First-time Home-buying Tips

First-Time-Homebuyers (2)

Virgin homebuyers, gird your loins. Your first foray into property ownership will likely be more of a roller coaster journey than you expect. Lucky for you, we were able to snag Atlanta-based realtor Lauren Blass for a few home buying tips.

What advice can you give to first-time home buyers?

Think about where you would like to be in five years. Even though it may not be a thought right now, begin thinking about public versus private schools. Consider the location you want to live in and your commute time. Make a list of all your must-haves in a house; consider your lifestyle; and try to be flexible and open-minded.

Before beginning your search, have a budget in mind and get your finances in order to be able to start the loan process. A good lender will be able to help you identify your target price range. Ask your agent, friends, or family members who have recently purchased a home for lender recommendations. It never hurts to call a few lenders and ask about various programs for first-time home buyers. Find an agent who has experience and is willing to spend the time to help you find what you are looking for. Many first-time home buyers see 20-to-30 homes before actually finding their nest.

What percent of a down payment should you really have in the bank before you seriously look at owning a home?

For first-time home-buyers, only 5 percent is actually needed before you seriously start looking at homes. However, having 20 percent will help get you the lowest rates and payment because it will reduce the risk for the lender. It is helpful to have several thousand dollars set aside as an emergency fund when you own a home for those unexpected issues. Also, remember to save money for closing costs in case that becomes your responsibility after negotiations.

What are a few terms first-time home-buyers should be familiar with?

  • Contract (purchase and sale agreement) – The agreement between a buyer and a seller to purchase and sell real property. The contract contains all material terms relevant to the transaction: sales price, property description, amount of earnest money, who is paying closing costs and how much, closing date, and items to be completed at or before closing.

  • Appraisal – This is ordered by the lender and is an estimate of value based on comparable properties

  • Inspection –An inspection is essentially a “visual snapshot” of a home’s condition as it exists at the time of the inspection, and that condition is described in a comprehensive written report.

  • Due diligence period – The time during the contract when the buyer conducts any and all inspections of the home that she or he chooses, so the buyer can learn everything that can be known about the property

  • Financing contingency- A period of time specified in the contract that the buyer has to obtain financing for the property

  • Earnest money- A sum of money that the buyer will deposit to the seller as a demonstration of the buyer’s good faith intention to purchase the property; this deposit is applied towards the total purchase price at closing.

  • HUD/settlement statement – A document that itemizes all fees and services associated with the sale of the home

  • HOA dues (homeowners association) – Assessments charged by a homeowners’ association to the individual homeowner

  • Seller’s disclosure – The checklist of potentially problematic items known to sellers about the property and included in the contract

  • Commission – Sometimes this misunderstood by first-time buyers, but commission is always paid by the sellers – NOT the buyers.

What is the breakdown of the home-buying process?

The first step in the home buying process would be to talk to a mortgage lender to identify your budget and get pre-approved. After pre-approval, find a real estate agent who is familiar with the areas you are considering. It is helpful to utilize online resources along with searches provided to you by your agent. Once you have found the home you wish to buy, your agent will present an offer and the negotiation process will begin. Once the seller of the home has accepted your offer, you are now under contract. Your due diligence period along with your financing and appraisal contingency will begin as well. The due diligence period is a specified number of days that you as a buyer are allocated in order to make sure it is still the house of your dreams. The lender will order an appraisal of the property and make sure you are able to obtain financing in the specified time period. The last step in the process is closing on your new home. The closing is the execution of legal documents of conveyance and loan paperwork to transfer and/or mortgage a property. All parties meet at the closing attorney’s office and the attorney will execute the closing documents, collect fees and disburse proceeds.

Michelle is SweetJack’s savvy Momma in residence but don’t let the bumpers and bibs fool you. This Staff Writer loves a witty Rap reference and a heavy pour of pinot.



DIY Home Cleaning Products


Spring cleaning urge strike yet? It may look pretty once you’ve dusted and de-grimed, but is it really worth spreading toxic chemicals throughout your home? Never fret, pet. Your nest can go green and still really gleam with these eco- and human-friendly DIY cleaning products.

Your New BFFs:

Baking Soda

White Vinegar

Hydrogen Peroxide

• Water

Kitchen Cleaner

Combine 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap and 2 tablespoons white vinegar in a spray bottle. Stir or shake. Let it sit for a minute, then fill with warm water and shake it up. Once it’s stopped fizzing, you’re good to go.


Combine 2 tablespoons white vinegar with a gallon of water in a spray bottle. Squirt on windows, then scrub with newspaper. Paper towels cause streaking.

Shower tile and bathtub

Combine two-to-one parts water and three percent hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle. Saturate mold and mildew spots thoroughly, then let sit for an hour. Scrub with towel or old toothbrush.

Michelle is SweetJack’s savvy Momma in residence but don’t let the bumpers and bibs fool you. This Staff Writer loves a witty Rap reference and a heavy pour of pinot.

From Grandma’s Kitchen: Homemade Beef Stew

Imagine… You walk through your threshold, in from the wintery weather, and are immediately embraced by the relaxing aroma of a savory, just-like-you-wish-granny-made-it beef stew. This dream’s yours for the taking, so long as you’re armed with a pot, some heat and a few simple essentials. Here, a recipe from my family to yours. Get cookin’!

Grandma Goldie’s Beef Stew
Chop two pounds of stew meat into two-inch cubes. Mince ¼ cup of fresh rosemary. Add rosemary and brown stew meat to pot. Brown stew meat on all sides in hot oil over medium high heat. Add two onions (chopped), three cups of water, two tablespoons Worcestershire, three cloves of garlic, two bay leaves, one teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper. Cover and simmer for one and a half hours. Add four ribs of celery (chopped), four carrot sticks (chopped) and one pound of red potatoes (halved). Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Serve with garlic bread.

Slow Cooker Variation (using measurements from above)
Brown beef in hot oil. Place beef, minced rosemary, chopped onion, Worcestershire, garlic, bay leaves, salt, pepper, carrots, celery, potatoes and water into the cooker. Cover slow cooker and cook on high until beef is fork tender, about four-to-five hours, or on low for eight hours. Add cornstarch to thicken. Serve with a smile.

Michelle is SweetJack’s savvy Momma in residence but don’t let the bumpers and bibs fool you. This Staff Writer loves a witty Rap reference and a heavy pour of pinot.

Super Bowl Sunday Fun Facts

Wow your football friends with these jaw-dropping SPS tidbits! Superbowl-Party

Food Trivia Fist pumping and high fiving require a lot of fueling, apparently. The Super Bowl is the second highest day of food consumption in the United States after Thanksgiving. On Super Bowl Sundays, fans across the U.S. of A will consume:

  • 8 million pounds of guacamole (sidebar: If you spread this much guacamole across the entire football field, it would be over 11 feet deep!)
  • 8 million pounds of popcorn
  • 1.23 billion chicken wings
  • 14,500 tons of chips
  • 325.5 million tons of beer (sidebar 2: that much brewski would fill over 1000 Olympic-sized swimming pools)
  • Dominos expects to deliver over 11 million slices of pizza

Fun Facts

  • Of the top 10 most watched American TV programs of all time, nine are Super Bowls.
  • The Super Bowl is the 2nd most watched sporting event in the world, with more than 100 million people worldwide tuning in.
  • The NFL won’t allow Super Bowl games in stadiums that have a climate of less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, unless it’s enclosed.

The Money Trail

  • One 30-second commercial aired during the Super Bowl costs at least 3 million
  • $12,500: Price Tiffany charges to produce the Vince Lombardi Trophy
  • Over 3 Million HD TVs were bought to watch the Super Bowl on last year alone
  • Approximately $400 million is added to the host city’s local economy with each Super Bowl game

Football Factoids

  • Joe Montana has won the Super Bowl MVP three times
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers were first team to win 6 Super Bowls
  • The Green Bay Packers won the first Super Bowl
  • Approximately 72 footballs are used during the big game

Top Emerging Ski Destinations in the US and Beyond

Skip the crowds and head to the coolest ski towns across the world.

Girdwood, Alaska
Why It’s Cool
- Off the beaten path ruggedness + zero crowds + perfect powder + runs for all levels
Where to hang:
- The Sitzmark, a throwback to the classic ski bar, sits at the base of the mountain. Soak up a much deserved brewski, live jams, and hot eats on their sprawling sundeck

Zermatt, Switzerland
Why It’s Cool
- Old World Charm (Think cobblestones leading to centuries old architecture filled with warm laughter, full-bodied wines, and decadently good food) + steep slopes + Matterhorn backdrop
Where To Hang Your Hat
- The five star Mont Cervin Palace offers the best of the triumvirate Ls: luxury, location, and leisure

Crested Butte, Colorado
Why It’s Cool
- Stunning scenery + Extreme Ski & Snowboard Slopes + Eclectic, Funky Ski Bum Town
What to Do When Your Skis Need a Day Off
- Take a dog sledding tour through the untamed Elk Mountains

Kitzbuhel, Austria
Why It’s Cool
- Horse-drawn carriage-style romance by day, Cosmopolitan club mecca by night + Great runs for the intermediate skier + Cool network of gondolas and lifts that allow easy transport to neighboring towns
Where to Dine
- Schwarzer Adler, where Alpine chic meets cozy nook and local dishes are inspired by world-renowned cuisine

Wanaka, New Zealand
Why It’s Cool
- LOTR-style scenery + Four nearby ski areas + Steep, groomed runs + Kiwi Awesomeness

Don’t Miss:
- Arcadia Chutes at Cardrona Alpine Resort, known by locals as your chance to “Take a ski on the dark side,”chockablock full of secret chutes and powder banks that’ll make you feel like a rock star sloper

Defunk the Fridge

I heart Martha Stewart. I would love to live in a world of perpetually blooming hydrangeas, perfectly ironed casual wear and the ever present aroma of sophisticated home cooking (fresh crepes, anyone?)

This year, with toddler in tow, I plan to transform our living space from house to home to haven, from the inside out.

Operation Defunk the Fridge
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then organization is just a small step from domestic diva status. Here are the tricks and tools that helped my fridge go from gross to gorg.

Step 1: Purge & Polish
Unless there are biohazards lurking in the corners, this is a great stage for little helpers to get involved. Start by removing everything and giving baskets and shelves a thorough wipe down. Say hasta la vista to expired goods and feel the afterglow of a successful purging.

Step 2: Let’s Get Together
Take a page from your favorite grocery store and group items together, “like with like” (ie meat with meat, cheese with cheese and so on.)

  • Most fridges, like ours, have two lower bins, perfect for stashing veggies and fruits. Pre-cut and bag some to encourage healthy snacking.
  • The middle basket is traditionally reserved for precooked deli meats and cheeses
  • If you have a plethora of condiments, place the most used items on a door shelf and the more random jars in the back of the main fridge compartment.
  • Organize food from top to bottom to decrease possible contamination.. Place leftovers, drinks, and ready-to-eat foods on the upper shelves. Leftovers and prepared foods get their own space on an eye level shelf. Uncooked meats may drip onto foods below, so it’s best to keep them on the lowest rung.

Step 3: Contain the Madness
Time to shop! An added perk of a less than glamorous chore. Huzzah!

  • Use square or rectangular plastic storage containers for the fridge
  • If your fridge is not outfitted with enough drawers for your food categories, create your own. Buy long narrow plastic bins that run the depth of your shelf.
  • Herb savors, one of Oprah’s favorite things, provide long lasting shelf life for your fresh cut herbs
  • Store milk, OJ, tea and other beverages in slim gallon carafes

Step 4: The Labeled Life
This is where Martha really earns her keep. Her site’s chockablock of free downloadable templates that make labeling easy and pretty! Her tupperware labels feature a small calendar and space for labels, plus they easily slide off after a swim in the DW.

Step 5: Take Two
Keep your fridge a sanctuary with a quick two minute clean up once a week.

Happy cleaning!

Michelle is SweetJack’s savvy Momma in residence but don’t let the bumpers and bibs fool you. This Staff Writer loves a witty Rap reference and a heavy pour of pinot.

Making (& Keeping) NY Resolutions

136501320 (1)If you’re one of the 8% who actually follow through with their New Year’s resolution, pat yourself on the back. If you’re not, well, here’s a few tops to help you keep your promises this year, plus the most commonly broken resolutions.

According to TIME magazine, the most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions are… (drumroll, please)

Lose Weight and Get Fit, Quit Smoking, Learn Something New, Eat Healthier and Diet, Get Out of Debt and Save Money, Spend More Time with Family, Travel to New Places, Be Less Stressed, Volunteer, and Drink Less.

That about sums up, erm, all the New Year’s resolutions. But don’t just throw in the towel just yet. Here are some tips to keeping your resolution, whether you opt to do your hair more or solve world hunger.

1) Be specific.
Don’t say you’re going to exercise more. Create a fitness regimen that includes a practical number of workouts per week. Or if you’re resolution is to volunteer more, have the who/what/where/how already in place.

2) Be realistic.
Do pick a goal that is surmountable. Set yourself up for success!

3) Create a timeline
Want to lose 20 pounds? Quit smoking? Save money? All of these come with hard work and organization. What will your January goal be? February? July? Mapping out smaller checkpoints along your 365-day route will have you high-fiving your future self.

4) Get help and support
Plato learned at the apron strings of Socrates. Michael Jordan went from good to great under coach Phil Jackson. Even Ghandi needed the inspiration and foresight of mentor Dadabhai Naoroji to achieve his potential. Enlist a trainer, a buddy, or a professional to give you the support and aid you need to kick your resolution’s behind.

5) Have fun
Throw some silly resolutions in there, like learn an awesome party trick, dance move or how to cook a funky dish. My favorite? Master a kid feat that you never learned as a child, like a cartwheel or handlebar riding.

5 Ways to Entertain Your Kids on New Year’s Eve

If you want to ring in the new year as a family (and at a reasonable hour), we’ve chalked up some kid- friendly activities that involve celebrating any time of the day. Fun for them—and for you—these low-budget projects will exercise your kids’ imaginations, while providing ample family bonding time. So, you can get the kids involved and still clock in on that much-needed beauty sleep. Enjoy!

Mock Midnight or Noon Year’s Eve
Maybe you don’t like to lie to your kids. Me, I’m OK with it. Every year on NYE, the clocks in our home will magically fast forward to Eastern Europe’s timezone. Thus, 2013 can start around 6pm on December 31. Hooray! We’ll dress up in our best duds, bang pots and pans, toss balloons, do a dramatic countdown from 10 and give big smooches. If you really can’t tell a lie, celebrate “Noon Year’s Eve” at the stroke of 12pm. Trust me. They’ll never know the difference.

Resolution Jar
Don’t you love giving your kids homework during the holidays? Instead of the “exercise more,”variety of resolutions, make a 2013 pledge book filled with 12 things you will do as a family. Kids and parents can each contribute a few. Moms and dads can encourage kids to write things that will bring happiness to the community (like planting a tree, visiting an old folks’ home or donating toys) and togetherness to the family (like taking a hike, creating a piece of art or making a blanket fort). Write them on slips of paper and add them to a jar. Then draw one resolution at the beginning of each month and take action!

Champagne Toast
Teach little ones to “cheers” with a sparkling apple cider or grape juice toast—served in faux Champagne flutes. Let older kids groove out with light-up ice cubes. Don your favorite dress-up gear (sparkly dresses, capes and tiaras recommended) and put on some upbeat music for an impromptu dance party.

Homemade Party Hats
Top off your family soiree with homemade head-toppers (i.e. hats). Use plain paper that the kids can decorate before assembling your one-of-a-kind accessory. Glitter, feathers, mini pom-pom balls, crayons and extra paper are all a must!

S’Mores Station
No special occasion would be complete without a little indulgence, and what says “fun” quite like a s’mores station? Cozy up by the fireplace or firepit with a few sticks, a blanket and a stack of Hershey bars, marshmallows and Graham crackers. Voila! Instant gourmet!

Happy New Years!

Three Hot Holiday Toddies

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Get toasted, err, toasty with these hot holiday cocktails.

This festive sipper is a great fit for holiday parties. The Red Hots add a whimsical touch while the liquor makes it a soiree to remember—or forget, depending on how much you imbibe.
On the stovetop or in a crockpot, combine two quarts of apple cider with a half cup of Red Hots. Bring to a simmer until candies have melted. Pour into a mug. Add your rum or bourbon of choice to taste. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Introducing the perfect winter comfort drink… and a surefire way to kick a cold.
Steep one bag of black tea and one stick of cinnamon in boiling water. Add sugar or simple syrup and fresh lemon juice to taste. Add bourbon or whiskey to taste. Curl up fireside with your favorite book and your dog/cat. **Throw blankets and mukluks are recommended.**

I like to start the season early and serve this hot drink straight out of the crockpot to adult trick-or-treaters. Needless to say, we’re a Halloween hit.
Combine one bottle of red wine, a few cups of apple juice or cider, ¼ cup of honey, a couple of cinnamon sticks, the zest and juice of one orange, a teaspoon of whole cloves and a teaspoon of star anise in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Serve immediately or keep warm for guests. **Short on time? Grab some mulling spices from Penzeys or Dean & Deluca, then simmer with wine and add sweetener to taste.

THE Christmas Feast

Survive the Holidays

Being the hostess with the mostess doesn‘t require a culinary degree or a charm school certificate. All you need are a handful of great recipes and tricks of the trade to pull off a winning holiday hootenanny. Here are 3 tips and 3 top-rated dishes to keep in your back pocket this holiday season.


Cook in reverse

When considering the order of cooking, go backwards from the order of eating. Desserts usually preserve well, so prepare these a couple days ahead. Then prep your meat with your rub or marinade, and start assembling your sides. Need to chop veggies? Not on the day of the feast you don’t. Any and all prep work should be done as early as possible.


Never underestimate the power of cocktails

Just like a signature cocktail at a wedding, a signature drink at your holiday feast will liven the mood and provide a source of fun pre- and post-dinner. Stay tuned next week for a post of our favorite toddies.



Keep it simple, sugar. From your decorations to your recipes to your day-of tasks, trying to take on too much will make you the harried host no one wants to be around. Have all meals planned ahead and primed so you can relax with your guests.


Drumroll, please…. Your Menu:

Better Homes and Gardens’ Herbed Prime Rib with a Horseradish Cream  Sauce and an Au Jus



Make ahead tip:

 Horseradish Cream Sauce and Prime Rib Rub should be made and properly stored two days ahead. Rub roast 24 hours prior to cooking. 

Potato, Cauliflower, & Cambozola Cheese Gratin



Make ahead tip:

Prep and assemble entire dish, then bring to room temperature and bake the day of.

 Nigella Lawson’s PanFried Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts, Pancetta, and Parsley



Make ahead tip:

Score and parboil brussel sprouts, chop chestnuts, parsley, and pancetta

The Pioneer Woman’s Sweet Baked Acorn Squash



Make ahead tip:

Slice acorn squash, place in roasting pan, drizzle with remaining ingredients and cover tightly. Bring to room temp before roasting.