DIY that unfinished basement

Even if you aren’t considering selling your home in the near future, a finished basement offers more living space – something most homeowners dream about.

If you are considering selling, you’ll recoup 70 percent of the cost of the remodel, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2017 Cost vs. Value Report. Furthermore, keeping your basement-finish budget to no more than 10 percent of your home’s appraised value makes it a smart investment, Lending Tree Home Pros’ Neil Salvage tells HGTV.

And, you won’t be alone. The National Association of Home Builders places the project as the third most requested, behind kitchen and bath remodels and additions.

The nationwide average cost of a basement remodel is between $10,583 and $27,103, according to HomeAdvisor. But, some homeowners pay as little as $4,800.

You don’t necessarily have to go full-blown remodel to whip that basement into shape. Use a few of these DIY ideas to turn it into a livable area that will add value to the home.

Wet basements aren’t livable

More than 60 percent of homes with a basement have leaks, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors. Furthermore, 38 percent of those homes run the risk of developing basement mold. So, before you tackle the decorating and design aspects of your unfinished basement, undertake the repairs necessary to set a good, healthy foundation for all of your hard work.

You’ll need to find the source of the leak, which is easier said than done in many cases. The most obvious place to look is the area of the wall where pipes enter. Also check that the landscaping outside the basement slopes away from the home and that the gutters on the home aren’t clogged with debris and that they extend at least 4 feet away from the structure.

Fixing leaks may sound intimidating but many repairs are inexpensive and easy. Filling in cracks with epoxy, installing additional downspouts, re-sloping the landscaping (the University of Minnesota recommends a slope of one inch per foot for at least six feet away from the foundation wall), and installing flashing are DIY projects that won’t break the bank.

Consider purchasing a dehumidifier for the basement as well. Then, seal the walls. Tom Silva at suggests applying waterproof masonry cement to walls.

Start at the top and work your way down

Sure, you’ll want to paint the ceiling but what else is up there, hanging from it, that can ruin the comfy vibe you’re aiming for? Pipes, air ducts and more can be painted to match the ceiling, in the hopes of making them blend in.

Or, look for products like coffered ceilings or wood planks that add style and the results are easier to achieve than most people think.

Then, of course, there is always the option of using drywall or large, removable tiles (to allow access to all that “stuff” hanging from the ceiling). Get more ideas on ways to camouflage ceiling “junk” at

What will you walk on?

Naturally, carpeting is the flooring of choice for most basements, according to research by the National Association of Home Builders. But, factoring in the cost of moisture-resistant padding and carpet can be a bit pricey.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider vinyl. Some of the new wood-look luxury vinyl floor planks add a surprisingly realistic wood-look to a room, they’re inexpensive and can be easily installed by homeowners.

If you fear water leaks, tile may be a better choice. Since basements are notoriously moist, however, shop for tiles with anti-slip finishes, such as glazed ceramic tile. Or, consider leaving the concrete floor exposed and acid-staining it. With lots of area rugs scattered about, feet will stay warm.

 Create a warm ambience

Proper lighting is crucial in a basement that you plan to use frequently. Choose ceiling fixtures, such as track lighting or pot lights and then add table lamps around the room.

The effects of a low ceiling and lack of natural light in most basements can be thwarted by choosing light-colored accessories, such as upholstery fabrics, rugs, pillows and artwork.

Choose soft rugs, thick blankets and fluffy pillows to seal the warm ambience of your newly-finished basement.

Finishing a basement is a big project but not only will it give you more living space, it will help sell the home in the future. Tackle as many DIY project you can to keep costs down.

Who will buy your home?

Writers have a target audience in mind as they peck away on the keyboard. Radio DJs are admonished to hold a mental image of their audience (one person of a certain age group, by the way) every time they open the mic. And, the key to success for professional marketers is to “know your audience.”

The latter uses market research to determine from what pool of consumers will come their potential customers. When a home is the product, however, we don’t need expensive research or a crystal ball to determine who will be most interested in it.

Thankfully, the National Association of REALTORS and others have done the legwork for us, so we have a pretty good idea of which demographics drool over which types of homes. Naturally, there are the basic needs that seem to cut across all demographics, but some homes appeal to certain folks.

Once you have a clear picture of your likely buyer, we can better focus our marketing efforts.

The luxury home buyer

High-end home prices soared in the first quarter of 2017 to an average of $1.65 million. Is this a trend? Only time will tell. What we do know, however, is that if you own a high-end (meaning high-priced) home, your most likely buyer will be a woman and a member of the baby boom generation. This group of Americans, by the way, controls a large share (51.3 percent) of the country’s wealth and that percentage is expected to grow.

According to CBS News Money Watch, “America’s most affluent women are typically in their 50s and 60s,” and a recent survey of real estate agents finds that 62 percent of their luxury home buying clients are between the ages of 45 and 54.

Another survey reveals that most homebuyers who purchase at the top of the luxury home market – in the $10 million and more price range – are entrepreneurs. Finally, most of the people that will tour your home are local to the area.

By the way, today’s luxury home buyer doesn’t necessarily view the purchase as an investment, as was the case before the recession. Instead, it’s more of a lifestyle choice –  a home in which to raise a family and build memories.

This information helps us, as your listing agents, narrow our marketing focus (sophisticated and laser-targeted) to appeal to these buyers.

The condo/townhome buyer

When it comes to condos vs. single-family detached homes, the owners of the latter will have a better chance of selling. Now, this isn’t to say that condo owners can’t sell their homes. On the contrary.

Your buyer will likely be a retiree, seeking to downsize. This is especially true if the condo is located in a walkable area that offers plenty of recreational opportunities.

Urban condos are attractive to young, single professionals who are seeking a home in close proximity to work and to social opportunities. The bonus for them is that condos are generally less expensive than single-family homes and require far less maintenance.

Then, there are the young couples who aren’t planning to start a family right away. Naturally, the location of your condo and the amenities the community offers will help us narrow down your ideal buyer pool.

The single-family, detached home buyer

The single-family, detached home category represents a broad range of homes, from small, starter homes to luxury homes and even ranches on multiple acreage. The most popular single-family home, according to NAR, is one that was built in 1991 and has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and 1,900 square feet of living space.

Now, most real estate agents will tell you that the home needs to be in move-in condition to sell quickly but recent studies show that millennials actually want a home that needs a little work if it means they don’t have to buy a cookie-cutter home.

What they don’t want are old appliances, dinky master bedrooms and a one-car (or no-car) garage. Fix those problems and we can market your home to this demographic.

If your home is large, more than 2,000 square feet, and in a quality school district, your buyer will most likely be a Gen Xer.

“Buyers 37 to 51 are in their peak earning years and thus their incomes are the highest among all generations of buyer types at $106,600. They are both the generation most likely to be married and most likely to have children under the age of 18 in their home,” according to the National Association of Realtors 2017 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report.

Why does it matter?

Earlier, we mentioned that knowing who your likely buyer is will help us hone our marketing efforts. While we won’t exclude other possible buyers, if your home fits perfectly a certain demographic’s wants and needs, it only makes sense to stage the home and craft marketing pieces to attract them.

As you’ve probably guessed, marketing a home for sale entails so much more than entering the details into the MLS database and pounding a sign into the front yard. We’re happy to discuss our marketing plan with you when you’re ready to sell your home.


Hold the perfect garage sale

What on earth are you doing with all that stuff? You do know that you can make money by selling it, right? One man’s (or woman’s) trash is another’s treasure and a garage sale is the perfect way to feed that guy’s treasure craving.

The most successful garage sales are planned and prepared meticulously. So, let’s look at some tips to help you do both.

Planning the garage sale

Don’t be the guy or gal that throws the party that nobody comes to. If your sole concentration is on the actual garage sale, and you put little effort into getting people to show up, your sale will be a flop.

Businesses call it “marketing” and you can apply their same strategies, but on a smaller scale.

Start your planning session by figuring out when you’ll hold the sale. Check with the largest businesses in town to find out when they pay their employees and choose the weekend after that date for the sale, suggests the Yard Sale Queen.

But, there’s more to choosing a date than hoping for customers flush with cash. If something else competes for their attention, they’ll take their money elsewhere.

It’s summer, which means festivals and other outdoor community events, backyard barbecues and vacations. Check your community’s online events calendars to ensure the date you have in mind isn’t one on which the biggest community event of the year is being held. Check which sporting events are being held in the area. Your aim is to have as little competition as possible.

Finally, call everyone that you hope will assist you on the day of the sale and run the date by them to ensure they’re free.

So, now you know when the big sale will happen. It’s time to plan the actual event.

What will you sell?

Though many of us have boxes and bins full of items we hope to sell or donate some day, there are sellable items lurking in every room of your home. Garage sale experts suggest that you go through your entire home, room-by-room, evaluating your belongings. When you find an item, you want to include in the sale, slap a price sticker on it and place it in a box.

Don’t forget to go through the pockets of all garments, check handbags you’ll be selling and search large items in which something may be hidden. The last thing you need is to sell that dresser where Grandpa stashed his life savings.

By the end of the process you’ll have a good idea of what you’re selling and in what amount. This is important information you’ll need when setting up the sales floor.

Advertising the sale

There are several ways to let folks know about your world’s best garage sale. The most effective is online advertising, so create an ad, with lots of compelling photos, and post it on,, and

Check with your HOA and the city or county to ensure you don’t violate any signage rules and then create signs that you’ll place at a main thoroughfare and around the neighborhood. Über-successful garage sale-holder Cassie, at, suggests large, 20″ x 30″ signs for the for the former and smaller ones for the latter.

Prepare the sales area

Make a list of each item you’ll be selling and its price. The easiest way to do this is as you set them out on the sales floor. Cross the items off the list as they are sold.

Make a floor plan for the garage, yard, driveway or wherever you’ll be setting up shop. Sketch it out on a piece of paper, drawing tables and making notations of which types of items will go on which tables. Ensure that folks will have room to maneuver around and between your displays.

There are a number of floor plans you can adopt for your sale. Find then online:

Most garage and yard sale experts agree that large items you think will be most popular should be located closest to the entrance, where they will be easy to see from the street, and locate smaller, easy-to-pocket items in an area where a helper will be stationed.

Two final notes: Locate electrical items near an outlet, or have an extension cord handy so that customers can test them. Then, determine how you’ll bag the customers’ purchases. Plastic grocery bags are ideal and boxes are suitable for larger items.

The day before the sale

  • Check in with your helpers to ensure they’ll be there, and on time.


  • The experts suggest that you have at least $100 on-hand to make change. Depending on how you price the items, you’ll need quarters and at least 20 $1 bills and 10 $5 bills.


  • Determine how you’ll deal with the cash during the sale. Keeping it on your body is safest – a “fanny pack” is ideal as it’s easier to access and holds more than a wallet.


  • Go over all sale items to ensure they have price stickers.


  • Let neighbors know about the sale.


  • Buy batteries so that buyers can test out battery-operated items.

Garage Sale Day

By now, you should be so organized and ready for the sale that all you’ll need to do is set up the sales floor, remembering to leave room for folks to maneuver and placing the most desirable items out front where they can be seen from the street.

Then, place the signs and you’re ready to open for business.

Things to consider

Be alert and keep these common garage sale scams in mind:

  • The customer claims you gave him the wrong change – Keep the customer’s cash visible during the entire transaction (either hold it in your hand or place it under a paper weight). This way he can’t claim to have given you a larger bill.


  • Don’t be distracted by large groups arriving at the same time – this is where your helpers come in handy. Ensure that you aren’t all watching the same area at the same time. There are people who will deliberately try to distract your attention.


  • That advice we gave you earlier about going through pockets and drawers before selling an item? Do it again when someone purchases something with hiding places. It’s not uncommon for the unscrupulous to stuff smaller items into larger ones.


  • Never allow anyone into your home. If they need to use the restroom, give them directions to the nearest public facility.

Two final tips

Impulse buying is a reality, so display some small but fun, inexpensive items at the checkout area.

If you have no intention of opening the sale for early birds, say so in your ads. The folks at suggest a simple “early birds pay double” will suffice.

Can I use my retirement account to buy a house?

There are few things in life more frustrating than that longing to own your own home combined with the very real fact that your bank account is a bit on the skimpy side. The media is full of stories about shrinking home inventories and multiple-offer situations so there are obviously others who have found a way to swing the dream of home ownership. “What’s wrong with me?” you may wonder.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in a savings account, according to a GO BankingRates study. Sadly, 34 percent have nothing saved. So, to answer your question, nothing is wrong with you. You are among the millions of Americans who, for one reason or another, haven’t saved for the future.

Of course, that’s little consolation when all you want is to wave goodbye to your landlord and get settled in your own home. If it’s consolation you want, however, it’s consolation we’ll give. There are a number of ways to get your hands on that chunk of money you’ll need at closing when you buy a home. From second loans to outright grants, government programs abound.

If you’ve tried those with no luck, consider using the funds in your retirement account.

Mixed advice from financial professionals

Yes, many financial pros will say that we’re crazy for recommending this strategy which is why we always remind you that we aren’t financial experts and you should speak with yours before seriously entertaining using your retirement funds to buy a house.

That said, there are those who wholeheartedly agree with the concept. “Right now, affordable prices and low interest rates offer an unusual opportunity to buy a home, so we do sometimes recommend that our clients borrow against their retirement. Owning a home is an important way to build financial security,” Ben Barzideh, a wealth adviser at Piershale Financial Group Inc. in Illinois tells’s Michele Lerner.

Most agree, however, that the strategy works best for younger homebuyers who have many, many years to rebuild their retirement nest eggs.

Using your 401(k)

Retirement plans are not required to allow loans, but 80 percent of employer-sponsored 401(k) plans do allow their participants to borrow against their savings, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. It’s important to determine if your plan is among those that do.

Then, learn what restrictions the employer places on these loans. “Employers can limit the amount that can be borrowed and they can have their own rules around loans,” Hattie Greenan, director of research and communications for Plan Sponsor Council of America tells the Washington Post’s Jill Chodorov Kaminsky.

“They can limit the number of loans per year, put a percentage of assets cap on it, as well as set the interest rates,” Greenan continues.

The beauty of borrowing against your 401(k) is that there is no bank involved, so therefore no credit check, making it quicker to get your hands on your cash. Your lender will like this as well – a credit pull will ding your credit score.

One of the biggest downsides to using funds from your 401(k) happens if you find you can’t repay the loan according to the terms you agreed to. The outstanding balance will be reported to the IRS as a distribution and you’ll have to report it as income. “You must include this amount in your gross income in the year in which the distribution occurs,” Kaminsky cautions. You may also be taxed an additional amount, depending upon your age.

Be aware as well that most employers will demand repayment either immediately or within 60 days of a separation – whether you voluntarily quit or are fired or laid off.

Raid your IRA

Funds in both the traditional and Roth IRA can be used to help you purchase a home. This strategy differs from using the 401(k) in that the IRS forbids loans from an IRA – you must take a disbursement.

The good news is that even if you haven’t reached the golden age of 59 ½ years of age, you can still avoid the IRA 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. The bad news is that you may still be dinged for taxes on the withdrawal if you have a traditional IRA. You already paid taxes on your Roth IRA funds, so that disbursement won’t trigger the IRS’ itchy fingers, as long as the account has been open for at least five years.

It’s a bit more complicated than this, however. With a Roth IRA, for instance, you’ll need to be careful to use only contribution money, not earnings.

Again, there’s a lot to learn about using your IRA to fund your down payment and closing costs and only a financial professional can adequately counsel you.

If you want to sell your home this fall, start doing these things now

When trying to forecast the future housing market, most experts look at pending home sales. If they’re consistently trending upward, we can comfortably look forward to a robust near-future. For most of this year, the pending home sale statistics have looked like a rollercoaster, with three consecutive months of declines until June, when they began increasing again.

With ever-shrinking inventories of available homes and the corresponding rise in prices, what will happen in autumn is anyone’s guess at this point. But right now, with expanding job growth and continued low interest rates, it appears that the fall home-selling market will be somewhat robust.

So, if you’re among those hoping to sell their homes this fall, we have put together some tips to help you get started. And, by the way, now is the best time to start.

Choose your real estate agent now

Think about the appearance of the exterior of your home in fall. Leaves change color and begin falling from trees, the lawn may begin going dormant and, if temperatures dip, those colorful summer annuals lose their charm.

When homebuyers are perusing the MLS for homes to view in person, they view the home’s photo first. If what they see isn’t compelling, they’ll click to the next home on their list. So, if you wait until fall to choose your real estate agent, your home will look like all the others – with leaf-covered or brown lawns, no color in the planting beds and twiggy trees.

If you hire your agent right away, you can request that the exterior photos be taken now, while the home’s curb appeal is at its most attractive. Come fall, when you put the home on the market, the photos of your home will stand out from all the others, impressing buyers enough to want to view it in person.

Get maintenance out of the way

Consider having the HVAC system serviced. Summer is rough on the system and dust and dirt can accumulate around the outdoor components, restricting air flow during fall and winter. The lack of fresh air circulating in the home during showings can become a deal killer.

Get the gutters cleaned out now to avoid problems during a rainy day showing. While you’re up there, look for holes and check the connections. If you get these small repairs out of the way now, you avoid having to do them during messy weather.

Autumn is all about getting cozy and nothing helps you get there better than a fire in the fireplace. Though you may not want to leave one roaring while you’re away at work, you may want to make the fireplace a focal point for showings. Clean the glass doors, clear out accumulated ashes and, if it’s been awhile, consider hiring a chimney sweep.

Staging your home now for autumn buyers

The most important thing you can do when you’re considering how to stage the home in any season is to bring in as much light as possible. It’s even more important in fall and winter since days get shorter, and home interiors become darker, earlier. Yes, leaving the curtains open helps, but you may want to consider beefing up the interior lighting of the home as well.

Buy new lamps for dark corners and add brighter bulbs to fixtures that could use them. Then, leave the lights on (yes, all of them) before leaving for work in the morning on days you expect showings.

As you look for ways to stage the home, remember the fireplace-as-a-focal-point idea. Arrange the furniture so that it faces the fireplace and then dress the mantel (subtly) in an autumn theme. Use cozy throws on the sofa or chairs to further promote the idea of warmth and comfort.

Curb appeal still matters

Probably the most challenging aspect of a fall home sale is keeping the yard free of plant debris. As we get closer to the time you’ll be putting the home on the market, rake the landscaping as needed and keep it up consistently during the showing period.

Consider planting some fall color as well, such as rust-colored and yellow mums. Even if they’re planted in pots that line the walkway or are clustered attractively on the porch, that pop of color will catch buyers’ eyes.

Think about leaving the grilling equipment and patio furniture outdoors just a smidge longer than usual so that you can stage the deck or patio to appeal to buyers. Give the furniture a good cleaning and then arrange it tastefully so that buyers can picture themselves entertaining in that spot.

Finally, organize the garage. Sure, you don’t read much about staging garages, but it’s just as important (if not more so to some buyers) as staging the other areas of your home. If you use yours for storage, start with decluttering it, purge items you no longer use or need and then organize what’s left.

Toss all the information you’ve collected on summer home sales because selling in fall is a somewhat different process. Thankfully, we are still experiencing a seller’s market so along with the advantages inherent in this type of market, you’ll have even less competition from other sellers than you would have if you’d decided to sell in summer.

If you are considering selling this fall, or any time for that matter, contact us and we’ll give you our recommendations on how to price your home based on current conditions and we’ll get those all-important exterior photos taken now.

3 ways an HOA can derail your home purchase

The United States is home to more than 350,000 homeowner associations (HOA). This represents more than half of all owner-occupied homes in the country, according to HOA-USA. This means that the chances are good that the home you will fall in love with will be in a managed community (governed by an HOA).

While not all HOAs are the evil, dictatorial entities we hear about in the media, their involvement in a home purchase adds another layer of difficulty to the process – an increase in the chances that something may go wrong and the deal will fall apart.

Remember, the HOA is just one entity with its fingers in your home-buying pie. Your lender is always there, in the background, scrutinizing every last slip of paper that floats its way. And, when it comes to homes in managed communities, lenders require lots of scraps of paper.

There are three common ways a HOA can mess up your real estate purchase and they all have to do with loan denial. They are all out of your control as well, but we believe that knowledge is your most effective weapon, and that if you know what to look for, you can avoid dealing with certain HOAs.

What is an HOA?

A homeowner association is a governing body of a community. Not all communities have a HOA, but homeowners in those that do are obligated to abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the HOA.

“Many HOAs are corporations; that is, legal entities that can enforce contracts with their homeowners,” according to Ilona Bray at

Membership in the HOA is compulsory and automatic when you purchase a home in a managed community.

The association is governed by a board, populated with volunteers from among the community’s homeowners or elected by homeowners.

The HOA board members make decisions on how to enforce the rules (known as “covenants, conditions and restrictions,” or CCRs) and the penalties for violations. They also manage the organization’s budget, ensure fees or dues are paid, maintain the common areas and decide when special assessments are required and in what amounts.

They dropped a lien on it

If the owner of that home you have your eye on is in arrears on his HOA dues, the HOA may have no choice but to slap a lien on him. Yes, they do have that power. In fact, liens are often attached automatically to the property when a homeowner becomes delinquent on payments of dues or assessments.

The cost to remedy the lien can sometimes be exorbitant, with late charges, collection costs, interest and fines added to the amount originally owed. If the debt remains unpaid, the HOA can begin foreclosure proceedings and seize the property.

But those are the homeowner’s problems. Yours is that you want this home but there’s a lien against it. You’ll be unable to get title insurance until the lien is lifted and without title insurance your loan will be denied.

The only way to save this deal is for the seller to pay what he owes and request that the HOA release the lien.

Pending litigation

If the HOA is involved in litigation, either against it or if the board is suing someone, it may be almost impossible to get a loan to buy a home in the community.

Common HOA litigation cases include:

  • Failure to perform maintenance – If the HOA fails to repair roof problems and the roof leaks, damaging the home’s contents, the homeowner may initiate a lawsuit against the HOA. An injury on the property that occurred because of shoddy maintenance practices may also spur litigation against the HOA
  • Violations of the rules – Yes, the HOA can violate its own rules and homeowners can, and will, sue.
  • Building defects – An example of this is the HOA suing a roofing contractor for substandard work.

Homes in communities involved in pending or ongoing litigation are known in the finance industry as “non-warrantable,” and most lenders will deny a mortgage application for them. Yes, there are some who will, but they typically charge far more than you’ll pay for a conventional, 30-year mortgage.

You’ll find information about litigation in the HOA documents that will be supplied to you by the homeowner. If it’s a condo you’re after, and you’ll be using an FHA-backed mortgage, check HUD’s database to ensure that the community is FHA-approved. You’ll find that database online at

The importance of the HOAs finances

Earlier, we reminded you that an HOA introduces one more finger in the homebuying pie and, when it comes to finances, it isn’t just yours that the lender will scrutinize. It will also take a hard look at how the HOA deals with its money.

If you’ll be using an FHA-backed mortgage, determining whether or not a community’s HOA is fiscally responsible is easy; visit the aforementioned FHA database online to determine if the community is approved.

With conventional loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines prevail. They have a list of conditions a community must meet before a loan will be approved. Those involving the HOA’s financial health include:

  • 10 percent of HOA dues must be set aside in the reserves fund.
  • No more than 15 percent of homeowners are delinquent in their dues or fees.
  • The property’s insurance must meet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines.

Any financial problems, regardless of how small, may slow down the loan process, but they may result in a denial of your application.

Protect yourself 

As soon as you know for certain that you’ve found a home you want to buy and it’s located in a governed community, begin your research. Use the online FHA database for condos. Ask your listing agent to make inquiries to determine if there is ongoing litigation.

When you receive the HOA document package, run them by your attorney. These are legal documents, full of important information but littered with complex terminology. You are expected to understand them all and sign off that you accept the terms outlined within them. It’s worth the money you’ll spend for an attorney to help you understand the contents of these documents.

Once you sign off on them, you are obligated to adhere to the terms.

Be safe this summer

Americans love summer. Whether it’s because it presents the perfect opportunity for the annual getaway or because of the additional amount of sunshine on these deliciously long, summer days, summer, not winter, is truly the season to be jolly.

The National Safety Council (NSC), however, reminds us that July and August are the deadliest times of the year. From heat-related illnesses to burns and drownings, summer events present all kinds of safety hazards.

Water safety

The statistics are chilling: Between 2005 and 2014, there were about 10 drowning deaths every day in the United States. If you add in boating-related drownings, increase that number to about 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Local news stories invariably quote parents as saying they only looked away for a moment. But, that’s all it takes. The CDC cautions parents to remain vigilant when your child is in or near water. Don’t depend on a lifeguard or anyone else and don’t become distracted.

Additional tips to avoid drowning incidents include:

  • Never swim alone
  • Should you get caught in a current, remain calm and don’t fight against it. Float with it or swim parallel to the shore.
  • Alcohol and swimming don’t mix. In fact, the CDC claims that alcohol was a contributing factor in half of male teen drownings.

Prevent heat stroke

When the mercury rises, so does the danger of heat-related illnesses. The National Safety Council (NSC) identifies three such illnesses:

Heatstroke – The most serious of the three, heatstroke occurs when a person’s body temperature rises quicker than the body’s ability to sweat. The NSC says that “The brain and vital organs are effectively ‘cooked’ as body temperature rises to a dangerous level in a matter of minutes. Heatstroke is often fatal, and those who do survive may have permanent damage to their organs.”

Symptoms of heat stroke include skin that is overly hot to the touch, confusion, coma and seizures. The NSC recommends that someone suffering from heat stroke must be placed in a half-sitting position in a shady spot, spray him or her with water and fan vigorously and, if the humidity level is more than 75 percent, apply ice to the armpits, neck or groin.

Don’t give the victim anything to drink or any pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or aspirin. And call for medical help right away.

Heat exhaustion — The symptoms of heat exhaustion mimic those of the flu and include fatigue, thirst, nausea, headache and vomiting. The person may sweat profusely and the skin will appear pale and feel clammy.

“Uncontrolled heat exhaustion can evolve into heatstroke, so make sure to treat the victim quickly,” cautions the NSC. Move the victim to an air-conditioned area if possible, otherwise, find a shady spot, give him or her water to drink and apply wet towels to the body. A cool shower is also recommended.

Heat cramps – When you exercise in extreme heat you may suffer muscle spasms and cramps, typically in the abdominal muscles or legs. These cramps are the result of a lack of salt in the body due to excessive sweating. Relieve them by sitting in the shade, drinking sports drinks, stretching and seeing a doctor if the symptoms aren’t relieved within one hour.

Summer safety for your pet

Dogs get sunburned too, so the ASPCA suggests that if your dog will be spending time in the sun this summer, slather on the sunscreen. Choose a brand that doesn’t contain fragrance and contains properties that block both UVA and UVB rays.

We all know not to leave kids and pets in cars on warm days – even for just a few minutes. Heat stroke can occur within moments. But, it can also happen outside the confines of a hot car, when a dog is overactive on a warm day.

It begins with dehydration, so if your pet is drooling excessively, its gums are dry and it feels hot to the touch, get it into the shade or indoors quickly. Slowly cool it down with water (but don’t submerge it in an ice bath). Then, get the pet to a veterinarian, quickly, even if it seems to be doing better.

Summer heat is tough on our cars and puddles of antifreeze prove it. Pets, especially dogs, are attracted to antifreeze and it’s deadly when ingested. Never allow your dog to lick anything off the ground.

If yours is an outdoor dog, supply access to shade and cool water.

Barbecue safety

Summertime ushers in a favorite American pastime – outdoor cooking. Despite the yummy smells and the tasty food they produce, barbecues cause nearly 9,000 home fires every year and July and August are peak grilling months.

Follows these tips to keep your family and your home safe during the summer grilling season:

  • Keep the grill clean. The National Fire Protection Association cautions that dirty grills are the leading cause of grill fires.
  • Place the grill at least 10 feet away from the house, other structures and landscape décor (such as hanging planters, pillows and patio umbrellas).
  • Keep both a spray bottle of water and a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Never turn on the gas while the lid is closed.
  • Never leave the grill unattended.
  • Never use your grill indoors.
  • Don’t allow children and pets to play near the grill.

Protecting yourself, your family and your pets during the long, lazy days of summer is easy if you’re prepared. Get additional tips online at, and

Yes, you can: A millennial’s guide to buying a home

That moment when you just can’t stand writing one more check to your landlord so that he can pay his mortgage payment. That is the moment you are emotionally ready to buy your own home, at least according to investment experts.

We’d like to extend that list of moments to include the longing to get the kids a dog, drooling over the weird paint color you’d love to use to adorn the bedroom walls and the green thumb, itching to dig in its own backyard.

Now starts the sometimes-long road to home ownership that millennials just like you have traveled. Yup, others have paved the way for you, so if you follow their example, at least the examples of those who’ve been successful, you’ll soon be picking up dog poop in your very own backyard.

Cold, hard cash

Houses cost money. Big money. At least initially. And, according to a recent survey, of the 80 percent of millennials who want to buy a home, only 68 percent of them have managed to save less than $1,000 and a sad 44 percent of that group have nothing saved.

“Based on their current rate of monthly savings, our survey found that millennials in many of the nation’s large metros will need at least a decade to save enough money for a 20 percent down payment on a condo,” claim the site’s   Andrew Woo and Chris Salviati.

They go on to say that millennials in the pricier large metros, such as San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose have a waiting time of “almost 24 years.” Buyers armed with a 10 percent down payment can shorten the wait to five years or less, according to the study.

Which means that those who choose an FHA-backed loan, a Fannie or Freddie or USDA loan, with an even lower down payment requirement, are sitting pretty. Then, there are the many local, regional, state and national down payment assistance programs. See? Every cloud has its silver lining.

The moral of the story is to start saving now. Yes, you have student loan debt and, yes, you need to pay rent and all of the other typical life expenses. But paying yourself first should be your priority if you want to buy a home.

Your debt

The word “millennial” is so often followed by “student loan debt,” in the media one would think it’s the generation’s middle name. While it’s true that this debt is at an all-time high, and some millennials are on the hook to repay up to $53,000, it’s not the impediment to home ownership that some make it out to be.

The simplistic will advise you to boost your income and eliminate your debt when considering purchasing a home. While sage advice, it’s unrealistic to tell someone who longs to purchase a home to wait the aforementioned 24 years.

And, there is relief for many with two recent announcements by Fannie Mae.

Currently, lenders look at a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio (how much you owe vs. how much you earn, known as DTI) and require that it be no higher than 36 percent. After July 29 of this year, however, that ratio can be as high as 50 percent, under certain conditions.

Then, in April, Fannie Mae announced a new policy specifically aimed at millennial homebuyers who have student loan debt. Basically, it excludes any debt that isn’t mortgage-related (auto loans, credit cards and, yes, student loans) from the borrower’s DTI, as long as these debts are paid by someone else (such as a parent).

Curious about your debt-to-income ratio? Use the online calculator at

If your DTI is still too high, despite the new solutions from Fannie Mae, get busy increasing your income and decreasing your debt. The College Investor offers a brilliant list of 10 “Easy” Ways to Earn $100 per Month and also see 8 Ways to Eliminate your Student Loan Debt.

Credit history

So, what if it’s not necessarily student loan debt but a lousy credit history standing between you and homeownership? There’s good news on that front as well.

The so-called “Big Three” credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion recently announced that most tax liens and civil judgments will no longer end up on credit reports, provided the information in the creditors’ report isn’t complete.

“Specifically, the data [submitted to the credit reporting agency] must include the person’s name, address, and either date of birth or Social Security number,” according to Diana Olick at

Apparently, errors like this are common, impacting a large number of loan applicants. “With these hits to their credit removed, their scores could go up by as much as 20 points,” Olick claims.

Even if you don’t have judgments or liens on your credit record, it’s always a good idea to order all three reports and pore over them for other mistakes. The Federal Trade Commission claims that about 20 percent of American consumers have a mistake on their reports. Ridding your report of errors is one of the easiest ways to increase your credit score.

In fact, the FTC study found that “ . . . about 20 percent of consumers who identified errors on one of their three major credit reports experienced an increase in their credit score that resulted in a decrease in their credit risk tier . . .”

The FTC offers advice on not only how to get free copies of your credit reports but how to dispute erroneous information as well.

If you truly want to buy a home, stop listening to the naysayers in the media. The millennial generation currently makes up the largest group of first-time homebuyers, so obviously, not all is the gloom and doom they say it is. Especially with the new programs and relaxed requirements, buying a home is easier than you think.

Is it time for a closet makeover?

If you’re digging through sweatshirts and turtlenecks to reach your tank tops and shorts, it’s time for a closet makeover.

It’s like eating an elephant

The job is much easier, especially for those of us who tend to procrastinate, by taking one bite at a time. Schedule an hour every week to put a dent in the mess that you call a closet and, before you know it, the job will be done and getting ready to go somewhere may end up taking half as long.

You’ll need a clean slate

The first step to a truly made-over closet is to clean it out, completely. Pile the clothes on the bed and find a spot on the dresser or floor for the shoes, scarves, ties and other accessories. You are now presented with a clean slate, akin to Aristotle’s tablet “ . . .on which nothing has been written.”

Assess the space

How’s the paint looking? If you find yourself squinting to ensure that those slacks are really black and not navy blue, not only should you consider new lighting, but a fresh coat of light-colored paint as well.

Make that paint glossy and you’ll feel like you hit the exacta; the highly-reflective sheen offers better visibility in the confines of a closet. Consumer Reports offers a list of its top-rated paints on its website.

Next, decide what goes where and make a list of needed items, such as additional shelving, boxes, bins, hanging shoe racks or furniture (if space permits) and lighting.

Speaking of lighting, you don’t need to be an electrician to change out the lights in your closet. LED options include battery-powered lights in a variety of shapes and styles and are a snap to install. Some even include motion sensors. Get lighting ideas online at, (check out the brilliant LED-lit closet rod!) and Pinterest.

Sort and purge

Remember all the stuff you removed from the closet? Now it’s time to sort. You’ll need to make several piles – items you’ll put back in the closet, items to put somewhere else and items to throw away or donate.

The second category includes all those weird things that end up in the closet, such as borrowed clothing (time to return it), shoeboxes stuffed with receipts, bills and other paperwork, electronics (fax machine or printer, for instance) and sports equipment, such as your tennis racket.

The third pile should include anything that doesn’t fit. Yes, that weight-loss diet is a worthy goal, but if you’ve tried it before and are still hanging on to the size 6 jeans in hopes they will someday fit, consider moving the jeans to the “donate” pile.

Those items with missing buttons, broken zippers and holes in the seams? How long have you hung on to them, promising to have them repaired? You’ve managed to live this long without them, so consider tossing them in the trash or donate pile.

Fill it back up

Now you’ll get to use all the nifty organizing equipment you purchased. Designate a place for everything and return those items to their place in the closet.

This means that shoes go on the shelves, rack or hanging bag you purchased, scarves go in the bins or baskets and nothing – absolutely nothing – ends up on the floor. This is especially important if you’re organizing the closet in preparation for a home sale.

Organizing experts offer several ideas on where to place your clothing within the closet. Some say to put those items you wear most often front and center. Others recommend hanging like-items together, for instance, group all of your shirts in one spot, pants in another. Others suggest grouping your clothes by color.

Need ideas? Visit, and

What’s lurking in your home’s plumbing system?

While the surgeon general hasn’t taken up labeling water heaters as possibly harmful to your health, they may be. In fact, any of the many components that make up a home’s plumbing system are rife with the possibility of breeding Legionella pneumophila, the rod-shaped bacteria responsible for Legionnaires’ disease, according to a report at

The bacteria

Legionella is found naturally in freshwater environments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It most often causes disease, however, when it grows in “human-made water systems,” such as hot tubs, swimming pools, ice-making machines, landscape water features, water heaters, showers and faucets.

Stagnant warm water (at a temperature between 68 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit), that contains sufficient biodegradable compounds, is the condition that most favors growth of the bacteria, according to a study by the American Society for Microbiology.

Furthermore, temperatures of 90 to 105 degrees are the ideal range for the bacteria’s growth. Rust, scale, “and the presence of other microorganisms can also promote the growth of LDB,” warns the experts at the U.S. Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA).

“It will grow anywhere in the piping system where conditions are favorable for growth,” Ron L. George, president of Plumb-Tech Design & Consulting Services in Michigan tells, U.S. News’ Devon Thorsby.

The disease

Legionnaires’ disease, a lung disease and specific form of pneumonia, is tricky to diagnose because it presents with flu-like symptoms. It is particularly deadly to smokers, those with compromised immune systems and those in poor health. Although the large outbreaks get all the media attention, OSHA estimates that between 10,000 and 50,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for the disease.

Those who come down with Legionnaire’s disease were exposed to the bacteria by inhaling airborne water droplets that contain the bacteria (such as in the shower) or drinking water contaminated with it.

How the bacteria reaches your home

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan was a wakeup call to the entire country: don’t assume that your tap water is safe.

Thorsby warns that “Federal water conservation bills passed beginning in the 1990s have slowed the speed of water [to our homes], making travel time from a treatment plant to the end of the line longer. It went from as quickly as two days to as long as two weeks, in some cases . . .”

Why is this slowdown a problem? Municipal water systems purify water with chlorine, which decays quickly, diminishing by the time it reaches your home. If the chlorine content is negligible at this point, water in the lines “ . . . could become more vulnerable to picking up contaminants from pipe corrosion, interruptions like water main breaks and other incidents that could introduce toxins into the water,”  Thorsby cautions.

How to protect yourself

The best way to ensure that Legionella is destroyed is by controlling the temperature of your water heater, according to OSHA. Set and maintain the temperature at 140 degrees.

Of course, this temperature introduces the danger of scalding, which can be minimized with the use of thermostatic mixing valves, according to the experts at Plumbing and Mechanical magazine. “Replacing standard faucet and shower fixtures with thermostatic mixing valves may allow a homeowner to maintain hot water at 140-degree F from the water heater to the mixing valve, but deliver water at a lower temperature to reduce the risk of scalding.”

Next, you’ll need to eliminate the bacteria’s food sources, such as scale and sediment. Something as simple as replacing your electric water heater with a gas model takes care of this requirement, according to the magazine. Not only do electric water heaters tend to have lower temperatures than their gas counterparts, but their heating elements are typically located on the side of the unit. Gas heaters, on the other hand, heat the water from below the tank, where sediment builds up, thereby destroying the bacteria’s major food source.

If that doesn’t convince you to ditch the electric water heater, consider a Canadian study of 211 homes, 178 of which had electric water heaters. The study found that 69 of these homes, or 33 percent, harbored Legionella. None were found in the homes with gas water heaters.

Regardless of which type of water heater you have, it needs to be drained and fully cleaned (not just flushed out) once a year.

Buying a vacant home?

Foreclosure and other vacant homes are perfect breeding grounds for Legionella. Since the plumbing system hasn’t been used, the water in the heater has been stagnant and, most likely, not hot enough to prevent the bacteria’s reproduction. The same holds true for the pipes in the system.

NSF International, a product testing, inspection and certification organization in Michigan, recommends that vacant home buyers flush the plumbing system with “superheated” water. In fact, they recommend that all homeowners perform this flush once a month.

  • Set the water heater thermostat to its hottest setting.
  • Turn on the water at each tap and allow them to run for 30 minutes. “If your water heater doesn’t have the capacity to flush all taps simultaneously (most home water heaters don’t), flush one or two taps at a time for 15 minutes, beginning with those closest to the water heater and ending with the farthest taps,” the experts at NSF recommend.
  • Run the dishwasher and washing machine at their hottest settings.

Don’t forget to lower the temperature after the flush’s conclusion. NSF cautions that “only nonsmokers in generally good health” perform the flush, that children and those with compromised immune system leave the house during the procedure and that the flow from each faucet should be regulated to avoid splashing.