No Pool, No Problem: 6 Clever Ways to Beat the Heat on a Budget

No Pool, No Problem: 6 Clever Ways to Beat the Heat on a Budget

| Jun 22, 2017

Do you gaze wistfully upon the neighbors as they frolic and splash in their backyard pool? Is your lawn too small (and your bank account too slim) to consider installing your own? Fret not, dear reader—you can still cool off this summer. Each one of these swimming pool alternatives costs less than an in-ground pool and is relatively low-maintenance. So grab your towel and get ready to dive (or wade, as the case may be) in.

1. A misting system

Photo by MistAir AZ
Whether you go the quick-and-easy route with a simple misting fan, or you deck out your entire patio with a misting system, this cooling mechanism will be your salvation all summer long.

For about $100, a misting fan easily hooks up to your garden hose and can be placed wherever you need it. With three speeds and the option to oscillate, this chilly wonder will cool off cookouts and backyard parties.

If you’re a savvy DIYer, you can set up a misting system along your porch ceiling or pergola. The Orbit Mid Pressure kit (under $50) has the tubing and nozzles—so you just add a basic garden hose. When the water’s on, H2O is forced through the nozzles and then atomized into tiny cooling droplets. A misting system can also be run along the edges of a patio umbrella, garden arbor, or weatherproof gazebo. Step in and out of it for a refreshing blast!

2. A stock tank

The kids will flip for this rustic pool.
The kids will flip for this rustic pool.Stacey Maaser

Sure, you’re floating in a tank that’s actually for cows and sheep, but who cares if it’s keeping you cool? At less than $500, a stock tank can be installed in your backyard in just a day.

Find a level spot on the lawn and seal any cracks with plumber’s putty or epoxy. You might consider putting in a filter pump, though you can do without one if you don’t mind emptying the tank when it’s dirty or using chlorine tablets to impede the growth of algae. Pick up a solar cover to keep out leaves and bugs. It’ll keep the water clean and warm, too.

3. A truck bed pool

Have truck, will swim.
Have truck, will swim.Pick-up Pools

Yup, you can take a refreshing dip on the hottest of days—right in your driveway. If you have a pickup truck and $280, you can buy a legit truck bed pool. They come in two sizes (short box or standard) and are much easier to fill and enjoy than draping and securing your own random tarps (it’s a leaky mess!). This sturdy vinyl pool stretches over the back of your truck and drains easily from a valve on the tailgate side. And the best part: It’s portable. Pack up the liner in the back and then fill it wherever you feel like stopping to play in the water. We were a little dubious about this one, but these things are so popular, they’re easily selling out.

4. A backyard stream

Photo by Locati Architects

That rippling sound out back is soothing—and plunging your feet in can go a long way toward bringing your temperature down. If you’re looking for a water element that’s as decorative as it is useful, a backyard stream is the way to go. Yes, this is a big project, but if you’re a committed DIY-er, you can build this water feature yourself in a couple of weekends. Or you could hire a pro!

A slight incline is all you need for a short stream of recirculating water—plus an underground sump pump (they start at about $50)—to shoot the water from the bottom back to the top. Line the edges with recycled brick, large stones from your property, or slate pavers from a home improvement store. You can even go the extra mile and create some waterfalls.

5. A splash pad

Photo by My Splash Pad

Kids and adults alike will take quickly to a backyard splash pad—and the dog will go nuts, too. While it’s easy to install (just attach a hose), it’s also one of the more expensive options in this list (a 5-foot portable pad from My Splash Pad is $1,275). Bigger pads cost more, as do those that can be permanently installed. But for a setup that’s quick and easy, our money’s on this souped-up sprinkler.

6. A DIY slip ‘n’ slide

Homemade slip 'n' slide
Homemade slip ‘n’ slideGabriela Pinto/Flickr CC

Sure, you can buy one from a big-box store. But if you’re looking for a crafts project the whole family can do—or you want to customize your slip ‘n’ slide—you can easily make one yourself. As long as you own a hose, the rest of the components come in at under $50: a long piece of tarp or sturdy plastic sheeting, some foam pool noodles (these are the bumpers along the edge), and strong Velcro to attach the tarp around the noodles. Add a few small stakes to hold it in place, a garden hose, something to grease the chute (dish soap, baby oil)—and you’re off!

Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the Difference?  

Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the Difference?

When buying a home, cash is king, but most folks don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying in the bank. Of course, that’s why obtaining a mortgage is such a crucial part of the process. And securing mortgage pre-qualification and pre-approval are important steps, assuring lenders that you’ll be able to afford payments.
However, pre-qualification and pre-approval are vastly different. How different? Some mortgage professionals believe one is virtually useless.

“I tell most people they can take that pre-qualification letter and throw it in the trash,” says Patty Arvielo, a mortgage banker and president and founder of New American Funding, in Tustin, CA. “It doesn’t mean much.”


We asked our experts to weigh in to help clarify the distinction.

What is mortgage pre-qualification?

Pre-qualification means that a lender has evaluated your creditworthiness and has decided that you probably will be eligible for a loan up to a certain amount.

But here’s the rub: Most often, the pre-qualification letter is an approximation—not a promise—based solely on the information you give the lender and its evaluation of your financial prospects.

“The analysis is based on the information that you have provided,” says David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School and a real estate law expert. “It may not take into account your current credit report, and it does not look past the statements you have made about your income, assets, and liabilities.”

A pre-qualification is merely a financial snapshot that gives you an idea of the mortgage you might qualify for.

“It can be helpful if you are completely unaware what your current financial position will support regarding a mortgage amount,” says Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman, and Shipp, in Washington, DC. “It certainly helps if you are just beginning the process of looking to buy a house.”

Why is mortgage pre-approval better?

A pre-approval letter is the real deal, a statement from a lender that you qualify for a specific mortgage amount based on an underwriter’s review of all of your financial information: credit report, pay stubs, bank statement, salary, assets, and obligations.

Pre-approval should mean your loan is contingent only on the appraisal of the home you choose, providing that nothing changes in your financial picture before closing.

“This makes you as close to a cash buyer as you can be and gives you a huge advantage in a competitive market,” says Lea Lea Brown, a vice president and mortgage banker with Atlanta-based PrivatePlus Mortgage.

In fact, pre-approval letters paired with clean contracts without tons of contingencies have won bidding wars against all-cash offers, Brown says.

“The reliability and simplicity of your offer stand out over other offers,” Brown says. “And pre-approval can give you that reliability edge.”

So take notice, potential home buyers. While pre-qualification can be helpful in determining how much a lender is willing to give you, a pre-approval letter will make a stronger impression on sellers and let them know you have the cash to back up an offer.

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Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Sale Prices of Existing Homes Reach New Highs

Jun 21, 2017


It’s not just the temperatures that are rising. The median sale prices of existing homes have also been going up, hitting new highs nationally.

Take a deep breath, buyers. The median price for one of the previously lived-in abodes reached $252,800 in May, according to the seasonally adjusted numbers in a recent National Association of Realtors® report. That’s up nearly 3.2% from April and was a 5.8% boost from May 2016.

Despite the higher prices (thank the housing shortage for that), about 5.62 million existing homes went under contract in May. That’s 1.1% over April’s numbers and a 2.7% bump from May 2016. First-time buyers made up about a third of those sales.

And they were flying off their blocks and hallways quickly. Properties were on the market for only 27 days in May, the shortest period since NAR began tracking this in May 2011. So buyers need to act fast.

(® looked only at the seasonally adjusted numbers in the report. These have been smoothed out over 12 months to account for seasonal fluctuations.)

The higher costs are discouraging folks who aren’t big earners from jumping into the fray, says Senior Economist Joseph Kirchner of

“Affordability is getting worse, especially at that lower end of the market,” he adds. “Some people are getting priced out.”

But existing homes were a deal compared with newly constructed ones—which cost about a fifth more. New residences went for a median $309,200 in April, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Those able to close on a home last month are probably feeling both happy and relieved,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a statement. “Listings in the affordable price range are scarce, homes are coming off the market at an extremely fast pace and the prevalence of multiple offers in some markets are pushing prices higher.”

The most expensive abodes were in the West, home to notoriously pricey areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco. The median home price was $368,800 in May—up 6.9% from the same month a year earlier.

They weren’t cheap in the Northeast either, with a $281,300 median price tag. That was 4.7% higher than in May 2016.

Residences were a bit more affordable in the South, at $221,900, a 5.3% rise from the previous year. And they were the cheapest in the Midwest, at a median $203,900. But they also rose the fastest in that region, by 7.3%.

“Home prices keep chugging along at a pace that is not sustainable in the long run,” Yun said. “Current demand levels indicate sales should be stronger, but it’s clear some would-be buyers are having to delay or postpone their home search because low supply is leading to worsening affordability conditions.”

May EHS Infographic
May EHS Infographic
Clare Trapasso is the senior news editor of and an adjunct journalism professor. She previously wrote for a Financial Times publication and the New York Daily News. Contact her at
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3 Important Tips for Welcoming Home Your Newly Adopted Dog

Bringing home your newly adopted dog is always an adjustment for everyone involved. Here are 3 important tips to welcome your new family member.

Bringing home your newly adopted dog is always an adjustment for everyone involved. It’s exciting and it’s only normal for you to have concerns about your new pet’s transition into life at home. Here are 3 important tips to help you welcome your new family member into your home.

 1. Do Your Research

Prior to your new dog arriving at your home, plan out how you will train your pet and make sure all of your family members are on the same page. Providing positive reinforcement techniques is a great way to help your dog learn.

Do your research on the various food options for your new dog and how many times a day he or she should eat. Having these decisions made in advance will help make the transition easier on everyone involved.

2. Show Compassion

Your newly adopted dog may display signs of anxiety in the first few days or weeks of being at your home. It may be hard for you to experience, because you’ll be so excited about your new furry family member and wonder if the feeling isn’t mutual. Don’t worry–this adjustment period is totally normal and only temporary! Speak in a gentle, soothing voice to your dog and make sure to show lots of love. Once your pet understands you are there to love and protect, he’ll feel much more comfortable and start to see how great his new home (and family) really is!

3. Health First

Soon after adopting your dog, take a trip to the vet’s office and have your new buddy examined. Bringing along any past medical records for the doctor to look at is always helpful. Your doctor will perform a full examination and give your dog the necessary shots he needs.


Ready to adopt right now? Visit to find a lovable critter in your area who is looking for a home like you. I’m just a  click away  or a phone call away cell 253.312.0447

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Five Tips on How to Sell Your Home in a Competitive Market


What does it take to sell a home in a competitive market – a fresh coat of paint or a kitchen overhaul? Lowering the asking price or offering incentives?

What does it take to sell a home in a competitive market – a fresh coat of paint or a kitchen overhaul? Lowering the asking price or offering incentives? From cosmetic to strategic, smart sellers can take advantage of a few simple tips to get the most out of their properties. Here are five suggestions on how to help secure a “sold” sign:

Price Point is Most Important When getting ready to put a home on the market, determining the right listing price is the number one most important element in the home selling process. After you have carefully chosen an agent, the trust you have established will come into play immediately. Have those tough discussions with your agent about where to price your home. Make certain you understand how the agent has arrived at the price, including how previous sales and current homes on the market make an impact. If necessary, jump in the car with your agent and see some of the homes on the market in the area. This will provide first hand knowledge on homes that are available in your neighborhood.

Appeal to Your Audience Work with your agent to determine how to get your home to stand out. Providing incentives is a great way to draw in potential home buyers, and monetary bonuses don’t just have to come from negotiation of the listing price. Sellers can also choose to contribute to closing costs, or conduct pre-home inspections, which can comfort potential home buyers in knowing that the property is in top shape.

Leave a Great First Impression Everyone talks about curb appeal, but a first impression is truly lasting. Remember, your agent is your trusted advisor. They will know the necessary updates and upkeep you should make to get the home ready for showings. But some of this is fairly easy and the front door is particularly important. This is the area where a buyer will first step up to a home – and likely wait for a moment providing time to look around. Do this ahead of time, stand directly in the front door and look up and around at the home from all angles – cobwebs that have not been noticed in years could be the first thing greeting a potential home buyer, so it’s important for this area to give a great first impression.

Everything is in the Visual Don’t underestimate the power of visuals in marketing your home. The National Association of Realtors found that, more than 90 percent of home buyers begin their search online. Your agent may push hard for you to have the home prepared for vivid pictures and video of the property that can be posted on websites such as

Hit the Right Note with all Five Senses When a buyer comes to look at a home they want the full experience. To help a home stand out, your agent may ask you to focus on appealing to all five senses. Small and inexpensive upgrades to the home such as getting the walls painted, de-cluttering and making minor improvements to the outdoor landscape. In terms of “touch,” remember that buyers aren’t just going to look – they’ll be turning on your faucets and opening closets, so make sure closets are clean and organized. When it comes to making a home smell good, many agents prefer the smell of baked goods rather than fresh flowers or air fresheners which can be overwhelming. All of this is being done to allow the buyer to properly visualize living in the home.

For more tips on selling your home, visit Leslie’s Real Estate page


Before You Get Settled Into Your New Home, Make These Changes Immediately


The moving frenzy never ends: Even after you close, the to-do lists drag on and on—endless pages of bullet points that keep you up at night when all you want is to begin your new life. Some of them are fun, like redecorating and buying new furniture.

Others, not so much.


“When you move into a new house, you’re more concerned with decorating and taking stuff out you don’t like,” says Kevin Minto, president of Signet Home Inspections in Grass Valley, CA. “But let’s not forget about the less romantic things that are mundane—but more important in the long run.”

Once you’ve got the keys, feel free to give yourself a break. You deserve it! But don’t rest on your laurels too long—and make sure to do these eight things right away.

1. Change the locks

Before moving even one tiny piece of furniture into your new home, change the locks—or at least have them rekeyed. It’s not that you don’t trust the sellers (who are, we’re sure, perfectly respectable and upstanding citizens). It’s that you shouldn’t trust everyone who’s had contact with those keys over the years, any of whom could have copied the keys for some unsavory purpose.

2. Change the alarm batteries

Making sure your fire and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries may not seem like a pressing issue while you’re in the middle of a stressful move (and aren’t they all), but it’s the kind of thing that gets ignored and then forgotten. Better to deal with it now, when the home is empty and you can make a quick sweep of the house—without lugging a ladder around furniture.

3. Review your home inspector’s report

Can’t find your inspector’s report? Minto says reports are often filed with the escrow papers—but don’t wait until something goes wrong to pull them out. A good home inspector will outline the most important issues in their report, so use their expertise as a guide for your first few days of ownership. If they’ve marked anything as particularly pressing, make sure to handle it before moving in.

4. Find the circuit breaker

If you were there during inspection, you should know where your junction box is, but if you don’t, finding it “should be the first and foremost thing that should be attended to,” Minto says. During a move, when you’re plugging all sorts of electrical doodads into the wall, you don’t want to be lost in the dark hunting for that elusive metal box. (While you’re there, find the water shut-off, too.)

Then, get familiar: If it’s not already well-marked, have your spouse or another family member stand in different parts of the house while you flip different switches, and make a note of which ones handle different rooms.

5. Deal with any water problems

Looking at that inspector’s report? Deal with water-related issues immediately, says Minto. These tend to be troublesome because they’re so easily ignored—”out of sight, out of mind,” he says. A leaky toilet might seem minor, but the steady drip can damage internal structural components.

Check your roof, too: If the rubber vent boots on your roof are leaking, you might not know it for a while.

“By the time they see it in a ceiling, there’s been a fair amount of water,” Minto says.

6. Caulk everything

This one isn’t mandatory, but caulking is a whole lot easier if you do it when the house is empty, letting you see all the nooks and crannies that might need a little sealing—and don’t forget the exterior. Minto says he sees caulking issues on “every home,” and while they might seem minor, it doesn’t take long before cracking gives way to leaks and even more water issues.

7. Plan your emergency exits

Before you begin bringing in furniture, walk through every room and decide how you would escape in an emergency. This can help you spot problem areas or rooms that need some adjustments—say, removing bars or adding egress windows to a basement.

8. Clean your gutters

BO-RING. Right? You can put this off until Day 2 of your big move, but don’t let the dullness of the task push you to procrastination: If the previous homeowners didn’t clean the gutters, you need to do so ASAP.

“I see gutters that are filled with organic materials start to rot and start to rust through,” Minto says. Take 30 minutes to clear them out, and you’ll be rewarded come the rainy season.

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4 Pacific Northwest Summer Date Nights (Outside)


Summer is (unofficially) here!! And I am loving every second of it. With the warm weather, long evenings, and laid back vibe we have been taking advantage and spending more time together outside. But even with the array of recreation activities available, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. So if you need some inspiration for a fun date night outdoors, look no further.

Hit the Road
Remember the fun and nostalgia of a road trip? You don’t have to leave town to get the feeling. Roll down the windows, crank up the music, and find your road. One of our favorites is Chuckanut Drive. Between the scenery and the winding route, it’s a winner every time.

You can go for hours and discover a new favorite spot, or take a quick spin to clear your mind. Either way, the time together will be well spent laughing, singing, and feeling free.


Take a Hike
Whether you live downtown or out in the country, you can get out for a hike or a walk. There is a beauty in the simplicity and ease of access. Maybe your style is more of an urban hike with some stops at shops and a coffee house. If you’re a bit more adventurous, you may want to visit one of the State or National parks and hit a trail.

Whatever mood you’re in or timeframe you have, there is a hike for you. And it’s an excellent excuse for holding hands with your sweetie.

Go Fly a Kite
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days at the ocean. And while I was indoors for a good portion of it, the time I spent on the beach was magical. It also reintroduced me to kite flying, which was a blast.

Living near the water gives us the benefit of having a decent breeze most days – enough to keep the kite up without being overwhelming. And one of the best things about it is that you don’t need to be perfect; you just need to let it all go… kind of a good metaphor for life!

Jump In a Lake
Okay, maybe you don’t have a lake nearby. But I bet there is some water somewhere! What better way to cool down on these hot days than getting into or near the water? I haven’t tried it yet, but I am intrigued by stand-up paddle boarding. There are rentals on the weekends at a lake near my house, and it’s on our To Try list.

If you’re not confident on the water, hit up one of the spray parks – they’re NOT just for kids! Still not convinced? Try running through the sprinkler at home. Maybe even have a popsicle for good measure.

Having fun, letting loose, and feeling joy are for everyone – and we all need these breaks from the everyday hustle and bustle. It’s also a fantastic way to reconnect with those most important to you. Take advantage of the moments whenever possible, and make the most of your Pacific Northwest summer. And check back soon for Date Night In!!


10 Interior Design Trends That Turn Off Home Buyers

Interior with two armchairs and coffee table 3d rendering

You want your home to look its best, and maybe you’ve been inspired by the interior design trends you’ve seen in magazines, on TV, or on design websites.

But following some of the hottest home remodeling and interior design trends can backfire when it comes time to sell your home.

Buyers want to picture themselves in a home, and highly individualistic touches can get in the way of that.

When you’re ready to sell your home, it’s best to put things in pristine, move-in condition and remove all of the individual touches that made your house a home.

After all, your goal is to get potential buyers to picture themselves in the home—and they won’t be able to do that if your decorating style still dominates.

Check out the caveats that go along with these home interior design trends.

1. Boldly painted walls

Decorators often tout black or another bold paint color as the perfect backdrop to metallic accessories or appliances in modern home design.

The reality is that people prefer the exterior and interior walls of a home to be neutral. Even though repainting is cheap and relatively easy to do, it’s still a pain and buyers might not want to bother.

When decorating, your best bet is to stick to an appeasing hue for the walls and use accessories to provide pops of color.

2. Wallpaper

Bold, graphic patterns increasingly are being incorporated into interior design, often in the form of wallpaper.

But wallpaper—even if it’s only on one wall—is an extremely personal choice and time-consuming to remove if it doesn’t appeal to the buyer

Consider replacing wallpaper with a neutral paint for broader appeal.

3. Lavish light fixtures

While potential buyers want rooms that seem airy and bright, beware of installing a showpiece light fixture that is too modern or ornate.

Fixtures should enhance your home—not steal the spotlight.

4. Gleaming gold

Designers may be mixing silver and gold to give homes star quality, but it might be wise to change out fixtures if they have the wrong metallic sheen.

Gold can give a home an outdated, ’80s feel. Switching out the faucet and door handles with a more appealing finish—such as brushed nickel—is relatively inexpensive and can help make your home appear sleek rather than out of style.

5. Converted garages

People want a covered parking space so that they have a safe place for their car—especially in areas where street parking is at a premium. Additionally, people often use their garage as storage space.

If you convert your garage into a space tailored your specific needs, such as a music practice room, it may not suit your potential buyers.

6. Converted bedrooms

Like with the garage, people want rooms built for their original purpose.

If you’ve converted an unused bedroom to an office, walk-in closet, or a game room, make sure you can easily convert it back to a bedroom when you’re ready to sell.

7. Carpets

While designers love to play with the texture of shag carpeting as it feels soft underfoot, the majority of home buyers prefer hardwood floors.

People assume carpets trap dirt, germs and odors, and they don’t want to go through the hassle of steam cleaning their home before they can move in. Potential buyers also don’t want to spend time removing carpet to expose hardwood floors.

If someone really loves carpet, it’s much easier for them to add it themselves—after the purchase.

8. Too-lush landscaping

The “outdoor living room” is all the rage, and you may be tempted to build out your backyard into a lavish wilderness of flowers.

But potential buyers may be hesitant to buy a home with an overly landscaped property requiring a lot of maintenance.

Focus on creating or maintaining a nice and neat outdoor space that people can enjoy without too much fuss.

9. Pools and hot tubs

A pool may seem like a luxurious feature, but it can be a big turnoff for buyers.

Pools are perceived to be expensive to maintain and potential safety hazards, especially for families with children. Above-ground pools are eyesores and can leave a dead spot in the backyard.

These sentiments extend to hot tubs, too. Many people see hot tubs as breeding grounds for bacteria, and they are not a feature easily removed from the deck or back yard.

10. Fancy (or not) pet products

Sales of pet products are expected to increase nearly $3 billion from last year, and there’s an increasing market for luxury pet items.

But even animal lovers don’t want to see another family’s pet paraphernalia in a potential home. Even if your home is immaculate, the presence of pet-related items will give the impression that it’s dirty.

Be sure to remove all traces of your pet—including toys, food dishes and photos—before listing your home for sale.

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Guests to Impress? 7 Tips to Make Your Spare Bedroom Shine This Summer

By | Jun 16, 2017

With summer vacation season in full swing, chances are good that your guest room will see its fair share of traffic. If you haven’t stepped foot in that space since Uncle Humbert’s visit last Christmas, you might be feeling a little uncertain: Does your guest bedroom say “budget motel” or “five-star getaway”? Will your loved ones actually look forward to staying at your place, or dread it?

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to create a stylish and welcoming haven that will impress your guests—and keep them comfortable during these hot, sultry months. Try these designer tips and touches to elevate your space for summer visitors. Just beware: They might feel so at home, they’ll never want to leave.

Tip No. 1: Make it dark

Photo by Karen White Interior Design
It’s summer, so you might be inclined to use thin, airy linen for your window coverings—don’t we all love that elegant beachy look that lets the light pour in?

But as nice as they might appear, thin curtains aren’t always the most practical choice. Ensure a good night’s sleep—and lots of privacy—by installing blackout shades or other thick curtains that can block out the summer sun and heat.

“A set of blinds or drapes will also help create a buffer between the room and street traffic outside,” notes Marty Basher, a home organization specialist with Modular Closets, in Lakewood, NJ.

“If you don’t have blackout shades, it’s nice to provide a sleep mask,” adds Bea Pila of B. Pila Design, in Miami.

Tip No. 2: Provide luggage racks

This simple and inexpensive guest room addition will end up being a lifesaver. For starters, your guests will appreciate not having to bend over and unpack on the floor. Also, a luggage rack serves as a subtle hint to your guests not to toss their dusty suitcases onto the bed, Pila says.

You’ll also want to empty a dresser drawer, clear some closet space, and leave extra hangers, adds Kelly LaVine of Closet Factory, in Minneapolis.

Want to install something more permanent? A multipurpose coat rack with built-in cubbies is ideal for bags, hats, coats, and bathrobes, says Jennifer Popis, a spokesperson for Lowe’s.

Tip No. 3. Use lightweight linens on the bed

Photo by Loaf
Now’s not the time to show off that luxuriously warm down duvet you scored on sale. Cool cotton or percale is the way to go in warmer weather, but don’t forget to add a lightweight blanket or comforter on the end of the bed.

“It can be chilly in the morning in some parts of the country, and your guests may be cold if the AC is on high,” says Carole Marcotte, a designer at Form & Function, in Raleigh, NC.

Leave out bath and hand towels, plus a washcloth and a new bar of soap—not that melting mess in the shower stall.

“And I like to leave a couple of robes in the closet, one medium, one large, which fits most guests—and then tuck a corresponding pair of slippers in each pocket,” she adds.

Tip No. 4: Provide access to tech

Photo by The Aldrich Group, LLC

A TV in your guest room is a real treat, especially if you have cable, or a Netflix account and a Roku/Chromecast/Amazon Fire/Apple TV/insert-your-favorite-tech-device-here.

Make sure to leave written instructions for the remote control and login information, Basher says. An extra phone charger is key. And don’t forget the Wi-Fi password.

“You could type it up in a pretty font and then frame it on the desk,” suggests Amy Bell, a designer with Red Chair Home Interiors, in Cary, NC.

Tip No. 5: Offer bedside accompaniments

Bedside accessories
Bedside accessoriesFlavia Morlachetti/Getty Images

A few well-chosen accessories will set a welcome tone. Marcotte puts out a sea-salt-scented candle in the summer months, and Basher prints a photo of his guests off their Facebook or Instagram page and frames it for the nightstand.

“I would also add a journal or paper and pen so guests can write down their thoughts,” recommends Julie Coraccio, a home organizing pro with Reawaken Your Brilliance. She also snips fresh herbs or flowers from her garden and sets out sunscreen and bug spray.

“Include a list of things to do around your town, tourist brochures, and places to eat, too,” she adds.

Tip No. 6: Serve drinks and snacks

Photo by Houzz

Much as it might feel like it, you’re not running a hotel—so you don’t need to set up a whole minibar. But a few treats will offer an extra-welcoming touch.

In the guest room, you can leave a bottle of sparkling water or a carafe and glass set (Marcotte adds sliced cucumbers and limes to the water carafe). Fruit in a bowl is a healthy idea, especially seasonal peaches. You could also add a granola bar and a box of mints.

Want your guests to really feel comfortable (and like they don’t have to tiptoe into your kitchen in the wee hours of the morning)? Try giving them their own caffeine fix.

Pila recently decorated a home with several guest suites and included a small coffee maker and a place to heat water for tea in each space.

Tip No. 7: Stock the bath

Photo by Bill Fry Construction

You know you’ll have a guest who forgets her toothbrush. Or one who needs floss or a bandage. Be prepared with these necessities in the medicine cabinet or in a basket on the counter. Include travel-size shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, lip balm, and toothpaste. Also have on hand a packet of Advil, disposable razor, and extra hair dryer.

“These help a guest who’s left something at home—and she won’t have to feel awkward asking to borrow something,” Marcotte says.

The True Story of My $624 Mortgage Payment

By | Dec 17, 2015

My older sister leans over, touches my knee with her own and asks, “Why’d you shoot so low?”

We’re sitting on stools at the breakfast bar in her kitchen—a separate seating area that is not the dining room table, the kitchen table, or the actual full bar, replete with a selection of tap beers, in the basement. Her partner is away on a business trip and her two daughters are asleep in their brightly painted bedrooms upstairs. It’s a rare girls’ night for us, and rare for her house to be this quiet. We’ve cracked into a second bottle of wine. The moment for confidential talk is here.

And I know what she’s getting at before she’s finished getting at it. There’s a reason we’re not drinking and confiding at my house. Compared with Amy’s, as well as by the standards of our small city with its oil slick of suburbs—40 miles of cul-de-sacs lined with massive Colonials and newly built “Craftsmen”—my house is a closet. Just a bit over 1,500 square feet.

“I kind of think you went overboard,” she says.

“More like under-board,” I counter, feeling defensive and a bit ashamed too, because both of these things are automatic when my sister questions a choice I’ve made, the chagrin rising like vapor from my subconscious. At the same time, I’m tremendously relieved, all over again. My house isn’t big enough to be any kind of burden.

When my husband and I got the house—our first—in March, we surprised all our friends and family, not just my sister, by spending much less than we might have. It cost less than a full year of our combined gross salary.

We didn’t do this because we lacked a sizable down payment, or because we were unfamiliar with the conventional wisdom about how much to spend, which ranges between three and four times one’s gross income. My day job is related to finance; I like to think I know the score.

Our mortgage broker and our loan officer were shocked, too. Not only did we spend less than a third of the amount they’d pre-approved us for, we put 40% down rather than the usual 20%. At our signing, the loan officer laughed as she admitted that our mortgage payment—$624 a month, including taxes and homeowner insurance—was probably the lowest she’d ever seen.

You might get the idea from all this numbers talk that our decision was solely a financial one, or that we bought a house that needed extensive rehabbing to be made livable, or one situated in a neighborhood where sirens blare all night. That’s not the case, either.

Our house was a foreclosure picked up and flipped by a couple of local guys. They put in new windows, new hardwood floors and redid the walls, the kitchen and bathrooms. It’s set in a modest, diverse ‘80s suburb with what I understand are perfectly fine schools. Within about a mile of my front door are a coffee shop, a grocery store, a dive bar and a gym with daily yoga classes. Gentrification doesn’t really come into it. The neighborhood was born this way.

Though our place is 40% smaller than the average American home, my husband and I don’t need more space. We don’t have children yet, but there’d be room for them if we did. The house has three bedrooms (a master and two smaller ones, which we use as an office and a video game room) and two and a half bathrooms, plus a dining room, eat-in kitchen and a living room.

As it is, that’s almost too much for just us. And hell, my friends in Manhattan and San Francisco would find 1,500 square feet absolutely luxurious. They all live in small spaces, called apartments. “This is huge,” said my friend Becca, down for the weekend from New York—the only visitor to say so.

Which is why, if you ask me, the question is not: Why did we buy so much less than we could have? Instead: Why is buying only what you need a weird thing to do?

Maybe I sound self-righteous (well, who wants to be thought as someone who shoots low?). But that’s always the danger when you set about explaining why you’ve done anything. In this recurring dream I have, I enter a bookstore and find the title, “How to Justify Your Every Life Choice, Sincerely, Without Sounding Like an A***h***,” on the table nearest the door.

In some of the dreams, I’m the author, a kind of double wish fulfillment in which I’ve solved a constant problem of my own and that of plenty of other people, too. Let me emphatically deny that I think I’m better than anyone. I make mistakes all the time, so much so I have to concentrate my energy on avoiding the big ones, which includes presuming other people can or should make the same choices I have; the constant small ones I just have to let go, or try to.

Likewise, any environmentalist rationalization I might put forward would be half-baked and after the fact. After several years living abroad, it feels genuinely sinful to me to heat and cool thousands of square feet I’m not occupying at that moment. Equally, I’m lazy, and don’t want to spend time wiping down the counters of my status symbol when I could be mindlessly browsing the Internet.

I will admit to being a little mystified myself, however. We’re just a few years past one of the worst housing crises the U.S. has ever seen. Still, the message about spending less than you earn, forgoing the Real Housewives-style faux-Tuscan effect and idle square footage in favor of greater flexibility and security, doesn’t seem to have penetrated. The bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache who counsel seeking financial independence, and the folks who build and occupy actual tiny houses, remain more entertaining lunatic fringe than mainstream. (Tim Kreider: “We learn nothing.”)

None of this makes it easy to answer my sister. She’s not financially irresponsible, nor a real-estate snob; more an extrovert, generous and big-hearted. The truth is, I like her house, and I benefit from her owning it. As my parents look to downsize, Amy stands ready to host all the Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas morning gatherings. God knows she’s got the space. A few months ago, an entire party bus, 30 strong with screeching revelers from a friend’s wedding reception, emptied onto her curb. Nearly everyone found a bar stool and later a bed, or at least a couch. Including me. At my house, the luckiest/strongest would have been sleeping in the bathtub.

“We want to pay off our house early and retire early, too. Maybe as early as 40,” I tell her. “Travel more, write more, have more time.”

“Why don’t you just do something you want to do with your life—right now?” She asks, not unreasonably.

“That’s the thing,” I say. The chagrin rises all over again. The relief, too. “I’m doing it.”

This article originally appeared on TheBillfold. This story is an Op/Ed contribution and does not necessarily represent the views of or its partners.


This article was written by Catherine Baab-Muguira and originally published on

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