How to Increase Your Kitchen Pantry Space Without Breaking the Bank

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An organized pantry indicates a happy kitchen. But what happens when you run out of space? All those spices, jars, vinegar bottles, and boxes of cereal have to go somewhere. Once your dedicated storage space reaches max capacity, it’s hard to ignore your kitchen becoming one cluttered mess.

The solution? Get clever with your pantry overflow—try one of our storage alternatives below. With a little creativity, you can carve out the necessary space to house all of the pantry items you need. And the best part? Most of these solutions don’t require any heavy lifting or help from a contractor.

Repurpose a cluttered closet

Photo by Cummings Architects

Can you think of any underused closets in your home that can serve as a pantry?

“I have seen condos in which the homeowners have taken their boots and jackets out of the hallway closet and turned it into a kitchen pantry,” says Nectaria Kladitis, a broker at Re/Max Hallmark Realty in Toronto.

A mudroom or basement could also serve the same purpose.

“This area would be used for bulk purchases of food and consumable items—like napkins, paper towels—and even some not-frequently-used kitchen appliances,” says Andrea Walker, owner and certified professional organizer at Smartly Organized. This kind of space is often referred to as an overflow pantry.

Install floating shelves

Photo by ZEPHYR

If you haven’t jumped on the open shelving bandwagon yet, consider bringing this trend into your home. Put that empty wall to use and install a few floating shelves alongside the cabinets that already exist.

By moving your plates, bowls, and glasses—which will look pretty stacked together—out of your cabinets and onto floating shelves, you’ll have more room for items that don’t fit in your pantry.

Floating shelves ($199, Pottery Barn) in wood, glass, and metal are quite popular options and don’t cost a lot of money to install.

Most amateur DIYers can source floating shelves from a local home improvement store and install them, but you can also go the custom route.

“Hire a company that specializes in kitchen cabinetry, and ask them to measure, design, and install shelving that fits your needs,” says Caleb Liu, owner of House Simply Sold in Orange, CA.

Warning: Don’t go overboard. Overspending on cabinets is one of the mistakes that can derail your kitchen reno.

Relocate your dinnerware to a hutch

Photo by Neptune

If you don’t want to go through the process of installing shelves, consider purchasing a prebuilt, free-standing storage solution.

“Instead of using your kitchen storage for dishes or glassware, move those items into a hutch, and turn your kitchen cabinetry into pantry space,” recommends Marty Basher, a storage design expert with Modular Closets.

If you have room in your kitchen or dining area, grab this tall hutch ($306, Lowe’s), or source one with a vintage feel from a flea market or estate sale.

Walker says she’s even used an old-fashioned TV armoire.

Get smart with cabinet organizers

Photo by Declutter with Sarah

Everyone looking to maximize space in their pantry should bring in some cabinet organizers. Walker recommends risers, turntables ($14, Amazon), and bins for all your bottles and jars.

Also, remove the packaging to reduce the amount of space needed.

“So many snack items come individually wrapped that ‘decanting’ them into a bin saves considerable space,” Walker says.

Consider a mobile pantry

Try a rolling cart that tucks into a space in your kitchen.Amazon

We bet there are a few spaces in your kitchen that could be used for pantry overflow. One of those spaces is the area between your countertop and your refrigerator. Basher recommends purchasing a narrow metal rolling cart ($95, Amazon), which can slide in and out as you need it.

If you have a lot of space in the center of the kitchen, a mobile kitchen island ($200, Amazon) is another option.

“This type of kitchen organizer can be used to store canned food, spices, cereal boxes, chutney jars, and so on,” says Amalia Otet of Storage Café. “It’s a simple solution that can make a ton of a difference when trying to make a small kitchen space work.”

Article by Terri Williams

PALEO HOISIN SHRIMP AND MANGO

If you are familiar with Chinese cuisine, you’ll likely have encountered hoisin sauce at some point in a meal – it often appears as a glaze for meat, it makes for a mouthwatering dipping sauce, and sometimes it is added as an essential ingredient to stir fries. By all means it is sweet and salty, making it nearly irresistible, but here’s the catch: traditional hoisin sauce does not satisfy Paleo requirements. The base ingredients are soy beans and spices (fennel seeds, red chillies and garlic, along with vinegar and sugar), though prepared sauces are bound to use wheat or corn flour as a thickener. You have to be prudent and check the list of ingredients each and every time you buy a product – hoisin sauce is something to watch out for if you have gluten sensitivities.

Let us introduce our Paleo hoisin sauce, and see if we can sway you to make your own. Start by mincing 2 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of ginger, add 1/4 cup of coconut aminos, 2 tablespoons of white rice or apple cider vinegar and a small amount of honey; stir well. Next, you’ll add the homemade hoisin sauce to your cooked shrimp, mango and daikon radish mix and let is simmer for a few minutes. If you desire a thicker sauce consider adding a tablespoon or two of almond butter, and for a little spice, chili flakes are wonderfully nice.

Serve over a bed of cauliflower rice with an exciting side of ginger bok choy.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 mango, thinly sliced
  • 1 daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. raw honey
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, minced
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet over medium-heat.
  2. In a bowl combine the garlic, ginger, coconut aminos, vinegar and honey.
  3. Season the shrimp to taste and cook in the heated coconut oil, 2 to 3 minutes per side; set aside.
  4. Add the mango and daikon to the pan and cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Bring the shrimp back to the skillet and pour in the sauce, gently toss everything.
  6. Cook until everything is warm through, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  7. Serve topped with fresh chives.

How to Get Out of Debt in 2020

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY EMIL LENDOF/WSJ; PHOTOS: ISTOCK

For many, paying off debt can feel like an insurmountable task.

The most common types of debt for Americans include mortgage debt, student loans, auto loans and credit-card balances. Debt can dent one’s ability to save for retirement, may hamper homeownership and impede overall future financial security.

While some may be tempted to ignore debt for now, it isn’t recommended.

“The longer you procrastinate making a plan to get debt-free and just make the minimum payments, especially on high-interest rate debt, the more brutal the build up,” says Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial.”

Instead, taking the time to devise a strategic course of action can help those with debt feel in control of their financial lives—even if becoming debt-free is years away.

Below, three personal-finance authors sketch out a game plan to help those hoping to make a fresh start on their debt repayment.

Get organized

To help eliminate her husband’s roughly $50,000 in student loans, Ms. Lowry created a spreadsheet after the couple got engaged in 2017. In the document, Ms. Lowry and her husband wrote down each of the lenders’ names, the interest rates, principal balances and minimum monthly payments.

Doing so helped the couple see their total obligations clearly and gave them a greater sense of control over their debt. It also enabled them to develop a plan for how they would combine their money after marriage in August 2018.

From there, they decided to “avalanche” their debt: They made minimum payments then paid down debt from the highest interest rates to the lowest, regardless of each loan’s balance.

The approach worked well. The couple anticipated to be student-debt-free by February 2020, and hit their goal this December.

“We attacked it as a team,” said Ms. Lowry.

Commit and take action

Jill Schlesinger, author of “The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money” and on-air business news analyst for CBS, said people too often take a defeatist attitude when it comes to their debt. They berate themselves for racking up the debt and are convinced they will never be free of it.

Change your perspective, she recommends.

“You have to have a conversation with yourself that you’re going to do this,” Ms. Schlesinger said.

Ms. Schlesinger said start by taking small steps. For outstanding debt, establish automatic payments, even for a small amount, so you can avoid or minimize penalties and fees. Whatever the outstanding debt, try paying an additional amount, even just $10, to chip away at it.

If it is medical debt, you could try to negotiate with the medical provider to work out a payment plan.

People often get shellshocked when they find out about medical bills, said Stacey Tisdale, president of Mind Money Media Inc. and author of “The True Cost of Happiness: The Real Story Behind Managing Your Money.” It is important to take a deep breath and remember that unlike much of your other types of debt, there is usually no interest charged on medical debt. Medical organizations will likely want to negotiate because if patients don’t pay, they typically sell the debt to collectors who may buy it for pennies on the dollar.

“Make a phone call as they will most likely work with you,” Ms. Tisdale said.

Set goals and reminders

If you connect why you want to pay off your debt to your overall financial plan you will have a better chance of success, said Ms. Tisdale.

Just aiming to pay off your credit-card debt by this time next year because it seems like the right thing to do may not motivate you to actually do so, especially if you have to make sacrifices to make it happen, she said.

But if you set specific, measurable, attainable goals with a deadline that connects to your overall financial plan you will be more motivated, she said.

Ms. Tisdale also likes to keep reminders of her goals handy. For example, many years ago when she wanted to save money for a trip to Paris, she put a picture of the Eiffel Tower in her wallet with her credit cards. This small step gave her pause and reminded her of her goal every time she considered charging something.

Also, set realistic expectations and cut yourself some slack, CBS’s Ms. Schlesinger said. You probably didn’t create the debt overnight so don’t expect to eradicate it all at once either.

Article by Veronica Dagher

Is Legal Marijuana Getting Local Real Estate Markets High—or Is It a Buzzkill?

iStock; realtor.com

Just because marijuana is legal in many states doesn’t mean many residents can grow it in their backyards or even smoke up in their homes. Buzzkill.

Homeowners associations often place restrictions on marijuana, such as barring homeowners from smoking in common areas—or even growing cannabis in their own backyards in some cases, according to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors®. The report is based on a September survey of nearly 3,700 residential and commercial Realtors® across the country.

“Landlords and HOAs are having to think about how marijuana is both used and grown within a home,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of research at NAR. “[Even though] it’s legal, you might run into issues. … You may have restrictions on your ability to use marijuana in your home or in common areas.”

Marijuana has been approved for medical use in 33 states and Washington, DC. Of those, 11 states and the District of Columbia also permit recreational use. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which categorizes it as a Schedule 1 drug.

Is marijuana giving the real estate market a high in states that permit it?

In places where marijuana has been legal for three or more years, more than a third of Realtors, 36%, said that they’re aware of HOAs having restrictions on homeowners growing the plant in their own (unfenced) backyards; 42% said HOAs have restrictions on growing it in common areas; and 25% said HOAs have restrictions on it being grown inside the home.

The states that legalized cannabis early on are also experiencing a shortage of inventory, which about a quarter of Realtors attribute in part to the more permissive laws. Out-of-state buyers began moving to Colorado when the first recreational pot dispensaries opened in the state in 2014. The state has also been attracting folks thanks to its strong economy, growing tech sector, and outdoorsy lifestyle.

“We saw a huge growth in marijuana properties,” says real estate agent Rona Hanson of NRG Realty in Lakewood, CO. She specializes in the sale of properties where folks can live as well as plant cannabis.

“People wanted to home-grow separate from the house, or in the basement where they could filter the air so it didn’t reach up to the living area,” says Hanson.

But since the state laws have changed limiting the number of plants folks can grow, she’s had more sellers trying to unload their properties than interest from buyers.

It can also be tough to sell a “grow house,” where cannabis has been cultivated. About a quarter of real estate agents reported having problems finding buyers.

“The smell and moisture can sometimes remain in the property,” says Lautz. There can also be electrical wiring problems that are costly to fix.

It’s harder to tell what it’s done for home prices. In states where folks have been allowed to blaze for fun since 2016, 27% of Realtors reported they had seen a decrease in residential property values near dispensaries. But 12% said they had seen the value of such properties increase.

In states where weed was legalized before 2016, 18% of Realtors reported a decline in home prices, whereas 7% reported an increase.

Landlords may be a buzzkill

Renters involved in the marijuana industry also face problems. About half of Realtors reported seeing lease clauses prohibiting tenants from growing marijuana on their rental properties in states where legal and recreational marijuana was legalized before 2016. In states that have legalized weed since 2016, only a quarter of Realtors reported the same restrictions.

Nearly a fifth of landlords refused to let their tenants pay their rent all in cash. Because of its contested legal status, the marijuana industry is primarily cash-based—so many banks won’t accept money from the business. Tenants who derive their income from marijuana are likely to want to use that cash to pay their bills.

“It’s a little too early to tell if there’s a universal decision on whether it’s good or bad for real estate,” says NAR’s Lautz. “There’s no doubt it’s causing some complications.”

Article by Clare Trapasso

PAWS Act Moving Forward

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, H.R. 4305, which would allocate federal funds for the training of service dogs for veterans.

American Humane is excited that this bill is taking off – it passed with a bipartisan, unanimous bipartisan vote. In an era of increasingly bitter partisanship, it’s heartening that members of both parties can unite in support of veterans and the healing power of the human-animal bond.

Through our Pups4PatriotsTM program, American Humane trains service dogs for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. Our trainers see firsthand how the healing power of the leash transforms and, in some cases, saves lives.

But training service dogs is expensive – costing up to $30,000. The Pups4PatriotsTM provides dogs to veterans at no cost to them, thanks to the generous support of donors. But there is a substantial need that is not being met. Up to one in five veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTS, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The V.A. only covers the cost of service dogs for veterans with select physical disabilities, but not PTS. Putting federal dollars behind service dogs would help veterans across the country. Now that the PAWS Act has passed the House, American Humane is working to see it pass the Senate and be signed into law.

How to Clean a Couch—and Why You Really, Really Should, Every 2 Weeks

realtor.com

Attention, couch potatoes! Time to learn how to clean that sofa you’re planted on. Think about it: If your favorite oft-used seating arrangement is like most people’s, it is semi-regularly subjected to sweaty socks, cracker crumbs, dog paws, cat hair, spilled juice (or wine), as well as everyday dust and detritus.

As such, cleaning your couch is a household chore that really isn’t optional, and should happen far more often than you may think.

“People don’t want to hear it, but a big part of cleaning is frequency,” says Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert for Merry Maids. “If you just have one or two people in your house and no pets, you can probably get by with only cleaning your couch once a month or every other month.”

Bet you thought we were going to say once a year, huh? And if you’re part of a typical household, including the pets and maybe the children, “I hate to say it,” says Johnson, “but you should clean your couch at least every two weeks.”

Which likely means your sofa’s long overdue.

Still, it’s not like you can simply drag a sectional into the shower and give it a good scrubbing. (If only!) So how do you clean the pièce de résistance of your living/family/game room?

Consider this your couch-cleaning primer.

Know how to decipher couch cleaning codes

Not all couch-cleaning regimens are created equal; what works for full-grain leather won’t necessarily be best for, say, velvet. Somewhere on your sofa, you’ll find a tag with what’s called an upholstery cleaning code. Learn it, know it, live it. This is crucial info about what you do next. (Can’t find your tag? Contact the manufacturer.)

The four most common cleaning codes:

  • S: Clean only with a solvent cleaner. This means you should apply a special dry-cleaning product or water-free solvent to your couch with a white cloth. (Spot-check an inconspicuous place first.) Blot, don’t rub away any dirt.
  • W: Clean only with a water-based cleaner. Use a damp microfiber cloth to remove dust and dirt. If your couch is microfiber, a stiff bristle brush (like horsehair) will work well, too.
  • X: No cleaners at all! Since an “X” couch can’t get wet, you’ll have to make the most of vacuuming and brushing. Big stains will mean calling a dry-cleaning pro.
  • W/S: Use a water-based or solvent cleaner. Consider this the “O-positive” of couch care. The fabric is so easy-going, you can use either of the above techniques.

Got that down? Here’s what to do next, based on your couch type.

Vacuum first

For starters, you’ve got to get rid of the gunk sitting on the outer surface of your furniture. The best tool for that job is your vacuum. But don’t just plop the entire thing directly onto your cushions. Take advantage of your vacuum’s hose attachment.

“It has easier maneuverability, plus the smaller passes it makes suck up more dirt,” says Johnson. First vacuum the sofa itself, then every side of the cushions. And don’t forget the exterior. “If you have pets, they probably rub up against it,” Johnson notes.

Experiment with a crevice tool, as well. Who knows what you might find in between the cushions? “I’ve seen all kinds of things,” says Johnson. “Checks, money, glasses…”

Remove pet hair

Not all vacuums are adept at removing stubborn dog and cat hair. For that task, Leslie Reichert, cleaning couch and author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning,” suggests putting on a rubber glove, then wiping your hand over your couch pillows and cushions. “The rubber creates static and pulls the hair right off,” she says.

You can also try pressing down, then carefully pulling off, strips of masking tape, says Johnson. But be careful. If you’ve got a delicate fabric, the tape could damage it.

Remove stubborn pet odors

No one likes their couch to smell like dog, no matter how much you adore yours. If your couch fabric can take some moisture, when things start to go funky, “spray your couch with a very light mist of vodka,” says Reichert. “The alcohol will evaporate and when it does, will remove odors.”

Keep your couch fresh

In between cleanings, flip your seat cushions to prevent signs of wear. If you can, switch their positions as well. Sprinkling a little baking soda will help remove some musty smells, but go easy on the amount and only apply it to the nooks and crannies underneath the cushions. “If you put it on top of the cushions, it could lighten the color of your fabric,” Reichert says.

Stock up on club soda

Let club soda become your couch’s new best friend. (So long as your couch is a “W” or “W/S.”) When that red wine or cup of chicken soup spills, dampen a white cloth with the soda and go over the spill. “Don’t spray or pour it directly on the couch,” cautions Reichert. “That will leave a ring.”

Make couch care a routine

“We tend to wait to clean until we see something, like a spill,” says Johnson. But your couch deserves more attention. Create a care routine and commit to it. A little preventive cleaning can make your couch look (and smell) better, so that it can continue to be sprayed with your cracker crumbs and muddy dog paws for years to come.

Article by Stephanie Booth

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

I actually enjoy making this crust and make it often. I have been asked many times for the recipe…

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, stalk removed

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Break the cauliflower into florets and pulse in a food processor until fine. Steam in a steamer basket and drain well. (I like to put it on a towel to get all the moisture out.) Let cool.
  3. In a bowl, combine the cauliflower with the mozzarella, Parmesan, oregano, salt, garlic powder and eggs. Transfer to the center of the baking sheet and spread into a circle, resembling a pizza crust. Bake for 20 minutes.
  4. Add desired toppings and bake an additional 10 minutes.

RECIPE COURTESY OF KATIE LEE

Mortgage Rates Are at 3-Year Lows—Here Are 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Refinance

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Mortgage rates are resting near record lows — and that’s spurring a wave of refinancing activity as Americans look to take advantage of the savings a cheaper interest rate could bring.

Refinance loan volume jumped to the highest level since 2013 last week, especially among jumbo mortgage borrowers, on the heels of lower mortgage rates, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.45% last week, Freddie Mac  reported, the lowest level since October 2016.

More than 11 million homeowners stand save to an average of $268 per month on their mortgages if they were to refinance at today’s rates, real-estate data firm Black Knight reported.

“Almost anybody should be checking if there’s an opportunity to refinance,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree. “It doesn’t cost anything to talk to a lender and see what rate they might get you in this marketplace.”

But refinancing isn’t foolproof. Taking out a new home loan can cost you thousands of dollars in fees. And making the wrong choices can significantly reduce your potential savings. Here are five questions homeowners should ask themselves before taking the plunge with a mortgage refinance.

How long will I stay in this home?

Mortgages are paid out over the span of many years, and during the initial period most of your payments will go toward the interest rather than the principal owed on the loan.

As a result, time is one of the most significant factors in determining whether a refinance makes financial sense. “You want to keep the loan long enough for the monthly savings to exceed the closing costs — that varies a lot depending on the fees,” said Holden Lewis, mortgage expert at personal-finance website NerdWallet.

Homeowners who are planning to move to a new house in the next five or so years may actually save more by sticking with their existing mortgage rather than refinancing, given the fees you have to pay the lender.

On the flipside, people who are in their forever homes could benefit from taking out a 15-year loan rather than a 30-year loan, Lewis said. The average interest rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is typically lower than the 30-year loan — it currently stands at 2.97%. So while these loans require larger monthly payments, the aggregate savings are greater.

A 15-year loan also would allow the homeowner to build equity faster, which they could then tap through a home-equity loan further down the road if unexpected expenses arise.

How much will I save?

To save money with a refinance, the general rule of thumb is that the new interest rate needs to be 50 basis points lower than your current one, Kapfidze said. But when looking at the average rates reported by Freddie Mac, it’s important to remember that the rates offered by lenders can be even better.

“Because typically a lot of the rates you see are average rates, it means that half the rates are below that,” Kapfidze said.

Comparison shopping, as a result, is critical in order to score the best deal. Lenders don’t just compete on interest rates. They also can adjust how much you spend in closing costs. Another factor that can shift overall savings is the discount points — these are fees lenders collect at closing in order to reduce the long-term interest rate. If you can pay more at closing, this could bring your interest rate down even further.

Am I paying mortgage insurance?

There are two instances when borrowers must pay mortgage insurance: If they get a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, or if they get a conventional loan with a down payments of less than 20%.

When refinancing, it’s critical to review what type of loan you can get and how much equity you have. “Refinancing when you’re going to have 20% equity or more is going to give you the best deal because you’re not going to have mortgage insurance,” Lewis said.

Getting rid of mortgage insurance will boost your overall savings and can make a refinance worth it even if you’re outside the 50-basis-point threshold.

If you haven’t built much equity in your home through your monthly mortgage payments, but have a chunk of cash in savings, a cash-in refinance can help push you above the 20% mark, Kapfidze said, adding that this could be a decent use of your tax dollars.

Is my financial house in order?

A recent study from LendingTree found that one in four mortgage refinance applications is denied. The most common reason applications are denied is that the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio is too high, followed by having poor credit.

Taking steps to improve both your debt-to-income ratio and your credit score ahead of applying for a new home loan will increase the odds of getting improved. “If there’s anything you can do to reduce your non-mortgage debts, that’s going to help,” Kapfdize said. It’s also important to verify that there are no errors on your credit report.

Another reason to review your credit history: Your score has likely improved as you’ve been paying off your mortgage. “Your better credit score will put you into a better rate,” Kapfidze said.

Will my existing lender cut me a deal?

When pursuing a refinance, don’t forget about your existing lender. “If they know you’re shopping around, they should be motivated to give you the best deal,” said Rick Sharga, a mortgage industry veteran and consultant.

Because your existing lender already has your personal information and payment history, refinancing with them can often be an easier process. Additionally, they have a vested interest in keeping your business, which will push them to compete as much as possible with other lenders’ offers.

Another way refinancing with your existing lender can mean better savings is by amortizing the new loan. Your lender will have a sense of how long you’ve had your existing loan for, and as a borrower you will save more by refinancing to a shorter duration than getting a new 30- or 15-year loan and starting from square one.

Article by Jacob Passy

Is a Basement Included in the Square Footage of a Home?

FOTOGRAFIA INC./iStock; BanksPhotos/iStock

This is the tale of two basements in otherwise comparable houses. One is a finished basement with a den, bedroom, and full bathroom. The other basement has some Sheetrock, an exposed toilet, and a painted floor.

The listing for the first house reflects the basement and number of bedrooms, including the one in the basement space, in its total square footage and price.

The second house only includes the square footage of the main floors and does not count a 200-square-foot bedroom in the basement. So, which listing correctly shows the square footage for a basement? The short answer is: both.

Does a basement count toward overall square footage?

As a general rule of thumb, listing agents and appraisers don’t count a finished basement toward the overall square footage, especially if the basement is completely below grade—a term that means below ground level.

Whether an appraiser includes basement living space ultimately depends on which state you live in. Your local county assessor’s office determines whether appraisers can count the square footage, finished or unfinished, as part of what’s known as the “gross living area.”

Walk-out basements and square footage

For the states that do allow listings to include a basement in the square footage of the overall living space, there must be an egress and ingress.

One reason for this rule is that you cannot have a legal bedroom in a basement area without fire evacuation access separate from the rest of the house.

If the above-ground floor is on fire, the room in the basement must provide at least window access to the outside.

This means a door you can walk out of to yard level on one side of the basement, says Sharon Chambers-Gordon, a real estate agent with Windermere Professional Partners in Gig Harbor, WA.

This is also known as a walk-out basement, and the square footage is calculated based on how much of the basement is above grade.

How square footage affects your mortgage

The overall square footage of real estate factors into an appraisal and, therefore, the financing of a house. Your appraiser must generally appraise the house for the sales price, or higher, in order for the lender to provide the funds.

Here’s what mortgage giant Fannie Mae has to say on the basement matter: “Only finished above-grade areas can be used in calculating and reporting of above-grade room count and square footage for the living space. Fannie Mae considers a level to be below grade if any portion of it is below grade, regardless of the quality of its finish or the window area of any room.”

How finished basement square footage affects your home value

Unlike commercial real estate, homes are generally not priced strictly on square footage. So whether a basement is included in square footage or not, a nicely finished basement generally adds to the value of a home, says Carrie Abfall, a real estate agent with Re/Max Real Estate Professionals in Columbus, IN.

While the price per square foot for a swanky basement isn’t typically as high as main-level upgrades, an appraiser or potential buyer will certainly appraise the home’s value as higher with the additional living space of a basement. This is true whether the basement is a walk-out or below ground.

If the home with the finished basement wows a buyer, it may fetch a higher price, says real estate agent Randy Elgin with Keller Williams Realty in San Antonio, TX.

This is true even if the square footage is not included in the listing. Elgin advises that you offer what you think is reasonable, based on the home’s gross living area plus some fair amount for the unfinished or finished basement.

Focus on the usable space and how much value you will gain from it. And include an appraisal contingency in the offer. That way, you can back out if the appraiser places a lower value on the home than you expected.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

The Origin of Valentine’s Day Might Shock You—Here’s What to Know

DEBROCKE / CLASSIC STOCK / GETTY IMAGES

There’s no lovey-dovey backstory here. 😳

Valentine’s Day means different things to different people. For some, the day is celebrated with heart-shaped DIY Valentine’s Day cards, thoughtful gifts of flowers or jewelry, and romantic Valentine’s Day dinner plans. For others, it’s simply marked by time spent with a loved one and reading romantic Valentine’s Day quotes, or posting a Valentine’s Day caption on a cute couples Instagram photo. And to many more, it’s just another day on the calendar—one that means very little, if anything at all.

But no matter your personal relationship with the day, odds are, you’ve found yourself wondering about its origins from time to time. How did February 14 first come to be considered the day of love, anyway? What’s the origin of Valentine’s Day—and why have its romantic themes persisted to this day?

Oh, and while we’re at it, where does the word “Valentine” come from?

As it turns out, nobody really knows the true history behind this storied holiday, nor do any of the theories completely check out. Even historians find themselves arguing over the exact traditions from which the present-day holiday takes inspiration.

But here, we’re sharing as much as we know about the topic, including the murky origin of Valentine’s Day and its interesting history. Surprisingly, its backstory—though not confirmed—is actually quite dark and even a bit bloody. Strange traditions, pagan rituals, and grisly executions abound. If you’re not faint of heart though, you’ll enjoy learning about everything we’ve compiled here. Who knows? It might even inform your Valentine’s Day wishes!

WHERE DOES THE WORD VALENTINE COME FROM?

The day is named, of course, for St. Valentine—we all know that by now. But why? Who is this mysterious Valentine?

According to The New York Times, it’s possible that the heart-filled holiday is based on a combination of two men. There were, after all, two Valentines executed on February 14 (albeit in different years) by Emperor Claudius II, reports NPR. It’s believed that the Catholic Church may have established St. Valentine’s Day in order to honor these men, who they believed to be martyrs. What’s more, it’s possible that one of these men, Saint Valentine of Terni, had been secretly officiating weddings for Roman soldiers against the emperor’s wishes, making him, in some eyes, a proponent of love.

But others believe that St. Valentine’s Day was actually designated by Pope Gelasius I in order to replace the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia.

The debaucherous feast fell around the same time and involved a pagan ritual of naked men whipping women with the blood-soaked hides of sacrificial animals (yes, really), which they believed promoted fertility. Following this flagellation was an equally strange tradition, in which men selected women’s names at random to decide who would remain together the rest of the festival, or, if the match was successful, for life.

However, a University of Kansas English professor, the late Jack B. Oruch, had a different theory, notes the Times: Through research, he determined that the poet Geoffrey Chaucer linked love with St. Valentine for the first time in his 14th-century works “The Parlement of Foules” and “The Complaint of Mars.” Therefore, Oruch claimed that Chaucer invented Valentine’s Day as we know it today. (At the time of Chaucer’s writing, February 14 also happened to be considered the first day of spring in Britain, since it was the beginning of birds’ mating season—perfectly appropriate for a celebration of affection.)

WHY DO WE CELEBRATE VALENTINES DAY?

Whether or not Chaucer can be fully credited, it is true that he and fellow writer Shakespeare popularized the amorous associations surrounding the day. Soon, people began penning and exchanging love letters to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and by the early 1910s, an American company that would one day become Hallmark began distributing its more official “Valentine’s Day cards.” Flowers, candy, jewelry, and more followed, and the rest, of course, is history.

WHAT PART DOES CUPID PLAY ON VALENTINE’S DAY?

It’s not all about St. Valentine! Cupid—that winged baby boy often seen on Valentine’s Day cards and paraphernalia—is another symbol of this love-filled holiday, and it’s easy to understand why. In Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, goddess of love and beauty. He was known for shooting arrows at both gods and humans, causing them to fall instantly in love with one another. While it’s unclear exactly when Cupid was brought into the Valentine’s Day story, it’s certainly clear why.

Article by BY AND

10 Ways to Add a Dash of Retro Design to Your Home

asbe/iStock; realtor.com

Love the idea of some retro design in your home, but don’t want to fully commit? We understand where you’re coming from. Going all in with an avocado- or orange-splashed “Brady Bunch” look can just be a bit toogroovy to live with in your home.

But the good news is you can try a touch of some of the more interesting looks from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s or some other bygone decade without going overboard. Instead, you can add a bit of retro decor with a few key pieces, colors, and accessories.

And if your overall decor style seems to be the opposite of retro, don’t despair. Many of today’s home decor styles can dovetail nicely with vintage looks, including modern farmhouse, Palm Beach, Scandinavian, and boho.

One word of warning: To keep your various decades and designs from clashing too much, stick with a neutral background for some of the bolder colors and rich wood tones found in these past periods, notes Dessie Sliekers, an interior designer with Slick Designs.

To get you started, here are some ideas to make your home a little bit retro, but not too retro.

1. 1950s mint-green fridge

A mini retro fridge is ideal in a man cave.The Home Depot

Fun curves and a vintage hue aren’t the only things this refrigerator line offers. These throwback appliances from Magic Chef are also Energy Star–rated, which means they’re efficient as well as fab-looking ($249, Home Depot). And just opening it will take you back to the days of after-school cookies and paper routes.

2. 1970s shag carpet

You’ll feel good using this handmade, ethically produced rug.Wayfair

Sure, shag carpets were once all the rage in rec rooms across America, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring it back in small doses. A baby nursery or guest quarters will benefit nicely from this soft piece underfoot ($198, Wayfair).

Prefer a more bare look? “A black-and-white-checkered pattern on the floor is definitely reminiscent of past eras, and it’s one of the best improvement investments you can make in the home,” says Kymberlyn Lacy, principal designer at International Flair Designs.

Try installing these tiles on a 90-degree angle in the kitchen, foyer, or powder room for a trompe-l’oeil effect, which tricks the eye into thinking the space is larger than it actually is.

3. 1950s leather chair

Have a seat in this Don Draper–inspired perch.Crate & Barrel

Clean, straight lines and hairpin or round-tapered legs are key features of chairs from the 1950s, reports Sliekers. This one gets high marks as it’s made from sustainable walnut and comes in many brown shades from mushroom to smoke ($1,299, Crate & Barrel).

4. 1960s minimalist bed

This bed’s finish is water-based and low-VOC.West Elm

Crafted from eucalyptus wood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, this sleeper sports sleek lines and a light, pleasing wood tone ($720, West Elm).

5. 1950s gossip bench

Psst—did you hear the latest?Wayfair

These days no one really hangs out on a telephone bench to make a call, but the look is so cute and cheeky that bringing it into your foyer or bedroom makes adorable sense.

This gently priced upholstered pick also features a storage drawer for reading glasses, tissues, and a phone charger ($187, Wayfair).

6. 1970s boxy couch

Add colorful geometric print pillows to complete the “Brady Bunch” look.Wayfair

When you’re looking for a retro sofa, focus on simple curves and a low back, recommends Sliekers.

This one fits the bill and comes in several ’70s colors, including orange-red and lime-green ($780, Wayfair).

7. 1960s wavy wallpaper

Feel like you’re tripping? Pour a little more coffee.Etsy

This groovy design can add a much-needed lift to a breakfast nook or half-bath ($180 per roll, Etsy).

Another small retro improvement is fresh hardware on cabinets (think door handles and drawer pulls) for an instant upgrade, suggests Lacy, who recommends the Emtek line for the best looks.

8. 1970s starburst light

A sputnik light fixture is the perfect addition to a retro-inspired dining room.Pottery Barn

Nope—you’re not on the set of “Star Trek.”

A starburst light is a vintage look, but it’s also a bold statement that can define a particular room, such as an entryway or dining area ($599, Pottery Barn). Midcentury designers favored traditional materials, including the brass tones shown here.

9. 1960s peacock chair

Try this gorgeous accent chair in a sunroom.Anthropologie

This curvy wonder is older than the late ’60s and ’70s—it actually dates from Victorian times—but the hippie craze from a few decades ago gave it new life ($898, Anthropologie).

10. 1970s macramé

This string design could be a makeshift headboard or wall art.Amazon

Light and airy, macramé designs were all the rage in the ’70s, but they also feel right at home in an eclectic or boho-themed bedroom ($37, Amazon).

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

The Best Wines to Drink on Valentine’s Day, According to Experts

Photo by CHANDLER BONDURANT

Valentine’s Day is all about the time we spend together. So when it comes to picking out a wine for dinner, you’ll want something that encourages conversation, not contemplation. With that in mind, we asked the purveyors of three notable wine stores to share a favorite bottle that won’t break the bank. Can’t find their picks? Dial in on a grape or region and ask someone at your local wine store to point you in the right direction. You’ll do just fine.

No Fine Print Cabernet Sauvignon

“One of my favorite new go-to bottles, especially for easy drinking, is a new wine from friends in the wine and music biz. It has everything you want out of a juicy Cabernet — bold, full-flavored, powerful, quality — but none of the things that you don’t, like a high price tag. Whether you’re planning to grill up a nice steak, order some Shake Shack or Netflix and chill, this would fit the bill quite nicely.” — Dustin Wilson, Verve Wine

Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: California, USA
Price: ~$21

Distillerie Cazottes Marcotte

“Laurent Cazottes is best known for his Eaux de Vie but he also makes rustic, highly-drinkable table wines. His vineyards are worked biodynamically, including the Duras and Braucol that are in his cuvée Marcotte. We opened a bottle just a few days ago and it felt like the perfect cold-night red; savory, plumy core with just a little tang. It needs no food but seems very versatile — especially good with anything coming out of an oven.” — Orenda and Peter Hale, Maine & Loire

Grapes: Braucol, Duras
Region: Tarn, France
Price: ~$19

Gaspard Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

“Crisp white wine made from organic grapes grown around the northern French city of Tours. Loire Valley Sauvignon tends to be drier and less overtly grapefruity than its New Zealand counterpart. With herbal notes of lemon verbena and acacia, [this] is an example of how subtle restraint can allow a wine to show more complexity.” — Tristen Gild, Kingston Wine Co.

Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Loire Valley, France
Price: ~$17

Article by By JACK SEEMER

The No. 1 Thing People With Fat Savings Accounts Scrimp on That You Likely Don’t

selimaksan/iStock

Housing may be the key to bigger savings.

Earlier this week, a Reddit post — from a 48-year-old woman claiming to be a millionaire despite having only low-paying jobs until about age 30 — went viral, and in it she details some extreme frugality. She says she saves tea bags so she can make multiple cups from one bag, only eats out a couple of times a year, dilutes her dish soap with half water so it lasts longer and almost exclusively wears dark clothes as light colors stain too easily.

But she says there are two things on her long list of frugal habits that research shows really are the key to getting rich: Buying a very affordable home (hers, she says, was just $135,000 and in an excellent neighborhood) and driving an old car (hers is a 12-year-old Subaru, she says).

Indeed, research from TD Ameritrade — which looks at people who save 20% or more of their incomes, called “super savers” — shows that the single biggest difference between what super savers spent less on, as compared with the rest of us, was housing. Super savers spent just 14% of their incomes on housing, while regular folks dropped 23%.

What’s more, research released Monday by The Principal found that more than four in 10 people who fully funded or were very close to fully funding their 401(k) accounts said that one of the sacrifices they made to save so much was that they lived in a modest home. This — along with owning older cars — was one of the two top answers.

One reason super savers may scrimp on housing? “They may see expensive mortgage payments as a liability. Our data shows that they value freedom to do what they want as well as financial security and peace of mind,” explains Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade.

In some ways, it may be easier to cut housing or automotive costs than make smaller conscious choices all day to cut out the things you love, like those lattes. After all, you move once and buy a car infrequently, and your monthly mortgage, rent or auto payments are slashed every month following.

Meanwhile, making choices frequently can lead to something called decision fatigue, which research shows can impact our ability to make the “right” choices as the day goes on.

And because housing is the biggest part of most Americans’ budgets, it’s extra important to save on it. Indeed, the average American household spends a total of roughly $60,000 a year; nearly $20,000 of that spending is on housing, government data show.

Of course, it’s often easier said than done. Households often pay more for housing so they also get into a good school district or because an area is safer. And, it’s also possible that many of the savers interviewed in the TD Ameritrade study had lower housing costs because they put more down on their home when they bought.

Still, it’s important to note that there’s plenty of room to downsize: New homes built in America today on average have 1,000 more square feet than they did in the 1970s, and living space per person has doubled.

Article by Catey Hill

Home-Showing Tips That’ll Persuade Buyers to Bite

hikesterson/iStock

Having an open house is the exciting part of selling a home, but let’s face it: It takes a lot of work to get there.

Once you’ve made repairs, chosen a Realtor®, real estate agent or listing agent, and then decided on an asking price, your home is almost ready for market—but first, how about a little primping and polishing? Or maybe a lot of primping and polishing. This is where an open house for potential buyers comes into play.

Showing tips for a successful open house—and a big sale

After all, you want your home and your open house to make a great first impression on buyers—and that’s where we can help. To host an open house and show your home in the best possible light, it’s worth listening to these savvy seller tips and step-by-step advice.

3 Tips for a Pet Owner When Purchasing a Home

If you’re a pet owner, you likely treat your furry, feathered, or scaly friend as a member of your family. That’s why it’s important to keep your pet’s needs in mind in any pending home purchase.

Ensuring whether local ordinances, regulations, and neighborhood environment welcome pets will affect how well your beloved acclimates to your new home and how much freedom there is for his or her activities.

Here are some tips to help ensure your future home and neighborhood are pet-friendly:

1. Check local pet owner requirements

For any potential home purchase, familiarize yourself with city and county ordinances that are in place for health and safety reasons. Often, they require you to obey leash laws and clean up after your pet in public places. Noncompliance can result in a fine. Many communities are striving to create and maintain environmentally friendly and pet-friendly parks. Information on what pet parks and playgrounds exist in the area of a potential home should be available from the local parks and recreation department.

If you plan to house farm animal as a pet, such as a goat or a donkey, clarify the zoning regulations and ordinances with the proper officials. While house pets such as cats, dogs, birds, fish and rabbits are acceptable in most types of housing, there may be restrictions on the total number of animals allowed in a single dwelling.

2. Ask for apartment or HOA rules

While a single-family home is likely to provide your pet with the most freedom, a townhouse, apartment or condominium may be what fits your budget. For these options, check the townhouse or condo board rules and regulations for pets. Homeowners associations (HOAs) typically govern condos and townhouses with rules and bylaws for what’s allowed, disallowed and required. Some HOAs will allow pets but restrict them to certain areas on the property. You may face fines for violating the rules and bylaws.

3. Assess the home layout

Consider creature comforts inside and outside the home. Will your pet have enough yard our living space to live and play in without difficulty? Will your pet be happier with carpeting or tiled floors? Note whether the windows are at floor level, as your pet can accidentally run into them. Check the layout of the home and think about what would be needed to make your pet comfortable there. If your pet is older, stairs may be difficult and your pet could be confined to a single floor in the house.

Examine the outside of the home, too. Is there a doghouse or place for your pet to roam? Is the yard fenced? If you have a big, hairy dog, you might want a garden faucet to use when bathing your pet.

If a pet is a central part of your life, you will find personal enjoyment in your future house only if it accommodates the needs of your pet. As you consider the needs of your family, including pets, decide what you must have and what you can compromise on. You can also speak casually to potential neighbors to see if they are pet-friendly. After all, a happy pet makes a happy owner.

Article by Susan Wellish

5 Beyond-Basic Basement Remodel Ideas for Every Personality Type

Basements don’t have to be dingy, dark, or seriously creepy places. In fact, there’s a whole heck of a lot you can do with that big underground space if you’re willing to put in the time.

Of course, you can do a basic basement remodel that uses the area in a very practical way—like adding a guest room (for your least favorite relative) or even a third bathroom. But we get the feeling that if you’re reading this, you’re not here for basics.

Which is why we rounded up five remodel ideas that’ll make you actually want to spend more time in your basement (and make you forget all about those weird furnace noises). Whether you’re looking for a place for you or for your latest hobby, we’ve got you covered with these beyond-basic basements.

1. The entertainer: Prohibition-era underground bar

Photo by Rae Duncan Interior Design | RDID

Looking for a space to have friends over that isn’t strewed with the kids’ toys or piles of old mail? Then you’re going to love this Prohibition-era bar.

“This style basement is a really fun and sophisticated nod to the speak-easy days when you were transported to an underground bar,” says Doreen Amico-Sorell of Sorell Interiors. “It’s perfect for the family who likes to entertain Gatsby-style.” (In other words, with plenty of booze.)

Must-have item: Leave the chaos of the modern world (and the upstairs living room) behind for a perfectly crafted cocktail, best enjoyed in one of these ultrachic Oakham bar stools from AllModern.

———

2. The fitness buff: Retreat-style yoga studio

Photo by Von Dreele-Freerksen Construction Company

Who needs a yoga retreat in Bali when you can just retreat to your underground meditation studio? We love the all-wood look of this basement yoga studio, which is perfect for anyone looking to teach a class or simply sweat out stress with friends.

“The best part about a yoga studio remodel is that there’s minimal expense due to the lack of furnishings,” says Amico-Sorell. “However, you’ll still want to fine-tune the decor to encapsulate that feeling of Zen.”

Must-have item: Round out the Zen vibes of your new studio space with a few of these braided jute floor cushions from CB2.

———

3. The streaming addict: Binge-worthy basement theater

Photo by raumdeuter

If your hobbies include less stretching and more chilling, then you’re going to love this retro home theater. Cue up your watch list and make some popcorn, then settle into one of these plush sofas to enjoy the show.

“There’s something to be said for having a theater in your basement,” says Amico-Sorell. “It appeals to everyone in the family (and their friends), and it adds to the resale value of your home. The starlit ceiling projector is a nod to the old-day theaters when going to see a movie was a whole experience.”

Must-have item: Complete your in-home theater by adding a starry-ceiling projector like this one from Bed Bath & Beyond.

———

4. The book nerd: Dreamy private library

Photo by Viscusi Elson Interior Design – Gina Viscusi Elson

If you can’t have a castle in the English countryside, you should at least get your own private library. Display all of your favorite reads—and then some—on these wall-lined shelves, or put your feet up and dive in to your TBR list with a cup of cocoa.

“Home libraries are on-trend,” says Stephanie Purcell of Redesigned Classics. “With so much technology and everything online, the nostalgia for the tactile feel of an old book is something that can’t be replicated.”

Must-have item: Keep your home library feeling tidy and on-theme by adding a few of these vintage-inspired book boxes from Wayfair to store loose odds and ends.

———

5. The sports fan: The ultimate game room

Photo by Sight And Sounds

If you’re really the biggest fan, you need a place to watch your team play—and what better spot than one where the beer flows freely and the only patrons are the friends you invite over?

“Every sports fan’s dream come true is a place they can relax, watch a game, and have a drink,” says Purcell. “But bars can be so expensive and full of rival fans, so why not create your own sports oasis?”

Must-have item: Make your game day the real deal by adding one of these live-sports tickers from Amazon.

Article by Larissa Runkle

Sweetheart Cupcakes

“Instead of just plain white cupcakes, I took it a step further and made them special. You can change the colors for any holiday. Shades of green for St. Patrick’s Day, pastel colors for Easter, red white and blue for the 4th of July. You get the picture.”

Ingredients

  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 8 drops red food coloring
  • 2 drops raspberry candy oil

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a standard muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Beat the cake mix, water, vegetable oil, and egg whites together on low speed for 30 seconds, then on medium for 2 minutes, until smooth. Fill cupcake liners 1/3 full with white batter; set aside.
  3. Stir 4 drops of red food coloring into the remaining bowl of batter to make the batter pink, stir in the raspberry oil. Pour 1/3 of pink batter into a resealable plastic bag and set aside.
  4. Mix more food coloring into the remaining bowl of pink batter until it is an orange/red color and pour the batter into a resealable plastic bag. Cut a corner off the bag, stick the open tip into the center of each cup of white batter and squeeze in about two tablespoons of red batter.
  5. Cut the corner off the bag with the pink batter, stick the open tip into the center of the red batter and squeeze about 1 tablespoon pink batter into each cup.
  6. Bake the layered cupcakes in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.
Recipe By:Celeste
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2020 Allrecipes.com
Printed From Allrecipes.com 2/5/2020

How to Calculate Property Tax Without Losing Your Marbles

Aslan Alphan/iStock

Need to know how to estimate your property tax? You’ve come to the right place! Most people know that homeownership requires coughing up copious amounts of money. There’s your mortgage, of course, but the costs hardly end there. You will also have to pay property tax.

If you already own a home, you can look at how your tax is calculated on the most current property tax statement. If you’re considering buying a home, look on the real estate listing for assessment and tax information, or go to the county website to find out the annual property tax.

Be aware that property taxes can change. The assessed value of your house can go up or down, depending on the local real estate market. Your assessment can go up or down depending on changes you make to your house; for example, if you make additions to your property, or even build a new house on land. And the tax rate can change, depending on your local government.

Even though the government sends you a tax bill every year and tells you how much you owe in property taxes, it’s important to know how that tax is calculated.

How to calculate property tax

There are a number of factors that come into play when calculating property taxes, from your property’s assessed value to the mill levy (tax rate) in your area. Here’s how to calculate property tax so you don’t end up blindsided by this hefty homeowner expense.

What is a home’s fair market value?

The market value of a home is basically the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay a knowledgeable seller for a property, assuming an arm’s-length transaction and no pressure on either party to buy or sell. When a property sells to an unrelated party, the sales price is generally assumed to be the fair value of the property.

What is a home’s assessed value?

One factor that affects your property taxes is how much your property is worth. You probably have a good understanding of your home’s market value—the amount of money a buyer would (hopefully) pay for your place. (You could also enter your address in a home value estimator to get a ballpark figure.)

Still, tax municipalities use a slightly different number; it’s called your home’s assessed value.

Tax assessors can calculate a home’s new assessed value as often as once per year. They also may adjust information when a property is sold, bought, built, or renovated, by examining the permits and paperwork filed with the local municipality.

They’ll look at basic features of your home (like the acreage, square footage, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms), the purchase price when it changes hands, and comparisons with similar properties nearby.

Sometimes a home’s assessed value will be strikingly similar to its fair market value—but that’s not always the case, particularly in heated markets. In general, you can expect your home’s assessed value to amount to about 80% to 90% of its market value. You can check your local assessor or municipality’s website, or call the tax office for a more exact figure for your home. You can also search by state, county, and ZIP code on publicrecords.netronline.com.

If you believe the assessor has placed too high a value on your home, you can challenge the calculation of your home’s value for tax purposes. You don’t need to hire someone to help you reduce your property tax bill. As a homeowner, you may be able to show how you determine that your assessed value is out of line.

What is taxable value?

The taxable value of your house is the value of the property according to your assessment, minus any adjustments such as exemption amounts.

What’s a mill levy?

In addition to knowing your home’s assessed value, you will need to know another number, known as a mill levy. That’s the tax assessment rate for real estate in your area. The tax rate varies greatly based on the public amenities offered and revenue required by local government. If you have a public school, police force, full-time fire department, desirable school districts, and plenty of playgrounds and parks, your property tax rates will be higher than a town without them. (Hey, you get what you’re taxed for!)

Your area’s property tax levy can be found on your local tax assessor or municipality website, and it’s typically represented as a percentage—like 4%. To estimate your real estate taxes, you merely multiply your home’s assessed value by the levy. So if your home is worth $200,000 and your property tax rate is 4%, you’ll pay about $8,000 in taxes per year.

Where to find property taxes

Thankfully, in many cases, you may not have to calculate your own property taxes. You can often find the exact amount (or a ballpark figure) you’ll pay on listings at realtor.com®, or else you can enter a home’s location and price into an online home affordability calculator, which will not only estimate your yearly taxes but also how much you can anticipate paying for your mortgage, home insurance, and other expenses.

HOA Ruining Your Life? 8 Things It Can’t Do—and How You Can Fight Back

DNY59/iStock

Living with a homeowners association (HOA) can come with a legion of perks—like gorgeously manicured common lawns, swanky amenities, and some rad Fourth of July barbecues.

But there’s a reason that a stigma exists against homeowners associations: Board members on a power trip can institute and enforce some ridiculous restrictions.

Ridiculous, like “restricting the color of trampoline covers” ridiculous.

Like “You must keep your garage door open during the day” ridiculous.

Like “You must carry your cocker spaniel through the lobby” ridiculous. (Come on!)

Even when you feel as though your HOA rules have turned into an implacable steel trap determined to ruin your life at every turn, find comfort in this: Homeowners associations are bound by the rule of law, no matter what the president of the board says.

State and federal law restrict the homeowners association’s abilities to restrict you.

Below, find eight things HOAs can’t enforce on homeowners.

1. Discriminate undiscriminatingly

Your homeowners association board might like to play at being tyrants, but here’s a line it can’t cross: the Fair Housing Act.

“An association must be careful enacting and enforcing rules that would single out or disadvantage any group identified in the Fair Housing Act,” says Craig T. Smith, a lawyer in Hilton Head Island, SC.

That means that your homeowners association can’t fine you or keep you from purchasing a home in the neighborhood because of your ethnicity or race.

It also can’t kick you out because members of the board hate your religion, or don’t like Germans, because you have children, or because you wear a Make America Great Again hat on a regular basis.

States often have additional protections safeguarding the homeowner. For example, California law protects sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. String you out on the (clothes)line

Nineteen states have laws on the books to prohibit a funny HOA restriction: your right to “solar drying.” (That’s a fancy term for using a clothesline.)

This time-honored tradition saves money and protects your clothes, but to your eagle-eyed HOA board, all those fabrics blowing in the breeze may not look “uniform.”

Too bad, buckaroos: Since almost half of states protect your right to dry, any anti-clothesline additions to the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) are downright unenforceable. Feel free to let your denim wave in the wind.

(There’s one caveat: If your backyard is shared with another homeowner, the HOA might have the right to restrict your strung-up lines.)

3. Fine you for fun

Fines are the lifeblood of a malicious HOA—and we cannot, unfortunately, tell you that they’re blatantly illegal. But they “must be set forth in the association’s rules and bylaws,” says Barbara Jordan, a real estate lawyer in Columbus, OH.

Are threatening letters making an appearance in your mailbox, telling you to trim that rosebush or face a fine? Check the community’s CC&Rs before complying. If that fine isn’t listed, you might not need to pay.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your HOA board will roll over, either; you might need to appeal the fine.

If so, first scrutinize those CC&Rs to make sure you have standing. Then, gather all the evidence you have and present it at the next board meeting. (Your HOA may have specific instructions for this process—make sure you follow them!)

If your argument is sound, it could pull back the charges.

4. Make decisions on the fly

Your community’s HOA treasurer can’t suddenly decide she hates pink mailboxes. Next time Shirley Homeowner comes over complaining, practice these magic words: “Is that mentioned in the CC&Rs?”

And slipping HOA rules in under the cover of darkness is a big no-no. The regulations for how new rules can be enacted should be outlined in your CC&Rs—and if the HOA isn’t following its own stipulations, you have a valid complaint for any secret swashbuckling.

If you do suspect something shady is afoot concerning what is included (and what isn’t included) in your HOA rules, start requesting documents and attending public meetings.

5. Demand you take down your dish

Your cable TV decisions are protected, thanks to the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule. No matter how ugly your HOA thinks your space-gray satellite dish is, the board members can’t force you to take it down. Hello, cheap cable!

You might find that some HOAs still have antenna restrictions written into their covenants. These may be retro artifacts from pre-1997, when the FCC rule came into play.

If you spot these curious addenda in your CC&Rs, take your concerns straight to board members. After all, you have the federal government on your side!

6. Nix native plants

Not all states protect your right to grow an environmentally friendly garden abundant with native plants. But if you’re in Texas or California, you can push back if the board’s not savvy with agave.

Florida, too, has its own homeowner-friendly rules: HOAs can’t restrict plants simply because they’re not in the community’s overall design plan.

If you’re a homeowner in one of those states, persuading your HOA to embrace eco-friendly policies isn’t impossible. With the right attitude and enough evidence of go-green benefits, you might just convert the entire neighborhood.

7. Keep you out of court

Snippy HOAs might make you think they’re above the law—but if you’re truly in a bind, you can challenge that assertion.

Chances are good (although not certain) that you’ll have the upper hand in a proper court of law, Smith says, especially if the board of directors acted in an underhanded manner.

If the association’s governing documents allow it, start by demanding a hearing before the board. If that demand is met with silence, take it one step further: to the actual courts.

“This is typically a move of last resort,” Smith says.

But if you’re past the point of mild frustration, a lawsuit might do the trick. Homeowners have sued their board for the right to display a sign critical of the HOA.

One Olathe, KS, homeowner successfully filed a lawsuit to keep his elaborate landscaping—which another resident said was the “nicest-looking [landscaping] in the entire neighborhood.”

8. Beat you down

No matter how many letters and fines the board throws at you, you still have rights.

“Show up,” Jordan says. “Go to the meetings. Be on record as objecting to the issues. Write letters.”

Just make sure to follow the process for objections.

“Do not miss deadlines or forgo opportunities to be heard,” Jordan says. “That will only hurt your case.”

And do what you can to get your neighbors on board. Together, you can call for new elections or push to scrap excessive or unnecessary rules.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

Clear the Clutter! The 4 Biggest Secrets to an Organized Living Room in 2020

Yuri_Arcurs/iStock

Anyone else’s living room feeling like a post-apocalyptic nightmare right about now? If it looks anything like ours, piles of laundry, stacks of unread magazines from last year, and even the Secret Santa gift you received from your co-worker (the one you’re still deciding whether to keep) are probably majorly clogging things up.

And that’s not OK! Our living rooms should be spaces where we can unwind from the stress of the day—not feel like magnetic fields for mountains of crap.

That’s why we’re dedicating this edition of our “New Year, Clean House” series to making that happen. Ready to reclaim your living room? Keep reading for the four most essential things to focus on for a decluttered space in the new year.

1. Conquer your coffee table

Photo by Loaf

The first place to start in decluttering the living room is your coffee table, says Melissa Groff, owner of Namastay Organized.

“When you sit down at the end of a long day, the last thing you want to look at are your bills,” she says. “Create a spot for important mail elsewhere in the home where you tend to get things done, then stage remotes, a candle, and a small plant on a serving tray—so you can truly relax at the end of the day.”

When it comes to what to do with all that mail, Ali Wenzke, author of “The Art of Happy Moving,” has a few ideas.

“For old mail, make two piles: recycle or scan,” Wenzke says. “As you go through the mail, toss any envelopes or additional junk mail, then scan the documents you want to keep or take a photo of them, and toss whatever you don’t need.”

How about old magazines? Nonnahs Driskill, owner of Get Organized Already!, has some solid advice: Throw them away.

“This can feel wasteful because you may not have read the magazine, but life keeps moving forward and having an old magazine on the coffee table is more likely to make you feel guilty or late, than accomplished and on top of things,” she says. “Try it. Throw away all the old magazines. What’s the worst that could happen?”

2. Banish all the things that belong elsewhere

We know you know what we’re talking about, but we’ll say it anyway: slippers, bathrobes, sweaters, kids toys, abandoned projects—and the list goes on.

So what should you do with all this crap coming between you and your chill living room vibes? Amy Bloomer, owner of Let Your Space Bloom, fills us in.

“A well-placed bin can help to contain items so they don’t take over,” she says. “For example, I encourage clients to keep a basket at the bottom of their stairs. This becomes the catchall for things that have migrated out of place. Once a day, preferably in the evening, make it a habit to put back everything you’ve accumulated in the basket. It won’t take long, and it will help to maintain clear, calm spaces before retiring for the night.”

3. Edit out excess blankets and pillows

Photo by Kate Jackson Design

Having a lot of blankets and pillows on your couch makes it cozy, but having every single throw pillow and blanket you’ve ever owned (including the ones that are falling apart) strewed across the living room? Let’s just say it’s a bit much.

“Anything that’s showing signs of wear, has holes, or doesn’t match your current aesthetic should be decluttered,” Groff says. “Items in good shape can be donated, and the rest should be trashed.”

4. Make over your (out-of-control) media center

Once upon a time, having a huge collection of DVDs and CDs was a thing to be proud of. But now? It sort of just makes you a hoarder.

“If you find yourself bingeing on Netflix every weekend, then you can say goodbye to that old DVD collection,” Wenzke says. “Keep up to 10 DVDs for sentimental reasons, but allow yourself to part with the rest. Donate the unwanted ones to your local library.”

And since we’re on the topic of unruly media centers, let’s not forget about the rat’s nest of cords behind the TV or in the junk drawer.

“The key to this space is your cords,” says Emma J. Carter of It’s a Lifestyle. “Once you have cords tucked away, this piece of furniture starts serving its specific purpose.”

To tackle cord overload, Carter recommends unplugging everything, untangling them, and investing in some velcro ties to keep things organized. Have some extra unwanted cords? Donate them to your nearest Goodwill.

Article by Larissa Runkle