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Home Hack

When is the Right Time to Refinance?

Maybe you’ve heard someone declare “Mortgage rates are at an all-time low!” It’s been a fairly common refrain in the last few years as federal interest rates have fallen.

When mortgage rates are low, it’s a good time to get a first-time mortgage or to refinance a mortgage that you already have. If you think refinancing can save you money on your mortgage, then NOW might be the perfect time to look into it.

Mortgage rates are currently at record-breaking lows due, in major part, to the extremely low Federal Reserve rate. The fed rate was dropped to near 0% in recent months in response to the economic hit from coronavirus.

There are many reasons why homeowners refinance:

  • To obtain a lower interest rate
  • To shorten the term of their mortgage
  • To eliminate previously required mortgage insurance costs
  • To convert from an Adjustable Rate Mortgage(ARM) to a fixed-rate mortgage, or vice versa
  • To tap into home equity to raise funds to deal with a financial emergency, finance a large purchase, or consolidate debt

One of the best reasons to refinance is to lower the interest rate on your existing loan.

Historically, the rule of thumb is that refinancing is a good idea if you can reduce your interest rate by at least 2%. However, many lenders say 1% savings is enough of an incentive to refinance.

When interest rates fall, homeowners sometimes have the opportunity to refinance an existing loan for another loan that, without much change in the monthly payment, has a significantly shorter term.

Homeowners often access the equity in their homes to cover major expenses, such as the costs of home remodeling or a child’s college education. These homeowners may justify the refinancing by the fact that remodeling adds value to the home or that the interest rate on the mortgage loan is less than the rate on money borrowed from another source.

If you could save several hundred dollars a month, or have your home paid off in half the time, would you want to? Refinancing might offer you just that kind of savings.

Since refinancing can cost between 2% and 5% of a loan’s principal and—as with an original mortgage—requires an appraisal, title search, and application fees, it’s important for a homeowner to determine whether refinancing is a wise financial decision.

Call us to discuss your specific situation.

Contact Us

 

Recipes

Healthier Easy Chicken and Dumplings

Vegetables and chicken make this soup hearty like a stew. We’ve made this classic healthier with loads of veggies, no-salt stock, lean chicken breast, and heart-healthy canned soups. Enjoy all of the comfort with less guilt!

INGREDIENTS

SOUP:
2-4 Chicken Breasts, or you can skip the chicken for a veggie version
1/2 Onion, thin slices
2 stalks of Celery (optional)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 cup each, 3+ Veggies of Choice*
1 box No-Salt Chicken Broth (Veggie alternate: No-Salt Veggie Broth)
1 can “Heart Healthy” Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 can “Heart Healthy” Cream of Celery Soup
Water
Pepper and/or Garlic Powder to taste
1 tube of plain buttermilk biscuits (for dumplings)

DIRECTIONS:

Place olive oil, sliced onion, and celery in large pot. Sauté until onions and celery are softened. Add broth, 2 cups of water, and chicken. Cook over medium heat until chicken is cooked through.

Carefully remove chicken from pot and set aside.

Add both cans of soup and 3 cans of water to the pot – with the broth from cooking the chicken.

*Add veggies of choice to the pot. We recommend at least a 1 cup each of three different types of veggies, it’s a preference, add more or less if you like. The best veggies are ones you might see in chicken soup or pot pie: corn, green beans, carrot, peas, celery, mushrooms, broccoli – fresh or frozen, canned get too mushy. Pro Tip: Carrots often take the longest to soften, so you can microwave them for 1 minute first, then add to mix to speed up the process.

Carefully shred chicken with forks and return to the pot.

When veggies are tender, now make your dumplings:

Cut biscuits into 4 pieces each (don’t have to be even), and carefully drop each piece into the soup. These will form the dumplings, and they will cook in the surface/upper part of the pot. (Larger dumplings are made with fewer cuts per biscuit.)

Get the biscuits covered in the hot soup asap by gently folding them into the soup with your wooden spoon. Be gentle and do not stir. Use more of a poking than a stirring method. Keep dunking each biscuit to cook the outside evenly and keep it from falling apart.

Fully cooked biscuits will be stiff masses that look like sticky mashed potatoes.

Add pepper and/or garlic powder to taste.

Enjoy!

Curb Appeal

Garage Storage Ideas

Alas, the holidays are over and it has you needing a way to store all of that holiday cheer for another year. Fear not, we’ve found some great options for space saving and garage organization.

Packing Christmas with Care

About these selections that we found on Amazon: 

Storage Cubes: Tired of every-shaped ornament box towers to topple and boxes in a bigger box storage? Consistently sized ornament cubes with individual holding dividers make ornaments a snap to stack away. (We recommend still packing any heirloom type special ornaments in individual boxes.)

Reels: Putting things like twinkle lights and garland on spools make it so much easier for decorating next year.

Wrapping Storage: Gift wrap organization keeps everything nice and wrinkle free. They come in bags, boxes, carts, even over-the-door organization options.

Wreath Bags: No more mystery-garbage-bag-covered surprises when you buy storage options that look like the thing they are holding.

General Organization

About these selections that we found on Amazon: 

Pack like-things together, and use clear bins or bags. Color bins are fun, but make it impossible to look through things at a glance. While clear bins make it easier to see what’s inside, a general label holder on the outside helps too for when you have things to store during the year. “There’s a bin for that!” Some bin organizing label ideas: “Gardening,” “Toys,” “Holiday,” “Tools,” “Yard Sale,” “Auto,” “Extension Cords/Power Strips,” “Sports,” etc. Packing soft items like blankets in clear bags with handles are great for ease-of-use too.

Bin Storage Options

About these selections also found on Amazon:

While stacking the bins on one another is possible, it makes it harder to get to what you need quickly and can even become dangerous. Things that separate the bins like storage cubbies, make it easy to access one tub at a time. Overhead storage gets things off the floor and into the wasted space above. Just make sure any option you choose is properly installed and secured for your safety first. Pro Tip: Keep bin weights at an amount that is easy to carry. Rather than cramming everything into one unmanageable tub, if you have more stuff, just start another bin for it and keep the bins safe to carry and store.

Garage Wall Storage

About these selections found on Amazon:

Wall Racks: Storage racks that keep things neat and organized on the wall are always a help in the garage. Peg boards are a helpful option too, but leave a lot to your creativity to set up effectively for your needs.

Tool Bucket: Instead of storing away your go-to tools and then spending time trying to find them at some point in the future, a bucket organizer makes it easy to keep them handy, on-the-go, and organized at the same time. No more wondering where you stored the tape measure! Pro Tip: Tool buckets work great for gardening tools and items too. Keep the house tools in one bucket, and the garden stuff in another to minimize your frustrations finding the right tool for the job at hand.

The Catch-All

About these selections found on Amazon:

Clear Bags: Bags are always the easy thing. Storage zipper lock bags are a great way to organize items within a bin or utility bag – or just to keep items dust free. Vacuum storage bags make it great for storing big soft items like bed linens, clothing, curtains, plush toys, holiday themed pillows and bedding – into such a small footprint you could possibly store them inside (where humidity is less likely to mess with their soft surfaces). Pro Tip: Place an odor fighting dryer sheet or two in with your bedding before vacuuming the air out to help keep it smelling fresh.

Utility Totes: A heftier option for storing items like decorations. The handles make it easy to carry back and forth between seasons too. Pro Tip: assign utility tote colors based on the items it is holding. For example, green and red tote colors could indicate holiday items, a person’s favorite color could indicate items stored of theirs. Fall decor could be in an orange bag… color blocking your bags (or bins) make it easy to see where what you’re looking for is at a glance.

Over-the-Door Clear Shoe Holders: Aren’t just for shoes. Use the clear pockets to organize and store small items that you may need access to more often. Smaller tools, odd bolts and screws, that one thing you found on the floor but have no idea what it is but seems too important to throw away, small flashlights, tubes of this, small boxes of that… it really is a handy way to organize the little things (and shoes).

And just like that, you now have a storage option and place for almost anything in your garage.

Recipes

Taste of Tradition

DeAnna’s Traditional Recipe: “I don’t think any Christmas cookie tray or box is complete without cutout sugar cookies! They are best to put out for Santa too! I use the basic sugar cookie recipe from my very first Betty Crocker cookbook that I’ve had since 1977!”

Betty Crocker’s Frosted Sugar Cookies

Cookies

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softenend
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

 

Frosting (For After Baking)

3 cups powdered sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Decorate: food colors, colored sugar, or candy sprinkles

Directions:

  • In large bowl, combine powdered sugar, softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, almond extract and egg – mix with spoon until well blended. Stir in flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Divide dough in half; shape dough into 2 disks, and wrap in plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  • Heat oven to 375°F
  • Roll each disk on lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with 2 – to 2 1/2-inch cookie cutters into desired shapes. Place cutouts on uncreased cookie sheets, at least 2 inches apart.
  • Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until edges are light brown. Cool 1 minute; transfer to cooling racks. Cool completely.
  • Frosting and Decorating: In medium bowl, mix powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla together with spoon until smooth and spreadable. If frosting is too stiff to spread, add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time. Tint with food color. Spread frosting on cooled cookies. Decorate as desired with colored sugar or candy sprinkles.
  • Let stand about 4 hours or until frosting is set. Store in airtight container at room temperature with waxed paper between layers.

Kaylie’s Traditional Recipe: “This delicious recipe is my Grandmother’s. I make it from a hand written cook book she made for my Mom, where they are noted as ‘favorite for Christmas Eve.’ “

Grandma’s Holiday Squares Florentine

Ingredients

4 eggs, beaten
1 can cream of mushroom or celery soup
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed WELL drained, and minced
1/2 cup nuts
1/4 cup minced green onions
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tube crescent rolls

 

Directions:

  • In large bowl combine all ingredients except crescent rolls, mix well
  • Unroll crescent rolls, but do not separate. Press rolls into 14×9 buttered baking pan or cookie sheet, pressing seams together
  • Spread spinach mixture over dough
  • Bake at 350°F degrees for 40 minutes
  • Cut into 1 inch pieces, makes about 50 appetizers
Curb Appeal

CREATE A WINTER WONDERLAND IN MINUTES

Decorating home exteriors for the holidays used to take FOREVER, but now there are so many modern options that significantly cut the time creating and increase the time enjoying. Oversized decorations and lights that are more like flood lights (rather than individual string lights) cover more space in a fraction of the time to set up. Here’s what we found.

FOR WALLS:

Projection spot lights, motion lights, and slide shows set up in a snap and cover a good amount of area. We found these options on Amazon:


Star Shower Slideshow Motion – We love this thing! It’s basically a spotlight projector that shines moving graphics (included in little slide inserts) on to a wall. The instructions say one unit can cover 25 feet, if you can get the unit 30 feet away from the wall you want to project on. Ours is about 8 feet away and covers a 10 foot wall nicely. The best part is you can use it for several holidays if you get the versions that include the extra themed slides!
The Original Star Shower Motion – You’ve seen this little guy everywhere. Tiny green and red moving dots. One unit covers a decent area. We liked it most shining on the shrubs and bushes.
App Lights Projection Spot Lights – This covers about 20′, and the whirling motion of the light is mesmerizing. The app has presets to control it from your phone. The only thing we didn’t like is that the app is a little confusing, and there’s no other way to control the device.

FOR LAWNS:

Inflatables – Move over car dealership dancing inflatable, you’ve got some serious seasonal competition! They come in all kinds of holiday themes too!
Giant Ornaments – Just like the real thing but bigger and made for using outdoors. We are particularly excited about these this year!
Yard Stakes – Can’t get any simpler than that!

Pro Tip: Be sure to guy a good timer(s), then you can set it and forget it for the season!

FOR PORCHES:


Remote Control Flameless Candles – How cute will these look in windows?! Create additional cuteness with Outdoor Pillow Covers, Bows, Banners and Floor Decals. (All found on Amazon)

FOR PATHS:

These candy cane and jumbo bulbs are stake lights with festive flair! We’ve also seen the candy canes as plain plastic decoration stakes (no lights) too. (All found on Amazon)

HAPPY DECORATING!

Share your seasonal curb appeal photos with us on Instagram or Facebook #DCOHOLIDAYS 

Home Hack

Perfectly Pretty Presents

Wrapping gifts can be a real chore. Sometimes, it feels impossible to get your item wrapped in a way you are proud to present – but don’t give up yet, we’ve got some tips!

THE WRAPPING RULE:

IF IT’S A STRANGE SHAPE, IT GOES IN A BOX OR BAG. 

Trust us. Odd shaped items, or items that do not have flat sides, will never wrap up in a way that gives you the satisfaction of a prim present. The simple trick? If the gift doesn’t have perfectly flat sides, put it in a box or bag.

“OKAY, WHAT SUPPLIES DO I BUY?”

Pro Tip: If you’re ordering things online, use the nicer shipping boxes to wrap gifts. Remove any labels/stickers and they’re ready to wrap!

Shirt Boxes – they aren’t just for shirts. Shirt boxes come in value bundles and are perfect for smaller, flatter, oddly shaped, oddly or soft packaged, or several loose items. We searched “shirt boxes” on Amazon and found these cute options, just as an example.

Gift Card Pillow Box Holders – double as simple jewelry boxes too
Gift Bags – You can get them in value packs too, plain colors, themed, etc.
Tissue Paper – You’ll need it if you’re using bags or shirt boxes. They sell it almost everywhere, even the dollar store.
Wrapping Paper – You can get all kinds of paper options at all kinds of price ranges. We suggest an average paper, ideally just pricey enough to have the grid lines on the back. The quality of paper is usually better (less accidental tearing) and the lines make it so much easier to cut straight.
Good Scissors – If you have an old pair that doesn’t cut right, it’s time to upgrade to a new pair. Does not have to be fancy, just has to function properly.
Clear Tape – Splurge and buy the brand name. You will save time and swear jar money. Pro Tip: the clearer the tape the less noticeable it will be. If it looks frosted on the roll, it will look frosted on the gift. Either way is fine, just a preference choice to make.
ACCESSORIZE with Gift Tags, Ribbons, and Bows. While they are not necessary, they make the experience even better for the receiver, taking your perfectly pretty present to the next level!

GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO WRAP

If possible, give yourself little blocks of time over the next few weeks to wrap things. If you are living that last-minute-cram-session lifestyle, gift bags and no-wrapping-required gift boxes will be your best friends!

Now the fun part! Coordinate your wrapping selections, and voila! Your gifts become your holiday decor! Pick a few theme colors and only buy wrapping paper in those colors or that have those colors in them. Pro Tip: If your tree or holiday decorations have a dominant color, make sure that color is in your wrapping selections too.

Here’s an example of a theme we created using only items we could find on Amazon. For this example theme we wanted a homemade vibe in aqua, red, and white: 

GIFT WRAPPING 101

(a how-to tip guide)

Paper Wrapping:

Measuring – Measuring can be tricky, but a good guide is to use the biggest length of your item to measure the paper at least 2 lengths wide, and 3 lengths tall. In general, it is better to err on the side of too large rather than too small. Pro Tip: Choosing paper with a grid on the back really comes in handy for measuring, cutting, and lining things up straight.

Wrapping – If possible, place top of item down so that your seams will be on the bottom of the gift. Even if your seam isn’t perfectly centered, it will be hidden on the bottom of the gift.

Folding – Fold ends in at the sides first, then down from top, and up from bottom to close.

Pro Tip: On all box edges and corners, use your fingers to lightly pinch the paper into crisp creases. It really makes the presentation pop!

Gift Bags:

Pro Tip: Roll delicate or breakable items in tissue or kraft paper. Place a cushion of tissue paper in the bottom of the bag too. It’s also perfectly fine to place several wrapped or unwrapped items into one gift bag.

HOW TO: Use tissue paper to accent and coordinate the top of the bags for a pretty presentation. Place items in gift bag. Lay the stack of tissue paper out on a flat surface, pinch one sheet of paper in the middle and whip up into the air and down to form a fluffy cone. For most bags you will use at least 3 sheets of tissue for each bag top. Tuck the paper cones in top of gift bag, points facing down into the bag. Depending on your bag size, you may need to add additional sheets to fully obscure the gifts inside.

Boxes:

To wrap or not to wrap? If you used a no wrapping required shirt box you are basically done! All it needs is a tag, and some ribbon or a bow if you want to get fancy. If you used a plain and simple shirt box, if the item’s packaging is already a box, or you’re using shipping boxes, proceed to the “Paper Wrapping” section above!

Just remember, the wrapping is just for fun. The magic is in the giving.

You’ve got this!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 

Curb Appeal

Mums the Word!

Well technically “chrysanthemums” is the word – and they are the perfect little flower for fall landscaping.

Mums the Word!

Mums are one of the easiest ways to give your autumn curb a happy little kick of color. These flowers are easy to care for, a reasonable cost, and available in the garden department of almost every home improvement store. What are you waiting for? Grab a few planters today and give your yard all of the fall vibes it deserves!

More About Mums:

  • Mum flowers typically last about one month, in our warm Florida climate they can last longer if you cut off flowers as they fade. Cut the flowers just below their base, leaving the stem long.
  • Mums are thirsty flowers, so water them a few times a week to keep them happy and blooming as long as possible. A wilted mum is a sad mum indeed. Water at the base of the plant, rather than on the leaves or flowers.
  • These flowers love being in the sun, which can also dry them out, so give them their time in the sun, but don’t forget to water.
  • Keep away from pets. Mums are best to use in areas that your pets do not have access to, as I read mums can make pets sick if eaten.
  • If you plant your chrysanthemums in the ground, cut the stems back to about 4″ after the plant has gone brown and dormant to encourage new growth next season.

Mums come in a variety of colors – reds, yellows, even purples.

A really cute way to decorate with mums is by creating, what we call, an autumn “porchscape.”

You will need:

1 hay bale

3 to 5 pumpkins in varying sizes (Psst, you could even throw in a seasonal gourd if you’re feeling extra… fall-y?)

1 bandana or fabric square in a complementing fall color or pattern

1 to 3 potted chrysanthemums

1 small chalkboard easel or fall sign

Let’s make it:

The first thing you will have to decide is where you want your porchscape – on a table, or on the ground? For a table you could use smaller hay bales available at craft stores with mini pumpkins, while ground-based creations would require bigger hay bales and larger pumpkins. Whatever the size, the design approach is the same:

  • When in doubt, odd numbers usually work best for groupings or quantities
  • Designs like this tend to look better slightly off center, and at angles rather than perfectly centered or flush against walls
  • You want some elements that are taller (the mums), some medium (the hay bale) and some smaller (the pumpkins)
  • Your show piece pumpkin selections should be half as tall as the hay bale or mums and shorter so you can make little tiered groups

How we would do it:

  1. Start with your hay bale, at an angle, out from the wall. Make sure that your design is in a good, safe, and dry place. Never put decorations near heat sources like lights, outlets, or in the path of high traffic or sprinklers. 
  2. Drape your bandana or fabric square over the bale off center, to the right. Drop a corner over the front edge as a color/shape accent. You’ve just created a little stage to set items on!
  3. Next place one mum on the floor on the right side of the hay seated back, one mum on floor in front of the hay left of center, and one mum on the top of hay on the left corner. This should create a visual triangle with the mums.
  4. Then you fill in your design around that triangle – large pumpkin on ground in front of the mums on the right side of hay, place another large pumpkin next to planter on top of hay, group with one to two smaller pumpkins.
  5. Finish with a friendly message or fall sign on your small chalkboard easel placed on the fabric on the top of hay bale. You can cozy up a mini pumpkin around your sign for even more autumn-ness if you like.

Kinda like this:

Think of this as an outline for your porchscape. You may need to move things around to work out the right feel for your space with the exact flowers and elements you’ve selected. Get creative – you may prefer to create this concept backwards, or to group two mums together, or use more pumpkins… that’s all the fun of design, go for it! Pro tip: view your porchscape up close and from a distance as you rearrange items. Move one thing and stand back to see how it looks as a whole design. You may find you need to angle or move things further than you think, and you can see that best by standing back a little to take in the whole composition.

The most important part is to have fun creating and don’t forget to share your porchscape masterpiece with us on Facebook or Instagram!

Don’t have a porch to “scape”? We can help with that! Getting pre-approved for a home loan is all done virtually! Click on “Apply Now” to learn more or call us!