Blog :: 10-2020

Welcome to our blog! Here you will find information regarding market, local and Lakes Region information and events! Along with DIY projects and more! Come back often to see what's new and leave us a comment if there's something you'd like to see.

Ultimate Fall Indoor Cleaning Checklist

As the days grow shorter, the weather becomes colder and snow is on its way, it's time to begin focusing on the indoor task that you may have been putting off.


1. Sweep and Inspect Chimneys and Fireplaces

Tzogia Kappatou/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

A chimney should be cleaned and inspected yearly. A chimney sweep will help protect your home from accidental fires caused by creosote build-up. If you didn't give your interior fireplace surround a good cleaning at the end of last winter, do it now. Waiting another season will just add to the build-up of soot and make cleaning even more difficult.

Gas logs and fireplaces should also be inspected and cleaned so that they are safe and ready for use.

2. Change Smoke Detector Batteries

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A change of seasons also signals a time to change batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. This is one chore that can mean the difference in life and death and thousands of dollars in repair costs.

3. Clean or Replace HVAC Filters

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In addition to having an HVAC technician check your heating system, it is important to regularly change the filters in your heating and air conditioning system. Changing or cleaning filters will improve the air quality of your home and reduce the wear and tear on your furnace.

4. Clean and Reverse Ceiling Fans

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If the ceiling fans in your home have been running all summer, it's time to turn them off and clean the fan. Then, look for a small switch to reverse the blades so that the heated air will be redirected in a downward flow to keep you warmer during chilly days.

5. Deep Clean Throughout the House

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If you've taken it easy during the summer and only gotten rid of the most visible grime, it's time to do a deeper cleaning including those places that you have been forgetting to clean including your cleaning tools. As you move through the rooms in your home, follow a checklist to make sure everything gets the attention it needs.

6. In the Bedroom

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7. Store Summer Clothes and Inspect Winter Wardrobes

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While you're cleaning the bedrooms, don't forget your closet and summer clothes. Empty each clothes closet and sort summer clothes before storing them away. Choose clothes that you want to store until next year to be laundered or dry cleaned. The rest should be sold, donated or discarded. 

While the closet is empty, check that no harmful pests that can ruin clothes are lurking by vacuuming it out well.

8. In the Bathroom

Remove Soap Scum in Bathroom. hesh photo / Getty Images

9. In the Living Room

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10. In the Kitchen

Jul Nicholes/ E+/ Getty Images

  • Empty and clean the pantry. Make a list of holiday baking supplies that you will need.

  • Clean the oven and vent hood.

  • Clean the refrigerator and freezer and discard unusable items. Dust and clean the refrigerator coils.

  • Inspect and clean small appliances.

Get Into the Spirit, Host a Virtual Halloween Party!

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no reason that virtual Halloween parties should be any less thrilling than in-person events.

All your party guests can get into the Halloween spirit by dressing up, decorating, and engaging in spooky themed fun together online. Just because circumstances have changed this year doesn’t mean we can’t all find a way to celebrate this haunting holiday!

1. Throw a Zoom Halloween Party

Thanks to the power of Zoom, you can now host your own Halloween party without having anyone set foot inside your home. Not only is a virtual Halloween party a great way to socialize and mingle with your friends, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to catch up with those you haven’t seen since quarantine guidelines went into effect.

How to Implement This Idea: You’ll want to post on social media about the idea, how to get an invite, and what they’ll need to participate. 

Below is some example language you can use:

"This Saturday, I will be hosting my very first digital Zoom Halloween Party! To attend, please share your email address by commenting below or sending a direct message to my inbox. I will send out a Zoom invite to join the party". 

The more people invited, the merrier the festivities. Just be prepared to have games going throughout the night to keep people engaged. Following are some ideas to arrange for your party.

2. Virtual Halloween Icebreaker Questions

Starting your party with icebreaker questions is a great way to warm up guests. By theming your questions toward Halloween, you can also help everyone get in the holiday spirit.

Here is a starter list of icebreakers:

  • What is your earliest memory of Halloween?

  • Which movie were you too scared to watch as a kid?

  • What is the best horror movie of all time?

  • Would you rather be a vampire or a ghost?

  • Do you prefer chocolate or chips?

  • What is the best candy in the world?

3. Pumpkin Carving Contest

This idea is great for bringing friends together during the Halloween season. It also requires very few items and is an event that pretty much every person loves to participate in.

Whether you and your guests come prepared with your very own spooky pumpkin creation before the Zoom call begins or carve them in real time, it's sure to be a hit. After everyone has shown off their monstrosities, a vote will be taken to select a winner. 

4. Create and Share Your Favorite Halloween Memes

Sharing Halloween memes is easy to do and fun for everyone. It allows you to show off your humor while also relating back to a holiday that is universally loved. If you’re going to choose only one social media activity out of this list, you should make memes.

How to Implement the Idea: Go to to get started. They’ll ask you to choose a photo from their library or you can upload your own. From there, write in the copy using a font style, and poof, your new meme is ready to share. Go on your social media platforms and post the meme.

Does all this talk of memes have you feeling scared? Don’t fear! Click on this link to learn  how to create a viral meme that is sure to make your followers scream with delight.

5. Hold a Virtual Halloween Costume Contest

Hosting a costume contest is an extremely effective way of getting people into the Halloween spirit. It’s a fantastic opportunity for people to show off their costume design skills and their unique personalities. To set the tone of the holiday, invite your friends to join the video call in costume. 

How to Implement This Idea: Create a social post and send an email inviting people to join you on Zoom. Next, you’ll want to establish guidelines on how the contest will function. You’ll also want to establish yourself as the host of the contest and will need to lead the activity. Costume contests over Zoom can become hectic very fast. Keeping structure will prevent these issues.

Before the party, announce the categories, such as best coordinated costume, funniest costume, scariest costume, most creative costume, most detailed costume, and most timely costume. During the call, you can ask partygoers to cast votes for the top costume in each category via email, private chat etc. Once all votes are in, announce the winners and award prizes such as gift cards as an example.

Pro tip: Award extra points to anyone who dresses up a pet!

6. Halloween Zoom Backgrounds

Sure, you and your friends could go crazy covering the living room in artificial cobwebs or writing threatening messages in fake blood on the walls. Or, you could decorate for your Zoom Halloween party the easy way by changing your Zoom backgrounds to sinister or seasonal scenes.

Spooky Zoom background suggestions:

  • Haunted house

  • Graveyard

  • Pumpkin patch

  • Foggy forest

  • Full moon

  • Hotel hallway from “The Shining”

  • Disembodied hands

  • Zombie wasteland

You can even turn the activity into a competition and award a prize to the most amusing, creative, or interesting entry.

Here is a tutorial from Zoom on how to change your background.

7. Virtual Halloween Movie Marathon

Halloween is one of the holidays with the most TV and movie specials. Halloween moves aim  to make you scream, either with fear or with laughter.

To set the mood for your online Halloween party, you and your friends can stream creepy Halloween content on platforms like Zoom. By using a program like Metastream, you and your group can watch shows and movies simultaneously.

Scary Halloween movies:

  • Friday the 13th

  • Nightmare on Elm Street

  • Halloween

  • The Exorcist

  • The Ring

  • he Sixth Sense

  • Insidious

  • Cloverfield

  • Poltergeist

Funny Halloween movies:

  • Clue

  • The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror specials

  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

  • Hocus Pocus

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas

  • Young Frankenstein

  • Ghostbusters

  • Beetlejuice

  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Watching Halloween specials together is a great way to find out which of your virtual friends are jumpy and which ones have wicked senses of humor. Not to mention, surviving scary movie viewings is always easier with company!

8. Digital Fortune Telling

The supernatural takes center stage in the month of October. During your virtual Halloween party, entertain your friends with the occult by way of digital fortune telling and online seances.

You can consult a virtual Ouija board on the Museum of Talking Boards website, or get a free online tarot card reading from Lotus Tarot. A site called Spirit Navigator offers upwards of fifty different free online fortune telling methods, so you and your friends can explore various options of reading your fates.

Or, if you and your friends would rather not tamper with the unknown, then you can craft custom fortunes for each other as a storytelling exercise.

9. Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are a classic form of Halloween entertainment. You can liven up your online Halloween party by asking partygoers to share spine-tingling scary stories.

For inspiration, check out CreepyPasta, which are scary stories shared on various websites. You can also read through this list of terrifying tales on HuffPost or head over to the super short scary stories section on Reddit for ideas on how to tell a bone chilling tale.

If your ghoul-friends (and boy friends) feel creepily creative, then each member can write an original frightening story to share. Or, if you and the gang would rather listen to a guide tell ghost stories, you can check out our guided tiny campfire event and enjoy s’mores while you shiver.

10. Creepy Cocktails

Adult Halloween parties have one distinct advantage over kid’s Halloween parties: boo-ze. Halloween-themed cocktails can add an element of eerie fun to your online soiree.

For inspiration, check out this list of frightening potions from HGTV. 

For inspiration, check out this list of creepy cocktails from Good Housekeeping, or this list of frightening potions from HGTV.

Some say Halloween is all about the candy, but personally, we're more partial to a glass of witch's brew. Pick your poison this Halloween with one of these scary-delicious cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks. For the adults, choose between rum, tequila, or vodka cocktails. Since you don't want your little goblins to miss out on the holiday fun, throw together a fizzy, fruity, or creamy mocktail for the kids at your Halloween Party. No need to be a pro bartender to take on these recipes, all of these Halloween drinks are extremely easy to make and best of all, even easier to drink. That's what makes 'em dangerously good, don't ya think?

Once you figure out which potion, brew, or punch you're going to make, finalize your party menu with these Halloween appetizer and Halloween party snack ideas. And hey, even though these sugar-filled drinks taste like a treat, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't cap off the eeriest night of the year with Halloween cupcakesHalloween cookiesHalloween cakes, and other party-ready desserts.

I recommend sending your friends a list of ingredients or recipes ahead of time so that your guests come prepared. You can lead them through a Halloween-drink-making tutorial during the call.

List of virtual Halloween games:

Virtual Halloween party games are contests to entertain your online party guests. From murder mysteries to scavenger hunts, here is a list of ghoulish Halloween games you can play at your party. These activities are also called online Halloween games.

11. Zombie

Zombie Halloween game

Zombie is a game that promotes mindfulness. From time to time, each of us zones out and enters “zombie mode.” To play Zombie, ask your friends if they have done any of the  actions shown above without thinking.

Most of us have fallen victim to the mistakes on this list at least once or twice in our lives, so you may want to shorten the window to the last six months or so... that's your choice!

If the statement applies, then the player “got bitten” and must blackout their screen. The last player remaining wins the game.

12. Guess Whoooo?

Guess Whoooo? is a great game that invites players to determine the identity of people answering questions. To play virtually, a leader will ask the group a Halloween-themed question. All players will privately message the leader the answer. The leader will then share the responses, and players must match each reply to the correct participant. Players can either try to guess individually all at once, or can discuss answers together and narrow down the pairs one by one.

Here's a template you can use for your game.

Virtual Halloween game template

Feel free to add your own spooky prompts, too!


Virtual Halloween parties should be spook-tacular. By using the tips on this list, you can engage your remote friends and ensure your online event is a wicked good success!


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    How To Use Home Equity To Your Advantage

    Photocredit: Getty

    By Tara Mastroeni, Contributor, Forbes

    If you're a homeowner or aiming to be one someday soon, you probably know that having home equity is a good thing. However, beyond that, many people start to lose track. That's why we've taken it upon ourselves to solve the mystery of home equity once and for all. Read on to learn what it is, how it works, and how you can use it to your advantage.

    What is home equity?

    Put simply, home equity is the percentage of your home that you own outright. While you're always considered to be the owner of your home, if you took out a mortgage to buy it, the fact is that your lender also has an interest in the property. Over time, as you pay down your mortgage, the lender's interest in your home shrinks and your home equity grows.

    However, you can also grow your home equity in another way. You can do it by increasing the overall value of your home. This can happen by either living in an area with rising property values or by making substantial improvements to the property that will increase its resale value.

    How to use your home equity

    The good news is that, once you build it up, you can use your home equity to your advantage. When people talk about real estate being an asset, they mean that building home equity is a way to leverage wealth. Here are a few things that you can do with it.

    Home equity loan

    Home equity loans are often referred to as second mortgages because the two loans function very similarly. A home loan disburses the funds from the loan in one lump sum, much like what happened when you bought your home in the first place. From there, you'll be responsible for making regular, monthly payments to pay back the money you borrowed.

    With a home equity loan, you're borrowing against the equity you've built up in your home so the amount that you're allowed to borrow may be limited by how much progress you've made in paying down your mortgage. Typically, lenders will insist that you maintain at least a 15%-20% ownership stake in your home at all times.

    One benefit of borrowing against your home equity is that you can often do so at a much lower interest rate than credit cards or personal loans. That's why many people use this option to pay for big-ticket expenses like home remodels, paying off medical debt, or financing a child's college education.

    Home equity line of credit

    Home equity lines of credit are similar to home equity loans in that you're still borrowing against the equity in your home. However, the disbursement and fee structure couldn't be more different. With home equity lines of credit, the loan is divided into two distinct pay periods: the draw period and the repayment period.

    During the draw period, your home equity line of credit acts a lot like a credit card. You can draw on the equity in your home whenever you see fit. During this time, you'll likely only have to make payments on the interest accrued by your purchases.

    After a specified amount of time, you'll enter the repayment period. During the repayment period, you'll no longer be able to draw funds from your home equity. You'll also have to start making payments on both the principal and interest of what you've borrowed.

    Cash-out refinance

    Traditionally, with a refinance, you take out a new loan - usually one with better terms - to pay off and replace your old one. With a cash-out refinance, things work a little differently. In this case, you borrow more than what you owe and receive the difference in funds, which can be used as you see fit.

    Here, the amount that you can borrow above what you currently owe is determined by how much equity you have in your home. Usually, you can borrow up to 85% or 90% of your home's value.

    Move into something bigger

    The most traditional way to use added home equity is to sell your house to buy something bigger. When you sell your home, you'll most likely use some of the proceeds from the sale to pay off the remainder of your mortgage. However, if there is any difference between the sale price on your home and the amount you still owe, it comes to you as profit. That profit can then be used to buy a bigger home and leverage your home equity even further.

    How to figure out how much equity you have

    Figuring out how much equity you've built up in your home is easy. All you need to know is what your home is worth and what you owe on your mortgage. You can find out exactly how much your home is worth by having an appraisal done or you can get an approximate figure by having a real estate agent prepare a comparative market analysis. Online valuation tools are also an option, but they may not always be accurate.

    Once you have that information in hand, subtract the amount that you owe on your mortgage from the value of your home. The remainder is your home equity.


    8 Ways to Make a Space Feel Larger

    Feeling cramped at home? These tips can help open up a room without knocking down a wall.

    • Accentuate the vertical. Draw the eye upward so a room looks more spacious. Add a bookshelf that reaches to the ceiling. Install vertical shiplap or wallpaper with vertical stripes. Hang a pendant light fixture.

    • Consider “see-through” furniture. Choose chairs and sofas with visible legs instead of furniture with skirts that reach the floor. This allows you to see under and around pieces so they appear to float in the room rather than dominate it. Glass coffee tables are a good choice, too.

    • Lighten up surroundings. We all know white walls reflect light and makes a room look bigger. But why stop there? HouseLogic recommends painting walls, ceilings, and trim the same shade of white to present a soaring, bright space.

    • Go big with accents. Many people think small when designing a small room. Instead, add a couple of oversized accessories, like a big piece of art or a single large chair. A lot of little objects make a room appear cluttered while one or two big ones make it feel more spacious.

    • Get away from the wall. Create a central layout instead of pushing a sofa up against the wall. When there’s a wall right next to a piece of furniture, your eyes are drawn to the wall, which can make the room seem more cramped.

    • Simplify the color scheme. Use a monochromatic color scheme for walls, furniture, and accessories. When objects are a similar color, your eye doesn’t dwell on each one but rather sees them in a unified, uncomplicated form.

    • Skip the curtains. Curtains block natural light and the view to the outdoors, making a room feel smaller and darker.

    • Bring nature indoors. Add plants and use natural textures in furniture to tie indoor decor to the outdoor view that’s visible through the windows that aren’t blocked by curtains.


    Sources: Denise Balassi, Spaces Of Distinction; Laura Britt, Britt Design Group; Melissa Grove, Laura U Interior Design;


    Closing on a House: The Common Problems to Spot in a Final Walk-Through

    Both buyers and sellers should be aware of the issues that can arise during a final home walk-through. The final walk-through typically takes place mere hours before the closing itself. It’s one last opportunity for the buyer, along with his or her agent, to inspect the home and make sure there aren’t any last-minute problems.



    By Deanna Haas, Contributor for U.S. News and World Report

    For homebuyers and sellers alike, the final walk-through can be one of the most significant steps in the real estate process. It may also be one of the most nerve-wracking.

    Hopefully, your final walk-through will be smooth sailing. Every now and again, though, issues do arise – and they can go as far as to derail the entire home sale.

    Here are the most common final walk-through discoveries that can potentially throw a wrench into the transaction:

    • The home isn't empty.

    • The house is a mess.

    • The negotiated repairs haven't been completed. 

    • Included personal property has gone missing.

    • The lawn hasn't been cared for.

    • The utilities have been shut off.

    • The appliances aren't working.

    • There's major damage to the walls or ceilings.

    • The HVAC systems aren't working.

    • The home was damaged in the moving process.

    • Garage door openers don't work.

    • Toilets don't flush properly.

    • Garbage disposal and exhaust fans don't run right.

    • Open and close window/doors to make sure they're in check.


    The Home Isn’t Empty

    Unless otherwise agreed upon, the sellers should be totally moved out of the house by the time of the final walk-through. Now, if they left behind a can of paint or a couple bags of trash, that’s probably not the end of the world. But if they left behind much more, the buyer may have to request they come by and clean up.

    The House Is a Mess

    The typical agreement is that the seller leave the property in broom-clean condition. This is a somewhat nebulous term, and it may mean different things to different people. The house doesn’t necessarily have to be spotless, but neither should it be a disaster area. Ideally, the house should appear move-in ready for the new homeowners.

    The Negotiated Repairs Haven’t Been Completed

    When buyer and seller negotiate on repairs or renovations, it’s expected that they all be finished by the time of the final walk-through. If the seller needs a little additional time due to unforeseen circumstances, this should be communicated to the buyer well in advance of the closing.

    Included Personal Property Has Gone Missing

    Did the seller take items they said they would leave for you? Light fixtures? Window treatments? A piece of furniture you wanted to buy along with the house? That’s definitely something that can stall the closing or lead to some tumult.

    The Lawn Hasn’t Been Cared For

    Generally speaking, real estate contracts stipulate that the seller will keep the lawn areas maintained until the date of closing. That doesn’t mean everything has to be perfectly manicured, but if the grass is five feet tall, or has died during the escrow period, that’s a problem.

    The Utilities Have Been Shut Off

    Typically, your real estate contract will stipulate that the utilities have to be on through the final walk-through. If you don’t have power or running water during the walk-through, that could technically be a breach of contract.

    The Appliances Aren’t Working

    For homebuyers, it’s important to use the final walk-through as an opportunity to test all the appliances included in the sale, confirming they work as intended. If something doesn’t work, you can ask the seller for a repair allowance.

    There’s Major Damage to the Walls

    Did the seller remove a wall-mounted TV, a piece of artwork, or some kind of home automation technology? And if so, did it leave behind damage to the wall? This could be a big issue.

    The HVAC Systems Aren’t Working

    Buyers should test out both the heating and cooling capabilities of the home. See that they work satisfactorily. If not, that’s something for which you’ll likely want to negotiate repair costs or a price adjustment.

    The Home Was Damaged in the Moving Process

    If the sellers did any kind of damage to the home while they moved out, that’s something for you to take stock of. In some cases, it may be worthwhile for you to request a repair allowance.

    These are some of the main items you’ll want to look out for if you’re a buyer going through your final walk-through. And if you’re in the process of selling a house, let these serve as words of caution. Make sure to avoid these common hurdles to the home closing.



    How to Write an Offer Letter to a Seller

    Connect with home sellers to make them feel good about letting you purchase their home. A personal letter to a home seller allows you to provide better context to the offer price and conditions, and also allows you to make a personal connection by sharing everything you love about the home. 

    Getty Images

    By Tania Isacoff Friedland, Contributor to U.S. News & World Report

    First impressions are everything. Whether you’re buying a home, an apartment or some other type of property, presenting your initial offer in a positive light paves the way for a productive and smooth negotiation process. 

    Typically, formal offers are sent by the buyer’s broker to the seller’s broker in writing via email. In some cases, a buyer will also write a personal note to the seller to send along with it.

    In this case, the buyer’s broker will often include a short profile about the buyers and express their love for the property, but brief enough so the buyers' personal letter remains impactful and is not redundant. If the buyer is not working with a real estate broker and does not have representation, the offer would come directly from the buyer.

    So, if you truly love a home or want to acquire an investment property, how do you write the perfect offer letter that combines your personal touch with a formal offer? 

    Keep it simple, and focus on three things: State your intentions, show that you have the financial means to make the purchase and make a personal appeal to the seller.

    Here's how to write your letter to the seller:

    • Start with the details.

    • Paint a picture.

    • Romance the seller.

    • Go the extra mile.

    Start With the Details

    At the beginning of your offer letter, express your appreciation for having the opportunity to visit the property, and state your terms upfront. Note the example below is intended for an offer on a private residence – an offer for a different type of property should be modified accordingly:

    “Thank you for allowing me to visit [INSERT ADDRESS]. I love [INSERT ADDRESS] and I’m eager to make it my new home. I’m pleased to present my offer of [INSERT OFFER PRICE].” 

    Next, include information about how you plan to pay for the purchase (all cash or financing), your requests for contingencies (financing contingency and inspection contingency, for example), your desired closing time frame and any other special conditions. If you’re financing the purchase, a preapproval letter from your bank should be provided along with the offer letter. 

    It is important to make it clear that you’re a serious buyer and you're prepared to sign a contract upon completion of the due diligence process. You should also be in touch with a real estate attorney to help with the transaction.

    If you’re making an offer that’s substantially lower than the seller’s asking price, you might consider including your reasoning for the low offer. To help build your case, consider contextualizing current market conditions and recent sales of comparable properties in the same neighborhood or building to put things into perspective. If the property is older or in need of repairs and renovations, outlining what specific updates need to be done and the approximate renovation costs can also help justify your offer.

    Paint a Picture

    Presenting yourself as a human being, rather than a simple dollar amount, is key to establishing a successful negotiation position. Provide the seller with a brief personal background and tell them about your spouse or family, if applicable.

    Include career details, such as your current job and a description of your professional industry, as well as a quick summary of your career path leading up to your current position. This could also include where you grew up and which schools you’ve attended. You can even tell them about any pets you have.

    Now, you’re a person with a story – you’ve painted a picture about who you are, which is harder for a seller to ignore. The seller will think of you as a human being, not just another buyer who offered a certain price for the property. 

    Romance the Seller

    Once you’ve shared a bit about who you are, shift your focus to romancing the seller when it comes to his or her home. Flatter the seller by highlighting all the things you love about the house, and explaining why it is the place you want to call home. Be enthusiastic, but don’t go overboard. 

    While a real estate negotiation is a business transaction, if the sellers identify with you on a personal level, they can develop an affinity towards you – particularly in a competitive bidding situation – which may mean that they offer some flexibility during a negotiation. The sellers can feel pleased that they are passing their home on to someone who will love and appreciate it as much as they have.

    Go the Extra Mile

    In a competitive bidding situation, buyers can send flowers or cookies to the seller, along with a handwritten note. A small gesture like this indicates your thoughtfulness and authentic love for the property. Just be sure to keep it simple and tasteful, as you never want a seller to feel uncomfortable by being overly aggressive.

    In the end, the important thing to remember is that you want to make sure your offer letter clearly states your intent to purchase a home, that you are in a sound financial position to make the purchase and that you’re providing a personal appeal to the sellers so they know their home will be in caring and responsible hands.



    9 Ways To Make Your Outdoor Space Usable Year-Round

    As the coronavirus hangs on into the fall season, having outdoor space is proving more valuable than ever. But now that cooler weather is on the way, stretching out the life of your porch, backyard, or balcony is the next smart step.


    To warm up your outside rooms, try these 9 ideas to retrofit your yard or patio for the cooler fall season.

    1. Fire pit

    If you don't have an outdoor fireplace or fire pit already, now would be a great time to add this to your outdoor living space! Choose the best option for your space based on your budget and the square footage in your yard. 

    2. Heat lamps


    Photo by Christian Rice Architects, Inc.

    Make like a European sidewalk cafe and set up standing propane or electric heat lamps. Or consider installing an infrared heating device in your porch ceiling. These are a step up from traditional gas options and much sleeker and safer—and streamlined models can be inserted so that they heat a person directly, not the elements around them.

    Consider a patio heat lamp that takes just a screwdriver to assemble, has a no-tip base, and heats up in mere seconds.

    For maximum coziness, you can even find heated furniture.

    There are outdoor selections that can be plugged in to keep you warm as you stargaze from your backyard.

    3. Plush cushions and blankets

    Photo by Eden Clark of VEDA Design Group

    No one wants to sit on cold, wrought-iron or plastic deck chairs when the weather turns chilly, so be sure seat cushions and outdoor pillows are thick enough for the season. And a basket full of warm throws is another cozy touch if your guests (due to COVID-19) don't bring their own with them.

    4. Privacy screen

    Blocking the wind in cooler weather is easy enough with the addition of a wooden wall or screen. Or consider latticework, a cheaper pick that can also surround or partly enclose a patio or one side of a balcony.

    5. Curtained pergola

    Photo by Baker Patios

    A pergola or gazebo is another upgrade that can take your outdoor space from summer to fall, especially if you add curtains that can be drawn when the temperatures dip.

    6. Small cooktop

    While a full outdoor kitchen may not be in the budget, setting up a grill or small cooktop may be doable. Also, there are free-standing countertop and sink combos available for under $500.

    You might also redo an outdoor bar cart to signal fall and cooler temps (think mugs for tea, a jar of cinnamon sticks for warm cider, and brown spirits for Manhattans and hot toddies).

    7. All-weather rugs

    To keep your feet toasty, add a layer underfoot to warm an outdoor space. All-weather rugs can stand up to the elements, particularly those made from polypropylene. Just keep in mind that carpet with a thick pile won't work on a deck or patio.

    The Moroccan pattern on this all-weather rug is the exact pop of color you need on a typical all-brown patio or deck. Be sure to use a nonslip rug pad underneath to prevent shifting, and rotate this carpet so any color loss over time is evenly distributed.

    8. Extra lighting

    Candles and outdoor lamps won't add warmth per se, but the ambiance they offer is enough to keep the chill away. You can't really overdo outdoor lighting, so go a little nuts with twinkling lights wrapped around pillars, glowing lanterns that act as side tables, Mason jars with tea lights suspended from above, and Tiki torches placed strategically in the yard.

    For vintage flair on your deck, perhaps use Edison bulbs. And the setup's a breeze since each light has an individual hook attached so you can quickly hang the lights with nails or hooks.

    9. Small shed

    Photo by Equity Northwest Real Estate Meridian

    Want to splurge on a real structure? Studio sheds have become all the rage of late, and they're very versatile. Warm up in a she shed for some me time or use it as an office, homework space, crafting spot, or meditation area.



    The Guide to Buying a Home

    Here's what you need to know to get from start to finish in the home buying process. From when to begin your search to how to secure financing to the right way to make an offer, buying a house requires carefully navigating a number of steps. 

    By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate at U.S. News & World Report

    Whether it’s your first home or your fifth, the home buying process can be daunting. Not only does the housing market change from season to season, but the process of searching for a house, making an offer and working toward closing evolves over time.

    For any homebuyer, you first need to account for your current financial situation, needs in a new home and what features and amenities you hope to have at your fingertips. Before you start touring houses, study your local real estate market to get a better grasp of what’s available and within your budget.

    With home prices rising across the U.S. and many markets reporting few homes available for sale compared to the number of buyers, it can be easy to get discouraged. It may take a little extra time to wait for the right house, or it may take some work to improve your credit and save for a higher-priced house, but either way, buying your next home is possible. 

    The biggest determining factor in your ability to buy a home, of course, is your ability to pay for it. While some people can liquidate assets and pay for a house in cash, most opt for mortgage programs through a bank, credit union or other type of lender to leverage the total cost of the property.

    The first steps to buying a house always revolve around the financial side of the deal – how much you can afford and how you plan to pay for it.

    Getting a mortgage

    Financing through a mortgage is the most common, and often the most attainable, way to buy a house or condo. 

    To avoid being shocked if a bank turns you down for a loan or approves a far lower maximum price than expected, it’s important to know how your credit history and current financial status measure up. The interest rate or amount you pay upfront to the lender (points) is all connected to how attractive a borrower you appear on paper: “How much you can afford also ties into what your future cash flow looks like, and that then ties into rates and points.”

    It’s free to receive your credit report once a year through, where you can access reports from the three major credit bureaus, which will provide you with all the information a lender will see about your financial history.

    Also take a look at your current financial situation, including the amount of money you have in savings, gross income, recurring expenses and how much you’re able to put toward savings on a regular basis. From this, you should be able to determine how much you can comfortably spend on monthly mortgage payments.

    Next, it’s time to shop around for lender and mortgage program options. The most common type of mortgage is a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, which typically comes with a slightly higher interest rate in exchange for the guarantee that the payment amount won’t change for the life of the loan. 

    The interest rate is typically the most-discussed aspect of a mortgage, as it can differ from lender to lender and program to program. The interest rate offered to you based on your financial situation can be completely different from what’s in a mortgage rate table.

    “That’s why the interest rates advertised online are worthless,” he says. “If the lender doesn’t know essential information such as your credit score, your debt-to-income ratio or the size of your down payment, it’s impossible to provide you with an accurate rate quote.”

    Buying a home with no money down

    If you’re lacking the savings needed for a down payment, you may not be out of the running to buy a home just yet. Active members of the military and veterans can apply for a VA loan through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which requires a small additional monthly cost in lieu of a down payment, but otherwise requires zero percent down.

    There are plenty of other low down payment options – as low as 2 or 3 percent – available to first-time homebuyers, buyers with nontraditional credit histories or those who have recovered their credit over time, among other situations, with additional regular fees. Keep in mind, however, that the less you put down, the more you’ll be required to pay each month.

    Buying a house with bad credit

    A blemish or two on your credit report can be a problem when it comes to getting approved for some mortgage programs. But fortunately there are options aimed at homebuyers who don’t have a perfect credit history. For example, if you're a borrower with a credit score of at least 580, you may be considered for an FHA loan through the Federal Housing Administration.

    Bad credit doesn’t have to keep you from homeownership. Lenders are more likely to look past a low credit score if you’re planning to make a high down payment or have solid proof of a high income that will be consistent for a long time, for example.

    Buying a house with cash. If you’ve got the funds to skip financing altogether and pay for your house with cash, you should have a faster transaction, as you won’t have to wait for a loan to be underwritten, the property to be appraised and the lender to formally approval the mortgage.

    But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to get your financials in order ahead of time. “The way a cash buyer can be prepared is to be willing and able to show proof of funds, whether it’s stock they’re going to liquidate or cash that’s already in the bank,” says Gannon Forrester, an associate broker with Warburg Realty in New York City.

    Additional costs of buying a home

    The costs don’t stop at the agreed-upon purchase price and interest to the lender when applicable. Homebuyers should prepared for other costs leading up to and at closing, plus they should have some cash remaining in savings afterward for unexpected repairs to the house. 

    Costs include:

    • Inspection

    • Property appraisal

    • Attorney’s fees, points paid to lender and other fees required at closing

    • Property taxes

    • Rainy day fund for repairs


    Best Time to Buy a Home

    Home sellers and buyers alike favor spring as the ideal time for homes on the market. If you’re looking for the widest variety of home options, this is often the best time to start your search. Early fall also often sees a surge in buyers and sellers looking to strike a deal before the weather turns cold.

    However, there are also benefits to shopping for a home in the off-season, when there are fewer buyers to compete with. You’ll have fewer houses to choose from, but you may be less likely to find yourself in a multiple-offer situation, which can make it easier to get a seller to take a serious look at your offer. 

    Either way, if you live in a market currently low on housing inventory, don’t expect a sizable price difference from season to season. Sellers can wait a few extra days or weeks if a lowball offer doesn’t appeal to them, so keep your offer realistic for what you think a home is worth.

    The absolute best time to start shopping for a house, however, is when you’re ready, both financially and personally. If you have children, for example, closing on a house during the summer months is ideal because you don’t have to worry about packing up while kids are doing homework or making a rough adjustment due to midyear school transfers.

    The most important rule of thumb is to wait to start house hunting until you’re actually in a position to make an offer. “If you do that beforehand … you’ll end up finding the house of your dreams, you won’t be ready, and someone else will buy it,” says Amin Dabit, director of advisory service for Personal Capital, an online financial advisory and wealth management company.

    Where to Start House Hunting

    Once you know your budget and how you intend to fund your purchase, you can start looking for the right house to buy. You can begin your search online by searching consumer-facing listing sites like Zillow, Trulia or Redfin, which can help you get a feel for which neighborhoods and houses fall inside your budget.

    You’ll also want to interview several real estate agents before you start working with one. It’s important to trust your agent to advocate for you in the deal, so you shouldn’t feel you have to withhold details about the reason you're moving or what’s included in the right home for you. Ask about the agent or Realtor’s schedule and experience and who you’ll be working with most often, and see if the answers meet your expectations as a client.

    Be ready to answer questions from your real estate agent about how many bedrooms you need, your preferred neighborhoods – whether that’s based on public schools, access to public transportation or proximity to shops and restaurants – and anything else that’s nonnegotiable for you in a home purchase.

    Especially in markets where housing inventory is low, your agent may have to discuss compromising on your vision of your dream home to help ensure that you have enough properties to tour in your price range. Zeibert notes many homebuyers are becoming more willing to sacrifice some square footage or a bedroom for the chance to live in the neighborhood they want: “The house is not the end-all, be-all. While super important, it is the neighborhood and the lifestyle that they are trying to purchase by going out and buying that house.”

    How to Win Over a Seller

    When you do find that right home in the right neighborhood, it’s time to put in an offer. And in a popular neighborhood, you may have to work fast. It’s important to start the house hunting process with your financial information on hand so you and your agent can put together a formal offer quickly.

    Included in that financial information is a preapproval letter from your lender that notes the company’s willingness to work with you to purchase the home. A prequalification letter is also an option, though preapproval tells the seller that the lender has already done a deep dive into your finances and hasn’t found any surprises.

    “A preapproval letter will give the buyer an edge when they put an offer in on a house, showing the seller they’re serious and have a good chance of obtaining a mortgage,” Simmons says.

    Writing a personal letter to accompany the offer can also provide some additional insight to sway the seller, since people like to hear their house is going to someone planning to make memories in it. Especially if the seller has lived in the house for a long time, sharing your plans to raise a family in the house could make him feel comfortable selling the house to someone looking to make similar memories.

    However, Forrester says it’s not always necessary and can occasionally backfire by leaving room for discrimination – intentional or not – and muddling an offer when a seller is focused on the financial details. There are also scenarios when a personal letter won’t have much of an impact. “Sometimes personal things can sway someone, but a lot of times in New York it’s a financial thing,” Forrester says.

    Appealing to the seller is important, but don’t get caught up in the heat of a bidding war or negotiations – any agreed-upon price shouldn’t leave you skimping on meals for the next three years or otherwise make it difficult for you going forward. Forrester says buyers can have trouble making the connection between the purchase price in negotiations and actually paying the money when it’s time to close the deal: “They don’t realize they actually have to come up with the cash or be happy signing that down payment check.”

    Closing on Your New House

    It may take a few tries with different houses or it may require a little back-and-forth negotiation, but eventually the right seller will accept your offer. Now under contract, you feel like you’re in a whirlwind of activity working toward the day you close on the property.

    You’ll need to schedule an inspection on the house, which helps to find any code violations or maintenance issues that you should be aware of. The inspection is key to catching any existing problems the seller may not know about or hasn't yet disclosed, and it's often a required step by the lender. Depending on the results of the report, you may need to renegotiate with the seller about needed repairs, a change in price due to the needed fixes or if you’re now questioning the purchase entirely.

    Meanwhile, your lender will be working through the formal loan application process, which includes an appraisal on the property to ensure the lender feels comfortable with the sale price. If the appraisal comes up short, you may have to negotiate again with the seller to see if you can lower the price, or you may have to come up with the difference in cash to follow through with the deal.

    Combined with fees for your real estate attorney and title insurance that are a part of the process on closing day, you should expect to pay an additional 2 percent to 5 percent of the purchase price.

    The home buying process may be done once closing is completed, but your expenses certainly haven’t stopped. Make sure that even after the down payment and closing costs, you still have close to six months of expenses. It’s something that is very important because there is a lot of unexpected cost that pops up when you first move into a home.

    How to Successfully Buy a Home in a Tight Seller's Market

    If you’ve decided to buy a home this fall, good luck to you. Your challenge will be not just finding a home you like, but also beating out all the other homebuyers who like it and want to make an offer on it, too.

    By Teresa Mears, Contributor, U.S. News & Report

    The number of homes for sale is low, particularly in the price ranges desired by first-time homebuyers. 

    That means if you want to end up with a nice home, you need to be strategic. Expecting to find the home of your dreams by nonchalantly walking into a few open houses or perusing some online listings is not realistic in this seller’s market.

    Here are nine tips to help you get the house you want.

    Get your finances in order first. Before you intend to start looking, you should get copies of your credit reports to make sure you’re in a financial position to buy. Shop for mortgage financing before you start looking at houses and get a preapproval letter or proof of funds to show the seller.

    Move quickly once you find the house you want. That often means making a decision to purchase new homes within hours of them being listed and writing up an offer immediately if you like the house.

    Don’t make snap judgments based on listing photos. A house that doesn’t look appealing in photos could still be a great house. Homes being sold by an estate or homes with tenants inside often yield particularly poor photos. Plus, photos fail to convey the feeling of a home or the floor plan. Unfortunately, sometimes pictures don’t tell the true story, you have to be willing to look past them.

    Be realistic about the inspection and repairs. The more competitive the market, the less likely a seller will be to make repairs, though some sellers may lower the price if the inspection reveals expensive defects. The purpose of the inspection isn’t to get the seller to repair every small problem but to find out for sure that the house is what you thought it was. 

    Start with your best offer. A competitive market is not the right environment to negotiate a bargain. You may get only one chance to make an offer, and your offer may be one of several the seller will choose from. You need to come in with your highest and best. Remember that the offer includes not only the price, but also your financing package and other terms such as the closing date and contingencies.

    Write a personal letter to the sellers. Some sellers are interested only in how much money their home sale will yield, but others love their home want it to go to a new family that will love it just as much. If you really like a house, include a personal letter and a family photo with your offer.

    Make a big earnest money deposit. The expected size of the earnest money deposit, and the rules about when you get it back, vary by locality. But sellers often see a larger deposit as a sign that you’re serious about the deal.

    Make a backup offer. Many prospective buyers don’t want to make an offer on a house that has a pending contract. But deals fall apart over inspections, financing and other terms. If you found the perfect house, you can make a backup offer that will put you in first place if the initial buyer walks away.

    Consider waiving or shortening contingencies. Most offers are made contingent on the buyer getting a mortgage, the appraisal being equal to the purchase price and the buyer approving the inspection. Waiving any one of those contingencies can be risky, but may be the right move in some circumstances.