What Can You Do with a Pumpkin Besides Carve It?

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Have you ever wondered what you can do with your pumpkin besides carve it, paint it or leave it on your porch until after Thanksgiving? Here are some fun uses for pumpkins that don’t require a lot of money or effort but do provide some unique fall decorations, healthy snacking choices and even beauty and wellness options.

Create clever fall decorations.

Carve the perfect fall vase. Cut off the top of your pumpkin, carve out the center and then place a container filled with water inside. You can choose a short pumpkin, tall pumpkin or something in between, based on the size of your glass container. Add your favorite bouquet. Or float fall candles.

Make pumpkin fries. Use a potato peeler to remove the pumpkin’s skin, then cut the squash into fry-like strips. Coat them with the spice of your choice, arrange on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and then bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes. Serve with a spicy aioli or another dipping sauce.

Create a fall candle holder. Take a small or miniature pumpkin and remove the stem. You can snap it off or cut it off, but make sure that the top is smooth or evenly indented. Place a votive candle where the stem used to be. You can leave the display as is, or add a glass hurricane shade over it. Try grouping several together or spreading them across the center of your table to create the illusion of a glowing runner.

Let your pumpkin pack a punch by doubling as a punch bowl. Get a short, round/fat pumpkin. Cut off the top and remove the pumpkin pulp from the inside. Place a short glass bowl into the pumpkin and pour in your favorite punch. Add a ladle and you’re good to go with this fall party table decoration.

Make a pumpkin drink dispenser. This item may be used during Halloween, or for other fall-themed events, such as Thanksgiving. This project may be of interest to those who enjoy arts and crafts, entertaining, or even those who want to undertake a fun project with other family members. Click here for easy instructions for this family craft.

Get spicy and creative with the seeds.

Stay classic and bake the seeds. Bake the seeds with your favorite spices at 350 F until they are toasted, about 20-30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes. Make sure you rinse the seeds and let them dry before bake them. Or use them in granola. Add the seeds to oats, dried cranberries or other favorite snacks for a great granola blend.

Spice up your guacamole. Use pumpkin seeds to liven up your favorite guacamole. Bake the seeds with chili powder and mix them into your
traditional snack for a little healthy fall fun.

Add pumpkin to your health and beauty regime.

Scrub away with your pumpkin with a pumpkin exfoliant. For a full body treatment, you can use purée pumpkin and brown sugar (oatmeal is another great exfoliant). Put the exfoliant on a damp loofah or cloth and scrub onto skin in circular motions. This helps to drain toxins from the body. Finish with a nice warm shower.

Add shine to your hair. Restore shine and moisture to dry and damaged strands with a homemade pumpkin hair mask. Combine one cup of pumpkin (you can purée chunks in a food processor or use the canned version), a half cup of plain yogurt and two tablespoons of honey into a bowl. Mix well, and then apply to hair from root to tip. Cover head with a plastic shower cap and sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Wash treatment out and
follow up with a thorough cleansing using a shampoo and conditioner.

We’ve answered some questions about pumpkins. We’d be glad to answer questions about home mortgages, too.

Q&A about VA Loans

Military Father and Son

VA loans are $0 down payment mortgage options available to veterans, service members and select military spouses. VA loans are issued by private lenders and guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Since its inception in 1944, more than 22 million VA loans have helped veterans, active duty military personnel and their families purchase homes or refinance mortgages.

How does a VA loan compare to a traditional/conventional home mortgage? Read on.

What is the down payment?

  • VA loans: 0% down.
  • Conventional loans: Up to 20% down.

Do I have to pay mortgage insurance?

  • VA loans: VA loans do have a form of mortgage insurance, the VA Funding Fee. It is usually 3.3% and financed into the loan up front. If the borrower separated from the military with a qualifying disability, the funding fee is waived to 0%.
  • Conventional loans: If buyers do put down less than a 20% down payment, they must pay for private mortgage insurance.

Are the interest rates for VA loans competitive?

  • VA loans: The VA backing gives lenders a greater degree of safety, which means the interest rates can be more competitive than non-VA loans.
  • Conventional loans: Without government backing, banks take on more risk with conventional loans, which can result in less-competitive interest rates.

How easy is it to qualify for a VA loan?

  • VA loans: Because the loan is backed by the government, banks assume less risk and have less stringent qualification standards for VA loans, making them easier to obtain.
  • Conventional loans: Conventional loans require stricter qualification procedures that can put homeownership out of reach for some homebuyers.

Can I do a cash out refinance? 

  • VA loans: Borrowers can do a cash out refinance up to 100% of their home’s value.
  • Conventional loans: Borrowers with conventional loans must leave some equity in their home when doing a cash out refinance.

What else should I know about VA loans? 

  • VA eligibility is re-usable. A lot of people think they are only eligible for a VA loan one  time, but they are able to get VA loans more than one time.
  • You can have more than one VA loan at a time. It’s a myth that you can only have one at a time.
  • VA loans are assumable.

 You or someone you know may be the perfect fit for a VA loan. Contact a loan officer today to learn more about VA loans and other types of home loans that may be a good fit for you. 

 

Real Estate Agents – Help Your Homebuyers Avoid Being Scammed

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of REALTORS® have announced concerns over closing cost scams.

Here’s how the scam works: Hackers break into a consumer’s or real estate professional’s email account to search for upcoming real estate transactions and closing dates. Then, hackers pose as the agent or title officer and email the homebuyer with a last-minute change to the wiring instructions. Should buyers wire money to the account, they will lose the money and likely lose the home they’ve been waiting for due to a lack of funds.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your clients don’t fall victim to this scam:

Ensure you have a united effort between agents, loan officers, closing attorneys and title officers to remind buyers of the dangers of this scam. Verify that changes to wiring instructions will not be requested by email.

Remind buyers to be alert. They should not follow instructions regarding closing funds solely from an email but when instructed to do so in person or by phone.

Add a brief warning to your email signature that reminds clients to remain cautious about suspicious messages during their transaction, especially near closing.

Do not conduct business over public Wi-Fi and be cautious about links that you click on. As an agent, transaction information is a highly valuable target for scammers and hackers.

Use secure document technology sharing and signing any sensitive documents. Our ULConnect App provides a safe, secure portal for sharing information.

Remember, email is almost never a secure communication platform, so take precautions to protect your clients.

You Can Take Control of Some of What Affects Your Home Loan Interest Rate

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Interest rates are at the top of everyone’s minds right now, especially if you are in the market for a home. But your interest rate isn’t set in stone. Several factors play into the interest rate on your loan, and you are in control of a lot of what affects it. Here are some of the things that can affect the interest rate on your home loan. Let us know if we can help you determine what your home loan may look like.

1. Credit scores
Borrowers with higher credit scores generally receive lower interest rates than borrowers with lower credit scores. Lenders use your credit scores to predict how reliable you’ll be in paying your loan. Credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit report, which shows information about your credit history, including your loans, credit cards, and payment history. If you’re considering buying a home now or later, check your credit score and do what you can to get it as high as possible.

2. Home location
Your home loan’s interest rate may be impacted by the in which you are purchasing. Part of this could be due to the health of the housing market in your state or county. If the housing market is healthy, the lender is less likely to risk default on the loan, so the interest rate may be lower.

3. Down payment
The more money you put down on your home, the lower your interest rate will likely be. You don’t have to put down 20 percent to get a loan, but if you do, you may get a better interest rate.

If you cannot put down 20 percent or more, you will be required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender in the event a borrower stops paying the loan. The cost of PMI is added to the overall cost of your monthly mortgage loan payment. You may be offered a slightly lower interest rate with a down payment just under 20 percent, compared with one of 20 percent or higher. Why? You’re paying mortgage insurance, which lowers the risk for your lender.

When determining your down payment and subsequent interest rate, keep in mind the overall picture of what you are borrowing. The larger the down payment, the lower the overall cost to borrow. Getting a lower interest rate can save you money over time. But even if you find you get a slightly lower interest rate with a down payment less than 20 percent, your total cost to borrow will likely be greater since you’ll need to make the additional monthly mortgage insurance payments.

Look at the overall loan and payments, not just the interest rate, when getting a home loan.

4. Loan term
The term of your loan is how long you have to repay it. In general, shorter term loans have lower interest rates and lower overall costs, but higher monthly payments.

5. Interest rate type: fixed or adjustable
There are two general types of interest rates: fixed and adjustable. Fixed interest rates do not change over time. Adjustable rates may have an initial fixed period, after which they go up or down each period based on the market.

Your initial interest rate may be lower with an adjustable-rate loan than with a fixed rate loan, but that rate might increase significantly at a later date.

6. Loan type
There are several broad types (categories) of mortgage loans, such as conventional, FHA, USDA, and VA loans, all of which have different eligibility requirements. Interest rates can be different depending on what loan type you choose. Your lender will discuss different options with you and will help you choose the right loan to keep you and your family financially secure.

7. Discount points
Points, or discount points, lower your interest rate in exchange for an upfront fee. By paying points, you pay more upfront, but you receive a lower interest rate and therefore pay less over time. Points may be a good option if you will keep the loan for a long time. There are also tax benefits for discount points for the purchase of your primary residence. Talk to your accountant or attorney about this.

Getting a home loan is about more than just the cost of the house or the interest rate. There’s a lot to understand, and it is our privilege to help you navigate the home buying process. Please contact us if we can answer any questions.

You Budgeted to Buy a House – Now Budget as a New Homeowner

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Most of us budget when we want to buy a house, but budgeting after we are homeowners, that’s another story. After you’ve signed the papers and the movers have unpacked your last box, you still need to have a budget for “what’s next.” Without this, you may find yourself with some unexpected needs and no way to pay for them. Here are a few pointers. 

Account for new regular expenses
Even as a renter, you probably had some bills you’ll continue to cover as a homeowner – electricity, water, gas, internet, etc. But when you buy a home, there are new expenses to add to this list.

  • Real estate taxes and homeowners insurance: These often are included in your monthly mortgage payment. If any of these change, even if you have a fixed-interest mortgage, your payment can fluctuate from year to year because of changes in taxes and homeowners insurance premiums.
  • Homeowners association: We see a lot of HOAs in today’s home market. These fees can be as high as several hundreds dollars a month. HOA dues may be payable monthly or annually. If you pay these annually, be sure to budget for them so you have the money to cover the costs when it’s time.
  • Home maintenance and upkeep: As a homeowner, you’ll want to stay on top of maintenance. One rule of thumb is to set aside 1% – 2% of your income to cover these costs. If your home is older, you may need to plan even a little more.
  • High cost repairs: If you have high cost or high value repairs, you’ll need to have budgeted even more. A new roof, deck replacement, or other big projects like finishing a basement or covering plumbing emergencies may cost more. Plan ahead.
  • Finally, make sure you continue to build your emergency fund. Three to six months of living expenses is what most financial planners recommend you always have in a ready-to-use savings plan. This is only for emergencies, but building it up should be part of your budgeting plan.

Being a homeowner is a great thing, and with all great things comes great responsibility! Be ready for anything, homeowner! 

 

Halloween Safety Tips for Homeowners

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You’ll definitely say “boo” if you are faced with a claim to your homeowners insurance because of a Halloween accident on your property. Fortunately, there are some really easy things you can do ahead of time to make sure Halloween is a safe and fun day.

Keep your lights on. You want your visitors, including trick-or-treaters, to see clearly when they enter your property after dark to avoid injuries caused by falling. And, keeping some lights on can stop burglars, so you’ll want to do this regularly, not just on Halloween.

Create a clear path. Make sure there is nothing in the driveway or other walkways that someone may trip on. Remove lawn art and gardening equipment, and make sure all toys, flower pots/planters, etc. are put away. Little kids like to scamper. They aren’t looking for these hazards. If you have any loose steps or stones, make sure to repair those, too.

Use flameless candles. Do you like the way the dark looks with a flickering flame? Use flameless candles or battery powered lanterns. If you do use regular candles, watch them closely and keep them away from curtains that may blow into the flame. Use flameless candles in your jack-o-lanterns, too.

Put your pets in another room. Keep dogs and cats away from trick-or-treaters. They may be spooked by the extra activity, loud noises and costumes.

Set your alarm system before you leave. Halloween brings out the most mischievous so protect your home with your home alarm system. And why not use Halloween as one of the days you always check your smoke alarms, too!

Halloween’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a day that sees a lot of injuries. Don’t be caught off guard.

Top Tips for Keeping Produce Fresh Longer

Family Outing to the Grocery Store

No one likes to throw food away. Groceries are expensive and when you can keep your food fresh longer, you can save a lot of cash. Here are some tips for keeping your fresh food fresher longer.

Keep your refrigerator clean. Leftover residue or mold spores can increase the spoilage of all your food in the refrigerator.

Click here for some tips to easily clean your refrigerator and keep it clean longer.

Don’t store fruits and vegetables near a gas stove. Natural gas has been shown to increase ripening. In addition, don’t store fruits or vegetable in areas that have smoke or heat, like the stove or toaster oven. The exhaust and heat from these can increase the amount of Ethylene gas that is produced and speed up the ripening process.

Store produce in special storage bags that you can buy from your grocer.

Don’t cut your fruits and vegetables until you will be using them. Cut fruit will spoil faster.

If you do cut your fruit or veggies sprinkle them with a little lemon juice to keep them fresh and cover them with plastic wrap.

Place fresh herbs and leafy greens in a jar or vase of water, just like you would a bouquet of flowers. They’ll last longer and you’ll have a beautiful, green arrangement.

Store dried green onions or chives after you chop them up in a plastic water bottle in the freezer. When you’re ready to use some, just pull this out and sprinkle.

Store potatoes with apples to keep the potatoes from sprouting, and keep them away from your onions. Onions will make apples go bad faster.

Keep your greens in the refrigerator in a bowl with a paper towel, and cover with plastic wrap. The paper towel will absorb the excess moisture and keep them fresh.

Clean berries, fruits, and greens in a mixture of 10 parts water and 1 part white vinegar. This will remove dirt and even pesticides, and help them last longer by preventing mold.

Bad apple in the bunch? Remove it immediately. The old saying “One bad apple will spoil the bunch,” is true.

Store fruit in the middle of the refrigerator or in the drawers to keep temperatures consistent.

Keep bananas away from your other produce, as they produce some of the highest amounts of Ethylene gas. Place plastic wrap around the crown of your banana bunch to keep them lasting longer. If you want them to ripen super fast, place them in a closed plastic bag. Since they emit so much Ethylene gas, they’ll ripen quickly when the gas is trapped by the bag.

Keep tomatoes at room temperature and away from sunlight. If you grow your own tomatoes, pick them as soon as they are ripe. Do not to store your tomatoes in plastic; this will trap moisture and increase the likelihood of spoilage.

Store nuts in the freezer or in a food safe jar to protect them from moisture and air.

It’s no fun to throw food away, and it’s always fun to eat fresh! Try a few of these tips and see if you’re not saving and using more food than you ever have before!