5 budget-friendly master bathroom upgrades you’ll cherish for years

Budget-friendly bathroom upgrades

(BPT) – What does your bathroom mean to you? Is it an oasis, a place to unwind, relax and let the cares of the day simply melt away? Or is it just another room in your house?

If your answer is the latter, then your bathroom isn’t doing everything it could. The good news is, getting your space there doesn’t have to break your bank or signal a months-long remodeling process. The truth is there are plenty of unique, invigorating ways for you to reinvent your bathroom space — some of which you can tackle yourself, and all of which can be budget friendly.

So if you’re ready to turn your master bathroom from a simple location to the desired destination, do so with any or all of these five projects.

* Repainting in your image. When it comes to affordable projects that redefine the look of a room, it’s hard to beat a fresh coat of paint. Changing the color of your bathroom changes the entire appearance, and if you’re ready to strap on some clothes you don’t mind destroying, there’s no reason you can’t tackle this project yourself. Pick a color that matches your tastes and your space and your bathroom will take on a whole new feel.

* Get soaking. Remember all that talk about the oasis? It really starts with the tub. The Sterling Lawson Oval Bath offers beautiful style at an affordable price with soaking and whirlpool models. The bath can be situated to fit nearly any bathroom layout, and with a headrest and lumbar support included, as well as six jets featuring variable control, the Lawson oval bath is your perfect getaway that doesn’t require you to actually get away.

* Fix up the fixtures. A brand-new tub completely redefines your bathroom, and if you want to bring the rest of your bathroom up-to-date as well, replacing your existing fixtures with new models is an easy way to do it. From towel racks to faucets and shower hardware, new fixtures are an effective way to show your sense of style and bring cohesion to your space while capitalizing on the latest technology.

* Finish the flooring. Your new bathroom deserves to look good from top to bottom. Pick a flooring style that speaks to you, spoil yourself with heated floors and rest easy knowing you’ll never have to grout again.

* Shed a whole new light. There is perhaps no room where lighting is more important than the bathroom. If your current bathroom feels more like a cave than spa, it’s time for a major lighting overhaul. Modern fixtures allow you to use fewer bulbs more efficiently, and installing a dimmer switch gives you the bright light when you need it without blinding yourself in the morning. Lastly, this is a great time to replace all of your old bulbs with energy-efficient options. They’ll last as much as 25 times longer, and replacing your most often-used bulbs can save you as much as $75 per year on your energy bill.

Start improving your bathroom today

Many people see their bathroom as a functional space in their home when it has the potential to be so much more. Apply any or all of the tips above and you’ll turn your bathroom from a functional space to the oasis you’ve always wanted.

Spinach Dip

spinach dip recipe

A flavorful spinach dip for an afterschool snack or double the
recipe to feed a crowd.

Ingredients
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (16 oz) container sour cream
1 (1.8 oz) package dry leek soup mix
1 (4 oz) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/2 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed & drained (or 1 cup fresh spinach)

Directions
In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, dry leek soup mix, water chestnuts and chopped spinach. Chill in the refrigerator 6 hours, or overnight.

For serving, you have several options: pita chips, slice a French baguette or remove top and interior of sourdough bread round. Fill with the dip and tear removed bread chunks into pieces for dipping.

 

Essential Maintenance Tasks for Appliances

ESSENTIAL MAINTENANCE TASKS TO KEEP HOME APPLIANCES RUN EFFICIENTLY

Today’s typical family home is a buzzing hub of activity where meals are cooked, homework is done and family game nights are contested. In the background of it all: the home appliances that keep home life moving along. Focusing on a few maintenance tasks can keep home appliances performing efficiently and effectively.

Maintain tools

Keep appliances and cleaning tools running well so they continue to get the job done. Replace vacuum belts periodically to keep your vacuum cleaner running like new, and swap out lawn mowers’ spark plugs once a year to ensure the mower is easy to start. Stock up on extra batteries for cordless vacuums, leaf blowers or other lawn equipment used frequently.

Focus on filtration

Replace vacuum cleaners’ accessories often for best performance. Bags need to be replaced every one to two months, while a new filter is needed every three to six months. A full vacuum bag or clogged filter can inhibit the vacuum’s effectiveness, reducing suction and leaving allergens and dust behind. Washable filters should be replaced too, as they may begin to lose effectiveness after a couple of washes.

For great vacuum performance, use Arm & Hammer vacuum bags and filters to capture allergens, dust and pet hair from surfaces. The bags and filters also safely and naturally absorb offensive smells through the odor-fighting power of baking soda.

In addition to vacuum filters, make sure to replace HVAC filters. Furnaces and central air conditioners run more efficiently and provide higher quality air filtration with clean filters. Change filters frequently to keep home heating and cooling at a high level.

Clean appliances

While every appliance has a unique way to clean it, they all have one rule in common: Never, ever let spills or splatters linger. Whether it is on the stove, in the microwave or in the refrigerator, the longer deposits remain, the harder they are to clean. Keeping these appliances clean will mean that a deeper scrubbing is only needed occasionally.

Refrigerators – Twice a year, pull out the refrigerator to clean behind and under it. Mop the floor and use a vacuum to remove dust from the coils in back. This will decrease the stress put on the motor and can prolong the life of the refrigerator. Use soapy water to clean shelves, and a damp cloth to remove fingerprints from the front or sides.

Dishwashers – About once a month, check and clean the drain and wipe down the door seals and spray arm.

Oven – Embrace the self-cleaning option on the oven to do the heavy lifting whenever it is needed. Wipe down the inside of the door and creases to ensure there are not crumbs accumulating. Soak burners, knobs, racks and hood vents twice a year to keep them free of grime.

Microwave – Clean the rotating microwave plate weekly in the dishwasher. When needed, put a bowl of water with lemons in the microwave and run it for three minutes, then let stand for five minutes before wiping down the inside.

Washing machine – Always wipe out the machine to ensure there is no water left sitting in it. For a deeper clean, run the washer with bleach in the dispenser, pause the machine and let the bleach mixture settle for an hour, then complete the cycle before wiping it out.

Coffee maker – Hand wash the filter tray, exposed areas, and crevices weekly, and run water with a bit of vinegar through – without coffee – to clean the inner mechanisms.

Safety first

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in the home to keep families safe – but they need new batteries to ensure equipment is working as it should. Every six months, change the batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms and make sure fire extinguishers are still in place and not expired.

 

 

Ten Steps For A First-Time Home Seller

Ten Steps For A First-Time Home Seller tma farmnet blog

Homeowners do not generally think about filling the shoes of a first-time home seller until they decide to buy a new home. Usually, the motivating factor is the need to move — due to work-related issues or the needs of a growing family — and that generally involves buying another house. It is when the homeowners stop to consider the move that it may dawn on them, yes, because they need to sell, they are now a first-time home seller.

Selling a home is very different from buying a home. Whereas buying a home generally involves emotions and feelings, selling a home typically centers on what listing agents like to call maximizing profit potential.

The First Step: Price your home accurately. For this, you should enlist the help of a reputable listing agent. Do not choose your cousin’s sister-in-law, for example, who dabbles in real estate. You will fare much better if you select an experienced real estate agent who sells a fair number of listings, preferably in your neighborhood.

Your agent will analyze comparable sales and prepare an estimate of value often called a CMA, for comparative market analysis. It is OK to compare the Zestimate at Zillow but note the variances your agent will point out because your listing agent should have the experience and education to provide you with a more accurate opinion of value.

The Second Step: Ask your agent to advise you on preparing your home for sale. Most homes show better with about half of the furniture removed. If a buyer walks in the door and wonders if anybody lives in the house, you have done your job correctly. Consider home staging to boost your selling power and appeal.

Painting is the single most effective improvement you can make. Do not let dings in the woodwork or scraps on the walls make your home reflect deferred maintenance.

The Third Step: Choose the best day to list your home. This time period will vary depending on your local community, the weather, time of year, and a host of other factors, including the state of your present real estate market. It is not like that movie Groundhog Day. You basically get one chance to present your home in hopefully its best light the first day on the market.

The Fourth Step: Ask about your agent’s standard real estate commission before you get too far down the line. If it is reasonable, consider the big picture and benefits to you to hire this individual. Check track records for performance. Do not expect a full-service agent to discount. Getting into a contract is only the beginning; you need to make it all the way to closing.

Your home will not sell itself, despite what you may read or hear or the propensity of real estate websites to make the process appear as easy as the click of a mouse. It is not. You do not know what you do not know. To get the most money from the sale of your home, you will most likely rely on the professionals you have hired to sell your home.

Do not try to pit agents against each other to compete for commission or you will increase the chances you will end up with a weasel. You do not deserve a weasel.

The Fifth Step: Be flexible with showings. If home showings are too much of an imposition, consider going away the first weekend your home is on the market. Yes, it can feel a bit intrusive to allow strangers to trek through your home and check out your soft-closing drawers in the kitchen. The best way to sell your home is to let a buyer inside with her buyer’s agent to tour in peace and quiet. Leave the house when buyer’s agents show up. Anything you say can and will be used against you, plus, buyer’s agents prefer to show without interference.

The Sixth Step: Allow an open house if your home is conducive to an open house. Not every home is a viable candidate for an open house. If your home is located in an area close to major traffic, that is generally indicative of a reasonable expectation that the open house signs will pull in visitors. Ask your agent if she advertises the open house online. Many a home buyer has had no desire to buy a home until she spots an open house and subsequently falls in love.

The Seventh Step: Insist on professional photography. Of course, if you have hired a top-notch listing agent, your agent most likely already provides professional photos. It is not enough to just get the angle right in the photo, the most popular photos are rich in color and depth, and they entice. Ask to approve the virtual tour or photo tour before it publishes.

The Eighth Step: Review your listing online. Look at your home listing on various websites to make sure the information conveyed is accurate. Agents do their best to ensure accuracy, but since it is your home, you know the details better than anyone. If you spot a feature that is missing, contact your agent immediately and ask for an inclusion.

The Ninth Step: Try to respond promptly to a purchase offer. Many offers contain a date by which the offer expires. Notwithstanding, it can drive buyers crazy if they are forced to wait for a seller to decide whether to accept their offer or to issue a counteroffer. Remember, if you are selling because you need to buy a new home, you are no different when you are a home buyer yourself.

The Tenth Step: Line up your movers early. If you are thinking about moving at the end of May, for example, which is the busiest time of the year for movers, you might find it is impossible to locate movers for the day you want. You can start packing before your home hits the market, which will give you a head start on the process. It will also give you peace of mind to be prepared. Selling can be stressful enough.

 

Increase Kitchen Efficiency with Ease

Increase Kitchen Efficiency with Ease

Now that the busy holidays are behind us it is time to resolve how you can stay organized and create a functional space for family and friends to enjoy in the new year.

Plan in advance
Set aside time early in the week to plan the menu, from simple appetizers to the main entree. Grocery shopping apps, like AnyList, allow the whole family to share and build lists together – which can help avoid any last-minute trips to the grocery store. Also, try to identify dishes that can be prepared in advance, so more time can be spent away from the kitchen when guests arrive.

Maximize storage and counter space
Optimize counter space by designing small stations for easy access to the necessities. A coffee bar “nook” complete with Keurig cups and mugs can help kick-start a busy day. Storage near the fridge should be stocked with foil and containers, ideal for packing up leftovers after a large party. Reserve the island counter for meal prep and the cabinets below for serving ware and glassware storage.

Keep all staples in arm’s reach
Cooking can be made simple by organizing the essentials. Keep similar tools together, such as bakeware and cookie sheets in one drawer, and pantry staples in another. Spices and herbs should be alphabetized and stored near the stovetop to effortlessly add flavor. For those with design in mind, opt for open shelves to showcase dishes and small kitchen accessories, such as succulents and cookbooks, while keeping everything within reach.

Simplify kitchen cleanup
Cleaning is often the most time-intensive chore in the kitchen, but if designed right, can be a breeze for home entertainers and kids alike. There are many new kitchen faucets that come complete with features that offer laser-like precision to contain splatter, meaning less soaking, scrubbing and shirt swapping.

Time-Saving Tricks that Save Hours Each Week

Time-Saving Tricks that Save Hours Each Week

When you look at your to-do list, does it seem a mile long? From running errands, returning emails and making hurried trips to the ATM, modern life has never been busier for Americans.

You can reclaim your day by using a few simple time-saving methods. By simplifying common tasks, you can open up hours each week plus reduce stress levels. The following are some strategies to consider if you want to make a big impact.

Handheld financial freedom
Need to pay the babysitter, split the lunch bill or send money to your sister for grandma’s birthday gift? No need to run to the ATM. Person-to-person (P2P) payment options make it safe and simple to send money instantly.
Gareth Gaston, executive vice president of Omnichannel for U.S. Bank, shared results from the U.S. Bank Cash Behavior survey, which shows that 47 percent of people prefer to use digital apps to make payments versus cash. What’s more, this desire crosses generations, so both boomers and millennials – and everyone in between – want to digitize personal payments.
A great, hassle-free option for P2P is Zelle, a payment network backed by leading financial institutions including U.S. Bank. Zelle works through your mobile banking app and allows you to quickly and securely send and receive payments. Plus, once you are registered, there is virtually no waiting period – accounts instantly reflect deposits and transfers. Imagine the time saved when you eliminate last-minute cash runs. Learn more at www.USbank.com/zelle.

Work smarter, not harder
Whether you are a bi-coastal professional or a stay-at-home parent, you have a lot to get done and little time to do it. With some strategic planning, your days will be less hectic while maximizing productivity.
Being proactive and organized can save loads of time. For example, on Sunday, organize outfits for the entire week for you and the kids. Another smart tip is to pack lunches, backpacks, and briefcases the night prior. Do these things and your mornings will be smooth sailing.
Another huge time-saver is how you communicate. Rather than responding to messages as they come, block specific times on your calendar – such as at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – to respond to communication. When you return emails, calls, and texts in batches, you save time by stringing out these activities throughout the day. Bonus tip: for smartphone addicts, make sure you program to auto-fill words you commonly use to make finger typing lightning-fast.

Shop savvy and eliminate errands
Running around town can eat up a lot of your valuable time. If you can automate deliveries of frequently used items, do it. Common household goods that are always on your list will no longer be a reason that drags you out the door.
Additionally, many retailers now offer online order and pickup options. This means you do all your shopping from the comfort of your home or office and then just swing by the store and they load your bags into your car. No crammed aisles, no long lines, no stress.
From eliminating the need for cash on hand to easing email overload, these smart tips will save you time so you can spend your spare moments doing the things you really love. Reclaim your life by adopting these strategies today.

Winter Care For Houseplants

winter care for houseplants

As the weather varies each winter, there is a chill in the air and that usually means the heater is running inside. This is a good time to give your houseplants some additional attention. Here is a general list of helpful houseplant care tips:

  • Keep houseplants out of drafts and in the brightest spot possible.
  • Increase humidity around tropical plants.
  • Reduce fertilization, but continue watering (may water less often, but the same amount). Make sure your water is room temperature.
  • Address any insect and disease problems.
  • Keep plants clean by gently wiping or rinsing.

Also, you can:

  • Give extra protection on chilly nights by closing drapes and making sure plants do not touch the cold glass.
  • Give your holiday cactus a rest this month, by watering sparingly but keeping it in indirect light.
  • Plant into a new pot any indoor plants that are pot-bound.
  • Cover or wrap new houseplants when transporting to keep them from cold air on the trip home.

 

Top 5 Features Millennials Look for in a Home

Top 5 Features Millennials Look for in a Home

For generations, homeownership has been part of the American dream. For most Americans, it is the largest, most significant investment they will make, and because homeownership is the best way to grow their wealth, the most important investment as well.

As the youngest generation of new homeowners, millennials are entering the housing market and are eager to get a home to fit their unique lifestyles. Just as every generation has its own music, its distinct style and look, the new generation of homeowners has different expectations than buyers did a few decades ago. To shed some light on these evolving home trends, here are five of the most popular features millennials look for in a home.

  1. It needs to be energy efficient. More than other generations, millennials are particularly concerned with their impact on the environment. As such, they want to be sure the home they buy will have a minimal carbon footprint. Some energy-efficient features that are a priority for homebuyers are UV-protected windows, programmable thermostats, efficient appliances and upgraded insulation.
  2. It needs to be customized to their tastes. It is not enough to find a home that is merely “livable”; millennials want a house that is an outward and inward expression of who they are. Translation: The one-size-fits-all model is no longer sufficient. This is one reason manufactured and modular homes have become so popular. They offer diverse floor plans with a number of customizable options to suit individuals’ needs and unique styles. There are even models with built-in home features for pets!
  3. Rethinking space usage. The era of buying a house as big as you can afford is on the way out. Many millennials are forgoing the extra bedrooms and enormous living rooms. These homebuyers prefer smarter ways to utilize space for their family’s needs, while keeping a cozy and intimate atmosphere.
  4. Open floor plan. In a world where everyone seems to be plugged into their phones and staring at their individual screens, the open floor plan has emerged as a way for families and guests to come together and share the same space. Basically, the fewer walls between the kitchen, dining room and living room, the better. This floor plan also aids homeowners with their entertaining needs and provides more natural light, which is very big for this young generation. 
  1. A room for a home office. The millennial workforce is a mobile workforce, and just as this generation is transforming the home market, it is also transforming the workplace. Millions of Americans work from home and many more are often given the option to work a day or two a week from home. With this shift, many potential homeowners want to be sure there is a suitable workspace for an office.

With evolving needs and different tastes, many millennials worry that they will spend a lot of time searching for that one, perfect dream home, with an emphasis on the perfect open-concept kitchen, with outdoor living areas, and multifunctional spaces. Millennials will bring new buyers to the market, so if you are considering selling your home, let me help you make it market -ready for every generation.

 

Skillet Toffee

holidays #holidaygiving

Ingredients:
1 pound unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup chopped toasted blanched almonds

Directions:
Line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch x 15-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. As the butter melts, stir in the sugar and salt. Continue stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon, keeping the sides of pan clean by brushing occasionally with a wet pastry brush. The mixture should bubble as you stir. Cook until the mixture turns a deep auburn brown and registers 300°F on a candy thermometer, taking care not to burn it. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour the mixture onto the lined baking sheet. Allow it to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then sprinkle the mixture with the chocolate. When the chocolate looks glossy, spread it with an offset cake spatula, and sprinkle with the nuts. Gently press the nuts into the chocolate.

Cool completely (at least 6 hours) then break the toffee into chunks.

PASSWORD SAFETY: Top tips for locking down your online security

Passwords: Top tips for locking down your online security

We all know hiding your house key under the doormat is a terrible idea, but we do it anyway because it is a convenient backup. When it comes to safeguarding passwords, especially in a family setting, people often choose convenience over safety.
As families manage their digital information and online accounts, many will end up opting for that less secure key-under-the-doormat solution. People are already sharing passwords, and their methods of sharing are not always the best. Some 41 percent of adults with online accounts admit to sharing passwords with friends and family, according to an Americans and Cybersecurity survey by Pew Research Center. Yet, 90.8 percent of respondents say they know that having strong passwords helps them better protect their families.

Consider the number of security breaches that continue to make national news:
* In 2016, we learned the Yahoo data breach compromised 1 billion accounts.
* In that same month, we learned 167 million email addresses and passwords were stolen from LinkedIn.
* In September 2017, a security breach at Equifax was reported, exposing Social Security numbers and other personal data of 143 million users, which is nearly half the U.S. population.
Now more than ever, it is clear how important it is to protect our personal information online. According to a Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, 81 percent of data breaches involve weak, reused or stolen credentials. That is significantly higher than the 63 percent it was in 2016.

“If you were to dig into the reasons behind these repeated, overly simple, shared passwords, it is actually pretty understandable as to how this happens,” according to LastPass Senior Director of Product. “The average person has some 200-plus logins. If you were to give each its own strong, unique password, that is way too many for one person to keep track of and remember, let alone all the other family members that might also use some of those accounts.”

But there is no need to trade security for the convenience of digital access. With a password manager designed for individual or family use, you can create those strong passwords for all the accounts you and your family use, and store them within a secure vault that is accessed by a single master password only you know. These digital lockboxes protect your information under multiple layers of security, making it impossible for digital thieves to hack and access.

If you are debating whether to make the switch to a digital password manager, here are a few ways it can improve your family’s online security and help stop the struggle with passwords.

Create rock-solid passwords: Most password managers offer a secure password generator that allows you to set and create a long, strong and unique password for every online account. You can create a password up to 100 characters long, including numbers and symbols. Another way to do it is by using the “passphrase” approach, meaning string together words that create a phrase. Be sure to steer clear of birthdays, anniversaries, street names and other specific personal details that can be found through a social media search.

Secure more than just passwords: There is an endless number of passwords and sensitive information you can store in your password manager, including banking logins, passport and license numbers, shopping accounts, email and social media passwords and more. By storing all of this information in your secure vault, you will always have access to the information whenever and wherever you may need it.

Safely share passwords with family members: One benefit of a password manager that is designed for family use is that it lets you safely and conveniently store passwords and valuable documents in folders for flexible sharing with others in the family. LastPass Families includes unlimited shared folders, which means you can create multiple folders and store an endless number of passwords and share with those in your family. For example, you could put your banking account password into one folder and share access with your spouse, have another folder for your favorite streaming services and securely share access to them with the whole family. All the while, you can keep your personal accounts private.

Plan for the digital afterlife: When there is a death or serious emergency, it turns out that state and federal laws, along with service agreements, can block your family from getting access to your online accounts. With a password manager that allows emergency access, family members can get into your password vault and have access to whatever they need.