Decorating tips for that area between the house and detached garage

The ideal landscape contains a balance of both hardscape elements – rocks, fences, patios, walkways, pavers – and softscape elements – trees, plants, anything living. Achieving this balance, whether with a nod to aesthetics or practicality, can be challenging.

When you have a spot of hardscape, such as a patio, lying between your house and garage, it’s tempting to use it simply as a pass-through from the car to the house, and many people do just that. It’s not difficult, however, to transform that space into an elegant, whimsical or relaxing outdoor retreat.

Whether you want a quiet, private space to enjoy your morning coffee or an area to entertain, here are some patio ideas between the house and detached garage.

Enclose it

Keep prying eyes out of the area and make it cozier by enclosing the patio on the two open sides. Enclosing it also creates an instant courtyard and a blank slate on which to work your creative magic.

The editors of Better Homes and Garden magazine suggest that the enclosure doesn’t have to be a solid fence, but anything that gives the area the feel of being enclosed.

They claim that “A vine-covered trellis or a hedge may close in a small space (perhaps less than 10 feet square) without making it feel claustrophobic.”

If you choose to use a fence, be sure to add something to soften the lines and make it less imposing. Plants are ideal for this situation, especially if you use trees and plants with various heights and textures.

An alternative to using plants to soften the hard lines of a fence or wall is to treat them as you do your indoor walls, by painting them. Stain is another option.

Once the walls are dry, hang waterproof artwork in frames to match your theme, or candle sconces, which will also add a soft glow to dinners on the patio.

Turn it into a courtyard

Courtyards, by definition, are enclosed on the sides and open to the sky. Many people, however, choose to cover the patio so that they can use it year-round.

What to use as a “roof” can be as simple as an umbrella on a small patio, a shade sail or awning or an elaborate pergola, covered in vines.

Keep in mind that when you block out the sky, the space will feel much smaller. If you’re already dealing with a small space you may have to scale back on outdoor furniture and other accessories to maintain an open feeling.

Furnish it

Creating outdoor rooms, that mirror those we find indoors, is becoming quite popular and the sky is the limit when choosing outdoor furniture.

In a large space you can divide the patio into rooms, such as using an outdoor sofa, coffee table and chairs to create a “living room,” or designate a kitchen area complete with a brick oven and outdoor refrigerator and sink.

Small patios benefit from furniture as well, even if you can only fit a small bistro table and two chairs.

Accessorize it

Take a tip from indoor decorators when considering accessories for the patio.

Artwork on the walls or even a mural adds color and character. Wall fountains don’t take up much space and can mask road noise and add ambiance. Hang strings of outdoor lights through the trees.

Other accessories to consider, depending on your space and design, include:

  • A fire pit or chimney to keep you warm on chilly evenings
  • Misters to cool you off on a warm day
  • Sculptures and plaques to add whimsy or texture
  • Decorative birdfeeders for your feathered friends

Give it a theme

If you’re having a difficult time deciding which furniture and accessories to use, it might help if you come up with a theme first. Once you have a theme in mind, you can shop for furniture and accessories and even plants that fit the theme. Here are several themes other gardeners use for their patios:

  • Southwest
  • Tropical
  • Cottage
  • Farmhouse
  • Resort
  • Coastal
  • Asian
  • Modern
  • Mediterranean

Find inspirational themes at

Plant It

The softscape components of your patio are just as important as the hardscape. If the patio is edged with planting beds, consider yourself fortunate.

If you don’t have beds you can still add plants to the patio by growing them in containers. Even certain varieties of trees do well in a suitable sized container so don’t shy away from larger plants.

If you combine more than one type of plant in a hanging planter, choose plants that have the same water, light and nutrient requirements, cautions Randy Drinkard, with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.

In your decorating frenzy, don’t forget that this patio is the egress from the house and the detached garage, so leave room for folks to traverse that route.

Another place to find landscaping ideas is in new home developments. The model homes are typically professionally and tastefully landscaped and most patios are staged for potential buyers.

Still stuck for ideas? Check out these ideas for courtyards and these, for patios, at


Don’t-miss spots to tackle during spring cleaning

One year ago, on March 20, 2020, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak closed the iconic Las Vegas Strip.

Children across the country began going to school online and “Coronavirus,” “Coronavirus Symptoms” and “Coronavirus update” ranked among the top 5 Google searches.

This year isn’t a whole lot different, with the exception that Americans are stay-at-home-weary.

Spring is springing, however, and there is no virus that will stop it. Whether or not you’re still stuck at home, consider getting that spring cleaning started.

The experts claim that if no-one in the home suffered from the virus, your spring-cleaning ritual from years past will suffice.

If someone in the home did suffer from COVID-19, follow the CDC’s instructions for cleaning. You’ll find them at

We’ve rounded up some cleaning tips that homeowners may not consider (but they should) when they’re spring cleaning. This week, we start with the air you breath (and smell).

Filters, filters and more filters

Most homeowners forget that there are more filters in the home than the one for the HVAC system.

The drinking water/ice dispenser in your refrigerator-freezer, for instance, “… should be replaced every six (6) months or after every 200 gallons of dispensed water,” according to the pros at

And before you dismiss this chore, consider this:

The refrigerator water dispenser is one of the “germiest” areas of the kitchen (National Sanitation Foundation).

Follow the instructions in your appliance’s owner’s manual and make changing this filter a part of routine home maintenance.

Other filters to put on the list include:

  • HVAC filter: Replace every 3 months
  • Range hood filter: If you cook a lot, clean the filter every 1 to 2 months. If you own a ductless range hood filter: Clean these “… every one to three months or after 120 hours of cooking,” according to the experts with Proline Range Hoods. “If the unit recirculates air through the hood back into the room, it will likely also have a carbon filter behind the screen. Replace these as needed,” recommend the pros at Meticulous Inspections.
  • Dishwasher filter: Clean every 3 to 6 months, depending on how often you run a load of dishes. For tips, see this information at
  • Dryer lint filter: Clean after every load. This will help you to prevent becoming a victim of one of the county’s 2,900 dryer fires, reported each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
  • 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year
  • Window screens: Yup, since they filter out dirt and bugs, window screens are considered filters. And, since spring is here, you’ll no doubt want to fling open the windows and let in some fresh air. Check for bends in the screens’ frames, holes and other damage.

Next week, we’ll tackle the kitchen and discuss some of the items that gather the most germs.

“OMG I have to have this home!” Your guide to winning the bidding war

A nationwide real estate franchise firm recently claimed that nearly 60% of their transactions involved multiple offers.

Unlike the bidding wars of the past, these aren’t all deep-pocketed investors who are submitting the winning bids. A buyers’ real estate agent in Virginia related a story about her client who was paying cash for a home.

Since cash offers typically win, imagine that buyer’s surprise when the home went to another buyer who offered almost twice the listing price for the home. In all, the home received 129 offers, according to a story at

Although being able to come in over the price others are offering is one way to win a bidding war (and the technique we offer up first, below), keep in mind that there is more to a real estate purchase agreement than price.

This spring’s hot sellers’ market requires an arsenal of techniques and strategies if you’re going to win a bidding war on the home you’ve fallen in love with.

Ensure you win

The best way to enter a housing market that is experiencing multiple offers on homes for sale is to go into the battle with a clear strategy.

Because you may need to make an offer higher than the listing price, plan to shop only for homes priced less than your loan pre-approval amount.

This gives you wiggle room with your money. Hopefully, enough to beat out others who came in at the top of their loan amount range.

Dazzle them with cash

Fortunate are the homebuyers in today’s market who have the means to pay cash for a home, or have in-hand a pre-approval which allows them to bid high.

Buyers who pay cash for a home present a contract with fewer contingencies, such as a loan-approval contingency. Since there is no loan involved in the purchase, they also have the ability to waive the appraisal—an attractive feature to sellers in multiple offer situations.

If you aren’t among these cash-laden homebuyers, read on.

Tweak the contract contingencies

The news is full of stories about homebuyers willing to waive the home inspection (just one contingency in the typical purchase agreement). It’s a risky move and one to consider at length before faced with the decision.

There are other ways to treat contingencies that may be attractive to the homeowner:

  • Have the home inspected, but let the sellers know in the contract that their responsibility for problems will be limited to structural issues only.
  • Shorten the time allowed in the contract for your contingencies. If the contract states you have 14 days to have the home inspected, offer to have it done in seven.
  • A fast-moving market with rapidly escalating home prices puts home sellers on edge when it comes to the appraisal. Homes are selling so quickly, it’s hard to keep up and the appraisal may come in lower than the listing price. To ease the home seller’s anxiety, consider adding an addendum to the contract that you will pay a certain amount more than the appraised value (if you’re budget allows).

“The best offer is a clean offer,” is an old real estate saying and it is never truer than in a sellers’ market. Whatever you can comfortably waive in the purchase contract do “clean up” the offer, do it.

Choose your team carefully

You aren’t alone in this process—at least you shouldn’t be. When choosing your homebuying team (agent and lender), choose carefully. In this lightning-quick market, responsiveness is a quality worth its weight in gold.

You’ll need a team that not only responds to your communications, but to one another as well as the listing agent. Nobody should have to guess at where the others are in the process.

We hope to be a part of your team. Reach out to learn just how responsive we are.

The tools every homeowner needs

Last year, dubbed “The Year of the Home” by the editors at, saw a huge leap in the popularity of DIY home improvement projects.

Home maintenance projects, especially of the DIY variety, became even more popular, with homeowners, on average, performing slightly more than 7 maintenance projects, an increase of 25% over the previous year.

If you’ll be joining the DIY revolution, you’ll need proper tools. The basics will help you hang shelves, fix a dripping faucet, install a new doorknob and more.

Larger projects, on the other hand, require additional or specialized tools. Though tool prices have increased, there are ways to buy them on the cheap, which we’ll get into later on.

First, let’s start filling your toolbox.

Start with the basics

When it comes to tools, many homeowners feel like we can never have enough. Others just want the rock-bottom basics necessary to perform small repairs around the home. Let’s start with the must-haves in a very, very basic tool kit:

  • Protective gear (at bare minimum, goggles and a dust mask)
  • Duct tape
  • Screwdrivers (both a #2 Phillips and a square-head)
  • A 16″ all-purpose claw hammer
  • Pliers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Hacksaw
  • 35’ Measuring tape
  • Stepladder
  • Utility knife
  • Pencil
  • Flashlight or headlamp (and extra batteries)

If you’re new to the world of tools, do yourself a favor and learn tips from the pros. We love this YouTube video from Powernation, “You May Be Using The Wrong Tools For The Job, Here’s The Correct Ones.”

The above list of tools should help you manage basic home repairs. Anything larger or more creative will require additional tools. Round out your toolbox with:

  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill with screwdriver attachments as well as drill bits
  • Level
  • Stud finder
  • 6-foot ladder

Naturally, the list can be endless. Get additional tips on what to add to your toolbox on, and

Where to buy these tools without breaking your budget

The least expensive tools are used tools and the best place to buy them is at garage/yard sales, estate sales and online marketplaces.

As you can imagine, used tools are in high demand right now. If you choose to shop at garage or estate sales, get there early because most will be gone after the first hour the sale is open.

Then, the used tools for sale in online marketplaces, such as those listed above, are becoming pricier (especially on eBay). Comparison shopping is critical if you hope to save money.

Use these sources primarily for hand tools, unless you are experienced with power tools. The latter should be checked for problems, such as frayed cords, missing chargers for battery operated tools and ensuring that the manufacturer’s safety features remain intact.

Our handyperson recommends that you also look for corrosion in the battery compartment of cordless tools. If you see it, pass on the tool.

Buying new? Prices can vary on items, according to retailer so make sure you price compare. The obvious outlets are, Home Depot and Lowe’s. But don’t neglect smaller retailers such as:

Once you have the right tools, home projects will go a lot smoother and faster. For how-to tips on common home maintenance projects, visit, or

3 types of insurance you’ll need when you buy a home

If you’re like us, there are two subjects that make your eyes glaze over: taxes and insurance.

Sure, we learned a lot about the latter with the introduction of the ACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). We are now somewhat familiar with premiums, deductions, co-pays and the like.

But, that’s health insurance. When you buy a home, you’ll be required to buy certain policies of a different type and some you may want to consider, depending on region.

Let’s start with the basics of mandatory insurance—those policies you may be required to purchase before you close on the home.

Title insurance

The home purchase transaction doesn’t involve just the buyer and seller. Other entities, such as the lender, have interests to protect as well. And financial protection is what insurance is all about in the homebuying process.

When an offer is accepted, the lender begins the process of determining whether the home is worth what you’ve promised to pay, whether you qualify for a mortgage and whether there are any problems with the home’s title.

These problems are known by several nicknames, such as “clouds on the title” or “title defects.”

Is the homeowner who is selling you the home actually the owner and does he or she have a legal right to sell it? Is there anyone else who may have a claim, full or partial, to the property?

The title search will also include learning if there are liens against the home, outstanding judgments and unpaid taxes, among other issues.

The title officer will perform a search of public records to find the answers and then issue a report known as the abstract of title or preliminary title report.

Anything of a negative nature that will affect the lender will be brought to the seller’s attention so that it can be remedied. The lender will not issue funds to you to purchase until this is done.

If the title is clean, on the other hand, the lender will go ahead with the loan, but will expect a title insurance policy to be issued in case anything crops up in the future.

This policy is known as a lender’s policy and it’s required. There is a separate policy to protect the owner, which is optional. Your real estate agent can advise you on whether or not to purchase this policy.

Private mortgage insurance

Homebuyers have a love-hate relationship with private mortgage insurance, or the mortgage insurance premium in the case of the FHA-backed loan.

It’s an additional expense not only at closing, but every month for the life of the loan (in many cases).

Without it, however, borrowers who can’t come up with a 20% down payment would be unable to purchase a home.

Learn more about private mortgage insurance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and you’ll find additional information about FHA’s mortgage insurance premium online at

Homeowners insurance

We’ve so far learned that title insurance protects the lender against future claims against the property, PMI (or MIP) protects them in case you default on the loan.

What happens if the home burns down or experiences another calamity? This is where homeowners insurance enters the picture.

The difference between this insurance and the two previously mentioned is that homeowners insurance also protects the homeowner.

A standard policy is unlikely to cover the home for certain disasters, such as flood and earthquake. If the home is in a flood zone, however, you can purchase a separate insurance policy, under certain circumstances.

“Flood insurance is available to anyone living in one of the 23,000 participating NFIP communities,” according to officials at NFIP is short for the National Flood Insurance Program.

Government-backed loans typically require this insurance if you live in a flood zone.

Yes, there is a lot to consider when purchasing a home. Do yourself a favor and consult with your insurance agent early in the process. He or she will help you determine which type of homeowners insurance is right for you and your lender.

What you need to know about aging in place

There are a lot of misconceptions about the term “aging in place.” The biggest one seems to be that it describes a specific action. Take this definition, for instance, from Lena Katz at

“Aging in place is when people stay in the homes they lived when they were raising children, long after their children have moved away, and continue to fend for themselves rather than downsizing or moving to a senior community.”

She considers this situation “problematic” and decries older Americans’ “fierce individualism and independence,” while suggesting they should move in with extended family to free up their homes for younger generations.

Aside from the issuance of glaring insults against an entire generation of Americans, she also gets the definition of “aging in place” entirely wrong.

Aging in place is, first, a decision, not an action. When it becomes the latter, it may or may not be carried out in the same home in which the older Americans raised their families. They frequently choose to sell the family home and buy a smaller abode in which to live out the rest of their days.

In fact, the National Association of REALTORS statistics bear that out. According to their research, last year baby boomers made up 33% of all homebuyers and 41% of all home sellers.

No other cohort is as active in the housing market as baby boomers.

So, no, these fierce individualists who are perfectly capable of “fending for themselves” are most certainly downsizing, upsizing and everything in between.

The fact is, “aging in place” is a term not specific to a certain place, but to a chosen one. And it’s not a senior living facility.

If you are in the process of choosing yours, or already have, we have some tips from the experts about what is most important to consider.

Insist on a single-level home

Sure, you may be the yoga queen at your gym or you might put Travolta to shame when you’re dancing to the syncopated rhythm on date night with the wife.

But there will most likely come a time when your knees won’t allow all those downward dogs and swiveling hip moves.

This is when “You should be dancing” turns into “You should be living in a home without stairs.”

As we age, we often feel it first in our knees. Even a single flight of stairs can seem like a monumental obstacle.

Do yourself a favor and make a vow to not even look at homes for sale that have an upper level or a flight of stairs to get to the front door.

Don’t ignore future mobility needs

It should come as no surprise that “… among older adults the need for mobility assistance increases as age increases,” according to a study published by Utah State University.

None of us knows if a wheelchair is in our future. The aforementioned study finds that only 10.3% of those under age 55 needed a wheelchair or other aid to move around. By the time we reach 75, however, we may become one of the nearly 43% who require help with mobility.

Understanding this is important if you hope to age in place. Most homes aren’t wheelchair friendly.

Hallways are typically 36 inches wide, which won’t accommodate a wheelchair. Those that are 42 to 48 inches wide will, according to the pros at NARI, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

A safe bathroom is a must-have

Falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults. According to the National Council on Aging:

“Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.”

Many of these falls occur in the bathroom. The National Aging in Place Council (NAIPC) and the CDC offer the following tips when remodeling a home to age in place:

  • Add grab bars next to the toilet and to the interior and exterior of your shower or tub.
  • Install a raised toilet.
  • Lower the sink.
  • Remodel the shower so that it’s wheelchair accessible.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about purchasing the ideal age-in-place home.

Real estate FAQ: What are loan origination fees?

One of the most confusing aspects of the home purchase, at least for first-timers, is the mortgage process. From the weird terminology used to how it all happens, we frequently meet with dazed stares when we say the “M” word.

The word “mortgage,” by the way, comes from an old French word for “dead pledge.” It was so named because the debt dies when it’s paid off.

We think it’s aptly named because 30 years feels like we’ll be paying on it until we die.

At any rate, the process isn’t as complicated as it seems. Let’s take a look at one aspect of obtaining a mortgage that we receive a lot of questions about: origination fees.

Everybody needs to get paid, right?

There is no getting around it, origination fees “… can add several hundred or thousands of dollars to the total cost of your loan,” according to Angela Brown at

And, no, the fees that you’ll pay aren’t included in the interest rate.

Enter: origination fees. Thinking of them like the lender’s paycheck for processing your loan takes some of the sting out of paying them. After all, everybody needs to get paid.

Some charge more than others, which is why it’s important to compare the offers from several lenders. We’ll show you how to do that, below.

What’s included in the fees?

What lenders include in origination fees varies, which is why, again, it’s important to take your time shopping for a mortgage.

Some of the more common fees include:

  • Processing (what you’ll pay to have your documents examined and the information verified)
  • Application fee (a somewhat silly fee you pay just for the “privilege” of applying for a loan)
  • Underwriting fee (checking to ensure you qualify)
  • Appraisal fee (a charge for reviewing and analyzing the home’s appraisal report)
  • Document preparation fee
  • Funding

Note, again, that not all lenders charge fees for some of these tasks. In fact, there are loans out today that charge zero origination fees.

The pros at, however, offer a warning about these loans:

“These lenders are likely to factor in the cost of the loan process into other areas of the loan, such as the interest rate. When comparing loans, be sure to check whether the origination fee is or isn’t included in the annual percentage rate or APR.”

How much are these fees?

Naturally, the fees vary according to lender and your financial picture. As a rule-of-thumb, “Home buyers typically pay about 0.5% of the amount they are borrowing in origination fees,” according to Hal M. Bundrick, certified financial planner and “… a NerdWallet authority in money matters.”

Aly J. Yale, at, states a range (0.5% to 1.5% of the loan amount), or “… $1,000 to $3,000 on a $200,000 home loan.”

Many of these fees, by the way, are negotiable.

How to compare lenders’ origination fees

Many real estate consumers don’t understand that a mortgage application is just that: an application. It does not bind you to the lender, legally. The lender will either accept or deny the application and you can then either accept or deny their offer.

Submitting applications to several lenders is not only ok, it’s wise.

Lenders are required, by law, to supply you with a 3-page form, the Loan Estimate (see image below). This form will supply you with all the information you need to compare lender offerings.

You’ll find the lenders’ origination fees listed on page 2, section A.

“When comparison shopping lenders, the key is identifying the fees that are valid, perhaps even negotiable, and the fees that are tacked onto a loan to pump up a lender’s profit,” also known as “junk fees,” Bundrick suggests.

You are welcome to shop around for some of the fees, as noted on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s sample below.

Another important thing to look for when comparing lenders’ offers is the loan’s annual percentage rate or APR. In fact, this figure is the one to use in your lender comparisons, not the advertised rate.

The latter is what the loan will cost each year. The APR is the advertised rate with the fees tacked on, “… such as mortgage insurance, most closing costs, discount points and loan origination fees,” according to the pros at Bank of America.

Their best advice is to “Compare one loan’s APR against another loan’s APR to get a fair comparison of total cost — and be sure to compare actual interest rates, too.”

On the cheap: Spruce up your home this spring

Although the pandemic will be the chief reason that 2020 will go down in history as one crazy year, it prompted a surge in other events. One of these was the explosion in home improvement projects.

Lockdown taught us a lot about our homes: what worked and what didn’t. If refurnishing and re-accessorizing the home was last on your to-do list, consider getting to it this spring.

It doesn’t need to cost a fortune, especially if you shop wisely and consider buying used.

Shop online

Still social distancing? Good for you. The safest place you to shop for your bargain-priced home goods is online.


Craigslist is a good place to start. It’s a local sales platform so you won’t need to calculate shipping costs into the price of your purchases.

You’ll find home goodies in the following areas of the For Sale section:

  • Antiques
  • Collectibles
  • Furniture
  • Garage sale
  • Household

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook marketplace offers both local shopping and shipping options. If you want to shop local, navigate to your Facebook home page and click on “Marketplace” in the list on the left side of the page.

On the new page, enter a search term in the box located on the left side of the page. To restrict results to those items for sale locally, click on “Delivery Method,” and then “Local Pickup.”


A newish addition to the online marketplace list, OfferUp was created to compete against Craigslist. The main difference between the two is that, in an effort to keep users safe and feeling more comfortable using the platform, the former offers reviews of buyers and sellers.

Navigate to and at the top of the page you’ll find two search boxes. Enter the item you’re searching for in the first box and, in the second, your location. Click “Go.”

Refine your search by clicking on “Pickup” on the left side of the page. This restricts search results to only those items located near you.


eBay sellers offer just about anything you can think of, as long as it’s legal. If it’s been awhile since you’ve perused eBay merchandise, you may be in for a shock—the prices have skyrocketed.

We rarely use the platform as we find items much less expensive on the aforementioned sites and we don’t have to pay for shipping.

You can find items with free shipping at eBay, but we’ve found that sellers mark up the items’ prices to compensate for absorbing the shipping charges.

It is possible, however, to shop locally on eBay. Enter a search term at the top of the home page. On the results page, scroll down until you find “Item Location” on the left side of the results page. Then, tick the circle next to “Within.”

Choose how many miles away you are willing to drive to pick up an item and then choose your location. Finally, click on the right-pointing arrow.

Shop in person

Several brick-and-mortar stores are ideal for the bargain home goods shopper, especially when they’re running sales. These stores include:

  • Ross Dress for Less
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Walmart
  • Ikea
  • Home Goods
  • Michael’s (great for picture frames)
  • Cost Plus World Market
  • Marshalls

Most of these retailers also offer online shopping.

Garage/yard and estate sales

Typically, you won’t find better on-the-cheap shopping than to buy used home goods. Treasures abound at estate and garage/yard sales.

It’s important to understand the difference between estate sales and garage/yard sales. The former typically take place because of “… divorce, downsizing, debt or death,” according to the experts at

“An estate sale is when someone opens up their estate (usually a home or condo) with the intent to sell all their stuff quickly and for the most money possible,” they continue.

The garage/yard sale, on the other hand, involves the sale of selected items from the home that are no longer wanted or needed. The sale is held either in the home’s garage, yard, driveway or other suitable location.

Prices are typically lower at garage/yard sales.

Thrift and consignment stores

A consignment store holds items that are for-sale-by owner. The operator gets a cut of the sale price. Like homes for sale by owner, these stores rarely offer bargains.

Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Salvation Army and Savers are all examples of thrift stores. They are often time consuming to shop but the rewards can be huge.

Tip: Goodwill Industries, in an effort to compete with online resellers, has started holding back the best merchandise to sell at its online auction site. That, in turn, has caused Goodwill’s in-store prices to hike so the bargains are now few and far between.

Flea markets

Flea markets are the ideal place to shop in a pandemic infected world. Typically held outdoors, it’s a far healthier experience than masking up to shop indoors.

And, since haggling is the norm at flea markets, you’ll often get better deals than at any of the aforementioned shopping options.

Spring and a spruced-up home may be just the thing to lift your spirits.

Let’s fix that credit score

Although the homebuying frenzy continues, millions of Americans whose employment was impacted by the pandemic are being left out.

Without a job, maintaining a decent credit score can be challenging. However, you will get back on your feet and there are ways to fix the damage so that you can buy that dream home.

Credit score basics

“The goal of a credit score is to provide a quantifiable prediction of the likelihood of default in the next 24 months,” according to Thomas Wade with the American Action Forum.

In other words, it determines a borrower’s creditworthiness.

The scale of credit scores ranges from 300, the worst possible, to 850, “… considered the unicorn of the financial world: a perfect credit score,” according to Stefan Lembo Stolba at

Only 1.2% of credit scores from FICO® have reached that magic number, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t among them.

Scores that fall below 850, are grouped as follows:

  • 300-629 Poor
  • 630-689 Fair
  • 690-719 Good
  • 720-850 Excellent

FICO, short for Fair Isaac Corporation is the data analyst that determines these scores. They do so by analyzing our credit reports from the “big three” credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

The most important thing to understand about your FICO score is that it’s fluid, moving up and down according to how you use credit.

Rule number one to raise your credit score

The easiest way to increase your FICO score is by avoiding late payments. Every month, pay your bills on time.

If you think this sounds too simple to be true, consider this:

“… someone with an average credit rating of 707 can raise their score by as much as 20 points by paying all their bills on time for one month,”

according to Jessica Seid, CNN/Money staff writer.

The credit card trap

There are tricks to using credit cards and loans when it comes to trying to repair your credit. These tricks are evident when we consider how the reporting agencies look at credit card use.

  • Age of credit–Older credit, whether cards or loans, makes the potential borrower appear less risky. New credit can ding your FICO score by as much as 10 points.
  • Balances– Maxed out credit cards can cause up to a 70 point reduction on your credit score. The agencies want to see available credit.
  • Lack of accounts–If you have no credit card or loans, credit agencies will wonder why.

If you’ve been caught in the credit trap, start paying down your high balances first. Don’t close any credit cards.

No credit score?

A 2019 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) showed that “22% of Americans Don’t Have a Credit Score,” according to Matt Frankel, CFP at

Because they have no history of credit use, the credit reporting agencies consider these people credit risks.

If you are among this group, you’ll want to do the opposite of those with low scores. Get and use a credit card, ensuring that you pay the entire balance, on time, every month.

Tip: Obtain a secured credit card from a company that reports to the credit reporting agencies.

How to fix your credit score, step-by-step

  • Obtain your reports from all three of the major credit reporting agencies. Americans are entitled to one free credit report from each, annually, from For additional information on the free credit reports, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
  • Comb through the reports looking for errors. Dispute any that you find. The FTC website shows you how.
  • Vow to pay your bills when due.
  • Reduce your credit card balances.
  • Since older, seasoned credit is more attractive to credit agencies, don’t let old cards go stale. Use them, but remember to pay off the balance when due.
  • Request an increase to your credit limits. Avoid the temptation to max out the additional credit, though.

Selling under the influence of kids

Come on, admit it: You started watching those DIY home selling and staging TV shows the minute you made the decision to sell.

You’re not alone. But you should keep in mind that those amazing TV stagers have unlimited budgets and tons of people to help them.

The shows don’t reflect the reality of the basic American home seller’s situation.

Depending on how you’ve maintained the home since you bought it, preparing it for the market can be expensive. All the repairs, the painting, the cleaning and decluttering – it’s a lot of work as well.

Add on the price of hiring a professional home stager and we’re talking some big money coming out of your pocket.

Making your home the belle of the local real estate market is, however, one of the most important things you can do to appeal to a broad range of buyers and make top dollar at the closing table.

Enter: Kids

The most annoying part of selling a home when you have children is having to keep it tidy and staged while it’s on the market.

The second most annoying aspect is those potential buyers who ask for a last-minute showing.

We’ll get to some tips for the latter in a minute. First, let’s talk about staging a home that harbors children.

Plan for chaos

Those last-minute showing requests are a pain. But if you truly want to get the home sold you need to accommodate buyers–and get the kids on board.

Consider the following tips:

Determine how long it will take you to tidy up the home in time for a buyer to do a walk-through. Then, ask us to put a notice in the MLS that you require that much notice for showings.

For instance, if it will take you an hour, we’ll let buyers’ agents know that you need an hour’s notice for showings.

This will give you at least enough time to cover the basics of pick-up, cleaning and getting yourself and the kids out of the home.

Keep the kids distracted while you tidy up. Unless, of course, your kids are immensely helpful and quick. (If so, care to trade?) Otherwise, park them in front of the TV so they stay put and don’t create new messes.

Purchase some laundry baskets from the dollar store and use them to stash toys, mail, dirty dishes and all the other clutter you encounter as you run through the home, tidying up. Then, throw the baskets in the trunk of the car to get them out of sight.

One online parent suggests that you check every toilet before leaving the house. Kids – potty – flush – if yours are like mine when they were little, they tend to skip the latter.


Let’s take a list of the basics of straightening up when you have limited time. These tasks are prioritized from the most important to the lease.

Start in the kitchen:

  • Move the dirty dishes from the sink to the dishwasher and scrub the sink.
  • Remove clutter from the countertops and then wipe them clean.
  • Wipe down the stove.
  • Take out the trash.
  • Sweep the floor.

Move on to the bathroom(s):

  • Flush the toilet and put down the toilet seat.
  • Clear the clutter from the countertops and wipe them down.
  • Clean the sink and wipe water spots off the faucet.
  • Take out the trash.
  • Replace soiled towels with fresh ones.
  • Sweep the floor.

Work on the entry way:

  • If you have a table in the entry way, remove any clutter and dust.
  • Remove all clutter from the entryway and the areas of the home visible from it.

Turn your attention to the bedrooms:

  • If you haven’t made the beds yet, do so now.
  • Pick up toys and stash as many as possible out-of-sight
  • Remove all clutter.

On your way out the door, turn on all lights in the home (including in the closets) and open all the window coverings.

Count heads to ensure you aren’t leaving any little ones behind and head to the park, congratulating your babies on a job well-done.