Behind on your bills? Here’s what you need to do

It’s terrifying to suddenly find out that you’ll not be receiving another paycheck. It’s easy to go into panic mode, especially if you have others depending on you to keep the lights on and stomachs full.

Across the country, utility companies are responding to the government shutdown by promising not to turn off their services when bills are overdue. Unemployment insurance checks can then go toward more important items, such as food.

Once the initial shock wears off, there are things you can do to mitigate your situation and, hopefully, save your credit score.

Start by speaking with your lender

If you can’t make your house payment and haven’t yet contacted your lender, put this one at the top of the list of things to do.

Many lenders have online options to fill out the required paperwork for requesting forbearance, making it a lot easier than sitting on hold for lengthy periods of time if you call.

Some lenders are offering forbearance only, and the details vary, depending on lender. Forbearance allows the borrower to miss payments, often penalty-free, and make them up at a later date.

While this option offers immediate relief from one of our biggest payments each month, many borrowers don’t understand that forbearance isn’t forgiveness. The missed payments will need to be paid and many lenders will be demanding a lump sum.

Maura McDermott at Newsday.com tells the story of one couple in Long Island, NY whose lender is allowing them to skip their house payments for three months, without penalty, “… but then all the missed payments would be due in a lump sum in four months.”

Few Americans are able to come up with thousands of dollars in a lump sum after several months of unemployment.

With the passage of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (aka CARES Act), if your loan is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may be offered additional options.

First, the CARES Act “… provides several levels of relief to home-loan borrowers, including the right to request two periods of mortgage-payment forbearance or suspensions totaling up to 360 days,” according to Russ Wiles with the Arizona Republic.

The National Association of REALTORS released an analysis of the act and says that while “… regular interest can still accrue,” additional fees, such as penalties and interest, won’t “… be assessed for the forbearance.”

Visit the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website for additional information on the various options available to help you with your mortgage.

Your other monthly bills

We mentioned earlier that many utility companies have agreed to keep their services running, despite non-payment.

Typically, this doesn’t mean they won’t be tacking on late fees and it doesn’t mean you won’t be faced with a huge bill at the end of the crisis.

It’s challenging right now to avoid the former, but the latter can be handled by whittling away at your bills. Pay what you can, even if it’s just a small amount.

Once we’re back to business-as-usual, folks will be facing huge bills and those disconnect notices will go out. You’ll be glad you paid at least part of what you owe.

Your credit

With everything else going on right now, it seems almost petty to think about what all this is doing to our credit scores. It will be interesting to compare the average American’s score pre- and post-pandemic.

In the meantime, order your credit reports from the big three reporting agencies. Normally, every American is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com.

That has changed, however. Starting April 20, 2020, the “Big 3” (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax ) will be providing a free credit report every week for the next year.

While there isn’t much we can do to prevent negative entries right now, we can protect our scores by combing through each report to ensure accuracy.

The folks at Equifax recommend that you also add a consumer statement to your credit reports. “You can add a brief 100-word statement to your credit reports to explain your situation.”

Four in 10 American adults lack the funds to cover a $400 expense, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report. Undoubtedly, it’s even worse than that now.

Don’t hide from your financial problems. Be proactive, keep track of where what little income you have right now is going. Communicate with lenders and others and keep an eye on your credit score.

The COVID-19 scammers are out in full force: How to avoid becoming a victim

While the government shutdown has brought out the best in millions of Americans, there will always be those who seek to take advantage of any situation.

Unfortunately, because government agencies charged with rooting out the scammers are closed, they’re finding it much easier to get away with their illegal hoaxes.

Thanks to the folks at Equifax, the credit reporting agency, many of the more common scams have been exposed. Be on the lookout and don’t get taken in.

“I’m calling from the [government agency name]”

Be wary of an email or phone call purported to be from a government agency. The person or email will tell you that the agency needs your banking information and, if they don’t receive it, your Medicaid or Social Security will be terminated.

Don’t fall for it and never follow a link in an email from someone you don’t know. “It could download a virus onto your computer or device. Make sure the antimalware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date,” warns officials with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

According to the experts at Equifax, “… government agencies will not contact you unless you request it, and they will never request personal information over phone or email.”

The same goes for any communication regarding your government stimulus check. “The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer,” according to the FTC website.

Learn more about the stimulus payment scams, later in this post.

Have you applied for a government grant or loan?

You may receive a letter, email or phone call telling you that you’re pre-approved for the loan or grant but they need your banking information so that they can deposit the funds.

The letters may appear to be on official letterhead and the emails may look equally authentic.

Again, never click on a link in these emails.

Instead, use the search bar in your web browser to navigate to the agency’s site to check your status, or call the number on the agency’s website.

Looking for a job?

Use caution when replying to job offers that arrive via email, especially if it’s for a job to which you didn’t apply.

Again, don’t follow any links within the email. Use your favorite search engine to research the company. Look for an “employment opportunities” or jobs section of the website and learn if the job is listed there.

Never give your email address or phone number to anyone you don’t know who calls or texts you.

Ignore potential employers who ask for a fee for training materials, an application fee or fees for anything else. “Employers and employment firms shouldn’t ask you to pay for the promise of a job,” according to the experts at the FTC.

Stimulus payment scams

Where there’s money, there are scammers trying to get their hands on it. The latest involves the stimulus checks that Americans are receiving in their bank accounts or in the mail.

Ignore phone calls and emails stating that you must pay a fee to get your payment or anyone who claims that you need to supply your social security number, bank account information or debit card account numbers to receive your stimulus payment.

The folks at the FTC urge you to follow these tips to avoid a COVID-19 stimulus payment scam:

  • The IRS won’t contact you about your payment. Anyone who emails, texts or calls you claiming to be with the IRS is lying.
  • There is no fee to claim your stimulus payment.
  • A common scam right now is a communication purported to be from the IRS saying that you were overpaid and need to send back some of the money.

If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint

Remember:

  • Don’t click on any links or download any attachments in emails from anyone you don’t know personally.
  • Never give out personal information to strangers, regardless of who they say they are.

Cornavirus patient in the home? Here’s what you need to do to avoid infection

We’ve been admonished to do our part to “flatten the curve” by socially distancing ourselves from others, by washing our hands frequently and other forms of collective action.

If you happen to share a home with a coronavirus patient, it’s even more important to remain vigilant against the coronavirus.

While a daily cleaning and disinfecting of the home is important, there are additional tasks to perform when caring for someone suffering from the effects of the virus.

What to use to disinfect

After cleaning high-touch surfaces in the patient’s room (soap and water is fine for this), use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectant, according to the instructions on the label. Wear gloves and ventilate the area while working.

The EPA offers a very long list of disinfectants to choose from on its website at EPA.gov. Many appear to be available only to professionals but the experts at the Centers for Disease Control offers several recipes for DIY disinfectants to use on surfaces that may be contaminated by COVID-19 (coronavirus):

  • 4 teaspoons of household bleach in 1 quart of water (allow it to remain on the surface for 10 minutes before wiping the surface dry).
  • 70 percent dilution of isopropyl alcohol (must remain on the surface for 30 seconds).
  • Undiluted hydrogen peroxide (allow it to remain on surfaces for one minute).

Use care when working with bleach. Since it interacts with other substances and may emit caustic fumes, avoid mixing bleach with anything other than water. Ventilate the area in which you are working.

The CDC cautions Americans to avoid using recipes you find online. Vinegar, for instance, will not kill this virus, nor will tea tree oil.

How to disinfect a coronavirus patient’s room

Porous surfaces, such as drapes and rugs should be cleaned with a product manufactured specifically for the material and then laundered using the warmest temperature possible.

Wash bed linens, towels and clothing separate from other family laundry, and in the warmest water possible. Wear gloves when handling possibly-infected laundry and never shake the items before washing.

The CDC recommends using disposable “food-service items,” such as paper plates and plastic utensils. These can be placed into the trash and disposed of properly.

“Non-disposable food service items used should be handled with gloves and washed with hot water or in a dishwasher,” the experts caution. “Clean hands after handling used food service items.”

If your patient doesn’t have his or her own bathroom, clean and disinfect the bathroom after each time the patient uses it.

How to keep everyone in the home healthy

Frequent hand-washing is the name of the keep-healthy game when living with a coronavirus patient. Everyone in the home should wash their hands:

  • After removing gloves
  • After sneezing, blowing one’s nose or coughing
  • After using the restroom
  • Prior to preparing and eating food
  • Before and after your caretaking duties
  • After you’ve been outdoors, immediately upon entering the home

Caretaking considerations

  • The patient should be confined to one room of the home.
  • The patient should eat/be fed in their room.
  • All items handled by the patient should be disinfected daily or, if disposable, placed in a trash can lined with a plastic or paper bag. The caretaker should wear gloves when removing and disposing of these bags.
  • Remind other household members to use care when interacting with the patient.

Find additional tips from the following resources:

Caring for Someone at Home

Hand Washing: A Family Activity

Clean and Disinfect

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters

Preventing the Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Homes and Residential Communities

 

What to do if you can’t make your mortgage payments

It seems like only yesterday that the word “foreclosure” dominated the headlines as millions of Americans lost their homes during the Great Recession.

Now, that dreaded “F” word is reappearing in media accounts of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the economy. Yes, they’re speculating. Nobody really knows what will happen nor how long this will last.

All it takes is the prospect of missing one mortgage payment, however, to bring back all those dreadful memories from years ago.

Put “foreclosure” to the back of your mind. We have some suggestions to help you deal with the prospect of being unable to make your mortgage payments.

You’re safe for now

“President Trump on Saturday ordered foreclosures and evictions to cease for 60 days across the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has idled millions of workers.”

Good news for the tens of thousands of Americans who have lost their jobs over the past few weeks. At least for one month, they will have one less bill to worry about.

But what happens next month? A lot depends on your current financial picture. If you’re a saver, you have far more options than those Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck.

That first call

It’s a scary one – calling your mortgage company to tell them you can’t make your payment. But, call you must and afterward, you’ll be glad you did.

Many mortgage companies and banks are offering deferral programs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Keep in mind that a deferral isn’t forgiveness and you’ll be expected to make up the missed payments at a later date (unless you can convince them to tack the missed payments onto the end of the loan).

As well, the interest on the loan will most likely continue to accrue.

You will most likely need to offer proof of your hardship and many lenders require pay stubs and bank statements (to show a declining income) and a profit and loss statement from the self-employed.

What if my lender won’t work with me?

We have yet to hear of a lender who is refusing to at least listen to homeowners at this time. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you have a conventional loan and the lender refuses to work with you, call a HUD-approved housing counsellor at 800-569-4287.

Borrowers with FHA-backed loans will find help dealing with their lender by calling the National Servicing Center at 877-622-8525. You will be asked to provide the names of all people listed on the mortgage and the full address of the property. If you have your loan settlement statement handy, jot down the 13-digit FHA case number. This may get you faster service.

VA borrowers can find help on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Additional solutions

If your lender won’t work with you, or you prefer not to pursue the aforementioned solutions, consider the following ways of dealing with mortgage payments that you cannot afford at this time:

  • Sell the home
  • Apply to refinance your mortgage

Avoid foreclosure prevention scams

During the Great Recession, foreclosure prevention scams became a cottage industry. While we haven’t seen any recently, if the crisis continues, they may pop up again.

Many of these scam companies chose names and phone numbers that were quite similar to those of government programs. They charged high up-front fees while promising to pay off the borrower’s delinquent mortgage.

If you have any questions or suspicions about offers you receive, call a HUD housing counselor (800-569-4287) or reach out to us and we’ll point you in the right direction.

The Right Way to Remove Wallpaper

If you think wallpaper is something only your grandmother would love, think again. “Wallpaper is back with a vengeance,” Brook Anderson with Bay Hill Design in Austin, TX tells Studio 512.

Celeste Randolph, a designer in Los Altos, CA concurs “Geometric prints in wallcoverings … are huge right now.”

Today’s wallpaper would blow gramma away. Carnegie Fabrics, for instance, offers a line of thermoplastic olefin wallcoverings or you could consider cellulose wallcoverings or artisan-crafted, handmade wallpaper, like these from Benjamin Moore.

Whatever you choose, to be successful with a DIY wallpaper hanging project requires careful and thorough preparation of the wall to which you hope to stick it.

“Wallpaper can’t cling to greasy, dirty walls, old wallpaper or paint,” claim the experts and WallpapersToGo.com. “That’s why we can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to have your walls properly prepared.”

If the wall is currently covered with wallpaper, you’ll need to remove it. Not a fun job, but we’ve rounded up some tips to make it easier.

The tools you’ll need to strip the old wallpaper

As mentioned above, understand that stripping wallpaper is not a fun job. And, it will take longer than you want it to. Don’t plan to get it all done in one day, even if you are working in a small room.

Then, head out to a hardware or home improvement store to pick up the supplies you’ll need. These include:

  • Drop cloths
  • A wallpaper scoring tool
  • A wallpaper scraping tool
  • Wallpaper removal solvent
  • A spray bottle

Let’s get that wallpaper removed

Push the furniture into the center of the room and cover it with drop cloths. Then, lay a few of them down on the floors where you’ll be working. Finally, put some old towels or rags along the baseboards, lay drop cloths over them and tape it to the baseboards.

Examine your walls to determine if they are made of plaster or drywall. If your home was built more than 50 years ago, the walls are most likely plaster. Homes built since then typically offer drywall.

Not sure? Knock on the wall. If the sound is dull, it’s plaster, according to home improvement experts at Lowes.com. Drywall sounds hollow when you knock on it.

You’ll need to approach drywall with caution, being “careful not to damage the cardboard facing when using a wallpaper scraping tool,” say the pros at Lowes.

Next, pull off all the paper that comes off easily. Yes, you will be left with plenty of glue on the wall and patches of wallpaper. Score all the remaining wallpaper so that solvent can get through the paper and into the glue.

Beginning at the top of the wall (the area closest to the ceiling), spray a small area of wall with the wallpaper removal solvent (prepared according to package instructions). Allow the solvent to sit for a few minutes to ensure it has soaked in. Then, use the scraper to gently scrape the wallpaper and glue from the wall until it’s smooth.

Occasionally, especially with old wallpaper, the solution won’t be absorbed. Use coarse sandpaper to scuff up the area or use the suggested scoring tool. Soak the area again and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.

After all the glue and backing has been removed, clean and dry your walls before applying your new finishes.

A note about washable wallpaper

Washable wallpapers include a top layer, typically a plastic-like film. This is where the scoring tool comes in handy; use it to break holes in the wallpaper. Use the spray bottle, filled with water, and squirt the water into the holes you created.

Wait 10 minutes and then scrape the wallpaper from the wall.

What you need to know about carbon monoxide in the home

Violence sells and “If it bleeds, it leads” has been the media’s strategy for the past decade or more. The gorier, more brutal the death, the more it’s hyped.

What we rarely hear about are the less dramatic, less clickbait-worthy ways we can die. Which is sad, because some, such as carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, are preventable with just a little basic knowledge.

Think CO poisoning isn’t common? Think again: it’s the leading cause of accidental poisonings in the U.S. according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that it’s responsible for the deaths of more than 400 Americans and the medical treatment of an additional 50,000 each year. Half of these deaths, they say, happen between November and February.

What exactly is carbon monoxide?

Known as “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas which can cause sudden illness and death” and it is “produced anytime a fossil fuel is burned,” according to the CDC.

Sources of carbon monoxide in the home include:

  • Charcoal grills
  • Clothes dryers
  • Fireplaces, both gas and wood burning
  • Furnaces or boilers
  • Gas stoves and ovens
  • Lawn equipment
  • Motor vehicles
  • Portable generators
  • Power tools
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Water heaters
  • Wood stoves

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “Identifying CO poisoning can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to the flu … people will ignore early signs and eventually lose consciousness and be unable to escape to safety.”

Early symptoms include a mild headache and a feeling of breathlessness after moderate exercise. The difference between these symptoms and those of the flu include:

  • Symptoms ease when you are out of the house
  • Symptoms are more pronounced in family members who spend the most amount of time in the home.
  • Pets may exhibit signs of illness.
  • Your symptoms do not include body aches, a fever and other common flu symptoms.

Prevention

The CDC offers up plenty of tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. Here are just a few.

  • Don’t use your gas oven for heating the home.
  • If you use your fireplace, have the chimney swept annually.
  • Don’t leave your car or motorcycle’s engine running in a closed garage.
  • Have your water heater and heating system checked annually.
  • Ensure that all rooms are ventilated adequately.
  • When using a generator, keep it at least 20 feet away from a vent, door or window.
  • Install CO alarms in the home. The CDC recommends one in each bedroom and one on each floor of the home, including the basement. If the alarm sounds, leave the home immediately and call 911.

Learn more about carbon monoxide in the home and how to prevent poisoning at the CDC website.

It’s almost spring and time to plan the perfect flower bed

It’s that time of year when the sun starts feeling a little bit warmer and the air a little less frigid. It’s almost gardening season and if you have high hopes of a bounty of colorful blooms in the garden, it’s time to get started.

Start your seeds

If your flower garden will include plants that you’ll start from seed, now may be the time to get them going. We say “may” because seeds have differing requirements. Some need to be sown indoors eight weeks before the last frost date, while others may require a shorter or longer time period.

Check the back of your seed packets to ensure you get the timing right.

Then, there are some seeds that need to be sown directly outdoors (because the plant doesn’t tolerate transplanting).

Consult this chart at Iowa State University Extension’s website for a list of popular seeds and their germination requirements. The University of Missouri Extension’s website offers a walkthrough of the seed-starting process.

Get the bed ready

A successful garden, whether it produces vegetables or flowers, starts with the soil. Cleaning up debris from last season or junk that the weather brought in is the first step.

Pull weeds and then rake up all the debris and dispose of it. Then, go through the soil to remove rocks and anything else that may impede tender young roots.

Your plants will thank you if you incorporate some well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Typically, about 2 inches of the material mixed into the top inches of soil is just about right.

Then, give it a good, deep watering.

Plants from the nursery

Many flower gardeners leave the seed-starting to professional growers. If you’re among them, wait until after the last frost date to head to the nursery to choose the flowers for your garden.

Not sure when you can expect the last frost? Navigate to Almanac.com to find out.

Choose a day when you have few other errands to run or make the nursery the last stop on your list. This way your new plants won’t be sitting in the car, subjected to heat and a lack of air.

Don’t plan on planting your new flowers right away because they require a gradual introduction into the garden.

This is a process known as “hardening off.” Allow the plants you bought at the nursery to sit in a shady area for about a week to gradually become accustomed to the new environment.

The hardening off process is a bit different for those plants you’ve grown from seed. Find a sheltered outdoor area for them. On the first day, leave them outdoors for about two hours. Increase the amount of time outdoors each day for about a week.

Almanac.com offers a video on the hardening off process.

Get them into the ground

When planting, allow enough space around each plant to account for its eventual height and width. This should be listed on the back of the seed packet.

Planting holes should be the same depth at which the plant is currently growing, but twice the width.

Carefully remove the seedling from its pot by turning the pot upside down over your open hand. Never pull on the plant to get it out of the pot. If it’s stuck, press the sides of the pot to loosen it and tap the bottom of the pot.

Place the seedling into the planting hole and fill the hole with soil. When its full, use your hands to gently press the soil around the base of the plant. Then, water well to help the plant settle and to remove air pockets from around the roots.

One last step

While the weather may be mild right now, summer will be here before we know it. To cut back on how often you’ll need to water and to insulate the plants’ roots, apply a layer of mulch over the soil.

Spread a 2-inch layer throughout the flower bed, keeping it at least 6 inches from each plant to avoid rot.

There you go – your new spring flower bed. As long as you keep an eye on the moisture in the soil (don’t under- or over-water), you’ll have a blanket of color all season long.

Give your kitchen some love

After the holiday company leaves and life’s pace gets back to normal, the last thing most of us want to do is a deep-clean the kitchen. Here it is March (almost spring) and the post-holiday mess still lingers.

Since we’re on the spring-cleaning doorstep, this is the ideal time to bust out the rubber gloves and cleaning supplies and roll up your sleeves. Like eating an elephant, take this project one bite at a time.

We suggest starting in the center of your kitchen’s greasy universe – the stove.

Start at the top

Professional house cleaners know to start at the top of a room and work down as they clean. This avoids having the “muck” from the upper surfaces end up on freshly-cleaned areas below.

For instance, clean the range hood before cleaning the stove (unless the built-in microwave is above the exhaust vent. If it is, start there – we explain how, below). This is most likely the greasiest area of the kitchen, so you’ll need heavy-duty-type cleaners for this task.

Start with the filter. If you have a metal filter, remove it and place it in a sink or bin full of degreasing solution – either commercial or homemade.

“Using degreasing dish soap and hot water, by itself, is as effective in cleaning stuck-on grease as anything sold in the aftermarket,” suggests the experts with Gold Star Maids. They go on to recommend boiling water and a long-handled scrub brush to avoid being burned by the water.

Personally, we’ve tried that solution, to no avail. If you don’t mind using ammonia, substitute the smelly stuff for the dish soap in that boiling water.

After scrubbing, rinse the filter in warm water and allow it to dry before replacing it in the hood.

Next, tackle the range hood. Never use abrasive materials on stainless steel. Wipe it down with soap and water, dry it and then use your shine product. Try WD-40® on a soft cloth, rubbing in the direction of the grain.

Microwave and stove

Microwave cleaning isn’t as daunting as it may appear, regardless of how dirty it is.

Slice a lemon in half and place it in a large bowl of water. Place the bowl in the microwave oven and allow the water to boil for about five minutes.

This will create a lemony steam to loosen dried bits of food on the walls and ceiling of the oven. The bonus is that it also creates a much more pleasant scent than last week’s dried up food.

Wear heavy waterproof gloves and use a plastic scrubby dipped into the hot lemon water to wipe down the interior of the oven.

Next, remove the burner grates, drip pans and knobs from the stove. Danny Lipford with Today’s Homeowner suggests using a solution of dish soap and baking soda for the grates and drip pans, allowing them to sit in the solution. Then, use a citrus-based cleaner on the stove.

Ew, the oven

Self-cleaning ovens. They seem heaven-sent, don’t they? Unless you’re one of the unfortunate who has experienced a blown fuse or other damage caused by the self-cleaning process.

The “science” behind the reasons that ovens often fail after the self-cleaning cycle is a bit complicated, but Faith Durand, at TheKitchn.com does a brilliant job explaining it.

If you’re among those of us who refuse to use the self-cleaning function of our ovens, or Durand has talked you out of it, it’s time to get back to the old-school ways of cleaning.

This might include the use of a commercial oven-cleaning product, but it doesn’t have to. The experts at FamilyHandyman.com give instructions on how to clean the oven without chemicals.

  • Use a scrub brush to remove burned-on debris.
  • Combine baking soda, a squirt of dishwashing liquid and enough water to create a paste.
  • Use a sponge to apply the paste, covering all areas of the oven (except for the vents).
  • Allow the paste to remain on the surfaces overnight.
  • Spray the paste-applied areas with a mixture of equal parts of water and vinegar, allow it to remain for 15 minutes and then wipe clean.

There you go – one spring cleaning chore out of the way.

Furniture arrangement 101: Welcome to your new home

If you’ve ever toured the model homes in a new home community, you may understand that interior decorating is an art. It’s not just the tastefully designed furniture and accessories, however, that create the perfect room. The placement of these elements has a great deal to do with the overall appeal of a design.

“Smart furniture placement can make a well-laid-out room even more appealing and functional,” claims Susan Yoder, a designer for Clayton Homes.

“Having so much space to work with can be intimidating, so it’s important to put some thought into how you’ll arrange things ahead of time.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your furniture arrangement.

Determine how you’ll use the room

What is the purpose of the room? Will the family use the living room to watch TV or will you save that room for more formal purposes and use the family room for the casual family get-togethers?

If you own a small home, without an alternative room, you may not have a choice. In that case, carve out zones in the room and arrange the furniture to delineate them.

For instance, orient the sofa to face the TV and create a separate area with comfy chairs, a small side table and lamp for those solitary moments you spend reading or conversing one-on-one.

Determine a focal point

Where is your eye drawn when you enter the room? This is the room’s focal point. Typical spots to create this point include a fireplace or large window with a view.

If the room lacks a natural focal point, create one by painting a wall in an accent color or using a piece of artwork or furniture, such as a bookcase.

Whatever you choose as your focal point, accent it with attractive accessories and then position the furniture so that it faces it yet doesn’t block the view from the room’s entry.

Create traffic flow

Professional designers say that one of their pet peeves is homeowners that neglect natural traffic paths in rooms and have a tendency to block them. “These paths will go between any entries into the room to any other entry into the room. People will instinctively take the quickest route, that being a straight line,” say the experts at Verona Interiors in St. Louis, Missouri.

Make sure you don’t crowd the entryways to the room with furniture pieces. Make it easy to enter and exit the room.

Once inside the room, there should be enough room to walk through it without bumping into or having to maneuver around furniture.

Keep furniture to scale

Oversized furniture in small rooms not only disrupt traffic flow, but may obliterate the room’s focal point, thereby making the room feel even smaller than it is.

The same can be said for large rooms with dinky furniture. The size of your furniture should match the size of the room. Yes, that sounds obvious, but designers say it’s a common mistake among homeowners.

Need more tips on how to arrange furniture in your new home? Pinterest offers lots of ideas as does Better Homes & Gardens and HGTV.