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House hunting and credit: What you need to know

(BPT) - By now it is something of a cliche to call homeownership the American dream. But even if sitting on your own deck, looking over your picket fence and sipping lemonade doesn’t move you, homeownership is still one of the best ways to build wealth.

For many, owning a home is cheaper than renting and, in the long run, the biggest investment they will ever make. It is also a practical financial move thanks to the fact that you're likely building equity while getting a mortgage interest tax break.

So although it is perfectly fine to dream about backyard barbecues and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the path to owning your own home should also involve taking the time to do some financial sightseeing.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models, VantageScore Solutions has made it a priority to educate consumers on the important role a good credit history plays in buying a home.

Whether you’re about to set out to buy your first home or if you are getting ready to sell and buy another home, here are the basics of how credit impacts the home-buying process.

Basics

If you are like most people, you will probably need to take out a loan. If you are able to pay cash for your home instead, count yourself among the lucky few!

A huge part of taking out a loan involves your credit history and credit score. Basically, you must prove to lenders that you can be a responsible borrower and can be trusted with a mortgage of many thousands of dollars. A strong credit score may provide proof of this trustworthiness.

Different types of loans have different credit requirements. Some loans require you to have a credit score of at least 620, although it is possible (with some difficulty) to be approved for a loan with a credit score as low as 580. But getting loan approval is only part of the story.

Better credit, better rate

Home loans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed interest mortgages, some have adjustable rates or longer terms and the list of variables goes on. Just like anything else, some loans are better for you than others. To get the loan that has the lowest interest rate, which right now is around 4 percent, usually requires a higher credit score. Rates can be considerably higher when you have a lower credit score, and the result is paying significantly more monthly over the life of the loan.

The reason is that a higher credit score demonstrates that you are skilled at managing debt and have a history of responsibly paying back many types of loans. Therefore, the lender is taking on less risk when lending you money. The less risk for them, the better the interest rate for you.

While there are, of course, more nuances to the process, your credit score plays an instrumental role in determining the type of loan you may qualify for. Therefore, before you go to your first open house, check your credit score to better understand the factors that typically impact your scores. Many websites provide free access to your VantageScore, which is a perfectly fine barometer to use to directionally gauge your creditworthiness. Mortgage lenders use FICO scores in their underwriting.

You can stay on top of things by subscribing to the monthly credit scoring newsletter, The Score. In The Score, you can find information on VantageScore 4.0, the fourth-generation scoring model that will be available to consumers in early 2018.

Knowing your credit history and understanding the factors that could impact your credit score will help you plan, budget and come up with a realistic wish list for your house.



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Emergency preparedness 101: Know how to protect...

(BPT) - Few areas of the country are immune to natural disasters or severe weather. Whether you live in a hurricane zone or face icy winters, it is important to prepare your home and family to weather the storm and know the potential health and safety risks that may arise in emergency situations.

Beyond inconvenience, widespread and long-term power outages resulting from storms raise a much more serious concern: carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. While the poisonous gas can come from any fossil fuel-burning appliance or vehicle, the risk posed by generators is of particular concern because of this year’s devastating storm season.

“Simple preparation, along with an understanding of the risks of CO, are key factors for protecting your home and loved ones both during storm season and throughout the year,” said Tarsila Wey, director of marketing for First Alert. “The risk of CO can occur anytime — not just during emergencies — which is why installing and regularly testing CO alarms are an integral part of any home safety plan.”

What is CO?

Often dubbed “the silent killer,” the gas is colorless and odorless, making it impossible to detect without a CO alarm. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning in the United States and is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year.

CO poisoning is notoriously difficult to diagnose — often until it’s too late. Symptoms mimic those of many other illnesses, and include nausea, headaches, dizziness, weakness, chest pain and vomiting. In more severe poisoning cases, people may experience disorientation or unconsciousness, or suffer long-term neurological disabilities, cardio-respiratory failure or death.

Sources of CO may include, but are not limited to, generators, heaters, fireplaces, furnaces, appliances or cooking sources using coal, wood, petroleum products or other fuels emitting CO as a by-product of combustion. Attached garages with doors, ductwork or ventilation shafts connected to a living space also are sources of CO.

What should you do?

The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing CO alarms on every level of the home, including the basement, and within 15 feet of all sleeping rooms. These alarms are the first line of defense against CO poisoning. Checking alarms regularly and following manufacturer instructions for alarms and all home equipment play an equally vital role.

In case of power outage, never use a generator indoors. Portable electricity generators must be used outside only and should never be used in a garage or in any confined area that can allow CO to collect. When running a generator, be sure to remain 15 to 20 feet away from the outside perimeter of the home and be careful to follow operating instructions closely.

Additional areas to consider include the kitchen stove, a frequent source of CO poisoning in the home. Ensure the kitchen vent or exhaust fan is running to limit exposure. For any fuel-burning appliances in the home, make sure to have a professional inspect them regularly to detect any CO leaks. This includes items such as the furnace, oven, fireplace, dryer and water heater.

If you have an attached garage, it is extremely important to never leave your car running inside. Even if the garage door is open, CO emissions can leak inside the home.

CO alarms should be battery-powered or hardwired with battery backup. To help ensure your family is protected, First Alert offers a variety of alarms to meet all needs, including a table-top alarm with a 10-year sealed battery and digital display to see detected CO levels in parts per million. Additional alarm options include plug-in and wall-mount alarms, hardwired alarms with battery backup, and a combination smoke and CO alarm for 2-in-1 protection.

In addition to carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers, along with smoke alarms, should be an integral part of a comprehensive home safety plan.

Most importantly, if your CO alarm sounds, go outside for fresh air immediately and call 911. To learn more about CO safety or other home safety tips from First Alert, visit www.firstalert.com.



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Prevent falls this fall with a home safety...

(BPT) - After months of sticky heat and humidity, it’s time to put away the shorts and pull out the sweaters because the autumn season is finally here. But, late September brings us more than just cooler temperatures and a wardrobe change. If you or a loved one are over the age of 65, the change in seasons is also an opportunity to think about another kind of fall — the kind that impacts one in four older Americans every year — and the steps we can all take to help prevent them.

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and account for the majority of emergency room visits for older adults. More than 75 percent of falls happen in or around the house, but fortunately there are ways to evaluate our loved ones’ homes and make them safer for everyday living.

Use the checklist below, based on suggestions from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help guide your review of the exterior and interior of the property. Many of the safety measures listed can be made at little to no cost, but more significant modifications could require a considerable investment.

Keep in mind, there are financial options available for seniors who want to modify their homes to meet their changing needs. Area Agencies on Aging, state and local governments, and some nonprofits offer grants, loans or other assistance programs for eligible seniors in need of home repairs and modifications.

Older homeowners may also want to consider using a reverse mortgage loan to convert a portion of their home's equity into cash proceeds that can be used for many reasons, including home modifications and maintenance. Unlike a home equity loan, a reverse mortgage requires no monthly principal or interest payments and cannot be frozen or reset.

Borrowers do not have to repay the loan balance until the last eligible spouse permanently leaves the home, or if they fail to meet their loan obligations, which include staying current on property taxes, insurance and any condominium or HOA fees.

For a comprehensive overview of reverse mortgage loans and a Borrower Roadmap to the loan process, visit http://www.reversemortgage.org/Your-Roadmap, a free consumer resource created by the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association.

Home Safety Checklist

Start on the outside:

* Make sure the driveway and any paved walkways are smooth and stable. Seal any cracks before more damage is created. Crumbling or uneven concrete surfaces should be repaired.

* Porch and deck flooring should be flat, even and nonslip. Any loose or broken floorboards should be nailed down or replaced.

* Outdoor steps should have sturdy, easily graspable handrails.

* The porch and entryway should be well-lit and light switches should be easily accessible.

* Consider whether the doorway to the home can be converted to a no-step entrance way. There are many creative ways to achieve this.

Check out the inside:

* Floors should be flat and nonslip; floorboards should be stable and carpets should be free of holes and tears that could create a tripping hazard.

* Throw rugs should be fully fastened to the floor with tacks or double-sided tape, or taken out of the house.

* All stairs and steps should be flat and even, and clutter should be removed.

* Add nonslip treads to stairs that are not carpeted.

* Stairways should have solidly mounted handrails on both sides of the steps if possible, and should be well-lit.

* If you or your loved ones face mobility challenges and stairs are an obstacle to accessing different levels of the home, consider installing a chairlift that will enable them to enjoy all the rooms in the house again.



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Replacing a furnace? How to choose an...

(BPT) - If it’s time to replace your furnace, you may be wondering if it’s worth the extra investment to buy an energy-efficient system. Or, you may be unsure how to choose an energy-efficient system for your home.

“Energy-efficient heating systems can substantially lower your fuel costs over the lifetime of the system, so it’s well worth investing the time and money to find just the right one,” says Chip Wade, HGTV(R) expert. “Depending on where you live, an energy-efficient gas furnace can be between 12 and 16 percent more efficient than standard models, according to ENERGY STAR.”

Wade offers some guidance for choosing an energy-efficient heating system that’s right for your home:

* The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) measures how efficiently a gas furnace converts fuel into energy. Generally, the higher the AFUE rating of a furnace the more energy efficient it will be. For example, a furnace with an AFUE rating of 90 percent means that same percentage of fuel gets turned into heat, and only 10 percent is lost through the chimney and elsewhere. You can find the AFUE rating on the yellow Energy Guide label on the furnace.

* Be sure to right-size your furnace. A unit that’s too small for your home will have to work harder to maintain a comfortable temperature, and will use more fuel. A unit that’s too big may also use more fuel than is actually required to adequately heat your home, and may also result in uneven temperatures throughout the house.

* Look for models like the the YORK(R) Affinity(TM) Series modulating gas furnace that offer efficiency-enhancing features. For example, the Affinity furnaces have a modulating burner that continuously adjusts heating levels in small increments to match the precise degree of comfort you need. Leading-edge technology also tailors the operation of the furnace to match the climate of your location. The system also self-monitors to make set-up and maintenance faster and easier.

* Choose a gas furnace that offers sealed combustion. These furnaces draw air from outside and mix it with the fuel at a controlled rate. This maximizes the amount of heat the furnace can generate from the fuel. Most quality energy-efficient furnaces will have this feature.

* Pay attention to the warranty and be sure you understand just what it covers and for how long. Furnaces are a big investment, so it’s important to choose one that gives you the best warranty. For example, Affinity furnaces offer a Complete Assurance Warranty Pledge that promises if the heat exchanger fails in the first 10 years, the company will provide the option to replace the furnace.

Finally, before you invest in an energy-efficient furnace make sure your house will work with the furnace to maximize its efficiency. Seal air leaks throughout the home, especially at windows and doors, and throughout duct work. Make sure you have the correct amount and type of insulation in your home for your climate. Have the rest of your home’s HVAC system inspected to ensure there are no problems that could hinder the efficient operation of your new furnace.

To learn more about energy-efficient furnaces, visit www.YORK.com.



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3 new considerations when choosing your next...

(BPT) - If you’re buying a garage door this fall, you’ll be faced with several decisions that you likely never had to make before. Before you call your local garage door dealer to make that purchase, here are some of the new decisions that you need to face.

The design decision

Remember the old adage that the front door is the most important design element in the home? It’s not true anymore.

In most homes today, the visual impact of the garage door is many times greater than that of the front door. Studies have even proven that your garage door design can affect the appraisal value of your home.

Today, manufacturers offer hundreds of new, unique and stunning looks. Design experts recommend that you choose a door design that blends in well with your home design, complementing its overall appearance. To do that, match the door with your home’s exterior colors, textures and patterns.

To help you with your design decision, the garage door industry has created the free consumer site www.garagewownow.com, which contains dozens of photos of the latest garage doors from many manufacturers. Plus, most manufacturer websites now feature a “door designer” that lets you see how different designs will look on an uploaded photo of your own garage.

New opener decisions

The garage door and the opener are two separate items, but they are often purchased together. And since today’s openers offer many more features and accessories than ever before, you’ll have several new decisions to make.

AC vs. DC: Openers with DC (direct current) motors, which were rare 10 years ago, are now widely available. DC and AC motors are both durable and reliable, but DC motors are quieter, and they allow the door to soft-start and soft-stop, instead of clanging to an abrupt stop.

Accessories: Here, the decisions are many. For example, you can now operate and monitor your garage door from your smartphone. You can also get a battery backup unit, a real lifesaver in a power outage. When you consider motion detection, music speakers, mini transmitters, automatic deadbolt locks, LED lighting, external keypads and more, you’ll realize how far openers have come.

New thinking on insulation

Insulation isn’t a new decision, but there is new thinking to consider. “The garage acts as a ‘buffer zone,’ much like the vestibule to a restaurant or a grocery store,” says Joe Hetzel, P.E., technical director for the garage door manufacturers’ association. “An insulated garage door makes it easier to control the heating and cooling costs for the home.”

This new “buffer zone” thinking considers garage door insulation as a must. Fortunately, insulation typically pays for itself. Dow Chemical recently reported that, for every $100 you invest in an insulation project, you generally get a return of $117 in recouped energy costs.

“Once you get an insulated door, you never go back to uninsulated,” says Ed Hermanns, a door dealer in New Jersey and president of the International Door Association. “Most of our customers today buy an insulated door, and that number seems to increase every year.”

You might be buying a new garage door out of necessity, but as it turns out, it’s a smart purchase. An upscale garage door replacement delivers the highest return on investment for all upscale remodeling projects in the new 2017 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine.

So, while you have a few decisions yet to make, you’ve already made the good choice to get a new garage door. After you add the latest designs and technology, you’ll have a chance to admire all your choices every time you pull in the driveway.



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4 fallacies you should never believe about...

(BPT) - Deck-building trends come and go, including new styles and building materials like composites. However, wood remains the material of choice for the majority of deck projects, according to Popular Mechanics.

When you’re weighing what type of material to use for your deck project, you’ll likely hear pros and cons for both composites and wood — as well as a lot of misinformation. Here are four fallacies about wood decking that you should never believe, and the truth behind each:

Myth 1. Wood won’t hold its value the way a composite deck will. Build your new deck from wood, and you could recoup nearly 72 percent of the cost of your investment at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. That’s because a wooden deck increases resale value more than a composite one; the report notes composite decks recoup about 65 percent of their investment at time of resale.

Myth 2. Wood is difficult to maintain. All decks require some maintenance, even if they’re built from a material the manufacturer touts as virtually maintenance free. Naturally rot-resistant woods like Western Red Cedar actually require less maintenance than you may believe. If you choose to stain or finish your wooden deck, you’ll have to refinish it to maintain its beauty and weather resistance. Or, you could allow your cedar deck to weather naturally. It will acquire a rich, silvered hue over time. The only maintenance it will require is a good cleaning now and then to remove dirt from the surface and between boards to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Myth 3. Wood-look isn’t unique anymore; you can get that appearance from composites. Do false teeth ever look as natural and right as real ones? Do fake nails? Mother Nature remains the greatest artist. While many composites attempt to mimic the look of wood, they can’t replicate the unique beauty, feeling or smell of real cedar.

Myth 4. Wood contributes to deforestation and that’s bad for the environment. Real cedar is harvested from sustainably managed forests — every year, forest managers plant new trees to replace the ones cut. It makes good business sense to sustain the source of your livelihood, so wood producers take care to protect the health and longevity of their forests.

However, wood is environmentally friendly for other reasons, too. Cedar is naturally rot-, decay- and insect-resistant, meaning there’s no need to treat it with chemicals. Woods such as cedar are also 100 percent renewable and sustainable; once your wood deck’s usable life is done (long in the future), the planks can naturally decompose or be recycled for other uses. Once composite decks wear out, the material will sit in landfills and never degrade.

Wood also improves air quality. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide (a major component of greenhouse gases) and emit oxygen. After a tree is harvested, the carbon dioxide contained in its cells remains trapped there, and out of the atmosphere.

To learn more about Western Red Cedar, visit RealCedar.com.



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This fall, make home upgrades with staying power

(BPT) - Fall can be the perfect time for homeowners to complete projects that busy summer schedules didn’t allow. It’s also a great time to look at ways to add lasting value to your property. This season, upgrade cheap fixes, freshen dated looks and incorporate lasting improvements in your home. Changes that can bring impact and also increase the resale potential of your home include:

Lose the linoleum

Linoleum has been popular in many homes since the 1950s, but these days it’s not the only flooring option for durability and waterproofing in areas like the kitchen and bath. Wood-look tile has become hugely popular, and the style isn’t going anywhere. Retailers like Lumber Liquidators carry an array of wood-look porcelain tile, vinyl and engineered flooring products that are versatile, water- and stain-resistant and fit with any decor.

Upgrade laminate countertops

Particleboard and laminate are affordable options, but not ones that will create impact in the kitchen. These days the options are vast for elevating countertops with butcher block, quartz, marble, concrete and more. Create a cohesive look with countertops matched to the cabinets. Updating hardware can also be an economical way to freshen the space and tie the look together.

Scrape popcorn ceilings

Common in many homes because they’re easy to apply, popcorn ceilings are often one of the first things a new homebuyer wants to change. If you’re looking to sell, scraping the popcorn in favor of a smooth look may win over prospective buyers. Always test popcorn ceilings for asbestos before you start.

Rethink wallpaper

Wallpaper had its day, but many new homeowners want it gone — and that’s not always an easy update. Save the headache now and later and opt for neutral paint styles while bringing interest and color with your décor. Whites and neutral paints for walls and trim brighten a space and make it appear bigger.

No more wall-to-wall carpeting

Many homeowners can’t wait to get rid of old, dirty and dated carpets in favor of the quality, reliability and beauty of hardwood and wood-look floors. Now there are a variety of hardwoods, bamboo and wood-look flooring styles to choose from, and it’s possible to achieve the look of hardwood at an accessible price point.

The best part of making improvements like these now is that homeowners can enjoy them all winter long, and far beyond. And you’ll increase the odds the next generation will love your home, too.



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Hot home design: 4 things to consider when...

(BPT) - Selecting new siding is one of the most important curb appeal decisions homeowners face when building new or remodeling an existing home. With so many options — both classic and modern materials — there’s a lot to consider.

Many manufacturers are now combining traditional styles and materials with advanced technologies, delivering a product homeowners can love for years to come. Among all the options on the market, vinyl siding — with its various styles, textures and colors — remains the most-used product. In fact, 2016 marked 22 straight years that vinyl siding held the top spot in cladding for new single-family houses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual home report. This material has come a long way since it was introduced in the 1950s, with manufacturers such as Ply Gem Building Products making strides in research and development efforts for design and performance.

Whether you are building a new home or remodeling, there are four key considerations every homeowner should account for when determining which siding option will best meet his or her needs: durability, design, maintenance and affordability.

Durability

Siding selection is typically a once-in-a-lifetime decision, making durability a key factor for many. Homeowners should look for a siding option that is resistant to every element, including rain, wind and even the sun. Manufacturers now offer siding products with technologies that resist the damaging impact of the sun, preserving color for the lifetime of the home. Options, like Ply Gem’s Mastic Vinyl Siding SolarDefense Reflective Technology, expand exterior home design with darker, on-trend colors that can make your home the envy of the neighborhood.

Design & color

Today, the most overwhelming decision for many when considering siding options can be style and color — but it doesn’t need to be. There are several primary siding material options available to homeowners — vinyl, aluminum, steel, wood, brick, fiber cement, stucco and stone — and countless color and style options within each material type. To help you determine what might look best, seek the advice of a siding specialist like a contractor, builder or architect for help. They can educate you on color coordination and what would go well with the neighborhood, while still giving personalized options for your home. Also check out online resources like Ply Gem’s home exterior visualizer to experiment with different options and customize your style.

“In recent years, homeowners have been getting more creative and choosing bolder colorful options for their exterior,” said Pat Verlodt, president of Color Services & Associates, an organization that identifies color trends and educates consumers and manufacturers about those trends. “Whether you’re looking for a certain period-specific color scheme to align with historical significance, for a new palette to freshen up your curb appeal, or for a specific panel texture, such as cedar shake or wood clapboard, my recommendation is to look at vinyl. It provides the homeowner the freedom to add low-maintenance color and definition that will never go out of style or need painting or refinishing.”

In fact, more than 400 vinyl siding colors have been certified for color retention, according to the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI). The variety offers homeowners a virtually endless palette of fade-resistant colors, from pastels to deep hues, combined with trim, accents and accessories. Look to manufacturers like Ply Gem that offer complementary solutions for the entire exterior.

Maintenance

Beyond style and color, homeowners are also seeking siding that is low maintenance, which reduces or eliminates the cost and personal time expended for proper upkeep. Each siding material type has a different level of care and maintenance required. Vinyl typically requires just soap and water for periodic cleaning, and no need to paint, stain or caulk, which means little maintenance over the long term. Wood and fiber cement can require repainting every five to seven years. Stucco will need to be repainted and sealed. Brick and stone require repointing of mortar. The earlier point about durability plays a part here too, ensuring that the option you select is free from potential time-consuming and costly repairs due to storm damage such as wind and moisture.

Affordability

Lastly, establish a financial plan and budget. By doing this homework up front, you can have a more informed consultation with potential contractors and better ensure that estimates are aligned with your budget. Don’t forget that sometimes investing a little more into the project up front may reduce issues and maintenance costs down the road.

As you look to select new exterior siding, be sure to keep in mind these important factors — durability, design, maintenance and affordability — to make the best choice possible for your home and lifestyle. To get started on siding your house, look to manufacturer websites such as plygem.com for siding choices, as well as home visualizer and color selection tools that help homeowners experiment with different colors and textures before making a decision.



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Artisanal elegance for curated design in the...

(BPT) - Original, handcrafted décor brings an artisanal elegance to today’s modern kitchen. Designers and homeowners alike are incorporating more one-of-a-kind pieces that bring an individualized artisanship to the heart of the home. These unique fittings and fixtures adapt to multiple style preferences, from modern and contemporary urban design to rustic elegance. When it comes to the kitchen space, handmade furniture and accessories coupled with exposed natural materials infuse a sense of artistry for unmatched style.

Authentic elegance

Handcrafted materials make for eye-catching pieces in the kitchen. An island created from reclaimed wood transforms a functional aspect of the room into a beautiful piece of art. Live-edge countertops invigorate the wood grain and serve as a centerpiece for entertaining. A hammered copper sink paired with rich gold accessories doubles as a stunning complement to earth tones. Extend wood elements throughout the entire space with exposed beams and open shelving for a unified look.

Refined fittings

Deemed the jewel of the kitchen, the faucet serves as a focal point that brings all elements of the space together. The Litze Kitchen Collection by Brizo is inspired by the revival of the arts and crafts movement to meld artisan style with clean and contemporary sensibility. Every design element — from the three distinct spout configurations to the unique handle options — makes this collection feel at home in both modern, minimal environments and urban, industrial spaces. The Brilliance Luxe Gold and split Matte Black/Brilliance Luxe Gold finishes effortlessly bring luxury and style, while knurling details add textured appeal to any artisanal kitchen design.

Curated accents

Hand-painted accessories serve as beautiful statements in the kitchen with each piece containing a story as unique as the individual who created it. Whether decorated with bold colors or a muted palette, hand-painted accessories create striking displays of authenticity and originality. Use these pieces to adorn open shelves or feature them as table centerpieces to further accentuate a curated artisanal design.

Custom hardware

Custom drawer pulls and handles make a powerful statement in kitchen design. While seemingly small, these pieces unite all elements in the room’s aesthetic. Handles wrapped in leather bring both textural and visual appeal, while hand-carved wooden pulls cater to rustic elements when paired with exposed brick or mineral gray countertops.



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How to lower your monthly mortgage payment

(BPT) - Owning your own home comes with many advantages, including escaping rising rents and the personal and financial stability associated with homeownership. Fortunately, millions of Americans, with less than 20 percent down, have been able to buy a home sooner thanks to mortgage insurance (MI). If you don’t put down 20 percent of the mortgage cost, you will likely be required to purchase MI, which enables low-down-payment borrowers to qualify for home financing from lenders.

While homeownership has many benefits and continues to be part of the American Dream, it is not without costs. Several surveys have found that the majority of first-time homebuyers — over 80 percent according to one study — put less than 20 percent down. For these borrowers, there is usually the added expense of MI, which may give some of these borrowers pause.

But there is good news: the monthly private mortgage insurance premiums do not last forever on most conventional loans. And when private MI (PMI) cancels, homeowners will have more cash in their pockets each month — money that is available for home improvements or other goals. It is important to understand, however, that not all MI is the same, and not all MI can be canceled.

There are numerous low-down-payment mortgage options available that include MI. The two most common are: (1) home loans backed 100 percent by the government through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that include both an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP); and (2) conventional loans, which are typically backed at least in part by private sources of capital, such as private MI. The key difference is that one form can be canceled (PMI) while the other (FHA) typically cannot be canceled.

An FHA loan can be obtained with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. However, be aware that you will typically have to pay a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75 percent of the total loan amount at closing or have it financed into the mortgage. In addition to your regular monthly mortgage payments on your FHA loan, you will also pay a fixed monthly MIP fee for the life of the loan. This means you could pay hundreds of dollars extra every month — thousands over the life of the loan — until you pay off the entirety of the loan.

If you obtain a conventional loan with PMI, you can put as little as 3 percent down. Like an FHA loan, PMI fees are generally factored into your monthly mortgage payment. However, PMI can often be canceled once you have established 20 percent equity in the home and/or the principal balance of the mortgage is scheduled to reach 78 percent of the home’s original value. This means that the rest of your mortgage payments will not include any extra fees, so that your payments go down in time, saving you money each month. What you save in the long run can then be put toward expenses like home renovations, which can further increase your home’s value.

MI is a good thing because it bridges the divide between a low down payment and mortgage approval. But not all MI is created equal. If you want to buy a home but still save in the long run, PMI might be the right option for you. Check out lowdownpaymentfacts.org to learn more.



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Big, smart ideas for renovating smaller homes

(BPT) - While newly constructed homes are bigger than ever, most Americans still live in modestly sized or even small houses — and many of these owners are choosing to remodel rather than move into a bigger home.

More than half of all American houses were built before 1980, according to the National Association of Home Builders. At that time, the average new home size was slightly more than 1,700 square feet, U.S. Census Bureau data shows. Meanwhile, interest in remodeling is at an all-time high, according to Metrostudy.

Homeowners looking to renovate their average-sized homes in order to get more living space don’t have to build costly additions. Many modern remodeling tactics, tricks and tools are made to work well in smaller homes. Here are ways to get the most out of your home renovation:

Space-saving plumbing options

Plumbing can be problematic in any renovation, but adding plumbing in certain smaller-house locations can be especially challenging. Traditional plumbing may require you to open walls and floors to connect to existing drainage lines, or break through concrete to add toilets, showers and sinks when finishing a basement.

Above-floor plumbing can solve a number of small-space challenges. For example, you may decide to add a powder room in the unused space beneath a stairway. However, if the space is very small, a standard toilet with water tank and traditionally plumbed sink might not fit. In such a situation, a compact, one-piece macerating toilet like the Sanicompact from Saniflo installs quickly, easily and conveniently in tight spots.

Traditional plumbing can also be a challenge in renovations where you’re adding plumbing below a main level, such as installing a bathroom with a shower or even a second kitchen in a basement setting. In southern states, where most homes are built on slabs rather than with basements, adding any kind of traditional plumbing would require you to break open the concrete in order to add pipes — an expensive and risky undertaking.

However, a Sanistar one-piece, wall-mounted toilet with built-in macerator allows you to add a basement bathroom without cutting concrete. For adding sinks or showers, gray water pumps such as the Saniswift can be as compact as a small wastebasket, and can carry water away from new bathrooms or kitchens where no traditional plumbing exists.

Right-sizing utilities

If you’re adding a bathroom or kitchen in your average-sized, average-age home, it may also be a good idea to replace the water heater — especially if it's 10 or more years old. An older water heater may fail or worse, leak, causing damage to nearby floors and walls.

Modern tank water heaters are more energy efficient, but also larger as a result of the insulation needed to achieve greater efficiency. If you’re replacing a water heater in an attic that’s accessed through pull-down stairs or in a crawl space, or adding one in a closet or out-of-the-way corner, a traditional tank water heater might not fit.

Tankless water heaters require less room, solving space problems. Plus, they’re more energy efficient because they heat the water only when you need it, rather than using fuel to maintain the temperature in a large tank.

Natural light without sacrifice

If your home is older, it may have fewer or smaller windows than newly constructed homes. However, if you crave more natural light, you don’t have to sacrifice wall space to windows or incur the expense of opening a wall.

Skylights and tube skylights can bring more natural light into a home. Modern skylights are energy efficient and far less prone to leaks than older models. A standard skylight can easily be installed in rooms with direct roof access, and tube skylights can even bring natural light to ground-floor spaces. Plus, skylights allow you to preserve privacy in settings where it matters most, such as bathrooms.

Looking up

Older homes may have less floor space, but many older homes also have higher ceilings. Or, your smaller home may have a two-story family room or entryway. Using the extra height in your home to create storage space can allow you to free up floor space. For example, floor-to-ceiling shelves in a family room or entryway provide ample storage space.

Tall ceilings can also be an opportunity to add task lighting in work areas such as over kitchen islands, or to create design statements through the addition of exposed faux beams.

Smart renovations can help make your home feel bigger and function better for your family, no matter how big or small its square footage.



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5 kitchen upgrades to make your inner host...

(BPT) - You love entertaining and treating guests to delectable dishes and fun times. Unfortunately, your kitchen layout, appliances and even the faucet are so downright unappealing that the thought of planning and preparing a party menu is equally unpleasant.

What do you do when you’re built to entertain, but your kitchen is not? Renovate!

Reason to renovate

The kitchen is a favorite room to remodel, and a minor kitchen refresh can return more than 80 percent of your investment at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report. But ROI isn’t the top reason people renovate kitchens. According to the 2017 Houzz Kitchen Trends Study, most people who remodel their kitchen do so because they just can’t stand it anymore.

So, if you love playing host but don’t like the kitchen that stands in the way of your entertaining, revamping the room is the perfect way to make it more party-friendly.

Renovating for entertainment

Here are five upgrades that can help make your kitchen the perfect platform for entertaining:

1. Give yourself some space. If you’ve decided to go all in for your kitchen renovation, and have an older home with a closed-off kitchen, consider opening the space to the home’s main living area. If your home already has an open floor plan, consider ways to tie the kitchen more intimately to the living area, such as continuing one style of flooring through both rooms, or repeating an accent color in the kitchen and adjacent common space.

2. Work smarter with a new faucet. The sink is a key point in the workflow triangle for any kitchen, and the faucet should take center stage in this performance. A contemporary faucet with task-driven spray patterns is a must for entertaining, but wouldn’t an extra pair of hands also be great to have with the flurry of pre-party activities? An easy and quick solution is a hands-free faucet, such as the American Standard Beale kitchen faucet with Selectronic technology, which allows you to turn water on or off without the need to touch the faucet. This touchless technology makes food prep easier, while also helping to prevent cross-contamination of foods.

Taking hands-free technology one step further, the addition of a sleek, European-styled GROHE kitchen faucet with Foot Control allows you to control the flow of water with a tap of your toe at the base of the sink cabinet. Now it will be super simple to fill a big pot or rinse off a large skillet, using both hands to hold it securely while turning on the water at the same time.

3. Upgrade appliances. Depending on your budget, you can find appliances to help with virtually every aspect of entertaining, from dishwashers that entirely eliminate the need to pre-rinse, to refrigerators that help compile your grocery list. Even on a modest budget, you can improve on your current appliances, especially if they are older and less energy efficient. Double stoves are great for cooking a lot of food for large groups of guests, warming drawers keep food warm until ready to serve, and beverage drawers ensure you’ll always have enough refreshments for everyone.

4. Choose cleaning-friendly surfaces. Did you ever wonder why stainless steel sinks continue to be a popular choice in kitchens, regardless of the room’s decor? It’s because stainless steel sinks not only look good, they also retain their beauty longer by resisting stains and scratches. Plus, drop-in and undermount stainless steel sinks from American Standard offer both single and double bowl options for simplifying kitchen tasks. Picking dirt and germ-busting surfaces like stainless steel, stone countertops, ceramic tile, etc., can help make it easier to keep your kitchen clean, leaving you more time for entertaining.

5. Create an island paradise. The standalone island has become a must-have for entertainment-minded homeowners. An island can serve multiple purposes when throwing a party, from providing extra workspace or hosting a second sink, to giving guests a seat closer to the action. You can even choose a multi-level island that will allow you to interact with guests while concealing work areas and sinks from view.

If your kitchen has been holding you back from blossoming into the host of your dreams, these easy upgrades can help the room better match your personality and entertainment needs.



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Housework may be a key to improving your...

(BPT) - Cleaning the bathroom and emptying the dishwasher isn’t at the top of a couple’s “To Do Together” list, but it may be the true language of love. In fact, a recent survey from home appliance leader LG Electronics found most Americans (52%) get turned on by their partner doing housework. In fact, those who do chores with their partner (60%) are nearly twice as likely as those who don’t (37%) to believe a person who is good at chores is good in bed.

So what’s the key to a better relationship? Communication and housework.

That couldn’t be truer for celebrity couple Rachel Zoe, renowned designer and editor-in-chief of The Zoe Report, and her husband Rodger Berman, president of Rachel Zoe Inc., who have been together for 26 years. Rachel and Rodger are proof that communication and managing housework together could lead to a happier relationship.

“Rodger and I have young boys, so there is always something to clean or pick up around the house,” shared Zoe. “We work as a team to tackle the different housework, so we can spend more time together.”

Over their decades-long relationship, Zoe and Berman have some advice for how to handle disagreements over housework:

1. Divide and conquer

Splitting up household responsibilities makes it quicker and easier to get housework done. While one person prepares dinner, the other can set the table and then clear it afterwards. This helps couples feel like they’re both doing their part and no one is putting in more effort than the other.

“We love to entertain and there is always a lot of preparation before guests arrive,” Zoe said. “Rodger and I divide up the responsibilities, which makes it so much easier and faster. For example, I’ll cook and he’ll load the dishes so everything is clean and ready when people arrive.”

2. Find the right tools to make tasks easier

“When we have friends and family over, we want to spend time with them and not worry about running around doing a million things and cleaning up,” notes Zoe. “We make sure we have the right tools to help us — our newest trick of the trade is the LG QuadWash dishwasher. It looks amazingly chic in our home but it also makes our lives easier. Because it has four powerful spraying arms, instead of the traditional two, we don’t have to worry about prewashing or rewashing the dishes.”

Technology can help couples tackle cleaning and maintain their home together. Set reminders for whose turn it is to clean out the refrigerator or use the LG SmartThinQ® app to monitor and check when the dishwasher is done. Using technology can help couples spend more time together and less time cleaning.

3. Specialize according to priorities and strengths

Specializing is one way to ensure everyone’s priorities are met and housework gets done. Some people would rather clean the bathroom than load a dishwasher, while others don’t mind a layer of dust on furniture but can’t abide a sink full of dirty dishes overnight. The party who hates bathroom cleaning can be responsible for all dishwasher duties, including making sure the sink is dish-free at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the other party can tackle bathroom duties.

Zoe and Berman prioritize housework based on the other’s preferences. “I love cooking and it’s important to me to always serve good meals, so I handle all the cooking,” she says. “Rodger actually likes doing the dishes, and he knows I can’t sleep if there are dirty dishes in the sink, so he always makes sure the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher before we go to bed.”

4. Never use housework as a tool for revenge

One in four people surveyed by LG said they have purposely messed up a partner’s laundry after a fight. Zoe admits when she’s angry with Berman she may not take the throw pillows off his side of the bed, or make his nightly frozen yogurt. However, she also verbalizes to him what she’s upset about.

"Sharing responsibilities has always been an effortless part of our relationship," Zoe says. "That's the way we have always approached our lives. We have always thought of ourselves as a team."



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5 fabulous deck fix-ups

(BPT) - Are you tired of having a deck you’re no longer proud to show off? You’re not alone. According to the 2017 U.S. Houzz Landscape Trends Study, one of the top reasons motivating homeowners to tackle outdoor projects like deck upgrades is their open-air space is past its prime.

If you’re like surveyed respondents and ready to return your fixer-upper to its former glory, the process may seem daunting. Fortunately, a little inspiration is all you need to transform your deck into a backyard beauty. With these fabulous fix-ups, your deck will be re-energized in no time.

1. Refresh your color palette

One of the easiest ways to transform a ho-hum deck into a stylish oasis is an updated color palette. Refreshing the look of outdoor accessories and furnishings is a simple and cost-effective solution. MidwestLiving.com says, “Focusing on one or two colors adds a unifying feel to your décor. Punchy blue and green furnishings brighten the deck while not distracting from the view.” You can even swap out fabrics, accent pillows and cushions as the seasons change to keep your outdoor room looking fresh all year long.

If you’re increasing the size of your deck, consider choosing decking in a color that complements your home. It will help ease the visual transition from indoors to out and create a beautiful base for planters and deck furnishings. If you are looking to make a statement, consider varying the color of deck boards, inserting feature strips or using contrasting railings to frame your outdoor room.

2. Landscape your deck-escape

To create a deck-escape that draws guests in, integrate landscaping into your design. Start small by lining your deck with planters, curving flowerbeds and grasses. A punchy mix of seasonal annuals and perennials will help encourage visitors to explore your outdoor living space. Or, go a step further and use today’s versatile, moisture-resistant composite decking products to turn your deck into an extension of your garden. With proper installation, the boards can easily curve around trees or flower beds to blend your deck into its natural surroundings.

3. Provide pretty privacy

There’s no reason to give up style and comfort on your deck just because you want privacy, especially if your neighbors are within close quarters. Trellises, lattices and vertical gardens can screen an exposed view and freshen up your outdoor room. Nature can also act as a beautiful barrier. Slender evergreens like arborvitae can establish a relaxed sense of privacy and create a soft, lush backdrop. You can even add different shade-providing trees near your deck, creating a secluded space with a more intimate feel.

4. Build a beautiful addition

If your outdoor room is limiting the number of guests you can entertain, a new deck addition may be just the right fix. You’ll gain extra square feet and valuable space for themed outdoor areas. Try bumping your deck out on one side to make a basic square deck more interesting and gain room for an al fresco dining area or a spa-themed deck nook with a hot tub. With the right decking materials, you can even add a meandering garden path deck or curved getaway encircling a water feature.

“Composite decking with a plastic and wood blend throughout the board like ChoiceDek can be ripped, routed and bent to fit nearly any deck design,” says Randy Gottlieb, president of A.E.R.T. “The boards are easier to curve than capped composites and traditional wood planks. They give homeowners a lot more design flexibility at an affordable price point.”

5. Create on-deck destinations

To give your outdoor room a lasting edge, create on-deck destination areas that go beyond eating and socializing. Love gardening? Build a vertical garden or use extra deck boards to create planter boxes that allow you to pass on your “green thumb” to your children. If you’re a DIYer, use complementary decking to create a corn hole set for birthday parties and gatherings. With a spark of inspiration, the possibilities for reinventing your outdoor space are virtually endless.



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How to Tackle a Dust-Free Renovation

(BPT) - Kristen Johnson* loved her home, her family and their active lifestyle. She’d never want to change a thing — except for her foyer and adjoining dining room. When she and her husband first moved into their home, they had intended to refinish the hardwood floors in those areas in a darker stain to better fit their style, but life got in the way. Twelve years, two boys and countless birthday parties, pets and indoor soccer games later, their floors were covered in scuffs, scratches and stains, and some of their walls needed repair. To complicate matters even further, they had a wraparound staircase with a wood-tone banister that would also need to be refinished if they decided to change their floor.

With their big family reunion and a house full of people just weeks away, Johnson and her husband knew it was time to make a change. However, they couldn’t afford to disrupt their busy schedules, and they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of renovation dust getting all over their ceiling fans, cupboards or worse — especially with their son’s dust allergies. They knew if they decided to take on this renovation project, they’d need it finished quickly, and they’d need the entire project to be as dust-free as possible.

What’s the big deal about renovation dust? Beyond creating a huge mess, renovation dust is also a health concern. As any homeowner who has embarked on an interior renovation project knows, the resultant dust gets everywhere — even inside closed cabinets and in adjacent rooms. However, as problematic as the mess is, dust-related health hazards are of even greater concern, particularly to allergy sufferers. Traditional methods of mitigating dust usually involve extensive prep work, like hanging plastic sheeting and taping off doors, or doing a thorough post-renovation top-to-bottom cleaning. Both options are extremely time-consuming.

Is there a better way to handle renovation dust? There is a better way to handle renovation dust: by collecting it right at the source like the pros do. Professional contractors are used to dealing with renovation dust, and given the volume of work they do, they create dust far more frequently and in much greater volumes than the average homeowner or DIYer. Rather than spend valuable time on prep work or post-project cleanup or suffer through the use of uncomfortable dust masks, they use dust collection tools that capture and contain dust immediately as it’s created, before it can become a mess or airborne health hazard.

How Johnson tackled her dust-free renovation. Because of their tight timeline, Johnson and her husband decided to take on some of their renovation themselves using supplies purchased at their local hardware store, but they let the professionals handle the tricky floor/banister redo.

To repair their drywall, they patched the damaged areas using joint compound and a drywall sander, which together cost about $130. To make the sanding process dust-free, they added a Dust Deputy, which they connected directly to the drywall sander and to their wet/dry vacuum. They found that this combination captured virtually all the dust generated by the sanding. They noticed no dust in the air, and the Dust Deputy prevented the fine drywall dust from clogging their vacuum filter.

Even though they had the flooring contractor tackle the floor and banister, they saved a few dollars by removing the varnish from the banister and other hard-to-reach areas themselves. To do this, they applied a gel varnish remover using a brush (together about $20), then scraped the wet varnish residue using a Viper Scraper attached to their Dust Deputy and wet/dry vacuum. The scraper captured the residue, and the Dust Deputy contained it for disposal, without it ever reaching, or damaging, their vacuum.

Their big splurge was on the floor refinishing, which they left to the pros to tackle (about $2,500). To keep that process dust-free, they selected a dust-free contractor in their area who used a cyclonic Oneida Vortex dust collection system with HEPA filtration. In the end, they finished the project virtually dust-free and just in time for their family reunion, and they were very pleased with the results!

*Kristen’s last name has been changed for privacy.



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Is your family expanding? Protect what matters...

(BPT) - You may have chosen the perfect color palette and all of your nursery furniture, but have you thought about some key safety checks?

“The arrival of a baby means you have to take a look at your home in a whole new light,” said Tarsila Wey, marketing director for First Alert, the most trusted brand in home safety. “Take the time now to help ensure your home is safe and secure.”

First Alert has outlined some crucial tasks to accomplish before the little one makes his or her appearance:

Maintain crib safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of children’s deaths under the age of one are caused by suffocation. Make sure that, when prepping the nursery, the crib meets safety standards, and avoid loose bedding or soft toys in the crib. After the baby arrives, the infant should sleep alone and be placed on his or her back on a firm surface.

Check your smoke alarms

Smoke alarms help protect your family, but in order to do so the alarms need to be present — and working. Install a working smoke alarm in the nursery and ensure that the rest of the home is properly equipped. The National Fire Protection Association recommends smoke alarms inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.

Residential smoke alarms need to be replaced at least every 10 years. To find out whether it’s time to replace the smoke alarms in your home, simply look on the back of the alarms where the date of manufacture is marked. The smoke alarm should be replaced 10 years from that date (not the date of purchase or installation).

Protect from the “Silent Killer”

Often dubbed “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that is impossible to detect without an alarm. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning in the United States and is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year. Standard CO alarms are designed to alert people to high levels of CO (30-70 parts per million), which can be fatal.

However, lower levels of CO have also been proven to be harmful to infants. Fully protect your newborn from both high and low levels of CO with the Onelink by First Alert Environment Monitor, which provides protection for those most vulnerable to CO levels as low as 9 parts per million, and peace of mind for parents. Compatible with Apple HomeKit and Alexa Skills, it also monitors temperature and humidity, and notifies users of changing conditions.

Update the escape plan

It is important to plan and practice an escape plan for your home in the event of a fire. According to an NFPA survey, only one of every three American households has actually developed and practiced a home fire escape plan. This is even more important with the addition of a new member to your family. As a family, walk through the home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. For the second story, place escape ladders near windows, and practice setting it up so you’ll be able to use it correctly and quickly in an emergency. Make sure everyone understands the plan, with special attention to carrying the newborn. Choose an outside meeting place that is a safe distance from your home, and make sure to practice your escape plan twice a year — and before the baby comes.

Create an emergency call list

Even though everything we need is on our smartphones these days, when a babysitter or nanny is with your infant, they might not be as prepared in case of an emergency — and you might not be either! Having an emergency contact list readily available can potentially save time and make everything go a little more smoothly when there is a crisis. Make sure the list includes family numbers, poison control, non-emergency numbers for police and fire departments, and neighbors’ phone numbers.

To learn more about fire and carbon monoxide safety and the Onelink Environment Monitor, visit FirstAlert.com or FirstAlert.com/Onelink.



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5 smart technology upgrades to make the...

(BPT) - Smart technology has found a place in virtually every room in the home, even the one where we take care of our most low-tech needs. In fact, thanks to innovations like sensor-operated, self-cleaning toilets, moisture-sensing ventilation fans and digital shower controls, it’s possible to turn an ordinary bathroom into the brainiest room in the house.

If you’re ready to upgrade your bathroom with the latest smart technology, here are five elements to put at the top of your must-have list:

1. Smarter shower

From showerheads with light and sound, to digital temperature and water pressure controls that you can set from your smartphone, an array of high-tech features is available to elevate the simple act of getting clean to the level of a luxurious, high-tech experience.

You can find something for every preference. Love to shower at night? Install a showerhead that features its own lighting. Dislike fiddling with the controls every morning to get just the right temperature? Opt for digital temperature controls that allow for multiple pre-settings for individual users. Focused on conservation? Try a showerhead that senses what you’re doing — washing your hair, shaving your legs — and automatically adjusts the water flow accordingly.

2. Intelligent toilet

A toilet that cleans itself is a dream come true for many people, but TOTO boosts the intelligence of its NEOREST AC wall-mount toilet even higher. The intelligent toilet features a WASHLET personal cleansing system that uses warm, aerated water for comfort, a warm air dryer and a heated seat. An automatic opening and closing function and auto-flush ensure you never have to touch the toilet.

The toilet keeps itself (and the environment in your bathroom) clean with a flushing system that uses an environmentally friendly combination of gravity and high-speed water jets to spin away waste, while an in-bowl catalytic deodorizer helps keep the air fresh. The bowl itself is glazed with titanium dioxide and zirconium, which when activated by the toilet’s integrated UV light, creates molecular reactions that help keep the bowl free from visible and invisible waste.

Not only will you not need harsh detergents to clean the toilet, it’s is also WaterSense labelled, and uses just 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf) for solid waste and 0.9 gpf for liquid. Visit www.totousa.com to learn more.

3. Versatile ventilation

Bathroom ventilation fans serve practical and cosmetic purposes. Ventilation removes moisture and humidity that could promote the growth of mold and mildew, and can help exhaust unpleasant odors. Of course, not everyone puts ventilation to its optimum use, and that’s where a new style of bathroom fan comes in.

Ventilation fans that sense humidity — such as after someone has taken a long, hot shower — turn on automatically to help remove excess moisture from the room. Some fans can communicate wirelessly with wall switches or with an app that allows you to control the fan from your smartphone.

4. Multi-tasking mirror

Mirrors and medicine cabinets aren’t just for reflection anymore. Now you can kit out your smart bathroom with mirrors that feature built-in TVs and can communicate with your home’s security cameras, and medicine cabinets with defogging features that can let you get to your post-shower shave faster.

Refrigerated medicine cabinets are perfect for preserving delicate drugs and cosmetics, and you can find both mirrors and medicine cabinets with built-in USB ports for charging your devices.

5. Advanced accessories

Of course accessories can be additions that put any bathroom over the top, and you never have to settle for ordinary accessories in your smarter bathroom. Enhance the usability and convenience of your bathroom with items like:

* A small robot that mops floor tiles automatically.

* A Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that communicates with your smartphone to monitor how well you’ve brushed.

* A smart scale that helps you track your weight and health progress.

* Touch-free soap dispensers.

* A towel rack that uses hot air and ultraviolet light to dry towels and keep them fresh longer.

By upgrading to tech-savvy versions of everyday bathroom elements like toilets, faucets and showers, it’s possible to make your bathroom not only one of the most-used rooms in the house, but the smartest as well.



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Focus on a single element to get the feel of a...

(BPT) - Dreaming of a renovation but lacking the time and resources for a full upgrade? You might be able to refresh your space by focusing your efforts on individual elements that have the most impact.

This growing interior design trend uses a thoughtful approach to renovation by analyzing what should be replaced to achieve the desired aesthetic. At the heart of this movement is the idea that a strong, singular update can change a room dramatically.

That means you can revamp your favorite rooms without investing in a complete remodel. For example, a new chandelier in the entryway might be the statement piece you need to welcome guests in style. Or, rather than ripping out the dining room, explore how a new dining set with table and chairs can change the entire personality of the space.

When investing in singular pieces to enhance a room, custom features reign supreme. The Laura Kirar KALLISTA collection from Kohler is a great example. Kirar, an internationally renowned designer, marries the beauty of natural elements with the pureness of line and symmetry in the collection's bath vanity, mirror and sconces.

Have you grown weary of your tired bathroom design? Mixing and matching various materials lets you make a personal statement in any room. With the KALLISTA Paletta line you can customize the look by choosing from five different finish combinations. For example, nickel and antique silver blend beautifully together by evoking a stylish design element of warm and cool tones that creates personality and character within the room.

Not only do the mixed finishes add visual impact, but when you pair Paletta brassware with a marble top console table, you create a stunning effect that immediately captures attention no matter how big or small the space. This singular update can revamp a dated master bath or enhance a bland powder room — no massive remodel necessary.

Light is another element that can redefine a space, yet it's often overlooked when approaching a room refresh. Remember to look at lighting from different perspectives. Analyze natural lighting against installed ambient, task and accent lighting. Note fixtures and consider the impact of updating sconces and shades that are no longer en vogue. It might be just what's needed in the various spaces throughout your home.

When you take a step back and take stock of your surroundings, do so with a fresh set of eyes and see the possibilities. A complete update may not be necessary. Do your research, focus on singular elements with the most impact, and invest in luxurious features that stand the test of time. With this approach, you can change any room's setting beautifully without committing to an entire renovation.



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Must-have elements for building a sustainable...

(BPT) - When someone builds a home for you, you have the opportunity to make it as sustainable, eco-friendly and energy-efficient as possible. Not only are sustainable homes more cost-effective over the long term, they have a smaller environmental impact, and can be more appealing to homebuyers when you’re ready to sell and move.

In fact, more than half of Realtors report consumers are interested in sustainability, according to the National Association of Realtors’ REALTORS and Sustainability report. What’s more, 70 percent say a home’s efficient use of energy is important to potential buyers.

If you’re having a home built for you, it’s the perfect time to think about sustainability and energy efficiency. The experts at Coleman(R) heating and cooling offer some points to consider as you’re planning your sustainable home:

* Choose a builder who specializes in sustainable homes. While virtually all home builders today will offer eco-friendly or energy-efficient features, sustainable home builders take a whole-house approach. Their plans should include more than just high-efficiency windows and appliances, and lots of insulation. Sustainability planning should also incorporate elements like the position of the home on its lot, number and position of windows in the home, and shade and ventilation, among other considerations.

* Heating and cooling typically represent the largest portion of a home’s energy consumption. When choosing an HVAC system for your sustainable home, choose an option like Coleman(R) Echelon(TM) Variable Capacity Residential Systems, which use leading-edge technology to tune the system’s temperature settings and performance for optimum function give exterior conditions. The systems also self-monitor to ensure they operate at the highest level of efficiency while providing maximum heating and cooling comfort. Visit www.colemanac.com/comfort to learn more.

* The orientation of your home can enhance heating and cooling efficiency. For example, if you live in a colder region, placing your home with the maximum number of windows facing south can allow natural light to help heat your home in the winter. If you live in a warm climate, minimizing the number of windows on the west side of the home and planting shade trees on that side can help with cooling. Plant a tree that loses its leaves in the winter, and you can allow light to reach that side of the house when the weather is colder.

* The more compact a home is, the more energy efficient it will be. You don’t have to build a tiny home to achieve a more efficient design. A two-story home can be more compact and energy efficient than a sprawling single-story design.

* Insulation and air sealing can greatly improve a home’s energy efficiency. Talk to your builder about the best kind of insulation for your needs, and learn about R value and how it affects the efficiency of insulation. Discuss how the builder seals potential air leaks in the home, paying close attention to windows, doors and spots where pipes or wires enter the home.

* Finally, a truly sustainable home is one that makes maximum use of recycled and recyclable materials. Talk to your builder about the construction materials they will use. Are they sustainably sourced? Will they be able to be recycled someday down the road when they are no longer usable in your home?

Demand for sustainable homes is likely to continue growing, according to the NAR report. Choosing to build your new home with sustainable materials, systems and practices can ensure you reap the rewards of a more environmentally friendly home now and in the future.



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Tricks to customize a kitchen on a budget

(BPT) - Who wouldn’t want a kitchen customized to meet their specific tastes and needs? A complete kitchen renovation can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but you don’t have to spend a bundle to achieve a custom effect. A few modest investments can help make your kitchen work well and look great.

Here are ways to affordably customize your kitchen:

Get creative with cabinets

Completely replacing cabinets can be costly, but it’s possible to create a custom look with the cabinets you already have. Customization tricks to try:

* Paint cabinets a trendy color, like dark blue. Or, paint one set of cabinets, such as those under an island, a different color.

* Remove the doors from one cupboard to create an open effect where you can display prized showpieces. Further accent the look by painting the back of the cupboard a contrasting color.

* Replace dated or dull hardware with drawer pulls and knobs that speak to your personal design tastes. For example, if you love a vintage look, replace metal hardware with glass or ceramic knobs.

Freshen up the faucet

Cabinet hardware isn’t the only “jewelry” in the kitchen. The faucet can also be a design focal point that looks as good as it works. If yours is old, basic or just not to your taste, replacing the kitchen faucet with a newer model that speaks to your style can help affordably reinvent the entire room. Plus, a new faucet can provide functions and features that will make your kitchen more usable.

For example, the Tournant faucet by Kohler combines traditional design with modern industrial elements, so it works well with a variety of kitchen design themes. A three-function, pull-down spray head lets you put the water exactly where you need it, while a special BerrySoft setting is gentle enough for washing fruits and vegetables.

If a more vintage look appeals to you, Kohler has recently added a bridge model faucet to its popular Artifacts line. Reminiscent of turn-of-the-century kitchen and bar faucets, the deck-mounted bridge faucet works with either lever or six-prong handles for temperature controls, and features a dual-function sidespray. Visit www.us.kohler.com to learn more.

Enliven your lighting

Good light is essential for a kitchen to function well, but it’s common for kitchens to have just one overhead light and maybe a pendant or two over a breakfast bar. Replacing dated fixtures with newer ones that suit your personal style is easy, but what can you do if you want more light without the expense of paying someone to install additional wiring?

* Replace a standard ceiling light with track lights. They require no additional wiring and you can position lights along the track to put illumination where you want it.

* Install under-cabinet lights that can easily plug into an existing counter-level electrical outlet.

* Place a swing-arm task lamp over work areas, so you can aim light where you need it most while working. The lamp can easily plug into a wall outlet.

Accentuate accessories

Accessories are the finishing touch of personalization in any room, including the kitchen. However, since the kitchen needs to be high-functioning, look for ways to accessorize that also enhance your kitchen’s ability to work for you.

* Every kitchen has small appliances that get regular use, such as toasters, food processors, blenders, etc. If your toaster sits out on the counter, why not turn it into part of the design theme by selecting an appliance in a bright color to match your decor?

* A matching set of potholders or dish towels hung from a hook beneath a cabinet or on the side of a cupboard not only puts a much-needed item close at hand, they can add decorative flare.

* Place a bright, cheerful area rug in front of the sink or prep area. The rug will not only perk up the space, it helps cushion your joints while you stand in one spot working.

* A pot rack above an island provides much-needed storage space for large pots and pans, while adding a homey touch to the kitchen.

Customizing a kitchen doesn’t have to be costly or require you to sacrifice any functionality. With a few smart updates, you can cost-effectively create the personalized kitchen of your dreams.



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Transform your backyard with these 3 elements

(BPT) - It’s amazing to contemplate that all the famous paintings in history — from da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to van Gogh’s Starry Night — are essentially formed from three primary colors. Artists skillfully combine red, yellow and blue to formulate an infinite range of colors to bring their paintings to life.

Likewise, when creating your own outdoor living space, you can combine three basic elements — decking, railing and lighting — in nearly endless ways to "paint" a personal masterpiece of fun and relaxation.

1. Get decked out with modern decking

For decades, backyard decks mainly have been rectangles. This is largely because of the rectangular shape of traditional wood deck boards. With the advent of modern materials, it is now easier to fashion decks of virtually any shape — from curved sections following the contours of a sloping yard to round decks. Or, let your imagination run wild and create a specialty shaped deck of something you love, like a giant guitar or stacked leaves.

“Today’s decking options offer exceptional design flexibility,” says Brent Gwatney, senior vice president of MoistureShield Decking. “Composites, in particular, are more easily bent into creative shapes than wood decking, and can be ripped and routed to form virtually any design you can think of.” DIYers and deck builders can even install moisture-resistant boards in the ground or under water for more design possibilities, notes Gwatney.

2. Rail against the ordinary

Many decks are required by law to have safety railings. But, with some creativity, the railing can enhance your deck’s look even as it prevents falls. With the variety of products now available, the railing can be a visual complement to your home and deck. For example, if you have a cabin, you could install hewn timber posts and railings for a rustic appeal. For a waterfront home, a nautical-themed railing system of posts and ropes could do the trick. Or, if you have a modern home and prefer simple visual lines, cable-and-wire railings or glass panels could be your style.

For a distinctive look for your deck, consider mixing colors and materials, like combining white aluminum railing and balusters with rich brown composite posts to create a dramatic look. Or, to add a sophisticated mix of texture and color, you can install on the top of a black or white railing a composite board that complements the decking color.

3. Light up the night

A third element to add to your outdoor living design palette is deck lighting. With the right lighting, you can extend your hours outside and keep your deck as charming in the nighttime as it is during the day.

From subtle post lights that cast a magical evening glow to understated recessed lights and rail strip lights that help guide guests’ steps, today’s deck lighting choices are both functional and affordable. And, with the emergence of energy-efficient LEDs, you can use them liberally with little effect on your monthly electricity bill. Some decking manufacturers like MoistureShield offer deck lights specifically designed to integrate with their decking and railing.



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5 ways to create big luxury in a small master...

(BPT) - If you’re thinking about remodeling your small bathroom, you may know that studies show updating a bathroom of any size can increase the value of a home. However, there’s a statistic from a Houzz survey you might not know: 75 percent of people who renovate a master bathroom don’t make it bigger.

Enlarging a small master bathroom is often impractical; you may need to take space from another room, or extend an exterior wall to accomplish an expansion. Both options have disadvantages and costs. The truth is, you don’t need to move walls or spend like a home improvement show host in order to create big luxury in a small master bathroom.

Here are five ways to make a small bathroom space feel lavish and spa-like:

1. Rethink the shower stall versus tub debate.

Many large luxury bathrooms have a separate shower and soaking tub. In a small bathroom, which may be used by multiple members and generations of a household, creating an upscale feeling by separating the tub from the shower might not be a realistic option. Instead, look for ways to boost the appeal of your tub/shower space, perhaps by choosing a visually appealing, bright-white model for an updated, yet classic, style.

For example, Americast bathtubs from American Standard combine unmatched strength and durability with elegant, traditional design lines that blend perfectly with stylish bathroom decor. Patented three-layer Americast construction gives the tubs a porcelain enamel finish, sound-dampening qualities and superior resistance to damage, all in a lightweight material that makes for easy installation.

2. Step up your shower game.

The shower isn’t just where you get clean; it’s also a morning wake-up tool or end-of-day relaxation therapy treatment. Deluxe showers often feature multiple jets, rainfall showerheads and hand showers. Replacing an ordinary showerhead with a shower system is a cost-effective and easy way to add a luxurious experience to the shower.

Options like the GROHE Retro-Fit Shower System offer a drenching rain showerhead, along with an integrated hand shower for ultimate convenience. Since the main showerhead is mounted on a movable arm, you can position the spray overhead (to function as a rainfall shower) or at an angle for additional comfort, all with the choice of spray patterns. Even better, the system works with existing plumbing, eliminating any need to open the wall to change piping. For added indulgence, consider a shower system with an elegant brushed nickel finish to elevate the look of your overall shower and bathroom decor.

3. Splurge on luxury materials.

Yes, materials like travertine tile or granite countertops can be costly, but when you’re renovating a small bathroom, you need less of those materials. Adding marble tile above a small tub/shower area will cost far less than outfitting a large walk-in shower. Replacing a modestly sized vanity with a new cabinet and granite countertop won’t be nearly as expensive as redoing a large, double-sink vanity.

When you have less real estate to refurbish, high-end materials can be a cost-effective choice. For a reasonable price, you can use quality materials to significantly boost the upscale feeling of your small bathroom.

4. Add pizzazz to functional elements.

You can increase a small bathroom’s feeling of extravagance by adding some flare to functional items like faucets, mirrors and cabinet hardware. For a modest investment, you can turn everyday, often-overlooked elements into items that underscore the overall beauty of the room.

For example, replacing an ordinary or outdated faucet with a modern-style option from the Colony PRO bath collection is an affordable way to improve aesthetics and functionality. Sleek styling translates well into modern bathroom design. Plus, single- or double-handle design means that faucets are user-friendly for children and adults of all ages and mobility levels.

Replacing a typical bathroom medicine cabinet or mirror with a luxury model is another way to elevate a small bathroom to premium status. Today's medicine cabinets come with an array of leading-edge features, such as defogging functions, built-in electrical outlets, night lights, USB outlets, interior lights and set-in magnifying mirrors.

5. Lighten up the space.

Finally, adding more natural light into a small master bathroom can make the space seem larger and more appealing. If your small bathroom already has a window, forgo blinds or shades in favor of easy-to-apply privacy film. Readily available in home improvement stores or online, in a breadth of simple or fancy patterns, this opaque film allows light to enter the room while providing the necessary privacy.

If your budget allows, consider adding a skylight for natural lighting and passive ventilation. Even if your small master bathroom is on the ground floor, it may be possible to use a tube skylight to bring more natural light into the space.

Achieving ultimate comfort and luxury in your small-space bathroom is at your fingertips, easily and affordably.



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3 steps to a more secure home

(BPT) - More than 75 percent of Americans are concerned about the security of their home, yet few think about door hardware when it comes to added protection.

In fact, out of those who have ever purchased a new lockset or deadbolt, only 19 percent have done so with the safety of their home in mind, according to a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA). However, when it comes to protecting your home, the right lockset or deadbolt can provide the best first line of defense.

When purchasing new locks, it isn’t simply “one size fits all.” Choosing the right lock or deadbolt for your specific needs can sometimes seem overwhelming. Two in five Americans polled don’t even know what factors to look for when purchasing one.

While many of today’s locks deliver improved security for your home, be sure to follow these easy steps to ensure you’re properly selecting and installing the product that best suits your needs.

1. Look for the BHMA Certified Secure Home label.

The hardware industry has strict standards when it comes to the quality of locks and deadbolts, and BHMA is the only organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop and maintain these standards. Each lock or deadbolt that features the BHMA Certified Secure Home label on its packaging has been tested to these stringent standards — the highest performance standards for residential hardware. The label also indicates that the product has been certified in three different areas: security, durability and finish. Products without the Secure Home label are not assured to have been tested and certified by a third-party laboratory.

2. Check the ratings combination.

Once a lock or deadbolt is tested to ANSI/BHMA standards for security, durability and finish, it is given a rating of Good (C), Better (B) or Best (A) in each area based on its performance during testing. The rating system is defined by progressive levels of performance requirements. Be sure to select the lock or deadbolt that is rated highly in the area(s) most important to you. For example, when looking for a new interior lock, you may not require the same rating for security or finish as you would for a lock being installed on your front door.

3. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

After purchasing the lock(s) best suited for your home needs, consult the installation instructions provided by the manufacturer for proper application. A BHMA Certified lock — or any lock, for that matter cannot function to its expectations if it isn’t installed correctly.

The added protection that locks and deadbolts can provide you and your family is not something to be overlooked. By fitting your doors — both interior and exterior — with certified hardware, using proper installation techniques and being diligent about using your locks when at home or away, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of unwanted company.

To learn more about BHMA Certified locksets and deadbolts, or the BHMA Certified Secure Home label, watch the short video at http://securehome.org/learning-the-label/ or visit www.securehome.org.



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5 hot trends for the home

(BPT) - Home safety is one of the top priorities of homeowners and renters alike. Your home should be a place to relax, play and enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Here are a few of the latest trends in home security so that you can make yours a home sweet home that's equally safe.

Home automation and controls

Home automation and controls is exactly what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house — from window shades to pet feeders — with a simple push of a button or voice command. Homeowners now have the ability to make sure they really did lock the back door or turn off the lights. This trend is taking a security system and turning it into a smart home device, and consumers are loving it.

Solatube Daylighting System with Integrated NightLight

Solatube Daylighting Systems have gotten even more innovative. They harvest sunlight on the roof and shoot it down a tube of the most highly reflective material made and into the home environment. Not only do the residents experience natural light during the day, with the NightLight they get the soft glow of the moon at night. Solatube integrated a small solar-electric system that collects the sun's energy by day to power a NightLight that automatically comes on at dark. You won’t have to turn on lights for trips to the bathroom or navigate dark hallways any longer.

Video monitoring

Having a good indoor security camera is now the cornerstone of any good home security system. This allows homeowners to watch live video footage of their home from their smartphone anytime, anywhere. It also takes the stress away when leaving pets at home for any amount of time. Owners can monitor and speak to their animals while they are away. This trend is convenient, offers peace of mind and may deter burglars.

Geofencing

You can think of geofencing like an invisible fence serving as a virtual perimeter. With it, homeowners can draw around any location on a map and trigger actions from their smartphone when they enter that location through an app. A great example would be an electronic notification sent to Mom’s or Dad’s cell phone when their child arrives home from school, triggered by the child’s cell phone. This technology also allows parents to establish a “safety” zone outside of which their child is not allowed to venture. The geofence sends mobile alerts the moment their loved ones enter or exit the area established, tracking their children’s whereabouts. Overall, this trend is making homes safer, smarter and more efficient.

Home automation with GPS

Home automation with GPS is less of a safety feature and more of an added convenience for homeowners. Home automation uses GPS in smartphones to trigger assigned actions. For example, when a homeowner pulls into his or her driveway, the home alarm is deactivated and the front door lights turn on. This trend simplifies consumers’ daily routines by putting the house to work.



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Tips to turn the kitchen sink into a beautiful,...

(BPT) - When you’re updating a kitchen, it’s time to ignore that old adage “everything but the kitchen sink.” Many homeowners don’t think about replacing their kitchen sink unless it’s broken, ancient or they’re upgrading countertops. However, the sink has the potential to be the perfect focal point of beauty and functionality in any kitchen.

Whether you’re undertaking a full kitchen renovation, or simply looking for a cost-effective way to freshen an existing room, replacing the sink offers many benefits.

Reasons to replace

Swapping out an old kitchen sink with a new one allows you to:

* Change a key style element in the kitchen — The style of sink should underscore the overall design theme of the kitchen. If you have a white porcelain apron sink in a modern kitchen, a stainless steel sink like the Ludington line from Sterling might better match your decor.

* Add features and functions — Do you always run out of working room in your single-bowl sink? Replacing it with a dual-bowl unit can increase your work area, plus give you the opportunity to add a garbage disposal on one side. When you replace your sink, it’s also natural to replace the faucet, allowing you to choose one that better meets your needs, such as a pull-down or touch-free unit.

* Improve performance — Perhaps the existing sink is too shallow to comfortably allow for filling large cook pots. Or, overmount installation makes it difficult to keep the sink and surrounding countertop as clean as you would like. Replacing an underperforming sink with a new one allows you to increase sink depth and create an easier environment for cleaning.

Top kitchen sink trends

Some sink styles are timeless, like stainless steel. Still, trends constantly emerge in sink design and in how homeowners incorporate sinks into their kitchens. If you’re considering replacing your kitchen sink, here are some trends to keep in mind:

* Two sinks can be better than one — Houzz reports a growing number of builders are including two kitchen sinks in new homes. The design improves workflow, allowing one sink to work for food prep and the second for cleanup. A typical arrangement is to have one sink in a kitchen island and a second in the wall-hugging countertop area.

* Stainless steel still has staying power — Stainless is the most popular sink material, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). In terms of durability, it’s difficult to beat stainless steel. What’s more, the finish blends well with virtually any kitchen design theme, especially if you also have stainless steel appliances. Options like Sterling’s Ludington series offer deep basins, single- or double-basin styles, undermount installation, and SilentShield sound-absorbing technology. Visit www.sterlingplumbing.com to learn more.

* Integrated accessories mean the sink has it all — Of course, accessories can make an already great sink even better, and the NKBA reports demand is growing for sinks with integrated accessories. In addition to built-in garbage disposals, homeowners want sinks with soap dispensers, water filters and hot water dispensers, the organization says.

* Subtle or stunning — Sinks attach to countertops in different ways. Drop-in or self-rimming sinks fit into a hole cut in the countertop and rest there courtesy of a lip — or rim — that sits on top of the counter material. Undermount sinks only work with solid surface countertops such as granite, marble or quartz, and attach to the underside of the countertop. Undermount design allows the countertops to shine, and also makes it easier to keep the countertop area around the sink cleaner. Sinks with apron-front designs calls attention to the sink and showcases the beauty of the stainless steel.

Every kitchen needs at least one sink; after all, it’s a critical point in the work triangle. Upgrading a kitchen sink can be a simple, cost-effective and visually appealing way to help transform the entire room.



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Tips to prepare your budget before buying a home

(BPT) - It’s virtually impossible to know what size home you can afford if you aren’t fully aware of how much money you are earning and how much you are spending each month.

Start with your income: How much do you bring home after taxes and retirement plan contributions?

Next, look at your expenses: What are your necessary expenses? How much are you paying each month toward your debt? What additional expenses do you have that wouldn’t be deemed “necessary?” How much money do you have left (if any)?

This will help you see how much breathing room is in your current budget, what expenses might be on the chopping block and the space you have for additional home and mortgage expenses when buying a home.

Consider the potential costs of being a homeowner

While rent payments are generally straightforward and predictable, the same can’t always be said for homeownership costs. Your situation can vary depending on a variety of factors, but here are a few things you might need to prepare your budget for.

Property taxes: The amount you pay will depend on the area in which you are purchasing a home. This amount can be subject to annual adjustment by the municipality or local taxing authority.

Homeowners insurance: Lenders will require you to provide proof of coverage before closing. The amount you pay will depend on your level of coverage, your property and the location. Insurance costs can increase from time to time.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) or mortgage insurance premiums (MIP): If your down payment is less than 20 percent on a conventional mortgage, your lender will require you to carry private mortgage insurance. If you have an FHA loan, you’ll be required to pay mortgage insurance premiums throughout the life of the loan.

Home ownership assistance: A company like Unison Home Ownership Investors can strengthen your down payment overnight and eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance (see their Unison HomeBuyer program). Using this method will typically save you between 15 and 20 percent per month on your mortgage payment, but you could owe a portion of the appreciation on the home when you sell.

Homeowners association fees: Fortunately, not all homes have a homeowners association to pay into. Purchasing a home with HOA-covered amenities could cost, on average, an additional $200-$400 per month.

Maintenance fees: Ah, the pitfalls of being a homeowner. The costs that would normally fall to a landlord, like fixing broken plumbing or a heater on the fritz, will now fall on your shoulders. Some suggest saving one percent of your home’s value annually for maintenance.

Utility costs: Unless your rent has included the cost of utilities, this is probably already an expense you’re used to. However, if you’re moving into a bigger home with less energy efficient appliances, you should be prepared to see an uptick.

Start living like a homeowner

If you want to avoid experiencing sticker shock after your home purchase is complete, start living like a homeowner now.

Consider your current rental or home-ownership costs and compare them to the costs for a home in your target price point. Can your current budget handle the difference? Are you still able to pay for your necessities plus shore up your financial future through short- and long-term savings? Or do you find yourself feeling desperate by the end of the month?

Not only will this allow you to get used to the change before the stakes are higher, but it can also help you save more money to put toward unexpected costs for your future home purchase.

Determine where to make adjustments

Does living like a homeowner make you a little wary for what’s next? Now is the perfect time to create space in your budget by cutting back expenses and paying down debt.

Now that you know where your money is going, determine the unnecessary leaks. Maybe your monthly food bill is exorbitantly high. Or maybe your subscription services have gotten out of hand. If your priority is purchasing a home — and being financially comfortable in that home — work to cut expenses that are contradictory to that goal.

Next, tackle your debt. There are two big benefits to beefing up your debt repayments now: You can lower your monthly obligation and improve your chances of getting approved for a loan. It’s a win-win.



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5 ways to keep your cottage comfortable this...

(BPT) - Although it’s officially summer, the fluctuations in temperatures, sporadic downpours and tornado-inciting weather would make you think otherwise. While many of us take the opportunity to hit the beach, lake or ranch during the summer for some rest and relaxation, cottage home improvements are often the furthest thing from our mind.

More often than not, cottages aren’t built to last as long as homes, because they are used only for a short time of the year. Yet, with newly changing weather patterns and humidity affecting the structure of a cottage home, homeowners can seek ways to keep their cottages comfortable well after summer has ended and the crowds of day-trippers have left.

Extending the usability of your summer home can also increase its market value, should you ever decide to sell. If you’re unfamiliar with how exactly to go about improving your summer home’s comfort, here are five quick tips to get you started:

* Plant shade-giving trees and shrubs to reduce how much heat your cottage absorbs from direct sunlight. Not only will these plants add ambiance and character, but they will help contribute to keeping the cottage cooler.

* Consider upgrading your cottage’s small and large appliances to ENERGY STAR-rated appliances that can run on very low energy during the low season.

* Consider having an independent contractor perform a home energy audit, to determine where your home could improve its energy efficiency. This is obviously the most straightforward approach, and the one that will give you the most tangible objectives to aim for moving forward.

* Take advantage of local tax incentives to upgrade your cottage to be more energy efficient.

* Replace your home’s existing insulation with a high-performance spray foam insulation like Icynene, which can help to reduce air leakage, thereby reducing the amount of work your HVAC unit has to do to keep your home heated or cooled.

Air leakage forces your air conditioner unit to work overtime to cool the warm air that enters your home through leaks, increasing energy usage and increasing your utility bill at the end of the month.

Spray foam insulation is a wise investment for cottage owners who want to make energy-efficient improvements and extend the livability of the cottage beyond just summer. Able to perform in all climates, spray foam insulation allows homeowners to adjust air conditioning use throughout summer and their furnaces during winter. This modern insulation material helps effectively control a cottage’s indoor environment, letting you and your family stay cool all summer long while also helping to minimize the entry of pollen and allergens that enter the space, making it ideal for allergy sufferers.

An energy-efficient and modern investment, spray foam insulation expands rapidly to completely seal a cottage’s walls, floors and ceilings to prevent air leakage. Experts note that insulation can noticeably reduce monthly cooling and heating costs due to its ability to seal the home, a great bonus when considering that cottages and summer homes are typically only used for a limited period of time. More information on how spray foam insulation can help homeowners minimize air leakage and transform their city home or their summer home into an energy-efficient one is available online at www.icynene.com.



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6 must-know kitchen and bathroom design trends

(BPT) - Many homeowners today wonder how they can turn their bathrooms or kitchens into something worthy of making the rounds on Pinterest or Instagram. As more people want to give their home a personal and stylish touch, home decorating and interior design is hotter than ever, and the possibilities are seemingly limitless.

The only problem is that making up your mind can be overwhelming. If you’ve ever tried to pick what shade of blue or tint of gray to paint a wall, you know that sometimes there are too many choices.

With over 140 years of designing kitchen and bathroom products, Kohler Kitchen & Bath tapped into a large brain trust of designers and product experts to identify the six leading kitchen and bath design trends for 2017.

  1. All in the mix. We all know patterns play a big role in how large a room appears and what features are accented or emphasized. For all the importance people place on patterns, many are inherently afraid of blending — or mixing — patterns. Be bold! When done right, this can create a vibrant, energetic space that does more for your room than if you were to play it safe.
  2. Perfect pairs. Two of the most striking colors to appear in kitchens and bathrooms these days are velvety blues and vivid greens. Blues are timeless and can work well by themselves in most situations, but add a small dose of blood orange and you’ve created an infectious vibe to the room. Nothing makes as dramatic a statement as pairing two complementary colors.
  3. A softer white. A traditional color for bathrooms and kitchens, white gives off a clean, bright aura. Nonetheless, the look can be a bit clinical. Once way around this problem is to warm up the whites with tones of brass, gold or bronze. Subtle touches on the cabinets or backsplash can create a warm ambiance that softens the look of an all-white space.
  4. Keep it neutral. If you’re looking for fun, vibrant colors but aren’t ready to go all in, consider neutral shades such as icy blue, blush sand and other straight-from-nature shades. These are a lot more refreshing than the standard beige! Such transparent neutrals beautifully diffuse light and lend themselves to contrasting elements.
  5. Amber glow. The living room has expanded. Kitchens aren’t just for preparing food and bathrooms aren’t just for getting ready. People want a cozier, at-home feel for both these rooms. Top designers do this by adding a range of metallic fixtures coupled with smoky grays, a combination that creates a dramatic and welcoming room.
  6. Noir. With the debut of black stainless steel appliances, black has made its way back to being a staple color in kitchens and bathrooms. Of late, the emphatic pairing of black and white has become the real showstopper. The idea here is to work with high contrast: think strong color-blocking patterns and heavy stripes. Two timeless colors will join to create a perfectly modern mixture.

To discover more ideas for your home visit ideas.kohler.com. Here you’ll find invaluable advice and inspiring fixtures to transform your bathroom into the room of your dreams.



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How to perfectly light a bathroom for beauty,...

(BPT) - Good lighting is important throughout a home, and each room has different lighting needs. Kitchens require overhead and task lighting, while bedrooms and dining rooms can benefit from variable illumination. However, no room in the house requires more layers and nuances of lighting than the bathroom, where lighting directly influences the room’s efficiency, utility, safety and beauty.

Upgrading lighting in a bathroom can give the room a whole new look and improve its functionality for a fraction of the cost of a full renovation. As you’re planning your bathroom enlightenment, keep in mind the multiple purposes lighting plays in a bathroom, including:

* Safety — Bathrooms are a prime spot for falls and injuries. A well-lit room can decrease the risk of someone stumbling or slipping.

* Tasks — Whether you’re applying makeup or shaving, task lighting can provide the illumination you need to do the job well.

* Visibility — Ambient lighting provides whole-room illumination that makes the space usable at any time of day.

* Decorative — Lighting can minimize glare from shiny surfaces such as porcelain, glass or ceramic tile, and enhance the appearance of colors, fixtures and accessories.

Here are tips for creating effective, attractive lighting for the bathroom:

Safety

Bathroom lighting affects safety the most during nighttime hours. A completely dark bathroom could lead to falls, as could the temporary blindness caused by switching on a light when your eyes are acclimated for darkness. A brightly lit space can also make it difficult for you to go back to sleep after using the bathroom.

Dimmable bathroom lighting, which can be set for less illumination at night, and strategically positioned nightlights can help users safely navigate the room at night. Equip low-wattage light sources that turn on with a motion sensor, so that soft illumination comes on when you enter the dark bathroom.

Tasks

The bathroom vanity is a hub of activity, where people shave, brush their teeth, fix their hair, apply makeup and generally get ready for the day. The lighting above your vanity or sink area is critical to how well the space functions.

Lights above the bathroom mirror, or to either side of it, can create glare and shadow. A better alternative can be to use a lighted mirror or medicine cabinet like the Verdera collection by Kohler. Lighted mirrors and medicine cabinets eliminate harsh shadows and light “hot spots” that can come from overhead lighting.

What’s more, Verdera lighted medicine cabinets feature a convenient built-in electrical outlet to allow you to use your favorite grooming accessory. LED lights make the mirrors and cabinets energy-efficient, and all are compatible with LED dimmers, giving you even more control over task illumination. Visit www.us.kohler.com to learn more.

Visibility

Certain areas in the bathroom require basic visibility at all times, including showers and water closets. In these areas, overhead lighting can provide the ambient illumination you need. You can opt for a basic light fixture, a fan/light combination that also provides ventilation, or even a skylight for natural daylighting.

Uplighting is also becoming a popular form of ambient light in bathrooms. Lights set beneath countertops or around the base of shower stalls provide soft illumination and character.

Decorative

Decorative bathroom lighting is your chance to have some fun. These lights may enhance ambient lighting or support task lighting, but their ultimate purpose is to add visual interest to the bathroom.

Depending on the size and style of your bathroom, you can choose decorative lighting options like chandeliers, wall sconces, pendant lights, recessed lighting and more.

Finally, be sure that every layer of light in your bathroom is as energy efficient as possible. Replace any incandescent bulbs with LEDs or CFLs, which use a fraction of the energy to produce a comparable amount of light, while lasting far longer.



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Latest deck trend: 'Monster' size,...

(BPT) - Move over mini — the new trend in decking is anything but small.

When it comes to the size of their decks, the majority of Americans feel bigger is better — as multiple surveys indicate decks are getting larger and more luxurious, RealtorMag reports.

Today’s decks dwarf the outdoor spaces of decades ago, and blur the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces with features like full kitchens, dining and entertainment areas, says Kim Katwijk, owner of Deck Builders Inc. in Olympia, Washington. Katwijk is a 20-year veteran of the deck-building business, and co-producer of the upcoming web series Outdoors Outdone.

Sizable changes

Katwijk says the intersection of two major home trends is driving the growth of “monster” decks: homes are getting larger and outdoor living has reached mainstream status.

Last year, more than half of all new homes were 2,400 square feet or larger, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Characteristics of New Housing” report. In 1973, the average home size was 1,660 square feet. As homes grew, deck sizes have, too. RealtorMag reports one survey found that since 2014, the average deck size grew by 53 percent in the Northeast, to 406 square feet.

The making of a ‘monster’ deck

So what makes a deck project “monster”? Size, design, materials and amenities all combine in this nationwide trend.

Size — “Monster” decks are big — really big. Mark Kalady, a decking sales manager for TAMKO Building Products, Inc., says he’s recently seen residential decks grow to 3,000 square feet. Depending on the amenities included, a deck 1,600-1,800 square feet could also be considered “monster.”

Kitchens/dining — Cooking and dining areas are among the most requested luxury features, deck builders say. Luxury grills, built-in pizza ovens and full-cook stoves and sinks are becoming more common.

Water/fire — Fire and water features such as hot tubs, lap pools, fireplaces and fire pits are part of the trend of bringing the indoors out. These focal points serve as relaxation, exercise and entertaining stations.

Seating — Katwijk says “conversational pits” designed specifically for extended entertaining allow deck-users to enjoy time together away from the cooking and dining areas.

Multi-story — “Monster” decks often include multiple levels, with each level serving a different theme or intended use, such as dining, conversation, swimming, etc.

Technology — Many of today’s larger decks include living room areas equipped with big-screen TVs, wireless speakers and gaming systems. But the technology used on monster decks can extend to retractable glass walls and skylights, and even the deck boards themselves. Katwijk says the technology behind man-made decking products like Envision composite lumber offers the luxury appearance of exotic woods, but with minimal annual maintenance.

“People want an environment where they can be outdoors, yet have all the creature comforts of their home — essentially creating a space where they can do all the things that they love,” Katwijk says.



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Repair or replace? What to do with a worn-out...

(BPT) - Sooner or later, every homeowner will face the same tough decision: Can you repair that malfunctioning system or appliance one more time, or is it finally time to replace it? Summer temperatures can heat up the repair-or-replace debate for homeowners living with an older cooling system.

To arrive at an answer, you must weigh numerous factors, including which option is more cost-effective over both the long- and short-term, how the existing or new system will affect the air quality of your home, and just how much reliability you require. Your decision can affect your wallet and the comfort of your home for years to come.

The heating and cooling systems experts at Champion(R) offer some guidelines for knowing whether you should repair or replace your cooling system:

When you can still repair

Sometimes, it may be preferable to repair a minor problem than to replace a system. Your cooling system might still be a candidate for repair if:

* It’s less than 10 years old and/or is a high-quality, energy-efficient model.

* The repair is still covered under warranty, or you will be able to pay for the repair without financing the cost.

* The cost of the repair will be far less than the cost of replacement.

* You can reasonably expect the repair to solve your problem.

* Repairing the problem means that specific issue isn’t likely to reoccur throughout the system’s remaining lifespan.

When it’s time to replace

It can be much easier to recognize the signs that it’s time to replace a worn-out cooling system. They can include:

* A system that is 10 or more years old.

* Frequent and repeated repairs that are adding up to be very costly.

* Even after repairs and/or maintenance, the system still doesn’t adequately cool your home.

* Very high energy bills. Modern cooling systems are significantly more energy-efficient than older units.

* You can afford to finance a replacement, but can no longer afford to pay cash for repairs.

* The unreliability of the worn-out cooling system is affecting the comfort of your home and causing you to feel stress.

Replacing a cooling system

When you decide replacing a cooling system makes the most sense for your needs, you’ll need to start looking for a new system. Here are some points to keep in mind:

* Choosing an energy-efficient unit like the Champion(R) Momentum(TM) Variable Capacity Air Conditioner can greatly reduce energy bills while improving the comfort of your home. Refer to the system's Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) to get an idea of how much more energy-efficient the new unit is. Modern air-conditioning systems can be over 50 percent more efficient than ones manufactured a decade ago.

* It’s important to right-size your new cooling system. A system that is too small for your home won’t be able to deliver the desired comfort level, and will use more energy working harder at maintaining cool temperatures. A system that is too large will also use more energy and may result in uneven cooling throughout the house. Your Champion dealer can provide a load calculation and energy analysis to help you determine the right-size system for your home.

* Depending on the age of your home and your cooling system, you may have to repair or replace other elements, too. Have your home’s ductwork, insulation, refrigerant piping, electrical service, wiring, thermostat and other cooling system components inspected, too. Ensuring all the parts of the system are in top working order will help your new air-conditioning unit work at its best, too.

To learn more about the advantages of replacing a worn-out cooling system, what you should look for in a new system and where to find a dealer near you, visit www.championhomecomfort.com/repair.



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Rethinking bathroom design

(BPT) - As homeowners begin to dream up plans to update their kitchens and bathrooms, they can spend hours searching for inspiration on the web or one of the many home renovation television shows. There’s no shortage of beautiful ideas and designs out there, but before you make any decision, you should start with the crucial question: What is it I really want?

A recent study conducted by the home design website Houzz found that the two things homeowners want most for their bathroom are style and ease of cleaning. In effect, people want their bathrooms to exhibit both function and design.

Of course, there are the conventional bathroom remodel options, such as a new faucet, countertop or shower fixture, all of which can be stunning and transform not just your bathroom but your house. But the most commonly used bathroom component is often the most overlooked: the toilet.

Eighty-three percent of Americans claim there’s something they want to improve upon with their toilets, according to a survey by Kohler. The question is what.

This statistic should give homeowners pause and invite them to think beyond the conventional bathroom remodeling ideas and re-imagine the possibilities.

Comfort, hygiene and style

Travelers returning from Italy, Spain, Argentina and Japan often rave about the unexpected luxury of using a bidet. While popular in many other countries, bidets are only just now catching on in the United States, moving from high-end luxury bathrooms and hospitals (where they’re used for their superior hygiene) into household bathrooms across America.

As the leading manufacturer of modern bidets, Kohler has been working to incorporate the trifecta of comfort, hygiene and style into their intelligent toilets.

Built directly into an ergonomically shaped toilet seat, a stainless-steel bidet wand offers adjustable water temperature, pressure, position and shape, along with pulsating and oscillating functions to maximize the comfort of the experience.

But that’s not all. To better introduce Americans to the international phenomenon of bidets, Kohler’s intelligent toilets feature a heated seat, warm air dryer and added sanitary features such as hands-free flushing and a deodorizing seat.

A redefined bathroom

Equipped with smart technology that allows a person to fully customize their experience, such ultra-modern bidets may change how Americans go to the bathroom — but only if the look is right.

Consumers are not willing to sacrifice design for functionality; they want it all. For anyone who has used or seen a Veil Intelligent Toilet, it’s evident that the same exacting standards it brings to cleanliness and hygiene go into its crisp, clean look.

A recent survey by Kohler suggests 33 percent of homeowners would be excited to upgrade their toilets. With this latest generation of toilets and bidets, it’s likely that more people will want to redefine their bathroom with these stunning new options.



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A room-by-room guide to decluttering your home

(BPT) - Controlling clutter in your home can be a challenge; 48 percent of Americans say their houses are cluttered with stuff they don’t use anymore, according to a survey by ClearVoice Research. Multiple studies have found a cluttered home can negatively affect your mental and physical health, while a cleaner home can make you feel happier and healthier.

A UCLA study found mothers in cluttered homes had higher stress levels while dealing with their stuff, while an Indiana University study found people with clean houses are healthier than those living in cluttered homes. You may realize clutter isn’t good for you, but it’s not always easy to get organized. To help you get started, here is a room-by-room guide to cutting the clutter:

Entryway

Basic tactics:

* Decide what belongs in your entryway and what doesn’t. The size of the space will influence this decision. If your entryway is a spacious mudroom, you might choose to store shoes, boots, umbrellas and backpacks there. If you have a modest foyer, you may decide you only have room for car keys. Remove anything from the space that doesn’t help it serve its purpose in your home.

* Add storage/organization that helps the space meet its purpose. Wall-hung key racks can keep important keys at your fingertips. Shoe racks are available in a variety of sizes and styles to fit your space and décor while keeping footwear organized and off the floor.

A step up:

* If space allows, adding built-in storage such as cabinets and shelves can help keep an entry space organized and visually appealing.

Family room

Basic tactics:

* Assess the kind of clutter that builds up in your family room. Perhaps your clutter consists of children’s toys, magazines and newspapers, or multiple remote controls for entertainment components. Once you know what kind of clutter you’re collecting, decide if it belongs and must be accommodated, or doesn’t and should go.

* Add storage solutions specific to your needs. For example, storage ottomans can double as extra seating and a place to store frequently used toys. A caddy can keep remote controls organized and at hand.

A step up:

* Sometimes furniture that’s too large for a space can add to the feeling of a cluttered and congested room. Assess your family room furniture. Is it the right size for the space, or is it overwhelming the area? Replace overly large furnishings with ones that better fit the room.

* If you have the room for it, a large shelving or cabinet unit can help contain clutter. Add decorative containers to help keep everyday items like toys, magazines and other frequently used items organized on shelves.

Bathroom

Basic tactics:

* Tackle the linen closet and trash any partial bottles of shampoo, tubes of toothpaste and towels that have seen better days. Be brutal. If you haven’t used that half bottle of body wash so far, chances are you never will.

* Clean out your medicine cabinet. Discarding expired prescription medicines can help reduce the risk of someone accidentally taking the wrong medication.

A step up:

* Showers can be among the most cluttered spots in a bathroom. If you’re ready to take your bathroom organization to the next level, ditch the rack hanging from your showerhead and the precarious corner shelving and upgrade your shower to one with built-in organization, like Sterling Store+ shower. The showers feature built-in recesses and tracks where you can snap in a variety of storage accessories and shelves, such as a soap dish, storage bin, towel bar or shower hook. The storage is fully customizable, and all accessories are removable and dishwasher safe. Visit www.sterlingplumbing.com to learn more.

Kitchen

Basic tactics:

* Countertops frequently host a wealth of kitchen-related clutter, from the mail you brought in yesterday and forgot to go through to small appliances you use once or twice a year. Clearing off countertops can make a kitchen feel visually more appealing, look bigger and function better. Remove and store rarely used small appliances, ditch the ceramic container of utensils and store those items in drawers instead.

* Pantries and cabinets can be nearly as cluttered as countertops. Adding shelving and storage units within cabinets can help keep pots, pans, lids and dishware better organized and more easily accessible.

A step up:

* Some people need a bit of extra incentive to stay organized. If that’s you, consider replacing solid cabinet doors with glass ones that reveal what’s inside. Knowing the contents of your cabinets are always on display can help inspire you to keep them tidy and organized. Plus, glass-front cabinets are an opportunity to create an appealing visual display.



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Cypress siding: It's what the pros choose

(BPT) - If current design trends are any indication, wood siding is back. Design professionals are recommending one species in particular: cypress. What’s behind this revival of cypress siding?

“Good looks, dependable performance and affordability,” says Stephen Logue of the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, www.CypressInfo.org. “Cypress has a unique appearance with its honey-like hues and intriguing grain pattern. Its ability to withstand the elements and nature has long made it a favorite siding material in areas of the country that experience constant heat, high humidity and torrential rains. Additionally, cypress is a competitively priced material. We see it being requested more and more.”

Architects side with cypress: Take it from the pros

Atlanta-based architect Daniel Martin says he recommends cypress to clients based on his firsthand experience with the unique wood.

“The performance is great,” Martin says. “I’ve had cypress siding on my own home for more than 20 years, and I’ve only had to repaint it once in that time. One of the main reasons I recommend cypress is because it’s resistant to decay, as well as insects like termites and bees. Carpenter bees love some other species of wood, such as cedar. They’ll bore in and lay their eggs, and then woodpeckers come along and gouge out grooves to get to the eggs, destroying the wood. That’s not an issue with cypress.”

As Martin has learned, cypress comes by its durability naturally, thanks to an oil that is produced while the tree is growing. The oil acts as a preservative, meaning cypress wood doesn’t need to be pressure treated with chemicals like some other wood siding options.

David and Laurel Mullikin, a husband-and-wife design/build duo in Atlanta, say they use cypress regularly in outdoor applications.

“We’ve designed some of our best projects with cypress,” Laurel says. “It’s one of our favorite species of wood to use. In fact, we’re currently designing our own new home. We are incorporating cypress as the ceilings for our porches, adding a lot of aesthetic warmth to a part of the house many people overlook. And we’re using cypress siding and finishing it with the Shou Sugi Ban method, which involves charring the surface of the wood and then sanding and sealing it. The process not only provides a unique look to an already beautiful wood, but also enhances its natural durability."

For the best performance

As with any wood siding, cypress will require a little TLC every now and then to look and perform best. With properly applied finishes and regular maintenance, cypress siding will last a lifetime or longer.

Whether installing new cypress siding or refreshing existing wood, the first step is to make sure its surface is clean so that it can better absorb the desired finish. Wash the wood with a mild bleach-and-water solution, using a pressure washer on a low setting. Let the solution soak for 15 minutes before thoroughly rinsing. Then, allow the wood to dry for about a week. This also is a good time to repair any nail holes and surface irregularities.

Homeowners who prefer cypress’ natural color can preserve the look by applying a clear, water-repellant sealer to all sides and edges of siding boards. It’s also suggested to look for products with a UV inhibitor to block out the sun’s fading rays. Sealers should be reapplied every few years to rejuvenate and protect the wood. If left untreated, over time, cypress will weather to a dark gray.

To bring out the richness of cypress’ grain, semi-transparent, oil-based stains work best. These stains will penetrate the wood, prevent water problems and allow the wood to breathe. Stains typically need to be reapplied every two years.

If you like the clean look of a solid finish, paint it. For best results, apply a 100 percent acrylic latex paint with a compatible primer. It’s also recommended to back prime the boards to avoid any potential moisture issues.

No matter your chosen finish, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. For more information on cypress, or to get inspired for your next home or renovation project, visit www.CypressInfo.org.



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Natural selection: Live-edge wood in home design

(BPT) - Live-edge hardwood, in which the sides of the slab are left unmilled to retain the natural profile of the tree trunk, is an increasingly popular decorative trend in today’s residential interiors. The technique is not only used for pieces of standalone furniture such as tables and benches but also for built-in elements like shelving, mantles, counter tops, bars and kitchen islands.

“Most mills cut off the rough tree edges, turning the raw timber into neat boards,” says Linda Jovanovich, of the American Hardwood Information Center at www.HardwoodInfo.com. “But the current demand for live-edge slabs has led to a small but vigorous subset of producers who specialize in the category.” These are often boutique businesses that source, dry and mill limited batches of timber for use in furniture of their own design and manufacture.

“Some larger sawmills sell live-edge slabs to the public,” Jovanovich continues. “You visit their showroom and pick your own one-of-a-kind piece of ash, cherry, red oak, walnut or whatever other hardwood species they have in stock. A cabinetmaker can then custom-make a piece of furniture or a built-in feature to your exact specifications.”

Sustainability-minded entrepreneurs are responsible for another niche in the live-edge hardwood market: small urban suppliers that source culled or fallen trees from the backyards of private homes, public parks, graveyards and other leafy locations in their city and its immediate environs. One such enterprise, RE-CO BKLYN in Brooklyn, New York, recently harvested four 12,000-pound logs from a 150-year-old storm-felled elm in nearby Prospect Park. The logs were taken to an upstate mill to be sawn into live-edge slabs and dried before being shipped back to Brooklyn, where they were either sold or used by RE-CO for tables, desks, bar counters, shelves, headboards and other beautiful custom-made pieces it produces.

“It was George Nakashima, the legendary Japanese-American mid-century furniture maker, who pioneered the use of live-edge slabs in refined residential settings,” says New York–based designer Glenn Gissler. “Previously, untrimmed wood planks, sometimes with the bark still intact, were used for rustic, log-cabin or ranch-house effects — elements that referenced the traditions, myths and aesthetics of the American Old West. With his gorgeous large-scale pieces, comprising multiple slabs of characterful woods like walnut and cherry connected with butterfly joints, Nakashima showed us how unfinished natural edges and richly figured knotted surfaces fit perfectly into even the most sophisticated urban interiors.”

Today, original Nakashima pieces are highly collectible and command high prices at auction. But his free-edge aesthetic is more influential than ever as homeowners discover the ability of live-edge furniture to work with almost any decorative style. Paired with blackened-steel legs, for example, a live-edge slab of burled walnut creates a dining table with loft-worthy industrial chic. Fixed to the bedroom wall, a free-form expanse of warm-toned cherry provides a romantic headboard. Or a hefty live-edge slab of oak, supported on an equally hefty oak-slab base, makes for a monumental console with the presence of a piece of archaic sculpture. New York–based designer Laura Bohn has even used the chainsawed cross-section of an elm trunk — complete with its bark — as a counter top on which to mount a stainless steel powder-room sink. “It introduces a decidedly rustic note into a thoroughly modern space,” she says. “And yet it looks perfectly natural, as if it had just grown there of its own accord.”

Visit www.HardwoodInfo.com for more about residential design trends and other applications and products using American hardwoods.



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Increase comfort and lower energy bills for the...

(BPT) - As the warm weather creeps in and the country heats up, now is the time for homeowners to make sure they’re doing their part to help increase comfort and reduce energy bills.

From the exterior to the interior, the consideration of a few simple tips could mean the difference between a summer that’s hot and expensive and a season that’s comfortable and won’t break the bank.

A real "pane" — Use windows to your advantage. Turn off the HVAC if you’re in a climate that cools off at night and open a window. When morning comes, shut the window, and lower the blinds to capture cool air.

Seal it up — Keep the cool in and the hot out. Homeowners are encouraged to take a walk around their home and look for cracks and openings that could let hot air in. Seal up those areas with caulk or weather stripping to increase efficiencies inside.

Plant some trees — According to the Arbor Day Foundation, large deciduous trees (maple, oak, elm, birch) planted on the east, west and northwest sides of a house not only provide cooling shade, but also can reduce summer air conditioning costs by up to 35 percent.

Insulate for the win — According to a recent survey, 46 million homes in the U.S. lack proper insulation. That translates to higher energy bills and uncomfortable residents. CertainTeed, a leader in insulation, has just the thing for homeowners with their new Insulation Selector Tool. The Insulation Selector Tool works by recommending a personalized selection of insulation solutions based on climate data, budget and the homeowner’s specific needs for their home and family. The tool considers a wide range of variables that impact comfort, including creating consistent indoor temperatures, helping reduce family allergies, moisture and mold, and providing noise control.

CertainTeed offers insulation, drywall, siding, roofing, decking, railing, exterior trim and fence product lines, all proudly made in the U.S.A. For additional home improvement ideas, building solutions and inspiration, visit www.certainteed.com.



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How to use your home equity in retirement

(BPT) - Most of us save and plan for decades to enjoy the period of our life when we no longer need to go into the office and work an eight-hour day for a paycheck.

But even with those decades of hard work, it can be tough to save up enough cash to cover all your costs in retirement. Many soon-to-be-retirees face a shortage between what they saved for retirement and what they actually need to live on.

For homeowners, that may be a problem that’s relatively easy to solve. Tapping into the equity in your home can help you stretch your nest egg quite a bit further.

Use a home equity loan or line of credit

You can tap the equity in your home with a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (known as a HELOC). A home equity loan works like most other loans: you agree to borrow a set amount of money, receive a lump sum, and pay that back with interest and in installments each month.

A HELOC works a little differently, because it’s not a loan with pre-determined monthly payments. Instead, it’s a revolving line of credit, similar to a credit card. You usually have between five and 25 years to borrow against a certain amount of equity and repay (with interest) whatever you take out.

The time during which you can use the HELOC is called the draw period. The line of credit revolves during this period, so you can borrow and repay the balance multiple times. The total amount is due back in full with interest at the end of the draw period. Any time you have an amount outstanding, you will make monthly payments.

You can use a HELOC or home equity loan during retirement, but remember that you will need to pay the money back. You should have a plan in place for how to repay the funds — and the interest — before you agree to take a loan or a line of credit on your home.

Use a home ownership investment

A home ownership investment is a powerful way to unlock some of the equity in your home without taking out a loan.

The Unison HomeOwner program can unlock up to $500,000 of your home equity and the money can be used for anything you want — including paying monthly expenses, paying off debt or making home improvements. Because it’s a home ownership investment, not a loan, there are no monthly payments and no interest charges. Learn more at www.unison.com/homeowner.

Unison invests in the home alongside you. In return for the company’s investment in your home, they receive a portion of the future change in the value of your home. Unison shares both the upside and downside risk with you. When you choose to sell your home, up to 30 years later, if the home value rises, both you and Unison share in the appreciation. If the home value falls, both you and Unison share the loss.

Consider a reverse mortgage

A reverse mortgage can allow homeowners 62 years or older to turn equity in their homes into cash in a way that provides them with the income they need through retirement. You can get your cash in a lump sum or in monthly payments, or in a line of credit.

But it’s important to remember that a reverse mortgage is still a loan that comes with origination fees and interest charges. It requires that you have no other debt on your property, so if you have an existing mortgage loan, you will have to repay that in full from the reverse mortgage proceeds. You will also need to pay the reverse mortgage loan back when you move out of the home, sell it or pass away.

A reverse mortgage can give you income in retirement and whenever the home is sold, the money is used to pay off the loan. However, reverse mortgages can cause a lot of trouble if you’re not careful, and the high fees that you incur when you sell the home can leave you in a worse financial position than if you skipped the reverse mortgage altogether.



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Garage door industry issues consumer alert

(BPT) - A nationwide garage door repair scam has prompted the garage door industry to issue a national consumer alert. The industry’s warning includes four short videos that describe the scam.

“We believe that hundreds of garage door and opener customers are victimized by these scammers every single day in America,” said Bearge Miller, president of the Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association (DASMA).

He said consumers who have a broken garage door spring are particularly vulnerable. The scam artists typically perform unnecessary repairs and charge extremely high fees, racking up a bill for hundreds of dollars more than necessary.

Metro areas are targeted

“These scammers primarily operate in metropolitan areas,” added Randy Oliver, the president of the International Door Association (IDA). “When they scam 100 people in a population of a million, hundreds of thousands of people are still unaware of their tactics.”

Oliver runs a garage door dealership in San Antonio, an area that has had its share of scammers. He said the scam is now operating in dozens of metro areas from coast to coast.

Four online videos

To warn the public, the garage door industry has produced a series of four short videos that provide advice for consumers, including how to detect a scammer and how to fix minor problems.

To see the videos, click on the “Consumer Alert” tab at www.garagewownow.com. This is a non-commercial site that also includes a Dealer Locator to help homeowners find a qualified professional door dealer.

The videos were produced and approved by IDA, which represents garage door dealers, and DASMA, which represents the industry’s manufacturers.



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Smaller metros take action to draw millennials...

(BPT) - Are millennials getting ready to leave big cities in droves? Some experts in demographics, economics and real estate have predicted the millennial exodus from huge urban areas has already begun. If true, the question remains: where will they go?

Some may head to the suburbs, like their parents and grandparents did before them, but many will look for a different lifestyle, one that combines the advantages of suburban living with the best features of city life. Some smaller metro areas, like Wausau, Wisconsin, are banking they have the blend of economic opportunity, urban elements, affordability and lifestyle that will attract migrating millennials.

The draw

“Economy has always been a factor in generational migrations, and while the nature of work has changed, economic opportunity is still key to where people want to live,” says Christian Schock, director of planning, community and economic development for the City of Wausau. “Everyone wants to find a place with the winning formula of urban activities, affordability and lifestyle. Businesses want to put down roots in that environment, too, knowing it will draw a bigger pool of skilled workers.”

In recent years, the City of Wausau has made concerted efforts to position itself with both big city amenities and small town assets. By many accounts, the efforts are paying off. In a 2016 Pew Research Trust analysis of income equality nationwide, Wausau ranked first in the nation, with the middle class constituting 67 percent of the city’s total population. Wausau also ranked highest in Wisconsin and eighth nationally on Area Development magazine’s list of hot spots for new and expanding businesses.

The formula

Small to mid-size metro areas that want to attract millennials, as well as businesses and investors, need to address key areas, including:

* Urbanity

In addition to the recreational and entertainment amenities often highlighted when discussing millennials, many mid-sized metros lack the diversity of housing types that can be found in a larger city which millennials might be accustomed to.

One strategy Wausau has focused on specifically is diversifying housing product. The City funded local architects to design an urban rowhouse — a housing style which did not previously exist. For over a decade, leaders proactively assembled parcels for new riverfront apartments, and continually worked with developers to seek tax credits which could be applied to renovating historic properties into unique multifamily offerings.

* Affordability

Rising real estate costs are among the factors that kept many millennials living in cities longer than they might have liked, experts say. Mid-sized metros have an edge in making home buying more affordable for millennials — and homebuyers of all generations.

Recognized as a leader in economic development homesteading, Wausau's Live It Up program is a partnership between local employers and the city to provide employees with a no-interest down payment assistance loan for the purchase of a home. In the last two years, the program has allocated more than $200,000 in no-interest loans to local employees.

* Place

Millennials who came of age in urban environments have a strong affinity for multifunctional spaces, and are drawn to communities that are a walkable mix of business, retail, industry and residential. While the specific physical space needs may change, their own strong sense of identity makes them inclined to seek a region that has its own established sense of self.

Wausau has leveraged more than $100 million in new downtown development over the past decade and currently has another $100 million under construction, emphasizing the city’s identity as a vibrant, growing core. Wausau’s Riverlife Village project is reclaiming more than 16 acres of urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River to house a new park, river wharf, mixed-use office space, biking paths, apartments and a family entertainment center.

Perhaps the greatest testament to a mid-sized metro’s success is the recommitment of historic businesses to local growth. Wausau Insurance was an early innovator in workers’ compensation insurance, which evolved out of the necessity for local lumber mills to share the risk of worker rehabilitation. Now part of Liberty Mutual, the company recently announced a $50 million regional facility expansion. Wausau Window and Wall Systems and Linetec, both in the building materials industry, also trace their roots to the lumber industry, and have completed over $60 million worth of expansion and doubled the size of their workforce within the past five years, providing a strong foundation for continued economic development.

“Any resident, millennial or not, is looking for ways to connect with their community. Both businesses and residents are discovering that smaller cities can even be more responsive and creative than larger metros,” says Robert Mielke, mayor of Wausau.

To learn more about how the City of Wausau is attracting residents from big cities, visit www.wausome.org.



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The new urban destination that has the web...

(BPT) - There was a time when cities like Paris, Berlin, New York or Tokyo were at the top of many travelers' lists. The glamour, the glitz and the history of these cities lured many, but times have changed and more people are eager to discover some of the lesser known gems. Cities that, though smaller and less renowned, are just as stunning and full of surprises.

One of these treasures is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Also known as Mill City, the Mini-Apple, or the City of Lakes, Minneapolis is home to a vibrant music scene, miles of bike trails, a community of creative entrepreneurs and an energy that you just can't find anywhere else. It’s true that a lot of people shy away from the winters, which can be fierce, but those who go during the summer usually leave with plans to return. Here are five reasons why.

  1. The amazing music scene. With large venues such as Target Field and the U.S. Bank Stadium, big-name superstars regularly visit the city. But locals will tell you it’s the numerous smaller venues that make a night out in Minneapolis such an unforgettable experience. From the legendary First Avenue, where Prince began his career, to smaller settings like the Fine Line Music Café or Dakota Jazz Club, there’s live music for everyone.
  2. A new sports stadium. When the U.S. Bank Stadium opened last year, Minneapolis had a new home for the Minnesota Vikings and could brag about having one of the most state-of-the-art football stadiums in the country. But football is only part of the story. In this sports-crazed town you’re only ever a few miles away from world-class hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer and lacrosse.
  3. An innovative culture. With dozens of theater companies, art museums, galleries and creative agencies, Minneapolis has earned a reputation as a city oozing with creative energy. And it happens on all levels. Take the new Radisson Red Minneapolis. Located right in the heart of downtown, Radisson Red was designed to revolutionize the travel experience and enhances the stay experience through art, music and fashion. In addition to the stunning mural in the lobby by local artist Adam Turman, the re-energized rooms feature inspired designs. If guests get hungry, the OUIBar + KTCHN features freshly prepared local fare and an expert staff that can tell you all you need to know about the city.
  4. Food and brews. An epicenter of dining, Minneapolis has kept pace with the coastal dining scene and in many respects, has outpaced other cities due to the availability of local food from the surrounding area. And if you’re a beer lover, be sure to block off an afternoon or three to tour the many nationally recognized tap houses in town, including the funky Dangerous Man Brewing Co. and Young Joni, where the head chef Ann Kim was recently honored by the James Beard Foundation.
  5. A city that caters to the outdoor adventurer. Visitors are usually surprised by how many people they see biking around Minneapolis, and can enjoy the hundreds of miles of bike lanes and trails by renting a bike from one of the many kiosks around the city. If you want to mix things up a bit, numerous outfitters offer kayak tours of the Mississippi, or you can rent a stand-up paddle board at one of the many city lakes.

We could go on, but it might be more fun to make your own list of favorites by visiting Minneapolis yourself. Summer is here, so book a room at the new Radisson Red Minneapolis, stay in the heart of downtown, and discover one of America’s great cities.



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Home innovations that protect against moisture

(BPT) - There is an insidious enemy that every homeowner dreads: moisture and the damage and degradation it can cause if left unchecked. Luckily, home improvement manufacturers have discovered new ways to prevent moisture from penetrating the home in the first place. With new home product innovations, there is no reason to suffer the costly and damaging effects of rain, snow or ice.

Unique fasteners add longevity to decks

Innovative fastening methods can extend the life of your deck and provide a beautiful fastener-free surface that also stands up better to weather and moisture. Although there are several kinds of deck fasteners that conceal the fastener, edge fastening is the latest method. “With edge fastening, which delivers real screws into the edge of the deck boards with a series of unique guides and drill bits, fastener-related splitting and cracking can be eliminated,” said Greg Palmer, Director of Marketing at National Nail's CAMO Edge Fastening. “This can add to deck life because moisture is not seeping into those cracks and splits, causing accelerated degradation.” He adds that the company has also expanded its warranty to cover the deck boards, as well as the screws. “Edge fastening works great for composite, PVC and all types of wood decks and creates a safer, fastener-free surface.”

Exterior cladding that resists moisture

When searching for alternative exterior products that have beauty and curb appeal, make sure they repel moisture, especially near the foundation or near the gutters at the roof line. It is now possible to have the look of rich wood cedar shake or a variety of stone looks to cover foundations or to upgrade the ugly space under decks. New technology enables polymers to actually be stained or finished to be indistinguishable from the real thing. “There are new levels of realism in shakes that resemble true cedar,” said Ralph Bruno, president, Tando Building Products. “Beach House Shake" by Tando is an example of this superb realism — it installs easily and is impervious to moisture with little to no upkeep.” He adds that homeowners can keep moisture at bay and have luxurious exteriors without sacrificing beauty.

Protect your home in every season

As if heavy spring rains and winter’s melt-off didn’t threaten homeowners' properties enough, the hurricane season is expected to be more erratic than in years past — with a predicted early start and activity right into late fall. Thankfully, there are new, affordable technologies to quickly remove standing water from homeowners’ properties, keeping it away from their foundations. “Having both dependable sump pumps and multi-use pumps are the first lines of defense against storm damage,” said Jeremy Cantor, VP of Marketing for WAYNE Pumps. “One example is the innovative WaterBUG Submersible Water Removal Pump, which can remove large volumes of standing water quickly and easily from flat grassy yards, basement floors, and even tight spaces like window wells because it has both top and side water flow.” He emphasizes that having reliable multi-use and sump pumps in your home can save thousands of dollars in property damage and basement repairs.

Seal it or patch it to keep water out

Water damage doesn’t have to happen, and by having the right caulks, sealants and hand tools, homeowners can easily do the job themselves and save on contractor costs. And, if moisture gets ahead of you, there are ways to repair the damage and prevent it from happening in the future. After winter, check windows, under door frames, gutter lines, concrete and other vulnerable areas that need sealing or patching. Very often, the simple act of sealing these areas with the right type of caulk can make a big difference in keeping out moisture. “One of the most popular sealants on the market is LIFETIME Ultra, which is a perfect solution for outdoor fix-ups after winter’s damage,” said Alan Crupper, VP of Marketing, Red Devil, Inc. He added that premium acrylics like this work very well and are paintable, unlike silicones. “You need a caulk that has a tight seal, won’t sag or crack no matter the temperature and especially for outdoors, one that adheres well to any surface.”

No matter the season, moisture can put your home and valuables at risk, so don’t delay in taking preventative action or repairing damage where it starts. With innovative new technologies on the market, you can easily protect your home from nature’s wrath.



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5 steps that can improve your credit score in...

(BPT) - Low interest rates, a strong economy and the turn of the seasons are all causing the real estate market to heat up. More homes on the market bring more competition to buy the inventory that is out there. And one way to stand apart from other buyers who are vying for their dream home is to take steps to improve your credit score now.

"Preparing your finances is a must before the busy real estate season," says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. "Knowing your credit scores and making improvements is essential to getting the best loan at the best rates. This also makes you a more attractive home buyer, especially in a competitive market."

With limited time, you may think there's nothing you can do to improve your score. Burns says that's an incorrect assumption. While you can't make dramatic jumps in just a couple months, there are several steps you can take that may influence your score to increase enough to get you prequalified for the loan you want.

Keep in mind, lenders will pull your scores from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), so it's wise to check your credit report from each of them. You can do so for free once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. For best results, monitor at least one credit score from each of the bureaus. You also can check your credit score for free through a large number of online services, such as CreditKarma.com, NerdWallet.com or Credit.com. Other sites offering free VantageScore credit scores can be found at VantageScore.com/free.

Once you have your reports in hand, you can take steps that may have a positive impact on your scores.

Step 1: Check for errors

A credit report gives a comprehensive list of your lines of credit and payment history. The first step is to review your credit report for errors and take steps to make corrections, including past and present names, loan amounts and credit cards in your name.

When checking your credit score, bear in mind that some differences in credit scores across bureaus is normal. But if one of the three credit scores is an extreme outlier, it could be worth double-checking your credit report from that bureau to make sure it doesn't reflect any questionable or erroneous activity.

Step 2: Don't miss a payment

Creditors are interested in seeing how you manage credit, and the consistency of behavior counts. You should always pay at least the minimum amount due on bills on time every month. An easy way to ensure you don't miss a payment is to sign up for automatic bill pay when available.

Step 3: Lower credit utilization levels

Credit utilization is the ratio of a credit card balance to the credit limit. If your balance is $5,000 and your credit limit is $10,000, then your credit utilization for that credit card is 50 percent. In general, a good credit utilization is less than 30 percent, so if you have a higher ratio, consider using your tax refund to pay down this debt.

Step 4: Don't close old credit cards

If you have a credit card that is no longer used but was previously paid off on time each month, don't close the account. Not only is this good for your credit utilization ratio, but it also is another indicator you're a responsible candidate for a loan.

Step 5: Don't apply for new credit

Avoid applying for any new credit, such as an auto loan or a new credit card account, between now and the time you will close on a home purchase. Lenders considering your loan application request your credit score from one or more credit bureaus. And these lender "inquiries" are recorded with one or more of the three national credit bureaus, which may lower your credit score by 10 to 20 points. The score decreases typically only last a few months, as long as you continue to make payments on time. But unless they're absolutely necessary, try to avoid additional inquiries until after you've secured your mortgage.

If you follow these five steps, you may see an increase in your score within a few months so you can get a loan and be an attractive buyer when it comes time to put in a bid for your dream home.

Keep in mind, the more you can put toward the down payment, the more instant equity you’ll have, the lower your monthly payment will be, and the better your chances are of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment.

Plus, if you’re able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score.



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Articles last updated at Sep 22, 2017 05:55:15am.
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