and cut off the sleeves, then glue the pea pod to the back of the shirt. Once everything has dried, put the t-shirt on your pet and adjust for comfort. Whether your pet dresses up like a favorite food or a scaredy cat, don’t forget: Safety always comes first. Happy Haunting!

 

5 Crucial Questions to Ask a Home Inspector—and When to Ask

What are some questions to ask a home inspector? If you’re buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it’s in decent shape. So if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!

But when you ask those questions is as important as what you ask. Namely, you should attend your home inspection and ask him right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your inspector’s (very technical) report, it’s much easier for this pro to actually show you what’s going on with the house.

To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.

1. ‘What does that mean?’

During the inspection, your inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem, says Frank Lesh, executive Director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. He’ll point out things to you that aren’t as they should be.

Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what he’s telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters.

For example: If the inspector says something like, “Looks like you’ve got some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.

Just keep in mind that your inspector can’t tell you whether or not to buy the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).

2. ‘Is this a big deal or a minor issue?’

For most people, buying a house is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. It’s normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof in need of repair, or electrical that isn’t up to code. Don’t freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You’ll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers, even if they sound major.

And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.

3. ‘What’s that water spot on the ceiling, and is it a problem?’

Don’t be shy about pointing out things that look off to you and asking if they’re OK. Odds are, if there’s something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there’s a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it’s an issue. If something is bothering you about the house, make sure to address it.

Ideally your inspector will ask you if there’s anything you’re specifically concerned about before he starts. Make sure to tell him if this is your first home, or if you’re worried about the house’s age, or anything at all that strikes you as a possible negative.

4. ‘I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?’

Flaws aside, this is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.

“Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have a question, ask it,” says Lesh. “Don’t expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to explain how things work.”

5. ‘What are your biggest concerns about the property?’

At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you a broad-strokes summary of what he found. You’ll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house’s biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.

Often, you’ll need to call in another expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged. You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert.

In some states, there’s a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running. Your official report will have more detail, but you should know what’s on it by the time you leave the home that day.

Article by Audrey Ference

What Is a Recast Mortgage? Way Easier Than Refinancing—Should You Try It?

What is a recast mortgage? While it sounds more like a fishing trip than a financing tool, it’s actually where you pay off a lump sum of your principal (that’s the money you owe), then have your lender “recast” or reamortize the rest so you can lower your monthly payments.

Recast mortgages are rare, at least compared with the more typical way homeowners reduce their mortgage payments by refinancing. Nonetheless, it’s well worth considering in certain circumstances.

Here’s everything you need to know to decide whether a recast or refinance is right for you.

What is a recast mortgage?

To make the idea of a recast simpler, imagine your Aunt Susan has died and left you $10,000, or you get a bonus at work. Sure, you could put that money in a CD or other investment, or spring for a kitchen remodel. However, if lowering your monthly mortgage payments sounds far sweeter, then a recast is the way to go.

“Recasting your mortgage is a great option if you want to lower your monthly payments and have the funds to make a lump sum payment to your lender,” says Randall Yates, founder and CEO of The Lenders Network.

The process of recasting is fairly simple: You head to your bank, fork over your money, and pay a small fee to recast your mortgage.

From there, your lender will use that money you’ve offered up to pay off your principal. It’s as if you’ve made a bigger down payment on your loan. If, say, you’d originally put down $50,000 and borrowed $200,000 to pay for a $250,000 house, after a recast, you’ve now put down $60,000 and owe only $190,000 (actually a bit less, if you’ve been paying your mortgage for a while already).

So now that you owe less, your lender will recalculate monthly payments over the life of your loan. For instance, if you owe $200,000 on a 30-year fixed loan with 5% interest, your monthly payment is $1,397. Recast so you owe only $190,000, your monthly payment will dip to $1,343, giving you an extra $54 a month (crunch your own numbers and see how much you’ll save with an online mortgage calculator).

Refinancing vs. recasting a mortgage: What’s the difference?

When you refinance a mortgage, your loan is actually closed, then reopened as a new loan with new terms (length of loan and/or interest rate). Refinancing also comes with a bunch of steps, including a home appraisal and related fees. As a result, a refinance also takes time to finish (typically 30 to 45 days).

A recast, in contrast, is much simpler: Your loan life, terms, and interest rate remain as is; the only thing that changes is you get to make lower monthly payments.

“Mortgage recasting is a much simpler process than refinancing,” says Yates. “There is no income verification or credit check needed. The entire recasting process can be completed in less than 30 days.”

A recast is also different from merely sending in a lump sum to prepay your mortgage early. In those cases, your monthly payments remain the same. You will just finish off paying your mortgage earlier.

Requirements for a recast mortgage

Mortgage recasting is not available to all. Here are a few requirements for a recast:

  • You must have a conventional loan. “Government-backed loans such as FHA or VA loans are not eligible for recasting,” says Yates.
  • Your bank must offer recasting. Most larger banks like Wells Fargo or Bank of America offer a recast, but smaller local banks or credit unions may not offer the option.
  • You must have enough money. Most lenders require a minimum $5,000 payment to recast a loan. As such, recasting can be a good option only with large lump sums, rather than smaller amounts arriving via paychecks if, say, you got a raise at work.

Recast or refinance? How to decide

If you are eligible for a recast, there are still some questions you should ask to determine whether a recast or refinance is right for you:

  • The cost: With a refinance, you are looking at a whole lot of fees. These include an appraisal fee of around $300 to $500 and closing costs between $1,800 and $4,000 depending on your credit score. If you’re depositing $10,000, refinance fees could take upward of $4,500, leaving only $5,500 to be applied to your loan.
  • Interest rates: “If present interest rates are lower than when the loan was opened, it often makes sense to refinance,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager of EquityNow. However, if present interest rates are higher, then a recast is more favorable since you get to keep your original lower rate. “In an environment where rates are on the rise for the first time in several years, mortgage recasts will most likely become a more popular option,” says Tammi Lindley, senior loan officer at the Lindley Team at Mortgage Express.
  • How long you plan to live there: If you sell your house within five years, a refinance may not be practical and a recast may be a better option.

Pros of a recast mortgage

  • Reduces monthly payments and principal
  • Easier than a refinance
  • Low fees
  • Less paperwork
  • No appraisal required
  • You keep your original loan and interest rate
  • No credit check
  • You don’t have to stay in home a certain amount of time to recoup refinance fees
  • You can do it more than once, whenever you receive lump sums above $5,000

Cons of a recast mortgage

  • Offered only by mostly larger banks
  • Available on loans from institutions such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (not FHA or VA)
  • Doesnt reduce the interest rate
  • Doesnt shorten overall mortgage term
  • Liquid cash reduced and tied up in equity
Article by Amy Barnes

Throwing Shade: How to Pick the Perfect Lampshade for Any Room

Lampshades might not seem like a make-or-break element of your home’s look, but they’re actually a secret weapon in the decor world. Since you can swap them out with ease—and the options range from basic to wildly elaborate—lampshades are a great way to give a style boost to any room in your home.

But when it comes to actually choosing a lampshade, you might feel like you’re in the dark. With so many shapes, styles, and colors, shopping for this simple home accessory can quickly get overwhelming.

“The lighting you choose is like the jewelry in a room, so consider your options carefully and splurge, if you can, to make a statement with your lamp and shade,” suggests Karen Gray-Plaisted, owner of Design Solutions KGP.

The first step in picking the perfect shade is to learn the differences between each shape so you can match it to your room’s style—and then to think beyond big and round.

To light the way (#sorrynotsorry), here’s a primer on some of the most common shade styles, and savvy tips for using them.

Empire lampshade

The classically styled empire shade is the most universal shape, with a straight-edge design that looks good on just about any base and can be incorporated into most rooms.

As a task light, this shade is tops due to the flare that spreads the light in a nice, wide pool. Set this lampshade on a light near where you plan to read, such as a bedside or end table.

Bell lampshade

As the name indicates, a bell shade widens below with gently sloping, elegant sides that match curved bases nicely.

“This lamp topper works best in more traditional rooms, though I could also see it with shabby chic or French country decor,” says Drew Henry, founder of Design Dudes.

Drum lampshade

Here’s another shade that’s true to its name: Wider than it is long, a drum-shaped shade usually has straight sides.

“This look is much more up to date than the others—use it with contemporary home design or even Zen-styled rooms,” Henry says. Pick a spherical base with a drum shade for a very modern look.

Pagoda lampshade

This option is luxe, regal, and a bit on the formal side, Henry notes, so save it for a grown-up approach in your living room, dining area, or master bedroom.

And if you’re going for a full-on Asian influence with your decor, combine pagoda shades with chinoiserie wallpaper or lacquer pieces.

Rectangular or square lampshade

Rectangular and square shapes work well with angular bases in a modern or traditional room.

———

Looking for something with a little more oomph? Move beyond these common shapes and check out lampshades with pleats, decoupage, cutouts, and more. Stick with smooth shades if your look tends to skew more modern; pleats, on the other hand, are viewed as traditional, and mesh well with antiques or a cottage/country home.

Once you’ve picked a shade style, there are just a few other factors to consider. Read on for pro tips.

Think about proportions

Nothing looks goofier than a tiny shade attached to an enormous lamp—or the reverse. To avoid the fun-house vibe, gauge the topper you like and measure carefully.

A good rule of thumb: The shade should be about 40% of the lamp’s size and double the width, Gray-Plaisted says.

Another pro tip: “Don’t let the socket or switch peek out—make sure it’s tall enough to cover this hardware,” she says.

Consider the use

Is your shade the room’s focal point or do you want it to fade into the background? Will you do the crossword by it or flick it on for a bit of glow?

“If your shade is for task lighting, pick a translucent one; but for homeowners seeking ambiance, a colored shade is ideal,” Gray-Plaisted explains.

That’s because, of course, the fabric you choose will affect the amount of light you receive. Henry leans toward white shades because they retain the light’s pure color.

“Shades made from darker fabrics will reflect that color around the room, so be sure you’re OK with the different hue,” he says.

Opt for an embellished shade for extra flair

Scalloped edges, tiny pompoms, fringe trim, dangling crystal beads, and feathers can all be added to an otherwise plain shade.

And if the topper you have requires a finial (a decorative ornament that attaches the shade to the lamp base), these are available in myriad styles: Pick pineapple finials for lamp shades in guest rooms (it’s the symbol of friendship and hospitality). An antler finial makes sense in a man cave or den, while delicate glass or flower shapes are pretty in the living room or bedrooms. And have fun with kids’ finials (think boats, stars, and trucks). There’s no end to the finishing touches on lampshades!

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Autumn Safety Tips

There’s nothing like the crisp, cool air and luscious foliage to get you excited for the changing seasons. Your pet, too, is probably welcoming a break from summer’s hot, sticky weather. But fall is also a time of lurking dangers for our furry friends. From household poisons to cold weather hazards, there are important safety issues to consider.

Below are some tips to keep your pet happy and healthy during the autumn months.

Be Cautious of Rodenticides and Cold Weather Poisons
The use of rat and mouse poisons increase in the fall as rodents seek shelter from the cooler temperatures by attempting to move indoors. Rodenticides are highly toxic to pets and, if ingested, the results could be fatal. If you must use these products, please do so with extreme caution and put them in places inaccessible to your pets.

Many people choose fall as the time to change their car’s engine coolant. Ethylene glycol-based coolants are highly toxic, so spills should be cleaned up immediately. Consider switching to propylene glycol-based coolants—though they aren’t completely nontoxic, they are much less toxic than other engine coolants.

Keep School Supplies Out of Paws’ Reach
Fall is back-to-school time, and those of you with young children know that means stocking up on items like glue sticks, pencils and magic markers. Although these items are considered low toxicity to pets, gastrointestinal upset and blockages can occur if ingested. Be sure your children keep their school supplies out of your pet’s reach.

Steer Clear of Mushrooms
Fall and spring are mushroom seasons. While 99% of mushrooms have little or no toxicity, the 1% that are highly toxic can cause life-threatening problems in pets. Since most toxic mushrooms are difficult to distinguish from nontoxic ones, the best way to prevent pets from ingesting these poisonous plants is to keep them away from areas where any mushrooms are growing. Please visit our Poisonous Plants page for more information. Contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 immediately if you witness your pet eating a wild mushroom.

Watch Out for Wildlife
Autumn is the season when snakes are preparing for hibernation, increasing the possibility of bites to those unlucky pets who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pet parents should know what kinds of venomous snakes may be lurking in their environment—and where those snakes are most likely to be found—so pets can be kept out of those areas.

How to Clean Your Dryer Vent: 9 Mistakes to Avoid

Dryer vent cleaning tips so your house never catches on fire.

Cleaning a dryer vent goes way beyond wiping off the lint filter between loads. And if you don’t do it, your house could catch fire.

Dryer fires are a real and very scary hazard, and they most often originate in the metal tube between your dryer and the wall. That’s what you need to clean out. Plus it will help your dryer last longer and run more efficiently.

Just avoid these dangerous mistakes while cleaning out your dryer vent:

#1 Forgetting to Unplug the Dryer

Safety first: One of the most important dryer-vent cleaning tips is to remove the machine’s power cord from the wall outlet to avoid getting shocked. For gas-powered appliances, turn off the gas supply to prevent leaks.

#2 Using the Wrong Equipment

Tiny dryer lint fibers can cling to the walls of the duct, so it’s worth investing in equipment that does the job right. The Lint Lizard, about $30, attaches to the end of your vacuum cleaner and is very good at sucking up dryer debris. The Everbilt Dryer Vent Cleaning Kit, about $17, comes with attachments for cleaning long ducts.

#3 Attempting to Clean a Long Vent Yourself

While some basic equipment and DIY skills should work for most homes, it’s worth calling in a professional if your dryer has an especially long duct. Most can do the job for about $100.

#4 Neglecting to Check the Duct for Damage

While you’re cleaning the duct, take the opportunity to go over its surface to check for cracks or tears. Patching them up will help your dryer run optimally.

#5 Bending the Duct Too Much

Ducts bend fairly easily when you handle them, which you’ll want to avoid. When you reattach the duct to the dryer, make sure there are no sharp turns or bends in the tube, which will create crevices for lint to accumulate and may lead to breaks.

#6 Reattaching the Duct with Duct Tape

Despite its confusingly spot-on name, this is perhaps the only thing duct tape can’t do. It can corrode from the heat of the dryer. Better to use aluminum tape, which can take the dryer heat.

#7 Routing the Vent Into an Attic or Crawlspace

Remember, the lint that accumulates in your dryer vent is flammable. There’s only one place the exhaust should be going to maintain dryer vent safety, and that’s outdoors. Stick to cleaning your dryer vent, and leave any major work, like rerouting the vent, to the pros.

#8 Overlooking Moisture Sensors

While it has nothing to do with your actual vent, if your dryer has a moisture sensor, keeping it clean will help your dryer function efficiently, so you might as well do it while you’re working on the vent. The sensor is a thin metal bar often located right below the dryer door. You can clean the lint, dryer-sheet chemicals, and other debris off of it with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol so it can do its job properly.

#9 Not Cleaning the Dryer Vent Often Enough

This is one maintenance job you shouldn’t put off. At least once a year — or more if your machine is getting a real workout — you should give your dryer vent a good cleaning. These 10 steps will guide you through the process:

How to clean your dryer vent safely in 10 easy steps:

  1. Unplug the dryer, or turn off the gas supply.
  2. Pull the dryer away from the wall.
  3. Detach the duct, the wide tube that sends the dryer exhaust outside.
  4. Shake out loose lint, and use a vacuum cleaner and tools to remove the remaining lint from the duct
  5. Vacuum lint from the outside vent.
  6. Clean the floor around the dryer to get rid of debris.
  7. Check the dryer duct for any cracks or tears, and replace the duct if damaged.
  8. Carefully reattach the dryer vent with screws, clips, or aluminum tape.
  9. Return the dryer to its normal position.
  10. Turn the power supply back on.
Article by Andrea Orr

Paleo Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Paleo Pumpkin Muffins are a simple and healthy breakfast recipe! They are ready in 30 minutes & freezer friendly! Plus they are gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free and have no refined sugar!

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a standard muffin pan, set aside.
  2. Combine coconut flour, almond flour, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice baking soda, and salt in a small bowl, set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, coconut sugar, melted coconut oil and vanilla.
  4. Add eggs and stir until completely combined. .
  5. And the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps.
  6. Mix in chocolate chips (or cinnamon chips) by hand.
  7. Let the mixture set for 5 minutes. (this gives the coconut flour time to soak up the moisture).
  8. Scoop ¼ cup portions of batter into the prepared muffin pan.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of each muffin comes out clean. (To make into bread bake in 9×5” loaf pan for 35-40 minutes!)

5 Ways to Design a Bedroom That Will Actually Help You Sleep

Start by controlling light, sound, and temperature.

When it comes to redecorating, our energy and budget often get funneled into “public” parts of the home, such as the kitchen and bathrooms. Private spaces like the master bedroom rarely get as much love or money. After all, it’s better to spend on rooms guests will actually see, right?

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than one-third of adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough sleep, which can impact our moods, mental clarity, and overall health. With our days so full of demands and external stressors, it’s time we turn our attention to the room where we rejuvenate and recover.

Here are five simple ways to add charm and comfort to the coziest room of the house — and improve your chances for a restful start to the day.

#1 Choose a Soothing Paint Color

While it may seem like a good idea to paint the bedroom your favorite sunny yellow, color experts don’t agree. Warmer tones such as yellow, orange, and red are said to be energizing and may even irritate the eye. That doesn’t exactly bode well for those of us trying to keep our eyes closed.

Consider colors with a cooler tone, such as whites, taupes, grays, blues, and soft greens. Remember to use a low-VOC paint to reduce toxins in your indoor environment. VOCs — or volatile organic compounds — are in vapors emitted from many everyday household products, like paint and cleaning chemicals.

#2 Hang Blackout Curtains or Layered Window Treatments

Having a bright and airy bedroom is often the picture we have in our minds, but the reality of light pouring into our windows is less than ideal for actually getting rest (or getting up in the morning without being blinded by sunlight).

Blackout curtains not only help block light when you hit the snooze button, but many also offer a thermal panel on the back, which helps prevent temperature fluctuations in the middle of the night.

If blackout curtains aren’t your thing, you can also add multiple forms of window treatments, such as shades and curtains, to help control the amount of light.

#3 Eliminate Clutter and Electronics

Have you ever decluttered a space and felt instantly lighter, as though a weight had been lifted off your shoulders? If you’ve never felt the peace that comes along with a tidy and organized room, focus on having only the essentials you need in your bedroom for a good night’s sleep.

Remove distractions, including electronics (their blue light is known to ward off sleep), and anything that’s simply taking up space in the room.

#4 Install a Stylish Ceiling Fan

When designing a stylish master bedroom, your first instinct might be to splurge on a luxe-looking light fixture. However, unlike a light, a ceiling fan (with or without a light) enhances restfulness.

They boast a soft white noise and help control your body temperature during sleep, both by cooling you in the summer and helping push down warm air in the winter. (Just be sure to switch the fan’s direction between seasons.)

Plus, there are more stylish designs on the market than ever before!

#5 Layer Your Bedding

Layered bedding adds dimension and texture to the room, turning a flat, bland bed into a multi-dimensional piece of art. It also gives you lots of options during the night in case there’s a sudden chill or your partner steals some of the covers.

Also consider switching out your comforter between seasons if you have a lot of temperature fluctuations. This habit not only allows you to freshen up your style, but it also provides more comfort when the winter temps dip or the summer heat intensifies.

While there are multiple ways to help with a better night’s sleep, in the end, the most restful room is the one you can call your own. Keep these suggestions in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to a master bedroom that’s both beautiful and functional.

Article by Sarah Fogle

Keeping Your House Clean with Dogs While It’s on the Market

Grout can be a real problem because it soaks up pet odors.

Oof. Houses that smell or look like pets have lived in them are just harder to sell.

Here’s how to de-dog your house before putting it on the market — and how to keep it that way while you sell.

#1 Steam Clean Everything Fabric

“Job number one is to take care of [the soft surfaces in your house],” says Melissa Maker, star of an eponymous YouTube channel and owner of a Toronto cleaning service. “They hold odors and hair like nothing else.”

This includes carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, and even the drapes, she says. Pets rub against drapes, getting oils, odors, and fur on the fabric. Send curtains out for a professional cleaning.

#2 Spot Clean Furniture Daily

f you’re like many pet owners, trying to keep your dog off the couch completely isn’t worth the effort. Instead, cover your freshly-cleaned furniture with throws or pet covers, and wash them at least once a week. Vacuum rugs and carpets every day. Pet smells sink in fast.

For quick hair removal before a showing, wipe down the couch with rubber gloves. The hair comes right off.

#3 Clean Tile-Floor Grout

Tile resists dog stains, but grout is porous and sucks them up like a sponge. “I had a cat who had an accident on a tile floor, and the pee seeped into the grout,” Maker says. Steam clean grout to lift old smells and stains. If your grout is really cruddy, hire a pro to chip out the old grout and put in new — or DIY it if you have the skills.

#4 Get an Air Purifier Tower

To you, it smells like home. But your HVAC has been circulating the same hair and dander again and again (especially in hot and cold weather when the windows are closed).

Add an air purifier tower with a HEPA filter; it pulls hair and dander out of the air before they even reach your HVAC.

Most air ducts don’t need to be cleaned, especially if you change filters regularly. But if dander and fur seem to be taking over, hire a duct-cleaning company before putting your home on the market.

#5 Use Enzymatic Cleaners

They’re the special forces of odor busters. Enzymatic cleaners are made of beneficial bacteria that eat stains and odors. They’re formulated to stamp out a specific type of stain, so a cleanser that targets urine won’t be the same as one for vomit.

“They’re cultivated for a specific mess,” Maker says. Apply them liberally to stains regardless of how old they are, before listing your house.

#6 Get Rid of Scratch Marks

Pet toenails leave telltale marks on doors and walls. For walls and doors made of synthetic materials, you’ll just need to paint over the marks. For a wooden door, use wood-filler pen can fill in the scratches. For hardwood floors, rub out small scratches with steel wool or fine sandpaper followed by mineral spirits, wood filler, and polyurethane. For major damage, refinishing the hardwood is a good investment with a stellar 100% ROI.

#7 Groom Your Pet

Get your pet groomed by a pro before you list your house. You can do it yourself, but a pro can get more hair and dander off than you can — plus, all that gunk is better off in the groomer’s drain than yours.

Brush your furry friend regularly (outside, preferably) while your house is on the market. Any hair you get off on a brush is hair that won’t end up on your sofa or in your rugs.

#8 Absorb Odors With Charcoal

Charcoal pulls moisture and odors out of the air. You can get inconspicuous little bags of it to hang in places your pets love most. Or, just strategically stash some charcoal briquettes around the house.

Just be sure to get the ones that aren’t presoaked with lighter fluid.

#9 Get a Sniff Test

You’ve scrubbed everything, and you think your house smells like a dog has never set foot in the door. Get a second opinion as to whether the odors are gone, Maker says. “You may be noseblind. Ask your agent to walk through and give you an honest opinion.”

Article by LEANNE POTTS

Fall Yard Cleanup: 8 Shortcuts for Easy Care

It’s amazing what perennials, mulch, and decorative rocks can do.

When you’re looking for your dream home, you might find that it comes with more yard than you’ve ever had before — or had to maintain. These tips will help you set up (and enjoy) an easy-care yard year-round.

#1 Design for Perennials with Different Blooming Seasons

Warmer-weather seasons seem to get all the landscape planning love, but the secret to a beautiful yard is to plant for every season. Plant perennials rather than annuals to ensure that the plants will come back year over year. Mix things up by interspersing your favorite spring and summer plants with perennials that are evergreen, change leaf color, or bloom in the off-season.

With the different bloom schedules, your yard will stay visually interesting without having to purchase and plant new flowers every season.

Colorful fall and winter options. Here are some interesting perennials to consider planting, depending on your hardiness zone:

  • Mums
  • Japanese maple
  • Camellia (pictured above)
  • Holly bush
  • Winterberry holly
  • Yellow and red dogwood
  • Hellebore
  • Some varieties of hydrangea
  • Beautyberry
  • Sumac
  • Russian sage

#2 Pass on Grass

Grass isn’t your only turf option — clover (above), moss, and other low-growing groundcovers are often insect- and deer-resistant and also don’t require much mowing. Some options may even creep or spread out as they establish roots, which will eventually fill in the available area.

Clover even keeps weeds at bay and stays green, unlike most grass lawns.

Turf Tip: When selecting an alternative to grass, be sure to check that they aren’t too aggressive, or you could have a higher-maintenance problem.

#3 Overseed Your Lawn

If you’re set on a grass lawn, you can still keep maintenance to a minimum by overseeding in the fall.

Weeds will fan out their root systems as the grass goes dormant in winter, so take a preemptive approach in mid-fall by cutting your grass down to about an inch high and rake up the clippings. Spread out new grass seed, water regularly, and add fertilizer once the new grass germinates.

The healthier and denser the lawn is before winter, the less of an opportunity for weeds to take over. That means less work (and mowing and edging!) you’ll need to do in spring.

#4 Add Mulch Beds Around Plants and Walkways

Mulch beds are an unsung hero of landscaping. Mulch is organic and adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, providing a great combination of benefits for very little labor. By adding a healthy layer of mulch to your beds in the fall, you’ll protect your plants’ vulnerable roots while smothering the root systems of weeds.

Money-Saving Tip: Avoid buying bags of mulch at big-box stores and instead find a local landscape supplier; you can buy larger quantities that are often priced for professional landscapers (and therefore at wholesale rates). When planting a mulch bed, it’s easy to underestimate the amount you’ll need, so it’s better to buy in bulk instead of by the package, which will likely save you a bundle in time and money!

Keep an Eye Out: As your mulch breaks down in future growing seasons, you may need to replenish your beds with fresh mulch. However, don’t overdo it; maintain a mulch thickness around three inches, and only add more if it’s getting thin. Roots, just like us, need oxygen to work. Burying them under a thick layer of mulch decreases their supply.

#5 Fill Tough Areas With Decorative Rock Beds

An alternative to organic mulch beds is landscaping stones or crushed gravel. These options are great for areas that you wish to keep completely maintenance-free or have a tough time growing grass in, such as the area near an air-conditioning unit. A bed of stones on top of landscaping fabric is virtually worry-free, as the rock never needs watering and won’t break down in soil.

Stone Tip:Tinier pebble varieties, like pea gravel, may blow around in areas with high winds, which can wreak havoc on your lawn mower. To keep rocks from traveling into your grass, opt for larger stones, and add edging around the perimeter of rock beds.

#6 Automate Watering Schedules

Remembering to water plants is a tall order for those of us with busy schedules, so make it a little easier on yourself with a set-it-and-forget-it approach.

If you don’t have an underground sprinkler system already installed and aren’t willing to invest in one, an above-ground sprinkler setup attached to your outdoor faucet is a great substitute. Splitters can help by allowing you to also attach drip hoses, which are perfect for garden beds that require a different watering schedule.

Many manufacturers are adding smart features like timers to help you maintain watering schedules on the go or that use the local weather report to skip watering if it’s expected to rain.

#7 Grow Local Plants

What flowers, shrubs, and trees are native to your area and growing zone? By planting native species and plants that are well-suited for your climate, you’ll use less fertilizer, water, pesticides, and ultimately spend less effort trying to keep your yard alive. (The hydrangeas pictured above grow well in my hardiness zone.)

Local varieties are often inexpensive at nurseries because they can be sourced more easily than specialty options. To find what grows best in your area, speak to your local nursery or look up your USDA Hardiness Zone online by ZIP code.

#8 Keep Track of Dates to Stop Pruning

Certain plants (especially blooming shrubs like hydrangeas) will begin to form buds for the next year’s growth just before going dormant for the winter. To ensure that your plants grow in nicely the following year, it’s important to note in your calendar when to to stop pruning, and resist the urge to trim plants back until they start to grow again in the spring. To stay on top of it, look up each plant online and keep seasonal reminders in your phone for easy alerts.

Article by Sarah Fogle

Tomato Salad

Ripe, end-of-summer garden tomatoes make the best, juiciest tomato salad, perfect served with a rustic loaf of bread!

Ingredients:

  • 5 large (8 cups) medium ripe red heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup red onion, chopped
  • 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • good crusty bread, for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, red onion, basil, olive oil, garlic and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. Let the tomato mixture sit room temperature for about 20 minutes to let the flavors blend (the juices from the tomatoes will release and create a kind of dressing). Toss well.
  3. When ready to serve, toss the tomato mixture and divide in 4 bowls. Eat with crusty bread if desired.

5 Mortifying Reasons Mortgage Applications End Up in the ‘Reject’ Pile

Picture this nightmare: You apply for a mortgage, but your application gets rejected. Suddenly, you’re hit with an overwhelming wave of embarrassment, shock, and horror. It’s like having your credit card denied at the Shoprite. So. Much. Shame.

Sadly, this is a reality for some home buyers. According to a recent Federal Reserve study, one out of every eight home loan applications (12%) ends in a rejection.

There are a number of reasons mortgage applications get denied‚ and the saddest part is that many could have been avoided quite easily, had only the applicants known certain things were no-nos. So, before you’re the next home buyer who gets burned by sheer ignorance, scan this list, and make sure you aren’t making any of these five grave mistakes, which could land your mortgage application in the “no” pile.

1. You didn’t use credit cards enough

Some people think credit card debt is the kiss of death … but guess what? It’s also a way to establish a credit history that shows you’ve got a solid track record paying off past debts.

While a poor credit history riddled with late payments can certainly call your application into question, it’s just as bad, and perhaps worse, to have little or no credit history at all. Most lenders are reluctant to fork over money to individuals without substantial credit history. It’s as if you’re a ghost: Who’s to say you won’t disappear?

According to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, roughly 45 million Americans are characterized as “credit invisible”—which means they don’t have a credit report on file with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

There’s a silver lining, though, for those who don’t have credit established. Some lenders will use alternative data, such as rent payments, cellphone bills, and school tuition, to assess your credit worthiness, says Staci Titsworth, a regional manager at PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh.

2. You opened new credit cards recently

That Macy’s credit card you signed up for last month? Bad idea. New credit card applications can ding your credit score by up to five points, says Beverly Harzog, a consumer credit expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.”

That hit might seem minuscule, but if you’re on the cusp of qualifying for a mortgage, your new credit card could cause your loan application to be denied by a lender. So, the lesson is simple: Don’t open new credit cards right before you apply for a mortgage—and, even if your lender says things look good, don’t open any new cards or spend oodles of money (on, say, furniture) until after you’ve moved in. After all, lenders can yank your loan up until the last minute if they suspect anything fishy, and hey, better safe than sorry.

3. You missed a medical bill

Credit cards aren’t the only debt that count with a mortgage application—unpaid medical bills matter, too. When you default on medical bills, your doctor’s office or hospital is likely to outsource it to a debt collection agency, says independent credit expert John Ulzheimer. The debt collector may then decide to notify the credit bureaus that you’re overdue on your medical payments, which would place a black mark on your credit report. That’s a red flag to mortgage lenders.

If you can pay off your medical debt in full, do it. Can’t foot the bill? Many doctors and hospitals will work with you to create a payment plan, says Gerri Detweiler, head of market education at Nav.com, which helps small-business owners manage their credit. Showing a mortgage lender that you’re working to repay the debt could strengthen your application.

4. You changed jobs

So you changed jobs recently—so what? Problem is, mortgage lenders like to see at least two years of consistent income history when approving a loan. As a result, changing jobs shortly before you apply for a mortgage can hurt your application.

Of course, you don’t always have control over your employment. For instance, if you were recently laid off by your employer, finding a new job would certainly be more important than buying a house. But if you’re gainfully employed and just considering changing jobs, you’ll want to wait until after you close on a house so that your mortgage gets approved.

5. You lied on your loan application

This one seems painfully obvious, but let’s face it—while it may be tempting to think that lenders don’t know everything about you financially, they really do their homework well! So no matter what, be honest with your lender—or there could be serious repercussions. Exaggerating or lying about your income on a mortgage application, or including any other other untruths, can be a federal offense. It’s called mortgage fraud, and it’s not something you want on your record.

Bottom line? With mortgages, honesty really is the best policy.

Article by Daniel Bortz 

The 7 Most Financially Savvy Home Upgrades You Can Make

Enjoy your home more today — and sell it for the best price tomorrow.

When it comes to home improvement, some dollars stretch more than others. And if you’re on a limited budget, it becomes even more important to spend those dollars wisely.

Here are seven affordable  home improvement projects that’ll help you enjoy your home more today and provide excellent financial return in the future.

#1 Add the Finishing Touch of Molding

Crown molding makes rooms seem both bigger taller. It’s an elegant addition to any home.

Plus, wood moldings come in hundreds of options — from simple to ornate — that you can stain, paint, or leave natural.

You can also find moldings in flexible materials, such as foam, that make installation a whole lot easier. Some moldings even include lighting that casts a soft, ambient glow.

And at $1.50 per foot if you DIY it, or $8 per foot if you hire, it’s a no-brainer in terms of personalizing your home while adding value. (Although we don’t recommend DIY unless you’ve got above-par mitering skills.)

A few tips about molding:

Be careful about proportions. If your ceiling height is 9 feet or less, go with simpler styles to avoid overwhelming the room.

Place a chair railing at one-third the distance of the ceiling height. Chair railing placed incorrectly can make a room seem out of proportion.

Don’t forget entryways, doors, and windows: Bump up the trim around these areas to give rooms a completed and expensive feel.

#2 Hang Quality Ceiling Fans

If your ceiling fans are old and outdated, new ones (coupled with a fresh paint job and crown molding) could give your rooms a refreshing update while saving money.

Some tips about ceiling fans:

  • Hang 7 to 8 feet above the floor.
  • If you’ve got a low ceiling, buy a hugger ceiling fan that’s flush-mounted.
  • Go for the biggest Energy Star-rated fan that will fit the space.
  • Choose quality. You’ll get better cooling results, less noise, and good looks at a digestible price point of $200 to $600.

#3 Plant Some Trees

Say what? Adding trees doesn’t instantly pop into your head when you think of adding value to your home. But trees are moneymakers that get better with age.

A mature tree could be worth between $1,000 to $10,000, says the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers. A 16-inch silver maple could be worth $2,562, according to a formula worked out by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

In urban areas, money really does grow on trees. A recent study of home sales by the Pacific Northwest Research Station of Portland showed that street trees growing in front of or near a house boosted its sale price by an average of $8,870 and shaved two days off its time on the market.

There’s more. Trees also:

  • Save $100 to $250 annually in energy costs
  • Lower stress
  • Prevent erosion from downpours and roof runoff
  • Protect your home from wind, rain, and sun

#4 Install a Deck or Patio

But don’t go crazy and trick out your outdoor space with high-end amenities, like an outdoor kitchen — especially if you’d be the only one on the block with one. When it’s time to sell, you won’t get back much — if any — of your investment on outdoor kitchens and other high-end amenities. Instead, keep it simple and functional to see a return on investment.

A professionally installed deck costs about $10,000 to install, but if you DIY it, you’ll save more than half that while adding to your equity.

Don’t skimp on deck lighting. It can make all the difference in functionality and beautification.

#5 Upgrade Your Insulation

It’s not as sexy as a kitchen remodel, but it doesn’t cost as much either ($65,000 vs $2,100).

Plus, you’ll save all year long on your utility bills. Win-win!

#6 Add Some Creative Storage

We don’t have to sell you on the value of storage and built-in organization. Since when have you heard someone complain about too much storage? Never, we bet.

Adding storage is a no-brainer, but it does take a little brainpower to find your home’s hidden storage.

Here are a few ways to think outside of the toy box:

  • Open drywall to create storage cubbies between your wall’s studs.
  • Install platform storage that hangs from your garage ceiling.
  • Even stairs can give you more storage. One clever mom repurposed an old chest of drawers and created storage within a basement staircase.

#7 Install Landscape Lighting

Exterior lighting makes your home shine in the evening, accents features you like most about your house, and helps keep burglars away. Installing motion-detecting lights can even lower some homeowners’ insurance premiums.

Tips:

  • Place accent lights under your favorite trees to show off your landscaping’s top earners.
  • Put them on a timer so you don’t waste energy running them during the day.
  • Choose a warm, white light. It’ll make your home look and feel welcoming.
Article by LISA KAPLAN GORDON

Arachnophobes, Beware! Why Spiders May Take Over Your Home This Fall

Fall means a variety of changes—colorful foliage, cozier wardrobes, the switch from iced to hot coffee. But if there’s one change this season you might not like so much, it’s this: The spiders are coming … into our homes!

That’s right, autumn traditionally marks the quiet, creepy migration of arachnids from our gardens and backyards to warmer climes inside our toasty abodes.

In Georgia’s Paulding County, these pests have already settled in. According to WSB-TV 2, resident Nicole Photianos found dozens of venomous brown recluse spiders everywhere immediately after she moved into her new home.

Oh, and she can’t get rid of them.

Exterminators have treated the home every week since the infestation, but the stubborn spiders keep coming back.

“I just say we should just burn it down,” Photianos joked (we assume).

And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about spiders taking over. Who can forget the St. Louis family who, in 2014, were forced to vacate their home because thousands of venomous spiders were “bleeding out of the ceilings”? Or the town in Tennessee that, in 2015, was haunted by a half-mile-long blanket of spiderwebs?

Granted, some arachnologists point out that spiders may seem to be everywhere in the fall because autumn is their mating season. In order to breed, these reclusive creatures must come out from hiding in the nooks and crannies of your house and actually find another spider to get fresh with. And hey, without Tinder, that’s tough!

And don’t worry—in most cases, the spiders in your home are harmless. Of the 43,000 spider species out there, only a handful are dangerous, and less than 30 (or 0.1%) are responsible for killing humans.

Still, though: We’re going to go out on a limb and say that you’re not looking to share your home with these guests this fall. Instead of packing up and moving out, here’s how to get rid of spiders in your home—and a few spider-ridding myths debunked along the way.

How to get rid of spiders: Do natural repellents work?

Chances are you’ve heard the old wives’ tale that you can rid your home of spiders using all-natural ingredients like tobacco, lemon oil, or peppermint. But some experts say that this won’t necessarily force out your eight-legged (and eight-eyed!) guests.

“There is no research that shows anything like that is a deterrent to spiders,” Paul Hetherington of the conservation fund Buglife told the Guardian.

Plus, a 2017 study published by the Journal of Economic Entomology tested lemon oil and peppermint to see their efficacy at repelling spiders. The researchers found no evidence that lemon oil had any effect on the spiders. Peppermint oil, on the other hand, showed a few repellent effects, but only in two of the tested species.

Foolproof spider busters

Luckily, there are some effective ways to get rid of spiders in your home.

  • Get cleaning: The easiest way to keep arachnids at bay? Regularly cleaning your house. Start by vacuuming your floors and furniture to get rid of unwanted webs and even spider eggs. Yuck! Don’t forget to dust the corners of the room to sweep up crumbs.
  • Seal the cracks: Make sure spiders don’t get into your house in the first place by filling in any gaps or cracks in your walls. Most importantly, keep your doors and windows closed as often as you can.
  • Get a feline friend: Spiders don’t stand a chance against a cat. These four-legged hunters naturally seek out vermin like spiders for snacks. Just be sure you aren’t in an area where poisonous spiders are common, since they might make your feline sick.
  • Bring out the big guns: If you suspect a serious spider infestation, you may need to invest in an insect bomb. They’re designed to release a lethal concoction for spiders, and while this drastic measure is cheaper than an exterminator, you’ll still need to vacate the area where it’s being used for several hours.
Article by Allison Underhill

The Smartest DIYers Know to Avoid These 6 Amateur Mistakes

Mind the (cabinet) gaps.

The savings. The personal satisfaction. The increased resale value. Taking on your own kitchen remodel can deliver countless financial and emotional perks — if done right.

But done wrong, yikes! “Poor-quality workmanship … can easily decrease a home’s value,” says Bill Gassett, owner of Maximum Real Estate Exposure in Massachusetts.

Earn your bragging rights and keep your home’s value intact (and rising) by avoiding these telltale signs of DIY gone wrong:

#1 Gaps Around Cabinetry

Why it happens: Because homes aren’t perfectly level. And when you hang cabinets to be level (which you should), that leaves gaps next to the wall, says Julie Blake with Boston-based remodeling provider The Norfolk Companies.

How the pros do it: For a finished look, you have to go the extra mile, Blake says. Fill the gap with wood shims. (If you’ve ever wedged anything under a table leg to stop it from rocking, you’ve used a shim. The same technique works here, except you can actually buy ones that work better than a folded napkin.) Then cover the shims with the same molding used in the rest of the room.

#2 Misplaced Light Fixtures

Why it happens: Whenever light fixtures don’t line up over a sink or a kitchen island, that indicates a DIY job that wasn’t well planned or budgeted, says Doug King, owner of Doug King Contracting in St. Petersburg, Fla. Amateurs often forget about lighting, or don’t think about it soon enough to budget for it, then end up having to live with the old lighting.

How the pros do it: They plan the lighting at the same time they plan the design. And they know it’s a not a cheap add-on to the project. They also budget for an electrician (or include the cost in their bid). To save money, you can opt to do the ceiling repair after the lights are moved, but it’s best for your own safety to hire an electrician to do the wiring.

#3 Cracked Floor Tiles

Why it happens: Usually because the subfloor is uneven or the underlayment is wrong, Gassett says. If the subfloor is uneven, or has too much “give,” it leaves room for the rigid tile to crack and shift.

How the pros do it: They test to make sure the subfloor is level, then secure it to the floor joists, and then (this is crucial) install the appropriate underlayment for your specific tile type, such as a liquid one in the case of concrete or porcelain tile. Your tile supplier can help you figure that out. The key is to do it. It helps cushion against any unevenness that may happen as you use the floor.

#4 Sloppy Paint

Why it happens: Because inexperienced painters usually try to take shortcuts. Uneven transitions, paint on light switches, thinly veiled cracks, dents, and bumps. All are marks of a paint job that lacked proper preparation and cleanup.

How the pros do it: They spend more time prepping than they do actually painting:

  • Repairing wall surfaces
  • Removing outlet covers
  • Covering light fixtures with plastic wrap
  • Use masking tape to cover hardware
  • Using painter’s tape along the ceiling and molding

To get clean lines around the ceiling and molding, remove painter’s tape before water-based paint has dried completely, then go back and touch-up any smudges.

#5 Poorly Spaced Tile

Why it happens: There’s a good chance the design wasn’t fully planned prior to ordering materials or beginning installation. Grout-filled gaps and oddly pieced-together tiles, whether on the edge of a backsplash or in a corner of the floor, are dead giveaways of novice work, Gassett says.

How the pros do it: Use grid paper to make sure the design covers all bases: include all obstacles, whether they be electrical outlets or door frames. Then, use this model to lay out your tile design, starting in the center. Then double-check your calculations and do a test run in an inconspicuous spot.

#6 Gaps Between the Floor and the Wall

Why it happens: The baseboard or shoe molding probably wasn’t removed before adding the new floor, making it impossible to not have a gap, even if it’s just a tiny one.

How the pros do it: Always remove any molding. Install new flooring so that it gets as close to your walls or cabinetry as recommended by the manufacturer. Then install a baseboard or shoe molding to cover the wall and floor’s meeting place.

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