Add living space to your home with an easy patio makeover

April 25th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Everyone looks forward to a shift into summer mode, with its sun-soaked days, flower-scented breezes and velvety nights under the stars.

Now’s the time to take advantage of a golden opportunity right outside your door. Celebrate summer and all it offers by recreating your outdoor space. Whether it’s a balcony, a patio or a deck, a few touches are all you need to turn it into a highly functional living space.

When done right, a patio makeover is like a boost to your home’s square footage of living space without straining your wallet. Think of the patio as a summer room, and the possibilities really open up.

One approach to making your summer room perfect is to start by thinking of your needs and what you love to do. If you could add any room to your home, what would it be, and what would you use it for? Then, turn to a resource like Big Lots, which offers everything you need to build that summer room, while keeping you within budget.

Your summer living room

Transform any outdoor space into a relaxing oasis that’s perfect for unwinding and summer daydreams. Your key piece is a comfortable outdoor couch you can really sink into.

It’s always best to start with a neutral-colored cushion, then work the accessories and accent pieces, including side tables, brightly colored throw pillows and outdoor lanterns to make the space feel extra homey and just like an authentic living room. These decor pieces can be easily and affordably switched out year-over-year to make your outdoor space feel fresh and new.

With an easy assembly gazebo, you can also keep the space cool and comfortable in the heat of the day.

Finally, if your patio faces an open or public area, a row of evergreens planted in large colorful pots will transform it into an intimate space with a perfect touch of nature.

Your summer party room

With the right pieces, you can set the scene for any gathering of friends and family. Start with ample seating. Add to the traditional living room setup with an outdoor cushioned bench, and position some accent chairs and tables in a nook or two for conversation clusters. A patterned outdoor rug also helps to delineate spaces on a large patio or deck.

A fire pit always creates a natural centerpiece and gathering spot. Some designs take this up a notch and incorporate the soft glow of fire right into a tabletop, making it easy to talk long into the summer night. As a finishing touch, be sure to have a wireless speaker and playlist ready to set the mood with music.

Your summer kitchen

The downside of summer living is building up unwanted heat in the kitchen from cooking dinner. The best solution is to take it outside. Don’t limit the grill to weekends and burgers and brats. Explore the many grilling recipes out there to expand your repertoire. While you’re doing this, set up your patio as an outdoor cooking station that’s ready to go whenever you’re ready to start cooking.

Set up a sturdy table for prepping veggies and meats and a selection of lightweight, outdoor serving dishes. The variety of colors and designs are endless and add to the space aesthetic. (Just as you would indoors, make sure the surface is clean before you get started.) Use colorful crates to keep grilling tools, potholders and outdoor dishes and glassware organized and handy.

Finally, pick up some bright-colored pots that match your decor style and plant rosemary, parsley, basil and other herbs so they’re within easy reach to add fresh flavors to your grilled fish and chicken, as well as those tasty summer veggies. These potted plants also make for beautiful, easy centerpieces.

Your summer dining room

Dining outside is a fun and relaxing way to enjoy food as well as the company of your family and friends. When you choose a patio table, choose one with ample seating, and keep things comfortable and colorful with waterproof cushions. Umbrellas can throw shade on a sun-drenched deck or patio, making daytime dining (or your morning coffee time) more pleasant and easy on the eyes. If you’re looking for something different, a patio umbrella outfitted with lights on the underside will let you linger over dinner longer.

Creating beautiful outdoor spaces can be easy, but it also doesn’t have to break the budget. Big Lots has a wide variety of affordable patio furniture and décor so you can create an outdoor scene with indoor style. Visit BigLots.com or a store near you for all your patio and outdoor accessory needs.

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Changing weather patterns leave homeowners underinsured

April 24th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – The U.S. has experienced significant shifts in the frequency, severity and locations of natural disasters — including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires — during the past decade.

As a result, more than 800 emergency or disaster declarations were made in the U.S. from 2005–2015, according to FEMA data. The insured losses stemming from natural catastrophes such as these average $24 billion annually.

Homeowners face severe risks from these disasters, yet many have not connected the dots between these shifts and the impact on their home insurance needs. A recent survey commissioned by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that fewer than 22 percent of homeowners view weather patterns or disasters as an important factor when updating their homeowners insurance policy. Missing these links can be costly.

“Changing weather patterns can dramatically impact what insurance should be carried on a property,” says Mike Consedine, NAIC chief executive officer. “When homeowners don’t regularly review their policies, important gaps in coverage can be missed. You should re-evaluate your risk profile at least once a year to ensure your existing homeowners policy provides the protection you need.”

Despite Consedine’s recommendation, the survey revealed that 56 percent of homeowners have not reviewed their insurance policies in more than a year. Fourteen percent are unsure when — if ever — they last reviewed their policies.

If it’s been awhile since your last insurance review, there’s no better time than the present. When evaluating your policy, consider the following questions:

1. Am I now at risk? Are earthquakes, wildfires or other disasters now a threat in my state or region? If you live in Oklahoma, for example, the risk of earthquakes has significantly increased in the last decade. Do I need flood insurance? Some incidents such as floods are not covered by a typical homeowners policy, so you’ll need additional coverage.

2. What has changed in my home? If you’ve moved in with your significant other or an adult child has returned home, consider the impact their belongings will have on your coverage. Create a home inventory and update it annually. The NAIC’s MyHome Scr.App.book app (available for iPhone and Android) lets you quickly capture images and descriptions of your possessions. Keep in mind personal items like jewelry, antiques and artwork may require special insurance coverage.

3. Do I save my receipts? Take photos or save receipts from major purchases and store them in a safe place away from your house or apartment. Quick access to these receipts will make filing a claim much easier.

4. What home improvements have I made? Renovations and additions can change the value of your home. Make sure your homeowners insurance policy reflects your home’s current value. Some security or smart home features may qualify you for premium discounts.

5. How can I learn more about being prepared? Get educated about your insurance options now to avoid surprises later. Insure U’s new Disaster Prep Guides can help determine the best course of action before, during and after a disaster strikes. The guides include information and tips for tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires.

For unbiased information and resources to help you rethink insurance, visit insureuonline.org. For insurance information specific to where you live, contact your state insurance commissioner.

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Here's how to tap into your home's not-so-hidden potential

April 23rd, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Your most valuable asset is around you all the time. It’s above you, it’s below you and in many cases you don’t realize how much it can do for you.

According to the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., “Americans have a staggering amount of untapped equity in their homes.” How much? Altogether, $11,030,000,000,000. That’s 11 trillion, 30 billion dollars.

Yet despite this huge wealth possessed by homeowners, using it isn’t as simple as writing a check. You have to capitalize on your home’s equity.

What Is Home Equity?

Your home’s equity represents the difference between its current market value and the money that you owe on it.

Let’s say, for example, your home has a market value of $200,000, you made a down payment of $40,000 and you took out a $160,000 mortgage. At that point your equity is $40,000. You can always calculate this number by taking your home’s initial price and subtracting the amount you still owe.

Now, let’s say 10 years later you have paid off $60,000 of your $160,000 mortgage. At this point you still owe $100,000 on your home’s initial price of $200,000 so your equity is $100,000, assuming the home’s value has remained the same.

A little at a time

Each month when you make a mortgage payment, some of your money goes toward interest, some goes toward real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance (if the lender is collecting for these and making the payments on your behalf), and some goes toward paying off the mortgage itself. This last portion grows your equity because it subtracts from the amount you still owe.

Your home equity can also grow if your home increases in value because the amount you still owe has not changed. A rise in value may be due to increased home prices in your area and/or improvements you make to the home.

Market home prices may rise and fall from one year to the next but given enough time, most real estate tends to increase in value. For example, current economic forecasts from CoreLogic project a 4.8 percent increase in home prices year over year in 2017.

Gaining access to your equity

Now that you understand what equity is and how much equity you have, your next question may be “How do I use it?”

Your first step is to contact a knowledgeable mortgage professional. They will be able to answer your questions as well as show you loans that use your home as collateral. You’ll want to do your research to determine which type of loan is best for you. You should also take the time to compare interest rates, offers and loan features.

And if you are age 62 or older, you are also eligible for additional home equity options such as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is an FHA-insured Reverse Mortgage loan. This loan may be taken as a lump sum, a line of credit, through fixed monthly payments or a combination and the loan can never be frozen or reduced.

The equity in your home empowers you with several financing options and the specifics of each loan may vary from lender to lender, so ask questions and do your own research. Once you understand all your options you’ll be able to determine which loan offering allows you to make the most of your most valuable asset.

To learn about HECM Reverse Mortgage loans and other special home-equity options available to homeowners 62 and older, visit www.reversemortgage.org/HomeEquity.

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Survey: African-Americans passionate about homeownership, but fewer own homes

April 23rd, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – More than any other demographic group, African-Americans perceive homeownership as an integral component of the American Dream, and a way to build security and wealth for their families, according to a recent survey.

The poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, conducted on behalf of Wells Fargo, found that 90 percent of African-Americans said homeownership would be a dream come true, and more than half were considering buying a home within the next two years.

However, African-Americans currently have the lowest rate of homeownership among ethnic minorities – just 42 percent, or 20 points short of the national rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. African-Americans are expected to represent the third largest segment among new households (renters and owners) in the U.S. by 2024.

“Americans of every demographic aspire to homeownership, but this survey indicates African-Americans place high value on the emotional and financial benefits of owning a home,” says Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and head of housing policy and homeownership growth strategies for Wells Fargo. “Unfortunately, myths about down payments and credit often deter people from inquiring about loan options.”

Barriers, real and imagined

Like many Americans, African-Americans want to own homes, but are often challenged by factual and perceived barriers. Real barriers include tight credit markets, lack of affordable inventory in many areas and underemployment or unemployment.

Perceived barriers are directly related to a lack of experience with the homebuying process. For example, in the Wells Fargo survey, nearly half of African-Americans believed a 20 percent down payment is necessary to buy a home. However, many home loans permit down payments of less than 20 percent. Some are as low as 3 percent.

Mortgage approval is not contingent on full-time employment, either. Homebuyers need only be able to demonstrate their ability to repay their mortgage loan, regardless of whether their income comes from a full-time or part-time job. However, 54 percent of African-Americans believed homebuyers must have full-time jobs in order to qualify for a mortgage. In some loan programs, income from others who will live in the home, such as family members or renters, can also be considered.

The survey also highlighted the possibility that some credit education could help aspiring African-American homebuyers. Eighteen percent weren’t sure what constitutes a good credit score, 35 percent didn’t know what minimum score they would need to qualify for a mortgage, and 20 percent didn’t know their own credit score range. While lenders do consider credit scores in making mortgage decisions, credit scores are only one factor, and minimum credit scores vary based on the type of mortgage and loan amount. Homebuyer education and credit counseling could provide key information about the elements of a good credit score or how to develop a good credit profile.

Improving African-American homeownership

“Just 5 percent of homeowners are African-American, according to the National Association of Realtors,” Blackwell says. “African-Americans and other minority groups should have equal access to the wealth- and stability-building benefits of homeownership. In an effort to positively impact the homeownership rate among African-Americans, Wells Fargo has committed to providing education, counseling, a more diverse sales team, and mortgages to African-Americans.”

Wells Fargo recently announced plans to lend a projected $60 billion to qualified African-American consumers with the goal of increasing the number of African-American homeowners by at least 250,000 by 2027. They’ll also hire more African-American mortgage consultants in an effort to make their mortgage workforce more closely aligned with the populations they serve. Finally, Wells Fargo will provide $15 million to support educational initiatives and counseling for African-American homebuyers.

Meanwhile, if you want to purchase a home, you can maximize your chances of getting approved for a mortgage with several important steps, including:

* Monitor your credit – Your credit report and score can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage, how much you can borrow, and the interest rate and terms you’ll be offered. Review your credit report and score at least once a year. You can get an annual free credit report from all three national credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.

* Control other debt – Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is an important factor lenders consider in mortgage applications. This ratio compares your total monthly debt to your monthly income. Keep your DTI below 36 percent by paying down credit cards, auto loans and student debt.

* Save – Even though you don’t always need 20 percent down in order to qualify for a mortgage, having savings can still positively affect the mortgage process. Some financing programs allow qualified homebuyers to secure a mortgage with as little as 3 percent. Or, you may qualify for programs that benefit veterans if you’ve served in the military.

* Be able to prove income – Although you don’t need a high income to qualify for a mortgage, you will need to be able to document your income with W2s, tax returns and other paperwork.

* Build up an emergency fund – Unexpected expenses are a reality of homeownership. An emergency fund can help you cover costs such as repairing a leaky roof or replacing a broken-down appliance. Lenders are also likely to view you as more financially responsible if you have six months’ worth of expenses saved up.

To learn more about homebuying and to find a mortgage professional near you, visit www.wellsfargo.com.

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Big-impact ideas for small patio spaces

April 19th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Do you have a small patio? Do you think you can’t do much with the space due to its size? There’s probably a lot more potential than you think.

From the influx of urban dwellers, empty-nesters in transition and even the tiny-home movement, the trend of downsizing continues across the United States. Contrary to popular belief, you can have an impressive patio even if you have a smaller abode.

Here are a few design ideas to help bring your limited patio area to life while maximizing the space:

Rugs

Add visual interest under foot with a patterned rug. A rug properly placed under a table can break up a smaller floor, giving the illusion of more square footage. Colored rugs are readily available in a variety of designs. Pick your favorite striped, chevron or paisley variety and see what a difference it makes.

Water features

The natural elegance, gentle gurgle and sparkle of a flowing water feature can add a sense of peacefulness to any patio. For smaller spaces, easily turn a decorative waterproof container or planter into a beckoning water feature by simply adding water and a smartpond Low Water Shut-off Fountain Pump. This smart pump automatically shuts off if the water becomes too low, preventing pump burnout. It’s also a great replacement pump option to revive a decorative premade fountain that has quit working. Learn more at www.smart-pond.com.

Think vertical

To get the most out of a limited space, think upward instead of outward. Hanging plants are a classic option, but vertical wall gardens are a top trend that’s sure to be a conversation starter. You’ll enjoy plenty of greenery but also open floor space for your furniture, water feature and entertaining to ensure a welcoming area for hosting summer parties.

Built-ins

To get the most out of every inch of your petite patio, look for furniture and features that multitask to help save space while maximizing functionality. An easy solution is to opt for a table that opens to become a cooler for beverages or a bench to hold blankets and other patio extras. Just remember to keep scale in mind so you don’t overwhelm your space with massive furniture.

Mixing materials

Matching is out for 2017, so forget about perfectly paired combos and explore a variety of decor. A great way to try this trend is to add visual interest by experimenting with different materials. Inject your own personality through various finishes. One example: consider setting black resin pots next to a handwoven wicker for an eclectic blend of textures.

Vibrant colors

Don’t make the mistake of thinking a small space must have muted colors. Vibrant hues inject energy and style, often making a small patio feel larger than it is in real life. From ocean blues to ferocious fuchsia, an accent pillow here and a throw blanket there will transform your space dramatically.

From DIY water features to vertical gardens, a small patio doesn’t have to be short on style or functionality. Let these top trends guide you to create a space you’ll enjoy all year long.

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