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5 Ways to Protect Your Plumbing in Winter

For those of us who live in a climate where temperatures dip below freezing during winter, special attention needs to be given to protecting our homes against harsh temperatures. Pipes, in particular, are prone to damage from freezing then bursting, leading to potential flooding and costly repairs.

house in winter – heating system concept and cold snowy weather with model of a house wearing a knitted cap

As with most home emergencies, preparedness is your best defence. From Oklahoma’s Champion Plumbing, here are some important steps to take to help prevent a plumbing nightmare this winter.

Prepare water heaters. Making sure your water heater is in good working condition is essential during the winter months. Insulate exposed water heater pipes to make sure your water remains hot and to prevent the pipes from freezing.

Seal any cracks around pipes. Pipes often run along the floor and behind walls, leaving them more exposed to cold weather. That’s why it’s important to seal up any holes on the interior and exterior portion of the wall using caulk or spray.

Flush water heaters. Flushing the water heater helps remove any built-up sediment in the unit. Eliminating the sediment will help extend the life of the unit while also preventing rust and clogs in the drain valve.

Keep your home warm. Making sure your home is well-heated during winter will help keep interior pipes warm. Keep interior doors open to allow the heat to warm the pipes as well as increase circulation in the home. Open cabinet doors on especially cold days to bring extra warmth to pipes located under sinks.

Add extra insulation. Increasing insulation inside of a home will help increase and maintain heat. Consider adding extra insulation in attics, crawl spaces and basements.

The Best Homebuying Strategy

You don’t want to throw money away on rent anymore, do you? Instead, you can build an asset that can grow large if you handle your money wisely. Your best strategy? Prepare financially—now.

Down-payments. Small down-payments spell risk for lenders. You’ll pay a higher interest rate and you’ll have to get private mortgage insurance, about 0.5 to 1.0 percent of your mortgage. That’s about $2,000 a year on a $200,000 mortgage, which will add about $167 to your monthly bills.   

While 20 percent down is ideal, paying PMI allows you to get into a home faster with less money down. You’ll benefit in a desirable housing market where home equity is rising.

The costs of homeownership. According to The Motley Fool, you should prepare to pay about two to five percent of the transaction in closing costs. Afterwards, expect to pay for maintenance and repairs, which average about one percent of your home’s annual value. 

Property taxes can be reassessed annually by multiplying your home’s value by the mill rate (percentage) for your county. Prepare for utilities to rise in winter and summer.

Debt management. Money guru Dave Ramsey says buying a home when you’re in debt is like running a marathon with weights chained to your legs.

Rutgers University economists suggest your monthly consumer debt service should be no higher than 10 percent of your net income. At 20 percent or more, you’re in the danger zone. Divide your monthly consumer debt payments by your total net income to find your percentage.

New Trends for Nurseries in 2021

If you’ll be bringing home a baby in the next few months, you may be thinking about decorating a nursery—a cozy space designed to nurture, inspire and grow as your little one does.


Whether or not you know baby’s sex, recent trends are to gender-neutral colors over traditional blues or pinks, partly because many parents don’t want their little boys or girls conditioned from early on, but also because neutral backgrounds allow for greater decorative freedom. 

Here are some of the top decorating trends for nurseries in 2021:

Gray is the new yellow – While yellow still works as a gender-neutral shade, gray provides a fresh, modern update that is versatile enough to pair with almost any color palette. Bright hues in décor or furniture look especially beautiful against a light or medium gray.

Wall murals are back – …and they’ve gotten a major upgrade. Gone are the days of the simple baby duck murals. Beautifully illustrated trees or a choice of playful scenes are now available via wall decals. A bold, graphic wallpaper is another great idea for upping the design game in your space, typically on only one wall.

Gallery walls add interest – Instead of hanging one or two larger pictures, consider a gallery wall featuring a dozen or so illustrations from children’s fairytale books displayed in varying sizes of simple white frames, or choose any theme of your liking. You can even choose a mix of subjects to add more visual interest.

Animals are timeless – Animal decor is always a fun option for a gender-neutral nursery. Again, you can choose to stick to a theme—woodland, zoo or farm animals for example—or feature one type of animal throughout the space. Add a giant stuffed animal and/or an animal-shaped hamper for extra fun.

Don’t forget the ceiling – Wallpapering the ceiling is another great nursery option when you want to up your design game. Pair the theme of your ceiling with curtains for an unexpected, super modern look.

How to Avoid Becoming ‘House Poor’

If you’re searching for a new home, you may want to buy a house that has plenty of bedrooms, a sizable yard and various amenities. It’s easy to spend too much and wind up being “house poor.” Here are some tips to avoid that.

What Does It Mean to Be ‘House Poor?’
Being house poor means that homeowners devote such a large percentage of their income to a mortgage, private mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance, utilities and maintenance that they struggle to pay for other things. Homeowners who are house poor may find it difficult or impossible to cover car payments and credit card bills, build a significant emergency fund, save for their own retirement and their children’s college education, and pay for entertainment and vacations.

How Can This Happen?
When prospective buyers seek mortgage pre approval, lenders tell them how much money they can borrow, but that doesn’t mean that they should borrow that amount. Lenders may not consider other expenses such as healthcare, childcare, retirement savings, college tuition savings, new cars and hobbies. 

When looking for a house, many people don’t factor homeowners insurance and PMI into their calculations, or they greatly underestimate how much they will have to spend on maintenance. Some buyers feel a desire or pressure to buy a house that is similar to or better than those their family members and friends own and end up getting in over their heads financially.

How to Choose a House You Can Afford
Be realistic about the costs of homeownership and don’t plan to borrow the full amount a lender pre approved you for. Make a list of all your current monthly bills and estimate costs for mortgage payments, private mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance and other expenses. Leave room in your budget to save for long-term goals and build an emergency fund to cover unanticipated costs.

It may be a good idea to postpone a home purchase so you can save more money for a down payment. That can allow you to enjoy lower monthly mortgage payments and may help you avoid PMI. It can also allow you to build up a substantial emergency fund to cover unanticipated housing costs or a potential job loss or pay cut. 

Make a Wise and Informed Decision
Many people, especially first-time buyers, are shocked by the costs associated with homeownership and often find themselves overwhelmed. Even if you can afford all the costs now, your family’s financial circumstances may change in the future. If you buy a house at the lower end of your price range, it may not have all the features that you would like, but you may not mind that if you can cover your bills, have fun with your family and plan for the future, all without stressing about how to afford it.

Should You Lock or Float Your Interest Rate?

Interest rates can go up or down on a daily basis. If you’re planning to buy a home or refinance your mortgage, locking or floating the interest rate may help you save money over the term of the loan.

Rate Lock
Locking an interest rate can protect you from market fluctuations. If you choose a rate lock, your lender will honor the current interest rate for a period of time, usually 30 or 60 days. 

If interest rates go up during that time, in most cases, you will still be eligible for your locked-in rate. If you lock in a rate and the rates drop, you will most likely be stuck with the rate you locked in. If you decide to apply for a different type of mortgage than you initially chose, if your credit score changes or if the house appraises for more or less than you expected, that may affect the rate lock. 

Locking in an interest rate does not mean that you are required to take out a mortgage through that lender. You can walk away if you find a lower rate elsewhere, but you may have to forfeit any fees you paid to lock in the rate.

A float-down option can be included in a rate lock so you can be eligible for a lower interest rate if rates fall between now and when you close on your mortgage. A lender may charge a higher fee for a float-down than for a standard rate lock.

Lenders typically offer several interest rates for borrowers with different credit scores. Before you choose a float-down, make sure you know how the lender will decide which rate you are eligible for. 

With a float-down, you may only qualify for a lower interest rate if it is a specific amount below your original rate. If rates will have to fall substantially for you to have a shot at a lower rate, you may decide that it’s not worth it to pay the extra fee. If you choose a float-down and lock in a lower rate, you won’t be able to get an even lower rate if interest rates drop again before you close on your mortgage.

Floating an Interest Rate
Floating an interest rate means not locking it in. If you decide to float the interest rate, you may wind up with a rate that is higher or lower than the one that was available when you applied for a loan. That may be risky since interest rates can be volatile. 

Which Option Should You Choose?
Choosing a float-down may be a smart move if you think interest rates may go down significantly. Floating the interest rate may make sense if rates are following a general downward trend. The fees associated with each option may vary from one lender to another. 

Tips for Saving for Your First House

Buying your first home is an exciting transition, but a home will be one of the largest financial investments you will make. Making sure that you are as prepared as possible is key. Saving for your home may feel like a big undertaking, but there are a few tricks you can use to make it easier.

Determine Your Budget
No good financial decisions can be made without a proper budget. Assess your most vital expenses and go from there. Ensure that you have a dedicated savings account for emergencies (experts recommend that you have at least three months of your income saved) and a separate savings for your future downpayment. Check with a financial planner to help you make the most of your budget long-term.

Address Your Debt
Debt can prevent you from achieving your house-buying dreams in two ways. First, and most obviously, bills for excess debt detract from your monthly budget. Secondly, if your debt-to-income ratio is unfavorable, you will be prevented from getting a mortgage or a reasonable rate when you go to buy a home. Address your debt selectively. You may be tempted to pay everything off before buying a home, but closing accounts can have a negative effect on your credit as well. Keeping lines of credit open, but with low balances, can be an excellent way to ensure a high credit score and a low monthly bill.

Do Your Homework
Saving for a home is a great goal, but you must be specific. Do your homework and check your area’s housing market. Additionally, find out what assistance you may qualify for. Between grants and FHA loan options, you may find you don’t need to save a standard 20 percent for a downpayment. Shop around and be sure you find a broker that will go the extra mile to find you the best deal.

A little research and some great planning can guarantee that you will be holding the keys to your dream home before you know it.

New Considerations in Home Design: Privacy and Space

According to a recent report from Zillow, home builders are predicting that there will be a move away from open floor plans as homeowners seek out increased privacy, as well as an increased demand for more space.

Growing in popularity for decades, open floor plans have also been touted by popular home-design programs in recent years. In fact, Zillow research found that the share of for-sale listings mentioning open concept layouts more than doubled since 2015.

However, in the wake of the coronavirus, homeowners are discovering that the lack of privacy involved in an open design concept can often be a detriment. In a recent survey by Zillow and The Harris Poll, 27 percent of those surveyed said they would consider moving to have a home with more rooms—one of the top reasons for considering a move—after spending more time at home because of coronavirus orders.

Homebuilders agree. The experts at Berks Homes believe that homes built post-coronavirus will have more doors for privacy, dedicated home-office space, better insulation for noise control and separate spaces for kids. The pros at Pyatt Builders believe that open concepts won’t disappear, but will be approached differently, highlighted by features like barn doors, which preserve the feel of openness yet allow for private, multi-use space.

Other emerging home trends will include germ-preventing features, such as mudrooms, allowing family members to remove shoes and wash hands before entering the house, and smart home technology like touchless faucets and self-cleaning toilets.

According to Zillow research, home shoppers are clearly interested in starting from scratch when it comes to home design—searches for new construction homes are up 73 percent from 2019.

10 Ways to Help Rein in Spending

If, like many Americans, you find your money runs out before the month does, it may be because you don’t keep track of your spending. Budgeting helps, financial advisors assure us, but budget or no budget, there are ways to rein in your spending that may be less painful than you think:

  1. Plan meals ahead and shop with a list. Planning out your meals for the week and shopping with a list can rein in food costs big time. As tempting as store displays may be, resist the urge to splurge.
  2. Stop buying brand name products. When shopping, you may automatically reach for the branded products you know. But many generic brand products work just as well as their branded counterparts and cost considerably less. 
  3. Don’t buy bottled water. It’s a $20 billion industry that is costing you money. Buy a water filter, if you need to, and carry a reusable water bottle.
  4. Make your own coffee. Americans love their coffee, but if you’re spending $10 to $25 a week at the corner shop, you are spending $500 to more than $1,000 a year. Make your coffee at home, carry a reusable cup and save your cash.
  5. Consider buying used. Whether it’s a car, household goods or even furniture, you can often find great buys on gently used items and save big bucks.
  6. Check your 401(k) fees. Congratulations if you’re stocking away funds for retirement, but paying high fees can reduce your savings. Check to see how much is being taken off the top and make changes as needed. 
  7. Consolidate student loans. If you’re paying down multiple loans, consolidating them may save you money and/or extend the repayment period.
  8. Don’t pay unnecessary bank fees. If you’re paying monthly fees, shop around for cheaper banking services. Don’t use an ATM out of your network, and be sure you have fee-free checking.
  9. Turn down the thermostat. Save on heating costs. Put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat a few degrees, especially during the day and early evening. 
  10. Check your tires. According to the Department of Energy, you can save as much as 3 percent a year on gas when your tires are properly inflated. 

Five Tips for a Hassle-Free Moving Day

Moving vans are criss-crossing the nation in great numbers these days, as consumers take advantage of historically low mortgage rates to upgrade their living space and grab their piece of the American Dream.

The New York Times reported recently that moving companies are so busy, they are turning people away, and in most areas of the country, movers need to be booked way in advance of your moving day.

But the big day will arrive sooner than you think and you’ll want it to go as smoothly as possible. Moving professionals offer five tips for ensuring that it does:

List last-minute chores. You’ve spent weeks sorting, packing and preparing for your move, but certain tasks cannot be accomplished in advance, like emptying and/or cleaning out the fridge and freezer, getting kids or pets to scheduled sitters, or taking out the last of the trash. Making a list will make it easier for you to check off last-minute needs.

Prepare a go-bag. Pack a box or suitcase with stuff you’ll need on moving day or the day after, as well as documents and valuables you don’t want to load onto the moving truck, such as phone chargers, toiletries, medications and an extra set of clothes for each family member. For a long journey, you may also want to fill a small cooler with water and healthy snacks or pre-made sandwiches.

Leave out basic cleaning supplies. You’ve likely done a thorough house cleaning by now, but once the furniture and packed cartons are gone, you may see dirty areas you didn’t notice earlier. Keep rags or paper towels and a few basic cleansers handy for tackling dust bunnies behind the now-gone sofa, or grime where the fridge once stood.

Do one last walk-through. Anything left behind may be difficult to retrieve later, so open all kitchen and bathroom drawers and cabinets, bedroom closets, coat closets and any other built-in areas where items may have escaped notice. 

Have some cash on hand. While a credit card can cover unexpected stops for lunch or other purchases, you may want to have cash to tip your professional movers. Such tips are not mandatory, but if they’ve done a good job, consider tipping $20 per helper.

4 Things to Ignore When Viewing a For-Sale Home

Though it is common to stage a home for in-person showings and listing pictures, there may be a house you visit or view that has some unique, even borderline odd features from the current residents. Agents will always suggest that homeowners looking to sell should clean and declutter their homes, however, this is not required. Unfortunately, these things can become distracting, especially when you love the layout, location and style of the home itself. Here are a few strange, ugly and even unsightly things you should ignore when considering making an offer on your next home.

Uncommon Uses for Rooms
Many homeowners will turn spare bedrooms into offices or dining rooms into gyms. Some may even use these spaces in stranger ways. But just because they use these rooms for strange or unusual reasons doesn’t mean you have to. If you come across a home you like, but the current homeowner utilizes space in a different way, try and remember that you can make it into anything you desire once it’s yours. 

Off-Putting Wallpaper or Paint Color
Though many buyers, especially millennials, prefer a turnkey or move-in ready home, the reality is, that is not guaranteed. This is especially true when viewing an older home or one that the current homeowners have lived in for many years, even generations. It is important to look past the outdated floral wallpaper or an unusual paint color. These are things that can always be tackled later on. Painting or replacing wallpaper doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, and can be done before moving in.

Dirty Floors and Carpets
Similar to the walls, floors can have a prominent effect on a buyer’s view of a home. If a wall-to-wall carpet is excessively dirty or stained, this may steer you away. Same goes for a hardwood or tile floor that may be old and outdated. However, these are easy changes. New flooring and carpeting or a deep clean may be the answer to making this space exactly what you want. Consider speaking with the sellers about replacing a damaged or stained carpet, or lower your offer as a contingency for purchasing the home. Just be sure to not let this steer you away.

Obvious Personal Presence
It can be difficult to imagine you and your family living in a home where there are multiple family portraits and other personal belongings strewn across a home. However, if the seller decides not to remove these items, buyers may need to look past them in order to obtain their dream home. The same thing can be said for messes, as many buyers may not feel comfortable getting into closets and cabinets surrounded by the seller’s clutter. Do your best to ignore the things you can change later on and decide whether or not you can make this house your home. 

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