How to Get Your Home Show Ready

Image: Pretty Providence

Keep your home in stunning shape throughout the listing period.

Everyone knows that selling your house is a big decision, and there are so many emotions involved, not to mention all of the work it takes to get your house ready to sell! 

Well, having been through the process multiple times and having to sell homes super quickly, I thought I’d share my simple tips for getting your home ready to show. You ready?

To make this as clear and easy to follow as possible, I broke down the process into three categories: things to do before listing, things to do consistently during the listing period, and things to do the day of a showing.

Things to Do Before Listing Your House

Image: Pretty Providence

1. Enlist a real estate agent! You can interview several and choose the one who you feel the most comfortable with. Having an agent you trust and respect is crucial for a happy selling experience.

2. Give your agent a house tour. Have your agent walk through your home and advise if any remodeling work is warranted before you list the house. You might be surprised at the things that they will tell you to leave alone.

For example, in one of the houses I sold, I had this adorable little girl’s room with large floral wallpaper (pictured above). It was clearly catered to a young girl, so prior to listing our home, I was worried we would need to remove the wallpaper or paint over it.

However, our agent advised us to leave it alone because the room showed well with the decorative style. It turns out one of the first guests who toured the house had a two-year-old daughter who fell in love with that very room! For them, the room was a big selling point of the house. However, even if someone with boys walked through, they might have thought, “No big deal, we can repaint that one wall.”

3. Dejunk your house. Go through each room in your home to remove clutter. Throw away or donate belongings that you no longer need, or use and box up items that you won’t need during the listing period. Too much stuff can crowd your space and make it feel smaller than its actual size.

Even though dejunking an entire house can seem totally daunting, it’s actually my favorite step! Getting rid of all the excess we’ve accumulated over the last years always feels so liberating. Plus, it means less for you to pack up, move, and unpack later.

Once you’ve done these steps you’re ready to move onto the next phase of preparations!

Things to Consistently Do During the Listing Period

Image: Pretty Providence

1. Maintain the best possible curb appeal. While this tip might seem obvious, you would be shocked at how many open houses I went to where sellers put no effort into their home’s outside appearance. In fact, when I worked in a real estate office, I heard plenty of stories of agents pulling up to houses with clients and having the clients want to drive away before even going inside!

First impressions are crucial, and your home’s front is no exception. During the listing period, you should take extra care to make sure your lawn is mowed, your garden is weeded, and flowers are planted. At the very least, make sure your porch is swept and you’ve sprayed for bugs; nothing turns someone away on a house tour like staring spiders in the face while waiting for the agent to unlock the door.

In the fall and winter, make sure leaves are raked, stray branches are picked up, and sidewalks are shoveled and salted.

2. De-Personalize. While prepping for house tours, take out anything that is super kitschy or specific to your tastes. The goal here is to make your home appeal to as many different people as possible. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to go crazy and eliminate everything with personality. For instance, if you have a nice focal gallery wall of family photos, leave them as it might give potential buyers decorating ideas. Plus, it looks more appealing than a big empty wall.

3. Stage your home. Staging your home means rearranging furniture and decor, or even repainting,  to make it look most pleasing to the eye. For example, your side tables might typically not be decorated because you’re worried about little people breaking things, but for the tour, it’d be nice to place little plants and candles on them (like pictured above).

You don’t have to spend a ton of money doing this; sometimes just rearranging items from room-to-room or shifting around furniture can make a huge visual difference.

Related: Staging Your Home: How to Make Buyers Fall in Love

You’re almost done, time to move on to the last phase!

Things to Do the Day of a Showing

Image: Pretty Providence

1. Make sure your home is clean and shown in it’s best light. When we sold our first home, our agent instructed us to turn on all of the lights, open the blinds, and keep all bedroom doors open before any showing. Basically, do anything to make your home feel brighter or bigger.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to freshly vacuum before every showing if you aren’t able to, but make sure to make the beds, stow away toys, and generally ensure everything is neat and tidy!

It’s especially important to ensure your bathrooms are clean —  make sure toilets are flushed, seats are down, towels are picked up and counters are wiped. This can be especially difficult if you have a baby, but it’s worth it! I had a friend who threw all her baby’s belongings (chair, changing pads, bassinet, etc.) into the back of her trunk before each listing.

2. Try to use all of a potential buyer’s senses. I have a vivid memory of the time I walked into our first home (before it was ours). The woman who lived there had just baked cookies and left a plate on the counter for us. The smell of cookies was in the air, and the house was clean and homey.

Now, I can’t say for certain how much that impacted my final decision, but I still think about it eight years later. It was the feeling of “this could be our home” that was comforting. You obviously don’t have to bake cookies before every showing, but you can light a candle or burn incense. And minimize distractions by turning off TVs and electronics. 

3. Disable alarms, gather your pets, and get out! Last step in the process: Leave your house. I know some people stay in their home for various reasons during showings, but honestly, I don’t believe it’s the best idea. It makes potential buyers feel uncomfortable or want to leave more quickly.

Often, homeowners want to give tips about the house or gush about the neighborhood, then unknowingly say the wrong thing and turn off prospective buyers. Even if you have a house full of kids and nowhere to go, ask a neighbor if you can hang out in their backyard for a bit, or load everyone up in the car and go get yourself a treat. (You’ve earned it!)

Well, there you have it friends! I hope these tips will make you feel a little more comfortable throughout the listing process.

Good luck!


Mouth-Watering Outdoor Kitchens (And Surprise! Their ROI Is Great)

What they typically cost, and tips for getting the most return on your investment.

Image: Aniko Levai of Place of My Taste

Building an outdoor kitchen is more than an indulgence: These backyard beauties can improve your home’s value. Outdoor kitchens typically get a 71% return on investment, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS® — and that’s on top of your own outdoor-cooking joy.

The investment can be a little — or a lot. These five outdoor kitchen ideas fit a range of budgets and homes.

#1 A Tiny Outdoor Kitchen for Limited Spaces

Image: Field-Issue

If you boil down an outdoor kitchen to the basics, what more do you need than a grill, a little oven, cupboard space, and a cozy place to sit? This setup does it all efficiently, for as little as a few hundred dollars if you already have outdoor electricity. An electrician will add to the cost.

#2 An Outdoor Kitchen From a Kit

Image: WWOO Concrete Outdoor Kitchens

Modular kits, like this one from WWOO (starting around $1,500), can be customized to suit your backyard. Some companies even offer design help for additional cost.

The galley-inspired layout here also does double duty by adding privacy. (Keep in mind the cool outdoor sink requires additional plumbing, which will increase the cost.)

#3 An Outdoor Kitchen Made of Concrete & Steel

Image: Mrs. Rackley

DIY-savvy homeowners used concrete and cement board to create this L-shaped outdoor kitchen that mimics today’s indoor layouts. Guests relax at the counter while the host flips burgers — it’s open-concept living in the great wide-open.

No, this isn’t DIY 101, but if you’ve got the skill set you can do it for the cost of materials — and concrete is cheap. If you hire a pro, though, the typical cost is about $14,000 for a kitchen that includes an inset grill, steel drawers, ice chest, sink, and concrete countertop, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report.”

#4 An Outdoor Kitchen With Personal Style

Image: Custom outdoor products by Rustic WoodWorx, LLC

Your outdoor kitchen doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. But it should match your home’s style if you want to get a return on your investment. This DIY kitchen fits the home’s rustic style and comes with enough storage any indoor cook would envy.

#5 An Outdoor Kitchen That Says “Sit a Spell”

Image: Aniko Levai of Place of My Taste

Your outdoor kitchen can play the same role in your yard that your kitchen inside does: as the heartbeat of every gathering where guests will want to stay awhile. And bonus: The added deck and pergola could also kick up your home value a couple of notches.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

Grilled Corn and Poblano Chile Salad

Psst…you don’t need to presoak or preshuck corn before grilling it. Just put the whole ears on the grate and the husks and silk will slip right off afterward. You’re welcome.


  • Vegetable oil (for grill)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ¾ teaspoon hot sauce (such as Frank’s)
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 ears of corn, in husk
  • 2 small poblano chiles
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 scallions, chopped


  • Prepare a grill for medium heat; oil grate. Whisk lime juice and hot sauce in a medium bowl; season with salt. Set dressing aside.

  • Grill corn (still in husks) and chiles, turning occasionally, until corn is charred all over (husks will be nicely blackened and some of the kernels will become deeply browned in spots) and chiles are blackened in spots and crisp-tender, 10–12 minutes for corn and 8–10 minutes for chiles. Transfer to a platter and let cool slightly before shucking corn.

  • Slather corn with butter, then cut kernels from cobs into bowl with reserved dressing. Remove seeds from chiles and chop. Add to corn along with scallions. Toss to combine; season corn salad with salt.

Understanding Financial Benefits Available to Seniors

Planning for retirement takes strategy, patience, and hard work. It can be very intimidating. Some older adults put off retiring because they fear they will run out of money. While social security and Medicare are well-known senior citizen benefits, there are other ways older adults can save money during retirement.

Senior Citizen Assistance Programs and Discounts

Here are a few money-saving ideas you can explore:

  • Financial support for energy bills:

    Utility expenses can take a bite out of an older adult’s budget, especially in regions where the climate is extreme. Seniors on a tight budget might be eligible to receive assistance with energy bills or home weatherization. In addition to exploring programs your local utility providers might offer, read “Energy Assistance Benefits” on the National Council on Aging’s website.

  • Maximize your Medicare benefit:

    It can be tempting to skip exploring health insurance options during Medicare’s open enrollment period and just sticking with what you have. The process can indeed be overwhelming and time consuming. But you might be paying more than you need for health-care expenses. Start early during the Medicare annual open enrollment period, which runs from October 15 through December 7, and thoroughly evaluate your options. If you need assistance, schedule a free, in-person appointment with a Medicare expert. You can search for one using your zip code at gov.

  • Learn about reverse mortgages:

    If you have a significant amount of equity in your home, a reverse mortgage is another option to consider. Sometimes referred to as a home equity conversion mortgage, these loans allow adults, age 62 and older, to convert part of their home equity into cash. You can continue living in your home, while putting the equity you earned over the years to use in your everyday life. If you are considering a reverse mortgage, it’s important to work with an experienced, trustworthy financial advisor.

  • Dig in to discounts:

    While it’s something many people associate with early-bird specials at restaurants, a wide variety of businesses offer discounts. Restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, fitness clubs, and even clothing retailers often have a senior discount or senior day. Other discounts, including for hotels and travel, are available to older adults who belong to AARP. Over the course of a month or a year, these small discounts can add up to big savings for seniors.

  • Carefully manage bills:

    As you are planning for retirement and after you retire, keeping a close eye on your expenses is important. This includes paying bills on time to avoid late fees. If you are able, paying premiums like car and homeowner’s insurance annually, in lieu of quarterly, might also earn you a discount.

One final suggestion is to remember that where you live matters as you grow older. Some areas of the country are less expensive for retirees, as are some senior housing communities.

If you would like to learn more about retirement communities, call us today at 888-514-6461. One of our experienced care advisors can help you explore your options.

Article source: Senior Care Resources

3 Handsome Solutions to Handle Outdoor Clutter

Image: Kezzabeth

No need to stash it all in the garage. Here’s how to create tidy storage in your yard.

“That can go in the garage” is a common solution to just about anything outdoorsy that needs a home.

Instead, think outside the garage. These ideas are great for decluttering your garage — and they’ll pay dividends when it comes time to sell. Because clutter never increases a home’s selling price.

#1 Tuck Storage Under Your Deck

Image: Deck enclosure installed by Groff Landscape Design

An elegant solution if you’ve got a deck that sits up fairly high. You can tuck loads of outdoor tools and equipment under it. Even add doors to help keep things out of sight. A perfect solution to decluttering your garage.

One caveat: This type of storage will protect items from the heat and sun, but not from moisture, so unless you add a ceiling to your under-deck shed, only store things that can handle some wet.

If your deck lacks height: try storage drawers instead.

Store pool equipment, folding deck chairs, yard games, and coolers within easy reach, and you’ll hardly break your outdoor-happiness zen when you need to grab something.

#2 Build a Fence With Built-Ins

Image: Vertical Bike Shed by Brighton Bike Sheds

Think of it as the outdoor version of an indoor wall with built-in storage. But outdoors it delivers so much more: privacy, security, and storage. It’s the trifecta of functionality.

#3 Add a Purpose-Built Shed

Image: Kezzabeth

This pup’s family obviously loves biking and campfires — and they’ve got just the right size and configured shed to store the bikes and wood efficiently.

Maximize your outdoor space by noodling on your storage pain points, then building something to fit your purpose. You’ll get rid of the clutter, and you’ll prevent some pre-fab shed from taking up too much space and becoming yet another place where clutter accumulates.


Preventing ticks on your pets

Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases. Vaccines are not available for most of the tickborne diseases that dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home. For these reasons, it’s important to use a tick preventive product on your dog.

Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tickborne disease may not appear for 7-21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a tick.

Talk to your veterinarian about:

  • The best tick prevention products for your dog
  • Tickborne diseases in your area

To further reduce the chances that a tick bite will make your dog sick:

  • Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors.
  • If you find a tick on your pet, remove it right away.
  • Reduce tick habitat in your yard.

Note: Cats are extremely sensitive to a variety of chemicals. Do not apply any tick prevention products to your cats without first asking your veterinarian!

Note–September 21, 2018: FDA Fact Sheet for Pet Owners and VeterinariansExternal about Potential Adverse Events Associated with Isoxazoline Flea and Tick Products. For additional information, please talk to your veterinarian.

Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases

Acts of Kindness Help Keep People in Their Homes

Photo by Brad Aronson

REALTORS®’ ties to their community go deeper than sales; they help their neighbors maintain their homes and dignity.

Jean King no longer has to watch her her step while cooking because of a rotted kitchen floor, soaked through years ago by a water leak from her sink. Nor does she have to leave a window open almost year round to keep the room from smelling like mold.

In one weekend, a team of volunteers from Christmas in Action-Spartanburg, a nonprofit group founded by Keller Williams real estate agent Cindy Barrett and her husband, John, replaced King’s kitchen and laundry room floors.

Christmas in Action didn’t stop there. The organization, which repairs homes for the poor, elderly, and disabled in Spartanburg, S.C., also painted the King’s siding, added insulation, built railings on the back steps, and put new electrical wiring and outlets in the entire house.

“It’s hard when you live week-to-week,” Jean says. “You don’t have the money to do what needs to be done.”

Giving Back Where They Do Business

Christmas In Action-Spartanburg is one of nearly 200 nonprofits recognized by the National Association of REALTORS® in the last 20 years through its Good Neighbor Awards. (Full disclosure, NAR produces Each year, NAR gives the award to five REALTORS® who have made an extraordinary contribution to their community, the country, or the world, through volunteer work. NAR also makes a monetary donation to the practitioner’s charity.

All at no charge to King, 62, who has diabetes and can no longer work, and her husband, Carrol, 72, who works two days a week doing odd jobs at the town dump.

Given their unique insight into the community they live and work in, it’s perhaps not surprising that 70% of REALTORS® say they volunteer in their communities each month, according to an NAR survey. Good Neighbor charities have invested more than 60,000 volunteer hours a year into their communities.

Keeping Folks Housed — And Hopeful

Cindy Barrett won a Good Neighbor aware in 2016. Barrett founded the Spartanburg chapter of the Texas-based Christmas in Action (CIA) group in 1996 after she helped her church repair a local man’s dilapidated home.

“I couldn’t believe that less than a mile from where I lived was someone who didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water,” Barrett says. “I was shocked we had so much poverty in America. I had to do something about it.”

More than two decades later, CIA-Spartanburg has helped more than 900 families make vital home repairs. The group works with families and elderly people who live at or below the national poverty level and would not be able to stay in their homes safely unless the dwellings were repaired.

“We give them a better place to live, but we also give them hope, something a lot of these people have a short supply of,” Barrett says. “It’s all about loving your neighbor.”

Reconnecting Veterans to Their Community

Jack Persin, an agent in Naperville, Il., earned an honorable mention in the 2016 Good Neighbor Awards for Naperville Responds For Veterans (NRFV), a nonprofit he co-founded in 2009 to repair homes and install wheelchair ramps for low- and moderate-income veterans.

NRFV has helped more than 200 veterans and their families, like Pat Wilson Stryszak and her husband, Ed, of Burr Ridge, Il.

The Stryszaks care for elderly veterans in their home. Right now, the couple shares their place with Army veteran Mario Tonelli, 84, and Air Force veteran Bob Galvin, 87. Pat feeds them, helps them bathe, and drives them to medical appointments and bingo games.

“They stay with us as long as they need to,” she says. “They are part of our family.”

The Stryszaks have lived with nine veterans since becoming a Veterans Administration-approved medical foster home in 2012, with Pat giving round-the-clock care to veterans who can’t afford a nursing home. Six of the vets have died with her by their side.

“I sit in their room and pray with them,” Pat says. “I hear a lot of their stories. I hear about their pets, their second grade teacher, their wives, their kids, their fears, their memories.”

NRFV built a wheelchair ramp at the Stryszaks’ house, and remodeled a bathroom to make it wheelchair accessible, giving the Stryszaks room to take in a third veteran. “They went above and beyond,” Pat says. “We’ll be able to help another vet, thanks to Jack [Persin].”

The people served by programs like CIA and NRFV get more than a better home. They also get reconnected to their community.

“The people we help are older. They get overlooked,” Barrett says. “When they realize there are people who don’t know them but will come help them, it brings them together with their neighbors and their town.”

Jean King says she’ll never get over how hard a group of strangers worked for her and Carrol.

“Those volunteers painted outside between rainstorms on a weekend,” Jean King says. “It makes you feel good to know there are people in the world who would do that, so that I can lay down and go to sleep at night with the peace of knowing I have a safe home.”


What Is a Good Credit Score for Renting an Apartment? How Low Will Landlords Go?

Renters: You may know your budget and the number of rooms you need, but do you know your credit score? Also called a FICO score, your credit rating is a number that expresses your creditworthiness, i.e., whether or not you’re a risk to lenders based on your previous financial history.

“After your social security number, your FICO credit score is the most important number in your financial life,” says Ivan Chong, founder of, a personal-finance advice site.

So why does your credit score matter so much if you’re renting property? Because it details your history of paying off—or not paying off—debts. A landlord uses it to see how likely you are to pay your rent on time. The lower your credit score, the less likely your property manager is to accept your rental application. That means this three-digit score could make the difference between landing that dream two-bedroom or settling for a so-so pad with dated appliances. Which brings us to an important question: What’s the lowest credit score you need to rent an apartment?

Breaking down a credit score

A credit score can range from 300 to 850. But don’t worry if you haven’t hit magic number 850. Anything above 750 is generally considered an excellent credit score. From there, credit scores are considered good (700 to 749), fair (650 to 699), or poor (lower than 650).

How credit scores are calculated

Credit scores are calculated by the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Chong breaks down the five factors the bureaus use that impact your credit score and how they are weighted:

Payment history (35%): The single most important factor in determining your credit score is your track record of payments for credit cards, installment loans, and mortgage loans.

Late payments impact your score depending on how late the payment was, how much you owed, how long ago it happened, and the total number of late payments.

Credit utilization (30%): This looks at how much available credit you have compared to the balances you owe. The higher your credit utilization, the lower your score. For example, if you had a credit limit of $5,000 and a balance of $4,000 on a credit card, your utilization rate would be high, at 80%, and that would lower your score.

Length of credit history (15%): The age of your oldest account, newest account, and the average age of all of your accounts make up this calculation. To maximize your FICO credit score, don’t close old credit card accounts.

Credit mix (10%): The types of accounts you’re currently using also play a role. The two categories are revolving accounts such as credit cards and installment loans like auto loans. Having a credit history with at least one of each will have a positive impact on your overall credit score.

New credit (10%): The number of accounts you’ve opened recently, as well as your credit inquiries from the past two years, also impact your score.

How to check your credit score

“You are given one free credit report a year by each of the three major reporting sources, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion,” says Ian Wolf, a licensed real estate salesperson with Douglas Elliman in New York City. You can claim yours at

You can also check with your bank, credit card company, or an online personal finance company like Credit Karma, since some offer a free credit score. And luckily checking your own credit report (what is called a soft inquiry) won’t negatively affect your score, so check as often as you like. A hard inquiry—in which you apply for a new line of credit and a potential lender reviews your credit information—can affect your score.

Lowest credit score needed to rent property

A high FICO score on your credit report shows you’re good at paying your bills, whether they’re from a car loan or credit cards. But a low score could cause your potential landlord to think you are more likely to miss rent payments. That’s why if you’re looking to rent, your credit score is important.

“Anything 700 or higher is good,” says Wolf. “In general, if your score is under 680, you will begin to have difficulties renting.”

“Credit scores below 600 means an individual probably has at least two collections on their credit report, which means they are a credit risk,” adds Chong.

What to do if you have a low credit score

But don’t lose hope of renting if you have a lower score.

“It really depends on the particular landlord and what they will consider acceptable for a credit score,” says Wolf. “Sometimes landlords will consider a tenant with a score in the 600 to 680 range if they have some form of an additional deposit, in case there are future problems.”

Another option is to have a guarantor co-sign your lease, offering payment backup to make the landlord feel more secure.

But if you have a good reference from a previous landlord and a steady job with paystubs to prove you meet the landlord’s income requirements, you should be fine.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

Should You Skip the Starter Home and Buy a Forever Home?


If you’re out there shopping for your first home, you might swoon over that four-bedroom Colonial and imagine growing old there—but wait a minute! Sure, you might be jonesing to put down permanent roots, but your bank account and life circumstances might beg to differ.

Nonetheless, a trend has emerged, particularly among younger millennial buyers: More and more are forgoing the traditional starter home, typically defined as one or two bedrooms, which most home buyers stay in for about five years before trading up. Instead, they are going right for that dream home, which is usually larger and boasts fancier finishes, an appealing location, and other amenities—with the commensurate higher price tag.

In fact, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist of Veritas Urbis Economics, from 2012 to 2016, nearly a third of buyers aged 33 to 37 bought four-bedroom homes (aka forever homes) compared with about 24% in that age group who bought similar homes in 1980, 1990, and 2000.

But is bypassing starter homes and falling straight into the roomy environs of forever homes a good idea? Consider these questions that can help you determine which type of purchase might make more sense for you.

Can you afford a forever home?

Reality check: The picture of the poor, underemployed millennial is not entirely accurate.

“Many have been in co-living situations for years, whether that’s the childhood basement or living with friends, and they’ve been socking their money away,” says Laura Brodniak of Windermere Real Estate in Kirkland, WA.

In addition, many in this age group have larger down payments since they have waited longer to buy than previous generations, or in many cases their parents are helping them with funds for the down payment.

However, remember that buying at the edge of your budget can cause you to be “house poor,” not only because your monthly payment is so large but also because a larger house can require more upkeep—not to mention more furniture.

It’s important to take an honest look at your maximum buying power and see how stretching yourself could negatively affect other aspects of your lifestyle, from enjoying weekly brunch to an annual getaway.

Is your life adequately settled for a forever home?

If you’re still in your first job and haven’t yet made plans for kids, you might want to consider that you’re still in the “starter” phase of your life, and therefore more suited to a starter home.

While of course no one can predict the future (even if you seem settled), by their very nature your younger years often have more volatile changes, and buying a starter home gives you some wiggle room for those unexpected curveballs.

Take it from Julie Gurner, a real estate analyst at, who has already owned three homes due to changing life circumstances.

“I’d advise anyone who would consider moving for an exciting career development to only commit to a starter home,” she says. Not only is it easier to sell, but you’re less likely to become attached to the property, she notes, which could be a mental roadblock to taking an opportunity you might otherwise pursue.

Do you even know what you want in a home?

Someone who has never lived in a house of their own might have unrealistic expectations of what they do and don’t want, cautions Alison Bernstein of the Suburban Jungle Realty Group, in New York.

“You may realize that you definitely need that two-car garage because you are tired of scraping snow and ice off your car before work every morning,” the residential real estate expert explains. “Or you may not know yet that you don’t really need a basement after all, because no one likes being down there away from the action.”

Or, even worse, you might realize that homeownership isn’t for you at all, whether it’s the constant yardwork that’s killing you or the fact that every spare dime goes to property tax. Consider your starter home your opportunity to try out different home amenities and layouts so you get it right when it’s finally time to get that dream home.

Is there a compromise that could be the best of both worlds?

For most of us, life does change, and very few people stay in their home for 30-plus years anymore. However, you might want to remain in the same town.

“Once you pick a town, you become vested in the community, the neighbors, and the schools, and your children become settled,” Bernstein points out. “It is a very high bar to move out of the town and much more practical, if need be, to find a new home there that better suits your lifestyle as you and your family grow.”

That’s why Shawn Kunkler of Paragon Real Estate Group in San Francisco recommends finding a starter home in your forever town.

“Then, when your needs change, you can buy up,” he says. In fact, Kunkler finds that for some clients, this strategy can cycle a couple of times as their lives continue to evolve before they find themselves in their forever home.

“I remind first-time buyers that their taste and needs are likely to change, as will their income and family size,” Kunkler says. “What is important today in a home may not be in the decades to come.”

Article by Cathie Ericson

8 Ways to Get Rid of Awful Pet Smells That Turn Off Buyers

You probably only think you’ve eliminated pet odors. Here’s how to make sure.

Image: Ellen Mertens

Having pet odors inside your home can turn off potential homebuyers and keep your home from selling. Ask your real estate agent for an honest opinion about whether your home has a pet smell.

If your agent holds her nose, here’s how to get rid of the smell:

#1 Air Out Your House

While you’re cleaning, throw open all the windows in your home to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents.

Once your house is free of pet odors, do what you can to keep the smells from returning. Crate your dog when you’re out or keep it outdoors. Limit the cat to one floor or room, if possible. Remove or replace pet bedding.

#2 Scrub Thoroughly

Scrub bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar, wood floor cleaner, or an odor-neutralizing product, which you can purchase at a pet supply store for $10 to $25.

Try a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls.

Got a stubborn pet odors covering a large area? You may have to spend several hundred dollars to hire a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains.

#3 Wash Your Drapes and Upholstery

Pet odors seep into fabrics. Launder, steam clean, or dry clean all your fabric window coverings. Steam clean upholstered furniture.

Either buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair for around $200 and do the job yourself, or pay a pro. You’ll spend about $40 for an upholstered chair, $100 for a sofa, and $7 for each dining room chair if a pro does your cleaning.

#4 Clean Your Carpets

Shampoo your carpets and rugs, or have professionals do the job for $25 to $50 per room, depending on their size and the level of filth embedded in them. The cleaner will try to sell you deodorizing treatments. You’ll know if you need to spend the extra money on those after the carpet dries and you have a friend perform a sniff test.

If deodorizing doesn’t remove the pet odor from your home, the carpets and padding will have to go. Once you tear them out, scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product, and install new padding and carpeting. Unless the smell is in the subfloor, in which case that goes next.

#5 Paint, Replace, or Seal Walls

When heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain, or replace the drywall or wood altogether.

On brick and cement, apply a sealant appropriate for the surface for $25 to $100. That may smother and seal in the odor, keeping it from reemerging.

#6 Place Potpourri or Scented Candles in Strategic Locations

Put a bow on your deep clean with potpourri and scented candles. Don’t go overboard and turn off buyers sensitive to perfumes. Simply place a bowl of mild potpourri in your foyer to create a warm first impression, and add other mild scents to the kitchen and bathrooms.

#7 Control Urine Smells

If your dog uses indoor pee pads, put down a new pad each time the dog goes. Throw them away outside in a trash can with a tight lid. Remove even clean pads from view before each showing.

Replace kitty litter daily, rather than scooping used litter clumps, and sweep up around the litter box. Hide the litter box before each showing.

#8 Relocate Pets

If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation. If pets have to stay, remove them from the house for showings and put away their dishes, towels, and toys.

Article by G. M. FILISKO

5 Awesomely Easy Landscaping Projects

Image: Megan West, Interior Stylist

No need for fancy DIY skills, a lot of money, or a ton of time to pull off these yard upgrades.

It’s your yard — yours to do with as you wish. And while that’s great, that doesn’t mean you have to be one of those people who spends every spare moment in their yard, sprucing it up.

But, still, your landscaping could use a little something. But something easy.

Here are five totally doable projects that your budget will barely notice, but your neighbors definitely will:

#1 Add Some (Tough) Edging

Image: Paul Gerritsen/Shutterstock

Tell your grass who’s boss with edging that can stand up to even the crabbiest of all crabgrasses.

But don’t make the mistake that many homeowners make of buying the flexible plastic stuff, thinking it will be easier to install. It’ll look cheap and amateurish from day one.

Worse, it won’t last. And before you know it, you won’t be able to tell where your garden bed ends and your “lawn” begins.

Instead buy the more rigid, tough stuff in either fiberglass, aluminum, or steel.

Tips on installing edging:

  • Lay out a hose in the pattern you want.
  • Sprinkle flour or powdered chalk to mark the hose pattern.
  • Use a lawn edger (or spade) to make an incision for the edging.
  • Tap the edging into the incision with a rubber mallet.

The cost? Mostly your time, and up to $2.50 a square foot for the edging.

#2 Create a Focal Point with a Berm

Image: Jon Jenks-Bauer

A berm is a mound of gently sloping earth, often created to help with drainage. You can also build them to create “island beds,” a focal point of textures and colors that are so much more interesting than plain ol’ green grass.

Plus, they’ll give you privacy — and diffuse street noises. What’s not to like about that? Especially if you live in more urban areas.

For most yards, berms should max out at 2-feet high because of the space needed to properly build one.

They need a ratio of 4-6 feet of width for every foot of height. That’s at least 8 feet for a typical 2-foot high berm. So be sure you have the room, or decrease the height of your berm.

Popular berm plantings include:

  • Flowering bushes, such as azaleas
  • Evergreens, such as blue spruce
  • Perennials such as periwinkle
  • Tall, swaying prairie grasses
  • Lots of mulch to keep weeds away

The cost?

Usually less than $300, depending on how big you make it, how much soil you need to buy to get to your desired height, and what plants you choose.

#3 Make a Flagstone Wall

Aim to build a wall no more than 12 inches tall, and it becomes a super simple DIY project — no mortar needed at all!

Image: Stranded in Cleveland

How to build an easy flagstone wall:

  • Dig a trench a couple of inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the flagstones.
  • Fill with pea gravel and/or sand and tamp to make level.
  • Lay out the flagstones to see their shapes and sizes.
  • Stack the smaller stones first.
  • Save the largest, prettiest flagstones for the top layer.
  • Backfill with gravel.

Choose a stone of consistent thickness. Flagstone might be limestone, sandstone, shale — any rock that splits into slabs.

The cost? About $300 for stones and sand (a ton of 2-inch-thick stone is enough for a wall 10 feet long and 12 inches high).

#4 Install a Path with Flagstone or Gravel

There’s something romantic, charming, and simply welcoming about a meandering pathway to your front door or back garden — which means it has super-huge impact when it comes to your home’s curb appeal.

You can use flagstone, pea gravel, decomposed or crushed granite, even poured concrete (although that’s not easy to DIY).

A few tips for building a pathway:

  • Allow 3 feet of width for clearance.
  • Create curves rather than straight lines for a pleasing effect.
  • Remove sod at least 3 to 4 inches deep to keep grass from coming back.
  • If you live in an area with heavy rains, opt for large, heavy stones.

The cost? Anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to upwards of $500 depending on the material you use, with decomposed granite being the least expensive, and flagstone (also the easiest of the bunch to install) the costliest.

#5 Build a Tree Surround

Image: Clean Green Landscape

Installing a masonry surround for a tree is a two-fer project: It looks great, and it means you’ve got less to mow. Come to think of it, it’s a three-fer. It can work as extra seating when you have your lawn party, too!

All it takes is digging a circular trench, adding some sand, and installing brick, cement blocks, or stone. Just go for whatever look you like best.

The trickiest part is getting an even circle around the tree. Here’s how:

  1. Tie a rope around the tree, making a loop big enough so that when you pull it taut against the tree, the outer edge of the loop is right where you want the surround to be.
  2. Set your spade inside the loop with the handle plumb — straight up and down. Now, as you move around the tree, the loop of rope keeps the spade exactly the same distance from the base of the tree, creating a nice circle.

Then build the tree surround:

  • Dig out a circular trench about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide.
  • Add a layer of sand.
  • Set bricks at an angle for a saw-tooth effect or lay them end-to-end.
  • Fill the surround with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

The cost? Super cheap. You can do it for less than $25 with commonly-available pavers and stones. 


Charging Rent When Your Adult Kid Moves Home

It’s graduation season again. College students will don their best flip-flops to walk across the stage and accept their diplomas. Then they’re ready for their next big move…back home.

More than one-third of young adults—those between ages 18 and 34—lived at home in 2015, up from 26% in 2005, according to census data.

Many parents don’t charge rent to their returning progeny, but some financial experts say they should pay their share of the real estate.

“By collecting rent you’re teaching your kids to budget, to prepare for life,” says Kim Luu-Tu, a private wealth adviser with Ameriprise who specializes in generational wealth planning.

Mrs. Luu-Tu, who is based in Vienna, Va., has one client whose son dropped out of college and moved back home, where he lived rent-free. He got a job and used his money to buy a luxury car. Six months later, his parents agreed to buy that car from him so he could buy a sports car. Now her client wishes she’d charged rent and put the money toward his wedding or house down payment.

Susana Fonticoba, of East Hanover, N.J., allowed her daughter and a friend to move in with her after they both graduated from college without steady, well-paying jobs. Ms. Fonticoba, 60, a self-employed marketing and business-strategy consultant who works from home, let the women, both in their 20s, convert the sunroom in her three-bedroom home into their living space.

After a few months, the friend asked if her 4-year-old child, who was living with her parents, could move in as well. “I’m like, really?” Ms. Fonticoba says. “I said, ‘OK, but I’m working on my own and need to be compensated.’ ”

She wrote a rental agreement that stipulated they pay her a portion of their earnings. Neither had full-time jobs, so the amount fluctuated—“a couple hundred one month, $400 another month.”

As a self-employed person, Ms. Fonticoba, whose husband died in 2000, has a variable income, too. “There were times I had trouble making ends meet, and they would help me with my expenses.”

Unfortunately, the chores slipped. “I said, ‘I can’t keep the house clean with all these people here.’ They said they’d help, but I’d be hounding them to do it.”

Her daughter and friend have since moved out, but if her daughter needed to move back, Ms. Fonticoba said she would do it again.

“I think it’s your responsibility to do what you can to help your child,” she says.

Culturally, children who return home are often judged as lazy or entitled, says Jason Houle, an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College who has studied “boomerang children,” as they’re called. Prof. Houle finds this view irksome.

“It’s a tired old trope” that older generations have long applied to younger generations, he says. “It’s completely unfounded in the data.” What’s more, boomerang children typically stay for short periods of time. “Most people who end up on their parent’s doorstep tend to do so for a year or two,” he says. “They’re just getting back on their feet.”

Bill and Janelle Hantjis were living in suburban Washington, D.C., when each of their three children returned home in their 20s—staying between one and three years. One child moved back during her continuing education, one to be closer to his girlfriend, and one during a nasty divorce. The couple didn’t charge them rent, but now wish they had.

“I think in hindsight, I wish we would have charged everybody rent and given it back to them after they left,” says Ms. Hantjis, 62, a retired nurse.

“It would have been so positive,” adds Mr. Hantjis, 61 and retired from the Navy. He and his wife were able to financially support them all, he says, but charging rent would have helped prepare them for “real life.” The children are now financially stable, married and living on their own, Mr. Hantjis says.

Looking back, they think they did what was right for themselves and their children. “We were a military family that moved around—we didn’t make a lot of permanent connections,” Mr. Hantjis says. “Our family unit was pretty close. Our narrative was to rely on each other.”

Article by Beth DeCarbo

Thank a Vet With Lunch

This week we thank Lieutenant Commander, Dr Jeffrey Feinstein, MD for his service to the United States Navy. Dr. Feinstein served stateside from 1975 to 1977. Dr Feinstein fulfilled his Residency in Radiation Oncology, New York University-Bellevue Medical Center and received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine, 1971.

Dr Feinstein recalls that in 1975, during the Army vs Navy Football Game, he was asked to be “on call” in the event of an emergency, during the visit of President Gerald Ford.

Dr Feinstien is a former staff member Loyal University, University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago, authored numerous medical papers, is a member of multiple specialty societies, including the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, ASCO, American Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society, American Radium Society, American Brachytherapy Society and American Society of Breast Diseases plus, Radiation oncology editor, Hematology and Oncology Magazine.

Awards, Honors, & Recognition; 
  • West Suburban Living, Castle Connolley, 2014
  • Chicago Magazine Top Doctors, Castle Connolly, 2008, 2010, 2012
  • Teacher of the Year Award, Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology, University of Chicago, 2009

Dr Feinstein retired as Medical Director, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. He is advocate for humane treatment of animals, and he enjoys spending time with his family.

As a friend and associate, we proudly thank Dr Feinstein for his service and dedication to our country. If you are a current member of the military or have served, we would like to Thank a Vet With Lunch. Please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you! In addition, let us know if we can answer any questions about;

VA Loans ( Jim Francis at Fairway Independent Mortgage Company )

Real Estate needs ( Cindy Soderstrom at RE/MAX Signature Homes ).

Insurance needs ( Alyson Kneeland at Goosehead Insurance )

Tailgate Sandwich YUM!

Prepare this sandwich the night before and let it sit in the refrigerator.  Costco has a great 3 pack of focaccia bread that you’ll love to use with this recipe. Cover it in olive oil and some Italian seasoning and bake it.  After it cools spread some butter, mustard and mayonnaise on it along with some turkey, ham, provolone cheese, red onion, tomato slices and cut up spinach.

Add a little Penzey’s sandwich seasoning.  All you do after that is wrap the whole thing up tight in plastic wrap.

And then wrap it in a layer of foil.  Just pop it in the refrigerator and let it sit.  The flavors all meld together and it makes for a yummy sandwich.  Nothing gets soggy, I would never recommend a soggy sandwich! But the time in the fridge enhances all of the flavors.  I have also made the Tailgate Sandwich using a pesto mayo as well.  It was wonderful!

When we were ready to go, I popped the whole thing into the picnic basket.  Don’t forget a knife to cut your sandwich with!  Add some fruit, carrot sticks and multigrain chips with hummus and salsa to the basket and you have a pretty wonderful picnic .  And chocolate chip cookies for dessert never hurt either.


  • 1 loaf focaccia
  • olive oil
  • salt and other desired dried herbs
  • 6-8 Tbsp. butter room temperature
  • 4-6 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 4-6 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 lb. turkey sliced
  • 1/4 lb. ham sliced
  • 1 red onion thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb. provolone cheese sliced
  • 1 small tomato thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach shredded


  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  • Season bread by brushing top of loaf with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and other seasonings Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes in a 300 degree oven
  • Remove and cool
  • Slice cooled focaccia in half horizontally and spread both halves with butter, mayo and mustard
  • Layer ingredients on bottom half of bread in the following order: turkey, ham, onion, cheese, tomato slices and spinach
  • Place second half on top of layered half
  • Wrap sandwich tightly with plastic wrap, then wrap in aluminum foil
  • Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight
  • Cut into wedges to serve

How Much Mortgage Can I Afford?

Of all the questions you may have when buying a home, one of the biggest that may stump you is this: How much mortgage can I afford? After all, the amount of money you can borrow could spell the difference between snagging your dream home or being priced out of your favorite neighborhood entirely.

Of course, one way to know for sure is to head to a lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage—that way you’ll know exactly how much money you can spend on a house. Still, if you don’t want to wait until the banks open (e.g., it’s 2 a.m., you’ve found the perfect home online, and you need to know right now if you can buy it), there are ways to do the mortgage math yourself.

Break down the mortgage into monthly payments

The beauty of a mortgage is that you can pay it off over time rather than all at once (otherwise, you’d just pay cash upfront). Still, this complicates matters because you have to not only figure out what you’ll have to pay every month, but also factor in interest—that’s the extra money you give your lender for the privilege of borrowing all that cash. Then, on top of that, you will also have to pay property taxes and home insurance. So how can you figure all that out?

Luckily there are online mortgage calculators that make the number crunching easy. All you have to do is enter the price of the house you’re eyeing, as well as what you’ve scrounged together for a down payment and the terms of your loan.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’ve found a home in Toledo, OH, for $200,000. Presuming you have $40,000 to put toward a down payment and you get a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4%, this will mean your housing payments will end up being around $1,022 per month ($764 to your mortgage, $208 to property taxes, and $50 to home insurance).

These monthly mortgage payments will change based on the terms of your loan and other factors, explains Keith Canter, CEO of First Community Mortgage in Murfreesboro, TN. For instance, if instead you get a 15-year mortgage at a 3% interest rate, your payments rise to $1,363 per month. Put down only $20,000 as a down payment, and your monthly payments rise further, to $1,595. The area you buy in also makes a huge difference, because property taxes vary wildly. Toledo’s may amount to $283 per month, but in Birmingham, AL, you’ll pay less than half that, at $125.

Consider your income—and debts

Knowing how much a mortgage will cost per month is helpful, but still, another question remains: Can you handle paying it? To know the answer to that, you’ll have to factor in a few more numbers of a more personal nature—namely, your income and monthly debts.

Understanding why income is important is easy—the higher your salary, the more money you can put toward a mortgage. Still, the funds you’re funneling every month toward debts—like college loans, car payments, and credit cards—can put a crimp in how much you have for home financing. But how much?

Simple: Just navigate to a home affordability calculator and enter the necessary info, including your income, debts, and down payment, to find out how much house (and mortgage) you can afford. In Toledo, for example, if you earn $60,000 per year, pay $500 per month to debts such as credit cards, and have $40,000 for a down payment, then you can afford a house worth $228,500 at 4% interest—which will amount to monthly payments of $1,298.

Keep in mind that as useful as these tools can be for fleshing out a budget, these numbers are just estimates. You will need to talk to lenders to learn exactly how large a home loan they are willing to give you. Still, having a general understanding of the numbers you need is a good place to start—and can help you set your sights on homes that are realistically within reach.

Happy house hunting!

Article by Michele Lerner

Buying a House Remodeled Without a Permit? Here’s What You’re on the Hook For

Imagine attending an open house and stepping into a newly remodeled master bathroom complete with brand-new Carrara marble tiling and a luxurious free-standing tub. Home improvements like this are enough to make potential home buyers fall in love, and it may even motivate you to make an offer on the spot.

But what may seem like a dream perk at an open house can turn into an expensive nightmare if there’s no permit paper trail and the home improvements were done without the proper authorizations. Why? Because, depending on where you are in the buying process, unpermitted work could leave you (yes, you) on the hook for way more than you bargained for.

Want to save yourself from this predicament? Read on for everything you need to know about buying a home with work done without a permit.

How do you know if work was done without a permit?

“All sellers have to give buyers something called a property disclosure,” says Andrew Hillman, a broker at Hillman Real Estate, in Boston. “This will list information about what the current owners have done to the property during ownership, including work done without a permit.”

As an extra precaution, you can also cross-check with your local building department to see if the owners pulled permits. Many municipalities, such as New York City, have the status of permits online. Otherwise, you can call or visit the local buildings department for information. Remember, building codes and permit requirements vary with every city and town.

What is your responsibility as the home buyer?

The last thing you want to do as a home buyer is get your own hands dirty with sourcing permits or paying fees. But your responsibility in the matter all depends on where you are in the closing process. If you haven’t signed the purchase agreement yet, the seller can be held accountable for obtaining and closing out permits. But that’s easier said than done. It could take weeks or even months to close out permits.

Your best bet is to put language in the contract before signing stating that the seller has to take care of pulling a permit and having the local building inspector sign off on a certificate of occupancy before closing.

“Your attorney can draft the amendment to the contract for you,” says Beth Jaworski of Shorewest Realtors, in Wauwatosa, WI.

But once the contract is signed, the buyer assumes all responsibility for work done without permits.

“Buying a home without performing due diligence is as irresponsible as the homeowner who doesn’t pull permits,” says Hillman.

Still, all hope is not lost if your contract is already signed. There may be contingencies that can halt the transaction and give you some leverage.

How your appraiser and home inspector can help

One of the main contingencies all contracts have is the inspection period. A professional home inspection can identify unpermitted construction, work not completed to code, and other potential surprises before you commit to buy the property.

“The inspector can also check with the local permitting department to see what permits have been obtained,” says Brad English, a real estate professional with First Team Real Estate, in San Clemente, CA.

Your appraiser will help. “When I do a walk-through of a dwelling, I ask about the legality of a deck, living space, or an extra bathroom not found on the property record card,” says Ginna Currie, a New York state general appraiser at C.T. Appraisals.

Depending on the language in your contract, you have the right to terminate the transaction if you are not satisfied with the results of your home inspection or appraisal.

What’s the worst that can happen?

The worst-case scenario: Your city can “fine you for having unpermitted work, force you to remove the improvements, and you’ll have to start the process over to have the work done legally,” says Currie.

Keep in mind pulling a permit can cost hundreds of dollars. And having the work brought to code by a contractor will be an additional expense. But if you don’t pull permits during this transaction, the issue can arise again if you choose to sell your home later on.

“If the unpermitted work isn’t allowed at all, the city inspectors can make the homeowner tear down or remove the renovation or addition,” says Hillman. And if the inspectors don’t make the homeowner tear something out, you can at least expect a tax assessment for any improvements.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

How to Clean Out a Deceased Loved One’s Home Without Burning Out Emotionally

After the loss of a loved one, the thought of sorting through that person’s belongings can be heart-wrenching. But in many situations, there’s no time to delay, especially if you’re in a time crunch to get a late family member’s house ready to sell.

Before you embark on the emotional task of sorting through a loved one’s possessions, check out these tips from experts on where to begin the process, how to find support and resolve disputes, and—most importantly—how to take it easy on yourself as you grieve.

Give yourself time, but don’t delay the process

At a time like this, sorting through your loved one’s closets and cabinets is probably the last thing on your mind. Don’t push yourself too hard to get started before you’re ready, but don’t put the task off indefinitely, either.

“It’s very individual, but if you can emotionally, it’s better to start cleaning out the house sooner [rather] than later,” says Vickie Dellaquila, a certified professional organizer and author of “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash.”

“I’ve seen people that hold onto a house for years and years and work just a little bit at a time. For a lot of people, that’s harder because it keeps weighing on them.”

Dellaquila suggests starting with the easy stuff (e.g., things in the pantry or the garage). “Anything that’s low-hanging fruit that’s not emotionally charged,” she says.

As you begin sorting through sentimental items, give yourself time to grieve and experience your feelings; you don’t want to push yourself to make big decisions about what to keep and what to let go of before you’re ready.

“I remember when I went through my father’s items, there were days I just couldn’t bear to go through more of his things,” says Jen Robin, founder and CEO of Life in Jeneral, a professional organizing company. “There were some … items I was not ready to go through.”

If you find yourself hitting a wall, put items in a box and go back to them when you’re ready.

Ask for help

Clearing out a loved one’s home is a massive undertaking, but many people attempt to do it alone. Don’t underestimate the emotional (and physical) effort involved, and don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it.

“When we experience strong emotions, it’s harder to make decisions and think clearly,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder and CEO of Gotham Organizers, in New York. “Friends and professionals who are more objective about the situation can help get you through the process.”

Bring in a friend who can toss items like toothbrushes and expired food. For larger items, you may want to call in the pros. A professional organizer can manage the process from start to finish, while movers and trash haulers can remove the big-ticket items you don’t want, Zaslow says.

You can also work with estate sale professionals to help sell valuables, and shredding companies can come in to dispose of old papers and sensitive documents.

Keep it or toss it? How to decide when emotions are raw

When a loved one dies, the last thing we want to do is get rid of everything that reminds us of them.

“You don’t want to toss everything right away, because you’re not processing your emotions, so later you’ll think, ‘Oh boy, maybe I shouldn’t have let go of that,’” Dellaquila says. But, she adds, “you do not have to be a curator of your mother or your father.”

If you’re torn about whether to part ways with something, Dellaquila suggests holding onto just a piece of it—for example, keep a single place setting rather than the full china set. That way, you can hold onto an item that reminds you of your loved one without taking on something you don’t have space for.

Finally, resist the urge to keep anything out of obligation. If you won’t use it, let it go.

“One of my clients felt that she should keep some designer purses of her mom’s, even though she knew she would never use them,” Zaslow says. “Instead, I helped her sell them, and she donated the proceeds to a charity in her mom’s name.”

Get ahead of disputes

When siblings start sorting through a parent’s belongings, the situation can get tense. What if you both want that love seat or those crystal Champagne flutes?

One way to work through disputes: Take a gym class approach to divvying up items.

“The fair thing to do is put the items out and each person takes a turn in choosing one,” Dellaquila says. “I did that with my grandfather, who was an artist. We had a lot of sketches, and we went around and chose one, then somebody took the next turn.”

If you’re feuding over a single item that can’t be split up, you could attempt a shared-custody approach. But ultimately, you have to decide whether the item is really worth a bitter fight.

“Would your loved one really want you fighting over this china?” Dellaquila says. “It really is just a thing.”

For the living, death cleaning—a Swedish tradition that is catching on in the rest of the world—is one way you can spare your loved ones a future headache. The whole idea is to start cleaning out your clutter now. While you’re at it, you can even begin deciding who will eventually receive your possessions, beyond what’s designated in your will.

“A lot of people do that by putting little stickies on the bottom of items,” Dellaquila says. “Orange is for Mary, blue is for Mike.”

Give yourself space to grieve

As you make a plan for cleaning out the space, remember that you’ll also need time to step back to reflect and recharge. Biting off more than you can chew is a recipe for emotional burnout. Instead, give yourself limits from the start—maybe you clean only one room a day, or you work for just a few hours at a time.

“Creating a goal allows you to see small results and wins,” Robin says. “This is such a mentally draining process, so setting boundaries for yourself is very important.

“There is no easy process of getting rid of a loved one’s personal belongings,” she adds. “Make sure to take your time and allow yourself to feel all the emotions along the way.”

Article by Lauren Sieben

The Property Brothers Reveal 2 Colors to Never, Ever Paint Your Walls

On the latest episode of “Property Brothers: Buying and Selling,” Jonathan and Drew Scott are seeing red— and they don’t like it one bit.

Of course, the laid-back bros seem rarely angry with anyone, let alone a client. But in the episode “Condo Dreams,” they see a few walls in Roseanne‘s home that must be repainted or removed if she wants to fetch top dollar. And, yes, the color red is the primary offender.

Not long ago, Roseanne’s life partner passed away, so she wants to sell their house and find a smaller place—preferably one without any yard to take care of, since she’s not big on maintenance.

And if it’s in downtown Calgary, Canada, near her work, that would be ideal. She has a budget of $600,000.

Drew and Jonathan see plenty of potential in Roseanne’s existing digs. In its current condition, it’s worth only about $600,000. But if Roseanne invests $85,000 in the renovation Jonathan envisions, the Scotts believe she’ll be able to sell it for at least $800,000—a massive $200,000 increase!

Roseanne is all in. Although she’s still fragile from her loss, she takes a deep breath and commits to realizing all that the “Property Brothers” stars have promised.

In the process, Jonathan and Drew dish out some excellent buying, selling, and remodeling advice. Take a look!

Yellow + red walls = time to repaint

When the brothers first walk into Roseanne’s home, they notice the living room is painted a pale butter color.

“Yellow walls don’t really sell these days,” says Jonathan, making a mental note to paint over that “mellow yellow.”

Then they walk into the dining area and find a few walls the color of blood. Jonathan says they need to “get rid of that angry ’90s red wall,” too. In fact, they get rid of the entire wall.

Skeletal decor is not for everyone

It’s not anywhere near Halloween, but Roseanne explains that she has skull and skeleton accessories up in her house year-round. The place doesn’t look like a crypt, mind you. These are small, subtle touches—or good bones, if you will.

Still, “I don’t think most buyers want to see skulls everywhere, so we want to get rid of some of that,” says Drew. Roseanne is fine with packing them away for showings.

Don’t make the TV the main attraction

“I’m never a huge fan of a TV being the main focal point of a room,” says Jonathan when he sees a huge, flat-screen TV dominating the center wall in the living room. “I’d love to see a better focal point,” he muses, making plans to build a beautiful fireplace in that very spot.

Quartz is not just for kitchens

Jonathan uses dark, veined quartz that looks like marble on the fireplace. It’s much less expensive, but looks equally elegant.

If you have only one bath, make it a stunner

There are 1.5 bathrooms in Roseanne’s house, but the small bath off the master is only a two-piecer, with just a toilet and a sink.

“One-and-a-half baths is a drawback for a family home,” says Jonathan.

As such, he says it’s absolutely necessary to make that one full bath a total knockout. He’ll pull out the old, dated fixtures and replace them with new ones, and use more of that dark quartz, which gives it a chic and dramatic look for a relatively small bath.

When good wood goes bad

“Are these floors original?” Jonathan asks as he notices the narrow blond wood planks underfoot. Roseanne tells him that they are, and while they’ve been refinished and look decent, they creak a lot, and are in only one room.

“Ideally you’d like to have continuous flooring through the whole house,” says Jonathan. He’ll pull up the old floors and replace them with new, wider wood planks that will flow through the entire single-story home.

Dark floors not your thing? No problem!

As Drew shows Roseanne a spacious townhouse she could purchase as her new digs, she notes that there is lots of dark wood underfoot, which she’s not crazy about, because it shows dirt and has to be vacuumed or swept more often than a more neutral-colored floor would.

Drew insists that’s no problem: “For a few thousand dollars, you can sand it and restain it light.” And in this home, which has a list price of $575,000, she could afford to do that.

Mind the condo fees

Condos with high-end amenities come with a price—the extra community fees can really take a bite out of a budget. Drew shows Roseanne homes with condo fees ranging from $200 per month, which basically includes the shoveling of walks and a little gardening, to $899, which covers use of a gym, party room, theater, rooftop recreation area, security, two parking spaces, and many other perks.

While Roseanne really likes a spacious, two-story condo, she thinks the fees are a little high. Drew comes up with a solution to lower them, telling her that parking in downtown Calgary is at a premium, so she can likely rent one of her parking spaces for around $300, which can cover a good chunk of those extra fees.

Do the ‘Property Brothers’ stars deliver?

Roseanne loves one particular condo she sees, but so does everyone else. It’s listed at $599,900, which is at the top of her budget, but Drew says she’ll have to bid at least $605,000 to get it. Roseanne thinks she can handle that, because, she points out, it’s spread out over the course of a mortgage. So $5,000 is not going to make that much of a difference in her payments.

That $5,000 over budget makes even less of a difference when Jonathan’s gorgeous reno earns Roseanne an offer of $815,000!

She’s ready to move on, and so are Jonathan and Drew.

Article by Lisa Johnson Mandell

Summer Bean Salad with Potlikker Vinaigrette

Potlikker, as it’s called in the South, is the savory, starchy liquid left over after cooking beans or greens. Here, chef Joe Kindred whisks the über-flavorful liquid into a vinaigrette, but you can also use it in soups and pasta sauces, or thicken it with butter and drizzle over fish.


  • 2 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • One 2-ounce piece of country ham (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound thawed frozen lima beans
  • 5 ears of corn, shucked
  • 1 pound haricots verts, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • 3 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
  • 4 radishes, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped dill
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped parsley leaves

How to Make It

Step 1  

In a large pot, combine the stock with 1/3 cup of the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. Add the ham, if using, and the crushed red pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lima beans, remove from the heat and let cool in the cooking liquid for 1 hour. Set a fine sieve over a large bowl and strain the beans; discard the ham. Transfer the beans to a serving bowl. Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Save the remaining liquid for another use.

Step 2   

Meanwhile, light a grill and oil the grate. Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Grill the corn over moderate heat, turning, until lightly charred, about 
8 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and let cool slightly, then cut the kernels from the cob. Add the corn to the bowl with the lima beans.

Step 3    

Prepare an ice bath. In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the haricots verts until crisp-tender, 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them 
to the ice bath to cool, then pat dry and add to the bowl with the lima beans and corn.

Step 4

Return the water in the pot 
to a boil and blanch the fava beans until tender, 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to the ice bath to cool. Drain. Squeeze the favas from their skins and add to the bowl with the other vegetables; discard the skins.

Step 5

In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil with the vinegar and the reserved 3/4 cup of cooking liquid. Season the vinaigrette with salt and black pepper. Gently fold the radishes, tomatoes, dill, parsley and vinaigrette into the vegetables and season with salt and black pepper; serve.

The salad can be refrigerated overnight and served at room temperature. Add the haricots verts and tomatoes just before serving.

4 Good Reasons to Not Get a Mortgage Online

Applying for a mortgage these days can be accomplished entirely online—no need to schlep to a bank and suffer hand cramps filling out paperwork.

Instead, you can punch some basic info into an online mortgage site, and up pops a bunch of loan choices. An industry renowned for being slow and cumbersome is now wooing customers with the promise of ease, speed, and transparency. Rocket Mortgage, Quicken Loan’s online platform, for example, promises qualified customers approval in as little as eight minutes.

But taking out a six-figure loan is one of the most complicated and substantial financial transactions most people will ever make. Does it really make sense to handle it by pushing a few buttons on your smartphone?

Maybe for those with a typical 9-to-5 job and good credit.

“If you are a salaried employee with no overtime, no bonus—no funky income, if you will—just a plain-vanilla borrower, then sometimes the online mortgage does work,” says Brian Minkow, a divisional vice president and loan originator at Homebridge Financial Services, a non-bank lender. “You know: You have a five-year work history, you’re putting 20% down, and have an 800 FICO score.”

But then there’s everybody else.

Here are some of the many reasons why those borrowers might consider taking more time with the process, including consulting with an experienced loan officer or mortgage broker.

1. You want to shop around for the best loan

First and foremost, it’s always in a borrower’s best interest to comparison shop on rates and fees, says Keith Gumbinger, a vice president at, a mortgage information website. Speed and convenience alone do not always translate into a better price for borrowers.

“You should invest some time in it, do your research,” Gumbinger says. “Also, do your diligence on your credit. And think about how long you’re going to be in your home.” The reason? The length of time you estimate you are likely to be staying in the home can be a factor in whether you apply for a fixed or adjustable rate loan.

Gaining an understanding of different loan programs is a smarter approach than just “going online and filling out things,” says Minkow. “A lot of people really don’t know if they’re getting the right loan program, the right interest rate, the right down payment.”

The research process may ultimately lead you straight to the speedy online mortgage site as the best option anyway. But, Gumbinger says, “You won’t know that unless you go out and take a look around.”

2. You’re a first-time home buyer

Researching all your options is especially important if you’ve never purchased a home before, advises David Weliver, founder of, a personal finance advice site. First-time buyers should always talk through important details like rates, points, and closing costs with an expert. “After you’ve been through the process once, you have a better idea of what to expect and what information you’ll need to provide to make the process go smoothly,” he says.

Even those who have borrowed before may want to consult with someone if there is anything about their circumstances that might make qualifying more difficult. For example, Weliver says, “a real person could be a helpful advocate” for borrowers who are buying a second home or rental property, have spotty credit, or have inconsistent income.

3. You’re self-employed

About 15 million Americans are classified as self-employed, according to the Pew Research Center. While salaried workers generally only have to show the lender their W-2 tax forms to prove their income, self-employed workers “should expect that they will have to provide the lender with more income documentation, such as tax returns from the last few years,” Weliver says.

The fact is, some online lenders are more strict about documentation requirements than federal guidelines require, because they want to reduce their risk, says Minkow. That can make qualifying even tougher for a borrower who is already perceived as a higher risk—for example, applicants who have only been in their current job for a few months, or those who want to include overtime pay as evidence of their buying power. The lender will want to see proof that the overtime pay is consistent. “Certain guidelines say you have to show you have it for 12 months or 24 months—it depends on the loan,” Minkow says.

4. You want some extra handholding

Working with someone one on one may also help prevent last-minute problems when it comes time to buy that house. “I can’t tell you how many clients who have come to me after they’d gone online and gotten a pre-approval from a lender,” Minkow says. “Then they go to purchase a house, and halfway through the transaction, the online lender says all of a sudden, ‘You can’t get approved.’ The client freaks out. And that’s when they get ahold of someone like myself.”

Finally, there is the matter of personal preference. Not everyone likes the impersonal approach. Before applying for a loan, borrowers might consider whether they are the kind of person who appreciates a lot of help and attention in other shopping experiences. “If you like a hands-on environment, like a Macy’s, you’re a different kind of shopper than someone who enjoys going to a warehouse club,” says Gumbinger. “Your expectations going in will influence how satisfied you are with the process.”

Article by Lisa Prevost