Why 2 Finance Experts Still Struggled To Buy This House

Tony Matheson

Think two seasoned certified financial planners would have an easy time buying a house? Tony and Barbara Matheson would beg to differ.

In fall 2019, these empty nesters found themselves itching to downsize from their large rental in the ultraexpensive San Francisco Bay Area. Hoping to buy a reasonably priced house within walking distance of restaurants and other amenities, they set their sights on Sacramento, CA. Armed with a healthy income, solid credit history, and a deep knowledge of personal finances—plus they’d owned property before—they figured they would sail through the home-buying process.

Six months and three lost bidding wars later, they realized that Sacramento’s real estate market was far more cutthroat than they’d imagined.

In March, the Mathesons finally purchased a three-bedroom, one-bathroom 1926 Tudor on a tree-lined street. With the closing papers signed, they figured they were home-free—but COVID-19 was about to throw another curveball into the picture.

Here Tony shares their story, and his hard-won lessons for aspiring first-time home buyers and others who want to learn what buying real estate is really like today.

Tony and Barbara Matheson’s new home in Sacramento, CATony Matheson

Location: Sacramento, CA
House specs: 1,225 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
List price: $550,000
Price paid: $580,000

Why did you decide to move?

We’d been living in the Bay Area and were looking to downsize since both of our kids had moved out. We wanted to be near downtown Sacramento, close to restaurants, bars, museums, and coffee shops.

I’d think home buying would be a breeze for two finance pros. How did it go?

I was really surprised by how tough the market was. After five months touring homes, we made an offer on our first house. This house went into a bidding war; we had to raise our bid five times before tapping out.

Next, we fell in love with a second home. This time, we offered the sellers $30,000 over the asking price. The sellers had so many other bids, they never even bothered to counter our offer.

We found a third home, and once again bid over the asking price. But after five tries, we lost out again. It was heartbreaking.

How awful! Why do you think these homes sold to other buyers?

We came prepared with what most consider strong financials for making an offer on a single-family home: great credit scores, a significant down payment, pre-approval for a mortgage. We offered good earnest moneyand 15-day escrow, didn’t include an appraisal contingency, and probably had a few other bonuses to the seller that I’ve forgotten. So we were doing everything “right.”

What we were finding is that we were up against some other buyers who were making all-cash offers, sometimes $50,000 above the asking price. How does anyone compete with that?

So how did you finally get an offer accepted?

We were extremely fortunate that we had a great real estate agent who was able to find a home that hadn’t been listed yet. We could negotiate one on one with the seller without having to compete against multiple offers.

The sellers had planned to invest $30,000 to $40,000 on home improvements before putting it on the market. We offered to buy the house as is, without the improvements. After going back and forth a few times, the sellers took our offer.  

What did you like about this house?

We knew within 5 seconds of walking into the house that this was the one. It was the perfect neighborhood. We were close to everything, within walking distance to plenty of bars and restaurants. The outdoor area is gorgeous. Beautiful trees surround our house, and the house is the perfect size for us.

The living room of Tony and Barbara’s Sacramento homeTony Matheson

So once your offer was accepted, what happened next?

The sellers weren’t prepared to move immediately. They needed time to prepare. So we rented the house back to the sellers for a month after closing. We closed on Valentine’s Day, but we didn’t move in until mid-March.

Little did we know what was about to happen.

Tony and Barbara love this window in their Sacramento home.Tony Matheson

March is when the coronavirus really hit. What was it like moving during that time?

It was difficult and terrifying in the beginning. We moved in ourselves without hiring movers. Then, after we moved in, it was quite an adjustment. Simple things like calling an electrician or completing other minor home projects were enormously difficult.

Did you make any renovations to your home?

We put $10,000 to $12,000 into the house so far. The major issue after moving in was electricity—it needed to be completely reconfigured. For example, the second bedroom, which became my office, only had two plugs. Between my monitors for work, computers, Peloton, cellphones, and other devices, I needed 12 plugs. We also wanted to put in a tankless water heater for more space, and install a security system.  

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Tony and Barbara painted their new home.Tony Matheson

How did quarantine affect these repairs?

It was horrible. We couldn’t get anyone to come out to do any work for at least three months. For the first month, no one was booking. Then, when we could finally get through, the businesses were overwhelmed with requests.

Tony and Barbara celebrate finally closing on their dream home in Sacramento.Tony Matheson

What was it like when you finally settled in?

It was exhilarating, exciting, and weird. Exhilarating because we got the house we wanted. Exciting because we were beginning a new phase in our lives. And weird because we moved in at the beginning of the pandemic. We wanted to have a housewarming party, but of course, we couldn’t.

What is your advice for aspiring home buyers?

Even if your finances are completely buttoned up, be prepared that buying a house may be a difficult and even painful process.

Tony and his daughter on game night in their new homeTony Matheson

Emotionally it does get hard. As much as you try not to get attached to a house during the negotiation process, you can’t help it. And there is a competitive drive that kicks in when you are in a bidding war with others. It’s draining.

Still, in the end, knowing that you’ve overcome challenges along the way just makes you more appreciative of the reward at the end. We have a place to call home amidst all this craziness. It’s all worth it.

Their parrot Kiwi also enjoys the new home’s view.Tony Matheson
Keri Kelly is an award-winning author, professor, and comedy writer.

Creating a Pet Disaster Kit

From wildfires to hurricanes, a natural disaster can happen at any time. And when disasters strike, preparedness is critical. Evacuations leave little time to pack, so being ready at a moment’s notice with a disaster kit for you and your pets is essential.

Dr. Ruth MacPete, “The Pet Vet”, recommends that your pet should have an ID tag or microchip, along with an emergency kit that includes the following:

A container to store all supplies. A duffel bag or backpack is easy to grab and carry in case you need to evacuate. Be sure to store your pet’s disaster kit in the same location as yours – someplace that is easily accessible.

Food and water. The American Red Cross recommends you include a two-week supply of food and water in your disaster kit. Be sure to include bowls as well as a can opener if you’re bringing canned food. Collapsible bowls are ideal as they are lightweight and won’t take up a lot of space.

Toys and treats. Include your pet’s favorite treats and toys in the kit. Many frightened animals will hide during a disaster and will not want to come out of their hiding place. Having your pet’s favorite toy on hand and ready to squeak may help entice your furry family member out of hiding and into safety. Toys also come in handy if you need something to entertain your pet while you are waiting out the storm somewhere.

Leash or carrier. Be sure to include a leash (preferably one that is reflective) for dogs, or a pet carrier for cats and small dogs so that you can safely secure and transport your pet.

Medications. Be sure to include any medications that your pet is currently taking, including flea, tick and heartworm preventatives. You may not be able to contact your vet during an emergency so have extra supplies available.

Important documents. Pack a copy of your pet’s important medical records, including vaccination history and microchip information.

Cat litter and litter box. If you have cats, make sure you have a small litter box and small box or bag of litter ready to go. If you have to spend the night in a hotel or shelter you will need someplace for your feline friend to relieve themselves.

Movers Reveal: 5 of the Dumbest Mistakes They’ve Seen People Make

MECKY/Getty Images

We all do seriously inane things when we’re moving. The first time I moved into an apartment alone, I decided I could save 400 bucks by doing it all myself. And I would have, too, if I hadn’t dropped a desk on my bare toe right at the start (that’s right, folks—I was also moving in flip-flops). In the end, not only did I not save that cash, but the whole thing cost me about $600 in medical bills.

Maybe you’ll have better luck (or common sense). But here’s the thing: When you’re moving, it’s surprisingly easy to make dumb and costly mistakes. Just ask these moving companies, who’ve seen the good, the bad, and the stupid.

1. Forgetting to pack

“Clients aren’t always prepared. It literally happens daily. You would be surprised if you knew how many clients we have found still asleep when we rang the doorbell. Recently, we received a call from a potential client on a Friday afternoon for the following Monday. They said they’d have everything packed and ready to go. We knew better, but we booked the move and showed up Monday. And yes, not one single box was packed.”—Derek Mills, co-founder of Square Cow Movers in central Texas.

The smarter way: Pack. Ahead of time. Got it?

If you leave anything until the last minute, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

“It adds exponentially to the stress level for the client and movers,” Mills says. And when you’re under stress, something is bound to go wrong. Save yourself the headache, and be totally prepared the night before.

2. Packing in the least efficient way possible

“One customer of ours attempted to save money by packing all of their belongings in plastic bags. Think about an entire kitchen’s worth of dishes and stemware in Hefty bags. Not good! Another customer loaded their dresser drawers and armoire with books, photos and other assorted sundries.”—Aaron Steed, CEO and founder of Meathead Movers in California

The smarter way: If you properly wrap your belongings, you’ll not only keep them from breaking, but you’ll keep your sanity intact as well.

“Take note: Boxes and protective material like bubble wrap and newsprint are the most effective means of carrying, transporting, and protecting one’s personal items,” Steed says. But don’t attempt to use furniture to store heavy items: The furniture can break under the stress. Empty those drawers, and pack the contents in boxes.

3. Bringing the drama

“About two years ago, one of our movers showed up to load a truck for a woman who had booked a move well in advance. The day of the move, we show up to load her truck, and it wasn’t there. No one was there to answer the door and no one returned our phone calls.

“After we wait for 20 minutes, hoping for a callback, she opens the front door and she’s heavily intoxicated. She then asked us to drive her to a truck rental agency, which we did. After we secured her truck and finished loading all her items, her husband comes home and begins physically and verbally panicking because he claimed the things we loaded were all his! This resulted in a lengthy yelling match, with one telling us to load certain items and the other telling us to unload the same items—simultaneously. Nothing got moved that day.”—Mike Glanz, CEO of HireAHelper

The smarter way: If the movers have to hang around while you sort things out, you’ll likely be charged. Instead, get the personal stuff out of the way long before they show up … and we don’t just mean personal belongings.

4. Shipping a fully packed car

“A mistake customers routinely make [when transporting their car in an interstate move] is packing their vehicles with personal items. People sometimes get the idea they can use their car as a giant suitcase, and this will not work. Auto transporters are only licensed to carry automobiles, not freight. Also, these carriers have to go through weight stations going across the country. If they are overweight, they will get fined and can pass that fine down to the customer with the packed car.”—Brett Deinum, manager at AAcrossUSA Auto Transport

The smarter way: You can’t use your car as a way to transport your boxes, but that doesn’t mean you have to clean it out entirely, either.

“We have found that most carriers will let the customer get away with around 50 pounds of personal items secured in the vehicle,” Deinum says.

5. Not taping both ends of your boxes

“One situation that comes to mind happens quite often, but I remember this one move in particular because of the scale. The client we were moving went to great lengths to excessively tape the tops of their hundreds of boxes … but completely forgot to tape the bottoms. Of course, as soon as the first boxes were picked up, the bottoms opened up, and all the contents unloaded onto the floor. The associate moving the boxes simply turned them over and put the contents back in, hundreds of times. And we all know, time is money!”—Ashley Thibodeaux Herbert, COO of Bart’s Office Moving, Inc. in New Orleans, LA

The smarter way: Movers will be happy to fix your boxes for you, but it’ll cost you. Save yourself money, and test-lift a few boxes before the movers get there. And for goodness sake, tape up all of the sides!

Article by Angela Colley

2-Ingredient Peanut Butter-Chocolate Truffles

Pillsbury

This two-ingredient take on “Buckeyes” is so easy, your friends and family won’t believe it. A great one to add to your holiday cookie list.

Ingredients

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury™ refrigerated peanut butter cookies

1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Steps

  • 1  Heat oven to 350°F. Shape cookie dough into 1 1/4-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on 2 ungreased cookie sheets.
  • 2  Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets 5 minutes. With buttered hands, shape each cookie into ball; refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes or until completely cooled. Meanwhile, line cookie sheet with waxed paper; set aside.
  • 3  In medium bowl, microwave chocolate chips uncovered on High 60 to 90 seconds, stirring until smooth.
  • 4  Dip cooled cookie balls, one at a time, into melted chocolate; place on cookie sheet. If necessary, reheat chocolate. Refrigerate truffles about 10 minutes or until coating is set.

How to Buy a House: The 5 New Rules That Can Make or Break Your Offer

 

The rules on how to buy a house have changed, folks—so if you’re serious about becoming a proud homeowner in the near future, you’ll want to read this first!

So what’s changed the most in the traditional home-buying process? For starters, prospective buyers should brace themselves for steep prices and stiff competition. Data on realtor.com® show that the nationwide median home price has pushed above $250,000 for the first time ever, 8% higher than a year ago. Plus, total inventory remains much lower than it was a year ago, falling well short of buyer demand. The result? Despite rising home prices, properties are “flying off the market,” says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI.

Altogether, “it’s a hot seller’s market,” says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA. While it’s good news for sellers, buyers will need to take some extra measures to compete with other house hunters.

To nail a perfect home in today’s housing market, follow these five new rules.

Rule No. 1: Prepare for a marathon house hunt

With today’s low housing inventory and strong buyer demand, it might take you three to six months to buy a house—and maybe even up to a year in some of the country’s tightest markets. Prepare accordingly.

You’re more likely to encounter a multiple-offer situation today than in years past, says Sanderfoot, vastly complicating many negotiations. So don’t presume you’ll be moving any time soon. If you do have a fast-approaching deadline for moving, you’d better get started on your home search. Like, now. 

Rule No. 2: Secure financing before you start shopping

Gone are the days when you’d waltz into home showings without securing your financing first. If you need a mortgage to buy a home, you’ll want to get pre-approved for a home loan before you set foot in a home.

The reason: Without a lender’s pre-approval letter in hand, buyers will have a hard time getting sellers to take them seriously. Your offer, though sincere, could easily fall through for lack of funds. We told you it’s a competitive market, right?

To survey your mortgage options, meet with at least three lenders—which could be banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, or any combination thereof (you can get recommendations from your real estate agent). You’ll want to get a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the mortgage’s terms, including the interest rate and fees, in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison for the best deal. Here’s more on how to shop for a mortgage.

Rule No. 3: Don’t lowball your offer

Bargain hunters, beware: If you’re making an offer on a home that’s priced to sell—meaning it’s listed at, or slightly above, fair market value—“you should present your best offer right out of the gate,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA.

In other words, you need to wrap your head around the idea that you’re more than likely going to be offering full list price. Although that can be tough for bargain hunters, “it’s the reality of many markets,” says Yee.

All that said, real estate markets vary by area, so look to your agent for advice on how much to offer. You can also check particular neighborhoods on realtor.com/local to get a base line for median home prices and more.

How long a house has been on the market can make a difference, too. If a home has been listed for more than 30 days, that might mean it’s overpriced—and that means you might have a little room to negotiate on price.

Rule No. 4: Curb the contingencies

When buyers make an offer, they can tack on contingencies—terms that must be satisfied before a deal goes through. For instance, you might require that the place pass a home inspection to ensure that it doesn’t need tons of repairs. If you’re getting a mortgage, your lender will require you to include an appraisal contingency where an appraiser makes sure the house is worth what you’re paying.

All in all, contingencies protect buyers, but sellers don’t always like them because they insert many “what ifs” into the deal, which might mean it falls through.

Since this is a seller’s market, buyers can stand out by attaching fewer contingencies to the deal. Not the biggies, of course, but ones that don’t really matter to you. For instance, you might want to consider letting go of a lead-based paint inspection since you can clean up this problem yourself. Or, many buyers may include a contingency that they have to sell their own home before the deal goes through; consider waiving that if you can.

Rule No. 5: Move fast

There’s no time to waste. In many cases, “a seller will list their house on a Friday, do a couple open houses over the weekend, and then review all offers on Monday,” says Yee. That could mean you have just a few days during which to view the property, confer with your agent, and submit an offer.

Given the time crunch, Lejeune says he asks buyers a simple question during his initial consultation. “I’ll ask, ‘If I show you the perfect house today, at a price that you can afford, are you ready to make a full-price offer right now?’ That question gives me a good barometer of how ready you are to buy a home.”

So if you’re serious about buying a house, you need to be ready to pounce.

Article by Daniel Bortz

7 Mistakes That Could Keep You From Selling Your Home This Winter

OGphoto/iStock

Selling a house during winter comes with its own unique challenges. Snow, for one, can bury your home’s best features. Your normally lush landscaping may look drab and lifeless. And truth be told, all you want to do is cozy up at home rather than welcome buyers through your door.

Still, if you’re game to sell during winter, it’s essential that you put on your snow pants and put some effort into making your house shine. To help, here are some classic mistakes to avoid once the temperature drops, and why they can make such a difference. Just avoid making these all-too-common winter-selling fumbles in order to get top dollar.

Mistake No. 1: Setting down the shovel

You cleared off enough of the driveway for your car, but potential buyers won’t be entering through the garage like you do.

“Blazing a path through 3 feet of virgin snow makes a lousy first impression,” says John Engel, a Realtor® with Halstead Properties, in New Canaan, CT.

Don’t put away your snow shovel until you’ve cleared a path to your front door. Or save your poor back by hiring a snow removal company to keep your paths walkable.

“Not only does it make it more inviting for buyers, but it avoids potential safety and liability concerns,” says Massachusetts Realtor John Ternullo.

Mistake No. 2: Giving in to the winter blahs

Gray skies and barren trees make winter a particularly depressing time to sell. But you don’t have to let your home look as doleful as the weather.

“Pops of color by the entryway, like a seasonal wreath and topiaries, can add some interest to the front entrance as well as make it more inviting,” Ternullo says.

And don’t wait until buyers schedule showings to add some life: Colorful curb appeal transforms your listing photos from drab to dramatic.

Mistake No. 4: Not scrubbing your windows

Colder temps have robbed your trees of their leaves, leaving your home to look a bit sadder in winter’s wake. But that’s not the only problem. Those full trees previously shielded your home from direct sunlight. And now that it’s pouring in your windows, potential buyers will be able to see everything. 

Scuffs, fingerprints, and streaks are “never more apparent” than in the wintertime, Engel says, so you should make sure you’re vigilant about keeping windows clean. Alone, that grime might not be enough to turn off a potential buyer, but it might make them wonder what other details you’ve missed.

Mistake No. 5: Displaying outdated summer photos

Your Tudor looks particularly glorious in the summer, but if your only listing photos were taken in April, buyers will immediately suspect a problem.

“Nothing says ‘old, tired listing’ more than the photo you took nine months ago,” Engel says. Talk to your Realtor about taking new photos that make your home look festive and seasonal. Feel free to keep older photos in the listing—your buyers might want to know what the home looks like when the gardens are in full bloom—but updated photos will make your listing seem fresh.

Mistake No. 6: Turning down the heat

Don’t give potential buyers a chilly reception.Olivier Le Moal/iStock

“Frugality is great, but not when you’re trying to sell real estate for top dollar,” says Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of SparkRental.com.

Turn the heat up before you leave for showings, your utility bill be damned. Stick to 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep everyone comfy.

“It will make the house feel homier and more welcoming,” Davis says. “It also gives the impression that the house is energy-efficient and well-insulated.”

Mistake No. 7: Denying access

It’s New Year’s Eve and a buyer wants to stop by. How dare they! Shouldn’t they assume you have a fabulous party to prepare for?

Maybe. But if you want to sell your home in the off-season, the buyer has to come first. You’ll need to work with your Realtor to devise a strategy for squeezing in showings, even in between all of winter’s holiday events and family gatherings.

“While it may be inconvenient, it’s crucial not to deny showings, as that could be a missed opportunity,” Ternullo says. “There may be less buyers compared to spring, but winter buyers tend to be serious.”

Mistake No. 8: Leaving out your draft stoppers

Your hand-knit draft stopper might look adorable snuggled against your door, but it “sends a clear message to buyers,” Davis says. “This house is drafty and loses heat easily.”

Not that you should lie. But every home has hidden problems, and it’s best to let the buyers make their own assessments and discoveries during the inspection period. Don’t leave out little things that could sway their decision.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

The Walk-In Kitchen Pantry Is the New Designer Shoe Closet

Lindsay Salazar for The Wall Street Journal

When Tara Jenson began planning a $1.5 million home in Gilbert, Ariz., with her husband, Kendall Jenson, there was one dream amenity she wouldn’t compromise on: a walk-in pantry. And not just any pantry, but one with multilevel shelves arrayed with custom-labeled clear canisters for snacks and airtight bins of decanted Froot Loops and bran flakes. A pantry, in other words, that would make Costco bulk goods look as glamorous as a row of Christian Louboutins in a designer shoe closet.

“My husband wanted to do straight rows of shelving, all the same height, all the way across. I was crying. I said, ‘I can’t do it, that’s not what I envisioned,’ ” recalled Ms. Jenson, 37, who shares four children and one stepdaughter with Mr. Jenson, 48, a dermatology physician assistant. “If you have straight shelving all the way across, how do you organize it?”

Before the family moved into the 6,000-square-foot home last year, Ms. Jenson spent an extra $900 for custom pantry shelving that was inspired by the Instagram posts of the reality-television star Khloé Kardashian. Then she hired Shalae Price, a professional organizer, to create a Dewey Decimal-style system within the 8-by-11-foot pantry, sectioning the dry goods into zones and displaying them in a battalion of whitewashed rattan bins, clear canisters and turntable caddies. The total cost was about $5,000.

“People say, ‘Oh my gosh, Tara, your pantry!’ ” said Ms. Jenson, who elicited gasps from her friends when she went in to grab a Snickers bar during a group FaceTime call. “They all ended up saying, ‘Send me pictures.’ ”

The home pantry is in the spotlight. As the coronavirus pandemic surges and more school-age children and working adults are stuck at home, food-hoarding has become something of a national pastime. Pictures of aspirational larders with cork-topped calligraphy spice bottles and apothecary jars of dog treats are rampant on Instagram, with hashtags like #pantryinspo and #pantrygoals.

“Get Organized with the Home Edit,” a home-organizing reality show that made its debut on Netflix in September, featured a celebrity pantry makeover for singer-songwriter Kane Brown. (Spoiler alert: He has a s’mores shelf.)

Ms. Jenson said her pantry has been a lifeline during the pandemic. There are phalanxes of boxed mac and cheese and ramen noodles—and more concealed in backstock bins behind them. Containers of emergency food pouches line the top shelves. “I did a big grocery run at the beginning of corona, and apart from milk and eggs, I did not do another for four or five months,” Ms. Jenson said. “We probably could live off this pantry for a year.”

The Jenson family at their Gilbert, Ariz., home.Matt Martian for The Wall Street Journal
Tara Jenson hired a professional organizer to create her pantry.Matt Martian for The Wall Street Journal

The earliest pantries were closets or cupboards where bread was stored. The word pantry comes from “paneterie,” a Medieval French derivation of the Latin word for bread. Elaborately carved and spindled panetières—cabinets for bread—were status symbols in 18th- and 19th-century France.

Today, a walk-in pantry has become the most desirable kitchen feature for home buyers, according to a survey published by the National Association of Home Builders in 2019. A report by the NAHB’s economics and housing policy group last year found that more than 85% of new large homes (more than 3,500 square feet) featured walk-in pantries.

“We’ve been offering pantries for a number of years, but the luxury pantry is the new must-have. For some of our buyers it serves as a Pinterest or Instagram-ready organizational space,” said Lisa McClelland, national vice president of design studios for Toll Brothers, the upscale-home builders.

Toll Brothers homes at their Edelweiss community in Draper, Utah, feature a 70-square-foot walk-in pantry that can be expanded to include a prep kitchen with appliances.Toll Brothers

Toll Brothers recently unveiled its new Porter home model—priced between $635,000 and $779,000—which features a 70-square-foot walk-in pantry with options for built-in shelves, quartzite countertops and hardwood floors. Buyers can further accessorize the pantry with spice-rack pullouts, wine-storage columns and built-in lazy Susans for extra storage in tight corners.

Amita and Mark Riksen, who both work in the energy sector, relocated from Orange County, Calif., to a $1 million Toll Brothers home in Spring, Texas, outside of Houston, in May as coronavirus infection rates began to soar. Ms. Riksen, whose two college-age children are at home studying remotely, is glad that she opted to extend the 7-foot-2 by 5-foot-2 walk-in pantry by several feet to include space under a stairway.

“We wanted to make it as big as possible. I’m not a person who overstocks, but I like to see what we have so we can plan. It’s like going into your own little grocery store,” Ms. Riksen said. “Also, the kids are not standing in front of the fridge with the door open. They’ve got their snacks in the pantry so they hang out there.”

Some homeowners view an expansive pantry as a home essential, not a frill. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to keep a minimum three-month food supply in their homes, with longer-term food storage as a goal.

Payton Jones, a granddaughter of Brent Hatch, walking through a concealed door from their pantry to the kitchen.Lindsay Salazar for The Wall Street Journal

“Here in Utah, there are big families, big homes and lots of food storage—people love a beautiful pantry,” said Tracy Bowers, a home organizer based in Salt Lake City, adding that many homeowners have additional cold storage space in cement-walled basements. “You don’t want your pantry overstuffed. If there’s overflow we bring it down to cold storage,” she said.

Ms. Bowers, who works with a team of 10, creates different pantry zones for items like breakfast foods and baking supplies, tossing out all the boxes and packaging as she goes. “That creates tons of space. We put things in acrylic or glass containers so you see what you have,” she said. “Instead of an ugly package of fruit snacks, you have a beautiful basket.”

Ms. Bowers stocked and organized a 128-square-foot pantry for Brent Hatch, a semiretired energy executive and venture capitalist who lives south of Provo, Utah. The pantry is an attention-getter in the 13,000-square-foot home that Mr. Hatch, 70, built with his late wife, Darlene, an ardent baker and cook who died before it was completed in July.

Bev and Brent Hatch in the kitchen of their Utah home with grandchildren Lennon, Jaxon and Everly Hatch.Lindsay Salazar for The Wall Street Journal

The 8-by-16-foot pantry is equipped with a deep freezer, a pebble-ice machine, an instant hot-water tap for coffee and hot cocoa, cabinets that extend to an 11-foot ceiling and a library ladder on rails to reach them. A small door opens to the garage so that groceries can be passed straight into the pantry. Mr. Hatch said it cost about $35,000 to create and professionally organize the space.

“There’s a fair amount of cold cereals and instant hash browns, and big jars of candies and pretzels for the grandkids,” said Mr. Hatch, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has 22 grandchildren, all of whom like to visit. “We have a nice sliding barn door and you can hear that in use quite often. They sneak in and grab their wares. And they love the ladder.”

Mr. Hatch also has a well-stocked cold-storage room on the home’s lower level. He said the pantry was meant for daily use and as a fun place for his family.

In October, the pantry got a workout when Mr. Hatch married his new wife, Bev, 69, hosting a reception for more than 50 guests in the home. “There’s lots of counter space for preparing meals, and it’s handy having that sink and a big ice machine right there,” he said.

Heather Boger designed a 6-by-8-foot pantry for her new home in Truckee, Calif., near Lake Tahoe, where she moved last December with her husband, Tom Boger, 53, a marketing executive, and two teenage sons. “I was super excited. I never had a pantry before. It was really going to be a gift to myself,” said Ms. Boger, 47.

The pantry is concealed from the kitchen by a door panel clad in the same Neolith stone used on the countertops in both rooms. Floating shelves are lined with large glass jars of pasta, beans and other staples, while bulky appliances are tucked out of view in closed cabinets beneath the countertops. A band of low windows run along two sides of the pantry, making it bright and airy. LED strip lights under the shelves add a touch of drama at night.

Ms. Boger, who likes to mix cocktails in the pantry, installed an ice-maker; there is also a Vitamix blender and a Breville convection oven. “It’s where we do our smoothies each day, and it’s where the boys bake their cookies,” said Ms. Boger, who estimated the cost of the pantry, including setup, at just under $15,000.

Ms. Boger’s home organizers, Brandie Larsen and Ryan Eiesland, prepared a vision board with options for storage bins, clip labels and canisters in a range of textures, materials and colors. Each of her sons has his own woven sea-grass basket of snacks. Treats for Gumbo, the family dog, are stored in an Anchor Hocking glass jar with an oak lid.

“Everything is right there and accessible. I can go, ‘Oh, we’re out of granola,’ or ‘Gumbo needs new dental sticks,’ ” Ms. Boger said. “It’s a frivolous luxury, but I’m super appreciative of it. Unloading groceries in that pantry is fun.”

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Pro Tips for Hosting Your First Virtual Holiday Party in Your New Home

The halls are decked, the punch is poured, the festive scent of wintry pine hangs in the air. You may have just moved into a new house, but you’re a pro—and you’re already ready to host your first holiday party. Your first virtual holiday party, that is.

If you’re disappointed that you can’t physically welcome friends and family into your new home to show off the space and spread some cheer, don’t be. You can host a pretty fantastic fête online. And when you stop to think about it, you’re actually lucky, because, really, who can move all of their physical belongings to a new place, set them up, and be party-ready within a few weeks? No mere mortal, we say.

Plus, if there’s anything 2020 has shown us, it’s that your internet connection is highly important. If you don’t have speed and reliability, your ability to do everything from joining a work meeting to birthday toasting a friend to visiting grandma is compromised. When you move to a new house, you have a chance to make your internet work better for you from Day 1 and stay connected more easily. Switching to the Verizon Fios 100% fiber-optic network or transferring your current Fios service before you move will mean your life is smooth sailing from here on out—at least when it comes to anything digital. (We’ll leave quandaries like space-saving interior design and actually keeping your succulents alive to the pros.)

But for now, let’s get back to your soiree: Gather ‘round (the screen) and listen up. We’re about to share a formula for the coziest virtual party you can imagine, one that comes together easily and will let you show off your new home—and your hosting skills—in style.

4 Weeks Before: Write out your shopping list

Welcoming people into your home requires all sorts of supplies; welcoming people onto your screen requires fewer—but they’re arguably more important. First things first, you’ll need a super-fast, super-stable internet connection. Typically, that’s a fiber-optic network. (If your new house is already wired for Fios, you can even set up your network without a technician.) Planning to take everyone on a full tour of your new abode and yard? Consider ordering a network extender. Next on the list is a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with a video camera, which we’re sure you already have, so let’s think bigger. If you buy a streaming device compatible with your equipment, you can stream your guests right to your TV, which is much better than staring at a tiny screen all night. Once the party’s over, it won’t go to waste; cast Fios TV or any other service from your phone to your flat screen—which looks quite nice on that wall above the fireplace, if we do say so ourselves.

When it comes to a virtual holiday celebration, preparation is key.

3 Weeks Before: Get your guests on the same (musical) page

You’ve set the date and found just the right snowy GIF for your email invite. Before you hit send, consider the biggest mood-setter for any gathering: the tunes. Are you going with a classical vibe? A holly-jolly, jingle-jangle mood? Something more dinner-party chic? Start putting together a playlist and streaming it on your Bluetooth speakers as you’re arranging and rearranging your new furniture to make sure it’s The One. Send out a link with your digital invite. If you’re too busy settling into your house to play DJ, ask your guests to share a few songs when they RSVP, then simply put the songs together and send a link before go-time.

2 Weeks Before: Plan your happy ending

No seasonal celebration is complete without sweets. Before your bash, we suggest binge watching plenty of baking shows for inspiration. (You can start watching TV with the Fios TV app as soon as you sign up for service, even if you haven’t moved yet.) Mail a recipe for a simple dessert like sugar cookies along with sprinkles or icing so you can all share the same treat the night of the party.

Plan an activity to get everyone involved, like a cheeseboard design contest.

1 Week Before: Announce your 1st Annual Cheeseboard Contest

If they were coming to your house, they’d be bringing hors d’oeuvres anyway! Challenge your revelers in advance to create their version of the best cheese or charcuterie board ever. (There are plenty of social media accounts you can scroll for inspo.) During appetizer hour, each household’s fromage enthusiast can reveal their creation—before eating it, of course. Who will be crowned the Big Cheese? Send an online poll through your video platform for anonymous voting. Trust us: This one’s likely to get spirited, even if there’s no, well, cheddar on the line.

5 Days Before: Create a custom scent

As you may remember from your recent adventures in real estate, there’s a reason open houses smell like freshly baked cookies and clean laundry. Real estate agents understand there’s truly no smell like home. Put the same principle to work for your affair. To make everyone feel like they could be in the same space, send a suggested fragrance combination to simmer on the stove: A few sprigs of rosemary along with lemon slices, orange zest, and a splash of vanilla extract smells about as close to an enchanted forest as you can get this side of Narnia. Another place you can find that scent? Online. Consider ordering premade scent packets to fill the simmering needs of a less-than-crafty crew.

A signature scent for your celebration makes everyone feel included, even from afar.

3 Days Before: Arrange your table

Your cooking prowess won’t be on display, but your hosting skills will be. If you’re planning to parody a sit-down feast, share a digital template for place cards that your guests can print out so your tablescapes all look similarly tantalizing. A seasonal decoration or ornament also would be lovely. If kids are involved, send one they can print out and color in.

 

1 Day Before: Download your games

Just like an in-person event, no virtual function is complete without an amusement or two. Luckily, online games abound. All you need to decide is which ones you’d like to play: Is your group the printable scavenger-hunt sort? Or would they rather race to figure out what carol is represented by a group of emojis? Maybe you’d like to go head-to-head in a battle of holiday movie trivia, team up for Christmas charades, or play Hanukkah-themed bingo. Whatever your group’s energy level, there’s a game for that.

When you’ve done all your preparation ahead of time, all there is to do on the day of your virtual celebration is kick back and relax.

Day-of: Put your equipment in place … and relax

Sure, you may want to arrange your speakers or webcam before logging on, but that’s pretty much your only day-of task. The best part of a virtual party? By the time it rolls around, there’s no need for last-minute errands or panicked shenanigans (those fancy guest towels for the powder room never seem to find themselves, do they?). So sit back, relax, and stay away from the cheeseboard; you’ve got a chance to bring this thing home.

Article by Realtor.com Creative Studio

Turkey Corn Chowder

One pot and 30 minutes is all you will need to make this delicious and hearty, quick-cooking chowder, loaded with turkey and corn.
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings:
Calories: 272
Author: Katerina | Diethood

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 to 3 cups diced or shredded cooked turkey
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (you can also use small potatoes cut in 1-inch pieces)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1 can (14.75-ounces) cream style sweet corn
  • 1 can (15.25-ounces) sweet corn, rinsed
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups 2% milk
  • chopped fresh parsley , for garnish

Instructions

  • Heat butter and olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add onions, sliced carrots, and pinch of salt; cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in the turkey and potatoes; season with thyme, salt and pepper.
  • Add cream style corn, sweet corn, chicken broth and milk; bring mixture to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce heat to low and cover the pot; simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Let stand several minutes.
  • Give it a stir and taste for seasonings; adjust accordingly.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley.
  • Serve.

Building Credit Without Credit Cards

 

A credit card is one of the main ways to build credit. By using a credit card wisely and not running up huge bills and paying them off in full on time, consumers can improve their credit score. A good credit score can make getting a home, car and other loans easier, and at better interest rates.

Some people who have poor credit may have difficulty improving their credit score fast enough, and others may not even want a credit card.

A credit card isn’t the only way to build credit. Here are some other ways:

Get a small loan

Apply for a small loan from your bank or credit union. If you’ve had an account in good standing for a few years, you should be able to get a small loan.

Some banks may only offer secured loans, meaning you’ll have to come up with some collateral such as a car to qualify for the loan. However you get a bank loan, pay it back on time and your credit score should improve.

Monitor student loan payments

You should be working hard to pay all of your loans on time. Repaying student loans on time will help build your credit as much as any other loan. On the opposite side, missing a student loan payment can hurt your credit score.

Ask utility providers for help

Electricity, gas, cable TV, internet and other utility providers report delinquencies to the credit bureaus. Some, however, also report positive payment history, such as on-time payments, to the credit bureaus.

Call your utility providers to see if they report positive payment history, which can improve your credit score. If they don’t, ask if they can give you a letter of reference in support of a credit application.

Report rent payments

Just like utility companies, not all landlords report on-time payments to credit bureaus. Ask your landlord if positive rent history is reported. If not, ask if it can use a third-party website such as Rental Kharma to verify your rent payments each month.

Another way is to sign up with a rent payment service that uses Experian’s RentBureau. Your rent is paid through the service and independent verification that you’ve paid your rent on time isn’t needed.

Become an authorized user

A friend or family member who has excellent credit can add you to their credit card as an authorized user. It allows you to use their credit card and share their credit limit.

As long as the main card holder pays the bill on time every month and keeps the balance low in relation to their credit limit, your credit score may benefit. Check first that the card issuer reports authorized users to the credit bureaus.

You won’t be responsible for paying the bill, so being an authorized user won’t help your credit profile a lot, but it will help some if it’s reported.

Feel free to contact me for other helpful information.

Wow! How Home Sellers Can Make a Bundle in the ‘Best’ Winter Sales Season in Years

Feverpitched / Getty Images

Selling a home in winter is often a slow process. Since many home buyers traditionally hunker down as the temperature drops, particularly during the holidays, home sellers with real estate on the market typically see fewer buyers and lower offers.

That’s your typical winter, but this winter is shaping up to be a whole different reality, even a hot seller’s market.

According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors®, “It will be one of the best winter sales years ever.”

The coronavirus has changed real estate in a multitude of ways, and perhaps one of the biggest is the sea of buyers who put off buying during the first wave of the pandemic and are now slated to flood the market this winter.

“Sellers will have the ball in their court so to speak, as there are more buyers than sellers,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®. “This means seller-friendly trends like rising home prices and quick-selling homes.”

According to a realtor.com report, September’s home inventory was 39% lower compared with the same month last year. Meanwhile, buyers are keen to take advantage of the record-low interest rates, which have been hovering at or below 3%.

All of this means that sellers who are willing to put their homes on the market now could reap the benefits. Here’s how sellers can make the most of this unprecedented time and enjoy a blizzard of buyers this winter.

Price your home on the high end

COVID-19 has created a shaky economy, so you may think pricing your home on the low end is the way to go. But that’s not the case.

According to a realtor.com report, the national median home listing price jumped 11.1% in September compared with last year, reaching $350,000, and price per square foot rose 13.9%.

The upshot? These days, you’re likely to get offers at list price, or even higher.

“Prices are very high,” says Simon Isaacs, owner/broker of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL. “People are getting what they’re asking.”

Another plus: The low interest rates could keep monthly mortgage payments low. So buyers may be able to afford a more expensive home.

Make your home move-in ready

Today, buyers are keen to find a home that won’t need a lot of work after they move in. As such, it behooves sellers more than ever to make small repairs and upgrades that will increase a home’s value and justify a high offer.

“Sellers need to make sure their house is turnkey,” says Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker/owner of Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle. “The buyer is not going to want to remodel or do repairs in the winter.”

Cleaning up the landscaping and painting are two upgrades that Isaacs always recommends to sellers.

“Landscaping is definitely something that helps to sell a home more than anything,” he says.

Sellers would also be smart to highlight (in their listing and in person) features in their home that appeal to buyers today. Since the coronavirus, people are spending more time at home, and are thus keen to purchase property with more space, privacy, rooms that can double as home offices or learning spaces, and top-notch outdoor spaces.

Make sure your listing provides a virtual tour

The pandemic has made many buyers leery of checking out homes in person unless they see one they truly love. The upshot for sellers? Your listing will really need to shine online—and one of the best ways to do this is by offering a virtual tour.

“Depending on where you live and how COVID-19 is trending in your area, sellers may want to consider having a 3D tour readily available for buyers who do not wish to do an in-person tour,” says Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL.

This approach is also more convenient for sellers, since it can help minimize the number of strangers touring their home. Buyers can get a good sense if your home meets their needs without actually stepping inside.

Take safety seriously

Selling a home during a pandemic brings a new set of challenges. Virtual tours can minimize the foot traffic in your home, but eventually a buyer will want to see it in person. So it’s a good idea to ensure that you and your real estate agent are doing everything you can to make in-person tours as safe as possible.

Some ways to do this include limiting the number of showings per day, including gaps between showings, and limiting the size of groups seeing a home at once. Requiring masks and social distancing are also par for the course.

When people do have to see your home, leave doors, closets, and cabinets open throughout the house to minimize what they have to touch. Keep in mind, too, that once everyone leaves, it will be up to you to clean and sanitize your home.

Don’t accept an offer too quickly

The real estate market this winter is incredibly competitive. With so few homes on the market, sellers are poised to receive multiple offers, sometimes all at once. But Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estate in Huntsville, AL, cautions sellers not to get in a hurry and accept an offer too quickly.

Typically, sellers have 24 to 48 hours to accept an offer. If you jump the gun and say yes too soon, you could be leaving money on the table.

“Select a real estate agent that has a strategy to handle multiple offers versus an agent that’s not equipped to handle multiple-offer situations,” Curtis says. “Literally eight hours of sleep could net you an extra $30,000.”

So take time to mull over each offer you receive. If the offer is too low, you can always counter with something closer to the asking price.

Close remotely if you can

Along with virtual home tours, home sellers should strive to make as much of the home-buying process as virtual and digital as possible. Now, more buyers and sellers are able to complete the closing process remotely in most areas of the country, something that wasn’t possible a few months ago.

Pre-pandemic, remote closings weren’t possible everywhere, because some states didn’t allow documents to be notarized remotely. To keep real estate transactions and other business flowing during the COVID-19 crisis, most states issued emergency declarations now allowing for remote notarizations, according to the National Notary Association.

Along with limiting in-person contact, remote closings are much more convenient.

“You can sign all the documents now electronically,” Isaacs says. These days it’s all about “making sure that everybody is comfortable and as safe as possible.”

Article by Erica Sweeney

How to Stop Your Dog From Peeing on the Christmas Tree

By Lindsay Stordahl

Has your dog ever peed on the Christmas tree?

I was horrified to hear my dog Ace lifted his leg on one of my parents’ indoor plants one summer. Not the Christmas tree but almost as bad!

I know a lot of dogs get confused when there’s suddenly a Christmas tree in the house, especially if it’s a real tree vs. a fake tree.

Imagine all those smells!

So how can you stop a dog from peeing on the Christmas tree or at least prevent the behavior? Let me know your ideas and tips in the comments. I’ll share my ideas below.

How to stop your dog from peeing on the Christmas tree – 12 tips

1. Take your dog out for lots of potty breaks to prevent peeing on the Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, there is no dog proof Christmas tree. So, to decrease your dog’s likelihood of peeing on the tree, make sure to take him out for potty breaks more often than usual. Ideally, take him out for a long walk right before you set up the tree.

2. Don’t make any assumptions.

I took my dog Remy to our office last December and he peed on the office Christmas tree! I never thought he would so something like that. But, he did! So embarrassing!

So .. don’t make assumptions. Here are some other examples:

If your dog is a girl, she could still try to mark the tree. Or she might pee next to the Christmas tree or right under the tree!

If your dog is neutered, he could still try to mark the tree. Even if he’s normally potty trained, he could still get confused and pee on the tree!

If your dog did not pee on the tree last year, that doesn’t mean he won’t do it this year. He might be more territorial this year or more confident or maybe this year’s tree has more smells on it. Who knows.

Also, just because your dog does not pee on YOUR Christmas tree, it does not guarantee he will not pee on a friend or relative’s Christmas tree!

3. Don’t trust newly adopted dogs or visiting dogs.

Even if you’re told your newly adopted dog is 99 percent potty trained, he could still try to mark the tree. Trust me. Just because a dog is potty trained doesn’t mean he’ll understand the tree is off limits.

And as I hinted to earlier, make sure to supervise your dog or keep him leashed if you visit a friend or relative’s house during the holidays.

The key is to supervise the dog at all times until you’re sure he’s going to leave the tree alone. Use a kennel/crate when you can’t supervise. You may need to go back to dog potty training 101 as in supervising constantly, preventing mistakes and rewarding with treats for going potty outside.

4. Keep your dog leashed to prevent marking the Christmas tree.

Not necessarily all the time, but at least when you first set up the tree or when you first arrive at a friend’s house if your friend has a tree up. This is a good idea when you bring your dog into any new home anyway.

The point of the leash is to keep your dog in your sight at all times. That way there’s no sneaking off and casually lifting a leg on the tree!

I would keep your dog on a leash for the first 30 minutes and then maybe walk by the tree with him a few times so you feel confident he’s not going to try to mark the tree. You should still keep a close eye on him if you do decide to let him off leash.

5. Use a belly band if your male dog keeps marking the Christmas tree.

A dog “belly band” fits around a male dog’s belly so if he tries to mark in the house, the belly band catches the urine. It’s sort of like a diaper! You would want to continue using other training methods in addition to this because the belly band doesn’t actually teach him not to mark. It’s just there to save your tree (or your furniture, carpets, etc.)

For females that mark, you can use actual dog diapers. These are available at quite a few pet stores for when females go into heat. Chewy also sells a variety of disposable dog diapers and male wraps.

I realize dog diapers and belly bands are awkward and embarrassing but they are there as an option if you’re running into a pretty frustrating issue with your dog or perhaps a foster dog.

6. Kennel/crate your dog when you can’t supervise.

This is a good idea around the holidays anyway because there are so many tempting packages, snacks and decorations. If you don’t have a kennel, then leave your dog in a bedroom or other area that is dog proof. Pet gates also come in handy during this time.

7. Use a Pet Corrector.

If your dog seems too interested in the tree and is not responding to a firm “no,” you could try distracting him with a simple product called the Pet Corrector. This blasts compressed air to startle the dog. Then you would praise him for moving away from the tree.

8. Use Nature’s Miracle Pet Repellent

Nature’s Miracle Pet Block Repellent spray is a spray formulated to keep pets away from a certain area. Try spraying it around your tree to keep your dog away.

9. Create an invisible boundary around the tree.

Dogs do respect boundaries if they’re given clear boundaries to begin with. If you decide a small area around the tree is off limits to your dog, simply tell him “no” or “leave it” when he approaches that boundary. Reward him with treats and praise for staying back. Also reward your dog when he’s lying calmly on his dog bed.

10. Use a fence or gate to block the Christmas tree.

If needed, you could consider putting the tree in a room that you’re able to block off from your dog with a baby gate.

Another option is to set up an ex-pen around the tree. Ridiculous, I know, but it’s been done!

This is basically like a “play pen” for dogs but instead of putting the dog in the pen you’re using the pen to keep the dog out!

This is not exactly my number one choice, but I know of more than one person who uses this option because of her foster dogs. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Some people love to foster dogs and still want a nice tree!

11. Use the ‘Leave It’ command.

Leave it comes in handy for so many scenarios and this is one of them. As your dog approaches the tree, you would tell him “leave it” and then reward him for moving back.

12. Praise good behavior.

Don’t forget to praise your dog for good behavior using treats and affection. Praise him for lying quietly on his dog bed or on the couch or whatever spot he’s welcome. Good boy!

How to clean dog pee off the Christmas tree

If your dog has already peed on or around the tree, I recommend you do your best to clean the area with a strong pet cleaner. Nature’s Miracle makes a good one and then you can use their pet deterrent spray to hopefully keep your dog away from the tree in the future.

Obviously it’s hard to clean an actual tree, but if the urine got on the Christmas tree skirt or the floor or rug, these types of products should help.

Is it safe to have a real Christmas tree with dogs?

Yes. Thankfully, most dogs will not try to pee on or mark a Christmas tree, especially with supervision and training. This is true whether it’s a real tree or an artificial tree, so it’s really up to you which type of tree you prefer.

Real Christmas trees should not harm your dog or cat even if they try to bite it or eat it. The needles on some types of trees are a bit sharp, however!

My dog takes the Christmas tree ornaments!

It’s common for puppies or young dogs to try to play with the Christmas tree ornaments. Even some adult dogs might find certain ornaments hard to resist!

Article By Lindsay Stordahl

 

I Live in My Home Like I’m Staging It for Sale—Here’s Why You Should, Too

PeopleImages/Getty Images

Two years ago, my husband and I were gearing up to put our first home on the market, which meant our house was due for a deep cleaning and an organizational overhaul.

After we got the house sparkling clean and staged for sale, we started to fall in love with it all over again. We looked around at our newly organized pantry and immaculate closets and wondered, Why haven’t we always lived like this?

Now in our new house, I’ve taken lessons from the home-staging process to maintain a relatively clean, uncluttered space. Of course, maintaining a pristine home 24/7 isn’t realistic—I’d drive myself nuts if I snapped every time laundry piled up or a crumb hit the counter.

But if you’re looking for a little inspiration to keep your space tidy, try it out: Imagine you’re staging it for sale. It’s not about aiming for a picture-perfect home, and you don’t need to repaint all the walls in neutral colors or buy trendy decor. For me, simply pretending that I need to spiff up my home for a prospective buyer is motivation to keep organized—and ultimately, I’m the one who benefits from it.

Here are a few reasons this method works so well.

1. You’re forced to confront the closets and corners you’ve been ignoring

Photo by Organized Living

Right before we listed our house, our real estate agent sent a professional stager to assess the space. The stager made a beeline to our messy laundry area in the basement and suggested buying a few inexpensive baskets to consolidate all of the items strewed atop the washer and dryer.

It seemed so obvious—why hadn’t I thought of this?!—but her simple tip made a serious difference.

One Target trip later, my detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets were neatly concealed in a basket on top of the dryer that was both cute and functional.

Giving myself permission to splurge on wicker baskets also gave me an incentive to declutter closets and bathrooms. I’m not an interior decorator by any stretch of the imagination, but reframing organization as an opportunity to decorate and beautify has made it feel like less of a chore.

2. Less bedroom clutter = less stress

At our first house, our bedroom had become a magnet for miscellaneous items. Little did I know that crumpled clothing on the floor and cluttered nightstands aren’t just an eyesore—all that extra junk can also increase stress levels.

When the stager spotted our dressers and nightstands covered in tchotchkes, her instructions were simple: Clear away the clutter if you want to appeal to prospective buyers.

I dutifully followed her orders, and I quickly found that a tidy bedroom appealed more to me, too. After decluttering, I took away a new perspective on what my bedroom could be: an organized oasis for relaxation instead of just a crash pad.

As a final touch, the stager also gave us extra throw pillows for the bed to make the room cozier and more inviting. I’ve taken a page from her playbook in our new house, incorporating a fluffy accent pillow on the bed to add a warm touch that makes the room feel more Zen and less like a zoo.

3. Clearing out the kitchen can be life-changing

Photo by CR Cabinetry Kitchen & Bath Design Studio

f there’s one thing I learned from working with a professional stager, it’s that I have a habit of covering every open surface with stuff, including (and especially) the kitchen counters. At first, my husband and I balked when she told us to hide the coffee maker, toaster, and steak knives during every showing and open house.

We used those items all the time! Where else would they go?

But after we found a new home for the appliances, we came to embrace her suggestion. The coffee maker didn’t really need a permanent residence next to the sink, and with all the counter space we freed up, it felt like a new (and much larger) kitchen.

The newfound space for food prep was a bonus for my husband and me—not just a ploy to appeal to prospective buyers.

4. You’ll always be ready for surprise guests

Photo by Lark Interior

Preparing for overnight guests used to be an ordeal. Now, when my family shows up for a last-minute visit, I don’t need to panic. The “live in your home like you’re staging it for sale” mantra is a lifesaver when it comes time to entertain.

By maintaining a solid baseline for cleanliness and organization, I can prepare for guests with just a quick breeze through the house to pick up stray items and wipe down counters and bathroom surfaces.

5. Eventually, organizing becomes automatic instead of traumatic

The early days of decluttering a space or staging a house can be fairly intense. For the first time in months (or maybe years), you’re coming face to face with the messy corners and overflowing closets that have become catchall storage spaces.

But once you get through the initial work, keeping your space clean doesn’t require as much thought or effort. Over time, you’ll fall into a rhythm that’s sustainable. It’s way easier to maintain an organized house than it is to organize a disastrous space from scratch.

Article by Lauren Sieben

Home-Buying Benefits for Veterans & Military Buyers

Veterans United

Veterans, service members, and their families believe in homeownership. In fact, the homeownership rate among veterans far outpaces that of civilians.

But the financial toll of military service can make it tough for some veterans to get a financial foothold, let alone land a home loan.

The good news is those who serve have access to a host of home-buying benefits and protections, from what’s arguably the most powerful home loan on the market to financial safeguards and more.

Let’s take a closer look.

VA loan program

Since the VA loan program’s inception in 1944, the Department of Veterans Affairs has backed more than 21 million loans for veterans, active-duty military members, and their spouses. This program has made buying a home more accessible to those who most deserve the American dream they helped build and protect.

VA loans feature many benefits that help make home buying possible, including the following:

  • No down payment requirement
  • No mortgage insurance
  • Lower average interest rates
  • Limits on closing costs
  • More lenient credit requirements

VA home loans have boomed in recent years, attracting many veterans and military members who may not qualify for conventional loans, which have stricter credit requirements.

Still, many eligible buyers are unaware of the benefits of VA home loans and the protections they offer. Some buyers also make the mistake of assuming a government-backed loan comes with endless red tape and miss an opportunity to benefit.

Typically, veterans and active-duty service members are eligible for a VA home loan if they served in the following capacity:

  • 90 consecutive days on active duty during wartime
  • 181 consecutive days on active duty during peacetime
  • 6 or more years in the National Guard or Reserves

Some spouses of military members who died in the line of duty or of a service-related disability may also be eligible for a VA loan.

Talk with a VA lender about obtaining your Certificate of Eligibility and getting a sense of your purchasing power.

Occupancy & power of attorney

VA loans are focused on getting buyers into homes they’ll live in full time. But the program makes exceptions for some veterans and active-duty service members.

For example, a spouse or children may be able to fulfill the occupancy requirement on behalf of a VA buyer. Also, a VA buyer who is deployed or otherwise unable to manage the loan process can typically assign a power of attorney to a spouse or family member to manage the loan process and sign documents.

There are two types of power of attorney: general and specific. The type needed depends in part on what loan-related documents the VA buyer can sign.

The occupancy and power of attorney options mean an eligible VA buyer’s spouse and children could buy a home during a deployment or unaccompanied assignment, helping alleviate the emotional toll of multiple moves on military families.

Basic allowance for housing

Many active-duty military members who receive a monthly housing allowance are surprised to learn that they can use this money to qualify for a home loan. Lenders can count Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as effective income. That can help service members make the leap from renting to owning, especially in higher-cost areas.

BAH is based on several factors, including the location of your duty station, your pay grade, and your family size. The housing allowance can change on an annual basis. To calculate your BAH, refer to the BAH calculator on the Defense Department’s website.

Financial protections

Even after becoming homeowners, active-duty service members can face unique financial challenges. Deployment and changes of station can strain a family emotionally and financially.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides active-duty military personnel and their families financial protection involving interest rates, income tax payments, eviction, foreclosure, and more.

For example, military personnel can ask creditors—including their mortgage lender—to cap their interest rate at 6% during their term of service. The SCRA also forces lenders and servicers to seek a court order to foreclose on active-duty military members during their time of service and up to nine months afterward.

Veterans Affairs also offers foreclosure avoidance protection assistance for homeowners. The VA has a team of experts who work with lenders and servicers on behalf of struggling homeowners to find alternatives to foreclosure. Their efforts have helped nearly 500,000 veterans and service members avoid foreclosure in the past six years alone.

Check with your local Armed Forces Legal Assistance office for more information regarding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. VA homeowners in jeopardy of defaulting on their mortgage can contact the VA loan program at 877-827-3702.

Article by Veterans United

These Pandemic-Related Housing and Design Trends Aren’t Going Away

Hispanolistic/Getty Images

Home trends come and go, but social distancing and staying at home have ushered in a new way of life—and some of those changes have spurred home trends that are likely to stick around well past the COVID-19 era.

“The idea of what is necessary is changing,” says Camille Thomas, a real estate matchmaker and lifestyle expert in Jackson Hole, WY. “The home has become more than a living space.”

This means a lot of people have started to evaluate how they live in their home and what matters most to them when buying.

Here are some of the real estate and design trends people have latched on to during the pandemic that will likely have staying power for years to come.

The great escape

Quarantine has caused more than a few people to pack up their lives and head out of crowded cities to the suburbs (or even the country) in search of more room to breathe. One in 5 U.S. adults says they either changed their residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

In fact, as people buy homes in the suburbs, housing inventories in those areas are dwindling faster than in urban areas, according to realtor.com®’s September Urban vs. Suburban Growth Report.

“People are not wanting to be in a city where it feels too crowded right now,” says Suzi Dailey, a Realtor, who’s with Realty One International in California’s Orange County. “They are leaving cities in favor of homes with more space, a backyard, or some type of view.”

Thomas says in the mountain town of Jackson Hole she is seeing buyers come in from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Houston, and Chicago.

“Some are purchasing sight-unseen,” she adds.

Also, with more companies allowing their workforce to work from home, many people are no longer tied to a specific city for employment. Most housing experts agree that this trend of increasing preferences for suburban homes will continue.

The Zoom room

Regular videoconferencing from home—whether you’re an employee or a student—is a new reality, and it’s become increasingly common to see agents and sellers including Zoom rooms in listings as part of a home’s features. But what is a Zoom room, anyway?

Essentially it’s a dedicated room or corner of your home that features an aesthetically pleasing background for your videoconference calls. Zoom rooms are free of household clutter and typically removed from the high-traffic parts of the house. And experts predict the dedicated video room trend is likely to persist for buyers beyond COVID-19.

“Buyers are looking for extra space to create workspaces for students and working parents,” says Thomas. “Three bedrooms is no longer enough. Now it must be three bedrooms and an additional workspace, at least.”

Clean and cozy design

Photo by ME Design Group

Interior design trends are always changing. But throughout the pandemic we’ve seen homeowners doing everything they can to create a cozy, simple, clean, and comfortable vibe inside their homes.

“It’s a focus on an open floor plan, lighter wall colors, and no clutter,” says Dailey. Elements that capture this aesthetic are comfortable sofas, throw blankets, candles, herb gardens in the kitchen, and houseplants that make a person feel at home.

“Especially with COVID-19, you do not want a home that feels dirty. That’s why clean, simplistic decor and decluttering have become very popular,” says Dailey.

And that feeling of streamlined coziness is extending to the outdoor areas of the home, too.

“Sales of space heaters, such as the tall standing heaters for porches, patios, and outdoor spaces, are already going through the roof,” says Dailey.

The backyard premium

It’s little surprise that homebound owners—or would-be owners—are focusing more on backyard spaces. Some buyers are even willing to settle on a smaller house or a house in a less desirable area in order to have a large backyard where they can spend more time in the open air.

“For some, that means moving farther outside of town for the same-size house with more land. Others are moving into small townhouses so they can purchase a small farm outside of the city,” says Mary Patton of Mary Patton Design.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Here’s Exactly When To Cook Every Dish For Thanksgiving Dinner

ERIKA LAPRESTO

Time out turkey day down to the minute.

From battling crowds at the grocery store to wrangling all your relatives into the same room, there’s plenty of stress that comes with Thanksgiving dinner. Avoid a mid-day meltdown by planning ahead and prepping dishes long before it’s time to eat. Read our detailed timeline that breaks down the most efficient schedule for preparing everything from starters to desserts to ensure that you’ll be trotting that turkey out right on time. Don’t forget to bookmark the easy-to-read chart at the bottom to keep on-hand while you’re prepping!

Soup

Fall soups make great starters for Turkey Day dinner, and luckily they can be made a week or so ahead. Whip up a big batch of your favorite and freeze it, then take it out of the freezer the morning of Thanksgiving or the night before so it’s ready to be reheated on the stove just before serving.

ETHAN CALABRESE

Gravy

There are tons of turkey gravy recipes that don’t require you to actually use parts of the turkey, plus you can buy giblets, turkey necks and wings at most butcher shops—that means it can be made and frozen 1 to 2 weeks before your guests arrive. If you want to use parts from the actual bird to boost flavor, whip up the gravy two days ahead (once your turkey is thawed enough to remove the giblets) and refrigerate it, then reheat in a saucepan until hot so it’s ready for pouring over the sliced turkey.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Turkey

The Thanksgiving turkey should be the crown jewel of your holiday table, so you’ll definitely want to time it right, and that means thinking way ahead. A 20-pound turkey can take up to five days to thaw in the fridge—budget one day for every 4 pounds—and if you’re using a brine, make sure the bird has 12 hours to marinate.

Roasting an unstuffed bird can take 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size. Check that an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F for the breast meat and 170 to 175 degrees F for the thick part of the thigh before removing it from the oven. Then tent it with foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing—this ensure that no one will be complaining about a dry bird. Timing everything around the turkey for oven space is key here so think about what can be ahead of time and reheated after the bird comes out of the oven or cooks at the same temperature as your turkey.

ETHAN CALABRESE

Stuffing

Store-bought stuffing mix comes together in no time, but homemade stuffing recipes take a bit of forethought. Cube the bread and set it out to stale two days ahead of Thanksgiving, or bake the cornbread and leave it on the counter for cornbread stuffing. If you’ll be serving stuffing on the side, assemble it one day ahead and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake (at the same time as the turkey, or once the turkey is resting).

KAT WIRSING

Casseroles

Whether your family demands green bean casserole or scalloped potatoes alongside their turkey, these dishes can be prepped and assembled two whole days before the big event. Make sure to cover and refrigerate them, then stick the dish in the hot oven once you’ve taken the turkey out to rest. They’ll be golden and bubbly just in time to eat.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Salads & Cold Sides

No-bake dishes are the key to a spacious oven. Wash and prep lettuce and vegetables for autumn salads two days ahead for easy assembly on Thanksgiving morning—wait to dress it until serving. While you’re at it, chop up all the herbs you’ll need for garnishes and other recipes. The most clever hosts could even recruit relatives to handle the cold sides and salads to complement your mains, guaranteeing that no one screws up your oven rotation.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Cranberry Sauce

Throw together a quick cranberry sauce or relish two days ahead and refrigerate it ’til dinnertime—you’ll never look back at the jellied stuff from a can again. Serve it cold or let it come to room temperature for an hour before the big meal.

ETHAN CALABRESE

Mashed Potatoes

If you’re really on top of your game, regular and sweet potatoes can be peeled the day before and stored, covered in cold water, in the fridge. Then all you’ll need to do it boil and mash them on the stovetop while the turkey is resting—don’t forget plenty of butter, and try adding mix-ins for the best mashed potatoesyour guests have ever tasted. You can also enlist your slow cooker and make CrockPot mashed potatoes. Once less pot and burner you need!

PARKER FEIERBACH

Desserts

Baking is way too time-consuming to bother with when your extended family is around and a dessert can almost always be made ahead of time. Make things easier on yourself by making pie dough a week before, then portion it into disks and freeze. Two days before, move the dough to the fridge to defrost so you can bake up a storm on Thanksgiving Eve. Custard and pumpkin pies can be refrigerated overnight, while pecan and apple pies do best when kept at room temperature. Anything that needs reheating can get popped in the oven while the turkey is resting, or while the dinner table is being cleared for dessert. A great tip for any dinner party is to never leave the dessert to be made day of.

PARKER FEIERBACH

Drinks

Don’t forget about one of the most important parts of the meal—the wine! Stick bottles that need to be chilled in the fridge the night before or, if you live somewhere cold, put them in the garage or back porch to save on space. If you’re serving Thanksgiving cocktails put someone who’s not stuck in the kitchen on bartender duty, or convince your fun uncle to make a batch of cranberry Jell-O shots to get the festivities going. Passing drinks on to a guest is an easy way to clear up your schedule and gives the guest a fun job to do. Plus, being served a drink once all your hard work is done is the best feeling in the world.

ETHAN CALABRESE
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Buying a House After Bankruptcy? How Long to Wait and What to Do

Minerva Studio/iStock

Securing a home loan and buying a house after bankruptcy may sound like an impossible feat. Blame it on all those Monopoly games, but bankruptcy has a very bad rap, painting the filer as someone who should never be loaned money.

The reality is that of the 800,000 Americans who file for bankruptcy every year, most are well-intentioned, responsible people. Life has thrown them a curveball, however, that has left them struggling to pay off their past debts.

Sometimes, filing for bankruptcy is the only way out of a crushing financial situation, and taking this step can really help cash-strapped individuals get back on their feet.

And yes, many go on to become first-time home buyers or buy a home eventually, despite the challenging credit score that results from bankruptcy. But how? Being aware of what a lender expects after a bankruptcy will help you navigate the mortgage application process efficiently and effectively.

Here are the steps on buying a house after bankruptcy, and the top things you need to know.

Types of bankruptcy: The best and the worst

There are two ways to file: Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. With Chapter 7 bankruptcy, filers are typically released from their obligation to pay back

unsecured debt—think credit cards, medical bills, or loans extended without collateral.

With Chapter 13 bankruptcy, filers have to pay back their debt. However, the debt is reorganized and a new repayment schedule established that makes monthly payments more affordable.

Since Chapter 13 filers are still paying back their debts, mortgage lenders generally look more favorably on these consumers than those who file for Chapter 7, says David Carey, vice president and residential lending manager at New York’s Tompkins Mahopac Bank.

A bankruptcy attorney can help determine if Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 makes the most sense for your specific situation. Unfortunately, both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies will adversely affect credit scores. But don’t give up, hopeful home buyer.

How long after bankruptcy should you wait before buying a house?

Most people applying for a loan will need to wait two years after bankruptcy before lenders will consider their loan application. That said, it could be up to a four-year ban, depending on the individual and type of loan. This is because lenders have different “seasoning” requirements, which is a specified amount of time that needs to pass.

Fannie Mae, for example, has a minimum two-year ban on borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy, says David Reiss, professor of law and academic programs director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

The FHA loan, on the other hand, has a minimum one-year ban in place after a bankruptcy. These bans, or seasoning periods, are typically shorter with government-backed loans (such as FHA or VA loans) than with conventional loans.

The time is measured starting from the date of discharge or dismissal of the bankruptcy action. Generally, the more time between debt discharge and the loan application, the less risky a once-bankrupt borrower looks in the eyes of a mortgage lender.

How to reestablish credit after bankruptcy

Once the bankruptcy process is over, reestablishing and maintaining creditworthiness is key to your financial health. Lenders will be looking for zero delinquencies postbankruptcy.

While you work to build new credit, don’t go overboard opening an extensive number of accounts, as this will work against you, advises Carey. Usually, opening just a couple of revolving credit lines and paying them in a timely manner over the course of 12 months helps to increase credit scores back to an acceptable level.

What to do before you apply for a mortgage

Before you apply for a mortgage loan, check your credit score by getting copies of your three main credit reports, which detail the financial transactions (and transgressions) from your past. You will want to check these credit reports for errors, such as a credit issue that you resolved but that is not reflected in your report.

“In some postbankruptcy cases, errors continue to report negatively on credit reports,” says Carey.

These mistakes will drag down your overall credit score and reduce your chances of getting approved for the mortgage. So if you spot mistakes on your credit reports, work with the credit bureaus to correct the information they include. This can boost your credit score significantly, and may even tip the scales on your home loan approval. Mortgage lenders want to see any movement from bad credit to good credit, so don’t leave any of your hard-earned progress on the table.

Buying a house after bankruptcy: Ways to woo a lender

To start the mortgage process, lenders require a detailed letter explaining why you needed to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 in the first place. Ideally, the bankruptcy would have been caused by an extenuating circumstance beyond your control—such as the death of an income-contributing spouse, the loss of employment, or a serious illness.

In other words: A lender likes to see that you were hit with hard times that had a significant negative impact on your expenses or income, and made it impossible to meet your financial obligations.

What a lender won’t want to see is someone with a die-hard shopping habit or a lackadaisical attitude toward paying credit cards on time. If that’s you, you’ll have to prove you’ve changed.

Whatever the reason you filed for bankruptcy, lenders will need to properly document your extenuating circumstances, so be prepared to provide proof detailing your life event.

Medical bills, a doctor’s note, a death certificate, or severance paperwork are all acceptable evidence that prove to lenders that you are a safe bet worthy of a home loan.

Article by Margaret Heidenry 

Bundle Up! Winter’s Home-Buying Game Has Changed. Here’s How To Win

Viktoriia Hnatiuk / Getty Images

Savvy home buyers know that winter is typically a good time to embark on a house hunt, since much of their competition stays holed up at home until spring. But this winter, buyers might notice that despite the cold and the holidays, they’ve got company.

Lots of it, in fact.

“Normally winter is a good time for buyers,” says realtor.com® chief economist Danielle Hale. However, since the coronavirus kept buyers on lockdown for much of spring, many are making up for lost time by home shopping hard right now.

“This year’s unusual seasonal pattern means that buyers aren’t getting the usual break from the market frenzy that they typically do in the cooler weather,” Hale explains.

As a result, this winter is shaping up to be a seller’s market, with low real estate inventory, high prices, and bidding wars that could give buyers a major run for their money.

This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel—just that you’ll have to hone your house hunt in new ways to suit the times. Here are some tactics that will keep you ahead of the pack so you’ll be sitting in a new home by the new year.

Secure your financing as soon as possible

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage and securing financing are an essential first step when buying a home. It gives you a clear picture of how much house you can afford, and lets you make an offer as soon as you find your dream home.

Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker and owner at Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle, says this process is more important now than ever.

“Getting pre-approved for a loan is obviously important, but is there anything else they can do to put themselves in a good position?” he says. “Buyers need to be ready to buy a house before they start looking.”

Too often, buyers don’t line up their financing until they find a home they want to buy, van Winkle says. In the current competitive market, waiting to get pre-approval means you could lose out on purchasing a home you love.

“That creates a mad dash and stress to get everything lined up under pressure,” he says. “Get all your financing secured and ready before you look, that way when you find the right home you’re 100% ready.”

Starting early could also help you lock in an ultralow interest rate, which could affect your monthly mortgage payment and mean you could afford a more expensive home. As of Oct. 22, Freddie Mac listed rates at 2.8% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan.

Know what you want before you house hunt

COVID-19 has changed how we live and work. We’re spending much more time at home, and people are looking for different features in their living spaces.

Make a list of your must-haves before you start house shopping—and share your needs with your real estate agent.

Simon Isaacs, broker and owner of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL, says it helps cut down on the number of homes you’ll have to view before finding the right one.

“I would suggest buyers not look at 25 homes,” he says. “If the agent is showing them that many houses, the agent doesn’t know what they want.”

In such a competitive landscape, knowing exactly what you want enables you to act fast when you want to make an offer.

Tour homes virtually first

More real estate agents are embracing virtual tours and remote showings to ease coronavirus safety concerns. In some cases, they’re even limiting in-person showings to the most serious buyers—those with financing already secured, for example.

“Real estate agents in our local market are adjusting to the client’s needs by continuing to provide in-person showings with precautions and also assisting buyers virtually with their home purchases,” says Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estate in Huntsville, AL.

Virtual home tours, using Zoom or FaceTime, let you view the home from anywhere, and depending on the setup, you might be able to ask questions in real time. So you can narrow down the homes you’re most interested in and physically visit only the ones that best meet your needs.

Don’t dawdle if you want to make an offer

In September, there were nearly 40% fewer homes on the market than during the same month last year, according to a realtor.com report. At the same time, buyer demand has increased, creating an incredibly competitive marketplace. Homes were on the market for an average of 54 days in September, 12 fewer days than last year.

Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL, says the buyers she’s worked with lately have had just a few homes to consider. And, with all the other buyers in a location also looking at those same houses, you’ll need to act fast if you’re interested.

The challenge, she says, is potential buyers have little time to mull things over, and they are pitted against one another.

Isaacs is seeing a similar situation. Wait too long to submit an offer, and another buyer is likely to swoop in with an offer of their own.

“I would say don’t deliberate on buying,” he says. “I’ve had too many clients who were [saying], ‘Should we, shouldn’t we.’ I would say if it’s something that you want to do, do it.”

Make your offer stand out

Since inventory is so low, sellers are getting multiple offers on their homes these days. To make sure yours gets accepted, you’ll need to make it stand out.

Cash offers and inspection waivers are some ways to make your offer more appealing, Curtis says.

A cash offer, if you can afford it, is attractive to sellers because it eliminates dealing with a mortgage lender and often speeds up closings. An inspection waiver comes with lots of risks, since you’re essentially agreeing to purchase a home as is, but the waiver removes any repair negotiations and helps you close faster.

For competitive markets, where you know you’ll be competing directly with many buyers, Jones suggests talking to your agent about escalation clauses. This is a contract addendum where you agree to pay more than other offers (up to a maximum you set).

Bottom line: “Find a strategy to help make your offer stand out amongst the 10, 20, or more offers that may come in on your dream home,” Curtis says.

Article by Erica Sweeney

Pet Owner Surrender

Photo courtesy A.R.F.

If your pet was adopted through A.R.F.-Animal Rescue Foundation, please contact us first before making other arrangements to surrender or rehome the pet, as stated in your adoption contract.

If considering surrendering pets who were NOT adopted through A.R.F., we strongly encourage that before relinquishing your pet, you explore the options of re-homing your pet with a personal friend, co-worker, or family member. If your pet was adopted through a shelter other than A.R.F., contact that shelter about returning the pet before contacting us.

We understand that many are going through some tough economic times and that the needs of your pets may be a strain on the budget. If you are considering surrendering a pet because of financial difficulties, check out our list of resources for low-cost pet care.

List of Low-Cost or Free Pet Care Resources in Chicago

If you’re having behavioral issues and are seeking to relinquish your pet, you may wish to contact an animal behaviorist or professional trainer. Often times, behavioral problems can be resolved with a little patience and creativity. A.R.F. is not equipped to handle the more severe behavioral issues and acceptance of your animal into A.R.F.’s care will be dependent upon the animals overall health and behavioral temperament. A Sound Beginning Program offers behavioral training for both dogs and cats.

If you have found a stray, contact your local animal control agency for more information:

Surrendering an Animal to A.R.F.

It is illegal to abandon animals anywhere in the state of Illinois. Do not bring animals to adoption events to relinquish them, we can not take them without following our owner relinquish or rehomeing instructions below.

Please consider all options prior to contacting us. We will help if we can. Please read the following guidelines:

  • Before contacting us to surrender an animal, you must complete the Owner Surrender Request Form.
  • A.R.F. accepts pets by appointment only.  You can email us at surrender@arf-il.org to discuss your situation.
  • You must be the legal owner of the animal and have had the animal in your custody for a minimum of thirty days.
  • Appointments to surrender an animal will typically take place at our preferred veterinarian’s office where a decision can be made as to the health of the animal.
  • Euthanasia fees are at the expense of the person surrendering.
  • You will be asked to provide us with any previous medical history, a personality profile, and provide photos or videos for each animal.
  • The following minimum fee will apply to cover costs for the care of your pet subsequent to relinquishment:
    • Litter of kittens ( under 3 months of age): $60
    • Litter of puppies ( under 3 months of age) : $60
    • Cat: $35
    • Dog: $35

Please note that the relinquishment fee covers only a small portion of the cost to care for the animal.

7 Ways To Make Your Home a Cozy, Comfy Oasis This Winter

YakobchukOlena / Getty Images

As winter approaches, heralded by dark predictions from public health experts about the resurging coronavirus pandemic, we could all use some more comfort in our lives—even if only in the form of ultracozy additions around the house.

After all, now that many of us have become used to wearing pajamas as work clothes, the next step would be to just want to hide under the covers until this COVID-19 nightmare is over, right? And if you’re going to burrow under some blankets, they may as well be extra-soft.

We’ve rounded up some of the most comfortable, comforting items out there, from blankets to pillows and beyond, to help make your extended time at home feel like a warm hug. Consider them as gifts—to others or yourself—to help get you through the next few months.

1. A CBD-infused blanket

The Dream Blanket by Curfew is the world’s first CBD-infused throw.Curfew

f you’re looking to chill out while you warm up, the world’s first CBD blanket may be your new best friend.

Curfew’s Dream Blanket ($295) not only feels like you’re wrapped in your favorite gray sweatshirt, but the material includes patented, micro-encapsulated CBD beads. The capsules are ruptured by friction when the blanket is used, transferring small amounts of CBD to the skin.

Granted, the jury’s still out on whether the therapeutic effects of CBD are legit, but many believe it makes a difference. So if you’re a fan or know someone who is, this makes a great gift—it even comes in a poetically decorated box that says “Make Space to Dream.”

2. Silk pillowcases

Celestial Silk’s white marble pillowcase is as glamorous as it is comfy.Celestial Silk

Speaking of dreamy, Celestial Silk pillowcases are next level ($35.99 and up). Made of 100% mulberry silk, these pillowcases are thicker, more durable, and, well, silkier than lighter-weight brands. (They have 30% more silk than most of their competitors.) They also protect your beauty sleep, since laying your head on a silk pillowcase for the night is touted to prevent wrinkles, banish blemishes, and maintain frizz-free hair as you slumber.

While these pillowcases are available in a variety of appealing solid colors, be sure to check out the otherworldly galaxy prints or the superluxe marble for something a little different.

3. The Comfy Sack

The Comfy Sack 6-foot lounger with a long faux-fur coverComfy Sack

Like a beanbag on steroids, the Comfy Sack ($365) can function as a chair, love seat, or daybed. It comes in a variety of dimensions, but the 6-foot lounger—able to accommodate two cuddling adults or one who just wants to stretch out for a quality nap—remains one of the company’s most popular sellers.

Heavy enough to feel supportive (it runs about 70 pounds) but soft enough to sink into, thanks to its memory foam core, the Comfy Sack has a removable, washable cover and comes in a wide range of colors and fabrics.

4. Weighted electric blanket

This heated and weighted blanket is the first combo throw.Pure Enrichment

Many swear by the comfort of weighted blankets, but if you need more warmth than they can typically provide, you’ll want to step up to the Pure Enrichment WeightedWarmth blanket ($119.99). This electric weighted blanket is the first of its kind to combine the therapeutic benefits of weight with heat, and is backed by a five-year warranty.

5. The Florida King

The whole family and a pet can fit in this jumbo-sized bed.City Furniture

Does your whole family—pets included—need more space in bed? Then behold the Florida King. Measuring 7.5 feet long and 9 feet wide, this luxurious bed is almost 3 feet larger than a standard king mattress and even bigger than the widely known California King.

While people often pay a small fortune for custom-made beds of this size, this one comes with the mattress, frame, sheets, and all the accessories for around $1,500.

6. Wedge pillow

Use this pillow to support your back in bed or on the couch.Cushy Form

Let’s face it, we’ve all been spending a lot more time sitting on our couches and beds this year. But that’s not always great for backs, necks, knees, or circulation!

One thing that can help is the Cushy Form wedge pillow ($56.99). Thanks to its flexible, 5-in-1 design, you can change it up to support whatever needs a little extra. Made of high-density memory foam, it takes the shape of your body and can also help alleviate snoring, in case your significant other is keeping you up at night.

7. Foot warmer

You’ll never have cold feet again with this foot warmer.Pure Enrichment

Who needs shoes anymore, right? Life via Zoom means you can trade in those pinchy dress heels for the PureRelief deluxe foot warmer ($49.99). It’s as if an electric blanket and your sherpa-lined slippers had a baby.

With four temperature settings from 110 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and a drawstring around each ankle to make sure all the heat stays on your feet, you need never suffer from cold extremities again.

Article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann