5 Reasons To Not Pay Off Your Mortgage Early

(Branko Miokovic/iStock)

You’ve imagined it: that party you’ll throw (and the happy dance you’ll undoubtedly do) the day you pay off your mortgage. Ah, the joy of being debt-free and the full owner of your home!

But hold on: While paying off that principal on your home loan is certainly an achievement, it’s not one you want to rush unnecessarily.

We know, holding on to a mortgage payment can seem counterproductive—especially when you have a large amount of debt looming over your head—but getting rid of it isn’t always the smartest financial move.

You’re probably thinking, “Um, what about all that interest I’ll save?!” Stick with us here. For one, mortgage interest rates are at historic lows, so you aren’t really saving that much by eliminating a mortgage. And that money might be better used elsewhere. Here are some circumstances when you might want to hold on to that monthly payment, and why.

1. You get a tax break on your interest

Homeowners get a federal and state tax deduction on mortgage and home equity loan interest, which can contribute to a hefty overall deduction if you itemize your taxes.

In a nutshell, homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million. However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can deduct the interest on only the first $750,000.

In either case, holding on to your mortgage longer allows you to claim that deduction for the life of your loan.

2. You can take out a home equity loan

As long as you have a mortgage, you have the ability to take out a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. And, bonus, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible as long as the loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. Just note you can deduct the interest up to a $750,000 cap on your HELOC and mortgage combined.

So hold on to that mortgage if a bathroom overhaul is in your future.

3. You could be making a higher return elsewhere

Take a step back and think: “Could my money be doing more for me?” If you spend all your hard-earned cash paying off your mortgage, you won’t have it to invest in other places—which, of course, limits your potential for a cash return. 

Jim Ludwick, founder of Main Street Financial Planning, suggests that homeowners who are considering paying off their mortgage instead consider buying a rental property. Crunch your numbers in our mortgage calculator, and apply for mortgage pre-approval if you decide to go that route.

“Sometimes having a mortgage on one property allows you to go out and purchase a rental property and get a good cash-on-cash return,” he says. (Just make sure you know what you’re getting into—being a landlord ain’t easy, either.)

4. You have other debt with a high-interest rate

“Mortgages are relatively cheap money to borrow, so it could make sense to use the cash to pay for other needs such as higher-interest credit card debt,” explains Robbie Schoonmaker, a principal at Matterhorn Financial Planning.

Because mortgages tend to have lower interest rates than, say, a credit card, using extra cash to pay off those debts will save you money on interest in the long run.

5. You want to make sure your emergency and retirement funds are safe

If you’re planning on paying off your principal by dipping into your savings account or retirement fund, think again. Using one of these options to pay off your mortgage can give you a false sense of financial security.

Unexpected expenses—such as medical costs, needed home repairs, or emergency travel—can destroy your financial standing if you don’t have a cash reserve at the ready.

“Once you pay the mortgage off, it could be hard to get the money back, particularly since a time of financial need may be the very time that it is hardest to get a new loan,” Schoonmaker explains.

And as far as dipping into your retirement goes—just don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. And if you do, prepare for it to cost you: Since the money has never been taxed before, you’ll see deep cuts when you take it out.

Finally, don’t skimp on your retirement fund, either. Sure, it might be tempting to scale back on your 401(k) contributions in order to put that cash toward your mortgage. But we’re pretty sure you’ll be sorry when you’re 65.

Whether it’s investing in real estate or buying bonds, just think of what will give you the biggest financial gains. And if your payday really is paying off your mortgage, then we’ll just say congrats!

Article by Lindsey Campbell

3 Weird Regrets You Might Feel After Moving Out of Your House

(bgwalker/iStock; realtor.com)

I was one of those lucky kids who lived in the same house throughout my childhood, in Orange County, CA, where kids played whiffle ball after dinner and rode their bikes to soccer practice. Throughout college and my 20s, I returned here during summers and vacations because, even though I’d moved on, it still felt like “home.”

Then the day arrived when my family sold the place, as happens with most childhood homes. Yet even after it belonged to someone else, I harbored such fond memories that when I flew in for a 20th-year high school reunion, I decided to drive by and check it out.

As I pulled up to my old address, I eagerly awaited a sweet blast of nostalgia. Had the new owners kept the lawn lush where I used to practice my cartwheels? Would some new pack of kids be out there playing whiffle ball?

Yet once I spotted my old home, my excitement turned to dread. Because everything looked the same—as in, exactlythe same, just older and woefully neglected. The garage door that I used to hit tennis balls against was the same, swinging out to open, instead of rising up. Yep, that’s how old it is. The picket fence that was once covered with roses was bare. The paint on the house was peeling so much, I could see the wood underneath.

It was just depressing. I kept right on driving.

And what was even more distressing was the fact that, according to realtor.com®, the home had increased in value by nearly 50% over the past nine years. If only my family had held onto the property a little longer, we could have been hundreds of thousands of dollars richer!

My family is hardly alone in this angst, a sentiment commonly echoed among home sellers who moved out two months or 20 years earlier.

“It’s natural to be curious about what happens to your old home, since these residences are filled with milestones and memories of friends and family,” says Allison Bethell, a real estate analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com.

Yet therein lies the rub: Changes to a former home or neighborhood—or lack thereof—can hit you emotionally in ways you might not anticipate. Just so you’re prepared for what’s in store if you do “check in” on your old home, here are some weird realizations and regrets that might get you kicking yourself.

1. You’ll be horrified if it looks run-down

Dylan Diersen, a real estate agent with First Weber, grew up as a military kid, moving to a new house every few years with his family. Whenever he happened to be in a town where he used to live, he’d usually do a drive-by, the same way I did. That is, until he realized that it was typically disappointing.

“We almost always purchased fixer-uppers and put a ton of work into them,” he says. Yet once the house was handed over to someone else, the new owners rarely kept up the maintenance. “Seeing how the new owners don’t take care of a home as well as we did kills the soul a little bit,” he says.

2. You’ll be horrified if it looks fixed up

Yet for every tale of a house being neglected, there are 10 more of houses where current owners dismantled beloved features from the past.

“I was sad when we discovered that the new buyer destroyed the stone wall that my husband and I built around the garden,” says Ali Wenzke of Chicago. “We had carted hundreds if not thousands of pounds of concrete blocks from the home improvement store. It was built with blood, sweat, and tears. And now it’s gone!”

Thomas Bayles, a homeowner and house flipper in Los Angeles, knows all too well what happens when you hand the keys to the next owner who may not share your taste.

“I spent five months renovating a home to flip; the landscaping alone cost me about $15,000 and a few sleepless nights deciding on the design,” Bayles says. The new owner promptly demoed the front yard and spent what Bayles estimates to be about $20,000 on a completely different look.

“This is when I realized that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder,” he says.

3. You’ll be horrified if the price has skyrocketed

Changes to the home are bad enough, but if the home’s price has skyrocketed, that’s a whole different kind of pain.

Case in point: The first property Bayles ever bought was a duplex for a little over $500,000. He took his time restoring the property and sold it a year later for just over $800,000. Which is great, right?

“A mere three years later, that property was worth approximately $1.2 million,” he says. “I kick myself all the time for leaving $400,000 on the table.”

And price appreciation can happen quickly, too. After moving in April, Jessica Landon watched her previous home in a suburb of Portland, OR, gain $20,000 in value over a matter of six months.

“It’s hard not to say to yourself, ‘If I’d waited six more months I could have made $20,000 more,’” says Landon. “At some point, I had to stop looking or I knew I’d drive myself crazy.”

How to avoid home-selling regrets

Checking out a home you once lived in is a lot like checking up on your exes on Facebook: Sometimes, it’s best just to not go there.

“Don’t Monday morning quarterback yourself,” says Realtor® Shannon Aronson of Keller Williams in Summit, NJ. For instance, if you’re kicking yourself for not holding onto a place longer to make more money, tell yourself that odds are, you moved when you had to—and that the home could have just as easily plummeted in price.

And while a quick drive-by of your old home might be OK, you may want to refrain from knocking on the door to see the interior, or obsessively checking photos online. Because these are the facts: Once you’ve moved out, this home is no longer your home. You have a new place—why not focus on that instead?

Article by Cathie Ericson

Can a Smart Home Care for Your Pet? You Bet!

(http://petnet.io)

Smart homes don’t just keep their camera eyes peeled for burglars or high heating bills. They can also take care of our beloved  pets—feeding Caliban the capybara, entertaining Shelly the schnauzer, cleaning out the litter box of Humbert the Himalayan. And you don’t even need to be home when any of it happens!

New technology can help keep our pets healthy and happy without needing us to be at their side 24/7. As Tierra Bonaldi of the American Pet Products Association explains, “Plenty of owners travel or work long hours, so they use smart feeding devices to ensure proper access to food and portion control. Others use cameras, treat dispensers, and apps to communicate with their pet and better stay in touch to increase the human-animal bond.”

Or is it the animal-machine bond?

Of course, none of these gears is an excuse to leave your animal companion alone for long stretches; think of it more as a pinch hitter when you’re in a bind and your neighbor can’t swing by to do the honors. If you love your pets and want some assistance caring for them, here’s how smart pet care can help.

Smart pet feeders

Pet feeders have come a long way. As proof, check out the Petnet Pet Feeder ($150), one of the leaders in the industry that, for starters, allows you to program a feeding schedule that will dispense the right amount of food at certain times (or allow you to do so remotely through your smartphone). In addition, it’ll weigh and track how much an animal has eaten—and, if you enter your pet’s weight, activity levels, and other stats in the app, will even determine the right amount of food for your companion based on an algorithm created by vets.

Petnet can store up to seven pounds of food—that’s a few weeks worth for the average cat—and can interface with the Nest Cam to show you video of your fuzzy buddy enjoying a meal.

Petnet keeps your animals fed while you’re away.(petnet.com)

The next level up is the Feed and Go ($250), which adds a few additional tricks to the party. It can dispense up to six portions of wet or dry food, as well as medicine. Meanwhile a built-in camera allows you to make sure your pet chowed down and even records an audio snippet you can play from afar so you can reassure your four-legged friends that you miss them and will be home in a jiffy.

Smart collars

Not sure if your pooch is getting enough exercise patrolling your backyard? Collar wearables are essentially the dog versions of the Fitbit. FitBark ($70) is a little device that attaches to your dog’s collar and tracks its activity for the day. You pick an activity goal (suggested based on your dog’s size and breed) and it lets you know through a smartphone app whether your pup has reached it or needs a few more rounds of fetch.

If you want all that and a way to track down a pet who wanders off, the Whistle 3 ($80) has a $10 monthly service fee, but this device gives you all the activity tracking of the FitBark and pet-locating GPS. So if your pet ventures outside the the Wi-Fi network designated as a “safe place,” Whistle sends you an alert. From there, you can pinpoint your pet’s location on a digital map and track it down. It’s no wonder the Whistle 3 earned a PC Mag’s Editor’s Choice award.

Never lose your dog again with the Whistle 3 smart collar.(whistle.com)

Smart litter boxes

If cleaning the litter box is the bane of your existence, the Litter-Robot III Open Air ($450) relieves you by automatically scooping the poop into a drawer (which you eventually have to dump once you get an alert). It also has charcoal filters to control odors. According to All Home Robotics, the Litter-Robot is the real deal that “does the job quietly and efficiently with very little fuss.” Pretty much what you want in a smart litter box, no?

You can tell this cat loves its Litter-Robot.(litter-robot.com)

While the Tailio Wi-Fi Litter Box ($200) won’t scoop the poop, it performs other important functions: It measures your cat’s weight, excretions, and litter box behavior to alert you to any health issues based on, say, weight loss or frequent urination.

Smart pet cameras

If your pet craves human contact while you’re away, then a two-way “communication camera” could help. These are designed to let you watch and hear, through your smartphone, your pet when you’re not home, or even talk to them if necessary, whether to soothe a nervous kitten or tell a naughty dog to get off the couch.

A standard Nest Cam ($199) security camera can do double duty as a smart pet camera, since it comes with two-way audio (but not video). But if you want something geared for your pet, there’s an array of options.

If your feline family member loves laser pointers, the Petcube Play  ($199) has similar features to the Nest—two-way audio, the ability to record video snippets—with the pet-specific feature of a built-in laser pointer you can control with your phone, enabling you to “play” with your cat while you’re bored at work or away on business.

Or if the prospect of treats gets your pet more excited, the Petzi Treat cam ($170) lets you talk to your pet, snap pics, and, if someone is being a particularly good boy or girl, dispense a treat from a storage case inside.

The Petzi treat cam dispenses treats at good boys and girls.(petzi.com)

For the ultimate pet cam experience, PetChatz ($380) is the only pet cam with two-way video and audio, so your pet can see you while you’re chatting. Developed by a former vet instructor, PetChatz also has a full range of fun functions you can operate remotely from your smartphone: a treat dispenser, aromatherapy scent release, streaming DogTV, and even a little flashing light game to sharpen your pet’s brain (if your furry friend pushes the right combination of lights, it’s rewarded with a treat).

Plus, for an additional $100, PetChatz comes with a “PawCall” device that gives your pet the ability to call you by pushing a button with a paw so you two can see and hear each other for a heart to heart. (Still, though: Do you really want your pet calling whenever it wants? And if so, how do you explain to your boss midmeeting, “Sorry, gotta take this—it’s my dog”?)

The PetChatz comes with a two-way camera.(petchatz.com)
Article by Audrey Ference

The Best Ways To Improve Your Laundry Room Based on How Much Time You Have

(Getty Images)

People generally spend way more time than they’d like doing laundry. Between the sorting, washing, transferring to the dryer, then folding or ironing, it adds up and can feel like a never-ending chore.

It’s no surprise, then, that home buyers want a nice place to spend all that time. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Buyers in 2019, 91% of first-time home buyers wanted a room or area clearly devoted to laundry activities. So creating an organized and attractive space is important for people already in their forever homes, and it’s a great way to boost long-term value for everyone else.

And yet the laundry room is often one of the most overlooked rooms in the house. Is there a way to make this chore hub more welcoming and efficient? Maybe even less boring? You betcha!

We asked experts for ideas on how to reorganize and upgrade a laundry area, and they delivered in spades. Check your calendar, and be sure to pencil in one of the projects below based on how much time you have.

If you have 5 minutes

With just a few minutes, you can make your laundry room a more attractive and better-smelling place.

“The laundry room should scream ‘clean,’ just like your freshly washed and folded clothes,” says Meredith Ehn, sales agent for Falk Ruyin Gallagher team, at Keller Williams in Milwaukee.

Too often, however, laundry rooms resemble (and smell like) the dirty clothes that have been hanging around in them.

“Give a little love to your washer and dryer by wiping down both machines,” Ehn advises. “Fight unpleasant odors by cleaning the inside, too.”

Cost: Free

Next, clear out the extraneous stuff.

“A very simple, yet extremely effective tactic for making the laundry room look better is decluttering,” says Benji Cohn, also a sales agent on the Falk Ruyin Gallagher team, at Keller Williams in Milwaukee. “Remove extra shoes, coats, and accessories. Store extra laundry, cleaning supplies, and anything else that you don’t need on hand out of sight. Freeing up extra space will make the room feel larger and less chaotic.”

Cost: Free

If you have 30 minutes

On average, Americans do about 400 loads of laundry a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In just 30 minutes, you can beautify the space you spend so much time in.

“When you think of creative lighting, your laundry room is probably not the first place you’d think of hanging it,” says Christina Giaquinto, a professional organizer based in New York. “But hanging a chandelier or getting a cool lamp can really improve the look and feel of the laundry room.”

Cost: $30-plus for a lamp; $80-plus for a chandelier

Another way to add your own personal touch, and a sense of elegance to the laundry room, is by “decanting frequently used products out of their original packaging and moving them into glass jars or bottles,” says Jen Maher, founder of Let Us Organize It in Philadelphia.

“Having all of your laundry products in glass containers adds a beautiful new element to your laundry room,” she says.

Cost: $5-plus for nice glass jars or bottles

If you have 1 hour

Another great way to improve the look and functioning of your laundry space is to replace the cabinet handles and sink hardware with new ones.

“I also recommend replacing the faucet if it’s past its prime. Installing a statement faucet creates a focal point and can be a fun way to express your style,” says Teri Simone, marketing manager and design adviser at Nieu Cabinet Doors in Burlington, Ontario.

Cost: $5-plus for new handles; $100-plus for sink hardware; $50-plus for new faucet

If you have 3 hours

With three hours, you can take your laundry room from chaotic to organized.

“Laundry rooms can easily become clutter rooms if you don’t create good storage systems,” Giaquinto says. “Piles of clothes, supplies, and air-drying clothes can take over. But if you create a storage system, you’ll easily be able to keep track of everything, and visually, it will be much better.”

She recommends putting cleaning supplies on an open shelving unit, ideally above or next to the washer and dryer. Next, get a stylish hamper for every member of the family, and make sure they know where their laundry should “live.” Finally, get a drying rack that can fold up and be stowed away when not in use.

“Make sure everything has a space,” Giaquinto says. And don’t be shy about reminding family members to comply with the organization system.

Cost: $20-plus for open shelving (depending on material and design); $20-plus for stylish hampers

If you have the space in your laundry room, buy a can or two of chalkboard paint and create a floor-to-ceiling statement wall that’ll keep your whole family organized.

“A painted-on chalkboard livens up the space and lets you track upcoming appointments and your to-do list,” says Cohn. It also gives younger family members who need constant supervision something to do while you’re doing the laundry.

Cost: $20-plus for supplies

If you have a weekend

“A fresh coat of paint will brighten up your space,” Ehn says. But if you really want to make a statement, “install a tile backsplash behind your washer and dryer for an updated, modern feel. I also recommend building a countertop if you have the space. Adding a butcher block counter can be friendly on the wallet and will add room for folding and storage.”

Cost: $50-plus for paint supplies; $500-plus for tile backsplash (including materials and labor); $1,200-plus for a butcher block countertop (including materials and labor), according to Home Advisor

Article by Kathleen Willcox

How to Sneak in More Veggies

Trying to munch more veggies on the reg, but sick of salads and steamed sides? Below are a handful of simple ways you can up your veggie count with ease.

Blend them. If you’re a smoothie fan, you’ll be thrilled to know that adding a handful or two of baby spinach to your morning blend won’t alter the flavor or texture of your favorite drink. It will, however, give you an added vitamin punch and a bright color.

Juice them. Dust off that unused juicer and aim to make a fresh juice at least once a week. Enlist the help of your family to prep veggies and wash the juicer when you’re done. Unsure of what blend to go with? Try green apple, spinach, cucumber and fennel.

Chop them. Skip the chips! Keep chopped celery, peppers and carrots in the fridge for dipping into salsa and hummus.

Shred them. Shred carrots, broccoli or cabbage and toss them into soups, stir fries, salads or casseroles, or toss them together with your favorite herbs and dressings for a savory slaw. To make this easier, shred up a bag at the beginning of the week and get to sprinkling.

Cream them. Colorful carrots with a dash of ginger, chopped onion, salt, pepper and veggie stock can make an easy, creamy, low-fat soup. Just boil the ingredients up in a pot, then blend with an immersion blender for an easy, filling meal.

Money Matters for Millennial Parents

Source: SmartAboutMoney.org

As a young parent, you may just be learning about all the responsibilities parenthood requires. When it comes to financial planning, setting your sight on the future can help immensely.

Demolish debt. Slaying your own debt will positively impact your family’s financial future. While it may take years to pay off those student loans or credit card debt, creating a plan can help. Tackle your lowest balance first to gain momentum then take on the next smallest. Additionally, pay attention to higher interest rates that are costing you a lot of money.

Build a budget. Creating a budget doesn’t have to be hard. There are many budgeting apps available on the market to help you track your expenses, or you can try the trusty envelope system with monthly allowances for groceries, entertainment, utilities, etc.

Build an emergency fund. Setting a fund for potential emergencies will never backfire. Aim for a small, achievable goal as low as $500 then set the bar higher. Participate in your employer-sponsored savings program to boost retirement savings, especially if there is a match. Make it an automatic payroll deduction and increase it when your paycheck goes up. As far as your child’s college savings, save what you can, when you can. Every little bit will help when education bills come due.

Child care. Consider establishing a flexible spending account if one is offered by your employer. Parents can use pretax dollars to pay up to $5,000 in child care expenses in most states.

Review insurance and important paperwork. Create a will either by using an online program or hiring a professional to name your child’s guardian, and designate at what age any payouts, savings or investments will be distributed. With health insurance, notify your employer within 30 days of the birth to ensure that the child is eligible for any dependent benefits. Purchase appropriate health care coverage to protect your family. Review your employer’s life insurance plan and determine if it is adequate for your needs. If not, consider purchasing additional life insurance.

Source: SmartAboutMoney.org

Construction Catastrophes: 5 Epic Homebuilding Fails That Buyers Should Run Away From

(Getty Images)

Nobody wants to invest in a home only to realize later that it has about a million and one things wrong with it. And while no home purchase is ever a guaranteed good buy, there are certain, shall we say, clues as to when something might just be very, very wrong.

We spoke with the pros to round up five of the most common #buildingfails that you should watch out for when buying your next home. Not only will spotting them early save you some aggravation later on (and maybe even allow you to negotiate the asking price), but it’ll also help you sniff out any bigger issues that might be at play.

1. Blocked casement windows

There’s nothing quite like sleeping with the windows wide open on a hot summer night—unless, of course, yours don’t open at all. Then what could have been the perfect master bedroom can fast become a sauna.

“I’ve seen this when someone buys a home and then decided to completely gut the whole thing and change the roof design,” says Brett Elron, owner and lead designer of BarterDesign. “They draw out this beautiful new roof but don’t think about how it will actually sit with the current window structure of the home, and you end up with these arches and eaves blocking windows.”

Avoid getting stuck with this house fail by test-opening all the windows on the upper floor, especially if the roof looks (suspiciously) low.

2. Things that go through the roof

Speaking of roofs, there’s nothing quite like the ones that have random things coming in and out—like beams or chimneys installed after the fact.

“Likely an inspector determined the existing structure was unsound and whoever was responsible for the fix felt this would be the quickest and easiest solution,” says Melanie Hartmann, owner and CEO of Creo Home Solutions. “However, again, once you go to resolve this issue, there may be many more that are found.”

Do yourself a favor and don’t buy a home that looks like somebody’s kid put Lincoln Logs through the roof.

3. Doors and stairs that lead to nowhere

“I’ve been in a few homes where there are second-story doors that are literal dead ends, which is very confusing,” says Elron.

“One home that had this was purchased at a foreclosure, and the previous owner was in the process of adding a bonus room over their garage, and ended up running out of money halfway through the project,” he adds. “So of course the only thing left was the door to nowhere.”

Call us boring, but we’d advise sticking only to homes with functional doors and staircases.

4. Misaligned flooring

Although this could just be one person’s itty-bitty renovation faux pas, it might also be the type of thing that drives you crazy later on. (We’re looking at you, Type A buyers.)

“In one house I was working on, 95% of the bathroom tiles were facing one direction and the rest were facing a different direction,” recalls Elron. “I asked the homeowner about this, and the bathroom tiles were put in by the husband and his brother. The husband did the first 95% of the project and then hurt his back, and had to recruit his brother to finish the job—who did so with the tiles facing the other direction.”

Unless you find this kind of thing charming (or have plans to redo the bathroom ASAP), we’d encourage you to find a home where all the tiles face the same way.

5. Obvious plumbing problems

Some plumbing problems are just so painfully wrong, that they really should make you question what else is going on in the house—especially behind the walls and under the floorboards. We’re talking about faucets without sinks, toilet bowls that face the wall—or, our personal favorite, bathtubs and showers you can’t get into.

“Any plumbing issues you should run away from, or make sure to have the proper budget to correct them,” says Hartmann. “They can get out of hand very quickly, and should be assessed and addressed as soon as possible.”

We’d bet your budget (and time) could be spent on better things. If you see a house with these issues, just run.

Article by Larissa Runkle

Will Fido Be Happy Here? How Much Pets Matter When Buying a Home

(Justin Paget/Getty Images)

There are so many things to consider when looking for the right home: Is it located in a good neighborhood with an easy commute to work? Does the price tag fit within the budget? And perhaps most importantly, does it have everything that Fido and Tigger need to live long, happy lives there?

Almost 95% of pet owners said they considered the needs of their furry friends to be important when selecting the right home to buy, according to a recent realtor.com® survey.

More than 2,000 buyers participated in the survey conducted in March in which roughly 82% of respondents were pet owners. About 61% of participants were dog owners, 45% were cat owners, 12% were fish owners, and 9% had birds. Some folks had multiple pets.

“We believe that a home is so much more than a roof and four walls. It is where family and friends come together and memories are made,” realtor.com Chief Marketing Officer Nate Johnson said in a statement. “The results of this survey reinforce that our pets are our family and an important part of what makes a house a home.”

The top home features for pet parents were big yards, at 38%, and outdoor spaces, at 29%. Those four-legged companions need ample space to run around and sun themselves so they don’t wreck the house! Pet owners also prioritized garages, at 24%; dog runs, at 22%; and lots of indoor square footage, at 20%.

That could help to explain why 68% of pet owners would pass on their dream house if it didn’t accommodate the needs of their animals. Clearly, it wasn’t perfect if it there were too many stairs for Couscous or it was a little too close to the highway for Mr. Giggles.

It may not be surprising that, among the survey respondents, 87% of dog and cat owners rated their pets’ needs as extremely or very important when selecting a home. But 89% of bird owners, 85% of fish owners (really?), 79% of rodent owners (eww!), and 74% of horse owners also said they would also consider their animals before purchasing a property.

Article by Clare Trapasso

Paint Prep, Explained: 4 Things You Absolutely Must Do Before Painting Your House

(Getty Images)

Deciding to have our house painted was a big decision, but once we made it, we couldn’t wait to see the final results. But wait we did.

What we hadn’t anticipated was all the prep work that went into getting our house ready for painting. There was power washing to be done, windows to be caulked, vines to be removed, and a host of other tasks that took weeks to complete before we finally saw that oh-so-carefully chosen shade of white paint start to cover up the mustard yellow we’d lived with for far too long.

While each paint job is different and requires varying preparations (we had roof repairs and other bigger issues), there are some basic things that must be done before any home painting begins.

Rick Watson, director of product information at Sherwin-Williams, says far too many people skip painting preparation or do it improperly.

“About 80% of all coating failure is due to improper preparation,” he says.

The goal is the same, whether painting indoors or out: to create a clean, dry, smooth, and structurally sound surface before the paint is applied. Even if you hire professionals to do the painting, doing some of the prep work yourself can save money and make sure the results are as perfect as you’d hope.

“It’s easy to rush and forget to clean or prep your painting surface beforehand,” agrees Jessica Barr, a paint application expert for Behr Paint Co. “To avoid wasting time or duplicating efforts, it’s worth going the extra mile to ensure your workspace is fully prepared and ready to go.”

Here’s how to make sure you get the most out of your paint.

1. Clean before you paint

Inside: Use a duster to get rid of surface dust and remove any cobwebs. Then wipe down the surface using a rag or washcloth dampened in a mixture of mild detergent and warm water to remove lingering dirt and debris.

Outside: Power washing is usually the most efficient and effective way to clean your home’s exterior walls. To get rid of mildew and keep it from coming back, Lowe’s suggests using a detergent that contains mildew remover or making your own solution by combining a quart of bleach with three quarts of water.

2. Do repairs before you paint

Inside: Inspect your walls for any cracks or holes. Patch as necessary, then sand until the surface is smooth. And as counterintuitive as it may seem, sanding should happen after cleaning the surface. Watson says sanding before cleaning can grind in the general contaminants that may be sitting on that surface.

“Grease, dirt, and grime that has built up over time will be pushed deeper into the existing finish or grooves/scratches you made by sanding,” he says. “Once painted, those contaminants may leach back out through the paint film, causing adhesion and peeling issues, blotchiness and stain bleed through your finish. It’s important to always clean the surface first prior to sanding or wire brushing.”

Outside: If your walls have chipped and peeling paint, scrape it off with a wire brush, then sand. The same goes if you have crawling vines or other foliage covering the walls you want to paint.

Attend to any areas that need to be patched, repaired, or recaulked. Make sure to use products that are designed for outdoor use. Depending on what shape your house is in as well as the tools you have at your disposal, the repairs and cleaning may be best done by professionals.

3. Protect your property before you paint

Inside: Sure, you don’t plan to drip paint on the carpet or your couch, but it happens. Remove any rugs and furniture that you can, then put down dropcloths or otherwise cover the flooring and furniture in the room you’re painting.

Outside: Move any outdoor furniture, and use dropcloths to protect your grass, plants, flowers, and other items that can’t be moved out of the way. For plants close to the walls, you may need to tie them up to allow room for painting.

4. Tape before you paint

Inside: For professional-looking results, tape off all the surfaces you don’t want painted (e.g., windows, floorboards, and ceilings). Not just any tape will do though; you need painter’s tape, which is specially made for the job and won’t leave residue behind. Make sure it’s applied straight and flat to avoid paint seeping under it. Running a knife over it may help.

Outside: Painter’s tape designed for exterior surfaces is available to section off areas you don’t want to paint.

Once you decide to paint an area of your home, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and want to rush home with paint and get the transformation started, stat. As tempting as it may be to skip some of these steps though, a bit of patience and preparation will pay big-time off in the end.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

Gentleman’s Whiskey Bacon Jam

Taste of Home

Bacon’s not just for breakfast or for slipping in a BLT. Turn this salty treat into a jam and spread it on everything from crackers to burger buns!  – Recipe by Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds thick-sliced bacon strips, finely chopped
  • 8 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup whiskey
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • Assorted crackers

Directions

  • In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Discard all but 2 tablespoons drippings. Add shallots and onion to the drippings; cook over medium heat until caramelized, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in garlic; cook 30 seconds. Add seasonings. Remove from heat; stir in whiskey and maple syrup. Increase heat to high; bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add vinegar and brown sugar; cook another 3 minutes, continuing to stir constantly.
  • Add crumbled bacon; reduce heat to low and cook 12 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Allow jam to cool slightly. Pulse half the jam in a food processor until smooth; stir puree into remaining jam. Serve with assorted crackers.

Test Kitchen Tips

  • Make prep easier by freezing the bacon (it helps to cut it into chunks first) and then pulsing it in the food processor until finely chopped.
  • Step up your grilled cheese game! Add smoky and sweet notes with a few tablespoons of this jam.
Nutrition Facts

2 tablespoons: 112 calories, 8g fat (3g saturated fat), 10mg cholesterol, 118mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate (5g sugars, 0 fiber), 2g protein.

The Pandemic Had Unexpected Effects on Millennial Home Buyers—Here’s Why

(Getty Images)

Although the COVID-19 pandemic brought many aspects of public life to a standstill, for nearly half of millennial home shoppers, it accelerated their buying timeline. The nation’s largest generation surged into the buying market, thanks to record-low mortgage rates and stay-at-home orders, which gave them the opportunity to save up for a down payment. But that doesn’t mean that their path to homeownership was free of hurdles.

Millennials who have bought homes since March 2020 faced more challenges finding and closing on new homes than they had expected, according to a new survey released by Angi, the home-improvement referral site previously known as Angie’s List.

“Many millennial home buyers spent a lot of time looking for homes, had to submit multiple offers, faced bidding wars, and were pushed into older inventory,” says Mischa Fisher, chief economist at Angi.

Additionally, many of them exceeded their budget and ended up in homes needing more renovations than they were prepared for.

Here are some of the key ways the pandemic affected millennials’ home-buying experience.

Long searches and many house tours

Despite being known as the instant gratification generation, many millennial home buyers had to exercise patience during the pandemic. Nearly half of the surveyed respondents (42%) spent six months or longer on the home search, with over half (57%) visiting more than 20 homes.

What made the house hunting process so arduous? The historically low inventory. Many homeowners who planned on selling during 2020 had second thoughts about making big money moves during such an uncertain period.

What’s more, the thought of opening their doors to strangers for staging, viewings, or inspections during a global health crisis was unsettling. Fewer homes on the market meant home shoppers had fewer options—and a lengthier home search.

Multiple offers and paying over asking price

Once millennials did zero in on a home they liked, many had to jump in amid competing offers and go over asking price to land the home.

The survey by Angi revealed that two-thirds of millennial home buyers put in at least four offers before making a winning bid. One-third paid over asking price, and 35% went over budget with their offer.

“Nearly every home sold during the pandemic went into a multiple-offer situation due to low supply and incredibly high demand, thus resulting in a majority of buyers having to pay over asking on homes,” says Ivan Estrada, a broker associate and CPA, Ivan Estrada Properties, with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Especially for first-time home buyers and millennials, their typical price point of under $2 million caused them to face a lot of competition.”

Buying homes requiring renovations

Most buyers start their home search knowing whether they want to buy a move-in ready property or a fixer-upper into which they’d put in some work. But some millennials in search of turnkey homes during the pandemic had to settle for places that needed more TLC than they had initially wanted to take on.

“The low inventory levels and tight housing market drove them toward homes that need work,” says Oisin Hanrahan, CEO of Angi.

According to the survey, 56% of millennials bought a home requiring minor or major renovations, although only 42.4% began their search with that intention.

“The biggest reason why they’re pushed to buying houses requiring renovations is because of the price point,” says Estrada.

Renovated homes in desirable neighborhoods will always be more expensive than fixer-uppers, and that can put many homes out of the financial reach of millennials.

The survey also found that if buyers didn’t exceed their budget in the cost of the home they bought, they were more likely to do so in expenses for renovations. Nearly half (46%) of all respondents went over budget on renovations within the first year of ownership.

There’s no denying that COVID-19 reshaped what we want in home design, and that led some homeowners to opt for certain features and amenities, regardless of price.

Comfort and cleanliness have never been a higher priority for homeowners, and upgrades like bigger pantries, hands-free light switches and faucets, closed HVAC systems, and nicer home offices are now seen as crucial features.

Article by Ana Durrani

10 Pet Prep Tips for Memorial Day Weekend

Our pets love summer just as much as we do! It’s the best time of year to be out and about, enjoying all that the season has to offer, including picnics, hikes, swimming, running or just enjoying a nap in the backyard with your fur babies. While these are all great activities, I’ve got some tips to offer for a safe and relaxing Memorial Day Weekend.

1. Make sure your dog can’t get into the picnic basket
Yummy picnic items considered poisonous for dogs include grapes and raisins (even currants). While xylitol is a natural sugar substitute for people, it is also poisonous for dogs. So be sure keep anything containing xylitol (baked goods, candies, mints, gums, etc.) away from your pets.

2. Table scraps are a no-no
Foreign body dangers such as corn on the cob and peach pits aren’t necessarily poisonous, but they still pose a very dangerous threat to dogs. They can easily get stuck in the intestines and will require surgery to remove.

3. Don’t give Fido that leftover bone
While it’s very tempting, it can also be life-threatening. Along with bones, BBQ bits, like gristle and fat should never be given to your dog. Certain breeds and dogs that are overweight are subject to pancreatitis.

4. Be prepared when you’re going hiking
Always make sure the trail allows for dogs and be sure your dog is in good shape and has the endurance to go on a hike. Brachycephalic breeds and small dogs, physically, cannot handle strenuous hikes. Also bring lots of water and always stay on the designated trails.

5. Make sure your pet has access to fresh water and shade
Our pets, especially dogs, get much thirstier than we do when they get hot, and other than panting and drinking, they really have no way to cool themselves down. Get your pet in the shade as often as possible. While dogs and cats like to sunbathe, direct sunlight can overheat them (especially dogs) and cause heat stroke.

6. Never ever leave your pet in the car
It can take minutes – yes, MINUTES – for a pet to develop heat stroke and suffocate in a car. Most people don’t realize how hot it gets in parked cars.

7. Keep pets away from fireworks
For us, fireworks are the highlight of the night, however, many pets are terrified of them. The loud noises and bright lights easily scare pets, which will make them want to get as far away as possible. Fireworks are also harmful to pets even when they’re not lit, as they contain hazardous chemicals.

8. Don’t skip the sunscreen
Believe it or not, dogs can sunburn, especially those with short or light-colored coats. And just like people, sunburns can be painful for a dog and overexposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer. Talk to your veterinarian about sunscreens for your pet (don’t assume a sunscreen for people is appropriate for your dog).

9. It’s best to keep your dog leashed at all times
Summer holidays means all sorts of exciting sights, scents, noises, critters and people running around, not to mention, exciting places to explore. You never want to lose your pet because he became distracted in an unfamiliar environment or became afraid of a loud noises.

10. Make sure your pup has his ID tag on
We love bringing our pets places, it means we get to spend more time with them! However, when you bring your pet to an outing, be sure he’s wearing his collar with up-to-date ID tags just incase he were to wander off. It never hurts to be careful.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Article by Tori Houle, Lifestyle Contributor and Junior Editor

How To Keep Your Yard Mosquito-Free This Summer

(Getty Images)

Warm days bring some of the best moments of summer, and after a long year away from family and friends, we’re all looking forward to evenings spent around the fire pit, patio swing, or outdoor kitchen. But all too often, mosquitoes will crash the party—and they’re more than just a nuisance.

“Mosquitoes are one of the most dangerous arthropods on the planet because of their ability to vector a long list of dangerous diseases to people and animals,” says Mike Bentley, staff entomologist at the National Pest Management Association. He points out that mosquitoes can develop from egg to adult in as little as seven to eight days during the warm months.

“That means backyards can serve as ideal breeding grounds and populations can get out of hand fast if intervention isn’t taken,” he says.

This summer, don’t live under a mosquito net. Take some early measures to ensure a mosquito-free season, by following these tips from the experts.

Eliminate mosquitoes’ hiding places

To make your backyard less inviting, it’s best to start by getting rid of anything that can attract or house mosquitoes.

“Avoid having lots of tall grass and wooded areas, as these can serve as hiding places. Also, mosquitoes tend to reside in yard debris when they seek shelter,” says  Thomas Marbut, general manager and corporate trainer at Mosquito Squad. “Eliminate leaf litter by cleaning up around lawn edges, mow tall grass areas, and keep your lawn short.”

It’s also a good idea to clean after summer storms, when lots of brush and leaves are scattered about and can serve as hiding places or breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“Adult mosquitoes prefer to rest in shady, humid areas that offer protection from direct sunlight and predators. In a typical backyard, these resting sites can include shrubs or dense vegetation, under decks and patios, or under eaves,” says Bentley.

Pay attention to which plants attract or repel mosquitoes

Your garden could be responsible for drawing mosquitoes to your yard, so be sure you know which plants to keep and which to remove.

“Because mosquitoes are so attracted to water and moisture, the plants that typically attract them have similar qualities,” says Marbut. “The list includes waterlilies, water hyacinths, water lettuce, taro, papyrus, and bamboo.”

Marbut says many mosquito-repelling plants come from the mint family, such as catmint or catnip, horsemint, lemon balm, bee balm, and peppermint. Some other culinary herbs have mosquito-repelling qualities, including rosemary, basil, mint, sage, lavender, various thymes, and hyssop.

“You can place these plants outside or even in window boxes or around doors to discourage the mosquitoes from flying inside,” says Marbut. “Rubbing these plants on your skin will also repel mosquitoes for a short time, but they are most effective if you extract the oils and use them that way.”

Eliminate standing water

A single mosquito can lay up to 200 eggs in water, Marbut says. So any standing water, especially after a storm, can be a problem.

“Immature mosquitoes—eggs, larvae, and pupae—require stagnant water to develop into adults, and they only need about a bottle cap full of water to complete their life cycle,” says Bentley.

Common backyard culprits are clogged gutters or ditches, or household items that can hold water, such as children’s toys, pet food or water dishes, birdbaths, or old tires.

Getting rid of these sites can be as simple as removing the items, or emptying and refreshing water every five to seven days.

Marbut says cleaning and disinfecting your pool by running the filter and chlorinating on a regular basis will help hinder the growth of mosquito larvae.

Know when to call the pros

“If you are experiencing such high levels of mosquito bites that you have become discouraged from spending time in your yard, or if you visibly notice swarms of mosquitoes on a daily basis, it is time to call the pros,” says Marbut.

If your mosquito infestation is not taken care of, you can put yourself—and your guests—in serious danger. Depending on your location in the U.S., mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus, La Crosse virus, or Eastern equine encephalitis virus. Some of these viruses have no vaccine or antiviral treatment available, so experts say it is important to maximize your prevention methods.

“Pest control professionals are trained to identify ideal breeding sites and to develop a comprehensive mosquito management program tailored to your home,” says Bentley.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Bacon and Egg Potato Salad

The Food Network

Jet uses Greek yogurt and mustard as the dressing for his tangy potato salad.

RECIPE COURTESY OF JET TILA

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Put the potatoes in a medium-size saucepan and cover with cold water; add 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the bacon in a skillet over medium-low heat until crispy, about 12 minutes.
  2. Drain the potatoes (do not rinse), transfer to a baking sheet and let cool for 6 to 8 minutes, then cut into quarters.
  3. In a bowl large enough to mix the potatoes, combine the vinegar, yogurt, mustard, scallions, red onion, sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Transfer the potatoes to the bowl, add the bacon and hard-boiled eggs and mix by folding carefully. Serve at room temperature.

Why Veterans Need Military-Friendly Real Estate Agents

Sponsored by Veterans United

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

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

1. They understand the unique needs of VA home buyers

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

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

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

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

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

3. They understand the unique requirements of the VA loan

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

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

When selecting an agent to work with on a VA home purchase, buyers should ask the agent about any VA loan expertise.

Article by Samantha Reeves

Luxe Up Your Loo! 7 Bathroom Improvements You Should Make Before Selling Your Home

(Getty Images)

It’s a seller’s market in many parts of the country right now. But if you’re serious about selling your house fast, you need to make sure your bathrooms are updated to impress.

“Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes,” says Kris Lindahl, CEO and founder of Kris Lindahl Real Estate. “If a buyer sees a bathroom that still needs projects or upgrades, the home is going to be much less appealing to them.”

Before you put your home on the market, here are some of the best bathroom improvements to fetch top dollar.

1. Go for double sinks

Photo by Tidewater Pro Build

This is one of those cases where two is better than one. A double vanity upgrade is a worthwhile splurge, according to the pros.

“Upgrading to double sinks is always appreciated by buyers,” Lindahl says.

Worried about space? You might be surprised by how much you can fit into a modestly sized bathroom.

“You don’t need a big bathroom to pull it off,” says Susan Kelleher, an associate broker at R New York. “Even two small sinks are so much better than one in a home with limited bathrooms, and one waterline can be diverted to a second sink.”

2. Install new bathroom hardware and accessories

This upgrade requires zero DIY skills, and it’s guaranteed to instantly elevate the look of a bathroom. All you need is a few hours and a screwdriver.

“Swapping out hardware like light fixtures, towel bars, cabinet pulls and sink fixtures can make an impact relatively affordably,” Lindahl says.

If you’re updating your hardware, this is also a good time to make sure everything matches.

“Your faucet, doorknobs, and shower frame should all complement one another,” says Tricia Turner, owner of Tricia Turner Properties Group in Houston. “Try not to have mixed metals clashing with one another.”

And what about the mirror, mirror on the wall? Swap it for a framed mirror or frame the existing one to add some style.

“Framing the mirror over the sink can add so much value to the space without costing a ton of money,” Turner says.

3. Replace or paint your vanity

Photo by Elms Interior Design

The vanity is a centerpiece in any bathroom, so don’t overlook this feature when preparing your house to sell.

“Luxe sophistication and clean lines: That’s the theme for bathrooms in every price point,” Kelleher says. If you can’t afford a sleek new vanity, she suggests painting the cabinets in a high-gloss white or pale gray.

For the vanity countertop, opt for a high-quality stone like quartz or granite. A new medicine cabinet above the vanity can also make a bathroom look more luxurious,

“I love the mirrored medicine cabinets from Restoration Hardware—functional, beautiful, and tres chic,” Kelleher says.

4. Update old floors

If you have scuffed-up vinyl, chipped tile, or—heaven forbid—carpet in your bathroom, you’ll definitely want to invest in new flooring.

“Updating old floors to tile or luxury vinyl tile really adds appeal,” Lindahl says.

Bathroom tile is a simple enough project for some DIYers, or you can hire a contractor.

5. Install new light fixtures

Photo by REFINED LLC

Unfortunately, ’80s-style lights gathering dust above the vanity are more tacky than throwback. Swapping them for simple, sophisticated light fixtures is your best bet.

“Great lighting [and] high-end faucets and hardware appeal to buyers in every price point,” Kelleher says.

Lindahl agrees: “Updating light and plumbing fixtures is a quick way to modernize an old bath.”

The best part? Most light fixtures are simple enough to pick up from the hardware store and swap out on your own—no electrician needed.

6. Add space and storage

Who doesn’t want more space in the bathroom? From room for toiletries to linen closets and king-size showers, buyers expect bathrooms that make the most of the space.

“Buyers are looking for more space in new homes, and the bathroom is no exception,” Turner says. “Think about expanding the shower in the master bathroom to fit a bench or seat. It’s an important feature that can be utilized in a lot of different ways.”

It might even be worth it to borrow space from a neighboring room to expand a bathroom.

“Take the adjacent linen closet to make a larger bathroom,” Kelleher says. “Even a small closet can make a big difference, and you can create cabinet space under each sink for maximum storage.”

7. Make your bathroom bright and light

Photo by Electric Bowery

When in doubt, replace loud, bold patterns with clean neutrals in all your bathrooms. A blank slate is more likely to appeal to a wide array of potential buyers.

“Classic white never goes out of style in a bathroom,” Lindahl says. “Replacing an old, colorful tub with a white one is a good idea.”

Plus, a neutral base will make the rest of your bathroom improvements shine—and will sway buyers in the right direction when it comes time to make an offer.

“If the basic tile colors are neutral, it’s amazing what some paint and new fixtures can do,” Kelleher says.

Article by Lauren Sieben

Pets Home Alone? 6 Ways To Keep Dogs (and Cats) Calm When You’re Gone

(Getty Images)

Does your pooch panic when you depart? Many pets experience anxiety when left home alone—particularly if they’ve gotten used to you being around 24/7 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet as COVID-19 vaccine availability spreads and more people resume their commute to an office, many pet owners might worry how Fido will cope if he can’t curl up near Mom or Dad pecking away at a laptop.

So how do you know if your pet may suffer from separation anxiety? According to integrated veterinarian Judy Morgan, some telltale signs are if your pet follows you everywhere, is always in the same room as you, or acts anxious (barking, panting) when you leave. Once you’re gone, you might hear your pet pace, whine, or howl. Or else you may return home to a destruction zone—e.g., Fido has gnawed a rug or armchair to shreds. (For the record, cats are more solitary animals and less likely to have issues when left alone, although that doesn’t mean they won’t get into mischief.)

“We humans are pets’ pack leaders,” explains Morgan. “When the pack leader leaves, animals who are not adjusted to being alone can become distraught.”

If you recognize that your pets may be struggling when you’re not there, here are some ways you can help assuage their animal angst.

1. Create a safe room

One of the best things you can do to assuage your pets’ anxiety is to create a “safe room” in the house just for them.

It could be a closet or a small room in the basement—preferably with no windows—someplace where your pets can go to feel calm. You can create that space by setting it up with a bed, or some toys your pets love that they get to enjoy only while in there, and perhaps some sweatshirts with your scent on them.

“Get them to love the room by spending time in there with them. Read a book or play on your phone or computer while being present but ignoring them, rewarding them for entertaining themselves and being calm,” says Morgan. “It also serves as your pet’s den—dogs like to hide in small places.”

Make sure this area can keep out light flashes (from ambulance or fire truck lights or lightning) and noise (from thunder, sirens, etc.). By getting your pets used to their safe room before you go out, you’re giving them a place where they can feel protected and retreat to.

2. Cue the exit music

Putting on some pet-friendly songs prior to your departure can really help fill the void caused by your absence.

“I like to use spa music because it helps soothe the pet. You can also leave on dog TV or something entertaining for them to watch,” says Morgan.

Another option she recommends is “Through a Dog’s Ear” or “Through a Cat’s Ear”—soundtracks of piano music that have been shown to quash anxiety in 70% of dogs in shelters and kennels, and 85% of dogs in homes. Cats and dogs, after all, are highly sensitive to sound—and these soundtracks are designed by a neurologist to include frequencies and patterns that calm the canine (and feline) nervous system.

3. Plug in some pheromones

In addition to acute hearing, many pets have a keen sense of smell—which is why wafting animal pheromones can chill them out. Delivered via a pet collar, spray, or diffuser like these ones from Adaptil, “the pheromones replicate the pheromones mother dogs emit when they are nursing their puppies,” says Morgan. “They have been clinically proven to decrease stress that leads to unwanted behaviors.”  (Thankfully, these scents are not easily detectable by humans.)

4. Toss them a toy and/or treat

Chances are your pet has a favorite toy and you can use that as a way to offer comfort when you’re heading out. However, another tactic Morgan suggests is to get a stash of new toys that you disseminate in times of stress or distraction.

“I really like food toys if the pet is food-motivated. Something like a Kong,” says Morgan. “I like to fill them with bone broth or baby food or anything the dog will really like, put them in the freezer, take them out, and give them to the dog to lick and work at. It’s a great distractor, and bone broth is really healthy for them.”

5. Drop in CBD oil

Cannabidiol oil—oil extracted from hemp plants—is all the rage right now for humans looking to chill out, but the good news is that you can use the same drops to calm your anxious pet.

According to Morgan, CBD interacts with receptors in a dog’s central nervous system that manage mood, appetite, the immune system, and sleep. When CBD oil components bind to those receptors in a dog’s central nervous system, it increases the animal’s serotonin level to help achieve a sense of calm.

Just keep your dosage in mind—for starters, don’t use any oil that contains more than 0.3% THC. From there, you should consider your pet’s weight.

“Dosing is generally 1 mg per 10 pounds body weight, but you can go higher if necessary to get the desired effect,” suggests Morgan.

There are still ongoing studies to determine the best range for pets, she explains, but this is a safe starting point. Try administering drops directly in your pet’s mouth, or adding it to your dog’s food, water, or a treat.

6. Wrap them up

Wrapping your dog in a ThunderShirt can keep it calm.(ThunderWorks)

Just like a weighted blanket can make a human feel safe and cared for, wrapping up your dog before you leave the house can make it feel more secure.

“The wrap has to be snug, sort of like making a papoose to swaddle an infant,” says Morgan, who adds that while a blanket could work in a pinch, you risk your pet getting tangled if it panics.

Another option is to wrap your pet in a ThunderShirt. This is a calming wrap that you can put on your pet during a stressful situation to help it feel calmer and less anxious. Its patented design works by applying gentle, constant pressure around your pet’s torso, and it has been shown to be 80% effective in reducing pet anxiety.

Article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann

How Much Does It Cost To Paint a House? A House-Painting Primer

(Getty Images)

When your home needs sprucing up, one of the simplest (and cheapest) ways to give it a makeover is paint. Inside or out, a fresh coat of paint can transform the look and feel of a house.

Only how much does it cost to paint a house? That depends on a variety of factors, which are all worth considering before you ever sift through swatches or pick up a brush. Here’s everything you need to know.

How much does it cost to paint the exterior of a house?

According to HomeAdvisor, hiring professional painters to paint the exterior of a house costs $2,958 on average. Painting your home’s exterior yourself will cost about half that much, but beware: Painting a house requires time and expertise that you may not have.

The cost to paint a house will also vary greatly based on the size of your house. You can expect to pay 50 cents to $3.50 per square foot—or between $1,000 and $6,000 for a house of from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet.

Another factor that determines the price is what your house is made of. Painting stucco and brick costs more (about $1 per square foot extra) than other surfaces, such as vinyl and wood, and two- and three-story homes cost more to paint than single-story homes, due to the extra equipment involved (such as ladders and scaffolding).

How much does it cost to paint the interior of a home?

HomeAdvisor estimates that painting a home’s interior costs $1,892 on average, or $3.50 per square foot. Unlike painting an exterior, painting a room or home interior is a project that many homeowners can tackle; just expect to pay for equipment, which will cost around $200 to $300—plus paint.

Average ranges are great to give you a general idea of cost, but there are a couple of factors that will drastically affect where your project will fall within the norm. One of the biggest to consider is the type of paint you choose.

What’s the best paint to use?

Once you start shopping for paint, you’ll quickly see that prices vary widely. Some paints go for less than $20 a gallon, while others can reach $90 or more per gallon.

Does the type of paint you choose really matter that much? Experts say yes.

Rick Watson, director of product information at Sherwin-Williams, says the biggest mistake people typically make when painting their homes is to skimp on quality.

“There are reasons why some paints are a lot less expensive than others,” he says. “Investing a little more in higher-quality paint can offer big dividends in reduced upkeep and maintenance cost over time.”

In the case of exterior paint, premium paints use proprietary technologies that offer the durability needed to hold color longer and withstand peeling and blistering.

“Paints that are formulated to resist chalking, mildew, and dirt will save you time and money, because you won’t have to repaint or clean the surface as much,” Watson explains.

As for interior paint, he says more expensive paints are formulated to be more durable and washable.

“If you have kids or pets, it will be easy to remove any stains or scuff marks, reducing the effort needed to maintain pristine-looking walls,” he says.

Jessica Barr, a paint application expert, agrees.

“Each can of paint offers unique benefits, and it’s up to the customer to decide what their priorities are, based on their project,” she says. “Paying for premium paint is worthwhile when you’re looking for durability.”

Barr says it’s also important to consider how many coats it will take to get the results you want. For example, she says Behr Marquee Interior Paint & Primer (about $46 a gallon) requires just one coat. Meanwhile, Behr Premium Plus costs only $28 a gallon, but you’ll need to apply two coats, which means double the paint and more work.

Beyond these two major cost factors, other things can affect the final price tag, including:

  • Where you live
  • If you DIY or hire someone to paint for you
  • If you need to purchase paintbrushes, ladders, tape, and other equipment
  • If your walls need to be painted or pressure-washed before painting
  • If you’re making a dramatic color change (which might require more coats, or a coat of primer first)

How much paint do you need?

Another way to tackle this question is to look at how much paint you need to get the job done. Barr says most paints on the market cover about 250 to 400 square feet per gallon.

“This translates to approximately 1 gallon for small rooms, like a laundry room, if you’re painting two coats,” Barr says. “For larger rooms, like family or dining rooms, 2 or more gallons may be needed.”

As for how much paint you’ll need for the exterior of a house, a medium-sized 2,500-square-foot home will typically need around 12 gallons of paint to get the job done.

You may be able to subtract for things like windows and doors, but you’ll also need to account for more if you’re painting trim work and gutters. To get a more accurate estimate for your own home, you can plug your square footage and other details into a paint coverage calculator.

If you’re ever on the fence, Barr says it’s smart to err on the side of buying more than you think it will take, in case you need extra for touch-ups later.

So, grab your measuring tape and calculator, and take a good look at your goals for painting, as well as what your budget can handle. Painting your home always comes at a price, but a refresh is sure to pay off in the satisfaction it will give you, even if you’re not planning to sell.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

Fresh Corn Salad

@spendwithpennies.com

Corn Salad is one of our favorite easy sides!  This easy Corn Salad features sweet fresh corn off the cob, crisp cucumbers and ripe juicy garden tomatoes all combined in a light and easy vinaigrette. –By Holly Nilsson

Ingredients

  • 3 cups corn kernels about 4 cobs of corn
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
  • 1 cup cucumbers diced
  • ¼ cup red onion diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
  • a generous sprinkle of course salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • fresh basil or dill optional

Instructions

  • Either boil or grill corn. Once cooked, remove kernels from corn.
  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and gently toss.
  • Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Notes

If time allows, grill your corn for maximum flavor.

Preheat grill to medium high heat. Remove silk and husk from corn.  Brush with olive oil and generously season.  Grill 2-3 minutes per side or until slightly charred. Cool before using.

How to Boost Your Credit Score: Advice for First-Time Home Buyers

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Are you a first-time home buyer wondering how to improve your credit score? If you need a mortgage, a good credit score, also called a FICO score, is essential—and it’s within your control.

In a nutshell, a credit score is a simplified calculation of your history of paying back debts and making regular payments on loans. If you’re borrowing money to buy a home, lenders want to know you’ll pay them back in a timely manner, and a credit score is an easy estimate of those odds.

Here’s your crash course on this all-important little number, and how to whip it into the best home-buying shape possible.

Pull your credit report

There are three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), and each releases its own credit scores and reports (a more detailed history that’s used to determine your score). Their scores should be roughly equivalent, although they do pull from different sources. For example, Experian considers on-time rent payments while TransUnion has detailed information about previous employers.

To access these scores and reports, financial planner Bob Forrest of Mutual of Omaha recommends using AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can get a free copy of your report every 12 months from each credit-reporting company. It doesn’t include your credit score, though—you’ll have to go to each company for that, and pay a small fee.

Or check with your credit card company: Some, including Discover and Capital One, offer free access to scores and reports, says Michael Chadwick, owner of Chadwick Financial Advisors in Unionville, CT. Once you’ve got your report, thoroughly review it page by page, particularly the “adverse accounts” section that details late payments and other slip-ups.

Assess where you stand

It’s simple: The better your credit history, the higher your score—and the better your opportunities for a home loan. The Federal Housing Administration requires a minimum credit score of 580 to permit a 3.5% down payment, and major lenders often require at least 620, if not more. So what can you do if your credit report is in less than shipshape? Don’t panic, there are ways to clean it up.

How to improve your credit score with error disputes

A 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that 5% of credit reports contain errors that can erroneously ding your score. So if you spot any, start by sending a dispute letter to the bureau, providing as much documentation as possible, per FTC guidelines. You’ll also need to contact the organization that provided the bad intel, such as a bank or medical provider, and ask it to update the info with the bureau. This may take a while, and you may need documentation to make your case. But once the bad info is removed, you should see a bump in your score.

Erase one-time mistakes

So you’ve made a late payment or two—who hasn’t? Call the company that registered the late payment and ask that it be removed from your record. “If you had an oopsy and missed just a payment or two, most companies will indeed tell their reporting division to remove this from your credit report,” says Forrest. Granted, this won’t work if you have a history of late payments, but for accidents and small errors, it’s an easy way to improve your credit score.

Increase your limits

One no-brainer way to increase your credit score is to simply pay off your debt. Not an option right now?  Here’s a cool loophole: Ask your credit card companies to increase your credit limit instead. This improves your debt-to-credit ratio, which compares how much you owe to how much you can borrow.

“Having $1,000 of credit card debt is bad if you have a limit of $1,500. It isn’t nearly as bad if your limit is $5,000,” Forrest says. The simple math: Although you owe the same amount, you’re using a much smaller percentage of your available credit, which shines well on your borrowing practices.

Pay on time

If you’re often late with payments, now’s the time to change. You have the power to improve your credit score yourself. Commit to always paying your bills on time; consider signing up for automatic payments so it’s guaranteed to get done.

Give yourself time

Unfortunately, negative items (such as those habitually late or nonexistent payments) can stay on your report for up to seven years. The good news? Changing your habits makes a big difference in the “payment history” segment of your report, which accounts for 35% of your score. That’s why it’s essential to start early so that you’re sitting pretty once you’re shopping for homes and find one that makes you swoon.

Once you’ve set your credit on a better path, it’s time to tackle the next major hurdle: saving for a down payment.

Article by Jamie Wiebe