Is it time for you to buy a bigger home?

Houses a bit like your kids’ shoes – before you know it, they don’t fit anymore.

And, while we never hear folks say they regret having children, we often hear that they wish they’d bought a larger home.

While a growing family is one good reason to think about moving up, there are other aspects to upsizing that offer bonuses you may not have considered.

Larger Homes Offer More

That sounds a bit like a “well, duh” comment, but bear with us.

We aren’t just referring to the extra square footage here. Think about roomier closets, glorious amounts of storage space, the ability to comfortably house out-of-town guests and more elbow room in which to find a bit of privacy when you need it.

If you made a priority list to refer to when you shopped for your current home, you no doubt ended up making compromises. When you upsize, however, you’ll find that both of you (and maybe even the kids) will finally get some of the options you dreamed about but had to give up.

Finally, a larger home offers the option of growing into it. You may not be currently thinking of having another child or offering a room to an aging parent, but isn’t it nice to not have to consider moving again should either of these come to pass?

The financial benefits of a larger home

Depending on the equity you have in your current home, you may be able to keep your house payment quite close to what you’re paying now. After all, that equity will go a long way to cutting down on the initial cost of the new home.

Then, consider this: money has rarely been cheaper to borrow than it is right now. If you make the move now, before interest rates increase, you’ll save significantly when it comes to your monthly mortgage payment.

Then, consider the resale value of the new home. In 2016, for instance, the average American home included 2,400 square feet of living space, according to the Census Bureau.

And a National Association of Homebuilders survey finds that most older members of our largest generation, the Millennials, prefer living in a home with at least 2,475 square feet of living space with either three or four bedrooms and a minimum of two bathrooms.

So, look to the future, because it looks quite rosy for owners of larger homes. Demand should be high enough to mean more money in your pocket when you decide to sell.

Upsizing: Get clear on your goals

You already know you want a larger home, but it’s important to understand your other goals. As discussed earlier, the amount of room you need right now will change if you plan on growing your family or take in an older family member.

And, if you have children, consider how close you’ll need to live to schools.

Other goals to consider include:

  • Your commute time to work
  • Desired nearby amenities
  • The type of floor plan you’ll need to accommodate your family’s lifestyle

Need to save money? Shop strategically

The more move-in ready a home is, the more competition you’ll encounter when shopping for homes, and competition drives up home prices. If you’re on a tight budget, overlook those turnkey properties and search for a home that many need some simple upgrades.

Once you’ve settled on a neighborhood or two, buying one of the worst homes on the block can be a good financial strategy. It’s the old “rising tide” adage – the surrounding homes will lift the prices of all the homes in the neighborhood.

If a home is sitting on the market because of cosmetic issues, and priced accordingly, consider looking at it to see if it meets your needs.

Sure, there’s a lot to consider about upsizing. But, take the process one step at a time and you’ll not only get rid of some of the stress, but find that moving up is one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

Here they come! Is your guest room ready?

The winter holidays are when we tend to get the most use out of our guest room. Other than that, and perhaps a summer weekend or two, it sits empty, just another room to dust.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, now is the time to ensure that it’s whipped into shape, updated if needed and made cozy for family and friends who visit.

Be the guest

One of the best ways to gauge what your guests will experience when they stay in your home is to actually bed down in the guest room for a night or two.

Is the bed comfy? Does it need new sheets and more blankets? Do the curtains provide enough privacy? Read a book in bed to ascertain the lighting situation, sit in the chairs, watch TV.

In other words, use the room in exactly the same way as your guests might, then get to work improving their experience.

Freshen the bed

Laundering the bed linens just before your guests’ arrival ensures that they’re crisp and fresh-smelling.

Decorating pros recommend that the bed have both a lightweight and heavier blanket plus the comforter or bedspread.

Stacking pillows isn’t exactly a science; choose an arrangement that appeals to you. For instance, stack king pillows against the headboard and then arrange three Euro pillows (26”x26”) in front.

Or, use the Euro pillows as the backdrop and stack the king pillows in front. You’ll find additional ideas on pillow arrangement at Mantouk.com.

Lighten up

If the room lacks any lighting other than an overhead light, consider adding a few lamps. A reading lamp next to the bed is a necessity, or use wall-sconces on each side of the bed.

Ensure that the lamps or other lighting solutions you choose are in scale to the rest of the room. Big guest rooms need big lamps whereas the smaller room would look overwhelmed by a large lamp.

Find additional lighting tips at DestinationLighting.com and Pinterest.com.

Amp up the resort feel

If you travel, even occasionally, you understand the frustration when you realize you’ve forgotten something. When staying in a hotel, essentials such as shampoo and soap are provided.

And, they should be in your guest bedroom or bathroom as well. Many grocers and most big-box department stores carry travel-size toiletries, so creating a “guest essentials” kit is easy and inexpensive.

Use baskets or bins and fill them with some of the following:

  • Soap or body wash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Shower cap
  • Disposable razors and shaving cream
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hair spray
  • First aid supplies (bandages, antibiotic ointment, OTC pain medication)
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Facial moisturizer
  • A small flashlight
  • A notepad and pen
  • Toys, coloring books, crayons
  • Favorite DVDs

Leave a note for your guests that includes any of your home’s particulars of which they should be made aware. For instance, your Wi-Fi password, the home’s security system password, instructions on using smart-home devices, your emergency contact information (work number, etc.).

Ensure there are enough hangers in the closet, stack some fresh fluffy towels on a shelf, clean the bathroom thoroughly and you’re done!

Find additional tips to help you get ready for holiday guests at Pinterest.com, CountryLiving.com and GoodHousekeeping.com.

 

3 Things your cat can teach you about house hunting

Whether you’re a crazy cat lady with a house full of felines or you prefer the company of just one kitty, if you watch closely you can learn a lot about successful house hunting.

Of course, you never want to rub up against a homeowner’s couch or destroy the roll of toilet paper in their bathroom, but there are three cat characteristics in particular that you might put to good use when searching for a home.

1. Be a hunter

Cats are serious hunters. Even when the prey is a stuffed mouse, they practice their stealth and hunting prowess.

Watching a cat hunt is a lesson for home buyers. If a cat were house hunting instead of mouse hunting, she would stalk the latest MLS listings tenaciously, pouncing immediately on those that look tasty.

Don’t give up the hunt because it seems too challenging. Crouch, crawl, stare hard and then twist, curl and pounce when that perfect home is within striking distance.

Ok, so you don’t need to go through the physical gyrations that cats do when you’re on the hunt for the perfect house, but you do need to use that same laser-focus, remain flexible and be oh-so-tenacious.

Keep in mind that the absolute perfect home for any one person probably doesn’t exist, unless it’s custom-built. Decide what your priorities are and aim for fulfilling at least three of them.

Then, be flexible enough to compromise on the others if they conflict with your partner’s priorities.

2. Don’t be distracted by shiny objects

Staged homes are attractive, there’s no doubt about it. Especially if the staging was performed by a professional, it’s so easy to see yourself living there.

Homes with features you’ve been dreaming of (a fireplace in the master bedroom, that to-die for Wolf® range or the perfectly-perfect-for-entertaining backyard can blind you to other, perhaps undesirable aspects of the home.

Don’t be like your cat – easily distracted by shiny objects.

But do be like kitty in that you should be curious. Look beyond the sexy paint colors and amazing décor to the bare bones of the home. Don’t be distracted – be curious.

3. Remain aloof

Many cats are mysterious, somewhat aloof and can keep you guessing about why they even allow you in their presence.

Once you find a home that you’re excited about, don’t EVER show it — at least not around the homeowner or the homeowner’s agent (or the homeowner’s Nest Cam).

Maintain that cat-like aura of coolness, disinterest or, at the very least, neutrality.

The worst thing you can do is gush over the home, expressing your love for it and your overwhelming desire to own it – at any cost.

Nope, this is the time to be very cat-like and back off, as aloof as possible. When how you feel about the home is inscrutable to the homeowner, you’re in a stronger negotiating position.

Oh, one other thing your cat can teach you – when we win the battle for the home of your dreams you are allowed to purr in contentment

 

5 of our favorite DIY home improvement/maintenance blogs

What did we DIY project folks do before the internet? Make a lot of huge mistakes, for certain.

Today’s DIYers have it made, with step-by-step instructions and videos on everything from planting the perfect lawn to installing their own windows.

If you’re searching for home improvement or maintenance projects that you can tackle by your lonesome, we’ve found some sites you should visit.

1. PrettyHandyGirl.com

If you need to be empowered to “create it, build it, fix it and do it yourself,” PrettyHandyGirl.com is a good place to get started.

Brittany, the handy girl, is, among other things, a licensed general contractor so she knows her stuff.

Her projects include building, plumbing, electrical, home repairs, home maintenance, landscaping and more.

One of our favorites is 16 DIY Built In Storage and Shelving Ideas but all of her projects include a list of the supplies you’ll need and easy-to-follow DIY instructions. You’ll even find a list of what’s in Brittany’s toolbox.

2. Remodelaholic.com

Cassity, the beauty and brawn behind Remodelaholic.com is an interior decorator by trade, although she doesn’t work in the industry. Instead, she and her husband (who apparently remains nameless – at least on the blog) putter around their home, fixing, repairing and remodeling stuff.

DIY projects and tutorials are the name of this blog’s game and, if you’re on a tight budget, this is the blog for you.

“Our motto is reduce, reuse, recycle, re-purpose, remodel. We try to use old things in creative ways and reuse our old building supplies in other projects,” Cassity says on the blog.

It’s challenging to find a favorite project but we finally settled on a unique Ikea hack. You know that cupboard over the refrigerator? Many of us don’t use it. It’s impossibly high and hard to get-to.

If you use yours, you’ll love this hack: DIY Over the Fridge Cabinet Organizer for Cookie Sheets and Cutting Boards.

3. FamilyHandyman.com

This is our go-to site whenever a DIY repair project comes up. Since the site is known as the “DIYers’ Best Friend,” I think others feels as we do.

Owned by the same company that owns Readers’ Digest, they’ll hopefully be around for a long time.

It’s challenging to come up with one reason we love this site, but we’ll try. No matter what we need to fix, build or plant, we typically find out how at TheFamilyHandyMan.com.

For instance, in the “Parts of the House” section, you’ll find advice and information on:

  • Ceilings
  • Masonry
  • Roof
  • Siding
  • Tiling
  • Walls
  • Windows

With plenty of videos to supplement the text walk-throughs there is no way you can come away from a project without a thorough understanding.

The most recent project we’ve learned about is 10 Interior House Painting Tips & Painting Techniques for the Perfect Paint Job.

4. OldHouseWeb.com

For home remodeling, repair and improvement of your historic or just-plain “old” house, head over to OldHouseWeb.com.

Nearly half of the site’s users who responded to a poll claim that their homes were built between 1900 and 1945. Surprisingly, more than one-third of the respondents are the proud owners of homes built between 1800 and 1899.

Our only wish is that they posted to their blog more often. As it is, they haven’t posted since 2016. But, the information and advice is brilliant.

Post we love: Finding the History in your Home

5. DIYNetwork.com

Part of the Discovery family of companies, DIYNetwork.com has the bucks to do it right. From the slick website to the hiring of celebs for many of their videos, the site is full of DIY information for the novice to the pro.

Outdoor spaces loom large on the site. Recent topics include how to choose the right groundcover to a yummy display of backyard gazebo ideas.

They even offer DIY projects for kids, like this one on how to build a floor lamp.

Post we love: 6 Creative ways to Freshen up your Front Porch (on a budget!)

Working in the gig economy? How to get a mortgage

For the self-employed, April 15 holds no particular significance, income is often erratic (killing it one month to eating ramen for dinner the next), nobody sends them W-2s at year’s end and their shoebox filing system contains zero paycheck stubs.

If you make a living by driving people around in your personal car, delivering restaurant food, grocery shopping for others, renting out rooms or an entire home to vacationers, delivering packages or freelancing online, you are self-employed.

You are an independent contractor in what is commonly known as the “gig economy.”

While the freedom these vocations offer is amazing, they do come with some drawbacks. One of those you’ll meet up with is when you try to get a mortgage to buy a home.

The mortgage challenge for the self-employed

One of the large real estate portals reported that self-employed workers:

  • Earn more than employees
  • Have more cash on hand
  • As a group, receive 40 percent fewer mortgage quotes than other homebuyers
  • Apply for homes that cost 12 percent more, on average, than other borrowers
  • Are “twice as likely as other borrowers to report a score of less than 680.”

While none of these factors either automatically qualify or disqualify gig economy workers hoping to get a mortgage, the low credit scores and lack of income documentation do present a challenge.

Deal with the credit score first

Regardless of how well you can document your income, a poor credit score will be your biggest obstacle in obtaining a mortgage.

The simplest way to raise your score is by paying your bills on time and by not applying for new credit. Then, consider the following:

  • Pay down your debt (on credit cards, personal loans, etc.)
  • Don’t close unused credit cards (they count in your favor)
  • Dispute inaccuracies on your credit reports
  • Keep credit card balances to 30 percent (or less) of your credit limit

Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website to learn how to order your free credit report.

Gather up the necessary documentation

While your accountant may tolerate that shoebox full of records, your lender will not. Documentation requirements vary, but you’ll typically need to provide the lender with the following:

  • The past two years’ tax returns (with all schedules)
  • A profit and loss statement (yes, even gig economy workers will need to supply one). Wells Fargo and Chase offer fill-in PDF profit and loss statements online and Dummies.com offers one that you can download and print.
  • Bank statements (your lender will tell you how many are required. Submit all pages, including those that are blank).

These are the basic documents required; your lender may ask for additional information. Also, Fannie Mae guidelines are a bit different and you may be able to qualify with only the most recent tax return.

Additional considerations

Tax deductions are the holy grail for the self-employed because they reduce income and, thus, the amount of taxes owed.

This presents a conundrum when it is time to apply for a mortgage because the opposite is true: you want to show as high an income as possible.

If all else fails:

  • Put off buying a home for the next two years and, during that time, cut back on the number of business expenses you write off.
  • Save up a large down payment. This will lower the amount of the loan you’ll need to qualify for.
  • Consider purchasing a less expensive home that will be easier to qualify for.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), co-sponsor of the Self-Employed Mortgage Access Act, claims that “as many as 42 million Americans — roughly 30 percent of the workforce — are self-employed or in the gig economy,” according to the staff at Bankrate.com.

Thankfully, the mortgage industry is waking up to this fact and easing requirements for some loans.

By the way, we aren’t mortgage or tax experts and urge you to consult with yours if you have any questions.

Understanding Property Taxes

Property Tax

I don’t know about you, but my brain shuts down when the word “tax” is mentioned. I think many of us would rather have a root canal than talk taxes. So, let’s try to keep this light-hearted and hit just the basics.

Property taxes vary by the local government that imposes them and are based on the assessed value of your property.

According to WalletHub.com’s John S. Kiernan, folks in New Jersey pay the highest property taxes – 2.44 percent, while Hawaii’s homeowners pay the least, at 0.27 percent of assessed value.

Your property taxes, along with those of your neighbors, are used to fund schools, libraries, and other county and city services.

How Is Property Tax Determined?

Property taxes are usually, but not always, based on two factors:

  • The value of the land you own.
  • The value of any structures that sit on the land (often referred to as “improvements” to the land).

These two values are then fed into a pre-determined formula and out pops your property tax bill. Most municipalities reassess a property’s value every few years, some do it annually. This means that the amount of property tax you owe may change over time.

In some regions, property taxes are based on the market value of the land plus the replacement cost of the home, less “statutory depreciation.”

And many municipalities offer a tax exemption for all or part of the property taxes for certain groups of people, such as older homeowners or disabled veterans.

Deducting Property Taxes on your Tax Return

Tax laws change more often than the politicians who push for them, so it’s best to speak with your tax professional about where the deduction of your property taxes falls within the current tax code.

As of 2019, tax filers can deduct up to $10,000, or $5,000 if they’re married but filing separately.

This total is the maximum amount allowed for a combination of “your total state and local taxes, including taxes (or general sales taxes, if elected instead of income taxes), real estate taxes, and personal property taxes,” according to IRS Publication 530.

Again, speak with your tax specialist for the details.

How to Appeal your Property Tax Assessment

The housing market is a bit like a roller coaster, changing frequently, going up and down.

Therefore, it’s quite possible that your assessment is based on a market value that’s no longer valid.

If home values are rising quickly, such as they did over the past few years, you’ll want to keep quiet. Although your home’s market value is higher, your taxes may be based on a lower value, keeping them low.

When values are falling, however, you’ll want to ensure that your taxes are as well.

While the statistics vary according to region, an estimated 30 to 60 percent of homeowners in this country are over-taxed, according to the National Taxpayer’s Union.

Furthermore, homeowners who disagree with the assessor’s valuation of the house have a right to appeal a property tax assessment. Despite this, fewer than 5 percent actually appeal, even though most of those who do so eventually win.

The National Taxpayer’s Union offers a handy Homeowner’s Checklist, outlining the steps to take when filing a property tax assessment appeal.

Be aware that you are still required to pay the taxes when due, despite an open appeal. Penalties for nonpayment may include penalty and interest charges on the unpaid balance.

The assessor may also place a lien against the property and typically has the ability to seize and sell the property for unpaid taxes.

Always consult with your accountant or tax specialist if you have any questions about your property taxes.

Negotiation: There’s more than the price of the home to consider

Home buying negotiation

Naturally, the price of a home is top-of-mind when we talk about negotiating in a real estate deal. And, for some homebuyers, these negotiations are critical.

But, did you know that there are other ways to bargain with a home seller other than on price? The purchase agreement is full of haggling opportunities. Let’s take a look at five of them we deal with most often.

1. Repairs

Negotiating home repairs is something we are quite familiar with. After the home inspection, when the homebuyer receives the inspector’s report, negotiations often begin anew.

Understand, however, that no home is perfect; even newly-constructed homes can have problems. Don’t sweat the small stuff – save the negotiations for anything major that needs repair or replacement.

This is especially true if the problems are in one or more of the home’s major systems, such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing or with the roof or foundation.

We can negotiate for a price reduction, closing costs credit or for the repair work to be performed by the seller before closing. The first two options (price reduction or credit towards closing costs) are preferable, as they won’t typically delay the closing.

Plus, there is no way to guarantee the repair work, if performed by the seller’s contractor, will meet your standards.

2. Closing costs

With a mortgage comes a requirement to pay a down payment and closing costs. The latter includes all the costs of obtaining the loan, such as lender fees, notary fees and more.

While sellers are under no obligation to do so, many buyers negotiate with the seller to pay all or part of their closing costs.

It’s an easier pill for the seller to swallow if:

  • Your offer for the home is at full asking price
  • You intend to keep your request for repairs to a minimum. If the seller has to pay for a laundry list of requested repairs, he or she may not be amenable (or have the funds) to assist with your closing costs.
  • You put some skin in the game as well, by paying for a portion of your closing costs

3. Personal property

Anything that isn’t permanently affixed to the home or land (real property) is considered the personal property of the homeowner. Personal property that we commonly negotiate over for our homebuying clients include:

  • Appliances, such as refrigerator, washer, dryer
  • Window coverings
  • Chandeliers
  • Portable out-buildings

Buyers, however, have negotiated for furniture, pool tables, artwork and even the family pet.

4. Closing date

The closing date – the day on which the home becomes yours – is negotiable. This is important to know for several reasons:

  • If you are trying to time the closing of your current home to be simultaneous with the new home’s closing.
  • You need more time to find another home
  • You are relocating and need to be in your new city by a certain date

If your schedule doesn’t conflict with the seller’s this is often a successful negotiation.

5. Home warranty

Real estate agents have a love-hate relationship with home warranties. Some consider them useless while others love them for the peace-of-mind they offer homebuyers.

If a home warranty is something that you desire, it’s possible to ask the seller to provide you with one – at least for the first year of home ownership.

Basic coverage varies by region and company, but commonly includes coverage for:

  • HVAC systems
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Roof leaks

While the above is only a partial list of commonly negotiated items in a home purchase, it outlines the ones we see most often.

Feel free to reach out to us if you have questions on this or any aspect of the home purchase process.

The life expectancy of home appliances

Whether you’re shopping for a home or already own one, knowing the current age of the appliances is important. Like us, they have an average life span. Unlike us, they can be replaced. But it’s pricey to do so.

The experts at Consumer Reports recommend that you replace appliances if the cost to repair them is more than half the price of a new one. While that’s a good rule of thumb, it’s something you can put off with care and proper maintenance of your home’s appliances.

As a bonus, your appliances won’t become energy hogs.

 

USDA Loans – They Just May be the Best Option for Low-Income Buyers

USDA Loans

Keeping your nose to the grindstone, using credit wisely and responsibly and paying your bills on time every month have their rewards, no matter how much or how little money you make.

One reward is how much easier it is to realize your piece of the American Dream – the opportunity to purchase your own home. A bonus for the low-income earner is a government-backed loan with no down payment.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Single Family Housing programs may just be the best option for low-income folks with good credit and a steady job to buy a house.

Two types of loans for homebuyers

The two most popular USDA home loan programs are the Homeownership Direct Loan Program and the Guaranteed Loan.

Both of these programs aim to help low-to-moderate-income people purchase homes in rural areas. Both have no down payment requirement.

The key differences between the direct loan and the guaranteed loan are as follows:

  • Direct loans are intended for low and very-low income purchasers that have been unable to obtain a conventional or FHA loan. Guaranteed loans are intended for those with moderate incomes.
  • Income levels for guaranteed loan borrowers are capped at 115 percent of the area’s median income, while those for direct loan borrowers are capped at 80 percent.
  • The guaranteed loan is made by a conventional lender but guaranteed by the government. The U.S. government acts as the lender for the direct loan
  • Direct loan applicants with inadequate incomes may use a co-signer. This is not possible with the guaranteed loan.

Guaranteed Loan Benefits

Remember, the guaranteed loan is for the moderate-income borrower. It is much like the FHA loan in that the government gives the lender a guarantee of repayment in the event the borrower defaults on the loan.

The biggest difference between the USDA loans and FHA is that USDA requires no down payment. Here are some basic benefits of the guaranteed loan:

  • No down payment required and 100 percent financing available.
  • Certain repairs and closing costs may be rolled into the loan up to the appraised value of the home.
  • The upfront guarantee fee may be rolled into the loan amount above the appraised value.
  • The loan can be used to purchase existing or newly constructed homes and planned unit developments. Some condos are eligible.
  • Interest rates are fixed and the loan has no prepayment penalties.
  • Non-traditional credit histories may be considered.
  • Down payment assistance programs, seller concessions, gifts and grants from city and county housing development programs may be considered.

Direct Loan Benefits

This is the loan for you if you are low income but have decent credit and a steady job. You will borrow for the home directly from the U.S. government. Here are just a handful of the benefits of the USDA Direct Loan program:

  • No down payment required.
  • Payment assistance is available that may reduce the monthly payment.
  • Some closing costs may be included in the loan.
  • No private mortgage insurance required.

Eligibility

To use either loan, the borrower must be purchasing a home in a rural area. The USDA defines “rural” as any town with a population of “25,000 or less that is not adjacent to a large city or that is not part of a continuous urban area.”

The home must be “modest” in size. The average USDA home is 1,200 square feet. Homes with swimming pools are ineligible. The loan cannot be used to purchase income producing property, furniture or other personal property, an existing manufactured home or for a home with non-essential buildings and land.

To determine if a particular property is eligible, visit the USDA Rural Development Property Eligibility website.

For a borrower to be eligible for the USDA Guaranteed or Direct Loan program you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or be admitted as a permanent resident.
  • Be unable to secure a comparable loan without a government guarantee.      
  • Not currently own a home within commute distance of the home you are buying.
  • Have a dependable income.
  • Have a credit history that proves you meet your financial obligations on time.
  • Occupy the home as your primary residence.
  • Direct loan applicants must prove that they do not currently own safe and sanitary housing.  
  • Direct loan applicants must be very low income (income that is between 50 and 80 percent of the area’s AMI). Guaranteed loan applicants must be moderate income, making 80 to 115 percent of AMI.               

An easy way to determine your income eligibility is by visiting the USDA Single Family Housing Income Eligibility website.

Kick stink bugs out of the house, naturally

Stink Bug

If you haven’t met your fair share of stink bugs this year, brace yourself. Although stink bug season is officially from March through September, the cooler it gets outdoors, the bigger the problem.

Brown marmorated stink bugs infest both the interior of homes and the garden. In the garden, they feed on fruit and vegetable crops, causing spots and decay.

They prefer to overwinter indoors, in homes. While they aren’t considered harmful to humans or to the home, they create lots of noise and, if bothered, quite a stink.

Once inside the home, they are a challenge to control.

Death by drowning

The least smelly way of ridding the home of stink bugs is also the most labor intensive. But, because stink bugs can’t swim, it’s an effective way of killing them.

Fill a bucket three-fourths of the way with water. Some homeowners add three to four drops of liquid dishwashing soap to the water, although it isn’t necessary.

Use a broom or other item with a long handle to knock the stink bugs off the wall and into the bucket. Those on the floor may be quickly scooped up with a small dustpan, a spatula or other tool and dropped into the water.

Use your vacuum

Entomologists at Virginia Tech suggest using your vacuum to suck the bugs off the walls, floors, drapes and furniture. The problem with this method is that the stink bugs release their scent, smelling up the vacuum and the home.

The scientists suggest replacing the vacuum bag after each use. Once the new bag is in place, sprinkle some perfumed talc, such as room or pet deodorizer onto the floor and vacuum it up to rid the machine of stink bug odor.

If you are the victim of repeated sting bug invasions, invest in an inexpensive shop vac and reserve its use exclusive to stink bug removal.

Insecticidal soap to protect houseplants

While stink bugs don’t hurt people and are considered non-destructive in the home, they may go after your houseplants. Insecticidal soap spray will help discourage stink bugs from feeding on them.

These organic insecticides are available at nurseries and gardening centers or you can make your own.

Combine 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons of liquid soap (not dishwashing liquid) and 2 cups of water. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and spray the plants with it. The oil has a tendency to separate, so shake the bottle periodically as you spray.

Dishwashing liquid is detergent and may harm your plants. Look for a liquid soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap.

Preventing an infestation

Stick the end of a screwdriver into the opening between the bottom of  your door and the floor. If it fits easily, so will a stink bug.

Like many pests, stink bugs have the ability to squish their bodies down to fit into tight spaces. To prevent their entry into the home, seal all openings to the outdoors.

Virginia Tech entomologists suggest caulking cracks, around doors and windows, baseboards and any other area where the bugs may gain entry.

Cover roof vents with window screening. Replace screens that have holes and seal openings around ceiling fixtures and exhaust fans.