Want Your Security Deposit Back? Ask These 6 Questions

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When you’ve just landed a new apartment in Boston, MA, a security deposit is kind of like the pile of work on your desk at 5 p.m. on a Friday. You could push it aside for now, but you’ll still have to deal with it on Monday (or when it’s time to move out). But until that time comes, it’s easy to be distracted with decorating, meeting the neighbors, and celebrating your new place.

However, it’s important to be proactive so you can help ensure you’ll get back every penny you deserve – and you can’t just assume the security deposit will let you “live out the last month,” either. That concept exists only in tenants’ minds and isn’t really a thing (ever) … unless your landlord has agreed to it.

Here are six important questions to ask before you sign the lease that can help save you some dough.

1. Does your landlord want the place returned spotless?

Your landlord might be the white-glove type that meticulously checks for cleanliness, and not just by putting on a white glove and inspecting for dust. They might expect a sparkling-clean oven, microwave, and fridge (and freshly spackled and touched-up walls). Find out by asking your landlord what they expect at move-out time. If you’re a bit of a slob, you might want to pay a cleaning service to scour your place before you move out. That way, you control how much you spend instead of leaving a mess for the landlord to clean … and to charge you for. Don’t leave dilapidated furniture behind. If the landlord has to discard it, expect to pay for any charges incurred.

2. What is normal wear and tear?

If you’ve lived in a place for several years, it won’t look as good as the day you moved in. The carpet will show wear, the paint will fade or show smudges, and there might be small nicks here and there on the walls. These things are just normal wear and tear – stuff that happens over time in any home or apartment. The landlord shouldn’t charge you for that. In other words, the landlord can’t remodel the place on your dime. But if the wear and tear is excessive and outright damage has occurred (wine or vomit stains on the carpet, the unmistakable odor of cat pee, a child’s “artwork” painted directly on the walls, broken doors or holes in walls from who knows what), that’s on you and will come out of your security deposit.

3. What’s the charge for repainting?

Were the walls in your rental just painted, but you already know that you simply cannot live with those “builder beige” tones without losing your mind? You might not have to cover the walls in floor-to-ceiling artwork. If you wish to paint the walls a soothing aqua chiffon or maybe a lovely hyacinth, you first need permission from the landlord. If you get the A-OK, you’ll either need to paint the walls back to beige before you move out or let the landlord take a repainting fee from your security deposit. Unless you know how to prep walls for painting like a pro and can be certain you won’t get paint on trim, baseboards, or anywhere else it shouldn’t be, let your landlord do it. Once you know upfront how much they’ll charge you for the privilege of painting, those beige walls might start to look kind of nice.

4. Who is responsible for lawn maintenance?

Lawn maintenance is a tricky area for renters and a subject that should be spelled out explicitly in the lease. If it isn’t, generally speaking, when you rent a multifamily unit, the landlord is responsible for lawn care. If you rent a single-family home, you are probably responsible for the upkeep of the grounds. But there’s upkeep and then there’s upkeep. What you consider kept up might not be what the landlord has in mind. Find out, for example, how often you need to mow the lawn and whether you need to water it, trim bushes and shrubs, and keep weeds under control. If there is any doubt, maintain the property of the house you’re renting as you would your own house.

If the landlord needs to spend money to get the grounds in the same shape as when you moved in, that will come out of your security deposit. Keep in mind that maintaining is one thing, but making the yard your own is another. Get permission before you plant a flower or vegetable garden, and know that any bushes or trees you plant should stay with the house when you move.

5. What about pets?

Pets can cause damage. Cats might ruin the carpet by using it as a scratching post, and dogs sometimes dig holes in the yard. Landlords know this, which is why some don’t allow pets. The ones who do might charge a pet deposit (if your state allows it). If you paid a pet deposit, the landlord uses it, not the security deposit, to pay for any pet-related damage. If you weren’t charged a separate pet deposit, the landlord can use the security deposit to repair any pet damage.

6. What if something breaks?

If you spot a problem, tell your landlord right away, whether you caused it and need to pay for it through your security deposit or whether the repair is one the landlord pays for. Either way, if you neglect to tell the landlord and said problem later turns into a disaster, you could be on the hook for the excessive damage. For example, if you spot water coming in from a leaky roof, the landlord needs to fix it right away, and they will pay for it. But if you don’t report the dripping water and a mold problem eventually develops, those mold-removal costs could very well be on you.

Bottom line

The closer you can get to having your place look just the way it did when you moved in (take photos!), the more likely you’ll be to get your full security deposit back. But if the landlord does keep some or all of your security deposit, they almost always need to present you with an itemized receipt detailing the reasons. How long landlords have to get this done varies by state, so familiarize yourself with your state’s laws. If you don’t get your security deposit back or a written explanation as to why not, write to your landlord and ask for your security deposit. If that doesn’t work, you may want to take your landlord to small claims court. You’ll probably get your deposit back that way. In some states, landlords must also pay you a penalty fee in such cases.

Do you have a tip for getting back a security deposit? Let us know in the comments!


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10 Insanely Clever Home Hacks Every Renter Needs To Know

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kitchen stuff


Apartment living can be tight, but these little tweaks can go a long way toward making your place feel more spacious.

Apartment life can come with many perks, like a doorman, pool, and fitness center. Unfortunately, loads of space isn’t often one of them: Even the roomiest New York, NY apartments have their limits. With a little bit of creativity, however, you can make your 500 square feet (or less) seem like a palace.

Here are 10 DIY hacks to maximize your living quarters:

1. Turn to trunks

Vintage suitcases displayed in a corner can pull double duty as storage for sheets and towels if you don’t have a linen closet, says Lisa Zaslow, founder and CEO of Gotham Organizers in New York, NY. A large decorative trunk that doubles as a coffee table can hide a home office too. Store file bins, a box for supplies, and a wireless printer inside, and just pop the top when you’re ready to work. When you’re entertaining, the trunk can be used as a bench for additional seating (just make sure it’s sturdy!).

2. Rethink hanging storage pockets

We’ve all seen those over-the-door organizers that have a million pockets for shoes. But don’t limit their use to footwear. If you rent a townhouse with a garage, use these hanging organizers on the door for holding cleaning bottles or scrub brushes. In smaller rentals, sneak in extra storage by adding a hanging organized on a closet door for stashing small canned foods or spice jars. Cut to size, they can be used on bathroom cabinet doors: They are the perfect size to corral hair dryers, brushes, or curling irons.

3. Maximize your sofa space

“Pull your couch 12 inches from the wall and use the space behind it to store suitcases, sports equipment, holiday decorations, and other infrequently used items that are hogging limited closet space,” says Zaslow. You can also take it a step further and build a slim “table” that covers the stored items behind your sofa, really camouflaging them from full view. An added bonus? You can put drinks on it when there’s no room on your coffee table.

4. Get creative with magnets

For starters, magnetic knife racks can be used beyond knife storage. “In the kitchen, [a magnetic knife rack] can hold measuring cups and spoons,” says Zaslow. “In the bathroom, it keeps tweezers, nail clippers, scissors, and bobby pins and barrettes handy. In a home office, it works to hold pens, scissors, clips. In a kid’s room, it can hold small cars and trucks.” For more magnificent magnet tricks, use a single magnet to attach a small item that’s easily misplaced (like tweezers) to the inside of your medicine cabinet.

5. Hang temporary curtains

Landlords usually discourage tenants from hanging curtains, since the rod holders need to be secured into the wall with anchors, and the holes left behind can be unsightly. Circumvent this problem by using large adhesive hooks and setting the rod into the hook. Just make sure your curtains are somewhat lightweight (think sheers or linen panels).

6. Invest in binder clips

That’s right, binder clips. These gems have unlimited uses. When clipped to the edge of a desk, they can keep computer cords in place. In the fridge, they can keep bottles in a perfect pyramid. Or they can be used to secure your duvet corner to the duvet cover. The list goes on.

7. Use tension rods to increase your storage space

Apartments can be limited when it comes to cabinet space, so it’s important to make use of every square inch. Pick up some tension rods and get to work. Stick one horizontally in your under-the-sink cabinet to hang cleaner bottles from, freeing up the bottom of the cabinet. Alternatively, put a few vertically in a cabinet to keep baking sheets and cutting boards organized. They can also be used in a closet to create a small hanging section (just don’t overload it with clothes, or it’ll fall!).

8. Eliminate wasted space in the kitchen

Attach hooks with adhesive backs to the wall between your cabinets and countertops or on the bottom of your cabinets to hold mugs, utensils, and gadgets, says Zaslow. (Bonus: They won’t cause damage when you remove them.) Or place a cutting board over an unused stove burner or two to extend your counter space.

9. Use a shelf as a table

If you don’t have floor space for a nightstand in your bedroom but need a spot to rest a glass of water or reading lamp on, install a small floating shelf as your nightstand. Not only are these relatively inexpensive at home improvement stores, but they also are surprisingly easy to hang – usually just two screws. Floating shelves can also be used couch-side as an end table.

10. Perfect your paper product storage

Paper towels and toilet paper take up a surprising amount of room when you store them under a sink. Use a wall-mounted wine rack to hold paper towels (pro tip: These can also store rolled-up towels) or a hanging closet organizer for both paper towels and TP.


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How to Turn Up the Heat Without Using Electricity

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Children drinking cups of tea by fire

By Robyn Woodman

Whether you’re in the middle of a blizzard without electricity or you’re trying to save some cash this winter, it’s wise to have an alternate heat source on frigid days. Instead of reaching for the thermostat, warm up with these creative, no-power heating solutions.

Use our tricks and tips to keep warm this winter. Your bank account will thank you come spring.

1. Get fired up.

Does your apartment have a fireplace? Whether it operates on gas or good old-fashioned wood, fireplaces can be energy-efficient heaters. If you have a gas insert, check to see if it’s a direct-vent, vent-free, or B-vent unit. Direct-vent inserts can offer more heat, while B-vents generally push any warmth out of the home. Vent-free gas fireplaces are the most efficient. Although not all states permit vent-free inserts for use in apartments, ask your landlord what type of gas fireplace you have to determine its heating potential.

Does your rental have a wood stove? Rather than building a roaring fire, concentrate on building a constant, slow-burning flame for the most heat generation. According to the Wood Heat Organization (WHO), circulating the heat with a ceiling fan regardless of its placement within the room will help disperse the air and keep your space warmer. (Some wood stove inserts include a built-in blower.) The WHO also suggests using the driest wood available, as it burns 25 percent more efficiently, ignites faster, and smokes less.

While it’s tempting to rest your cold feet close to the heat, always be sure to put the screen in place and keep safely back from the flames. And if you have a traditional fireplace, close the flue damper or get a chimney balloon when the fireplace is not in use to prevent warm air from escaping.

2. Bundle up.

Instead of cranking the thermostat to warm up, try warming yourself instead. Keeping your whole body covered is the best way to prevent heat loss. It’s an old wives’ tale that we lose the majority of our body heat through our head. The truth is, we experience heat loss throughout our entire body.

Keep your feet warm with cozy slippers and wear a knit hat, even indoors. Be sure your hat covers your ears. They’re thin but have large surface areas and can lose heat easily. Warm yourself from the inside out by breathing through your nose; doing so warms the cold air to body temperature before it arrives in your lungs.

3. Try thermal curtains.

Whether you have double-pane windows or the dreaded single-pane, all windows are a source of heat loss. To conserve energy, choose window treatments that offer aesthetics as well as function. Heavy curtains with a thermal lining can drastically reduce heat loss. For additional savings, the U.S. Department of Energy suggests hanging the curtains as close to the window as possible and securing them at the bottom and sides to reduce the energy loss by 25%. And if you’re a DIY warrior, try using caulk will seal off the pesky leaks and help keep you warm and toasty.

4. Seal windows with plastic.

Check with your landlord before tackling this project, especially if you want to get your entire security deposit back. Head to the local hardware store and get an inexpensive plastic window-insulator kit. Use your hair dryer to install it and create an insulating barrier you can take down in the spring. The clear plastic covering helps prevent heat from escaping through window crevices, prevents frost buildup, and reduces condensation.

5. Use a draft stopper.

We tend to spend the majority of our time in the main part of our apartment — the kitchen and living rooms. Rather than trying to heat your whole home, shut interior doors: That will help keep the room that you’re in feeling warmer. To ensure that cold air doesn’t seep in, purchase a door draft snake or plastic draft stopper. You can make a draft snake yourself using scrap fabric and sand.

6. Invest in a rug (and liner).

There’s nothing worse than waking up on a chilly morning and plopping your feet on a cold, bare floor. To make your space more comfy and warm, lay down a plush area rug. Not only will a large rug make your room feel cozier, but it also will help mitigate any cold air coming through cracks or gaps in the flooring. Choose a thick felt rug liner – it’ll make your rug even plusher and add extra insulation.

7. Raise your body temperature.

When in doubt, sweat it out. There’s no better way to get warm than to move your body. Even in a small space, there are plenty of ways to raise your heart rate and generate some heat. Push back the coffee table, improvise some weights (canned goods or bottled water will work) and prepare to sweat. If you need some quick home workouts, YouTube is your best friend.


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How to Get Your Home Organized

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Are you looking to get rid of years of old family belongings now that you have an empty nest, or is it time to simplify your hom

By Kendal Perez

Amid the typical New Year’s resolutions, getting organized is an oft-promised, seldom-achieved goal that plagues busy parents, office workers, college students and everyone in between. Clutter and a messy environment are proven causes of distraction and increased stress levels, both of which prohibit creativity and productivity. Despite our best efforts, staying organized is a big challenge when life gets hectic and tossing our belongings wherever they fall trumps storing them where they belong (assuming they have a designated home at all).

Those seeking a more streamlined lifestyle this year are likely influenced by the rise of the minimalist movement, the allure of tiny houses and the surprising popularity of such texts as Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” These trends are not simply strategies for enhanced organization; they’re lifestyles that espouse a more intentional approach to living. Underlying the need to be organized, after all, is a desire for more control.

“Organizing is about making decisions,” says Alison Kero, owner of ACK Organizing in New York City, adding that it’s ultimately about wanting the best for yourself. Consider these steps toward a more organized and intentional life in 2016:

Toss or Donate

Decluttering is a natural first step in getting organized, but experts agree tossing things you don’t want isn’t just about making space for more stuff. “It’s more about becoming aware of what you’re choosing to bring into your life and making a decision to keep it or let it go based on what’s best for you and what you really like,” Kero says. Practically speaking, it’s best to group like items together before you start purging so you can easily identify duplicates and keep your favorites.

“Start by doing an initial sort,” says Sandra Schustack, owner of Clear Your Space East in Manhattan and New York Chapter Board Director for the National Association of Professional Organizers. “Only keep what you use and love; the rest is taking up precious space.”

The idea of your space being “precious” or valuable is key to keeping sentimentality from sabotaging this process. “If you don’t love it, need it, or use it, then it doesn’t deserve a place in your home,” says Janet Bernstein, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of The Organizing Professionals, LLC, in Philadelphia. “I keep my clients focused on this mantra as we’re decluttering,” she says. “It speeds up the process when you’re forced to categorize your possessions in this way.”

Experts also note that getting organized takes time, so don’t expect overnight results. Remove items room by room, starting with the area that bothers you most. That way, you can carry the sense of accomplishment you feel in tackling that room to others throughout your space.

Find a Home for Everything

Putting back items you’ve decided to keep is not as simple as tossing them into a storage container. In fact, rows of clear plastic bins with expertly-applied labels simply disguise chaos as order, and don’t provide for long-term organization.

“The reason so many people find it hard to stay organized is that they do it once, dismantle it when they need something stored at the bottom of the bin, and then don’t have the energy to put it all back together again,” says Holly Rollins, minimalist and blogger at HollyLaurel.com. Instead, determine the proper home for items based on when and where you need them, so access and storage are both intuitive and practical. Moreover, continue the “like with like” grouping strategy you employed during the decluttering process so you always know where to find (and store) batteries, light bulbs and even important documents.

Keep Functionality in Mind

Most experts agree storage containers are worthy investments, but purchasing these items before deciding how they’ll be used is a waste of money. “I see far too many potential clients purchase organizing products believing these items will solve their clutter woes,” Bernstein says. “What they don’t realize is they’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Placing all your cosmetics in a decorative box under your bathroom cabinet may be tidy, but it’s neither functional nor sustainable. Since you use these items frequently, they will likely end up strewn about drawers and countertops more often than tucked behind cabinet doors. Instead, organize your makeup by type within the top drawer of your vanity for easy access. “Get some shallow square and rectangular trays from the dollar store,” suggests Alison Warner, owner of Prepped to Organize, LLC, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. “Stick Velcro tabs on the bottom of each tray to adhere them to the drawer. No more rolling items every time you open the drawer!”

This strategy can be applied elsewhere in your home, including the “junk” drawer in your kitchen or the utility cabinet in your garage. The trick is to organize spaces well enough that replacing items once you’ve used them becomes habit.

Maintain Organization

It doesn’t matter how organized you become; the moment you start to accumulate more stuff, you’ll be surrounded by the very clutter you sought to eliminate in the first place. Before you buy anything new, remember the criterion you used during the decluttering phase. “Keep only what you use, what you love, and what you need,” Rollins says. “If you make and keep this promise to yourself, you’ll never have organization problems again.”


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How to Avoid a War with the Neighbors

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Hispanic referee between arguing neighbors
Hill Street Studios

By Devon Thorsby

A disagreement between neighbors can escalate quickly. One minute you’re mowing your lawn, the next you’re plotting revenge on the homeowner next to you for parking his car on your freshly cut grass.

“You hear about neighbors chasing each other down with spades and all sorts of weird things,” notes Nick Hall, director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Harris County, Texas, which offers mediation for civil disputes, including neighborhood problems.

It doesn’t serve you well to pick a fight with the people who live on the properties surrounding yours, and especially not when you’ve just moved in. But it can be all too easy to start off on the wrong foot with a neighbor, and it can haunt you for years to come. (Another strategy: Check out the neighbors before you buy the house.)

While you don’t have to be the next Lucy and Ethel, you and your neighbors should be able to get along amicably enough to avoid major disagreements when it comes to what you each do with your properties. Follow a few simple guidelines to get on your neighbor’s good side from the start.

Introduce Yourself

You’re not required to bring a casserole, but a knock on the door and friendly handshake will go a long way. It’s harder for your neighbors to make assumptions about you when you approach them with a friendly greeting — and it’s not as easy for them to hate you when they think you’re just so darn sweet.

“Don’t have the first contact with your neighbors be when you need something, or when you have a complaint,” says Stuart Watson, a staff mediator at Resolutions Northwest, a center for dispute resolution in Portland, Oregon. “Build some kind of relationship first, so that when you do want to remodel your garage into a spare rec room … you’re not coming up to somebody you don’t know with demands.”

If you’re moving into a community with a homeowners association or other kind of neighborhood group, Hall says it’s a good idea to attend the first meeting you can and start the relationships early. You can even go as far as offering to organize a community event. “Everyone likes potlucks, so why not do a block party or a street party and invite everyone?” Hall says.

Know the Rules

Everyone wants to think they’re right, but before you do anything to your property, be sure you’re following the neighborhood or municipal rules when it comes to construction, noise and other hot buttons for cranky neighbors.

Reading up on the community’s regulations should happen even before you buy the property, says Brad Aldrich, senior attorney at Aldrich Legal Services in Plymouth, Michigan, who specializes in real estate law, among other areas. Especially if the home you’re buying is part of a homeowners or condo association, be sure any construction or landscaping you do on your property doesn’t put you in the wrong.

“Forget bothering your neighbor — if you wanted to put in a pool, but for whatever reason your local homeowners association didn’t allow pools … you’re not going to be able to put one in,” Aldrich says.

Being familiar with regulations and local ordinances, like setback requirements from the property line for any structures, could help you know if your neighbor is infringing on the rules as well.

“We get a lot of people call in and say, ‘I’ve never owned a home before, and I don’t know if my neighbor is doing something wrong,'” Aldrich says, adding that familiarity with regulations can help you avoid speculation, so any issues are based on fact and written rules or laws.

Let Them Know of Any Changes

Whether you’re planning to redo the landscaping or put an addition on the back of your home, it’s a courtesy to give your neighbors advance warning of any construction on your property.

Renee Bove, a staff mediator with Watson at Resolutions Northwest, says many of the neighbor disputes that come to mediation reach a heightened level simply because one person didn’t communicate well with the other. “Oftentimes, it’s just a simple misunderstanding that somebody had a pretty good intention that kind of backfired and had a negative impact. And they don’t talk about it, so it takes a life of its own,” Bove says.

For example, warning that you plan to put up a tall fence because your dog can jump high will probably go over better than erecting a privacy fence without any notice.

If it Would Bother You, Don’t Do It

The rule of treating others the way you want to be treated still applies as a homeowner. If you keep your neighbors in mind when you make decisions, you’re far less likely to tick them off.

An example: You don’t want excess water runoff on your property, so don’t assume your neighbor will think any differently if you direct your drain pipes at his foundation. Yet, Aldrich says water runoff is a common cause of neighbor disputes.

“If the natural topography of the land is that water runs off into an adjacent property, that’s really not the other property owner’s fault — it’s just the way the land is,” Aldrich says. “But if that property owner were to put in a sump pump and then route the water line to where it dumps directly on the neighbor’s property, well then, that is an act of the one property owner where it does negatively impact the neighbor,” Aldrich says.

In Portland, Bove says a growing topic of dispute involves using a home for Airbnb stays, whether it’s the whole house or individual rooms. The new home rental trend “just brings a lot more traffic and new people into a neighborhood that can be disconcerting for other neighbors,” Bove explains.

It can be useful to have a conversation with your neighbors before listing your home for rent, and, ensure you are not infringing on any laws, guidelines or regulations.

Count to 10

Being a good neighbor doesn’t mean you have to let everyone walk all over you (or your land). If you believe your neighbor is encroaching on your property or your ability to live peacefully, you shouldn’t have to suffer.

But keep in mind, people have a tendency to dig in their heels when they feel their property is being threatened, so it’s best to tread lightly when addressing issues.

“If you give someone a ticket, or if you go to court or to trial of some kind, you’re going to make even bigger enemies of the neighbors,” Hall says. “And yet, [you’re] going to have to continue living together in the same neighborhood.”

Bove uses the example of a homeowner parking a few inches in front of a neighbor’s driveway during a personal emergency. Seeing the car blocking part of the driveway, but not knowing why, the neighbor assumes it is an intentional slight.

“They just didn’t take a moment to come from a place of curiosity: ‘Hey, I noticed your car was in my driveway a little bit. What was happening for you?'” Bove says.

In the event you simply can’t resolve a problem on your own, mediation is often an effective way to ensure both parties are heard, and put some rules down without taking it all the way to court.

Watson estimates mediation through Resolutions Northwest resolves about 80 percent of the disputes brought to them, with a solution made that day. But the number of parties that come out of mediation feeling it was a positive experience is even higher, he says. “Even in those more rare times when they don’t come to some kind of agreement, it was helpful for them to be able to have a discussion and to feel their concerns were heard.”


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4 Steps to a Clean Kitchen, Fresh Start

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beautiful kitchen in new luxury ...
Shutterstock / Breadmaker

By BobVila.com

Most of us make a daily effort to keep our kitchens and food preparation areas fairly clean and tidy. But if you think your kitchen is really clean, you may have to think again.

There are literally dozens of places in your kitchen that are rarely touched in those regular mop-ups, and these areas can detract from the overall appearance and function of one of your most-used rooms. The solution: a kitchen deep-clean.

Every kitchen could use an intense scrub every couple of months, but don’t let that daunt you. Follow this strategy, and your cleaning day will be as painless as it is productive.

1. Clean out your kitchen cabinets.

The kitchen typically is the focal point of most household activity, and therefore accumulates a number of items that don’t necessarily have any business being there. Grab a box or bag, and fill it up with any items – such as books, electronics, and mail – that belong elsewhere.

Once the obvious miscellany are removed, empty all the cupboards and drawers. As you remove dishes, glassware, cookware, and gadgets, separate out any pieces that are damaged or infrequently used into another pile for repair, donation, or trash.

Give your pantry’s contents a quick once-over, too. Throw away any items past their expiration date, and donate anything you won’t eat to the local food pantry.

Before you move your curated collection back in, wipe down all the cabinet interiors and shelves with soapy water. A diluted vinegar spray is ideal for pantry shelves, since its main ingredient is both non-toxic and anti-bacterial. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, then line the shelves with paper for a more visually streamlined appearance.

Finally, fill up your cabinets, making sure the things you use the most – and those closest to expiring – are the easiest to reach.

2. Say goodbye to grime and grease.

Cooking inevitably leads to a sticky buildup of food particles and grease on your cabinets, walls, and countertops, so once you’ve dealt with the interiors, turn your attention to the exteriors.

— Wipe down all surfaces with a kitchen degreaser, then polish the wood and metal with an appropriate polish.

— Unscrew whatever parts can be removed (knobs, pulls, and handles), and place them in a mixture of lemon juice and water. While they soak, you’ll be able to better clean the surface where they attach. Rinse well with water and replace.


Remedies for splotches and stains vary depending on the countertop material. If yours is a wooden butcherblock counter, for example, remove stains with a solution of one teaspoon of lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide per two ounces of water. For laminate, treat stains with a baking soda and water paste. In any case, stick with soft cloths and sponges to avoid scratching up your surface.

— If you have a tile backsplash, scrub the grout lines with lemon juice and salt to get rid of stains and discoloration; rinse with warm water.

— Wipe down door knobs, light fixtures, light switches and switch plates, and any other surfaces that could possibly collect dust, including spice racks, pot hangers, and clocks.


3. Give your appliances some extra TLC.

The surfaces of your fridge, oven, and dishwasher tend to get completely covered in fingerprints, smudges, and germs over time. Start by cleaning their exteriors using the cleanser recommended by the manufacturer. Then target each appliance individually.

— Treat the refrigerator as you did the cabinets. Pull everything out, and toss any food and condiments past their expiration dates. Wipe down all of the emptied appliance’s shelves, drawers, and bins using a vinegar and water mixture. Attack any stubborn spills with the additional scrubbing power of a pinch of baking soda. Refill the fridge, and repeat with your freezer. Before you’ve finished, thoroughly dust and vacuum the unit’s fan and coils.

–Clear your stovetop of any burners and move them to a bucket or sink full of warm, sudsy water while you wash the surface where they sit. Don’t forget to wipe down the front, sides, and knobs, too. Soapy water works for a light cleaning, but if you need to scrub off a stain, mix equal parts water, baking soda, and salt into a mild abrasive paste and let it sit on your spill for a few minutes. Apply the paste to any splotches on the stovetop, then wait a few minutes. Use a little elbow grease to rub off the spot, and wipe away the paste. Rinse and towel off the grates before you replace them.

‚Äč–You’ll have already wiped the worst off the outside of your dishwasher, so freshen the inside by running a couple of almost-empty loads while you work in the kitchen. First, fill a dishwasher-safe bowl with 1 cup vinegar, place it in the top rack, and run a full hot-water cycle. Then remove the bowl, sprinkle a cup of baking soda over the bottom of the appliance, and run it on a short hot-water cycle.

–Wipe down the garbage disposal. Run a few pieces of cut citrus fruit through the garbage disposal to kill any stench, followed by a rinse with boiling-hot water. Even if you don’t have a disposal, at minimum wipe down the tub of your sink, faucet, and knobs. Then flush any potential clogs from its drain with a half-cup baking soda and a half-cup vinegar.

And don’t neglect small countertop appliances in your deep-clean:

–Toaster: Remove the crumb trap, brush away any food particles, and wipe down the exterior.

Coffee maker: Run a 50-50 vinegar-and-water mixture through the machine, then do several water-only brews to wash out the lingering acidic flavor.

–Microwave: Nuke a bowl full of water and cut lemons for 10 to 15 minutes so their steam soaks away all the burnt-on food bits. Wipe the interior clean with a damp microfiber cloth.

4. Finish with the floor.

While wiping down every last surface in your kitchen, you’ve likely knocked more than a few crumbs to the ground. That’s why it’s best to end your deep-clean with a good sweep or vacuum.

Grab your dust-busting instrument of choice, and zero in on the collection along baseboards and heating registers. Use a lightly damp mop and an appropriate cleanser for your flooring to wipe up.

Send soiled towels, oven mitts, rugs, and curtains through the wash and replace.

Return your cleaning supplies to their homes.

Then wash your hands of all the hard work in the fresh sink in your bright, shiny kitchen.


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How to Design a Restful Bedroom

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs

By Kerrie Kelly

November through January is a busy, busy time. With family dinners, office parties and Christmas shopping, lack of sleep inevitably follows and full-blown burnout becomes a very real possibility. Don’t forget to think about yourself. A restful bedroom can be the key to combating fatigue.

Clear the Clutter

It’s often said that a cluttered room is the sign of a cluttered mind. Having too much “stuff” obstructs from the flow of a serene space, and doesn’t tie in well with any design concept.

Take what you love and move it somewhere safe, and get rid of everything else. Having a clear and collected space will lead to a clear and collected life. Don’t you feel better already?

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Soothe with a Calm Color Palette

Nothing whispers “rest” quite like a soft and soothing color palette. From cozy cream to serene beige, color is key when creating a restful bedroom. Refrain from bold colors like red, green, or yellow, and instead use those shades to accent your calming paint choice instead.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Total Texture

Sink into a sound slumber quickly and easily with plush pillows, dreamy duvets, and cozy throw blankets. Layer different textures, prints, and soft colors to create a bed as irresistible as a 3 o’clock nap.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Go Stress-Free with a Sitting Area

Don’t want to ruffle your restful bed sheets? Create a cozy corner instead with a chair, side table, and a great reading lamp. Grab a cozy blanket, sip a cup of tea, and get lost in a good book while relaxing the day away in your rest-inspiring oasis.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Finish with Lush Lighting

When you’re about to drift off to dream land, nothing’s worse than switching from light and bright to dull and dark. Opt for lighting that is dimmable or masked by an opaque shade. Layer lighting with pendants, recessed cans, and tableside lamps for the perfect amount of sparkle.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

The holidays don’t have to mean all-nighters and dazed mornings. Create your restful bedroom using the above elements, your favorite sleep-inducing rituals, and personal touches that you find particularly restful. Sit back, relax, and lull yourself to sleep knowing that the New Year is just around the corner.


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How to Choose the Best Island for a Fabulous New Kitchen

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs

By Kerrie Kelly

There are few better workhorses than the kitchen island. It’s beautiful, simple, and full of storage possibilities. Offering features from scratch-proof counters for chopping to hooks, rods, and bins for stowing, the kitchen island is an invaluable addition to any home.

Best of all, there’s an island option for every style and budget. Here are a few of the best.

Sink Space

If you’re looking for a creative sink solution, consider installing it in the kitchen island. This setup provides a central spot to wash your hands, drain pasta, scrub dishes or rinse produce.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Tucked Away

Kitchen islands usually evoke visions of huge, solid, and largely immobile countertops reserved for spacious kitchens. However, tiny islands are slowly gaining momentum and becoming popular for their mobility, slim size, and ease of access.

Take a look at islands on casters, which can be positioned where they’re most needed, then tucked in a corner or underneath a counter when not in use.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Sit and Stay

Kitchen islands are great for creating an extra sitting area, especially if your kitchen or dining room lacks the space for an actual table.

Choose an extra-long kitchen island with overhang to allow for a few bar stools or tall chairs. Add some festive placemats and a few dining accessories to create a unique tablescape — and clear it all away when you need some extra workspace.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Careful Cubbies

One of the best ways kitchen islands add to a space is by providing unique storage options. In a room so full of doors and hardware, adding small baskets, hooks, and rods can be a fun way to stow your utensils, linens, or knickknacks. Even better, you can switch out the textures and finishes to match your favorite seasonal decor.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

While kitchen islands are most often used as giant cutting boards, they’ve come full circle in design and function, and have proven to be a great way to add substance and style to any kitchen design. Take a look at your space, define your personal style, and determine your needs to find your perfect island oasis.

Get kitchen island inspiration.


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Thanksgiving Toolbox: Peel the Potatoes With a Drill

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By Zillow Team

The big game’s on, family and friends have gathered, and there’s so much to do. Save yourself some time with this speedy trick for peeling potatoes lightning fast.

1. Gather your supplies: a pile of taters and your power drill (with a thoroughly washed bit).


2. Get your potato in position and grab your peeler.


3. Ready, set, peel!


4. Get those bad boys into boiling water and cross “Peel potatoes” off your to-do list.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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How to Get Rid of Private Mortgage Insurance

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By Christine DiGangi

If you want to buy a house but can’t pay 20 percent of the cost upfront, a lender will want you to have private mortgage insurance. PMI protects the lender from loss if you can’t make payments on a loan with less than a 20 percent down payment.

PMI increases a borrower’s monthly mortgage payment, which is why most borrowers don’t want to shoulder it. Short of saving up a sufficient down payment, however, there are only a few ways to avoid PMI or get rid of it.

1. Take Out a Second Mortgage

One way to avoid PMI is to take out what’s sometimes called a piggyback loan or an 80-10-10. In this scenario, you’d take out a mortgage for 80 percent of the value (so it doesn’t require PMI), make a 10 percent down payment and take out a second loan for the remaining 10 percent. You could borrow that 10 percent in the form of an installment loan or a home equity line of credit.

“It’s not always a good idea,” said Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser for C2 Financial Corp. and the author of “The Loan Guide.”

“If you use two loans, you will avoid mortgage insurance, but you should go in with a plan to get rid of the second mortgage as soon as you can,” Fleming said. “Second mortgages are expensive.”

Whether an 80-10-10 is a smart option for you depends on a lot of factors, but it’s something to consider.

2. Have Your Lender Pay for It

Lender-paid mortgage insurance is what it sounds like: Your lender pays the insurance company instead of you. The lender will bump up your interest rate to cover the cost, so even though you’re not paying the mortgage insurance directly, you’re still paying for it by way of interest.

“The justification for doing this is [the homeowner] can deduct all of the interest, where mortgage insurance is not readily deductible,” Fleming said.

The important thing to note here is you can get rid of mortgage insurance, but you’re stuck with the interest rate for the life of the loan.

3. Ask Your Lender to Remove It

The Homeowners Protection Act requires lenders to remove PMI from a loan after the loan balance has fallen to 80 percent of the home’s original purchase price, but there’s a way to get rid of it quicker. Keep an eye on your home’s value. When your home appreciates in value, your loan balance becomes a smaller percentage of your home’s total value. Once your remaining loan balance is at or below 80 percent of your home’s current value, you can ask your lender to remove PMI.

“As soon as you believe you’ve got 20 percent equity, that’s the point at which you should think about contacting your lender,” said Joe Parsons, senior loan officer at PFS Financing in the Northern California suburb of Dublin. You will need to pay for an appraisal, and depending on the kind of appraisal your lender requires and where you live, that appraisal could cost several hundred dollars. Parsons recommended using a real estate site such as Zillow to keep track of your home’s value. That can help avoid wasting money on an appraisal when your property may not yet have appreciated enough to get rid of PMI.

Parsons said he has encountered people who have paid PMI for years longer than they needed to, so it’s important borrowers know to pay attention to property values and ask their lenders to remove mortgage insurance when the time is right.

Another thing to know: Most contracts require the borrower to pay PMI for at least two years, regardless of home value, Fleming said.

4. Refinance

Asking your lender to remove PMI isn’t always an option. For example, FHA loans require mortgage insurance for the life of the loan. In that case, the only way to get rid of it would be to refinance. You could also refinance a conventional loan with insurance to a loan without it.

“In some cases where the rates have decreased, then it can make sense to refinance, even if the rate is only dropping a quarter or half a percent,” Parsons said. The lower rate, combined with the savings of eliminating PMI, can save the borrower money. Keep in mind there are costs associated with refinancing, and you reset the clock when you take out a new loan.

Parsons and Fleming mentioned refinancing as a way to get rid of insurance only when mortgage rates have gone down.

“I wouldn’t refinance just to get rid of the [PMI],” Parsons said. “Usually there’s a cheaper way.”

Another way to avoid mortgage insurance for U.S. military veterans is to take out a VA loan , but that’s not an option for every borrower.

There are dozens of factors to consider when deciding how and when to borrow to buy a home. As you figure it out, one of your top priorities should be to build good credit, because it will heavily factor into your mortgage approval and pricing. To see where you stand, you can check your free credit score every 30 days on Credit.com.


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