Building Family Wealth Over The Next 5 Years

Building Family Wealth Over The Next 5 Years

Building Family Wealth Over The Next 5 Years | Keeping Current Matters

As the economy continues to improve, more and more Americans are seeing their personal financial situations also improving. Instead of just getting by, many are now beginning to save and find other ways to build their net worth. One way to dramatically increase their family wealth is through the acquisition of real estate.

For example, let’s assume a young couple purchases and closes on a $250,000 home in January. What will that home be worth five years down the road?

Pulsenomics surveys a nationwide panel of over one hundred economists, real estate experts and investment & market strategists every quarter. They ask them to project how residential prices will appreciate over the next five years. According to their latest survey, here is how much value that $250,000 house will gain in the coming years.

Family Wealth Earned with Home Equity | Keeping Current Matters

Over a five year period, that homeowner can build their home equity to over $40,000. And, in many cases, home equity is large portion of a family’s overall net worth.

Bottom Line

If you are looking to better your family’s long-term financial situation, buying your dream home might be a great option.

36 Snow Day Activities and Ideas for Your Kids


36 Snow Day Activities and Ideas for Your Kids


If you’re kids are getting stir crazy, here’s a few boredom busters and sanity savers for you.

1. Make Use of the Snow

Might as well embrace the snow. Toss your kiddos outside with a shovel and have them shovel the driveway and sidewalks. If they have extra energy and can stand the cold, suggest they shovel the neighbor’s drive way too.

2. Hot Coco Magic

Provide your kids with bowls, scoop up the snow and add it to your sauce pan. They will love watching it melt into chocolately goodness on the stove top with you.

Here’s a great recipe.

3. Maple Syrup Goodness

This makes another sweet snack for your kids. Boil real maple syrup for 10 minutes, stirring often. Then carefully take the syrup outside. Have your kids find a smooth, clean area and pour the syrup into the snow. Have fun and draw your kids names in the snow with it. Just be sure the syrup has cooled before picking it up and nibbling on it. You can find another recipe at Family Go.Com

4. Snowman Marshmallows

Marshmallow snowmen: put three jumbo marshmallows on a plate to create the snowman’s body. Add chocolate chips for eyes and buttons and a butterscotch chip for the nose. Then, stick the whole thing in the microwave for about 7 seconds. Take out and attach thin pretzel sticks for arms. Then, enjoy this gooey treat!

5. Polar Express

Create a train like atmosphere with your furniture. Have your kids make train tickets. Then read the story and let their imagination take off. My kids love playing “train” or “Polar Train”

6. Spa Day

I have two girls, we round up our mani & pedi supplies and stake out a place near the fireplace. You can do this with your girls, paint toes and giving facials.

7. Game On

Mostly boys? They love competition, consider a Wii tournament or Uno.

8. Make Snow Ice Cream

Scoop up snow in waffle cones or cups.

  • 1/2 cups half & half or whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups of clean snow or shaved ice

Blend the milk, sugar and vanilla together until the sugar dissolves.  Mix 4 cups of snow & stir until you get the same consistency of ice cream.  Add toppings or chocolate syrup to make a Snowy Sundae!

Here’s more about homemade ice cream.

9. Have an indoor picnic

Who needs a table and nice cooked meals? Make cookies and other finger foods ahead of time and let your kids decide where (within reason) to picnic.

10. Make homemade play dough

1 cup flour 1/2 cup salt 2 tbsp. cream of tartar 2 tbsp. oil 1 cup water food coloring (optional) Scent (cinnamon, vanilla, mint, etc. – also optional)

In a saucepan, mix flour, salt, cream of tartar, scent ingredient, and oil. Slowly mix in water until it’s all smooth. Then turn the heat on medium and stir until it forms a ball of dough. I used a heat-resistant rubber spatula so I could scrape the bottom of the pan easily. Once it’s a ball, plop it onto some wax paper until it’s cool enough for you to touch.

Here are six other recipes for play dough

11. Make homemade finger paints ( I found this one at Thrifty Fun)

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup of cornstarch
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup dishwashing soap
  • food coloring

Put the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and then slowly mix in cold water. Then cook the mixture over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly until you have a smooth gel. Let cool and then add dishwashing soap. Divide into as many containers as you would like colors and then mix in food coloring drops until you have you desired color. If you have colored dishwashing soap that can influence all the colors you try to create, which isn’t always a bad thing. Here’s another recipe for finger paint.

If homemade paints is for the birds, simply break out your store bought paints and let them go to town on creating. If you’re really brave, let them add glitter to their masterpieces. 

12. Make Balloon Marbles

Jen and I both have made these. Here is her article, she tweaked the idea and made it more efficient and fun. Her Pinspiration: Ice Balloons. 

13. Taffy Time

Have a Taffy Pull in your kitchen with your kids. I remember doing this every Christmas with my grandma. I may have to purchase some supplies and do it. You can find the directions here: Berkshire Cottage.

14. Indoor Snow Castles

My kids love this but be prepared for a little bit of mess. Bring in your kiddie pool and add buckets of snow. Provide your kids with their sand making supplies. OR add the snow to your tub. I like the tub, easier and less mess.

15.  Color Free Printables

There just isn’t enough time in the day to be creative. Consider finding free printable coloring pages for your kids. Most sites like Nick Jr, Disney, etc have printables.

16. Computer time

There are several sites online for your child’s education use and fun. We use ABC Mouse and, Other sites we like are Nick Jr and PBS Kids.

17. Snow Fun

There is always the best traditions of snow angels and snow ball fights. Take pictures and capture the moments.

18. Snow Fort

Too cold to go outside? Make a fort inside, using blankets and pillows, watch a movie from the fort!

19. Melted Crayon’s, Funnel Hearts and more.

V-day just passed and chances are you still have some left over supplies from making those crafts. Here is another list of 14 crafts you can do with your kids, including Tic Tac Toe with hearts. Valentine Ideas for your Kids.  Or Natural Valentine Ideas

20. Fashion Shoot

Hang up some sparkly sheets and beads, add tulle or anything fun fabric, then have your girls dress up in their favorite costumes and have a fashion shoot!

21. Sock Toss

My kids loved the sock toss when they were toddlers. Arrange baskets, buckets, or paper bags in the middle of your living room floor, stuff socks into balls. Whoever gets the most socks in the baskets wins.   (Or make a sock fishing game like we did here.)

22. Borax Crystals.

This one takes overnight, but hey – if it is a snow day – you have the time!  I was intimidated by it at first, but it is WAY easier than I thought.  All you need is Borox, a glass, water, pipe cleaner and a string.  So cool.  The whole recipe is right here.

23. Science Fun!

Satisfy your pint-sized scientist.  Volcano, rockets, super gel.  Most of the stuff is made from things already in your house.  Just check it out here.

24. Make some cookies!

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg

Cream the butter & sugar.  Add eggs & Vanilla.  Add the rest.  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.  YUMMY!

25. Skype Grandma and Grandpa

Do you have a Skype account?  Facebook?  Google Plus?  All of them have video chats now.  And if you can’t video chat, just call!  Grandma and grandpa would LOVE to hear from their grandkids!!

26. Bring the snow INSIDE!!

Grab a few buckets of snow and put it in the bathtub.  Have your kids put on gloves and go to town.  The mess is minimal and the fun is maximum!  Plus, you don’t have to worry about kiddos getting too cold!

27. Feed the birds!

When it is snowing the birds have a harder time finding food.  Now’s your chance to help out and give the kids an educational something to do! You can roll a toilet paper or papertowel holder with peanut butter and popcorn (or bird seed if you have some) or check out these other ways to make simple feeders.  Or you can check out how we used gelatin to make a feeder.

28. Masking Tape City

Have kids who love cars?  Get them started on a living room city project.  The tape outlines the streets.  Then the cars can drive around and even up and over some couches, chairs and such.

29. Octopus Spaghetti Use hot dogs and spaghetti.  Mix with cheese.  All kinds of kid fun.     **If it is cold:  FREEZE BUBBLES!!

30. Moon Sand!! 

Baby oil + flour.  COOL!  You can see some pictures here.

31. Read a Book from your library.

No – Don’t go out in the snow.  But you CAN check out books from your library on your tables or iPad!!  You may have to log on to their web site or call for directions.

32. Treasure hunt!!

Hide something in your house.  Then post clues for your kids to find them.

OR – just play ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ telling your kids they’re getting ‘warmer’ when they’re getting closer… and ‘colder’ when they’re walking away from the ‘treasure’

OR – Have one of your older kids hide a treasure and draw a ‘map’ of how to find it.

33. Snowflakes!

Use coffee filters.  They’re pre-cut in circles.  Just fold them in half and half again. Then cut out some circles and triangles.

34. When you’re ready to go outside – Make some art!

A couple squirts of food coloring in a squirt bottle or squirt gun and then send the kids outside in the snow to ‘paint’ the snow.  This is also fun for decorating snowmen and women.


(inside) Put a piece of paper on a cookie sheet, pile snow on top of it, then squeeze a few drops of color on the top of the paint.  When the snow melts, you’ll have a neat water color picture!

36. Frozen Paint!!

If you have paint, set it outside (or in your freezer) overnight to freeze it!  Then kids can color with the frozen paint.

Bonus!  (A new one):

6 Things to do with Shaving Cream

Seriously – I did most of these with just ONE container.  Plus, an idea to save for Easter.

Bonus #2 

This one’s going CRAY CRAY on our site right now.  I thought I’d share it here since many people seem to be finding this post:  Hammer Time!!
Cotton balls, hammers and fun.

Bonus #3:  There’s an Ap for That!!

How to Winterize a Car

How to Winterize a Car

A cold-weather survival guide for your car

Last updated: November 2015

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The winter months are hard on your vehicle. Cold temperatures, dirt, and road-salt residue can all cause problems. However, there are some simple checks and maintenance items you can do that will help your vehicle stay in top condition.

Good Visibility is Vital

If your wipers are leaving streaks of water on the windshield, or if the wiper-blade rubber shows any signs of cracking or stiffness, replace them with a new set. Use a brush and a scraper to remove ice and snow from the windshield rather than your wipers; a heavy load of snow (or ice sticking the blades to the glass) can overload the motor. If the vehicle is parked outside, lift the wipers off the glass before an overnight snow to keep them from freezing to the windshield.

With dirt, mud, and salt residue being kicked up off the road, it’s likely that you’ll be using your windshield washers a lot. Be sure to keep your windshield washer reservoir filled with a washer solution that contains an antifreeze agent. (The standard blue stuff will suffice; just don’t use water, as it can freeze in the washer lines.) Make sure that your car’s heater is functioning properly and that plenty of warm air is being directed to the windshield when it’s in the defrost mode. If your car has a separate A/C button, turn it on when defrosting; even with the temperature set to hot, the air conditioner dehumidifies the air which speeds defogging. (Most cars will automatically turn on the air conditioner with the defroster.) Don’t use the recirculate mode.

Finally, check that all the vehicle’s lights are working properly and clear of snow and ice, so that you’ll have optimum visibility at night and other motorists will be able to see you.

Consider a Switch to Winter Tires

If you drive a lot in slippery conditions, it’s a good idea to replace summer or all-season tires with a set of dedicated winter tires, which have tread patterns and rubber compounds specially designed for optimum traction on slick roads. Winter tires typically have shorter tread life and generate more road noise than the all-season tires that your vehicle came with, but the extra safety they provide is generally worth the compromise. (See our tire ratings.)

If you’ll be using winter tires, you might consider having them mounted on inexpensive steel wheels. This will make it easier to switch between the two sets of tires, plus it will save your more expensive alloy wheels from the damage inflicted by harsh winter conditions.

For extreme conditions, studded snow tires or even tire chains may be warranted. Because they can be tough on road surfaces, check if they’re legal in your area before making the investment. Some states require snow chains on certain roads.

Keep the Battery in Good Shape

Cold temperatures reduce your battery’s cranking power—in fact, at about zero degrees F, your battery only has about half the cranking power it has at 80 degrees. At the same time, the thickened oil in a cold engine makes it harder to turn over. Following are a few easy checks to make sure it’s in as good condition as possible.

On conventional batteries, remove the plastic caps on top of the battery and check the fluid level (see your owner’s manual). If the fluid is low, add distilled water. On maintenance-free batteries, check that the window at the top of the battery indicates a fully charged state (check in your owner’s manual). If it isn’t, have the battery professionally tested at a service station, auto parts store, or repair shop. It may just need to be charged. But if it’s defective, it’s best to replace it before it goes completely dead. (See our battery Ratings and buying advice.)

If you’ll be using winter tires, you might consider having them mounted on inexpensive steel wheels. This will make it easier to switch between the two sets of tires, plus it will save your more expensive alloy wheels from the damage inflicted by harsh winter conditions.

For extreme conditions, studded snow tires or even tire chains may be warranted. Because they can be tough on road surfaces, check if they’re legal in your area before making the investment. Some states require snow chains on certain roads.

Make Sure You Use the Right Engine Oil

Engine oil thickens when cold, making it harder for the engine to turn over. Modern cars use multi-weight oil that is suitable for a wide range of temperatures, but some manufacturers recommend specific grades of oil for specific temperature ranges. Check your owner’s manual and plan your oil changes so your engine has the right grade of oil for the right time of year.

If you expect to experience extremely low temperatures, you can have an engine block heater installed in the engine. When plugged into a household electrical outlet, it keeps the engine oil from getting cold and thick.

Check Your Cooling System

Extreme cold can cause rubber parts to become brittle and fail. When the engine is cold, check the radiator and heater hoses for cracking, leaking, or contamination from oil or grease. The hoses should be firm yet pliable when you squeeze them. Replace them if they feel brittle or overly soft.

For most vehicles, the cooling system should be flushed at least every two years (check your owner’s manual). This helps keep corrosion from building up in the system. If a flush is almost due, have it done before the cold weather hits. The system should be refilled with a mixture of antifreeze and water, typically in a 50/50 ratio. (Coolant can be purchased either full-strength or pre-mixed; be sure you know what you are buying.) This will keep your coolant from freezing to well below zero. Colder conditions, however, can call for ratios of 60/40 or 70/30. Check your owner’s manual or the back of the antifreeze container. Under no circumstances should you use a higher antifreeze-to-water ratio than specified by the manufacturer.

Prevent Freeze-ups

Water can get into door and trunk locks and then freeze, locking you out of the vehicle. To prevent this, lubricate the locks with a silicone spray or door-lock lubricant. If they’re already frozen, use a lock antifreeze product to thaw them.

Protection for Inside and Out

The dirt and salt of winter can attack your car’s paint finish. To help protect it, give the car a fresh coat of wax before the snow flies and wash it regularly during the winter months. With modern vehicles, rust isn’t as big a problem as it used to be, but it’s still a good idea to have the wheel wells and underbody washed regularly to prevent road salt from building up. If your vehicle has alloy wheels, apply a coat of wax to them to help prevent pitting and corrosion.

If you don’t already have floormats in your car, you should pick up a pair. Even inexpensive ones will protect your car’s carpet from the water and mud that tends to get tracked into the vehicle. For maximum protection, a set of rubber all-weather floor mats will keep salty snow from seeping through the carpet and into the car’s floorboards. If you do buy aftermarket floor mats, be sure they won’t interfere with operation of the pedals.

Let the Engine Warm Up

In years past, cars would cough, stumble, and stall if not given sufficient time to warm up. Modern cars can be put in gear and driven away as soon as they are started, but that doesn’t mean you should skip the warm-up entirely. A brief bit of idling time before you drive gives the oil a chance to heat up, thin out and flow more smoothly, and you’ll want that to happen before you ask your engine to do any serious work. Letting your car idle while you brush the snow off of it should be sufficient. (By the way, there’s no need to rev the engine; it’ll warm up just fine at idle.) If your car idles higher than normal when first started, waiting until the idle speed drops before putting the car in gear will save wear and tear on your automatic transmission.

Drive gently until the temperature gauge starts to move off the bottom peg or until the cold engine light (usually blue) goes out. Remember, cars can still overheat in winter, especially if the radiator grille is clogged with snow.

FHA Requirements

eHow Personal Finance Money Managing Borrowing Money FHA Home Loan Requirements
FHA Home Loan Requirements

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the FHA Mortgage Insurance Program. The federal government instituted this program during the Great Depression to make home ownership accessible to millions of Americans.

Other People Are Reading
FHA Mortgage and Income Limits How to Qualify for an FHA Loan
Approved lenders are the source for FHA mortgages. Should the loan go into default, the government promises to repay the balance.

FHA loans generally have lower interest rates than conventional mortgages and allow lower down payments ranging from 3 percent to 5 percent.

The credit guidelines for an FHA mortgage are less strict than other financing, allowing lower FICO scores and a less-than-perfect credit history.

Down Payment
It is permissible to get your down payment from gifts, relatives or places other than your personal savings. Traditional mortgages insist on the down payment originating from your own resources.

Section 203 of the FHA rules allows mortgages and improvement dollars to rehabilitate a property. It also allows for interest-deferred payments while the property is under construction. These programs are not offered in all areas.

FHA recommends the housing expense does not exceed 29 percent and your total debts should be 41 percent, or less, of your total income. In addition, housing prices are capped on FHA loans by region. For example, in San Francisco, the cap is $362,700 and in Springfield, Missouri, loans are capped at $200,160.

There are many loans types offered by the FHA, depending on your needs. Additionally, some guidelines vary by region. For more information in your area, contact an approved FHA lender or consult the FHA website.

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Merry Christmas Colouring Pages

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Christmas Colouring Pages

We’ve got well over 100 original Christmas colouring pictures at Activity Village, so we’ve got something for all ages and all interests too! We think we’ve covered all aspects of the festive season here, so get the printer working, dig out the crayons, and enjoy the holidays!

Here’s how to discover all our Christmas colouring pages. Click the links directly below to explore Christmas colouring pages sorted by category (a new window will open) – or scroll down to find even more colouring pages, which didn’t want to fit into one of those categories, further down the page.

Browse Christmas Colouring Pages by Category…

Our “religious” Christmas colouring pages are here:
Nativity Colouring Pages

Angel Colouring Pages
Candy Cane Colouring Pages
Candle Colouring Pages
Christmas Carols Colouring Pages
Christmas Cracker Colouring Pages
Christmas Decorations Colouring Pages
Christmas Elf Colouring Pages
Christmas Present Colouring Pages
Christmas Pudding Colouring Pages
Christmas Stocking Colouring Pages
Christmas Tree Colouring Pages
Christmas Wreath Colouring Pages
Gingerbread Colouring Pages
Holly Colouring Pages
Nativity Colouring Pages
Reindeer Colouring Pages
Robin Colouring Pages
Santa Claus Colouring Pages
Snowflake Colouring Pages
Snowman Colouring Pages
…And Even More Christmas Colouring Pages

Children Hanging Up Stockings Colouring Page
Children Hanging Up Stockings Colouring Page
Here’s a fun colouring picture of children hanging up their Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve

Children Opening Christmas Gifts Colouring Page
Children Opening Christmas Gifts Colouring Page
Here’s a fun Christmas colouring picture of children opening Christmas presents under the Christmas tree

Christmas Bells Colouring Page
Christmas Bells Colouring Page
Print out this pretty Christmas bells colouring page for some Christmas colouring fun!

Christmas Bells Colouring Page 2
Christmas Bells Colouring Page 2
A simple Christmas bells colouring page with the words underneath.

Christmas Cake Colouring Page
Christmas Cake Colouring Page
Here’s a grand Christmas cake colouring page for the kids to decorate with their crayons! You could also use it as a wedding cake or a special birthday cake, too.

Christmas Classroom Colouring Page
Christmas Classroom Colouring Page
Print this original Christmas classroom colouring page, with lots of detail to keep kids interested!

Christmas Colouring – Kids on Christmas Eve
Christmas Colouring – Kids on Christmas Eve
Here’s a fun printable colouring page of two children all ready for bed on Christmas Eve, drinking some milk and checking that the stocking is ready for Santa!

Christmas Colouring – Kids Opening Presents
Christmas Colouring – Kids Opening Presents
There’s nothing better than opening presents on Christmas morning when you are a child! This colouring page shows two happy children opening presents under the Christmas tree.

Christmas Colouring – Kids with Presents
Christmas Colouring – Kids with Presents
Two chidlren are out and about delivering Christmas presents in this lovely Christmas colouring page for younger children.

Christmas Decorations Colouring Page 3
Christmas Decorations Colouring Page 3
Colour in this set of Christmas decorations! If you print the page onto card and then cut them out, you could always hang the decorations on your own tree.

Christmas Doodle Fun – Imaginative Holiday Colouring and Drawing Pages For Kids
Christmas Doodle Fun
From our Shop – a wonderful collection of imaginative holiday colouring, drawing and writing pages and frames for kids.

Christmas Flashcards – Black and White
Christmas Flashcards – Black and White
These Christmas flashcards feature a variety of our Christmas illustrations ready for the children to colour in. You could cut them up and make up a little Christmas colouring pack, too.

Christmas Maths Facts Colouring Page
Christmas Maths Facts Colouring Page
Our maths facts colouring pages are a fun way to practise some simple sums and enjoy watching this special Christmas picture take shape as a result!

Christmas Maths Facts Colouring Page 2
Christmas Maths Facts Colouring Page 2
Can the kids solve these simple sums, to find the right colours for our Christmas colouring page? Who knew maths could be such fun!

Christmas Mistletoe Colouring Page
Christmas Mistletoe Colouring Page
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a sprig of mistletoe hanging in the doorway! Here’s a simple outline colouring page for kids to colour.

Christmas Ornaments Advent Calendar – A Beautiful Keepsake Activity to Enjoy in the Days before Christmas!
Christmas Ornaments Advent Calendar
Our Christmas Ornaments Advent Calendar is a beautiful keepsake activity to enjoy in the days before Christmas, from the Activity Village Shop.
Christmas Ornaments Colouring Fun – Beautiful Ornaments to Print, Colour and Hang on the Tree!
Christmas Ornaments Colouring Fun
Christmas Ornaments Colouring Fun – Beautiful Ornaments to Print, Colour and Hang on the Tree!
Christmas Picture Cards – Black and White
Christmas Picture Cards – Black and White
Here is a black and white set of our Christmas picture cards.

Christmas Room Colouring Page
Christmas Room Colouring Page
Here’s a pretty Christmas room to print and colour, complete with Christmas tree and stockings and presents!

Christmas Snowmen Colouring Page
Christmas Snowmen Colouring Page
Print and colour this cute Christmas Snowmen colouring page for kids!

Christmas Street Colouring Page
Christmas Street Colouring Page
Here’s a beautiful street scene from a European city at Christmas, for children to colour in

Christmas Village Advent Calendar
Christmas Village Advent Calendar
Build a Beautiful Christmas Village While You Count Down to Christmas Day!
Christmas Village Printable
Christmas Village Printable
Our Christmas Village Printable – A Very Special Holiday Colouring Project!
Christmas Woods Colouring Page
Christmas Woods Colouring Page
This lovely Christmas woods colouring page has lots of detail for older children to enjoy.

Christmas Word Bookmarks
Christmas Word Bookmarks
Here are four pretty Christmas bookmarks, one ready to go and three ready for adding some colours and decorations! All are great to give as little gifts at Christmas.

Christmas Word Colouring Bookmarks
Christmas Word Colouring Bookmarks
These lovely colouring booklets really encourage the kids to get creative, and they will make a super present for a parent, grandparent or other relative, especially if the child writes a message o

Colouring Advent Calendar
Colouring Advent Calendar
Print and colour this original advent calendar of mini-Christmas pictures, and create a keepsake that will be treasured forever!
Count the Christmas Presents Puzzle and Colouring Page
Count the Christmas Presents
Someone’s been busy! I wonder who has left all the Christmas presents, and how many there are … can you count?

Decorate The House For Christmas – Decorations Printable
Decorate The House For Christmas – Decorations Printable
Colour in these Christmas decorations and use them with our Decorate the house for Christmas activity to get the house ready for the holidays!

Decorate The House For Christmas – House Printable
Decorate The House For Christmas – House Printable
Decorate the house for Christmas with this fun printable activity for kids! The house is below, and the decorations – to print, cut out and stick – are here:

Decorate The Room For Christmas – Decorations Printable
Decorate The Room For Christmas – Decorations Printable
Decorate a sitting room for the holidays with this printable Christmas activity for kids. You’ll find the sitting room here:

Decorate The Room For Christmas – Room Printable
Decorate The Room For Christmas – Room Printable
Decorate a sitting room for the holidays with this printable Christmas activity for kids. Draw in or stick on your own decorations, or cut, colour and stick there:

Doodle Pattern Tiles Christmas 1
Doodle Pattern Tiles – Christmas 1
Here are two Chirstmas Doodle Pattern Tiles with outlines designed for older children to fill up with tangles, doodles or patterns!

Doodle Pattern Tiles Christmas 2
Doodle Pattern Tiles – Christmas 2
Here are two pretty Christmas outlines on our Doodle Pattern Tiles – a star and a simple Christmas tree – to encourage the kids to get creative with their pens!

Family Christmas Dinner Colouring Pages
Family Christmas Dinner Colouring Pages
Here’s a fun Christmas colouring page for younger children of a family sitting down for their Christmas dinner feast with all the trimmings! There’s lots of detail to colour in…

Festive Street Colouring Page
Festive Street Colouring Page
This festive street colouring page is perfect for older children, who will appreciate the detail of this beautiful Christmas scene.

Happy Holidays Colouring Page
Happy Holidays Colouring Page
A family of four gorgeous snowmen wish us Happy Holidays in this fun festive colouring page for kids! There is all sorts of detail to keep older children busy…

Merry Christmas Colouring Page
How Many Robins Puzzle and Colouring Page
This lovely puzzle and colouring page features a scene in the woods with a wonderful Christmas tree. How many robins can you spot before you colour it in?

Merry Christmas Colouring Page
Merry Christmas Colouring Page
Here’s a pretty Christmas colouring page with a lovely Merry Christmas word design for the kids to print and colour.

My Christmas Picture Gallery
My Christmas Picture Gallery
Here’s a fun way to capture Christmas memories, and a memory of your child’s development as well!

Santa Claus and Mrs Claus Colouring Page
Santa Claus and Mrs Claus Colouring Page
Here’s a fun Christmas colouring page for younger kids. How lovely and peaceful Santa and Mrs Claus look in this fireside scene!

Small Christmas Flashcards – Black and White
Small Christmas Flashcards – Black and White
Get the kids to colour in these pretty pictures for a personalised set of Christmas flashcards – or use them as a miniature colouring in book for a car or plane journey, perhaps?

More Christmas Fun

Christmas Colour by numbers
Christmas Colour by Numbers

Christmas dot to dots
Christmas Dot to Dots

Christmas Colour by Pattern
Christmas Colour by Patttern

Christmas Characters Colouring
Christmas Characters Colouring


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The Number of Real Estate Appraisers Is Falling. Here’s Why You Should Care

The Number of Real Estate Appraisers Is Falling. Here’s Why You Should Care


Image: Ewelina Wachala/Shutterstock

The ranks of real estate appraisers stand to shrink substantially over the next five years, which could mean longer waits, higher fees and even lower-quality appraisals as more appraisers cross state lines to value properties.

There were 78,500 real estate appraisers working in the U.S. earlier this year, according to the Appraisal Institute, an industry organization, down 20% from 2007. That could fall another 3% each year for the next decade, according to the group. Much of the drop has been among residential, rather than commercial, appraisers.

Some say Americans are unlikely to feel the effects right now, as it’s mostly confined to rural areas and the number of appraisal certifications — many appraisers are licensed to work in multiple states — has held relatively steady. Others say it’s already happening, and rural areas are simply the start.

Since most residential mortgages require an appraiser to value a property before a sale closes, they say, a shortage of appraisers is potentially problematic — and expensive — for both home buyers, who rely on accurate valuations to ensure that they aren’t overpaying, and sellers, who can see deals fall through if appraisals come in low.

“As an appraiser, I should be quiet about this shortage because it’s great for current business,” said Craig Steinley, who runs Steinley Real Estate Appraisals in Rapid City, S.D. But “what will undoubtedly happen, since the market can’t solve this problem by adding new appraisers, [is] it will solve the problem by doing fewer appraisals.”

A shrinking and aging pool

As appraiser numbers are falling, the pool is aging: Sixty-two percent of appraisers are 51 and older, according to the Appraisal Institute, while 24% are between 36 and 50. Only 13% are 35 or younger.

Industry experts blame an increasingly inhospitable career outlook. Financial institutions used to hire and train entry-level appraisers, but few do anymore, according to John Brenan, director of appraisal issues for the Appraisal Foundation, which sets national standards for real estate appraisers.

That has created a marketplace where current appraisers, mostly small businesses, are fearful of losing business or shrinking their own revenue as they approach retirement. Many have opted not to hire and train replacements.

The requirements to become a certified residential appraiser have also increased over the past couple of decades. Before the early 1990s, a real estate license was often all that was needed. Today, classes and years of apprenticeship are required for certification.

And this year marked the first in which a four-year college degree was required for work as a certified residential appraiser. (It takes only two years of college to become licensed, but that limits the properties on which an appraiser can work. Some states, meanwhile, only offer full certification, not licensing.)

“If you come out of college with a finance degree, you can work for a bank for $70,000 [or] $80,000 a year with benefits,” said Appraisal Institute President Lance Coyle. “As a trainee, you might make $30,000 and get no benefits.” For some, especially those with student loans to pay, the choice may be easy.

“There were definitely easier options of career paths I could have chosen,” said Brooke Newstrom, 34, who became an apprentice for Steinley Real Estate Appraisals earlier this year. She networked for a year and a half, cold calling appraiser offices and attending professional conferences, before getting the job.

For residential appraisers, business isn’t as lucrative as it once was. Federal regulations in 2009 led to the rise of appraisal management companies, which act as a firewall between appraisers and lenders so appraisers can give an unbiased opinion of a home’s value.

But those companies take a chunk of the fee, cutting appraiser compensation. Some community lenders don’t use appraisal management companies, according to Coyle, but they are often used by mortgage brokers and large banks.

Appraiser numbers appear poised to continue shrinking, and as appraisers continue to get multiple state certifications they may be stretched more thinly, industry experts say.

For now, any shortages are likely regional, Brenan said. “There are certainly some parts of the country — and primarily some rural areas — where there aren’t as many appraisers available to perform certain assignments that there were in the past,” he said.

Elsewhere, however, the decrease in appraisers isn’t felt as acutely. In Chicago, according to appraiser John Tsiaousis, it may be difficult for young appraisers to break in but customers in search of one shouldn’t have a problem.

“I don’t believe they will allow us to run out of appraisers,” Tsiaousis said. “Some changes will be made [to the certification process]. When they will be made, I don’t know.”

Longer waits, more expensive appraisals, and quality questions

The effects of an appraiser shortage could be substantial for individuals on both sides of a real estate transaction, experts say.

Fewer appraisers means longer waits, which could hold up a closing. That delay means that borrowers might have to pay for longer mortgage rate locks, according to Sandra O’Connor, regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors. (Rate locks hold interest rates firm for set periods of time and are generally purchased after a buyer with initial approval for a loan finds a home she wants.)

Longer waits also affect sellers who need the equity from one sale to purchase their next home. When they can’t close on the home they’re selling, they can’t close on the one they’re buying.

A shortage also means appraisals will likely cost more, which some say is already happening in rural areas. Appraisal fees are generally paid by borrowers.

“Appraisal fees in areas where there aren’t enough appraisers are higher than those areas where there are plenty of people to take up the cause,” said Steinley, who holds leadership roles in the Appraisal Institute and the Association of Appraiser Regulatory Officials.

There is a quality issue, too: In some areas, appraisers come in from other states to value homes. While there are guidelines for these appraisers to become geographically competent, they could miss subtleties in the market, Coyle said.

And if the shortage isn’t addressed, and lenders are unable to get appraisers to value homes, lenders might ask federal regulators to relax the rules governing when traditional appraisals are needed, allowing more computer-generated analyses in their place, according to Steinley.

Automated valuation models, which are less expensive and quicker, are rarely used for mortgage originations today, Coyle said. They’re sometimes used for portfolio analysis, or when a borrower needs to demonstrate 20% equity in order to stop paying for private mortgage insurance, he added. They might be used for low-risk home-equity loans, Brenan said.

Currently, appraisers are required for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those mortgages make up about 70% of the market by loan volume and 90% of the market by loan count, according to theMortgage Bankers Association.

And computer-generated appraisals can’t match the precision of one conducted by someone who has seen the property, and knows the area, many in the industry say.

The industry is beginning to address the issue. Last month, the Appraisal Foundation’s qualifications board held a hearing to gather comments and suggestions, Brenan said.

One of the options being discussed: Creating a set of competency-based exams that could shorten the time people spend as trainees. That way, someone with a background in real estate finance could become certified more quickly, Steinley said. The board is also looking to further develop courses that would allow college students to gain practical experience before graduation, Brenan said.

Proper education is important “because real estate valuation is hard to do, and you need to get it right,” Coyle said. But the unintended consequences of the current qualifications are just too much, he added. “It’s almost as if you have some regulators trying to keep people out.”

50 Essential Christmas Cookies

50 Essential Christmas Cookies

From classic sugar cookies to gingerbread men, these top recipes will sweeten your holiday — and make you the darling of all your cookie swaps. Plus, get more holiday cookie recipes »

Holiday Central >

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Yes, Pets Can Find Their Way Home—but You Can Help them

Yes, Pets Can Find Their Way Home—but You Can Help them

How do pets find their way home?

Jaromir Chalabala/shutterstock

When a dog named Hank navigated 11 miles home over two days to his foster owner in Memphis, TN, recently, it had many of us thinking, “Awww, isn’t that sweet,” and marveling anew at the navigational powers of pets. How do these animals—without maps, GPS monitors, or the ability to ask for directions—find their way home?

Hank is hardly a fluke, either. In 2013, a cat traversed 200 miles over two months to reach its old stomping grounds. Meanwhile, seabirds and tortoises travel entire hemispheres when they migrate to the same old nesting areas season after season. As for how they do it, it depends on the species.

Cats, for instance, rely on magnetic fields, orienting themselves along the Earth’s north-south poles much like a compass, according to scientists interviewed by Time magazine.

Meanwhile, dogs lean heavily on their sense of smell. Had Hank walked those 11 miles, he could have just followed his scent trail home, Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, told Time. Or, if a dog were taken by car, as Hank was, it might rely on overlapping circles of familiar scents.

Does that mean you need to make a Costco run for loads of air fresheners? Not so much. The pup might pick up a whiff of a dog it knows, which leads it to a well-known tree or trash can.

How to keep your pets safe at home

While the power of pets to return to their owners’ arms may be astonishing, scientists point out that we shouldn’t overestimate their abilities, either. Dogs like Hank make the news; hundreds more don’t because, well, they stay lost.

In other words, pet owners should continue doing what they can to keep their furry friends from wandering off. That means keeping your cats indoors, installing sturdy fences for dogs, and outfitting all animals with a collar and ID tag. Even high-tech pet microchips will run you only $25 to $50, and could be worth the peace of mind of knowing that these four-legged members of the family have a built-in ID. Because after all, even if Fido or Fluffy can find their way home, why not make it a little easier on them?

Why You Should Never Buy the Best House in the Neighborhood



Why You Should Never Buy the Best House in the Neighborhood

Jamie Wiebe


Dimitri Otis/Getty Images

When you’re house hunting, finding an amazing house in your location of choice that doesn’t require much additional investment seems like a huge score.

But is it really? Before making an offer on that picture-perfect home, take a look at the surrounding houses. If they’re all in disrepair—or just obviously less nice than the one you’re considering—you might be buying the most expensive house in the neighborhood.

Maybe that seems awesome because you’ll get bragging rights and price of place! But more than likely, it’s going to hurt you. Here’s why.

Someday you’ll need to sell it

When you’re in the throes of buying a home, it’s easy to forget that the place you’re busy buying will someday be the place you’re selling. And when it comes time to sell, unloading the priciest home on the block will be a challenge.

“A lot of buyers forget a home is an investment,” says Brendon DeSimone, a real estate expert and author of “Next Generation Real Estate.” “The world changes. Things happen fast. People transfer, people lose their jobs. Now imagine yourself as the seller of that home.”

So you’re hanging by a thread: As it is, someone might buy it—after all, you did—but there’s no way to increase your equity in the home. With your house already significantly nicer than its neighbors, any upgrades (however minor) will send it into the stratosphere. That quality mismatch between your home and the surrounding homes will lead most buyers to pass on it. If they’re going to spend that much money, why wouldn’t they buy a home in a more desirable neighborhood?

The best you can hope for is your home holding its value. The worst-case scenario: You can’t sell it.

“You can change your house, but you can’t change your location,” DeSimone says.

You need to leave room for improvement

As we said before, a home is an investment—and the best investments have the most room for improvement. Ideally, you’ll be adding to the home during your ownership, building equity in hopes of a payoff when you (eventually) sell.

That’s why DeSimone actually recommends buying the worst house in the best neighborhood. Yes, you read that correctly.

“You can add value on your own,” he says. “If you’re choosing between an awesome house in a crappy location or an awful house in a great location, I would choose the latter.”

Note that “improvement” doesn’t necessarily entail a complete renovation. Even the small changes that happen when you—a responsible person—move in will increase its value. We’re talking about things such as regular maintenance, refreshing the paint, and fixing the odds and ends that might go ignored by another occupant. But if your home is already priced well above the rest of the neighborhood, those tiny changes won’t make a lick of difference.

You can’t bet on the neighborhood to improve

If you’re buying the nicest house on the block hoping the neighborhood will improve, you’re putting a lot of stake in a volatile market—and you’re more likely to be disappointed (and possibly even go broke).

Ideally, the chain of events goes like this: You buy your nice home in an up-and-coming neighborhood. Over time—thanks, gentrification—the homes around you improve until all of your neighbors are pretty much on the same footing. Because the area has improved so drastically, your home’s value will still increase.

It’s a wonderful idea, and it is certainly realized occasionally. Too bad Magic 8 Balls don’t really work. For each time this strategy works, there are a dozen others in which homeowners end up with an overpriced, unsellable home in a middling neighborhood.

If you’re eager to live in a neighborhood with potential, “buy a bad house,” DeSimone says. “At least you can improve the interiors and make it more valuable. If that neighborhood doesn’t actually ‘up-and-come,’ your expensive home is already as viable as it can be.”

Sometimes, betting on your home can pay off—but risking your home? That strategy might sacrifice everything.