7 Cleaning Tips for Keeping Your Home Spotless When Selling It

Drive off with the laundry. You don’t want buyers’ noses to detect your dirties.

When your house is on the market, keeping it picture-perfect can be a wee bit stressful. But it is possible to keep your home show-ready while life goes on.

Here are seven cleaning tips on how to do it.

#1 Invest in Clear Bins

The less stuff you have out, the less you have to keep tidy. Keep as few (depersonalized, aesthetically pleasing) items in your home as possible, from decor to clothes. Thin out closets, garage, bookcases, TV armoires — any place clutter collects.

Of course, that means your storage spaces are going to get a workout. “This is a great time to buy those big, plastic tubs because they’re cheap, and they make everything look uniform,” says Dale Boutiette, a real estate agent with the Dale + Alla Team in San Francisco.

Keep your tidy storage tubs somewhere out-of-the-way but accessible. You’ll be a more effective clutter-culler if you know you can get to your stuff when you need it.

#2 Clean As You Go

When your home is on the market, cleaning isn’t a thing you do; it’s the way you live.

“Assume you’ll have a showing every day,” says Maura Black, sales vice president at Sibcy Cline REALTORS® in Cincinnati. “So clean as you go.”

Every time you finish an activity or leave a room, make it your goal to look like you were never there.

Deposit dirty dishes in the dishwasher or wash and stow them after each meal. Make the bed when you get up. Fold laundry straight from the dryer and put it away immediately. You get the idea.

“That may take a few extra minutes up front, but it relieves a ton of stress at showing time,” says Black.

“Every time you finish an activity or leave a room, make it your goal to look like you were never there.”

#3 Use Only One Bathroom

Few areas of your home need to be as spotless for buyers as the bathroom — but also, you know, stuff happens in there. Every day. Sigh.

Consider using only one bathroom while your home is on the market. The fewer toilets to scrub in a hurry, the better.

And keep that one bathroom as near-perfect as possible while in use:

  • Squeegee the tub or shower after every use.
  • Wipe the sink and counter after every use, too: brushing your teeth, applying makeup, washing hands, spraying hairspray, etc.
  • Clean the toilet and wipe down the floor each day.

#4 Tackle Odors Every Day

Odors are an instant turnoff for buyers, and new odors appear every darn day. Start off on the right foot by paying a pro or doing your own super-deep cleaning with a focus on olfactory messes: grease build-up, stinky drains, musty basements, etc.

Then, do a daily disinfectant sweep of your home’s stinkiest spots:

  • Wash your trash cans every time you take out a bag.
  • Vacuum under furniture.
  • Wipe down baseboards and window sills (where dust — thus, smells — get trapped).
  • Do a careful cleaning of your stove and surrounding cupboards after you cook so tonight’s dinner doesn’t become tomorrow’s turnoff for buyers.

#5 Rotate Kids’ Toys and Books

If you have kids, you know containing the daily hurricane of toys is a challenge on a normal day.

When your home’s on the market, it’s time to get extra strategic. First step? Banish toys from all but one room. Whether it’s a playroom or bedroom, keep the toys behind one door at all times.

Then deal with quantity.

Divide the whole toy collection into groups and designate tubs for each. The kids can play with one group at a time, and the rest go into a closet. If only so many toys are accessible, only so many toys can be everywhere when a buyer is on the way.

Finally, keep your active group of toys in some sort of nice, accessible storage system, like cute bins or baskets.

“My favorites are open baskets,” says Becky Rapinchuk, author of Simply Clean: The Proven Method for Keeping Your Home Organized, Clean, and Beautiful in Just 10 Minutes a Day and cleaning pro at Cleanmama.net. “They’re attractive, and they let kids easily see and access toys, while looking great for showings.”

#6 Send Pets on Vacation

Oh, how we love our pets. And oh, how they do not love showing season. You’re stressed because their fur is everywhere, and they’re stressed because you’re stressed, and stress makes them … shed more.

If you can send them to a friend or relative while your house is on the market, it can lower everyone’s blood pressure and keep your house as hair- and dander-free as possible.

If that’s not an option, here are some alternative strategies:

  • If you have more than one pet and enough household members, appoint each member their own pet and assign daily cleaning tasks: brush pets’ fur, clean their bowls and eating areas, vacuum their favorite napping spot, etc.
  • Take them away with you, or confine them to a crate or separate quarters when buyers come.
  • If you have an old or sick pet you can’t leave alone or take elsewhere, ask your agent to restrict showing times to when you can be there. This isn’t optimal since most buyers prefer owners aren’t present during the showing, but people are generally pretty understanding about special considerations like pets. Just keep your pet (and yourself) away from potential buyers during the showing.

#7 Drive Away With the Laundry

No matter how showing-ready your home is at all times, there’s one thing that’s often tough to time perfectly: the laundry.

For many busy families, the massive laundry operation is always some stage of unfinished, and you just can’t run the washer and dryer any faster.

While you can do your best to stay on top of it, if you get a text that a buyer is on the way and you have piles of dirties awaiting their turn, Rapinchuk has a tip: Toss ‘em in a basket, stow the basket in the car, and drive away. You may not be Martha-perfect, but buyers don’t need to know that.

Article by KELLEY WALTERS

How to Clean Your Dryer Vent: 9 Mistakes to Avoid

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

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

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

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

#1 Forgetting to Unplug the Dryer

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

#2 Using the Wrong Equipment

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

#3 Attempting to Clean a Long Vent Yourself

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

#4 Neglecting to Check the Duct for Damage

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

#5 Bending the Duct Too Much

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

#6 Reattaching the Duct with Duct Tape

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

#7 Routing the Vent Into an Attic or Crawlspace

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

#8 Overlooking Moisture Sensors

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

#9 Not Cleaning the Dryer Vent Often Enough

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

How to Clean Your Dryer Vent Safely

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

10 Things Your Guest Bathroom Needs: Do You Have Them All?

How’s your guest bathroom looking these days? If you haven’t considered it in a while, it’s high time you take stock as the holidays approach.

As all the merriment commences, you’re likely to have friends and family stopping by and maybe even staying over, so you’ll want to make sure your place is in tiptop shape. To be the host with the most (or even just the host who doesn’t run out of toilet paper), you want to make sure your abode is warm, welcoming, and comfortable from the moment guests set foot inside until they leave—this means you should take a good, hard objective look at your guest bathroom.

You want to create a space that’s homey as well as functional, and stocked with everything guests may need—along with some special touches thrown in for extra flair. Here are 10 things you need to create the perfect guest bathroom.

1. Fancy towels you don’t use yourself

Big fluffy towels are at the top of the list for Angelika Stuart, a partner with Alice Weaver Design in South Florida.

“Why share your everyday towels with guests when you can dedicate fresh towels to that bathroom?” Stuart asks. “Since these are not used often, your guests will appreciate the luxurious feel these towels will have for a long time to come. It’s an easy investment to make into creating a serene space.”

2. Music

John Linden, lead designer with MirrorCoop in Los Angeles, says he likes to put an iPod and a small speaker in the guest bathroom.

“Generally, I feel pretty uncomfortable when I’m using the bathroom at someone else’s house, so it’s nice to be able to turn the sound up to drown out any embarrassing sounds,” Linden says. “The best thing you can do is to reflect on your own guest bathroom experiences. If you’ve ever had a problem or felt uncomfortable in those situations, brainstorm some quick solutions and use them to prepare your own bathroom for guests.”

3. Scent control

Be it a scented candle, spray, oil diffuser, or at the very least box of matches, make sure there’s some way guests can leave the bathroom without feeling embarrassed by any lingering odors.

4. Toilet paper a plenty

Having this bare necessity handy is a no-brainer. But what hosts often miss is how much you should keep stocked up.

“You can never have enough,” says Ashley Smith, a real estate agent with Las Colinas Realty Associates. “Unless you’re checking on it regularly, you won’t know it’s out until one of your house guests does.”

Another tip? Your extra TP should be in plain sight—don’t hide it beneath the sink, where it might be missed or hard to reach right when you need it.

5. A bath kit

McCall Robison, a home decor blogger for BestCompany, suggests setting up a bath kit for guests and displaying it by the tub or shower.

“It can include a fresh loofah, bath salts, bath bombs, body wash, mini shampoo and conditioner, etc.,” Robison says. “It will make guests feel as if they’re at a fancy hotel.” Sweet!

6. Medicine cabinet basics

You don’t need to have a whole pharmacy on hand, but stocking some basics that may come in handy is a nice touch. Basic items like ibuprofen, antacids, and eye drops may be particularly appreciated during the holiday celebration season.

7. Fresh flowers

Flowers add a great pop of color anywhere, but people often don’t think to put them in the bathroom.

“This is a simple way to spice up the room and give it a classic and elegant touch,” Robison says.

8.  Disposable hand-drying towels

Miguel Suro, a Florida life hack blogger at Rich Miser, suggests adding disposable hand-drying towels.

“No one wants to reuse someone else’s hand towel,” Suro says. “Bonus if they’re recyclable.”

Also, make sure there’s a trash can or recycling bin to throw the towels in when they’re finished.

9. A robe

Robison also suggests adding a plush robe to the room.

“You can display it and hang it on the bathroom door, or you can fold it nicely in the closet,” Robison says. “Either way, it’s a great addition that will make guests feel at home and that they will love.”

10. Anything you’d usually find in hotels

Think about the things nice hotels have on hand that come in handy when you travel, and follow suit. Make available things people commonly forget when they travel, like a new toothbrush and toothpaste, a fresh razor, cotton balls and Q-tips, so they don’t have to run out to get them.

So, check this list and check it again to see how nice your guest bathroom is or how much work you may have to do. You may also want to check all the drawers and cabinets to make sure there’s nothing embarrassing in there, because, yeah, people will look.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans

How to Make Accommodations for Assistance Animals

Two weeks ago, an agent seeking advice came to Holly Eslinger, ABR, CRB, broker-owner of Exclusive Homes & Land in Arizona. A woman had visited the agent’s open house and brought what was apparently a comfort dog that proceeded to pee on the carpet—twice. Because the agent didn’t get the woman’s contact information, the sellers asked the agent to cover their $1,200 carpet cleaning bill.

Eslinger shared this story Friday during the Risk Management Issues Committee’s educational program at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Boston. The session, focusing on legal issues related to assistance animals, was aptly titled “Are You Managing a Property or a Zoo?” and featured a panel of industry experts discussing how to handle requests for animal accommodations in housing.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that service animals, which are highly trained dogs that do specific tasks, be accommodated in housing. But the federal Fair Housing Act has a broader service animal definition that allows tenants to request a reasonable accommodation for any assistance animal, including emotional support animals.

Despite these laws, people still have to be in control of their pets, said Peter Lewis, CPM, CGPM, vice president of property management at the Schochet Companies. “A dog can’t go to the bathroom anywhere; they still have to maintain their animal the whole time,” he said.

Kenneth Krems, managing partner and chair of the real estate management team at Shaevel, Krems, O’Connor & Jackowitz, LLP, in Boston, said fair housing law likely applies in the case of the open house incident Eslinger shared. However, because reasonable accommodations were made to allow the dog into the home, the dog’s owner should pay for the damages. But since the agent didn’t require that the person sign in and leave their contact information, the agent is responsible for payment.

Tenants with pets have to comply with the normal pet rules, such as not showing aggression toward people, cleaning up messes, paying for damages from pets, and keeping up with required vaccinations, and they may be required to prove that they’re complying, Krems says.

It’s reasonable for a property manager to request to meet a service or emotional support animal, says Daniel Weaver, enforcement branch chief at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity. If a dog is problematic or aggressive, you can ask the tenant to get another dog, he says.

This week, HUD dismissed a case in which a tenant wanted accommodations for three service animals. But another case was recently settled in favor of a woman who had been sexually assaulted and wanted to keep a large German Shepherd in her apartment because it allowed her to work and live more comfortably and securely. “You can always call your local HUD office and say, ‘I’ve got this issue; what can I do about it?’” Weaver says.

Another incident involved a support dog that shed profusely, and another resident of the building was allergic. To mitigate the issue, property managers prohibited the dog from going into the community room from 1-3 p.m. each day when the other resident was there. However, the dog owner protested and filed a complaint against the landlord, claiming discrimination. But the reviewing commission agreed that reasonable accommodations were being made at the property for the dog, Weaver says.

Krems encourages property owners and managers to keep an open dialogue with tenants and provide an interactive process to solve service pet issues. Weaver echoes that point. While owners are required to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA and fair housing law, he adds that if a tenant’s animal isn’t complying with standard pet rules, then the next step is to engage with the tenant to try to find an alternative solution whenever possible.

Article by Erica Christoffer

Garlic Mashed No-tatoes

Garlic Mashed Cauliflower and Chives

White potatoes — while nutritious and natural — aren’t allowed by all Paleo eating plans due to their potentially significant impact on blood sugar levels. Instead of the conventional mashed potatoes, Ginger Calem, certified CrossFit trainer and CrossFit gym owner in Georgetown, Texas, recommends adding garlicky mashed cauliflower to your holiday table. To prepare it, break a head of cauliflower into florets and then boiling or steaming until tender. Drain the cooked cauliflower, then mash it up. Toss in tasty additions, such as organic butter from grass-fed cows (or a dairy-free alternative), roasted garlic, ground pepper and sea salt. CALORIES: 83

INGREDIENTS

SERVES 10

  • 2 serving Cauliflower Head Large
  • 1/4 cup Grass Fed Butter
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives
  • 2 garlic clove

DIRECTIONS

1Wash chopped cauliflower florets and steam until tender.
2Place cauliflower, butter, salt, pepper, chives and garlic in a food processor.
3Pulse until mostly smooth and consistent. Scrape the sides as needed.

 

‘House-Rich, Cash-Poor’: Here’s What It Really Means

“House-rich, cash-poor” sounds like the title of a country song. After all, how can someone be rich and poor at the same time, unless they’re fighting some poetic struggle in a twangy ballad? Well, it all comes down to how much you have tied up in your home, compared with how much you have in your pocket.

‘House-rich, cash-poor’ explained in real numbers

Being house-rich and cash-poor means you have more equity locked into the value of your home than you have in liquid assets.

Leon Goldfeld, co-founder of the New York–based real estate brokerage startup Yoreevo, breaks down how the house-rich, cash-poor scenario can play out:

  • You have a debt-to-income ratio higher than 40%, which means your homeownership expenses take up over 40% of your income. (As a general rule, it’s best to not spend more than 30% of your income on living expenses.)
  • Your home equity makes up more than 80% of your total net worth.
  • You have less than six months in cash reserves to cover your total monthly expenses if the need arises.

Is it bad to be house-rich and cash-poor?

As a real estate professional in St. Petersburg, FL, Patricia Vosburgh advises her clients not to become house-rich and cash-poor due to her first-hand experience in the 1980s.

“I can tell you it’s not a great place to be,” she says. “The slightest financial hiccup in your life can become an issue.”

For instance, if you run into large medical bills or a costly home repair, you may not have the money to pay for it. Beyond that, being house-rich and cash-poor can lead to a downturn in your quality of life.

“You’re working constantly to hold onto the asset and not really enjoying the benefits of homeownership,” says Vosburgh.

How common is it to be house-rich and cash-poor?

These days, it’s a bit of a mixed bag: Thanks to a healthy economy, low unemployment, and stricter lending requirements put in place after 2008, many homeowners are house-rich, meaning they have good equity in their home. Yet many of these same homeowners are also cash-poor, lacking the reserves necessary to see them through life’s ups and downs.

“First-time buyers are saving up lots of money for the down payment—usually between 5% to 20%,” says Cedric Stewart, a residential and commercial sales consultant at Keller Williams in the Washington, DC, area. “But they often don’t leave any money for the ‘what if’ fund, such as emergency home maintenance.”

Another group vulnerable to becoming house-rich and cash-poor are buyers looking to trade up their current home.

“These buyers take the money from the sale of their current home and plunk it all down on the next one,” explains Stewart. That’s a risky move, he says, since it leaves you no financial wiggle room for whatever financial curveballs may come your way.

The bottom line: A buyer should never leave themselves cash-poor, says Ralph DiBugnara, vice president at Residential Home Funding.

“If it’s going to cost you every bit of savings just to acquire the house, you may not be ready for that specific home,” he says.

How you can avoid it

Deeply understand your finances before you buy a home, recommends Goldfeld. For starters, try entering your income and debts into a mortgage calculator to figure out what price you can afford on a home. Speak to a lender to find out how large a home loan you qualify for, too.

These moves will help you figure out what your monthly expenses would be if you had to pay for that mortgage. Take note: Even if you qualify for a large mortgage, you don’t want to get yourself into a position where every little expense is difficult to pay for.

So make sure you have at least a year of whatever your recurring monthly payments would be in reserve and shoot for a debt-to-income ratio under 30%. Then set a reasonable budget for the purchase price of a home. Look for a healthy balance between investing in a new home and creating your ideal quality of life after the home is bought. (It’s plain common sense to hold enough cash back to have a financial cushion in case of an emergency.)

Another option is to get a home warranty to cover any unexpected home expenses.

“I tell all my buyers to ask for one from the seller or pay for it themselves,” says Vosburgh.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

12 Delightful Ways to Make Your House Brighter in Winter

Let more natural light shine indoors with these simple tips.

Fall and winter start cozy — who hasn’t used the colder temperatures as an excuse to binge-watch Netflix while swaddled in a couch blanket?

But come January, staying indoors can feel less like a treat and more like you’re living in a cave.

Here’s how to make your house lighter, brighter, and cheerier with more natural light indoors.

#1 Take the Screens Off Your Windows

You’ll get 30% more sunlight shining indoors without screens on your windows.

Here’s the best part: Sunlight warms your room and saves you money on your heating bill. It’s solar power — for you!

Be sure to store your screens in your garage or basement where they won’t get damaged. In the spring you’ll want to put them back on so you can keep that 30% of the sun out and run your cooling system less.

#2 Hang Outdoor String Lights Indoors

They don’t give off a lot of light, but they’re cheerful as heck.

Drape them around a window or a mantel, or hang a string of LED glimmer lights in a tall potted plant. They’ll add a layer of soft light to your room and remind you of fireflies, flip-flops, and patio parties.

#3 Steal a Little Swedish Chic

Scandinavians excel at making a home light and airy because they’ve got places where the sun doesn’t rise at all from November to January.

And you thought you had it bad.

To adapt to weeks and weeks of polar night, Swedes keep interiors pale to reflect and amplify light.

Think white walls, light woods for furniture and floors, and light upholstery. To get the look without getting rid of your dark furniture and floors, put white or light gray slipcovers on your sofa and chairs, and put down light-colored rugs.

The fastest way to bring a little Sweden into your room is to paint it. Try creamy white, pale blue, or dove gray.

#4 Change Your Bulbs

Replace those incandescent bulbs and their yellowy light with LEDs, which produce a brighter, whiter light.

But get your bright right:

  • The higher the K rating on the bulb, the cooler and whiter its light.
  • For cool, white light, opt for a bulb rated 3,500K to 4,100K.
  • For blue-white light that’s closest to natural daylight, use a bulb between 5,000K and 6,500K.

Unless you live in Sweden (see above) you may want to leave the uber-high K bulbs for grow rooms and seasonal affective disorder therapy clinics — because they’re as bright as real sunlight on a hot summer day at noon. You’ll need sunglasses to read.

#5 Hang Mirrors

Make the most of that weak winter light by bouncing it around the room with mirrors.

If you don’t want the distraction of seeing your reflection all the time, use a large, convex one — also known as a fish-eye mirror. It will amplify light better than a flat one. Another option: Hang a gallery wall of small mirrors.

#6 Replace Heavy Curtains With Blinds or Roman Shades

Fabric curtains, while quite insulating, block light and make a room feel smaller and more cramped, especially if they’re a dark color or have a large print.

Try Roman shades or a simple valance paired with blinds to let in the maximum amount of natural light.

#7 Trim Branches and Bushes That Block Light

If you look out your windows and see the tops of your bushes, grab your pruning shears and get whacking.

You don’t want anything blocking that precious natural light. Same for tree limbs that may be arching down and blocking windows. Cut them off.

#8 Clean Your Windows

Dirty windows block a lot of natural light.

Admit it, yours are kind of cruddy because who remembers to block out an afternoon to clean the windows?

So get it on your list. Clean the glass inside at least once a month and the glass outside once a year. Your serotonin level will thank you.

#9 Swap Your Solid Front Door for One With Glass Inserts

A solid front door can make your house look and feel as dark as a dungeon.

Get rid of it and install a half-light or full-light door that lets the natural light stream in. For even more natural light, add glass sidelights and a glass transom.

The median cost of a new door is $2,000 for steel and $2,500 for fiberglass, before any extras, but a new door will add curb appeal.

Curb appeal equals higher resale value. And coming home in the evening to the warm glow of light radiating out the glass panels in your front door is an instant mood lifter.

#10 Add a Skylight

It’s the ultimate way to bring more natural light into your house. A window only catches sun for a couple of hours a day, but a skylight lets in the sun all day.

An indoor view of the sky makes deepest January more tolerable. And feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, light streaming from above, is liberating. A skylight, installed, can cost as much as $3,000. A cheaper alternative is a tubular skylight, which costs around $1,000.

If you’re really good with tools, you can install a tubular skylight yourself. Don’t even think about installing a full-blown skylight yourself.

#11 Add Plants

Putting pots of plants around your room will remind you that spring and green will return.

Match plants to the amount of light you have, because dead and dying plants are depressing. Tropicals that thrive in indirect light are usually the best choice. If you have a sunny window you’ve got more plant options.

Bonus points for adding a plant that blooms in the winter, like a kaffir lily or anthurium.

#12 Celebrate National Cream Cheese Brownie Day

February 10 is National Cream Cheese Brownie Day. Really. Since February is when winter is feeling longer than a seminar on insurance underwriting, this is exactly when you need to make cream cheese brownies.

Chocolate won’t make the sun shine longer or your house brighter, but it will make you feel better because … endorphins. Besides, you spent a ton of money on that marble-topped kitchen island and those double ovens, so get baking.

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Got Pets as Holiday Guests? How to Pet-Proof Your House

If you’re hosting family and/or friends for the holidays, bear in mind you might be greeting some furry, four-legged guests too. Like your sister’s incontinent cat … or your old college roommate’s teething puppy. Brace for impact—these animals might do a number on your home! Which means it’s high time to pet-proof your house.

Pets aren’t inherently evil, but having them as houseguests can be tricky.

“When a dog or cat spends time in a foreign environment, they may act out due to anxiety,” explains Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian and owner of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York City.

To help, we’ve got advice from interior experts who’ve been on the receiving end of furry guests.

“Frankly, dogs are like toddlers, no matter how young or old they are, so supervision and containment are a must in every home,” says Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP.

Here’s how to keep the peace when hosting pets (or taking your own furry family members to someone’s house).

How to pet-proof your house: Learn local laws

Just as you would check traffic and weather conditions, brush up on pet ordinances, advises Liff.

“For example, in many places in New York City, dogs can’t walk on the grass, so check out the rules,” she says. Other laws to be aware of include where dogs must be kept on a leash, scooping poop, and the rules on barking.

Watch out for pet threats

“Look for hazards on low counters, including medications on bedside tables and bathroom counters,” warns Jamie Novak, author of “Keep This Toss That.”

Take note of house plants that could be poisonous or entice dogs and cats to start digging.

“And remove anything under the Christmas tree that your pup might chew,” Novak adds.

Also, be sure pantry doors are shut and kitchen counters are clear.

“A dog might be drawn to the peanut butter on the shelf, or he might not realize that plate of bacon isn’t for him,” notes Darla DeMorrow of Heartwork Organizing.

How to clean up pet pee and other accidents

In case of accidents, “keep carpet stain remover handy—or if you’re the guest with a pet, bring a bottle,” says Julie Coraccio, an organizing pro at Reawaken Your Brilliance.

To keep furniture fur-free, “cover with a blanket and close off the rooms where he shouldn’t be at night, when everyone is asleep,” suggests Gray-Plaisted.

Find some distractions

Occupy pets so they don’t wind up destroying furniture, digging holes in lawns, and more. A couple of new toys and some tasty treats are good distractions. (When the pet is done playing, corral its gear, so others won’t trip.)

And since a tired dog is a good dog, get the pooch outside.

“Using up a pet’s energy is an excellent way to ensure the best behavior in someone else’s home,” notes Gray-Plaisted.

Protect floors

A visiting pet’s claws can scratch hardwood flooring and fray carpets. The fix? Put down runners or area rugs in high-traffic areas, DeMorrow suggests.

“And it’s totally OK to ask the owner to give her pet a toenail trim before she arrives,” she adds.

You can also insist that pet visitors stay in gated areas with more durable flooring, such as the laundry area or mud room.

Let Fluffy hide

Timid animals need a safe spot when the house is full of unknown guests.

“Give your kitty an escape route—because not all pets and people get along—and know that it’s completely normal for a cat to crawl under a bed or run to the basement if she’s upset,” says DeMorrow.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

29 Ways to Show Unique Gratitude (and other Random Acts of Kindness)

The smallest things can make all difference in your life and others.

You just need to remember to take the time to show your gratitude and spread your kindness. The world needs it. Thanksgiving is a good reminder that the below ought to be practiced all year.

“The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”

-Albert Einstein

29 Ways to Show Unique Gratitude

  1. Tell someone face to face how much they mean to you.
  2. Write a thank you note (via snail mail).
  3. Send a post card.
  4. Pack your lunch and then give it to those you come across who need it.
  5. Put a stickie note somewhere random that’ll make someone smile (like Operation Beautiful).
  6. Leave a creative smily face for your spouse (I make mine with a banana and two apples in the kitchen).
  7. Smile ear to ear at everyone you see – it’s contagious.
  8. Call someone you know is in a tough spot and just listen for as long as they’d like.
  9. Give your books a new home with a new mind.
  10. Call, email or write your closest 5 people in your life and let them know the unique impact they have on your life.
  11. Pay for the the guy’s Starbucks who’s behind you in line.
  12. Get a $100 in 2-dollar bills from the bank and use them as your tip money – guaranteed smile.
  13. Get a doggy bag no matter how small your leftovers are. Give it to the first person you see who needs it.
  14. Buy a dozen sandwiches and pass then out to homeless folks in a busy area (one of my favorites).
  15. Give a anonymous donation of whatever you can afford.
  16. Buy a lottery ticket for a homeless person.
  17. Take that coat or jacket you never wear and give it to someone on the street (do this with anything you haven’t worn in the past 6 months).
  18. Make a friend their favorite meal.
  19. Or buy them a bottle of wine and drink it together, slowly, with no agenda.
  20. Share an experience with someone you love- perhaps a sunset or special walk.
  21. Send one of my articles to someone you know could use it.
  22. Open a door for someone.
  23. When someone’s having car troubles, instead of speeding by frustrated, stop to help.
  24. Give genuine compliments to those you hardly know (like a waiter or bus driver).
  25. Leave a huge tip (I love doing this with breakfast, since the bill is usually low).
  26. Donate a week of your life to a good cause like Eric Shamas offers with One Week a Year.
  27. Leave an inspirational book on the bus.
  28. Leave a $2 bill (or $1) on a random windshield.
  29. Take a picture for a tourist.
  30. Send this list to to a few friends.

Ok so it looks like you got 30 instead of 29 – Consider it a Thanksgiving bonus.

There is always something to be grateful for.

No matter what your circumstances, as dark as they can seem at times, there is always something worth appreciating. Often the most important times to be grateful are during the most difficult times. Gratitude is a powerful emotion. When you are truly grateful in the moment, it’s impossible to feel fear or stress or anxiety, or any of those negative emotions that keep us for experiencing our potential. Allow gratitude to take over.

Flood yourself with gratitude today (and everyday).

Use the above as your guide to realizing how awesome you have it. Go on a walk or a run or just sit outside (ideally in nature), bring your journal if you have it, and start to flood your head with what is amazing in life right now.

  • What have you created for yourself and others?
  • What unique dent are you putting in the world?
  • What are you truly grateful for?

These can be as big as selling your business or as small as seeing a smile or waking up above ground.

The simpler things you can find gratitude in, the more often you’ll find yourself inundated in it.

What could you do for others to help them experience this? What simple things will bring a smile to those around you? Dedicated a small (or big) portion of your day and you’ll begin to experience life on a whole new level.

This is how I start each day. It’s awesome. Pair it with a workout (or something you’re already doing) and there’s no excuse.

Every purpose involves helping others.

We are not complete on our own. What makes life rich is the way we interact and serve others. The more you do it, the richer the results.

Go out and touch some people in a way only you can.

Start with the simplest (and most powerful) show of gratitude there is: Spend time with the people you love and those who love you. Simple as that. Be there with them and be purely present. There is no sign of love, thanks and kindness more genuine.

 

 

How Long Does It Take to Build Credit History From Scratch?

How long does it take to build credit history? If you ever plan to buy a house, establishing a track record of past payments is essential, because it proves to mortgage lenders that you’ve paid people back (which means they’ll be more apt to loan you money for a home).

Still, if you have no credit history—because you’re young or just never bothered—how long does it take to build it from scratch?

Here’s the straight dope: Done right, it can take as little as six months. Done wrong? It can take several years. So if you’re in a rush to establish credit to buy a home, you’ll want to know the right way to go about it! Heed this advice to learn what to do.

How long does it take to build credit?

At a minimum, you need to open at least one credit card in your name. From there, you just need to make a purchase using the card, and then make a payment. Once you’ve made your payment, your creditor will report your payment to one or more of the major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).

“Typically, it takes at least three to six months of activity before a credit score can be calculated,” says Tracy East, director of communication at Consumer Education Services in Raleigh, NC.

Once you’ve established credit, you still have some work to do. Credit histories are scored based on performance, much like the grades you got in school. Healthy credit behavior—like on-time payments and staying well below your credit limit—lead to a higher credit score.

What’s more, there are two types of scores: VantageScores and FICOscores. Some mortgage lenders may look at a VantageScore, but FHA lenders are required to use FICO scores.

“After opening their first credit account and beginning to make timely payments, it will take at least three months for the person to generate a VantageScore, and six months to have enough information to create a FICO score,” says Martin Lynch, compliance manager and director of education at Cambridge Credit Counseling of Agawam, MA.

And the longer you demonstrate good credit behavior, the higher your score can climb from there. In other words, a couple of on-time payments is nice, but years and years of on-time payments is far more impressive, and reflected in your score accordingly. In fact, the length of your credit history can count for as much as 15% of your credit score.

What credit score do you need to get a mortgage?

Your initial credit score when building credit will typically be in the 660s, which is considered on the low end of “fair” (fair scores range from 650 to 699). It could be just enough to buy a house with some lenders, but not all, because lenders vary regarding the minimum credit score they will accept.

You should also know that while a “fair” score may get you a mortgage, it won’t qualify you for the best mortgage—in terms of interest rates and other deals. To get better mortgage rates, you will need a good score (700 to 759) or an excellent score (760 or higher). Unfortunately, achieving these scores will take (you guessed it) more time.

How to speed up the credit-building process

To establish a payment history, use your card reasonably. Make payments on time (or early, if possible). Setting up automatic payments can help. East recommends keeping your balance below 30% of your credit limit and, ideally, paying it off in full each month. These simple steps will eventually push your score from fair to good to excellent, allowing you to get the best rates for your mortgage.

Here are some other ways to speed up the credit-building process and ensure your credit history and score get off to a good start.

  • Become an authorized user on someone elses account. This can be a parent, friend, or relative who has had the account for at least a few years and has a good payment history. You dont need to use the account or even have a card. Once youre added as an authorized user and that fact is reported to the credit bureaus, it will instantly affect your credit and may generate a score if you dont already have one or, at least, give it a boost.
  • Get a secured credit card or loan. If youre having trouble qualifying for a traditional credit card, try for a secured credit card, which is “secured” by a deposit. This means that if you default or stop paying, your deposit will be used to pay off the account. This lowers the risk involved for the lender, which makes it more likely to offer you credit even if you dont have an established credit history.

Also know that when it comes to mortgages, your credit score is just one piece of a larger puzzle. According to Lynch, your lender will also look at your employment history, how long you’ve lived at your current residence, and your credit references.

Article by Melinda Sineriz

Cleaning Your House for Guests: A Checklist

Countdown to a perfectly clean guest-ready home no matter how much — or little — time you have.

It feels great to have a clean, organized, well-functioning home when you’ve got guests coming. Especially around the holidays. It’s like your gift to you.

Here’s how to get that satisfying feeling — no matter how much time you have. Just choose your starting point on this checklist:

Three (or More) Weeks to Go

Think big picture. Get anything that requires a pro or installation out of the way now. No one wants calamity to strike when guests are pulling into the driveway.

  • Get your HVAC maintained if it’s overdue.
  • If you have a self-cleaning oven, clean it now. An oven is most likely to break down during the cleaning cycle, so don’t save this task for last.
  • Replace any appliance on its last legs. You don’t want your hot water to go out or fridge on the fritz with a houseful of guests.
  • Steam-clean upholstery. (Or hire a pro. It’s a big job)
  • Hire a handyman for those repairs you’ve been putting off.
  • Check outdoor lighting. Replace old bulbs and call an electrician to address any bigger issues.

Two Weeks to Go

It’s not panic time yet. Focus on decluttering and a few deep-cleaning tasks now, and you’ll have a more manageable to-do list when the clock really starts ticking down.

  • Do a deep declutter. It’ll make things easier to keep clean.
  • Dust ceiling fans, light fixtures, and high-up shelves.
  • Wipe down baseboards.
  • Clean out and organize the fridge.
  • Wash windows to make the entire house feel brighter and cleaner.
  • Toss washable shower curtains and drapes in the washing machine and re-hang. Easy.

One Week to Go

It’s strategic cleaning time. Here’s what to tackle now — things your family won’t easily undo before your guests arrive.

  • Declutter again.
  • Vacuum and dust guest rooms. If they’re low-traffic, the cleanliness should hold with just a quick wipe-down right before they arrive.
  • Wipe down walls.
  • Wipe down kitchen and dining room chairs and tables, including the legs. You’d be surprised how grimy they get.
  • Deep clean the entryway — and make room for your guests’ stuff.

72 Hours to Go

The final cleaning stretch is on the horizon.

  • Do another declutter.
  • In the kitchen, toss stove burners, drip pans, and knobs into the dishwasher for an easy deep clean.
  • Wash kitchen cabinet fronts.
  • Scrub the kitchen floor.
  • Clean and shine appliances.

48 Hours to Go

Now it’s time to get serious.

  • Clean and sanitize garbage cans to banish mystery smells.
  • Wipe down doorknobs, faceplates, and light switches. They’re germ magnets.
  • Clean the front door.
  • Deep clean the bathroom your guests will use, and close it off if possible.
  • Wash guest towels and linens.

24 Hours to Go

Your guests’ bags are packed. Time for final touches.

  • Do a final declutter – by now it shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
  • Give one final wipe-down to toilets, tubs, and bathroom sinks.
  • And another final wipe-down in the kitchen.
  • Do all the floors: mop, vacuum, sweep, etc.
  • Make guest beds and set out clean towels.
  • Plug in nightlights in guest baths.
  • Put out guest toiletries so they’re easy to find.
  • Add a coffee or tea station in the guest room or kitchen.
  • Get your favorite smell going, whether it’s a scented candle, spices in water on the stove, or essential oils.
  • Use rubber gloves to wipe off pet hair and dust from furniture. It works.
  • Do the full red carpet: Sweep or shovel porch, steps, and outdoor walkways.
Article by ANNE MILLER

11 “Wow!” Ways to Binge-Organize Your Home in 1 Hour

Because you don’t have time for a Marie Kondo-style overhaul.

When you’ve gotta get your house organized — and fast! — you don’t want to lay hands on everything you own, or ask if those objects have brought you joy. You just want to clear clutter with a minimum of fuss and muss.

Here’s how.

#1 Put Jewelry in Ice Cube Trays

Stack a couple in a vanity drawer for a super cheap solution to your tangled heap of earrings and necklaces.

You can get a pack of three for less than your daily coffee fix (less than $3).

Not only will your bling be tidy, you’ll also be prepared if your icemaker dies.

#2 Hang Scarves With Shower Curtain Rings

Stop neckwear chaos in your closet with a clothes hanger and a pack of cheap shower curtain rings. Pull your scarves out of the drawer (or corner) they’re stuffed in, and string them on the rings.

Twelve plastic ones cost $4 to $8. For a sleeker look, go with metal rings. Ooo. Fancy.

#3 Suspend Shower Supplies From a Tension Rod

They’re good for more than shower curtains.

Use shower curtain rings to hang baskets for small stuff like razors or soap, and shower clip rings for larger items. Just make sure the rod is sturdy enough to hold the weight of the bottles.

#4 Tame the Freezer With Magazine Organizers

Stop those pell-mell piles of frozen food from tumbling out on the kitchen floor.

Pick up some magazine organizers from an office supply store, and put your pizzas, popsicles, and Eggos in them.

Use plastic ones that can stand up to leaking cartons of Ben and Jerry’s and other gooey messes.

#5 Store Bobby Pins on a Magnetic Strip

Corral your hair pins by sticking a magnetic strip inside your vanity drawer and putting your pins on it.

A roll of 1-inch-wide, adhesive-backed magnet tape sells for about $7. You can also store barrettes and small tweezers this way.

#6 Slip a CD Holder Into a Cabinet to Organize Plastic Lids

Arrange them from smallest to largest so you can grab the one you need, fast. If you can’t find a CD rack (which is possible because, iTunes), use a desktop letter organizer.

#7 Tame Cords and Cables With Toilet Paper Rolls

How simple is this? Coil cable, put it into the roll, and write the type of cable on the roll.

Then you can decorate with washi tape so it looks less toilet paper roll-y, and you’ve escaped cord chaos. The cost of this hack is zero, because you’re buying toilet paper anyway.

#8 Hang Measuring Cups, Spoons Inside a Cabinet Door

Get your measuring utensils out of the drawer and at your fingertips.

Coat the door with chalkboard paint so you can label them by size and scribble a handy-dandy measuring equivalent chart. Be sure your measuring utensils have holes in the handles so you can hang them.

#9 Stash Your Styling Tools in a Wire Basket

Put it on the side of your vanity to keep your hair appliances and their cords contained and at the ready.

Use hooks with suction cups so you won’t damage your cabinet with nails or adhesive.

And be sure to use a metal holder so you can put your flat iron back while it’s cooling. Because plastic melts.

#10 Hang Shower Supplies With Suction Cup Hooks and Hair Bands

Round up that sloppy gaggle of bottles and razors in your shower with this cheap-as-dirt-storage hack.

Be sure to get hooks rated to hold at least a pound so you can hang a full-sized bottle of shampoo.

#11 Whip a Drawer Into Shape With an Egg Carton

Use of all your eggs to make omelets, then fill the empty carton with the contents of your junk drawer.

The carton’s biodegradable, so you won’t be adding to the planet’s glut of plastic. A dozen eggs is $2 to $4, and the carton’s free.

If you’re a vegan with messy drawers, go with tip No. 1 above.

Article by LEANNE POTTS

Garlic Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

These crispy bacon, garlic and balsamic roasted brussels sprouts are packed with flavor and make the perfect side dish for anytime!  Whole30 and paleo friendly, plus kid approved!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb brussels sprouts halved (or quartered for larger ones)
  • 4-6 slices nitrate free bacon sugar free for whole30
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spread brussels sprouts in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Cut bacon into pieces, then sprinkle all over Brussels sprouts.
  2. Roast in the preheated oven for 15 mins, then stir and return to single layer and continue to roast another 5-10 mins until bacon is crisp. Drizzle all over with vinegar and sprinkle with the garlic.
  3. Continue to roast another 5-7 mins or until browned and crispy. Serve as a side dish anytime! Enjoy!

‘The Best Mortgage Advice I’ve Heard, Ever’

When it comes to mortgages, there’s an avalanche of advice out there—some good, some bad, and some that’s flat-out great. You know, the type of wisdom that makes you so grateful you heard it, it sticks with you and gets passed along to all who care to hear it.

With the hopes of delivering only these golden nuggets of wisdom, we asked homeowners to tell us the very best mortgage advice they’ve been lucky enough to learn. You won’t be sorry you read this!

Keep your monthly mortgage payment under one paycheck

“This might seem pretty simple, but I was once told not to freak out so much about the total cost of the mortgage, but to make sure that when all is said and done, I could handle most if not all of the monthly payment in one paycheck. That has worked out really well for me and my husband, especially because we work in media, which is unstable. But with a low mortgage payment, we know that whatever happens, we can handle it.” – Starrene Rocque, Brooklyn, NY

Shop around for the best interest rate

“My brother told me to shop for the best interest rate, even if it means that I had to get quotes from more than five lenders or brokers. At first I resisted, not only due to the hassle, but because I didn’t want those companies individually pulling my credit report, since I’d heard this type of ‘hard’ credit inquiry would drag down my score. He told me that a credit pull for mortgage purposes within a set period of time only counted as one hard credit inquiry. His suggestion helped me get the interest I needed and will save me a lot of money in the long run.” – Allan Liwanag, Lexington Park, MD

Multiple quotes can help with more than just interest rates

“When I first started shopping for homes, my real estate agent advised me to start the application process with more than one lender by filling out online financial forms for my top three. Though I was initially hesitant because of the extra time it would take to fill out the paperwork, doing so set me up for multiple interest rate quote estimates. Plus, the lenders knew I was serious and [were] in competition for my business, so they were especially prompt and attentive in answering my questions and returning my calls. The interest rates I qualified for were all comparable, so I ended up going with the lender that was the best communicator, which is worth its weight in gold when getting a mortgage.” – Rebecca Graham, Provo, UT .

Lock in your interest rate for as long as possible

“I bought my first home in 2016, a bankruptcy sale. Even though the listing agent and the attorney both told me that the escrow would last no more than 60 days, my agent recommended that I lock in my mortgage interest rate for the longest time possible, 90 days. It is a good thing I did, because my escrow ended up taking five months! Since I locked in the rate for the longest time allowed, the bank accommodated my situation and I didn’t lose my great rate.” – Goldie Winge, Los Angeles, CA

An ARM is a risk—even if you think you’ll move soon

“In 2007, when purchasing my first property, I anticipated owning the house for three to five years max. This led many mortgage brokers to say I should get an adjustable-rate mortgage or, ARM, since they had lower interest rates than fixed-rate loans, and besides, I’d be long gone before the interest rate on my ARM ballooned. I’m so glad I stuck to my guns about not wanting an ARM, no matter how enticing the low interest rate. Although I’d planned to move, the economy and life caused me to adjust my original plan and stay put in the house much longer than I thought.” – Nerissa Marbury, Katy, TX

Make extra mortgage payments whenever possible

“Although you only have to pay a certain amount for your mortgage each month, pay extra when you can. You would be shocked at what even one or two extra payments per year can do over the length of a loan.” – Dave August, Point of Rocks, MD

Get a mortgage that allows you to save for retirement, too

“The best advice I’ve gotten was to get a 30-year fixed-rate loan, even though I could have afforded the higher payments of a 15-year loan. Why? My lower payments bought me a ton of flexibility. I’ve been investing the difference, and it’s been quite rewarding. I figure that if I invested that extra $1,000 each month in stocks that earned 7 percentage points over the 3.5% interest on my loan—I’d be about $100,000 ahead over the seven-year period that I’ve held the loan.” – Kathy Kristof, Los Angeles. CA

Article by Melinda Sineriz

In Observance of Veterans Day

Ever wonder why Veterans day is on the 11th and does not change? World War I ended on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour.

Yesterday I saw a man selling poppies stop a lady and asked if he could re-position her poppy. While doing so he told the lady she should wear the poppy on their right side; the red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much.

The leaf should be positioned at 11 o’clock to represent the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War I formally ended. He was worried that younger generations wouldn’t understand this and his generation wouldn’t be around much longer to teach them. We must remember those from our current wars too!

For those that do not know, the eleventh day of the eleventh month is Veterans Day! Please pass this knowledge on to those who don’t know the meaning and who care enough to know.

Winter Safety Tips for Your Dog in Snow

There’s nothing quite like watching a dog experience snow for the first time. What the heck is all this white stuff? Must dig in and try to gobble it up! But before letting your dog go wild in the snow, make sure you’re taking these safety precautions provided by one of our expert veterinarians.

 

1. GET YOUR DOG USED TO THE SNOW GRADUALLY

“The key is acclimation,” says Ruth Ann Lobos, veterinarian and Purina’s Senior Manager of Training. “If they seem fine and aren’t shivering or trying to get in, it’s perfectly fine for them to stay outside for longer periods as long as they’re building up to it.” Start them out with small stints outside so their coats and paws will have time to adjust.

 

2. REMEMBER THAT COLDNESS DEPENDS ON THE DOG

Puppies will have a harder time regulating their body temperatures outside, and senior dogs can have issues like diabetes or an altered metabolism that can make it harder for them to adjust. Smaller dogs with thinner coats will shiver more than dogs bred to be outside in the cold.

3. PREP YOUR DOG!

If you notice your dog tends to be cold, stock up on sweaters, coats or dog booties. Some dogs will even get cold indoors! Avoid shaving your dog in the winter and start wiping off your dog’s paws when he comes inside after being outside, especially if he has long hair that will keep the pads of his paws wet.

 

4. USE YOUR INTUITION

If it’s literally colder than Mars outside (which actually happened in the Midwest last year), limit your dog’s time outside. If a cold wind is penetrating your ski jacket, it’s probably too cold for a dog to play outside for an extended period of time too. And watch the dog for signs of discomfort. Holding up a paw because it’s frozen means it’s time to come in. “If it’s Minnesota cold, 17 and 20 degrees below, you wouldn’t want to stay outside more than 15 or 20 minutes with these guys,” Lobos says.

 

5. MAKE POTTY TIME QUICKER AND EASIER

Try shoveling a patch of grass for your dog to run to during potty time. If they opt to go on the carpet instead, try taking them outside for two or three-minute jaunts and give them a treat every time they come in, just like when you were potty training. This will help incentivize them to learn a new routine. If your regular area is too cold, try a new area with less snow or overhead protection from falling rain or snow.

 

6. WATCH OUT FOR ROCK SALT AND ANTIFREEZE

Rock salt is going to be everywhere, so try and keep your dog from eating it. It isn’t toxic, but it can upset their stomachs. It may also rub on the pads of their paws to cause irritation. Dog-safe rock salt might be a great option for your home.

Be extra vigilant about keeping your dog away from antifreeze. It tastes sweet, but is extremely toxic. Look out for blue or green-colored substances on driveways, sidewalks and car surfaces.

 

7. LEARN HOW TO WARM UP YOUR DOG

If your dog seems too cold, try covering them in a towel or blanket. You can also use a blow dryer at the low setting (too high could burn the dog) to warm them up. Avoid heating pads, which could also cause burns, although warming some rice in a sock in the microwave is an excellent and dog-safe alternative. Put it against your wrist first to make sure it’s not too hot.

A dog’s normal body temperature should range from 99.5-102.5 degrees. (To get your dog’s temperature, you’ll need to use a rectal thermometer.)

 

8. TREAT CRACKED PADS

Try a moisturizer originally made for cow udders to soothe your dog’s paws. After applying anything to his feet, keep him busy with a puzzle feeder or treat so that he won’t lick it right off. You can try preventing this type of damage by putting your dog in booties or by cleaning off the pads of his feet every time he comes inside.

 

9. GIVE YOUR DOG PLENTY OF EXERCISE

It can be hard to get moving with your dog on a cold day, but letting your dog stay idle could lead to destructive or nervous behaviors due to all that pent-up energy. Once your dog is acclimated and prepared for the cold, it’s ok to continue walks and backyard play. You can even build a little agility course in your backyard with piles of snow!

If your area is just too cold, try finding an indoor gym for dogs. Puzzle feeders are also a great option for keeping your dog busy on a long, cold winter day.

Best of luck enjoying the winter snow with the dog you love!

16 Incredibly Useful Rules for an Organized Home

Homes don’t clean themselves. But these easy-peasy rules (wake and make!) will make you feel like they do.

Here’s the thing you may have noticed about houses: They don’t clean themselves.

Which is unfortunate, because if houses cleaned themselves you could spend less time cleaning yours, and more time doing something more fun, like watching “The Golden Girls,” because dang, that’s actually a great show.

A few simple daily habits could make it seem like you’ve got a self-cleaning house.

Rules like …

#1 Dedicate 20 Minutes a Day Every Day

You don’t need to set aside 20 hours one day to get things in order. You only need 20 minutes every day.

Focus on tackling clutter in just one room. You might only pare down a single drawer or shelf, but “it will make you feel accomplished at the end of the day, and at the end of a week, you will see how much you can declutter,” says professional organizer Helena Alkhas.

#2 Follow a “One-Minute” Rule

Small tasks add up quickly when you’re saving them to do all at once. So if it takes less than a minute to complete, do it immediately.

Put that cup in the dishwasher rather than the sink.

Break down that Amazon box for recycling right after you unbox your goodie.

(Hot tip: Want a reminder of how much you can get done in a minute? Next time your coffee goes cold, pop it in the microwave for a minute, and just stand there. For the whole minute. It’s kind of a long time.)

#3 Start a Load of Laundry Before Work

If you have a full load in the hamper, toss it in while you’re getting ready for work. By the time you leave, it will be ready for the dryer.

When you get home, you’ll already feel ahead of schedule with just a little fluffing and folding to do. Just make sure you’ve properly maintained your dryer to reduce the risk of a fire.

#4 Always Leave a Room With Something in Hand

Whatever room you’re in, chances are there’s a toy, cup, blanket or T-shirt that needs to be delivered back to another room.

Oh hey, conveniently, you’re always walking into other rooms. Why not pickup a hitchhiker or two?

Every time you leave a room, take a quick scan for anything that belongs where you’re going, and you’ll start habitually keeping clutter under control.

#5 Deal With Your Mail Every Time You Bring It In

With so much of your important mail going straight to your inbox, sometimes you’ve got days of fliers and junk mail to wade through every time you make it to the USPS mailbox.

To banish paper clutter from your home — and make sure you catch anything actually worth reading — immediately sort through your mail, recycling the nonsense and putting the keepers in an assigned spot.

#6 Scan and Trash Weekly

You don’t really have to choose between forgetting what time the reception starts and stumbling over your cousin’s wedding invite for three months.

Thanks to this fancy technology stuff, you can clear out all receipts, invitations, insurance documents, and other important paperwork.

Take a few minutes every weekend to scan and save everything, then toss it all it the recycling. With smartphone apps like Genius Scan, you always have the tools in the palm of your hand.

#7 Tidy Up During Downtime

In the five minutes it takes to nuke your lunch, you can unload and possibly reload the dishwasher, or wipe off the countertops and appliances. You’ll be surprised how much order you can restore to your home during these normally wasted waiting-on-something moments.

#8 Make Your Bed as Soon as You Get Up

There’s a reason the Marines start the day with this simple task — also known as “wake and make.”

According to retired Admiral William H. McRaven, author of “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World,” “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”

#9 Do Chores in the Same Order

Whether you’re cleaning on a Saturday or Wednesday, your mind (and body) will move more quickly from vacuuming to mopping to dusting if you check chores off in the same order — making it easier to keep your home tidy and clean.

Headphones and a throwback playlist are a recommended, but not required, part of the routine.

#10 Spot-Clean Bathrooms Nightly

Just as clutter attracts clutter, bathroom funk quickly multiplies.

Stock every bathroom with Lysol wipes and you can quickly and easily clean the countertop and toilet when you brush your teeth or help the kids get ready for bed, Alkhas says.

While wiping, you’ll naturally put away the floss, hair ties, and other clutter in your path.

#11 Stop Dirt and Clutter at the Door

Establish a house rule that shoes, bags, jackets, and “pocket items” — your keys, sunglasses, wallet, and phone — are stowed in a drop zone at the door.

Make this easy to enforce by assigning one hook and open shelf for every member of the family — double that for those with lots of extracurriculars, Alkhas says.

#12 Clean Out the Fridge Weekly

Don’t let moldy leftovers take over shelf space and your mind.

The night before your garbage day, “wipe off the shelves and clean out anything that has no chance of being eaten,” Alkhas says. You’ll get a clearer view of your food options and open up space for ingredients needed in the coming week.

#13 Empty the Dishwasher Every Morning

The conquest of a homemade dinner (OK, a “home-prepared” dinner, most days) feels short-lived when you’re left with a mountain of dishes and no place to put them.

Take a couple minutes every morning to empty the dishwasher and you’ll stay ahead of the game.

#14 Conduct a Nightly Tidy-Up

Every night, take a laundry basket on a tour of your house and pick up anything that’s out of place. “You don’t have to put it away now. If you want, plan to do it on Saturday and it won’t take much time at all,” Alkhas says.

If there are more than two people in your household, separate the day’s clutter into assigned baskets for each family member to put away daily or weekly.

With this routine, Alkas adds, “you’ll wake up to a living room that’s decluttered and a kitchen that is tidy, and you can start your day fresh.”

#15 Follow a Clean-Out Schedule for Your Storage Areas

Just because it’s hidden behind a cupboard door doesn’t mean it’s exempt from clutter status.

Establish a schedule, perhaps every month, to rid a specific storage space of its dead weight — like expired food in the pantry, excess gadgets in a kitchen drawer, or the cupboard holding the gazillion ragged dishtowels you’ve had since your tiny college studio apartment. (It’s time to let those go.)

#16 Keep Everyone Involved

When one person leaves a dish in the sink, it paves a slippery slope for others to follow suit.

So have a “The Brady Bunch”-style family meeting to make sure everyone understands their responsibilities and chores for maintaining order in the home. Serve brownies. They’ll show up.

Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT

How to Buy a House for $10,000 Upfront (or Less!)

Pssst … wanna know how to buy a house for just $10,000 upfront, max? No, this isn’t a scam, or a ploy to lure you into purchasing some rickety shack in the middle of nowhere. We’re talking about a nice house in a nice neighborhood—for no more than a hundred Benjamins.

We get why you’re skeptical, given the high price of homes today. According to realtor.com data, America’s median home price rose 7% last year to $295,000. And since many assume a 20% down payment is required to buy a home, that would amount to you coughing up $59,000 before you ever move in! No wonder many of us expect to spend years scrimping and saving to be able to make our home-buying dreams come true.

But here’s a reality check: The upfront costs of buying a home have a lot more wiggle room than you might think.

It largely comes down to trimming two variables: your down payment and closing costs. Here’s the scoop on how to whittle these down to size so all you need is $10,000—or even less—to buy a home of your own.

How to buy a home for $10,000: Tips to trim your down payment

Here’s the secret, in a nutshell: Yes, a 20% down payment is traditionally recommended for conventional loans since it allows you to avoid paying an extra monthly fee called private mortgage insurance (PMI). But that doesn’t mean 20% is necessary.

As such, the first key to buying a home for $10,000 or less is to take out a mortgage that requires little money down, or no down payment at all. There are four options available.

Veterans Affairs loans

If you or your spouse serve or served in the military, you may qualify for a Veterans Affairs (VA) loan. Under this program, the VA guarantees the loan, reducing the risk to the lender. You can finance up to 100% of the house’s cost, so you won’t have to come up with any money for a down payment. Just keep in mind that there are minimum requirements for your income and credit score that vary by lender, so it’s a good idea to shop around for a VA loan to ensure you get the best deal.

There are some fees associated with VA loans, but they can be rolled into the total loan amount that you make payments toward monthly.

According to Jennifer Beeston, vice president of mortgage lending with Rate.com, there are many myths about VA loans that cause people to avoid them.

“Many veterans do not use their VA loans because they hear they are too difficult,” she said. “But honestly, VA loans are very easy and offer a tremendous benefit to the borrower.”

USDA loans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers loans to Americans with low to moderate incomes who want to buy a home in a rural area. Like with VA loans, you can borrow up to 100% of the home’s cost, eliminating the need for a down payment. USDA loans do have some fees, but you can roll them into the mortgage.

“USDA loans are fantastic loans that many people do not know about, but should,” Beeston says.

You’ll need to pay ongoing fees for mortgage insurance, he notes, but it’s less than an FHA or conventional mortgage.

FHA loans

If you don’t qualify for VA or USDA loans, another option to consider is a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan. With an FHA loan, you still have to come up with a down payment, but it’s only 3.5% of the home’s price.

For the median $295,000 home, that would mean a down payment of $10,325. On a $150,000 home, you’d only have to put down $5,250. Depending on where you live, that could be enough to buy an excellent house in a great area.

The one downside? Because you’re making a small down payment, you will need to pay mortgage insurance (PMI). But you can roll that cost into your total mortgage.

Credit union loans

Some credit unions offer mortgages that require only a small down payment, or no payment at all. It’s wise to check out local credit unions in your area to see what kind of home loans they can offer you.

How to lower your home closing costs

Even if you get a home loan that covers 100% of the home’s cost, you typically need to come up with thousands of dollars to cover closing costs. Those are the fees paid to third parties who facilitate the sale of a home. They include the loan origination fee, credit report fee, title search fee, and more.

While closing costs vary widely, they typically total 2% to 7% of the home’s purchase price. So on a $295,000 home, your closing costs would amount to about $5,900 to $20,650.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to raise that money yourself. There are two other ways to cover closing costs.

Ask the seller to cover it

One of the best ways to pay for closing costs is to negotiate with the home’s seller to cover some or all of the costs. Depending on the housing market in your area, sellers may be anxious to close a deal quickly and will be more motivated to pay for your closing costs just to get the sale over with. If you show a willingness to close quickly, you will have more bargaining power.

“If you have zero money saved, I have seen Realtors ask the seller to cover 3% of closing costs,” said Beeston. “If the house is under $150,000, you may need to ask for more than 3%, but that’s something the Realtor can negotiate.”

Look for closing-cost assistance programs

A number of states offer first-time home buyer programs and closing-cost assistance grants. In return for a commitment of living in your new home for at least a few years, you can get a grant to help with closing costs. To find programs near you, check out your state housing authority.

Bottom line? When it comes to buying a home, we typically expect to spend years scraping up enough money to cover a down payment and closing costs—but that might not be necessary. There are plenty of ways to downsize not only your down payment, but those pesky closing costs to put homeownership within reach for as little as $10,000, or even less.

Article by Kat Tretina

Home Buyers Reveal: ‘What I Wish I Had Known Before Buying My First Home’

Love. Terror. Giddiness. Teeth-gnashing desperation. Buying your first home involves all these emotions, and more. And like so many other milestones in life, you won’t fully understand it until you go through the process yourself.

In an effort to clue you into some of the challenges you’ll face as a first-time home buyer, we asked some folks who’ve already gone through the ringer to spill what they wish they’d known earlier that would have saved them a ton of time, effort, and tears. Here’s to hoping their 20/20 hindsight will help pave your own path to homeownership.

Even if a home looks ‘perfect,’ it has problems

First-time home buyer Hunt Ethridge fell hard for a recently renovated house in Jersey City, NJ, which looked like it was in absolutely perfect condition. What could go wrong?

The home inspection, that’s what.

“My home inspector found a laundry list of issues,” Ethridge says. “He pointed out that the hardwood floor had been lacquered without sweeping, so dirt was sealed into it. Kitchen appliances were broken. Some windows were missing caulking. Worst of all was an old underground oil tank.”

After recovering from his shock, Ethridge used this info to renegotiate a lower price with the home sellers. He is grateful he didn’t pass on the home inspection and urges all home buyers to never skip this step.

“The last thing you want to discover after you buy is a major problem that could have been identified early on,” he says.

The takeaway: No matter how nice a home looks, a home inspection is the only way to make sure you aren’t buying a lemon, says Jane Peters, broker and owner of Home Jane Realty in Los Angeles. “You don’t have to ask the home seller to make repairs,” she adds, “but you do need to know whether you should proceed with the purchase or not.”

Step away from the computer

Jonathan Cooper and his wife had a baby on the way, so they were ready and raring to buy their first home in Royersford, PA. They spent hours scrolling through real estate listings and Googling questions such as “how much home can I afford?”

This was all well and good, but at some point, a mortgage broker gave him some sage advice: “Stop Googling, move away from the computer and into the real world.”

Sure, online surfing and research serve a purpose, but if you’re serious about buying a home, “it’s not until you get pre-approved for a mortgage that the home-buying process gets real,” Cooper points out.

The takeaway: “You can’t get pre-approved by plugging in simple numbers on a mortgage calculator,” Peters says. “You need an experienced lender who will take a detailed history and require documentation of your assets and income. This is the only way you’ll establish if you qualify for a mortgage and for how much.”

Never miss a deadline

When Steven Mingilton and his brother found the perfect condo in Denver and their offer was accepted, they wanted to celebrate. However, their lender informed them that the closing process would take about two months. “And within those 60 days, we had a hefty to-do list,” Mingilton says.

Mingilton and his brother struggled to keep up with the copious paperwork and nearly missed an essential appointment to complete their loan.

“We had to beg and plead our case,” Mingilton remembers. “Thankfully, we were able to hustle and finalize.”

The takeaway: “Buying a home requires you to stay on top of your to-do items, especially during the escrow process where there may be penalties for missing a deadline,” says Peters. “Prime among this is the three-day requirement to send in your deposit. Miss that and you may miss out on the deal.”

Choose a lender you like

Newbie home buyer Aaron Norris loved the real estate agent who helped him find his Riverside, CA, residence, but his lender was a “total jerk.”

“I couldn’t believe how disengaged and unprofessional he was,” Norris recalls. “He wouldn’t return emails or phone calls in a timely manner. He dragged his feet on a transaction that required speed, and he simply did not communicate.”

Although everything worked out OK in the end, he regrets not shopping for a lender he liked: “I felt like I was working for him and that he was not on my team.”

The takeaway: “A lender can make or break a deal, so choose wisely,” says Peters. “One of the main things to look for besides the loan rate is the responsiveness of the lender. They need to move fast or the deal may fail.”

Here are some questions to ask mortgage lenders to help you decide which one is right for you.

Summon reserves of patience

While hunting for their first home in Omaha, NB, Jordan Bath and her partner put in several offers on different properties—all of which fell through.

“At the time, it was a major disappointment,” she recalls. Their real estate agent kept advising them to be patient. Sure enough, after a year of losing out on properties, the perfect home fell into their laps.

“Our agent overheard a contractor mention he was doing work on a house in our dream neighborhood,” Bath recalls. “She asked him for the address and seller’s information, and we were able to purchase the house without it ever hitting the market.”

Now, Bath says, they can look back at those frustrating “misses” and realize “they weren’t meant to be.”

The takeaway: It’s tough not to get disheartened while house hunting, says Peters. “Competition is fierce, and you need to prepare yourself for the long haul.”

You may need to adjust your criteria so more possibilities are opened up. In the meantime, “keep making those offers,” Peters says. “One of them will get accepted.”

Article by Stephanie Booth