Paleo Strawberry Banana Cereal Bars

This post is sponsored by the awesome people at Eggland’s Best

Busy mornings call for these strawberry banana cereal bars guaranteed to be a breakfast winner. A combination of healthy, clean ingredients with Eggland’s Best eggs is an incredible recipe for busy mornings. Rushing out of the door is no problem when you’re stocked with these bars on hand.

These paleo strawberry banana cereal bars are a simple, grab-and-go breakfast bar made with natural ingredients and under 30 minutes. Both kid and adult approved!

Ingredients

  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 3 heaping tablespoons cashew butter
  • 2 Eggland’s Best egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ounce dehydrated strawberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Place dehydrated strawberries into a small food processor or mini chopper and process until broken down into crumbles
  3. Combine the ripe bananas, cashew butter, egg whites, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Mix well
  4. Add the coconut flour and salt, and mix well to incorporate. Fold in the sliced almonds
  5. Grease an 8×8″ pan. Divide the batter in half
  6. Pour half of the batter into the pan and spread evenly (it will be very thin once spread)
  7. Sprinkle the dehydrated strawberries evenly over the top
  8. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the dehydrated strawberries. Carefully spreading to cover
  9. Bake for 20 minutes then let cool before cutting into bars

Notes

*if using a pan larger than 8×8, the batter will likely not be enough to evenly spread – consider doubling the recipe

  • Author: Physical Kitchnesss
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 12 bars 1x

Mortgage Forbearance Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be—Here’s the Ugly Truth

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When Nicholas Dahl, 36, called Chase Bank to find out about his options for mortgage forbearance at the end of March, an automated voice informed him the wait time would be 43 hours and 45 minutes. Dahl, who runs his family’s art transportation business, hasn’t been able to draw a paycheck since all nonessential businesses in Illinois were shuttered on March 21 due to the coronavirus pandemic. And he doesn’t know how much longer he and his wife will be able to keep making payments on the three-bedroom house in the Chicago suburbs where they’re raising their 8-year-old daughter.

After three hours and 45 minutes on hold, and several times where he heard a woman saying “hello” before going back to the call music, he finally hung up. He emailed the bank for information instead.

Chase responded that he could receive mortgage forbearance for 90 days. During those three months, Dahl wouldn’t have to make his payments and wouldn’t incur late fees, get reported to credit agencies, or risk foreclosure. But once that period was over?  All of the missed payments would come due at once.

(After this piece was published, a Chase Home Lending spokesperson contacted us with this statement. “Over these 90 days we will be in communication with our customers to make sure they have the help they need. … We’re just holding tight for [government agency] guidance on how to handle each of these loans.”)

“I don’t really think it’s worth it,” says Dahl, who’s losing about $5,000 in income each month his business is closed. “I don’t really want to pay four mortgage payments in one.”

Dahl is one of many thousands of Americans who are having trouble making their monthly mortgage payments due to the coronavirus pandemic—or will soon, if the crisis drags on. In the past month, nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment as shelter-in-place orders, social distancing measures, and nonessential business closures went into effect. Last week, economists estimated the unemployment rate was about 13%—worse than during the Great Recession. And those numbers don’t even include many out-of-work, self-employed, and gig workers along with those who’ve had trouble filing their claims because unemployment offices are overwhelmed.

The widespread misery spread by COVID-19 has left many homeowners scrambling to figure out how to pay their mortgages. Homeowners with government-backed loans—and even many without—are being offered up to 12 months of forbearance, doled out in 90-day chunks. But this temporary fix could result in another wave of foreclosures if additional assistance isn’t provided.

Many homeowners could be asked to pay back all of those missed mortgage bills in one lump sum at the end of the forbearance period, a near impossible feat for many who can’t afford their payments today and don’t know when the economy will recover.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration say their borrowers, who make up slightly more than half of all buyers, are never required to make lump-sum payments. They also offer various assistance plans, some more generous than others.

But even those homeowners will also eventually have to make good on what they owe, a hardship for those out of work. Those who can’t could eventually lose their homes.

“We are concerned about what’s going on right now, with many people going into these forbearance plans without a clear sense of what will happen at the end,” says Joseph Sant, deputy general counsel for the Center for New York City Neighborhoods. The nonprofit organization promotes and protects affordable homeownership.

“If we don’t see further action from Congress to fill this hole … we could see another foreclosure crisis when these forbearances end,” warns Sant.

Dahl’s uncertainty over what would happen at the end of his forbearance period prompted him to tap his savings and his wife’s ongoing salary as a dental assistant to make his $1,700 mortgage payment for their Rolling Meadows, IL, home. But the family can’t afford to do this indefinitely if he can’t get back to work. He’s already lost out on thousands of dollars of annual revenue, as many of the bigger art shows have been cancelled.

“I don’t like to leave things to chance, and I don’t want to lose my house because of something that is out of my control,” says Dahl. “Mortgage companies should be a lot more flexible. If they show flexibility, we will not have a repeat of ’08.”

The foreclosure crisis was in the rearview—until the coronavirus

Before the pandemic, the foreclosure crisis that followed the housing bust and lingered after the Great Recession had seemed firmly in the rearview.

In January, just 0.4% of mortgages were in some stage of foreclosure, according to the most recent data released by real estate data company CoreLogic. Meanwhile, only 3.5% of mortgages were delinquent, which means they were at least 30 days late.

But there are troubling signs those numbers could rise. About 3.74% of all mortgages were in forbearance in the week ending April 5, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, a national trade group. That’s compared with just 0.25% of loans in forbearance in the week ending March 2.

The association expects the number of homeowners requesting forbearance to steadily increase.

About 15 million homeowners could rely on forbearance to get them through this crisis, or nearly a third of all single-family mortgages, predicts Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

That could result in roughly 2 million foreclosures, says Zandi. To put that into perspective, there were around 7 million foreclosures as a result of the last housing bust.

“I don’t think a lump sum works, at least for most homeowners,” says Zandi. If there isn’t additional assistance offered, “there will be a lot of credit problems down the road, delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures.”

Housing advocates are urging different kinds of assistance

Sant, with the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, is worried about the lack of uniformity among mortgage assistance programs, particularly between government-backed loans and non-government-backed loans. So available help can vary even though many mortgage companies and servicers follow the steps that Fannie and Freddie take.

Instead of forbearance, Sant would like to see the creation of a program to keep mortgage payments affordable, similar to the one the federal government created after the housing bust of more than a decade ago. It helped to save more than a million homes from the clutches of foreclosures and short sales. The program granted things like loan modifications, which could lower monthly payments, and deferments, which tacked missed payments onto the ends of loans, thereby extending their duration. These actions helped homeowners remain in their properties.

Many of the government-backed loans offer similar options.

(However, the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program was widely criticized for not helping nearly enough homeowners. And about a third of the borrowers who participated in the program wound up falling behind on their mortgage payments again.)

“There tends to be this initial, naive hope [from government officials] that, let’s put the situation off, let’s pause for a few months and hopefully at the end of it, people will recover and they won’t need deeper relief,” says Sant. “But we need to be planning now to provide meaningful relief.”

Many homeowners seeking mortgage assistance are wary of forbearance

Since the crisis began, Seattle-area business owner and author Debrena Jackson Gandy‘s income has dropped by about 30%. Her husband, an Uber driver, has seen his take-home pay fall by about 40%. And the couple were worried about paying both the first and second mortgages on their four-bedroom home in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines, WA.

So in late March, Jackson Gandy, 53, called her mortgage companies. The first one, where she has her primary mortgage, agreed to defer her April payment and add an extra payment onto the end of her loan. But her experience with Bank of America, where she has her smaller, second mortgage, didn’t go as smoothly.

The representative she spoke with offered her three months of forbearance instead. She could apply for a loan modification at the end of that period. There was no guarantee it would be granted.

“It was really shocking,” says Jackson Gandy. She runs Masterminds, a personal and organizational development company that hosts events, some of which have been moved online while others have been cancelled.

“If one month is a challenge, then how can I pay four months at once?” she asks.

She was a week late in making her April mortgage payment to Bank of America, because she had to wait for her husband’s earnings to come in.

(Bank of America offers deferments on its own loans, but it provides only forbearance, not deferments, on the government-backed loans it services. Chase is also a mortgage servicer for government-backed loans. Jackson Gandy isn’t sure if she has a federal-backed mortgage.)

“If you can make the payment, make the payment now,” says Rocke Andrews, a mortgage broker at  Lending Arizona in Tucson. He’s also the president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, a trade group.

“Don’t take [forbearance] if you don’t absolutely need it. It all becomes due, and who knows what happens between now and then,” he advises.

Article by Clare Trapasso

Comeback Kids: These Housing Markets Have Recovered the Most Since the Start of the Pandemic

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There’s no point in sugarcoating it: The U.S. economy is a hot mess. The continuing coronavirus pandemic has led to scores of business closures, the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, and the steepest economic contraction on record.

Yet, despite it all, the U.S. housing market has come back—and then some. After monthslong pauses in many parts of the country, bidding wars and offers over asking price have returned. Cooped-up buyers seeking larger homes and wanting to cash in on record-low mortgage interest rates are battling it out over a very limited supply of properties for sale. Median list prices are up more than 9% over last year, a result of the lack of homes on the market, according to weekly realtor.com® data. (The median home price nationally rose to an all-time high of $349,000 in July.)

“Housing tends to be immune from economic downturns and slowdowns,” says realtor.com Director of Economic Research Javier Vivas. That’s excluding the past recession, which was caused by a housing bubble. “Right now we’re seeing markets recover faster where they’re able to contain the virus better. Markets with strong technology sectors have been more resilient.”

So where are these comeback kids—the housing markets rebounding the most since the start of the COVID-19 crisis?

Realtor.com found that more than half of the largest metropolitan areas have recovered from their pandemic lows. (Metros include the main city and the surrounding suburbs, exurbs, and smaller cities.) But the housing markets in less expensive, smaller cities as well as the suburbs and farther out towns where buyers can get more square footage for their money, the easier to social distance in, are more in demand than high-rise condos and apartments in the nation’s largest, most expensive city centers.

“People are looking for larger homes and also looking for value,” says Vivas.

To figure out which metros have boomeranged the best, realtor.com’s economics team looked at median home asking price growth, the percentage of new listings coming online, the number of days on market that it took homes to sell, and online home search growth. The team looked for year-over-year growth in each of the metrics. Then it created an index by comparing those stats in January—a relatively normal pre-COVID-19 month for the housing market—to the week ending July 18.

A score of 100% means the market is performing the same as it was in January. Anything higher shows how much better it’s doing. (The list was narrowed to just two metropolitan areas per state to ensure geographic diversity.)

These are the markets that have recovered the most since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis:

  1. Boston, MA, 122.52%
  2. Seattle, WA, 113.73%
  3. New York, NY, 112.74%
  4. Philadelphia, PA, 112.35%
  5. Denver, CO, 111.66%
  6. San Francisco, CA, 109.27%
  7. Los Angeles, CA, 108.78%
  8. Las Vegas, NV, 107.710%
  9. Rochester, NY, 106.61%
  10. Memphis, TN, 105.9%

Northeastern markets with low caseloads have recovered strongly

Boston, a finance, tech, and higher education hub, earned the No. 1 spot on our recovery list, with a median home price* of $675,050. But the metro, like many others across the country, has seen a huge shift in what buyers want.

The new townhomes and condos within walking distance to the city center—which have been selling like shares from hot IPOs for the past few years—are now sitting on the market. However, the McMansions and actual mansions that were popular in the ’90s are suddenly all the rage again, including this $1.5 million five-bedroom house on a half-acre in the suburb of Needham, MA.

“Sellers would have had to discount [these places] to sell” before the pandemic, says local real estate agent Gary Kaufman of Keller Williams Realty. “Now these properties are selling at full price.”

A similar scenario is playing out in other big, Northeastern cities. The New York City metro, which comes in third place, has also seen a demand shift. (The median price was $593,000 for the entire metro area, which includes swaths of upstate New York and parts of Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.)

Co-op and condo prices in tightly packed Manhattan have remained relatively flat. It’s the suburban and exurban markets, though, stretching from nearby Westchester, Fairfield, and Nassau Counties to mountainous Ulster County, that are exploding with high-wage earners who are either leaving the city completely or buying second homes with room to spread out.

In the Catskills, the same Woodstock, NY, four-bedroom home with a pool that sold for $869,000 in 2001 was renovated and is now listed for $1,600,000.

“Almost overnight the tether between work and home just got infinitely longer,” says New York City–based real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller. “The suburbs of these metro areas, second markets, and the exurbs are all having their day right now. I think it continues in some form after there’s a vaccine because the technology is there [to enable folks to continue telecommuting].”

Buyers in pricey, Western tech hubs are also heading to the burbs

Seattle’s suburbs have become more popular as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.Art Wager/Getty Images

Residential real estate markets in pricey, tech hubs on the West Coast are rebounding almost as well, if not better, than their Northeast counterparts.

In the tech meccas of Seattle, the nation’s second best bounce-back market, with a median list price of $629,900; Denver, No. 5, at $544,300; San Francisco, No. 6, at $1,054,210; and Los Angeles, No. 7, at $994,150, buyers also traded the crowded city for the surrounding towns and smaller cities. Ultralow inventory, down by double digits, year over year in each of these metros, has also played a big part in rising prices.

“Right now, everything that residents love most about San Francisco and other cities—clubs, cultural venues, and events, street fairs, restaurants, the ‘rush’ of social life in the city, being able to walk to work—has pretty much disappeared,” says Patrick Carlisle, chief market analyst at Compass. “What remains is the sense of feeling locked in, being more exposed to the virus, and trying to avoid people whenever they venture outside.

“San Francisco is the weakest market in the Bay Area.”

Sales in the four outer counties with the lowest population densities (Monterey, Santa Cruz, Napa, and Sonoma) are up six to 10 times more than San Francisco. In Napa Valley’s Saint Helena, this four-bedroom home listed at $2,995,000 is asking more than double its 2019 sale price.

Cheaper areas are popular with local and out-of-state buyers

The Las Vegas housing market has rebounded well from this recession unlike the last time around. trekandshoot/Getty Images

More affordable, smaller metro areas are becoming increasingly popular with buyers, many of whom hail from other states and can work remotely from anywhere. That’s helped Las Vegas, No. 8, with a median list price of $340,050; Rochester, NY, No. 9, at $249,950; and Memphis, TN, No. 10, at $260,050, make our list. These metros had some of the least expensive home prices on our list, along with growing economies.

“You’ve got people priced out of California, Colorado, Washington state, and even Arizona now,” says realtor.com’s Vivas. “They’re looking for cheaper mortgages and a larger space for less money.”

This helps explain why Vegas, which was one of the poster children of everything that went wrong in the past recession, has rebounded so quickly. The big difference this time is inventory is low, down 14.4% in July compared with the previous year. Meanwhile, demand is high. The reverse was true during the past housing bust.

Memphis is also getting a rush of buyers trying to edge one another out for the limited number of homes on the market. In roomy suburbs such as Germantown, TN, sellers are asking top dollar for places like this three-bedroom home for $419,000 and this four-bedroom home for $595,000 that flew off the market in just four days.

“After being at home with their families, a lot of buyers have figured out they really want to be more active—and outside,” says Memphis-area real estate agent Kelly Orb of Marx Bensdorf Realtors.

Article by Sara Ventiera

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

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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

Rain Barrels: The Money-Saving, Eco-Friendly DIY Project Your Garden Needs

patty_c / iStock

There’s never been a better time to stay at home and work on your summer garden. And what if we told you there was a DIY addition you could tackle right now that would save you money and make your outdoor space more eco-friendly?

It’s true—and this amazing solution is called a rain barrel. We spoke with gardening experts from all over the country to learn more about rain barrels, and why every gardening enthusiast should have one. Here’s what we found out.

What is a rain barrel?

A rain barrel is exactly what it sounds like: a large drum barrel that catches rain. That water can be reused in outdoor projects, such as irrigating the lawn or garden, washing home exteriors, and even rinsing off your car. Some people make their own, but more often they’ll just purchase a plastic container such as a garbage can and modify it.

And while catching rain may sound slow and tedious, most people don’t just put a barrel in their yard and hope for the best. Instead, they’ll position their rain barrels to catch the most water possible—say, under a roof or gutter drain.

“A rain barrel is a great solution for collecting rainwater directly from the gutters that would otherwise be wasted or lost into the ground,” says Holly Maguire of Simple Lawn Solutions.

Many gardeners prefer using rainwater to irrigate their plants.

“Some plants actually prefer rainwater [to] groundwater due to the fact that groundwater can be harder and contain more minerals,” Maguire says.

But, she warns that collected rainwater shouldn’t be used for drinking, and gardeners should be cautious when using it on edible plants and veggies.

“A drawback of the rainwater is that it flows off your roof, so it’s possible for it to pick up anything from your roof on the way down,” Maguire says.

But for all your flowers, lawn, and other outdoor water needs, rain barrels are a great solution—and they come with a few other perks as well.

Rain barrels protect the environment

These nifty barrels don’t just allow you to conserve water and reuse what might otherwise be wasted. They also help protect nearby lakes and reservoirs from contamination, since rain runoff absorbs chemicals used in gardening and then goes into the storm drains, which lead to bodies of water.

“Rain barrels have become a common sight around Lake Champlain in Vermont,” says David Parsons, president and owner of Re/Max North Professionals. “Stormwater runoff has a significant negative impact on our treasured lake and other watersheds, so catching it can help mitigate this problem.”

Rain barrels save you money

In addition to helping with water conservation and preserving natural resources, rain barrels will also save you quite a bit of money.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, roughly 30% of which goes toward outdoor uses. Of that, more than half is used for watering lawns and gardens. By capturing some of that unused rainwater, you can both lower your monthly bills and minimize your water consumption, so that’s a win-win.

How to build your own rain barrel

Before getting started designing your perfect rain barrel, you’ll want to check with your local municipality or HOA to make sure it’s allowed. While many places do allow rain barrels (and some even encourage it), it’s a good idea to check before committing yourself.

With that out of the way, you’ll be ready to start designing the best rain barrel for your needs.

“Any design will work,” says Seth Samuelson, co-owner of the SeCa Hose Holder.

Most rain barrel systems involve the same elements, he observes: a storage tank, a valve system (at the bottom), an overflow pipe (at the top), and some sort of hatch on top with a screened grate to filter any large particles.

The biggest differentiator will be your budget, although most barrels can be built for less than $100, and some can even be done for just $15. That being said, we like this easy and affordable midrange model from ManMade DIY.

When it comes to tips for your build, Samuelson recommends using a table or other sturdy surface below your barrel.

“My best tip is to also build a sturdy table to elevate the tank,” he says. “This is important because you’ll be able to have ample room below to access the faucet more easily.”

The bottom line

Whether you’re an avid gardener or even just a fanatic about keeping your car clean, there are plenty of ways to put your captured rainwater to good use.

“Anybody that has a garden, lawn, or uses water for cleaning and household chores can benefit from a rain barrel,” says Maguire. “Because of the potential of conservation and positive impact on the environment, it’s really a no-brainer. Everyone should have one.”

Article by Larissa Runkle

How to Make High-Protein Smoothies to Fuel Your Day

Photo by Meredith

There are smoothies, and then there are high-protein smoothies. Both are easy to make and refreshing to drink, but smoothies that are higher in protein can be quick and easy meals all by themselves. The protein helps to rebuild and repair muscles after a tough workout; and it makes you feel fuller, longer, helping to curb the need to reach for a snack between meals.

Packed with nutrients, homemade high-protein smoothies are also super easy to create. All you need are a few key ingredients, a blender, and a little imagination. If you’re cutting out dairy, I’ll show you how to easily make them vegan by substituting non-dairy milk, yogurt, and other ingredients in your favorite smoothie recipes. Follow these tips to make the most of your meal in a glass.

Top Tips for Making High-Protein Smoothies

Save Time. Making smoothies is already a quick and easy process, but you can trim down the time even more by making ready-to-blend smoothie packs. Place all of your pre-measured ingredients in containers, like Mason jars or plastic bags, and store them in the fridge for up to 3 days or the freezer for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to blend, just defrost if you like (or keep it partially frozen for a thick smoothie) and mix. If you use a jar, it doubles as your drinking glass. You can also blend smoothies and freeze them in ice cub trays. When you’re ready, let the cubes defrost in a glass until they’re the perfect consistency.

Punch Up the Protein. Protein powder is an easy add-in, but there are many other options. You can boost your protein count with milk, or add a few tablespoons of nut butter, yogurt, or cottage cheese (which gives it a milkshake-like consistency).

Keep it Healthy. When you buy smoothies at the store or gym, they can be overloaded with extra sugar, carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. By making your own smoothies, you can control exactly what and how much lands in the blender. When reaching for milk alternatives, make sure to choose the unsweetened varieties. If you need a touch of sweetness, try stevia or honey instead of sugar. Adding healthy fats, like avocado, makes your drinks extra rich and smooth.

Swap It Out. It’s super easy to make any smoothie vegan. Swap out cow’s milk for non-dairy alternatives like almond, coconut, or soy, or use tofu or avocado in place of dairy yogurt.

Boost the Flavor. Add more flavor and nutrition by mixing in a variety of ingredients. For antioxidants, try fresh or frozen berries or cocoa powder. If you want to up your fiber intake, add uncooked rolled oats, flax meal, or chia seeds. A handful of fresh spinach or kale leaves will add vitamins and minerals to your smoothie, and you won’t even taste the greens if you blend them with fruit.

10 High-Protein Smoothie Recipes to Try

Here are some of our favorite high-protein smoothie recipes to get you started.

Almond milk and two kinds of berries go for a spin in your blender with spinach, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, protein powder, and a sweet clementine. “Keep the chia and flax seeds in easy-pour containers in the fridge and you’re golden on adding the superfood ingredients so quickly. The beauty of this recipe is that it is really versatile and you can substitute whatever fruits and powders you prefer.” — Fran

Photo by thedailygourmet

You can use fresh or frozen mango to make this colorful smoothie. Buckwheat Queen raves, “My kids said this was the best smoothie they’ve ever had. Thank you Lela!!”

Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Got overripe bananas? Freeze them in chunks and toss them into this easy four-ingredient smoothie. The riper your bananas, the less honey you’ll need to add. Watch the video to see how to make it.

Arizona Desert Flower says, “Great post-workout snack that will keep you filled for hours! The taste of the banana and the peanut butter cover the taste of the spinach completely. I freeze my bananas and spinach then prepackage everything for the week! Substitutions include rice or nut milks or vanilla yogurt.”

Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Uncooked rolled oats get blended with banana, yogurt, and peanut butter for a smoothie that’s packed with fiber and protein. zsazsa31 raves, “I just finished making this and it is so yum. I decided to not add the honey because the cinnamon and peanut butter are plenty deliciousness! And I also added a teaspoon of flaxseed.”

Photo by House of Aqua

Fresh papaya and turmeric root give this almond milk smoothie its lovely color, while ginger root gives it a kick. “This has a unique flavor with the tumeric, we liked it & will make again,” says SALCHA

Photo by Yoly

Jenny Aleman says, “Very nice and creamy. I used coconut water instead of regular water, it added a nice touch. A very tropical flavored smoothie to start your day in a healthy way.”

Photo by Yoly

Matcha green tea powder gets busy with spinach, flax seeds, chia seeds, banana, and any other fruit you want to add to the blender. “This is such a versatile smoothie. I used organic fresh strawberries and bananas, frozen organic blueberries, fresh Russian red kale from my garden in place of the spinach, and left out the whey powder. Because my banana was so ripe, I didn’t need any sweetener,” says Qhhunters

Photo by Jenny Aleman

Diana71 has a son who knows his smoothies. She says, “I made this for my son, and was a little hesitant about the tahini, but he tried it and said ‘thanks for the protein shake, mom’…without me telling him it was a protein shake.”

Photo by Diana71

Yes, making your own shakes saves you money! BRUNOSBETH raves, “Thank you!! My husband has been running us into the poorhouse ordering protein shakes every time we are at the gym. He gave this two thumbs up! Thanks again. Did not change a thing.”

Photo by CC<3’sBake

You Might Also Like:

Learn how to blend healthy smoothies or find a week’s worth of clean eating smoothies.

Article by By Jackie Freeman

For Some, Mortgage Forbearance Could Make It Harder To Get a New Loan in the Future

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Homeowners who request relief from their payments on their federally funded mortgages amid the coronavirus pandemic won’t be penalized for it in the long run, the federal government announced on Tuesday.

Earlier in March, the federal government assured homeowners with these loans that they wouldn’t lose their homes, incur fees, or have their credit scores damaged if they couldn’t make their payments—as long as they entered a lender-approved forbearance program. Typically, forbearances are doled out in three-month chunks for up to 12 months.

But that forbearance has been showing up on these borrowers’ credit reports, making it nearly impossible for many of them to refinance their mortgages into lower monthly payments or qualify for a loan on a new property, say if they get a job in another city. Traditionally, owners who resorted to a forbearance program had to make up the skipped payments and then wait a year before applying for a new home loan.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s announcement on Tuesday establishes that homeowners who have gone through forbearance and made three subsequent monthly payments can get a new loan—even if they haven’t caught up with the missed payments. (People who were granted forbearance but then didn’t need it, and are current on their payments, also will not be penalized.)

The changes will apply only to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans made on or after June 2. Fannie and Freddie back about half of all residential mortgages, or 28 million borrowers.

“We didn’t want to penalize” borrowers, FHFA Director Mark Calabria said on Tuesday at a Mortgage Bankers Association event. Those who make good on their loans, “we will treat you like you’ve never been in forbearance.”

About 8.16% of residential mortgages were in forbearance as of May 10, representing about 4.1 million homeowners, according to the MBA.

This means many homeowners hurting financially will be able to reap the benefits of record-low mortgage interest rates. On Tuesday, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was just 3.15%—a full percentage point lower than a year ago, according to Mortgage News Daily.

And if rates dip under 3%, some folks could shave hundreds of dollars off their monthly payments and tens of thousands of dollars off the life of their 30-year loans.

“This is a big deal,” says Rocke Andrews, a mortgage broker at  Lending Arizona in Tucson. He’s also the president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, a trade group. “You’re not punished for going into forbearance.”

“They are going to require you to spend three months reestablishing your credit,” he says. But “it’s less punitive than 12 months.”

But while most lenders follow the guidance set by the FHFA, not all will, especially when more than 36 million people have filed for unemployment in the past two months.

“We’re in such uncharted territory that it’s unclear what lenders are going to impose upon borrowers,” says Charles Gallagher III, a St. Petersburg, FL–based attorney who specializes in foreclosures. “It [could still] lock them into their current residence. It would limit potential job options outside of your region if you couldn’t move.”

That’s why borrowers need to think carefully about what taking forbearance could mean for them.

“Weigh out all your options,” says lender Andrews. “The way that the forbearance was rolled out, people thought it was a payment holiday and were not advised of the consequences.”

Article by Clare Trapasso

‘How We Moved Homes—and Kept Ourselves Safe—During COVID-19’

Diy13/Getty Images

Moving has to be one of the top five stressors in life—and a global pandemic adds a whole new set of variables that sends stress levels through the roof. That’s what my family experienced when we recently relocated over 120 miles from Los Angeles to San Diego. And because of the coronavirus pandemic, we did it all on our own.

We had long planned to move; after 20 years in L.A., we wanted a change. Summer 2020, after my son graduated from high school, seemed like the perfect time. Little did we know that COVID-19 would hit the U.S. and bring everything to a stop.

Moving during this time brought up a number of uncertainties. No. 1 was whether it was even safe to hire a moving company. We wanted to be cautious about transmitting or catching the coronavirus, so my family of four decided to do the heavy lifting ourselves. This, of course, was more difficult while juggling working from home, virtual classes, and AP exams, but we made it work.

Here are the top lessons my family and I learned from moving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reserve a moving truck

Reserving a moving truck was not easy.Ana Durrani.

Whether you’re using a moving company or moving on your own, you’ll need to lock in a reservation—and know that nothing is set in stone.

Since we were going the DIY route, we did some comparison shopping and reserved a U-Haul truck a week in advance. However, a day before we were supposed to pick it up, U-Haul called to let us know that it didn’t have a truck available for us anymore—unless we drove 20 miles to another city to pick it up. So we canceled.

Then we reserved a truck with Penske. But the day we had to pick it up, it was not available either! Penske offered us a discount on a larger 26-foot truck with a lift. My husband was initially worried about driving such a huge truck, but we took it. Though the staff disinfected the entire truck, I also came prepared with disinfectant wipes and did a second wipe down of the truck interior and exterior handles.

Declutter like no one’s business

The most important step in any move is decluttering: The more you get rid of, the easier it will be to pack up, move, and unpack your things. My process of decluttering was going from room to room, filling big bags with clothes and other unwanted items. We donated some of the items to the Salvation Army and Goodwill, my son sold a few pieces on the Mercari selling app (he made a little over $500), and the remaining stuff was thrown away.

Pack and load

Packing the moving truck from day to night in Los AngelesAna Durrani

Once the decluttering was done, my husband, two teenage children, and I did all the packing. I’d like to say we had everything packed and ready to go the night before our move, but we were still crazily packing boxes on moving day.

It took two long days, from morning to night, to load the truck. Those two days were filled with our bickering, laughter, and enormous fatigue.

It turned out, the larger moving truck was better for us; the lift made putting things in the truck much easier. I’d also recommend using a dolly or a hand truck to help take boxes in and out.

Keep on truckin’

With stay-at-home orders in place in May, the roads were clear and my husband easily navigated the huge truck to our new location two hours away. By the time we arrived at our new place, it was evening and we were exhausted. We just parked the truck and our SUV, went inside our townhome, and promptly fell asleep on the floor.

The management company had left the keys in a lockbox and placed our paperwork inside the home. In a sign of the times, it also left a cute welcome gift: a roll of toilet paper and some snacks.

Lean on family—but take precautions

The next morning we were feeling a little beat up, with cuts and bruises from all the heavy lifting, so we enlisted the help of my brother, brother-in-law, and sister. Everyone wore masks and gloves and maintained social distance as best they could. And, yes, we thoroughly disinfected everything in our new place.

The bright side of a DIY move

Despite the multiple days of backbreaking work, our DIY move ended up saving us a lot of money. The estimated cost of a move from Los Angeles to San Diego is about $1,226 to $1,674, according to the moving cost calculator on Moving.com. Our total cost for renting a truck for three days, including gas, was $437.

We love our new place and community. But next time, post-COVID-19, you’d better believe we’re hiring movers.

Article by Anayat Durrani

The Surprising Things Your Movers Won’t Move

propane tank: NoDerog/iStock; nail polish: Ruslan Dashinsky
scuba gear: ridgers/iStock; plant: vspn24/iStock

Let’s face it: Moving companies can be lifesavers. They’ll carry everything you own, they can handle three flights of stairs, they don’t flinch at bad weather, and they’ll move you any distance. Hey, is there anything they won’t do?

Well, yes, actually. Movers draw the line on certain things, and if you don’t know about it ahead of time you might end up out of luck on moving day. So here’s a handy no-go list.

Hazardous materials

OK, it may not come as a surprise, but “federal law bans moving companies from transporting hazardous materials,” says Lindsey Schaibly, operations coordinator of Two Men and a Truck, a franchised moving company based in Lansing, MI. This is probably a good thing.

That list includes the obvious things like propane tanks, gasoline tanks, and ammunition, but it also includes some things you might not expect.

According to Atlas Van Lines, these items can’t go on the truck:

  • Car batteries
  • Charcoal
  • Darkroom chemicals
  • Batteries
  • Nail polish
  • Scuba tanks
  • Liquid bleach

If you do have anything hazardous—or even vaguely toxic—your best bet is to dispose of it properly before you move and restock once you’ve landed at your new place.

Household plants

If you’ve invested in potted plants, brace yourself—this might sting a little.

“Plants are tricky,” says James Sullivan, president of Humboldt Storage & Moving of Canton, MA.

While a few moving companies might be willing to toss a plant or two on the back of the truck for a short move, most won’t allow any on local moves. And that goes double for intrastate and cross-continental moves. You may just have to bite the bullet and transport your cherished domestic vegetation yourself.

“Some states are really sensitive about plants,” Sullivan says. “Officials are afraid of bringing in bugs or other problems into the state.”

Food and pantry items

When it comes to all that stuff clogging up your pantry, there’s a simple rule: Nonperishable foodstuff can be transported but perishable items are a strict no, Schaibly says.

Keep in mind that anything open is considered perishable, no matter what the expiration date is. So it’s better to play it safe and pack only sealed food with a long shelf life—like canned vegetables, boxed cereals, and jarred spices.

Outdoor equipment

Lawn and pool equipment can quickly become a source of stress on moving day.

Generally, any pool paraphernalia  that could pose a danger—such as acid or other treatment chemicals—will have to be disposed of. Same goes for weed killer and other pesticides. However, you can move the actual equipment—such as your lawn mower or generator—as long as you plan ahead.

“We ask customers to remove as much gasoline from engines as possible before we can move the item,” Sullivan says (rather sensibly).

Rickety or scary stairs

Once you’re packed, there are still a few potential snags to watch for. Most moving companies will do anything they can to move you, but everyone has limits.

“Each mover is probably a little different,” Sullivan says. “But we do everything we can to get a customer moved in, even if we have to hoist furniture over the balcony.”

But don’t expect that to be the norm. Many moving companies won’t risk rickety stairs, tight spiral staircases, or narrow balcony walkways. Trust us, we know this from experience! If you know your new place might pose a problem, tell the movers about it ahead of time.

Remember: Companies can simply decline to move you, even if you’re scheduled to move that day. It’s better to play it safe and be honest about any potential problems beforehand than to be stuck without a mover on moving day. Come clean: You’ll thank us later.

Article by Angela Colley

What Is a Plunge Pool? A Clever Way To Stay Cool Without Tons of Space

Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / Getty Images

Homeowners are so desperate for a refreshing spot to chill this summer that they’re turning to all kinds of water sources, including DIY pools made from stock tanks used for cattle and neon plastic kiddie tubs (don’t judge!).

The need to stay safe at home has caused a run on all things fun in the backyard (think swing sets, trampolines, and fire pits).

Owning a pool, whether in-ground or above, tops the list of must-haves, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

But what if you can’t shell out that much for a pool—and you’re still dying to cool off? You may want to consider a plunge pool, a pared-down version that’s conveniently sized for smaller yards and priced a bit less, too.

“Regular-size swimming pools are very dominating structures, so a plunge pool is an ideal option for those homeowners who don’t want the pool to be the center of attention in their yard,” says Michael Dean, a pool pro and co-founder of Pool Research.

Still, in terms of the code requirements, plunge pools follow all the same industry standards as bigger ones, according to Janay Rickwalder, vice president of marketing and communications for the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance.

“And the same equipment is used, including heaters, pool covers and the types of materials,” she says.

Ready to dive in? Here’s some more about plunge pools, including what they cost and the pros and cons of putting in a smaller spot for cooling off.

What is a plunge pool, exactly?

Photo by Soake Pools

This little soaker is just what it sounds like—a small swimming pool that’s typically 4 to 8 feet deep, although many folks prefer a plunge that’s at least 6 feet.

“In terms of width, most plunge pools are 10 feet or less, and they can be installed above ground or in the ground,” says Dean.

Want a kidney-shaped plunge pool? You can have almost any design you’d like, say the pros, although most choose a simple square or round shape.

The pros and cons of plunge pools

Photo by Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors

Got a tiny backyard? A 10-by-12-foot plunge pool could be the perfect fit. And if you’re looking for a restful place to sit quietly—rather than a space to do laps—the plunge option is smart.

“This kind of pool is a lot more comforting, because you feel enclosed by the walls, and you’re more at one with nature around you, since you’re sitting so close to it,” says Dean.

A full-size gunite pool can be upward of $60,000 to $70,000, so a plunge pool, while still an expensive item, can save you a little.

“They’re also simpler to maintain, purely because they’re smaller—you don’t have to deal with as many chemicals, and you’ve got a much smaller space to clean,” he adds.

However, if you’re a family with two or more kids, a plunge pool will fill up quickly and doesn’t lend itself to big games of Marco Polo or raucous chicken fights.

“Most homeowners who choose a plunge pool are older couples or families with grown children,” says Dean.

How much does a plunge pool cost?

Photo by dSPACE Studio Ltd, AIA

Costs vary depending on the materials you use, the features you want to add, which contractor you select, and your geographic location, says Rickwalder.

Dean reports that a custom plunge pool, on average, is likely to start at $25,000.

“Concrete gunite is typically the most expensive choice, at around $25,000 to $40,000, while fiberglass is less, at $10,000 to $25,000, and vinyl is the most affordable, running about $10,000 to $20,000,” he says.

If you go with a concrete pool, you’ll need to wait six to eight weeks for the excavation, installation, and finishing touches. (Other types may be finished a little quicker.)

However, if you want one this season, you may be out of luck.

“When the virus outbreak began,” says Dean, “pool inquiries dropped significantly, because people were quarantining and for safety reasons—but now they’ve picked up.”

Plunge-pool accessories

Photo by Soake Pools

A cover that rolls on or pulls out from underneath the top edge of the pool is extra, alas, although a heater may be included in the price quote. (If not, you’ll need to budget an additional $15,000 or so.)

You can also add a set of steps for easier entry into deep plunge pools, as well as some strategically placed spa jets for underwater massaging.

Landscaping your plunge pool

Photo by J.Montgomery Designs

Just as with larger pools, plunge versions can be customized in many ways, to fit the aesthetic of your backyard. Built-in planters, swaths of wild flowers, a pergola and outdoor lighting are just a few of the many options that can help you beautify the space.

Dean’s biggest piece of advice pertains to the surrounding landscape design.

“Plunge pools are meant to be peaceful, which means the more yours fits into your yard’s natural features, the better it’s going to look,” he says.

Consider nearby trees, the pathway you’ll take to the pool, as well as the bushes and shrubs to plant round the pool’s edges.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Slow-Cooker Chicken Breast

ETHAN CALABRESE

Out of all the ways to cook chicken, slow-cooking breasts is one of our favorites. It’s so easy and the chicken breasts (which have a bad rep for drying out) stay nice and juicy. All you need to do is throw several chicken breasts in the slow cooker in the morning and let them go. To round out the meal and add flavor, we add potatoes, rosemary, and lemon.

Trying to meal prep? This recipe easily doubles. When we have leftovers, we like shredding the chicken and adding it to meals throughout the week. It’s perfect for chicken quesadillas, chicken tortilla soup, chicken lasagna, and any other recipe in our roundup of shortcut chicken dinners.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. baby red potatoes, quartered
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 lb.)
  • 1 sprig rosemary

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a slow-cooker, toss onion, potatoes, and lemon juice together with

olive oil. Spread into an even layer.

2. In a large bowl, stir together salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add

chicken breasts and toss to coat evenly.

3. Place chicken in a single layer above the onion mixture and top with

rosemary.

4.  Cook on low until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are forktender,

4 to 5 hours.

Article by by

‘How I Landed a Townhouse During COVID-19’: Advice for Renters on the Move During a Pandemic

Feverpitched/Getty Image

Our family had long planned to move in the summer of 2020, never dreaming that COVID-19 would bring everything in the country to a screeching halt. And yet even amid stay-at-home orders, we still wanted to move. Our son was graduating from high school and preparing for university in the fall, and, after living in Los Angeles for 20 years, we were ready for a change of scenery.

We were able to kick off our official search for a new place earlier than expected, in April. With our kids participating in virtual classes, we knew they didn’t physically need to be near their school.

Still, we were anxious about the move because touring properties and moving locations increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. We were undeterred, but wanted to do the home search in a way to minimize our exposure risk.

Relocating during a pandemic meant we had to plan more carefully and strategically. A laptop and smartphone, always valuable tools, became indispensable. Finding a new home in a new city wasn’t easy, but we made it happen. Here’s how.

Reach out to local real estate agents

The area we wanted to relocate to was over 120 miles away in the San Diego area. I knew the general area but had to rely on several local real estate agents who helped me narrow down potential areas based on our top criteria, including a good school district; safety; affordability; and proximity to entertainment, shopping, and leisure activities. They also told me the average rent for each neighborhood.

There are ways to test-drive a neighborhood without setting foot in it, but it’s always smart to reach out to local agents who know the area.

Comb through the listings

Real estate agents can help steer you in the right direction, but it’s on you to do the heavy lifting of searching for rental listings. To my surprise, quite a few properties were available in the area we wanted. All the listings used pictures, videos, and virtual tours, and their written details were descriptive. I would then follow up with the person showing the property with more questions and to request an in-person showing.

But viewing the property was a whole ‘nother thing. Many listings came with an online questionnaire designed to limit viewings to only serious inquiries.

In at least two instances, after completing the online questionnaire, I was immediately called by the owners. Although we had not yet toured the properties, they each grilled me about my job and my husband’s employment, our credit scores, and a few other things. That alone ended my interest in both of those properties, to their sellers’ surprise.

Visit the property in person, if possible

Heading to San Diego to do some house huntingAna Durrani

Photos and videos can get you only so far, which is why I wanted to see the properties in person. Some properties used lockboxes, allowing you to view them at your convenience. The property managers advised us to wear masks and gloves when entering. We always went in alone, with the agent or owner of the property waiting outside, also wearing a mask.

One red flag to look for is a mandatory payment to see a home. For the first property we saw, we were told to “apply” and pay $45 per person to tour it. I really loved the place on video but when I saw it in person, it was a huge disappointment. It was tiny, dark, depressing, and completely different from what was portrayed online. I immediately asked for a refund, and my money was returned quickly.

Lesson learned? Despite COVID-19, seeing a unit in person, or having an agent do a live walk-through, is still very important.

Landing a property

After a month of searching, we found a townhome we really liked that had been listed for only a few hours. We quickly made an appointment to see it. The video and photos did not do the place justice. After I walked through it, I knew we had finally found the one.

The application was done online, and we uploaded all the required documents. Once we were approved, we paid a deposit and signed our lease online. We printed a walk-through checklist, did the walk-through, and emailed back the completed checklist.

Everything was surprisingly easy. The property management company was very helpful and responded quickly to our questions. Fact: I never met our property manager in person.

Rising to the challenge during COVID-19

Finding a rental during a pandemic presented us with more challenges than normal and required us to plan ahead even more. For example, the area we wanted to move to was over two hours away. Since we’d be out for a large part of the day, we always had to think about where we could use the restroom, since nearly everything was closed. Home Depot was open, though, and was a favorite spot.

After a long day of searching for properties, sometimes we had to go out of our comfort zone and order takeout from local restaurants and eat in the car. Before that, we had been too scared to eat out for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus.

And, of course, we had hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in the car at all times.

On the positive side, each time we made the long drive to look at properties, the highway was wide open because people were still sheltering in place. In Southern California, an absence of traffic is something to celebrate.

Once our search for a place was finally over, we turned our sights to the next giant task at hand: moving.

Article by Anayat Durrani

The Most Popular Pets in the US

Freshwater fish are the most numerous pet found across the US due to most fish owners keeping more than one.

A pet is a type of domestic animal that is house-trained. Unlike domestic animals which are usually kept to help perform tasks and for their products, pets are tamed to provide security, entertainment, and as companions. Pets are usually defined by their relatable characters, cleverness, and beautiful looks. Although cats and dogs are some of the most popular pets, freshwater fish are the most common pet in the United States. Other kinds of pets include rabbits, cats, parrots, and fish. This article focuses on the types of pets in the US in the order of their popularity.

Most Popular Pets in the United States

Freshwater Fish

Freshwater fish are the most common pet in the US. There are about 171.7 million of them. Freshwater fish owners in the US say that they prefer to domesticate them because their maintenance is simple and fun. Fish are also considered as home décor for owners. Freshwater fish are common in the US because they help in reducing stress and pressure since watching them is comforting. Some of the common freshwater fish types in the US include neon tetra, the cherry barb, guppies, angelfish, and rainbow fish.

Cats

In the United States, cats are ranked as the second most popular pets; there are about 93.6 million cats. Cats outnumber dogs in the region because they are compact; this means a household can manage more than one cat. Cats are tamed mostly in the northeast and upper Midwest of US. Some of the popular species of cats in the US include the Devon rex which is tiny but has large ears, the Scottish fold whose ears are folded, the ragdoll known for its blue eyes, and the exotic cat which is the most common.

Dog

Dogs are the third most common pet in the United States. The number of dogs in the US adds up to 79.5 million. Dogs are important in the US and are counted as members of a family. There are different dog breeds but the most common ones in the US comprise the Dachshund which has a friendly and enthusiastic character, the poodle which is intelligent and obedient, the bulldog, the German shepherd which is known for its boldness, and the Labrador retriever which offers great company and is very intelligent. The Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in the world.

Birds

There are many bird species in this world but only a few can be tamed. In the United States, birds are popular pets, and there are about 15 million in total. Some of the bird species tamed in the US include doves, cockatiels, finches, lovebirds, and budgerigars.

Other Pets

Other popular pets tamed in the U.S include small pets which comprise of guinea pigs, chinchillas, and fancy rats. Small pets are the fourth most popular in the US and are 15.9 million in number. Reptiles, equine, and saltwater fish are also famous pets in the US even though they are not as popular as cat and dogs.

Importance of Pets

Pets have positive emotional and physical impacts towards their owners. For instance, people who are less social usually find comfort interacting with their pets. Pets are also beneficial to older adults who are lonely as they provide company.

The Most Popular Pets in the US

Rank Pet Total Number in the US
1 Freshwater fish 171,700,000
2 Cat 93,600,000
3 Dog 79,500,000
4 Small pets 15,900,000
5 Bird 15,000,000
6 Reptile 13,600,000
7 Equine 13,300,000
8 Saltwater fish 11,200,000
Article by VIC LANG’AT JUNIOR

8 Outdoor Kitchen Mistakes That Are Sure To Leave a Bad Taste

hikesterson/Getty Images/realtor.com

Many of us are hanging out at home more than ever, and all that extra time in your backyard may set you daydreaming about having your very own outdoor kitchen.

If so, you aren’t alone. According to a recent survey by Fixr, 41% of construction industry experts expect clients to invest in outdoor kitchens this year.

“With COVID, people are cooking at home more,” says Jennifer Robbins, owner/operator of Backyard Specialist in Wilmington, NC.

“The rise in sales for outdoor kitchens has just gone through the roof.”

And the good news is that you don’t need a sprawling estate to accommodate one. You just have to think creatively about your space—and know your priorities.

“An outdoor kitchen can seem like an intimidating project, but you get started just like you would with any other space,” says Erin Hopson, outdoor kitchen design team manager at BBQGuys in Baton Rouge, LA.

But just as with any other kind of home improvement project, things can easily go wrong. So if you’re thinking about investing in an al fresco cooking space, do your homework to avoid the following headaches—and ensure delicious results.

1. Not planning for the weather

If you’re a homeowner in a cooler climate, you won’t be able to use your outdoor kitchen all year long. If you live in an area with frigid, snowy winters, you need to plan the space carefully.

“Depending on how cold your area gets, electrical components like refrigeration units may need to be winterized and stored in a garage or other enclosed structure,” Hopson says.

2. Positioning your kitchen in direct sunlight

Photo by Outdoorliving By Kenneth Reilly

Direct sunlight is a no-go for outdoor kitchens.

“It’s extremely important, because outdoor refrigeration appliances shouldn’t be fully exposed to sunlight,” Hopson says.

On a practical level, direct sunlight can also be annoying. Nobody wants to squint into the sun while trying to enjoy an outdoor happy hour.

“Some people can’t even enjoy their kitchen at 6 p.m., because it’s 100 degrees out here,” Robbins says.

If you don’t have natural shade, you can create a pergola or roof structure to help protect your outdoor kitchen from the sun.

3. Building with flammable materials

Thinking of building a wooden island for your outdoor kitchen? Think again.

“We strongly advise against building a grill island with wood or other combustible materials,” Hopson says.

Instead, opt for a material like metal, brick, or stone.

“The whole point of the framing is to hold your grill. Why would you put something that creates combustion into something that can easily catch fire?”

If you absolutely must use wood for your BBQ island, be sure to install an insulated jacket around the wood to prevent fires—and don’t put your kitchen right up against vinyl siding, another serious fire hazard.

“You would be surprised at how many times we’ve gone into kitchens people have built, and they framed it in wood and clad it in stone, and the wood has caught on fire because they didn’t put an insulated jacket in it,” Robbins says.

4. Cramming too much into a small space

Photo by DeGoey Designs

“The whole point of an outdoor kitchen is to bring the comforts of home outside,” Hopson says. “So having a cramped space will limit the feelings of coziness you’re striving for.”

But you don’t need to live on a sprawling estate to create the outdoor dining space of your dreams. If you’re short on space (or money), consider what you really need in your outdoor kitchen, then tailor the space to your priorities and your budget.

“Maybe you want an outdoor space, but you don’t want to cook,” Robbins says. “I love my countertop and love my refrigerator outside; maybe that’s what you want. You want more of an outdoor entertaining area that doesn’t require a cooking appliance.”

5. Planning your outdoor kitchen like an indoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchens have certain quirks that distinguish them from indoor kitchens. For starters, you probably won’t want to use the kind of cabinetry you have inside the house.

Vent hoods for outdoor kitchens need to be more powerful than indoor models, Hopson says.

She adds that outdoor kitchen cabinets are generally deeper than indoor models, typically from 30 to 36 inches deep. Indoors, they are usually around 24 to 27 inches deep.

“Most people don’t need quite as much storage in their outdoor kitchen,” she says.

6. Choosing a grill that’s the wrong size

Photo by CAPITOL HARDSCAPES

If you’re putting the energy and investment into an outdoor kitchen, don’t skimp on your most important appliance: the grill.

To figure out the right size, Hopson says to ask yourself three questions:

  1. How many people will you normally grill for?
  2. What’s the maximum number of people you will be grilling for?
  3. How often do you expect to grill for the maximum number of people?

7. Forgetting to set up the space for entertaining

Chances are, you want an outdoor kitchen for relaxing—not just for cooking. Don’t forget to think about how the space will function for entertaining.

“Think about seating: Do you want a dining table a few feet away from the grill, or would you rather have bar stools lining your outdoor kitchen island?” Hopson says.

You may also want to incorporate TVs, sound systems, heating and cooling appliances, and decor, depending on your priorities and budget.

“Most of us won’t be planning vacations any time soon, so you might as well start planning your own backyard getaway spot instead,” Hopson says.

8. Dropping the ball on maintenance

A new outdoor kitchen comes with a new list of things to keep spotless. It’s important to understand what chores you’re getting into.

If you have stainless-steel appliances, for example, coat them with a protectant to prevent rust. If you aren’t up to the task of regular maintenance, consider hiring a cleaning service.

“Outdoor kitchens are an investment,” Robbins says. “Even though you spent $5,000 on that grill, it does not clean itself. They can last forever, but you need to do a little bit of upkeep.”

Article by Lauren Sieben

CUCUMBER MANGO SALSA OVER PAN SEARED SALMON

By Danielle Esposti

This fresh and tangy cucumber mango salsa is one of my favorite toppings for simple pan-seared salmon. It’s a fast and easy paleo condiment packed with colorful, seasonal vegetables. This is weeknight cooking at it’s easiest and most delicious.

Equipment

  • Wood Spoon
  • Cast Iron Skillet
  • Fish spatula

Ingredients

Pan-Seared Wild Salmon

  • 1 lb salmon wild, alaskan
  • kosher salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil

Cucumber Mango Salsa

  • 2 champagne mangos diced to 1/2″
  • 1/2 red bell pepper halved, seeds removed, then diced to 1/2″
  • 1/2 english cucumber halved, seeds removed, then diced to 1/2″
  • 1/4 red onion diced to 1/2″
  • 1/2 c. italian parsley chopped
  • 1 lime zested and juiced
  • 1 tbsp unfiltered extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper

Instructions

  • Pull the salmon out of the fridge and set on the counter to come to room temperature while you prepare the cucumber mango salsa.
  • In a large bowl, combine the diced mango, bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, and parsley. Add the juice and zest of a lime, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon until incorporated and set aside.
  • Using a sharp knife, slice the salmon fillet into 4 equal portions. Pat each salmon fillet dry with paper towels, then season the flesh with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add about a tablespoon of avocado oil. Heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the fillets to the pan skin-side down and then do not touch them. Cook over medium-high heat for 3-7 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets), or until the flesh is mostly light pink instead of translucent.
  • With a fish spatula, gently flip each fillet and cook for an additional 30 seconds to one minute. (If the skin sticks or begins to tear when you attempt to flip, it probably needs another minute or two of cooking.)
  • Remove the fillets from the pan and transfer to plates. Allow to rest for a few minutes, then top with 1/4 of the mango salsa and serve immediately.

Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next

SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

Millions of Americans struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments because of COVID-19 have received relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

But mortgage forbearance is only temporary, and set to expire soon, leaving many homeowners who are still struggling perplexed on what to do next.

Enacted in March, the CARES Act initially granted a 180-day forbearance, or pause in payments, to homeowners with mortgages backed by the federal government or a government-sponsored enterprise such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Furthermore, some private lenders also granted mortgage forbearance of 90 days or more to financially distressed homeowners.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 8.39% of loans were in forbearance as of June 28, representing an estimated 4.2 million homeowners nationwide.

So what are affected homeowners to do when the forbearance goes away? You have options, so it’s well worth contacting your lender to explore what’s best for you.

“If you know you’re going to be unable to meet the terms of your forbearance agreement at its maturity, you should call your loan servicer immediately and see what options they may be able to offer to you,” says Abel Carrasco, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Advisors in St. Petersburg, FL.

Exactly what’s available depends on the fine print in the terms of your mortgage forbearance agreement. Here’s an overview of some possible avenues to explore if you still can’t pay your mortgage after the forbearance period ends.

Extend your mortgage forbearance

One simple option is to contact your lender to request an extension.

Homeowners granted forbearance under the CARES Act can request a 180-day extension, giving them a total of 360 days of forbearance, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The key is to contact your lender well before your forbearance expires. If you let it expire without an extension, your lender could impose penalties.

“If you just stop making regular, scheduled payments, you could have a late mortgage payment on your credit,” warns Carrasco. “That could severely impact refinancing or purchasing another property in the immediate future and potentially subject you to foreclosure.”

Keep in mind, though, a forbearance simply delays payments, meaning they’ll still need to be made in the future. It doesn’t mean payments are forgiven.

Refinance to lower your mortgage payment

Mortgage interest rates are at all-time lows, hovering around 3%. So if you can swing it, this may be a great time to refinance your home, says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree.

Refinancing could come with some hefty fees, however, ranging from 2% to 6% of your loan amount. But it could be worth it.

A lower interest rate will likely lower your monthly payment and save you thousands over the life of your mortgage. Dropping your interest rate from 4.125% to 3% could save more than $40,000 over 30 years, for example, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“Lenders have tightened standards, though, so you will need to show that you are a good candidate for refinancing,” Kapfidze says. You’ll need a good credit score of 620 or higher.

As long as you’ve kept up your end of the forbearance terms, having a mortgage forbearance shouldn’t affect your credit score, or your ability to refinance or qualify for another mortgage.

Ask for a loan modification

Many lenders are offering an assortment of programs to help homeowners under hardship because of the pandemic, says Christopher Sailus, vice president and mortgage product manager at WaFd Bank.

“Lenders quickly recognized the severity of the economic situation due to the pandemic, and put programs into place to defer payments or help reduce them,” he says.

A loan modification is one such option. This enables homeowners at risk of default to change the terms of their original mortgage—such as payment amount, interest rate, or length of the loan—to reduce monthly payments and clear up any delinquencies.

Loan modifications may affect your credit score, but not as much as a foreclosure. Some lenders charge fees for loan modifications, but others, like WaFd, provide them at no cost.

Put your home on the market

It may seem like a strange time to sell your home, with COVID-19 cases growing, unemployment rising, and the economy on shaky ground. But, it’s actually a great time to sell a house.

Pending home sales jumped 44.3% in May, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Pending Home Sales Index, the largest month-over-month growth since the index began in 2001.

Home inventory remains low, and buyer demand is up with many hoping to jump on the low interest rates. Prices are up, too. The national median home price increased 7.7% in the first quarter of 2020, to $274,600, according to NAR.

So if you can no longer afford your home and have plenty of equity built up, listing your home may be a smart move. (Home equity is the market value of your home minus how much you still owe on your mortgage.)

Consider foreclosure as a last resort

Foreclosure may be the only option for many homeowners, especially if you fall too behind on your mortgage payments and can’t afford to sell or refinance. In May, more than 7% of mortgages were delinquent, a 20% increase from April, according to mortgage data and analytics firm Black Knight.

“When to begin a foreclosure process will vary from lender to lender and client to client,” Sailus says. “Current and future state and federal legislation, statutes, or regulations will impact the process, as will the individual homeowner’s situation and their ability to repay.”

Foreclosures won’t begin until after a forbearance period ends, he adds.

The CARES Act prohibited lenders from foreclosing on mortgages backed by the government or government-sponsored enterprise until at least Aug. 31. Several states, including California and Connecticut, also issued temporary foreclosure moratoriums and stays.

Once these grace periods (and forbearance timelines) end, and homeowners miss payments, they could face foreclosure, Carrasco says. When a loan is flagged as being in foreclosure, the balance is due and legal fees accumulate, requiring homeowners to pay off the loan (usually by selling) and vacating the property.

“Absent participation in an agreed-upon forbearance, deferment, repayment plan, or loan modification, loan servicers historically may begin the foreclosure process after as few as three months of missed mortgage payments,” he explains. “This is unfortunately often the point of no return.”

Article by Erica Sweeney

6 Reasons Why This Is Actually the Best Time in Years To Sell a House

alexsl / Getty Images

Talk about a strange summer. Between the continued threat of the novel coronavirus, a wobbly economy, and layoffs happening left and right, it’s no surprise that many who may have hoped to sell their home this season are wondering whether to put those plans on hold—or they’ve already thrown in the towel.

Such hesitancy is understandable. Yet the irony is that, after closely examining the current housing market conditions, many real estate experts believe this summer could be one of the best times to sell a home in years.

“Given the pandemic and uncertainty it’s caused, the general sentiment [among some owners] is that now is not a good time to sell your home,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®. “Yet so far, the data suggest the opposite—that buyers outnumber sellers in the housing market, which means it’s better to be a seller than a buyer.”

o if you’re a home seller who assumed they should write off this summer’s home-selling season as a lost cause, it’s time for a reality check! Here are a few reasons why the market could actually be moving strongly in your favor.

1. Home buyer demand is back with a vengeance

Granted, in the spring, when COVID-19 was spurring many states to enforce quarantine and ban open houses, home selling understandably went dormant for a while. But now that lockdown restrictions are loosening up in some states, home buyers are out with a vengeance—and many of them are eager to make up for lost time.

Indeed, the real estate market is already seeing strong signs of a rebound, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Pending Home Sales Index (a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings). In May, after two months of decline, pending home sales shot up 44.3%—the highest month-over-month jump since 2001, when the index began.

“There’s very significant demand,” says Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate. He adds that demand is strongest right now in the suburbs and in smaller, cheaper cities—as buyers look to escape the biggest metros and more companies follow tech titans like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in allowing employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

“If we continue to see an increase in working from home, people can move farther away, where they can get more bang for their buck,” Gardner says.

———

Watch: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home Amid the Pandemic

2. Home inventory remains low

Yet amid this glut of home buyers, the number of homes for sale to actually meet this pent-up demand is at an all-time low.

“There was insufficient supply last year,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the NAR. “This year during the pandemic, the shortage has intensified.”

According to realtor.com’s market outlook, housing inventory in June was 27% lower than a year earlier.

And some reasons for the shortage of available homes have little to do with the recent coronavirus crisis. The number of homes for sale is at a “generational low,” says Gardner, because people are living in their homes longer than they used to. In fact, NAR data shows that Americans are spending an average of 13 years in their homes before moving.

The lower inventory is also the result of fewer distressed properties on the market, “due to the massive government stimulus support, including mortgage forbearance and generous unemployment benefits,” Yun explains.

3. Home prices are up

With demand for homes up and inventory down, the conditions are perfect for home sellers to get high prices.

“Many sellers can get top dollar in the current market conditions,” says Yun.

According to NAR , single-family home prices increased in most markets during the first quarter of 2020, with the national median single-family home price increasing 7.7%, to $274,600.

This good news may come as a surprise to sellers, since it was expected that the housing market would take a hit and home prices would drop because of the pandemic. That’s quite the contrary.

“Home asking price growth is actually higher now than it was before the pandemic,” Hale explains.

4. Mortgage interest rates are low, too

Another factor pushing home buyers to shop are the historically low mortgage interest rates.

According to Freddie Mac’s July 2 report, average interest rates recently reached a new record low of 3.07% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Given this means homes could cost potentially tens of thousands less over the lifetime of the loan, it’s understandable that mortgage purchase applications have jumped since last year.

5. The economy is showing slow signs of recovery

While the pandemic led to record high unemployment rates in March, these levels have recently fallen slightly, which could be a good sign that people are still eager and able to buy a home.

Continuing spikes in COVID-19 infection rates may have a negative impact on employment numbers in some areas going forward, but for now the national trends are heading in the right direction.

“The pandemic sharply curtailed economic production and consumer spending in March, April, and part of May. As a result, joblessness soared,” Hale explains. “But data from May and June suggests that businesses are adding back jobs as consumers get back to spending, and some companies are now scrambling to keep up demand. Some speculated that we’d see a sharp bounce back in activity, and I think it’s fair to say that’s what we’re seeing so far.”

6. Home buyers’ needs have changed

Along with working remotely, people have been spending more time at home in general—and this, in turn, has sparked a fresh deluge of home buyers whose current homes no longer seem as comfortable or roomy as they were pre-COVID-19. That is, if your dining table now doubles as your “office,” you might be tempted to trade in your short commute for another room or two so all can work from home in peace.

“People are looking at their existing home and saying, ‘If I have to work from home, then maybe my house just doesn’t work,’” Gardner says.

“Spending three months locked up at home taught a lot of people that where they live is important,” agrees Jed Kliman, managing broker at Windermere Real Estate in Seattle. “Clients I’ve been working with recently are trading up because they’ve spent more time in their homes and realized it didn’t meet their needs.”

Home offices, more privacy, outdoor spaces, and just more room are becoming more important to homeowners. Kliman says playing up these features and amenities when you sell your home can attract buyers. Home staging and visually appealing listing photos, though always important, are especially crucial in today’s market.

“Staging, professional photos, even video and 3D virtual tours—those are all really important because people start their home search online, and they have to be moved and captivated to go see a house,” Kliman says.

In addition to understanding market conditions, home sellers will want to know that the process from offer to closing may work a little differently today.

For example, social distancing may mean home inspections and repairs take a little longer. Kliman says some of his sellers have been doing their own pre-inspections and making reports available to interested buyers to speed up the process.

The bottom line: “You want to make it as easy as possible for a buyer to make an offer,” he says.

Just be prepared for the unexpected, Hale says.

“The time it takes to sell a home does seem to be shrinking, as states lift restrictions on business and consumers feel more confident and comfortable,” she says. “But depending on how infection rates evolve, this could change. This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods completely.”

Article by Erica Sweeney

8 Outdoor DIY Projects That’ll Add Serious Charm to Your Yard This Summer

Oleg_Ermak/Getty Images

With your backyard being the new summer hangout, it’s about time to spruce it up. But what if your budget is already stretched tight?

Well, if you don’t mind getting your hands a bit dirty, we’ve got just the ticket: eight oh-so-easy outdoor DIY projects that will keep you busy on these long summer days while you stay home and add some serious charm to your yard.

From homemade swings to whimsical wind chimes, this list has a little something for everyone. So go ahead and block off the weekend for some easy, outdoor DIY fun, and then check out these inspiring tutorials to get started.

1. DIY wind chimes

DIY bamboo chimesHGTV

Nothing will keep the Zen vibes of your outdoor space going strong quite like a set of handmade wind chimes.

“The right wind chimes add a natural melody to the background of your backyard oasis,” says Vicki Liston of On the Fly DIY.  “If you aren’t a fan of the more clangy versions, this bamboo set offers a more subtle sound. The organic look of the bamboo is also perfect for a tropical-style patio.”

Follow this tutorial to make your own backyard bamboo wind chimes.

2. Trellis planter box

Trellis planter boxFamily Handyman

Why choose between a trellis and a planter box when you can have both? This easy DIY project will liven up any boring corner of your garden, and it’s very simple to make.

“A trellis planter box is one of my favorite ways to dress up a space,” says Liston. “It’s also relatively easy to build, moveable, and provides instant privacy.”

3. DIY bird feeder

Homemade bird feederSunCatcherStudio

Another great way to spruce up your yard for the summer? Add one of these homemade log bird feeders from SunCatcherStudio. Not only will the birds love their cozy new abode, but you’ll also love watching them flock to your garden this summer. Just be sure to follow these guidelinesto make sure your new bird feeder doesn’t attract any unwanted guests.

4. Pergola swing

Pergola swingSingle Girls DIY

An outdoor swing like this one will transform your boring deck into a whimsical outdoor wonderland.

“Swings have a nostalgic feel on summer days,” says Liston. “This grown-up version is stylish hanging from an eye-catching pergola and can pull double duty as a beautiful spot for climbing vines.”

Build your very own pergola swing with this easy DIY tutorial from Single Girl’s DIY.

5. DIY garden pond

DIY waterfall pondOh My! Creative

Can’t spend the summer near your favorite body of water? Then why not just build one in your backyard?

This DIY pond from Oh My! Creative is the perfect way to add some water elements to your space—and all the luxe greenery and soothing vibes that go with it.

“This pond is a relatively simple build with a dramatic look,” says Tory Jon of Pond Academy. “The pond costs under $500, but with the creative use of stones and the waterfall feature, it looks like a much more expensive pond installed by a professional.”

6. String light poles

DIY string lightsCity Farmhouse

“This super simple project is such an easy way to bring in a little mood lighting,” says Liston.

If you dream of whimsical string lights but don’t have a pergola to hang them on, then this DIY project is for you. Scrounge up some dowels from your local home improvement store to serve as the poles, and secure them in a heavy planter. Then hang your lights.

“I love how they not only provide a place to safely hang string lights, but they can double as container planters so you can bring a living element into the project,” Liston says.

For more in-depth instructions on creating your own network of string lights, check this tutorial from City Farmhouse.

7. Patio poufs

Patio poufsStyle Me Pretty

Need a little extra seating but don’t want to blow your budget? Then you’re going to love these simple DIY patio poufs from Style Me Pretty.

“These patio poufs are a great way to upcycle an old tire,” says Liston. “The rope gives them a natural, organic look, and they serve as handy spots for drinks and snacks.”

Just make sure you use a fair amount of sealer after assembling so they stay weather-resistant.

8. Tree swing

Photo by Sarah Greenman

You can never have too many places to perch and enjoy the summer weather, and this tree swing is just one more way to add a bit of magic to your backyard haven.

“When you’re aching for a little bit of a breeze on a hot summer afternoon, a tree swing delivers,” says Liston. “Kids and grown-ups alike just can’t resist this simple pleasure—and they aren’t that hard to make!”

For the best results, Liston recommends weight-testing the limbs of your favorite tree to make sure you find one that’s ready for your new swing. Then check out this tutorial from Home Depot to get started.

Article by Larissa Runkle

Paleo Strawberry Avocado Salad

Author Monica Stevens Le

An easy Paleo Strawberry Avocado Salad recipe that is the perfect kickoff to the warmer months! This salad comes baring fresh fruit like strawberries, pineapple and avocado, and the creamy strawberry & lime vinaigrette could not be more refreshing!

Ingredients

SALAD

  • 2 containers Farmhouse Bacon Chopped Salad Kit
  • 1 1/2 cups pineapple diced
  • 2 cups strawberries hulled and halved
  • 2 avocados diced
  • 1/4 cup green onions chopped, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley or mint chopped, for garnish
  • black sesame seeds for garnish

DRESSING

  • 8 strawberries hulled and halved
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 1/2 lime juiced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

FOR THE SALAD:

  • Arrange the salad evenly across a large platter. Sprinkle the fruit evenly over the salad blend. Sprinkle the garnishes over the top. Drizzle the salad with the dressing and serve.

FOR THE DRESSING:

  • Combine all of the dressing ingredients together in a food processor or high-speed blender. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Notes

The dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 236kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 17g | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 10g
Author Monica Stevens Le

Should You Refinance Your Mortgage? A Homeowner’s Guide to HELOCs and More

Bill Oxford/iStock

Refinancing a mortgage can be a great way for homeowners to save some money. But beware—make a wrong move when you refinance a loan, and you could easily get in over your head. That’s why we highlight here the right (and wrong) ways to refinance your mortgage loan.

What is home equity?

Your home equity is the current market value of your home, minus the amount you owe on your mortgage. While paying down your mortgage loan will decrease your debt and increase your home equity, the value of your home can rise (or fall) and increase (or decrease) your home equity, too. (Here’s how you can get an estimate of how much your home is worth.)

What is a refi?

When you refinance your mortgage, you’re essentially applying for a new loan. Once again, you’ll be subject to complete documentation and verification of your income, assets, debt-to-income ratio, credit score, and job history. Your real estate property will need to appraise for enough value to support the mortgage refinance, and you’ll have to show that you can afford the new monthly payments on the mortgage.

You will also need to either pay closing costs on the loan, which run anywhere from 2% to 7% of the amount of the mortgage, or opt for a no-cost refinance, where your lender covers the closing costs but you get a slightly higher interest rate on your new loan.

A mortgage refinance can be for the amount you currently owe on your mortgage, or it can be for more or less money. If you have extra cash and want to reduce your mortgage balance, putting money with your refinance is a good idea. The lower your new loan amount, the less you’ll pay in loan origination fees and interest. On the other hand, if you get a cash-out refinance, you can get a check at closing.

Whether you use the same lender for a mortgage refinance is entirely up to you, says Jordan Dobbs, a loan officer at Washington First Mortgage in Rockville, MD. Even if you were happy with your current mortgage lender, it could be beneficial to shop around and compare your loan options with different lenders.

4 reasons refinancing a mortgage can work

There are several things that could prompt you to refinance your loan:

  1. To get a lower interest rate. Many people decide to refinance a mortgage when mortgage rates are lower so that they can lower their monthly payments and, consequently, pay less in interest over the life of the loan. You may also qualify for a lower interest rate now than you did when you took out your mortgage (e.g., if your credit score has improved). If that’s the case, you’d want to look at your potential closing costs and calculate your break-even point to determine whether it makes sense to refinance, since you’re also resetting the clock in terms of the life of your mortgage. You can use realtor.com®’s refinance calculator to crunch the numbers of your own mortgage and see how much you’ll save on your monthly mortgage payments if you refinance at a lower interest rate. (One rule of thumb says that if your interest rate is more than 1% above current mortgage rates, deciding to refinance is a smart move.)
  2. To get a different type of mortgage. Some borrowers want to refinance an adjustable-rate mortgage into a fixed-rate loan, while others want to reduce their loan term from a 30-year loan to a 10-, 15-, or 20-year loan in order to pay it off faster and save money in interest payments over the long haul.
  3. To stop paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). If you didn’t have enough cash to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, your lender likely required you to get mortgage insurance—a monthly premium that typically costs between 0.3% and 1.15% of your home loan and is included in your monthly payment. If you refinance to a loan without mortgage insurance, you can save hundreds of dollars each month in your mortgage payment, but you’ll need to have at least 20% equity in your home to qualify, says Dobbs.
  4. To tap into the home’s equity. People also refinance a loan because they want to take cash out of their real estate, which is often done to make home improvements, pay for college, consolidate debt, or make a down payment on a second home. If you decide to go that route, you can choose between a cash-out refi and a home equity line of credit (or HELOC). Be aware that a cash-out refinance increases the size of your loan amount over your previous balance on your original mortgage loan. A one-time mortgage refinance may be a good strategic move if the monthly payment does not adversely affect your cash flow and financial goals. However, repeated mortgage refinances every few years will put you further in debt and extend your loan term, making it difficult to ever pay off your loan balance.

What’s the difference between a home equity loan and a HELOC?

Although these two loan products sound similar, they’re significantly different. With a home equity loan, you decide how much you want to borrow against your real estate and then make monthly payments, similar to a regular mortgage. Thus, with a home equity loan you avoid the temptation to overspend, because you’ll be borrowing a set amount. Also, because the interest rate is usually fixed, you have peace of mind knowing that the payments will remain the same.

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, meanwhile, functions more like a credit card, because it allows you to borrow up to a certain amount (typically 75% to 85% of the appraised value of the real estate, minus what you still owe) on an as-needed basis over the term of the loan (usually five to 20 years). In fact, your lender will actually issue you a plastic card that you can use to access the money easily. A HELOC works well if you want to borrow money but don’t know exactly how much you’ll need (a common conundrum when making home improvements).

The main drawback to HELOCs? Unlike with home equity loans, interest rates on HELOCs are variable, which means they fluctuate depending on market conditions. And while many lenders offer a low “introduction” rate, it lasts only for a matter of months; after that, the interest rates will adjust—and continue to readjust—which could create problems if you don’t prepare for the potentially higher payments. So be sure to weigh these pros and cons before you start chipping away at the real estate equity you’ve gained.

Article by Daniel Bortz