Former First Lady Pitches in on ‘Fixer Upper’

A Former First Lady Pitches in on ‘Fixer Upper’ and You Won’t Believe How She’s Changed

On “Fixer Upper,” Chip and Joanna Gaines are always turning to Texas’ best and brightest to get a reno job done right, but even we were floored to meet their latest high-profile help: Laura Bush.

The former first lady’s surprise appearance on last months episode, “A Modern Cabin Makeover,” makes a bit more sense when you understand the backstory: Chip and Joanna’s longtime friend and colleague Jimmy Don Holmes, who runs the metalworks business responsible for many of the Gaineses’ custom pieces, is ready to usher his 21-year-old son, Jake, out of their family home in Crawford.

Jake plans to move into a small cabin located in the middle of the woods on his parents’ sprawling property. But since the cabin’s a little shabby, Jimmy Don asks Chip and Jo to remodel it into a swanky bachelor pad Jake can be proud to call his own. Lucky kid!


So where’s the Bush connection? It turns out that she’s also a longtime client of Jimmy Don, who has built a number of metal furnishings for her and her husband, George W. His creations can be found throughout the Bushes’ main home in Dallas as well as their ranch in Crawford, where they spend most weekends and where they also have a commercial tree farm.

This is where Joanna and her two daughters meet Bush, who surprises them by pulling up in a vehicle that seems way too casual for a former first lady.  “Is she driving a truck?” Joanna’s eldest, Ella Rose, asks. She certainly is!

White House pedigree or no, Bush is as Texas-friendly as can be, greeting the Gaines ladies with, “Glad you’re here at our tree farm!” From there, she recounts how she knows Jimmy Don.  “Jimmy Don was our iron guy before he became your famous iron guy,” Bush explains.

She is happy to give the Gaines family a tour of the farm so they can select a young oak tree to uproot and then plant as landscaping near Jake’s budding new bachelor pad. Because what’s cooler than that?  “This will be a really fun addition,” Bush comments.

And the surprises just keep coming on this latest “Fixer Upper,” along with the Gaineses’ usual serving of renovation wisdom we can all learn from. Just call ’em the first couple of fixer-uppers!

Here are a few:

  • Add space with a floating staircase
  • Go with a Wood burning stove – the perfect fireplace alternative
  • Use firewood as art
  • Make heavy look light
  • Don’t pass on a pass-through
  • Low-maintenance landscaping
  • A modern yet rustic exterior

Yet another successful fixer-upper is said and done, this one with presidential prestige.

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Is your kitchen making you fat

Is Your Kitchen Making You Fat?

If you’re struggling to lose weight, it’s easy to beat yourself up for lacking the willpower to lay off the ice cream and bring on the kale. Sure, that may be part of it, but your kitchen may be to blame, too.

It sounds strange, but studies show that your environment influences your eating habits, often in subtle ways that might sneak past your radar. Here are some potential trouble spots in your kitchen that could be stealthily making you pack on the pounds—and how to curb the weight gain with a few renovations and organization tactics.

Limited cabinet space

A puny pantry or lack of cabinet space can spell trouble since it may force you to keep some amount of food on your counter. No matter how fashionably you store it—even in awesome matching Mason jars—you’re doing yourself a big disservice.

You eat what you see.  One study found that women who kept a box of cereal—even a healthy brand—on their counter weighed an average of 20 pounds more than others who didn’t.

The fix: Keep your counters clear and snacks out of sight in your cabinets. If you happen to have lots of cabinet space, keep a specific cupboard for snacks—a habit linked to study subjects of a healthy weight—rather than stashing them alongside your other food (which makes it all too tempting to reach for a few Red Vines while you’re in the midst of preparing dinner).

If your kitchen has a severe space shortage and something’s gotta go on your countertops, make it a basket of fresh fruit rather than your kids’ leftover Halloween candy.

An open floor plan

Open kitchens may be all the rage, but they might also expand our waistlines.

“Open kitchen and dining area floor plans remove visual and physical barriers between diners and food, increasing both the visibility of the food  and the convenience of access,” explains Kim Rollings, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame.

In other words, when you can see the fridge from the couch, you’re more likely to grab some chips and salsa.

The fix: No need to build a wall. Instead, try to arrange furniture in your living areas so that people face away from where food is stored, prepared, or served. Avoid transparent doors that allow you to see into cabinets and pantries. And when possible, enter and walk through your home using routes that don’t pass through the kitchen.

Kitchen clutter

A messy kitchen isn’t only an eyesore, it could also trigger the munchies, according to a 2016 study titled “Clutter, Chaos and Overconsumption,” which examined how the organization level of kitchens affected their inhabitants’ food intake.

The findings indicate that people in cluttered kitchens consumed twice as many calories from empty-calorie foods like sweets and soda versus those in tidy kitchens. One possible reason is that clutter causes anxiety, which can prompt people to eat.  On the other hand, “an organized kitchen counter has been associated with more controlled behaviors.

The fix: Clean up already. Put away what you can, give away what you don’t want, and toss what you no longer need. Your waistline and stress levels could benefit!

The color red

Color decisions are critical to the food industry. Red is known to hype your appetite and attention—which is why you see it in every fast-food restaurant on the planet—and why you don’t want it where you eat.

The fix: Steer clear of red in your kitchen. Instead, try for a color such as blue, which has been shown to have a calming effect that might curb your urge to overindulge.

Outdated kitchen decor

Does your stove date to the ’80s? Are your counters rocking mandarin orange Formica? According to a 2017 survey by Houzz, a third of homeowners feel a kitchen remodel encouraged them to lead a healthier lifestyle—eating more fruits and veggies, ordering less takeout, and cooking more meals at home.

The fix: Upgrade your kitchen, even a little at a time.

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How to Buy a Home in 2018

Figuring out how to buy a house is no small feat—particularly since the rules keep on changing. So even if you’ve bought a home in the past and feel like the process is old hat, watch out: What worked in 2017 might not fly in 2018. It’s a whole new real estate world out there!

In an effort to prepare you, here are some of the new rules on how to buy a house this year. You will face new tax codes, an onslaught of tough competition, and more that will require you to hone your home-buying skills more than ever. But knowing what awaits you is half the battle. Check out this refresher on how to buy a house in 2018.

1. Know how the new tax codes affect you

New year, new tax code! Although the recent tax reforms have stirred up concerns that they’re putting homeownership further out of reach for many Americans, the reality is more nuanced than that—and shouldn’t deter home buyers from making the leap.

For instance: In 2018, homeowners can deduct mortgage interest on loans up to $750,0000. That’s down from $1 million, but keep in mind that, according to® data, the median list price for a home is only $270,000. As such, this change is expected to affect just 1.3% of new mortgages, mostly in pricey markets such as California, New Jersey, and New York.

Bottom line: Don’t give into vague fears about the new tax code without doing your homework and understanding how it affects you.

2. Prepare for some cutthroat competition

“Housing stock continues to be at record lows across the country,” points out Bobby Montagne, CEO of Walnut Street Finance. “The days of multiple offers are back in many [areas].”

As such, you should prepare to wage battle against the worthiest foe of all: all-cash buyers.  They’re coming from everywhere and, unlike the lowball cash offers from years ago, they’re offering full price or more, waiving appraisals and contingencies.

In January of last year, 23% of all home purchases were made with all cash with no mortgage, according to the National Association of Realtor®’s Confidence Index Survey Report—and some experts say that number will rise this year. These buyers have the edge since they don’t have to secure financing, so they’re particularly appealing to home sellers. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.

One way to get the edge over all-cash buyers is to write a letter to the seller about yourself and your family to make your situation more personal. This could steer sellers in your direction, especially if it means choosing you over a buyer who might tear down the home and turn it into a new development.

Another strategy: Ask sellers about their own goals in the sale. If you can help meet them, such as having a closing date in a few months, you could stand out by being flexible.

3. Get street-wise about what you read online

We’re not knocking “For Sale” signs planted in front lawns; however, these days perusing real estate listings online on sites such as is par for the course. Yet while it’s a definite perk to be able to shop for homes on your laptop or phone, it would be naive to instantly believe everything you see.

In the same way you’d be skeptical of that online plea to raise funds for cute puppies, you should be suspicious of real estate “offers” that could be thinly veiled attempts to steal your identity or scam you out of money.

So how can you tell? Here are some classic red flags:

  • Offers that sound too urgent (e.g., “available at this price for only today!”)
  • Listings asking for personal information such as your Social Security number
  • Home sellers or listing agents who are “out of the country” or otherwise unavailable

Also be cautious of incoming emails: According to data from the FBI, criminals attempted to divert nearly $1 billion into their pockets in 2017, up from $19 million in 2016. This crime usually begins when hackers send you an email that appears to be from your real estate agent or a title company. So if you receive a message requesting information you hadn’t previously agreed on, or asking for a quick change in plans, pick up the phone and call the person or company involved to be sure.

4. Don’t get suckered by home staging

During the past several years, more and more sellers have opted to incorporate at least some level of staging into their homes: Think bringing in furniture (or taking it out), storing clutter, hanging new wall art, and removing personal items. Nearly a third of buyers are more willing to overlook property faults in a staged home, according to a survey by the NAR.

A staged home can help you visualize yourself living there, but don’t let it deter you from checking on the basics. For example, that farmhouse sink might be lovely to look at, but a leaky faucet or slow drain could portend plumbing problems you should not ignore. Perfect rugs or a fresh coat of paint might be covering stains or water damage. Don’t be shy about lifting, moving, and testing whatever you need to in order to know a house is in good shape—and if something big isn’t up to snuff, ask the seller for repair credits or to lower the home’s price.

5. Consider a fixer-upper

There is definitely more competition and demand for houses that are already renovated and move-in ready.   Yet there is a way to turn this to your advantage: Keep your eyes peeled for the ugly ducklings, aka fixer-uppers.

Don’t rule out houses that need work, even if you are not up for doing it yourself.  The lower price plus the cost of renovations usually adds up to less than the price of a completely renovated home.

But not all fixer-uppers are good deals: The best of the bunch require renovations that are merely cosmetic, meaning they don’t involve major components of the house such as the foundation or structure. Cosmetic work might consist of a kitchen or bathroom remodel, new floors, or siding repair.

To find out how much fixing up a fixer-upper may cost, have a contractor come through and give an estimate on the cost of the work so you can crunch the numbers.

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7 Mistakes Buyers Shouldn’t Make During the Home Inspection

The house-buying process can seem endless: Attending open houses. Separating your must-haves from nice-to-haves. Identifying your (sort of) dream home. Making an offer. Negotiating the final price. So when you get to inspection day, it’s tempting to heave a huge sigh of relief now that your work is basically done.

But not so fast. The home inspection is one of the most crucial steps for buying a home, and it shouldn’t be overlooked or rushed. In fact, the inspection process has the potential to be just as nerve-racking for the buyer as it is for the seller. What if you’ve fallen in love with a beautiful home that has major problems lurking beneath the surface?

That’s why it’s extremely important to pay attention during this (sometimes confusing) process, and take steps to avoid common pitfalls. How can you possibly screw it up? We’re here to tell you. Avoid these mistakes when you get an inspection on your dream home.

1. Forgoing an inspection in the first place

2. Choosing the cheapest inspection option

3. Not being present for the inspection

4. Not making the rounds with the inspector

5. Being overly involved in the inspection

6. Expecting a perfect report—and overreacting if it’s not

7. Focusing on the wrong things

8. Not getting negotiated repairs reinspected

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How to move in bad weather

You’re moving out. The new place is ready. Time’s up and you’ve got to go. And then, right when you were feeling like you’d make it to the finish line without going completely nuts, the weatherman lets you know a storm might be headed your way on moving day. Super!

Before you chuck your moving day plans or start working on your anti-rain dance, know this: Unless it’s really bad, you’ll probably still be able to move. You just need to do some extra prep. 

Still, we’ll admit that moving in bad weather—whether it’s a drizzle or a downpour—can be a total PITA. But you can make things easier on yourself. Just follow these tips to keep you and your belongings safe.

1. Protect your stuff

2. Clear your walkways and driveways

3. Drive slowly

4. Set up a staging area

5. Know when to call it quits

“Generally, any time outside the busy May-to-September season rescheduling is much more feasible option as far as your movers having an open slot for you in the next couple of days,” Glanz says.

But be sure to know your moving company’s cancellation policy and call as far in advance as possible so you aren’t slammed with an exorbitant fees.

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The 3 Best Reasons to Buy a Home in 2018

Figuring out when to plunge into the real estate market can be quite intimidating—especially when prices are high, choices are limited, and history urges restraint.

“We’ve seen two or three years of what could be considered unsustainable levels of price appreciation, as well as an inventory shortage that resulted in a record-low number of homes for sale across the country,” says Javier Vivas, director of economic research for®. “When you factor those together, you have a market that has to either explode or see some relief.”

Comforting, right? Well, take heart: Experts agree that relief is indeed on the horizon.

New predictions for 2018 forecast more moderate gains in home prices and rising inventory levels, while low unemployment and record levels of consumer confidence mean more buyers are feeling good about their finances.

A lot depends on where you live (and how much you plan to finance), but these factors combined could mean 2018 will be your year to take the buying plunge.

1. Rates are going up

2. Prices are climbing, but not crazily fast

3. Inventory levels will begin to increase

The wildcard: Taxes and politics

When the Republican tax plan was introduced, the proposed elimination of the mortgage interest deduction was all anyone could talk about: While the new limitations on the deduction will affect only 2.5% of all existing mortgages in the U.S., it will have a disproportionate effect on Western markets, where 20% to 30% of mortgages are above the new threshold, according to Vivas.

Across the board, experts agree that the new tax plan decreases incentives for homeownership and reduces the tax benefits of owning a home—particularly in highly taxed, expensive markets such as California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. But on the flip side, that means that if fewer folks are motivated to buy, then there’s less competition for those who want in the game. Plus, some taxpayers—including renters—will see a tax cut. That increase in buyers’ disposable income could spur demand from folks who are looking to build equity as a homeowner, rather than flushing away their savings in rent.

“Buying remains the more attractive option in the long term—that remains the American dream, and it’s true in many markets where renting has become really the shortsighted option,” Vivas says. “As people get more savings in their pocket, buying becomes the better option.”

Based in San Diego, Holly Amaya is a writer, lawyer, and communications strategist. She writes about real estate, legal, lifestyle, motherhood, and career issues.
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