The Popsicle Place Program in Seattle Helps Families in Need

It’s tough to afford housing in many cities across the U.S., but in Seattle, it’s a particularly competitive market.

Living in an urban area with such a high cost of living can break a family when emergencies arise, but luckily for the people of Seattle, Mary’s Place has been relieving housing burdens since 1999.

Initially established as a women’s day center, Mary’s Place has evolved and expanded into a housing facility. It now provides a warm bed for 680 family members every night of the year.

As the shelter’s website states, “The Mary’s Place model is simple – partner with anyone and everyone who can help to address the issue of family homelessness: congregations, individuals, cities and counties, and businesses of all sizes.”

It seems to be a phenomenally successful model – and it only continues to grow. The Popsicle Place program, formed in 2018, is a Mary’s Place program focused on assisting families who are simultaneously experiencing homelessness and caring for medically complex or critically ill children.

A devastating statistic says that 1 in every 285 children in the U.S. alone will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20, and many more will be hospitalized for serious illness and injury. Additionally, 60 percent of people with the highest rent burden can’t cover three months of expenses.

Serious illness can put many families in financial crisis, and the stress of caring for children in need of medical intervention as well as maintaining livelihood for the whole family can be debilitating.

But at Popsicle Place, families don’t have to worry about costly emergency housing options, like motels, or choosing between having a place to live and having a healthy child. They also don’t have to worry about spending the night apart, since the Popsicle Place has a medical staff and volunteers on hand so that every member of the family can rest comfortably, in private rooms, all under one roof – regardless of health status.

While a small housing operation can’t alleviate every concern for families in medical and financial distress, simply having a bit of support can provide immense relief – relief that those families need to take their next step.

“Not only do they have their own private rooms,” says Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, “but they also have access to our healthcare clinic. They have a Popsicle Place lounge, where if their children aren’t feeling so well or if they have immunocompromised conditions, they can go in there and relax. [We] just want to set them all up for success.”

And that they do, with excellent results.

The Mary’s Place blog recently shared the story of a single mother of three named Nycolle. When she found black mold in her apartment, she was forced to immediately leave with her children, each of them with their own unique and demanding healthcare requirements, leaving them in need of emergency housing. That’s where the Popsicle Place program came in.

“Being at Mary’s Place gave me peace of mind,” says Nycolle in the article, “knowing we had electricity for Karlah’s treatments and refrigeration for Krystoffer’s medications. It let me focus on keeping them well!”

With their basic needs managed, the family members soon found a large, affordable 3-bedroom house in Spokane and happily relocated. They now enjoy a large yard, as well as a home to call their own.

That’s exactly what the program is all about, according to Hartman. “Let’s get you the housing options that you need and then move you forward.”

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Hibernate Luxuriously in This 5,572-Square-Foot Cave Mansion

When most people envision their dream home, they describe large kitchens, beautiful hardwood floors and clawfoot tubs. But not John Hay.

In the mid-1980s, Hay – founder of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company and great-great grandson of U.S. Secretary of State John Milton Hay – purchased the Beckham Creek Cave in Parthenon, Arkansas. He had plans to transform it into a 10,000-square-foot bomb shelter, consisting of cinder-block walls, plywood flooring, 11 coats of clear epoxy on the natural formations of the cave, and an internal freshwater spring.

He stocked it with enough freeze-dried food to keep 50 people fed for up to two years, and he twice had his religious group sit out bomb scares in the cave. By 1987, Hay realized the end of the world wasn’t coming quite so soon. Various records indicate the property was sold to a man known simply as “Mr. Richardson,” who had a different dream in mind when he came into possession of the property.

Soon after turning the space into a $6 million clubbing venue, Mr. Richardson held a grand unveiling that welcomed over 250 esteemed guests, including Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and many other Hollywood elite.

It’s no wonder that in 1994, John Hay repurchased his now illustrious cave.

In the decades following, several new owners have taken hold of the 257-acre property, each one undoubtedly in awe of the great room’s 40-foot rock ceilings and 2,300 square feet. Stalactites descend from overhead throughout the 5,572-square-foot home, and raw rock has been used wherever possible to maintain the unique character of the space.

Though it’s been renovated several times, the sprawling cave has kept its surprisingly cozy charm intact. Part of the reason the cave’s natural features have been preserved is surely thanks to Hay, who reverently told People magazine in 1988 that the home’s “original architect was God.”

The bad news – every dream home comes with its own downfalls, after all – is that a few of the stalactites drip. However, the whole property is climate-controlled thanks to geothermal units throughout.

The 4-bed, 4-bath cave home will run its next owners somewhere around $2.75 million. And while it doesn’t have those coveted hardwood floors or the clawfoot tub that fantasies are made of, we still consider this incredibly cool residence to be a real gem.

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How to Move Cross-Country: See How These Renters Made It Work

When former New Yorkers Erica Warren and Cici Harrison drove across the country and settled in the Pacific Northwest, they had a list of criteria for their new rental.

They’d need a parking space, a home office so Erica could work remotely and, of course, a yard so they could adopt a dog. And this rental couldn’t be too splashy, because a cross-country move is expensive enough.

All of this complicated their search in Portland’s tough rental market. Luckily the couple were able to stay locally with friends until they found the right rental. And their new home ticks all the boxes – while requiring some minor compromises to make it all work.

We chatted with Warren to hear how she and her wife navigated a cross-country move, including finding a home in a new city and making their new rental feel like home.

Where is your home, and how long have you lived there?
We’re in the Southeast, specifically the Richmond neighborhood. We moved there in March of 2017, and we’ve been there a year and a half.

How did you find your rental?
When we got here, we were staying with Marty and Tera, our friends who live here locally. The day after we arrived, there was the biggest snowstorm Portland had ever had in 30 years. That put a damper on our apartment searching, because we couldn’t drive our car or get anywhere. This place was actually the first one we saw, because it was in walking distance from Marty and Tera’s house.

We heard about it because Tera had sent an email around at her job asking if anyone had a lead on a rental. Someone else who worked with her had recently purchased a duplex and was looking for renters for the other side.

We walked over and saw it, and it was a very nice place. But it was the first place we looked at. We had no context for if it was a good deal or not. Of course, it seemed like a good deal to us, coming from New York. I was like, “It has a washer and dryer, it has a yard – I’ll pay any amount of money for that!”

So we didn’t say yes right away, and then we probably spent the next two or three weeks looking at places. We looked at about a dozen places all over the city. We saw all the different variations.

At some point we were almost ready to sign a lease on a 1 bedroom in a new apartment complex. It was, on paper, everything we were looking for. And Cici, out of nowhere, goes, “Why didn’t we want that first place that we looked at?” The one we were going to sign a lease for was 1 bedroom, and this was 2 bedrooms, and it was bigger, and the monthly rent was less. And we were like, “Oh, that was a much better place!” So we emailed the landlords to see if it was still available, and it was.

What price range were you looking for, and what did you end up paying?
We were looking in the $1,500-$1,700 per month range. This place ended up being right in the middle. It was $1,600 when we started the first year we were here, and it’s now $1,685. It seems like a pretty reasonable price for the neighborhood we’re in, because the rental market in Portland seems to be growing so fast.

What was the application and approval process like?
It was really straightforward. Our landlords live on the other side of the duplex, and they’re really nice people. I think they were looking for good neighbors as much as they were looking for good tenants. So I think that also helped with the relationship.

Were there any surprise fees?
We paid first month’s rent and a security deposit. The only extra fee when we moved in – we had just adopted Billie, and they had a $25 monthly dog rent. Which they told us about beforehand, because we were very particular about wanting a building that would allow us to adopt a dog. We got her a month after we moved in.

What was your cost of moving across the country?
We paid about $5,000 total for a full-service moving company, which is a lot of money. It was our biggest moving expense, but all we had to do was box up our things. They sent a whole team of people, packed our stuff into a storage cube, stored the cube for us, and then when we found a place, shipped it across the country. We didn’t have to do any of the logistics, and we didn’t have to do any of the carrying of things – we just had to pack a few boxes and unpack the boxes when we got here.

New York is notorious for small apartments. Is your Portland space bigger or smaller?
It’s slightly bigger, and I feel like it’s most noticeable in the kitchen. The kitchen that we have here is two or three times bigger than what we had in New York. I didn’t know how much I wanted a really nice kitchen, but now that I have one, I’m like yes, this is exactly where we needed the extra space!

We also have outdoor space, which makes a huge difference. It’s not huge – it’s more like a patio than a yard. We have a little grill, and we can sit out there on a nice day. Plus, it’s got a fence, so we can let our dog out.

Did you have any challenges making the place functional?
Nothing major. It was built in the ’60s or ’70s, but the landlords had renovated our unit before we moved in, so the kitchen, bathroom and flooring were all brand new – you know, everything works and is nicely designed, so that helped.

I did a little bit of work in the yard, just because it was a little muddy, and it’s Portland, so it’s wet in the winter, and Billie likes to dig. I got some pebble stones to fill in some of the muddy areas. We got into some light container gardening, because we never had outdoor space in Brooklyn. So we have a little blueberry bush, some star jasmine and some other little things I’m trying not to kill.

What else have you done to make your rental feel like home?
We painted a couple accent walls, which our landlords were totally fine with. We have this wide picture window in the living room that faces the road, but because of that you can see right into our house. So we got a custom shade that you can pull up from the bottom or pull down from the top, just so that we can have privacy but also sunlight if we want.

How long do you think you’ll stay?
I don’t know specifically. When we moved in, we talked about how we’d love to stay here until we’re in a position to buy a house. One day I’d like to own a house – a dining room would be nice at some point in my life. But where we’re at right now, this is the right amount of space, and it’s a really great neighborhood.

What do you want from your next place, other than a dining room?
A big fenced-in yard for Billie! Cici’s mom sent us an article about how the thing that’s finally getting millennials to buy houses is their dogs.

I’d also like a little bit more guest space so we could have people visit more frequently, because all of our family is on the East Coast.

And this is 100 percent because Cici has already claimed it – whatever house we buy has to have a basement so that she can play drums there. Number one is a yard for Billie, and number two is a basement for a drum kit and band practice.

Erica’s tips for finding a rental in a new city

1. Look around to get a sense of the market

Look at as many places as possible. Because even if you don’t want that unit, it gives you a sense of the market. So when you do find a good deal, you know that you have a good deal.

2. Know where you’re willing to compromise

If you have enough money that you don’t have to make sacrifices in renting, you probably don’t need to be renting. So everything’s a trade-off. There’s not a perfect rental out there. So it’s like, “This place has 2 bedrooms, but it’s more expensive, or this place has a bigger yard, but it’s farther out.”

3. Get a little help from your friends

We were so lucky to stay with Marty and Tera in their guest room until we found our own place. And Tera emailed co-workers to see if they knew of any rentals, which is how we ended up finding this place.

4. Conserve your energy and hire a full-service moving and storage company (if you can)

There’s enough stress in moving at all, amplified by moving cross-country. We probably could have gotten a U-Haul, packed it up, driven it cross-country and put our stuff into a storage unit here. But the logistics, let alone the physical labor, were not extra pieces of stress we needed. And even though it was really expensive, it was worth every penny.

Apartment photos by Erica Warren.

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An Up-Close Look at Housing Insecurity (and How to Help!)

Five years ago, Timothy C. Acena was living – and sleeping – in his wheelchair behind a busy fast-food restaurant. At night, he’d park himself on a fresh piece of cardboard near the restaurant’s dumpster and clip together a makeshift awning of eight umbrellas to protect him and the five backpacks full of his belongings from the elements.

During the day, he’d sit in front of the restaurant and ask customers to buy him a meal, which they always did, he says. He used the restaurant’s bathrooms and traveled for showers and laundry. All the while, he waited for an affordable apartment to open up.

Today, Acena, 52, has his own bed and a roof over his head. The former construction worker, who lost the ability to walk when he was 40, lives in a studio apartment in West Seattle in a building that provides affordable, stable housing and mental health and addiction treatment services to him and 65 other people who had been sleeping in shelters or out in the cold.

In the building’s lobby, letters cut from beige construction paper hang over the mail slots on the wall, spelling out the season’s message: “Be thankful.” Acena says he lives those words every day. He knows he would probably be dead or still homeless had other people not cared enough to build and manage a place where he could afford to live – and where he could very well spend the rest of his life.

More than a half a million Americans were homeless in 2017, a number that increased for the first time since 2010, according to a one-night count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Experts agree the count doesn’t capture all the people sleeping outside and say the number is likely to be much higher.

In some cities, homelessness has reached crisis levels as the economy continues to expand and people flock to urban areas for jobs, driving up rents that were once affordable for people earning low and middle incomes.

Many people are one emergency away from a missed rent payment. Today, only 52 percent of renters say they would be able to cover an unexpected expense of $1,000 if they had to, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2018. Gen X renters, who are between the ages of 39 and 53, are the most vulnerable: Only 44 percent say they could weather a $1,000 hit to their budget.

In some cities, the share of median income spent on rent exceeds 40 percent, according to Zillow economists, whose research also ties rent increases to moves and even homelessness. In Los Angeles, for instance, a 5 percent increase in rent would add 1,993 people to the ranks of the homeless.

Colin Maloney, project manager for Cottage Grove Commons, the Downtown Emergency Services Center building where Acena lives in West Seattle, said homelessness affects a broad swath of humanity: families, people with advanced degrees, people with mental and physical disabilities, and people with job skills no longer in demand.

Some residents of the Grove apartments grew up in homelessness or bounced through the foster care system only to end up alone when they turned 18. Others, like Acena, have struggled with addictions or remain yoked to criminal records that keep them from jobs and homes. At times, it’s hard to for them to see a path back to home, Maloney says.

But, he adds, “We have to believe that a better future is possible.”

Acena is proof of that. Before he became homeless, he lived in a $60 a night motel room, paid for with a combination of his Social Security disability check and funds from a church youth group. When the group’s subsidy stopped, Acena made a temporary home behind the restaurant rather than return to shelter living.

Acena smiles recalling the day he moved into his current home. He could finally sleep lying down. “It was like somebody took a Tyrannosaurus rex off my shoulders,” he says.

His apartment costs him $215 a month, about 30 percent of his $720 monthly Social Security income. He spends his days there building plastic models, watching TV, indulging in pancakes with peanut butter and staying healthy.

“I don’t think it’s unsolvable,” he says of homelessness. “It’s just difficult. Anything difficult has got to have something good in the end if you go through it.”

This holiday season, you can help these organizations that are working to bring housing security to communities across the country. Their success brings hope to all of us.

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Related:

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This Home Looks Like a Barn (But Has Enough Room to Be a Small Castle)

Like many married couples, the Clarks have a lot in common: a last name, a first name (they’re both Kelly) and an affinity for wide-open spaces – which inspired them to build a 10,000-square-foot barn-style home on 30 acres of land in West Monroe, Louisiana. 

But let’s back up. Kelly Clark (that’s him) and Kelly Moore-Clark (that’s her) wanted a change of scenery for their family. So when a friend put some land up for sale, they decided to make a move.

“We pretty much bought the property sight unseen because you couldn’t walk through it,” Moore-Clark says, referring to the thicket of overgrown trees and plants that carpeted the ground. “We bought the land and then crossed our fingers that, when we cleared it, we would find a spot to build the home.”

Spoiler alert: They found that spot. The perfect location sat at the back of the property on a hilltop, far from the main road.

They immediately began working with a team of designers to create a plan for their space. The blueprints were beautiful, but something didn’t feel quite right.

“We just couldn’t pull the trigger on it. … It was just a gut feeling,” Moore-Clark says. “I [felt] like whatever [was] supposed to be out here [was] supposed to be special.”

Then, Moore-Clark’s mother had an idea: Why not build a home that looked like a barn?

“I remember [my mom] specifically saying, ‘You could roll the doors up and drive through the house,'” Moore-Clark says.

And that’s when it all clicked. With the help of Moore-Clark’s father, a former army draftsman, they made a new plan, hired a team of subcontractors and watched their home begin to take shape.

“It was a very organic [building] process,” Moore-Clark says. “As the framers started framing it up, we would come into the room, and I would try to envision what our life [would look] like.”

Moore-Clark doesn’t have to use her imagination anymore. Today the couple, their three daughters, a dog, an old pony and 80 free-range chickens roam about the 10,000-square-foot home. And although they spend most of their time in a small fraction of the space, there’s plenty of room to grow. Three main areas, to be exact.

At approximately 2,250 square feet, the east side of the home is where you can usually find the family. This area includes the bedrooms, the living room/kitchen area and the bathroom.

Speaking of that bathroom: “I wanted it to be like a little greenhouse,” Moore-Clark says. Her vision for the bathroom predates the actual bathroom itself – she bought the tub before they started building.

Even though there’s room for dozens of bedrooms, the girls share one room, complete with custom-designed bunk beds.

And then there’s the breezeway. This is the second section of the home, and it’s around 2,000 square feet. The breezeway is an indoor porch area with roll-up doors and plenty of living space.

“Lots of playing happens in the breezeway,” Moore-Clark says. “[The girls] ride their bikes through it, put on musical events with their friends – ballets, plays, lots of things.”  

Finally, there’s the west side, which contains an office space, a home gym, a shop, and a guest bedroom and bathroom.

“When people stay … they really have their own space,” Moore-Clark says. “You don’t even hear each other. It’s good for a little retreat.”

The home is good for a lot of activities that fall outside the ordinary – it’s hosted live music recordings, floral workshops and even a Christmas Eve church service.

So what compelled Clark and Moore-Clark to create a space so vast and so intimate at the same time? They’re not really sure. Yet.  

“We feel like, one day, it’s going to be used for something interesting. … [It’s] a gut feeling.” Moore-Clark says. “We don’t know exactly why we built this place the way it is. But we knew it was right.”

Photos by Seth MacMillan.

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A Park Slope Townhome That Went From ‘Mess’ to Masterpiece

Very few would have considered purchasing a crumbling and decrepit 1890 Victorian townhome. But Lindsey Branca and her partner (both in business and in life), Mike Grosshandler, saw what most didn’t: opportunity.

After a sweeping renovation that included collapsing plaster and a complete layout change, this townhome – located in trendy Park Slope, Brooklyn – went from a deteriorated state to downright stately.

“When we purchased the home, we were on the hunt for a ‘mess’ that would provide the most opportunity,” says Branca.

The opportunity they saw in this home was a “hidden” second floor not visible from the street – a very rare find in the New York City real estate scene. This hidden second floor brought a whole treasure trove of extra square footage, including an extra floor of bedrooms.

Although the renovation was a complete overhaul, which involved removing a bedroom downstairs, taking out a bathroom, and removing an extra kitchen from its days of multifamily use, the project only took Branca’s restoration company, Branca & Co., around nine months to complete.

Inside, they transformed damaged carpets and worn-out walls into a sleek and contemporary single-family home.

They kept as much original detail as they could, such as the painstakingly stripped marble mantles, and what they weren’t able to salvage (like the damaged plaster molding), they restored to fit the original design.

The modern details they added, like white oak plank flooring and an open-concept kitchen with a large island and open shelving, play nicely with traditional details, such as a clawfoot tub and trace ceilings.

“I’m very happy with the results. We stuck to a very strict budget (one my architect was skeptical we could hit), yet we were still able to produce a really beautiful, thoughtful product,” says Branca.

Photos by Nicole Franzen.

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7 Places in America That Will Pay You to Move There

If you’re willing to move and if you meet the qualifications, many rural American towns are offering incentives aimed at attracting new residents and reviving their communities.

At the beginning of the 20th century, rural America housed more than half the country’s entire population. While the number of Americans living in rural areas has been roughly stable over the past century – as urban and suburban America have boomed – its share of the total population has declined, falling from 54 percent in 1910 to just 19 percent in 2010.

This is due, in part, to migration to urban cores, especially by younger generations and the middle class.

This decline in population – and the accompanying social and economic challenges – is forcing rural America to come up with incentives to attract new residents back to rural communities.

Tribune, Kansas, offers such a program. “If you move here, we will pay down your student debt,” explains Christy Hopkins, community development director for Kansas’ least populated county, Greeley (in which Tribune sits).

This program, called the Rural Opportunity Zone (ROZ) program, offers perks to grads from big cities for moving to underpopulated towns in one of 77 participating Kansas counties. One of the incentives? They’ll help you pay off your student loans – up to $15,000 over the course of five years.

And it seems to be working – for both the town and its new residents.

“We’re the least populated county – we’re 105th in population for counties in Kansas, and now we’re eighth in college degrees per capita. There’s a correlation to draw,” says Hopkins.

Here are five towns and three states that offer a robust set of loans, programs and/or assistance for those seeking to become homeowners:

Curtis, Nebraska

Population: 891
Median home value: $79,000

Dream of building your own home from the ground up? Curtis, Nebraska, has a sweet deal for you. If you construct a single-family home within a specified time period,  you’ll receive the lot of land it sits on for free.

Marne, Iowa

Population: 115
Median home value: $75,300

Just 45 minutes east of Omaha, Marne will give you a lot of land for free – all you have to do is build the house (conventional construction or modular) and meet program requirements. Houses must be a minimum of 1,200 square feet, and the average lot size is approximately 80 feet by 120 feet.  

Harmony, Minnesota

Population: 999
Median home value: $93,900

Dreaming of a a newly built home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Good news: Your dream comes with a cash rebate.

The Harmony Economic Development Authority offers a cash rebate program to incentivize new home construction. Based on the final estimated market value of the new home, rebates range from $5,000 to $12,000, and there are no restrictions on the applicant’s age, income level or current residency.

Baltimore, Maryland

Population: 616,958
Median home value: $116,300

Definitively not a rural town, Baltimore offers homeowners incentives that are too appealing to leave off this list.

Baltimore has two programs offering robust incentives for buying a home in the city. Buying Into Baltimore offers a $5,000 forgivable loan (forgiven by 20 percent each year so that by the end of five years, you no longer have a balance) if you meet certain qualifications.

The city’s second solution is a brilliant one. The Vacants to Value Booster program offers $10,000 toward down payment and closing costs when you buy one of the program’s distressed or formerly distressed properties.

New Haven, Connecticut

Population: 131,014
Median home value: $168,400

Also not a rural area, but offering an incredibly generous package of homeowner incentives, New Haven offers a suite of programs totaling up to $80,000 for new homeowners, including a $10,000 forgivable five-year loan to first-time home buyers, $30,000 renovation assistance and/or up to $40,000 for college tuition.   

Alaska

Population: 739,795
Median home value: $310,200

Alaska offers incentives for veterans and live-in caretakers of physically or mentally disabled residents. They even have a manufactured home program and a rural owner-occupied loan program. See the full list of programs here.

Colorado

Population: 5.6 million
Median home value: $368,100

Colorado offers traditional programs that assist with down payments and low interest rates, but it also has a disability program that helps first-time buyers who have a permanent disability finance their home.

The state also has a down payment assistance grant that provides recipients with up to 4 percent of their first mortgage, which doesn’t require repayment.



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Originally published October 2017. Information updated October 2018.

Small-Town Charm: 8 Homes for Sale in Less Populated Areas

There’s just something special about a small town. Less traffic, no noise pollution and friendly neighbors can all make for an idyllic escape from the grit of the city.

Some of these small towns may be hours from the nearest Amazon Locker or Whole Foods, but what they lack in big-city amenities, they make up for in big-time charm.

Here are eight homes for sale in some of the best small towns in America.

Stately in South Carolina

For sale: $668,000

Nothing could be sweeter than this stately home in Beaufort, South Carolina, which has a prime location on South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands. The home was built in 1997, but it looks like it was plucked straight from the 19th century, with notable features like a large front porch, whitewashed brick on the exterior, an updated and spacious living-dining area, and a covered back porch for those sweltering summer nights.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Beaufort homes for sale.

A coastal cottage in small-town California

For sale: $1.4 million

This quaint cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, is the quintessential coastal retreat. Carmel-by-the-Sea is located just an hour outside the tech capital of the country – San Jose – but feels worlds away, thanks to its small population and relaxed lifestyle. The cottage itself is a seaside charmer, featuring blue cedar shake siding and a large deck for lounging, and it’s just a short walk from downtown Carmel.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Carmel-by-the-Sea homes for sale.

Small-town Southern charm in Georgia

For sale: $379,900

If there were one home to define small-town Southern charm, it might be this cute Craftsman in Dahlonega, Georgia. Once considered a gold-mining destination, Dahlonega is now a quiet little mountain town with a downtown that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Craftsman home, located minutes from the downtown square, is elegant yet cozy, with hardwood floors throughout the main level, wainscoting in the dining room, and two levels of decks that have a beautiful tree-lined view.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Dahlonega homes for sale.

Scandinavian style in a small mountain town

For sale: $1.1 million

This cabin in Ketchum, Idaho – population 2,689 – may have your typical rustic mountain cabin exterior, but pop inside and you’ll find an unexpected use of Scandinavian style. The interior of the cabin features Venetian plaster, low-voltage cable lighting, stainless spacers in maple-wrapped beams and a custom staircase.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Ketchum homes for sale.

Fancy on the New York farm

For sale: $995,000

Just a bit beyond the bright lights of Times Square, you’ll find this vibrant farmhouse in Rhinebeck, New York, which is a charming and historic town about two hours away from Manhattan. This home makes small-town life feel fabulous, with stunning details like beamed vaulted ceilings in the living space and master bedroom, a chef’s kitchen, and even an indoor lap pool with views of the 5-acre lot.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Rhinebeck homes for sale.

A Queen Anne Victorian in Arkansas

For sale: $439,000

This quirky and colorful Queen Anne Victorian home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and it’s currently being used as a bed-and-breakfast for the bustling tourist town in the Ozarks. A pastel facade and a large front porch greet you as you enter the 7-bed, 7.5-bath home – which is divided up into three floors full of guest suites with private entrances.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Eureka Springs homes for sale.

Mayberry-like in Marietta, Ohio

For sale: $270,000

This Arts and Crafts-style home, located in the historic district of Marietta, Ohio (population 14,085), combines the gorgeous architecture of the early 20th century with the modern, convenient and open spaces of the 21st century. The rooms throughout the home have been carefully updated while still keeping the original charm intact, including the embellishments on the hardwood floors, the built-ins in the living area, and the cozy fireplaces in the dining and living spaces.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Marietta homes for sale.

Small Southwestern charm in Taos

For sale: $725,000

This pueblo-style home in Taos, New Mexico, is just a short walk to the small town’s famous art galleries in Taos Plaza. The pueblo itself is a work of art, with beautiful details like dark wood beams across the ceiling, a Spanish tile floor and a large fireplace in the living room.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Taos homes for sale.

Top photo from Zillow listing.

Related:

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  • A Farmhouse-Style Prefab That’ll Make You Want to Ditch the Big City
  • 5 Reasons to Buy a Home This Fall

How to Host a Cozy Game Night

It’s cold out there, and whether you’re snowed in or just looking to unwind, it’s the perfect time for game night.

Fun for the whole family or as a night in with friends, game night is all about friendly competition. Decor should be simple, drinks should be hot and the mood should be mellow.

Here’s a DIY and a recipe that are sure to charm even the chilliest guest. (Materials and instructions below!)

Card coasters materials

  • Vintage playing cards – find them at a flea market or yard sale
  • Panel of cork – pick one up at any craft or hardware store
  • Glue

Mulled wine recipe

  • 6 cups of cider
  • 3 cups of orange juice
  • 1-1/2 bottles of red wine – a dry red is best
  • Honey (to taste)

Mix ingredients and simmer until hot. Garnish with a blood orange wheel, an anise pod and a stick of cinnamon. Should serve 10-12 people.

Videography and photography by Mikal Marie Photography. 

Related:

  • 9 Tips for Achieving Maximum Coziness
  • Quiz: What Type of Bar Should You Build in Your Home?
  • Entertaining With Pets: How to Keep Them Safe (and Sane) at Your Next Soiree

Originally published January 2016.

Find and Fix Drafty Windows to Keep Your Home Warm and Snug

There’s a chill in the air – do you feel it? Rather than wait around for the mercury to plummet, take steps now to ensure that your home remains comfortable through the coldest months of the year.

Besides proper insulation and HVAC maintenance, I recommend taking a close look at your windows. Notorious for air leaks, windows can not only admit cold air but also allow heated air to escape.

There are many ways to seal such drafts – but first you’ve got to find them.

Locate the draft

Here’s a quick and easy method of testing the seal on your windows. First, walk through the house and close all the windows as tightly as possible. Next, light a candle. Hold the flame near each window, inches from the glass, slowly moving the candlestick around the seam between the window and its frame.

If the flame bends or flickers while your hand is still, then there’s probably an air leak. Mark the trouble spot with a sticky note so you can return to repair it later. Test every window in the house, marking each area where you suspect a draft.

For a more accurate diagnosis, hire a professional to perform an energy audit of your home. Though there’s a cost involved here, many local utility companies offer such services either for free or for a nominal fee. Check with the company that provides your electricity.

It’s certainly worth inquiring, since what professional energy auditors do is a lot more sophisticated than the candle method. They conduct thorough room-by-room assessments – not only for window drafts but also for any other instances of energy inefficiency.

Address the cause

Having pinpointed the locations of window drafts in your house, the next step is to seal them all up.

There are several ways to get the job done. Some methods are inexpensive, temporary and manageable for DIYers. Other more permanent options are quite expensive and best left to contractors. Choose the fix that best fits your needs and budget:

Weatherstripping

Easily affordable, with a price tag of only a few bucks per window, weatherstripping lends itself to easy DIY installation. Purchase the product in your chosen material – felt, foam, plastic or metal are readily available in hardware stores and home centers.

Cut the strips to size and use them to fill the gaps between a window sash and jamb.

Caulking

Whether you’re working inside or outside, you’ll caulk windows in two places: where the window meets the surrounding casing, and where the casing meets the surrounding wall (inside) or siding material (outside).

Tubes of caulk are inexpensive, and with a little practice, easy to use.  If you’ve caulked your windows in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook – caulk deteriorates over time. It may be time to remove the old caulk and start over.

Draft snakes

You’ve likely seen or even used a draft snake in the past. These are stuffed tubes, placed on a windowsill or under a door, as a modest measure of keeping out the cold and keeping in the warmth.

Buy one at low cost or make your own for next to nothing. If you go the DIY route, you can use virtually any fabric, including extra towels or socks. Fill the middle with batting, rice, potpourri or anything similar you have on hand.

Though decidedly makeshift, draft snakes work well in a pinch.

Insulation film

If you don’t plan to open and close the window, try sealing it under a layer of insulation film. Sold by the roll, insulation film either self-adheres or goes on with double-stick tape.

Also available are special shrink-wrap kits that, once heated with a hair dryer or other tool, create an impermeable, airtight seal without visible wrinkles.

Replacement windows

The bad news: It can cost a small fortune to replace the windows in your home. The good news: Upon resale, the average homeowner recoups about 79 percent of what they invested in the replacement.

This isn’t a simple case of out with the old, in with the new. Properly installed, today’s energy-efficient windows minimize drafts and create an overall tighter seal. In fact, Energy Star-rated windows can lower your energy bills by 7-15 percent monthly.

Add a layer of protection

No matter the benefits of replacement windows, many people are either unable or unwilling to cover the initial expense.

If you’re looking for a less costly but permanent solution to window drafts, consider storm windows. Some designs fit within the window on the interior; others cover the window from the outside. Any type can go a long way toward insulating and protecting the windows you currently have.

When it comes down to it, every layer helps. If you do nothing else to remedy the problem, why not at least hang curtains? You stand to gain not only greater comfort but also real savings on your month-to-month heating bills. Don’t get left out in the cold!

Related:

  • Your Top 5 Fireplace Questions, Answered
  • 9 Tips for Achieving Maximum Coziness
  • Cozy Updates Under $500: Affordable Ways to Make Your Home a Winter Haven

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published October 31, 2014.