Friday, March 29, 2013

How do you clean your grill?

Some people are really on their game and they thouroughly clean their grill before they store it away in the fall. Some people open it in the spring to find the whole previous summer's worth of "leftovers" to deal with.  Either way, it needs to get cleaned at some time!

But how?

Very basically, you want the grates to be clean. Once you have removed the debris from your carcoal grill or gas grill, the standard recommendation to clean your grates is to preheat your grill for 10-15 minutes before brushing them with a stainless steel bristle brush. This will clean off any excess debris that may have been left on your grill from prior cooking. 

The rest of your grill will need to be cleaned too... When your gas grill is cool, you can use the grill brush on your gas burner tubes and deflectors. The drip pan and deflectors can be removed and cleaned with warm soapy water (think dish soap - not bubble bath please!) and a non-scratch scouring pads.

For the exterior and inside the lid, most commonly just warm soapy water and a sponge or maybe window cleaner/stainless steel cleaner and a lint free cloth.

But there are always other creative ideas...  I have heard people soaking their grill grates in coffee, coke and countless other cleaning products. 

What has worked best for you?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Empty Foreclosed Homes: What should I know?

Vandalism and Neglect of Foreclosed Homes

Damage is not uncommon in foreclosure properties and it may be caused by vandals or the former owners. Some corporate-owned properties are cleaned up from a vanity stand point but many are not... and I am not sure what's worse; seeing what you are getting into or having it covered up by fresh paint and carpet.  Here are some common issues regarding these empty homes.

•Removal of Valuable Items
To get revenge against the bank and to make an extra buck, the previous homeowners might remove items that had value, including appliances, fixtures, the kitchen sink, bedroom doors, closet doors, copper pipes and more. Anything the homeowners do not take might be taken by thieves. Either way, many bank-owned properties are missing things that generally come with seller-owned properties.

•Owner Vandalism
Broken windows can be common in REOs for several reasons. As mentioned previously, vandalism could be a cause. Also, when banks lock out owners while taking possession of the property, the former owners may break a window to get back in and retrieve their belongings. Previous owners may also purposely inflict damage at the bank's expense by putting holes in walls and/or tearing off the baseboards and crown molding.

•Random Vandalism
Sometimes when a property sits vacant, especially if it is in a moderate-to-high crime area, new owners will have to contend with graffiti, broken windows and other damage.

Be sure to check out my upcoming posts about other headaches you may encounter with purchasing a foreclosed home and contact a real estate professional experienced in purchasing foreclosures for help.
Search this blog for Foreclosure Headaches.

Make your favorite Asian recipes at home... yes, it is probably healthier that way!

Let me start by saying that I would pick up chinese take-out every day if left to my own devices... and my family probably would too! But... Asian food, especially americanized Asian food, can be hard on the waistline and the budget so let's see what we can do on our own...  Keep in mind, I am not a great cook.

Crab Rangoons

Imitation Crab
Cream Cheese or Neufchatel
Green Onions
Minced Garlic
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
*Thoroughly mix above items together based on your flavor preferences. (Go heavy on your favorites)
And honestly, if you are missing one of the above ingredients like in the pic to the right) and you are craving this... make them anyway... well, the cream cheese is pretty important for binding. ;)

Wonton Wraps
Beaten Egg (or water) for sealing wraps

In a food processor, mix all filling ingredients. Layout your wonton wrappers on a large tray.  Spoon 1-2 tsp of filling on to each wrap.  dip your finger in the egg (or water) and dab the center of each side of each wrapper. Using your first finger and thumb on both hands, join the wrapper sides in the middle and pinch closed.
Fry in Cooking Oil  (about 2-3 in deep in a pot pre-heated to medium heat) until slightly golden.

Crab Rangoons Baked in the Oven
 The "lower fat/less stinky house" version is to coat them heavily with cooking spray and bake in 300-325° F oven for 8 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown them instead of deep frying.  It might help to dip your finger in vegetable oil and make sure the tips are coated well so they don't burn.
WARNING: Do not undercook. Gross.

Chinese Dumplings a.k.a. Pot Stickers (Makes 50)

12 oz cabbage finely minced in processor
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
2/3 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup minced Chinese chives or green onions (white and green parts)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)

1 package round dumpling wrappers

Put cabbage on paper towel and sprinkle with salt; set aside
Mix the remaining filing ingredients well; ginger, chives, pork, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil.
The moisture should be leaching out of the cabbage on to the paper towel. Use you hands to squeeze out remaining moisture before adding it to filling mixture. Mix.
Place 1 tablespoon of filling onto each wrap and fold in half.
Use a cornstarch slurry or water to seal making sure to get all the air out.
Immerse dumplings in boiling water for 6-8 minutes.

If you like the fried version, drain the dumplings well after boiling them.  Lightly cover a frying pan with cooking oil and fry the dumplings for 1-2 minutes on each side.

Spring Rolls

Spring Roll Skins
Bean Thread Noodles

Plus any desired combination of the following (the items with stars are distinct flavors you would recognize from the restaurant)
Cooked Tail-off shrimp*
Thinly shaved cooked pork*
Fresh Mint Leaves*
Carrots sliced like matchsticks
Fresh Cilantro leaves
Red cabbage sliced like a matchstick
Crab meat

Dipping Sauce
1/4 Cup Hoisin Sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/2 tsp Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (less if you can't handle spicy)
1-2 Tbs crushed peanuts

Soak Noodle according to package
Mix the dipping ingredients; Cup Hoisin Sauce, rice vinegar, Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce and set aside
Place filling ingredients in assembly order. Drain noodles thoroughly once soft. Put shallow cake pan with very warm water at the start of your assembly line.

Beautiful Spring Rolls!
This is where it takes practice.  You must soak the skins exactly long enough that they are pliable but not too long that they become too mushy and tear easily.
Once soaked, place on an assembly plate and promptly fill with ingredients. Roll by pulling the top edge over, then tucking in the sides then pulling up the bottom edge. Then set aside on a serving plate.  BEFORE grabbing the next skin, dry your assemble plate.

Once you have your spring rolls assembled, sprinkle the dipping sauce with peanuts and serve!


Be sure to search this blog for other healthy recipes you can make at home!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Should I ask the seller to pay my closing costs?

That depends.
In certain market segments, sellers are commonly asked to contribute to buyer closing costs. Generally, the guideline is that a seller can pay up to 3% of a buyer's closing costs (depending on the type of loan).

Keep in mind, that the seller still has a "net" price they choose to achieve and paying your closing costs directly reduces their bottom line therefore they may counter at a higher purchase price. Therefore, asking for closing costs may increase the actual price you pay for the home.
For example, if the home is offered at $200,000 and you offer 200,000 but also ask the seller to 3% in closing costs for you ($6,000), the seller would see a net of $194,000. If they are ultimately trying to receive $195,000 for the home, you may receive a counter offer of $201,000 and the agreement to pay those costs for you.

If they increase the purchase price to cover their closing cost contribution to the buyer this amount is (in theory) rolled in to the mortgage and paid out (with interest), over the period of the buyer's mortgage. If you have cash on hand, this probably doesn't make sense to you, but for buyer's who don't, it is a great way to leverage into home ownership and keep some money in savings for unexpected expenses in the first year of ownership.

Closing costs can include:
Attorney fees (if applicable)
Recording Deed
Inspections (Home, Radon, Termite, Mold, Chinese Drywall)
Insurance Policy
Flood Insurance
Well Test/Sulfur/Sodium
Proration of Real Estate Property Taxes
Proration of Maintenance Fees
Mortgage Title Insurance Policy
Service Fee or Origination Fee (if applicable)
Doc Stamps on Deed
Lender's Attorney Fees
Appraisal Fee
Assumption fee on existing mortgage
Intangible Tax
Recording Mortgage
Credit Report
Escrow Account (Taxes and Insurance)

Need help from a mortgage professional? Check out this guy to the right.  [Curt Smith, Bell Mortgage]

Or you can just call me... I know a lot of great mortgage professionals and I can connect you!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living in a staged home

Living in a staged home

Staging a home to sellStaging a home to sell while living in it can feel exhausting; you want it to look nice for buyers that might pop by at any time, but you also don’t want to feel like you live in a museum where you can’t touch anything!

Declutter. Follow the rule of organization:  If you haven't used it this year, GET RID OR IT. This also includes dated or damaged furniture you don't want in your new home.  Be aware that prospective buyers will look everywhere, including in any built-in custom carpentry cupboards and shelves, pantries, and other areas you might think are off-limits. When it comes to personal spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms, think about the items you would take on a two week vacation and get rid of everything else. (Keep only daily toiletries, 2 weeks worth of clothes, etc.)

With more space cleared in your home, you can start thinking about how to stage it. Potential buyers want to imagine themselves in your home, so you want to keep the d├ęcor neutral, without a lot of personal touches. At the same time, you don’t want it so sterile that you feel uncomfortable, or that they have trouble imagining anything at all in the space. The first step is to make sure your home feels light and open, because buyers put a premium on natural light.

Remove blinds and heavy curtains and consider investing in sheers and other lightweight window treatments, or leave windows uncovered if doing so won’t compromise privacy.

Make sure you have a few neutral items of furniture in your home; this is a good time to put dramatic statement pieces away unless they make fantastic accents in a room. Float furnishings away from the wall to create more dynamic space, rather than shoving them against the walls, which can actually make rooms feel more crowded.

When it comes to accent decor, consider emptying open bookshelves and cupboards and placing only a few appropriate pieces in each; a small stack of china in a cupboard or 4 books and a bookend on the bookshelf. Choose a few neutral, but interesting, pieces of art to hang, and offset them at different heights to draw attention to all the display possibilities. Also add mirrors; they add light, make rooms feel larger, and keep the space more interesting.

If you want to display some sculptures, keepsakes, and other objects, be aware that odd numbers on display tend to look best, and they shouldn't be rigidly grouped. Rather than a row of uniformly sized candles, for example, consider a cluster of five pillars of different heights. Pull accent items together with a common thread: an orange vase could go with a orange leather-bound book and bowl of fresh oranges, for example.  This usable arrangement, vase of flowers, oranges you can eat and refill and a book you enjoy feels "real" to a buyer but is still neutral and sophisticated.

Many homes have underutilized areas like stair nooks, junk rooms, and basements. Consider staging these to add value; since you’re not using them anyway, it won’t be an inconvenience to keep them looking dressed up, and by occupying them, you’ll reduce the chance that they attract clutter. Add an armchair, a table, and a soft lamp to make a reading corner, or a yoga mat and some pillows to create an instant yoga studio. These little spots in your home can become hidden gems to entrance buyers, rather than awkward spaces.

Open the windows at least ten minutes a day for ventilation to keep the house smelling fresh, and make sure to keep fresh vases of flowers around because they can make your house much more inviting. If you have animals, clean up after them regularly.

Once you have done these things, consider asking critical friends for their opinion. Have them walk through and tell you what catches their eye, good or bad; they may spot issues like peeling paint that you don’t notice anymore, for example, or could have suggestions for re-positioning items to make rooms feel more open and friendly. When you feel like your home is close to ready, a REALTOR can walk through with you to provide additional suggestions.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Fever: The Hunt for a Lake Home

There is so much to consider when looking for a lake home.  Some people get started knowing exactly what they want.  They have been dreaming about it and saving for years. Whether this describes you or this is the first time a lake home has crossed your mind, ask yourself these questions.

1) Will I live on the lake year-round or seasonally?
2) Location:  How far am I willing to drive?
3) What type of lake do I want to be on? Big? Private? Recreational? Stocked with fish? (This MN DNR link will help:
4) Do I want a lake home right on the water or would I consider a lot spit by a road or with deeded access? (Often you will find lower taxes on these lots.)
5) Am I willing to renovate an older lake home?

Of course there is more to consider when buying a home but asking yourself these questions about buying lake property will get your wheels turning!

Want to be immediately alerted when lake homes come on the market?  Contact me today to set up your VIP access to lake homes directly from the MLS where real estate agents list and find homes for their clients!

Friday, March 1, 2013

5 Steps to getting your house ready to sell

The costs of expensive upgrades are rarely recouped at the time of sale and studies show that smaller, simpler actions can yield a bigger return on your investment of time and money.

Here are five inexpensive, yet highly effective, ways to prepare your home for sale.

1) Create curb appeal
The outside of your home is the first thing buyers see. Trim hedges, maintain the lawn, power wash the siding and deck (and clean stains from the shingles if possible) and try to inject some color with potted flowers and plants (you can take them with you!). Make a great first impression on buyers!

2) Just store it (or sell it or throw it...)
Less is more when it comes to showing your home so put your knick-knacks, clear the paperwork off the counters, remove stacks of books and clear your fridge-covering artwork. Be sure to avoid stashing personal items in your closets because empty, clutter free closets are more appealing to buyers.

3) Lighten and brighten
Extra sunlight lends an airy feeling to your home, and interior lights provide warm glow. Wash your windows, keep curtains and blinds open, replace burnt-out bulbs, and add outdoor lighting to your landscaping, if possible. Also, keep your lights on in the evenings in the event that potential buyers drive by after-hours. With the lights on, your home will look inviting instead of dark and gloomy.  You always leave a light on for guests, right?

4) Paint an appealing atmosphere
A new coat of paint will freshen up any "lived-in" room but stick to neutrals such as light grays and tans. Also, consider repainting rooms that are currently bright, fun colors or busy designs - this can divert a buyer’s attention away from the home and toward money-costing “projects” that would come with buying the home.  I am sure you know, the wall paper must go.  A buyer sees pain and expense when they see wall paper - even if it is just a border.

5) Clean floors
New carpet or flooring can be expensive.  But you should spot clean stains and have carpets cleaned to freshen up the appearance (and smell). Using a wood floor or laminate floor cleaner can restore life to tired floors.  Be careful to use the right product for your floor so it doesn't become a slipping hazard!

With the help of your REALTOR® and a little hard work, these tips should help you increase your home’s appeal to more buyers without breaking the bank and even help you sell your home more quickly if you are priced right.

cleaning, creating curb appeal, curb appeal, spring cleaning, spruce up your home, staging, tips for selling your house