Seth Lynn

Cell: 404.229.2100

Fax: 404.795.9079

Mailing Address:
Penguin Properties, C/O The UPS Store,
2897 North Druid Hills Road, Box #341
Atlanta, GA 30329

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The latest news from AOL Real Estate - Blog

Meredith Vieira Scoops Up NYC Co-Op on Central Park West

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TruliaMeredith Vieira has purchased a three-bedroom, four-bath apartment in the Eldorado building on Central Park West.
Just as Bruce Willis leaves the Eldorado co-op on Manhattan's Upper West Side, newshound/talk show host Meredith Vieira is moving in. The New York Post says that Vieira has bought a three-bedroom, fourth-bath penthouse in the Art Deco building bordering the northern reaches of Central Park. Asking price: $8.55 million.

Seems like a good move, investment-wise. Willis had his three-bedroom home on the building's fourth floor on the market at $13 million for only one week before a buyer scooped it up.

Vieira's new digs, recently renovated, feature two planted terraces overlooking the Central Park reservoir. It also boasts:
  • Private elevator landing.
  • South-facing windows with onyx sills.
  • Herringbone oak floors.
  • 10-foot ceilings.
  • Master suite with four custom closets and terrace access.
The Eldorado, between West 90th and 91st streets, was designed by Emery Roth and completed in 1931. It's considered one of the finest Art Deco structures in Manhattan, attracting such biggies as Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, Moby, Garrison Keillor and Michael J. Fox as either current or former cooperative owners.

In the series finale of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," gangster Nucky Thompson has one last dance with his wife in a Manhattan building called the Eldorado, which would have been newly opened when the show takes place during the Great Depression.


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Posted on 19 December 2014 | 2:04 am

Dick Clark's 'Flintstones House' in Malibu Finally Sells

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Yabba Dabba Doo! Dick Clark's 'Flintstones' House Sells
TruliaThe unique retreat in Malibu once owned by Dick Clark has only one bedroom but sits on almost 23 acres.

After languishing on the Malibu housing market for more than two years, the Flintstone-esque home of the late, great Dick Clark has finally sold.

Originally listed for $3.5 million, the one-bedroom home's price came tumbling down $250,000 in the summer of 2013, and without a buyer in sight, the price was again reduced by a quarter of a million dollars in March 2014. Property records show the rock-solid home sold this week for just half of its original asking price: $1,777,777.

One of Malibu's landmark properties, Clark's former retreat features unparalleled 360-degree views that take in the Pacific Ocean, area mountains and the sparkling lights of Los Angeles. According to real estate agent Diane Carter of Coldwell Banker, who represented both the buyer and the seller, the Clarks used the home as a weekend getaway for many years. The TV and music industry personality died in 2012.

This unusually imaginative architectural creation is nestled atop a mountain on an eye-popping 22.89 acres and features one bedroom and two bathrooms, as well as breathtaking ocean and mountain views.

Truly unique inside and outside, the architecture of this home seamlessly marries form and function. The interior features an expanse of glass to capture the views from every room. Vaulted ceilings enhance the living room and dining room, which has a wood-burning fireplace and intimate seating areas. The master suite is at once spacious and intimate.

According to the listing agent, the striking home designed by Phillip Jon Brown "is art as architecture at its finest." For the new buyers, Clark's former Malibu retreat offers seclusion, privacy and serenity, but is still just minutes from the beach.


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Posted on 19 December 2014 | 12:56 am

How to Host Parties in a Small Home

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celebration. hands holding the...

The holidays are a time for celebration. But when you have a small home, gathering your friends and loved ones together can pose some unique challenges.

You don't need to "keep up with the Joneses" by throwing an elaborate affair in a huge mansion; you can throw a fantastic party by getting creative about how you use that space. Here are 20 ways to make the most of the rooms you have and throw a knockout party in your tiny home.

1. Keep the menu simple. An elaborate spread is hard to serve when space is limited, so keep your offerings simple. Guests don't need a million options to choose from, just a handful of really good ones.

2. Serve finger foods. You may not have enough room for a proper sit-down dinner, but your guests can eat and mingle. This means you should serve foods like appetizers that can be carried around easily. (Appetizers don't have to be expensive, either: Try the pasta pretzel sticks recipe you can find here.)

3. Go buffet-style instead of sit-down. Place food stations around the room (or in a couple rooms) to keep lines moving along and avoid a traffic jam in any one area.

4. Use decently-sized plates. You may think cocktail plates will help with your space issues, but all they really do is force guests to make several trips back to the food stations. Use regular, dinner-sized plates to avoid so much back-and-forth.

5. Make a signature drink (or two). Rather than finding space for an array of drink fixings (and space in which to mix them), prepare a large batch of signature cocktails in advance. Instead of playing bartender all night, all you'll have to do is keep the pitcher filled and guests can serve themselves.

6. Designate drinks. With limited places to set down drinks, it can be easy for guests' glasses to get mixed up. Make sure they have some way of identifying which drink is theirs by using different-colored glasses, wine glass charms or tying colored ribbons on martini glass stems.

7. Prep in advance. Cooking -- and cleaning up from cooking -- takes up precious counter space you'll likely need for serving, so do as much prep work in advance as you can. (This also allows you to actually spend time enjoying your party!)

8. Create makeshift serving stations. If you don't have enough space in your kitchen to set up the buffet, enlist other pieces of furniture like bookcases and desks to serve as temporary sideboards.

9. Provide plenty of seating. Make sure there are lots of options for guests who want to take a load off. Folding chairs, ottomans, even lawn chairs will work in a pinch. If you don't have many chairs on hand, consider borrowing some from friends and family.

10. Remove excess furniture. If a piece of furniture isn't useful for seating or serving, consider getting rid of it for the party. You want to create as much floor space as possible so guests can mingle without feeling cramped or tripping over things.

11. Rearrange with abandon. Turn the bed into seating by pushing it against the wall and adding some decorative throw pillows. Make a dining room table by lining up several card tables and unifying them under a long tablecloth. You can put everything back where it belongs once the party's over. For now, you need to make your space work for your party.

12. Make your rooms work double-duty. If you still want to host a sit-down dinner, consider setting up a table and chairs in your biggest room for the meal portion of the evening and then taking it down afterward to create more space to chat. (Just make sure you have a place to store the table and chairs when they're down!)

13. Make a place for coat storage. If the weather will call for coats and other outer gear, make sure your guests have a place to set theirs. If nothing else, make sure you've provided storage options for shoes and handbags. A fold-up coat rack can help create storage where none normally exists.

14. Decorate high. Placing your decorations on the ceiling will draw guests' eyes upwards and make your space feel festive without being crowded. Strings of lights, paper lanterns and draped fabric all make for great ceiling decor.

15. Create conversation areas. Your guests might be scattered by necessity, so make sure each small group feels comfortable wherever it is and not left out from the party proper. Arrange chairs in small groups to encourage conversation.

16. Turn down the heat. Large crowds in small spaces can make a home overly warm, so crank the thermostat down a few notches to keep things comfortable.

17. Offer bathroom freshener. If lots of people will be using the same small bathroom, help each occupant to leave it in a ... er ... pleasant condition for the next person. Light a scented candle, set out potpourri or place a decorative can of air freshener in a noticeable place to be used as needed.

18. Create an open house. Give guests room to roam and mingle by tidying up those rooms you normally don't open to guests -- your bedroom, your office, etc. By designating different areas for different activities, you can help everyone find a comfortable place. Serve appetizers in the entryway, main dishes in the living room and dessert and coffee in the bedroom to keep the party moving along.

19. Consider taking it outside. If you're in a warmer climate, open up the doors to your patio, balcony or terrace to increase your hosting space. In a colder climate? Consider setting up heat lamps or a small fire pit.

20. Keep the guest list realistic. These tips will help you pack a lot of party into a small space, but you still need to keep your guest count reasonable. No one will have a very good time if you're all stepping over each other.

Paula Pant quit her office job in 2008, traveled to 32 countries and became a successful real estate investor. Her blog Afford Anything is the groundswell of a rebellion against standard advice that says you should chain yourself to a desk for 40 years. Afford Anything is dedicated to crushing limits and maximizing life.


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Posted on 19 December 2014 | 12:00 am

Will 3% Down Mortgages Be a Game-Changer?

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house sitting on money with...
Shutterstock/Karen Roach

Hoping to bust open the mortgage credit box, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently brought back a 3 percent down conventional loan. The aim is to broaden access to homeownership and pull more first-time buyers into the marketplace. Years of tight lending have left scores of would-be buyers on the sidelines.

Both of the government-sponsored enterprises purchased these lower-down payment loans in the past. Fannie and Freddie back about two-thirds of all new mortgages.

Housing economists and mortgage industry insiders have both panned and praised the return of a 3 percent down home loan. Some see it as a slide back toward the lax lending that spurred the subprime mortgage meltdown. Others believe the policy will help give qualified buyers a better foothold in a time of stagnant wages and slowly thawing credit.

"[This] is simply one way we are working to remove barriers for creditworthy borrowers to get a mortgage," Andrew Bon Salle, Fannie Mae executive vice president for Single Family Underwriting, Pricing and Capital Markets, said in a statement. "We are confident that these loans can be good business for lenders, safe and sound for Fannie Mae and an affordable, responsible option for qualified borrowers."

These buyers will still need to meet credit, income and other underwriting requirements. As with most other conventional loans, buyers who can't muster a 20 percent down payment will also need private mortgage insurance.

It's too early to tell whether lenders will get on board. It's also unclear just how many buyers these 3 percent options could help.

Program Specifics

Requirements for the 3 percent down mortgages vary slightly.

Fannie's new program is open to qualified borrowers who haven't owned a home in the last three years. For buyers, these loans can only be used to purchase a single-unit primary residence with a fixed-rate term. Fannie is also offering a 97 percent loan-to-value refinance option for homeowners with a current mortgage owned by one of the government-sponsored enterprises. Borrowers would be able to extract up to $2,000 from their home's equity to cover closing costs.

Freddie Mac's 3 percent down loan won't hit the market until late March. First-time buyers will need to complete a homebuying education program. Freddie will offer a similar refinance option, but homeowners won't be able to tap into their equity.

Borrowers will need a minimum 620 FICO score to be eligible for the Fannie program. Freddie Mac uses a 660 FICO benchmark. But Fannie and Freddie don't make loans: Lenders may want to see higher credit scores -- sometimes significantly higher.

These lower-down mortgages will give consumers an alternative to FHA loans. Those government-backed mortgage require 3.5 percent down, but they carry particularly expensive mortgage insurance costs, which borrowers now pay for the life of their loan.

Safety & Access

Critics remain wary about how much these loans will help and how well they'll perform. The first concern may loom larger than the latter.

A recent Urban Institute study showed lower-down payment loans have similar default rates to loans with 5 or even 10 percent down payments. And the $0 down VA home loan program has had a lower foreclosure rate than top-tier prime loans for most of the last six years.

The study's authors also noted the most likely recipients of these lower-down loans are borrowers with solid credit scores.

And that might leave plenty of prospective homebuyers still on the sidelines.


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Posted on 18 December 2014 | 4:43 am

Actor Who Played Harry Potter's Malfoy Buys a Home in LA

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TruliaThe two-bedroom home has a casual feel, far different from the sets where Tom Felton has worked.

Tom Felton, most famous for his role as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, has just bought a home in Los Angeles.

Felton paid $1.275 million for the 1,732 square-foot contemporary retreat in lower Nichols Canyon. The two-bedroom home is on a single level with an open floor plan and oodles of outdoor living space, including an outdoor living room and poolside deck. The private backyard is completely gated with views of the hills, a sparkling pool and a guest house/studio space with kitchen and full bathroom. (The home is a definite upgrade from the Slytherin Dungeon.)

Inside the main home on Felton's new property, there are hardwood floors throughout. In the main living room, a wood and gas fireplace creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. Just beyond the living room is a gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, ample storage and prep space, a large pantry and dining alcove. (The home is rumored to be Basilisk-free.)

Convenient to the sights and nightlife of Los Angeles, the home hardly could be more different from the Scottish estate where J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, once lived and worked.

Felton's new home, perfect for a bachelor, has a master suite that was dubbed "romantic" in the listing materials, and has a fireplace, dressing area and walls of glass that open to the yard. The master bath boasts double sinks, granite countertops and tile. A bright den has built-in shelves and could be used as a third bedroom.


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Posted on 17 December 2014 | 11:39 am

Burt Reynolds Slashes Price on Florida Manse to $4.9 Million

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ZillowOriginally listed for $10.5 million in 2008, Burt Reynolds' home in Palm Beach County is now priced at $4.9 million.
Burt Reynolds has slashed the asking price for the Florida love nest he shared with second wife Loni Anderson. Current price for the waterfront estate in Tequesta: $4.9 million.

We love the listing photos that show piles of books in almost all rooms. Who knew Reynolds -- former Florida State football halfback, "Boogie Nights" actor, mustachioed-man-about-town -- was such a prolific reader?

Reynolds most recently made headlines by auctioning off part of his Hollywood memorabilia collection. (See the results here.) But the 78-year-old star has denied reports he sold the collection because he was bankrupt, saying before the sale, "I want everyone to know that contrary to what all the news outlets are saying, I am not broke."

At last weekend's auction in Las Vegas, Reynolds' black-and-gold, 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, similar to the one in "Smokey and the Bandit," sold for $450,000. The football helmet he wore in "The Longest Yard" fetched $20,480, and his 1998 Golden Globe award for best supporting actor in "Boogie Nights" went for $21,760.

Burt Reynolds Items in the Burt Reynolds Auction

As for Reynolds' Palm Beach County home, it originally was listed for $10.5 million in 2008, Variety says, meaning Reynolds has cut the price in half. He reportedly bought the property in 1980 for $700,000.

The 12,538 square-foot manse with a Mediterranean air has its own helipad and includes:
  • five bedrooms and seven full baths.
  • 3.39 acres on the Intracoastal Waterway overlooking Jupiter Island.
  • 20-seat cinema.
  • separate guesthouse.
  • octagonal screened cabana next to the pool.
  • private dock.
  • four-car garage.
Reynolds is best known for his films "Smokey and the Bandit," "Deliverance" and "The Longest Yard" -- and for reported romances with actresses Sally Field, Adrienne Barbeau and Dinah Shore. He was married to Anderson, a TV sitcom star, from 1988 to 1993.


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Posted on 17 December 2014 | 9:44 am

25 Best Holiday Gifts for Renters

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picture of lovely woman with shopping bags
Shutterstock / Syda ProductionsThink small, or at least compact, efficient and portable, when buying gifts for family and friends who live in apartments.

Searching for the perfect gift for the apartment-dweller in your life? It's easy to give a large or bulky gift to the owner of a big home; they have the space to accommodate it. But what can you give to a renter -- particular one with limited space?

You're sure to find some inspiration on this list of 25 ideas specially selected for renters.

Home Decor

1. Air mattress. Turn any room into a guest room for those overnight houseguests.

2. Plants. Brighten up your space and purify your air with some pretty houseplants. For bonus points, give your gift in a self-watering planter, which keeps those plants alive and well, even if you're a bit forgetful.

3. Cozy throw blanket. A warm throw in an eye-catching design is perfect for winter evenings.

4. Fold-up tray table. Create extra space for eating, working on the computer and more, wherever it's needed.

5. Framed artwork. Add some flair to those plain white walls.

6. Decorative screen. Great for sectioning a room into separate areas or creating privacy in a studio.


7. Closet organizers. Hanging shelves, belt and scarf hangers, and shoe racks help maximize the storage capacity of small closets.

8. Double-duty furniture. Renters in a small space could benefit from a love seat with a pullout mattress, an ottoman with storage capacity, or other furniture that serves double-duty.

9. Nesting tables. Create extra surface space when it's needed; tuck them away when it's not.

10. Portable island. Many come with cool features like butcher-block tops, pullout cutting boards and built-in trash can storage.

11. Folding laundry station. Look for one with wheels, laundry-sorting bins and a foldout ironing board.

12. Clever shelving. Display books and knickknacks on a space-saving corner shelf or an invisible bookshelf that takes up less visual space.

13. Container Store gift card. Not sure exactly what a renter's space needs? Give them a gift card to this organizational mecca and let them choose for themselves.

Tech & Gadgets

14. Keyless entry device. Great for roommates, cleaning services, dog walkers and more, digital devices like the August Smart Lock and Lockitron do away with the need for keys and constant lock changing.

15. Bluetooth speaker. Take your tunes from room to room and power them from your smart phone or MP3 player.

16. Digital frame. Cut down on photo clutter -- and change up your photos as often as you like -- with a digital frame that displays pictures on a loop.


17. Tool kit. Since the landlord takes care of most repairs, many renters lack a basic tool kit, which can come in handy for things like furniture assembly.

18. Tabletop ornament tree. No room for a full-sized tree? A decorative wire "tree" that fits on your table can be a fun way to show off your favorite holiday ornaments.

19. Decorative coasters. When space is at a premium, extra places for guests to set their drinks can come in handy. Coasters also help guard furniture from watermarks and spills.

20. Bike-sharing membership. Give metropolitan renters another way to get around, without the cost of a car or the hassle of finding a place to store a bike in their home. Give them the gift of hassle-free transportation with a membership to a program like Citi Bike or Bike Share.

21. Car-sharing membership. For longer trips, or for those who simply prefer driving, a membership to a car-sharing program such as ZipCar or RelayRides can be a great gift.

22. Cleaning service gift card. This is one of the things most people would love to have but aren't always able to pay for themselves.

23. Food prep or meal subscription. Whether you want ready-made meals delivered to your door or you'd prefer to get fresh ingredients you can assemble yourself, there are plenty of great programs like Plated, Relish and Blue Apron.

24. E-reader. Perfect for book lovers who don't have the shelf space for a ton of physical books.

25. Fold-up luggage. Luggage takes up a lot of closet space, which is often at a premium in a rental unit. Foldable pieces that can be stacked on a shelf or stowed under a bed are big space-savers.

Paula Pant quit her office job in 2008, traveled to 32 countries and became a successful real estate investor. Her blog Afford Anything is the groundswell of a rebellion against standard advice that says you should chain yourself to a desk for 40 years. Afford Anything is dedicated to crushing limits and maximizing life.


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Posted on 17 December 2014 | 12:00 am

Mortgage Rates Move Lower to 3.66%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.66 percent, down from 3.75 percent at this time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate moved lower during the past week, dropping to 3.64 percent on Sunday before returning to the current rate.

"Rates dipped again last week on strong U.S. data and international turmoil, falling to levels not seen since the 'Taper Tantrum' in May 2013," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "This week, we expect rates to remain fairly stable, then move slightly higher in response to the Federal Open Market Committee's December statement on Wednesday."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate Tuesday morning was 2.90 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.76 percent.

Purchase Mortgage Application Activity

Zillow predicts Wednesday's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity increased by one percent from the previous week. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.

What are the interest rates right now? Check Zillow Mortgages for trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state.


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Posted on 16 December 2014 | 1:13 pm

5 Private Winter Getaways of the Rich and Famous

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TruliaTom Cruise has owned this Colorado home near Telluride since the early 1990s. It's on the market for $59 million.

Check out the luxurious digs that celebrities call home during winter months.

Celebs have the privilege (and the bank accounts) to own some of the most beautiful properties on the planet -- but they also own vacation getaways that are just as jaw-dropping. When they need to get away from it all in the winter months, they don't want to downgrade. When it comes to cool escapes, celebs demand luxurious digs.

Let's take a look at some celebrity vacation homes that could be categorized as Winter Wonderlands.

Tom Cruise's Estate in Telluride, Colorado

TruliaTom Cruise's Colorado retreat is just 12 minutes from the town of Telluride and sits on nearly 300 aspen-studded acres.

Since the early 1990s, Tom Cruise has retreated from his life as an A-list actor and super Scientologist at this nearly 300-acre spread in picturesque Telluride, Colorado. Nestled among rolling meadows and a mature forest just 12 minutes from the historic resort town, Cruise's rustic-chic property is the perfect one-two punch of private yet accessible, making it an ultimate retreat for those seeking privacy, scenic beauty, and serenity.

Sound like the perfect mountain haven? It's currently for sale and could be yours for a cool $59 million.

Rihanna's Luxe Aspen Rental

TruliaRihanna rented this 18,750 square-foot home for a birthday celebration last year. It's now on the market for $45 million.

Rihanna celebrated her birthday last year with a glam seven-day stay in the mountains of Colorado, cozying up inside a swanky Aspen mega-mansion. In true Bad Gal RiRi fashion, the Grammy winner went all out for her celebration and must have dropped a pretty penny to play inside this 18,750 square-foot rental, which happens to be on the market for $45 million.

The exquisite property, not so cleverly dubbed the "The Ski Home," sits among a handful of homes owned by A-list celebrity neighbors, including Mariah Carey, Charlie Sheen, Kevin Costner and Kate Hudson.

Bruce Willis' Palatial Ranch in Hailey, Idaho

TruliaThis 8,403 square-foot Idaho home owned by Bruce Willis is on the market for a little more than $7 million.

The owner of estates in California, Idaho, Montana, and the Caribbean, 1990s action superstar (and real estate mogul) Bruce Willis put up the for-sale sign on his resort-style ranch in Idaho with 8,403 square feet of living space. He bought the home in 2003 and has since made upgrades -- from rebuilding the main house with six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms to adding a detached guest home and gym.

What's even more impressive is the extensive landscaping work Willis added to the property's already-lovely view of Flying Heart Lake. The home's 20-acre lot now includes several man-made ponds and streams, two wells, a heated pool with water slides and waterfalls, and even a rope swing. From the main road to the front door, the area surrounding the property is lined with paver stone and protected by a gated entry and security system. This beautiful home is just minutes away from local skiing, hiking, biking, and live music and theater venues in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Jimmy Buffett's Modern Spread in Beverly Hills

TruliaSinger Jimmy Buffett recently purchased this four-bedroom midcentury Beverly Hills home for $8.25 million.

The snow doesn't fall in Beverly Hills. But -- believe it or not -- for Jimmy Buffett, who splits his time between his massive Florida estate in perpetually sunny Palm Beach and the Caribbean, a trip to his newly purchased California compound is a way to cool down. A temperature drop from 91 and sunny to 72 and partly cloudy could give this Parrothead crooner reason to cuddle up by the fire.

Celine Dion's Water Park Estate in South Florida

TruliaThis massive Florida home owned by Celine Dion is for sale for $62.5 million, marked down by almost $10 million.

When Celine Dion needs to retreat, the singer flies south to Florida for the winter. She and her family nestle into their custom-built Jupiter home, complete with its own water park. Inspired by the Bahamas, the home has a main house and five individual pavilions, including a four-bedroom guest house.

Maximizing its spot right on the Atlantic, the house boasts spectacular ocean views. Does the thought of vacationing here make your heart sing? Break out your checkbook and write Celine a check for $62.5 million, and it's all yours.


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Posted on 16 December 2014 | 9:24 am

4 Environmentally Friendly Holiday Ideas to Try in Your Home

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Plate with Christmas Decoration, directly above
Vstock LLC/Getty ImagesEliminating wasteful holiday spending can save money and help the environment by reducing how much is thrown away.
The holidays are a time when we spend a good deal of money on gifts that are ignored within weeks or even hours, cards and wrapping paper that are quickly tossed out, and centerpieces that end up in the garbage after dinner.

By trimming your spending, you can reduce waste -- and save money that can be spent on more lasting improvements to your home's decor.

There are many ways to conserve on resources and create gifts, cards and table settings that are kinder to the environment and add a very personal and caring touch to the holidays. Here are just a few environmentally friendly ideas. You can use your own talents and creativity to come up with many more.

1. Save lots of money and paper by wrapping gifts with materials you have at home. Millions of pounds of newspapers end up in landfills each year. But newspapers make wonderful wrapping paper. The black-and-white sections -- as well as the more colorful parts of the paper -- make fun wrapping for gifts. Collect ribbons from other gifts during the year and use those ribbons to create attractive packages.

2. Make gifts instead of buying them. Homemade gifts are so much more special and individualized. Baked cookies, cakes, crackers and candy are welcomed gifts, along with relish, hummus or whatever your special recipe might be.

Years ago, I had remarkable pretzels in a restaurant in New York. For years I looked for a way to duplicate the recipe. Several months ago, a friend gave me a cookbook,
"Pasta Modern" by Francine Segan, that had the exact recipe I was looking for. These pretzels make a perfect centerpiece and hostess gift for the holidays. Buy an attractive mug or small vase, and put the sticks in it. They can be served plain, with just a sprinkle of salt, or try them with spices like ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika.

Pasta Modern by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)These pasta pretzel sticks make delicious appetizers.

Pasta Pretzel Sticks
Courtesy of "Pasta Modern" by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Serves 4 to 6

Olive oil or butter

1/4 pound perciatelli, bucatelli or other long pasta, preferably Garofalo brand


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until tender, a minute longer than al dente. Drain and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil or butter. Lay the pasta strands onto the prepared sheet in straight lines, with a bit of space between each. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden and crisp, about 8 minutes.

Handcrafted gifts are always very special. Knitters and crocheters can make a variety of wonderful gifts. Warm blankets, socks, hats and leggings can be made out of leftover yarns from other projects. Another wonderful gift is a phone pouch. I developed this idea several months ago when I got tired of carrying my phone around in my hand or pocket (where I often didn't hear it ring). I've given them to many friends as a gift with very happy responses. This is a hands-free way to carry a cell phone and can be made out of leftover yarn.

Phone Pouch
Sheri KoonesHandcrafted phone pouches make a very unique gift.

The number of stitches will depend on the yarn and size of the phone. Measure the phone's height and width. With knitting worsted yarn and size 8 needles, cast on approximately 28 stitches. (These can be made with any yarn or combination of yarns -- just make sure the gauge works for the size of the phone.) Knit 4 rows in stockinette stitch (St st). Then knit 3 rows in knit to create a turning row. Continue to work in stockinette stitch for the length of the phone. Cast off. Fold over the turning row and sew the seam at the top to form a finished end. Then sew the sides together to form a round pouch and then sew the bottom seams together, keeping the vertical seam in the back of the pouch. Make an I-cord the length you would like the phone to hang and then attach the ends to the inner sides of the pouch. (An I-cord is a knitted tube. Cast on 3 stitches on #4 double pointed needles. Easy instructions for making an I-cord can be found on this YouTube video.

3. Make holiday cards or invitations. Homemade cards are very personal and economical. They can also use up some of the leftover papers and other items (lace, buttons, stickers) you have around the house. There are a multitude of stamps, punches and other items available to help make creating cards very simple. Greetings can even be printed with a computer printer to make the greetings personalized. The magazine The Stampers' Sampler is filled with a multitude of seasonal ideas.

4. Decorate the table with bright fruits and vegetables. Flowers and purchased centerpieces are often thrown away. But fruits and vegetables look beautiful in a bowl or platter and can be eaten or used for cooking after the holiday dinner is done. One centerpiece I've found to be particularly attractive at this time of year is a glass bowl filled with cranberries and water. Add a few floating candles and it makes a colorful and festive addition to the table. The holiday season can be a time for family to participate in projects to make the table beautiful and the gifts personal -- and without creating more waste than necessary. After all, creating from reused materials is also a gift to the earth.


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Posted on 15 December 2014 | 10:15 am

Is an El Nino on the Way? 10 Ways to Get Your House Ready

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House Wrapped in Winter Clothing; Insulate Your Home
Catherine Lane/Getty Images

The following post is by BrightNest:

Remember El Nino? That sometime-in-the-'90s storm sensation that produced crazy weather? The recent California rains have people talking about an El Nino winter, when an area of warmer-than-average water in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator brings heavy rains or snow to parts of the U.S. While an El Nino condition has not developed yet, Weather Channel forecasters say a weak to moderate El Nino is likely to emerge over the winter months and potentially persist into the spring.

It's important to prepare your home before El Nino hits, because once the rain or snow falls, you'll be in trouble if you haven't prepared. Protect your family, your property and your wallet by taking action with moves that can be wise in many parts of the country, El Nino winter or not:

1. Look Up at the Roof

Before wet or snowy weather hits this winter, head outside and inspect your roof from the ground for warning signs of damage, sagging and aging. If you see anything, call a roofing professional immediately so problems don't arise once precipitation -- in liquid or frozen form -- arrives.

Once winter weather hits: Do a second inspection. This time, look for signs of leaks inside the house, and if you have snowfall, look for any spots on the roof that have snow buildup or high snowdrifts. Also, look for any sagging areas, the most obvious indicator that there is too much weight on your roof.

2. Stock Up on Salt for Your Walkways

If you live in a cold climate, one of the most important things you can buy this winter is salt for your walkway -- an icy sidewalk is a disaster waiting to happen. You can purchase ice-melting rock salt at any home improvement store for around $15 a bag. Pet-friendly options are also available for about $20 a bag. Tip: If you have a long walkway, you can make your salt supply last longer by mixing it at a 1-1 ratio with playground sand.

Once winter weather hits: If possible, spread salt before the snow hits, because it will prevent ice from forming. If the snow sneaks up on you, shovel your walkway as soon as possible and then spread ample amounts of salt.

3. Give Your Gutters Some Love

The clearer your gutters are now, the better you'll fare come heavy rains or snowmageddon. That means removing leaves, goop, dirt and debris from your gutters by hand.

Once winter weather hits: Regularly inspect your gutters to ensure that there is not a blockage of debris or ice stopping the flow of your gutter. Ice dams can cause damage to your roof, walls, ceiling and insulation. If you do spot an ice dam, you can remove it manually or try the following trick: For a short-term fix, fill a pantyhose leg with ice melt (available at hardware stores) and knot it. Lay the panty hose on your roof so that it crosses the ice dam and then let the salt do its thing. Eventually, it will melt through the ice and create a channel for water to escape (this may take several days). Remember: This is only a short-term solution! To permanently repair any roof damage, contact a professional.

4. Prevent Burst Pipes

Before frigid weather hits, take the time to find your water shut-off valve and familiarize yourself with it so you can quickly turn your water off if a pipe breaks. As soon as the temperature is expected to dip below 20 degrees, let any high-risk faucets drip. What counts as high risk? Any faucets that are fed by a pipe that has frozen in the past, or by a pipe that runs near an outside wall. If your sink has separate hot and cold faucets, let both of them drip. If there's just one faucet, set it to medium so the hot and cold lines are both activated.

Once winter weather hits: If your pipes are in cabinets (e.g. under a sink), it's a good idea to keep interior cupboard doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes. This is especially important if the water pipes touch an exterior wall.

Have a frozen pipe? If you turn on a faucet and no water comes out, your pipe is likely frozen. Keep the faucet open, because the pipe will still need pressure relief. If you can see the frozen area (which will generally have frost on it), you can use an electric hair dryer to thaw the pipe. Important: Don't use an open flame! This will damage the pipe and may even start a fire.

5. Stock Up on Food

When storms hit, it can be difficult to get to the store. We're not suggesting stocking up on perishables, but it will help if there's something edible in your pantry when you're stuck because of weather.

Take a trip to Costco or Sam's Club and stock up on non-perishable items such as canned soup, vegetables, powdered food, oatmeal, rice, pasta and quinoa. Also, don't forget bottled water. How much? A good rule of thumb is to have enough food on hand to feed your family for a week. If you're stressed out just thinking about storing this much food, check out these tips before your trip to the store.

Once winter weather hits: If you can, walk to the store to buy perishables goods such as milk and eggs. If you're stuck at home, that's okay. You'll have plenty of food to feed your family until you're able to get out of the house.

6. Inspect Your Furnace

What's worse than being trapped at home during a snowstorm? Being trapped at home during a snowstorm with no heat. Even worse? Being trapped at home with dangerous (and odorless) carbon monoxide. Yikes!

To prevent any problems, call an HVAC technician now to schedule an appointment. They'll go over this checklist and make sure your furnace is ready for freezing temperatures and is safely going to keep your family warm.

Once winter weather hits: Take a look at your furnace to ensure that nothing flammable like acetone, alcohol, paint thinner, spray paint, spray adhesives, gasoline additives, engine cleaners, WD-40, cleaning fluids or spot removers is stored anywhere near your furnace. Also, depending on the type of furnace you have, it's probably a good idea to change your furnace filter.

7. Winterize Your Garden

Depending on your climate, some plants in your garden may not survive the winter. But you can make moves now to prepare the garden to be at its best when warm weather comes back around. Take a sweep through your garden and remove weeds and diseased leaves. Plant your bulbs according to their directions and you'll have a beautiful garden when spring arrives.

If you have perennials, it's important to add a four-to-six inch layer of mulch to your garden to protect your perennial plants during the winter months. The best time to do this is right after the first hard frost because your perennials will be dormant by then. This new layer of mulch will help your garden maintain a consistent temperature during the cold season.

8. Prepare for a Long Power Outage

Winter storms often mean extended power outages. To prepare, take the time to find and inspect your electrical panel now, so it's easy to find when the power goes out. Here's a step-by-step guide for the hunt and inspection. Also, make sure you have fresh batteries in your flashlights and be sure the flashlights are easily accessible. We recommend placing a few candles in heavily trafficked rooms with matches or a lighter right next to the candles. Finally, have an empty cooler handy.

Once winter weather hits: If the power doesn't go out, you'll still enjoy the candles. If it does, the first thing you'll need to do is remove food that may spoil from the refrigerator and freezer. Fortunately, in cold climates, you'll have a natural freezer right outside of your door! Take advantage of this by filling the empty cooler with food and simply placing it outside. Then, keep your fridge door closed to keep it as cold as possible. Relax, light candles and play cards. Enjoy the respite from electronics.

9. Prepare Your Contractor List

If a winter storm damages your home, the last thing you want to worry about is scrambling to find a decent contractor. Instead, take the time now to put together an A-team list, so you're ready in case something does go wrong. Follow these steps to build an awesome contractor list and anticipate any potential problems. Once it's prepared, put it somewhere easily accessible. Use a note on your phone, an Evernote or an old-school note on the fridge.

Get ready for cold weather by winterizing your home. Once the weather hits, cross your fingers that you won't need the contractor list. But, if you do, it will be ready for you.

10. Anticipate Your Pets' Needs

While you're preparing for your family's safety and comfort during a winter storm, don't forget about Fido! Take a week and track everything that you need for your pet. How much food does he or she go through in a week? What about medications? Make sure that you have plenty of everything to keep your pet healthy.

Next, make sure your pets' tags are up-to-date. Storms can be disorienting for pets when they're outside, so make sure that there is a way for someone to help return your pet to you if it is lost.

Once needs are taken care of, think about what your pet will need to stay sane if you're locked up for a week. Does your cat or dog love toys? Cat nip? Bones? Make sure you have plenty of pet-friendly things around to endure a week inside.

Once winter weather hits: Follow this rule of thumb: If it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet. Never leave a pet alone outside during a snowstorm. If they must go outside to potty, stay with them the entire time. When you can't endure the cold anymore, neither can your pet.


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Posted on 15 December 2014 | 12:00 am

The Top 10 Foreclosure States in the U.S.

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BNNGWT Blue Foreclosure For Sale Real Estate Sign in Front of House with Blue Star-burst in Sky.  real; estate; foreclosure; sig

By Christine DiGangi

For a brief moment this year, Florida was not the state with the highest foreclosure rate. Maryland relieved Florida of that dubious honor in October after foreclosure activity in the state surged, but a 31.1 percent decline in Maryland foreclosures from October to November was enough to push Florida back to the top, despite declines in that state as well.

Foreclosures have declined from their peak, but Florida has had the top foreclosure rate among the 50 states for 13 of the past 14 months. One in every 462 housing units in Florida was in some state of foreclosure in November, down 3.9 percent from October and down 14.75 percent from November 2013, according to the monthly U.S. foreclosure report from RealtyTrac.

Here are the states that had the highest rate of foreclosure filings in November:

10. South Carolina

1 in 933 housing units

Foreclosure activity declined 28.66 percent since November 2013 and 12.74 percent from October 2014, allowing South Carolina to drop from its No. 8 spot in the October foreclosure rankings. Foreclosure starts in South Carolina dropped 28 percent from last year.

9. Indiana

1 in 932 housing units

Foreclosure starts increased 23.36 percent from October and 54.6 percent from November 2013, but overall foreclosure activity declined 18.25 percent month over month and increased just 2.01 percent from last year in Indiana. As a result, Indiana fell from its October place at No. 7 to the ninth-highest foreclosure rate.

8. Ohio

1 in 865 housing units

In October, Ohio had the fourth-highest foreclosure rate in the country, but a 22.06 percent decline in foreclosure filings from October to November allowed the state to drop to eighth place. Year over year, Ohio's foreclosure rate declined 12.35 percent.

7. Illinois

1 in 848 housing units

Illinois also saw a slide in foreclosure filings, dropping 16.09 percent and two spots from October. The November foreclosure rate is down 17.33 percent from the same time last year, and foreclosure starts dropped 28.11 percent in the same period, which was the eighth-largest year-over-year drop.

6. Nevada

1 in 783 housing units

Nevada's foreclosure rate increased 10.73 percent since November 2013, despite a 23.91 percent drop in foreclosures from October of this year. Foreclosure starts skyrocketed 138.41 percent from November 2013, but the monthly changes bumped Nevada from No. 4 in October to No. 6 on this most recent list.

5. Utah

1 in 750 housing units

Utah wasn't on the top 10 list in October, but monthly and annual increases in foreclosure activity pushed the state up in the rankings. Foreclosure filings increased 27.54 percent from October to November, and the year-over-year increase was 19.82 percent, driven mostly by new notices of default.

4. Delaware

1 in 693 housing units

Foreclosure filings in Delaware declined significantly (down 30.15 percent) from November 2013, but a slight increase from October (up 8.52 percent) moved the state from the sixth-highest to the fourth-highest foreclosure rate in the country last month.

3. Maryland

1 in 581 housing units

Maryland was No. 1 in October after its foreclosure activity spiked 68 percent in a month and 30 percent in a year, but a 31.1 percent decline in filings from October to November let Maryland settle into the rankings two spots lower.

2. New Jersey

1 in 478 housing units

New Jersey foreclosure activity surged in November, up 196.06 percent from the same time last year. The month-to-month change in foreclosure filings (up 83.58 percent) moved New Jersey from No. 9 in October to No. 2 in November's rankings. Foreclosure starts spiked 256.18 percent from last year.

1. Florida

1 in 462 housing units

Foreclosure activity is actually down in Florida, but the 3.9 percent decline from October wasn't enough to keep it off the top of the list, especially after Maryland's significant drop in activity. Foreclosure filings decreased 14.75 percent and foreclosure starts dropped 24.35 percent from November 2013.

Going through foreclosure is a challenging time for any homeowner, emotionally and financially, but as devastating as it can be to lose your home, there are ways to recover. In the immediate aftermath of foreclosure, focus on the other aspects of your finances and credit that you can control, like paying bills on time and keeping your debt levels as low as possible. Eventually, you may see your credit score recover from the foreclosure. Meanwhile, check your credit reports to make sure they're accurate and review your credit scores regularly to track your progress. You can get two of your credit scores with updates every 30 days for free on


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Posted on 13 December 2014 | 5:19 am

Enter Your Home in the AOL Holiday Lights Contest

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a string of multi-colored christmas lights are strung across a white plastic fence.  their reflection is cast upon the reflectiv
Getty Images/Flickr Open

'Tis the season to deck the halls and light the lights! is looking for the most festively decorated homes across the country and we want you to join in the holiday cheer. Send us a picture of the exterior of your seasonally spirited house -- whether it's strung in bright lights, adorned in tinsel or dressed up as a winter wonderland. (Just your home, please. Don't include people in the photos.)

Click here and scroll down to enter for a chance to win a $250 gift card from Home Depot.

Editors will be continually compiling a gallery of the submissions to feature them on (Please be patient. Once a photo of your home has been entered in the contest, it may take up to two days for your photo to appear in the slideshow.)

Our audience will be voting on which homes they think best show the spirit of the season.

Out of hundreds of submissions, the 20 homes with the most votes will move on to the next judging round, where a panel of judges will select one winner whose house best captures the spirit of the winter holidays.

The submission period began Dec. 8 and will close on Dec. 22 at 11:00 p.m. EST.

Readers will be able to vote on their favorite homes beginning Dec. 15 at 12:00 a.m. EST. Limit one vote per person every 12 hours. The voting will close on Dec. 25 at 11:00 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen on Jan. 1, 2015.

If you love what you see, tweet us at with the hashtag #AOLHolidayHomes.


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Posted on 12 December 2014 | 2:25 pm

NYC's Most Expensive Rental Costs $500,000 a Month

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Courtesy of TOWN Fifth AvenueThe most expensive rental in Manhattan history includes gasp-worthy views from the 39th floor of a Fifth Avenue hotel.
I have a soft spot in my heart for The Pierre, the midtown Manhattan hotel where my parents were married in 1950 on the heels of World War II. So, I'm pleased that someone loves the hotel as much as I do, and is able/willing to pay $500,000 per month for a 39th-floor, six-bedroom suite there, the most expensive rental ever in New York City -- for the moment.

The renter, who remains nameless to us peasants, also is renting a one-bedroom suite on the hotel's 10th floor for $150,000 a month, according to Therese Bateman and Andres Perea-Garzon, the TOWN Fifth Avenue listing agents who are marketing The Pierre Hotel Residences portfolio of 10 Grand Suites ranging in price from $75,000 to $500,000 per month. The mystery renter is leasing the suites for only about one month, from late November through December.

Courtesy of TOWN Fifth AvenueThe $500,000 suite is one of the hotel's collection of 10 Grand Suites, which start at $75,000 a month.

What's the renter getting for a half mil?

The entire 4,786 square-foot 39th floor, including six bedrooms and 6.5 baths; gasp-worthy views of Central Park and the city's east and west skylines; access to a private elevator, butler and maid service; a 24/7 concierge and use of a chauffeur-driven Jaguar.

Courtesy of TOWN Fifth AvenueThe Pierre's 39th-floor suite has six bedrooms, a private elevator and butler and maid service.

The Pierre hotel is located on 61st Street and Fifth Avenue, just a hop-skip-jump away from Central Park, Tiffany, Cartier, FAO Schwartz and a gazillion Madison Avenue boutiques.

"It is the epicenter of luxury," Bateman told AOL Real Estate. The renters also get to hobnob with The Pierre's exclusive co-op owners.

The Pierre hotel opened in 1930 and has appeared in many television programs and films. The famous tango scene in "Scent of a Woman" was shot in The Pierre's Cotillion Ballroom.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, a home builder, and creator of When she's not writing, building, or helping gardens grow, she's fly fishing on catch-and-release streams. Follow her on Twitter (@kaplan_lisa) , Facebook (Lisa Kaplan Gordon) , and Google+.

CORRECTION: A previous headline said the most expensive rental was $150,000 a month. That is the amount on a second rental in The Pierre by the same tenant.


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Posted on 12 December 2014 | 12:00 am

Lena Dunham Pays $4.8 Million for Brooklyn Heights Condo

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2014 Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals
Jordan Strauss/APLena Dunham and Jack Antonoff, lead guitarist for the band Fun, arrive at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in August.

Lena Dunham, the actress, director and best-selling author, has plopped down almost $5 million for a four-bedroom/3.5 bath condo in Brooklyn Heights, where she reportedly lives with boyfriend Jack Antonoff, lead guitarist for the band Fun.

Things are definitely going her way. Last week, she was nominated for a Golden Globe as best actress in a TV comedy series for her performance in "Girls," and her book "Not That Kind of Girl" is a New York Times best seller.

The condo is one of only five units at 30 Henry Street, the site of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's former offices. We find that fitting, since Dunham is a woman of many words --she reportedly scored a $3.7 million advance for her controversial memoir "Not That Kind of Girl" -- and the Daily Eagle, last published in 1963, was once the largest daily circulation paper in the country. We hope the spirit of poet Walt Whitman, the paper's editor from 1846 to 1848, will roam the halls of the new condo building.

But back to "it girl" Dunham, who is loyal to her Brooklyn roots. The 28-year-old (what were you doing at 28?) attended high school there, sets her HBO series "Girls" there, and just traded up from the one-bedroom condo she bought there for $500,000 in 2012 and reportedly still owns.

Her new, 3,200 square-foot digs cost $4,887,600. Each apartment has its own elevator that opens into a "grand room" that sprawls the length of the building, says the Corcoran Group description of 30 Henry Street. The brand new building, called The Heights, also has an automated parking garage.

Listing photos for the five units have shown the same modern (but rather muted) model decor for the various apartments. We're betting Dunham, with her quirky sense of style, added her personal touch pronto.


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Posted on 10 December 2014 | 6:51 am

Rosie O'Donnell Sells Her NYC Penthouse for $9 Million

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ZillowThe comedian and television personality paid $8 million in 2012 and made a million on the unit in less than two years.

Gab-fest host Rosie O'Donnell finally has sold her West Greenwich Village apartment at 130 West 12th Street for $9 million, making a cool $1 million profit, says the New York Daily News.

"The View" star bought the 3,200 square-foot penthouse in 2012 for $8 million and had the apartment on the market for about a year. The property, in a 42-unit building formerly part of St. Vincent's Hospital, includes:
  • Four bedrooms and three baths.
  • Private terrace measuring 435 square feet.
  • Walls of windows.
  • Oak floors.
  • Stunning views of the Empire State Building and 1 World Trade Center.
This is great news for O'Donnell, the comedian and television personality who returned to "The View" this season. Reports say O'Donnell has been clashing off camera with co-star Whoopi Goldberg, who inherited the host seat when O'Donnell left the show in 2007 after repeated dustups with conservative panelist Elisabeth Hasselbeck.


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Posted on 10 December 2014 | 12:00 am

Zillow: Mortgage Rates Still Holding Steady at 3.75%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.75 percent, down from 3.76 percent at this time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around 3.80 percent last week, peaking at 3.88 percent on Monday before returning to the current rate.

"Rates increased less than expected last week considering the positive economic data releases and Friday's impressive employment report," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "With little incoming data or policy announcements scheduled for release this week, we expect rates to remain stable while markets look ahead toward next week's Federal Open Market Committee meeting."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate Tuesday morning was 3.0 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.84 percent.

Purchase Mortgage Application Activity

Zillow predicted Wednesday's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index would show purchase loan activity decreased by 20 percent from the previous week. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.

For detailed rate analysis, check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state.

The weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.


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Posted on 9 December 2014 | 3:05 pm

Bruce Willis Ready to Unload $13 Million NYC Apartment

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Bruce Willis Selling $13 Million New York City Apartment

By Melissa Allison

UPDATE 12/15/14: After just seven days on the market, the actor has a contract on the property, StreetEasy has confirmed.

For a while, Bruce Willis was tripling down on homes in New York. He bought two properties in Westchester County this year after spending $8.85 million in early 2013 for a Central Park pad that belonged to U2 bassist Adam Clayton.

Now the "Die Hard" actor and his wife, Emma Heming, want to unload the renovated Manhattan apartment for nearly $13 million.

Located in the Emery Roth-designed Eldorado building -- whose celebrity residents have included Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, the musician Moby and Garrison Keillor -- the home has views of Central Park from its living and dining rooms and from the master suite.

The three-bedroom, 3.5-bath home includes a steam shower and a large kitchen made from two former housekeepers' rooms.

"They just spent two years renovating it; they took it back to the studs," said Ann Cutbill Lenane, the Douglas Elliman broker who has the listing.

Willis and Heming wanted a bigger space after having their second child this year, the broker said.

Lest it seem the couple has a sixth sense for real estate, they recently slashed prices on two other homes: A sprawling Beverly Hills mansion that was initially listed for $22 million finally sold for $16.5 million, and an Idaho home first listed at $15 million in 2011 is now on the market for $7.05 million.


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Posted on 9 December 2014 | 7:21 am

Beyonce/Jay Z Reportedly In Bidding War for $85 Million Home

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Jay-Z & Beyoncé In Bidding War Over $85 Million Mansion

Try to remember that in September we told you about the $85 million house in the Trousdale Estates area that is among the most expensive properties for sale in Beverly Hills. (The current leader, Palazzo di Amore, is priced at $195 million.)

Anyone can price a house that high, but it's a lot harder to sell one for that astronomical amount. But, TMZ is saying the $85 million mansion with its own candy shop is in the midst of a bidding war and that Beyonce and Jay Z, lately seen greeting Prince William and his wife Kate at an NBA game, are top contenders.

The gossip site reports that the singing superstars and seller are only a few million dollars apart -- hardly worth arguing about -- and are hovering around the $70 million mark. Yowza!

To refresh your memory, the house on 1181 N. Hillcrest Road includes:
  • eight bedrooms and 15 bathrooms.
  • dining room that seats 24.
  • panoramic views that extend to Malibu.
  • wine room fully stocked with 2,500 bottles of wine.
  • an elevator that takes cars down to a lower-level garage.


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Posted on 9 December 2014 | 5:59 am

6 Reasons to Make a Bigger Down Payment on Your Home

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House and Money with Pad and Pen
Andy Dean/Getty Images

By AJ Smith

Deciding how much of a down payment to make when buying a home can be a challenge -- and it can make a big difference in how much your ultimately home costs. The amount of money you pay up front determines how much your mortgage payment is. If you can afford to make a down payment that is larger than average on a home, should you do it? Check out the reasons you may want to make a substantial down payment.

1. Easier Approval

Affording a large down payment is a sign of borrower strength and shows lenders that you know how to save. Since this is one of the best indicators of creditworthiness, you are more likely to get approved for a mortgage with a larger down payment. Further, if you are in a multiple-offer situation, offering the seller more money up front can be the key to outbidding other prospective buyers.

2. A Lower Interest Rate

Banks and lenders usually offer better interest rates when your loan-to-value ratio is lower. An increase in your down payment lowers this ratio and also lowers the lender's risk. Lower interest rates can save you significant amounts of money over the life of a mortgage. (You can get an idea of how rates affect what you pay over time with this lifetime cost of credit tool.)

The other major factor in lowering your interest rate is your credit score, so make sure you know where you stand before you apply for a loan. You can see two of your credit scores free every month on

3. Lower Monthly Payments

A bigger down payment means a smaller mortgage amount, which means lower monthly payments. This means more money in your monthly budget for the other facets of your life and again, fewer dollars of interest paid over time.

4. You Can Be Mortgage-Free Sooner

With more of the costs covered at the beginning, you may be more likely to pay the entire mortgage off in less time. With lower monthly payments, maybe you can even make extra principal prepayments. Paying off a mortgage early often makes financial sense and can help you be better prepared for retirement.

5. No Need for Mortgage Insurance

With small down payments (less than 20 percent of the home price), lenders usually require that you take out private mortgage insurance (PMI). This protects the lender if you are unable to pay down the line. The premiums are a cost that you avoid by making a large down payment.

6. Protection From Negative Equity

As too many homeowners found out the hard way during the last recession, home values can fall the same way they can rise. By having a greater percentage of your home paid off before you even move in, you minimize the likelihood that a price decline will put you into a negative equity situation.

There are, of course, some reasons not to make a larger down payment -- if you can get a greater return by investing that money elsewhere, for instance. It is important to understand, though, that if you can afford a larger payment or are willing to wait to purchase a home so you can save for one, you could pay less for your mortgage overall, pay your mortgage off faster and get better interest rates and terms in the bargain.


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Posted on 9 December 2014 | 1:18 am


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