Fresh Corn Salad

@spendwithpennies.com

Corn Salad is one of our favorite easy sides!  This easy Corn Salad features sweet fresh corn off the cob, crisp cucumbers and ripe juicy garden tomatoes all combined in a light and easy vinaigrette. –By Holly Nilsson

Ingredients

  • 3 cups corn kernels about 4 cobs of corn
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
  • 1 cup cucumbers diced
  • ¼ cup red onion diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
  • a generous sprinkle of course salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • fresh basil or dill optional

Instructions

  • Either boil or grill corn. Once cooked, remove kernels from corn.
  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and gently toss.
  • Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Notes

If time allows, grill your corn for maximum flavor.

Preheat grill to medium high heat. Remove silk and husk from corn.  Brush with olive oil and generously season.  Grill 2-3 minutes per side or until slightly charred. Cool before using.

How to Boost Your Credit Score: Advice for First-Time Home Buyers

(stocknshares/iStock)

Are you a first-time home buyer wondering how to improve your credit score? If you need a mortgage, a good credit score, also called a FICO score, is essential—and it’s within your control.

In a nutshell, a credit score is a simplified calculation of your history of paying back debts and making regular payments on loans. If you’re borrowing money to buy a home, lenders want to know you’ll pay them back in a timely manner, and a credit score is an easy estimate of those odds.

Here’s your crash course on this all-important little number, and how to whip it into the best home-buying shape possible.

Pull your credit report

There are three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), and each releases its own credit scores and reports (a more detailed history that’s used to determine your score). Their scores should be roughly equivalent, although they do pull from different sources. For example, Experian considers on-time rent payments while TransUnion has detailed information about previous employers.

To access these scores and reports, financial planner Bob Forrest of Mutual of Omaha recommends using AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can get a free copy of your report every 12 months from each credit-reporting company. It doesn’t include your credit score, though—you’ll have to go to each company for that, and pay a small fee.

Or check with your credit card company: Some, including Discover and Capital One, offer free access to scores and reports, says Michael Chadwick, owner of Chadwick Financial Advisors in Unionville, CT. Once you’ve got your report, thoroughly review it page by page, particularly the “adverse accounts” section that details late payments and other slip-ups.

Assess where you stand

It’s simple: The better your credit history, the higher your score—and the better your opportunities for a home loan. The Federal Housing Administration requires a minimum credit score of 580 to permit a 3.5% down payment, and major lenders often require at least 620, if not more. So what can you do if your credit report is in less than shipshape? Don’t panic, there are ways to clean it up.

How to improve your credit score with error disputes

A 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that 5% of credit reports contain errors that can erroneously ding your score. So if you spot any, start by sending a dispute letter to the bureau, providing as much documentation as possible, per FTC guidelines. You’ll also need to contact the organization that provided the bad intel, such as a bank or medical provider, and ask it to update the info with the bureau. This may take a while, and you may need documentation to make your case. But once the bad info is removed, you should see a bump in your score.

Erase one-time mistakes

So you’ve made a late payment or two—who hasn’t? Call the company that registered the late payment and ask that it be removed from your record. “If you had an oopsy and missed just a payment or two, most companies will indeed tell their reporting division to remove this from your credit report,” says Forrest. Granted, this won’t work if you have a history of late payments, but for accidents and small errors, it’s an easy way to improve your credit score.

Increase your limits

One no-brainer way to increase your credit score is to simply pay off your debt. Not an option right now?  Here’s a cool loophole: Ask your credit card companies to increase your credit limit instead. This improves your debt-to-credit ratio, which compares how much you owe to how much you can borrow.

“Having $1,000 of credit card debt is bad if you have a limit of $1,500. It isn’t nearly as bad if your limit is $5,000,” Forrest says. The simple math: Although you owe the same amount, you’re using a much smaller percentage of your available credit, which shines well on your borrowing practices.

Pay on time

If you’re often late with payments, now’s the time to change. You have the power to improve your credit score yourself. Commit to always paying your bills on time; consider signing up for automatic payments so it’s guaranteed to get done.

Give yourself time

Unfortunately, negative items (such as those habitually late or nonexistent payments) can stay on your report for up to seven years. The good news? Changing your habits makes a big difference in the “payment history” segment of your report, which accounts for 35% of your score. That’s why it’s essential to start early so that you’re sitting pretty once you’re shopping for homes and find one that makes you swoon.

Once you’ve set your credit on a better path, it’s time to tackle the next major hurdle: saving for a down payment.

Article by Jamie Wiebe

Top 12 Colors to Help Sell Your Home Fast

By Realtor.com Creative Studio

Painting the interior of a house that’s about to hit the market is a project with a twist—the colors you choose will need to strike that magic on-the-market balance between a blank slate and an inviting home where buyers can imagine themselves living. Sound intimidating? Here’s the good news: A fresh coat of paint always helps. According to real estate pros, paint is one of the quickest, easiest ways to make a space feel move-in ready. Here’s how to get it right, along with a dozen foolproof colors to try.

Versatile neutrals

Neutrals are a real estate professional’s go-tos for a reason. They’re livable, flexible, and universal. “I usually advise my clients to keep their color palette close to neutrals,” says Nicole Vidor, a Realtor® in New York’s Hudson Valley. “The current style is minimal with clean lines—white or neutral walls and light flooring, often stripped to raw wood or pickled with a white, semi-transparent stain.” To achieve this light and airy look, try:

  1. Pale Oak OC-20: A greige (gray/beige) that’s a warm alternative to pale gray
  2. Edgecomb Gray HC-173: A muted, earthy hue
  3. Classic Gray OC-23: A soft, subtle shade that’s light and refined

Warm whites

“More often than not I suggest white,” says Nicole. “Not only does it offer a clean, fresh feeling but it also allows the buyer to envision their own personal color palette.” With whites, it helps to choose a few different options and sample colors in your space to see what works.

“White takes in all of the surrounding color and light,” says Nicole. “A color that looked very white on the paint chart can look yellow on a wall depending on its base pigments, the lighting in the room, the exterior light source, and the floor color. All neutrals are very sensitive to their environments, inside and out.” That said, it’s hard to go wrong with one of Benjamin Moore’s most popular paint colors. A few to consider:

  1. Swiss Coffee OC-45: Warm without yellow undertones—perfect for sophisticated spaces
  2. White Dove OC-17: A bright white with just a bit of warmth to make rooms more inviting
  3. Simply White OC-117: A warm white that goes with almost any wood

Cool whites

Cool whites feel modern and work particularly well in urban environments. While buyers may not buy a home based on a paint color, if you choose something that stands out too much, they might decide not to buy it. “The majority of buyers are deeply affected by their first impression of a home,” explains Nicole. “More often than not, a bold color palette can deter a client from even considering a property.” Repaint any brightly-colored walls that might make a home feel dated.

  1. White Heron OC-75: A tranquil shade that pairs well with cool grays
  2. Calm OC-22: An off-white that’s great for serene spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms
  3. Chantilly Lace OC-65: A fresh, true white with no noticeable undertones

Beyond the basics

Every house has a different context, and the color that helps one home sell might not work in another. This is especially true when it comes to exteriors, which depend on the surrounding houses. “You should choose a color that’s copacetic with your neighbors,” Nicole explains. “Dark gray—nearly black—has been in fashion for the last several years. In some places it looks extremely elegant, and in other situations it can feel foreboding.” For a few inviting color options, try:

  1. Revere Pewter HC-172: A warm, welcoming light gray
  2. Coventry Gray HC-169: A classic American color from the historic collection
  3. Hale Navy HC-154: A dark, saturated shade that’s steeped in tradition

Consider quality

To make your property more desirable, invest in quality products. Agents often include branded appliance and paint names on listings to catch shoppers’ attention. “Brands can be very important,” says Nicole, “from refrigerators and stoves to windows and hardware.” Benjamin Moore paints are known for their timeless colors and long-lasting quality, and it often takes fewer cans to cover a room than other paint brands. You can even search for “Benjamin Moore” on real estate sites to find listings that mention paint brands in the property description. “Buyers are much more savvy now to stylish but cheap and shoddy products,” Nicole says. “The seller is better off investing a bit extra for quality.”

Article by By Realtor.com Creative Studio

8 Things Pets Secretly Hate About Your Home

(sankai/iStock)

We’re crazy about our pets, but have you ever asked yourself what your house looks like from your dog or cat’s perspective? If not, it’s time to put yourself in your pet’s paws.

According to animal behaviorists and vets, certain features or items in a home can make dogs and cats mighty uncomfortable. So if you want to create an environment that keeps your four-legged family members happy, check out this list of home amenities that pets often hate—as well as solutions that you can both live with.

1. Dogs hate hardwood floors

Your gleaming hardwood floors may bring warmth and charm to your home, but dogs find them difficult to walk on. The reason: Slick hardwoods have lousy traction, says Jenna Stregowski, a registered veterinary technician.

“When dogs feel like they have less control, they take their toenails and claw into the surface,” says Stregowski. Hardwood floors can be particularly tough for older dogs or dogs with arthritis.

Solution: Wailani Sung, a veterinary behaviorist and owner of All Creatures Behavior Counseling in Kirkland, WA, recommends placing nonskid area rugs on the ground to make the floors easier for pups to walk on.

Don’t want to cover your beautiful hardwoods? Stregowski suggests buying ToeGrips, nonslip rubber rings that slide onto your dog’s toenails to improve traction.

2. Dogs hate your fireplace

“A lot of dogs don’t like the crackling or popping sound of logs in the fireplace,” says Sung. Meanwhile, if you have a gas fireplace, the ticking sound when you turn it on can also scare your pooch.

Solution: Before using the fireplace, give your dog a bone to distract it.

Bonus: “He’ll begin to associate the fireplace with a treat,” says Sung. “It’s positive conditioning.”

3. Dogs hate scented cleaning products

Strong odors can irritate your dog’s nasal passages. “Even a mild-scented cleaner can be a problem, since [odors] smell stronger to dogs than they do to us,” Stregowski says.

Solution: Use odorless cleaners instead of harsh-smelling ones such as vinegar or bleach.

4. Dogs hate chain-link fences

Enclosing your backyard with a fence gives your dog the ability to roam around without your supervision, but chain-link fences can create anxiety. Why? Because dogs can see through the fence at that squirrel, stray cat, or strange human on the other side, but can’t get past the fence to do anything about it. Bummer. Ever stared at desserts through a window? Same idea—it drives ’em crazy.

Solution: If you’re building a fence, opt for solid panels to block your dog’s line of sight, says Mikkel Becker, an animal trainer at FearFreePets.com, a website that provides online and in-person education to veterinary professionals. If you already have a chain-link fence installed, you can buy wooden boards or vinyl panels to cover the gaps.

5. Cats hate being confined to low spaces

Cats are descended from wild predators that spend a lot of time in trees while they’re hunting, says Nicholas Dodman, author of “Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry.” Consequently, felines crave access to high spaces, and they hate when they can’t access balconies, lofts, or other perches.

Solution: Give your cat spaces to climb. For example, consider building high shelves that are accessible from other furniture, like a sofa or mattress.

6. Cats hate most scratching posts

Cats scratch in order to mark their territory, which is why pet experts recommend homeowners buy scratching posts. Unfortunately, “a lot of scratching posts are made from materials that cats don’t like,” so they don’t use them, says Becker.

Solution: To protect your furniture, buy scratching posts that are made from sisal, a fabric that mimics the rough surface of a tree trunk that cats love to scratch. Also, “make sure that the post is at least 3 feet high, and that it’s anchored to the ground so it doesn’t rock when your cat scratches it,” says Becker.

7. Cats hate tiny litter boxes

Litter boxes come in all shapes and sizes, but you need a litter box that’s large enough for your cat. Buy one that’s too small, and cats may feel inclined to do their business elsewhere.

Solution: Your litter box should be at least one and a half times the length of your cat, says Becker.

Also, “don’t put the litter box in a location that’s difficult for the cat to reach,” says Becker, who recommends transforming a cabinet into a litter box if you’re looking to conceal it. (Just make sure there’s enough ventilation.)

Pro tip: “You want to have at least two litter boxes, because a lot of cats like to go No. 1 in one box and No. 2 in the other box,” says Becker.

8. Cats and dogs hate dark spaces

Like us, cats and dogs need vitamin D from sunlight exposure to protect against osteoporosis, rotted teeth, respiratory infections, and other health issues—which explains why they hate being trapped in dark spaces.

Solution: This one is pretty straightforward: Don’t relegate your pet to dark spaces, like the basement. Open those blinds and let them lie in the sun!

Article by Daniel Bortz

What Is a Wet Room? The Pros, Cons, and Costs of This Trendy Bathroom, Explained

Getty Images)

You might think all bathrooms are wet rooms—especially when your kids play “stormy seas” in the tub. But an official wet room is actually a specific bathroom design that’s currently riding a wave of popularity.

“Wet rooms have become very trendy in the last few years, as they create a sleek almost bathhouse-like feel that’s both visually appealing and functional,” says Greg Mundia, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in San Francisco.

But is the return on investment worth the expense and headache that this renovation entails? For help, we’ve got the skinny on everything related to wet rooms, including the pros, cons, and costs you’ll incur.

What is a wet room?

Photo by Ashley Campbell Interior Design

A wet room is a completely waterproofed enclosure that encompasses the shower and often the tub. This space has been “tanked”—which means the floors, walls, and even the ceiling are sealed to keep moisture out. Plus it usually features a curbless shower entry that’s level with the whole floor.

Wet rooms also have a gradual slope in the floor that leads to a drain, and they’ll typically sport a glass door, glass partition, or a half or pony wall to delineate the shower space and contain any errant splashing from the shower’s spray.

That said, “a wet room can also be an open bathroom that has no separation between the shower and the rest of the room,” says architect Melanie Turner, director of residential design at Perkins and Will.

The toilet is usually located outside the wet room or in a water closet.

Benefits of a wet room

Photo by Very Red Design

Wet rooms telegraph luxury. In fact, when Mundia considers a potential listing with a wet room, he sees this as a plus.

“I love to see wet rooms,” says Mundia. “They really class up a home.”

Photo by High Definition Design

Wet rooms are also a smart upgrade for older people who want to age in place. The reason? Without a curb or steps into the shower, a homeowner with a walker or wheelchair can wash with ease.

Photo by Woodenbox LLC

Wet rooms are also easier to clean, say the experts, in part because you can just spray it down with the shower nozzle.

Downsides of a wet room

Photo by David Coleman / Architecture

Yet wet rooms do come with some challenges. For one, even the most careful person is bound to point the shower spray in the wrong direction, making a wet room wet where you don’t want it to be.

“In theory a wet room can fit into any space, but the truth is nobody wants their toilet, sink, or bathroom door all wet from a wily shower head,” says Tony Mariotti, a real estate agent at RubyHome in Los Angeles.

And if there’s no built-in barrier or the wet room is squished into a too-tight space, it just isn’t practical.

“When this room is done right, it shouldn’t get the entire space wet when you use the shower,” Mariotti adds.

A supersized shower amenity may also use more water and require more power to heat that H2O than a slender stall. And just being in this fab space may tempt homeowners to linger much longer, which means lots of water down the drain and higher bills, too.

How much does a wet room cost?

Photo by Treefrog Design

According to Fixr, you can expect to pay 20% to 30% more for a wet room than a typical bathroom, which translates to about $15,000 extra on top of the usual bathroom renovation bill.

“You’ll pay for additional tile, all the waterproofing, and drainage,” says Turner. And high-end finishes are often a go-to here, further boosting the cost.

And while wet rooms are generally viewed as space savers, “the amount of square footage needed for this amenity is greater than if you combined the toilet and bathroom functions and had a shower-tub configuration.”

As for the return on investment, or ROI, Mundia thinks that upgrading a bathroom almost always affords a good ROI for homeowners.

Still, it has to work with your home’s design, and because wet rooms are a trend right now, it’s hard to say whether they’ll pay off more than a regular bath.

“If the look matches your home’s style and you personally want one and plan to live there for some time, it’s a good move,” says Mariotti. “But the upfront cost is more and if you’re looking to sell, it’s likely better to opt for a traditional bath instead.”

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Grilled Corn on the Cob

@spendwithpennies.com

Grilled Corn on the Cob is definitely something to get fired up about. It’s amazing how a little smoke and a little char enhances the sweetness and brings out the true flavor of corn. -by Holly

A traditional grilled corn recipe is served slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt. It goes perfect next to grilled classic hamburgers, steak, grilled chicken or BBQ chicken. The pure taste of summer!

PREP TIME 5 minutes
COOK TIME 15 minutes
TOTAL TIME 20 minutes
SERVINGS 4 servings
AUTHOR Holly Nilsson
A little smoke and a little char-blackening enhances the sweetness and brings out the true flavor of corn. This traditional grilled corn recipe is served slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt.

Ingredients

  • 4 ears of corn
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil if direct grilling
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

To Grill Corn in Husks

  • Peel back the husks of the corn without detaching them from the bottom of the cob. Remove silk and fold husks back into place to cover the corn.
  • Place corn in a sink or large bowl of water to soak for at least 15 minutes (it can soak overnight if needed).
  • Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  • Remove corn from the water and shake off excess so it’s not dripping. Place cobs on the grill and cook 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Once corn is cooked to your liking remove from the grill, peel off husks and serve with butter, salt & pepper.

To Direct Grill Corn

  • Preheat grill to medium heat.
  • Remove husks and silk from corn. Brush each piece with olive oil.
  • Place corn directly on the grill and cook 10-15 minutes turning occasionally.
  • Remove from grill and serve with butter, salt & pepper to taste.

Notes

Nutrition information does not include butter or olive oil as these can be added to taste.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 77, Carbohydrates: 17g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 14mg, Potassium: 243mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 170IU, Vitamin C: 6.1mg, Iron: 0.5mg

How To Prepare To Make a Down Payment on a House

(iStock)

One of the biggest hurdles in buying a home is coming up with a down payment—the large chunk of cash that’s typically required to secure a mortgage for a house.

Fortunately, most lenders today offer a wide range of down payment options for 5%, 10%, 15%, or 20% of the price of the house. For many first-time home buyers, a government-backed FHA loan can be obtained for as little as 3.5% down. If you are a military member or veteran, there are even more budget-friendly options available to you.

If you have your eye on a home and want to see what a mortgage will look like based on different down payments, you can crunch your numbers with an online mortgage calculator or a home affordability calculator. And if you have the down payment you need, you can go straight to applying for mortgage pre-approval.

However, if you need to come up with a bit more cash, setting up a savings plan now will help you get the down payment you need. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to making a down payment.

Why big down payments are better

Sound financial planning can help you amass a large down payment. Here’s why that’s usually a good idea:

  • Smaller monthly payments: Homeowners with small down payments will find themselves with larger monthly mortgage payments.
  • Less risk for the lender: While low down-payment loans are available, lenders prefer to write loans with larger down payments. So you’ll have a larger choice of lenders to choose from.
  • Competitive interest rates: A bigger down payment increases your chances of getting a loan with a lower mortgage interest rate.
  • No mortgage insurance: If you choose a loan that requires less than a 20% down payment, your lender may require you to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). The PMI is usually tacked on to your monthly payment until you’ve built 20% equity.

Down payment strategies

Many home buyers tap their savings to procure the funds for a down payment, and often postpone large outlays in order to save money. But here are some other ways to come up with a chunk of money.

  • Gifts from family or friends: Some types of loans allow “gift” funds—money that is given to you—for a down payment. The person who gives the money must have no financial interest in the property and the funds must be a true gift, backed up by a letter. Banks won’t allow “gift” funds if the gift is actually a loan that has to be repaid.
  • Down payment assistance: Many local and state government programs offer down payment assistance for borrowers in need, so check with your lender or state housing commission for more information.
  • No-PMI home loans: There are a few loan options that allow you to put down less than 20% without the added PMI cost. Check with your lender to see if it offers a low-down-payment, no-PMI product if a 20% down payment seems too challenging

Make saving a habit

The surefire way to make your down payment is to start a fund for it now. Sure, saving for a down payment is tough, and building up a nest egg one paycheck at a time can be frustrating. To help you get you to a down payment faster, here are some strategies you can use to make saving money a habit—not a chore.

Review your budget. If you don’t know where your money’s going, you won’t know where you can cut back.

Curb nonessential spending. Once you know where your hard-earned pennies are going, ask yourself if you really need that Starbucks, name-brand item, or subscriptions to every streaming service. Trim the fat from your budget—and the savings could be substantial.

  • Direct deposit: Set up a payroll deposit into your savings account or an automatic checking-to-savings transfer on payday, to make savings a no-brainer
  • Low-risk investments: Consider certificates of deposit, money market funds, and other low- to no-risk savings or investment vehicles to help your savings accumulate interest.
  • Nix credit cards: Reduce your credit card debt by only using a card for emergencies.
  • Adjust your tax withholding: It may feel good to get a tax refund in the spring, but that’s essentially a free loan to the government. The money you get back is cash that could have been earning interest for a year. The IRS website has a calculator to learn how much in taxes you should have withheld from your income.
Article by Craig Donofrio

7 Red Flags Renters Need to Know About Apartment Shopping During the COVID-19 Pandemic

(ozgurcankaya/Getty Images)

It’s not a secret that the coronavirus pandemic has made renting a home or apartment stressful for both landlords and tenants.

About 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, according to Moody’s Analytics, and rental rates in big coastal cities have fallen year over year as renters flee to the suburbs. But rents in fast-growing cities and spillover markets like Rochester, NY, and Tacoma, WA, are on the rise, according to realtor.com’s September rent report.

But no matter where you’re renting—or how many times you’ve rented in the past—looking at and leasing a home safely during a pandemic is complicated. It requires forethought and consideration, taking into account your budget and additional safety measures so everyone involved in the process can stay safe.

With the pandemic still presenting a risk for apartment shoppers, here’s what renters should be asking about and what red flags should send you running.

1. Suspiciously low rent

Everyone wants a deal, especially in the face of economic challenges. But if you’re seeing a too-good-to-be-true deal, especially in historically high markets like New York City or San Francisco, be wary.

“These historic low prices aren’t going to last forever,” says Beatrice Genco, a real estate adviser with New York City’s Triplemint. “There are some properties giving away one, two, even three months free, but what does that mean for next year? Landlords are hurting and want to increase prices as soon as they can, so lock yourself into a longer lease or make sure you understand how much the landlord is going to increase the rent.”

2. No COVID-19 policies

Your potential new landlords should be able to share the ways in which they are keeping their community clean and healthy based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes the measures they’re taking for disinfecting high-touch areas and enforcing social distancing. If this information is not presented to you up front, ask. Landlords should have a clearly outlined policy in place to safeguard tenants, and if they don’t, you may have to walk away from the deal.

It’s also important to find out what has been done to clean the individual unit you’re interested in since the last tenant vacated.

“Have the rugs been deep-cleaned?” asks Deidre Woollard, a real estate expert for the investing service Millionacres in Alexandria, VA. “Have all walls, floors, and countertops been wiped with bleach or antibacterial cleaning products? Have they replaced HVAC filters?”

3. Pricey shared amenities

Shared amenities like gyms, roof decks, and pools are normally a draw (and a justification for above-average rent rates) for larger apartment complexes. But during the pandemic-induced era of social distancing, many of these amenities have been closed or significantly limited.

Woollard reminds would-be renters to “find out what shared amenities are open and what precautions are being used to keep those spaces safe and clean. If a gym or pool is closed, will renters be compensated with a rebate?”

4. No social media presence

It’s almost 2021. Virtually every business and individual have a presence online, and that includes apartment complexes, brokers, and landlords. Part of a prospective renter’s due diligence should include checking out potential leasers on social media.

Greg Bond, president of Greater Orlando Home Buyers, warns that if you can’t find their social media accounts, that might mean they’re using a fake identity. These untraceable individuals are the same ones, he says, who “try to reel you in quick so you don’t notice the small details that can derail their shenanigans.”

5. Neglected maintenance

Whether they’re working with an agent or not, renters should consider conducting their own pre-leasing inspection of appliances and utilities in the apartment.

“As a renter, you need to make sure that everything in the property is in working condition before signing a lease,” says Max Cohen, CEO of Sarasota’s Florida Home Buyers. “A lot of landlords are dealing with cash flow shortages and are pushing off major repairs that can end up costing you. For example, an inefficient air conditioner can raise your electric bill significantly, and a slow-leaking toilet can cost you hundreds of dollars over the course or your lease.”

So before you sign on the dotted line, go ahead and turn on the air conditioner, turn on sinks, flush the toilet and let it fill up, open and close windows, run the shower and tub, inspect the microwave and other appliances, and switch on the oven.

6. Freshly painted wood

A newly painted trim may seem like a welcome sign of diligence on the landlord’s part, but it may actually be hiding a problem.

Rotting wood can require extra effort and cost to replace, so landlords often paint over it. This hides it temporarily, but by move-in day, the problem is often visible.

Paige Nejame, a Boston-based house painter who sees this a lot, suggests pressing or poking freshly painted wood to check for soft spots, especially near the seams and edges of rooms where water can gather.

7. The landlord won’t show you the apartment

Be on the lookout for property owners or agents who won’t let you tour the space, citing fears over COVID-19 as the reason. If your city or state is on lockdown, you may be forced to delay touring the apartment. However, there are ways to tour an apartment safely; some properties are offering self-guided tours while others give the option of a socially distanced tour with face masks and gloves.

“Many owners are trying to rent out units sight unseen, saying they want to limit in-person interactions,” says Ashley Romiti, a senior associate at Vantis Capital Advisors in Irvine, CA. “But photos and virtual tours can be misleading.”

If you’re adamant about touring the apartment before leasing, say so.

“If they refuse to accommodate your requests, you have probably dodged a bullet,” Romiti says.

Article by Kathleen Willcox

Pets Home Alone? 6 Ways To Keep Dogs (and Cats) Calm When You’re Gone

(Getty Images)

Does your pooch panic when you depart? Many pets experience anxiety when left home alone—particularly if they’ve gotten used to you being around 24/7 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet as COVID-19 vaccine availability spreads and more people resume their commute to an office, many pet owners might worry how Fido will cope if he can’t curl up near Mom or Dad pecking away at a laptop.

So how do you know if your pet may suffer from separation anxiety? According to integrated veterinarian Judy Morgan, some telltale signs are if your pet follows you everywhere, is always in the same room as you, or acts anxious (barking, panting) when you leave. Once you’re gone, you might hear your pet pace, whine, or howl. Or else you may return home to a destruction zone—e.g., Fido has gnawed a rug or armchair to shreds. (For the record, cats are more solitary animals and less likely to have issues when left alone, although that doesn’t mean they won’t get into mischief.)

“We humans are pets’ pack leaders,” explains Morgan. “When the pack leader leaves, animals who are not adjusted to being alone can become distraught.”

If you recognize that your pets may be struggling when you’re not there, here are some ways you can help assuage their animal angst.

1. Create a safe room

One of the best things you can do to assuage your pets’ anxiety is to create a “safe room” in the house just for them.

It could be a closet or a small room in the basement—preferably with no windows—someplace where your pets can go to feel calm. You can create that space by setting it up with a bed, or some toys your pets love that they get to enjoy only while in there, and perhaps some sweatshirts with your scent on them.

“Get them to love the room by spending time in there with them. Read a book or play on your phone or computer while being present but ignoring them, rewarding them for entertaining themselves and being calm,” says Morgan. “It also serves as your pet’s den—dogs like to hide in small places.”

Make sure this area can keep out light flashes (from ambulance or fire truck lights or lightning) and noise (from thunder, sirens, etc.). By getting your pets used to their safe room before you go out, you’re giving them a place where they can feel protected and retreat to.

2. Cue the exit music

Putting on some pet-friendly songs prior to your departure can really help fill the void caused by your absence.

“I like to use spa music because it helps soothe the pet. You can also leave on dog TV or something entertaining for them to watch,” says Morgan.

Another option she recommends is “Through a Dog’s Ear” or “Through a Cat’s Ear”—soundtracks of piano music that have been shown to quash anxiety in 70% of dogs in shelters and kennels, and 85% of dogs in homes. Cats and dogs, after all, are highly sensitive to sound—and these soundtracks are designed by a neurologist to include frequencies and patterns that calm the canine (and feline) nervous system.

3. Plug in some pheromones

In addition to acute hearing, many pets have a keen sense of smell—which is why wafting animal pheromones can chill them out. Delivered via a pet collar, spray, or diffuser like these ones from Adaptil, “the pheromones replicate the pheromones mother dogs emit when they are nursing their puppies,” says Morgan. “They have been clinically proven to decrease stress that leads to unwanted behaviors.”  (Thankfully, these scents are not easily detectable by humans.)

4. Toss them a toy and/or treat

Chances are your pet has a favorite toy and you can use that as a way to offer comfort when you’re heading out. However, another tactic Morgan suggests is to get a stash of new toys that you disseminate in times of stress or distraction.

“I really like food toys if the pet is food-motivated. Something like a Kong,” says Morgan. “I like to fill them with bone broth or baby food or anything the dog will really like, put them in the freezer, take them out, and give them to the dog to lick and work at. It’s a great distractor, and bone broth is really healthy for them.”

5. Drop in CBD oil

Cannabidiol oil—oil extracted from hemp plants—is all the rage right now for humans looking to chill out, but the good news is that you can use the same drops to calm your anxious pet.

According to Morgan, CBD interacts with receptors in a dog’s central nervous system that manage mood, appetite, the immune system, and sleep. When CBD oil components bind to those receptors in a dog’s central nervous system, it increases the animal’s serotonin level to help achieve a sense of calm.

Just keep your dosage in mind—for starters, don’t use any oil that contains more than 0.3% THC. From there, you should consider your pet’s weight.

“Dosing is generally 1 mg per 10 pounds body weight, but you can go higher if necessary to get the desired effect,” suggests Morgan.

There are still ongoing studies to determine the best range for pets, she explains, but this is a safe starting point. Try administering drops directly in your pet’s mouth, or adding it to your dog’s food, water, or a treat.

6. Wrap them up

Wrapping your dog in a ThunderShirt can keep it calm.(ThunderWorks)

Just like a weighted blanket can make a human feel safe and cared for, wrapping up your dog before you leave the house can make it feel more secure.

“The wrap has to be snug, sort of like making a papoose to swaddle an infant,” says Morgan, who adds that while a blanket could work in a pinch, you risk your pet getting tangled if it panics.

Another option is to wrap your pet in a ThunderShirt. This is a calming wrap that you can put on your pet during a stressful situation to help it feel calmer and less anxious. Its patented design works by applying gentle, constant pressure around your pet’s torso, and it has been shown to be 80% effective in reducing pet anxiety.

Article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann

5 Plumbing Maintenance Tasks You Should Really Address Before the Summer Months

(Getty Images)

Can it really be? Summer is finally right around the corner. And after a year of being stuck indoors, you probably have plans to seriously enjoy the warm-weather months and live life as carefree as possible. Your home’s plumbing is likely not topping the list of things you want to be thinking about right now. But performing preventive maintenance before those summer days come can give you peace of mind all season long.

“You might be hosting families and friends over the summertime and your home’s plumbing system will see an uptick in usage, so it’s important that you conduct the necessary maintenance now to avoid unexpected plumbing issues,” says Jack Pruitt, brand manager at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. “Be proactive instead of reactive.”

Make sure you accomplish the projects below to ensure a plumbing-disaster-free summer.

1. Clear your home’s drains of residue

Drains can get gunky and build up residue over time due to daily hand-washing, showering, and other tasks. While you’re performing your pre-summer maintenance tasks, it’s important to clean the drains to avoid unexpected clogs.

“While some homeowners rely on commercial drain cleaners to get the job done, that’s not always the best or safest option,” says Pruitt. “Consider using an all-natural and less expensive option to clean your drains.”

He suggests pouring a half-cup baking soda down the drain, then a half-cup vinegar. The chemical reaction will help dissolve any clog. After 10 to 15 minutes, slowly pour hot water to clear out lingering residue.

“If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, swap it out for lemon juice—the acidity of lemons can have a similar effect on cleaning your drains,” says Pruitt.

2. Clean the gutters ahead of summer rainstorms

Many plumbers consider gutters part of your plumbing system because they carry water away from your house. If gutters are overtopped with water, it can damage the home’s foundation and walls of the basement, creating cracks that may grow over time.

Pruitt says all kinds of debris can land in your gutters, including leaves, twigs, seeds, and even wind-borne trash like plastic bags.

“When this happens, the first part of your home in danger of water damage is the roof, as pooling water can rot your fascia, shingles, and the edge of your roofline,” he says.

“To clean your gutters, use a ladder on leveled ground that locks in place,” he says. “Hook an empty bucket to the top of the ladder to collect the debris you remove, and be sure to use work gloves as you’re removing the debris.”

Using a handheld garden tool such as a trowel can be useful while cleaning gutters and can help scrape up sludge from the bottom of the gutter. Once the gutter is clear, use a hose to wash it completely clean and ensure the water is flowing freely through the downspout.

3. Test your toilets for leaks

A likely source for leaks in plumbing is a faulty flapper, a small piece of rubber that acts as a stopper, separating the tank from the bowl. When the toilet is flushed, the flapper lifts, allowing water to flow into the bowl below and flush away the waste. But over time, the rubber can degrade, wear out, and develop cracks. 

“A good way to test for a leaking flapper is to add a few drops of food coloring to the top of the tank where the flapper and flush valve are. Check to see if the water inside the bowl is turning the color of the food coloring you added,” says Aaron Mulder, co-owner and operations manager for Mr. Rooter of San Antonio.

If you see color, then you have a leaking/passing flapper. Mulder says you can expect to replace your flapper every two to three years. They can be purchased at a local hardware store or home center.

4. Flush the water heater to remove built-up sediment

This is one of those annual tasks that should be tackled with the rest of your spring-cleaning. Throughout the year, calcium and magnesium that can accumulate in your water heater solidify, and potentially mix with dirt and other inclusions, becoming sediment that accumulates at the bottom of your tank. The sediment could increase the chances of a leak coming out of the bottom of the tank and prevent your water heater from heating as effectively.

“Flushing your water heater is a generally simple task. All you will need is a hose that can connect tightly to the flushing valve on the side of your tank and a large bucket,” says Don Glovan, franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing.

He says to first shut off the gas or electrical connection to your tank and connect the hose to the drain valve. Make sure the other end of the hose is in a large bucket or storm drain, open the drain valve, and let the water flow out. At the same time, open your temperature and pressure-relief valve.

If the bucket has sediment crystals in the bottom, then continue letting the water drain through. When new crystals stop appearing in the bottom, close the drain valve and let the tank refill. 

“Then restart your pilot light or turn your electrical connection back on, and your tank should heat up again,” he says.

5. Inspect and maintain your septic tank

If your house runs on a septic system, it’s a good idea to make sure your septic tank is ready to handle the extra use that occurs during the summer. This means keeping your system well-maintained and practicing good septic hygiene.

“Regular maintenance can help prevent problems before they occur, so you don’t end up with sewage backing up into your yard or home,” says Pruitt. “How often you need inspection and maintenance depends on the specific type of system you have, but most need to be checked by an inspector at a minimum every three years.”

He says a septic inspector will look for leaks, clogs, and other malfunctions and determine if the tank needs pumping to remove the solids, the frequency of which will depend on the size of your system, how many people use it, and how much waste you produce.

Article by Anayat Durrani

Hot Dog And Hamburger Buns – Make Your Own

ANDREW BUI

Skip the shelf stable hot dog and hamburger buns this summer and make your own soft and fresh buns. The same dough can be shaped into either hot dog or hamburger buns. The buns come out soft and buttery and are begging to be ripped open straight from the oven. The best part about making your own? No more buns that are way too big for your hot dogs! Top your hamburger buns with sesame seeds or poppy seeds for your perfect burger!

If you like buns that pull apart with soft sides, during the second the rise place them about 1″ apart. If you want crispier edges, place them 3″ apart.

INGREDIENTS

Cooking spray

1 1/4 c. milk, lukewarm

1 tbsp.plus 1 tsp granulated sugar, divided

1(0.25-oz.) packet active dry yeast
5 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. water
3 tbsp. butter, softened

Egg wash, for brushing

Sesame seeds or poppy seeds, for topping (optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Grease a large bowl with cooking spray. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, combine lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon sugar. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in yeast to dissolve.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together flour, remaining tablespoon sugar, and salt. Add yeast mixture and water. Beat on medium speed and with mixer running, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure the butter fully incorporates before adding the next piece. Continue mixing until a smooth dough forms, at least 5 minutes. Transfer dough to greased bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest until doubled, about 1 hour.
  3. Punch dough down to deflate and turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. To make hamburger buns: Roll each piece of dough into a ball and flatten into a 3” round circle. Place on prepared baking sheet about ½” apart from each other.
  5. To make hot dog buns: Roll and stretch each piece of dough into a 4 ½” long cylinder, about 2” wide. Place on prepared baking sheet about ½” apart from each other.
  6. Cover dough and let rise another 45 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 400°. Brush buns with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired.
  8. Bake until golden, 20 minutes.
Recipe found on DELISH

Top Mortgage Myths—Busted

(Yuri_Arcurs/iStock; MattKay/iStock)

Buying a home and getting a mortgage typically go hand in hand. Yet home loans aren’t always easy to understand—and there’s a lot of misinformation out there about how mortgages work.

“A lot of home buyers think the process is simple, but when you start explaining the details, their eyes glaze over,” says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

While it’s understandable that mortgages aren’t a scintillating topic, falling for many of the rampant mortgage myths circulating among (well-meaning) friends and advice givers can hurt your home-buying chances, big-time. For instance: You might believe you can afford a $600,000 house and start looking at properties in that price range. But when you meet with a lender, you might learn your price range actually caps at $500,000. This is what the experts call “a rude awakening.”

To avoid this fate, make sure to crunch your numbers in our mortgage calculator or a home affordability calculator, and apply for mortgage pre-approval to see just where you stand in terms of how much house you can afford.

And make sure you’re aware of the biggest misconceptions about home mortgages. Here are four of the most egregious mortgage myths—debunked.

You need to make a 20% down payment

Sure, a 20% down payment on a home is ideal. After all, the more money you put down, the less you’ll owe—and the less strain you’ll feel to cover your monthly mortgage payments. Still, that doesn’t mean you must put 20% down. Plenty of loan programs accept far less.

The Federal Housing Administration lets borrowers get a mortgage with a down payment as low as 3.5%, as long as their credit score is 580 or higher. (People with credit scores between 500 and 579 are still eligible but must make down payments of at least 10%.)

The catch? If you pay any less than 20% on a conventional loan, you’ll have to cough up private mortgage insurance, an extra monthly fee paid to mitigate the risk that you might default on your loan. And PMI can be pricey, amounting to about 1% of your whole loan—or $1,000 per year per $100,000. Still, if you’re champing at the bit to buy a home, there’s no reason to lose hope if you lack a huge down payment.

The best mortgage is one with the lowest interest rate

Todd Sheinin, a mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD,compares shopping around for home mortgages to buying a car.

“Just because a dealership offers you the cheapest price doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option,” says Sheinin.

While your mortgage interest rate is important because it will affect the size of your monthly payments, don’t forget other fees can vary wildly from offer to offer. For instance, there’s an origination fee to cover the processing and paperwork of the loan, which can vary from 0.5% to 1.5% of your loan—that’s quite a spread.

To make sure you’re getting the best bargain, talk to at least three lenders.

“Don’t just ask about the interest rate,” says Sheinin. Instead, ask the lender for a breakdown of your total costs.

“Loan estimates should break down the fees so that borrowers know exactly what they’re getting,” says Staci Titsworth, a regional manager of PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh. Another question worth asking is the loan officer’s availability. Do they provide clients with their cellphone number?

“If it’s the weekend and you need a pre-approval letter on a property ASAP, but your lender only works 9 to 5, you’re in a bind,” Sheinin points out.

Pre-qualification and pre-approval are essentially the same

Absolutely not.

“Pre-qualification is basically having a conversation with a lender,” says Redmond. “It means nothing.”

On the other hand, a pre-approval entails your providing a loan officer with all necessary documentation—your tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, and more—to obtain a mortgage. The officer then packages the loan and submits the file to an underwriter for review. A lender will then provide you with a letter stating you’ve been pre-approved for a certain amount. And with that letter in hand, you’ll be in prime position to make an offer when you find your dream home. (Of course, the loan will still need to go through formal underwriting when you go to purchase a property.)

An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is only for risk takers

ARMs got a bad rap after the 2008 financial crisis. Because while they offer a lower interest rate for a fixed initial period (typically five years), the rate is subject to change based on market conditions—and could go way up. This is how thousands of homeowners ended up unable to pay their loans, so it’s understandable plenty of potential homeowners are now hesitant to get an ARM.

Yet an ARM may be a viable option based on your unique circumstances. For example, if you’re planning to move within five years, then you’re a good candidate. An ARM’s rate won’t even start adjusting until you’ve left the property. And in that time frame, you’ll save a ton on interest, because an ARM’s interest rates are typically lower than that of fixed-rate mortgages. This translates to lower monthly mortgage payments and, of course, more money in your pocket.

Article by Daniel Bortz

Flooring Forecast 2021: Here’s What’s Trending in Bathroom Floors

Realtor.com Creative Studio

If a well-designed house is like a complete outfit, we like to think of the bathroom as the perfect accessory that ties everything together. It’s a little space with the power to make a big impact and a prime opportunity to make bold design choices—starting at the ground level with great flooring.

From a price and time-commitment perspective, a bathroom renovation is an ideal starting place for any fixer-upper. And because the footprint is small, the bathroom is a natural space to experiment with some up-and-coming flooring trends.

Getting started with your bathroom flooring makeover is as easy as pulling up The Home Depot’s app. First, snap a picture of a flooring style you like and use the app’s Image Search feature to find similar products that will get you the look you love. Then, use the Product Locator to find it at your local store (right down to the aisle). Whether you want to hire a licensed flooring professional or are eager to test your DIY skills with beginner-friendly flooring materials, The Home Depot has the resources to turn your vision into reality.

That leaves the fun part to you: selecting flooring for your bathroom makeover. Here is a look at some emerging trends:

Go with a color-infused stone look

In bathrooms, stone-type flooring is a traditional pick for good reason: It offers durability, is easy to clean, and always looks classic. But even classics can go for an updated look—like this oceanic porcelain tile.

“Color can be used everywhere, including the bathroom,” says Sarah Fishburne, Director of Trend & Design for The Home Depot. “We’re seeing more blue-green tones incorporated into flooring.”

The beauty of vibrant flooring tiles is that they can make an otherwise standard-stock bathroom look custom. If your budget and timeline don’t allow for a full renovation, a tile like this can set the tone for future updates to come while delivering some serious style. The result, says Fishburne, is a refreshing, updated color palette.

Tile also is a great option for eager DIY-ers. Start with a tutorial on how to lay tile and then borrow everything you need for the job through The Home Depot’s extensive tool rental shop.

Pick a maximalist pattern

For too long, the trend has been to play it safe with flooring. This year, it’s all about embracing bold, maximalist patterns or designs. “Maximalism is the new minimalism,” says Fishburne. “Surround yourself with items and design that bring comfort and joy.”

Maximalist flooring can help freshen up the farmhouse-like aesthetic that was popularized in the mid 2010s. By contrasting with white or brown cabinets, maximalist flooring will make the whole bathroom space look trend-forward.

Even with large-scale patterns, there is no need to get intimidated by measurements. Along with tips for getting accurate measurements, The Home Depot’s app has built-in quantity calculators for flooring supplies.

Get a waterproof wood look

If you’re new to homeownership or it’s been a while since your last renovation, it’s time to take a look at luxury vinyl plank (LVP) flooring. One of the fastest growing categories in flooring, LVP takes top marks for durability and ease of DIY installation. It’s also a great way to incorporate the wood look into a bathroom space—without dreading every splash or spill. Not only is LVP waterproof but also scratch, stain, and slip resistant.

With an attached underlayment, installing LVP is as simple as clicking and locking the planks together. Even with minimal DIY skills, you can transform your whole bathroom in less time than it takes to unpack your kitchen boxes. And speaking of boxes: You probably don’t want many more piling up in your house. With a schedule delivery option, The Home Depot can deliver the flooring materials and tools you need—when you need them.

Throw it back with retro flooring

Think you’ll need to pick between price, ease of installation and style? Not so with vinyl-sheet flooring, which comes in a huge variety of styles and patterns that can all be explored through The Home Depot’s app. You can filter by color, style, price, rating, and even what type of subfloor the sheets are suitable for laying over. You can even search for vinyl flooring that is certified as antimicrobial.

Trend forecasters expect retro-inspired flooring to surge this year. And with vinyl-sheet flooring, you can make the “what’s old is new again” look happen in just hours. With its realistic look and texture at a fraction of the cost of tile, vinyl-sheet flooring can keep your budget in check as you move onto other renovation projects.

The bottom line

Whether you choose from one of these trends or start one of your own, the theme here is: Don’t be afraid to go big in your smallest space. With The Home Depot as your expert partner to get from “just moved in” to “just right for me,” your bathroom might just end up the star of your new home.

Article by Realtor.com Creative Studio

7 of the Creepiest Things Movers Have Ever Found in Homes

(porcorex/iStock)

Many of us enjoy showcasing a few spooky items around the house this time of year. But some people’s troves of creepy things aren’t merely Halloween decorations—they’re the stuff of waking nightmares.

We spoke with professional movers from all over to find out some of the creepiest things they’ve ever discovered while emptying out homes. Their stories might just surprise you, and definitely aren’t for the faint of heart. From human remains to demonic writings scratched onto walls, here are seven of the spookiest stories about items movers found on the job.

1. Mystery ashes

Typically people clean out precious items before the movers arrive, but in one case, an urn of human remains either wasn’t considered that important or was forgotten completely—until the movers arrived.

“This Manhattan apartment was densely packed, and extremely messy with lots of hoarded items,” says Lior Rachmany, CEO of Dumbo Moving.

Rachmany says his movers were extremely unnerved when they found the etched urn in pristine condition buried under piles of stuff.

“My team kept asking the customer if they wanted to move the urn themself and take it with them to their new apartment—but they insisted on having the movers handle it,” he says.

2. Enshrined heads

“This was in Philadelphia,” Rachmany recalls. “The movers were cleaning out a hair salon when they found a variety of male and female heads wrapped in plastic all around the room.”

The life-size dummy heads felt all too real to the movers handling them, while their blank faces and crazy hairstyles made the experience even more disturbing.

3. Bewitched skeleton

“The creepiest thing we ever found in a house was an intact human skeleton in a giant, antique, cast-iron cauldron,” says Kevin Godfrey from EmptyUp.com. “It was tarred, feathered, and filled with chicken bones, knives, and daggers.”

The previous tenant of the Patchogue, NY, house had been conducting voodoo ceremonies out of his rented abode.

“Apparently, people were paying him to dig up bodies and cast spells against their enemies,” Godfrey says. “Oddly enough, that’s not even why he was evicted.”

4. Taxidermy nightmare

In a sparse Atlantic City, NJ, apartment, one moving team got a bad surprise when it walked in and saw what appeared to be a large grimacing rodent (later identified as a lemur), standing on a bookshelf at its full height, baring teeth and claws.

“It looked like an elongated rat with beady eyes,” says Rachmany. “One of the movers screamed when they saw it because it looked so alive.”

5. Doppel-doll-ganger

Speaking of beady eyes, what would you do if hundreds of them were staring at you at once? Jeff Wolf‘s team at All My Sons Moving & Storage had to figure this one out fast when it walked into a home in Fort Worth, TX.

“The house was completely dark inside with minimum lights,” says Wolf. “All the windows had blinds and curtains to block out any sunlight from coming in.”

When his crew arrived to do an initial walk-through, it found room after room filled with dolls—voodoo dolls, that is.

“The crew leader estimated that there must have been over 300 dolls,” Wolf recalls, “and the scariest part was that one of the dolls looked almost exactly like one of our movers.”

6. Homeowner’s headstone

Most of us prepare for our inevitable death by writing a will. One resident of Westchester County, NY, seems to have taken things further: When Rachmany’s moving crew arrived in the backyard of the small house, it found the homeowner’s headstone.

“My team wasn’t sure what it was at first, and found out it was a tombstone by turning it over,” says Rachmany. “There was no death date on the tombstone, but it had the homeowner’s name on it, along with the year they were born.”

7. The London house

This one was so scary, we were hard-pressed to find just one spooky thing about it. Professional mover Elisabeth Miller, of Move N’ Go, gives us all the details.

“The house, in general, looked quite abandoned and poorly maintained,” says Miller. “There were a few holes—I can only assume they were peeping holes—in the walls of the bedrooms and the bathrooms, and weird old books left around the house, containing images of organs and dissections.”

But this house had even darker secrets.

“There was a chair roped to the attic ceiling, and a secret basement with old lab equipment—including test tubes filled with unknown liquids,” says Miller.

Then there were the weird, demonic-looking etchings on the bedroom wall, right next to the bed.

“To make things worse, inside the wardrobe I found а painting of a smeared face with a date on the back,” says Miller. “The face on the painting resembled a person I earlier saw in a family photo in the living room. Thinking about it still gives me the chills.”

Article by Larissa Runkle

Best Hamburger Patty Recipe

aspicyperspective.com

Thick or thin, made on the grill or stovetop, this is the best and easiest all-purpose recipe for perfect hamburger patties every time! These juicy, delicious homemade hamburgers are ready in less than 30 minutes, and are a must-make for your next cookout.

Recipe by Sommer Collier

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground chuck
  • ½ cup crushed saltine crackers or Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  • Set out a large mixing bowl. Add in the ground beef, crushed crackers, egg, Worcestershire sauce, milk, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. Mix by hand until the meat mixture is very smooth.
  • Press the meat down in the bowl, into an even disk. Use a knife to cut and divide the hamburger patty mixture into 6 – 1/3 pound grill or skillet patties, or 12 thin griddle patties.
  • Set out a baking sheet, lined with wax paper or foil, to hold the patties. One at a time, gather the patty mix and press firmly into patties. Shape them just slightly larger than the buns you plan to use, to account for shrinkage during cooking. Set the patties on the baking sheet. Use a spoon to press a dent in the center of each patty so they don’t puff up as they cook. If you need to stack the patties separate them with a sheet of wax paper.
  • Preheat the grill or a skillet to medium heat. (Approximately 350-400 degrees F.)
  • For thick patties: Grill or fry the patties for 3-4 minutes per side.
  • For thin patties: Cook on the griddle for 2 minutes per side.
  • Stack the hot patties on hamburgers buns, and top with your favorite hamburgers toppings. Serve warm.

Notes

Homemade hamburger patties will keep well tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

If you substitute regular dried breadcrumbs for the crackers or panko, reduce to 1/4 cup. They are denser and will create a “meatloaf texture” if you add the regular amount.

Nutrition

Serving: 1hamburger | Calories: 430kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 135mg | Sodium: 617mg | Potassium: 486mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 40IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 43mg | Iron: 4mg

How To Get in Line for Homeowner Assistance Funds

(Getty Images)

States are gearing up to distribute nearly $10 billion in aid for homeowners who have been hard hit during the pandemic. So how can struggling homeowners get in line for the cash?

The Homeowner Assistance Fund, created by the latest COVID-19 relief package, provides allocations to states, U.S. territories and tribes with the aim of staving off mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures, utility shut-offs and other issues for vulnerable homeowners.

To qualify, homeowners must have lower incomes and have suffered a financial hardship, such as job loss or hefty healthcare expenses, after Jan. 21, 2020. The aid isn’t limited to mortgage borrowers: Homeowners who need help with delinquent property taxes, homeowner’s association fees, internet service and other expenses may be eligible.

While states are still designing their HAF programs and may take several months to start distributing aid, homeowners can position themselves now to be part of the action, housing advocates say.

Mortgage borrowers who are experiencing a hardship and haven’t yet talked with their loan servicers should make that call now. Find out whether you qualify for a forbearance that temporarily suspends your payments, a loan modification that may reduce your monthly payment, or other options. “You’ll be in a better position to access the state money if you’ve already contacted your servicer” and evaluated what options are available to you now and what additional help you might need, says Julia Gordon, president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, a nonprofit that works to protect neighborhoods from blight.

Borrowers and servicers also need to focus on long-term solutions now to avoid “chaos” in the fall when a wave of struggling borrowers emerge from forbearance, says Diane Thompson, a senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

When communicating with your servicer, “document everything,” says David Dworkin, CEO of the National Housing Conference. “And keep those records.”

Create a file, Dworkin says, that includes any evidence of the pandemic’s impact on your financial situation, such as layoff notices, unemployment insurance income and documentation of your pre-COVID income.

For extra help, contact a housing counseling agency approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These agencies will be working to assist homeowners eligible for the HAF program. The CFPB offers a tool to help you find a counselor in your area.

Article by Eleanor Laise

8 Amenities Every Decent Apartment Should Have: How Many Are in Your Place?

(gorodenkoff / Getty Images)

Whether you are looking for a studio or a three-bedroom apartment, finding the right amenities may make the difference between loving or hating your new pad.

Apartment amenities come in various forms, ranging from an in-unit washer and dryer or state-of-the-art alarm system to biannual pest control or a private parking spot. If you’re lucky, you may find an apartment with all of the above! More likely, however, you’ll have to prioritize depending on what’s important to you.

So what amenities should you put on the top of your list? Here are a few that will make a big difference and are worth having before you sign your next lease.

1. Dishwasher

Once you’ve had a dishwasher, it’s hard to go back to washing dishes by hand. But you already knew that, right?

“A dishwasher has to be arguably the most underrated invention of all time,” says Rostislav Shetman, founder of 9Kilo Moving.

“Washing dishes by hand after a long day at work is the last thing anybody wants to do. Having a dishwasher not only enables you to keep your utensils, and by extension the rest of your kitchen, clean, but since a dishwasher does not need as much water as washing dishes by hand, it also helps you lower your water bill,” says Shetman.

2. Alarm system

Having an alarm system can give you greater peace of mind, but professional installations of new systems can cost hundreds of dollars. To save money, look for an apartment that comes with an alarm system already built in. And don’t forget to ask the landlord who pays for the monthly monitoring. Some landlords offer the system but ask tenants to pay the monthly fees.

And there are other safety amenities to check for.

“Check the dwelling for deadbolts and window locks,” says Karen Condor, a home insurance and real estate specialist. “Also check for safety devices such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Whatever is lacking, request they be installed. This will not only make your apartment much safer, but it will also give you cheaper renters insurance rates.”

3. Pest control

Between wasp nests on your balcony and roaches invading your kitchen, pest control can be a time-consuming, unpleasant, and expensive chore. Some commercial pest control products can also be difficult, or even dangerous, to use. Save yourself the hassle, and look for apartments offering regular professional pest control.

4. Air conditioning—or ceiling fans

If you live in an area where summer temperatures become unbearable, having air conditioning is a no-brainer. Many newer apartments come with central AC, but if not, make sure window units can be installed.

Just keep in mind that AC eats up a lot of electricity, and can raise your monthly bill. To save on these costs, check if the apartment has ceiling fans. In the summer, a ceiling fan set to rotate counterclockwise at a higher speed will circulate air throughout the room, allowing you to feel cooler without running AC.

In the winter, set the ceiling fan to run clockwise at a low speed to force warm air trapped at the ceiling back into the room. You will still have to use the heater on the coldest days, but a simple flip of a switch can reduce some of your heating needs.

5. Washer and dryer

No matter how great an apartment is, lugging your laundry to the laundromat and back each week gets old awfully fast. Ideally, an in-unit washer and dryer combo is the best.

“After you’re out of college, you want your days of lugging your clothes to the laundromat to be over,” says Condor. “As well as saving you time, this will also save you money.”

If you can’t find an apartment with the appliances in the unit, at least try to find a place that has washers and dryers in the building.

6. Private parking

While the apartment complex probably has a parking lot, it could get full on weekends, when tenants are likely to have guests. To make sure you always have a spot, look for a complex that offers reserved parking spaces.

“There is nothing worse than making a large grocery run and having to park a mile away from your place,” says Condor. “Ask about the amount of dedicated space, as well as the amount of overflow parking available.”

7. An outdoor courtyard area

Sometimes you need some fresh air! Look for a complex that offers a courtyard area or, better yet, a swimming pool, so you can spend time outside without having to leave your apartment complex and driving to the nearest park or community pool.

8. On-site maintenance

A busted pipe, an overflowing toilet, or a leaking water heater can cause serious damage to your apartment (and your stuff). Having an on-site emergency maintenance crew can lessen the damage and get your life back to normal quickly.

Article by Clarissa Buch

6 Essential Lawn Care Tips To Revive Your Winter-Worn Yard

(Getty Images)

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the trees are leafing out, and your yard is, well, kind of greening up. But it’s also mostly patchy brown.

It’s no wonder, as winter—and its accompanying snow, ice, and whiplash temperatures—beats up on those slices of backyard heaven.

The good news is, brown grass doesn’t always equal dead grass. And spring is the absolute best time of year to revive all of your turf with a few easy steps.

“The temperatures are cool enough for the seed to germinate, and performing upkeep before June will put you in good shape,” says Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal.

Here’s what to do for your yard to make sure it’s summer-ready (and that your maintenance will be even easier the following year).

1. Figure out if your grass is alive

Once the winter’s snow and ice melt, the first thing to do is check whether your lawn has actually survived. Simply pull on any sections that look iffy.

“If you’re met with resistance, the roots are hanging in there and your grass is still alive,” says Ryan Smith, a gardening expert and owner of Ant and Garden Organic Pest Control in Beaverton, OR.

The brown areas simply need more time to revive from the cold and should perk up soon.

But if the brown grass pulls out from the earth easily, it’s dead. Those alternating winter freezes and thaws can turn turf roots brittle. And note that if you live on a street that’s plowed, road salt also kills grass.

Use a spade to cut out dead areas of turf, pull out all of the discolored grass by hand or with a spade, and gently rake up the debris.

2. Reseed where needed

Once you’ve cleared your ground, it’s time to reseed any bare spots.

“Since you’re starting from scratch, buy the highest-quality grass seed you can afford,” says Erinn Witz, co-founder of SeedsandSpades.com, an educational gardening website. “And make sure to choose a variety suitable for your region.”

Another bonus to buying proper seed: It can help reduce the number of weeds this summer, and help you avoid dead patches next winter.

The best time to sow your seeds is when the average daily temperature reaches roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Generously apply the grass seed to your yard, rake it gently into the soil, and water lightly until you see new blades emerging.

3. Water regularly

“Water is the most important thing your lawn needs to revive after being dead for the whole winter season,” says Jill Sandy, a gardener and founder of home and gardening blog ConstantDelights.com.

Just be careful not to flood the lawn with water, as it will wash off some of the soil from the upper layer. Instead, lightly mist your lawn in the morning every day for about 15 minutes. You want to give just a bit of moisture to the soil, seed, and fertilizers. If the soil dries out, seeds won’t germinate.

4. Aerate your lawn

So what about the rest of your yard that may still be emerging from hibernation? Start with aerating your entire lawn to loosen compacted soil, which can be detrimental to grass. Aerated soil allows oxygen, sunlight, and nutrients to penetrate, resulting in stronger grass roots.

Bonus: Plug aerators pull small sections of dirt out of the ground and work significantly better than spike aerators, which simply push into the dirt and can often make compaction worse, according to Josh Bateman, owner of Pittsburgh’s Prince Gardening, a DIY-focused lawn care company.

5. Choose the right fertilizer

“One of the best tips I can offer for spring revitalization is proper fertilization,” says Bateman.

Bags of fertilizers have three numbers on them (for example, 20-0-8), which represent the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that they contain. If your lawn severely lacks phosphorus, but you purchased the bag with none in it, your soil’s overall health may not improve.

To fertilize properly, find out exactly which nutrients your lawn needs with a simple soil test. You can try a mail-in soil test kit, where a lab analyzes your soil and sends back a report. Or you can buy an instant test strip—which can give you a rougher soil analysis—online or at larger home improvement stores. Once you know exactly which nutrients your lawn lacks, you can purchase the perfect fertilizer.

New grass seed likes a high-phosphorus fertilizer, the mineral primarily responsible for healthy root development. In that case, look for formulas labeled something like 20-27-5 or 10-18-10. This shows that the fertilizer contains a high phosphorus concentration.

6. Plan for next winter

Yep, it’s spring and we’re already talking about what to do next fall. But don’t stress out—this will actually make things easier for you next year. When you’re doing fall yardwork, make sure to rake up any debris and put away anything—from lawn furniture to kiddie pools—to keep your lawn from getting matted over the winter months.

When it snows, try to avoid shoveling mounds onto your yard, which can crush blades. Snow can also turn to ice, which is terrible for lawns as ice freezes a grass root’s cells.

Additionally, piles of snow take longer to melt and can prevent the lawn from absorbing heat on those first warm days of spring. As a result, it takes longer for the grass to turn green and begin growing.

Article by Margaret Heidenry

How to Clean and Care for a Food Processor

SHUTTERSTOCK / JAN SCHNECKENHAUS

Chop chop! Learn how to clean a food processor so you can keep your favorite kitchen gadget working the way it should.

Most of us don’t know what we’d do without our food processor. Well… we’d be spending a lot more time in the kitchen, endlessly chopping, dicing and mincing! (Learn the difference between a dice, chop and mince.) Fortunately, the food processor makes that knifework optional, which means our lives are a whole lot easier.

But cleaning this convenient kitchen appliance isn’t always so easy. How do you get in all the nooks and crannies? Do you have to clean the outside? So many questions—and we’re answering them below with our guide on how to clean a food processor.

What to Clean After Each Use

Blades: Wash the blades by hand after each use with warm soapy water to avoid crusted-on food. Scrub from the center of the blade to the outside edge to avoid cutting yourself. Don’t put the blades in the dishwasher if you can help it. The hot water can damage the blades over time and even melt the plastic coating. (Here are 11 more things that should skip the dishwasher.)

Container and Lid: An easy way to clean the container of your food processor is by squeezing a few drops of dish liquid in the bottom and filling the container halfway with warm water. Put the lid on and run the food processor for a few seconds. Then dump out the soapy water and rinse. You can also simply submerge the lid and container in a sink filled with warm soapy water and scrub with a kitchen sponge.

Test Kitchen Tip: Because cleaning the lid can be a pain, prevent extra scrubbing by placing a sheet of plastic wrap between the lid and the container before you use your processor.

Inside the Blade and Handle: Food can get stuck inside the crevices at the blade’s center and the processor’s handle. Use a mini scrub brush or a toothbrush to get up in those hard-to-reach spots. Put some dish soap and water on the brush, then scrub vigorously to clean out crumbs.

What to Clean Occasionally

Every couple of uses (or whenever you splash liquid or food onto the base), wipe down the outside of the food processor. Use a damp cloth with dish soap or vinegar to sanitize the exterior and remove any tough stains.

Deep Cleaning Tips

A thorough cleaning is necessary when you notice a smell coming from your food processor or suspect mold is growing. Soak the container and blades in a mixture of 1 part baking soda and 1 part warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly and dry completely before reassembling. (You can clean just about everything with baking soda.)

Article by Amanda Tarlton