Consumer Real Estate News

    • Time-Saving Kitchen Shortcuts That Don’t Sacrifice Quality

      17 February 2020

      (Family Features)--If coordinating schedules to gather the family around the dinner table is a victory in its own right, finding enough time to prepare a well-rounded, flavorful meal may just be a medal-worthy accomplishment.

      Whether a weeknight dinner or special occasion, you can shave precious minutes off your kitchen work and dedicate more moments to doing the things you love with these time-saving ideas that don’t sacrifice quality.

      Plan Meals Ahead of Time
      Organizing your thoughts and scouring the kitchen for ingredients can take as much time as preparing the meal itself. Instead of wondering what you’ll make and whether you have what you need to make it, take time to plan meals a week ahead whenever possible. Think through a complete menu, including main dishes and sides, and take inventory of the pantry and refrigerator so you can build an efficient grocery list. 

      Use Ingredients in Multiple Recipes
      When planning and shopping for your weekly meals, consider which ingredients you may be able to repurpose. Not only does using ingredients across multiple dishes help minimize waste, it cuts down on prep time. If you’ll be using chopped onion in multiple recipes, go ahead and chop enough for every meal and save the unused portions in the refrigerator or freezer.

      Turn to Your Pantry for Simple Sides
      Flavorful side dishes can be surprisingly simple. For example, Idahoan helps you put real mashed potatoes on the table in just 5 minutes. They start with 100% real Idaho potatoes from local growers then wash, peel, boil and mash them like you would at home. After cooking each batch, they simply fresh-dry the mashed potatoes so they’re ready for you to prepare at home.

      Make Larger Portions

      Cooking once and eating twice (or more) is an easy equation for saving time. Intentionally making more than you need ensures fuss-free lunches or plenty of leftovers you can heat up quickly for nights when the family is running in different directions.

      Pre-Cook Proteins
      For many meals, the main dish protein takes the longest to prepare. If you can carve out some time over the weekend or one night a week, multitask and make several batches of proteins to use later in the week. Cooking the proteins concurrently lets you pack multiple days of preparation time into a single super-sized session.

      Use Time-Saving Tools
      Traditional methods have their time and place, but a weekday dinner isn’t it. Rely on tools to get the job done faster, like a slow cooker that works hard all day so you can enjoy its labor when you return home or a food processor that takes the effort out of slicing and dicing.

      Find more ideas to put meals on the table quickly at

      Time-Saving Upgrades for Delicious Sides
      Mashed potatoes are a crowd-pleasing dish that can be incorporated in a wide range of menus. While they can often be time-consuming, an option like Idahoan can help you put real mashed potatoes on the table in just 5 minutes because they take the time to create mashed potatoes from scratch so you don’t have to. This allows you to embrace the staple side dish’s versatility by freeing up time for you to incorporate simple twists like these.

      Mix it up with all the fixings. From vegetables like corn or caramelized onions to classic garnishes like chopped fresh herbs, you can mix and match toppings for a new take on a loaded smashed sensation.

      Embrace Tex-Mex flair. Create your own version of ethnic favorites like traditional Mexican papas. Add lightly sauteed red and green peppers, green onion, green chilis and shredded cheese for a Tex-Mex potato dish perfect for pairing with tacos or enchiladas.

      Get garlicky. Add minced garlic and grated Parmesan cheese for a savory burst of flavor that complements the traditional potato taste.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • A 2020 Guide to Energy Efficiency

      17 February 2020

      Thanks to advancements in technology, the average American home uses 30 percent less energy today than it did in 1970 - and, according to one survey, 76 percent of consumers plan to do something to make their home more energy efficient in the next three years.

      Those are encouraging statistics. For consumers motivated by utility cost savings and preservation of our fragile environment, here are eight ways to go greener in 2020:

      Replace Light Bulbs
      Halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) use anywhere from 25-80 percent less electricity and last three to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs.

      Save on Heating
      Save 10 percent or more on heating and cooling costs by lowering your thermostat by three to five degrees and having your air ducts tested for leaks. See additional savings by reducing the temperature on your water heater and laundering clothes in cold water.

      Replace Disposables
      Wherever possible, replace disposable products (food storage products, ink cartridges, coffee filters, furnace filters and more) with reusable ones. 

      Be a Star
      When replacing appliances, choose those with the Energy Star label. Energy Star clothes washers, for example, use approximately 40 percent less water and 25 percent less energy than other models. 

      Fill It Up
      Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes.

      Turn It Off
      Unplug TVs and computers when not in use, turn off the lights when you leave a room and air-dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher’s drying cycle.

      Insulate the Attic
      Up to a quarter of your home’s heat is lost through the roof as warm air rises and older properties that already have insulation in place may not have the recommended levels.

      Shorten Your Shower
      Or at least get a water-efficient shower head, which will cut down on the amount of hot water you use, but will still feel like a strong shower.

      Consider Solar
      Unlike gas and coal, solar energy is renewable, clean and sustainable. The cost of going solar goes down each year and some states offer solar incentives. Shop and Eat Mindfully - Shop farmer’s markets for locally grown produce. Plan meatless meals or plant-based alternatives at least once a week. Steer away from genetically engineered foods and toward non-GMO food products, which are safer, tastier and more nutritious.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • What You Should Know Before Co-Signing a Home Loan

      17 February 2020

      Many homebuyers need help from friends and family to qualify for a home loan through co-signing. Of home purchase loans in the U.S. during the second quarter of 2017, 22.8 percent included a co-signer, up from 21.3 percent in the second quarter of 2016—according to a study by Attom Data Solutions, a property database in Irvine, Calif.

      Here's what you need to know before co-signing a mortgage:

      Payments Are Now Your Responsibility
      You’re now 100 percent responsible for someone else’s obligation. While you probably won’t be making a monthly payment on the house, as a co-signer you’re now just as responsible for repaying the obligation as the homebuyer is.

      Your offer to help by using your income and good credit score as qualifying factors extends to paying the mortgage if they don’t make payments.

      Your Future Credit is Affected
      A co-signer is, in essence, lending their future credit worthiness for someone else’s current mortgage obligation. If the person you’re co-signing for loses their job and can’t make house payments, then their credit report will be hurt, and so will yours.

      The delinquency will appear on your credit report too, as does the obligation to pay the mortgage bill on time each month. This could hurt your ability to get credit in the future if you apply for a home, auto, personal, business or student loan, or want to get a good rate on a credit card.

      Even if the mortgage payments are made on time and in full each month, being a co-signer on the mortgage can count against you when qualifying for future loans. That large loan is still a risk that you’re obligated to pay, and could threaten your credit score.

      Your Debts Will Be Looked At
      A co-signer’s debts will be considered in approving the home loan, with the expected outcome that debt and income from two borrowers will lower the debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, for the home loan.

      For conforming loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow a “blended ratio” DTI that combines the incomes of the occupant and non-occupant co-borrowers. This can help when the co-signer isn’t going to live in the house and has most of the income, such as for parents helping their child buy a home.

      As a co-signer, you should be prepared to provide paperwork for all of the same credit requirements that the borrower is subject to, such as bank statements and income tax returns.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • Welcome a 4-Legged Family Member with Care

      14 February 2020

      (Family Features)--Bringing home a new pet can be exciting and heartwarming. Before you get caught up in the excitement of adopting a pet, however, it’s important to do a bit of homework and have conversations to ensure you’re choosing a lifelong fit for your family.

      When considering adopting, keep in mind that pets can provide as many benefits to you as you do them, such as helping to reduce stress, providing companionship, getting the daily recommended amount of physical activity and more. As you take your options into account, remember these guidelines from the experts at PetSmart Charities to prepare for a successful homecoming for your newest family member.

      Life Stages
      If you prefer a lower energy pet, seek a senior (age 7 or above) who may move a little slower. For higher energy, look for young puppies and kittens or active breeds such as Labradors, hounds, American terriers (commonly known as pit bulls) and mixed breeds.

      For first-time pet owners, a healthy adult dog or cat can help teach new pet parents the joys of having a pet and may not require as much attention as a puppy or kitten.

      Families with young children might consider a family-friendly breed or mixed breed such as a hound. Older kids may benefit from additional responsibilities such as walking the dog or cleaning the litter box.

      Living Environment
      In addition to the type and age of pet you adopt, you’ll need to consider the space you have available to welcome your furry friend.

      If you live in a home, consider fencing your yard for more relaxed playtime. If you live in an apartment, discuss any restrictions with your landlord and find out where the closest dog parks are to ensure your dog gets plenty of exercise.

      Dogs need a place to call their own where they’re contained overnight and while you’re not home until they can be safely left to roam. Get a crate so your new pet can have an ‘apartment’ within your home.

      You should always have more litter boxes than you do cats; for example, if you have one cat make sure you have at least two litter boxes. Litter boxes need to be scooped daily and completely changed weekly. 

      Veterinary Care
      Most adoptions come with a free veterinary check-up within the first week. Visit the veterinarian to have your pet’s vaccine records reviewed and ensure you know the best options for food, exercise and preventative care.

      You can prevent many common diseases by keeping your pet at a healthy weight, current on flea, tick and heartworm prevention, fully vaccinated and on a high-quality diet. Preventing diseases costs less money than treating them, so discuss any concerns you have with your veterinarian.

      Financial Considerations
      Most pets come with annual veterinary bills between $200-500 and food bills between $200-400. 

      Adopting a pet can provide cost savings, however, as fees at shelters and adoption events are typically lower than breeders and many of these pets are already spayed or neutered.

      To ensure your pet is covered in case of emergencies, consider options like pet insurance or opening a designated savings account and depositing 5% of your pay each pay period. If you take out an insurance policy as soon as you adopt your pet, he or she will not have any “pre-existing” conditions excluded from your insurance plan.

      Find more tips for a successful pet adoption and locate upcoming adoption events in your community at

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Predatory Lending

      14 February 2020

      Some unscrupulous lenders use abusive practices, known as predatory lending, to trap borrowers in loans they can’t afford. Those lenders target vulnerable groups, make misleading claims and conceal the true cost of their loans.

      Types of Predatory Lending
      It’s legal for lenders to charge borrowers with bad credit high interest rates since they’re riskier than customers with good credit. Predatory lenders deliberately target people with bad credit and charge them exorbitant interest rates.

      Redlining is the illegal practice of denying loans to residents of low-income or minority neighborhoods. Reverse redlining means predatory lenders aggressively push unaffordable loans on residents of those areas.

      A bait and switch is when a lender approves a borrower for one type of loan, then changes the terms without adequately disclosing future changes up front.

      Asset-based lending is a practice in which a lender offers a customer with assets, such as home equity, a large loan that they know the borrower can’t afford. A borrower who defaults can lose those assets.

      A balloon loan has small payments at the beginning, then a large payment for the remaining balance due. Those loans can be legitimate, but predatory lenders don’t clearly explain the terms to borrowers.

      A negative amortization loan has payments that don’t cover the interest due or any of the principal. Borrowers make payments each month, but their balances keep growing.

      Loan flipping is taking out a new loan to refinance an unaffordable loan. Predatory lenders often set up customers so they move from one unaffordable loan to another while the lender keeps collecting fees.

      Loan packing means a lender tacks on fees for services the borrower doesn’t need or want. Those services may be legitimate, but predatory lenders may tell customers they are required, even though they’re optional.

      Legitimate lenders often charge prepayment penalties to discourage borrowers from paying off loans early. Predatory lenders may charge exorbitant prepayment fees to discourage refinancing.

      How to Spot a Predatory Lender
      Several laws are designed to protect consumers from predatory lending, but they aren’t always strongly enforced. That means you need to be on the lookout.

      Get quotes from several lenders. Verify that they’re licensed in your state, check their Better Business Bureau ratings and read reviews.

      Make sure you understand all the loan terms, including the fees, interest rate and monthly payments, and how any of those terms could change in the future. If a lender won’t provide those details up front and in writing, don’t sign a loan agreement. 

      A lender that doesn’t check your credit should raise a red flag. The company doesn’t care if you can afford to repay a loan because it can get money through high interest rates and fees or take your car or home if you default.

      Don’t sign a contract with blank spaces. Someone could add other information later and you’d have a hard time proving you didn’t agree to those terms.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.