3 brilliant ways to create a pet-friendly yet attractive home

Americans love their pets. As a matter of fact, 85 million American families own a pet, according to the latest survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

It’s no wonder then that the pet industry is worth a wopping $75 billion. Aside from food and medicines, we buy a lot of cleaning products to go after those inevitable pet messes and, sometimes, destruction.

It’s not easy to keep a home attractive to visitors when a pet lives in it but it’s not impossible. Let’s take a look at three parts of your décor that can help a room look stylish yet still accommodate your four-legged friends.


It may be your home, but it’s your dog’s territory and he (or she) won’t hesitate to let everyone know. They do this by “marking” it – from spraying to rubbing against objects to leave their scent.

In the home, the walls bear the brunt of this territorial activity. Since we typically don’t wash our pets with the same frequency that we bathe, oil and the other grime in their fur ends up smeared on walls and baseboards.

In the past, painters recommended semigloss paint for the walls. Today, however, some flat paint brands are scrubbable, making cleanup easier while still providing the style and color choices you crave.

Voted the best interior paint by the editors at The Wirecutter, Benjamin Moore Regal Select Interior (a combination of paint and primer) is pricey, but worth it if you own pets.

Looking for a flat paint? Sherwin-Williams offers Showcase® Stain-Blocking Paint and Primer, a scrubbable interior latex.


When you own pets, especially dogs, deciding on flooring options is a challenge. Whichever you choose needs to be tough enough to avoid scratches from dog claws, easy to clean those “accidents” and yet still remain aesthetically pleasing.

What doesn’t work for dog owners are carpeted, cork, laminate and linoleum floors. Cork and linoleum floors scratch easily and laminate floors (despite what manufacturers advertise) do warp.

Consider tile, concrete or vinyl flooring. The latter, by the way, is quite stylish, with luxury vinyl planks that mimic wood and stone.

There are even some manufacturers who have developed moisture proof vinyl planking. Check out the top six at FloorandDecor.com.

While we can’t vouch for it, Mohawk has a line of pet-friendly carpet available.


Cat owners don’t need to be reminded how their kitties love to scratch. Whether it’s the sofa or the curtains, cats will claw and scratch whatever is handy to mark their territory or remove debris or the dead outer layer from their claws.

Decorators suggest smooth fabrics, such as leather or something with a flat weave, that your cat can’t readily get their claws into.

Then, there’s the fur problem. If you long for silk, velvet or chintz, think twice if you own a furry friend.

Fabric color is important as well. If you own a black dog, for instance, a white sofa won’t work for you. Patterns are better at hiding pet fur than solids.

Need inspiration? Take a look at some stylish, pet-friendly rooms at Forbes.com.

How to Compare Mortgage Lenders

Hooray for the homebuyer who understands the importance of lining up financing before ever stepping foot into a house for sale or placing eyes on a real estate listing website.

It’s one thing to understand the steps to take in the home buying process and yet another to understand the whole “how does the loan stuff work?” question.

Because it seems like such a mysterious process, most first-timers look for the lender with the lowest interest rate, sign on the dotted line and call it a day.

That is a huge mistake, and here’s why: there’s more to a loan than the interest rate and not all loan products are identical, so it takes some serious comparison shopping to make sure you’re getting the best deal out there.

It starts with a comparison of the three most important parts of a mortgage loan – those for which the borrower has to pay.

Find some lenders to compare

Your best source for contact information for at least one lender is your real estate agent. Check online sites for attractive rates and add those lenders to the list.

One of the most popular comparison sites is BankRate.com.

If you’ll be using an FHA loan, you’ll need to shop among FHA’s approved lenders, which you can find here.

Don’t forget to list your local bank, especially if you have a good working relationship with the manager. Finally, consider using the services of a mortgage broker. These men and women shop for loans that match your criteria and circumstances, from a variety of lenders.


The first thing you need to understand is that advertised rates don’t necessarily apply to the product you want to purchase.

We wanted to find out which loans were offered for comparison today at Bankrate.com. The criteria we entered was for a purchase loan, for a purchase price of $257,939, a down payment of 5.4 percent (the nationwide average), a credit score of 720 to 739 for a 30-year loan.

The lowest interest rate offered for this scenario is 3.625 percent. But the site lists other options we may be interested in, including several lenders offering 2.625 percent rates.

Look closely, though, and you’ll see that those low rates are for a 20-year term.

These rates, by the way aren’t the whole ball of wax when it comes to understanding how much your loan will cost. It’s the annual percentage rate, or APR, that you want to use when comparing rates.

The APR reflects the interest rate plus fees. According to Bankrate.com, “the APR shows which loan is less expensive over the entire term of the loan.”

In our scenario above, both loans offer the same interest rate. Their annual percentage rates, however, are 3.631 percent and 3.64 percent.

Know how much – to the penny – that you’ll be putting down in cash for the home. Then, determine what kind of a mortgage rate you want: fixed rate or adjustable.

Finally, decide on a term for the loan: 30 years, 15 years, five years, etc. You may eventually change your mind on the last consideration after shopping around, but that’s ok.

Now, pick up the phone and make some calls. Ask the following questions:

  • Request the lender’s current interest rates and find out whether these rates are the lowest for just that day or for the week and if the rates quoted are for adjustable or fixed mortgages.


  • If you’re inquiring about adjustable rates, ask when the rate increases, how the payments vary and whether the payments will go down with a reduction in the interest rate.


  • Ask for the loan’s annual percentage rate (APR) and use that to compare the cost of each loan you’re comparing.


Bank of America defines points as “fees paid to the lender at closing in exchange for a reduced interest rate.” One point equals one percent of the loan amount.

Ask the lender’s representative to translate the points quoted into a dollar amount. This makes it easier to determine exactly how much you’ll be paying for the loan and, thus, easier to compare it to other offers.


Costs of the loan listed vaguely as “fees” need to be itemized for you to compare one lender to another. Ask the loan representative to do that for you.

The Loan Estimate Form

Legally, the lender must provide you, within three days of applying for the loan, a Loan Estimate Form, detailing of all fees that will be due at closing.

This form is what you will use to compare lenders. If you notice any large discrepancies between lenders, call them and ask for clarification.

When you’ve chosen a lender, see if it will allow you to lock in the interest rate, especially if the Feds seem on the verge of raising them. There may be a cost involved, so find out what that is.

To pay less on your monthly house payment requires that you take this initial step – even before choosing the house you’ll eventually purchase.

Unexpected windfall? Treat your home to an upgrade that will pay for itself

I think most of us have dreamt, a time or two, about receiving an unexpected windfall. That fantasy of winning the Mega Millions lotto, coming into an inheritance or finding out that the fake Picasso you have in that cheap frame is actually authentic.

Let’s let our imaginations run crazy today. Or, perhaps you’ve received an unexpected windfall. Spending at least part of it on home upgrades is a smart move. We’ve rounded up some of the most intelligent upgrades you can make.

Upgrade your HVAC system

“More than half of energy use in homes is for heating and air conditioning,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Upgrading your current system (especially if it is older than 10 years) to one that is ENERGY STAR® certified is a smart decision that will have a significant effect on your heating and cooling bills.

Since the average U.S. household emits twice as many greenhouse gasses as the average vehicle, upgrading your HVAC system helps the environment as well.

Finally, energy efficiency in most of its forms, from windows to appliances to home systems, is popular with homebuyers. You may just recoup some of the cost of the new system when you sell your home in the future.

For information on ENERGY STAR rated products and how to choose, read the pamphlet online at EnergyStar.gov.

Stop the leaks

It doesn’t make much sense to install a spiffy new, energy conscious HVAC system in a home with air leaks. Especially when we consider that those air leaks cost the average American family about $350 each year.

The biggest leakers? Attics and basements, so those are the best places to start. Then, check your recessed light fixtures. “The Pennsylvania Housing Research/Resource Center pinpointed them as a leading cause of household air leaks,” according to Megan E. Desouza at HouseLogic.com.

It’s easy to find out if yours are stealing air from the home, she says. Look for a label on the fixture, it should be next to the bulb. If it says “ICAT,” it’s already sealed. If not, “assume yours leaks.”

Head to the local home improvement store and buy an inexpensive airtight baffle. “Remove the bulb, push the baffle up into the housing, then replace the bulb … a quick, 1-second fix,” promises Desouza.

Don’t stop there, however.

  • Check windows and doors for leaks and weather-strip and caulk if necessary.
  • Check for air leaks around ducts, plumbing and around the floors and ceilings.
  • “Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls,” suggests the experts at the U.S. Department of Energy. They offer a checklist of ways to snoop out air leaks in the home at Energy.gov.

Consider new windows

You may not be thinking of selling your home right now, but someday you most likely will. Did you know that energy efficient windows are a hot feature with buyers? They can actually help you sell your home for more money.

Look for low-E windows – the “E” stands for “emissivity.” Coated with and invisible-to-the-naked-eye layer of metallic oxides, these windows allow more sunlight into a room, reduce condensation and protect furniture and carpets from fading.

“In general, you’ll save up to 15 percent a year on your energy bill if older double-pane windows in a 2,600-square-foot house are replaced with energy-efficient windows with low-E coatings,” according to the pros at HouseLogic.com.

Beef up the insulation

Adding attic insulation alone to the home can save from 10 to 50 percent on heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Not sure if your home is under-insulated? Look for the following clues:

  • If there are parts of the home that are colder or hotter than other parts, you may need more insulation.
  • Touch the ceilings and walls. It they’re damp and/or wet, you have insufficient insulation.
  • Frozen pipes in the walls.
  • Sky-high home heating and cooling bills are an obvious sign that something is amiss.

Choosing even one of these upgrades will help save energy and, thus, money in the long run.




3 Essential tips for moving when it’s snowing

Moving in winter, when you live in an area that sees lots of snow, is messy. It also takes significantly longer than moving when the weather is pleasant.

Preparation is the key to speeding things along and getting your belongings, and the people who own them, from point A to point B safely.

And that starts with packing. Let’s take a look at tips from the pros.

1. Pack the must-haves

Grab a bag or box to fill with all the items you’ll need both during the move and the period of time just after you move into the new home.

Stow it in your car’s trunk so that the movers don’t inadvertently load it on the truck. Here’s what you’ll want to include in your essentials box and a cleared area of your car’s trunk:

  • Absorbent rags and towels (to mop up wet and slippery floors)
  • Ice scraper, shovel and walkway/driveway deicer
  • An extra set of clothing for each family member (don’t forget socks and boots)
  • Something to snack on
  • Pet food and water bowls and food
  • A jug of potable water
  • Bathroom supplies, such as a shower curtain (rod and hooks too), soap, shampoo, deodorant and toilet paper
  • Daily medications
  • Coffee maker (and filters) and coffee, tea and cocoa to warm everyone up
  • A small lockbox or safe for your valuables

2. Appliances require special consideration

One of the first things you’ll no doubt want to do at the new home is set up the washer and dryer. After all, you’ll have some soggy clothing to attend to.

But you’ll need to wait at least 12 hours (24 is better), according to appliance manufacturers.


The experts say that it’s almost impossible to remove all traces of water from the washing machine when draining it. “Trying to wash clothes while this water is frozen” can damage the washer, according to the vice president of relocation services with Stevens Worldwide Van Lines.

The clothes dryer, on the other hand, contains a heating element and igniter that, if not allowed to come to room temperature, may become brittle. When the temperature changes suddenly (by drying a load of clothing), these components may be damaged.

3. Your electronics: Stock up on shrink and bubble wrap

Cold temperatures and a moist environment are brutal on electronic components and devices.

Decreasing temperatures cause condensation which, in turn, may cause the device to short circuit. Freezing temperatures can damage electronics, such as hard drives, smartphones and any device with batteries.

The experts at Bekins suggest paying close attention to how you pack and move the following electronics:

  • Digital and electric clocks
  • Gaming systems and controllers
  • Keyboards and peripherals
  • PC components
  • Printers and scanners
  • Routers, modems and antennas

How to pack electronics

  • Back up your data before packing.
  • Wrap your electronics first in bubble wrap or foam, taped securely all around.
  • Wrap them next in moving blankets to help insulate them from cold temperatures.
  • Place the wrapped electronics in the moving box and then wrap the entire box in shrink wrap.
  • Place the boxed electronics in a heated room and pack them into the truck or car last.
  • Consider using plastic bins or tubs with tight-fitting lids instead of cardboard boxes in which to pack electronics.

Avoid leaving electronics in a cold car truck while you pack and attend to other moving-related tasks. When you jump in the car and turn on the heat, you’ll end up with condensation. Heat up the interior of the car before loading the electronics box into it.

Allow your electronics to come to room temperature in the new home before plugging them in and using them. The experts at Bekins recommend allowing them to sit for 24 hours.


Your HOA Gobbledygook decoder

They carry quite the lofty title: “HOA Governing Documents.” When you buy a home in a managed community, whether it’s included in a condo community or a single-family home development, you are asked to read and agree to these documents.

Reading them is beyond a snore; understanding them enough to know whether or not you agree with them is challenging.

We suggest that our clients run the document package by their attorney if they have any questions about any one of them.

In the meantime, let’s see if we can clear up some of the most confusing documents and terms that you’ll be asked to read and agree with.

What is an HOA reserve?

The HOA collects dues or fees every month from each homeowner. A portion of these funds is set aside in a “reserve” account to cover unexpected expenses. Examples of these expenses include spending reserve monies to repair a leak in the community’s clubhouse roof or to replace a faulty pump in the swimming pool.

Reserve funds are separate from operating funds. The latter are spent on routine expenses, such as landscape maintenance in the common areas.

Every few years, the association should conduct a reserve study to forecast how much money they should have in the reserve fund. This study is conducted by experts and each homeowner should know the figure that is determined.

Most professionals agree that an HOA’s reserve funds should be no less than 70 percent of the reserve study’s recommendation.

What are special assessments?

When reserves are inadequate to fill a need, the association may levy a special assessment to cover the shortfall.

For instance, after a heavy storm, homeowners begin complaining of roof leaks. The condo community’s roof is at the end of its life and sustained too much damage from the storms to be repaired. It must be replaced.

The reserves are underfunded, so the HOA will go to the homeowners to get the money for the new roof.

What is the CC&Rs?

One of the most important documents you’ll receive when buying a home in a managed community is the HOA’s CC&Rs, short for “Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions.”

What is included in this document dictates the rights and obligations of the homeowners governed by the HOA. The documents may include a description or diagram of the boundaries of the common areas and each unit.

It is also in these documents that you will learn how the HOA deals with enforcement of the rules, how it resolves disputes.

If the association doesn’t use a Rules and Regulations document, you may find the rules of the community within the CC&Rs.

The governance of the HOA corporation belong in the HOA bylaws, not the CC&Rs.

Rules and Regulations

Not all HOAs have a separate Rules and Regulations document. It is used primarily to manage the use of the common areas. For instance, there may be a schedule for swimming pool use.

They may also dictate how the homeowners can use their property, such as landscaping restrictions, paint color restrictions, pet restrictions and parking rules.

These are not suggestions, but rules, and anyone buying a home in the community must agree to abide by them. This is why it is so important to read all the documents. The last thing you need is to find out after you buy a home that you can’t live in it the way you had hoped.

Why did I receive Association Meeting Minutes?

One of the most informative parts of the HOA documents package are the HOA meeting minutes. Here you’ll learn about common complaints and how the association deals with them.

Not only will they tell you a lot about the people who live in the community but also how well the association runs.

For instance, if the meeting minutes reflect homeowners’ continued pleas for rules enforcement, it’s a sign there may be problems with the association.

Living in a managed community isn’t for everyone. In the plus column, a well-run homeowners association helps maintain property values. Depending on the board, however, an HOA can become tyrannical and intrusive.

It’s all in the documents. Read them before you agree to live there.



Cabin fever got you down? Transform your home, transform your mood

With the new year in full swing, and the holidays a fond memory, reality begins setting in. The gloomy, cold, icy weather – the constant white pallet we’re faced with daily – isn’t about to end anytime soon.

You aren’t the only one suffering from a bout of cabin fever. Hundreds of thousands of us suffer from mild-winter depression, of feeling isolated and cooped up around mid-winter.

Thankfully, there are ways to combat the gloom and today we’ll share a few of those with you.

Get outdoors

This may seem like a no brainer to most and an impossibility to those in the more wild-winter-struck areas of the country.

Even just a few minutes spent in nature can lift spirits according to Michelle Gielan, an expert in positive health & wellness. Bundle up and, if there’s a body of water nearby, make that your destination.

“One study shows that just five minutes a day walking by the water boosts our mood,” Gielan says at PsychologyToday.com.

Bring the outdoors in

If it’s just too frosty to get outdoors, it’s time to bring nature into the home. Here are several ideas we’ve rounded up from various experts:

Fill the main living spaces of your home with photos of nature

“A new study has found that just looking at still images of nature is enough ‘natural’ stimulus to lower our stress levels,” claims Peter Dockrill at ScienceAlert.com.

Let in more natural light

“One Australian study that measured levels of brain chemicals flowing directly out of the brain found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones,” according to Alice Park with Time magazine.

Serotonin, as you may know, is a substance in our brains that is sometimes known as “the happy chemical” because it assists in making us feel happy.

Park goes on to say that the effect of natural light on serotonin levels persists, “no matter how cold or hot the weather was.”

Ways to improve natural lighting in the home include:

  • Adding skylights
  • Adding more mirrors and other reflective surfaces (mirrored or metallic accents, picture frames, cabinet pulls). In fact, some decorators use one large mirror directly across from a dark room’s largest window to help reflect natural light. Any reflective objects, however, help bounce natural light around a room.
  • Consider painting the ceiling with a high-gloss paint. “A glossy ceiling finish reflects light well,” suggests Monique Valeris and Kelsey Kloss at ElleDecor.com.
  • Clear obstructions from windows. Obviously, cleaning your windows is the first step here, but trimming trees that obstruct the light also helps. And, although those heavy, dark draperies help insulate the home, consider switching them out for a lighter fabric that allows more natural light to enter the room.

Create an indoor greenspace

Adding houseplants to the home’s main living spaces can help lower stress and improve well-being, according to several studies.

One of these, published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, studied two subject groups. One group transplanted an indoor plant while the other carried out a task on the computer.

After completing the tasks, the gardening group felt significantly “more comfortable, soothed, and natural” than the computer task group. Surprisingly, the gardening group also exhibited significantly lower diastolic blood pressure.

Check out these ideas for creating a mini indoor green space to help lift your mood:

Create a terrarium

Find inspiration online at PopularMechanics.com, BalconyGardenWeb.com and Gardeners.com.

Bring in the houseplants

From a kitchen counter herb garden to pots of greenery scattered throughout the main living spaces, houseplants – especially if you interact with them (watering, transplanting, etc.) – is the next best thing to being outdoors, in nature.

Choose plants that can handle winter’s low and short-duration light levels. These include:

  • Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
  • Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)
  • Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans)

Choose non-toxic plants if you have pets (especially cats – they love to munch on plants). You’ll find a list of these plants at Gardenologist.org.


If all else fails, move. A study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology finds that moving to an area with more street trees and more greenery in general can help lift moods and increase mental wellness for up to three years.

Now that’s something we can help you with. Reach out to us and we’ll get to work finding you a lovely greenspace to call home.

What you need to know about the 2020 housing market

It’s about the time of year when we see the increase in questions such as “How can I understand what the market is doing and what steps I should take to get myself and my home ready to sell this year?”

There’s no simple answer to the first part of the question. To understand what the housing market is doing and where it might be headed requires an understanding of the local economy, for it’s one of the major forces at work on the housing market.

For a basic understanding of the real estate market, however, let’s look at three indicators.


When an area’s labor market is weak, people typically don’t buy homes. This includes not only those who are unemployed, but those who feel their jobs may be in jeopardy. Weak employment numbers therefore equal soft housing demand.

But — right now at least – the country’s unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, a 50-year low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employment increased in a number of segments, including healthcare and leisure and hospitality (both segments saw the addition of 45,000 jobs), professional and technical services (31,000 jobs) and several other areas.

The truth is, across the country, states are facing labor shortages in construction, manufacturing, cyber security and many other industries. Some municipalities are creating marketing plans to lure full-time residents in the hopes of filling these jobs.

New residents need homes.

Home affordability

While unemployment is closely aligned with affordability, it isn’t the only factor that determines whether or not people can afford homes in the local real estate market.

In fact, there are three components to home affordability, according to Phil Pustejovsky, author of “How to be a Real Estate Investor.” These include:

  • Home prices
  • Household income
  • Interest Rates

Home prices are largely a result of supply and demand, something that is easy to determine either by asking your real estate agent or reading the local news.

In fact, we’re seeing this principle at work right now. With more buyers wanting homes than the market can supply, home prices rapidly increase. Then, there’s the opposite, when there are few buyers in the market and many homes for sale (known as a “buyers’ market”), prices tend to soften.

Household income must be high enough to afford homes. The median household income in the U.S. in October of 2019 hit a record high at $66,465. It took a dip in November, however, to $66,043.

The median price of a home, nationwide, is $271,300.

Lenders want to see a monthly housing payment that takes up no more than 28 percent of your income (pre-taxes). In this case, the median wage earner has about $1,541 a month in income to go toward a mortgage payment.

Interest rates, however, are key to affordability. As you can imagine, nobody really knows what will happen with mortgage rates in 2020. Some economists are forecasting an increase, others say the opposite. Keep an eye on interest rates because when they increase, the homebuyer pool shrinks.

Getting ready to sell

As you’ve probably guessed, nobody has a crystal ball when it comes to forecasting the future of the housing market. But, being ready for anything will put you in the best position.

Ready the home for the market by making basic repairs, painting and cleaning. We’re happy to walk through the home and help you decide which tasks to tackle based on a likely return on your repair dollars.

If you’ll also be buying another home, it’s not too early to choose a lender. Then, when the time comes to obtain your loan pre-approval, you’ll be ready to jump right in.

Again, feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. We’re happy to help.

Starter Homes vs. Forever Homes

It’s so easy to assume that the home you’re shopping for is the one you will live in for the rest of your life. As we all know, however, times change, tastes change and, yes, people change.

Nests empty out or become fuller. Jobs may be relocated. A neighborhood can change and may no longer be the dreamscape it once was.

While keeping an eye toward the future is always a good idea when making any major financial investment, unless your name is Nostradamus, your predictions may be hit or miss.

Buyers looking to make their first home purchase are faced with a difficult choice: Should they buy a starter home or a forever home?

Here are a few things to consider.

Define “starter home,” please

Starter homes tend to be small–just one or two bedrooms–and valued below the median price for the area’s market. The least expensive starter homes are often fixer-uppers that require substantial work and renovations.

People move into starter homes with the intent of selling them several years down the road for a profit, and using the equity to move into a larger house.

Other folks prefer to hold off buying until they can buy their “forever” home. They may strategically save their money until they can afford their dream house, and, although it is seldom the case that they remain in that home for life, it is their intention to live in the home for the foreseeable future.

Pros and Cons to Buying a Starter Home

Starter homes require less of an initial investment than their larger, fancier counterparts. There is also a chance that the value will increase faster than that of the larger forever home. A good example of this is happening now, with so many homebuyers flooding the starter home market, values have skyrocketed. It’s a great time to sell a small home.

A smaller home is also far less stressful on a homeowner’s budget, beyond the smaller down payment and loan required to buy it.

Your monthly house payment may turn out to be less than what you currently pay in rent and the cost of maintenance and monthly utilities will be far less than they would be in a larger home.

Since you’re saving money every month, put some aside for renovations to help boost the home’s value.

On the flip side, it’s easy to outgrow a starter home when you’re young and growing a family.

As well, starter homes are often older and may require more frequent repairs.

Holding out for that “forever home” may be tempting but not wise. With interest rates so low, the time to buy a home is now and, although the inventory of starter homes is low, we’ve had great success helping our clients find them.

The important thing is to jump into the market soon so you can start building equity. That’s not going to be easy when you’re paying a larger house payment each month, more property taxes than those of a smaller home and increased utility bills.

Questions? Feel free to reach out to us.

Looking for a quick bathroom update for the new year?

If you have a few days off over the holidays, there’s a chance you’ve walked through your home considering all the different ways to improve your property.

It’s not unusual. It’s also typical to experience frustration when your ideal upgrade and the budget available don’t match.

Thankfully, there are a few rooms that don’t require a huge sum of money to revamp, including the bathrooms in your home.

And, many of these fixes are so simple and inexpensive you could get them done before Valentine’s Day.

Deep Clean

No one enjoys cleaning the grouting in their bathroom, but committing the time to this task will instantly transform the way your bathroom feels.

Get the gloves out and give this room a top to bottom deep clean, including light fixtures, hooks, and under the counter. You’ll feel better immediately.

Need some time-saving yet effective tips? Check this out.

Consider your cabinets

Paint – it’s a miracle worker. Whether it’s put on the walls or on your cabinets, fresh paint instantly transforms a room.

The predicted hot colors for 2020, according to the Milan Design Show, include champagne, light yellow, and pumpkin red. Since these are rather “in your face” colors, consider painting the walls a color that’s a little less intimidating and use the aforementioned colors in your accessories.

Painting your bathroom vanity may seem like a huge job, but watch a few DIY videos and you’ll have it done like a pro, and in no time. Here’s a good walkthrough and you’ll find another here.

You can’t grow wrong with gray, ebony or white paint for the vanity, according to TheFlooringGirl.com.

Check out Benjamin Moore’s Kid Gloves (and see it in action, here) and Sherwin-Williams Lazy Gray.

Deep pockets?

If you have a decent budget, consider some of the trends that designers are forecasting for 2020:

  • Brass finishes
  • Deep soaking, freestanding tubs (make it a black tub if you want to be on trend)
  • Travertine or limestone floors

New Accessories

A fresh shower curtain will infuse new life into your bathroom, but that’s not the only purchase to consider.

A proper waste basket (not a cheap plastic solution) can make a big difference. There are also new lighting fixtures, faucets, towels and rugs to consider.

Take some time to browse the internet for ideas and create a décor scheme that works for you… and your bathroom… before heading out to shop.

Think Outside the Bathroom

Most people only look in the bathroom section of the store when considering the appearance of this room.

When you add unusual objects to this space (treating them accordingly for the moisture in the bathroom), you can make a statement while making this room more functional.

Consider a small gallery of framed art, perhaps a dining chair, or lighting designed for a home’s exterior. No matter how small these items may be, they will make everyone smile.

Just remember to take stock of everything you want before leaving the house, and create a budget before shopping. It will keep you on track as you update your home’s bathroom.

Speaking of shopping

Consider attending yard sales and shopping at thrift stores for the aforementioned accessories.

As you shop, remind yourself that a drapery rod finial can make an interesting accent piece when set next to a potted plant or other décor and that cute glass and brass espresso cup would look amazing holding your toothbrush.

HGTV.com offers up more thrift-shop-finds-as-bathroom décor, here.

Then, hit the dollar stores in your area. But, first, watch this brilliant video of a DIY bathroom makeover with products purchased from those discount stores.

Pretty but deadly holiday plants

Bringing the outdoors in can help chase away winter’s “cabin fever.” The problem is that some plants don’t play well with kids and pets.

Both cats and dogs can be attracted to munch on any houseplant, whether because they are lacking something in their diets, as an instinctive way to help cough up a fur ball or the plant just smells irresistible to them.

What happens after the plant is ingested depends on the type of plant, how much of it the pet ate and the age and size of your pet.

Keep in mind, however, that even mildly toxic plants can be deadly if they are covered in pesticide.

Non-toxic holiday plants

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is a non-toxic alternative to other holiday plants, safe for both dogs and cats.


Mildly toxic holiday plants

Christmas Tree

Surprised? The pros at PetMD.com suggest that fir trees produce oils which can irritate your pet’s mouth and stomach. When ingested, they say, the tree’s needles may cause a puncture, obstruction or stomach irritation.

Then, there’s the water sitting in the tree’s stand – if it builds up mold or bacteria and the pet drinks it, they can become quite ill. PetMD suggests keeping the water covered to avoid problems.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

The poinsettia’s sap can be irritating to the mouth and stomach and the pet may vomit after ingesting it. The National Institutes of Health, however, can find no cases of human or pet deaths from poinsettia.

While this quintessential holiday houseplant is considered mildly toxic, if it’s been treated with pesticide, the story changes.

“Severe reactions to the plant or to the pesticide it has been treated with include seizures, coma, and in some cases, death,” claim the pros at PetMD.com. The younger and/or smaller the pet, the more severe the reaction.


There are two types of holly used in holiday décor in the U.S., American (Ilex opaca) and English holly (Ilex aquifolium).

According to the ASPCA, both the leaves and berries are mildly toxic to our pets. If ingested, your pet may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and depression.

The experts at the National Institutes of Health claim that the leaves are not toxic to humans, only the berries.

“Poisonings most often occur in children, and most cases are harmless,” they said. “In adults, one must eat 20-30 berries before becoming symptomatic, whereas children only have to consume 5.”

As in all cases of plant toxicity, if a large enough volume of the plant is eaten, the reactions may be quite severe.

Moderately toxic holiday plants

Amaryllis (Amaryllis spp.)

A popular potted gift plant, ingesting parts of the amaryllis causes vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hyper-salivation, anorexia and tremors.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)

Cyclamen is such a winter staple that many homes have at least one growing indoors.

This plant grows from a rhizome (an underground tuber-like structure) which produces a toxic substance (triterpenoid saponin).

While the leaves and flowers are considered mildly toxic, the rhizome, if ingested, may cause “severe vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by significant fluid loss from the body. It may also cause heart rhythm abnormalities and seizures, according to Linda Crampton at DenGarden.com.

She goes on to let us know that the tubers are bitter tasting, so one bite may be all your pet needs to back off.

“The Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University considers cyclamen to be ‘toxic only if large quantities eaten,’ she concludes.

Highly toxic holiday plants

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens)

While the two legged get kissed beneath a sprig of mistletoe, the four legged are attracted to it and, if ingested, the plant causes gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, dyspnea, bradycardia, erratic behavior.

In some cases, the pet may suffer from low blood pressure and death.

Lily (Lilium spp.)

The gorgeous lily may cause kidney failure in cats. “Eating even a small amount of the plant will have a severe impact on a cat’s system, causing severe symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues, arrhythmia and convulsions,” according to PetMD.com.

They suggest removing the plant from the home – take it to the office to provide cheer while you work.

Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)

A popular holiday gift plant, daffodils are especially dangerous to cats. Just a few munches of the flowers’ petals can cause kidney failure.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

These diminutive white flowers are frequently included in winter floral arrangements. When ingested, the pet may vomit, experience an irregular heart beat and low blood pressure, disorientation, coma and seizure.

If you suspect poisoning in a human, call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222. The ASPCA offers help via the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435.