The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Not all cleaning jobs are created equal. While some methods might seem interchangeable, there are actually some major distinctions between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting your home.

“Cleaning refers to organizing and wiping down surfaces, like countertops, so that they appear neat and spotless,” says Kadi Dulude, owner of Wizard of Homes. “All-purpose cleaners are built to lift and remove visible smudges, spots, stains, and debris from surfaces.” Cleaning products can potentially remove germs from surfaces (along with dirt and other organic material) and wash them away, but the goal of cleaning is about the look and feel.

While cleaners will help make your surfaces look nice and shiny, there are some places at home (like your kitchen counters, faucet handles, and doorknobs) where you want to follow up your cleaning with a sanitizer or a disinfectant. Cleaning by itself won’t kill germs like bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting

The difference between sanitizing and disinfecting comes down to semantics. Both sanitizing and disinfecting aim to reduce the amount of contamination present on a surface by killing germs, but disinfecting—by definition—kills more germs than sanitizing. Product manufacturers and agencies like the EPA use the word “sanitizing” to refer to a solution or device that reduces the amount of germs on a surface by 99.9 percent or more—a level that’s considered safe by public health standards. They use the word “disinfecting” for chemical products that are designed to “kill virtually everything” on a surface.

When to Sanitize

“Sanitizing is necessary for surfaces that come in contact with food,” Dulude says. “Created with pathogens that reduce germs and fungi, sanitizing sprays will make your surfaces safe to touch again.”

Sanitizing can also be done without chemicals, by an appliance like a dishwasher or laundry machine (on the “sanitize” cycle), or a steam cleaner, which bring contaminated surfaces into contact with extreme heat (at least 170 degrees) to kill bacteria and other germs. Steam cleaning is especially useful for removing germs from porous surfaces—like fabric, carpets and upholstery—which can’t be effectively disinfected with chemical products designated for hard surfaces. If the washer you’re using doesn’t have a sanitize cycle, a product like liquid laundry sanitizer can work alongside your normal detergent to help remove and kill germs from your clothing—the directions on Lysol’s Laundry Sanitizer instruct you to add it to your machine’s fabric softener dosing cup, or directly into the rinse cycle.

When to Disinfect

If you absolutely need to remove every last bit of contamination in a space, you’ll need a good disinfectant spray to get the job done. “A quality disinfectant spray should remove 100 percent of the microscopic organisms on your surfaces,” Dulude says. “While it may not be that helpful in the stain-removing department, it will effectively stop the spread of diseases and viruses—like colds and flus—wherever you use it.”

You may consider reaching for a disinfectant to treat high-touch areas like doorknobs, light switches, and bathroom faucets, especially when a member of the household has been sick. To be effective, disinfecting solutions need to remain in contact with the surface for a specified length of time. For instance, the instructions on a container of Clorox Wipes direct you to wipe the surface “using enough wipes for the treated surface to remain visibly wet for four minutes.”

You don’t want to skip the step of cleaning before you disinfect, though. Dirt and organic material can make some disinfectants less effective, so cleaning is necessary before disinfecting in most cases. Using “all-in-one” antibacterial cleaners isn’t enough to disinfect unless you first remove visible dirt from the surface (basically, you’d have to clean everything twice).

One Thing to Know Before You Disinfect Around Your Home

The EPA warns that the overuse of disinfectants is a growing public health concern—and that you should only use them when you absolutely need to, for that specific task. “Studies have found that the use of some disinfectant products is creating microbes that can mutate into forms that are resistant to particular disinfectants or that become superbugs,” according to an EPA fact sheet. “These resistant germs are also harder to kill with antibiotics.”

Is Bleach a Sanitizer or Disinfectant?

Household bleach can be used as a sanitizer or a disinfectant, depending on how much it’s diluted. But because concentrations of bleach can be inconsistent, and home dilution often inexact, if you need to be absolutely sure you’re disinfecting a surface, you’re better off following the instructions on a commercial disinfecting product.

11 Secrets from People Who Always Have Amazing-Smelling Homes

A few years ago, my best friend bought a new house and had me over to check it out. Right away, I noticed how amazing it smelled — like she’d been simmering citrus rinds and cinnamon on the stovetop all day (she hadn’t). After I got home, I couldn’t help but fixate on one thing about my own space: It didn’t smell good. My house didn’t stink, but it also didn’t smell memorably good like my friend’s — a problem I wanted to solve with haste. Sure, I’m not having any people over these days, but that’s no reason not to search for my home’s signature scent. I’ll probably be here for the indefinite future, so I may as well enjoy sniffing it.

Curious how folks like my friend keep their homes smelling amazing? Here are some of those people’s best tips.

1. Absorb bad smells with baking soda.

Sometimes, keeping your space in amazing-smelling condition means preventing the odors that don’t smell good from taking over the atmosphere — especially if you regularly cook with distinct-smelling spices like food blogger Vered DeLeeuw. Her secret? A few bowls of baking soda scattered around the house and replaced weekly. “This is especially helpful in the pantry and in a small kitchen,” she says. “Baking soda does a wonderful job of absorbing, not masking, odors — plus, it’s easy to find and cheap!”

2. Make a DIY room spray.

Steve Schwartz, founder and master tea blender at the Los Angeles-based tea purveyor Art of Tea, swears by a DIY concentrate of botanicals such as eucalyptus, lavender, and lemon myrtle. First, he steeps the herbs in hot water (just like making tea) then transfers the mix to a spray bottle for freshening up the kitchen.

Another interesting fact from Schwartz: Tea is also a natural odor absorber, so you can use old dried tea leaves to nix smells in your fridge instead of baking soda. Who knew?

3. Simmer spent lemons.

Don’t throw away those lemon rinds! Chef Carla Contreras uses the lemons she squeezes for lemon waters to make her kitchen smell amazing. “I place the lemons in a giant stock pot and fill it up with water, then let them simmer on low on my stove for hours,” she says. “It’s such a beautiful smell for something that might go to waste.”

4. Roast coffee beans.

Another trick Contreras loves is one she learned in her days as a barista. Just take a couple of coffee beans and place them in the oven at 400 degrees for seven to 10 minutes, then leave the oven door open afterwards for an energizing, coffee house smell. 

5. Whip up a stovetop potpourri.

Simmering warm, spicy herbs in a pot on the stovetop is one of the best ways to make your home smell good while adding a touch of seasonal nostalgia. Haeley Giambalvo, founder of Design Improvised, likes to simmer a pot on low with apple slices, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, but you can also play with anise, nutmeg, rosemary, vanilla beans, and even cranberries!

6. Warm up vanilla extract.

When he’s at home, travel blogger Philip Weiss puts a few drops of vanilla extract in a dish, then bakes it for half an hour in the oven. The vanilla releases a subtle-but-cozy scent that’ll *almost* trick you into thinking someone baked a delicious cake.

Put a citrusy twist on your vanilla cake vibes by adding lemon zest and a capful of vanilla extract to a ramekin along with some water. “Set the ramekin on a small baking sheet and slide it into a 300-degree oven, and you get to enjoy an hour or so of deliciousness in the air,” says cookbook author Lisa Chernick.

7. Purify air with activated charcoal.

According to Albert Lee, founder of Home Living Lab, one of the most effective and affordable odor busters in the kitchen is activated charcoal, which is electrically nonpolar and can absorb most common kitchen vapors and gases. For a quick fix in a smelly kitchen, Lee hangs a pound of activated charcoal in a porous bag by his kitchen window. You can also put activated charcoal in a few bowls around your kitchen near potential odor sources, like your garbage disposal or your trash.

8. Use a cup of vinegar.

You probably already use vinegar to clean. According to David Cusick, chief strategy officer at House Method, you can also use it to deodorize. His go-to trick: “After cooking, especially with a greasy dish, simmer white vinegar on the stove to help remove the smell,” he says. “You can also leave a glass of vinegar on the counter overnight to wake up with a fresher-smelling kitchen.”

Why is vinegar so effective? Cusick says it’s chemistry 101. Vinegar is acetic acid, which binds with bad odor molecules. But don’t worry! The smell of vinegar won’t stick around; it’ll just absorb the yuck.

9. Bake cookies (yes, really).

Author and naturalist Lora Hein learned one of her favorite tricks from a realtor, who would pop a sheet of chocolate chip cookies in the oven minutes before an open house for an enticing, homey smell. If you don’t need all those cookies on hand every day, Hein suggests freezing a roll of cookie dough and just putting two or three slices in the toaster oven for a delicious snack and an amazing-smelling kitchen.

10. Diffuse essential oils.

Essential oils, or concentrated plants and herbs, are a common way to lend a fresh smell to your space if you’re not a fan of perfumed candles or air fresheners. Ian Kelly, VP of operations at NuLeaf Naturals, says he uses essential oil diffusers throughout his home, keeping it natural and simple with oils like grapefruit, rosemary, lemon, mint, and cinnamon orange.

11. Hang dried herbs.

Founder of Colony Roofers (and avid home chef) Zach Reece likes to hang dried herbs like olive branches, sage, and bay leaf. Just tie a bunch of them and hang them at face-level somewhere in the kitchen. Not only will your space smell and look amazing, but you’ll also be able to grab the herbs as needed for cooking!  

The 5 Best Lawn Care Resources To Help Keep Your Grass Green and Healthy

Some people say the grass is always greener on the other side, but when it comes to your own lawn, you don’t plan on living by those words. You want your yard to flourish with lush, healthy grass from the get-go, and for years to come. But as it turns out, getting that green is not so easy.

If you are new to lawn maintenance or want to deepen your knowledge, you should get guidance from the pros and other trustworthy resources.

While it’s great to ask your neighbor with the nice lawn for advice, it’s hard to know if his methods will work for you or whether he’s doing things right in the first place,” says Barbara Roueche, Troy-Bilt brand manager.

Lawn experts know about testing soil, what grasses are best for a particular region, what type of grass seed to buy, when to seed and fertilize your lawn, how to mow, and sprinkler tips. Here’s where to find the most valuable information.

1. USDA plant hardiness zone map

Not sure what types of grasses are best for your region? Don’t worry, there’s a map for that.

The USDA plant hardiness zone map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants can do well in a certain location. Its zones are based on average annual minimum winter temperatures.

“Growing zones help you choose the right plants or grass for where you live and help you care for them properly to either augment or offset the natural conditions,” says Erin Schanen, creator of The Impatient Gardener blog and YouTube channel, and a volunteer master gardener.

Roueche recommends saving the information to your phone so you’ll always have it handy when you take a trip to the garden center or when you have to decide when to perform yard maintenance.

2. How-to videos from trusted sources 

Seriously, how did we ever do anything before YouTube? There are many how-to videos about lawn maintenance on the platform, but stick to the true professionals—like master gardeners, horticulturalists, or landscape designers—for advice.

“The benefit of things like YouTube videos or live help sessions is that you can troubleshoot with real pros and pause or replay videos to go at your own pace,” says Roueche. 

She also suggests studying up on your yard equipment by going to the source.

“When it comes to equipment questions in particular, be sure to seek information from the manufacturer of your equipment and have your model number handy,” says Roueche.

She says Troy-Bilt has articles on its website and YouTube videos tailored to specific models about routine maintenance or other equipment questions. You can also consult your equipment’s owners manual or find a downloadable version online.

3. Smart home devices

“Some homeowners rely on smart devices for so much in their daily lives that it just works best to integrate these devices and virtual assistant programs into yard care,” says Schanen.

Smart home devices like Alexa and Google Home can help automate regular tasks like watering the grass or sending equipment maintenance reminders. 

“Like any task that needs to get done regularly, finding a way to automate it or build it into your existing routines will make it easier to accomplish. Think about the technology you regularly use, and seek out solutions in those platforms for the tasks or questions you need help with,” says Roueche.  

4. Local university extension programs

Most state universities have extension programs offering garden services to the public, including the master gardener program.

Schanen says a simple internet search for a public university system plus “extension” can help you find a local university extension program or master gardener groups. For example, Utah State University Extension has a website devoted to yard and garden issues, and a detailed webpage on lawn care.

“These organizations offer science-based answers, solutions, and advice. Plus, they’re experts in local flora. Since they work with the public every day, they will have a good handle on diseases causing problems in the area, weather-related problems, and the plants that do well in the area,” says Schanen.

University extension schools often have fact sheets on some of the most typical homeowner questions, from the best type of grass to grow in the area to common diseases and how to succeed with specific vegetable or fruit crops, Schanen says. They also typically offer seminars for the public, as well as access to a library of educational articles.

5. Gardening influencers 

Influencers can offer their advice on everything under the sun, but their tips can be hit or miss. However, if you look carefully, sometimes you can find some true lawn and garden pros sharing their green thumb knowledge online. 

“By connecting with experts on social media, you get to follow along in real time to see what a whole season or year of gardening and lawn care looks like,” says Roueche.

Look for experts on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok who own garden and lawn care businesses or have had a large following for many years.

“Some folks may share their journeys rehabbing their lawn with natural weed remedies and fertilizer or how to use equipment properly,” says Roueche. “This kind of in-depth content can help novice gardeners understand what tasks may be right for their skill level, their schedule, and their yard.”

9 Great Places To Buy (or Find) Used Patio Furniture

Maybe you spent all the pandemic making your backyard an oasis, with lush landscaping and even a victory garden. What’s missing: some comfortable patio furniture to truly enjoy it.

“Spring and summer always brings people outside, which sparks their interest in looking for outdoor furniture,” says Serena Appiah, owner of “Thrift Diving,” a blog about designing your home on a DIY budget. “But the cost to buy brand-new is always expensive, even if you buy furniture from discount stores.”

Appiah says she recently saw some heavy-duty plastic Adirondack chairs from a discount bulk store, priced at $130 each.

“Imagine being a family of five and having to spend about $700 on new chairs. That’s not easy and feasible for most people!” she says.

So if your budget is tight—or you just like snagging a good deal—you may want to think about getting used outdoor furniture. Secondhand shopping can be a great way to find less expensive patio furniture and keep those items out of landfills.

You may even stumble upon a diamond in the rough—used designer or quality vintage furniture. If it’s high time to outfit your patio with some new furniture, consider treasure hunting online and in person at the following places.

OfferUp 

There are a number of online marketplaces for local buyers and sellers where you can search for and buy used outdoor furniture. One of those marketplaces is OfferUp.

Users can search for used furniture in their region by price range, message sellers to negotiate price, and set a time to meet. Unsure if the person you’re dealing with is shady? You can see ratings, badges, and transaction history on the seller’s profile page.

To give you a taste of the pricing, in the San Diego area, a seller on OfferUp recently listed a teak bench with outdoor pillows for $50 and a five-piece patio set for $150.

Chairish

If you’re looking for used patio furniture that’s at the upper end of the scale, you can browse Chairish, another online marketplace for used vintage furniture and antiques. Anna Brockway, its co-founder and president, says the company has an assortment of vintage outdoor furniture, and that much of it is available for local pickup.

“We have everything from one-of-a-kind wicker and iron pieces to sought-after designers like Brown Jordan and Salterini,” says Brockway. “Our selection includes seating, dining tables, side tables, stools, planters, and even outdoor rugs and pillows that are durable enough for the elements.”

Brockway says the best reason to go with vintage and pre-loved items is sustainability.

“When you choose vintage over new, you’re powering the circular economy and giving the items another life. Outdoor furniture is made to last and withstand the elements, so it is likely to be in great condition,” she says.

Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace

As for other options, some of the original sites for finding used items—like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace—may come in handy.

“You’re more likely to find whole patio sets in good condition on Facebook Marketplace, but be prepared to spend a bit more, as Facebook Marketplace can be pricier than a thrift store,” says Appiah.

She also recommends posting an announcement on Facebook to friends and family to see if someone’s got an old set they’re looking to part with.

“Offer them a reasonable price—don’t undercut them,” she says.

Thrift stores

Stores like Salvation Army Thrift Store, Goodwill, and Habitat for Humanity ReStore may have some good finds too.

“While you may be less likely to find five matching Adirondack chairs, you might find different styles that can be spray-painted the same color for a unified look,” says Appiah. You might also be successful in finding one-offs, like an outdoor sofa or rug.

Yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales

Never underestimate a good yard sale, flea market, or estate sale. If you’re patient, there are many treasures to be found.

Be on the lookout for yard sales, when people who are moving may want to quickly get rid of items on the cheap. But get ready to haggle. Make sure to check local classifieds or community calendars for dates and times. Craigslist is also a good resource for garage sales in your area.

If you’re an estate sale enthusiast, check out estatesales.net online or on its app. You can sort sales by date, and take a look at photos of items that will be offered. There’s also a description of each sale that mentions if it’s cash-only or accepts credit cards. Remember to arrive early, and keep in mind that on the last day of an estate sale, prices can often drop 50% in the final hours.

If you do end up finding used patio furniture that’s a little worse for wear, Appiah says there’s always potential for a makeover.

“Spray paint is your best friend! Painting your patio furniture the same color can help to unify mismatched pieces,” she says.

5 Things You Didn’t Know a VA Loan Could Do for You

Because of the bravery and sacrifices of veterans and active military, the rest of the country’s civilians can live the American dream in safety. As one tangible way to say “thank you for your service,” current and former members of the military have access to Veterans Affairs home loans. These unique mortgage options allow veterans and those still serving to own a piece of the American dream by potentially qualifying for homes they might have thought were out of reach.

Veterans, active-duty service personnel, and select Reservists or National Guard members are among those who can quality for VA loans. (Find specific eligibility requirements here.) Wondering what some of the benefits of a VA loan might be? Here are five to consider.

1. No down payment

This is one of the most valuable and touted benefits—and for good reason. Saving enough for a down payment can be the biggest obstacle to buying a home. But a VA loan eliminates that roadblock.

“Most of the buyers I work with don’t have extra resources available, so the fact that they can purchase a home with zero down makes the transaction feasible,” says Benny Dinsmore, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker in Frisco, TX.

In most parts of the country, qualified buyers can purchase up to $424,100 before factoring in the cost of a down payment. In pricier areas, borrowers can go beyond that threshold.

But beware: The “no money down” aspect of a VA loan shouldn’t be confused with “no money out of pocket,” a common misconception, notes Michael Garcia, broker and owner of TQS Realty in Palm Beach, FL.

A VA loan still requires closing costs and the earnest money deposit (a negotiated amount of money that the buyer puts in escrow to essentially “hold” the house).

“However, that money will often come back at the closing, when the title company will write a check back to the veteran on the spot for the total amount that was put into escrow,” Garcia says.

2. More lenient loan requirements

The required credit score for a VA loan can be lower than for a conventional loan—around 620 for a VA loan compared with a range of 650 to 700 for most conventional loans.

In addition, the required debt-to-income ratio for VA loans is often more flexible than for conventional mortgages.

“It allows someone with less-than-perfect credit and some debt to still be able to qualify for a loan,” Dinsmore says.

3. No mortgage insurance

Most conventional buyers have to pay private mortgage insurance if they put less than 20% down. FHA loans come with their own forms of mortgage insurance. But a VA loan waives that insurance requirement.

And trust us—this one’s important.

“This can be a big savings in monthly payments, since PMI typically runs around $200 a month,” says Realtor® Twila Lukavich with Russell Real Estate Services in Cleveland.

Even though there’s no mortgage insurance, there is a “funding fee”—an upfront cost applied to every purchase loan or refinance. The proceeds help the VA cover losses on the few loans that go into default. But borrowers can roll it into their monthly payment, or pay it all at once. Plus, it’s tax-deductible. And veterans with a service-connected disability don’t have to pay the funding fee at all.

4. Limited closing costs

Legally, veterans are allowed to pay for certain closing costs, which include the following:

  • Appraisal
  • Credit report
  • Origination fee
  • Recording fee
  • Survey
  • Title insurance

But there are some fees that veterans are not allowed to pay. And the VA allows lenders to charge no more than 1% to cover the costs of originating and underwriting the loan.

So for example, if the purchase price is $280,000, the veteran might offer $300,000 and ask for 3% back to cover the closing costs.

“In this way the veteran is essentially financing their closing costs into the loan, meaning less out of pocket at the start,” Dinsmore explains.

5. Extra assistance with appraisals

When a home that a veteran is considering purchasing is having trouble reaching the purchase price during the appraisal process, buyers and lenders can ask the VA appraiser to consider adjusting the valuation before making a final determination.

Appraisers notify lenders in the event the appraised value is likely to come in low, giving buyers and real estate agents 48 hours to supply additional information that the appraiser might not be aware of to help justify the home’s value.

“Typically I assemble an itemized list of upgrades and improvements that the seller has performed on the home in the past three years that the appraiser didn’t know about, and therefore didn’t include in the home value,” Lukavich says.

This process “gives the agents an opportunity to assist the appraiser in making sure they have the whole picture of the home and gives the local agent an opening to help an appraiser be educated on specific local values,” she adds.

It’s just another benefit of VA loans aimed at helping our service men and women buy the home of their dreams.

5 Plumbing Maintenance Tasks You Should Really Address Before the Summer Months

Can it really be? Summer is finally right around the corner. And after a year of being stuck indoors, you probably have plans to seriously enjoy the warm-weather months and live life as carefree as possible. Your home’s plumbing is likely not topping the list of things you want to be thinking about right now. But performing preventive maintenance before those summer days come can give you peace of mind all season long.

“You might be hosting families and friends over the summertime and your home’s plumbing system will see an uptick in usage, so it’s important that you conduct the necessary maintenance now to avoid unexpected plumbing issues,” says Jack Pruitt, brand manager at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. “Be proactive instead of reactive.”

Make sure you accomplish the projects below to ensure a plumbing-disaster-free summer.https://010d441ee963dfaae424304811c9e070.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

1. Clear your home’s drains of residue

Drains can get gunky and build up residue over time due to daily hand-washing, showering, and other tasks. While you’re performing your pre-summer maintenance tasks, it’s important to clean the drains to avoid unexpected clogs.

“While some homeowners rely on commercial drain cleaners to get the job done, that’s not always the best or safest option,” says Pruitt. “Consider using an all-natural and less expensive option to clean your drains.”

He suggests pouring a half-cup baking soda down the drain, then a half-cup vinegar. The chemical reaction will help dissolve any clog. After 10 to 15 minutes, slowly pour hot water to clear out lingering residue.

“If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, swap it out for lemon juice—the acidity of lemons can have a similar effect on cleaning your drains,” says Pruitt.

2. Clean the gutters ahead of summer rainstorms

Many plumbers consider gutters part of your plumbing system because they carry water away from your house. If gutters are overtopped with water, it can damage the home’s foundation and walls of the basement, creating cracks that may grow over time.

Pruitt says all kinds of debris can land in your gutters, including leaves, twigs, seeds, and even wind-borne trash like plastic bags.

“When this happens, the first part of your home in danger of water damage is the roof, as pooling water can rot your fascia, shingles, and the edge of your roofline,” he says.

“To clean your gutters, use a ladder on leveled ground that locks in place,” he says. “Hook an empty bucket to the top of the ladder to collect the debris you remove, and be sure to use work gloves as you’re removing the debris.”

Using a handheld garden tool such as a trowel can be useful while cleaning gutters and can help scrape up sludge from the bottom of the gutter. Once the gutter is clear, use a hose to wash it completely clean and ensure the water is flowing freely through the downspout.

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Watch: Fix Your Own Garbage Disposer—Without Calling the PlumberVolume 90% 

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3. Test your toilets for leaks

A likely source for leaks in plumbing is a faulty flapper, a small piece of rubber that acts as a stopper, separating the tank from the bowl. When the toilet is flushed, the flapper lifts, allowing water to flow into the bowl below and flush away the waste. But over time, the rubber can degrade, wear out, and develop cracks. 

“A good way to test for a leaking flapper is to add a few drops of food coloring to the top of the tank where the flapper and flush valve are. Check to see if the water inside the bowl is turning the color of the food coloring you added,” says Aaron Mulder, co-owner and operations manager for Mr. Rooter of San Antonio.

If you see color, then you have a leaking/passing flapper. Mulder says you can expect to replace your flapper every two to three years. They can be purchased at a local hardware store or home center.

4. Flush the water heater to remove built-up sediment

This is one of those annual tasks that should be tackled with the rest of your spring-cleaning. Throughout the year, calcium and magnesium that can accumulate in your water heater solidify, and potentially mix with dirt and other inclusions, becoming sediment that accumulates at the bottom of your tank. The sediment could increase the chances of a leak coming out of the bottom of the tank and prevent your water heater from heating as effectively.

“Flushing your water heater is a generally simple task. All you will need is a hose that can connect tightly to the flushing valve on the side of your tank and a large bucket,” says Don Glovan, franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing.

He says to first shut off the gas or electrical connection to your tank and connect the hose to the drain valve. Make sure the other end of the hose is in a large bucket or storm drain, open the drain valve, and let the water flow out. At the same time, open your temperature and pressure-relief valve.

If the bucket has sediment crystals in the bottom, then continue letting the water drain through. When new crystals stop appearing in the bottom, close the drain valve and let the tank refill. 

“Then restart your pilot light or turn your electrical connection back on, and your tank should heat up again,” he says.

5. Inspect and maintain your septic tank

If your house runs on a septic system, it’s a good idea to make sure your septic tank is ready to handle the extra use that occurs during the summer. This means keeping your system well-maintained and practicing good septic hygiene.

“Regular maintenance can help prevent problems before they occur, so you don’t end up with sewage backing up into your yard or home,” says Pruitt. “How often you need inspection and maintenance depends on the specific type of system you have, but most need to be checked by an inspector at a minimum every three years.”

5 Reasons To Not Pay Off Your Mortgage Early

You’ve imagined it: that party you’ll throw (and the happy dance you’ll undoubtedly do) the day you pay off your mortgage. Ah, the joy of being debt-free and the full owner of your home!

But hold on: While paying off that principal on your home loan is certainly an achievement, it’s not one you want to rush unnecessarily.

We know, holding on to a mortgage payment can seem counterproductive—especially when you have a large amount of debt looming over your head—but getting rid of it isn’t always the smartest financial move.

You’re probably thinking, “Um, what about all that interest I’ll save?!” Stick with us here. For one, mortgage interest rates are at historic lows, so you aren’t really saving that much by eliminating a mortgage. And that money might be better used elsewhere. Here are some circumstances when you might want to hold on to that monthly payment, and why.

1. You get a tax break on your interest

Homeowners get a federal and state tax deduction on mortgage and home equity loan interest, which can contribute to a hefty overall deduction if you itemize your taxes.

In a nutshell, homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million. However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can deduct the interest on only the first $750,000.

In either case, holding on to your mortgage longer allows you to claim that deduction for the life of your loan.

2. You can take out a home equity loan

As long as you have a mortgage, you have the ability to take out a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. And, bonus, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible as long as the loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. Just note you can deduct the interest up to a $750,000 cap on your HELOC and mortgage combined.

So hold on to that mortgage if a bathroom overhaul is in your future.

3. You could be making a higher return elsewhere

Take a step back and think: “Could my money be doing more for me?” If you spend all your hard-earned cash paying off your mortgage, you won’t have it to invest in other places—which, of course, limits your potential for a cash return.

Jim Ludwick, founder of Main Street Financial Planning, suggests that homeowners who are considering paying off their mortgage instead consider buying a rental property. Crunch your numbers in our mortgage calculator, and apply for mortgage pre-approval if you decide to go that route.

“Sometimes having a mortgage on one property allows you to go out and purchase a rental property and get a good cash-on-cash return,” he says. (Just make sure you know what you’re getting into—being a landlord ain’t easy, either.)

4. You have other debt with a high-interest rate

“Mortgages are relatively cheap money to borrow, so it could make sense to use the cash to pay for other needs such as higher-interest credit card debt,” explains Robbie Schoonmaker, a principal at Matterhorn Financial Planning.

Because mortgages tend to have lower interest rates than, say, a credit card, using extra cash to pay off those debts will save you money on interest in the long run.

5. You want to make sure your emergency and retirement funds are safe

If you’re planning on paying off your principal by dipping into your savings account or retirement fund, think again. Using one of these options to pay off your mortgage can give you a false sense of financial security.

Unexpected expenses—such as medical costs, needed home repairs, or emergency travel—can destroy your financial standing if you don’t have a cash reserve at the ready.

“Once you pay the mortgage off, it could be hard to get the money back, particularly since a time of financial need may be the very time that it is hardest to get a new loan,” Schoonmaker explains.

And as far as dipping into your retirement goes—just don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. And if you do, prepare for it to cost you: Since the money has never been taxed before, you’ll see deep cuts when you take it out.

Finally, don’t skimp on your retirement fund, either. Sure, it might be tempting to scale back on your 401(k) contributions in order to put that cash toward your mortgage. But we’re pretty sure you’ll be sorry when you’re 65.

Whether it’s investing in real estate or buying bonds, just think of what will give you the biggest financial gains. And if your payday really is paying off your mortgage, then we’ll just say congrats! Now let us show you the best ways to celebrate.

ARM vs. Fixed-Rate Mortgage: Which Home Loan Is Better for You?

If you’re raring to buy a home, chances are you’ll need a mortgage. But which kind of mortgage should you get?

Home loans aren’t one size fits all, but come in a variety of forms to suit home buyers in different circumstances. One good place to start figuring out your options is a mortgage calculator, where you can plug in various home prices and and have this sum broken down into monthly payments. Still, in addition to a home’s price, you should carefully consider the type of loan you get.

Two of the main types of mortgages home buyers consider getting are a fixed-rate mortgage and an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM.

So what’s the difference between these two types of home loans? In a nutshell, a fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that stays the same over the life of the loan. An ARM, by contrast, has an interest rate that changes over time.

Before you seek out mortgage pre-approval, let’s break down the pros and cons of each loan so you can decide which one is right for you.

Fixed-rate mortgage

According to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Area branch manager Chris Jurilla, the majority of homeowners tend to prefer fixed-rate mortgages. And for good reason: A fixed interest rate means your mortgage payments remain steady over the life of your loan.

“Fixed-rate mortgages provide more long-term stability,” Jurilla says. “And with rates still low, borrowers prefer the security of not risking a rate increase or adjustment if the market were to turn.”

If you’re a home buyer with steady employment who wants to put down roots in a community, a fixed-rate mortgage might appeal to you. This kind of loan is also advantageous to people approaching retirement, because the fixed payments make it easier to plan their finances.

The pros of a fixed-rate mortgage:

  • Predictability: The interest rate doesn’t change for the life of the loan, giving home buyers peace of mind.
  • Fixed costs: You can budget more easily as the rate and payments remain constant.
  • Straightforward numbers: The math involved with figuring out your loan is way easier than for an ARM.
  • Stability: This predictable loan is more appealing for the risk-averse.

And the cons:

  • You’re locked in: You won’t be able to take advantage of falling interest rates without refinancing.
  • Your borrowing has a ceiling: You may not qualify for as much house as you would like, because those mortgage payments are typically higher.

Adjustable-rate mortgage

An ARM starts out at a fixed, predetermined interest rate, likely lower than what you would get with a comparable fixed-rate mortgage. However, the rate adjusts after a specified initial period—usually three, five, seven, or 10 years—based on market indexes. If those indexes go up, your payment will go up, too (sometimes way up).

If you’re a more mobile or first-time home buyer who wants to keep your long-term options open, an ARM’s low introductory interest rate is certainly tempting. As long as you’re ready to move on before the introductory period ends, you’ll benefit from the advantage of making lower payments while you’re living in the home. And because your lender will be qualifying you based on a lower monthly payment, you could qualify for a more expensive house than you would with a fixed-rate mortgage.

“ARMs are best suited for investors or home buyers who have short-term ownership goals in mind,” says Jurilla. “Most opt for an ARM if they don’t foresee themselves staying in the home for an extended period of time. There are some who use it as a stepping-stone loan, a short-term solution with a lower monthly payment.”

The pros of an ARM:

  • Low initial rate: There are lower rates and payments early in the loan term than in a traditional fixed-rate mortgage.
  • You can borrow more: You have a chance of being approved for a more expensive house because your lender will look at the lower payment when qualifying you for the loan.
  • Falling rates: Some ARMs allow you to automatically take advantage of lower rates without the hassle and expense of refinancing.

And the cons:

  • Unpredictable rates: After the introductory term, payments and rates can rise substantially. However, if market indexes go down, that doesn’t necessarily mean your mortgage payments will, too. Be sure to read the fine print on your mortgage.
  • Complicated mortgage agreements: You’ll need to understand the complex terms of your agreement, such as margins, caps, and adjustment indexes.
  • Math and more math: You have to put in significantly more work to figure out the math of an ARM and how it could potentially affect your budget.
  • Prepayment penalty: You can’t pay off your loan for the number of years specified in your agreement. So if interest rates jump while you still have a prepayment penalty in place, you can’t refinance or sell your home without incurring a huge cost.

Choose the loan that’s best for you

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is the most popular in America, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for you. An adjustable-rate mortgage can work well for many young or financially savvy homeowners. Still, many borrowers would rather deal with the stability of a fixed rate than the fluctuating payments of an ARM.

So, who wins? Either mortgage can—it all depends on your individual circumstances. Talk to a mortgage lender or mortgage broker to learn more about which one is right for you. And be sure you understand each loan’s terms, and always compare rates before signing onto a mortgage.

Luxe Up Your Loo! 7 Bathroom Improvements You Should Make Before Selling Your Home

It’s a seller’s market in many parts of the country right now. But if you’re serious about selling your house fast, you need to make sure your bathrooms are updated to impress.

Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes,” says Kris Lindahl, CEO and founder of Kris Lindahl Real Estate. “If a buyer sees a bathroom that still needs projects or upgrades, the home is going to be much less appealing to them.”

1. Go for double sinks

Photo by Tidewater Pro Build 

This is one of those cases where two is better than one. A double vanity upgrade is a worthwhile splurge, according to the pros.

“Upgrading to double sinks is always appreciated by buyers,” Lindahl says.

Worried about space? You might be surprised by how much you can fit into a modestly sized bathroom.

“You don’t need a big bathroom to pull it off,” says Susan Kelleher, an associate broker at R New York. “Even two small sinks are so much better than one in a home with limited bathrooms, and one waterline can be diverted to a second sink.”

2. Install new bathroom hardware and accessories

This upgrade requires zero DIY skills, and it’s guaranteed to instantly elevate the look of a bathroom. All you need is a few hours and a screwdriver.

“Swapping out hardware like light fixtures, towel bars, cabinet pulls and sink fixtures can make an impact relatively affordably,” Lindahl says.

If you’re updating your hardware, this is also a good time to make sure everything matches.

“Your faucet, doorknobs, and shower frame should all complement one another,” says Tricia Turner, owner of Tricia Turner Properties Group in Houston. “Try not to have mixed metals clashing with one another.”

And what about the mirror, mirror on the wall? Swap it for a framed mirror or frame the existing one to add some style.

“Framing the mirror over the sink can add so much value to the space without costing a ton of money,” Turner says.

3. Replace or paint your vanity

Photo by Elms Interior Design

The vanity is a centerpiece in any bathroom, so don’t overlook this feature when preparing your house to sell.

“Luxe sophistication and clean lines: That’s the theme for bathrooms in every price point,” Kelleher says. If you can’t afford a sleek new vanity, she suggests painting the cabinets in a high-gloss white or pale gray.

For the vanity countertop, opt for a high-quality stone like quartz or granite. A new medicine cabinet above the vanity can also make a bathroom look more luxurious,

“I love the mirrored medicine cabinets from Restoration Hardware—functional, beautiful, and tres chic,” Kelleher says.

4. Update old floors

If you have scuffed-up vinyl, chipped tile, or—heaven forbid—carpet in your bathroom, you’ll definitely want to invest in new flooring.

“Updating old floors to tile or luxury vinyl tile really adds appeal,” Lindahl says.

Bathroom tile is a simple enough project for some DIYers, or you can hire a contractor.

5. Install new light fixtures

Photo by REFINED LLC 

Unfortunately, ’80s-style lights gathering dust above the vanity are more tacky than throwback. Swapping them for simple, sophisticated light fixtures is your best bet.

“Great lighting [and] high-end faucets and hardware appeal to buyers in every price point,” Kelleher says.

Lindahl agrees: “Updating light and plumbing fixtures is a quick way to modernize an old bath.”

The best part? Most light fixtures are simple enough to pick up from the hardware store and swap out on your own—no electrician needed.

6. Add space and storage

Who doesn’t want more space in the bathroom? From room for toiletries to linen closets and king-size showers, buyers expect bathrooms that make the most of the space.

“Buyers are looking for more space in new homes, and the bathroom is no exception,” Turner says. “Think about expanding the shower in the master bathroom to fit a bench or seat. It’s an important feature that can be utilized in a lot of different ways.”

It might even be worth it to borrow space from a neighboring room to expand a bathroom.

“Take the adjacent linen closet to make a larger bathroom,” Kelleher says. “Even a small closet can make a big difference, and you can create cabinet space under each sink for maximum storage.”

7. Make your bathroom bright and light

Photo by Electric Bowery 

When in doubt, replace loud, bold patterns with clean neutrals in all your bathrooms. A blank slate is more likely to appeal to a wide array of potential buyers.

“Classic white never goes out of style in a bathroom,” Lindahl says. “Replacing an old, colorful tub with a white one is a good idea.”

Plus, a neutral base will make the rest of your bathroom improvements shine—and will sway buyers in the right direction when it comes time to make an offer.

“If the basic tile colors are neutral, it’s amazing what some paint and new fixtures can do,” Kelleher says.bathroomshome sellinghome upgradesROI

Lauren Sieben is a writer in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Milwaukee Magazine, and other outlets.

California First-Time Home Buyer Assistance Programs for 2021

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While these programs are geared toward home buyers with low or moderate income, many may qualify who might not realize they do—so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re stressed about making those monthly mortgage payments.

Here’s a rundown of the various Golden State–sponsored programs for first-time home buyers, as well as who is eligible and how they can help lower the costs of homeownership so that it’s more within reach.

CalHFA’s first-time home buyer loan programs

The majority of financial assistance programs for the state’s first-time home buyers is offered by the California Housing Finance Agency, or CalHFA. Established in 1975, this institution was chartered as California’s affordable housing lender—although to be clear, it doesn’t actually loan you money. Rather, it puts applicants in touch with approved lenders who can grant a variety of affordable loans that home buyers might not qualify for on the open mortgage market, as well as additional financial assistance.

CalHFA home buyer requirements

Here is a list of home buyer eligibility requirements to help you understand whether or not you qualify for these loans.

  • First-time home buyer: In most cases, to qualify for a loan you must be a first-time home buyer. If you’ve bought a home in the past, that does not necessarily mean you don’t qualify. You’re considered a first-time home buyer if you haven’t owned a home in the three years prior to applying for a loan.
  • Decent credit score: You must have a minimum credit score of 660 for a conventional low-income-rate loan, and a minimum credit score of 680 for a conventional standard-rate loan.
  • Acceptable debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: Your debt-to-income ratio, which compares the amount of money you owe to what you make, cannot exceed 45% for automated underwriting, or 43% for manual underwriting.
  • Income cap: Your earnings can’t exceed CalHFA’s income limits, which are based on the specific area you are looking to buy in.
  • Nationality: You must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualified alien.
  • Complete a home-buying course: You must complete a home-buying counseling course and present a certificate of completion. A course can be taken online, or in person through a HUD-approved housing counseling agency.

Note: Meeting these qualifications is no guarantee you’ll qualify for a loan, because each CalHFA-approved lender may have additional borrowing requirements.

“While California has many options regarding first-time homeowners needing financial assistance, it is important to remember that many of these assistance programs will have their own set of regulations and standards that must be met before being approved,” says Simon Ru, CEO of UpNest. Still, if you meet the above criteria, it’s a good start.

CalHFA property requirements

In addition to seeing if you qualify as a borrower, properties must meet certain CalHFA standards, too.

  • Sales price: The home’s sales price can’t be above $765,000.
  • Location: The home must be located within California and used as your primary residence.
  • Property type: The property must be a single-family, one-unit home with a maximum lot size of 5 acres. Some condos, accessory dwelling units (e.g., guesthouses and in-law quarters), and manufactured homes are permitted.

6 types of CalHFA home loan programs

The California Housing Finance Agency offers a variety of loans for first-time home buyers. Here’s a rundown of the main options:

Government loans

  • CalHFA FHA Program: The CalHFA FHA Program offers a 30-year fixed-rate loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Note that the FHA has specific borrowing and property requirements that must be met in addition to those of CalHFA.
  • CalPLUS FHA Program: The CalPLUS FHA Program is an FHA-insured first mortgage with a slightly higher 30-year fixed rate than the standard FHA program, but the upside is it can be combined with other financial assistance programs (outlined below).
  • CalHFA VA Program: The CalHFA VA Program is a 30-year fixed-rate loan insured by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Note that the VA has its own requirements for eligibility.
  • CalHFA USDA Program: The CalHFA USDA Program offers a USDA-guaranteed 30-year fixed-rate loan. Note that to qualify for this loan, a property must be located in a USDA-eligible rural area.

Conventional loans

Financial assistance for down payments, closing costs, and more in California

In addition to affordable loans, the California Housing Finance Agency also offers a variety of financial assistance programs that can be combined with their loans that help lower the costs of a mortgage even further.

More good news? “Since this program will be considered subordinate or junior loans, the payments are deferred until their homes are sold, refinanced, or paid in full,” says Tal Shelef, Realtor and co-founder of California’s CondoWizard. “That makes your monthly mortgage payments more affordable.”

Here are the options, who qualifies, and how the programs work.

MyHome Assistance Program

The MyHome Assistance Program provides up to 3.5% of a home’s purchase price or appraised value (whichever is lower) to help pay for down payment or closing costs associated with a home purchase. The maximum amount you can acquire is $11,000.

Since this program is a deferred-payment junior loan, there’s no need to pay it back until you sell or refinance the property. In many cases, you can combine MyHome Assistance with CalHFA’s loan programs, including FHA, USDA, VA, and conventional loans.

Home-buying assistance for school teachers and employees

The School Teacher and Employee Assistance Program is designed for first-time home buyers who are teachers, administrators, school district employees, and staff members who work at California’s K-12 public schools.

These loans provide funds of up to 4% of the purchase price that can then be used toward down payment and closing costs.

CalHFA Zero Interest Program

CalHFA Zero Interest Program, also known as ZIP, is a second mortgage that can work with certain CalPLUS loans. The program makes homeownership more affordable for low-income buyers by providing borrowers with a zero-interest loan amounting to 3% of a borrower’s first mortgage.

And since this is a junior loan, payments for the loan can be deferred as long as you live in your house. However, keep in mind you’ll have to pay for the loan if you ever default on your mortgage, sell, refinance, or transfer the title to someone else.

Can you combine CalHFA loans with financial assistance programs?

Finding it hard to pick among these many financial aid options? You may not have to choose.

“Sometimes, California Housing Finance Agency loans can be combined with other assistance offers, while others can’t,” says Tony Mariotti, a licensed real estate agent and the CEO of RubyHome in Los Angeles.

The trade-off, however, is that you might need to pick a loan with a slightly higher interest rate—but it may pay off, so it’s worth crunching the numbers. For instance, while the CalPLUS FHA Program comes with a slightly higher 30-year fixed rate than the CalHFA, a CalPLUS loan can be combined with the CalHFA ZIP, which can assist with closing costs and prepaid items, including the FHA’s mandatory mortgage insurance premium.

In some cases, you can even combine a CalPLUS loan with two financial assistance programs, offering home buyers three ways to save money. For instance, while the CalPLUS Conventional Program comes with a slightly higher 30-year fixed rate than the CalPLUS FHA loan, you can combine it with the MyHome Assistance Program and the CalHFA ZIP.

Just know that some loans, however, can’t be combined. When in doubt, ask your loan officer or real estate agent for guidance.

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But the good news is that many first-time home buyers in California qualify for special loans and financial assistance that can lower the costs of homeownership. While these programs are geared toward home buyers with low or moderate income, many may qualify who might not realize they do—so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re stressed about making those monthly mortgage payments.

Here’s a rundown of the various Golden State–sponsored programs for first-time home buyers, as well as who is eligible and how they can help lower the costs of homeownership so that it’s more within reach.

CalHFA’s first-time home buyer loan programs

The majority of financial assistance programs for the state’s first-time home buyers is offered by the California Housing Finance Agency, or CalHFA. Established in 1975, this institution was chartered as California’s affordable housing lender—although to be clear, it doesn’t actually loan you money. Rather, it puts applicants in touch with approved lenders who can grant a variety of affordable loans that home buyers might not qualify for on the open mortgage market, as well as additional financial assistance.

CalHFA home buyer requirements

Here is a list of home buyer eligibility requirements to help you understand whether or not you qualify for these loans.

  • First-time home buyer: In most cases, to qualify for a loan you must be a first-time home buyer. If you’ve bought a home in the past, that does not necessarily mean you don’t qualify. You’re considered a first-time home buyer if you haven’t owned a home in the three years prior to applying for a loan.
  • Decent credit score: You must have a minimum credit score of 660 for a conventional low-income-rate loan, and a minimum credit score of 680 for a conventional standard-rate loan.
  • Acceptable debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: Your debt-to-income ratio, which compares the amount of money you owe to what you make, cannot exceed 45% for automated underwriting, or 43% for manual underwriting.
  • Income cap: Your earnings can’t exceed CalHFA’s income limits, which are based on the specific area you are looking to buy in.
  • Nationality: You must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualified alien.
  • Complete a home-buying course: You must complete a home-buying counseling course and present a certificate of completion. A course can be taken online, or in person through a HUD-approved housing counseling agency.

Note: Meeting these qualifications is no guarantee you’ll qualify for a loan, because each CalHFA-approved lender may have additional borrowing requirements.

“While California has many options regarding first-time homeowners needing financial assistance, it is important to remember that many of these assistance programs will have their own set of regulations and standards that must be met before being approved,” says Simon Ru, CEO of UpNest. Still, if you meet the above criteria, it’s a good start.

CalHFA property requirements

In addition to seeing if you qualify as a borrower, properties must meet certain CalHFA standards, too.

  • Sales price: The home’s sales price can’t be above $765,000.
  • Location: The home must be located within California and used as your primary residence.
  • Property type: The property must be a single-family, one-unit home with a maximum lot size of 5 acres. Some condos, accessory dwelling units (e.g., guesthouses and in-law quarters), and manufactured homes are permitted.

6 types of CalHFA home loan programs

The California Housing Finance Agency offers a variety of loans for first-time home buyers. Here’s a rundown of the main options:

Government loans

  • CalHFA FHA Program: The CalHFA FHA Program offers a 30-year fixed-rate loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Note that the FHA has specific borrowing and property requirements that must be met in addition to those of CalHFA.
  • CalPLUS FHA Program: The CalPLUS FHA Program is an FHA-insured first mortgage with a slightly higher 30-year fixed rate than the standard FHA program, but the upside is it can be combined with other financial assistance programs (outlined below).
  • CalHFA VA Program: The CalHFA VA Program is a 30-year fixed-rate loan insured by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Note that the VA has its own requirements for eligibility.
  • CalHFA USDA Program: The CalHFA USDA Program offers a USDA-guaranteed 30-year fixed-rate loan. Note that to qualify for this loan, a property must be located in a USDA-eligible rural area.

Conventional loans

Financial assistance for down payments, closing costs, and more in California

In addition to affordable loans, the California Housing Finance Agency also offers a variety of financial assistance programs that can be combined with their loans that help lower the costs of a mortgage even further.

More good news? “Since this program will be considered subordinate or junior loans, the payments are deferred until their homes are sold, refinanced, or paid in full,” says Tal Shelef, Realtor and co-founder of California’s CondoWizard. “That makes your monthly mortgage payments more affordable.”

Here are the options, who qualifies, and how the programs work.

MyHome Assistance Program

The MyHome Assistance Program provides up to 3.5% of a home’s purchase price or appraised value (whichever is lower) to help pay for down payment or closing costs associated with a home purchase. The maximum amount you can acquire is $11,000.

Since this program is a deferred-payment junior loan, there’s no need to pay it back until you sell or refinance the property. In many cases, you can combine MyHome Assistance with CalHFA’s loan programs, including FHA, USDA, VA, and conventional loans.

Home-buying assistance for school teachers and employees

The School Teacher and Employee Assistance Program is designed for first-time home buyers who are teachers, administrators, school district employees, and staff members who work at California’s K-12 public schools.

These loans provide funds of up to 4% of the purchase price that can then be used toward down payment and closing costs.

CalHFA Zero Interest Program

CalHFA Zero Interest Program, also known as ZIP, is a second mortgage that can work with certain CalPLUS loans. The program makes homeownership more affordable for low-income buyers by providing borrowers with a zero-interest loan amounting to 3% of a borrower’s first mortgage.

And since this is a junior loan, payments for the loan can be deferred as long as you live in your house. However, keep in mind you’ll have to pay for the loan if you ever default on your mortgage, sell, refinance, or transfer the title to someone else.

Can you combine CalHFA loans with financial assistance programs?

Finding it hard to pick among these many financial aid options? You may not have to choose.

“Sometimes, California Housing Finance Agency loans can be combined with other assistance offers, while others can’t,” says Tony Mariotti, a licensed real estate agent and the CEO of RubyHome in Los Angeles.

The trade-off, however, is that you might need to pick a loan with a slightly higher interest rate—but it may pay off, so it’s worth crunching the numbers. For instance, while the CalPLUS FHA Program comes with a slightly higher 30-year fixed rate than the CalHFA, a CalPLUS loan can be combined with the CalHFA ZIP, which can assist with closing costs and prepaid items, including the FHA’s mandatory mortgage insurance premium.

In some cases, you can even combine a CalPLUS loan with two financial assistance programs, offering home buyers three ways to save money. For instance, while the CalPLUS Conventional Program comes with a slightly higher 30-year fixed rate than the CalPLUS FHA loan, you can combine it with the MyHome Assistance Program and the CalHFA ZIP.

Just know that some loans, however, can’t be combined. When in doubt, ask your loan officer or real estate agent for guidance.